Dean stared blankly into the bowl of cereal in front of him. Four dozen multi-coloured grain based shapes floated aimlessly in the milk like an edible kaleidoscope. The brightness made his head throb. It wasn't just the rainbow splurge of the breakfast meal that hurt; it was the light from the incandescent bulbs, the neon bombs that were road signs, the hum of the shower in morning. The whole world was just too noisy and too dazzling. Had it been like that before he left? He took comfort in the clean orange-black behind his eyelids.
"Hey. Are you gonna eat that?"
Dean blinked, snapping out of his daydream-like trance. Sam stood by his side –the ninja he was- gesturing towards the bowl. Dean pushed it away.
"Not hungry. Where's Cas?"
Cas, Cas, Cas. Always Cas. Ever since you two are back you haven't been apart.
"Dean, you have to eat something," Sam urged.
"Then give me something decent like burgers or meat wrapped in some sort of other meat. Not some fluffy kid's crap!" Dean snapped, ignoring his brother's pained expression.
"I want to help you, Dean," Sam stressed. "But if you're going to help yourself…"
Sam picked up the cereal bowl and was about to empty its contents into the trash when Dean caught his wrist. He stared at his shoes, wondering if they had anything to add to the conversation, and chewed his lip ruefully.
"Sam, I'm sorry," he swapped a brotherly look for the bowl. "Just a bit jumpy, you know? Just give me some time."
Sam's expression didn't change. Dean managed a small, forced smile.
"Sammy. I'm okay."
Sam inhaled sharply. "I just missed you. I…it was my turn to look out for you. And…" he trailed off. Dean spooned cereal into his mouth. It had gone soggy. Gross. "Cas was wandering around last night looking pretty vacant after you hit the hay. It's like he doesn't want to leave. Or doesn't know how."
Dean swallowed hard, suppressing a shudder as the cereal slipped wetly down his throat. "I'll talk to him." he placed the bowl by the sink and left Sam to tidy up.
"Dean," Sam called after him, and his brother turned. "Tell Cas I say hi. He's not all that great at communicating to me."
Dean nodded in agreement and moved through the house.
Almost on cue, the angel stumbled out of the bathroom, soap suds in his hair. Dean could smell the apple-scented foam. Cas, despite being fully dressed, had still managed to splash his shirt with water. He'd attempted washing his hair in the sink.
"Yes, Dean?" he answered.
"Can't you…like, miracle yourself clean, or something?"
"Human comforts are somewhat of a guilty pleasure," Cas admitted without any sense of shame.
"Isn't that a sin?"
Cas shrugged. "Despite my species I am not what you would describe as angelic, am I, Dean?"
Dean jabbed him. "Good point, Featherhead," he took a breath, aware of his friend's ice-blue eyes boring into his skin. "Cas…are you going anytime soon?"
The angel was quiet for a moment. "Would you like me to leave, Dean?"
"God, no!" Dean blurted and shook his head. That had been a bit loud. "No. No, I don't want you to go."
"Then why did you ask?"
Dean felt a heat on his neck. "I wondered if you'd been called back. IM? Heaven on speedial?"
The shampooed angel shook his head and some curls of white tumbled to the floorboards. "My superiors have been out of contact for a while," he sounded vaguely smug. It lifted the mood to hear him tell jokes. It made the world seem a little less serious. A little less like it was going to eat them.
"Additionally," Cas continued. "I find your presence most reassuring. I don't feel as…cray cray around you. You helped me find my identity again. You found me in Purgatory. I'm getting better now," and he smiled; soft and genuine.
Dean couldn't help but welcome a pleasant warmth spread in his stomach. "Uh, you're welcome," he mumbled. "I think you're a pretty cool guy, too, man."
There was a semi-awkward, bashful silence that lingered amiably in the hall. Dean could hear the clatter of Sam attempting chores in the kitchen. Cas' right eye was slightly pinkish due to shampoo in his eye. He used the back of his hand to wipe white froth from his brow, then brushed that lather on his thigh.
"Want some help with that?" Dean offered. "Lather, rinse and repeat, yeah?"
"I believe that is the common Cosmopolitan advice, yes," Cas nodded and Dean wondered where he'd read a Cosmo mag. Certainly wasn't the genre of magazine he usually kept around. He rolled his eyes and laughed. The angel was an ever-evolving enigma to him.
Dean took Cas by the shoulders and steered him towards the sink again and flicked the tap. He perched on the side of the bath and waited until all the shampoo had run down the plug hole. Cas wasn't especially thorough. He ruffled his dark hair with a towel and draped it over one shoulder. A single orb of water trickled down one cheek. Dean hesitated. It had been a long time since he'd seen Cas dry-cleaned and scrubbed. His mind flashed back to the grime and mud of Purgatory and the worms that wriggled there in the dirt. Dean kicked Cas' lower leg gently.
"Looking sharp," he said. "Your, um, wife…she was lucky."
Cas fell quiet again. "I deceived her, didn't I?"
"You didn't know who you were," Dean assured him as the angel joined him on the bath edge. "You thought you were some…Emmanuel dude. She'd understand. She'd be over the moon, I think, to find that you were an angel and gone off to prevent a rapture or whatever."
A pensive silence hung around Cas. "Dean," he blurted, finally breaking it. Dean turned to him, no longer bothered by the invasion of personal space. Breathing Cas' air, knowing they were close again after being apart for too long… No other douchebag I'd rather spend my last dying days with.
"You still believe in me? The faith you have…I'm still fixing myself but…I am no longer worthy of my Father's devotion, that is clear, but I said, I promised that I would redeem myself to you. I believe you are a friend."
Dean laughed. "Cas, stop the pity parade! We're out, we survived! If that's not redemption…" he shrugged. "Wherever we end up, no matter how bad, we always get out of it. You've pulled my sorry ass out of Hell more than once. You're my rabbit foot."
The bedraggled angel made a face. "I am cursed to bring bad luck should you let go of me?"
No. No letting go. Not again, buddy.
Dean laughed. "In a way, I guess." He stood. "Want some food? I know you don't usually eat but Sam's got cereal. Tastes like cardboard, but let it simmer in milk and-"
Dean seized up, freezing, as Cas worked his fingers purposefully through his own and eliminated the space between them. He was warm, water still resting on his upper lip, skin smelling of that fresh after-shower effect. An instinct to prove his dominance stirred. He made a small, muffled noise that lingered on his tongue even as Cas pulled away. No more than a second had passed. Brief. Dean stared. Blinked.
Cas tilted his head, puzzled. "Cereal?"
"Whoa, what?" Dean grabbed his shoulder as Cas moved out of the room. "You can't just spring a snog on a guy like that and then go talkin' about cereal!"
"What do you want me to say?"
"Why'd you…?" Dean gestured to his lips.
Cas shrugged casually. "A fist-bump seemed inappropriate. And it is a progression of a hug. Is it not?"
Dean faltered. In a way, it made sense. Cas had vanished down the hall, leaving the hunter floundering for vocabulary.
"Uh…Sam says hi."