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Fin de siècle

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It seemed impossible.

Dean had awoken in his own bed – he saw it as his, had for a while, but even the night before he had marvelled at it; his bed, in his home, the place that had crept up on him as home seemingly so long ago he’d forgotten when it happened – hurt, but alive.

Alive, the day after the banishment of God.

The room was soft with darkness, and the bunker was as quiet as his head. Everyone they had tried to save, wanted to save and keep with them, was here, or safe elsewhere, near or far. They had pulled it off, barely by the skin of their teeth, as they often did. But they’d done it.

It was all settling in, slowly, against him.

Alive. It played disbelievingly in his head. He squared his shoulders slightly, reflexively, righting himself completely onto his back in the bed, and then lay still, the only motion in the half-gloom of the room the rise and fall of his chest under the thin brown cotton sheet of the cover.

It meant everything.

It wasn’t in his nature to admit it in those words, but he knew he’d be passing out plenty of beers and pats on the shoulder with that same sentiment for a while yet. Hell, hugs, even. He could afford that much emotional openness after everything that had happened. He had to afford it.

His breath halted in his throat momentarily, before resuming again. He had no choice, for the rest of his life. There were much fewer things to stay fortified against.

There were no more monsters left to fight.

Dean exhaled loudly – it wasn’t a sigh, wasn’t sad or wistful, only functional – and rolled onto his side, grunting a little from the pain in his back, the pulling of the wound going up his arm that Cas had scabbed over with his powers, the stabbing strain in his legs from the incessant running, running, running of the last few months.

Sitting up, he rolled his head from side to side, wincing at the kinks in his neck, and then stood and stretched, slowly, carefully, arching his spine and arms like the handle of a particularly delicate teacup, before slumping into himself comfortably again. No serious pain. His mouth quirked. Not even internally. Not even after everything they had lost.

Maybe it would hit him later. He desperately hoped it wouldn’t be today, though. He just needed a day.

He reached around in the dark momentarily, fumbling past his headphones and a few empty bottles of beer – Will I even have a reason to drink like this ever again? he wondered idly – before he found the light switch of the bedside lamp, clicking it on. He would have given an arm and a leg for a window in that moment, for the chance to see the sun without going up all those stairs, but the small yellow disk of the underside of the lamp’s funnel was plenty bright enough by itself. The thin electrical rays of his own small localised star skirted one of his eyes, and it flashed the colour of new leaves, before falling back into shadow as he squinted and shifted away a little.

He caught the scoff in his throat before it had a chance to escape; his face smoothed out, and he reached up silently, and pulled the lamp upwards, turning its head so it lit up the whole room; the ceiling, the walls. White light pierced his eyes, flooded his sleepy face and bare chest and soft stomach with yellow. He had wanted to complain, wanted to skulk to the kitchen and make coffee in relative darkness, sit and drink it in silence as he often did, especially when he woke up at a god-awful time from nightmares or insomnia and knew nobody else would be awake or around for hours yet.

But he didn’t. Although he could not see it, it had occurred to him, suddenly, that they were lucky the sun was still in orbit around this small blue marble, and he couldn’t fight the feeling of tenderness in his chest for that huge astral body in our collective sky that spun, for eons, independently from our careless Go— Chuck, as if for the sole purpose of keeping him and everyone he loved alive.

He didn’t need to see it to know it was there. And he didn’t need to see it to love it, suddenly and warmly, either.

Besides, it was an important day, not only for the obvious reasons. Or, hell, maybe even for the obvious reasons. He had imagined this day so much it seemed more like a memory; and, now, it was finally here. Chuck had no way of coming back to this dimension, for better or worse. The resurrected monsters that Sam and Dean had killed before were all dead again, and the remaining monsters had either been cured, or displaced to other dimensions without their own knowledge. Those who were allowed to remain, who wanted their nature preserved and who Chuck had promised would be responsible with their powers, those who he knew through his omniscience could be led and shaped, would be in good hands with people like Garth among them.  

And, that was it, it seemed like. Hunting, the Winchester’s type of hunting, overnight, looked like it had become extinct. They had saved the world, if Chuck was to be believed, in those last both threatening and pleading moments of triumph. They had saved the world for good.

So, today was important. A significant number of those who were still living, friends and fellow hunters alike, would probably be converging in the bunker at some point, whenever they all managed to, on a scale not unlike Mary Winchester’s wake.

Mom. Dean winced. That one would probably never go away, even if she was alive in her own way, in Heaven, waiting to hopefully see them again someday not-too-soon, but not-too-not-soon either.

But today was important for other reasons, too. Dean had promised himself something, a while back, when Chuck officially began The End, and his hesitation to leave his room, his rumination and religious cataloguing of his wounds, all came from his simultaneous fear and joy and ultimate knowledge that he had to keep this promise; that it was owed, that it was necessary. That nothing new could start in the world they had won alongside so many others if this part of the old world wasn’t set to rights, for his own sake if for no one else’s.

He was doing some things for his own sake, now. He thought maybe here, at the end of all things, he was entitled. He wanted to live in this world, for whatever time he had left, really live in it, with no more hesitance. There was too much sunlight to welcome in.

*     *     *

Cas knew Dean’s footsteps as they left his room with the absolute clarity of a being whose senses had heard the earth come into being.

He had been awake most of the night, as was his wont as an angel, but even he had been tired enough to at least lie down and close his eyes for a little to doze meditatively, after everything the last few weeks had brought. He felt an exhaustion that was similar, but several steps sideways of what his human and more-human friends and family felt; a tiredness that buzzed in his mind more than his body, a bone-weariness that had its source more from within himself than from any extraneous stress on his physical form. More than anything, he had overexerted his powers, overextended his grace. As always.

And, more than even that, much more similarly to his human counterparts, the emotional duress had taken its toll.

But, as he heard Dean leaving his room now, at long last, his heart lightened as he stirred to stand. He had been waiting this whole time for him to wake up – or Sam, or Jack; but, still, mostly Dean. Dean, who had been so angry and hurt when he had found out Cas had made a deal with the Empty, Dean who demanded of Chuck that angels also go to Heaven when they died.

All this after all their other demands, which had already pushed Chuck’s scared, obedient but thin-stretched patience to its limit; after, even, the moment Cas had asked that Hell, both for humans and even demons, be instead substituted for a kinder version of Purgatory, at least, because Cas still pitied them all. He had remembered too well where he had pulled Dean out of, and how he had had to put him back together, piece by soul-burned piece, freckle by freckle on his skin. He had remembered too well the place he forced Dean to leave him, too.

And, despite the risk, and the fighting, it was Dean, Dean again who refused to finalise the agreement with Chuck until he promised that Amara would help remove the Empty from this version of the world altogether. “For Lily Sunder, too,” Dean had said, his voice ragged with an unplaceable intensity. “So her daughter can see her parents in the same room again.”

Like most things, Dean and Cas hadn’t really had time to talk about it, afterwards.

After the rituals and negotiations, after the brandishing of arcane means and weapons too terrible and terrifying to speak of, none of them had spoken much at all. Sam and Jack only smiled somewhat deliriously at the world, and Dean, Dean with eyes red from both crying and holding back tears, Dean, unable to leave Cas alone all day, unable to step further away form his shoulder than a few metres, unable to stop touching him with the sheer animal fear of what they were all doing, had harshly scraped his hand across Cas’s shoulder, silently, blankly, and left to go pass out in his room.

Cas did not have that luxury. Instead, he stayed up all night, mulling everything over, holding the past, present and future all in his mind at once, and turning it in his head thoughtfully, again and again. He didn’t know where to go from here; what to do with himself, what any of it even meant now, or anymore. His father was gone, his brothers and sisters rallied and assigned to specific duties which brooked no place for him.

Partially, this was exactly as they had all asked. “I want to be free,” Cas had said, and they had all repeated it for him several times; Dean, Sam, Jack. And so that’s what he was given. True free will, true freedom, if a lack of belonging to a great whole, which Cas had been both a willing and reluctant part of before. This is what freedom ultimately contained within it; loneliness and aimlessness. 

Chuck had also added a great multitude of new angels to swell the host, built more to be care-givers to humanity than the soldiers they had once been. But, Cas reasoned, it was possible that, with the practical erasure of monsters, and the severance of Chuck’s nexus of power from the world, his angelic grace would ultimately fade, as maybe would the powers of both the new and old angels. Or perhaps it wouldn’t. He had no idea, no example in history to draw on – none of his endless millennia of life could tell him anything, even a scrap or a clue as to what he was facing; what they, both as a family and as a world, were facing. It made him feel hapless, and small, and…

Human.

And so, Cas had spent almost the whole remainder of the evening that they’d returned on, and almost all night, in his room – containing little other than his half-shredded coat and Dean’s mixtape – sitting on his bed in the bunker and looking at his hands. Despite himself, he knew his vessel was wearing the very image of vexation in Jimmy’s – Cas’s, now Cas’s for so long that Cas sometimes forgot that this face had not always been his face – features. He was frozen, practically all night, in a parody of The Thinker’s pose; one brow furrowed, one arched slightly, his lips slightly open, his blue eyes scanning over his own hands in front of his lap, over and over, as if trying to track the angelic power escaping them, seemingly both fearing and wanting this outcome.

Wanting. Dean had told them, once, when he had finally admitted that he could still remember what Michael did when he piloted his body, that the archangel had spent a lot of time asking people and creatures what they wanted.

For some reason, – maybe because, of everyone, he was the most likely to ask him something so ultimately personal – as Cas sat there for hours in the soft half-light of his lamp, in-between the revolutions of his thoughts around the question of the future, this image kept coming back to him; Dean’s face, even if it wasn’t really him, asking: What do you want?

There was no easy answer; no easy or obvious path to walk, for the first time in Cas’s existence since he rebelled for the Winchesters and humanity itself. The years he’d known them were only a moment compared to the vastness of Castiel’s experience, and yet, whenever he thought back on them, in his few true moments of quiet, they were some of the most vivid of his life. Being on earth with humans, shoulder to shoulder with them, versus watching and guarding them from far away, so far away they were barely an idea, a concept; it didn’t compare. The sense of purpose ultimately didn’t compare, either; he had never felt like he knew less about the world than when he was a part of it.

And yet.

He had been certain of everything when he was under Heaven, and certain of nothing when he had been on earth, struggling to make the right choices, sometimes alone, sometimes with the brothers, sometimes alone when he shouldn’t have been. But now, Chuck’s authority was gone for good, as far as they knew, as far as they hoped – and the threat of the supernatural and even fate itself was gone with the God that had created, fabricated it, leaving nothing but free will, in its purest form, in his wake.

Cas had been a soldier, after all. He had lost many things, many pieces of himself, for worse and for better, but he never really lost that, until now. Humans would still do evil to each other, he knew – the ability to do that was, in many ways, what the three of them had fought for to begin with – but that was as it always had been; a part of the human landscape. And Cas, in the heart of his grace, felt in this moment, sitting in this small, warm, safe room, like an out of use gun hung on the wall for the last time. The evil of humans still felt important to fight but, in the end, this fight had been going on throughout their whole existence, and would continue after even Cas’s grace burned out, if it had the capacity to do so, now. Cas felt like he had much less place in that fight.

Where was the right place for a broken gun?

He opened the palms of his hands wide, then closed them into fists. His eyes inadvertently raised first to the lamplight by his bedside and then, ultimately, to the door leading out into the hallway, and towards Dean’s room. This, maybe – he, maybe, was one of the biggest reasons Cas ended up on earth. More than this, Cas knew that Dean, and Sam, and Jack; no matter what Cas wanted or thought he wanted to after all this, after the dust settled, they wouldn’t want him to start doing it now. If Cas was being honest with himself, though – he smoothed out his expression a little, his blue eyes clearing of shadow – he didn’t want to start doing it, whatever it will be, just now, either.

Free will. Maybe to know what you want, you also have to know what you don’t want. Cas’s eyelids fluttered momentarily, his shoulders dropping with an immense flood of relief.

For once, he realised, all that he didn’t want to do was fight, anymore, for a long time. There didn’t need to be a place for broken gun, or, for that matter, a broken blade. He didn’t have to be either of those things anymore, if that wasn’t what he wanted.

He slumped back on his bed almost bonelessly from his sitting position, stretching his arms out and dangling one of his legs. As all the tension of thought and worry left his body and mind for this single, blissful moment, he stared up at the lamplight thrown onto his ceiling, colouring his room a soft peach, and waited for Dean to wake up. Or Sam, or Jack – really, he would be so happy to talk to his brother, or his son, and he used those words with the utmost understanding and reverence of what they meant to humans, the understanding and reverence had been absorbed into him and become part of the fragments of humanity ultimately lodged in the cracks of his angelic chassis, his faulty divine circuitry – but, still, despite it all, he waited for Dean.

The righteous man. The thought seemed almost silly, now, and yet, Cas wryly but not dishonestly thought that this designation and concept, of them all, remained one of the next most accurate markers of authority when compared to the terrible God they had been given, and had been glad to drive out.

After such a long night of waiting and thinking, it was no wonder that, hearing Dean’s footsteps, Cas sat up in his bed almost too quickly. Light motes danced in his vessel’s vision; in his vision, and he couldn’t remember for a moment if that had happened before, and, if it had, he wondered how he hadn’t noticed. He stood, a little woozily, not bothering to put his coat back on, and started to walk to the door.

Cas wanted to know what to do. He wanted to know what he wanted.

He was about to leave, but, as he had crossed the room, he’d caught sight of himself out of the corner of his eye in the mirror standing next to his bed. So, as he went, despite himself, he frowned and leaned forward a little to neaten up his wild dark hair with his fingers, before finally reaching the door and opening it slowly, slowly, just a crack.

Dean was standing a little down the hall, oblivious, staring up at the ceiling. Catching sight of him, Cas didn’t open his door any further, ducking back in, only one of his piercing blue eyes and a thin strip of his cheekbone visible in the brighter light of the hallway spilling into his darkened room, as he took a precious second to watch Dean, alive.

Dean hadn’t bothered to get dressed properly; his hair was still mussed, and, from where Cas was standing, he couldn’t even tell what he was wearing, seeing only the arched outline of his back in his long, grey-blue house robe. He was standing very still, looking at the filament bulbs of the softly buzzing hallway lights in silence, as if somehow entranced by them, the tips of his hair lit a slight, translucent orange-gold.

Cas held the moment in his eyes for as long as he could, letting Dean pass on to the kitchen ahead of him, held in reverent silence for the loneliness of mornings that he knew Dean coveted.

*     *     *

The hallway lights, like the light in Dean’s room, had taken on a new significance on the dawn of this unlikely morning. The sometimes-harsh glow of the almost completely fail-safe electrical installations looked more like firelight to him now, grew more and more the colour of the golden hour, like the fireside of a camping trip, the longer he looked, passing slowly, haltingly under each individual round filament bulb.

He had walked up and down these hallways an innumerable number of times now – as himself, as a demon version of himself; as hopeful and running to meet the people he loved, as heartbroken and making his slow way to his room alone. But, standing there today, he felt as if he had never looked up properly before, as if he had never appreciated the colour of that light, the quiet hum of it, like a reassurance – of safety, of finality, of home.

He tore his eyes from the lights, not for the last time that day, and began his slow, lazy way to the kitchen. As he rounded the corner to it, he grazed one wall with his hand absentmindedly, open palm and outstretched fingers, rough and careful with the years of training. As he walked, he was suddenly very aware that, most of what he knew to do with those hands, so much of what he was good at, had, was and will slip through them, soon.

He banished the thought with a furrow of his brow on his otherwise still, lax, calm face. The wall tiles, going from black in the hall to cream in the kitchen, were smooth, with only the ridges between each rectangle breaking their cold plane. He was aware of his impulse to touch them only for a second but, just as with the lights, he also distantly knew in the moment that he was doing this, every moment of this slow walk, because he still didn’t, hadn’t believed that these moments would ever come, would ever happen in real life. He was aware of this impulse, instantly, and then, just as instantly, that awareness was gone again, obscured by the darkness of his subconscious.

He substituted such lines of thinking, as he so often did, by making something useful with those now-useless hands instead; a huge cup of coffee. The mixing and brewing, ritualistic, soothed him, but not as much as the smell; the smell, and the moment where, staring into the inky blackness of his cup, he side-stepped to the next counter, produced the sugar bowl and creamer from the shelf and fridge, and, unceremoniously, dumped as much of both as he could stomach into his cup.

There was no use in denial. He was too tired for denial, too dazed, still stuck in the impossibility of the moment, of the morning. He didn’t have to have his coffee black if he didn’t want to. And, just now, he didn’t want to. No matter how many unvoiced or voiced jokes were made, by him, or by his father, about the sorts of people who drank coffee as anything but black; it didn’t matter. Self-denial wasn’t worth it anymore. No small piece of it. It hadn’t been worth it for a long time.

He found his way over to his seat – his seat, in his home; he kept thinking it, it kept ticking over in his mind – and, putting the cup down next to him, looked sleepily but concentratedly over the whole kitchen, from panel to panel, shelf to shelf, fridge to sink. It was a war zone of leftovers and dishes and exploded spell ingredients; just like the table he was sat at, and the table in the library, and basically every horizontal surface in the bunker. Everything was covered in maps and books and scribbled notes, incantations and sigil diagrams and, god, beneath it all and holding it all down and propping it all up, bullets and weapons and, huh, dirty plates. This would all have to be dealt with, eventually.

He bit the inside of his lip a little, frowning reflexively, in lieu of smiling. This was what was classified as things that needed to be “dealt with”, now. Dishes, instead of demons and gods. He wasn’t entirely convinced that this was going to be his life, was going to stay his life, that some great, worse evil wasn’t going to somehow reveal itself and tear the world asunder once again. But he was so tired and so full of the after-effects of mingled adrenaline and hope that he was willing to try to believe it for a little while longer.

He took a sip of his coffee.

It was as if he had forgotten what creamer and sugar had tasted like, because in that moment it felt like the most vivid taste in creation. He closed his eyes, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He didn’t have to drink it black, and the world hadn’t collapsed just because he wanted something different today. He smiled after all, despite himself.

His eyes stayed closed momentarily. In that darkness, his thoughts flashed through everyone, all the people who were alright, everyone, everyone; Sam Mom Cas Dad Jack Bobby Charlie Jody Donna Rowena Eileen Claire Garth Kaia Alex Patience Kevin Benny Crowley Kelly Gabriel Ketch Lisa Ben Lily Ellen Jo Ash Adam Meg Donatello Billie Amara Chuck, damn him, even him, and on and on. They were alright in different places, and in different ways, and some of them were only alright because they were as far away as they could be from Dean, Dean personally, forget Sam or Cas, Dean specifically would skin some of them alive with his own two hands. But he didn’t even have the energy to sustain the ember of anger the flash paper of his temper produced. Many of those people were in Heaven, and that was alright, and many of them were busy elsewhere now, suddenly, and maybe for a while. But they were alive or, if not alive, then dead and happy and waiting for them, eventually, or they were otherwise where they needed to be, where Dean felt as if they should have been all along, where they would do more good than harm, both for them and for everyone else.

And he still had some of them, here, now, maybe for the rest of his natural life, whatever that even meant. God, wasn’t that the miracle? Or, in fact, ‘God’ had nothing to do with it, in the end. They were the miracle all by themselves.

“Dean?”

Despite the unmistakeable gravel of the voice, the sound of his own name made Dean jump lightly, jostling his coffee cup, almost sending it careening into the piles of research and weapons on the table before he managed to steady it with his hand.

“Jesus Christ, Cas, you snuck up on me!” he wheezed.

Cas was standing in the hallway to the kitchen, clothes slightly askew, Dean supposed, from a sleepless night, even despite the exhaustion of all they had done. His tie was on crooked, always crooked, and a little loose; his trench coat, which had taken so much punishment in the fight, wasn’t even anywhere to be seen. Although he was clean and the rest of his clothes looked like they were mended to nigh-brand new with angelic power, and even his hair looked somewhat neat, he had a vague, almost manic bead of light in each of his eyes that Dean could only place as a joy that the angel didn’t know what to do with.

It was beautiful, as all things were about Cas, about his vessel, about his air and spirit – or grace, Dean supposed, being an angel – when he was content, and calm, and here.  

Dean let the thought sit. He didn’t bite down on it; didn’t chew his tongue or look away or clench his hands or- or-

He left it alone. It’s not worth it anymore. It was starting to sound like a mantra.

“Apologies,” Cas responded, a small smile tugging at his mouth. Dean looked at him for a moment, before gesturing vaguely behind himself.

“Want some coffee, sunshine?” he found himself saying. He couldn’t help it; couldn't help wanting to repeat this small, long-ago moment, from when he wanted Cas to stay, like he so often did, and Cas, as equally often, couldn’t. But, this time, Dean knew well that he could. As long as he wanted to.

If he wanted to.

But Dean refused to entertain that possibility, right now. He forced the thought away, again, with a conscious effort that almost made him wince both from his tiredness and the feeling of emotional weariness that still permeated his insides. For once, though, Dean Winchester, the master of shoving emotions where the sun don’t shine, felt proud of both his ability to continue his time-honoured practice, even at the end of the world, and equal relief that at least, this time, he was using his powers mostly for good.

Dean looked at Cas steadily as his mind whirred with all these thoughts. Cas’ small smile equally didn’t falter.

“I’ll have some coffee, yes,” he said.

Dean gestured again for the angel to sit, but he needn’t have bothered; Cas was already stepping forward, into the brighter light of the kitchen, into the closer proximity, the cosy walls, the smell of coffee and herbs and crystals and parchment and gunpowder and the fabric softener Dean used on the robe he was wearing. ‘Getting dressed’ was as relative a concept as how one drank one’s coffee, and Dean didn’t want to think about leaving anywhere or meeting anyone who necessitated getting dressed for another few hours, at least.

Cas sat in the seat across from Dean, his hands carelessly brushing aside a few pieces of notepaper and one of the bunker’s extra angel blades. It teetered on the edge of the table and, out of the corner of his eye as he busied himself at the counter, Dean watched Cas watch it, neither making a move to catch the sword before it tumbled to the floor with a sizeable clatter.

“Ok, I get it, the place is a mess; you don’t have to make like a cat and start pushing things over to make a point,” Dean quipped. He mixed Cas’s coffee how he liked it, on the few occasions he actually drank the stuff; not black.

Cas’s blue eyes switched to him, his gaze laid open, warm and clear, in a way Dean had only seen what felt like a few lifetimes ago, when Cas still had complete faith in Heaven. That’s what those little sparks are, he found himself realising. Cas was finally sure of something again, after everything that had happened.

“Ha,” Cas exhaled, between a laugh and a breath. “Well. I just let it happen, I’m afraid.” He looked back down at the angel blade. “I... don’t even want to touch it to pick it up.” His low voice was thoughtful, and so quiet Dean only heard him because he was already on his way back to the table, second cup in hand. He watched Cas slightly narrow his eyes down at the blade the way he always did when he was trying to solve some conundrum, new or old, without external input.

“Looks like you’re done fighting for the moment, eh,” Dean helped anyway, hope creeping into his voice.

As he sat down, Cas looked up at him, and simultaneously Dean felt their knees touch under the narrow table, and felt Cas shift his leg a bit to move out of his way, but not completely out of range of the touch. Dean didn’t shift at all. The feeling of Cas’s knee against the side of his felt like just more safety, like more assurance that everyone was alright, that the world was settling in, settling down.

To Cas it felt only like more certainty.

“Hm. Maybe I’m done for good,” Cas finally replied, as they looked at each other over the table of notes and guns and coffee. “Maybe we’re all done? For good?” he hazarded, his voice growing a little less sure after all.

Dean scoffed. “I hope so!” he said, with an edge teetering between certainty, humour and fear.

Cas looked down for a moment and then, after a beat, took a long, deep drink of his coffee, finishing half the cup in one go. Dean watched him amusedly over his own almost untouched cup, nursing its heat in his hands.

“Cas, woah, steady,” he muttered half-heartedly, before taking another sip himself. Cas gave him a sharp, almost mischievous look, the lower part of his face still obscured by his mug, and then finished the rest of his piping hot drink in quick succession. He put the cup down among the parchment and weapons with a satisfied exhale, and folded his arms over the top of the mess of paper, leaning in a little, as if conspiratorially.

“I think.” He stopped short. Dean arched his eyebrows for him to continue. Cas was squinting a little again when he finally obliged.

“I think I never thought I’d have coffee again. Even if it doesn't taste... I don’t know,” he trailed off.

Cas’s eyes hadn’t really left Dean’s face since he sat down. His gaze felt a little like it was boring a hole through Dean’s own eyes, especially in this moment, as Cas let his words hang in the air, alone, a little too long, and as he leaned in a little too close. Personal space.

“Hey. I get it,” Dean said, at length.

Dean finished his cup in silence, and Cas sat with him in that silence. The angel carefully fingered a few of the corners of spells and books on the table, but didn’t seem to read too far into any of them. There wasn’t anything on that table that the three of them, certainly, didn’t already probably know by heart after everything that had just occurred.

Dean just watched him do all this, and, aside from looking around the kitchen at the rest of the mess, or even at the rest of the kitchen itself, Cas looked at Dean too, in the same honey-drunk haze of simply being alive on this unlikely morning.

It was nothing new for them, and Dean didn’t chalk it up to anything, tried desperately not to contort these moments, minutes passing by into any sort of meaning. I don’t know, Cas had said. Dean didn’t know either, didn’t know anything except that when they'd see the other looking, they’d smile.

Or even less, even more, they didn’t even need to smile. Dean knew his eyes softened when he saw Cas, softened against his own will and against any circumstance. Sam had told him, once, exasperated and almost offended that Dean thought he hadn’t noticed. Dean told him he was imagining things, teased him, cajoled him into shutting up. Sam didn’t seem convinced, but, Dean knew, left well enough alone because he knew to. And Dean knew that Sam knew that Dean knew that Sam knew that Dean knew. And so on, because nobody knew the other better than they did.

All this to leave Dean wondering; if Sam knew his eyes softened when he looked at Cas, did Cas, the person who knew Dean almost as well as Sam did, know as well?

Dean shut the thought away, again.

There would be a time for this. Later.

Right now, he just wanted to be present here, in the softly lit bunker kitchen, nursing a cup of coffee, and sharing equal, measured breaths with someone he loved, in the collective knowledge that their family was warm, quiet and alive.