"Ha, I just realised," the demon chortled. "It's like the setup to a supremely bad joke: A Fallen angel, a pagan god, and the newly risen dead walk into a bar..."
"Can you not make me sound like some kind of zombie, please?"
"It's just bitch, bitch, bitch with you, isn't it?"
Such was the conversation that saw in the New Year that night, which was really just typical.
Bobby had disappeared upstairs about half an hour ago, claiming the need to be well rested if he was going to be dealing with a full house of idjits. The rest of them had taken over his living room, no one quite ready to surrender to sleep just yet. Sam sat cross-legged on the floor, his back to a couch occupied by Cas and Gabriel. Dean handed him a beer as he wandered past, going to sprawl himself in the armchair near Crowley, who stood lounging in the doorway like he was bored out of his mind – an effect ruined only by the fact that he hadn't left yet.
As it turned out, Gabriel and Crowley hadn't so much traumatised each other as gotten along like a house on fire (with all the ominous, destructive potential which that simile implied, in Sam's opinion).
"I know you've been 'slumming it' for a while now," he'd muttered scathingly to the archangel a little earlier, after watching him and Crowley make nice for the best part of an hour, "but surely even you have some standards left. You know he's a demon, right?"
Gabriel had actually looked offended. "Hey, I've been accused of a lot of things in my time – most of them, admittedly, kinda true – but I am not a racist!"
"Hear, hear," Crowley had said, raising the glass of scotch he seemed to have permanently at hand and drinking a mocking toast.
Exasperated, Sam had given up and left them to it.
Currently, however, the archangel had returned to his favoured means of entertainment: irritating Sam. He'd manoeuvred himself to be directly at Sam's back, where he could easily reach out and tug at strands of his hair, or run a nail down his spine to send a jolt of ticklishness right through him. Twice Sam had elbowed him in the shin in retaliation, and he was starting to suspect he should really just move if he wanted to put a stop to it.
He didn't, though. God knew why.
From the other end of the couch, Castiel watched these exchanges with puzzlement. He knew his brother was fond of Sam, in his own way, but for the life of him he couldn't understand the way in which Gabriel chose to express that fondness. He was almost completely certain it followed no human or angelic custom.
But then, he supposed, no matter what he thought of Gabriel's unorthodox methods, at least his brother was doing something; acting on what he wanted; decisive in a way that had never come naturally to Castiel. He chanced a look across at Dean, who was occupied in glaring hatefully up at Crowley, and he thought about the conversation he'd shared with Gabriel not so long ago, about what he would say to the human who had once been his charge if he ever saw him again.
For love is strong as death, he'd said back then. He had yet to say it here and now. And, truthfully, he hadn't the first idea of howhe was going to go about it.
If he was going to go about it.
"Why are you even here, anyway?" Dean suddenly snapped, apparently in response to something Crowley had just said to him.
The demon shrugged elegantly. "I'm an invited guest, as I'm sure you remember."
"More like 'unwanted pest'..."
"You wound me, truly."
"Yeah, shut the hell up, Crowley."
"Make me, darling."
Sam smiled slightly as he listened to them, realising that the back and forth between the two had something almost habitual about it, like sniping at each other had become par for the course these days. There was hostility there, certainly – but not the kind likely to make Dean go for the Colt, or Crowley to use powers.
Unbidden, he remembered the key role that the demon had played in helping them stop the apocalypse, and the morbidly amusing thought occurred to him that, somehow or other, Crowley had gone and gotten himself absorbed into Team Free Will.
A socked foot suddenly prodded him in the kidney, painful, and he instinctively reached behind himself to grab Gabriel's ankle and hold him still. Muscles and tendons twitched in protest beneath his fingers. He ignored it, wordless. Didn't even turn around, but went on watching Dean and Crowley bicker as if nothing had happened. After a minute or so, Gabriel stopped trying to pull away and slumped in defeat. Really, that should have been his cue to let go. He did think about it. Couldn't really figure out what made him flex his fingers instead, holding on just this side of too tight. Behind him, Gabriel froze. Sam wondered vaguely what the fuck had happened to his resolve not to send out the wrong signals.
Voices escalated around them as his brother's sniping turned into an actual argument, and Castiel rose from the couch to go join him. It occurred to Sam that no one was paying any attention to them. Apparently it occurred to Gabriel, too, because the archangel leaned forward into his personal space, breath breezing past his ear as he hissed, "Yanno, I'm starting to suspect you have something of a fetish, Sammy."
Sam started to turn his head, then realised that would put them face-to-face and hastily suspended the motion. He swallowed awkwardly and managed to rasp, "...You're really annoying."
Gabriel huffed surprised laughter against the back of his neck, said quietly, "You like it." He brought a hand up, fingers sliding themselves proprietarily into Sam's hair; certainly no comforting gesture this time.
Sam half-heartedly tried to twist his head away. "Don't." Someone was going to turn and see them any second now, and it'd be difficult to convince anyone that the weirdly intimate position was actually just a comparatively harmless case of hair-pulling.
(He wished he could find more of a reason to object than that. Anything, really. Anything at all.)
Gabriel smirked, so close now that Sam could feel the curve of it against his skin. "It's just gone New Year. I thought humans had that tradition of getting laid at midnight?"
A sharp shock of amusement made him laugh out loud at that. It broke the spell. He turned around, dislodging Gabriel's hold on him, and pinned the archangel with a disbelieving look. "Actually, we have that tradition of just kissing at midnight. Also, we've missed midnight by nearly two hours. Also, I'm not going to kiss you, if that's what you're hinting at – midnight or any other time."
Gabriel pouted, slouching back into the couch cushions with folded arms. "Jeez, Sam, way to suck the fun out of one little joke."
"Oh come off it." But he was grinning, helplessly.
They gave in and called it a night some time around three in the morning. Crowley blinked out to go steal souls or drown kittens or whatever it was he did instead of sleeping, and everyone else headed for bed.
Dean was sharing his usual room with Sam, but on his way upstairs he hesitated outside the newly designated angels' room. After a second or two he knocked and poked his head inside, momentarily taken aback by the sight of Castiel standing there clad in pyjamas that might once have been Sam's. He was busy folding the clothes he'd been wearing earlier, laying them neatly on a chair. He glanced over his shoulder at Dean's entrance, blue eyes smiling even though his mouth didn't move.
"Hey. Where's Gabriel?"
"I believe he's saying goodnight to Sam." Castiel moved to sit on the edge of the bed, offering a wry tilt of his head. "By which I mean he's probably occupied in accosting your brother with his unique interpretation of friendship."
Dean raised his eyebrows. "...Good to know."
"Did you want him for something?"
"Gabriel? God no." He shoved his hands into his pockets and shuffled a few steps further into the room. "Just thought I'd... yanno. Check in on you." They stared at each other silently for a while, until Dean coughed and prompted, "So you're okay then?"
"Yes, actually," came the vaguely surprised answer, as if Castiel was only just realising it himself. "Today... did not turn out as expected. It was a pleasant surprise."
"Understatement." He dropped down onto the bed next to Cas, feeling the last residual tension drain from him. The whole day had seemed surreal, quite literally too good to be true; and, weirdly, it was only now, sitting next to a human Castiel with his oversized pyjamas, that anything seemed even remotely real.
"What about you?" Castiel asked quietly, turning to face him. "Are you alright?"
And for a moment, Dean actually considered handing in all his male credentials once and for all and just telling Cas how much he'd fucking missed him. He found himself thinking wildly about attempting to describe what it had been like, trying to grieve both Sam and Cas at the same time; how he'd lost his mind for a little while back there; how it felt like a goddamn miracle now that they were both back, unharmed and relatively unchanged; and how, in the deep dark part of his mind that he was even now trying to shut out, he was fucking terrified there'd be some kind of catch.
It blindsided him, how suddenly strong the urge to confess was. In that split second, he wanted to do crazy things, stupid things – like admit that the unmitigated disaster with Lisa hadn't just been because of the hunting thing, but also because he'd said the wrong name at the wrong time once or twice too often. He wanted to go get one of his own band T-shirts from the closet, just so Cas would have that to sleep in rather than clothing that belonged to anyone else but Dean. He wanted to do something desperate, and obvious, and honest.
But, ultimately, Dean was still a Winchester – and every damn one of them was about as emotionally articulate as a wall.
So he settled for clapping the angel brusquely on the shoulder as he rose to his feet (and if his hand lingered longer than a purely casual gesture strictly should, then that was all he allowed himself). "Glad you're back, Cas. Seriously. Things... weren't the same without you."
Castiel gazed up at him solemnly, hesitating, like he was about to say something in return.
But he stopped, looking away, and Dean's stomach dropped with irrational fear, because Cas never broke eye contact first – or at all, if given the option. He ducked down, trying to get it back. "Hey, c'mon, what's wrong?"
Castiel visibly recovered himself, spine straightening and eyes returning to Dean's as though it were inevitable. He offered the smallest twitch of a smile. "Nothing. I apologise. I'm in need of sleep, I suppose."
Mollified, Dean nodded sympathetically. "Not used to all the human bodily needs yet?"
"Hunger, in particular, is proving most pervasive."
Dean grinned. "Tell you what, I'll cook you breakfast in the morning. Full spread. Guarantee you won't be hungry for a week after."
"I'd like that, Dean. Thank you."
He shrugged dismissively, like it was nothing; like the last time he'd done as much wasn't back when Sam was just a kid. With that, he turned and ambled back into the hallway, leaning for a moment longer on the doorframe. "Night, Cas."
And still he hovered. He might have said something more, perhaps; something equally trivial or maybe something shattering – but Gabriel chose that moment to barge past him with an elbow to the ribs. "Stop defiling my brother, Winchester. Or if you're going to insist on it, take him to your own damn room. Feel free to send Sammy right on in here, if you're looking for privacy."
Dean sneered at him, infuriated by the interruption. "Yeah, you're delusional if you think I'm leaving you alone with Sam any longer than necessary."
Gabriel held out his arms innocently, but Dean didn't wait for a response, slamming the door shut in hopes of getting the last word in.
Gabriel's muffled voice was still audible, however, calling shrilly after him, "Oh come on! I'd totally give you my blessing to bang my little brother if you gave me yours!"
"Fuck you, Gabriel!" he yelled back at the top of his voice, no doubt waking everyone in the house, before proceeding to stomp off down the hall. He got halfway to his own room before the archangel's words finally registered. "Wait. What?"
Annoyingly, Gabriel wouldn't open the door again when he went back to pound on it, and Sam was conveniently, stubbornly asleep.