Well, here it is, folks: the final chapter. I must admit, it's a bittersweet feeling to have reached this point. I've really enjoyed taking this journey with y'all, and I want to reiterate how touched I am by all your wonderful comments. I really had no idea that I would get such a tremendous response to this story. Here's one last toast to you all, especially the reviewers from last chapter: ellenrobbins980, ChocolatePegasus, Bitblondetoday, We need more lube, nobodyweirdlikeme, SilentHowler, funniestangelinthegarrison, HuntingWithAngels, xlauren1996x, Casismyfavorite, cherishiskisa, Gustin, vixxster2492, cheesybeans, mamimisan, ImagineYourself64, Dead-Knight-of-Darkness, Molly-Myles, and Ashwing!
Christmas Day dawned bright and cold, if not as cold as Christmas Eve. The small amount of snow that had accumulated the previous evening stayed on the ground well into the morning hours before melting away, but Dean and Castiel weren't aware of this fact.
Dean had woken up briefly very early, when it was still dark, his heart racing from a nightmare. But before he had even completely reached consciousness, he became aware of a feathery caress brushing over his cheek and shoulder, and two warm arms wrapped around him, and tousled hair tickling the back of his neck. And he sighed in utter contentment and went back to sleep.
Several hours later, he was teased into wakefulness by that same feathery touch. "Dean. Deeeean," purred a voice still gravelly with sleep. "I made Christmas cocoa."
"Hmph?" Dean mumbled.
"I seem to recall that the definition of 'Christmas cocoa' is 'hot chocolate with peppermint flavor'," Castiel continued, as if to himself. "I believe I have achieved this successfully. But I won't be entirely sure until you've tasted it."
Dean smothered his grin in his pillow, but when his shoulders started shaking with laughter, he couldn't hide it anymore. He turned over, yawning through his chuckles. "You are a regular chatterbox when you think I'm asleep!" he accused. "Have you been always been able to string words together that prettily?
Castiel blushed and offered him a mug of hot chocolate. "Taste it, Dean."
Dean took it and held it in both hands for a moment, enjoying the warmth.
"Taste," Castiel urged him again.
"You... taste," Dean grumbled. He was bad at comebacks first thing in the morning. "Maybe I'm worried it'll burn my tongue, hm?"
"It won't," Castiel assured him. "And if it did, I would heal you."
"Yeah, I guess you would." Dean allowed himself one completely sappy, adoring smile at his angel, and then took a sip of the cocoa. It tasted almost perfect. Almost. He licked his lips thoughtfully. "It's good. It's vaguely reminiscent of..." What was that taste? He couldn't quite identify it. After another sip, he had it. "Mouthwash!"
Castiel's eyes went wide in horror.
"No, it's good!" Dean rushed to reassure him. "Really delicious mouthwash! Yummy, chocolate-y, candy-cane-flavored mouthwash!"
Castiel sighed eloquently and sprawled himself out over Dean's recumbent form. "You try creating a complex traditional beverage out of nothingness," he grumbled.
"I'm impressed," Dean mumbled, setting down the mug and taking advantage of the fact that he could throw his arms around his angel again for no reason other than that he wanted to. "Believe me."
Castiel's reply was almost too quiet to hear. "I always have, Dean."
After a long moment, Dean rolled onto his back and began twisting at his ring. It took him a minute, but he got it off. "Hey, Cas."
A half-lidded blue gaze found him.
"Give me your hand. No, the other one."
Castiel obediently offered his left hand and watched uncomprehendingly. "What are you doing, Dean?"
"Giving you your Christmas present. Don't ask questions."
When they finally dragged themselves out of bed, Dean started some coffee percolating and called his boss.
"Merry Christmas, Bobby! Hope I didn't wake you up."
"I've been up since sunrise, smartass," came the reply.
Dean chuckled. "Hey, listen. If you want to swing by here this afternoon, you're more than welcome. Sam's coming and bringing his girlfriend Jessica. She can't fly home to see her folks, so we're throwing together a little something just for fun. They'll be over around three."
"Hmph. All right, since I ain't got nothin' better to do," Bobby allowed. "Do we get a plus-one?"
"Sure, plus whatever," Dean said generously. "Just don't bring Ash. That guy could drink me out of house and home."
Bobby snorted. "No worries, wasn't exactly who I had in mind. See ya soon, kid." And he'd hung up before Dean could ask who he was bringing.
Late morning soon gave way to early afternoon as they prepared for their guests. Castiel tried making mulled cider, and to Dean's surprise it turned out even better than the Christmas cocoa. The angel happily generated a huge tureen full of the stuff, whose level never seemed to go down no matter how much got drunk. Leery of Castiel's magical-cooking skills, Dean instead just explained the concepts behind basic ingredients to him, and Castiel managed to produce most of them with no trouble. Dean quickly set about cooking up one of the most classic Christmas meals he'd had in years, and by the time Sam and Jess arrived at ten past three, everything was in full swing. Dean had remembered at the last minute that the tiny tree he'd bought yesterday was still in the Impala's trunk, and he went rushing out to grab it, getting it back into the house just in time before Sam's Prius pulled into the driveway.
"Here, set that up," Dean directed Castiel, shoving it into the angel's hands before turning around to head right back out and greet the new arrivals. By the time the three of them entered the house a few minutes later, the tree had tripled in size and was now a genuine fir, dropping needles on the carpet and everything. Castiel gave Dean a nervous look, clearly hoping he'd done it correctly.
Dean laughed in amazement. "You are... the best thing, Cas."
Sam's mouth fell open. "Castiel is back!"
"Yup." Dean's grin felt like it was going to split his face. "Got back last night."
"Huh," Sam said, beginning to smirk. "So that's why you're so happy."
Castiel's eyes glowed to hear these words, and Dean simply kept grinning, unable––and unwilling––to argue.
Jess was immediately enchanted by Castiel, and he found her just as interesting as he did everything else in life. Upon being informed that he was an angel, she merely laughed merrily and said "An angel for Christmas! Isn't that just too perfect?" Dean wasn't sure if that meant she believed or not, but he was surprised to find himself not caring anymore.
Fifteen minutes later, as the food was just about done, Bobby's truck pulled up outside. When the doorbell rang, Dean opened the door to find not only his boss but also Ellen and Jo standing on the doorstep.
Bobby shifted awkwardly. "Y'said 'plus whatever', and Ellen didn't want to leave Jo home alone on Christmas, so..."
Dean nodded sheepishly, remembering how foolish he'd acted around Jo the last time they'd met. "Yeah, of course, it's no problem, come on in."
"Merry Christmas, Dean." Ellen gave him a big hug, which surprised him but left him with a dazed smile on his face.
"I'm so looking forward to seeing your charming husband again, Dean," Jo said, so sweetly that it was all Dean could do to grit his teeth and nod.
He didn't miss the flash of mischief in her eyes as he beckoned to Castiel. "Cas? Your fan club's here."
The angel was somewhat shy at first but quickly relaxed as he and Dean served the food and attempted to find everyone a seat. A couple of people ended up cross-legged on the floor, but nobody cared. (Castiel kept looking at Jo and Jess, and at one point he drew Dean aside to whisper into his ear "Why is their hair so beautiful?" which sent Dean into a long, badly-disguised laughing fit. "You like blondes, huh?" he asked finally, still choking on his laughter. "Should I be jealous?" Castiel shook his head quickly. "There will never be any reason for you to be jealous, Dean.")
What remaining tension there had been between Dean, Sam, Bobby, and Ellen soon dispersed for good in the friendly atmosphere, which only got friendlier when Ellen and Jo revealed that they'd brought along several bottles of strong homemade eggnog. Castiel didn't let Dean have more than two glasses. (After all, it wasn't Saturday.)
At one point, Jess was animatedly telling them all a hilarious story about how the alpacas on her parents' farm had escaped one Christmas morning. As Dean leaned back on the sofa and moved a bit closer to Cas, casually draping an arm around his angel's shoulders, he noticed Sam looking over at them. His little brother's mood was understandably lightened by the atmosphere and the eggnog, but that wasn't all that was reflected in Sam's thoughtful gaze. Sam glanced from Dean to Castiel, who was resting his head on Dean's shoulder, and then back to Dean. The look in Sam's eyes at that moment was one that Dean had never seen before: almost a look of wonder, as in the face of one who beholds a miracle.
Dean looked steadily back at his brother, and offered him a tiny smile and a raise of his eyebrows, which was answered with an affectionate look Dean hadn't realized he'd missed so much. Sam's eyes slid over to Castiel one more time and then back to Dean, and he nodded slightly, just enough for Dean to see it. Dean felt something deep inside him relaxing, something he hadn't known was tense because it had been that way for so long.
In that moment, he understood exactly what Castiel had meant when he'd said "Belief, Dean. Not proof." This sudden understanding wasn't something Dean could put into words. But as he glanced down at the angel sleeping on his shoulder, he thought... he didn't really have to.