"Dude, if you don't hurry up, we're gonna be late."

Dean knocks again on the bathroom door. He swears it's been like fifteen minutes. He's starting to worry that Cas has drowned in the sink, electrocuted himself with Sam's hair drier, or escaped out of the window…from the second story—seriously, this shit could happen; Dean wouldn't put it past him…

"What's the hold up?" Bobby comes towards Dean, who shrugs, "Feathers polishing his halo?"

"One: that sounds kinky. Two: Damned if I know," Dean rolls his eyes, "But—" he directs this part pointedly to the closed bathroom door, "—if he doesn't hurry the fuck up, Sam is gonna murder us."

Bobby shakes his head, "I'll meet you idjits downstairs."

Dean knocks again, "I will leave you here, don't think I won't." In all honesty, they both know that there is no way in hell that that's happening. If Dean has to go to a New Year's Eve Party, then Cas has to come too, especially given that they're finally going to meet Sam's girl and there is no fucking way that he's gonna suffer through this meet the parents travesty by himself—even if it was technically his idea.

"I will break down the door," he threatens, deadpan and serious.

"I do not want to go," Cas replies through the wood paneling; apparently he is using the bathroom to skulk. Awesome.

"Sure, ya do," Dean counters.

"No, I don't."

"C'mon, dude, we promised Sam. You don't wanna disappoint him do you?" Dean knows that using Sam for guilt tripping purposes might be considered playing dirty, but this is an extreme circumstance…

He waits a beat, leaning against the door frame, hands in his pockets, "Cas," he lets the desperation creep into his voice a little bit, "please?" Apparently that's the magic word because the door flies open, and Dean stumbles briefly before catching himself.

"Woah," Dean says. He can't quite help it. Cas cleans up nice. Well, Cas always looks pretty damn good as far as Dean is concerned, but he usually goes for comfort teetering on eccentric (the latter not on purpose…at least, Dean doesn't think so). Once he ditched the holy tax accountant get-up, he started off stealing overlarge clothes from the Winchester brothers (he still steals t-shirts from Dean) and then moved on to choosing his own, but he tends to stay in the realm of bulky sweaters and brightly colored t-shirts with weird symbols or corny jokes. But tonight, well, he must have put in the extra effort for Elizabeth's New Year's Eve bash (it's also possible that Sam laid out his attire, like he did for Dean). He's wearing jeans and a black button down shirt—crisp sleeves rolled up to the elbow, exposing the muscles of his forearms—with a lime green tie strung loose around his neck. His hair, wild and unruly at the best of times, has something in it (presumably gel or moose or some crap that he stole from the cache of hair products that Sam tries to hide with little success). Dean thinks that Cas probably meant for it to give the mess some semblance of order, but instead it has lent it an exuberant spike. Dean's not gonna lie, it's hot. Cas is glaring—full on, angry, smiting, I-will-fuck-someone-up glaring. It does nothing to mitigate the fact that he looks sexy as fuck. Dean resolves to take Cas out to some fancy ass restaurant for the sole purpose of getting him back into this getup and then getting him out of it.

"Lookin' good, Cas," he says.

Cas narrows his eyes.

Dean sighs; charm is clearly not going to work, "What's up?"

Cas' jaw clenches, "I don't want to go."

Dean sighs, stepping forward and taking Cas' tie in his hands, starting to redo the knot. Cas lets him, which is probably a good sign. As he loops the satin, Dean, shoots a glance at Cas's face from beneath his lashes, "So you wanna tell me what gives? You were excited about this yesterday."

Dean can feel the scowl like a tangible thing, "I was not."

"Really?"

"Really."

"So it was another hot dude in the kitchen telling Sam how stoked he was about going to the party," he purses his lips.

"I suppose so," Cas says with total innocence.

"Musta been my mistake," Dean agrees.

"Must have been."

They are clearly at a stalemate. Dean breaks first, brows hitting his hairline accusatorily, "You made spinach puffs, Cas."

"Because you have a vitamin deficiency."

"My ass."

"Deeaaannn," Cas rolls his eyes.

He finishes the knot and then lays it flat on Cas' chest, "There ya go," he raises his brows, "Now you wanna level with me?"

"I don't like people," he admits grudgingly.

"Sure ya do," Dean offers.

Cas looks dubious, his jaw clenches, and he tugs self-consciously at his sleeves. The light catches on his ring, which continues to give Dean a proud, joyful little thrill in his stomach every time he sees it. But it also draws Dean's attention to the skin just below Cas' cuff, and the faint scars on the backs of his arms, not half as noticeable as the ones on his back. They all have their share of old wounds, visible and invisible. Dean honestly doesn't particularly notice Cas' scars, not since they've healed, and only when and if Cas draws attention to them...but that's not the way it is with everyone—with people who stare or ask awkward questions that Cas can't answer because he can't tell the truth and he's a shit liar…and something clicks in Dean's head…

Cas can deal with people, sometimes, sort of. Other times, he can't handle crowds to save his life. Apparently, tonight is one of those nights.

It's kind of ironic that someone who previously had no conception of personal space spent the first few months as a human freaking the fuck out whenever anyone entered his. Maybe it was because he hated being touched, perhaps it was because he had limited senses and felt unprepared to defend himself if necessary, probably it had a lot to do with just not knowing the rules of social engagement and being constantly overwhelmed by the alien references and false sympathies and brusque gestures.

The first time they had taken Cas to get some of his own clothes at a random department store, he had had a complete and utter panic attack and flipped out in the middle of the men's shoes. It had taken Sam and Dean a full half hour to figure out exactly what had happened. That sort of thing occurs more rarely now, in part because Cas is adapting and in part because they're all figuring out his limits. Cas does better with quality rather than quantity in dealing with people. If you put him in a situation with a huge group he is lost and will probably mis-step somehow, leading to extreme awkwardness, which may or may not result in him getting frustrated and annoyed or upset. In small doses and small settings and one-on-one encounters, Cas actually does great. If you get him started about something that he actually knows about, or finds interesting, he's totally fine.

The Winchesters have always been a bit isolated from civilians, wrapped up in their own world, so it's not like either of them go out of their way to make play dates for Cas (or what Sam would call "opportunities for proper socialization"). Honestly, Dean doesn't really care one way or another provided Cas is happy, and, to be totally frank, it's not like Dean himself is exactly a role model for how to function in society in anything remotely resembling a normal way…he's built a career out of cons, one-night stands, drifting from place to place, and having borderline zero close relationships outside of family. He is so not judging, and in the issue of full disclosure (ha), Dean might sorta be a little bit possessive and/or over-protective to the point where he has no problem keeping Cas away from the majority of douche bags in the universe.

"I don't like people," he repeats. This time Dean hears it differently, it sounds a little bit more along the lines of "I don't understand people and they don't like me, and I don't want to fuck up everything for Sam"

Dean's gaze softens, "You don't have to go if you don't want to."

Cas frowns, confused by Dean's sudden change of opinion; he realizes he's fiddling with his sleeves and stops, rubbing his arm self-consciously.

"What about Sam?"

Dean shrugs, "Sam will live."

Cas blinks slowly.

"I'm not gonna force you," Dean says, "You don't wanna go, we'll chill here, order a pizza, take advantage of an empty house, whatever you want."

"You want to go," Cas maintains.

"I don't care, dude," he's serious, too, "I don't wanna go if you're gonna be miserable, and you're more fun than any of those assholes at the party anyway…" Dean catches Cas' gaze, "But if you do wanna go? We'll go and we'll make nice with the civilians and tease the hell out of Sam and have fun and we'll tap out as soon as you're ready, okay? But it's your call."

Cas bites his lip and rubs his thumb against the back of his arm again, Dean reaches out, stops him, "It doesn't matter what any douchebag thinks, okay? You're awesome. If those dicks don't see that, screw them."

The corner of Cas' mouth twitches, "Thank you, Dean."

"Yeah, well…" Dean shrugs, squeezes Cas hand, "I'll meet you downstairs, let me know what you decide, all right?"

Once he makes it to the living room, he flops onto the sofa. Like him, Bobby has dressed somewhere between his casual every day clothes and impersonating an FBI agent. He wonders if Sam forced him to trim his beard.

"What's up with Cas?"

"The usual," Dean gives Bobby a look, and the older man raises his brows, "You might be going without us."

"No," Dean turns swiftly, Cas standing in the doorway, "he isn't. Are you ready, Dean?"

"Sure, yeah."

The shrug on winter gear, and Cas grabs the food. Dean and Cas pile in the Impala, Bobby plans to follow in his car.

"You sure about this?" Dean asks, while Cas puts on the radio, he lets him choose the station (soft-rock, calms both of their nerves).

"I'm fine, Dean," he replies, "relax."

Dean rolls his eyes and shakes his head because going from crisis to totally fine in fifteen minutes is not the usual. They decide that Dean won't hover ("I don't do that." Cas levels a disbelieving stare), and that if Cas wants to leave ("For any reason at all") he will give Dean a signal—double earlobe tug—and they will get the fuck out of there a.s.a.p.

Elizabeth lives on the other side of town; it's a fifteen minute drive. Dean pulls up at the address and lets the Impala idle for a minute. The house is an old Victorian, it's got a turret, and all the lights are on, casting a muted golden light onto the snow covered lawn. He turns to Cas; "You ready?"

"Are you?" Cas tilts his head.

"Sure," he lies quickly because maybe Dean's a little nervous about this, too. Cas would notice: he always does. Internally, Dean is freaking out because, dude, it's a dinner party with Sam and his girlfriend and you can't get more fucking domestic if you tried. Plus, he's never really done this before. He met Jessica for about five minutes before she died, and Madison for a little more. He had gotten along pretty well with Sarah for the few days that he had known her. He can't even use Sam meeting Cas as a template for what's about to occur, since Sam had known Cas and become friends with him over a long period of time, despite their awkward and uncomfortable first encounter, and way before Dean and Cas had officially become Dean-and-Cas (which Sam had basically been a cheerleader for). He sure as fuck isn't going to use any of his own experiences with meeting Cas family, considering that they have literally killed him, multiple times. Dean knows he shouldn't flirt with the girl and he should potentially avoid seriously embarrassing Sam, and, you know, try to make sure that Cas doesn't have a breakdown while he's at it. He's got no idea what he's doing and he doesn't have a model for this beyond fucking sitcoms. He sighs, "You know the signal?" He's unsure, in this moment, which of them will use it first.

Cas nods, and takes his hand, "It will be all right, Dean."

Dean smiles reassuringly and leans forward for a quick kiss, "Let's do this."

"Don't forget to be nice," Cas elbows him slightly as they walk up the path the house, trying to diffuse the tension.

Dean laughs and bumps against his shoulder, "I'm always nice."

Cas just smirks.

They ring the bell, and Sam opens the door after about five seconds, like a fucking golden retriever who's been waiting on the welcome mat for his master to come home. He's got a slightly wild look on his face: nerves and excitement warring for dominance.

"Heya, Sammy."

"Where have you guys been?"

"We took the scenic route."

"Jerk."

"Bitch."

"Sam, are you going to leave your brother on the porch?"

A woman comes up behind Sam. She has sharp grey eyes and long, dark hair pulled back in a braid. She gives a crooked smile when she spots Dean and Cas, like she's genuinely happy to see them. She's got an athletic build and she's tall, comes up to Sam's shoulder. She's dressed in a soft grey shirt and dark blue jeans. Sam puts his arm around her without thinking, it looks like a habitual gesture, and they fit together just right. Dean is momentarily taken aback by the way Sam's face lights up.

Elizabeth offers her hand, "You must be Dean."

"My reputation precedes me," he smirks.

Her grin widens, "Sam says you're a pain in the ass, actually."

Dean laughs sharply. She's got spunk, he likes that, "Well, he's not lying."

"I told him not to worry; I deal with thirteen year olds on a fairly regular basis," she winks, and Sam rolls his eyes.

"Then you are well prepared," Cas deadpans.

"Hey!"

"You must be Cas," Elizabeth offers her hand, and Cas accepts it solemnly, "it's so nice to meet you. Please, come in."

They shrug out of their coats, and Elizabeth leads Cas and the spinach puffs to the kitchen. Sam asks if everything is okay ("just had a little trouble, it's all good now"), before taking Dean into the sitting room. The house is warm and inviting and clearly lived in. There are pictures on the walls, family photos, and paintings. The chairs and sofa are squashy and mildly mismatched, and padded with pillows and throw blankets, promising comfort. Bobby is positioned in an armchair, and when the boys come in, he shoots Dean a "took you long enough, boy," glare. There are two young women seated on the sofa. One has shoulder length blond hair and a fine build. Sam introduces her as Elizabeth's younger sister Kate. Dean notices that the siblings share the same deep grey eyes. The woman next to her, with red curls pulled back in a ponytail and a face full of freckles, is Kate's partner, Julie.

Cas and Elizabeth come in from the kitchen—Cas looks pretty content like he approves, or, at the very least, doesn't have any immediate plans to cast Sam's girlfriend into the firey pits of hell. He walks over to Dean and places his hand on his shoulder, confirming that he's still okay and reassuring Dean at once, just in time to find out that Kate is a third year med student and Julie is getting a PhD in art history. He is almost immediately sucked into a conversation about the architecture of medieval French churches with Julie and Sam. The three of them are all animated and geeking out like it's their job. Bobby shakes his head. Elizabeth, Dean, and Kate all roll their eyes in perfect synchronization—the look of someone whose significant other is a serious nerd—catch each other in the act, and laugh. Elizabeth ruffles Kate's hair, and Kate glares and sticks out her tongue. Dean chuckles and shares the commiserating stare of the put-open older sibling with Elizabeth when Kate tugs her braid. Bobby asks about Kate's school, and she launches into a story about a particularly grisly session in the ER. She's passionate and she wants to help people and Dean gets that, respects it. Elizabeth gives her a proud smile while her sister expands on the importance of patient care, and Dean gets that too, it's the same look he sometimes gives to Sam behind his back.

Elizabeth, Dean, and Kate steal Sam away from the art history class and into their debate between Lord of the Rings and Star Wars because apparently epic trilogies win out over Ryan Seacrest in this house ("New Year's Even tradition; we did Indiana Jones last year, but we've reached an impasse"). Dean approves. Sam slides into place behind Elizabeth and the two of them trade snark and kisses, even though they're on opposite sides in the dispute, and even Dean can admit that it's fucking adorable. They both look happy. Dean is supporting Lord of the Rings with Elizabeth; Kate and Sam are both vying for Star Wars. Bobby calls them all idjits and ditches them to join in Cas and Julies's ongoing conversation about religious iconography. After a half an hour, they're still undecided, and Sam proposes that they compromise by watching Harry Potter; this suggestion is met with outright disgust by everyone else.

Elizabeth's friends show up at seven thirty: Nick and Alice are a married couple and know Elizabeth from college. They come in with smiles and apologies because their sitter canceled last minute and they had to bring four-year-old Sari, who wanders in wide eyed, wearing red rain boots and a bright blue dress with yellow butterflies printed on it, and half hiding behind her mom's legs. Alice and Nick are almost immediately dragged into the Great Movie Marathon Debate. There is a lot of noise in the room, jovial ribbing, and heated banter:

"—Dean, this is a betrayal of trust—"

"—Sam, it's fucking Lord of the Rings, man, it's epic—"

"—More epic than Star Wars, Dean—?"

"—Your brother has good taste, Sam—"

"—Ugh, not you too...don't go to the dark side—"

"—Julie, could you maybe come and help save me from these cretins over here—?"

"—Are those three speaking French—?"

"—Dude, be thankful it's not ancient Greek—"

"—You guys do know that if you don't choose something soon, you're not going to have time for anything, right—?"

They're saved by Sari, who slides off of Alice's lap, after watching the conversation with a concerted expression of absorption, and makes a beeline for Cas, clutching a canvas bag filled with books. She tugs on his arm, disrupting the intense discussion he's having with Julie and Bobby (which is, in fact, being conducted in French), and offers him The Cat in the Hat with a very grave expression.

"Please?" she asks, and Cas accepts the offer with equal solemnity, and politely excuses himself to Julie and Bobby, letting Sari lead him to a corner where he sinks cross-legged to the floor and she promptly crawls into his lap.

Dean feels something strange stir in his stomach at the sight, and he has to look away quickly before he can analyze it. With Julie in the debate they are an even split (Bobby refuses to weigh in one way or the other because they're all being 'idjits'), and they finally agree to compromise, provided that they watch the original trilogy, and Lord of the Rings gets top billing next year. Kate and Elizabeth shake to seal the deal. Kate launches herself at the DVD player, while Julie rolls her eyes. Elizabeth kisses Sam before heading to the kitchen to check on the food. Dean glances over at Cas and Sari, and feels that weird sensation again. He shares a look with Sam before excusing himself to go see if Elizabeth needs any help as the opening score of the movie plays.

Elizabeth is pulling Cas' spinach puffs out of the oven when Dean walks in.

"Need a hand, Lizzie?"

She looks up and laughs, "Only my brother calls me that," She tosses Dean a dish towel and he catches it deftly.

"You have a brother?"

"Yeah, Jamie," she hands a serving plate to Dean, who starts to put the spinach puffs on it, "well, James—he hates being called Jamie," she rolls her eyes like she will never stop referring to her baby brother by the name he grew up with, "He's a senior at Michigan, but term starts the day after tomorrow," she shrugs, "so he had to fly back yesterday."

"So—" Dean's about to launch into the "hurt my brother and die speech," but Elizabeth cuts him off.

"Look, Dean," She makes sure the pizzas in the oven aren't burning, and then meets his eyes squarely, bracing herself against the counter, "you don't have to give me the speech."

"What speech?" He tries to look innocent, and she rolls her eyes.

"The same one I gave Julie four years ago, the 'hurt one hair on his head and I will hunt you down' speech."

She bites her lower lip, while Dean tries to protest, even though that was exactly what he was going to do.

"Look, my parents died five years ago," she beings, which effectively kills what he was about to say, "car crash. I had just started my job, Jamie was a senior in high school, and Kate was a junior in college. We had always been close, you know? But something like that…your life just falling apart—suddenly we were all each other had…I'm taking care of two teenagers and trying to be a grown up and grieving and not having a clue what the fuck to do—" she clears her throat, and Dean just sort of stares, taken aback. Sam didn't say anything about this, and Dean, well, he feels for her, some wounds don't ever really heal…

She continues, "I wasn't kidding earlier, Sam really did warn me that you were a pain in the ass," that startles a laugh out of him, and she smiles a little despite herself before sobering and going on, "but he also said you were the best man he's ever known, and that after you guys lost your parents, you basically raised him…I guess, what I'm trying to say is that I understand how important family is. And I understand how much you care about your brother because I feel the same way about my brother and sister...Sam is—he's amazing, really, and I would never do anything to hurt him. You don't have to worry, okay?"

Dean and Elizabeth share a look, they both know that he's going to worry anyway, but there's an understanding there. Dean nods. He likes her.

She smiles brightly, "Good, now that that's cleared up, you wanna help me with these?"

"Sure," they start to slice up the pizzas and it's comfortable between them. They have a sense of mutual respect. Also, Elizabeth is lively and funny. She tells him about how her brother got a full ride to college, and is majoring in English, and how Kate is always trying, and epically failing, to lure him to the sciences. He's going to be in the school production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in a few months, and she admits that she's thinking of asking Sam if he wants to go with her to see it. Dean encourages her to do so since "Sammy is a big fan of theater," and he launches into a detailed story about Sam's starring role in Our Town. They're both laughing while she counters with the harrowing tale of Jamie's freshman year turn in Into the Woods, complete with an impression of his solo ("I love my brother, but the boy cannot sing to save his life"), and how she and Kate had tried to compensate for the crappy reviews with ice cream and threats to the school newspaper. Dean thinks that he might love this girl. They've just about finished loading up trays, when Sam comes in, presumably to make sure that no one is dead or injured. When he sees them smiling and joking, he grins (you can almost tell that he's been holding his breath the whole night up until this point because having his brother and his girlfriend tolerate, let alone, actually like each other, is kind of his belated Christmas miracle). He tells them both that they're missing the movie, and they draft him to help him carry plates.

They lay food out on the coffee table and everyone digs in except for Cas, who is still sitting in the corner with Sari. They're both laughing at something, and Dean realizes suddenly that the weird sensation that's growing in his chest is longing. He pushes it down and walks over to the source, dropping down to the floor beside Cas.

"Watcha reading?"

"'Melia Bedelia," Sari offers, grinning ear-to-ear.

"It's quite humorous, Dean," confirms.

"I can tell," he smirks.

"Cas didn't like Cat in the Hat," the young girl crinkles her nose and shakes her head a little bit, "cause of how the cat makes a mess."

"It was frustrating," Cas confirms.

They're both wearing the same sincere expression. Cas is good with kids, or kids are good with Cas. Dean's pretty sure that it's because Cas treats them like people, because they are, just tiny, and he thinks that it also have something to do with the fact that both Cas and children are trying to figure out a world built on rules that don't always make a lot of sense—he can relate easily.

"You got a lotta books there, Sari," he notes, gesturing towards her book bag and she lights up, nodding vigorously.

"Santa gave 'em to me for Christmas," she's grinning bright and enthusiastic. Dean looks at Cas worried for a moment that he will crush the kid's dreams, but Cas only inclines his head.

"You must have been very good this year to receive so many presents."

Sari bounces a little bit, "Uhuh."

Dean is trying really hard to quell that rising feeling in his chest, but it's becoming more difficult with every passing second.

"You mind if I join you?" he asks.

Cas looks to Sari for confirmation, and she considers Dean for a minute, like this is a major life decision, before she agrees, "'Kay.

"Take it away, Cas," he directs.

The story is simple and it is kinda funny about a girl who takes directions too literally and messes stuff up, but it ends happily. Cas is actually cracking up to the same degree that Sari is, and Dean chuckles appreciatively at their laughter. The awesome thing is that Cas would literally not have gotten any of these jokes a year or two ago, but can appreciate them now.

The get through this book and one more before Elizabeth (who Sari calls Nell—which they discover later is a contraction of Aunt El that stuck) comes over to see if she wants a cupcake. The response is obviously a four year old version of "hell fucking yeah," which Sari pronounces as "yay!" as she launches herself to her feet and into Elizabeth's arms in five seconds flat.

"What do you say to Cas?"

"Thank you."

"You are welcome."

"How come you didn't offer us cupcakes?" Dean quips, "I feel left out here."

"Because you don't need one," Elizabeth smirks, "There is some nice fruit over on the table."

Dean sticks his tongue out, cause he's an adult, and Sari stage whispers, "I'll get you one, Dean," conspiratorially from behind her hand, causing the grown-ups to laugh.

Lizzie carries Sari over to her mom and the cupcakes, and Dean and Cas stay behind for a minute.

"Are you all right, Dean?" Cas inquires.

"Huh?" Dean shakes himself, "yeah, fine."

"Are you certain?"

"Uhuh."

"I believe that Elizabeth was 'pulling your leg.' No one will deny you a cupcake," Cas is earnest.

"Ha, I know, thanks," Dean kisses Cas and then gets up, pulling Cas to his feet and joining the rest of the group. They're getting to the good part of the movie. Sam is raptly focused (A New Hope was always his favorite). Elizabeth is sitting half on his lap. Bobby is dozing in the arm chair. Kate is positioned next to Sam, legs folded, staring at the screen; Julie has her head resting on her lap, while Kate absent-mindedly run her fingers through her hair. Nick and Alice are leaning against each other on the floor, whispering. Dean and Cas settle on the other sofa, Dean puts his arm around Cas' shoulders, and Cas draws his knees to his chest: their typical movie watching position. Dean presses a soft kiss to Cas' temple, causing him to smile shyly.

The room is warm and comfortable and Dean imagines that this might be what normal families do for holidays. A bunch of people just sort of piled together, enjoying each other's company and good food and joking and arguing and being themselves. He briefly pictures a scene like this, with his mom (who would have fucking loved Cas) and Dad and Bobby. Ellen and Jo and Ash. Sam and Elizabeth and maybe even…he can see it so clearly he can almost taste it, and he has to shake the image away before it goes any farther into the realm of the impossible.

Sari toddles over to sit with Lizzie and Sam. She eats her cupcake and makes a mess with the icing, while the two adults explain the plot to her in hushed voices. Dean watches the three of them for a little while: the way that Lizzie plays with Sari's hair, and Sam explains the Force (using the same terms that Dean had used for him decades ago). When Sari says that Cas is like Obi-Wan, and they chuckle appreciatively and agree. They look strangely like a family, and Dean realizes something quickly and with startling clarity. Too many revelations on the eve of a new year, jesus, his brain needs to give him some fucking time to process this shit. He has to talk to Sam, now. Right fucking now.

His opportunity comes when Kate moves to put on Empire Strikes Back, while Julie grumbles at the disruption to her position. Dean offers to go get everyone drinks.

"You wanna give me a hand, Sammy?"

Cas gives him a quizzical look, but Sam agrees readily, while Alice, Elizabeth, and Nick reminisce about the year they went to a Halloween party as Luke, Leia, and Han. Bobby would have given the boys a knowing look if not for the fact that he was softly snoring.

As soon as they get to the kitchen, Dean carefully closes the door behind them and rounds on his brother. He should have been more suspicious of Sam's ready acquiescence to this little intermission, and he almost kicks himself in the head, because Sam is the one that starts the conversation and he would choose the subject that Dean least wants to discuss.

"Cas is really good with Sari, huh?" Sam's got a knowing look in his eyes, and Dean bristles and recoils.

"That's not why I dragged you in here," he counters defensive.

His brother shrugs, "I'm just saying, do you two ever think about—?"

"No, that's—" Dean takes a steadying breath and deflects, "we haven't talked about it. And it wouldn't work and—"

"Dean—"

"—that's not what we're talking about, Sammy, drop it," Sam opens empty palms in a gesture of surrender, though; Dean recognizes that it's only a temporary peace. This is going to come up again, and, when it does, Dean is going to run away, fast and far, and he needs to come up with a foolproof escape plan because, fuck, what if Sam and Cas talk about this behind his back…he thinks he might throw up.

"Fine," Sam sighs, "What are we talking about then?"

They're speaking in forceful whispers with half an eye to the door because if someone were to walk in, shit could get really awkward really fast, "I can't believe I'm saying this, but, Sam, you need to tell her."

"Huh?"

He looks genuinely confused, and Dean shakes his head, "Lizzie, you need to tell her. About you. About us. About Cas. The whole damn thing."

"Dude," Sam is looking at Dean like he's concerned for his sanity, "Have you lost your mind?"

"Have you?"

"Dean, five years ago, you would have told me to leave her after five seconds."

"I know, all right," Dean allows, "Fuck, I can't believe I'm saying this. But, Sammy, five years ago things were different."

Sam's expression is focused, concerned, and almost frightened.

"I realized something, okay—"

"That communication is an important part of a healthy relationship?" Sam raises his brow, incredulity writ large on his face.

"Jesus, yes," Dean says this like it physically hurts, "but actually, dude, I sort of figured out why everyone around us dies—"

"Because we're cursed?"

"No—"

"Because it's Tuesday?"

"—Dude, I'm being serious here—"

Sam shrugs, "So am I." Dean feels deflated and defeated and miserable. This whole fucking thing goddamn sucks ass.

"Sam, shit happens because people don't know what's out there, man," he says, "look at all those dumb sons of bitches we help…just cause they don't know what's in the dark, doesn't mean what's in the dark isn't gonna get them. Look at Jess? Look at mom and dad? Look at you and me? Dude, I saw you out there with Lizzie and the kid and I just thought—I saw the two of you with your own rugrat, and I need to know that some fucking demon spawn isn't gonna swoop in and set fire to the nursery or the bedroom or whatever. Because you can't go through at again, none of us can…" he licks his lips.

"Dean—"

"And I know it's supposed to be over, but, dude, maybe we are cursed, but we need to protect the people around us as best we can, and that means that you need to fucking tell them and prepare them…just in case."

"Dean—"

"You're into the holiday thing, make it your new year's resolution if you have to, but you have to do it."

Sam looks simultaneously like an old man and a nervous child. It makes Dean realize anew all the loses that they've had, as well as how much Sam really does like this girl and how much he doesn't want to lose her when he says: "What if she thinks that I'm crazy?"

Dean flashes to conversations with Cassie and Lisa and then back, "Then she thinks you're crazy, but Cas and Bobby and I will back you up."

Sam looks resigned but nods.

Dean breathes a sigh, "Okay, good."

They rejoin the group. Everyone is deeply engrossed in the movie. Sari falls asleep and Nick and Alice leave with hugs and kind farewells at around 10:30. The commotion wakes Bobby, who denies ever having fallen asleep in the first place. Julie keeps a running countdown until midnight. Everyone except for Cas and Bobby quotes the ongoing dialogue. They eat and drink and joke. Dean finally gets his cupcake and takes disgustingly huge bites of it while staring pointedly at Elizabeth. She retaliates by throwing several grapes at his head. Cas eats them, and scolds Dean for misbehaving, and Dean maintains that "you know you love it" and kisses him with icing covered lips. Cas licks the sticky sugary mess off of his mouth slowly and appreciatively, and Dean smirks, so it's all good.

Kate and Elizabeth get into a heated debate Lucas' skills (or lack thereof) as a storyteller and everyone quickly chimes in. Cas gives a nice analysis about Dagobah and the relationship between Buddhism and Jedi traditions. Dean is relatively sure that Julie is going to kidnap Cas and bring him to class for show and tell—at the very least, Cas has made a new email-buddy. Bobby complains about the abrupt end to the second film, which gets everyone talking about the pros and cons of the trilogy format. Elizabeth and Cas bond over their shared frustration with Darth Vadar's reaction to the news that he's a father:

"This does nothing to further the filial bond they might share," Cas is still frustrated by this on his third viewing of the film.

"Seriously," Elizabeth maintains, "I don't get his logic here, if your wife tragically dies, can't you like project the affection onto your estranged kid rather than chopping off his hand."

Dean laughs and Sam argues that, "He's a dark lord of the sith, there's been a lot of brain washing…also, pretty sure he's basically a different person."

Kate is impressed by his argument.

Jamie calls to wish his sisters a Happy New Year at 11:30, while the group is starting Return of the Jedi. They fight over the phone a little bit and yell while the other is talking. They're acting like teenagers, or Sam and Dean, and they seem stoked to hear their brother's voice. They tell him to behave, since it's apparent that he's calling from a party, and roll their eyes in unison at his response.

Sam and Elizabeth pass out champagne glasses while the rebels are beginning to plan their attack. Dean pulls Cas close as the clock ticks. Julie and Kate are whispering to each other. Bobby is finally getting into the movie. Everyone is relaxed, and they count down the last thirty seconds all together. Bobby says he's too old for this shit. Sam and Elizabeth make doe eyes at one another. Julie is kissing Kate's neck, making her giggle. Cas is focused on the dwindling moments of the dying year, and Dean chuckles and presses their foreheads together so that they're using the same air for the last ten seconds.

"Nine, Eight, Seven," Dean cheats and presses his lips to Cas' before the hit the last digits.

"Six, Five, Four," Bobby raises his glass to the room at large.

"Three," Sam beams at his brother, before tucking an errant lock of hair behind Lizzie's ear. She blushes, he smiles.

"Two," Kate and Julie start full on making out.

"One!" Dean's hand cradles Cas jaw, angling his face, deepening his kiss, while their tongues meet, tasting sweetness. Cas trails his hand along Dean's side. They pull back smiling and wishing each other and everyone else a happy new year. The three boys sort of force Bobby into an embrace. Dean hugs Elizabeth; Julie and Kate are too busy snogging each other and laughing to really notice anyone else. Lizzie jokingly tells them to get a room, when Dean lets her go. The girls actually listen, twining their fingers together and wishing everyone a Happy New Year on their way upstairs.

Bobby heads home, loaded down with leftovers and offers to stay the night. He thanks Elizabeth warmly, gives her a bear hug, claps Sam on the shoulder with a approving nod (Dean imagines that Bobby is going to use the empty house to start planning floral arrangements for the wedding), and, apparently sensing Dean's internal monologue, gives him a sharp eye and instructs him and Cas to keep it down when they get back, since they're planning to stay for the rest of the movie.

Sam wraps his arm around Elizabeth and meets his brother's eyes. Dean nods and Sam inclines his head in return. He will tell her in his own time, and Dean is proud of him, happy for him. He soundlessly calls Sam a "bitch" and his brother counters with a smile and a mouthed "jerk." Dean smirks and nuzzles his face into Cas' hair. Cas beams, contented.

The heroes celebrate their victory, and Dean and Cas move to leave. Sam is staying the night ("'atta boy, Sammy," Dean whispers. Cas and Sam simultaneously shove Dean and cuff him over the head). Cas thanks Elizabeth for her hospitality and invites her to join them for dinner sometime. "Cas is a fucking awesome cook," Dean affirms and Cas blushes. Elizabeth readily accepts. She leaves Sam's embrace to warmly hug Cas and then Dean. "Happy New Year, Lizzie," he says and she smiles, "You too, Dean, it was nice to meet you." Cas and Sam hug, too, (Dean swears it's getting less awkward every time…and it's been happing more frequently ever since Cas decided Sam needed more familial affection in his life). Dean and Sam embrace, strongly.

"She's a keeper, man," Dean whispers and he pats Sam's back.

"Thanks," Sam's voice is pleased and emabarassed.

"Be good, Sammy."

"You too."

Cas and Dean don their coats and scarves, Dean places Cas' hat on his head, and Cas rolls his eyes. They all say good bye again, Dean and Cas walk towards the Impala hand in hand, and Dean takes a moment to look back at his baby brother: his arm draped around Lizzie, her's around his waist, both of them grin and wave as they close the door.

When they get into the car, Dean heaves a deep sigh.

"Well, that wasn't too bad," he smirks at Cas.

Cas's mouth twitches, "Not bad at all," he leans over and kisses Dean.

They compare notes on the holiday. They both like Elizabeth and her family. Cas and Julie exchanged email addresses (Dean so called that). Cas briefly mentions how much he enjoyed reading with Sari, but doesn't expand further—thank god, because Dean isn't sure how he feels about this—but he agrees that she was a cool kid. They talk about how happy and well balanced Sam seems. Dean rehashes his convo in the kitchen; Cas tells him that he's proud of him.

It starts to snow again as the pull up to the house. Bobby left the kitchen light on for them. Cas catches the flurries on his tongue as they stroll up the walk, Dean chuckles and pulls him and presses his lips against his temple. They divest themselves of their winter gear and Cas leads the way up to bed, repeatedly shushing Dean as they intermittently kiss on the way up the stairs.

They make love in the winter night, the first night of a new year. Later, as they fall asleep, sweaty, and tired, Dean realizes that this is just the beginning. There are new hurdles and new adventures and a new life, new fears and realities and possibilities, but, he smiles—as Cas sleepily presses his mouth to Dean's throat, and whispers "Good night," and Dean kisses Cas' forehead, "Sweet dreams, Cas"—some things will stay the same, and he's thankful.


thank you for taking the time to read this. i had intended to end with christmas day, but some people expressed a desire to meet elizabeth at new year's and here we are. i hope that it wasn't too disappointing. seriously, thank you for reading and commenting. i really appreciate your patience and kindness with regards to this story. i'm planning to write a multi-chapter about cas falling, so stay tuned if your interested. i'd love to hear what you thought of this. thank you again. love and hugs.