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  Text reads New Holidy by MandalaRose, Banner includes a collage of Christmas cookies, a pie, and a perfectly cooked turkey with Miracle the Dog, Castiel, and Dean standing in the Bunker Library wearing an apron.

 

“Wow, Dean. That’s quite a bird.” Jody lets out a soft whistle as Dean carefully sets the golden-brown turkey on one of the three library tables they’ve shoved together to be able to seat their entire piecemealed family. The crisp skin shines in the soft library lighting and the smell alone has Dean’s mouth watering. 

“Who knew our big bad hunter would be so handy in the kitchen, huh?” Donna steps up behind him, setting down the baking dish holding the dressing. It looks like one of those “vintage” cookware pieces a bored suburbanite might spend every weekend scouring estate sales for. The bunker kitchen is full of them. 

“What can I say?” Dean quirks a cheeky grin and shoots Donna and Jody a wink. “I’m a man of many talents.” Jody and Alex both roll their eyes while Donna returns his grin. 

“Gross.” Claire pulls a disgusted face, shooting Dean a look that’s probably supposed to hide the fact that she’s way more amused than she is grossed out, but doesn’t quite cut it. 

“Get your head out of the gutter, Miley,” Dean scolds. “I didn’t mean it that way.” He wipes his hands on the white apron he’s spent more and more time wearing in recent months. It turns out killing monsters and drinking himself into oblivion isn’t the only way Dean can escape from his memories. And if he and Sam have both put on a few pounds in sacrifice to Dean’s new coping mechanism, so be it. Eileen doesn’t seem to mind and well, it’s not like Dean has anyone to mind. 

“Thought you meant everything that way,” Claire retorts and Dean’s smile falters a bit, not that he can argue her point. There was a time when that might have been true. Not towards anyone in this room, obviously, but still...true. Of course, that has been pretty much the furthest thing from his mind ever since…

“The place looks good too,” Donna adds as Jody aims a pointed glare in Claire’s direction that has her sulking in her seat. 

Blinking to clear the sudden onslaught of memories, Dean looks around with a small smile. It might not look like the Santa’s workshop Mrs. Butters created, but he still thinks he and Sam did alright. There’s a large tree set up in one corner of the library, decorated in an assortment of red and gold ornaments that Dean will be forever grateful came already packaged as a set. Add some twinkle lights, a little tinsel, and a star for the top and bam. Christmas bunker. 

Sam, the giant girl, had added some decorative “sprays” of greenery and battery operated candles to the tops of the waist high bookshelves that divide the library at intervals. He’d even wrapped the columns in damn garland and hung mistletoe in the doorway. Now though, his brother’s focus is on the meal in front of them, and for good reason.

“Miracle. Down ,” Sam chastises their newest family member—and the only one shaggier than he is—tugging on Miracle’s collar and pulling her away from the feast covering the library tables. The desserts are still in the kitchen, pumpkin pies lined up right next to Christmas cookies since the second week in December was the only time everyone could make it to celebrate the holidays, but the spread they have here is impressive enough even without the pie, not that Dean would ever admit it. He surveys the dishes and platters full of mashed potatoes, yams, collard greens, and Dean’s own homemade cranberry sauce. He’d thought it’d be tough to make, but turns out it’s mostly just cranberries and sugar. 

He makes a point of not noticing how carefully everyone has avoided setting anything overtop the carvings near the center. 

“I still can’t believe you got a dog.” Patience laughs as she kneels down next to Miracle, stroking the soft, golden coat that some days is still the only thing to bring Dean comfort. Well, just about the only thing. His eyes drift toward the vacant chair between his own seat at the head of their extended table and Kaia, where she sits with her feet tucked up underneath her, resting her head on Claire’s shoulder. 

Pulling off his apron and tossing it over the back of his chair, he leans down to give Miracle a scratch. “We didn’t really ‘get’ a dog. It’s more like we got stuck with one,” he tries to defend himself to Patience, who looks at him with that same knowing look her grandmother always had, damn psychics. The only difference is he’s pretty sure Patience isn’t about to hit him upside the head. Probably. He scoots backward a few inches just in case, before explaining how they’d first encountered Miracle when Chuck pulled his Thanos act (the fucking douche couldn’t even be original) and then how he’d come out of a gas station one day a month of so after Jack had un-Chucked the world to find Miracle sitting next to Baby like she’d been just waiting there for Dean.

“So what, you stole someone’s dog?” Alex asks, an eyebrow raised disapprovingly.

“Dick move, Hasselhoff,” Claire says scathingly, glaring at Dean from beneath about three pounds of mascara and black eyeliner.

“Watch your fucking language, Disney Channel,” Dean retorts sarcastically, earning a middle finger from Claire and a smirk from her girlfriend before he continues, “I didn’t steal anyone’s dog. Tell’em, Sammy.”

“Dean’s right.” Sam shrugs, leaning back in his seat and making sure Eileen can see his lips while he addresses the rest of the room, his moose hands still clumsy as he tries to sign along. “We put up fliers and everything, but no one ever called to claim her. As far as we can tell, either Miracle was a stray before the snap or Chuck created her just to mess with us.” 

“Well, either way, taking in strays is what Winchesters do best,” chirps a cheerful voice from the doorway as Charlie bounds into the room behind Bobby, the only person aside from him and Sam with a key to the bunker.

“That and defeating God,” Charlie’s girlfriend Stevie adds as she follows Charlie into the library, carrying the green bean casserole that is the couple’s contribution to Thanksgivmas dinner. Dean thinks he’s gonna like this girl.

“And saving people,” Donna chimes from her seat next to Jody, who adds, “From demons.”

“And vampires,” Alex adds from Donna’s other side.

“Werewolves,” chimes in Claire with a much softer smile than Dean’s used to seeing on her as Kaia squeezes her hand. 

“Wraiths,” Patience whispers harshly, an uncharacteristically fierce look in her eyes.

“Uppity archangels,” adds Bobby with a grunt as he sets a case of El Sol on the table. 

“And sometimes, monsters who look like people,” Eileen adds softly, wearing an expression that’s somehow both haunted and grateful. Looking a little tearful, Sam wraps an arm around her slender frame, tucking her in against his side as he presses a kiss into her dark hair. 

Listening to his friends...his family talk about how he and Sam have saved them over the years, calls to mind another voice. One Dean can hear just as clearly as theirs, even though it’s been months since that voice spoke to him. 

 

You think that hate and anger, that's- that's what drives you. That's who you are. It's not. And everyone who knows you sees it. 

 

Dean clears his throat. “And Hitler,” he adds, ignoring the fact that his voice sounds a little thicker than normal as he picks up the carving knife and heads for the turkey. “Have I mentioned I killed Hitler?”

Alex snorts. “Maybe once.”

“Or twice,” Kaia adds drily.

“Every time we see you,” Claire finishes smugly before turning to share a sweet kiss with her girlfriend. 

“Yeah, yeah. That’s enough commentary from the kiddie table, thanks,” he says, pretending not to hear Claire’s snarky, “He knows we’re sitting at the same table, right?”

Determinedly not looking to his left, Dean continues carving the turkey. “Alright, we’re all here, so everyone grab a seat and dig in.” 

Charlie and Stevie snag seats between Jody and Eileen, leaving Bobby to make his way to the far side of the table, pausing to touch a finger to the portrait of Mary sitting on the nearest bookshelf, next to a softly flickering candle. 

Dean knows his mom is happy with his dad in their own personal Heaven, but still, the bunker had been her home for a time too and it just didn’t feel right having a holiday dinner here without her.

“Oh, here Bobby,” Kaia calls helpfully, pulling out the empty chair between her and Dean and reaching for the folded beige fabric previously hidden beneath the table.

Dean goes still, head dropping between his shoulder blades as he stares resolutely at the table below.

“No, wait—” Sam starts in the same moment, only to cut off a moment later as Kaia freezes, having suddenly identified the neatly folded trench coat in her hands. “That’s Cas’ seat,” he finishes lamely, slumping back in his seat and dropping the hand he’d lifted as if he could somehow halt Kaia’s discovery.

“I’m sorry,” she says softly, reverently placing the bundle back on the wooden seat, but Dean shrugs off her apology. 

“It’s alright,” he says gruffly, finally forcing his head up and plastering on what he hopes is a reassuring smile as he places a thick slice of turkey on Kaia’s plate. “You didn’t know.” 

The coat had shown up much like Miracle. Dean had gone out to the Impala one afternoon in search of one of his favorite Zepp tapes. He’d found the tape and was getting ready to climb out of the car when his eyes were drawn by habit to the rearview mirror. There, in the middle of the bench seat where Cas used to sit was the trench coat...as neatly folded then as it is now. 

Dean’s not stupid. He has his ideas about what that trench coat could mean, especially since he’d been praying fervently to Jack for weeks by the time it arrived. But while he knows what it could mean, Dean still makes an effort not to get his hopes up. After all, he’s done that before and every single time they’ve been shattered.

Dropping his eyes back to the table to avoid what he knows are the sympathetic stares of his friends and family, Dean continues serving up the unfortunate bird. It feels like now is that moment at every first family gathering after a loss...when people share stories, or laughs, or a toast to the person missing from the table and for some reason, everyone around the room seems to be looking to him to lead the sharing and caring part of tonight’s festivities, as if they’ve never met Dean before. 

Fine. Licking his lips, he passes the platter of turkey to Sam and takes his seat, raising his beer bottle in one hand.

“To Cas,” he says simply, before taking a long pull on his beer. There are a few quiet, if slightly awkward, echoes of his words as everyone around the table lifts their glasses before going back to their meals. Maybe they were expecting more, but they’ll just have to live with the disappointment. There’s plenty Dean has to say about Cas, but that’s between him and Cas. 

It takes a few minutes, but conversation gradually returns to normal, the warm sounds of his family talking and laughing filling the room. All except for one. A careful glance out of the corner of his eye shows him a subdued Claire, glassy eyes fixated on the folded trench coat as Kaia whispers soft words into her hair. 

Looking quickly to Sam, Dean shares a silent exchange with his brother, whose helpful contribution is to dart his eyes meaningfully between Dean and Claire, a clear “do something” look on his stupid moose face. Feeling like he’s somehow lost a game of rock-paper-scissors without even playing, Dean looks around the table, spotting a basket of dinner rolls within reach. Picking up a roll, he tosses it at Claire, where it bounces off her forehead and into her lap. 

Ignoring the death glare directed his way, Dean tilts his head and lifts his eyebrows in question. 

Claire’s glare softens and she offers a half-shrug. Dean nods and shoots her a sad smile, letting a little bit of his own pain bubble to the surface. He silently tries to convey all the “it’s okay to not be okay” bullshit Sam probably wants him to spew right now, knowing Claire doesn’t wanna hear it any more than he wants to say it.

After a long moment, Claire blinks away her tears and gives Dean a small nod before squeezing Kaia’s fingers one last time and picking up her fork. Taking in a mouthful of stuffing, Dean shoots a triumphant look at Sam, who rolls his eyes dramatically.

“Why didn’t you save a seat for Jack?” Claire asks a few minutes later as she takes a bite of turkey.

Looking up from his conversation with Eileen, Sam shrugs. “It seemed kind of...redundant, since Jack is sort of ‘in’ everything anyway.”

In ?” she asks skeptically, after swallowing another bite.

“Yup,” Dean says as he picks up a turkey leg. “The ‘divine spark.’ Jack’s all one with the universe now. He’s in ‘every drop of rain.’” He gestures dramatically with the drumstick. “Every ‘grain of sand.’ We don’t need to leave him a seat at the table cause he’s in the table. Hell, he’s even in the damn turkey.”

Grinning smugly as Claire’s fork halts in midair, Dean takes a huge chunk out of the turkey leg. 

Claire’s face turns ashen as she stares in horror at the slice of turkey pierced on her fork. “I’m gonna hurl.” Kaia pats her leg sympathetically as snickers fill the room. 

Bobby eyes his plate warily for a moment before shrugging and shoveling in more yams and their dinner resumes, full of laughter and teasing, for once with no sense of impending doom hanging over them to dampen the mood. Truth be told, Dean enjoys it far more than he thought he would, even though the holiday meal had been his idea in the first place. 

“So what’s next for you boys?” Bobby asks as they’re all leaned back in their seats after dinner, letting their meal settle before starting in on dessert. 

“Yeah,” Stevie pipes in from where she’s slouched in her chair to nestle under Charlie’s arm. “What do you do after you de-god God? Go to Disneyland?” Several people huff quiet laughs in the glow of the library.

“Actually,” Sam says as Eileen plays idly with his hair, “I think I might keep hunting. Maybe try to rebuild the hunter network. Garth has a family now and no one’s really stepped up to take over since he got out of the life.” He gestures to the research and lore-filled shelves around them. “It’d be nice to see this place used the way it always should have been.”

Jody nods thoughtfully. “Part hunter, part man-of-letters.” 

“Balance,” Kaia adds with a smile and Sam looks down at his hands, smiling softly. 

When he reset the worlds, Jack had rewound time to a point before the first people had disappeared in each universe, meaning that most had no idea that yet another Apocalypse had come and gone. But for a key few, everyone at this table being in that number, he’d left them the memories of the timeline they’d averted. It was a gift they hadn’t even known they’d been granted until Eileen had started texting Sam’s phone frantically, but it’s one Dean’s grateful for. He’s glad this isn’t a burden he and Sam have to shoulder alone.

“How ‘bout you, Dean?” asks Donna, hands folded across her stomach and legs stretched out in front of her. “You gonna keep huntin’ too?”

“Maybe,” Dean says noncommittally. “For a while. I don’t know. Could be nice to just take some monsters out like the old days. No big ‘cosmic consequences’ to worry about.” 

Against his will, his eyes drift to the empty chair. 

“But, uh, I was thinkin’ about doin’ something else too. Get an actual job. Try out the civilian life.” He glances around them with a smirk. “Maybe even live somewhere with windows someday.”

He’s not sure what kind of a reaction he expected from announcing his retirement, but the proud, beaming smiles Jody and Donna are shooting him from across the table aren’t it. Feeling suddenly exposed, he sits up in his chair, rubbing his hands together. “But I do know what’s next for me right now...and that’s pie. Who’s ready for dessert?”

Dean retreats quickly to the bunker’s kitchen, scooping up a tray of Christmas cookies in one hand and choosing a pumpkin pie from the six flavor selection in front of him for the other. He might’ve gone a little overboard on the pies, but he couldn’t seem to help himself. Who knows, maybe he should make baking that “real job” he’s been thinking about more and more. Outside of Miracle, it does seem to be the thing that brings Dean the most joy these days. Plus...pie.

Thoughts about the future can wait, though. Right now, he’s going to enjoy some Thanskgivmas dessert with his family and indulge in some holiday spirit. He smiles down at the green-iced cookies on the platter in his hand.

“Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,” he belts out in a deep baritone as he jogs carefully up the steps to the library, “how lovely are thy branch...es.” Dean freezes in place, going quiet as his eyes land on the far end of the library, right behind the chair he’d been sitting in just a few minutes ago. 

“Next year, can we have a menorah too?” Jack asks, standing there in the same t-shirt and white denim jacket Dean had last seen him in...as if that had been moments ago and not months. “My mother was Jewish.”

For a long moment, no one speaks, all eyes focused at the end of the long row of tables. Smiling, Jack stands there, hands at his sides and seeming completely unperturbed by the lack of greeting. 

Finally, Sam stands, clearing his throat as he steps around the corner of the table. “Yeah, of course, Jack. Next year it’ll be Thanks...chrismukkah.” He shoots an incredulous look back at Dean before pulling the once-nephilim, now-God into a hug. “It’s good to see you.”

“Thanks, Sam,” Jack answers warmly when they part. “It’s good to see you, too.”

There might be more conversation after that, but if so, Dean doesn’t hear it. In fact, he barely notices as Jody and Bobby lift the pie and cookies from his shaking hands. His entire focus is riveted to a spot just to the right of Jack, next to the chair that’s remained empty throughout the entire evening. His gaze flits down to that chair now, but the folded beige coat is no longer occupying its place of honor, not that Dean expected it to be. Not when he can see said coat rustling behind the chair. 

Dean follows the trench’s long line of buttons upward, taking in the familiar blue suit and tie that haunt his every memory. He drifts past the same stubbled jaw and pink lips he’s lingered over for years, second only to the bottomless blue eyes that are Dean’s destination now. That impenetrable gaze...a celestial beacon of certainty, truth, and other things Dean spent far too long trying not to see while he couldn’t look away. 

“Cas?” It’s barely a whisper, but it echoes in the soundless room.

“Hello, Dean.”

Those two words unlock something in Dean’s chest and he sucks in a shuddering breath against the sudden onslaught of feeling. 

Instantly moving, Cas makes his way down the table, pausing only long enough to cup Claire’s cheek in one hand as she looks up at him with shining eyes. She reaches up to give his wrist a quick squeeze as he moves on. A heartbeat later he rounds the table and he’s there, right in front of Dean, looking at him the way he did that night—open and unguarded. Feelings Dean thought he’d left behind in the dark of his bedroom, drowned in whiskey and bourbon resurface, threatening to overwhelm him.  

Needing to touch, to feel Cas solid and alive, Dean lifts a trembling hand...and then stops, suddenly unsure. The last time he thought he heard Cas’ voice, it was a lie. A cruel trick. 

“It’s okay, Dean,” Cas says reassuringly. “It’s me. I’m real. I’m here.”

Quite honestly, Dean can’t even bring himself to care if that’s not true at this point. He’s wanted nothing more than this for months now and if this is another illusion, then so be it. Clutching at the sleeve of that achingly familiar coat, he pulls Cas into a fierce embrace. Feeling Cas in his arms, solid, real and smelling of that distinctive ozone trace he always has after he’s mojoed himself from somewhere, Dean can finally let himself believe that this might actually be happening after all. This might be real. 

 

Dean, you asked ‘what about all of this is real?’ We are.

 

Breathing raggedly now, Dean clutches Cas tighter. He’s lost Cas so many times now. He lost him to the first Apocalypse, the Leviathan,  Purgatory, Lucifer’s blade, Purgatory again ...just to name a few. And each time, they found their way back to one another. And yet, none of those reunions felt like this . Somehow, knowing that Cas loves him...when before he hadn’t even realized Cas could love him, it’s changed everything. Cas changed everything.

 

Ever since we met and ever since I pulled you out of Hell, knowing you has changed me.

 

Dean has spent the past months re-examining, no matter how hard he fought not to, every interaction he’s had with Cas over the past twelve years. Every conversation. Every touch. Every fight. Every reconciliation. 

 

I was getting too close to the humans in my charge. You. 

 

Cas was falling in love with him, there.

 

I’m hunted. I rebelled. And I did it, all of it, for you.

 

For Dean. For his love for Dean.

 

You can’t stay.

 

Cas loved him, when Dean told him that.

 

Why does that something always seem to be you?

 

And that.

 

And even after all of that, he still…

 

Everything you do, you do for love.

Because you cared, I cared.

You changed me, Dean. 

I love you.

 

Something near a sob breaks free from Dean’s chest and he buries it in Cas’ neck before pulling back...just far enough to press their foreheads together. His hand finds its way to the back of Cas’ neck, as if that will hold him here, keep him there, in Dean’s reach. This might not be the first time he’s got Cas back from the dead, but all the times that came before, he was reunited with a best friend, a family member, a brother-in-arms. This...this is the first time he’s been reunited with a lover.

It’s both better and worse than anything he could have imagined.

And Cas...does Cas even know? Dean’s said the words in his head a thousand times since he watched Cas get swallowed up by the black abyss of the Empty. He’s screamed them inside his mind until he thought he’d go mad with it...until going mad would have been a relief. Be he’s never, not even once, said them aloud. 

It’s time.

“Cas—”

A sudden throat-clearing breaks the surrounding silence and Dean and Cas turn their heads in unison to find a dozen sets of eyes focused on them, even Bobby staring unrepentantly. Sam meets his eyes over the heads of their assembled family and tilts his head toward the library door as Jack waves merrily, chomping on an angel-shaped sugar cookie. 

“Dean, maybe we should…”

“Yeah.” 

Not quite ready to relinquish contact, Dean keeps one hand fisted in Cas’ trench coat as he drags the angel across the war room and down into the bunker galley, finally letting go once they’re safely surrounded by the results of Dean’s holiday baking frenzy. 

The spell from the library broken, Dean braces his hands against the metal galley countertop, taking deep breaths in a futile effort to calm his pounding heart and racing thoughts.

“Are you okay?” Cas sounds concerned, but keeps his distance, clearly still well versed in the dangers of approaching an agitated Winchester.

“Am I okay ?” Dean pushes off from the countertop, turning to face Cas and almost immediately wishing he hadn’t. He’s not sure how he missed it before, but now that he knows, he can see the love Cas has for him. It radiates from every movement, every gesture: from the subtle tilt of his head to the aborted stretch of fingertips in Dean’s direction. It’s broadcast, clear as day, for the entire world to see from every concerned crease and line in that once smooth, emotionless face. 

And that’s not even mentioning his eyes. 

Seeing an angel’s true form might burn away a human’s eyesight, but Dean’s pretty sure seeing the love in Cas’ eyes is going to burn away every part of him...strip him bare to his very soul. 

He swallows. 

“Cas, I watched you die. Again. Because of me. Again. And you wanna know if I’m okay?”

No, Dean. This wasn’t because of you…” Cas starts, but Dean cuts him off.

“Wasn’t it? You...you said you loved me—”

“Because I do…”

“—And it killed you. Your love for me killed you.” Dean’s voice is shaking so much by this point he’s amazed he can get the words out.

Eyes blazing like the celestial force he is, Cas steps into Dean’s space.

“The Empty took me because of a deal I made, Dean. To save someone else I love. That had nothing to do with you. My love for you isn’t what killed me. It’s what gave me life in the first place.”

Dean closes his eyes against the truth in those words. Cas’ love for Dean might have given him  new life, but it’s a life Dean was careless with.

“But you did die. And that goodbye...it felt pretty permanent. How are you here? Jack?”

“Yes,” Cas agrees. “Jack pulled me out of the Empty.”

Dean nods. He’d assumed it must have been Jack...especially since he’s prayed to Jack for that very thing countless times since he watched Cas be sucked into that void.

“Isn’t it gonna be pissed though? Won’t it be coming after you?”

“No. As it turns out, I was only the first being to reawaken in the Empty. It was Jack, initially, who woke me. That started a...ripple effect of sorts. Since then, more have awoken and when Billie sent Jack there to…” Cas cuts off, seemingly searching for the right word.

“Supernova?” 

“Precisely. That woke the rest of them. Both they and the Empty have been in torment ever since. What was once a place of eternal rest became a place of suffering. In exchange for releasing me, Jack restored quiet to the Empty. All that exist there are at rest once again...a peaceful rest this time.”

“Alright,” Dean tilts his head, accepting the response before he asks his next question, “but why now? Why after all these months?”

For the first time since he appeared in the library, the light in Cas’ eyes dims a little. He looks for a moment like he means to step away from Dean once more, but thinks better of it.

Dean frowns.

“What aren’t you tellin’ me?”

Cas takes a deep breath. One, that as an angel, he doesn’t actually need. “It wasn’t...now. Retrieving me from the Empty was the first thing Jack did after he parted ways with you and Sam.” His voice is apologetic.

“You mean you’ve been back all this time?” Dean asks incredulously. “Where the hell have you been?”

“Jack needed help.” Cas looks at Dean imploringly, his tearful eyes conveying that Dean hasn’t been the only one affected by absence. “It wasn’t only the earth he restored. He’s also been making some...adjustments in Heaven. He felt that a Heaven where people are trapped in their past memories and choices would be a mockery of the free will we fought so hard for on earth.” And the changes we’ve made up there, Dean, they’re wonderful. Heaven is what it always should have been.”

“And that’s great, Cas. It is. And I get that Jack needed you. I’m glad you were there to help him, but there were people here who needed you too. I needed you.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” 

“What about that whole controlling time and space thing?” he asks tiredly. “Couldn’t he have just, I don’t know...reset the clock after you fixed Heaven? Brought you back sooner, instead of sending me an emotional support animal and your goddamn dry cleaning and then letting me spend the better part of a year thinkin’ you were gone for good?”

“These past few months have been...difficult, I know, but they’ve been yours . I couldn’t take that from you. Yes, I could have changed the timeline, but that would have erased every experience you’ve had...every choice you’ve made since then.” Voice breaking, he adds, “I would have rather stayed in the Empty than do that to you. I hope you can forgive me for that.”

Dean doesn’t need to see his own pain reflected in Cas’ eyes to know he’s telling the truth, but it’s there anyway. He feels his moment of anger slip away and for once, he doesn’t cling to it. Doesn’t wrap it around his wounded heart like a shield. Anger is an insatiable protector, demanding more and more from you until one day you realize you’ve let it consume things you never intended to offer. He’s lost too much to that anger already. Dean lets it go.

“Forgive you? ” Reaching for the angel in front of him, Dean rests his head against Cas’ once more as he grips that beige fabric like a lifeline...like it’s the only thing mooring him to the shore. “Fuck, Cas. I’m the one who should be apologizing. To you. To Jack. The things I did...that I said…” he cuts off on a dry sob, too ashamed to repeat the hateful things he’s spewed at the people he loves most.

“You have , Dean,” Cas says fervently, bringing his own hands up to grasp the backs of Dean’s arms, anchoring him in place against the swell of painful memories. “So many times. He’s heard you. We both did.”

“You heard me? So you heard…”

“Yes, Dean. I heard your prayers. All of them.” Cas sounds almost guilty about the admission, though it’s hardly his fault Dean prayed to him.

Dean should be relieved that Cas heard him. That Cas knows . And yet...

 

You don’t have to say it. I heard your prayer.

 

“But…” Cas adds hesitantly. Hopefully. “I’d like to hear it again. Out loud...if you’ve still got something to say.”

“Yeah, I do. I do have something to say,” he breathes wetly against the angel’s forehead before pulling back to meet his eyes. “Cas. Castiel. You said I changed you, but you...you’ve changed me too.” Cas looks at him encouragingly and Dean pushes on, confident in his words, even if his voice is quaking. 

“I called you a hammer once, because I looked at you and I saw myself: the blunt tool used to  tear down and destroy. Good for nothing but carrying out my father’s orders. My father’s mission. But then you...you rebelled. You showed me that I had a choice . That I didn’t have to be that hammer for the rest of my life.” 

Cas looks at Dean with that same brilliant smile he had in those last moments before the Empty stole him away and Dean raises a hand to Cas’ face...as if the love he can see there is a tangible thing. Something he can grab and hold onto.

“I’ve spent so long fighting for free will, but that wasn’t even something I’d ever thought about wanting until I met you . And when I look back at my life, there’s only one thing I’ve ever chosen for myself. And it’s been the same thing over and over again.”

The tears streaming down Cas’ face mirror Dean’s and Dean sweeps a gentle thumb through the glistening trails as Cas covers Dean’s hand with his own.

“It’s you, Cas. I choose you. You’re my free will. You’re what I’ve been fighting for.”

Cas lets out a sob, looking happier than Dean’s ever seen him. 

“Because I love you.” Dean doesn’t even try to hold back his own sobs. “I love you.” 

Dean’s lips search for Cas’, dragging over salty skin and tear-dampened stubble. When they finally meet, he feels like he’s taken his first full breath since that night in the dungeon. He slides his hand to the back of Cas’ head, threading his fingers through the short hairs at the nape of his neck. Cas’ hands slide up the backs of Dean’s arms until they’re wrapped around his shoulders, pulling Dean in until they can’t possibly be closer.

When they finally break apart, Cas sags against Dean, breathless, and Dean’s a little relieved he’s not the only one so affected. 

“I love you,” Cas murmurs into Dean’s skin and for a moment, even though he knows it’s ridiculous, Dean tenses, waiting for the Empty to return, to steal Cas away again.

Cas must feel it, because he cups Dean’s cheek in his hand, holding his gaze as he assures, “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere this time.”

In that moment, a new thought occurs to Dean. If Jack brought Cas back to help him with Heaven...he pulls away to look at the angel. “When you say anywhere...Cas are you...Will you stay?”

Cas beams at him, his eyes growing misty again. “For as long as you want me here.”

“Always,” Dean answers immediately. “I always want you here.”

“Then for always.”

Dean kisses Cas again. It’s no less incredible the second time, even if he does keep it shorter.

“In that case, we should probably go back out there,” he nods toward the kitchen door. “I’m sure the others wanna say hi to you too.” 

Cas nods shakily as they each wipe at their tear-stained faces. “And we should spend time with Jack. Unfortunately, he won’t be staying. Though I have convinced him that occasionally visiting his parents doesn’t count as ‘interference.’”

Dean lets out a breath. “That’s good,” he says softly, relieved to learn he’ll get another chance with Jack. He spends a long, quiet moment just leaning against Cas, breathing him in, letting that staid angelic presence ground him, the way only Cas has ever been able to do.

"Hey, uh, is Adam up there?" Dean asks, his stomach clenching a bit at the sound of his youngest brother's name. "We haven't been able to get ahold of him since the big snap."

Cas nods again. "He is. It was his choice. He's helping to...rehabilitate Michael."

"Oh," Dean says, before really thinking about what such a choice on Adam's part means. "Oh."  He blinks in realization. "Good for them. I guess sometimes we do get what we deserve," he adds, smiling softly. 

“Speaking of which, what are we going to tell everyone? About us?” Cas asks, no judgment or insecurity in his eyes. Just trust and confidence and love.

Dean shrugs. “I don’t care what we tell them. I’m not worried about hiding anything, if that’s what you’re thinking. I did that for a long time...and it almost cost me everything.” 

“Dean.” Cas’ eyes fill with sympathy, but Dean keeps going.

“Besides, from the looks on their faces before I dragged you in here, I have a feeling we aren’t gonna have to tell them anything. So, how about we just do what we do best and wing it?” He smirks at his own pun.

“Sounds like a plan.” Cas chuckles and rolls his eyes, but he’s clearly pleased with Dean’s answer.

“Nope,” Dean shakes his head, pulling back to lock eyes with his angel. “For once, there’s no plan. No script to follow. There’s just us.” He nods to the kitchen doorway. “All of us.”

Cas’ only answer to that is another kiss...one Dean accepts in full before finally dropping his arms and stepping away.

“Happy Thankschrismukkah, Cas.”

Cas frowns. “That’s not an actual holiday, Dean.”

Dean belts out a laugh, shaking his head as Cas wears a tiny, pleased smile. “It is now. We’re making it up as we go along, right?”

Cas’s smile broadens. “Yes. I suppose we are.”

Leaning forward, Dean plants another small kiss on Cas’ lips before nodding to the pie tins behind him. “Now, grab one and follow me.” 

Turning obediently, Cas reaches for a large cherry as Dean picks up the plate next to it. He leads the way back to the library, looking over his shoulder to shoot Cas a grin.

 “I wanna watch Jack explain to Claire that he’s in the pecan pie I made her.”