Dean hit the floor hard, sprawled across the unforgiving concrete of the bunker’s dungeon. The Empty spat him out, dizzy and disoriented but in one piece, and that’s all he could really ask for. Groaning, Dean blinked slowly and pushed himself to his knees before he froze in terrible realization. Cas’s hand was absent from his own, despite having stumbled towards the portal with their fingers interlocked just moments ago. His heart stopped, dread flooding his body like a bucket of ice water dumped over his head. Oh God, not again. I just got him back. I can’t lose him again. I can’t.
“Cas? You here?”
Too afraid to turn around, Dean remained rigid, not even daring to breathe. It was cowardly, and Dean hated himself for it, but he knew if he was greeted by empty space he would absolutely fucking lose it. It would break—no, it would shatter him. Probably send him into hysterics for the rest of his goddamn life. Thus motionless he remained, nausea roiling in his gut as he waited to hear “Hello, Dean,” perhaps a grumpily muttered “That was unpleasant.”
Instead, there was the unmistakable rustling of a trench coat, accompanied by an odd sort of humming noise, soft and light. He shakily swiveled back towards the portal, still on his knees, and found himself staring at the coat in a heap on the floor. No Cas.
Fuck. Dean tipped his head towards the ceiling and exhaled slowly, trying (and failing) to control his breathing. A burning sensation was expanding in his chest, creeping into his throat and behind his eyelids. Fists clenching and unclenching, he willed himself not to cry, or scream, or bash his head against the wall. All equally enticing options at the moment.
Another short hum interrupted Dean’s thoughts, echoing slightly against the walls of the dungeon. Self-destructive impulses pushed aside for the time being, he looked down from the ceiling and froze, shoulders tensing immediately.
The trench coat had somehow moved across the floor, now only inches away from Dean. The material folded and creased as the coat wiggled, conforming to the shape of what appeared to be a squirming lump in its center. Eyes widening, Dean could only watch as a tuft of black hair emerged from the heap, rising above the collar. In a second, he found himself staring into a pair of very familiar baby blues, their foreheads and noses almost touching.
“Jesus Christ.” Dean was breathless, paralyzed as a hand snaked its way out of the coat’s many folds, gently reaching out to grip Dean’s shoulder. He turned his head to watch Cas’s palm rest against the bloody handprint, suppressing a shudder as he couldn’t help remembering the last time Cas had grabbed him there. Now, Cas’s hand barely covered a third of the stained outline.
Wait. Wait a minute. The fuck?
Tiny fingers dug into Dean’s bicep as he pulled away, leaning back so he could actually see what he was looking at. Yep. Definitely a kid. Probably about two or three years old, maybe four if he had to guess. Toddler age range. His face was set in a pout, dark hair messy and brushing across his forehead in a few stray strands. Big, blue eyes, staring owlishly at Dean’s face with an intensity only Cas possessed.
Dean shut his eyes. Shook his head. Counted to three. Blinked once, then twice.
He was still face-to-face with a child. Shit. They continued to sit there, frozen in time: Dean struck dumb on his knees, eye level with a pint-sized Angel of the Lord. Cas was basically in Dean’s lap at this point, one chubby hand still grasping Dean’s shoulder, causing flecks of dried blood to fall from the imprint on the jacket. The trench coat had settled around Cas like a blanket, draping from his shoulders and swamping him in a sea of tan folds. His other hand had somehow fisted itself in Dean’s shirt without him even noticing, and it was only then that Dean realized Cas was trembling ever so slightly.
“Cas? You in there somewhere?” Dean spoke softly, attempting to mask the alarm currently threatening to overwhelm him. Cas just kept staring at him, shaking in the trench coat. He let out another hum and gripped Dean’s shirt tighter with both hands now, pulling their chests closer together. Cas’s eyebrows furrowed together, his bottom lip beginning to quiver. Dean noticed this and felt a wave of panic wash over him. He remembered Sam’s childhood well enough to recognize the signs of an oncoming meltdown. Fuck . He was not prepared to handle this.
“Shh, it’s okay, you’re safe, I got you,” Dean tried to gently reassure Cas, covering his tiny hands with his own. He had no idea whether Cas could even understand anything he was saying. Cas maintained eye contact, looking as though he was silently pleading Dean to read his mind. God, it was hard to look at. Dean was at a total loss. “Cas, do you hear me? Can you talk to me?”
Cas blinked at Dean, looking lost and starting to sniffle a little bit. Suddenly, he let out a high-pitched whine and buried his face in Dean’s neck, the top of his hair threatening to tickle Dean’s nose. Dean hesitantly brought his arms around Cas, placing one hand on the back of his neck and lightly pressing him closer to his body. Cas sniffled again, sighed, and nuzzled his cheek against Dean’s collarbone. Alrighty then. This is not how Dean had pictured their reunion going.
“Okay. Okay, let’s figure this out. You’re gonna be fine, we’ll find a way to get through this like we always do. Promise.” Gathering Cas in the coat, Dean scooped him up off the floor and made a motion to stand, slowly rising from his knees. Cas was still burrowing into the crook of Dean’s neck, and Dean could feel him breathing against his skin, the rise and fall of his chest beginning to even out. As Dean made his way out of the dungeon and into the bunker’s hallways, tension slowly drained out of Cas’s body until he was practically limp in Dean’s arms.
Still walking, Dean looked down at the kid he was carrying. Since when do angels get tired? He grimaced as soon as the thought popped into his mind; the real question was since when do angels return from the Empty in fucking age-regressed vessels, seemingly both physically and mentally? God. He needed a fucking drink.
Dean continued towards the bunker’s main room, hoping to find Sam and Jack waiting there. He knew he was being selfish when he asked that they stay outside the dungeon when he rescued Cas from the Empty. Dean shouldn’t have a monopoly on Cas, he was Sam’s friend too; hell, he’s Jack’s fucking dad. They deserved to see Cas just as much as he did, maybe even more—it’s not like they’re the reason Cas died. Dean took sole responsibility for that death sentence. But he had shit he needed to say to Cas, and as much as he loved Sam and Jack, there are just some things they’re not meant to hear. Dean snorted. Not like that fucking matters now anyways.
“Sammy? Jack?” Cas startled as Dean yelled for his brother and the kid, jerking in his arms. Oops. Dean readjusted and held Cas tighter until he stopped squirming, trying to soothe him by whispering quiet nonsense against the top of his head.
“Dean? Did it work? What happened?” Sam entered the room, scanning the room for Dean, Jack trailing closely behind. Dean heard his breath hitch as he finally landed on Dean—more specifically, the trench coated-lump swaddled in Dean’s arms. Sam stood stock-still; Jack’s eyes widened; Cas shimmied slightly against Dean’s body; Dean swallowed and looked across the room sheepishly.
“Uh, hey guys. We have a problem.”