The ocean whispers in Dean’s ears—waves caressing the beach. He opens his eyes, unsure for a few moments where he is. The other side of the bed is empty, but the sound of the ocean draws his attention to the open balcony door, where the sheer curtains blow inwards on a breeze.
He sits up and swings his legs over the edge of the bed, rubbing at his eyes as he yawns. He’s just had the most fucked up dream—full of faceless monsters and pointless battle. He rubs at his back as he remembers something sharp hitting him there, but the dream is already fading and he shakes his head, getting to his feet instead. He throws on yesterday’s t-shirt but doesn’t bother putting on any pants over the boxers he’d worn to bed as he shuffles towards the open doorway, covering his yawn. With any luck Sam will have been up awhile already and won’t get an eyeful of something he can’t unsee, and just perhaps, out on the balcony…
Cas stands there, leaning with his hands spread on the railing and looking out across the beach. Dean smiles as he steps up behind him, pressing a kiss to the curl of hair sitting just above the neckline of Cas’s soft blue hoodie.
“Hello, Dean. I was about to go in and make some coffee,” Cas says, leaning back into Dean's chest.
Dean can hear the smile in his voice. He follows Cas’s gaze up to where gulls are flying above the water, gliding together down to the sand.
Cas is warm against Dean, even through the fleecy fabric. Poor ex-angel feels the cold now, even down here in Orange County. He places his lips on the side of Cas's neck, then tucks his chin over his shoulder, Cas's morning stubble scratching slightly across his own.
“Sam out with Miracle?” he asks, looking out towards the deep-blue of the Atlantic, reflecting the open sky and bright sun above. Nice change from the chilly, cloudy mess it’s been the last few days.
“Yes, but not out on the beach." Cas's voice was a deep rumble this early. “He got a call earlier—he's meeting Eileen somewhere in town.”
“Oh, awesome!” Dean says, straightening up and stepping over to the railing, then turning to lean his butt against it. “Ghoul hunt must've gone okay, then.”
Cas nods, a slight smile on his face. “I hope he can convince her to stay a few days.”
Dean has to agree. That girl never seems to slow down, always off on some hunt or other. Sam had told him she’d been really upset after everything with Chuck, and they hadn’t seen her for weeks at a time while she hunted alone. Dean’s glad Sam kept in contact with her, though. She’s good for him, and Dean has to admit, she fits perfectly into their little family.
Cas makes the coffee and they drink it quietly, their knees knocking together as they sit on the couch on the balcony. It ain’t exactly hot beach weather at this time of year—Dean had picked up an off-season deal for these beachfront cabins—but it’s warm out here in the morning sun. He’d insisted that Sam come along as well to get him out of the bunker—ever since he and Cas had helped Sam set up his hunter network, the kid refuses to take a day off. In fact, they’ve all been busy, which is why he’s been so excited to finally get his toes-in-the-sand vacation.
Except that he’s never been great at sitting on his ass and relaxing. “Wanna go for a walk?” he asks Cas, suddenly restless.
A few minutes later, Dean’s dressed in his blue and green Hawaiian shirt, lamenting the fact that Cas has refused to wear his matching one as they walk down to the shoreline.
“Do you know what day it is?” Cas asks, his face turned to the beach ahead.
Dean frowns, even as he enjoys the cool wash of the water over his bare feet. He could definitely get used to this. “I dunno, man. Friday?”
Cas chuckles, “It’s November twelfth, Dean. A whole year since…since you pulled me from the Empty.”
“A whole year?” he echoes, and Cas nods, his smile fond.
Dean doesn’t remember much about that time, and hadn’t really wanted to prod the memories—although Sam had told him later that after…afterwards, he’d somehow driven to meet them in Hastings, Minnesota and then back to the bunker, and then tried to drink himself into oblivion until Michael had shown up and the whole Chuck showdown had happened. Fucking hell, even thinking about that time has his head spinning. He’d been in dark places before, but that week...
He pushes the memories aside, glancing at Cas, still walking calmly beside him. Human, but here . A thought occurs to him. “Does that make it your birthday or something?”
“Rebirth day, perhaps?” Castiel said thoughtfully. “I still can’t believe you and Jack—after everything you’d done to take Chuck down—” he says, but Dean interrupts him.
“Yeah? Well I’d do it again in a heartbeat. You just dropped the L-word on me and disappeared—what did you expect me to do? Go eat some pie and pretend nothing even happened?” Dean scowled out at the waves. “‘Sides, the kid was pretty upset.”
It wasn’t entirely true, although after he, Sam, and Jack had hightailed it back to the bunker and found it empty, Jack had joined Dean in being inconsolable. It had been Eileen who had come up with the loophole, after she’d arrived at the bunker the following day. And after that, Jack had spent hours feeling out the ragged edges of the damaged Empty, searching for a way to get Dean in and a human Cas out.
That reunion, lying on the floor of the bunker, Cas in his arms, still feels seared into Dean’s memory, even if the rest of it is blurring now. They’ve never really talked about any of it, after that first few days. There doesn’t ever seem to be time for that.
“You know,” he begins, pausing as he wonders how to bring it up, “if you’ve changed your mind, if you wanted to, I dunno...mojo up again, help Jack out with heaven...?”
Cas stops walking, gripping his hand until Dean looks up to face him. “Hey, we talked about this. I would never give up the chance to be with you.” He lifts Dean’s hand to his mouth, kissing the back of it, his eyes bright. “I told you, we’ll age together.”
Dean melts, the touch of his ex-angel banishing the lingering memories. He reaches up, cupping Cas’s face with his other hand, and pulls him in until their lips touch. He smiles as he rests their foreheads together, murmuring, “I love you, you know that?”
Cas leans in to kiss him again, before moving back to continue their walk hand in hand, the vial containing Cas’s grace still hidden beneath his hoodie.
“Wait, you remembered that it was a year?” Dean asks, dubiously. The last year has felt like a blur to him, between getting Cas used to being a human again, and helping Sam to get his hunter network up and running. There was no way Dean was keeping track of dates, and he doubted Cas was either.
“Sam told me, before he left this morning.” Cas quirked his mouth in a sideways grin. “I think he’s been keeping some kind of journal all this time.”
“Of course he has, the big nerd.” Dean looks up ahead. “Speak of the devil,” he adds, as he spies his brother’s unmistakable tall, shaggy-haired frame walking towards them, arm around the shoulders of Eileen. Jack runs in front of them, throwing a ball for a very excited Miracle.
Dean remembers telling his dad, or whatever version of his dad it had been that had come forward in time, that he had a family. As he smiles at Jack running through the sand, his boyish laugh echoing over the sound of the waves, he knows there’s no universe where he would have ever given up on this. When he thinks about how close he came to losing all of them all over again…
They aren’t perfect—fuck, they still have a crapload of stuff to work through. Dean hears Sam calling out most nights, and Dean still has his fair share of nightmares, but at least he usually has Cas sleeping by his side to reassure him that he’s not drowning in black goo. But they’re alive, and together, and that’s all that matters.
As Sam and Eileen get closer, Dean frowns. “Dude, what gives?”
“What?” Sam raises his moose-sized eyebrows as he and Eileen turn around, joining Dean and Cas to walk back the other way on the beach.
Dean gestures to his brother’s t-shirt. “You’re not wearing your shirt!”
Sam scoffs. “Shut up. I am not wearing a matching shirt with you.”
“That’s exactly what I said, Sam,” Cas adds, squeezing Dean’s hand as he grins.
Dean frowns at them both. “Come on, just one time?”
When Sam and Cas both refuse, Eileen laughs in delight, so Dean gives it up and calls to Jack, “Hey kid, you want ice-cream?”
Jack’s eyes widen in delight as he turns to look at them. “Can I have cookies and cream flavour?”
“Yup. Two scoops.”
“Yessss!” he says, bringing Miracle over to join them.
Dean puts his arm around Cas’s shoulders, placing a kiss on his temple as they walk towards where the ice-cream store is one in a small row along the coast road.
The sun shines warm on them, and Dean doesn’t think he’s ever felt so content. They’re together, and free, and if he can help it, he’ll never let go of his angel and their little family again.