When Dean awoke in the morning, Cas was already up, staring at the palace. Dean came up close behind him, but didn't touch. "Ready to go home?"
Cas, having spent the night watching Dean sleep and thinking about his brothers not at all, thought about mentioning last night, thought about reaching out again with his Grace, but in the end all he said was, "Yes."
They started out again at once, walking close together but with few words spoken until they arrived at the palace. Dean wrapped a hand around Cas's wrist before he could reach for the door. "Cas," he began, pulling Cas closer to him. "Before we go in…"
The door swung open to reveal a tiny, pale redhead with the wrath of the Father in her eyes. Ana stared in shock at her returned brother, but in an instant she had relaxed, pulling him into the circle of her arms, shouting for the guard and her brothers.
Cas hugged his sister back tightly, his Grace rushing out to brush against hers in greeting. Hers surrounded him like a blanket, warming him inside and out until she brushed against something new and pulled back with a questioning glance at Dean. A look over his shoulder revealed that his mate was shouting angrily at the guards who were keeping their distance but eyeing him warily.
With a final squeeze, Cas stepped back. "This is Dean Winchester, my mate," he said. He didn't raise his voice, but the room went silent at the announcement anyway. Dean was still behind him, so Cas had no idea how he was reacting until he heard an exasperated exclamation from behind him. "That's what I've been trying to tell you." Dean took a step to stand next to Cas, hand sliding past wrist this time to clasp Cas's. "Husband, mate, whatever. I'm with him. Is this how you treat everyone your brother brings home?"
Cas turned a fond expression to his mate. "I've never brought anyone home before," he said honestly.
Dean smiled and squeezed his hand before leaning in to whisper, "Lucky me," right into Cas's ear.
Michael pushed to the front of the crowd, Luc in tow, and fell to his knees before his brother and glared until Lucifer followed suit. "I dare not ask for your forgiveness," Michael began. Cas leaned forward to assure his older brother that an apology was not necessary, but a squeeze of Dean's hand stopped him. Lucifer watched the interaction with interest but kept his silence as Michael continued. "I hereby give up my right to the throne and swear fealty to Castiel, Angel of Thursday."
Castiel gaped at his brother in shock. Dean grunted, a satisfied noise, "It's the very least you could do, you dick. Apology not accepted."
"Dean," Cas said in disapproval. Dean looked back at him levelly, clearly not sorry for speaking his mind. Cas turned his attention to his kneeling brothers. "Whether you ask for it or not, my forgiveness is freely given. But your fealty is unnecessary."
"Too late, little brother," Lucifer said, speaking for the first time. "I too abdicate, and swear loyalty to Castiel, Angel of Thursday, and to his consort, Dean Winchester."
Dean's smug smirk quickly faded to dismay. "Consort!" he squeaked.
Cas's heart fell at the horror in Dean's voice, but there was no time to discuss the matter. First they had a celebration to attend.
"What's with everyone wanting to throw parties in our honor?" Dean whispered during the feast.
"Clearly we are just that awesome," Cas answered deadpan, earning himself a surprised laugh and a kiss from Dean.
"Yeah, we are," Dean agreed.
After the feast there were musicians and dancing, an impromptu play written in their honor by Gabriel, and an endless parade of servants making excuses to approach Castiel and express their joy at his return. Cas didn't have the heart to refuse their attentions, but eventually the crowd thinned and Cas was able to drag his mate away from public rooms.
He tugged Dean through the palace halls and into his old chambers, and for the first time since their escape they were alone without the threat of violence or recapture hanging over them.
Cas barred the door behind them and turned to find Dean standing near his bed, examining the room with interest. "Not exactly what I was expecting from a royal bridal chamber," he remarked, sweeping one hand over the simple cotton sheets on the bed.
Cas blushed despite himself. "These are my childhood rooms. The bridal chambers are probably being prepared as we speak. We could ask a servant to take us there, if you prefer."
"No," Dean said quickly, sitting on the edge of Cas's bed. "This is fine. I... This is fine," he repeated, eyes lingering on Cas's bookshelf which was lined with family history. Cas felt his wings move restlessly with embarrassment. The motion caught Dean's eyes and he stared at them wistfully.
Remembering that Dean hadn't gotten a chance to touch them earlier, Cas crossed the room to stand in front of Dean and turned his back in offering. Cas heard a sharp inhalation behind him and then felt the tentative touch of a fingertip tracing the top ridge of his left wing. "Beautiful," Dean whispered, so softly that Cas wasn't sure he was supposed to hear.
"Thank you," he answered anyway and Dean laughed behind him.
Dean pushed both hands into Cas's feathers now, stroking and soothing without rhythm or intent. Cas relaxed into the touch, leaning back to get more of Dean's hands on his wings and humming with the sheer pleasure of being touched, being appreciated, in such a manner.
"I'm afraid of flying," Dean admitted to his back and Cas let out a soft noise of distress. "Or I was," Dean corrected, stroking lightly over Cas's pinions, "but having my own wings… I think I'm going to miss it."
Cas thought of Dean's feather, still tucked into the pocket of his jacket, and an ancient spell he'd seen in one of his Father's books, and said, "Nothing that was once a part of you is ever truly lost."
Dean laughed again. "Well, that was cryptic," he said. He leaned forward to wrap his arms under Ca's wings and around his waist, pressing his full body into Cas's wings. "I guess you'll have to take me flying once in a while, just so I don't miss it. I promise not to molest your wings in mid flight."
Cas smiled, letting himself imagine wrapping Dean in his wings and soaring high above the palace and the responsibilities that were about to be heaped on them - on him. He let the fantasy go and stood to face Dean.
Almost at once, Dean's hands moved up to bracket his hips. "I," Cas began, distracted by the sweep of Dean's hands over the jut of his hipbones. He forced himself to back up a step, out of Dean's reach. Dean frowned, but allowed him the space. "I know that the bonding..." he licked his lips, "was a way out for you - for the both of us. And I made those vows freely and of my own will. But I want you to know..."
Dean, sitting quietly on the bed, coiled and tense like a trapped animal, interrupted. "Don't presume to tell me what I want Castiel," he said.
Cas hesitated at the warning edge in Dean's voice but pushed on, determined to give Dean an out if that's what he needed. "I will not hold you to your vows, if you wish to leave."
Dean stood slowly and took the single necessary step to put himself squarely back in Cas's personal space. "Are you saying you want me to leave, Cas?" he whispered, the hurt masked with anger evident in his voice and the hard set of his jaw.
"You must - to find Sam."
Dean grunted, irritation marring his expression. "Princess Sammy's probably busy washing his hair in the Kingdom of Singer. We'll go collect him soon enough. Unless…" Dean closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Are you saying you want me to leave Iyou/I?"
Castiel shook his head; then, realizing that Dean couldn't see it with his eyes closed, said, "I would keep you with me always, given the choice."
Dean's smile was a revelation, bright and beautiful as his soul, as he opened his eyes and brushed his lips softly against Cas's. "Then what are you doing?"
"I love you," Cas said, "I don't want to be something else you have to escape."
Dean kissed him again, all fire and possession, arms wrapping to pull Cas in closer. His soul reached out to begin their joining with nothing but desire and the force of its will to guide it, and Dean said gruffly, "Nothing here to escape."
It sounded a lot like "I love you" to Cas.