Crowley stroked Cas's hair gently. “Pet, it’s nine in the morning. Don’t you think it’s time to wake up?”
Cas, still half-asleep, batted at his hand and left a light kiss on his shoulder. “I don’t sleep,” he insisted.
“Me neither,” Crowley said.
On the other side of Cas, the blankets rustled softly. Meg wrapped her arms around Cas’s waist, peeked over his head at Crowley in amusement. “Morning, Cas.”
“Didn’t say you were.”
“I’m an angel of the Lord. I don’t sleep.” He yawned.
“Okay, Clarence,” Meg squeezed him. “Fine. You don’t sleep.”
“I sleep,” Dean offered, drowsy and annoyed. “Just because you’re all demons and angels and…”
“When you gonna stop calling him Squirrel? At this point it’s just weird, Crowley.”
“You’re the only one who thinks that.”
Cas peered over Crowley. “Hello, Dean.”
“Hi Cas.” Dean’s voice was muffled because he had buried his face in his pillow.
“You’re awake. It’s not even noon.”
“My point.” Dean groaned.
“Cas, don’t you think it’s weird?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Well, he only calls him that because of his brother, and now that we’re – he’s – I’m just saying, it’s weird to have Sam in bed with us.”
“Sam isn’t in the bed. Sam wouldn’t fit in the bed.”
Crowley laughed, and Cas gave him a quizzical look. “Because he’s Jolly Green,” he said by way of explanation, and Cas squinted.
“No, because there’d be five people.”
“We’d just get a bigger bed, at this point.”
“Sam is not climbing in bed with us.” Dean sat up, rubbing his face, apparently giving up on sleep for the moment. “I let you bring Meg but we have to draw the line somewhere.”
“Let him bring Meg! Crowley, slap him for me. I can’t reach.”
“Don’t slap Dean.”
“Slap the lot of of you if you don’t stop bickering.”
“Except Meg,” Crowley amended.
Heavy footsteps thundered up the stairs. “Moose is up,” Meg said, and stretched.
“Oh, so Moose is fine, but Squirrel isn't.”
The door creaked open and Sam poked his head in. “Morning, guys. And Meg. Pancakes?”
Crowley and Dean and Meg looked at each other. “Did you make them?” Meg asked cautiously.
“Yeah but I used Dean's recipe.”
“You use the measuring cup this time?” Dean gave him a suspicious look.
“Yeah! Amelia made me. Jeez, don't you have any faith in me at all?”
“I have the utmost faith in you, Sam,” Castiel said earnestly, lifting his head. “You're a good man.”
Sam grinned. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Cas, but I meant my cooking.”
“Oh.” Cas laid his head back down on Crowley's chest.
“Come on, I made too many for the two of us to eat alone.” He grinned. “Get up, get dressed. It's a beautiful day.” He gestured toward the curtains, which were closed, so only a beam of bright sunlight poured through onto the floor.
“Don't you dare,” Crowley warned, and Dean threw a balled up shirt at his brother's head.
“Fine,” he said and disappeared, letting the door close behind him. He started down the stairs. “But if you're not all out of that bed in ten minutes I'm coming back up!”
Meg sighed and got out of bed, and Cas and Crowley followed. Dean was the last up, but he took the least time to get dressed, so it all worked out.
“If he got the proportions wrong again I'm gonna ban him from the kitchen. I swear.”
As the three of them filed out, Castiel tidied up and closed the door behind them.
The box in the corner of the kitchen was making quite a racket.
Although Cas insisted it was all right, Sam had pulled Riot outside when it became clear he couldn’t be stopped from sticking his nose into the box. He and Amelia were playing fetch with him in the yard. She had given Cas instructions in her calmest, most patient and reassuring tone, although she was in truth rather exasperated; the angel had picked up an abandoned box of kittens and brought them home, and now he was insisting that they were his responsibility instead of taking them to a shelter. “It’s like letting a four-year-old watch a baby,” she murmured to Sam, and he chuckled and pulled her into a hug.
“Well, four four-year-olds.”
“And five babies.”
“Come on, Dean took care of a baby when he was four, and I turned out all right. I’m sure they can handle this.”
“Isn’t Dean allergic?”
“We’ll get him some Claritin.”
Inside, Castiel was hovering over the box, watching the kittens and fluttering nervously. They were so small, the five of them tumbling clumsy and energetic over each other in one little box, each weighing about as much as an avocado. He wanted to take them out and let them explore, but he wouldn’t be able to keep track of all five of them and it wouldn’t be fair to just let two or three out.
Crowley had fled immediately upstairs when he realized what Castiel was holding, citing a deadly allergy to babies, baby sounds, and baby-related substances. Meg was at the store getting the kitten food Amelia recommended. That left Dean, but Dean wasn’t home yet. So Cas waited for him or Meg to get back, and meanwhile he talked to the kittens.
“The loud voice when you first got here, the one who kept yelling ‘bloody’ all the time, that was Crowley. He’s sulking right now, but when he gets over you being here, you’ll like him a lot. He’s a cat person, he just doesn’t know it yet.” He smiled. “Amelia, the soft voice, is a veterinarian. I don’t know much about her, but she is kind, and she’ll help us take good care of you. Sam and Dean are brothers. Like you. They’re good humans. Good hearts. Dean is… very special, although he doesn’t know it sometimes. You’ll know it, though, when you meet him. And Meg… oh, you’ll love Meg. And you’ll help her.” He listened for a moment. He scratched the inquisitive gray kitten’s velvety ears. “No, don’t worry. You don’t have to do anything hard. Just love her. That’ll be enough.” Then he touched the tip of her tiny pink nose and smiled. “Boop.”
Just then, he heard the Impala purr into the driveway, and smiled. “One moment,” he told the kittens, who were unbothered. He got up and went to the door to greet Dean.
“Hello, Dean,” he said, his hands folded behind him. Dean gave him a suspicious look.
“What are you smiling about?”
“Happy to see you,” he said, and kissed him. Dean kissed him back, but then pulled away regretfully.
“I gotta shower,” he explained, and Cas nuzzled the stubble on his cheek.
“I like you like this.”
“You saying you’d like me less if I were all soapy, wet, and naked?”
“Nnn,” Castiel responded, and kissed his neck, and then a particularly plaintive mew got Dean’s attention. He cocked his head to the side.
“Cas, are those – ”
“We have kittens now.”
“Crowley,” Cas called up the stairs. “We need you.”
“Crowley, man up, get down here, and snuggle this kitten,” Dean bellowed up the stairs.
When Crowley came down the stairs, Dean, Cas, and Meg were all sitting in the living room, holding kittens. Dean had two nestled on his lap, and Meg had one in her arms and one where her legs were folded on the couch. The remaining kitten, which Cas was currently holding out to him, was mostly black, with orange flecks in its fur, a little blaze of orange on one side of its face, and one orange paw. It was hissing.
“It doesn’t like me,” he objected.
“Do you blame him?” Meg grinned, and Crowley sighed and held out his hand.
“Fine. Give it here.”
Cas folded the kitten carefully into Crowley’s arms. “You have to hold him like this.”
“He’s going to get hair on me.”
“He needs to feel safe.” Cas looked at him, then down at the kitten, already snuggling into his chest. “You can do that, I think.”
“Yeah.” Crowley sat down, trying to maintain his attitude while also stroking the kitten. “Guess I can.”
Chapter 3: Zeppelin Rules
The patties sizzled in the skillet, and the mouthwatering smell of caramelizing onions wafted through the house. Marlon Brando was yelling “You can act like a man!” from the living room TV, which Cas and Meg were watching while they played with the kittens. Dean washed and sliced a tomato from the back garden while he watched the burgers cook. Then he heard a tiny mew and looked down to find a little gray tabby standing in his kitchen, looking at him.
“Well hey there,” he said quietly, remembering what Cas had said about how to talk to the kittens. “Don’t think you’re supposed to be in the kitchen.” The kitten tilted its head, gazing up at him with big blue eyes, and Dean couldn’t help smiling at it. “Hey Cas, think I’ve got a runaway in here,” he called.
“Sorry, Dean,” came the reply from the other room. “We’re handling a… a minor food situation at the moment. Can you keep an eye on her?”
Dean sighed, loudly, to make sure they knew he was only grudgingly watching the cat. “No problem.”
He went over to flip the burgers, stepping carefully to make sure the kitten wasn’t underfoot. She rubbed against his ankle, then meowed at him insistently while he flipped each patty carefully. “Hold on, hold on,” he said, grumpily, and felt tiny paws on the top of his shoe as the kitten climbed around his feet. He carefully laid slices of cheese on each patty – American for Castiel, smoked gouda for him and Meg. “I’ll pet you when they’re done.”
He stirred the onions, inspected their progress; they were a deep, rich brown, just about ready, and he got some balsamic vinegar down from the cupboard. The kitten was now pouncing on his shoelace. He rolled his eyes.
“Smells awesome, by the way,” Meg called.
“Yeah, just wait til you taste ’em,” Dean replied. “Give me about two minutes.”
Dean finished and assembled the burgers on their mismatched assortment of plates. He set them down at the table and picked up the kitten. “Hey,” he said, and scratched behind her ears, to enthusiastic purring. Smaller than the other kittens, he thought. On a whim, he broke off a little piece of his own burger and offered it to her. She took it cautiously. “There you go. See? It’s good, right?” He broke off another bite for her.
When she and Cas came into the kitchen, holding hands, the TV on pause and the kittens in their designated playroom, Meg nudged Cas and pointed at the gray tabby kitten, which was sitting on Dean’s shoulder contentedly. “Aww!” she teased. “That’s adorable.”
“Shut up,” Dean said, and Meg flashed him her patented crooked grin.
Cas gave Dean a kiss, careful not to bump the shoulder with the kitten perched on it. “She likes you,” he observed.
“I guess.” Dean rolled his eyes good-naturedly.
“Do you want me to take her?”
“No, it’s fine,” Dean grumbled.
“Are you sure? I can put her in the other room with her brothers and sisters.”
“Meg, shut up and eat your burger.” Dean set three chilled beers on the table and sat down.
“Thank you for dinner, Dean,” Cas said, and started in on his burger enthusiastically.
Meg took a skeptical bite of her burger and then covered her mouth, her eyes lighting up. “This is amazing. Dean!”
“Don’t have to sound so surprised.”
“Dean, you have to sell these. Quit your job at the garage and just make these full-time.”
“I like the garage.” Dean drank his beer. The kitten had started meowing again and rubbed her face against his face. “All right, all right.” He fed her another bite of the cheeseburger.
“Amelia said not to give them too much people food.”
“It’s not too much, Cas. Just a couple bites. It’s good for her.”
“She didn’t get any of the food when her brother flipped over the bowl, so she’s probably hungry,” Meg pointed out.
“I don’t understand why he always does that.”
“Because he can.”
“That isn’t a very good reason.”
“Oh, Clarence, you would say that.” Meg patted his hand affectionately.
“Does she have a name yet?” Dean asked.
“You can name her if you want,” Meg said, and Cas nodded.
“Yeah, all right, maybe,” Dean said noncommittally. He fed the kitten another nibble of his burger and they chewed thoughtfully. “How about Zeppelin?”
Crowley sat down in his big chair in the living room with a glass of scotch. Dean, Meg, and Cas were watching The Godfather II, as the kittens tumbled around on the floor in the light of the TV. “Hello, Crowley,” Castiel said, Meg lifted a hand in greeting without looking away from the screen, and Dean passed him the popcorn bowl as he sat down to join them. Their movie nights were usually an excuse for him to go upstairs and get some reading done, but this was an unusually good movie choice, so he stayed downstairs with them.
A little black kitten with a white chest and white paws sneaked up and pounced on the orange and black kitten’s tail; he spun and swatted his brother in the face. “Stop that,” Cas chided, and picked up the black and white kitten. “You know your brother doesn’t like it.” The kitten struggled and meowed an objection, and Cas set him down. “All right. Be good.” He immediately tackled the gray tabby, who started squeaking piteously, and Cas sighed and picked him back up. “That’s inappropriate.”
“Cas, you gotta pay attention to this part,” Dean said. The little gray tabby ran over and started climbing up the leg of his jeans, and he picked her up absentmindedly. “Hey Z.” He set her up on his shoulder, where she immediately settled down.
Meg pulled on the back of Cas’s coat. “Get up here, feathers. You’re gonna miss it.” He sat back up cooperatively, holding the black and white kitten in his lap, stroking him gently. He flopped over and started batting harmlessly at Cas’s hand.
“I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!” Everyone but Cas mouthed the words along with Michael, at varying levels of drama, and Cas looked around at them in confusion.
“You gotta watch!” Dean pointed to the TV. He squinted at it and tried to pay attention.
It was blessedly quiet for a few moments, except for the movie and the vigorous purr of the kitten on Dean’s shoulder. The kitten in Cas’s lap continued to play-fight with his hand, and the two gray and white kittens still on the floor nestled together for a nap. Crowley felt something brush against the leg of his trousers, and when he looked down the orange and black kitten was huddled next to his shoe, his eyes opening and closing sleepily.
“Think that tortie likes you, Crowley,” Meg observed.
“He does seem to have bonded with you,” Cas agreed. “He growls when anyone else comes near him.”
Meg nudged Cas with her arm and pointed at them. “Crowley and Growley.” Cas smiled a little at this.
“All right, you two.” Crowley leaned over and picked up the kitten grudgingly. “Shut up and watch the bloody movie.” The kitten settled into his lap and purred himself to sleep.
The rain drummed steady and constant on the rooftop, and the occasional splash pattered against the windows as the black and white kitten purred in Castiel’s lap. He plucked absentmindedly at a yarn tie on the quilt tucked around his shoulders. He had originally planned to do some gardening today, but in a rare show of unity Meg and Crowley had both insisted that weeding in a downpour was going well beyond the call of duty, and Crowley had exasperatedly hinted at other ways to satisfy his “damnable angelic masochism,” and in the end he was persuaded to stay inside. He was sitting in Dean’s big brown armchair, the one with the soft corduroy upholstery that buzzed pleasantly under his fingertips when he touched it. Dean and Sam were out on one of their trips, and Castiel felt a little less anxious here, breathing in the faint scent of Dean’s aftershave – which had been a gift, in fact, from Crowley – and his favorite whiskey, which was Meg’s contribution.
Most of the kittens were downstairs with Amelia. Amelia suggested it would be good for them to socialize with Riot, but Theodore – known fondly throughout the house, much to Castiel’s chagrin, as Lord Assbutt – was already boldly teasing Riot, roughhousing with him, pouncing on his tail as he napped, and Cas thought the other kittens might have calmer interactions if he kept Theo upstairs. And so Theo slept in his lap as he sat listening to the rain. He felt a little sleepy himself; probably the cat’s sleepiness was catching.
In an effort to stay awake, he reached over and picked up the mending. That was usually Dean’s job, since his clothes were by far the most likely to need it. Crowley was the best at sewing, but the moment she moved in, Meg began mercilessly mocking Dean for being too insecure in his manhood to fix his own damn clothes, and one day while she was out he insisted that Crowley teach him. Several hours of grousing and bickering later, Dean was able to stitch up holes in one of his flannel shirts to Crowley’s satisfaction, and over time he took over all of it. So Cas didn’t have much practice. He pulled out one of his gardening T-shirts, dark gray and washed threadbare with a hole under one arm. It didn’t need to be perfect, since it was just a work shirt, but just the same he picked out a spool of matching thread from the wide variety of grays and blacks in Crowley’s kit.
He knotted the thread painstakingly, then began to work, doing his best to make a careful line of small, even stitches. It was slow going. The needle seemed to always come out slightly in a different place from where he thought it would, and he kept having to reposition it, and even so the stitches all looked uneven.
When he finally finished and tied it off, feeling a mixture of accomplished and dissatisfied, the kitten shifted and stretched in his lap, half-waking up. He put the mending down and scratched behind the fuzzy ears, and Theo gave a small sigh and tilted his head into his hand happily, his eyes still closed, mostly asleep. Cas smiled a little, a soft glow of love in his chest, feeling the kitten’s peacefulness and contentment. When he was awake Theo was all springs and sparks, a lively ball of electricity and mischief, yet he passed so easily into a relaxation so profound he seemed practically boneless. Cas rested his hand on his side, the deep rumbling purr vibrating against his palm, and closed his eyes.
Meg came in to find Castiel asleep in Dean’s chair, a quilt pulled around him, Lord Assbutt sleeping on his lap. She stood there in the doorway for a moment, torn between kissing him awake and letting him sleep. She settled for taking a picture quietly with her phone and texting it to Crowley, captioned “Kittens.”
“let him sleep,” came the response. “he needs it.”
“I know, I know,” she typed, followed by an eyeroll emoji. She and Crowley often conspired when Dean was away to make sure Cas had extra downtime, because the disruption stressed him out and it was easier to conspire with Crowley than to convince Castiel that resting was neither shirking his duty nor putting anyone out unduly.
“Shut up,” she replied, and then entered a crown emoji with a knife emoji stabbing it.
“luv u 2”
She actually rolled her eyes this time. Crowley’s sense of humor was charming in small doses, but he only texted like that to get under her skin. Of course, she knew how to get under his: she put her phone back in her pocket and ignored him.
She closed the door quietly and went upstairs to watch Housewives undisturbed. (She had always felt that “guilty pleasures” were for people who weren’t demons, and that one of the many upsides of being eternally damned, or whatever, was being able to just call them pleasures and dispense with the pretentiousness a bit. This did not prevent her from making fun of Crowley when she found out his big fancy headphones were primarily for listening to Taylor Swift, but it did make her feel paradoxically guilty about it.) She turned the TV down, to better hear the rain as she watched, and settled in for a relaxing afternoon.