Having Dad back is good until it isn’t.
He looks out of place in the bunker. More so than Mom ever did; she was a hunter, after all, she belonged. And Dad — well, Dad was a hunter, but not like this. Dad was a hunter who believed in cheap motels and open roads and never letting a place become a home. Dad believed in safe , in his own way — in Dad’s world, letting yourself think you had something good was the surest way to get the universe to knock you down and take it back.
He looks both larger and smaller than he should, standing in the doorway of his own room, duffel in his hand because this is Dad, within 24 hours of life back on Earth he’s got a full outfit from the Army Surplus and is well on his way to rebuilding his arsenal, too. He doesn’t unpack the duffel, just splits it open by the foot of the bed. His presence is a prowling, agitated one in the kitchen, in the library. Within an hour of arriving, he’s cased every room. Asked questions about the busted wall and the old mainframe and every other goddamn thing in the place.
Last time he saw Dad, Sam was twenty-two. He had yet to learn the truth about his blood — any of the dozens of truths about his blood. He had yet to lose his brother, to lose himself, to give himself to Lucifer and live a hundred years in the Pit. He had yet to sink to his knees and love the brother who promised to kill him. Had yet to let that brother go.
He’s older now, calmer, sure of himself and what he does. And Dad’s in the bunker for 15 minutes before Sam feels like an angry teen again.
“So he’s a fallen angel,” Dad says, glancing down the corridor where Dean and Cas disappeared. “And he — lives here.”
“He’s family,” Sam answers, and there’s an edge to his voice he’s forgotten how to deploy.
“Family,” Dad snorts. “Right. Family who’s possessing some poor schmuck’s body?”
Sam grits his teeth. “Jimmy died in the apocalypse,” he says. “It’s just Cas in there.”
Dad frowns. “I thought I taught you boys better than to trust —”
“Trust what, Dad?” Sam snaps. “Trust anything supernatural? Trust a monster? ‘Cause I’ll remind you right now, I was Lucifer’s vessel. I freed him from the Cage and commanded demon armies and killed with my mind , so if you want to get all high and mighty about cooperating with monsters, you’d better start with me!”
Dad’s jaw tightens, but he doesn’t answer. “I don’t like him being alone with Dean,” he eventually bites out.
An incredulous laugh bumps against Sam’s ribs. “Are you kidding? You’d better get used to that , ‘cause —”
He stops himself, but it’s too late. John’s eyes are narrowed, watching Sam for what he was about to say. “‘Cause what?” he demands, when Sam doesn’t speak. “ Because what, Sam?”
Sam says nothing. John stares at him a moment longer, then wheels around and strides down the hallway. By the time Sam realizes where he’s going, it’s far too late.
“For the love of,” Dean says. It’s meant to cover his embarrassment, Sam thinks — a mask of irritation to hide his insecurity that Dad saw , that Dad knows , the burrowing fear of what does Dad think of me?
Dad himself hasn’t said much of anything. His face is pale, eyes flitting to his eldest son and away again a couple times a minute, fingers clenched tight around the whiskey bottle. Of course, Sam thinks bitterly. His younger son being hellspawn and Lucifer’s vessel, Dad will take in stride. But Dean, getting it on with another man? That is a bridge too far.
Sam didn’t get there in time to stop his father’s hand on the doorknob, or to see exactly what vision met Dad’s eyes when it swung open, though he can imagine well enough. He did hear the muffled curse, then Dean snapping “Stay there” as he burst back out through the door, fingers fast on the buttons of his flannel.
Now all three of them are sitting awkwardly around the table, avoiding each other’s eyes. Like the good old days, Sam thinks.
“Jesus Christ,” says Dean, “Dad, say something. ”
Dad drags harrowed eyes up to his son’s face and flinches, just a little. He looks like he looked in the hospital, when he knew his son was dying, or when he knew his own life was forfeit — Sam’s never been sure which one. For a moment, Sam thinks he’s going to speak. Instead, he looks back down.
“Fucking hell,” says Dean, and shoves his chair back. “I’m going to get us some grub.” And then he’s clattering up the stairs and is gone, leaving Sam and Dad to anger and silence.
Dean doesn’t come back for a good long while.
Sam busies himself cleaning up the kitchen, mostly for something to do, and that’s where he is when Castiel reemerges. He’s looking just as much himself as ever, unruffled in that rumpled, careless way of his, and he doesn’t look left or right, just strides over to the table and flings himself into the chair opposite John. Then he reaches out precisely, almost gently; pulls the whiskey bottle from John’s hands; and throws it, as hard as Sam has ever seen Cas throw anything, against the far wall. It shatters with a resounding crash, but the shards tinkle lightly as they settle on the floor.
“You do not drink in this bunker,” Castiel says.
Dad looks entirely as shocked as Sam feels. He just stares at Castiel, open-mouthed, then says, as if he doesn’t realize he’s speaking aloud, “The boys do.”
“Yes,” Castiel agrees. “You don’t.” His tone is pleasant but implacable, and when John opens his mouth to speak again, he talks right over him. “To be honest, if I had my way, you wouldn’t be within twenty miles of either of them, ever again. But since killing you will likely hurt Dean worse than allowing you to continue polluting our home with your presence, I will continue to tolerate it if, and only if , you can behave yourself. ”
John’s face has gone purple. “You perverted him, ” he hisses. “My son would never — he’d never —”
“What?” Cas demands. “Fall in love with an angel? Fall in love with a man?”
“My son is not a faggot! ” John roars, and it hits like a blow, so ugly that Sam, for all he’s expecting it, flinches.
And Cas’s face has gone white, whiter than Sam’s ever seen it. There’s fury there, bone-deep, pure. The kind you might call wrath.
“Your son,” says Castiel, and his voice is soft but terrible, beyond terrible, “lost his virginity to the landlord in Spokane you couldn’t be bothered to pay rent to. He was twelve.”
There is no air left in the room.
“Your son,” Castiel continues, “spent his teenage years finding the money, through whatever means necessary , to keep himself and his brother alive . Your son ,” and he seems to tower over John, advancing on him even as he hasn’t moved a muscle, “convinced himself you wanted him to. Expected him to. Because the alternative — that you didn’t care enough to notice — because that was too much for him to bear.”
John is shaking. It’s visible from across the room. He opens his mouth, but no sound comes out.
“Do you know,” Castiel asks, “how long it took me to convince him that he is worthy of love? To make him believe I won’t leave him the first time he fails to anticipate exactly what I want?”
Sam’s blood is thundering in his ears.
“Do you know,” Castiel says softly, “that they stopped using your guise to torture him in Hell when they realized it calmed him down? ”
“Cas,” says a gruff voice from the stairwell. “That’s enough.”
And suddenly, Sam can breathe again. Because Dean is descending the stairs, bag of fast food in hand, and if his eyes are guarded, his posture is easy, and he’s still Dean, still the brother Sam has always known.
He and Cas trade a look as he sets down the burgers on the war room table, a look Sam can’t read. “I’m not hungry,” Cas snaps, and leaves the room without another word.
“Is it true?” Dad asks, much later.
The only remnants of their dinner are empty burger wrappers sticky with congealed cheese. Dad’s been very quiet, looking down at his hands.
“That I’m in love with him? Yeah,” says Dean, snagging a final fry from the basket in the middle of the table. “And that you’re out on your ass if you ever upset him like that again.”
John nods, but he swallows, still looking down. “I meant —”
“I know what you meant,” Dean says, and his voice is sharp.
When John looks his up, his eyes are brimming with tears. “Dean,” he says, “please —”
“No,” says Dean, loud and harsh. “No. Dad, I love you, but you’ve got no right to shed tears for me. You lost that right a long, long time ago.”
Sam can’t sleep that night.
He doesn’t try, really. Just stays up, puttering around the bunker, relaxing into the quiet of the early hours of the morning. Around 3am, Dean joins him.
“Hey,” says Sam softly. Dean’s fully dressed, and he doesn’t look discomposed, or like he’s rubbing sleep from his eyes. He scrounges briefly through the fridge, finds a container of leftover Chinese, and starts the microwave.
“Hey,” he says, and his voice sounds tired, even if his eyes don’t look it. “Dad asleep?”
Dean lets out a long breath, crossing his arms over his chest with the air of someone preparing himself for a messy task he’d rather avoid. “So,” he says. “What exactly did Cas say to you guys?”
Sam swallows. He can’t say he’s looking forward to this conversation any more than Dean is, but he’s thought about it. There’s no point being anything but blunt. “He blames Dad for a lot,” he says. “Said you lost your virginity to Norm, in Spokane, when Dad didn’t pay the rent. Said you spent your teenage years finding the money to keep us alive through — the words he used were ‘whatever means necessary.’”
Dean gives a small jerk of a nod, and turns to collect his Chinese from the microwave. It’s as close to acknowledgement as Sam’s likely to get.
“He said you thought Dad knew,” Sam adds, quietly.
Dean goes still.
It’s a moment in amber. Ask him later, and Sam could never tell you how long it stretched on, that silence. He couldn’t tell you if it was a split second or if Dean stood there thinking for a minute, an hour, while his takeout grew cold.
“I take it,” says Dean, “he didn’t.”
Whatever words Sam might have had to say die in his throat.
“It’s okay,” says Dean, still not turning. “It’s not — I didn’t really think that, not anymore. But, y’know, you’ve spent so long believing one thing, it’s hard to really convince yourself of another.”
The ache in Sam’s chest is almost too much to bear. He swallows it down with difficulty. “I’ve been going over it,” he says quietly, “trying to understand how I never noticed anything. And I guess I — I did, in a way, but I was a kid, you know? Everything was the way everything was, until I was old enough to be angry about it, and then —” He stops. It’s not coming out right, not really, but then, there’s no way it could.
“It’s okay,” says Dean again. “It was a long time ago.”
“It’s not, you know,” says Sam. “Okay.”
“Yeah,” his brother concedes.
He crosses the room and turns the radio on, low. Stairway to Heaven is playing. Dean busies himself with starting the coffee maker before he returns to his Chinese.
“Nice,” Sam says.
Dean gives him a half smile and a shrug. It’s an old enough round of bickering, they almost don’t need the words anymore: Dean’s disgusting food habits that Sam can’t imagine him without.
Around a mouthful of lo mein, Dean says, “It seems like the worst thing, doesn’t it? That I thought he knew.”
Sam considers this. “The worst thing? I don’t know,” he says. “Everything about it sounds pretty bad. But yeah, that’s not great.”
“See, it’s —” Dean swallows, shakes his head. “It made it easier, thinking that. You know? ‘Cause if he didn’t — if it was just me —”
He stops, but Sam suddenly understands. “It makes it feel like your own failing,” he says.
Dean makes a face. “Yeah. Or — perversion, or both, like I deserved it for —”
“For liking boys,” Sam finishes. And then, although he knows Dean knows, because it needs to be said: “It wasn’t. You didn’t.”
“Yeah,” says Dean softly. “Just always thought — if I’d been the man Dad wanted me to be, I wouldn’t have needed to do — all that. It was easier to think that — that that’s what the man Dad wanted me to be was .”
For a moment, Sam’s utterly swamped in a wave of bottomless grief. For Dean, and for himself a little too, even for Dad, for all the cascading ways Azazel fucked up all their lives. Grasping for something to cover the sudden bite of tears, he asks, “How long has Cas known?”
To his surprise, Dean laughs — a full belly laugh, not one of the soft and brittle ones that cover what’s beneath. “He’d say — what was it — it’s not when he knew , it’s when it attained emotional significance for him.”
He snorts again with laughter, fork clinking against the counter, the corners of his eyes crinkled with mirth. Staring, Sam barely remembers to contribute his own belated huff of amusement, a smile he can feel sliding away as soon as he finds it.
It makes sense, of course. When they met him, Cas was damn near all-powerful and all-knowing; it figures that he’s always known more about them both than anyone ever should. It also figures that he wouldn’t have given a rat’s ass about most of it at the time. But now…
Abruptly, it occurs to Sam just how well Castiel knows the darker side of his own soul.
There aren’t many people who do. When you stop and think about it, more demons than humans have known Sam down to his core. Even Dad, for all his worry about just how darkside Sam might go, never really knew. Only Dean. All Sam’s life, Dean has been his salvation. Despite the times Dean could barely look at him, times Dean didn’t trust him at all. But Cas —
Cas knew what he was, and chose him for family anyway.
Dean is still chuckling as he shovels the last of the lo mein into his mouth. And with a certainty that flares warm in his chest, Sam realizes that this is not an act. That for this particular hurt, at this particular moment, Dean can carry it lightly because Cas has chosen to carry it hard. That what Sam thought were fresh gouges opened by Dad’s return are only old wounds that, in light of day, have already started to heal.
“Dude,” says Dean. “Earth to Sam.”
Sam blinks. Dean is staring at him, eyebrows furrowed.
“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, sorry, what’s up?”
Dean gives a disbelieving shake of his head. “You were spaced out. You need some sleep, man.”
Sam darts him a brave smile. “Yeah. You’re right. Lemme just — I’ll just finish up in here.”
His brother looks unconvinced, but he shakes his head and claps Sam on the shoulder as he gets up. “All right. Just don’t stay up all night — Dad’ll probably want to gun-shopping in the morning.”
He doesn’t say it quite like he would have when they were kids — as an implicit rebuke to Sam not to rock the boat, not to get in the way of Dad’s important business . Instead, it’s a shared joke, a gentle one, like any two brothers rolling their eyes at an elderly parent’s enthusiasms, and Sam’s mind suddenly flashes to the retirement home pamphlet he’s got tucked away in his room. He nearly snorts out loud at the notion of setting Dad up at Oak Park.
Dean raises his eyebrows at Sam’s sudden grin, but doesn’t question it, just gives his shoulder a brief squeeze before leaving the kitchen.
Sam has spent the entire day puttering around the bunker, and while Castiel did do him a favor earlier with the smashed whiskey bottle, there’s not much tidying left to accomplish. He settles for turning off the coffeemaker and rinsing out the pot, then flicks off the lights and makes, at last, for his own bed.
He makes his way down the hallway half by feel in the dark. The door to Dean’s room is still yawning open, the interior dark and silent. Down the hall, though, in the guest room that Cas rarely uses, a light is on.
Something draws Sam toward it. Maybe it’s worry that they’re fighting; maybe it’s just the enormity of the night’s revelations, still tugging at him like a magnet.
The wood of Cas’s door is slightly warped, and the latch has come undone, the door ajar. Through the gap, he can hear the rumble of low voices, indistinct, nearly matching in pitch.
A part of Sam wants to thank Cas. He’s not sure how, or for what, but it doesn’t want to wait until morning. It feels too important. He’ll just — say something awkward, and wish them good night. He reaches for the doorknob.
Through the crack of light, he glimpses two bare torsos, bent toward each other like commas, one pressing the other back toward the bed. Entangled fingers flex, release, slide over skin that glows golden in the lamplight. And Dean’s sliding lower now, as Castiel’s hands move to his hair — only he pauses and lifts his head, chin on Castiel’s stomach, to say something Sam can’t hear.
Whatever it is, it makes Castiel laugh — the kind of laugh Dean gave in the kitchen, the kind that’s deep and full and nothing but unguarded joy. Before it’s faded, Dean is returning to his task, and Sam is releasing the doorknob to quietly back away.
Behind a closed door at the other end of the hall, asleep or awake, John Winchester is waiting — a problem for tomorrow. He’s probably laid salt lines on the threshold. Something Sam hasn’t done in the bunker in years. Chances are Sam will get chewed out for that sometime soon. Chances are he’ll find himself battling again to remember his hard-won adulthood, to stand his ground without reverting to a petulant child. Chances are that child’s gnawing fear of his own impurity will, at some point, rear its ugly head.
That’s all right, though. He knows what it looks like, and he’s beaten it before.
Besides, he’ll have his family on his side.