"Castiel," comes the weak voice. "Castiel, help us."
"What time is it?" he mumbles into the arm of the sofa.
"It's half seven. I- I think we're all dead."
"Can't your resurrection be postponed?" Cas groans. He'd already been semi-awake, but he'd been hoping for a few hours of peace while his family slept off their Satan-delivered hangovers. No such luck.
"Make us breakfast."
"You're the only one to do it, Cas. You're the chosen one."
"Go back to sleep, Gabriel."
"I can't," he groans. Cas opens his eyes and looks out across the lounge, which reminds him of some hideous indoor festival. The floor is littered with wrapping paper, glasses, burst balloons, and- much to his chagrin- various family members.
He doesn't know what time it was when he and Dean came back downstairs the night before. They'd spent a long time together, alternating between kissing and talking and sitting side-by-side and just being. Dean, Cas is finding, is good with silence. When Cas wants to be quiet, Dean doesn't push him to talk, but he has a way of drawing conversation out of Cas all the same.
Cas thinks that he could probably spend a very long time in Dean's company and be okay with it, and that's a frightening prospect. The good kind of frightening, though- unlike the kind associated with having to see Anna.
The worst part, he thinks, the absolute worst part, is that he can't even bring himself to regret it. Sure, there's some guilt there, but when he catches sight of the familiar curve of Dean's body, lying face down on the floor with his face pressed into a pillow, the warmth that floods him swamps everything else.
Whatever time it was last night when Cas and Dean finally re-joined the land of the living, it was late enough that a good deal of the others had gone to sleep. Luke and Gabe had both decided the lounge would do, and whilst the others had found their way to rooms upstairs, they weren't all in the right ones. Dean had no idea where Anna had gone and no idea where he was supposed to go, so he'd settled for the floor (after point blank refusing to take Cas' place on the sofa). Right now, Dean and Luke are still asleep, and Gabriel is the one croaking out requests like a man on Death Row.
"Cas," Gabriel says again, miserably. Cas, who still hasn't taken his eyes off of Dean, decides that he needs all the good karma he can get and rolls onto his feet. He hasn't even made it to the door when it's flung open and somebody comes stumbling in.
"Hey," Sam says breathlessly. "Uh, is Dean around?"
Cas gestures wordlessly behind him. "Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, yeah. It's just, um. Jess. She called me," Sam said.
"Last night. At like, 5AM or something. I didn't pick up, but I woke up at like seven and got the missed call, so I phoned back-"
"At 7AM?" Gabriel says incredulously, words still muffled by the sofa. Sam carries on talking.
"- and she was saying that she thinks she made a mistake, and that she wants us to get back together."
"What did you say to her?" Cas asks, though the sheepish look on Sam's face gives him a fair hint.
"I said we'd talk," he says, surprising Cas a little. "I said there were some things that we need to talk through, so sheasked if I could get to hers, and I said yeah."
"Soon," Sam says. "There's a train I can get, so…" He looks awful- pale and shaking, and Cas is relatively sure he's vomited in the past five minutes. "I'll go soon."
"Would you like to stay and have breakfast?"
"God, yes," he says, with the level of gratitude normally reserved for life-saving medical procedures.
"I heard 'breakfast'," Dean shouts, face still buried in the cushion. "Cas, is intravenous bacon a thing yet?"
"I don't believe so."
"I hate my life," Dean groans into the floor. Cas looks at him fondly, the hint of a smile tugging at his lips. When he turns back to Sam, he's somewhere between satisfied and smug, like he doesn't know whether to hug Cas or high-five him. Cas sincerely hopes he attempts neither.
Cas cooks a truly ridiculous quantity of bacon due to a prediction that's soon proved correct: the smell wafting up the stairs acts as a kind of pied-piper tune, drawing every person in the house out of their beds and into the kitchen. Michael doles out aspirin and Anna makes coffee that Cas has to stop Gabe from putting whiskey in, because at some point that has to start being considered a problem.
Nobody says much, but they demolish enough bacon to make Babe the endangered species poster child, and it's about half an hour before Cas actually gets to sit down himself.
"Hey," Dean says with a small smile, looking up from the dregs of his coffee.
"Hello," Cas replies, unconsciously shifting a little closer. There's not much more he can do, not with everybody (including Anna, the guilt centre of his brain delights in reminding him) in the room. He keeps catching Dean's eye, and every time he does, he has to remind himself not to beam like an idiot. He's apparently become a love-struck twelve year old girl, and that concerns him. If he starts swooning, he'll have to put himself on testosterone supplements.
Sam decides to get the train leaving at eleven, and Dean offers to drive him to the station. While they pack up Sam's stuff, Cas is left to tidy up the landfill site that's busily pretending to be a lounge. Luke swans in at about ten o'clock, and Cas braces himself for what he knows is coming.
"Hello, Luke," he says tiredly.
"You and Dean," Luke says smoothly, wasting no time.
"What about us?"
"What do you want me to say?"
"I want you to acknowledge that I'm right!I'm guessing you didn't have sex, because that doesn't seem like you- not to mention you're still walki-"
"Luke, in the name of all that is good and holy, I am begging you not to finish that sentence."
"C'mon, little bro. You two are an item, aren't you?"
"I don't know," Cas says, perfectly honestly. He picks up an armful of rubbish and heads towards the kitchen. "He and Anna broke up yesterday, Luke. That's hardly a sufficient refractory period."
"But if he broke up with her for you," Luke presses, following him out. "Then that's different."
"That isn't what happened. Anna was the one to terminate their relationship."
"Yeah, so he could be with you."
"Am I? Was it you she came to at some stupid hour of night confessing how guilty she felt?"
"Guilty?" Cas stops in his tracks. Luke, with the reflexes of a man unhealthily attached to video games, diverts his path to step smoothly around him.
"Guilty, and like a bad person, and like a bad sister and a bad friend, and about forty other negative adjectives. You and her are two peas in one self-denying, repressive little pod."
"I don't understand. What would Anna have to feel guilty for?"
"After you and Dean had your first date- that thing at the market," he has to add when Cas' brow furrows in confusion, "- apparently he was somewhat taken with you. She said, and I quote, that it was the 'happiest she'd ever seen him'. She came and found me at about two in the morning- said she'd been lying awake next to him. I had a very long outpouring of how it hadn't been working and how it could so clearly work with you two, and how she was a terrible person to get in the way of that, etcetera etcetera. They were on their way to breaking up, Cas, but you were one hell of a catalyst."
Cas doesn't know how to respond to that. The guilt curling in his stomach doubles, thickens, black smoke bumbling inside of him. He feels guilty for making Anna feel guilty. This is getting ludicrous.
"I need to talk with Anna," he declares. He pushes the rubbish into Luke's arms, who has the good grace to look surprised before Cas turns and heads up the stairs. He finds Anna in her old room.
"I sincerely hope the biohazard team have been and gone," Cas says, edging his way in. They've had every window in the room open for days (Gabriel and Luke had approached that in a way that made guerrilla warfare teams seem slapdash), and despite the air being thick with the cloying scent of air-freshener, it's bearable.
"I would attempt to get my own back," Anna muses, "but I think we all learned our lesson after the guinea pig incident of '08."
"Anna, we swore on our mother's grave to never discuss the guinea pig incident of '08."
Anna chuckles and slides her laptop shut. She pats the end of her bed, and Cas sits down. He might have seen her this morning, but they haven't had a chance to talk until now.
"I'm guessing you've talked to Dean?" she asks, swinging around to sit by his side.
She nods. "And by talked, you mean…?"
She reads his answer in the way he averts his eyes. "Oh, Cas," she says, and when he gets the courage to look back, she's smiling- really, properly smiling.
"I knew it," she says. "I knew things would work out for you two."
"I'm sorry," he says. "Anna, I'm so sorry."
"Don't be," she chides him. "I told you, this is what I want."
"Luke told me what happened," he says quietly.
"What about? Oh- oh God, no. Not that ridiculous soap-opera style breakdown?" she says, in the horrified tones of somebody who's just checked their 'Sent' folder after a very long, very drunken night.
"You never should have felt bad," he tells her fiercely. "Not for one single second."
"Thank you," she says. He can't tell if she believes him, but her gratitude sounds sincere either way. "I feel better now, though. Now I know things are as they should be."
"Why aren't you angry at me?" he asks- and it doesn't make much sense, but he's getting frustrated. He thinks he'd feel better if she'd hit him, but that doesn't seem to be on the cards.
"Why should I be?"
"I made you and Dean-"
"Not to be rude, Cas, but you couldn't make me do anything if you tried," she objects. This is true. The last time anybody tried to 'make' Anna do something, she was five years old, and she bit them until they gave up.
"You know what I mean," he relents.
"Do I? It was what I wanted, Cas."
"But you and him…"
"Weren't working. You know that."
"You loved him. You still love him," Cas says, his final objection, the one that should mean more than anything else. Anna lets out a quiet sigh.
"I do. But he wasn't happy with me, and I wasn't okay with that. I love him, yes- and I love you, and that's what you want for the people you love. For them to be happy."
"You are," he says slowly, "the most selfless individual I have ever had the good grace to encounter."
"And the prettiest," she agrees. "Now come on, you, that's enough soul-baring for one day. What time are you leaving?"
The week's passed quickly, Cas thinks. It's probably the fastest he's ever known a family Christmas go.
"I hadn't really thought about it," he admits. That's unusual in itself; usually, he's away by seven, eight at the latest. "You?"
"After lunch, I think. I'm staying with Ruby for a couple of days- we're hitting the sales in a big way."
"Don't end up on the news again."
"If that guy didn't want his nose broken, he shouldn't have gotten between Ruby and the last pair of heels."
"… Anna, that was you."
"I was kind of hoping you'd forget that."
The rain shows no intention of stopping just because people have places to go, and Sam and Dean are both wrapped in about five layers each.
"Dean, I can carry it myself," comes a voice from upstairs.
"You're not allowed to carry heavy things until you get your bangs cut. You're one gust of wind away from taking a swan dive over the bannister." Dean's voice is faint, but unmistakable. Cas shakes his head and returns to his essay. He's made excellent progress: he's now on thirty-six words.
"Go on, then," Gabriel says, with a heavy sigh. Luke blinks.
"He's delusional enough to not want a piece of this, so I quit. I give in, I lost, whatever. This is your last chance before he runs back into the wholesome arms of Jessica 'I've-Never-Started-A-Fire-In-A-Target-Bathroom-Stall' Moore. Make your move, if you're man enough."
Luke considers this. "Nah," he eventually says.
"Nah. With you out of the running, it's just too easy. Whose face am I supposed to rub it in? Nah. That's boring, li'l bro, and I don't do boring."
"You like him," Gabriel accuses.
"So? So do you. Doesn't mean one of us has to have him. I mean, you like chocolate milk, and I like chocolate milk, but if you died in a hideous accident I wouldn't feel the compulsive need to drink every carton in existence."
"That's one hell of a grisly analogy, even for you."
"I agree," Cas says. "And it doesn't even make sense."
"That's because it was just my way of letting Gabe know I drunk all the chocolate milk." Luke rolls off the sofa, and the book Gabe was swinging towards his face sinks into the sofa cushions.
"Worst! Human being! In existence!" Gabriel shouts after Luke, who actually cackles.
Sam appears a few minutes later to say goodbye, wrapping Castiel in a hug that leaves Cas awkwardly patting Sam's back and Dean trying not to snigger. Luke and Gabe both watch Sam leave, their eyes lingering a little longer than they really should.
Cas can't help but think of Gabriel's jibing as less of a challenge and more of a blessing, like he was giving his consent. And if Cas noticed the look of sheer thankfulness on Gabriel's face after Luke 'changed his mind', then Luke certainly did. As Cas regards the two of them, he finds that Anna's words from before swim to mind.
That's what you want for the people you love. For them to be happy.
Apparently the Christmas spirit is getting to them all.
(That being said, Cas also notices that actually, Luke's sweater seems a little too big for him. It's not the one Cas bought, and he doesn't remember seeing Luke in it before- it's baggy and too long, and too…. wholesome.
Cas thinks that, earlier this morning, Luke and Sam had been probably been alone together in a room for two or three minutes, and that Luke is very good at making his appeals sound like throwaway requests- all "I was wondering…" and "no real reason".
And finally, Cas thinks- as he watches Sam open the car door and get in- that he doesn't remember Sam owning a t-shirt with
'I'M SO CHEERY I SHIT RAINBOWS'
written across the back.)
Dean finds Cas in the attic again, back in his spot by the window.
"You like it here?" he asks, sitting down next to him.
"I used to come up here often as a child. I'd forgotten how much I like it."
Dean sits next to him and covers Cas' hand with his own. In the short space of time Castiel has been allowed to notice such things, he's realised that Dean likes to touch him. Whether it's the ghosting of a hand along the small of Cas' back, or an arm thrown around his shoulders, or lips brushing against the hair at the back of Cas' neck, Dean finds it hard to keep himself to himself.
Cas turns his hand so that he can link his fingers through Dean's. As far as habits go, this is one he's fully prepared to indulge.
"What time are you leaving?" Cas asks.
"… uh, about that," Dean says. Cas shifts to look at him. "The plan was for me to go stay with Anna and Ruby, but for obvious reasons, that ain't happening. I thought I'd go back with Sam, but that's not happening either, so I guess I'm just going back to my flat. So yeah- whenever you go, probably."
Cas hesitates. "How much of Luke and Gabriel can you put up with?"
"I was thinking of staying for a few extra days. I have nothing to hurry back to, and staying here this year has been… less awful an experience than is customary."
"You'd let me stay a couple more days?"
"If you wanted."
"That'd be awesome. Like, seriously awesome."
"Hell yeah," Dean breathes, and Cas wants to ask a question but somehow he ends up kissing Dean instead. He supposes it still involves lips.
"I get like, another three days of you," Dean says when they finally break apart. "Just to warn you, I'm gonna spend most of it doing that."
Somehow- miraculously, considering how dazed Cas is, all mussed hair and swollen red lips- enough remains of his earlier question for him to piece it back together.
"There's something else, isn't there?" he asks. "There's another reason why you don't want to go back."
Dean stiffens, but then sighs and slumps. "I'm thinking of dropping out of college."
"Now?" Cas knows that Dean hates college, knows he was considering it, but he doesn't understand why Dean's suddenly leapt into action. "What changed?"
"I know this is gonna make me sound so crappy, but I was with Anna when I didn't really want to be, and now I'm out of that… it seems stupid to stay in something else that isn't working, you know? Might as well go the whole hog. New year, new me, and all that crap."
"What will you do instead?"
"There's this place I mentioned before- a salvage yard- that a family friend owns. I was thinking of calling him and asking if he could hook me up with a job. He'll probably chuck a dime my way once every three weeks and ride my ass the whole damn time, but it's gotta be better than college. Even if it's not, I'll have tried, you know?"
"I do," Cas murmurs. "Where is it?"
Dean names a location. Cas is starting to think that his entire life until this point has been one long session in purgatory, and now that he's suffered for the mandated period of time, he's being rewarded for his hard work.
"That's less than thirty minutes from my college," he says. Dean's eyes light up.
"Are you serious?"
"I know a man named Inias who has family there. I'm positive."
"So I could see you?" Dean says, his voice quiet but brimming with excitement.
"Definitely," Cas confirms. A grin spreads over Dean's face.
"Cas..." he says, "this could actually work out. Me and you, I mean."
"You sound so shocked," Cas muses. "Then again, you have reason. I have a pathological aversion to making phone calls, and I don't think I've checked my emails since November."
"I have a car."
"You may need to use it." Somehow, though, Cas doubts it. He can't imagine forgetting Dean- rather, he worries he'll forget that he has classes to attend. He decides not to think about it until he absolutely has to- after all, he has other things to get through first. Whilst he'd guess that Gabriel already knows he's with Dean, he can't be sure, and somebody's going to need to tell Michael. At some stage. Probably.
"Is it weird that I didn't buy you anything?" Dean asks out of nowhere. "For Christmas, I mean."
"What?" Cas frowns. "No, of course not. Though, actually-" Cas slips a hand into his pocket and pulls something out. "Open your hand."
"Dean." Dean obliges, warily, and Cas presses something into his palm. "I thought you might like this back."
"Yeah," Dean says, sounding strangely choked up as he looks down at the tiny, glittering star. "Yeah, you were right about that." And then he kisses Cas again, kisses him until Luke starts banging on the ceiling with a broomstick and shouting at the top of his voice that he knows Cas is up there, and if Cas is up there Dean must be up there too, and if that's the case, do they need to borrow any lubricant?
"Luke, stop it!" Cas shouts downstairs as Dean splutters. "My brother," he apologises to Dean, "is a terrible human being."
"He is," Dean agrees. "But you love him all the same."
"I do," Cas acknowledges.
"Winchester, quit violating my brother!"
"Bite me, Lucifer!" Dean shouts back down the stairs.
Cas smiles. It's going to be a damn good year.