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To draw a map of a child’s mind.

 

Doctors sometimes draw maps of other parts of you, and your own map can become intensely interesting, but catch them trying to draw a map of a child’s mind, which is not only confused, but keeps going round all the time. There are zigzag lines on it, just like your temperature on a card, and these are probably roads in the island - for the Neverland is always more or less an island.
Peter Pan and Wendy, J. M. Barrie (Chapter 1).

Written: 7-9 June 2013, for princess aleera's birthday.

Pairings: None (except Dean/Castiel/Sam friendship)

Rating: M, for a little gore at the start

Genre and tropes: Baby fic, bunker fic, fallen Castiel, human Castiel, domestic fluff, post season 8

Word count: 6k.

Spoilers: Assume knowledge through to the end of season 8.

Summary: They come across an abandoned newborn, on a case. Sam assumes Dean will put her up for adoption. Any minute now... right? (Also known as, I can’t help it, I have father!Dean feels this week.)

Warnings: Gore (canon-level violence) resulting in an orphan.

AO3 link.

“I thought their eyes couldn’t focus so young.”
Dean’s finger reached out, traced across the baby’s cheek, earned a small noise.
“Guess nobody told her that. Wants to get you all figured out - don’t you, darlin’?”
There was a lazy ease to Dean’s voice when he spoke to her that brought out the drawl, the one he usually kept hidden under the sharpness of the job, of being the tough guy with the world on his shoulders. It did strange, uneasy things to Sam’s gut - some not-quite-right feeling that he couldn’t place.

---

The werewolf’s last victim was the hardest to find - for him, and for the Winchesters. They were about five minutes too late. Sam put a silver bullet into his heart as he slunk, blood-drunk and heavy, out the window of the apartment where the woman had been squatting. Or hiding. The gore on his paw-hands and muzzle-mouth was fair warning of what they were going to find inside; still, Sam insisted they check it out. Just in case.

Her name had been Dania Torres, and she had been the guy’s girlfriend up until about seven months back. That much, they’d been able to find; but she hadn’t been the kind of person to leave much in the way of traces on records, official or legal or even financial. No bank transactions, no family they could track down, cash-in-hand temporary accommodation, jobs where she could get them, no criminal record and no appointments with doctors or hairdressers or anything like that. So when she’d vanished about a week ago - got wind of this guy coming for her, maybe - she had been very hard to track down.

Not hard enough. She was scattered all the way up the stairs.

The house stank of vinegar, and of blood. Her heart was gone, of course, and so was most of her torso. Apparently her ex had been peckish.

Sam tried not to look too closely. He’d learned before he’d been old enough to drink not to care about the sight of blood, but the whole demon blood thing had screwed with his head. Nowadays he saw blood, and he saw death in it, and guilt, and memories of hunger. Nowadays it just made him sick, in a way it never had before. Even if his own blood was apparently pure enough by now to cure demons. That was probably just because of how Castiel had rebuilt him when he’d pulled him out of the cage. A chemical technicality - nothing to do with Sam.

Sam combed the upper rooms quick enough, finding no more than he’d expected to find, which was nothing. It wasn’t her house, after all - just a place that had been empty enough to give her a bed for a night, and somewhere to hide.

“At least we know she didn’t have any family to care about... all this,” Sam offered lamely, when he joined Dean again.

“Funny thing,” Dean said, as if he hadn’t heard, “the chick was expecting him. She’d got it all figured out, man - silver, the works. Looks like she put up a good fight, too. He found her in the bathroom, but there’s things smashed and knocked over and bloodied up all the way through the kitchen and living area and halfway up the stairs before he really got his teeth into her.”

Sam sniffed the air. “White vinegar. They say you should use that in house-training a puppy - rub some into the carpet if the little guy makes a mess there so it cancels out the toilet smell - send it somewhere else. Messes up their heads, or something. First line of defence, you think? Threw it in his face to screw with his head?”

Dean pulled a face, eyes lingering on the discarded silver pen knife lying (bloodied) at the foot of the stairs. “I gotta worry about you bringing a stray home to the Batcave anytime soon, Samantha?” but the taunt was absent, automatic. “There’s a bottle of it spilled all over the floor in the laundry. Figured at first she was just doing some cleaning when he turned up and dropped it when she saw teeth, but...”

“... why would you scrub floors and toilets in a house you’re squatting in?” Sam finished for him.

Dean grimaced, and gave an awkward sort of nod in the direction of the mess that had been Dania Torres, the sort of nod he gave to people who’d earned a grudging sort of respect. Then he headed for the laundry.

It was a habit Sam had noticed in him before - shared, really, if he was honest - the habit of tracing over a dead person’s last steps. Sometimes it was helpful to the case, but this one was pretty open and shut. Werewolf enters, tears up old girlfriend, leaves - you don’t get much clearer than that. Mostly, really, it was just a kind of respect to the dead. Saying “I get it, I will remember these last moments for you”, when you knew that whoever found them, whichever police officer looked them over, whatever the coroner found, whoever buried them, nobody would get it. Nobody would make sense of it. They’d normalise everything, close their eyes to anything they didn’t expect to see. Nobody would know about those last few desperate moments, the panic or the bravery.

Nobody but you.

The laundry stank. Even Sam could hardly bear to step inside: the sharp acidity of it was like a tangible wall, slamming him in the face as he followed Dean inside. He spared a moment to wonder, sardonically, if she could have been safe if she’d stayed in here: if the hypersensitive werewolf nose would have kept him barred at the door, growling and frustrated. But, no: Sam knew better than most humans how the smell of hot, pounding blood could overrule everything else, when the hunger was up.

Dean picked up the empty bottle from the laundry bench, and frowned at it. Then he looked up at Sam, and quirked an eyebrow.

... Which, yeah. Odd. Sam had sort of expected the bottle to be in the middle of the floor, still leaking all over the tiles. Dropped, in a moment of panic. But the whole thing had been emptied onto the ground, then replaced, with the deliberate tidiness of a mind fighting off the adrenalin, back with the other bottles.

No lid, though. She’d forgotten that.

“She tips it all out...” Dean mused, turning on the spot to eye the slightly shabby plywood cupboards, the laundry sink, the shelf high above with a random assortment of household tools.

“Then she runs,” Sam finished for him. “Makes a distraction. But it’s gotta be her the guy was after, right? I mean, everything we saw, he was still obsessed. Angry, sure, but obsessed.”

There was a small noise from the cupboard under the sink. Sam didn’t quite recognise it, but he saw Dean’s shoulders go stiff as iron.

“Maybe she was betting on that,” he muttered, and in the next moment he was on his knees, vinegar soaking unnoticed into his jeans. The cupboard doors were jammed, but it only took two of Dean’s impatient tugs to send them flying open.

Sam couldn’t see what was inside, but Dean went very still.

“Seven months ago, right?” he said, in a strange voice. “And he left her, and she went off record, and started taking any crappy job she could get so long as it paid?”

Then he held out his gun for Sam to take.

“Shoulda shot the SOB harder.”

“Uh, Dean...?”

There was that noise again - a sort of burble, that nagged at the back of Sam’s consciousness and told him he ought to be able to recognise it, if only he could just remember...

“Hey, Cas?” Dean said into his phone, abrupt in a way he hardly ever was with Castiel these days, “Yeah, we took him down. We’re on our way. I need you to duck out to the store and pick up a few things. Formula, diapers, baby wipes, good solid bottles that come apart properly so you can boil them... shit. Shit. And some jumpsuits. Newborn size, okay? And... and, I don’t know, some sort of baby first-aid kit, thermometers and baby Tylenol and shit like that. Hell, just find a decent baby store and tell the folks there your sister’s bringing her baby to stay for a week and you don’t know what to get. Just do it. I’ll explain when we get there.”

He hung up.

Sam made an intelligent noise.

Dean shoved his phone back into his pocket, turned around, and stood up. He had a bundle in his arms: a bundle wrapped in a towel and an adult-sized fleecy jacket.

Sam caught the keys to the Impala when he tossed them, a careful fumbling underarm throw.

“So,” Dean said, in an I-dare-you-to-argue tone, “you’re driving.”

Sam didn’t argue.

 

---

 

Dean sang Metallica and Beatles songs under his breath all the way back home. He kept the bundle curled up against his chest, fingers splayed out carefully over the back of a dark, fragile skull that was all Sam could see of the creature inside. Sam had never thought of Dean’s hands as big before. It was weird.

Also stupidly impractical.

It was quiet, mostly. Sometimes it squirmed, moved its head a bit - jerky little movements, odd little mewling noises that didn’t sound like anything human, not really.

“So, uh. What’s the plan with...?” Sam tried once, and earned himself a reproachful stare before yet another verse of ‘Hey, Jude’ (and why did Dean keep singing that one, anyway?).

“We make sure she’s okay,” Dean said, and that was that.

 

---

 

Castiel’s forehead crumpled up into his tired perplexed-by-life squint.

“It’s as if she isn’t human,” he said.

“Hey,” and Dean’s hand locked tight around Castiel’s wrist, where he was cradling the baby against his chest. “She’s human, okay? The werewolf didn’t -”

“I didn’t mean,” Castiel broke in, a flash of his old irritation under the growl that vanished too quickly. “She only... she looks like she doesn’t know that yet. Doesn’t know she’s... well, her.”

“She’s got your eyes,” Dean joked lamely, because he didn’t know how to talk to Castiel these days.

The thing made a grumbling sort of mewl, soft enough that Sam could hardly hear it from across the room. It distracted Castiel: he looked down at its face, so that Sam couldn’t see how he looked when he said, “My vess- my eyes aren’t brown, Dean.”

Actually, right now they were kind of red and heavy. Seemed like giving Castiel time to himself while they were off on a hunting trip hadn’t made it any easier for him to get his sleeping habits sorted out.

“No, it’s just...”

They were in a bare room near the boiler. It was a funny sort of shape - small, with a chunk taken out of one side by the boiler machinery and a wooden counter running all around the walls - so they never really used it. But it was a few degrees higher than the rest of the bunker, which tended toward the chilly, so apparently today it got to be baby change-room central. Sam was meant to be sterilising the bottles and getting formula ready, but he was kind of distracted. So sue him - this was maybe the strangest thing he’d seen in years.

There was no ceiling light in this room, so Castiel had dragged in a floor lamp from one of the bedrooms. Dean and Castiel were a little huddle, bent together in the soft, warm triangle of light, all their focus (for once) not on each other’s eyes and the strange knot of tension that always hovered in the air between them. Just looking at this tiny dark-haired thing curled up against Castiel’s chest. All wondering touches and soft voices, like they were united, just for a while, in bemusement over this... thing.

“I thought their eyes couldn’t focus so young.”

Dean’s finger reached out, traced across the baby’s cheek, earned a small noise.

“Guess nobody told her that. Wants to get you all figured out - don’t you, darlin’?”

There was a lazy ease to Dean’s voice when he spoke to her that brought out the drawl, the one he usually kept hidden under the sharpness of the job, of being the tough guy with the world on his shoulders. It did strange, uneasy things to Sam’s gut - some not-quite-right feeling that he couldn’t place.

The pale curve that was all Sam could see of the baby’s face vanished, turned in against Castiel’s chest, and one arm twitched like she was trying to burrow in but couldn’t quite work out how to move.

“She’s - Dean, what is she doing? Does she need something?”

Castiel sounded halfway between mesmerised and alarmed. Like he was on the verge of shoving the baby back into Dean’s arms, just in case he broke it.

“What’re you after, hmm?” Dean crooned - yes crooned, holy shit - then, after a few seconds of the baby squirming and Castiel murmuring something Sam couldn’t hear, Dean took her back and tucked her in against his chest, unwinding the towel deftly as he went.

“Sammy, we’re gonna need that bottle soon. Sorry about this, girl, but you really a new diaper.”

Unhappy baby noises and a smell that wasn’t actually all that much like poop followed Sam out of the room.

 

---

 

“Did you boil it?”

“Yes, Dean.”

“Did you take all the bits apart to boil them? Like this little ring thing off the nipple bit, just to make sure they’re all clean?”

“Yes.”

“And the water for the formula too, you got that up to boiling and then brought it down, you didn’t just get it out of the hot fau-”

Dean.”

 

---

 

Sam sighed.

“Just you and me, huh?”

Predictably, the baby didn’t say anything - just sort of mushed its face in against his shirt and bumped a fist under his chin.

Sam hadn’t really realised just how tiny it was. Or how warm. Also, it was kind of ridiculous how enormous its head was when its arms and legs and butt were so skinny. Like it had put all its effort into that one thing... which, yes, actually that did make sense, but still. Weird.

He supposed it was probably cute? And warm, definitely warm. A more intense sort of heat than hugging an adult body to his chest. But maybe that was just because everything was on him to keep it there. Not to let it fall.

From the spare bedroom nearest the kitchen came the oddly reassuring sound of Castiel and Dean bickering over the best way to stack boxes of diapers, or whatever. It was the most comfortable they’d sounded together since Castiel had turned up at their door two weeks back, shabby and human and exhausted. When Dean was in fretful protective mode he was crap at just sitting still, even when sitting still was exactly what was needed. Dean had to be Up and Doing, which apparently meant Sam got to hold the tiny person and try to coax it into sucking on the bottle from time to time.

He also hadn’t realised babies took such a long time to eat. It was like it didn’t know that it needed food.

... Sort of like Castiel, then. Only less grumpy about it.

“Come on,” he muttered, and tried to tip its head back so that it could have some more formula, because Dean had said that it was hungry. Only it didn’t want to open its mouth, and he felt bad shoving the nipple in there.

The baby just stared up past his shoulder, with the teat resting on its lips, eyes fixed on where the light made patterns on the ceiling. If there was anything going on in that head - in that soul - Sam couldn’t see it.

And it wasn’t like she was going to be theirs.

 

---

 

It was really hard to get a decent sleep when that thin, sad wail kept waking you up every couple of hours. Especially when sometimes it just didn’t stop.

If this was going to go on for more than a couple of days, Sam might have to move to one of the more distant bedrooms. Only it wouldn’t, surely. It wasn’t like any of them were cut out to be fathers, not with this kind of life. Not without a wife and a proper house and a mortgage and a job that involved more pay cheques than viscera.

 

---

 

For the first two days, Castiel looked at the kid like it was something weird and incomprehensible and possibly slightly toxic. He picked it up when Dean told him to, carried it about so that it had somebody to cling to when it wasn’t sleeping, changed its diaper under sufferance with his nose scrunched up like he was just learning how the human olfactory organs worked and didn’t like it, looked mildly panicked whenever it made a noise, and watched it with a puzzled, distant expression sometimes when it slept.

But on the third night, the baby couldn’t sleep - was happy enough when it was being cuddled, but decided to kick up a fuss, high-pitched and thin and sad and going on and on, if anyone tried to put it down in its bed. Only Dean was exhausted, running himself ragged looking after everybody else in the house, and he wouldn’t let Sam stay up to hold it because he was still worried that Sam was going to have some kind of relapse if he didn’t look after himself, and Castiel looked like he was falling to pieces after another sleepless night and way too much Red Bull.

In the end it was Castiel, though, who took the baby away from Dean, firm and glaring and dishevelled in the track pants he’d been wearing for at least forty-eight hours, vanished into his own bedroom with it, locked the door, and refused to answer no matter how Dean knocked and cajoled and growled.

In the morning, Castiel looked brighter and better rested than he had all week, and he was... narrating. He just talked to the baby, all the time. Like his interior monologue had suddenly been redirected into the constant gruff, low monotone muttered by a bent dark head to a wide-eyed upturned face, as Castiel went about all the little bits and pieces of his day.

“This is jam, baby. It is made with fruit and sugar and more preservatives than I remember the names of anymore. Sam likes to pile it onto his toast when Dean isn’t around to notice. Americans call it jelly these days, which is accurate because they put gelatin in it. Possibly they distrust food that does not wobble. This would explain their yoghourt. Charlie informs me that Doctor Watson likes jam and that he and jam are very happy together. You will realise, as you go through life, that people always look disappointed and often rather perplexed when you do not understand their references, especially if they have to explain it and find they can’t account for its appeal. This can be deeply satisfying. You should use it to your advantage. Baby, you smell unpleasant. When Dean gets up that task is on him. I dragged him all the way out of Hell and rebelled against Heaven to give him a chance to save his brother and walked all the way from Illinois because he forgot to recharge his cell phone. He can handle the contents of your diaper. This is tea. Tea is a lie, baby. Coffee is the only deity before ten in the morning. Baby, when Sam wears that expression it means he is trying to decide whether he’s scandalised or just unequal to the situation. Possibly any situation that does not involve bullets. Feel free to ignore it.”

Turned out Castiel was, as Dean put it, a sarcastic little fuck inside his head. Colour Sam not particularly shocked.

Which left Sam alone as the only one in the bunker who just didn’t get it.

... and why the hell was he still thinking of a baby girl as an it, jesus. What was wrong with him?

 

---

 

Maybe Sam just wasn’t a baby person. Whatever that meant.

He’d never really thought about it before. Being a dad, yes - he did want that someday, raising kids, sending them off to school, out into life. Taking pride in somebody else, watching them grow. Being there for them to lean on.

He just didn’t get this. He didn’t see the appeal. It didn’t know them, didn’t have any opinions beyond ‘screaming’ and ‘not screaming right now’. Castiel was right when he said it didn’t really feel like a person.

Which was a horrible thing to think, and Sam was a freak, and maybe it was just a hangover from when they’d found that shapeshifter baby and Dean had been so gentle with it and Sam had been all... well, soulless.

Or maybe it was just Sam.

Whatever. He could help look after it and let the other guys play at babies while they worked out what to do with it. With her.

It seemed to be helping Castiel sleep, anyway. He was falling into a pattern of naps that almost matched up with the baby’s, which sort of made sense, if you figured that their brains were doing a lot of the same processing right now. And Dean was frazzled, but... kind of happier. Maybe they needed this, for a while. Until they found something for her.

 

---

 

Sam was holding his tongue, okay?

He held his tongue when more and more baby things started appearing in that one room, and then in the living areas, and in Castiel’s bedroom. He held his tongue when a baby bath turned up, despite the fact that Dean had said on day one “no, it’s fine, you can wash a baby in a sink if you’re careful,” and when Castiel started telling the baby in excruciating detail just why she ought to be glad she’d never have to learn to shave a beard.

He looked into anonymous adoption and foster care options and made careful charts weighing up their various levels of fishiness and concern for the genuine well-being of a tiny human, just in case anyone ever asked him. But he didn’t say anything.

Then the baby got sick.

Sam held his tongue, still, all the way through Dean’s frantic pacing, and the long phone calls to Charlie getting her to forge birth records in the system of some hospital on the other side of the country, and Dean’s curt responses to her questions: “About last Monday, call it Monday - yes, Winchester - Dania... fuck, just list her as my wife, don’t put her last name in there, don’t need anyone getting back to us about that corpse - Mary - no, don’t call her Mary, our family’s cursed - shit - I don’t know, man, just pick something - Jo, call her Joanna, okay?”

Sam held his tongue right through Dean officially creating a person named Joanna Winchester, driving her to the nearest hospital, and acting the concerned hovering father far too well. Sam knew when his brother was faking a role, and he knew when his brother was just worrying about somebody because it was the job and would stop caring when they drove out of town, and this was not it.

It was a minor irritation to the respiratory system, apparently - just something about the air in the bunker being too dry, and she was already breathing better by the time they got to the hospital. A humidifier in the rooms where she spent the most time, the nurse said, should clear it all up in a day or two.

They did some tests, standard week-old check-up business, just to get her into the books. They recommended a paediatrician for regular check-ups, gave Dean a referral, and he thanked them and took it. They asked after his wife’s health, and he bullshitted something about late nights and exhaustion, all the while cradling the little body in her red jumpsuit with the green apple on the front carefully against his chest. She was mouthing damply at the collar of his t-shirt, making the little burbling noises that Dean had translated yesterday as “pissy but okay,” and one half-curled little fist was nestled in the hollow of Dean’s collar bone.

It was a small hospital, barely more than a regular doctor’s clinic. When the nurse left them to wait for the results of the last tests, they had the tiny dingy waiting room to themselves.

Which was Sam’s chance to say something. Something important and carefully considered and rational since he was the sensible adult here and maybe just a little bit annoyed because, come on. Didn’t Dean realise what he was doing here?

Only he looked over at Dean before he said it, and whatever he’d meant to say got lost somewhere in the secret little half-grin on the side of Dean’s face as the baby tipped her head sideways and stared at him.

What Sam found himself saying instead was, “So... Joanna, huh?”

Dean lifted his head, halfway wary, like he could hear all the other things they’d not being saying for days underneath. “Yeah. Problem?”

It was sort of confrontational, like he was daring Sam to have something to say about this, but all Sam could see was the way, as Dean had looked up, his hand had stayed right where it was: fingers curling so naturally around the back of her neck and skull. Like it was the most precious and delicate thing in the world, that little life in his hands.

Only he wasn’t really seeing it. He was feeling it: Dean’s hands cupping his shoulders, his back, his neck, his face. Dean’s voice, rough and scorched and broken: don’t you dare think that there is anything, past or present, that I would put in front of you.

And that expression on Dean’s face when he looked down at the baby, an expression Sam hardly remembered without all the layers of bullshit and weariness covering it up. So fucking unconditional. Standing between this little girl and the world.

It has never been like that. Ever. I need you to see that.

Between Sam and the world, if he wanted it. Even now.

Sam didn’t quite understand what that meant, just that something unsettled and restless inside him, something that had been flitting around all indecisive ever since Dean had said those words (or maybe far longer than that), decided to take a break.

“No,” he said, and almost laughed. “Actually, no. Just. That’s quite a lot for a little half-pint like that to live up to, don’t you think?”

Dean looked at him for a moment, before something warm crept in at the edge of his mouth, just for Sam. “I don’t know. Kid already likes Metallica better than Cas’s Don McLean crap, I’d say she’s well on her way to awesome town.”

The baby squawked, like she objected to being labelled or something, then quietly sicked up an ounce or two of formula on Dean’s t-shirt. When Sam stopped laughing, he fetched the bag of travel wipes to dab them both clean. Little Jo didn’t really like getting her chin wiped, it seemed.

“So,” Sam said when they were done, just to be sure. “No adoption agencies, then.”

Dean was busy shifting her around so she was facing the other way and not lying in the damp spot on his t-shirt, so he had a ready-made excuse to avoid looking up when he said, “... I just. Fifteen minutes earlier and we could have saved her mom. Feel like I’ve gotta do right by her, you know?”

“Yeah,” Sam said, because that much he did understand, and he knew that was probably as much as Dean would confess to. For now, anyway.

“You good?” Dean asked, like it didn’t matter.

Sam reached out for her, because it was kind of a big damp spot, and Sam had a lot of warm dry chest. She fit more easily into his arms now, although he still felt like he had to move gingerly so he didn’t jolt her head. He could feel the flutter of her little pulse under her skin, and when she looked up at him, he had no idea what she was thinking, but he could see the vastness of the thoughts behind her eyes.

“I think she’s got your nose,” he decided, and leaned down to fish the half-full bottle of formula out of the satchel.

 

---

 

Sam got up somewhere around midnight. No real reason: habit, probably, and a glass of water.

Castiel was stretched out on one of the sofas, knees hooked up over one end and bare feet hanging down. They were all Sam could see of him from the kitchen, but he knew he had the baby - Joanna - on his chest and that neither of them were asleep by the lazy rumble that filtered through to him.

“... with up to eighty other naked mole rats. They are, curiously enough, the only mammal (so far as my memory serves these days) to practise a eusocial model of reproduction. This means that they behave very much like bees and ants, in that there is one brood female, who... That would be Uncle Sam getting up for a drink. You’ve given him bad sleeping habits, baby.”

Sam smiled and got himself a glass and didn’t point fingers at anybody else’s sleeping habits, since Castiel was still a resentful little shit when it came to bodily functions. He listened to Castiel mumble on to the baby about the social habits of various species of bee and ant, and wondered whether he was talking to her or reminding himself.

When his glass was empty and rinsed, he went and sat down on the sofa, in the foot or so left clear behind Castiel’s head. Castiel was bare-chested, and Joanna - Joey? - was sprawled comfortably over him, warm in a kick bag and covered by an ugly knitted green blanket that looked suspiciously like somebody had made a trip to a thrift store.

Castiel shot Sam a sour look when he had to move his head to make room, shifted to using Sam’s thigh as a cushion instead, and informed the baby that the indigenous peoples of several desert regions of Australia used honey-pot ants as a sweet snack.

Sam always felt like he had to be careful, with Castiel. Not because he’d take offence - to be honest, Castiel taking real offence would be a relief, because at least he’d stand up for himself for real instead of just being twitchy and grumpy. Just because... just because.

Sam never really tried to put it into words, but there was a whole world of broken there that he thought he might understand.

“Hey, Cas,” he asked, in the lull that came after the trail-blazing habits of some extinct African ant. “Why d’you like talking to her so much?”

“It makes her happy,” Castiel murmured, and his hand moved up to stroke careful fingertips over her cheek. The little pink mouth gaped open, like she thought she should be sucking something in.

“She wants...” Sam suggested, and leaned forward to nudge Castiel’s index finger a little closer to her mouth, although honestly he had no idea whether it was actual food she wanted or just the comfort of knowing someone was there. Castiel frowned a bit, and went with it when she clamped down hard on his finger.

After a minute of slurping noises, loud in the stillness of the room, Castiel added distantly, “She is the only person who has no expectations about how each sentence is going to end.”

Sam had no idea what to say to that - what on earth you could say to someone who’d just changed his species and lost all the identity he’d ever known - so he just put a hand on one of Castiel’s shoulders and squeezed.

“If it helps,” he put in after another minute or so, “I think we’re all trying to work out our sentences right now. Well,” as the sucking slowed down and her eyelids began to droop, “except her. She’s still trying to work out, you know. Physics.”

“I wonder what she will learn from each of us,” Castiel said quietly, and wasn’t that an ominous thought.

Sam swallowed, and took his hand away.

The baby slurped on Castiel’s finger, them made a pitiful noise and opened her eyes.

“There is a warm bottle in the crock by the stove,” Castiel said, in the resigned-to-doom voice that he’d once reserved for apocalyptic monsters, and squirmed awkwardly until he was sitting up. “Could you..?”

Sam levered himself out of the chair (it was a long way up when you were sleepy) and shuffled over to fetch it. Before he got back to the sofa Dean was striding in, looking obnoxiously awake, wiping his hands on a rag and smelling of wood shavings and just halfway into looking hilariously caught out at finding them there.

“Good morning, Dean,” Castiel drawled, bland as anything with his hair sticking up ridiculously all over the place, and snagged the bottle from Sam’s fingers.

“... So, here’s something neat,” Dean deflected cheerfully. “Turns out the Men of Letters had a woodshop somewhere down on the fourth level. Thought I’d get back into the swing of it, you know how it is.”

“You’re making a crib, aren’t you,” Sam said flatly, but didn’t pretend not to grin.

Dean made a dismissive “psssh” kind of a noise and wandered over to beam at little Joanna. She was, to be fair, a pretty good conversational gambit all on her own. Her cheeks had gone all flushed since Castiel had given her the teat, and her fists were all scrunched up, tucked up against the sides of her face.

Dean “boop”ed her on the nose.

Castiel blinked at him, puzzled.

Dean winked at him.

Very carefully, Castiel shifted her into one arm, braced the bottle against his collar bone so he had one hand free, and pressed a solemn finger against her nose.

Nothing happened, except that Castiel looked more mystified, and the bottle fell down, and Joanna looked completely disoriented.

Sam burst out laughing.

“Screw you,” Castiel said with dignity, but there were crinkles at the corners of his eyes that weren’t only confusion.

Sam leaned down to sling one arm around his shoulders and just laughed.

“I’m going to bed,” Dean declared, and, “You guys suck,” but Sam still managed to slug his shoulder as he ducked past, and got his hair all mussed up in return.

It was a start.

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