The heavy metal door slammed shut behind him. Castiel emerged into the weak sunlight and immediately wished he had planned his dramatic exit a little better. He didn’t know where he was going but he was definitely going to need his truck, which was sitting in the bunker’s garage. He took a deep breath and turned to look back, not for the first time that evening. He couldn’t go back inside and take the shorter route through the bunker to the garage. Not after what had just happened. He turned to walk down the road towards the garage’s hidden outer door.
He put his hand on Sam’s protective warding and summoned a tiny pulse of grace to break it. The sigils flickered and disappeared. Castiel pulled the door open and slipped inside as stealthily as he could. No point in alerting anyone to his presence. The grey truck was there, a hulking shape in the cool darkness. As he got in the driver’s side and looked around the truck’s empty interior, Castiel realized he didn’t have anything with him. No matter. He didn’t have or need much. He reversed out of the garage and drove away. There was a heaviness in his chest as he put distance between himself and the only home he’d known since Heaven.
He wasn’t sure why he took the truck. There were any number of other more fuel efficient vehicles in the bunker’s garage he could have taken. He couldn’t even remember how the silver truck had ended up being his vehicle of choice. With his powers fading, Castiel’s memory was fading too. He no longer had the razor sharp recall of a celestial being. It was just one of the ways he was becoming more...human.
Castiel left the lights of Lebanon behind and took the ramp onto the freeway and pushed that thought out of his head. He wasn’t ready for it. Not yet. The light was starting to fade so he switched on the truck’s headlights and remembered how Dean used to laugh at his careful driving. Well, at least there would be no more of that. He could drive as slowly and safely as he wanted to now. That thought led to a cascade of others. Castiel would get hungry now - he could eat whatever he wanted! Eventually he might even wear a tie with a different pattern! He could listen to whatever music he wanted without Dean complaining!
Music. The real reason he had taken the truck. He took advantage of the long flat stretch of road in front of him and reached across to open the glove box. There it was. The small black rectangle that was the most cherished of his few possessions. He and Dean had never talked about it since that time he used it to steal the Colt. Not talking about things was what they did. And it was probably why Castiel was driving alone on an empty highway with nowhere to go.
After his latest resurrection, the cassette tape had been waiting for him on the bedside table of his spartan room in the bunker. Castiel had stared at it for a few minutes. He thought about walking the few short steps down the hall to Dean’s room and asking him why he still had it. He guessed that it was Dean who had prepared his body for the pyre, Dean who reached inside his coat and found the cassette, but they never talked about that either. Castiel did not ask Dean. He just picked it up and returned it to its place inside his coat pocket. Perhaps Dean hadn’t wanted to waste a perfectly good tape of his favorite music. When Castiel came back to life, maybe Dean had just wanted to return his gift. There couldn’t have been any other reason. Castiel was sure of that now.
Dean had installed a tape player in Castiel’s truck at some point, declaring, “Decent music only comes on vinyl or cassette,” and proceeding to throw away the factory-installed CD player. Castiel inserted the tape into the slot and turned the volume up as high as it would go. He was aware he was engaging in a very human behavior known as “wallowing” but he didn’t care. The tape started in the middle of Ramble On, one of Dean’s favorite songs. Castiel smashed the eject button with his finger, yanked the tape out of the slot, and rolled down his window. A rush of cold wind filled the truck. He held the cassette between two fingers of his left hand, and dangled it out the window. He wanted so badly to drop it, to leave it there on the freeway until it was crushed beneath the wheels of a semi truck. Instead he tossed it onto the passenger seat and rolled up his window.
A few hours later, he began to see road signs with familiar names. Not places he had ever been, but names he had heard often enough. So he exited the interstate at Sioux Falls. It was nearly midnight. Belatedly he realized he didn’t actually know Jody’s address. But he did know she was the sheriff, so after tapping a few lines into his phone (no missed calls), he found the sheriff’s office. He turned off the engine and sat in the parking lot, staring at the nondescript building. What if she wasn’t there? What would he even say to her? Why would anyone here be happy to see him? Castiel gripped the wheel so tightly that, if his powers hadn’t been waning, he might have wrenched it clean off the steering column.
You have nowhere else to go .
He made himself get out of the truck and walk into the fluorescent-lit waiting room. A tired but cheerful deputy looked him up and down.
“Can I help you sir?”
“Yes, I’m looking for Jody. Sheriff Jody Mills,” Castiel clarified, trying to “fake it ‘til you make it”, like Dean always said. He’d have to get by without Dean’s advice now.
The young woman raised an eyebrow at him. “What exactly is this about?”
Castiel swallowed. He hadn’t thought far enough ahead to come up with an excuse. Luckily, he didn’t have to. Jody walked through glass doors to his left and stopped dead when she saw him.
“Castiel? What are you doing here? Is everything okay?”
Castiel cleared his throat and glanced at the deputy behind the counter. “I was, uh, just passing through and I thought I would come say hello.” He couldn’t hide the hint of desperation that crept into his voice.
All at once, Jody seemed to understand. With a small smile at the deputy, she grasped Castiel’s arm and led him towards her office. Over cups of hot tea, across Jody’s desk, Castiel haltingly updated her on the events of the ghost-pocalypse, as Dean had taken to calling it. She knew a little already, and interrupted him every now and then with pointed questions about the locations and status of various angels, demons, and deities. Her eyes welled up when Castiel described Jack’s death at Chuck’s hands. After all, she knew the pain of losing a child better than most. She didn’t ask about Dean, and Castiel made no mention of their quarrel. Eventually, he stifled a yawn. Jody chuckled.
“I didn’t know angels yawned.”
“Apparently this one does. My powers are weakening - I’m not sure why. But I suppose I’ll get tired more often.”
At that, Jody set her mug down on the desk. “Well then, you’ll be needing a place to sleep.”
Castiel protested weakly but she wouldn’t hear of it. That’s how he found himself following her sheriff’s truck through the wide streets of Sioux Falls and pulling up across from a small one-story house. He hesitated on the front path until Jody practically hauled him to the doorstep. She trained her keen brown eyes on him.
“She’ll be glad to see you.”
As if on cue, the front door swung open and there was Claire, slightly out of breath. Her long blonde hair was as unruly as ever. She looked back and forth between Jody and Castiel. A rush of something he hadn’t felt since, well, Jack, took the breath from his lungs. He really hadn’t thought this through.
Castiel didn’t have time to form a proper greeting before Claire lunged at him. For a split second he thought his welcome wouldn’t be quite as rosy as Jody had insisted, but Claire enveloped him in a tight hug, burying her face in his trench coat. Over the top of her head, Castiel could see Jody’s smug grin. He huffed a laugh and wrapped his arms around Claire.
They fell into a routine, or as close to a routine as a house full of hunters and one displaced angel could get. Once Alex and Patience had gotten over their initial wariness around him, they peppered him with questions. Occasionally, when the girls came back from a successful hunt, Castiel would help Alex carry out autopsies on the monsters they killed. When he had been there a few weeks and Patience still hadn’t had any visions involving him, she seemed relieved that her psychic powers didn’t appear to extend to angels. Claire treated him with her usual gruff teenage affection, insisting on taking him shopping so that he could “finally lose that ugly ass trench coat”.
One night when Jody was working late, Alex was at the hospital, and Patience was dutifully finishing her homework, Castiel sat on the sofa watching some mindless reality show. He was tired after shovelling the snow from Jody’s driveway and front path. Fatigue was still new to him. TV helped him not think about Dean, which, along with remembering to eat and breathe, was his primary concern these days. He heard the clink of the refrigerator door closing and Claire plopped down next to him, grunting after taking a long sip of beer that she definitely wasn’t allowed to drink. Sometimes she reminded Castiel so much of Dean that he physically ached.
“Got you something,” she said casually, dropping a heavy rectangular object in his lap. Castiel lifted it, turning it over in his hands.
“I...don’t know what this is,” he confessed, hoping she wouldn’t be angry.
“You’re such a doof! It’s a tape player, you know, for that cassette tape you carry around and look at when you think no one’s watching.” Castiel caught her sly smile out of the corner of his eye. She continued, “It’s from Dean, right? I saw his name on it.”
He thought he’d been discreet. But a house full of women was probably not the easiest place to keep a secret. Castiel sighed and shifted around on the creaking sofa to face Claire.
“Yes, it’s from Dean. And thank you - I haven’t been able to listen to it since I got here.” He clutched the tape player close to his chest. He could feel the cool metal and plastic through his thrift store t-shirt. He still wasn’t used to wearing so few layers.
Claire didn’t press any further. Castiel knew they were all curious about what had happened, but so far they had respected Castiel’s need to close himself off from the Winchesters completely. He knew Jody talked to Sam on the phone occasionally, but if she told Sam he was staying in Sioux Falls, he never heard about it. And she never asked if he wanted to speak to Sam or Dean. It was better this way.
Claire fiddled with her boot laces. “Hey did anyone ever tell you about Kaia?”
“Jack did, a little bit, but I’d like to hear more, if you want to tell me.”
A rare, tiny smile crossed her lips. She told Castiel about the strange girl she’d loved and lost. For a little while, he didn’t think about Dean.
Since that night in the truck, Castiel hadn’t tried to get rid of the cassette tape again. There wasn’t much privacy to be had in Jody’s house, especially since he was sleeping on the sofa, but sometimes late at night, when everything was quiet, he would borrow Claire’s headphones and plug them into the tape player. He’d close his eyes and let the music wash over him. His powers had almost completely gone, exposing him to the full range of human emotions. It was agony - his love for Claire overwhelming him and mixing with the pain of losing Jack, his craving for Sam’s companionship becoming intertwined with the mess of anger, sadness, and longing he felt for Dean.
If the sun refused to shine
I would still be loving you
When mountains crumble to the sea
There will still be you and me
It was Castiel’s favorite song on the tape. He knew the lyrics back to front. There had been a time when he let himself think Dean had been trying to tell him something in the only way he knew how. Not anymore. It was just a song. A hot tear rolled down Castiel’s cheek. It was time for him to move on.
Winters in South Dakota were more vicious than the ones in Kansas. Castiel couldn’t get used to being cold all the time. Jody and the girls weren’t very sympathetic, instead making jokes about the angel who needed to snuggle under seven blankets at night. He didn’t mind their teasing. He knew from experience it meant he was part of the family.
One biting day in January when the temperature outside wasn’t even close to freezing, Castiel found himself home alone. Jody was at work and the girls had snuck off to a matinee. He tried to help Jody around the house as much as he could, always worrying about being a burden, especially without his powers, but his cooking was disastrous. So he stuck to cleaning and yard work and thankfully Jody hadn’t said anything yet about him getting a real job.
He stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes from that morning’s breakfast. Weak sunlight streamed through the windows. He had thought to put on a sweater over his jeans but his feet were bare. He was always forgetting some important human necessity - there was just too much to remember.
The tape player sat on the kitchen counter, Led Zeppelin blasting from its tinny speakers. His phone was next to it, not that anyone ever called him. Jody’s texts were always short and to the point, while Claire’s were full of emojis and slang he didn’t understand. But he liked to keep it close, in case of emergency. Castiel sang along to Travelling Riverside Blues at the top of his lungs and very much out of tune. He felt happy, or at least content. He experimented with swivelling his hips in time with the beat, just like Robert Plant did in those YouTube videos Dean made him watch. Dancing had been one of his more pleasurable human discoveries.
He was drying another plate with the dish towel when his phone vibrated and jumped on the tile counter. Castiel nearly dropped the plate. He set it down and practically lunged for the phone. As he picked it up, his arm knocked the tape player onto the floor. It kept playing and Castiel looked to see who was calling. Dean. His heart thudded in his chest. He thought about not answering. But it had taken all his willpower to say no to Dean back in the bunker. He didn’t have it in him to do it again. So Castiel answered.
“Hello?” He fumbled on the floor for the tape player, which was still playing.
“Cas? You there?” Dean’s low voice sent an electric current straight to all of Castiel’s now very human parts.
“Yes, Dean - sorry I can’t turn this off!”
“Is that - are you listening to my Zepp mixtape?”
Castiel finally found the stop button and pressed it. He collapsed in a heap on the kitchen floor. The silence that followed was worse than when they were yelling at each other over the music.
“Yes, I was. Why are you calling, Dean? I thought we made our feelings clear.”
Dean cleared his throat. “Yeah, well, I didn’t. Hey, can you do me a favor and open the front door?”
“What? Why? It’s freezing outside.” Castiel got up and slowly walked to the door.
“Yeah, I know, dumbass. Just come open the door.”
Still holding the phone to his ear, Castiel reached out and grasped the doorknob. After a few seconds, he pulled the door open. There was Dean, in the flesh, shivering in front of Jody’s house. He was also still holding his phone, grinning shyly at Castiel before lowering it and hanging up. Castiel could feel his mouth drop open but didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. Dean was as breathtaking as he always had been, and now that Castiel could no longer see his soul, he was able to focus on physical details like the dark circles under his eyes and the tension in his shoulders. So he had been suffering too.
“How did you know I was here?” Was all Castiel could think to ask.
“Sam and Jody. I knew they were cookin’ somethin’ up but I wasn’t exactly ready to hear it.”
Suddenly Castiel was angry. “You think this changes anything? Coming here?” He struggled to keep his voice from trembling. “What are you going to do to change anything? To change everything?”
The wounded look in Dean’s eyes was too much for Castiel. He turned and stepped back into the warmth of the house, heard the door close behind him. He sensed Dean’s warmth coming closer to him, even with his back turned.
“Cas...please. Look at me.” Castiel didn’t want to, but he did. The green of Dean’s eyes was clouded over with tears.
“I’m sorry. I never should’ve said what I said. You didn’t deserve it. You’ve always been there for me and Sam...for me. If you’ll let me, I know what I need to do to change things. First, I want you to come home. I want you to stay.”
Castiel realized he was holding the tape player, but he couldn’t remember when he had picked it up. Maybe he had never put it down. Nothing seemed real in that moment. He raised his eyes to meet Dean’s.
“And there’s something else. Something I should’ve done a long time ago.” Dean stepped forward into Castiel’s space, until there were mere inches between them. He reached up to stroke Castiel’s jaw and then time stopped as Dean pressed his lips to Castiel’s, just long enough so that it became a promise for more.
The tape player hurtled to the ground again, and the play button must have gotten pushed, because music swirled all around them. Castiel smiled, placed his hand on Dean’s hip, and pulled him in again. He was home.