When Sam first finds the box of radio cassettes, it is hidden safely under a pile of hoarded weapons and tools of the trade in the Impala’s trunk- the signature work of Dean Winchester, no doubt, who stows all things of importance in his baby. And it is only afterward that the Aha!-moment comes when he realizes that Dean paid careful mind to place it where the tattered and bloodied trench-coat once was. When Sam first hears the tapes, however, is much later- and the second a different sort of song plays- a softer one, one that sounds almost akin to the sound of a softly blown saxophone, it is quickly ejected. The radio’s eject button is slammed with a quick ferocity that makes Sam jump and stare at a flushed and mortified Dean in complete shock. He asks, of course, what the song was, why his brother was so adamant about grabbing the tape and throwing it under his seat- Sam is answered only with a gruff demand to shut up.
“They’re mine,” Castiel tells Sam softly, when the two sit alone together in a cheap motel room, waiting for Dean to return with take-out. “I’m afraid Dean wouldn’t want me to tell you much more- he’s adamant about it being kept between us both.”
“When did he make them?” Sam asks, hoping to inquire more about the mysterious collection of music cassettes. There are moments, the Winchesters know, when Castiel behaves more like a child than an angel- and the nervous, guilt-ridden look that Cas gives Sam when he considers the question is nothing if not infantile. Like a child unsure of sharing a sworn secret, battling between the desire to blurt it and the fear of chastisement, Castiel is all nervous glances and shuffling feet.
“I shouldn’t say anything about it,” Cas tells himself more than he does to Sam, “but if I am to say one last thing about them, Dean made them for me after our return.”
Everything shifts, then, and the whirring thoughts are visible in Sam’s face. It’s been half a year, now, since his brother and the angel where ripped out of Purgatory and back into the younger Winchester’s life. Six months, that is, until Sam’s life was put back together and the two most important people in his life came back- safe, sound, but somehow secretly, intimately, changed. Not in how they spoke, that is, or how they carried themselves about- they are the same courageous though flawed, and occasionally unnerving family Sam had known before the attack on Dick Roman. But it is in how they walk, side by side, now- be it intentionally, but most often not- and it is in how they hunt. It is in the way they reach towards one another in times of danger, though they do not touch- not when Sam can see. It is in the way they jest and they grimace. It’s in how Dean is already smiling before Castiel laughs; it is in the way Castiel exhales when Dean breathes in. An unnamable, unspecific change- a fluid transformation of a relationship, ever toiling and swaying between certainty and secrecy. It is the relationship Sam already knows of, and the one he’s never ceased to support.
It then makes sense to Sam, why those tapes exist. Why Dean, he can only imagine, would’ve spent hours upon hours manually recording on cassette tapes an array of songs for Castiel’s sake. Because he knows Dean, and he knows his pride- he’ll never use the douche-ish conveniences of CD’s or iPods. He’ll use the only thing he’s known, he’ll go through as much trouble as it takes, if it’s for the sake of sharing the intimate.
Sam had long decided not to press them. Not to press them about Purgatory, about their relationship, or about the mixed tapes. But eventually Dean explains a few things- small things, short blurbs. He, of course, will always omit the full story. He talks about hunts and monsters and sluggish creeping things, but he will never share mentions of embraces, whispers, or the tears and sweat and blood that fell like rain in the dark depths. And, of course, he never talks about the singing or the humming or the soft coos and stroked hair before the angel passed out or the hunter fell into much deserved sleep. He doesn’t talk about the two exchanging songs like birds, or the melodies Castiel never heard in the car, only first heard in Purgatory- songs about standing beside one another, songs about not taking eyes off each other. Old songs, classic songs, but songs that don’t blast in the Chevy radio for the sake of Dean’s machismo. Castiel did not mind hearing the new songs, then. They made those quiet instances more precious, more crucial to the healing of a once severed bond. And when he receives the gift of that music from Dean in the form of a box full of tapes, he does not mind then, either. Because, by then, he has memorized each word and hearing another voice singing those ballads is always fascinating- albeit, always a bit amiss.
The older brother explains, and sometimes the angel does, too. And when things get more comfortable and hunts are less about principalities and more about the simple monsters that go bump in the night, special attention is paid to the unsaid things. To what to call their relationship (a failed experiment, they’re bond has no name besides ‘profound’) or to wether or not approval is to be gained (a silly inquiry, Sam proves with a roll of the eyes and an ‘oh please.’) And then something miraculous happens- something more out of this world than any encounter Sam had faced; the music starts changing. Slowly, gradually- but it’s there. And it starts with a night on the road, when Dean and his angel think Sam had fallen asleep listening to his iPod. It starts with their shared humming and low murmuring of lyrics in perfect, rehearsed unison- and they don’t see Sam smile and they don’t notice he’s only feigning sleep. But eventually, different songs play- only rarely, and mostly by accident. The songs in those mixed tapes are private ones, one saved only between the two, and Sam does not strive to intrude.
But they’re shared, and things are progressing. And when the cassettes play on while they drive interstate, Sam can’t help but wonder when the day will come when Dean relents and uses iTunes for the first time in his life. Sam isn’t holding his breath, of course, but the angel in the backseat humming and drumming his fingers is living proof that things with his brother can and do sometimes change for the better.