New chapter! New fic I know a lot of people wanted to see the part where Sam finds out that Dean changed back. The whole Dean not being human for ages thing, is very much a subplot that carries over, past the point of the end of the last fic.
So don't worry.
The sun is out, lancing through the trees in hotter than skin speckles. They glint off of Sam's brown fur as he runs for his life.
His paws strike the packed, baked dirt over and over, propelling him along through sunspots and leafy darkness, branches and vines whipping against his sides and snapping back into place behind him. Whipping again as they're disturbed by his pursuers.
Sam's heart pounds against his ribs, his muscles ache, and he can barely hear for the thudding of blood in his own body.
He leaps a small rock, skids to a halt, and holds his breath as he listens.
He cocks his ears in every direction. Nothing. He's upwind, scenting nothing but the trees and the dirt and a thousand incidental forest smells.
He gets no warning before the attack, and he's thrown over sideways, snapping and growling, tussling against his foe and struggling back to his feet, leaping deftly away and diving back into the forest.
He's rounding a small, deep pond, when the attack comes from above, a weight landing on his back and pushing him down, before flinging him elegantly into the cool, green water.
He plunges in, submerged entirely by the sudden riot of leafy water. Sam expels bubbles from his mouth, strikes out for the surface, and by the time he reaches it, he's shed his animal form, rising as a man from the sun dappled water.
"That was underhanded." He spits, kicking to keep afloat.
From the bank, Castiel watches, wearing his animal form, a full sized cat-like creature with grey and black speckled fur and pointed ears, crested with black. He looks at him imperiously. A golden haired wolf bolts from the forest, scrabbling to a stop beside him, looking down at Sam, its tongue lolling in a grin.
Sam splashes water, which Castiel avoids with a hiss, creeping over to an outcrop of moss covered rock, tail lashing pointedly. Sam knows what's about to happen, now that he's downwind he can smell the musk on both of them, and he sighs, striking out into a swim and circling the pond a few times underwater. It's so nice to finally have warm water in the forest, now that the thaw has come, and summer soon after. He knows Jess is much happier now that the hungry months are over.
Sure enough, when he surfaces, it's to be greeted by the sight of Castiel, now human, tanned skin still much paler than Sam's own, lying prone on the rock, his body mostly covered by Dean's own as they move together.
Sam watches them from the water, unable to get used to the sight of his brother in his human form. He's not embarrassed by their nakedness, or by the fact that his brother is currently in the throes of mating. The first time Dean had changed back to his human form, the night Sam had brought Jess back to the forest, he had been astonished. Dean had not been human in years, and yet he changed, seamlessly, and curled up with Castiel as if it were a normal occurrence.
Sam had started at him for the longest time, but Dean had kept his shoulders hunched, his body tense, a sure sign that he didn't want to talk about it. So, Sam had kept his piece, and had done what he could to understand the sudden difference in his brother. He'd asked Castiel.
Of course, Sam had heard of the mating bond, their parents hadn't had it, but other skinwalkers had, once they were fully mated. Castiel hadn't been able to explain it incredibly well, but Sam had grasped that Castiel sometimes saw things from Dean's memory, experiencing them as Dean had himself. Sam was instantly jealous of the closeness that the settler shared with his brother, but, he understood that it was something he would never share with Dean, or anyone else, as his mate was human.
Castiel had told him that, while he was with Dean, he had felt...something. It was more a feeling than a memory, but still, it had convinced Castiel that Dean had thought it was best to remain a wolf for the previous five years. He didn't know why. Only that Dean had considered it of the utmost importance.
Which was almost good enough for Sam to respect. If only he knew why his brother had chosen to hide from him in his primitive silence for so long. They were brothers, pack bound, Alpha and Beta. Dean could tell him anything. Yet he had chosen to close in on himself, and bear his secrets.
It worried Sam more than the possible threats that still loomed around their forest home. Castiel and Dean had relayed the events of their capture in detail, and all of them were worried that retribution would come for them, in the form of hunting parties, fire and nooses. Sam was bar far the most concerned, now that Jess had given birth they were in a vulnerable position, having to care for baby Joshua meant that they could no longer live rootlessly.
So far, there had been no assault on them, but they were being careful, keeping clear of settlements and the forests that the men scavenged.
Their home now was a fresh burrow in the depths of the forest, and it was there that Jessica was currently resting, asleep, with the baby at her side. She was safe, Sam could tell that much simply through the mated bond that they shared.
Dean leapt into the water, startling him from his grim consideration of their future. Strong hands wrapped around his ankles, and Sam was dragged under the water, kicking and grappling with his brother.
Castiel felt boneless as he basked in the sun. The moss on the rock underneath him was velvet soft, and the light that turned it emerald green was almost hypnotic. Perhaps it was just another thing to come from his conversion to Dean's race, this attachment to glimmers of light, as if they were bright birds to hunt.
He stretched, satisfied and warm, happy to watch the two brothers as they fought and splashed in the leaf strewn water. He had never been overly fond of swimming himself, and now he felt a strong aversion to any play involving deep, cool water. Instead, he closes his eyes and allows a small sight to escape him. In the months it has taken for winter to lose its grasp on the land, he has himself, thawed. The sharp needles of guilt that jabbed him every time he had lain with Dean had lessened in number. Now they were almost gone. Guilt was for times of sorrow, of pain and loss. Castiel had released his pain from his incarceration, and now he was...blissful. Happy to an extent that he had never imagined could be possible. The glimmering forest, his nakedness, and Dean's ardent attention...it smacks of Eden, and he has grown to love it, and every facet of their life.
Well, all but one.
He has grown to love Sam as a brother, and Jessica as a sister. A fellow settler who has found herself in a place he recently occupied – a stranger in a supernatural world. Yet...he envies them. He would die for Joshua, the small boy that looks so much like Jessica herself, that no trace of her husband seems visible. He envies them their child, and the way that their frequent mating seems almost guaranteed to produce another, soon.
Worse, he knows that Dean envies them too.
He has said nothing, and it is not in Dean's nature to ever voice the ideas that form within his mind, navigating the dark, confusing landscape of it and venturing where Castiel cannot go. But he knows all the same. He sees it in the brief glimpses he gains of Dean's memories – of his parents, and his own childhood, shifting in and out of pup form, learning to hunt and run and fight with his father.
He sees it in the way that Dean looks at Sam, with a kind of black mistrust, momentary, but powerful. There is animal inside Dean still, whatever form he wears, and a much stronger one than either Sam or Castiel possess. An animal that knows its position as Alpha is tenuous – with a mate who cannot produce a family, and a brother with a fast growing advantage.
Of course, Sam would never dream of taking Dean's place, and Dean knows this. But, the fact that Sam would decide not to defeat Dean, is not the same as Dean retaining supremacy. The knowledge had Castiel tense and worried.
And there is nothing he can do.
Sam had asked him, shortly after his return, if he was happy.
They had been sitting by the fire, outside in the woods, waiting for Dean to return from that nights hunt.
"Are you happy, Castiel?"
Castiel had frowned. "Yes."
Sam hadn't seemed relieved by his answer, if anything he had appeared more perturbed. "How do you know?"
"I feel it." Castiel had pressed a fist against his breast bone. Words, and all their peculiarities were almost incapable of defining how he felt, the depth of the feeling that filled him.
"Did you feel it, before Dean changed you?" Sam had asked.
Castiel had stirred the embers with a stick.
"I would never believe that he forced you to feel these things...Dean...I don't think he himself understands the depth of a bond between two mated skinwalkers. Our parents were not an example of the union, and we have never met another like ourselves." Sam frowned into the fire. "but, if he forced you, into...if he held you, by force, and mated you...and changed you, without your consent..."
"I wasn't in the position to consent." Castiel had informed him, then, spurred by Sam's aghast expression. "I was about to be spirited away to a stranger's home...Dean protected me. He gave me everything he could."
"And he may have given you his feelings." Sam had exclaimed, "Accidentally, fed you with them, as he strengthened your body...these things you feel, might not be natural."
Castiel had looked at him, and wondered whether there was truth in Sam's words. Whether these things he felt for Dean were really his to feel, or just reflections. Dean hadn't questioned it, had seen Castiel's acquiescence to be inevitable, but...Castiel got the feeling there was more to it than that. He had seen himself through Dean's eyes, practically gilded with affection.
Whatever Dean saw through him, pleased him greatly.
"All my life, I have been told what to feel." Castiel reminds Sam. "Told what is natural, and unnatural, how certain feelings are sinful...now, there is only this. What I feel. And it is me, a part of me. I know you worry, that you didn't want to leave us alone. You were afraid. But, I've never been entrusted with my own safe keeping before...and, I don't think I was mistaken, when I gave myself to him. Before, he changed me."
Sam had looked into the fire, a frown of thought etched on his face.
"I would die for him." Castiel had said. "And I would kill for him. For all of you...I have done."
"And yet you do not feel guilt, as any other man would."
"I feel it." Castiel had assured him. "As I feel it over the love I have for him...I merely resist it. I do not let it control me." He had looked deeply into the darkened forest. "I have been through much, and travelled further than I'd care to...and I have earned the right to be my own master."
"Then why submit to him?"
"I think submitting to be loved...it's a privilege." Castiel had mused. "Maybe I've earned that too."
Sam had left it at that, apparently satisfied. Castiel was not fooled. Sam still thought him a slave to Dean's projected emotions, a captive, a victim of Dean's possessiveness. Perhaps, one day, Castiel would be able to convince him of his autonomy.
Until then, unease often circled them as they in turn circled the fire. Waiting for one of them to venture into the dark.