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Cas’s running shoes slapped against the black asphalt of the highway. The cold mist stung his face, and his cheeks were pink with exertion, but it felt good to run.
Despite the dreary Monday, Cas observed the world around him with interest, still not used to seeing everything through human eyes. Times like this, his muscles working in tandem to keep his body in motion, Cas could almost imagine that he’d always been a man.
Running was infinitely preferable to sitting around the bunker bored. With Kevin visiting his mom for a few days, and Charlie insisting that rainy days were for catching up on fanfiction – whatever that was – the bunker was too quiet.
Sam and Dean had left yesterday morning for a salt and burn three states over, both eager for some non-angelic work. Cas had wanted to go too, but Dean said he couldn’t risk it, not yet.
Cas was tired of being on lockdown, but until the heaven/hell thing was straightened out, well, he was kind of screwed. So he ran. He ran along roads of dirt and asphalt and even cut cross-country, clambering over hills and rocks, when the mood suited him.
And on days like this, he imagined that he was running in an unbroken world.
He was heading back to the bunker when his side cramped. The sharp pains brought him up short, and he took shelter from the drizzling rain under some tall oak trees. He leaned against the trunk of one and closed his eyes, taking deep breaths and trying to release the stitch.
He almost didn’t hear it. A well-placed pause in the wind and rain allowed the little mew coming from the bushes to be heard.
Cas immediately went over to investigate, carefully pushing aside the bush’s branches. He peered inside and saw a little kitten in a tight huddle.
Instead of running from him, the little guy – or gal, Cas couldn’t tell which – opened its teeny mouth and mewed at him.
Its helplessness tore at him, and before he knew what he was doing, Cas scooped up the little furball. It was shivering, and he cuddled in his hands, wiping the excess water off its gray fur. He looked around but didn’t see any other cats, and judging by its ribs, this little guy – it was a guy; he checked – hadn’t eaten in a couple of days. It was too teeny to go hungry for much longer, he knew.
Cas looked into its green eyes and made a decision. He slipped the little kitty into the front pouch of his hoodie; within seconds, it was purring loudly. The sound made him smile. Though his side still hurt, Cas headed for the bunker anyway, making a mental shopping list of everything they’d need.
Charlie squeed over the kitty and happily tossed aside her tablet to go on a supply run. The kitty went along too, riding in Cas’s pouch. Cas kept at least one hand in there at all times to keep it steady and safe. The kitten nipped at his fingers with its small teeth, reminding him that it was hungry.
He told Charlie, and she laughed. “We’ll get it some special cat milk,” she said. “He’ll like that.”
They loaded up the cart with kitty litter, a cat pan and scoop, a litter mat, the special milk, soft food, catnip, toys, and a small hooded cat bed. Cas used the credit card Dean had given him to pay for the kitty’s supplies.
Kitty yowled most of the way home, even after Cas took him out of his pouch and let him sit on his lap. “He’s got a set of lungs on him,” Charlie said.
“Do you think Sam and Dean will like him?,” Cas asked.
Charlie laughed. “I think that Sam will love him, but you’re going to have to use your powers of persuasion on Dean,” she said.
“What do you think will best persuade him?,” Cas asked.
Charlie bit her lip to prevent a smile and reminded herself of her weeks-ago promise to Dean. We’re figuring things out, Charlie. I’m not even supposed to be talking about this with you. I mean, hell, Sam doesn’t even know. She found that hard to believe, but she’d agreed to stay quiet, and she would.
“You’ll figure it out,” she finally said neutrally.
Kitty devoured his saucer of milk. Cas and Charlie couldn’t get enough of watching him lap it up. When he was done, the little guy blinked his sleepy green eyes at them before literally falling into a furry, gray heap, satiated and asleep.
“Oh my god,” Charlie gushed. “Could he be any cuter?”
“I don’t think so,” Cas answered, smiling. He lifted kitty gently and laid him in his bed. Kitty didn’t even bat an eye at being moved.
“We should hide him, you know,” Charlie said.
“I agree,” Cas said. “I was thinking that we’ll need to ease Sam and Dean into the idea of having a pet.”
“Sam'll go along with it easily enough,” Charlie said. “Dean’s going to be the challenge.”
Cas didn’t have many clothes, so he decided to move what he did have from his closet to the dresser drawers. Charlie knocked at his open door.
“Whatcha doin’?,” she asked.
“I’ll leave kitty out when I’m in here,” Cas explained. “But when De—when I can’t watch him, I’ll put him in the closet.”
Charlie smiled at Cas’s near-slip. “That sounds like a good idea,” she said. “I’ll help.”
Together, they rigged up a kitty hidey-hole. They hung Christmas lights so he wouldn’t be in the dark, and set up the small cat pan, his food and water, and his little bed. Charlie put a small stuffed animal in the bed, so he’d have something to curl up next to, and Cas hung some toys up for kitty to bat around.
“We need something to cover up the meowing,” Charlie mused. “Oh, I’ve got it!,” she exclaimed, running out of the room.
She returned with a round contraption in her hand. “What’s that?,” Cas asked.
“A sound machine,” she said. “Put it right here” – she placed it on the nightstand between the closet and the bed – “and keep it turned on medium. The white noise will keep De— uh, it should keep anyone from hearing any noise he makes.”
“What if someone complains about the machine’s noise?,” Cas asked.
“You play the sympathy card,” Charlie said.
“I don’t understand.”
“Simply tell whoever it is that you miss being hooked into angel radio, and this reminds you of home.”
Cas thought about it a moment and nodded his head. “You’re right,” he said. “That excuse should be effective with anyone who knows me.”
Charlie grinned. “Stick with me, Padawan, and I’ll teach you all of my tricks.”
“Thank you, Charlie, for helping me with kitty.”
“And that’s another thing,” she said. “You need to pick a name for him, something besides just kitty.”
“I will,” Cas said. “It’s hard to name him, though. It makes me wonder how my Father was able to name the creatures of his kingdom.”
Charlie looked at Cas and shook her head. “I know we were just talking about angel radio, but sometimes I forget about just who you really are – no offense.”
“No offense taken,” Cas said. “Lately, even I’ve had moments where I almost forget.”
“What’s that like?,” she asked.
“Disconcerting,” he said quietly.
They left kitty sleeping in his hidey-hole and went into the living room. Charlie was educating Cas on The X-Files, and they were almost through Season 2. Cas was curious to see what happened next in Mulder’s never ending search for his sister. It reminded him of his futile search for God; he hoped Mulder’s quest ended better.
Sam and Dean returned Thursday evening, tired from the drive, but jazzed from the salt and burn. Cas had made dinner – nothing fancy, just spaghetti, salad, and garlic bread – and the four of them enjoyed a nice meal before Sam and Dean crashed. Charlie and Cas watched another X-Files episode before turning in themselves.
Kitty escaped detection that night and the next. Charlie suspected Cas was going to Dean’s room instead of vice versa, but there was no way she was broaching that subject.
Kevin returned Saturday morning, and Charlie immediately enlisted him in Operation Hide-A-Kitty. He was totally on board. It wasn’t hard to do, really. The big thing was that if Cas was working with Sam and Dean, and he usually was, then Charlie or Kevin had to sneak into the room to feed kitty. He was too small to go more than a few hours without his milk and food.
Sunday morning, their makeshift family gathered together for their usual pancake breakfast, whipped up by the master. Dean was a little off his game this morning, though, and the pancakes weren’t quite as awesome as usual, though they were still pretty damn good.
Charlie took in Dean’s red-rimmed eyes and sniffles and had to excuse herself to the bathroom, where she laughed for five minutes. When she finally had her mirth under control, she went back to the table.
“You okay?,” Sam asked. Charlie was always the first to dive into Sunday brunch.
“I’m good,” Charlie said. “Dean, you don’t look so good, though. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know – allergies, I guess,” Dean said. “Doesn’t feel like a cold.”
“Since when do you have allergies? Other than cats, I mean,” Sam asked.
Dean shrugged. “Don’t know. But it’s something.”
Cas looked guilty; Charlie and Kevin had the satisfied smirks of people who know more than others in the room but are big enough people to keep it to themselves.
Kitty made it two more days. Wednesday morning, Cas put him in the closet as usual but didn’t realize that the door didn’t latch quite right.
Then, Dean went to grab a book on angel lore that he’d been reading from the nightstand in Cas’s room, and he didn’t shut the door all the way.
“What? Why’s your book in there?,” Sam asked.
Dean didn't answer; he asked Sam about the latin translation he was working on instead.
An hour or so later, all five of them were quietly working around the research table when a little “mew” broke the silence.
“What’s that?,” Dean asked.
“Uh – I didn’t hear anything,” Kevin said.
"I heard it too,” Sam said. “What was that?”
“You guys are hearing things,” Charlie said. She began chattering about their next LARPing tournament, and Cas dropped his pen on the floor and crawled under the table to get it.
“Everybody freeze,” Dean said. “Cas, what the hell are you doing?”
Cas’s muffled voice answered, “Getting my pen.”
“Doesn’t take that damn long to get a pen,” Dean said, twisting to look under the table just in time to see Cas putting something gray and furry inside his jacket.
“Out from under the table, now,” Dean ordered.
Cas reluctantly stood up, holding his jacket closed with one hand. “What’s in the jacket, Cas?”
Cas shrugged. “Nothing.”
Meow. Of course, little kitty chose that precise moment to ask for lunch. If that wasn’t enough, a paw reached up the front of Cas’s shirt, spreading its teeny claws wide and grasping for leverage.
Cas grinned sheepishly, and pulled the little cat out. He was so small he fit in Cas’s hand. “See? He’s so little that he’s practically nothing,” Cas said.
“A cat?,” Dean demanded. He paused to sneeze and wipe at his watering eyes. “You brought a cat in here?”
Dean glared around the table. Sam’s eyes were dancing, but he looked surprised. Dean took him off the list of possible conspirators. Charlie and Kevin, on the other hand, were both staring at their laptops so intently that he expected their eyes to start bleeding. “Seriously?” he asked, grabbing a kleenex.
Charlie kicked Kevin under the table, but he wouldn’t look at her. She sighed and looked up, ready to take her punishment like the kick-ass heroine she was. “He’s so cute, Dean,” she said. “You have to let him stay.”
“I know he makes you sneeze, but I’ll vacuum regularly, and if we bathe him, it’ll help with the dander. He was all alone and starving… Please?,” Cas asked.
Dean looked at those wide blue eyes, thought about everything Cas had dealt with this year, everything he’d lost, and his heart clenched. If a stupid ball of fur made him happy…
“Fine,” he muttered.
“Just keep it in your room,” Sam said, trying to be helpful. “That should help Dean’s allergies.”
Dean shot Sam an incredulous look. Was he being facetious? Sam’s face was open and smiling, though, not snarky or sarcastic. Dean looked at Cas and shrugged.
“Uh, okay,” Cas said, his mouth twitching. “I’ll keep kitty in there.”
Go, Padawan, Charlie thought, watching Cas work his blue-eyed mojo. ‘Course, the dude’s eyes were dreamy anyway, and maybe he didn’t intentionally use them to manipulate Dean.
Still worked, though.
They decided on pizza for dinner; Sam volunteered to go pick it up and grab a few supplies.
“Anybody need anything while I’m out?,” he asked.
Dean looked up from his newspaper. “Grab me a pack of antihistamines, will you? Claritin should work.”
Sam rolled his eyes. “I think you’re over-reacting, Dean. If the cat stays in Cas’s room, you’re going to be fine.”
“Well, when I’m in his room, I’ll need them,” Dean said evenly, his eyes not leaving the story he was intently reading.
Sam gave Dean a puzzled look. “Why would you be in Cas’s room?,” he asked.
Dean shrugged. “His is the furthest away.”
“Away from what?,” Sam asked.
Charlie made a choking sound, and Dean gave her a quelling look.
“Just get me a pack, okay?,” Dean said. “The largest quantity they have.”
“Whatever,” Sam said, obviously forcing himself to give in to his brother’s supposed paranoia. “I still think you’re over-reacting.”
Charlie collapsed into hysterical giggles as soon as Sam left the bunker.
“Shut it, Red,” Dean ordered. He dropped a kiss on her head as he walked past, though.
She kept giggling and turned her attention back to the fanfic that she’d put aside to help Cas with kitty.
Sam was back within the hour. “Where are Dean and Cas?,” he asked, setting the pizza and groceries on the table. Charlie was still reading, and Kevin had emerged from his room and was playing Angry Birds on his phone.
“Uh – in Cas’s room,” Charlie said. “Seriously, Sam? I thought you were smarter than this.” She popped open a pizza box.
Sam stood there a moment, pondering as Charlie and Kevin set out plates and napkins.
“Figure it out yet?,” Charlie asked, grinning.
Just then, Dean and Cas came into the room. They were both smiling and at ease.
“God, that pizza smells good, Sammy,” Dean said. “Did you get my drugs?”
“Yeah, in the bag there,” Sam said. He watched as Dean fished out the box and popped a pill.
He watched as Dean handed Cas an empty plate, as Cas grabbed beers for both of them. And he watched as their hands brushed, and they shared one of those looks. And he clearly saw Dean place his hand against the small of Cas’s back as they walked towards the living room. And…
Oh my god, Dean and Cas are together together, Sam realized.
Charlie could tell when the lightbulb went off. “You really had no idea?,” she asked Sam. “I am appalled at your lack of awareness, Winchester.” She grinned at him as she piled her plate with pizza.
Sam rolled his eyes and then saw the pitying look Kevin was sending his way.
“There’s no way you knew, shortstop,” Sam said.
“Oh, I’ve known for months,” Kevin said, helping himself to two slices of the veggie pizza and a soda.
“How?,” Sam asked, flabbergasted.
“Uh – I was in Advanced Placement. I know things,” Kevin said smugly.
“Move your asses, people,” Dean yelled from the couch.
“What episode are we watching tonight, Charlie?,” Cas asked.
“We’re starting with ‘Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,’” Charlie answered. “You’re going to love it, Cas.”
“Oh, that’s one of my favorites,” Dean said.
In between episodes, while Charlie was changing discs, Cas went to wash his hands. He loved the taste of pizza but hated the greasy residue. He was back within a couple of minutes and plopped back down on the couch beside Dean.
“Postmodern Prometheus” was just starting when Dean began sniffling. Then he sneezed – twice, and loudly.
“Dammit, Cas, did you pet that cat?” Dean demanded, snatching the tissue from Charlie’s outstretched hand. Sam paused the dvd, while Kevin took the opportunity to grab another piece of pizza and a beer.
“Uh – no,” Cas said.
“Liar,” Dean retorted, blowing his nose.
“Didn’t you take your allergy medicine?,” Cas asked.
“It’s not a fucking miracle cure,” Dean griped. “It’ll take a few days to get in my system.”
“Oh,” Cas said, moving to get up just as a meow emanated from his hoodie’s pouch.
Charlie and Sam locked eyes, both fighting back laughter.
“You brought the damned cat in here,” Dean said. “What the hell, Cas?”
“Aw, look at him, Dean,” Cas said. He pulled kitty out and held him up. “He was lonely and wanted to spend time with us. See how sweet he is? And his eyes are green, just like yours.”
Dean pinched the bridge of his nose. “Seriously, Cas? You’re going to play that card on me?”
“He is an awfully sweet kitty, Dean,” Sam said.
“The sweetest kitty in the whole world,” Charlie added helpfully.
Kevin walked by the couch and scratched kitty lightly between the ears. “The absolute sweetest,” he added.
Dean took a long look at the gray furball and his big, blinking green eyes, and then he looked around the room at all four expectant, hopeful faces.
He threw his hands up. “Fine,” he said. “The damn cat can watch X-Files with us.”
The conspirators grinned at each other in triumph. Sam pressed play, and Cher’s warbling filled the room.
Sam surreptitiously glanced over at Cas and Dean during the show, looking for the signs he’d somehow missed all this time.
It was so obvious to him now. Right this moment, for instance, Dean was reaching over to pet the little cat, who tilted its head and purred in contentment. And not only was his brother voluntarily petting a kitten, but he was holding Cas’s hand. They were whispering to each other too. Part of Sam wondered what they were talking about. The other part told him to mind his own business and keep to the path of less scarrage.
“See, I told you he was sweet,” Cas whispered.
“Yeah, I guess,” Dean said, smiling as the little cat ducked its head and purred under his touch. Dean laced his fingers through Cas’s. “What’s his name?”
“Felix – it means ‘lucky one.’”
Dean nodded. “I like it.”
Charlie reached over and whacked Dean on the arm. “Hey!,” he exclaimed.
“You two stop mooning over the cat and over each other,” she grumbled. “We’re trying to watch a show here.”
“Sorry,” Dean muttered.
“You know the Great Mutato is the same actor who plays Jeffrey Spender, right?,” Charlie asked no one in particular.
“Of course,” Dean scoffed. “Who do you think you’re talking to?”
“I think that people are still talking when they should be watching,” Kevin griped.
“Turn the volume up, Sam, so all these whiners will shut up,” Dean said.
Sam obliged, and they turned their attention back to the television screen.
All except Cas, who looked around the room at the content faces of his family, at the kitty curled up in his lap, and at Dean’s hand in his. He smiled to himself.
Dean saw that smile he loved so much, and rubbed his thumb across Cas’s. “Happy?,” he whispered.
“Very,” Cas whispered back, settling against Dean. “Me too,” Dean murmured.
Nights like these made the apocalypse seem like nothing more than a bad dream.