Some days, Castiel truly feels his age. Technically, he isn’t all that much older now, in the grand scheme of things, but he feels every year. Most of his angelic energy is drained by worry, especially over his friends. Over Sam and Dean Winchester. He has spent longer worrying about them than they probably care to know; his worry began thousands of years ago, when God told the angels about His plan to create the Vessels. Castiel himself had given the Cupid’s faction the order to have John Winchester and Mary Campbell meet and eventually procreate.
But his worry is different now. He often thinks of how strange it is that he’s only known the two men for eight years, yet those eight years have been packed with more life (learning about love, about how it breaks your heart, about loyalty, and about honor that would put even God’s most trusted angels to shame) than all the eons of his existence put together.
He isn’t sorry, truly, for Dean’s anger, although the silent treatment did quickly get old, because he enjoys talking to his friends. But he’s not sorry, because even after putting aside the ridiculousness of it all-- the notion that either Sam or Dean would or even could live on knowing the other was gone, not to mention the thought that this world wouldn’t implode without those two heart-heavy warriors of the light keeping the darkness at bay-- aside from all that, the second Castiel had learned of Billie’s intentions to toss his friends’ souls (those bright, ever-burning things starting fires inside their bellies, inside their hearts at a constant, ever-replenishing rate, the very souls he’s touched, weighed in his own hands against all others and found them to be more than worthy, a true work of his Father’s art) into the Empty, the garbage bin of the Universe, where (Castiel doesn’t think they know this, with how casually they accepted this fate) they would be separated forever, forced to live in utter blackness, with all senses gone, but still miserably, utterly alive-- no.
He simply won’t stand for it, and as long as he’s alive to see to it, the Winchesters will have their peace in paradise, forever. Even if he has to die-- or continue to kill-- he will deliver them unto the rest they deserve, when they finally decide it’s time.
But until then… the heavy door of the Bunker creaks open, and Castiel looks up, watching the two strong, handsome men lumber in tiredly, bumping shoulders as they maneuver around each other on the landing before thumping down the stairs.
Cas stands, smiling. He’s glad to see them, glad to see Dean’s sharp eyes taking in every wince and misstep of Sam’s stride, glad to see his hand move on auto-pilot to the small of Sam’s back as they finally descend. It means Dean is all there, that Dean really is himself again, operating on pure instinct. Muscle memory, if you will.
He’d heard about their ordeal with the memory-hex through the grapevine, which consisted of Rowena bragging to Crowley about the Winchesters owing her one, and Crowley passing the information along to him (‘like they don’t owe me a dozen ones,’ he’d drawled, scoffing) because their relationship, now, apparently consists of banal phone calls in which Crowley complains about his life to a completely un-captivated audience.
Strange, Castiel thinks, watching the boys stagger tiredly towards him (both with a warm smile he knows by now means they are happy to see him), how blurred the lines have gotten, and stranger still, his general ambivalence towards serving anything, anyone besides his little family. Something wells up in him, something that feels a lot like the heart he technically doesn’t have being squeezed, causing him to move swiftly to his friends, throwing his arms around their middles, squeezing the three of them together tightly.
Sam chuckles, patting Cas on the back. Dean grunts instead, squirming, muttering ‘yeah, yeah,’ but giving Cas’s shoulder a squeeze as he backs away.
“You been here waitin’ on us, huh, Cas?” Dean asks, shedding his jacket as they all move into the library. The boys set their duffels down on the table with a loud thump. “‘S like havin’ a loyal pet dog, but nowhere near as awesome.”
Cas thinks he ought to be offended, but isn’t sure, so he looks to Sam. Sam confirms it, scoffing on Cas’s behalf, knocking a fist against Dean’s shoulder.
“Don’t listen to him,” Sam tells Cas with grin. “Not even twelve hours ago, he was going on about how amazing it was to have an angel as a best friend.”
“Oh, Dean. Do you really think so?” Cas inquires, which makes Dean scowl, which makes Sam laugh like he’s young.
Cas would never say so because he knows it would embarrass him, but he thinks Sam’s smile, his honest, full-out joy smile is one of the most beautiful things he’s ever seen in his long, long life. But of course, Dean’s is a thing to witness, too. He wishes those smiles weren’t so rare these days.
Yes, he loves these men. It is nice that he is often reminded why. He watches Sam’s face, the way his eyes follow his brother as Dean grumpily stomps from the room, and the soft, genuine smile of affection on his face. There’s something deeper there, like gratitude, and it’s not hard to imagine why. Sam has just spent the last twenty-four hours facing his worst nightmare.
Even beyond Dean’s death, Cas imagines there’s nothing worse than having a bond, a connection like Sam and Dean’s, and then slowly feeling it ebb away. Sam not just realizing it, but witnessing everything that makes Dean Sam’s brother gently slip away, knowing soon he would be the only person alive who knew the deepest, darkest depths of Dean’s devotion. Dean himself wouldn’t even remember anymore. It must have driven Sam crazy. No, it would, without a doubt, have eventually driven Sam crazy, had they not been able to cure him. To be all alone, after experiencing a devotion like that. After being just as devoted, just as… ah, as Zachariah described it, ‘psychotically, irrationally, erotically codependent.’ Well. Who wouldn’t go crazy?
“How are you, Sam?” Castiel inquires, moving towards him with an outstretched hand. “Any debilitating or even perhaps mildly annoying injuries I can attend to?” Cas wishes he could heal a lot more than his friend’s superficial wounds, but what Sam needs in order for certain wounds to heal, well, Cas can’t provide that.
Sam shrugs, giving Cas a small but genuine smile. “No more than usual, man. We got pretty lucky this time, all things considered. Things got bad, but they could’a been... “ Sam winces, like he’s remembering. “Well, everything’s okay, in any event. Dean’s… Dean again. And all I really need is a hot shower and some sleep.”
Cas watches Sam silently. His friend’s long, lovely fingers make quick work of unpacking his treasured books from their duffels to be put up in the morning.
He is captivated as Sam deftly sorts them into mental piles Castiel can’t begin to understand, and Cas wonders, as he often does, if he should tell Sam that he knows what it really is that he needs. He decides that tonight, after all these years, he finally will. They’re not getting any younger, after all, and he’s mainly stayed out of it because he didn’t truly believe that two people so singularly and utterly devoted could be that stubborn and obtuse. He should have known, really. It’s maddening, is what it is, and it almost seems purposeful, how they ignore each others’ signals, like they each have that secret locked down so tight (out of shame, probably, or guilt), each other’s light can’t get through. It’s tragic, almost, if he’s being completely honest.
Cas knows he has been selfish and short-sighted in the past, but he can’t see how a gentle nudge in each other’s direction could ever steer them wrong. And frankly, he can’t stand to see Sam or Dean suffer any longer, not when the cure for what ails them is so readily available and almost desperately willing to be given. To be had.
Sam finally turns to leave, but Cas grabs his wrist. Sam stays, casting tired blue-hazel eyes down at him. Sometimes, Sam looks a thousand years old. Cas realizes suddenly that with all the Cage-time, he probably is. That fuels his resolve even further. The suffering these two gentle men have faced, he thinks. My God. “What is it, Cas?”
“Sam,” he begins gently, cradling the fragile bones in Sam Winchester’s wrist. “I hope you don’t think this is… too forward. But since I am an angel, I am more in-tune to things that… others… might not be.”
Sam cocks his head, and Cas suddenly understands Dean’s phrasing of ‘puppy eyes.’
“You’re weary,” Castiel continues, frustrated at his consummate lack of communication skills. “That is, your soul is weary. His, your brother’s-- Dean’s is, too. You should go to your brother, Sam, and find your solace.”
Sam gives him a skeptical look. “Have you been binge-ing Lord of the Rings again? People don’t speak that way, Cas.”
Castiel can feel his expression change, showing the frustration he’s feeling. Ah, right. The other reason why he’s stayed out of it. They can be so… so… stupid! “Dean is every road back home, Sam. Go home and find your peace.”
When he sees a blush start to creep up Sam’s neck, Cas knows he’s hit the mark. That Sam is starting to glean on to what Castiel is implying he knows.
“Dean doesn’t know,” Castiel promises him, “just like you don’t know about Dean. Talk to each other and find out. I’ll be in touch soon, Sam.” He goes to leave, but catches the guilty, humiliated flush to Sam’s cheeks, and he can guess what Sam is feeling so ashamed over.
“Listen carefully,” Cas tells him. “Remember that it was God who created you to be soulmates. How you feel because of that isn’t wrong. Not according to Him, anyway. And not according to me.”
With a firm squeeze to Sam’s wrist, he releases some angelic energy into Sam’s body, allowing his friend’s anxiety to lessen, to give him the only bit of peace he can. After a last, hopeful smile, Castiel vanishes.
A couple hours later, Sam is staring at his ceiling, willing his tired eyes to override his overactive brain so he can just goddamn sleep for a bit. Just like, four hours. That’s all he needs, but no, it’s useless. Another night in a long string of nights with zero sleep.
Naively, he supposes, he’d actually thought the sleepless nights would end once they dove into a new case. A case, he had reasoned, would make him absolutely sure that he really was free from that awful prison, not just hallucinating his escape. Because god knows he gets the Crowning Lifetime Achievement Award in Hallucinating Shit, so it freaks him the hell out that he’s causing this. Or that his mind is, really. That he’s lulling himself into a false sense of security, when in actuality his body is out there somewhere, dying. Uselessly dying, while Dean is still out there too, somewhere, probably needing him. Maybe even getting himself hurt looking for him.
But, things have been… pretty bad recently, actually, so right on par with their usual lives, and that sort of gives Sam hope that everything is okay. Also, Sam knows the recently-dispatched Lucifer was really the only… thing out there that could make him truly believe the hallucination, so. He’s been optimistically cautious, so he’s mostly able to fake it through little moments of panic (lots of deep breaths) during the day.
But nighttime is a different story. He’s so goddamn scared of closing his eyes, because what if he opens them, and he’s right back in that tiny grey room? God, he would go crazy. He thinks his brain would implode, just melt right out of his ears.
“This is so stupid,” Sam mutters to himself, beating down the sheets that keep bunching up every time he rolls over to find another position. It’s probably the seventh time he’s moved around in the past half an hour, but despite his exhaustion-- mental, physical, spiritual-- he can’t fucking fall asleep, because his brain won’t shut up!
Sam huffs, kicking at the bunched up sheets at his feet. They’d both been too exhausted to talk as they’d trudged in a few hours earlier, intercepted by Cas briefly, who was a welcome surprise. Dean had stumbled off to the showers, and Sam hasn’t seen him since. It’s both welcome and not.
Sam thinks he understands what Cas was telling him-- to take comfort in his brother, but the whole bit about soulmates, and what God thinks-- no. He can’t… of course, when he first met Cas, he had been afraid the angel could see right through him, could read the love letters written in the lines of Sam’s smiling mouth, could interpret what those words meant, how they represented every single thing Sam was too much of a coward to ever say--
Well. Needless to say, Sam’s been so careful to hide it all his life (well, since about age twelve, all hormonal, wrapped up tight in small beds with his beautiful older brother, but surprise! Always a freak, he never grew out of it, never grew away from Dean like so many other siblings eventually have the chance to), to hide it from Dean and Dad and Cas and God and everyone else in between. He’d barely let himself think about it, and it had been okay for the first several years of them being back on the road together.
Their lives had been so world-endingly fast that Sam barely had time to breathe, let alone pine (although he definitely found a few moments, believe him), but now? Now, with their home, the one they built together, all the talk of retiring and settling down one day and watching the crows’ feet by Dean’s eyes grow deeper with each year gone by and being thankful, so goddamn thankful that his brother is alive to wear the passage of time on his face, his hands, the grey at his temples--
Yeah. It’s been a little more difficult. Especially having separate rooms, and yes, they’ve had separate rooms for years now but he’s been using Dean’s breathing in the next bed as a lullaby for over thirty years, so freakin’ sue him. He’s always wanted him close, always, but Dean had wanted his own room, his own space, and how was Sam, at thirty-years-old, supposed to demand they share a room?
Yeah, right. And what did Cas mean-- ‘Dean doesn’t know, just like you don’t know about Dean’-- could he have been anymore cryptic? Friggin’ angels.
Screw it, he thinks finally, throwing the covers off his legs. It’s not like he’s been sleeping, anyway. Straightening up, he blows out a sharp breath, trying to tell himself to stop being a moron. Dean is always willing to spend time with Sam, even if they’re just being quiet in the same room together. He’ll just casually go knock on Dean’s door to see if he’s still awake, and if he is, he’ll suggest a nightcap or something. And if he’s not awake… well, who knows what his pathetic, baby brother heart will lead him to do then.
He doesn’t get far down the hallway, though. When Sam rounds the corner, a couple steps from the library, he looks up to see Dean standing there, eyes rounded in surprise, cheeks blotchy red. He’s in a black t-shirt (god, nobody can wear a t-shirt like his brother) and jeans, feet bare. The fly is undone on his pants, but he doesn’t say anything, doesn’t move. They stare at each other from fifteen feet away, and Sam doesn’t know why, but this moment feels precarious, and easily shattered.
All of that goes to hell when Dean visibly swallows. Something about the vulnerability of it, the lump in his brother’s throat, the audible, pitiful ‘gulp’ as they take each other in, it knocks down all the walls Sam’s been ducking behind his whole life. The frenetic, sparking energy in the space between their locked eyes causes his legs to move him forward until he all but bowls Dean over.
Dean gives a soft groan of relief as Sam wraps him up tight, his big brother steadying them with his strong legs and a firm arm wrapped tightly around Sam’s center. He buries his nose in the crook of Dean’s neck, the place he chooses to hide when things scare him this much. Because he is scared; he’s absolutely terrified. The honest sigh of contentment that leaves his lips is so different from every other stiff-lipped pat on the back he’d give Dean to signal he had to move away or be swept up by the emotion. Now, he lets how he feels, how he truly, honestly feels guide him into wrapping his fists tightly into the shirt covering the small of Dean’s back. He’s clinging, overwhelmed by his older brother, the way he smells, the way his gentle fingers knead at the base of Sam’s neck, and god, the way he feels, and-- and how that makes Sam feel. Dean rests his cheek against Sam’s hair, closing his eyes to pull Sam impossibly closer, and they stand there for an eternity wrapped inside a minute, holding onto each other for dear life.
“You scared me,” Sam finally mumbles, pulling back to wipe at his face with the back of his hand. “You scared me really bad, Dean.”
“I know,” Dean murmurs, “I scared me, too. Believe me.” He reaches out like he’s going to cup Sam’s hipbone, but at the last minute, his hand stops on a dime. Sam pretends not to notice Dean’s tell of ‘oh shit’ before he locks it down, but Sam does notice, and--
Sam can’t-- if Dean wants to touch him, which hardly seems believable, despite what Cas had said-- so he grabs the hand Dean had started to retract, guiding it right where Dean intended it to rest. Wherever Dean intended it. Wherever, why-ever, however Dean could ever intend it, and all he’d have to do is ask.
“Why are you awake? Nightmares?” Sam asks gently, when it becomes obvious Dean isn’t going to speak. Instead, his brother watches the hand he has on Sam’s hip, his bright eyes trailing the reverent path his thumb takes against the thin skin inside the bone’s cradle.
Dean grunts, “jus’ restless,” with a shrug. “I think I’m almost too tired, y’know?” He sighs deeply, drawing his hand back. Sam can feel the warmth linger against his skin like Dean had painted him with fingerprints, with ownership, and Sam instantly misses it. “Was comin’ to find you.”
That had been obvious, but Sam still glows at the admission. “Oh, yeah? Was it an emergency?” Sam raises a skeptical eyebrow at Dean’s undone fly, causing his big brother’s ears to go purple. It’s so disarmingly charming that Sam can’t hold back his laugh. It becomes twice as loud when Dean scowls, his whole face turning pink.
“I just…” Dean says finally, eyes on his delicately-boned feet. His brother sighs like he’s expelling his cowardice, so Sam quiets his laughing. “Was, uh, gettin’ undressed, 'cause I thought maybe I couldn’t sleep ‘cause I was still in my jeans, and I… got halfway through it, when--” He cuts himself off, moving close to Sam again, confidently shaping his hands over Sam’s hips. “I don’t know, Sammy. Felt weird. Like I had to come find you right then. It felt like…” He removes a hand from Sam's waist to place it against his own chest, rubbing deeply, wincing. “Felt like you were hurting. Like you, uh. You needed me.”
“I do need you, Dean,” Sam says at once, but he must say it in a ‘duh’ sort of way, because Dean shakes his head.
“No, Sammy, like, um. Y'know. Like... your heart. Like your heart needed me.”
Leave it to Dean, Sam thinks dazedly. Dean, who hates all things emotional, can still completely gut him with a few choice words.
“No, Dean,” Sam mimics, but not unkindly. For emphasis.
His anxiety is strangely all gone, and he feels free for the first time in... god, twenty-something years. Feels hopeful. Feels like maybe, just maybe, everything he's ever wanted isn't as impossible as he's always thought. His self-loathing over this, over the way he feels about Dean, the way he looks at him, the way he lets Dean touch him in all his best dreams, it’s suddenly gone, and all he can feel is acceptance. All he can feel is yes, this, always this. Forever, this.
“No,” he continues softly, pushing his fingers up under Dean’s shirt, brushing against the warm skin at the small of his back in a way that makes his brother’s breath catch, “I know what you meant. I did need you. And I do need you. God, I always have, just. Just-- always. With my heart, Dean. I need you with that. And, uh. God. And with everything else, too.”
Dean tips his head back to stare at him, and Sam, for the millionth time, thinks god, your eyes, your mouth, but for the first time, he lets Dean see it, right there, all those love letters written behind his eyes. Sam throws the curtains wide open to let Dean’s light in. So Dean can see everything. And he's not scared anymore.
“Everything else?” Dean questions finally, squeezing his palms around Sam’s waist.
“Every single thing,” Sam confirms, which makes Dean let out a breath too full to be called a sigh. He slumps forward, resting all his weight against Sam’s chest, and Sam just lets him hold on, knowing Dean is gathering strength for whatever he might do next.
“C’mon,” Dean murmurs finally, wrapping his fingers around Sam’s wrist, much like Cas did earlier, to guide him onward, towards Dean’s bedroom. Sam didn’t know his heart could pound so hard; he feels like it could power a whole city right now.
“Sit,” Dean tells him as soon as they cross the room’s threshold. Sam does what he’s told, gratefully sinking his tired body down onto the memory foam with a contented sigh.
After closing the door behind him, Dean joins Sam, immediately reaching for his little brother's hands. They stare down at their fingers, watching them dance shyly around each other, more to feel the other’s skin than anything else. At least, that’s Sam’s M.O., because he’s always loved the strength of Dean’s hands and all that strength represents. To feel them now, so gentle and almost soft against his skin, knowing twelve hours ago those fingers pulled a trigger to end someone’s life-- god. He’s all messed up, a consummate freak, but it really gets him.
“I wanna be… honest with you,” Dean murmurs finally, haltingly. “I don’t know why I’m tellin’ you this. Twelve hours ago I made a vow to lock this shit down, once‘n for all, but, Sammy, I… it feels… it feels like I’m gonna die if I don’t tell you.”
Cas, Sam prays, thank you. To Dean, he murmurs, “tell me.”
Sam's brother takes a deep breath. “When I started forgettin’ you… when I did forget you, when I didn’t know that we, uh, were brothers, I… God, Sam. I-- I, god, I wanted you. More than that, I wanted you to... to belong to me. I wanted that so damned bad. After I got my memories back, I realized it wasn’t new, that feeling. It wasn't just because I didn't know we were brothers. That, uh, that I’ve always wanted you to belong to me. And more than that, I realized that I-- Sammy, that I have always belonged to you. And, man, it just… doesn’t seem to matter anymore if-- if I can't ever make you mine because I was made yours the second you were put in my arms. Or maybe-- maybe I was made yours even before that. It feels like it. Sometimes it feels like… like I was born lovin’ you.”
As soon as Dean speaks his final word, his face goes ashen, and he slaps a hand over his mouth. His eyes are bright and panicked over his fingers, and he looks like he’s gonna be sick. Castiel must have really, uh... compelled Dean, because Sam has never heard so many consecutive words spilled from his brother’s mouth concerning his elusive feelings. Dean is all in, throwing everything he has (to gain and more importantly to lose) into the pot, and Sam can visibly see the regret well up in Dean’s stark green eyes.
“Don’t you dare,” Sam demands fiercely, prying Dean’s hand away from his beautiful face with gentle fingers. He can't begin to wrap his mind around what Dean's said, but the important thing is that Sam knows Dean means it. And Sam won't stand for a second of Dean's regret. “God, Dean. Don’t look like that.”
Figuring Dean has had enough with words for several lifetimes, Sam wrenches together all of his courage for his biggest leap of faith. He pulls Dean forward to taste his brother's beautiful mouth, and like Dean's been waiting for it all his life, he opens for it, begging for Sam's tongue almost immediately. Sam complies, dragging his tongue against Dean's lower lip, causing Dean's mouth to surrender completely with a groan.
It's insane. Sam is kissing his big brother, his partner, his best friend and the goddamn love of his life for the very first time. He almost can't believe it, believe how instantly addictive and almost embarrassingly hot the frantic press of their mouths is, the panting breaths, the low noises of want. He's on fire, and for the first time in his life, it's a welcome, cleansing burn.
Dean’s moans (and all the underlying deep, visceral want they encompass) vibrate against Sam’s mouth, and it just makes him angle his head to kiss him deeper, to taste his brother more, harder, better. He knows now, as he presses into Dean’s most beautiful noise yet (a high, hurting whimper), how it feels to wager it all, and how it feels to win it all back, tenfold.
“Dean, I,” he pants against his brother’s lips after a few solid minutes of his intimate perusal, “you gotta know,” but he stops again to sear another kiss to Dean’s swollen mouth, because he can, because Dean wants him to, encourages him so beautifully every time, “fuck, okay, stop. Gotta-- gotta say this.”
Dean backs away impatiently, refusing to give up the hold he has in Sam's hair, all wrapped up in his strong fingers. “Should'a known you’d talk too much.”
Sam wishes he could muster up some indignation, but all he can do is smile. “Dean, I, uh. I do belong to you. Always have, even when I resented it. And-- and if you were made for me, for protecting me, for loving me, then… god, I’m so… I love you so much, Dean. I-- I’m so grateful. That you’re mine.”
Dean looks like a small huff of breath could knock him over, so Sam shows Dean his little-brother smile, the small, private one he’s had to rely on all his life to convey everything he never thought he’d have the courage to say to his brother.
“Yeah?” Dean asks finally, quietly, looking up at him through his long eyelashes. That, coupled with swollen lips and a hopeful spark in his eyes, causes Sam to lean into Dean's space again, wrapping his arms around his brother’s neck tightly, drawing him forward.
“Yeah,” Sam promises with everything he has, drawing Dean in for more of those life-altering, unhurried kisses. The first flash of Dean's tongue against his own startles a groan out of him, and before Sam knows it, he's pinned to his back by all of Dean's strength, by every ounce of his love, his want, his never-ending sacrifice, and his devotion. It's a comfortable weight. It feels good to have Dean anchoring him to the world that has so often failed them.
There are so many things Sam wants from Dean, like the hardness he feels snugged against his own when they finally get horizontal. But for now, right now, this is enough. Sam is held down to the bed by Dean’s weight, by the vehemence of his mouth against Sam’s neck, by the drive of his strong hips pushing them higher, faster, together. All of that, despite how unbelievable it may seem, finally convinces him once and for all that this is real, that this is his life.
And most importantly, above all that, it finally convinces Sam that he’s home.