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Softer and More Beautiful

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There was demon sign everywhere nowadays, but usually by the time the Winchesters arrived the demons were long gone. So until today Sam and Dean hadn't really known—or hadn't really comprehended—that unlike before, when demons were solitary or traveled in packs of two or three, they were now roaming in groups of six or seven or ten like a nest of vampires.

This made trying to exorcise one difficult, since the brothers had to fight off their cronies or contain them somehow, and while Sam had thrown two into the devil's trap and Dean had stabbed another with the demon-killing knife, that still left three more, two male demons and a female, fierce and fearless. They didn't dare hurt Sam much, of course, so all three had piled on Dean. The girl scratched at Dean with her long lethal nails and the two men punched at him, kicked at him, and Dean shouted to Sam, "Do the ritual, do the ritual!" and Sam read the Latin in a voice that shook with rage.

They'd been expecting Castiel all day. Dean had called him twice and left messages, but he must have let his phone battery drain (again) and Dean didn't know if he'd come. He thought now they should have waited for him because angel mojo was always a good thing to have on their side in these situations.

He knew who it was the moment he recovered from being tossed against a wall—knew that Castiel had grabbed one of the male demons and slapped a hand on his forehead, and he whispered a silent thank-you before throwing up his arms over his face.

Only there was no flash of light, and there was no roar and no outpouring of demonic smoke. The demon's face shifted from terrified to mocking and he began to laugh. "What's the matter, little angel?" he taunted. "Am I too much for you?"

Castiel's face set into even grimmer lines as he swung back his arm and connected his fist with the demon's jaw. He was strong, Dean heard the crack from where he grappled with the two remaining demons, but it wasn't enough—the demon got Castiel on the floor, got his hands around Castiel's neck and planted his knee in the center of Castiel's chest to pin him in place. Castiel scrabbled at the demon's fingers and he turned one pleading look to Dean.

Across the room the screaming finally stopped and three bodies dropped to the floor. Sam crossed the room in a few long strides and took out the female demon with a neat uppercut to the throat with Ruby's knife. He tossed it to Dean and Dean shoved it into the other demon, pushed him off and ran to Castiel. He plunged the knife into the demon's back as Castiel was starting to turn blue. The demon shrieked and fire-like light shot out of his mouth and eyes before he crumpled like a rag doll to the floor.

Castiel lay on the floor, gasping, and Dean offered a hand to help him up. Castiel grasped it and used Dean's weight to pull himself to his feet. They all stood in the ensuing silence, gasping for breath and looking at each other, silently checking that all was well.

"I think," Dean said, "we all could use a drink." He looked at Castiel again, who closed his eyes and nodded.


Once they'd attended to the bodies—a pyre, a prayer, and a moment of regret that these peoples' families would never know what happened—they drove up the dark highway back into town. They stopped at the first open diner they found. It had lots of chrome and red leatherette. There were little lamps on the tables and a juke box in the corner, playing Elvis. The diner was decorated for Christmas, too, with tinsel strung over the cashier's counter and cardboard snowflakes hanging from the ceiling.

The menu was full of diner basics, burgers and onion rings and fried cheese, and Dean ordered enough food to feed half a dozen people. Sam was more restrained, and Castiel said he wasn't hungry no matter what Dean suggested to tempt him. Dean ordered a milkshake for him anyway. "For your throat," he told Castiel, and Castiel nodded and said, "Very well," at that.

"Oh, honey, is your throat sore?" said the waitress. "We've got herbal tea. That might help."

"I do like tea," Castiel said, and the waitress scribbled that down, too, before she scurried off to the kitchen.

Dean took off his jacket and looked around. "Elvis," he said. "I wonder if they have any Zepplin?"

Castiel listened for a moment. "I like this song," he said and Dean smiled at him.

"Can't help falling, huh?" he said, honestly trying to keep any suggestiveness out of his tone, but the way Castiel met his eyes and smiled a tiny bit said he'd failed.

"Can't help it," Castiel said softly. Their gazes held until the song ended, and then they both looked away.

Dean tore the corners of his paper napkin and wondered if there was anything he could do to make this better. Castiel felt the same to him, looked and sounded the same, and was nothing like the strange, bitter, miserable Cas he'd been shown five years into the future. But Castiel was still falling by inches, becoming less of an angel and more of a man every day.

"If I may have some quarters," Castiel said after a moment, and Sam looked up from the newspaper another patron had left behind, "I could see if they have a bands you like."

"Let me see if I have any," Dean said and took out his wallet. He had a few dollars in quarters, and handed them over to Castiel. "Knock yourself out."

"Thank you," Castiel said and went to the jukebox. Dean turned to watched him, taking note of his slumped shoulders under the trench coat and the way his fingers traced the rows of songs.

"Dean," Sam said, "stop staring at him."

Dean turned back. "I wasn't staring. He was almost strangled tonight. I'm just making sure he's okay."

Sam sighed and put aside the newspaper. "You realize you watch him all the time, right? You're like an anxious parent. Worse, because he's fully capable of looking after himself."

"He's having a hard time," Dean mumbled. "He's my responsibility."

"He's not," Sam said with another sigh, and then the jukebox began to play Van Morrison—not "Brown-Eyed Girl" or even "Tupelo Honey," either, something Dean hadn't heard for he had no idea how long—and Castiel came back to the table, his customary dour expression relaxed into something much warmer.

"Good choice," Dean said as Van sang she could be his queen, he'd be her king, and Castiel ducked his head.

"I liked the title," he said, and then the waitress returned, staggering a little under the weight of their tray.

She said to Castiel, "Are you sure you don't want anything more, sugar?"

"I do not have much appetite," Castiel said, and she patted his shoulder.

"The tea will help your throat," she assured him.

"Thank you," Castiel said and dunked the tea bag into the hot water. The waitress gave a satisfied nod and scurried off again, and Castiel gave the tea a few perfunctory sips before he put the cup down and pushed it away.

Dean stopped wolfing down his burger and put it on its plate. He dumped all the baskets of French fries together into one and shook ketchup over the pile. He pushed it to Castiel. "Eat something, Cas. It can only help."

Castiel picked up a fry. "It is not hunger," he said quietly, but ate the fry anyway.

"Then what is it?" Sam said, his voice soft with compassion.

"Homesickness," said Castiel.

"Why didn't you say something earlier?" Dean said, keeping his voice soft too. It would never do to start yelling at Castiel now, not when he'd already been through so much tonight.

"What would I have said?" Castiel said wearily. "It is bad enough that I am failing in my quest." He touched his chest, over the little lump made by the amulet that he wore under his shirt. "Now also I must admit I am of increasingly little use to you. To anyone. And it will only continue until I am of no use at all."

Dean looked at Sam, and when Sam looked back Dean knew his expression mirrored Dean's own: worry and helplessness. "No such thing as a fallen angel spa, I guess, huh?" he said, trying for a jocular tone, and Castiel's mouth twisted.


Dean looked down at his overcrowded plate. "Sorry," he muttered. "Not something to joke about. I know." He couldn't force the other angels to take Castiel back—he suspected they would kill him the moment they knew where he was. He couldn't offer a substitute for divine power. He couldn't offer anything.

He had nothing to offer, Dean thought, but his own self. There had to be some way to get it through to Castiel that if he wanted Dean's comfort, Dean's support, he had it.

He said, "So you'll stay with us." Castiel raised his gaze from the table to meet Dean's eyes. "You'll stay with us until—until—well, until you don't need to anymore."

"Perhaps for the night," Castiel said. "I think I would like to rest."

"Or longer," Dean said. "Over Christmas. It's Christmas Eve tomorrow." Sam stopped drinking his beer to give Dean a confused look over the bottle, and Dean shrugged. "We never make a big fuss over Christmas but it'd still be good to spend it together. I mean, the three of us."

"Christmas," Castiel said, frowning.

"What? Don't you like Christmas?"

"It is a human celebration," Castiel said.

"Well," said Dean, "you're with a couple of humans. We could get a tree and watch some specials and get some eggnog…" He looked at Sam, who gave a "you got yourself in, you get yourself out," kind of shrug.

Castiel picked up his tea cup again. "I think I would like that," he said before he had a sip, and Dean felt more triumphant than he had all night.


The stores and houses they passed on the drive back to the motel were decorated for the holiday: strings of lights hung over roofs or wound around trees, or a garish plastic display in the front yard of Santa Claus and Frosty the Snow Man, or holly and poinsettias painted on storefront windows.

Dean glanced back at Castiel several times during the drive, but Castiel didn't meet his gaze. Instead he stared out the window, and Dean wondered what he was seeing that was hidden from mortal vision. Until Castiel came along he'd never thought that there were so many supernatural signs and tokens around that he and Sam never saw.

"We should get Chinese on Christmas Day," he said to Sam. "I saw a place back there that looks promising."

"Okay," Sam said. "Chinese sounds good."

"And think of something for Santa to leave in your stocking," Dean said, and Sam snorted a laugh. "You too, Cas."

"I don't wear stockings," said Castiel. "I wear socks."

"Figure of speech, Cas."

"Oh. The gift-giving. Yes, I see."

"Yeah." Dean pulled the Impala into the parking space in front of their room. "Home sweet home."

Sam got out of the car, but when neither Castiel nor Dean followed him he came back and opened the door again. "Is something wrong?"

"No," said Dean. "I think…I think I'd like to go for a walk. Cas, you wanna come with?"

Castiel looked at Dean, his brows furrowing a moment. "Yes. I believe I would." He got out of the Impala, using the door like an ordinary mortal, and for some reason that made Dean ache for him even more.

Sam gave Dean a 'what the hell?' look, and Dean shrugged. "We've got stuff to talk about. Don't wait up." He got out and locked up the Impala, and as he and Castiel headed out of the parking lot he glanced back to see Sam still standing there, his hands on his hips.

Some things, he just had to do on his own. Comforting his angel was one of them.

They walked to the sidewalk that ran along the side of the road. Streetlamps cast pools of amber light, warm in contrast to the dark and deserted store fronts.

"It is going to snow," Castiel said finally.

"Yeah, I figured. It smells like it." Dean buried his hands in his coat pockets. "Button your coat, Cas. It won't help anything if you get sick."

Castiel buttoned his coat. "What will we do if I get sick?" he said quietly.

"We'll take you to a doctor. And if you get stuck somewhere we'll come get you. No matter where." He glanced at Castiel and then looked down at his boots.

"Thank you, Dean."

"Sure," Dean muttered. "Any time."

They walked. The town was quiet, shuttered and locked against the cold. Few cars were out, and Dean saw no other pedestrians. The town was small enough that they didn't have to go far to leave the streets of little shops and get out to rows of cozy Craftsman bungalows. Even these were quiet, just their twinkling lights to say the family was home.

They turned a corner and Castiel stopped walking. There was a church just ahead, and on the church's front lawn was a Nativity scene. A simple wood structure with a thatched roof stood for the barn, and the figures inside were so simply cast they were almost abstract: a tender Mary, a protective Joseph, two awed shepherds with a lamb at their side. The only light came from the figure in the manger, which was lit from within and softly glowed through the painted fiberglass.

"Kind of pretty," Dean said, and Castiel made a helpless noise. "Cas?"

"Sometimes," Castiel whispered, "I am reminded that I am so, so far from home."

"Oh, Cas," Dean said quietly, and he wanted to hold Castiel so badly his arms started to reach for him. He shoved his hands into his pockets. "You know you're not alone here, right?"

Castiel shook his head. "I am alone, Dean."

"But you've got us. You've got me and Sam."

"Oh." He turned and started walking again, one shoulder drawn up as if to protect himself from the church. "That's different."

"Don't strain yourself," Dean muttered and caught up to him in a few strides. He took hold of Castiel's arm. "Hey. Look. I know losing your powers is scary. I know being cut off from home is scary. But you're not helpless, Cas, and you're not alone."

Castiel turned eyes to him that were afire with anger and grief, and Dean took an involuntary step back. "I am alone," he growled, "I am afraid, I am more helpless every day, and you do not understand."

"Then tell me. Make me understand."

"I can't. You know nothing of this, of what it means. You don't know what it means to be hunted by your own family. You don't know what it means to feel a little weaker, a little less, every day. You don't know how it feels to leave you and wonder if I'll even be able to return—" Castiel cut himself off and turned his face away.

"I understand about difficult families," Dean said softly and ducked his head so he could find Castiel's gaze. Castiel looked up at him with reluctance, his eyelashes casting smudgy shadows on his cheeks. "And I know you're scared, even if I don't know exactly why or what I can do about it."

"Nothing," said Castiel in a broken, exhausted voice, "you can do nothing," and Dean closed the space between them and kissed him.

For the first moment Castiel's mouth was as unyielding as a brick wall, as if he was too angry to respond—but then he cupped Dean's face in both hands and pressed back, lips parting at the first tentative flick of Dean's tongue.

Dean meant it to be comforting—he tried to put something into it to say he was there, he would always be there, he would never turn his back on Castiel. But Castiel made more of those helpless noises and clutched at him, and Dean kissed him with more desperation, more hunger.

A car drove past them, splashing on the pavement, and Dean forced himself to lift his mouth from Castiel's and tried to regain his breath. He looked at Castiel—it had begun to snow while they were kissing, and snowflakes flecked Castiel's hair and shoulders. His face was flushed and his full mouth was pink and soft from friction.

Castiel dropped his hands from Dean's face. His gaze dropped as well, and he breathed a deep, shaking breath as he seemed to retreat into his coat.

"Cas," Dean said, fingers still wound in Castiel's lapels. "Castiel." The angel raised his eyes to meet Dean's. "You've got me. You've always got me. No matter what, you've always got me."

"I have you," Castiel whispered. He took hold of Dean's face and kissed him again.


They walked back to the motel much faster than they had walked away, heads bent against the snow. Dean began to unlock the door when Castiel grabbed his shoulder, shoved him against the door and kissed him. Dean held him, fingers scraping over the fabric of his raincoat, and gently bit his lip when Castiel lifted his mouth. "So this is how it's gonna be, huh?" he whispered.

"Yes. I think I like kissing you."

"Good. I think I like kissing you, too." He kissed Castiel one more time just to be sure, and Castiel chuckled and stepped away so Dean could unlock the door.

Sam was in bed, and the lights were off, and he didn't answer when Dean softly said, "Sammy?" He whispered to Castiel, "He's asleep. C'mon, let's go to bed."

Castiel hesitated, then caught Dean's fingers. "I should sleep on the sofa."

"You don't have to. I want you to sleep with me, Cas. I'll keep my hands to myself if that's what you're worried about."

"It's not." He clutched Dean's fingers a little tighter, and Dean frowned and pulled him closer.

"Then what is it?"

Castiel leaned his head closer to Dean's and whispered, barely audible, "I'm not certain I can refrain from touching you."

Dean almost laughed, but Castiel's tone was so serious he thought it wouldn't help matters any. "I'm okay with that, Cas," he said gently, and Castiel's tight grip relaxed.

They undressed to shorts and t-shirts and got into bed. Castiel was shivering when Dean pulled the blankets over them, so Dean wrapped himself around him and whispered, "Sh, I've got you now."

"Yes," Castiel whispered, nodding, and his hair tickled Dean's chin when he tucked his head against Dean's neck. Dean combed his fingers through Castiel's hair and kissed his forehead. Castiel settled against him, sighing, his hands coming to rest on Dean's back. "I like this."

"Good. Me too."

Castiel stroked Dean's back with a thumb. "I must make a confession, Dean. I have…longed to be close to you like this. For many months, I have wanted this."

Dean smiled and tilted Castiel's face up. He found Castiel's mouth and kissed him, and the kiss he got in return was so sweet it made Dean shiver. "You should have said something."

"What would I have said? That I desire you?"

"Hell yeah," Dean said, and glanced at Sam, hoping it wasn't loud enough to wake him.

"You like women, Dean."

"I like you, Cas," Dean countered. "Need me to show you again?"

"Yes," Castiel whispered, and when Dean kissed him he was smiling. Dean turned Castiel onto his back and kissed him harder, weaving their fingers together as he held Castiel's hands over his head. Castiel wrapped his legs around Dean's hips and arched his body up, his tongue moving against Dean's.

When Dean began to lazily rock his hips, though, Castiel turned his head away. "Not in front of Sam."

"He's asleep."

"Dean," Castiel said patiently, and Dean sighed and rolled off him.

"Okay. But you realize, right, that getting any alone-time isn't going to be easy?"

"I realize," Castiel murmured and lay his hand on Dean's side. Dean harrumphed but allowed Castiel to pull him closer anyway. "I have waited this long. I am willing to wait a little bit longer." He kissed Dean's cheek and tucked his head under Dean's chin, and Dean had to admit it was pretty comfortable, huddling together like this.

"Don't make me wait long," he said, nonetheless.

"It will not be long," Castiel promised, and Dean eased against him, secure in believing him.


One foot was exposed to the cold morning air. Dean grunted and pulled it back under the blankets, curled his toes and then slipped his foot to the nearest source of warmth—Castiel, breathing evenly beside him. Dean put his cold foot on Castiel's warm one, and Castiel inhaled and blinked at him sleepily.

"Sorry," Dean lied, and Castiel furrowed his eyebrows and then closed his eyes again and moved closer.


"Yep. I think it's snowing." He wound an arm around Castiel and sat up enough to peer at the window. The curtains were still drawn, and what little light showed around them was weak and grey. "I say we sleep until noon."

He heard movement in the other bed, and glanced over to see Sam sitting up and stretching. "Hey," Sam said, and then saw Castiel and his mouth fell open a moment. He recovered quickly, though, and just got out of bed to pull back the curtains a little. "Snowing pretty hard."

"I say we hole up, watch TV, and let the world get by without us for a few days," Dean said and pulled up the blankets to cocoon them. Castiel leaned his head on Dean's chest and sighed.

"We don't have any food," Sam pointed out. "And if you want to do Christmas, we don't have anything for it."

"Yeah…guess we gotta venture out." He rubbed his nose on Castiel's forehead and grinned when Castiel batted him away. "Hate to break it to you, but I'm a morning person," he whispered, and Castiel snorted.

"I can feel how excited you are about mornings," he murmured, giving Dean a dark and hungry look, and Dean laughed.

"Yeah, good morning," he said cheerfully, but refrained from pulling Castiel on top of him only because Sam was there.

"I think I should go out for breakfast," Sam said hastily. "How about if I run some errands and bring you back some food, and uh, call when I'm on my way?"

"Why, thank you, Sam," Dean said, even more cheerful, and Sam muttered something about being the best brother ever and ducked into the bathroom to change. Dean stroked Castiel's back and grinned up at the ceiling, feeling completely and unquestioningly happy.

"We should go with him," Castiel said and started to sit up, and yelped when Dean pulled him back down. "What?" He planted his hands on the mattress to look down at Dean.

"Sam is going out so we can have some time alone."

"Oh," Castiel said, eyes widening as he realized what Dean meant, and he smiled and kissed Dean between his eyebrows. "Your brother can be very kind."

"Yeah, he's a peach." He licked Castiel's throat and Castiel groaned low and deep. His hands moved to frame Dean's face and he kissed Dean's mouth. Even first thing in the morning he tasted sweet and earthy, as if he'd been drinking hot cider. Dean wished he had a mint or something to make himself taste better, but Castiel didn't seem to notice or mind.

They parted when the bathroom door opened and Sam came out. He said, "I'll call when I'm on my way back," and shrugged into his jacket. "Is there anything I should get for you?" Dean started to answer, and Sam said hastily, "If you say lube and condoms I'm disowning you."

"Chocolate Pop Tarts," Dean said.

"Okay. I'll be back in about two hours. And I'll call when I'm on my way."

"Thank you, Sam," Castiel said, and Sam smiled at him uncomfortably as he buttoned up his coat.

He opened the door to go, and Dean shouted after him, "Lube and condoms!" Sam shouted back, "I hate you!" as the door slammed shut. Dean laughed and looked up at Castiel, who was still sprawled on top of him.

"That was not nice," Castiel said.

"I know, but I'm morally obligated as a big brother to embarrass him as often as possible." Dean opened his legs so he could wrap them around Castiel's hips. "So. Two hours on our own. Whatever shall we do?"

Castiel blushed and looked away. He was still resting his weight on his elbows, his body flush with Dean's, and it seemed to Dean he was only just now realizing what it all meant. He whispered, "We're going to make love, aren't we?" and gave Dean a look from under his lashes.

"If you want to." Dean followed Castiel's spine down his back through the thin cotton of his t-shirt. "If you're not ready we can find something else to do."

Castiel studied him, and Dean licked his lips and bit the bottom one, smiling at how Castiel's eyes focused on his mouth. "I am ready." He dipped his head and kissed Dean slowly, his hands framing Dean's face. "I want you," he said in his usual formal tone, but his darkening eyes and the flush in his cheeks said this was anything but a duty.

Dean kissed him and turned him over, kissed him again and pushed his fingers under Castiel's t-shirt. He slid his hands up Castiel's body, bringing the shirt with him, until he could push it over Castiel's head and off his arms. Castiel raised his arms to help him, and then looped them around Dean's neck and pulled Dean's mouth back to his.

Dean rocked their hips together languidly, letting Castiel get used to the feel of another man's cock, another man's weight. "Touch me?" he whispered and Castiel nodded, slid his hands down Dean's back and rested on his hips. Back up they came, under his shirt, pulled it off Dean and tossed it away. He stroked Dean's shoulders and down his chest, eyes serious and curious, and Dean had to kiss him again and again because he was just so sweetly and simply sexy.

Castiel wrapped a leg around him and kissed him back, and his hands came to rest at the small of Dean's back. He hesitated, plucking at Dean's boxer shorts, and then slipped his hands inside. His fingers pressed into Dean's flesh and Dean groaned into his mouth. "Dean?" Castiel whispered, worried, and Dean kissed him again.

"'s good. Don't stop."

Castiel nodded, face solemn, and licked into Dean's mouth again as he dragged down Dean's boxer shorts as far as he could reach. Dean rolled off him and pushed them off, rolled onto his side and tugged on Castiel's. Castiel twisted his face away, his eyes closing, and Dean let go and laid his hand on Castiel's stomach. "Cas?"

"It's all right." He smiled, not opening his eyes. "Don't stop."

"Look at me," Dean ordered and Castiel inhaled and opened his eyes. Dean held his gaze as he slowly pulled down his shorts, and Castiel was breathing harder by the time Dean pulled them past his feet.

"Dean," he whispered and reached for him. Dean crawled up his body and rested against him, keeping their mouths apart even though they were close enough to kiss, more than close enough. Castiel held his shoulders and pulled him closer, and then frowned when Dean resisted and tugged on him harder. Dean smirked and darted close to kiss him, rolled them over and let their hips settled together.

Castiel said, "Oh," faintly, shivering, and Dean pushed against him and scratched his fingers over Castiel's back. Castiel said, "Oh," again, softer, and he tilted back his head to expose his neck. Dean licked his neck, sloppy and wet, and sucked on the joint of his neck until he got a louder, "Oh!" from Castiel.

"Nice and easy," Dean whispered and sucked on Castiel's ear. "Just nice and easy." He kissed Castiel, moaning as Castiel combed his fingers through his hair. He shivered every time their cocks dragged together and Castiel pulled on him, holding him tight with both hands in his hair and one leg around his hip.

Dean licked his hand and wrapped it around Castiel's dick, smiling when he got more of those helpless noises from Castiel like he'd made the night before. His fingers sank into Dean's back and he pushed against him, hard and shuddering, and Dean kissed him and stroked him until Castiel came, hot and slick on Dean's fingers.

Dean pushed his hips against him, a little more urgently. Castiel looped one arm around him and reached between them with the other, and touched his cock with feather-light fingers until Dean groaned against his neck and came.

They breathed together, resting against each other. Castiel kissed Dean's forehead and raked a hand through his hair.

"Tissues," Dean said and shoved himself off the bed. He stumbled to the bathroom and grabbed a few from the dispenser in the wall, mopped himself up and stumbled back to clean off Castiel's stomach. Castiel blinked at him like a sleepy cat and Dean fell onto the bed again and pulled Castiel onto him.

"Okay, Cas?" he whispered and rubbed his lips against Castiel's forehead.

"Okay, Dean," Castiel said and went utterly limp in Dean's arms, falling asleep as if someone had switched him off. Dean chuckled and held him, slowly breathing.


They were showered when Sam called, and Dean gave him the all-clear. He returned with a handful of plastic shopping bags, some of which he stashed away in his backpack. The rest he unpacked: "Pop Tarts, OJ, fruit snacks, egg nog, instant Cream of Wheat. And I stopped by the Chinese place the next street over. They'll be open tomorrow."

"Great. Christmas dinner is taken care of. What do you want to do tonight?"

"There's a candle-light service at the church," Sam said and Castiel looked up from knotting his tie. "Do you want to go, Castiel?"

Castiel said softly, "I don't think I should," and Dean frowned. "Dean, I can't get this right. Please help me."

Dean went to him and took hold of both ends. "Cas," he said quietly as he centered the tie, "you're not cut off from church. It's okay if you want to go."

"Being among all those faithful will only be a reminder of how far away I am," he said, not meeting Dean's eyes, and Dean held his cheek a moment before he finished knotting the tie.

"Maybe we should go to a movie instead," Dean said. "Or stay in and watch cheesy Christmas specials. TBS will start showing A Christmas Story in a couple hours."

"I need to buy you a gift," Castiel said.

"No, you don't need to." He neatened the knot and smoothed Castiel's collar.

"I want to buy you a gift," Castiel amended, and Dean smiled at him.

"Well, that's different, then." He told Sam, "We're going out for a bit."

"That'd be great if I had someone I wanted to entertain for a few hours," Sam said and flopped on the bed. He kicked off his boots.

"Take a nap," Dean suggested. "C'mon, Cas."

They walked from the motel to the nearest row of shops, hunched against the cold. Again there were few cars out—most people were indoors, it seemed, while a few ran last-minute errands like themselves. Dean suggested they get some lunch—they had remembered to drink water all morning but hadn't eaten at all—so they stopped in the nearest coffee shop for pancakes.

"So how are you doing?" Dean said quietly after they'd been served. "Do you feel okay?"

"Yes," Castiel said and nodded. He cut his pancakes one bite at a time as he ate and held his knife and fork as he chewed. "I feel good."

"Just good?" Dean said. "Not very good or completely good or—"

"I feel every variation of good there is to feel," Castiel said, and Dean grinned at him.

"Good," he said and probably would have just sat there, grinning at him dopily, if the pancakes didn't smell so good.

After they ate they walked down the street, looking at the stores, their fingers brushing sometimes. "Sam likes books," Dean said, so they went into the first bookstore they saw. It looked like a converted house, with more books than there was room to move, and Castiel went in one direction while Dean went another.

He chose a book for Sam from the folklore section—something about urban legends that would give Sam geek fodder for weeks to come—and went in search of Castiel. He found him in the children's sections, sitting cross-legged on the floor while he turned the pages of Where the Wild Things Are. He looked up at Dean with a smile. "I have wondered about this story."

"There's a movie of it out now." Dean sat cross-legged on the floor too. "What do you think of it?"

"I think I would have enjoyed being a child." Castiel turned a few more pages and then shut the book and put it back on the shelf. "I also don't know what to get for Sam."

"I found this." He gave the book to Castiel, who examined the cover and opened it to skim a few pages. "We both can give it to him."

"All right. What would you like?"

Dean leaned forward and kissed his forehead. "More condoms," he whispered and laughed when Castiel blushed. "Come on." Castiel left the children's room ahead of him, so Dean grabbed Where the Wild Things Are and followed. Castiel got distracted by the rack of magazines at the front counter, so Dean was able to pay for both without him seeing his gift.

They went to a pharmacy next where Dean bought more condoms, again making Castiel blush, and a few silly things to give Sam and Castiel like finger puppets and bandages that looked like strips of bacon, and candy for all of them. He bought a tiny Christmas tree as well, one that had tiny red and white lights and played "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" when you turned on the music box switch.

"I don't know what to get you," Castiel said at the cash register, looking distressed, and Dean squeezed his shoulder.

"Don't worry about it. You don't have to get me anything."

"But I would like to."

"Here." Dean picked up some candy bars from the display. "You can give me these."

Castiel frowned but nodded. "If that's all you want."

"Simple life, simple pleasures," Dean said and gave the clerk a few more dollars to pay for the candy bars, too.

They were slower to walk back to the motel, and stopped at the coffee shop again to get dinner and bring it back to the motel: a burger for Dean, soup for Sam, a slice of cherry pie for Castiel. "You can have my fries," Dean said, and Castiel put his hand on Dean's back a moment.

"I would love your fries." He was quiet a while, and then asked, "Do you think Sam slept while we were gone?"

Dean said, "I hope he took advantage of us being gone and watched some porn. He needs to relax."

Castiel's lips quirked, but he said seriously, "I think Sam is lonely."

"Yeah, well," Dean muttered. "Everybody he's loved has died. Can't really blame him for not rushing into another relationship."

"No, you can't blame him. He is not safe to pursue love."

Dean looked at Castiel, admiring his profile and the way the wind played in his hair, and said, "Neither of us are going to get a happy ending, are we?"

Castiel looked at him, surprised. "A happy ending?"

"You know. A house with a picket fence, a wife and two-point-four kids." Castiel looked away, and Dean said, "Or in my case, you. Kids optional. Maybe a dog. I like dogs."

"I don't know how this will end," Castiel said. They walked, snow crunching under their footsteps, and Castiel said eventually, "I like dogs, too."

Dean stopped walking and kissed Castiel simply, holding his arm. Castiel made a surprised noise and then melted into him, his lips cold from the air but warming fast against Dean's mouth. "C'mon," Dean said softly, "let's get back."

Castiel nodded and took some of the shopping bags to carry for the rest of the walk.


After they ate, Castiel said, "I need to run an errand too," and vanished before Dean or Sam could say anything. Sam looked at Dean, baffled, and Dean shrugged.

"Maybe he wants to find a mall."

"Shouldn't he be resting?"

"I don't know if it really makes any difference," Dean said, and balanced the little tree on top of the TV. "I just hope he doesn't get stuck wherever he's gone. I told him we'd come get him if he ever was, but in this weather we wouldn't be able to even leave for another day or two and I don't want him to miss Christmas."

"I'm sure he's okay," Sam said. He was wrapping something soft and lumpy, using newspaper as gift wrap. "What if he gets stuck someplace overseas, though?"

Dean said, "Guess I'll have to overcome that fear of flying, then."

"Yeah," Sam muttered.

"I'm not going to just let him stew somewhere if he's in trouble, Sam," Dean said. "He's one of us now. He's part of the family."

"I get it, Dean," Sam said. "You've got a boyfriend, he's important to you, it's okay. He's not anybody I'd've ever thought you'd end up with, but you could certainly do a lot worse."

"He's not my boyfriend," Dean said and then paused, considering. "Well, maybe. We've got a lot of stuff we still need to figure out."

"You haven't figured all that out already?" Sam put the gift on the table and went to the kitchen to wash newsprint off his fingers.

"Why would we? We just kissed for the first time last night."

"Seriously?" Sam turned to him. "After all this time and all those long, intense looks and everything?"

"Seriously. This morning was the first time we had sex."

"Oh," Sam said. "I thought—I mean, I figured you've been—oh."

"Yeah," Dean said and grinned at him, suddenly feeling evil. "And it was pretty awesome for two guys who have no idea what they're doing, but a blowjob is a blowjob no matter who's doing the sucking."

"Thank you for that mental image, Dean," Sam said, wincing.

"And he is pretty hot. You have to admit."

"I'm not going to say a word about his hotness. You can do that for the both of us."

Dean laughed and lounged on the bed. "Look," he said after a moment, serious, "I know this whole thing is a little weird, and I know he's not anybody's idea of an ideal boyfriend. But I'm happy with him and I think he's happy with me. And when he needs me to help him, I'll help him, and when he needs me to protect him, I'll protect him, and I know he'll do the same for me, and it's's just right. You know?"

"Yeah," Sam said quietly. "I know."

"Okay." Dean nodded and looked out the window, hoping Castiel would come back soon.


They'd never had a fancy Christmas with acres of gifts and decorations on every surface, so the small pile of gifts on the table and the little tree looked just fine to Dean. They had food to eat and plans to spend the day in ways they liked, and all Dean needed to make the day perfect was Castiel.

He returned before the evening got late, and put something small on the table beside the gifts. "What is this program?" he said, frowning at the TV, and Dean scooted over on the bed to make room for him.

"Only the best cartoon ever," Dean said, patting the blanket in invitation. "'How the Grinch Stole Christmas.' C'mere and let it teach you the true reason for the season."

"I am aware of the reason for the season," Castiel informed him gravely, but took off his raincoat and shoes and joined Dean, and watched the cartoon as Dean spooned him and fed him microwave popcorn. His only question was, "What is a wang-doodler?" and then he looked at Dean blankly as Dean cracked up against his back.


When Dean woke, the snow was still falling, which was just fine with him. He closed the curtain and got back into bed so he could watch Castiel sleep. Castiel slept like a child, his lips parted and his fingers curled, and Dean wished they were alone so he could wake Castiel with something other than a tap on the cheek.

Castiel blinked awake and then smiled at him. "Good morning," Castiel said and stretched.

"Mornin'," Dean said. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas." Castiel moved onto his side to face Dean. "What are we doing today?"

"Breakfast, presents, Chinese food, whatever else we think of to fill the hours." He laid his hand on Castiel's side and gently rubbed him through his shirt.

"Hey, um," Sam said in the other bed, and they both looked at him. "I was thinking, if the movie theater's open, I could go see a matinee and you guys could have a few hours alone."

Dean rubbed Castiel's stomach and raised his eyebrows at him. Castiel considered a moment, then shook his head. Dean nodded and said, "I'm always up for a matinee. Cas?"

"I would like to see a film," Castiel said.

"Okay," said Sam, and he sounded pleased about it.

They had breakfast of Pop Tarts and juice and the motel's coffee, and then handed around their gifts to each other. Castiel thanked Sam happily after he unwrapped Sam's gift, a thick sweat shirt in navy blue. He smiled with even more pleasure at Dean's. "You got me the book."

"I can't give you a childhood," Dean said, "but there's no reason why you can't enjoy the things that come with it."

"You are very sweet," Castiel said and leaned over to kiss him.

"I'm really not," Dean said but kissed him back anyway.

Sam unwrapped his from Dean, and said, "I love it. I'm not kissing you, though."

"I'll manage," Dean said, smiling, and he leaned back in his chair and ran his fingers over Castiel's back.

Sam smiled at him and unwrapped the gift from Castiel, which Castiel had not so much wrapped as put in a small leather bag. "Oh, Cas," he said softly, sounding as confused as he was pleased. Castiel had given him a silver cuff bracelet set with a disc of yellow amber. "It's gorgeous." He put the bracelet around his wrist. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. You're not required to kiss me, either," Castiel said.

"Wasn't planning to," Sam said, smirking.

Dean laughed at them both and unwrapped his gift from Sam, and laughed again. Sam had gotten him more cassette tapes—and where he'd gotten them Dean had no idea, nobody sold tapes anymore—to replace his greatest hits of mullet rock tapes that were wearing thin. "Better than an iPod," he told Sam.

He unwrapped Castiel's as Castiel rubbed one of his feet with his own and nearly vibrated with excitement, and Dean said softly, "God, Cas," when he saw the gift. It was a chunk of amber on leather cord and framed by silver wires. "It's beautiful."

"To hold the place of your necklace," Castiel said. "Until it's time to give it back."

"It's perfect. Help me put it on?" He bent his head and Castiel hung the necklace around his neck. "My present looks lame now."

"You gave me a perfect present," Castiel told him gently. "And you've given me you. I can't ask for anything more."

Dean grinned and kissed him.

Sam played with his bracelet and said, "Cas? How did you pay for these?"

Castiel pulled the sweatshirt over his head. "This is very soft."

"Castiel," Sam said.

"I have existed a very long time," Castiel said once his head reappeared. "I know where certain treasures are."

"How old are these?" said Dean, looking down at the amber pendant.

"Old. But not magic." Castiel poured himself more juice. "You do like it, don't you, Dean?"

"Of course I do."

"I did not steal them," Castiel said, "and I did not violate a grave for them." He said more softly, "I wanted to give you something memorable. We may not have another Christmas."

Dean kissed him again, gentle, and brushed his fingers through Castiel's hair. "Maybe we'll get a few more."


They spent the morning watching holiday movies. Castiel and Dean lounged together on the bed, and Dean tried to explain the many references Castiel didn't get. Sam glanced up sometimes to smile at the TV or at them before going back to his book.

Around noon they ventured out into the snow and walked to the movie theater. It was open and already crowded with people wanting to see one of their four offerings. Sam chose the movie, and Dean treated them all to popcorn and M&Ms and Slushies.

"We're still planning to eat after, aren't we?" said Sam, eying Dean's bounty.

"Yeah, but not for another two or three hours, right?" He dumped about half of the M&Ms bag into the popcorn bucket. "This is delicious, Cas, when you eat them they're kind of hot and starting to melt."

The movie was silly and funny and had lots of explosions. It was perfect.


After the movie and more food at the nearly-empty Chinese restaurant, they started the walk back to the motel when Castiel paused. "Dean," he said softly, "I would like to go this way."

"You want to go to the church?" Dean said and took his hand.

"Is that all right?"

"Yeah, of course. Sam, do you mind—?"

"Sure," Sam said and took the bag of leftovers from Dean's hand. "I'll see you guys at the room."

"Do you have a key?" Dean said, and Sam nodded.

"See you later." He started up the sidewalk, glancing back at them once before he turned the corner.

Castiel walked on, holding tight to Dean's hand, and before long they'd rounded the corner and stood in front of the church again. His hand trembled in Dean's as he stared at the Nativity scene.

The church was quiet; if it'd had Christmas services, they had been earlier in the day, and while someone had swept the paths earlier, enough snow had fallen that the footprints of the worshippers were mostly filled in.

"Cas?" Dean said. "Are you okay?"

"Yes," Castiel said. "Yes. I have something I must say to you."

"I'm listening," Dean said.

Castiel took a breath. His gaze never wavered from the Nativity scene. "I feel the distance growing every day between me and Heaven. The connection is fragile and soon will break, and I don't know what will become of me."

"You'll have me," Dean said. "I'm on your side, Cas."

Castiel turned his head to smile at him. "I know," he said, his tone a little lighter. "I know. You never fail to show me. Like today, when you have shown me in so many ways."

"I just gave you toys and a kids' book."

"Yes," Castiel said, nodding. "A childhood, because I mentioned once I might like one. You show me things you want me to enjoy. You comfort me when I have sorrow. You hold me while I sleep, and you are patient when I need you to be. You made me part of your family. You made me your lover. You gave me yourself. Dean, I used to think I was sent to save you, but I think you are the one saving me."

"Cas," Dean whispered and stepped closer to him. He took hold of Castiel's jaw and kissed him.

"I love you so much," Castiel whispered, leaning their heads together. "I love you so much."

"Love you too," Dean muttered and swallowed hard. "You're leaving again, aren't you?"

"Yes. Oh, Dean, you have given me the most beautiful day but I must go. I must find my Father before I can no longer search."

"Okay," Dean said and looked down at their shoes. "Do you have your phone?"

"Yes." His thumb stroked Dean's cheekbone.

"Good. And go to Bobby if you can't reach us. He'll always know where we are."

"Yes, Dean."

"And you'd better come back safe," Dean said and cleared the gruff from his throat. "You'd better come back."

"I will."

Dean looked up to see Castiel smiling at him, tenderness in his eyes. They kissed each other one more time, and then Castiel was gone, leaving nothing behind but his footprints in the snow.

Dean stood there for a few minutes more, looking at the peaceful scene before him, and then his phone rang. He took it from his pocket and pressed Talk. "Hey, Sammy. I'm on my way back."

"Are you okay?" Sam said, worry in his voice.

"Yeah," Dean said, realizing that he was. "I'm pretty good. I'll be home soon." He turned off his phone, took one more look at the church, and began the walk back.


Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.
Norman Vincent Peale

Songs: Can't Help Falling, Elvis Presley
I'll Be Your Lover Too, Van Morrison