sparsenicjade
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Thanks: GINORMOUS kudos to kaiz for taking this beta on without even flinching. (And believe me when I say she should have.) She did an INCREDIBLE job of making this fic a) make sense, b) have some grammarical structure, c) involve some emotion and d) did I mention make sense? Anything in here that sucks? That's all me.

AN: This was finished before S6 starts, so it's essentially AR as the end of S5. I'm not actually in SPN, so if you know that ONE PERSON IN THE WORLD who's been dying for some Dean/Lisa/Cas and you wanna mention this story to her? That would be awesome of you. Finally, used for my "sexual extortion: to protect someone else" card on hc_bingo. That's probably stretching a little bit, but roll with it.

***



In the eighteenth hour of sitting in the hospital's waiting room, Dean still holding his coat in his hands--the coat he'd wrapped around the monster, then the girl--Sam was the one to say, "What are we gonna do?"

Dean looked down at his coat. There was blood all over it. He was going to have to go to the Army Surplus store, get himself a new one. Sam said, "Dean."

Dean fought down the urge to snap back. He was validly too exhausted to defend himself against Sammy's infernal logic. Instead he shook his head. "I need coffee."

Sam opened his mouth, and for a second Dean was so, so sure he was going to fight. In the end, though, he just said, "Yeah, okay. Gimme the keys."

*


Two days earlier

It had been kind of a quiet month when the Whining Child thing had reared its head. Life was generally quiet for Dean these days, but he was mostly all right with that, or at least, he was taking it in stride. He had Sam, and the world still belonged to humanity, and Dean was good at taking what he could get and running hard and fast with it.

At first, Sam had thought they might have a Lamia on their hands. Then, new reports of a child's cry being heard, day and night, in Gennessee, Idaho suggested a Tengu. But the town had fewer than a thousand people and though a few people had been reported missing, none of those were children. Dean was pretty sure children wouldn't have gone under the radar. Sam was hard-pressed to explain it, either.

They would have left Gennessee after finding nothing their entire first day there. It might have been unlikely, but they could have allowed for the possibility of the popular local beliefs: adults getting lost in the nearby woods, or, alternately, the wind just being particularly loud of late. The only problem with either of those rationalizations was that Dean and Sam could hear the child’s wail. It was eerie and awful and Dean had wondered aloud, "What if the kid isn't the point?"

Sam had looked over at him from his side of the motel room. "Whaddya mean?"

"Well, I mean. We don’t know for sure that any kids are missing. Maybe there isn't a kid, maybe its just a sound, something to get the town off it's game and then whatever this thing is has an easier time sweeping in and doing whatever it does. Maybe it can't fight a human if it's not all freaked. The sound’s just bait. Like that serial killer guy with the crying baby thing."

Sam’s lips quirked at Dean’s absolute lack of specificity in reference. Then he shrugged. "Maybe. In my experience, people tend to be freaked just by the whole monster thing, though."

"Yeah." Dean laid back on the motel bed and stared up at the ceiling, familiar in its crumbling appearance. "We can't just EMF the whole place."

Sam turned to him after a moment and said slowly, "No. No, we can't. But--"

"But?"

"What if it actually is a kid?"

"There aren't any missing."

"Sure, but kids go missing all the time. Doesn't mean it was originally from here. Could've been from anywhere."

"Okay," Dean said slowly. "I still don't get what this has to do with anything."

"Echolocation."

"Sam--"

But Sam was already pressing numbers into his phone and walking away, toward the window. Dean hadn't a clue who he was calling, but after everything, he trusted Sam, so he closed his eyes, and let some of the tiredness from driving half the night to get here drain away.

He awakened to Sam shaking his shoulder. He blinked a couple of times and said, "Wha?"

"Hear her?"

Dean looked out the window. Dusk was falling, and sure enough, it was like a little girl's cries were crawling their way up his spine. He said, "I think she's real, Sammy." He couldn't say why, he just did.

"Yeah, so does the echolocation reader my source told me how to wire together. C'mon."

Dean grabbed the gun from under the pillow and followed Sam out the door.

*


Sam’s echolocator lead them to a series of rough-hewen tunnels in the woods. From there, they didn’t need it. Inside the tunnels, the sound had a location, rather than coming from all around.

They discovered the girl in an alcove of the tunnels, on the dirt floor. She was unconscious, not making a sound. In fact, it took Dean several minutes to even determine that she was alive. Her pulse was extremely faint, and he wasn’t sure her breath would have fogged a mirror. The crying hadn’t stopped. Dean looked up at Sam. Sam shook his head and said softly, “I got nothing.”

She was about Ben’s age, maybe a couple of years younger. The thought made Dean’s chest ache. He wanted to be home. Instead, he slipped his hands gently beneath the girl. She moaned, and it sounded precisely like the wails that could be heard all the way in the town. Without even thinking, Dean murmured, “Sh, you’re okay.”

He heard the whoosh and Sam’s grunt before he could even turn around. He shouted, “Sam!”

Sam yelled back, “Take the girl and—“

If Sam had been able to finish the sentence, Dean might have been able to do as Sam was telling him, maybe. But as it was, he whipped around, one arm holding the girl, the other bringing up his gun. He hadn’t a fucking clue what the thing that had its monkey-claw-hook thingamajig inside Sam’s throat was. It wasn’t solid, more spectral. He just really hoped silver bullets at least fazed it. For that matter, he hoped silver bullets lodged in it, because, otherwise, with the shape of the cavern, it was possible Dean might have a ricochet problem on his hands.

Out of options for the moment, Dean took aim and shot, doing his best to keep his body between the possible arc of a returning bullet and the girl. The shot was painfully loud in the confines of the cavern and Dean had a second to be worried about a cave-in, but mostly, he was functioning on pure adrenaline.

The bullet passed through and dislodged some of the rock, making the air harder to breathe, but it didn’t come back at Dean, and it didn’t trap them in a rockslide. It did seem to annoy the specter, which wasn’t exactly the result Dean would have wished for, but was better than nothing. The annoyance distracted the thing just enough for Sam to yank himself loose. Dean yelled, “Sam?”

“Fine,” Sam choked out, sounding anything but. Then, “It-- Voices. Steals voices.”

Yeah, Dean had actually kind of figured that out, seeing as how the wailing was coming from it, rather than the girl. “So?”

The wails were starting to sound a bit like Sam in pain and Dean was so, so going to kill this fucker, just as soon as he figured out how. It was coming toward him, so he emptied off another round. More rocks and dirt were dislodged and Dean coughed a bit. Sam got in on the action with the rock salt, which was painfully loud, but made it stumble. Huh.

Sam shot again and said, “Try gagging it.”

“What?”

“The sound is coming from its, uh, middlish area.” Sam paused to squeeze off another shot. “See if you can—“

“What am I—“ Dean didn’t bother to finish that question, just pushed the girl gently into a nook of the cavern wall before whipping off his jacket. He used a moment after another shot from Sam to leap into the fray and wrap his jacket around the thing as many times as possible. The wailing became fainter and fainter, more frantic, until it turned into something that reminded Dean of angels speaking. The sound had nowhere to go inside the cavern and was bouncing from the unforgiving rock walls.

Dean put his hands over his ears and kept them there until he felt Sam shaking him. He slowly uncovered his ears and looked over at the monster. It wasn’t moving. It seemed almost like it was fading, and for a moment, Dean felt like he was watching the scene in Star Wars when Yoda dies. Sam said, “Pretty sure it’s dead.”

“Pretty sure doesn’t win the Kentucky Derby.” Dean was exhausted. He was willing to bet he looked as good as Sam, who had scratches over every point of his skin not covered by clothing, and quite a few bruises forming.

Sam didn’t even bother correcting him, just said, “Ninety-nine point nine percent. And the kid needs a hospital, stat.”

Dean looked over. Dead or just almost-dead monster, Sam had a point. He said, “Burn it. I’ll start with filling in the entrance, you can help when you get there.”

*


Present Day

Dean drank two cups of coffee before he'd finally got up the nerve to call Lisa. She picked up on the first ring.

"You've missed two fucking check-ins. Bobby’s probably out there by now, trying to find your ass, and I’ve had to lie to Ben for a day and a half, so this had better be good, Dean.”

Despite all that, she sounded more relieved than Dean had hoped for. He closed his eyes and let the sound of her voice wash over him. Then he said, “Lise.”

“Out with it.”

He frowned. “What?”

“I know that tone of voice. Whatever you say next, it’s probably just going to get you in more trouble. So, what? New deal with a demon? Accidental fling with a succubus? What?”

The succubus thing really hadn’t been Dean’s fault. “You weren’t even around for the whole deal with a—“

“Dean. Focus.”

He took a breath. “Sammy and I. I think we’re gonna have to bring a little girl home.”

Evidently, that hadn’t been what she was expecting, since it took her a long time to say, “Excuse me?”

Dean tried to figure out what to say. He wasn’t sure how to explain that, yeah, he’d come into her life and they’d had to make room for Sam; he woke her up more nights than not with nightmares he didn’t always know how to explain; he made her worry all the many times when he and Sam would get calls that they felt they couldn’t ignore—but he had one more favor to ask. And it wasn’t, “hey, hon, would you take out the trash?” It was more along the lines of, “How do you feel about adopting a second child? One who’s probably even more fucked up than me?”

Lisa broke into his thoughts with a, “Is this, like-- Did you find out you have an actual illegitimate kid?”

For a second Dean just blinked, then he laughed incredulously.

“Dean,” Lisa said, and this time it was her I’m-listening-go-on tone.

So Dean told her about the monster. Sam had done some further research while they were stuck in the hospital. So far, all they really knew was that the creature they’d faced was called a million different things, depending on the culture. The lore had it that the monster took a child every three to four years to fed off the child’s pain and torment until the child died from it, meanwhile using the child’s cries to ensnare adult victims for the purpose
of playing with them, generally in front of the child. According to the lore, the monster integrated their energy into itself, leaving nothing but dust, as though the victims were burnt down to nothing.

This, obviously, left a lot of questions unanswered. For one thing, how the hell did the kid survive that long? Did the monster feed her? Convert something inside of her so that she didn’t need sustenance? And if the latter was the case, did that mean she had monster components to herself? Would she turn into the monster eventually? There was no indication of where this type of creature originated.

This, of course, lead to another line of questions: what was the purpose behind all of it? Ghosts were generally pissed off, demons had years of torture behind their crazy, wendigos developed into their level of psychosis, everything they’d ever faced came from something, but Sam couldn’t find a damn thing explaining where this particular monster came from, or why it did what it did. In essence, there was nothing to help with figuring out what the child might have actually experienced, nothing to aid in negotiating an emotional recovery.

Sam had then slowly traced the appearances that he could find of this one, seeing if he could find at least some of the answers. It hadn’t been easy, but as best he could tell, the girl was probably one Francesca Avon, of Bowling Green, Ohio. She and her parents had disappeared from their quiet, suburban home nearly two years ago. None of the three bodies had ever been found. The only clue mentioned in the police report was that that most of the furniture in the house had sported a fine covering of dust, as though nobody had cleaned in ages.

Then again, there had been literally hundreds of other child abductions that particular month in the same area of the country. Sam was the first to admit that his guess was a shot in the dark. Dean was the first to recognize that it was the best they had.

“We can’t put her in the system, Lise,” Dean said softly. “They’ll think she’s crazy. Delusional. And they’ll drug her until she believes she’s just as crazy as they think she is. It doesn’t have to be forever, I can figure out—“

“I’ll see the three of you when you get home.”

“What?”

“Don’t miss another check-in, though.”

“Um. Ah, no, ma’am.”

“Ben misses you.”

“I—“ Dean closed his eyes. “She’s almost his age. If we’re right about who she is, she’s only about a year younger.”

“Good,” she said quietly. “Ben’s been bugging me about making him a big brother since you started living with us.”

Dean blinked. “Really? Why didn’t you-- I mean, I guess, if you didn’t want another—“

“I wanted to give you time to get used to us.”

Dean ignored the hurt that dissolved at hearing that it hadn’t been him, it hadn’t been about her not wanting something he was a part of. She must have heard what he was thinking because she told him, “You’re an idiot.”

“Yeah.” He heard that a lot, between her and Bobby.

“Get home, idiot.”

“Coming.”

*


When the doctors said Francesca was stabilized, Sam said, “You know we’re gonna have to do a runner.”

Dean nodded. “What’s the plan?”

“I talked with Bobby, he says they haven’t run her fingerprints, but they are doing some serious checking into our IDs.”

Dean wasn’t surprised. They’d come in with some last-minute, bullshit story about being her uncles and having taken her on a fishing trip. But despite having woken up almost forty-eight hours before, she hadn’t said a word. Dean was pretty sure the only reason they hadn’t run the fingerprints was because the two of them had done a damn good job of selling the story about her falling out of the boat into the rapids story. Which was amazing, since Dean wasn’t even entirely sure there were any rapids in the area.

The doctors were starting to ask questions, though, and while Sam had done a solid job improvising about her parents having gotten divorced and the fact that she was already going through a rough time even before falling out of boat, Dean knew their time was running short.

Dean asked, “What IDs are we using?”

“Nothing we’ve used too much before. Nothing that can be traced back to us, for sure.”

“What name did we give them for her?”

“Does it matter?” Sam asked.

It didn’t, not so long as they could get away and not have to answer any questions. All the same, Dean said, “Just in case.”

“Tiffany Roan.”

“We named our niece Tiffany?”

“I panicked,” Sam said.

Dean was willing to accept that. “From two to seven, there’s only three nurses, and one of them is at the desk at any time. The other two take two fifteen minute breaks, generally between four and six. I can act as a distraction. There’s a window in her room. This shouldn’t even be a big deal.”

Sam muttered, “Famous last words.”

“Yeah,” Dean agreed.

*


Despite everything that could have gone wrong, getting Francesca out of the hospital turned out to be surprisingly easy. For one thing, she was still mostly doped up and on four antibiotics. She stayed asleep for the entire thing.

Dean had made up the back of the Impala as a bed. While he was preparing, he’d smiled just a little at the memory of all the times he’d done this for Sam. When they were kids, it seemed that every third week Sam used to get a cold.

She was drugged up enough that they managed to get her settled in the back without her waking, although she did make small sounds of pain in her sleep. The doctors had been mystified by the pain—there was no evidence of any actual injury. Dean winced every time she did it. Sam’s hands were shaking by the time they were finished.

Sam said, “I’ll do more research. There was nothing about the kids being hurt, but then, the kids were usually—“

Dead, Dean supplied mentally. “Yeah.”

They rode in silence after that, Dean not wanting to chance music waking her up. The drugs would weaken their hold sooner or later, and while they had an oral prescription, the doctors had warned that those might cause nausea. Dean would give it to her when necessary, but he wasn’t really keen on rushing that moment.

He said to Sam, “I should probably work on the shocks.”

Sam must have heard the panic in his voice, since he said calmly, “Wouldn’t be the first time you’ve made small upgrades.”

Dean hated fucking with the Impala, imperfections and all, but Sam was right about that. There was the trunk, for one thing. Technically, dad had done that, but that only made it more justifiable, really, since the Impala had arguably held an even more considerable emotional stronghold over John. “Yeah.”

“Wanna talk about what you’re really freaking out about?”

“Not really.”

“Didn’t think so,” Sam said, but he let it go. Dean appreciated the gesture, even if he knew Sam would come back later, probably with reinforcements.

Somewhere in the Rockies, both of them startled at a cut-off scream and then the sound of absolutely nothing, not even breathing. Granted, the car was loud, but before they’d at least heard some snuffling, a small whimper here and there. Dean pulled the car off the road and stopped it.

Sam was already leaning over the seat back, making soothing noises. Francesca’s eyes were wide open, her fingers clutching so tightly at the blanket they’d put over her that her knuckles had gone beyond white, straight into translucent.

Dean was trying to figure out if maybe it was time to just drug her again when he heard the faint sound of wings outside the door. He looked out his window, and sure enough, there was Cas. Dean shared a look with Sam, then got out of the car. He said, “Long time.”

Cas didn’t exactly flinch, but Dean knew what to look for. He’d hit the right spot. It should have felt better—Cas hadn’t shown his face in months--but Dean was evidently too tired for petty victories just then.

Cas said, “You have not been in need of aid.”

Dean really had no idea what the fuck that meant, since he came close to dying every third hunting trip out, or so, but whatever. “What are you doing here? Because I think you’re scaring the shit out of the kid.”

“You didn’t want to give her more pharmaceuticals.”

They had talked about the whole Cas-peeking-in-Dean’s-mind issue, so Dean just glared. Cas had the grace to look away. Dean relented after a moment, because Cas was right, was the bitch of it. He asked, “Can you heal her?”

Cas glanced into the car, where Sam was still trying to calm Francesca. The fear had now taken on an eerie stillness in her, but it was definitely still there. “I can take the pain from her.”

Dean ran a hand over his face. “Yeah, I wasn’t asking for miracles.”

Cas drew his gaze back to Dean then, and, after a moment, honest-to-G-d snickered. Dean blinked, but didn’t have a chance to call Cas on it, because the next thing he knew Cas was pushing the driver’s seat forward, speaking to Francesca soft and sweet and probably with some kind of angel mojo, because she was listening, actually listening as opposed to just hearing.

After a few seconds, when she was relatively calm, Cas put two fingers to her forehead. She exhaled, and Dean could see the way the pain lines on her face smoothed out. Dean hadn’t a clue what had actually been hurting, since there was nothing visibly wrong, nor nothing the doctors had been able to suss out. Nonetheless, she had clearly been well past uncomfortable.

Once she was breathing easily, and the muscles of her body had loosened up considerably, Cas said something else, his fingers still to her skin, and she fell asleep.

Sam said, “Thanks, Cas.”

Cas straightened up and turned back to Dean. “She’ll sleep at least until you arrive at your destination.”

In the few times Cas and he had spoken since Dean had moved in with Lisa, Cas had never once called it Dean’s home. Dean said, “You can’t just do this, Cas.”

Cas tilted his head to the side, his eyes vaguely questioning, but as though he didn’t really want to know the answer to whatever question he was asking. Dean didn’t really want to answer it, either, but this wasn’t about him, it was about the eleven year-old girl in the backseat of his car. A girl who, at the very least, had somehow managed to lose her parents, maybe in front of her eyes, maybe screaming and just out of her reach. Dean squeezed his eyes shut and then opened them to glare at Cas. “You can’t just show up and make a good thing happen for her and then never come back again.” Dean tried to reel in the anger he felt. He knew, on some level, that this was just Cas, who had bigger and better priorities than the insignificant humans in his existence. But it wasn’t just Dean in the picture now. Dean could handle people—angels, whatever—leaving him without so much as a goodbye. “She doesn’t trust good things, and she’s never going to if you do this shit.”

Cas looked straight at Dean as he said, “I will not disappoint her, Dean.”

Dean turned around and got in his car. He couldn’t do this right now. Lisa, who stood by him even though he didn’t deserve it, had done nothing to earn it, was waiting for him. Francesca needed to get somewhere that wasn’t the back of a car. This wasn’t about him, or Cas, or him and Cas. It wasn’t. “See that you don’t.”

He didn’t check to see if Cas had still been there when he’d delivered the order. It wasn’t as if Cas ever listened to him anyway.

*


Ben was in the driveway when they pulled up in the early evening. Dean parked his girl and stepped out, immediately pulling Ben to him. Dean wasn’t much of a hugger, so Ben squeezed into it and asked, “Dean?”

Dean pulled back and ruffled Ben’s hair. “Sorry I missed your game, kiddo.”

Ben shrugged. “We lost anyway.”

“Someone has to,” Dean pointed out. “Still sorry. I told you I would be there.”

Ben shrugged again, less fluidly this time. Dean said, “C’mere, wanna show you why I wasn’t there.”

Ben followed. “Mom said you-- She said I was gonna have a sister who needed to be taken care of?”

Dean lead Ben to the other side of the car where, despite having seen Cas work his magic, Sam was being slow and careful about lifting Francesca out of the car. Dean couldn’t say he blamed his brother.

Ben said, “Francesca, right?”

“Yeah. We had to keep her asleep, she was kinda freaked.”

“She’s too skinny,” Ben said, looking a little pissed off about the fact. “She needs cake.”

Sam grinned at that. “Maybe we should start with something a little lighter.”

Ben looked doubtful about that, but Dean had unwittingly instilled a deep belief in Sam’s smarts into Ben, so Ben took Sam at his word. Dean went and held the door open so that Sam could carry her straight inside.

Ben went to follow, but Dean put a hand on his shoulder. “Hey. Cake-feeding plans aside, you cool with this?”

“I-- When mom said, she told me all these things, like it didn’t mean she didn’t love me, or that you didn’t, and well, just, duh, okay?”

“Okay,” Dean said slowly. “It’s still kind of a big change.”

“Did you not like Sam at first, or something?” Ben asked, his head tilted in curiosity.

Dean admitted, “It took a while. He was noisy and smelled bad a lot.”

“You were four, though. I’m way older than that.”

“Yeah, way older,” Dean agreed, managing to hide a smile.

Ben must have heard the sarcasm, because he rolled his eyes. He looked inside the house window, where Sam was standing with Francesca. He said quietly, “She’s not noisy at all.”

“She’ll get better,” Dean said, even if he wasn’t entirely sure it was true. It seemed like the kind of thing a father who wasn’t John Winchester would say to a kid.

Ben’s face settled into a mask of determination. He said, “Yeah, she will,” before walking into the house.

In the living room, there was a single-person futon that hadn’t been there when they’d left, made neatly into a bed against the far wall. Next to it, there were a couple of crates piled just high enough to pass for a nightstand, with a table cloth draped over them. Atop them stood a small lamp, an empty glass and a buzzer from the Taboo set Lisa kept in the board game closet.

Ben said, “We made her a corner. Mom said she needed something that was her own.”

Lisa wouldn’t be home for another four hours, Dean knew. He kind of wanted to go to the hospital, see her now. Beside him, Sam was most likely giving him the stop-fucking-around-and-marry-her look. Dean didn’t look sideways. If he did, he’d go buy a damn ring.

Instead he helped Sam settle Francesca under the covers. He muttered, “I hope Cas remembered that she’ll need to wake up at some point.”

Sam was quiet for just a bit too long before saying, “She needs to sleep. Even if he healed the injuries completely, her mind needs it.”

Dean soothed a couple of hairs back from her forehead. Her hair was long and horribly tangled. He wondered if Lisa would know what to do. He didn’t want to cut it unless Francesca said they could, it just seemed wrong.

Sam said, “So, we’re not talking about Cas, either?”

“Who’s Cas?” Ben asked.

“A, uh, friend,” Sam said.

“Too right, little brother,” Dean said, and went to go get himself a well-deserved beer.

*


Lisa came home a little early. Dean said, “Dinner’s on me.”

“What’re we having?”

Dean hadn’t really thought that far ahead. “Uh. Your favorite?”

“If that’s a ploy to get me to tell you what my favorite is—“

“Baked tortellini from Ferraro’s.” Dean wasn’t the world’s most attentive guy, but he caught on to the things that mattered.

“You’re making the phone call,” she said, kissing him as she passed by, up to her bathroom to shower and change. Dean got on the phone.

The food hadn’t showed by the time she came back down, but Ben and Sam had come back inside. Francesca was still sleeping.

Lisa went over to her and checked her pulse. “She’s more bone than girl.”

“I don’t think Cas could fix that part.”

Lisa turned to him. “Cas?”

Dean rubbed the back of his neck. “He showed long enough to heal her. She wasn’t able to settle.”

“Hm.”

“Please don’t, Lise.”

Lisa made a face, but she didn’t pretend ignorance. “You get all fucked up every time he pulls his popping in act. What do you want me to say?”

“I told him he couldn’t do that with her.”

“Oh, okay, Dean.”

“Lisa—“

The doorbell rang and Dean went to go get it, relieved at the interruption. He brought the stuff inside and put it on the table, which Ben and Sam were setting. Sam looked over at Dean but didn’t say a word, which Dean appreciated. He went to go get Lisa.

She was heading toward the kitchen, anyway. She put a hand to his chest and said, “Babe, I love the hell out of you, emotional retardation and all. And you’re allowed to lie to yourself all you want and not tell me shit that you think I don’t need to know. But you don’t get to lie to me, okay?”

Dean wanted to act stupid, but he owed her the same respect she showed him, really. He said, “He was just around a lot during-- When I needed him. I don’t like that he, I mean, I don’t.” Dean felt his shoulders tensing to where they hurt. “I miss him.”

“Yeah,” she said, and stepped in to kiss him. She said, softly, “Missed you, too.”

“Lise—“

“I hope he doesn’t disappoint you.”

Dean’s breath caught. “Like I do? With you?”

“You come back. Every time.”

Dean didn’t understand how that could possibly be enough, but he didn’t want to question that it was. He said, “C’mon, dinner’ll get cold.”

She kissed him again. “Luckily, I know how to work my microwave.”

*


Dean stumbled into the kitchen half awake to pour himself a bowl of cereal the next morning. Cas asked, “How is the girl?” and successfully spooked the crap out of Dean.

When Dean was finished jumping eight feet and trying to look totally unbothered, he glared and said, “I know you know better. At this point, it’s because you enjoy being a creepy fucker.”

“You were hungry. The boy is still asleep, as is your—“ Cas frowned in a way that Dean couldn’t read. “As is Lisa. It was the best place to check on the child.”

“I was hungry,” Dean said, not even bothering to elide the irritation at the mental intrusion from his tone.

Castiel had the good sense to look away. “I did not mean to know. You have very strong basic desires.”

Dean let it go. Yelling was only going to wake people up. “She’s still sleeping.”

Cas frowned and walked past Dean, into the living room. He stood over her bed for a moment and then, oddly, sank to his knees, as if he needed to get closer. Dean stood in the doorway, watching. He trusted Cas to do as needed. That was kind of the bitch of it, that after the disappearing act, he still fucking trusted Cas.

Cas said, “I do not think it is physical. I think she is afraid to wake.”

“Is there a way to make her unafraid?”

“You are the human in the room, Dean.”

“You know what it feels like,” Dean reminded him, feeling mildly petty.

“It feels like fear,” Cas told him.

Oh. Dean said, “Not if it’s all you know.”

“Fear is all she has known for years.”

Dean closed his eyes and tried not to feel the heat of hell around him, the hooks binding him to the rack, tearing through him. He opened his eyes and tried not to see blood on his hands, hear the screams that he ripped from other people. Forty years.

There was a hand on his chest and Dean jerked back. Cas just followed him with his hand. Dean breathed against the touch. Cas said, “You healed. To some extent. She is younger.”

Dean’s shoulder ached where the imprint of Cas’s hand remained. He said, “She deserves for it to be easier.”

Cas looked uncertain about that. “Why?”

Dean ran a hand through his hair. “Did Sam put you up to this?”
“Sam?” Cas asked.

Obviously not. A headache was forming at the base of Dean’s skull. He admitted, “He’s been wondering why the hell this girl, and not any of the kids before.”

“Has he asked?”

“Sam’s pretty good at asking with his facial expressions, sometimes.” Or at least, Dean was pretty good at figuring out what Sam’s quizzical glances meant.

“But you have not told him.”

“Not really a talker.”

“Dean,” Cas said. Then, again, “Why?”

Dean tried to find the right words, to explain what he’d heard in that cavern, her wails turning into Sam’s. He wanted to make Cas feel what Dean felt when Ben got home from school safely, the way it made him want to protect everyone ten times more than he ever had before. It wasn’t a good answer, Dean knew, but instead of trying to put into words what he couldn’t wholly understand himself, he said, “I just-- She was lying in that hospital bed, and the doctors, they were all mystified as to what the hell was going on with her, and I remembered this time, once, when we were kids?

There had been something, not a shtriga, but something preying on kids and Sammy’d been too young to be of interest, but me, I was just right.”

Cas nodded and Dean thought, right, you know all of this.

“I don’t know, maybe my dad used me as bait, I can’t remember.” Dean didn’t want to know. “But I ended up in the hospital and dad had to steal me out after they’d patched me up because there was stuff they couldn’t figure out, and for a second I thought he would leave me, thought he should, because he and Sammy could get away faster without an invalid. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, what happened to kids who just got left, but I know he didn’t leave me and it makes no sense, but I just, I couldn’t leave her. Especially now that I do know what happens when kids are left.”

Cas said, “Human children are left to the so-called system every day, Dean. What are you going to do the next time?”

Dean laughed, the sound bitter on his tongue. “Napalm that bridge when I come to it.” Then, not wanting to think about this anymore, certainly not wanting to talk about it, he asked, “Should we wake her?”

“She will have to wake, sooner or later. The sooner she does so, the sooner she can learn that things have changed.”

“And you think that is best.”

“I think she has not known care in a long time.”

“Cas?” Dean asked.

“The creature that had her, it is an abomination, a literal accrual of the sins of man, the ones that are so evil they take on an energy of their own.”

“That’s apocryphal,” Dean said. “Evil always comes from somewhere. It doesn’t just…build itself.”

“It may come from somewhere, but it can take its own form, can essentially reproduce once it has managed to take that form. The type you found, it festers from souls that not even hell can break, souls that are too decayed to exist in either G-d or Lucifer’s kingdom.”

“And these souls—“

“They find each other, feed off of each other, become animate, but only in the sense that they need more of what they needed in corporeal form—the pain of others. It is not always children. It depends on the original form of the soul. But in this case, this particular conglomeration, it would have delighted in taking pain from something so untainted, something so undeserving.”

Dean didn’t want to know, but, “How would it have kept her alive?”

“Take adults, and force them to sustain her. The creature would not have needed them, but once it had begun feeding on her misery, it would not have wanted to let her go. So it would find humans to take care of her. It cannot take human form, but it can make humans see it in human form, and can use this to obtain the necessary supplies. Then, when it would tire of the newest caretaker, then it would use that person as a toy, something for her to watch being destroyed. After a while she would—“

“Tell the person not to care about her,” Dean said, feeling numb.

Cas nodded. “It would enrage the monster. Once she started doing that, she became less fulfilling to feed off of, her innocence bleeding away. That would be when it started hurting her physically. Before that, it would just siphon off of her the fear it engendered in her, but when the pleasure of that started to fade, it would-- I don’t know how to explain, precisely. Injecting poison is the closest analogy I can come up with, but poisons are physical. What the creature was feeding her, it was entirely psychic, pure hatred and depression and other evils of the mind. It’s own anger that she was giving up the pure humanity that made her so precious to it. Humans need care to remain truly human.”

“Humans,” Dean said, feeling empty without understanding why.

“It is, I think, why G-d considers you His crowning achievement,” Cas said, his voice muted.

“Stay for breakfast,” Dean found himself saying.

“I don’t need to eat.”

“Yeah, Cas. I know. I know that. I thought I’d introduce you to Ben.”

Cas nodded.

*


Cas woke Francesca with a touch of two fingers to her forehead. She gasped and then keened and then went silent. Dean sat next to her bed and asked, “You remember me, kid? Anything about me? Or that guy in the coat, there?”

Her eyes were wide with panic. She didn’t move.

Cas said, “Her mind felt whole.”

“Hear that, kid? You’re whole. The monster didn’t take anything from you.”

From the bottom of the stairs, still looking half asleep, Sam said, “Have her touch you. Lore says the thing that had her would have felt like touching dry ice.”

Hesitant to force contact, but trusting Sam to know, Dean brushed a finger over one of her knuckles. She startled but then gripped the finger, almost like an infant would. She stared at her prize for long moments, and then looked around, warily.

Sam said, “The monster’s not here, Francesca. Just us. Us and Lisa and Ben. You’ll meet them in a little bit.”

Her fingers tightened. Dean thought maybe she had liked the sound of Sam talking. She’d seemed just a touch calmer at the noise. He tried saying, “Ben is going to be your big brother. He’s a really nice kid. You’re lucky, with him. I know you probably don’t believe anything we’re saying, if you even understand, but nothing’s going to hurt you, not here.”

She was breathing a little bit easier, so he continued. “Anyone ever tell you about angels? The white, fluffy kinds? Well, I know it doesn’t look like it, but that guy behind me? He’s totally like that on the inside, where we can’t see. And he’s watching over you, too. His name is Castiel, but we call him Cas. It’s easier.”

Her mouth moved a little, but she didn’t say anything. He asked, “You like that? You want one of your own? We can give you a nickname. Um, how about…how about Frankie? I like the sound of that.”

She tightened her hold. Dean looked at his finger. “I don’t know if that’s a yes or a no. Tell you what, if you like Frankie, can you give my finger a couple of squeezes?”

It was a long moment, and Dean was about to try another name, maybe, when there were two slow squeezes. He looked at her and smiled. “Okay. Frankie it is. You hungry, Frankie? Two squeezes for yes.”

She was quicker about it that time. Dean sent Sam to the kitchen. He wasn’t ready to take his finger back yet.

*


Cas stayed for breakfast. Dean picked Frankie up out of the bed, and put her on Cas’s lap at the breakfast table, while he helped Lisa—who also introduced herself by way of touch—mix pancakes and scramble up eggs and cut up fruit. Lisa had been kind of insistent that he start eating things that weren’t half cholesterol, half plastic.

Ben sat next to them and let Frankie hold onto his thumb. He was somewhat engrossed by her, but clearly trying not to seem that way, as she got shaky when people looked at her too long. He’d taken Cas in stride, nodding politely when Dean introduced him as an old friend. He’d shaken hands with Cas and asked, “Are you here to help with my sister?”

Cas had blinked at that, whether at the question, or the insistence in Ben’s tone when he said “sister,” Dean wasn’t sure. After a moment, he said, “I came to help.”

Ben looked like he was about to grill Cas some more, but Sam was evidently feeling merciful, since he distracted Ben with a conversation about the World Cup.

Dean couldn’t help looking over at Cas, now and then. He kept asking questions about soccer that would have Ben cracking up and Sam politely trying not to laugh. Sam would let Ben answer the questions, though, and then Cas would just have more questions. Dean was pretty sure he’d felt Cas glaring at him once or twice, while he wasn’t looking, but he’d ignored it.

Lisa fed Frankie, little bites, things that wouldn’t hurt her stomach. Cas had been insistent that she would have been fed human food, but he couldn’t say what kind or how often or anything that might have given Lisa some medical insight into how to rehabilitate her eating habits. Frankie looked pretty unsure about the idea of eating at first—Dean didn’t even want to know where that kind of fear came from--but she gave into the human need for sustenance with some gentle coaxing.

Halfway through breakfast, she fell asleep, still on Cas’s lap. Dean didn’t think she was going to wake, so he took her carefully from Cas and put her back in her bed, covers tucked nearly to her ears. The kitchen was close enough that they would hear if something went wrong. He left her there, and and went to eat something himself.

He sat in between Lisa and Sam, across from Ben and Cas at the round table. Lisa knocked her knee up against his once and he smiled over at her, just a little, before digging into breakfast.

She said, “Tonight’s my almost-graveyard.”

Dean made a face. They all hated when Lisa had to pull the 7 PM to 3 AM shift at the hospital, but they required all the nurses to do it once a week.

Sam said, “I, uh, I called Bobby. Told him to keep the offers away for another week or so.”

Dean hated to admit it, but he was kind of glad Sam had been the one to take that bullet. “What’d he say?”

“Stuff I probably shouldn’t say in front of Ben. Then he told me to send pictures. I snapped some while you were getting her up.”

Lisa laughed. Cas said, “I could take him the pictures.

Dean looked at Sam, who shrugged. “Wonder which is faster: e-mail or angel-mail?”

Dean said, “Wonder why the angel suddenly has so much time to be a postman?”

“Take it outside, Dean,” Lisa warned. She didn’t even sound surprised.

Dean shook his head. Fuck it. “That’s great, Cas. You go run our Kodak moments to Bobby.”

“Time in Heaven is much like time in Hell, Dean.”

Next to Dean, Sam tensed. Dean just speared part of a pancake. “Wow, no, not discussing this.”

“I simply meant to explain that I have had time, over the past earthen year and three months to reorganize Heavenly structures. Once that was finished, I—“

“Pulled a G-d?” Dean asked.

Cas’s jaw tightened and Dean was willing to admit silently that that had been a bit of an asshole thing to say, even if it was how he felt. He wasn’t going to apologize, though.

Cas pulled himself up and away from the table. “Had more important things to attend to,” he finished his sentence. Before Dean could figure out what that meant, or how to respond, Cas had disappeared, the quiet sound of wings echoing just a moment after him.

*


Bobby called that afternoon and opened up with, “I’m too old for this shit, Dean.”

Dean, well aware that sometimes silence was the better part of virtue, just not much willing to heed that, asked, “Hunting?”

“No, idjit, you sending me your one night stand castoffs. And since when do you fuck around in the community? I was worried with Jo, but once I figured you weren’t gonna go there—“

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“C’mon, Dean, you know there’s a way of going about these things.”

“These things?”

“You weren’t the one who invented sex, kid.”

“Okay, TMI.” Dean took a moment.

“And I thought you and Lisa were monogamous.”

“Lisa and I are monogamous. Who the hell have you been talking to?”

“Cas, who else?”

“Wait, Cas said I was cheating—“

“Cas hasn’t said a damn word except ‘here are your pictures’ and ‘can I have a beer?’ I know what they look like when you’re done with’em, Winchester. Used to look that way after your daddy, too.”

Dean tried desperately scrub that image from his brain. Then he accepted that no, it had been seared in there, much like hell. “Okay, um, let’s start from the beginning. First, please don’t ever mention my dad and sex again. Second, seriously, how many beers did you have with Cas? Cas is Cas, we don’t-- He’s a fucking angel, he’s a he-- Why am I even having to explain this to you?”

Bobby was silent for a long moment. “I’m going to let you get away with actin’ like the world’s most heterosexual heterosexual because I respect you. If you don’t start returning the favor, though, we’re gonna talk about exactly how I know better, yeah?”

Dean swallowed and said quietly, “Yeah, Bobby, okay.” Dean couldn’t say for certain what Bobby might or might not know, but he could say that was knowledge he could live forever without having.

“Dean, why’d you send Cas with the pictures? Email would’ve done just fine.”

“I was gonna email. Cas said he’d do it. Seemed like he wanted to see you.”

“So he’s just craving some time on Earth.” Bobby was using his I-don’t-even-want-to-waste-breath-telling-you-you’re-an-idjit tone.

“You’ve met other angels. You telling me you wouldn’t prefer it down here?”

“I’m not Cas.”

“Well, I’m not sure Cas is as much Cas as he was when he first pulled me up.” Which was the problem, so far as Dean was concerned. It would have been so much easier if Cas had just stayed a sanctimonious asshole and Dean had never had to care that he couldn’t stay, probably wouldn’t even if Dean asked.

“Yeah, that’s the thing.”

“What thing? Bobby—“

“He risked everything for you, Dean—“

Dean’s stomach clenched. “For G-d’s creation, not for—“

“And you of all fucking people should know that sometimes you can’t go home.”

“He’s Big Man on Campus up there,” Dean all-but spat.

“Maybe. I think what he is is lonely.”

When Dean didn’t say anything else, Bobby finished, “Easy to recognize in a takes-one-to-know-one kinda way.”

Dean’s chest ached and he tried not to think of bonfires in Bobby’s junkyard and the way Sam still woke up screaming Jess’ name sometimes. “What do you want? Why’d you call?”

Bobby didn’t answer right away. When he did, he sounded concerned. “Dean, try not to be so mad at Cas. You’ve done your best time and again to save your world. It was his right to go try with his.”

Dean hadn’t had to abandon anyone to do his part. Maybe he’d done a crap job of watching out for Sammy over and over, but he hadn’t just abandoned him, not for longer than it took to get his head screwed on straight. “Never said it wasn’t.”

“No. But you took the desertion personally. It wasn’t.”

Is it ever? Dean scrubbed a hand over his face. “Tell Cas he’s-- Tell him I was being a douche.”

“With pleasure.” Bobby paused. “Dean, I-- I’m not judging, son, but, I know—“ Dean could hear Bobby pull away from the line and swear quietly for a few seconds. “I know he was something outside of Sam and me, but also, I just mean, I get that he was special. For you.”

Dean couldn’t breathe. He didn’t want Bobby to be saying this to him, making anything that he might feel or not feel for Cas real.

“And if he, if I’m right, and I send him back and the two of you-- Just, don’t let. It’s just that you’re a grown-ass man, and Lisa’s a good example of how things should be, not the stuff you learned while John was away.”

“Yeah, Bobby. I know.” Not that Dean was sure it mattered, but he did know.

Bobby’s, “If you need anything,” was awkward, but sincere.

“I have your number.”

*


Dean woke to Frankie screaming in the middle of the night and was on his feet before his brain had even caught up to his body. Lisa was right beside him, but by the time they got there, Ben was already sitting next to Frankie, letting her grab onto him. Her sobs were quieting.

Dean walked to Ben’s side and ran a hand over his head. “Good job, kid.”

Ben looked up at him with big, worried eyes. Dean pulled him up. “C’mon, back to bed. Your mom and I’ve got this, okay?”

It took a second, but Ben leaned in for a hug around Dean’s waist and then was gone, back to his bedroom. Lisa already had Frankie, and was carrying her up the stairs. Dean looked over at where Sam was peeking his head outside his door and shifted his eyes to Ben’s room. Sam nodded, and Dean followed Lisa back to the room.

She had already settled Frankie in the middle of the bed and was starting to say, “This is what parenting—“

“Yeah,” Dean said. He didn’t mind. He was glad it was them and not Ben. Not that it was a bad thing for Ben to be protective or to care, but he didn’t want it to be Ben’s responsibility, not yet. Dean wouldn’t have given up his place in Sam’s life for all the world, but he could also acknowledge that their relationship was sort of fucked up, as siblings went. He knew that he’d done some things that had left himself missing pieces for the chance that Sam would survive whole. He wanted something a little more healthy for Ben and Frankie.

Lisa smiled at him. She never rushed her smiles, or used them as weapons. Dean liked that, liked being able to trust in that expression from her. It was a little thing, in a way, except how Dean was used to being lied to, being kept in the dark. He reached down and gave her a real smile back.

Frankie was clutching both of them, so it was easy to tell when she’d fallen back asleep, the curl of her fist loosening ever so slightly. Lisa whispered, “Is there, uh. Is there someone in your community that she could see? Like a therapist?”

Dean’s instinct was to say no, to flinch back from the thought of outsiders knowing. But then he remembered something Bobby had said, about how the shrink in his town had been taking in all the survivors of the zombie-a-thon that had taken place in Sioux Falls. Evidently the sheriff had been the first patient and the others had fallen in line. Dean swallowed his automatic denial. “Maybe. I have to ask, but. Maybe.”

Lisa reached over Frankie to run her fingers through Dean’s hair. Dean closed his eyes, leaning into the touch. She said, “You’re crap at asking for help, you know that?”

“Yeah.” Dean did. “Getting better, though.”

“Oh?”

“I came here, didn’t I?”

“Because Sam made you promise.”

Dean’s eyes flew open at that. “How’d you—“

“Instinct. Most of the time, Sam’s still the only one who can get you to do anything when you really don’t want to.”

Dean wasn’t sure how comfortable he was with that observation, but, “Yeah, well, you shoulda seen me around my dad.”

“I gathered.”

Dean took a long breath in. “Lise. I’m, you know I’m glad I—“

“Yeah, babe. I know.”

“Okay,” he said. Sometimes when she finished sentences for him, or just let them be, it felt like she was finding those missing pieces, the ones he’d lost in the Fight For Sam.

She laughed at him, but he didn’t mind. Her laughter was like her smiles, honest.

*


When Dean mentioned calling Bobby about the shrink, Sam was quiet for a little bit and then said, “How about I drive down and spend some time with Bobby, poke around some? If I leave now, I could make it by nightfall.”

Dean said, “Uh, why?”

“Because I’m more tactful about these things.”

Dean opened his mouth, but it was true and both of them knew it, so, “Yeah, Bobby’d like that.”

“Bobby probably wouldn’t mind seeing you. And meeting Frankie.”

“Bobby has his own damn car,” Dean groused.

“You still pissed because he’s sending your mancrush back?”

“I’m not pissed, Cas is not a mancrush, and how the hell do you even know Bobby’s sending him back?“ Dean manfully resisted the urge to growl. “You know what? Nevermind, go away before I get blood on Lisa’s upholstery. She doesn’t like that.”

“She spank you?”

Go.”

Sam snickered, but he left. Only to be replaced by Cas, who looked pensive and asked, “Why would she punish you with sensations you consider to be enjoyable?”

There were some days when Dean kind of missed Hell. At least there the torture had been straightforward and unyielding, not allowing time for reprieve and the hope that came with it. He said, “I owe you an apology, Cas, not access to my brain.”

“I can’t help but hear the things you don’t keep to yourself. It’s…it is like being in a room with a radio playing too loudly.”

Dean couldn’t have said what made him ask, “Need some Tylenol?”

The corner of Cas’s mouth quirked. “I would not say no to a beer.”

Dean hesitated for a second. “Yeah, okay.”

Frankie was actually awake, playing quietly with the stuffed elephant Ben had given her for comfort. Cas stopped by where she was sitting and sat next to her, offering his hand. She took it, but then traced his face and his ears. He waited patiently. Dean wondered if Frankie was like a loud radio, too. She hadn’t made the choices that had ended up splintering her, but Dean thought the end result looked awfully similar.

When Frankie turned back to her elephant, Cas followed Dean into the kitchen. Dean popped open two beers and handed one to Cas. Cas took a pull and then said, “Bobby says I abandoned you.”

Dean looked at the ceiling. Since when did Bobby share shit like that?

Cas said, “They’re my brothers. Mostly my baby brothers, at this point.”

Dean nodded, tightly.

There was a moment, a sharpness to Cas’s breathing before he asked, “If I hadn’t gone back, Dean, would you have gone to Lisa?”

“I promised Sam,” he said, because that was the easy answer, and probably somewhat true.

“Dean.”

Dean whipped his gaze to Cas. “What does it matter? You went.”

“You didn’t tell me not to,” Cas said.

Dean drank his beer. He didn’t really have anything to say to that that wouldn’t sound petulant. He caught himself right before he said, you should have known.

He was pretty sure Cas got the message.

*


Two days later, Sam called and asked, “Um, you think you can see if Cas would stay around there so you can come join me for a quick hunt?”

Dean rolled that around in his head. “What?”

Sam sighed. “I kind of, um. You remember Jody?”

It took Dean a second. “Oh. The sheriff?”

“Yeah. Bobby had me talk to her about the shrink thing, because she was the one who got word out about who would see people about the zombie situation in the first place, and she was telling me there’s this town about four hours out that’s called for assistance a few times on stuff that I’m pretty sure is our kinda thing.”

“And you said we’d take it. Even though we’re on a self-proclaimed break to help my girlfriend out with the new kid we just brought home?”

“Dean,” there was something in Sam’s voice. “Dean, I said we’d take the case.”

Oh. Dean smirked. “I sent you to find a shrink for a little girl and you got lucky. Only you, Sammy.”

Sam muttered something. Dean asked, “What?”

“What?” Sam asked.

“Oh my-- You haven’t gotten lucky yet. Sam, seriously—“

“You know what? I’ll just ask Bobby. Or Cas. Or—“

“Oh shut up. If Bobby’s not on it, he’s on something else, and Cas doesn’t even answer you half the time. I’ll talk to him, send me the coordinates, I’ll meet you there.”

Cas sauntered in from the other room. Dean suspected he used some of that heaven time when he was supposedly so busy to learn more human behaviors. Dean didn’t want to fight about it, though, wasn’t even sure what there was something to fight about.

Cas said, “I answer Sam seventy three point two percent of the time, which is statistically significantly higher than half the time.”

Dean shrugged. “Worked, didn’t it?”

“I don’t know. You haven’t told me what you’re talking to me about.”

Right. “Staying with Lisa, Frankie and Ben for a couple of days while Sam and I take care of something up north.”

“You want me to babysit.” The word “babysit” sounded funny in Cas’ mouth, like a different language he was unsure of.

“Well, I’m pretty sure Lisa can change her own diapers, but—“

“Dean.”

“I don’t feel right leaving them alone,” Dean admitted. It felt awkward and somewhat horrible, and he knew, also, that Lisa had taken perfectly good care of herself and Ben before he came along, but that didn’t change anything. “So. Y’know, if you haven’t got more important things than my family—“

“Dean?”

Dean looked at Cas.

“Shut the fuck up.” Cas turned around and went back into the room where he’d been sitting with Frankie.

Dean called, “Don’t be teaching my kids those words!”

*


The hunt was a completely run-of-the-mill ghost. They had it salted and burned by the morning of their second day. Dean drove them back to Sioux Falls, despite both of them having been up nearly twenty-five hours. They’d done worse.

Jody was sitting at Bobby’s kitchen table, drinking coffee, when they got back. Bobby was across from her, also with coffee. They were each working, Jody on what looked to be municipal paperwork, Bobby on something he’d probably gotten a call about.

Dean said, “Hey Bobby. Hunt went okay, I guess?”

“Ya think?” Bobby asked, without looking up.

Sam had gotten himself some coffee, and was sitting down at the table. Jody asked, “You want some lunch? I was thinking about running to the diner in a bit. Singer here evidently lives on books and the occasional pound or two of scrap metal.”

Bobby made a vague gesture that wasn’t exactly “fuck you” but came damn close. Sam and Jody both grinned. Sam said, “That’d be great. I’m just gonna take a shower.”

“Yeah,” Jody said. Dean snickered. Sam looked apologetic, which evidently did something for Jody, since she leaned in and slid her lips over his. Then she got up and left.

Sam blinked at Dean a few times. Dean said, “I’m not giving you The Talk. You need it, Bobby’s gonna have to man up.”

Bobby did flip Dean off, in concert with Sam. Then Sam swept by him, toward the upstairs bathroom. Bobby finally looked up when Sam was gone. Dean said, “Yeah?”

Bobby said, “Her dead son ate her husband, you know?”

And sure, Dean granted that Jody probably had some shit to work through on her own, but a) he was hardly one to judge and b), “She’s neither demon nor werewolf.”

“Werewolf?”

Dean rubbed his forehead. “You don’t want to know.”

Bobby took that at face value and didn’t ask. Dean shot him an appreciative glance. Bobby did ask, “How’s the girl?”

Dean considered the possible answers to that. “Not as bad as she probably could be.”

Bobby nodded a little. Dean said, “I’m gonna call them.”

“Yeah.”

Dean wandered into the study area and hit the number for the house. Cas picked up. “Hello?”

“Cas,” Dean said.

“Ben is at school, Lisa is at work, and Frankie had oatmeal for breakfast.”

“So, all’s well?”

“We would like you to return.”

Dean thought about making a snippy comment about people coming back, but he reeled it in. Cas had probably made the oatmeal, since it was Lisa’s early shift today. Ben might’ve helped, probably. “Tomorrow. Sam needs the rest of the day.”

“Ben misses Sam as well.”

“Cas, tomorrow, I promise.”

Cas was silent for a long moment. Then he asked, “How do you like your oatmeal?”

*


Despite Dean’s strong insistence that he did not like oatmeal—he didn’t, never had—Cas just kept trying new things in it until he found one that clicked. It was more brown sugar and cinnamon and baked apples than oatmeal, but Dean would eat it, with relish. Cas didn’t seem all that victorious. He said, “The point of this exercise was to find something healthy that you would eat.”

Sam snorted, poured a little maple syrup in his oatmeal and said, “Good luck with that, Cas.”

If Ben hadn’t been at the table, Dean would have flipped Sam off. As it was, he made a face at him. Cas sighed. Dean noticed that he wasn’t eating any of the oatmeal himself. Dean would have pointed that out, only Cas would have made the logical argument that he didn’t need to eat, and it was too early in the morning for logic.

Lisa sidled up behind Cas, who was cleaning the pan he’d been using. Dean blinked. He was used to seeing Cas rebuff casual contact, but instead, something eased in his expression when Cas looked back at her. She said, “We’ll find something.”
Then she squeezed him, his eyes widening a little as she did so. She came around to drop a kiss on Ben, Frankie and Sam’s foreheads, and one on Dean’s mouth before saying, “See you kids after work. Ben, don’t miss the bus, okay? I know Dean’s car is cooler, but seriously, I pay taxes for a reason.”

“Yes, mom,” Ben said, sounding a little despondent, but nonetheless honest about his intentions.

“Serious one-on-one football match when you finish your homework, man,” Dean promised.

Ben tried not to look pleased, in that almost-adolescent way he had, but he said, “Yeah, okay,” and settled.

Sam got up, cleaned his bowl and disappeared. Dean thought he was making morning phone calls to Jody, but he wasn’t asking. Dean was about to take his bowl to the sink when Frankie said, softly, “Football.”

Ben, Cas and Dean all froze. Dean must have recovered first, because he was the one to say, “That’s right, babydoll, football. It’s a game.”

Her breathing got faster at that, and Dean reacted instinctively, pulling her from the cushioned chair they’d been putting her in onto his lap. “Hey, hey.”

She dug her fingers into his skin, but that was okay, because it was helping her calm down. He said, “Okay, let’s-- What about football, Frankie?”

It didn’t seem like she was going to say anything else, but then she muttered against his shirt, “Dad. Daddy. Football.”

Dean closed his eyes. He could see it without even trying, a normal, everyday father who sat down and watched a game on Sundays, tried to teach his daughter the rules. He ran a hand over her hair. “Yeah, dads sometimes like football. You can watch us play, if you want, or not.”

She shook her head, over and over and over again, and Dean said, “Okay. Okay. Cas doesn’t like football either. You two can find something better to do.”

Cas looked over at him, slightly confused. So far as Dean knew, Cas had no opinion one way or another about football. Dean made a just-go-with-it motion. Cas said, “I would love to spend the afternoon with you, Frankie.”

Frankie didn’t look up, but she did stop shaking her head. Dean took that as the best he was going to get. He looked up at Ben, who was clearly a little shaken-up. “You want a ride to school, bud?”

Ben inhaled, then, after a moment, said, “No, no, I’ll-- I’ll take the bus, thanks.”

Dean was totally going to reiterate what an awesome kid Ben was to Lisa that night—possibly with diagrams.

*


Jody’s shrink said he’d give Frankie a shot, even if he wasn’t really equipped to work with anything beyond a zombie-attack survivor, but really, why the hell not? Dean had all kinds of answers about hell and why not, but he kept his mouth shut, instead trying to explain to Frankie why they were putting her in a car and taking her somewhere that was not the house.

After about thirty minutes of hysterics, Dean said fuck it to that approach and Cas hit her with some sleeping mojo. Dean said, “Yeah, uh. Thanks.”

Cas didn’t look thrilled but he said, “You are welcome.”

Sam was driving her out to South Dakota, and Dean was staying home, because he was a shit boyfriend and father-figure, but he had some idea of where the limits were. Cas asked, “Do you want me to stay or go?”

Dean quashed his own preferences and said, “I need you to take care of them.”

Cas looked at him for a long moment before nodding. If he’d read Dean’s mind, he was tactful enough not to say anything.

Dean spent the next few days taking day hunts. He’d drop Lisa off at work, make sure Ben got off to school, and take himself somewhere within a few hours in Lisa’s beat-up, trusty Camry. Most of what he found locally was pretty easy, spirits in need of a salt-and-burn, or things that turned out to have not-so-supernatural explanations.

He could get back, if not by dinner time, then by the time Ben was going to bed. There was a pattern to it, which kind of freaked Dean out, but he was getting used to that kind of freak out.

On the way out to wherever he was going, he’d call and talk to Sam about Frankie. These conversations mostly consisted of Sam saying, “Still not talking,” and Dean saying, “You at least getting lucky?” and Sam hanging up.

Cas was a little more informative, mostly because he didn’t think not to say things like, “She wet the bed last night. That is a sign of sociopathy in some children.”

“It’s also a sign of fear, Cas.”

“Oh.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “How’s Bobby?”

“…Not wetting the bed?”

“Change of subject, Cas.”

“Oh. He’s fine. He came back from a hunt with two teeth missing, but I am good at dental repair.”

“I’m sure he appreciated it.”

“He gave me alcohol.”

“Yup, that’s a sign.”

“Dean.”

“Cas?”

“I can feel her fear. I-- I try not to. But it, it’s there all the time.”

Dean winced at the tenor of uncertainty in Cas' statement. He said, as gently as he knew how, “Sometimes being human is like that.”
“I know. I remember. That’s the worst part about it. I dislike experiencing her fear; I want to shut it out, regain the relative quiet of my own mind. Is this what selfishness feels like?”

Dean didn’t know how to explain that it wasn’t that simple, and that there were times when selfishness was simply part of a larger whole. He wasn’t so much into the whole explaining things thing. Instead he said, “Just keep holding her hand, Cas.”

“Is that what I should have done for you?”

Dean said, “What’s done is done,” and then hung up before Cas could ask any more questions. He wasn’t in the mood to answer them. He wasn’t sure he would ever be, not when he had known better than to need that from Cas, from fucking anyone, but particularly from Cas, who had always had bigger and better things to return to. Dean almost wished that Cas could have just stayed ignorant, kept on not having the awareness to see that far into what Dean had silently craved—but only almost. And realizing that he was glad Cas at least knew, now, at least had some understanding, that was possibly even more terrifying than wanting anything from Cas in the first place.

Dean closed his eyes and took a second to let his mind go blank. It was something his dad had taught him when he was five and the nightmares wouldn’t stop. It helped remind him that he’d never let fear get the better of him. He didn’t think now was the time to start.

*


Sam called every day with not a hell of a lot to report, other than that he had to stay with Frankie for sessions—she freaked at being left alone in a room with a stranger—and she still wasn’t talking. About a week in, he said, “She’ll fall asleep with Jody.”

New people were kind of a big thing for Frankie, almost like she had decided that the people she’d woken up to that first time were the only safe people in the world simply because they had been there. Dean wasn’t sure that didn’t make sense, actually, but Sam was right, it was progress that she was letting anyone in. He asked, “Yeah?”

Sam didn’t say anything for a bit. Then he said, “Jody’s a little-- Kids for her are kind of like dogs for you.”

Dean blinked. Last he had checked, they didn’t talk about his dog thing. Which was totally rational; he’d been ripped to fucking shreds by hellhounds. What kind of moron had that happen and wasn’t at least a little afraid of dogs? “Oh.”

“So. Kind of a big thing for both of them.”

“Yeah. Uh. Good?”

“Probably.” Sam breathed in sharply. “Bobby’s back in town right now. Maybe for a while.”

“Sam?”

“I’m sending Cas back to you.”

“Make sure to tie the bow neatly.”

“He wants to be there, jerk.”

Dean was on the road, back from a job. He pulled the car to the shoulder and got out. “Yeah, I-- Okay.”

“If you needed, like, a day or two, I could ask him to help out for a little longer.”

“Why would I—“

“You should talk to Lisa, Dean.”

“I think our relationship probably works because she’s not as much of a girl as you are.”

“Your relationship works because she’s smarter about getting you to spill than I am. Talk to her, Dean.”

Dean almost said, there’s nothing to talk about, almost. But Cas had saved his life, and probably returned Sam to him, and had come back from heaven. Probably there was something to talk about. Dean leaned forward, resting his head against the steering wheel. The car smelled like Lisa—boxed cereal, antisceptic, and rain.

“Dean.”

“Fuck off,” Dean said, but not with as much passion as it probably needed.

“Talk to you tomorrow, then.”

“Die in a fire.”

“You’re going to feel bad if that actually happens.”

“Only if some dick angel doesn’t resurrect you this time.”

“Love you too, big brother,” Sam said and hung up before Dean could say anything appropriately nasty. He almost said it to the car, but she just wouldn’t understand the way his Impala would.

*


When Ben called after school and asked if he could spend the night at Ethan’s—Ben’s best friend since the age of negative four—Dean automatically said, “It’s a school night.”

He’d learned that lesson the hard way. Evidently normal kids didn’t spend the night at other kid’s houses on a school night because it meant they would be tired the next day, rather than because their fathers thought they might get killed by demons. He’d kind of thought he was doing well, letting go of pretty serious baggage.

Ben said, “Yeah, I know, but I promise to go to bed on time. You can talk to Ethan’s mom.”

Dean was so totally not talking to anyone else’s mom. Also, Ben being somewhere safe, where he was taken care of, actually kind of worked out to Dean’s advantage. “Nah, that’s-- Nine o’ clock, buddy.”

“Really?” Ben sounded suspicious. “Is this gonna get you in trouble with mom?”

“Probably,” Dean admitted. He thought about saying something brash, like denying being scared, but he didn’t really like lying to Ben, and he got scared every time Lisa was mad at him, like she might leave and take Ben in the night. Still, last time, when she’d been done yelling at him, she’d told him, softly, that she was glad he was letting go of the thing where he kind of stalked Ben trying to keep him safe, so maybe he could get some leniency out of her again.

“I should come home.”

“You go with Ethan. I’ll let her know where you are. And I’ll be fine. Worse comes to worst, Sam can come get me, right?”

“Sam’s in South Dakota.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll wear mittens while I’m waiting out front for him.”

Ben didn’t say anything for a few moments. Dean said, “Seriously, kiddo, I got this one. Go have fun. And get to bed on time.”

“Yes, sir,” Ben said softly.

Dean hung up the phone, paced barefoot over the soft carpeting of the living room a couple of times. Then he went to go find his shoes, and go for a run. Lisa’s shift was over in two hours, and Dean was going to need to run himself down to his bones, too far for nerves to still exist and still quiver before he went to pick her up. Also, he figured, just to start off on her good side, a shower afterward probably wouldn’t hurt.

The wind was brutal, just a touch below frigid. Dean ran straight into its fists.

*


In hindsight, Dean should have remembered that flowers always mean, I’m sorry.

Lisa got in the car, took one look at the bouquet of orange-gold flowers that had inexplicably made Dean think of Lisa’s smile and said, “Jesus. Who died? Or, should I ask, 'Who did you kill?'"

All things being equal, Dean figured he was the one likely to end up dead by her hand, but all he said was, “I wanted to take you on a date tonight.”

Lisa brought the flowers to her nose and breathed in deeply. “Hm. So, where’s my son?”

“Yeah, I might’ve said he could spend the night at Ethan’s.”

For a moment, Lisa looked like she was gearing up to bitch him out, which, fair, but then she said, “Which is weird, because you don’t usually override my authority.”

Dean took it for the opening it was. “I needed to talk with you, Lise. Just you and me, tonight.”

Lisa moved the flowers as far away from herself as she could without dropping them. She looked a little nauseated. “Are you leaving?”

Oh. Dean managed, somehow, to feel like more of an asshole than he had the moment before. “No, no, seriously, nothing like that. Honest.”

Her muscles relaxed a little. “Okay. Um, okay, then is this about Cas?”

It was Dean’s turn to tense up, even moreso than he had been before. Lisa placed her free hand on his shoulder and waited until he melted slightly into it. She said, “I know I get busy and stuff, with work and Ben, and now Frankie, and, I dunno, maybe it seems like I’m not paying attention. But a girl knows when her guy’s in love with someone else, babe. It’s a thing. We have radar.”

“I’m not—“

“You are,” she said, but she didn’t sound upset about it. She sounded sure.

Dean wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so he didn’t, for a bit, just driving. They came to their destination and he parked the car. She said, “Wow, when you said date, you weren’t kidding.”

The restaurant Dean had taken them to wasn’t nice nice, but it was young professional nice, and served things that weren’t fried. For a moment, Dean wanted to wince that Lisa was so used to him being him that this was a banner date. Then she leaned in and said, “Pizza at the house would’ve worked for me, babe.”

It loosened something inside his chest, the place where he never, ever felt like enough for anyone else. He followed her into the restaurant. When they’d been seated and ordered, he offered her the only thing he’d come up with, “I actually-- I love you.”

He knew it was stupid to be scared of the words, but Dean was scared of stupid shit, sometimes, like flying. Lisa said, “I know. Hey, Dean, I know.”

He looked at her. She smiled a little. “I got that when you stayed even after Sam came. I got that when you let me stay up with you after the nightmares. I got it when you brought Frankie home. I get it.”

“But you—“

“Dean, when Sam showed, and you told me about it, about you and him and your family, did you think that I took that info and thought, ‘yeah, this is gonna be normal’?”

She had a point. Dean and Lisa had found Sam at a bar, drunk off his ass, two months after Dean had stumbled onto Lisa’s front porch and asked to be let in. They’d taken Sam—who evidently hadn’t wanted to screw up Dean’s domestic bliss, but also wasn’t sure where the hell else to go—home to sleep it off on the couch. Lisa had made brownies, and opened them each a beer and said, “I need you to tell me what the hell’s going on.”

He had told her most of it—the important parts. That was the first time he’d discussed Cas with her, largely because he’d sat out in the backyard making demands for Cas to come down until he had. Then he’d grilled Cas for information, to make sure that Lucifer was still in the cage and the thing sleeping on his couch was actually his brother.

He hadn’t said much about Cas, but he was pretty sure the way he’d said, “He saved me from hell,” and probably, “he chose us over his brothers,” had been significant. Lisa was good at reading between Dean’s lines.

She’d listened and then asked him, “How is it that angels can be dicks, demons can be helpful, monsters can have morals, and humans can be monsters, but you can’t live your life with Sam and with me?”

Dean had made himself breathe past the terror in his chest. “I told you about my mom, about her parents—“

“And you told me that Azazel is dead. That Sam locked Lucifer back in his cage. That there’s an angel out there who cares about you.”

“Lisa, if you and Ben—“

Lisa had squeezed her hand hard enough to get his attention. “I let you in, and I gave you a beer. I didn’t give you permission to make my decisions for me.”

He had tried to figure out some way to argue with that, some way to make her see that he wouldn’t know how to deal with bringing harm to her door. Then she’d said, “You saved Ben’s life. Maybe, maybe nothing is destined, Dean Winchester. Michael’s in a cage, and not inside your body, right? What do you say?”

Dean hadn’t said much of anything. But he had gotten out of bed the next morning and eaten breakfast with her, and gone to work and returned home after work. That seemed to be all the verbalization either of them needed.

Even so, even with all that behind them, Dean pointed out, “There’s a huge difference between normal and—“ Dean frowned. He didn’t even know what to call it, how to say what he wanted. “Me.”

“Yeah.” Lisa nodded. “But I chose you. And I’m going to keep choosing you as long you’re willing to be chosen. And honestly, no hopped up Precious Moments figure in a trenchcoat’s gonna keep that from happening.”

Dean choked on his beer at that description of Cas. When he recovered, he asked, “So, um. What are you suggesting?”

Lisa took a couple of sips of wine and said, “I haven’t exactly come up with a plan. Honestly, I kinda knew from when you called him, after Sam showed, I knew that he was…important, but it took until he actually came around for me to figure out that you were, I mean, that he was something you wanted as opposed to just, uh, wanting your friend around. But I—“ Here, Lisa smiled a little, her head dipping down, “I’ve seen you look at guys—“

“Lise—“

She shook her head. “Not like I don’t, occasionally. It just, it helped me to put together the whole thing, so, I’ve been thinking about it. Googling, a little. Nothing that automatically screams workable to me has quite come up, but I don’t think this is less doable than anything else between us.”

“You-- Maybe, uh, rules?” For all Dean’s issues with, say, heavenly authority, he wasn’t stupid, he knew he did best when he knew what to do, what the limits were, who he was supposed to listen to. Also, it was something concrete they could talk about, because he wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about the things Lisa noticed about him, things that he didn’t talk with anyone about. Sure, Bobby knew, but that was because Bobby’d been around for so damn long and actually paid attention. Sam knew, but, well, Sam was Sam with regard to Dean. That was different.

Lisa gave him a knowing look. “Okay. One for one. I get one, you get one. If we need more, it goes like that. And I suppose Cas can have one for each of ours, as well. If we’re trying to be fair.”

“Are we?”

“Probably a good idea.” Lisa screwed up her face, but then laughed a little, more nervous than amused.

“You first,” Dean said.

“No sex without me there.” She didn’t even have to think about it. “Kissing, sure, talking, cuddling, whatever, but if there is an actual dick involved, I’m in the room.”

Dean shifted to make himself more comfortable. Lisa snickered. “Evidently, that’s not going to be a problem for you.”

Dean smirked at her. She said, “Your turn.”

Dean didn’t have to think, either. “If you and Cas, if this happens and you guys realize that it’s better, y’know, without me, you just put all my stuff in the Impala. Don’t say it or-- I’ll come back for Sam in a couple of days, unless he wants to stay.”

Lisa said, “Baby, it’s not that vulnerability isn’t hot in a guy at times, but you have serious damage, you realize that, right?”

“It’s been mentioned.”

“Would you like a not-stupid rule?”

“One for your one.”

Lisa rolled her eyes. “Okay. Um, Ben still comes first. Always.”

“Yeah,” Dean said, because that was a life rule.

She just raised her eyebrow. “You.”

Dean finished off his beer. “You have to tell me if I’m doing something wrong. Hurting you. Or, I mean, if you know it, him. Just, I need verbal notice that I’m being a douche, y’know?”

“Because I’m usually so easy on you about that stuff.”

Dean shrugged. She kind of was. She was about to say something, her breath catching, but the food came and whatever it had been, all she said was, “Okay, sure.”

*


Ben got home from school the next day looking pretty tired and Dean said, “You are so lucky your mom’s not home.”

Ben said, “Our secret?”

“Get all your homework done, and it’s our secret.” Dean was not above extortion, not at all.

Ben rolled his eyes but said, “Yes, sir,” and went to get started. Dean waited ten minutes before bringing him an after school snack that included Cheez-its, which were Ben’s favorites.

He closed the door to Ben’s room behind him when he left and Cas said, “You overcompensate for your upbringing.”

Dean did not jump three feet in the air, because he had good reflexes, thanks. He did say, “Motherfucker, Cas.”

Cas just looked mildly disapproving and moved in front of him toward the living room. Dean said, “So, uh, hi.”

“Sam told you I was returning.”

Dean just glared, because he was fairly certain that Cas often knew when he was being obtuse. Cas gave nothing away with his responding expression. Dean asked, “How’s Frankie?”

Cas frowned. “Sam said she makes up words that mean nothing, sometimes, when the doctor asks things that seem to frighten her. She has said a few true words, but not-- She is much the same as when we left.”

“She’s a kid. These things, they’re—“ Dean shrugged. Cas had been watching humans for thousands of years; at some level, he had to know.

“Like when you did not speak after your mother’s death.”

For a moment, Dean tensed up, ready to tell Cas to fucking fuck off with all the shit he knew about Dean that he shouldn’t. Then Cas said, “I’m sorry, I— I can not help that I was ordered to watch you, that I did as ordered. But I will not use that knowledge again, you have my word.”

Dean hated Castiel for a second then, clean and bright and uncomplicated. The second passed, dust on the fucking wind, and Dean asked, “Cas, how can you—“

Cas waited, his face serious and calm. Finally, Dean admitted, “I can’t finish that question aloud. Can you just, y’know, look?” Dean motioned to his head.

Cas finished for him. “How can I have seen everything you are and still value you at the highest level?”

Dean swallowed, and just thanked whatever power was controlling Cas today that he hadn’t used the L word. He nodded.

“You will not understand the answer.”

Dean pretended it didn’t hurt, just a little, that Cas thought he was kind of stupid, limited in a so-very-human way.

Cas rolled his eyes--rolled his eyes, what the fuck?--and said, “You will not understand because the answer is self-evident and yet you do not know it. Not because you are somehow less.”

“Stop reading my mind.”

“You invited me.”

“Just for that one thing.”

Cas smirked, just a little bit, and then said, “Because I have seen all of you, Dean.”

“What?”

“That is the answer to your question: because I have seen all of you.”

“You’re right, that makes no fucking sense.”

Cas said, “I am making coffee. Lisa will be home soon and she enjoys a cup when she returns. Would you like some?”

“Way to change the subject.”

Cas didn’t bother responding.

*


Dean thought he would laugh if he were watching this in an episode of Dr. Sexy: he was standing in his girlfriend’s bedroom, fully clothed, with her and his maybe-lover-angel-person-guy. Unfortunately, living it just wasn't as funny as watching it happen on TV.

Lisa said, “Okay, so, awkward.”

Cas said, “Perhaps I should go.”

“I don’t think it’s going to be less awkward tomorrow,” she pointed out.

Dean and Cas shared a look. Right, but tomorrow was twenty-four hours from now, and what was the good of doing something today that you could put off until tomorrow?
Lisa must have caught on, because she told them, “You both suck.”

Dean did his best to look like that made him cool. Cas had the good grace to look ashamed. Lisa raised an eyebrow at Dean and said, “Just for that, Cas gets the first kiss.”

Cas stood frozen as she approached, not melting even when Lisa touched her hand to his jaw, went slightly on her toes and pressed into him, her lips on his. After a few seconds, she drew back. Dean couldn’t see her frown, but he could hear it. She asked, “Cas?”

Cas gave Dean a raw, helpless look, his gaze flicking away from where Lisa stood. Dean said, “He-- He hasn’t done this before, Lise.” Dean sensed that for Cas that was terrifying and more than a little bit embarrassing. Dean couldn’t help be a little bit envious, couldn’t help wishing that so much of what he’d done could erase itself and these moments could be free of so much of what had come before.

After a second, Lisa said, “Huh, well. No pressure on me, or anything.”

Cas’s gaze flew back to her, clearly startled. She laughed, softly, and asked, “Hey, can I take your coat off?”

Cas tensed a little, and somehow, out of everything, that was what spurred Dean into motion. He walked to where he could draw off Cas’s coat. Once Dean touched Cas, he settled, slightly. Dean thought of the first time he’d tried this, tried showing Cas the wide world of sexual pleasure and he almost laughed, almost. Except how Cas had been alone and evidently scared, even if Dean hadn’t been able to understand that. It had been a long time since a woman had scared Dean, at least in the bedroom.

“Hey,” he said, and took the coat. Dean didn’t know how Cas could see inside his head all the time, and yet not be aware that Dean wasn’t going to let anything that wasn’t good happen to Cas here, now.

Cas said, “Hey,” his voice low and uncertain.

Dean consciously projected, this is the good part of being human, and knew that Cas would hear it, even if he wasn’t trying. Lisa said, “Hi,” and tried again, this time a little bit sturdier in her approach.

Dean said softly, “You can touch her.”

Cas made a soft sound, something that was only slightly more than a breath. Dean let his hands slip down and undo the cuff buttons at Cas’s wrists. Just over Cas’s shoulder he could see that Lisa had managed to get her hands between them and was working Cas’s tie loose.

Cas had his hands in her hair, his fingers rubbing the strands, as though trying to get used to the feeling. She pulled her mouth away to undo the buttons of his shirt, leaving his lips with a tiny peck. When she’d pushed back the shirt, Dean ran his hands up Cas’s sides, bringing his undershirt up and over his head.

Dean ran his hands back down as well, keeping hold. Cas was smooth, smoother than he was used to, just enough to somehow know that what was inside the skin wasn’t human. Lisa leaned down and did something that caused Cas to jump. Dean peered over and saw her mouth on Cas’s nipple.

“Huh,” Dean said, and bit lightly into Cas’s shoulder. Cas made a noise in his throat, part surprise, part pleasure.

Lisa came up then, looking over Cas’s shoulder at Dean. She asked, “What do you want, babe?”

The question was too big, and in the end, he knew the answer was the same no matter the possibilities. “What do you want?”

She smiled at him, maybe a little sad, but not so much as to hurt. Then she said, “I want to watch you suck him ready, and then I want to be his first in the way only I can be.”

Dean swallowed and did not come in his pants. It wasn’t even a close thing, no, really. “Yeah, um. Yes.”

Lisa laughed, not meanly, just with delight, and Dean found himself smiling, kissing at Cas’s shoulder, swiping his thumbs over Cas’s skin. Lisa said, “I call for way, way more nakedness.”

“Yeah,” Dean agreed, and reached around for the clasp of Cas’s trousers.

When they’d fully divested Cas of clothing, Dean took a moment to just appreciate finally seeing him without his nine-to-five-accountant-of-the-lord armor. For all the times he’d considered Cas in a, well, more-than-friends way, it had always seemed kind of wrong to take that last step in his mind. Not so much because Cas was an angel, although, despite himself, there was that too, but because Cas was Cas. Now, though, he could look.

After a bit, though, Cas started to, well, not fidget, because he was Cas, but there was a sort of movement under his skin that Dean recognized as agitation. Dean said, “Hey.”

Cas said, “I-- I would like to see.”

“You’ve seen,” Dean said, because he was entirely sure Cas had.

“I didn’t look. Not like that.”

Suddenly, Dean was glad he’d never crossed that final boundary in this thoughts about Cas. “Okay.”

He undressed Lisa first—drawing her shirt over her head, kneeling at her feet to worked her out of her jeans—because she was something to look at, and Cas probably hadn’t seen her. Cas reached out, as though to touch, but stopped short. Dean got to his feet and took Cas’s hand, led it on an exploration. Cas’s eyes widened, his breath quickening whenever Lisa would react to something, even if it was with a giggle.

Dean said, “Here, like this,” and showed Cas the art of sucking on a woman’s breast, of using his teeth just so. “Careful,” he said, but Cas was being careful.

Cas said, “I want—“

Dean said, “Try it. Try whatever,” and watched while Cas sank to knees to taste Lisa’s belly button, twirled his tongue inside the skin, licked over her hipbones.

She said, “Dean,” low and throaty and it was a request.

Dean kissed the underside of her breast and said, “Yeah, baby, yeah.”

He looked down at Cas. “We’re gonna take the edge off.”

He knelt down next to Cas, and took his hand again, leading him in an exploration of Lisa’s clit, inside of her. She made a sharp little sound when they touched her clit and Cas whipped his hand back in shock. She made a disappointed sound. Dean kissed Cas. “I won’t let you hurt her.”

Dean lowered his head and started taking his time with Lisa—bites and kisses up her thighs, a sharp thrust of his tongue into her, a quick grazing of his teeth over her clit. He came back up and kissed Cas again. “Taste.”

Cas drew back and licked his lips uncertainly, before bending over to follow Dean’s example. Dean watched for a bit, transfixed at the sight, then tore his gaze away and nudged Lisa just slightly further onto Cas’s mouth, away from him enough for him to nip at the small of her back, work his way down until he was rimming her. He held onto her hips, steadying her.

She moaned in frustration at one point and Dean caught Cas staring at him, eyes half his face. Dean reached out a hand and mussed Cas’s hair before pushing his head back down. Cas went willingly.

*


When the last of Lisa’s shudders had died away, Cas asked, “Was that? We did it?”

Lisa laughed, langorous and delighted and said, “Dean, seriously, nekkid time.”

Dean shucked off his clothes and sank down to kneel on the floor. He grabbed Cas’s wrist and tugged, lightly. “C’mere.”

Cas didn’t seem sure what to do. He was almost awkward, at least, as awkward as Dean had ever seen him, as he scrambled to stand. He tottered to a seat when Dean pushed him down on the edge of the bed. Dean nudged Cas’s legs open and settled himself between them. He took some time for himself, licking at the runes on Cas’s chest that, for whatever reason, G-d had chosen to keep there, perhaps as a reminder, or maybe just because some things couldn’t be healed. Dean honestly had no idea.

He licked at Cas’s happy trail, the soft skin of his thighs, came back up and paid attention to his nipples. By the time Dean was ready to get down to business, Cas’s eyes were muzzy and when he tried to lay his hands on Dean’s shoulders, their actions were uncoordinated. Dean smirked, said, “Don’t try this at home,” and slid his mouth over Cas’s cock, slow and steady, until he had all of it, his lips resting against Cas’s pelvis.

For a moment, Dean was distracted by the unlikely and somewhat unimportant realization that Cas smelled good. That, well, he wasn’t used to that. He swallowed around Cas’s cock, just to remember how—it had been a while since he’d done this, and the last time hadn’t been for pleasure. Well, not Dean’s pleasure, in any case. Cas mewled and Dean grinned to himself—at least his childhood education had been good for something. Like riding a fucking bike.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Lisa watching, fingering herself lazily, like she wasn’t in any hurry. Dean was pretty sure Cas wasn’t going to last much longer, however, if he kept dishing out all his old tricks, so he let off a bit, sucked at the head, did some detail work with his tongue, and when he knew it was finish or stop, he stopped, despite a somewhat odd urge to finish.

He pulled all the way off and Cas blinked down at him, clearly trying to get his brain to start again. Dean smiled up at him, and rose to kiss him. Cas kissed back with intent, like he was trying to taste himself, trying to figure everything out.

Dean drew up to his ear and said, “Lisa wants you.”

“Dean, I—“

Dean kissed him again, shortly, unable to resist tasting the confusion, the worry on his lips. Then Dean told him, “Relax, trust me. This is the intuitive part.”

Lisa grinned at that, and held out her hand, pulling Cas close when he gave his over. She kissed him again, slow and deep. “Relax,” she echoed Dean, then pushed Cas onto his back and straddled him, taking charge.

Dean edged his way up the bed as Lisa was settling, smoothly and with excruciating slowness, over Cas. Dean watched Cas’s face, the utter awe in it, and wanted to kiss him, to taste that. Instead he settled beside Cas, tracing a finger over his chest.

Cas took a completely unsteady breath. “Oh.”

“Mm,” Lisa agreed, and then rocked herself. Cas moaned. Dean watched her, the way her hair fell around her shoulders, the long stretch of skin from belly to breasts. He couldn’t help reaching out, cupping one breast.

She looked at him and smiled. He said, “You’re beautiful,” without even really meaning to, it was just on the tip of his tongue.

“Ditto,” she breathed. “But look at him.”

She had a point. Cas was…Dean wasn’t sure there were words for it. Angelic, he supposed, otherworldly. Those seemed weak.

Dean spit on his palm and put his hand around his cock, sure it was barely going to take anything. Cas knocked the hand away. Dean said, “Hey, you—“ but didn’t finish the thought, because Cas had replaced Dean’s hand with his own, warm and spit-slick. Dean said, “More, Cas, more, I won’t break.”

“No,” Cas said, and squeezed, looking as though he was concentrating intensely. “No, you don’t break, do you?” Only Cas could sound confounded by reality in the middle of really good sex. For that matter, only Cas could interpret Dean as being unbreakable. Dean tamped down on the part of himself that wished he could make it true, just to be that way for Cas.

Dean had received more handjobs than he could reasonably keep track of in his life, but whether it was because this one was being given by Cas, or because it was Cas’s first time, or a combination thereof, it felt a little new, a little exciting.

Cas asked, “Is that good?”

Something in Cas’s uncertainty, his desire to make it good, shot straight into Dean’s groin, and between that and Cas’s hand, angel-strength under smooth skin, Dean almost came.

Lisa said, panting a little, “Wait and I’ll make it worth your while.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Dean told her honestly.

“I suppose there’s always next time,” she said, each syllable sharp, before leaning forward, into Cas, and tightening like a strung bow.

Cas made a sound in his fucking chest and swallowed so hard Dean thought it had to hurt. He tightened his hand, too, and that was it, that was all Dean could take. He arched up, and gave into the pleasure.

*


Lisa wasn’t in bed when Dean woke up. The first couple of times that had happened, it had caused a significant amount of panic on his part until he’d both remembered that this was her house and found her, perfectly alive, in said house. He was getting used to it, though, and cocked his head at the slightly open door. Sure enough, he could hear her and Ben in the kitchen.

He asked Cas, “She tell you to stay?”

“I said I would help with breakfast. She wanted to do it on her own.”

“She wanted to talk to Ben,” Dean told him, because, sure he was kind of stupid about other people, but he had it all over Cas, which was sort of new and novel.

“Will he be upset?”

“Not really sure what she’s saying,” Dean admitted.

“I would rather avoid causing strife.”

Day late, dollar short, bud. Dean winced when he felt Cas flinch. “How loudly do I think?”

“Remember when I tried talking to you without the filter of my vessel?”

“Ow.”

“Yes.”

“Sorry, I’ll try—“

“I don’t wish you to change.”

“It hurts you, Cas.” And Dean has done enough causing pain in his lifetime, even to those he hasn’t cared for. It would be one thing if he didn’t know how it felt to be on the receiving end, but he didn’t have that excuse, had never had it.

“Your anger is considerably more discomfiting,” Cas said, his voice tight, the words clipped.

Dean wasn’t sure how to apologize for that. “It gives you an unfair advantage. And you already have enough of those.”

Until now, Cas had been curled against Dean, his back to Dean’s chest, the two of them spooning. He shifted so that he could face Dean. “Because I know who you are?”

“Because you know all the reasons to—“ Dean shook his head, unwilling to finish that sentence. “Yes.”

“You think that I understand the things I know about you in the same context that you do, but that is a false and unconsidered assumption.”

Dean rolled away. “I don’t even know what that means.”

Cas was silent for a while. “You would agree that there are larger things than you?”

“Yeah, I would agree that the obvious is obvious.”

“Then why would your truth about yourself be the only truth?”

“Because I’m me, Cas.” Because Dean had been in his own skin and the owner of his own soul when he had sold it, again and again and again.

“Which only means your perspective is limited.”

“I’m pretty sure you just insulted me.”

Cas frowned. For some odd reason, perhaps just Cas’ utter lack of ability to make jokes, Dean wanted to laugh. Before he could, Cas said, “You fit in your body like I do mine. Something so big in a space so small. But I can escape, you can’t. Maybe it’s being kept in such a tiny space for so long, it distorts things.”

“I don’t feel imprisoned.” Dean wasn’t sure how true that was entirely, but in this context, it was true enough.

“You don’t feel worthwhile, either. My point stands.”

“So, basically, you’re right and I’m wrong?”

Cas considered that for a moment. “You are only human.”

“Was that a joke?”

Cas got up and said primly, “I’m helping with breakfast.”

Dean called, “I thought Lisa didn’t want you,” but he was smiling.

*


Four days into the first week, Ben had what could only be called a tantrum right in the middle of dinner. Ostensibly, it was over having to eat his cauliflower, but Dean knew misdirection when he saw it. He was king of misdirection.

Lisa told Ben to go to his room and stay there until morning, and maybe, maybe then she would think about not grounding him until he was twenty. Ben yelled back, “I don’t have to listen to you anymore when I’m eighteen!” and stomped off to his room.

Lisa let out a shaky breath and said, “So, uh, puberty, evidently.”

Cas looked terrified. Dean tried to stifle his laughter at first, then just gave up. Cas turned to him and said, without any of the necessary conviction that made it an insult, “You are an asshole.”

That started Lisa laughing, too, and after a while, Cas smiled, even if it was clear he wasn’t quite in on the joke. It would do for now.

Dean helped with the dishes. In the middle of drying, Lisa said, “Realizing that this your Achilles’ Heel, and all, I think you need to talk with Ben.”

Dean might have played dumb, just then, but honestly, who was going to be able to tell? “About?”

“Don’t play stupid with me.”

Okay, evidently Lisa would be able to tell. Dean was pretty sure Cas actually smirked at that. Who was the asshole, again? “He knows, like—“

Lisa rolled her eyes. “He doesn’t need the birds and the bees explained to him, Dean. He needs to understand why his mother’s not enough for you.”

Dean’s brain went completely blank for a second. Then he asked, “What?” which was amazing, because he was pretty sure he wasn’t able to breathe.

I don’t feel that way, because I am an adult and would not have offered—“

“He’s not listening,” Cas said.

“I am,” Dean argued.

“No, you are blaming yourself. It is instinct in you, to devalue. To you it is a quiet murmur, but in truth it takes over everything.”

“That’s not—“ Dean started.

“Dean,” Lisa said softly. “Look at me.”

Dean looked at her. She just stared for a few moments, and he tried to concentrate. Now that he could hear the running commentary in his brain, it was kind of hard to ignore. She was waiting, though, and he didn’t want to make her wait.

Finally she asked, “Do you need me in your life because Sam’s not enough?”

The question was ridiculous of course, the two weren’t the same, and even if they were, of course Sam was enough, it was just, it wasn’t about that at all for Dean. Oh. Huh. When he could breathe again, he said, “I don’t know how to explain that to Ben without-- I can’t exactly tell him everything. He knows about monsters, which is bad enough, but I don’t want him knowing the things I know about heaven, about hell. Not yet, at least, not until he’s, oh, eighty or so. Which means to him, Cas is just my friend, when that’s not, uh, so accurate. But it also means he can’t understand that there are, I don’t know, exceptions to the rules, I guess.”

Lisa smiled. “You’re good with him, you’ll figure it out.”

“You just like watching me suffer,” Dean griped.

“There’s that, too,” she admitted. Cas definitely smirked at that.

*


Dean took Ben to the nearest actual city and bought tickets to the first sporting event available, which luckily was football, and not, say, ice dancing. (Dean had been a little worried when he’d checked out his options.) Ben had never been to a pro football game, and it had been a hella long time since Dean had, so he was looking forward to it.

They picked the underdogs out of silent, mutual agreement, and very nearly got their asses kicked several times, but Dean’s cool look of don’t-fuck-with-me was enough to settle even very drunk football fans.

In the car, on the way back, Dean rooted around, found his balls, and said, “Your mom says this stuff with Cas has got you upset.”

Ben frowned and kicked his feet, hitting the underside of the dash. For once, Dean was grateful Sam had the Impala. Dean let him, though. He got it. Sometimes it took a while for words to come, if they even ever did.

A few miles later, when Dean was pretty sure he was going to have to try a different tack—or face Lisa and tell her he hadn’t gotten anything across, which, yeah, no—Ben said, “My mom is the prettiest woman in the world.”

The statement was fierce and just a little bit lost. Dean kind of wanted to kick himself, preferably in the head. “Yeah,” he said. “She is. If anybody tells you different, you kick their ass, right?”

Ben’s frown only got deeper. “She’s also the nicest.”

“Probably. And the smartest and funniest and most forgiving.” Dean could see where there might be room for argument on any of the others, but Lisa definitely had that last in the bag.

“Then why do you still need Cas?” The question came out of Ben angry, hurt, and after a second, Ben blinked, clearly not having expected to actually ask.

Dean took a breath, and thought about Lisa’s question to him, about the difference between her and Sam. He asked Ben, “Does, um, having me around as a parent mean you need your mom any less?”

Ben stuttered for a second. “No! But that’s different.”

“How?”

“Because-- Because it’s different with parents.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s okay to love two parents. Or, I guess, maybe four, if your parents are divorced.”

“But it’s not okay to love more than one person in a romantic way?”

“No!”

“Who says?”

Ben struggled for a moment before yelling, “Everyone!”

This was where Dean had to be careful, had to make him understand. “The same people who think monsters don’t exist?”

Ben opened his mouth, then shut it. Dean took the opening. “The same people who would put Frankie away forever if she talked about what happened to her?”

“Well. But—“

“Ben, if those things exist, and nobody knows about them, maybe, I mean, isn’t it possible that their minds are closed to the good things, too?”

Ben crossed his arms over his chest. “But. The bad things are—“ He made a sound of frustration.

“Yeah, I know,” Dean said. He did. “But, Sammy he used to, I mean, he used to argue all the time that the fact that bad things that were secret existed meant good things could, too. And I never believed him. But I think it might be time for me to try. And I’d like it if you could…come with me.”

“Why didn’t you believe him?”

Dean bit the inside of his cheek. “Because the bad things were easier to believe in. They always hurt you.”

Ben swallowed. “Sometimes. Um, sometimes love hurts pretty bad, too. Does that make it bad?”

“I don’t know,” Dean admitted. “I think that makes it complicated. But, I— What I feel for your mom and Cas? That’s not bad.”

Ben was silent for a long time. Eventually, he said, “Okay. I’ll try.”

“That’s my man,” Dean said softly. Ben leaned forward and turned the radio to their favorite station.

*


After the loss of a third soccer ball to miscalculated strength while trying to teach Cas soccer, Ben gave up in despair and said, “Maybe you’d be better at the Wii.”

Cas looked somewhat alarmed at that idea and Dean couldn’t help cracking up. A second later, probably reading Dean’s mind, Cas said, “Oh. Hand-held control games.”

Ben rolled his eyes. “What’d you think I meant?”

Dean laughed even harder and Cas glared at him. Ben said, “You’re weird. Both of you.”

“Yes,” Dean agreed. “But also bigger than you, and so able to do this.”

Later, he had to explain noogies to Cas, which was a process in patience, but totally worth it. Even more worth it when Lisa decided to just cut to the chase and show once more by example—on Cas’s head.

She caught Dean working his way through the obits of a paper two states over the next morning, and smacked him upside the head, but just smiled knowingly when he looked up to apologize. He was still working part-time at the garage when he could, but after a bit he always got antsy, needed to hunt. She asked, “You taking Cas with you?”

“If he wants to go.” Dean still hated leaving Lisa to fend for herself, but she was used to it, and he sensed it was a bigger dick move to openly suggest she couldn’t. It wasn’t exactly fair to use Cas for that, either, even if Dean thought he probably wouldn’t have minded staying. Sometimes, Dean couldn’t tell if Cas even liked hunts, except that he’d always gone when Dean had asked. It was something.

This time, on the way there, Cas said, “This car makes less noise than yours.”

“Now I know you’re just trying to be a cumrag.”

“That is a repulsive saying.”

“No more repulsive than you acting like this thing has anything on my baby.”

“Have you considered therapy?”

“Did you just make a surprisingly subtle joke, or was that a serious question?”

“I am not certain,” Cas admitted, and started screwing with the radio dials. Dean had explained over and over again that as the passenger, he had no right, but Cas’s notions of hierarchy had gotten a little screwy ever since he’d redrafted Heaven, evidently, because he refused to listen.

The thing about Cas was he liked to listen to anything and everything. He could hardly pick a channel before curiosity got the best of him and he was onto something else. Worse, Cas validly enjoyed bluegrass as much as gospel as much as metal, so half the time, Dean had to threaten to withhold sex in order to get a channel he could handle. It had taken a while for Cas to grasp that that was pretty much all Dean had by way of threatening and also, it was serious.

When Cas settled on honest-to-G-d classical, Dean opened his mouth to threaten away, but Cas just said, “Not like we really have sex, anyway.”

Dean blinked at that. He’d sucked Cas off that morning before they’d left, Cas using his mouth on Lisa, like Dean had taught him. “Uh. What?”

“Just because I have not performed several sexual acts does not mean I do not understand the mechanics. We do not have penetrative sex.”

Dean had known this was coming, honestly, but he’d also seriously hoped he could delay that day for, well, forever. Barring that, twenty or so years would have been a nice grace period. As it was, perhaps Cas had finally brought it up, but that sure as shit didn’t mean Dean was going to talk about it. There were parts of himself Dean didn’t have to share with anybody anymore, not for love or money. Instead he said, “All you had to do was ask.”

“Perhaps,” Cas said quietly. “But I had to ask.”

I can’t read minds,” Dean said.

Cas looked at him for a long moment, and then turned the fucking Beethoven or whatever the fuck up as loud as he could.

*


Dean took a claw to the arm during the black dog kill and Cas said, “I’m only healing it if I get to drive.”

“That’s fucking bullshit. I can’t drive with it unhealed.”

Cas looked unperturbed by this revelation and Dean realized he’d already known that. “You’re an asshole.”

“Takes one to know one.”

“Has Ben been teaching you middle school playground talk?”

“What of it?” Cas asked, and Dean gave up.

“Fine, you can fucking drive us back, you big three year-old.”

“I am not the one throwing a tantrum,” Cas said calmly. Dean nearly kicked him in the balls for being right, but he’d tried things like that before, and it never ended well for Dean.

He called Lisa from a pit stop halfway between and said, “Did you teach him the words penetrative sex?”

“Yes, Dean. Around the same time I tutored him in human anatomy. Seriously, you didn’t see this coming? Because I take you as you are and all, but it’s weird.”

“It’s not as if we’ve all been doing this for ages, or anything.”

“Over a month. And there’s been a fair amount of activity. Honestly, if he hadn’t said something soon, I was probably going to have to.”

Dean made a face at the stretch of road just beyond the gas station. It wasn’t as if he was asking them to get all crazy in the bedroom. Couldn’t a man just have certain preferences?

Lisa said, “I get that there’s probably a reason, Dean. And I also get that it’s something you chose not to tell me when you told me everything else. But if you’re not going to let yourself be safe with us, when the hell are you? There are actually some things Sam can’t fix for you, and I know you know it.”

Dean kind of hated that when she said it, it wasn’t even a low blow, it was just the truth. He couldn’t say that he wasn’t sure these things even could be fixed, so instead he grumbled, “There was a reason I stuck to women. Women are uncomplicated.”

“Sure, if you don’t stay around longer than a week.”

She was kind of giving him a lot of credit there, but he sensed they both knew it, so he stayed quiet. “You know what I mean.”

“I don’t. But I’ll figure it out, and we’ll… We’ll work past this.”

Cas walked out of the gas station, having paid, with two of the biggest Bit O’ Honey bars Dean had ever seen in his life. Dean made a face—whether at Cas’ taste in candy or Lisa, he wasn’t sure—and said, “Fine. But I’m not topping.”

“Oookay. That argument went slightly fuckoff of the direction I suspected it was taking, but whatever.” Lisa was pretty good about going with the flow, which was why Dean figured he was still allowed to come around.

Cas opened one of his Gross Bars and said, “I suppose I accept those terms for the moment.”

Dean really should have taken Sam and run for the hills while the hills were still in sight.

*


The first time Dean had sex, it was with a senior in high school. He was thirteen at the time, but he was pretty sure the girl had thought he was older. He’d been admiring the girl’s car—classic Mustang, gorgeous condition. She’d been talking about how she’d rebuilt it on her own, just a little bit of help from her older brother. Then, before Dean had known it, they were in the backseat, her on top, saying, “I even wired the stereo myself. Eight tracks, baby.”

Since then, he’d kind of liked it when a girl took charge.

Guys were a different story. The first time Dean had had sex with one of them had been two years later, in bumfuck Minnesota. Dad had gotten himself stranded in Illinois after a werewolf hunt, when the ice had come in and frozen the Midwest over entirely. Sam had been eleven and sure as shit still growing, and after Dean had stopped eating as much as he possibly could, had tried all the normal things that would work in a place where they had to stay—so, no pool and no fake credit cards—well, there’d been one option left. Everybody needed a little warmth in the middle of a Minnesotan winter.

Dean bought condoms that were lubed and figured it couldn’t be that hard, really. Honestly, women did it all the time. All he had to do was lie still and take it. He did tons of harder things while training or fighting, and they needed food. Sam needed food. He was playing soccer and doing that mathlete stuff, whatever the hell that was—he needed energy.

Throughout it, through the truckers that liked Dean’s mouth and businessmen who liked his ass, he reminded himself he’d been through worse. He’d been going through worse since he was four. He was fine, he was absolutely fine.

He’d done it a couple of more times. The summer Dad was off with Bobby hunting something that Dean now suspected had been Azazel, and the spring before Sam took off, in order to get Sam the computer he’d wanted so damn much, like that meant he might not leave. Dean had always been kind of stupid with his hope.

After that, he’d sworn off of men. They were good for money, but women didn’t hurt and they didn’t carry the same kind of memories. The system had worked really fucking well until Cas had come along and given up everything for Dean. Sometimes Dean wanted to shake him and explain that that wasn’t how it worked, it worked the other way around, but Cas never seemed so sure as when he was at Dean’s side and Dean couldn’t bear to take that from him, not when he’d at one time taken everything else.

Dean had known he was in trouble from the night he’d taken Cas to the brothel and had to keep himself at the bar, had to tamp down on jealousy, for fuck’s sake. He’d never wanted a man before that, so it took him a while to even figure out what the hell was happening in his own head. After that, though, it had been hard to shove the feeling aside every time Cas was around, helping, being Dean’s friend.

Now that Dean was going to give into the desire, going to let Cas have him, Dean came to the realization that Cas knew about Dean’s past. Dean should have known before: Cas knew everything about Dean, but it had been nice to believe he didn’t know. It didn’t change anything, though. He wasn’t doing that to Cas, no fucking way.

Cas waited until Dean had slid into Lisa, who was holding him, less aware than Cas, but no less careful. And Dean should have hated that, only she wasn’t holding him as if he were fragile, just important, and he couldn’t seem to turn that down.

Then Cas put his mouth on Dean’s ass and Dean bucked, up into Lisa, who gasped and laughed at the same time. She said, “Somebody’s been making plans.”

Dean moaned, barely able to breathe. Lisa was still talking, “He learned how to use the internet, you know. Research. I’m pretty sure he didn’t tell Sam why he needed to know.”

Dean desperately hoped not, but he could worry about that later, because Cas had a seriously strong tongue, and it was all he could do not to yelp. He would not yelp, thank you very much.

Cas was also fucking patient, and by the time he was ready to use fingers, Dean was considering begging, which really wasn’t so much Dean’s thing, but evidently there were exceptions to that rule.

There was a moment of discomfort when Cas slid in, one smooth, unbroken thrust, but it was just the stretch that Dean hadn’t dealt with in some time and all it took was a second thrust at the right angle for Dean to forget all about that. Cas mumbled something in his ear, something about perfection and G-d, and it shouldn’t have made Dean feel right at all, only it was Cas, so it did.

Cas said, “I’ve got you,” and Lisa said, “Here, baby,” and he was in between them, safe, and they weren’t letting go. Dean did.

*


“She spoke in session today,” Sam said.

Sometimes Frankie said a few words here and there. Dean hated to admit it, but it didn’t feel so much like progress as it had in the beginning. Her speech had two themes. “Monster or parents?”

“Uh. Her favorite car in Bobby’s lot.”

That made Dean pay attention. “She has a favorite car?”

Sam laughed. “Focus, Dean.”

And yeah, okay, probably not the point, but fucking awesome. “Um. Why’d she talk about the car?”

“We were drawing safe places. She drew the car. It’s a Chevy, later model, but it probably seems pretty similar in her eyes, even though it’s junked out.”

“That’s my girl.”

“She likes to hide on the floor of the backseat. Scared the shit out of all of us the first time we couldn’t find her. We almost called in Emergency Angel Backup.”

“What’d she say?”

“Mostly it’s still sort of unconnected words. ‘Big’ was one, and ‘away.’ But it was more coherent than usual. And she’s branching out in topics. The doctor thinks it’s a really good sign.”

Dean leaned back against the side of the car he was working on. “Sammy.”

“Yeah,” Sam said. “Believe me, I know.”

“I could talk to Lise about Ben getting a day off school. We could all drive out there.” It was the longest they’d been apart since Sam had come back from hell.

Dean really expected Sam to come up with some reason why he shouldn’t, but Sam just said, “Bobby’d love it.”

“He’d bitch like a little girl,” Dean said.

“The two aren’t mutually exclusive.”

Dean got the sense that the two were actually indelibly linked. “Okay.”

“It’ll be good for Frankie. I don’t think she understands why you guys aren’t around.”

“Yeah,” Dean said, and let Sam get away with that shit because he understood all about mutually assured destruction. “I’ll talk to Lise. Call you with plans.”

“Say hi. To everyone.”

“Do me a favor, and now that you’re actually dating someone, get laid once in a while.”

“There is something seriously wrong with you.”

“Yeah, yeah. Bitch.”

Dean practically heard Sam flipping him off. “Jerk.”

*


Sam met Dean at the car and pulled him up into a hug. Dean remembered vaguely that before the whole Sam-in-Hell thing they hadn’t really been huggers, not unless the circumstances were dire, but he got the feeling Sam had just been holding back for Dean’s sake. He hadn’t since his reappearance, and Dean, well, Dean minded less than he probably would have been comfortable admitting.

Once Sam had let go, he pulled Lisa into a hug, and then Ben. He asked, “Cas not with you guys?”

“He said he had something to take care of, he’d be here later,” Lisa told Sam. He’d been a little bit more specific with Dean—there was a bit of an issue back at Cas’ homefront—but the details weren’t really important.

Sam said, “Okay. Uh. There’s something I should mention, before we go inside.”

Dean sighed. Last time Sam had said something with that tone of voice, he’d had to replace the Impala’s bumper. “Sammy.”

“Y’know how I mentioned Frankie having a favorite car?”

Dean nodded and made a get-on-with-it gesture. Sam winced, slightly. “Well, a couple of weeks ago we realized she had started stealing food again, like at first, when she would hoard. And we were all worried, like maybe she wasn’t getting enough to eat or, well, we didn’t really know. So, Bobby kinda followed her one night, to see where she was keeping it, and, uh, turns out she had a friend, in the car.”

“A friend,” Dean said.

“Look, don’t freak out, okay? She’s very gentle.”

“Oh you’ve gotta be-- We are not adopting a dog, Sam.”

Ben made an unhappy noise, but for the moment, Dean ignored him. He also pushed away months of being on the rack, being given to the ‘hounds as a play toy. In hell, he’d been able to see them. In hell, he’d been able to feel their teeth and their claws long past when he would have passed out as a live being.

“She’s very gentle, Dean. She only, I mean, the only time she even—“

Dean fixed Sam with his, Oh-I-Am-So-Going-To-Take-My-Time-With-You Glare. “What, Sam?”

“She can get a little rowdy if she thinks you’re going to hurt Frankie, but that’s it, I swear, and you wouldn’t hurt Frankie, so she won’t hurt you.”

Dean counted to five, and then, before he did something like having a panic attack, or, alternately, killing his only brother in front of his girlfriend and her son, he walked away—quickly. Cas showed up roughly a minute later, while Dean was still whaling on one of the junked out cars in the lot. Dean said, “First rule of Fight Club is you don’t fucking interrupt Fight Club.”

“I am going to assume that’s a cultural reference I do not understand and continue to watch you make a fool of yourself in a fruitless battle against the rotting hulk of that long-dead piece of machinery.”

“Have you been reading?” Dean asked, in between smashing away at the hood. “You’re starting to sound like you swallowed a poetry book, or something.”

“Lisa has lots of books.”

“Don’t you have something better to be doing?”

Cas didn’t even dignify that with an answer. Instead he said, “Hell hounds are not actually canines, you realize?”

“Cas—“

“Sam tried explaining to her, you know. He tried telling her it would scare you the way the monster had scared her. And she put the dog outside, but it just stayed, it wouldn’t go away. And he couldn’t stand to see her look so sad, not now, after everything.”

Dean cringed at the thought of having Frankie think of him as a coward, truth or no. “If I thought Sam had done it on purpose, it would be his face I was doing this to.”

“You do not always expect support from those who should give it to you.”

Dean tossed the crowbar he’d been letting loose with aside and panted a bit. “Oh, like your issues are any better.”

“Perhaps not,” Cas admitted. “But I am the one of us who holds onto faith, rather than disbelief.”

“Only gets you disappointed more.”

“It has yet to do so where you are concerned.”

“You big liar, there was that whole thing where I almost said yes.”

“Almost only counts in darts and…” Cas looked uncertain.

“Horseshoes,” Dean finished for him. “Bobby teach you that one?”

Cas shook his head. “A detective, from one of Lisa’s books. Why, exactly, does almost count in the creation of horseshoes? Do they not have to fit precisely?”

Dean laughed, at first just a little, but before he knew it he was bent over with it, entirely sure that Cas’s statement hadn’t even been that funny. When he managed to straighten up, Cas was looking mildly pleased, and Sam was standing off to the side, fidgeting a little. Dean looked at him and said, “Tell me it’s like, a, Chihuahua, or something. I can’t be afraid of a fucking Chihuahua.”

Sam looked miserable. Dean said, “You officially owe me beer.”

“Went out and bought some just this morning. Fresh from the liquor store.”

“That’s my boy.”

*


Dean walked in the house, where Lisa was sitting on the couch, holding Frankie, who was clinging with all her might. At Lisa’s feet, a dog that had seen better days was resting calmly. It was a mix of tan and a black, one of its paws was clearly mangled, had healed up from whatever had happened with very little functionality. There were scars across its back where hair simply had never grown back, and it was missing a tail. Also, Dean could count all of its bones, every single one. It looked at Dean and Dean backed off, going to find Bobby.

Bobby, G-d bless him, was in the kitchen, with a beer waiting. Dean took a slow sip and gave himself some time to start breathing again. He peered around the corner. Cas was petting the thing, with Ben. Everyone was a traitor.

Bobby said, “Frankie calls ‘er Shush. So, Shush it is.”

Dean got that. After Hell, the screams, he’d wanted quiet, too. He couldn’t imagine it was that much different for someone whose screams had been used as a feeding source for years on end. “Creative.”

“She doesn’t bark. Did it once and scared the crap out of Frankie, pretty much put an end to that behavior.”

That was something, Dean supposed. He woke up with the echoes of growling and barking in his head far, far too often to think he could have handled that. He just kept drinking the beer.

Finally, Bobby asked, “You all right?”

Dean favored him with a tight nod, and Bobby, mercifully, took it. Lisa wandered in, grabbing a Coke and a beer from the fridge. She handed the Coke to Ben, who went back into the living room, with a look in his eyes Dean knew all too well. He was going to keep an eye on his baby sister.

Lisa took a sip. “Sam fell asleep sitting up and she’s dead to the world. What’ve you guys been doing with yourselves, exactly?”

“She still don’t sleep terribly well at night,” Bobby said. “Sam ‘n Jody, they stay with her. Sam all the time, Jody when she hasn’t got work the next day.”

Lisa nodded. “What does the therapist say?”

“That we should give her some Benadryl, see if that does the trick. She needs to sleep.”

“Okay. There a good reason for not following that advice?” Lisa asked softly, carefully.

Bobby turned away, facing the window. Lisa looked over at Dean, calmly expectant. Dean shrugged. She knew all the important stuff, anyway. “It’s bad for a hunter to do that kinda thing. What if you have to wake up suddenly?”

Lisa gave Dean a moment, and then said, “You carried your brother out of a burning house when you were four. You don’t think you could manage with her?”

“What if I was having to fight?” Dean pointed out.

“I’m pretty sure I could manage. She doesn’t weigh seventy pounds soaking wet.”

It was a good argument, and what was more, Dean had sworn to himself that he wasn’t going to do the same thing to Ben or Frankie that Dad had done to him or Sam—well-intentioned or otherwise. But there was the other issue, and that he couldn’t leave alone. “What if it doesn’t stop the nightmares? What if it just makes her stuck in them?”

Lisa set down her beer and came to stand in front of Dean, waiting until he looked at her. He held out as long as he could, feeling far more exposed than he cared to be, but she had her way, eventually, and she said, with a small smile, “You, and me, and Sam, and Cas, and Ben, and Bobby, and Jody. That’s what. We’ll all be there to wake her up.”

Dean closed his eyes and after a long moment, nodded his head. She said, “Okay babe. Imma run to the pharmacy. You need anything?”

Dean shook his head, unwilling to talk. She called, “Bobby?”

Dean didn’t hear anything, but Bobby must have responded somehow, because Lisa kissed Dean lightly. “Be back in a bit.”

*


Jody came over after work, kicked Bobby out of the kitchen, dragged Sam in, and proceeded to teach him to make fettucine alfredo. Occasionally, Dean would peek in, mostly because Sam seemed to be enjoying himself, which was both mockery-worthy and something that made Dean happy.

Bobby, having been banished from his own kingdom, settled on the floor and played checkers with Ben, who explained every move to Frankie. Dean had known that Ben was a good kid, that the idea of having a smaller sibling had appealed to him, but still, he found it kind of miraculous, how Ben had just adapted. It was as though he’d never gotten used to being an only child, or had never really fit in the role. Even Lisa was struggling more than him. It wasn’t terribly obvious, but Dean had caught moments of her seeming torn as to whether she should pay more attention to Frankie or make sure Ben was all right. More than that, Lisa fretted over Frankie in a way she’d never had to with Ben, which she had admitted made her feel guilty. Ben, though, seemed to just take Frankie as a present Dean and Sam had brought home—a very merry unbirthday to Ben.

Frankie, unaware of the maelstrom she’d brought into Lisa and Dean’s lives, laid almost completely on top of Shush—who seemed happier with the arrangement than when she’d just been curled up on her own—and watched with intent. Dean couldn’t tell if she was really understanding what Ben was telling her, but she made a good show of it.

Cas and Lisa were on the porch, and every time Dean tried to come out, he got sent back into the house. It could only portend bad things, but the two of them had formed a united front. Although Dean wasn’t used to giving in when beaten, he was starting to understand that there was a certain valor in not getting his ass kicked by his girlfriend and her Precious Moments pal.

Finally, because he was starting to feel slightly lame, he walked into the kitchen and said, “Need someone to set the table?”

Jody gave him a smile over her shoulder. “Hey, Dean.”

“Rumor has it you’re teaching my brother to survive on his own in the wilderness of suburbia.”

“It does seem somewhat outside his experience.”

Not that Dean usually cared one way or another about tact in a person—in general, it could get in the way, more than anything else—but Jody’s tact, when she bothered, carried a length of compassion that calmed Dean. He wondered if that was what had made Sam look twice at her, beyond just the obvious. He asked, “How was your day?”

“Being honest, I kind of count any shift that doesn’t involve zombies as a winner these days.”

“Sensible.”

Sam reached out from where he was chopping parsley to cup his hand around the back of her neck, his thumb sweeping gently back and forth. She leaned ever so slightly into the touch, without once stopping her stirring. Dean wondered miserably if that had been how Sam was with Jess, or if this was different, if this was the result of seven years of maturity and grief.

He said, “Okay, so assuming I can get Cas to see the point in pretending to eat, there are eight of us? Does Bobby even have a table that fits eight?”

“I had a friend of mine outfit his table with leaves,” Jody said. “They’re in the front closet.”

Dean frowned. “The one with the—“

“I cleaned it out,” Sam said, pre-emptively, which was good, because what they were making smelled good, and Dean wanted to eat tonight.

“Okay.”

Jody pointed to drawers which Dean wasn’t sure he’d ever known Bobby to use and said, “Napkins in there, and Frankie likes the cups with balloons on them. She saw them in the store one time when we took her and just stared, so, I folded like a cheap chair.”

Dean said softly, “Sam and I found her in a monster’s den and took her home. I don’t think there’s much judging happening here.”

Jody’s back tightened and then she nodded once and said, “Thanks. Uh, for setting the table.”

“Yeah,” Dean said, and let her get away with it, because he would have wanted the same mercy in her position.

*


Ben wanted to sleep with Frankie and Shush, so Sam went over to Jody’s. After Bobby said goodnight and turned off most of the lights downstairs, Lisa and Cas lured Dean out to the junkyard with kisses and vague promises. Dean thought he should resist more, but there was a patch of skin showing where Lisa’s shirt had ridden up, and Cas was in a t-shirt, stretching just the tiniest bit over his chest. And there wasn’t a dog outside.

Really, he had lost before he’d even started fighting. When they reached the fields beyond the junkyard, Dean asked, “What this what you were planning, on the porch?”

Lisa said, “Sometimes we have whole conversations that have nothing to do with you.”

The words settled sharply in his stomach, and he made himself take a breath, because he knew how these things started, and he would only deserve it, really, if asking for Cas meant that he lost both of them.

Cas cut into Dean’s thoughts by saying, “This afternoon, however, was not one of those times.”

The admission didn’t take all of Dean’s fear, but a decent dose of it. Lisa pulled him down, on the grass. Cas folded himself into neatly sitting next to them. Lisa said, “When Ben first started sleeping through the night, I couldn’t sleep. Too shit scared that the fact that he wasn’t waking meant I was going to wake up one morning and find him dead.”

Dean actually kind of knew the feeling. Not precisely, but he remembered the years after the fire, when he would wake up in a panic, thinking about needing to get Sammy out, unsure if he could in time.

“Finally, I started exhausting myself to the point where I had no choice but to sleep.”

Dean frowned. “I don’t—“

“We were concerned you might have trouble resting in a house with a dog.” Cas had a way of saying insulting things in such a straightforward way that Dean was hard pressed as to how to respond.

Dean wanted to protest, but it was kind of true, and clearly they’d thought about it a lot, so he just stayed silent.

Lisa said, “Luckily, we’re pretty sure we have a foolproof way of exhausting you.”

Dean grinned at her tone. “Oh yeah?”

“Do you trust me?” Cas asked, and there was something entirely serious in his tone.

Dean looked at him for a moment, trying to assess the question. Finally, he said, “With Sam’s life.”

Dean felt a breeze brush over his body, and looked down to realize his clothes were lying neatly beside him. After a moment, he felt his arms being pinned--for lack of a better word—into place, behind his back. He started breathing a little harder. Tying had always meant pain, meant captivity, hell--

Lisa kissed him, giving him her breath. She said, “If you want this to stop, say ‘Sam.’”

Dean could remember that. He doubted he could make himself ask, but he could at least remember how. Cas took Dean in his arms, held Dean to him and said, “Take a deep breath.”

Dean followed the instruction and everything went dark. He bit his lip to keep from begging for Cas to bring back the stars. Cas said, “Sh. We’ve got you.”

And then Dean was left to try and hold onto his panic as their mouths and their hands went everywhere, searching out every spot of pleasure, his body left to hone in on the sensations, their words of praise, with nothing much to distract him.

At some point, the other two laid Dean down, belly first, atop Cas. Dean’s cock brushed up against Cas’ and Dean babbled, probably said, “Please,” more than once. When he tried to come, he couldn’t, and he knew that was Cas’ doing, as much as the bindings and the blindfold. Cas brushed a hand through his hair and said, “Patience, Dean.”

There was a finger in him then, slim and long and Dean was confused for a moment, even though Lisa had done this before, during blowjobs. She added a second, curved the right way, and Dean wasn’t confused anymore, he was being electrified. He sort of wished he could see it, Lisa’s fingers but it was also better this way, himself nothing but one large nerve between Cas and Lisa.

She gave him a third, which he barely even felt, and then, after a while a fourth and that he felt, the stretch and burn, but it wasn’t pain, just…working for acceptance. Dean wanted to take her in, even with the sense of where this was headed, he wanted it. She paused in her twisting and Dean did his best to relax, to show her how ready he was.

She said, “Baby.”

He said, “Please,” or something that sounded like it. Cas’s mouth was part way on his, their cocks still pressed up against each other, and Dean wasn’t certain he remembered how to talk.

“You’re so fucking incredible,” she said, and slipped the thumb in and for a moment, as she pressed at the knuckles, it was too much, too much and Dean couldn’t breathe, couldn’t take it, but then she made it past, inside, a smooth movement further, her fingers curling, her knuckles hitting him just right and he begged.

Cas said, “If I allow it, you will have to take the rest when you have just come down.”

Dean knew, knew that would be intense and possibly too much, but this was too, and he was willing to take the chance. He needed. “Cas,” he gasped.

Cas undid whatever was holding Dean back, and he came so hard it hurt, just a little, the edge of pain that he liked, because it reminded him how good everything else was. When he came down from it, he discovered he’d been right: the touch of Cas’s cock, the size of Lisa’s fist inside of him, it was all too much, in just the way he wanted. He wanted them to use him in this way, so long as they didn’t abandon him afterward.

Lisa pulled out slowly as Cas came. They rolled Dean onto his back, arms still bound beneath him. She spread her legs, lowering herself onto his mouth. Dean wanted to touch, but he got that that wasn’t allowed, that his mouth was all he had for this. He wanted so very much to prove to her that he appreciated it, appreciated her, and strained to find the right places with his tongue. She helped, rubbing herself in time, and then, when he buried his tongue inside her, came with a small shout and a long exhalation of breath.

Afterward, she rolled onto the earth, next to him, and Cas gave Dean his sight and his arms back, the stars blurring together above him and then coming apart, clear and bright in the South Dakota sky. His shoulders weren’t even strained.

Cas said, “Dean?”

“Mm?”

“Tired?”

Early fall was no time to be falling asleep naked in the fields of the Dakotas, but Dean threw a leg over Cas, and pulled Lisa over his back. He closed his eyes, and slept.

*


Dean woke up on Bobby’s couch, partially dressed, not sticky, and wrapped in both a sleeping Lisa and a comforter. It only mildly creeped him out. He was going to have to talk to Cas about just waking him the hell up. Then again, admittedly, if they’d woken him up, he wasn’t sure he would have gone back to sleep. Still, generally when he woke up in a different place than where he’d fallen asleep, it ended badly for Dean.

He tightened his hold on Lisa almost instinctively. She murmured, “’Morning. Sleep okay?”

“You can stop sounding smug any second now.”

“Well, okay, I’ll let you know when I get around to that.”

Dean buried his face in her neck and breathed in. She asked, softly, “You okay? We—“

Dean asked, “Where’s Cas?”

“No idea. I fell asleep in the back, too.”

“Huh.”

Bobby came down the stairs and said, “Morning, Sleeping Beauties.”

Lisa said, “Morning, Bobby.”

Dean helped her roll off of him and then got to his feet. He headed upstairs to check on the kids. They were both sound asleep. Dean grabbed his phone and texted Sam, “coming over?”

When he got to the kitchen, Bobby was making coffee and Lisa had taken bagels from somewhere. Dean asked, “What else did you get?”

“Eggs and salami I’m going to fry up. Sam and Jody coming?”

“Jody works from early morning on Thursdays,” Bobby grumbled.

“Sam hasn’t responded,” Dean said, holding his phone up a bit.

Lisa shrugged. “I’ll make extra.” She held a knife out to Dean. “You’re on slicing the bagels.”

Dean took the knife, always a little surprised by how different kitchen knives felt than the kind he threw or disemboweled with. He set the phone down on the counter where he’d be able to read any incoming texts, and had a rhythm going when Sam responded, “on my way.” He showed Lisa, who nodded.

Bobby poured them both coffee before sitting at the table with his own. When the sound of frying was reaching its pitch, Ben stumbled into the kitchen, Frankie’s hand in his, Shush standing to her other side. Lisa threw a, “Hey guys,” over her shoulder.

Dean took a deep breath, put down the knife and went over to Frankie. He ruffled Ben’s hair, and then picked her up. “Hey sweetheart.”

Don’t look down, don’t look down. As a motto, it lacked finesse, but so long as he didn’t look at the huge mutt standing within brushing distance, he could keep breathing, and not run. So he kept his eyes on Frankie. “How’re you this morning?”

Frankie snuggled into him and let him put her in a chair and pour her juice. He poured Ben some juice, too, and asked, “Sleep well?”

Ben said, “Bad nightmare. The monster came to her in the middle of the night.”

Bobby asked grimly, “You fight it off?”

“Yes, sir.”

Dean ruffled Ben’s hair again, and gave him the first serving of breakfast.

*


Sam showed up around mid-morning. Dean left him playing checkers with Ben, Frankie curled in his lap. He went out to help Bobby with some grunt work in the yard. Lisa popped her head outside the house at midday and made them both come in and eat. Frankie was asleep on the couch by that time, Ben playing a handheld video console next to her, glancing over every few minutes. Dean got the feeling Sam had helped prepare lunch, but for once, he let it go. He was glad someone was around to help Lisa, since clearly he hadn’t been.

Sam asked, “Where’s Cas?”

Dean shrugged. “Wherever he goes when he’s not here.”

“Hiding,” Lisa said. “Total pussy that he is.”

Bobby looked at her in what was at least half approval. Dean couldn’t quite figure out the other half.

Sam, of course, had to ask, “What’s he hiding from?”

Dean cringed, not really completely trusting Lisa not to just say, Dean’s sexual issues, but all she said was, “Messy human stuff.”

Sam said, “Oh.” Then, “Bobby, you need Dean this afternoon?”

Bobby just rolled his eyes.

Dean said, “Well, I’m feeling pretty valued right now.”

Bobby said, “Idjit.”

Sam said, “Okay. I’m gonna borrow him, then.”

Dean took a bite of his sandwich. “I charge by the hour, you know.”

“Put it on my tab,” Sam told him.

Dean, predictably, went with Sam after lunch, even if he kind of wanted to stay in the yard and pretend that whatever Sam needed to talk about just didn’t exist. Things were fine as they were, or would be, when Sam and Frankie came back to Lisa’s.

Sam took Dean to the diner where they’d first met Jody. He said hi to the girl behind the counter and ordered two coffees. She brought Sam’s with four hazelnut creamers. Dean said, “Well, clearly they know you.”

Sam didn’t rise to the bait, but he did smile a little. He stirred in his creamers and took a sip. “I think you guys should move out here.”

Dean choked on his coffee, which was too hot to be choking on, and hurt. “What?”

Sam looked straight at Dean and said, “C’mon, you had to know I was going to say I wanted to stay here. Which I do, because Jody and I work, and she’s good for me and vice versa, but I’m not staying if you’re not. We tried that before and it sucked, and there wasn’t even Frankie and Ben and Lisa and Cas in the mix.”

“I can’t just-- Lisa has a job, Sam. She has a fucking house.” Dean recognized, distantly, that it was a little fucked up that those were his only arguments, but they both knew he’d follow Sam anywhere he could.

“I know. But Jody’s a sheriff. If we came to you, she’d have to take some deputy job, assuming the county even had one of those. Lisa’s a nurse, she can change hospitals. Frankie needs to stay here longer, and Ben misses her, that’s about twenty kinds of obvious. Not to mention, Bobby won’t say a damn thing, but he’s less generally pissed off when you’re around, helping him.”

It wasn’t as if the plan didn’t sound like a good idea to Dean. It’d be a hell of a lot easier going out on hunts with Sam or Cas or Bobby or some combination thereof if everyone else was in the same place, looking out after each other. But, “Sam. Lisa-- She lets me go where I want and do what I want and—“

“I know.” Sam nodded. “I know. But I have to ask anyway. I could ask her, instead. If you wanted, I could do it.”

For a second, Dean considered it. Then he decided against it. “I’m not that kind of asshole.”

“Not with her,” Sam agreed, softly.

“If you so much as crack a smile—“

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Sam said, and looked studiously down at his coffee. Little brothers were a pain in the ass.

*


Dean didn’t say anything to Lisa about it that weekend, though. He considered it when he had to watch Ben say goodbye to Frankie, and he had to leave Sam again, and Bobby just plain refused to acknowledge that Dean was going, but he didn’t. He got in the car with the two of them—Cas having chosen to travel by Angel Express—and took them back to their house, their life.

Cas had made hot cocoa for Ben and kept it warm for their arrival. Ben drank it quietly, with the air of a kid doing something because he knew it would make his mom feel better. Dean got the impression Lisa wasn’t fooled.

Dean helped her put Ben to bed and then left the two of them to have some time between themselves. He went back down to sit silently next to Cas, who was sweetly not saying a damn word if he was reading Dean’s mind.

Lisa came downstairs looking tired and he was reaching out for her before he even realized it. She settled between the two of them, leaning against Dean, her legs over Cas’s lap. She said, “You could work for Bobby, right? I mean, in between the hunts? That wouldn’t be so bad?”

Dean was pretty sure he hadn’t said anything about moving, and Cas might read his mind, but Dean couldn’t think of a time since the Great Lucifer Releasing Disaster that Cas had actually fully gone behind Dean’s back about something. “What?”

“Ben can’t sleep. He says he can’t sleep without hearing Frankie next to him. And I’m not crazy about giving her up again, even if I know she’s gotta be there.”

“Lis—“

“You’re all restless whenever you’re away from Sam for longer than twenty seconds, without the Mississippis. I just think it might be better if we were all there.”

Cas made an indecipherable noise that Dean had a sinking feeling was agreement, which meant that he had to be the responsible one and point out: “You have a house here. Friends, a job, a life.”

“The house is four walls and a ceiling,” she said. “We’ll get one in Sioux Falls, one that we all pick.”

Something caught in Dean’s chest at the words. He knew, had known forever, that it hadn’t been real, but that feeling of mowing the lawn in the world the Djinn had shown him came back, the repetitive, calming, but physical nature of it, the sweet-sharp smell of the cut grass. “We’d pick the house?” he whispered.

Lisa looked at him for a long moment. Finally she said, “Sometimes, I have no clue what to make of you.”

Cas might have snickered at that, but he looked away, so Dean wasn’t entirely sure. Dean flicked him in the neck anyway and said, “There’s still the rest of it, the stuff you can’t just sell and buy back when we get there.”

Lisa shrugged. “The good friends I’ll stay friends with. People move, it happens. Plus, with Frankie still officially listed by the government as missing, it’ll be easier to forge a new identity for her out here, where nobody really knows that I haven’t had her around for a long time. I can choose her, my adopted child—and my biological child, for that matter—over my friends. I probably should. And it’s not as if Jody and I don’t get along, and she said that her and a group of women have a softball team in the summer, and they do Girl’s Nights in the winter. I won’t be lacking for companionship.”

“You have seniority at the hospital,” Dean pointed out, knowing he was losing—and pretty thrilled about that—but unwilling to let her make the decision without going through all the negative points.

“I’ll come into whatever hospital I get hired at with a ton of experience. It’s not something hospitals are generally sad to acquire. If I really hate it, I can either go back to school, which I’ve been thinking about anyway, or I can go into private nursing, Hospice or something of that sort. It’s just a job, Dean. It’s not a family legacy.”

Dean bit the inside of his cheek. He wasn’t sure what else there was to say, only that there was something. Luckily, Cas came to the rescue with, “You have to take a week to think about it.”

Lisa raised her eyebrow at him. “Oh, I do, do I?”

Cas backed down, his body language eerily similar to when Lucifer had called him out for fucking with Michael. “I just meant that it might be beneficial, is all.”

Lisa grinned at him, leaning in for a kiss. He still looked startled whenever she took one. It made Dean lean in for a follow up. Cas blinked when they were both done. Lisa snuggled further into Dean’s shoulder and closed her eyes. “Tell you what: I’ll take two.”

Dean sneaked his hand under the hem of her shirt to splay it over her back. She said, “In the meantime, think about what kind of house would work best for all of us.”

Dean frowned a little, but couldn’t hold it when she poked at Cas’ leg with her toe and said, “You too, Precious.”

*


Dean went on a hunt while Lisa was thinking about it, mostly because he needed to remove himself from the situation, and he wanted her to be able to think without him there. Also, he wanted to know that he could still leave, just in case he had to. If, for example, Sam changed his mind about moving back if necessary and Dean had to go there without Lisa and Ben. Because Dean’d like to think he could handle another Stanford, another hell, but he wasn’t kidding himself.

Cas showed up somewhere in the middle of the drive. Dean almost swerved off the road and then said, “Seriously, you are such an asshole.”

“That was relatively forthright compared to your normal biting responders.”

Dean kept his eyes on the road. “So, um, you just feel like killing something?”

“You think it is a wendigo.”

“Probably,” Dean said. He’d talked it over with both Sam and Bobby, and they agreed the logic was sound.

“I thought it might require more than one pair of hands.”

“Nice way to say I’m not man enough.”

“I have no idea what your biological sex or gender identity has to do with the killing of a wendigo.”

Dean tightened his hands on the steering wheel and didn’t say a thing. Eventually Cas said, “Ah, that was a reference to the belief that I do not consider you strong enough to handle the hunt on your own.”

“You just said you didn’t,” Dean pointed out.

“No, I offered assistance. You…” Cas frowned. “Cast your own view of the situation onto my words.”

“I think we call it projecting. You’d have to ask Sam. He’s the brains.”

“Sam is the academic.” Cas nodded. “You are the student of common sense.”

“Here on earth, that’s what people say when you lack smarts.”

“Not in heaven,” Cas said simply.

“Cas, seriously, what the fuck?”

“You started it.”

Dean pulled over, because there was no way he couldn’t not give Cas a look of utter and sheer disbelief and he needed concentration to work it as hard as it needed to be worked. “That’s your comeback?”

“I say something to you, you take it as an insult, when in fact it was a statement of truth or context and then you argue with me. Generally, these arguments are predicated upon your worth as a human being.”

“So?” Dean felt that he, as himself, had pretty good insight into his own worth. At the very least, he was entitled to his own fucking opinion.

“Although it is not fair, Dean, I know where these thoughts originated. The same way I know why we only have sex with each of us in certain roles.”

Not this again.” Because, sure, there were things Dean didn’t like to talk about, but this was a different category altogether. He had done what he’d done for Sam. He didn’t regret that. He was allowed the make his own decisions regarding how he lived his life from here on out.

“You are asking Lisa to pick up and move her whole life and yet you will not tell her the truth of who you are, at least in parts of you, of why you do the things you do.”

Cas’s words made Dean’s stomach hurt with their truth. He lashed out a bit. “I didn’t ask her for anything.”

“You would have.”

“Did you—“

“No. But it was clear that Sam intended to stay, and Frankie needed to do so. It was the only logical end. And she knew so as well. She didn’t suddenly come up with the idea, she pre-empted you, so that you wouldn’t have to ask, because she knows, just as I do, that you are a complete failure at asking for things for yourself.”

Bizarrely, in this case, Cas’s honesty made him feel a little better. Maybe just because of the acceptance in Cas’s tone. Dean made his own tone dry. “Well, thanks.”

“She deserves better, Dean.”

Too true. “She deserves better than me, Cas, but you’re not sitting here suggesting I leave her, so what’s with the half-measures?”

“There is no better. I have watched humanity for thousands upon thousands of years. I would have seen.”

Dean rolled his eyes. Maybe Cas hadn’t been paying as much attention to his life as Dean had always assumed from the comments Cas would make. “Bullshit.”

Castiel’s eyes narrowed. “Humans are all scared, each for their own reasons. It is the rare human who even tries to overcome his fear. And yet you strive for it, every day. You can overcome this fear, too, you’ve just never noticed your own accomplishments. Perhaps that is my role in this relationship.”

“Your role is to be pretty.”

“My other role.”

Dean blinked at that. Finally he asked, “Can you leave, now that we’ve had this thoroughly depressing pep talk?”

Cas settled primly back into the seat. “We still have a wendigo to kill.”

*


It took four days to find and do away with the wendigo. Even without Cas eating, Dean was running low on supplies by the third day. He had started to think they might have to leave and come back. Of course, just as he was about to suggest it, they finally managed to track the wendigo’s lair and toast its ass.

Cas drove back into town and Dean didn’t even argue, just let his head tip back against the seat, waking up when Cas stopped at a diner. Dean ordered two of the blue plate special, and cleaned off both.

The diner was the first place his phone had any reception, so Dean checked his messages. Lisa had called to remind him to pick up his paycheck at the garage when he got back into town, and Ben had called to tell him his team had won their Friday soccer game. Dean grimaced and tried not to wish he’d been there.

Bobby called to report another hunt that might be on the horizon, and Sam called just to check up on them. Dean started from the last, figuring he’d work his way backward.

Sam picked up on the front ring. “Jesus, took you long enough.”

“Yeah, well, he didn’t feel like announcing his presence.” Dean rubbed at the back of his neck. “What’s your issue?”

“Wait, there’s something you need to hear.”

There was a rustling on the other end of the line and then a voice that Dean knew, but just barely, said, “Hel-hello? D-d-dean?”

Softly, Dean said, “Hey Frankie, hey. How you doing, big girl?”

“D-dean,” she said again, more sure this time, if still not one hundred percent.

“Yeah, baby. Yeah, it’s me.”

There was some more rustling, and Dean could hear Sam say, “He’s not here, he’s far away, Franks. But he’ll come back, okay?”

Into the receiver, Sam said, “She’s been saying our names, all of us. Bobby and Jody and me, and she says Ben and Lisa and Cas sometimes, too, but mostly Dean. I think she’s asking for you.”

Dean tried to ignore the way his heart was going crazy. “Is she-- I mean, how’s therapy going otherwise?”

“Well, the other day she screamed for about ten minutes straight and threw everything she could get her hands on around the room, but according to the doc, that’s a good sign. Evidently anger’s a sign that she’s moving away from fear and into other, more productive emotions.”

Dean privately thought that fear was plenty productive if it kept you from doing some of the stupid shit he’d done, but he could see the point being made. “Has she talked to Lisa?”

“Well, sort of the same way as she did with you.”

“And Ben?”

“Most of all. He’s definitely her favorite.”

Dean was exhausted and sore and kind of regretting how quickly he’d eaten, but he couldn’t help the grin stealing over his face. He said, “Tell her we’ll be back soon.

*


When Cas pulled the car into the driveway, Ben was already out the door, speaking a million miles an hour. Dean caught on somewhere in the middle, “—over the phone and I told her I had won my game and she said it again and I think it was, like, she was proud, y’know, and I told mom and she said we could go back this weekend!”

Somewhere in the middle of all this, Dean had acquired two armfuls of Ben, but he rolled with it, squeezed the kid, glad someone had been around to teach him how to be affectionate, that it was okay to do so. “Heya, bud. Mom said we were going back this weekend?”

“Well, she said she had to talk to you about it.” Ben pulled back and gave Dean his best puppy eyes—Dean had caught on to that trick immediately, thanks. “C’mon, please. I promise I’ll do all my homework in the car.”

“Lemme talk with your mom, kid.”

Ben sighed, but he looked behind Dean and said, “Hey Cas.”

“Congratulations on your victory.”

“You owe me ice cream.”

“A deal is a deal,” Cas agreed.

Ben nodded, clearly satisfied, and went back inside. Dean looked over his shoulder and raised an eye. “Ice cream?”

“Lisa’s books on child rearing have provided excellent guidance for a male figure not of the immediate family.”

Dean turned around before cracking up, but that was really the best he could do. Cas muttered something that might have been four letters and followed Dean as he walked into the house.

Lisa wasn’t home from her shift, so Dean took the chance to shower and get in some clothes that would help him look a little less frayed at the edges. He emptied the dishwasher and heated up some leftovers he found in the fridge, so that by the time she walked in the door, there was actually something resembling dinner sitting on the table. She toed her shoes off and walked into the kitchen, curling into Dean. “I love you.”

“My microwaving skills are definitely worth it,” Dean agreed softly, but he held onto her, combing his fingers through her hair.

She murmured. “Thanks for keeping him in one piece, Cas.”

Cas caught Dean’s eye. He said, “You’re welcome.”

Dean flipped him off. He kissed the top of Lisa’s head and said, “Let’s eat before it gets cold.”

“Mm,” she agreed.

Dean called Ben down and the four of them sat at the table and talked, Cas mostly filling in the details from the hunt. (It was invariably funnier that way.) Ben talked about how much he hated the book they were reading in English. Lisa said, “Suffering’s good for you. Builds character.”

Ben rolled his eyes and shoveled the rest of his food down, before asking to be excused. Lisa told him, “Put your plate in the sink.”

“Duh,” he said, but did as told.

When he was gone, Dean said, “So, he had a lot to say, when I got home.”

“We’re going,” Lisa said, short and decisive. “I-- I don’t want to just hear her voice over the fucking telephone. I don’t want to have to ask Sam what happened in her sessions. I should be there, at least for some of them. I talked to Ben about it. He’s worried that he won’t fit in at the new school, that he’ll have to prove himself all over again, and he’s going to miss Ethan something fierce, but he just kept saying, ‘I could help her train Shush’ and ‘she probably doesn’t even know how to play soccer’ and in the end, he agreed. We’re packing up and putting the house on the market and starting over and we don’t give a shit about all your logic, mister.”

Dean blinked. “I want to go. I just don’t want—“

“Us to feel trapped or obliged.”

Cas interrupted. “I didn’t tell her you felt that way.”

“No, I figured that one out on my own,” Lisa bit off, sounding mildly annoyed.

Dean actually hadn’t been thinking Cas had, but he could see how Cas might be starting to feel a bit paranoid. He took a deep breath and tried not to consider how everything he wanted was coming together right now. It was fucking terrifying. Instead he said, “Okay, I can be in charge of packing.”

*


As it turned out, a lifetime of packing suitcases with clothing hadn’t really prepared Dean for moving a whole household. Cas, unshockingly, sucked at everything related to moving, from wrapping breakables to finding boxes. All in all, after about a week, Dean called Sam and asked, “What’s the likelihood I could run a card scam on a moving company without implicating Lisa?”

“Uh, yeah,” Sam said. Then, “I’ll send my girlfriend, the town sheriff to help you guys on her next weekend, okay?”

“She knows how to do this?”

“She moved after the-- She’s moved on her own before.”

Dean winced, trying not to think what Dad would have done if he or Sammy had come back and eaten Mom. “Thanks. Lise has been helping, but her hours are kind of nuts with her wanting to have a little more set aside before we go.”

Dean had also been picking up hours at the garage, the late ones or weekends that nobody else wanted. This meant he barely saw Lisa. If he wanted time with Ben, Dean had to take him to work and show him how to fix engines. Every time Dean started to feel worn down by it, he just called Sam and talked for a bit, or had Sam put Frankie on the line, and that cleared his emotions right up.

Jody came in town about a week after Sam promised he’d send her. She was good with Ben in a way that was painful for Dean, and her and Lisa got on in that way that women sometimes had that scared the everliving crap out of him. Mostly, though, he was glad she’d come. Jody packed more stuff efficiently and properly in those two days than he and Lisa had managed in the weeks beforehand. She was able to catch them up on Frankie and make coffee that Lisa would actually drink—they both agreed that Dean’s tended toward road tar. Once, Dean found her sitting in the kitchen, teaching Cas to wrap things while explaining the physics of helping them not to break.

Cas said, “Humans are so careful with their things.”

Jody looked up, evidently hearing the way Cas left things unsaid. After a long moment, she smiled, a bitten off, cut up smile and said, “Occasionally, we try to keep each other from potential damage, too.”

Cas nodded, and worked on wrapping the next piece just as she had shown him. Dean left, going to work on dismantling the bed. Jody was still in the kitchen when he came back, although Cas had gone somewhere. Dean pulled two beers from the fridge, offering her one. She took it with a quiet, “Thanks.”

“Cas say where he went?”

She shook her head. “Just that he’d be back.”

Dean took a sip. “I appreciate you coming out here. Helping us.”

Jody put down the plate she’d been packing and sat down at the table, clearing a small space for her bottle. She looked at Dean and asked, “You know I’m in love with him, right?”

Dean thought about playing dumb, but really, until Cas, there had only ever been one “him” for Dean. He nodded.

She played with the label on the bottle. “It’s stupid. Getting to where I am, my age, my experience, and still thinking you’d go to the moon for some kid if he asked you to, but I guess I’m just stupid that way.”

“I went to hell for him,” Dean said softly. “And I was old enough and experienced enough to know better.”

She tipped her bottle toward him. “There’s that.”

“Yeah.” Dean scratched the back of his neck. All of his skin felt itchy, like he needed to get up and walk something off, but he didn’t really want to leave. It was rare that he and Jody were on their own. He’d known—at least since the Djinn, maybe earlier—that he’d felt as though he’d lost something when Jess had died, despite having never really met her. It was as if she could have given him some part of Sam that Dean was never allowed to have, and when she’d died, that part of Sam had gone with her. Dean didn’t know if it was the same part that Jody offered, but it was something Dean wanted, regardless. And Jody didn’t seem to mind sharing.

As if reading his thoughts, she said, “I’m just saying. This wasn’t that far to travel. And I like Lisa.”

“She’s hard not to like.”

“Bet she’s hard not to love,” Jody said.

Dean held his bottle close to his chest and didn’t say anything. Jody laughed a little, but it wasn’t mocking so much as knowing. “You wanna help with the pots and pans? That’s the easy part.”

“I was going to offer for the heavy lifting.”

“Don’t worry, Arnold, there’ll be plenty of that later.”

*


The night before they were all set to leave, Lisa let Ben stay the night at Ethan’s. Dean, Lisa and Cas camped out on the bedroom floor with some blankets. Dean thought it felt familiar, like those times they’d had to squat, only different. There wasn’t the same air of resignation about the situation. Mostly, Dean could feel Lisa’s hope, Cas’s awareness of change. It would have been easy to fall asleep to, except that he’d made a decision, and he was going to stand by it.

“Lise,” he said into the dark.

Cas turned to him, eyes wide, visible even without the moon filtering in through the blinds.

“Dean, baby, long day tomorrow,” she said, and tried to tug him into her.

“I know,” he said, soft, low. “I know, but I-- I promised myself I’d say this before you did anything you couldn’t take back.”

Lisa sat up at that, her hair disheveled, falling well past her shoulders, her expression closed off. “Dean.”

Dean took a breath. “I’m gonna need to do this all in one go.”

Cas, who was getting better, but was still generally crap at knowing when touch was appropriate and when it wasn’t, sat up and tucked himself behind Dean, providing a wall of support.

Lisa rubbed a hand over her face and sat fully up, crossing her legs. She scooted along the length of carpet until her knees were touching his. He tried flinching back, but she put her hands on his knees, keeping him where he was. She shook her head. “Stay right there.”

Dean swallowed, then made himself nod and stay still. He took a breath, a few, and then said, “I didn’t tell you everything. I didn’t tell you—“ He was glad it was dark, and that he could flush from his toes to the roots of his hair and she wouldn’t see a damn thing.

She pushed her knees in closer, but kept silent. Dean leaned back against Cas, feeling like a pussy, but not really able to stop himself. “Dad would go on hunts, without us. I did say that. I just didn’t mention that they could get long, like, weeks long, sometimes over a month. And money ran out. It didn’t happen often, he was actually pretty good about planning, and he, I mean, he wanted us to be okay. But sometimes, when things went wrong, well, they went wrong.”

He paused, watching her, but she was just listening, waiting. He said, “Sam, he wasn’t always huge. He started the insane sprouting at around ten, and man, he could eat anything. I once caught him eating dog biscuits that some other kid at school had dared him to eat and they’d tasted okay enough that he was using them so he wouldn’t be hungry.

“I, uh, I didn’t know much about nutrition, or anything, but it’s pretty obvious, right? That a kid growing that fast needs to eat.” Dean shrugged. “By that time I was pretty good at pool and scamming, but you can’t do that stuff in towns where you’re gonna have to be there a while, and I was fifteen the winter Dad got caught in the ice storm. I barely had a middle school education given how much I’d missed, and in those small towns, nobody wanted to hire the new kid. All the jobs went to kids whose parents the shop owners knew.”

Dean looked away, but Lisa brought his face back in front with a light hand to his jaw. Dean said, “I would cut way down on my meals, sometimes just skip for a couple of days at a time, so that stuff would last, that was a pretty easy way to get us through. Eventually, though, I mean, even that couldn’t make the food last forever. I was good at sex with girls, and I figured, I mean, it couldn’t be that different.” He rolled his eyes at himself, his jaw so tight it hurt. “I was a pretty stupid kid. Stupider than as an adult, even.”

“Dean,” she said, her voice a warning.

“I almost lost my nerve, with the first guy. He wanted me to blow him and he pushed me down. He was-- He smelled, and I wanted to puke, and there was nothing, uh, he didn’t use protection, and I didn’t know what I was doing and it was, just, he called me names, and I believed him because, I mean, I was on my knees with a dick in my mouth.

“I almost went back after that, but ten dollars wasn’t barely enough to feed Sam for a few days, even on the cheapest stuff, so I stayed and let a few guys-- I thought, y’know, if I didn’t have to do anything, it’d be easier. And they paid more for that, obviously, so I—“

Dean couldn’t say anything else, not even if it would have saved his life.

“Baby,” Lisa said, when the silence had stretched into stillness. “Why are you telling me this now? I mean, I’m glad you are, just, why now?”

Dean closed his eyes. “So you don’t move hundreds of miles for some lying whoreboy.”

The words tore out of his throat, other people’s words, but fitting, nonetheless. Behind him, Cas stiffened, like it was something he’d never thought of, not even when he’d been an angel, watching Dean in those alleys. Dean knew better, but the way Cas was willing to put aside things for Dean was reassuring. It was as though Dean still mattered—even if he hadn’t said yes to Michael or saved Sam from Lucifer or done anything he was meant to, really.

Quietly, Lisa said, “Can I ask you something?”

Dean nodded tightly. She asked, “Is that why you won’t top? Because it was fine for you to be degraded and humiliated and hurt, so long as Sam was fine, but you’re not going to do that to someone else, someone you love?”

Dean just shrugged. He didn’t want to talk about that. Wasn’t this enough?

Lisa said, “I want an answer, Dean.”

“I made the choice.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“No, it’s not the answer you want to hear.”

“So, in other words, yes?”

Dean would have gotten up and walked out, but Cas had a grip on him, and it occurred to Dean that maybe he wasn’t sitting there entirely for moral support. Lisa said, “Okay, well, that’s knowledge I can work with.”

Dean frowned at her. She leaned forward and kissed the frown away from him. “In the meantime, let’s get something straight: first, I don’t like the term ‘whore’, it’s gross and demeaning. Second, you did what you had to, not just to survive when nobody was taking care of you the way they should have been, but to keep Sam alive and happy and healthy. I don’t see a damn thing wrong with that. Nor, given everything else I know, am I surprised.”

“Lise—“

“My turn. You’ll get another in a minute. Third, I’m moving for my family. For my son, who wants his sister, for my adopted daughter, for the man I love, who is not stupid, not weak, not a liar in the ways that matter, and not a whore. The man I love is someone who watches after those he cares for with everything in himself, and sometimes that means he gives a little too much away, but we’re all learning to pick up the pieces and help put them back together.” She took a breath. “Now, what were you going to say?”

Dean closed his eyes, but it was too late, he could feel the moisture on his cheeks. Lisa leaned forward and bit lightly at his chin. Cas brought a thumb up to wipe carefully at the tracks. Lisa pulled both of them toward her, back down on the carpet, and arranged the blankets over the three of them. She hooked her hand into Cas’s, lying over Dean’s side, the two of them surrounding him, keeping everything else out.

She said, “Seriously, long day tomorrow.”

“We can make Cas drive,” Dean mumbled.

“Huh. Good point.”

Maybe just for that, or maybe just because, Cas used their joint hands to hike the hem of Dean’s t-shirt just slightly, and press their fingers into his skin.

*


It was early evening by the time they arrived at Bobby’s. Frankie was at the foot of the porch stairs, throwing a ball, which Shush obediently would retrieve and return to her. When the car drove up, Frankie stopped, holding onto the ball, which Shush sniffed at forlornly. Frankie patted Shush’s head absently and then dropped the ball altogether, running toward the car.

Ben was first out of the door, and Frankie was saying, “Benbenbenben—“ when she ran straight into him, his open arms folding around her.

Shush nudged at Ben’s knee and Ben smiled, reaching down to pet her. “Yeah, I see you there, too.”

Frankie tried to get to Dean without detaching from Ben, which didn’t work so well, but Dean and Lisa both came to her. She said, “Deanlisa.”

Lisa hugged her and kissed at her hair and said, “Hey baby girl.”

Dean just kept his arms around her, feeling the weight she’d gained, how she was no longer a living ghost beneath his skin. He expected her to wiggle free, but she didn’t, just stayed still, pressed to them, mumbling their names in various combinations over and over. At one point, Cas reached in to touch her hair, and she added, “Casangel,” into the mix. Dean wondered what exactly Sam had been telling her.

Eventually, Bobby came out and asked, “Y’all gonna come in, or should I set up the sleeping gear out there?”

Lisa laughed, and untangled the five of them. She waved, “Hey, Bobby.”

Bobby rolled his eyes and went back inside, but from Lisa’s smile, Dean was pretty sure she knew that was Bobby for, “missed you.”

Dean picked Frankie up and put her on his shoulders. She held on to his hair, and it hurt, but he kind of liked that. It made him sure she was up there.

Sam appeared at the door, and Ben ran ahead. Sam picked him right off the ground in a hug and said, “Hey, I think a found a team you can join mid-season.”

“No way,” Ben said.

“I’m pretty good at research,” Sam said. Dean kicked him in the shin as he passed him. Sam said, “Nice to see you, too.”

The table was set. It was a new table. Or, well, it was new to Bobby’s office area, which was evidently no longer an office area, but a dining room. Dean looked over at Bobby, who shrugged. “Jody’s idea.”

Jody came out of the kitchen and hugged Lisa. “Hey, glad you guys are here. I had Bobby move the stuff from here and the armory down into the basement. It’s kind of like a hunter’s resort town down there, but there’s an actual guest room now.”

Dean raised an eyebrow at Bobby, who said, “Not a word, idjit.”

Dean held up his hands, and just asked Jody, “What’s for dinner?”

“Fried chicken. Sam said your arteries need all the help hardening that they can get.”

Just for that, Dean gave Sam a smile. Cas asked, “Is it the kind with the cereal? I like that kind.”

Everyone looked at him. He frowned for a second before saying, “Oh. Jimmy liked that kind.”

“This isn’t going to be like the burger thing, is it? Because that totally sets a bad example for the kids.”

Cas asked Jody, “May I have his piece of chicken?”

Jody smiled sweetly. “Of course you can, dear.”

*


Ben got a game of soccer going, with him, Jody and Cas on one team, Frankie, Sam and Dean on the other. Bobby and Lisa were the referees, which mostly meant they laughed at everyone from the side. Jody was evidently a kickass goalie, a skill she’d formerly hidden. Sam looked at her with an expression Dean recognized as a full-on why are you dressed at this moment? Dean was kind of impressed. It was usually hard to make Sam gape.

Shush ran from the end of the field Frankie was on to the other end, keeping pace with her, but not actually coming into the area of play. Dean did his best to stay on the other side.

When it was too dark to see the ball anymore, they all went inside. Sam busted out the slice ‘n bakes, and Bobby poured milk for anyone who wanted it. After the cookies, Sam swept Frankie up in his arms, and asked, “Gonna sleep tonight?”

“Sammy,” she said, smiling at him, all teeth.

Sam kissed her nose and put her down. He told Dean, “You’re totally to blame for that.”

Jody bent down in front of her and said, “’Night, Miss Frank.”

“Jojojojojo,” Frankie told her seriously, and Dean breathed through memories of other women named Jo.

Sam dragged Dean out the door with them, and hugged him on the porch until Dean said, “You know you’re gonna see me in the morning, right?”

“Yup,” Sam said, and didn’t let go.

“And that you’re kind of being a girl?”

“I’m not the one hugging anybody,” Jody interjected. “Just as a point of clarification.”

Dean said, “Sorry,” and meant it.

Sam squeezed tight and said, “’Kay, see you tomorrow. There’s something over in Fanning I wanna talk to you about anyway.”

“It can wait?” Dean asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, it can,” Sam said. “Promise.”

It had been a while since Dean had doubted a word Sam said. He didn’t feel the need to start up again. Instead he waited until they drove off and went back inside. Cas and Bobby were cleaning the kitchen. Dean asked, “Lise cleaning and bedding the kids?”

Then, “That came out wrong.”

“Yeah,” Bobby said, with just the right note of “duh,” in his voice.

Cas said, “She said she would tuck them in.”

Bobby threw the dishtowel he’d been using over the nearest cabinet handle and walked past Dean, pausing only momentarily, to squeeze a hand to Dean’s shoulder. Dean whispered, “Thanks, Bobby.”

Bobby said, “Don’t mention it,” and kept moving, away and up the stairs.

*


“When I penetrate you, is it painful?”

Dean, in his defense, did not drop the plate he was putting away when Cas asked the question. “Awkward.”

“Was there a better way to introduce the topic?”

“Avoiding it altogether would have been the way to go.”

“Yeah, he’s excellent at avoidance,” Lisa said, coming into the kitchen.

“Oh, so, now you’re going to team up on me?”

“Yes,” Cas said, without any intonation that suggested he knew why that was a bad thing. Dean silently called bullshit on that.

Lisa hopped up to sit on the counter. “Answer the question.”

“He knows it’s not. He reads my mind. Yours too, just so we’re clear.”

“Then why would you think it would hurt him?” Lisa asked.

“Seriously?” Dean looked at her, trying to figure out if they were actually having this conversation. The logic was pretty clear-cut.

“Seriously,” Cas echoed.

Dean said softly, “You know all this.”

Cas’s eyes softened just the tiniest bit, but he didn’t back down. Dean swallowed and looked out the window, his eyes resting on the Impala. He wanted to drive, drive and drive, the windows down, Metallica in the stereo, until he was far away from their questions.

Lisa said, “Baby.”

Dean said, “He’s a fucking angel. Of course it doesn’t hurt.”

Lisa blinked and Cas said, “This isn’t my angelic form.”

“It can still heal me from near death with two fingers,” was the answer Dean was about to come back with when he was stopped by Lisa’s incredulous, “You had my hand inside you. And I’m perfectly human.”

That stopped Dean. “Cas was—“

“I wasn’t doing anything. Distracting you a bit, perhaps. Nothing Lisa could not have done.”

“Dean,” Lisa said, her voice sounding ragged. “You were a child, and it wasn’t consensual.”

“It was,” Dean said. “I offered and they paid.”

“You were too fucking young to offer, and offering because your brother needed food--you fucking needed food—that’s not consent. It’s just desperation.”

Dean almost snapped that he wasn’t fucking desperate, but he caught both of them looking at him and neither had pity in their face, just sympathy, and something he thought might be hope. He said, “I don’t want to do this. Wanna talk about consent?”

“You don’t want to hurt me,” Cas said. “That is not an equivalent.”

“You know shit about it, Cas.”

“So do you, really, babe.” Lisa murmured, but loudly enough she knew she would be heard.

“More than he does.”

“He’s watched humans use each other for thousands of years. You’ve been used for fifteen or so, on and off. Cumulatively, maybe he knows something. Or maybe not. But between the two of us, perhaps, you should trust that we care enough, to, I don’t know, not suggest you do something that would tear you the fuck apart.”

“It’s not—“ Dean clenched his fists. “It has nothing to do with you.”

“But it should,” Lisa said, and she sounded…sad. Cas just looked like he wished he could fly away without getting shit for it later.

Dean looked out the window again and said, “I need to—“ Then he knew what he needed to do. “I need to talk to someone.”

He walked out the door, ran his fingers over the Impala’s exterior, and got in. He said, “Hey girl, I just—“

Then he started the engine and headed toward the road.

*


Dean wasn’t really sure how long he drove. All he knew was that at the end of it—and he was pretty certain it had been at least a few hours, out among endless fields on unlit roads, just him and the sound of the engine, the smell of leather that spoke of him to him—he was somehow parked in Jody’s driveway.

He was sitting in the car, trying to decide if he was going to sleep in the back, when Sam walked out of the house, over to the car and opened the door. “C’mon. I made packet hot chocolate with a shot of Jim.”

Dean made a, “well then,” face, and got out of the car, following Sam into the house. “What the hell are you doing up?”

“Cas called. He said he’d figured you’d find your way here, sooner or later. I was kinda hoping for sooner, but.” Sam shrugged. They reached the kitchen and Sam handed Dean a mug. “I nuked it when I heard the car coming.”

Dean took a sip, glad that Sam recognized the sound of the Impala, even if there was no logical reason for him not to. He said, “Uh. Can I crash on your couch?”

“Only if you man the fuck up and don’t pretend that’s what you came over at ass o’clock in the morning to ask me.”

“Sam—“

“Don’t, Dean. It’s not-- I’m honestly not trying to get into a fight about dad right now, but your bullshit about emotions is not the best quality he passed on to you and there’s a long list of questionable ones, okay?”
Dean glared, but the warmth of the drink and the alcohol were hitting his system and he had come here to be with Sam, and it was hard to hold onto the anger that he felt was rightfully his.

Sam sighed. “It’s nearly three in the morning, Dean. And I’ve been waiting by the window since Cas called over four hours ago.”

“I was gonna sleep in the car.”

“Sure, but you came here, where I am, so I figure there’s a reason.”

Dean turned so that he wasn’t looking at Sam and made himself ask, “You worry about hurting Jody?”

“Emotionally?” Sam asked.

“I-- Or physically. Just, by accident, maybe. Or not.”

Sam was silent for a long time, long enough that Dean nearly recanted. Then Sam said, “I have nightmares where it’s her on the ceiling, her facing down my gun, on the end of my knife. So, yeah.”

“And when you wake up?”

“I run until I can’t run any further and then I limp back and she’s usually at work by that time and there’s a note on the counter saying, ‘ice, then heat.’”

“She knows?”

“Yeah, well, interestingly, communication makes relationships easier, as it turns out. Or, at the very least, relieves me of the worry that something she doesn’t see coming is going to kill her.”

Dean finished off the drink and went to pour himself some more of the Jim, straight. “And if it’s just me that’s the threat?”

“Then at least you chose two people who can take care of themselves.”

Dean looked over at Sam. “They chose me.”

Sam’s expression was pained as he said, “It works both ways, Dean.”

Everything in Dean’s experience fought against that, against the idea that the two beings he cared most about in this world aside from Sam might actually return the sentiment, might have decided that he was what they wanted most. All he said was, “Maybe they didn’t know what they were getting into.”

“You’re kind of being an asshole. Lisa’s an adult, and Cas-- I honestly don’t even know how that statement makes sense in your head in relation to him.”

“Jess could take care of herself,” Dean said quietly, and not in a way that was intended to hurt.

“Jess was a twenty-one year old girl who had no idea what she was up against, because I never told her. Maybe she could have, or maybe not, I don’t know. But it’s not the same, Dean, and pretending it is—that’s just an excuse for you to be a coward.”

Dean bristled, but he didn’t say anything. Sam was right. And Dean was exhausted. “Your couch?”

Sam walked over and pulled Dean into a hug. Dean almost fought it, but he didn’t much want to. Sam said, “I even put sheets on it for you.”

*


Dean drove back in the morning, only detouring to pick up donuts. By the time he got to the house, Bobby was working in the yard, and Lisa had left for an interview Jody had set up for her ahead of time, so Cas was sitting at the kitchen table with Frankie and Ben, playing Connect Four.

Shush’s head came up when Dean walked in, and Ben turned to Dean, “This isn’t really Cas’s game, either.”

Dean put a hand on Ben’s shoulder. “We’ll figure something out.”

Frankie said, “Dean, Dean.”

Dean said, “Morning, baby girl.”

He put the box of donuts on the table and poured milk for everyone, Cas included. Then he sat down and helped Cas with the logic of the game. He figured out pretty quickly that Cas had been taking it easy on the kids, but he kept his mouth shut.

Lisa showed up after a few games and said, “Mm, donuts.”

Cas asked, “How was your interview?”

“They offered me the position right there. I was so surprised I almost asked them if they wanted to think about it.”

Dean said, “Calls for celebration,” and handed her one of the vanilla frosted donuts. They were her favorite.

Around mid-day, Bobby wandered back inside the house, and Dean said, “Hey, listen, I wanna take Lise out to lunch with Cas.”

Bobby shrugged. “Sam’ll be over in a bit anyway.”

“Thanks, Bobby.”

Bobby tucked a couple of hundreds in Dean’s hand and said, “Advance on your pay. Glad to hear Lise got the job.”

Dean tucked the money in his back pocket and said, softly, “Thanks. Again.”

The three of them picked up lunch at a diner, then drove out to the area near the hospital and looked at houses for most of the afternoon. When Lisa got in the car and said, “How is it that I forgot how much I despise house-hunting?” Dean decided they were done for the day.

He drove out of town for a bit, until Cas asked, “Are we lost?”

“No,” Dean said. He was pretty sure they weren’t, anyway. He had called Sam while Lisa was checking out the plumbing in one of the houses and asked, “Hey, um. You think you and Jody could stay with Bobby tonight?”

“I think he can probably handle things himself. Why?” Sam asked.

“You know of any good places to take a girl for the night?”

“Hey, yeah. Yeah, okay, there’s this place about forty minutes out of town. B&B, nice owners, good scenery, good food. Don’t use a card on ‘em, Dean.”

“Bobby gave me some money.”

“Okay.” Sam had given him directions then, and if he was remembering them correctly, they were only about fifteen minutes out.

Dean waited for someone else to ask where they were going, but neither of them did, and Dean thought maybe he should have done this well before now. When they got to the B&B, a sprawling, ranch-style farmhouse, Sam had already made reservations for them. It was dinner time, so they sat at a hand-carved wood table and ordered homemade meatloaf and macaroni and cheese and followed it up with freshly brewed coffee and caramel-banana bread pudding.

Dean was full enough that moving was something of an issue, but he made it to their room, which smelled of pine and fall mornings, and had a bed big enough to fit a regiment of the US Army. There were times when Dean really loved Sam.

Dean rubbed the back of his neck and looked at Lisa, who was sitting on the bed, taking her shoes off. He said, “I just thought, maybe not a field, for this. Or having to sneak around at Bobby’s house.”

Cas said, “I like fields.”

Dean said, “Fucking angels of the lord,” and turned just enough to kiss Cas, kiss him and mumble, “I want to do this right.”

“You will,” Cas said, and it was enough, somehow. Cas wasn’t exactly the kind of guy who told Dean things were going to be all right when they weren’t.

Lisa walked to them, silently, so that Dean only noticed when her lips were brushing his cheek as she asked, “What do you want from me?”

He looked at her and said, “Tell me what to do,” and loved her more than ever when she didn’t call him on the fact that he was begging, just said, “We should do this slow.”

She said, “Watch,” and sat him down, checking every once in a while that he was still paying attention as she stripped Cas. He wasn’t sure how she thought he could have looked away.

She repeated the action, making Cas the voyeur, with Dean, and then she gave parts of herself to each of them, until she was nothing but skin. Dean reached out, but didn’t touch until she pulled his fingers to her.

She kissed each of his knuckles carefully. Then she pushed him until he was on the bed, on his back. Cas followed, coming onto the bed next to her, both of them on their knees over him. She leaned over Dean and said, “You’re going to make us feel so good, baby.”

Then she pulled back to where she could suck him in, and Dean arched off the bed in surprise. Cas put a hand on his stomach, and caressed, leaning down to kiss him. Lisa came up fairly quickly. She reached out to the nightstand, where she’d put the lube she’d found in Dean’s jacket while undressing him.

She turned and kissed Cas, slow and sweet. “Hands and knees, Precious.”

“I saw pictures of those figurines,” he told her. “They are creepy.”

She laughed. “Now you know why it’s the perfect nickname.”

Cas frowned at that, but when she tapped his hip he went to his hands and knees. They hadn’t really needed to put Cas in that position before, and the line of his muscles kind of took Dean’s breath away.

Lisa said, “Watch,” again to Dean, like it was even mildly necessary, but he liked the command in her voice. She kissed down Cas’s spine, bit lightly at the upper flesh of his ass, and then worked a finger inside, slow and easy.

The sensory memory of the way Lisa’s fingers felt combined with watching her take care of Cas was almost too much. Dean clenched his fists and didn’t allow his hands anywhere near his cock.

Two fingers, and Cas was trembling slightly, shocks running through his muscles. Dean said, “Cas?”

Cas looked at him, pupils blown, lips slightly apart. Dean said, “Oh.”

Lisa smiled, and twisted her fingers again. She added one at some point, Dean not even noticing, too caught up in Cas to pay attention to anything else. But she pulled three fingers from Cas, and said, “Dean, babe. Your turn.”

“Cas,” Dean said, his voice low and rough with arousal.

Cas looked at him, something in his eyes that suggested how very Not Human he was. He said, “Dean. Please.”

It was the “please” that did it more than anything else. He would not make Cas beg, would make neither of them, not for anything, not from him. He rolled toward Cas and touched their lips together, thought, love you but couldn’t have said it, not for anything.

Lisa helped him up, behind Cas, lead his hand to drag over the length of Cas’s back. She said, “Please. I want to see.”

Dean lined himself up and tried to ignore the panic crowding his throat, but in the end he stuttered, “I haven’t-- I haven’t done this.”

She whispered, “You’ll get it right. Trust us.”

It was the right thing to say. He did trust them. He grasped onto Cas’s hips and swallowed past the fear. He pressed in, just a little, and Cas breathed, “More, Dean, more.”

Dean remembered a time when instruction from Cas had been an anathema, but it was hard to remember why. He pushed in, slow and unsteady, but Cas just pushed back to meet him.

It was intense beyond anything Dean had ever known. He thought maybe it was what hell would have felt like if there had been pleasure, rather than pain. He tried to breathe. Cas said, “Move, Dean,” and Dean moved. Or maybe Cas did, and Dean went with him, Dean wasn’t sure.

Lisa kissed Dean’s neck, causing him to shudder straight down his spine. She bit him then, sharp and quick, before moving away. She situated herself between the headboard and Cas, opening her legs. Cas put his head down, and Dean drove in, pushing him further into Lisa, causing Cas to actually moan.

“Cas,” Dean said, but Cas just pushed back, almost enough to knock Dean off the bed. Dean answered with responding force without even thinking, this was just them, give and take, take and give.

Lisa said, “Motherfuck, the two of you.”

Dean reached down and took Cas’s cock in his hand, holding on tight, maybe too tight, but Cas just bucked into the touch and Dean said, “C’mon, c’mon, Cas.”

Cas took his mouth off Lisa just long enough to say, “You first.”

Dean was tempted to challenge the order, to see if he could make Cas bend to his will, but he lost the desire halfway through his thrust, much more willing to give into what Cas wanted. Lisa’s eyes were on him, heavy and dark with sensation, with the expectation of his pleasure.

Dean said, “Yeah, yeah,” and gave himself over to them.

*


Dean woke up to whispers in the middle of the night. Lisa was saying, “…extra room for when Frankie gets older, although, given the way Dean is with Sam, who knows, maybe Ben’ll always just—“

“Maybe. But Dean and Sam went through their periods of separation as well.”

“Really?”

Dean winced. There was kind of a lot he hadn’t told Lisa that he probably should have. He said, “Mostly at Sam’s insistence. I’m the clingy one.”

Lisa rolled onto her back. Dean couldn’t actually remember how they’d fallen asleep, but she was in the middle of them at this point. “Welcome to the Insomniac’s Ball.”

Dean kissed along the line of her cheek. “Stressing about the house?”

“It didn’t seem like such a big decision last time. Find somewhere convenient for work, and big enough to fit the two of us. Now there’s five of us, and I want it near to Bobby and Jody’s, plus somewhere it’s easy for you to go to and from whatever time of night you need, with a yard so that Shush won’t get into your space—“

“Hey.” Dean slid a hand over her hip bone and caressed a bit.

Cas said, “We could build somewhere to hold us all.”

“Kinda outside my price range, Presh, but I like you thinking outside the box.”

“And if I were to contribute to this household’s funds?” Cas asked.

Dean propped himself up. “With what?”

“A job,” Cas said, as though it were the most normal thing in the world. And well, it sort of was, except that Cas didn’t qualify as normal.

Doing what?”

Cas said, “I have thought about this. I am good with children, and contain all knowledge necessary for the teaching of them.”

And, fair, but Dean pointed out: “Cas, you need credentials to teach kids, you can’t just show up out of nowhere and expect people to give you a job in a school.”

“I travel through space and time, have a life that has spanned millennia and occasionally receive help from G-d. You think creating papers and a history for myself is going to create an insurmountable barrier?”

“Point,” Lisa said. Then, “Hey, I don’t suppose you could magic us a house?”

Cas looked as though he was considered. Eventually, he admitted, “It is against The Tenants to alter space and time if not completely necessary.”

Dean snorted. He could hear Cas’s capitalization. “And what about when you have to take off and organize shit upstairs?”

“Do you think you invented lying to people in positions of authority?” Cas asked.

“You sound like Bobby,” Dean let him know.

“I like Bobby.”

“Okay, so between me, Cas, and you, let’s say we are a three income household, or at least two and a half, depending on how much time you spend hunting. We could probably build. There’s lots off of Bobby’s place that could work, assuming we can get the land.” Lisa threw the idea out, but her gaze was focused on Dean.

Dean said, “Yeah, we could-- Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Just wondering how it sounds. Buying some land, building a house, taking the kids and the dogs home.”

“Like the Twilight Zone,” Dean admitted.

Cas had his eyes on Dean now, too, and Lisa was all hunched up muscles along his side. Dean kissed her shoulder, and looked back at Cas. “I always liked that show.”


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile