Prompt: Today's horoscope: Your prized possession will turn up in someone else's hands.
Summary: When Castiel's Grace is lost in the battle against Lucifer, he reverts back to an angel in physical form. It isn't pretty. (A/N: AU to the S5 ending. And I realize that SPN canon probably wouldn't support this, since angels are energy/souls/etc., but canon has displeased me lately. I vowed retribution. Dean/Cas, hints of pre-Sam/Gabriel.)
Castiel is missing.
In the panic and glare of battle, it’s difficult to keep track of anyone—the adrenaline slows or quickens time, depending on the situation, and the flashes of power blind a person to anything except their immediate surroundings. As Michael and Dean’s forces (angels and hunters are, in retrospect, an explosive mix) push the demons back, Dean can’t hear anything besides war, can’t see anything but war, so it’s impossible to discern who is still fighting and who’s been lost.
Later, they take a jury-rigged headcount. They’re standing in an empty cavern of Hell, and the quiet aftermath makes Hell that much bigger, that much worse. This is where the count must be taken. After the angels and Hunters leave, they will seal Hell forever to keep Lucifer inside—no one will get in, and no one will escape.
Dean makes a frantic count of the Hunters; there were 220 to start with, but only 49 remain. Sam, mercifully, is one of them, and Dean nearly trips over himself to reach his brother, who's shaken and wasted but smiling in a way Dean hasn't seen in a long time.
Michael, in a vessel special-tailored by Gabriel, does his own count as well. Angels still capable of flight search the caverns for Grace or the wayward Human soul, but find none. Without hoping too much, Dean thinks maybe this whole clusterfuck of destinies and heavenly warfare will actually turn out for the best.
“We good?” Gabriel asks Michael, his tone so flippant and human that Dean wants to laugh. Michael frowns at his brother.
“Yes. We may leave this place,” he confirms, yet something about this bothers Dean. Sam senses Dean’s discontent and hisses, “Dude, whatever you’re about to say, don’t,” but Dean has been dealt a full house of shit throughout his life, and feels he has the right to ask: “What about the souls trapped here before? We can’t just leave them behind.”
“They’ve ceased,” Michael answers. “I am not permitted to allow those souls into Heaven, but I was allowed to release them of torment. I chose to do so.”
Dean is silent for a moment. He finally says, “Thank you,” and he means it, because it's a blessing to know all those souls he tortured are free. “I take it back. You aren’t a dick.”
Gabriel’s resulting laughter is delighted, both at Michael’s blank expression and Sam’s horrified groan.
“Come on,” Gabriel says, grinning widely. “Victory drinks at Bobby’s! Last one there’s a spoiled egg.”
“It’s rotten egg,” Sam mutters. “And I don’t think Bobby’s going to be happy about his raided kitchen,” but Gabriel only scoops Sam up, taking perhaps a few liberties as to where he places his hands, and disappears. The other angels do the same, the strongest taking one Hunter each, those more wounded leaving to return to their original, glorious home. Dean stays to make sure every Hunter has a ride back, so to speak, and when everyone is finally evacuated, Dean starts looking for Castiel to act as his own angel taxi.
“Dean?” Michael notes Dean’s hesitation. “Are you not ready to leave?”
No words come at first. Dean is too busy trying to recall when he last saw Castiel. At the beginning of the battle, surely, but then they were separated, and any attempts to keep track of the angel were fruitless.
“Castiel isn’t here,” Dean finally says.
Michael’s expression reveals nothing, which Dean has come to learn means the archangel is thinking.
“You are correct,” he finally concludes. “Perhaps he is still on Earth,” with the dead, he doesn’t add. “I cannot sense his Grace here. Let us go and search elsewhere.”
Dean won’t lie: leaving Hell, despite its vast improvements, sounds like an awesome plan to him, but there’s no way he’s going anywhere until he’s absolutely, positively, 100% certain Cas isn’t down here, hurt, with no way to contact him.
“No,” Dean objects. They can’t afford to guess about this; once Michael seals this place up, there’s no getting back inside. “We need to make sure he’s not still around.”
Michael bristles. “I can assure you that I am as concerned as you, Dean Winchester.”
“Yeah, well, he didn’t drag your ass out of this dump,” Dean retorts. “I think I’m a little more invested in his safety.”
Their argument is interrupted by a wail. It isn’t Lucifer, Dean knows that much, but it’s the most mournful sound he’s ever heard, and Dean has seen and experienced his share of grief. He shares a look with Michael.
“I will search for the sound’s origin,” he declares. “Remain here.”
“Fuck no,” Dean promptly retorts. Michael’s calm face holds no surprise; he is not at all taken aback by Dean’s refusal to stay put while someone else investigates.
“Very well,” Michael allows. He places two fingers on Dean’s sweaty, bloodied forehead, and they jump to the cavern next to theirs, though it’s empty, as are the caverns surrounding it. A chamber, and then another, are all absent of souls; crevices, holes, and ravines are all vacant; and finally they stand at the threshold of Hell, still without an answer, and Dean is beginning to doubt he heard anything at all until the sound rises again, much closer this time.
Dean doesn’t wait for Michael. He moves quickly to the outside, where the motionless landscape and sulfur-infused sky greet them with silence, and that's when he sees it: a large creature lay wounded on the rough and stony ground. Dean slowly approaches, withdrawing his knife just in case—it looks too injured to do any damage, but a lifetime of hunting has taught him never to presume. One thing he can guess is that it must be a demon that survived the siege, though he’s never seen another like it: the skin is black and smooth, but its hands and feet are gnarled and painful to look upon. Its eyes are bright, nearly white; its hair is long, dirty, and disheveled; its wings are torn to pieces, bloodied and scabbed with wounds. Dean’s first inclination is to kill it, whatever the fuck it is.
But the closer he gets, the more he thinks the assessment is wrong. It doesn’t act like a demon with a grudge; in fact, it looks up at Dean and makes a pained sound. The gnarled fingers slowly unfurl in Dean’s direction, as though reaching for him.
Dean crouches for a better look, but maintains a safe distance. The demon makes another sound. It sluggishly pushes its palms against the ground and attempts to sit up again. The creature manages despite its numerous injuries, the most noticeable of which is his chest: it's bleeding out from a ragged, gaping wound caused by something infinitely larger than a bullet or blade.
It starts to drag itself towards Dean.
The hunter automatically scrambles backwards; the demon freezes, meeting Dean’s stare with one of his own. They exchange a long look. The knife is suddenly heavy in Dean’s hand.
“Fuck,” he whispers. He hurriedly puts the knife away and rushes towards the broken creature. “Fuck, Cas, what—?” But Castiel isn’t capable of language; at least, not a language Dean can understand. Dean collapses onto his knees and reaches out to touch Castiel’s trembling shoulders. “What happened? What happened to you?”
Castiel, in the intimidating form he now wears, rests his forehead against Dean’s shoulder. It is a gesture of peace and a request for help. More than that, it’s a sign of trust that Dean will take care of him.
Michael appears. He presses two fingers against their foreheads, and they leave the haunted stillness of Hell behind.
Gabriel and Sam are quietly recuperating in Bobby’s living room. The angel is sprawled out on the couch, studying the ceiling, clearly exhausted but thankfully in one piece. Sam is in the recliner, doing the same. He’s significantly less bloody and bruised than before—no doubt Gabriel’s doing—but completely wiped, wishing his brother would hurry back already so Sam can have the peace of mind to sleep.
“They’re taking their sweet time,” Sam mutters, uncomfortable by the delay. “Leave it to Dean to hang out in Hell after all this mess.”
“He’s with Michael,” Gabriel points out. “Nothing’s going to happen. Catch forty winks, kid. You need it.”
Sam fights back a yawn. The strain of such decisive battle lingers: sluggishness, detachment, and the desire to sleep for a week. Dean must feel it, too, so why were he and Michael taking so—
He practically jumps out of his seat at the abrupt appearance of Dean, Michael, and—fuck, he isn’t sure what the thing is.
“Jesus, Dean, what the hell is that?” he demands, quickly rising to help Dean get on his feet.
“Help me get him to the couch,” Dean says instead, once he’s steady. Sam automatically reaches beneath the creature’s left arm while Dean works with the right. They manage to get it standing, though it sways and nearly topples over twice before reaching the couch Gabriel has swiftly vacated. Normally, Sam demands a little more information in cases like this, but Dean is obviously worried for the… the thing, and there must be a reason Michael included it in their jump from Hell to the house.
“There better be a damn good reason it’s bleeding all over my floor,” Bobby says, wheeling in to check on the sudden influx of voices.
“He isn’t an ‘it’ or ‘thing’ or demon, okay?” Dean snaps. “Can’t you tell? It’s Cas.”
Sam can only watch as his brother drops to his knees in front of the couch (which is far too small to comfortably accommodate Cas, but at least it's softer than the floor), placing one hand on either of Castiel's shoulders. His expression is dangerous: mouth a thin line, eyes sharply narrowed. He exhales. Castiel makes another sound of distress and leans forward; Dean straightens himself so that their foreheads meet.
“I almost didn’t recognize him,” Dean quietly admits. “He can’t talk like this. Not in English.”
“You recognized Castiel?” Gabriel echoes. “In that form?” He turns to Michael for confirmation; the oldest archangel nods.
Sam feels a burst of relief—his brother’s thick concern makes a sudden sense, and even their strange forehead gesture is okay to watch, no longer awkward or uncomfortable. It’s Cas.
“How did he get to be like this?” Sam asks. “No offense, but I don’t think Dante could dream up something like—” And here, he gestures at Castiel.
“That is an angel’s true appearance. You may lay eyes upon him due to his lack of Grace,” Michael explains.
“His Grace is gone?” Shit. Of course they can’t just end an apocalypse—there has to be an encore act, too. “Is that why Cas is… like that?”
“You always were the smart one, Sammy,” Gabriel says, plopping into the recliner Sam had been occupying earlier. “When an angel’s Grace is taken, the angel is stuck in the form it was occupying at the time. Our baby brother was in his true form, and will stay that way until we can get his Grace back.”
“And how do you suggest we go about doin’ that?” Bobby demands. “Do we even have a clue where it might be?”
“No,” Michael replies. “No traces were left, though I suspect it was taken by an opportunistic demon. Grace sells for a very high price.”
Gabriel moves towards Castiel and says, “It's not easily removed, either. An angel has to be completely overwhelmed, and their opponent has to be strong enough to plunge their hand in to take it.” He gently places his palm against Castiel’s broken chest. The wound begins to repair itself: skin merges, blood vanishes, the beginnings of inflammation disappear as though it had never been there at all. Dean looks away. Castiel had needed him. Castiel had been overwhelmed and needed help, and Dean hadn’t been there to offer it.
“Someone plunged their hand into Cas’ chest?” Sam echoes, disbelieving.
“God damn it,” Dean bursts. “I’m gonna fucking rip them apart—”
“You’ll get rested first,” Bobby orders. “You just helped stop an apocalypse, son. We’ll start tomorrow, find his Grace the same way we find everything else.”
“Bobby’s right, Dean. Let's start tomorrow morning. We’re useless right now.”
“I will let you know if I discover any information,” Michael offers. “If not, then we will meet again when the time is appropriate.”
“Drop by whenever,” Dean says, knowing the archangel never will. Michael is gone in an instant, disregarding them as easily as he’d done during previous encounters.
“Not even a ‘thank you’,” Gabriel tsks. “Big brother has the social skills of a rock.”
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” Bobby asks him. Gabriel pulls on a mask of innocence.
“Who, me? I thought you’d want my help to find Castiel’s Grace,” he says.
“What I want is dinner,” Sam admits. “But I’m not sure I’ll be awake long enough to eat it.”
“Then get some sleep. We’ll make a big breakfast and start searching.” Gabriel smiles at his little brother and bends to press his lips against Castiel’s tangled hair. Castiel lets out a soft wail.
“I know,” Gabriel whispers, perfectly capable of understanding Castiel’s wordless language. “We’ll get it back for you, but everyone needs to crash. Even you, baby bro.”
Bobby sighs. “I’m clean outta guest spots. He’ll have to sleep here,” he says, referring to the living room. “I’ll go find some blankets, soften up the floor. Lord knows my furniture ain’t big enough to hold him.”
Gabriel opens his mouth to say something, but Dean cuts in.
“No, let Cas have the bed in my room. It’s probably big enough. I’ll take the couch.”
Gabriel smiles, a sort of half-expression, and nods. It’s only later, as Sam falls onto his own mattress, that he realizes Gabriel could’ve easily conjured up something for Cas to sleep on. He decides to think about it later.
The next time Dean wakes, it’s significantly later—noon, to be exact—and Gabriel is standing at the end of the couch.
“Breakfast is ready,” he cheerfully informs him. “Pancakes are in the kitchen, but hurry! It’s a limited time offer.”
Dean wants to tell him to fuck off, but just flips him the bird instead and lets the gesture speak for itself.
He groggily kicks off the blankets, makes a pit stop to the bathroom, and manages not to stumble on his way to where Sam and Bobby are already seated. Sam looks just as tired Dean, if not moreso, but he’s got enough energy to douse six pancakes in syrup and start shoveling them into his mouth like a starving man.
Still, the kitchen is suspiciously empty. Gabriel, sitting pretty and prim as ever by Sam, seems to read Dean’s mind. He grins when Dean rubs sleep from his eyes and demands, “Where’s Cas?”
Bobby grunts. “Still in the guest room. Won’t come out.” He takes a big swallow of coffee and adds, “Maybe you can get featherbrain to eat something.”
Dean steals the top pancake from the center plate, folds it up like a taco, and wordlessly starts up the stairs while consuming the pancake in three bites. He stops at the guestroom door, where Gabriel is already waiting. Dean ignores him—a task that grows simpler every day—and knocks. He doesn’t bother with the knob; it’s obviously locked, or else Dean’s taught him nothing.
“Yo, Cas!” he calls. “Breakfast is in the kitchen, or lunch, whichever. Come and chow with us.”
Silence is the only reply. Dean knocks again, louder, and asks, “Is everything okay? Seriously, I can pick any lock in this house. Just come out and have breakfast.”
There’s a growl, but it’s clear Castiel won’t open the door of his own volition. Dean turns to Gabriel. There’s no way Gabriel doesn’t know what’s going on.
“Tell me what’s up with him or I’ll kick your ass,” Dean swears.
The archangel rolls his eyes. “Well, he’s feeling better, that’s certain,” he says. “Enough that he’s experiencing some epic modesty. Isn’t that right, Castiel?” Gabriel calls through the door. “Feeling a little naked?”
Dean’s about to follow through with his threat when a roar emits from the room. The door actually trembles from the force, and Dean has no choice but to cover his ears with his hands in an effort to protect his hearing. Gabriel’s eyes widen.
“Okay, okay. No need to get pissy,” he says, and snaps his fingers. There’s dead silence for a second, and then the sound of a lock turning. The door slowly opens; Castiel stands in the threshold, a good four heads taller than Gabriel and three above Dean. He’s wearing a long black coat, reminiscent of the trench he’d grown to favor.
Gabriel looks at Dean. “I blame you for this,” he announces. “Angels were never meant to scorn nakedness. You’re lucky I’m here to make something big enough for him.”
“‘Lucky’ isn’t the word that comes to mind,” Dean mutters. Gabriel tsks and disappears, presumably back into the kitchen, where Sam and Bobby’s chorus of what the hell was that sound can be heard from the second story.
“Now will you come eat with us?” Dean asks. Castiel nods once, keeping his head bowed in apology for his behavior. “Don’t worry about it,” Dean reassures him. “Gabe was being an asshole anyway. You ever had pancakes?”
Castiel shakes his head. Dean grins delightedly. “Then have we got something for you,” he says, and helps the angel navigate stairs that are nearly too small for him.
After breakfast, Gabriel pops out to do some “research”, though he gleefully somersaults past questions like ‘what kind of research?’ and ‘do you have a lead?’. There’s not much to be done in his absence, so the Winchesters spend the day cleaning Bobby’s place while Castiel restlessly watches from the couch, waiting for his brother’s return.
Gabriel shows up about 8:00 and conjures dinner.
“I visited a few pals. They’ll keep an ear to the ground for us,” he announces. “But so far no one’s heard any whispers about Grace on the black market. We got our work cut out for us.”
Dean wants to get started right then, but he’s still so tired. He nods, eats, and then crumples onto the couch before Gabriel can even clear away the dishes.
He wakes about eight hours later, just as the clock strikes 4:25 A.M. The room is dark, but something—a noise? A dream?—disturbs him. He quietly reaches for the knife beneath his pillow, and lets his eyes adjust to the dark.
What he finally sees would terrify anyone else, but he simply lets out a breath and keeps the knife where it is.
“Cas,” he says, rubbing sleep from his eyes, “What’re you doin’ up? It’s still pitch black outside.”
Castiel finishes his descent down the stairs and limps over to the couch, making a place for himself on the floor. Dean is suddenly glad for the t-shirt and sleep pants he wore to bed. Groggily, he asks, “Did you not like the bed or somethin’?”
If Castiel were in his human body, Dean can imagine the head tilt and resulting, “Why would I not like the bed, Dean?”, which is how Dean knows Castiel’s presence isn’t a result of discomfort, but maybe loneliness or fear. Dean tries to imagine having something vital stolen from him: his heart, his mind. He can’t comprehend it.
“Just can’t sleep,” Dean guesses. Castiel hums; it sounds like agreement, though Dean can’t be sure. “Wanna go for a walk?”
Castiel nods. Dean finds it within himself to smile, and locates a flashlight and his jacket. They’re as quiet as possible, though Castiel can’t help but run into a chair or pile of books. The night, however, is cool and refreshing, and Dean figures there are worse ways to wake, even in the face of such a hideously early hour. Castiel’s stride is significantly longer than Dean’s; they attempt to compensate for each other, Castiel by slowing down, and Dean by speeding up. They manage to meet halfway.
Bobby’s property is fortuitously large. They make one loop around the perimeter, and during their second sweep, Dean spots an old baseball in one of the many trash piles dotting the grounds. He picks it up, tosses the ball upwards, makes a smooth catch with his hand. He looks at Castiel, who’s watching with interest.
“You ever play catch? Some angelic baseball, maybe?”
Castiel clearly has no idea what that means. Dean rolls his eyes to the sky and says, “Look, I’m going to throw this to you, and you’re going to catch it. Okay? Then you throw it back to me. Gently.”
Castiel’s coordination isn’t worth shit. He can barely get his unnaturally bent fingers around the ball. But after a few trial runs, he finally begins to develop a technique that stops him from dropping the baseball every time. They become so involved in the game that the flashlight eventually burns out; it’s no trouble, because the sky is starting to melt from black to purple to a radiant orange-pink, and finally the sun blinks at them from the horizon.
By 6:30, they’re both exhausted—but Dean’s grinning from ear to ear when he collapses onto the couch again, and Castiel’s black lips are twitched in good humor. Dean’s still smiling when he falls back asleep a few minutes later. Castiel looks at him for a moment, sits on the floor, leans against the front of the couch, rests his head on the seat cushion.
He falls asleep holding the baseball.
Sam and Bobby are staring at him from the doorway. Their expressions are more of the what the hell? variety, but Gabriel is grinning like he’s just heard a dirty joke.
“What did you two get up to last night?” he asks, the question loaded with suggestion. Dean glances at the baseball still in Castiel’s twisted fingers and remembers how they’d run until he could hardly breathe, using their senses for something other than battle. For once, he and Cas had just relaxed and had some basic, uncomplicated fun.
“Exercise,” he finally replies. “Now fuck off.”
Gabriel clucks his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “So crass, Deano. It’s enough to make a girl blush.” He moves to tap his toe against Castiel’s leg. Dean blearily watches the act and wonders how archangels can wear red sneakers and still takes themselves seriously.
“Rise and shine, baby bro!” he cheerfully says. “Might as well get an early start on Cas and Gabe’s Excellent Adventure!”
“We’re helping,” Dean states, conscious enough to realize Gabriel thought he and Cas were going off and leaving the Winchesters behind. “We’ll get started right after breakfast.”
Gabriel rolls his eyes. “And what if we need to check in Brazil? Or Timbuktu? You geniuses going to hop in your fancy tin can and drive over there, Carmen Sandiego?”
Dean finds the energy to push away the blankets and swing his legs over, feet flat against the floor. Castiel is stirring, too, blinking at Gabriel before turning to look at Dean. Dean, for his part, gives the angel a half-smile and punches him lightly in the shoulder.
“Hey, Babe Ruth. You sleep okay?”
“He’s got no clue who Babe Ruth was,” Gabriel points out. “But just so you know, little brother, Babe was a kickass baseball player back in the day.”
Castiel makes a noise of acknowledgment, a hum that manages to sound pleased. It’s difficult to explain, but Dean can sort of understand the wordless expression: he knows Castiel is happy to be good at something, even if it’s just tossing around an old baseball.
“Don’t let it go to your head, Cas,” he jokes, and then stands and holds out his hand to help Castiel up. The task would have been awkward for anyone else, but Dean simply ignores the height and strength difference and manages to get Castiel onto his sharp-edged feet. Once standing, Castiel makes another noise.
“Yeah, I’m hungry too,” Dean says. “You want eggs? I wonder if we’ve got enough to feed us all.”
“No,” Sam answers.
“Yep,” Gabriel says.
As it turns out, having an archangel as a temporary housemate has its perks: instant breakfast with all the fixings. Eggs, bacon, grits, toast, all of which are prepared by the time they reach the dining room and leave them with a zero-dollar grocery bill. Dean can’t decide which part is best: the instant meal or saving money.
“So,” Sam says as they sit around the table. “We should get started in Shanghai. I hit some news sites last night—”
“Nerd,” Gabriel sing-songs. Sam levels him with a glare, but it’s more difficult to be really angry with someone who’s supplying the grub.
“Anyway,” he says, pointedly disregarding the interruption, “A tree grew overnight in a monk’s temple outside Shanghai. And a river started running in Japan. Does that sound like the influence of Grace?”
“It’s possible,” Gabriel muses. “But not probable. If someone steals Grace, I doubt they’re going to jump around and perform miracles for the betterment of mankind.”
“You got a better lead?”
Castiel makes a thoughtful sound in the back of his throat. Dean rolls his eyes.
“Dude, it’s not okay for someone to use your Grace for miracles, so get that out of your head right now. And eat something. You’re, like, seventeen feet tall, and you can’t run off angel batteries anymore.”
Castiel grunts, clearly displeased by Dean’s description—he’s certainly not seventeen feet tall—and shakes his head. Dean looks at Castiel, and then the hands he keeps on his lap, carefully shielding them from view.
Dean reaches over the table, grabs the whole plate of toast, and sets it in front of Castiel.
“Eat this,” he demands. “You don’t need a fork, see? That’s the whole point of sliced bread.”
Castiel, who’s been watching them eat for the past ten minutes, grudgingly accepts the toast. Gabriel looks smug and pleased by the entire ordeal, but Dean can’t figure out why—it’s not funny that Castiel is too embarrassed to use cutlery in front of them, and the fact Dean had guessed the problem doesn’t warrant Gabriel's delighted air. Dean holds his tongue. It’s best not to bite the hand that feeds them—literally, in their case.
“All right,” Gabriel cheerfully says after they’re finished eating. “Who’s flying Angel Airlines? Limited seating available.”
“Me,” Sam instantly answers. “I’m in.”
“You just want to see Shanghai,” Dean says. Sam, embarrassed, kicks his older brother beneath the table and gives Castiel an apologetic look.
“I’ll stay here,” he offers, immediately changing his mind. “See if anything miraculous has popped up since last night.”
Gabriel glares at Dean, and Dean doesn’t want to know why Gabriel’s so invested in whether Sam stays or goes.
“Actually,” the archangel says, “I’ve been considering it. Cas should stay—don’t give me that look, Cas—” And true to Gabriel’s plea, Castiel looks utterly betrayed. “If anything were to happen, you wouldn’t have the mojo to protect yourself.”
“We don’t have mojo, either,” Sam points out.
“But I don’t have to give you a glamour. Have either of you two morons wondered what would happen if other humans saw my little brother right now?”
Castiel growls, clearly unhappy with being left behind. He goes so far as to slam his hand against the table, resulting in a cracking sound, and is chastised by Bobby’s sharp, “You break it, you fix it!”
“Don’t get your panties in a twist,” Gabriel says, and then looks at Dean. “What about it, Deano? There’s room for one more passenger.”
Dean isn’t ecstatic about leaving Castiel behind, but knows what has to be done.
“We’ll be back before you know it,” he promises, touching Castiel’s black shoulder. “Try not to break any more of Bobby’s furniture, okay?”
And they're gone.
Shanghai is one big geekgasm as far as Sam’s concerned. Japan is even worse—he’s wide-eyed and gushing, and Gabriel is practically glowing with smug satisfaction. He even takes them to the Ushiku Daibutsu, though there’s no evidence to suggest Castiel’s Grace is anywhere around there.
Dean’s exhausted by the time they return to Bobby’s. Gabriel drug them all over the world, and Dean’s body is starting to take issue with it. Sam, on the other hand, is hardly able to shut up; his words blur together in one long sentence of “greatwallpyramidsMyanruinsigloosCaribbe
But none of them predict what will be waiting for them when they return—certainly not an irate Bobby, and double-certainly not a pile of broken dishes.
“About damn time you boys got back,” he barks. “You ever tried occupying an antsy angel?”
“And your solution to antsiness is making him do housework?” Dean demands. Castiel makes a small, apologetic sound.
“He’s been underfoot all day,” Bobby says. “I tried giving him something to do.”
“I’ll go get the broom.”
“Done,” Gabriel says. Suddenly, the pile of ceramic shards are gone. Dean blinks at the clean floor, and then rolls his eyes.
“Show off,” he mutters. “Fine. I’ll go pick up some dinner. Scouring the four corners of the globe gives a man an appetite.”
“Done,” Gabriel says. The smell of a mouth-watering meal wafts in from the dining room.
“Fine. I’m going to go take a shower,” Dean states, and stabs his finger in the archangel’s direction. “By myself. Seriously, do not clean me.”
Gabriel only wiggles his eyebrows. It’s difficult to chose bathing over food, but Dean has Egyptian sand in new and interesting places, and reeks of ancient Myan temple. He grabs a t-shirt and sleep pants from his duffel.
It’s going to be a long search.
Later, after consuming everything on his plate, Dean falls asleep between breaths, and logs a solid eight hours before slowly wandering towards wakefulness. Unlike the previous night, no one is looming in the corner of the room, but Dean has the feeling Castiel isn’t asleep. He rolls off the couch, stretches, and quietly creeps up the stairs and into the guest room. Castiel is hunched over one of Bobby’s old books, taking extra care when he turns the pages. He looks up when the floor boards groan beneath Dean’s bare feet.
“I was pretty sure you’d still be awake,” Dean whispers. “What’re you reading?”
Castiel holds it up, but the words aren't in English.
“Looks... educational,” he says. “If you’re cool with reading, I’ll leave you to it.”
Castiel looks at Dean hopefully, and then at the baseball he'd tossed in the corner.
Dean grins. “Yeah, I thought so. Lemme get my shoes and we’ll go.”
Sunrise is an hour later, but they take no notice of morning until they spot Sam and Gabriel standing on the porch, Bobby rolling out a moment later. Castiel has just caught a pitch from over a car pile.
“What are you, five?” Sam calls, but he’s grinning. Dean smiles back and says, “Seriously, he’s the best outfielder ever,” and Castiel, with his black skin and big wings and long, messy hair, smiles as though he were still wearing Jimmy Novak’s body.
After the second day of searching with Sam and Gabriel, it becomes clear that Dean isn’t an asset. Seeing the world is fun, but Sam is getting way more out of it than Dean, and watching Gabriel try to impress Sam is kind of sickening. He quietly bemoans their family legacy of forming weird relationships with even weirder people.
On the third day, armed with a crapload of news clippings about recent miraculous events, Sam and Gabriel are set to go to Africa and work their way to Mexico, where some statue has started weeping. Dean makes sure to explain what, exactly, he’ll do to Gabriel if anything happens to Sam.
“And get him back here before nine,” Dean demands as the two vanish from the living room.
No one is more grateful about Dean’s decision to stay than Bobby, who can’t afford to lose any more dishes. Unfortunately, there still isn’t much for them to do: they fix a few loose shingles, reinforce the book shelves, replace some of the porch planks, and take a look at the fencing. By nine o’clock, when Sam (who’s going on about the African plains) and Gabriel get back, there’s nothing left for Dean and Castiel to repair.
“Try getting a hobby,” Sam suggests over dinner. “Maybe—maybe painting or something.”
“Thanks for the input, Emily Post,” Dean says. “Better yet, how about knitting? Scrapbooking? Sodoku?”
Castiel makes a sound.
“Good idea, baby bro,” Gabriel says, obviously replying to Castiel. “Gardening.”
“It’s a salvage yard. There’s nowhere to plant anything,” Bobby points out, which is true: the ground is red and harsh and dry, viable only to weeds and beer bottles.
“Done,” Gabriel says.
True to his word, a large piece of Bobby's backyard becomes dark and fertile. They discover it the next morning right after Sam and Gabriel whisk away to Germany, where a derelict cathedral has rebuilt itself over night. By the fresh gardening plot is a basket filled with seed packets, most of which look normal: tomatoes, beans, peppers, but there are other kinds, too, like candy plants—plants that grow candy—and seedlings Dean suspect are supposed to be extinct.
“We’ll have to build trellises for the tomatoes,” Dean finally says.
Gardening never seemed like something fun, because building trellises and digging holes doesn’t look that thrilling. But it turns out that the methodical act of planting is a comfort, enough that they work past lunch. Bobby comes out with a plate of sandwiches and says, “I can’t carry your sorry asses back inside, so eat something before you pass out!”
Dean is concerned that gardening won’t keep Castiel occupied, but Castiel plants with intent, and each day the plot grows larger to accommodate more seeds. Dean finds a few pieces of old, flat wood and “borrows” (without permission, which Sam claims is stealing, not that Dean gives a crap) one of Sam’s Sharpie markers. He writes green peppers on the first plank and beans on the second, and then places them by their respective vegetables. He hands the tools over to Castiel and tells him to make a marker for the candy plants, though it turns out they have equally horrible penmanship: Castiel’s letters, due to either unfamiliarity with human writing or his strange, gnarled fingers, are angular and disproportionately sized.
Dean makes an executive decision to give the garden a fence, except there's no white picket shit lying around. He takes some busted tire rims, lines them up, and buries them halfway into the ground to create a border. Castiel searches for smooth rocks and colored glass to add. They spend the next day scavenging for interesting but useless car parts to decorate with, which Dean suspects Castiel enjoys the most. Dean even gets the idea to finish off the milk, cut a hole in the side of the carton, and staple-gun it to another plank.
“It’s a bird feeder,” he declares. Castiel gives him a solemn look.
“An empty bird feeder,” he acknowledges.
The look continues until Dean says, “All right. I’ll pick up some feed today.” It’s not like Dean doesn’t need to make a run to the grocery store anyway, because they’ll be eating barbecued car parts pretty soon; Gabriel may supply amazing dishes, but he’s never around for lunch, and lunch just happens to be one of Dean’s favorite meals.
That evening, Sam is kind enough to make appreciative noises over their hard work, but Bobby, incapable of subtlety, declares, “That’s the fucking ugliest garden I’ve ever seen.”
Dean flips him off as he fills the bird feeder with seed.
Everyone helps after that. Gabriel and Sam bring back statuettes (“How old are these?” Dean asks, suspicious that Gabriel’s appropriating ancient and valuable shit from forgotten temples; Gabriel only waves his hand and says, “No one knew it was there anyway,” which doesn’t make Dean feel any better). Dean teaches Cas how to use a power drill so they can hang junk chimes; they spend days constructing bottle trees and spend more days collecting jars for latterns. Bobby saves all the milk cartons for Dean's bird feeders. Birds aren’t exactly plentiful in the salvage yard—at least, not in the Snow White-esqe swoop-and-land-on-forefinger way, but after a week, Dean wakes one morning to see a bird move past the window outside. He kicks off the blankets and moves to the window, and realizes, in a stunned sort of way, that his cheap-ass bird feeders are actually working.
He shakes Castiel (who’s been sleeping against the couch like usual) awake, and motions for him to follow. They creep back to the window.
“Birds came,” he whispers. “I can’t believe it worked.”
He wonders what they must look like: a human and an angel crouched on an old and creaky floor, like two children spying on Santa during Christmas. And it does feel like Christmas, because Dean has everything he could want: Sam, Bobby, and Cas—he doesn’t care that Cas is different than before, because the heart of him is still so open for Dean to read: the way he frowns when Dean says something stupid, the way he glares when Gabriel acts extra annoying. Dean half-hopes that Cas’ Grace plays hide-and-seek with them a little longer; the moment Sam and Gabriel find it sequestered in a far-off place is the moment Castiel will no longer be Dean’s.
The window glass is dirty. There are remnants of fingerprints, though Dean doesn’t know who they belong to: maybe he and Sam, maybe their father or Bobby, maybe Karen. Dust, too, floats idly in the morning sunshine, hitting Dean and Castiel’s faces with warmth and light. The birds keep eating. They don’t know what it all means: the fact Bobby is alive to give away milk cartons, the fact Dean and Cas are alive to cut holes and fill them with seed, the fact Sam is alive to congratulate them on being eco-friendly for once in their lives. Dean feels so fucking lucky.
“I'll tell you something if you promise not to tell another soul,” Dean says. Castiel faces him, his lips turned upwards in recognition of those words: a park, a secret given from an angel to a man, a lifetime ago. They are no longer those same people; they have changed, transformed, become something new.
“I’m happy,” Dean says. “I’m so fucking happy, man. There’s still a lot to take care of, but… it’s good. I owe you. Way more than I can ever pay back, but still. I owe you all this.”
Castiel studies him with a solemn look. Dean expects Cas to shake his head like usual, deny that he played any important role in shoving Lucifer back down. If Castiel could speak, Dean’s sure the angel would cite something about destiny and the Gospels and having faith, even though he’s developed the horrible habit of looking less than convinced when those topics pop up. Who knows? Maybe Dean’s finally taught him that people, despite their lack of angelic powers, can get damn creative when it comes to protecting—
Castiel makes a noise, between a sigh and a hum, and leans forward.
He kisses Dean.
It occurs to Dean that this will happen about three seconds before their mouths meet. But it’s a lengthy three seconds, long enough for Dean’s brain to nearly implode with a thousand disjointed thoughts. Most of them are variations of all this time and he chooses now? and should I let this happen? and is this allowed?, but he’s surprised when one sentiment dominates above the others: yes, this.
The smell of earth, the feel of a leather baseball, the taste of morning pancakes, this. He wraps his arms around Castiel's neck and allows the moment to unfurl itself; he lets himself feel the way Castiel's unnaturally long fingers dig into Dean's skin, his hair brushing against Dean's shoulders. Castiel, who never seems to want anything, pulls Dean closer, close enough that it makes their position on the floor awkward and unwieldy. It’s a greedy maneuver, but Dean doesn’t complain; instead he pushes Castiel so that his back is against the wall, mindful of the wings, and moves so that he’s got one leg on either side of Castiel’s lap. Their new angle forces a sound from Castiel’s throat, something like a groan—
The morning dream: birds, sunlight, kissing—vanishes beneath the weight of Sam’s voice. Dean twists his body towards the doorway, where Sam stands sleep-rumpled and wide-eyed.
“I—” Sam takes an embarrassed step back. “I didn’t mean—”
The weight grows heavier as Dean, too, moves backwards, away from the dirty window and junky garden and Castiel, who so obviously loves him, but fuck. Fuck.
Castiel reaches for him; Dean jolts further back.
“Dean,” Sam carefully says, like he’s speaking to a frightened animal. “Relax, okay? Just calm down.”
Calm down. They want him to calm down after making out—getting hard from—something so obviously not human, and yeah, that vampire chick wasn’t human, Ruby wasn’t, Anna wasn’t really, but at least they’d been wearing bodies, which—now that Dean thinks about it—he isn’t sure is better or worse, but thinking, yeah. That sounds like a great idea right now. He needs to think, because he loves Cas, that much is certain, but as a friend or lover, human or angel, needs more consideration.
Anything else Sam might say is cut off by the appearance of Gabriel. The timing is unbelievable, if Sam’s expression is anything to go by, but the archangel seems genuinely unaware, because he cheerfully greets them with, “Morning, morons! Who’s—” His gaze lands on Dean and Castiel, still sprawled on the floor. For the first time ever, Gabriel shuts the hell up.
In the span of disbelieving silence, Dean makes his move: he’s up and halfway across the room in three seconds flat, listening to the sounds of Castiel attempting to do the same, trying to follow (as he’s done so often before, in different ways and for various reasons). He brushes past Sam, who knows better than to try and stop him right then, but as he grabs his duffel on the way out, intending to toss on whatever is semi-clean and make a run for it, he hears Castiel emit a wail-roar.
Dean stops. He sets the duffel down.
All his life was spent running: to Yellow Eyes, from the Apocalypse, to his dad and Sammy, from the law—he could never be still, could never stop and consider what the hell he was doing. Maybe today is the day. Maybe the time is right fucking now, early morning, in the middle of the living room with his kid brother and archangel for an audience.
Dean watches Castiel struggle onto his feet and slowly move towards him. He stops just a few feet of where Dean stands. Dean has words—so many built up, words of thanks for giving up everything, for believing and yet remaining stout and steadfast, for pushing them onwards but pulling them from disaster—and love is in there, somewhere between the cloudy mess. He looks Castiel directly in the eyes, and if there’s ever a reminder of his otherworldliness, it’s the milky whiteness that returns the look without fear.
“Just give me a while,” he says. “Let me absorb it.”
Dean Winchester is king of denial, but he can’t deny that a bridge has been built between them, and it’s his decision whether to cross it. Castiel nods.
“A report came in,” Sam cautiously informs them, mercifully heading off the imminent awkward silence. “Two-hundred acres of Indian jungle regrew twelve hours after loggers felled the last tree. And there’s been an increase of icebergs up north. Maybe Cas should go today. There won’t be many people around. At least, not enough that a glamour wouldn’t work.”
Gabriel glances towards Castiel, snaps his fingers, and Castiel is gone. Dean wants to rear up—he fucking hates when Gabriel pulls that shit—but Gabriel's attention is already on Dean. He isn’t smirking or joking or leaving messages on porn DVDs; he’s more serious now than he ever was during the End of Days, and that gives Dean a bad case of nerves.
“You never understand,” Gabriel says. He glances out the window and towards the garden, filled with green, drizzled with seeds the birds have knocked from the feeders. “Everything I try to teach you is squandered. You're a waste of my time, Dean Winchester, and a waste of my brother’s. Get your shit together by the time we get back, or I’ll make the decision for you. ”
He disappears a second later. Sam turns to Dean, eyebrows furrowed, like he wants to talk about this, but Dean’s saved by a cranky Bobby, who rolls through the doorway and demands, “What the hell was that noise? We got a lion living here and no one’s told me?”
Dean remembers Castiel’s cry of protest and isn’t sure how to explain what’s going on. Sam saves him the trouble by answering, “Lock your wheels and buckle up. We’re about to bear witness to history’s most epic romance.” Bobby has an expression that suggests he doesn’t like the sound of that. He looks from Sam to Dean, quickly cataloging the possible meanings until the only explanation breaks over him.
“It’s times like these when I’m sure the Apocalypse was more straight-forward,” he declares. “I’m too old for this shit.”
The garden is empty of birds.
Dean expects a day away from Castiel to be a relief, that he’ll dread their return, but he’s wrong on both counts: by the time afternoon rolls around, Dean has finished planting all the leftover seedlings, weeded the entire plot, and is restless and unsettled. He showers and issues a decree that they’re in need of more plants, but offers to make a grocery run while he’s in town. He suspects Bobby and Sam’s lists are given out of pity more than genuine necessity.
It’s nightfall by the time he returns. A few bags of groceries are in the back seat, and the trunk holds new plants he picked up from the nursery. He bought packets of sunflowers (which he knows Cas will like) and squash (which’ll be awesome for Thanksgiving) and figures Cas and Gabriel have to be back from the jungle by now. He grabs everything and hurries into the house.
The foyer is empty, which isn’t unusual, but he feels his confidence dwindle when the living room reveals the same scene. No one is in the kitchen or halls; only Sam is at the dining table, squinting at his computer screen and jotting down some notes.
“Hey,” Dean greets. “The Dynamic Duo not back yet?”
“No,” Sam answers, pushing the laptop closed. “I don’t think they’re coming back for a few days. Gabriel says he’s got a lead in the Gobi desert.”
“So they stopped by while I was gone,” Dean clarifies, because how else could Sam know?
“No,” he says again. “He sent me a text.”
“He has a cell phone? Wait, he gets reception in the Gobi desert?” Pause. “He has your number?”
“Archangel,” comes the singsong reply, implying Gabriel could send a text message to anyone, anywhere, with or without the use of an actual phone. Dean shakes his head; he’s long since accepted Gabriel’s abilities, and is more disturbed that his brother is accustomed to receiving texts from God’s messenger. Without Dean knowing. Or supervising.
“Sunflowers?” Sam is fishing through the bags when he pulls out a thin packet of seeds. “I didn’t know you liked these, Dean.”
Dean puts away the groceries and doesn’t say they aren’t for me. He doesn’t say I’ve grown to like a lot of things.
The angels don’t return for three days. Even then, they don’t come until after midnight, when Sam and his research are piled in bed and drooling on the pillows. Dean, who’s never been that deep of a sleeper, wakes to the sound of Gabriel’s hushed voice and Castiel’s heavy footsteps. They pause when Dean sits up and flips on the table-side lamp.
“We were startin’ to think you took a wrong turn at Albuquerque,” he says, voice rough and tired. “Any luck?”
“Bupkis with the actual Grace,” Gabriel answers. “But we recruited some help. When you’re cognizant enough to understand the words coming out of my mouth, I might actually tell you about it.”
Dean gives him the bird. He can’t not.
“I’ll leave you to it,” Gabriel goes on, ignoring the gesture. “Try not to suffocate yourselves with the awkwardness and long, soulful gazes, okay?” He’s gone, leaving the room as quiet as ever, and Dean wants to curse him, because he needs the asshole to stick around as a buffer. First they can’t get rid of him, and now he can’t spare five lousy minutes?
“Do you—” Dean starts, and then clears his throat. “Do you need any help getting upstairs?”
Castiel shakes his head. He doesn’t say anything—not that he can—but he doesn’t blaze a trail to the guest room, either. Is he waiting for Dean to say or ask something else? Fuck, does he want an answer? Dean wishes he can say he doesn’t have one, but the truth is the past three days have blown. He’s been stir crazy, wanting to traverse the jungle with Cas, wanting to act as back-up on the off-chance Gabriel’s—whose stupid texts only offered enough information to irritate Dean—glamour somehow failed. Hell, he just wanted to be there.
Dean runs a hand through his hair.
Castiel seems to take that as a sign that Dean is put out and wants solitude. He soundlessly turns and begins ascending the stairs. Dean watches him climb, in turns clumsy and refined, and knows there’s no way he can’t follow Cas, the one creature who altered his beliefs and actions for Dean’s sake. Dean quietly rises from the couch and trails Castiel through the hallway and into the guest room. He gently closes the door behind them. Castiel carefully sits on the mattress and offers his undivided attention.
“You’re probably tired,” Dean prefaces. “I’m not so selfish to assume you’ve been thinking about me this whole time—” Castiel makes a sound of disagreement, but Dean quickly shakes his head. “Don’t. Just let me finish. I might not have the balls five minutes from now,” he admits. “Look, it’s been a shitty three days without you around. Jesus Christ, I planted sunflowers because there was a chance in hell you’d like them. I want you. I want this. We just… have to take it slow and make it up as we go along.”
Castiel stares for a long moment—a habit no matter which form he’s in—and then nods. He holds out his hand, a clear invitation for Dean to join him on the bed. Dean takes a steadying breath, ignores the notion he’ll regret this tomorrow, and walks over.
“I’m not a chick,” he warns. “If you hold my hand or fucking caress my hair, I’ll kick your ass.”
Castiel only leans in and kisses him. Kissing is something Dean can do. Maybe they make the mattress squeak, and maybe they aren’t sure where to put their hands, but once they get it, they get it. They fall asleep around 1:00, tangled up and lost, but it’s the kind of lost that makes Dean as content as he can remember being.
They wake to the sound of hesitant knocking.
“I kinda don’t want to open this door,” comes Sam’s muffled voice. “But breakfast is downstairs if you’re interested. We’ve got company, so clothing is mandatory.”
“Bitch!” Dean retorts. It’s too early for anything cleverer. Besides, even Dean has the decency to attend breakfast in clothes, despite the fact he doesn’t consider Gabriel “company”.
“Jerk,” Sam calls back, and clomps down the stairs. Dean mutters beneath his breath and considers going back to sleep, but the hand situated on his hip flexes, as though Castiel is waking, too. A moment later, an unsure kiss lands on the back of Dean’s neck.
“If you keep doing that,” Dean groggily warns, “I won’t want to sleep or eat breakfast. I’ll let you figure out the rest.”
Castiel makes a happy sound, but the peace is shattered by the appearance of Gabriel.
“Guys, come on,” he whines without preamble or even a suggestive eyebrow wiggle. “Breakfast! Visitors!” Dean rapidly sits up and throws his pillow at Gabriel’s grinning face, because there’s goddamn etiquette to follow when it comes to barging into bedrooms. As in, you shouldn’t do it.
“Get the fuck out of here, asswipe!” Dean orders. “What the hell is so exciting that we have to come down right now?”
Gabriel rolls his eyes, like his life is so difficult, and disappears.
The morning becomes significantly stranger and more horrifying when Crowley—Crowley, the Crossroads Demon and purveyor of Important Old and Magic Shit—replaces Gabriel a moment later. Dean stares, simultaneously disbelieving and reaching for a weapon anyway, wondering if all this is a nightmare, and if he’s still sawing logs with Cas.
“Look, what part of ‘company’s here’ did you fail to understand? Furthermore, I was led to believe you were anxious to find Halo Head’s Grace. Well, I found it. Are you honestly going to make me wait to see you?”
He, like Gabriel, blips out of the room as though he’d never been there. But it’s enough to send Dean and Castiel scurrying off the bed: Dean, already in a t-shirt and boxers, pulls on a pair of sleeping pants while Castiel quickly shrugs on the black coat Gabriel had made for him. They hurry—or Castiel tries, at any rate, because the stairs are still too cramped for him—until they burst into the dining room, where Bobby and Sam are already eating.
“Morning!” Gabriel cheerfully greets.
Dean ignores him and turns to Crowley, who’s partaking in tea.
“You’re the one Gabriel recruited?” Dean demands. “You? In what universe do you drop everything to help an angel?”
Crowley rolls his eyes. “Oh, I don’t know. How about the universe where said angel helped prevent Hell on Earth? The Earth where I presently reside?”
“Who had it?” Dean demands. Crowley crosses his arms and has a distinct ‘what makes you think I’ll say?’ expression, but Bobby snaps, “Just tell us, for Christ’s sake!”
Crowley huffs. “Well, fine. Don’t get your panties in a twist. Some demon twerp usurped it during the fight and made tracks out of Hell before Mike noticed. Twerp sold it to Junior who sold it to Small Fry, who had the good sense to sell it to me. Truth is, they were far too young to understand how Grace is used or the benefits of having it. I gave it a few test runs before Gabriel came knocking at my door.”
“You were performing the miracles?” Sam asks, aghast. “The river? The cathedral?”
“Might as well do something useful with it!” Crowley defensively replies. “Would you prefer I start a forest fire? Maybe wipe out New York? Do I look like the type who wants the Winchesters tailing him after I’d just finished killing eight million people? Give me some credit.”
“Why didn’t you give it back?” Dean asks. Crowley tosses his arms up.
“Oh, for—! Look, there was no ‘if found, please call’ attached. Only angels can recognize another angel’s Grace, numbnuts!”
“Okay, okay.” Sam holds up his hands in surrender. “You deserve a thanks.”
“Gabriel and Sam have been searching for weeks,” Dean stresses. “And you had it this whole time.”
“Yes, yes, it's all very tragic. By the way,” he says, like nothing very significant has taken place, “your garden is quaint and what have you, but it needed some improvement. You're welcome again.”
Crowley disappears along with the tea, but Dean just hurries out the back door, where he's sure Crowley has done something to destroy all the work Dean and Castiel have put forth.
Everything is exactly how they left it, except the sunflowers have grown two yards high, blossomed with yellow-bright petals and perfectly round centers, and they're beautiful. Sam and Bobby manage to tear themselves away from the food for a second, because they follow Dean to the garden, both equally taken aback by the fire-colored flowers that have become the equivalent of floral juggernauts. Crowley, Dean thinks, isn't a very good demon: first he finds Castiel's Grace, then he actually delivers it without fuss, then he leaves them with a parting gift, something he knows Dean and Cas will like. Dean considers what this means. It's possible that the Winchester curse—loved ones will die, bad shit will happen—is canceled out by the Winchester blessing: real friends will stay loyal forever. He thinks of Bobby and Gabe, who stuck their necks out; of Crowley, who chose them in the end; of Cas, who followed his gut and never once looked back.
“Ready, baby bro?” Gabriel asks. Dean turns to where Cas is studying the sunflowers.
In Gabriel's hand is something that resembles a single lit bulb from a strand of Christmas lights. Castiel looks from the flowers to Gabriel’s hand, and then finally rests his eyes on Dean. He opens his mouth and says something in a language only Gabriel can really understand, but Dean knows. He knows, at last, what Castiel has been saying all this time: love.
He holds out his strange, black hand; Gabriel drops the small light into Castiel’s palm. Castiel says something else, and Dean knows—based on routine more than anything else—that he’s telling them all to close their eyes. Dean would like to keep his eyes open for once, but he takes a deep breath and lets his lids fall. A moment later he feels two things: first someone presses a kiss to his mouth, and second a great heat forms. It's like standing too close to a bonfire, but the kiss goes on even as the heat intensifies—it’s almost too much, and he’s sure he’ll burn to death.
The heat dissipates; the kiss breaks.
Dean opens his eyes, and there stands a man with thoughtless hair and a blue, blue stare, and the first thing he says—with words Dean can fully understand—is, “Hello, Dean.”
Gabriel claps his hands together.
“Isn’t this romantic?” he asks no one in particular, but Sam rolls his eyes and grabs Gabriel’s elbow to lead him back inside. Dean hardly has the presence of mind to wonder what it means that an archangel is allowing himself to be led by a mortal man; Bobby, it seems, is wondering the same thing, because he looks at Dean and shrugs his shoulders before giving Cas a ‘glad-you-ain’t-dead’ nod and following Sam.
“This jacket is ill-fitting,” Castiel notes, holding up his arms and watching the sleeves hang off like a sheet.
“Uh, yeah,” Dean agrees, more stuck on how the collar drapes to reveal Castiel’s pale neck. “Do you want to go in? We can get some better clothes.”
“No,” the angel answers. “I do not wish to enter the house yet.”
He decisively pulls Dean to him and kisses like he didn’t just finish kissing him sixty seconds earlier. It feels so good—strange, different, but warm and safe, and Dean is secure in the knowledge that Cas really fucking loves him, but he wonders how in the world that can be.
“Stop,” Castiel orders, pulling away. “Stop doubting.”
“I didn’t help Gabriel look for your Grace,” Dean says, because how can that not bother Cas? How can he love Dean when Dean hardly lifted a finger in the quest for Castiel’s mojo? “I didn’t even research.”
Castiel runs his thumbs along either side of Dean’s jaw.
“You stayed with me. You kept me happy. And I do not intend offense, but Sam is a far superior researcher.”
Dean laughs and buries his face in the crook between Castiel’s neck and shoulder.
“I kept you happy with a junk garden and baseball,” he mutters.
“You gave me the things you could afford to give, and all of what was at your disposal. Anyone else would have locked me in the panic room.” He pauses. “Dean,” he finally says, forcing Dean to look at him. “You love me. Don’t you?”
Dean immediately straightens.
“Yeah, Cas, don’t even—”
“Then love me. You deserve what I offer you, but I can’t offer it unless you accept without doubts.”
Dean lets the words sink in. A beat of silence passes before he finally smiles and answers, “That sounds like a really good idea, Cas.”
“Well,” comes to the dry retort, “I’ve been known to have them on occasion.”
He gives Dean another look, and says, casual as you please, “You should kiss me now.”
Dean Winchester does not ignore a request like that, so he does exactly as Castiel suggests. Gabriel opens the kitchen window and calls, “Use tongue, baby bro!”; Dean starts laughing, because Gabe is such a perv, and between kisses and picking the first ripe pieces off Gabriel’s candy plants, it takes them almost ten minutes to reach the door fifteen feet away.