Agh, I am so, SO sorry! My muse ran away and everything, I horribly apologise for the delay! I desperately hope at least a few of you still remember this little story :)

I'm horribly sorry again! I hope you enjoy this, some good old Winchester reconciliation and a generous sprinkling of Destiel all over the thing :) That, and Dean gets to play dress-up-the-Cas when they go winter clothes shopping.

Please review!

Castiel staggers a little when he and Dean leave the training room, but he can hardly be blamed. After Dean's very thorough ministrations, which caused him to come as he writhed and moaned incoherently, he took his time and turn, taking care of Dean in return and immensely enjoying the absolute loss of his beloved's self-control as he teased him with delayed gratification.

Therefore, they are both thoroughly spent when they at last head for their room to shower and change.

Castiel feels sated and appeased. Among the silent communications, the companionable silence, the kisses and their fits of lust and passion, the overall situation had composed itself into a satisfying sense of placation. The elements had fallen into the right places, and as he carefully, lovingly washes Dean's back, he's sure the brief rift and tremor of unsteadiness between himself, Dean and Sam has dispersed and been replaced by steadiness once again.

And he knows Dean has the same sense, he sees it in his beloved's brightened eyes and diminishment of tension in his beautiful body.

Satisfied, Castiel wraps his arms around Dean's waist from behind, pressing against his back, and kisses the nape of his neck as the warm water showers over them. Dean hums contently, and after a while turns around in Castiel's embrace to gently run a hand through his wet hair, and leans in to kiss him. Castiel closes his eyes and sinks into the feeling of warmth, steam, and Dean's body pressed against his in cosy closeness. The kiss is tender, slow and sweet-tasting, and Castiel sighs softly into it, holding Dean even closer to himself.

And once more he finds that this embrace is even more fulfilling than the sensation of cradling Dean's soul within his Grace, which he used to needy indulge in before his transition into humanity. This embrace is fuller, closer, a discovery that surprised him when he'd first made it, because his Grace had been a receptiveness infinitely sharper than any of the senses available to humans.

And yet, so it is.

He glides his hands gently up and down Dean's back, feeling a warm pressure in his chest, and he welcomes it. It's one of the many ways he feels his love for Dean.

They pull away, and Dean grins at him, green eyes vivid and filled with a new purpose, a sight that makes Castiel's soul sing with light.

"C'mon," Dean presses another quick kiss to his mouth, before patting his rear – something he does sometimes when he wants to quicken or encourage Castiel into something, and it is quite enjoyable. "Gotta go and talk to Sam, I guess."

Castiel feels his mouth stretch in a wide smile. He's pleased to see the brothers on the road to speedy reconciliation – he cares for them both deeply, loves them both (albeit in drastically different ways) and wishes them to be content with each other.

Dean shifts and grumbles.

"Yeah, yeah, OK., cut it out," he grouses, which only serves to broaden Castiel's smile.

Dean growls, and soon they are out of the shower, quickly towelling themselves dry and changing into daytime clothes. Dean chuckles when Castiel pulls on his socks, but doesn't explain why when he shoots his beloved a puzzled look. Castiel doesn't press. He's long since gotten used to the fact that Dean (and sometimes also Sam) appear to at random moments be amused or exasperated by something he does, apparently going against the general human ways, and, frankly, he has grown to find soothing familiarity in those reaction.

Sometimes, he even pretends not to catch some references or jokes just to see the brothers roll their eyes or chuckle.

(Most of the time, though, he's honest in his ignorance when it does happen.)

They find Sam in the library, silent, but openly browsing books and notes on the subject of Demons and their community and connections. He's no longer hiding his research, bringing it out into the open and waiting for Dean's reaction.

Dean narrows his eyes a little. It's one of Sam's little tactics to diffuse the cold war situation they've got going, and it's forcing Dean's hand. Beside him, Cas moves closer, he can feel his angel's warmth radiating into his body, and it's somehow comforting. He glances down and smiles once more at Cas' mismatched socks (he still hasn't really grasped the concept of them matching each other, and with his affinity for socks with cheerful, goofy patterns – example, today's bumblebee images adorning the ankle on one and clouds on another – the effect is often hilarious), and moves.

Sammy looks up at him, those big hazel eyes trembling on the verge of morphing into a puppy gaze, and Dean thinks that for all his touchy-feely yoga softness, this kid is one calculating son of a bitch.

He stops by the table corner at which Sam's made camp, hands shoved into pockets, and cocks his head, checking out some titles of the books and ledgers piled up around his brother like a small prison cell. The glow from Sam's inherent laptop (seriously, the kid looks like he was born with that thing) gives some unhealthy colour to his face, and Dean's eyes almost absentmindedly travel to the fading Enochian healing sigils Cas regularly magic-markers onto Sam's forearms. Looks like they're due for another restoration.

"Hey," Sam tries for an ice-breaker, and because Cas had smiled so damn brightly fifteen minutes ago when Dean had decided to bury the hatchet with Sam, he acknowledges the attempt. He nods back, rough but consenting.

Cas moves past him inaudibly (he needs to put a damn bell on his boyfriend) and takes a seat at the long table as well, near Sam, but leaving a spot between them for Dean, open for decisions.

"Uh… Kevin's supposed to be calling soon," Sam tries again, looking up at Dean with those wide, clear eyes.

Dean makes a noncommittal grunt, picking up one of the books and pretending to look through it and understand what it says (it's in Latin, and he's gotten very rusty with it – especially since he started sleeping with the grammatically correct Google Translator that is sitting nearby).

Sam swallows, and as he watches him through his lashes, Dean can see him throw a quick, help-seeking glance at Cas.

"He said he'd visit this week, so I thought we could... ask him… you know, about the Demons, if there's anything in the… Tablets," Sammy glances at Cas again, and this time Dean does, too, both of them worried.

It's worse than the bloody f-word taboo around kids. Because this isn't fun, because this one can actually do some damage. Cas takes it all like a champ so far, but he's started dealing well after he initially didn't speak for eight days straight after Dean had found him, after prolonged insomnia and close calls with passing out because he'd forget or even refuse to eat, and after a lengthy depression that actually had Dean and Sam in all seriousness take unspoken turns on suicide watch, once Sam got well enough not to croak and keep Cas from doing himself in.

All of that happened, and Cas may have come miles – hundreds of miles – since then, but it did happen nevertheless. And Dean doesn't want anything to start spiralling back into that.

And all the while, he lives with the occasionally resurfacing reminder that nags at him – the angels had contacted Cas. Something about a Ladder of Virtues, through which they will be able to ascend to Heaven again. And they will contact him again, because he has some of those Virtues, and they want them from Cas, and Dean doesn't even know what that means, and it scares the shit out of him, and he can't even talk to Cas about this because he doesn't want to pull any triggers, and that scares him even more. It's such a Circle of Crap that Dean pushes it down and away, as far down and away as he can and then further still, he tries to bury it, build a Walmart over it and move on, because he can't think about this.

So right now, he and Sam both glance at Cas who bites on his lower lip, his fingers fidgeting with a wrinkle on his baggy T-shirt (he's wearing a black one with a comic strip from Garfield printed across the chest, one of those about sleeping in the mornings – Cas loved it the minute he saw it. He also got into Garfield and spends sometimes disturbing amounts of time online, poring over the Garfield comic strip archive). He's worried and put down for a moment, but he's not gonna break.

Dean feels a squeeze of love and relief crush his heart. He wants to walk over to Cas and hold him, kiss him, but he's not gonna do that, not with Sammy and the situation at hand. And anyway, Cas knows. When he looks up to meet his eyes, Dean sees he knows.

And that's enough.

"He has studied the Demon Tablet thoroughly," Cas' gravelly voice rumbles as he looks down again, rolling the fabric between his fingers some more. "I don't think there is more to be found. But perhaps examination under another angle will bring some new results," he adds, half-optimistically like he usually does when he tries to be positive.

There's my Cas.

Sam almost beams, and then looks at Dean hesitantly. Dean drops the book back on top of the pile.

"Good. Lemme know when the Advanced Placement calls. What about Crowley?"

A change washes over Sam, pulling away a rigid tension from his stance like an ebb-tide, and Dean can actually see how his breathing becomes more free and easier. The crisis has passed, Winchester style – they just put it back, don't say "I'm sorry", and grab the problem at hand by the balls.

"Uh, he's doing some digging. He's being useful, you know," Sam actually smiles a little. "I think it's good for him to focus on something."

"Yeah, yeah, spare me the self-help course, Samantha. Did he get results?"

"Sort of. I mean, nothing detailed yet, but he says that there definitely is something that connects all Demons, like I thought. But we're still not sure what it is – an item, or some spell, or even worse, some abstract concept. So we don't know if it can be affected by the Cure. That's why… that's why I didn't want to tell you yet."

Big hazel eyes flash up, and Sam may have morphed into an abandoned puppy right then and there. Dean nods curtly, again looking at the books just to give himself something to do.

"Yeah, I know," is all he says. But Sam understands anyway. "So Cas, anything on your end?" he really doesn't want to deal with Sam's need for touchy-feely confessions and hugs. He just wants things to get back to normal, to solving a problem, because that's what they always, always do. That's what's normal for them, and it's kinda sick, but Dean grew up like this, he doesn't know anything else.

"I only can confirm that Sam's suppositions are correct. But I don't know much more. I… suppose I could try to find out more."

"Well, good," Dean nods.

He's about to say something more, when those annoying bleeping and whooping sounds play from Sam's laptop – Kevin is calling him on Skype.

"Hey, Kev," Sam smiles at the Prophet.

"Hey," Kevin gives a small, neurotic wave, but otherwise he seems to be OK. Even better than when he'd been living at Bobby's – looks like the change of scenery, some independence and the hope of enrolling in college next year, are good for him.

Bottom line, he's a tough kid, Dean thinks with deep-buried affection.

"Hello, Kevin," Cas scoots over as Sam angles the laptop to allow the camera to envelop all three of them.

"Yeah, hi- yo, Castiel, are you OK?" Kevin suddenly asks, concerned. "Something stung you?" he touches a spot on his own neck to indicate, and Cas frowns puzzled, touching his own skin. Huh. One of the hickeys Dean's left on him this morning. He feels his face burn and tries to fight it down, but the heat only increases.

"I'm fine," Cas remains oblivious – probably because he didn't look in the mirror today.

"You don't wanna know, dude," Sam, the bitch that he is, outs them with a wrinkled nose of distaste.

"Oh, gross!" Kevin makes the connection when he looks at Dean's beetroot face.

"Hey, shut up, Dean gruffs out, trying to will the blush down. "Got a new job for you, advanced placement," he takes his revenge, enjoying Kevin's discouraged, reluctant groan. "Go back to the Tablets, accent on Demon Tablet, and Cinderella through it all over again. Now we're looking for stuff about Demons' community, unity, origin and crap like that. Sammy here will send you the list of keywords."

The somewhat huffy unwillingness ebbs a little, pushed out by concerned curiosity, and the ex-future first Asian-American president peers at all three of them carefully.

"What are you guys onto?" he asks warily.

"Well, long story short, we're thinking we might cure all Demons in one go," Dean puts on the bravado front, steady like a stone when he sends Kevin a small smile, notching his chin up. "And it's a teamwork thing, so get your ass on it."

"Yeah- wait, I was supposed to come over in like two days," Kevin protests.

"So, bring the tablets with you, not like you leave them behind when you visit us anyway," Dean calls him.

He knows about it, obviously, they all do. Whenever Kevin visits, he always has an overnight bag or a backpack, mostly stuffed with clothes and books and other necessities, but it also contains the two tablets. Kevin never shows them, never speaks about them, but Dean knows they are there, tucked away, wrapped in cloth and secure. Sam obviously is aware of that, too, and Cas, well, he probably can freaking sense their presence, angel or not, so he knows, too, Dean just knows he knows. And this knowledge goes unsaid, thrumming tautly in the air between them when Kevin visits, because they all know he wouldn't just leave the Tablets behind, clutching to them out of instinctive and rational need to keep an eye on them, because they all remember only too well what happens when they fall into the wrong hands.

The Tablets are kind of a half-taboo between them all, because of all the shit that dropped because of them, which means they avoid talking about them as much as they can.

Kevin shifts a little.

"OK., yeah. Whatever. I'll bring them," he rolls his eyes. "I'll bring them and I'll bury myself up to my ass in them and have no life and read them again," he reaches somewhere beyond the camera's frame. There's a chink of glass and some splashing, and a moment later he withdraws his hand, bringing a glass of booze to his mouth and taking a heart swig. Dean still doesn't like it. He should talk to the kid, except, yeah, talking isn't his thing. Drinking is.

"Come on, man, it's not that bad, I mean – you already have them translated, so it'll go faster, right?" Sam and his hazel, puppy eyes try to make the whole shithole of a situation seem better.

Kevin responds with another swig and a shrug.

"If… if you want, I could perhaps help," Cas ventures, blue eyes hopeful, and surprise and curiosity spark in Kevin's dark eyes – better than the bitterness that usually swirls in them, by a long shot.

"Thought you didn't understand them," the Prophet looks at Cas sceptically, and Cas shifts a little, an amicable expression passing through his face. He's trying, he wants to give Kevin reasons to like him, and it's nice as much as it is heartbreaking. Dean's not sure he can stand this.

"I don't," Cas affirms. "But it doesn't mean I can't help at all."

Kevin hesitates for a moment, but then shrugs.

"Sure. So, I should be there the day after tomorrow, got some stuff to take care of," Kevin makes a vague gesture with his hand, and finishes his drink. "Talk to you guys then."

They say their goodbyes and the Skype connection goes blank. Sam releases a breath that sounds like he's been holding it for quite a while, despite chiming into the conversation here and there.

"Well, that went OK.," he says, though not sounding very convinced himself. Dean shrugs. Cas is thoughtful.

The atmosphere is clearing, but Dean still doesn't like this, not really. It's because having talked about this issue, means they're all gonna be on board and working on it. And that means they're gonna run into trouble, get beaten up, score a few injuries and lose the paddle as they try to go upstream in a shit creek.

Not something he's looking forward to. Well – sure, he should be. Because that means they might actually have a chance to pull this off, and hey, it's awesome. Except it really isn't, because Dean just doesn't feel it. He doesn't want to pull himself and his family through all that hell – literal and figurative – all over again. He just feels, for the first time in a long time, that he's got more to lose than he's got to win.

That Sammy, safe and close and healthy, and Cas, also safe, and coping, and not leaving anymore, and finally, finally his, are too much to stake. Yeah, getting rid of Demons is a damn cool prospect. But, as awesome and amazing as that is, his little family is actually more valuable.

And he's not sure he wants to gamble with that. For the first time ever.

He knows exactly when that change happened – in the church, where he chose Sam over the closed Hell. And since then, the stakes were only upped with Cas falling and landing straight in his arms. Damn, in his heart.

So, Dean's not convinced.

But Sammy wants this. The poor kid wants this so bad, wants to somehow fucking redeem himself, for agreeing to stay alive, which is sick. And Cas wants it, too, he wants to redeem himself, too, and Dean just can't seem to prove to him that it's alright.

So he's gonna do it. Because they want to do it for him. And that's something that puts a damn obligation on a guy.

"Dammit, Cas, you're making me feel like a friggin' soccer mum, now just move your damn toes and tell me if you got damn room!"

A couple of sensitive mothers two rows down sweep up their kids and move away. Sam discreetly shuffles away from his brother and claims anonymity by hiding behind one of the shelf rows and pretending to check out some rain-proof winter boots. Come to think of it, he could actually use a pair – no more catching colds when spending a night in the swamps, hunting for whatever supernatural forest dweller that decided to kill someone.

On the other side of the shoebox-filled shelves, Dean is trying not to flip out, but it's getting harder by the minute. Cas gives him another helpless look of a lost puppy encountering a dogcatcher in a dark alley.

"I don't know, Dean. They don't feel uncomfortable," the deep blue eyes drop to the tips of the solid winter boots, and he apparently wiggles his toes once again.

"But do you got enough room? Or are they tight?" Dean asks, trying to steady himself. He frigging hates clothes shopping, and shoe shopping is even worse, especially since Cas has only worn two pairs of shoes exactly in his life – dress shoes and his beloved Converse sneakers (obtained at a thrift store, and dammit, the dude absolutely rocks the look!), so picking out boots for the winter is a challenge.

The store is crowded with dozens of people who apparently came here pushed by the same first near-frost chill that prodded Dean's caretaking instincts into ensuring Cas has everything he needs for the winter. Now they're stuck, because Cas of course has to have his foot size between two numbers, and this is the fifth pair he's trying on. A child starts crying three shelves down. Dean feels he's losing it.

"I… I'm not sure how much room I should have," Cas admits, and the unhappy expression of a kitten who broke a teacup takes the steam out of Dean. "I think they're fine, though. And… I enjoy the way they keep my feet warm," there is that near-idiotic but incredibly hot half-grin, pleased face, and the tone of almost relaying an intimate secret. Dean snorts.

"OK., good. Take 'em off, let's pay and go get you a jacket next."

Sam joins them when they leave the store, and Dean notes he got himself some boots, too. Good, he doesn't need the kid catching a cold or a flu or some other crap. He still has the last dregs of that whole Trials shit to deal with, and who knows how that would mix. Dean's money is on 'badly'. He makes a mental note to chat Cas up about the whole thing – it's been so freaking long already, and yet the final stage of Sam's recuperation seems to drag on forever. They have to do something about it.

Getting Cas a winter jacket turns out to be more fun than getting him the boots. Sam promptly selects himself something and then veers off to a bookstore across the street, and Dean is only briefly tempted to leave him there just for the fun of it. The brevity of that temptation has much to do with Cas shucking off his current jacket (dulled green, borrowed from Dean), the fabric of his T-shirt stretching pleasantly across his chest as he wrenches his arms backwards to free himself from the jacket's sleeves. Dean leisurely gets his eyeful, a small smirk playing about his lips, while Cas remains delightfully oblivious.

The tee itself is nice, too, Dean smiles to himself. It's dark greyish blue, almost graphite in colour, and with large, bold letters reading The Truth Is Out There. Dean's been introducing Cas to the X-Files recently (they're currently halfway into the fourth season), to which Cas instantly got a great liking. So when last week Dean had spotted that T-shirt in the window of a shop, he instantly got it for his angel. There was also one with an iron-on of Mulder's famous poster and the I want to believe slogan, but considering all the shit Cas (and Dean and Sam also, mind) has been through recently, it wouldn't have made the most thoughtful of gifts. The Truth one was just as meaningful, but without the bitter aftertaste, and Dean felt like fucking floating when he saw the bright shine in Cas' eyes and the wide grin when he got the tee. Best five bucks ever spent.

"Right, we gotta get you something warm," Dean thrusts a respectable looking jacket into Cas' arms and motions for him to put it on, before taking a look around to see if anything else looks inviting enough.

"I like it."

"Zip it up, Cas, and tell me if you can take the head off a vamp in that. Gotta have freedom of movement."

They go through a few jackets this way, dismissing two on account of being too thin (Dean) and one because it's 'too scratchy' (Cas). Dean rolls his eyes at the latter, but lets it pass, because Cas has such an adorably unhappy look on his face that Dean just might crumble, and he doesn't want to do it in front of witnesses. Fuck, he doesn't want to do it in front of Cas, because the bastard would pull this face all the time.

They're left with two options.

Now, Dean knows they're hunters and on a budget of fraudulent credit cards and pool hustle money. He knows they dress to cut heads off shit and run through swamps and cemeteries at night, not to strut around on a catwalk.

But he fucking can't resist, because when Cas puts on one of the jackets, a black parka with a warm hood, he looks amazing. The stark blackness lights up his eyes by contrast and matches his wild, ruffled black hair. And when he puts on the hood, those gorgeous blue eyes become downright huge and inescapable, and Dean stands still for an embarrassingly long time, pinned down by their clear gaze.

This jacket is more expensive, a bit pricey even for a thrift store, and again – Dean knows they dress for function, not for fashion, but damn. And besides, he thinks defensively, Cas really likes the jacket, claims it's warm and comfortable, and well, that's what matters, right? Right. Nothing wrong with getting it then.

Except, maybe, he thinks after they've paid, for the fact that he'll be getting boners mid-hunt in winter, whenever he happens to look Cas' way.

They leave the store to collect Sam from his nerdy equivalent of the Discovery Zone, which is the bookstore across the street. There's a nip of coldness in the air, and Dean can see steam curl in his breath as he puffs out a small sigh of contentment.


"Yeah, buddy?" he smiles a little, throwing a warm look at Cas walking beside him.

His gravelly voice is reassuringly close, and for the first time in a long, long time – in ever, since they've met – Dean doesn't have to worry Cas will suddenly leave, flutter away. The knowledge is bittersweet, because it largely stems from the fact that Cas was robbed of his angelic nature, but Dean can't help but be happy with the side effect the whole ordeal has produced. The side effect being Cas, with Dean and Sam, with Dean, indefinitely.

Castiel's dark blue eyes are warm when he looks at Dean, wide and filled with a tight mix of shyness and gratitude, and Dean stops, right there, in the middle of a sidewalk, uncaring of the people around them, and he lifts a hand to brush it over Castiel's cheek.

"Thank you," Cas says, solemn and heartbreakingly, simplistically sincere. Dean's throat clenches.

"What for, man?"

"I… everything. The jacket and the boots, of course, but I wanted to thank you for taking me in. You and Sam, you… continue to care for me."

"'course we do, Cas," Dean shrugs minimally with a small, assured smile, almost a smirk. "We're family."

"We are. Because you gave me the privilege. Thank you."


"Thank you."

Dean swallows, lifting his gaze to meet Cas'. His angel is steady, peaceful almost, but Dean can see the clarity of his emotions thrumming just underneath his skin, bright and strong in his eyes. It's suddenly so easy to do it – to curl his fingers around the back of Cas' neck and pull him in gently, and press their chilled lips together. He doesn't care about the people around them, finds comfort in his and Cas' anonymity which tastes overwhelmingly close to normalcy which Dean hadn't known since he was four years old.

Cas' lips are soft, lush and supple, and Dean lets out a small sigh as he presses closer, sucking in Cas' bottom lip and tasting the clean, mild flavour, feeling the addictive sensation of the flesh giving in under a gentle nip of his teeth. The kiss warms their lips slowly, and Dean enjoys the idleness of it, parallel to the relieving current of emotions that pass through it, replacing all of those words that neither him nor Cas are good with.

From inside the bookstore, Sam peers at them and smiles.

I hope you enjoyed! I like all of the chapter except for the ending, I don't know, I just don't feel satisfied with it. Humph. It doesn't give the whole message I was trying to stick in there.

Anyway - next chapter we have Kevin, and also some Sam and Cas bonding time :)

Please review! Even though I've been horribly late with this chapter, I squeal and ooze with 100% pure pink, fuzzy joy when I get a review :D They mean the world to me!