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It’s one thing that Cas is back (flesh blood bone and still full of grace); it’s another that he’s back . Back home. A body in the world again.

Dishes in the sink, clothes dumped next to the ancient washer instead of inside, the scent of cheap shampoo slinking into every corner of the bunker. He’s home, in Dean’s space, and Dean doesn’t know where to go from there.

***

Dean doesn’t know what he expects to happen, after Jack sets the world to rights, after everyone comes back to them. Nearly everyone.

It takes Cas longer, much longer to walk into the library on a misty morning than Dean can almost bear. 

And Dean had waited, checking every cellphone he owned for a call, a text; standing in the open doorway and staring at the stars for a sign; checking every blog, every source, every radio for a word of anything out of the ordinary. Even giving that goddamn telescope-geoscope fucking thing a few kicks in hopes it might let him see more, to look a little farther.  But there was only the weight of disappointment and hopelessness to be found.

And then Cas is there, edging into the library almost furtively, as though unsure of his welcome.  As if the front door hadn't just opened for him.

Sam is the first to notice him - Dean too drunk to read the book on metaphysical translocation in front of him, let alone spot the reappearance of the only thing that mattered.  Matters.

“Cas!” Sam shouts, shoving out of his chair so quickly it clatters to the floor and spins three feet away.  Cas disappears behind Sam, caught up in a hug so unyielding it might have broken a regular man.  But Cas has never been a regular man.

“Hello, Dean,” Cas says, voice as low as ever, full of the weight of the settled universe.

Dean stands - barely - legs weak and knees shaking. Unsure of his own sight, swimming in a week’s worth of liquor.  “Cas?”

And then he pukes on the floor.

***

The days pass, slowly and too fast all at once. Morning, noon, and night sliding around the clock. Days of Cas living in the bunker full time, sleeping in his old room, walking around with bedhead and a frown before coffee. He eats Dean’s cooking with enthusiasm and puts his dishes in the sink without rinsing them. He wears sweatpants and doesn’t turn off the lights when he leaves a room. He smells like sparking ozone and drugstore soap and it sets Dean’s nerves alight. Every minute, every day.

He is safe and alive, present and real and solid. A human body full of grace. Unshackled from Heaven and Chuck and choosing the bunker all the same. Choosing Dean.

Dean watches him. He watches from doorways and gives him space. Gives himself space, really. He thinks he’s owed it. Cas’ words tumble around his brain, replayed over and over, as soon as Dean wakes until he falls into restless sleep.

I love you.

Just him, Cas had said. Only to him. In the final moments of his last life. No guile. No qualifications. Just a fact. A basic truth.

And Dean knows it.  A year ago, six months ago, a different Dean might have pushed it away, might have denied it, might never have thought about it again. Locked it away with the other horrors and nightmares that scar his life. But he’s not that man anymore, hasn't been that man in a whilte. He’s died and returned and survived too many times - too many lives - to go back to that place.

But that doesn’t mean he knows where to go from here, doesn’t know what to do with it.

He had meant to say me too . He had meant to say I love you more than death .  He had meant to say anything at all, but then Cas was gone and the words sat like stale whiskey and broken hope in his throat.

And now he can’t say anything at all.

***

Dean stares blankly at his keyboard, chin resting on his palm.  Ostensibly he’s looking up how to grow vegetables in Kansas, but really he’s listening for Cas.

“You should talk to him,” Sam says. Not for the first time and certainly not the last.

“Shut up,” Dean responds, thoughtlessly. It’s a reflex. Defensive. And he knows it, but it’s the easiest thing to say.

Sam doesn’t even look up from his laptop. Eileen is next to him, leaning her cheek against his shoulder as they check the wires for hunts. Jack may have fixed the earth, but this earth still comes with monsters. Fixed doesn’t mean perfect, and it doesn’t mean paradise.

Eileen’s hands move in a quick burst that makes Sam laugh.

“I don’t know what that meant but I know it ain’t nice,” Dean grouses. He’s been studying ASL, but it’s slow going.  Mostly because he’s too distracted by the worn and dog-eared copy of Dante’s Inferno Cas left in the den, and the coffee cups in every room, and the trench coat draped over the back of the chair in Cas’ room Dean can see whenever he walks past the open door.

Cas had returned wearing it. The first one. The one Dean sees him in when he closes his eyes, when he dreams late into the morning. Cas had returned as Dean remembered him the clearest: bright-eyed, striking, too beautiful to be human. No black goo dripping from his hair, no wounds marring his remade flesh, no blood staining the ground. Just Cas. A fucking angel.

“Jack,” Cas had said with the slightest shrug when Dean and Sam had continued to stare .  As if that was enough to explain the pure miracle of his return.  Maybe it was.

And now, now Dean spends the days tracking Cas’ movements around the bunker, making sure he’s eating enough, that he remembers how to use the remote control, that he’s still there .

I love you.

It haunts Dean at two in the morning when he thinks he can hear Cas shifting restlessly in his own room. And it lifts him in the afternoon when Cas offers him the sweetest, toothiest smile in the galaxy at the coffee Dean offers him without being asked.

“Don’t mention it,” Dean grumbled. Cas didn’t. But he smiled.

“If you don’t talk to him,” Sam continues, still not looking at Dean. He doesn’t have to. “I will.”

“You won’t.” It’s not a threat and Dean doesn’t have it in him to try and make it one.

Cas shuffles into the library, yawning and cracking his neck. Dean’s heart pushes against his ribcage at the sight of him, loud enough he’s sure Cas can hear it. It should embarrass him, should terrify him. And it does. But it also thrills him, because it’s allowed. Cas said it was.

“Hey Cas,” Sam greets.

“Sam,” Cas nods. He looks at Eileen and signs as he speaks, “Hi, Eileen.”

And then his gaze lands on Dean.

Dean feels it in his toes. His gut. The ends of his hair. It’s the same crackling intensity as when Cas first walked through the door of a dark barn in the middle of nowhere, the lights bursting overhead at the sheer power of him. The grace he somehow contains in the remade body of an accountant.

Dean doesn’t see Sam and Eileen get up, but he notices it when they’re gone.

Bastards, he thinks, but he’s grateful nonetheless. He doesn’t need an audience for this.

Cas is wearing his old slacks, but a plain white undershirt that might have belonged to Dean once. It makes Dean warm all over, makes his chin slip off his palm. Makes him want to run from the room and leap into Cas’ arms.

“Morning, Dean.”

Dean has to clear his throat before he can respond. “Hiya, Cas.”

There’s something in Cas’ eyes, maybe.  Dean isn’t sure. It’s too hard to look at him for too long, even now. Maybe especially now, when it feels like Cas can ready his every thought.

Cas slides into Sam’s vacated chair and frowns at the laptop still open on the table. “Are we looking for a hunt?”

“Yeah, uh, Sammie thought he found something. A-”

“Vampire nest,” Cas finishes for him, still looking at the screen, tapping a few keys with his fingers. “in Canton.”

“Ohio?”

Cas grunts in assent. The furrow in his brow is so familiar Dean feels it in every one of his old, tired bones.

Dean picks at the knees of his jeans, shifts in his chair. Fights the urge to run. “Sam and Eileen can handle it,” he says. And they can, Dean knows it, they’re more than capable. But he could also use some time alone with Cas, just them, just enough to figure out what comes next without a peanut gallery watching his - their - every move.

Cas looks up, looks over the laptop at Dean, and his eyes are as piercing, as fathomless as ever. More human than ever. They hold Dean in place and draw him closer. “Yes, I imagine they can.”

Dean loses whatever he thought he might say next and lapses into hunched silence.

He knows what he wants, what he really wants. Cas in the bunker, in their home. Cas in the kitchen while he’s cooking breakfast, soft and sleepy at the table and willing to eat anything Dean rustles up. Cas leaving his dirty fucking socks in the laundry room and never putting the cap back on the toothpaste. Cas in his bed. Cas in his life like he was never supposed to be, but always has been. Defiant.

But what is he supposed to say? What does he do? Now. When the rush of fear and confusion and adrenaline has passed. Now, when it’s quiet in the bunker and so many of ties holding him - them - down have been cut loose.

Cas is there. Cas is home. And what is free will worth if he doesn’t use it?

Dean licks his lips, clenches his fists, takes a deep breath that does nothing to calm his heavy-racing heart.

“Me too,” he mumbles, staring at his own computer and seeing nothing.

I love you. I do. I love you. I have for longer than I know. Longer than God. I didn’t need you to die to realize it I already knew.

“I do, too,” Dean says, louder, clearer. His pulse is pounding in his ears so loud that if Cas responded he wouldn’t hear him.

When he drags his gaze up, Cas is looking right at him. Staring, really. At him, and not through him. But he must see Dean’s heart nonetheless - so visible it feels through his skin and bones.

Cas tilts his head, questioning, and Dean wants to strangle him. To kiss him.To ask him to marry him. He’s going to make Dean say it, say it out loud, and Dean can see what the rest of his life is going to be like in that moment.

“I do, too,” Dean says, louder now. Clearer. “I love you. You have to know that.”

A smile starts in Cas’ eyes and grows to his lips. “I did. I do.”  It sounds like a prayer.

“Okay.” Dean ducks his head, his own grin threatening to completely overtake him. “Okay, then.”

He doesn’t hear Cas move, but suddenly there’s a hand on his shoulder and another under his chin, gently turning him and tilting his head up and they’re kissing. In the bunker, on earth. Not in a dream, not under possession. Just them. Just Dean and just Cas. Kissing soft and slow, knowing there is at least the rest of their lives ahead of them. And then whatever comes after.

“Okay then,” Cas parrots, still smiling against his lips, his fingers light against Dean’s jaw. “Okay.”