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the agony of de-sweet

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"No way." Dean's voice rang out, dripping with contempt. "No way, no way, no frigging way."

"Dean," Castiel said, in what he felt was a laudably calm and level voice, "the rules state very clearly that when a player lands on a licorice space, they lose one turn."

"Okay, first of all," Dean said, sitting up straighter, clearly working himself up to a tirade, "there's no such goddamn thing as a licorice space--"

Castiel pointed to the writing on the board that read, Stuck on a licorice space--lose one turn. Dean swatted his hand away.

"There's a licorice castle," he said, "and a creepy dude who's like...made out of licorice, but the sticky spaces are sticky. They're candy-related. That's the whole point. Like, you go near Gumdrop Mountain--" He waved at the right side of the board. "--and you step on a gumdrop and you get stuck, because gumdrops are sticky. Or like--what's the other one..."

"'Lost in Lollipop Woods,'" Charlie chimed in, and Dean nodded.

"Yes, right, thank you! You get lost in the woods. It's part of the story."

Sam, who was sitting on Castiel's other side and had yet to contribute to this particular debate, unsuccessfully stifled a laugh. Dean glared at him. "Dude," he said. "The story? It's just Candy Land. It's for preschoolers. It doesn't have a story."

"Oh, so now it's just Candy Land?" Dean said. "Because, you know, I happen to remember a certain game ending when someone kicked the board all the way across the room--"

"I was six!"

"--because he got stuck on a gumdrop and couldn't manage to draw a yellow card for ten turns in a row."

"Yeah," Sam said, his voice growing sharp, "because you were cheating."

"I wasn't cheating!"

"Ten in a row without a single yellow card does seem statistically unlikely," Castiel said.

"Okay, you know what," Charlie said loudly, cutting Dean off just as he opened his mouth, "I think maybe next game night we'll just play Monopoly instead, how about that?"

"I like Monopoly," Sam said.

"Of course you do," Dean said. "You always got to be the hat. Every single time, you were the hat. Did you ever stop and think that maybe, sometimes, someone else might want to be the hat?"

Charlie patted his arm. "I'm sure the hat thing was very traumatic for you," she said. "Now shut up and pick a card, it's your turn."

"This new edition is bullshit," Dean grumbled. He drew a yellow card and landed on Gumdrop Pass. "Ha!" He grinned at Castiel, moving his piece triumphantly across the shortcut, directly behind the licorice space Castiel currently occupied. "How's that for 'statistically unlikely'?"

It wasn't particularly unlikely at all, in fact, but Castiel chose to let this pass without comment. There was a certain serene pleasure to be found, he'd learned, in being the bigger man.

As long as he was winning.

"You're still in last place," Sam said to Dean. He and Charlie were both currently rounding Peanut Acres, Sam due to a four-card run of good luck and Charlie due to landing on the Rainbow Trail, which had led to a fist pump that nearly caught Dean in the face and a shout of, Yeah! Gay power, bitches!

("Is that in the rules?" Castiel had asked. "Because if so, I believe Dean also qualifies. And me," he'd added a second later. He still wasn't used to this whole strange notion of 'having' a sexuality, but they'd already fallen into unofficial teams--him and Sam against Charlie and Dean--and Castiel wanted his team to win. And the Rainbow Trail was a very good shortcut.)

Matters progressed without too much more ado, aside from Dean's constant stream of candy-related trash talk, until suddenly Charlie gasped and jabbed a finger at the board so hard that all the pieces shook.

"What the hell is this?" she demanded, eyes blazing.

"Uh." Sam glanced at Castiel, who shrugged. "That's...Princess Frostine? ...oh. Oh, no, Charlie--"

"Princess," Charlie hissed. "She's supposed to be a queen! Queen Frostine! It rhymes! 'Princess Frostine' doesn't rhyme!"

"Told you," Dean said, leaning back in his chair with his hands crossed behind his head. "This new game is bullshit."

"I can't believe this crap. What, was it too threatening for little boys to see a powerful woman ruling over her own candy territory? Were they scared she might hop across the board and freeze King Kandy's Junior Mints off?"

"Oh my god," Sam said faintly.

"Junior Mints," Dean repeated, in a hushed tone of reverent delight, and started laughing so hard he turned red and nearly slid off his chair before Castiel hauled him back up.

Charlie ignored all of them, gesticulating furiously as she continued ranting. "And that right there," she said, giving the board another violent poke, "that's supposed to be Princess Lolly. They stripped her of her title! I mean, I could understand if they were going for a whole theme of like...the gumdrops rise up, maybe with Gramma Nut as their charismatic leader, and there's a revolution--mostly bloodless, of course, just a few unavoidable skirmishes, a couple unpleasant but symbolically necessary public executions--and they overthrow the oppressive monarchy and it teaches children the value of democracy and representative government? But that's obviously not what's happening here, since King Kandy still reigns supreme."

There was a short and cautious silence following this speech.

"So...you've really thought this through," Sam said.

"Well, I mean, not with Candy Land specifically," she said, sitting back down. "But I've been tossing around some ideas for shaking things up in Moondor, so populist revolution's kind of been on my mind."

"It is bullshit she's not a queen anymore, though," Dean said. "Totally behind you on that."

"Thank you." They exchanged fistbumps. "You know what," Charlie said, pulling out her phone, "I'm gonna get us an old edition on eBay for next time. 'Princess Frostine' my ass."

*

Several minutes of relative peace later, Castiel had finally passed Chocolate Swamp and landed only two squares away from victory. All he had to do now was avoid drawing an orange card. Having triumphed against far unlikelier odds, he felt confident about his chances here. He felt good.

He was definitely going to win.

"That's not right either," Dean muttered, glaring at the board. "The swamp's supposed to be molasses, and the swamp guy is supposed to look way creepier."

Charlie, who was still browsing vintage sets on her phone, nodded forcefully. "Yeah," she said, "old Gloppy is like...he's got his tongue out and it's just..." She shuddered. "I feel dirty now."

"Lemme see," Dean said, grabbing the phone from her and immediately shoving it back with a grimace. "Jesus, he's worse than I remembered."

"This is for kids," Charlie said plaintively. She seemed unable to tear her eyes away from the screen. "Why is he looking at kids like that?"

"Don't ask questions you don't want answered," Dean said darkly. "Fucking Gloppy. I'm gonna have nightmares now."

Smiling, Castiel reached for the deck. He was definitely going to win, and what was more, Dean was still in last place. Even after Castiel's earlier humiliating Pictionary defeat, this would put him ahead of Dean by one, and Candy Land was the last of the games Charlie had brought. There was no way to lose.

"You're smirking," Dean said. "God, you're such a sore winner, you know that? Just draw your damn card."

Castiel drew his card. He stared at it for several seconds, not quite able to believe what he was seeing.

It was Sam who realized first, an expression of pure wide-eyed tragedy blossoming on his face. "Oh, no," he said. "Oh man, you got a place card, didn't you?"

Nodding silently, Castiel held it up for Sam to see. He couldn't look away from the board, where his game piece sat so terribly, cruelly, tauntingly near the finish line, but out of the corner of his eye he saw Sam flinch.

"Peppermint Forest?"

"Peppermint Forest," Castiel echoed hollowly. The damning candy cane was unmistakable. He'd been so close.

Dean and Charlie let out simultaneous whoops and exchanged high fives. "Oh hell yes, Peppermint Forest! You're going to lose," Dean said, grinning widely. "You totally lose for all time. How are those fancy new licorice spaces treating you now, huh?"

Castiel glowered at him, opting for a dignified, clenched-jawed silence as he slowly reached for his piece.

"Wait," Sam said suddenly, "wait, hang on--where are the rules?"

The rule sheet was under the table, where it had gently floated after Dean had attempted to throw it at the beginning of the game. Castiel picked it up and Sam leaned over his shoulder, scanning the page briefly before pointing at the bottom of one paragraph. "There! See, it says right here..."

Sam turned to look at him, grinning, and Castiel felt a matching grin start to spread across his face. This was--this was perfect. "It says right here," he continued, "that younger players don't have to move backwards."

Dean stared at him. "You're millions of years old."

"Yes," Castiel said, "but technically I'm also eight months, if we assume the rules refer to a player's human age."

"Pretty sure they do," Sam said, and laughed. "Oh man, that's good. That's great. I can't believe I thought of that."

"That was good," Castiel said. He held up his hand for a high five, which Sam delivered happily.

"Oh, that's...that's evil," Charlie said, shaking her head. "That's almost majestically evil. I mean, I know you're my mortal game night enemy right now, but I gotta hand it to you, Sam, I really like your style."

"I can't believe this," Dean said. He grabbed the rules out of Castiel's hand and stared at them, eyes narrowing. "No, this is--this is bullshit. This is a big, steaming pile of new age, training wheels, fluffy hippie self esteem bullshit. Candy Land isn't supposed to be all soft and cuddly. It's supposed to teach you about life."

"Dude," Sam said, "you realize you're arguing in favor of making four-year-olds cry, right?"

"It builds character!"

"Sorry," Castiel said, and yanked the rule sheet back. He had to tug a couple times before Dean would let go. "New board, new game, new rules." He smiled sweetly at Dean. "Don't worry, you still have a couple turns before I win. I'm sure you can make it to third place."

As it turned out, Dean only got one more turn; Castiel drew a blue card next and pushed his piece two squares forward, right on top of King Kandy's beaming, fully-bearded face. Sam and Charlie applauded.

"Yeah, well..." Dean glared back and forth between the rest of them as Charlie patted him soothingly on the shoulder. "You both still suck at Pictionary," he said finally, and sat back and crossed his arms with an air of finality.

"That is true," Charlie said. "You guys are terrible. I still can't believe that was supposed to be a bicycle," she said to Sam. "Or that you tried to draw the abstract concept of competition in under sixty seconds."

"It was a perfectly clear representation," Castiel said.

Sam snorted and began to pack up the pieces. "Yeah, you try playing Pictionary with a teammate who spent countless millennia thinking in eighteen dimensions across time and space."

Castiel turned to look at Dean, who was still glowering slightly. "Are you going to sulk over this?"

Dean snorted. "Dude, you're the champion sulker around here. You're like, the sorest loser in the universe." He uncrossed his arms and leaned forward a little, his eyes darkening as the corner of his mouth twitched up. "Anyway, I kind of have this feeling I'm not gonna mind the forfeit too much. You know what I mean?"

"I do have an idea, yes," Castiel said.

"Oh my god," Sam said, leaning between them to pick up a stray card, "can you guys at least wait until I finish putting the game away?"

"Don't worry, Sammy," Dean said, scooting closer until his chair was right up against Castiel's. "Nobody's gonna fuck on the Candy Land board, I promise. Old Gloppy here ain't exactly a turn-on."

"Although," Castiel said, "this 'Lord Licorice' does have a certain...flair. I suspect he's quite successful in finding partners."

"Aaaand we're out." Charlie grabbed Sam and tugged him towards the kitchen. "You guys can keep the game, okay? I don't think I'm gonna want it back."

"I was joking," Castiel called after her. "I don't actually find the licorice man sexually attractive."

"I'm not listening!" Charlie shouted, not looking back. "I'm not listening!"

Beside him, Dean snickered until they were gone. "You're such a liar," he said. "You love Lord Licorice's mustache. It's all twirly and you're totally into it."

Castiel narrowed his eyes and leaned in, forcing Dean back against the table. "I'm not into twirly mustaches."

"Hey, I'm not judging. I could try to grow one if you want, that would be sexy, right? And you could even help me wax i--"

Castiel kissed him, and kept right on kissing as he picked him up with both hands and sat him down hard on the table, enjoying the startled noise Dean made against his mouth.

"Holy shit," he said, wide-eyed, when Castiel finally let him breathe again. "Jesus, that's really hot. Are we actually gonna fuck on the Candy Land board?"

"That depends," Castiel said. "Do you promise not to grow a mustache?"

The answer to both questions, it turned out, was a solid and definite 'yes.'