Castiel kept an eye on the clock as it finally flipped over to 7pm. He couldn't help breathing a silent sigh of relief, because that meant it was time for Dean to get ready for bed. He never wanted Dean to think that Castiel didn't enjoy caring for him, but none of his brethren had ever warned him how exhausting a hatchling could be. He was looking forward to putting Dean to sleep and then relaxing.
Unfortunately, things didn't quite go to plan.
"What do you mean, no?" Castiel said, surprised. Sammy hated bedtime, but Dean was always up for a cuddle and a bottle with Daddy. And he adored story time. Usually, putting him to bed was the easiest part of Castiel's day.
Dean stared up at him, fingers stuffed in his mouth. He garbled something unintelligible.
"What was that, baby?" Castiel knelt, gently pulling Dean's hand away from his mouth so that he could understand.
"It's New Years Eve," Dean repeated. "Gotta stay up till midnight."
New Years Eve. It took Castiel a moment to place the term. He was not unfamiliar with how much importance humans placed on the passage of time, though he wasn't sure he'd ever been on Earth for this particular day. Still, he could remember Sam once expressing hope that maybe the new year would be better for him and Dean.
It hadn't been, considering that they'd been dealing with the Apocalypse, but that was beside the point.
This seemed to be important to Dean, though. Castiel examined his determined little face and realized that he would probably have a battle on his hands if he tried to insist that Dean go to bed anyway. It would be easy to make Dean fall asleep with some grace in a bottle, but then Dean would pout about it for days, if not weeks. The baby was good at holding a grudge when he wanted to, as Gabriel had discovered when he forgot all about helping to make Dean a pecan pie.
Remembering the weeks that Gabriel had spent trying to get back into Dean's good graces decided it. Castiel smiled at him and nodded.
"Okay. Just this once, you can stay up until midnight," he agreed, figuring that Dean would be asleep within the hour. Hatchlings needed a lot of sleep to deal with the change happening to their bodies, and Dean was used to his bedtime being at 7pm.
Dean eyed him for a moment, then nodded. "Sammy?" he asked, holding his arms up.
"I think Sammy's probably getting ready for bed, sweetheart. We shouldn't disturb him and Uncle Gabe."
"Thanks, but not to worry," Gabriel said from right behind him. "Apparently we've having a party."
"Party!" Sammy shouted. "Party, Dean!"
"Party!" Dean squealed back.
"A party?" Castiel asked, feeling his exhaustion growing.
Gabriel shrugged. "So I'm told. Mortals." But the fond look he directed at Sammy and Dean belied his exasperated tone. "I guess fireworks and kisses at midnight are very important, even to hatchlings and nestlings."
"Kisses?" Castiel repeated, raising an eyebrow at that. He was positive that mentally, Sam and Dean weren't old enough for the kinds of kisses they would've had in the past. Someday, when the two of them had passed through the changes and were fully grown, it would be a different story. But that was still a long way off.
Last he'd checked, Dean's grace was just a tiny ball of fluff, still nestled deep in his very human soul. He wasn't even old enough to visit heaven yet.
"Kisses," Gabriel confirmed, nodding. "So I suggest we get these little monsters bathed and in their pajamas, and then we can watch some movies."
"Don't need a bath," Sam said quickly.
"Yes you do," Gabriel said, just as quickly. He eyed Sam closely and was ready for the moment that Sam tried to take off, grabbing Sam around the waist and tossing the laughing nestling over his shoulder.
"Bath?" Dean asked, fingers headed back to his mouth. Castiel stopped him again, offering him a pacifier which Dean accepted. He sucked on it happily as Castiel scooped him up and carried him after Gabriel.
Dean was typically pretty sedate during baths, until Sammy got in the bath with him. Then they were both worthy of the nickname 'little monsters'. Neither Castiel nor Gabriel came through the experience dry. Gabriel in particular was soaked, as both boys had delighted in splashing him with water. Of course, Gabriel's exaggerated moans of dismay every time he was splashed did very little to dissuade them.
Castiel lifted Dean from the bath first and took him into the nursery; he got Dean into a fresh diaper and pajamas, then rubbed oil onto Dean's wings. They were looking healthier by the day, and for that he was relieved. Dean's first molting had been a nightmare, almost as bad as when Dean's wings had been growing in. He combed his fingers through the feathers and listened to Dean's sleepy little moans.
There was no way he was going to last until midnight.
He carried Dean back into the living room and settled the baby on his lap, opting to sweep his wings forward instead of conjuring a bottle. Dean latched onto a primary feather instantly, eyes slipping shut as he suckled. Castiel felt the tug of grace from somewhere deep inside. Normally it would've been an irritation, but gazing down at Dean, he felt nothing but peace.
Gabriel came in a couple of minutes later, toting Sam with him. Sam walked over to Castiel and stood there for a second, looking down at Dean.
"Baby tired?" he asked.
"Very tired," Castiel said, shifting Dean so that Sam could see his face.
Sam gently patted Dean's cheek. "Night-night, baby," he whispered. Gabriel smiled at Castiel over his head and put a hand on Sam's shoulder.
"C'mon, kiddo," he said softly, drawing Sam away. Sam didn't like to nurse because he was a self-proclaimed big boy, so he settled down with a sippy cup full of milk mixed with grace. He leaned against Gabriel, half-focused eyes on the television. Gabriel settled a blanket around them and rubbed Sam's wings, exchanging an amused look with Castiel.
Forty minutes later, Sam's head slumped against Gabriel's shoulder, and Gabriel broke the silence. "So much for the party."
"Dean lasted longer than I thought he would," said Castiel, gently tugging his feather out of Dean's mouth. The baby had been asleep for several minutes now. He substituted it with another pacifier and Dean never knew the difference.
"I figured Sam would crash. He had a play date and ran himself hard," Gabriel said, tugging the blanket up around Sam's shoulders. He snagged the remote. "Shall we see what happened on Maury today?"
Castiel rolled his eyes. "If you must."
He was actually relieved when the clock finally read 11:58pm. Three hours of what could only be called trash television with Gabriel would test anyone's patience; why his brother had such a fondness for watching humans make fools of themselves, Castiel would never know. He was just deeply, deeply glad when Gabriel finally shut the television off and started to wake Sam.
"Dean," Castiel whispered, leaning over Dean. "Wake up, little one. It's almost midnight."
It took a good minute of gentle shaking before Dean's tired green eyes opened. He stared at Castiel in confusion for a moment before understanding sank in, and then he reached up for a hug. Castiel hefted him up, letting Dean wrap his arms around Castiel's neck. Across the room, the clock changed to midnight.
Gabriel and Sam ran out the front door together, even though it was dark and cold and snowing. Seconds later, Castiel heard the sound of fireworks and the two of them yelling and laughing together. In that moment, all of his exhaustion fled and was replaced by a wave of contentment. Castiel couldn't think of anywhere in the universe he would rather be than right here.
He smiled to himself and pressed a kiss against his baby's sleep-warm cheek. "Happy New Year, Dean."