When Castiel tells his brothers he's planning to open a pet shop, he's not all that surprised when Gabriel responds by laughing.
Jimmy is a little more sympathetic and even offers to help him with the whole process. Which is really thoughtful, but Castiel has already set his mind to do everything himself. Besides, Jimmy has enough to deal with as it is. Fortunately, his brother understands and just nods, directing the conversation to a safer topic.
The old Castiel would have spent way too much time researching every single detail before deciding where and how to open a business. But he's changed. Several days after telling Gabriel and Jimmy his plans, he leaves his apartment on a whim and wanders around on foot. Hours later, he finds himself on the opposite side of town before a row of shops. One of the spaces are empty and, glancing around, he's pleasantly surprised to find a cafe just down the street.
After writing the phone number posted in the window on the palm of his hand (something he's been raised never to do), he enters the cafe and is greeted by the young woman behind the front counter. "Haven't seen you around before," she says, smiling. "Usually we just have our regulars who stop by, since everyone else seems to love Starbucks better."
Castiel blinks. He's never had Starbucks before, but he doesn't understand the appeal. Not when he has coffee from three different continents stashed away in his kitchen. "I felt like trying something new," he admits after a moment.
The young woman -Jo, it says on her name tag- grins. She's actually quite lovely with long blonde hair large expressive eyes. "Great. Then what'll you be having?"
Castiel eventually decides on a French roast, which Jo hurries to prepare for him as a woman steps out of the back room. She looks a lot like Jo, but her face is rounder and her hair is a darker honey brown. "Welcome to the Harvelle's Roadhouse," she says with a slight drawl. She reaches her hand over the counter. "I'm Ellen."
"Castiel." He shakes her hand and quickly glances down at the smudged numbers on his palm. "I'm sorry about that."
"Not a worry," Ellen replies. She must recognize the phone number because she suddenly looks curious. "Are you looking to open the shop at the corner?"
He nods. "That's right. May I borrow your phone?" He left his cell at home. Just in case Jimmy tries to call him.
"If you're trying to get a hold of the landlord, he's right there," Jo says as she slides his cup of coffee toward him. She gestures to a man sitting at a little table in the corner of the room fiddling with an iPad. Castiel nods and reaches for his wallet, but both Ellen and Jo shake their heads at him.
"It's on the house," Ellen insists.
Jo winks at him. "Since we're practically going to be neighbors anyway."
Touched by their kindness, Castiel drops some money into the tip jar and carries his coffee to the man's table, who looks up at Castiel's approach and smiles, slow and lazy. There's a look in his blue eyes that Castiel isn't sure what to make of, but then he's holding out his hand to shake. "Hello there," he says. He has a European accent Castiel can't quite place. "I'm Balthazar."
They spend the next hour and a half talking. Mostly about the lease terms, but they soon end up briefly discussing their families (Balthazar has a younger sister named Rachel) and where they went to school. Balthazar also owns his own little art gallery and paints when he's not haggling small businesses to pay the rent. After finishing their coffee, they exchange phone numbers to meet again and Castiel moves to stand.
"You never did mention what kind of store you're opening," Balthazar points out. "Let me guess, a book shop?"
Castiel can't help smiling at that because, less than six months ago, it probably would have been. "No. Not at all."
A few days later, Castiel is at the Roadhouse before the morning commute waiting for Balthazar to show up. He's sitting at a table near the window, sipping on a mocha Jo insisted he try ("What do you mean you've never had one before, Cas?"), when he sees Dean Winchester for the first time.
He drives up in a vintage Chevrolet Impala, wearing a simple black suit with a white dress shirt and blue striped tie. His brown hair sticks up in odd places, like he didn't have enough time to brush it, but Castiel still thinks he's the most beautiful man he's ever seen.
"You going into work looking like such a mess, Winchester?" Jo calls jokingly, loud enough for Castiel to hear.
The man drifts over to the counter and slumps against it. He mutters something that makes Jo laugh, making Castiel feel like a fool because he desperately wants to know what he said.
Ellen is wiping down the table next to him and he beckons to her, keeping his voice low as he asks quietly, "Who is that speaking to Jo?" They glance back at the counter, where Jo is leaning over and running her fingers through the man's hair, smoothing it down as best she can. Castiel doesn't even bother to hide the disappointment he suddenly feels because oh, of course.
"They're not together, if that's what you're worried about," Ellen admits after a moment. He glances at her quickly and she smiles. "That's Dean. His daddy helped me out after my husband passed away, so him and his brother are practically family."
Castiel doesn't know what to say, so he doesn't say anything as Jo hands Dean his coffee and he leans in to kiss her cheek. Dean looks around until he spots Ellen and marches over, his green eyes bright. Castiel commends himself for not slinking down in his chair like he suddenly wants to, a little overwhelmed by how beautiful the man is up close. "Where's my kiss, Ellen?" Dean demands.
"You're ridiculous." Ellen rolls her eyes but obligingly kisses his cheek too before swatting at his shoulder. "Now get out of here. Doesn't that boss of yours give you a hard time if you're late?"
Dean glances at his watch and groans. "Zachariah is a sadist and I don't know why I haven't given in to the urge to throw my coffee in his face, yet."
"Because you're a good brother," Ellen says and winks at Castiel.
Green eyes follow her gaze and Castiel swallows when he realizes Dean is staring at him. But only for a moment, and then he's turning back at Ellen with a shrug. "I guess. That and I need to keep my baby at her best."
"Get out of here, office boy!" Jo shouts.
"Make me, barista!" Dean yells back.
Castiel sips at his coffee, hiding a smile, just as Balthazar enters the shop. "It's too early for the both of you to be this loud," he complains.
Dean flips him off and leaves with a wave to Ellen and Jo. Castiel watches him drive away in the Impala ruefully, wishing he had introduced himself to him when he had the chance.
But then Balthazar is sliding into the seat across from him and waves a packet of papers at him. "Let's get this over and done with," he says to Castiel in greeting. "You should be glad I even agreed to wake up at this time of day."
All in all, business is slow. Just like Castiel expected it would be.
Castiel starts out by selling supplies and all natural pet food, so he does have regular customers who stop by (Mrs. Duke and her nine year old Boston terrier, Lady, for instance), but most of the time the shop is empty. So Castiel doesn't think much of it when he starts picking up stray dogs and cats. Usually he'll end up posting fliers and the owners will come by to claim their lost pets, but more often than not they're animals who are abandoned, and he does all he can to find homes for them. Like the black cat Jo falls head over heels in love with.
Some people drop off the pets they don't want anymore too, like noisy birds or mean tempered rabbits. When Castiel can't sell them, he ends up giving them away, but the few he keeps stay at the shop. Like the sinister guinea pig he names Lucifer, or Michael the python.
He gets a lot of visitors too. Ellen and Jo stop by and so do Gabriel and Jimmy, but that's to be expected. What he finds most confusing is when Balthazar drops in from time to time. Castiel can't figure out why, since Balthazar never badgers him for the rent. He probably would have never noticed if Gabriel isn't at the shop one day, harassing the animals. After introducing them, Balthazar ignores Gabriel completely to leans over the counter and suggests that Castiel go out to dinner with him, which he politely declines.
As soon as Balthazar leaves, Gabriel stops making faces at Hester the cockatiel and smirks. "Are you dating your landlord?"
"Why would you think that?" Castiel asks, blinking at his brother as he struggles to make sense of what he's saying.
"Is there any other reason he'd ask you to dinner?"
He frowns. "It's strictly business, Gabriel. Nothing more." Besides, the only person he's interested in is Dean, and he still hasn't properly introduced himself to him yet. Despite Jo constantly offering to help.
"Right. Whatever you say, bro," he says, shaking his head. Hester squawks and flaps her wings at him. He squawks back and waves his hands.
Castiel sighs. "Don't you have anything better to do than bother the animals?"
Gabriel pretends to think about it. "Nope. It's exams week and I'm not going to class if I have to. That's what TAs are for."
Sometimes, Castiel couldn't help but wonder how anyone would hire his brother as a university professor. As brilliant as Gabriel was in political science and psychology, he didn't take his job as seriously as Castiel thought he should. "I feel sorry for Sam." He's never met Gabriel's TA, but he heard enough stories to feel immense pity for him.
"Well, he hasn't quit yet, so that must mean he's serious," Gabriel says, voice strangely soft.
Before Castiel can ask, his phone buzzes in his pocket. He takes it out and studies it for a moment, trying to remember which button he's supposed to press. After fiddling with a couple of them, the call connects. "Hello?"
Castiel gestures to Gabriel, who hurries over to the counter to listen in. "Jimmy? What's wrong?"
"It's-... It's Amelia." Jimmy takes a deep breath, like he's fighting the urge to cry. "The lawyer just served the divorce papers."
"Shit," Gabriel whispers. Castiel quickly puts a finger to his lips to quiet him.
Jimmy's voice lowers. "What am I supposed to do, Cas? I had a feeling something was going on between her and Roger, but I thought things were getting better. I was trying so hard to make it better."
He opens his mouth to reassure his brother, but then Gabriel is grabbing the phone out of the hand and starts talking into it urgently. "Listen up, drama queen. We're coming right now to pick up you and Claire. Grab everything you need because you're crashing at my house."
"There's the dog." Cas can hear Jimmy swallow. "The puppy Amelia and I were going to give Claire on her birthday next week. I'm supposed to pick her up from the breeder today. But Amelia was so against getting a pet in the first place, I'm afraid if we leave her-..."
"You have a brother who owns a pet shop," Gabriel snaps. He storms out while Castiel closes up and locks the door. "Are you on your way to pick up Claire from school? ...Good. We're coming right now."
Two days later, after Jimmy and Claire get situated at Gabriel's house, it occurs to Castiel that nothing is ever going to happen between Dean and himself if things continue as they are. In fact, he has to take matters into his own hands if he's to hope for any progress.
Jimmy was going to give up the puppy for adoption without Claire knowing anyway, but Castiel takes her home with him instead. The next morning, he leaves the puppy in a cardboard box and prays to anyone listening that Dean is the one to find her.
He isn't disappointed.
When they kiss for the first time, it's at Claire's birthday party.
It's only been a few days since they started dating, so Dean is clearly nervous about being there, but it helps that Dean's brother -Sam- is there with Gabriel. And while Castiel isn't sure what to make of Gabriel inviting the TA he torments to a private family gathering, he decides that it's really none of his business.
The kiss itself is unexpected. One minute Castiel looks up from cutting up the birthday cake to smile at Dean and the next time is leaning in to press their lips together. But before he can appreciate it, Gabriel pretends to swoon while Claire shrieks with laughter, and then it's over.
Castiel retaliates later that night when he takes Dean home and pins him against the front door, kissing him with tongue and teeth until they're both gasping for breath.
"What made you decide to open a pet shop anyway?" Dean asks later, the both of them tangled up in each other's naked limbs and Castiel's bed sheets. "Don't have you have, like, a thousand degrees and certificates?"
"Seven." He distracts himself by reaching out a hand to run his fingers through Dean's hair.
Dean grins and kisses the corner of his mouth. "So what? You just slumming with the common folk?"
Castiel shakes his head, because no. Of course that wasn't it. "I was looking for something better."