“At least it’s not as bad as the dog hair,” Sam said, in a somewhat placating tone. He caught the door as Dean shoved it closed, so it didn’t slam.
“Oh, believe me,” Dean chuckled dangerously, “this is worse than the dog hair.” He turned around in the centre of the motel room, breathing hard through his nose, pacing as the wailing baby screamed into his face. Over the racket, Dean said to Sam, “There is no way in hell I’m cleaning that mess up.”
Sam pulled an apologetic expression and strode away from the closed door, eyes on the baby. Its clothes were half-burned, but thankfully its skin was undamaged. She, Sam reminded himself. She might have been small, but she deserved more than ‘it’ as a pronoun.
She’d been through a lot in her short life. She’d been through a lot just this afternoon, in fact.
Dean looked mightily pissed off, still bouncing the bundle in his arms as he walked from one side of the room to the other. His boots were traipsing dirt over the carpet, but comparing that problem to the terrible screams the child was letting out, a bit of dirt was nothing.
“Seriously, Sam,” Dean said, interjecting his growled words with quiet shh shh shh sounds, a perfectly contradictory mix of tones, “what the hell possessed you to think this was a good idea?” He shook his head, turning and pacing the room again. “Three grown men and a baby? This isn’t a movie; in real life when you kidnap a baby you get thrown in jail.”
“We didn’t kidnap her, Dean,” Sam replied, heading for the bathroom to wash the muck off his hands. “If we’d left her there the cops would’ve shown up, God knows how stressful that would’ve been, for her and for us. At least this way there’s someone on hand to change her.”
Dean was still tutting to the baby when Sam came back out of the bathroom, drying his hands on a towel. He still felt gross, and he was fairly certain there was baby poop on his clothes.
Dean met Sam’s eye for only a second, a permanent frown dipping a gully between his eyebrows. “How long is Cas taking with the food? God-dammit,” he muttered, swinging the baby carefully.
“Are you sure he’s even going to get the right thing?” Sam mused. “He’s not the most adept at checking ingredients and brands. Honestly, I still think one of us should’ve gone with him.”
Dean shot Sam a sharp glare. “Cas isn’t stupid or incapable, he can work it out,” he said. “Besides,” he lifted the baby and shucked her higher on his chest, “You’re only two-legged. Cas can floomph.”
Sam pulled a flat smile. “Thanks.”
Dean hummed, bumping up and down on bent knees. The baby was screaming ceaselessly, and sometimes the sound flattened in Sam’s ears, blotting out everything. He could almost imagine an archangel descending, since they essentially made the same noise.
Sam swallowed, unsurely approaching Dean. He tried to reach for the bundle to relieve his brother, but Dean swung away, pretending that he hadn’t seen Sam reach. His attachment was almost endearing, were it not for the fact that Dean was clearly not able to do anything to make her quiet.
Despite his vocal complaints about the baby, and aside from when he refused to change her in the back of the Impala and made Sam do it instead, Dean was nearly inseparable from her. Over the two hours she’d been with them, he took any opportunity to hold her, usually with the excuse that “Sam needs his hands” or “Cas isn’t doing it right”, or even, on one occasion, “Just give her here, she likes me better”.
“Shh, shh. Hey, baby, hey,” Dean said now, his gruff voice definitely not suited for such a gentle hushing. “Hey, if you shut up for ten seconds, maybe I can take my jacket off, yeah? Wouldn’t that be better?”
“Dean,” Sam smiled, resting a hand on Dean’s leather-covered shoulder. “Pass her to me, come on.”
Dean looked at Sam curiously, as if judging how much he really trusted his own brother with something so precious. After a few moments, he gave in, and handed the bundle over.
For a person so fragile and small, she was surprisingly heavy.
Dean shed his jacket and overshirt quickly, draping them over the bed before bending to undo his bootlaces. He stood back up with a sigh, then jerked away and went to wash his hands in the bathroom.
Sam bounced the crying baby. The muscles in his face strained tight in irritation; he didn’t like holding her when she was this loud.
Dean shrugged nonchalantly as he returned to Sam. “Gotta avoid making her sick, or whatever,” he said to explain the hand-washing, wiping his wet hands down on his dark t-shirt and leaving handprints. Sam gratefully handed the baby back to Dean, who cooed and soothed at her as he rested her over his shoulder, hands securing her there.
Sam watched for a moment, finding a comfort in how Dean behaved with children. Sam knew that Dean been like that with him once, but he barely remembered.
Dean rolled his eyes at Sam. “Go take a shower, Sammy. I’m fine.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” Sam said, smirking. He gave Dean a very warm smile, which Dean accepted by way of scowling and turning away. Sam knew that meant he appreciated it.
Feeling a headache building, Sam headed for the bathroom again, looking back once, only to hear Dean sing the opening notes to ‘Smoke on the Water’. Unless Sam escaped now, that headache was going to get a lot worse.
● ● ●
He shut his eyes tight, pained by the grotty yowls that filled one ear.
Shaking his head, he fell back onto the foot of his bed, sitting over his thighs and cradling the baby. He couldn’t even see her eyes through the frustrated mask she wore, red-cheeked and snotty. The screaming was doing nothing but stressing them both out to unbelievable levels, and Dean praised his own patience; he had no idea how more babies didn’t end up dead. If they all screamed like this, it was a sure-fire way to make parents flip out.
Knocking a knee up and down, Dean sang right through his favourite Deep Purple song, then gave up. Clearly she didn’t like his singing, and if he was honest, he didn’t much like his own singing either. There was good reason the rockstar career didn’t pan out, hunting lifestyle aside.
“What d’you want, huh? Sammy changed you...” He petted her diaper, but that was a-okay. “You want feeding, right? Yeah, I know, I know... Shhhh...”
Dean ran a hand back over his hair, still smelling the soot and the black shadows of fire on him. He was thankful that the baby was so young, because he knew what it was like to lose loved ones in fire. If she’d been old enough to know her parents, it would hurt a lot more.
“Your mom,” Dean gulped, blinking quickly, “sh- she’s not coming back, baby. I know you want her, okay? I know I’m not her. But please... please, baby, stop crying. Stop crying, come on.”
He lifted her close and cuddled her, burying his cheek against her gross blanket. She needed a bath - and he did too. A crappy motel with a single shower was no place for a baby.
Sighing shakily, Dean lowered her back to his lap. She was trembling, completely exhausted, he could tell by pure instinct alone. She needed to sleep, but she would refuse to until she’d been fed.
“Cas is coming,” Dean told her, voice low. “He’ll be back with food, all right? I told him to get something for a newborn. You remember me saying that ‘cause you were there. But, nope,” Dean grinned slightly, donning Castiel’s deadpan tone of voice as he mimicked his friend, “you’re eight weeks, two days, fifteen hours, and three seconds old.” Dean chuckled, tickling the baby’s tummy, which got no response but another renewed wail.
With a heavy sigh, Dean tossed his head back, closing his eyes and summoning calmness from the deepest parts of him. He knew he wouldn’t hurt a baby in a million years, but that didn’t stop him from fantasising.
He tipped his face down and looked at the upset lump in his arms again. “Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb? Uh. Mary had a little lamb, it... it followed... The little ducks came swimming back...”
God, it was hopeless. He didn’t know any nursery rhymes or lullabies, the best he could do was Tom Waits, and that definitely didn’t invoke the right amount of softness.
All he wanted right now was to stick his head under a pillow and sleep. But this was a proper human life form in his arms, this was what they risked their lives day in and day out to save. What he was doing now, being patient, this was the essence of hunting. Sometimes it wasn’t even about hunting. Sometimes it was just about rescuing baby orphans from housefires that hadn’t even had anything supernatural going on. Saving people.
Dean thought of Cas, wandering the baby aisle, squinting at things confusedly. It made Dean smile, but he still trusted the angel to come back with what they needed. Behind that innocent frown there was a universe of knowledge, and even if it took Castiel an hour, he’d be back.
Dean really, really hoped it wouldn’t take an hour.
The baby wasn’t getting tired of the screaming; she seemed to have lungs the size of Texas and an automated loudspeaker somewhere in her throat. Dean considered calling Cas and asking for earplugs, too, but decided against it; feeding the baby was the only thing that mattered. Once that was done, the crying would stop, Dean was sure of it.
“Let’s wait ten more minutes, yeah? Come on. Ten minutes and Daddy’ll be here.”
Dean almost swallowed his tongue, realising what he’d said.
The baby didn’t know. Didn’t understand. It was okay. Nobody heard that.
Dean checked the bathroom door, hearing only the splash of the shower beyond. Sam hadn’t heard.
Letting out a soft breath, Dean smoothed gentle fingers over the baby’s overheated forehead. She wasn’t too hot from her blanket, just from the effort of screaming for a straight half-hour. “It’s all okay, shh...”
His mind was still caught up on that tiny admission that had slipped out. Daddy...
“Not your actual daddy,” Dean whispered, sure that the baby couldn’t even hear him over her own screeching. “Just a daddy. He’s an angel. And he’s gonna look after you, he’ll know what to do. I betcha he’ll just boop you on the forehead - boop! - and you’ll be happy as a bug.”
The baby just cried and cried, and Dean hunched over her, totally at a loss.
“Your mommy’s gone, it’s no use,” Dean said, soft and heartfelt as anything. “Someday you’ll be adopted, there’s always people who want babies. There’s me, but I’m... You know. Hunting. Crazy lifestyle. I’d get you killed in a week, guaranteed. Maybe one day I’d have a kid.” He swallowed. “But it wouldn’t be you, it would be some other abandoned baby, some other little girl who lost her mom in a fire.”
He felt hollow inside at his own words. He gave a slow, morose chuckle. “Happens to the worst of us, am I right?”
Closing his eyes, his head filled with the endless keening that the baby poured out with.
“You’re just hungry,” he sighed, looking down into the tiny, helpless face. “You’re not sad about your mom, are you? You just want a boobie to suck on.” He scrunched his lips to one side, pondering that. “Sorry to break it to you, but there are no boobies, you’re surrounded by dudes.”
The baby, if it was even possible, cried harder. Dean winced, his expression folding up in distress.
He rolled his head back again, scrounging for strength and wisdom. Killing monsters didn’t take as much effort or restraint or skill as this.
“Look, baby, if I give you something to suck on, would you please just stay quiet for like... two minutes? The neighbours are gonna start asking questions, and that’s not gonna be cool.”
Toughening himself up, he nodded. “All right. God, I’m going to Hell again for this.”
He lifted one side of his t-shirt, tucking it under his chin. “Here,” he said, pressing the baby to his bare chest. “You like nipples, right? Enjoy.”
The baby screamed for a bit longer, and Dean was about to give up the ghost and chalk this up as a failed attempt at usefulness, when the wailing murmured quiet, and Dean felt―
Oh. That was sufficiently freakish.
The baby’s mouth was warm and toothless, her cheeks dry since she didn’t yet make tears, but she suckled on Dean’s nipple and made... sucky noises.
Dean stared at the tiny TV opposite him with wide eyes, his back straight. He was blushing slightly, he could feel the heat of it on his cheeks. He wasn’t sure if what he was doing was just mildly incorrect protocol, or would go down as child abuse, but for the time being, he felt like he’d found a solution.
Usually he liked people playing with his nipples, but right now he didn’t feel sexy at all. This wasn’t meant to feel sexy. He was suckling a baby, and she thought Dean was her mother.
Never mind that he had no milk to give her, this was actually kinda...
Dean smiled a little, blinking as he looked down to see the baby’s eyes half-open, mouth working on the nub on Dean’s chest. She looked quite satisfied with that, and Dean sighed in relief. The crying had stopped, thank God.
He let out another trembling breath, watching the baby’s eyes slowly close as she sucked.
In the few minutes that passed, Dean couldn’t help but see that his belly fat was wrinkled at the waistline of his jeans. He was determined to ignore that, because he got plenty of exercise, so he figured he was free to eat whatever he wanted - which included mostly stewed fruit, pastry, and fried meat and potatoes. Stomach crunches were off the menu.
His eyes drifted back to the baby, and his whole being flooded with something akin to wonder.
It was kinda awesome, having the baby so close to him. It was like she needed him, and while that was probably true, he liked how obvious it was. He hadn’t felt this important for... years. Even with Heaven and Hell chasing him because he was the chosen one - the Righteous Man, as they liked to call him - he still didn’t get the same feeling of eminence as he was getting from this.
Dean found he was smiling softly, lips tender at the corners.
If Cas was Daddy...
Dean could be Mommy. He would be okay with that. Wanted it, even.
Dean’s own mother had been everything to him. His old man never did the same job, never loved the same way. Whatever it was that Dean had with this baby, what he had with Cas, that was the kind of thing Mary would approve of, not John.
Mary would’ve been proud of him, even the strange thoughts that had him emasculating himself for the sake of a fantasy.
Dean stroked the baby’s face as she suckled. He was starting to get attached. That was what breastfeeding was for, right? That was how new moms bonded with their babies...
The air changed, moved, and the room filled with the rushing sound of Castiel’s wings sweeping the ground as he landed, appearing instantly.
“Cas―!” Dean gasped, dragging the baby away from his nipple, shoving his shirt down. Oh no, he was blushing furiously, his heart was thudding in his throat. Shame and embarrassment gushed in his bloodstream like ice floes, and he couldn’t let his eyes leave Castiel’s gaze, locked there, frozen.
The baby started crying again.
Castiel stood there for a few seconds, calculating. Dean was terrified of his reaction, whatever it would be, having definitely seen what Dean had been doing. Some things should not be seen by friends, but some things ought not be done at all. Dean had lost every match.
It took Dean another split second to realise he was upset. He didn’t want the baby to stop suckling. This time when the baby wailed, she was saying she wanted him back. He felt a connection to her; he could understand what she cried for now.
“Dean,” Castiel said, gently, eyes falling to the baby, then rising to meet Dean’s gaze again. “Dean, she’s crying.”
“I - I know that, jackass,” Dean huffed, without heat, since he was still ice-cold with embarrassment. “Did you bring baby milk?”
“I did,” Castiel said, at last striding forward, standing at the foot of the bed. He pulled out a tin of powder from the plastic grocery bag he held. “I’m unsure how to prepare it.”
“Look at the label, there’ll be instructions. You bring a bottle?”
“Yes.” Castiel showed Dean an empty plastic shape with a teat, and colourful zoo animals prancing around its wide middle.
“All right, you gotta sterilise it,” Dean prompted, stroking the baby’s head. He felt terrible that she was so distraught, they both needed that closeness again. He bounced her gently on his lap, feeling his t-shirt stuck to his nipple where it was wet and swollen. He was still blushing, goddammit.
“It’s clean,” Castiel said, without having gone anywhere. He met Dean’s eye as Dean looked up. Dean had to take a breath, winded by the care and consideration that was swimming in Castiel’s eyes. It wasn’t the same look he gave Dean usually, not intense with curiosity, but this one was intense in a different way. Those blue eyes had become tender and gentle, willing to give. Loving, so loving.
Dean swallowed, nodding as he turned his eyes down once again. “‘kay. Angel powers are still good for something, I guess.”
“Powers are good for lots of things,” Castiel said, sitting down on the bed beside Dean. He offered him a full bottle of baby formula. “Especially when we have no microwave, kettle or stove. The water is purified, from the cleanest mountain spring in New Zealand.”
“It - it’s the right temperature?” Dean asked quietly, eyeing the bottle as Castiel swished the creamy liquid around.
“It’s exactly right,” Castiel said, firmly. “Do you want to test it?”
“Nah, it’s okay,” Dean gave a tiny, breathy smirk. “I trust you.”
Castiel shifted closer. Dean’s breath caught, body rushing hot all over and melting any trace of embarrassment. He was shy still, but he had nothing to fight; Castiel’s determination had eased him. Dean leaned a tiny bit closer, unable to help himself.
Castiel swallowed, a shift in his throat that Dean noticed, and he wondered if their proximity and soft words had affected him as much as they affected Dean.
“Dean,” Castiel said, voice low, “Would you like to feed her?”
Dean licked his lips, still rocking the baby in his arms. “I’ll hold her. You... You feed her.”
Castiel was so close.
Dean leaned even closer, tipping the crying baby so Castiel could reach her. Castiel was smiling; even the crinkles at the corners of his eyes were showing. Dean saw the bottle’s teat rest on the baby’s lower lip, and the crying dipped to nothing. Silence descended, then became mottled with the rhythmic sound of proper suckling.
Castiel’s arm was around Dean’s back, hand pushed down into the mattress behind him. He wasn’t wearing his trenchcoat or jacket, and Dean was surprised he’d used his power to remove both layers without Dean noticing.
Dean watched the baby for a while, then turned his slow eyes to watch Castiel.
Castiel surely knew he was being watched, but his gaze didn’t leave the baby in Dean’s arms. The subtle smile still played on his lips, in his twinkling, warm eyes. Dean thought he was good like that, he was calm and patient, things Dean had always valued in Cas, but never loved quite like this until now.
Dean was really, really happy. And it wasn’t loud, or immediate, but like oncoming sleep. Like tiny fingers curling into his t-shirt, like breath on his shoulder. Blue eyes on his own, watching him back.
Cas was happy too.
Dean knew what he was about to do before he did it, and he didn’t even consider stopping himself. He leaned in, ever so slowly, and he pushed his lips against Castiel’s.
He felt good there. Castiel closed his mouth on Dean’s, nose on his cheek. They breathed out together, lingering in the simple intimacy of it for only a handful of seconds, then pulled away. Dean looked into Castiel’s eyes from inches away, searching for doubtful shadows, but he saw only light and joy.
They smiled, Dean resting his tired back on Castiel’s bracing arm while their baby was fed.
It didn’t take long at all before Dean’s head sank to Castiel’s shoulder, and Castiel rested his own head over Dean’s. It was comfortable in ways that had nothing to do with bumping skulls or awkward hair fluff in Dean’s eye. It was just... easy.
Some day, they’d have this again, for real. But for now, they had these moments. They’d keep them precious - because this moment, and all moments to come, belonged to them.