A/N: This fic was written for smth_blue in the exchange that was run over at deancas_xmas on Livejournal. My recipient wanted me to turn Sam into a baby and to have a Christmas tree, so that's what they got! The only other thing I should say is that I'm not from Charleston, so the information about that city is fabricated.
Oddly enough, the Apocalypse ended on Thanksgiving Day.
Very early in the morning, the sky still littered with stars, Dean stood in an empty warehouse in Detroit, flanked by Sam and Castiel, and let Michael possess his body just long enough to defeat Lucifer. It turned out there really wasn't any other way of ending it, but Michael never had any intention of burning the world. In fact, the end was oddly anticlimactic and the thing Dean remembered most from Michael wasn't the passion of battle, but the consuming sadness at finally losing his brother.
Dean could relate, but he wasn't sad to see the fucker gone.
Right before Michael vacated Dean's body, he gave Castiel an extra shot of ultra ramped up Grace and told him to heal Dean. Then he left for parts unknown and really, it didn't matter to Dean because once Castiel had brought him back to consciousness and healed his boiled insides, he was more than ready to be done with angels once and for all.
Well, most angels.
Castiel followed them back to the motel more out of habit than anything. They all three trudged into the room quietly and fell into chairs or beds, too exhausted to speak. But after having the whirling storm of an Archangel's thoughts and feelings inside his mind, the quiet was just far too quiet for Dean, so he gathered enough energy to tug the remote off the nightstand and flick on the television. It was the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade of all things. As the familiar voices of Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira floated into the room, discussing the height of the black and white float charging up 34th Street, Dean felt tension he didn't know he carried drain out of his shoulders.
"At least Lucifer didn't make us miss Snoopy," he said.
It was the first thing anyone had said since they left Michael, the first statement of their new lives. He met Sam's eyes and for a moment, they just stared at each other. Then, Sam chuckled and his smile was so unexpected that Dean laughed too. It broke the dam. Two years worth of fear, anger and anticipation poured out laughter that only grew with each passing moment, until neither could breathe long enough to calm down.
Castiel watched with a worried expression, but he didn't say anything until the laughs were only escaping every few seconds instead of continuously.
"I don't understand what's funny," he told Dean.
"Nothing," Dean said and he dragged himself up from where he'd flopped back onto the bed. "It's just...I just let a fucking angel take over my body so he could kill the fucking devil," Dean said. Castiel looked like he wanted to say something, probably that he already knew it, but Dean beat him to the punch. "It was either laughter or screaming and crying, Cas. We chose laughter."
"I see," Castiel said and maybe it was three years in their company, but Dean thought he really meant it. "You need to deal with intense and frightening emotions in a safe manner."
"Whatever," Dean said, flopping back again. "You should try it. It'd do you some good."
"I am not amused," Castiel said. He sounded so bland, like stuffy royalty, that Dean nearly erupted into laughter again, but he managed to stave off the attack and instead turned on his side.
"So do the angel equivalent. Pray until your mouth hurts or fly until your wings fall off or something," Dean said, earning a helpless giggle from Sam, who was lying on his own bed and staring at the ceiling.
"Hmm," Castiel said in a thoughtful considering tone. Dean glanced at him, curious. "Maybe I should."
"Not until I cause myself pain, but...these years have been very difficult," Castiel allowed as if they hadn't literally been to hell and back in that time. "It'd be nice to fly freely without worries."
"Go for it," Dean said. Something occurred to him, a concern he'd been able to suppress until that very moment and Dean swung his legs over the side of the bed, launching himself to his feet. "You'll come back, right?"
Dean ignored the way Sam laid a pillow across his own face, presumably to block out the sounds of Dean being a total girl, and instead focused on the way Castiel's eyes gentled.
"Of course. If you'd like that. My Father has given me permission to choose my next duty." He paused as something shy and vulnerable crept into his face. "I was hoping that could be here, with you and Sam. Helping you."
Dean's god, yes, please got stuck in his throat, tangled up with overwhelming relief and something else he didn't want to name yet. Castiel waited patiently, not moving his gaze, not even blinking while Dean processed the feeling of getting this on top of defeating Lucifer and keeping Sammy intact. The moment stretched out and Dean wandered into his own mind, imagining spending every day and night with both Sam and Castiel, hunting bad guys and relearning how it felt to be unburdened by the world's problems.
He waited too long to answer.
"Yes, Cas," Sam finally said, voice muffled by the pillow he then lifted up. "I don't know about Dean, but I'd like to have you watching my back. Actually, I lie. I know all about Dean and he wants you watching his back too." He threw the pillow on his face again and Dean could have sworn he heard Sam add quietly Among other things.
"Yeah," Dean said, jerking his thumb towards Sam. "What he said."
The vulnerability slid out of Castiel's expression in favor of quiet pleasure. "In that case, I will return this evening. Enjoy your parade."
Dean listened for the rustling noise that always signaled Castiel's departures, but it was delayed. Instead, Castiel pinned Dean with a serious, almost reverent look and he walked to him, placing both hands on his shoulders.
"Thank you, Dean," Castiel said. He didn't know if the thanks was for wanting Castiel to stay or for letting Michael use his meat suit once Dean realized the archangel was kind of an okay guy or for the last three years of sticking together through everything, but it didn't matter because Dean knew he should be the one thanking Castiel. There were three people that kept Dean sane during the whole ordeal and Castiel was one of them.
"No, hey," Dean said, awkward and embarrassed. "We couldn't have done it without you," he said because it was easier to include Sam when saying shit like that. Castiel accepted his words with far more grace than Dean had.
"Even so, you have my thanks," he said before turning to where Sam was watching them curiously. "As do you, Sam."
"Um, you're welcome," Sam said and when his cheeks colored, Dean felt better about himself.
"I'll return later," Castiel promised and then Dean finally got to hear his wings shifting into flight. Between one blink of an eye and the next, he was gone. Dean watched the empty space where he'd stood until Sam cleared his throat and raised an eyebrow at him.
"What?" Dean growled, defensive. He threw himself onto the bed and pointed back to the television before Sam could answer. "Look, it's your favorite. Barbie."
"Right, because I'm the girl," Sam deadpanned.
Dean scowled at him, but couldn't find it in himself to really be annoyed. This was exactly how they were supposed to be, both alive and well and always ready to mock one another. And now they could add into the mix one straight-laced and oftentimes obnoxious angel that had somehow became as necessary to Dean as breathing. Things were good. Really good.
Too good to be true kinda good.
So when things went to pot two weeks later, Dean had been expecting it and actually felt rather relieved. Because the problem was stupid and annoying, but it wasn't deadly and that was all that mattered in the end.
It started when they stumbled across a demon named Alain who'd managed to escape being locked back in hell with his fellows. It wasn't the first demon they'd fought since Thanksgiving. A lot of the motherfuckers got out when Lucifer rose and it would be quite some time before they were all destroyed. Equipped with enough holy water to drown an elephant, Ruby's knife and some kick-ass angel mojo, the Winchesters and Castiel had found and killed nine demons in those two weeks before they met Alain. It was surprisingly relaxing work. Hunting demons by day. Research mixed with movies and as much junk food as they could eat by night. After Sam and Dean fell asleep, Castiel returned to Heaven to commune around with his brothers and met them to start it all over the next morning.
Dean had never been happier.
They were in West Virginia when they caught wind of Alain's activities. A series of unexplained disappearances were reported in Charleston and while it wasn't explicitly supernatural, they were in the area anyway and decided to check it out. It took thirty-six hours, multiple trips to the victims' homes and Castiel using his now fully restored angelic powers to read minds before they confirmed it was a demon and tracked the bastard down to the basement of a dilapidated apartment building on the outskirts of town.
If it had just been Alain, they would have had no problem ending him.
But he was holed up with witches.
More specifically, Dean spied two women and one dude through the opened crack of the door Alain had disappeared behind. They were gathered around an alter, their faces alight with twisted glee.
"So what, are they working together?" Dean whispered, exchanging a dark glance with Sam. This was just what they needed. Demons teaming up with witches and wreaking all kinds of shitty havoc across the state.
"Listen," Castiel murmured, laying a hand on Dean's arm. The touch reassured Dean far more than he'd have guessed.
They listened in growing horror as Alain explained to the witches that he'd disposed of the bodies as they'd asked. One of the chicks said they only needed two more kills before they had enough power to finish the ritual and then they'd be even. Even for what, Dean didn't want to know. He'd heard enough. He itched to burst through the door and start taking them out, but before he could, Alain suddenly threw his head back and climbed out of his meat suit, black smog erupting from the mouth of the pudgy brown-haired host. Once Alain was out, he slipped around the edges of the small window set high on the wall and disappeared into the night. The host fell forward, choking and panicked and when the witches closed in on him, that's when Dean realized what was going on.
The demon was bringing them sacrifices.
He was through the door without a second thought.
The next five minutes were a blur. Dean caught sight of surprise on the witches' faces right before his fist slammed into the male's jaw. He felt Sam and Castiel crowd into the room. A brief flapping noise told Dean that Castiel had taken the poor host somewhere safe and then another announced his return. In that time, Dean earned himself a couple of bruised ribs and a nasty cut across the face, but he also managed to slide Ruby's knife through the guy's throat. He turned just in time to see Sam take out one of the women.
It was the other witch that was the problem.
Everything happened so fast. Dean saw her hands reach out towards Sam, felt Castiel rush past him, heard the witch's voice rise to an ear-splitting shriek and then blinding white light filled the room. Dean was knocked back against the frigid concrete wall, his breath torn from his lungs as he clapped hands over his eyes. Then he fell hard on his ass.
It was very quiet after that.
There were spots hovering in Dean's vision when he finally managed to blink open his eyes. The first thing he saw was Castiel standing over the witch's dead body, a grim expression on his face.
The second thing he saw was a child.
He looked about three years old. His long floppy hair was brown, his enormous hazel eyes confused and he was standing naked in a pile of Sam's clothes.
Dean blinked. "Please don't tell me…"
The child started sobbing and that's when Dean knew. He'd recognize that sound anywhere. Dean scrambled to his feet, ignoring his screaming ribs and flew across the room to Sam. He fell to his knees and picking up Sam's shirt, wrapped it around the child, the three year old Dean hadn't seen in twenty-five years.
"Hey, shhh, calm down," Dean soothed as he gathered Sam to his chest, turning wide eyes on Castiel. "What the hell happened?"
"It was the witch's spell," Castiel said with what Dean recognized as false calm. He didn't know when he'd gotten so good at reading the angel, but Dean sensed Castiel felt as freaked as he did and that helped calm him considerably. Not enough that Dean forgot his brother was now small enough to fit neatly into his arms, his tiny face buried in Dean's neck as he cried. But enough to make the situation manageable.
"I think she intended to drain his life force," Castiel explained, staring at the back of Sam's head. "I couldn't stop her. I could only modify her power into something less...life-threatening. I'm sorry."
He sounded truly sorry, maybe even a little pissed at himself. Dean stood up, groaning slightly against the effort of hauling Sammy up while his ribs hurt so much.
"Dude, it's not your fault," Dean said, hobbling towards him. Castiel met him halfway and carefully laid a hand on Dean's side, sending a warm jet of healing Grace through his body. Powerful relief coursed through Dean's veins and without thinking, he leaned into Castiel. "This is better than life-draining."
Sam's tears had slowed and he hiccupped wetly against Dean's collarbone.
"Um, but...you can fix it right? I mean, please tell me you can fix him," Dean said, suddenly afraid it'd be another twenty-five years before he saw Sam at his right age again.
"I don't know," Castiel said. The intensity of the gaze he directed at Sam increased till Dean felt as though Cas were trying to see through to the back of Sam's skull.
"He's full of power," Castiel said uneasily.
"O-o-kay, I don't like the sound of that," Dean said as he started unconsciously bouncing a now sniffling Sam against his hip. "Sam and power don't have a good history."
"It's not power he can use," Castiel said. He stepped into their space and cautiously reached towards Sam. When neither Sam nor Dean protested, he laid his hand against Sam's dark curls and the touch seemed to help Castiel see even deeper, if the sudden dawning of understanding in his eyes was any indication.
"This is why the witches were killing people," Castiel said. "They were somehow increasing their magical powers by draining their victims of their life energies. They must have had to fill the humans with their own power first though because Sam is carrying her magic. The witch died before she could withdraw her power along with Sam's life force."
Dean hugged Sam closer against his chest, but it only marginally helped melt the icy block formed there. If Castiel hadn't returned when he did or hell, if he'd gone back home after the last battle, Dean would be holding his brother's withered corpse instead of a warm breathing living child. Dean would take kid over dead any day.
"Can we get the power out of him?" Dean asked shakily.
"I'm not sure," Castiel confessed. He laid his other hand against Sam's back and despite himself, Dean smiled when Sam leaned into Castiel's touch and stared at him with his huge teary eyes. Dean had forgotten how big Sam's puppy-dog eyes used to be.
"I can't take it myself," Castiel said in frustration a moment later.
"Okay. It's okay," Dean said, even though he didn't much like that answer. It wasn't Castiel's fault. "We'll figure it out. You saved him. That's what important."
Sam patted the side of Dean's face and grinned, apparently over crying about scary witches.
"Dean," he said and suddenly lunged forward to twist his arms around Dean's neck in the kind of death grip only kids can manage.
"Yeah," Dean struggled to say. "It's me, Sammy. We'll get you through this. Don't you worry."
Judging by the way Sam squeezed Dean one last time and leaned back to plant a big wet kiss on his cheek, he wasn't worried one bit.
The first order of business was finding Sam some clothes. The blue checkered shirt he'd been wearing when this happened was big enough to wrap around his three year old self twice. Which was good because Decembers in West Virginia were not mild. Dean also draped Sam's leather coat around his shoulders so that only his head popped out of a mountain of material and gathered him into his arms again. He instructed Castiel to get the rest of Sam's stuff before they left to find the car.
"You're going to have to watch him," Dean said after he buckled Sam into the passenger seat. It wasn't nearly near as safe as a baby's car seat. It struck Dean with overwhelming clarity how much shit they'd need to buy if Sam was going to stay like this for any length of time.
"Watch him?" Castiel asked, bemused.
"While I get some stuff for him at the store," Dean explained, leaning over to swat Sam's hand as he tried to open the glove compartment. "Stop that," Dean said automatically. And that was before he remembered the extra pistol in there. He swiped a hand over his face. "My god, we're going to be baby-proofing the motel room for hours," he said.
"Watch him?" Castiel repeated.
"I can't take a naked baby into a store to buy clothes," Dean snapped, rubbing his temples.
"Why not?" Castiel asked plaintively. He sounded as if he thought having a naked child was nothing more than acceptable evidence that they needed the clothes. Dean didn't feel like going on a rant about human customs, so he just started the car and threw it into reverse.
"Trust me, I just can't," Dean said with an explosive sigh. Sam had stopped trying to get into the glove compartment, but was now leaning forward as far as he could go and he was in real danger of flipping over his seat belt. "Damn it, Sammy, sit still."
Sam jerked back and turned offended eyes on Dean. Another thing Dean had forgotten. Sam's patented bitch-face had emerged at an early age. The big eyes and childishly unreserved emotions made it a thousand times worse. Dean resisted the very real urge to flip him off.
"Ok, let me think," Dean muttered as he steered the car back towards the motel. There were two choices here. Either Dean went shopping for Sammy while Castiel watched over him or Dean sent Castiel into the unpredictable wilds of an Earth mall. He glanced over at Sam, watched for a brief moment as Sam began biting one of his coat buttons and had a sudden vision of Castiel chasing Sammy around their motel room while Sam tried his very best to kill himself. Technically speaking, Dean trusted Castiel to keep Sam alive. But Sam was a baby. A small defenseless, probably confused baby and if Dean left him to go shopping, he'd go crazy with worry.
"Alright, change of plans," he said. Castiel brightened with what was probably relief, the coward. "I'll watch the kid. You go shopping."
"Shopping?" Castiel asked in the exact same tone he'd used to question the babysitting orders.
"Dude, I can't do this whole thing by myself," Dean said with far more desperation leaking into his tone than he liked. It would just be too much to make it through hell and death and Lucifer only to have Castiel bail on him because of a frigging baby.
"No, of course not," Castiel said instantly and now determination pushed past his worry. "Forgive me. I just don't know what to get."
"Leave that to me," Dean said.
The rest of the ride lasted in silence. Dean tried not to think about how warm Castiel's support made him feel while Castiel stared at Dean in the rearview mirror and Sam fell asleep pressed forward into his seatbelt. When they got back to the motel, Dean transferred Sammy to one of the beds and then wrote out what turned into a lengthy list of stuff. Not just clothes, but little kid versions of all the junk people use to keep clean and healthy and some toys to keep Sam entertained. He handed the list to Castiel, who read it with widening eyes.
"This is quite a lot of items," Castiel said. The task of shopping was probably one of the more daunting of Castiel's time spent on Earth. Castiel had never done any of these mundane human chores without Dean's help.
"If you get into trouble, just call me," Dean said and before he could add anything else, Castiel was gone. Dean blinked at the empty space he left behind. He hoped Castiel remembered to bring the faked ID and credit card they'd gotten for him under the name David Warren. If not, well, it wasn't like anyone could keep his ass in jail. Dean resolved not to worry and instead called Bobby to let him know what was going on. Bobby laughed, of course, after Dean assured him that Sam was safe and mostly sound. But he also promised to research de-aging curses and mixing powers, so Dean forgave him.
After they hung up, Dean gathered all but one of the hidden knives and guns littered about the room and carted them to the Impala's trunk. Ruby's knife stayed in the room, but on a shelf high above Sam's reach.
When he ran out of useful things to do, Dean threw himself down on the bed with Sammy and dozed lightly.
His nap lasted until his phone rang fifteen minutes later.
"Yeah?" Dean grunted into the receiver.
"I don't know where to begin," Castiel said. Dean heard the sounds of the mall in the background, throngs of shoppers talking and laughing overlaid with a soundtrack of Christmas carols. Dean imagined Castiel standing stock still at the center of a swirling mass of humanity.
"Where are you exactly?" Dean asked.
"I've just entered a store called 'Baby Gap'," Castiel explained. Dean frowned. That sounded expensive, but what the hell. It was only a few outfits and David Warren probably wouldn't care. "There are far more clothes to choose from than I anticipated."
Dean sighed. He just never imagined they'd have a kid. That is, have a child travelling with them. Whatever.
"Um," Dean said, but before he could continue, a bright female voice filtered through the phone.
"Can I help you, sir?"
"Say yes," Dean told him.
"Yes, please," Castiel said. "I have this list of items I need to buy."
Presumably Castiel handed the paper to the woman because he heard her make a humming noise and then say, "Wow, this is a lot of stuff. Is this for your son or daughter?"
"Tell her son," Dean said because he didn't want to sit there and listen to Castiel explain it was for the de-aged brother of the human he was sent into hell to rescue. Luckily for Dean, Castiel had almost gotten used to lying in order to keep people from asking questions. He didn't like it, but he did it.
"My son," Castiel said. Dean mentally created the flicker of distaste crossing Castiel's face. The woman probably thought he was a bad father now. "I'm afraid I don't have much experience with purchasing clothing for children."
"It's ok. We'll get you sorted out. How old is your son?"
"I don't know," Castiel said calmly.
"That's great, Cas. Now she's going to overcharge you for being a deadbeat Dad," Dean told him, though he was secretly amused. Dean reckoned Castiel might not be such a bad father when it came to the whole emotional support thing, but keeping the kid clothed and healthy seemed a little beyond him.
"Oh, well, is that your wife on the phone? Maybe she could tell me more," the woman said.
"No, this is Dean. He is..." Castiel faltered, probably because of Dean's change to their real story. Dean considered telling Cas to say he was a friend, but the whole concept of a guy calling his guy friend for baby advice seemed so weird in his mind that he paused. Paused long enough for Castiel to come up with his own lie.
"He is the child's other father," Castiel said politely. "He will probably know more."
Then suddenly Dean found himself on the phone with a chipper young saleswoman who introduced herself as Elle.
"Your partner seems a little lost," Elle said cheerfully.
"Yeah, he usually does," Dean growled, uncomfortable without knowing why. It wasn't like he cared if this random chick thought he was raising a kid with Castiel. But something about it made him feel exposed, like this girl now knew something about him that he wanted to hide. Which made no sense because what she believed was entirely untrue.
"I understand," Elle said. "My husband is the same way."
Dean winced. Great, now he was the wife in their non-existent relationship.
"How old is your son?"
They spent the next few moments discussing Sam. Going by Sam's size and his own memory, Dean guessed Sam was just over three and a half years old. He made up a story about their house flooding to explain why they needed three of everything. It made Elle fuss over him, but Dean barely heard her because he was too busy imagining having a real house out in the middle of nowhere with his own bedroom, safe in the knowledge that Sam and Castiel were there with him.
It took almost twenty minutes to pick everything out and then she handed the phone back to Castiel.
"Hi, honey," Dean said with enough sarcasm to cover how the joking words actually made his stomach flip.
"Hello, Dean," Castiel answered simply. "I'm going to buy the other items now. I will return shortly."
Then he hung up.
Dean lay back again, checked to make sure Sam was still sleeping peacefully and shut his eyes. He drifted lightly, nearly falling into a deeper sleep, but managed to stay alert enough to wake if Sam needed him. Strange how that habit returned so quickly. Not that Dean ever slept that deeply, but it'd been years since Dean knew he'd have to wake up when Sam did because Sam couldn't take care of himself.
When he looked over, Dean saw Sam rubbing at his eyes with the backs of his hands. He sat up and his giant shirt fell around his waist in a pile. Dean tried and failed not to think words like 'cute' and 'adorable.' Between this and posing as Castiel's wife, Dean wasn't going to survive this ordeal with his masculinity intact.
"Where Cas go?" Sam asked as he peered around the motel room. His face abruptly filled with fear. "Did he go home?"
Sam sounded so traumatized about the idea of Castiel leaving them that Dean couldn't help sitting up and pulling Sam into his lap.
"No, no, he's just gone out to get you some stuff, ok? He's going to be back soon," Dean promised him as he brushed Sam's hair off his forehead. Tension drained out of Sam's body, leaving him a trembling mess against Dean's chest. He knew Sam cared about Castiel, but he had to admit, he was a little taken aback by this reaction.
"You ok, little man?" Dean asked Sam a moment later when he didn't hear anymore weird snuffling sounds out of him.
Sam nodded into Dean's collarbone and chose not to answer.
That's when Castiel appeared in the motel room, a collection of bags cluttered around his feet.
"I don't like shopping," Castiel announced.
"Cas!" Sam struggled in Dean's arms, so Dean deposited him in the floor and watched in fascination as Sam made a beeline for Castiel's legs and threw his arms around them, hugging him hard. Castiel managed to keep his balance, but the brief glance he gave Dean was panicked nonetheless.
"Hello, Sam," Castiel said.
Nothing in Dean's life had ever been as hilarious as the sight of his tiny naked brother hugging the stuffing out of a terrified Castiel. But they were in this together, so instead of rightfully laughing his ass off at Castiel, Dean pried Sam away from him.
"C'mon, dude, we seriously got to get you some clothes on," Dean said.
"I should go," Castiel said.
"What? Why?" So much for being in this together. Dean should have let Cas deal with grabby little kids on his own.
"We need to find that demon," Castiel explained, eyeing Sam with a trace of consternation. Obviously he didn't have experience with the innocent effusiveness of children. "He might be able to tell us more about this curse and how to lift it. And if he can't, he still needs to be destroyed."
He had a point. Dean knew he had a point. But Dean couldn't leave Sam and he hated the idea of Castiel out there by himself without their help. Castiel apparently sensed Dean's silent struggle because his expression softened and he lightly touched Dean's arm.
"With my powers fully restored, the demon won't be able to hurt me," Castiel assured him and even though Dean knew it was true, he couldn't help remembering how Alastair had nearly killed him all those years ago. Sure, Alastair was far more powerful than Alain, but still. Now Dean was going to worry as much about Castiel as he would have about leaving Sam.
But if they let the demon go free, he'd inevitably kill another person.
"Just be careful," Dean said thickly.
"I will," Castiel promised. He glanced down at Sam's frowning face. "I'll be back shortly," he told Sam and then disappeared without another word.
Sam looked up at Dean and shrugged.
"That's easy for you to say," Dean mumbled.
Castiel didn't return for almost two hours. Dean nearly called him twenty-three times, but held off in case Castiel was actually with the demon and couldn't afford a distraction. He managed to get Sam cleaned up, dressed in a pair of green corduroy overalls and matching shirt and fed a reasonably healthy dinner of chicken and mashed potatoes from a local diner. He also experienced the joy of finding out that Sam was still potty trained. Dean didn't pray much, but he still thanked God for that.
Sam was playing with the toy train Castiel picked out for him at the mall and Dean was mindlessly watching a re-run of Dr. Sexy, M.D. when Cas showed his face.
"Dude, how long does it take to kill a demon?" Dean spat out as soon as Cas appeared.
"It took very little time to kill him," Castiel said. He bent down to receive another hug from Sam. "But it took some time to find and question him."
"What'd he say?"
"He knew nothing of their magic," Castiel said grimly, sitting in a chair beside the room's one table. "He only knew they'd agreed to help conceal his presence from the angels in exchange for human victims. Since the witches are dead, I could sense his presence today when I drew near him."
"Damn," Dean said softly, eyes trailing back to where Sam was busy crashing his train into the wall and giggling quietly to himself. "What the hell are we going to do, Cas?"
"We'll keep searching for an answer. Sam won't stay this way forever," Castiel said with such certainty that Dean felt his own flagging confidence perk up. "Did he like the clothes I brought him?"
Castiel really had come long way in understanding humans, Dean thought to himself as he smiled lightly at Castiel's obvious change of subject. He wasn't really becoming more human, especially since he recharged with Grace every night. But he was getting better at reading them. Or at least reading Dean since he still kinda sucked at talking to strangers.
"Yeah, I think he cares more about the toys," Dean said. They watched Sam drag the train across the floor, stopping it every few seconds to let imaginary passengers get on while bellowing 'all aboard' as loud as he could.
The rest of the night went by quietly. Dean and Castiel gathered in front of Dean's laptop, researching witches and curses, but couldn't find anything useful. A library was necessary and Dean knew that was going to be a barrel of laughs with a little kid, but still, necessary. Sam occasionally interrupted them to ask for something to drink or to ask for hugs. He'd never been this clingy as a child, but maybe some of his years of experience were still present in his make-up. If all the shit they'd gone through was running through Sammy's little heart, he probably needed the hugs.
Bedtime was a problem. Sam didn't want to go to sleep, even though he was yawning and leaning heavily against Dean's leg. Now this was something Sam had always done. He'd always been afraid if he went to sleep that Dean or John would do or say something really interesting and he'd miss it. Dean assumed he felt the same fear now. He tried joking that Castiel was really boring, but that only earned him a pout from Sam and an offended glare from Castiel. In the end, Dean was forced to promise Sam he would go to bed too. Not a hardship really since Dean was pretty exhausted, but it meant Castiel had to leave and that, Dean didn't want.
It turned out, neither did Sam. When Castiel stood up and bid them goodnight, Sam lost it. He burst into tears and tugged at the edge of Castiel's coat, not talking, but staining the edge of the coat dark with snot and tears.
"Sam!" Once again, Dean found himself wrenching Sam away from a bewildered Castiel. "Calm down, Sammy. He goes home every night, remember? He'll be back."
But Sam was having none of it. He shook his head, choking on a sob. "No. Daddy and-" Hiccup "Mommy went away."
Dean's heart twisted in his chest. He hadn't been sure until that moment if Sam remembered events from after his third year or not. Obviously, he did, but couldn't deal with the sorrow of an adult very well in his child's mind. All he knew was that a trusted adult was leaving them and he was scared. Dean didn't know what to do.
"It's not the same," Dean said, shooting Castiel a helpless look. "He really will come back. Remember he came back from hunting the demon?"
"Sam," Castiel said, stepping into Dean's space and to Dean's surprise, tugging Sam out of his arms. "I will always return to you and Dean. Nothing on Earth or in Heaven could prevent me."
And maybe he was saying it to reassure Sam, but for some reason, Dean felt a hard knot in his chest loosen at Castiel's words.
"But if it would make you feel better, I'll stay," Castiel said.
"Yeah?" Sammy asked tiredly and Dean remembered belatedly that sleepy kids tend to cry more. This probably wasn't a good time to try and reason with him anyway.
"Of course. But you must promise me you will go straight to sleep," Castiel said in a gentle tone that was another surprise. Maybe Dean had been right about Cas being pretty okay at the emotional support stuff. Sam nodded and rested his forehead on Castiel's shoulder. Castiel smiled over Sam's head at Dean and something warm flooded the area where the hard knot had been.
"Time for bed," he said softly to Dean.
"Yeah, ok," Dean said, dazed and feeling exposed again.
Together they got Sam into the dinosaur pajamas Elle had chosen, although there was an interruption for tickling that had Sam screaming with mirth and Castiel mystified. Then they settled Sam under the blankets. Dean left Castiel to deal with Sam's last second request for a cup of water while he changed into his own sleep clothes in the bathroom. When he got out, Castiel was taking the paper cup from Sam.
"Dean? Sleepin' with me?" Sam asked as Dean crossed the room.
"Yeah," Dean said. When he got under the blankets, Sam pressed against his side and looked over his shoulder.
Castiel looked up from the People magazine he'd been staring at in confusion. His eyebrows rose. "Yes?"
"C'mon, bedtime," Sam said insistently. A flash of something Dean couldn't read flickered through Castiel's eyes and was gone in an instant. Dean considered telling him he didn't have to join them, that Sam would fall asleep in mere minutes, but before he could, Castiel set the magazine aside and stood, removing his coat.
"Very well," he said.
Now it was Dean's turn to panic. Feeling warm at promises that Castiel would always stay and daydreaming about having a house together was all well and good, but now Castiel was toeing off his shoes and lifting the edge of the blanket. Sliding into the bed with Dean and Sam like he belonged there and when Sam curled his hand around Castiel's sleeve and fell asleep, Dean realized with a jolt that he did. He belonged with them right there, warm and safe on a cold night in December.
"Dean?" Castiel voice carried soft in the darkened room. "Are you alright?"
Dean could make out the light from the motel sign outside catching in Castiel's eyes.
"Yeah, I'm good," he said.
Looping an arm around Sam's waist, his hand close enough to touch Castiel's stomach, Dean relaxed into the pillow and fell asleep faster than he had in ages.
The next few days were uneventful by hunters' standards. Just library research, some phone calls to colleagues for information and nights spent in the motel eating take-out and watching TV.
By any other humans' standards, they were an adventure in chaos.
Dean had been afraid Sam would create a scene in the library by screaming and running through the stacks. He'd been worried Sam would be bored and whine while they did their research.
He was so very wrong.
Sam loved the library.
His eyes became round as saucers when they walked through the front door and saw a giant cut-out of Clifford the Big Red Dog fronting the children's section. Dean hadn't thought of those books in ages, but now faced with Sam's trembling excitement, Dean remembered how much Sam loved them. He refused to be led away from the picture, so Dean and Castiel agreed to split the workload. Dean took Sam into the children's section and read him a bunch of Clifford books while Castiel did research on local unexplained phenomena that might be connected to the witches.
Eventually, even Sam grew tired of Clifford, so Dean went to check on Castiel's progress. At which point, Dean and Castiel became so engrossed in discussing a series of deaths related to rapid aging that they lost track of Sam. Only for a moment, but long enough for Sam to disappear. Once Dean realized Sam was gone, panic gripped his mind as he jogged up and down the aisles, berating himself for losing track of Sam and cursing the stupid sigils Cas put on their ribs a few years back.
It was Castiel who found Sam tucked away in an alcove not ten feet from where they'd been researching, looking at a book of maps. Dean was so light-headed with relief, he had to collapse in a nearby chair. He didn't let Sam out of his reach for the rest of the day, which was surprisingly alright with Sam, who reveled in the attention. It wasn't until that night when Sam was snoring lightly between Dean and Castiel that Dean felt truly relaxed. He didn't understand how his father had dealt with caring for two kids in this big scary world. How he could handle leaving them alone for any length of time. It was untenable.
The next day, Dean sent Castiel back to the library and he stayed at the motel room with Sam. It worked pretty well until early afternoon after Sam's nap when it became apparent they were both bored out of their skulls. All the shows on TV were too risqué for a three year-old, even one that was technically twenty-eight and Dean had read the stupid People magazine twice already. He decided it was worth the risk to wander out, so he dressed Sam as warmly as possible and carried him down the street to the local movie theatre. Luckily for him, there was a kiddie cartoon showing, something about dogs that Dean figured would be short enough to keep Sam's attention. Which it did. Very well in fact. Especially the part where one of the animated dogs was hit by a car and even though it was obvious he'd be okay, Sam started wailing right there in the theatre. Dean eventually had to drag him out into the lobby and sit on a cushy bench to rock the tears out of him.
And there still wasn't any good information from Castiel when they got back.
They both stayed in the next day and just made a bunch of phone calls. That was actually sort of a fun day because whenever Sam got bored, Castiel would do something weird with his mojo to make Sam laugh. Things like make tiny lights dance around the room like fireflies or pick Sam up and turn him upside without touching him or produce glowing pictures in the air that matched the music playing on Dean's laptop. Things that made Dean feel a bit of wonder himself. He'd never seen Castiel use his angel powers for anything frivolous or beautiful. He didn't know Castiel was creative.
After they all got into bed that night, when Dean confessed to Castiel that he couldn't sleep, Cas filled the ceiling with what looked like very real stars. Dean lost himself in watching them wink and sparkle and didn't realize he'd fallen asleep until he woke up the next morning.
That was when they got their first real breakthrough since Sam became a three year-old.
Castiel had already gone and returned with breakfast by the time Dean had woken up and trudged into the bathroom. When he got out of the shower and walked back into the main room, drawn to the smell of eggs and pancakes, Sam was still a small lump curled in the middle of the bed until the blankets.
"Wake up, Sammy," Dean called to him as he served himself the friggin' awesome breakfast his friggin' awesome angel had brought him. "Dude, you're awesome," Dean told Castiel, who beamed at him. It made Dean want to keep looking at Castiel's face and so he did. Until he realized what he was doing and quickly looked away, towards the bed where Sam was finally stirring.
"I'm going to eat it all," Dean warned Sam, partly because he wanted to say something unrelated to staring at Castiel over the breakfast table. "It's really..."
Dean trailed off when Sam finally sat up and yawned.
The disbelief in Dean's voice made Castiel's eyes snap to the bed and they both stared in shock as Sam threw off the blanket. His pajamas pants were now several inches too short and his shirt rode up his middle, exposing his belly.
He wasn't three anymore.
Somehow, in the middle of the night, Sam had aged at least two years. Instead of the mostly uncoordinated movements he'd used the previous day, Sam now climbed off the bed with relative ease and frowned down at himself.
"Dean?" he asked, confused. "What's goin' on?"
"I have no idea." Dean turned to Castiel. "Cas?"
Castiel peered at Sam, eyes slitted, expression intense. Looking below the surface. Dean waited impatiently for the verdict. He didn't expect Castiel to chuckle.
"It's leaving," he said with a relieved smile. "The power. It's fading."
It took Dean a moment to process what this meant and when he did, he snorted. "You're telling me we just wasted three days researching, aren't you."
"We couldn't have known," Castiel said reasonably.
"Great, now we're going to have to go shopping again," Dean said because it was easier to bitch than cry at his relief that they might get through this alright. "And none of this Baby Gap shit anymore. From now on, we shop at thrift stores."
Which was exactly what he did. Now that Castiel had a little more practice with children, Dean felt almost comfortable leaving him with Sam while he bought enough clothes to match Sam's various growth spurts. Just a couple of outfits for each stage because it looked like Sam would grow every three or so days. So it'd only be a few weeks until Sam could fit into his real clothes again. He called Bobby while he was checking out and was told in no uncertain terms that they were to bring themselves to South Dakota as soon as they were certain Sam was out of danger.
When he got back with Sammy's new clothes, Castiel and Sam were sitting cross-legged on the floor. Castiel was telling Sam a story that sounded suspiciously like a Bible story, but he was making it really accessible for a little kid. He even had some sound effects like a whooshing noise when one of the characters cast fishing nets into the ocean. Sam made Dean join them and refused to dress himself until Castiel finished telling the story.
"You're like C-3PO," Dean informed him while he struggled to get Sam into a pair of blue jeans and a turtle neck.
"I don't know what that means," Castiel said. He caught one of Sam's flailing arms and expertly pulled it through the sleeve.
"You know, he was all uptight, but it turned out, he could tell a badass story," Dean said absently as he tugged on the collar. "If we were captured by Ewoks, you could make them think you were their god."
"I would never pretend to be God," Castiel said, offended by the notion.
"Yeah, that's what Threepio said," Dean said. Sam's head finally popped through the shirt opening, causing his hair to stand out in a static-filled halo. "But he did it for Luke and Han and everyone. You'd do it to save our lives," he said confidently.
"I suppose," Castiel said. When Dean raised an eyebrow at him, he added, "Yes, of course, but I would be very uncomfortable."
"I'm telling you," Dean said. "You're Threepio."
"Do you...is Threepio an interesting character?" Castiel asked, too casual.
"Um," Dean said.
"Threepio is really annoying," Sam said helpfully.
Castiel scowled at Dean and stood up. "I must return home for a time. I'll be back shortly," he said to Sam and then disappeared.
"Thanks a lot, Sam," Dean muttered.
"What?" Sam's expression was so honestly confused that Dean didn't have it in him to scold the kid.
"Nothing. Never mind."
They spent the morning watching cartoons and playing a bunch of age appropriate knowledge games Dean found on the internet when Sam got tired of Scooby-Doo. He couldn't tell if Sam remembered how to use computers or if he just learned quickly, but he aced those games one right after the other. Dean suspected Sam just learned that quickly. His mind and skill levels seemed to be in line with his body's age. Dean always knew the kid was too smart for his own good, but watching Sam solve problems for kids three and four years older than him helped drive the point home. His pride was almost enough to make Dean forget how upset Cas looked when he left.
Castiel's face was expressionless when he returned just as Dean and Sam were sitting down to lunch. Before he could say anything, Dean jumped out of his seat to face him.
"You're not annoying," Dean blurted.
Castiel gave no visible reaction.
"Yeah, Threepio is annoying, but you know, they kept him around anyway," Dean said. Which helped in no way and in fact made things worse because Castiel's eyes narrowed dangerously.
"That's not what I meant," Dean said hurriedly. "I meant you're not really like him. I mean, yeah, he didn't want to trick the Ewoks, but it was because of his programming and you wouldn't trick people, I don't know, because you're an angel and anyway, Threepio would never make stars for someone," he finished, feeling like a total idiot.
That is, until he noticed a smile quivering at the corner of Castiel's mouth, just out of reach.
"I see," Castiel said, his body relaxing and instead of feeling like an idiot, Dean felt proud again, only this time for himself. Which reminded him of Sam's accomplishments and so he spent the entire lunch telling Castiel about all the clever and amazing things Sam had figured out all by himself.