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The Things That Make Us Cold

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It would have been easier if they were married, Dean decides. The kids have a frame of reference for that -- hell, half their friend's parents are divorced. But this was different. This was just their family falling apart, without any specific way to define it.

With another glance at his caller ID, Dean sighs and opens the call. “Yeah?”

“I was wondering if you would be interested in dinner tonight,” Castiel says – without preamble, without any appreciation for how fucked up their situation is. “I thought it would be nice to have dinner as a family.”

“We're not a family,” Dean says, trying to keep his emotions even. He's too far into middle-aged to fly off the handle every time they talk, though he's having the damnedest time keeping himself together. “You made your choice.”

The silence stretches too long, accompanied by an occasional odd bought of static. Finally Castiel speaks. "They're still my children, Dean. I'm worried. Michael seems fine," he says, his voice gruff and quiet, "but Danielle would not speak to me last week. And Elijah seems indifferent."

Dean rolls his eyes. "Elijah's five -- what do you expect, a mature dialogue? And Michael isn't fine," he adds, looking away to the bookcase on the far wall. "He's trying really hard to be the mature big brother."

"You would know," Castiel cedes. "I'm sorry, I should have been paying closer attention."

"It's because you're forgetting what it's like to be human," Dean snaps. "You don't even know how to relate to your family."

"You're right. I've already told you that. I don't know what else you want me to say."

Dean is pacing the length of the living room, well aware that he's losing the cool he swore to maintain. "I want you to care that I'm right! I want you to remember that you have human children, that I'm human -- that these things used to matter to you."

“Have you been drinking?” There's a hint of concern in Castiel's voice, but it feels more like an evasion.

"I did not start drinking again!" Dean almost throws a pillow. "I have a beer, once in a while while the kids are at school, to take the edge off of how god-damned bored I am!" There's this awkward moment of silence; when Castiel speaks again he sounds genuinely angry.

"Three children and a home isn't interesting enough?"

"Not when I'm alone most of the time."

And there they are again -- neither willing to budge. Dean hangs up wishing that he'd never answered the phone at all.

***

Michael was Dean's before Castiel returned. It was after that business with the souls. Something had happened. It was all that typical angel nonsense, bright lights and broken memories. Nearly twenty years, and no one remembers. But Castiel was gone and Dean was shattered. He was pissed and he was scared and he was lonely and he couldn't shake the sense of I made it so much worse.

That Dean had found out about the kid at all was nothing short of a miracle. Shelly had called him up in tears, freaking out, about eight months after he and Sam had blown out of town. The family set to adopt his kid -- his kid -- had backed out and she didn't know what to do.

Dean had high-tailed it back to Steven's Point and spent the last month with Shelly, sleeping on her couch and listening to her cry about how grateful she was that he wanted their child, and how he ruined her life plan. Not that Dean faulted her for being angry.

Shelly had given birth, named the kid Michael (Dean didn't want to deny her that last thing, though it still gives him the creeps), and signed off her parental rights before getting back to her life plan.

It had been easy and hard all at once.

He struggled the sudden shift in priorities -- Shelly's life plan had been ruined? Dean had always wanted a family but never dreamed of actually having one, not after everything with Lisa and the spectacular blow-up with Castiel.

Sam had followed along when Dean stopped hunting, finally opting to go back to school. The Winchesters were pariahs for a while, but Hunters moved on or died trying.

When Michael was four months old Castiel darkened Dean's doorstep. It had been raining. Castiel was on the doorstep, his trench coat heavy and his hair stuck to his forehead. "I'm back," he said softly, like he was waiting to be throw out on his ass at any second. Of course he did, after that business with...

Michael had been teething. Dean was holding the kid to his chest, bouncing to try to sooth him back to sleep. He couldn't say if it was the time apart that softened his anger, or the mix of sleeplessness and shock, but he was babbling before he had the common sense to stop himself: "I loved you. I hated that you didn't trust me. I hated that I didn't try harder to save you." The moment stretched too long, and he added, "I didn't think I'd see you again."

They sat on the couch until dawn, Castiel dried off and dressed in Dean's pajamas, and talked -- quietly and with long pauses -- until there was nothing left to say.

After that, they just became a family.

***

Dean sets the plates on the table while Sam finishes cooking. His brother is only supposed to make this domestic housecalls until they get settled, which is ridiculous; Dean is used to dealing with kids alone. It's why this whole... divorce business is happening. He yells back into the kitchen, "Do we really need salad forks?"

"Yes," Sam says as he slams backward through the door with a large salad bowl in hands. He's still wearing his suit from work, looking too important and fancy to be baking a casserole. "So he called? How'd it go?"

Dean can hear the kids upstairs -- Michael's music and Danielle yelling -- and Elijah is watching television on the couch. Somehow he's accustomed to the noise, comfortable with it. He can't imagine a quiet household. "He's not here, is he?"

Mixing the dressing over the green mess of vegetables, Sam looks up at Dean pointedly. "Did you invite him?"

"Well, no, but it's his home -- I shouldn't have to invite him."

"You're the one that kicked him out."

Dean wishes he had a fancy retort to that -- but instead yells loud enough to be heard, "Supper! Get it while it's hot!" Michael and Danielle come thumping down the stairs, and after another sharp look Sam retrieves Elijah.

Once they're at the table they go through the hardest part of dinner: "Where's Daddy tonight?" Elijah asks, looking up with large blue eyes that barely come over his dinner plate.

"Visiting family," Dean says, steady as he can. "He'll be by to visit later."

With that, like that's all it takes, Elijah digs into his salad. (Assuredly, that's all Sam's influence; Dean can't imagine when he ever handed the kids a salad.)

"He won't," Danielle says, her voice raised in what Dean knows is anger masking pain. He can smell his own bad habits. "Daddy chose his other family over us."

Sam is giving him this look and Dean snaps, "He's your father. Of course he loves you." He pushes himself away from the dinner table and steps onto the back patio. He bows his head and prays, hating every second. "Castiel, get your ass down here this second or I swear I will drag you down."

Castiel is there in an instant. He's wearing a pair of jeans and a shirt that Dean knows is missing from his closet. "What can I do, Dean?"

Dean can't stand to look in his eyes for more than a second. "Go eat dinner with your children."

***

Danielle was adopted, sort of. Dean wasn't a hunter anymore, but that didn't mean that he wasn't on the look-out for bad omens. He'd be damned if his home was going to be unprotected. Michael was four when there were several babies stolen from the local hospital. Dean found most of them still alive in a nest of demons. Cops were called, children were handed back to their parents -- except for one extra newborn.

No one reported her missing. They spent months looking. Castiel did some angel-style hunting, but her birth parents were nowhere to be found. At best guess they figured her parents had been killed when she was taken, and no one was missing her. Dean and Castiel had decided to keep her long before they said it aloud – by then she already had a nursery and a home and a “temporary” name. Castiel fudged some paperwork to make it official.

Castiel got a job at the local high school – with the rare trip to Heaven to fulfill some angel busy work. It just came with the territory. Dean worked part-time at a mechanic. They bought a house. Michael was smitten with having a little sister, and Castiel was amazing with the kids.

Sam graduated law school, and got a job in Kansas City proper – “I can't be too far from my family,” he said with a knowing smile that made Dean's heart swell.

They were a family.

It was perfect.

***

Dean takes ten to compose himself before he goes back inside and sits down to dinner. Castiel already has a plate and is sitting beside Elijah, who is chatting away like nothing is wrong. "My teacher said my drawing was the best," Elijah says before taking a large sip of his water. "Miss Connor thinks I look just like you, Daddy."

With a small smile Castiel ruffles his hair. "Miss Connor is a good teacher. Danielle, how are your classes?" Danielle purses her lips and crosses her arms over her chest, face turned down. "If I remember correctly, you have the same third-grade teacher as Michael -- Mister Kline."

"Yeah," Michael says from his plate, smiling entirely too cheerfully. "Mister Kline is cool."

When Danielle doesn't move, Dean asks, "Dani, are you going to answer your Father?"

"No. If he wants to know about my life he should stay."

"Danielle, I -- "

"No, Castiel." He turns to Danielle. "I told your father to leave. I know that this is hard, but Daddy leaving is between us -- it has nothing to do with you, or how much he loves you. You have no right to treat him like that."

The room goes silent, except for Elijah humming to himself. Michael is staring at his plate, Danielle is frozen in place with that look on her face. Castiel is watching Dean, eyes wide and expression unreadable, even to Dean who has been watching Castiel for almost twenty years. Sam stands and clears his throat. "I'll get the casserole."

Once Sam is gone, Dean sighs. "This isn't working, so we'll change it. We'll talk about it tonight. After dinner. As a family."

Sam returns with the casserole, and dinner carries on quietly. Tense all over, Dean tries to look relaxed.

***

Elijah was their only planned child. After the uncertainty of those first years with Michael and the drama that had brought Danielle into their lives, they wanted to have a child on their terms. A coworker of Castiel's knew a woman who worked with a surrogacy agency on occasion -- Kate, Dean remembers fondly, who seemed super-human as she carried on through their pregnancy.

Dean had desperately wanted to see a child of Castiel's. (Though he sometimes remembers Claire guiltily in the evenings, her father long dead though his body remains occupied.) Though hesitant, Castiel agreed. Two years of scouting egg donors, in vitro, and a hard pregnancy eventually brought Elijah into their lives.

The pregnancy had been.. off. If Dean is honest, he wonders if that was when things started to go sour -- when they knew something wasn't right with Elijah. Kate sported bruises when Elijah kicked, and despite four healthy and complication-free pregnancies under her belt, she was bed-ridden by her second trimester. Castiel assured him that he didn't think there was anything weird about the baby, but it had been the beginning of his more frequent trips back to Heaven.

The mechanic Dean worked for closed shop not long after Elijah was born, and somehow Dean found himself in the role of... house husband. Dean hated to think it. They didn't need to extra money, and it had been easy.

It was when things stopped be simple.

***

"Thanks for everything, man," Dean says at the door. "I'll let you know."

Sam claps him on the shoulder before shrugging into his coat. "Don't even mention it. I'll help however I can. But Dean -- "

"No. Don't. Not now." He sees Sam to his car, and heads back inside to where his family is waiting. Elijah is sitting in Castiel's lap, Michael reading them a book while Danielle tries not to look interested from the other end of the couch. Dean sits in the armchair opposite, and relishes the moment before they all look at him. "Clearly you all miss your daddy."

Danielle looks away, but Elijah and Michael both nod with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Castiel looks so broken by the display that Dean's heart wrenches in turn. Despite all the shit that made Dean mad, Castiel had been a good father. He had rocked his children to sleep, fed them in the middle of the night, taken them to school on their first day and worried until he picked them up.

"So here's what we're going to do," Dean continues. "Daddy is going to come home. For good. Sometimes I'll stay with Uncle Sammy while you spend time with him."

Michael winces, Danielle looks away again, and Elijah cocks his head just a little to the left. "But Papa, you don't live with Uncle Sammy."

"That's true. I'll just visit sometimes, so that you have time to be alone with your Daddy."

"Only if you promise we'll eat dinner as a family." Michael sits straight in his chair when Castiel and Dean both look at him. Michael has been the quietest in the whole affair, and hearing him make a demand surprises (and kind of pleases) Dean. "Dinner time matters."

Castiel looks to Dean -- This is up to you he's saying, and Dean knows it. "Of course. We'll have dinner together. Now -- we have about an hour before bed."

The children look calmed, and Dean is reminded again that however hard it is on him, its so much harder on them.

***

Castiel's things are still at the house; he'd only been gone for six weeks (and four days and ten minutes, not that Dean has been watching the time) and Dean hadn't had the heart to pack all his stuff away. Castiel couldn't take it to Heaven, and removing it all entirely would send the wrong message to the kids. So when Castiel emerges from the master bathroom in his regular pajamas, looking like he always had, Dean can't help the weird feeling in his gut. "I'll get the sofa bed in the study set up -- you can stay in here."

"Dean -- "

"I'm not ready to talk yet."

Castiel nods, his expression stern. "You're never ready to talk, Dean. It's not as though I ask you to say much."

For a miserable moment Dean wants to be pissed, but he can't muster it. "You're right, and I'll talk. Just not yet."

This seems to placate Castiel, and Dean leaves with his pillow and bedding. Truth be told, he actually feels better knowing that Castiel will be sleeping their bed tonight.

***

Dean wakes up, sore and disoriented from waking up in a new place, to the smell of bacon. His stomach growls so hard that he's sure the bed vibrates. Rubbing his face, Dean glances at the clock on the desk in the corner. 6:29 AM. He yawns and considers going back to sleep, but eventually his stomach and bladder get the better of him. After a pit-stop to the bathroom and a peek in on each of the sleeping kids, Dean makes his way to the kitchen.

Already dressed for the day and wearing that ridiculous apron he always insisted on ("It keeps my clothes clean," he explained on more than one occasion), Castiel is standing at the stove flipping pieces of bacon methodically. The waffle maker is running hot, and there's coffee burbling to life. Without thinking Dean leans close to Castiel as he snags a piece of hot bacon from the nearby strainer; the moment is so familiar that he almost forgets that they've split. They both pause awkwardly, but Dean steps away, chewing on the bacon.

"Your brother bought turkey bacon," Castiel says. "Again."

"I'm getting used to it." Dean sits on the stool at the counter, watching Castiel go though the motions of breakfast. He leans his head on folded arms and tries not to doze off. "What are you doing?"

"I thought it would be nice to make breakfast. I've missed food," Castiel says defensively. "I'll take them to school this morning on my way to work, if that's okay."

"You don't have to do -- work?" Dean peers up from this pillow of his arms. "You're still working?"

Castiel looks over his shoulder with that Are you serious? expression he's been perfecting since they first met. "It's the middle of the school year."

"What, do you grade papers from Heaven? Or -- Cas, have you been staying down here?"

"No," Castiel says quickly. "There is no place else on Earth I wish to stay. I graded papers at school, and returned to Heaven when there was nothing left to do." The kitchen isn't silent -- the bacon is sizzling and the coffee maker chokes to a stop and the waffle maker beeps -- but the silence between them is forbidding. "Dean, I..."

Dean watches Castiel's shoulders fall, before Castiel pops out of a waffle and adds more batter to the machine. He pulls the last of the bacon out of the pan, dumps a mixture of scrabbled eggs -- but doesn't turn around. "Cas, what?"

"You haven't asked me about Heaven." Castiel is staring at the eggs; Dean can't see his face, but he knows exactly the expression he'd see. "It's been six weeks -- " and four days and twenty hours and six minutes, Dean mentally adds with a glance at the clock on the wall -- "and you haven't asked why."

"I hate Heaven," Dean says. It wasn't what he meant to say. He meant to say, calm and rational, Heaven is your home, Cas, and I understand that it was unrealistic for me to expect that you'd never get called back, but somehow those words don't come. "Ever since Elijah was born, it's like watching you slowly run away. I always knew when you left at night, when you went there before you came home from work. You were having an affair with Heaven, Cas, and I'm treating it like the whore it is."

Shit, he should have stuck with calm and rational.

"My loyalties never strayed," Castiel says. He almost sounds amused as he adds, "Many of my brothers made a similar observation about you."

"Yeah, well, fuck them."

Castiel turns around, looks like he's going to say something but thinks better of it. "It was Elijah."

Every fiber of Dean's being jumps right into panic mode, and he has to remind himself that Elijah is snoring upstairs under his star-covered quilt. "What was Elijah?"

"I was -- " Castiel pinches the bridge of his nose, turns back to finishing breakfast as he speaks. "I haven't been completely honest about how much grace is in him."

It's not as though Dean wasn't aware of that; Castiel never had a good poker face, but hearing it aloud doesn't make it okay. "You should have said something. This is our son, Castiel."

Castiel pours a cup of coffee, brings it over to the nook and sets it in front of Dean. "I know. I hoped to fix it without worrying you. But it does appear that Heaven thinks... unkindly of his birth."

Dean sits bolt-upright, hands balled into fists. "They what? I will murder any son of a bitch who -- "

"I will fix it." Castiel places a hand on his shoulder, under the sleeve of his t-shirt. They stare at each other, coffee and divorce forgotten for a moment while Dean remembers how much he still loves this dumb bastard who still doesn't know how to let Dean in when things get rough. "It has taken me a long time by human standards, but I have a plan."

"Are you going to tell me what it is?" Dean asks, his mouth dry.

"No."

"Goddamnit, Cas! This is the problem -- you can't just make plans about our family without me. You treat me like someone who needs to be sheltered from the world, when I used to shelter the world from shit like you."

Castiel removes his hand and sighs. "You're overreacting."

"You're treating me like a child!"

"Trust me, Dean. This is all I ask. Just trust me. You used to know how to do that."

Dean kind of wants to punch him, kind of wants to kiss him, and completely wishes they could stop this history from playing on repeat. But Michael comes into the kitchen with a hopeful, "Do I smell breakfast?" The fight waylaid, Castiel finishes the nearly burnt eggs while Dean wakes the other two children.

***

"You know what, that's enough!" Dean slams his beer on the counter. It's 10:30 in the morning, and Dean is already more pissed off than he gets most days. "I'm not going to be second to anything, least of all Heaven -- not now, not after everything."

Castiel is standing, looking just as angry and somehow a little helpless as he says, "Do you realize how you sound? No man on earth would consider himself above Heaven."

"I do. I expect you to see this," he gestures wildly to the house around them, "as greater than anything in Heaven. This is our family. Family matters, Cas. This should matter to you!"

"It does. It is greater -- "

"Bullshit." Dean takes a deep breath, tries to steady his nerves as his heart thuds against his chest. "You were in Heaven more last week than you were home. It's not that I don't know you'll go back someday. I even like to think we'll -- " But Dean doesn't want that thought right now, tosses it away as he remembers why he's angry. "But I need you to choose us. Right now. This family, before you miss anything else. Heaven is eternal, Cas. It can wait."

Castiel had looked less angry in the moments before he'd blown people up. "I need more time."

"No. No more time. It's us, or you can leave. Now. Forever."

Dean wasn't sure what he thought was going to happen.

***

Sam doesn't come to dinner that night; he calls Dean during his lunch and uses words like “bonding” and “reconciliation” and “Dean, seriously, don't act like Dad.”

Dean orders a pizza and tries not to think about it – which he does.

While Michael is talking about trying out for band, Dean is wondering why he had pulled the John Winchester classic, “If you walk out that door...”

While Danielle is hesitantly telling Castiel that she hasn't touched the book they were reading together before he left, Dean is wondering if he could ever come back from that. Dad did, sure; he and Sam had some measure of reconciliation (that fucking word) before Dad died.

While Castiel is asking the kids what they want to do for spring break, Dean is watching him and trying to figure out how he forgot he was in love at all.

***

Once the kids are asleep they sit on the small porch off the master bedroom, listening to cars on the main drag a couple blocks away. Dean breathes the cool spring air, watches Castiel watching the stars. Maybe they can just pretend it never happened. Go back to being together, without ever discussing why they split up.

“I'll have to sever his link to Heaven,” Castiel says, his voice soft and mournful. “Heaven will accept his nature if he cannot access the grace within him.”

Dean considers this, considers the pain Castiel's voice as he says this. “And if you don't?”

“Heaven will consider him hunted. He always has been – it has taken a lot to keep them at bay and in negotiation for this long. Before God returned, they wouldn't have even listened.”

“Good for the G-man, then.” Dean looks into Castiel's eyes, darkened by the night, and asks the question that he doesn't want to. “Will it hurt him?”

Castiel nods. “But he's young, and lessened – it won't be so... traumatizing as it could be for an angel.”

“Will he...” Dean doesn't even want to say it, but he has to ask, “Will he go to – “

“No,” Castiel rushes to interrupt. “He will, at the end of his life, be judged as a human.”

Dean tilts his head back, closes his eyes as he says, “Your trips to Heaven since he was born – they've been about this?”

“Yes.”

“Cas. You should have told me, should have said something – should have let me help.”

Castiel is the one who reaches over and takes his hand, their fingers twining just so as he speaks. “You could not have. This is the best news I've had to offer since I was made aware of Heaven's concern. Four years ago the only reason he wasn't killed was because I was there. Three years ago they tried to make me choose between losing one child and losing all of you. I've had to fight literal battles to keep this family safe, defy orders to abandon Earth time and time again – and I did it because I wanted you to keep this life we had forged. I could not bring you back to the fighting when I believed you were happy with what we have. Had.”

“I – ”

“You said you were bored.”

Yes, he had. In the heat of the moment and to make excuses. Dean can't take the words back, can't take any of the words back anymore than he can ask Castiel to go back and let him in. The rift was there, wide and deep between them. Words are their only bridge, and he picks his carefully – forcing them out because he hates this stupid 'talk about your feelings' stuff, even now that he's undeniably an adult and should be better at it. “I was bored without you. I mean, okay – I need to start doing something now that Elijah is in school, but that's a new thing. When I started feeling... bored, I was alone. You were gone all the time. I'm not built to sit around and do nothing. I was angry.

“But this? Our life together? I wouldn't change a single thing about it. So...” He takes a deep breath to steady himself. “Forget what I said about now or never.”

That's all he's got. He can not physically bring himself to say anything else emotional, or he just might pass out from the effort. But he looks at Castiel, and knows that Castiel understands.

They share their bed again that night – the space between them still there, but so much less forbidding.

***

As the dawn light peeks through the curtain Dean wakes to find Castiel already watching him, staring with the intensity of a man off to battle. Dean remembers the look well, back during the Apocalypse. Funny, how far they'd come since the end of the world.

Castiel still doesn't sleep, never really feels the need, but he had always made the point of resting beside Dean – occasionally drifting into something that could almost be mistaken for sleep. At first it drove Dean crazy, but now he realizes how much he missed waking to find Castiel already alert.

“When are you going to do it?” Dean asks.

“Midnight. Under the full moon outside town, in case something goes wrong.”

“Let me come with.”

“No.” Castiel touches his face, runs the hand through Dean's hair. “Elijah will need his father here to sooth him.”

Of course – he'd nearly forgotten the hard part would be keeping the kids calm. “Take Sam, at least. He's always been great with rituals.”

“Sam is retired.”

Dean laughs, grabs Castiel's hands and kisses his knuckles with a wide smile. “Don't even worry about that. Sam isn't going to let a little thing like retirement stop him from protecting family.” Castiel nods. Dean pulls him close, holds them there and breathes the earthy electric scent of him. “I'll protect our son. Come home as soon as you can.”

***

Dean can't sit still. Castiel tucks the kids into bed, and Dean contemplates the beer in the fridge. They have four hours before anything is supposed to happen; he could have one and still be fully alert when Castiel's ritual begins.

“I wasn't making it up when I worried about your drinking,” Castiel says from behind him. Dean grabs a can of pop instead and closes the fridge.

“I'm not an alcoholic.”

“You were, perhaps, a functioning alcoholic. Let me tell you about your liver some time.” Castiel almost smiles as he steps closer to Dean. “I will not ask you to stop drinking altogether, but don't do it to substitute for feeling.”

They sit on the couch together, watch television like this isn't the most danger they've been in since the hunting was done. Castiel turns off the television during a commercial, and says, “Whatever happens tonight, know that I love you. I have loved you since I glimpsed your soul, loved you even as I've wounded you – even as you have wounded me.”

Dean swallows. “Yeah. Uh, me too. All that.” Castiel rolls his eyes, but there's affection behind it. Affection and fear.

They kiss for the first time in six weeks (six days, twenty-three hours; not that Dean is that much of a girl about these things) before Sam knocks on the door.

***

Dean doesn't know what to do with himself. He tries to nap before midnight, but can't even manage to relax. He looks in on Elijah every ten minutes, paces the hallway as quietly as he can in socks and pajamas. In a burst of panic he salts the windows and the doors, unlocks the shotgun at the top of his closet (though leaves it up there). He hopes that whatever happens it doesn't go off like a supernatural homing beacon; it took a long time to get this town relatively supernatural-free.

Fifteen minutes until midnight; Dean feels nauseous. Ten minutes until midnight and he's on the verge of calling Sam and begging they cancel – they can take on the angels without hurting his son. At five minutes to midnight he somehow finds some of his old resolve, the hunting instincts buried deep under more than a decade of domestic peace.

When midnight comes Dean is ready – and nothing happens. He watches the clock in the study tick past the minutes, waiting for... what? He has no idea. Maybe the kid will sleep straight through the pain, wake up without realizing that he'd lost anything at all.

“Papa?”

Eight minutes past midnight, and Elijah is standing in the doorway, hands pressed flat against his chest. Dean rushes to his side – but he has to keep calm, has to help Elijah not panic. “What is it, buddy?”

Elijah throws up on Dean's socks, bile tinted red. Elijah is crying, looking up at him with wide panicked eyes. Dean picks him up, rubs his back as he carries him to the bathroom. “It's going to be okay, buddy; you're going to be just fine,” he whispers as his blood runs cold.

“It's broken,” Elijah whines through sniffling tears – face pressed against Dean's neck, arms vice-like around Dean's shoulders. “It's broken,” he repeats, his voice raising in panic.

Then Elijah begins to scream.

***

Sam and Castiel come through the front door after 1 AM – rather, Sam comes through half-dragging Castiel by the chest. “Dean!”

“Shut up,” Dean says as loudly as he dares, leaning back against the couch. The television is the only light in the dark; Michael and Danielle are sleeping in blankets and pillows nested on the floor; Elijah is shivering under a blanket at the other end of the couch, his breath uneven. “We only just got to sleep.”

“How...” Sam is staring at Dean, and Dean realizes that he's still wearing his filthy pajamas. Dean rubs his eyes.

“It's fine,” Dean says. “We're solid. I mean, the kid is sore as hell -- do not touch him. Probably woke the neighbors the way he was hollering, but he's okay now. I think. Cas?”

Castiel shudders and looks over at Sam, who helps lower him between Dean and Elijah on the couch; once settled, he reaches over and brushes hair from his son's forehead. “He'll be fine," Castiel says. "I'll watch over them, if you need to change.”

The hint is not lost on Dean, who can smell himself quite unpleasantly. He stands and stretches, looking at Sam. “You staying? The guest bed is already made.”

Sam looks between them, and shakes his head. “I need to be to work early tomorrow. I'll be back as soon as I can.” He gives Castiel one more long glance – and what is up with that? – before he's back out the front door. Dean hears the dead bolt snap into place.

“I'll be right back,” Dean says as he runs upstairs, peels off his dirty clothes; washes his hands and splashes cool water on his face. The sight of all the red on this clothes, on the towels in the hamper, makes his stomach turn. But it's over. His kid is okay. His family is going to be okay. He takes a damp washcloth downstairs with him; he'd noticed some blood on Castiel's hands. Dumb bastard never remembers to clean up after healing.

Back on the couch, Dean gathers him close and kisses his forehead. “Did it go alright?”

“According to plan,” Castiel says. He sounds exhausted. Dean takes one hand, rubs the cloth across the bloodied knuckles. Castiel hisses and flinches away. “Sorry,” he says when Dean stares. “Sore.”

“Cas...” His tongue fumbles as his brain registers it, and he shakes his head. Gently, carefully, he cleans away the blood to see the cuts and scrapes beneath; turns Castiel's hand to see the long shallow cut across the palm. “What did you do?” He looks into Castiel's heavy eyes, though he already knows.

“He was linked to Heaven through me,” Castiel says, and Dean hears the full weariness in his voice. “It was too much to ask of his young body – it was not too much for mine.”

And oh shit, Dean understands, tries to fight back the panic and the anger as he understands exactly what they were doing, the enormity of the deal Castiel struck to save their family. He pulls Castiel into a hug, holds him close and feels every tremor and breath of a body that used to be immovable. “I love you,” he says, his voice shaking. “I wouldn't have let you to do this.”

“I know,” Castiel replies. “But I've always loved this family more than Heaven.”