The bunker is silent. Words flying around a table, bottles of beer hitting the hard surface, a hand finding a shoulder to confirm it’s real, all of this is long gone. The only sound Dean can hear is the dripping of water in the distance, a leaking pipe somewhere, but that’s a problem for another day. His hands are shaking, and his movements are unsure as he makes his way down the corridor towards his room.
Everything had happened so fast – the phone call, the whispered “Hello Dean”, his knees giving out and letting him collapse onto the nearest chair, the run to the car. When they found him, Cas had offered no explanation, and Dean hadn’t asked for one. He’d wrapped his arms around the angel, closed his eyes, breathed him in. Just enough for the this is real to sink in, then back to business. Dean is not ashamed to admit that he has no recollection of what happened on their way back to the bunker, and all he wants right now is to collapse on his bed and wake up tomorrow morning to find the angel in the kitchen, as if he’d never left, as if Dean hadn’t watched his body burn on a pyre.
Dean shakes his head and goes through his usual night routine, mind carefully kept blank so he won’t have a breakdown right then and there, hands clutching the sink, because the relief, the confusion, the happiness, the pain is all too much. He breathes deeply and looks up, dragging his eyes over his reflection, over how tired and consumed he looks. But there’s also something else in his eyes now, something that he didn’t have eight hours ago, something that looks like hope and that helps him believe that maybe they will find their mom, that Jack won’t burn down the whole world and they will be okay. Not perfect, but okay. Dean hasn’t felt that small sliver of hope in weeks and right now he isn’t sure what to do with it.
After finishing up in the bathroom, Dean returns to his room only to find Cas sitting on his bed, something small and black held tightly in his hands. The angel doesn’t look up when Dean comes in, but his hands shake slightly, and Dean knows he heard him approach. Cas is in no rush to speak, and Dean doesn’t mind. He’s happy to stand in the doorway, looking Cas over again, and again, and again, so fucking grateful to be able to do so that he doesn’t know if he’ll ever speak again.
Cas looks up suddenly, and his expression is unreadable, but with Cas’s head not in the way anymore, Dean can clearly see the Zeppelin mixtape, held tightly in shaky hands. He’s about to say something, maybe stutter through an explanation, but Cas beats him to it.
“You kept it.”
It’s all he has to say, and Dean almost collapses again. There’s nothing he can say.
“You burned everything else, even the trench coat, but you kept the tape.” Under Cas’s intense stare, Dean tries to find an explanation, but comes up empty-handed. Burning Cas’s body, burning that ugly trench coat had been the only way Dean knew to convince himself that it was real, it was done, Cas was never coming back. It was something he knew deep inside him, something that tipped him over the edge of grief into complete carelessness, all the fight in him leaving for good. And yet, when his hand had knocked against something hard in Cas’s pocket, he hadn’t been able to leave it there. It might have been a tiny flicker of hope that Dean didn’t even know he had, or maybe foolishness, but Dean had taken the tape out and transferred it to his pocket.
When Dean pulls himself out of his memories, Cas is still looking at him, curious and sad. Dean takes a deep breath and forces himself to hold Cas’s gaze, though everything inside him is breaking and collapsing on itself, leaving him bare and vulnerable.
“I couldn’t do it” He manages to say, and Cas’s eyes turn even softer. It’s impossible now to mistake the naked adoration he sees in the look Cas is giving him for anything else, and Dean’s thoughts are running in a thousand different directions of not right now and he just came back from the dead and stop reading into this stuff, Dean.
Cas moves, making space for Dean on the bed, and the hunter moves mechanically, drawn by Cas’s soft eyes and his warm body and the need to feel that he is really back.
“I thought this was the end, Cas. I saw the wings, I burned your body, I thought it was done. You were done. Forever. But for some reason when I found the tape I couldn’t just leave it, I had to have it with me, just in case, just because…” Ah, fuck it. Dean’s mumbling thoughts have turned into Dean’s mumbling words and he has no idea what he’s trying to tell Cas, but he tries one last time, changes the subject to the present rather than the past.
“I was going to give it back to you. Tomorrow, or sometime. You know, it’s a gift. It’s yours.” Cas smiles at that, one of those tiny smiles that is as rare as it is beautiful, and Dean’s breath catches. He can’t do this. Not now, not when he’s still reeling from having the angel back, from finding some semblance of hope and happiness again.
“Thank you, Dean.” Cas whispers, and he gets up to leave, the same small smile still adorning his face. The angel barely has time to reach the doorway, before Dean is up on his feet again, muttering a quiet “Cas, wait.”, and pulling the angel into his arms, against his better judgement, against everything his mind has been trying to tell him.
Cas doesn’t hesitate: in a moment, his arms are wrapping around Dean’s waist and holding him just as tight. He can feel the mixtape pressing against his back, and it grounds him.
Dean feels safe.
He buries his face in the angel’s neck again, closes his eyes, breathes in. Wonders if the angel knows, if the mixtape made his feelings as clear as he hoped it would. He allows himself to take the moment he didn’t when he first saw Cas again, and tries to focus on every detail. The texture of the new trench coat under his hands, the warm press of Cas’s body against his, the way the angel’s arms hold him tightly, but not tight enough to hurt, the way Cas breathes slowly against his neck.
When the moment is over, Dean wants to pull back with a “glad to have you back, buddy”, a slap on the shoulder and a quick goodnight, something that will break the mounting tension in the room. But pulling back means looking Cas straight in the eyes, and that turns out to be worse than holding him. Dean can’t move, his hands on Cas’s shoulders, Cas’s hands on his waist, their eyes locked together. They’re breathing the same air, and Dean wants to both stay here forever and also run for the hills. Cas doesn’t move, quietly judging Dean’s reactions and what to do based on what the hunter is doing.
“I thought I told you to never do that again.” Is all Dean can say, his voice cracking as the joke falls flat, and they’re still too close, holding each other as if breaking the connection might mean losing each other again. Cas looks sad, then, and his whispered I’m sorry doesn’t heal Dean’s broken heart. But Cas is here now, and Dean decides that that is all he wants to focus on. Slowly, without his permission, his hands move up to cup Cas’s face, and Dean can feel the way Cas’s breath hitches. He knows what comes next, but the precipice he’s about to fall down doesn’t scare him as much as it used to, not with Cas’s arms wrapped around him, his comforting, loving eyes telling Dean all he needs to know. Dean feels like crying.
Dean takes a deep, steadying breath. Closes his eyes. Opens them, and focuses on Cas again. The angel is still there, beautiful as ever, happy to take whatever Dean will offer. And Dean wants to give him everything.
“Can I...?” He asks, his voice unsure as he trails off but his heart confident that Cas will know what he’s asking.
“Of course.” Cas says.
So Dean leans forward, slowly, giving Cas the time to back away if he changes his mind, closing his eyes as he goes. And Cas is there to meet him in the middle, as always, always ready to catch Dean if he falls. When their lips meet, there are no fireworks. No exploding colours and sounds, no heavenly music. Dean presses Cas against the doorframe and deepens the kiss, Cas’s face framed between his hands, and for a few, brief moments Dean forgets all of his grief, his worry, his pain. Nothing matters except for the angel and the hunter, the angel that chose to love and fall and die for the hunter, and the hunter that came to love the angel, despite it going against everything he ever knew. It’s just Dean and Cas, and for a few, brief moments, Dean feels happiness again.