AN: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for taking the time to read and finish my story! I truly appreciate it! Thank you so much! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Present day (10:48 P.M.)
It had been a long day, and despite the fatigue and the aches on his body caused by nearly getting beaten into a pulp, Dean strolled out of the warm motel room and into the chilly night. Sam, meanwhile, stayed inside to watch TV and munch on the Vietnamese takeout, which tasted a bit weird but it was the only place that was still open and served a relatively warm meal.
Of course, Dean did not wander far as he simply settled for leaning on the wooden railings a few feet from the door. The railings were supposed to add a sort of rustic design to the shoddy motel, but all they ever achieved was to make the building look as if it was trying too hard.
For a second, Dean considered heading back inside to fetch himself a beer, but decided that the nippy air would have to fill up his system for now. It was unusually cold tonight; his fingertips were already beginning to feel numb. Still, he welcomed the sensation and let the coldness filter through his lungs, as if he was inhaling a particularly large mint candy and allowing the coolness to cleanse him somewhat.
"You shouldn't be out in this weather."
Dean was not even startled in the slightest at the unexpected arrival. "And you should really cut back on the surprise entrances." he said to Castiel. He turned around and, sure enough, the angel was there, half-concealed by the shadows. "So, any reason why you just decided to poof in?"
Castiel peeled himself from the spot he had materialized and took a couple of steps toward Dean. "I thought I'd check on you both." he said.
At that, Dean could not help but snort and return his gaze to the parking lot in front of him. "Well, aside from getting our asses handed to us on a bright, shiny platter last week – courtesy of a pack of werewolves – we're peachy." he replied.
"I was busy during that time." said Castiel.
"Yeah, I get it."
Aside from a strong breeze that whistled by, there was a moment of absolute quiet.
"Do you or Sam require healing?" inquired Castiel after a while.
Dean thought about it for a second. "Nah, we're good. Just the usual cuts and bruises, and occasional flesh wound." As he shifted his position, his hand accidentally brushed against a jagged part of the wooden railing and caused a bit of skin to tear. A moment later, a trickle of blood was dripping its way down his wrist.
"And now this." he sighed with the air of someone who believed things could not possibly get worse and was frustrated that life continued to prove him wrong.
Castiel moved closer until he was right beside Dean. "Give me your hand." he said.
"Cas, it's not that serious. It's a scrape!" Dean protested.
"Please give me your hand." he insisted, and his generally impassive voice took on an edge that was both worried and stubborn.
"If you're gonna use your mojo to make up for not – " said Dean.
"I'm not going to use my… mojo." said Castiel.
To describe Dean as perplexed would be a huge understatement. Castiel exercised his angel powers whenever he could, and the only times he would refrain from doing so was when Dean explicitly told him not to, and even then Castiel did not always completely follow through. Regardless, there was something peculiar in the way he had uttered those words; there was a tone that implied that while he was not going to use his powers, he was going to do something anyway.
A small cardboard box was carefully taken from one of the trench-coat's inner pockets and Dean had to wonder how it managed to stay intact given how fragile it appeared. Then, his curiosity quickly focused on what Castiel might have inside it. As an angel, it was hardly necessary for Castiel to be toting around random junk, much less a flimsy box that seemed unlikely to store some mystical relic or anything impressive.
Whatever Dean had been expecting, it was certainly not a pile of colorful band-aids that looked as if they came from a clinic that served preschoolers. While he tried to process the fact that Castiel carried band-aids around, the angel managed to lean in closer and successfully placed a band-aid on Dean's hand.
"A band-aid? Really?" asked Dean incredulously as he held his hand up to better examine it. "And does it have to be a pink one?" he added, slightly annoyed.
"Yes." Castiel answered seriously.
Dean briefly wondered if Castiel was being his usual somber self or if he was starting to develop a sense of humor that bordered along sarcasm. He figured it was the former. Probably.
"What's with the band-aid thing anyway?" he asked.
"I have a whole box of them, which I don't really use." said Castiel.
Dean stared at the pink band-aid on his hand one last time before tucking it into the pocket of his jeans. "And you have a box of band-aids, why?" he questioned.
"A little boy gave this to me as a gift." replied Castiel. He put the box back into the folds of his trench coat and casually placed his arms on the wooden railing, imitating, to some extent, Dean's posture a minute ago. "As I recall, he claimed I was a wuss." he said.
A laugh escaped Dean's mouth at the statement. "Kid ain't wrong there." he commented.
Strangely, instead of being nonchalant about it or even a little offended, Castiel smirked. "I believe he meant well, nevertheless. It was his form of lending me his help wherever I may go." he said.
"Cas, you know better than to take things from strangers." said Dean lightly.
"That was no stranger." he said quietly.
For some reason, a flash of concern lit up in the back of Dean's mind. "What, in your off-time you secretly play babysitter?" he joked.
"I was actually the one being taken care of." replied Castiel. He still had his eyes on the parking lot, but it was clear that he was seeing something else, like a distant memory was playing out before him.
Dean did not realize how alarmed he had become until he felt his spine go straightly rigid. "Were you hurt or something?" he asked, rather frantic.
He did not answer immediately. "You could say I was stranded." said Castiel as he resumed gazing at the parking lot.
"Let me get this straight, you somehow got stranded and didn't bother giving us a call?" accused Dean. He was beginning to get angry. Did they not establish this already? Did he not make it clear to him to bother in picking up the phone once in a while, especially during life-threatening situations? He was about to launch a full-on rant when Castiel spoke up.
"It was not necessary." he calmly stated.
Dean wanted to argue, to brush off Castiel's words just to remind again the purpose and value of a cell phone. He wanted to say that, no matter how many times he complained, Dean would welcome him and try to help out as best as he could. However, the manner in which Castiel held himself told Dean to drop the matter because, one, he was standing in one piece next to him and, two, he was a freaking angel of the Lord and he can take care of himself without being fussed over by a human.
So for a while, they stood in silence, and soon Dean returned to staring at the parking lot as well. The desolate sight in front of him was no different than the others he had seen all his life, with the exception of a fountain that stood broken and unused for decades near the entrance.
There was something about that fountain that tugged at a spot in the recesses of his mind, and his gaze lingered on it for a good minute or two. He could not shake off that nudging feeling, until finally the gears clicked into place and he remembered that he had been to this particular motel several years ago. He could not believe that the fountain was still here after all this time, damaged but standing.
"You have something on your mind," said Castiel, as simply as if he was stating that the grass was green.
Dean contemplated on lying, or at least changing the subject, although he supposed it would be pointless. "Yeah, I was just thinking about…" He paused, trying to organize his words to make them sound less sappy. "See that fountain over there?" he asked as he gestured at the thing beyond them.
Castiel's piercing blue gaze shifted ever so slightly and nodded in affirmation.
"Someone almost drowned in that thing. Which was kinda technically my fault." chuckled Dean, albeit there was barely a shred of humor there.
A part of him questioned why he was doing this in the first place, and another part of him questioned why he was not stopping his little tale. Given the situation they had been pushed into – with the angels and demons constantly on their trail, and the fate of the world possibly resting in their hands yet again – a story from Dean's childhood was not exactly relevant.
"When Sam and I were kids, dad dropped us off here and left us alone for a few days. It was supposed to be the same crap routine." said Dean, jerking his head at the ramshackle building behind them. "Then I – we, uh, met a kid. And for a while, things weren't so crappy." he said as his voice became quieter. Dean sighed and forced a smirk to curl his lips. "I don't even know why I'm telling you all this."
An unreadable expression settled itself on Castiel's face. It was not his usual stoicism, but it was more along the lines of him hiding something. There was a difference between a blank sheet of paper and a paper that was folded precisely to obscure any writing that was written. It was weird how Dean could read him; years of fighting and working together had paid off tremendously.
"This 'kid' is of significance to you?" Castiel asked.
He mulled that word over and over in his mind. "Not sure 'significant' is the right word." Dean eventually replied. Absentmindedly, he fiddled with the band-aid that was stuck on his hand. "He just… disappeared one day. Never heard from him again."
There was a pensive hush after that, wherein both Castiel and Dean were deeply immersed in their own thoughts. The wind picked up once more and blew a flurry of dead leaves across the parking lot, and the sight was reminiscent of an empty ballet.
Castiel straightened his bearings and turned toward Dean. "I'm sure he would've wanted to say goodbye, and to thank you for your kindness and companionship." he said.
There was a peculiarity in his eyes, and the manner in which the sentence flowed out of his mouth suggested obligation, regret, and perhaps even longing. If it had been someone else listening to him, they would have picked up on nothing save for a deadpan tone. Nonetheless, Dean had no idea why the words were having a profound effect on him, almost like he had been waiting for them for a long time.
"And I'm sure he's forgiven you for cutting his hand." Castiel added.
Without really thinking, Dean nodded. His brow furrowed a moment later when he realized that he had said nothing about cutting anyone's hand. "Wait, how did you – ?"
His words trailed off as his brain struggled to put the pieces together: the muddled fragments of his childhood that took place in the very motel he was standing in, the strange child that had wandered into his and Sam's equally strange lives, the brief friendship that might as well have stood on a bunch of twigs but shimmered as bright and hopeful as a star, the boy's quirks and confusion and instances of sounding too old for his age, Castiel's words…
Dean's eyes suddenly widened and he almost stumbled over his own feet. "CONNER?" he exclaimed.
Castiel smiled and his eyes softened. "Hello, Dean." he said, and for a moment he was speaking as Conner, Dean's childhood friend who had grown up and finally reunited with him. They could pretend the wars never happened; they could pretend they were young again. "Although, I think, we're both aware of my actual name." he added.
In the silence, a conversation between two children echoed soundlessly through the hallway; though the children were long gone and in their place were now battered warriors, the message was carried out as evidently as a comrade's embrace, brimming with sincerity and just enough innocence.
'Hello, Dean. My name is Castiel.'
'Castiel. It's good to finally meet you.'
Within that fraction of a second, it was like they were back on the rooftop, and the ghost of the words that never had the chance to be uttered were finally released. The restless spirits were at last given their peace and they could move on into the night, into the battle, into the world.
Then, as swiftly as it was formed, the moment vanished when Dean's aversion to chick-flick scenarios resurfaced. "You unbelievable son of a – !"
He meant to let loose a barrage of curses and retorts because – seriously? – Castiel only revealed this information now? Just now? All these years and just now? Dean wanted to scream, to punch Castiel but he knew neither of those would do it (especially the latter). He was still processing all of this, and he was mentally kicking himself for not having had seen the similarities between Castiel and Conner earlier.
With his head about to explode, Dean sought out the remaining bit of sense in this predicament.
"Sam!" he yelled, thundering into the motel room.
Dean caught a glance of Castiel smirking at him in amusement before he went through the threshold. There were still a million questions that needed to be answered, a thousand rants yet to be voiced out, but for now, Dean had his friend back.
He had him back all along.
'Present day' can be, well, whenever you guys want it to be. Since this story is not dependent or too attached to the current season, this chapter can take place at virtually any time (S4-onwards, anyway).
For those who are curious, the chapter titles are all lines taken from the following songs: 1 – Drops of Jupiter by Train; 2 – Over the Hills and Far Away by Led Zeppelin; 3 – I am the Highway by Audioslave; 4 – Entertaining Angels by Newsboys; 5 – Little Wing; 6 – Carry On My Wayward Son by Kansas; 7 – In the Shadows by The Rasmus; 8 – Drops of Jupiter by Train; 9 – Of Dust and Nations by Thrice; 10 – Anthem of Our Dying Day by Story of the Year; 11 – Angels on the Moon by Thriving Ivory; 12 – Music Box by Thrice; 13 – Whispers in the Dark by Skillet; 14 – Unbroken by Joe Bonamassa; 15 - Love Song by Sara Bareilles; 16 – Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
And now, I take my humble, metaphorical bow as this concludes Star Catcher!