Fandom: Supernatural
Title: The Mountains in Reply
Author: Maychorian
Characters: Sam, Castiel, Dean
Category: Gen, Angst, Drama
Rating: PG/K+
Spoilers: Through 4.10, previous stories in 'verse
Summary: Christmas is an awful time of year for this. Too many songs about angels, everywhere they go.
Word Count: 1762
Disclaimer: Pretty sure they're not mine.
Author's Note: For keire_ke, who requested "Something SPN for me, with mistletoe in it." A tiny sequel to Entertaining Angels, original flavor. This one's for Sam.

The Mountains in Reply

Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o'er the plains...

Sam sipped from the cup of punch in his hand, electric red, sickly sweet and laced with something sour deep inside. His mind caught on the flavor, strangely absorbed, cataloging the sensations, trying to sort out the ingredients. Appreciating it despite himself. Wondering what little Castiel would have thought of it. His blue eyes would have been bright with curiosity, his young face completely serious as he savored every new experience.

He shook his head, wrenching himself out of it. Weeks later, and still he thought of him at odd times, that sweet, lovely little boy who had been with them for only a week. Still the absence inside him, sharp and hard at the edges, softening gradually only with time. It shouldn't be affecting him like this. Castiel wasn't dead. He'd just...gone back where he belonged. And Sam and Dean had only had him for a week, anyway, taking care of his temporarily child-shaped form. Just a week. It shouldn't feel like this, it shouldn't...it shouldn't hurt.

But it did. And Christmas was truly an awful time of year to still be coming to terms with this strange sense of loss. Too many songs about angels, everywhere they went.

Sam looked up and tried to focus on Dean, watching his brother work the crowds. They were at a Christmas party held in a reception hall somewhere in Nebraska, full of twinkle lights and garish decorations, investigating a possible haunting. It was a work party, not for an office but for a combine factory, so Sam and Dean fit in easily. They told the shipping people they worked on the line and the line people that they worked in accounts receivable, and no one had gotten suspicious yet, except maybe one of the customer service folks, who were sharper than they seemed at first blush.

The music was high and a little tinny, echoing from a stereo system in the corner. All traditional Christmas carols done in traditional styles, none of the new pop remixes you heard on the radio. The collection had probably been put together by any one of a number of good down-home Christian types who undoubtedly worked for this factory. This was church country, at least a dozen for every tiny town, imposing edifices of brick or clapboard standing tall in the cornfields. And no pop Christmas songs meant lots of songs about angels.

The first Noel the angels did say was to certain poor shepherds in field as they lay...

Oh, forget it. Sam wasn't going to be able to stop thinking about Castiel, so he might as well go do it somewhere out of the way. He made his way back behind the buffet table to an unclaimed piece of wall and leaned against it on one shoulder, keeping an eye on the people, and finally gave in to his urge to brood. Dean would call him a pussy, but he couldn't help it.

Well, no. Maybe Dean would understand. He'd been quietly unhappy, too, after Uriel took Cas back into the angelic fold. But then a couple of weeks ago down in Georgia, he came back to the motel all smiles, goofy and sweet. Said he'd been swinging in the playground. With Castiel.

All right, and now Sam could admit it, if only to himself. He was bothered that Cas hadn't stopped by to talk to him, too. Because, well, of course he was an angel, and he was busy, he had to fight the demon horde and keep more seals from being broken. But he hadn't come to Dean to talk about the Apocalypse. He had just come to swing. Why couldn't he stop by and say hello to Sam, too? Hadn't they shared a connection in that one week? Didn't Castiel know that...that he missed him?

God, the hypothetical Dean in his head who called him a pussy was absolutely right. Sam was being a total girl about this.

He huffed a sigh and turned around, leaning on the wall on his other shoulder, his back to the room. And he blinked. A man with dark hair, blue eyes, a calm expression, and a trench coat stood there, watching him gently. Like Sam and Dean, he looked like he should fit in with this party, maybe somebody from accounts payable, but he didn't and he wasn't.

"Castiel?"

"Hello, Sam."

Sam stared for a few more seconds, unable to come up with anything else to do. Then he went over to the buffet table, refilled his glass of punch, got another one, and brought it back. "Here. Try this."

Castiel accepted the cup and held it lightly in one hand, holding it at chest height so he could stare at it, eyes intense and brow furrowed. "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight o'er all the earth. Ye who sang creation's story, now proclaim Messiah's birth...

Sam took a sip of punch and Castiel imitated him, but there was no pause to roll it around in his mouth, no flare of wonder crossing his face, pushing away the stillness. Perhaps this Castiel did not have the time to concern himself with such earthly matters as taste and texture and pleasure in simplicity. This Castiel was a warrior in a never-ending battle, and soon he would leave, back to the front lines, where he would fight shoulder to shoulder with his brothers. The thought sent a pulse of sadness through Sam, fleeting but painful.

Cas lowered the cup again and looked at it, then back to Sam's face. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly, and his eyes were light. "You always took such care with me. My well-being was...important to you."

Sam nodded slowly. "It...it still is."

"Yes, I felt your sadness and knew that I could ease it. So I came, just for a little while."

"I'm glad you did."

Castiel glanced over the crowd and Sam followed his eyes, finding Dean without effort. His brother was talking, his posture easy and confident, telling a joke to a cluster of smiling, laughing folks. Sam knew that there were stress-lines around Dean's eyes, though, invisible from this distance but ever-present now.

"How is Dean?"

"He's...holding on. We're holding on. Been working non-stop, though. He wants to keep busy."

"And how is it with you?"

"Whatever Dean needs, I'll do. He's my brother."

Castiel nodded. "I enjoyed being a child."

It seemed like a change of subject, but Sam just tilted his head slightly and didn't blink, listening.

"I enjoyed being with you, for that short time. Your love and care for each other is a bright light. You shine. I was blessed to exist in that light, however brief my stay was."

Sam swallowed, then nodded jerkily, his eyes stinging.

"My duties now call me elsewhere, and you know that I must obey the orders I am given. I may be forced to oppose you again, as I was in the matter of Anna. This does not please me, but the world is as it is. This war...it takes from all of us, and not only lives. Therefore, I wanted you to know. I have not forgotten. I never will."

We hear the Christmas angels their great glad tidings tell. Oh come to us, abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel.

"Hey, you guys!"

Dean, the grin bright and large in his voice. He was standing on the other side of the buffet table with a girl from customer service, her arm slung around his neck, her smile wide and giddy. She covered her mouth to titter, then pulled her hand away, grinning fuzzily. Sam wondered if someone had spiked the punch.

"Do you know where you're standing?" the girl asked, pointing above Sam and Castiel's head.

He glanced up, and then had to smile, too, his cheeks heating. "Uh..."

Castiel's forehead was wrinkled. "Does mistletoe have some signficance I'm not aware of?"

Sam glanced at Dean for help, but his brother just spread both hands and grinned at him in clear delight. Traitor.

"It's, uh...tradition. You're supposed to kiss under the mistletoe."

"Oh. I see."

Castiel nodded solemnly, then set his punch aside and reached up to rest his hands on Sam's broad shoulders. Sam froze, unsure of what he should do, instinctively ducking his head to look into his companion's eyes. The angel had to stand on his tiptoes. And then he laid a gentle kiss on Sam's forehead.

A benediction and a blessing. A simple gesture of divine love, bright and shining. It felt like an invisible brand, burning without pain.

Castiel lowered himself back down and took a step back, again smiling that tiny smile. "It was good to see you, but I must go now. Thank you for the drink."

"Good to see you, too."

The angel walked away into the crowd, toward the reception hall's doors, and Sam knew that he would vanish the moment he was out of sight. But his visit, short as it was, had lifted something from Sam. Taken away some burden, replaced it with the soft touch of lips on his forehead. Did Castiel know what he had done, was he aware of the significance? More likely he had no idea, wasn't even cognizant of the light he left in his footsteps, ignornant of his own brilliance because he knew nothing else. Was it truly possible that he could see light shining between the Winchester brothers and forget that he had his own?

They were all mirrors, Sam thought suddenly. Mirrors reflecting light back on each other, seeing it in each other and unable to see their own. And so Sam saw the truth of Dean even when his brother felt only darkness, and Castiel saw the gleaming in them both and did not think of his. With this knowledge, Sam could only hope that his own lamp was still burning, undimmed by what he had done. This gift of an angel's kiss should also be reflected, never hidden.

"C'mon, Sammy. You've been moping long enough." Dean pointed a thumb over his shoulder, back toward the crowd. "I was just telling Darla about how you can tie cherry stems in your mouth. You gotta show 'em."

"Yeah, okay." Sam grinned and followed his brother back into the party, sipping his electric-red punch.

Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o'er the plains, and the mountains in reply echoing their joyous strains...

(End)