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The Weight of a Promise

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Dean sits on the stone of his windowsill and looks out at the castle grounds, where the people down below are setting up lights and turning the grass into beautifully polished wooden floors. Tonight is the night he has been dreading for so long now.

Tonight is the night of the matching ball.

He’d known for a long time, long before he would become eligible for his first matching ball, that he would be a witch. Magic runs in the royal bloodlines, and he’s been fascinated by it for as long as he can remember. It had come as a surprise to no one when he’d inadvertently cast his first spell, turning the doors of the throne room to glass after a particularly heated argument with his father.

After that, he’d had to learn how to harness it. How to make it work for him, instead of manifesting every time he experienced a strong emotion.

And above all, he’d had to accept the fact that he would, one day soon, have to choose a familiar.

There’s no way Dean—or any witch, for that matter—can possibly go through life without a familiar. Witches who have tried, who have insisted that they don’t need a bond to temper their magic, have been slowly driven mad by it over time. The bond of a familiar is strong, and sacred, and only to be shared with those who are the most compatible.

The purpose of the matching ball is to find that familiar. It is for witches to select the person they connect most strongly with, who makes their magic resonate like no other. It is, in theory, an excellent idea for bringing together eligible young witches and familiars to try and create the best and most successful bonds.

Except that Dean already knows exactly who he wants to bond with.

Even in his earliest memories, Castiel had always been there. The two of them had been utterly inseparable—the crown prince and the weapon master’s son, best friends in a time when their nobility didn’t matter. They could just be themselves, with no worries, no responsibilities.

And so they had grown up side by side, and slowly, over the course of many years and many shared experiences, Dean had fallen in love.

Cas was a familiar. Both of his parents were familiars, and their parents before them, all the way back in their family tree. It had been part of what had made his father such a valuable asset to the king—the Novak bloodline is as famous for its strength as the Winchester line is for its magic and nobility.

And at the same time, there had been no doubt that Dean would be a witch. Their compatibility was like wildfire, even without Dean’s magic having manifested yet, and he fell for Cas in every way possible. Once they came of age, at the very next matching ball, they would bond.

They had made the pact under the willow tree by the lake, just before Dean had experienced his first kiss.

It was all decided. Nothing could get between them.

And then Dean’s father ordered that Castiel’s family move and serve a Lord on the other side of the kingdom, and everything had come crumbling down.

Castiel had had no choice but to go.

And Dean had never seen him again.

~

Dean hasn’t yet begun to change into his matching ball regalia when a servant comes to fetch him for the big event. Instead, he’s sitting on his bed, absently turning the threads in his bedspread to silver, then blue, and then back to white.

“Your Highness,” they say, and Dean glances up when he recognizes Charlie’s voice. They’ve sent someone he likes to force him to get dressed and make an appearance at the ball. Smart.

“Why could you possibly be here, Charlie?” he asks, somewhat rhetorically and more than partly to himself. The faint sound of music is starting to filter in through his window as the sun sets, marking the beginning of the ball.

Charlie rolls her eyes, making her way across Dean’s chambers and plonking herself down onto his bed. If it were anyone else, Dean would be pissed, but since it’s Charlie, he just rolls his eyes. He has known her for over half his life, after all, and has always been one of his closest friends and confidants.

“Are you going to stay in here all night and mope?” she asks, reaching out to poke him in the side when he doesn’t respond and instead continues playing with the colour of his bedsheets. “Your parents are going to be pissed if you don’t at least make an appearance. Half of the fancy decorations and shit this year are because of you, you know.”

Dean scowls down at his hands, and when he lifts them off the fabric, it all returns to its natural white colour. “I don’t want to go, Charlie. There’s nothing there for me. You know that.”

He hears his friend sigh, and then she shifts, sitting so that his shoulder is pressed against hers. “I know,” she says quietly. “I know none of them are him. You don’t have to choose anyone tonight, you just have to appear and then act like you’re making an effort. You can do that, right?”

None of them will be him.

It hurts more than it should. It’s been three years now, he should be over it, but… he’s not.

Still, Charlie’s right. He has to at least pretend to try, and then maybe one day he’ll be able to actually try to move on.

And that starts tonight.

“Fine,” he grumbles, but gives her the tiniest of nudges against her shoulder to let her know that he’s thankful. “I’ll make an appearance at this stupid fucking ball.”

Charlie grins and pats him on the back so hard it knocks him forward. “That’s the spirit!” she says, in that annoyingly chipper way that she knows gets on his nerves.

Dean raises the door threshold just enough that she trips over it on her way out. She flips him off over her shoulder without looking back, and Dean can’t help but laugh.

He thanks the gods almost every day that he still has Charlie.

~

The clothes that his parents have picked out for Dean to wear to the ball aren’t the worst he’s ever had to endure, but… they’re certainly not the best. The shirt is starched and stiff, the boots brand new and so shiny that he can almost see his reflection in them, and the fancy jacket and pants are a pretentious combination of the navy and silver of the Winchester family crest.

The style isn’t too bad, but with the colours and the clear quality of the clothes’ construction, everyone is going to know exactly who he is.

Dean scowls at his reflection in the mirror and tugs at the high collar of the jacket. “Stupid fancy shit,” he mutters to himself. It wouldn’t be so bad if he could go down to the ball and just blend in with the crowd, since it might make the whole ordeal a little more manageable, but there’s no way in hell that’s an option for him.

Make an appearance, spend an hour there, and then come back. That’s all he has to do tonight—the bare minimum that will appease his parents. He knows he’s going to have to bond with a familiar one day, if he wants to prevent his powers from eventually escaping his control, but this isn’t the year for it.

It’s still too soon.

Appear, linger a little, then leave again.

Dean takes a deep breath, styles his hair with a wave of his hand, then picks up the silver coin from the desk in front of him and slides it into his pocket. He feels the cool tingle of magic settle across his skin, and watches as a simple silver mask appears in front of his eyes.

He’s ready, whether he wants to be or not, and now it’s time to go downstairs and face his future.

~

Even though this is the last place Dean wants to be right now, he has to admit… it’s pretty beautiful.

Lights glow in strings above the wooden dancefloor, polished to a sheen but impossible to slip on. Fireflies drift amongst the guests, floating and flickering, and the band situated off to the side of the dancefloor is playing quiet, beautiful music. There are people everywhere—dancing, mingling in small groups, even some standing slightly away from the dancefloor, watching or talking to other people.

Even though he’s always been well aware of the conditions of the matching ball, however, it’s more than a little unsettling to not be able to see anyone’s faces.

Dean is at a distinct disadvantage, on that subject. Between his clothing, the way he walks, and the colour of his hair, he’s almost instantly recognizable, and it takes no time at all for whispers to spread across the ball like ripples over a pond.

Shit.

He touches the pocket holding his coin, just to make sure that it’s still there, even though he can still feel the magic settled on his skin, then makes his way over to the refreshments table. If he’s going to make it through this ball with his patience and sanity intact, he’s going to need a few drinks.

Even as he’s picking up a glass of wine, a familiar comes up to talk to him. She wears a fox’s face, green eyes blinking at him above the translucent lines of the mask’s snout. “Hello, Your Highness,” she says, swaying in a curtsey that is less respectful and more seductive. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Her voice is pitched low and sultry, and Dean has to fight to keep his disgust from showing in his expression. He needs to cut this off immediately. “I’m sorry,” he says bluntly, lifting his glass of wine and pushing his other hand into the pocket of his coat, “but despite being here, I’m not interested in finding a familiar to bond tonight. You’re best off looking elsewhere.”

The fox-woman is silent for a few seconds, clearly taken aback by his blunt and sudden rejection, then turns sharply and disappears into the crowd. Dean watches her go for a moment, then sighs quietly to himself. He could have handled that better.

At least it got his message across—and to the rest of the ball, it seems. Barely five minutes have passed before it seems that word of his decision is on everyone’s lips.

Not interested. Not interested. Not interested.

People are looking at him, animal-faced familiars and mask-wearing witches alike, and to be quite honest, he’s never felt alone as he does now in the middle of the crowd, surrounded by people and being talked about but not talked to.

Not that he really trusts anyone who wants to talk to him not to have some kind of hidden agenda, though.

And so he stands by the refreshment table and watches as the witches mingle with the familiars, and some of them dance, and some of them talk, and some of them even bond.

There’s an ache in his chest that he hasn’t felt this strongly for a long time, and he feels so very alone.

~

It’s been almost forty minutes, and Dean is ready to give up on any attempt at socializing and disappear back into the castle, when it happens.

A few people have tried to talk to him after the fox-faced familiar made her attempt—some have been familiars, and some have just been witches, their eyes obscured behind simple masks of different colours. Dean has decided he doesn’t particularly mind not knowing who he’s talking to, but when it’s clear that they’re only talking to him for the sheer novelty of getting to have a conversation with the crown prince… well, it starts to wear.

He’s just grabbed what he’s decided will be his last drink, and stands off to the side of the dancefloor as he watches more and more people pair up to dance. It hurts, knowing that this won’t be the year that he finds his familiar—he’s still too broken, too fragile, not yet ready to move on and face the prospect of bonding with another familiar, even in a platonic way.

“You don’t look as though you’re enjoying yourself, Your Highness.”

The voice makes Dean jump, and he tries to cover it up with a smooth half-turn to disguise the fact that he’d almost spilled wine all down the front of his fancy (and no doubt expensive) clothes.

There’s a man standing next to him who hadn’t been there before—someone almost as tall as Dean, with dark hair that merges seamlessly into the feathers and beak of a raven. His mask doesn’t change, but Dean swears that underneath, he’s smiling. He can see it, just barely, in the crinkle of the man’s eyes.

The raven’s sudden appearance catches Dean off guard for a second, but he’s quick to find his feet again and nods, sipping at his wine as he turns back to watch the crowd. “You’d be correct,” he says quietly. “This is not where I wanted to be tonight, but I didn’t really get a choice.”

A few moments pass, and then he narrows his eyes slightly, turning the thought over in his mind. “You know, you’re the first person to say that to me tonight,” he muses, looking sidelong at the raven. The man is watching him, even though they both stand facing the dance floor and the couples that swirl across it. “You’re very perceptive.”

The raven laughs and gives a tiny shrug of his shoulders. “So I’ve been told,” he says. “I would have thought that it was obvious that you would rather be anywhere but here. You’ve been standing by yourself almost the whole time—you haven’t even had a dance.”

He’s right—part of the importance of the matching ball is to dance, to see how you fit with your prospective familiar, but Dean hasn’t even come close to finding anyone he’d want to dance with tonight.

Well. He can think of one person, but that person isn’t here tonight, and so there’s no point in Dean even trying.

And then the raven’s words truly sink in, and Dean frowns, turning back towards him. “Wait—how did you know I haven’t danced with anyone? Have you been watching me?”

He swears he sees the raven’s eyes widen guiltily, and there’s a long pause before he speaks.

“Yes,” he says, his voice a little sheepish. “I admit, I have. You’re just… very beautiful, and you looked very lonely. I wanted to come and talk to you, but I didn’t know what would be the best way.”

Dean snorts. “And you figured that sneaking up beside me and almost startling me into spilling my wine was a good idea?”

This time, the raven is definitely grinning. Dean can just tell. “Well, it worked, didn’t it?”

…He has a point. Dean opens his mouth, then closes it again, and finally allows himself a chuckle. The raven-man is the first person to make him even smile at the ball tonight, so to get a chuckle out of him is pretty impressive. And he must be handsome beneath the mask, if the way his deep green-and-gold outfit hugs his body is any indication.

For half a second, Dean is tempted. So tempted.

And then he remembers the summers he spent as a teenager down by the lake, how he’d shared his first everything with Cas. How much they’d taught each other, and how much they belonged with each other.

He remembers the night they’d spent together, just before Cas had left. How they’d pressed their hands together in a mimicry of the bond they would be able to create in just a few years, once they became of age.

A promise.

Dean steps back. It’s hard—he hadn’t realized how much the raven-man has disarmed him already—but he forces himself to put his walls back up.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and he looks away, his voice flat. “If you’re looking to bond to someone tonight, I… I can’t. I made a promise to someone, and I won’t break it. You’re better off looking elsewhere.”

For a few long moments, the raven is silent—silent for so long that Dean can’t help but look back at him. He’s just standing there, watching Dean, with this unreadable look in his eyes. Even with the lines of his magic-created mask obscuring his face, they’re still so expressive.

It’s as though everything falls away—the music, the people, all of it—and it’s just them.

“I’m not asking for a bond, Your Highness,” the man says, his voice quiet. There’s a hint of a smile in it, but also just the tiniest tinge of sadness. “Just a dance. What are the chances we’ll even be compatible?” His voice wavers a little as he says that, and he clears his throat. “There’s no harm in just having one dance—and then you can go back to the castle, and your parents will be happy, and you won’t have to put up with anyone else trying to talk to you just because you’re the prince.”

“Why did you talk to me, then?”

It’s the first thing that comes to Dean’s mind, and the thing he’s been wondering ever since the beginning of their conversation. Everybody here has a goal, a reason, a motivation. What’s his?

The raven-man swallows. Looks down at the floor, just for a moment, then back up at Dean. “Because,” he says, “…you look like somebody I used to know.”

You do too, Dean thinks. The blue eyes, and the dark hair… it’s enough of a suggestion to make his heart ache. And maybe, just for one dance… he could pretend.

He doesn’t let himself overthink it. Doesn’t second guess. Just takes a deep breath, and then says:

“Okay.”

The raven beams, bright enough to light up the sky, and Dean can’t help but match his smile. “Just one dance, though,” he says—a reminder to him both. He’s not bonding tonight. He’s not.

It’s just one dance.

The raven-man offers his hand, and Dean takes it. His skin is warm and roughened by work, and his touch feels like it’s sending sparks across Dean’s fingers. They step onto the floor together, and almost immediately, Dean sees people start to whisper to each other. The prince is dancing with a familiar.

He can’t attend his first matching ball without having a dance, right? It’s just for fun. Just to say he’s done it.

And so he ignores the whispers, the people who are watching him and the raven and speculating as to whether Dean will bond tonight, and focuses instead on his partner.

The raven moves confidently, comfortably, without posturing or showing off. There’s an honesty in the way he leads Dean into the center of the floor, neatly avoiding the other dancing couples, and turns to face him with warm eyes and a smile beneath his mask. “Ready?” he asks, and the shiver that runs down Dean’s spine has nothing to do with the magic that hangs heavily in the air around them.

“As I’ll ever be,” he says, a small half-smile curling his lips. He shifts his grip against the raven’s hand, and places the other on his shoulder. The raven does the same, his hand a welcome weight against the fabric of Dean’s coat, and then before he can really even think about what to do next, they’re already moving.

Everything else falls away as Dean begins his dance with his partner. Even the music only exists somewhere in the background, second in importance to the unique tempo that feels as though it’s thrumming through Dean’s bloodstream. Instead, all he can focus on is the raven-faced man; the ethereal lines of his mask that shift from every angle, the warmth of his presence, the way his feet seem to move in perfect time with Dean’s.

He tries not to overthink it, or wonder too hard about what it could mean.

It’s just a dance.

The raven smiles at him from beneath the mask, and Dean can’t help but smile back. There’s a giddy feeling rising in his chest that only builds as the tempo of the song begins to pick up, and brings with it the beating of his heart.

They’re dancing closer now, chests almost touching, gravitating towards each other as though they’re one entity; a single being. Dean loses himself in the movements—step, step, turn, step, spin, close. It’s no dance like he’s ever danced before, but something new, completely different. It’s a dance just for them.

It builds like a crescendo, until Dean is moving without conscious thought, pressed so closely to the raven-faced man that they’re like a single person, and unable to look away from those eyes that are such a familiar shade of blue amongst dark, magical feathers. The song grows, and Dean’s magic crests beneath his skin, tingling at his fingertips and flickering like lightning throughout his body.

He’s not even consciously using it, and it’s still manifesting itself the strongest he’s ever felt it, and it’s all because of this dance.

All because of this familiar.

His heart and his magic feel as though they’re about to burst free from his body, and they’re spinning, so closely that Dean can feel the raven’s breath against his cheek—

And then the song ends, and so does their dance, the two of them coming to a perfectly synchronized stop in the middle of the dance floor.

Dean’s chest is heaving, his eyes wide. He can’t remember when his hand shifted to grip the lapel of the raven’s jacket, but he can’t bring himself to let go. His magic is still roiling beneath his skin, almost as though it’s reaching for something, yearning in a way that feels like Dean is about to shake apart.

And then he notices a light beneath the familiar’s jacket, shining silver and bright enough to be seen through the thick fabric. The raven follows Dean’s gaze down, and his eyes widen when he sees it. He lets go of Dean and fumbles inside his coat pockets.

When he pulls his hand out, the light spills out from between his fingers. He slowly uncurls them, revealing a glass marble that shines bright silver.

The raven looks down at it, then back at Dean—but instead of looking at his face, he’s focused on something else. Something lower.

Dean follows his gaze to the breast of his jacket, where there’s a faint silver glow over the pocket where he’d placed his coin earlier today.

Oh no.

He withdraws it with trembling fingers and lays it flat on his palm. It’s shining the same silver as the raven’s marble, but where it was once smooth and unmarked, now it bears the engraving of a single feather.

Oh fuck.

Everyone has stopped, everyone is staring now, because the prince has danced with a familiar, and they’re compatible.

Almost everyone Dean knows found their familiar at a matching ball. The heightened atmosphere, the magic in the air, it draws compatible people together. And a bond can work all kinds of ways, he knows that. It doesn’t always have to be romantic—so many are platonic, or even just bonds of business.

But he’d had a romantic bond. And he’d made a promise.

“I’m sorry,” Dean gasps out, panic squeezing at his chest. He takes a step back, and his magic rebels, trying to pull him back towards the raven familiar. “I—I can’t. I didn’t want this.”

Even with the mask, he can pinpoint the moment that the raven’s face falls, that the hope he’d been feeling is decimated. “Wait,” the raven pleads, but it’s too late.

Dean curls his fingers back around his coin, turns on his heel and runs. He shoves past the onlookers, ignoring the tears that blur his vision and the shouts of “Dean, wait!” that follow him.

His heart aches for what he’s lost, and his magic yearns for what it’s being denied, as his feet carry him away from the ball and he disappears into the dark solitude of the night.

~

Dean doesn’t return to the castle. Instead, he makes his way through the forest and down to the lake, letting the moon illuminate the faint trail that he already knows by heart. His coin is still glowing, no matter how strongly he wishes for it to fade, but as strongly as he’s tempted to hurl it into the trees… he can’t bring himself to.

Instead, he tucks it into his pocket and tries not to think about it.

There’s a cabin by the lake—one owned by the royal family, but that seems like it’s only ever been used by Dean. Even then, he hasn’t gone near it in years, but it’s where he goes now. Returning to the palace doesn’t feel like an option, not tonight, not with the way his mind is churning after what had happened.

He’d been compatible with that familiar. So compatible. He had felt it in the thrum of his magic, in the way it had come to the surface and danced at the raven-man’s touch.

He should never have agreed to that dance.

With confusion and guilt and grief searing through his veins, eyes hot with unshed tears, Dean runs through the forest and down towards the lake. The silver of the moon settles over the water, serene and still and a stark contrast to the violent beating of Dean’s heart.

The cabin stands by the water’s edge, just as it always has, dark and silent but still so welcoming. Like greeting an old friend.

The door is unlocked, just like it always has been, and Dean slips inside, closing it carefully behind himself. The fireplace lights itself with just a thought and a flick of his fingers, roaring to life after being dormant for so long and illuminating the cabin. The chairs, the tiny kitchen, the wash tub and the bed tucked away in the corner… Dean has been here so many times that he could have navigated it in the dark, but it feels more welcoming in the firelight.

Still just as empty, though.

Dean clears the dust from the furniture, then pulls off his jacket. It feels like a weight not only on his shoulders but on his soul, and as he drapes it over the back of one of the chairs, he finds himself looking at the silver glow once more.

For a minute, he just stands there, staring down at it, and then he turns his coat over, hiding the telltale glow of the coin under more layers of thick fabric until it disappears from view. He knows it’s there, though, still glowing away. There’s nothing he can do about it, not right now.

Right now, his head is a jumbled mess of emotions that weigh down his bones and spear through his heart. It’s all he can do to kick off his boots before he falls onto the bed, and it takes a huge amount of energy and willpower to even roll himself over so that he’s staring at the ceiling.

He’s spent so many mornings and nights in this bed—with Cas.

And now he’s here, alone, after finding himself compatible with a familiar he’s never met but who he’d been drawn to inexplicably. Like his magic was reaching out.

That’s too much to think about right now. Dean’s body feels so heavy, so weighed down, and he wants to cry but it doesn’t feel like there are any tears in him. Instead, it feels like a burning, dry, achy feeling that claws at his throat and makes his eyes sting. He knuckles roughly at them, his breath hitching and then wavering as he exhales once more.

I miss Cas, he allows himself to think, just for a second. I miss him so much.

And then he forces the thought out of his mind, and slowly crawls under the blankets that haven’t been used since he was last here. He’s so tired and so heavy that sleep is quick to take him, his heart aching.

The coin, still out of sight in his jacket pocket, continues to glow.

~

When Dean wakes, the fire has burned down to a bed of embers, and the first sunlight of morning is beginning to stream through the window.

His eyelids feel heavy, and the fabric of the pillow beneath his cheek is rougher than usual, and for a second, he can’t quite remember why.

And then the events of last night hit him all at once, and his heart clenches guiltily in his chest. He’d danced with a familiar and put himself at least part way towards breaking his promise to Cas, and he’d also run off on the poor raven familiar who’d just wanted a single dance with no pressure of a bond.

God, he feels like shit.

Dean groans out loud to himself and rubs his hands over his eyes, the memories sitting on his chest like the crushing weight of an anvil. Part of him had hoped that it would be easier to process in the daylight, but if anything, it hurts more.

He tries to doze for a little while longer, keeping his eyes closed to keep the outside world at bay, but it doesn’t really work. Instead, he ends up staring at the wooden beams of the ceiling, his limbs feeling too heavy to get up.

He’s lain here and stared up at the ceiling so many times, but never like this, and it’s that thought that actually prompts him to haul himself out of bed.

It would be easy to figure out something for breakfast with the help of his magic, but right now, Dean feels far too empty and exhausted for that. Instead, he resigns himself to his grumbling stomach, and wonders just how long he’ll be able to hide out here before someone from the castle comes looking for him.

The answer to that question, he soon finds out, is ‘not long.’

He’s out by the edge of the lake, looking out over the water as the sun continues to rise above the horizon. His jacket is still inside, the coin still tucked into its pocket, and Dean’s bare feet dig into the sand right at the water’s edge. It’s nice out here. Tranquil.

Until a twig snaps somewhere behind him, and he hears someone quietly clear their throat.

He doesn’t know who to expect when he turns around, but he sure as hell isn’t expecting it to be the familiar from last night.

He’s standing at the edge of the forest, dressed much more casually today but still with that raven mask hiding his face. It looks different in the sunlight, without the silver of the moon and the ethereal lighting of the ball, but no less fitting.

For a long while, they stand there, watching each other, until Dean asks, “How did you find me?”

The raven doesn’t move, but his quiet voice carries across the space between them. “I asked at the castle,” he says. “They told me you hadn’t returned last night. I apologize if I freaked you out, that was never my intention.”

Dean snorts bitterly and shakes his head, half-turning away. “Well, if your intention was to get in my head, then it fucking worked. But I didn’t want to be compatible with anyone at that stupid ball. I only went because I had to, and I only danced because—“

Because even with the mask, you were handsome, and something about you reminded me of simpler times. Happier times. And because we’d been so suited, even if I hadn’t known it yet.

“Because I would’ve felt bad if I’d turned you down,” he finishes lamely.

The raven makes a sound, as if he knows that’s not the truth.

“Dean,” he says, and that single syllable burrows deeper into Dean’s heart than he could have thought possible.

“How dare you think you are entitled to use my name?” he snaps—shouting so that the tears do not come forth, because this man flays him open more raw than he could have thought possible. “You don’t know me. I am a prince, and I am not looking for a familiar, and you are little more than a man who wanted a dance. I don’t know your name, and I don’t permit you to use mine. Now… now leave me the fuck alone.”

Try as he might, tears are still prickling at the backs of his eyelids. He had just wanted to be left alone.

But the raven doesn’t leave. Instead, he stays there, unmoving for several long moments, until he slowly reaches into his pocket. He pulls his hand out, uncurls his fingers, and there, sitting in his palm and still glowing silver, is the marble.

“But you already know my name,” the familiar says quietly. His words are whisper-soft, but Dean still hears them perfectly. “I know you… and you know me.”

Dean stares at him.

He stares until the pieces begin to come together, until his heart trembles against his ribs, until he feels like he can’t breathe against the hope constricting tight across his chest.

But still, he stands there—until the raven reaches his hand closer. The marble rolls closer to Dean, settling atop his fingers as it’s held outstretched. “Take it,” the familiar tells him.

Dean’s feet carry him across the distance between them, and as they do, he can’t help but notice the things he hadn’t before. The familiar hair with the curl just behind the man’s ear. A frame that has filled out in the years that have passed. The blue that he can just recognize behind the magical feathers of the mask.

He reaches out, and takes the marble, and watches as the mask fades away in a matter of moments.

The man it reveals is young, handsome, and so familiar that it makes Dean’s heart clench. He’s changed, in the years that they’ve been apart, but he’s still him. He’s still…

“Cas,” Dean chokes out, forcing the syllable past the lump in his throat. “It—it’s really you. Holy shit, it’s you.”

Castiel smiles, soft and warm. “It’s me,” he murmurs back, and the curl of his lips is just how Dean remembers it, even if his face has changed. “I missed you so much, Dean.”

Dean looks him up and down, as though he can’t take enough of him in at once, and then he steps closer—

And punches Cas in the shoulder. Hard.

“That’s for leaving,” he tells Cas, his voice wobbling, “and for making me think you were someone else, and for making me feel like I’d broken my promise to wait and bond with you.”

He pauses, and so does Cas, who’d been rubbing the part of his arm Dean had hit.

“And this…”

Dean curls his fingers into the collar of Castiel’s shirt, and can’t help but grin when his eyes widen and his lips part.

“This is for coming back.”

And he kisses Castiel, just like he had so many years ago, and they hold each other tight as the marble grows bright and silver between them and the sun continues to rise.