When Dean and Castiel finally decided to come back down Dean hadn't realized how much time had really passed. Healing the planet had taken nearly a week but they remained airborne for another three days. Cas was pretty sure that they'd know he took a little longer than necessary but they probably wouldn't say anything about it.
As they came close to the ground Cas allowed himself to be sensed and let a soft glow out to alert the people that might be interested in his return. He extracted Dean from within himself and stood at his boyfriend's side in human form, smiling at the excited people running their way. Jet, Sam, and Meg were at the forefront of the crowd, rushing to see them.
"You're okay!" Sam reached him first and Cas had to take a moment to realize just how much Sam had changed. His little brother grabbed him into a hug but Cas couldn't have imagined that Sam would've gotten so much taller, he was such a runt before but now he was even taller than their dad, taller than Dean. "I've missed you so much," Sam murmured against Cas' shoulder, his voice shaking and arms tightening.
"I missed you too," Castiel smiled and closed his eyes, letting himself relax in Sam's grip. "You've gotten so big, I can barely believe it."
"You're the one as tall as sky scrapers, remember?" Sam grinned and leaned back to get a better look at Cas' face. It was a moment of silence between them as they both smiled and really took in the fact that the other was there. They were in the same space again, they were in safety and there was no kind of imminent danger. Cas could take a moment to see his little brother, to really see that he was okay and that the world that shaped him hadn't twisted him terribly. And for Sam it was more than just seeing Castiel again. It was deterring the fear that more of his family might be dead, it was looking into the eyes of a hero and self-sacrificing man. Cas could never properly describe the way Sam was looking at him but it was such a relief and more than he thought he deserved.
Sam's eyes were watering and he blinked rapidly to try and stop it but Cas didn't mind. It felt like an eternity since the last time they'd seen one another. "How are you?" Sam asked without much ability to find the words to say more, his voice cracked a little with just those words.
"I've never been better. I have quite the story for all of you, but I'll save it for later." He could sense Sam's emotional rollercoaster and was only left with a smile on his face. Sam's heart was at peace, despite all he'd seen and everything he'd been through he was in one piece. His relationship was going strong, he was so smart, and he'd grown into such a wonderful person. "Sam, you truly have grown up. You're so beautiful,"
Sam shook his head quickly to try and shake off the emotional dam bursting, but tears still slipped from his eyes, "I'm so glad you're home, Cas."
Cas nodded knowingly, "Me too. Also I've noticed that you and a certain someone have hooked up?" He nudged Sam's arm playfully and watched the light pink blush that light up his cheeks.
"Yeah," Sam's gaze darted away from Cas awkwardly, "Jet's my boyfriend now."
Cas glanced over at Jet's expressively emotional features then back to Sam, leaning in a little to fake whisper, "I'm so sorry,"
Sam snorted back a laugh and Jet grinned wildly as he pulled Cas over, it was his turn for a hug and Cas was happy to oblige. "You little asshole," Jet laughed to try and cover how he inhaled sharply, another attempt to keep from crying. Cas wondered how many he could count before his reunions were over? "What the fuck did you do, huh? We've been fighting this crazy world for six years and you come in and fix it all in six fuckin' days." They definitely knew he hadn't taken that long to eradicate the demons.
"I had to clean up after one of my choices," Cas gave his friend a squeeze, unable to really bring himself to let go. Jet held in his fears and his anxieties but he could never hide them from Castiel. As they held the hug longer than the any of the others Cas had thus far, Castiel let his energy flow into his friend. It'd been too long since any of them felt any kind of internal peace and all Cas wanted was to give it back to them. "You're so tangled up in here," he whispered and Jet didn't say anything, just held on a little bit tighter.
Cas remembered hearing Jet once say 'We need you,' demanding that Castiel couldn't leave when he thought he was a threat. It took him six years to really understand that Jet needed him far more than he had realized. Cas had been there when Jet lost his dad, helped him grieve and heal, kept him upright with subtle soul repair as Nikki slowly got worse, and then completely healed her for him. Jet had been so afraid he wouldn't be able to keep going without Castiel around, he'd proven to himself that he could but that didn't erase the scarring caused by so many sleepless nights.
"I'm sorry I left you," Cas said as he let go, looking up at Jet's tearful smile. "I hope you'll forgive me someday."
Jet wiped his eyes as he coughed out a laugh, clearing his throat to again attempt mask his sniffling once. Cas knew better than to buy into it, but he pretended Jet wasn't crying for his sake, "You know I do, man." Jet reached over and clamped his hand down on Cas' shoulder, a heavy and comforting pressure placed there. "Thank you, I can't-" his voice broke and he closed his eyes tightly, failing to stop himself from crying openly this time. Jet covered his mouth and started to turn away but Cas wouldn't let him go.
He hugged Jet again, and that time both Sam and Dean joined in. "You're welcome," Cas whispered against his friend's sobbing frame, protectively holding him as long as he needed to.
"We're here," Sam kissed Jet's cheek and pressed his cheek to it in a nuzzling motion.
Dean didn't say much but he did give a crushing embrace to make up for it, words weren't always needed.
The four of them stood together and tears didn't just fall from Jet's eyes, Sam couldn't keep them back knowing his boyfriend was struggling so hard to stop. Dean's weren't as easy flowing as the rest, but he shed a few for his family. Cas' heart was full of empathy and his grace already working within the three of his closest friends and family. Healing them was at the top of his priorities, at the very least he left them with a stronger base to build the rest of themselves onto.
They stayed that way for a minute or two until he felt their relief. Cas smiled at the reddened eyes that looked his way, "Feel a little better?" He asked quietly and enjoyed the short but enthusiastic nods they gave him. Jet was a little embarrassed with himself for breaking down so unintentionally publicly, but that feeling faded within him quickly enough.
"Thanks Cas," Sam touched his arm gently before sliding off, "You always know what to do."
"I wish," Cas laughed but kept the bitterness out of it, "If I knew what to do all the time we wouldn't have had this whole mess on Earth."
"It turned out pretty well, all things considered." Dean grinned and punched his shoulder.
As he rubbed his arm Castiel felt eyes pinned to him, sharp and entirely too familiar. He looked a little past Jet to see Meg waiting her turn patiently, something very significantly different about her presence. "Meg? Are you alright?"
"You tell me," She smiled genuinely and took the few steps to embrace him. Cas blinked rapidly as his mind really processed the changes in her; he'd purified her, she was very different. Immediately he needed to feel deeper to see what he'd find and couldn't believe it when the source of her differences lit up in his face. She'd lost her demonic essence completely and in its place was a shiny new grace.
"You're an angel!" He cried excitedly and practically jumped around within the confines of the hug, "Oh my god I did it! You're like me!"
"Sort of," She laughed and leaned back, letting him go to do whatever he needed to do to lose that energy surge. "I'm a basic feather-head now, no devil horns anymore."
"I can't believe it," Cas gasped, still astonished. "How do you feel?"
"Embarrassed because you're reacting like a fan boy?" Meg smirked and ruffled up his hair, "But thanks, you really came through."
"I'm so glad I could help you," Cas toppled over her in another hug just for her to shove him off again, she hadn't changed that much. Her personality wasn't much different. "Alright, alright, I'll lay off."
"You better," she smirked and nodded toward the slowly growing group of people, "You gonna say hi to your family?"
Cas looked up and smiled brightly at his mom and dad, Nikki, and several familiar faces he didn't think he'd ever see again. So many people from the settlement must have heard about him because they started to cheer for him as soon as he gave them any kind of attention. Chants for his name and shouted 'welcome home' messages all blurred into the same wall of noise. Mary ran up to him and hung off him in a squishing hug, nearly bringing him down to his knees. He couldn't hear her properly but he knew what she was trying to express. Gratitude, pride, and relief all mixed into the same "I love you."
John caught him next and kissed his cheek before holding him tight, a firm hand cradled the back of his head in the most protective way Cas could have imagined. He slung his arms around John's shoulders and squeezed him back, showing with his strength all of his appreciation and giving the message "I'm okay." It was the only thing John needed to know.
He knew how rough the Earth was, how damaged it'd become but he knew that they'd be able to fix it together. They could make it a better place.
"Castiel!" Gabriel's voice broke through the crowd's right before he collided with Cas and knocked them both to the ground. "You're up!" He practically shouted into Cas' face as he held him up by the shoulders, "Holy shit! You made it, little guy!"
Cas blinked away his surprise and tried to brush off Gabriel's solid grip. "I did," he felt the weight of telling them about God, about Death and everything that happened. But maybe that could wait, it'd be difficult to swallow but he was sure they'd make it through. "A lot happened up there but I think it looks incredible now."
"You didn't even see it before," Gabriel punched him in the shoulder; it was harder than Cas was used to but he absorbed the shock. "Way to go, you little miracle."
Cas curled stray hairs behind his ear and shrugged sheepishly, "I just did what everyone told me I needed to do, I'm not that good."
"Take the compliment," Michael landed gracefully nearby, his eyebrow cocked and a smirk on his lips.
"Wait a second," John pointed at Gabriel, "You're the guy I saw that day! You put Cas in my car, right?"
"That's me," Gabriel gave a short bow, "I did what I had to-"
John cut him off with a classic Winchester hug, close, strong, and something the receiver didn't want to move away from too quickly. "Thank you, thank you so much."
Gabriel hesitated; he glanced at Cas who smiled so big it was contagious. He pat John on the back and returned the hug, "You're welcome."
"So what will the angels do now?" Mary looked at Michael expectantly, she was hoping for good news, something that would mean that Cas could stay.
"The demons are gone but we have a lot of clean up to do. We'll be staying on Earth for the time being, humans and wildlife alike need our help." Michael looked over at Castiel, his eyes showed his admiration. "Castiel, of course, will stay here with all of you."
Mary smiled in her relief, "Please let us know if there's anything we can do to help."
"Of course," Michael bowed his head to her, "As you've always done, please take care of Castiel for us."
"Too easy," John laughed and moved to put an arm around Castiel's shoulders, "He takes care of us most of the time anyway."
"I wouldn't call that easy," Cas made no attempts to get away, his expression speaking for itself.
"Shush," John ruffled his hair. Cas felt so accepted and like things really would settle down again, but he knew better than to keep what happened in Heaven to himself. It nagged at his mind and he couldn't let Michael and Gabriel leave without telling them. They'd figure it out when they returned to Heaven
"Hold on," He stepped away from John's hold easily, knowing full well it was meant to keep him there, and walked up to the archangels. "Something's happened since you left; Death was the one who woke me up and he…" how could he tell them that their dad was gone?
The words barely reached his lips and he bit them back again, the way they looked at him shifted from excitement to confusion to concern. They could see that it wasn't good news. Gabriel held an optimistic look but Michael's was quickly falling.
"I'm sorry," Cas wanted to stop, wanted to run away but he did his best to hold his ground. "He said that your father's time was up. God is gone."
Michael's gaze slipped down and his mouth tightened but he didn't speak. Gabriel stared blankly for a second; his mind going straight to denial but there weren't any ways he could find Cas to be joking. Castiel's eyes were a window to his intentions; the kind of joke that faked a severe loss wasn't part of his make up.
"Did He… did He say anything?" Gabe asked hesitantly and Cas nodded before giving them the full disclosure, every word and gesture he could possibly remember. It was a difficult exchange, while he spoke he could see Gabriel's heart breaking a little while Michael gave him nothing but silence.
"So He's left us in charge," Michael finally spoke once Castiel had finished and everyone was at a loss for words. God is dead. That was the only thought ringing through people's minds, some were despairing almost immediately while others couldn't differentiate between what had happened while God was sealed and frozen, and a world where he was dead.
Gabriel wanted to say something more prevalent but he couldn't find it in himself. Instead he hugged Cas again, this time holding him closer as a subtle laugh shook his shoulders. "You're worth the trade off," he said with a smile and Castiel crumpled into the embrace.
"I couldn't save Him," he mumbled against Gabriel's shoulder, "I'm so sorry, Gabe. I'm so sorry…"
"You need to stop being sorry," Michael curled magnificent wings around them both and touched Castiel's head affectionately. It wasn't quite the same 'hair ruffling' as everyone else liked to do but it was close enough. "You've done so much and it's time you put your mistakes behind you. Your regrets are only yours, people have done nothing but thank you today and all you do is apologize. We don't hold anything against you, so stop doing this to yourself."
"He's fuckin' right, man." Jet called over to him and Cas couldn't help but laugh.
"We love you, Cas." Sam reassured him, "You've saved our lives and our afterlives, I think we can accept if you might have a flaw or two."
"Maybe," Dean added playfully and Cas couldn't tell them they were wrong.
"Alright," he wiped his eyes and looked around at all the smiling faces, "I'll forgive myself, but you all have to help me clean up this mess."
"Way ahead of you," Gabriel pinched his cheek as if he were still the infant that Gabe remembered, "The other angels are already working on the rest of the world. Like Michael said, you're in charge here."
"I think I can handle that." Cas hugged him again; glad that his internal soothing would also work on angels. Gabriel's grieving was painful but Cas had done his best to smooth out the gouges it made in his core. "Will you guys be coming by here again?"
"I might stop in," a grin took over Gabriel's face despite the pain he'd be fighting for some time to come.
"I might be too busy," Michael admitted and Cas shook his head, not accepting that answer.
"At least come back before you go home?"
"That I can do."
Cas stepped back from them and smiled, "I'll see you all later, then."
He wasn't sure if it was contentment that settled in him or relief, regardless though he knew that things would be okay. Giving the world a second chance wasn't all they were doing, he and the angels would be actively rebuilding. The Earth would have far fewer humans within it, the many cities and buildings would feel empty but that was all part of the new era. The people that lived would have so many tales to share and they made history together. Castiel was glad that there was enough of humanity left to still trade such experiences, and that he could be part of it.
In a year's time…
"So I think that's about it," Dean declared successfully as they moved their things into a new house. They'd chosen one of the rebuilt cities as their home; it had been a long process of deciding what weather would be best and the type of scenery that suited them all.
As it turned out they wanted to be in Lawrence, newly paved streets with all new neighborhoods and buildings. Its layout was a little different than it had originally been, there were new monuments created at the behest of his friends. Gabriel followed Jet's line of thought and obliged when the young man suggested a statue of Castiel be set up in the town square.
Cas had stared at the thing with some disdain but couldn't tear it down, other people appreciated it and that'd be kind of rude of him, right?
Maybe he liked it a little bit.
He stood now with his eyes fixed outside the window of the large home he'd share with his closest friends. They decided that they wanted to live together, too much space seemed too empty and they could make a house large enough to fit them all since there was so much land available. Dean, Sam, Jet, Meg, and himself all in the same house. It was a new concept to him but he liked it, he wasn't ready to be too far away from them.
As for the angels, they'd completed their mission. Earth was in working order again and as far as most of them were concerned they could go back to Heaven. Castiel was given free range to go wherever he pleased, Earth was his domain and Michael and Gabriel preferred it that way. They told him that it could take hundreds of years for Lucifer to come back from where Cas had stored him and his energy, it wasn't something to worry about. Cas agreed and so kept an eye on the growing energy inside himself. It was kind of cute when he looked at it from certain angles.
Gabe said he'd be stopping in, though Cas wasn't sure how often that would be. Regardless he was content knowing that his angelic family was alive. He'd completed his job and had done what he needed to do. It was over.
"You okay?" Dean placed a hand on his shoulder and Cas nodded quietly before he looked at his lover carefully.
"Just daydreaming," he leaned over and kissed Dean slowly, wanting that peaceful moment to last forever.
But of course he was a dreamer and that wish wasn't part of reality.
"Goddamn it Jet! Would you just pick a side!?" Sam's voice echoed through the house, loud and enraged.
"Picking which side of the closet you use is important, okay? Not everyone can carelessly toss their shit to either side." Jet countered calmly but Sam wasn't taking any of his crap that day.
"Fuck off with that, you throw your clothes all over the floor anyway!"
Cas raised an eyebrow and looked at Dean with a bemused grin, "Sam curses a lot more than he used to."
"He talks a lot more like Jet, is what you're saying." Dean corrected and kissed him again, a quick and light peck on the lips. It brightened Cas' smile and brought a blush to his cheeks.
"Just get different rooms," they heard Meg join in, her tone a little exasperated but mostly just full of sass.
"No," Jet refused and Cas could tell by Sam's vibe that his little brother was vaguely considering it. "SAM!" Jet realized it too, it must've been written on Sam's face. "How could you?"
"What? If you had your own room you could use the whole closet."
"Fine," Jet sounded like he was pouting and headed for another room in the house, "I'll get my own."
"Wait!" Sam protested quickly, his tune changing fast, "Babe I didn't mean it, come back!"
Dean snorted, "Wow, Jet's high maintenance."
"He always was," Cas shrugged and leaned against Dean, "Though you are too, so it's not that surprising."
"What? No I'm not!"
Cas rolled his eyes once and tried to stifle his smile, "If you say so."
Dean frowned but stopped himself before going any further, getting Cas' point. "Alright, whatever. C'mere," he wrapped his arms around Castiel's middle and hefted him up, carrying him off to their bedroom. "I think it's time we relaxed a little."
Cas wrapped his legs around Dean's waist and kissed him, making it fairly difficult to navigate the hallway but Dean did a good job of it. "I wouldn't want to do anything else."