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Taking Wing

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Dean rolls his shoulders and spreads his arms, the membrane of his wings stretching under them. He flexes his claws in the branch and lets go, dropping like a stone and gliding out of the fall the moment his wings snap out. The sky is dark with storm clouds and the wind carries the scent of distant rain. He’s going to have to catch his dinner quickly and head back to his family before the rain gets here, or he’ll have a hell of a time finding his way back.

This is new territory; an unfamiliar forest, and his family is only stopping here for a few days (probably not even a whole week) on their migration. They’ve been worked their way south for more than a month now, stopping at one or two places a week. Now they’re following a different route back home to the north, always stopping in places like this. Human campgrounds are a great place to find food. Mosquitoes are attracted by all the bodies; the lights bring fat, juicy moths; and their garbage is nirvana to flies and beetles. It’s a great buffet.

But Dean prefers the hunt. He likes twisting and curving over branches, toes grazing the leaves. There’s a hell of a thrill with chasing down fast flying insects. And the earlier he hunts, the less competition he has. It’s too early in the evening for other bats to be up and about right now. Which means Dean has the whole forest to himself to hunt before he heads back to his family to roost through the coming storm.

It’s a little disappointing that he won’t have the chance to run into any bats tonight. His family arrived earlier today and they’re only planning on staying a handful of days before moving on. Dean always looks forward to when they stop. Getting to meet other bats is fun and he doesn’t often get to have that chance. This is his first migration, after all, but he’s old enough to have gone through two mating seasons - both of which were spent alone in a private roost.

Dean isn’t embarrassed that he’s a mature bat without actual experience. It’s not exactly something that comes up in conversation when he bumps into forest bats. They’re more intrigued by his clothing choices to ask and they don’t really have the time for much talking when they’re hunting. Besides, Dean prefers spending the night with his family. He hunts just before sunset and just after sunrise. There’s less competition from other bats then.

Except that tonight’s hunt is kind of really sucking the big one. The winds for the coming storm are keeping most bugs in their hidey holes. He’s not full enough yet and he’s had to go farther from his family than he normally would to get what little he has. Dean barks out a bolt of sound, ears twitching to catch the echoes that come bouncing back to him. The silvery blur of a beetle blazes across his mind’s eye and Dean grins. Dinner.

It’s fast, but Dean is faster. He drops in on it from above and flips his legs forward, kicking it hard enough to send it spiraling. Dean falls after it, closing his claws around its shell and tearing through its wings. A branch makes the perfect landing place for him to sit and fold over to crack the beetle in half with his fangs, devouring everything before taking off again. With another bug like that, he should be set for the rest of the night.

His craving for the whispery feel of moth wings might be the entire reason he thinks it’s a good idea to chase one even deeper into the forest. The smell of the rain is getting closer and, somewhere in the back of his mind, he vaguely registers that he should turn around and head back to his family. But the moth is right there, darting left and right in his echo vision. He can’t give it up just yet, not when he can practically taste it.

Dean breaks through the trees and pulls up sharply, twisting to glide along a wall of jagged stones as he follows the moth. He remembers being able to see the cliff face from above his family’s resting place when he had soared above the trees earlier. This is much farther than he should be with the storm approaching so quickly; the wind already picking up and whistling through his ears. Mom and Dad are going to worry and Sam will be upset if he’s not back before the rain. But the moth is teasing him and Dean is not going to let it get away.

Besides, he knows they’re going to be here for a few days at the least. If the rain hits, he can always find a place to roost and wait it out. Dean hates flying in the rain. It messes up his echolocation and it’s annoying to fly with wet wings and clothes. He’d rather not have to sit through Mom’s frowns and those little tsk-ing sounds she always make when she has to dry him off.

Without warning, a large gust of wind sweeps up under him, knocking him head over heels. By the time Dean flaps himself right, the moth is long gone and not even his echoes are bringing its silvery shape back to him. Dean curses under his breath and turns to head back. If he hurries, he might have the chance to snap up a few dozen mosquitoes around the campsites before the rain hits.

That thought scratches itself out of his head the moment the first drop of water hits the membrane of his left wing. It starts slow and Dean ducks back under the cover of the trees for what little good it does him when the downpour kicks in a moment later; like a waterfall crashing into his back and driving him down. His blood starts pounding in his ears and Dean folds them tight to his head to keep the water out, squinting through the rain. Echoes are going to be useless in this and he’s fucked six ways from Sunday if he doesn’t land soon. This isn’t something he can even hope to fly in.

He aims for the dark shadow of a branch but overshoots it by a few inches when a gust of wind levees him up before the rain slams him down again. Dean hisses, gritting his teeth and flapping valiantly to stay up. He’ll be damned if he’s going to land on the ground and spend the entire storm drowning in a puddle. The next branch Dean targets nearly catches him in the stomach as the wind throws him to the side, crushing him against the trunk.

A sharp bolt of pain rips from his elbow to his shoulder, aching across his back. Dean shakes it off, ignoring it and pushing off from the trunk before he’s driven into another branch – or worse yet, the ground. It’s a struggle to keep airborne and there’s no way he’s anywhere near his family. He’s barely even aware of where he is. If he keeps flying, he might just end up getting completely lost. A tree, a tree, he needs a tree that won’t kill him if he tries landing.

A shadow, wider than any tree, rises to the right. The wind and the rain is forcing him towards it, but Dean doesn’t know what it is until he’s close enough to see the sheer rocks forming the cliff wall. Hitting the rocks is going to hurt a hell of a lot worse than the tree did. Dean struggles against the wind and the rain, fighting his way back from the wall. But he’s just a small bat and the weather is against him. What the hell is he supposed to do?

His heart soars when he catches sight of a smudge of black against the wall. It’s an opening in the rock – just a crack in the stone, but if he can get in there, it’ll be better than trying to spend the storm shivering in a rain soaked tree. Dean trims his wings and sucks his belly in, keeping his legs out straight as he aims for the crack. It’s bigger than a branch and the moment Dean slips through, he can barely breathe for how relieved he is.

He throws out echoes, watching them paint a silvery picture in his mind of a short tunnel that twists around a bend in the stone before it opens into a cave. It’s smaller than any cave he’s seen before, barely more than a hollow pocket in the stone – though it is bigger than any roost he’s been in. Dean spreads his wings, flapping and skidding his claws across the floor in an effort to stop, for what little good it does him. He’s going too fast and he’s lucky he doesn’t end up flipping forward onto his face. Crashing into the back wall isn’t that great either, though that’s at least partly cushioned by piles of woven grass baskets, bags, and bowls made out of what looks like acorn shells.

The weirdest part of it all is the berries, leaves, and twigs. They tumble out of the baskets, scattering across the floor with every struggling kick Dean makes to try and get himself right side up again. He calls out sound, listening to the echoes and wincing at the mess he’s made. There’s a small fire, nothing but embers at the moment, in a stone lined pit against one wall. All around him, on the walls and hanging from the stalactites, are more bags and herbs drying from braided grass cords.

Dean frowns around the cave, his head spinning as he tries to make sense of what he’s seeing with his eyes and his echoes. The smell doesn’t hit him until he’s already staggered to his feet, claws clicking on the stone floor. It’s the scent of another bat; different than any kind he’s smelled before. It’s not exactly  unpleasant, but it does strike home a realization that turns his stomach inside out. This place belongs to another bat and Dean has pretty much just basically invaded their home.

Fuck. He should get out before this other bat comes back. Maybe he could make it to a tree. He’d rather brave the storm again then piss off some bat that might be bigger and angrier than him. Dean could probably hold his own – he’s rough housed with Sam and Dad, and they’re both bigger than him. But he’s not looking for a fight right now. He just wants a place to stay dry for the rest of the storm.

One step. Dean takes one step before a piece of the ceiling falls in front of him and he damn near swallows his tongue.


 

Castiel enjoys sleeping. His usual roost in his cave is just to the side of his fire pit, tucked behind a stalactite that hides him from the entrance. Since he doesn’t actually have to leave his cave most of the time to get something to eat, he usually likes to sleep in later than the smaller species of bats in this area. The rain had roused him when it first started tonight, but he had no reason to stay awake. There’s plenty of fruit stashed in his cave for him to eat and he did stay up rather late that morning, so he doesn’t feel too bad about returning to sleep.

That makes him all the more annoyed when an unexpected loud crash below wakes him soon after. His heart thrums almost violently in his chest and irritation spreads thick through his head, pushing away the haze of sleep. Someone is in his home and even worse, they’ve woken him. Castiel is unhappy from the moment he rolls his shoulders and parts his wings from around his head.

With a few steps, he’s able to peek around the stalactite and see what’s making so much noise. His exasperation doubles with what he sees. How could such a small bat (a species he’s never seen before, at that) make such a big mess? It’s standing in the middle of what used to be a neatly organized pile of baskets full of fruits and medicinal ingredients. This little intruder looks like he’s fully grown, but he keeps throwing echoes out and they’re wreaking havoc with Castiel’s own as he tries to take in the whole mess below him.

The bat stumbles out of the mess, kicking fruit and scattering baskets. Castiel growls and crawls out from behind the stalactite. He kicks off from the ceiling and spreads his wings in a stretch, flipping in midair to land feet first in front of the bat. Part way through the growl, a yawn hits him and Castiel doesn’t bother smothering it or stopping his stretch, the tips of his wings just shy of touching the walls.

He squints at the bat as he loses his footing and drops onto his tail, staring at him with wide eyes and an open mouth, his wings drawn in tight. Clearly he’s scared and Castiel feels that it’s justified. This is his home and the bat has entered it uninvited and made a mess of things. Serves him right.

Castiel folds his wings and scratches absently at his chest with one thumb while he glares down at the intruder. Now that he’s closer, Castiel can see the tear in the membrane of the little bat’s right wing between his third and fourth fingers, and there’s swelling around the joint at his elbow. He’s hurt – maybe from the storm, maybe from crashing into the cave. The idiot should have been more careful.

The pulse of another’s echolocation washes over him and Castiel rolls his eyes, another yawn cracking his jaw. Mid-yawn, the little bat screeches. It’s a loud, piercing, scared cry and Castiel winces, his own startled screech punching out of him before he can snap his jaw shut. The intruder’s ears flatten against his hair and he gives another loud scream, as if that will do any good with keeping Castiel from approaching.

Castiel shivers and paws at his ears with the fold of his wings, thumbs scraping over them in annoyance. “Shut up you noisy idiot.” He snaps his wing out at the younger bat, hoping to startle him silent. “Some of us were sleeping.”

The bat shudders and flares his wings, trying to look bigger. “What the hell are you?”

“A bat, obviously.”

“Bigger than any bat I’ve ever seen.”

He rolls his eyes and crouches to be on the other bat’s level. “I’m called a flying fox. What are you?”

“Canyon bat.” He shifts and draws his legs up to his chest, pulling away from Castiel. “My family migrated south for a little while and now we’re heading back north for the rest of the year.”

That doesn’t make any sense. Castiel is far enough south that he doesn’t need to migrate, but he knows that the northern bats and birds don’t stay there. They fly south during the winter months. What this little bat just said is the exact opposite of what most species do. Either his entire colony is incredibly stupid, or he’s much more interesting than what meets the eye.

“How nice for you. But that doesn’t explain what you’re doing in my home.”

Wincing, the little bat glances over Castiel’s shoulder toward the front of the cave. “The storm – um – well, it was kind of beating the shit out of me. I was just looking for someplace to wait it out. I didn’t know that it was just this little cave inside.” He gets to his feet and wobbles slightly. “Sorry for bothering you. I’ll be on my way and roost in a tree or something.”

“You’re not going anywhere with that wing.” Castiel frowns and stands too, spreading one wing to cut the bat off from the entrance. As much as he prefers his solitude (he ignores the stab of pain behind his ribs when he thinks about why), he can’t let this little bat try flying with his wounded wing. “Flying will only make it worse.”

The bat frowns at him, eyebrows pinching in confusion. He unfolds his right arm and spreads his fingers, eyeing the membrane and his elbow. “Well, fuck me. I didn’t even notice that. It must have happened when I was thrown into that tree.”

“Sit.” Castiel points with the tip of his wing to a place by the fire pit.

He stares at Castiel for a moment, looking like he wants to object. Castiel expects him to say something but all he does is edge around him, wings curled to his chest. While the bat makes himself comfortable, sitting with his legs crossed and his arm held out to inspect the severity of his wounds, Castiel finds his bundles of grass in the mess he made. He grabs a twig from a stash propped against the wall and breaks it in half before throwing it into the fire. The coals react better to the blades of grass he feeds them, eating away at the stalks until a small flame is flickering around the dry wood. It keeps the cave warm against the damp chill of the storm outside.

As he moves around the cave, picking through the mess the bat made, Castiel is acutely aware of his stare. It’s a weight against his back and he does his best to ignore it, grumbling as he half-heartedly sorts the mess while he looks for the berries and leaves he can use to mix into a healing salve. His ears twitch at the rustling sound of movement and he looks back at the little bat sharply.

“Stay there.”

“I was gonna help you clean up.”

“You’ve done enough.” Castiel waves his arm to silence him as he puts the berries and leaves out of the way and picks up a few hollowed acorns. “I’ve already found what I need. Just lay down and spread out your wing. I’ll be back with water in a moment.”

The rain is heavier than he first thought and it takes a few tries to fill the acorns without completely losing them over the lip of the crack in the stone. He brings the water back to the little bat, who hasn’t moved, though he’s still sitting instead of lying down like Castiel told him to. Apparently this one doesn’t listen so well. It’s the folly of youth. Castiel doesn’t know how old this one is, but he’s most certainly younger than he is.

“I said to lay flat.” He puts the acorns down and frowns at the little bat. “I’m going to clean your wound and I have salves I can make that will help lower the swelling and speed the healing.”

Crinkling his nose, the bat carefully slides down onto his back and spreads his wing out toward the center of the cave. Castiel finds a ball of cotton, one of the few he has left that he traded for with a migrating colony last year, and dips it in the water. He swabs the tear in the membrane and the split in the skin around the little bat’s elbow, cleaning it.

The berries are bitter on his tongue as he chews them, pulping them between his teeth. The moment that he leans over the bat’s arm to dribble it between his lips over the wounds, the little bat recoils with a hiss, his ears flattening to his skull.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Castiel frowns and spits the berry juice into an empty acorn, rubbing an arm across his mouth before he speaks. “Is there a problem?”

“You’re going to spit all over my wound? That’s gross, dude.” His nose crinkles and he shakes his head. “Can’t you just, I dunno, grind it up instead of chewing it?”

“Yes, but chewing is faster and easier.” He sighs and pulls over another empty acorn, dumping a few berries into it while he looks for a rock to use. “But if it grosses you out, I’ll do it this way.”

The little bat does relax a little, but he still watches Castiel warily. “It’s nothing personal, okay? We just met and you didn’t even buy me dinner first.”

“No, it’s understandable.” He bites out with a shrug, ignoring the part of what he said that confuses him. “You don’t want a strange bat’s saliva on you, despite how you’re perfectly comfortable with making a mess of his private roost.” Castiel gives him a flat look as he starts crushing the berries with the rock a little more viciously than necessary, grinding them into a paste inside the acorn.

He ducks his head and his ears flatten again. “Sorry about that.”

When he’s done, Castiel turns back to the little bat to find him licking at the rip in his membrane and the blood beading from a cut on his elbow. He flicks him with the tip of his wing. “Stop that.”

“But it’s what you do with wounds.”

The frustrated huff goes ignored and Castiel hooks his thumb around the edge of the little bat’s wing to pull it flat again. He uses a leaf to spread the paste, folding the same leaf over everything to seal it in place. It’s a slow process but the little bat doesn’t squirm, even when Castiel knows that the berries should be stinging at least a little bit.

A few times while applying the paste, Castiel can’t help glancing over at the little bat – and specifically at his clothes. He’s only ever seen bats wearing bibs and loincloths made of leaves and held together with braided grass or strips of bark. But this little bat is wearing cloth. It covers part of his legs, tucking under and around his tail before going up his back and hooking over his shoulders to attach to a bib. It looks like it’s one solid piece and he’s never seen anything like it before. Castiel supposes that if this little bat lives in the north during the winter, than cloth clothing would provide more warmth to him than leaves – but it’s still very different.

“Are you done?” The little bat twists onto his side to look Castiel in the eye. “Am I allowed to move? I mean, I could help you clean up or I could just – uh – go?”

“You won’t be able to fly with that wing.” Castiel takes the rest of the berry paste to a crack in the floor and uses the last of the water to wash the bowl out. “If you try flying now, you might ruin your wing and cripple yourself.” He doesn’t particularly want the little bat to stay longer, but he can’t send him to what might very well be his death. Castiel can’t do that to another bat. Never again.

The little bat has curled in on himself again when Castiel turns back to him. “How do I know you’re not saying that just to keep me around so you can eat me?”

His lip curls in disgust. “Don’t be ridiculous. I eat fruit.”

Doubt fills the little bat’s face. “Are you sure? I bet I’m pretty tasty.”

“Do you find me appetizing?” Castiel shoots back, stooping to gather some of the berries in the curves of his wings. “You’re as tempting to me as I am to you.”

“But –”

“If you don’t shut up, I will eat you.” He dumps the berries into one of the baskets and spreads his wings to try and look threatening.

The little bat snaps his jaw shut, but he hunches his shoulders and goes red in the face, a hiss passing between his teeth. Clearly he isn’t used to having other bats be dominant over him. Either that or he’s naturally combative and is like this even with the heads of his colony. He’s not listening to Castiel’s directions either, as annoying as that is. The little bat is sitting upright with his back to the wall instead of keeping his wing spread out on the ground like he’s supposed to. At least that is something that Castiel can understand. He wouldn’t prostrate himself in front of a stranger either.

That’s going to make the following even harder. The ache in the little bat’s wing is going to keep him from sleeping later and Castiel has a mix of berries that will help him sleep. The sooner he drinks it, the sooner he’ll sleep and the faster he’ll heal. It will be weird for the bat to sleep through the night, but it will help his wing and it will keep him from annoying Castiel while he finishes cleaning up.

As he picks out the ingredients he needs for the sleeping juice, the little bat watches him through all of it – even the preparation. He balks the moment Castiel holds the acorn out to him, sniffing at the juice.

“What the hell is that?”

“It will help you sleep.” Castiel puts it next to him and turns back to his baskets. There’s still much to clean and he had them organized perfectly before. It will take a while to put them away and at some point he’ll have to stop to eat. He’s not hungry yet, and there’s an apple wrapped in leaves tucked away in a corner that he can have later.

“I’m not drinking that.”

He shrugs and starts picking through the baskets properly. “Then you can be uncomfortable for the rest of the night.”

True to his prediction, the little bat starts shifting and wincing every time he moves his wing within the hour. He doesn’t say anything and it makes it easier for Castiel to focus on sorting his things, reorganizing the baskets, stacking them, and picking through their contents. The mess is a great excuse to sort through everything and find what needs replacing or what he’s running low on.

Once done, Castiel finds his apple and sits across from the little bat. He pulls the leaves from around it and cradles it to his chest while he eats. It’s going to be a big meal, but he’s hungry and it doesn’t matter to him if he eats the whole thing. It’s better than wasting half of it. The little bat watches him with wide eyes the whole time Castiel chews through the apple, eating around the seeds and setting them aside.

“What do you do with those?”

“I bury them in the forest. Other animals will take them or it will help to grow a new tree one day.” He shrugs and gathers them when he’s finished, depositing them in a bag hanging from the wall. Castiel likes to help the other animals and does what he can for them. He might keep his solitude, but he wants to be useful to others. He’s always liked being useful, but now he’s doing his best to make up for his past mistakes.

Turning back to the little bat, Castiel tries to forget the slice of pain in his chest. He’ll focus on his unwanted guest instead. He still needs Castiel’s help. “What’s your name?”

His ears perk forward and a pulse of sound washes over Castiel as the little bat looks him over again. It’s been hours and he probably should have asked this question before. But it didn’t seem an important thing to ask when he was supposed to be sleeping the pain off instead. The little bat sighs and slumps back against the wall again.

“Dean Winchester. You?”

“Castiel”. He crinkles his nose in thought. “You have a very long name.”

“Winchester is the name of my family.” Dean Winchester shrugs and winces, glancing down at his wing. He rolls his shoulder and lifts his arm, rotating it a few times before Castiel flicks his wing at him to stop.

“You mean Winchester is the name of your colony?”

Dean Winchester’s head bounces in a nod. “Yeah, I guess.” He chews his lip for a moment, glancing at the acorn full of the sleeping juice. “How long will I sleep if I drink that?”

“It varies.” Castiel shrugs and adds a few more blades of grass to the fire. He turns his ears, listening to the sound of the rain. “The storm is still going. You would be better off sleeping through it and giving your wing the rest it needs before you can even attempt flying.”

“Promise you won’t eat me?”

He snorts and picks up the acorn, handing it to him. “I promise. Get some sleep, Dean Winchester. I’ll try and wake you after the storm is over.”

Dean Winchester knuckles his eyes and does nothing to muffle a yawn. “It’s Dean. Just call me Dean. The whole thing isn’t necessary, y’know?”

Castiel tilts his head, squinting at him in thought until Dean falls asleep. He’s curled on his side with his wing spread out, shivering slightly. Castiel builds up the fire a little more and watches Dean for the first little while, kneeling next to him to adjusts the leaf over the wound and making sure it stays in place. There’s really only one question in his head right now. How long will this weird little bat be staying with him?


 

Dean can smell the sunshine the moment he wakes up. Cas (Castiel is too long and sounds weird) is hanging above him, wings folded up and around his head. Groggily, Dean sits up and yawns. The ache in his elbow is pretty bad and there’s little needles of pain in his shoulder every time that he moves his arm. Even the membrane hurts whenever it folds between his fingers. Sleeping on the stone floor didn’t help much either. Dean feels aches and pains all up and down his back and sides as he gets to his feet.

Shit. How far into the day is it? His family must be killing themselves with worry. Dad is probably gonna be really angry with him. Mom might be crying, and Sam? Oh man, how scared is Sammy that they might have lost him? Dean always comes back. This is the first that he hasn’t and Sammy’s going to be heartbroken if he doesn’t get back before their stay here is over.

He’s pretty sure that they wouldn’t move on without him. But there’s one doubtful little whisper in the back of his head saying that they would if he took too long getting back. Dean is only a very small part of their family. Why would they stick around for just him? There’s a schedule to keep, after all. They have to be back home by a certain time. Dad knows that time, Dean doesn’t. He didn’t need to know it. Now he kind of wishes that he did.

“You’re awake.”

Cursing, Dean damn near jumps right out of his skin. Holy crap, Cas has a deep voice for such a small creature. Granted, he’s bigger than Dean is. But still. Cas drops from the ceiling, flipping neatly in the air and landing next to Dean. He doesn’t say much, just gestures for Dean to spread his wing so he can carefully peel the leaf off of it. The paste feels dry and itchy and Cas slaps his wing away when he reaches to touch it. Nothing looks all that different to him, but Cas seems satisfied by it.

Dean muffles a yawn and stretches. “How long was I sleeping?”

“You slept most of the day. It’s almost evening.” Cas shrugs and pokes at his elbow with his thumb. “You won’t be able to fly, but try folding your wing.”

He bares his fangs at Cas for the poke. It hurt. Dean folds his wing to his side, but he can’t do it properly. It’s too swollen to bend the way it’s supposed too. He bites back the urge to swear, teeth digging into his bottom lip when pain flares up his arm. Maybe Cas is wrong. Maybe he can fly, but only for short distances? He’s really hungry and flying is just about the only way he can get a decent meal.

Ignoring Cas’s warning, Dean spreads his wings and jumps. He manages to flap a few times before the pain is way too much for him to handle and he drops to the ground. Good thing he wasn’t very high. Nope. Cas was right; there’s no way Dean can fly with this wing. Flying might be out of the question, but Dean can definitely walk and he’s sick of sitting. The cave may not be that big, but it’s plenty of room to stretch his legs.

“You’re an idiot.” Cas huffs, building up the fire again. “I told you that you wouldn’t be able to fly.”

“Well I had to see for myself, didn’t I?” Dean grumbles, pacing back and forth across the cave. “Now I’m going to be hungry until I can actually fly again.”

“I have fruit.” He looks up to see Cas opening one of his baskets and holding out an honest to God berry. “Would you like one?”

His nose crinkles and Dean flicks one of his ears. “I don’t eat fruit.”

Now Cas’s nose crinkles. “I figured you were a bug eater, but I had to be sure.” He rolls his eyes and turns away. “And you called my potion disgusting.”

Dean snorts a laugh and follows Cas as he moves around the cave. “You were going to spit up berry juice on my bleeding wing. How is that not disgusting?”

Cas hisses at him over his shoulder, the membrane of his wings fluttering and his arms twitching as if he’s fighting with himself to keep from spreading them. If there’s one thing Dean knows how to do, it’s get under someone’s skin. And he probably shouldn’t be doing that to the guy who’s helping him. Shit, now he feels bad. He ducks his head and mumbles an apology.

For the first time since Dean crashed in here, Cas actually smiles. It’s small and weak, and it kind of makes it look like he’s trying to make a joke, like he’s trying to make up for hissing at him or something. “Heal quickly or you’ll starve. Or worse, your family will leave you behind.”

If that really was supposed to be a joke, Cas officially sucks at it. At least Cas looks like he knows it. His smile falls and he looks about as bad as Dean feels. He glances back to his basket and his ears flip down, flattening enough that Dean gets the distinct feeling that his words hurt him too.

What if it does take him a week to heal? His family might take off before he can even hope to get back. The sinking feeling is his stomach that Cas might be right leaves Dean feeling sick. He doesn’t like that feeling and anger starts to bubble up. Cas doesn’t know his family. He doesn’t know Mom, Dad or Sam. How would he know that they’d leave?

“I’m sorry, Dean.” Cas mumbles, not even looking at him. “I shouldn’t have – I’m sorry. I know what it’s like to lose your family and how horrible it fe-”

A hot burn of anger flares through Dean’s chest and bursts out of him, interrupting Cas. “My family isn’t yours! They wouldn’t do that to me! They wouldn’t leave me behind!” Maybe he’s trying to convince himself of this as much as he’s trying to convince Cas. “What do you know anyways? You’re a stupid loser loner. You eat dumb fruit and you probably couldn’t catch a bug to save your life.” He gestures sharply with his good wing. “I have to actually work for my food and I have a family who loves me, and they’re not going to leave me behind. They’re not.”

It’s more than a little childish, but Dean still stomps back to the corner by the fire. He’s sulking, and he knows Cas can hear his sniffled attempts not to cry. Dean rubs the knuckles of his thumbs into his eyes, ignoring the sounds of Cas moving around the cave. The only time he looks up is when he hears Cas actually leave.

Great. Dean chased him out of his own damn home. That just makes him feel even worse and he wants to curl up and go back to sleep. Better yet, he wants to go back to his family. He wants to go home and curl against Mom’s chest or nuzzle into Sam’s. No, he can’t think about that right now. It’s just going to make him more upset. What he needs to do is find himself a distraction. But the grumbling of his stomach really isn’t helping much.

Wait, no. He can use that as a distraction! It’s true that most of his meals are usually airborne, but there are all sorts of insect species that don’t fly. And a lot of them like the damp cold of a cave. Dean hadn’t thought about that earlier. He places himself in the middle of the crack leading outside and keeps his back to the breeze. A bolt of sound paints the cave in silver in his mind’s eye and, sure enough, he can just barely make out the wiggling form of different bugs crawling in and around the cracks in the stone.

There are even more when he starts flipping rocks over. Anything Dean finds, he eats. Half the fun in eating bugs is in the chase. This isn’t much fun, but he makes a game out of it by seeing how many he can snap up before they scatter. They may not be the usual kind that he eats, but having something in his belly is better than nothing.

Dean eats until he’s full and sits back besides the fire. Too bad a full belly doesn’t make him feel any better. He still feels sad, and worried, and alone. With his good arm hugging his knees to his chest, Dean rests his chin on them and clicks his claws on the floor.

No way in hell is he going to admit that he’s bored and basically waiting for Cas to come back. And he’s not going to admit that he’s starting to feel more than a little bad about what he said to him. Didn’t Cas say that he knows what it’s like to lose his family? What if that’s why Cas is alone? Damn. Dean fucked up. Cas was nice enough to let him stay here and he’s helping him heal up and everything and Dean just went and punched him in the figurative face.

By the time Cas comes back, Dean has a plan to apologize all built up and ready in his head. It catches on his tongue and his whole face goes hot the moment Cas steps back into the cave. He’s embarrassed. Wow, that doesn’t happen often. He tries to shake it off, but all thoughts of apologizing fly right out of his head when he notices the sweat in Cas’s hair and how hard he’s breathing.

“You okay?”

Cas ignores him. He huffs his way across the cave to grab the acorns before he takes off again. Dean doesn’t have long to be confused. It’s only a few minutes before Cas returns. He sits down next to Dean, sighing like he’s just flown a million wing-beats and holds the acorns out to him, sloshing water over the edges.

“Here, drink these.”

“Thanks.” Dean balances one between his thumb and the curve of his good wing, letting it rest on his knees while he takes small sips.

“You were right.” Cas sighs and scrubs his thumbs through his hair.

He nearly chokes on the water and he coughs a few times. “About what?”

Cas shuffles his wings and rocks in place, making himself comfortable. “Bugs are hard to catch.” He glances at Dean a few times before frowning and looking away, pawing at his ear like he’s embarrassed. “I tried getting you something to eat and I couldn’t catch anything.”

A blush burns through Dean’s cheeks and he ducks his head. “Uh, thanks. It’s okay, though. I kinda cleaned up your cave by eating what I could find in here.”

“Oh?” Cas’s ears perk and Dean feels his echolocation pulse over him as he checks the cave. His nose crinkles, but he gives Dean another small smile when he looks at him again. “That’s still disgusting.”

Dean snorts and flicks water off his thumb at him. “You’re disgusting.”

The smile grows even as Cas adopts an almost insulted expression. “Excuse me? I’ll have you know that I’m very clean.” He shifts onto his knees and spreads his wings, one of his fingers almost catching Dean on the nose. “See these? You won’t find cleaner wings in this forest.”

Laughing, Dean shoves Cas’s wing away and trades his empty acorn for the other. The water is cold and fresh. It might be from a puddle leftover from last night’s storm, or maybe there’s a creek nearby that he didn’t see while he was hunting yesterday.

“I’ll try and catch you something tomorrow.” Cas explains, adding some grass to the dying fire. “I almost caught one, but the problem is getting them from outside to in here without me having to eat it.”

Dean flexes his arm and winces at the pull on the swelling. “Will I be able to fly by tomorrow night?”

“We can try again after sunset.” Cas shrugs and gets out more berries. “We’ll put a new coating on right now, but don’t count on being able to get very far or manage any sort of fancy flying. You might be able to limp to the nearest tree, but if you try for any farther, you could damage your wing.”

It’s the same old story then. Dean sighs and flops onto his back, stretching his wing out for Cas’s weird berry paste and leaf bandage. He’s got the whole night to be cooped up in here and it’s gonna be one hell of an itch under his skin. The night sky is calling to him and it’s kinda killing him not to be out there.

*

Cas isn’t that great with conversation. He kind of just putters around his cave cleaning or ducking out to gather grass so he can make more baskets or reinforce his bags. They do talk, kinda. Dean watches what Cas does and asks questions about why and how, but that’s not very exciting. It’s not really super difficult to figure out how to weave a basket after it’s started.

When the dawn chorus starts, Dean is almost relieved. He spent most of the night not knowing what to talk about with Cas. Now that the birds are chirping, they can both just go to sleep and wait for the night when Dean can try flying again. But first, Dean wants to watch the sunrise. It’s not as easy to walk through the crack-tunnel to the cave entrance, but Dean manages it well enough and Cas follows him too.

He stands behind Dean while he sits on the edge, watching the sun come up behind the trees. It’s going to be a cloudy day, a bank of them rolling in, and there’s a cool breeze already curling into the tunnel mouth. They watch in silence until the sun is above the trees and Dean tilts his head back until he’s looking at Cas upside down.

“I’m sorry.”

Cas looks down at him, his arms crossed over his chest. “For what?”

“You said you knew what it was like to lose your family.” He shrugs and looks down at his lap, picking pieces of dirt and grit off of his overalls. “And all I did was insult you for it.”

“I was attempting a very poor joke. My apologies for it.”

“It was a pretty shitty joke.” Dean snorts a laugh and gets to his feet.

Cas helps him up, making sure he doesn’t lose his footing or something and tumble out into the open. “I’ve never been good at them. My sense of humour has always been skewed, apparently. And it’s been quite some time since I’ve had someone to make a joke with.”

“How come?”

“Your presence hasn’t really disrupted my daily routine, Dean.” Cas shrugs and leads the way back inside. “This is what most days are like for me. But now isn’t the time to talk. You should get some sleep. Flying tonight will be hard on you and you’ll need to be well rested for it.”

Dean frowns down at the floor. He isn’t looking forward to sleeping on it again. It’s cold and hard and he kind of hates it. “Can I sleep up there with you?”

That gets Cas’s attention and he pauses mid-stretch, lowering his wing slowly and folding the membrane to squint at Dean. He glances up to the ceiling and then looks pointedly at Dean’s wing. Yeah, it’ll be harder to get up there with his bum wing, but there’s plenty of divots in the wall for him to get a good enough grip with his thumbs and claws to climb up. He probably won’t be able to use his right arm to climb. But all he needs is Cas’s help to make sure that he doesn’t fall.

Cas caves when Dean pulls out the puppy eyes that Sam is absolutely awesome at doing. He waits below until Dean’s climbed close enough to the roof for him to flap up himself and help him the rest of the way. It’s warmer near the ceiling and it feels awesome being upside down again. But it’s not the same as the warmth of his roost with his family.

He watches Cas scuttle across the ceiling until he tucks himself into a space behind one of the bigger stalactites in the cave. Dean shuffles his claws in the ceiling, trying to find a good grip. Being left out here all on his own is leaving him feeling all sorts of exposed and he still feels colder than he’d like to be. Steeling himself, Dean carefully crosses the ceiling until he can tuck himself in next to Cas. It gets him a muffled grumble from under Cas’s wing, but at least he doesn’t tell him to move.

Ten minutes later and Dean’s still not comfortable enough to be able to sleep. Cas hasn’t made a peep and he just might be asleep now. He’s kind of jealous. If anything, Dean isn’t even warm enough to sleep - or at least not as warm as he’s used to being with his family. There’s a slight shiver shaking through him and he keeps shuffling in place, trying to get comfortable without jostling Cas too much.

He’s not so great at not doing that.

“Enough!” Cas hisses, unfolding his wings to glare at Dean.

He looks him over before sighing and actually wrapping Dean in his wings. Well, that’s pretty heart stopping. Dean briefly entertains the thought that Cas is going to bite his face off or something equally gruesome for being an annoying little shit, but all Cas does is draw him up against his chest and fold his (stupidly) big wings around him in a cocoon of heat.

“Stop moving and go to sleep.”

Dean couldn’t move even if he wanted to and, surprisingly, he really doesn’t. Cas is warm, comfortable, and he doesn’t stink. That’s a plus in Dean’s book. But he still doesn’t feel as sleepy as he should be. After another few minutes, he lifts his head to get a peek at Cas’s face.

“What happened to your family?”

Cas’s eyes are closed and he doesn’t open them at the question, but a frown line pinches between his eyebrows. “That’s not a bedtime story.”

“Is it sad?”

“Go to sleep, Dean.” He tightens his wings in warning, forcing Dean’s cheek against his chest again. Cas doesn’t sound very happy and Dean figures now would be a great time to start counting ladybugs.


 

Castiel tries to ignore the nervous flutter in his stomach as he hovers in place, watching as Dean launches himself from the cave mouth. Something pulls tight in his chest when Dean drops a few wing lengths before his wings billow and he starts to limp through the air. He circles under Dean, watching him anxiously as he hobbles to the nearest tree. Dean winces the entire way and lets out a loud sigh of relief the moment he sinks his claws into the branch and swings into place under it.

“You can’t go any further than this.” He lands next to Dean and pulls his wing out to inspect the swelling around his elbow. “Spend the night getting some fresh air. If it still hurts when we turn in, I’ll carry you back inside.”

Pouting, Dean shuffles his feet before pulling himself up and crawling on top of the branch to sit on it. “How am I supposed to get anything to eat if I’m stuck on this tree?”

“If you haven’t noticed, it’s infested with caterpillars. I’m sure you can do something about that.”

Dean’s nose crinkles and he looks up at the branches above them where the fuzzy worms are wiggling across the leaves. He licks his lips and gets to his feet slowly. “Fine. I’ll do the forest a service and help you with your caterpillar problem.” Grinning, he glances at Castiel. “Unless you want to watch me eat bugs, you better not stick around.”

That’s an excellent suggestion. Castiel takes wing immediately. It would be too unsettling to watch. The caterpillars are fat and juicy and he shudders, trying not to think about Dean biting into one as he flies back to the cave. He needs to grab a few bags to go stock up on berries. If he’s lucky, he might be able to speak with one of the nearest colonies and see if they’re willing to steal him some more exotic fruits from the tall-walkers. He has little to offer them in exchange, but they’ve been kind to him before.

By the time he returns from his outing, Dean is sitting with his back to the trunk of the tree, legs stretched out along a branch. His stomach is bloated and he grins at Castiel as he flies past with his bags, all of them heavy with berries. “Need some help there, Cas?”

“I’ll be back in a moment.” He circles the tree once. “Are you thirsty?”

“Nah. I drank from the leaves.”

Good. That’s one less thing for him to need to worry about and Castiel returns the bags to the cave. Dean is hanging from the branch when he returns to him, letting his wings hang limply above his head in a forced stretch. He muffles a burp as Castiel catches the next branch over and flips to hang beside him.

“Caterpillars aren’t as satisfying as flyers, but that was a good meal.”

“Disgusting.”

“Says the fruit eater who can’t even catch a bug.” Dean flashes a fanged grin at him, lifting his eyebrows teasingly. “Go on. There’s bugs all over the place. Try and catch one.”

He huffs and looks away. “Why would I waste my time?”

“Because I didn’t get to watch last time and I think it’ll be hilarious.” An elbow catches him in the side, rocking him in place. “Go on, y’big ol’ fruit eater. Show me how it’s done.” He nudges Castiel a few more times. “C’mon. I’m bored. There’s plenty of moon left. Show me your skills.”

With a groan, Castiel lets go of the branch and drops. He opens his mouth and calls sound into the forest around him, listening for the silvery response. The echoes show him beetles, moths, and a whole assortment of insects he has little desire to chase. Glancing over his shoulder, Castiel takes in the amused grin on Dean’s face before he ducks away through the branches to give chase.

Every attempt feels more futile than the last. If he can even manage to catch a bug, Castiel ends up crushing it in his claws. Dean’s laughter echoes through the trees and it’s hard not to focus on it. He has a nice laugh and Castiel doesn’t want to like it. Holding him while they slept was crossing a line. Liking Dean’s laugh is just another. The only thing waiting for him if he keeps doing that is attachment and disappointment. He can’t afford to grow attached to Dean when he knows that as soon as he’s better, Dean will be returning to his family.

Castiel hates the quiet voice in the back of his head whispering hopes that Dean’s colony has already left. If they’ve left him behind, Dean might decide to stay here with him. It would mean not being alone anymore. As much as Castiel tells himself that he likes his solitude, having Dean around has been interesting – despite their short time together.

He’s kept his eyes and ears open during the last few nights for any canyon bats like Dean, but Castiel hasn’t seen anyone with colouring even remotely the same. The native bats in the area hadn’t seen any others either. Castiel can’t imagine that Dean’s colony would be stupid enough to fly close to the the tall-walkers’ area. It would be suicide to stay by them, and it’s the one part of the forest Castiel refuses to fly anywhere near.

“Okay, Cas!” Dean calls through his laughter. “You can stop now.”

Gratefully, Castiel lands next to him with an exhausted sigh. It’s so much easier to eat fruit. “I don’t know how you can stand doing that every night. You look ridiculous. Wouldn’t you rather just sit and eat something sedentary and just as juicy?”

“Dude, no. Half the fun is in the chase!” He laughs again and swings to playfully nudge Castiel with his shoulder. After sleeping against Castiel’s chest, Dean is much more tactile with him. It’s strangely amusing and Castiel is trying his hardest not to reciprocate. “And there’s so much variety! I’ve tasted so many new bugs this summer thanks to the migration. It’s been awesome.”

“What else have you seen?” Castiel shuffles down the branch, out of reach of Dean’s nudging elbows and shoulders. Space. He needs to put space between them before he lets himself be enamored by Dean’s easy smiles.

“Different bats.” Dean looks at him with eyes full of wonder. “And trees, and beasts, and birds. The world is so big, Cas, with so many different things to see. It’s amazing!” His voice drops into a whisper as he turns to stare out at the forest. “I wish I could see it all. I want to go on migrations everywhere.”

Castiel tilts his head. It’s been a very long time since he’s seen anyone as excited about the world as Dean is. It reminds him of his sister and he shakes that thought out of his head. “The world is a very big place. Even if you migrated for your whole life, you’d never see all of it.”

“Yeah? How much have you seen?”

“Not a lot.” He shrugs and looks away, eyes going unfocused as he remembers his own travels. “I lost my family on my first migration. After that, I wandered until I was far enough from that place not to be reminded of them. This was the first place I stopped and I’ve never left it. But I like it here.” He shrugs and folds his wings around himself a little tighter. “There’s a tree on a hill not far from here that lights up like it’s made of silver on a night with a full moon. If you were here longer, it would be something I’d take you to see.”

“That sounds nice.” Dean hums a low note in the back of his throat. “What was your family like?”

He ignores the ache in his chest as he remembers the bright faces of his family before he starts talking about them. The more he talks, the keener Dean looks at him; ears perked and eyes wide. It doesn’t take as much courage as he thought it would to open his mouth and tell Dean about his sister, Anna, and how Dean reminds him of her in some ways. He talks about his cousins and how he was good friends with most of his colony. They were a close group.

Castiel considered them all to be a part of his family and he swallows around the lump that rises in his throat, stuttering to a stop. He wants to continue and tell Dean about what it was like to cling to his mother as a newborn, held in place by a leaf looped under him. Or how exciting it was when the entire colony took to the skies before the sun had fully set. He can’t. The words won’t come to him anymore.

“I’m sorry.” The whisper is closer than he expects and Dean nudges his shoulder again. “I didn’t mean to make you sad.”

“Talking about my colony always makes me sad.” Castiel shakes himself out and ducks his head, a little embarrassed to have been so obviously emotional that even Dean could see it. “I miss my family, but these other bats aren’t so bad to be around – even if they’re bug eaters like you.”

Dean ignores the jab, but a smile crinkles the corners of his lips. “What about others like you? Aren’t they around here too?”

“My kind are further south, but not by much. My colony was forced out of our homes by the tall-walkers when they tore down our forest. We were migrating and looking for a new home when I let –” The words stop on their own. That’s not something he can call Dean – not now, maybe not ever. “After I lost my colony, I decided to stay here. Fruit gets a little scarce during the winter, but it doesn’t get very cold. I’ve been here for a few years now and it’s never snowed.”

A breeze whips through their hair and Dean shuffles even closer. He’s quiet for a few minutes, surveying the forest around them before he looks back to Castiel. “What happened to your family?”

Rather than answer the question, Castiel tucks his chin to his chest and folds his wings over his head. He digs his thumbs into his hair and forces himself to breathe evenly. If he doesn’t think about what happened, he doesn’t have to tell Dean. Castiel hasn’t told anyone about what happened to his family and even though it’s been so long, he’s not sure he’s ready to tell anyone about his mistakes. It’s a sin and he should confess, but solitude has kept his tongue.

After several minutes of silence, Dean clears his throat and pokes Castiel’s elbow. “It’s getting late. Do you want to go back inside now?”

At this point, Castiel will take anything to avoid having a conversation he’s not sure he’ll ever be ready to have. But maybe it would be better to tell Dean. He’s going to be leaving soon. Once he’s gone, he won’t be able to judge Castiel to his face for the errors he’s made. Castiel pushes those thoughts from his mind as he flies beneath Dean on the way back to the cave.

Back inside, Castiel takes his time to mix berries and shredded leaves to make another paste. Another coating might keep Dean’s wing from getting worse after the flying he did tonight. Dean doesn’t hesitate to stretch out his wing when Castiel approaches. He sighs softly and closes his eyes, relaxing as Castiel spreads the paste over the tear in the membrane and the swelling in Dean’s elbow with his thumb. The rip looks smaller and the swelling seems to have gone down a little.

Dean appears to be on the verge of falling asleep right until he opens his eyes when Castiel folds a leaf over his wing to seal the paste in place. His eyes are bright and expectant as he sits up, tucking his other wing close to open up a spot next to him.

Castiel sighs and shakes his head, his heart and stomach sinking as he makes himself comfortable. It’s obvious what he wants. “It’s not a bedtime story, Dean.”

“Good think we’re not going to sleep right now.” Dean grins and folds his legs under him, looking at Castiel expectantly before he’s ears fold slightly and he looks down at his lap. “Seriously, though. If you don’t want to tell me about it, that’s okay. You can just say that.”

Hooking his thumbs together in his lap, Castiel stares at the gentle fire eating away at a twig. For a long time, he doesn’t say anything. He can’t bring himself to. Dean is still too much of a stranger to him, and he’s going to leave as soon as he’s healed. Telling him something so personal would just be another line to cross. It would bring them closer together and that closeness isn’t something that he deserves.

He doesn’t deserve to be close with anyone – not even physically. Clearly Dean is used to being tactile with his family. It didn’t take him long to get comfortable around him and Castiel has missed this feeling. He’s missed a warm body beside his during the day; conversation; laughter; teasing. Castiel’s missed it all and he shouldn’t be this desperate for companionship after how long he’s been used to be alone, and he most definitely should not have let Dean sleep next to him last night.

But even reminding himself of this later while they’re hanging behind the stalactite doesn’t stop him from lifting his wings to allow Dean to shuffle underneath them again. Dean stops shivering and he muffles a yawn against Castiel’s collarbone, mumbling a quiet goodnight that gives Castiel shivers of his own. This is dangerous. Castiel is already growing fond of the little bat and fear starts worming its way into his heart. He’s too close and it’s going to hurt when Dean leaves. He’ll be hurt, he’ll be alone, and he needs to start fighting this now.

Or tomorrow. Or maybe never. There’s every chance that when Dean finds his colony, he’ll find that they’ve suffered the same fate as Castiel’s did. If that happens, he doesn’t want to push Dean away now. He’ll need some place to come back to and Castiel can’t readily welcome him then if he’s already driven him away.

Too many thoughts and emotions are ricocheting through him and Castiel closes his eyes, trying hard not to think. It doesn’t work well and his sleep throughout the day is broken at best.


 

Holy crap, Dean’s wing feels way better tonight. Cas doesn’t look half as worried tonight as he did yesterday but Dean still forces himself not to limp as he flaps from tree to tree. His wing feels good enough that Cas is even willing to let him skim the stream for a drink. He still sticks close to his side, but Dean doesn’t mind. It means he can hear the unhappy huffs Cas makes when he manages to catch a couple insects.

They don’t get to fly very far before Dean absolutely has to land. He doesn’t tell Cas that his elbow is aching, but he thinks he probably knows. Maybe. Either that or the sad look Cas has when he thinks Dean isn’t looking is about something else entirely – not that Dean knows. It might have something to do with how Cas had been gone when Dean woke up at sunset. He was still in the cave, but he was down on the floor and fiddling with his grasses and whatever it is that he does to fill up all his free time.

“I want to find more fruit.” Cas isn’t looking at him again. He’s staring off into the forest. “Are you well enough to make it back to the cave on your own?”

“Yeah, sure. I’m just going to hang out here for a while.” He shrugs and sinks his claws deeper into the bark. “You know, fresh air and everything.”

Cas nods once, a sharp jerky movement before he spreads his wings and drops. He actually flaps off without a word and Dean stares after him, weighing the pros and cons of trying to follow him. If he did that, he’d probably be caught out before he got half a dozen wing-beats. But Dean’s confused, curious, and maybe just a little hurt. It’s like a tiny storm in his chest.

What did he do to upset Cas like this?

He doesn’t think he’ll have that long to think about it, but Cas doesn’t come back for hours. Literally. Dean gets bored halfway through the first and half-limps, half-climbs his way to the top of the tree to watch the stars. The open sky is right above him and Dean can’t stand not being able to go twisting through it. There are bats in the distance, fluttering back and forth above the trees. None of them are by the human’s campsites and his stomach sinks.

What if his family has already left? Did anyone even look for him? Sam probably did, and Mom would have gone with him. If they both went searching, then Dad probably went too. He hasn’t heard them calling for him and Cas never said anything about hearing his name in the woods whenever he’s been out. Maybe they went looking in the wrong direction? He never did tell them where he was going.

By the end of the hour, Dean’s worked himself up into a worried mess and he hates it. Cas pretty much said he’d meet him at the cave, right? Dean would rather be back there, tucked away from the world, than sitting here missing his family and all the things he can’t do because he fucked up his wing. Speaking of, it doesn’t hurt too bad right now. If he’s careful and lands when it starts to hurt, he could probably make it back to the cave without any trouble.

Cas comes back a few hours later carrying bundles of grass on his back. He barely even acknowledges Dean where he’s dying of boredom in the corner. The bastard just throws the bundles down and leaves again. After three trips where he brings back more grass and a couple bags of berries, Dean cuts him off before he can leave again.

“You need help with anything, Cas? I could sort some stuff, build up the fire, help you carry things in?” He’ll do pretty much anything if he means he can stop being bored.

“It’s fine. I’m almost done.”

Almost done. Hah. He brings in one last load of berries before he starts sorting them. Any time Dean wanders over to try and help, Cas gives him this look that radiates ‘don’t touch me’ vibes. Dean doesn’t put up with it for long. It’s not like he asked to be here. If Cas didn’t want him around then he shouldn’t have been so nice and let him stay, or fix him up, or fucking cuddle him while they slept.

He tries not to puff up too much when he finally says something about it. “Dude, what’s up with you?”

Cas shakes his head and turns his back to him. “Nothing. I’m fine.”

Dean huffs through his nose and he’d cross his arms if he could bend his elbow properly. “Really? Coz’ you’re kinda giving me the cold shoulder here.”

He shrugs and stuffs some berries into a basket before putting it aside. “So?”

And just like that, that tense feeling in his chest explodes and he can feel heat flood his face. He’s not sure if he’s angry or embarrassed over making a mistake in thinking that Cas had reached the level of friend. Outside of his family, Dean doesn’t really have any friends. He huffs and kicks at one of the bundles of grass, earning a glare from Cas.

“So maybe it’s kind of hurting my feelings here, Cas. Y’think of that?” He kicks the grass again, glaring at Cas like it’s a challenge. “I don’t even know what I did wrong!”

As soon as he’s said that, all the fight in Cas evaporates. His shoulders slump and the wide-eyed look he turns to Dean next makes his stomach flip. In that one moment, Cas looks small and alone. That thought hits Dean hard. Alone. Cas talked so much about his family yesterday and the whole time he had that look of longing. Dean’s does the math and puts two and two together. Cas is alone out here. He’s on his own and has been for a long time and he’s going to be alone again the moment Dean leaves.

Maybe he realized that today when he saw how far Dean could fly. Once his wing is healed, he’s going to be out of here and maybe Cas is lonely and he doesn’t want him to leave. But Cas doesn’t have to be alone. If he wants, he could come with him. That would actually be kind of great. So far Dean likes Cas. He’s a little gruff, but he’s like a bug – hard on the outside, squishy on the inside. And Dean’s almost gotten past that hard exterior. If he had more time, he and Cas could probably be pretty great friends.

The urge to invite Cas along with him is on the tip of his tongue. His family would totally take Cas in. He’s not that much bigger than Dean is. He’s just a few inches taller, and it’s his wingspan that’s the biggest thing about him. Cas probably wouldn’t take up much room in his roost either. If Cas is worried about winter or food, that won’t be a problem. There’s always plenty of food back home. Bugs and fruit. Dean’s seen it with his own eyes, so it’s not like Cas will go hungry. It’s nice, warm, safe, and Cas wouldn’t be alone.

Dean knows that Sam would adore Cas because Sam already loves him and he’s cool like that. Mom would love having another son and Dad – well, Dad would probably be the biggest opposition to it. But Mom and Sam can pretty much get him to do anything and if Dean makes it clear that he likes Cas, they probably wouldn’t send him away.

He wants to say it, but he can’t. Not if Cas doesn’t actually like him. Cas shakes his head and looks down at his knees. “I’m sorry, Dean. I – I didn’t sleep very well. I shouldn’t have been so rude. I’m sorry.”

Something pulls tight in Dean’s chest and he frowns at Cas’s back. He shuffles up next to him and Cas immediately sags into his side. Without hesitation, Dean wraps his wings around him. If Cas could do it for him when they sleep, then he can do it right now. Though he’s a little worried that Cas is going to break down and cry or something when he turns into him. He’s never been good with Sammy’s tears, and Mom hasn’t cried a lot, but he hasn’t liked that either.

Cas doesn’t cry. He sighs heavily and leans his weight against Dean’s chest, nuzzling his nose into the front of his overalls. Dean rests his chin on the top of Cas’s head and rubs his thumbs through his hair. It’s a piss poor attempt at grooming, but it’s not like he’s actually trying to clean him. This is just for comfort. And it’s working. A purr starts to rumble in Cas’s throat and Dean gets the distinct feeling that this should be awkward but it doesn’t really feel like that. He likes his family and he’s groomed them before, and he likes Cas – so it’s not weird to groom him too, right?

It’s not even awkward afterward. When Cas finally pulls away, he does duck his head and blush a little, but he doesn’t look upset or anything. Dean’s kinda in the same place, but he’s happy to help Cas mix the paste again. He’s not as dexterous with his left wing and thumb as he is his right, but it’s kinda fun to crush the berries in the acorn bowl with a rock. The paste doesn’t sting anymore when Cas spreads it over the tear and his elbow.

“Sit forward.” Cas nudges Dean’s shoulders and slides in behind him the moment the space is made, his legs stretching out on either side of his hips.

Dean feels like commenting on it because this feels a little weird, but the thought dies away when Cas starts raking his thumbs through his hair. Oh. That feels good. His own purr starts to roll through his chest and Dean can’t help leaning back into him. Shit, it feels awesome to have his hair groomed like this. Not even Mom does it this well. He’s usually in charge of keeping himself clean and it’s kind of a treat when Mom grooms him.

“You being nice to make up for earlier?” He mumbles, tilting his head back against Cas’s shoulder.

Cas doesn’t answer. He does pause, but then he keeps grooming right up until Dean falls asleep. It’s not like he means to, but he’s comfortable, and warm, and the rhythmic pull of thumbs through his hair feels amazing. When Dean wakes up, he’s still wrapped in Cas’s wings and they’re still on the floor. That’s not so surprising. What catches his breath in his throat is Cas’s nose just inches from his.

Their legs are tangled together and Dean doesn’t want to move in case it wakes Cas up. Every breath Cas takes flutters across Dean’s face and he just looks so relaxed. More relaxed than Dean has seen him since he got here. This feels a little weird sleeping with Cas like this, but not like for the reasons it probably should. Sleeping on the floor is the weird bit. Sleeping tangled up with Cas? Not weird at all.

It’s actually kind of nice. Dean slides a little closer and nudges his nose under Cas’s chin. This is good. He likes waking up next to Cas – whether hanging from the ceiling in his wings or sleeping on the floor. Laying with Cas just feels comfortable and nice and Dean is actually really okay with falling back to sleep.

He wakes up to Cas trying to carefully pull his wing out from under him. Dean hums and opens his eyes. “That’s not gonna work.”

“Sorry.” Cas mumbles against his forehead, going still and waiting until Dean sits up. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Dean snorts and helps him up, stretching and muffling a yawn between his teeth. “Was kinda hard not to do. Kudos for the attempt though. You sleep well?”

Cas ducks his head and shuffles his feet, claws clicking on the floor. “I did, thank you. How is your wing feeling? You didn’t sleep on it, but being on the floor couldn’t have helped very much.”

He spreads his wings and flexes his elbow. It feels a hell of a lot better today, almost good as new. When they head out of the cave, it doesn’t even ache by the time they reach the first tree. Cas hangs from a branch and watches him flip and twist. There’s a little twinge in his elbow, but nothing like the last few days. If he tried, he could probably reach the human’s campgrounds at least by morning and look for his family, but Cas has that sad look going again.

Dean’s more observant than he lets on. He knows for a fact that Cas only smiles when he actually looks at him. When he thinks Dean isn’t looking, he’s watching him with sad eyes. Of course he’s doing the math too. Cas knows that if Dean can fly this well now, then he’s going to be leaving soon. And then he’s going to be alone again and Dean is really starting to hate that look on him.

After he eats his fill, Dean flips to hang next to Cas and nudges him with his elbow. “What do you think, huh? It doesn’t hurt a whole lot. Do you think I’ll be able to get to my family by morning?”

Sure enough, Cas’s smile falls the moment he mentions it. “I – yes. You should be well enough to fly to where you last saw your family.” He looks away and ruffles his wings. “I’m not sure you would be able to continue migrating. It might be too much of a strain for your wing.”

“Nah, that won’t be a problem.” He shakes out his wings and lets them hang above his head. His family is good at carrying him when he needs it. “You gonna come with me, Cas?”

“What?” Cas gives him those wide, sad eyes again, only this time they’re full of confusion.

Dean shrugs and tries really hard not to grin at him. “Well, what if my wing isn’t good enough to make it all the way to my family? You’re gonna let me go all by myself?”

Huffing, Cas ruffles his wings and looks away. “I wasn’t planning on it.” He reaches over and knock Dean playfully, the movement all jerky like he hasn’t done it before. “I’m curious to see if your family is as great as you say they are. I want to see the ones who could raise a brat like you.”

Heat floods his cheeks and Dean darts forward to nip at Cas’s wing. It earns him a startled screech and he laughs, dropping from the branch and rolling away before Cas can retaliate. What Cas needs is a distraction right now, and Dean is more than willing to provide – as long as it means not having to see that sad look in Cas’s eyes again.

They chase each other through the branches. Sometimes Dean breaks above the trees to reorient himself and make sure that they’re heading in the right direction. Cas’s big wings make it harder for him to do sharp turns and Dean uses that to his advantage, ducking under and around branches and trees and staying just out of Cas’s reach for as long as Cas lets him before he calls for them to take a rest. And by ‘them’ he always means Dean.

Dean makes sure that after every rest, he does something to make Cas chase after him. It’s the best way to keep him from looking unhappy - and Dean really likes the way Cas smiles when he thinks he’s about to catch him. He’s in the lead when he breaks out into the first campsite.

There aren’t any humans set up in this one, but he can see others through the sparse trees separating the sites and across the dirt road that runs between them. Dean glances back over his shoulder to make sure that Cas is following and he’s more than a little surprised to find that he isn’t. Circling in place, Dean waits, hoping he didn’t completely outrun him, but Cas doesn’t come out of the trees after him.

“Cas?” Dean calls, ducking back under the branches and calling sound into the trees. He finds him tucked against the trunk of a tree out of sight of the camping area. Cas is trembling, breathing hard and doesn’t even lower his wings from around his head when Dean lands next to him. Worry pulls tight in his chest and Dean gently paws at Cas’s wing. “Cas, what’s wrong?”

His wings crack open and Cas stares at him from behind them. “You’re going toward the tall-walkers.”

Realization hits Dean like a punch to the gut. “Wait.” He swallows and tucks his wings against his sides, ignoring the building ache in his elbow. “You mean humans are your tall-walkers?”

Cas frowns and lowers his wings slightly. “What else do you think I meant?”

He shrugs and looks away, shuffling in place and flexing his claws in the bark of the branch. “I dunno. But not them. Humans aren’t all bad, Cas.”

“They are. They are.” The trembling starts again and Cas shakes his head almost violently. “You shouldn’t go near them. No, we can’t go any further.”

“But I have to!” Dean paws at Cas’s wing again. “My family is that way.”

“Your family was crazy to even think of staying near tall-walkers.”

Frowning, Dean shuffles his feet again. “I know where they were staying. We’ll go around the camp to that place, okay? We can avoid the humans completely until we find them.”

Cas agrees, but he still looks unsure. He keeps looking over his shoulder and glancing worriedly toward the camps as they fly around the trees, skirting the edges of the clearings. They’re only part way around it when the sky starts getting brighter. Cas was already flying close enough that it was messing up Dean’s own flight and now he flutters even closer.

“We should head back to the cave, Dean. I don’t like flying in the sun.”

No, it’s too soon. Dean’s not ready to say goodbye to Cas yet. He likes him and he’s never had the chance to get this close to another bat before. And he sure as hell doesn’t want to leave Cas alone. They’re so close to where his family was staying. Just a little further.

He shakes his head and pulls ahead, gesturing mid-flap for Cas to keep following him. “You can stay with me and my family for the day and head back tonight.”

Or Cas could just stay with him and his family forever. Because that would be cool. But Dean’s not sure he could ever be selfish enough to ask Cas to come with him. Cas has a whole cave and a life and everything here – even if it is alone. Just because they’ve become friends doesn’t mean that Cas is going to want to come with him or anything. For all he knows, he could’ve been reading Cas wrong this whole time.

Cas makes a little unhappy noise, but he doesn’t stop following him.

It’s the trees that Dean recognizes first. The way they’re positioned and the twist of the branches. He’d memorized them in his mind’s eye all those nights ago and they overlap in his memory when he barks sound into the trees. This is it! His family was right here. But there’s no one around. Dean can see in all directions through the trees and out into the clearing. It’s just as empty as the trees are.

The whole area is silent except for the humans starting to move around in the other campsites and the birds starting to sing. His stomach sinks and a light, flighty feeling starts filling his chest. It’s getting hard to breathe and Dean’s entire head fills with a mantra that consists of nothing but ‘no’.

His family is gone.

Ignoring Cas’s warning cry, Dean swoops out into the clearing to get a better look. He rises above the trees and flaps circles around the area. He’s sure of it. This is the right place. “Mom! Dad! Sammy!” He swings out over the trees, crossing above the other campsites. “Where are you?!”

He can still smell them in the area, but the scent is fading. They’ve left him. They left him. No, no! They wouldn’t do this to him! They’re his family. Dean can’t stop looking, he can’t stop searching for them. They must be here somewhere. He refuses to give up. They have to be here. Maybe they just moved to a different area?

“Dean!” Cas drops on him from above, claws pricking his skin as he grabbing his shoulders and drags him back into the trees just as a group of humans comes down the path between the sites. “Don’t do that, Dean! They could get you!”

Dean can’t stop trembling. He shakes his head and huddles up against Cas’s chest as his wings fold around him. They left. How could they just – Did they even look for him? He shouldn’t have stayed away so long. He should’ve gone back before. He should’ve –

“We can’t stay here, Dean.” Cas rubs his nose into Dean’s hair, nuzzling it softly. “How is your wing? Do you think you could make it back to the cave?”

He doesn’t want to think about his stupid wing. Sure, his elbow is aching a little, but it’s nothing compared to the pain in his chest. There’s a hollow space behind his ribs and it’s eating away at him. What’s he supposed to do now? Just because he likes Cas doesn’t mean he wants to live out here with him. He wants to be with Sam and Mom and Dad too. He wants to see them and he wants to go home.

It’s a long flight back to the cave and Dean has to follow his echoes the entire way. The sun is too high for him to use his eyes and he wouldn’t be able to see through the tears anyways. Cas doesn’t say anything, but he pulls Dean into the fold of his wings the moment they’re hanging behind the stalactite again. It’s all Dean can do not to fall asleep crying.


 

Castiel doesn’t have the heart to tell Dean that his family is probably dead. He knows what Dean is feeling right now and he hates that he has to suffer through it. Dean should be smiling and laughing, not sitting in the corner, sniffling and hugging his knees while he fiddles with an acorn full of water. It’s a painful twinge behind Castiel’s ribs that Dean has to go through this too.

He sits next to Dean slowly, shuffling his wings to make himself comfortable and give Dean plenty of time to acknowledge that he’s there. With a small hum, Dean leans slightly into his side. That’s enough for him.

“You can stay here and live with me.” Castiel offers quietly. “If you want.”

Dean sniffs and rubs the knuckles of his thumbs into his eyes. He lifts his head and gives Castiel a small smile. “I’d like that.” The smile falters and he ducks his head. “But I want to go after them. They’re heading north and I know where they’re going. I just have to head north. If I follow the roads, I’m sure I’ll find them.”

“What are ‘roads’?” Castiel tilts his head at the foreign word. Dean seems to know a lot of them.

“Hard paths that humans take their vehicles on. Y’know, their big noisy machines with wheels? They drive up and down them to get places since they can’t fly like us. My family was following one and I know I’ll find them if I follow it.” A new ache fills Castiel’s chest at the way Dean looks at him, eyes wide and hopeful. “Do you think my wing is good enough for a long flight like that?”

A heavy disappointment settles in his stomach and Castiel pulls his knees to his chest. A bitter loneliness is burning in his throat and he’s not sure he can meet Dean’s eyes right now. “If you rest often.”

“Will you come with me?”

The question comes as a surprise and Castiel looks back at him sharply. “What?”

Dean’s ears twitch and he rubs his thumb through his hair. He shrugs and chews his bottom lip sheepishly. “I don’t – I mean, it would suck to go alone. It’s gonna be a long trip and I might not make it on my own. And since you know the world better than I do, I just thought – um – maybe you’d want to come with me?”

That would mean leaving his cave for days – maybe even weeks. He would have to go out where the tall-walkers are. In here he’s safe. Out there? Who knows what could happen. Castiel’s stomach turns and he buries his face in his knees. He’s not sure he could do it. How far could they have gotten? Far enough that it would take him and Dean quite some time to catch up, especially if they have to stop for him to feed and for Dean to rest his wing.

Could he live with himself if he lets Dean go off on his own? Dean may not be a newborn, but this is his first migration and he shouldn’t do it alone. He isn’t all that naïve, but Castiel can tell – even in these few days they’ve spent together – that Dean’s knowledge of the world is slim to none. Someone should go with him. If not Castiel, then someone who’ll make sure that he doesn’t do anything stupid like flying near tall-walkers again.

But this forest is safe. Tall-walkers seem to use it for pleasure and have no intention of hurting it. Castiel is being a coward. He’s scared again and this is just like what happened with his own colony. He was too scared to act and he lost them all. If he lets his fear control him again, Dean could die. Could Castiel stand that on his conscience? Could he stand never knowing if Dean survived or not?

“It’s okay, Cas.” Dean whispers, nudging his shoulder. Castiel tries hard not to notice the disappointment he hears in his words. “Just think about it. I’m not gonna leave until tomorrow night anyways.”

Castiel nods, but he doesn’t look at Dean when he stands. He doesn’t want to see his wide eyes or freckled nose, or how his ears will be drooping because he’s unhappy with Castiel’s answer. There are other things he could be doing now, or at least things he could be doing while he thinks. He needs a new bag and there’s plenty of grass to weave one.

Dean doesn’t say much else the rest of the night. He sits quietly in the corner, watching as Castiel braids grass to form the loops of the bag that will go around his neck and legs. It will hang under his belly and if he threads the neck loop through another at the top, it will be held closed while he flies. Castiel doesn’t realize until he’s finished that he made the main pouch much larger than anything he needs for gathering.

At Dean’s first yawn, Castiel sets the weaving aside, satisfied with the results. He barely needs more than a gesture for Dean to follow him to the ceiling. Castiel knows that he can’t let Dean go alone. If not because of his conscience than because of the pull he feels in his chest when he looks at him. It’s the urge to protect him and it’s partly why he still wraps his wings around Dean the moment bumps his nose against Castiel’s shoulder. He tries not to think that tonight might be the last time he’ll feel the warmth of another body against his own.

*

Dean shuffles awkwardly next to the entrance for a few minutes, opening and closing his mouth as if he’s not sure what to say. He continues to glance at him and Castiel knows what’s happening. This is when Dean is going to tell him that he’s leaving, knowing that Castiel will be alone when he’s gone. Will he think Castiel a coward if he doesn’t go with him?

“Um –” After clearing his throat, Dean shakes out his wings. “I guess I’ll be going now.” His smile is strained; more pained than anything else. “Bye Cas.”

Before Castiel can say or do anything in return, Dean is gone. Castiel stands next to the baskets he’s spent his years weaving and maintaining and hates them. Anger sears through his veins and he rips the lids from them. He won’t let Dean end up like his colony. He won’t. And if Dean finds his colony dead, he shouldn’t be alone when it happens.

He stuffs the bag he weaved yesterday, shoving as many berries into it as it will hold. He can still eat when they rest, but there’s no guarantee that there will be food for him along the entire journey. Bugs are everywhere, but fruit isn’t so easy to find. Castiel dumps dirt and stones on the fire, putting it out while he hops on one foot, trying to put the bag on properly.

Dean’s scent is still on the breeze when Castiel breaks from the cave. He flaps hard, membrane billowing between his fingers with the wind. It’s not long before his echoes bring back the now familiar shape of Dean, flapping listlessly ahead of him.

The moment Castiel drops in next to him, Dean flashes a wide grin over the curve of his wing. “I was  wondering how long it would take you to get your shit together.”

Castiel can’t tell if he feels ashamed for taking so long or pleased that Dean isn’t upset with him. “You knew I was coming?”

“Hoping, more like.” He flips a loop over and around Castiel, laughing happily before he settles just ahead of him and throws smiles over his shoulder. “Thanks, Cas. I’m glad you’re coming along.”

They reserve their energy less for talking and more for flying. Castiel may know the area better, but Dean knows where they’re going. He leads the way past the tall-walkers’ area to a hard, grey river that cuts through the trees. This must be the ‘road’ that Dean mentioned before. His heart lurches and Castiel swings back under the cover of the trees as one of the tall-walkers’ machines rumbles by.

“Just stay out of their way and you’ll be fine.” Dean calls back to him, circling over the road. “C’mon, Cas. We just follow this and we’ll catch up to my family in no time.”

He waits for Dean to join him in the trees before he answers him. “Do we have to fly near it? Can’t we keep it on our left and still follow it from under the trees?”

Dean’s mouth twists and he shakes his head. “It’ll take us longer if we have to weave through the trees. Why don’t we fly above them?”

“That’s too dangerous.” Castiel shakes his head too and looks over his shoulder at the open air above the canopy. “There are hawks and owls out here that wouldn’t hesitate to attack two bats flying in the open. It’s fine if you’re in a colony, but not on our own like this.”

“Seriously?” Dean’s jaw almost drops and he looks around them wildly, calling sound into the trees. “That’s not cool of them.” He frowns, brow pinching in thought before he smiles again. “We’ll do it your way. Under the canopy and through the trees.”

It’s nice to know that he’s still the same weird little bat that Castiel met a few days ago. But the danger of owls and hawks is common knowledge and Castiel frowns at Dean’s back as he follows him. If his family wanted to keep Dean safe, they should have taught this to him as a newborn. It’s unusual and he wonders what else Dean doesn’t know.

As they fly, Dean takes the chance to eat. Every time he snaps up a bug, Castiel can’t help wrinkling his nose at the crunch of their shells and he tries not to notice the juice that dribbles down Dean’s chin. There’s always a flutter of worry through his chest when Dean dives for the ground long before they come across a stream. The last thing he needs is for a fox or a wolf to grab Dean out of mid-air because he was foolish enough to fly so low.

It’s a mystery to him why Dean doesn’t have the same fears as he does. From where Castiel is, it’s almost as if Dean doesn’t know anything about the rules of the forest. How sheltered of a life did he live before this migration? He said it was his first, but he looks older than that. He should’ve had at least two by now, shouldn’t he?

“Dean!” Castiel calls out, swooping in next to him as Dean rises from the stream.  “How old are you?”

“A couple years?” Dean shrugs and drops suddenly as he risks using the curve of one wing to wipe his face quickly in mid-flight. “I’ve had two pretty lonely mating seasons, if you want to count it that way. Or a couple winters. I don’t really pay attention to it, I guess. Why?”

“I was just curious.” He shakes his head and twists out of the way to glide around a tree before returning to Dean’s side.

The age difference between them isn’t as great as he thought it was. Castiel is only a few years older than him. That makes it all the stranger that Dean doesn’t know something that Castiel would consider the most basic information taught to a newborn. It’s practically unheard of. If anything, it makes him all the more curious about meeting Dean’s family (if they’re still alive). What kind of bats are they to have raised Dean with such a large gap in his knowledge?

There are so many things that Dean needs to know and Castiel resolves himself to teach him everything. It should be strange that he feels so protective of Dean, but he’s the first friend that Castiel has had in a very long time. He doesn’t want anything bad to happen to him. That protectiveness is a burn in his chest whenever Castiel lets himself look at Dean, taking in the carefree way he soars through the forest.

*

“Why do you think this would be a safe place to roost for the day?” Castiel gestures at the hollow he’s hanging above.

Dean rolls his eyes and drops his arms, wings hanging limp above his head. “I don’t know, Cas. I’m tired and my elbow hurts. Can’t we just go inside and go to sleep?” He yawns, not even bothering to cover his mouth as he does so.

“Once you answer the question. What makes this a safe roost?”

“Because it’s empty?” He shrugs again and fixes Castiel with a tired squint. “Any scents are old and stale, so nobody else is using it as a nest right now?”

Castiel nods, satisfied. “Exactly. And where else would you consider sleeping if you aren’t able to find an empty hollow for the day?”

“I literally do not care, Cas.” Dean grumbles and drops to the branch below, flipping to land on his feet. He stumbles into the hollow and Castiel follows behind him. “If you’re gonna get all preachy about how to live in a forest properly, could you wait until I’ve actually had some frikken sleep?”

“It’s important that you know these things, Dean.” Castiel sighs and slips his bag off, putting it to one side of the little hollow. There’s barely enough room for the both of them to move comfortably. “An alternative to a roost like this is a dense cluster of branches where you can be hidden by the leaves.”

Dean shudders through another yawn and pushes his way into Castiel’s personal space. “Yeah, okay. Whatever. Good to know.” He all but shoves Castiel down against the back of the hollow, tucking himself against his chest without a second thought, regardless of the warm night air. “Go to sleep, Cas.”

Hesitantly, Castiel folds his wings around Dean again. This shouldn’t be necessary outside the cave. Dean isn’t shivering here, but he still makes himself comfortable against Castiel’s chest and muffles a yawn against his throat. Any irritation that he had at Dean’s poor attention to his lessons deflates and Castiel sighs, relaxing slowly. He’ll just have to try again tomorrow.

*

“I spy with my little eye something that is…” Dean nearly twists himself upside down while he looks all around them. “Purple!”

“Flowers.” Castiel sighs, not even turning his head to check. He’d spotted them already while keeping his eyes out for any berries he could add to the nearly empty bag hanging under his stomach. “Dean, I don’t understand the point of this game.”

He throws his head back and laughs as he flies circles around Castiel. “It’s for fun, Cas! To keep ourselves entertained because just flying is boring.”

“How are you bored?” It’s a concept Castiel can barely understand. Back at the cave, there was always something for him to do. And out here in the open there’s so much he needs to be alert about. His mind can wander, but his senses are focused – always listening, always looking for any kind of threat.

“Whatever.” Dean snorts and somersaults over a branch, launching off from it to flip through the air. “You figured it out, so it’s your turn now. C’mon!”

Castiel rolls his eyes again and glances around them. “Brown.”

“Y’gotta say the whole thing!”

He exaggerates his sigh and pins Dean with an unamused glare. “I spy with my little eye something that is brown. There, are you happy?”

“Very.” Dean’s amusement shines in both his eyes and his smile. “But, seriously Cas, you’ve used brown every single time. And it’s still the same. For the love of all things delicious, could you pick something besides tree bark?”

A smile of his own twitches in the corners of Castiel’s lips. “You’re incorrect. Try again.”

Dean’s smile falls. It’s almost comical the way he looks around them, eyes wide and echoes bouncing off every surface as he tries to search out what it was. The chances of him guessing are slim to none. Castiel doubts that Dean noticed the brown rabbit hopping towards its burrow already more than a dozen wing-beats behind them now. This so called game is much more fun when Castiel is the one winning.

*

Castiel shifts his feet, flexing his claws in the bark. The loamy scent after the fresh rain during the day is doing nothing to help calm his nerves. They’ve been travelling for days and this is the first time they’ve come across another area where the tall-walkers have set up cloth homes or ones that move on what Dean called ‘wheels’.

Yesterday they had passed a bright and noisy collection of ‘buildings’ that Dean explained was a ‘city’. He has no idea where Dean gets all his words, but Castiel trusts he wouldn’t be making them up. Thankfully, Dean hadn’t wanted to stop there to look for his family. He was intent on finding places like this. These ‘campsites’, as he calls them.

His excitement at finding this one had been exultant, but now Dean’s calls for his family aren’t quite so loud. Castiel is trying his best not to be worried about the tall-walkers sleeping below. Dean doesn’t seem concerned with them. According to him, the owls pose more of a threat right now. But it’s hard for Castiel to keep his eyes on the sky and the ground.

He would prefer being at Dean’s side right now, but he can’t. It’s not like he didn’t try, but he can’t. Castiel hates himself for a being a coward, but even the thought of going out in the open by tall-walkers is making him tremble while he’s hidden from them. The only time he moves is when Dean flies into a different area. As long as he has Dean within sights, Castiel can tolerate letting him ignore his cries for him to return to the safety of the trees.

The branch bounces when Dean lands, swinging into place underneath it. Immediately he folds his wings over his head and shudders against Castiel’s side. “They’re not here, Cas. They’re not here.”

Without hesitation Castiel folds him in his wings. “I’m sorry, Dean.” He whispers, pressing his nose into his soft membrane. “Do you want to continue to the next place?”

“No.” He sniffs and unfolds his wings slightly, enough to peek at Castiel from under them. “Let’s find someplace to spend the night. I don’t want to fly right now.”

Castiel had already spotted a hollow earlier. It’s small, but empty and he takes Dean to it. Dean curls against Castiel’s chest immeditaely, wrapped in both their wings. He goes limp and sniffs quietly every so often while Castiel combs through his hair. The last thing he wants is for Dean to cry through the night. His spirit must have taken quite a hit after this.

Once the purring starts, Castiel nudges Dean’s temple with his nose. “What do you want to do now?”

“Keep going.” Dean answers immediately, lifting his head. “Home is north and I’ll know it when I see it. We just have to keep following the road. If my family isn’t here, they’ll be at the next one, or the next, or I’ll find them at home.”

Fantastic. That news keeps Castiel awake long after Dean has fallen asleep under his wings. The further they go, the farther they’ll get from his home. He’s not particularly comfortable with that. It’s already been a few days. How much farther will they have to go? If he’s not careful, winter might come before he can return home – and that’s one season that Castiel wouldn’t be able to handle. The snow would take away his food source.

If they find Dean’s family, Castiel has no doubt that Dean will choose to stay with them. It’s the entire reason that they’re on this whole trip right now. And there is little chance that Dean’s colony would accept Castiel as one of their own. Dean hasn’t even asked if Castiel would consider staying - should the offer be made to him.

But now that he’s thought of it, Castiel can’t stop thinking about it. Dean says that his home is warm. If it’s warm throughout the winter, does that mean there’ll be food for him too? Would it be feasible for Castiel to stay? What if Dean did ask him to? Would Castiel be able to leave his new friend, likely never to see him again, and make the long trip back home on his own?

The fact that he doesn’t have an answer for those questions scares him.


 “Bats!”

Dean comes crashing back into his head from his thoughts. He doesn’t want to admit it out loud because Cas will just worry about him or ask if he wants to turn around and go back, but Dean’s worried. Holy shit, is he worried. With every wing-beat he wonders if he’s even going in the right direction. He wonders if he’ll recognize the city if they ever reach it. Dean doubts his memories of the route they took south and they weren’t going home the same way anyways.

Cas, for his part, doesn’t look like he’s got the same worries Dean does. His only concern is their safety. He’s always aware of everything going on around them and he won’t let Dean land until he’s done a thorough inspection of the trees. Another thing Dean won’t admit out loud is that he finds it kind of endearing. Whenever Cas gets worried about something, his eyes get all wide and it’s actually a little cute.

Before he can even ask what bats have to do with anything, his question is answered. Between one blink and the next, the air around them is filled with bats. It’s a churning mess of wings and echoes and Dean twists and weaves out of the way, calling out sound when he’s not sure his eyes can keep up with the mass of bodies.

As soon as he breaks through to the other side, he grabs a branch with his claws and thumbs. His heart is pounding a million wing-beats a minute inside his chest and he can’t believe he didn’t even notice the approaching colony. Holy crap, that was a rush! He waits until he’s more or less calmed down before he laughs and turns to Cas.  

“Hey, Cas, where do you thi–” Dean stops and stares at the empty space next to him. Besides the bats that are breaking away from the main colony to hunt, there’s no one else around.

Cas is gone.

Without thinking, Dean throws himself from the branch and wheels back into the other colony. No one seems all that surprised to see him. There are a few curious looks from bats he streaks past, but Dean doesn’t have the time to stop and talk to them. He needs to find Cas. He needs to. How is he supposed to keep searching for his family without him? It would be too lonely and it sends a chill down his spine right to the base of his tail to even think about going on without him.

There are too many voices around him to pick out Cas’s, and he doubts Cas would be able to hear him with his tiny, pointed ears. Dean’s are bigger and better and that’s how he’s going to find Cas. He’s going to listen for the one thing his ears can hear better than voices. Echoes. Closing his eyes, Dean focuses on the pulses of sound pitched higher than the voices of the colony around him. His own echoes keep him from running into anything, but Dean’s listening for the one pitch that’s different from the others. It’s the one set of echoes that he’s grown familiar with over the last week and a half and those will take him to Cas.

Once he’s sure he has it, Dean follows. It’s not like it’ll be horrible if he’s wrong. He could always try again. But Dean’s positive the echoes he’s locked on are Cas’s. They have to be. His heart feels like it’s going to break his ribs when he soars out of the group again and there’s a familiar shape hanging from under a branch, surrounded by at least a dozen of the smaller species around them right now.

Dean barely manages to sink his claws into the branch himself before he crashes into Cas. His wings are significantly shorter than Cas’s, but it doesn’t stop him from wrapping them around him and burying his face against the nearest part of him he can reach. “Don’t do that again, Cas!”

There’s a huff against his ear and Cas spreads his wings to knock Dean’s away. “You’re the one who disappeared!” He’s frowning at him, but Dean’s pretty sure there’s a blush in Cas’s cheeks and (if he’s not mistaken) that’s a smile in Cas’s eyes. Good. He’s happy to see Dean too.

“I kept going straight. Where did you go, huh?” He shoves Cas lightly in the chest. “I thought you were right behind me and then I had to come and find you!”

“How thoughtful of you.” Cas rolls his eyes and quickly presses his thumb against Dean’s lips when he opens his mouth to say something back. “You’re making a scene. If you’re not aware yet, we’re not alone right now.”

Of course he’s aware that there are other bats watching them from the branches all around them. Dean just doesn’t care. Cas is his priority here. Everyone else can watch if they want, but he was worried and a little scared and maybe a little hurt that Cas doesn’t even look like he was upset that Dean had disappeared too.

“My apologies.” Cas turns back to the female hanging next to him. “This is my companion, Dean Winchester. As I was saying before he interrupted – we’re just passing through.”

Dean shifts uncomfortably and looks around at all the other bats. Surprisingly, there’s more than one breed sitting or hanging from the branches. Some of the females have their chests covered with grass and leaf bibs, and others are only wearing little leaf loincloths like Cas. He has the most trouble looking at them – feeling a blush heat his cheeks all the way to his ears before he looks back to Cas and not-quite-at the other female.

“You’re welcome to stay with our colony, if you’d like. We’re a mix up of the lost and the alone.” She explains, gesturing around them.

“We can’t.” It’s not all that proper for him to just cut in on the conversation like that, but he doesn’t want Cas to start thinking that he could stay with this colony. Well, he could, but not yet. Not until he’s helped Dean get back to his family and not until Dean’s asked him to stay. “We’ve gotta go.”

The female gives Dean a hard look and he ducks his head, folding his wings in tight to hide himself behind Cas just a little bit more. She just shakes her head and smiles. “The offer is open to you if you boys want it. And you can stay with us for the night. The sun will be up in a little while and you’ll be safer during the day with us.”

Cas turns back to Dean, tilting his head in thought. “What do you think, Dean?”

He thinks that he wants to keep going. The less time they’re flying, the farther his family gets. But his wing aches, and Cas looks just as tired as he does. They probably won’t even make it that far by sunrise, so they might as well, right?

“Why not?” Dean shrugs.

“Good. You boys get something to eat and find a place to roost. This grove of trees is ours for the night.” She nods and spreads her wings, dropping from the branch in the same motion, though she flips to flap in place. “If you need anything, just shout. Someone will be able to find me.”

“Thank you.” Cas dips his head and Dean copies him. Once she’s flown off, he glances at Dean. “Her name is Ellen, in case you were wondering. And I asked if they had seen any other colonies around lately.” He pauses and shuffles his feet, the bark under his claws cracking slightly. “They haven’t.”

Well, that’s good to know. Dean shrugs and looks around at the other bats. Some of them have taken off too, and some are still watching them. “Are they migrating too?”

“Yeah, we are.”

He looks up to find a blonde bat hanging from the branch above them. Her hair reminds Dean of Mom and the pinch in his chest from the other day only gets worse. He misses them so much.

The blonde bat grins and hops down next to him. “We’re on our way to our hibernacula. It’s a little early in the season for it, but Mom always likes to head out earlier so we can find more lost ones en route. You two aren’t lost, are you?”

“No, we’re not.” Dean says it with more force than he means to. He glances back at Cas as he starts fiddling with his berry pouch. He’ll have to ask him what the heck a hibernacula is later. It’s probably something to do with hibernating, but he won’t know for sure until he asks Cas. “So, you’re Ellen’s daughter?”

“You can call me Jo.” She shrugs and ruffles her wings. “There’s a creek just a little ways from here with plenty of bugs around it. Wanna come with?”

Cas looks up from his berries, squinting at Jo slightly before he looks at Dean. “You can go. I want to find fresh berries and I need to reinforce the bag.”

“Yeah, okay. I’ll catch up in a sec. I just wanna talk to Cas about something.”

Jo waves at a few others still hanging around and they take off as a group, leaving Dean alone with Cas. He’s looking at Dean with that squint and head tilt again, like he’s trying to pick apart his brain without actually asking any questions. It gets under Dean’s skin, but in a good way.

“What’s a hibernacula?” Dean asks and winces. He knows Cas is going to think he’s weird for not knowing this, but he might as well get it over with right away.

Yup. There’s that extra squinty look he’s gotten used to seeing since they met. Cas has gone from brain-picking to are-you-an-alien in no time flat. “You’ve got to be joking, Dean.”

“I’m not.”

“It’s the roost where colonies migrate to for hibernation through the winter months. Every bat knows this.” Cas’s frown just gets deeper and more concerned. “How do you not know?”

Dean shrugs and shuffles his feet, flexing his wings as if he’s about to take off. “I’ve never had to hibernate before, okay?”

“But you live in the north!”

“Yeah, but my family’s home is warm all year round.” He doesn’t like this topic anymore. It’s making his chest hurt. At the confused frown Cas gives him, Dean just shrugs and forces a smile. “A guy’s gotta have his secrets, Cas. You got your big secret about your colony and I’ve got mine.”

He takes off before Cas can question him about it further. It’s not like Dean’s actively keeping any secrets, but he kind of wants his home to be a surprise for Cas. At this rate, they might end up just having to (hopefully) go straight for that to find his family.

At the creek, Dean eats and drinks his fill with Jo. She introduces him to a few friends of hers. There’s Meg, a gray bat; Kevin, a spotted bat with ears bigger than his head; and Charlie, an eastern red bat with the reddest hair Dean has ever seen. The majority of the colony are brown bats, like Jo and Ellen, but it was a small colony to start and they just kept picking up strays along the way.

They all follow him back to the tree where he’d last seen Cas - and he’s still there. He’s sitting on the branch with his back against the trunk and his bag in his lap, weaving new strands of grass into it. Cas barely looks up when Dean takes to roosting right above his head, but he does glance around at the others starting to fill the tree around them. They’re gathering in pairs and groups, whispers filling the air.

“You almost done, Cas?”

“Yes. I’ll be ready to go to sleep soon. I found a blackberry bush and I’ll refill the bag tomorrow before we set out again.” He finally looks up. “Did you get enough to eat?”

He snorts and lets his arms hang above his head, wing tips tickling Cas’s ears. “Y’know I never do. I could eat until I explode and I’d still want more.”

Cas’s ear twitches and he paws at it with the bend of his wing. “Don’t be annoying. I’ll be done in a minute and we can sleep then.”

“I’m not sleepy ye-” A loud whistle interrupts him and Dean twists around, pelting sound into the trees and listening to the echoes that come back. Charlie has the tips of her thumbs between her lips and she’s whistling loudly while Jo waves her wings at him. “What do they want?”

“I assume it’s for you to go over and roost with them for the night.” Cas shrugs and goes back to his weaving. “They’re probably going to tell stories until they fall asleep. You should join them. You might actually learn something.”

Dean huffs and flicks the tip of his wing against the side of Cas’s head. “You’ll come over when you’re done, right?” There’s a weird pressure in his chest pressing in around his lungs and he shoves the idea out of his head that Cas won’t want to sleep with him tonight. It goes away the moment Cas promises he’ll be over as soon as his bag is finished.

When he moves to join the others, Dean makes sure that he leaves plenty of room beside him for Cas. “Are you guys really going to tell stories?”

“Why wouldn’t we?” Meg laughs, shaking out her dark wings. “It’s not like we have anything better to do before the sun comes up. How about it, freckles? You got any good stories to tell?”

He’s got plenty, but he’s heard them all before. If he has to admit it to himself, Dean’s would rather hear about what they consider to be interesting. “Nah, not really. What’ve you got?”

“That depends, what have you heard?” Charlie grins brightly, swinging from side to side in excitement. She’s clearly not going to sleep any time soon. “Do you know the one about the bat who fell in love with the moon? The tragedy of the tall-walkers? Or what about the legends of Nike?”

“Who’s Nike?”

There’s a snort of surprise from behind him and he turns to find a bigger bat hanging quietly between the leaves. His wings are different, white fur blending into the dark membrane. Dean frowns and squints at him. “Y’got a problem?”

“Dean, this is Benny.” Jo gestures between them. “He’s a hoary bat. Benny, Dean is a canyon bat and he’s travelling with a flying fox.”

“The big fella picking berries? Interesting.” Benny grins, talking with a Southern accent. Dean’s never heard a bat speak with one before. He shrugs off Dean’s squint and hops to the same branch. “Y’can stop looking at me like that, brother. It’s just funny to hear that you ain’t ever heard of Nike before.”

The branch bobs again and the hairs on the back of Dean’s neck stand up with the presence of someone behind him. He tenses immediately and glances over his shoulder, relaxing when he sees that it’s Cas. His bag is hanging off a twig behind him and he’s got this kind of fond smile on his lips.

“Don’t be surprised.” Cas tucks his wings around himself and looks around at the group. “There’s quite a bit that Dean doesn’t know. I believe he’s led a rather sheltered life thus far.” When Dean turns a glare on him, his grin only gets bigger. “Nike is the goddess who brought bats into the world.”

Now this is a story that he needs to hear. Everyone turns to Charlie and she puffs up, pleased to have their attention. She spreads her wings and starts talking. “In the beginning, there was only day. Nike, the first bat – the only bat – was forced to fly blind because her eyes could not take the brightness of the sun. She was unhappy with the way of the world and having to see it in the painted silver of her echoes. Tired of never being able to see the details of the real world, Nike spread her wings and covered the sky.”

Dean bites back the ‘impossible’ on his tongue. If Nike is supposedly their goddess, it would be beyond stupid for him to interrupt and call them out on how unlikely it is that a bat would be big enough to do that. He wraps his arms and wings around himself tighter and sighs away the yawn in the back of his throat.

Charlie’s eyes are bright and enthusiastic as she continues. “With the sun hidden, Nike could finally see the world for what it was. And she saw that she was alone.”

Next to her, Kevin’s long ears twitch and he spreads his wings to block Charlie from view. “Nike didn’t want to be the only one of her kind. It was a lonely existence; seeing the birds and the beasts but no bats. So she opened her mouth and started to sing. Nike sang sound into shape and with the power of her voice, she gave birth to every breed we know today.”

Shoving his wings away, Charlie frowns at Kevin and turns back to the group. “Every night, Nike spreads her wings to give us our chance to fly. During the day, she sleeps in the clouds. The thunder her snores; the wind her breath; the rain her tears.”

She continues talking about all the things that bats owe to Nike. Kevin likes to interrupt, but Dean’s stopped paying attention. After his fifth yawn in as many minutes, his jaw cracks with the last one and he shakes himself out, bumping shoulders with Cas. He does it twice more before Cas gets the hint and parts his wings long enough for Dean to shuffle inside. The steady stream of whispered stories stutters to a stop for a moment, but Dean ignores it. There’s Cas’s warm wings and familiar scent all around him and that’s more than enough reason for him to close his eyes, tuck his cheek to Cas’s shoulder, and fall asleep.

*

“Hey, Dean-o!” Meg swoops in front of him, cutting him off and snapping up the moth he’d been chasing. She grins at him, part of the wing fluttering between her teeth before it’s gone. “Where’s your other half?”

She must mean Cas, and he’s out collecting his berries before they take off again. With the sun just set, everyone is feeding before heading out. But after stealing his moth, there’s no way Dean’s going to tell her a damn thing. He shrugs and turns away from her, calling out a bolt of sound in search of something else to eat. There are plenty of bugs to choose from, but it’s Jo, Charlie and Kevin winging their way over that catches Dean’s attention.

They all land in the same tree. Kevin hangs from the branch above where Jo and Charlie are sitting, kicking their feet in the open air as Charlie waves him over. “We thought we weren’t going to catch you before you left.”

“What’s up guys?” Dean lands on the branch beside them, shuffling over when Meg drops down next to him with the same smug grin.

Kevin’s ears twitch and his nose crinkles when all the girls turn to look up at him. “I’m not saying it.” He looks pointedly at Charlie. “You say it.”

“No way. Meg’s the one who wants to know.” She flares her wing in Meg’s direction. “You say it.”

“Fine.” She huffs and tosses her dark hair over her shoulder. After a second of gathering herself, she turns to Dean. “What’s it like having a mate that’s bigger than you?”

Dean’s brain decides that right now is a good time to stop working. He blinks a few times, looks at the gathered group individually, and then stares at Meg. He would bet all his shiny rocks and precious possessions back home that he looks stupid. Really stupid. His mouth is open and everything. And the only sound that comes out is a dumb sounding; “Huh?”

“Your mate. Mr. Tall and Handsome? The fruit eater.” Meg makes a vague gesture with her wing and looks toward Charlie. “What’s his name? Cas?” Charlie nods and she continues. “He’s bigger than you. What’s it like?”

See, even with an explanation this still doesn’t make any sense to Dean. It also doesn’t make much sense why he can feel his cheeks getting warm and his chest is suddenly three sizes too small for his lungs. He wraps his wings around himself tightly and shakes his head. “Cas isn’t my mate.”

Jo snorts loudly, covering a laugh. “But you were sleeping in his wings! The only bats who do that are newborns with their mothers, and mated pairs.”

“Yeah, well, Cas isn’t my mate.” He shakes his head again. This isn’t exactly a bad thing or anything. It’s just really caught him by surprise since it’s not something he’s thought about – or maybe would ever have thought about. He’s just been happy to have a friend and be close to someone while he’s separated from his family.

“Then why –”

“Because when we met it was in a cave and it was colder than I’m used to, okay?” Dean shrugs and looks around, hoping Cas is going to come back soon and save him from having to keep talking. “It was cold and I kept shivering and it was bothering Cas, so he kinda just wrapped me up to keep me warm.”

Meg’s grin only gets wider. “But you’re not in the cave anymore.”

“So? It’s still comfortable.” He snaps, turning away from her. “Y’done with your questions? I wanna eat some more before Cas comes back.”

“Wait!” Jo hops from her branch to his. She flicks her ears forward and tilts her head. “Does this mean that you’re both free? Mom said Cas is cute and she’s been alone since Dad died. I was wondering if you could put in a good word for her?”

The idea is immediately unappealing to him for a variety of reasons, none of which Dean stops to examine. “I could, but Cas is helping me back to my family. We’ve gotta keep heading north.”

Her bottom lip sticks out in a pout and Jo turns a glare on Charlie when she giggles. She huffs and gives Dean a wide-eyed almost pleading look. “Or you could stick around? We’d love to have you.”

If Dean didn’t know better, he’d say that Jo wants them to stay not because she wants to give Ellen a chance with Cas, but because she wants a chance with him. Is this what it’s like to be flirted with? Why doesn’t Dean like it as much as he thought he would? It’s nice and all, but he wants to find his family and he wants Cas to go with him.

“Sorry.” He shakes his head and gives her a weak smile. “We have to go. My family needs to know I’m okay and I need to find them.”

“Isn’t there anything we can do to change your mind?”

Dean shakes his head again. As much as he likes the bats he’s met in this colony, he wants his family. He misses them and they deserve to know that he’s okay. It must be killing Sammy to not know what happened to him. All Mom and Dad would be able to tell him is that Dean got lost during the storm and never came back. They wouldn’t tell him that he was dead. They wouldn’t. Right?

“Excuse me.” Cas’s voice cuts through his thoughts and he has to bite back a happy sigh. Should he be this relieved that Cas showed up?

Everyone turns to look at Cas as he lands on the branch next to them, standing instead of hanging. It’s always easier for him to stand when he’s wearing the bag. His carrying bag looks ridiculous when it’s so stuffed with berries, but Dean’s used to seeing it that way. He doesn’t like the little giggle Meg makes before she covers her mouth with the bend of her wing.

Cas barely spares her a glance. “I’m ready to go when you are, Dean.”

“I can eat on the fly.” Dean rolls his shoulders and spreads his wings. “It was nice meeting you guys. If you’re ever up north, you should look us – me – up. Good luck with the rest of your migration!”

Jo pouts through everyone’s goodbyes, but she waves when Dean takes off with Cas. He looks back and does a few fun flips to get a laugh out of them before they’re out of sight. Cas waves, but that’s it. He’s pointed north and there’s nothing stopping him from flapping away. Dean follows, swinging out from him long enough to make sure that the road is still on their left. As long as they keep following that, he’s sure he’s going to find his family.

Too bad he can’t keep his mind focused on them. No matter how long they fly, all of Dean’s thoughts keep circling back to Cas and, ultimately, what Meg had asked. Is it really that weird that he and Cas cuddle up when they’re sleeping? Dean doesn’t think so, but then again, he’s not all that keen on what the hell other bats are thinking. For him, it’s been totally normal to fall asleep with Sam and Mom all the time. Heck, once he even fell asleep with Dad. But he’d never consider any of them mates.

Wait. Does that mean he would consider Cas a mate? He doesn’t know much about mates, but he’s pretty sure they kiss. Mom and Dad are mates and they kiss. If Cas was his mate, would he have to kiss him? Would he want to kiss Cas? It’s not all that surprising when he decides that he doesn’t mind the thought of it. In fact, if given the chance, he’s pretty sure he’d like to give it a try.

It’s not a bad thought, really. When Dean imagines hooking his thumbs around Cas’s neck and pulling him in for a kiss – noses bumping, lips touching – his heart makes a funny little flipping feeling. His lungs feel like they’re too big, but it feels good. He likes the feeling and the more the thinks about it, the more he really wants to give kissing Cas a try.

But would Cas want to kiss him? Dean knows for a fact that Cas likes him. He wouldn’t have let Dean stay in his cave with him if he didn’t. Cas wouldn’t wrap him in his wings every night, or be making this crazy long journey with him if he didn’t at least like Dean in some way. But does Cas like him enough – or in that way – to want to kiss him? Has Cas thought about kissing him?

By sunrise, Dean hates Meg for asking those stupid questions. It’s all he could think about through the night and it’s stupid and pointless and he shouldn’t be hung up on it because he and Cas are just friends. He doesn’t have a whole lot of those and there’s nothing to make him think that Cas wants to be anything more than that. Hell, Dean’s not even sure if Cas is even going to want to stay with him when he asks for him to stay with the family.

“You’ve been quiet today.” Cas points out, wiping some berry juice from his mouth. He’s looking at Dean with that curious head-tilt-squint thing that he does and Dean feels that twist behind his ribs again. “Is something wrong, Dean?”

“Nuh-uh.” He shakes his head and folds his wings around himself tightly. “Just been thinking.”

“About that colony?”

Cas is more observant than he ought to be. “Kinda.” Dean shrugs and tucks his wings higher, almost covering his head. “Forget about it. We should just sleep.”

Without being asked, Cas folds his wings around him. His scent only makes that tight feeling in Dean’s chest get worse. Not bad worse, just – not better. He shifts and tries to get comfortable, but a whole night of thinking about kissing Cas and having him as a mate doesn’t really make for calm thoughts when he’s literally surrounded by him. It’s hard not to be ridiculously aware of every place where he and Cas are touching.

“Stop wiggling, Dean.” Cas huffs, ruffling his hair. “If you don’t settle down and sleep, then you can go and hang on your own for the night so I can.”

“I can’t stop thinking.” Dean mumbles into the curve of his wing, lowering them so he can see Cas in the shadows under his massive wings. “I can’t stop thinking about some of the things that Meg and the others said.”

Cas pulls back enough to let a crack of light through his wings. “Which thing? They said quite a bit.”

“The thing about us.”

A frown pinches between his eyebrows. “What?”

Dean shakes his head and shuffles closer, hiding his face against Cas’s neck. Maybe if he doesn’t look at him and just tries to pretend nothing happened, he might be able to sleep. “Never mind. Sorry. Just go to sleep now.”

*

After another night of flying with his head full of all the thoughts he’s trying really hard not to have, Dean gives up. He’s sick of thinking about the what-ifs for the second night in a row. When they land for the day and Cas is finished picking his berries, Dean sucks it up. His heart is beating against his ribs like butterfly wings, but it doesn’t stop him from pushing into Cas’s personal space the moment he’s finished hanging his berry bag on a twig.

Cas gets out the first bit of his question – Dean’s name – before he’s cut off. It’s hard to talk when you’re being kissed. Dean knows it’s not the best kiss in the world. All he’s doing is pressing his mouth against Cas’s, but it’s a kiss and something in the back of his head is satisfied with it. Except that Cas doesn’t kiss back. He’s stock still and staring at Dean with wide, confused eyes when he finally steps back.

Dean holds his breath and waits to see what Cas is going to do.

First, his ears fold down - like he’s disappointed. Cas doesn’t look angry, but he doesn’t look happy either, his whole face pinched in a frown. Shaking his head slowly, Cas spreads his wings and drops from the branch. Dean’s heart drops with him. Shit, did he scare Cas off with that kiss? All he wanted to know was what it would be like. He didn’t mean anything else by it, did he?

Thankfully, Cas doesn’t go far. He only goes over a few branches before he tucks himself against the trunk. Dean opens his mouth, but no words are coming out. What is he supposed to say? An apology feels in order, but now that Cas is already all the way over there, it feels a little late for that.

The breeze is cool and Dean shivers in it. Even pressing against the trunk of the tree does nothing to help warm him up. It’s too hard to sleep when his head is full of unanswered questions and his heart is heavy with the worry that he might’ve just really messed up everything he and Cas had going. They’re good friends. He likes being friends with Cas. But is that enough for Cas to want to stay with him when they find his family? Because he wants Cas to stay.

Dean doesn’t want to say goodbye, and he absolutely does not want to know how bad it’s going to hurt if Cas decides to return to his cave.

That whole storm of worry in his chest keeps him from sleeping most of the night. He can’t keep himself from glancing to the branch where Cas is. It’s even harder not to wonder if Cas is asleep too or if he’s thinking about leaving on his own at sunset. To be honest, Dean’s scared out of his pants of falling asleep and waking up to find out that Cas left without saying goodbye.

In the evening, Cas is still there. He hasn’t touched his bag and he hasn’t mentioned wanting to find a bush where he could pick some more fresh ones. He’s just sitting on the branch with his feet dangling over the edge, staring off into the forest. Dean doesn’t like the look on his face. It’s carefully schooled to look like Cas isn’t thinking about anything, but he can tell in the little twitches of his ears that Cas is thinking a lot. His brain is probably going a million wing-beats a minute and Dean doesn’t know what the hell to do now.

Maybe now is a good time to apologize.

Dean crawls up onto the same branch as Cas and shuffles down it until he can sit beside him. Cas barely even blinks and that is so not a good sign, probably. It doesn’t stop Dean from what he’s got to do. He messed up and Mom always said you have to own up to your mistakes. That doesn’t stop him from hooking his thumbs together in his lap, twisting one around the other nervously.

“I’m sorry.” He should get bonus points for not blurting it out like an embarrassed newborn.

For his part, Cas still barely reacts. The most that Dean sees is him tightening his thumbs over his knees. But he does take a deep breath and finally actually look at Dean. Too bad his question sends Dean’s stomach plummeting to the forest floor. “Why did you kiss me?”

He can feel a blush start to crawl up his neck and Dean has to fight himself not to look away. “The other bats – Meg and Jo and Charlie – they called you my mate because of how we sleep. But you’re not my mate, because mates kiss and stuff, right? We don’t do that.” One shoulder twitches in a shrug and Dean caves, eyes dropping to his thumbs in his lap. “I’ve never kissed someone before and I wanted to know what it would be like to kiss you so I just – I just did it.”

Dean sneaks a side glance at Cas and a tingle skitters down his spine at the shadow of pain flickering over Cas’s face. He lifts his head quickly, a red hot worry searing through his chest. Did he make Cas look like that? “Was it that bad? I mean, I thought it was okay and I kind of liked it. I could’ve done better if I wasn’t so nervous, but I –”

“Don’t kiss anyone without their consent, Dean.” Cas sighs. His shoulders slump a little more and he looks away. “You’re supposed to ask someone before you kiss them.”

Yeah, he can see how that would be important. Dean’s pretty sure he wouldn’t have liked it if Jo would’ve just kissed him. Dammit! How stupid could he be? He acted like an idiot newborn when he should know better.

“I’m sorry.” Another question weighs on the back of his tongue and it’s out before Dean can stop it. “Does that mean that if I ask first, I can do it again?”


 

Castiel liked the kiss. It was clumsy, inexperienced – though he doesn’t have anything to compare it too - and despite the surprising unexpectedness of it, Castiel had liked it. There had been a certain endearing quality to it, once he got past the annoyance of being kissed without his consent.

This is a problem.

Dean has found another line and it’s one Castiel hadn’t thought to consider. If he allows this change to the physical aspect of their relationship, there is nothing but heartbreak down that path. How many times must he remind himself that he and Dean can’t get any closer than this? He can’t allow himself to get anymore attached, especially if he has any plans to return home once they either find Dean’s family or Dean gives them up for lost.

Not that it matters anyway. This isn’t a line he’s even able to cross. And Dean should know that. If Dean is going to entertain thoughts of being his mate, then Dean should know just what all of that would entail. And making this decision is terrifying. Castiel’s wings are trembling so slightly he’s not even sure that Dean can see it.

He shakes his head, unable to look at Dean when he answers his question. “I’m not capable of being a mate, Dean.”

The confusion in Dean’s voice is expected. “Why?”

If only the answer were as simple as the question. “I can’t love.”

“You can’t… What?” There’s a pause long enough to pique Castiel’s curiosity and he finally allows himself to look, taking in the thoughtful way Dean tilts his head. “Does this have something to do with your colony, Cas?”

He flinches at the question, drawing his wings in tighter. Dean is more perceptive than Castiel had anticipated. Though he supposes it’s better that Dean figures things like that out on his own. It’s less painful than Castiel having to explain it all. But this is a good thing. Castiel has been alone for so long and Dean is the first creature he’s come to trust in years. If he was to tell this story to anyone, he would want it to be Dean.

Now he only hopes that Dean won’t think less of him when he finds out the monster that Castiel truly is.

With a deep breath, Castiel starts his story. “I’ve been alone for a long time, Dean.” He can’t bear to look at him while he talks. “Like you, I was separated from my family – though not by accident, but by choice. My sister and I were exploring ahead of our colony after we had found a nice grove full of fruit that could feed us for a long time. The colony was already settled down for the day, but we weren’t tired and we wanted to see all around what could very well be our new home.”

The memories, though old, still feel fresh in his mind. Like a wound that won’t heal. “There were other groves in neat, orderly lines all around the one we had settled in. That should have been a warning. Anna, my sister, thought it was weird but I was the one who told her to ignore it.” Castiel has never regretted his words more than he does those.

“Everything was fine until we saw the flying-machine. It was big and loud and it was releasing clouds over the groves further down the line from the one our colony was settled in.” His throat feels like it’s closing up and his chest clenches painfully. He forces himself to continue. “I had a bad feeling about the flying-machine. I didn’t like it and neither did Anna.”

For the first time since he started talking, Dean interrupts. “Why?”

“We had heard stories.” Castiel shrugs and glances at him. “When you migrate, it’s not uncommon to run into other colonies, or lone travelers, and they all have stories. There are hundreds of legends about how the tall-walkers decimate our colonies with their poisons and weapons. They tear down our trees and take our caves as their own.”

Dean’s shoulder slump slightly and he frowns. “That… sucks.”

“Aptly put.” He wants to smile to put Dean at ease, but his mouth doesn’t want to comply.

A wry smirk twists Dean’s lip and he gestures with one wing. “Shut up and keep talking.”

“You just contradicted yourself.”

“Keep telling the story, Cas!” Dean flicks the tip of his wing against Castiel’s leg and leans in closer. “What happened after the flying-machine? What did you and Anna do?”

But Castiel doesn’t want to keep talking. This small break is welcome. Reliving his old memories always leaves Castiel feeling sick and hollow inside. He wishes he could stop now and they could just keep flying. If Dean wasn’t looking at him with wide, attentive eyes, it would be so much easier to end the story here.

Castiel looks away again, his chin dipping to his chest. “I ran. I was young, foolish, and terrified. The flying-machine was going to fly right over the grove our entire colony was in. Anna and I were exploring the next line over, out of its path. We would have been safe, but Anna –” He sucks in a sharp, shuddering breath. “Anna insisted that we go back for our colony. She said – she said we needed to warn them.”

He shakes his head and squeezes his eyes shut. “It was the middle of the morning and everyone was supposed to be sleeping. We had stayed up later, wanting to explore without Mother berating us for it.” His thumbs dig into the bark of the branch until they hurt. “Anna – Anna said we had to wake them – warn them – but I was too scared.”

The trembling starts and there’s nothing Castiel can do to stop it or the tears that sting behind his eyes. “I watched the flying-machine drop its cloud over the grove where my entire colony was sleeping – where Anna had gone back to warn them.”

Dean’s wing brushes over his back in a gentle touch. “What was the cloud?”

Poison.” Castiel spits in a sob. “Anna was lost the moment she went back for them.” He shakes his head violently and slumps forward to hide his face in the bend of his wings. “I was a coward! And then – then  I was alone.”

“How did you know it was poison?” Heat presses against his side as Dean shuffles closer.

He sniffs and lifts his head, blinking away the tears and grabbing at the chance to stop reliving the worst day of his life. “For someone who wants to hear this story, you interrupt quite a bit.” But turning his attention to Dean doesn’t help. His blind devotion to his family plays a large part in why Castiel has followed him this far from his home – and it reminds him so much of Anna that it hurts to think about.

Dean’s nose crinkles above a wry smile. “But how –”

“I didn’t know for certain at first.” Castiel shrugs and leans his weight into Dean’s side, taking what little comfort he can from him before Dean decides he’s not worth comforting. “I waited and waited. I don’t know for how long – long enough to fall asleep.” He shakes his head and tries to separate the events from the emotions of those memories, but there’s no use. His heart still aches, remembering what it felt like to wake up alone. “No one ever came out of that grove.”

“They all died?” Dean asks in a whisper.

Castiel’s tremors start again and he hides his face in his wings. “Every single one of them. I – I flew around the grove countless time. I looked for anyone who might have made it out, but no one – It was so quiet. No birds, no beasts, no bats. Nothing. I – I wasn’t even a whole year old yet and I was alone.” And he deserved it.

“I knew they were going to die. I knew it the moment I saw the flying-machine.” His words come faster, angrier. “I was too scared to help them. Too scared to warn them. I was a faster flyer than Anna. If it had been me, I might have saved  them. But I didn’t. I did nothing – I didn’t –”

“But are you sure they’re dead? I mean, you didn’t actually see any bodies, right?” Dean sounds forcibly optimistic and his smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Maybe they’re still out there?”

He knows they’re not. Castiel didn’t want to remember that moment specifically and he’d refrained from mentioning it so far. His bottom lip trembles and Castiel presses his lips together tightly to make it stop as he shakes his head. “They’re dead.” He’d seen it with his own eyes. The bodies littering the floor of the grove; the lifeless eyes and crooked wings.

What kind of monster must Dean think he is now? It’s obvious that Castiel isn’t capable of loving anyone. He clearly didn’t love his family enough to overcome the fear of the poison. Anna did. Anna always cared so much about everyone and everything. And he – he doesn’t deserve Dean’s friendship or anything else he could offer him. Not after allowing his whole colony to die.

It’s quiet between them for a while. Castiel expects Dean to pull away once he’s figured it out. He doesn’t expect Dean to pull him closer. “Is that why you’ve been living on your own?”

“What?” That isn’t the question he was expecting and he looks at Dean again, frowning in confusion at the open, honest curiosity on his face and the sympathy in his eyes.

“You live alone because you don’t want to get close to anyone again, right?” Dean shrugs and squeezes his wing around Castiel’s shoulders. “Losing everyone you cared about hurt you and you’re afraid of getting hurt again. That’s totally understandable, Cas.”

He knows the words Dean is speaking. They’re clear and concise and the sentences they form are logical, but Castiel doesn’t understand them. How could Dean hear that story and not think him a monster? How could he discard how Castiel had been a coward only to dig down to the root of his fears and insecurities so quickly? Doesn’t he blame him for what happened?

But Dean’s easy smile is warm and Castiel wants to sink into it. If Dean is still willing to accept him, then Castiel isn’t going to question it further. That might actually chase Dean away and he isn’t sure he could bear losing him too.

The smile that graces his own lips feels out of place, but Castiel forces it to stay there as he reaches over to ruffle Dean’s hair between his ears. “You seem so sure of yourself for someone so young.”

Dean huffs and pulls away to run his thumbs through his hair to set it right again. “I’m not young!”

“So you say. Yet this is your first migration.” Maybe teasing Dean a little will lighten the moment.

His eyebrows pinch together in an exasperated frown. “Do I hafta remind you again that I’ve had two mating seasons already? Just coz’ I haven’t actually mated with anyone doesn’t mean I’m a newborn!”

Castiel hums and leans back on his wings. “I still find that hard to believe.”

“Oh, screw you, Cas!” Dean darts forward, nearly shoving Castiel from the branch.

This is exactly the distraction that Castiel needs to move past his memories and forget about this moment too. All he needs right now is the knowledge that Dean knows. He knows and he’s still here beside him, smiling and laughing as Castiel pushes him back only to receive a sharp nip on the curve of his wing for his troubles.

When the laughter dies down and they sit comfortably beside each other again, their attention turns to the stars they can see through the branches above them. The stars have always given Castiel clarity and he realizes now that Dean is right. He’d rather be alone than love someone and risk the chance of losing them again. But that doesn’t change that the guilt weighing on him is immeasurable.

The distraction didn’t work. Castiel can feel the tears sting his eyes again and he draws his wings over his face, shielding himself from the world. Dean makes a curious noise next to him and paws gently at the membrane of his wing.

“Cas, you okay?”

“I didn’t even say goodbye.” He shakes his head and a new wave of tears makes his words tremble. “I didn’t even go in to check for survivors. I never told my parents I loved them, and I never said goodbye.  I just – all I did was watch. I watched them die!” His breaths are coming in great, wracking sobs – each one more painful than the last. “If I loved them – If I loved – I would’ve tried to save them. I would’ve tried to at least say goodbye.”

Dean’s wings fold around him. They’re shorter than his own, but Dean presses as close as he can, wrapping Castiel in his wings as best as possible. “Listen, Cas. Listen to me, okay? The poison would’ve killed you too. You’re alive because you were smart and you stayed away. It sucks that you lost everyone, but you’re here and you’re alive because of it and –”

He stutters to a stop for a moment and Castiel can feel him take a deep breath. “If you’d gone in to try and save them, you wouldn’t be here now. I would never have met you and I gotta tell you something - that would suck. A lot. I don’t wanna think about what it would be like if we’d never met, okay?”

How can Dean be so sure of this? How does he know that if Castiel had gone back, he wouldn’t have been fast enough to warn them in time? How does Dean not see that he’s a horrible bat and he doesn’t deserve to be close to anyone again? What if it’s true and Castiel isn’t able to love anyone again? What if he turns his back on them like he did his family?

Dean’s so sure about everything. He honestly believes that his family is still alive, and that they didn’t leave him behind on purpose. He’s convinced that they’re missing him and that he needs to return to them. If he could, Dean would probably follow them forever.

Where does his confidence – his devotion – come from? It’s something that Castiel feels he’s been lacking for a very long time. This blind faith Dean has is admirable, if not a little enviable. It’s one of the things Castiel likes about him most.


 

Oh no. Oh no, no, no, no, no. Holy shit. This is bad. This is really bad. Cas’s colony – his whole family – was killed by tall-walkers and their poisons. Dean already knows that tall-walkers are humans, which means the flying-machine was a plane and the poison cloud was probably pesticides. This is bad and Dean has this horrible sinking feeling that it’s going to cause so many problems later.

But later is later and that means he can focus on other things at the moment. Right now Cas is crying. He’s always been so sad since Dean met him, but he’s never seen Cas cry. This is scary and it’s digging into Dean’s chest. He hates it. No matter how hard he holds him, he’s pretty sure he’s not going to be able to make Cas stop. But he can comfort him in the same ways that Mom has done for him before.

Dean gathers Cas against his chest and nuzzles his nose into his hair. He rubs his thumbs through it too, grooming him until the soft sniffling finally stops. What is he supposed to say to help him? Cas doesn’t look like he’s expecting anything from him, but Dean wants to do something more than this. He wants to say something, but he doesn’t know what to say and maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s okay to just touch and hold and wait.

Finally, Cas calms down enough that he’s not shaking under Dean’s wings. When he lifts his head, his eyes and nose are red, but he looks grateful. He looks relieved. Dean gives him a small smile back, and he’s right behind Cas when they take to the air again.

Is it terrible of him to want to be Cas’s new family? He wants to asks Cas to stay with him and his family when they find them. That’s a question he can’t ask before then. Cas needs to meet his family first. He won’t be able to make the decision to stay until then anyways. And there’s a hollow pit in Dean’s stomach full of fear that Cas is going to turn tail and leave the moment he sees them.

This requires precision and careful planning.

The planning starts with stories. Over the next few days, Dean talks. He tells Cas about how warm Mom is and that no matter how big Dean gets, she’s happy to let him fall asleep on her. Dad’s the same. He’s fine with carrying Dean around too when he’s tired, but he can tell when Dean is just being lazy and won’t let him do it. And Sam is the greatest to play games with – especially with playing tag. It’s hilarious because Sam is slow and clumsy. He may be bigger than Dean, but he’s never been able to catch him.

Cas listens with the ghost of a smile and his ears pricked forward.

Dean makes sure to go on as much as verbally possible about the food. That’s a surefire way to catch Cas’s attention. All year round there are bugs for Dean to eat – so many that sometimes he doesn’t even have to hunt for them. Sure, that’s not what Cas wants to hear, but he’s definitely paying attention whenever Dean strategically mentions always seeing a variety of fresh fruit around. That little show of interest Cas has gives Dean hope – a fragile little bubble that he protects inside his ribs.

“And my roost, Cas!” He flips a loop around him excitedly. “It’s the greatest! It’s all mine and it’s big and cozy – so warm! I never have to hibernate.” Cas always looks doubtful when he says that, but Dean shrugs it off. If he can get Cas to come home with him, he’ll understand. “Have you ever seen snow?”

“No.”

“It’s amazing. I bet you’d love it.” Dean grins at the memories of playing with Sam. All the times that he’s knocked snow off branches onto him and all the things they’ve made with it. “You can do so much! And you won’t be too cold or freeze to death or anything as long as you’re careful and don’t stay outside for too long.”

Cas nods his head and gives him that little smile again. “Eyes forward, Dean.”

He quickly banks to the side, rolling around the trunk of a tree with bare inches to spare. Whenever Dean starts talking enthusiastically, he keeps forgetting to pay attention to where he’s going. Cas is the one who keeps them on course next to the road and makes sure Dean doesn’t accidentally fly into any trees. Once was more than enough for his liking. But Cas always has that small smile whenever he gives him a warning. It’s tiny, and fond, and Dean’s thoughts stutter whenever he catches sight of it. His heart does this funny little thing where it buzzes like a honeybee in his chest while his stomach flutters like when he freefalls.

Dean doesn’t know what to name that feeling, but he likes to think that it’s related to hope.

When (and it’s going to be a when, not an if) they find his family, he hopes Cas’s answer is a yes – yes, he’ll stay with Dean. Thinking about that makes his heart do that thing again even though he’s firmly focused on thinking about his family. He’s trying to stay positive and remind himself that he will find them – even if Cas doesn’t look as sure.

*

With every campsite that they pass over, Dean’s spirits keep getting lower. He hasn’t caught even so much as a whiff of his family anywhere near them every time they stop. Dean knows for a fact that his family will only stop at human campsites and when they’re not there, it feels like a small piece of him withers up and falls away. Cas doesn’t really understand why his family does what they do, but Dean can’t really explain it with words. That’s something that Cas needs to see for himself.

But at this rate, they might end up going all the way home before they find his family. If that’s what ends up happening, Dean hopes that he’ll be able to recognize the right city. His home is on the edge of a big human city and he’s seen it from the sky plenty of times. But all the human cities look the same to him. It’s entirely possible that he’s going to fly right past it. They’ve already passed a whole bunch of them and smaller communities, but none of them felt right.

What if none of them ever feel right? Or what if they’re on the wrong route? Mom is spontaneous enough for a route change to happen. She could convince Dad to do it if she really wanted. And if Dean’s missed them, he might never get home.

It’s an upsetting circle of thoughts that makes it hard for him to talk about how great his family is. Which is kind of detrimental to his whole plan to get Cas to love his family before they find them. That’s what Dean thought at first, but whenever he starts getting too quiet, Cas gives him a little boost to his hope-bubble. He swoops in close and goads Dean into a game of tag, or he’ll actually start asking questions about his family.

Cas’s interest is encouraging. It kinda makes Dean think that maybe Cas really is starting to like his family. If that’s what’s happening and it’s not just Cas trying to boost his moods after another failed campsite, then all Dean needs now is for him to meet everyone. There’s zero doubt in his mind that Mom, Dad, and Sammy would absolutely love Cas. And when that happens, maybe Cas will stay.

And if he stays, maybe he’ll let Dean kiss him again.

*

“You’re really going to take the time to bathe now, Cas?” Dean huffs and flexes his fingers, pulling the membrane between them tight. “We should be flying and catching up.”

“I haven’t had a proper bath in weeks, Dean. Rain and tongue baths aren’t sufficient and I can’t take this anymore.” Cas shoves his bag against Dean’s chest and he scrambles to hold it together before anything falls out. “Be happy I’m going to be using the gathered dew on the leaves instead of insisting that we find a creek where you can be lookout.”

He sticks his tongue out at the back of Cas’s head as he turns away and drops from the branch, flipping to land on the one beneath them. Dean watches him right up until Cas pulls off his little leafy loincloth. His cheeks burn and he whips around to face the other direction so fast that his claws nearly lose their grip on the bark. Duh, of course Cas would give himself a wipe-down-shower-bath naked. That’s the logical thing, but it didn’t even clue in and how frikken stupid can he –

“Would you like to bathe too, Dean? A tongue bath will only get you so clean.”

Sweet what’s-her-face-bat-Goddess. Is this really happening? This can’t be happening. Why is this happening to him? Is Cas really that clueless? How was kissing him and point blank saying it to his face that he wants to do it again not enough for Cas to realize that them being naked and slippery together is not a good thing? Well, no, it’s a good thing. It’s a very good thing if the mental pictures in Dean’s head have anything to say about it.

“Dean?”

He shakes his head. “No, no, it’s okay. Nope. I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”

This better not be a regular thing with Cas because Dean might actually go crazy before they ever find his family. He’s been holding off on asking for another kiss since Cas told him about his family. It just didn’t seem like the appropriate thing to do, though he’s really wanted to ask for one pretty much every morning when they go to sleep.

Maybe Cas just forgot about the kiss or that Dean wanted to do it again. He did have that huge emotional breakdown thing, so it’s totally understandable if he forgot after that. Or maybe he thinks that Dean secretly agrees with him about being incapable of love because of what happened to his colony. Oh shit! Is that what Cas thinks? That’s the exact opposite of what Dean wants.

Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, so frikken dumb.

“Cas, how long are you going to take?”

“Not long. I’ll just be another few minutes and then I’ll have to make another cover.”

Dean takes a deep breath and steels himself for what he’s going to stay next. “Yeah, about that. You think maybe next time you could warn me before you get buck naked?” Cas needs to know that the little attraction he started feeling after that kiss is still here and growing.

Cas takes a moment to answer. His voice is pitched softer and he sounds worried. “Did I offend you? I know some bats are more conservative, but I didn’t know you were one. I’m sorry, I didn’t think –”

“No, shit, no, Cas. That’s fine. I’m all for nakedness, trust me.” He shakes his head and squeezes the bag hard enough that he’s probably making jam out of the berries inside. “It’s just you being naked that you should warn me about first.”

“Why?” Now he just sounds confused.

“Because – because –” Why does he have to be the one to explain this? Cas is the one who told him that he should ask first before kissing. Shouldn’t he already know about all this? “Because it’s not helping the whole wanting to kiss you situation, okay?”

Dean gets silence as his answer, but he can hear Cas behind him; the splash of water, the rustle of leaves and the whisper of his wings while he’s moving. He nearly jumps out of his skin and falls from the branch when Cas reaches up and touches his shoulder.

“I’m ready to go.”

When he turns around, Cas’s face is red. Not a little blush or red cheeks from a particularly cold wind, but actually red. It’s dark and almost all the way up to his hairline and he can barely make eye contact as Dean hands the bag over. He can’t help but feel like he fucked something up again between them when they take off and spend the rest of the night in silence.

Except that Cas still folds him in his wings when they bunk down for the day in an abandoned squirrel nest and whispers “Sleep well, Dean.” into his hair.

*

“I don’t like flying during the day.”

That’s the fourth time today that Cas has told him that. “I know, I know.” He glances over his shoulder to make sure that Cas is still following him. “We’re almost there and then we can rest, okay?”

There had been a human sign not long ago when they’d crossed over the road that boasted about another campground being up ahead. Cas had wanted to roost the moment the sun started coming up, but Dean wouldn’t hear of it. They’re so close to this campsite and what if his family is there? What if they leave while he and Cas are sleeping or before they manage to get there after they wake up?

He can’t take that chance.

Another yawn cracks Cas’s jaw and he squints at Dean through a frown. “You’re not going to want to sleep when we get there. You’re going to want to look for them and I’m tired, Dean.”

“I know, I’m sorry. Just a little farther, okay?” It’s a bit dickish of him, but Dean pulls out the wide, hopeful eyes shtick. “You can find a roost for the day while I scout out the area. You don’t have to look with me, okay?”

“Don’t say that.” Cas sighs and gives himself a shake, wobbling in mid-air. “I want to be there when you find them. I just don’t understand how you’re not as exhausted as I am.”

The thing is, Dean is tired. But that sign gave him a burst of adrenaline. A part of him can’t help thinking – or hoping – that this could be it. If his family is here, he could introduce Cas and finally ask him to stay. If Dean had human fingers, he’d cross them while hoping Cas’s answer will be yes.

“You’re the best, Cas.” Dean flaps close enough that he can brush his claws over Cas’s back in a light touch as he passes over him. “You can be the little spoon tonight.”

“I still don’t understand that term no matter how many times you explain it.” He shakes his head but gives Dean a small smile. “How is that a reward for allowing you to keep me awake well past when I should be sleeping?”

“I could kiss you if you’d rather have that.”

Colour creeps into Cas’s cheeks and he looks away. He doesn’t say anything, but Dean considers that progress. He’s thought about that a lot over the last few days and during all that, something occurred to him. Cas never said he didn’t like the one kiss they’ve had. All he did was tell Dean that he shouldn’t do it without asking first. And every time he’s asked since, Cas hasn’t actually said ‘no’.

It’s semantics, but Dean clings to it and lets that boost his little hope-bubble. He won’t do anything unless Cas says he can, so hope is really all he has right now – for a lot of things.

It’s not much longer before they reach the edge of the campground. While Cas sticks to the trees, Dean doesn’t hesitate to swing out into the open air above the first site. With the sun above the forest now, it’s harder for Dean to see. It’s too bright for his eyes and even in the world of details, he still has trouble seeing everything when he has to squint so much. This would be easier if it was just a little earlier – or better yet, if it was early evening.

While he flaps back and forth above the campsites, the early risers of the humans are all puttering around slowly. The ones staying in tents are making their way up the paths to the communal bathrooms. There are a few bulky campers pulled into some sites, but most of those are quiet with maybe one or two people stretching their legs outside.

Dean knows Cas hates it when he’s out in the open like this – especially with humans walking around below – but if he misses seeing them, he stands a better chance of them seeing him out here than if he was hidden between the trees. Of course, his family could totally be sleeping. In which case what he’s doing right now is pretty damn pointless.

“Do you see them?” Cas calls out, hovering just at the edge of the site that Dean is flapping over now. He glances toward Cas and his heart sinks as he shakes his head. Cas’s worried frown turns sad and he tilts his head to gesture over his shoulder. “I saw a hollow we can sleep in.”

This sucks. Dean had really been hoping that this would be where he’d find his family. There’s a bitter taste of sadness on the back of his tongue as he trims his wings and tilts to skim towards Cas. Maybe he’ll feel better this evening after he’s slept and had something to eat. Then they can head out again for another long flight to the next campground, and the next, and the next, and every campground that has ever existed.

Maybe – maybe he should give up. Would Cas be upset to have come this far only for Dean to want to turn back now? He’s not sure how many more disappointments he can take. Dean feels like he’s going to be sick. His stomach keeps twisting and curling in on itself and he can feel the sting of tears behind his eyes. No. He can’t cry again. He can’t. He –

“Dean?”

Dean’s almost to where Cas is waiting. He can see him clearly and his lips aren’t moving. And that’s not Cas’s voice anyways. Someone else is calling his name and Dean’s pretty damn sure he recognizes that voice. It’s a messy thing trying to stop in mid-air. Dean flares his wings, pin-wheeling to stop and turn without banking like he should. That voice. It’s – but how did he miss –?

“Mom! Dad! I think it’s Dean!”

His heart starts pounding fit to burst right out of his chest and Dean’s having trouble breathing, looking every which way because that’s Sam’s voice. That is, without a doubt, his brother’s voice. But where the hell are they?

“Dean, what’s wrong?” Now that is Cas’s voice and it’s all pitched down with worry.

“I heard them!”

“Your family?” Cas perks up, sounding more awake than he has all morning. “Are you sure? I don’t hear anyone. Where are they?”

There! Sammy’s running up the dirt road between the sites, waving his arms above his head. Mom and Dad aren’t far behind him, coming out of one of the sites that Dean had passed over. It had a camper tucked under the trees and Dean didn’t think it looked like theirs. But he’s never seen it from the outside in the full light of the morning. By now he’d be sleeping in his roost inside.

Dean whoops and flies a tight spiral before flapping toward them, already tilting into a dive. “It’s them, Cas, it’s them! We found them!”

He’s too happy to finally see Sam and his stupid floppy hair that Dad hates and Mom loves to remember the one thing he never explicitly told Cas about his family. When Cas’s claws catch him around his shoulders and dig into his skin, the first thought through Dean’s head is confusion – why is Cas stopping him? Cas is muttering a string of ‘no’s as he drags Dean back to the trees and Dean fights him through ever flap.

“Dammit, Cas! Let me go! It’s my family!”

Cas drops them on a thick branch, fumbling to pin Dean to the trunk before he can push his way past to get airborne again. “Don’t be ridiculous, Dean! Those are tall-walkers! You can’t –”

“I know!” Dean shoves at him, but Cas’s wings are bigger and he’s stronger than Dean is. “Cas, I’m a pet. My family is humans. They’ve always been human!”

The struggling stops almost immediately. Cas recoils like he’s been burned and Dean can barely keep up with the emotions that flash across his face – pain, horror, betrayal – before Cas is gone. He throws himself from the branch and dives away into the forest faster than Dean can react. Realization hits him like a punch to the gut and Dean’s stomach seizes.

Cas didn’t know. Dean never, not once, told him that his family were talk-walkers. He should’ve said something after Cas shared his deepest, darkest secret with him – but he didn’t. That betrayed look makes sense and Dean has never been more torn about what to do in his life.

Mom, Dad and Sammy are calling for him and running across the sites, waking up the rest of the campers in the process. He’s missed them so much and he wants to go to them – but Cas. He’s Dean’s best friend now – hell, he’s practically family too.

It’s physically painful for him to turn away from his family and go after Cas, but Dean can’t just let things end like this.

Chapter Text

Tall-walkers. Dean’s family... they’re tall-walkers . The riot of emotions in Castiel’s chest is enough to make breathing nearly impossible as he careens through the branches, barking out sound to see where he’s going with his echoes. His eyes are too full of tears to see anything with them. How could Dean have not told him? Especially  after everything Castiel had explained to him about his colony.

It hurts. His chest hurts so much. This feels like a betrayal that cuts too deep. Any chance that Castiel thought he would have of being asked – or even asking himself – to stay with Dean is just gone . He’s come all this way and now he’s going to have to fly home on his own back to his empty, lonely cave. This was a bad idea. Castiel knew it was. He should have kept his solitude and turned Dean away the moment the storm was over.

But Castiel was stupid. He let himself get close to that little bat. He let himself come to care for Dean and those feelings are what hurts the most right now. They’re squeezing around his heart, forcing him to land on a branch and tuck himself against the trunk, wings wrapped tight around his body as he shudders through his tears.

The worst part of it all is that he wants to go back. He can’t just leave Dean like this. Not with tall-walkers , of all things. But confusion is swirling through the pain. Dean never once said anything bad about his family. His stories were only ever good, and happy. As terrified of the tall-walkers as Castiel is, Dean isn’t. They’ve never done anything to him for that fear to be warranted. They have Dean’s loyalty and his love and Castiel knows, deep in his heart, that Dean would pick his family over coming back with him. Castiel is just his friend – a friend who’s not even sure if he’s capable of loving Dean the way Dean may potentially want him to.

“Cas!”

He goes still, holding his breath when Dean crashes past the tree he’s in, wings ripping leaves from their twigs. Dean twists and circles around another tree, coming to a stop to churn the air with his wings as he looks around. Castiel watches him through parted wings, unsure of whether he should call out to him. He looks confused, and worried, and it pulls at something behind Castiel’s ribs.

What good would calling out to him do? Castiel can’t ask Dean to come with him. He can’t ask him to choose . But Dean is here. He’s not with his family. He’s here . Does that mean he wants to stay with Castiel? No, he’s just being a good friend. A friend who lied to him from the moment they met.

Castiel needs to move. He needs to leave and think and forget. He’ll go back to his cave and be alone again and eventually he’ll forget about the silly little bat that crashed into his home and his life. Though he doubts it will be so easy to forget Dean’s laugh, or his smiles, or the warmth of his body under Castiel’s wings as they slept.

He turns away to take flight, but Dean must see the movement.

“Cas, wait!” Dean nearly trips off the branch when he lands on it, hastily throwing his wings out to cover Castiel before he can move away. “Cas, please, wait. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you they were humans.” He pulls Castiel against his chest and tucks his face against the membrane of Castiel’s wing. “I don’t flaunt that I’m a pet, okay? The animals around my home don’t exactly take kindly to pets, but I thought you knew. I thought it was pretty obvious from everything else about me.” His wings tighten and Castiel realizes, vaguely, that Dean is nearly trembling against him. “But then you went and told me what happened to your colony and I just – I couldn’t tell you after that. I’m sorry, Cas.”

“You could have told me.” Castiel whispers, lowering his wings slowly. “I’m not sure what I would have done, but you should have told me.”

There’s regret in Dean’s eyes when Castiel finally lifts his head to meet them. “I know, Cas, I know. I’m sorry, I really am. I just –” He pauses and glances over his shoulder, back in the direction they had come. “Could you – would you come meet them?”

The bottom of Castiel’s stomach drops out and his heart twists as Dean looks back to him with hope. “They’ve never treated me wrong, I swear . Remember how awesome I told you they were? They –”

He shakes his head, slowly at first then faster before he shoves Dean away. Tall-walkers aren’t awesome. They’re killers . His whole colony – everyone he thought he loved and cared for – they were taken from him by tall-walkers and their poisons. And now they’re taking Dean too. The pain gives way to anger and it surges through Castiel’s chest and throat, curling around his words. “If they’re so awesome , then why did they leave you behind?”

Dean recoils as if Castiel had struck him, his ears twitching low against his head as his mouth moves without words at first. “I – Cas – They – I ‘m sure –” The voices of the tall-walkers come through the trees and Dean glances towards them with longing. “I’m sure they had a good reason, Cas. I –”

“They left you.” Castiel hisses. There is no good reason for leaving family behind. “If they loved you, they wouldn’t have left you.”

His attention snaps back to Castiel and there’s nothing but rage in his eyes now. Dean’s shoulders hunch and his ears flatten in anger. “You mean like you did to your family?”

The words are like a physically blow and Castiel’s next breath catches in his throat. Dean at least realizes what he’s said and he looks just as surprised, his mouth working soundlessly again. 

Castiel feels tears burn behind his eyes and he turns away, spreading his wings and launching himself into the open air in the same movement. He flaps away as quickly as he can and he doesn’t look back.

Dean was the best thing to happen in his life since his colony died. Castiel can admit that to himself. He’s the one bat that Castiel has allowed himself to trust and the only other creature alive who knows what happened to his colony – and Dean never blamed him for it. He denied Castiel’s cowardice and he accepted him despite his self-hatred. No matter how many times Castiel has thought that he should never have let Dean get as close as he did, he hadn’t regretted it until now.

He had thought, if given the time, he might have been able to love Dean – and Dean might have loved him too. If he didn’t already, that is. Every other morning, before they go to sleep, Dean had asked to kiss him again. He made it a point to make sure that Castiel knew that he had liked kissing him the first time. It had been too much of a surprise for Castiel to truly enjoy it, but he has entertained the thought of letting Dean kiss him again and it always made his stomach flip pleasantly.

But the tall-walkers ruined everything. Again . It’s always tall-walkers. Always them. Why did he ever start to think that he could be close to someone – that he could be close to Dean . His family being tall-walkers is a sign. It’s a sign that Castiel was right all along. What he did to his family is unforgivable. He killed his own colony and it was a silly fantasy for him to ever think that maybe he could love someone and be loved in return – that he could have a family again.

He doesn’t deserve it and he never will.

 


How the hell is he capable of fucking up this bad twice in the same hour? It shouldn’t be frikken possible, but here he is, staring at the space where Cas had been and trying to process the exact words he’d said. He just threw Cas’s colony , of all things, in his face and oh shit , how much did he just hurt him? No, this is bad, this is very bad. That’s not what he meant to do!

Dean curls his wings over his head and tries to think. What can he do? What should he do? This isn’t how he wants things to end with Cas. He wants him to come with him. He wants Cas to stay and now he just shit all over that ever happening. Should he go after Cas? Would Cas even want to talk to him now? But he can’t just leave .

“Dean? Dean, where did you go?” There’s a crash of snapping twigs and rustling bushes down below, but Dean barely hears it. “Mom, why is he hiding from us?

He registers the voices of his family and a part of him wants to spiral down to them for the comfort they could give him, but a bigger part of him is tugging his heart after Cas. Dean can’t just fly away from his family again. He’s already made them worry so much and they’re calling for him. But Cas – He hurt Cas. He hurt him.

“Are you sure it was Dean?”

Cas was so nice and good to him and he’s climbed the ranks to Dean’s best friend – next to Sammy, or maybe even better. More than that, Dean just wants Cas to stay. He’s wanted Cas to come with him and his family since maybe before they even left Cas’s cave. And then add in the whole mix of his feelings about kissing Cas and wanting to be kissed by Cas and things are just getting so much more complicated in his head.

“You saw him too, John. Don’t even try to pretend that you didn’t. That was our Dean.”

“He’s never hid from us before, and there was that other bat.”

Dean chews on his bottom lip and leans over the branch to look down at his family. They’re not directly under him, but they’re close. So close. He’s been looking for them for weeks and they’re right there .

“Yeah, I saw it! It’s wings were way bigger than Dean’s.” Sam’s voice pitches higher when he gets worried. “Dad, what if it’s eating him!”

“There aren’t any cannibal bats this far north, Sam.”

“But Dad –”

He can’t do it. He can’t leave Cas like this. Dean drops out of the tree and spreads his wings to pull out of the dive. Dad ducks and swears when Dean skims over their heads to get their attention and let them see that he’s here and he’s okay. Humans don’t understand his language and he’s not capable of the same kind of speech they use, but Dean’s learned theirs. He’s lived his whole life with them and Sam even taught him how to read. Hell, if he wanted, he could write too.

His family understands some of his sounds – like when he’s hungry, or tired, or wants to play. They understand gestures and if they’re having a hard time, he has a chart that he can point to letters to start spelling things out. They’re patient and kind and they take good care of him. Dean’s a part of the family and Cas needs to understand that not all humans are bad – just like how not all bats are good. Cas would understand if Dean could just talk to him without fucking things up again. He’d understand if he would just meet Dean’s family.

“See, I told you it’s Dean!” Sam grabs Mom’s hand and they wave together. “Dean, c’mon!”

Not yet. He can’t go to them just yet. Dean circles above them before ducking away into the trees and circling back. It takes a few repetitions for them to understand that he wants them to follow him.

“I don’t get it.” Dad huffs. “Where is he going?”

“You go back to the camper if you don’t want to follow him.” Mom shoves his shoulder and points back the way they came. “You said he was lost or dead and that we couldn’t wait for him. Well, he’s here now and we’re not leaving him again. Do you understand me, John Winchester?”

Dean wishes that Cas could hear her right now. He wishes Cas could see the way Dad rubs his hands through his hair and looks so unhappy. Dad looks like he regrets that decision and Dean won’t hold it against him. There are more important things to do right now - like follow Cas before he gets too far.

They leave Dad to go back and take care of the camper. Dean flies ahead, calling sound into the trees and listening to the echoes for Cas’s familiar shape. With Mom and Sam following slowly behind him, Dean keeps shouting for Cas and hopes he’s not completely gone already.

“Cas! Cas, please! I’m sorry!” He weaves around a few trees, circling to let Mom and Sam catch up. “I didn’t mean it like that, Cas. I’m sorry!”

But there’s no answer. Dean doesn’t feel Cas’s echoes and he doesn’t hear his voice or his wing-beats. There’s nothing out now except birds and beasts. “Cas, please!” He breaks out into a clearing and circles it. “C’mon, Cas, don’t make me beg! I’m sorry!” It’s hard to keep the panic out of his voice. “Please, Cas, I don’t wanna never see you again!”

Mom and Sam catch up and come into the clearing. They look confused and worried and Dean hates that he’s making them feel like that, but he hates it even more that he hurt Cas. Hurting him was the last thing he ever wanted to do. Dean wanted to make Cas happy. He wanted to make him laugh and smile and he wanted to give him a warm home with a loving family who could make Cas see that he’s not as bad as he keeps thinking he is.

That’s what Dean wanted, and now he has no clue where Cas went. He’s gone and Dean feels it like a hole in his chest. There’s an empty space where Cas used to be. This isn’t how he wanted to say goodbye – not that he ever even wanted that. He was going to ask Cas to stay – with him.

Dean slowly circles to the ground as his calls get quieter and quieter until they stop altogether. When he lands, Mom and Sam are already making their way over to him. He hugs his knees to his chest and hides his face against them. His face feels hot like he’s going to cry and he doesn’t want to do that. Just like he didn’t want to chase Cas off.

Sam reaches him first and Dean lets him scoop him up into his hands. “Dean, what’s wrong?”

He shakes his head and hooks his claws and thumbs into Sam’s shirt, hugging him as best as he’s able. No matter how hard he tries not to cry, the tears still come and he rubs them away against Sam’s chest. He’s happy to be back with his family, and he’s relieved to not have to fly everywhere anymore, but it doesn’t feel like he’s any of those things. All he can feel is this great, big, empty loneliness sitting behind his ribs.

“Shh, baby, it’s okay.” Mom coos softly and rubs a fingertip through his hair and down his back. “You’re home now. We’ve got you.”

She carefully takes him from Sam and Dean curls against the side of her neck, almost hidden by her hair like he used to do when he was a newborn. He sniffles and rest his cheek on her shoulder, staring out through blurry tears at the clearing as Mom turns back toward the campsites. One day, maybe, he’ll explain to them what happened while he was gone. Right now, he just wants to crawl inside his roost and never come out.

They’re almost into the trees when Dean feels the vibration of another’s echoes pass over him. His ears turn into the sound and Dean lifts his head. He knows those echoes. Cas is here. Cas is watching. He had to have heard him too.

Dean struggles his way out from under Mom’s hair and hands. She stops and gives him a curious look as he stands on her shoulder, a thumb hooked into her hair to hold him in place while he pelts the surrounding trees with sound.

“Cas! My family isn’t like the other tall-walkers! They’re nice!” He still doesn’t see him, but Dean knows  he’s there now. “Not all humans are bad! They’ve never hurt me and I promise they won’t ever hurt you! Please, Cas, I don’t want to say goodbye!”

The echoes wash over him again and Dean turns his face into it. Now he knows the direction, but which tree? What did Cas teach him about staying hidden? Right, right. There! He pelts the dense leaves and picks out the shape of a triangular ear. Cas pushes a few leaves out of the way, enough for Dean to see red-rimmed eyes. His stomach drops when he realizes that he made Cas cry .

Mom and Sam call out for him when Dean lifts off from her shoulder. He doesn’t have to worry about them at the moment. Now that they’ve found each other again, he knows they’re not going to leave him. Cas meets Dean on one of the lower branches, but he stays close to the trunk and he barely takes his eyes away from Mom and Sam.

Dean edges close enough that if he reached out, he could touch Cas. “How much did you hear?”

“For someone so small, you’re very loud.” Cas glances back at him and a muscle tics in his jaw before he looks away again. He’s probably mad if he doesn’t already hates Dean by now.

“Yeah, well, I had to make sure you heard me say I’m sorry.”

His wings rustle as he tucks them tighter around himself. “You wanted to say goodbye. Say it and go with your family now.”

“No.” Dean shakes his head and shuffles a little closer. “They’re just like you and me, Cas. They’re good people and I’ve never been treated badly by them. Dad can be tougher than Mom and Sam, but he loves me too.” He reaches out carefully to brush the tip of his wing over Cas’s shoulder, wincing when Cas flinches from the touch. “They could love you too.”

Cas snaps back to him again, eyes wide. He opens his mouth, but nothing comes out – and then the shaking starts again. He hunches his shoulders and folds in on himself like he’s trying to disappear. Dean doesn’t even think before he wraps Cas in his wings and tucks him against his chest.

“Dean?” Mom calls up through the branches of the tree. “Who’s your friend?”

He’ll answer her in a minute. Dean rubs his cheek against Cas’s hair, his nose brushing one of his ears. “Come with me, Cas. Come with us.”

“I can’t – I –” Cas shudders and his breathing goes all ragged, like he’s trying not to cry. “Why do you want me to – Dean, I don’t –”

“I like you.” Dean says it firmly and uses his chin against Cas’s forehead to make him lift his head. “You’re my friend and I don’t want you to be alone anymore. And I sure as hell don’t want to say goodbye.” When he’s got Cas’s eyes on him again, Dean rests their foreheads together. “My family is awesome and they could be your family. I could be your family too.”

Cas swallows thickly and closes his eyes. A few tears slip past his lashes and Dean gently licks them away, pausing to nuzzle his nose against Cas’s cheek, up into his hair, and along the folds of his ears. His thumbs hook in the front of Dean’s overalls, but the trembling doesn’t stop.

“Dean, I don’t deser–”

“Shut up right there, Cas.” Dean hisses, pulling back and narrowing his eyes in a glare. “Don’t say it. Don’t think it. You were young and scared . It was a horrible accident and it’s not your fault.”

“But I –”

He butts his forehead against Cas’s again. “What happened to your family wasn’t your fault. You didn’t let them die. And in case you haven’t noticed, I kinda want you with me, Cas. A lot.”

Cas sniffs and absently rubs his thumbs over the buttons on Dean’s shoulders. His voice is barely more than a whisper when he asks his next question. “Why?”

Dean tilts his head and kisses him on the cheek. Hopefully it doesn’t count the same as a kiss on the lips. The last thing they should have right now is another talk about permission. A cheek should be safe enough for right now. Down below, Mom and Sam make twin noises of surprise before they both giggle.

“So, that’s what he’s been doing.” Mom laughs and Dean looks down to see her grinning up at them. “More than a friend, huh, Dean?”

If he’s lucky, maybe. Cas is still looking at him with wide-eyed surprise, but it’s different than the last time Dean kissed him. There are still tears in the corners of his eyes and Dean carefully wipes them away with the pads of his thumbs. “I’d kiss you proper if you’d let me, Cas.”

“But what if I’m –”

“Not capable of love? Trust me, Cas. After everything you’ve told me and everything I’ve seen of you, you’re capable of it.” He grins and smoothes his thumbs through Cas’s hair. Now it’s time for the big question. The one that he’s been gearing up to ask for weeks. “What do you want to do, Cas? Do you want to go back to your cave, or do you want to say with me?”

Cas pulls him close and tuck his nose against the side of Dean’s neck. His trembling hasn’t stopped, but he’s not crying anymore and that’s a point in Dean’s favour. He feels more than he hears Cas’s whispered answer. “I want to stay with you.”

It shouldn’t be possible to feel like he’s flying when his claws are firmly rooted in the branch of a tree. Dean’s heart is swelling so big he’s almost scared that it’s going to pop right out of his chest. He squeezes Cas as tight as he can and rubs his face everywhere he can reach. When he pulls back, Cas’s nose is scrunched up and his eyes are squeezed tight, but there’s a smile underneath it all and that just makes him even happier.

Too bad it falls away when Dean opens his mouth and asks another question. “Do you want to meet my family?” It’s an important question and it’ll have to happen eventually.

He opens his eyes slowly and tilts his head back to look down at Mom and Sam. “I don’t know…”

“Come down and meet them.” Dean whispers, slowly stepping away and letting Cas out from under the curve of his wings. “They won’t hurt you, I promise. Just – don’t bite, okay? Humans don’t like it when you bite.”

“I’m not a barbarian, Dean.”

“You’ve bitten me .” He can’t help grinning. If he can get Cas to bicker with him like normal, then maybe they’ll get through this alright.

Cas huffs and ruffles his wings. “You bit me first!”

“Yeah, but I’m the youngest between us.” Dean spreads his wings and puffs out his chest like he’s proud of himself. “So I get to act as childish as I want.”

“You’re insufferable.”

But Cas says it with a smile and Dean grins back at him. “Yeah, but you love me.”

There’s no answer from Cas then, but he ducks his head and rubs at his eyes with the bend of his wings, hiding his face in the process. Dean counts this as a victory and throws one of his wings over Cas’s head. “You wouldn’t have come all this way if you weren’t capable of caring, Cas. You wouldn’t keep beating yourself up about your colony every single day if you didn’t love them. I told you, you’ve got more heart than you know.”

He drops away from the branch and circles under it. “C’mon. Mom and Sam want to meet you.”

 


Castiel’s heart is pounding harder than it has in as long as he can remember. He feels like he’s going to be sick as he flutters down next to Dean to land on the gnarled root of the tree. It takes all his willpower not to turn and fly away when the two tall-walkers come closer. Instead, he folds his wings in tightly to his sides to make himself smaller and stands as close to Dean as he is able.

Dean waves his wings at the tall-walkers and bends his knees as he gestures to the ground in front of them. The pair share a look before they kneel. They’re not as terrifying when they’re not towering above him, but Castiel still doesn’t like being this close to them. How is he supposed to live with tall-walkers when he can hardly breathe just being within the reach of their long arms?

“Do they understand us?”

“Nah.” He shakes his head and smiles over his shoulder at Castiel. “I’ve learned to understand their language, but they don’t really understand mine. All my squeaks sound the same to them.” Dean curves his wing around Castiel’s shoulders and urges him forward a few steps. “They’re pretty smart and really nice, okay?”

With another gesture of his wing, Dean gets the tall-walkers to hunch even lower until their faces are level with where he and Dean are standing. The taller one – Mom – holds out her hand. She moves it towards them slowly until Dean’s sharp gesture makes her stop. Castiel bites his lip and gives Dean a look that he hopes he understands. Don’t make me get closer without you.

Dean doesn’t leave Castiel’s side as they shuffle forward on the root. Castiel leans forward to sniff Mom’s fingers. Her general scent isn’t unpleasant and Dean’s smile is worth the courage it’s taking to do this. He murmurs encouragement in Castiel’s ear and rubs his back with the bend of his wing while Castiel sniffs out every scent he can find on Mom’s fingers without actually touching her.

“Is it okay if she pets you?”

Castiel shrugs and looks quickly between Mom and Dean. His chest feels tight and it’s hard to breathe, but Dean is here. He hasn’t stopped touching Castiel since they landed and his gestures seem to be getting across to the tall-walkers that they should move slowly. Any sudden movements and Castiel might very well take off. He can still be with Dean without being near the tall-walkers, right? Maybe. They’ll have to talk about it if he can’t bring himself to like them.

When Mom’s hand moves above him, Castiel ducks and bites back a hiss. He holds himself very still and flattens his ears to his head as she gently runs the tips of her fingers along the top of his head. It’s a light touch and Castiel holds his breath through all of it. Dean’s continues to smile and the petting does feel rather nice – but not as nice as when Dean runs his thumbs through Castiel’s hair. It’s little surprise that he prefers being touched by Dean to being touched by tall-walkers.

Mom asks something with her slow speech and foreign words and Dean shakes his head. “She wanted to know if she could pick you up. You’re probably not ready for that, huh?”

He shakes his head too and presses closer to Dean’s side. “Thank you.”

“Can Sam give it a try?” Dean squeezes Castiel tightly and gives him a hopeful smile. “He’s not gonna touch you unless I give the ‘okay’, so don’t worry about that.”

They repeat the process with Sam and Dean practically glows with pride, enthusiastically hugging Castiel in the process. “See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Castiel shakes his head and watches as Mom and Sam stand up and dust the leaves and dirt from their knees. Dean folds him in both his wings to get his full attention. “Does that mean you’ll come with me?”

The only problem here is the tall-walkers. Castiel doesn’t know for sure if he’ll ever be over his fear of them. His cave and the many baskets inside of it feel completely unappealing to him now. He wants to stay with Dean. That is his one constant in all of this.

“We still have a few months until winter, y’know?” Dean nudges his shoulder. “You’d have months to get used to them before you’ll have to come inside with me. There’s plenty of trees out behind our house where we can find you a temporary roost until then if you don’t like my outdoor roost. And they’ll make sure that you always have fresh fruit – poison free. I promise.”

He doesn’t know what to do. The mix of fear and want in his chest is leaving Castiel altogether confused. Sam and Mom are standing a little ways deeper into the clearing, talking to each other in hushed whispers. Dean was right. They were very nice and respectful of his wishes. After all this time that he’s spent with Dean, he’s almost certain that Dean wouldn’t lead him into anything dangerous. He had his reasons for keeping them a secret, but this is his family and all of Dean’s stories – and there had been a lot of them – were about the good times.

His decision is made when Castiel looks back to him. Dean’s ears are perked forward and his green eyes are bright and hopeful. The sunlight makes it easier to see the freckles scattered across his face and shoulders. Something pulls tight in Castiel’s chest and he leans in without thinking. His thumbs find purchase on Dean’s hips and Castiel kisses him. It’s a soft, barely there touch of their lips before he ducks his head to press his face in the hollow of Dean’s neck.

“I’ll try. If they’ll let me come along, I’ll try.”

*

Castiel refuses to go inside the ‘camper ’, as Dean calls it. He explained on the flight above Mom and Sam back to the campground that it’s what they stay in while they’re travelling. It’s a home on wheels, like the loud machines on the road they followed. Dean can describe it any way he wants, but Castiel knows what it means.

Mom and Sam have accepted him. They said as much when they told Dean it was okay for Castiel to come back to the campground with them. The only obstacle they have is Dad. If Dad says that it’s alright for Castiel to be a part of their family, then it will mean having to travel inside the camper. It means having to be trapped inside it with three tall-walkers and no way to escape. The panic is already starting to build in his chest and Castiel doesn’t even know when they’re going to be leaving.

“That’s a chair.” Dean points out, indicating the object that Dad is sitting on in front of the camper. “They’re pretty great for relaxing. Mom found a chair that’s the perfect size for me from a dollhouse and I sit on it and watch TV with them. You’re gonna love TV, Cas. It’s moving picture stories.”

There’s going to be so many new things to learn if Castiel is allowed to go along with them and if he sticks to his decision to stay with Dean. As it is, he can’t even bring himself to come closer than the very edge of the small clearing where the camper is set up. He stays hanging on one of the lowest branches next to Dean while Mom and Sam call Dad over to meet him.

“Dean has a friend!” Sam gestures up into the tree and Dean whispers the translations into Castiel’s ear.

“Is that where he’s been?” Dad shades his eyes with his hand when he squints up at them. “Damn, that’s a big one. How come Dean ran off again?”

Mom puts her arm around Dad’s shoulder and smiles up at them. “He’s shy. We haven’t gotten the whole story out of Dean yet, but I think the big bat helped him get back to us. And I’m going to wager a guess that Dean wants him to come home with us too.”

Dad looks at her sharply but Dean holds one of his wings out. He keeps it folded closed, but raises his thumb straight in a gesture Castiel has never seen before. When Dad looks up again, Dean nods enthusiastically and folds Castiel in his wings tightly. Without warning, Dean kisses him on the cheek and affectionately rubs his nose into Castiel’s hair.

As nice as that is, Castiel is only confused as to why Dean is choosing now for this display of affection. It’s almost embarrassing and he ducks his head into the fold of his wings to hide the red he can feel creeping into his cheeks. “Dean –”

“Gotta make Dad see that I’m not leaving you behind.” He murmurs, smiling against Castiel’s temple. “If he gets that I care about you, Mom won’t let him split us up.”

“So, you’re saying that Dean’s gay?” Dad’s voice sounds flat and Dean looks up sharply, frowning at the top of Dad’s head. After a moment, he translates what they mean. “I never would’ve thought our Dean would be gay .”

Sam huffs and crosses his arms tightly over his chest, glaring up at his father. “Statistically, bats have the highest rate of homosexuality among mammals. So, what we’re saying is that Dean is still Dean, he just happens to like that boy bat the same way you like Mom.”

“I regret letting you have an internet connection.”

Mom slaps a hand over Dad’s mouth and looks up at them. “Dean, honey, why don’t you go show your friend your roost and everything? Sam and I need to have words with your father.”

Dean looks to Castiel with a curious tilt to his head after he’s finished explaining. “What d’you say, Cas? Wanna see the inside of the camper? I can keep them out while I show you around and we can head back outside before they come in.”

What other options does he have? It’s either explore the tall-walkers’ big home where he will, potentially, be spending who-knows-how-long trapped inside, or stay out here where Dean will translate the conversation and worry over their words. He’s hungry and tired and he’d rather just sleep right now, but Dean is wide awake. Of course he is, he just found his family. For him, Castiel can stay awake a little longer.

When he drops from the branch with Dean to sail toward the camper, Dad ducks and says a word loudly that Castiel has heard Dean say a few times. It’s common for migrating bats to use different terms that Castiel hasn’t heard before, but now he knows for sure where Dean learned it. He’s had Dean explain that it’s an expletive, but he doesn’t see the appeal.

“This is a door.” Dean explains, flapping in place in front of the flat obstruction covering the entrance. “And this handle opens it if you pull it out.” He hooks one foot over the shiny stick attached to the  door and presses the other against the door itself. As he pushes away, the stick moves and there is a distinct click before it swings open.

Dean tumbles away with a laugh and rises back up to where Castiel is waiting for him. “See? Nothing to it. C’mon, let’s go inside!” He ducks ahead through the opening without waiting for an answer.

There are more things inside than Castiel had thought there would be and it stinks of tall-walkers. He wrinkles his nose as he takes in everything he doesn’t have a name for. If he stays, he doesn’t doubt that Dean will try and teach him what everything is during the drive back to what could very well be his new home.

“This way, Cas. My roost is in the back!” Dean circles what must be the main area tightly before following a short passage to the back of the camper.

The passage is almost too short for Castiel’s wingspan and he dives through it before snapping them open on the other side and circling over a wide, flat surface decorated with equally flat, scentless flowers. It takes up the majority of the floor in this new area. In one corner of the room is a tree of rough wood, though it has no bark. Its branches are all uniform in size and length, and they stick out of the main trunk in a spiral to the top. Balanced there is a large, square shaped cave with a small opening in one corner. Dean is standing next to it.

“This is the bedroom. Mom and Dad sleep down there on the bed.” He points to the surface decorated in flat flowers. “We just came through the kitchen and passed a closet and the bathroom. In order, that’s where they cook their food, store their stuff, and do their business. We can use the bathroom too and since we’re so small, Mom says we don’t have to flush between uses so we can conserve water and all that. I’ll show you all that later.”

It’s all nonsense to Castiel, but he nods anyways.

Dean drops to his knees the moment Castiel lands and crawls through the opening. “I figure this is where you’re going to be spending a lot of your time while we’re driving, so I’ll show you it first.”

It’s a tighter fit to get through the opening for Castiel, but he folds his wings in tightly along his sides, keeps low to the floor, and makes it through just fine. Inside is blessedly dark and even if he strains his ears, he can’t hear anything but his own breathing intermingled with Dean’s.

“My one at home is way bigger than this.” Dean explains, his echoes ricocheting around the room. “The one at home has a nest in the corner made out of towels – those are like fluffy strips of cloth that are great for drying things. Sometimes I like to sleep in that instead of hanging. And it’s got more than one place to hang from inside and outside. Come hang from this, let’s see if your giant body will fit.”

Castiel calls out sound into the small space. It’s as big as he expected it to be. At the very top of the room is a branch that goes lengthwise across the ceiling. With some effort, Castiel manages to get up to it without being able to fly. The room is big enough for Dean to flap his wings once, but Castiel can’t even fully spread his own in here. Once he’s hanging, he can feel his hair brushing the floor whenever he moves his head.

It’s warm and dark and everything smells like Dean. Castiel muffles a yawn against the curve of his wing before he prods sound into the corners of the room. There are several little odds and ends that Dean is explaining in rapid succession, but Castiel is hardly paying attention. In here, everything else feels so far off and he’s comfortable.

“You sleepy?” Dean reaches out and pushes his thumb through Castiel’s hair as he shuffles closer. “If you’re tired, you can sleep. You get to be little spoon, remember?”

He couldn’t possibly sleep in here. Not when the tall-walkers could come in and drive away with him at any moment. But he could just rest his eyes for a few minutes. Castiel would happily take a chance to relax and process everything that’s happened in such a short amount of time. He bobs his head in a nod and yawns again, letting Dean pull him against his chest and folds him in his wings.

“Just for a minute.” Castiel mumbles against Dean’s neck. It’s easier to let Dean be the one to hold him when they’re laying on a floor, but he can afford to spend a few minutes resting hunched like this. “Don’t let them in.”

“I won’t.” Dean promises, rubbing his thumbs up and down Castiel’s back in a soothing sweep.

In between closing his eyes and opening them again, Castiel’s thoughts drift into nothingness. It’s easier than dwelling on what his life is going to be like now that he’s left behind everything that he’s known. Those thoughts don’t immediately return to him when he wakes up, but Castiel is surprised to find that he’s alone in the roost.

The loud, slow voices of the tall-walkers sound much closer than they did before and it’s the rhythmic thump of their footfalls that has him suddenly very aware of where he is. Castiel drops to the floor in a graceless heap and crawls to the entrance to peek through it, just in time to see Dean soar around the corner and land on the ledge in front of the roost.

He grins and crouches. “Hey, sleepy head. How you doing?”

“Where did you go?” Castiel doesn’t mean to sound so accusatory, but he didn’t like waking up alone in this place. “The tall-walkers were in here, weren’t they?”

“Cas, you slept all day.” Dean sits where he’s standing and crosses his legs. “The sun just went down a little while ago. And yeah, they came inside. But they had to get their food and use the bathroom and I kept them out of the bedroom. It was the best that I could do.”

Frowning, Castiel carefully crawls through the entrance to sit with him. “Did you sleep at all?”

“After you conked out I went and let them know that you’re not the biggest fan of humans right now and they should give you some space.” He shrugs and gestures to one corner of the ledge and the smallest, roundest, apple Castiel has ever seen resting there. “I went to sleep after I got you something to eat.”

It’s a small gesture of kindness, but heat slides through Castiel’s chest and he graces Dean with a warm smile. His bag of berries is long forgotten back in the forest. Castiel can’t even remember when he removed it, but it’s not necessary any longer. If he can’t find his own food, Dean has assured him that the tall-walkers will provide for him.

“Thank you, Dean.” He pulls the apple over and greedily sinks his teeth into it, only to pull back sharply at the tart splash of juice across his tongue. “Dear Nike, what kind of apple is this?”

“A crabapple?” Dean shrugs and tilts his head, a small frown worrying between his eyebrows. “You don’t like it? They had a whole bag of them in the fridge next to the regular kind, but I couldn’t carry those on my own and since I was keeping the others out of here, I –”

Castiel waves Dean’s rushed explanation to an end. “It’s fine, Dean. I was just surprised. I haven’t had this kind of apple before.”

“Does it taste bad?”

“It’s very tart.” He licks the juice from his lips and looks down at the fruit cradled in his wings. “I’m not sure I can eat this.” But finding his own food might be just the excuse he needs. “Can we go outside? I saw plenty of berry bushes earlier.”

Dean’s bottom lips sticks out slightly and he turns a glare on the crabapple. Castiel puts it aside and opens his wings to him. Without hesitation, Dean crawls into the hug. “Thank you for bringing me something to eat, Dean. I really do appreciate it.”

“Even if you can’t eat it?”

“Even then.” He smiles and tilts his head when Dean rubs his nose along his jaw.

The first gentle kiss under his ear draws Castiel’s thoughts away from food momentarily. Dean presses a series of them to his cheeks and jaw, laying a trail of kisses across his skin until he’s in front of Castiel again. His young eyes are warm, but serious and Castiel’s heart picks up speed behind his ribs. He closes his eyes when Dean leans forward. This kiss is no less gentle than their last, but he isn’t expecting to feel Dean’s tongue lick across his bottom lip.

Immediately Dean pulls back sharply with a laugh and scrubs the edge of his wing over his mouth. “Holy shit . You weren’t kidding about the taste! C’mon, let’s go find you something better to eat.”

*

“They want to leave soon.”

Castiel had figured that out on his own without Dean’s translation of the conversation taking place below them. The moment Dean’s family woke up, they started to pack up the chairs and various things strewn about the campsite. He hadn’t expected them to want to leave this quickly. It’s only been one day since Dean found his family and it’s time for them to leave already? Is he supposed to make his final decision so soon?

“This was the last stop for our migration.” Dean sighs, leaning into Castiel’s side. “By this time tomorrow, we’ll be home.”

“What does Dad say about bringing me along?” He asks, watching Dad fold the chairs and store them in openings he revealed on the side of the camper.

Dad is the biggest opposition and Castiel is torn on what he hopes he will decide. In one wing, he wants to be with Dean. But being with Dean means being with tall-walkers and right there is the other wing. Tall-walkers . Castiel has spent his whole life fearing them and now this little bat he’s known for barely a month wants him to be a family with one.

“Well, Dad is still on the fence because you’re technically a wild animal and wild bats have a bad reputation with that whole rabies thing.” Dean shrugs and shuffles his wings together. “But Mom is convinced that if I like you, then you’ve gotta be okay and you being a fruit bat is the perfect excuse for her to start shopping organic. I’m pretty sure Sam just wants you around coz’ you’re pretty damn big and he’ll be the coolest kid in school.”

Castiel sighs and rubs his thumbs over his face. “I barely understood any of that.”

All Dean does is laugh and shrug again, though he freezes mid-movement. His ears twitch and perk straight up as a slow smile spreads across his lips. “He said ‘yes’!” Dean gives a happy shout and drops from the branch to fly happy loops around his family. “Dad said you can come, Cas!”

The surge of happiness through his chest is dampened by the fear that pinches his ribs. In the same instant, Castiel is ecstatic that he’ll be able to stay with Dean – and he’s terrified of what this means for his future.

 


It’s more than a little worrying that Dean needs to keep everyone out of the camper until Cas is comfortable. And by ‘comfortable ’, Dean means tucked into the darkest corner of his roost and trembling like he’s a cell phone set on indefinite vibrate – he’s played with Sam’s phone before and he knows what those things can do. As soon as he gives the okay to Mom and the others, Dean wings it to the bedroom and crawls inside the roost to check on him.

“You doing okay, Cas?”

At first, all he gets is a muffled; “I’m fine.” from under Cas’s wings, but after a moment, they part and Cas peeks out from between them. “Could you watch the entrance? I’ll feel better if I know they can’t get in and they’re not doing anything shifty.”

Dean snorts and leans down to press a kiss into Cas’s hair. “Don’t worry about them. All they’re doing is packing up the last of the stuff and then we’re going to head out. We should be back home tonight.” He pauses and crouches to look Cas in the eye. “Your window of opportunity to fly the coop is closing fast, Cas. If you don’t want to do this, I’ll understand.”

He’ll understand, but it’s going to hurt like a bitch. They’ve gotten so far and if Cas gets cold feet now, Dean’s pretty sure his heart might just break a little bit. He holds his breath and waits for Cas to do something – say anything.

“I don’t want to be alone anymore.” Cas reaches out and folds Dean in his wings, pulling him down against his chest. “I want to do this. I want to go with you. I’m just going to need time.” He buries his face in the curve of Dean’s shoulder. “Please watch the entrance.”

Like Dean could ever say ‘no’ to that. He sits with his back to one side of the entrance, one leg inside the roost and the other on the balcony. From here, he can see Cas in the corner and he’s got a good view of the bedroom and the hallway leading to the front of the camper. Mom leans around the corner, her eyebrow lifted in question. Dean shakes his head and puts a thumb to his lips. She nods and ducks back out of sight and Dean trusts her to keep the others out of the bedroom.

Dad’s gonna be driving for the whole trip and Sam is probably going to spend the trip in his bed above the front seat. He has headphones and books and stuff to keep him entertained. Dean kind of wants to go hang out with him and catch up, but making sure Cas is okay is his top priority right now. Sam will understand and even if he doesn’t, Dean’ll just kiss Cas in front of him until he does.

When the engine starts, Cas squeaks. It’s the first time Dean’s ever heard Cas make that sound before and he gives up his post to go to him. Cas is breathing hard and fast and shaking like a leaf – almost like he’s on the verge of some kind of panic attack. It doesn’t help any that the whole roost jerks when Dad starts pulling them out of the campsite.

“Hey, Cas, hey.” Dean does his best to wrap Cas in his wings, hoping that if he blocks out the world with himself, it’ll be enough to distract him. “It’s okay. We’re just driving now. Nothing bad is going to happen, I promise. Just breathe.”

Cas doesn’t say anything, but he clings to Dean as tightly as he can, the claws on his thumbs digging in hard enough that they almost hurt. Dean barely even notices them. His attention is on Cas’s breathing and the rapid heartbeat he can feel against his chest.

“We’re going to have so much fun when we get home, Cas.” He whispers into his hair. “I have so many toys we can play with. Little bells and balls on string. I even have a mirror. Have you ever seen yourself in a mirror before?”

“N-no.” He stutters out the answer through he's shaking, but it’s an improvement.

Dean proceeds to list every single toy he owns, asking if Cas has ever seen or heard of anything like it. When he hasn’t, Dean describes it to the best of his ability. When he runs out of those to talk about, he turns to all the fun places around his house. He talks about the tree house Sam and Dad built before Dean became a part of the family and how he and Sam used to camp out in it. Dean talks about his outside roost under the corner of the roof of the house that’s like his own private penthouse; and how he even has his own door above the door into the backyard where he can come and go as he pleases.

Cas calms down eventually and listens with his head on Dean’s chest. Neither one of them gets any sleep for the drive. Dean only leaves when it’s to get some apple slices for Cas to nibble on or to bring back one of his miniature doll cups with water for him. The most interesting part of the whole day is getting Mom to open the closet door and bathroom door to block them off from the bedroom so he can show Cas how to use the bathroom. He never thought he’d have to explain a toilet to someone, but at least it gets Cas to smile.

*

Dean has Cas out the roof window before the camper has even come to a full stop in the driveway. A crank handle is no match for him and he wanted to get Cas out into the fresh air as soon as possible. He makes sure to swoop down in front of the windshield while Cas circles above just to let the family know that they’re outside now.

It’s after midnight and everyone is tired. Dean and Cas especially since they’ve been up longer than everyone. As excited as Dean is to show Cas around, they’re both exhausted. He doesn’t even bother trying to convince Cas to come inside the house. There’s a high chance that Cas won’t go inside until he’s made nice with the family and even then it might be winter that forces him indoors. It’s Dean’s autumn goal to get Cas to love his family just as much as he does.

With Cas at his tail, Dean leads him up and over the house into the backyard. “Better now?” He calls over his shoulder.

Cas sweeps past him and barrel rolls over the edge of the roof. He doesn’t need words to let Dean know he’s happy to be outdoors again. This is Cas’s element and Dean could watch him fly all night – if either of them had the energy for it. He’s already flying blind here; barely able to keep his eyes open as he makes for the birdhouse nailed under the corner of the roof.

The little ledge is big enough for one bat at a time and Cas hovers behind him, waiting for Dean to get the door open. He stumbles through and Cas is right behind him. Dean kicks the door shut and stretches his wings above his head. It’s not as big as his inside roost, but it’s nice and it even has little windows with curtains that Mom sewed for them. He pulls those closed and climbs the pegs in the wall to get to the bar strung across the ceiling.

All his toys and blankets are tucked away inside the house and Dean’s thankful for it. He can feel Cas’s echoes bouncing off him as he probes every corner of the room before he comes up to join him. If there had been toys in here, he might’ve sat down and examined them or something. When Cas swings into place next to him, he stretches his wings to the floor with a sigh before he wraps them around Dean and nuzzles his face into his hair.

“Thank you, Dean.” It’s a whisper in his ear that makes it twitch, but Dean can’t help smiling and shuffling closer.

But there’s something bothering him. It’s been poking into the back of his head the whole drive, but Dean couldn’t bring himself to mention it when Cas was five seconds away from freaking out of his head the whole time. He knows Cas is tired, and Dean’s exhausted too, but his own personal Jiminy Cricket won’t shut up and that’s one bug Dean can’t eat.

“Hey, Cas?” He asks quietly and Cas hums into Dean’s hair. That’s a good enough acknowledgement for him. “I’m sorry about what I said before. I didn’t mean it like that, you know?”

Yawning, Cas pulls back just a little more to squint at him in the dark. “What are you talking about?”

“What I said about you and your family. I didn’t mean it like that.” Dean shrugs and ducks his head. It’s hard to meet Cas’s eyes when they’re talking about such a sensitive topic. “I was going to say that just because you left your family behind, it doesn’t mean that you didn’t love them any less - just like my family didn’t leave me behind because they didn’t love me.” He chances a glance up. “Y’know?”

Cas’s expression hasn’t changed and Dean probes it with sound to make sure. The best he gets is a few twitches of an ear before Cas’s wing tighten and pull him back in tightly. “I know, Dean. Go to sleep now.”

“But -”

“I forgive you, Dean.” His lips brush Dean’s forehead and it’s strangely calming.

He closes his eyes and sinks into Cas’s warm wings and his forgiveness.

*

The sun is setting on the next day when they finally come out of the roost to stretch their wings and find something to eat. For Dean, it’s easier. But Cas is hungry for more than just fruit.

“I want to explore.” He circles around Dean a few times, glancing toward the forest that makes up the far edge of their backyard. “I won’t be long. I just want to see what this area holds. I’ll be back before you’re finished visiting with your family.”

“They’re your family now too, Cas.” Dean laughs, waving him off.

He doesn’t stay inside longer than it takes to let the family know that they’re awake and to use his letter board to spell out Cas’s name. Cas doesn’t know how to spell, but Dean thought about it and he thinks Castiel should be spelt with a C instead of a K. He likes how it turns out when Mom writes it on a piece of paper and sticks it to the fridge with magnets.

“Castiel.” She sounds it out and Dean nods his approval. “I like it.”

Mom laughs when Dean flies to the top of the fridge and leans over the door to cover the last half of Cas’s name with his wing. “Cas? Is that what you call him?” She scratches him behind the ears and Dean all but melts off the fridge and into her hands. “Should I make some clothes for him too? He’s going to get pretty cold when winter comes.”

Dean shrugs and spreads out in her hands, pointing towards the backdoor. He hasn’t talked to Cas about anything that the family could do for him yet. Chances are, Cas is going to say ‘no’ to the clothes until he absolutely can’t anymore. And Dean’s not really sure that he wants Cas to wear clothes either. Cas looks good just the way he is and it would probably be weird to see him in clothing.

When Mom lets him loose in the backyard, Dean circles up until he’s as high as the house is tall. Sam is sitting in one of the chairs on the deck, his feet kicked up on the edge of their fire pit. There’s nothing going in it, but he’s watching Dean and waves. Dean does a flip just for him before he dives toward the forest. There’s food and Cas to be found.

Cas finds him first, dropping on him from out of a tree. “You should watch your back, Dean. I could have been an owl.”

“Doubt it.” Dean laughs and goes limp so Cas has to take his weight. Either he’s going to let him go, or he’ll carry him to the nearest tree. “Did you find something to eat?”

“I did.” He drops Dean on a branch and lands next to him. “There are several berry bushes around and if the family will feed me through the winter months, I believe I’ll be just fine.”

Well, that’s good. Dean straddles the branch and faces Cas as he copies him. Now there’s just everything else that they need to talk about and hopefully, in the end, everything will work out fine.


So far, Castiel likes it here. Despite his predilection to assume the worse of tall-walkers, Dean’s family has been nothing but kind to him. Certainly he has his favourites among them, but they’ve been very accepting of him. More so than he would have expected from strangers, let alone from tall-walkers.

Mom has been especially kind and patient with him. She doesn’t mind that Castiel likes to hang from the slats of wood that Dean called a ‘fence ’ and watch her in the garden. He doesn’t understand what she’s doing, but she seems to be enjoying herself and her yellow hair looks nice in the weakening evening sun. She always takes a moment to sit back on her heels and look around at the yard, at Dean and Sam playing or at Dad using the loud machine that shortens the grass. And always, always, she smiles at Castiel.

“Why don’t you help her?” Dean swings into place next to him one evening, jostling Castiel nearly right off his roost. “It’s a big job pulling weeds, and she doesn’t always get the root. You could help her dig them out.”

“That would require being on the ground and closer to her.” The idea makes him slightly queasy. He’s never liked being on the ground, even if necessary to drink from streams. And his comfort levels with tall-walkers still wavers.

“It’ll make her day.” He twists around to look at Castiel with wide, pleading eyes. “And mine.” Dean leans in closer and Castiel automatically turns his head, ready for the kiss he doesn’t doubt Dean is about to give. Their return to his home has only increased Dean’s tactile nature with him. “Please, Cas? Just give it a shot? Mom won’t mind if it’s too much for you and you end up taking off again.”

Castiel sighs and shakes out his wings, flexing his fingers to pull the membrane tight between them. “Fine. But don’t go far.”

“I’ll be right here.” Dean’s grin is wide and he wraps his wings tightly around himself, getting comfortable as Castiel drops from the fence to glide down into the dirt near Mom.

She looks up in surprise, but her smile doesn’t change. Mom doesn’t even look to Dean for confirmation, simply turning back to what she’s doing though Castiel knows she’s watching him. His heart is pounding a sharp, painful rhythm behind his ribs, but the yard has been safe before and Dean is certain that nothing bad will happen.

Carefully, he inches forward and gestures with one of his wings at a collection of leaves that he recognizes as one of the plants Mom has been pulling. At her nod, he drops to his knees and quickly starts to dig into the dirt around the base of the plant, scrabbling at it with his thumbs and using the fold of his wing to scoop it out of the way.

His heart nearly stops when Mom reaches over. She stops when he freezes and looks at her sharply, ears dropping flat against his head. Slowly, she lowers her hand and inches it closer along the ground as if she’s just as wary as he is. The coverings she wears over her hands smell like the earth and she doesn’t move as Castiel backs away. Only when he nods does she pull the plant free from the dirt and add it to the bag next to her.

“Good job, Cas!” Dean calls from above, taking off to soar to where Sam is waiting for him.

Maybe this is something that he can do. The first weed wasn’t so bad and Mom seems to be respecting his limits. Castiel turns to her and tilts his head, waiting for her to show him where to go next. She looks at him for a moment before smiling and gesturing to another. He nods and gets to work again.

*

Dean thinks he’s sly, but Castiel saw through his reward system weeks ago. Whenever he has a particularly good day with the family - meaning he was interacting with everyone, including Dad - Dean rewards him with a kiss. Or several, to be exact. He is especially affectionate whenever Castiel plays with Sam and it’s all the more incentive for him to spread his wings and chase them both from one side of the yard to the other.

He uses hugs to reward the family too, encouraging them to spend more time outside than they likely usually do. Castiel noticed this after they had been home for a while and he hasn’t seen any of their neighbours eating outside as often as Dean’s family does.

“It’s because of you, duh.” Dean explains one morning as he rearranges one of their towels to fit more comfortably in their nest before they sleep for the day. “They’re making an effort to get to know you better.”

“Why?”

“You’re family now, Cas. They want you to feel welcome the same as I do. Since you won’t come inside yet, they figure they’ll come out here until you’re used to them and willing to go into the house.” He turns a wide smile to Castiel that flashes silver in his mind’s eye, painted by his echoes. “Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with them.”

Castiel tilts his head and tries to ignore the way his heart starts beating just a little harder. “Why?”

Dean just laughs and tugs Castiel down into their nest. “You’ll figure it out some day.”

*

As much as he dislikes the content of Dean’s meals, Castiel greatly enjoys watching him swoop through the trees to catch bugs. He’s an excellent flyer and has adapted his flight to include running along branches or ricocheting off them. It’s truly impressive to watch and Dean’s enthusiasm is contagious. Castiel can’t help being enraptured by the simple joy Dean is able to take from the hunt.

Sometimes, watching Dean be carefree and happy - both in the forest and with his family - gives Castiel a sense of peace. It warms him to his core, like the sun heats his wings in the moments after it rises. Once in a while, when watching Dean in those moments, Castiel thinks that maybe it’s possible that he could love Dean some day.

That ‘some day’ comes sooner than he thinks and at the most oddest of times. Castiel is nestled comfortably on a branch with an apple Mom gave him cradled in his lap. The trees are echoing with Dean’s laughter as he catches and misses bugs during his hunt, twisting and spiralling through the air to keep up the chase. Listening to that laugh sends something exciting and terrifying tripping through Castiel’s chest and he realizes, quite suddenly, that he does love Dean.

He hadn’t thought himself capable, but the more he thinks about it over the coming days, the more he realizes that he is, and he does. For one, Castiel laughs more, and he smiles more often than not - especially with Dean around. Dean seems very fond of Castiel’s smiles, and he especially seems to like kissing them. Castiel shares his affinity for it, enjoying the little things about it - like how Dean’s eyes light up and his nose crinkles when his smile gets too wide, or the little laughs he makes in the back of his throat when Castiel nuzzles certain spots on his neck.

This new revelation of his emotions colours the world just a little differently now. It’s not just the world that changes, though. It’s Castiel too. He feels… lighter. Since the day Dean asked him to stay, Castiel’s wings had been weighed down with a sense of doubt regarding his ability to return Dean’s feelings. It felt like he was taking advantage of Dean’s kindness and his feelings just because he didn’t want to be alone anymore. Now? Now he feels lighter. Now he feels free.

This is where he belongs. Castiel could happily live out the rest of his life right here with Dean because every time that he looks at him, one thought rings through his head louder than the rest. I love him too.

 


The only downer for Dean is that nearly two months after coming here, Cas still hasn’t gone inside the main house. Dean spends every day sleeping in the outside roost with Cas and they’ve lined it with extra towels that Mom brought out for them. He’s a little worried at this point that Cas might be thinking that they’ll be able to spend all winter in the outside roost.

Cas has a steady source of water from the creek in the forest, plus Mom bought the kind of water bottle that usually attaches to the side of a rodent cage. She leaves it on a stand on a table next to the back door and Cas and Dean fill their cups from it whenever they’re thirsty or rinsing their mouths out as part of their waking up and bedtime rituals.

On one particularly chilly autumn night, after their good evening kisses and before they head off to get their respective meals, Dean resolves to get Cas into the house tonight. He catches his dinner as fast as he can and waits for Cas on the roof above their roost. When Cas lands next to him, he’s got that look in his eye like he already knows what’s up.

“What would you like to do tonight, Dean?”

It’s hard not to twiddle his thumbs and look ridiculously guilty right now. “I was kind of hoping that maybe I could show you inside tonight?”

Cas’s ears twitch forward and all he does is tilt his head and squint at Dean. It’s a look that never fails to send a shiver down Dean’s spine and he can never tell if that’s good or bad. He swallows and gestures to his private door in the wall of the house. “It’s got a ledge inside just like it does outside and we don’t have to go in any farther than that. We could sit on it and you could just look and see what’s inside?”

“I’ve seen what’s inside. There are many windows on this house.”

“Is that a ‘no’?”

“I didn’t say that.” Cas smiles and falls backward off the roof. He soars back up into sight in a moment. “If that is what you want to do tonight, then we can take a look. I’ll have to go inside soon anyways if the weather continues getting any colder.”

If it didn’t mean falling to their deaths, Dean would tackle Cas in the air and kiss him until he can’t breathe. He chooses the much safer option of leading the way to the door and showing Cas inside. They sit on the ledge above the kitchen door for a while in silence, letting Cas soak in the sights and sounds and smells of the house.

From the ledge they can see the whole kitchen, the table where the family usually eats their meals, and part of the living room – including the TV and the football game playing. Dean points out the door to the basement and the door to the pantry and any question that Cas asks, he answers. There aren’t a whole lot of them. During Cas’s first week here, Dean had pointed out a lot of things from the windows.

Sam is the only one in the kitchen right now. All his homework is spread out on the table and he’s making himself a snack, head bobbing to the music playing in his headphones. Mom and Dad are in the living room, watching the game. That’s where his inside roost is. A whole corner of the living room is devoted to it and Dean kind of misses it. He’s only been in and out of it to get the toys that he brought outside for Cas to play with too.

“I think I would like to see your roost.”

Dean does a double take. “What?”

“You’re staring at your roost.” Cas tilts his head toward the living room. “It intrigues me. If you’re up for it, I think that I would like a tour of it tonight.”

He pecks Cas on the cheek before leading that way. For the hell of it, Dean takes the long way around, cutting through the living room from the hall so that he and Cas have to fly over the couch. It always surprises Dad whenever Cas flies by and Dean will never stop finding it hilarious. This time, he almost spills the beer in his hand.

“Goddammit! He did that on purpose!” Dad shakes his fist at him while Dean laughs the rest of the way across the living room to hang from the ladder stretched horizontally above his roost. Cas lands on all fours below him on the ledge that circles the whole thing from wall to wall. Dad points a threatening finger at them both. “No hanky-panky while we’re watching the game, Dean!”

Huh, now that’s a thought. Dean files it away in the back of his head for later and gestures at the opening in the front of the roost. It’s bigger than his travel one, so Cas doesn’t have to completely crawl through it this time, but it is covered with a cloth on the inside. He drops down to follow him.

“This is much bigger than the outside roost.” Cas whistles and his echoes bounce around the room. “It’s also much warmer.” He turns to Dean with a smile that’s painted in silver inside his head. “I like it.”

Dean waits by the door while Cas pokes around in the corners, picking up forgotten bouncy balls and the little odds and ends that Dean’s collected over the years. He eventually works his way over to the nest of towels stuck in an old shoebox and tucked against one wall of the roost. Cas could basically use it for a couch if he wanted to. It's perfect size for Dean to curl up in, but it's just this side of too small for the both of them – unless Cas doesn't mind that Dean would basically have to sleep directly on top of him in it. Actually, Dean's pretty sure that Cas wouldn't mind that at all .

Cas crawls into the nest and starts pushing the towels around. He's messing up the way that Dean had it perfectly before. Dean would say something, but there's no point. Cas is going to do what he wants to do and Dean doesn't have a damn say in anything. Plus, it was set up for Dean to be comfortable. With two of them in there (hopefully), things are going to have to change.

“This will be satisfactory.”

Dean raises his eyebrow and walks over to take a look. “Got them set up just the way you like them?”

“Yes.” Cas nods and sits in the nest, his long legs taking up most of the room. “I think I would like to try sleeping here in the morning.”

Well that's just awesome. Pride and happiness whip through Dean and he climbs into the nest to show it. He straddles Cas's lap and wraps him in his wings to rain kisses all across his face. Cas smiles into it and rubs circles on Dean's hips with his thumbs, waiting it out until Dean finishes by kissing him full on the lips. The kisses take a turn there and Dean presses closer, deepening it with a swipe of his tongue across Cas's bottom lip.

He always tastes sweet – like the fruit he eats. Dean doesn't want to think about how he tastes to Cas. It can't be that bad if Cas hasn't complained about it or anything. And they've kissed enough for Cas to have made up an opinion about it by now. When they kiss, Dean always has a goal. He doesn't stop until Cas makes a noise – either one that shows he wants it over, or one that's just this side of desperate. Cas makes that sound today, his thumbs digging into Dean's thighs as he gasps around a gentle nip to his bottom lip.

See, Dean hadn't been thinking about doing anything different with Cas tonight. Not until Dad went and said something about it. He hasn't been thinking much of anything about all of that to be honest. They've been taking it slow and he's cool with that. Hell, the only reason they've seen each other naked is because Cas doesn't care about nudity and sometimes Dean doesn't like sleeping in the clothing that Mom buys or makes for him.

It's not like either of them has done anything like this before and Dean's honestly not even sure if Cas wants to do more. Judging by the way he kisses back some days, Dean likes to think that he does. Maybe Cas wants to save it for their first mating season together? Or maybe he just doesn't know how to make the first move? Dean doesn't know, but he can sure as heck find out.

“I like seeing you in my nest, Cas.” He murmurs, moving his kisses away from Cas's mouth and following the line of his jaw until he can find the rapid pulse beating in his neck.

Cas shivers under him and tilts his head back. “Our nest, Dean.”

That sends warmth and happiness tripping through Dean again and he draws a giggle out of Cas by nibbling at the curve of his neck where it meets his shoulder. Cas squirms when the kisses move back up his throat and he makes the noise Dean loves to hear as he sucks lightly at his pulse point. He moves his thumbs and the curve of his wings to rub lightly over Cas's shoulders and down his sides to his sharp hips and the braided grass that keeps his leaf in place.

Dean grins against his skin and tugs lightly at the grass. “Y'know, I like that I haven't been able to convince you to try any of the clothes Mom made for you.” Cas hums and rubs his thumbs through Dean's hair as an answer. “Can I try something, Cas?”

“Hmm?” His hum turns into a soft sound of surprise as Dean drags the tips of his claws over Cas's hips.

“Can I touch you?” He asks, dropping his voice to a whisper.

Cas's smile can be heard in his voice. “You're touching me now, Dean.”

Groaning, Dean drops his forehead to Cas's clavicle. “C-a-a-a-s.”

That's not what he meant and Cas knows it. He's just being a little shit right now and exercising his developing sense of humour. It's Dean's punishment for starting to teach the bastard how to understand the language of the humans. Cas is a quick study and he's been figuring it out just from Dean's translations.

“Sit back.” Cas pushes at Dean's shoulders until he's sitting more over his knees then he is his lap.

Dean's breath catches in his throat as Cas hooks his thumbs into the front of his leaf and all but tears it in half. He's already getting hard under it, and it only takes a little wiggling to get the braid of grass that goes from the bottom of the leaf back between his legs out of the way too. Cas pulls him back in for a kiss when he helps undo the buttons at Dean's shoulders that keep his overalls in place. To get those off completely, Dean needs to stand up and he takes this moment to go make sure the cloth is covering the entrance. Mom and Dad don't need to see or hear what's going to happen next.

He loses the overalls on the walk back to the nest. If the sight of Cas sitting naked and waiting for him isn't enough to get Dean hard, then the kisses that follow when he makes himself comfortable between Cas's legs is more than capable. Especially when Cas smoothes his thumbs and wings over Dean's chest in a gentle, curious, almost exploratory touch before he pulls him back into a heated kiss.

It's hard not to rub himself against Cas while they're kissing. Dean could, technically. Cas isn't stopping him and his hips keep twitching like that's what he's looking for. Maybe later. Right now, Dean wants to try something he's seen a few times on the TV channel that Mom and Dad try to hide from Sam – for what little good it does them. Sam totally knows about it and Dean might be the one to blame for that. Serves them right for teaching him how to use the remote control.

Cas gives him a curious frown when Dean starts sliding down. He shuffles back on his knees as he presses kisses all along Cas's chest, stopping long enough to lick lightly at his nipples. The people in the shows always seem to like that. Seems like Cas isn't much different. He sucks in a gasp of surprise and his whole body jerks slightly. It's encouragement enough for Dean to stick around there, even rubbing them with his thumbs until Cas's breath is coming quick above him.

He stops breathing altogether as the kisses move to his stomach and across his hips. When Dean makes it clear what his intent is, Cas's whole face goes bright red and he covers it with the curves of both wings. Dean waits for Cas to tell him 'no ' or to stop, or something, but Cas just peeks at him through his wings and nods his approval to continue. Dean smiles and presses a tender kiss to his hip before he guides Cas's legs over his shoulders and pulls back to take a good look at what Cas is packing.

His dick looks different hard than it did when it was soft, like it’s been every other time that Dean's seen it. Right now it's flushed and leaking against Cas's stomach. He twitches and muffles a sound when Dean touches it gently, rubbing his thumb from base to tip and smearing the clear liquid beading at the top. Dean wastes no time with leaning in to lick it away, pleased that it doesn't taste bad. That would've made the rest of this really difficult.

The noises that Cas makes now are new and interesting. They're breathy little gasps that echo through the roost and tingle straight down to the base of Dean's tail as he fits his mouth around the tip and gives a light suck. He takes his time licking everything he can reach and rubbing his thumbs around the base and Cas's balls, trying to figure out everything that makes Cas feel good. When Cas starts making tight little whimpers, Dean figures it's about time to get to the main event.

It's a lot more difficult than it looked in the show. For one thing, Dean can't take nearly as much of Cas's dick in his mouth as the humans did. He tries, dear God does he try, but it hurts his jaw and he nearly gags when the head goes too far back. Alright. So that's something they'll have to practice. At least Cas doesn't seem to mind. In fact, he seems to think it's the greatest thing ever judging by the cry he muffles with his wings when Dean gives bobbing his head a go. That seems like it might be a good idea and he’s not disappointed.

In moments, Cas's thumbs are digging into Dean's hair and there's a splash of hot liquid on his tongue that nearly gags him. Dean uses his thumbs to stroke Cas through it, sucking him clean since it feels like the only thing to do - otherwise they’re just going to make a big mess. By the time he's done, Cas looks exhausted. His legs slip off Dean's shoulders, falling as wide open as the nest will allow. He sags back into the towels and there's sweat in his hair while he struggles to get his breath back. It's a hell of a sight and only serves to remind Dean that he's still hard and standing proud between his own legs.

Leaning in, Dean kisses the blush on Cas's cheeks. “Was that good? Did you like that?”

Cas grabs his face between his wings and kisses him hard. “Yes, Dean, I did.” He folds his wings around Dean's back and pulls him tight against his chest. “Do you want me to – I could try the same for you?”

“You don't have to. I mean, maybe another time? There's something else I want to try.”

Dean kisses Cas once more and shuffles around under Cas's wings until he's straddling one of his legs. It's nice to get to kiss Cas while he rubs his erection against his thigh. His kisses are addicting. Sweet and dangerous and Dean could lose himself to those lips if he isn't careful. Cas kisses him in all the ways that he's learned that Dean likes. He flicks his tongue across the roof of his mouth and Dean's hips twitch hard against Cas's thigh.

It doesn't take very long for Dean to come like that, wrapped in Cas's wings, heat, and scent. It blindsides him, like a sucker punch to the gut, and Cas swallows his moans. Cas strokes his thumbs all up and down Dean's back until he's finished and slumps against him, mess be damned. He hums into Cas's shoulder and relaxes, letting the tingling feeling of physical joy seep to all his corners.

After a while, and Dean doesn't know how long it is, he lifts his head to rub his nose against Cas's neck. “It's almost winter, y'know.”

Cas is silent for a minute before he sighs. “I know.”

Dean lifts his head more, enough to see Cas's face in the dark with both his eyes and his echoes. “You're not going to leave, are you?”

“No, Dean.” He smiles and pulls Dean down until their noses brush and their foreheads rest together. “I'm staying. There's too much here for me to want to leave now.”

His heart feels like it's soaring, his chest suddenly open like the sky. Dean grins and rubs his nose against Cas's lightly. “Yeah? Like what?”

Cas only hums in answer and smoothes his thumbs through Dean's hair. Eventually, he presses a light kiss to Dean's lips. “I should thank you.”

“For what?” Dean leans into the touch and sinks back down to rest his cheek against Cas's shoulder.

“For proving me wrong.” He tilts his head to nuzzle Dean's cheek, pressing light kisses wherever he can reach. “And giving me a family again.”

END