After some discussion, Dean and Castiel decided they would wait until Sam was 11 or 12 till they made the lengthy car trip to South Dakota. Not only because that was a good age for Sam to keep himself entertained in the backseat, but because it would put them at Bobby's the night before Christmas. Bobby didn't usually do much for Christmas, but Dean thought this would be a good year to do the whole tree and decorations thing. They so rarely got to have that when they were children. Now that Sam was one again, Dean decided they might as well make up for it while they had the chance.
But first they had to get through the next week and a half or in Sam's case, the next seven years.
His time as a five year-old went by in much the same manner as his time as a three year-old. For the most part, they just stayed in the motel room and played together. At one point, Sammy declared that he wanted to tell a story and he made Dean and Castiel sit cross-legged on the bed across from him as he spun his tale. It took a few moments of false starts and strange sidebars before Dean realized Sam was telling them about the time they got stuck in Gabriel's magical TV world.
"Then they was back to normal and it turned out he wasn't a tricker, but he was an angel!" Sam revealed, hands thrown to either side to emphasize his point. Dean let his lips part in an appropriate amount of surprise and when Castiel didn't, he elbowed him and nodded meaningfully at Sam.
"Oh," Castiel said and then he covered his mouth. Sam glowed with happiness.
"They was angry at him," Sam said with a hell of a lot of dramatic flair for a five year old. "But Dean was maddest 'cause the tricker took Cas away and Dean loves Cas very much."
Dean flushed red and tried not to look at Castiel. Fucking kids and the fucking words coming out of their mouths.
"So he said the tricker had to bring him back or they was going to pound him," Sam continued, oblivious to Dean's sudden discomfort. "Then he came back. Where'd you go anyway?" Sam asked, finally breaking his style of telling the story as if it had happened to someone else. Dean chanced looking at Castiel. He was curious about that himself.
"Away from you," Castiel answered. "I was very happy to be back."
Sam seemed satisfied with the answer, but Dean found himself gazing at Castiel, remembering how he'd been beaten up and bloody when he found his way back to their side. All that pain and grief he'd gone through for their sake and he never complained. He just kept returning to Dean's side. Castiel must have felt Dean's eyes on his face because he looked to him and once again, they were staring at each other.
"I'm hungry," Sam said, interrupting their moment. Dean didn't know if he felt relieved or not.
The only time that wasn't fun came when they were having dinner at Pizza Hut one night. They had one of those stupid machines with the claw thing that supposedly grabbed toys. Halfway through the meal, Sam decided he had to have a toy.
"Dean, can I have some quarters?"
"What for?" Dean asked, distracted by the way Castiel was trying to separate the cheese on his slice of pizza from the cheese in his mouth.
"I wanna toy!" Sam bounced lightly in his seat and pointed to the machine. Dean followed his hand and grimaced when he saw it.
"No way, man. Those things are a rip-off," Dean said. Sam frowned at him.
"I wanna try it," he said again slowly, as if Dean had just misunderstood him.
"Too bad," Dean said sternly. "I'm not giving you any money for it."
Sam crossed his arms over his chest and worked up a really first-rate version of the bitch-face. "You're mean," he said in scathing tones. It secretly made Dean want to laugh, especially when he considered recalling this event once Sam was back to his old self, but he managed to keep his amusement off his face.
"That's what they tell me," Dean said. It was their dad's typical answer whenever Sam told John the same thing when he really was five.
To his surprise, Sam obviously remembered that too.
"You're not Daddy," Sam said, glaring and rigid in his seat.
"Well, Dad wouldn't let you have it either," Dean reminded him because it was true. John Winchester hated wasting money and crappy plastic toys you couldn't even capture were definitely a waste of money. Sam didn't like that either. He huffed and turned away from them, pouting and ignoring his food. Dean ignored him ignoring his food in favor of discussing with the Castiel the basketball game playing on the TV bolted high on the wall. When he noticed Sam was shooting him spiteful glances and still refusing to eat, he sighed.
"Finish your dinner, Sam," Dean said. He knew this wasn't about the stupid toy. Sam never liked being told what he could and couldn't do. It was hard enough making him do things when they both lived under John's rules. Now that Sam probably remembered he could do whatever he wanted, it was even more difficult to make him see reason.
"I don't like it. It's gross," Sam declared. "You can't make me."
Dean rolled his eyes. He intended let it go and have Sam's lesson be learned when he was hungry that night, but to his surprise, Castiel spoke up.
"Stop being disrespectful and eat your food, Sam," Castiel said so firmly that Dean felt the urge to obey the order himself. Sam's mouth fell open and he stared at him.
"Dean has taken very good care of you and he deserves your respect," Castiel said. Dean didn't know how Sam hadn't wilted under the intensity of his gaze. "You don't need that toy. Now eat your food or we will go back to the motel and you will go to bed early."
Now Dean was staring at him. Castiel had effectively threatened to send Sam to his room and he'd done it with such calm command. It was...well, it was just like a real parent.
"Okay," Sam murmured, eyes down as he reached for his small slice of pizza. Castiel caught Dean's eyes and tilted his head in a silent question.
"Nothing," Dean said with awe. "Just...that was kinda awesome."
He couldn't be sure, but he thought Castiel preened slightly at the praise.
Whatever anger Sam had at them was erased later that night when Castiel rewarded him for finishing his meal by lifting him into the air and flying him across the room. Dean nearly had a few heart attacks, but it was worth it to see the expression of joyful glee in Sammy's eyes.
By the next day's noon, Sam had grown into his seven year-old clothes.
"This is freaking me out," Dean commented as he bagged Sam's five year-old clothes for St. Vincent De Paul. "I thought you grew like a weed the first time around."
Sam shrugged. "It doesn't hurt, at least," he said, which made Dean glad. The rapid growth could have caused Sam pain, but instead, he reported feeling only heavy warmth flooding his chest and limbs when he lost power and his body grew. "Can we go to the library today?"
Not Dean's favorite pastime, but he agreed anyway and they set off. Sam disappeared into the young readers' section while Dean grabbed a bunch of car magazines and settled at one of the empty tables. Actually, it was kind of nice to just relax and catch up on a hobby. Sam joined him awhile later with a foot high stack of books. He set it aside and selected the top one to read. It was quiet and comfortable. Castiel found them there after he returned from visiting his brothers. He chose a book on the history of West Virginia that interested him for unknown reasons and the three of them read silently for nearly an hour.
That was when Dean noticed the pretty brunette eyeing him.
She was standing down a nearby aisle with a book in her hand, but her face was turned towards their table and when Dean saw her, she gave him a sultry smile. Oddly enough, his first reaction was merely faint surprise. He never really thought of the library as a good place to pick up girls. But the way the woman was batting her eyes at him seemed to prove him wrong.
Still, it was hard to drudge up the interest. Sure, she was gorgeous and curvy and all good things Dean liked. But he couldn't bring a girl home while Sam was a kid. Not when it would mess up their pattern of sleeping all three curled up in the same bed, a pattern Dean feared would soon end.
"What are you looking at?" Sam whispered, ever the well-behaved library patron.
"Hot chick down there checking me out," Dean said, nodding in her direction. "Hey, you want to pretend to be my kid and go over there with me? Women love single dads."
It was just a stupid joke and Dean didn't mean it anyway. But apparently Sam took him very seriously and did not like what he heard. His eyebrows drew together to form a dark worried line across his forehead and his face filled with distress.
"You can't," he hissed.
"Why not?" Dean asked, honestly confused.
Sam's eyes flickered to Castiel, who was watching with a cheerless expression. "Because you just can't, Dean," Sam stated with absolute conviction. Dean looked to Castiel, but all he got was an unconvincing smile.
"I can watch him if you like," Castiel offered. Something very like guilt curled Dean's insides and he hadn't even done anything. It was just the thought of Castiel babysitting while Dean went out with some random chick shamed him. He couldn't believe Castiel even said it.
"I wouldn't do that," Dean said heatedly, angry without knowing why. "I'm not like that," he added and maybe that was a hint. He didn't like Castiel or Sam thinking he'd just leave them for someone else, even for a night.
"Okay, good," Sam said with heartfelt relief. Castiel said nothing and when Dean didn't either, Sam noticed the tension between them. He slipped out of his seat. "I'm going to the bathroom."
After he was gone, Dean leaned forward and glared at Castiel.
"You're not my slave, you know," Dean said. "I told you before, I can't do this alone. I'm not going to turn around and make you do it alone."
"I thought you might be uncomfortable with what Sam was implying," Castiel said and his hand flickered in an aborted movement, as if he wanted to fidget, but realized at the last minute that angels don't do that sort of thing.
"I am," Dean snapped. "I wouldn't leave you guys."
Castiel frowned. "That's not what I meant," he said.
"I think Sam thinks of us...we're like parents to him," Castiel said. He sounded uncertain, like he always did when he wasn't sure if he had something human figured out or not. "I think he's afraid of losing a certain amount of stability if you were to spend time with someone else."
"Stability," Dean said blankly.
"That if you were with someone else, it would...it would break apart our family unit," Castiel explained, unable to meet Dean's eyes.
Dean suddenly got it.
"Oh," he said stupidly.
In other words, Sam didn't want Dean and Castiel to get divorced.
Like they were really married. Dean swallowed hard and tried to suppress the shot of uncharacteristic pleasure the idea gave him. He'd never given marriage much thought because he never expected to live long enough to have one. And he certainly didn't expect to be contemplating one with his very own personal angel.
But wasn't that what they'd been doing this whole time? Playing house and raising a kid? Dean didn't know if marriage felt the same way. He just knew he enjoyed it and he didn't like the idea of ending it anymore than Sam did.
"I'm back," Sam announced a moment later. He studied them both. "Did you make up?"
"We were never fighting," Castiel said.
"Oh okay. I just didn't want you to get mad 'cause Dean's a jerk. He wouldn't cheat though," Sam said in a reassuring tone as if he expected Castiel to be worried about it. Dean jerked back in surprise.
"Sam...what exactly do you think is going on between me and Cas?"
Sam frowned at him, then looked to Castiel for help. When none arrived, he shrugged and sat down again.
"Um, I don't know," Sam said. "You're together, I guess. Are you married?" he asked curiously.
Holy crap, it was worse than Dean thought.
"No, we're not married. Sam, we're not even dating," Dean said, flabbergasted. "Why'd you think that?"
"You're not?" The distress Sam felt earlier began to flood back into his expression. "But you sleep together," he spluttered. "You love each other. Why not? Why aren't you together?" he demanded.
Dean's mouth opened and closed a few times. He could give any number of answers. I'm not gay. Cas doesn't feel that way about me. I don't want to settle down. We're not allowed. But he couldn't say any of them because he wasn't sure if they were true or not. He wasn't sure he wanted them to be true and as he sat there, staring at Sam, he realized his only answer to that question was I don't know.
"You'll understand when you get older," Castiel said. He probably didn't mean to echo the age-old excuse children had hated for generations, but it still made Dean laugh. Which was good because the tension had grown so thick around him, he could hardly breathe through it. Sam scowled at Cas and turned back to his book. He, in particular, had always loathed that phrase.
No one mentioned Dean and Castiel's relationship or lack thereof again for several days. Sometimes Dean caught Sam watching them closely as they sat talking and at night, after they climbed into bed, Sam threaded his arms through both of theirs and tugged hard, forcing them to crowd closer to each other. But he didn't say anything and age seven passed without further incident.
Nine year-old Sam wasn't so easy to deal with.
It started the first morning after Sam grew again. Sometime during the night, Sam crawled out from between them in bed and when he returned, he climbed onto Castiel's other side so that Castiel was now in the middle of Sam and Dean.
Dean woke up pressed lengthwise against Castiel, his face against Castiel's neck and his arms around Castiel's waist. The strangeness of that position didn't hit Dean for far too long. All that mattered was that he was being held close against a warm solid body and he felt utterly safe and comfortable. He couldn't remember the last time he actually felt protected or if he ever had since his mom died, but that was exactly how he felt then.
Until he finally shook off his sleep-fog enough to remember the only person he could possibly be laying on was Castiel.
Dean tore himself out of Castiel's arms and flailed backwards, his heart pounding against his ribcage. Terrible cold struck his body and his first impulse was to instantly return to Castiel's embrace, but Castiel was watching him carefully and then Dean remembered that angels don't sleep. Which meant Castiel had lain awake for hours with Dean cradled in his arms.
"Um...what?" Dean stuttered. "What?"
"We...seem to have shifted during the night," Castiel said with astonishing diplomacy.
"But I was..." He gestured helplessly between them to indicate their previous arrangement. Even though they'd been sleeping together for nearly a week, this was different. They'd always had Sam between them as a barrier and an excuse.
"Yes," Castiel said in measured tones. "I wasn't sure what you wanted me to do," he confessed. "You seemed very determined to insinuate yourself into my space."
Heat erupted across Dean's face and raced down his body. Great, he'd molested an angel in his sleep and that angel was too cautious or too dumb to force him away. It was worse than embarrassment because his humiliation came on the heels of such sweet security.
"You should've pushed me off," Dean mumbled, looking down at the blanket covering the morning erection he'd just noticed. The humiliation grew as Dean realized he'd probably rubbed himself on Castiel in his sleep.
"I didn't mind," Castiel said so softly that Dean couldn't help looking up to see his face. But Castiel was looking away too. He was smoothing down the wrinkled edges of his white dress shirt. Dean had probably clutched the material in his fingers during the night. Castiel needed actual pajamas, Dean thought distractedly. If they were going to keep sleeping together.
Dean shook himself. Sleeping together anymore wasn't a good idea. Not if Sam didn't need them and besides, he was getting too big for all three of them to fit in one bed.
"Well, sorry about that anyway," Dean said gruffly. He desperately wanted to get up and escape into the bathroom, but he also didn't want Castiel to see the physical evidence of what having him close did to Dean. They sat together in awkward silence. Dean noticed Sam was nowhere to be found. The little brat had set them up and then fled the scene of the crime.
"I should go," Castiel finally said. Dean tried not to wince, but didn't quite manage it. They'd gotten all the stress of a morning after and none of the pleasure.
Well, not none, Dean thought as he watched Castiel climb out from under the covers, taking most of the bed's comfortable warmth with him.
"We'll see you later, right?" He had to check, just to make sure. Castiel's perplexed expression went a long way towards calming Dean's nerves.
"Yes, of course," he said. The 'duh' was implied. Dean almost defended himself because it wasn't like he had a guide on dealing with accidental angelic cuddling, but Castiel disappeared on him before he could say anything, which was totally an unfair advantage. One of the downsides of a relationship with an angel.
Not that they were in a relationship.
"Sam!" Dean yelled. "Get your scrawny ass out here!"
The bathroom door creaked open and Sam stepped out wearing an eager smile that quickly faded when he saw Castiel had gone. His hands curled into fists and he planted them on his hips, glaring at Dean.
"What didja do to Cas?" Sam asked in an accusing tone.
Dean didn't bother answering. Instead, he flopped on his back and stared at the ceiling. Just what Dean needed.
Sam Winchester, tiny Yenta extraordinaire.
When Castiel joined them for lunch and had a normal argument with Dean about the benefits of alcohol, Dean thought they would be alright. They could just pretend everything was normal and once Sam grew up fully, everything would be normal. They'd carry on hunting and sleeping in their own beds and everything would be just fine.
Dean really believed it.
Which was pretty stupid of him.
Sam's second plan of attack took shape that same night. When dinnertime rolled around, Sam begged Dean to let him choose where they ate. Since they always ate the same crap anyway, Dean agreed without complaint. It wasn't until after they climbed into the Impala and Sam guided Dean towards the fancier section of town that Dean began to suspect something was up. Sam must have done some internet research because he knew exactly where he wanted to go and Dean found himself pulling into the parking lot of an expensive Italian restaurant.
"What is this, Sammy?" Dean asked warily.
"Bella Notte," Sam said, pointing to the sign.
"Yeah, I got that, but this place looks kinda pricey," he said, keeping his tone neutral. He didn't want to crush Sam's obvious happiness just yet. After all, it wasn't like they didn't deserve a nice meal out every now and then.
"Please, Dean?" Sam asked and even though his pleading look was totally obvious, Dean felt his objections dwindling. "It'll be fun and besides, we got the money."
Dean sighed. "Fine. You win." As if there was ever any doubt. It was almost completely impossible for Dean to say no to the kid. No matter how old he was.
"Yes!" Sam pumped his fist and jumped out the car, running towards the entrance.
They actually had to wait to be seated. Dean couldn't remember the last time he had to wait at a restaurant. The concept of paying extra to wait longer gave him heartburn, but Sam shone with such excitement that Dean kept his trap shut. There were a couple of cute girls that kept staring over at him with that face girls wear when they think something's adorable, like say a handsome man and his young son. Dean, however, had learned his lesson. He resolutely ignored them. It was just too bad Castiel wasn't there to see how well Dean ignored them. He'd returned back home for a little while for some kind of meeting or something. Dean wasn't clear on the details beyond the fact that Castiel wasn't with them and that sucked.
Finally, an eternity later, a slim blond waitress led them to their table and handed them menus. Sam talked a mile a minute, babbling to the waitress about how 'awesomely cool' the place was and how Dean was his brother and that he was really hungry for spaghetti. She took it in stride, gracing Sam with an indulgent smile and Dean a flirtatious one before finally escaping with their drink orders.
"What's gotten into you tonight?" Dean asked over the top of his menu. Sam was fairly thrumming with enthusiasm.
"Nothing," he squeaked. Then he jumped up from his chair. "I gotta use the bathroom. I'll be back."
Dean watched him zoom away and shook his head. Seriously, the kid was messed up.
The menu beckoned, so Dean dismissed Sam's insanity and contemplated choosing between lasagna and shrimp alfredo. He'd almost given the edge to lasagna when a familiar shadow fell across the table, snagging his attention from the food.
As awkward as Dean felt in this fancy ass restaurant, he thought Castiel looked even more out of place with his rumpled trench coat and rigid posture. He stood beside the table, arms stiff as his side, and frowned down at Dean in apparent confusion.
"What are you doing here? I thought you'd gone back home," Dean said.
"Sam called me," Castiel explained, his brow furrowed. "He said you wanted to see me."
Dean sighed and rolled his eyes. "I'm gonna have to kill him eventually," he muttered to himself. Castiel cocked his head.
"Nothing. Look, you don't have to stay if you have somewhere you need to be," Dean said. He didn't want Cas to go, not really, but he also didn't want to be struck by lightning for keeping an angel from his brethren for the sake of a snooty Italian dinner.
Castiel looked at the small table with its two chairs. "I don't...my appointment is concluded, but I don't want to interrupt-"
"You're not," Dean cut him off. "We can just...hold on," he said, standing up to grab and drag another chair to their table. The waitress showed up as he was setting the chair down. "We're three now," he told her.
It felt nice to say it.
Castiel sat in Sam's abandoned seat across from Dean and ordered a lemonade. The waitress was polite, but Dean noticed she didn't bother flirting with him anymore. He tried not to think about it too hard as he complained to Castiel about the prices and the annoyingly screechy opera music playing over the speakers. Castiel listened carefully, but without much sympathy since, as he put it, they weren't spending their own money anyway and besides, Castiel liked opera music. It just figured. They got into a lively argument over it and Dean was enjoying himself so thoroughly, it took the waitress returning for their dinner orders before he noticed that Sam hadn't come back from the bathroom.
"Excuse me, I gotta go scrounge up my scheming brat of a brother," Dean said, shocking the waitress, but earning a fond smile from Castiel.
Dean found Sam sitting on a bench outside the bathroom, swinging his legs and munching on a breadstick he got from who knows where.
"Hey," Sam said with a grin. "Howsit goin'?"
Dean blew out a sigh as he joined Sam on the bench.
"Sam," he started, then paused. He didn't have a guide for this either. Sam was still Sam, but he was just so young. Dean wasn't sure how to explain that his efforts were in vain without hurting his feelings.
"Did Castiel show up?" Sam asked. "Are you having fun?"
"Yeah, he did," Dean said and because it was true, he added, "And yeah, we are. But Sam...you have to stop this."
"Trying to set me and Cas up!" Dean exclaimed. "I know you mean well, but it's just making things weird."
Sam tilted his head, accepting this news with calm Dean didn't expect. He didn't seem upset, but rather just puzzled.
Of course. Kids and their questions. Dean drew a deep breath and thought a moment, trying to choose his words with care.
"Because it's not so easy with adults," he said, not bothering to add it was even less easy when one of those adults was actually an angel. "You can't just make two people go on a date and have everything fall into place. It's way more complicated than that."
"No, it's not," Sam said bluntly.
"It's not!" Sam hopped up from the bench and turned on Dean, arms folded over his chest. "It's hard for me to remember everything, but I remember you and Castiel. I remember you belong together," he said, growing visibly upset. "I feel it, right here," he said, tapping his chest, his eyes wide and troubled. "You need him and you won't do anything, Dean. I don't remember why, but I think it has to do with me or something. Like you're afraid I won't be happy if you're happy, like we can't be happy at the same time, but it's not true. I'm happy because you're happy or I would be and it is that easy."
"Sam," Dean said weakly, overwhelmed by Sam's sudden passion. Sam's small hands curled over his shoulders and squeezed.
"Do you love him?" Sam asked very seriously.
"Sure, yeah," Dean said because this question was easy to answer. But Sam wasn't going to let up.
"Are you in love with him?"
"I..." Hell, Dean didn't even know if he understood what that felt like. He'd thought he was in love with Cassie, but it'd been far too easy to let her go. That, at least, was something Castiel had over her. Dean didn't think he could let go now if he tried, but was that really love? Was it love when he felt safe in Castiel's arms or was that just because Castiel could protect him from just about anything? The way Dean thought about Castiel as a partner when Sam was cursed, the way he depended on his support; was that love or just friendship? Dean honestly didn't know.
"Sam, I don't really know what that means," Dean said, feeling suddenly weary.
"I do," Sam said, his forehead wrinkled with deep thought. "I think anyway. I think I had it, Dean, with Jess." Dean swallowed past the lump in his throat. There was something terrible and sad about listening to his nine year-old brother talk about the lost love of his life. "That's how it feels in my head; it's all the same category. Me and Jess. You and Cas. It's all the same."
Dean couldn't answer. His mind was too full to produce words. Sam sat on the bench again and smiled at him, pushing at his arm.
"So go have fun with him," he said. Dean just shook his head and stared at the wall for a long time, trying to process what he was feeling.
"Dean?" Sam asked a moment later. Dean took a great cleansing breath and hooked an arm around Sam's neck, pulling him in without warning and rubbing his knuckles hard into Sam's skull. Sam had the appropriate reaction, which was to shriek like a girl and flail in his arms.
"I'm not to go eat with Cas and leave you by the bathroom," Dean said when he was done torturing Sam. "C'mon."
Sam looked to protest, but their age difference meant Dean was infinitely stronger than him, so he had no choice but to let Dean drag him back to their table. Castiel looked relieved when they appeared again. He never did well alone in public.
"Is everything ok?" he asked, rising to stand when Dean and Sam joined him. Dean smiled. He never thought of Castiel as the gentlemanly type.
"It's fine," Dean assured him.
They finished the rest of the meal together. Sam was the motor mouth Dean remembered, which freed him up to watch Castiel and think about what Sam had said. He'd never had the chance to see Sam with Jess, not really. But he remembered the way Sam looked at her during their one meeting. Like his world started and ended with her. And he remembered the anguish in Sam's scream when he saw her pinned to their bedroom ceiling, fire exploding around her body. Sam had never been the same after that. Even all these years later, even with the other women he'd met and loved, he'd never really gotten over Jess' death.
Dean had lost Castiel once. Or so he'd been told and yet, he'd never believed it. Castiel was an angel. A powerful creature and even though his logic said Castiel was gone, Dean knew he'd never really believed it in his heart.
But then he'd seen a bleak and dreadful future, a place where Dean carried too much grief to feel anything else. The Castiel of that time had lost his family and his faith and yet, still he stayed by Dean's side. Without any hope of love or affection and that hurt.
His eyes snapped to the Castiel of his present and to the tenderness in the smile he was giving an excitedly babbling Sam. That hopeless future was worse than death for Castiel. A far worse fate than he deserved and Dean would do anything to prevent it. Teaming up with Michael had guaranteed Castiel's return to his brothers. Castiel's own successful hunt for God meant he could keep his faith in his Father. But that was only part of it because now Castiel was back at Dean's side, yet again without hope of the love and affection he deserved.
Dean really didn't want that future to happen.
It shouldn't have been a significant moment. Sam made Castiel try his spaghetti and as Dean watched Castiel struggle miserably with the noodles, the answer to Sam's question struck him hard in the chest.
Yes, he was in love with Castiel.
God, yes, he was in love with Cas, this brusque irritating angel who smiled without smiling, who lived through his expressive eyes and held Dean close through a sleepless night. Who always listened to everything Dean said, even if he didn't agree and made Dean feel important just by sitting beside him. This amazing being who chose Dean out of all the humans in the world, chose to stay with Dean even if he had to share Dean's heart with Sam and helped Dean save the world and made stars twinkle for him and survived the mall just because Dean needed him.
"Dean?" Castiel raised an eyebrow at Dean. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah," Dean said, turning away to study his congealing lasagna. Okay, so this was supposed to be a good moment, except sure it was nice to know he was in love with Castiel, but it didn't follow Cas was in love with him back. If Dean hadn't really understood being in love, there was a pretty good chance an angel wouldn't either.
"Are you sure?" Castiel asked worriedly.
Dean met his eyes, saw the concern there and felt his heart squeeze in his chest. Alright, so he couldn't live without this. Not after realizing what he wanted. And if Castiel didn't understand being in love, well, Dean would just have to teach him.
"Oh, I'm sure," he said, his quiet caution exchanged for steely determination.
If the way Dean thoroughly enjoyed how Castiel's eyes widened and his throat moved around a hard swallow was any indication, this 'being in love' thing would be a lot of fun.
Since their plans now happened to coincide, Dean got some unexpected help from Sam that night. When it came time for them to sleep, Sam pulled back the covers of the room's other bed that hadn't been used since the curse.
"I'm going to sleep on this bed tonight," Sam announced to them both. "But I don't want you to go, Cas."
"Alright," Castiel agreed and he sat in a dining chair. "I'll watch over you from here."
"No, don't," Sam protested as he punched his pillow into shape. "You should lie down 'cause I know you think it's comfortable, but you don't say."
The vaguely guilty look on Castiel's face confirmed Sam's suspicions.
"But there isn't really a place for me," Castiel said, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on Sam.
"Um, there was a whole other free bed yesterday and you still slept with us," Sam reminded him. He snuggled down into the pillow and stretched his legs out, effectively taking up the entire bed. Just in case Castiel got any ideas of sleeping with him, Dean assumed as he bit on his bottom lip to keep from smiling. Had he thought Sam was a scheming brat? The kid was a genius.
"Just sleep with Dean," Sam ordered him drowsily. "Dean doesn't mind."
Castiel still wouldn't look at him, so Dean laid a hand on his shoulder, forcing his gaze upwards. It felt so good and so right to touch Castiel and to hold his gaze. Dean didn't know how he'd misunderstood his feelings for so long.
"I really don't," Dean said gently, quiet enough to stay just between them.
"You don't?" Castiel sounded incredulous, even astounded and it occurred to Dean that Castiel might have read the situation that morning in a completely different way. Instead of feeling trapped by Dean's unconscious advances, maybe Castiel had been embarrassed to be caught enjoying them. Dean certainly hoped so. It'd make things a lot easier.
"Yeah, I think I'm going to have to insist," Dean said boldly, surprising himself. Cas seemed to respond well to the demand because he nodded, a smile playing across his lips and he stood to shrug out of his jacket.
"And you need better pajamas," Dean said. He dug through his bag till he found a pair of extra sleep pants and a t-shirt for Castiel to wear. They took turns changing in the bathroom and Dean waited until Castiel got comfortable on the bed before flipping off the lights. It already felt like a furnace under the blankets when Dean joined Castiel a moment later.
"Dude, what's with the heat? Is it your Grace?"
"I believe so," Castiel answered, turning on his side. "Is it unpleasant?"
"No," Dean said and actually he was having trouble not shifting closer to him. He didn't want to push it. "No, it's nice."
Laying in bed with someone and staring at them through the darkness was weird, but what was even weirder was being so relaxed by it that you fell asleep after only a few moments.
When Dean woke up with his body facing towards Sam's bed and Castiel curled up at his back, arms flung around Dean's waist, it was just more proof that Dean was right about being in love. He liked this just as much as waking up with his face hidden in Castiel's neck. More actually because he wasn't embarrassed this time. Maybe a little freaked out, but happy and relaxed. He slid the tips of his fingers down Castiel's arm till he found Castiel's hand, which he took in his own. Cas stiffened lightly behind him.
"Hey," he said hoarsely, threading their fingers together. "Relax."
Castiel didn't answer in words, but he did release the tension from his body and melted against Dean, pressing one foot between both of Dean's. Now that was good. Surrounded by Castiel, by his arms and his legs and his weird hot Grace. In fact, it was so good it lulled Dean back to sleep and he didn't wake again until he heard Sam cackling at some cartoon and felt nothing at his back. He didn't mind though because Castiel was just sitting beside Sam and watching the screen with purpose as if he were determined to discover why it was funny.
Dean continued on the slow path over the next few days so he wouldn't scare Castiel.
The first thing he did was take back his ban on invading personal space. No matter what they were doing, Dean made sure he was never far from Castiel. When they ate, he sat next to Cas. When they watched TV, Dean leaned against Castiel's side. When they walked down the street to the movie theatre, Dean let his hand brush along Castiel's. Every time Cas felt Dean touch him, Dean swore he saw tiny bursts of joy light in Castiel's eyes. They made Dean all the more confident and when they sat to watch the movie, Dean chanced taking Castiel's hand and holding it like he had while they were in bed. Hand holding had never been Dean's thing, but that's because it was surprisingly intimate. But now he wanted the connection and so when Castiel willingly gave his hand, Dean grinned and lost track of the movie for nearly twenty minutes.
Sam didn't miss this change in Dean and so Dean found himself with a little partner in crime. Sam found every excuse in the book to give Dean and Castiel a few moments alone. He escaped into bathrooms, disappeared to the lobby for towels, wandered off in stores in search of whatever nine year-olds thought they needed. Dean never actually made a move on Castiel, but he appreciated the extra time alone, the ability to focus solely on Castiel. Castiel seemed to enjoy it too because he kept getting puffed up with some kind of overwhelming satisfaction when they enjoyed Sam's gift of time together.
By the time they were supposed to leave for Bobby's, Dean had Castiel used to the touching. In fact, Castiel looked troubled if Dean didn't take his hand when they were sitting beside each other. It made driving a little difficult, but Castiel asked so little of him, Dean couldn't refuse.
"Dean, are we going to have Christmas?"
Sam sat in the backseat amid the large collection of toys and books they'd amassed since he became a kid. It was good thing Dean hadn't been solely in charge of raising Sam because he'd have been spoiled rotten.
"Yeah, I thought we'd get a tree and all that," Dean answered, glancing at him in the rearview mirror. "That sound good?"
Sam nodded happily. "What do you want?"
"Me?" Dean flicked his eyes towards Castiel and shrugged. "Nothing really."
"I want a model train," Sam said decidedly. All those years he'd grown in such a short time and that silly train Castiel got him at the mall remained his favorite present.
"Okay," Dean said because that was the kind of gift adult Sam could enjoy too.
"What do you want, Cas?" Sam said, kicking at the back of Castiel's seat.
"Oh," Castiel said, surprised. "I didn't realize I was to be included."
"God, Cas," Sam said in the kind of long-suffering disgust only children can produce. "Do we have to send you an invitation in blood or something? You freaking live with us and you're like married to my brother."
"Hey, be nice," Dean scolded him, though he privately cheered for Sam. Castiel didn't seem to understand that they were all in the same family now, even if he did have two of them. "But yeah, he's got a point. Of course you're included. What do you want?"
"I don't know," Castiel hedged, looking away at the passing fields. "Nothing, I suppose."
Sam kicked the back of his chair again.
"Stop that," Dean said.
They got to Bobby's not a moment too soon. Sam was tired and cranky and Dean was holding on by a thread. Seeing Bobby perked Sam right up though. He stumbled out of the car and flew up onto the porch, throwing himself into Bobby's arms.
"Uncle Bobby!" He exclaimed, unconsciously falling back on their old form of address for Bobby. "Hi!"
"Hey, kid," Bobby said, grunting with the effort of not falling under Sam's onslaught. "My god, boy, I never thought I'd see you like this again."
"I know, it's weird," Sam said, grabbing Bobby's hand and tugging him into the house. "You're a lot taller than normal. Hey, listen to what we've been doing."
Dean walked slower so he didn't have to hear Sam explain to Bobby that he'd been kinda dating Castiel for the last few days. Castiel helped him gather their bags, smiling at him and they didn't need words. That was one of the best parts really. Dean could talk Castiel's ear off, but he didn't have to and that was a relief. They packed all the stuff inside and Dean interrupted Sam's monologue long enough to explain that he and Castiel were going to go 'get Christmas.'
There weren't many decorations or trees available on Christmas Eve. Just a couple of three foot plastic trees that would have to do. The decorations were even less desirable.
"Ugh, what the fuck." Dean picked up a box of those ball ornaments that were a horrendous neon pink. "Why does this exist?"
"I don't know," Castiel said. His attention was caught on a package of shiny white tinsel icicles. "These are lovely."
Dean made a face. "They're messy, Cas. They get everywhere."
"But they are beautiful," Castiel said again, looking to Dean with an expression that was familiar, but out of place on Castiel's face. It took Dean a few moments of trying to decide where he'd seen it before he realized Castiel was giving him the puppy-dog look. The pleading 'please feed me and give me Christmas icicles' look.
It was bad enough when Sam did it. Dean didn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of refusing Castiel.
"Fine, but you clean them up," Dean said, grabbing a couple of packages and tossing them in the cart. Like that would be hard anyway. He could probably mojo them away in seconds. Another unfair advantage. Castiel would never have to do the dishes or take out the trash like normal people.
Thinking about splitting chores with Castiel was weird.
But not bad weird.
They found a box of ornaments that were an inoffensive red and green and a package of lights. At the end of the aisle, there were two more racks, one of stars and the other of angels.
"What'd you think?" Dean asked, smirking. "You want a star or an angel on the tree?"
Castiel glared at him.
"Star it is," Dean said through his laughter.
There was only one toy store open that late and they didn't have a model train, but they had a model ship and Dean figured that was close enough. They picked a bottle of scotch for Bobby before heading back towards his place.
Sam was so excited by the tiny tree that he was beside himself with joy and proceeded to hop around the living room. Dean made a mental note to do this again next year, adulthood or not.
"Here," Dean said, handing Sam a package of the icicles. "Go crazy."
The other package went to Castiel and Dean watched in amusement as Sam flung handfuls of the icicles at the tree while Castiel carefully separated each individual icicle and laid them over the tree's branches. Dean added the ornaments and Bobby made sure the lights were spread evenly. They let Sam finish the thing by placing the star at the top of the tree.
"Well, it's not quite Charlie Brown, but it's close," Bobby commented when they stood back to admire their work.
"No, it's not," Sam protested heatedly. Dean just shrugged.
"It's very nice," Castiel added.
"Whatever, I want hot chocolate," Sam declared, grabbing Dean's hand and tugging him towards the kitchen. Together, they taught Castiel how to make hot chocolate from scratch. And of course, as Dean told Castiel, the best way to drink hot chocolate on Christmas Eve was while watching A Christmas Carol.
"It's the only Christmas movie with ghosts, so of course, it's our favorite," Dean explained to a bemused Castiel.
But Castiel enjoyed it because it featured a heavy emphasis on the 'saving power of love.' Dean snorted and squeezed his hand. Just like an angel.
"Speaking of angel stuff," Dean said once the credits were rolling. Sam was lying sideways on the couch, head in Dean's lap as he snored lightly. Bobby had gone to bed, effectively leaving Dean alone with Castiel. "Are they expecting you or anything? I mean, isn't this your big night?"
Castiel laughed softly and the sound climbed right into Dean's heart. "Angels don't need a particular day to celebrate Christ's birth. Time is an invention for humans."
"Right," Dean said, surprisingly at ease with Castiel's innate otherness. Dean liked that Castiel was different. "Humans need time to remind us to live, I guess."
"Yes," Castiel said thoughtfully. "But angels could do with a reminder as well," he said, reaching over to place his hand over the one Dean had been using to stroke Sam's hair. "I'm afraid I lied earlier. I don't want to lose time. Especially not when we have so little."
Dean's heart leapt.
"There is something I want for Christmas," Castiel confessed. "I didn't know I wanted it and I don't really know how to have it, but I wanted to say, Dean." He paused and Dean admired the way the Christmas lights colored his skin red and green and gold. "I wanted to tell you that I love you."
"Oh," Dean said, shocked into apparent stupidity. Hearing those words was a lot more overwhelming than he imagined. "Um, me too. Love you, that is."
"That's good. I thought, if you'd like, I thought we'd kiss," Castiel said, businesslike and so very him that Dean's heart skipped a beat or three.
"Yeah, ok," Dean rasped. Castiel brought his free hand to Dean's face, cupped his cheek and gave him an odd friendly smile before pressing his mouth to Dean's. It wasn't much, just a soft touch of lips, but it meant more, so much more than a hundred other nights with other people who weren't his own Castiel.
Dean laughed into the kiss, then broke it off to look down at Sam.
"I thought you wanted us to do this?"
"Not on top of me," Sam grumbled, sitting up and rubbing at his eyes. "You're so sick. I'm going to bed."
They watched Sam stomp out of the room and up the stairs. Castiel started to say something, but Dean held up a finger. He waited a moment more until he heard the door to Sam's guest room slam shut, then he grinned and turned back to Castiel.
"Serves him right," he said happily, pulling Castiel into another and far deeper kiss.
He'd thank Sam later.