Dean closed the door to his latest hotel room and surveyed it dully. Cowboy themed this time. He probably would have even been excited about it if… Well, he didn't get excited about much of anything the past few weeks.

Dean pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked for missed calls. Three from his father, one from Bobby. Dean's thumb hesitated over John's name. He hadn't spoken to him since he'd left to meet Bobby in the impala. He pushed the call back button and listened to it ring.

"Dean?" John answered on the first ring, and Dean wondered where he was and what he was doing to pick up so quickly. He didn't ask.

"Yeah, Dad. I just wanted to check in." Truthfully, Dean didn't know why he'd called. Maybe he was getting lonely. He snorted at himself. Or maybe he was getting soft in the head.

"That's good, son. It's good to hear from you."

Dean closed his eyes and stretched out in the chair. "You too."

There was an awkward silence and then John cleared his throat. "Dean, listen, after you left someone came asking for you."

"Yeah?" Dean really didn't care. He wasn't even sure he remembered where they had been then, other than close enough for Bobby to meet after only a few hours.

"It was an angel, I think. Funny little guy with a trench coat and an intense stare." Dean sat up with a start, heart pounding wildly in his chest. "Called himself Castiel," John said. "Your Cas?" he guessed

Dean couldn't answer, too many questions roiling around in his head and trying to force themselves out his mouth. Castiel. Cas - his Cas - had come looking for him, answered his calls after all. What did that even mean?

"Dean? Are you still there?" John asked, sounding wary and concerned.

Dean had to take a couple of deep breaths before he could answer. "Yeah," he said, voice breaking a little over the word.

"You okay?" John, who never noticed a damn thing about his sons unless it was inconvenient for Dean, heard the waver in his voice.

Dean swallowed hard. "Yeah," he repeated, steadier this time. "What'd the angel want?" Dean couldn't say Cas's name, not to his father, terrified John would hear everything in the way those three letters fell from his lips.

"You," John said, and Dean's heart stepped up to triple time. "He was looking for you, but I didn't know if you wanted to be found. I didn't tell him a damn thing." John paused, but continued when Dean, too afraid of what he might say if he started, didn't answer him. "The thing is, he keeps coming back."

Dean stood up then, too restless to stay still. "What's he asking for?"

"Forgiveness, he says. Says he 'made a grave error' and he wants to fix it. I think he's hoping you'll come back to me." John laughed, but there was no humor it. "I told him there was no chance. You're a stubborn son of a bitch just like your father."

"That's what Sammy always said," Dean agreed, "And he is the brains of this operation."

John laughed again, just a short bark of laughter, but genuine this time. "So he thinks anyway. We all know who really keeps this family together." John went quiet for a moment then turned serious. "Thanks for that, by the way."

Dean's throat constricted. "Dad…" he began.

"Anyway," John said, interrupting what no doubt would have been an embarrassing outpouring of… something, "he told me to tell you to pray. And I'm pretty sure he meant that literally."

He probably did too. "Dad," Dean started again, but he didn't know how to say what he wanted so he settled for, "I gotta go. Case."

"Okay, son." John sounded resigned. "I hope you find what you're looking for."

Dean heard everything that John wasn't saying. "You too," he said before ending the call. Dean's pacing took him to the door and then past it. He had to get away for a little bit, get some fresh air, clear his head of trench coat wearing angels before he got back to the problem of finding his brother. With a fond pat of her hood, Dean bypassed the Impala in favor of walking.

The town he'd stopped in was even smaller than usual, not so much as an all night grocery store or gas station was open. There was a bar he remembered passing on the way into town but Dean turned north, away from the lights and potential company the bar offered.

Dean tried to focus as he walked. He had to find Sam, that's all he could afford to think about right now. Not about long tan trench coats and eyes that bore into him like he was the only thing in existence worth looking at.

Dean stopped when he found himself standing in front of a small white church. Subconsciously he must have headed toward the only source of light in the town other than the bar. Sam would probably have a field day with the symbolism of that, and Dean smiled at the thought.

Dean walked into the church - empty, but he'd suspected as much. In a town like this with no crime to speak of they probably didn't leave it open for active confession or whatever it was that people got up to in big city churches at night, but for lost souls in need of some quiet. Lost souls like him. Dean hadn't properly been to church for way too many years, long before Pastor Jim had passed.

It was quiet. More than quiet, it was peaceful with an air of calm and comfort that reminded Dean of..

"Cas," he whispered into the church. But of course there was no statue or tapestry of a trench coat wearing angel of the Lord anywhere in the chapel.

It was only Wednesday anyway. And Cas had already made it clear how he felt about Dean. Maybe? His conversation with his father had confused everything all over again, and Dean found himself wondering if Bobby had been receiving unexpected visits as well.

Dean pulled his hand away from his arm, where he'd been unconsciously stroking over his mark. He scanned the walls idly, reading the verses hand stitched onto the wall tapestries.

"…The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16) caught his eye. But Dean couldn't pray to the angel who had made him feel whole and safe and so, so loved and then tossed him out without so much as a goodbye or a 'kiss my ass'. Even in light of new revelations, Dean didn't think he was ready for that.

But maybe... "Gabriel," Dean said, voice cracking on the word. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Gabriel. This is Dean, uh, Winchester. Sam's brother. I don't know much about you beyond what the Gideons slipped into my hotel rooms over the years, but Ca... But your brother seems to think you're an okay guy."

Dean paused and gathered his thoughts. He felt a little stupid talking to himself in an empty church, but... "If you're there, if you're listening, you better be taking good care of my baby brother. He hates to admit it, but he needs a lot of looking after, especially if even half of Dad's theories are true. And maybe..."

Dean shook his head at his own hesitation. either Gabriel was listening and this was Dean's best shot at finding his brother or Dean was talking to himself with no one to hear him being foolish. Dean pushed on ahead. "And maybe I could visit him sometime? Just see him with my own two eyes and make sure he's not getting any uglier."

Dean waited, expectant despite himself. "Please," he added for good measure, and then, "Amen."

And Dean's ass hit a hard surface as the pew beneath him seemed to disappear. "Oof" he said inelegantly.

"No time like the present, right?" A short, brown haired man Dean would never forget as long as he lived was saying, looming over where Dean had fallen.

"What?" Dean said.

Dean thought he heard Gabriel answer, "For your visit - no time like the present." But his words were mostly lost in the welcome roar of his name.

"Dean!" Sam shouted, folding him into a bear hug so tight that Dean suspected his ribs were in danger of cracking . But no way was he complaining, he gave back as good as he got, squeezing Sam to him impossibly tighter.

"Sammy," Dean said, too happy to have his Sammy back in his arms to be embarrassed by the watery wobble in his voice.

Sam said, "So, you finally got your head out of your ass and realized prayer is the best way to find an angel." He released his brother, but put one hand on Dean's shoulder, eyes roving over him in happy disbelief. "Especially one that's already looking for you."

Gabriel, who had been quiet while the brothers reunited stepped in closer, sliding one arm around Sam's waist. Sam allowed it, to Dean's surprise, but then something in Sam's expression brought forth a memory. The last time Dean had seen him so happy, Dean had been watching him from across the street as he left class with one arm around Jess.

Sam was still prattling on. "I knew you'd call Dad or Bobby sooner or later. What took you so long? Cas has been waiting for a long time. You're not still angry with him are you? Because he loves you. A lot. It's a little disturbing actually. But the thing is that he only did what's what he thought..." Dean was overwhelmed by his brother's painfully earnest babbling and something in his face must have shown it because Sam trailed off. "Dean?"

"I didn't," Dean said. "I didn't pray to Cas. How do you even know him?"

"But?" Sam said, confused and automatically looking to Gabriel for explanation.

"Castiel left this morning to follow a lead on our wayward Winchester. I'm the one who brought Dean here." Gabriel shifted his attention to Dean. "I'm thrilled and beyond flattered that you chose to pray to me, instead of my lovesick little brother, but I have to ask - why me instead of my lovesick little brother?"

Sam looked from the archangel to Dean. "You prayed to Gabriel?"

Dean nodded, trying to play it off with a shrug. "Cas said he lived on Earth and didn't like his brothers much. Sounded like my kind of guy."

Gabriel smiled. "And you thought your brother wouldn't like me," he teased.

Sam rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I was the one obsessing over the in laws," he said, clearly meaning the exact opposite.

Dean took the bait, giving his brother a chance to share his news. "Something you want to tell me Sam?"

Sam turned to his brother, still smiling but nerves replacing the humor in his expression. "Yeah, Dean, there is. Gabriel and I..." He shifted nervously and Gabriel's hand crept up to press over Sam's heart. Sam seemed to gather strength from the gesture. He took a deep breath and tried again. "Gabriel is my mate."

Dean's mind completely blanked out for a moment. Even though he'd already known this, hearing the news from Sam's own lips shocked something in him. A flood of emotion - jealousy, fear, joy - overwhelmed him, and he instinctively pressed against that cold, empty place in his chest that used to be Cas. But then he looked up at Sam's stupidly hopeful face and the possessive, protective hand Gabriel had pressed over Sam's heart and he knew there was only one way he could respond.

"Way to go, Sammy." Sam beamed at him, and enveloped him in another hug. Dean knew he'd said the right thing, even as he reminded himself to give Gabriel a talking to later.

Gabriel nodded and smirked Dean's direction - an acknowledgement and thank you in one and disappeared from the room, giving the brother's some privacy.

"Thank you, Dean." Sam said in his ear, still squeezing him. "I wanted to wait for you, so you could be here for the mating. But Gabriel and Cas thought it would be safer for us all if I was cleansed as soon as possible."

"The cleansing, right," Dean echoed, remembering the other options. He pushed Sam off. "And hey, if you get your rocks off on wings and superpowers who am I to judge?"

Sam laughed. "That'd be pretty hypocritical of you, considering."

Dean pretended he didn't understand. "You critiquing my romantic conquests, Sammy?"

"Well, there have been some winners in the past, " Sam muttered. "And I admit I wouldn't have pegged Castiel as your type. He's a little quiet, a little nerdy, but he obviously loves you."

"He's got a funny way of showing it," Dean growled, breaking his self imposed promise of not talking about it.

Sam sighed. "Dean, he did exactly what you would do in his situation. He tried to sacrifice himself to keep someone he loved - loves - safe and happy."

"Loving and leaving me was supposed to make me happy?" Dean asked, wincing when he realized what he'd just said.

Sam smirked, but refrained from laughing in his big brother's stupid romantic face. "No, he put you somewhere safe and then came to get me. Only by the time Balthazar told him where we were and he figured out I was in no danger, you were missing."

Dean tipped his head, confused. "Come again?"

"Come on," Sam said gesturing deeper in this house. "Let's grab some beers. I'll fill you in."

Gabriel poked his head into the room hours later with a quick, "Castiel's on his way."

Sam nodded his head. "Dean..." he started.

Dean waved him off. "I hear you Sammy."

"Just," Sam sighed, "just remember what I said. He was trying to do right by you - by us both - and he hasn't stopped looking for you since he arrived."

Dean nodded. "I believe you Sam. I just don't know if it'll be enough. I won't until I can feel him again."

Sam smirked. "So you're going to feel him up to see if he's sincere."

"I meant through the bond, smartass. I don't have to touch him for that," Dean muttered. Sam didn't answer, and when Dean looked up his little brother was staring at him. "What?"

"Until we mated, Gabriel and I had to be touching to get anything from each other," Sam explained. He smiled slyly. "That must be some profound bond you two have."

"Sammy," Dean whined, embarrassed.

Sam smirked and said, "Some might even say it's a match made in Heaven."

Dean groaned. "Get out of here, bitch."

"Jerk," Sam answered automatically before turning serious again. "Give him a chance. Whatever happens, this is your home now." Sam stood up and paused at the door. "But you know..."

"It's his too," Dean finished, unprompted.

He nodded. "We'll make it work," Sam promised. Then he smiled, "but it'd be easier if you'd pull your head out of your ass and skipped right to the makeup sex."

Dean threw the first thing that came to hand at him, which turned out to be a bowl of M&Ms.

Sam ducked out the door and the bowl missed, but it made a satisfying crash against the wall as colored candy flew every direction.

"You're cleaning that up," Sam shouted from the hall.

Dean ignored him, clearing the possible landing site by standing in a shadowed corner. And if that gave him a slight tactical advantage of a split second before Cas became aware of him, so be it.

Cas appeared almost directly in the center of the room with a painfully familiar whooshing sound. He was facing away from him, but it amazed Dean how much he could read in the tired slump of Cas's shoulders even before the bond kicked back in from proximity.

The full force of Cas's feelings slammed into him, raw and almost too intense without Cas deliberately filtering them for Dean's sake. Pain - agony - regret, loneliness, and such despair that Dean was halfway across the room to ease it away before he realized he was moving.

He could see the second Cas got hit with his feelings in return - although even he wasn't sure what they were, already confused and unsettled even before they got buried in the onslaught of Cas's pain.

Cas spun around so quickly his trench coat billowed around him as he moved. Dean, who had seconds ago been intent on reaching Cas, paused inches from his goal.

"Hey, Cas," he said quietly, self consciously smiling at the angel.

"Hello, Dean," Cas answered back immediately as if no time at all had passed since the last time he'd said those exact same two words. Fear and longing smacked into Dean so hard that he literally rocked back on his heels with it.

Fuck it he decided and went with his first instinct, pulling Cas against his chest and holding him so tight that no force on Earth or Heaven had a chance of removing Cas from him again.

Cas made a soft, broken noise and Dean could feel Cas's surprise at himself for making it. Then Cas's arms came up to circle Dean's waist and he buried his face in Dean's neck.

They stood there for an unknown eternity while Dean carefully touched each every part of Castiel he could reach without releasing him and soothed each hurt and sorry emotion Cas sent him with as much forgiveness and understanding as he could muster through his still raw feelings of betrayal.

Eventually, Cas lifted his face away just enough to say, "I'm sorry. I did what I thought was best, but I was wrong to make that decision for you."

Dean snorted. "Yeah, don't think I'm not gonna have some words about that later." Cas's face fell but he nodded. Dean rolled his eyes. "I forgive you, okay? You were stupid, and you were wrong, but you're never ever going to do it again."

Cas nodded again. "I do not believe I could survive being separated from you a second time." And the thing of it was? Cas meant it. Dean could see it in his face, feel it in the hollowness he was only just starting to fill with his presence. "I made you a promise the last time we were together."

The mating bond. Dean nodded. "I remember."

"If you'll still have me. I would be honored to be your mate." Cas was radiating worry and hope and love, and Dean couldn't figure out why Cas could possibly doubt him. He wasn't the one who'd left.

He pulled back to cup Cas's face in his hands. "Listen up, Cas, cause this might be the only time you hear it," Dean said, "Out loud," he added, thinking of how little he could or wanted to hide via the bond. "I love you Castiel, and I'm gonna bond your feathery ass to me for life, so you can never ever run away from me again. Okay?"

Cas smiled his ridiculous half smile. "I'm looking forward to it." Love, pure and unconditional, radiated from Cas. Dean took a deep breath and concentrated on pushing the same thing back to him.

Cas gasped and pulled Dean in with a strong hand on the small of his back for a warm welcoming kiss. Dean opened to him without hesitation, drinking him in like he'd been lost in the desert and Cas was water. Which, yeah, that's exactly what if felt like.

Dean was just beginning to think that the couch was about to be christened in a way guaranteed to make Sam bitchface at him when they were interrupted.

"Please understand that I'm very happy for you when I say this," Sam said, standing in the doorway with one arm draped across Gabriel's shoulders, "but, ewww, please stop."

Cas laughed, loud and joyful, the sound making Dean laugh as well, unable to contain his happiness. "Forgive me," he said, not sounding sorry at all. And, Dean noted, not releasing Dean from his arms. Not that Dean was complaining. "I forgot where I was."

"I am pretty distracting," Dean offered.

"Yes, yes," Gabriel said, "Look how happy and in love you are. It's adorable, really, but I'd like to get on with the public portion of the mating ceremony so I can take Sammy back to bed and ravage him."

Dean shuddered and wrinkled his nose. "Too much information, Gabe."

"Says the man who's attempting to dry hump my brother in my living room."

Dean widened his eyes and put on his best impression of innocence. "I was gonna use lube."

Sam's bitchface was epic. "Dean," he whined, making both Dean and Gabriel laugh.

"Dean," Cas said quietly. Dean turned back to him, curious as to why Cas had turned suddenly serious on him. "It's time."

"Time?" Dean knew exactly what Cas was saying but sue him if he wanted to hear the words from the angels own lips, especially after the little abandonment act he'd had to live through.

"To…" Cas's forehead scrunched up in thought, making Dean want to run a soothing had over the wrinkles there. "…'bond my feathery ass to you for life.' And longer," Cas added.

Part of Dean thought maybe that should have sent him screaming for the hills, but he couldn't find it in himself to dread an eternity with Cas. In fact, he looked over at Sam and then the angel Dean didn't know very well but who'd taken in and protected the two people he loved most in the world and then back at Cas and he smiled. "Sounds perfect."

Thank you all for reading and commenting. You're support has meant the world to me. Happy holidays to you and yours.