elsewhere_kels: (TDoPM - Dean)
[personal profile] elsewhere_kels
Trigger warnings for discussion of depression, mental illness, and past sexual and psychological abuse of minors.

Sam was starting to realize that he would probably always feel reluctant to go to his therapy sessions. That level of sharing with anyone was equal parts uncomfortable and exhausting and he was always drained at the end. It was a relief, though, to get things off of his chest. If Sam needed to talk, Dean would (sometimes grudgingly) listen, but talking to Dean could be more stressful than cathartic.

Castiel always waited patiently, gave Sam time to think things through, to make his whole point. Sometimes he asked prompting questions in order to glean more information or maybe just to make Sam think more deeply about his own take on matters, but Castiel never interrupted Sam. Castiel didn’t overreact and he didn’t downplay or sugar coat anything. Sam determinedly didn’t feel guilty about finding this refreshing because Dean was his brother and brothers were supposed to find each other aggravating sometimes.

Castiel seemed very interested to hear that Sam was becoming more aware of periods when the other alters were in control. He told Sam that any occurrences that showed a comparatively lower amount of separation between his alternate identities was a sign of progress.

“Speaking of progress, I want to work out some short term and long term goals for your therapy today,” Castiel told him, and Sam felt a thrill of apprehension at that. It could not stamp out the eagerness for something to finally start changing that bubbled up within him though.

“Okay.” Sam resisted the urge to twist his bracelet as he waited for Castiel to continue.

“I want to talk to you about our long term goal first - it’s something that will be important for you to think on.” Castiel squinted at him, and Sam had a feeling that he already knew the form this long term goal might take. “What did you think about when I brought up the topic of goals, Sam?”

“Putting me back together,” Sam answered. “Integrating the different parts of me into a whole person.” He felt a bit like he was back in high school but Sam had done his research and he liked being one step ahead.

“All right,” Castiel nodded, his face unreadable. “How do you feel about that possibility?”

That was a harder question. “I don’t know,” Sam spoke honestly, more hesitant than before. “I guess it sounds good. I’m not sure all the alters would agree on that, but it makes sense to me.” Sam frowned and focused in on the clinking beads of his bracelet as he spun them around.

“But... if the alters and I become one normal person... It might feel like dying.” Sam hadn’t even realized the thought was something he was worried about until it came out of his mouth. He felt stupid, looking to Castiel for answers the doctor obviously couldn’t have, but it was probably better than moving forward without saying anything.

“I have no way of predicting how re-integration would affect you personally, Sam.” Castiel sounded almost apologetic, and Sam smiled thinly at that. “I have not worked with many patients with this disorder, and even if I had hundreds of case studies to refer to, every human experience is different. I can tell you that the process of integrating the parts of your personality together is difficult and it can be painful. It is often very emotionally and physically taxing, and it takes a great deal of time.”

Sam sighed and nodded grimly. “Yeah, I know.” He appreciated the fact that Castiel was being honest with him, however much he would prefer not to hear the daunting statistics of those who’d come before him.

“I can also tell you that I have faith in your ability to withstand those challenges,” Cas continued, his tone softer, less like a text book and more like a person. “I do think that stabilizing your personality will be the most beneficial outcome of therapy for you in the long run, but it isn’t my decision to make. I want you to think about it over the course of this next week, and see what other thoughts you might have about it. I have some short term goals in mind that can help you improve your quality of life, but you’ll have to stick with them.”

“Of course.” Sam nodded quickly and wondered if he would look back on this later and call himself cocky.

Castiel asked Sam if there was one specific thing that he wanted to work on changing, and Sam told him about the job interview he didn’t end up going to - how he just wanted a way to have more control over his life.

“All right,” Castiel said slowly after Sam finished, and his brow crinkled in thought as he spoke. “There are two different factors to consider here. The more obvious of the two is that you need some strategies that can help you keep control of situations and ideas that cause you anxiety.”

Sam shifted forward and tried to quell his growing eagerness at the idea; he suspected there was a “but” coming up.

“And we will talk about that today, but there’s something else I want to bring up first. And I’m not saying that just to dangle it like a carrot in your face.” Castiel smiled, and it seemed more wry than anything else. “Well... I am, in a way, but it’s because I want to end our session on a positive note.”

Sam smiled back a little bit at that, uncertain whether or not to be worried that Castiel expected him to be bothered by whatever it was he wanted to bring up. “All right, shoot.”

Castiel frowned slightly, perhaps at Sam’s choice of words, but it was hard to tell. “What we need to keep in mind is that all of your alters fulfill some purpose in contributing to your well-being, or at least, they have certain jobs that are supposed to help you. Filling those roles constitutes their main frame of reference.”

Sam stared at the blue-eyed man who looked back at him expectantly. Castiel seemed to think Sam should be able to make something out of his words, but no matter how much Sam examined and rearranged the words in his head, he couldn’t glean a meaning from them that made sense to him.

“Could you repeat that?” He asked, feeling heat flush his skin in frustration and embarrassment. He fought the urge to stare down at his knees - it wasn’t as though he would be able to fool Castiel. He was supposed to know this stuff, damn it.

“Of course,” Castiel answered, and it was like Sam could watch the explanation forming in his face before he spoke. “What I mean is that each of the different parts of you have tasks that they complete - they each have a role to play in filling Sam Winchester’s needs. If we can fill the need, then Samuel won’t feel compelled to make... executive decisions, if you will. The same for matters that concern the rest of the alters.”

Sam frowned. Put like that, it made sense, but...

“I’m not ready to apply for a job yet,” he said earnestly. It seemed wrong somehow to have to explain this to Castiel. This wasn’t just him being lazy, Castiel had to understand. What he was doing here, now, was important. He needed to regain control. He wasn’t a waste of time, he’d make it up to Dean... just not yet. He wasn’t good enough, yet.

Sam had spent too many years of his life weighing his brother down. Getting to a place where he really could stand on his own two feet was the most important thing.

“I’m still switching once a day on average, I’m not even reliable to cover a shift. I don’t want...” Sam trailed off, hearing his own voice and not wanting to sound any more pathetic. He didn’t say ‘I don’t want to get fired.’ He didn’t talk about that sinking, wrenching feeling that swallowed people up and held them paralyzed beneath their failure.

“...You don’t want?” Castiel prompted after a few moments, infuriatingly calm. That was his job and Sam knew it, but he didn’t want to talk about this anymore.

“Nothing,” he gritted out, glaring at the pattern of the wood grain on the desk.

There was a long pause, and when Castiel’s voice came next, it was quiet and heavy with sincerity.

“Sam, I am not suggesting that you simply do whatever Samuel or the other alters want. I wouldn’t ask that of you.”

Sam took a deep breath and let it out like Dean had taught him back when he was seven or eight. Nine? They’d been at the orphanage and Sam had punched Rayden Matthews in the nose for calling Dean names. He remembered the anger welling up inside him during that argument, coming to a simmer and then a roiling boil before it exploded out of him in his furious battle cry and flailing limbs. For the past couple of days... hell, maybe the past couple of weeks, Sam had been idling on that simmering anger, quick to rise to boiling point.

“So then, what did you mean?” He asked in a measured tone.

“Samuel seems to be trying to give you a direction to go in - talking about your short term goals today should already help with that somewhat. If he is getting restless, it means that you, the whole of you, is feeling restless and needs something to work towards - something challenging and gratifying. Any kind of small change would probably help. Do you have any hobbies, Sam?”

“Not really... I read a lot.”

“Reading is a very good past time,” Castiel replied without missing a beat, not like he was backpedaling but more like his mind only had one track and it didn’t stop here. “I think it would a good idea to incorporate another activity into your daily routine as well, perhaps something blending both physical and mental aspects. You are very intelligent, Sam - it’s no surprise that you’re getting bored with so little stimulation.”

Sam sat back, struck by the sudden affirmation. Castiel said it so matter-of-factly, easily, like it was a given. Sam knew he was smart - a part of him, at least, had been taking a full course load at Stanford and doing fine with it. And before that almost-year with Alastair and Lilith, he’d been really good in school - loved it, even.

Sam hadn’t felt smart - really, truly capable of anything worth something - in... he couldn’t remember when.

Castiel spoke to Sam like he expected him to succeed - like if one thing didn’t work for him, Castiel would be there with something else to try. There was no pressure for Sam to get it exactly right - just the patient, steady certainty that something would eventually click. Because Sam could figure it out.

“...Yeah, I’ll look into that,” he said finally, realizing that Castiel had been waiting for a response from him. He felt a little embarrassment, but nothing like the overwhelming sensation from before.

“Good.” Castiel made a note in his book. “That can be a short and long term goal, I think, to continuously review the actions and view points of your alternate identities and how they reflect your needs. Let’s say twice a week for now until we have a better handle on things. That sounds reasonable?”

“Sure.” Sam realized that he was smiling a little bit and didn’t bother trying to stop.

Sam’s other short term goal was to practice relaxation techniques and self-hypnosis once every day, more if he was feeling very stressed. Castiel talked Sam through the process once and explained that the more relaxed and capable Sam was feeling, the less pressure would be on his alters to take over and deal with a problematic situation themselves. He also wanted Sam to start communicating with the alters through a notebook.

“You are already using notes to communicate crucial information - this would be for more private communication,” Castiel explained.

They wrapped up, then, and it was the first time Sam had walked out of that office feeling anything like hope.

Dean and Castiel acted weird when they went out to eat afterwards. There was just no other word for it.

Dean flirted with waitress with more actual persistence than Sam had seen from him in ages. All throughout the meal Dean either focused very hard on eating his food, which wasn’t that unusual, or turning his attention to different random people and objects in the restaurant, only meeting Sam or Castiel’s eyes when they addressed him directly. That part was bizarre. Sam guessed that Castiel must have noticed the odd behavior as well, because he was squinting at Dean by the time they ordered and frowning by the time their waitress arrived with their food. Dean tipped his head and sent her a wink.

“Service with a smile, can’t beat that,” Dean commented, grinning up at the woman.

The waitress laughed, a little too high and shrill as she smiled back at Dean.

“It’s my pleasure!”

Sam watched the whole exchange and felt a little nauseous with all the saccharine pleasantries. He looked after the waitress as she walked away, shaking his head, and when he turned back to the table, he was almost sure he saw Castiel glaring after her, but Castiel turned away from her and his face had gone blank.

“Please pass the ketchup, Dean,” the man intoned, and for all that Castiel’s voice was usually deep, it was like he was dragging it over sandpaper now.

Dean slid the ketchup across the table, watching Castiel’s hand reach for the bottle and suddenly looking back to his own food, pulling his hand back abruptly. Castiel looked slowly from to ketchup bottle to Dean and back, and then he seemed to sigh before turning his attention to his french fries.

“So...” Sam started slowly, feeling sure this was another one of those moments where he’d missed something. “What the hell is going on with you two?”

Dean scratched his neck and shrugged casually. “Nothing.”

“Are you kidding me, Dean?” An incredulous laugh escaped him and Sam turned to Castiel. “Did you guys have a fight or something?”

“No,” Castiel answered as he met Sam’s eyes, clear and quiet. “Though I believe I misunderstood something.” Dean opened his mouth as if to speak and then closed it again, frowning.

“It’s not a pressing issue.” Castiel had turned to address Dean, who had been staring at his burger. He looked up, now.

“Cas -”

“It’s also not really something to discuss here,” Castiel cut Dean off efficiently, and it seemed that Dean couldn’t deny that logic because he fell silent again.

“If it’s all right with you, Dean, I’ll call you tomorrow afternoon?” Castiel asked, crisp and professional. Sam frowned. He hated being out of the loop, but he and Castiel talked about things they didn’t share with Dean, and Dean and Castiel seemed to have become friends, so it kind of made sense. It still made him uneasy, though.

“Yeah, sure, Cas,” Dean said quietly.

The conversation was stilted at best during the course of the meal, and Castiel ate quickly, claiming that he had to run because he had more paperwork than usual.

Dean didn’t so much as glance in the waitress’ direction after that, and he was in a bad mood for the rest of the night. He practically stomped around the apartment as he got ready for work.

“Okay, what’s wrong?” Sam finally demanded later as Dean swore and stalked around the living room looking for his cell phone.

“Nothing,” Dean snapped as he lifted a sofa cushion in his search, huffing and slamming it back down when it refused to yield his phone to him.

“This is not nothing, Dean. You’ve been making a big production all night, ever since Castiel left the restaurant. You don’t do this unless it’s something big.”

“I don’t have time for this right now, Sam!” Dean growled as he turned into the kitchen and started searching through the junk pile on the right side of the table.

“And you’re going to go to work acting like that?” Sam said, raising an eyebrow. “Dean...”

“Don’t ‘Dean’ me, Sammy.” His brother paused long enough in his search to glare at him. “There’s nothing you could do about it.” Dean shoved the last old receipt back into the junk pile roughly, giving up and heading to the door to grab his jacket.

“I could listen. I know it’s a chick flick thing or whatever but after the last few weeks I think we can safely say it helps sometimes,” Sam insisted.

He watched as Dean frowned and pat his hands over his pockets, where he found his cell phone waiting. Dean sighed, the fight going out of him all at once, and the moment he spoke Sam wished he’d just let his brother be angry a little longer.

“It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, Sam.” Dean opened the door and smiled in that hopeless way that made Sam’s stomach turn. “I’m an idiot. That’s all.”

Dean closed the door behind him as he left. Sam wished he’d slammed it.

Even though Castiel had said he would call the next day, Dean had assumed that the statement was mainly for Sam’s benefit. He hadn’t actually expected to see the name ‘Cas’ appear on the caller id, and Dean couldn’t decide whether or not he actually wanted to pick up.

He pressed the ‘Talk’ button anyway.

“Hey, Cas,” Dean said quietly, dread building up inside him.

“Hello, Dean.” There was a pause that seemed to go on forever - a perfect opening for Dean to say something. So many different words clamored up his throat at once, looking for purchase, that they were left tangled together and useless.

“I know you have been struggling with your state of mind lately, since Sam’s therapy started. I did mean what I said before, you are welcome to come visit me if you need a change of scenery.” There was hardly any inflection in Castiel’s speech and Dean didn’t even know how to react - he felt like he was being laid off from life by a sympathetic boss.

“But I think you could benefit from therapy as well,” Castiel continued, oblivious to Dean’s silent bafflement. He still had no idea what to say to this. “I wanted to recommend you to a colleague of mine that I have worked with in the past. She would have to charge you for your sessions, I’m afraid, but the facility she works at offers payment options on a sliding scale, and Anna is an exceptional counselor -”

“Why can’t it be you?” Dean blurted out with something like panic. He really was getting fired. Cas was firing him somehow. Not only that, he was trying to tell Dean to let someone else in when Dean was already pretty uncomfortable having bared his soul to Sam and Castiel. Dean would be stuck with this Dr. Novak version of Cas forever, now.

It would have been a thousand times easier to take if Castiel had been furious.

“...I’m afraid that would be a conflict of interest. For me, at least,” Castiel answered, too composed. Dean hated that he recognized the tone from last night, the tinny echo of the phone souring it further in his ears.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” There was a disgruntled sound from the other side of the line and Dean closed his eyes, cursing inwardly. Maybe he didn’t deserve to ask, but this shit was giving him a headache. If Cas cared about whether or not Dean understood what was going on here (which, hey, he might not), he’d have to spoon feed him.

Acknowledging that fact sent Dean’s pride clattering down another notch, but it didn’t have all that far to go, anyways.

“I’m sorry, Cas.” Really sorry. Couldn’t they just forget what an asshole he was, just this once? Why couldn’t people get one-free-fuck-up when they first met someone they really liked? Dean pushed his palm hard into his right eye where he could feel pain gathering. “You’re just throwing me for a loop, here.”

“I’d say that makes two of us.” Cas sounded tired, and finally Dean could hear a bit of aggravation in his voice. He found himself inexplicably relieved for that. “Dean, you’re allowed to change your mind. Kissing me does not obligate you to start a relationship with me under any circumstances. While the past few days have been... incredibly frustrating for me because of this, it’s a good thing that they forced me to address how far my affection for you has gone.”

“I didn’t -” Dean cut the sentence off, because he had changed his mind, hadn’t he? Back and forth and back and forth like a Yo-Yo, and this was how a Yo-Yo would probably feel if it could experience motion sickness.

“And that has something to do with me needing a different therapist?” Dean asked because he really had no idea what to say to the other things at the moment.

“Technically it isn’t unethical for a therapist to feel attracted to their patient, as long as they don’t act on those feelings,” Castiel explained. Dean couldn’t be sure whether or not he believed the man’s wry, nonchalant tone. “But it is incredibly ill advised to continue if that is the scenario the therapist is facing, and I try to avoid making stupid decisions as much as possible.”

Dean winced. Yeah, okay, he’d sent Cas enough mixed signals to really screw the guy around. He deserved that.

Dean didn’t even think to consider the possibility that Castiel didn’t mean that being attracted to him was a stupid decision.

“I’m really sorry, Cas.” Dean figured that he’d reached his quota of asking for things today, so he clamped down any niggling urge to ask Castiel to just pretend the last few days had never happened.

Dean’s fingers felt clumsy over the paper as he took down the number of the counseling center Anna worked at, as if Castiel would somehow be able to tell if he didn’t write it out. Castiel said I’ll see you next Thursday and Dean said See you then and pushed the ‘End’ button.

He went to go sit in the Impala, where Lisa found him an hour later. She told him in no uncertain terms that he and Sam were coming over and that she would make them dinner because if Ben didn’t get to spend time with Dean soon the kid would probably cry. And Ben hated crying.

“Go get your brother,” Lisa told him as they passed the door of his apartment. She seemed unsure of herself for one moment before pulling Dean into a hug. Dean wrapped his arms around her in mindless reciprocation, a little startled. “See you in twenty minutes, all right?” She asked, and it was better than any pointless assurance. Dean squeezed Lisa a little tighter in thanks and promised himself not to go so long without talking to her next time. He hadn’t even realized he was doing it.

“Yeah, sounds good,” he said softly. Lisa sighed and rubbed his back before pulling away to head back to her own apartment.

Sam didn’t ask what was wrong when Dean went to get him, and Dean was grateful.

The next couple weeks passed like a blur for Dean. He spent most of his time trying to keep himself busy and looking on in amazement as Sam suddenly became a whirl wind of activity. Sam took out different books on martial arts from the library and began learning the histories and practicing the stances - then he would go on long runs, which Dean joined in on. It took a couple days to get into a good rhythm, but once he’d built up enough endurance to run for longer, his focus gradually turned to the movement rather than his wandering thoughts. The blood pumping in his ears was distracting enough that thinking deeply at all took conscious effort, and Dean could appreciate that.

Once they got home, Sam went all new age on him and found a comfortable spot to breathe deeply and zone out for a while. He didn’t sit in the stereotypical cross-legged meditative position either, instead lying flat on his back with his eyes closed and his fingers laced together over his stomach. Dean still kind of expected Sam to start saying “Om”, though. Dean decided not to join his brother in that activity.

Sam also started cooking - not that he never did before, but fancier things from recipes. Dean thought Sam might have been trying to cook broccoli cheese soup with his brain at one point when he spotted his brother glaring daggers into the pan. It turned out that some of the soup had settled at the bottom of the pan and burned into the steel.

“I need to keep the ingredients in little bowls next to the stove or something, you have to stir constantly to keep it from sticking to the bottom,” Sam said thoughtfully.

“Soup’s more of a winter time thing, anyways,” Dean offered, grinning and clapping a hand on Sam’s back.

On the whole Sam was doing really well. Better than Dean had seen since... well, maybe since before Stanford. Dean welcomed the swell of pride for his brother. Sam’s tenacity was a double edged sword sometimes, but he could do anything if he wanted it badly enough.

Dean worked on the Impala. He sorted through all the junk that he and Sam accumulated regularly and organized it. He budgeted for food, rent, and gas money for the next month, and Jesus, he loved his baby to death but she guzzled gas like nothing else. Dean picked up extra shifts on his nights off, partly out of necessity and partly because it was better than lying in bed trying not to think.

Dean even started to re-read Cat’s Cradle, because it usually never failed to hold his attention.

Whenever Dean gave himself a quiet moment, though, and just let his mind drift... his thoughts turned to Castiel, and how they had been before Dean screwed everything up, and how they could’ve been if Dean had just grown a pair. He’d think about how many things he could have said or done differently - tiny little changes that would mean Cas still looked at him like he could hold the world in his hands.

Mostly Dean slept fitfully or not at all during his days, but the two or three times his body gave in to complete exhaustion, the dreams slipped in like water trickling through his fingers.

Maybe it would have been easier if the dreams stayed just like Dean’s first one had been. And sure, there was plenty of that too, but there was also the one where Dean slumped half asleep against Cas on the couch while the man read through some file or other with one arm wrapped around Dean. There were very few clear details apart from the warmth and pressure of Cas’ fingers settled comfortably against the smooth skin of Dean’s side, tucked just beneath the bottom of his shirt. Then there was the one where Cas absolutely insisted that they had to reach the ocean - it didn’t matter where or how, just that they reached the coastline and that they did it immediately. This was what ended up happening because dreams were weird like that, and Cas laid down on the sand and begged Dean to bury him, quick, please, please, Dean!

Then Cas was buried up to his neck and looked at Dean like he had just stabbed him in the chest. “What did you have to do that for?”

Dean had startled awake and headed straight to the bathroom to wash the moist, salty residue from his face. He might as well have really been to the ocean.

“Oh, just shut up,” Dean told his reflection.

He’d let things fall apart before they’d even really begun - just stepped back, looked his issues straight in the face and said “Oh, after you!”

Dean picked up the glass they kept on the sink and wondered if breaking the thing violently would feel as good as he thought it might.

Sam was in the living room, he’d definitely hear it.

It was a long time before Dean replaced the glass, intact, on the sink.

‘You’ve made your bed, Winchester, now lie in it.’

At least Sam was getting somewhere.

He watched the hand reach out and knock on the door and knew that sometimes it was his hand.

There was a long pause and Samuel knocked once more, and then Sam could hear footsteps from inside before the door opened.

“Sam,” Jess breathed the name more than spoke it, and for a moment she only looked amazed, and kind of like she was about to cry. Sam felt like he shouldn’t have been allowed to see her like that, not when he’d hurt her so badly without ever even knowing her.

Jess blinked and closed her mouth, opened it again as if to speak, but nothing came out.

“What are you doing here?” She finally managed. Jess’ expression was closed off, now, more wary than anything else.

“Please, Jess,” Samuel begged. “Just hear me out. Give me ten minutes.”

“If whatever this is only takes ten minutes, why couldn’t you just call?” The woman asked flatly.

“I needed to see you for this,” Samuel said, and it sounded earnest enough, but it seemed like a pretty crappy explanation to Sam and judging by her grimace, Jess agreed.

“And it didn’t occur to you that I might not want to see you?” Her voice cracked, the hurt in it bolstering her anger. Sam wanted to wrap her up in a hug, but that would have been unhelpful even if he did have control of his own body.

“Jess -” Samuel cut himself off and ran a hand through his hair. Jess stared at him for a moment longer before she closed her eyes and sighed heavily.

“Fine. Ten minutes.”

“Guess I’ll see you next week, doctor.” Victor smiled bitterly, always self-loathing at the idea of ever needing to see a therapist.

“I’ll be here.” Castiel smiled back, always hoped it could make some difference. “Take care of yourself, Victor.”

The man grunted something noncommittal as he left the office, and Castiel shook his head and turned back to his notes from the session, not quite registering the words as Victor said, “Oh, sorry.”

“Yeah,” Dean replied absentmindedly and Castiel’s gaze shot up immediately as he stalked into the room.

“Dean -”

“Sam’s gone!” Dean cut him off, his eyes wide and panicked.

Castiel’s heart lurched.

‘No, no,’ he reminded himself sternly before his mind could even begin jumping to conclusions. Dean needed him to be in control of this, or he wouldn’t have come to him. He couldn’t let emotions move him in this, especially considering how badly he’d handled his own in the past little while.

Castiel looked at Dean, utterly wrecked before him, and settled for nursing the silent ache that had already begun throbbing dully inside him.

“What do you mean ‘gone’?” He asked Dean, careful to keep his tone level.

“I mean gone! His phone goes straight to voice mail, I found a note on the fridge that said ‘back in a few days’, and this -” Dean smacked a notebook onto the desk in front of him.

“The bastard pulls shit like this, you’d better believe I’m breaking into his god damned diary!” Dean fumed and Castiel opened the notebook, pulling it towards him to read while Dean began to pace agitatedly.

Castiel flipped through the rest of the pages, but as he had come to suspect, there was nothing else written in the notebook. He closed it delicately and turned his full attention to Dean again.

“All right. Let’s talk about what we know,” he began. “I’m going to make an assumption and say that it was Samuel’s handwriting on the note.”

“Yeah.” Dean nodded immediately, then scoffed. “‘Back in a few days’, that snotty little -”

“Because of the note, and the fact that Samuel has likely turned his cell phone off on purpose, we know that he left of his own free will and is most likely completely unharmed.”

“I know that,” Dean spoke too quickly, defensive about the more irrational of his worries.

“Of course.” Castiel inclined his head to Dean and thought about smiling, but it only struck him as terribly inappropriate and the muscles in his face seemed to agree. “But the longer the list of things we know, the better we will deal with the things we don’t.”

Dean finally stopped pacing and crossed his arms over his chest, but the restlessness still emanated from his frame, twisting and roiling and taking up much more space than the air in the room.

“Right... yeah.”

“Do you still have your car?” Castiel asked quietly.

“Yeah, he must have taken the bus or something.” Dean sighed heavily and sank into a chair. “And I’m pretty damn sure I know where he’s gone...”

Castiel did smile a little, then. “Do you have any way to contact Jessica Moore?”

Dean shook his head. “No, her number is... well, it was on Sam’s phone.”

“It seems that you have three choices on how to deal with this, Dean.”

Dean motioned for Castiel to continue with a weary swing of his arm and it landed in his lap with a dull slapping noise. “Hit me.”

“You can drive to Palo Alto right now. Or,” Castiel continued quickly; he had no doubt that his first suggestion sounded most attractive to Dean at the moment. “You can give Sam a day to call you the moment he is in a position to do so. If he doesn’t call, you can go to Palo Alto tomorrow. Or you could, technically, wait a few days to do anything.”

Dean snorted. “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.” He took his phone out of his pocket and glared down at the display.

“You think I should wait the day, don’t you,” Dean muttered and he looked so run down; Castiel shifted his fingers on the desk to suppress the urge reach out to him.

“I think that your trust would mean a lot to your brother,” he answered. Dean didn’t look at him.

Castiel glanced at the clock. “I have about an hour for lunch. You’re welcome to join me if you want - make the decision after you’ve eaten.”

Dean frowned across the desk at him.

“Why -” Dean closed his mouth, apparently second guessing whatever question it was that he wanted to ask.

“Why what, Dean?”

Dean shook his head. “Nothing.”

Castiel sighed inwardly as he walked around the desk to retrieve his things. They left the office together, walked down the elevator and out onto the sidewalk in silence. Castiel steeled himself against the fact that Dean might simply pretend he hadn’t been invited to lunch.

But Dean was always surprising him.

“So I guess we’re taking your station wagon?” Dean asked, and Castiel was fairly certain the consternation on his face was put-on. It didn’t even matter if it wasn’t, Castiel was so relieved that Dean wanted to stay with him and think the situation through, instead of speeding away at the first available opportunity.

Castiel may have been missing Dean’s ridiculous qualms about his vehicle.

“Unless you would rather follow me with your car,” he offered, already heading towards his own car. Dean didn’t answer, only sped forward to match his stride.

They drove in silence. Sometimes Castiel was sure that Dean’s eyes were on him, but they spent an equal amount of time glaring down at the cellphone resting in Dean’s palm.

Castiel didn’t want to ask invasive questions, but he had a feeling there were a lot of things Dean was holding inside right now. For a brief time, he was at least one of the people Dean went to when the man needed to get something out of his system, and Castiel had been so glad that Dean trusted him enough for that.

The comfortable rhythm they had initially formed was shaken now, but Castiel still wanted...

Dean was different from anyone else Castiel had ever known. He didn’t let himself get attached to people very easily, yet Dean had wormed right into the place Castiel kept in his heart for his most important people. Even if Dean never felt anything similar towards him, Castiel wanted to be someone he could rely on.

He needed a way to invite Dean to talk without making it a friendly interrogation.

“I lived with fourteen different brothers and sisters, growing up, though not all at once. My parents are religious fundamentalists, and no aspects of their world view have ever strained my relationship with them. I pray every day.”

Castiel glanced over at Dean and had to smile at his dumbfounded expression.

“Two of those statements were lies, and one was the truth. If you can figure out which one was true, then it’s my turn again. If you can’t, then you’ll make three statements. Does that make sense?”

“Uh,” Dean replied haltingly, his brows furrowing in thought. “Yeah. Sure.” He tapped his finger against his pant leg as he considered the options.

“Fourteen brothers and sisters,” Dean finally decided, and Castiel nodded.

“Right.” He paused for a moment to think about his next turn.

“I have never tried to build a strong, lasting connection with anyone I’ve met in LA. I’ve never wanted to. Anna Milton, the woman that I recommended you contact, grew up a few blocks from me until we were nine.”

“You never wanted to let someone in?” Dean asked, pursing his lips like he was dissatisfied with his own answer.

“No, Anna really did grow up near me.”

Dean blinked. “What, seriously? It’s a small world after all?” Castiel felt his eyebrows rise at that.

“Yes. We even went to the same elementary school. It was very strange to run into her again, but I promise my opinion of her practice is not based on bias.”

When Castiel and Anna had initially recognized each other, she had mistaken him for Jimmy, who had always been more social. Castiel had been fairly certain that Anna had thought of him as “Jimmy and Uriel’s quiet brother” when they were children, and that along with the misstep must have set her off balance. Though he had tried to ease her discomfort, Castiel had been unable to lead the conversation to a natural, relaxed state. They were friendly with each other and worked well together, but they had never endeavored to see each other regularly. There wasn’t really any reason for him to be biased.

“I trust your judgement, Cas,” Dean said, and the words warmed him. He wanted to thank Dean and settled for smiling at him. Dean swallowed and ran a hand through his hair. “Guess it’s my turn, huh?”


Dean didn’t speak for so long that Castiel thought he might not go through with the game with the tables turned. Castiel felt Dean’s eyes on him again and heard him suck in a long breath.

“I’m sure about everything. I didn’t want to try and start something with you because I’m pretty damn sure whatever shine you see in me is going to wear off. But now I know I can give you everything you might need from me.”

Castiel’s abdomen hitched with the clear subject change, and he almost didn’t want to talk about it if they were only going circle around the issue again, like salt on a wound. Dean was like that, he made Castiel try for things that he ordinarily wouldn’t bother exerting effort for.

“You don’t want to try and start something,” he answered, reminding himself not to get his hopes up.

“I didn’t,” Dean asserted, and then moved on to his next turn. “I don’t like who I am when I’m around you, and it doesn’t really matter to me that Sam can count on you. I hate the feeling I get when I think I can’t go talk to you.”

Castiel frowned. “Dean, you can always -”

“No, I can’t. Not when I’ve been screwing you around just because I can’t keep my own head on straight.”

“Dean -”

“I don’t like the way you say my name all the time, or your hands, or the way you look at me. I don’t want that back. I don’t know when I’ll be ready to act on anything.”

“You don’t want that back,” Castiel supplied quickly, and Dean moved to go on until he really took in what was said. He frowned.

“Now you’re just cheating. I know you could figure that one out, Cas.”

“Unless you can prove that, it’s my turn again.” Castiel pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant and turned the car off, but he didn’t get out. He locked his gaze with Dean’s in the way he couldn’t while he’d been driving and waited for the tiny nod of assent that would allow him to continue.

“I will not wait for you. I don’t think I could handle it if you never wanted anything more than brief touches.” Dean was shaking his head slowly, disbelievingly. “I want you to be in my life.”

Why?” The word punched out of Dean like he just couldn’t hold it in anymore, and it always stung Castiel to think of how deep it went: Dean’s belief that he could never deserve any happiness.

“Because... I’ve known plenty of people, all with a wide variety of different life experiences, that I’ve felt nothing for.” Castiel shrugged helplessly. “None of them were you.”

Dean shook his head again looking more overwhelmed than anything else (no comma) now. He opened his mouth as if to speak, then shut it. When he spoke again, the topic was clearly closed.

“Let’s get food.” Dean climbed out of the car, and while they were eating they kept to inane, everyday topics - doing away with the lying game. Dean continued to glance at his phone anxiously throughout the meal and the car ride back to Castiel’s office.

“So what did you decide?” Castiel asked while he pulled the keys from the ignition before he turned to look at Dean.

“I’m giving him until tomorrow morning, but that’s it,” Dean asserted, meeting Castiel’s eyes and glaring as though daring him to contradict the decision.

“He’s lucky to have you, Dean.”

The lines in Dean’s forehead shallowed, and he shrugged.

“Probably won’t feel so lucky after I kick his ass for this.” Dean grinned tiredly, and Castiel reached out to squeeze Dean’s hand.

“Not the face,” he warned flatly, and was rewarding with a surprised bark of laughter. Dean turned his hand over beneath Castiel’s and rubbed his thumb over the knuckles before breaking contact and climbing out of the car.

“I’ll call you tomorrow and let you know what’s happened,” Dean promised, and Castiel unabashedly watched after Dean until he got into his car and drove away. He was fairly sure he could do that now.

By the time Dean arrived back at his apartment, he had to force himself not to grab some supplies and head straight for the highway. He felt ten times better than he had before he’d gone to see Cas, and couldn’t tamp down the hope that had begun slowly digging its way into his core at the thought of that conversation.

Despite that, he still had no way of knowing for sure where Sam was until his brother called, and without anything to distract him, Dean’s worries mounted irrationally.

Sam wasn’t around to run with, but running had helped get Dean’s mind off of Cas last week and it would have to get it off of Sam today. Dean changed into long, lightweight shorts and a black t-shirt and headed out with his cellphone in his pocket.

It rang thirty minutes later and Dean stopped to lean against a light post as he struggled to retrieve the phone from his pocket with sweaty hands. His thumb slid over the ‘Talk’ button and Dean lifted the phone to his ear.

Sam!” Dean shouted into the phone, and he’d planned on swearing more but he was too out of breath to make it worth the effort.

“I’m really, really sorry, Dean,” Sam said quickly, and Dean was already feeling the milder effects of Sam’s god damned puppy dog eyes through his voice.

“Where the hell are you?” Dean demanded, despite the fact that he had already anticipated the answer.

“Jess’ apartment - Samuel took the bus down here and I knew what was happening but I couldn’t get control until now.”

“You knew what was happening and you didn’t -” Dean cut himself off. Closing his eyes, he counted down from ten to zero in his head. Both he and Sam knew how that part of DID worked - they’d looked it up after they realized Sam was sometimes remembering when the other alters were in control. Dean had privately thought about the situation as something like a friend borrowing your car without asking - it didn’t matter if you found out what was happening, you still didn’t have the keys.

“I tried,” Sam said quietly, and Dean groaned as he reached up to rub the sweat from his forehead and eyes.

“I know you did.” Dean squinted down at his watch and tilted his wrist so that the sunlight didn’t blind him. “Sit tight, I’ll be there in -”

“Hold on,” Sam interrupted. “I... uh, I don’t think you should pick me up yet.”

Dean’s eyebrows flew upward. “Say again, Sam?”

“When Samuel was still in control, he made this... deal with Jess. Five days, she’d get to know me and the others, and maybe... Well, I don’t know what he’s thinking, really. Or I do, but I have no idea why Jess would agree to try a long distance relationship with someone like me. She agreed anyways, though, and... I ran off so quick, Dean. I feel like I owe it to her to at least get to know her, help her get some closure on this. And I don’t know, maybe it’ll help me with Samuel, too.”

Dean’s first instinct was ‘no’. He wanted to argue. But Sam was making a lot of sense and that thing Cas had said earlier about Dean’s trust meaning a lot to his little brother came floating back.

“...You sure?” He sighed into the receiver, and Dean knew he was stalling.

“What? I mean, yeah. Yeah, I’m sure.”

“And you’ll call me the minute you’re not sure anymore.” It wasn’t a question. “Actually, you’re calling me every second day either way.”

He heard a laugh from Sam’s end and knew it was more stress relief than anything else.

“Okay, Dad.” It was only a joke, but Dean couldn’t even figure out his own reaction to it - mostly it felt uncomfortable.

“Bitch,” Dean said automatically in retaliation. Sam made a displeased sound.

“Bitch? Really?”

Dean held the phone away from his ear and gaped at it for a long moment. He’d had no idea that joke started with Samuel.

“You’re supposed to say ‘jerk’,” he told Sam, stunned.

“Um. Okay, jerk?” Sam answered hesitantly. Dean couldn’t help but laugh out loud when he thought of the situation and imagined Sam’s expression in his head at the same time.

“Don’t worry about it, Sam. I’ll pick you up on Saturday?”

“Saturday’s fine.” There was a pause. “Thanks, Dean.”

The word was quiet like it was whenever Dean touched on something that meant a lot to Sam and did it right. It was one of the best damn feelings in the world.

“No problem.”

Dean brought Cas sandwiches on his lunch break the next day and felt kind of stupid for doing it, but hey, he made awesome sandwiches.

“I figured you’d want to know what happened with Sam, and I wanted to say thanks for yesterday,” Dean explained self-consciously.

“You don’t need an excuse to come see me, Dean,” Castiel said matter-of-factly and held up his sandwich. “This is very good, though, thank you.”

Dean grinned widely at that.

He told Castiel about Sam’s decision to stay with Jess for the week, and Castiel told him that it was probably the best thing to do to help Sam and Samuel reconcile their clashing points of view. It was a huge relief to know that the plan made sense to Cas, too.

Castiel asked about Dean’s job and he gave a noncommittal answer - there wasn’t much to say about it. In a way it was nice, because it reminded Dean a little bit of the Roadhouse, but mostly his job was just a constant flurry of activity, and there wasn’t much to tell past stories of all kinds of different people throwing up in front of him. Dean remembered that he used to get more satisfaction out of the bar tending gig, but it had gotten old a long time ago.

Castiel couldn’t talk about his work for obvious reasons, but he told Dean about this truly pissy sounding cat he was thinking of adopting. Apparently, it was blind in one eye, had a bad limp, and was really old. Dean couldn’t wrap his head around why Cas would want a cat in the first place, let alone an angry one trapped in the house with him, but Cas seemed like he was genuinely looking forward to it.

“Are pets even allowed in your place?”

“No.” Castiel shook his head, unconcerned. “But she is not capable of moving very fast, so it’s fairly unlikely that she’ll escape and be discovered. My patient will take her to a shelter if she can’t find anyone to take her, and no one else has offered.”

“Huh.” Dean tilted his head at Cas and raised an eyebrow. “So you’re a sucker for hopeless cases,” he concluded casually. Castiel glared.

“I don’t appreciate your wording.”

Dean shrugged. “Hey, I call ‘em like I see ‘em.”

Even though Sam obviously wasn’t going to make his appointment this week, Castiel invited Dean over on Thursday evening.

“I like my apartment better when you’re there,” he commented, and Dean was beginning to get that these kind of statements were just par for the course with Cas. They were nice, actually, because Castiel never gave empty flattery - it was like they were observations the guy couldn’t keep inside. Still, they always caught Dean off guard. It was something to get used to.

On Thursday, they sat down to watch a movie, which was a relief for Dean because he was exhausted. His body had gotten used to drifting off to the sounds of Sam’s snoring, and his brother’s absence was apparently just as good an excuse as any to set off a major case of insomnia. He’d brought the Matrix after Cas had mentioned that he didn’t understand the spoon reference because he hadn’t seen it, and Dean knew the movie so well that it was the perfect thing to zone out to.

He sat closer to Cas than the last time they sat like this, and didn’t bother to move his leg away when their knees brushed together. He kept half his attention on Castiel’s reactions to the movie and half of it on whether or not he wanted to make a move.

He didn’t remember falling asleep, just woke up with most of his weight pressed into Castiel’ chest and the DVD menu screen playing on repeat in front of him.

“Why din’t you just watch something else?” He asked muzzily.

“The remote was too far,” Cas answered softly, very near his ear. “Please lean forward, my arm muscles are cramping.”

Dean craned his neck to look behind him while leaning forward and Castiel sighed with relief as straightened his arm out fully behind Dean. Now that he was a little bit more awake, Dean could easily picture what had happened with that - he’d have finally slumped over onto Castiel’ shoulder, and Castiel would have felt like his arm was in the way and tried to move it. Dean must have stirred and Cas had just frozen at that awful, in-between point to make sure he didn’t wake up.

“Cas...” Dean shook his head and shifted so he wasn’t resting all his weight on the other man. “You shouldn’t...” Then he saw Castiel’s bewildered frown, so close, and just didn’t care.

Castiel kissed him back softly and slowly and moved his hands to Dean’s shoulders. Dean reached up and guided Castiel’s hands further upward - a subtle ‘not there’ message. Cas adapted easily, keeping one hand on Dean’s neck and tracing his thumb back and forth over his jaw bone while the other hand shifted down to rest on Dean’s hip. Dean let his own hands fall away from Castiel’s wrists to settle against his sides.

Besides the occasional teasing slip of tongue, the kissing stayed... almost chaste. There was no pressure for anything else to come of it. There was comfort in the close press of their bodies, and heat in the breaths between the meeting of mouths. It felt like time wasn’t really passing, and the world had narrowed down to the spaces between them, their points of contact.

“Come with me to pick up Sam on Saturday?” Dean murmured when they finally just sat and breathed together.

“All right,” Castiel agreed.

Jess slid the cookie tray into the oven as Sam wrinkled his nose, reaching up to rub away a bit of cookie dough from it. He only really accomplished smearing it across the rest of his face. When Jess straightened up and saw him, she broke into a grin and snorted.

“Why do you get to be totally clean? We were both working with the dough,” Sam complained, but Jess’ smile was infectious and he felt himself mirroring her almost without thinking about it.

Jess shook her head at him, fond now, like she hadn’t been, couldn’t be that first day. “I don’t know, Sam, every time I turn around you’ve managed to make a bigger mess.” She paused, and then smirked. “But I guess your nose is kind of an easy target.”

“I should put this cookie dough in your hair,” Sam said as he grinned wickedly and curled his fingers, which were still oily with bits of dough caught in the wrinkles of his hands. “Then we’d be even.”

On the table, Sam’s cellphone vibrated. The playfulness faded from Jess’ eyes.

“You should get that,” she said quickly, stepping back and away from him with a half-smile. “It’s probably Dean.”

There wasn’t much he could say to that, so Sam only smiled back and wiped his hands the best he could on a dishtowel before picking up the phone. Sure enough, it was Dean’s name on his call display.

Sam leaned against the refrigerator as he greeted his brother.

“Hey, Dean.”

“Hey. How’s it going?”

Sam glanced over at Jess, who was wiping down the counter, and where he halfway expected her to avoid his gaze, she sent him a wink.

“It’s great,” Sam replied, because it really was, and it was even better in the moments where he could forget about going back to fixing himself. It was like leaving Jess behind hurt more each time he thought about it. He didn’t wonder for one second what had drawn Samuel to this girl.

“...Okay, you want to add anything to that enlightening statement?”

Sam laughed a little. “Not really, sorry. I mean, I just want to take everything in right now, if that makes sense.”

“If you say so.” Sam wasn’t really surprised by this response. “So, hey, is it cool with you if Cas comes along when I pick you up?”

For a moment, Sam thought that he must have imagined the question or something, because it was such a weird request.

“Why would Cas come with you?”

“Uh... Well, the thing is, Sam...” He began to think he might not like the answer to his question. “Do you remember Jeff from the orphanage?”

“...Yeah, I almost never saw you without him. Why?” Sam had actually been jealous at the time, that Dean had made a friend that he spent almost as much time with as he did Sam. Then Jeff had been adopted, and even though Dean had been happy for him, Sam could tell that Dean had missed him, too, and had felt horrible for being a little relieved.

“Well, he kind of wasn’t just my friend.” Sam’s mouth dropped open. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, he was my friend! We just started fooling around a bit as we got older.”

Sam didn’t say anything for a long moment - he’d never thought extremely deeply about his brother’s sexual orientation (that would have been weird), but he’d just always assumed Dean was straight. Dean acted straight.

Oh good, now he was generalizing.

“So...” Sam started, and then realized he couldn’t think of anything to follow it up with.

“I like Cas a lot. And things have just been building up... but if it’s not okay with you, then I’ll -”

“You’re saying that you want to date my male therapist?” Sam asked both Dean and the room at large in complete bewilderment.

Jess dropped the bag of flour back on the table and coughed as the impact sent some of the powder flying through the air. She glanced at Sam and mouthed Sorry before she left the kitchen without finishing the clean up.

Sam felt guilty - he hadn’t meant to just come out with it like that, and Dean probably wouldn’t want Jess knowing that information at this point but Dean had kind of thrown him off balance.

“Uh...” Dean cleared his throat. “Yeah, I guess.”

“...I’m going to take a while to get used to that,” Sam admitted slowly.

“You’re okay with it?”

Sam thought about it.

“Not yet,” he answered honestly. “But I’ll deal, and you should do it anyways.”

Dean didn’t say anything for a long moment, and no matter how Sam tried, he couldn’t imagine what his brother was thinking.

“I won’t bring him with me tomorrow, then.”

“Dean -” Sam started to argue, because no matter how much the idea of Dean dating Castiel threw him off right now, he didn’t want his brother to give up what might be a chance at happiness because of something he’d said.

“It’s no big deal, Sam. He’ll get it, you need some time. And I think...” Dean paused, and when he spoke again it was like he wasn’t sure whether saying the words would jinx it or not. “I think Cas and I have time.”

Six Months Later...

“Goodnight, guys!” Dean called behind him as he finally left work for the night. There was a chorus of goodbyes before the door swung shut behind him and Dean inhaled the early morning air deeply. The air was always stale as all hell inside the bar by the time Dean got off work, and there really was no shine left to the job.

Anna had mentioned a couple times that Dean should look into careers that would be more “personally validating” for him. As Dean climbed into the Impala and slumped bonelessly into the seat for a moment, closing his eyes and rubbing his temples, he couldn’t disagree that a change might be a good thing.

Dean opened his eyes, starting the car and pulling out of the parking lot.

Now wasn’t really the best time to be getting in fewer hours at work and paying for training or schooling, but Dean thought about it sometimes, enjoyed the possibility of something new rolling around in his mind.

He let his thoughts drift, and he was so caught up in them that he almost forgot to turn toward Castiel’s apartment instead of his on the way.

Sam was visiting Jess for the weekend, and it was just him and Cas for a couple of days. It was starting to become a regular arrangement - once every few weeks Sam would borrow Castiel’s car (which was better on gas mileage than the Impala) and drive down to Palo Alto, and Dean would stay with Cas.

Remembering about the arrangement inevitably brought Dean’s mind back to Sam, and how good he was doing lately. After Sam got back from that first week with Jess, Samuel told Castiel without preamble that he wanted to try to integrate with the other alters into one person again. Once Castiel made sure that all of the alters agreed with the decision, Sam started going to two appointments a week instead of one, sometimes three.

After several weeks of not seeing Michael at all and listening to Lucifer’s insistence that he was gone, Castiel tentatively concluded that Michael’s traits were no longer detached from the rest of Sam’s psyche.

It was a victory and a milestone, but it felt bittersweet to Dean. He knew Michael wasn’t technically gone in the strictest sense, but Dean was still going to miss that kid. He wondered if Jess had known Michael well, and what she thought about it. He needed to get to know her better one of these days.

Dean finally pulled into Cas’ spot in the parking lot. He groaned at the idea of standing again as he retrieved his key from the glove compartment. Just ten more minutes and then he’d be in bed...

Dean got to Castiel’s door mostly on autopilot and startled when Mitzy hissed as he came in.

“Jesus Christ...” he muttered under his breath as the cat limped over to inspect him and then rubbed her cheek against his knee.

Dean brushed his teeth and shucked down to everything but his boxers quickly, but he had to pause in the doorway of the bedroom.

Castiel was laid out on the bed, pale limbs sprawling unceremoniously across the sheets. His mouth was open and Dean was willing to bet there was a thin trail of drool running down Cas’ chin. He’d kicked the covers halfway off of him, too, and Dean followed the play of dim light and shadows over the contours of Castiel’s body with his eyes.

Dean remembered suddenly about Castiel’s dreams of flying and smiled, wondering if the arms flung across the bed were meant to keep him in the air.

As much as he enjoyed the view, Dean’s body was beginning to complain at the prolonged stance. He carefully lifted the covers and tried to slip beneath them without waking Castiel, but the man inhaled deeply through his nose as Dean’s cold foot brushed his calf and rolled over to squint at him.

“How’s work?” Cas muttered.

“Long and loud,” Dean replied softly. “Go back to sleep, Cas.”

“Mmm.” Cas seemed to agree with this plan because he closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around Dean’s waist, pulling him in. Like most other nights, Dean hesitated before he reminded himself that he could have this. This thing with Cas, whatever it was, was his.

Dean shuffled closer greedily, tangling their legs together as he spread his fingers out over Castiel’s back and slumped against him.

and on and on

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