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It Started With a Tree

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"Why don't we have a tree inside, Dean?"

Dean glances away from the tv, where he's been mindlessly channel surfing through endless Christmas specials for about a half hour, and looks at Cas. The not-quite-angel is sitting on the floor beside the couch Dean sits on, looking outside distractedly. His attention is fixed on a car stopped at a traffic light; a big, thick Christmas tree is tied to its top with many ropes. The faintest bit of snow is beginning to fall, lightly dusting the tree. Dean and Cas can't hear from inside, but Dean wouldn't be surprised if the family in it was pumping Christmas tunes loud like it's classic rock and singing along out of tune in synchrony like all conventional families do during the holidays. Dean groans and clicks off the tv, standing and tossing the remote on the couch aggravatedly. Cas looks up at him and tilts his head.



"God, Cas, not you too."



"I don't understand."



"Yeah, well, you wouldn't."



Dean gives the car a last grouchy look as it drives off, green branches swishing as it accelerates. Cas eyes Dean curiously, eyes as calculating as they always are when Dean does something he doesn't understand. Which is often. It's been six months since Sam finally announced he'd be moving in with a girl he's found since the end of the apocalypse ("Saving the world kinda puts things into perspective, Dean. We have another chance to live our lives! You might want to do the same."), and three months since Dean and Cas decided they'd gotten a little weary of endless motel rooms and decided to put down a payment on a studio flat in Pennsylvania. They still hunt, unlike Sam, but more and more often they find themselves staying off the internet and away from the newspapers, casually and almost subconsciously avoiding new cases. Dean still drinks and Cas still gets a far-off look in his eyes every now and then, like he's remembering something that's been taken from him.



They avoid the subject of alcoholism and Cas' essential humanity much more effectively than they do potential cases.



Dean walks off towards the kitchen - one of the only positive things about the holidays is the fact that stores start selling eggnog. He pours himself a glass, and looks through the liquor cabinet. He debates for a moment between brandy and rum and finally opts for the latter. He turns to grab the eggnog and -



"Jesus shit, Cas - don't /do/ that." Cas is standing too-close-for-comfort... again. Dean's starting to get used to it, but it's no less disorienting. Or rude. After all, the guy's all out of angel mojo and can't even teleport - he's got no excuse for popping up unannounced anymore.



"My apologies." Cas says, but Dean suspects it's not very sincere (though it may be because he hears it all the time, now). Cas unceremoniously plucks the bottle of rum from Dean's hands and places it on the counter beside them. Dean scowls.



"What the hell?"



"I'm new to this," Cas says evenly, though there's an edge to it, "I've been stationed here for thousands of years, but have never /participated/ in this - any of this. Human festivities, their customs... if I'm stuck in this form, forgive me for wanting to make the most of it. I want a tree, Dean."



Dean has a thousand reasons why he doesn't want a tree or Christmas specials on tv or presents or any of that, dating back from November 2, 1979 until the present. Number one being the only other living Winchester - the only person Dean would be willing to put on his holiday face for and make the best of this shitty season. But Sam's in Indiana with a beautiful girl, wrapping presents and eating cookies and planning on what to get her parents when they spend their holiday with them.



So yeah, Dean's festivity reasons are limited.



"You're not missing anything," Dean says dismissively, reaching for the bottle. Cas slaps his hand - lightly, but pointedly.



"I wouldn't know, would I?"



Dean sighs, exasperated, and looks Cas in the eyes. This is something he tries not to do very often. Every time he looks at Cas, really looks at him, he's knocked a little breathless by how /human/ his angel looks, more so every day. This revelation comes with waves of guilt every time from the knowledge that Cas' fall, his humanity, is all Dean's fault. But that's another subject they don't talk about.



But now, looking at the earnest look in Cas' eyes, at the little bit of hope that's trying to fight the hopelessness Dean knows Cas faces every day, Dean can't say no. He has to get the goddamn angel a tree. He groans, downing his virgin eggnog and heading for the coat closet.



"Grab the keys, Cas."



"Dean?"



"Don't make me change my mind," Dean says, and Cas doesn't wait another beat. The excitement he exudes as he scrambles to get his trench coat is so endearing Dean almost forgets to be a scrooge.



* * *



There is nothing that can be said of the finished, decorated tree than that it has very obviously been decorated by a 30-something-year-old bachelor and an awkward, nerdy angel. Still, the two of them stand staring at the messy, glowing thing like parents looking at a newborn child. Cas is actually /smiling/, which is such a rare occurrence that Dean is tempted to go out and decorate the whole goddamn front yard, too, the whole shebang, just to keep that stupid cheesy grin on Cas' face. The realization of this makes Dean feel a little weird, though, so after a moment too long of admiring their handiwork, he clears his throat.



"So! Did that satisfy your Christmas fix? Can I have a drink now?"



Cas pries his eyes from the tree to look at Dean.



"No, Dean," Cas says sternly - and somehow he's still able to manage his I-am-an-Angel-of-the-Lord voice despite his lack of mojo because Dean swallows his retorts, unspoken. He eyes Cas a little warily. He still hasn't forgotten the heavenly ass-kicking Cas gave him in that alley so long ago. Dean's pretty sure he could easily take Cas now, in an even fight, but that sort of dizzy awe at the immense power of the celestial being he's friends with hasn't exactly faded from memory. If nothing else, Dean's learned to take Cas seriously.



... That, and maybe the fact that Dean kinda likes the way Cas' face looks when he smiles.



"Alright, what other holiday crap do you want to do, then?" Dean relents.



"Everything. Teach me everything."



And so Dean does. It nearly kills him, too, because Cas plays the holiday CD Dean gets him on repeat for hours and Dean never had any intention of memorizing all of the reindeer on Santa's sleigh but by day two he can recite them backwards. He lets Cas drag him to the mall to window shop (they don't exactly have a long list of relatives to buy presents for) and that weird feeling comes back when Cas stares at the huge tree in the center of the mall like it's some postcard from God or something. And Dean has to admit that the smell of gingerbread cookies throughout the house isn't exactly a bad thing. He doesn't join Cas when he bakes and he pretends to be asleep when Cas watches all the classic holiday movies Dean orders for him, but he can't help but feel a little secondhand warmth from all Cas' excitement.



***



It's about a week before Christmas when it hits Dean that he needs to get Cas a present.



The idea comes to him at about midnight. One of Cas' movies - Dean's pretty sure it's Rudolph, it's Cas' favourite - has just ended and Cas is passed out on the couch. The little loser's wearing Christmas pyjamas, for God's sake. He looks ridiculous, but Cas is too alien to understand embarrassment and had only wrinkled his eyebrows in confusion at Dean's breathless laughter over it. The whole 'sleeping angel' thing is still kinda trippy, but Dean's finally used to it. Dean shuts off the tv when the credits end and the room is dark, save for the ethereal glow of their horribly decorated tree.



Cas looks peaceful in sleep, even more so in the light of the tree. /Their/ tree. Dean turns his attention to it, giving it a fond look. It's a little crazy that it's even there - that Cas was able to pull an entire Christmas out of him. Dean has never had a Christmas like this before. While before he couldn't remember the last time he'd had a homemade cookie, Dean's pretty sure he's had about every type of cookie in creation in the past two weeks alone. He chuckles at the memory of Cas in a Christmas apron. The guy really wasn't kidding when he said he wanted to do the whole Christmas thing right.



The weird feeling thing has taken up permanent residence in Dean's chest.



It's that feeling that tells Dean he needs to get Cas a kickass present that is /not/ from a gas station and not wrapped in newspaper. The weird feeling does not, however, tell Dean what to get.



He sighs, aggravated, and situates Cas so he's not dangling off the side of the couch. Cursing himself for being such a girl, he tosses a blanket over him and then leaves the room before the weird feeling can swallow him whole.



***



"Christ, Cas, you need /more/ things?"



"We don't have a wreath, Dean. I am ashamed. We have no outdoor decorations."



"Nobody decorates a studio apartment, Cas.  Married couples decorate their houses. Old people decorate their houses. A hunter and a nerd angel don't decorate shit." Castiel gives a pointed look at the Christmas tree and Dean scowls.



"Fine. I'll take you to the mall, but if I spend any more time in that holiday store I'm going to puke. I'll walk around and you can take your time."



"That works fine. I do have a bit of a list."



Dean's mouth starts to form the world /how/, but he thinks better of it and clamps it shut. There is no reasoning with Cas when he's in decorating mode.



Dean takes the time alone at the mall to search for a suitable Cas present. He has no idea what a sort-of-angel could possibly want so he's got no idea where to begin. He thought about asking Cas himself, but he thinks that might be breaking some sort of unwritten Christmas rule. He also thought about calling Sam, but he isn't exactly sure he knows how to explain the situation. Nothing in the windows seems appealing. All Dean knows for sure that Cas wanted was Christmas itself, and he obviously got it.



An hour later Cas is calling for help carrying things to the car and Dean's circled the mall again and again to no avail.



***

Cas bought a goddamn fireplace.



It's one of those cheesy fake ones, but it's pretty realistic and it actually gives off heat. Dean's absolutely mortified by the fact that his once-manly flat now has stockings hanging up. Thankfully, the wreath Cas bought does /not/ have bows or anything else embarrassing. It's understated and kinda nice, if Dean's willing to admit (and he's not), and doesn't look too bad on their door. Dean's in the kitchen making hot chocolate for the two of them when he hears a crash from the living room. He rolls his eyes and puts down the mugs, idly wondering when exactly they obtained hot chocolate and how long he's been involved in making it as well. Somewhat disturbed by the fact that he cannot remember when, he treks to the living room. Cas is on the floor, scowling at a footstool.



"What were you trying to do?" Dean asks, amused, helping Cas from the floor. Cas points at the doorway to the kitchen.



"The Internet says I'm meant to hang this everywhere," he explains, gesturing to the box in his hand. Dean takes it, looks it over, and starts laughing because he has no idea how else to react. The box reads, 'mistletoe'.



"Not in here you don't," he says, moving the box from Cas' reach when he grabs for it. "Do you even know what it's for?"



"The box didn't come with directions," Cas replies simply, reaching again for the box. Dean grins and moves away, playing keep-away with the box of mistletoe just for the fun of watching Cas try.



"Explain it to me," Cas says irritably, obviously annoyed that Dean's inhibiting his decorating.



"Ha, no," Dean says. He ends up dangling the box over Cas head, earning a glower from the shorter man. Cas gives him a pout that rivals Sam's and stops fighting for the box. Dean makes a note to punch his brother for teaching that awful look to Cas. It was unfair enough when only Sam did it.



"Please?" Cas asks quietly. Dean swallows, suddenly very aware of where the mistletoe is. He clears his throat and half-shoves the box at Cas.



"No, damnit. Do whatever you want with it."



Cas tilts his head; Dean scowls.



"Just - augh, go pick a movie. I'm almost done the hot chocolate." Cas' face lights up and Dean leaves for the kitchen, confused by the warm, red feeling on his face.



***

The day before Christmas eve, Dean still has no idea what he wants to get Cas. He knows he shouldn't be so annoyed by it, so fixated on picking something perfect... but he is, regardless, and it's enough to send him three towns over to distract himself with a hunt. It's a low-grade ghost with a thing for bitching it out near the holidays. The house she inhabits was recently purchased by a nice little Jewish family that seriously doesn't deserve to get a crazy lady in a Santa hat for a ghost. It was a pretty clean hunt; the graveyard she's buried in is around the corner and her grave is clearly marked. The grateful family rewards him with homemade fried doughnuts and Dean ends up sticking around for an hour or two.



When Dean gets home, it's already getting dark out. He thinks about stopping at the mall again, doing one last run through, but he knows it's pointless. He's at a loss on what to get his angel and tomorrow is Christmas Eve. His fingers grip tight around the steering wheel and he drives a little faster than intended. Dean Winchester does not accept defeat gracefully.



Dean sort of smells like he's been digging up graves and he's eager to get a hot shower and crawl into bed. Or, rather, into the couch with some blankets and a holiday movie with Cas, some cookies, hot chocolate... but no, of course Dean didn't want that. If Cas /forced/ him, sure. It's not like he was looking forward to going home to his cheesy, overly made up house. Not like he grins at the wreath on the door as he turns the key in the lock.



Dean isn't exactly expecting the onslaught of new smells that hit him when he opens the door. It smells /amazing/. Dean can make out some sort of meat - turkey? - roasting, and the unmistakable smell of pie. He can feel his mouth watering a bit. Cas has seriously outdone himself, and it's not even Christmas Eve yet -



- but then, it might as well be, because Sam Winchester and Bobby Singer are sitting on his couch, chatting it up with Cas, drinking eggnog and listening to that dumb holiday CD and Dean's a little taken aback. He hadn't expected to see either of them any time soon, especially for the holidays. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who called them to invite them over. Dean pushes down the desire to bear-hug Cas.



This is awesome.



"Sammy!" Dean calls and is giant moose of a brother bounds over and they hug, grinning at each other. Because while, yeah, finally parting ways after so many consecutive years together was long overdo, they're still brothers and they've still been apart way longer than they have been in any of those years. Sam's hair is at a respectable length now and Dean suspects the new girlfriend had something to do with it. Dean notices she's not around with a certain amount of relief. It's not that Dean didn't like her, but he still couldn't remember her name and, for better or worse, she /is/ the one who took Sam from him. Besides, Dean's uncomfortable enough as it is about his bachelor pad being all decked out in Christmas cheer without having some girl come over and coo over all the cute things Cas has done with the place.



"Man, I love what you guys have done with the place," Sam says, instantly reminding Dean that he actually has a massive ogre of a little sister as a sibling. Dean rolls his eyes.



"Of course you do. You shouldn't be encouraging Cas' Christmas fever, Sam! I have no idea what I'm going to do with him the day after everything's over."



Cas glares.



"I'm perfectly capable - "



"So how the hell are you, Sammy?" Dean asks, cutting through Cas' protests. Then Dean remembers Bobby's there, too, and his grin stretches even wider. "Bobby!"



Cas seems to have this sort of glow to him, like he's a little quiet ball of positive energy in the corner of the room. He's not saying much, just quietly observing, but Dean's eyes are drawn to him again and again. He can't help but wonder what he'd be doing right now if not for Cas - probably passed out in a motel somewhere, drunk, or out shagging the cheapest ass he could find at the nearest bar. The most festive he'd get is if said piece of ass was wearing a sexy Santa outfit.



Yet here he is, instead, spending the first real holiday with his entire family by a tree with a home cooked meal in the oven since before he can remember. All because of Cas. The weird feeling in his chest pulses like a knot being tightened. He realizes with a start that he's been staring. Naturally Cas, being Cas, is staring back. Damn angel never misses a beat. Dean looks away quickly.



"I thought you're spending the holidays with your chick and your future in-laws?" Dean asks conversationally, eating yet another of the cookies Cas has laid out. There's eggnog, too, but Cas didn't put out any alcohol and Dean's not sure if it was intentional or not. Knowing Cas, it probably was, but a party's not a party without some booze and Dean's considering getting up to grab some. After a moment decides he might just wait til someone asks, though. Waiting can't hurt.



"We are. That's why Cas invited us over today, instead. Now I get at least a little time with you guys." Dean shoots Cas a grateful look he hopes Cas understands. Cas flashes him a tiny smile and stands up.



"I believe the food should be done. If you'll all gather around the table I'll be out with it in a second."



"I'll help," Dean adds, getting up and following Cas. If Sam and Bobby exchange looks, Dean doesn't see it.



Out of earshot in the kitchen, Dean grabs Cas shoulder gently and looks him in the eyes.



"Thanks, man. Seriously."



"It is nothing, Dean. As much for my benefit as yours. But you're welcome."



Dean isn't expecting that damn weird feeling to do a flip when Cas meets his eyes, but he takes it in stride. He begins pulling dishes from the cabinets.



"Shit, Cas, baking cookies is one thing, but I didn't know you could cook. And from the smell of that thing, you cook fucking fierce."



"It's a recipe, Dean," Cas says idly as he pulls the roast from the oven, "and I've been well trained by the chef on DVR. Hopefully it tastes as good as it smells."



Dean wants to tell Cas that he's pretty sure Cas couldn't fail at anything if he tried, but that's borderline... something, and Dean doesn't want to cross into whatever that something is just yet. He carries out dishes and Cas carries out the roast and they go back to the kitchen to bring out utensils and cups. On their way back in they bump shoulders in the doorway and Dean happens to look up. Cas is unfailingly stubborn; there's mistletoe hanging overhead and Dean's so red he's afraid his face will catch fire. Cas stares at him with such confusion it's obvious that everyone in the room is seeing Dean blush.



"You never explained this to me," Cas says thoughtfully, frowning. Sam and Bobby laugh.



"That's mistletoe, Cas. You hang it up and if two people are caught under it together, they're supposed to kiss," Sam explains.


"I see," Cas says, looking up. He looks at Dean thoughtfully, then, but Dean doesn't stick around to see if the angel's aware that mistletoe does not override personal boundaries and failure to kiss under it does not equate to lacking holiday spirit. He moves swiftly through the doorway, placing a handful of forks and knives on the table and taking a seat. Cas lingers for a moment, watching Dean. This drawn out glance would be slightly unnerving if it wasn't so common. Cas is essentially human, now, and with each passing day he's more and more aware of how humans interact and how human society works... but he still lacks a lot of basic common sense. Like, for instance, the etiquette of staring.

... It has not escaped Dean's notice that Cas never directs any long and lingering stares at anyone else, but he chooses to believe it's a "profound bond" thing and leave it at that.

"Alright, alright, we've schooled the angel on mistletoe. Way to go, Sammy. I won't save you if he tries to kiss you. But enough talk - time to eat!"

Cas' expression is inexplicably irritated for a moment, but it dissolves in a swift second and he takes a place to Dean's right. Everyone starts serving plates and Dean half expects Cas to stop everyone and insist they pray before eating. He doesn't, though, and Dean wishes he was more surprised. Cas hasn't spoken of God ever since the apocalypse ended without the Big Man's intervention. Cas' faith is in a garbage dump somewhere beside Dean's amulet. Dean absently touches his neck. It still feels too bare, even now. He pushes away these thoughts, however, in favour of enjoying his family's company.

His family. All together under one roof, eating a big meal together for a holiday. Who would have thought?

"So when are you two gonna find yourself some gals and settle down?" Bobby asks Dean and Cas as the conversation becomes talk of Sam and the beau he's so smitten with.

Dean laughs. "Right after you do, Bobby," he says, sarcastic, but to Dean's surprise Bobby looks a little sheepish.

"Wait - /wait/. Hold on, Bobby - is there a /lady/ in your life?" Dean says, smug and grinning.

Bobby turns beet red. "Shut up, you idjit. It ain't nothing."

"Oh, nothing, Bobby?" Sam asks, his tone gleeful. "Last I heard you said you'd be spending Christmas with the sheriff."

Dean whistles. "The sheriff, eh? Quite a catch there, Bobby."

"Shut up, both of you. That's not what I was talking about, anyway. I'm talking about /you/ two," Bobby says gruffly, gesturing to Dean and Cas. "You don't have to stay hunters forever, you know. You've more than earned the apple pie life."

Cas shrugs. "Romance has never occurred to me before. I don't see the appeal to it." His eyes flicker briefly to the mistletoe, but it's so quick it's almost imperceptible.

Dean notices.

"Nobody gets out of the hunter lifestyle, Bobby, you know that," Dean says dismissively, stuffing his mouth with a forkful of roast.

"I don't know, Dean," Sam contradicts, "I seem to be doing fine."

Dean says something in between chews that sounds something like, "Myeh mut yer a gwrl," and follows it with a big gulp of apple cider. Sam rolls his eyes.

"Well, at least you two have each other. Can't say it isn't cozy in here."

Dean opens his mouth to retort, but then closes it when he realizes he has nothing to object with. It dawns on him that he does, in fact, have Cas. And it /is/ cozy, all warm and decorated everywhere. It's more of a home than Dean has had since he was four and, though he'd never admit it, he kinda likes it. He likes having Cas around, too. Cas has livened up since he started all this holiday crap and his company's not half bad. Beats living alone, for sure.

"At least until Dean finds a mate and settles down, like you," Cas says conversationally, mopping mashed potatoes from his plate with a dinner roll. His words are said casually but Dean can't help but think of the gravity of them. What /would/ Cas do if Dean ever moved out? Human or not, he's still alien to this world. He'd have no idea how to navigate it on his own.

/I'd move him in or something/, Dean silently resolves resolutely. For whatever reason, though, this promise to himself does not satisfy him.

"Yeah, well," Sam says awkwardly, trying to diffuse the weird atmosphere Cas' statement caused, "You're not too bad looking, Cas. I'm sure you've got chicks lining up to be with you, right?"

Cas shrugs again. It's a very human gesture, and it's slightly disorienting watching him do it. But then, so is eating, yet here they are, gathered around a table and feasting together.

The subject shifts to other things, eventually, like recent hunts and Bobby's auto shop and Sam's upcoming return to law school. It's still a little surreal. The apocalypse is really over. No more dick angels, no more fear, no more weight of the world on their soldiers. They're celebrating Christmas. It's friggin trippy.

They drink wine after dinner, a strange change from their normal hard liquor and countless beers. No one complains - not even Bobby. Both Sam and Bobby seem to be making an effort towards self-betterment for their ladies' sake. Dean's not exactly sure why he hasn't hit the liquor cabinet yet, but every time he glances in that direction Cas catches his eye and he changes his mind. Wine is still alcohol, anyway. They all get a little buzzed off it, but it's a warm, comfortable buzz. Sam barely drinks any; he's the designated driver and he's got leave tonight so he can be back to his girlfriend by tomorrow. The night passes in affable chatter with the tv tuned to Rudolph (of course) in the background. It's the happiest Dean's been in a long, long time.

It's about 1am when Bobby and Sam finally say their goodbyes. There are hugs all around and promises to visit more often.

"Thank you for coming," Cas says and Sam grins, giving Cas a hug he'd obviously not been expecting. He looks surprised, but pleased. The expression is so endearing Dean sort of wants to hug his brother again, just for giving Cas the awkward smile on his face.

Sam seems to whisper something to Cas - Dean can't be sure - before letting him go. Cas looks at him curiously as they go.

Once their guests have safely departed, Cas and Dean fall back into the couch, exhausted. The lights are off, save for the Christmas lights, the glow of the tv and the zillions of gingerbread scented candles Cas has on every open surface in the apartment. The movie has ended and the screen is bright blue.

"Put in another one, Cas," Dean says sleepily. Cas yawns.

"... /You/ want to watch a Christmas movie?"

"Shut up before I change my mind. It's Christmas eve."

Cas' smile is almost as bright as the tree lighting his face. He wanders off for a couple minutes and comes back with hot chocolate and blankets, tossing one on Dean and passing him a mug. Dean nods his head in thanks and cuddles up under the blankets. He's content and sleepy from the wine and if he was anyone but Dean Winchester, he'd probably be a little cuddly, too. But Dean Winchester doesn't cuddle.

Cas crawls into the couch, too, after putting on The Grinch, and bundles up under the blankets. He's a little too far into Dean's personal space than is necessarily comfortable, but Dean's too tired to care. Their "fireplace" is on full-blast, and the flat is snug and warm. Nothing in the world could bother him right now.

Dean's eyelids flicker every now and then as the movie begins, but he wants to fight sleep long enough to at least finish his hot chocolate. He's just starting to nod off when he feels a head rest on his shoulder. His eyes blink open and he looks at Cas - who's asleep, now, half-finished cup still cradled in his hands. He's breathing softly and curled up, whole body tucked under the big fleece blanket he has. The weird feeling in Dean's chest is doing backflips. Dean plucks the mug from Cas' weak grip and puts both on the coffee table, then assesses his next options.

Dean really doesn't want to move. He's pretty sure the walls are gonna go vertigo if he tries to stand, now, and he's so comfortable he feels cemented to the spot. Of course, there's Cas, head slowly adjusting to having Dean as its pillow. Dean's sort of alarmed by how little this phases him. He should be freaked out and shoving the sleeping Cas away, but instead... well, instead he's kind of reveling in it.

Dean really, really does not want to acknowledge how perfect it feels to have Cas' head on his shoulder.

 His mind is too hazy to properly come up with a proper course of action, so instead he works on auto-pilot. He adjusts Cas so they can both sleep comfortably side-by-side -- their couch is huge, it's easily possible -- and falls asleep before he can think too deeply on how absolutely, impossibly weird this is.

 

*

 

Dean wakes up to the smell of food cooking—he could seriously get used to this. Smells like breakfast, eggs and pancakes, and Dean's off the couch and in the kitchen as soon as he's conscious enough to smell it. Cas is serving their two plates as Dean arrives, and Cas gives him a hesitant smile.

“I was about to wake you up,” he says, not meeting Dean's eyes. Like he's concerned Dean's going to mock him for getting up early to cook, or something. Dean sort of wants to hug him.
“Cas, this is awesome,” Dean says as he pulls up a chair. Cas finally looks at him, then, and there's a genuine happiness in his eyes that's overwhelming. Cas has been so unhappy for so long, so broken since the end of the world... it's amazing, see him with so much light in his eyes. Dean can remember the exact moment he'd realized that Cas' fall was going to be more painful than he'd thought before. One night, Cas had woken up in the middle of the night and called Dean's name, voice panic-stricken enough to rouse Dean from his slumber. When Dean, sleepy and irritable, had inquired what was wrong, Cas had said simply, they're gone. He'd slid a hand up and down his own back and whispered it again and again, ignoring Dean's inquiries at first. When he finally snapped out of what Dean could only assume was shock, he'd said, barely audible, my wings are gone. Thus was the final step in Cas' fall.

That was when Cas had become human. He's been essentially cheerless ever since.

But now... now there is vitality to him, something charming and unexpected that causes weird feelings Dean is not okay with, and Dean breaks eye contact abruptly.

“Merry Christmas Eve, Dean,” Cas says, pulling up a chair.

“Merry Christmas Eve, Cas,” Dean echoes absently. He's distracted, contemplating the warmth in his chest. Cas tilts his head but says nothing more. They're quiet as they eat, but it's a contented one that's only slightly awkward because Dean is never quiet. Still, it's an affable silence. Dean irritates himself in that he keeps glancing over at Cas, catching sight of blue eyes that make the weird feelings squirm around. He thinks of how they fell asleep and he feels embarrassed. Had Cas woken up with Dean's arms around him?

“So!” Dean says when their meal is done, “What happens today? It's Christmas Eve, so I know you have something planned.”

Cas bites his lip “It would seem that I should... but I don't. I've run out of ideas,” he admits reluctantly. Dean raises his eyebrows.

“You can't think of anything to do? This is your thing, though.”

Cas looks sheepish. “Sort of anti-climactic, isn't it? I apologize.”

Dean stands up, shaking his head as he clears the table. “Hell no. We're going out with a bang. I'll figure it out.”

“We?” Cas says, looking confused. Cas grabs their glasses and follows. Dean looks at him like he's crazy, stops where he's walking.

“Um, duh?”

“You were... adverse to the idea of Christmas, before. I just assumed...”

“Yeah, well,” Dean says awkwardly, and now it's his time to feel embarrassed. “You converted me, alright? Let's not make a chickflick moment out of it.”

Cas smiles and Dean's getting really, really fed up with the crazy feelings his insides are causing. He looks up, exasperated – and of course, a la chickflick movie – they're under the mistletoe again. Cas notices, too.

“I should take this down, shouldn't I?” Cas asks. His voice sounds strange, though he seems to be aiming for amused. It's not working, exactly.

“Nah,” Dean says dismissively, continuing into the kitchen, “it looks cool, at least. Mind as well keep it. It's not like we have anyone around to kiss, so what the hell?”

“Mhm,” is all Cas says.

***

It turns out it makes absolutely no sense that Cas couldn't find anything to do. Dean has an inkling Cas got a little depressed over the end of the holidays and gave up—but Dean's not having that. Cas lazes around on the couch, watching Rudolph for the eighty-millionth time, while Dean scours the internet. It takes all of ten minutes for him to find a wide range of things to do.

“Cas,” Dean says, “go get dressed.”

Cas looks at him inquisitively. “For what purpose?”

“We're going ice skating.”

Cas smiles again and Dean tells himself he might need to get used to it. He only hopes that smile will stick around once Christmas is over.

“You smell like a grave, Dean. Go shower and we'll go.” Dean can't argue with that logic, so he heads off to the bathroom. They rendezvous in the living room 20 minutes later.

Cas is in a big, oversized Christmas sweater and it's only adorable because it's atrocious. It's got reindeer on it, including one that looks suspiciously like friggin Rudolph, and is knitted and looks warm. He's going all out in looking ridiculous, because he's got on one of those lumberjack hats with the earflaps that everyone's been wearing lately. Dean's not even sure when he got it.

Dean is getting seriously, seriously sick of his heart flipping because of Cas. He should be laughing, not fighting the completely inappropriate desire to hug his roommate.

“Ready?” Cas asks.

Dean has to clear his throat twice before he trusts himself to speak.

“Ready.”

***

Cas can't ice skate.

The first time he falls, Dean loses his breath from laughing so hard, clutching his stomach as his shoulders shake. Cas had glared at him, but seemed genuinely good natured about it and even laughed a little, himself. By the fourth time Cas falls, Dean's starting to get concerned the not-quite-angel might get bruised.

“You're friggin awful, Cas,” Dean says, fighting the smile twitching at his lips.

Cas rubs his lower back as he stands, scowling. “I've noticed.”

“Are you – do you want to like, stop?”

Cas shakes his head vigorously. “Despite my injuries, I am having fun.”

Dean feels a little better about that, but he can't help but feel like Cas would be having more fun if he wasn't falling on his ass every five minutes. Dean crosses in front of Cas, skating backwards.

“Watch me, Cas,” Dean says, “It's not that different from walking. You just have to balance.”

“If that were true, I'd be skating just fine right now.” He wobbles a bit, and Dean reaches out to keep him from falling, grabbing Cas hands. They linger there a moment. Dean swallows.

“It'd be easier to keep your balance if you held on, wouldn't it?” he says evenly, trying to sound as diplomatic as possible. Cas nods.

“I'd imagine so.”

Dean takes a deep breath and thinks briefly that this moment is another borderline something moment, but he waves it off. Cas needs his help, it's Christmas eve and Dean's not going to dick it up because his heart's been acting stupid lately. He's just helping Cas skate. No big deal.

Dean skates so that he's at Cas' left, holding one hand as they go, keeping Cas balanced. His face is red, but it's cold enough that it could easily look like his cheeks are just rosy from the chill. Cas' face looks about the same. Dean is inexplicably disappointed when it occurs to him that Cas really is just cold. This disappointment is disorienting.

“Thank you, Dean,” Cas says after they've been skating quietly a while. It's obvious from his voice that he's not just thanking Dean for the balance—it's everything, and Dean's not sure how to deal with a thank you that big.

“Hey, no biggie, man,” Dean says, “What are friends for?”

Cas' expression flickers for a moment, a hint of something... sad?, and his grip on Dean's hand lessens. The lack of pressure feels wrong.

“Regardless,” Cas says, after just a beat too long, “thank you. These past few weeks have been... therapeutic. Well-needed.”

“If anyone deserves it, it's you.” And Dean really, really means it.

 Dean skates around in front of Cas again and grabs his other hand, speeding up their pace as he skates backwards. Cas' eyes widen and his grip on Dean's hand tightens so hard it's amusing. Dean smirks.

“Scared, Cas?”

“I was once an Angel of the Lord, Dean, I've taken on more than one angel at once and I threw a bomb at Micheal’s head. I hardly-”

“Alright, alright, point taken. You're a big badass.”

“Thank you.” As he says this, he loses his footing and falls into Dean, who in turn loses his foot and falls backwards. Dean falls on his ass and Cas topples onto him, pushing Dean backwards into the ice. They lay sprawled there for a minute, Cas' chest against Dean's. Their faces are inches away.

And – Jesus christ – Dean realizes that he really, really wants to friggin kiss the guy.

“Awkward,” Dean says, because it is awkward and there's pretty much nothing else he can say. Cas gets up slower than Dean can handle, but he knows it's because that fall hurt like hell and not for the same reasons Dean would prefer they just lie there as long as they can before freezing. He laments the loss of contact when Cas is finally up. Cas gives him a hand and Dean holds onto it, grateful for the guise of being a helpful. Dean feels a little ashamed. Cas would be freaked out if he knew the stupid thoughts racing through Dean's head.

“Agreed,” Cas says, but his voice sounds strange.

“How long have we been here, anyway?” Dean asks, and Cas checks his wrist – he's one of the few people who actually wears watches and uses them to tell time instead of cell phone.
“Three hours,” he says, and Dean gapes. It barely feels like it's been forty-five minutes.

“Come on, we're gonna be late,” Dean says, skating towards the exit. Cas blinks.

“For what?” But Dean only grins and skates on.

***

The park is pretty dark, with multiple streetlamps' lights turned out. Cas hovers in Dean's personal space as they walk, but that's nothing new. What is new is Dean's failure to be irritated by it. Dean's pissed at himself for indulging all these stupid weird feelings. Cas is gonna get used to being all up in Dean's personal bubble and it'll be a problem, fast.

Dean's mad at himself for thinking that might not be too bad of a problem.

After a while, they reach the center of the park, and there's a stage. On it, a band is playing Christmas music, beautifully performed and echoing through the park. There are people gathered around, standing or sitting in the provided chairs, listening. Many of them are couples, holding each other or leaning against each other and Dean is seriously, seriously tired of wanting that. He looks at Cas and finds that Cas is already looking at him curiously, head tilted.

“What?” Dean asks, suddenly self-conscious.

“Thank you,” Cas replies, glancing away. Dean swallows.

“Hey, no problem man,” Dean says awkwardly. The band stops playing and a man walks onto the stage, carrying a microphone. “That's the mayor,” Dean quickly explains, eager to break this weird whatever-it-is.

“Why?” Cas asks.

Dean just smirks.

“We're gathered here to celebrate the holiday season,” the mayor is saying, voice loud and very politician, despite the warm atmosphere, “No matter what your religion may be – or lack thereof – this is a time of great festivity, bringing loved ones together. Tonight we will commemorate this special time of year with our annual tree lighting ceremony.”

Cas' eyes light up like fireflies and he looks at Dean, teeming with happiness and gratitude. Dean fights the urge to grab Cas' hand, but he settles for returning Cas' smile with a grin.

A moment later, the park is suddenly alive. First the stage lights up, covered in bright white Christmas lights. Then the tree to its left does as well, and then another, and then a whole succession of them. All around, the park becomes a beautiful maze of glowing light. Cas does what Dean has been wanting to since they got here – he takes Dean's hand. Dean squeezes it briefly, despite himself.

They spend a long time walking through the park like this, hands held, reveling in how magnificent it looks. Dean doesn't care if they're getting weird looks and he doesn't care that this is probably another borderline-something moment. He's content and he's happen and it's more than he's been in a long, long time.

Finally they've seen all the park has to offer and they reach where they started. Cas looks great silhouetted by Christmas lights. He squeezes Dean's hand like Dean had before, before letting go. When they get in the car, Cas is looking at Dean like he's some sort of angel. Which is pretty ironic.

“Thank you,” he says again, and his voice is conclusive.

“Night's not over yet,” Dean says, and he pulls in drive.

*

The diner they pull up to is in New Jersey, just past the border between the state and Pennsylvania. New Jersey's known for its diners, and this one is no exception. It's lit up and decorated everywhere, and Cas' excitement hasn't waned all night. It makes Dean impossibly, inexplicably happy.

Their portions are huge, though, and Cas is eyeing the menu like a giant. Dean rolls his eyes.

“Pick something, we'll split it.”

“But you have the appetite of an ogre,” Cas points out.

“Yeah, well, I'm ordering myself something, too.”

“You're revolting,” Cas says, but his voice is fond.

 Cas orders some sort of fancy pasta thing that is obnoxiously disproportional, coming in a startlingly large plate with meat and cheese, covered in a savory sauce. It easily fits both of them, and halfway through, Dean calls the waitress over to take away his cheeseburger. Dean tries not to laugh at the Lady and the Tramp style dinner – they're sharing a plate because they'd forgotten to ask the waitress for a second one. They're getting a couple weird looks but Dean barely notices them. He's too busy sneaking looks at Cas when Cas is not looking. Cas is making some sinfully appealing mmmhh noises every now and then as he eats, but realizing that is even more weird than everything else he's been feeling tonight and he blocks the thought out completely.

“People think we're a couple,” Cas says conversationally, twirling spaghetti around his fork.

“Yeah, well, let 'em think what they want,” Dean says, dismissive. Because he really doesn't care in the least and that's alarming.

Dean might just be imagining it, but he thinks Cas looks a little pleased with Dean's answer.

“So,” Dean says as they finish their meal, “did you get everything you wanted out of Christmas?”

Cas gives Dean a look that is a little confusing because of how intense it is. “Almost.” His voice is unexpectedly whispery.

There's a strange, strange shift in the atmosphere and they're both quiet, as though holding their breath. Dean subconsciously leans forward and Cas bites his lip. Dean is suddenly aware of how hard his heart is thumping and he pulls back and leans against his chair, putting his arms behind his head.

“Good,” he says, feigning an upbeat tone that's hardly convincing, “like I said, you deserve it. You up for dessert?”

There's a flash of disappointment in Cas' eyes but it's gone in an instant. In reply, he flags down the menu.

He orders two slices of apple pie without consulting Dean, and Dean's a little taken aback that Cas knows exactly what he wants and that he wants it, too.

He sorta wishes that applied to something else, but he's made a habit of pushing down feelings so he does so again, now. It doesn't keep his heart from pounding though.

*

It's late when they get home and they both unceremoniously fall into the couch. Cas looks full and content and Dean feels exactly the same. He knows for a fact that he's never in all his life had a Christmas eve this amazing. He's a little proud that all the planning was done by him, for once, but he knows it would have been nothing if Cas hadn't been there. Just like their little flat – it'd be nothing without Cas there, too. It was a small place, but Dean knows it'd feel way too big without the fallen angel there.

“Tomorrow's the big day, huh?”

Cas nods and says nothing else. They sit in affable silence for a while.

“I'm glad I can spend it with you, Dean,” Cas says quietly.
Dean swallows his 'me too' because it's the too honest. If he'd spoken it out loud, all the deeper meaning there would have been too evident. He responds with a smile instead.

Cas gets up and turns on their cheesy little fireplace and – oh-so-surprisingly – puts on Rudolph. It would be maddening if it wasn't so endearing. That used to be Sammy's favourite, too. Must be an outcast thing.

“This is the happiest I've been since I lost my wings,” Cas admits after a while. Dean's a little speechless -

wings.

Dean suddenly knows what he's going to get Cas. It's cheesy and stupid and he has know idea if Cas will like it, but he's up and grabbing his coat before he can finish the thought.

***

When Dean comes back, the ending credits of the movie are rolling on the screen. The room is dark, save for the light of the tree. Cas is asleep on the couch while Dean puts a medium-sized gift bag under the tree.

After all this time, it's still a little trippy seeing Cas asleep. Angels don't sleep, and seeing him this way is proof of how human Cas is, now. Still, as long as that handprint scar is burned into his upper arm, Cas will always be Dean's personal angel.

Cas is curled up under a blanket and breathing quietly. The picture of it is so inviting that Dean's weird, stupid feelings are all fluttery and stupid like a chick-flick moment on crack. He's tired as hell and the house is warm and he knows Cas is, too, and finally he doesn't care. He takes off his coat and toes off his shoes and crawls beside Cas, effectively spooning the other man. He's in screw it mode, completely self-indulgent, now, so he thinks 'what the hell?' and buries his nose in the nape of Cas' neck. And, since he's completely going for the whole self-indulgent thing, he wraps an arm around Cas. Merry Christmas to me, thinks his sleepy, clouded mind. He's too tired to even hope that they wake up in a less incriminating position.

He falls asleep quickly.

***

Dean wakes up first. This happens very, very rarely. It occurs to Dean that he might have been a little more excited for Christmas than he thought. He remembers when he and Sam were young, how they'd wake up early because they were too excited to sleep any more. The dawn has barely broken and Dean notices the sky is grey when he looks out the window.

Dean's still holding Cas, exactly the same way they fell asleep. Dean's breath catches in his throat. Cas shifts in his sleep and then Dean hears a yawn.

“Merry Christmas, Dean,” comes Cas' gravelly voice.

“Merry Christmas, Cas,” Dean replies in a whisper into Cas' neck. He feels Cas stiffen and instantly removes his arm. Cas grabs it before he can.

“I don't mind if you don't,” he says, weirdly casual, “It's too early. Go back to sleep.”

Dean doesn't know what to say, so he buries his face in Cas' neck again and does just that.

***

When Dean wakes again, Cas is sitting on the couch beside him, holding a mug with what Dean assumes is hot chocolate. He's leaning slightly against Dean. Cas glances over when he feels Dean shifting.

“Hello, Dean,” he says. Dean sits up, still groggy, and Cas hands him a cup of hot chocolate. He takes it graciously and yawns into the cup before drinking. He sees Cas eyeing the present under the tree.

“You got me something,” Cas says, more of a statement than a question.

“Yeah.”

“I got you something as well.” There's a little wrapped package Dean hadn't noticed before under the tree, towards the back.

“What is it?”

“Open it.”

Dean approaches the tree obediently, grabbing both presents. He hands Cas' to him and sits down beside him.

“We'll open them at the same time,” Dean says, because that's what he and Sam used to do. Cas nods.

“1...2...3.” And they unwrap.

And Dean's mouth drops.

He's holding his amulet amidst the wrapping paper, perfect as it always was. It's the original, Dean can tell. There's a small chip on the left side Dean's familiar with and it's the same size, same colour. But it's not the visual similarities – Dean just knows. He looks at Cas with awe.

“How did you -”

“Dean,” Cas says, and his expression is similar to Dean's. Dean can't help but think his gift to Cas is insignificant in light of the one Cas gave him.

“I – I don't know, it's -”

“Perfect,” Cas says, and he means it. The truth of it is in his voice.

Cas is quickly putting on his gift in a flash and Dean feels a little warm at his enthusiasm. It's a sweater, nothing particularly out-of-the-ordinary, just a big one like Cas likes... the lure of it, though, is in the back. It's got big, plush wings on it, soft and comfortable but artfully crafted and feathered out in fabric so it's comfortable. Cas looks almost gleeful.

“I have wings,” he says simply, running a hand along them.

“I have my amulet,” Dean says, looking at the necklace in his hand like he's seeing a ghost, “but how? You can't exactly poof in and out anymore.”

Cas glances away. “I asked an old friend for help locating it,” Cas says, and Dean's stomach flops. He narrows his eyes.

“Tell me you didn't make a deal, Cas.”

Cas laughs and it puts Dean at ease because it's so nice to hear it, so foreign and so something Dean would like to hear more often.

“I'm an angel, Dean. I don't make deals with demons. I don't even think I can. No.. I summoned Joshua. He was kind enough to help me.”

“Joshua?” Dean asks, confused, “the gardener? He came all the way from Heaven to find my necklace?”

Cas nods.

“Many angels are quite fond of you, Dean, though they'd never admit it. You and Sam saved the world and stopped Lucifer. That is no easy task. Joshua was rooting for you. He was more than happy than to oblige my simple request. He sends his regards, by the way.”

Dean can't stop staring at Cas like he's some sort of miracle worker. He puts the necklace on with trembling fingers. He remembers when Sam gave it to him for Christmas all those years ago. Now, having it returned, is almost just as special. Dean is slightly overwhelmed. Cas had chosen something incredibly dear to Dean's heart, something that had obviously required great thought and a very deep knowledge of Dean. It is painfully difficult not to throw his arms around him.

“Thank you,” they both say at once, and both laugh.

*

“Dean,” Cas says over breakfast, homemade crepes Cas has added to his repertoire of recipes, “I'm very fond of human holidays. When is the next one?”

Dean chuckles. “There's Valentine's Day in February and Easter in April – but Easter's lame, it doesn't count. And Valentine's Day is no fun if you don't have a girlfriend... or, boyfriend, or whatever, to share it with.”

“I see,” Cas says thoughtfully. Dean chews his lip and plays with the amulet around his neck.

Cas' hair is a mess and his wings are so adorable the sweater puts Cas' whole collection of oversized sweaters to shame. Dean's staring hopelessly and Cas is noticing, but Dean's still indulging himself. He tells himself he'll stop after Christmas, that this is just one big present to himself, that he can get over it. That the weird feelings will go away once this all ends.

Dean has a sneaking suspicion that's not true, though.

“Dean?”

Dean shakes his head, effectively shaking himself out of his daze. Cas tilts his head.

“Ahh, c'mon,” Dean says awkwardly, “I'm pretty sure there's got to be at least one Christmas special on tv that we don't already have.” Cas doesn't seem satisfied with Dean's answer, but he complies anyway and clears the table. They both leave the kitchen at the same time, yet again caught together at the entryway from one room to the other.

Yet again, under the mistletoe. Dean looks up and Cas follows his gaze.

“Dean?” Cas says again, much quieter this time.

“What did Sam say to you? Before he left, he said something to you.” Dean says, suddenly. Cas goes pale and looks at the ground, clears his throat.

“He said 'Wait for him. He'll come around.'” It sounds very strange to hear such a rough voice sound so small.

Dean's eyes widen and he grabs Cas' shoulder.
“I asked you if you got everything you wanted for Christmas,” Dean says, and Cas is still staring at the ground, “You said almost. What else did you want?”

Cas looks up abruptly, meeting Dean's eyes full on.

“You.”

Dean loses his breath for a minute, pulse pounding, until finally he succumbs to all the stupid, weird feelings that have been plaguing him and he kisses his angel. Cas' lips are warm and soft and everything Dean's ever wanted, he realizes suddenly. Everything he'd pushed down and not allowed himself to want.

When their lips part, their mouths hover close together.

“Me too,” Dean says, words breathy on Cas' lips.

“Merry Christmas, Dean,” Cas says.

“Merry Christmas, Cas.”