"If you're gonna stare at the ceiling all night, I'm sleeping in the other room. I can almost hear your brain thinking too much." Gruffly, Dean climbed out of bed and snatched his pillow.
Castiel watched the silhouette of bare skin move through the shadows. The bunker's air conditioning hadn't been working right and Dean had taken to sleeping nude. Months of living with him as a human man still hadn't dulled Castiel's fascination with the human body - his body. He observed Dean search the dark room for his shorts, allowing himself the small human pleasure.
"Well, you gonna tell me what's on your mind so we can go the hell to sleep or you gonna lay there all emo until morning?" The gruff way he spoke hinted at an ever-shortening temper. He'd told Castiel days before that he wanted to get back to hunting but they hadn't found a case yet. Dean was going stir crazy and Castiel was his punching bag, a role he bore with patience and fortitude.
"Nevermind," Dean muttered. He slumped on the foot of the bed, the temper cooled. "Talk to me."
Castiel didn't really know. That was one of the peculiarities of his human state. Moods came over him that he hadn't learned to identify beyond the broadest terms of happy, sad, or angry. Only recently had he learned to recognize the signs of craving sex and Dean responded fascinatingly to his new moments of aggression. But for the most part, the unidentified moods left his human brain clouded and confused. Dean had trouble understanding how he could simply lie there in silence and follow his thought processes for hours at a time.
"I don't know myself yet," he eventually said with careful words. "You humans are so certain of your identities, your purposes, your life histories. I barely understand when my body is hungry or thirsty or tired. I don't have childhood memories like you do. I never met my father."
"A lot of people haven't met their fathers," Dean pointed out, flopping on his back alongside Castiel's legs. He reached an arm over Castiel's knees and rested a hand against his hip. "You just have to work with what you have even if it's going slower than you want. At least you know when you want some things now." A lilt of laughter accented Dean's words and he suggestively patted Castiel's hip.
Castiel smiled in the dark. Smiling was coming easier every day. It wasn't such a conscious effort to appear like other humans anymore.
"You need a birthday," Dean suggested.
"Dean, I was created before mankind was even conceived as an idea. There were no dates. I don't know when exactly I was created."
"I don't mean created as an angel. Birthdays are a human thing. We just pick a date and use that to mark your human life as it passes."
He saw Dean's hand raise from his chest at the end of the bed, silvery skin in the faint light seeping underneath the door, as he appeared to count on his fingers. "I think you became human on May 14. No, May 15. You could use that day."
"No." The thought of that horrible night twisted Castiel's stomach. It felt rather unpleasant. "I would rather not remember that night."
"Okay," Dean conceded. "Any dates special to you?"
Thoughtful silence fell over the former angel. Birthdays to humans seemed like celebratory events. They Garthered and offered gifts to the recipient, they ate, they drank, and they honored their gift of life. He'd seen countless birthday celebrations while his garrison was assigned to watch over humanity. Such days were meant to recognize the growth of that human, how they changed over the years, and their hopes for the year to come. Castiel thought about when he might have truly changed as a being - human or angel. Only one date made sense.
"September 18," he said.
"Random. What date's that?"
"September 18, 2008, was the day I fought my way through Hell and raised you from perdition." He paused, knocked down by a peculiar unidentified wave of emotion that sat on his chest and stung his eyes. "The whole of my existence changed when I gripped your shoulder tight. You looked at my true form just before I grabbed you. It didn't hurt you because you were dead. I felt myself change then but I didn't know it. I was acting under orders. I suppose I had been rebellious before you but the archangels reset my memory and…" He swallowed back unspoken words. "September 18."
Wordlessly, Dean flipped on his stomach and made his way up to Castiel's face on his hands and knees. "You're saying the day you consider yourself born was the day you found me."
Dean let out a small breath and a short nod. The body language didn't compute for Castiel and he wasn't certain if he said the wrong thing again. He nearly apologized for bringing up Dean's time in Hell until Dean leaned down and gently pulled at Castiel's full lips. At times, his affection bordered on the violent side, not that Castiel disliked it, but he came to understand that his gentility when they were wholly and utterly alone was Dean's way of expressing love. He never could say it. He was a man of action and deed, not prose.
"How old do you want to be then?" questioned Dean in a whisper, his weight settling somewhat on Castiel and somewhat on the bed.
"I don't know. My vessel was 33-years-old when I took it. That would mean my next … birthday … is my 38th." It sounded so peculiar to reduce his thousands of years to a blink of a human life. "How old are you exactly?"
"I'm 34," Dean replied.
Castiel smiled faintly. "I'm older than you."
"Understatement of the century."
As Castiel and Dean finally drifted off to sleep in the unbearably hot bunker that night, the former angel felt content with another building block added to his human identity. Life began on September 18 and only they would know the meaning behind that date with each passing year.
The summer dragged by in blistering heat. One serious dislike Castiel discovered was his body's low tolerance for hot weather and he stood under cold showers much longer than necessary. Dean and Sam cursed violently at the air conditioning unit until it was determined that it was dead. They spend the next day and a half wrestling a new unit into the bunker, and Castiel didn't know how they paid for it, but he was so pleased with artificial cold air that he stood stark naked and arms outstretched in front of the bedroom vent. When Dean found him, he doubled over in laughter, the lines around his eyes growing beautifully deep.
Slowly, they picked up small cases again. No other hunters trusted the trio except Garth and the work came in at a trickle. Castiel learned to fight like a human and to handle weaponry. Sam called him an excellent shot and he was most often utilized to make long-distance kills like a sharpshooter of old. The way he handled a gun or a blade inexplicably aroused Dean and the old Impala witnessed frequent aggressive couplings the minute Sam left for food runs or to find motels. Sam either didn't notice or chose not to notice the bite marks and scratches branding both men through Castiel's first summer as a human hunter.
By the time the heat of August descended into the cooler air of September, Castiel entirely forgot that he had chosen a birthday. He found a stride in his new life and enjoyed the camaraderie of hunting with the Winchesters. Sometimes they even chose cases he suggested.
Late one morning after a physically demanding hunt, Castiel stumbled out of bed with disastrous hair and a crumpled t-shirt and baggy pajama pants. He shuffled through the bunker with bare feet on his way to the kitchen for beloved piping hot black coffee. Yet as he hit the threshold, he stopped in his tracks. Dean, Sam, Charlie, Kevin, and even Garth all stood around the kitchen as if they had been waiting for him.
"Good morning," Castiel greeted haltingly. "Has something happened?"
"Yep, it sure has, my man. You're a year older today." Skinny Garth grabbed up Castiel in a hug to which he was prone but Castiel stiffened anyway. "Happy birthday, man."
Momentarily stunned, Castiel looked to the other faces. Charlie's long, pale visage smiled brightly, as bright as her red hair, and she guided Castiel to the table by his forearm. He obeyed and sat down but he didn't know what to do with the information.
Beside him, Dean leaned down from his standing height. "September 18."
"Oh." Castiel looked up at his wide green eyes, like the light of nature itself, and he offered a brief smile. "Today?"
Dean nodded in a private way as Sam appeared with a serving platter of waffles. A single candle used during blackouts stuck through the middle like he'd staked the food to death.
"We don't have any cake right now," Sam said, "but you like waffles, so this'll have to do until I can run to the store later."
Castiel studied the breakfast pastries pierced by a lit utility candle. "Why the candle?"
"You make a wish and blow it out," explained Charlie, "and then we all eat ourselves fat. It's good luck. So make your wish."
"Wait," Kevin interjected. "We're supposed to sing first."
Sam groaned and rolled his eyes, proclaiming singing a stupid tradition. And a moment later, Charlie agreed.
"Shut it," ordered Dean. "It's his first birthday. He gets the works. Shut your cake holes and sing the damn song."
The family of misfits obeyed their fearless leader and sang Happy Birthday in completely different tones. Dean carried a tune quite well but the others - well, Castiel wouldn't have admitted them into Heaven's choir. One thing was clear, though. Castiel felt the surge of warmth in his chest that he'd begun associating with the emotion of love. His family loved him enough to remember a birthday that he and Dean had made up out of thin air earlier in the summer. They loved him in spite of all the terrible things he did. Sam made waffles even though Dean was the better cook just because he knew Castiel preferred them over pancakes.
"—No!" Charlie threw her hands out. "Don't say your wish out loud or it won't come true!"
Castiel looked at her like she grew another head. "Peculiar tradition," he said, but he complied just because they looked so pleased with themselves.
Making wishes was something he never did. As a logical celestial being, he knew making wishes was no different than praying, and angels would never grant them if they were wrong for the people. Now there were no more angels other than Metatron and he refused to pray or wish to that creature.
His eyes closed and he summoned any last remaining drop of grace in his being and pushed it toward God, if God still lived at all. Let me keep my new family, he wished. Give Dean peace and contentment. With that, Castiel opened his eyes and blew a puff of breath at the awkward utility candle in a pile of waffles. The flame snuffed out to the short burst of applause from the others.
Sam's impossibly long arm swooped across the table and took the waffle platter to serve out individually as Dean pulled up a chair beside Castiel. Charlie, Garth, and Kevin sat down as well, thrusting mysteriously wrapped parcels toward him.
"What is this?" came Castiel's hesitant question.
"Everybody gets gifts on their birthdays," explained Dean. He glanced over his shoulder at Sam hunched over the counter. "Well, almost everybody."
Kevin pushed a rectangular parcel wrapped in newspaper. "Sorry, I didn't have wrapping paper."
The reference lost on Castiel, he lifted the parcel and took the hint that he was to unwrap the box in front of everyone. Reckless fingers ripped into the paper and the box simultaneously until he produced a laptop that seemed thinner and more advanced than the one Sam tucked under his arm wherever he went.
"The hell'd you get a new Mac?" Dean interrogated in a low tone, his head cocked.
A squiggly sort of busted smile crossed Kevin's face and he shrugged. "I know people," he said. "The guy needs to start connecting with the human race."
It actually sent a flush of excitement through Castiel to have a laptop of his own. "Thank you, Kevin," he said enthusiastically. "I will learn a lot using this."
"Just keep Dean off it or your hard drive'll fill up with cartoon porn," Sam mumbled as he set plates in front of each person.
"Oh, come on, man!" Rolling his eyes, Dean tore off a piece of his waffle and beaned it off Sam's face.
Brow slightly arched, Castiel's eyes slid to Dean at his side. "Animated characters engage in carnal relations? Why would they be depicted as breeding? Fantasy creatures cannot breed, Dean. They're not real."
It sounded as if Charlie and Kevin might choke from laughter spasms.
"Anime, dude. Nice." Garth clicked his tongue and shot Dean with his hand fashioned like a gun.
"It's art." Dean tried to defend himself but dissolved into deep chuckles. He nudged Castiel's arm, saying, "I'll hook you up later." He took the new Mac and set it on the floor beside his chair to make room for the next parcel.
"This one's from me," said Charlie between bites of waffle.
Again, Castiel ripped open a large box - this time wrapped in bright blue paper - and found stacks of discs. Scribbled black marker writing on each disc showed phrases like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. He looked to Dean, his touchstone of human culture.
"DVDs. Movies," he said quietly.
"Oh." Castiel smiled. "I've seen a few movies. Television I know more readily."
"You gotta learn all these movies. I burned the best ones. Sorry I couldn't buy them but, you know, money." Charlie's face beamed as she examined the stacks of discs that she apparently made herself somehow - probably with one of those computers Castiel now owned.
"I will watch all of them," he promised. "Thank you."
Sam shoved his chair back from the table the way he always did, being too large for any room, and he pulled a silver handgun from his belt. "I didn't have time to wrap it, but I thought you earned your own gun now," he said nonchalantly.
Before Castiel could touch it, Dean grabbed it from the table and examined the silver barrel. "Sammy, is this Dad's?"
"Yeah," Sam replied. "Then it was my first gun." A strange emotion hung over the table that Castiel couldn't quite identify until Sam shrugged as if diffusing it. "I don't need it anymore."
Dean's face shifted from intense to resolute as he passed a look between his brother and his lover. He handed over the gun to Castiel. "It's yours now," he said. "Winchester guns stay in the Winchester family. You take care of it."
"Dean," Castiel broached, hesitantly grasping the gun, "my name is not Winchester. I am of no relation to your family."
"Actually, yes, you are." Garth hopped up from the table like an excited puppy and presented Castiel with a shoebox. "It took Charlie's hacking, Sam's burglary skills, and Dean driving the getaway car, but you're a resident of Kansas now."
"What?" Curiously, the former angel lifted the lid and peered inside, finding the sort of documentation of human existence that he'd seen Dean and Sam carry in their own boxes.
"Yep." One by one, Garth explained each item. "Driver's license, US passport, two credit cards - be careful with those or the feds'll be on your ass - immunization records, birth certificate. Let's see." He showed Castiel the driver's license. "You're now Castiel Robert Winchester, born September 18, 1975, in Topeka, Kansas. Six foot tall, 165 pounds - I guessed on that - hair brown, eyes blue, blah blah blah. You get the idea. Keep this on your bod all the time in case you get stopped by cops or you want to buy smokes or booze."
"I understand." An entire story had been conjured for Castiel as if he had been human all along. He planned to study each document later in the privacy of his room.
"See," Dean said in a low tone, "you are a Winchester now. Winchester guns stay in the Winchester family."
There was another unidentified emotion again. Castiel stared at Dean for a long moment, trying to focus and identify. Happy, yes. Other things too. The warm love feeling, but it seemed different than the love sensation toward Dean alone. He felt the urge to say thank you again, but for what specifically, he didn't know.
They passed the day watching the first two Harry Potter movies from the box Charlie had given him. An intense debate erupted between Charlie and Sam over whether Hermione was better suited for a romantic partner to Harry or Ron. Castiel wasn't aware children engaged in romance and decided they must have been arguing over future events in the series. The wizard with the long white beard intrigued Castiel, as did the professor in black with the monotone voice. He decided one represented Heaven and one represented Hell, though neither were completely good or evil.
By nightfall, the extended family bid them farewell and Castiel made an effort to hug as humans did. He suspected he was still rather stiff at the strange custom, although he relished in embracing Dean. That was different.
"Cas, leave that for tomorrow," Dean said as Castiel cleaned up clutter in the kitchen somewhere around midnight.
"I like the bunker to be orderly," he replied, washing another dish.
"I know. Just come to bed." Dean left the kitchen before Castiel could argue.
The subject clearly closed to debate, it either meant Dean desired carnal relations or he had something to talk about in private. Castiel put the dry dishes in the cabinet and joined him in their bedroom. He found Dean sitting cross-legged against the headboard with two cardboard boxes in front of him - one significantly smaller than the other.
"I didn't want to do this with everyone. Sammy, he'd—" Dean laughed at himself, "—he'd never let me live it down. He still might throw a bitch fit when he sees this in the morning."
"What is it?"
Dean grabbed the smallest box and outstretched his arm to Castiel. The curiosity overtook him and he climbed onto the bed, taking the box and ripping it open. An ugly orange bottle with a white lid and a white label fell into the palm of his hand.
"What is Claritin and why is it prescribed to Oscar Groucho?" asked Castiel in the highest state of confusion.
Dean snatched the pill bottle from his hand. "I'm Oscar Groucho, among other names. It's an allergy drug. I'm allergic to your birthday present but I know you wanted it before, so now that we live here, I thought, hell, why not?" As he spoke, he slid the larger box toward Castiel with his fingers looped in holes. "Don't rip this one. Be gentle. Open here."
As careful as his large, clumsy, human hands could muster, Castiel unfolded the lid of the box and leaned over it. There he found an old ratty peach towel nested beneath a tiny kitten as black as a ink with sapphire blue eyes. The kitten looked up at him and tiny sharp white teeth appeared with an equally tiny mew. Castiel actually thought he felt his heart lurch, which was utterly ridiculous, as the human heart pumped blood and bore no weight of emotional response. Still, an involuntary wide smile opened his face as he wordlessly scooped the kitten into his hands and held it against his chest. The kitten's front paws latched around his thumb and it gnawed harmlessly on him.
Clearing his throat, Dean's voice deepened as if to assert his masculinity. "We're not taking him on the road and he's not sleeping in bed with us. Got it?"
"Got it," mimicked Castiel. "Dean, I … I love you."
The words hadn't passed between them before and Dean shifted as if he still feared being caught with a male. He scratched his stubble without making eye contact but Castiel didn't care.
"I … I, you know … I love you too, you damn softie."
He exhaled forcefully as if it was the hardest thing in the world to say. To temper the weight of the words, it seemed, Dean grabbed Castiel around the back of the neck and pressed an aggressive, masculine kiss on his mouth.
"So, I picked this one up from the shelter because he reminded me of you when you had wings. You know, big black wings. Naive blue eyes." The more Dean talked, the more he put distance between himself and the declaration of love. Castiel recognized it and let it pass, listening carefully about his new little kitten. "You said your wings were like a raven. I thought maybe you could call him Raven. So you don't forget how you looked before. I guess. You know. It's stupid, I guess."
Castiel watched him silently as his thumb rubbed the kitten's back. "It's not stupid. I like it." He looked down at the kitten toying with his shirt collar. "What do you think, Raven?"
Over the next week, Dean's iPhone filled up with more pictures of Raven than he cared to admit. The Claritin only helped his allergy a little bit, but damn if he didn't have a soft spot for the little kitten, especially as he watched Castiel talk to him while they watched Charlie's movies or while he got lost on his new laptop for hours at a time.