"Well, perhaps I’ve been down here, with them, for too long,” Castiel admits to his sister as he drives. “There’s seemingly nothing but chaos. But not all bad comes from it. Art. Hope. Love. Dreams.”
"But those are human things," Hannah says, with unmasked confusion. She is not judging, just trying to understand.
Castiel almost wants to smile. It's like looking in a mirror to the past.
Castiel is an angel. He knows this. He knows this fact more intimately than he's known few other things in his millions of years of existence. It's strange, he knows, too, to measure time in human terms, but over the past few years he's gotten used to it. He's been an angel longer than he has ever been anything else.
But there is a difference, Castiel thinks, between existing and living. He's not a romantic, per se, not in the traditional sense of Turner and Keats and Byron dying upon a sword in Greece, but he he's been alive for far too long to deny the rapid changes that have occurred since raising Dean Winchester from Hell. He is no fool, either—or, at least, he tries not to be (though he knows he often fails at this feat)—for all the millennia that he has wandered around and over the Earth, and Castiel knows that the body he wears is not his own, not in the way Dean's is his.
He is both human and not—never will be in the same way. But therein is the paradox: he is both human and angel at once, too much of both, too little of either.
He does not know how to describe himself, most of the time, what definition to give his existence beyond “failed” and “broken” and his lowest, “fine” and “okay” at his most mundane. All he can truly say for himself anymore is that he is Castiel. Just Castiel.
Cas, to some.
Cas, to whom who matter most.
Dean Winchester renamed him Cas once, and Castiel wonders if that is not a better measure of time after all: forget before and after Jesus (though he has respect for the man, for sure)—Castiel measure's life and time in before and after Dean.
Redemption is not a word that I deserve,
But Atonement, I think, is a peak that I can reach,
My breath comes ragged now, caught in the middle
of two atmospheres. If nothing else,
I hope this climb
strips my lungs clean.
— Written on the back of a speeding ticket between Kansas and Indiana.
Castiel starts writing. He doesn't know why, precisely, but the impulse takes him. It's somewhere between his breaks at the Gas-N-Sip and his restocking of the rotating grill with Taquitos that he finds time to idle. The first time in a long time, really, that he's had such silent and still moments. He dislikes them. He doesn't know why.
He feels itchy beneath his finger tips, unsettled. He's too used to doing things, flying between point and point, feeling useful at his destination. It's hard, Castiel thinks, to feel useful as a human, when so much of your time is taken up by silence.
So he writes.
There are freckles on his knuckles.
I think about the sun kissing him there, gently
on his tired hands. I have never been
so envious of a star.
— Written on a crumpled receipt from Gas-N-Sip.
Castiel tries not to think about Dean while he is exiled from the bunker, and he tries not to think of it as exile either, but, well—it's hard. It's hard especially when Dean visits him there, turns up all of a sudden after Castiel's attempt at a "casual" phone call, as if he was too eager to see him. As if Cas was someone who mattered, who was loved. He barely dares believe it.
But he does—believe it, that is. Because he is a fool after all, and a fool with far more love beneath his breast than he can fairly deal with or consider.
And so he stays with him that night. Not in the carnal way, no. Because Dean does not need nor want that now, nor does Castiel. He just wants to be close with him.
And so they are.
They lie chest to back on Dean's rented motel mattress and try not to speak. Neither dares say anything to break the painfully earned peace they have tonight. All they need is the soft sound of the other's breath, lulling them to sleep.
When Dean leaves again, Castiel carries that moment with him, the memory of Dean's hip beneath his hands, of his breath against his cheek.
It all goes kind of to shit after that, though, to use a Winchester turn of phrase.
After Claire leaves with Jody Mills, Castiel feels aimless, untethered. He looks down at his hands, as he sits in the back seat of the Impala on their long drive back to Kansas, and wonders if he has any right to think of these hands as his after all. He has bled and scarred and died with them, numerous times since Jimmy Novak's soul left his flesh. But this body is stained by guilt, too, by remorse and regret. But maybe that just makes him more human.
When they arrive back at the bunker, tired and weary and prepared for a seven day sleep, Sam chuckles.
"Hey, guess what," he says, bags under his eyes heavy, but amused nonetheless. "It's December 24th. It's Christmas Eve."
"Huh," Dean grunts, clearly exhausted as he dumps his bags on the library table closest to him. Sam begs off to his room with a small wave, and Dean and Cas watch him go.
Dean looks after him wistfully, as if he too dreams of lying in his own comfy bed again, but he looks to Cas, who stands awkwardly to the side, unsure of where to go.
"You can, uh..." Dean tries to offer, but then stops himself, as if realising something important. "Do you sleep now?"
Castiel cannot help but shrug. "I don't know." He shouldn't, of course, but this bout of stolen grace if failing him faster than the first, Castiel can feel it. He can feel it weight down on his weary bones and beg for respite.
"Well, um, you can—" Dean gestures towards the hallway.
But Castiel is too exhausted himself to keep up with formality. "Can I sleep with you?" he asks, frank and wanting.
Dean sputters. "Jesus, Cas—"
Castiel looks at him, eyes open and heavy, but filled with the longing to feel the friendship they've always shared. "I'm very tired."
"Yeah," Dean finally croaks. "Yeah, of course."
He leads Cas down the corridor towards his bedroom, looking around briefly to see if Sam is watching them. When Dean is assured he isn't, he lets Castiel in, quirking a smile at the corner to his lips.
They get ready for sleep in silence, and it's about as awkward as it should be, Castiel supposes. He doesn't get undressed fully, just removes his over coat, jacket, and shoes, and the same is with Dean.
"Thank you," Castiel whispers, when they're somewhat settled, collapsed against the mattress. They aren't touching yet, but Castiel can already feel Dean gravitate towards him.
Slowly, tantalizsngly so, Dean drifts into Castiel's space, or Cas into his—it doesn't matter. But they end up with their legs entangled, and their bodies pressed up close as if they had never been otherwise. Castiel lets his body sink into the feeling.
"Hey, it's past midnight," Dean whispers eventually, as he eyes the alarm clock on his bedside table.
"Yeah?" Castiel asks groggily. He had indeed been dozing off, after all.
Castiel can feel Dean smile more than see it, in this dark. He doesn't feel it against his skin so much as in the air, so much as in the energy between them, both complacent and ecstatic—content, in other words. Bone deep contentment.
"Oh," Castiel offers a bit lamely, as his mind catches up to himself. "Merry Christmas, Dean," he says, warmly against Dean's neck.
They haven't kissed yet, they haven't had sex, but they have negotiated this, whatever this is. This strange relationship that never should have been but is anyway, by the sheer force of their own wills. The will kiss, they will make love, eventually, Castiel knows. But in this moment, five minutes into Christmas day, Castiel feels no rush. With Dean's body against him and his warmth seeping into his own body, Castiel knows what true worth is. What the word "gift" is for.
"Merry Christmas, Cas," Dean slurs back, already half gone again with sleep, and Castiel knows it to be true. Knows it more sure than anything.
These are not the hands I first held you with,
they are weaker, they are stronger, they are
My palms are now a map
of everywhere that I have been.
I have died and been reborn with the route to you
etched into the lines which crease my skin.
These are not the hands I first touched you with,
but they will be the hands with which I hold you,
— Written on a stray piece of paper on Dean's desk, as he sleeps.