It starts with a sofa.
Dean is in bed, the moon high in the sky, when the creak of an opening door shatters his sleep. He startles, hand immediately going to the Colt 1911 in the bedroom drawer. It's not like Dad lets him keep it loaded, he's eight for Christ's sake, but it was one of their nicer antiques and Dean loved the looks of the ivory grips. So Dad let him keep it, for show, for safety. And right now, with the soft footsteps Dean hears downstairs, he thinks he might need it.
He slides out of bed, glancing over at Sammy opposite him. Listens again for the sound of footsteps to make sure he's not imagining the intruder. Steals out the door, down the stairs, gun held in two hands the way they do in the movies.
In the darkness, Dean sees only the hazy outline of a stranger in the back room. He lifts the gun, free hand fumbling for the light switch. "Freeze!"
The stranger stiffens, Dean flicks on the light, and- oh. It's just a boy, can't be more than Dean's own age. He looks up at Dean, blue eyes wide – but not with fear, more like confusion – and then he sees the gun and stumbles backwards. He presses himself up against the wall, hands scrabbling for purchase, mouth opening and closing but no sound coming out.
"Who the fuck are you?" Dean asks. Dad would probably swat him upside the head for that language, but there's an intruder, and he's supposed to look intimidating. He's got a gun and everything. He's like John McClane, except cooler, 'cause he's eight.
The boy says, "That's a gun. Those kill people. That could kill me."
"Yeah, so whaddya think you're doing in our house?"
"I-" He looks to the sofa, then back to Dean with the gun. "Please don't kill me."
And then it clicks for Dean that he's pointing his gun at a kid his age. He imagines how scared he'd be if the roles were reversed. "Jesus Christ, I'm not going to shoot you. It's not even loaded." He lowers the gun, but keeps the tough stare, 'cause that's what James Bond would do. "Now get out, before I call the police."
"I'll- I'll go. I'm sorry. I only wanted…" He looks again towards the sofa.
"Dude, were you trying to steal our sofa?" The slow response is all the answer Dean needs. "How were you gonna do that? You're my age. And small."
"You're just as proportionally small," the boy says, crossing his arms.
"Yeah, but I'm not trying to steal a sofa."
"I wasn't trying to steal it."
"Yeah? So what are you doing breaking into our house at two in the morning?"
The boy looks unsteadily from the gun in Dean's hand to the open back door. "I didn't think anyone lived here. It's a store."
"It's the family business. We live upstairs." Oh. Wait, he probably shouldn't have told that to the intruder. "You didn't answer my question."
"What?" The boy looks up at Dean, and wow, his eyes are really blue.
He loses his train of thought for a second, swallows, and says, "The sofa. You wanted something with our sofa."
The boy shrinks down into his trench coat. It's baggy, dirty, and for the first time Dean realizes how disheveled the boy's hair is. "It looked comfortable. I was under the impression humans needed four hours of sleep to function, right?"
And okay, weird way to talk, but Dean brushes that aside. "You just wanted a place to sleep?"
The boy looks to the open door. "Just for a few hours. I'm sorry; I didn't mean to break into your house. Or scare you."
"It's fine, it's just- I should wake Dad, or-"
"No!" The boy tenses. "I mean. I'll leave. No harm done, yes? That's something people say, in situations like these?"
"I don't think there are any situations like this one." Dean rubs the gun in his hands, then sets it down on a side table. "Look, if you just want to sleep… I mean, you're not some crazy axe murderer or something, right?"
The boy squints, like he's actually considering it, and says, "No, I am not."
Dean doesn't trust that response for a second, but it's just a kid. His age. They could be friends. He looks towards the stairs, where upstairs Dad sleeps. There wouldn't be any harm done if he just… "My name's Dean. Dean Winchester."
The boy shifts, tugs at the lapels of his coat. "Castiel."
"You got a last name?"
"Not that I know of."
Oh. Okay. Dean's never heard that answer before. Cool. "So you just want to sleep on our sofa?"
Castiel's eyes go wide with surprise. "I don't understand. You're not sending me onto the street?"
Dean looks down, scuffs his bare feet against the floor. "I dunno. I was thinking, maybe if you don't touch anything. Four hours, right?"
"I'll be out of here before your father wakes." Castiel nods assuredly.
Dean can't believe he's doing this. But Castiel seems okay, right? "Yeah. Okay. I'm just gonna... You sleep, and I'll sleep, and I guess that'll be…" He shakes his head. He should really wake up Dad. But all Castiel needs is some sleep, and he doesn't seem dangerous. He's not trying to steal the sofa, right?
"Thank you, Dean," Castiel says. He moves hesitantly towards the sofa.
"Right." Dean heads for the door. "I'm just gonna get some water before I go to bed, you want anything?" And wow, okay, he's offering a pseudo-burglar water and a snack now. Things have really gone sideways in the past five minutes.
Castiel looks uncertain. "Some water? Yes, thank you."
So Dean pads to the kitchen, careful not to let the floorboards creak and wake Dad or Sam, and then back. When he returns, Castiel is curled up on the couch, swamped in his trench coat. "Here, dude. Bottoms up."
Castiel pushes up onto his elbows and takes the proffered glass. "Bottoms up? I don't understand. How is that relevant to-"
"It means drink up. Like, your water." Dean frowns.
Castiel nods like he's still confused but trying to hide it. "Thank you."
Dean shrugs, and because this night is going to hell anyway, he sits down at Castiel's feet. "No problem. So, uh, you wanna tell me what brought you to breaking and entering at two in the morning?" Breaking and entering, yeah. That's the thing he heard on the cop shows.
Castiel frowns into his glass. "No."
Okay, interesting answer. Dean tries again. "Well, where are you gonna go tomorrow night? You gonna try the bookstore down the road?"
"I don't know." Castiel's frown deepens.
Wow. Um. Dean thinks about it for a long moment, thinks about how he'd feel if it was Sammy sitting across from him. "Maybe I could… Maybe I could talk to Dad, in the morning. We could bring you down to the social worker's place. I dunno."
"I don't know what that is," Castiel says, "but I don't think it's necessary. Thank you, Dean, but I can take care of myself."
Dean likes the way Castiel says his name. He can't describe why, but he does. It makes him want to keep Castiel around for longer than four hours.
So he pushes it. "Take care of yourself by breaking into other people's houses? Dude, that's not a long-term thing. I'll talk to Dad, okay?"
"Okay," Castiel says.
In the morning, Dean does. Well, first, he hears the sound of an actual, loaded gun cocking. And then he scrambles downstairs to find John pointing the barrel at Castiel.
"Dean, you've got a lot of explaining to do," Dad says.
So he does, and Castiel stays thankfully quiet, but Dad too seems to find the guy a little endearing. So he lets Castiel stick around for breakfast.
Sam is overflowing with questions, in awe of his big brother for taking out a burglar with an unloaded gun. He's babbling, grinning ear to ear, asking Castiel any questions his four-year-old mouth can fit around. Castiel answers them all patiently. Dean stays quiet, stirs his cereal and watches Castiel talk to his brother with soft eyes and soft words.
After breakfast, Dad says, "Boys, I need to talk to Castiel alone for a few minutes. Why don't you go upstairs and get dressed?"
So Dean races his little brother back up to the bedroom, helps him get into his pants and socks, ruffles his hair once or twice. Sam makes annoyed noises, but Dean knows he secretly loves the roughhousing. They brush their teeth together, Dean pointing out the spots Sam missed, brushing super-extra-well. Maybe if Dad sees that they brushed their teeth super-extra-well, he'll let Castiel stay.
Which he does. A few minutes later, Dean hears footsteps on the stairs: Dad's loud, heavy ones, and then the lighter steps he first heard last night. Dad appears in the bedroom doorway, Castiel peeking out from behind him.
"Dean, Sam. I talked to Castiel here, and he's going to be staying with us for a couple of days. Just until we get him sorted out and back on his feet. Is that all right with you two?"
"Yeah!" Dean says, straightening up. He knew Dad wouldn't let someone like Castiel go out onto the streets alone. Castiel is just like Dean. Same height and everything. And Dad loves Dean, so he probably loves Castiel already too.
Dad has to open up the shop then, so he leaves Castiel with the brothers. "Castiel" quickly turns into "Cas" when Dean realizes Sammy's struggling with the extra syllables. Castiel looks surprised when he first hears Dean use the nickname, a sort of bewildered amusement, but he doesn't complain.
Dean explains about the shop, the family business, started by his grandparents. Cas asks about his mom and that makes Dean go real quiet for a bit, so Cas figures to change the subject. He goes quiet too, every time Dean asks him a personal question, so Dean stops going there too. Instead they talk about the antique shop, about the Colt 1911 Dean carried last night, the sofa, the old books Uncle Bobby procures for them. Procure is a big word; Dean learned it last week from Bobby, and he feels cool using it with Cas. Except Cas has that really big vocabulary, with words like "relevant" and "proportional," and Dean doesn't even know what that last one means, but it sounds cool.
Sam asks a lot of questions, but around midday he goes off to help Dad up front. Dean stays crosslegged on the bedroom floor with Cas, showing him books and toys and all the other cool stuff they have up here. Sam's birthday just passed, and Dad bought him this awesome remote-control car, which Cas goes totally crazy over. He keeps talking about radio waves and other stuff that Dean doesn't really get. But he likes seeing Cas smile, so they play with that for a while.
At lunch, Dad closes up the shop. He comes upstairs, standing in the doorway to watch the two of them for a long time. Finally, he says, "Castiel? Why don't we take you down to the CPS right now, see what we can do for you. Dean, if you want to come along you can."
So Dean drops the toys and helps Cas to his feet. They bounce around in the backseat together while Dad drives downtown.
"This is Lawrence, Kansas," Dean says. They're doing geography in school right now, and Dean knows all about the 50 States of America. Kansas is super cool though because it's also the name of a band. Dad has a Kansas record back home. They have lots of records, a really big collection. Dad jokes that it comes with the antique store thing.
So then Dean has to explain about Kansas the band, and about all of Dad's music. Castiel says he's never heard of any of it, which is crazy. Not even Led Zeppelin, and Dad says everybody's heard of Led Zeppelin. He makes Dad put on one of the cassettes. Cas listens thoughtfully for several minutes, head cocked to the stereo.
"This is interesting," he says finally. "The irregular melody line is surprisingly engaging. And I like the pattern of vocals."
Dad meets Dean's eyes in the rearview mirror. "You're a strange fella, Castiel," Dad says. He's got that tone of voice where he's thinking something that he doesn't want to say out loud.
Dean sits in the office with Dad and Cas and the social worker. He's been here a couple of times before, especially after Mom died. When Dad started drinking a lot. But things are better now, a lot better, and he hasn't been here in a year or two. The social worker, Ms. Barnes, is really nice. She asks Cas a lot of questions, except he can't answer most of them. Dean doesn't really listen, but he does catch snippets of the conversation. Words like "registration" and "social security" and "foster care." Dad seems to be getting more and more tense, more and more frustrated, as the meeting goes on.
Dean gets bored quickly by the grown-up talk, so he tries to talk to Cas. He gets pushed away, though, because Cas is listening intently to the conversation. So Dean swings his feet and looks around the office and waits for Dad to be done.
After a long time, Dad sighs and gets up. "All right, thanks for your time, Pamela. Come on, Dean, we're going now."
"No problem, John. Let me know if you figure something out." Ms. Barnes shakes Dad's hand over the desk, and then reaches for Castiel's as well. He's Dean's age, Dean knows that, but he behaves like one of the adults. "It was nice to see you again, Dean."
"Bye, Ms. Barnes." Dean waves on his way out the door. "Dad? What's going on?"
"Let's get to the car," Dad grumbles, "and then we'll talk."
So once they're back in the Impala, Dean helping Castiel to buckle his seatbelt (and really, what eight-year-old doesn't know how to buckle a seatbelt?), Dad twists in his seat to face them.
"So, Cas, that was really unhelpful," Dad says.
"I'm sorry." Cas looks down at his hands.
"It's fine, just… if you're lying about this, you're making my life a helluva lot harder, kid."
"I'm not. I don't have anything, John." And wow, okay, it's weird for Dean to hear a kid his age calling his dad that.
"Not even a last name?" Dad shakes his head. "Kid, you gotta have parents somewhere."
Cas shakes his head. Dean looks up in surprise, looks from his dad to Cas. What's this he's hearing?
Dad sighs, sinks back into his seat. "Okay, look, here's what we'll do. I'm not about to throw an eight-year-old kid out on the street. But I don't, I mean, we can't..." He groans and wipes a hand down his face. "Dean. How would you feel if Castiel stayed with us for a little while? Just until we figure out somewhere for him to go."
"That sounds great, Dad," Dean says. Cas looks really nervous, pale and wide-eyed, so he sends him a reassuring smile.
"Okay. Well… School's almost out for the summer, and I can manage another kid for- okay. Just for a little while. We'll find another way." He's not really talking to Dean or Cas anymore.
"Dad? Are things okay?" Dean leans forward to look at his dad in the mirror.
"Things are fine, kid." Dad sends him a weak smile. "Cas is just one little mystery, that's all. The systems say he doesn't exist. So they can't really take him into foster care."
"Oh. Okay." That doesn't make a lot of sense to Dean, but he rolls with it. If it means Cas is sticking around for a little while, he doesn't mind.
"Castiel, you're gonna have to start explaining things eventually." Dad looks at Cas for a long moment, but he stays stubbornly silent. Dad sighs, throws up his hands, and turns to ignite the engine. "Okay, that's how it'll be. That's fine. Come on, kids, let's go get some lunch."
They go to the Roadhouse for lunch, and Cas spends way too long looking over the menu.
"You should get a burger," Dean says. "Dad lets me get those even though they're on the grown-up menu. They're really good."
Cas frowns, looks up and down the menu one more time. "What is it?"
"A burger? Dude, you've never had a burger?" When Cas shakes his head, Dean elbows him in the ribs. "You definitely have to get one, then. Dad, can Cas get a burger?"
"Sure, whatever," Dad says. He keeps looking out the window and shaking his head.
So they both order hamburgers. Cas seems to really like his fries; he finishes his in a matter of minutes and then reaches for Dean's. And Dean lets him steal a few, even though Dean never shares his food.
Cas spends another night on their couch, and then another. And then one week turns into two, three, a month. School gets out for the summer and to celebrate Dad takes them to Walmart and buys Cas new clothes. So far he's been sharing with Dean, because they're the same size, but now he gets t-shirts and flannels of his own, and jeans, and socks, and even a pair of shoes that light up when you stomp in them. Cas gets really excited about those. Dean thinks they're both too old for light-up shoes, but he likes the way Cas smiles when he thinks no one is watching.
That summer, Dean latches on to Cas and doesn't let go. It feels like something cold in his life has suddenly gone warm. Cas says weird stuff and doesn't brush his hair and has never seen Star Wars. But the weird stuff he says is often weirdly sweet, and his hair looks better messy, and all that means is that Dean gets to crowd him up on the couch one evening and marathon all three movies. Dad comes in for the end of The Empire Strikes Back, and when he sees Dean and Cas and the empty popcorn bowl between them, he ruffles Dean's hair, and then Cas's. It feels like Cas is a part of something.
And by the end of summer, Dean struggles to remember being happy without Cas by his side. The sofa in the back room stays put. It collects a pillow, then a blanket, then a stuffed bear Cas chose from the front of the store and refused to give up. Three of Dean's dresser drawers fill with Cas's clothes, and half a bookshelf too. Cas reads all the time, always carries a book or two around with him. And he doesn't read at Dean's level, no, he picks books up off of Dad's shelf. Dad thinks it's crazy, especially when Cas starts talking about something called existentialism one evening at dinner. Dad calls him a prodigy.
When school starts up again, Cas enrolls in fourth grade too. And it seems like Dad's stopped trying to figure something out. It seems like he likes having Castiel around almost as much as Dean and Sam do. So they buy him schoolbooks and a backpack with Stormtroopers on it, and on the first day of school Dean eats lunch with his best friend. Cas likes his sandwiches cut diagonally and he always peels off the tomato and flicks the seeds at Dean. It's the same routine every day. Dean wonders when it became like this, when Cas stopped being Castiel-the-weird-sofa-burglar and started being just Cas.
The teachers adore Castiel, love his big vocabulary and the endearing social incompetence that comes with it. And yeah, some of the bigger kids try and pick on Cas once or twice, but Dean knocks Tamara's tooth loose on the playground, so after that they stop trying.
So they go together through fourth grade and fifth grade, and then middle school, and nothing really changes. Cas slots effortlessly into the empty spaces of their family.
One day, when they're twelve or so, Dean hears his dad tell someone he has three sons. It makes Dean so happy he thinks his face is going to break from smiling.
Except Cas isn't really Dean's brother. Not like Sam. Dean figures this out around the same time, when he's just hitting his teenage years. It doesn't change all of a sudden – he doesn't wake up one day and think shit, I'm crazy for Cas. It just falls into place. They sit at the kitchen table and do homework together after school. On weekends, when Cas runs the cash register for the antique shop, he rolls his sleeves up to his elbows and sticks a pencil behind his ear. Dean's crazy for it. He hangs around the shop all day long, skirting the edge between teasing and flirting.
Dean likes looking at Cas. Around fifteen he shoots up to just a couple inches shy of Dean, bulks up with the lean muscles of a runner. He has broad shoulders, tan skin that glows in the summertime. Dean sometimes gets locked up in Cas's blue eyes, and he can't look away.
At sixteen Dean goes on his first date with a girl, except the whole time he keeps thinking about how he could be back home watching Indiana Jones with Cas. So he kisses her kind of half-heartedly and breaks the speed limit driving home.
Cas and Sam are still awake when he gets home. He creeps in quietly. They're curled up on the sofa in the back room. It's been a while since Cas has slept back here – somewhere down the line they turned an old storeroom into a bedroom for Sam, and Cas moved in with Dean. The sofa is still the same one from that first night. Dean can still imagine dirty, tired Cas, curled up inside his trench coat. That trench coat is buried at the bottom of a drawer somewhere.
"Hey," he says, dropping his coat over the back of the couch. Cas shifts to make room for Dean; they're halfway through The Last Crusade.
"How was your date?" Cas murmurs, pressing a shoulder against Dean's.
"It was okay," Dean says. "I wasn't really feeling it." Lisa's a nice girl, but if Dean's being completely honest with himself she just isn't right for him. Cas is right for him. It's a hollow feeling in his gut, because he doesn't know if Cas feels the same way – Cas has never shown interest in either girls or boys – but it hasn't faded after all these years. Dean's not sure it ever will.
At the end of the movie Cas stretches and says goodnight, leaving Dean with his little brother.
"You 'weren't really feeling it'?" Sam snorts. "Dude, even I can see past that one."
"Shut your mouth, Sammy."
"Come on, dude, even Dad knows you have a thing for Cas. You should really get on that."
"You're twelve; don't tell me what to do about Cas."
"I'm just saying!"
Dean groans, then goes to tackle Sam. Now that he's twelve, Dean doesn't have to go easy on him anymore. They laugh and roll around for a bit, and Dean thinks he'll probably have bruises from Sam's elbows in the morning, but it's all in good humor.
"Come on, little brother, let's get to bed."
"Yeah," Sam says, sobering up. "You should probably check on Cas."
Pretty early on they realized that Cas has frequent nightmares. Sometimes they're the bad kind, the waking-up-screaming kind, and other nights he just wakes up and refuses to go back to sleep. He wanders the shop aimlessly, flipping through old books and watching TV to get his mind off things. Dean usually keeps him company on those nights. Cas refuses to talk about the nightmares, always has. There's a lot they still don't know about him.
Dean figures the nightmares must have something to do with the years before the sofa incident. They still have no idea what happened, who Cas is, where he's even from. He's a stubborn son-of-a-bitch. Somewhere down the line Dean gave up asking. Cas has his secrets, yeah. He has his quirks. Like the time John wanted to go to church on Christmas Eve and Cas adamantly refused, going so far as to lock the bedroom door so he didn't have to go. Or like the way he knows more about history than they teach in schools. Sometimes, he talks about stuff like he was there. It's weird.
Dean shakes his head to clear the thoughts, helps Sam up from the floor, and pads up to his own bedroom. Cas is already face down on his bed, clothed in only a pair of lounge pants, snoring softly. Dean looks at him for a moment, looks at the shine of moonlight on the curve of his back, before crawling into his own bed.
The next day is Saturday, so everyone in the house sleeps in. Dean wakes around eleven, as Cas comes back into the bedroom from a shower. His shirt clings to his chest, hair damp and sticking in all directions. Sixteen years old and Cas already has to shave every morning.
"You gonna open up the shop?" Dean grumbles, rubbing his eyes. He props himself up on his elbows, eyes following Castiel around the room.
"Yeah, John's out back polishing that new mahogany table we picked up. He said you should come down and help when you get the chance."
"Cool." Dean swings his legs over the bed and rakes a hand through his hair. "It's almost time for lunch, innit?"
"I'll drive you over to the Roadhouse for lunch, if you want."
"That'd be nice." Cas grins, before crossing over to the full-length mirror. He runs his hands through his hair a couple of times, combing the fringe sideways, and then moves to roll up the sleeves of his flannel. Dean realizes he's staring.
He trips out of the room and downstairs to help out his dad. Bobby's here too, going over some old books he brought in last weekend.
"Heya, Bobby," Dean says, giving the guy a clap on the shoulder. Bobby grunts in response, but doesn't look up from his book. "Sam up yet?"
"Yeah, he's out with friends," Dad says. He's crouched beside the desk Cas was talking about, wiping it down with wood polish. "You wanna give me a hand, son?"
Dean grabs the polish and starts working. "Hey, Dad?"
Dean thinks for a bit, wonders if he's gonna really breach the topic. But it was on his mind last night, and it's clinging to his thoughts. "You ever wonder what Cas's story is?"
John's response is a long time coming. "Sure, every once in a while. I sorta let the kid be."
"Yeah, but- I mean, I dunno, we don't really talk about it. But you practically adopted him, Dad."
"I knew what I was doing."
"I didn't. Man, I remember that night clear as yesterday. But I didn't really know what was going on. Dad, what you did, that was crazy."
"Don't I know it." Dad snorts softly. "Pass me that rag?"
"I dunno, I've just been thinking about it lately. Like, we seriously know nothing about the guy. And don't get me wrong, I'm glad you made the choice you did. Cas is family. But we have no idea what brought him to our sofa that night."
John sighs, straightens, and slings the rag over his shoulder. "Look, Dean, to me, Cas is just a kid. He's sixteen. He likes the movies you show him, he gets good grades, he gets in trouble from time to time. He's normal. A little weird, maybe, but good weird. His childhood is none of our business."
"But I mean, isn't it? We've fed him and clothed him and let him sleep on that sofa for eight years. We care about him."
John gives Dean a look and chuckles. "Yeah, you more than most, Dean."
Dean splutters. "Dad! C'mon, I'm trying to be serious here!"
"And so am I. I saw that on day one, Dean. You two, you have something good. I'm not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth."
Dean wants to protest, but Dad has a point. Cas is happy with them. He's not an axe murderer, he's a teenage guy. So whatever's in his past is in his past. If he hasn't brought it up, why should Dean?
He goes back to polishing his table.
And so nothing changes. Another year passes, and then another, and then they're graduating. Graduating high school. Jesus tapdancing Christ. May comes around; on the ten-year anniversary of the sofa incident, Dean takes Cas out for a drive.
For Dean's eighteenth birthday, his dad gave him the keys to the Impala. It's the best antique in their collection, still running after thirty years. Dean's messed around with it for years, loved it with the kind of meticulous care he only devotes to one other thing: Cas. And Cas loves the car too, runs his hands over the leather seats and taps out drum solos on the dashboard when they're driving. Dean likes being in this car with Cas.
He drives them out of Lawrence, out onto the long empty road. It's past sundown, the world dark save for moonlight. Cas's eyes glint in the darkness, reflecting the stars. They park in the middle of an empty field. Dean pulls a six-pack from the trunk, beer his dad doesn't know he nicked, and circles around to the hood of the car. They do this on warm summer nights, though they usually bring Sam along. Dean loves his little brother, loves sitting in silence and watching the sky with him, but right now is about Cas.
"So," he says, uncapping a beer and passing it to Cas. "We're graduating."
"That's true, yes," Cas says with a dry smile. He tips back his beer, and Dean tries not to focus on the fit of his lips around the bottleneck.
Dean lets the silence settle comfortably, but there's still something pressing at his mind. "Cas," he says. "What do you want to do next year?"
Castiel thinks about it for a long moment. Dean looks down at the beer in his hands.
"I guess I'll leave," he says, "figure things out for myself. Now that I'm old enough."
Dean lifts his head. "What? What are you talking about?"
Cas's forehead wrinkles. "Well, I mean, I'm eighteen. So I don't need your father's financial support anymore, as much as I've appreciated it all these years. I guess it's time I'm on my way."
"Wait, did you-" Dean scrambles onto his knees and faces Cas, "did you think this was just a pit stop or something? A temporary arrangement?"
Cas squints at him. In the low light, his eyes are dark blue, like Dean always imagined the bottom of the ocean would look. "Well, that's what John said when he first took me in, Dean. That I would only be welcome until we figured something else out."
Dean can't believe he's hearing this. "Yeah, but that was- Cas, things have changed. Everything's changed."
"Does this mean nothing to you?" He gestures between them. "I mean, you, and I, we… Cas, we weren't just financially supporting you. You're part of this family."
Cas leans back, like he's genuinely awestruck by the concept. "I didn't- you never said-"
"I didn't think it needed saying. Do we really mean that little to you? Just a pit stop on your way to figuring yourself out?"
Their eyes lock. Cas has that kind of gaze that scrapes Dean out from the inside, leaves him feeling raw.
"No," Cas says. His voice breaks on the word. He swallows and tries again. "No, you weren't- Dean, that wasn't what I meant."
Dean sits back on his heels. "Oh, right. 'Cause that's what it sounded like, you know. Ten years, Cas. It's been ten years. Seriously?"
"I didn't know I was welcome to stay."
"Of course you are. You're always welcome to stay. I want-" He swallows, hard. There's a reason they've never talked about this before; Dean can never get the words out. He forces himself now, because now is when it matters. "I want you to stay, Cas."
Cas looks at him for a long, hard moment. Dean can't stand that gaze anymore; he averts his eyes.
"You mean this."
"Dammit, Cas…" He shakes his head, turns away from Cas. Fumbles in the darkness for his bottle.
Cas takes a shaky breath. "I'd hoped- well, I didn't want to get my hopes up. I don't want to leave, Dean. I like being by your side. It feels… it feels right. If it's okay with you, I'll go wherever you are."
"Of course it's okay with me, you dumb son-of-a-bitch." Dean risks a glance back at Cas. That's all he wants. Dean can't imagine a life without Cas by his side. He'd be miserable.
Cas laughs softly. "Ten years of this, and I'm still getting used to your customs. I thought I'd figured you out pretty well, Dean Winchester, but then you go and surprise me again."
"What do you mean, my customs? Dad wants you around too, you know. And Sammy. Dude, I've lived more of my life with you than without you."
Cas laughs again, like there's something funny that Dean doesn't get. He does that sometimes, at the weirdest moments.
"Look," Dean continues, in a low voice, "if you do want to stick around, you gotta know… I'm not going anywhere. I mean, it's not like we can afford college. And I just want to take over the family business. This stuff, antiquing, it makes me happy, and I'm good at it. I'm no good in school. But you, you could… I dunno, Cas, you're smart. You have potential."
Cas shakes his head. "I have one human life, Dean. Given the choice, I'd like to spend it with you."
That's what Dean means, about the weird stuff being weirdly sweet. And it almost sounds like Cas is saying…
Is he gonna- yeah, he's gonna do it. Fuck it, he's eighteen years old. He's spent ten years building up the courage to do this. He's gonna do it.
"Cas." He swallows away the nerves, leans into Cas's side. "Can I try something?"
"Yeah, Dean." Cas looks up. God, he's so close. All Dean has to do is reach over.
He wraps his hand around Cas's wrist and kisses him. At first it's quick, nervous, a little fumbling. Cas lets out a little noise of surprise before leaning into it. Dean pushes back, curling a hand around the back of Cas's neck.
It goes quiet for a long time after that, just the sounds of their breaths intermingling. Cas pulls away first, pressing his forehead against Dean's, panting against Dean's lips.
"You- I thought-"
"Shut up," Dean mumbles, and surges forward again. Cas winds his arms around Dean's back, pulling them closer together. He slides the barest hint of tongue against Dean's lower lip and it drives Dean wild.
This time, it's Dean who pulls away to breathe. "Fuck, Cas," he pants.
"This was a good idea," Cas says.
"Yeah, ditto. Dunno why we didn't do it earlier."
Cas laughs, shakily, and cups Dean's jaw in his hand. "You repressed your feelings for me out of a fear of rejection, the opinions of others, and your own hesitance to start a relationship with someone you truly cared about. That's why."
Dean laughs too, because really, what should he have expected? Of course Cas knew. It's Cas. "Look, I was just… Ten years, Cas. I didn't wanna mess things up."
"Well, you've definitely messed them up now." Cas hooks a leg around Dean's and reels him in again.
Wow, okay, this is awesome. Kissing Cas is like… like pie, and Star Wars, and a storeroom full of model cars, and that one really soft Led Zeppelin shirt of his, all rolled into one. It's like the way Dean feels when he thinks of his mother's smile. It lights him up from the inside out.
It doesn't take too long before they need to back off, calm down. They may be teenage boys, but at least Cas is a sensible teenage boy. And they want to take this slowly. It feels fragile, like an antique mirror, old and timeless and perfectly smooth until it shatters. Dean doesn't want to drop this.
"I didn't know you- I mean, I'd hoped, but I wasn't sure you wanted this," says Dean. "You never really talked about dating or anything."
"I didn't care for anyone else," Cas says. "I only cared for you."
And yeah, okay, Dean has to kiss him again for that, but he keeps it short.
"This doesn't change anything, does it?"
"Not much," says Cas. "I knew this would come eventually."
Dean shakes his head, laughs. One beer isn't enough to make him tipsy, which means he's drunk on happiness right now. He's giddy with it. "You knew. You knew, and you didn't say anything."
"I was waiting. I'm very good at waiting."
"Yeah, well, you should have said something."
Cas shakes his head. "Dean, I don't think you get it. I'm still figuring myself out, remember? I don't really understand what goes on in my head, certainly not in relation to what goes on in yours. It's hard for me to discern feelings from rational thoughts. I want to be careful with you, because you matter."
Because you matter. Not you matter to me, or you matter to your family. Just, you matter. Dean's not sure he's ever been told that before.
"I'm crazy about you," he says. "I'm fucking crazy about you, Cas."
"The feeling is mutual," Cas says, and kisses him again.
Later, they drive home together. Cas keeps his hands to himself, and they settle into an easy silence. An optimistic silence. They're eighteen years old, about to move into the rest of their lives. Dean figures, as long as he has Castiel-the-weird-sofa-burglar by his side, he can be happy.
And he is happy. They take over the shop from Dad the following fall. Dean opens a new wing for restoring old cars, because he realizes that that's what makes him really happy. Cas brings him cold sodas in the garage and watches him work, when business is slow. Then they usually make out against the car for a little while.
So yeah, things are easy. It's hard to label what they have a relationship, because they're two guys in Kansas, and not a lot of people like that idea. But Sam knows, and John and Bobby and most of their other close friends. Most of their school friends go off to college, or move across the country, so Dean and Cas have some kind of peace together. They renovate their bedroom, trade the two twin beds for a king. Cas starts a garden out back. He says he likes growing things, taking care of things. Dean doesn't mind; he likes to watch Cas work.
He likes the evenings, when they're tired and hungry, Cas with dirt under his nails and Dean with wood polish under his. Sam comes home from school and Cas helps him with his homework. They've been doing that since they were kids, except now Sam is fifteen, then sixteen, then seventeen. He keeps getting taller, too, outstripping Cas and then Dean and then Dad.
Dean is happy. He is the kind of happy only seen in sitcoms. Cas is quiet and sweet and he brings Dean flowers from his garden. Yeah, it's kind of girly, kind of sappy, but Dean's a total goner. Cas drives him crazy.
Except it fades. They get three, four years of a kind of blissful happiness, and then Dad has a heart attack.
It's sudden, terrifying. They're lifting a heavy set of drawers together when suddenly Dad's heart just gives out. Dean screams and runs over, shouts at Sam to call 911. He knows the steps of CPR, goes through them with the kind of methodical calm only present in circumstances of absolute terror. But Dad's long gone by the time the paramedics arrive.
Dean is angry, Cas is in shock. Sam is the one who keeps his head on straight. He cooks them dinner, makes them both sit down and eat. It doesn't feel right to be eating when Dad's- fuck. The house feels empty, too empty. It echoes with the silence of a thousand screams.
Dean takes that chest of drawers out back and beats it with a crowbar until it's a pile of woodchips. And then, when he's done, when his eyes are welling up with angry tears, Sam comes out. Sam comes out and puts his arms around Dean and buries Dean's face in the curve of his neck and lets him scream.
Dean is angry. Dean is angry because he doesn't know what else to feel, because Dad is dead and it's too soon, it's not fair. And then Sam is crying too, tears soaking through Dean's sweat-stained shirt, and then they're kneeling on the garage floor holding each other and trying to reconcile their separate griefs. Dean feels like his stomach is made of glass shards.
Cas takes the keys to the Impala and leaves, not a word to either Sam or Dean. He disappears, just like that, and doesn't reappear until twenty-four hours later. By then, Dean's a little calmer; he's taken a shower and slept a few hours. He's called the funeral parlor to make arrangements.
Cas doesn't look calmer at all. He looks angry, wild, hair all over the place and clothes rumpled. He kicks a table, kicks a bookshelf. Dean's never seen Cas this upset before.
"It's not okay," Cas says. "I should be able to do something. I can't just let this happen."
"People die," Sam says. They're at the kitchen table together, all staring morosely into bowls of uneaten soup. "It happens. It sucks, but it happens. There's nothing you can do about it, Cas."
Cas puts his head in his hands. He cries into his hands, cries into his bowl of soup. Dean pulls him into his arms and kisses him until he stops crying.
"I hate this," Cas says.
"I know," says Dean. "Me too."
Dean didn't realize his dad meant so much to Cas. But fourteen years is a long time. Dad was there for Cas, took him in, at a really bad time. Dad has always been there for both of them. And now he's-
It sucks. They go to the funeral the following weekend, and it sucks. Dean and Cas lie together that night in bed, curled inside one another's arms, and it sucks. Dean has to open the shop again on Monday, and it sucks.
Cas doesn't cry again, not after that night at dinner. But he kicks a lot of tables. He forgets to water his garden for three days in a row. He punches a hole in their bedroom wall.
Sam goes back to school, says it's a good distraction. Moping around the house all day only makes it worse, as Dean knows from experience. He spends hours in the shop, where he and Dad used to work together. The shop is all his now.
But he has Cas, and he has Sam. Dean spends a lot of time sitting in silence with Cas, for those first few weeks. Months.
Things get better, slowly. The ache fades into a dull throbbing. Dean still feels it, every day. Feels it when he opens the shop in the morning and feels it when he closes for the night. June rolls around and Sam graduates from high school. He heads off to Stanford in the fall, a full ride. Academic scholarship. Dean always knew his little brother was smart.
"I'm proud of you, Sammy," he says at the bus stop, as Sam is leaving. "And Dad-" he swallows the lump in his throat, "Dad would be too."
Sam smiles, a little sadly, and says, "Thanks, Dean." He hugs his brother, then Cas. "Cas, take care of him."
"Always." Cas sets a heavy hand on Sam's shoulder. "And you take care of yourself."
Dean hands his brother the duffle bag and the bus ticket. Goodbyes are hard, especially saying goodbye to Sam. He can't quite get his mouth around the words I love you. He hasn't even been able to say them to Cas yet. But Cas knows. It's been four years and Dean isn't going anywhere. Cas knows.
"Good luck, little brother," Dean says, and he pushes Sam onto the bus.
Later that night, when Dean comes up to their bedroom to change for bed, he catches Cas kneeling, hands clasped together. He doesn't ask. Cas isn't religious; he's never prayed before.
They wake up tangled together in the morning, a pale rosy light falling across Cas's naked chest. Dean traces circles on his collarbone, presses kisses where his fingers pass. Without Sam in the house, they can afford a lazy weekday morning.
"I miss John," Cas sighs.
Dean's hand falters for a moment. "Yeah, buddy," he says, "me too."
"And I miss Sam," Cas continues. "Already."
"He'll be happy at Stanford."
"I know. It doesn't make the missing any easier."
"I'm not going anywhere," Dean says, because he knows that's what Cas is getting at, even if he doesn't say it out loud.
Cas reaches a hand up to cradle Dean's face. His thumb rubs over the top of Dean's cheekbones, like he's brushing away the freckles.
"I did something stupid," Cas says. "I talked to my family."
At first Dean's confused, because he is Cas's family, but then the real meaning sinks in. He pushes up, away from Cas, skittering out of bed and onto his feet. "What the hell are you talking about? What family?"
Cas sits up slowly, propping himself up on his hands. The sheets pool at his waist. "You know exactly what I'm talking about, Dean."
"Cas, you don't- you don't have another family. You have us. That's it." He refuses to believe he's hearing this. Fourteen years they've been together, four years they've been together, and not once has Cas brought this up. Not once.
"It was a bad idea," Cas says, "but last night… It was just, in the wake of John's death, I… I thought they could do something. It was stupid."
"You have a family," Dean says. He stares at Cas. Twenty-two years old, stubble around his jaw, still the same eyes as that eight-year-old in a ratty trenchcoat. "You have a family out there, and you never said anything. You never told me."
Cas shakes his head. "I stayed away from them for a reason, Dean. But I needed to tell you now because I talked to them, and now they might try and find me."
Dean curls his fingers into his hair, tugs down to the roots. This is too much. This is too much for the morning. "Why are you telling me this? This isn't fair."
Cas makes a soft noise, and he crawls across the bed to where Dean stands. He wraps his hands around Dean's wrists and brings them to his chest. "Oh, Dean."
"No. You can't do this. You can't go fourteen years pretending you didn't have another life before me, and then say this. You can't do that to me, Cas."
He's come to terms with it. He's accepted that Cas wouldn't talk about the years before the sofa incident. And now he's talking about a living, breathing family? Brothers and sisters and maybe- parents?
Cas kisses Dean's knuckles. "You're right. It's not fair. But I needed to warn you before-"
And then the doorbell rings.
"Oh," Cas says, and he drops Dean's hands. "That'll be him."
"Him? Who's him?"
"My brother." Cas rolls off the bed with grace, bare feet landing softly. "Get dressed."
"Don't tell me what to do."
"Dean," Cas says, and he looks at Dean. "Please get dressed."
He does, and then he follows Cas downstairs. Cas, who wears sweats and one of Dean's old t-shirts. Cas, who opens the door.
"Hello, brother," says the man standing behind it. He is tall and dark and he has the eyes of a madman but the posture of a lawyer.
"Raphael," Castiel says. "I thought it would be you."
"Hi," Dean says, edging his way into the doorframe. "I'm Dean."
"Dean," Cas says, yet more urgency in his voice than before. "Would you mind making some coffee?"
It's a diversion, a blatant lie. Dean stands his ground. "Nah, I wanna meet your brother, Cas."
"No, you don't," Cas says. Raphael doesn't look offended.
"You called," Raphael says.
"I was wrong to do so. Please leave."
Raphael laughs, a dark, dangerous thing. "You don't think we'll let you go that easily."
Castiel sighs. "No, I didn't think you would." He turns to Dean, lays a hand on Dean's arm. "Please, Dean. I just need a minute."
Dean nods, leans in to kiss the stubbly part of his cheek, and goes towards the kitchen. He stays just inside the doorway, so he can hear every word said. It's not like Dean to eavesdrop, but it's not like Cas to talk about his family. Dean doesn't know what he can trust right now.
"You've aged, Castiel. Didn't you take the form of a child, when you first came?" Another deep laugh from Raphael.
Dean imagines Cas smiling with only his lips, not his eyes. "I had the mind of a child then; it seemed fit. I've grown up."
"So it would seem. You did a very good job of hiding from us." A beat of silence. Dean's tempted to peer around the corner to see what's happening. Then, Raphael continues, "You'll come home, of course."
"I don't think so."
"It wasn't a request, Castiel."
That's it. Dean steps around the doorway, back into Raphael's line of view. "You're not taking him anywhere he doesn't want to go."
Raphael looks at Dean, the corners of his mouth quirking into a smile, and then back at Castiel. "Is this your mud monkey, Castiel?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, dude," Dean says, "but you need to leave."
"And you've trained him so well," Raphael continues, ignoring Dean's words. "What an obedient little insect."
Cas moves so fast, faster than Dean could have imagined. One moment he is standing stock still, not a single muscle trembling, and the next he is shoving Raphael up against the door, an arm at his throat.
"Easy, little brother," Raphael says, laughing again. Dean really hates that laugh. "You think you could hurt me, in that form? You've grown weak. Slow."
"I could kill you blindfolded," Cas growls. Dean's only heard that aggression in his voice a few times before, and it chills him to the bone. Cas is so gentle usually, but sometimes he scares even Dean.
"Cas," he says, taking a careful step forward. "Cas, that's your brother." Jesus fucking Christ, is this his life? Cas has a brother. A whole family that Dean didn't know about. Although, from Dean's impression of Raphael, Dean can understand why Cas might want to forget them all.
But Cas is threatening murder. He still has Raphael pinned up against the wall, although Raphael is surprisingly calm about it. He pushes Cas away with one hand, no strain in his muscles. He moves towards Dean.
"Don't you dare-" Cas starts, before cutting himself off harshly.
Raphael moves in a slow circle around Dean. And yeah, Dean is angry, trembling with it, but he's also scared out of his mind. This is fucked up.
"He's interesting," Raphael says. "Pretty, for a human. Rather defensive. And-" Raphael stops, mid-step. They say that a lot in books and stuff, stopping mid-step, but it never actually happens in real life. Except now. Raphael literally has one foot in the air when he freezes. "No," he says.
"What?" Dean snaps. He has no idea what's going on, where this is going, but he doesn't like the way Raphael is looking at him.
"The odds are astronomical," Raphael murmurs. "You, Castiel, that you would find…" And then he's laughing again, a full-belly laugh, and that scares Dean more than the calm. "Castiel, have you even looked at your mud monkey?"
"What are you talking about?" Castiel asks, words laced with anger and fear.
"This- this boy you've got, this impulsive animal… This is the Michaelsword, Castiel."
Dean turns to Castiel, who looks like all the color has been drained from his skin. "No," he says, shaking his head. "No, it can't be. Not Dean."
Raphael keeps looking at Dean, so Dean keeps looking at Castiel. At the fear in his eyes. What the hell is going on? Why are they talking about him now? He doesn't understand half the words in Raphael's sentences.
Raphael smiles, and his teeth look like the fangs of an anglerfish. "You fell in love with the Michaelsword." Each word is slow, measured out in a careful rhythm. "I'm impressed, Castiel, I really am. And you couldn't see it, this whole time, blinded as you were by human eyes."
"Will somebody please explain to me what the fuck is going on?" Dean snaps, still frozen under Raphael's gaze.
"Dean," Castiel says, and his voice swells with so much emotion that Dean trembles at the sound. "You need to go. Now. You need to go as far away as you can. Take the Impala, go to Sam."
"What are you talking about? I'm not leaving you, Cas."
"Oh, look at that loyalty," Raphael says, condescension rich in his tone. "But Castiel, I'm not going to hurt him. I can't, remember? He's the Michaelsword. I harm one hair on his puny head and the wrath of our brother falls on my shoulders."
So Dean doesn't get what this word Michaelsword even means, but he gets what Raphael is saying. Somehow, he's untouchable. There's a lot going on here that doesn't make sense, like the way Raphael uses the word "human" like he's not, or the way Cas is rooted to the spot with fear. He's never seen Cas this afraid, not even that first night with the sofa.
"It's been fourteen years," Cas says quietly. "Please, Raphael. I have a life here. I've built a life here."
"Tourism," Raphael says, with a dismissive flick of his fingers. "This is only a reprieve from your true calling. Fourteen years means nothing in the great landscape of your existence."
Castiel shakes his head. "To a human, fourteen years means everything. To Dean, fourteen years means everything. I'm not leaving."
Raphael looks at Dean, raises an eyebrow like they're sharing some inside joke. He sighs. "Very well, Castiel. I can kill you, then." And he turns towards Castiel.
And hell no, Dean's not letting that happen. He jerks into motion, cutting in between Castiel and his brother.
"Wait," he says. "Hold the fuck up. You're not touching him."
"Hmm," Raphael says, with that patronizing smile again. "Interesting."
"No," Dean says. "Listen, I have no fucking idea what's going on. You're talking about stuff I can't even begin to understand. But I figured out one thing. You can't hurt me, right? I'm the Michaelsword, or something like that. You can't hurt me."
"Dean," Castiel says, and he puts his hand on Dean's lower back. "Don't-"
"Shut up, Cas, I'm negotiating with your asshole brother." Dean turns back to Raphael. "So you can't hurt him. Because if you do, you'd have to go through me first. And you're not gonna do that."
Raphael looks at Dean, and then over his shoulder to Castiel. "Interesting, Castiel. Your mud monkey has a mind."
"He's right, Raphael," Castiel says, voice streaked with fear but still steady. "You have no power here."
"Yeah, that," Dean says. "You're not welcome here. So get the fuck out of my house."
Raphael takes another look at Castiel, and then back to Dean, and sighs. And then he just fucking disappears.
"What the fuck," Dean says, and he staggers backwards, grappling for something to hold onto. That something is Castiel's arm. "What the fuck was that."
Castiel sags, slumps to the floor. All of the tension in the room dissolves. "Dean," he says. Dean waits for the rest of that sentence, but nothing comes. Just his name. Like Castiel is using it as tether, a kite string to hold him down.
"You've got some serious explaining to do, Cas."
"I know," Cas says, "but not right now. I need- I need fourteen minutes. That's not so long, is it?"
Dean's mind can't even process what just happened. He can only breathe if he's not thinking too hard about it. It's like a sieve trying to hold water. So he says, "Okay," and then he goes to make breakfast.
When he returns to the front room, Cas is still slumped on the floor, head in hands. He crouches down beside him.
"Hey," he says, nudging his shoulder. "You need to get up. We're gonna eat, and then you're going to explain what just happened."
"That was so stupid," Castiel mumbles into his hands. "I can't believe I did that. I put you in so much danger. If not for that stroke of dumb luck, you'd be- I'd be-"
"Relax. Things are okay, right? We'll talk about it over food. C'mon. You know you love my pancakes."
So Cas lets Dean help him to his feet, lead him to the kitchen. Dean lets the silence sit for several minutes before he pushes it.
"So, your family. You wanna start there?"
"I'm not human," Cas blurts, and what? Is that a joke?
Dean tries to make sense of those three words, to rationalize them, but he can't. He heard what Raphael said. So he says, "Okay, what are you?"
Cas looks up. "You're not mad?"
"No," Dean says, "I'm fucking furious."
"Oh," Cas says, and looks back to his plate. "Well. I'm an angel of the Lord."
And that makes about as much sense as a bear on a bicycle. Instead of finding a response, Dean takes another bite. Waits.
"Fourteen years ago, I-" Cas shakes his head, rakes a hand through his hair. "I fell. I was tired of it. I don't like immortality. It's like an ill-fitting suit. That one you wore to our senior prom, you remember that? Being an angel felt like that to me. So I fell."
Dean shakes his head, because this is insane, but he lets Cas keep talking.
"I wanted to become human, so I did. My brothers and sisters didn't like that. It's very taboo, to do something like that. Especially when it was I, Castiel, who fell. On good days I ranked higher than Raphael in our army. I was Michael's favorite, the paragon of a good soldier. Until I wasn't."
He takes a deep breath. "Dean, I- if any of them found me, knew where I'd gone, they would have killed me. As Raphael just tried to do. So I hid. I severed myself from my God, I made myself untraceable." He taps the weird tattoo on his hip that Dean had noticed before but never asked about. What kind of eight year old gets a tattoo anyway? Only now does he get why.
"Then I came to your door," Castiel continues. "It was an accident, a happy one, or so I thought. Now, in light of- well, I wonder if it wasn't some part of a greater plan. Fate. But Dean, I- you have to understand, this isn't- it wasn't what Raphael said. Tourism. I stayed with you because I wanted to. Because I wanted to be human, to be with you and your family."
Dean thinks he's starting to get it now, starting to parse some of what Raphael and Castiel said. "So you didn't tell me about any of this, why?"
Cas shakes his head. "I wanted to forget it, Dean, desperately. I just wanted to be human. I thought, as time went on, I could forget my thousands of years. These last fourteen are the only ones that matter."
Dean takes a sharp breath. He considers reaching across the table for Cas's hand. On any other morning, he would. Not this one.
"Cas," he says quietly. "I'm not going to kick you out. I'm not going to break off our relationship. But I want you to know that I am very, very angry with you. I'm not going to forgive you. Yet. This isn't okay. We have to have trust, you get it? Honesty. That's what's made us work, what's made us good." And now here he is, reevaluating all that they've done, all that they've been. Four years he's been with Cas, kissed him and fucked him and held him in his arms. And Cas wasn't even human.
"I know," Castiel says.
"Were you ever gonna tell me?" Dean asks. This is the question that hurts the most.
"No," Castiel says, and Dean feels his lungs collapse. "But I was weak, last night, vulnerable. Your father was dead and I wanted so desperately to bring him back. Were I an angel, it would have been nothing. So I prayed to my brothers and sisters, begged them to bring him back for me. It was only this morning that I realized what I'd done. I'd given away my location. And I knew they would come after me. I knew I was putting you in danger. I tried to tell you, but-"
"But Raphael showed up."
Castiel makes a noise of concession, and takes a bite of his food. God, it's such a human gesture. Dean can't believe Cas isn't.
Except he remembers, at the beginning, how weird Cas was. How he'd never had a burger, how he talked like an adult. Dean thought he'd acted like an alien. Now he realizes it was more like an angel.
"So you're what? Quasi-angel? An angel without his wings?"
Cas shakes his head. "Neither. I am human, irrevocably human. I have only the memories of an angel."
"So you're gonna grow old and die?"
"Yeah. I have one life, Dean. I'd like to live it with you."
And shit, that sounds like what he said that night. That night on the car, when they first… Yeah, this is the same Cas. This is always the same Cas. It doesn't matter if he's an angel or a human or a fucking centaur, because he's still Cas.
Dean gets up, leans over the table to kiss Cas. He's still angry, but that doesn't mean he can't be happy too. Cas pushes into the kiss, kicking away his own chair so that they're leaning together at awkward angles.
"You're a fucking idiot," Dean says. "You should have told me."
"Yes," Castiel says. Nothing else. No excuses, no apologies.
"What are we gonna tell Sam?"
Castiel shakes his head. "Nothing. Not unless it puts him in danger. Although-" And then he has to sit down again, eyes going wide with horror. "If you're Michael's vessel, that makes Sam- no. That can't be."
Dean takes his own seat back too. "What? Something new?"
"No, it's just-" Cas shakes his head. "It's not that big of a deal."
"Well, tell me anyway. The honesty policy starts here and now, Cas." He waits, but gets nothing. "Raphael said something about me being the Michaelsword. And then you, just now… What's that all about?"
Castiel stares at Dean, eyes skipping around his face, for a long, long moment. He squints. "Do you remember, in the Bible, when Michael fights Lucifer?"
"Uh, yeah, a little." Dean never read the Bible, but Cas used to sometimes tell him anecdotes. Now that he knows about the angel thing, that makes a lot more sense. Cas was probably there for some of them.
And hell, if that isn't weird. Cas is thousands of years old and Dean's twenty-two.
Cas thinks a bit longer, like he's trying to find his words in a sea of mangled letters. "I fell from Heaven, so I became completely human. But there's also a way for angels to come down to earth without losing their abilities. You just saw Raphael do this. It's called taking a vessel."
"What, you mean, like taking over somebody's body?"
"Exactly like that. Now, not everybody is fit to be an angel's vessel. Certain angels have certain, specific vessels. Mine lives in Pontiac, Illinois, and his name is James Novak. I modeled my own human form after him. Michael's, on the other hand, is you."
"What? Michael? Like the archangel?"
"Yeah. We call Michael's vessel the Michaelsword, because it's what he used in the first angelic war to defeat Lucifer."
"So, like, if Michael wanted to take a little stroll around Earth, he'd just pop in my brain and take that stroll in my feet?"
"Not exactly. He'd need your permission to do so."
"Right. Angels need permission to possess people."
"We're creatures of Heaven, Dean. Show us some respect."
"You said 'we'. I thought you were human now."
"Force of habit. Millennia as an angel, fourteen years as a human. I'm still adjusting."
"Right. Anyway. Michael?"
Cas shakes his head. "Michael spends most of his time in Heaven. Taking a human form, it isn't enjoyable for most angels. Raphael was probably very annoyed to be sent to dispose of me. So you needn't worry about Michael except in the event of the Apocalypse."
"The Apocalypse. You're kidding, right?"
Castiel laughs. It must be something in Dean's expression. "It won't happen, probably for another hundred thousand years. Even so, there's a specific lineage of humans meant to be the vessels of Lucifer and Michael. Brothers. So that when the end of times does come, Michael and Lucifer can take their human vessels and fight as fate predicts they will."
"Brothers." It takes a moment to sink in, but then Dean remembers what Cas said earlier, about Sam. "Wait, if I'm Michael's vessel, do you mean Sam- Lucifer? My baby brother is an angelic condom for the Devil?"
"I don't know," Cas admits, splaying his hands on the grainy wood of the table. "I just made that connection as well. I didn't even know about you until Raphael- he must have seen it carved into your soul."
Right. Because that totally makes sense. Dean takes a deep breath to steady himself, digs his nails into his palms. "So he couldn't hurt me. Because Michael has dibs."
"More or less."
"And you- coming to our house that night, with the sofa? That was just pure coincidence?"
"Yeah, I think so. I'd wandered homeless for about nine months as a human by that time. It was pure coincidence that you let me stay."
Dean lets that sit for a moment. He thinks for a long, long time about all that's happened. This morning, and in the years before that. Between him and Cas.
"But you don't- you're not going to leave now, right? Like you thought you were gonna before. When we turned eighteen."
Cas looks down at his hands. "If you're not so angry that you want me to leave, I mean. I would understand if you were. This is a lot to take in."
"Cas," Dean says. "I may be confused right now, but I know one thing. I always know one thing. I don't want you to leave, not now, not ever."
Cas looks up for barely a moment, a flash of blue. "Okay," he says.
"Okay." Dean leans back in his chair, lets his hands fall to his lap. "That's settled, then. And the angels – your brothers and sisters, I guess, wow that's weird – they won't come after you?"
"I don't think so," Cas says. "But if they do, Dean, I've put you in enough danger already. I won't let them hurt you."
"No," Dean says, with the beginnings of a smile, "I won't let them hurt you."
And he thinks he sees a hint of a smile on Cas's lips, too. He wants to kiss it into a full-blown grin.
(So he does.)