He finds the baby, swaddled in a dirty sweatshirt, in a cardboard box that's wet and falling apart. They're in rural Maryland, chasing reports of campers going missing from a park and returning in chunks and severed limbs, and Dean's the one who hears the faint cries first. He drops the bag that he's got shouldered and ignores Sam and Castiel's questioning calls of his name. The non-descript brown box is settled into the damp ground next to bags of foul smelling garbage, and Dean's steps quicken as the little cries get louder and louder the closer he gets. He kneels down next to the trash pile, knees colliding hard with the cold earth, and gently peels back the wet cardboard and the damp fabric.
A small face stares back at him, eyes blue and large, and the baby's face is scrunched and mottled red. The baby looks cold and hungry, and the second it lays eyes on Dean its forehead smoothens out in relief. It lets out a sad little hiccup and gurgles at him, and Dean feels his heart melt in his chest.
"Hey there," he murmurs, lifting the baby and the sweatshirt out of the box. "What are you doin' out here, huh?" Carefully, he pulls the heavy, cold fabric off from around the baby, revealing a thin onesie and exposing a smell that burns his nostrils. "Christ, you stink," he tells it, voice flat. He lays the sweatshirt out on the ground and places the baby on top, unbuttoning the flaps and peeling them apart. The diaper it's wearing looks swollen and has to be uncomfortable, and Dean scowls at the sight of it. Quickly, he pulls it off and covers his nose and mouth with the back of his arm, willing himself not to look at the contents as he flings the diaper on top of all the other trash.
He uses a sleeve of the sweatshirt to wipe off the little boy's—and it is a little boy, he can see that now—butt and legs, cooing gently when the baby lets out a disgruntled whine.
The sweatshirt soon joins the diaper on the pile of trash, and Dean carefully re-fastens the flaps and pulls the baby close to his chest, folding his jacket around the little guy. When he turns around to head back towards the other two men waiting by the Impala, he chances a glance at their faces. Sam looks resigned and tired, the same way he has lately, but there's something fond and knowing in his eyes when he looks at the tiny human cradled in Dean's arms.
Cas, on the other hand, looks constipated.
"That is a baby," he informs Dean gravely, like this is brand new information.
"Yeah, thanks for that, Cas, but I'd figured that out for myself," Dean bites back, trying to move quickly out of the misting rain. "Sammy, grab my bag, would ya?"
He hears Sam's sigh as Dean moves under the protection given by the second floor's balconies, but he's too busy handling the baby to give a shit. When he reaches the motel room door, it opens from the inside and Castiel is already standing there, still looking like he swallowed something sharp.
"A baby, Dean," he intones again and he's looking at the kid like it's going to bite him.
Dean shoots him a withering glare even as he gently deposits the baby on one of the queen-sized beds. "Babe," he says, hauling out the pet name that always makes Cas' eyes go limpid, and speaks with all the patience he can muster. Incidentally, that's not a lot of patience. "Shut the hell up and get me a towel from the bathroom, okay?"
Cas blinks and then glowers at him, only a little bit, and pops out the room with the woosh and flutter of wings. He's gone for a minute or two at the most, and when he reappears, he's holding a stack of towels that look so soft and fluffy that Dean highly doubts Cas grabbed them from anywhere in this motel.
"Thanks," Dean says, taking one and raising an eyebrow at the angel.
Sam picks up the corner of one of the towels and rubs the terrycloth between his fingers. "Where'd you find these?"
"You drove past a store on the way here that advertised beds, baths, and beyond." He gives a confused turn-down of the mouth, eyeing the towels in his grasp. "I think they were remiss in their statement. I didn't see any otherworldly items while I was there; only curtains and many pillows."
"Cas—" Sam begins, but seems to think better of it and just shakes his head. "Nevermind."
Dean lays one of the towels down next the baby and sets about taking the dirty, foul looking coverall off, and throws the piece of clothing towards the trash can. He picks up one of the small, delicate hands and rubs his thumb against the palm that's barely bigger than the tip of his own finger. The baby's hands and fingers are pudgy and fat, as are his legs, and he's got a chubby belly to complete the picture. Dean gives half a smile down at the kid and wraps him loosely in the towel, intent on carrying him into the bathroom.
"Dean?" Sam says, asking a whole question in just the one word.
"He's filthy, Sammy," Dean says gruffly, not meeting either of their eyes. "I just wanna get him clean and warm, okay?" The baby sputters something unintelligible against Dean's chest, garbling happily as he pushes his cheek against the buttons of Dean's shirt, bubbles of spit forming between his lips. "Guess we're gonna need some clothes once you're clean, huh, buddy?"
Cas steps closer, still clutching the towels and eyeing the baby suspiciously. He lifts a hand and brushes two fingers against the downy soft hair and then looks up at Dean. "He's six months, seventeen days, two hours, and fifty seven minutes old."
Dean blinks at him and he can feel the 'okay, crazy' expression steal over his face. "Awesome?"
"Cas," Sam says, pulling the towels away from him at last. "Thank you. Dean, I'm gonna go find a Wal-Mart or something and pick up some diapers and clothes and food. Try not to traumatize him while I'm gone."
"The baby or Cas?" Dean asks, pushing open the bathroom door.
Sam pauses, cupping the keys to the Impala in his hand and halfway out the door already. "Either," he concedes, stepping back into the misted cold. "Or, both."
Dean shakes his head and turns on the light, careful to keep the baby cradled in his arms. "Cas, you wanna help?"
The look he gets in response is so classically deer-in-the-headlights that he can't help the small laugh that rumbles out of his chest. "Cas," he says slowly, turning on the faucet in the sink. He keeps his hand under the running water until it's just warm enough, and then pulls the stopper. "It's a baby, okay? It ain't gonna eat you. He's only six months-and-whatever old. He might puke or piss on you, but that's about it. Nothin' to be scared of. Alright?"
Castiel nods, eyes flickering between Dean and the baby and he still looks wary. Dean sighs and turns off the sink.
"Babe," he says calmly, and oh, yes, there are those big baby blues he's grown so fond of. "Hold the kid for a minute, okay? I need to take my jacket off to do this."
"Dean, I don't think that's a good—" is all Castiel manages before Dean's calmly holding the baby out towards him. Cas looks so worried it seems like he might cry, and when he takes the little boy out of Dean's hands, Cas holds him at arms length. "What do I do?" he asks gruffly, voice tinged with panic.
"Seriously?" Dean mutters, pulling his coat off and shoving his sleeves up towards his elbows. "You've been alive for how many millions of years, and you don't know how to hold a baby? C'mon, man, something from Jimmy must've stuck." Cas just continues to look like he's about to shit himself, so Dean sighs and takes the kid away from him. "Take off your jackets," he orders, bouncing the baby in his arms a little.
Castiel furrows his brow like he wants to ask why, but shrugs off the trenchcoat and suit jacket carefully. He glances at Dean's arms and rolls the cuffs of his own pristine white button-down up his forearms.
"Beautiful," Dean grunts, ignoring the flutter in his chest that comes with seeing Cas so stripped down, "So. See how I'm holding him? Support the butt and just let him put his head on your arm, it'll hold up his neck. He might wriggle around but if you hold him just tight enough, he's not gonna go anywhere. Understand?"
Cas licks his lips and nods, still shooting frightened glances between Dean and the baby, and holds out his arms. Dean gently hands the kid over, depositing him in Cas' grip and keeping his own hands on the towel-swaddled baby until he's positive that Castiel's got him.
He takes a step back, and the sight almost punches him in the gut.
Dean's always loved kids. He likes the way everything is still fresh to them, how they're not yet ruined by the world, and the idea that in a place where he's known nothing but death and sadness, there's always new life out there, somewhere. He spent almost his entire life taking care of Sammy, and whenever he sees a kid it makes him nostalgic for the days where Sam was shorter than him and still looked at him like he hung the moon. No matter how gruff or jaded he's gotten in the past few years, something about a kid always manages to soften him up.
The baby he's found today is pretty damn adorable, he's gotta admit, and he's staring up at Castiel silently, fat little cheek pressed to Cas' chest. Dean's heard about babies and little kids being more aware of supernatural shit, but he's never believed it more than he does in this moment. Something about the kid seems totally at peace, and he's calm like he knows that there is literally an angel watching over him. And Cas…
Cas still has that wide-eyed and scared thing going on, but his mouth is gently open and he's meeting the baby's stare with awe. Stripped of his trench coat and his suit jacket, sleeves rolled up and skin exposed, there's something so human and vulnerable about him that it's easy for Dean to forget that he's a celestial warrior who's battled through Hell just to pull out one unworthy soul. Right now, in this moment, in this shitty motel bathroom, Cas looks like just another man.
"Oh," breathes his angel, starting to sway carefully, like he's trying to imitate Dean's earlier movements. "He's…small."
"Yeah," Dean rasps, then clears his throat as he turns away, busying himself with the half-full sink. "Yeah. He's a baby, Cas. That's the only way they come."
When he turns back around, one of Cas' fingers is firmly grasped in the baby's hand and they're still staring at one another, silently assessing. "I feel," Cas begins obviously struggling for words. "…large."
Dean shrugs, trying to remain casual as he crosses his arms over his chest. "You are bigger than the Chrysler building."
"Thousands of years of watching over humanity," Cas continues, ignoring Dean's comment. "Seeing you grow from the smallest speck of dust, watching your kind murder one another and blaspheme and push the limits of your worth—"
"—and I questioned your species' importance, once," Cas says, blinking owlishly at Dean. "Until I met you, and your brother. For that, I thank you. You…" he looks back down at the baby, sweeping a thumb across a cheek. "You have given me life, in every way possible. Humans are so fragile, Dean, though you try to be strong. I know of no one who loves as fiercely as you, though that love could break you. Try as I may, I have never completely understood the impenetrable love between humans." When he looks back down at the child, a soft smile steals at the curve of his lips. "I understand, now." He looks back at Dean, heart in his eyes and mouth still pulled up gently. "I understand, now," he repeats with importance, making sure to hold eye contact.
The breath whooshes out of Dean's chest and he gives a weak smile. Ever since this…thing, between him and Cas got started, Castiel's opened up more and more and Dean doesn't really know how to make heads or tails of it. He feels like he should try to talk to Cas about the clusterfuck of emotions inside his own head, but it makes about as much sense to him as running barefoot across hot coals. Besides, Cas knows him better than almost anyone. He knows what it means when Dean lets him slip under the covers at night, happy just to sleep and not have to fuck; what it means when Dean banishes Sam to the backseat in the Impala so he and Cas can sit closer than is strictly necessary, Dean's hand sometimes cupped over Castiel's knee; what it means when Dean tells Cas and Sam to go investigate something together because he trusts the two of them implicitly when it comes to keeping the other safe.
Dean's never said the words, as much, but Castiel knows.
It's been the three of them—him, Sammy, Cas—for two years now. After the shitstorm with Kevin, Crowley, and that angel bitch Naomi (whom Dean had happily watched get stabbed by Cas…in the fucking face, his angel was ruthless), they'd decided to keep hunting in a state of half-retirement. Sam disappeared for a week or two every couple months to go be with Amelia, and Dean didn't throw himself into self destructive behavior nearly as much. Cases were more spaced out than they'd ever been, leaving them plenty of time to relax and actually see the country a little.
Dean had once entertained thoughts of settling in to suburban life, back in the days of Lisa, but the memory left a foul taste in his mouth.
But he looks at Cas, still cradling the poor kid that Dean had hauled out of a cardboard box not even fifteen minutes ago, and imagines the two of them having a home they could go to between jobs (which were, admittedly, becoming more far and few between), a place where Cas could throw up those stupid fucking Christmas lights he loves so much, a place where Dean could kick back and relax on the porch on a balmy summer night. Three bedrooms, one for Dean and Cas, one for Sammy's visits, and one for—
The baby gurgles against Cas' chest, arms jerking sharply and stubby legs kicking gently from where they're wrapped up in the towel. Cas grins, he fucking grins, first at the baby and then at Dean, and that sinking feeling in Dean's gut is one he's recognized as acceptance of the inevitable. Dean knows a losing battle when he sees one, but he's sure as hell not gonna make this easy on Cas. If the angel wants to keep the kid for longer than just temporarily, he's gonna have to make his case.
Dean's pretty much resigned to the idea already (he's not opposed to settling down the smallest amount and he really doesn't want to see what happens if he tries to convince Cas to give the baby to an agency or something) but he does love watching Cas try to talk him into some batshit insane idea. He and Sam usually like to crack open a cold one and sit back and let the crazy wash over them.
"You wanna help me give him a bath?" is all Dean says, gesturing towards the water filled sink. "The kid stinks from here to kingdom come."
Castiel takes careful steps towards the sink and even though he looks as if he really doesn't want to hand the baby back over to Dean, but does so anyway, keeping the towel clenched in his fists.
"Hey, little man," Dean says, settling the baby in the warm water and careful to keep his hands on him at all time. "You ready to—Cas, grab me a washcloth—you ready to get clean?"
The baby slaps a hand against the water and lets out a happy squeal of laughter when it flies everywhere, soaking into Dean's shirt. "Real cute," Dean mumbles, smiling despite himself, and, dipping the washcloth into the water, gently begins to wipe the dirt away.
Later, when Dean and Cas are curled in bed together, the baby nestled between them and wearing a warm red onesie Sam had brought back, Dean brushes his fingers against the top of Cas' hair and watches the angel's fingers rub small circles into the baby's back. "I've grown quite attached to this infant," Cas whispers, eyes intently focused on the baby. "In such a short period of time. Is that normal, Dean?"
Dean exhales slowly, his movements sluggish with how tired he is. He presses a kiss to the top of Cas' forehead. "Yeah, Cas. Don't worry, that's not unusual."
Castiel hums and goes silent, but Dean can practically hear the cogs whirring in his brain. "Dean—" he begins.
"I know, Cas," Dean interrupts, closing his eyes. "I know. We'll talk about it in the morning, okay? Right now I need some fucking shut eye."
"Don't swear," Sam reprimands immediately from his bed, still awake and propped up against the headboard with a book in his hands. "At least not in front of the baby."
"Fuck off," Dean mumbles, and now Cas has the indignant look on his face. "Cas. Babe. In the morning, okay? Today's been freaking weird, and I need to get some sleep. I promise you, we'll talk about what we'll do with the kid in the morning."
Cas actually pouts a little at this, but acquiesces when he sees the dark circles beneath Dean's eyes. "Tomorrow," he agrees, curling a hand over Dean's bare hip, above the line of his boxers.
The only response he gets is the sound of Dean's quiet snoring, and the baby's deep and gentle breaths.