Title: Holly Jolly
Artist: meinarch (please go to livejournal or AO3 to see the beautiful art! linked in profile)
Pairing/Characters: Sam/Castiel, strong hints of Dean/Gabriel
Rating: soft R
Word Count: ~24k
Warnings/Tags: Alternate Universe - Canon, Stanford Era, Pining, Christmas, Bobby's House, Traditions Food, Families of Choice, Brothers Being Brothers Being Brothers, Tiny Bit of Action/Adventure, tiny bit of gore, Much More Holiday Schmoop, Sleepy Kisses, Cuddling & Snuggling, Sastiel Big Bang 2013
Author Notes: This work is part of a series, but can be read as a stand-alone piece.
"Cas," Sam says, looking horror-struck. "You can't be alone on Christmas."
Holly Jolly - Chapter One
"—and just because he's some kind of, of Scrooge who never goes home or sees his family doesn't mean there aren't people who do," Sam finishes with a flourish, jabbing the air with his chopsticks. A few sticky grains of rice fall onto his open notebook, but he either doesn't notice or doesn't care. "He's such a dick! Everyone there is such a dick, Cas, how did I let myself get talked into taking this job? It's barely minimum wage!"
"Mmhm," Castiel responds, flipping a page. Normally he'd pause to ask exactly what sort of creature a scrooge might be— Sam often peppers his speech with these types of impenetrable popular references— but he's currently quite engrossed in picking the remaining shrimp out of the pad thai, and in editing a heated debate for the Stanford theology department newsletter. They never fail to amaze and amuse, these wild assumptions about his father's intentions.
Sam makes a frustrated noise and stabs his chopsticks into the sesame chicken. "I mean, Scrooge. I felt like Bob Cratchit asking for more coal for the fire."
"Mmhm," Castiel says again.
They're both sitting on the floor of the living room, various projects and cheap Chinese surrounding them in concentric rings of binders, textbooks and greasy takeout boxes. Sam's cheeks are red and his eyes are glazed from celebrating his last appearance in moot court, and even Castiel is feeling pleasantly blurred, his vessel's limbs clumsy and slow. The congratulatory vodka, which followed the congratulatory beer after they'd run out, is on its side next to the coffee table— down to a dribble at the bottom of the bottle.
"Bob Cratchit, Cas!" Sam, it seems, is heavily invested in his topic. "Isn't there some, I don't know, universal rule that says all student workers have the right to the week of the twenty-fifth off?"
"That is certainly something to check," Castiel agrees absently, tucking loose pages under his chin. He glances up. "You have something on your face."
"What? Oh, thanks," Sam says, scrubbing at his chin with his sleeve. "Anyway, I finally talked him into it, but jeez. I had to tell him this whole sob story about how I hadn't seen my family in years, and I just got in touch with my brother again, blah blah. I mean, it's true, but it still felt weird. He probably thinks I was making it up."
"Yes, of course," Castiel murmurs, carefully marking a more or less correct argument with a smiley face. The proper encouragement is everything.
"Cas, are you even listening to me?"
"With great attention," Castiel says, turning the page again. "You've successfully browbeaten your employers into allowing you to return home for the Christmas holidays. Felicitations."
"Damn straight," Sam says, downing the last of his dubious Solo cup cocktail. "Those guys are such dicks."
They work in silence for several minutes after that, until Castiel blinks, blinks again, and lifts his head to frown at Sam.
He looks up. "Yeah?"
"You're returning home for Christmas?"
"Yes, Castiel," Sam says, obviously exasperated. "I am going home for Christmas."
"A home that isn't this home?" Castiel asks, pointing down at their threadbare and rather unfortunately vomit-hued carpet. "Unless— this isn't a home? Is your heart elsewhere, Sam?"
Sam stares at him. "Is my heart—? Oh, home is where the heart is, right. No, this is home, but this is… uh, just one kind of home?"
Castiel continues to stare at him. "Is this one of those questions I should know the answer to?"
Sam shakes his head vigorously. "No, I don't blame you for being confused. It's confusing. There's home, and then there's, like, home-home. Like—" he makes a gesture like he's setting something aside. "Here's the apartment, okay? It's where I come home to, after work and school and stuff. That's one home. But I have other homes, places where my family lives, right?"
Castiel considers this. "You said your family lived in cars."
"Not all of them do," Sam says, "just Dean and— and Dad, and the Impala— you remember the Impala, right? That's a home, too. But I have other family— well, they aren't really family-family, they're more like family friends, but still family, y'know?"
"No," Castiel says slowly. "No, I don't think I do."
"Sorry," Sam says, shamefaced. "It's kind of a com'pla— com'plated— com-pli-ca-ted concept. And I'm kind of wasted. Speaking of, where'd the bottle go?"
"Crap," Sam says mournfully, nudging it with his foot. "Do you think the gas station's still open? What time is it?"
"It's— wait," Castiel says, turning to face Sam more squarely and looking him in the eye. "It is time… for you to purchase a watch."
"Did you just—?" Sam sputters. "Oh man, Cas, you have got to work on your delivery," he says, giggling into his empty cup.
"But you're still laughing," Castiel observes, pleased.
"At how bad it was," Sam points out, but lifts his hand. It takes Castiel a few seconds to recognize the prompt for a high-five, but he dutifully smacks Sam's upraised palm.
"Don't get me wrong, though, you're a hundred times better than you used to be," Sam adds, climbing unsteadily to his feet via the couch. "And, about Christmas… it's just... well, Dean showing up at Thanksgiving like that. It was... it was good?"
"Yes," Castiel agrees. He likes Dean very much.
"We hadn't seen each other in years, y'know? I told you that?"
"Yes, you did."
"And I missed him," Sam says, ducking his head. "I still miss him. I miss… a lot of things. So I thought— maybe this year I'll go home for Christmas. It could be good," he says, sounding uncertain. He sways on his feet, grabbing the back of the couch for balance. "Right? Maybe?"
"All things are possible," Castiel says, and then a little less serenely, "but where is home?"
"Oh! Yeah," Sam says, staggering towards the refrigerator. "My, uh, uncle does this thing at Christmas where he invites his— his hunting buddies, and they have a big dinner. And stuff. It's in South Dakota."
"South Dakota?" Castiel repeats, experiencing a mysterious sinking sensation. South Dakota, as humans see things and now as he must see things, is quite far away from Palo Alto. "How long will you be gone?"
"Uh… about twelve days in total, I think?"
Twelve days. "When are you leaving?" Castiel asks, still sinking.
"Friday afternoon," Sam says from behind the refrigerator door. "Right after this litigation exam. It takes more than two days just to get there, so I'm going to start as early as I can."
"That makes sense, I suppose," Castiel mumbles to the vomit-colored carpet, picking at a hole in the bottom of his sock.
He doesn't mean for it to come out as mournfully as it does, but the prospect of twelve days on his own, especially during the season the radio has assured him is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, does not appeal.
Sam wobbles back into view, framed in the alcove he's almost too tall to fit through. "Well, you've got plans, don't you? What about your, uh. Was it your brother? He lives around here or something, right?"
"I believe he has plans of his own," Castiel says carefully. Plans that no doubt involve copious amounts of drink, loose women and ritual sacrifice. The myriad bloody ways he's seen Gabriel celebrate feast days do not bear thinking about. "I'll be fine, I'm sure."
"Other family?" Sam tries. "Friends?"
His face says he already knows or at least suspects the answer, but Castiel answers him anyway. "No one else. Just you. And Dean, I suppose."
It is not precisely a lie, as Sam and Dean are perhaps the only true friends he has on this plane of existence. There is Gabriel's barbed affection, yes, and a handful of other angels— but they are fallen, scattered and weak, much as he is. His closest compatriot from his days in heaven, his sister-captain Anael, lies even further beyond his reach: she is a teenage girl in northwestern Ohio, obsessed with Music Television and a band of boys who inhabit a back street. It will be years before she regains enough of herself to remember him.
"Cas," Sam says, looking drunkenly horror-struck. "You can't be alone on Christmas."
Castiel shrugs, looking down again. He's been alone before— far longer, in fact, than he's had Sam. He'll be fine.
"Listen," Sam says, stepping back into the main room. "Listen," he says again, dropping to his knees and crawling to where Castiel is sitting on the floor in front of the couch. There's another bottle in his hand, half-full of dark liquid, with an evil-looking squid glaring out at them from the label.
"Listen," he says a third time, maneuvering in next to Castiel. "It's Christmas. We'll think of something."
There's a peculiar warmth Sam gives off as a true vessel, the faint vibrations of his soul harmonizing with Castiel's fading grace. He leans into Sam's shoulder and soaks it in.
Sam, oblivious, hefts the squid-bottle. "Hey, I found this in the back of the freezer. Want some?"
Castiel eyes it suspiciously, but when Sam nudges him he lifts his cup. "I believe I will regret this," he sighs.
"Where's your sense of adventure?" Sam says, pouring in a generous amount and reaching for the bottle of flat soda wedged in the cushions behind them. "Cheers, or whatever."
Castiel wakes up on the couch, vaguely thirsty and with a mild headache threatening. The unreasonably bright living room is devoid of visible potable liquids, so he stumbles off the couch with a hand over his eyes and makes his unsteady way to the bathroom.
He finds Sam facedown on the tile floor, and conscientiously refrains from asking after his sense of adventure as he eases him into a sitting position, carefully propping his head up on the toilet lid. Sam appears to appreciate this, and the water Castiel gets him, if his bleary blinks and inarticulate "Hngah," are any indication.
"Bed," he moans after two or three glasses, lifting his arms. Castiel half-helps, half-drags him across the hallway and onto the mattress, tucking the sheets in tightly around his shaking body.
"No more squid," Sam rasps, pulling himself into a tight ball of misery. "Squid bad. We should— should salt and burn the bottle."
"You threw it off the balcony," Castiel reminds him. "It's somewhere in your neighbor's yard."
Sam squints at Cas, a bare sliver of his face showing through the layers of bedding. "Did I really?"
"You were very emphatic about it," Castiel says, edging another glass of water onto the crowded bedside table. A book falls off the opposite side with a loud bang, and Sam gives a whole-body flinch. "Sorry."
"S'okay," Sam mumbles. "It'll be fun, right?"
Castiel's eyebrows draw together. "It will be…? What will be?"
"You coming with me," Sam says, drawing the comforter in closer. "I mean, it'll be a little weird because they don't know you and they're all hunters, and you're not supposed to bring anyone who doesn't hunt, but I thought—"
"Sam, wait," Castiel says, crouching down. "Coming with you where?"
Sam blinks at him. "You're coming home with me. For Christmas."
"I am?" Castiel says, confused and suddenly hopeful.
"Uh, didn't we talk about this?"
"About, crap, I don't know. I can't just leave you here, it'd be like leaving a puppy—" Sam winces. "Sorry, you're a not a puppy."
"No, I'm not," Castiel agrees. Perhaps Sam is still a bit intoxicated. That would explain quite a bit.
"Or any kind of pet, really but you're not exactly the most… self-sufficient?" Sam continues. "Okay, start over. Like I said, we're not supposed to bring anyone who doesn't, uh, hunt, but Dean was always bringing his skanks-of-the-week with him— not that you're my skank or something—"
Sam takes a deep breath. "No more squid, okay? My head fucking kills and I can't make my mouth… do the thing. The talking thing." He groans. "Fuck. I want you to knock the bottle out of my hand if I pick it up in a liquor store, okay, Cas?"
"I will," Castiel promises. "Can I really come with you?"
All Castiel can see of Sam is his eyes, but he knows Sam's smiling. "Yeah, Cas. I think I'll feel better with you there."
Castiel begins to smile back, and then frowns. "You said it would be 'weird', though." Weird has not meant good in Castiel's admittedly limited experience.
"Yeah, but it's always weird at Bobby's," Sam assures him. "Last year the voudoun crowd showed up for New Year's."
Castiel nods in understanding. "Ah, yes. I find the loa to be disquieting as well." Gabriel and Papa Legba have an ongoing dispute that has involved far more reanimated corpses than Castiel cares to remember.
Sam snorts. "'Disquieting' is way too mild, dude. Anyway, I haven't actually told anyone I'm coming yet. So they'll probably be too surprised I'm there at all to care much about you."
Something about Sam's carefully flippant tone catches Castiel's attention. "Exactly how many years has it been since you were there?"
Sam is quiet, and after a moment Castiel tentatively says, "Sam?"
"We didn't go every year," Sam says quietly. "It was more of a once every two or three years thing. The last time— God, it was maybe five, six years ago? It was… it's one of the only good memories I have of Christmas." The man-shaped mound of blankets curls in on itself a little tighter. "Maybe it's stupid, but I want that again."
"I don't think that's stupid at all," Castiel says softly. "Rest, Sam. I'll be waiting right here when you wake up."
"… that's a little creepy, Cas."
Castiel pats what he believes is Sam's shoulder. "Nonetheless."
Of course, there's still the matter of Sam's exams.
Over the course of the week, Castiel is relegated to a mere observer as Sam spends his days at the job that doesn't pay well and his evenings in increasingly panic-filled 'cramming' sessions for his remaining tests, papers and projects. On Thursday night, he and Castiel play host to a mostly-silent study group overshadowed by pervasive air of desperation, and the other students all leave with the same expression of existential dread that settles on Sam's face as he studies well into the morning.
Castiel isn't quite sure what Sam does at work— his impression is one of color-coded filing and the occasional photocopy— but he does know that Sam can't be eating there. He doesn't seem to be eating anything Castiel doesn't forcefully push into his hand. By the time Friday morning comes and Sam trudges for the door, he looks visibly thinner and more haggard than he had at the beginning of the week.
"Wait," Castiel calls, and brings him a sandwich in a plastic bag. They only have breadheels and possibly-expired slices of turkey breast left, but Castiel's tried to thicken it up with tomatoes and cauliflower and some pickles he found in the drawer next to the moldy lemons. The result is a bit lumpy, but Sam takes the bag with a tired smile.
"See you in a couple hours," he says, hollowly.
"Ah, break— break your feet."
Sam stares, then snorts out a laugh. "It's break a leg, Cas, you're killing me here."
"That was not my intention at all," Castiel says, worried, but Sam grips his shoulder companionably, still laughing.
"Hey, not literally," he says, giving him a little shake. "Leave that to my finals, right?"
For a moment they're leaning in to each other, faces close and Sam grinning down at Castiel. It's a lovely smile, a lovely mouth, and Castiel remembers with a sudden burst of clarity that he has kissed that mouth. Looking at it now, happy and curved, he thinks that perhaps he would like to kiss it again.
"Bye, Cas," Sam says, stepping back just as Castiel starts to sway forward, and Castiel catches himself on the doorframe and watches Sam disappear down the steep, narrow stairs, nearly bashing his head on the low arch like he always does.
Castiel sighs. "Goodbye, Sam."
It's been three weeks since it happened, and they still haven't talked about the kiss.
"You... haven't talked about the kiss," Gabriel repeats slowly. "You haven't— you kissed him. Castiel."
"Yes," Castiel says impatiently, "and I would like to kiss him again, but circumstances never seem—"
"Stop," Gabriel says, throwing a hand up. The lights of the penthouse dim, the wall-sized television shorts out, and something low and tribal starts playing over the sound system.
"You have my full attention," his brother says, and indeed, on the astral plane his multitudes of fire-limned eyes are all trained on the annoyed flicker of Castiel's ekam. "Tell big bro every juicy detail."
"There's nothing to tell," Castiel huffs.
"You kissed someone," Gabriel says, in the same tone with which he'd explained forks. "A human someone, presumably with romantic intent. It was romantic intent, yes?"
"Well," Castiel says, fingers twisting together in his lap. "Maybe?"
"'Maybe'?" Gabriel echoes incredulously. "It's a simple question, Castiel: do you or do you not want to bone the boy?"
"I… I'm not sure," Castiel says evenly, though his wings flare out in embarrassment and a telltale heat blooms in his vessel's cheeks. "I wish you wouldn't phrase it quite so bluntly, it's— it more complicated than that. He's my friend."
Gabriel sits back with a strange expression, caught somewhere between amusement and ruefulness. "Ah," he says. "That kind of romantic intent."
Castiel frowns at him. "What do you mean?"
Gabriel shakes his head with a slight smile. "So, you kissed him. What did he do?"
"Nothing," Castiel says, aggravated. "He looked at me for a moment, and then he told me I should go to sleep, since it was so late. And we haven't talked about it since."
"Well," Gabriel says thoughtfully, "not outright rejection, then. That's promising."
Castiel gives him a dirty look and Gabriel laughs, smoothing Castiel's ruffled pinions with his own. "I'm serious, Castiel. You might actually get a chance to deflower yourself!"
"Unless," Gabriel says, fingers ready to snap, "you want to get some practice in before you do?"
"No," Castiel snaps, and flies off before Gabriel can summon the cheerleaders again.
He's on the verge of dozing off, lying on the floor in front of the window where the sun shines the hottest, when he hears the door open. The sound of the hinges creaking is followed by a series of thumps as several things hit the floor in succession. The last and loudest thump is followed by a muffled moan.
Castiel's eyes slit open. "Sam?"
"Kill me now," comes a rasp like a death rattle, and when Castiel turns his head he sees Sam on the floor, half-in and half-out of the open front door, his face mashed into the carpet.
Castiel pulls him inside and props him up against the couch, bringing him another sandwich (this one with ketchup and tuna). Sam, eyes mostly closed, slowly chews while Castiel closes the door and pries off his coat and shoes.
It's several minutes of Castiel waiting patiently, perched on the chair next to him, before Sam suddenly bolts upwards and yelps, "The bus!"
Castiel brings him his laptop, and Sam blinks rapidly at the screen, scrolling frantically. "We need to leave, now," he says, rising unsteadily to his feet. "I forgot to print the tickets, but the student union is on the way, we can stop by—"
There's a knock at the door, and Sam's head jerks up.
"I'm sure it's just a package, or salesman," Castiel says, pushing Sam helpfully towards the bathroom. "You get your toothbrush. You forgot to pack it this morning. And please use the toilet as well."
"Okay, Dean," Sam says with an eyeroll, but he goes.
But the man at the door is not in fact from a parcel delivery service, or vacuum company, or even a local religious association— although technically, Gabriel might fall under the last category. "What are you doing here?" Castiel whispers in horror, glancing over his shoulder.
"I have tickets to Disneyland," the archangel says, apropos of exactly nothing. "Ready to jam?"
Castiel stares at him.
"Weeklong passes," Gabriel adds, holding them up and fanning them out. "One for you, one for me, five for whatever nubile young things we can pick up on the way."
Castiel continues to stare. "Gabriel—"
"Are you ready now?" the archangel says, grabbing a handful of Castiel's shirt. "Let's go now."
Behind Castiel, the bathroom door slams open and Sam yells, "I'm not coming in and you can't make me!"
Gabriel jerks back. "What the hell? Sam?"
"I can't believe you followed me home! Go away, Gabriel!"
"You two… know each other," Castiel says, with a dawning sense of horror. "You— you know each other?"
"Wait," Gabriel says, voice lowering, glancing between Castiel and Sam behind him. "Him? He's the boy? The boy? You're crushing on Sam Winchester?"
"That is private information," Castiel hisses, just as Sam says, "Castiel, do you know this asshole?"
"Castiel is my brother," Gabriel says, folding his arms.
Sam makes a strangled noise, and the sound lengthens unnaturally before fading away. Castiel feels the distinct sensation of time slowing down around him, like standing upright and unmoving in a fast-flowing river, and the room takes on a telltale midnight blue tinge. The sudden quiet is almost deafening.
He sighs. "Gabriel, what are you doing here?"
Gabriel's eyes move between Sam, face frozen in an expression of horrified disbelief, and Castiel. "Your taste in men is a little lacking, Cassie. One of Azazel's brood, really?"
"Gabriel," Castiel repeats patiently. "What are you doing here? And how do you know Sam?"
"Crowley found him," Gabriel says, and Castiel frowns at the demon's name. "It's a couple years too early for any real action, but it always pays to keep an eye on things."
"You… you're the scrooges," Castiel realizes out loud. "His employers," he clarifies, when Gabriel gives him an odd look.
"Yeah, I guess we are. Oh, relax," he says in response to Castiel's growing glare. "We don't abuse him. Much. I doubt he has any idea he's interning at a tri-dimensional smuggling ring."
"Is that what you're doing?" Castiel asks, aghast. "No, please don't tell me. If Crowley's involved I'm sure I don't want to know."
"Gotta say, that guy is handy," Gabriel says, rocking back on his heels. "Our little Sammy, not so much."
"But Sam has nothing to do with why you're here," Castiel says. "Does he?"
"Hell no. I wanted to see you," the archangel says shortly, and immediately looks like he regrets saying even that much.
Castiel is immediately wary. "What happened? Do you need my help?"
Gabriel snorts and waves him off. "Please. Anything I'd need help with is already miles above your paygrade, brother-mine."
Well versed in Gabriel's tendency to retreat into causticness when feeling defensive, Castiel shifts attention to the tickets still in his hand. "And Disneyland?"
"The happiest place on earth," Gabriel promises. "You'll love it. Splash Mountain especially."
"But right now?"
Gabriel spreads his hands. "No time like the present."
"While under other circumstances I'm sure it would be amusing," Castiel begins, and Gabriel's eyes start to narrow, "at the moment, I can't. Sam and I are visiting his family for Christmas."
From the look on Gabriel's face, he has for once well and truly caught his brother by surprise.
"You what?" Gabriel asks. "Are you engaged? Are you pregnant?"
"I am not pregnant," Castiel says. "Gabriel, I inhabit a male vessel, how could I possibly—? No, I really do not want to know," he says when Gabriel opens his mouth to answer. "The point is that I can't go to Disneyland. Not now."
Gabriel's face closes down, and Castiel's mouth continues on without his expressed permission. "But I'm sure you'd be welcome to join us in South Dakota. If Sam approves. We are taking the bus there."
"I don't take the bus anywhere," Gabriel says mutinously, "and anyway, why the hell would I want to go to South Dakota?"
"Why would you want to go to Disneyland?" Castiel counters.
"Disneyland is fun," Gabriel protests. "There's cotton candy and roller coasters, and the Haunted Mansion, which is going to scare the crap out of you. Maybe literally."
"But why do you want to go with me?" Castiel asks. "It can't be because you want to see me— do that." Although it very well could be. He certainly wouldn't put it past Gabriel, who once spent days convincing him crocodiles were domesticated animals just to watch him nearly lose an arm trying to pet one.
"Look," the archangel says, gruffly. "Truthfully? This stupidly tall, floppy-haired intern got a bit uppity with me the other day, said it was Christmas, that he needed to be with his family because he hadn't seen them in a while, whine whine whine, blah blah blah. And I— well."
"We see each other fairly often," Castiel points out, carefully. Because there are whole garrisons, entire choirs that neither he nor Gabriel will ever see again.
"I didn't say it was rational," Gabriel snaps, "I just— forget it, okay? Go visit your boyfriend's parents. I don't care."
There's a sudden rush of wind and a single, massive wingbeat, but before Gabriel can disappear Castiel reaches out a grabs his wrist. "Wait."
They fall back into time and Sam is saying, "You're brothers? As in, related? Same parents? Really?"
"Really," Castiel says, still looking at Gabriel. "Sam, can he come home with us?"
"What?" Sam says blankly.
"That's not how it works, Castiel," Gabriel sighs.
Castiel looks over his shoulder to find Sam staring at him. "Sam?"
"You want— him?" Sam says. "Home with us? To South Dakota?"
"Please?" Castiel asks, because it never hurts.
"Yes?" Castiel says.
"Uh," Sam says, glancing at Gabriel, who now has an expectant and somehow bitter look on his face.
"What's the matter, Samsquatch?" he asks silkily. "Don't think I'll make a merry addition to your holiday roadtrip?"
Sam's eye twitches. "Can I talk to you in the other room, Cas?" he says, already moving.
"'Cas?'" Gabriel echoes, eyebrows rising.
"Yes, let's," Castiel says quickly, edging after him. "Gabriel, stay," he adds with a last pleading look, and turns and follows Sam into their tiny kitchen-bathroom.
When he turns to face him, Sam is sitting on the edge of the tub with his eyes closed, slowly rubbing circles into his temples. He's had very little sleep in the last few days, Castiel remembers with a pang, and looks it.
"Listen, Cas," he says. "I—"
"I realize Gabriel's personality is abrasive," Castiel says, folding his wings over them to shield the words from the archangel's ears. "And I know that he can be cruel. He is capricious, and occasionally malicious, and often does horrible things just because he can."
"He's the most godawful boss I've ever had," Sam says bluntly. "One of the most godawful people I've ever known."
"I'm sorry for that."
"It's not your fault your brother's an ass," Sam says with a sigh, and it's so similar to what he'd once said about Dean that Castiel risks a smile.
"Sam, please," he presses, quiet and sincere. "He came to see me of his own accord. I can't tell you how rare that is."
"Cas, it's okay," Sam says softly, looking up. "I understand. You can stay with him and I'll go alone, you don't have to—"
"Sam, he wants to take me to Disneyland for the express purpose of seeing me get sick on theme park rides."
"… yeah, that sounds like him," Sam says ruefully. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that I would rather go home with you," Castiel says. "But… if you'll allow it, I'd like to bring Gabriel with us."
"You want to have your cake and eat it too."
"I don't understand that reference." Castiel says patiently. "I realize that it's an imposition— we can stay at a hotel, perhaps—"
Sam leans forward, hands rubbing tiredly over his face. "I told you the thing at the house is communal, right? People are always coming in and out, so it's no big deal if I bring guests. But Gabriel is my boss, Cas. And I'm pretty sure he and the other boss hate me."
"He really doesn't," Castiel assures him. "He treats everyone like that."
Sam lets out a choked laugh. "Oh, good."
"I'll make sure he's on his best behavior," Castiel pleads, crouching down and resting a hand on Sam's knee. "Please?"
Sam looks up at the ceiling and sighs hugely. "Fine. God, fine. This is going to be the most awkward two weeks of my life, anyway, so why the hell not?"
"Thank you," Castiel says, and before he can lose his nerve, he leans in and kisses Sam, at the corner of his mouth where a dab of ketchup stubbornly clings.
Sam freezes but Castiel is already turning away, his cheeks feeling hot enough to burn. He steps back into the living room to Gabriel's sly grin, his brother sitting on the couch with his feet propped up on the coffee table.
"So, when do we leave?"
Stepping into the room behind Castiel, Sam says with a certain kind of despairing amusement, "Oh, about fifteen minutes ago."
"Really?" Gabriel looks over his shoulder. "I think our ride is right on time."
"Our what?" Sam says, squinting at him.
And then, to his obvious bafflement, there's another knock at the door.
Castiel looks at it, and looks at Gabriel, who shrugs. "Hey, I had nothing to do with it. He was already on his way."
"Who was?" Sam asks distractedly, pushing past Castiel. Before he reaches the door, though, the knob beings to turn, and it eases open a few inches.
"Uh, hey," a man says, peering into the apartment. "Am I interrupting something?"
"Dean!" Castiel says happily.
"Wha— Dean?" Sam says, hands in his hair. "What are you doing here?"
"Hello to you too, asshole," Dean says, pushing the door open wider.
"I didn't mean it that way! I just— I didn't even know you were on this coast," Sam says, starting to smile. "Hey, man."
"Hey yourself," Dean says with an answering grin. "C'mere."
As Sam steps up to pull the door the rest of the way open and he and Dean engage in a round of back-slapping hugs, Castiel explains, "Gabriel, this is Dean. Sam's brother."
"I see that," Gabriel says slowly. "You've really got that hum, don't you?"
Dean gives him a confused look over Sam's shoulder, but Castiel knows exactly what he means. In close proximity, the celestial song written into Dean's bones is ringing softly in time with Sam's. It's heartbreaking, if Castiel thinks on it too long.
"So, what's up? Something going on?" Sam is asking as they pull away from each other.
"Oh, you know," Dean says, all nonchalance and cocky smile. "I was in the area, thought I'd poke my head in. See what you guys are up to."
"Sure you were," Sam says, but he's still smiling.
"Shut up, bitch," Dean says affectionately. "Having a party? Where's the booze, Cas?"
"Squids have been banned from the premises," Castiel says gravely, stepping up and presenting his hand. He sees Dean glance at Sam silent question before he pulls Castiel in for a half-hug over their shake.
"It's a long story," Sam sighs. "Good to see you again."
"Same," Dean says, releasing Castiel. "Hey, listen, I was thinking— you look like you're in the middle of something now, but later on, if you don't have other plans…?"
"Well, I did," Sam says wryly. "Since derailed."
"Not your fault," Sam assures him, and Castiel doesn't think he's imagining the look Sam slants Gabriel's way. He is definitely not imagining Gabriel making moose-ears in response.
"Well then, want do something? We could even head out Bobby's way. He still does that Christmas dinner thing. Or we can stay here with Cas and... whoever the hell you are," he says, waving a hand at Gabriel. "Hi, by the way."
Gabriel's grin is worryingly genuine. "Hey yourself, Dean-o."
"This is my brother, Gabriel," Castiel says, shooting him a quelling look.
"Oookay," Dean says, quite rightly wary. "Nice to meet you. Sam? Whatdya think?"
Sam drops his head and groans out something like a laugh into his hand. "About that..."
"Well, we've got enough seats," Dean says, walking ahead of them towards the predatory outline of the Impala, parked across the street from Sam's apartment. The sun is setting now, and the evening is chilly and dry— no clouds in a darkening azure sky.
Dean glances between Gabriel and Castiel. "Luggage might be a tight squeeze, though. You guys got bags packed?"
Gabriel hits a button on a set of car keys that were not in his hand a moment earlier, and the trunk on the nearest sedan pops open. Castiel is fairly sure it belongs to the women in 3B.
"Here they are," Gabriel says brightly, tossing a tightly-packed duffel bag at Castiel. It hits him in the chest and he staggers a bit under the weight; it would have flattened a normal man, he thinks. Father only knows what's inside.
"Okay. Rule one of riding in my baby," Dean starts, holding up a finger.
"Dean, I remember," Castiel protests, but Dean shakes his head and stares down Gabriel, who now has a lollipop in his mouth and is running an appraising eye along the Impala's gleaming black chassis.
"Rule one," Dean repeats. "Driver picks the music—"
Gabriel's expression is angelic, in a word, and that's never boded well for anyone. Predictably, when they're finally allowed to pile into the car, Dean's beloved tapes have mysteriously turned to showtunes and power ballads from the eighties.
"What the— who the hell?" Dean says, looking at the speakers like they've turned to snakes.
Cher answers, "I can feel something inside me sayin', I really don't think you're strong enough, no!"
"What," Sam gasps around his laughter.
"Gabriel," Castiel mutters, nudging his shoulder. Gabriel blinks guilelessly back.
After a frantic search yields only more ballads and a subpar production of South Pacific, Dean actually throws a cassette out the window while Sam rolls on the passenger seat in stitches, tears streaming down his face as he laughs to the point of breathlessness.
"Gotta say, Dean, I would not have pegged you for a Cher fan," Gabriel says, under the sound of Dean starting the engine. "Marilyn, sure. Dolly Parton, absolutely."
"Shut your fucking mouth," Dean snarls, throwing the car into gear. "And put on your goddamn seatbelts, all of you. Let's get this show on the road."