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And Even In The Quiet Night

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and even on the coldest ground

the stars still lead us home

 

 

 

There is a brief silence, and then Charlie asks, sounding worried, “Are you gonna be okay?” And Dean smiles, even though she can't see him. Even though it's so fake it pulls painfully at the muscles of his face. Dean can't blame her, of course he can't. She just told him she saw Christmas with her parents when she – when she was briefly in Heaven, and now Dean wants to kick himself for even mentioning it. He curls the fingers of his free hand around the edge of the counter he's leaning against, tries to keep every last bit of disappointment out of his voice, because the last fucking thing he wants is to make Charlie feel guilty for putting herself first.

“You know me, I'm always okay,” he replies, aiming for off-hand and casual, and rolling his eyes for good measure. Maybe Dean's just trying to convince himself, because of course she can't see that either – she's almost a state away on her way to some convention Dean didn't catch the name of, and through the phone he can hear the strained rumble of her cheap-ass car and the cheery pop music she insists on listening to and that Dean insists on pretending he doesn't like. Charlie makes a noise as if to protest, and Dean adds, hasty, “Seriously Charlie, it's okay, it was just a stupid – forget about it.” He rubs at his forehead, looks at the floor. Charlie said she was gonna meet some online friends at the convention, so at least she's not gonna be alone. But still. More softly, he continues, “Just – take care of yourself, kiddo, okay?”

Charlie sighs on the other end, “Unless there are monsters interested in hoarding collectibles I think we should be safe.” She pauses. “There aren't any, right?”

Dean chuckles lightly, “Even if there were, I doubt they'd be stupid enough to attack the Queen of Moons.”

Charlie snorts into the phone, “Whatever you say, handmaiden.” She sounds pleased though, and it doesn't fail to make Dean smile for real this time. Until Charlie adds, “I gotta hang up now. Say hi to Cas for me, okay?”

Dean falters for a moment, has to clear his throat before he can answer. “He's uh. He's not here.” He shifts his weight, uncomfortable. “But I'll uh, I'll let him know when he comes back.”

There's another pause, and Charlie sounds unsure but harried when she replies, “O-kay – listen, the traffic here is nuts. Talk to you later?”

They say goodbye quickly after that, but Dean keeps the phone in his hand for a long moment, rubbing at the dark screen with his thumb. Dean can't deny that he would have liked Charlie to be here – but whatever, she's probably gonna have way more fun at wherever she's headed to than Dean would have to offer. He shoves the phone back in his pocket angrily, telling himself to get a grip, get over himself – and then his gaze falls onto the shelf next to the sink.

Dean always insists on keeping the kitchen well stocked, feels like he has failed in some way when they run out of anything. Sam keeps telling him in that annoying, exasperated tone of his that Dean's hoarding – but the fuck does Sam know, he's not the one who cooks their meals when they have time for it. Privately, to himself, Dean can admit that maybe it's a thing from when he was a kid, the pain of his stomach cramping and driving him to distraction at night when there wasn't enough food for two. But Sam didn't know about that then and he's not supposed to know about it now, so Dean just lets him bitch and stocks the cans on top of each other so there's more space for other food stuff.

The problem with keeping silent about these things is that Dean never finds out everyone else thinks differently about it than him until it's too late.

Dean drags a hand over his face and leans more heavily against the counter. He could really go for a beer now, but the beer is in the fridge. And if he'd open the fridge, he'd have his own stupid assumptions stare him in the face. Looking at the shelf is bad enough, because he'd crammed the fresh potatoes and apples and brown sugar in there, but in the fridge are the fresh pineapple and the ham. Because Dean is a dumb, sentimental moron and had wanted to make his own glazed, oven-baked ham for Christmas, with the cornbread stuffing he remembers his Dad telling him was his Mom's specialty. Because he'd just gone and assumed that at least some of the people he cares about would wanna – whatever. It's no big deal. It's not like he doesn't have other obligations anyway.

Dean pushes away from the counter, determinedly not looking at either the fridge or the shelf again, and goes to fill a glass with water from the tap. When he pushes Sam's door open, his brother is lying curled up on his side, fast asleep, hair sweaty and face blotchy. Sam caught the flu – three days ago and for the first time in forever – and has been holed up in his room with an army of tissues and disgusting ginger tea. Earlier today, Dean had already tried to force some oatmeal down his brother's gullet – any other day Sam wolfes the stuff down like nobody's business – but Sam had only battered Dean's hands away when he tried to take his temperature and poured like half a bottle of honey into his leaf water.

Now, Dean shakes Sam's shoulder and holds the water out to him when Sam blinks blearily up at him, “Come on, you gotta keep yourself hydrated.”

But Sam only scowls at him with a mix of confusion and irritation, “Dean, I have water,” he croaks, impatient. “You brought me that when you woke me up – ” He squints at the digital clock on his nightstand, “An hour ago.”

And yeah, right there next to the clock and the bottle of Nyquil is a still half-full glass of water. Dean clears his throat, tries to sound encouraging instead of embarrassed, “Yeah well, now you got more. In case you, uh. Need it. ” He crams the glass next to the other one on the nightstand, “So uh, what you want for lunch? Apparently it's just us, but I could still make – ”

Sam groans, flops back against the pillows and closes his eyes again. “Dean, would you just let me sleep.”

Dean shifts his weight, clears his throat again, flexes his hands. God, he hates feeling useless. “Right, yeah.” He rubs at his jaw, turns halfway towards the door and then back again. Because he just has to make sure, “It's just, you know – Christmas. Are you sure you don't wanna – ”

Sam blows out an irritated breath and rolls onto his side, with his back to Dean.

“Dean, I don't care – stop 'checking' on me because you're bored. Go do whatever you wanna do, just – ask someone else.”

>

Dean wanders back into the kitchen because he has no idea where else to go. He leans against the counter again, even though it's starting to dig painfully into his lower back, and shoots of a quick text to Cas, you doing okay? Cas had packed a bag yesterday and announced that Daniel and Adina had made a home for themselves one state over and he wanted to meet up with them. And it's good that Cas has other friends but them, that at least not all of his family have ditched him now that he's human. But the first thing Dean, selfish moron that he is, had blurted out was, “You're not gonna be here?”

Cas, bag slung over his shoulder, had looked at Dean, eyes round with confusion, “Here for what?”

And Dean hadn't had it in him to ask Cas to stay when he clearly wanted to be somewhere else, couldn't bear to make Cas feel guilty for leaving. So he'd waved off the question, plastered his most convincing smile on his face, “Nothing, dude. Have fun and uh, be careful.”

Cas had looked slightly exasperated then, but there was softness in his eyes when they met Dean's, and hesitation in the way he hovered there for a moment before turning and walking up the stairs.

It was one more moment of several other, weirder ones they've had over the course of the last few weeks. Like Cas crowding close to the Dean at the sink when Dean was washing dishes and Cas needed water from the tap. Cas' elbow had rubbed against Dean's arm, his body heat seeping into Dean' skin, and Dean had stepped away, put space between them to give Cas room to move. Cas hadn't said anything, but his fingers paused briefly on the handle and there was a displeased expression on his face. Then, other times, he disappeared for hours, and Dean's questions about how he's doing, does he need anything, were met with increasing exasperation. So maybe some time away was exactly what Cas needed, some time away from – from Dean especially, maybe. And that's understandable, right? Dean hunts monsters by day and then stands in the kitchen at three AM heating up tomato soup because his nightmares keep him up. He has blood under his nails at least twice a week, and he has a thing for washing the cars in the garage for hours when he feels restless. And it's the first time Cas has ever been in the bunker for this long – going on two months now. It was probably only a matter of time until Dean's antics would start wearing on his nerves.

Now, Dean scrolls through his contacts list while he waits for Cas' reply. It's a stupid thing to do – Kevin is studying for finals and didn't even pick up when Dean called him, Jody is on duty and Donna has a date. Dean knows this. It's not like staring at the names will change anything. And usually he does this – scrolling through his contacts without calling anyone – to calm himself. A reminder that all these people are still there, and they're okay. Dean's been working on squashing that voice in his head that tells him people are better off without him. It's only led him down dark paths, and he doesn't want to be – he doesn't want that to happen again, ever. And yet he still couldn't answer with the truth when Jody had asked him, concern bleeding through her typical gruffness, “You okay, kiddo? Since when do you care about Christmas?”

He doesn't, of course, not really. It's just that Christmas is a widely accepted excuse to cook enough food for an entire baseball team, then eat too much and lounge on the couch surrounded by family and argue about which movie to watch. Or so Dean thinks. Really, it was just a stupid – it's not like Dean is lonely. Sam is here, Cas is here, and the others are – well, mostly not here. But really, it should be enough. Dean is a grown-ass man, he can deal with being alone on Christmas.

Just then, his phone buzzes in his hand with Cas' reply.

I'm alright, it reads. The traffic was horrible. I think I hate this holiday.

Dean stares at the words for a long moment, a heavy feeling spreading under his ribs. It's stupid, Cas has every right to be annoyed. Hell, Dean would be annoyed if he were driving right now. He's not sad – he's just being stupid.

He shoves his phone in his pocket and leaves the kitchen. Sits down in the library with his laptop and five fingers of the good stuff, and goes find himself a hunt.

>

Five hours later, he's face down in the snow with the spirit of Melinda James screaming bloody murder at him. The cemetery in the outskirts of Lincoln, Nebraska is small and rundown, moss covering the headstones and obscuring the names on them. It's why it took Dean a while to even find her grave, breath fogging in front of his face and tripping a few times, because only the main paths had been cleared of snow. And by the time he had succeeded in digging through the hard-packed earth to get at her coffin, Melinda had found him.

She's a waif of a thing, can't have been older than fifteen when she died. But she's packing the rage and despair of centuries, and defends her bones with the ferocity of an attack dog. And Dean feels sorry for her, but the ruin of a house she's been squatting in is in the process of getting torn down, and she's a danger to the workers. Dean throws himself to the side, grapples for his tire iron. Just when his fingers curls around it, her foot comes down on his hand, and there's a distinct crack, pain shooting up his arm like a live-wire. He gasps, nausea crawling up his throat, and Melinda is screaming, “You're so loud, why are you all so loud!”

Dean groans, wrenches his hand free with difficulty and gritting his teeth against the wave of pain. Melinda's words don't seem to make a lot of sense, not that Dean can risk arguing with her. But with the way her eyes are wild with terror, hands pressed over her ears even though she is the one making all the noise, Dean doesn't think she's referring to him in the first place in regards to being loud. When the strange “accidents” started to happen, the bulldozers had already leveled half of her home.

Dean swings the iron, and it goes through her legs, her scream abruptly cutting off. He scrambles onto his knees and climbs back down into the hole. Getting the lid off of the coffin is almost impossible with his left hand trembling and weak with pain. Melinda comes back just when the lid gives way with a crunch of splintering wood, her agonized scream making him flinch, pale fingers reaching for his throat. Dean scrambles backwards and away from her, fumbles for the tire iron lying at the edge of the hole. Melinda's eyes are filled with tears, angry, uncomprehending. “I'm sorry,” he gasps, and swings the iron.

The moment she disintegrates, he heaves himself over the edge of the hole again, pours salt and accelerant over the bones, and then throws a lit match down into the grave.

Her scream rips through the night air one more time, and then it's quiet except for the whispers of the flames.

Dean should leave. It's cold tonight and there's barely anyone outside, but the chances of getting caught are still too high. He shouldn't risk it.

Instead, he stands there, injured hand cradled against his chest, and watches the flames die down until only embers remain. Shoveling the earth back into the grave is exhausting and painful, the middle and ring finger of his left hand stiff with swelling and throbbing with pain. When he shoves the accelerant and the salt back into his duffel, his foot bumps against something lying half-buried under the snow. It's a small, unused grave candle, its red plastic crusted with ice. Dean rolls it in his hand thoughtfully for a moment, then places it under Melinda's headstone. It takes him three tries to light a match, but finally the earth and snow around Melinda's grave are faintly illuminated by the candle's light.

The flame flickers in the freezing air, but doesn't go out.

Dean sweeps his hand over the headstone's top, then straightens. He hopes the girl is at peace now.

He trudges back through the dark and silent graveyard, carrying both the shovel and the duffel bag in his right because his left is just useless at this point. With the adrenaline waning, he has to bite back a wince at the hot-cold throb of pain. It feels like there's still snow clinging to the back of his jacket, and he's shivering under his shirts. By the time he's stored everything back in the trunk and is taping his two broken fingers to the adjacent non-broken ones, the high from a job well done has already faded and he just feels exhausted. He chases the Tylenol down with some of the cheap whiskey from the trunk, and then props his injured hand up against the steering wheel.

Dean should get an ice pack against the swelling. He should put some more distance between himself and the graveyard in case he was seen. He should check his phone. He should drive back to the bunker.

It's dark and cold inside the Impala, but the stars are visible through her windshield. The street lights are reflected off the snow, so it's not as dark as it could be. A car drives past Dean, then disappears around the corner. Dean looks at the family houses lining the quiet street to his left. There's warm light behind most of the windows, and the one closest to him has Christmas lights lining the fence. He leans his head against the cold window and just looks at them, his breath fogging up the glass.

Back home, there's Sam, who's probably relieved Dean isn't there to force feed him chicken broth, and a lot of silent empty space that Dean doesn't know how to bear, and food that he can't cook because there'd be no one there to eat it. Dean's gonna drive back in a moment anyway of course – just, one more moment. He looks at the lights on the fence, eyes slowly drifting shut. Just one more moment in the quiet night.

>

Someone is shaking Dean's shoulder, urgently saying his name. Dean flinches away instinctively, going for his gun and then hissing when the movement jostles his injured hand. And then he stills and frowns, confusion taking over his alarm.

“You – what are you doing here?”

Cas is sitting in the passenger seat in his fur-lined winter coat, body twisted towards Dean and one hand still on Dean's shoulder. He looks worried, blue eyes soft and corners of his mouth turned down unhappily. “I was looking for you. I was – ” He cuts himself off, his gaze shifting from Dean's face to his hand. “You're injured.”

It sounds almost accusing, and under other circumstances Dean might scoff and wave it off, but it barely even registers with him now. Cas was supposed to be in Iowa City, far away from Dean, and now he's here, the warmth of his hand seeping all the way through Dean's layers. Fear slices through Dean's sleep muddled mind, he sits up straighter, urgently searching Cas' eyes. “Did something happen? Are you okay, is Sam okay?”

Now it's Cas' turn to look confused. “Yes, why wouldn't we be?”

Dean frowns at him, uncomprehending. “Why else would you be here?”

Cas looks at him, a strange sadness stealing over his expression. Then he sighs and shifts on the seat, fishes Dean's duffel bag out of the foot rest and starts rummaging through it. “You need to bring down that swelling.” He tugs a t-shirt out of his own bag and wraps it carefully around the ice pack, then reaches for Dean's hand. Dean is about to swat Cas' hand away and apply the ice himself – except Cas has that determined look on his face that means surrender is wiser in the long run because nothing will survive getting in Cas' way. And Cas' hands are warm, and gentle, and it's – nice.

Dean gets lost for several seconds, watching Cas place the ice pack over his bandaged fingers, holding Dean's hand in his with the tip of his fingers brushing over the sensitive skin on the inside of Dean's wrist. Dean's skin tingles where Cas is touching it, and he shivers in a way that has nothing to do with how cold he is, and tugs his hand carefully out of Cas' grasp. Dean's face feels hot and he clears his throat, shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “We should, uh. Drive back.”

He can feel Cas stare at the side of his face, but Dean determinedly avoids his gaze and stares out the windshield instead. It's snowing at bit, a fine layer of white already covering the Impala's hood. Cas sighs, the leather creaking as he leans back in the passenger seat. “I will stay with you,” he says, “I can retrieve my car in a few days.” Dean's about to protest – Cas staying with him and leaving his car isn't necessary, Dean's driven on his own while being far worse dinged up than now – but Cas has that steely don't-you-dare-argue-with-me glint back in his eyes, and Dean shuts his cake trap and turns the engine over. Driving past the lights, he eases the Impala through the snow-covered streets and back towards the main road. He flips the heater on, and rests his left hand on the ice pack he's keeping balanced on his thigh whenever he doesn't need it for driving.

Cas shrugs out of his coat once the air inside the car is getting warmer, places his bag in the footrest next to Dean's duffel. It still gives Dean a strange fluttery sensation in his gut every time he witnesses Cas making a home for himself in the places Dean calls home – the Impala and the bunker. Both are different kinds of homes, in a way. Baby is the home Dean has known the longest, and it's still their home when they're on the road. But the bunker is stationary and safe and comfortable in a way Dean has longed for for a long time. Maybe it's still more empty than he'd like at times – but the potential is there. The potential for more mornings like that one about a month ago, Cas and Sam arguing over the pros and cons of organic versus store brand cereal, Dean helping Kevin with his physics homework while Charlie flung pancake bits at the both of them (“eat first, study later you nerds!”).

It still wasn't quite Stepford, but it's not like that is what Dean wants anyway. Hunting and having an extended family around never seems to have worked out for anyone ever, but lately Dean has been thinking that maybe he's not doing a half-bad job at it. It can't fix everything of course – he still jolts out of his nightmares and there's nothing but the buzzing silence of his room to bring him back down, or he can't sleep in the first place because he keeps reaching for something that isn't there. But Dean can't ask for more, because already this is more than he'd ever thought he could have.

Now, he adjusts the position of his feet on the pedals, and then winces when the movement jostles his injured hand where it's resting on his thigh. It's better since the painkillers kicked in, but it still hurts like a mother. Cas throws a look at him and Dean grimaces, smirks lopsidedly. “Restless spirit,” he says by way of explanation. “Angry restless spirit. S'not as bad as it looks.” And then, because Cas still hasn't explained that, “How'd you know where I was, anyway?”

Cas is silent for a moment, looking out the windshield and at the snow swirling in the Impala's headlights. “Charlie locked onto your phone's GPS.”

Dean throws him an alarmed look, “What?! Why?”

Cas still isn't looking at him. “Because I couldn't reach you, and Sam didn't know where exactly in Lincoln you were.”

Right, Dean had left Sam a note and then later left his phone in the car because fragile object and angry spirits never mix well. And then conked out without checking it first. He switches lanes and slows down a bit, flexes the fingers of his good hand around the steering wheel. “Okay, so – why were you trying to reach me? I thought you were gonna stay in Iowa for at least another day.”

Cas is picking on a loose thread on his sleeve, then gives up on it and huffs out an exasperated breath, resting his hands in his lap again. “I was. But then I was – concerned. I wanted to be home.”

Dean's heart misses a beat and he feels his face heat. But then his stomach lurches with guilt, because “Cas, I didn't mean to make you – ”

“You didn't make me do anything, Dean” Cas interrupts him mildly. “I was – ” Cas pauses, seems to gather his thoughts for a moments. “Daniel and Adina – they had all this, this stuff at their house. A tree, and lights, and – really ugly decorations.” He quirks a smile in Dean's direction at that, but Dean is still reeling too much to do more than register it. Cas sighs, and continues, looking out at the whirling snow again, “They told me they wanted to experience Christmas the way normal people do it. Together, at their home, with the friends they have made. And I realized that I hadn't even considered that you might want that too. Even though you would never ask for it.”

A lump has formed in Dean's throat at this point, and he has to clear his throat twice before he can push any words past it. Even then, all he manages is an unintelligent “Oh. Uhm. Okay.”

He can feel Cas looking at him, but Dean stares determinedly at the road, and the snow, and pretends his cheeks are only flushed because it's really, really warm in the car.

>

To his surprise, Charlie's car is parked outside when they reach the bunker about three hours later. Dean hasn't even made it all the way down the stairs and she's already jumped up from where she'd been sitting at the war room table with Sam and engulfed him in a bear hug. She's more careful about it than usual, so Dean guesses he must kind of look like shit. But she wants a hug, he can give her a hug. Charlie laughs, and then playfully flicks snow out of Dean's hair that had gotten stuck there during their brief walk from the Impala to the bunker's entrance. Dean is smiling so hard it pulls painfully at the bruise on his left cheekbone, but he doesn't care, he's just so happy to see her.

Charlie's cheerful expression briefly falls when she notices Dean's injury. She inspects the damage with an unhappy frown, her fingertips tracing lightly over the mottled bruises at the back of his hand, “Dean, what happened?”

Dean squirms a bit under the scrutiny. He just wants Charlie to smile again and assures her quickly that it was a spirit but it's taken care of now. It's fine, he's fine. He's also noticing how tired and sore he is, now that there's no driving to focus on. But it hits him that he's home, and most of his family is home, and there's food in the fridge that he could cook for them now to stuff their faces with.

The thing is that Charlie is even more impossibly stubborn than Cas is, and even harder for Dean to say no to. Cas has already left for his room to unpack his bag, and Sam is no help either, hiding his amused grin behind his mug of ass-tasting leaf water. And when Charlie says things like, “Your hand is shaking, Dean”, and “Just go lie down for a bit, come on, we can order something and me and Cas go pick it up”, somehow he just lets her tug at his good arm and nudge him down the hall towards his room.

Charlie pushes him gently down on his bed, and then forces a glass of water on him, and watches like a hawk while he obediently drinks about half of it. Moments like these are what reminds Dean that it didn't surprise him in the least how the followers of the Moon won the Battle of the Kingdoms under Charlie's leadership and that she kicked some serious ass in Oz.

“Get some sleep,” Charlie says, taking the glass out of Dean's hand and putting in on the nightstand, “We'll wake you when the food is here.”

Dean kicks off his shoes and settles further onto the bed. He doubts he's going to be able to really sleep – it's gotten better, but it's still a hit and miss kinda deal, no matter how tired he is – but he can admit to himself that it feels nice to let someone else handle everything for a bit. But when Charlie is about to leave, he stops her by holding onto her sleeve, peers searchingly into her eyes. “You doin' okay?” He asks. “Last I checked you were about to go all Ready Player One for the next few days.”

Charlie's eyes light up instantly at his words, “Oh, you read the book! Did you like it? Isn't Art3mis awesome? I swear if this had come out when I was a teenager I so would've had a crush on – ”

Dean rolls his eyes in fond exasperation at Charlie's excited chatter. He liked the book – a bunch of badass kids on a holy grail quest in cyberspace with eighties pop culture trivia as clues? Sign him up – but this is not what he wanted to talk about right now. “Yes, the book's cool. It's just – look.” Dean shifts on the bed, rubs at his neck with his good hand and avoids Charlie's eyes. “It's awesome you're here, don't get me wrong. But I didn't – didn't want you to feel like you, uh, have to. Just because I'm – ” He trails off, makes a vague gesture with his hand that even he isn't sure what it's supposed to mean.

Charlie sighs, and then the mattress dips slightly as she sits down beside Dean, tugging one leg under her with her knee a point of warmth against Dean's thigh. “Dean, this wasn't going to be my first convention and it's definitely not going to be the last. But you guys – you're my family. And yeah – for a while, Christmas was a serious no-go for me.” She pauses and Dean raises his head again and looks over to her. Charlie is worrying at her lower lip, gaze lost somewhere on the floor. Dean's fingers itch with the instinct to draw her close and tell her it's okay, that it's not her fault. But then Charlie draws in a breath, and her voice is steady and determined when she continues, a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “But then I started thinking – it's never gonna be the way it was, but maybe, that's not so bad, you know? Maybe I've found a new home and I can start liking Christmas again.”

Dean feels something in his chest constrict and finally gives in to the need to run a soothing hand up and down Charlie's back. “You definitely have,” he says, “found a new home, I mean.”

Charlie looks up, her smile widening and making Dean smile in return. She laughs and shoves playfully at Dean's shoulder, “You are such a sap, Dean Winchester.”

>

Against all odds, Dean must actually fall asleep for a while, because suddenly Charlie is back and gently shaking him awake, “Come on, we've set everything up in the red-nosed reindeer's room.”

Dean sits up and rubs blearily at his eyes. He yawns and blinks up at Charlie, “Gimme a sec, I'll be right there.”

He leaves his shoes off and shuffles over to his sink once Charlie has bounced back down the corridor with a cheerful “Hurry up or the food will get cold!” He splashes some cold water in his face, then winces when he catches his reflection. The bruise on his left cheekbone has darkened, his hair is a mess and there are still bags under his eyes. He runs a hand through his hair though it's probably only making things worse, then pulls his flannel and t-shirt off and changes into fresh ones. It takes longer than usual, and by the time he's done his left hand throbs with dull pain again. But Dean's had worse, and as long as he holds it still it shouldn't be too bad. At least he's no longer wearing clothes reeking of ash and graveyard dirt.

Dean doesn't really know what he expected, but when he rounds the corner and enters Sam's room, he's stopped short by the sight that greets him. Somehow, they've managed to cram an armchair beside Sam's bed and a small table that's stacked with huge pizza boxes. The room is bathed in warm light by the bedside lamp and a few candles on Sam's desk, and the slightly brighter light from the DVD menu. Cas and Charlie are sitting on Sam's bed, several additional pillows at their backs, and a space left for Dean beside Cas. Sam is lounging in the armchair, blanket spread over his stretched out legs, and holding a mug of eggnog out to Dean with a slightly rueful if happy smile, “Merry Christmas, Dean.”

Dean accepts the eggnog in a daze, too overwhelmed to do much but smile back at Sam. His brother is still red-nosed and glassy-eyed, but his color looks healthier again. Dean squeezes himself on the bed beside Cas, and it's a good thing Charlie is there too, demanding for someone to hand the pizza over now that Dean is here, because it distracts him from the way Cas is all pressed up against his side. Dean grabs one of the pizza boxes and Cas rests it on his legs so all three of them can reach it. It smells amazing, and abruptly makes Dean aware that he's starving. Charlie fiddles with the remote, already navigating her way through the menu, “You okay with Lord of the Rings, Dean?”

They've been making their way through the trilogy for a while now. Charlie insisted on the extended editions, and watching them is taking forever, but Dean is cool with it because it also means there's more badass Army of the Dead in the third part. And he doesn't care that Megadouche zapped the entirety of them into Cas' brain, it's a difference to just know and to actually watch them. Especially with family.

They start watching, trading pizza pieces and making fun of Sam for bemoaning the fact that he's going to have to change his sheets again because Charlie flicked pizza crusts at Dean after he said he thinks the Ents are creepy. Charlie hits pause sometimes when Cas asks her something about the books or the movies, and some of their ensuing discussion are so ridiculous they make Dean laugh so hard he almost gets eggnog up his nose. It's crowded with all of them in Sam's room, warm and comfortable, and Dean doesn't know how to thank them, so he just tries and lets himself enjoy it. He snaps a picture of Charlie passionately arguing with Cas about elves versus dwarves, pizza box balanced precariously between them, and sends it to Kevin with the caption you're missing out buddy. He gets back a pissy okay okay fine. gonna come by in two days and there better be food. Then, five minutes later, merry christmas jerk.

Dean must fall asleep at some point, because the next thing he knows is that his cheek is resting on something too uncomfortable to be a pillow, and someone is plucking at his shirt and softly saying his name.

He blinks his eyes open and then realizes with a surge of embarrassment that he's been conked out with his head resting on Cas' shoulder. Dean sits up and rubs a hand over his face in an effort to hide his expression, “Sorry man, didn't mean to fall asleep on you.”

Cas is watching him with a soft smile when Dean finally gets himself together enough to look at him. “It's okay. I didn't mind.”

Dean peers into his eyes uncertainly, feeling his face heat. “Uh. Good,” he manages, and then looks around for a distraction. The TV is off and the others are gone. The others are gone and he and Cas are still sitting way too close to each other. And it's warm, and soothing, and Dean wants more of it, even while he knows he can't have it. He clears his throat, and shifts as far away as the edge of the mattress allows, “Charlie gone to sleep?”

Cas sighs with something like disappointment or possibly just tiredness, “Yes. I only woke you because Sam would like to go to sleep soon as well.”

Right, they're still squatting on Sam's bed. Dean nods and shuffles to standing, wincing a bit when he accidentally catches his injured hand against the edge of the bed. It's going to be difficult to sleep without anything distracting him, but he's already caught some shut-eye after all, he can deal. Dean clears his throat and briefly meets Cas' eyes before letting his gaze fall again to settle on nothing in particular. He makes a vague, sweeping gesture with his good hand, trying to encompass Cas, and the TV, and the food, and Cas coming for him earlier and driving home with him in it. “Thank you, for uhm. You know, everything.”

Cas is still looking at him when Dean dares to meet his gaze, a light behind his eyes that is making it hard for Dean to look away again. “Of course, Dean,” he says, still smiling softly.

Dean clears his throat again, nervously flexes his hand at his side. “Right. Uh. Goodnight then, I guess.” He turns and makes his way to his room, keeping his head down the entire way and trying to forget about the way Cas had felt all warm and up close to him. Hanging onto things he can't have is not going to help him sleep. Dean's already had more family around tonight than he had dared hope for – he can deal with being on his own again now.

Still, when he enters his quiet room he doesn't flick on the main light, just the one on his nightstand, because it's warmer and softer and makes the room seem less empty by virtue of keeping most of it in the dark. Dean sits down on the edge of his bed, then tugs his legs up because he didn't pull his boots back on earlier and the floor is cold. He rests his aching left hand on his knee, and replays the last few hours in his head, the warmth and the light and the laughter.

He must get lost in head for a while, because it takes Cas knocking on his open door for Dean to notice him. Dean looks up in surprise, and Cas hovers awkwardly in the doorway, “Can I come in?”

Cas has rarely ever been in Dean's room. It makes sense – Cas has his own room, and the TV is in Sam's room. Even when he comes to wake Dean or to ask him something, he's always reluctant about entering, and usually leaves quickly. The only time he ever came in and stayed for a while was one night when Dean had screamed himself awake after one of his capital-b Bad nightmares. The ones Dean barely ever remembers the content of but that leave him bathed in cold sweat and clawing at the sheets in terror. Cas had come in while Dean was sitting cross-legged on his bed, holding his head in his hands and willing his hammering heart to slow down. He'd approached Dean carefully, broadcasting his movements, and then slowly sat down across from Dean. Keeping enough space between them that Dean wouldn't feel crowded, that he had room to breathe, but close enough that Dean could see the rise and fall of his chest and calm his own breathing down by listening to Cas breathe. Dean hadn't talked, and Cas hadn't asked anything of him. Just stayed there with him until Dean felt calm enough to lie back down and curl up on his side. Cas was gone in the morning, and Dean kept lying in bed for several long minutes, with his eyes closed, pretending Cas was still there, so he could hold on to the rare feeling of safety.

Now, Dean blinks at Cas in confusion for a moment, before his voice box gets with the program and he stammers out a “Yeah, what's up?”

Cas comes in and closes the door behind himself. He's changed into a soft t-shirt and striped pajama bottoms. It makes him look both utterly domestic and strangely vulnerable, and something in Dean's chest constricts with longing. Cas' eyes flicker over to Dean and then away again, he sounds nervous when he says, “There's uhm. There's something I'd like to give you.” He comes over, socked feet quiet on the stone floor, and sits beside Dean on the bed. It's almost as close as they had sat on Sam's bed, but this time there's no lack of space to use as an excuse. Dean's mouth is dry, and his heart is hammering, and when Cas meets his eyes Dean feels utterly incapable of saying even a single word. There's sincerity in Cas' eyes, and a little bit of fear, and a longing that Dean thinks he knows from himself. And then Dean's breath catches, because Cas carefully takes Dean's face in his hands, and the tenderness of the gesture is enough to make Dean's throat close up the rest of the way. Cas seems to wait for him to move away, and when Dean doesn't, he leans forward slowly and kisses Dean on the mouth.

Dean's eyes flutter shut, he sighs against Cas' mouth, curls his good hand loosely around Cas' wrist in a desperate effort to keep him from drawing away again. His heart is beating so fast he can barely draw breath around it, but it doesn't matter, all that matters is the soft warmth of Cas' mouth, the way Cas moans and presses in when Dean opens his mouth, surrendering himself utterly. Dean looses track of time for a while, of anything but this moment. He comes back to himself slowly when Cas presses a few more soft kisses on his mouth and then leans away, his hands still on Dean's face and his thumb stroking circles over Dean's unbruised cheekbone. Cas is watching him when Dean opens his eyes again, so close that Dean can feel Cas' breath ghosting over his skin when Cas asks, “Can I stay here? I don't want you to be alone tonight.” Dean's heart misses a beat, his breath catches. Cas is still holding Dean's face though his thumb has stopped moving, sadness mixing in with the warmth in his eyes. “When I found you earlier – Dean, I never want to see you so alone again.”

Dean's eyes are stinging. It's all he can do to lean forward, and bury his face in Cas' neck, and breathe the “Yeah okay” out against his shoulder. This close, he can hear Cas swallow, and then Cas carefully and hesitantly moves his arms up to gather Dean close. He leans back so they can both stretch out across the bed, and then just holds Dean. Lets Dean clutch at him in return, and hide his expression by laying his head on Cas' chest and turning his face away. It's been so long since someone's done this, just held Dean and touched him with affection. And it's Cas, who knows Dean better than almost anyone else and still wants to be with him. And for once, Dean doesn't move away, and doesn't rub angrily at his eyes, just stays right there in the quiet night and soft light of the lamp, with his head on Cas' chest, listening to the beat of his heart.