It had been six days since Castiel had last heard from Dean.
After his eleventh unanswered call, the former angel, with the help of Bobby, tracked down the phone number of Lisa Braeden. Lisa had been both surprised and glad to hear from him. Apparently, she'd long been curious about Dean's late night phone calls. She told him that Dean had left suddenly on the very same day Castiel and Bobby had gone on their hunt. He'd said he needed to go on a short trip to take care of some business and promised to be back in a few days. Lisa believed he'd keep his word, but was still worried. Apparently, there'd been an unsettling look of fixed resolve on his face.
At first, Bobby had claimed Dean just needed some time to himself, that he was still coping with the loss of his brother, but after a couple of days, Bobby had admitted that considering this was Dean they were talking about, it was entirely possible the idjit had gone off to do something momentously stupid.
When Castiel had determined that more than a 'few' days had passed, he'd insisted they go out in search of Dean to which Bobby had simply replied, "Where?" They had no idea where Dean had headed and the former hunter was very good at keeping himself hidden if need be.
But Castiel had grown even more determined to head out and search the more the days passed, which was why he was now upstairs in his room packing his few belongings into an old duffle bag and wishing Bobby had gotten around to teaching him how to drive. He wasn't sure if he'd be able to find Dean, but he planned to try. After all, he had a lot of experience in hopeless searches.
While emptying his closet, his attention was drawn to the beige trenchcoat hanging at the back. Taking it out, he held it up and gazed at it in the fading daylight noting the frayed seams and the blood stained sleeves he'd never gotten around to cleaning. There'd been no reason to wear the coat recently. It was inappropriate for summer weather and ever since he'd become human he'd admittedly found the coat cumbersome and restricting. Yet, it had been a part of who he'd been and he was reluctant to let it go. After much deliberation, he decided to leave it behind.
It was as he was putting the coat away that he heard the faint, but familiar rumbling sound coming from outside. It took him a moment to place it, and while it grew closer, he wondered why something so common as the noise of a car engine could incite such feelings of fondness and longing. Then the sound fell into place in his memory and he raced to the window.
The Impala was just pulling up in front of the house, sunlight glinting off the edges of its black paint.
Castiel almost fell down the stairs in his haste to get outside. His surroundings, including a confused Bobby, passed by in a blur until he stood on the front porch gazing down at the familiar car.
The driver side door opened and out emerged Dean Winchester. There were purple bruises and bloody scrapes covering one side of his face and he limped slightly on his left leg, but he looked surprisingly content with a fresh glimmer in his soul that hadn't been there when he'd left four months ago.
His face lit up with a grin when he spotted Castiel. "Hey, Cas. Long time no see."
Blaming it on some human instinct, Castiel quickly drew near the former hunter and wrapped both arms around him holding tight. Dean tensed a moment as if startled; then wrapped his arm around Castiel too, his grip just as strong.
When they finally let go, Dean straightened his back and cleared his throat as if trying to regain some sense of dignity. "Yeah," he mumbled gruffly, "I guess I missed you too."
But Castiel, who'd originally been reluctant to let go, found his joy at seeing Dean pushed aside by anger at his mysterious absence. "Where have you been?" he demanded.
"Took a trip to Disneyland," Dean joked weakly. "Trust me. The Magic Kingdom really isn't as magical as they'd like you to believe."
Castiel's glare remained unwavering and Dean cringed.
"Ok, so I went on a little hunt which proved to be not so little. Things got a bit chaotic. Phone got smashed. I know I should have called. I'm sorry."
Castiel's eyes widened in surprise.
"Really sorry," Dean insisted sincerely. "For well… a lot of things."
"You went on a hunt?" Castiel questioned brow furrowed.
"I came across this article in the paper about some mysterious deaths in Arkansas. I knew something was up so I went to check it out."
"But I thought you weren't planning to hunt anymore."
"People were dying and well..." Dean's lips twisted up in a warm smile as he placed a hand on the former angel's shoulder. "I seem to recall someone reminding me recently about how important people are."
Castiel felt the urge to hug Dean again, but was distracted by an enraged yell from the direction of the house.
"You'd better have a damn fine explanation for where you've been!"
They both turned to see Bobby on the porch glaring lividly down at Dean. Castiel observed as Dean swallowed nervously and opened his mouth to defend himself, but then suddenly, Bobby's eyes grew wide, his gaze moving to something behind them. Castiel quickly spun around realizing he'd been so distracted by Dean's arrival he'd completely missed the fact there'd been someone else in the Impala.
It was Sam.
Not a changeling or a shapeshifter. Not Lucifer or some demon wearing Sam's body. It was simply Sam, the same familiar soul, ragged along the edges, but pure.
"Wow. Jeez, Cas," The younger Winchester said his gaze alighting on the former angel once he'd exited the car and slammed shut the door. His eyebrows were raised as he looked him over. "You look different, good, but different."
And then, Castiel was hugging Sam just as hard as he'd hugged Dean.
Afterwards, Sam left a hand on his shoulder smiling as he said, "I'm glad you're okay."
Castiel's lips rose in a rare smile of his own. "I'm glad you're alive."
Sam winced seeming vaguely embarrassed. "Yeah, about that…"
"Dean, please tell me you weren't stupid enough to actually get your brother out of hell," Bobby called out his expression shifting between anger, hope, and disbelief.
"You really think I'd try something that stupid," responded Dean, affronted.
There were suddenly three pointed gazes directed at him.
He rolled his eyes. "Okay, so maybe I might, but I didn't. He didn't need my help."
"But it's really…" Bobby's voice went from angry to choked.
"It's me," said Sam.
Bobby turned to Castiel his eyes seeking reassurance and confirmation. The former angel gave a brief nod.
It took less than a second for Sam and Bobby to meet up at the bottom of the ramp where Sam had to bend over almost double to hug the old hunter.
"Damn it, boys," Bobby said hoarsely, wiping at his eyes. "You really need to stop doing this to me."
Sam let out a chuckle. "I promise we'll try not to die anymore."
"And if we do," added Dean, "we'll leave a note saying when we'll be back, so you don't have to worry."
"Very funny," grumbled Bobby and turning, waved at them to follow. "Get your asses inside and you can explain what happened over some beer."
They gathered inside the kitchen and soon all had a bottle of cheap beer in their hands. Leaning against the kitchen counter slowly sipping his, Castiel kept shifting his eyes between the two brothers finding it hard to believe they were actually there. Sam sat at the table across from Bobby his gaze often drifting back to Castiel as if still astonished by the changes in him while Dean remained standing close to his brother as if he was afraid he'd disappear.
"Well," said Bobby once they were settled.
"It was God," Sam said after a deep breath then he shrugged. "Well, as near as I can figure. One minute, I was on my way to hell. The next, I was back on Earth and Lucifer-free."
Castiel found his gaze drawn upward as he felt something twist painfully in his chest. He couldn't decide whether it was hope or anger.
Meanwhile, Dean was shaking his head at his brother. "What the ginormous ignoramus forgot to mention is that was months ago. He somehow got the idiotic idea in his head that we were better off without him, so he went off to hunt on his own."
Sam looked down at his feet avoiding Bobby's gaze.
"Then how'd you find out?" Bobby asked Dean while still glaring at Sam.
Dean explained about the hunt he'd gone on between swallows of his beer. "Didn't take me long to realize someone else was investigating the same thing as me. Imagine my surprise when I found out who it was."
"It wasn't exactly easy finishing the hunt when he spent most of the time chewing me out," added the younger Winchester.
"But it's all worked out now, pretty much. Though we could use a little help with something…" Dean cast a hopeful look in Bobby's direction.
"Let me guess," Bobby said as he leaned back in his chair. "You're on the trail of something nasty and you need my help with research, again."
Sam grinned sheepishly. "How'd you guess?"
"Come on then, let's move this little conference into the library."
Bobby wheeled his way into the other room with Dean walking behind him, but when Castiel moved to follow, Sam stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"I just wanted to thank you."
"For looking after theses guys," explained Sam pointing over his shoulder to the pair in the library.
"I didn't do anything," Castiel insisted.
"Trust me," Sam replied with a knowing smile. "You did lots." And he went into the library after the others.
Still puzzled, Castiel gazed after him, the bottle of beer frozen in his hand. He recalled all the times he'd tried and failed to help Dean and Bobby. All he'd been able to offer were a few limited words and a pair of hands with none of the strength they once possessed. As a human, he'd been nothing but a burden to them trying to navigate his new limitations with stumbling steps that had brought him to the depths and back. He knew he had Dean and Bobby to thank for keeping him sane after everything he'd lost, during his acclimatisation, during the pangs of confinement he still felt. But had he aided them too?
He gazed into the study where Bobby was trying to direct Dean in retrieving a book from the top of a high shelf. The expression on Bobby's face was one of exasperation, but there seemed to be a grin hidden in the corners of his mouth and in his eyes. Dean was acting deliberately obtuse taking an unreasonably long time to locate the book as he pointed from one to another while Sam looked on chuckling and shaking his head.
Castiel had been human, or as close as he could be, for over four months now, but there was still much he had yet to comprehend.
Suddenly noticing the former angel's absence, Dean glanced over. "Get in here, featherbrain," he called out. "We need you."
Broken from his tangled thoughts, Castiel placed his unfinished beer on the kitchen counter and went to join his friends.
AN#1: Love and hugs to everyone who reviewed. Love also to the people who read all the way through but didn't review because I know reviewing isn't always easy. AN#2: So, sequel? I wasn't able to get anywhere near all my ideas into this fic and I kind of hinted at some stuff that I never got around to elaborating on. I probably could have added more to this story but writing phone conversation after phone conversation isn't easy and neither is keeping Castiel and Dean separate and I really wanted them to both get back on their feet before meeting up again. So, I definitely need a sequel. Just don't expect it very soon. It will be in a slightly different format. I'm thinking six very large parts released one at a time. (And I can't believe I'm planning to write something this long) The plot in very general terms will be Castiel, Sam and Dean on the road together trying to track down some nasty creatures.
AN#2: So, sequel? I wasn't able to get anywhere near all my ideas into this fic and I kind of hinted at some stuff that I never got around to elaborating on. I probably could have added more to this story but writing phone conversation after phone conversation isn't easy and neither is keeping Castiel and Dean separate and I really wanted them to both get back on their feet before meeting up again. So, I definitely need a sequel. Just don't expect it very soon. It will be in a slightly different format. I'm thinking six very large parts released one at a time. (And I can't believe I'm planning to write something this long) The plot in very general terms will be Castiel, Sam and Dean on the road together trying to track down some nasty creatures.