A/N: Wow. So this is it. My sincerest thanks to every one of you that has stuck with me through this story. It's been a labor of love and you have all kept me writing when I might have otherwise lost interest. I have enjoyed all your comments and kind words and appreciate your encouragement and patience more than I can say. You've been a wonderful audience and I am so touched that you have enjoyed this monstrously long story. XD
Thank you. *hugs all around*
In the days that followed the angel's departure from their lives once more, the Winchesters had suffered from no further nightmares. Legion's presence and focus on them had apparently been the cause and now that he had perished, the bad dreams had left with him. It also helped that Bobby had insisted on their getting their behinds back to help him fix his house since the demons had done a fair amount of damage and neither brother had much time to think too hard on all that had happened much less worry over bad dreams what with all the work to be done. The older hunter could guess well enough from the telltale slump of Dean's shoulders when the boys pulled up that Castiel had indeed fluttered off again to Heaven once he'd been put back to normal and he knew his surrogate son was taking it rather hard despite his forced stoicism.
Sam and Bobby had exchanged knowing and concerned glances which Dean caught and promptly bit their heads off for, insisting he was just fine thank you very much. In truth, Dean was more confused than really mad. Sure he was a bit miffed that once again his "friend" had up and abandoned him but he'd already prepared himself for Castiel's hasty departure. He had known it was coming since that was simply how the angel had always been but it was all the awkward glances he'd been tossing in Dean's direction that had the hunter more worried than angry. Cas had seemed a little too nervous in the hotel room once he had been put back to normal by Gabriel, what with his pointed attempts not to look too long at either Winchester, and he had rushed his brother out of the room with the lamely tossed back excuse that they had much to discuss about what had happened. Dean suspected his friend probably remembered more than he was letting on about what had transpired while he'd been an infant. God, he hoped not. Their relationship had been strained on the best of days and he doubted it would really survive if Castiel had to remember being bathed and carted around by he and Sam.
Dean pressed himself into the task of cleaning up the mess around the scrap yard, as much as one COULD clean up such a place, and by the end of the week he had almost convinced even himself that he was perfectly fine with it if Cas never showed up again. He was perched on the roof of Bobby's house just above the upstairs hallway and was working diligently on patching a hole there when his illusions were utterly shattered. He barely had time to register the sound of fluttering wings before the deep rumble of his friend's voice came from behind him. "Hello, Dean." The hunter cussed loudly as he startled and the hammer he'd been working with skittered away across the rooftop. His own boots skidded and he let out a panicked yelp as he toppled backward and watched Castiel disappear behind the edge of the roof. He didn't have time to think anything more than how much this was going to suck as the ground rushed up at him but he didn't impact the way he'd expected. Right before he became a lot more familiar with the rocks of Bobby's driveway than he ever wanted, a pair of strong almost immovable arms reached out and deftly plucked him from the air. Dean grunted as he landed in an ungraceful tangle only to find himself looking up into a pair of bright blue and admittedly vaguely amused eyes though there was no smile to accompany the look. None the less, Dean was positive that somehow Castiel was laughing at him in his own weird angel way.
"Jesus, Cas. What the HELL? You coulda friggin' KILLED me!"
Castiel remained infuriatingly calm at his proclamation. "You weren't going to die, Dean. I caught you."
"That's not the point!" Dean blustered, "What if you hadn't caught me?"
"There was no possibility of that happening. I am more than capable of catching you. Your reasoning makes no sense," Castiel replied quietly.
"Yeah, well…well what if you had MISSED?" Dean yelled. He knew he wasn't really this mad at Castiel for scaring him, hell he was kind of used to that at this point, but he found his anger at the injustice of being abandoned all over again bubbling up to the surface and this seemed as good a way as any to let it out. It was far easier to yell at the angel for scaring him than it was to yell at him for leaving again as then both of them would be forced to live through a chickflick moment Dean would rather avoid.
Castiel slowly raised one eyebrow and Dean could detect a note of exasperation in that look. "If I had missed, which I assure you again is not possible, then I would have brought you back from the dead as I have done before." It was obvious that Cas was confused on why Dean was so irritated and had taken to explaining things in a slow voice one reserved for children and idiots. Dean was none to happy at the inference that he was either. It also occurred to him that he was still dangling from the angel's arms like a disgruntled bride. The realization had him muttering a whole new string of curses as he struggled and wriggled out of the arms supporting him until Castiel had no choice but to set him down, a task he did with all the patience of one dealing with a squirming kitten.
Dean immediately put a few feet between them as he straightened his jacket indignantly. He wanted to be mad at his so called friend, wanted to tell him to get the hell out and just keep on flying, but it was difficult to be angry when the angel was standing there looking so utterly lost and uncomfortable. Castiel's eyes were doing that annoying thing where they focused on anywhere but Dean again and since the angel had never had a problem staring in the past, usually to the point of making everyone else uncomfortable, it was obvious something was up. Dean pointedly turned his back to the yard and its sole occupant and took a few steps toward the front porch. "What do you want, Cas?" he sighed as he leaned against the railing with his back toward the angel. If he was going to stand any chance of remaining angry at his friend then he needed to not look at the guy. Those pathetic puppy-dog looks were killing him and he was starting to think Sam had given the angel lessons at some point.
Castiel shifted nervously within the folds of his trenchcoat and took a long moment to look around the front yard as if seeing it for the first time despite how often he'd been there. It always seemed he was newly fascinated with the strangest of things though Dean got the impression he was just stalling this time. "I…would like to speak with you and Sam," he said at last in the rough growl that was so uniquely his own.
'Oh CRAP', Dean thought unhappily, 'He DOES remember.' The hunter pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to pretend he didn't care what the angel had to say. The last thing he really wanted right at that moment was a long conversation about bathtime and angel cuddling with his now fully grown friend standing right in front of him. Some things he would simply prefer be left unsaid.
The decision was taken out of his hands though as Bobby appeared in the open doorway and drew to a stop at the sight of the angel in the yard. "Am I interrupting something?" he snapped. Bobby had been less than pleased at the thought that once again Castiel had popped right back out of the Winchesters' lives without much of a goodbye or a thank you.
Dean shook his head and let out a bitter sounding snort. "Nah, Cas is just here to 'talk'." With that, he stormed up the steps and brushed past Bobby. "Well get your feathery ass in here and let's get this over with," he snapped over his shoulder as he disappeared into the house. Castiel was already waiting in the study when Dean rounded the corner and he shot the angel an irritated look. It must be nice to just poof in wherever he wanted like that. The hunter kicked a chair around and flopped into it, resting his chin on the tops of his arms as he leaned over the back railing. Sam looked up from the book he'd been pouring over as his brother entered but he started back in surprise at the sight of Castiel standing against the opposite wall. The angel looked decidedly even more awkward than usual as he stared down at his shoes.
"Cas?" the young man asked in confusion, as if he wasn't really sure on what he was seeing, and the angel glanced up briefly before letting his eyes slide away to a photo hanging over the fireplace to his left.
Bobby shuffled in and leaned against the open doorframe. "Someone wanna tell me what the hell is going on NOW?"
"Don't know," Dean said sarcastically, "Cas? What is it? Another apocalypse? Gabriel got himself turned into a hamster? Heaven run out of toilet paper? What do you want?" He knew he was being a bit more hostile than was really necessary when Sam shot him an angry scowl but he was tired of only being called on when the angel wanted something.
Castiel shot him a confused look and cocked his head to the side as he stared at the hunter. That was more like it. Dean could live with that. At least Cas was actually freakin' looking at him instead of avoiding eye contact like the plague. "Heaven does not require the use of toiletpaper," the angel said in a voice so lost that the hunter had to bite down a chuckle over it. He had kind of missed the way jokes and sarcasm just seemed to fly right over his friend's head. After a few more minutes of Castiel looking around the room again, he finally seemed to come to some sort of decision and Dean waited with baited breath. He knew whatever it was, he was probably not going to enjoy it. "I need to get something," Cas announced stiffly before suddenly disappearing.
Dean shot his brother a disbelieving look. "Are you FREAKIN' serious?" he shouted, "Ok, screw this." He snapped up from his chair and was about to stalk out of the room when Castiel reappeared carrying, of all things, a bowling ball. That sight, strange and random as it was, stopped Dean in his tracks and he stared slackjawed for a few minutes. All of his anger and frustration melted away into sheer confusion as the angel shifted nervously again and held the ball up for them.
"I would…appreciate it if you could show me how this is used," Castiel mumbled, "I am aware it is for playing some kind of game but I don't really understand it. I was hoping you would show me." He stood there lamely once the words fell out of his mouth, his eyes fixed on the small holes staring up at him from the shiniest green bowlingball Dean had ever seen, looking utterly lost and dorky.
Dean blinked a few times before incredulously asking "You want us to teach you how to bowl?" He couldn't really believe it. It was the stupidest and strangest thing he'd ever heard of and he wondered if maybe Gabe had done something wrong when he'd put the angel back to normal.
"Yes," Castiel said flatly, "I believe that is indeed the name of this particular entertainment." He looked up first at Dean and then at Sam with something akin to hope in his eyes and neither brother had the heart to really refuse him outright.
"BOWLING?" Dean asked again. He just couldn't really wrap his head around the idea. "Are you serious? You…Cas…why the hell do you want to learn how to bowl?"
The angel actually shrugged a little, a human gesture he'd learned from spending time around the Winchesters, and withdrew the ball back to his chest as if suddenly ashamed of it. "It isn't necessary if you don't want to," he said in a quiet heart-breaking way that had Dean scrambling to clarify.
"Cas, it's not that we don't want to go bowling with you…ok, I really hate bowling but that's not the point. What I'm trying to say is…just…well….BOWLING?" Dean floundered for words that would help explain his sheer mental trauma at trying to picture Castiel standing in a poorly lit bowling alley, his trenchcoat fluttering around him and those ridiculous red and white rental shoes on his feet, while he rolled a perfect gutterball amidst a throng of senior citizens. The picture was so utterly ridiculous that it was stealing Dean's grasp of the English language at that precise moment.
"It doesn't have to be bowling, Dean," Cas said dejectedly, "We could watch movies and drink alcoholic beverages and make inappropriate sexually suggestive innuendos about the women we see on the television. That IS what males do when they 'hang out', is it not?"
The angel had actually managed to use air quotes despite the ball still cradled in his arms and Dean had to bite back a laugh at how obviously uncomfortable this whole situation was making his friend. Cas had come all that way just to ask them to 'hang out'? The hunter couldn't help the amused grin that crept up on one side of his face. "So, let me get this straight. You came down here all the way from Heaven just to chill out with us?"
Castiel frowned at the question. "My temperature is not an issue, Dean, but I did come here to see if you would be willing to entertain my company for a while. I have admittedly not made enough of an effort to maintain something more akin to a human friendship in the past." At this last statement he looked straight at Bobby and it was the older hunter's turn to shift uncomfortably at this subtle reminder that the angel had at least remembered some of what had taken place down in the bunker. "I forget sometimes that people have such short lifespans. A year without speaking to someone is not very long for me, Dean. Angels do not age as humans do. I am willing to try to be more available however though I cannot promise how often I will be able to do this. My duties in Heaven must still come first until things there have settled more."
Dean stood quietly at the doorway for a few moments and tried not to let it show just how much that simple gesture meant to him. He couldn't have everyone thinking that he gave THAT much of a damn about Castiel coming all that way just to spend time with he and Sam but it had admittedly lifted a weight off his chest that was larger than he'd realized. He hadn't been so easily forgotten after all. He shrugged nonchalantly. "Ah what the hell," he said with as little excitement as he was willing to allow into his voice, "I guess Sam and I can put up with you every now and then. But no bowling. Where the hell did you even GET that?" He eyed the shiny ball in Castiel's grip.
"An establishment in Sacramento," the angel said innocently as if such a long trip meant nothing at all to him. In fact, Dean was pretty sure it really didn't. "I should put it back then," Cas mumbled before disappearing in a rustle of feathers once again. When he reappeared a minute later, Dean and Sam were already lost in the beginnings of an argument as they tried to figure out what activity they should drag Cas to first. Sam was fighting for a movie or a museum while Dean was insisting on a strip club. Fortunately Bobby stepped in with the more reasonable solution that there was a classic car show in town and perhaps Cas would like to see that instead. The brothers were all too happy to snatch that option up and with their destination decided they prepared to head out for a fast lunch first. Sam rifled through an old overnight bag from their stay in Clearview Acres in search of the demon-killing knife, intent on carrying it with him just in case any new threats popped up. Everything had been stuffed into the bag when Dean had cleaned the old room out and Sam hadn't really bothered digging through it over the past week due solely to the fact that it contained a fair amount of Dean's dirty laundry as well.
Dean's dirty socks had been known to be a potent deterrent to a lot of things both living and non and Sam recoiled as he opened the bag. He tossed one at his brother after uncurling it from around his prized knife and the two swiftly broke into another bout of sibling rivalry as they argued over who should have made sure all the clothes had been accounted for and cleaned after they'd made it back to Bobby's. Castiel meanwhile had become mesmerized by something inside the bag and he approached it with his head tilted to the side and a look of uncertainty written over his face. The brothers' continued argument was utterly ignored as he reached into the bag and withdrew a small floppy rabbit who's once white fur had been heavily stained. The angel thumbed silently over the rabbit's little stitched nose and down one long ear. He flipped it over and stared fondly at the tiny stuffed wings that hung limp from its back, one of which was half torn along one seam. Without really knowing why he felt and overwhelming urge to draw it to his chest and hold it. It took him a few moments to realize the room around him had gone utterly quiet and he looked up nervously to meet the blank stares of the Winchesters. Bobby was sitting at his desk on the other side of the room and when Castiel turned to look it was to find that he too was sharing in the same reaction.
The angel stiffened and straightened to his full height, the rabbit falling to dangle by one long ear as he clutched it by his side. He shot challenging if slightly awkward looks at all three brothers that came off looking more guilty than threatening before suddenly turning on his heel and striding from the room. "I will be waiting in the automobile," he said in a most serious and businesslike tone before disappearing through the front door. All three hunters watched him leave without a word before turning back to look at one another. No one said it aloud but all three had the same thought. Castiel had perhaps remembered more than he was letting onto.
And he had taken the stuffed rabbit with him when he'd left.