Castiel has watched Dean sleep countless times before, has sat and watched over his dreams, guarding against nightmares of Hell and images of Stull alike, coaxing relaxation and rest to come in their wake. He has heard Dean sigh, heard him snuffle and mumble and roll over in his sleep, has learned all of the little nuances and signs of Dean in repose. He knows the sound of Dean at peace, when his breathing is soft and even, his body stretched out in a diagonal sprawl across the bed so that his toes hang over the edge.
These are all things Castiel knows, has seen, has heard and watched and learned.
They do not grow any less fascinating with time, especially not now, as he sits up on one side of the bed, the flat of his hand resting against the small of Dean’s back possessively, wondrously. The skin there is warm, he knows, and had tasted clean and smooth and just slightly of salt and the motel’s cheap bar of soap. Dean had squirmed and protested, slightly ticklish there, and Castiel had smiled and moved on, as Dean had wished.
Sam had pounded on the wall between their rooms in a mixture or mortification and irritation early into the morning hours, and Castiel had grown drunk on the sight of Dean laughing into his pillow and calling Sam a myriad of feminine names through the thin walls.
Now it is quiet, and Castiel watches Dean’s dreams, as he has hundreds of times before. Tonight it somehow feels different. Castiel knows it has nothing to do with the new power thrumming under his skin—an archangel’s power—and everything to do with his grace as it bursts at the seams with this human’s impossible love. This is love greater and fiercer than all the love of Heaven itself.
This is the wonder of his Father’s favored children.
Dean shifts in his sleep then, dislodging Castiel’s hand from his back so that he can turn his head towards the angel in slumber instead, all the while murmuring incoherent human noises of content against Castiel’s side, breath hot and damp on his skin through the thin material of the rumpled bed sheets and causing the dark hairs on his arm to prickle slightly on contact.
Castiel closes his eyes and soaks in the peace of the predawn hours.
A peace that is interrupted by a presence he can feel appearing suddenly in the room, one that is fast and unstoppable even to one such as him.
His eyes open, though he does not need them to see who has come. “Death,” he breathes, suddenly tense as he shifts slightly, to place the shield of invisible wings between the looming horseman and Dean.
Death looks amused at his temerity, like he appreciates the bravery of a mouse standing up to so massive a lion, no matter how stupid it ultimately makes Castiel in the grand scheme of things.
“Why have you come here?” Castiel asks quietly, voice laced with suspicion.
Death simply shrugs. “I thought I would give my proper greetings to the new King of Heaven,” he says with an air of disinterest, like this is merely a custom with which he must take the necessary steps before he can be off again, playing his role as keeper of balance in the universe. “I must say,” he murmurs, running a hand over the dresser drawer by the door and wrinkling his nose at the layer of dust he finds there, “I did not expect this outcome at all.”
Castiel’s eyes are sharp, taking in every one of Death’s movements for signs of aggression, for any hint that he has come here to harm Dean or Sam. It is foolishness, he knows, to try and stop Death, but Castiel has done many foolish things in order to protect these two humans.
“Oh relax, Castiel,” Death chastises, when he sees the tightly coiled tension at the edges of the new archangel’s grace. “I am not here to reap anyone. I’m not sure, actually, if I could.” The last sentence is uttered with a hint of annoyance.
“I was under the impression that you can reap anyone you choose to,” Castiel corrects, even more suspicious now. “Even God.”
“Yes, well. It seems as if you and God are not at all alike despite being Father and child, Castiel. Because you, like the Winchesters, have somehow managed to thwart, dodge, defy, and escape every law of this universe. Even me. It should not be, but it’s as if I cannot touch you. Or when I do—when I try, I suppose is the better word, as much as it pains me to use it— it doesn’t seem to take quite like it does for everyone else.” His thin lips curl up into a sneer at that, half self-deprecating and half hostile as he studies the image of the angel as he sits in bed, hand resting on the back of the human man who cannot even begin to fathom the depths of what has been transpired for his sake.
“You, created with grace a tenth of an archangel’s, have managed to evade my hand as well as overpower one of the most ancient and enduring forces your Father ever created. Inexplicably, you have molded this power to your will, and for all the things I have seen since time was in its cradle, I cannot fathom how you have made it happen.” Death stops to huff a sigh, sounding oddly tired and defeated, using the same tone Castiel recognizes that Sam does, when Dean insists that he is not allowed to pick the music no matter how adroitly he may argue his cause.
“All this is as you say,” Castiel agrees eventually, carefully, “because of free will.” He cannot imagine a more powerful force in this universe, not after all he has seen.
Death eyes him back just as carefully, as if they are somehow, inexplicably, evenly matched in this place. “Perhaps,” Death concedes, after a moment. “Either way, that does not concern me. You can no longer concern me, not when you have defied every odd— for this human man no less— and saved a world that should have been destroyed as we all intended. Al I can determine from this outcome is that you have transcended even me.” Death shakes his head. “And that, I suppose, is a first.”
Castiel frowns at Death in mild confusion. “Then I do not understand your purpose here. Why are you telling me these things?”
Death snorts at that, looking almost genuinely amused. “Well, to be perfectly honest,” he says, “I came to ask you what your plans for the future might be, so that I may adjust my schedule accordingly. I have never had to plan around someone else before, but it is looking more and more likely that in the future I must do so, given our recent change in upper management.”
In his sleep, Dean lets out a rough snort of air before shifting slightly, so that he can move his hand to scratch his ass. Death looks on disdainfully. “Delightful,” he drawls, before reaching into his pocket and impatiently pulling out his timepiece. He examines it while Castiel watches every one of Dean’s movements with rapt fascination. “Well, Castiel?” Death demands, “What will you do next?”
Castiel realizes it is a loaded question. After the end of the war in Heaven there are many things yet to do, many plans to make. His brothers and sisters will look for guidance. The humans on Earth will always pray for celestial aid. There will forever be monsters to kill and demons to stop, a new threat looming in the distance hoping to take power, to destroy and enslave and burn that which is most dear.
But for now, for this one moment in time, there is none of that. All Castiel feels is peace. Joy.
Eventually, he turns his eyes back to Death, his fingers moving absently up the warm stretch of skin between Dean’s shoulder blades to run through the sleep-mussed mess of his hair instead. “I thought,” Castiel begins, and feels a small smile tugging curiously at the corner of his lips as he does, “that I would just sit here quietly.”
And so he does.