"Dean. Dean. Dean," the voice on the other end of the phone said, quickly transitioning into, "DEANDEANDEAN."
"What," Dean finally managed, because it was three a.m., he'd just moved back out of Lisa's—and hey, six months, that was a new record, every week like a fairly decent year until the very end—and he was so hung-over he was still drunk. He was living his shame that not only had Lisa drunk him under the table, she'd still been going when Dean had left.
"Oh my God," Becky said. "Do you have any idea how long it took me to find this number?"
"Becky, whatever you need, I'm not in the hunting business anymore. Talk to Bobby." He hung up.
The phone rang again, and Dean contemplated attempting to flush it down the toilet before deciding the bathroom was too far away. He picked it up, knowing he was going to regret it. "You've got ten seconds."
"AlreadytalkedtoBobbyneedtotalktoCas," Becky slurred out in one fast, jumbled breath.
"Never mind. You've got—as long as it takes to slow that down to normal speed."
"Bobby gave me your phone number," Becky said, still fast, but at least at a speed he could understand this time, "but I need to talk to Castiel."
"Cas went home." The room felt like it was spinning, slow, looping spirals, and Dean wondered idly if they had booze in Heaven.
"Crap." Then, "I don't suppose you've heard from Chuck?" Her voice wavered, and shit, Dean could not deal with Becky's tears right now; the headache part of the hang-over was already beginning to creep in.
"I thought you broke up."
"I did, we did," Becky said, "but I told him I'd like to stay friends, and I meant it, and now he's missing, has been missing for at least five months, and I don't know who to talk to, and all that's left behind is his last manuscript."
"He's still writing?" Dean asked, not bothering to hide his horror.
"Dean, focus. Chuck was—is—is—a prophet, guarded by an archangel, and now he's missing."
"I'm sorry," Dean said. "Really, I am. But I can't help you."
"If—if you hear anything," Becky said, but it didn't sound like she was giving up, just redirecting, already mentally moving on to the next lead.
After Becky disconnected, Dean rolled out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom, discovered that it wasn't too far after all.
Two weeks later, Dean was on the road. He'd said goodbye to Lisa, given Ben one last hug, and promised to call and send the coolest postcards he could find. He wasn't hunting, but he couldn't stop moving: he took I-70 until he hit the East Coast, then traversed the length of the seaboard like another might pace the width of their living room.
He was seated in a worn vinyl booth in a dusty roadside diner, mid-bite in his double-bacon cheeseburger, when suddenly he wasn't alone anymore. Spittakes, Dean told himself, choking the mouthful of burger down with a will, were for other people.
"Heaven," Castiel declared moodily, eyeing Dean's burger like he was about to break a commandment and commandeer it for himself, "is bullshit."
"I thought you were happy to be God's little go-to boy again." Dean reluctantly slid the plate across the cracked Formica table.
"God isn't giving orders anymore," Castiel reminded Dean, like he thought Dean had spent the past half year on a bender and blacked out the whole apocalypse thing. He somehow managed to fit a quarter of the burger in in one go, and Dean's brain went weird places having to do with the size of Castiel's mouth.
"Can I get y'all anything else?" the server swooped in to ask.
"Another burger," Dean said.
"Three," Castiel said. "And a chocolate milkshake."
Dean raised his eyebrows. "Did you guys let Famine into Heaven?" he asked after the server had flitted off with the order. "Or are you just nursing a tapeworm?"
"Heaven has no cheeseburgers," Castiel said. "Or chocolate."
Dean had to concede the point. "So this is what, a social visit? A vacation?"
"You could say that," Castiel said in a way that indicated he had no intention of letting Dean know if that was the actual truth.
"So who'd you hand the keys to the castle?" Dean leaned back in the booth and watched Castiel demolish the burger.
"I wasn't the only angel resurrected," Castiel said in between bites.
He took a long drink of water as Dean stared on in horror. "Please tell me Gabriel isn't in charge."
The right corner of Castiel's lips curled back in a half-smirk. "No."
He drained the rest of the—Dean's—water and murmured a Thank you to the server as she arrived with the milkshake. Much like his bewildered smile when first discovering the joy of cheeseburgers while affected by famine, Castiel was practically beaming with joy after his first sip.
"Bring me another," Castiel told the server, who was taking Castiel and his junk food binge in stride. He ordered a third milkshake to go, as well as five more double bacon cheeseburgers. "I promised Anael I would bring one back for her," Castiel said to Dean, like milkshakes were the equivalent of baby-sitting money in Heaven.
"And the burgers?"
"Are mine." Castiel clutched the bag closer.
"Right." Trying not to sound forlorn or lonely or in any way not a self-sufficient, confident adult happy to be out on his own, "You know, you could visit more often."
Castiel looked almost fond as he said, "I know." After a moment, "Tell Becky Rosen that Chuck Shurley is not in Heaven."
"It's not," Castiel said, and sometime in the second it took Dean to roll his eyes, Castiel had disappeared.
Lisa was Dean's favorite dream-crusher, even when it was Sam's dream she was crushing, too.
Here was the thing: Dean had promised. Dean had promised, and he'd given it his best shot, and it still hadn't worked. Dean had tried the all American apple pie suburban fantasy lifestyle, and it was a freaking disaster. He'd loved Ben, and he'd liked Lisa, but great sex, friendship, and an attempt to raise a kid together apparently wasn't enough. Dean had genuinely wanted to be Ben's dad and had genuinely wanted to be Lisa's husband; he'd gone straight and put together a good enough fake resume to get a sales job at the local Chevy dealership. And really, Dean should have known better, because Winchesterly dying wishes rarely (read: never) ended well.
When he'd saved up and bought a ring, had drawn it out from under the pillow at the end of one long, pleasant evening when Lisa's mom had the kid and asked, "What do you think?" Lisa had looked at him with equal parts affection, pity, and regret.
"Dean—" she'd said gently, then frowned and socked him hard in the shoulder. "I like you, you know that?" It was very definitely not a yes.
That was when Dean knew as hard as he tried, his promise to Sam was one he couldn't keep. Dean had stayed another month, but—
Not every longshot became a Hail Mary pass. As much as Dean had wanted it, that sweet, cozy, quiet happily ever after, it had never been made for him, and that was okay. He'd been raised on hunting monsters and saving people, not Little League and 401Ks. Lisa, even more than Dean, got that.
"You can come back any time," Lisa told Dean later, "to see Ben, or—" she ruffled Ben's hair and, smiling wide, very carefully said, "—hang out."
When Dean had visited every state twice and sent Ben postcards and thimbles from each, he decided enough was enough. If Becky could still be looking for Chuck—"I know he isn't in Heaven," Becky had said irritably, "I told him that"—then Dean could pull it together and at least look into the faintest possibility of a loophole for Sam, even if it meant spending the rest of his life chasing down dead-ends. It beat visiting the world's second biggest ball of twine for the seventh time in a row.
"Good to see you, boy," Bobby said, and Dean felt like he'd been struck in the chest by twin hammers of guilt and longing before Bobby strode down the steps and pulled Dean close to pound his back in something like a hug, something like a gentle beating. Dean hung on as best he could.
When Bobby finally pulled away, he said, "You should've called ahead. I'd have cleared off the couch."
"I can shift a few papers," Dean said, stooping to retrieve his fallen duffel and follow Bobby in.
"Bobby, Bobby, have you seen this passage!" came a loud and familiar voice. "My BFF knows a Classics professor who—"
Becky stopped abruptly when she looked up from the laptop perched on her knees, her body wedged into the couch on the center cushion between two towering piles of books and scrolls. She blinked rapidly, then grinned. "Cas says hi," she informed Dean, then went back to rapidfire typing.
"A few papers is a bit of an understatement," Bobby said.
"Aw, do I get a new nickname again?" Becky shot back with easy familiarity, not bothering to look up from the screen this time, and it hit Dean that, as jarring as it was to see her here, Becky had made herself a home in Bobby's living room, had made an office space of his couch. "Just so you know," Becky said, "the books on the table are for you."
Dean looked askance at Bobby, who said, "She means you."
"Go, go, fangirl research super powers," Becky said accompanied by a tiny fist-wave. "I'd start with the leftmost pile. Don't touch the papers on the third stack."
Eventually, Becky looked up and shrugged uncomfortably. "I had to read them anyway, and I've been indexing, and—it doesn't really matter. Point is, they're the only ones I've found that might help you. Third stack is crossover." She shrugged again. "Let me know if you see anything that might be useful for Chuck."
After that, she ignored them as effectively as if they were especially lifelike statues, focused entirely on her work.
Heaven, Dean discovered, had the internet ever since Castiel had made Ash their sysadmin.
"Not everyone," Becky said, "because wow, could you imagine getting an IM from your long dead great-aunt? But several hunter computers down here are hooked in, and some of the angels and hunters up there are, too." She stroked the casing of her Mac like someone might pet their cat, if that someone were creepily intense about their cat love. "Oh, hey, Jo."
Dean knocked over the left book tower trying to peer around.
"It's an e-mail," Becky said after the papers had settled, rolling her eyes, "not the real deal. I'll let you have a go in a minute."
It was amazing how quickly Becky had gone from his fan to utterly unimpressed with his existence. He'd walked out of the guestroom in his boxers the day before and Becky had shrieked, "Oh my God, where are your pants!" before flying out of the hall and into the kitchen. Dean had the sinking suspicion, though, that she'd have had another reaction entirely if it had been Sam.
Becky shooed him away with a the adults are talking motion, and, grumbling halfheartedly, Dean went to the kitchen to see if he could rustle up some sandwiches. He brought her back a turkey on rye and traded for the laptop. Jo had sent some .pdfs Dean couldn't make sense of, some further instructions regarding spell components, and several paragraphs of Heavenly gossip.
"That's private," Becky scolded from over the back of the couch, using her cordless mouse to scroll past so all Dean caught was something about Anna, Pamela, a gatecrashing of someone else's Woodstock, and Gabriel, who apparently had decided to stick around a while.
"Right. So this helps us—how?"
"It's a summoning ritual," came Castiel's voice from directly behind him, and Dean barely caught the Mac in time.
"Give me that." Becky shoved her plate at Cas and yanking the Mac from Dean's hands, practically cooing over the thing.
"Is this mine?" Castiel asked, staring down at the remaining sandwich half, and Becky waved a hand, sitting on a bare patch of floor and absorbed in another e-mail.
"Dean made it," Becky said absentmindedly.
"Thank you, Dean." Castiel took a careful bite from the corner. He chewed contemplatively, swallowed, and asked, "Is there more?"
Dean, it appeared, was on sandwich making duty for the foreseeable future.
"It's only fair," Becky said maybe twenty minutes later, retrieving a second sandwich for herself. "Cas is doing all the heavy lifting for us."
"I'm running out of bread," Dean said as calmly as he could manage. He was in the kitchen, barefoot, making sandwiches, and every time he thought to complain, Castiel would wander in and look so goddamn happy that there were more that Dean would swallow down the words and start on another.
"We're also out of beer." Becky smiled at Dean's look of despair and said, "I have an idea! Grocery run. It'll be good to get out of the house."
"Thank you," Dean said feelingly. At least there would be beer in Dean's future.
"Glad to give you the opportunity." Becky thrust a list at his chest, because apparently it wasn't all about taking pity on Dean. "Pick these up, too, while you're out."
When Dean returned, the living room had been cleared of Becky's and Bobby's books and papers, the furniture, and even the rug. Castiel was pouring liquid from a ceramic jug in a circle onto the wooden floorboards, and Dean asked, startled, "Is that holy oil?"
"No," Castiel said, not pausing his set-up.
"We're not going to light a fire indoors," Becky said, her tone one of horror. "We'd burn the house down."
"As I already explained," Bobby said, "fires are set in the fireplace or not at all. Dean has difficulty catching on sometimes."
Bobby and Becky exchanged looks of wry affection, but Castiel didn't bother to glance away from what he was doing. Dean decided then and there he was telling no one that he'd only ever used the angel trap indoors, despite the fact that each time it had worked out just fine.
"Anyone want to explain just who we're summoning?" Dean asked.
"Raphael," Castiel said shortly.
"And we're not using holy oil why?" Dean asked. "No, seriously, did you forget what happened last time we summoned him? Because I doubt he has. Leaving a guy indefinitely trapped in a ring of fire with no way out is the kind of thing that leaves an impression."
"I know," Castiel said with the grave tone of one acquainted with the experience firsthand.
"He wasn't there for very long," Becky said dismissively. "I think he let himself get caught."
"Based on what," Dean asked, "the Heaven-Hunter gossip network?"
"Yes," Becky said. "Jo asked Pamela, who asked Anna and Gabe—" Gabe? "—who asked around, and, well, when some other angels found out about the whole Raphael thing and went to free him, he was already gone."
"We're actually going with the Heaven-Hunter gossip network?" Dean asked disbelievingly, because, like with the hug it out, bitches plan to save the world through the power of love, it turned out the universe liked taking Dean's sarcastic suggestions and making them come true.
"Also," Becky said, "Cas listed the names of the prophets for me when I was trying to track down some more leads, and I was already checking the obituaries to see who was still around, so I thought, just in case--" She paused to take a deep breath. "Chuck Shurley died at age twenty in a boating accident off the coast of Michigan."
Becky stared down at the floor, and Bobby cleared his throat awkwardly. "About ready, Cas?"
"Yes." Castiel gestured Dean over, and, dazed and seriously fucking confused, Dean went.
Castiel drew out a knife from seemingly nowhere—Dean wondered if angel powers came with a spare pocket dimension to store your shit—and said, "We need your blood."
"What?" was really the only word Dean could find here.
"Do you see any other vessels?" Castiel asked impatiently, and dude, "No need to get crabby," Dean said, offering his forearm.
The blade was sharp enough that at first Dean couldn't feel it, and only after it drew away, the edge tipped a gleaming red, did Dean feel the pain, the blood trickling warm to drip off the point of his elbow and into the bowl Bobby held under it. Becky had withdrawn to one of the room's corners, watching, eyes wide and lips pressed thin.
"Go stand with Becky," Cas said after a moment, trailing a finger along Dean's arm and leaving behind unblemished skin. Feeling a bit like he was being sent to the little kid's table, but nevertheless not looking forward to confronting a probably pissed off archangel up close and personal, Dean did what he was told.
Instead of a lightning storm, they got a roomful of smoke and something like a small explosion that rocked the floorboards under their feet and tossed Dean against the wall. To his left, Becky let out a startled scream, and Dean felt kind of grateful for the juxtaposition with his own, only slightly more courageous sounding shout. Through the hazy smoke, Dean could see Castiel, standing like he'd cemented his feet to the floor, and Bobby slowly picking himself up. In the center of the circle stood—
A scruffy white guy who was definitely not Raphael, saying, "Sorry, sorry, haven't gotten the hang of that again yet, sorry."
Becky scrambled up faster than Dean could even try, screamed again, and flung herself at Chuck, who staggered and almost went down under her flailing arms and near incoherent shrieks. "Thoughtless asshole!" Dean thought he caught in the middle of it, and Becky, Dean decided was officially the scariest of them all, because Dean was still working up the guts to get confrontational, while Becky was half-shouting something about friendship and keeping contact and how even Heaven had e-mail these days.
Chuck shifted awkwardly, slung his arms around her shoulders, and said, "I know, I know, it was totally my bad." He rubbed circles into Becky's shoulders. "Though I, uh, I wasn't exactly in Heaven the past few months."
"We'd noticed," Castiel said, voice low, shoulders stiff and straight-backed, his face set in the implacable expression he'd had right before he'd threatened to toss Dean back into Hell.
"Hey," Chuck said, voice strained, and he waved pathetically with one hand.
Becky sniffled and pulled back to say, "Not that I didn't get what I wanted, but—where's Raphael?"
"Castiel wasn't the only angel rewarded for services above and beyond the call of duty," Chuck said. "He's—somewhere in the Bahamas, I think." He closed his eyes, tilted his head, and said, "No, wait, Disneyland now."
And really, you'd think Dean would've picked up another word somewhere along the way, but he just kept coming back to, "What?"
"Well, he didn't get the original promised vacation," Chuck said, and he chuckled nervously. "Too busy playing bodyguard, redirect, distraction, and go-between. When I—seriously, I thought he was going to kill me." Chuck waved his hand. "Except, you know, the whole—thing."
"Oh, my God," Dean said.
Chuck brightened. "Exactly!"
Castiel said, broken and hurt and angry, looking like he'd been set adrift all over again, "I searched for you."
"I know," Chuck said, "but I didn't know then. I wasn't really—what you were searching for most of the time. It's—complicated."
"So explain it," Bobby said.
Dean found his voice, found some words that weren't an endless repeat of What?, and said, "First, if you're—if you're really—then Sam—"
"I can't," Chuck said instantly.
"Bullshit," and Dean was so close, so very close, to taking his words to Cas about going after God next as a vow, a solemn promise. At some point in the past four seconds, Castiel had flanked Dean, and his hand landed solid and heavy on Dean's shoulder, his fingers digging in just shy of discomfort.
"I mean," Chuck said, "that I literally can't, because Sam's not in Hell anymore." Chuck did that head tilt, eyes closed thing again, like he was trying to tune in to the right frequency. "He's somewhere in Omaha. Doing laundry."
Dean swallowed hard, and he knew, he knew he was overusing it, but he couldn't help asking, his voice coming out a small and broken thing, "What?" Then, "Why—?"
Suddenly Castiel's hand wasn't so much holding Dean back as holding him up.
Chuck came out of it, blinking hard, and said, "Oh, oh no, Dean, no, he didn't abandon you." Chuck had leaned in close to Becky again, one hand running up and down her spine in an absentminded gesture, like Becky was the security blanket Chuck was hiding behind. Becky didn't seem to disapprove; she'd wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her head against his left shoulder. Chuck licked his lips and said, "He, uh, he has house guests. He probably hasn't realized how much time has passed. I know he meant to say hi, even went to Lisa's, but then Lucifer and Michael started fighting again and needed to go another round of hugging it out."
"They're out?" Bobby asked, voice sharp.
"Not exactly," Chuck said. "I mean, it's like parole? And Sam is their parole officer? He volunteered for this!" Chuck finished in a rush.
"I think," Becky said, voice muffled against Chuck's shoulder, "that this explanation would be more comfortable sitting down. With sandwiches. And tea."
Because this was Dean's life, he was on sandwich duty again.
So apparently Lucifer's box had been converted into a time out corner and Chuck had been so inspired by Sam and Dean that he thought he'd make his newly remembered sons hug it out. "It was very therapeutic," Chuck said, "for everyone involved, I think."
"And so, what, they hugged a few minutes and everything was golden?" Dean asked. "Is there any reason they couldn't have done this, oh, a few millennia ago?"
"Well, um, it wasn't exactly hugging at first. That's where they found common ground, actually. From there it was—not easy, but Sam was able to help talk Lucifer around." Chuck fiddled with the crust of his sandwich before placing the plate on the floor in front of his crossed legs. With everything still pushed out of the living room, floor space was at a premium. "Lucifer's crush helped some."
"Crush?" Dean choked out.
"Oh, yeah, you missed that conversation," Chuck said.
"Wait, Lucifer actually said MFEO," Becky interjected disbelievingly, leaning forward and bumping her shoulder against Chuck's.
Chuck looked mildly embarrassed. "I had to give him a lecture on stalking and inappropriate behavior." He paused. "I'm a dad, it's weird. Until Joshua called me—I'd forgotten."
"So that 'back off' message—" Bobby said.
"My, uh, my bodyguards are understandably a bit overprotective," Chuck said. "Apparently it's worse than working for the president—any of them, really."
"And Sam's, what, your hired nanny?" Dean demanded.
"Don't worry, Dean," Castiel said levelly with the barest hint of a smirk. "Michael is chaperoning."
"Did you know about this?" Dean asked, glaring at Castiel.
"If I did," Castiel said irritably, "why would I have spent the last six months attempting to locate Sam?" Castiel only looked even more irked at Dean's surprise. "You weren't the only person to promise Sam something. Mine didn't preclude finding him and bringing him home."
Despite the presence of Bobby, Becky, and freaking God, who was inexplicably still very much Chuck, for some reason it felt like this was a private conversation as Dean asked, voice low, "What did you promise him?"
"That it would be okay." Castiel paused. "I was lying." Castiel: perpetual over-sharer. "I couldn't have known that I would be granted archangel status."
"You're welcome," Chuck said awkwardly, and Becky smacked him on the shoulder.
"They're having a moment," she said in something like a whisper gone Broadway.
Dean cleared his throat. "Moment's over." He stood up and said, "So Sam's in Omaha."
"Doing laundry," Chuck said, like this was important information that needed to be stressed more than once. Everyone stared, and Chuck mumbled, "I promised he wouldn't have any interruptions until he finished the last spin cycle."
"Seriously?" Dean asked disbelievingly. "I don't think he's going to object to seeing his brother."
"What laundromat?" Castiel asked.
"I don't know," Chuck said, "Suds 'a Lot? Suds 'o Mat?"
Castiel grabbed the last half of his (freaking seven) sandwiches and shoved it in his mouth. He put a hand on Dean's shoulder.
"I promised," Chuck said, staying seated cross-legged on the floor.
Castiel swallowed his food and said, "I didn't."
Without warning, Dean was standing with Castiel in front of a huge window with bubbles etched into the pane. There was no door. Castiel frowned. "I can't transport us inside."
"Give a guy a little warning," Dean said, glaring, though he had to admit at this point he wouldn't have wanted to wait even the three hours it would've taken to drive.
"And what would the purpose of this warning be?" Castiel asked. "To let God know our intentions so He could stop us?"
"Really, guys," came Chuck's voice, complaining behind them. "We couldn't have stayed at Bobby's where there were sandwiches?" He glanced in the window. "You only have to wait three more minutes."
Dean was fully prepared to tell Chuck what he could do with his three minutes when his phone rang.
"Dean," came Becky's voice, tinny and unhappy through the speaker, "is Chuck with you?"
"Uh." Dean passed the phone over. "It's for you."
Chuck winced at whatever Becky's first words to him were, then said, "I know, I know we just had that talk about disappearing, but—" He paused. "They might have hurt themselves setting off the wards, and—" He paused again and cast Dean a please help me stare, but there was no way Dean was getting involved.
"Three minutes," Castiel said like he was extracting a promise.
"Two now," Chuck said, then, "No, sorry, I'm listening." After a moment, "I'll be right there." He handed the phone back to Dean. "I'm going to get back to Becky. Bobby's going to wait there. Something about how with the Impala parked there, he's not worried about you forgetting to drop by. The wards should go down any moment now." With that, he disappeared.
"So," Dean said awkwardly into the silence that followed, watching the front of the laundromat and waiting for anything that looked like a door to appear. "Chuck's God."
"Apparently," Castiel said unhappily.
"Wards are down," Castiel interrupted, gripping Dean's arm, and suddenly they were standing beside a row of dryers and in front of Sam, who was taking out a load of whites.
"Sam!" Dean said, and never mind that Sam had roommates or whatever, Dean was hugging the hell out of his baby brother, whose whole face lit up and who immediately squeezed Dean in return, holding on so hard it almost hurt.
Maybe fifteen seconds in, Sam muttered, "Shut up, some of us like hugs."
"What?" Dean asked, pulling back.
Sam looked uncomfortable and said, "Sorry, I wasn't talking to you." Then, frowning, "They're like children. Four year old children."
Dean looked over at Castiel, who had his head tilted and was looking at Sam like he was an interesting science experiment gone horribly wrong. "Hello, Sam."
"Hi," Sam said. "I, uh, I heard you were looking for me. Thanks. I just, um, keep getting sidetrack—would you shut up for a moment, I'm trying to talk."
"Michael, Lucifer," Castiel acknowledged, and Dean wondered if Castiel could hear them.
With a long-suffering expression, Sam said, "I really can't wait until they're cleared to get their own bodies again." After a small pause, "For the last time, Lucifer, that isn't why." To Dean, Sam said, "Sometimes they make it up to middle school."
"So you've been sidetracked," Dean said, and he really didn't mean to sound so scorned, but, "for six months?"
Sam looked horrified. "What, no, it's been—what—five days? Seven?" Then he looked angry, and it was obvious he wasn't speaking to Dean when he said, "Why didn't you tell me so much time had passed?" If his brow furrowed any further, Dean worried Sam's forehead would explode. "Oh, real mature! If you don't—yes, that is exactly what I will do."
"This is totally my bad," and when Dean whirled around, there was Chuck, looking faintly guilty and with Becky at his side, their hands clasped.
Becky dropped Chuck's hand and said, "Sam! You're alive!" She showed considerable restraint in that when she flung herself at Sam, there was none of the shouting there'd been with Chuck. Instead, she said, "Chuck's manuscript—I was worried."
"What do you mean 'your bad'?" Dean asked.
"I, uh, I was supposed to take us back," Chuck said, "but I may have inadvertently taken us a few months forward." Defensively, "Look, I'm new at this! I mean, okay, not new, but—"
Becky let go of Sam to pat Chuck on the shoulder and say, "Your human side is still having difficulty with the rest, isn't it?"
"Seriously?" Sam and Dean demanded in unison.
"The important thing," Chuck said brightly, "is that you're all here together now."
For the moment, but only the moment, Dean was going to ignore that, because he still had an important question. "If Sam's here," Dean said, "then what about Adam?"
"We were given a choice," Sam said. "Adam wanted to go back to Heaven."
"A choice." Dean processed that a moment. "So it was Heaven, or getting stuck as the nanny for two annoying angel kids?" He glared at Chuck. "How is that okay?"
"I volunteered! The choice was whether we wanted to go back to Earth, or if we wanted to ascend immediately," Sam said. "But yeah, I was told you would be fine and that we would come back only a few days after we'd left." It was obvious Sam was regretting his choice to play the good Samaritan.
"As I said," Chuck looked incredibly sheepish, "my bad."
After that, everything went to a new kind of fucked up normal. Dean and Sam hit the road, and Becky had apparently used the time Sam and Dean were talking to Bobby to install Heaven's e-mail on Dean's computer—"You're welcome," was all she'd said as she shoved the laptop at Dean's chest—so now Jo, Castiel, and their freaking parents sent them fairly frequent messages. Dean and Lisa kept in touch—"Bring your brother by when he doesn't have the devil riding shotgun," Lisa had said—and Dean had moved on from thimbles to, at Ben's urgent pleading, action figures. Sam had a tendency to occasionally get into arguments and shouting matches with himself over the most ridiculous shit—"For the last time! I am wearing this shirt, and you can just deal with it!"—but said the constant bickering was worth it for the power to blow shit up with his mind.
"I don't even need demon blood," Sam said smugly. "The instant teleportation is kind of nice, too."
Dean made it very clear, though, that the only way he would be traveling was by car. Sometimes Sam would disappear to talk to Chuck, or check up on Bobby, or go on random adventures without Dean—he kept saying things like, "We could go to Rome! Come on, Dean!" like if he figured out the right destination, Dean would let Sam freaking apparate him places. No. Hell, no.
Today, they were looking into a possible ghost, and Dean was distracted from research by trying to teach Castiel about the shift key, or at least to turn the damn capslock off.
"I think he's just messing with you," Sam said. "His e-mails to me are fine."
"He just sent, 'CAPSLOCK IS CRUISE CONTROL FOR COOL.' Please tell me you had nothing to do with that." Dean jabbed at each key like they had personally offended him.
Sam took a sip from his coffee ("Actual French roast! Are you sure you won't go with me next time?") and failed at looking innocent. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Whatever," Dean said. Spitefully, "Dad and Mom want to know when you're going to settle down and give them grandkids."
"Why didn't they ask you?"
Dean ignored the question to say, "Should I tell them the devil already has dibs?"
Sam glared and said, "No, my brother is being stupid, that does not count."
Dean counted it as a win when Sam spent the next five minutes embroiled in an argument over whether his and Lucifer's imaginary children would be beautiful or incredibly, incredibly creepy.
"I refuse to eat any more crappy diner food when I can eat anywhere in the world," Sam said. "I'm going to Tokyo and having sashimi."
Sam, Dean thought bitterly after he'd ordered his double bacon cheeseburger, had turned into something of a diva since he started hanging out with archangels all the time.
"Heaven," Castiel said, suddenly seated next to Dean, "is still bullshit."
He waved the server down and ordered a burger and two chocolate milkshakes. Dean tried not to make any embarrassing noises when Castiel, apparently over the whole uptight archangel thing, proceeded to take up most of his half of the booth and part of Dean's, too. His thigh was pressed against Dean's, and he rested his arm along the top of the back of the booth.
"Chuck refuses to go back?" Dean asked.
"I shouldn't have expected anything different," Castiel said bitterly.
"I thought you liked being sheriff of Heaven."
"They keep asking questions," Castiel said. "Many stupid questions."
"Any perks to the job?"
Castiel looked smug. "I gave everyone Carver Edlund's e-mail address."
"Isn't Chuck writing another book?"
"I understand He is waiting to hear back from the publisher," Castiel said, "and checking that e-mail daily."
Their food arrived, and Castiel asked for another side of french fries. He shoved the second milkshake unceremoniously in front of Dean.
"It almost looks like you're offering to share your food," Dean said cautiously, because he was learning not to get between Castiel and chocolate since the whole stuck weeks at a time in Heaven thing.
"It's yours," Castiel confirmed and stared at Dean expectantly until he took a sip.
"So," Castiel said awkwardly. "How is Sam?"
It only occurred to Dean later—much, much later, when he was staring at the spinning ceiling of a dilapidated house trying to figure out if his spine was broken, or just severely injured—that that had probably been a date. Dean heard his voice, as if from a great distance, say, "Cas gave me a milkshake." It was also possible he had a concussion.
"Oh my God," Sam said, "I can't—I don't—I'll call Chuck."
Sam went away for a moment, and when he came back, he had Castiel instead, who looked like he was about to go Old Testament on something. His fingers brushed Dean's forehead, and instantly everything stopped hurting. "How do you feel, Dean?" Castiel asked.
Dean sat up slowly and said, "Wow, you could probably market that."
To Castiel, Sam said, "I took care of most of the demons who did this, but—"
Castiel nodded. "I'll remain here until you return."
"Hey, you are not going to hunt demons without—"
Sam was already gone.
"He's not alone," Castiel said, because yeah, going after demons with the devil and a once murderous archangel, there was nothing to worry about there!
Castiel looked unperturbed by Dean's glare. He settled onto the floor next to Dean and said, in the same tone as someone else might use to talk about the weather, "I understand Hell is undergoing a regime change."
"Who'd this group belong to?" Dean asked.
"Meg," Castiel said. "But I believe Crowley also has a fair chance of winning."
Dean snorted and, cautiously, every inch tentative and uncertain, leaned in against Castiel. "'Least the asshole gave back Bobby's soul."
Castiel's hand was warm against the back of Dean's neck, just resting there, and he didn't move away until Sam returned.
Before he left, he said, expression going oddly hunted, "Don't tell Becky I was here."
"Dean," Becky said two days later, when Dean called her back after they'd finished with the poltergeist, "have you seen Cas lately?"
"What's up?" Dean asked, curious.
"Well, you'll get your invitation later," Becky said, "but I guess it wouldn't hurt to tell you now, and Sam already knows."
"Sam knows what?"
Sam's face had gone weird, like he was trying to have a silent argument again with Lucifer and Michael.
"It's just—I'mgettingmarried," Becky burst out in a rush. "To Chuck. Obviously. It's a little fast, and a bit weird, but he's still Chuck, and it's not like I'd stopped loving him in the first place, it's just that he'd gone all weirdly secretive, which, well, I guess comes with finding out that you're—you know—and we worked it all out, so—"
"Becky," Dean cut in, torn between laughter and horror, because Becky was marrying Chuck, "what do you need Castiel for?"
"He's supposed to be a groomsman," Becky said, "but he won't answer any of Chuck's e-mails, or mine, not since he asked if this meant Chuck and I were retiring to Heaven and I said no."
"Sorry," Dean said, "I can't help you." He hung up and looked at Sam, who looked like he was still in the middle of a really intense internal conversation. "That was weird."
"They don't want to talk about it," Sam said, accompanied by a hand wave that had come to mean Lucifer and Michael.
"Okay," Dean said and pulled out the laptop to ask Cas and Jo why he was always left out of the Heavenly gossip network.
"We should buy a house," Sam said abruptly, because at some point he'd forgotten the art of the conversational segue. "By which I mean, I have bought a house. Feel free to keep slumming it in motel rooms with cheap sheets and bad mattresses."
"What?" Dean said.
"I have a kitchen now," Sam said. "I can bake cookies. And cupcakes." He looked so happy Dean couldn't even feel properly betrayed. "With the whole teleportation thing, it's not a bad commute!"
"Still not letting you apparate me," Dean said feelingly.
Sam shook his head sadly and said, "One day, you'll give in."
Sam was really spending too much time with Lucifer.
"This is your fault," Castiel said miserably as Dean fixed his bow-tie.
"Hey, I didn't make you step into that ring of holy oil," Dean said, and yeah, Becky was definitely the scariest of them all.
"You could have warned me," Castiel said, but subsided at Dean's look, because there was no way Dean was getting any more involved in angel family business than he absolutely had to be. He'd learned to cherish his inability to hear Michael and Lucifer while they were stuck in Sam.
Speaking of, "Have you seen Sam anywhere?" Dean asked, feeling oddly reluctant to release Castiel's bow-tie. He settled for smoothing the lapels of Castiel's jacket before stepping away.
"Not since my Father said He needed to speak with them," Castiel said. He'd been staring at Dean's hands, but now he was looking at Dean's lips, probably because Dean couldn't help wetting them nervously. It should be illegal for angels to wear tuxedos, Dean thought, or at least for Cas to. At least, not in public.
"Cas—" Dean said, voice rough, and he was about to move back into Castiel's space when bam! Little brother, standing directly between them. "Sam!" Dean held a hand to his chest. "I told you not to do that."
"I got to keep my superpowers!" Sam said excitedly and waved his hands twice before falling over. From the floor, "Oh, crap."
Castiel observed, "You're alone."
Chuck burst in through the door, because he, at least, tended to treat his teleportation abilities with caution, and said, "I told you not to leave yet! Lucifer tried to take a little of you with him."
A sulky voice said, "It was a tiny piece! Just enough to remember him by!" A skinny blond skulked into the room and said, "But fine, I'm giving it back, I promise."
"Kissing won't be necessary, right?" Sam asked, sitting up.
"No," Chuck said. He tapped Lucifer's shoulder, then tapped Sam's forehead. "There, all fixed." He granted Lucifer a long-suffering look and said, "Try not to break anything else until at least after the wedding. If you'll excuse me, Becky said they brought the wrong flowers."
At the reception, Sam agreed to one dance with Lucifer—"Only one! And hands above the waist!"—and Dean stood in a corner of the reception hall with Castiel, trying to make a decent dent in the open bar (and failing, because Becky had put a two drink maximum on everyone because it "wasn't fair" to force it on Chuck alone).
"You know the best thing about weddings?" Dean asked, sipping his watered down jack and coke. "The bridesmaid sex."
"Really?" Castiel asked, his expression dubious.
"Or groomsman," Dean said. "I'm not picky."
"And which is your intended partner?" Castiel asked, nodding out at the dance floor where Becky and Chuck were swaying together looking ridiculously happy, Michael was spinning Jo, who'd gotten a day pass, in slow circles, and Sam was smirking at something Lucifer had said. "Lucifer or Michael?"
"You're an asshole," Dean said. "Seriously, is baiting the angelic equivalent of tugging someone's pigtails?"
"So you've changed your mind about groomsman sex?" Castiel asked, putting his empty plastic cup on a nearby table.
"You're lucky I have low standards," Dean said.
"You're lucky," Castiel said, "that mine are lower."
A month later, Castiel appeared in the passenger's seat—Sam had said he'd promised the day to show Lucifer and Michael Niagara Falls and would catch back up with Dean once he actually reached Texas—and said, without preamble, "I'm on the lam."
Dean, who—between Castiel, Sam, and Sam's archangel fan club—had somehow grown accustomed to these sudden appearances the same way people in war zones grew accustomed to unexpected gunfire, did not swerve off of the road and into the ditch, but it was a near thing.
"On the lam like you somehow pissed off Chuck, or on the lam like Crowley and Meg declared you enemy number one after they decided on that business merger last week?"
"I abdicated," Castiel said. "Gabriel has already proven that archangels can do so and retain their power."
Dean struggled with whether to congratulate Castiel for finding the guts to finally tell Heaven where they could stick it, or to ask disbelievingly if Castiel was actually basing his new life plan off of Gabriel.
"I understand," Castiel said slowly, "that you have a house."
"It's Sam's house," Dean said. "The Impala's always been good enough for me."
"It's not," Castiel said pointedly, "for me."
Dean wondered despairingly when Sam had started conspiring with Castiel and if this was going to be a deal-breaker.
"Dean." Castiel traced the tendon of Dean's neck. "Houses have beds."
This time, they went into the ditch.
"This is my new address," Dean wrote on the back of the postcard, "so you can write me anytime. You and your mom are welcome to visit, and tell her George can also come."
Dean didn't write, And after I've put him through the holy water and silver vetting process, I'll let Sam and Cas check him over. Besides, Dean was pretty sure Lisa had already done the whole holy water and silver thing. When he'd left, she'd had the best warded house in the county.
"I can't believe you didn't tell me you knew how to bake!" Sam said. "Dean, you have to try this pie. It's amazing."
"I made it for you," Lucifer said, then, after Sam looked at him with the disappointed puppy face, "but you may share it with whomever you'd like."
"I'd rather die," Dean said, trying to ignore their guests and focus on awesome things, like how Castiel was dragging his foot across Dean's instep under the kitchen table.
"That could be arranged," Lucifer said.
"God granted me the ability to smite you," Castiel said mildly, because he was incredibly, incredibly sexy that way.
"I was the dutiful son," Michael complained. "I don't understand why—"
The doorbell rang. It was Becky, who'd brought pot roast and marzipan, and Chuck, who'd brought seven bottles of wine and was carrying them in plastic grocery bags.
"How's my favorite stepson?" Becky asked as Castiel helped Chuck with the wine.
"I told you not to call me that," Castiel said.
"Right," Becky said. "And you, Lucifer?"
"I wish all humans a fiery and terrible death," Lucifer said unhappily, because he wasn't taking his dad's new marriage very well. "Except you, Sam."
Becky ignored this with aplomb and turned to Michael. "And you?"
"Very well, thank you," Michael said politely and with a very pointed look at Castiel, as if to say, See? Most dutiful son. "And yourself?"
"California's nice this time of year," Becky said. "And Chuck got his TV deal!"
The oven dinged, and Sam made Dean set the table for the most awkward family dinner of Dean's life, including that time with his mom and grandparents.
Watching Sam, who was gesturing with his fork and babbling happily about his most recent trip to Hong Kong, Dean wouldn't have it any other way.