It started out small: a few shiny pennies; pretty, oddly-shaped stones; sea shells of varying shapes and colours and sizes; starfish and sand dollars. The items appeared out of thin air over the course of several days. Most were discovered singularly, deliberately displayed on the dashboard or a nightstand. Occasionally, they were found strewn on tables and countertops by the casual handful. It progressed to increasingly exotic flowers, petals somewhat wilted, but their heavenly perfume stubbornly lingering in the air; geodes with miniature crystal caverns that captured and held the light; feathers in a multitude of vivid hues. Once, it was half of a robin's sky-blue eggshell that Dean very nearly sat on as he wearily climbed into bed. Another time, it was a stick of gum that turned his teeth black and left the taste of stale cigars in his mouth. That was Sam's favourite item to date; he was less fond of the snow white sand that filled his shoes to overflowing. It was several days before he managed to shake the last traces of grit out from between his toes.
Dean was vastly amused by the sand, but he infinitely preferred the teardrop-shaped lump of amber with a perfectly preserved bee inside which appeared on his pillow one night: the wings gossamer thin and spread as if the insect had been captured in mid-flight only yesterday instead of twelve million years ago. The other offerings, except for the gum (which had swiftly been consigned to a garbage can along with a few choice words), ninety percent of the sand and all of the sadly decaying flowers, came to reside in a large plastic tupperware container which Dean dutifully transferred from stolen car trunk to stolen car trunk. The amber he carried with him in a jacket pocket, until the day came when he nearly lost it during a heated engagement with an angry wendigo. It took two hours of frantically combing the forest floor on his hands and knees before he finally found it, at which point he hightailed it off to the nearest jewellery store and paced the floor like an expectant father while the jeweller carefully installed a peg and loop. After stringing the resulting pendant on a sturdy leather cord, Dean wore it nestled safely against his chest. Sometimes, he swore the amber pulsed like a second heartbeat; that, impossibly, it was warmer than his own body temperature; that he could hear the buzzing of the bee forever trapped inside, the whisper of its wings always hovering near his ear, making him turn in expectation of...
"Whatever," he told himself, ignoring Sam's knowing smirk whenever the pendant wormed its way free of his clothing – which it did disturbingly often, for all the world as if the fucking bee wanted to see how much the Earth had changed, what new flowers blossomed, what strange scents the breezes carried.
I watch the bees, Castiel had said.
Dean watched his own personal bee.
Sometimes the bee (seemingly) looked back.
It seemed a satisfactory arrangement for all concerned.
A week or so later, postcards began to pop up on a regular basis. They materialized inside pockets that had been empty the last time Dean checked. He found them tucked in his wallet, peering out from under doormats and folded towels, or slipped between the covers of greasy diner menus or the pages of Busty Asian Beauties. The Grand Canyon and the Taj Mahal. The Great Wall of China and the Amazon Rainforest. Kilimanjaro and the Great Barrier Reef. Sometimes, a totally unrelated fact would be scribbled on the back of the card: observations regarding lemurs or termites, elephants or beluga whales. Complex mathematical formulas or baseball statistics. Reports on UFO sightings and instructions on how to play hopscotch.
The cards were never signed.
They quietly joined the other miscellany in the tupperware box. Except for one card. A collage of works displayed at the Louvre, including Antonio Canova's Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss. That one Dean tucked under the visor of their latest junker. He claimed he liked to look at all the marble boobs.
"Now that's art," were his actual words.
Sam wisely bit back his speculation that it was the naked angel that caught his brother's eye.
It was a Thursday, of course it was, when the whisper of ghostly wings became an actual tempest in the shabby motel room where the Winchesters had hunkered down for the night. Curtains rustled, loose papers scattered to the floor. Sam looked up from his laptop in time to see his brother leap to his feet, the amber pendant clasped protectively in his fist, as if he feared it might be suddenly whisked away.
Castiel stood halfway between the television and the two twin beds, a freshly baked and still steaming hot pie held casually in one hand.
"Did you know," the angel said, by way of a greeting, "that there are two hundred and three steps to the summit of the Great Pyramid of Giza?"
"You don't say." Dean sighed, settling himself back down on the edge of his bed and openly eyeballing the fragrant pastry in imminent danger of toppling from its precarious perch.
"A naked mole rat's incisors can be moved independently of each other and even work together like a pair of chopsticks."
"A fork works better with pie."
Castiel's free hand searched the depths of his trench coat pocket, fumbling a tarnished fork out from a tangle of driftwood, moss, seaweed, ball bearings, pencil stubs, and a slew of cheap plastic trinkets and candy from vending machines.
"Archaeologists have found evidence that humans have been enjoying apples as far back as 6500 B.C."
"May I enjoy some now?"
"Of course." Castiel scooped up a generous bite and crossed the room to hover the fork in front of Dean's astonished face. "Say 'ah'..."
Dean blinked, taken aback by the order, but in the end his love of pie trumped the indignity of being fed like a baby. He opened his mouth and Castiel deposited the pie inside, his head cocked to one side as he intently watched Dean chew and swallow, obviously cataloguing the human's soft "mmmm" of approval and the way his eyes fluttered closed in blissful appreciation of the flavour washing across his taste buds.
"Hmm," Castiel said. "Did you know that Oliver Cromwell banned the eating of pie in 1644, declaring it to be a pagan form of pleasure."
"Ol' Ollie might have had a point." Dean grinned. "Damn, but that's good pie, Cas. Where did you get it?"
"I made it... Well, to be more accurate, I helped to make it. I paid a visit to your mother back in 1980. She stabbed me in the heart with a butcher knife. What is it with you Winchesters and your stab first, ask questions later philosophy? Fortunately, she was most amiable after we became better acquainted. I learned to peel apples, roll out pie crust and burp a baby. Not all at the same time, of course." He smiled fondly. "You spit up on me. Twice."
"You... visited... my mother," Dean said disbelievingly.
"I have been everywhere, Dean. I have seen... oh, so many wondrous things. You would not believe – "
"You. Visited. My. Mother."
"Yes, Dean. Don't worry. I wiped the memory of that visit from her mind before I left." He absentmindedly rubbed at a stain on the trench coat's left lapel. "Do you know you drool when you sleep? Though you no longer suck your thumb. Which is surprising, given how much comfort you used to derive from the act."
"All of space, all of time at your disposal, and you have nothing better to do than hang around me?"
"Where else would I want to be?" Castiel said softly, setting the pie safely aside on the nightstand before resting a gentle hand against Dean's flushed cheek. His thumb twitched against the corner of Dean's mouth, dislodging a crumb which had settled there.
"You are the greatest wonder of them all. My Father's most amazing creation."
"Cas, I... J-Jesus!" Dean sputtered over the sound of Sam's sharp bark of amusement. "You don't go around saying things like that."
"It is the truth," Castiel stated simply, firm in his conviction. "I watch the bees..." Blue eyes fell to the amber pendant peeking from the V of Dean's unbuttoned shirt as the angel leaned in closer... closer... "I watch the bees... but I follow you."
Castiel's lips were warmer than the amber pressed against Dean's wildly thumping heart. The buzzing sound which filled his head turned out to be from a sudden lack of oxygen, not the thrumming of a busy hive. Dean opened eyes he didn't remember closing in time to see his no longer laughing brother grab a jacket and discreetly slip out the motel room door.
"I've learned much from watching the bees." Castiel's words ghosted across Dean's lips, sending shivers of anticipation racing down the hunter's spine. "The birds and the bees," the angel confided, kissing his way down Dean's neck, pausing here and there to nibble and taste and tease. "Would you like me to show you all I've learned?" he whispered.
"God, yes!" Dean moaned, arms reaching out to bring his angel home... home where he belonged.
"Like honey to a bee." Castiel hummed contentedly, and nestled closer. "Did you know, Dean, that honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including water?"
Dean's kiss was his reply.
It was the only answer Castiel needed.