Soundtrack: I Melt With You – Modern English
The World Crashing All Around
Part I: 1987
Mommy’s asleep, so Dean tells Sam that they have to be quiet while they watch cartoons.
“But it’s already loud,” Sam says in a stage-whisper.
Dean rolls his eyes. A clap of thunder shakes the sky, followed only instants later by a flash of lightning that makes the whole house look white on the inside. It’s a good thing that Sam isn’t afraid of storms like Charlie is, because then he’d have a really tough time being quiet while mom sleeps. Mom has to sleep when she gets home from work because she leaves really early in the morning, so early that Dean and Sam never wake up to their mom being home, but instead Ellen and baby Jo. Ellen takes them both to school in the morning and picks up Sammy from kindergarten. Sometimes she picks Dean up, too, like she did today because it was raining.
Mostly, Dean just walks home with Charlie. Charlie’s pretty cool for a girl. She likes Star Wars and her sneakers light up.
And sometimes there’s a fledgling angel called Gilda that goes with them, because she likes to follow Charlie around. Dean doesn’t know what Charlie did that’s so awesome that it got an angel to tag along with her, but it must have been really awesome.
Dean and Charlie are in third grade already, so he has to stay all the way until two thirty for school to be over for him. He doesn’t like it very much there; his teachers think he’s stupid.
“Yeah, but cartoons are different,” Dean says, “The voices wake mom up. She has to sleep.”
Sam frowns, but he doesn’t argue beyond muttering, “I can’t hear He-Man ‘cause of the rain.”
They settle back into their carefully constructed fort, made out of couch cushions and blankets. Dean wants to make the most of the fort before mom wakes up, because she’ll probably make them put the cushions back on the couch, and that’s no fun.
And then, just as Prince Adam lifts his sword to transform into He-Man, a loud CRASH sounds, like something landed smack-dab on their roof. Sam glances to Dean and says, “That didn’t sound like thunder.”
“I don’t think it was,” Dean says, “We should investigate.”
“We’ll get in trouble for being muddy!”
“But what if it’s like a UFO or something, Sammy? We’d get to be in the newspaper,” Dean reasons. Or maybe it’s a comet. Or maybe it’s just a tree that fell. No matter what it is, he’s pretty positive that they should check it out…just in case.
Sam makes a face but concedes, “Okay.”
So Sam and Dean go to the closet in the hall to pull on their rain boots and coats, and Dean drags a kitchen chair against the counter to get the flashlight that’s in the cabinet above the refrigerator – again, just in case.
At the door to their backyard, Dean turns to his brother and says, “Stick behind me. You’re littler so I have to protect you.”
“I’m not a baby, Dean.”
“You kind of are.”
“Are too!” Dean exclaims, and then claps a hand over his mouth, because he forgot that they’re supposed to be quiet for mom’s nap. He says, “Okay, you’re not a baby. But stay behind me anyway.”
Sam looks like he wants to say something, but Dean doesn’t give him the chance to. He opens up the back door and scans out over the yard. It’s almost impossible to see out here while it’s nighttime and raining buckets. Dean takes the first step out onto the back porch and walks over the three steps down to the lawn, careful not to slip.
They’re soaking wet already, pajamas sticking to their skin. Dean’s teeth start to chatter and Sam is shivering, though he doesn’t say anything about the cold.
“I can’t see anything,” Sam says, raising his voice so that Dean can hear against the beat of the rain against the ground. Another roll of thunder clashes, and like that, the sky is filled with white light – electricity, Dean thinks. He learned that in science. The moment of brightness affords Dean a look at the backyard, and –
“That’s it! There,” Dean says, and points.
“I still can’t see anything,” Sam says, so Dean clicks on the flashlight and shines it over the lump in the corner of their yard.
“Whoa,” Dean says.
“An angel,” Sam breathes, “He looks little.”
They stomp through the muddy grass and sheets of rain to the angel in their backyard. He has one wing curled protectively around himself, covered in mud and sticks and grass and stuff. Dean can’t see his face, but he can see that his other wing isn’t going the right way.
“Oh no,” Sam says, having noticed the same thing, “Hey angel, come inside where it’s dry.”
Dean nods, “Our mom’s a nurse so she’ll help you with your wing.” Mom says to only wake her up if it’s an emergency, but Dean is pretty sure that this is one of those. He pushes his dripping hair out of his eyes just as the angel lowers his good wing to peer at them. He has bright blue eyes and maybe dark hair, but hair always looks dark when it’s wet.
Dean stretches his hand out and offers it. After a long moment of hesitation, the angel grabs Dean’s hand and lets Dean help him onto his feet. He is little, just like them, or like Gilda. A fledgling. Human children are kids; angel children are fledglings. You learn that before you’re even in kindergarten like Sam is.
This fledgling is probably closer to being Dean’s age than Sam’s. He’s only a little shorter than Dean, who’s the second tallest in his whole class at school. Dean guesses that maybe that makes the angel not so little after all.
“What’s your name?” he asks, tugging the angel along while Sam sprints behind them on short legs to keep up.
The angel says something, but it’s too quiet for Dean to pick up over the splashing rain and moaning wind. So he hurries them up, making sure to tell the angel to be careful on the slippery stairs before they’re finally drawn into the warmth of the house. Dean has to battle the back door to get it to close, so he kicks it for good measure when he’s done.
“I didn’t hear your name out there,” he says, “Can you tell me again?”
The angel squints at him but answers, “Castiel.”
“Wow,” Sam says, “That’s a really good angel name. Me n’ my brother just have regular people names. I’m Sam and he’s Dean.”
“Hello,” Castiel says. He’s kind of quiet.
Castiel is shaking all over, Dean realizes. Then he notices that not only is Castiel’s wing totally bent out of shape, but there’s blood matting his nice black feathers, dripping pink blood-rainwater onto the kitchen floor. Dean hopes that they don’t get in trouble for dripping on the floor. He doesn’t think they will, because this is an emergency.
(By scribblyscratch on tumblr)
“I’m gonna get my mom,” he tells Castiel, “because this is an emergency.” Dean knows that angels don’t have parents. They have guardians, but maybe guardians have to take naps like his mom does because they have jobs that happen at weird times, too.
Dean pulls off his boots, the shoes coming loose with a soggy pop before they tip more water onto the floor. Oh well. He thinks that’s probably better than getting mud on the carpet. He runs up the stairs and throws open his mom’s bedroom door, climbing into bed with her. Dean grabs her shoulder and shakes her with a call of, “Mom. Mom.”
Mom rolls over and opens her eyes just a little bit. She murmurs, “What is it, baby?”
“An angel fell out of the sky and hit our roof and broke his wing so we brought him inside ‘cause it’s raining and he’s bleeding on the kitchen floor and I told him you could help,” Dean babbles.
His mom sits up now, and says, “Did you say there’s an angel in my kitchen?”
“A fledgling one,” he says, though he stumbles over the word ‘fledgling.’ It feels weird in his mouth.
Mom leans over and turns on her lamp before she gets out of bed. Dean grabs her hand to pull her along, and she doesn’t tell him not to, just holds his hand back and says, “You’re soaking wet.”
“I wore a coat,” he says.
Mom eyes him. “I can see that,” she says.
Mom gasps when she sees Castiel. Only now does Dean realize that it isn’t just rain dripping from Castiel or cold making him shiver, but that he’s crying. Dean doesn’t blame him. He cried when he fell off his bike and broke his wrist, and even though he was six and he’s two whole years older now, he’s pretty sure he would still cry because breaking bones hurts a lot.
“Oh, honey,” mom says, and kneels down to look at the broken wing. She asks gently, “Is it okay for me to touch? I need to see where you’re hurt so I can help fix it.”
Castiel looks afraid, but he stills nods.
Mom moves feathers out of the way. She has careful hands, even more careful than the time Dean found a bunny with a broken foot and mom helped fix it. But the touching must still hurt a lot, because Castiel cries harder. Dean doesn’t know how to fix things like his mom does, but he does know that it helped to have his mom hold his hand when he had to get his cast, and he held Sam’s hand when he cut his knee open and had to get stitches. So, Dean circles to the side that Castiel’s good wing is on and slips his fingers into place.
Castiel glances at him and then stares.
Dean says, “It’s supposed to help you feel better.”
“Oh,” Castiel says, snuffling a little, “Thank you.”
Dean smiles, “You’re welcome.”
In the next moment, Castiel’s face goes pale, and Dean knows that his mom found the broken part of the wing. She stands up and says, “I’m gonna make a splint for you, but we have to make sure that we clean all that nasty stuff out of your wing first. I’ll use a wing brush.”
Dean keeps holding Castiel’s hand as his mom crosses the room and takes their first aid kit out of the cabinet. Mom keeps extra stuff too, stuff that isn’t in regular first aid kits. Dean never got why she had angel stuff too, but now he gets it. He watches, fascinated, as his mom starts to brush away the crap on Castiel’s busted wing, and thinks of how jealous Ash will be when he tells him at school tomorrow that an angel crash-landed in Dean’s backyard.
By the time that his wing is all clean, Castiel has stopped crying, but he starts again when mom sets his wing in the place it needs to be – folded securely against his back. She sets it and then starts to wrap it with a roll of bandages. It takes a while, and Dean’s hand starts to get sweaty, and also sore because Cas is squeezing it so hard.
“Do you have a guardian that we could call?” mom asks, when Castiel’s wing is all wrapped up, looking much better now that it’s taken care of.
Castiel shakes his head.
“Well, then you’ll just stay with us,” she says.
“He can sleep in my bed,” Dean says, “I can use my sleeping bag.”
“That’s very generous of you,” mom says, and Dean feels a rush of pride.
He looks at Castiel and says, “I can clean the stuff outta your other wing too, if you want. Unless you wanna do it yourself, I guess.”
“I can’t reach it,” Castiel replies.
“Great,” Dean says, “Then I’ll do it.”
Sam, who’d been silent throughout the whole ordeal, pipes up, “Can I watch? Your wings are so cool.”
Castiel’s face turns pink and he mumbles to the ground, “Thank you.”
“All right,” mom says, “while you help Castiel with his wings, I’ll put together some dinner. But before any of that happens, you need to change into dry pajamas. Help find –”
“Castiel,” Sam cuts in.
Mom casts a smile at him and says, “Help find Castiel some pajamas too. He must be freezing.”
“But none of my jammies have wing sleeves,” Dean says, confused.
Mom lifts a brow and says, “We can always make some.”
“You mean cut a shirt up?” Dean asks. The one time that he ever took scissors to his clothes, mom was furious. But he guesses that this is kind of different, since Cas needs holes to poke his wings through, and Dean doesn’t have any wings – plus he was just trying to cut off his sleeves so he could look tougher. Charlie said that was stupid when Dean told her the story, but what does she know, anyway?
Mom doesn’t have to say anything, just gives Dean a look that prompts him to scramble up to his room and open his drawers. He chooses an old t-shirt that he doesn’t care much about to cut wing sleeves into, but decides to let Cas have his softest pajama pants, the ones with dinosaurs on them. For himself he just blindly picks out something serviceable, changes as quick as he can, and stuffs his wet pajamas into the laundry hamper in the corner of his bedroom.
When Dean brings the pajamas back to his mom, she looks over Castiel’s wings before she makes two careful cuts with the scissors that he’s not allowed to touch because they are not the paper kind of scissors.
“Castiel,” she says, “Do you want help with your wet clothes? I can wash them for you.”
“Yes, please,” he says, “but…” His attention shifts to Dean and Sam, both of whom are gaping.
“I can help you in the laundry room,” she says, and with Castiel’s hand in hers, she leads him away and closes the door behind them both. Dean stares after and then looks over to Sam, whose shaggy mop of wet hair is starting to dry. It looks tangled. Sam’s gonna hate when mom tries to comb it out.
But Sam also refuses to cut his hair short, so maybe that’s his fault.
“Do you think Castiel is staying forever?” Sam asks.
“Dunno,” Dean says back, “Maybe. I hope so. I like him.”
“I do too,” agrees Sam.
When Castiel comes back out, he has a blush on his face and Dean’s pajamas on his body. Dean waves the wing brush in greeting. The gesture teases something like a smile out of this Castiel kid – fledgling, whatever. It isn’t quite a whole smile, but it’s part of one, and that’s good enough for Dean. He likes making people smile. He’s pretty good at it, too.
“Hey, Cas – can I call you Cas?”
“Like a nickname?” Castiel asks, cocking his head to one side.
“Yeah, exactly,” Dean replies.
Cas keeps staring, but breaks eye contact and scuffs his feet on the floor. He bites his lip and then asks another, quieter question: “If I have a nickname, does that mean I’m your friend?”
“A’course you’re my friend, stupid,” Dean says.
“Dean,” his mom admonishes, “you don’t call your friends stupid.”
“I didn’t mean it,” he complains, but stops arguing when mom just gives him a stare. He shifts his attention back to Castiel and says, “Anyway, can I call you that?”
“Yes,” Castiel says.
“Cool. Cas. Cas, you wanna hang out in our fort? There’s a He-Man marathon on TV and you could watch it while I help brush your wing,” Dean says.
“What’s He-Man?” asks Cas.
“You’ve never seen He-Man?” Sam says, aghast, “It’s the best show ever. Come on, Cas, you have to watch it with us now. You’ll love it.”
And Cas goes along with them without another word. He stops in front of the cushion fort, cocking his head at where a commercial plays on the TV, and then plops down on the blanket that Dean and Sam laid across the carpet. He scoots forward when Dean moves to sit behind him with the wing brush.
Cas’ feathers are jet black, but when they hit lamplight there’s a kind of blue in them. It’s…really cool-looking.
“Dang,” Dean says, “These things are badass.”
“Dean,” Sam exclaims, scandalized, “You can’t say that word.”
“Mom says,” says his mom, who is very suddenly in the room.
“Sorry, mom,” Dean grumbles, “But it’s true. They’re amazing.”
Mom makes this funny face, but a smile’s a part of it, so Dean figures it’s probably a good face. He turns his attention back to Castiel’s good wing and says, “I’m gonna fix your feathers now, okay?” and runs the brush over them. Cas shifts a little, but he doesn’t say anything or make a noise, so Dean doesn’t think that he hurt him. He tries another stroke with a little more pressure, and some of the clumped-up dried mud falls out and onto the blanket underneath them. It isn’t very much, though.
Dean keeps brushing, and Cas keeps still and quiet.
But it’s taking a long time. He could probably get more crap out with his fingers.
When Dean sticks his hand in Cas’ wing, Cas inhales loudly.
“Did I hurt you?” asks Dean.
“Um. No,” Cas answers.
“Is this weird?” Dean asks. He has no idea what wing protocol is for angels. Maybe you’re only supposed to use wing brushes to groom or something, like it’s less angelic to use your fingers, maybe.
“No, not weird…”
“Nothing,” Castiel says, “It’s okay.”
Dean rakes his fingers through the feathers again. Bits of dirt and grass come out, much faster than they did with the brush. And once he gets Castiel’s feathers clean, they feel amazing, all soft and stuff, like nothing he’s ever touched before. Dean knew angels were cool, but he didn’t realize they were this cool. Wings are like a billion times better in real life than on TV, and Cas is only a fledgling. Dean can’t imagine what his wings’ll look like when he’s a grownup angel, like the ones in Mad Max, the movie that Dean was Not Supposed To Watch but did anyway because it was past midnight on a Saturday and it was on TV.
Cas gets sleepy eyes as Dean works his hands through the dirty feathers, and before long, the good wing looks clean and shiny, like TV wings.
And just in time, too, because mom calls, “Boys, food’s ready.”
Dean and Sam scramble to their feet, and Cas pads after them curiously. Mom has mac n’ cheese all set up in three bowls, and even has sodas for them. Dean hurries to his seat and then points to the chair beside his, “Cas, you sit next to me.”
Cas doesn’t say anything, but he does sit. He stares at the bowl of mac n’ cheese and asks, “What’s this?”
“Macaroni and cheese,” Dean answers, and spears his first bite, chewing with gusto.
“Oh,” he says, “I’ve never had human food.”
“What?” Dean says, “What do angels eat?”
“Ambrosia, mostly,” he says, “I don’t think we need to eat much.”
Castiel shrugs, and sticks his fork through a curl of mac n’ cheese with caution. He brings it to his mouth and Dean watches, fascinated, as he chews his single noodle and swallows it down. Then that weird little sort-of-smile appears on his face and Castiel says, “I like this very much.”
“Awesome,” Dean says, “Now I’ve gotta show you all kinds of food. There’s nachos and hamburgers and chicken nuggets and pie. Pie is the best.”
“That sounds like a lot,” Castiel says.
“Yeah, that’s the best part,” Dean responds. He turns his attention back to his dinner and Castiel does the same, eating much more neatly than either Dean or Sam can manage. He also put his napkin in his lap, which Dean thought was a thing that you only did at restaurants.
When dinner is done, Dean reaches to drag the kitchen stepstool to the sink so that he can help with the dishes, but mom shakes her head and says, “It’s pretty close to bedtime. Why don’t you help Castiel get settled in your room?”
Well then. Angels really do give you blessings, if Dean just got out of doing his chores. When he pulls Cas toward the stairs, he shies back a little, his good wing folding in close to him. Dean frowns and asks, “Are you okay?”
“Yes. My wing just hurts,” he says.
“Mom, Cas’ wing hurts,” Dean says.
“Mm,” mom says from the kitchen sink, “There are some Tylenol chews in the medicine cabinet upstairs. Why don’t you give him two of those?”
So Dean does exactly that. He gives Cas two grape-flavored Tylenols and after Cas swallows he tells Dean that he does not like the taste of grape Tylenol, and then asks why humans do not have macaroni and cheese flavored Tylenol. Dean didn’t think of that before, but he tells Cas that maybe he should write a letter to the Tylenol people and tell them his idea.
Dean lets Sammy hang around in his bedroom because he doesn’t want to leave him out, especially when there’s something as exciting as an angel in his room. Cas seems fascinated by all sorts of weird stuff, like Dean’s toy cars, or the He-Man and Skeletor action figures.
He scowls a little at Skeletor and asks, “Why do you have the bad guy?”
“So He-Man can kick his butt. Duh.”
“Oh,” Castiel says, “I didn’t think of that.”
“Anyways,” Dean says, “You’re gonna sleep in my bed. It’s super comfy. Do angels have beds? Or do you guys sleep on clouds or something?”
“We don’t sleep on clouds,” Cas says, affronted, “I had a bed in Heaven. I think I might have to find a new one, though.”
“You can have my bed,” Dean says cheerfully, “I have a Transformers sleeping bag. Sam has Thundercats but I think mine is cooler.”
“No, mine’s cooler,” Sam says, and folds his arms over his chest.
“No, it’s not,” Dean says back.
Sam throws Dean’s Skeletor at his head, so Dean throws an Ewok back. Sam makes to tackle him, but Dean shoves him away for long enough to see that Cas has pressed himself into the corner of the bedroom and has himself covered up with his good wing.
“Cas, what’s wrong?” he asks.
“I thought you liked each other,” Cas says from behind his feathers.
“We do,” says Sam.
“But you’re fighting.”
“You never fight with your brothers?” Sam asks, “I thought all angels were brothers and sisters.”
“We are,” Castiel replies, and slowly, he lowers his wing.
But before Dean can ask him all the questions that are poised on the tip of his tongue, his mom knocks on the frame of the door and says, “All right, boys, time’s up. Time to brush your teeth and get in bed. Lights out in ten.”
Dean groans, but goes through the motions, giving Cas the spare toothbrush that they keep around. Castiel says that angels don’t need to brush their teeth, but mom makes him do it anyway. Afterward, Cas informs Dean that he likes the taste of toothpaste better than grape Tylenol.
Before Dean snuggles up in his sleeping bag, he watches Cas climb into his bed. He rests his head on Dean’s pillows and keeps his wings tight against him, splint and all. Dean doesn’t blame him for sleeping on his tummy instead of on his back, because he doesn’t think that sleeping on a broken wing sounds like much fun at all.
“Goodnight Cas,” he yawns, and slips inside his sleeping bag, closing his eyes.
Cas says, “Goodnight, Dean.”
Dean starts to drift, but before he can fall all the way asleep he hears his name.
“Thank you for fixing my feathers.”
Dean’s sad when he has to go to school and leave Cas at home. He asks Ellen if Cas can come to school with him, but apparently angels don’t go to human schools. Dean thinks it might be because they’re smarter, maybe. Cas is smart. He’s read one of the books on mom’s bookshelf, the Tom Sawyer one. Dean is antsy all through class, and he “has an outburst” (or whatever his teacher says) and has to go see the principal.
This lands him with a paper that they call a referral that he has to have his mom sign.
That’s gonna suck pretty bad.
The paper burns in his backpack on the walk home, so much so that he doesn’t really hear what Charlie’s talking about until they’re at his front door and she asks if she can see the angel that Dean told her about. He doesn’t have time to answer before she already has her hand on the doorknob and is pushing her way inside.
“Crap,” he says, and then squeaks, “Holy crap,” when Gilda appears out of thin air and lands neatly on her feet with her tawny wings relaxed at her back.
“Hi,” she says, “I wanna meet your angel too.”
“He’s not my angel,” protests Dean, but nobody really listens to him.
They find Cas playing Star Wars with Sam on the living room floor, although Sam appears to be doing most of the work. Castiel picks up Sam’s Chewbacca action figure and mocks walking him alongside Darth Vader to Sam’s Luke.
“Cas,” Sam says, all exasperation, “Chewie’s one of the good guys.”
“But he’s weird looking,” Castiel says.
“He’s an alien,” explains Sam, voice prim, “Chewbacca would think you look weird too.”
Castiel bristles, “Because I’m an angel?”
“No, dummy,” Sam says, “because anyone from our planet would be an alien to somebody on another planet. Duh.”
“Hey, don’t be a jerk to Cas,” Dean says, and all at once the attention is on him.
Castiel lights up like a firecracker at Dean’s entrance, but his focus diverts behind him – to Gilda. Does he like Gilda, maybe? Like an angel crush? Dean doesn’t have a good reason, but he decides that he wouldn’t like it if Cas has an angel crush on Gilda. But after a beat, Castiel’s eyes skip to Charlie. He studies her with his face all scrunched-up and says, “Are you Dean’s mate?”
“Mate?” echoes Dean.
“Ew,” Charlie says, “Like I’d let Dean kiss me. That’s gross, and he smells funny.”
“I don’t smell funny,” Dean protests.
Satisfied with Charlie’s answer, Castiel moves onto Gilda, and Dean frowns. He stands up and walks to her, getting real close like he’s a scientist looking at one of his experiments. When Cas steps back, he announces, “I’ve never seen one of you before.”
“Sure you have,” Dean says, “You looked in the mirror last night when we brushed our teeth. That counts.”
“She’s not an angel,” Cas says.
Dean’s brows draw together, “She’s not?”
“You didn’t know?” Gilda says, “I’m only half-angel. I’m nephilim. That’s why I go to school with you and not in Heaven like most fledglings.”
“You’re not allowed to go to angel school?” Dean asks.
Gilda rolls her eyes, which suggests to Dean that he must have said something stupid. She replies, “No, dumb-butt. I could go if I wanted. But I don’t want to.”
“Oh,” Dean says, “Why not?”
“My mom says it’s not the kind of place for a kid to grow up,” Gilda says, “She’d know. She lived up in Heaven for a long time, but she says she likes it better down here with me and my dad.”
This opens up a whole new world to Dean. What if he found an angel girlfriend one day? Could they have a nephilim baby like Gilda, one with sweet wings and smarts? As he contemplates, Ellen pokes her head around the corner and says, “Mary didn’t tell me you were bringing friends home from school.”
“They invited themselves,” Dean says, and gives Charlie the stink eye.
“Whatever,” Charlie says to him, “I just wanted to meet your angel. He’s okay but his hair sticks up.”
Charlie just sticks her tongue out at him and says, “I need to be home in time for supper. Bye Dean’s angel, bye Dean, bye Sam!”
“His name is Cas,” Dean calls after her, but Charlie is already out the front door and halfway to the sidewalk.
“Sorry,” Dean says to Cas, “Charlie’s my best friend, but she’s weird sometimes.”
“I liked her,” Cas says.
Right. Dean forgot. Cas is kind of weird too. That’s okay though – his mom always says if everyone was the same that the world would be boring, and his mom is right about things most of the time (making Dean go to bed at eight o’clock is not one of those things).
Ellen interrupts his thoughts and says, “I thought we could bake some brownies, if you’re interested.”
“Brownies,” grins Sam, and knocks over his action figures in his haste to get to the kitchen.
“Just you wait, Samuel Winchester,” Ellen says, “You pick up your toys before we make brownies.”
Sam pouts, but he does retreat to obey Ellen. Ellen’ll scare the pants off you if you disobey her, but she’s not mean. She’s one of Dean’s favorite people – on nights when mom has to work late at the hospital and won’t be back in time to tuck Dean and Sam into bed, Ellen stays and reads them books before they sleep, and sometimes she lets them stay up until mom gets home. Well. Sort of. Mostly they just watch TV or play in the living room and end up falling asleep.
But Dean and Sam always wake up in their beds.
“What are brownies?” asks Cas.
At first Dean is surprised that Cas has never had a brownie, but then he remembers that angels don’t eat much of anything. That seems kind of boring, since there are so many yummy things to taste. He answers, “They’re human food. They’re not like mac n’ cheese at all. Brownies are chocolatey and they’re the best when they’re warm and you can scoop ice cream on top. Plus there’s brownie batter and sometimes that’s the best part,” Dean considers for a moment and then says, “Me and Sam will let you lick the spoon, since you’re new.”
“Lick what spoon? Why am I new?”
“The batter spoon,” Dean says, “and you’re new to the family, duh.”
Cas puffs his chest a little at that, and his good wing kind of twitches a little, feathers fanning out a little more than usual. He smiles at Dean, and this time it’s a whole smile and not just part of one. It makes Dean grab Castiel’s hand so that they can wash up and start helping in the kitchen.
Making brownies is fun, but it’s also hard work. Fortunately, Cas is curious about everything and wants to try helping during every part of the brownie-making process. Ellen smiles at him and lets him, and that makes Dean happy, because it means that Ellen thinks of Cas as family already too. Baby Jo seems less keen, but maybe she only hit Cas in the face because he leaned too close over her chair. She also grabs his good wing, but Ellen intervenes and extracts Cas’ feathers from Jo’s chubby baby hand.
At first Dean thinks that the smell of the brownies coming out of the oven will be the best part, but he decides that instead the best part about making brownies today is the face that Castiel makes when he licks the batter spoon. It’s the goofiest, happiest face that Dean has seen, and it’s so nice that he doesn’t complain when there’s hardly any batter left for him to split with Sam.
And at the end of the night, when mom is home again and tucks them into bed, Dean finds himself curled up in his sleeping bag, hoping that Cas will never have to go away.
Nobody, legitimately nobody, thought that Gabriel would ever be named the guardian of a fledgling. Sure, if they started talking semantics it could be argued that all fledglings were Gabriel’s charges, and in a way, that was true. Dad is kind of a recluse, and being a recluse naturally appointed his son to be his go-between. Apparently because Gabriel is meant to be a messenger, he gets saddled with delivering drooling, goo-goo eyed infants whose wings are still wet to their guardians.
The fledgling shows up at Gabriel’s corner of Heaven (completely unannounced, always), tucked up in a basket, which Gabriel can’t decide is obliviousness or a sense of humor on Dad’s part. Each tiny little angel has an envelope in its basket, and in the envelope is the name of the angel appointed guardian.
It’s a little archaic for the modern age, but hey, their Father is kind of out of touch.
To say that Gabriel was surprised when he pulled out his own name from an envelope is a vast understatement. He read dad’s cramped handwriting at least five times before he could look at the little thing. The fledgling was serious-faced, squinting up at Gabriel with an expression that he would take for suspicion on a full-grown angel. His eyes were bright blue and he had a crop of fuzzy dark hair on his head.
And the first thing that fledgling ever heard was, “What the fuck?”
Because really. What the fuck? Gabriel, despite doing his duty, was and remains the most irresponsible angel in the garrison. Gabriel likes beautiful women and expensive liquor and inappropriate jokes. He didn’t think that there was any way that he could be considered guardian material. Fledglings need a guide, a watchful eye, a tutor, a confidant.
Gabriel was good at being exactly none of those things.
There are few moments in his life in which Gabriel can recall being absolutely fucking pants-shittingly scared, and the first time that he held Castiel was one of those. Possibly it counted as the mother of them all. Here was this tiny thing, so small that he fit right into Gabriel’s palms, and he was supposed to take care of him.
But after a while, he kind of started to get it – not that you’ll hear him admit that out loud. Sometimes (like now, for example) he’s still convinced that he is Heaven’s crappiest guardian, but other times he gets the feeling that Dad knew exactly what the fuck he was doing when a fledgling basket appeared to Gabriel and never left him.
Castiel…well, it was hard to tell when he was just a little thing what kind of personality he would have. He was a fucking bolter, though. Damn. Balthazar made fun of Gabriel when he stuck Castiel in one of those animal-backpack-leash things that humans use to wrangle their young, but for shit’s sake, Bartholomew was quiet and stuck close to Balthazar, so he had no basis for comparison.
As soon as Castiel discovered what his wings did, he was off like a rocket. This is probably why Gabriel is in this mess right now. He has lost his fledgling, his odd-duck, off-beat, not-quite-right eight year old fledgling, and his first instinct is to panic. He worried when the storm rolled in and Castiel didn’t return home. He was beside himself when three days had passed and no one had heard a peep from Castiel.
And now that he has located his fledging, he’s furious. Fuck. Castiel probably ended up with some of those weird humans that treat angels like they’re pet dogs or want an angel fledgling in the family because it makes them seem unique or charitable or diverse.
After four days of searching, Gabriel has found his fledgling in Kansas, in a relatively normal-looking, modest house in the suburbs. But that’s the kicker, isn’t it? It’s always the normal ones that you have to watch out for.
Furious, he knocks.
A blond woman opens the door. An attractive blond woman, if a little worn around the edges. But Gabriel doesn’t trust that face for a second. He snaps, “Where do you have Castiel stashed, you fledgling-stealing creepo?”
She lifts one brow at him and opens the door wider.
In the front room with an army of action figures in the center, is a ring of three boys: two human, and one angel. His wing is bandaged up but he doesn’t look like he’s been living in a crazyhouse. All three of the boys peer at Gabriel when he steps inside.
The littlest one says, “Whoa,” and that’s about all the greeting he gets.
“Where have you been?” Gabriel demands.
Castiel looks down at the carpet and answers, “Here.” That little sass-bucket.
“Yes, thank you, Castiel,” Gabriel says, “Why?”
“I broke my wing,” Castiel says.
“I’ve observed,” he dryly answers, “and how did you manage that?”
“Uh-huh. How’d you fall, bucko?” Gabriel finds himself torn between strangling his fledgling and hugging him. Getting Castiel to confess to misbehavior that he knows is wrong is a little bit like trying to squeeze the last glob of ketchup out of the bottle. It can be done, but it isn’t easy, and your success tends to come with a mess.
Castiel is quiet for a long time, and he isn’t the next person to speak. It’s the littlest one again, the one in dire need of a haircut. He tells Gabriel, “Cas banged into our roof and fell in our backyard. It was raining, so we took him inside and my mom fixed his wing.”
Gabriel slides his gaze to the blond woman and she provides, “I’m a nurse.”
Well. At least Castiel’s landing was fortuitous here.
“You went out in the storm, didn’t you?” he asks.
“Right. And what did I say about flying in storms?”
Castiel scowls at the carpet and says, “Not to.”
“Exactly, now –”
Castiel looks up then and bursts, “I wasn’t going to, I swear! But Bartholomew and Naomi made fun of me because I wouldn’t do it. They called me a chicken and said they couldn’t be friends with a chicken, so I flew out as far as I could to show them. I got knocked down but Dean and Sam and Mary fixed my wing and cut holes in clothes so my wings could go through and showed me He-Man and gave me macaroni and cheese and let me lick the batter spoon because I’m new.”
“I – what?”
“They made brownies with my best friend,” the woman – Mary – says, “and my boys are pretty attached to your Castiel, so they let him lick the spoon she used to mix the batter.”
“Well now I’m just jealous,” chuckles Gabriel, with a sidelong glance to his charge.
“You’ve licked a batter spoon?” Castiel asks.
“Oh, yeah. If you like human food, I’ve got a thing or two to show you for sure, kiddo.”
Castiel fidgets, the way he does when he wants to say something but thinks that he shouldn’t. But damn, he must be pretty determined, because he casts a sidelong glance at the older kid and then looks Gabriel right in the eye to say, “I like it here. Are you going to make me leave?”
“Don’t you wanna come home?” Gabriel says. Shit. He didn’t know that he’d care, but of course he cares. That’s what happens when you get assigned a fledgling. You care about them, whether or not it’s a good idea. He adds, “Your wing will heal up better in Heaven.”
“Castiel,” Mary says. She moves in front of Gabriel and crouches in front of the boys, “If this is your guardian, then you should go home with him. He’s your family.”
“But Dean says I’m your family,” he protests.
“Of course you are,” Mary responds, “and if your guardian says it’s okay, then you can come visit us any time that you would like,” she straightens and mentions to Gabriel in a lower voice, “When my boys brought him in, he told us that he didn’t have a guardian to call. Otherwise we’d have contacted you right away.”
Well that fuckin’ hurts. Gabriel may not be a top-notch guardian, but he is a guardian. He frowns and asks, “Cassie, why didn’t you want to call me?”
“Because you’d be mad about the storm,” he says.
“I’m mad, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you,” Gabriel says, and he doesn’t know if there’s much more to say than that. The other fledglings aren’t exactly buddy-buddy with Castiel, and the only reason that Gabriel has gleaned from watching the interactions of the youngest of their flock is that Castiel says what he’s thinking whether or not it’s an appropriate thing to say. He’s smart, but most angels are smart. All of them are book-smart at the least, and Castiel is too young for Gabriel to tell if he’ll have any sort of street smarts.
Castiel stands up, then, and stumbles over the pile of action figures to Gabriel. He wraps his arms around Gabriel’s middle, presses his face into his belly, and says into his shirt, “I’m sorry.”
Gabriel rests his palm between Castiel’s wings, sure to avoid the busted one. From the looks of the splint job, this Mary character really does know what she’s doing. He looks at her and says, “Thanks for taking care of him. I’m probably pretty freaking lucky that he fell here and not someplace else,” and then, with the extension of his hand, “I’m Gabriel.”
That gets Mary’s attention. Her lips part and she asks, “As in the archangel Gabriel?”
“That would be the one,” he says, “He’s my first fledgling, so you’re kind of getting to watch me screw up. I’m much better at my day job.”
Mary shakes her head and says, “It isn’t easy, is it?”
“Hell no,” he says, before he realizes that there are tender ears in the general vicinity.
“Hey, how come he gets to say bad words?” the bigger boy complains.
Mary rolls her eyes skyward at this and says, “Because, Dean, Gabriel is a grownup,” she adds with a sigh, “My boys are Dean,” – the older one with the freckles – “and Sam.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Gabriel,” says the little one.
“Your wings are so awesome,” says Dean, “but I’m pretty sure when Cas is big that his will be even better.”
“Dean,” Mary chides.
Gabriel laughs and says, “It’s okay. Castiel does have some pretty sweet wings, doesn’t he?” Hell, Gabriel likes his wings, but they’re nothing remarkable – tawny brown and speckled, and his secondary feathers kind of fade out to something reddish at the tips. As a fledgling, he’d have been ten kinds of envious of Castiel’s pair, all black and sleek and dangerous looking. Combined with his little scowl, Castiel already looks like the warrior-type angel.
“All right, bud, we’re gonna head back to Heaven. You’re gonna have to hang onto me since you got a bum wing, though.”
“Can I say goodbye?”
“Go ahead,” Gabriel says, “and Mary’s right. If you wanna fly down and visit Dean and Sam sometimes, that’s all good by me – as long as it isn’t in a lightning storm, you doof.”
Castiel smiles, like, actually smiles, and runs to pull Dean into a hug. Up until this point, Gabriel has been the only person that Castiel ever shows affection to, and he’s pretty sure that he was also the only one to have seen him smile. It’s not that Castiel isn’t happy or loving, more that he’s a tough customer when it comes to pleasing him.
Dean hugs Castiel back, and while he avoids the bandaged wing, he sticks his little fingers right in the feathers of the other one. When Castiel doesn’t shove him back or even complain, he can feel the eyebrows lifting up high on his forehead. If Cassie’s cool with this kid having his grubby hands in his wings, then he must really be something.
When Castiel hugs Sam, Sam doesn’t touch his wings. He just smiles and says, “Come back and visit, okay, Cas?”
“I will,” Castiel says, and it’s in that determined tone of voice that says, no, seriously, I mean it.
After Castiel says his goodbyes to Mary and waves one last time at her boys, Gabriel heaves him up and instructs him to wrap his arms and legs around his chest. When Castiel obeys, Gabriel coils his arms around him, underneath the wings. He carries Castiel outside, and then, he whips his wings open to the full span, turns around to wink at Mary, and takes off toward Heaven.
Their place in Heaven is the coolest place in Heaven, but Gabriel is probably biased. It’s easier to conjure in Heaven than on Earth, probably because of something science-y like the elemental content of the air or some shit. He doesn’t know. All Gabriel knows is that it works, that his Grace holds up his and Castiel’s house, and it’s awesome inside.
At the front steps, Gabriel lands seamlessly, and lets Castiel down.
“I’m sorry,” Castiel says again.
“You’re okay, kiddo. You just scared the crap outta me,” Gabriel says and ruffles Castiel’s hair. A noise of irritation bursts out of his fledgling and he shoves Gabriel’s hand back, but Gabriel’s pretty sure that the tyke is happy to be home, if only because he’ll be back with his books and toys and crap, and he’ll get to sleep in his own bed.
“…Now, since we know you like human food, boy, have I got some things to cook up.”
Castiel’s wing is all better within the week, tucked up in Mary’s bandage job and helped along by Gabriel’s Grace. The stretch of his wing when Gabriel finally unwraps it makes his whole body happy, but then Gabriel tells him that he needs a bath and he feels a lot less happy.
“Do I have to?” Castiel complains, even though he knows what his guardian is going to say back.
“Yes,” Gabriel says – naturally – “Your wing’s been cooped up so long it smells like cheese.”
“Does not,” Castiel says, but he brings the wing back around and sniffs. Cheese is an exaggeration, but he does kind of smell funny. That still doesn’t mean that he wants an entire bath. He gives a feeble attempt at getting Gabriel to change his mind with, “Can’t you just groom it?”
“Nope. If I do that, you’ll look pretty but you’ll still smell like cheese,” he says.
“I don’t smell like cheese,” Castiel reiterates, but it doesn’t matter. Gabriel already has him heaved up in his arms, and Gabriel’s way stronger than Castiel is, not just because he’s a full-grown angel, but because he’s an archangel on top of that.
Their bath is much bigger than the one in the Winchesters’ house, and the room much prettier. It’s all done up in cream-colored marble, the walls edged with Roman columns. The bath lies in the middle, an open, square pool with warm water that Gabriel can make bubbles in for Castiel. Gabriel tells Cas sometimes that his bathroom is the only style that he kept from “the double-digit AD days”, which Castiel assumes means the era when the Romans reigned.
Gabriel helps Cas get his shirt off, but Castiel whacks him away before he can do his pants, because Cas can take those off on his own, thank you very much. They leave their clothing near to the bathroom door, but Castiel dawdles too much on the way to the bathwater, so Gabriel hefts him up with his hands under Castiel’s arms.
He tries to hit Gabriel, but his arms are too short. He’ll see how much he likes being dunked in the bath when Castiel’s big enough to push him into it.
As soon as they’re in the water, Castiel gives up the fight. He’s in the bathtub, even though he doesn’t want to be in the bathtub, but if he sits in here long enough for Gabriel to wash his wings then maybe his guardian will stop telling him that he smells like cheese.
“All right, let’s get this show on the road,” Gabriel says. He pulls Cas along through the water to the side of the tub where they keep their bath things, like scented wing oils and the weird human shampoo that Gabriel likes. Maybe the humans think that their shampoo will make them stronger, because it’s named after a weapon.
But axes are kind of old weapons, aren’t they?
Before Castiel has time to contemplate this, he’s doused with sandalwood wing oil, and Gabriel starts to work his fingers through the feathers. Maybe he protested too much. He did kind of miss his guardian, and it feels nice to be groomed again, especially with something that smells so good.
Castiel wonders what Dean thinks of the smell of sandalwood.
“So,” Gabriel says as he moves feathers back into place, tossing a stray aside on the bathroom floor, “You let that Dean kid touch your wings.”
Castiel knew Gabriel was going to say something about that.
“I like him,” he defends.
“Dean is nice,” Castiel says, “He told me that my wings are ‘badass’ even though he got in trouble for saying that and he let me sleep in his bed and he shared his toys. Also, I like his face.”
“Stop saying that,” Castiel complains, “Dean is smart. He knows lots of stuff about lots of things, although I think that Dean might not know that he’s smart.”
Gabriel is quiet for a long moment, which usually doesn’t mean something good. Most of the time it’s impossible to get Gabriel to be quiet, whether he’s yammering on, or singing songs by a human called Madonna (though Castiel is pretty sure that this Madonna is not actually a Madonna, because he doesn’t think that Jesus’ mom sings pop songs), or whistling tunelessly. But right now he’s silent, pulling feathers gently back into place and massaging out the dirt.
“Can I still go visit Dean?” Castiel asks. He’s afraid to know the answer, although if Gabriel forbids it, he’ll probably just sneak away anyway. It isn’t difficult when your guardian is a Very Important Angel that does Very Important Things. And also delivers fledglings to their guardians.
Gabriel’s hands keep working through his wings and he says, “Of course you can, kiddo,” though it’s not in a tone of voice that Castiel likes much.
Castiel tries to escape the bath when Gabriel announces that his wings are all clean, but Gabriel grabs him and pulls him back long enough to dump water over his head. It tastes like flowers and Cas doesn’t like it one bit. As he shakes out wet hair and spits out bathwater, Gabriel pours a dollop of shampoo over his head (the angel kind like Castiel likes) and starts scrubbing.
It takes a whole hour and a half for them to be done, because when Gabriel turns around to reach for his own soap, Castiel sees that his feathers are all out of order and need to be cleaned too, so he grooms them meticulously. Gabriel’s wings takes a lot longer to groom than Castiel’s, since they’re so huge.
It feels better to have his wings clean, but Castiel won’t tell Gabriel that. Then he’ll think that Castiel actually wants baths, and he’d probably have to take them a lot more. He stuffs his wings through his shirt and pokes his head out of the top.
When he’s all dressed, he goes to Gabriel where he relaxes on his favorite armchair in the game room, watching MTV with a mild expression of boredom on his face. He turns when he hears Castiel push open the door, and what Cas wants must read on his face, because Gabriel asks, “Are you flying down to see Dean?”
“Go easy on that wing, kiddo,” he says, “It’s been wrapped up so it won’t be quite as strong.”
“I’ll be careful,” he promises.
As Gabriel warned, flight doesn’t come quite as naturally at first. His left wing is weak from being broken and unused, while his right is stiff from getting exercised again. Still, he knows that it will be worth it.
Castiel doesn’t fly to Kansas right away. First, he glides further south, to a copper deposit in Arizona. It’s partially oxidized, he knows, because that’s how his favorite kind of mineral is made. He read about it in one of his books at home in Heaven. Castiel hopes that Dean will like malachite as much as he does, otherwise it won’t be a very good gift to represent his mating intentions. He’s glad that Gabriel didn’t tell him that he’s too young to choose a mate, because his elder brothers and sisters always say that you just know, down to the wing bones, the person that you are meant to mate with. Or people, sometimes.
And Castiel is certain that his mate must be Dean. The other fledglings will probably tease him for having a human mate, but he won’t care, because Dean is good and kind and has a pleasing face.
Castiel searches through the deposit until he finds the perfect malachite rock. The colors are brilliant, striped green and blue, which seem like Castiel and Dean colors to him. He doesn’t have a reason for that, only that he knows that he feels that it’s right. He cradles the stone in his palms, pleased at his find, and spreads his wings to take off for Lawrence, Kansas.
By the time that he sees the Winchester house below him like a speck on a map, the sun is sinking low in the sky, turning his surroundings into a brilliant palette of orange and pink. Castiel glides down, far more gracefully than he did the night that he and Dean met.
Through Dean’s bedroom window, he can see Dean playing on the carpet with one of his spaceship toys. Castiel clutches his malachite to his chest and, for just a moment, lets himself look. Dean has a very nice smile, he thinks. But Castiel didn’t come here to stare; he came here to make his intentions clear. So he reaches out and taps on the window.
Dean’s head jerks up and his face melts into a wide grin. He scrambles from the floor, spaceship abandoned, and pries the window open. Castiel lands on the sill and greets, extending his hands, “Hello, Dean. I brought you this rock.”
“Whoa,” Dean says, and takes the malachite, “That’s so cool, Cas. Where’d you find it?”
“Arizona,” he replies.
Dean makes a face and asks, “When were you in Arizona?”
“About an hour ago, I think,” replies Castiel.
Dean gapes at him for a beat but then says, “You’re fast,” and retreats from the window. He stumbles across the room and climbs onto his bed, where he stands up to reach the shelf above it. There are a handful of books stacked on one side, a model airplane, and a rather unfortunate representation of an angel in the form of a statuette. Dean scoots the angel figurine a few inches to the right, and then places the malachite between that and the airplane.
He accepted Castiel’s gift.
That’s what that is, right?
Castiel realizes that he isn’t very good at telling what people want or what they’re thinking, so he’ll ask Dean about it. He opens his mouth to do just that as Dean bounces from his bed to the floor, but closes it again when Dean starts pushing the toys on the floor around, searching for something.
When he comes back to the window, Dean has his Skeletor action figure clutched in his fist. He sticks it out at Castiel and says, “Then this is for you.”
Castiel takes Skeletor and asks, “Does this mean you accept my gift?”
“Duh,” Dean says.
The sensation of warmth spreads through Castiel’s limbs like he never knew that it could. It’s a little like the feeling he gets when Gabriel breaks from his duties in Heaven to “play hooky” and take Castiel to some of the most wonderful places on Earth, places with towering buildings or intricate places of worship, or sometimes just to a bookshop tucked away in the corner of some unimpressive town. It’s like that, but different. With Gabriel, he feels warm, but his heart doesn’t feel like it might burst from his chest at any moment.
Castiel turns the Skeletor toy over in his hand and then blinks back to Dean. He asks, “Why did you give me the bad guy?”
And Dean says, “So you remember that if there are bad guys you have to fight, then you’re probably the hero.”
When Castiel returns to Heaven, hours have passed. Dean pulled him into the house and Sam gave him hug, after which Mary woke up from her nap and made them something called chicken nuggets that Castiel thinks he possibly likes even more than macaroni and cheese, although not quite as much as licking the batter spoon. At the end of the night, Dean hugs Castiel too, and Cas lets Dean touch his wings again, just briefly. It feels right.
He charges through his house to find Gabriel, which proves to be easy. He’s in the same spot that Castiel left him in, slouched on the sofa in the game room with MTV on, though now the room is dark and the only light is the flicker of the television casting blue-white light over the room. Gabriel is asleep now, mouth parted and snoring, even though Gabriel insists that he does not snore.
Castiel climbs up and sits on his legs.
“Gabriel,” he says, and grabs his shoulders to shake him.
That doesn’t work, and Castiel isn’t surprised. Gabriel is sometimes difficult to wake up. So he jabs him in the side, which also doesn’t work, and then pulls his hair which does not work either. Castiel sighs. He didn’t want to resort to this, but he’s pretty sure it’s the only way that he can get Gabriel to wake up so that he can tell him the good news.
Castiel sticks his finger in his mouth, gets it wet with spit, and then sticks it in Gabriel’s ear.
“Shit!” Gabriel says, and jerks out of sleep so fast that Castiel topples off of the sofa and onto the floor.
Gabriel sees him and says, “Aw, crap. Are you okay?” and then, “Wait, did you just wake me up with a wet willy?”
Castiel straightens himself out and clambers back up to park himself on top of Gabriel’s chest, earning a soft ‘oof’ from his guardian as he does so. He reasons, “I tried waking you up other ways, but that’s the only way that works.”
Gabriel laughs, but doesn’t speak. Castiel takes this as a sign that he can now relay the good news. He whispers, “I brought Dean a rock and he accepted it and put it on his shelf. And then he gave me a gift too. See?” Castiel holds out Skeletor with a proud puff to his wings.
Gabriel takes the toy and looks at it for a long time. Castiel doesn’t know what to make of that. Does that mean that Gabriel approves? Or is it bad? When his guardian meets his eyes again, his expression is soft and fond in a way that Castiel seldom sees. He gives Skeletor back to Cas and asks, “You know what taking a human as your mate means, right?”
Of course he knows. Everyone knows.
“That you won’t stay young like you would in Heaven?” Gabriel says, as though Castiel had lied to him with his nod.
“I know,” Cas says.
“You wouldn’t live forever,” Gabriel goes on, “You would die just like humans do.”
“I know,” repeats Castiel.
“And this Dean is worth giving all that up?” Gabriel asks him, petting a tentative hand over Castiel’s wing.
“Yes,” Castiel says, lifting his chin, “I picked him out myself.”
A gentle smile graces his guardian’s lips before Gabriel breaks eye contact, staring down at the Skeletor action figure tucked safely in Cas’ fist. His hand doesn’t stop petting Castiel’s wing and he lets out a long, thoughtful exhale before he looks back up again. He says, “If you picked him out, then I guess he must be pretty special.”
Part II: 1992
“Mom! Mom,” Sam cries out, and struggles underneath Dean’s hold where they’re rolling around in the grass.
“Dean,” their mom admonishes, “Let him go.”
Dean rolls his eyes but does as she asks. Not without the complaint, “He started it,” though.
“I don’t care who started it,” says mom, “You can’t strangle your little brother.”
Dean casts a glare over at Sam, who sticks his tongue out. The urge to flip off his brother is pretty overwhelming, but Dean knows that he can’t do it while his mom is watching or he’ll have to pay five bucks to the stupid swear jar. He needs every five bucks he can get, since comic books seem to cost as much as freakin’ open heart surgery (“Dean, don’t exaggerate like that.” “It’s not that much of an exaggeration, mom.”).
“And you two need to be helping me get things ready anyway,” mom goes on, “Isn’t Charlie supposed to be over soon?”
“Probably,” Dean shrugs. It’s late afternoon, and being July it’s also hotter than hell. The humidity is killing Dean, even though he knows that it’ll get a little better after the sun goes down and they start the fireworks. This is the first year that he’s allowed to help Uncle Bobby set them off, so he’s pretty stoked for that.
Charlie’s coming early to help them get the yard ready for the annual Winchester Fourth of July barbeque, complete with bratwurst, burgers, pulled pork and beans, corn on the cob and sweet iced tea and all the good stuff that a barbeque needs. Most of the people that come are just neighbors or mom’s friends from work, but Dean’s excited to have Charlie over, and for Uncle Bobby, even if that means that he might have to babysit Jo at some point during the evening.
He prayed to Cas to invite him too, but Dean has no idea if he’ll actually show up. He never knows when Cas will appear, which is sometimes exciting but mostly aggravating. Cas always brings him something when he comes: cool rocks, colorful feathers, weird craft projects that Cas makes himself out of stuff like bottle caps or old soda cans and are supposed to look like animals.
Dean figures it’s probably rude to take something from Cas and never give back, so he always has something on hand in case there’s a tap at his window and his friend sitting on the windowsill. Recently, he’s taken to buying two copies of the same issue of comic books, so that he and Cas can read the series together. Right now they’re reading Wonder Woman, which Dean started because he liked the way that they drew her but kept reading because the story actually held his attention.
Cas likes Wonder Woman because “it’s an interesting take on human mythology.”
Dean once asked if Cas thought Wonder Woman was hot like he thought, and he got that weird squinty face and cock of the head that Castiel gives him when he has no idea what Dean is talking about. Then he had answered, “As I understand it, Themyscira’s weather is temperate.”
Dean laughed, but the whole thing does make him wonder if angels get horny and stuff like humans do. ‘Cause apparently fledglings just appear at Cas’ house up top without any angels getting it on, but there are also angels down on Earth with human husbands and wives and nephilim kids. Dean isn’t stupid. He knows you have to have sex to get a nephilim.
But apparently you don’t have to do that to get a full-blown angel.
Dean pushes himself up off of the grass and wipes his palms on his jeans before he ducks back inside the house to help mom get everything going. He sees her watching, so he makes sure to toe off his sneakers at the door instead of “tracking dirt all over the floor.”
It seems like he and Sam are at a truce, since he follows to get the plastic cutlery and paper plates while Dean heads down to the basement to start hauling up the folding table and lawn furniture that they use when they cook outdoors. Mom is already getting the grill ready, making sure that the charcoal’s hot enough to cook all the food they have planned. He grins at her as he drags the table through the grass and pulls out the metal legs.
As soon as the legs are propped and the table is stable, he heads back into the house to grab the chairs – right as the doorbell rings. He jogs to open it and throws his arms around Charlie the second she’s inside the house.
She gives him a friendly sock to the shoulder and lets her backpack slide off of her shoulders, and that’s when Dean spots the plastic sticking out of her bag.
“Still up for a rematch?” she asks.
“Hell yeah,” he says, and turns on his heel to get his Super Soaker – only to realize that he still has to get the chairs outside for his mom. He adds sheepishly, “After we set up the yard for my mom.”
The work only takes a handful of minutes with both of them, and soon Dean is hauling ass out of the house with his Super Soaker all filled up and ready to go. Sam sees them on the way back out to the yard and whines, “Hey, I wanna play too.”
“Go find your own game, Sammy,” Dean says, and turns to spray Charlie.
She ducks and aims for him. Dean feels some of the moisture, and it’s nice underneath the heat of the late-afternoon sun. He only just darts behind the line of his mom’s raspberry bushes when he hears her call, “Dean Winchester, you let your brother play with you.”
“Aw, mom,” he whines.
“You don’t get to exclude him like that,” she says, and he pokes his head from around the bush to see her with one hand on each hip and a dangerous expression on her face.
He argues, “But he cries any time that somebody hits him.”
His mom heaves a sigh and turns around to look at Sam, where he’s stationed a couple yards away with his own Super Soaker cradled in his arms. She says, “Sam, if you wanna play, then you have to play fair. Everybody gets wet when you play with water guns.”
Dean sticks his tongue out from over their mom’s shoulder. Sam points frantically and says, “Dean stuck his tongue out at me.”
Mom turns around.
“Did not,” he says, and shrugs.
She rolls her eyes and says, “All right, boys. Play fair or the water guns are gone for the night.”
What follows is one of the best battles that Dean’s ever had, darting from one end of the backyard to the other, until the chase leads all the way to the gate and out into the front, where Charlie dashes across the cul-de-sac to escape from both Dean and Sam, who charge after her, only feet behind. Dean gets her in the back and Sam gets her hair, and all three of them end up collapsing in the lawn out front, panting and laughing.
“Okay, okay,” Charlie says, “You guys win.”
“Yes,” Sam says, pumping his fist. Dean lifts his hand for a high five, and Sam takes the offer.
Jesus Christ. They had so much fun playing that Dean didn’t even notice that people are starting to arrive at their house. Ellen waves on her way in and Bobby gives him a nod. Jo doesn’t seem interested in them right now, but she’ll probably want to hang out with them as soon as they’re doing something that five year olds wouldn’t get.
There isn’t any sign of Cas by the time that the barbeque is in full swing. Dean won’t pretend not to be disappointed. Castiel doesn’t come around as often as he used to when they were kids. He likes to think that there’s a reason for that, like maybe you have to do more stuff in Heaven when you get older, but sometimes it feels like Cas just got tired of him and doesn’t want to be around Dean anymore. Dean doesn’t really blame him. He’s just some boring human kid with a foul mouth and a C average. He’s nothing special, really.
But that’s okay, because Dean has lots of special people close by that he gets to be around. Maybe Bobby’s hands that can fix anything or Sammy’s brain that can solve any math problem or mom’s ability to find anything that Dean has ever misplaced aren’t as cool or poetic as huge, black-blue wings, but they’re cool enough to Dean.
The aroma of food permeates the yard, of grilled corn and burgers, and Ellen’s potato salad. Missouri from the top of the cul-de-sac even brought her thing that makes homemade ice cream, which all the kids get to have before the adults. The youngest go first, so Sam has a stupid smug expression on his face while he’s eating his share, but Dean forgets about it as soon as he has his own ice cream in his hands.
By the time that their bellies are full, the sky is dark. There are distant pops of other fireworks going off in the area, and Dean is way too excited to start firing off their own. He jumps up when Bobby waves him over.
Dean asks, “What do we get to do first?”
“I’m gonna hand out these sparklers,” Bobby says, waving the sticks in his left hand, “I need you to stick this one in the ground in a nice, clear spot, ‘cause it’s a big one.”
It takes a while for Bobby to return empty-handed to Dean, but he smiles when he sees the place in the yard that Dean has picked, an area with lots of space.
“All right, kid,” he says, and tosses something to Dean that he catches reflexively. It’s a lighter. He glances back up to Bobby and listens while he instructs, “you light the end right there, you see that? And as soon as it’s lit, we run back like hell. Long as you’re not an idjit, you’ll be fine.”
He’s still nervous when he flicks a flame to life, hand unsteady as he holds it up against the wick of the firework. When it catches, Dean jogs back to where Bobby stands. Bobby claps him on the shoulder just as the firework sails upward and claps open in the night sky. He smiles, “Good job, Dean.”
“Thanks,” Dean says.
“…You know, Heaven is awfully loud on July fourth.”
Dean whirls around and barks, “Jesus, Cas, you scared the crap outta me.”
Castiel shrugs, and Dean tosses the lighter back to Bobby so that he can rope Cas into a hug. He threads his fingers through those soft feathers and says, “Man, I’ve missed you. Where’ve you been?”
“Elsewhere,” Cas answers, being vague in that way that irritates Dean just as much as it fascinates him.
He ropes his arm around Castiel’s shoulders and says, “Well, I’m glad you’re here. You’re just in time for the best part! And I bet we’ve got some food left for you to try. I know you like burgers, but I bet you haven’t tried pulled pork yet. And we got homemade ice cream, which is way different than regular ice cream that you get at the grocery store.”
Cas’ face lights up at the mention of food, and he nods, “I’d like that.”
Dean drags Cas back to the table and the grill, where he finds a paper plate and loads it with goodies for Cas to try out. Five years of being friends, and he never gets tired of figuring out what Cas likes. So far his favorite things are coffee, burgers, and brownie batter, but mac n’ cheese, PB&J, and Pop Rocks are close seconds. He does not like grape Tylenol, pickles, or baby tomatoes. Everything else falls in between someplace.
Fireworks forgotten, Dean watches Cas try pulled pork first, waiting as he chews and swallows before he asks, “Well?”
“I like this,” he says. When he tries the potato salad, he informs Dean that he doesn’t like that nearly as much. He does tell Dean that he’s right about the difference between homemade and store-bought ice cream, and when he asks Missouri if it’s okay for him to have more ice cream, she says yes, even though she told everybody else no.
With Charlie and Sam flanking their sides, Dean and Castiel sit in the grass and watch as Bobby’s fireworks light up the sky. It smells like sulfur and barbeque and damp grass. Dean doesn’t even care that he’ll have bug bites all over his legs after this. He’s just happy to have his friends all together in one place.
Neighbors start filtering out as the night rolls on, and soon the only guests left are Bobby, Ellen and Jo, and Charlie and Castiel. Together, they all clean up, even though Dean insists that Charlie and Castiel don’t have to. Both of them ignore him, though that’s not exactly weird.
“Dean,” Castiel says as they haul chairs back to the basement, “May I spend the night?”
“I’ll have to ask my mom,” he says.
“Oh. I can ask her,” Cas says.
Dean chuckles and says, “She’s definitely more likely to say yes to you than she is to me. She likes you.”
“She likes you too,” Cas replies, brows knitting, “You’re her son.”
“Yeah, exactly,” Dean says, “She likes me as much as she wants to smack me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You never wanna hit Gabe upside the head?” he asks.
“Ah. It’s a family thing,” Cas says, “because yes. Probably sixty five percent of the time I think he’s looking to be…smacked.”
No one is surprised when Dean’s mom smiles at Castiel’s request to stay the night and says that it’s all right with her as long as Gabriel also gives his consent. Castiel replies that he asked before he left and that Mary can pray to Gabriel if she wants his confirmation. Dean watches his mom laugh and tell them to play nice, and with that laugh everything around Dean feels right. He hugs Charlie goodbye and watches her disappear around the corner to her house on the street over, and then pulls Cas in for another hug.
“It’s great to see you, dude,” Dean says, “You wanna set up the pull-out bed and watch movies? You can pick since you’re the guest.”
“I’m not really a guest,” Castiel replies with a dry little smile, “I’m pretty sure I’m family.”
“Then you’re that weird family member that shows up at the window every couple a’ months and then disappears again, so you still can pick the movie if you want,” Dean says, “But I can always choose if you don’t want to pick.”
“Please pick the movie,” begs Sam, “If you don’t, then Dean’s gonna make us watch Flash Gordon again.”
“Hey,” Dean says, “Don’t shit-talk Flash Gordon.”
“Dean Winchester,” his mom’s voice says, “That’s a dollar in the jar.”
“Don’t ‘but mom’ me, mister,” she says, “Shit is worth a dollar.”
“But you just –”
“Fine,” he sighs, and pulls his wallet out of his back pocket. A streak of satisfaction makes him smile when he remembers how much his mom doesn’t like Garbage Pail Kids cards, and how he made his wallet out of his duplicate cards and some duct tape. He makes a show of pulling out a crinkled one dollar bill and walking to the swear jar on the windowsill in the kitchen, pushing it through the slot cut out in the center of the lid.
As soon as his mom is satisfied, the three of them tumble up the stairs to grab blankets and pillows to haul down to the living room. Cas opens his wings, but before he can so much as flap, Dean’s mom says, “Castiel, what’ve I said about flying in the house?”
Cas sighs and folds his wings against his back as he replies, “Not to. Sorry, Mary.”
“That’s okay,” she says, “but I’ve got an eye on you.”
Dean peels the couch cushions on the living room sofa away, and even though he protests Cas helping pull out the mattress, he helps anyway, tugging it out so that they can pile it up with blankets and pillows. The first time that Cas ever had a sleepover with Dean was way back when they were ten, and Dean had to explain that even if you don’t need all the blankets and pillows that it’s more fun to have them. They also discovered that Cas likes popcorn, but not the cheese kind, because he doesn’t like that it doesn’t taste like actual cheese.
Now, Cas is an expert. He knows everything that Dean likes in a sleepover, from the particular arrangement on the mattress (Dean has to have the left side), to the snacks that the Winchesters tend have on hand (regular microwave popcorn, Capri Suns and Doritos), to what’s in the collection of video tapes neatly lined up in the glass-faced cabinets on either side of the Winchesters’ television.
When they settle, Castiel opens the cabinets and thumbs over the tapes. He pauses and then slides one of the tapes out. It says Dead Poets Society in a square at the top. Cas says, “I’ve never seen this one before. What is it?”
Dean shrugs, “I dunno. My mom bought it. Me and Charlie rode bikes when she was watching it last and I wasn’t really paying attention before that.”
“Could we watch it?” he asks.
“I guess,” Dean says.
“You don’t sound very enthusiastic.”
“I don’t know, man, it seems lame.”
“You’ve never seen it. How can you know that it’s lame?” Cas asks.
Well, he has to admit that Cas might have a point. Dean concedes, “Okay. We’ll go for it. You wanna stick the popcorn in the microwave while I put the tape in?”
Ten minutes later has the tape rewound the perfect point between the previews and the actual movie, and Dean and Cas are both in pairs of Dean’s pajamas with a bowl of popcorn stashed between them Sam, meanwhile, sets up camp with his sleeping bag beside them, though only minutes into the movie, his head is flopped over on his pillow and he’s dead to the world.
At first, Dean watches Cas watching the movie more than he watches the movie itself. When Cas watches movies, his expressions tend to fall into one of two categories: a. confused, or b. intensely focused. This movie has garnered the latter reaction, judging from the concentrated crinkle between his brows and the way he’s leaning forward with his hands folded under his chin.
But when Dean turns his head and actually starts paying attention, he finds that the movie isn’t nearly as lame as he thought it would be. It’s actually…pretty cool. He probably has a look on his face exactly like the one he saw Cas just wear. He wonders if there are teachers out there that really change kids’ lives like that. He hasn’t met one so far, only teachers that he’s been vaguely okay with and teachers whose lives he wanted to ruin for the duration of time that they had him in his class.
Thing is, Dean’s never been good at school. He has trouble paying attention. He’d much rather be outside and doing something, instead of wiggling around in a plastic chair, trying to understand what he needs all this knowledge for.
The best day that he’s ever had at school happened last year in his seventh grade science class. Their teacher took the class outside to look for different rocks to fit into their geology unit, and for once in his life, Dean actually knew what he was doing.
But that had all been ruined when his science teacher gave him this look of total disbelief when Dean asked if he could bring in some of the rocks that he has. The rocks that Cas gave him were all really cool: malachite, tanzanite, diopside; they were cool enough that Dean had gone on to collect a few of his own. He had a chunk of petrified wood that he found when he went camping with mom and Sammy, and a piece of rhyolite that his mom bought him for his eleventh birthday.
That look that his teacher gave him, though. It was the kind of look that adults gave you when they thought that you were stupid and had no idea what you were talking about.
Then his science teacher told him, “Geology is not about gravel that you picked up off of the street, Dean.”
He’d never felt so small in his life. Dean didn’t bother correcting his teacher and saying that no, he had a real collection of interesting rocks and minerals. Why even try if they’ve already given up on you? When he came home later that day, he hid himself under the covers and refused to come out for dinner, even though his mom had picked up fried chicken. He didn’t feel hungry. He just felt stupid.
So it’s kind of amazing that a teacher like the one in Dead Poets Society exists, even if he’s just a fictional character. Watching it unfold makes Dean feel weird in the gut.
And then it gets even worse, because Neil dies, and Dean liked Neil.
He doesn’t cry. He totally doesn’t.
But if Cas wraps his wing around Dean’s shoulders, then he’s not going to complain.
When the movie ends, Dean jumps to eject the tape, even though he knows that it’s bad manners not to rewind it before you do that. He doesn’t care. He just slips it back into the sleeve and he and Cas don’t really talk about it.
Dean just says, “We should – watch something to lighten the mood,” and puts Coming to America in the VCR because he needs to watch something that will make him laugh.
He falls asleep before they even get to the part where Eddie Murphy meets his dream girl, tucked up against Cas with popcorn seasoning smeared at the corners of his mouth and the blankets tangled up between his legs.
Mary wakes at four in the morning to get ready for her shift at the hospital, stepping into floral-printed scrubs after she showers, and tying her hair back with a scrunchie after it’s blown dry. The house is quiet, as it always is at this hour of the morning, and like every morning, the quiet seems strange. Being the widowed mother of two boys is not a quiet task.
Well, three boys, really.
She smiles at that in the mirror while she does her makeup, and pads down the stairs in nothing but socks, hoping to go through the motions of her before-work routine without waking the boys.
Still, Mary can’t help but step down from the kitchen to peer over the inevitable mess. The TV is still on, buzzing with static, so she tiptoes into the room and reaches for the remote, where it’s been kicked off of the pull-out by one boy or another. She flicks the television off, but doesn’t leave to make her breakfast right away.
On the pull-out, her thirteen year old is curled up onto his side, hair mussed and face younger in sleep than it looks in play. One long, black wing wraps around Dean’s middle, swaddling him like a blanket. The two of them look so natural like that that her chest aches at the sight of it.
A gentle smile pulls at her lips, and she turns around to brew a pot of coffee in the kitchen.
Dean loves Castiel. She knows that. She also knows that Castiel loves Dean.
What Mary doesn’t know yet is how Dean loves Castiel. She knew the way that Castiel started to love Dean the moment that her son ran to show her the green and blue rock that his angel friend had brought him.
She thinks, though, as she greets Ellen at the door in the bluish light of early dawn and pours them both mugs of coffee, that no matter what happens, she will love her boys.
All of her boys.
Part III: 1995-1996
Mom’s out at work and Sam is playing down the street with some new chick that moved into the old Wilson place on the corner, which means that Operation: Dean-Time is a-go. He sheds his Nirvana t-shirt (Cobain’s death still has a righteous sting whenever he thinks about it) and casts it onto his unmade bed before he pulls his jeans off of his hips and balls them up, shooting them at his laundry hamper. Dean misses, and snorts at himself.
Unlike Sam, Dean has no problem with going commando. Some days, it’s just nice to be free and easy. And hell, they do their own laundry, so it’s not like his mom will be investigating the frequency of his underwear usage.
Nothing quite compares to a long, hot shower that he can enjoy without a bratty thirteen year old whining at him to hurry up so that he can use the bathroom already. Thanks to this Jess kid, Dean’s had a lot more chances to snatch up some after-school time for himself. He indulges in the freedom to walk butt-naked from his bedroom to the bathroom, and doesn’t even bother to shut the door behind him.
As soon as Dean starts the water and steps in, his shoulders relax and the day vastly improves from his shitty day at school, which included a pop quiz in American History and getting back a paper that he actually kind of tried on marked with a C. Fuck it, whatever, at least Lisa Braeden talked to him and that was pretty cool.
Still…he’s in his junior year of high school, and it seems like nothing is ever gonna look up for him. Dean isn’t smart like Sammy is or tech-savvy like Charlie. He’s all right with cars because of Bobby helping him fix up dad’s old Impala, and he can tell you a helluva lot about a rock just by taking a cursory glance at it, but neither of those are the kinds of things that people think are any use out in the “real world” or whatever the fuck.
This shower was supposed to be about getting his mind off of things, not getting deeper into it. He blows all the air out of his lungs and leans his forehead against the tile wall in front of him. He conjures up a picture of Lisa, how her tank top rode up a little when she leaned over to pick her backpack off of the ground, and how she smiled a little when she caught him looking. Then, Dean takes his soft dick in hand and stroke it to life, humming happily at the sensation of satisfied warmth spreading through his body.
Lisa’s pretty slender, so Dean makes a ballpark estimate at b-sized tits. Nice. Probably would fit right in the palm of his hand.
“Ah,” he murmurs, hips jerking forward, “Mm.”
Only then, as he fucks into his hand, soft brown eyes and long dark hair fade into striking blue and uncombed tufts of hair sticking up from a familiar head. Black-blue wings spread out, spanning wide in both directions, and a low voice whimpers, “Dean.”
With a choked cry, Dean comes over his fist and onto the shower tiles. It takes a second for his brain to kick back in gear and realize that, holy shit, he just came while he was thinking of Cas underneath him. That’s – yeah, that’s not a thing. Cas is his friend. Like, okay, fine, Dean can admit to his eyes lingering on a guy’s ass and thinking about that ass later with his hands down his pajama pants and his blankets thrown over his body.
But Cas – he’s special. He’s not…that.
Guilty, Dean makes quick work of shampooing his hair and scrubbing his skin clean. When the water shuts off, Dean rubs his hair dry before he wraps his towel around his waist. He tries to put the whole jerking-off-to-Cas incident behind him as he shoulders his way into his bedroom and makes a grab for a pair of clean-ish sweatpants on the floor, letting his towel drop in the process.
“Holy hell!” Dean drops his sweatpants in surprise and stumbles back, only to realize that Cas is on his fucking windowsill and there is nothing within immediate reach to cover his private bits with. He makes do with his hands, cupping his spent junk in protection, and protests, “Dude, I’m naked.”
“Yes, I can see that,” Castiel replies, and leaps from the sill to the floor. He assesses Dean and says, “I don’t see why you’re embarrassed. It’s just a penis. I have one too, you know.”
“I, uh,” Dean starts, “Do you use them?”
“Do I use my penis?” Cas echoes, “Is there a reason I wouldn’t?”
“I dunno, isn’t it like, blasphemous or some shit?”
“No, to fuck, you moron,” Dean says with a frustrated wave of his hand, before he realizes that he let go of his jewels and they’re out in the open once again. He sighs and crouches down to collect the sweatpants again, sliding them on over his hips.
“I suppose that I could have sex if I so chose,” Castiel says. Dean watches as he pulls off his shoes and flops back onto Dean’s bed, wings relaxed and hair windblown from his flight. He kicks up his legs, making eye contact with Dean as he says, “It isn’t as though I haven’t touched myself. I understand the mechanics.”
“I’m not stupid.”
“I didn’t say you were,” Dean says, “So what’s up? What brings you down to Earth?”
Castiel cocks a brow and asks, “Can’t I just want to see you? Oh, that reminds me.” Cas reaches into the pocket of his jeans and pulls out a lime-green crystal, about the thickness of two of Dean’s fingers. Cas says, “It’s a –”
“Raw peridot,” Dean finishes for him, “That’s so badass, man. You’re awesome.” Dean leans up to arrange the peridot on his shelf with the other things that Cas has given Dean over the span of the eight years that they’ve known each other.
And, as always, Dean can’t let Cas give him a gift if he doesn’t give one right back, so he opens the shallow drawer in his desk where he keeps the things that he thinks that Cas would like to have. He decides on the aqua-colored Camaro Convertible Hot Wheels car, since Cas seems to like blue and green colors. Aqua’s in the middle of that, sort of, so…
“Here,” he says, and places the car in Cas’ palm.
Cas lights up the way that he always does when Dean gives him something and says, “Thank you,” in that reverent way that makes Dean feel like putty in his guts.
There’s a long silence between them after Castiel slips the Hot Wheels car into the pocket of his jeans, a silence in which Dean finds himself staring at his friend in a way that he’s fairly sure he’s never stared before. Granted, he’d never jerked off to thoughts of this particular friend until about ten minutes ago, and events like that are bound to change a guy’s perspective.
It’s kind of weird. It’s like seeing Castiel in a whole different way. His fucked up hair now kind of looks like sex hair, and there’s something weirdly appealing about his faded Goosebumps t-shirt and ragged jeans. His wings are just as messed up as the rest of his appearance, so Dean finds himself saying out of reflex, “Hey, you want me to fix your wings?”
Instead of looking at Dean like that’s something weird to ask because they’re not kids-slash-fledglings anymore, Cas seems pleased. He says, “Sure. Let me – remove my shirt. It’ll be easier that way.”
Dean’s always thought that it’s interesting to watch the way that angels pull off their shirts. It’s more complicated because of the wings, naturally, and hell, Dean hasn’t even seen what it’s like for a lady angel, with the whole bra thing and all. Cas pulls his arms into the shirt first and then pulls it up over his head and then back over his wings, the pull of the wing-sleeves ruffling his feathers into even more of a state.
Dean chuckles a little before he climbs back behind Cas and gives the tops of his wings an initial stroke-through with his fingers. Under his touch, Cas kind of stiffens. Dean pulls his hand back and asks, “Hey, you all good?”
Cas’ throat bobs as he swallows and he says, “I’m fine, yes.”
Dean hums and gets to work. He’d like to think that he’s gotten pretty good at this, that over the years he’s become familiar with Cas’ wings, how they work and what they’re supposed to look like when they’re all spick-and-span.
“Hey, what the hell’s this?” he asks, and skims the tips of his fingers over one of two twin lumps at the base of Castiel’s wings. He’s pretty sure those haven’t always been there before. And then he’s very sure when he pulls his fingers away and finds them wet with something oily.
Castiel’s breathing is heavy when he answers, “They’re, ah. Oil glands.”
“Have those always been here?” Dean asks, frowning.
“No,” Cas says, “They come in when an angel comes of age.”
“Weird,” says Dean, “What’re they for?”
“…Easier cleaning,” is Cas’ gruff response.
“Cool, can I use ‘em?” Dean asks.
Instead of a verbal response, Cas gives him a jerky nod. Dean puts pressure on the same gland that he touched earlier, and more oil coats his fingers. It smells kind of earthy, musky – definitely a dude smell, but it’s nice. It’s sort of appealing. He uses it on the bottom feathers first, the long, stiff ones. The wings kind of tremble under Dean’s touch, as if by a phantom wind coming in from the open window.
But Castiel doesn’t tell him to stop, so he keeps going, stroking feathers into place and flicking aside strays. He returns back to the glands when his fingers are dry and coats them. Cas’ shoulders kind of curl in like he’s cold or something.
Then everything kind of goes funny, because Dean reaches down for more of the oil stuff to keep on grooming Cas’ wings, and Castiel’s entire body goes stiff. He makes a broken kind of noise between a whine and a groan. If Dean didn’t know any better, he’d think that that’s the sound of Cas coming in his jeans.
But it’s not –
Castiel snatches the t-shirt from beside him and says, “I have to go.”
“What?” says Dean, “But you just got here.”
Cas doesn’t put his t-shirt back on, doesn’t grab his shoes where they sit on the floor beneath the windowsill, just hops onto the sill, stretches his wings, and takes off. Dean sticks his head out the window and stares after him, befuddled, as Castiel shrinks into nothing more than a tiny black speck about the touch the clouds.
Castiel did not expect to orgasm with Dean’s hands in his wings. He’s never come just from having his wings groomed – but then, it probably shouldn’t surprise him that the touch of his chosen mate has such a great effect on him. Being groomed by one’s guardian feels different, though the action required is the same. Castiel always uses Gabriel’s glands for the oil to clean his feathers, and as soon as Castiel’s oil glands developed, Gabriel started using them instead of synthetic bottled oil.
And it feels good, but not the kind of good that Dean made Castiel feel.
Dean made Castiel feel like his veins were filled with liquid gold and his gut warm and his head pleasant and cloudy. He also made Castiel’s boxer shorts sticky on the inside, the evidence of which he’s trying to get rid of before Gabriel arrives home from his duties, because Castiel really would rather not explain the huge patch of come in his underwear.
Castiel rolls the gift of the Hot Wheels car in his hand as the washing machine makes work of his clothing and smiles.
Dean, his mate, cares about him very much. He gives Castiel things that matter to him, as Castiel brings Dean objects that he knows he will like. Of all Castiel’s gifts, Dean likes the rocks and minerals and crystals best, so he brings those most often. But he’s also brought Dean a tail feather from a Northern Cardinal and frankincense from Ethiopia, and a record by Led Zeppelin because Dean is so fond of them.
Nonetheless, it’s still embarrassing to have come in his pants, so he flew off before either of them could make a big deal out of the situation. Cas has never come with another person before, and he’s happy that the first time he did was with Dean, but that doesn’t change the circumstances.
Ideally, it would have been nice to be entirely naked, with Dean also entirely naked, and possibly on top of him. Or maybe Castiel would be on top of Dean. Can he get in trouble for thinking like this in Heaven?
Probably not, if Gabriel is anything to go by.
He spends the remainder of the evening in a pleasant haze, eating dinner by himself when Gabriel is late returning home from his duties and curling up in the luxurious library that Gabriel made for Castiel’s sake alone. That’s where his guardian finds him, with a book in his hands and a soft smile on his face.
“What’s up with you?” Gabriel asks. Castiel tries not to look like the cat that got the cream, but probably fails, because Gabe says, “You got laid, didn’t you? You did, you sneaky son of a bitch. Give me the deets.”
“It isn’t your business,” Castiel says.
He doesn’t know how that’s the sentence that gives him away, but apparently it is. Gabriel’s brows rise high on his forehead and he says, “Dean?”
“Yes,” Castiel says.
“You don’t…smell mated,” Gabriel goes on.
“We didn’t go all the way,” Castiel says. He closes his book and straightens up into a sitting position on the library’s loveseat. Gabe takes the change as an invitation to sit beside him, and Castiel doesn’t even complain when his guardian’s arm comes to rest on his shoulders, and Gabriel pulls him in closer.
Then Cas asks, “Do other angels ever have sex?”
Gabriel shrugs, “I always felt like the weird one for being so into it, but maybe that’s why dear ol’ dad picked me out to be your guardian. ‘Cause I’m weird, and you’re weird. Just imagine getting Michael for a guardian or some shit.”
Castiel wrinkles his nose. Michael, in addition to being the guardian of Naomi, is their customs instructor at school, which basically means that he’s all about Heavenly rules and telling fledglings why it’s dangerous to ever think beyond the instructions laid out for them. The freedom that Gabriel gives Cas is essential to him – and Gabriel always tells him when they argue that if Cas had gotten Michael or Raphael as a guardian that he’d rebel so hard he would get himself killed.
“Castiel,” Gabriel says, and breaks Cas from his thoughts.
“Just – be careful, okay?” he says, voice low and serious in that way Cas has only heard it reach a handful of times in his sixteen years of life. Gabriel is about tricks and laughter and good food, seldom does he raise his voice or impose restrictions.
Cas eyes his guardian and says, “I don’t have to be careful. Dean loves me.”
“I know he does, kiddo,” Gabriel says, “I just don’t wanna see you getting messed up over some human kid.”
“I won’t,” Castiel replies.
And he’s confident that that is true.
Castiel remains confident throughout the following days, though he’s too busy to fly down to see Dean in between helping Gabriel deliver the sudden onslaught of fledglings in their home and attending his classes. He finds himself disinterested in learning the duties of an average angel and what will be expected of them once they come of age. In fact, Castiel is sure that he has never been interested in the life of a full-blown angel, all regulations and punctuality and obedience.
Even before Dean, Castiel never did like to listen.
But he goes through the motions, content to keep himself unnoticed and out of trouble in between daydreams of a life spent on Earth instead of in Heaven. Angels as a general whole seem perturbed by the chaotic nature of humanity, but Castiel finds himself entranced by it. He loves that a day on Earth will never be exactly the same as the one that came before it. In Heaven, an angel could have many of the same day strung together like matching beads on a string.
Maybe Gabriel is right.
Maybe their father did pick Gabriel to be Castiel’s guardian because they both share a love of things that lay outside their routines.
Four entire days pass before Castiel has the time to set off for Kansas to see Dean again, but the gap between visits only makes the excitement greater as he takes off from Heaven and soars down, Earth-bound. The weather is clear from Heaven to Kansas, perfect flying weather. He enjoys the feel of the wind whistling through his feathers, and ruffling through his hair.
The Winchester house grows from speck to home beneath his feet, and Castiel is glad. He doesn’t have friends like Dean or Sam in Heaven; most of the other angels just think he’s odd. But Dean and Sam love him, especially Dean, and that’s how he knows that this is the place that he is meant to be.
Castiel prepares to land on Dean’s windowsill, only to find the window closed. The majority of the time, Dean remembers to leave his window open – until the weather becomes too cold – in case Castiel comes down to visit. Sometimes he forgets, so today must be an angry window-tapping day.
Only, when Castiel lowers himself to the height of Dean’s bedroom window, he hears a long, drawn-out groan and rhythmic, heavy breath. His heart catches against his ribs, and he focuses past the glare of the sun against the window glass.
Inside, Dean is on his bed.
He isn’t alone.
A beautiful, dark-haired girl is naked underneath him, long legs wrapped around his waist while he rocks into her. They kiss, lips first, and then Dean moves his mouth to press them over her neck and shoulders and breasts.
It takes too long for Castiel to process what he is seeing on the other side of the window. It’s Dean’s bedroom, complete with his band posters and sloppily-kept carpet, and the shelf of Castiel’s gifts is untouched – Cas’ intentions remain out on display. Any angel would know from the sight that Dean is Castiel’s and that he isn’t to be touched.
But…this pretty, naked girl isn’t an angel. She’s a human. She wouldn’t know that the belongings on the shelf are the mating gifts of an angel. She doesn’t know like Dean should. And yet Dean is here, just as naked as his companion is, and smiling while his hips roll back and forward into her.
Just as Castiel makes to flee, he meets eyes with Dean’s companion. Her lips part and she grasps Dean’s shoulder to get his attention, but Castiel doesn’t linger. He has seen enough.
It comes together in Castiel’s mind while he flies blindly toward someplace where he can be alone. Gabriel’s warnings and Dean’s easy friendliness converge, and he realizes: Dean never knew that Castiel was making a claim. And why would he have? They were eight. The mating rituals of an angel may not be common knowledge to humans as they are to Castiel, a knowledge bred deep into his bones.
Dean never wanted to be his mate.
Dean only ever wanted to be his friend.
Throughout every book that Castiel has read, he never understood what it meant when a character claimed a broken heart. He knows now. That’s all that this can be. He feels like his ears are ringing and his chest is splitting open, like he’s collapsing into pieces of himself and that he’ll never be able to puzzle them back together again. It’s the worst thing that he’s ever felt, worse than every time that he’s been teased or laughed at in Heaven.
It’s even worse than a broken wing.
Castiel doesn’t stop flying until he sees a tree that would make a good perch to curl up in – a massive redwood.
He must be in Humboldt County in California, then. In the humans’ national park.
Good. That’s far enough away from both Dean and Heaven for the privacy that he needs. He settles in a high, sturdy branch, back to the trunk of the great tree, and pulls his knees to his chest. He presses his face between them and wills himself not to cry like a fledgling, but his eyes burn despite him and pinpricks of wet soak into the denim of his jeans.
He was so sure that Dean loved him, so sure that he had something special that other angels his age could not boast having. It should figure that all along it was one hideous joke, that no one could love Castiel the way that he craves to be loved, that he’ll always been strange and unwanted and a thought swept to the side while other, much better things take the forefront. He isn’t important; he’s just weird. He should have known, he should have known, he should have known.
Hey, Cas, get your ass down here. I need to talk to you.
The echo of Dean’s prayer rattles his skull and makes his feathers stand on end. He tries to shut the prayer out, but Castiel knows that an angel cannot leave a prayer unheard.
C’mon, dude, I’m serious.
If Castiel has it his way, then he’ll never speak to Dean again.
After a while, and Castiel does not know how long, Dean’s prayers fade out and he’s given up. The quiet is nice and the strength of the redwood comforting. Maybe Cas will stay in this tree for the rest of his life, growing old like humans do until he dies right on this branch.
“Don’t be so melodramatic.”
Castiel’s head jerks up. There, a couple feet down the thick branch, is his guardian.
“How did you find me?” he bites out.
“How did I find you?” Gabriel says, “Bucko, your distress call is shaking up Heaven like an earthquake. Everyone knows where you are.”
Everyone knows how bereft Castiel is over the loss of his dignity and the knowledge that he was never loved as he thought he was.
“Leave me alone,” he says, and burrows his face back between his knees.
Castiel waits, but the sound of his guardian taking off never comes. Instead, Gabriel edges closer to him on the branch and rests his palm against Castiel’s back. He rubs beneath Castiel’s wing, over ribs and his shoulder blade, and says, “You’re gonna pull yourself outta this, you know.”
Castiel does not respond.
“So the kid didn’t know you wanted his nuts,” Gabriel goes on. Though the words are crass, his tone is soft. That just makes Cas angrier. He doesn’t want to be treated like a fledgling whose wings are still wet.
Even if he has been immeasurably stupid.
“It’s his loss, Cassie,” Gabriel says, “You – you’re fuckin’ cool, and if this kid doesn’t get that, then fuck ‘im. You’ve got better things to do than waste your time on some douchewheel that doesn’t know how to give a damn when he should.”
He isn’t sure that he believes the words that Gabriel says, but to hear them brings comfort nonetheless. He isn’t cool, and he knows that he doesn’t have better things to do in Heaven than he has to do on Earth. But perhaps he owes it to himself and his flock to try to be better. Perhaps he owes it to them to be a good angel and not the excuse for one that he’s spent his life being.
“C’mere,” Gabriel says, and urges Castiel into a stilted hug, “Let’s go home.”
Home used to be two places. It used to be the Winchesters’ house as much as Gabriel’s house up above. But now Castiel only has one place to call home, and though he knows that’s one place more than many people have, the knowledge still leaves him feeling empty and cold.
But he still says, “Okay,” and follows Gabriel skyward.
This is the longest that Dean’s ever gone without seeing Cas. It’s making him antsy and angry and lonely, even though he has Sam and Charlie and Lisa. Cas is his best friend, and for two entire months he’s just been…gone. No matter how many times Dean prays to him, Cas doesn’t come downstairs to visit again. He doesn’t understand what the big fucking deal is. All Cas saw was a little skin-on-skin action. So, sure, it’s whatever if he’s embarrassed for a while, but two months is kind of a lot, isn’t it?
“I don’t get why he won’t answer me,” Dean says, while he plays Tetris on his Game Boy. Sam, the nerd, is doing his homework and not really listening to Dean at all.
“He’s not answering me, either,” Sam says, “What did you do?”
“I don’t know!” exclaims Dean, “I mean, he caught me n’ Lisa…y’know.”
“Ew, Dean,” Sam crinkles his nose.
“What? It’s not like mom’s around,” Dean says, “Anyway, he saw me and Lisa gettin’ some horizontal refreshment and flew off and now he’s ignoring us.”
He’s so caught up in his frustration that he forgets about his Tetris game, and it makes a sad noise to inform him that he’s lost the game. Dean tosses the Game Boy onto the carpet and runs a frustrated hand through his hair.
When Dean looks up, he sees his younger brother studying him with an air of seriousness, homework in front of him forgotten. He frowns in this way that makes him look much older than thirteen, and then says, “Well, Cas likes you a lot.”
“We’re best friends,” says Dean, “Of course he likes me a lot. I like him a lot too. It would be weird if we didn’t like each other a lot.”
“Not that kind of like, Dean,” Sam says with a put-upon sigh, “Like-like.”
“No way,” Dean says, “That’s not – he’d have told me, right?” Sam's theory makes him feel all weird inside, like there are snakes crawling around in his stomach. It's like the whole 'butterflies' thing that Gilda says she has every time she sees Charlie, except way more intense and not nearly as cute.
“Maybe he’s already told you in his own way and you’re just stupid,” Sam reasons.
“I’m not stupid. You’re stupid,” Dean shoots back. He climbs back up onto his feet and flops onto Sam’s bed, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. There’s nothing that Cas has done that indicates romance. And besides, Dean isn’t even really into dudes that much, no matter how awesome their wings are. All he and Cas do together is read comics and watch tapes and sometimes go to the arcade or out for ice cream.
“Does Cas ever bring you stuff?” Dean asks.
Sam cocks one brow and asks, “Like what?”
“I dunno. Stuff. Like rocks and shit,” Dean says.
Dean doesn’t like the way that Sam’s face pales, or how he shuts his math textbook very, very quietly. He turns to face Dean and asks, “How long has he been giving you stuff?”
“This is bad,” Sam says, “God, no wonder he’s so pissed. Did you ever give him anything back?”
“Of course I gave stuff back,” Dean says, “That’s why I always buy two copies of the same issue when we hit the comic store.”
“Shit,” Sam says, simply, “Dean, you idiot. Didn’t you ever pay attention in World Cultures? When an angel brings you things, yes, like rocks and stuff, that means that they’re courting you. And when you give stuff back, it means that you’re accepting the offer. Cas has been coming to you with presents this whole time because he wants you to be his mate. And by angel standards, you said yes. From where he’s standing, it looks like you broke a mating agreement.”
“What?” is about all that Dean can manage to that. But Cas has been giving things to him since forever, all the way back to when they were just kids. He couldn’t have possibly meant it then, right? They were only like, eight. No one thinks about a freaking marriage proposal – at least a legit one – when they’re eight.
But angels aren’t the same as humans. His mom says that all the time, and how come it never made sense for her to say that until now?
“Oh, Christ,” Dean says, “But I – I don’t feel that way about him.”
Sam levels a grade-A face at him.
“I don’t!” insists Dean, and even though he's pretty sure he's telling the truth, the words still sit guiltily on his tongue like a lie. He goes on anyway, “He’s my friend, or maybe he’s not. I don’t know. I fucked it up. Or maybe he fucked up. Whatever happened, it’s all fucked up. What do I do?”
“Say you’re sorry?”
“I didn’t do anything,” Dean says, but his voice is weak.
“From your point of view,” Sam says, “From Cas’ point of view, you’ve probably crapped all over his feelings.”
With that, Dean slides from Sam’s bed, collects his Game Boy from the floor, and leaves. He slams his own bedroom door behind him and locks it for good measure. Say he’s sorry? For nothing? Lisa is his girlfriend. If he wants to have sex with her, then he will.
But Sam’s reason wins out in his head and he kneels next to his bed, folding his hands together and pressing his forehead against them. For a while, he doesn’t say anything. He needs to get it together before he makes this an official prayer.
“Hey, Cas,” he says, “So, uh. I guess it looks like I messed up pretty bad. I just want you to know that that’s not what – shit. Let me start over. Sam says that when me and you gave each other stuff that it’s some kind of angel ‘courting’ deal and I swear, dude, I didn’t know. You’re my buddy and it’s totally cool that you’re into guys but I’m not and,” – he sighs – “and I just want us to be friends again. I miss you and I, um. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
When Dean lifts his head, his room is still empty and there is no one at his window. It’s too cold to leave his window open, but he does anyway, and sends another, shorter prayer to Castiel promising that he’ll take him out for burgers if he just comes back to Earth.
The hours tick by, the sun sets, and Dean falls asleep staring at his window, waiting for Cas to appear.
When Dean wakes up, his bedroom is freezing, and Cas remains nowhere to be found.
Hi Cas, I know you’re mad at Dean still, and you totally have the right to be. I was just wondering if maybe you could come down to see me in the spelling bee? It’s on February sixth. I’m in the final round and if I win I get a gift certificate to B. Dalton at the mall. You can have that if you want it. I just really want you to come. So…um. Maybe think about it.
No matter how furious Castiel is with Dean, it seems cruel to ignore Sam’s request to watch him participate in his school’s spelling bee. So, he tells Zachariah, who leads the angels involved with filing and data duties, that he’ll need the day off.
“I hope you won’t be neglecting your duties for humans again,” Zachariah says when Castiel turns in his request for the time off, in paper, the way that Zachariah likes it. Organized. Boring. Flavorless.
“No sir,” Castiel says, “Sam Winchester prayed to me to ask that I attend one of his school events, but I won’t allow it to interfere with my duties.”
“Good. You may go.”
“Thank you, sir.”
His part-time internship with Zachariah was his idea. Gabriel tried to persuade him not to do it, but the work keeps his mind occupied. He likes being useful. Being useful gives him a purpose and a place in Heaven. He thought that he had a place on Earth, but he was wrong. And that’s okay. Sometimes things don’t turn out as expected.
The spelling bee sits tucked away in his mind for the remainder of the week. Castiel is good at putting things away in boxes in his head now. It’s something that Michael teaches in school, to sort out what needs to be sorted and to prioritize tasks and interactions. Cas isn’t perfect at it yet, but Michael says that he’s improved by leaps and bounds.
So when the time comes for Castiel to attend Sam’s spelling bee, he pulls his coat on and dives down to Sam’s junior high school. He touches down on the sidewalk out front, thankful to see signs pointing in the correct direction for the spelling bee. It’s set up in the gymnasium, where the students are piled onto one side of the bleachers, and visitors on the other. Castiel takes the first seat that he can find, two rows up, and waits.
It doesn’t surprise Castiel when Sam sweeps the floor with his competitors. Still, it teases a smile out of him. He’s happy to see that Sam is doing well. Even if he has no intentions of continuing his relationship with the Winchesters in the manner that he did before, it’s important to see that they’re all in good health. Sam sees him on the bleachers just at the end and a grin breaks out on his face.
The hubbub of the aftermath of the bee affords Castiel the opportunity to slip out unnoticed. Sam knows that he attended and that’s enough for him. But just as he reaches the front doors of the school, a hand yanks him back.
“You were just going to leave?”
Castiel sighs at the sound of Dean’s voice.
“Yes,” he says, “I have duties to attend to in Heaven. Your brother asked that I come and I did as he asked. Now, I’m going to go. Please let go of me.”
This would be easier if Dean didn’t look handsome as always, jeans slung low on his hips and a plaid flannel rolled to his elbows. He also looks angry, an emotion that Castiel hardly thinks that Dean has the right to.
“So let me get this straight,” Dean says, voice heated, “I pray to you for freaking months, but Sam makes one measly call and you haul ass down here? What the hell is that?”
“You’re making a scene,” Castiel says, and he turns around, pushing through the front doors to step outside in the brisk February air.
Naturally, Dean comes running after him, this time keeping his hand around Castiel’s wrist in a vice grip. He says, “Of course I’m making a scene. You’re my best fucking friend, and then you vanish on me, and no matter what I do you won’t come down to see me. I want an explanation, man.”
“You’re doing perfectly well without me,” he replies, shifting his gaze just over Dean’s shoulder, where Mary and Sam stand with the attractive dark-haired girl that Castiel saw Dean tangled with all those months ago. She looks like she wants to say something, but Castiel doesn’t want to hear it. Not now. He used to have a place on Earth and now he doesn’t. It’s as simple as that.
“Just because I’m okay doesn’t mean I don’t need you around,” Dean says, and waves a hand at Castiel’s clothing, “And what the hell is all this?”
“My clothing,” Cas replies.
“You’re wearing suit pants,” Dean says.
“Yes,” Castiel says, “I have an occupation in Heaven that has a dress code.”
“This isn’t you, man!” Dean shouts.
That makes Castiel angry. His carefully compartmentalized feelings, just like that, spill over and vanish into oblivion. Fury makes his feathers bristle and his face hot. He demands, “How do you know who I am? How, Dean? You don’t. You don’t know who I am and it isn’t your business to know.”
“Is this about the stupid mating thing?” Dean snaps back.
The words are like a kick to Castiel’s gut. Fury melts into humiliation, because Dean knows. He’s known that Dean knows, because Dean won’t stop apologizing in his prayers and insisting that he didn’t know about the courting customs. Unfortunately, whether or not Dean was aware of the mating claim, the result is that Castiel believed he had a place that he belonged, that he had people that loved him, and that he doesn’t anymore.
Sam pushes his way in between them. Only then does Castiel realize how close he and Dean were to each other, and how it is the closest that he’s been to Dean since September. His heart clenches with the knowledge.
“Don’t say that to Cas,” Sam says.
“Say what? He’s the one ditching us,” Dean says with a furious gesture.
“Don’t call the mating ‘stupid’ or ‘a thing,’” Sam says, “It’s not just something you can blow off. Angels mate for life, you big dumb jerk. Once they’ve chosen and their mate accepts their offer – which you did, by the way – then that’s it. You’re the one. Cas is gonna be all on his own for the rest of his life because you messed everything up and now you’re going and blaming it on him? I can’t believe you.”
Castiel has heard enough. He jets into the air before anyone can tell him otherwise, flying Heavenward as fast as he can. His eyes burn and his cheeks are hot with shame and this is everything that he feared it would turn out to be. He knows what Sam said is true but hearing the words from someplace other than his own head makes the sting fresher.
He will be alone for the rest of his life.
If Castiel remains in Heaven, that life is immortal.
He will be alone for all of it.
Castiel doesn’t have the slightest concept of whatever forever will feel like. He hasn’t even existed for seventeen years yet and he’s expected to wait out millennia with no one by his side? No one to care for and to care for him in return?
With a rush of wind, Castiel throws open the doors to Gabriel’s home and slams them behind himself, running straight for his bedroom. Seeing all his things makes him even angrier. He hasn’t had the heart to stow away Dean’s gifts to him, even though he knows that the gifts don’t mean what he thought they did. Looking at them now makes him feel lonelier than ever, empty and afraid and not okay.
No matter how many part-time filing jobs he takes after his classes, no matter how many slacks and button-downs he puts on, nothing will change Castiel’s time on Earth with the Winchesters. Nothing will take back the courtship or the misunderstanding, nothing will take back the font of wonderful memories and the sour burn of the last few, and above all, nothing will take away the resounding hollowness left inside him, the place where his mate should go, the place where Dean should be.
Cas, hey, come back, I didn’t mean to –
That’s when Castiel tries something that he has never tried before. He claps down the doors of his mind and shuts Dean out completely, cuts off the connection of prayer. His head goes silent but in its place the claws of a headache dig into him. The pain is so keen that Castiel topples over onto the floor of his bedroom and curls into a fetal position, holding his limbs close to his torso as his cheeks get wet with tears.
He knows he could end the pain if he opened back up to prayer, but anything is better than Dean’s voice. Anything is better than meaningless apologies and babbling over everything that Cas did wrong. The blood running through him feels like lava and his breath comes hard and fast. Everything is on fire, every atom that he is made up bursts into flame until his whole body screams at him to let the prayers back in.
But Castiel doesn’t listen to his body, and instead lets everything around him go blissfully, perfectly black.
“FUCK,” Dean yells, and collapses in heap in the parking lot at Sam’s school before he has time to comprehend what’s going on. His whole body feels like it’s been put through a wood chipper and his brain throbs in his skull. His heart palpitates in his chest and, for a second, he thinks that he’s having a heart attack.
Somebody’s hands roll him onto his side and the blurry image of his mom swims in his vision. Her lips are moving but Dean can’t hear anything and holy shit, is he dying?
The last thing that he comprehends is the vague, familiar sound of his brother’s voice and what feels like the tarmac shaking underneath his head. He might vomit, though Dean isn’t sure, and then everything goes blank and fizzy like a television screen after a tape goes past the credits.
When he comes to, it’s in a hospital room, hooked up to blinking, beeping machines with an IV the crook of his arm. He groans, a noise that brings the people at his bedside to attention. Relief washes over his mom’s face when they meet eyes, and Sam mutters a thankful curse.
“What – the fuck,” he manages. His mom doesn’t bother telling him to watch his language, which must mean that whatever happened to him must have scared the bejeezus out of her. Dean tries to rewind back to the last thing that he remembers, falling at first on the argument that he and Cas got into in front of Sammy’s school, and Cas flying off while Sam was giving Dean an earful.
“I was praying,” he says, “I was praying to Cas and then I don’t remember anything after that. What happened?”
His mom chews on her lip and she frowns the kind of frown that tells Dean that whatever she’s going to say is something that he probably will not like at all. She exhales and says, “Castiel severed the connection of the prayer.”
“He, um. They can do that?”
“I’ve only seen it once before, so I don’t think that it happens too often,” his mom says. She smooths back his hair with a gentle hand and kisses his forehead. The exhaustion in Dean is so deep that he doesn’t even protest, just lets her fuss while he sits like a vegetable in a narrow hospital bed. She murmurs, “I’m glad you’re okay.”
“What about Cas?” Dean asks.
“It’s painful for an angel to close their mind to prayer,” mom says, “which I think is why cases like yours crop up so infrequently. Castiel is probably knocked out just like you are in a bed just like this up in Heaven, if I had to guess. He was very angry at you.”
“Shit,” Dean says, “Am I okay?”
“I think so,” his mom says, “It seems like you’re just kind of shaken up. How do you feel?”
“Tired,” he answers.
A doctor enters the room at the tail end of Dean’s answer, a down-to-earth looking guy that instructs Dean to just call him “Dr. Sonny.” He checks Dean’s vitals and scribbles everything down on clipboard that he hangs at the foot of Dean’s bed before he says, “You look pretty stable to me, but I’m gonna have to recommend that you avoid praying to whichever angel it was that cut you off like that, at least as long as there’s the chance that they’ll do it again.”
Dean has no idea how long that might be. Cas wouldn’t answer him for months, and now he’s so ticked off at Dean that he’s willing to hurt them both just so that he doesn’t have to listen to Dean anymore. It makes something deep down in Dean’s chest ache like a sprained ankle, like he’s worked himself too hard and pushed too far.
“But he’s my best friend,” Dean whispers before he can help it.
But he isn’t anymore, is he? Dean screwed up and now his best friend wants nothing to do with him. Christ, he trampled all over Cas and even though he said that he was sorry, he thinks that he might not have truly meant it until just now.
“You’ll just have to give him some space,” Dr. Sonny says, “I’m gonna go ahead and mark that you’re good to leave whenever you’re ready. Just remember that there’s no prayin’ for a while, okay? Both you and your angel will need a rest after this.”
Dean wants to open his mouth and tell Dr. Sonny that Cas isn’t his anymore, and that that’s all his own stupid fault, but decides the better of it and keeps quiet. He sullenly follows his mom and his brother to the checkout desk at the front of the hospital, hands shoved deep into his pockets and eyes trained on the floor.
Sam tries to cheer Dean up by letting him choose the radio station on the drive home, and his mom tries to get him to talk, but he just doesn’t feel like it. He kind of doesn’t feel like anything right now. He’s just one big, vacant space that doesn’t have enough inside it to fill it up the way that it needs to be filled.
When they arrive home, Dean immediately retreats to his bedroom. He kicks off his shoes and climbs into bed without changing into pajamas, and pulls the covers up over his head. Thick, syrupy sleep comes later than he hoped it would, but it does come, and he embraces it.
Sometime during his sleep his mom knocks on his door and tells him that it’s time for dinner and that she ordered Dean’s favorite kind of pizza, with pepperoni and sausage and bacon and all of the good bits cooked on top. Dean calls back from his nest of blankets that he isn’t hungry and for mom and Sammy to go ahead and eat without him.
His mom goes quiet, and then she says she’ll put a few slices away for Dean in fridge.
He doesn’t answer her.
A spacious room lined with pillars of cream-colored marble (much like the bathroom at home) greets Castiel when he opens his eyes. He has to blink a couple of times before he’s certain that he is where he thinks he is. He’s not at home, and judging by the garb of the angels bustling to and fro, he’s in the infirmary. He sits up and surveys the activity of the place.
Castiel has never been to the infirmary before.
The infirmary in Heaven is difficult to wind up in, being that angels heal faster and few diseases have the capability of taking on a celestial being. He tries to think back to what he could possibly have done to be an angel in the infirmary, and remembers with a lightning bolt of guilt. He slammed the door on Dean’s prayer.
Oh, that means that he hurt Dean too.
Castiel shouldn’t have done that but he was just so angry, so tired of being jerked around and treated like an object there for Dean’s convenience, available when needed and on the shelf when unnecessary.
“Oh, good. You’re awake.”
Castiel shifts his attention to a red-haired angel with gray, speckled wings, decked in a healing angel’s clothing. She smiles when he meets her gaze and says, “I’m Anael, your healer.”
“I’m Castiel,” he says, uselessly, “Your patient.”
She laughs as though he’s told the best joke that she’s heard this year and says, “They told me you’re a funny one.”
Yes, he is that. A ‘funny’ one. Forever doomed to be strange.
“So,” Anael says, “You locked out a prayer. Would you like to explain why?”
“Not particularly,” he replies.
She cocks a brow.
Castiel sighs and says, “He wouldn’t leave me alone. I just wanted it to be quiet.”
“That sounds like only part of the story,” she says.
Gabriel had always told him that an angel designated to healing duties is a wise angel. Castiel squints at her and says, “It is only part. I don’t know you, so that’s all that I am going to tell you.”
“I was also told that you’re stubborn,” Anael hums. She doesn’t press him for more information after that statement, instead placing two fingers on Cas forehead with a gentle, steady pressure. A kind of buzz sings through his body, but only as long as Anael’s fingers remain on his head. As soon as her touch lifts away, Castiel returns to feeling bone-tired and annoyed.
“What you did could have killed you,” Anael tells him, cheer sucked from her voice and a knit between her graceful brows.
“Well, it didn’t.”
“But it could have,” she says.
“Castiel,” Anael says, “How would your guardian like it if he heard you talking like that?”
“I don’t know. Dad gave me to him because I’m ‘funny’ and Gabriel is ‘funny’, too,” Cas says, putting air quotes around the word funny.
The lack of response to Anael seems poised to get him into trouble. She doesn’t ever show frustration on her face, but Castiel would bet his Grace that the irritation is there, bubbling up just underneath the surface of her skin. And that’s fine. He irritates most people, so he may as well resolve not to give a damn. Being alone is a hard pill to swallow, but being that that is his fate, Castiel should just get used to it.
Anael lets out a long, weary breath and says, “Oh, Castiel,” before she turns on her heel and walks away.
Her departure makes him believe that he’s safe for the time being, safe enough that he straightens and looks from angel to angel tucked in the comfortable infirmary beds. Most of the beds are empty, but the ones that are occupied house sickly-looking angels, angels hit with something awful, he imagines. They look the same way that humans do when they’re suffering from their influenza.
Before he can get too comfortable, Anael returns, and this time she has Gabriel at her side. Gabriel, who looks like he hasn’t had a lick of sleep in ages, with shadowed eyes and mussed hair, his Social Distortion t-shirt rumpled and sad-looking. He collapses into a plush, cushioned chair at Castiel’s bedside and says, “That was something real fuckin’ dumb you did, Castiel.”
Oh, not his full name. Now he’s in for it.
To stay on the safe side, Castiel doesn’t reply to his guardian, just folds his arms over his chest and sends an angry look to Anael.
“Don’t you look at her like that,” Gabriel says, “You scared the shit out of me, you know that? I come home with doughnuts for the TNG marathon, and I find you drooling on your fucking carpet because you short circuited after some stupid-ass, suicidal attempt at giving your boyfriend the middle finger.”
Some of the other healer angels are looking their way, and Castiel’s face burns.
“I didn’t think it would matter,” he says.
“If you’re saying what I think you’re saying, I am going to sock you in the nuts whether you are incapacitated or not,” Gabriel says.
“Why?” demands Castiel, “I’m not useful to anybody and nobody wants me around, so why should I care about sticking around for eternity? Eternity’s too long to feel this awful. My wires are crossed and I’m not the way that I’m supposed to be.”
“You are exactly the way you’re supposed to be,” Gabriel snips, jabbing a finger into Castiel’s breastbone, “Dad may be a weirdo recluse that nobody’s seen in millennia, but he always makes people exactly the way that they are supposed to be. So you’re not an everyday kind of angel. So what? That doesn’t mean you’re not useful or that nobody wants you. For fuck’s sake, Castiel, you are my fledgling. You can grow up to be thousands of years old and that’s never going to stop being true. I wiped the crap from your ass, and I’m telling you, that’s the kind of bullshit you’ll only do for somebody you love.”
At Castiel’s stunned silence, Gabriel continues, “Do you like the crap that you do for Zachariah?”
Castiel sighs, “Not particularly.”
“See? That right there. That’s an issue we can fix,” Gabriel says, “We’ll find you a place in Heaven that you do belong. It sure as shit isn’t being Zachariah’s butt boy-slash-coffee slave, I can tell you that much.”
All at once, Castiel feels small. His entire life he’s had an idea of the person that he would be as a full-fledged angel, and that person was always Dean’s mate. Maybe he needs to find something that is just his, just for him, that isn’t for Dean or Gabriel or Sam or anybody but himself.
“And damn it, kiddo,” Gabriel says, “Your worth is not based on other people. Hell. You’d think that you’d have figured that out by now. For being such a know-it-all, you sure are dumb.”
Castiel doesn’t answer that, but he doesn’t think that he has to. He isn’t sure that he would go as far as saying that he believes the words that are coming from Gabriel’s mouth – more that he’s willing to try and see if those words work.
Anael seems pleased with Castiel’s state post-lecture of the decade, and she only presses her fingers against Castiel’s forehead once more to check the health of his body and mind before she dismisses them and gives her permission for Gabriel to escort Castiel back home.
Tension crackles between Castiel and his guardian, and he knows that he is the guilty party. When they touch down in front of their home and step inside, Cas finally gathers the courage to speak.
“I’m really sorry,” he says.
“S’okay,” Gabe replies, “I know things haven’t been all sunshine and rainbows on your side of the fence. Just let me try and help you stomp the shit out of this hurdle, all right?”
“I don’t think that’s what you’re supposed to do with hurdles,” Castiel says.
Gabriel waves him off and says, “Jumping is for suckers. We’ll just bulldoze the motherfucker.”
After the prayer incident, Castiel begins to improve. It isn’t immediate and often it isn’t gratifying, but he knows that something has changed when Dean doesn’t occupy his mind at every minute of every day. At first, after he resigns his position as a part-time employee under Zachariah, he returns to helping Gabriel deliver fledglings to their new guardians. That job is nice enough. It affords him the time to stretch his wings and gives him fresh air to breathe that Zachariah’s stale filing rooms could not.
Though he likes the smell of ozone, Castiel misses the smell of typewriter ink. Zachariah himself had a computer, of course, complete with all the fully functioning components of the latest technology. But Castiel’s position, an angel flunky, required modern technology as much as a bird would require an airplane to fly.
Then, a month and a half into his outright and undocked separation from Dean Winchester, a position at the archives and library of Heaven opens when one of the bookkeepers allegedly elopes with not one human, but two. Rumor has it that the angel and her humans have taken up residence in Maine, but nobody knows for certain.
Regardless of whether the ex-bookkeeper lives in Maine or not, Hester, the angel at the head of the archives, offers the opening to Castiel.
He accepts without blinking an eye. He loves books, everything about books, so this must be his place in Heaven.
Like a duck to water, Castiel takes to his new duties with fluid ease. He learns the ins and the outs of the archives faster than almost any other bookkeeper, according to Hester. Cas tries not to preen, but he’s pretty sure that he doesn’t do a good job of that.
And life settles. His seventeenth birthday comes and passes, celebrated with only Gabriel at his side and the kind of pie that Mary Winchester would have made him had he been on Earth as he had for every one of his other birthdays since he met the Winchester family at eight years old. Castiel tries not to feel lonely or strange about the change, and Gabriel does a good job of distracting him from his feelings.
Everything is smooth and Castiel has purpose again. He doesn’t feel empty or unloved, just too busy to worry about love. He’s come to peace with the fact that this may be as close as he will ever come to whole happiness. Castiel is at peace with himself.
This is until one Thursday in early September: While Castiel flies an armful of books back to their place on one of the high shelves of the library, something edges into his mind. At first it feels like a prayer, but the sensation is too soft, too hazy to be a prayer. Sam Winchester never stopped praying to Castiel and his words come to mind much louder than the pinpricks of sentences tingling at the walls of his skull.
Instead of placing the books back where they belong, he swoops back down to ground level and places the volumes back in their cart.
Those are the first clear words that Cas can make out when he concentrates on the feeling in his head. He knows what he hears is a fragment of something else, but everything about this strange prayer comes ensconced in radio static.
I wish I hadn’t
I need you
but I can’t
because I’m not supposed to pray to you anymore.
The moment that Castiel realizes that the words in his head are the words of Dean Winchester, the gates of his mind slam open and emotion floods in. Anxiety, shame, regret, self-loathing and bone-deep sadness all at once wrap themselves around him, and he falls to his knees.
This is Dean. This is Dean in his head. It isn’t a prayer. It’s just Dean’s mind.
Castiel assumes he can hear this both because of the partial mating bond formed between them and because what Dean is feeling is so intense that his mind is clawing for some kind of outlet, finding in the back of Dean’s brain that a connection to Castiel still exists, even if it is as delicate as a gossamer thread.
And if, even through the distance between Lawrence, Kansas and Heaven, Castiel can feel the intensity of what Dean feels, then it must be bad.
Cas curls his hand around the book cart and uses it to leverage himself back onto his feet, briskly walking back into the heart of the archives to Hester’s office. She sits at a desk with an ancient, yellowing scroll laid out before her, both illuminated and protected by a thin film of grace leaking from her palm. At the sound of her office door creaking ajar, she looks up.
“Castiel,” she states.
“I need to fly down to Earth,” he says.
Hester purses her lips and then says, “How long will you be needed?”
“I’m not certain,” he replies, “but I know that I need to be there.”
She doesn’t look pleased with him, but Hester still sighs, “Very well. I will transfer your duties to Rachel for the time being, but I expect you to contact me when you know how long you will be staying on Earth.”
“Of course,” Castiel says, and with his supervisor’s permission, he dives from the heights of Heaven and toward the source of the terrible pain.
He flies fast. It feels strange to breathe the air of Earth again. Normally the change in air pressure would make Castiel lightheaded, but the broken pieces of prayer in his head keep him grounded, keep him focused. Nostalgia swaddles his shoulders the closer that he flies to the Winchesters’ home.
It looks different than the last time that Castiel saw it. The tree out front and the garden in the back have grown, and the outside looks to have seen a fresh coat of paint. He dives down toward Dean’s bedroom window where it faces the backyard.
And Dean is on his bed, curled into himself, fists pressed against his eyes. He’s crying, and the pain that Castiel could feel all the way up in Heaven spears through him with such force that he stumbles forward over one of the dirty t-shirts balled up on the carpet. The noise makes Dean jerk up into a sitting position.
Dean’s mouth falls open, and then snaps closed.
“Great,” he mutters, and falls back onto the bed, “Now I’m hallucinating.”
“I assure you that you are not hallucinating,” Castiel says, “At least as far as my being here goes.”
Then he says, “I swear, I didn’t pray. I know you don’t want me to anymore and I didn’t.”
“I know,” Castiel says. He sheds his coat and drapes it over the back of Dean’s desk chair before moving to lower himself onto the edge of the mattress, at Dean’s feet. Then he goes on, “What happened? You’re upset.”
“I’m fine,” Dean says.
Castiel aims an oh, really? look at him and says, “Dean. You didn’t pray, but you needed me. I’m not sure if it’s because of your emotional state or because of a residual connection from the mating bond, but I could hear you. You need me and so I’m here.”
“But I,” Dean says, “I fucked everything up.”
Castiel exhales, running a hand through his hair. He says, “You didn’t know. It took time for me to admit that, but I realize that you didn’t understand the implications of my gifts or…intimacy that we shared.”
“Intimacy?” echoes Dean, “Like, our friendship was just a thing for you to get into my pants?”
That earns Dean a sharp glare and a terse, “Absolutely not, Dean Winchester. I am referring to the fact that I allowed you to touch my wings on multiple occasions.”
“Wait, you’re not supposed to do that? But Sam touched your wings too,” Dean says.
Cas shakes his head and answers, “No. I never let your brother touch my wings. Allowing a person to touch your wings is sacred. I’ve only ever allowed you and Gabriel to do so, unless you count when your mom wrapped my broken wing in a splint when I was a fledgling. Wing grooming and touching is reserved for family and for lovers.”
“Oh. So. When we were little – that was like, a mating thing?”
“No,” replies Castiel, “but it was when you touched my oil glands. In certain situations…that has some sexual connotations.”
“That’s – ah, shit, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s all right,” Castiel replies, “I’ve recovered. Now, I’d like you tell me why you are in your bedroom during a school day crying.”
“It isn’t stupid if it was powerful enough to call me here,” Castiel says, “Now tell me, or I’m going to call your mother at work.”
Dean narrows his eyes, “You wouldn’t.”
“Oh, I would.”
“Fuck. Fine,” he says, “I’m a screw-up. Not that that’s news to anyone, but I was at least trying for a while. Lisa dumped my ass on Monday and you weren’t speaking to me and Charlie’s got her thing with Gilda, my mom’s always at work and Sam’s so caught up in school I just…I’m so fucking alone right now. And today, it just. I’d had it. My douchebag English teacher gives me back my paper and I’ve got a D on this thing that I actually tried on, and she makes some remark about how I should try harder next time and I just lose it. I shouted at her, I took my stuff, and I left. And I don’t ever want to go back there.”
“You don’t have to,” Cas says, “I have noticed that both angel and human schooling house serious flaws. I’m just sorry that you had to be caught up in the crossfire.”
“But it’s my fault.”
“It isn’t,” Castiel firmly says, “You did not fail. Your human system of education failed you. Do you know how I know? You are the kindest, most intelligent, most righteous human being that I have ever encountered, and you leave that building thinking that you’re stupid and worthless. You are not stupid, and you are far from worthless.”
Dean stares at him for a long moment before he casts his gaze to the window with a murmured, “You say the damnedest shit, Cas.”
“I say the truest shit,” he replies.
“I just – you should be pissed at me. I screwed your entire life up,” Dean says, “Because of me you can’t have the things you deserve and just. I don’t understand why you’re here.”
“Because you’ve been my best friend since I was eight years old,” responds Castiel, “and that has never stopped being true. I don’t want you feeling guilty or responsible because I won’t take a mate. I’ve found a place in Heaven where I belong. It’s true that my life is not as I pictured it being as a fledgling, but whose life is? I like where and who and what I am.”
Dean doesn’t say anything.
Castiel scoots back on Dean’s bed and lies on his side, a safe distance from his friend. He admits, “And I’ve missed you. Whether you are my best friend or my mate, I think that I’d like you in my life. I just needed to figure out who I am without you.”
Dean moves forward at that, wrapping his arms around Cas’ middle. He doesn’t touch Castiel’s wings, but he does bury his face in the cotton of Castiel’s t-shirt. Dean’s voice is raw when he speaks into Cas’ chest: “I missed you too.”
Part IV: 2008
“Hey, Jesse, could I have a word?” Dean says as his sixth graders start to file from his classroom to transition to their respective math classes.
Jesse looks alarmed when the words leave Dean’s mouth, and very much like he wants to make a run for it. But he doesn’t. He obediently slides his backpack onto his shoulders and stands a safe few feet away. He doesn’t say anything, but he looks a little like he’s being led to his execution.
“I just wanted to ask you about the homework,” Dean says. He leans against his desk, sitting on the edge. He wants the kid to know that this isn’t an interrogation, but knowing sixth graders, nothing Dean does will stop this from feeling like Guantanamo Bay. The kid, naturally, won’t realize that not turning in a paragraph about his experience at the Natural History Museum isn’t the biggest deal in the world, or even a deal at all.
Jesse Turner is hard to read. He’s one of Dean’s quieter students. Sometimes that’s nice, but an equal amount of the time it has him worried about the kid.
“I didn’t do it,” he states.
“I know,” Dean says, “Look, it’s not the biggest deal. But you always turn in your work and I just wanted to know if there’s a reason that you didn’t this time. You’re not in trouble. Just wanted to let you know that you can tell me if there’s something that’s up.”
All at once Jesse looks like he’s going to cry.
“Whoa, whoa,” Dean says, “It’s okay. You wanna talk about it?”
Then Jesse really does burst into tears, leaping to wrap his arms around Dean’s middle, pressing his face into the fabric of Dean’s button-down. Though surprised, Dean manages to get his arms around the kid and squeeze back for just a second before he rubs his back. He soothes, “Hey dude, it’s okay.”
“I was gonna,” he sniffles, “But my mom and dad were in the computer room and they were fighting and when I told them that I had homework, they just told me to go away.”
Aw, jeez. That’s what he gets for requiring the kids to type it up.
“Well that was kind of shitty of them,” he says.
Through his tears, Jesse manages a laugh at that and nods.
“I’ll give you an extension, okay?” Dean offers. And he’s going to have a chat with these A+ parents, too, but it’ll freak Jesse out if he tells him that. He aims a smile at the kid and goes on, “You think you can have it in by tomorrow?”
Jesse nods, tears forgotten, and says, “Thanks Mr. Winchester! You’re the best teacher ever.”
Dean glances down to the floor at that and says, “Heh. Thanks, buddy. Now get going, or you’re gonna be late to your math class.”
Like lightning, the kid is gone, and Dean feels like he’s done something decent today. He still writes himself a sticky note that says “CALL TURNERS” in all capital letters, underlined twice for emphasis, and sticks it in his lesson planner where he knows that he’ll have to look at it when he gets home. In the meantime, he’ll grab some of the crappy coffee from the malfunctioning coffee pot in the teacher’s lounge, dig into the breakfast burrito that he stashed in the fridge, and kick back until he has his final class of the day.
Overall, it’s a day that has Dean feeling good when he pulls up to his mom’s place later that evening for their traditional Friday-night dinner. After Dean moved out it became necessary, and then when Sammy left for Stanford even more so – Dean never wants his mom to be lonely, and he’s way more of a homebody than Sam ever was, so it’s up to him to keep mom company and let her know on a regular basis that even if her sons are full-grown, it doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten her.
That includes Cas, of course, but being that he’s often occupied with “Heavenly duties”, he doesn’t make it down to dinner all that often, either.
That’s why it’s a surprise to see Cas at the kitchen table already when he walks in the front door.
“Hey, man,” Dean says, “Where you been hiding?”
“Heaven, mostly,” responds Castiel, in that dry tone of voice that makes Dean want to hit the bastard as much as it makes him want to hug him.
It’s been – what, a month? – since he saw Cas, and as always his fine feathered friend is looking good. Age has done wonders for Cas – not that he needed to look any better, but high school was all gangly limbs and baby fat they didn’t know they had until it was gone. Cas is more relaxed than he used to be, and far more relaxed than the brief period of time when they were sixteen that had him all fancy in dress slacks and button-downs and serious expressions.
Now, his shoes are nowhere to be found and his bare feet are kicked up on the table (Oh, mom is going to kill him the second that she sees that). Cas’ jeans are well-loved and broken in, and his Pink Floyd shirt looks like he dug it out of the darkest depths of some hipster thrift store. The sight makes Dean warm and content. Seeing Cas means home.
He realizes that he has a smile on his face when Cas smiles right back.
“Castiel, you get your feet off of the table right now,” mom says, as predicated.
Cas shoots her a sheepish look and apologizes, “Sorry, Mary.”
“Yeah, you bet you are,” she says back, and Dean laughs. Cas reaches for the nearest item on the kitchen table – a jack-o-lantern centerpiece in honor of the upcoming holiday – and chucks it at Dean. He swears but catches it, and rushes to hide it behind his back when mom slides her eyes back over at them.
“You two had better be behaving,” she says.
“Why wouldn’t we?” Dean says, at the same time that Castiel responds with, “I am a paragon of good behavior.”
“I swear,” mom says, with a shake of her head as she stirs whatever she’s got cooking in the pot on the stove, “Some days, it feels like I’ve still got eight year olds at my table instead of grown men. And when are you gonna bring somebody to dinner, Dean, huh?”
“Mom,” he groans. Dean would really rather not start the dinner with Mary Winchester’s Anvil-Sized Hint That She Wants Grandchildren.
Cas snorts, so Dean launches the jack-o-lantern centerpiece at his head. In an impressive move, Cas catches the thing without even looking at it, puts it back on the table, and unfolds his wings to smack Dean upside the head with one of them.
“Ow,” Dean complains, “You sneaky little asshole –”
But one pointed look from his mother has him quiet again. Dean sheds his coat and drapes it over the back of the chair beside Cas’ seat and then eases himself down. Mom brings over the food and prods Castiel into helping her set out the dishes, since Dean’s been the only one at the Friday meals for ages. Dean seizes the opportunity to discreetly grab Castiel’s ass, which earns him a thunderous glare and another slap to the back of the head with a wing.
“Boys, for the love of God,” mom says, and they mutter another apology.
Beef chili with peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream make up the menu for supper, and Dean’s stomach is grateful for it. Being a bachelor has its perks, but having to cook for himself is not one of those. More often than not, he ends up eating Easy Mac or ramen noodles on his couch with a beer and calling that his dinner. This is most likely why, at twenty nine, his mom still shows up with care packages every once in a while.
(“Somebody has to make sure you’re not dead,” she always says.)
“So, how’s good ol’ Heaven?” asks Dean.
“Same as always, I suppose,” Cas answers, “Gabriel keeps trying to get me to watch this television series called Lost.”
“No kidding? Sammy’s been bugging me to do the same thing,” Dean says, “Told him to stuff it last time but he persists.”
“Brothers are like that,” mutters Cas, and Dean chuckles.
“Has work been going all right, sweetheart?” mom asks.
Dean stirs his chili before he answers, “Pretty good. I think I finally got somewhere with this kid in my sixth period class, Jesse. He’s pretty quiet. Nothing like I was.” He laughs at that, though sometimes thinking of his formative years in middle and high school isn’t something that he likes to laugh about. Still, they’re what got him here today, teaching science to sixth graders because he knows just how many teachers can get it wrong. Sure, he has a couple of upstarts, but that doesn’t mean he’s gonna treat the kids like idiots or less-than the quieter ones.
“I’m proud of you,” his mom tells him, for what has to be the millionth time at least.
And like he always does, Dean smiles and says, “Thanks, mom.”
The rest of dinner goes as it typically does: discussing jobs and speculating on whatever Sam’s getting up to in Palo Alto (the nerd), and generally just enjoying being with family, just like they used to be all the time. Being a friggin’ adult is sometimes lonely as hell…so Dean’s glad that he gets the chance to do something like this every once in a while.
With bellies full and dishes cleared, Dean and Cas hug Mary goodbye and step out onto the driveway. Before Cas can spread his wings, Dean asks, “Hey, you doing anything right now?”
“Standing in your mother’s driveway,” replies Cas.
Dean socks him in the shoulder and says, “Smartass. I just thought maybe you’d be up for some beers and some Xbox?”
Cas half smiles and agrees, “Sure.”
Castiel should not always come when Dean Winchester calls.
He knows that, and yet when Dean prays and asks him to visit at his apartment, slipping in a bribe of ‘I’m watching horror flicks and making brownies’, Cas knows that he’s doomed. He stows himself in the back of the archives and calls Dean on his cellphone to tell him that he’ll have to wait until Castiel’s duties for the day are completed.
The trick to being holed up in the archives beneath the library in Heaven is that the archives cannot boast any windows. Thus, when Castiel exits the library and sees clouds thick and angry all around, he almost rescinds his agreement to spend the evening with Dean.
But…it isn’t raining yet, and he did make a promise. So, Castiel spreads his wings and drops down, preparing to head toward Dean’s apartment in an attractive part of Lawrence, only blocks away from the KU campus. Dean has lived in that apartment since he started school as a Jayhawk, and Castiel is happy that Dean found a new home after leaving the one of his childhood.
A crack of thunder roars through the sky.
Damn it. Cas can feel the electricity sizzle through the clouds and knows that he has a limited amount of time before it will be pouring buckets and he will be caught in the middle of it. He pumps his wings faster and then glides, but the thick moisture in the air makes maintaining speed difficult.
Gabriel would murder him if he saw what Castiel decided to do.
Cas never did have fortune on his side. As he nears Lawrence, the sky splits open and belches out a tidal wave of muddy, cold rain. It takes only seconds for Castiel’s feathers to be waterlogged and too heavy to use to fly. With one gust of wind, he topples from his soar, barreling toward Earth and helpless to stop it, limbs flailing as he hurtles downward.
“Shit,” he says, and spits rain out onto himself.
He should have worn a coat.
That is Castiel’s last thought before he slams back-first onto a highway streetlamp. He barely has time to process the pain of his wing breaking with a clean snap before he’s falling again. He lands in a heap on the shoulder of the highway. A passing truck sprays him with dirty, gravelly water before he’s even been on the ground for a moment.
This is not one of Castiel’s brighter ideas.
As he shivers in his t-shirt and jeans, freezing and in pain, a blinking orange-yellow light blips into his peripheral vision. He turns his head and through the pounding rain sees an SUV with its hazard lights on, rolling to a stop on the shoulder behind him.
A middle-aged woman with short, dark hair rolls down her window and shouts over the slap of the storm, “Get in the car!”
Cas makes himself get onto his feet and stumbles forward to the passenger’s side door. His teeth chatter as he slams the door closed behind him.
“Holy hell,” she says.
Ah, yes. He’s bleeding.
“I should drive you to the hospital,” she says.
“No,” Cas replies.
“Just – could you take me to a friend’s apartment building, please?” he asks.
“Sure…if that’s what you want,” she says, “but you really should get that wing checked out. You’re bleeding all over the seats.”
“Sorry,” he says, and genuinely does feel bad for making a mess of this poor woman’s vehicle.
“What are you doin’ flying out in this weather, anyway?” she asks, “You got a death wish?”
“No,” he responds, “I am merely an idiot.” Then, he rattles off Dean’s address and reassures this woman again that, yes, he is certain that he does not want to be driven to the hospital.
“Thank you,” he finally manages, when she peels away from the shoulder and accelerates back onto the highway, “Ah. I don’t know your name?”
“Jody,” she replies.
“Jody,” repeats Cas, “Thank you, Jody. I’m Castiel, the Angel of Poor Decision-Making Skills.”
She barks out a laugh and says, “It’s nice to meet you, Castiel, Angel of Poor Decision-Making Skills.”
Castiel’s luck seems to take a turn for the better after that. He’s still bleeding and he is also still chilled to the bone, but Jody is kind, and Dean’s apartment building turns out not to be too far from the place that he fell. Jody pulls them into the parking lot in the back and says, “Hey, you make sure that you get your wing checked out, you hear me?”
“I will,” Cas tells her.
He darts through the rain and waves to Jody’s SUV when he opens the door to the apartment building. As she pulls away, Castiel takes shelter inside. In place of taking the stairs to Dean’s fourth-level apartment as he typically would, he opts to huddle in the elevator. His wing burns with pain, and he wonders if he should have taken Jody up on her offer to drive him to the hospital instead of insisting that he be brought to Dean.
Dean’s eyes go wide when he answers Castiel’s knock.
“Holy fuck, what happened to you?” he asks, and herds Castiel inside, “Jesus Christ, you’re bleeding. Here, stand in the kitchen and don’t get any on the carpet.”
“I thought I could beat the storm,” Cas tells him, “and now I broke my wing.”
“Again?” Dean shoots him an incredulous look, “You dumb, idiot, moron angel. You could have died, and then who the heck would play Xbox with me and make my mom laugh? Ah, fuck. Mom. I’m gonna call mom. You – sit down or something. I’ll grab some clothes, too.”
(By scribblyscratch on tumblr)
Cas takes the invitation to sit, pulling out one of the mismatched chairs from Dean’s small kitchen table and lowering himself onto it. He can hear Dean’s voice speaking in rapid sentences from his bedroom, but Castiel only catches bits and pieces of what Dean is saying. He thinks he’s asking Mary what to do, and then telling Mary that she should come – probably because he thinks he’ll mess something up if he isn’t supervised, though Cas knows as well as anyone that Dean could throw together a wing splint with no trouble at all.
“All right,” Dean says, “Mom says I should probably cut you out of your wet t-shirt. Here are some boxers and sweats. I’ll get a blanket after we get you out of this shirt.”
Dean throws open a handful of his kitchen drawers before he procures a pair of scissors. He exhales when he brings them back to Cas and says, “Hey, you tell me if I hurt you, all right?”
Dean doesn’t hurt him. He makes quick work of divesting Castiel of his wet t-shirt, cutting from each of the wing sleeves to the collar and then in a jagged line down Castiel’s back. It’s a relief to have the fabric unstuck from his skin, but now Cas feels even colder than he did before. Dean orders him to change out of his jeans in the bathroom, and Castiel moves to obey, but –
“Dean,” he says, feeling the blood rise high on his cheeks.
“Yeah, what’s up?” Dean says from the other side of the bathroom door.
“I, um. I can’t really bend down far enough to get my clothes off with my wing like this,” he says, “and also my jeans are sticking to me.”
“Crap,” Dean says, “All right, let me in. I’ll help.”
“Don’t laugh,” Cas says.
Which naturally means that Dean does exactly that when he sees Castiel trapped with his jeans down to mid-thigh and his boxer-briefs bunched up and partially down over the curve of his ass. Dean stifles his snorts into his hand and says, “Sorry, sorry.” But he doesn’t stop laughing, even when he reaches down to start tugging Cas’ jeans down. Castiel steps out of the legs when instructed, and tries not to let himself be bothered when the boxer-briefs are gone too and he’s naked in front of Dean.
“Dude, monster dick much?” Dean says.
“Monster. Dick. Much?” Dean repeats, punctuating every word.
“Are you commenting on the size of my penis?” Castiel asks.
“Yup,” Dean replies, but before Castiel can come up with a retort for that, Dean is crouched on the ground with the boxers, commanding, “All right, get in my pants, pretty boy.”
Castiel hits Dean for that but does as he’s told, repeating the motion with the sweatpants.
“That wasn’t too bad,” Dean remarks.
Easy for you to say, Castiel wants to say back.
“Okay. Good. Cool,” Dean says, “Uh, sit back down in that chair. Mom said we should get you warm and dry. I’m gonna run next door and see if I can’t find a hair dryer.”
This is how Castiel ends up with a space heater plugged in on Dean’s kitchen counter and pointed at his head while he wears something called a ‘Snuggie’ that’s patterned with the Jayhawks mascot. Dean has a pink hair dryer in his grip, courtesy of his neighbor Becky, who has decided to hover in doorway and watch with wide-eyed fascination. He blows Castiel’s feathers dry with a steady hand, which feels nicer than he thought it would.
Mary arrives when Dean has started picking gravel out of Cas’ feathers. She has a wing brush and a medical kit under her arm.
“Castiel,” she sighs, “Did you not learn your lesson the first time this happened?”
“Apparently not,” he grumbles.
An hour later finds Castiel with his wing in a splint, Becky back in her apartment with her pink hair dryer, and Dean and Mary in the kitchen working on cooking up a pot of tomato rice soup. Castiel has become fond of his snuggie, and keeps it close to his skin while he watches Dean and Mary fuss over the pot on the stove.
“I should probably call Gabriel,” he finds himself saying.
Dean breaks his attention from the stove and passes over his phone. He says, “Tell him to bring you some clothes and crap, ‘cause there’s no way you’re leaving here with your wing busted up like that.”
And he’s too heavy for Gabriel to carry to Heaven the way he did when Castiel was eight.
“Dean-o, what’s goin’ on?” Gabriel answers.
“Hello, Gabe,” he says at the end of an exhale.
A pause. “Cassie, what’s hanging?”
“I flew out in the storm and broke my wing,” he says, “And if you could, I’d appreciate if you could bring –”
“You did what?”
“I flew out in the storm,” he repeats.
“You,” Gabriel starts, and then takes in a breath, “Well, you’re definitely not Mensa material; let’s put it that way. What do you need me to do?”
“When the storm clears, if you could bring me some clothes,” Cas says, “That would be appreciated. I'm staying at Dean's apartment for the time being.”
“I think so,” says Castiel.
“Fine. I’ll probably drop by tomorrow,” Gabriel says, “Take care of yourself, kiddo. Shit could get hairy whilst cohabiting with your mate-not-mate. If you need me – you know, just call.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Yeah, I sure as shit hope you will be, but you’re the idiot that broke his wing twice from flying out in a storm twice, so forgive me if I’m not exactly keen on investing my trust in your judgment,” Gabriel says, “I’ve gotta go. Just try and behave yourself while you’re downstairs, all right?”
“All right. Goodbye, Gabriel.”
“See ya, kid.”
As Castiel hangs up the phone, Dean sets a steaming bowl of tomato rice soup in front of him and sticks a spoon in it with a, “Eat up, buttercup. Can’t have you getting sick on top of your bum wing.” He pats Castiel on the shoulder, and Mary leans forward to press a kiss to Cas’ forehead.
She says, “I hate to duck out early on you, boys, but I have to get some sleep in me. You two behave yourselves. I don’t want to hear about my boys fighting again.”
“Love you, Mary,” Castiel says.
She smiles, “I love you, too. And you, Dean.”
Dean hugs his mother and says, “Love you too, ma.”
The apartment feels quiet after Mary leaves, but Dean soon livens it up with a grin. He claps his hands together and says, “So. I only got one bed, but since you’ve got your fucked up wing I figure I can take the couch while you’re healing up and everything. You still up for kicking some Nazi Zombie ass?”
“Always,” Cas says, and Dean beams.
Living with Cas is awesome. Dean always has someone to whine to when his days at work are stressful, always has a buddy to play Xbox with, always has somebody to split beers and nachos between and never comes home with that cruddy, empty sensation of being lonely that seems to follow Dean like a little black raincloud these days.
Dean sucks at romantic relationships, but friendships, he can do. It’s a relief to have somebody with him at home, just so he knows that he has somebody to see when the day is done. He’s never been like Sam, who needs to be alone in order to decompress. Dean likes to leech happiness from his loved ones, personally. He doesn’t mean to sound like a parasite, but hey, when the people he loves are happy, then he’s happy too.
And Cas, crapped-out wing and all, seems to be content more often than not. He takes to reading every book that Dean has in his apartment and experimenting with every Tupperware container that he finds in Dean’s fridge, which ends in tragedy an impressive once: when for some ungodly reason, Cas managed to find a thing of tuna casserole that Dean can’t recall existing. That day Dean takes care of Cas, making sure he’s careful with his wing and draining the barf bowl when necessary.
“I do not like being sick,” Castiel says, but thanks to his magic-angel-constitution, he only endures the vomit-fest for a handful of hours before he’s back on his feet like nothing even happened.
And okay, it’s not all smooth as butter. It doesn’t feel like a mistake when Dean thinks of it. He just thinks that maybe he needs to get laid. It’s after a rough day at work, when he has to send a kid to the principal’s office for throwing a chair during class, and he breaks his favorite friggin’ coffee mug, and it’s just all around a terrible time.
He goes out. He gets trashed at some crappy bar, and he meets some honey blond babe with whorls of ink that Dean can see on her lower back when she bends over to adjust her strappy high-heeled shoe. She sees him staring and she smiles the smile, the one that tells him that he’s in if he wants it.
So Dean takes her home, laughing with her in between whiskey-flavored kisses as they stumble through his apartment and land on his bed. He doesn’t remember seeing Cas when he straddles the chick and pulls her tank top over her head.
But Cas definitely was there, and Dean definitely sees him in the morning.
Lydia – her name is Lydia – is just as hungover as he is in the morning, but she still somehow finds it in her to get excited when she sees Cas in the kitchen.
“You’re an angel,” she says.
“Yes,” is all that Cas replies, “Would you like some coffee?”
“Yeah, thanks,” she says, and accepts a mug of joe that Cas pours for her. He hands one to Dean too, and it freaks him out. Cas shouldn’t be this calm. Dean knows that they don’t talk about the mating thing, don’t talk about the reason why Cas never has some angel boyfriend to bring home, but he knows there’s something there that hasn’t been resolved.
And he feels like crap.
When Lydia leaves, Dean can’t help but ask, “You’re being cool about this.”
“Mm,” is the response that he receives.
“Aren’t you pissed at me?”
“For sleeping with a girl you picked up at a bar? No,” Castiel says.
“You sound pissed, man,” Dean says.
He doesn’t know why this whole thing makes him feel all guilty and hot under his collar. Cas doesn’t run his life, and he certainly doesn’t determine what Dean does with his dick. Fuck. Cas hasn’t even said anything about it, but somehow Dean feels like an asshat anyway.
“Am I angry with you for the sex? No,” Cas says, “but I do find it frustrating that you offered your home as a place for me to recover while my wing is injured, and I had to sleep on the floor last night because I can’t sleep comfortably on the couch while my wing is broken. If you can’t control your libido, I can always stay at your mother’s house.”
“Aw, fuck,” Dean says, and smears a hand over his face, “I’m sorry, man. I didn’t – I should’ve thought of that. I’m a crappy friend.”
“You aren’t a crappy friend,” Cas says, “You’re just occasionally infuriating. It’s okay to desire companionship.”
“Yeah, but – you can’t,” Dean says.
Castiel looks up at that and meets his eyes. He steeples his fingers and says, “I don’t want to discuss this.”
“I get that, but dude, are you sure you can’t find somebody? There’s no sexy angel up in Heaven that you could get behind…uh. Getting behind?” he asks.
“Dean,” Castiel says, and slams down his coffee mug, “It isn’t a matter of not being able to find a companion. The issue is that I made a poor decision as a fledgling and now I won’t desire a romantic companion again.”
A romantic companion that isn’t Dean. Cas conveniently leaves that part out.
“I’m sorry,” Dean says.
“There’s no need to apologize,” Castiel replies, “I thought we’d gotten past this. You know I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry for that, too,” Dean says, and scratches the back of his neck, “and we are. You know. Past it.”
And even though nothing feels good or cool, they leave it at that. Dean can’t figure out why the hell he still feels so damn guilty over some one-off with some chick from a bar, especially since Cas said it didn’t matter. Something scrapes at him, rubbing him raw, and he can’t put his damn finger on what it is.
Over the days that follow, it seems to sort itself out.
For about ten seconds.
Everything is peachy until one Wednesday night, when Cas howls with laughter when Dean eats it in Call of Duty. He turns to make a snappish remark but it freezes on his tongue. Cas has an awesome laugh, and an awesome face, and damn, he’s probably Dean’s favorite person both on Earth and in Heaven. Warmth blossoms deep in his gut, and Dean realizes –
Oh, fuck. He likes Cas.
That’s so fucked up. How long has he felt this way? When Dean thinks back, he can’t recall a time when having Cas at his side didn’t make him feel pleasantly warm and right, like a puzzle piece snugly fit in the right place. Just – crap. Crap, damn, shit, fuck. Dean likes Cas, and Dean also fucked up everything between them that could mean something more than just two dudes drinking beers and shooting the shit.
“Are you feeling well, Dean?” asks Cas.
Only then does Dean notice that the Xbox is on pause and that Castiel is squinting at him like he’s grown a second head.
“I, um,” he starts, “I don’t know.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
That’s when Dean crashes back down to Earth and realizes that there is no way that he can tell Cas any of the shit that just crossed his mind. Dean screwed Cas over and he can honestly see no way that Cas could ever forgive him enough for that to put his mouth on Dean’s for a little bit or whatever.
Hell, does Cas even know that Dean likes dudes too? It took him forever to figure it out for himself that it was okay, that it didn't need to be a secret, and one day he was a scrappy twenty one year old on the KU campus with his eyes honed in on a fine ass, a fine ass that belonged to a dude. It clicked for him then, and after putting his personal discovery to good use between the sheets, he’s been pretty quiet about it. Dean isn’t ashamed or anything, it just…is what it is.
But it figures that the realization would come too late. Figures that now, when he’s about to hit the big three-oh (and Dean’s pretty sure that the second he’s thirty his mom will use it as ammo in her quest for grandchildren), he realizes that he may or may not be totally head over heels for his best friend. And he may or may not have always been.
“Uh,” Dean says, when he remembers that Cas just asked him a question, “I’m cool. Just a headache. I think I might turn in early.”
“Oh,” Cas says, “All right. I’ll leave, then.”
The awkward part of having Cas as his temporary roommate is that sleeping on the couch lends Dean about zero privacy, and privacy is exactly what he needs right now. Thankfully, Cas seems to get that on some weird angel level and bids him goodnight before he disappears into Dean’s bedroom.
Dean takes the opportunity given and punches Charlie’s number into his phone. It rings three times before she picks up and says, “Somebody had better be dying, Winchester. I was busy eating my girlfriend’s cunt, so if you’ve injured yourself just call 911.”
“This is an emergency,” Dean says in an urgent whisper.
He hears Charlie sigh on the other end and knows that she’ll talk him through this, no matter what important sexual deviation she was up to. The vague timbre of her voice sounds in the background – probably apologizing to Gilda for leaving her hanging – and then she says, “All right, hit me.”
“I think I like Cas,” he says, and throws a glance over toward his bedroom door. It’s still closed, but just in case he’s being too loud, he sinks further down onto the couch and yanks a blanket over his head.
“Shit, I hope you do,” Charlie says, “You’ve only been best friends over twenty years.”
“Don’t be a smartass, man,” says Dean, “I’m freakin’ out here. One minute me n’ him are playing Call of Duty and the next minute I’m here like, fuck, I think I love this guy. What the hell am I supposed to do? Help me Charlie Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.”
That at least teases a chuckle out of her. She says, “Look, Dean. Most of the time, you’re not an idiot. And then sometimes, you’re so stupid that it blows my mind. You and Cas have always been a thing. Everyone but you knows that.”
“Bullshit,” Dean says, “After the whole high school thing blew over, we’ve just been buddies again.”
“If you really believe that, I will eat my nuts,” Charlie says.
“You don’t have nuts,” he replies.
“I’ll eat my strap-on, then. How about that?”
Dean groans and runs his fingers through his hair. It’s hot underneath his blanket now, but he is unwilling to pull it off of his face until he has this resolved. Charlie isn’t getting how messed up this is. How messed up Dean is. He says, “Charlie, I totally screwed him over. There’s no way he’s interested in my dumb ass now.”
“God, Dean,” Charlie moans, and he can hear the eye-roll in the tone of her voice, “What part of ‘angels mate for life’ is escaping you? Cas is not over you. He never was over you, and he never will be over you. This is on you. It is up to you to nut up and tell the dude. This is the climax of your movie, hero.”
“My movie is not a romantic comedy,” Dean complains.
“It kind of is, Bridget Jones,” Charlie replies, “’Cause it sure as shit isn’t an action flick. You’re in love with your best friend since childhood, who happens to currently be living in your apartment because he injured himself, because sometimes he’s just as stupid as you are. What about that doesn’t scream ‘romantic comedy’?”
Dean is so dismayed that he can’t even spit out a witty retort. His silence, of course, is what actually gets the kind of reaction he was hoping for from Charlie. She sighs and says, “Hey. How about we go for drinks tomorrow night? Just you and me. I’m totally positive that you can figure this out.”
“That makes one of us,” he grumbles.
“Quit being such a Grumpy Gus,” Charlie says, “You wanna just do Roadhouse as usual?”
“Chin up, jeez,” Charlie tells him, “I’m gonna go finish what I started, so don’t call me in like five minutes in a panic, okay? I’ll see you tomorrow night. Seven okay?”
“Sure,” he says again.
“Dean,” she urges.
“Yeah, it’s good,” he says, “What do you want me to say?”
“I want you to have a little faith in yourself,” she says, “I’m peacing out. Don’t get yourself knocked up before tomorrow night or anything.”
“Ha ha. Very funny.”
“I know,” she says, and with that the phone clicks dead.
Dean still waits a couple of seconds before he pulls the blanket off of his face and stares at the ceiling. He should get up and turn the lights off, but this whole epiphany-slash-shitshow-slash-clusterfuck makes him want to bury his face in his couch and never move.
He falls asleep like that, body slung over the couch with his blanket tangled up in his legs. Dean is vaguely aware of the lights being turned off at some point, and finds his blanket pulled up over his body instead of kicked to the end of the sofa. He feels warm, and snuggles in for a good night’s sleep.
The familiar environment of the Roadhouse gives Dean a modicum of comfort, even with the reason for Charlie sitting across from him hangs over his head like a storm. She sips her beer and laughs at something that Jo says like Dean isn’t having a crisis. He tips the rest of his own drink down his throat and then says, “Hey Jo, can you get me a shot a’ Jack?”
“You got it, cowboy,” she says, all smiles.
Sometimes it’s weird to see Jo working at the Roadhouse, getting hit on by greasy-looking, creepy dudes and taking them down a peg in the exact same moment. She’s kind of his baby sister, and it makes him both protective of her and annoyed by her. Right now he’s suffering the latter, because damn it, he doesn’t want his kid sister to overhear that he’s in the middle of a friggin’ catastrophe.
“Dean, lighten up,” Charlie says.
“Did you invite me out here just to make me feel like a jackass?”
“Pretty much, although I don’t think you need help with that,” she says. He throws his coaster at her, which she dodges. Charlie sighs as Jo sets Dean’s whiskey in front of him and says, “Look, I get that you’re messed up over this, but it’s honestly not a big deal, you know? Ask him on a date or something. Or just like out, like you guys normally would. And then after you guys are all pumped from having a great time, you can tell him what’s been going through your head.”
That sounds reasonable, but Dean also suspects that it will be much more difficult in its execution than it is while it’s still merely in Dean’s head.
Instead of answering Charlie, Dean downs his whiskey.
“I slept with some random chick while Cas was in the apartment,” blurts Dean.
“I mean, not like last night. It was a couple weeks ago. He didn’t seem that pissed off at me ‘cept for the part where he had to sleep on the floor, but what if he doesn’t believe me if I tell him that I’m – that I’m –”
“That you have feelings for him?” Charlie suggests.
“Dean, Cas knows you,” Charlie tells him, “sometimes you do stupid crap, but everyone sometimes does stupid crap. You’re also loyal as hell, like all Hufflepuff style, and I think – and by think I actually mean that I am positive – that Cas will know that you’re being genuine.”
“What if he blows me off?” asks Dean.
“I don’t think he’ll blow you off,” Charlie says, “but if I’m wrong about everything – which I am not – then at least you tried. You can’t stop yourself from doing crap because you’re scared.”
“I’m not scared.”
“You are pants-shittingly, Shelob-facing scared. It’s normal. Don’t sweat it,” she says.
“This is not normal,” he mutters. Yeah, right. Sweaty palms, the magical sensation of his stomach feeling like it might drop out of his ass at any moment – totally normal.
“Trust me,” Charlie says, “it’s normal. Remember when I was so nervy over asking Gilda to move in?”
“That’s different,” Dean says, “She loves you.”
Charlie cocks one brow, and Dean wants to protest. Cas doesn’t love him. But Dean doesn’t vocalize his disagreement. Instead, he wonders if maybe Charlie is right, or even if she isn’t, that maybe Cas could love him. And that’s enough to grease the wheels and get things going.
Three days later, Dean unwraps the bandages from Cas’ wing and he knows that his chance to set things straight is now or never. Castiel’s feathers are fucked up and out of shape from being confined and therefore unable to be cleaned.
Dean clears his throat and asks, “Hey, um. You want me to clean ‘em up? I won’t touch your oil glands if you don’t want me to.”
Castiel, instead of answering, gives an experimental stretch of his wings. His wingspan is fucking huge, the kind of thing that awed Dean as kid and floors him now. Shit, they’re gorgeous. Even rumpled and dirty, Cas’ wings are this liquidy blue-black that Dean could drown in. He stands by the assessment he made as a kid that these things are badass, because they are.
“Would you be comfortable with doing that?” Cas finally asks, and he folds his wings back up.
“Yeah, dude,” Dean says, “and besides, I wanted to have one more awesome day with you on Earth before you return to your Heavenly doodoo or whatever.”
“That’s what I said.”
Cas makes an irritated noise and says, “Just shut up and fix my wings.”
“So I was thinking,” Dean says, and tries not to sound as nervous as he is, “that maybe after we get these bad boys all gussied up that we could grab some burgers and visit the arcade like we used to. I mean. It might be weird, since we’re kind of not twelve anymore, but I dunno. I’ve been feeling all nostalgic.”
Cas casts a sidelong glance over the curve of his wing and hums, “That sounds nice. I’d like that.”
Which is how Dean ends up sitting across from a clean-winged angel at one of the local dives, sweating bullets. He stammers at the waitress when he orders his cheeseburger with extra bacon, and then proceeds to knock over his coke when he makes a sweeping gesture with his right hand. Cas frowns at him in that thoughtful, intent way that the fucker always frowns, and asks as they are served their burgers, “Are you okay?”
“Huh? Yeah, I’m fine,” Dean says, “I’m great.”
“Are you sure?” Cas asks him, “Because if you’re not okay, we can do this another time.”
“No! I mean, no, dude. Seriously. I’m okay. I don’t know why you’d think that I’m not.”
Cas affords this one final stare, in the space of which he must decide that Dean is telling the truth, because in the next moment, he’s broken eye contact and is diving for his burger. He digs into his good the way that he always does, like he’s never tasted it before and it’s incredible, chomping in big bites and never quite chewing with his mouth closed. It should be gross, but instead it’s kind of endearing.
Hell, this is Dean’s best friend. His kind of clueless, winged, monster-dick-having best friend…and there is no way that Dean would rather have him.
Sometimes he wonders what his dad would have thought of Cas and the little family unit that mom built up after dad passed away. He doesn’t remember much of dad; Dean was only four when cancer took his old man for good. The guy that appears to him in fuzzy memories is a gruff, stern man, and that doesn’t tell Dean much about how he’d feel about his older son being incredibly gay for guy with wings.
Dean also thinks he doesn’t really care what his dad would think, because he loves Cas to pieces and that’s that.
Somehow, this is the thought that gets Dean to relax and enjoy the date that Cas does not know is a date. They finish their burgers and split a slice of peach pie with a side of vanilla ice cream, and when they’re good and full and have paid the bill, they walk the short distance to the arcade that they used to haunt as young teenagers.
It’s a miracle that this dinosaur arcade is still standing, but Dean supposes that ‘retro’ is the new cool or whatever, and college kids swarm to the place like bees.
The way that Cas lights up when they walk inside makes the weird age gap between them and the rest of the arcade-goers completely worth it. He turns to give Dean that quirky little half-smile of his and says, “This was a good idea, Dean. I didn’t realize how much I missed this place.”
Dean feeds a twenty into the machine next to the front door to get them a quarter bounty to last them through the night, and they go to town. They start with the familiar games, old ones that have been around since they played here as dumbass kids. Then they move onto the other shit, the racing games and shooting games and that goddamn Dance Dance Whatever the Fuck that Cas is inexplicably talented at, while Dean almost breaks his ankle trying to do the exact same thing.
They don’t leave until closing time – Dean didn’t even notice the college kids filing out to find other crap to do. He’s so wrapped up in Cas and it’s just, well. Shit. He never wants this to end. That’s the problem.
So when Cas says, “I should probably return to Heaven,” in front of the locked-up arcade, Dean blurts, “No!”
“I mean. We’ve still got time. I thought we could bake brownies. Y’know, Ellen’s recipe and all,” he says, and tries not to sound too hopeful.
“Twenty nine years old and I have never overcome my love of brownie batter,” sighs Castiel.
“That a yes?”
“It’s a yes, Dean.”
Dean drives them back to his apartment in his Impala, the old, scratched up skeleton of a car that belonged to his dad and that he and Uncle Bobby spent countless hours fixing up so that she’d shine just like new. Led Zeppelin leaks from the speakers. Dean taps his feet to the music and murmurs the words, his chest warming up when he glances over and sees that Cas is mouthing the lyrics to Ramble On, too.
This is a memory that he’ll keep tucked away with him forever, right up there with the Fourth of July in 1992, and the day that Cas flew down from Heaven just because he felt how much Dean needed him. He prays that the ending to this memory will work out for the better, but if not, he decides he’ll cut the film here and remember the good times.
The kitchen in Dean’s apartment isn’t as well-stocked as mom’s is, but they manage to throw together some brownie batter, and Dean even has a pan to pour the batter into. (Though he’s pretty sure it’s the same pan that his mom delivered a casserole to him into, and he just never returned the thing)
With the brownies in the oven, Dean breaks to take a piss, if only so he won’t pee his pants when he tries to confess his damn feelings. When he returns, Cas is on one of the kitchen chairs with the mixing bowl in his lap, scraping the sides for more batter with a spatula and sucking the goo off of the end of it. He has a smear of chocolate batter right across his cheek when he looks up at Dean.
Dean can’t help it. He laughs.
“I have batter on my face,” concludes Castiel.
“Yeah,” Dean says, his gut toasty-warm with that thing he’s been feeling non-stop. His body moves before his brain does, taking him to where Cas sits. He cups Cas’ cheek with one hand and rubs at the smear of batter with his thumb, enjoying the scratch of stubble against his fingers.
Then, Dean kisses him.
It’s probably the most innocent kiss of Dean’s entire life. There’s no tongue, just their lips touching, feeling each other out. Cas stays still at first and Dean thinks that this is it, that he fucked it up and that his best friend is gonna fly off to Heaven and he’ll never see him again…but then Cas reaches up to thread slender fingers through Dean’s hair and kiss harder.
Dean has to break to breath first. He can feel the dumb smile on his face and he doesn’t even care. He pulls up a second kitchen chair, places it facing Castiel, and sits down.
“Cas, I think I love you.”
Cas just looks at him for a long, long time.
“I know you wouldn’t play a joke on me like that,” he answers slowly, “But I – don’t want to be another notch in your belt, Dean. If I’m a passing fancy, I’m not going to take part in this.”
“You’re not,” Dean rushes to says, “You’re not a passing fancy, or notch, or anything like that. You’re my best friend. And I got to thinking back and there’s never been a time I didn’t love being with you. Even when you came to Sam’s spelling bee that one time and I was so mad at you, it was like I was happy to see you at the same time, like relieved. Not having you in my life sucks balls, and I – and I –” Dean stumbles over the words as he reaches into the pocket of his jeans. He jerks Cas’ hand forward by the wrist and slaps the geode into his palm, finishing:
“I brought you this rock.”
Cas blinks at the amethyst geode in his palm and when he looks back up again, his eyes are all wet. When he manages to speak, it’s one brokenly whispered word, simply: “Dean.”
Castiel places the geode on the kitchen table and climbs into Dean’s lap so fast that Dean almost doesn’t grasp what’s happening until Cas’ mouth is on his and they’re kissing and fuck, it’s glorious. Cas’ tongue slips along the seam of Dean’s lips, and Dean opens his mouth, letting Cas in. He hooks one arm around Cas’ waist to keep him in place and pushes the other into Cas’ thick, dark hair.
“Fuck,” Dean says.
“Let's do,” agrees Castiel, “I think your bed might be more comfortable than this chair.”
“You got it,” Dean says. He slips Cas off of his lap. When they stand, they kiss again, and it’s like that all the way to Dean’s bedroom. Wet, heavy kisses and wandering hands slow the journey, but as soon as they breach the doorway, Dean grabs Cas and shoves him back onto the mattress. He yanks Castiel’s shirt up over his head and then rids himself of his own.
They kiss again, breathless and flushed. Cas tastes like brownie batter and it’s probably the best thing in the world. Dean dips lower, kissing over the column of Cas’ throat and to his collarbone, down to one nipple. He runs the flat of his tongue over it and Cas lets out this fucking noise, this incredible moan that shoots lightning need to Dean’s dick.
He claws at the rest of their clothes, desperate to get them off. Dean leans in to kiss Cas again, but Cas growls and flips Dean onto his back, crawling up to straddle him.
And Christ, what a magnificent sight. Cas has a hell of a physique, all tan and runner-fit with his muscled arms and sharp hip bones – and then there’s his cock, all red with need and hot right up against Dean’s belly. His wings are unfolded, puffed out and huge-looking.
“Why are they doing that?” Dean asks.
Cas looks back at his wings and a blush crosses his face. He says, “Ah. I’m aroused. And also it’s…a show of dominance.”
“Dominance, eh?” Dean says, wiggling his eyebrows, “Dude, I can get behind that. You think there’s any special angel thing you gotta do for sex? You said we’re partially mated, does this seal the deal?”
“Yes,” Castiel says, “Although I don’t know about any ‘special angel things.’”
“I mean, do you have top me or whatever?” asks Dean.
“That is a good question,” Cas says.
Before Dean can protest, he watches Cas roll forward and snatch Dean’s cell from the bedside table, where he left it earlier when they came home and he wanted to change from jeans into sweats. Cas punches at the buttons and Dean realizes, “Hold up, you’re not calling Gabe, are you?”
It’s too late.
“Hello, hello, hello.”
Freaking fantastic. Cas turned on speaker phone.
“Gabriel, I need to know if there are any special angel things I need to do to complete a mating?”
“Say whaaat?” Gabriel’s voice says, “Has Dean finally fucking come around? Took the dingbat long enough.”
“I’m right here,” Dean says.
There’s a pause. “Oh, gross, Cassie,” Gabriel laments, “Did you seriously call me while you two are canoodling in bed together?”
“Well, I needed to know,” Cas reasons.
“It wasn’t my idea,” Dean says, to which Cas retaliates by wrapping his fingers around Dean’s erection, stroking.
“As far as I know, alls you gotta do is have a good ol’ tumble in the hay,” Gabriel says, “Although he is human, so that could complicate things. I’d top him, just in case. But also because it would bring me great joy to know that The Great Straight Dean Winchester has been reamed up his asshole.”
“Gabriel,” Cas says, voice hard.
Cas’ hand hasn’t let up this whole time, and the guy must have magic fingers or something because Dean lets out a helpless little whimper in spite of trying to bite it back and breathes, “Goddamn, Cas.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Gabriel’s voice says, “I’m hanging up. If you call me again I’m ignoring it. Now go forth and make your sexual debut, my stripling.”
Cas throws the cellphone to someplace on Dean’s bedroom floor and surges forward to box Dean in with his limbs, one hand sinking into the mattress on either side of Dean’s head. He pulls Dean into a fierce kiss and when he comes away, he’s panting.
“Dean,” he says, “Would you, ah. Like to be on bottom?” Hell, he's experimented on himself from time to time. Granted, Dean has never had something as big as an angel's enormous erection up inside him, but why not try it the hell out? It's just Cas, and he can trust Cas with anything.
Dean smiles, “I'd fuckin’ love that. I got lube in the –”
“Don’t need it,” Castiel says, and before Dean can ask what hell he means when he says that he doesn’t need lube, Cas is reaching around to the base of his wings. His fingers come back shiny with wing oil. Cas flashes Dean a wicked grin and says, “You are making me very wet.”
“Oh, God. Yeah,” Dean says. He spreads out his legs as Cas backs off of him. He wonders if he should feel exposed all sprawled out like this, but he doesn’t feel that way at all. He sometimes suffers a little performance anxiety in bed, even with one night stands like Lydia, but this – it’s just Cas, he thinks again, and he would trust Cas with anything, so he trusts Cas to take good care of him now.
With no ceremony, Castiel slides his index finger into Dean, up to the first knuckle. He asks, “How does that feel?”
“It feels like I’m gonna slap you upside the head if you don’t get going,” Dean grits out.
Cas chuckles and slides his finger all the way forward. It’s what Dean wants, but it’s not enough. And friggin’ Cas is so gentle with him, like he’s something precious and breakable. He pumps his finger in and out of Dean and presses kisses everywhere on Dean’s body, murmuring at each point how perfect those places on Dean’s body are – the crook of his elbow, his unshaven jaw, the place on his belly where he’s just started to gain a little more weight than he’s pleased with. His stubble scrapes over soft skin, wet touches of lips making Dean's breath catch as the anticipation builds.
Dean is so occupied with Cas’ worship of his body that he almost doesn’t notice when a second finger presses inside him to join the first. Cas massages against his prostate and he lets out a helpless, needy noise, lifting his hips to ride back into the touch so that he can get the right pressure inside of him.
“I love you,” Cas tells him, and brushes chapped lips over Dean’s sweat-damp forehead.
Cas gets Dean in the sweet spot again and Dean groans before he says, “I love you too, you big dope. Now c’mon and get in me.”
Cas doesn’t listen to him like Dean wants him to. He withdraws his fingers to coat them in more wing oil and keeps on with his gentle, tender preparation of Dean’s body. His fingers stretch and strum across nerves inside him. Stars appear in his vision, and holy crap, Dean starts to feel like he might just come from this, but he doesn’t want that. He wants to come with Cas inside him, on top of him, all around him.
When Cas pulls back to slick his cock with wing oil, Dean’s toes curl with anticipation. He feels the blunt head press against him first, thick and hot and everything that he needs. There’s a little bit of a sting when Cas breaches him, but it’s a good sting, and Dean pushes up to meet it.
“You feel perfect,” Cas says, when he’s fully seated, Dean’s legs wrapped around his waist and his wings puffed up even more than they were before. He has this wild, feral look in his eye, almost like there's a bird of prey somewhere in that crazy angel mind, and Dean is a tasty snack.
Dean meets the expression with a wicked smile and a, “Fuck me.”
Castiel does not have to be told twice. He slides back and then burrows himself in Dean’s body again. The rhythm he builds at first is similar to the press of his fingers before. He’s thoughtful and attentive, and it kind of makes Dean feel like the most important guy in the world. He’s never felt that way before.
But then Cas starts riding him. His hips work harder, and Dean throws his head back against the pillows with a moan. He says between breaths, “We missed out on so much amazing sex.”
One brow quirks up on Castiel’s forehead and he says, “Now whose fault would that be?” before he pins Dean’s shoulders down to the mattress and drills into him, hard and fast and steady. He can tell that Cas is about to come undone when his movement stutters. It’s only for the barest moment, but it’s there. Dean clenches up around him for good measure.
“Damn it, Dean,” Cas says.
Dean reaches down to jerk himself, but Cas knocks his hand away and takes its place, stroking Dean as he rolls his hips in sharp, hard movements that hit Dean right where his itch needs to be scratched.
Dean comes first, which is something that has not happened since high school. He arches high off of the bed and comes over his abdomen and Castiel’s fist, bursts of liquid making everything stickier. The clench of Dean around him does Castiel in only a few thrusts later, and he buries himself to the hilt inside Dean, tugging his mouth into a bruising, perfect kiss.
A little whine makes it out of Dean’s mouth when Cas withdraws, but the emptiness is replaced by the feeling of Cas wrapping his limbs around Dean and nosing at the back of his neck. With his arms his wings come too, cradling and stroking. Damn, this - this is like coming home. He's surrounded by Cas and Cas loves him. He loves him. And hell, Dean should have known all along that he loves Cas too.
The moment unfortunately lasts about two seconds before Dean gets a whiff of burning and curses, “The fucking brownies!”
Sore ass forgotten, he flings himself out of his bedroom and stumbles across the kitchen to retrieve his oven mitts (shaped as hands signing ‘live long and prosper’, a birthday gift from Charlie), and yanks the brownies out of the kitchen. Dean sets the hot pan on the counter and tries to air away the smoke, waving and blowing at it.
A gust of air from behind him is much more efficient in this. Dean turns around to Cas, who gives his wings another flap to clear some of the smoke. This makes Dean grin, and then the grin dissolves into laughter. Here he is, standing buck naked but for Star Trek oven mitts in his kitchen, and his best friend is equally as naked and using his wings to make sure they don’t set off the damn fire alarm with their blackened brownie brick.
And damn it, he has never been happier.
A knock rouses Castiel from sleep. Just as he opens his mouth to tell Gabriel to go away, he realizes that he is not in his bedroom in Heaven, but in Dean’s bedroom where he’s been staying for weeks. But, instead of waking in the center of a bed that has too much empty space, Cas turns on his side and finds Dean.
Naked, sleeping Dean. His mouth his open and his arms are wound around his pillow. It’s the best thing that he’s ever woken up to, he thinks.
The knock sounds again.
Castiel slips from the bed, which earns him a noise of sleepy protest from Dean, who was enjoying the warmth afforded by sleeping beneath one of Castiel’s outstretched wings. He smiles at that and pulls the nearest pair of underwear up onto his hips. He’d like to alarm the neighbors as little as possible.
But Cas does not open the door to Becky or any of the other surrounding tenants. Instead, Mary Winchester stands with a box of doughnuts and a Styrofoam cup of coffee. Her lips part when she sees Castiel and her brows lift into her hair.
Castiel realizes in that moment that, having not showered last night, he reeks of the evidence of sex.
That’s one way to break the news, he supposes.
“Castiel,” she says, and ducks past him to put her goods down on Dean’s kitchen table. She wraps her arms around him and says, “I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”
“There was a change in plans,” Castiel says solemnly.
“I can see that,” she replies, “Dean always gets moody after you leave, so I thought I’d bring him something nice to cheer him up. It looks like I didn’t have to after all.”
“As the circumstances have changed, may I have that coffee?” he asks.
Mary laughs and says, “Of course you can.”
Just as Castiel lifts the cup to his lips and inhales the fragrant smell of freshly brewed black coffee, Dean’s voice calls from the bedroom, “Cas, what the hell? I was all warm and shit. Where’d you go?”
“I was answering the door,” he says, “and before you tell me not to speak to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I’ll have you know that it was not Jehovah’s Witnesses and there are now doughnuts in our kitchen. However, I suggest you make yourself decent.”
“Because your mother is the purveyor of the doughnuts and while I know she has seen you naked before, I am not sure that she would appreciate it now,” he says.
There’s a thump of movement, and thirty seconds later Dean joins them in sweatpants, hair wild and a satisfied look on his face. He hugs his mother and says, “Hey, mom. What’s with all this? Wait, was that coffee supposed to be mine?”
“Finders keepers,” cites Castiel. Dean makes a face at him, unamused.
Mary plants a kiss on Dean’s cheek and asks, “So, does this mean you two have finally figured yourselves out?”
Castiel glances at Dean, and Dean nods. Cas then answers, “Yes.”
And Dean adds, “I’m his mate.”
“Cas, you can’t put ‘Heaven’ as the address of your previous workplace,” Dean says. He’s hovering while Castiel fills out one of the many job applications that he has collected over the past days. This one is for a smallish book and coffee shop in a nook of a street near the KU campus. He thinks that he’d like to work there very much, although some of the questions are more difficult than they initially appeared.
“We don’t have addresses in Heaven,” he defends, jabbing the end of his ballpoint pen into Dean’s side, “Heaven just is. Somebody that manages a bookshop is sure to know that.”
At least the archives of Heaven have a phone number. This apparently has not always been the case, according to Gabriel.
Behind him, Dean shuffles around in the kitchen, and several minutes later sits down with a sandwich. He studies Castiel, the gaze intense enough that Cas looks up from his job application and asks, “What?”
“Nothin’,” Dean says, and takes a bite into his sandwich, “It’s just – this Earth thing, are you sure? Like, you could be immortal if you wanted.”
“You are far more valuable to me than immortality, Dean.”