Castiel had never minded the cold before. Of course, he had never been exposed to it like this ever in his life, but still. Where had his shoes gone? He only paused a moment to mourn their loss before continuing down the cobbled path. His stomach growled and the stones cut his feet. He hardly noticed. It was cold and he was lost.
The snowflakes stuck in his hair and eyelashes, acting cute and innocent, as if they weren't the cause of his desperate shivering. He pulled his trench coat closer around him, eying the lit windows and happy families around him. At the back of his mind, he knew he should ask for help, shelter and food, but he really couldn't bring himself to disturb anyone's Christmas eve.
He was sure he had somewhere he needed to be. Or something that he needed to do. There was always something. Right now, it was someone. But it was too late, anyway. Castiel had failed this particular someone, and that was that.
Eventually he folded in on himself in a corner formed by two houses. He tucked his feet under him and leaned back against the wall, watching his breath form tiny clouds in the frigid air. Idly, he rubbed his hands together. Any kind of action was better than thinking right now.
A comet soared over head. That meant someone was dying, Castiel had been told. He followed it with his eyes as it winked back out of sight. It was probably as cold as he was. Aren't you supposed to wish on shooting stars? Not like this particular wish could come true, but he wished it anyway.
He wished he could see him again.
Castiel shoved his hands into his pockets. From what he had read, frostbite sounded really unpleasant and he rather liked his fingers. Heavy lids slid closed over electric blue as he exhaled and drew his knees close, trying to keep the warmth in. What was he doing? This was stupid. Everything was stupid.
The tips of his fingers brushed against something hidden deep in his left-hand pocket.
He pulled it out and passed it between his hands, not really focusing on it. It didn't have much significance; he couldn't even remember how he got it, but it was still a nice weight in his palm. Carefully, he removed a match and rolled it back and forth between two fingers.
No harm in warming his hands, right?
With what was nearly a smile, he struck the match against the wall. It sputtered to life and glowed like his own tiny candle. His fingertips tingled with the warmth. The golden light reflected in the dark of his eyes and glittered there. Castiel was reminded of the candles at his family's dinner table, dripping red wax onto their silver holders.
With the candles he also found the table itself, laden with the wonderful food that his family always had access to. He picked up a butter knife and saw a younger, happier blue eye looking back at him. It was his family's silverware.
It was his family's dining room.
He wasn't alone.
There was someone sitting at the head of the table, posture perfect and napkin in his lap.
The flame died and everything was cold again. He was still in the alley, totally alone, the spent match still sitting in his hand. He stared at it. It did nothing. Not wanting to litter, even now, he tucked it into his pocket and pulled out another match. Had that scene been a hallucination? A vision? Something more?
He was probably just going crazy.
That didn't stop him from striking a second match, however.
That was his old carpet under his toes, and familiar Christmas tunes playing on the ancient radio.
That was his family around him.
“Don't hog the eggnog, Balthy!” Gabriel whined, making a halfhearted swipe for it. Balthazar coolly removed it from his brother's reach.
“That's rich, coming from the man who ate every candy cane off the tree and left none for any of the rest of us.” hummed Balthazar, batting away every attempt his sibling made to snatch it.
“Just go open another bottle, Gabe.” Anna sighed, messing with Castiel's hair. He didn't mind in the slightest. The fire crackled and blazed, casting a warm light on the scene. There was snow piling up on the window panes, but they paid it little mind, as they were safe and together and well-heated.
“I wanted a candy cane...” Samandriel said quietly.
“We can always buy more.” Anna shrugged. “Castiel, did you remember to brush your hair this morning? It's a rat's nest!”
“I think I did...” he told her, even though he was pretty sure he hadn't. It had been an awfully long while. “It just tangles easily.”
“Say, Cassie? Would you do your loving, dearest brother a small favor?” Gabriel queried sweetly.
“Get it yourself.” Castiel huffed. “What would I gain from fetching you eggnog, anyway?”
“My eternal adoration and gratitude?” Gabriel tried.
“Gabriel Milton, get off your lazy ass and fetch us all a glass of eggnog.” said Lucifer, who had just entered the room. He was covered in snow and was presently unwrapping his coats and scarves; not like a man with his body temperature needed them, anyway.
“Luc?” Anna asked. “I thought you weren't coming!”
“Just 'cause Michael's being a dick doesn't mean I have to be.” he answered, pulling several colorfully-wrapped packages out of his pockets. He tossed one to Castiel. “Heads up!”
“You didn't have to.” Castiel said automatically.
“Do you want it or not?”
“... thank you.” he replied, pulling the bow lose as Lucifer passed out gifts to the rest of the family. Gabriel had abandoned his quest for eggnog. Anna and Samandriel exchanged a smile. Balthazar thumped Lucifer on the back and congratulated him on not being an asshole.
The blue wrapping paper fell away easily, but before Castiel could get a look inside, the light flickered out. The alley wall still pressed against his back and his feet still freezing. He was still alone.
His hands shook, but not from the cold. His cheeks were warm with tears.
With trembling fingers, he pulled out the third and final match.
Did he dare? Was it worth it?
He knew what -and who- he would see next. Who else could it be?
“Fuck it.” he muttered, letting his hand fall near the wall and not even watching as the tip of the match scratched the cold stone and a small flame appeared.
At first, he couldn't identify where he was. It was a friendly, inviting house with a tree not as full as the Miltons' had been, and a banister draped in a much cheaper tinsel garland. Nonetheless, it felt like home. There was a pie in the oven, and Castiel's mouth watered at the smell.
He picked a newspaper up off the arm of a chair.
“The Lawrence Gazette.” Castiel read.
Ah, should he have expected otherwise?
“Oh, hey Cas!”
He looked up. Sam grinned and put a Santa hat on his head.
“No one escapes the Santa hats.” Sam told him.
“Why is that?”
“I have no idea. Just be glad I'm not making you wear an ugly sweater.” Sam shrugged and walked over to the mantel, where he put a few neatly-wrapped gifts into two of the three stockings hung there. “Feels nice to celebrate Christmas again. We just... didn't bother with it for a while... I'm glad you're here to share it with us.”
“Me too.” Castiel said around a lump in his throat.
“I mean it, Cas. You've done so much for us.” Sam went on, nudging Castiel's shoulder with his own. “Especially for him. You're one of us now, you know. Ohana means family.”
“Does it?” Castiel asked.
Sam shook his head and smiled. He picked up the cardboard box that had been used to store the ornaments and left the room with it.
“Thank you.” Castiel said quietly.
The front door opened with a rather impressive sound.
“I just got the most awesome deal on icicle lights!” Dean proclaimed. His face was a bit red from the bite of the cold outside, but he was grinning anyway. He dumped the grocery bags unceremoniously on the couch and made his way over to Castiel. “I see you've been Santa'd.” he remarked, gesturing to the hat.
“I don't mind it.” Castiel shrugged. He wouldn't mind a lot of things for as long as he was here.
“I haven't been hatted in years.” Dean bragged. “The day he gets one of those on my head, I will sell the Impala.”
“Surely you're joking.” said Castiel.
“I'm not, and don't call me Shirley.” the elder Winchester told him, laughing when Castiel made a confused expression. He kissed Castiel on the cheek as he went to the kitchen. “Thanks to you, I have an excuse to make twice as many pies than last Christmas dinner.” he said warmly.
“You're welcome.” Castiel replied with a smile. “Though you know Sam and I could both live without it.”
“Aliens, both of you.” Dean shook his head. “... shit. I forgot whipped cream for the pies!” he pulled his coat back on. “Great, this will be my third trip to the store today!” he groaned.
“Can I come with you?” Castiel asked.
“Wouldn't have it any other way.” Dean responded warmly, demeanor brightening considerably.
And together, they departed.
Christmas morning came as it typically did; with a sunrise. This particular day of the year, most everyone was a little less rushed, a little more quiet. Slowly, the streets came to life with people wishing each other season's greetings and strays filling up on scraps from the previous night's dinner.
The sunlight didn't do much of a good job at warming anything up, but it tried its best. It found frosted-over bells and heated them just enough to make the ice shine wetly. It found frigid noses and snowy clumps of holly. It didn't find the alley until late afternoon.
It was too late to warm what was there.
The body wasn't found until a few hours later, and authorities were only mildly perplexed to find that the man had died with a soft smile on his face and a used match in his hand.
Christmas morning's quiet little sunrise was quite displeased to be interrupted by the two loudmouth brothers who barreled through the streets with wild abandon. The shorter of the two seemed particularly agitated, and had the gall to confront sleepy passerby and question them about the whereabouts of something – or someone.
“Dean, hold up for a moment!” the taller one said, grabbing his brother's shoulder.
“We can't afford a moment, Sam!” Dean snapped. “Would he hesitate if it were us?”
“Just stop and think, will you? We don't even know how you're... here. There's something bigger at work here, and if we can just-”
“Who cares about that?” Dean asked. “We can worry about my stupid second chance later. Right now we've got more important fish to fry!”
“Thinking like that is what got you killed!” Sam exclaimed exasperatedly. “Look, we'll find him, alright? I promise. But-”
“A promise isn't worth shit, Sammy.” Dean hissed. “Now are you gonna help me look or am I on my own?”
Sam sighed. He and Dean both knew that they were in this together.
The continued the search, which seemed increasingly futile. No one had seen him. It was quite possible that no one would ever see him again, but Dean wasn't yet ready to accept that. They ducked into an alley way, not wanting to leave a single stone unturned.
“Shit. Dean!” Sam, who was a bit further ahead, called back to his brother. Dean was there in an instant.
“Cas!” Dean exclaimed, getting down on his knees. “Don't just stand there, Sam! Call an ambulance!”
Sam already had his phone out.
Dean had this sinking feeling that it was too late. For one, Castiel wasn't breathing. Two, rigor mortis was already in effect. Dean swore. Castiel did nothing. This was too unreal. He really hoped it wasn't real, come to think of it. He wanted this to be just another nightmare, and then he'd wake up alone but knowing that Castiel was alive.
“I don't think that ambulance will do much good.” Dean croaked.
“What? Oh, oh no...” Sam knelt next to him. “Oh god...”
Dean didn't even try to hide his tears.
“Dammit, Cas...” he muttered, brushing away the spent matches. Castiel's eyes were closed, and a small smile played on his lips. He might as well have been sleeping, frozen in time as well as in the alley.
Too bad he'd never wake up.
~Wimpy Happy Ending~
Christmas morning found a quiet alley, laden with snow not yet disturbed by footprints. It also found itself a snow angel.
The quiet serenity did not last as long as the morning would have liked.
Ice crunched as the brothers rushed to his side, one pulling out his phone and the other checking for vitals.
“Cas! Don't just stand there, Sam! Call an ambulance!”
Dean's warm fingers pressed up against the base of Castiel's neck, checking for a pulse.
“Can you hear me? Dammit Cas, wake up!” Dean muttered, letting out a breath he didn't know he had been holding when he discovered the definitely there heartbeat. “Come on, Cas.”
“Well?” Sam asked, tucking his phone away. “Is he OK?”
“He's alive, at least.” Dean replied, hurriedly brushing frost off of his friend. “God knows if he'll pull through. He's hardly breathing.”
“He's tough.” Sam said hopefully. “He wouldn't die without kicking your ass one last time. You know that.”
“Damn straight.” said a weak voice.
“Or... damn not straight.” Castiel added, shrugging with his voice because his shoulders felt numb.
“Jesus Christ, Cas. You scared us.” Sam said, relieved beyond words. Dean took Castiel's hands in his own and did his best to warm them up – they were like ice.
“How are ya feeling?” Dean asked.
“Surprisingly... alright.” Castiel mumbled. “And confused... is this heaven? I'm dead... right?”
“No. You're here with us.” Sam said. “We'll explain everything later.”
“I think I had... a strange dream.” Castiel told them. “You were there... and you were there...”
“Guess you could say I'm the man of your dreams, then?” Dean laughed weakly. Castiel had almost died.
“That would be apt.” said Castiel.
Sam asked if they needed a moment. Dean stuck his tongue out at him.
It had turned out to be a happy Christmas after all.