Title: Yellow Ribbon
Author: vaderina
Rating: PG-13
Genre and/or Pairing: Dean/Castiel
Spoilers: None
Warnings: None
Word Count: ~2000
Summary: After the Apocalypse, Dean returns home to Sam, Cas and Bobby. Based on Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree by Tony Orlando and Dawn.


The bus was full of expectant faces. Dean looked at all of them, the faces familiar, expressions one of hopeful wistfulness as another person got off the bus into to awaiting arms of a tearful family. It had been a hard 3 years. All these people worked with Dean to stop the apocalypse, all these people willingly sacrificing themselves, putting their own lives on hold to become vessels for angels. Dean knew their faces, yet had never spoken to any of them as themselves. He could name the angel each body had housed. The worst thing about giving in to Michael? He could see and remember everything. Feel everything Michael felt along with his own pain. Every time another angel was killed, the pang of guilt and the feeling of something missing from the whole shot through his being. He grieved for every angel along with Michael. Yet he also grieved for the vessel, another casualty of the war. He also remembered the all consuming grief as their sword ran through Lucifer's body. Even though Lucifer was misguided, he was still a brother and killing him left an even bigger hole in their shared soul. They sank down above the broken body to grieve. Dean hoped that the soul of the broken vessel didn't suffer. He was also quietly thankful that it wasn't his own brother he was crouched over. Sam, along with Cas were safe. Nobody other than Gabriel knew where they were hidden. He'd shown up just as Dean was about to say yes, having given the terms of his assent. Sam and Cas had to be safe, forgiven and removed from the fight along with Bobby. Sent to a safe house where they could come to no harm. Gabriel took them, spirited them away as white light engulfed Dean and he lost control over his body.


3 years had gone by since then. He could only hope that they were still safe and happy. The bus pulled up at another stop. Before Michael left him, they made one final arrangement. All vessels were to be returned to their families, if they were still welcomed back. Letters were sent to each and every family explaining that the war was over and their beloved was fine and given instructions on what to do if they were still expected to return. It was asked that if they were still willing to take them back, they should tie a yellow ribbon somewhere outside their house. If there was no ribbon, the bus would drive past and the vessel would be given a new home with all other vessels that had no place to go. Dean knew though, that this place was Heaven. The vessels would be quietly sent to sleep and never woken again. But so far, all houses had yellow ribbons, families awaiting their beloved with open arms and welcome home banners.


The war had affected everyone. The world at large knew what was going on. Knew that Lucifer was loose, knew that the apocalypse was upon them. Those who could and would, offered themselves as vessels while those who couldn't had learnt protection charms and tried to carry on the best they could. Refugees from destroyed towns were rehoused with charitable families and humanity kept going about its business while the battle between Heaven and Hell raged on.


Dean watched as another family stood outside their house, yellow ribbon waving in the wind as a newly returned mother hugged her daughter and husband, tears of joy running down her cheeks. He smiled, wondering whether Sam, Cas and Bobby would welcome him back. Apprehension settled deep in him, his stomach tying itself into a knot while doing back flips every time he thought of his own broken family. How much would Sam have changed? Would he have gotten over his guilt and anger at starting the apocalypse? Would Bobby be able to walk? He asked Michael to restore his legs to him before chasing down Lucifer. Did Cas want him still? Before he had given in to Michael, they'd grown closer. For the few month in the run up to his agreement, they'd shared a bed and the last night before Dean gave himself up they'd stayed up all night, holding each other close. Cas had cried softly into his shoulder, clinging on, begging him not to do it. Cas was still asleep when Dean went outside, he couldn't bear to say goodbye to his angel. That would make things too final.


The bus rolled along and got emptier as time and towns went by. Every time someone got off, those still on the bus cheered and clapped, shouting their best wishes for the newly returned vessel. That's all they were to Dean now. Empty vessels. He knew nothing else about them. They weren't his comrades-in-arms, just empty husks. He hated himself for thinking like that, but couldn't help it. As the bus moved on from each stop, a name was shouted by the driver, allowing time for the next vessel to prepare and gather themselves for their happy reunion.


"Winchester!" the driver called out as they pulled out from another family home of another happy family with another yellow ribbon. His throat constricted and his head dropped into his hands. The drive was quiet now. Everyone's anticipation growing as their own home drew closer. Dean couldn't look though. After what he put them through, his own family wouldn't want him back. Sam wouldn't forgive him for putting him in a safe house. For not letting him redeem himself, prove that he isn't evil. Bobby would be mad at him for giving up. For not finding another way and for sacrificing himself and taking the easy way out. And Cas would be disappointed in him. He never got to say goodbye. Never got the chance to hear Dean say 3 small words that somehow were so hard to say. Even though Dean was no longer a prisoner in his own body, he still wasn't free. Without Cas, without Sam and without Bobby, he was a nobody. He had no-one and no-one wanted him. It was loneliness in the company of the world. He was the prisoner of his own self loathing and his own mistakes.


The bus slowed down and Dean screwed his eyes shut. The bus was silent. He didn't want to see a bare house without a single yellow ribbon. The pity in the other vessel's eyes as he was the only one not welcomed back home as a hero, but thrown out like an unwanted, unloved dog onto the side of the street, abandoned. He fought to bite back the sob and the tears that threatened to break from him as he battled to accept the fact that he was no longer part of the family he had tried so hard to protect. It hurt, knowing that they had moved on without him. Moved on without leaving a space for him to come home to. Sam probably has found a nice girl to settle down with and Cas too. Found someone who could actually voice their love for him, made him feel appreciated and didn't leave him to wake up cold and alone in the bed one day. Someone who didn't try to kill him the first time they met, didn't insult him, cause him to almost fall and wallow in the lowest and filthiest levels of the scum of humanity. Someone who didn't drag him from seedy motel room to even seedier motel room, but gave him a stable base. A house. A home. Someone who didn't rip souls apart in hell for 10 years and enjoyed every minute of it.


The bus pulled to a stop and the doors creaked open. The silence was broken by a a broken gasp.


"Holy shit."


His head slowly rose as he gazed out at the small suburban house they were in front of. It had a few trees in the front garden, a white picket fence, a smoking chimney and soft green grass between the neat flowerbeds. It was the dream home he and Sam had often described when they were small. The dream home they never would have because normal just didn't work for the Winchesters. However, that wasn't what left him with his mouth open in a gasp. The bus erupted around him in wild whoops as he took in the sight. Every conceivable branch, flower stem and fence was covered in yellow ribbons neatly knotted round them. They blew in the wind, tangling with the leaves as the late summer sun gave them a golden glow.


He stood on shaky legs as hands patted him on the back, congratulating him, wishing him all the best. Stumbling off the bus, he saw the doorknob (adorned with a yellow ribbon too) turn and the bulky figure of his little brother filled the doorway.


"Dean!" he could hear his name cried out repeatedly in the familiar tones of Sam as his giant brother ran across the law towards him. Dean just stood shell shocked as Sam enveloped him in strong arms, dragging him close, almost smothering him against his chest. He'd grown older. His hair was still long, but a few lines had crept round his eyes and he seemed more at peace with himself. A quiet confidence radiating from him. And he was still as much of a girl as Dean remembered him to be. Tears cascading down his cheeks, Dean's name a becoming a chant. Slowly untangling them, Sam held Dean an arm's length, looking at him through watery eyes, hands on his shoulders.


"You're OK Dean! Thank god you're OK." he said, his smile threatening to split his face in half.


"Hey Sammy." Dean choked out, too caught up in emotions to care that his voice broke.


"Let me see the idjit for myself." Bobby gruff tones came from behind Sam. Dean stepped to the side only to see Bobby standing behind Sam, a hand on his hip, baseball cap firmly lodged on his head.


"Bobby." Dean smiled, unsure of what to say or do. Bobby had never been one for physical affection.


"Come here son." Bobby opened his arms for Dean to step into another bear hug. "3 years away warrants this. But never again." Bobby muttered, fighting back tears himself. "And not another word of this." he warned as he pulled away. "Good to see you again son."


"You too Bobby." Dean smiled. His eyes drifted back to the house, in the hope of seeing the third member of his adopted family. Sam caught Bobby's eye as they exchanged a silent nod.


"He's in the kitchen Dean. Second door on the left." Sam said, putting a hand on his brother's back. Dean looked at Sam, doubt and fear in his eyes. Why didn't Cas come out? Didn't he want to see him? "Go see him Dean. He...uh...he missed you. The ribbons were all him." Sam gave him a gentle shove towards the house. With a final glance at the hundreds of yellow strands covering the the entire garden, Dean made his unsure way to the kitchen. The smell of sweet pastry filled his nose as he approached the door. It was shut. Staring at it uncertainly, Dean silently debated whether he should knock or not. A sudden clanking of glass breaking with a heartfelt "shit" from behind the door broke his reverie. Raising his hand to the doorknob, he took a deep breath. And the door flew open to reveal Castiel, looking flushed and annoyed. Bobby's 'Kiss The Cook' apron hung haphazardly from his slim frame.


"Dean." he breathed, eyes wide and staring. Their blue hadn't lost their intensity over the years, neither had he gained a better feel for the concept of personal space.


"Cas." Dean whispered back. Casting a glance behind him, Cas looked up at the man before him, a blush spreading across his cheeks.


"I didn't know when you'd be back. So I made some pie." Cas whispered at him. Dean stared at him, a smile tugging at his lips.


"Thank you." he said at an equally low volume. Cas looked down, the top of his head almost brushing against Dean's chest.


"I'm sorry." Cas murmured.


"Why?" it was Dean's turn to be surprised.


"I didn't think you'd come back."




"I thought you'd find someone else. Someone better for you." Cas voiced the very same thoughts Dean had on the bus, only reversed their positions. "I didn't think you'd want me back." Tears dropped to the floor from Castiel's cheeks. Dean put a hand under the angel's chin.


"Castiel." he sighed, "Look at me."


The angel's eyes opened, intense and blue despite the tears. His lips were parted in an aborted sob. Running a thumb along his bottom lip then to brush away the tears, Dean smiled at his angel. Castiel leaned into his touch and surged forward, his lips meeting Dean's in a salty, teary kiss. His lips parted in a question, an invitation for Dean to take up on. An offer Dean couldn't resist, his tongue reacquainting itself with Castiel's taste, somewhat masked by the pie dough and apples he ate while making it. Their tongues caressed, replacing all the words which should have been said 3 years ago. The "I'm sorry", "Don't go", "Wait for me", "Come back" and "I love you". To Dean, it felt like finally coming home, his tongue licking deep into Cas, re-establishing his claim and his territory. Cas' smile grew wide enough to break the smile, more tears sliding between their already wet lips, leaving salty trails. Looking Dean in the eye, an arm round his waist, Castiel's eyes crinkled at the corners as he pulled Dean down to whisper in his ear "Welcome home."