“I don’t understand,” says Castiel for the fifteenth time that hour.
Dean twitches slightly but other than that, gives no other physical indication of his impatience. “It’s not that hard, Cas,” he says. “You just turn the wheel in the direction you wanna go while keeping one foot on the accelerator and the other ready to flatten the brakes if a family of ducks suddenly come out at you in the middle of the road. Speaking of roads, you always, always keep your eye on it. That’s kinda important, too.”
But Castiel isn’t listening anymore. “Cas?” he echoes faintly. For a brief moment, he thinks he’s back in the present, but one look at those shining, too-green eyes and that young, unmarred face and he knows that nothing has changed. Strangely enough, the discovery doesn’t disappoint him as much as it used to.
“Yeah, Cas,” Dean goes on as if it’s not a big deal. He shrugs. “‘Cause you know, I can’t keep calling you Caspar since that just sounds retarded. Ergo, ‘Cas’.”
Castiel grins but quickly dissolves into chuckles at the curious but amused look on Dean’s face. “What’s so funny?” he asks.
“Nothing,” replies Castiel. Still grinning, he says, “you just remind me of... a friend.”
Dean snorts. “You have friends? As in plural?” But he’s grinning too so Castiel knows he means nothing vicious by it. “Whatever, I’m way cooler than your friend is.”
The irony is too much and gets another chuckle out of Castiel. “Yes, you certainly are,” he agrees.
Sam was wrong. They didn’t leave Phoenix until four weeks after school had started. Castiel doesn’t know if it would have hurt more for him if he had been taken away from his new home sooner, missing out on any opportunities he could’ve experienced before he even got the chance to try them, or to leave after getting a small, tantalizing taste of it. After he’d just dug in his roots.
The constant change of locations makes no difference to Dean or Castiel. Dean skips school most of the time. Unlike Sam, he never leaves behind any friends. Castiel, with no credentials, almost never leaves the motel rooms and apartments they stay in other than to investigate small hauntings and such.
It’s as if Sam’s return transformed Dean. Whenever his eyes land on Castiel, it isn’t with venom, but with confusion more than anything. They rarely talked during the first few days after Castiel and Sam left Flagstaff. Whenever Castiel caught Dean looking at him, he would flush and avert his gaze, embarrassed. Sam would just roll his eyes in response and sigh. “Don’t mind Dean. He just feels like an ass,” he explained to Castiel once.
Sam grinned. “Yeah, for being one to you. He’s actually a big teddy bear but he’s kind of a freak, too.”
“Shut it, Sam!” Dean called from the other room. He sounded mortified.
But gradually, little by little, he and Castiel begin to fall into a routine they are both comfortable with. Dean is usually the one who would instigate their conversations but they always taper off into awkward silence.
“Hey, Cas, what’s up?”
“No, I meant how are you?”
“I’m fine. How are you, Dean?”
“... This isn’t gonna work.”
But Dean, if nothing else, is relentless and stubborn, not one to give up so easily. Eventually, they find some sort of common ground and go on from there. “Are you one of the X-Men?” he asks once out of the blue.
“I’m... sorry?” Castiel thinks it’s understandable for him to be confused. He has the suspicious feeling that this is another one of Dean’s abundance of pop culture references.
“Yeah, you know, Professor X’s team of mutants who save the world and shit?”
“... Not really.”
Dean waves his response away like it was inconsequential. “I think you’re a mutant. A human born with some kind of gene that makes you... well, you.” He makes a vague gesture with his hands.
“I’ve told you, I’m not human and I don’t possess any kind of phenomenal gene. I’m sorry to disappoint.”
Dean laughs. “Okay, so you’re not part of the X-Men. Alien, then? There’s gotta be a reason why you’ve never heard of Led Zeppelin or AC/DC because, really? That is just sad.”
“I’m sorry?” Castiel offers, though he isn’t exactly sure what he was apologizing for.
Again, Dean waves it away. “No worries, I’ll just have to teach you how to be normal.”
Sam decides to interject then with a mocking, “Sorry, Dean, but I don’t really trust your definition of normal.”
“Oh, screw you, Sammy. You’re the biggest freak of all.”
Newcastle, Wyoming isn’t a big place so when the only high school in the area lets out for the day, everyone knows it. The bell can be heard even from across town, where Dean was giving Castiel his driving lessons in the empty parking lot of an abandoned warehouse. “Time to pick up Sammy,” he declares brightly. It takes a few seconds for him and Castiel to switch seats. “We’ll pick our lesson up later,” he promises.
Castiel’s “Okay” is drowned out by the drums and guitars of Lynard Skynard’s Saturday Night Special filtering through the speakers. It’s rough and fuzzy but Castiel makes no effort to change the music, recalling very vividly in his mind’s eye the conversation Dean had with him over the matter. “Driver picks the music,” he said solemnly, “and shotgun shuts his cakehole.”
They find a disgruntled Sam and a grim-looking John waiting for them at the front of the school. Dean has barely yanked the key out of the ignition when he’s jumping out of the car. “Dad? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” John says firmly, but his eyes tell a different story. “Sam, get in the car with Dean. Caspar, you’re riding with me. We’re leaving.” He doesn’t linger around to hear Sam’s protests, already opening the door to his truck and sliding in.
Dean gives Castiel a helpless shrug and mouths “good luck” to him. This is possibly the first time Castiel regrets not being able to ride with Dean.
John barely waits for Castiel to strap his seat belt on before his foot slams on the accelerator, pushes the stick forward, and they’re on the road. “What is this about?” Castiel asks.
John lets out a deep sigh before quietly grunting out, “I found it—the... the pattern. Before Mary died there were cattle mutilations and crop failures all over Lawrence. I looked back and... it was the same thing before the night her parents died. This son of a bitch was probably behind their deaths as well, huh?” He doesn’t look to Castiel for confirmation.
Castiel nods anyway. “That is correct.”
“But you still can’t tell me what killed them,” John says flatly.
Castiel shakes his head. “No, I can’t. I’m sorry.”
The man sighs. He is disappointed but not deterred. “Okay.”
They stop at Michigan, one of the countless places victim to Azazel’s presence fourteen years ago. Even after John gets a hold of the people who could have possibly given him some answers, the trail is dead. So, not even a week after arriving, John immediately orders his son and Castiel to pack up what little they have and leave. They left the motel room virtually untouched.
It goes on like this for a long time. Sometimes, they are able to stay in one place for a week and at other times even a week and a half, but never more than that. Even Dean, who is usually supportive of whatever plan John comes up with, is beginning to show signs of weariness because of their hectic schedule. But he endures it in silence, afraid of confronting his father, who could never do any wrong in his eyes. The only reason Sam hasn’t made a fuss yet is because he’s always too exhausted to muster up the energy.
If Dean and Sam had not been factors to this, Castiel would not have cared for John’s re-ignited obsession. It doesn’t affect him directly after all. But he can’t take seeing Dean and Sam wake up every morning with bags under their eyes and haunted looks on their faces, stretched to the point of snapping like rubber bands.
“Enough,” he announces to John one morning. “we are staying here.”
“What are you talking about?” John snarls. He looks worse than both his sons combined. His beard is a mess, having not shaved in weeks. His scars are more prominent now, traveling across his face like stitches. His eyes are wild like an animal’s.
Castiel supposes this is the closest a person can be to possessed without assistance from a demon.
“I’m saying that if you keep this up, you’ll be dead before you even find your wife’s killer,” he says. It’s the biggest lie Castiel has ever told. The truth is, John can’t die now. Of course, his death in the future was unfortunate and tragic, but death, like life, is sacred. One of the first things any self-respecting angel learned was to never meddle with either of those in the time stream. The results would be... disastrous, to put it lightly. “It makes no difference to me if you wish to continue hunting him down, but it does when you drag your own children down this road with you.”
“Cas,” hisses Dean, but he falls silent when John’s hard eyes settle on him.
No one says anything for a long time. The tension in the air is tight, too thick, and suffocating. Castiel briefly ponders the idea of reaching out with his hand to touch it.
Finally, John breaks it with a shuddering exhale. Never has the cruel evidence of time been more visible to Castiel at this moment. “Am I getting closer?” he asks.
Castiel can’t help but think, Wrong answer. But he says, “You will not find him in this world. He will not resurface for a long time and you cannot make him.” Castiel doesn’t say that to do so would be suicidal. If John knew there was indeed a way to summon Azazel, no matter how dangerous it would be, he will do it anyway. But this isn’t the time for it. Not yet.
“You say that he’ll resurface?”
“Eventually, and you will know when he does.” He leaves it at that.
John contemplates this piece of information for a long time, his eyes scrutinizing Castiel for any signs of weakness. But Castiel has seen things far more frightening than John Winchester and doesn’t flinch. Eventually, John slumps his shoulders. “Alright, we’ll stay here for the month. No sense in moving Sammy to another school when it’s so close to the holidays.”
Sam is not the only one who exhales a sigh of relief.
“We’re here for Anna,” said Castiel.
Dean wanted so very much to believe he meant that in a good way, but something about the angel’s tone and the way his eyes hardened the moment he set eyes on Anna told him differently. Still, he tried. “Here for her like, here for her?” he asked meekly.
“Stop talking.” Dean kind of hated Uriel, despite his friendship with Castiel.
“Give her to us,” continued the other angel, taking a menacing step forward.
Dean took one back on reflex and caught a glance of Sam doing the same thing. “Are you gonna help her?” his brother asked, but he sounded dubious.
Please say ‘yes’, please say ‘yes’, Dean prayed. It was irrational but suddenly getting Castiel to help them was the most important thing in the world to him. He was starting to like the guy, body-snatching notwithstanding, and he didn’t want to go back to the way they were before.
Castiel, who seemed to have heard him (well, he was an angel), grimaced at Dean but nevertheless said, “No, she has to die.”
Dean’s idea of celebrating is to take both Sam and Castiel out to the nearest bar as soon as John is out of the house, so to speak. He waited with bated breath for the familiar rumble of his father’s truck pulling out of the motel parking lot before grabbing them both by the arms and dragging them out the door.
The nearest bar is actually a pub called the Feather. Although Dean had scoffed at the “girly ass” name, it was the closest to their motel.
After settling down at a table, Dean orders a Pepsi for Sam, who looks like he’d rather be anywhere else but here, and a pitcher of Strongbow for himself and Castiel.
“Why am I here?” whines Sam. “I’ve got homework.”
“Homework, schmomework. One night of fun isn’t gonna kill you, Sammy.”
Sam murmurs that he begs to differ but doesn’t say anything else. He leans back in his chair with his glass of Pepsi clenched tightly in his hand and pouts.
Dean turns to face Castiel with a blinding smile. “So, Cas, ever drink before?”
If he didn’t know better, he would have thought he’d just murdered Dean’s puppy judging by the look of complete shock on his face. He eventually recovers, though. “Well, Cas, prepare to enter the exciting world of booze,” he says, pouring a significant amount in his glass.
Two and a half pints later, Dean and even Sam are flabbergasted. “Cas,” says Dean. “you are the biggest liar in the world.” He narrows his eyes. Castiel remains still and meets his gaze confidently. “You said you never had alcohol before but your face isn’t red at all.” Dean sounds scandalized.
Sam snorts into his drink. “Yeah, unlike you, Dean. You’re blushing like a little girl.”
“Cas, tell Sammy that I’m not a girl.”
Sam holds up five one dollar bills. “Cas, if you tell Dean that he’s a girl I’ll give you five bucks.”
“Hey! No fair! That’s cheating!”
Sam smirks but says nothing.
Castiel looks back and forth between them with furrowed brows. The answer should be obvious. “Dean is decidedly not female,” he answers cautiously.
Dean looks triumphant while Sam looks mildly disappointed. “Thanks, buddy,” Dean says, rewarding Castiel with another big smile. Castiel can’t help smiling back.
There’s something different about being around the Winchester boys compared to when he took communion with his brothers and sisters. The atmosphere is obviously less rigid; more liberating. For the first time in a long while, Castiel lets down his guard. It should frighten him how easy it is for him to get along with Dean and Sam but right now, he can’t bring himself to care.
It’s been two weeks since John had left them to their own devices in Boston. He comes back every now and then to check on his family but he’s almost always gone by the next day.
Sam continues to do well in school and even makes a few friends. Castiel knows it will be hard for him when they finally leave. Meanwhile, Dean continues to teach Castiel all the things he decided are essential to his knowledge on humanity—how to drive, what kinds of pies there are (and which ones are the most delicious), and what kind of music he needs to listen to. The last one usually coincides with their driving lessons.
Castiel hadn’t realized just how much he enjoyed those lessons, spending time with Dean, until he finds himself sitting impatiently in the driver’s seat of the Impala while Dean shuffles into the passenger side one day. “Whoa, calm down there, Cas,” Dean chuckles, fastening his seat belt. “Wouldn’t want you to run us off the road now.”
“I would never do that,” Castiel promised.
Another thing Dean had been trying to integrate in Castiel’s mind were pop culture references. Whenever he had some time to spare or extra money to spend, he would rent a movie and sit Castiel down to watch it with him on the motel’s old, smelly, debilitating couch. Sometimes he’d rope Sam into joining them if the younger boy didn’t have much work to do, but most of the time it’s just Dean and Castiel. It was, as Dean declared, their “thing”.
Castiel is fine with that, though more often than not, Dean’s movies leave him confused.
Such as now.
“This film is very unrealistic,” he observes.
Dean sighs long-sufferingly. “Cas, it’s James Bond. It stopped being realistic the minute Sean Connery flew off in his fancy jetpack. Besides, people don’t watch it for its realism, we watch it because it’s cool.”
“Yeah, you know, with the fight scenes, spy gadgets—the whole shebang.”
“And we’re supposed to enjoy this?”
Thirty minutes pass before Castiel opens his mouth again. “I still don’t understand why this film has been titled Thunderball.”
Dean throws his head back and laughs, exposing his Adam’s apple against the light from the TV. His whole body is relaxed, a complete contrast to his thirty year old self. It’s almost enough to make Castiel regret it if—when he returns to the present.
Dean is beautiful, both in body and soul, despite his protests on the latter. It’s obvious to anyone with eyes to see. He’s not called the Righteous Man without reason, after all.
His lack of faith in God—and himself—surprised Castiel when he first met him. If Castiel had a heart, it would’ve broken at the state of Dean’s soul after being pulled out of the Pit. Dean’s soul was fragile, strained, but there was still a great amount of strength hidden within him.
His soul was worn and torn from so many years of abuse but Dean always stood proud and strong. Whenever he was thrown to the ground like a rag doll, he would always push himself back up
Even after going through the worst Hell had to offer, the fact that he still had the capacity to love was a miracle. That was what had drawn Castiel to him in the first place. He had never seen another human being who loved as fiercely as Dean did. Never seen a soul shine so bright it was almost blinding.
Castiel doesn’t realize he has been staring until Dean breaks him out of his thoughts with a quiet, hesitant, “Cas?” He’s forgotten about the movie completely and is looking at Castiel with curiosity. He gulps. “Uh, is there something on my face?” he jokes weakly.
“No, your face is fine.”
“Good to know,” Dean immediately jumps out of the couch. There is anxiety in his eyes and a flush on his face. “I’m just... um, gonna turn in for the night. You go do... whatever.”
But he’s already gone, scrambling in the direction of the bathroom and slamming the door shut.
Castiel sighs and slumps in his seat.
The next day, in true Dean Winchester fashion, he’s all smiles, having seemingly forgotten what had happened the night before. Castiel knows better. He had simply repressed the memory in hopes that he won’t have to deal with it. Castiel doesn’t bring the topic up not sure himself what took place the previous evening.
After dropping Sam off at school, Dean announces that they are to resume their driving lessons. “I still don’t understand why learning to drive is necessary,” Castiel admits.
Dean looks at him fondly. “Because, you big dork, unless you can sprout wings and fly, this,” he says, slapping his hand down on the dashboard, “is gonna be your only reliable source of transportation from now on.”
Castiel refrains from correcting him, that he does, in fact, have wings. They’re bottled up inside of him and it feels tremendously uncomfortable and sore, but they’re still there. Waiting for him to take flight once again.
So, with a sigh, he braces his hands on the steering wheel and begins to back the Impala out of the parking lot, just the way Dean showed him.
By mid-morning, Dean pronounces Castiel an official driver (“Welcome to the club, Cas!”) and as a reward, lets him drive anywhere he wants.
Dean takes it upon himself to be his tour guide, making up outlandish stories about certain landmarks’ histories with Castiel constantly correcting him. That seems to garner a laugh from Dean every time.
Castiel enjoys hearing him laugh. It’s rambunctious and brilliant, full of so much warmth and happiness that Castiel wants to curl up in it forever as if it were a blanket.
He wants to hear Dean laugh more often. He wants to be the only one who will always make him laugh.
“We should call you Encyclopedia Man,” Dean teases.
“I’m not an encyclopedia,” Castiel informs him.
“You might as well be, considering all those facts swimming around in your head.”
“I suppose you’ll be my sidekick then?”
Dean smirks. “I told you, I’m Batman. I’m already a superhero and Sammy’s my sidekick—Robin, the Boy Wonder.”
They drive aimlessly around the city for the next few hours with no destination in mind. Eventually, though, Dean’s hunger makes itself known and he decides that they will be having pie for take-out. What surprises Castiel is the boy’s determination to have him try some as well. “It’s apple pie with ice cream! That, my friend, is heaven.” Castiel has a hard time believing that when he takes a look at the tiny pastry. Dean takes a rather large bite out of it and, as the saying goes, looks like he truly is in Heaven. He turns to Castiel with a wide smile and pushes the box towards him. “Here, try some.”
“I don’t require nourishment,” Castiel reminds him. But his answer doesn’t faze Dean one bit.
“So? It doesn’t matter if you need it or not. It’s all about want, though I don’t see how anyone can actually live without pie. Just try it, I think you’ll like it.”
Castiel takes another look at the pie, then Dean, then back at the pie. He sighs in defeat. “Fine.” He scoops up what he thinks is a fairly decent-sized piece with an extra fork and takes a bite.
His senses—though really, they’re Jimmy’s—are assaulted by an overwhelming load of tastes he’d never experienced before.
The pie is sweet, almost unbearably so, cold, and warm at the same time. It reminds Castiel of the first day of autumn, when the north wind blows in and the remaining vestiges of summer fade away like shadows. He begins to understand why Dean likes it so much.
“It’s good,” he admits.
Dean’s smile could light up a cloudy sky at night. “See? I told you you’d like it. You gotta try new things once in a while.”
“You were right about something for once,” says Castiel, grinning slightly.
“Oh, fuck you.”
Dean takes back control of the car mid-afternoon and drives them back to Sam’s school. Castiel understands the necessity of picking the younger Winchester up but a small part of him, the part that was born within him after meeting Dean for the first time in 2008, wished that they had spent more time alone together. Just a little longer.
Castiel is reading on the couch (a battered copy of The Catcher in the Rye that Sam lent him earlier that day) when Dean returns from his venture to the bar. With a woman hanging off his arm like a coat.
“Hey, Cas,” he slurs. He’s swaying slightly on his feet, threatening to fall any minute. Luckily, the woman, a petite brunette with stark brown eyes, is holding him up, though she doesn’t exactly look sober either.
She giggles. “Who’s this?” she hiccups. “Is he gonna watch?”
Dean lets out a loud, if mildly panicked, laugh. “Nah, he’s just a friend. Come on, let’s get this show on the road.” He gestures to the extra bedroom which was originally Castiel’s and starts leading the woman towards it.
The door slams shut, followed by a resounding click! and once again Castiel is left alone with the lingering smell of the woman’s perfume (lavender) as his only company. But even that disappears soon enough.
He feels something coil within him. Disappointment, anger, and jealousy. He tries not to look too deeply into it but it’s difficult.
Kings Church doesn’t look like much of one from the outside. It resembles a warehouse more than anything else but the enormous white cross on the roof is hard to ignore. The same could be said for the congregation inside.
Castiel could hear the singing the minute the clock struck nine that Sunday morning.
Their voices are soft, like the whisper of the wind in the forest. It’s easy to follow the string of voices to the source. The light from the people’s souls shine like a beacon carrying Castiel home. By the time he’d reached the church he didn’t need the use of his Grace to hear their raised voices singing to his Father, praising his glory.
When he steps inside the auditorium, the sound is amplified and would have certainly surprised Castiel if he hadn’t been expecting it. He slides into a seat the back row, content to simply sit and watch. The song the people are currently singing is not like any hymn Castiel has heard before but it isn’t unpleasant to his ears.
On the stage there are two guitarists, one bassist, a drummer, and a pianist. Castiel closes his eyes and lets the music wash over him. This church’s form of worship is nothing like the way his brothers and sisters worship in Heaven but the intent is the same. Rather than causing him to feel homesick, being here gives Castiel a strange feeling of peace.
“Didn’t think I’d find you here of all places,” Dean’s voice says suddenly from his left. Castiel looks up and blinks in surprise at the sight that greets him.
“Dean,” he says. “what are you doing here?”
Dean ducks his head sheepishly. “I... I woke up just as you were leaving so I followed you. I wanted to know where you were going,” he mumbles. He raises his head and meets Castiel’s eyes nervously. “I’ll leave if you want.”
Castiel smiles and tries to convey as much warmth as he can. “I will be honored if you stayed.”
Dean smiles back.
The worship session continues for several more minutes. Eventually Castiel joins in the singing after growing more accustomed to the rhythm of the songs. Dean remains silent, his eyes alternating between observing Castiel and staring at the lyrics projected on the walls of the massive room. But Castiel notes with some satisfaction that every now and then he would tap his foot in tune with the music.
“So, um,” Dean whispers to Castiel when the sermon begins. “are you... are you... ”
“Am I religious?” Castiel fills in mercifully.
He nods. “Yes, I am,” he answers solemnly.
Dean furrows his brows, confused. “I don’t get it,” he blurts out. Embarrassed, he ducks his head down again. “I mean, no offense, but I just don’t... understand why you can put so much faith in this being that may or may not even be real.”
Castiel wants to tell him that’s not true. That God does exist, otherwise how could humanity have ever come to be? That they wouldn’t be sitting here now if it weren’t for his Father. But he resists and instead replies, “It’s the same way you trust in your father so inexplicably.”
“But he’s there. I can see him. But your God... whoever he is... you’ve never seen him, have you?”
“That’s why it’s called faith,” says Castiel, turning his eyes back on stage as the pastor, a rather young looking man, strides confidently up onto the stage. “to believe in something you don’t see, believe that there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel.”
Dean shakes his head. “But if God were real, why does he let all the shi—er, crap in the world just... happen? Why doesn’t he do anything about it?”
Dean squints his eyes. “Huh?”
“The Lord gave us free will the moment He created us. That’s what humanity is, Dean; choices. No matter what happens, good or bad, that is your—our gift. We’ll lose it the moment He raises a finger to change the world to the way we want it to be.”
Dean contemplates his words for a long time and is so still during the sermon that Castiel would have been worried he’d fainted if he couldn’t hear the steady beat of his heart. Confusion and hope were the most prominent things swimming in Dean’s mind. “Okay,” he finally decides. “I... I sorta get it now. I still don’t believe in this God of yours, but I get it.”
Castiel smiles and reaches over to grasp his hand. “That is free will,” he says simply.
Several nights later, the serene routine that has become Castiel’s life is disrupted. Again.
Not one to break tradition, Dean insisted they watch another movie. Castiel instantly dislikes it and soon he and Dean are arguing good-naturedly over the semantics and the plot. At some point, Dean shoves Castiel lightly on the shoulder and it evolves into a full-blown wrestling match.
Castiel wins, naturally. He flips Dean onto the ground on his back, straddling him. “I win,” he announces proudly. He has both hands on Dean’s shoulders and his face is only a few inches away from Dean’s. They’re both breathing heavily.
Dean grins, “I guess you did... ” He trails off when he takes in their positions. His grin disappears quickly and a flush creeps up on his face. “Um... ”
It takes Castiel a while to realize what the problem is. Once he does, he immediately sits up. “Oh,” is all he can say.
Dean stares at him for a long time. His heart is racing, his breaths are coming in staggered and short, and a storm of emotions passes through his eyes. He pushes Castiel off him roughly and hurries to the bathroom, muttering a clipped “It’s getting late. We should sleep,” at Castiel.
Despite the time he’s spent with them, Castiel knows he’s nowhere near an expert of humans. Yet, even he’s aware that this... this strange friendship he has with Dean has shifted. Something has changed.
He’s not sure if it’s a good thing or not.
Chapter Five →