“But Mama, s’not fair!”
Mary Winchester sighed as her son continued to throw a temper tantrum loud enough to wake the dead, or at the very least cause the neighbors downstairs to file a complaint. It wouldn’t be the first time.
“I’m sorry, Dean. We just…” she trailed off, not wanting to tell him the truth, that money was tight enough with just the four of them to feed, but now with another child on the way, things were about to get even worse financially. It was either the new baby or the dog, and as much as she loved her husband’s dog, the answer was obvious.
“We don’t have enough room for Pala on top of another baby,” she said eventually, knowing that there wasn’t really any other way to phrase it.
“But why does Pala have to go? Can’t you send the baby back?”
“Sweetie, you always told us that you wanted a little brother or sister—”
“I want Pala!” the three-year-old shrieked, stomping his feet as a new round of tears took over. “It’s not fair! You’re takin’ away my best friend and I’ll never ever forgive you!”
With that knife lodged firmly in her heart, Mary watched as her son ran out of the room, sneakers squeaking on the bare wooden floor all the way down the hall until the slamming of the door to Dean’s room met her ears.
Eventually, six months into her pregnancy, they got a call from someone who’d seen the ad they had placed in the newspaper.
Dean wasn’t sure where his parents were taking him. He didn’t recognize the area; all the houses were big and tall and white and behind big shiny fences. They were all very pretty, but they all looked the same and eventually Dean grew bored by the monotonous scenery.
He huffed against the window. “We there yet?”
“Two more hours,” his dad replied.
“Da-a-ad!” Dean whined, kicking his legs against the car seat. “How much longer?”
He could see his dad smiling. “Three more hours.”
Mary chuckled from her seat. “We’re almost there, Dean. Patience.”
Dean hated car rides.
Eventually his parents’ promises came true; they parked by the curb across the street from one of the fancy houses and held his hand as they walked up the long walkway to the door. They rang the doorbell and a moment later a short man with long hair greeted them.
“Winchester?” the man asked.
Dean’s dad nodded and held out his hand, introducing himself and his wife and his son. The man shook his hand, grinning.
“Nice to meet you.” The man stepped aside. “C’mon in. Guess you found the place okay?”
Dean didn’t bother listening to their conversation as he gaped openly at the interior of the house. His own house was nice and all—kinda tiny and not really a house at all since other people lived there too behind doors he wasn’t allowed to knock on—but this one was nicer, and for a while Dean wondered if maybe someday he’d be able to live in a house as big and pretty as this one.
His wanderings led him into a foyer of sorts, with big windows in the slanted ceiling and bookcases that lined all the walls. A fire was raging in the fireplace even though it was pretty warm outside, but Dean liked it. It gave the room a nice, homey look and made him feel like curling up on the rug by the hearth to take a nap.
Then he noticed that there was a boy, maybe a little older than Dean, sitting in one of the large chairs next to a stack of books. The boy didn't see Dean come into the room, far too absorbed in whatever it was he was reading. Dean squinted at the cover, but couldn’t read the old swirly handwriting.
“The Count of Monte Cristo,” the boy answered without looking up.
“Does it have any pictures?”
“Then it’s boring.”
The boy paused and finally set down his book to look at him. “Who are you and why are you in my house?” he asked, tilting his head. He had blue eyes, just like Pala.
“I’m Dean,” he replied. “I dunno why I’m here. My mom and dad brought me. They’re talkin’ to your dad right now.”
The boy stared at him for a while, not blinking and kinda making Dean feel uncomfortable. “Gabriel is not my father,” he said finally, turning back to his book.
“Oh. Who is he then?”
“What’s he doin’ here? Where’re your mom and dad?”
Dean recoiled a little, not expecting such a curt, awful reply. “Oh.”
Neither said anything more for a while. The boy became reabsorbed in his book and Dean was quickly distracted by all the little odds and ends decorating some of the bookcases. It all looked really expensive, so Dean resisted the urge to touch any of them. He didn’t want the boy’s parents to come back and haunt him. That would be bad.
Soon he grew bored and turned back to the boy. “What’s your name?” Dean asked, suddenly realizing that he never received it. “I told you mine, so it’s only fair.”
The boy spared him a sour glance. “Castiel,” he answered, and Dean stared at him because he wasn’t sure if the kid had just told him his name or something mean in another language. The boy sighed. “My name is Castiel,” he elaborated through gritted teeth.
“That’s a weird name.” Something told Dean that Castiel probably heard that a lot.
“It’s the name of an angel.”
“Oh. Well, that’s cool! S’better than being named after your grandma.” He made a face, trying to make Castiel laugh, but the boy just sat there staring blankly at him.
“You are rather dimwitted,” he said eventually.
Dean frowned. “W-well, I’m only four.” He was plenty smart for his age. His mom told him so.
“You’re kinda mean,” Dean told him. “Betcha you don’t have any friends.”
The boy snorted, rolling his eyes. “I don’t need friends.”
“No? Don’t’cha get lonely?”
“I have books to keep me company.”
“Your mom’s boring.”
Castiel scowled at him. “My mother’s dead.”
“I know. Sorry.” Dean scuffed his shoe against the carpet, feeling kind of bad now.
Before he could escape back to his parents, Gabriel appeared in the doorway and grinned when he saw Dean there with his cousin.
“Making a friend, Cas?” he asked, pausing to ruffle Dean’s hair on his way to Castiel’s side. Dean grunted and smacked his hands away; he hated when people messed up his hair.
“I don’t need friends,” Castiel answered.
A really sad look appeared on Gabriel’s face, but then it was gone, replaced by a forced, happy smile. Dean saw how fake it was and it made him feel bad. He would be friends with Castiel if he just asked. Then all of them could be happy.
“Everybody needs friends,” the older man murmured as he scooped Castiel up off the chair and into his arms. Castiel said nothing as Gabriel carried him towards the doorway. Dean caught Castiel’s gaze but couldn't tell what the boy was thinking.
Dean found his parents standing by the door, evidently ready to leave. They looked really happy, maybe a little relieved, but Dean’s thoughts of Castiel were too jumbled for him to really take notice. His mom smiled kindly at him and took his hand, and after saying goodbye to Gabriel and Castiel, they went home.
That night Dean curled around Pala’s body and tried to sleep, but all he could think about was how sad it was that Castiel didn’t seem to want any friends. Books were nice to read, but they couldn’t hug you or kiss you goodnight or hold your hand like people could. Dean couldn’t imagine life without Pala (who technically couldn’t hug him or hold his hand, but Dean was happy to try for her).
Abruptly Dean remembered that Pala was going to leave someday. He always forgot, preferring to live in the present rather than the future, especially when the future seemed so awful without Pala. He silently cried himself to sleep that night, hugging his best friend and hoping that his baby brother or sister got sent back to the baby factory before Pala had to go.
Two weeks later, the Winchester family, including Pala, climbed into the car to go for a ride. Dean noticed that his mom and dad had packed a bunch of Pala’s toys and her blankie with them, but made no comment on it, too excited by Pala being in the car to really notice. She was always spastic on car rides, slobbering everywhere and making Daddy say bad words when she stuck her nose under his elbow and jolted his hand off the wheel.
Eventually they pulled to a stop in front of Castiel’s house. Dean blinked in surprise. “Why’re we here?” he asked as his mom helped him out of the car. Pala danced around next to him, barking and yipping excitedly.
“We told Castiel’s cousin about Pala,” his mom told him gently. “He wanted to see her.”
“Oh.” Dean nodded firmly, excited to show off his dog. Pala was the best dog on earth—who wouldn’t want to play with her?
Gabriel answered the door, smiling at them and then grinning down at Pala. “Well hey there, little lady!” he greeted, kneeling down to accept the slobbery kisses Pala had to offer him. “You’re a friendly little gal, ain’t ya?”
Dean’s chest swelled with pride as he threw his arms around Pala’s neck. “This is Pala! She’s my best friend in the whole world,” he explained.
“Is she now?” Gabriel chuckled nervously and made eye-contact with Dean’s parents, but Dean’s attention wasn’t on them anymore. Dean watched as Castiel rolled by in a wheelchair, headed towards the den. The older boy came to a literal screeching halt when he caught sight of Dean.
“What’re you doing here?” he demanded to know. His eyes landed on his cousin. “Why are they here again, Gabriel?”
The older man hesitated, which gave Dean the opportunity to ask his own question, unable to keep quiet as his curiosity got the better of him.
“Why’re you in a wheelchair?” he asked. Behind him his parents hissed and made little scolding noises.
Castiel sent him a dry look. “Because my legs don’t work, you idiot,” he snapped.
“Because I hate you.”
Dean recoiled. “Why’re you being so mean?” he asked quietly, taking a step back.
“Because you’re stupid.”
“Castiel,” Gabriel snapped finally, casting him a disapproving look. “Be nice, yeah? Dean and his parents won’t be here for long.”
“Why are they here at all?”
“Um, well.” Gabriel shifted, and all three adults exchanged slightly panicked looks.
Mary stepped forward and placed a gentle hand on her son’s shoulder. “Dean,” she began quietly, “do you remember that talk we had a while ago about finding Pala a new home?”
Dean felt his heart start thumping faster in his chest. He remembered, but he didn’t want to.
“Well, Gabriel has been kind enough to take Pala in—”
“No!” both little boys screamed, startling the adults. Disregarding his own fury for a second, Dean cast a confused look at Castiel, not understanding why he was so opposed to having a dog (because seriously, who wouldn’t want a dog?).
To his surprise, the older boy was gripping the wheels on his chair so hard that his knuckles had turned white. “How dare you?” he hissed at his cousin, face a mask of pure rage. “You never even asked me if I wanted a dog—”
“Cas, you’re wasting away in here!” Gabriel exploded. He sounded really frustrated; Dean wondered if they’d had this conversation before. “A dog will do you some good!”
“How do you know? You don’t know anything about me!” Castiel swiveled his wheelchair around, facing the hallway that led to the kitchen. “The only reason you’re taking care of me in the first place is ‘cos my parents told you to in their will!"
“Cas,” Gabriel tried, but the younger boy was gone, wheeling himself down the hallway and disappearing around the corner. Dean watched him go, unsure of how to feel. All he knew was that his Mama would’ve smacked him if he ever talked to her like that.
“I’m…sorry about him,” Gabriel muttered, turning back to them. Now he just looked tired. “A few months ago his parents were killed in a car crash. He lived, but his legs…he’ll never walk again. It’s been really hard on him.”
“Understandable,” Dean’s dad murmured sadly. “That’s a shame.”
Gabriel nodded slightly. “I was hoping that getting him a pet might help him come out of his funk.”
“He can’t have her,” Dean whimpered, finding his voice. “She’s my dog. My best friend…!”
This time it was his dad who knelt down in front of him and put his big hands on his shoulders. “Dean, we’ve talked about this,” he said gently yet firmly. “Pala’s going to go to a good home so we can have room for your brother. Castiel’s got a big yard that she’ll love—”
“But he doesn’t even want her!” Dean exclaimed, wiggling away from his dad’s grasp. It was harder to be mad at his parents when they looked so sad, but it wasn’t fair. Didn’t they care how he was feeling?
“Dean,” his dad tried, “you’ve gotta be strong.”
“I don’t wanna be strong—I want my dog!” He burst into tears and bolted down the hall, into the kitchen and out the back door, not really knowing where he was going. All he knew was that he had to get away from everything.
Castiel’s backyard seemed to be able to help him escape. It was full of flowers and trees and bushes—perfect hiding spots, he thought distractedly as he scrambled to get as far away from the house as possible. Eventually he came upon a little cove that seemed perfect; he plopped down on the grass and began to bawl, drawing his legs up to his chest and burying his face in his knees in an effortto muffle the sound.
An untold amount of time passed. Dean had cried himself into exhaustion and now lay curled on the grass, snuffling pitifully as he struggled to stay awake. If he fell asleep, his parents might find him and take him away forever, leaving Pala behind here. If this was gonna be Pala’s new house, it was gonna be his too. He would live in the backyard, maybe in a tree.
“If you’re trying to hide, you’re doing a poor job of it. You’re very loud.”
Dean sniffed. “Lemme alone,” he grumbled, trying to wipe his tears away before the older boy could see. He wasn’t in the mood for any mean remarks Castiel might have in store for him.
Out of the corner of his eye Dean watched as Castiel maneuvered his wheel chair so that they were parallel. It was strange; he’d only ever seen old people in wheel chairs before. He didn’t mean to stare or hurt Castiel’s feelings by asking questions. He was just curious.
For a while nothing was said between the two. Dean pulled himself back into a seated position, feeling dumb for crying like a baby, but as much as he tried to be a bigger man—to be strong like his dad told him to be—the tears kept coming. Thankfully Castiel didn’t mention it, instead awkwardly asking:
“She’s your dog?”
Dean dragged a hand across his face and sniffed. “She’s my best friend.”
Castiel nodded solemnly. “Well, take her home with you. I don’t want her.”
“Because I don’t need friends!” Castiel suddenly shouted so loudly that the birds in the trees overhead flew away, frightened.
Dean gaped at him, equally startled by his outburst. Everyone needed friends, even non-human ones like Pala.
“I don’t need anybody,” the older boy continued, but as vicious as he was trying to sound, his voice was hitching and his eyes were filling with tears.
Then it all hit Dean like a baseball to the gut.
“You don’t want friends because you’re afraid of losing them,” he whispered. Just like he lost his parents.
Faced with the truth, a sob escaped Castiel as he succumbed to his emotions and began to cry. “Nobody’d want me like this anyway,” he choked out in between sobs, raising his tiny fists to wipe at the tears. “It’s better for everyone if I’m alone.”
“No,” Dean argued immediately, leaping to his feet. “No, it’s not. Nobody should ever, ever be alone. And if nobody wants you, then—then I’ll be your friend."
Castiel stared at him for a long minute before turning away to tend to his tears. Dean sat back down and wiped his own away, strangely feeling like he’d just lifted something big off of his chest. Letting Pala go—as much as it stunk—wasn’t as hard as it seemed anymore now that he knew that she would help Castiel through his own pain.
After a while Castiel spoke again. “Guess I’m stuck with your stupid dog, huh?”
“She can be your friend now too. She may not be as interesting as all those books you read, but she gives the best kisses when you’re feeling sad.”
“That’s gross. Dogs eat their own poop, you know.”
Dean just shrugged. “Doesn't matter to me,” he said quietly.
The boys sat in silence for a while, just listening to the wind blowing through the trees and the birds singing in the distance. Dean had to admit that the yard was nice. Pala would like it.
Speaking of Pala; a second later the dog was trotting through the bushes, tail wagging and mouth open in a toothy grin. Dean welcomed her into his arms, giggling as she licked his face. Castiel huffed behind him.
“Poop eater!” he exclaimed.
“But she’s my poop eater.” Dean pulled back, sobering up. “Well…was my poop eater. Now she’s yours.”
“Joy,” Castiel remarked dryly as Pala turned her slobbery kisses on him. “Eww! Gross, Pala, sto-o-op…!” His arms wrapped around the dog’s neck, trying to keep the dog at bay, but slowly his grip shifted. Dean watched as Castiel’s head came to rest on the dog’s neck, his arms tight around her shoulders. More sobs, softer this time, wracked the boy’s body, but they were short-lived as Pala nuzzled the side of his head and stuck her cold nose into his ear.
Dean smiled, letting the other boy bond with his new pet. “Take good care of her,” he whispered, voice cracking again as more tears sprung into his eyes. He stood up, preparing to give them some privacy, when Castiel grabbed his hand in his.
“You can come visit her,” the older boy blurted. His cheeks turned a dark shade of red as he fumbled. “I-I mean, if you want to. I wouldn’t mind. Neither would Gabriel. Um.”
Dean grinned. “Dude. If I’m gonna come visit Pala, I’m gonna come visit you, too.”
The idea seemed to surprise him. “Me…?” he whispered. The grip around his hand tightened. “But…why would you—”
Pala cut him off with another slobbery lick to the face, and Dean found himself thinking that things didn’t seem quite so bad anymore.
Eventually they made their way back to the house. Gabriel and Dean’s parents were seated in the kitchen talking in sad, hushed voices, but they brightened at the sight of the boys and Pala standing in the doorway.
It was Castiel who spoke first. “Pala can stay,” he said.
A tired, relieved smile broke out on Gabriel’s face, and in reply he scooped his cousin into his arms and hugged him tightly. They mumbled to each other, no doubt saying I love you and other girly stuff, but Dean didn’t comment, instead chancing a glance at his own parents. They were regarding him curiously, not sure whether they should be happy or not.
Dean just shrugged. “He’s got a nice yard,” he muttered lamely, groaning when his dad mussed up his hair and his mother drew him into a hug that was hard to return because of her tummy. Dean pulled back and glared at it. “You’d better be the best brother ever, or else I’m gonna be really mad!”
The adults shared a chuckle, clearly not grasping the seriousness of Dean’s threat.
“Can Dean come over on Friday?” Castiel asked his cousin quietly. His head was still buried in Gabriel’s shoulder, voice muffled, but Dean could still hear the embarrassment in his tone.
A humongous grin split Gabriel’s face in two. “Seriously? Yeah he can come over!” he exclaimed, turning his gaze on Dean’s mom and dad. “If his parents say yes, of course.”
“That would be wonderful,” Mary gushed, turning to smile down at her son. “What do you think, Dean?”
“Yeah!” Dean exclaimed, excited at being able to stay a whole day with Castiel and Pala.
Castiel seemed equally thrilled, blushing and ducking his head when Dean caught him smiling at him. Pala licked at the soles of his feet, making him giggle, and yes, things were going to be okay.