Not gonna lie, this is a pretty stressful time. I'm 10,000 words from reaching the end of my novel, and I've been writing like the blazes when I haven't been working. I graduate next week and this update has kind of been gathering words at a slow pace. Still, here it is. I hope it does the story justice.

The remaking of the bond is a relief so intense that it is almost indescribable. Castiel feels as if a knife has been drawn from him, and the life that has been steadily bleeding from him since he left Dean's side has returned full force, filling him with strength and will.

But the bond is not as it was before, it is remade equal...or perhaps, not. For it was always equal, after a fashion, but now it is for certain – Dean is no longer an Alpha, Castiel is no longer his Omega. They have balanced, now that Dean has given away his position of power, and Castiel has seized some for himself by leaving him for the sake of his own breaking heart.

The bond is there again, new and different, but still the pain of Dean's betrayal of his poisonous indifference, hangs over them, a pall of grey sleety air.

But, for a few precious, hard earned seconds, with Dean lying on the moss speckled ground, his head on Castiel's thigh, and Castiel, cradling his son, looking down at the face of his lover, his mate, Dean's face still drawn with worry and fear, but smoothed out a little in peace and rest...for a moment they are complete together – not struggling, not hacking a path in a lonely, dark and tricksome forest, forging a path where none was before. For a moment they are themselves, and troublesome things like the past, and the future, do not exist.

Then, in a breath, it returns.

"It feels different," Castiel says quietly.

Dean shifts, looks up at him, his eyes open and unguarded, his face smudged and stained with dirt, his hair long and shaggy over his eyes. "I'm not an Alpha anymore."

Castiel blinks at him, one arm tightening around the bundle that is Abel. "what happened? Did they...were you beaten?"

Dean sighs and shakes his head. "I gave it up. I gave it to Sam."

Castiel watches him warily. "You were so adamant that you would remain our leader...why did you-"

"You." Dean says simply. "You, are more important than a duty I never wanted."

"But your father wanted you to be Alpha."

Dean's gaze darkens and moves to the trees around them. "My father didn't want anything of me and Sam, save our survival. He wanted our mother's killer to be torn down, and he gave his life for that. He gave my life, for that."

It's the most eloquently that Dean has ever spoken, in broken phrases filled with bitter, winter's truth and his own past wretchedness.

"You're the only thing that I have ever wanted, for myself," Dean tells him, "and...I do, want you. Me. the part of me that's human. But the wolf..." he sighs, "the wolf needs survival, survival of my Alphas seat, survival of my line, of our pack. I wish I didn't have to feel that need, but I do."

"I know it's not enough," Castiel says quietly, "'s not enough to make up for not having your own blood children."

"For this part of me, it is," Dean says softly, looking down at his human hands. He hated being human, hated the feelings and memories and vulnerability that came with it, but...his human side was content, happy with Castiel. While the wolf was tugging away, valuing its mate but still looking for a female to produce offspring. Looking for the pack's last hope at continuance.

Dean makes his decision right then. It's not born out of despair and hatred, as his last one was. The decision he'd made when his father had been executed. This is a decision born out of a need to hold onto everything that he holds dear. To the first warm thing to come to him out of the cold.

"Castiel...I will stay, like this." Dean says, "I will not change, I will forget I even can. Like before. Only...I will be a man, not a wolf."

Castiel's eyes widen in shock. "But, always seemed to favour the wolf, prefer that side of you – I can't ask you to deny it."

"You didn't." Dean points out, "And, it's already served me – it found me you, and it let me protect you, and change you, so that you could be strong against it is only keeping us apart, making me look elsewhere when all I want is to look to you."

Castiel moves forwards, and Dean wraps his arms around him, feeling the baby stir between them, before settling back to sleep.

"I have to see Sam again," Dean murmurs, "I need him to be my family, even if we will not be pack brothers anymore."

Castiel looks up at him, face pale and fearful. "What about the war?"

Dean breathes deeply, feeling so much older than his years. He's seen so much death, and so much pointless conflict. He will protect what's his – Castiel, their son, his family. But he does not think he has it in him to fight some other man's fight – a fight for the people who abandoned his mother, against those who had taken her and his father from him.

"We'll keep out of the war, as much as we to deeper woods and hide there." Dean does not relish the prospect of surviving without his wolf form to help him, living as a weak and vulnerable human in the pit of winter's howling belly. But, he knows that he is more than many other men, he is stronger, he knows the forest...he will be able to survive where they would fail.

"And if the war finds us?" Castiel asks.

"Then I will change, and tear apart anyone who threatens us. Settler or not. I can trust the wolf to stay with you then, to protect you."

They lie down beside the fire, and, after a while, a dark shape slides out of the forest and approaches them.

"I told you not to look for me." Dean says.

The shape shifts, and Sam sits on the ground beside them.

"I can't help doing what I've always done." He points out.

Dean looks at him, "you should not need to follow me now, Alpha."

Sam's face grows sad. "I'd thought that...once you found him, you would return. That I wouldn't carry the Alpha's duty anymore."

Dean shakes his head. "I will not return. Not it changing will lead me away from this." He gestures to where Castiel is lying at his side, half asleep in the fire's glow. It is only then that Sam notices the baby in his arms.

"An orphaned settler." Dean explains, "we are going to find some safe place to raise him. Away from the war, from everything."

"It will be hard without your other form," Sam tells him, "especially with a child, even if Castiel still shifts."

Dean nods gravely, and the two of them look into the fire, where gold rabbits dance, shadowy figures loom, and wolves chase upwards towards the sky, black, then grey, then white.

"I will come with you." Sam says finally.

Dean starts out of silence. "You cannot leave Jessica, and Joseph."

"I will collect Jessica from the cave, and I will follow you."

"It would be too dangerous to take them."

"Jessica survived the winter as a penniless widow, with a child, she is stronger than you think. And, whatever you can face, I will face with you...I will not allow you to go into danger without me, and suffer as you did when you sought our father's killer. Wolves or not, we are brothers, and I will protect you, as you protect me."

Dean is set to argue, but Sam puts a hand on his arm and says, "I am the Alpha here Dean – let me take care of my family."

Dean hesitates, but nods, and they lapse into silence.

Around them, the forest yawns like a hungry mouth, waiting to swallow them whole. Somehow, over the painful winters and war filled summers of their short lives, they have formed a strange family, one larger than either of them ever thought possible. And, though danger and privation meant that Dean had entered the world with claws ready, he will leave it as a man – with a man beside him, and a man to take his place. His son.

The wheel will turn, and snow will cover them in the ground one day.

But not for many winters to come.