"Really?" Dean asks, pausing in the doorway. He wrinkles his nose a little; the kitchen smells like scalded water. "Tea?"
A weird look crosses Sam's face ─ one part embarrassed and two parts determined. "Yeah. It's for Mom."
"You ─ why do we even have tea?"
"Oh." Another weird look. Sam fiddles with the box; it's bright yellow and covered with white flowers. "It's, uh. Chamomile. Cas bought it. He thought it'd help with your insomnia when you were, um ─" he grimaces. "You know."
For a split-second, a phantom something itches on the inside of Dean's arm. He clears his throat and says, "Right, yeah."
"She ─" Sam grimaces again. "She likes tea, right?"
Dean hesitates. He pictures their old kitchen in Lawrence ─ the floral wallpaper, the walnut cabinets, the pots and pans hanging on hooks. Sheer, white curtains had hung in the windows, and Mary had left them open because she'd liked plenty of sunlight. It had smelled like coffee in the mornings. Dean had always lined his army men up on the table before eating his Cheerios.
"I don't know," he admits. "She ─ maybe."
"Well," Sam says, peeling the teabag out of the packet. "I guess we're going to find out." He drops the teabag in the mug and fills it with water. The kettle ─ Dean didn't even know they had a fucking kettle ─ looks old enough to have witnessed World War I first-hand. "You calling it a night?"
Dean glances around the kitchen. "Yeah, in a minute." Mary put all the leftovers in the fridge, but there are still plates and take-out boxes all over the table. A handful of beer bottles are scattered across the counter. Their dad's journal is there too, sitting next to a pile of caps. "What're you doing with this?"
"Oh, yeah. I was going to let Mom read it. I figure it'll help her ─ you know. Fill in some of the blanks."
"That's ─ yeah." Dean wishes he'd thought of it. If nothing else, it would've saved him a couple of awkward staring matches while Cas was out looking for Sam. "That's a good idea."
Sam nods and turns back to the tea. After a moment, Dean heads over to the table so he can get it cleaned up. He sets the dirty plates in the sink, then gathers up the take-out boxes and stuffs them into the trashcan. He hears Sam walking out as he starts on the beer bottles. He chucks the empties in the recycling bin one at a time. As he's reaching for the unopened ones, he notices a pile of photos on the counter. They're John's photos ─ they must have slipped out of the journal when Sam picked it up.
Dean's seen them a hundred times. A thousand times. He's looked at them so often that nearly all of them are creased at the corners. A few have permanent fingerprints at the edges. Still, his hand shakes a little when he touches the one on top.
It's John and Mary's first date ─ what Mary had considered their real first date. She hadn't counted Maroni's because she'd paid for her own coffee that night; she hadn't wanted to give John the wrong idea. They picnicked at South Park the next Saturday, although the photo doesn't really show that. It's just a close-up Polaroid of Mary. Her hair is blowing in the wind, and sunlight is streaming against the side of her face.
The next one is a black and white photobooth strip. It was their fifth or sixth date; the story changed depending on how sober John was when he was telling it. A carnival had set up shop in North Lawrence, on an empty field along US 59. John hadn't been thrilled about the idea, but Mary had convinced him it would be fun. The first shot is blurry, like the camera went off before they were ready. They're making goofy faces in the next two; in the last one, John is kissing Mary's cheek.
"She bullied me onto the Tilt-A-Whirl," Dean murmurs. A smile had always tugged John's mouth when he got to this part. "I damn near puked up two bucks worth of cotton candy and cherry Coke."
Sighing, Dean pops the cap on one of the beers. He chugs the neck before moving to the next photo. It's another grainy Poloroid, taken on the front steps of the Reno courthouse. John is in his dress blues, and Mary is wearing a lacy, white sundress. A bouquet of daisies is wilting in her hands. Dean and Sam worked a case in Reno a couple of years ago; the courthouse still looks exactly the same.
He fumbles the next one ─ John sitting on the Impala's front fender like something out of Miami Vice ─ and the whole stack slides off the counter. He mutters, "Damn it," and blinks down at them for a second. Crouching makes his knees creak, so he sits on the floor. He sighs again and chugs some more beer. The cabinet door whines as he leans back against it.
The photos are still in order, but Dean goes through them anyway ─ John and the Impala again, then Mary standing outside their apartment on Louisiana Street in 1976, then John and Mary on the front porch of their house in 1978. Dean pauses to finish his beer when he gets to the shot of Mary bringing him home from the hospital. John took it through the Impala's open window; she's sitting in the passenger seat, looking exhausted and holding him in the crook of her arm.
The next few are just him ─ his first birthday, his first Christmas, him toddling toward a slide at South Park. Him hunting for Easter eggs in the backyard; him crawling around the Impala's front seat while John tinkers under the hood. After that ─ fuck. It's Mary smiling over his shoulder when he's about four.
A knot is burning in Dean's throat. He reaches up and grabs another beer off the counter. The next photo is Mary holding Sam at a pumpkin patch a few days before Halloween. Dean is standing beside her; her hands are full, so he's clutching the hem of her shirt. He has hay in his hair, and he's wearing a pair of corduroy overalls. A plywood scarecrow is lurking behind them, painted red and yellow and orange.
"Fuck." Dean remembers this being taken ─ at least, he thinks he remembers it. John didn't tell this story too often; when he did, he talked about how Dean picked out a pumpkin that was too heavy for him to carry. He wouldn't let anyone help him with it, so John showed him how to roll it on the ground. "Damn it."
There aren't too many more after that. One of John, Dean, and Sam outside a hunting cabin when Sam was about four and Dean was about eight. Another after Sam's first real hunt; he's nine and a half and grinning from ear to ear. Another of Dean and Sam at the salvage yard. They're both teenagers; Dean is holding a crossbow, and Sam's ankles are showing because he'd just hit a growth spurt. The last one is Dean and Sam with Bobby ─ it's Bobby's fifty-first birthday, and it's the last picture of Sam before he left for Stanford.
Dean's mouth is full of beer; he sputter-swallows before saying, "Yeah. Down here."
Cas walks into the kitchen and looks around. When he sees Dean, he frowns. "Are you all right?"
"Why are you on the floor?"
"I, um. I was ─" Dean doesn't know how to explain. He wipes his mouth with his sleeve and says, "I just am. Tell me about Angry Spice."
"Last night, Mick drove her to a hotel in Brainerd," Cas says. His loafers are muddy; his footsteps make sticky sounds as he moves closer. "They were met there by two men with the build and demeanor of bodyguards."
"Hired muscle. Or British hunters." The idea leaves a bad taste in Dean's mouth; he washes it away with a long swig of beer. "Anything else?"
Cas shrugs out of his trenchcoat and lays it on the counter. "Given Toni's... talents, I was afraid to get too close. I watched their rooms from the parking lot. From what I could tell, they didn't have any visitors." He unbuttons his suit jacket as he continues, "In the morning, all four of them drove to St. Cloud Regional Airport. They boarded a private jet that took off at ten o'clock."
"St. Cloud Regional Airport," Dean repeats thoughtfully. "Sounds dinky ─ too dinky for an international flight. Even a private one."
"I questioned several airport employees, but they didn't know anything about it."
Dean huffs. "Fucking Jedi mind-tricks. That Toni chick did something that made 'em forget about it. Or ─ you know. Not think about it too hard." His ass is starting to go numb; he shifts, fumbling with the photos so they don't slide out of his lap. "You think they really got the hell outta Dodge?"
Hesitating, Cas unknots his tie. It hisses softly as he pulls it away from his collar. "I don't know. Mick did say they were returning to London."
"And you believe that?"
"Of course not," Cas says, shaking his head. "You and your brother are the only humans I trust." He hesitates again. The fridge hurries to fill the silence, kicking on with a dull, tired hum. "You should be in bed. Being healed is taxing, and ─"
"Yeah. I'm ─" Dean sighs and rubs his hand over his face. "I don't know. I'm just ─"
"Sitting on the floor, looking at old photos?"
Dean snorts under his breath. "Sounds lame when you say it like that."
"Nostalgia is a common human emotion," Cas says, shrugging. "You shouldn't be embarrassed for indulging it."
A fresh knot starts burning in Dean's throat. He tips his head back and breathes through it for a second, then drowns it in the last of his beer. The bare mouthful at the bottom of the bottle isn't enough. He needs another one, but he'd have to move to get it. Before he can decide, Cas sits down beside him.
"What're you doing?"
"Joining you." Gently, Cas touches the photo of Dean and Sam and Bobby. "You and Sam look young here."
"Yeah. That was ─ I don't know. Fifteen years ago, maybe?" Dean shifts again; his thigh nudges against Cas'. "It was Bobby's birthday. We'd just wrapped up a werewolf gig in Fargo. That put us in the neighborhood, so Dad drove us down there with a bottle of Blue-Label and a brand new shotgun."
"That sounds fun."
"It started out all right," Dean says, clearing his throat. "Then Dad and Bobby got too far into the scotch. They started arguing about something. I ─ I don't even remember what. All of a sudden, Bobby grabs the gun and tells Dad to get the fuck off his property. We, um ─" he blows out a breath. "We didn't see Bobby again until Dad went missing."
Cas just nods. After a moment, he pinches the pumpkin patch photo by the corner and eases it out of the stack. "Is this ─?"
"Yeah. That's ─ yeah." Dean blows out another breath. "That was a week before she died." His throat feels like it's closing up. He wishes he'd got up and grabbed another beer. "She ─ fuck."
"Dean, what's wrong?"
"Nothing. I ─ everything. She ─" Dean sighs. He feels like an idiot. He probably sounds like one too. "She's here and alive and I'm ─ damn it."
Cas makes a soft noise. Then he wraps his arm around Dean's shoulder. Dean doesn't mean to lean into it so much, but Cas' fingers skim the back of his neck and then brush up into his hair. Cas is warm and solid against his side, and he ─ fuck. They've never had a lot of time ─ it's always been forty-five minutes here or three hours there, maybe the whole night if they're lucky enough to be in the same town. But between Lucifer and Amara, the last year has stretched them both pretty thin. And Dean has missed this. He's missed Cas.
The fridge starts humming again. Eventually, Cas says, "I'm no expert at human interpersonal relationships." His voice is a slow burr in Dean's ear. "You and Sam are the only friends I've ever had. But I think ─ I think you'll have to be patient. With her, and with yourself."
"Yeah." Dean tips his head to the side and noses at Cas' jaw. "It's just ─ it's weird."
Cas tugs Dean closer. "I still don't understand what you mean by that."
"I don't know. I ─ it's like we're strangers."
"She died when you were a child. Essentially, you are strangers."
"Yeah," Dean says again. He doesn't like it, but Cas is probably right. He and Mary are working from memories that are thirty-three years past their sell-by date. It's going to take some time before it starts to feel normal. "C'mere."
Cas kisses him. It's starts off easy and slow, but then Cas sighs into it. He opens up for it, making it a little dirty and wet. Dean tucks his hand inside Cas' collar so he can palm the hollow of Cas' throat. For a split-second, he thinks about sitting up and sliding into Cas' lap. He's so exhausted and emotionally drained that he doubts he could get it up, but the idea of it ─ pulling Cas close, grinding down against him until they both get off ─ makes faint heat spark under Dean's skin.
"Hey," he murmurs, his voice hitching around a yawn. "Don't start something I'm too beat to finish."
Cas huffs. "I'm not. You really should go to bed."
"Yeah. Bed sounds good." Dean sits up and bends his knees, wincing as the blood in his legs starts pumping again. "You, um ─ you wanna stay?"
It takes Dean a minute or two to get moving. His knees are stiff; they pop and creak when he finally gets to his feet. Cas grabs the beer bottles Dean left on the floor, so Dean gathers up the photos. They belong with John's journal, but it's late enough now that Mary might be asleep. Dean arranged them in the right order and sets them on the counter. Then he hits the kitchen's lights and shuffles into his room.
He strips down to his boxer-briefs and crawls into bed. As soon as he stretches out, the full weight of his exhaustion hits him like a brick. He yawns into his pillow. He hears Cas rustling around, but he can't open his eyes. The lights go off. Then the bed dips and Cas slots himself against Dean's back.
"Cas," Dean mumbles. "You gonna be here in the morning?"
"Yes," Cas says, kissing the back of Dean's neck. "Yes, I will."