notes: Written for oceansex's prompt "parenting practice".

Practicing Parenthood

Dean opens a can of beer and tries not to stare too incredulously at what Ben is drawing. "Is that a unicorn?"

"Dude, I'm eleven," Ben says. He hunches protectively over the paper, like maybe he thinks Dean is going to laugh. (And, okay, if it were anyone else, Dean would have.) "It's a warhorse killing machine."

"Nice horn," Dean says.

"Thanks," Ben says, adding eager, slightly violent pencil strokes to the tail of it. "Mom thought it was better for me to spend my pent up aggression on imani - inami - something that wouldn't hit back."

The last part comes out in a monotone, like he's reciting it. Dean leans up against the kitchen table.

"Your mom is a smart woman," he says, grinning, and then the front door slams open with all the force and moral judgment of a religious zealot reborn as a steamroller. It's a lot of emoting for a door.

"Crap," Dean says. He puts the beer down just in time to be pushed up against the wall by his friendly neighborhood angel.

"Cas, hey," he says. Castiel's hands feel dangerously close to his windpipe where they are fisted in his t-shirt, and the uneven texture of the wall is going to start digging into his back in a kind of unpleasant way if this goes on for much longer, which, knowing Cas, it probably will.

"Dean," Castiel says. His voice has gone through what can pass for "gravelly" and reached the realm of "chronic bronchitis". His face is inches from Dean's, and his eyes are filled with something that looks a lot like righteous, fiery rage. "Do you think you're the only one hurting here?"

Dean can't remember wanting to punch him quite this much before.

"Maybe I just think this is the better option," he says tightly. "It's starting to look pretty fucking inevitable, isn't it?"

Castiel pushes him harder up against the wall. "Are you going to undo everything we've worked for because you feel unloved?"

"Like how you're still out looking for God?" Dean snaps. Castiel gives him the stoniest look Dean has ever seen outside of inanimate objects.

"Listen, you asshole," he hisses, and wow, that one is new, "I have sacrificed everything for you."

He lets go of Dean's shirt - probably to punch him in the gut or something - when Ben appears somewhere around his elbow.

"I think I saw a movie like this once."

"Did it end with someone getting their holy ass kicked?" Dean asks, but it's half-hearted; the tension deflates like a malfunctioning airbag, leaving behind something awkward and strange. Ben pulls a face at him, like it's the dumbest question he has ever heard. Dean sends Castiel a helpless look - part "kids, what can you do?" and part "how do I make this kid think I'm cool?". Castiel stares back, blankly, but because this is Cas, Dean should probably have known that that was a dead end from the start.

The silence stretches out, embarrassed of itself. Ben makes a face.

"Are you gonna kiss?" he asks. "Because gross."

"No," Castiel says. Dean is suddenly uncomfortably aware of how close they're standing. They're practically sharing air.

"Cas, man, personal space?"

"Right," Castiel says, and takes a tiny, incremental, almost-two-thirds of a step back. It doesn't make any difference, and Dean tries not to fidget.

"Look," he says, and his voice comes out grey and worn, like jeans that are threadbare to the point of falling apart from hunting and being thrown into walls all the time, and isn't that a fitting analogy for his entire fucking life?

Castiel is watching him with his head tilted to the side, curious, and Dean tries very hard not to think about baby animals in a Disney movie.

"Look," he tries again, swallows, laughs, tries not to flinch at how it sounds hollow in his ears, "I just need ... just let me have this, Cas."

He's almost begging, and it makes him feel a bit like throwing up, but it's been a while since the ifs in his head started turning into whens, and it's not like he can shout some shit in Latin and wave a shotgun full of rock salt when the enemy is him. He needs something to remind him why, something like hope that he can cling to when things get worse and he feels like it's a choice between saying yes and saying yes too late.

"We don't have much time," Castiel says, voice low and rough. It's as close to an okay Dean figures he'll get.

"Promised I'd watch the kid until Lisa came home, anyway," he says.

Ben, who's been watching them talk like it's prime-time television, scowls. "I'm not a kid, 'm eleven."

Dean ruffles his hair. "Sure, brat," he says, grinning. "Want to show Uncle Cas your artwork?"