my first fic in what, five years? jesus... i apologize for any typos and grammatical errors, i did not have someone beta for me. :X
well, merry christmas to all you destiel lovers! and anyone, really.
this is dedicated to the lovely tomolonis. love you, bbgirl!

Castiel would never understand Christmas. Well, to be exact, he would never understand twenty-first century Christmas traditions. Christmas was already a holiday riddled with inconsistencies (for instance, the birth of Christ was actually during the spring, but early Christians had claimed the date from pagans), so it was really no surprise that a holiday based on receiving material items fell after the American holiday of giving thanks for what one has. He did not understand small elf dolls being moved around the house during the night. He did not understand why women dressed in lingerie walking down a stage constituted as a holiday occasion. And he certainly did not understand the concept of a "yankee swap". Perhaps his lack of understanding humans, even after his long time on Earth, made it difficult for him to understand the holiday. For the most part, Castiel considered it an indulgent occasion that intruded upon what had been decreed as a holy day (despite its historical inaccuracies).

Nevertheless, here he was, standing in the middle of a store and staring at a display of items claimed to be great last minute gifts. He had been surprised when Dean had invited Castiel to spend Christmas with the Winchesters.

Actually, it was less of an invitation and more of a command.

"Cas, you can't spend Christmas by yourself, man. And old folk don't count as company. So you're hanging out with me and Sam, capiche?"

He didn't plan on refusing Dean in the first place (not that he had any sort of willpower to deny Dean anything). Dean's insistence had him curious, however. Ever since he had decided to hang around Mr. Jones and leave the Winchesters to hunting without him, Dean had become especially eager to have Castiel stay around when he popped in and out with help. In fact, Dean had begun to pray to him even on hunts that didn't need the angel's help. His excuse typically involved the tension between Sam and himself that had blossomed as of late. Castiel did notice that the two seemed to bicker less if he was around, so he would agree to assist on the hunt. Still, he rarely stayed longer than necessary, flying off once his job was done. Dean usually sent him a prayer afterwards about having poor manners, but he didn't actually berate Castiel about it when he returned.

Castiel secretly wished to stay by Dean's side. After their time together in Purgatory, being with each other so long even though Castiel knew that he would be left alone in the end, Castiel had felt his relationship with Dean shift. He had always had an inkling of something in him, since the moment they met, but over the years it had grown stronger and more insistent, reaching towards Dean whenever it could. It clung desperately to his words ('Don't ever change.' 'I'd rather have you', 'I need you', 'I'm not leaving here without you.' 'Every other godforsaken thing that I care about') and held onto them when he felt at his lowest. Castiel didn't know how to define this thing- this wanting, needing creature living in his chest. Truthfully, he was afraid of it.

He was still unworthy. He was still at fault for everything that had happened. He still felt he deserved harsher punishment. He didn't deserve Dean's care, his company, his friendship. He couldn't even be a good hunter; how could he hope to atone for his mistakes now that he was out of Purgatory? He couldn't stay by Dean's side with these thoughts in his head, regardless of his growing feelings toward the hunter. He would not burden Dean with his emotions any more. The look in Dean's eyes when he confessed his fears about retuning to Heaven had solidified that decision. He never wished to see that kind of fear and worry in Dean's eyes ever again. He wasn't worthy of it. Not yet, not until he had righted his wrongs.

That was part of the reason he stood in the store, staring at bags of chocolate and plastic cards he understood to be of monetary value. He knew the tradition of gift giving fairly well, and he hoped that perhaps if he could give Dean a proper gift, he could be forgiven for some of the hurt he had caused. Although, Castiel could not figure out what that gift would be. He didn't believe humans sold gifts fit for apologies involving releasing Leviathans and breaking mental blocks. He would be impressed if they did, though.


Castiel starts at the voice that cuts through his thoughts. He turns to look at the speaker, a young woman wearing a shirt that he presumed to signify her position as an employee of the store. She's holding a strange gun-like contraption that appears to put stickers on the items on the shelves. She raises an eyebrow and speaks again.

"Sir, can I help you find something?" she asks again slowly.

"I don't know what I am looking for," Castiel replies. Her eyebrow lifts higher, a clear sense of confusion on her face.

"Um… okay. Are you looking for something to give someone?" she probes further, still sounding as if he was some sort of lost child.

"I am looking for something to give my…. friend…. Dean," he starts to explain, fumbling slightly when he searches for a title other than "charge". "However, I do not know what would be an adequate gift to give him in order to make up for something I have done to him."

Both eyebrows were up now. The woman presses her lips together in a line, seemingly looking for a response. Castiel isn't quite sure how else he could have worded his intentions. She nods for a moment, placing the gun on the shelf and running a hand through her brown hair with a hum.

"Okay... well, maybe I can help?" she finally says, shrugging one shoulder as she folds her arms. "This… thing… you did? How bad? Like… forgot to pick him up bad or slept with his sister bad?"

"I don't think either of those accurately compare," Castiel answers.

"Okay, so we'll say you effed up bad. Hm… well, what does Dean like?"

This takes Castiel a minute. There were many things Dean enjoyed, but he had a fairly good concept on what was appropriate to discuss with non-hunters. He presumed weaponry and killing demons wasn't.

"He enjoys pie. And pornography."

The woman bursts out laughing, her hand flying up to cover her mouth in a vain effort to stifle herself.

"Sorry, sorry…. So, uh, he's a typical guy then," she chuckles.

"Dean is far from 'typical'," Castiel blurts, surprised at how quickly the sentiment slipped out of his mouth. The feeling swells slightly. The woman stops laughing and blinks at Castiel. A look of realization crosses her face, smoothing out the wrinkles on her forehead. Her mouth opens in a silent 'oh' before she smiles. Castiel doesn't understand what she seems to have discovered.

"So, he's a little more than just a friend, yeah?" she says with a twinge of sympathy in her voice.

"Dean is… a friend," Castiel repeats, slowly, not quite believing his words.

Dean is… more than that. He doesn't know how to describe their relationship. Already there is so much he cannot divulge to an average human. But he does know… he knows how he feels about Dean. Their bond is incredibly strong and his Grace pulls him to Dean. He believes Dean to be one of the most beautiful souls he has ever seen, and he has always had faith in him. Even when he lost faith in Heaven, in his Father, in himself- He always believed in Dean. Dean never believes in himself. He takes guilt for that which is out of his control, and takes responsibilities that he has never had to bear. Dean is stubborn and brash; he is impulsive and careless. He is many things that infuriate Castiel. But… he cares for Dean because of those things. He has placed himself in the line of fire countless times because of his desire to see Dean understand. He wants to make Dean believe in himself and see himself the way Castiel does because he doesn't understand how Dean cannot do this himself. That Dean is worthy of happiness, of greatness, of love…

And with that word, the being swells so great in his chest that Castiel is momentarily stunned by the way his vessel's heart begins to beat furiously and his skin thrums with a strange heat. Oh… he thinks absently.

His face must show this, because the woman is now smiling a small, knowing smirk and nodding.

"Does Dean know?" she asks. Castiel shakes his head. He didn't know before now, how could Dean? The woman is nodding, her smile a little sadder than before. Castiel can feel the empathy.

"Well, I don't think any of this crap will work, then. I think something a little more heartfelt is necessary here," she says with a smile. "I think whatever you did, you did for a reason that had nothing to do with hurting this Dean and maybe he knows that too. Maybe it's time to show why you have to make it better."

Castiel blinks at the woman. Suddenly, an idea flares into his head and he knows exactly what he has to give Dean. He feels his lips twitch into a small smile.

"I think I know what I must get now. Thank you for your assistance, -" He looks quickly at the small badge pinned to her chest. "- Felicia."

Felicia smiles again at Castiel. She picks up her gun and lets out a small laugh.

"Merry Christmas," she says as she turns to walk away, but Castiel is already gone in a gust of air.

When Castiel finally appears in the Winchester's motel room, he is immediately drawn to the decorations. Dean and Sam have managed to hang some thin garland along the walls and around the small tree they have set up, which is decorated with bottle caps and bullet shells. There are also what appear to be paper snowflakes taped to one of the walls (Castiel notices later that they are pages from pornography magazines).

"Cas! Way to show up, man. Sammy thought you were gonna ditch us," Dean greets as he shoots up from his seat on the bed.

"I wasn't the one sitting here mumbling about angels getting their ass here," Sam says from the table. Sam and Dean are both wearing cheap felt Santa hats and drinking from small paper cups. From the slight slur in their speech, Castiel deduces that they've been drinking.

"I apologize for being late. I was looking for something," Castiel says as he looks to Dean. Dean looks at him quizzically a moment, but shrugs and claps Castiel on the shoulder.

"Nah, it's fine. I'm just glad you're here. Even Sam. But now it's time for Winchester Christmas!" Dean replies and his face splits into a wide grin.

Winchester Christmas involves a lot of alcohol, Castiel notes. Dean puts on a Christmas movie explains the rules of the game they're apparently playing. For the most part, it calls for the players to take a drink of what turns out to be eggnog every time something occurs in the movie. Except Sam and Dean have made it that for Castiel he must drink twice the amount each time.

"Not all of us have livers of steel, Cas. It's cheatin' for you," Dean explains. He's sitting next to Castiel on the end of the bed, and each time he moves his shoulder bumps into Castiel's, or their thighs touch. Castiel wonders when such an innocuous movement suddenly became such a trigger for his body to stutter.

"Dean just wants someone to get drunk before he does."

"I don't need Cas for that, Sammy. You're a two beer queer."

"I'm sorry that I haven't drank so much alcohol in my life that I haven't become immune to it like you have!"

"It's alright, Samantha. I'm sure Santa can bring you some Cosmos for Christmas. Then you, Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte can complain about your sex lives. But I totally get your man card then."



Castiel sits quietly during this exchange. He smiles slightly. Dean notices this and pokes Castiel's cheek roughly.

"See! I told you we were better company!" he laughs. He's smiling at Castiel and it's so warm and fond that Castiel actually feels his cheeks flare.

The movie is surprisingly enjoyable. It's a retelling of A Christmas Carol, except Castiel cannot understand the significance of the puppets. ("Dude, it's the Muppets; they're hilarious.") Either way, there are a lot of moments where one of the brothers yells out "Drink!" gleefully, so Castiel finishes about five cups of eggnog (which Castiel notes is about 2/3 rum and 1/3 actual eggnog) and two beers by the time the third ghost arrives. He thinks he's beginning to feel something. True to Dean's word, Sam is intoxicated; he has been giggling incessantly at the rat puppet and struggling to keep his drink in its cup. Dean hasn't stopped laughing at Sam for a solid twenty minutes and he keeps bumping into Castiel. At one point, he doesn't even move away; he keeps his body in a tight line against Castiel's side. Castiel cannot shake the fluttering sensation in his chest, so he gently presses back against Dean.

"Dean, we're out of eggnog!" Sam suddenly exclaims, shaking an empty carton in the air. Dean laughs again, a big boom of a laugh that crinkles the skin around his eyes. Castiel notes that he looks beautiful like that, happy. Dean abruptly pulls Castiel's arm and heaves the angel to his feet.

"Come on, Cas, you're coming with me. I'm not walking my ass through that by myself and Sammy can barely stand," he says with a gesture to the window. Everything outside has been covered in a thick layer of white snow and more is falling down in fat flakes. Castiel nods and moves to the door. Dean shrugs on his jacket, but before he can make it to the door, Sam has yanked on one of his arms, forcefully bringing his ear level with Sam's mouth. Sam whispers something in Dean's ear that makes him jerk back. A flush spreads across his nose in either direction. He slaps Sam's head with a curt "Bitch!" before stomping past Castiel into the snow. Castiel follows wordlessly. He's learned never to ask.

It isn't until they are five minutes into their snowy trudge that Dean speaks.

"So… uh, Cas, are you havin' fun?" he questions slowly. He doesn't look at Castiel, but keeps his eyes staring resolutely forward. Castiel cocks his head slightly.

"Yes, Dean, I am enjoying myself," he answers. Dean's eyes dart to look at Castiel quickly with a small frown.

"I mean, I know this kinda stuff isn't your thing and all. I'm sure angels throw awesome parties that don't involve sitting around watching The Muppets but since you're stayin' down here I figured…. Well, I just know me and Sam aren't probably the most fun."

Castiel looks to Dean and studies his features. He still has that slight flush across his face, although it has spread to his nose as well so perhaps it is just the cold. But his eyes… Dean's eyes are holding that look that Castiel recognizes instantly. Doubt. Dean is honestly worried he isn't good company. As if he wouldn't be better than an elderly woman who is convinced that Castiel is her third husband.

"Dean, I can't imagine there is any place I would rather be," he replies, "I enjoy seeing you and Sam get along again."

"Yeah, well we both decided to get over our own shit and celebrate. I think Sam really needed the break from his stick in the ass," Dean chuckles, a sad smile on his face.

"I believe you both needed this."

"Cas, you sayin' I have a stick in my ass?"

"I don't believe you're a Muppet, Dean."

Dean stops dead in his tracks, gaping at Castiel.

"Cas, did you just make a joke?"

Castiel feels his face flush and he darts his eyes away. After a moment of silence, the only sound being the whistle of the wind, Dean bursts into laughter. Castiel relaxes, thankful he at least made a successful attempt at humor. Dean wraps an arm around Castiel's shoulder and pulls him into the convenience store, still laughing.

Castiel's shoulders burn at the touch.

Dean talks as they check out and head back to the motel. He tells Castiel about the Christmases he spent at Bobby's house. He talk about how Bobby made the best eggnog ever ("I was hungover for three days, I swear."), how they would order Chinese and watch Christmas movie marathons, and how Bobby always got them the best presents.

"I mean, me and Sam didn't really get Christmas when we were on a hunt with Dad. Any time we actually got to stay at Bobby's was a good Christmas. He made our traditions," he says. Castiel notices that Dean's face clouds a little as he finishes. He realizes that the Winchester's aren't only celebrating Christmas; they're paying homage to the man who practically raised them. Castiel's heart clenches with guilt.

"Dean," he says, stopping abruptly before they reach the Winchester's room. Dean slows to a stop and turns to face Castiel.

"What is it, Cas?" he asks, his voice dropping as if he is preparing for an ambush of some kind.

Castiel's hand clutches the small item in his pocket. He feels something unfamiliar, a nervousness that he isn't used to having. The creature is sitting heavy on his chest, making him swallow hard as he tries to force his vessel's heart to slow its pace. He pulls the present out and holds it out.

"I brought this for you. It's customary to give gifts on Christmas," he states, shifting awkwardly. Dean raises an eyebrow, but steps forward and takes the present anyway.

"Cas, you didn't have to get anything," he says as he pulls away the newspaper wrapping. In his hands is a cassette tape. He holds it for what seems like an eternity, and Castiel feels like he is waiting for a wave to crash, strong and ruthless. Instead, he gets a breeze.

"Cas, how did you…?" Dean finally breathes, trailing off as he turns the tape in his hands. It's label reads "HEY JUDE – THE BEATLES".

"When you were young, your mother used to sing this to you. She was a good woman, Dean, in spite of the choices she made. She was very much like you, I've observed. She was selfless person and sacrificed much in order to keep you, Sam, and even your father safe," Castiel begins slowly, staring at the tape as he continues. He finds himself unable to look at Dean as he speaks.

"You have lost so much, Dean Winchester. You have never deserved what has been put upon you all of your life. I… I never wished to be one of the people in your life that have disappointed you. But I have become that. I don't expect you to forgive me for what I have done. I have tried my best to atone for what I have done in Purgatory, but I know I have to earn your trust and respect again. I do not want you to think of me as someone who has betrayed you."

Castiel finally looks up into Dean's eyes. Dean's face is entirely unreadable, but Castiel sees slight surprise in his eyes.

"I was told that if I wished to fix our friendship that a heartfelt gift was the best choice. Was this satisfactory?" he adds, trying to fight the pounding staccato of his pulse.

Dean looks at Castiel a moment, then back to the cassette. He turns it over in his hands a few times before he speaks.

"Mom always told me angels were watching over me."

He looks up and meets his green eyes with Castiel's blue ones.

"Have you been watching over me, Cas?" he asks so softly that the wind almost drowns out the sound.

"When I made a deal with Crowley… I was thinking about you. About how ever since I pulled you from Hell, I have disregarded everything I have ever known for you. I have always watched you, Dean, but it wasn't until I met you that I realized how far I would go to do so. You are the most remarkable person I have ever known. Your soul is so pure, but it is so marred with bruises and cracks from your life. When I pieced you together, I knew that I wanted to someday help piece your soul back together as well. I have always wanted nothing more than for you to be safe and live to know how worthy you are of the things you run from. Your past is not who you are meant to be, Dean. You were chosen by to be saved for a reason. I only hope that you allow me to remain by your side so you can one day learn to love yourself the way that I…"

Castiel cannot finish his statement for two reasons. One, he is afraid to say the words out loud. And two, Dean has reached out and pulled Castiel into himself roughly, groceries landing in the snow with a dulled thump. The last time Dean hugged Castiel, it was out of relief. This time, Castiel feels affection in it, more so than the last. Dean has his face pressed into Castiel's neck, his arms pining Castiel's own to his sides in their fierce hold. Castiel can feel his heart racing once more. Or, is that Dean's?

"Cas, I forgave you a long time ago. I forgave you the second you took Sam's place," Dean says low in Castiel's ear. Castiel's breath hitches. Dean pulls away, but he keeps his hands on Castiel's shoulders.

"You're not allowed to go anywhere, ever again. I am sick of everyone dying on me. I want someone that I actually give a damn about to stay in my life for once. So there is no way that I wasn't going to let you back in. You have to start believing in me, Cas. And I don't mean in that "you can do it" kind of way. I mean you have to believe that I want the same things from you that you want from me," he continues in a voice that wavers slightly. The creature rushes Castiel's veins with warmth. He reminds himself quickly that he shouldn't jump to conclusions, but the thought dies quickly when Dean's line of sight shifts momentarily from Castiel's eyes to his mouth and then back. The creature just about sets his blood on fire.

Dean nods and takes a step away from Castiel, looking embarrassed. He smiles sheepishly and opens his mouth to speak, but stops. His eyes are focused above his head. Castiel follows his line of sight and sees a small arrangement of mistletoe as been crudely taped to the short stretch of ceiling above the room's doorway. He cocks his head as he recalls the tradition involving mistletoe. Looking back to Dean, Castiel sees a deep blush on his face and hears a muffled laugh through the door.

"Sam is such a girl when he's drunk!" Dean mutters, looking away from Castiel.

Well, Castiel can test out a theory now.

"The tradition is that two people standing underneath mistletoe are supposed to kiss," he states.

"Yeah, typically," Dean responds dejectedly. A moment of silence.

"Well, I was led to believe we were celebrating traditions tonight."

Dean's eyes snap to Castiel's and for a minute Castiel panics. Perhaps he has misread Dean's intentions… maybe he could blame it on another attempt at making a joke…

But before he can say anything, Dean is breaking into a brilliant smile and tugging Castiel forward by the lapels on his trench coat.

"It's a Christmas miracle, Charlie Brown!"

Somewhere outside of Dean's mouth on his own, Castiel can feel one of Dean's hands release his coat to flick towards his brother's voice in what Castiel is presuming to be an offensive hand gesture. He cannot hold back the light huff of laughter that spills from his mouth directly into Dean's.

Castiel thinks, as he feels Dean's lips curl into a smile, that perhaps if he cannot understand Christmas, he at least should respect its traditions.