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“Morning, Sammy.” Dean sighed as he sat down in his favourite breakfast chair, tucking his robe around his sides before picking up his coffee cup. “How’s the weather looking?”

Sam stepped back from the window, batting at the thick curtain. “Dreary. The sun’s off on vacation this week.”

Dean snorted. “That giant orb of gas has the right idea,” he said, leaning back in his chair and slurping at his coffee. He smiled, appreciating the bitter liquid that smacked at every taste bud in his mouth. “Boy, if I could take a single day off...” He shook his head, eyes drifting to the photographs framed and wall-mounted opposite the breakfast table.

For a moment, he admired the timeline before him: the first photograph was taken the day he drove out of Cornhaven, nothing with him but his tractor and his little brother; the second captured the moment he traded his tractor for a broken car and a small workshop; the third was from the day he opened a real garage. Dean’s eyes skipped to the end of the timeline, where he’d run out of wall space. The most recent photograph was of himself and his brother Sam standing proudly in front of Winchester Bros. Auto Trade, every car gleaming and modern.

Dean blew a twirl of steam away from his cup. “Ahh, I miss simpler times.”

“Yeah,” Sam said distractedly, not looking up from his book. As always, he sat at a right angle to Dean, also dressed in a robe over his pyjamas. His long hair was a mess, but he didn’t look tired. He didn’t look the way Dean felt these days. The coffee never even seemed to help any more.

Dean sighed again, hunching closer to the table and pulling his morning newspaper up to his plate of toast.

He flicked through newspaper’s crisp pages, skim-reading the big articles, but spending more time absorbing the fluff pieces from the local brewery, the bakery – and the clockmaker. Dean huffed with a smile. “Cas is still as stubborn as ever,” he said.

That got Sam’s attention. Castiel was Dean’s closest friend, but the clockmaker was an excellent friend of Sam’s too.

“What did he tell the reporter this time?” Sam asked.

“He’s refusing to shut up shop,” Dean said, condensing what he’d read in the article. He ran his fingers over the newsprint, then scrubbed his fingertips together when the ink smeared on his skin. “Honestly, I’ve told the old boy a thousand times we’ll give him a loan – or a gift, even, and yet...” Dean shook his head despairingly. “People don’t buy clocks any more, not the fancy wooden traditional ones like his. They want all these hip, cool clocks with starbursts and sleek circles and squares. It’s no wonder he’s going out of business. What does he think is going to happen when the bread runs out, huh? He can’t just expect it to get better by itself.”

Sam sipped at his coffee and said nothing, then stole one of Dean’s toasts.

Dean was still busy reading. “Hm. According to this article, he has a plan in place.”

“A plan?” Sam breathed out a laugh, teeth showing. “He hasn’t discussed any plan with me.”

“Me neither,” Dean said dully. “I doubt this’ll end well.”

Sam crunched into his toast, taking a full bite.

Dean looked up and scowled. “Hey! That’s mine, get your own!”

Sam turned away so Dean couldn’t snatch it back. “You’re thirty-five years old, Dean! It’s just toast!”

“And for thirty-one of those thirty-five years I’ve had to put up with you stealing my food! Give it back!”

Sam laughed and shoved Dean back into his seat, cramming the rest of the toast into his mouth. “There. ‘S all gone.”

Dean harrumphed and flicked his newspaper upright, still glaring at Sam over the top. Sam smirked, and chewed obnoxiously while he smirked.

Dean turned his eyes back to the paper, and immediately his eyes lighted on a highly-stylised advertisement opposite Castiel’s newspaper article. “Huh,” Dean chuckled, eyes running over the space. “I think some cat decided to propose to their girl in the Dimesville Times.”

“Really?” Sam leaned closer. “What does it say?”

Dean flicked the newspaper straight again. “Hang on, I’ll read it out. A Proposal is the title. Lord knows how much this fellow paid for this section. Takes up nearly half the page.”

Sam chewed on a slice of apple and waited quietly.

This is a heartfelt message to you, and only you. There’s no other way for me to explain how I feel, it starts. I’ve wanted to say so many things to you but I could never speak my mind. I know you read this paper every day, and I hope to Heaven and back you’ll read this. Oh, that’s sweet.” Dean looked up, smiling. “Don’t you think that’s sweet?”

Sam’s brow furrowed. “Uh. Sure. Seems kind of tacky to me, but to each his own, I guess.”

Dean glowered, and turned his eyes back to the page. “I find you beautiful. My mother would never have approved, although she may have agreed. Your mother was a kind woman but I honestly don’t know what she would’ve thought.

Sam poured himself another cup of coffee. “Why didn’t this man just send a letter? Why the public appeal?”

Dean narrowed his eyes. “You make it sound as if you think it’s—”

“Distasteful?” Sam supplied. “Yeah, I think a marriage proposal could do with more tact.”

“You’re a heathen, you know that?” Dean sucked on his tongue, eyes resting harshly on his brother. “One little wisp of romanticism brushes past you and you’re pining for the Dark Ages again. I think it’s beautiful, Sammy. A man loves a woman and he wants to declare it in the most passionate way he can. Sometimes—” Dean’s breath caught, and he lowered his eyes. “Sometimes a man can’t always express what he wants to someone he loves, all right? Especially not to their face.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sam asked, with genuine curiosity. “Dean, have you met someone?”

Dean looked up in a fluster. “What! No.” He shook his head, swallowing. “No, I’m simply... empathising.”

“I see,” Sam said, too slowly to hide his deep thought.

Dean bit his lower lip, then let it go. “I’m not even halfway through this yet. Are you gonna let me finish?”

Sam stayed silent, but gestured an encouragement.

Dean took a deep breath. “Every time the sun’s rays touch your green eyes, I feel my heart aching. The way you look at me never escaped my notice, not for one second. The only reason I’m even brave enough to write this is because I know you feel same the way I do. You say nothing but it’s all in your eyes.

Dean felt an ache now, just like the one described. He had green eyes. And he knew how the writer’s heartache felt, more than anything. Every time he looked at...

No. No, Dean didn’t allow himself to think about it. The way he felt was something he was supposed to keep a secret. He shifted his jaw and tried to relax, setting the thought out of his mind.

We touch hands as you help me sculpt my precious creations, and I feel a fire in me. I’ve been waiting, barren like a winter garden, and I come alive again after months and months of quiet, when spring puts new leaves on a tree. Only, it happens all at once, in a single moment. You make me laugh and it’s summertime, always.

“Eugh,” Sam said, sticking out his tongue.

“Huh!” Dean glared at Sam. “You’ve never been in love; you don’t know what he’s talking about.”

You’ve never been in love either,” Sam said, swilling the dregs of his coffee around the bottom of his cup. “All I’m hearing is the drivel of some lovesick teenager who fancies himself a poet.”

“Don’t you say that,” Dean complained. “This isn’t meant for you. This is meant for a woman who loves the man back. She’d read it and she’d... I don’t know. She’d smile. It’s not meant to be perfect, it’s meant to mean something.”

“How would she even know it’s meant for her?” Sam asked. “There’s no names mentioned.”

Dean tapped his finger on a line further down. “It describes the recipient.”

“Well, read it out.”

I have dreams about you and I. Your freckles bloom under the sun’s touch as I watch from your side, as we lie back in the grass in the field where you grew up. Your strong hands cup around tiny white flowers, fingers stained with green as we make daisy chains. Do you remember the first time we did that? We were only young.

Dean blinked rapidly. “Hey... Sam?”

“Hm?”

“How much do you remember from Cornhaven?”

“Not much. We left when I was ten.”

“But do you remember the daisies in our field? In summer they used to pop up all over the place, mixed in with the dandelions. And Mom would give us a nickel for every ten dandelion heads we severed and tossed in a trash bag. We’d grab them all while they were flowering so they wouldn’t go to seed. And then—”

“The field was full of nothing but daisies,” Sam finished. He had a faraway look in his eyes, and a small smile on his lips. “Hey, I remember. I can’t believe I remember.”

When Sam looked over, Dean met his eye.

Sam scoffed. “So you have freckles and you sat in a field once. Big deal. That doesn’t mean it’s about you, Dean. Come on, don’t be silly.”

Dean shook his head, then nodded. “Right? I mean— Right. Every kid sits in a field of daisies at some point. Daisy chains are like some... universal child-bonding thing.”

“Plus, this is about a woman,” Sam said, as if it were obvious.

Dean looked up again. “Is it, though? It describes the recipient’s hands as strong.”

Sam screwed up his face. “Are you saying women can’t have strong hands? Try telling that to Pamela – she’d break your face.”

Dean gulped. “No, I’m not saying that.”

“Yes, you were.”

Dean exhaled, bowing his head. He stared at the newspaper, finding where he’d left off. “Your short-cropped hair flutters in the breeze—” Dean stopped reading. “Now I’m certain. This is about a man.”

“So it’s written by a woman.”

“Guess so,” Dean shrugged. He entertained a fantasy in his own head where, despite the recipient being a man, the writer was also a man. The thought made him giddy in the heart, and that single moment of hope led him to stand vulnerable against a tide of fear and anxiety, so he pushed the fantasy away, steeling his jaw and tightening his fists.

He swallowed, and went on, “Your short-cropped hair flutters in the breeze, and we smile because we’re truly alone for the first time since that summer day when I left, years ago. Nobody can judge us in our own garden of Eden. We could hold hands and nobody would see. We could share our first kiss under the sun, not under cover of darkness.

Dean swallowed slowly, trying to control a wobble in his lip. He frowned, running a hand down his face. He hated that this woman’s words had torn so many memories out of him. He longed for that kind of peace.

“Dean?”

Dean looked up against his better judgement, and he had to look away in shame; his eyes were surely portraying a clear picture of his longing.

“Dean... Do you really find it that... affecting?” Sam said in disbelief.

“It’s not the quality,” Dean said, turning his face towards his brother but not looking at him. “It’s not the words, either. It’s the way it...” Dean gestured vaguely at himself. “I can’t explain. It hits me.” He patted his heart. “Right here.”

Sam smiled. “You know there are whole books you can buy about forbidden love. People write stories all the time. Perhaps I should get you one for your birthday. Hey, that’s an idea! You could curl up in bed and have a good cry.”

Dean sneered. But he couldn’t say anything. Damn siblings, always teasing too close to home.

Sam pulled the newspaper closer to himself, still smiling. “You always did have a thing for romance, now I think about it.” He held the newspaper upright, folding it down so only the advertisement was visible to him. “You’re just a sop. You’re in love with love.”

Dean fiddled with his coffee cup. After years of bottling his feelings up, he was relieved the release came as nothing more drastic than a sniffle.

“I’ll read out the rest,” Sam said, glancing at Dean fondly. “That way if you start bawling, your tears won’t smudge the ink.”

“Oh, shut up,” Dean grumbled. Still, he appreciated it.

If you want to be with me, we’ll go. We’ll pack our things and get in your favourite car, and just drive until the road gets narrow and the trees brush our hands as we raise them high.

“How many cars does this guy have?” Dean said, squinting. “The paper makes it sound like the recipient has more than one. You can’t have a favourite unless there’s more than one, can you?”

Sam gave Dean a strange smile. “You have five cars, Dean.”

“Yeah, but that’s rare. We own a car dealership, so there’s always plenty more where that came from.”

“But you do have a favourite?”

“Obviously. The black 1956 Chevrolet Impala. Baby’s brand new, but she’s destined to be a classic.”

Sam stared. Dean stared.

Dean huffed. “Just keep going, would you?”

Sam smirked and got back to reading. “I want nothing more than to spend my life with you, my greatest friend. I wish we could live in a world where we could love freely, but I don’t think we can. I’m willing to take a chance on another world, another place, and just leave this one behind. Leave it all behind. I want to go, but I don’t want to go without you. Come with me.

Dean leaned closer. “Is that the end?”

“No, there’s more.”

Dean felt a touch of relief. There was still a chance it could be for him. He didn’t know why, exactly, but he wanted it to be about him. He wanted a reason to leave. He wanted someone to do something ridiculous like take out an advertisement in the local newspaper just to woo him. But above all, he wanted someone to be in love with him. He wanted someone to want him. There was no fun left in his life nowadays. He had friends, and friends of friends, but so few of them could provide him the exhilaration he craved. He wanted adventure. And love was the greatest adventure, was it not?

Sam cleared his throat. Dean realised Sam hadn’t spoken for a while now, and he seemed to be stalling.

“What’s wrong?” Dean asked.

Sam looked up, a nervous skitter in his eyes – he looked straight back down. “Um. You didn’t read ahead, did you?”

“No, my eyes got blurry with tears,” Dean said, half-sarcastically.

Sam let out a breath, his shoulders lowering. He licked his lips. “It— It says...”

“Just read it, would you?” Dean said, hearing a note of worry in his voice.

“It says, I realise I could be talking about nearly anyone, but I promise, this is only for you. You have a tattoo on your heart; I hope one day there’ll be another, and it will be my name. You wear your mother’s ring on your finger; I hope very soon you’ll wear mine right beside it. You walk with your knees wide; I hope someday you’ll lie back and hold me between them.

Sam looked up to see Dean’s reaction, and Dean wondered what reaction he’d given. He knew his skin was growing hot, he knew his heart was racing. Had any of his shock shown on his face?

It was about him. He had a tattoo of a star over his heart, he had worn his mother’s wedding ring on his finger ever since the day she died, and he’d had bowed legs as a child and had never grown out of it. Neither Sam or Dean had any doubt any more: the letter in the newspaper was meant for Dean.

Sam swallowed, eyes dipping down again. “If you’re as tired with this town as I am, pack your bags. Meet me in the town square this Saturday morning, as the clock strikes eleven. You’ll see my face. By twelve, we’ll see nothing but the long and happy road before us.

Sam glanced up. “That’s all she wrote.”

Dean sat back in his chair, hands sliding limply off the tablecloth and onto his lap. The carriage clock opposite him was one Castiel had made with Dean’s help; its exquisitely-crafted face showed it was nearly ten o’clock in the morning. Dean had an hour until he was meant to be in the town square.

He stared at the photographs on the wall, wondering if there could be room for another one. The next ones could be hung below, on a new timeline. A fresh start.

“Dean,” Sam said gently. Dean looked over. Sam smiled. “Who is it? Who wrote this?”

Dean’s lips parted.

Sam shifted his shoulders. “I’m – sorry for what I said. There is a... strange beauty in it, if you look at it right.” He ran his hand flat over the paper. “But really, who is this woman?”

Dean leaned forward over the breakfast table, setting his forehead into his hands. “I don’t know,” he said. His voice sounded hollow, even to himself.

“What do you mean, you don’t know?”

“Exactly that, Sam. I mean I don’t have any idea who wrote it.”

“Was it Lisa? Cassie?” Sam skimmed the paper again for a clue. “Pamela, even?”

Dean breathed quickly, shaking his head as he ran his hands back through his hair. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”

There was only one person he wanted it to be, but it couldn’t possibly be them. It simply wasn’t feasible.

Sam sat back, both hands on the table. “Are you going?”

“Going?”

“To meet her in the town square. Even if you don’t drive away with her—” Sam chuckled at the idea, “you should at least see who’s fallen so deeply in love with you that she’s willing to give up everything she has in this town.”

Dean’s stomach felt cold and tense. He couldn’t smile any more. “I... I’m not sure.”

“Dean...” Sam looked astounded. “You’ve got to be curious, at least?”

“I’m curious. But I don’t think I want to know, not deep down.”

Sam was quiet for a moment. Then another moment. Then he took a breath.

“I can look after the business, you know,” he said.

Dean met his eye. “What?”

Sam gestured towards the photos. “I’ve done this as long as you have. I’m not saying I don’t need you, but we both know I’m happier doing this than you are. I made a joke about you crying yourself to sleep...” A painful expression crossed his face. “I know you do sometimes. This is only a small townhouse, the walls aren’t that thick.”

Dean looked down, eyes fixed on the tablecloth. He refused to look up.

“Believe me, I wasn’t going ever to mention it,” Sam said. He took a deep breath. “Listen, I’m sorry. I don’t know why you’re so dissatisfied, but at least I know it’s not because of something I’ve done.” He touched Dean’s wrist gently. “It’s this life. You used to love it, and now you don’t. Business was always a means to an end for you, Dean. It works for me, it doesn’t work for you. You were happier when all we had was a tractor, and all you had to do was plough fields.”

“Yeah, and then Mom died,” Dean said sharply. “I can’t go back to that, Sam.”

“I’m not saying you should go back to that,” Sam replied. “But I do think you were born to work with your hands, not just your head.”

“So what, you saying I’m stupid?”

“When did I ever say that?” Sam scoffed. “You’re good with your hands. You’re smarter with a wrench and an electrical cable than anyone I’ve ever seen. You saved your entire battalion in the war, remember? And before that, you made it big in the mechanic business at age fourteen – with a child to look after, I might add. I don’t exactly see a simpleton managing that.”

Dean rubbed a thumb along his own hand. He wore a tiny, flattered smirk, but he couldn’t smile fully.

Sam sighed. “Look. This woman, whoever she is, she knows you. From what I can see, she knows you as well as I do. She knows you want to get out of this town. She’s offering you a life, the life you want. Why resist?”

“Because, Sam... I’m—”

I’m in love with someone else. Someone I can never be with.

Sam looked expectant.

Dean felt his will crumble. He was never going to able to love who he wanted. If some mystery woman could offer a future not too different from what he always envisioned, thus preventing Dean from dying sad and alone, was there any reason to stay?

“What if she’s ugly?” Dean asked, trying to smile.

Sam smirked. “Do you know any ugly women?”

Dean smiled for real. “Never met one.”

Sam leaned close and patted Dean on the shoulder. “I’ll help you pick out a suit.”

· · · · · ·

“I can’t wear brown cotton! I’m a businessman, I should wear pinstripes!”

“Shut your mouth and do up your waistcoat, Dean,” Sam said, batting Dean’s hand away from the wardrobe. “Brown compliments your hair and makes your face look brighter. Besides, this girl fantasizes about rolling around in the mud with you; I doubt she’ll care what pattern you’re wearing.”

Dean fidgeted, letting Sam do up the buttons for him. “I’m not ready for this, Sammy. I can’t just go off and elope with some stranger. Mom always said she wanted to be at my wedding.”

“But Mom’s not here any more, and life didn’t turn out the way any of us could’ve expected,” Sam said firmly. “As much as I hate to tell you this, you’re starting to get old. You’ve gone this long without proposing to anyone, and as far as I can tell, this woman is gutsy enough to do the honours herself, once the time comes. She said in the paper that she has a ring she wants to give you. Not to dictate your life, or anything, but you should probably think about getting her a ring, too.”

Dean clenched his hands into fists, apprehension churning in his stomach.

Sam finished doing up buttons, and he smoothed down Dean’s three-piece suit to erase the wrinkles. He was a few inches taller than Dean, and Dean had to tilt his head up to look him in the eye.

Sam smiled reassuringly. “If you ever do marry this girl, make sure you invite me. Cas, too. He’ll want to be there.”

Dean’s lips trembled, and he turned towards the window so Sam didn’t see the wide-eyed look of despair on his face. Dean had pined for so long, entertained so many fantasies, that the thought of inviting Castiel to his wedding merely as a guest felt like a physical crush, a tight squeeze in Dean’s chest.

“Dean,” Sam said, in a slightly questioning tone. “I don’t get it. Why are you so upset about this? You don’t have to go with her. Just go and see who it is.”

Dean turned back, wiping an unshed tear from his eye with the heel of his hand. Sam was clearly taken aback by Dean’s open display of emotion, but only because they were both so aware Dean wasn’t the slightest bit happy.

“I can’t do this, Sammy,” Dean said, shaking his head. “I just... I can’t. This girl thinks she’s my best friend, and that I love her back, but...”

Sam took Dean’s arm and pulled him down to sit on the edge of Dean’s half-made bed. Sam waited quietly as Dean bent forward and wept into his hands, silent but for his shuddering breath. He tried hard not to let another tear escape him, but in the end it was hopeless. His hands were slick with tears, his cheeks were cold where the tears made tracks on his face, and his eyes quickly became sore.

Sam rubbed Dean’s back. “All this time... I was sure you were upset because you were lonely, or... or you felt trapped. But now you have an out, a chance to be with someone who clearly cares about you, and you’re even more upset.”

Dean swiped tears away, forcing his emotions back under control. He sniffed. “I, uh...” He glanced at Sam through his bleary eyes. “I am in love with someone. And it’s not the person who wrote the thing in the newspaper.”

Sam absorbed that information quickly. “Oh,” he said. “But how do you know? What makes you so sure it’s not the same woman?”

“Because...” For one thing, Dean thought, his love interest wasn’t a woman. He gulped. “Because the person I’m in love with will never love me the same way, okay? That’s all.”

“How do you know?” Sam asked again.

“I just do, all right?!” Dean snapped, standing up. “Now, I’ve gotta go wash my face. Just— Just give me ten minutes alone, I’ll be fine. Go start the car and I’ll be down as soon as I’m ready.”

“Wait, you’re still going? After telling me that, you’re still going to go meet this other woman?”

“Yes,” Dean said, holding Sam’s eye.

“Why?”

“Because it’s what Mom would’ve wanted. Some beautiful girl in a beautiful white dress, walking down the aisle. Maybe we’ll even get married in Cornhaven, in the same church Mom got married.”

Sam looked a little at a loss, sitting at the end of the bed with his hands clasped in his lap. “Dean, are you sure about this?”

“Two minutes ago you were telling me I should go!”

“And now I’m not so sure!” Sam stood up and took Dean’s hands. “Is there any part of you, any part at all, that thinks the one you’re in love with could love you back – under any plausible circumstance?”

Dean’s smile was surely a tad deranged. “I’ve been down this road, Sam. I’ve asked myself that question a thousand times, and the answer never changes. What else could reduce me to tears, huh?”

All of Sam’s hope seemed to whisk out of him, like a dandelion’s fluffy yellow flower that was torn clean away from its stalk.

Dean patted Sam on the shoulder. “Thanks for your help, little brother. I’ll meet you downstairs.”

Sam put on a strained smile. “All right. Don’t be too long.”

“I won’t.”

Sam left the room. He paused outside the doorway, and he looked back once in concern. But Dean shook his head; there was no consoling him. Sam smiled sadly, and he closed the door, giving Dean a chance to fall apart in private.

· · · · · ·

On Saturdays, Dimesville’s open-air farmer’s market spread out across the town square, stalls and wooden carts set up all over the place, rows and rows of people shouting, yelling, trying to sell their wares. The smell of vegetables was pungent and bitter in the air, and it reminded Dean of Cornhaven. The village locals had a market there, too. Dean even sold his carrots a few times as a kid, and on those days, he got to keep the money.

Dean stood alone on the red bricks, away from the crowds, staring up at the half-blue sky. Cloud-scattered sunlight tried its best to warm the air, but the atmosphere was as chilly and unsettled as Dean himself. He shifted from foot to foot, anxious about his future.

The four faces of the clocktower in the centre of the square all showed seven minutes to eleven, the clock’s giant hands easing closer to the peak every second.

Come eleven o’clock, would Dean’s life change forever? Would this be the first day of a new life, or would it be a day that fell forgotten in years to come, should this mystery poet not be someone Dean knew or loved in return?

Part of him was hoping it was all a big joke, and some kids from the local car garage would pop out from behind the bank’s grey pillars, jeering because Dean had fallen for their ploy.

There were hundreds of people in this town who knew Dean by name and by personality. Dean wasn’t sure how many of these people knew he had a tattoo, or that he wore his mother’s ring. Those details were never secrets. He was sure there were plenty who knew, and gossip could spread swiftly in a population of only a few thousand. It was obvious that he walked with bowed legs, however. He felt as if the author of the newspaper’s declaration could be nearly anyone in town.

The thing was, he didn’t remember making daisy chains with anyone. Nobody but Sam. And Dean’s mystery poet was absolutely not Sam – not unless this was a horrible, horrible prank. If this was all Sam’s doing, Dean might go back on the oath he made after the Second World War and actually kill the man.

Dean shuffled his feet, put his hands into the deep pockets of his grey wool coat, and he thought about himself.

In general, Dean strived to do no wrong – which made him a rare diamond in the world of car dealerships. Many thought he was not a good man – he didn’t go to Church, he didn’t always say his prayers, and he often forgot to chew with his mouth closed, but he didn’t think he was a bad man. Did he deserve to be left heartbroken? He wasn’t sure.

If this did turn out to be a prank, it might be a relief but it still wouldn’t be fun. If it wasn’t a prank and some girl showed up, Dean would be left with a choice he didn’t want to face: either accept her proposal and run away with her, or explain to her she was seeing something that wasn’t there. In no potential scenario did Dean expect this to end well.

Dean breathed a cloud into the air, and then inhaled deeply. He could smell the carrots again. When he shut his eyes, he pretended the shouts of the farmers here were the shouts of the farmers in Cornhaven, and Dean’s young voice cut between them as he sold his carrots with more enthusiasm than anyone else at the market. People bought Dean’s carrots because he was small and cute and freckly, and he wore the sweetest smile when he exchanged a bunch for a shiny quarter. When the market was over in the afternoon, he had enough to buy new parts for his tractor, so he could plough the fields and plant more seeds. He loved how the process worked – he still loved its simplicity to this day – and he loved how proud his Momma looked back then, when he told her he’d rather have carrots than candy.

Dean opened his eyes, and he smiled. Another memory followed on the heels of the memory of selling carrots, as if it were part of the same day: a friend walked by Dean’s side as he went home from the market, some boy. He walked in a shuffle, kicking stones, and he always had worms in one pocket and candy in the other. He’d shared his candy, and that had been the first time Dean tried sugar treats. Since then there’d been no going back.

Dean frowned. He didn’t remember that boy’s name. All he remembered was the idea of him. Bugs, candy, and rough play.

Dean felt unsettled all of a sudden, and he made his way to a bench at the side of the town square. He sat with his elbows on his thighs and his shoulders hunched, watching the farmer’s market stalls overflowing with people fifty feet away.

Try as he might, Dean couldn’t remember anything else about that friend. He had a feeling it was important to remember, especially today, but the more he thought about that time, the less he recalled. In fact, now he wasn’t even sure there was a friend. Maybe Dean was the one with the bugs in one pocket and candy in the other. Maybe he’d always loved candy.

Dean put his head in his hands and he groaned. All he was doing was distracting himself. He needed to know who this mystery woman was. Would he be able to love her as fiercely as he ought to? Unless he could, he might never get another shot at having himself a life full of travel and fun and impulsive acts usually reserved for younger men. Later on, he wanted a family. He would even settle for a pet. A horse or a fish, maybe. He had dreams of a little house with a garden, and a path with a view so he and the man he loved could take a long walk on a sunny afternoon.

Oh, he wished for that life so badly.

Lisa, Cassie, Pamela – any of them could be the unnamed poet, as Sam suggested. Dean shook his head. He did appreciate Lisa, in a way, but she was a good girl, a respectable girl – she wasn’t the type to write love letters about elopement and send them to the local newspaper. She would keep those things in a private letter. Cassie was the editor of the Dimesville Times, so while it would’ve been easy to pull off, it would be strange for her to be so obvious about it. Besides, Cassie wouldn’t leave her job and run away – she loved her job. And Pamela... Well, Pamela was an incredible woman but Dean couldn’t imagine her falling in love. She was too wild, and she didn’t slow down for anyone. She wasn’t the type to use all those affectionate words, either.

One thing that struck Dean was the fact the woman who wrote the message seemed convinced that Dean felt the same way. Yet there wasn’t a woman alive who he felt that way about. Dean loved women, he really did – he admired the whole breed – but he’d long ago come to realise that there was only space in his hopelessly romantic heart for one special person, since that person took up too much space to let anyone else fit.

Dean was in love with Castiel, the clockmaker. His best friend.

Just the thought of him made Dean’s chest ache with longing, and affection, and, because of today’s circumstances, the usually jubilant feeling Dean associated with Castiel was overridden by an incredible sense of melancholy.

Castiel had arrived in Dimesville nearly five years ago now, with dreams of selling his fancy clocks. On his first day in town he went to Dean’s company, needing to sell his car in order to raise money to open a clock shop. In the few minutes Castiel spent filling in forms, asking question after question, Dean took a reluctant liking to him. Perhaps it was simply endearing to see a grown man get confused about everything, but fact of the matter was that Dean ended up smiling genuinely for the first time in weeks.

Once the car was sold, Castiel was meant to leave with his money, but somehow – and Dean still wasn’t sure how – Dean offered to show him around town. A quick tour became a slow tour, with Dean pouring his heart into his explanations so Castiel would feel at home, like there was truly a place to be made for him in Dimesville. Making him welcome had seemed important; Dean had never met a man so out of place as Castiel.

A tour became an evening meal at Dean’s favourite Italian restaurant, and an evening meal became a leisurely walk home, one scotch, then another, warmth and comfort and rolling, belly-deep laughter. A late-night conversation carried on into the wee hours, soft words murmured about clocks and cars and the war and family, the state of the world and the state of their small lives in comparison. Dean had never opened up so deeply under the influence of so little alcohol.

In the weeks of unprompted visits, banter, favours, and gentle explanations that followed, Dean had felt himself helplessly forming an inexplicable connection with this peculiar stranger – partly because the clocks he made were gorgeous, partly because the man himself was... well, he was also gorgeous.

Castiel was, in a word, brusque. No time for small talk, no time for people. He liked to lock himself in his darkened workshop, then turn all the lights on around his desk, because that was the only way he could work.

He reminded Dean of a mole, sometimes. He’d come out into the daylight, squinting, pale as anything and walking with a hunch because he hadn’t moved for days. He was odd, and Dean loved that.

In the end, when Castiel was unable to come up with the money by himself, Dean fully funded the opening of Castiel’s shop as a show of companionship, which stubborn-as-a-mule Castiel had never forgiven him for. He’d paid Dean back twofold over the years, in small gifts and clocks and dinners bought, but never in cash. Dean appreciated that. It meant he had a friend.

Five years had passed, and Dean had only come to love Castiel more, and more, and more. Dean cared for his cross little mole so passionately that, one day, he realised he no longer loved him as a friend or a brother. Dean loved Castiel romantically, sexually, spiritually. He wanted to kiss him, lie with him, to spend his life with him and let him get closer than anyone had ever been.

Castiel knew every secret Dean had ever kept, but in all this time, Dean had never told him who his heart pined for, always afraid Castiel would reject the confession, the same way the rest of the world would.

Very soon, some mystery woman would have to take the place of Castiel in all of Dean’s fantasies, and in his future, if he chose to go with her. Whether it was the woman from the newspaper or some other lady, it hardly mattered. But today’s events had gone and reminded Dean how foolish, how deluded he’d been, thinking all this time that there might be a way he and Castiel could be together. Alas, two men in 1956 did not have that option. Now the thought of the future felt devastating to Dean, and he imagined a house filled with unopened boxes and sad, untidy stains, when only hours ago the home he’d imagined had been full of light and flowers.

Dean slid his hands off his face and set his wrists together, two fingers going for his mother Mary’s ring. He spun it around his finger, feeling the silver burn tight against his skin. He wanted another ring, he did. He wondered if this mystery woman knew what size his finger was. Perhaps he could get the new ring re-sized, like he did for Mary’s.

A sigh slipped out from between Dean’s lips, clouding the air in front of him. There was no denying it any more: he would have to move on. He’d always known it.

Still, Dean’s heart lingered, unable to break free. Castiel was handsome and clever, and Mary would’ve adored him – Castiel would never have dared be rude to her, the way he was blunt with everyone else. Castiel could be polite and sweet and artistic when he set his mind to it, he just didn’t want to bother most of the time.

You put up with me, and I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate that, he’d said to Dean once.

Dean had pulled a face; a smile paired with a frown. What’s to ‘put up with’? he’d asked. I love the way you talk.

Long words, tender expressions that nobody had used in a century – that was how Castiel communicated. Awkward smiles and accidental-on-purpose touches.

Dean felt the tense muscles around his lips weaken, and he covered his face again, one tear sliding from his eye and down his cheek. He loved Castiel so much. So much. He didn’t want to be with anyone else. He didn’t want to kiss anyone else in a daisy field or drive down country lanes and touch dangling tree leaves with anyone but him.

Screw this, Dean thought. It’s Castiel or nobody.

He stood up, ready to leave.

Castiel was standing in front of him, wearing his tan-coloured trenchcoat over a black three-piece suit. He had a bunch of carrots in his right hand. “Hello, Dean,” he said.

All the breath went out of Dean. Hope and shock radiated through his body, but logical reasoning blocked every other feeling out: Castiel was only here for the market. That was all. That was all.

“H-Hey, Cas.” Dean smiled. “I was just thinkin’ about you.” He inclined his head, eyes down; his smile faded. “Look, um... Good to see you here, and all that, but I’m actually just leaving, so...” He stepped past, patting Castiel’s arm. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Coffee and pie at my place, don’t forget.”

“What?” Castiel spun around on the spot. “Wait! Dean!”

Dean waited. He looked around quickly, in case the woman who wrote the message was anywhere near. He checked the face of the clocktower, and he saw it was eleven o’clock exactly. The clock began to chime, the bell inside swinging, its sound loud and reverberating. Panic flooded Dean for a split-second, and he felt the urge to run.

Castiel stepped closer. “You’re leaving?”

Dean nodded, gulping. “Yeah, I— I made a mistake. I was going to wait, but I can’t any more.” He laughed dismissively. “Honestly, I don’t even care if my life turns out a wreck now, this just feels... wrong. I can’t do it. I can’t do it.” He started looking around for Sam, knowing he was lurking somewhere close by.

When Dean glanced back towards Cas, surprise overtook him. The tips of the carrots Castiel held now dangled on the bricks below their feet; Castiel seemed to have slumped from his soul outwards. His eyes were sad and pleading, an expression Dean knew well, but he’d never seen it this intense.

“Cas...?”

Castiel’s eyes filled with tears, and he blinked a few times, lowering his head. He pulled the carrots closer to his chest, and he shook his head. “It’s okay. You go. I wasn’t really expecting to see you here anyway, so I was surprised...” He met Dean’s eyes. “Happy. But surprised.”

Dean forgot about the woman for a bit. “You got some decent carrots, though, right? Last time I was at the market they sold out by ten.”

“Oh, I got them early,” Castiel said. “You told me you used to sell them in Cornhaven; I thought you’d appreciate the connection. But it’s okay, though. If you want to leave, you should leave. I can eat these myself, I suppose.” He frowned, looking down again.

Dean was about to step back and walk away, but something made him hesitate. He could see nothing but utter disappointment in Castiel’s mannerisms, and that didn’t make sense. “They’re just carrots, Cas. What’s the big deal? We can cook them tomorrow if you like.”

Castiel frowned more, meeting Dean’s eyes. “Tomorrow?”

“When we drink coffee and eat pie at my place? C’mon, man, I just reminded you. We could bake carrot cake, how ‘bout that?”

Castiel blinked rapidly, still staring. He stared and stared, squinting more and more. He tilted his head, like a confused owl.

Dean pulled his hands out of his pockets and spread them. “What?”

Castiel’s lips parted. “Dean, did you read the newspaper this morning?”

Dean shut his eyes. “Yeah. Some chick wrote me a love note. I’m guessing you saw it.” He peered back at Castiel, expecting to see the man’s trademark awkward smile, but instead he saw a look which Dean could only describe as mild horror.

“Dean, that was me,” Castiel said in a low rasp. “I wrote that. I thought you knew, I thought you—”

Dean’s hands flew to cover his open mouth. He didn’t know why he did that – was he trying to stuff his words back inside, was he trying to shield his expression from Castiel, or was that movement just what people did when their worlds got turned upside down and all their dreams came true?

Castiel smiled lopsidedly, waggling the carrots. “I, um... I got these for you. I also have a ring—” He reached halfway to his pocket but changed his mind. “Maybe later, when we’re alone...” He looked back to Dean, but didn’t seem able to discern why Dean was covering his mouth any more than Dean could. “Dean, why are you crying?”

“I’m not—” Dean took his hands away from his mouth and wiped quickly at his eyes. “I’m not crying, I’m—”

“Your eyes are wet, that’s crying.”

“I know, I know,” Dean laughed, biting his lip. He met Castiel’s eyes again and another laugh burst out of him, one of total relief. “I’m so sorry, Cas, I didn’t realise it was you.”

“So I gathered,” Castiel said softly. His eyes twinkled, a warm expression on his face. “Now you know it’s me, does that mean...” He looked about, then back to Dean. “Do you still want to leave?”

Dean shook his head, clutching his temples with loosely-curled fingers, grinning madly. “No. God, no, Cas, I wanna stay. I – I wanna be with you too. Because I love... That is, I feel... about you...”

“I know, Dean,” Castiel smiled. “If I didn’t know already, I never would’ve asked you here.”

Dean laughed and sniffed, running both palms down his face. “God, I should’ve figured it out. Nobody talks like that except you. I wanted it to be you so bad, Cas. I just never considered it could be...”

Castiel’s smile was soft and knowing. He certainly didn’t seem to think Dean was unintelligent for not realising the truth. “I could’ve been more clear. I’m sorry. I was trying hard to hide who we are, that we’re both men. I would’ve asked you in person but I was—”

“You were trying to give me a choice,” Dean finished. He sniffed again and nodded quickly. “Yeah, I get it. This way, if I wanted to say no, I would’ve stayed home today, and you and I would’ve never spoken of this again.” At Castiel’s awkward smile, Dean smiled too, finding Castiel’s efforts endearing. “Thank you,” Dean added. “I liked being asked like that. I mean, it would’ve been better if I was certain it was you... but this was still incredible.”

Dean grinned shyly, eyelashes fluttering down. “But how did you know?” Dean looked up again, and he considered Castiel carefully. He inched closer, and lifted a hand from his side so he could touch Castiel’s waistcoat with his fingertips. “You’re always so bad at knowing what people are feeling – half the time I have to tell you why people are yelling at you. How could you know how I felt unless I told you?”

“How?” Castiel shifted on his feet, his eyes darting away, then back. “I’m not sure.”

“Wh...?”

“I’m not sure,” Castiel repeated. “I just knew.”

“Wow.” Dean thumped his chin to his sternum. “God, this could’ve ended in disaster.”

“But it didn’t,” Castiel said. He tilted his head, catching Dean’s eye. He then guided Dean’s gaze up to make him hold his head straight again. Without warning, he offered Dean the bunch of carrots. “Take these. I’ll drive.”

“Drive—” Dean took the carrots. “We’re going?”

“To Cornhaven,” Castiel said, like it was obvious. “I bought back my grandmother’s old cottage.”

“You bought—”

“Sam loaned me some money,” Castiel said simply. “I’ll pay him back as soon as I’ve sold my shop.”

Dean gripped his own hair. “You— Sam—” He gasped. “You’re selling your shop?!”

Castiel looked at Dean fondly. “Yes. Are you coming?”

Dean let his arms flop back to his sides and he let out a mouthful of air. “Yeah,” he said, still somewhat dumbfounded. “Yeah, I guess I am.”

Castiel beamed, and he led Dean straight out of the town square. Dean followed on his right, their shoulders brushing. Dean kept shooting furtive glances towards Castiel’s face, seeing a little smile every time. Despite what he saw, Dean was still unable to completely believe this was really happening.

Dean was in love with Cas. Cas was in love with Dean. It was so highly improbable that it should’ve been flat-out impossible. For such a long time Dean had thought he was alone; he’d never met another man who could fall in love with men. And yet here was another person beside Dean, who definitely looked like a man, definitely in love with Dean too. The coincidence was incredible.

Dean’s Impala was parked against the sidewalk on the other side of the road which bordered the town square. The roadway was full of beeping weekend traffic; all the vehicles had slowed to barely a crawl, but Dean and Castiel had to let some students on bicycles go through before they could think about crossing.

“Dean!” came a distant shout, distracting Dean away from the road.

Dean checked behind him and spied Sam running to catch up. “Shit.”

“Dean,” Castiel scolded. “You told me cussing in public was bad.”

“No, I’m allowed this time. He’s going to realise...” Dean looked at Castiel, frantic already. He glanced back over his shoulder just as Sam trotted up close.

“Dean,” Sam puffed, partially out of breath. “Hey, Cas.”

“Hello, Sam,” Castiel said, not making eye contact.

Sam gave Dean a curious look. “Did you meet the girl? I didn’t see anyone approach you except Cas. Maybe I looked away at the wrong moment—?”

Dean shook his head. “The, uh...” He gulped. “No lady showed up. I guess she changed her mind.”

Sam’s shoulders slumped. “Oh,” he said. “Well, that’s too bad.”

“Yeah,” Dean said, eyes flicking towards Castiel. “Well, we’re, uh... we’re heading—”

“To your house,” Castiel said. “Dean hasn’t packed.”

“Packed?” Sam asked.

Dean cleared his throat quickly. “Yeah, we decided we’d take a consolation trip.” He grinned awkwardly. “Gotta go, y’know. Throw some things in a trunk and burn rubber on the way to somewhere.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere but here.” Dean smiled, clapping Sam on the shoulder. “Guess I’ll see ya sometime.”

“I’m heading home too,” Sam said, clearly confused. “Can I catch a ride?”

Dean glanced at Castiel, who seemed to be forcing an expression of indifference onto his face.

“Sure,” Dean said, reluctantly. If he said no he’d only make Sam suspicious.

The three of them crossed the road together, and Cas got into the back seat of the Impala, because when Sam was around, he was the one who got to sit at the front. Dean chewed his inner cheeks while he revved the engine and joined the traffic jam. “You can drive later, buddy,” he muttered over his shoulder.

“I’m counting on it,” Castiel said, an air of grouchiness in his words.

Sam picked up on Castiel’s tone, and immediately figured out he was intruding. But Dean smiled, and he shot a grin over at his brother. “So! Cas tells me you paid for a little cottage out in Cornhaven. I don’t know when you were planning on telling me, but that was real sweet of you.”

Sam looked baffled.

Dean’s eyes slowly widened. “Oh-ho-ho.” He looked back over his shoulder at Castiel. “You didn’t tell him?”

Castiel made himself smaller on the back seat, mouth sliding open. “Ah... At the time, Dean, it seemed... important that I didn’t tell him.”

He gave Dean a significant look.

Dean glanced at Sam and took a deep breath of realisation. “Oh,” he said, staring out at the traffic, sitting upright and not moving. “It was a secret.”

Sam breathed. “I think I’m missing something here.”

Castiel sat forward in his seat. “Um. Dean and I are... going to Cornhaven,” he said. “I used your money to buy back my grandmother’s old house. I didn’t tell you I wasn’t using the money for my shop, and for that I’m... truly sorry, Sam. I can’t say it was easy keeping it from you.”

Sam set a hand to his forehead. “Cas, I told you to get yourself a smaller shop. We sat down and we did your finances and we made plans—”

“Wait,” Dean said. “I think there’s a more important question to ask here. When did you ever live in Cornhaven?”

“You and I were eight years old; Sam was four,” Castiel said. “I was there for two weeks with my grandmother after my parents split up.” His voice became quieter, and Dean almost didn’t hear him over the sound of the engine. “I thought you remembered.”

Dean smiled gently, and all of a sudden, a grin broke though. “Oh. So that’s why you got me carrots! You were the kid with the worms and the candy.”

“Ha!” Castiel breathed out, stunned. “I’d forgotten about that!” His tone became dreamy, recalling long-buried memories; “I never let the candy touch the worms, or the worms touch the candy. One hand was always clean and one was always dirty.”

Dean laughed, feeling a lightness inside him at the image.

Sam made a noise of exasperation. “But why did you buy a cottage, Cas?”

“I wanted somewhere private to take Dean,” Castiel said.

Sam nodded slowly. “For a... consolation vacation. Because you knew the lady from the newspaper wasn’t going to show up?”

“Yes, because the person who wrote that—”

“Cas, don’t say it,” Dean interrupted. He felt gushes of cold fear running through him over and over, synchronised with his tripping heartbeat. Again, in a whisper, he warned, “Don’t you dare say it.”

Castiel was silent. Sam was silent.

Dean gritted his teeth and drove through an intersection.

Sam remained in a thoughtful silence for the rest of the drive home. Castiel didn’t dare speak. And Dean couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

· · · · · ·

Dean grinned as he tossed his second-to last bag into the trunk of his favourite car. The sun was breaking through the clouds now, warming the backs of Dean’s hands as he bent and picked up his last suitcase.

Sam leaned against a pale green 1948 Chrysler, five feet away. His arms were folded.

“You got all your stuff together, Cas?” Dean asked, brushing dust from his palms. He hadn’t used his luggage cases in far too long, and there hadn’t been time for cleaning.

“Everything is packed. We only need to drive past my place and pick it up,” Castiel said. He spoke to Dean but his attention was on Sam. Despite the fresh burst of sun, Sam seemed to be dragging a black cloud above him like a helium balloon.

Dean huffed and stepped up to his brother on the way back to the house. “Quit being such a sad sack, Sammy. A couple hours ago you gave me your blessings for a countryside excursion with someone I didn’t even know, and now I’m doing the same thing with a pal, you’re miserable. What gives, huh?” He patted Sam on the wrist and passed by to go into the townhouse.

Sam wheezed a sigh of frustration and followed at Dean’s heels. “It’s not about who you’re going with. Well, it is— That’s not what I mean. The problem is—”

The three of them gathered in the kitchen, where Dean leaned back against the counter and picked up one of the sandwiches Cas had made while Dean had been packing. He took a huge bite and looked expectantly at Sam to finish.

“What I mean to say is,” Sam said, very carefully, looking at Dean, then Castiel, then at the floor, “you didn’t tell me.”

Castiel’s eyes widened. “Oh! I didn’t realise you wanted to come, Sam.”

Dean scoffed. “It’s not that sort of trip, man. You won’t be missing anything.”

Sam gritted his teeth, eyes rising to the rafters on the kitchen ceiling. “I don’t mean about the trip. I get that you want to be—” he shut his eyes, “alone, but I... Look...”

“Spit it out, Sam,” Dean said, frowning at his sandwich.

Sam sighed a put a hand over his forehead. He turned at the waist and reached across the kitchen counter to get the morning’s issue of the Dimesville Times, still folded to show the published love letter. Sam held it in front of him and skimmed it quickly. He sighed, shoulders slumping. “I look at this now... and I don’t know how I ever thought it was a woman.”

Dean stopped chewing. He’d known it was only a matter of time before Sam worked it out, but this was so much sooner than Dean had prepared himself for. Were they about to fight? Was Sam angry?

Sam’s eyes lifted straight to Castiel. “I have a question.”

Castiel put his uneaten sandwich back on the plate, eyes following it. “Okay.”

“You tried so hard to hide this from me. You lied to me, Cas. You used my money for something I never authorised. And all right, that hurts, but not nearly as much as this does.” He batted the newspaper with the back of his hand. “Why try so hard to keep your affair a secret if you’re only going to propose to Dean publicly?”

“Affair,” Dean choked out. “There’s no affair, Sam.”

Sam met his eyes and Dean felt small. Sam’s gaze softened. “So what is it, then?”

Dean looked towards Castiel but couldn’t make their eyes meet; Dean looked down then turned his face away.

Castiel’s breath sounded unsettled. “Dean and I haven’t had a chance to discuss this yet. As of yesterday we were friends.”

Sam put the newspaper down. “All right,” he said, reasonably. He paused. “Listen, I can see this is a difficult situation. For both of you.” He touched Dean’s arm, but Dean couldn’t look at him. “I can’t say I understand, I don’t know how this happened between you, but I do know... I’ve seen you get closer.” He cleared his throat. “I see you’re... you’re happy when you’re together. And Dean...”

Sam tugged on Dean’s shirt sleeve gently, like a child trying to get his elder brother’s attention. Dean turned to face him, eyes kept low. Sam sighed, then said, “Now I know why you’ve been hurting these last few months. I’m sorry I didn’t work it out earlier. If I’d known I—”

“If you’d known, you would’ve tried to talk me out of it,” Dean said bluntly. He looked up and met his brother’s eye with a sternness that he was sure rivalled their mother’s. “Believe me, if I could change my mind – if I could feel any different about Cas, I would.”

Castiel looked away. He looked back, took his sandwich, then left the room.

Dean’s eyes followed Castiel down the hallway, watching the sunlight wash over him as he left through the open front door.

“I upset him,” Dean sighed.

Sam didn’t say anything.

Dean rubbed his forehead, wondering what he was meant to do now. He decided to let Cas cool off for a minute, and in the meantime give himself a chance to figure out how to explain himself. He reached to take the newspaper, and he looked it over. He started to smirk, feeling warm in the heart. “It’s sweet, isn’t it? Everything he said about me.”

Sam leaned forward on the counter and ran a hand through his long hair. “Yeah,” he said, only somewhat reluctantly. He hesitated. “While he’s not here, Dean, there’s something I need to say.”

Dean tensed up, and he put the newspaper down, watching Sam warily.

Sam struggled to speak at first. “I don’t know how I feel about this, Dean. You and him. I know I’m stating the obvious, but you’re both men. How do you expect to live your lives? Is this something you’re planning on sticking to?”

“You mean, do I plan on growing old with him, living comfortably in a tiny cottage, gardening, ploughing fields, and living happily every after? Yeah.” Dean nodded, not quite smiling. “Yeah, I do, Sammy.”

Sam exhaled. “And there really is nothing I can do to change your mind?”

“No,” Dean said firmly. He looked Sam in the eye and shook his head. “Not a damn thing.”

Sam straightened up and sighed. “In that case... God.” He put a hand over his mouth, then let it fall. “In that case I – I promise to protect you. I’ll keep it a secret on your behalf. From today onwards, nobody but me finds out, not unless all three of us decide it’s safe. But on one condition.” He held a single finger up between his and Dean’s chests. “No public declarations of love. And that includes in the freaking newspaper.”

Dean chuckled, head down. “Done.”

“Really?”

Dean met his gaze, eyes shining. “Yeah. I’ll find a way to convince Cas.”

Sam smiled, crinkling at the corners of his eyes. “I’d better let you go. You’re losing daylight.”

Dean smiled, taking the last sandwich. “For Cas,” he said, lifting it slightly.

He was about to turn away, but Sam wrenched him into a hug. He squeezed so tightly that Dean laughed, his hand pat-pat-patting on Sam’s shoulder.

Sam chuckled, easing up a bit. He gripped Dean by the shoulders, holding him steady as they looked at each other.

“He may not be a beautiful woman,” Sam said, “and maybe Mom wouldn’t have been ecstatic that you’re together, but he is a beautiful man. And she would’ve loved to see you smile like that.”

Dean’s smile wobbled. Sam laughed, patting his cheek. “Go on,” he said to Dean. “I’ll follow you out.”

Dean carried the sandwich down the hallway and out to the curb. Castiel was standing beside the car, working by himself to take the roof off. Dean hurried over. “Here,” he said, offering him the sandwich. “Me and Sam’ll do that. You eat.”

Castiel looked at Dean stiffly; he was still bothered by Dean’s earlier comment. Regardless, he took the sandwich and stood off to the side, allowing the brothers to pin back the folding roof.

“Better hope it doesn’t rain,” Sam said.

“Ah, I think we’ll be fine,” Dean smiled. “This time of year, the sun’s always shining in Cornhaven.”

The three of them stood on the sidewalk, and Dean and Sam shared one last farewell hug. Sam squeezed hard like he didn’t want to let go.

“Relax, Sammy,” Dean chuckled. “We can take care of ourselves in the big outside world.”

Sam sighed, stepping back. “I don’t doubt it.” He gave Castiel a good, firm handshake, one hand bringing him in for a one-second hug afterwards. “How long will you be gone?” Sam asked, pulling away.

Castiel looked at Dean. Dean looked at Castiel.

“A few weeks,” Castiel said, at the same time Dean said, “Indefinitely.”

Sam’s mouth slid open.

“Make it a month,” Castiel said, holding Dean’s eye. “We can come back if things don’t, uh... work out.” He saw Dean’s panicked look, and he hesitated, then explained: “It’s not that I’m not up for an indefinite countryside stay, it’s just that after what you said to Sam—”

“Oh.” Dean ducked his head guiltily. “Let’s talk about that in the car, huh?”

Castiel tilted his head, a slight smile twinkling in his summer-blue eyes. Those eyes flicked towards Sam. “We’ll write to you. Let you know.”

Sam nodded. “Stay safe.”

“And you,” Castiel said. Dean only smiled, and made his way to sit in the passenger’s seat.

· · · · · ·

Castiel was quiet on the drive to his apartment. He stared at the road ahead, he pulled his fluttering tie back to his chest, and he watched the clouds float past over the car whenever they stopped at traffic lights. He barely looked at Dean.

Castiel cut the car’s engine on the road outside his home. The sidewalks were empty, as was the road. Castiel’s old bicycle leant against a worn wooden fence directly ahead, beside which a house with a dozen windows seemed to grow from the ground, like a giant square plant: ivy hung from every weatherboard, cut back from the glass so the inner linings of the mismatched curtains showed through. Castiel’s room was the one second from the left, below the winding spire. He had a bathroom to himself, a bed, and an armchair, and he kept a collection of potted plants, most of which could be seen from where Castiel had parked the Impala.

“This is no way to start things,” Dean said quietly, before Castiel could get out of the car. “I gotta get something off my chest, Cas. Will you stay a minute?”

Castiel settled back into the leather seat, closing the car door again.

Dean exhaled. He shut his eyes. “I need to be honest. Probably more honest than I’ve ever been with anyone. I wish I didn’t have to say any of this aloud but if I don’t say it, you’ll never know. It’s important.” Dean opened his eyes again and leaned back on the car seat, the nape of his neck tucked against the headrest. Branches of dark green trees gushed in a breeze above him, leaves twirling free and floating like snowflakes into the open-roofed car. Dean breathed in, feeling the thick heat of the air, letting it bring him courage. “I love you.”

Castiel shifted. Dean sensed Castiel’s gaze on him, but didn’t look over and check.

Dean frowned, shutting his eyes. “And I’m sorry. I’m sorry about how I feel, okay? I can’t help that horrible, guilty ache, right there in my belly. I said what I said to Sam because it’s true. I’ve tried to wish away these feelings, I’ve tried to change who I am, but I can’t.” He looked at Castiel in pleading. “For months I’ve hated myself for loving you. I thought it was in vain, Cas. You gotta understand. Every time I touched you and I felt myself come alive – like you said in the newspaper, it was the same for you – I thought I was crazy, I thought I was sick, thought I was – broken. I’ve felt things for women before... sometimes men too. But never the way it is with you. Not once.”

Castiel’s expression was indecipherable. He didn’t seem angry or upset, though, and that gave Dean the encouragement to go on.

“In the end it was all for nothing. All my worrying. You’re just as head-over-heels as I am,” Dean smiled. “I loved what you wrote me, Cas. You were the only person I wanted it to be. But I just couldn’t let myself believe it. Part of me...” Dean sat up straight again, looking out at the bicycle propped against the fence. “Part of me wants something else. Don’t get me wrong, you have my heart. All of it. And you will forever. But don’t think for a second that I wouldn’t make this easier on both of us if I could. Snap my fingers and we fall out of love, I’d do it.”

“Would you though?” Castiel said. He peered at Dean, totally calm. “You’ve never held my hand. You’ve never kissed me. We’ve never fought, so we’ve never made up. Only once have I comforted you as you wept, and you were so full of shame afterwards that you went home. I’ve never been offered the chance to hold you while you sleep.” Castiel’s stare only became more intense as his gaze dipped to Dean’s lips. “You don’t know what you’re missing, yet. You’re this close now; you wouldn’t dare give it up.” He looked Dean in the eye again, and he shook his head. “Believe whatever you like. But I know you, Dean Winchester, and you can be selfish when the mood strikes you. And you’re a glutton. You would not turn down a chance to be with me, not after holding back for so long. The moment you’re set you loose on something you’ve craved, forever denying yourself, you’ll indulge. Frankly, I’m surprised you didn’t eat that last sandwich.”

Dean gulped, stunned into silence.

Castiel smirked. “In short, Dean, you’re as bad at impulse control as I am at socialising. I forgive you. Now that’s settled, come inside and help me carry my luggage down. We have to take the plants and the bicycle as well, don’t forget.” With that, he climbed out of the car and started walking towards the house, pulling keys from his trenchcoat pocket.

Dean huffed a laugh to himself, then got out of the car and followed.

· · · · · ·

They drove until the monotony of buildings fell behind, until the shapes at the sides of the roads were taller and bushy with leaves, branches shading the car, dropping bits over the leather seats.

They drove so far that the roads no longer had lines painted down their middles; the shadows of the afternoon were a deep and calming green, and the road ahead was always dappled in gold and a rich brown.

They had left town life behind, and now business, people, and all of their troubles were things of the past, at least for a few weeks.

The road became one-laned, made thinner by bushes growing close to the path. Most of the land under the wheels was plain dirt, but the occasional cobblestone showed through. Cottages marked the hills on either side of the road, some distant and small, some closer. Cows and sheep watched the car trundle through the country lanes. Dean peered back, seeing the animals in snatches of sunlight which flashed between the trunks of trees.

Now that the car drove at a slower speed, Dean and Castiel could hear the sound of life around them: birds, trees, the faraway cries of half-grown lambs. The roar of the wind rushing past the open roof wouldn’t mute their voices any more if they decided to talk.

If you want to be with me, we’ll go. We’ll pack our things and get in your favourite car, and just drive until the road gets narrow and the trees brush our hands as we raise them high.

They came to a road beside a lake, and Dean stood on the floor of the car, knees bent, one arm reaching up, up, up—

He laughed as the leaves of a dozen willow trees whipped past his fingers, sharp enough to sting, but satisfying enough that he wouldn’t sit back down; he kept reaching. A dangling whip of a branch approached, and he tried to grab it, but it fought back – the tree branch was too flexible to break, and it bent into Dean’s hand; bending, straining, stretching. Once the car moved past, it flicked back to its natural position, and Dean was left clutching a handful of leaves.

He sat back down, chuckling. “Want a leaf, Cas?” he asked, offering him one.

Castiel glanced at it, grinning. “I can get my own, thank you very much.”

Castiel craned out of his seat and easily plucked a leaf from a bush beside them.

“That’s cheating.”

“For your collection,” Castiel said, offering Dean his leaf.

Dean took the leaf, but then he frowned. “My hand’s bleeding.”

Castiel nearly slammed the brakes. He kept going after the jolt, but his eyes only stayed on the road for a second at a time before he looked back at Dean.

Dean opened out his palm and examined the thin, red gash, gleaming wet in the sun. “That’s what you get for trying to make poetry come true,” he sighed. “My sincerest apologies to Mother Nature.”

“We’re only a few minutes from the cottage,” Castiel said, glancing at the road, then back to Dean. “I’m sure I have some bandages.”

“It barely hurts,” Dean said. He clenched his hand to keep it from bleeding, and he glanced up at the road. “Hey! Hey, watch it! Rabbit!”

Castiel did slam the brakes this time; a small, brown rabbit darted across their path, followed by another. They scampered into the hedgerow, out of sight.

Dean let out a breath of relief. “I haven’t seen bunnyrabbits for years. I forgot how stupid they are around cars.”

Castiel carried on driving, careful on the corners. “I’ve missed this place,” he said, dreamily. “Nowhere else could I enjoy fresh air while worrying about the fate of small animals and larger animals at the same time.”

“Pfft,” Dean grinned. “Am I a large animal?”

“You are absolutely a large animal.”

“Okay, maybe I am.” Dean smirked, staring up at the pretty blue sky, leaning on the headrest to watch the clouds. “You’re still shorter than me, though.”

“True. But I’m bigger in other areas.”

Dean perked his head up. “How do you know how big my – aheh – other areas are? I can tell you, if you want.”

Castiel shot him an exasperated, yet amused look. “Dean...”

Dean felt his face flush. “What? We’re alone now. Really alone.” He shifted in his seat, gaze set on Castiel’s hands. “We don’t need to worry about someone coming into your shop, or Sam coming home, or the postman coming by. We can talk about this stuff freely now. Intimate things.”

Dean looked out of the car, watching a wide field of apple-green grass swirl and split under the sweep of the wind. He tipped his head back to Castiel, and went on, “Before, when it was only you and me in your shop, or at your apartment, I could never justify locking the door. You would’ve asked why, and I couldn’t say I wanted— wanted to touch you. Or just wanted to talk about things men aren’t meant to talk about. Love. Pleasure. And now we don’t need to worry. For the first time since we were kids, Cas, remember? We’re alone.”

“And that means you want to talk about your... uh.”

“Uh-huh.” Dean watched the road as they turned another corner. “I’ve wanted to talk about sexy things with you for a long time, Cas.” Dean stroked the knuckles of his injured hand, self-soothing. His face was burning hot. “I – I wanna talk about touching. And kissing. And that line you wrote about... me holding you between my knees. All that fun stuff.”

Castiel’s hands paled as they gripped the steering wheel. A tiny grin fluttered over his face. “I, um. I wasn’t sure whether to leave that line in. I almost took it out.”

Dean smiled at him, and slid his unhurt hand over to touch Castiel’s thigh. He squeezed the fabric of Castiel’s trousers gently, loving his warmth. “Thanks for keeping it. Now I know what to look forward to.” Dean licked his lips quickly. “You know, I’m actually kind of impressed the newspaper published that part.”

“You’re acquainted with the editor, Miss Robinson,” Castiel smiled. “Weren’t you the one who told me she adores getting her hands on local stories? Controversy and sex makes the papers sell, you said. People get talking about what they read and they’ll come back for more.”

Dean cocked his head, nodding in acknowledgement. “She’s a wild girl, is Cassie Robinson. She makes headlines to get headlines, you know? Someday she’s gonna have her face across the front page of The New York Times for publishing something so outlandish and controversial that she makes the whole world sit up and take notice. It’ll start, black woman, editor of small town newspaper, and then recount a tale that could very well get somebody killed.”

Dean tutted concernedly, yet fondly – then he took a sudden breath, sitting up out of his seat. “Cas, look! There it is!”

Castiel chuckled, spying the cottage at the very end of the lane. Dean was awed by the sight. It was perfectly picturesque, with straw clay sides – none of which were quite straight – fronted by a flourishing flower garden, hugely overgrown, with wild colours sprouting out of the window planters and spilling over the front wall. The winding path from the front gate led to the cottage’s circular green door, which was decorated by a living moss wreath, pinned above the door knocker. All the cottage windows were like portholes, circular, covered by shutters with heart-shaped cut-outs for handles. The cottage was topped by a thatch roof, as wonky and asymmetrical as the rest of the building.

Castiel slowed the car to a halt on the dirt road, not bothering to park since the area before the house was a big, open circle. He cranked the handbrake and let out a breath. He and Dean stared at their new home.

“It’s smaller than I remember,” Dean said in delight. “It’s a freakin’ hobbit hole!”

Castiel looked at Dean strangely. “You’re happy about this?”

“Are you kidding? I’ve wanted a tiny place like this ever since I was little,” Dean said, bouncing out of the car and immediately taking off his suit jacket, slinging it over his seat. “You get the luggage, I’m gonna look inside! Gimme the keys, quick!”

“Slow down, Dean,” Castiel said sternly. “First things first – we need to bandage your hand.”

“Oh, this? I’m fine,” Dean said, waving his injured hand. He then hissed in pain as the skin pulled. He grimaced as Castiel marched up close and took Dean’s hand to look at it. “It’s barely anything,” Dean assured him.

“Inside,” Castiel said firmly. “We’ll get the luggage later.”

Castiel went first through the creaky wooden gate, holding it open for Dean. Dean chuckled as wildflowers brushed their legs on their walk up the path, like the garden was greeting them, welcoming them home.

“Cas, hang on a second,” Dean said, taking Castiel’s hand. Castiel felt the tug, and he paused, looking at where their skin touched. They’d never touched so boldly.

Dean gained confidence, and he slipped their fingers together, stepping close. Castiel seemed to realise where this was going, and his breath caught, lips parted.

Dean smiled, hungry eyes watching Castiel lick his lips. “Welcome home,” Dean murmured to him.

Castiel grinned, and Dean looked up so he could see the joy in his eyes. “Welcome home, Dean,” he replied.

Dean leaned in, unsure at first, but then Castiel tilted his head – and all at once, they were kissing.

We could share our first kiss under the sun, not under cover of darkness.

Dean ducked back in surprise, gasping. “Oh,” he said.

Castiel laughed, standing closer so he could put his arms around Dean’s waist. “Now you know what you’re missing,” he muttered. He kissed Dean again, inhaling, driving his mouth against Dean’s until Dean whimpered, going slack under such a tender administration of affection.

Their kiss snapped like bubblegum, and Castiel nosed at Dean’s upper lip. Dean’s breath fluttered, all of him so overwhelmed with new sensations. Castiel’s late afternoon stubble prickled.

“H-How is it?” Dean asked, fingers of one hand braiding through the dark curls behind Castiel’s ear. “Everything you ever wished for?”

Castiel kissed Dean gently again, pushing until Dean pushed back. Castiel grinned, then their third kiss somehow became a fourth.

“It’s better than I’d hoped,” Castiel uttered against Dean’s lips, breath hot. “I thought I’d be timid. But you make me fearless.”

“I’m nervous enough for the two of us, I’ll bet,” Dean snickered, bowing his head. “My heart’s all a-jitter.”

“As is mine.” Castiel put another kiss upon Dean’s lips, this time drowning him, going deep and heavy and forceful, the way people kissed in movies, only in colour – bright and magnificent colour.

Dean was left shaken, heart pounding, fingers tingling. He gazed at Castiel from an inch away, panting, and he felt his whole soul shed its cage and spread its wings. “Oh, you’re right,” Dean breathed. “I couldn’t trade this for anything. The world could fall to pieces because we’re in love and I still wouldn’t want anyone else.” He glanced away. “Aw, shit, now I sound like an utter milksop. Sam told me I was.”

“Well, Sam is wrong. There’s nothing wrong with appreciating love,” Castiel said. He shut his eyes and kissed Dean one more time. Dean had already lost count. He let the kiss surround him, as Castiel’s arms surrounded him, keeping him warm and safe and happy.

Castiel breathed out as he stepped back, hand holding Dean’s. “We have our whole lives to kiss, I think. But your hand requires immediate attention.”

“Are you gonna be one of those fusspot husbands?” Dean asked, trailing behind Castiel as he led them to their front door. “You gonna make me soup when I’m sick and massage my feet and wash my hair?”

Castiel paused on the clay step outside the door, fiddling with a key. He glanced at Dean, smirking. “Would you like me to be that kind of husband?”

“Yeah,” Dean said softly. The happy glow in his heart was nearly painful due to its intensity. “And I wanna be the one that gives back rubs and makes dinner every day and kisses you hello.”

“You’ve thought about this a lot,” Castiel remarked, unlocking the front door. A rush of stale country air wafted over Dean and Castiel’s faces, cool and dry. They stepped into the shade inside, where it was comfortably cold.

“Oh, boy, this is perfect,” Dean sighed, looking around.

The first and largest room was the one they were in now: the floor was made of red clay tiles, worn down low around the old iron stove, which sat tucked amongst work surfaces that ran the entire length of the room on the far side, beneath a long window. Cupboards had been left open below, some empty, some with pots and pans inside. A wonky dining table was touched by the sunshine on Dean’s left, set with three straw chairs and a footstool from an absent armchair. Dean took his willow leaves out of his pocket and put them down on the tabletop.

“Washroom’s over there,” Castiel said, pointing left. “And the bedroom is through here.” He took Dean’s hand again and led him to the right, through a round door.

Dean laughed when he saw the bed. It was trying to be a four-poster bed, but really it was a mattress on stilts which grew a little too tall. “Once we finally get around to gettin’ busy, Cas, I have a feeling we might break the damn thing.”

Castiel made a tiny, embarrassed noise. Dean, meanwhile, laughed joyously, and went to flop backwards on the mattress. The frame squealed, and dust erupted from all sides, sparkling in the sun that poured through the circular window. The quilt was soft and poofy, and had dented under Dean’s weight as if he’d jumped onto a badly-stitched feather pillow.

Castiel coughed. “I think we may need to invest in a broom.”

Dean wheezed, sliding off the bed and plucking at his now-dusty clothes. “Who knows,” he said, sneezing once as he snuck out of the bedroom. “Cornhaven might have vacuum cleaners for sale these days.”

“Let’s hope,” Castiel said, following Dean back into the main room. “Now, I know there’s bandages in here somewhere...”

While Castiel was busy searching, Dean ran the tap (after turning it on with a hefty thrust of his weight), and he waited for the brown ooze to turn into clean water. The water flow did eventually get less brown, but its cleanliness was questionable.

“Oh, it’s fine,” Castiel said, pulling a box off a bookshelf. “My grandmother used to say the water here was what made her bones strong. She never broke a single one, you know. Lived in this cottage her whole life, God rest her soul.”

Taking Castiel’s word on faith, Dean washed his injury clean. He dried off on a fresh towel, a number of which Castiel had packed into his suitcase.

“I also brought food and an extra razor—”

“Dammit! I knew I forgot something!”

“—because I had a feeling you’d forget yours.”

Dean grinned and slumped into a dining chair, holding his hand out for Castiel to dress. “You’re kinda perfect for me, you know.”

“Yes,” Castiel said. “I do know. Stop squirming and let me fix you.”

“I’m not squirming,” Dean said, whilst squirming. “Ow— Ow!”

“Quiet! There. That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Dean stared at his bandaged hand, all wrapped up in pristine white gauze. “Huh,” he said, turning it from side to side, then folding and unfolding his fingers. “I don’t even feel it.”

Castiel beamed. “That was how you did it for me when I cut my arm on a clock hand. It’s about time I got to return the favour.” He touched Dean’s chin with a thumb; Dean looked up, and Castiel leaned down to kiss him. Dean’s belly fluttered with shimmers of light in response, like the dust in the sunshine. He tilted his chin up, and up, chasing the kiss even when Castiel was done. Castiel kissed him again, just a peck.

“So what is there to do here?” Dean asked.

“We only just eloped, Dean. Are you bored with me already?”

Dean flushed. “No! That wasn’t what I meant.”

Castiel rolled his eyes fondly, then turned away and gestured to the window over the stove. Through the window was a field of overgrown grass. “The back of that field – there, you see? – it borders your mother’s old property. That’s the one with the daisies.”

“Can we go hop the hedge?” Dean asked, enthused. “Does anyone live there now?”

“Yes to both.” Castiel gave Dean a smile, coupled with a sneaky squint of his eyes. “Two old ladies. From what I observed, the two of them seem very close, I can’t help but suspect...”

Dean smiled in delight.

Castiel chuckled, chin to his chest. “The previous owners of this cottage told me those two often visit other people on Saturdays. So long as passers-by don’t catch us rolling around in the grass, we’ll be fine.”

Dean bit his lip, feeling a flare of exhilaration soar through him. “Can we go now?”

Castiel tutted. “You’re injured, and we still have a car to unpack.”

Dean stood up, light on his feet. “But I wanna go make out with you in a field of daisies! You wanna go make out with me in a field of daisies, you said so in the newspaper.”

Castiel growled out a teasing kind of complaint. “Oh, if we must.”

Dean pecked him on the cheek. “We must.”

· · · · · ·

Dean toppled over the hedge with an ungainly yelp, rolling onto the grass with a guffaw. Castiel plopped down after him, landing on all fours like a cat. Dean was still laughing, hands on his belly to control the ache. He hadn’t laughed so much in weeks.

Castiel crawled up close, and he lay down on his front, side-to-side with Dean, who lay on his back.

“So,” Castiel said, running a fingertip over Dean’s cheek. “Do you remember this place?”

Dean’s laugh tumbled away, but he couldn’t lose his smile. He licked his lower lip and watched the sky, eyeing white clouds as they drifted out from behind the tall green trees and floated on into the blueness. “I remember the way the ground feels,” he said. “Summer grass. The smell of dandelions ‘n daisies.”

“And the house?”

Dean glanced at Castiel, and Castiel pointed off to Dean’s left. Dean peered along the ground and saw a handsome building, which he didn’t quite recognise. He sat up, and then he grinned. “Looks just the same. Mom painted those window frames!”

“But you...” Castiel sighed. “My God, Dean, you look so different.” Castiel curled close, making Dean lie back down. “Last time you and I lay here, we were eight years old, and we picked daisies.” He plucked a tiny white flower from the grass and showed Dean its perfect petals, each of which became pink towards the centre, where it showed off its cheerful yellow pollen. Castiel peered at it, recalling, “I put together a ring made out of flowers... and I—” he rolled onto his back and laughed, “I told you to make me your bride.”

Dean grinned, holding Castiel’s hand as they faced each other, shoulder to shoulder. “And did I?” Dean asked.

“Oh, I don’t remember,” Castiel said, waving a hand. “But I loved you then. Nothing ever changed.”

Dean sighed, shaking his head. “I can’t believe I forgot you.”

“I was only in Cornhaven for two weeks,” Castiel said forgivingly. “Prior to then and since then, your life has been full of friends and people. I was a mere blip on your radar. You always tell me about these other people, how exciting your life has become, some days. Everyone likes you.”

“Not everyone.”

“But enough that you could say ‘everyone’ and it wouldn’t be too much of a lie,” Castiel pointed out.

Dean shrugged. “Eh.”

“But I knew you for two weeks, Dean, and until I met you again, I never had someone my own age care for me that way. You played with me for the sake of playing, not teasing, and you shared your things, and... you liked me. Not once, but twice. For that, I can forgive you for forgetting me in between.”

“You’re making it sound like nobody else likes you but me.”

“Well, don’t they?”

Dean screwed up his face. “It’s not like that. They just think you’re...”

“Strange? Antisocial? Rude?”

“You’re not rude—”

They think I’m rude.”

Dean sighed lengthily. “Well, Sam likes you.”

“That makes two of you,” Castiel said. “I don’t have to try so hard with you and Sam. Everyone else is... difficult.”

Dean rubbed his thumb along Castiel’s hand, where the skin was soft and smooth, and probably sensitive too. “I think you’ll fit in okay here,” Dean said, trying to reassure. “You’ll find friends eventually. Everyone in Cornhaven is different. As a kid I was used to it. I wouldn’t have judged you if you spoke only in sneezes, had three ears, and a trunk for a nose. My mom used to talk about garden fairies and angels the whole time. And people used to say your grandmother was a witch.”

“She was.”

“Oh.”

Castiel smiled and tugged on Dean’s hand. “Are we going to kiss passionately now?”

Dean snorted. “Oh, you want to get right to it, do you?”

Castiel purred out a “Yes please,” rolling halfway on top of Dean. Dean barely had a second of warning before Castiel’s mouth was on him, working his lips apart and licking his tongue into a responsive frenzy.

“Mmwhoa, whoa,” Dean muttered, grinning and blushing hot. “Gee whiz, Cas, gimme a chance to breathe.”

“But—” Castiel smushed their mouths together again, “I’mmmm.”

Dean rolled them over, straddling Castiel’s waist. “Slow down!” he laughed, practically giggling when Castiel took his waist and yanked him closer for another kiss. “Cas!”

Castiel let Dean catch his breath, and Dean sat back for a moment to take off his waistcoat, then he flapped the corner of his shirt to get some air against his chest. Dean then exhaled, relaxing closer, hovering his torso over Castiel’s.

“Cas... Listen... While I’m sure you love the idea of gettin’ lucky with the farmboy, I wanna ask...”

“Hmm?”

Dean’s eyelashes fluttered on his cheeks, too shy to open his eyes. “A-Are you gonna make an honest man outta me?”

“You want me to propose?”

Dean shrugged, fingers tracing the shape of Castiel’s lowest ribs under his waistcoat. “If you asked, I’d say yes.” He opened his eyes and met Castiel’s gaze, dazzled by the way his pure blue irises reflected the sky like mirrors – clouds included. Dean’s smirk pulled high on one side of his face, and he said in a jokey, childish voice, “Make me your bride?”

Castiel laughed, eyes shut, deep grooves of happiness carved from the corners of his eyes. Dean held Castiel’s cheeks in his hands and fell in love with him for the hundredth time, adoring the way his friend showed his joy and his pleasure.

Once Castiel had stopped laughing enough to open his eyes, he nodded, tilting his head into the grass and all its bright flowers. “Dean,” he said softly. His laugh faded slowly, until it was entirely gone, and there was nothing left in his expression but an earnest, fierce love. “Would you do me the honour of... of being my best and closest friend, of healing my hurts, of loving me... and... and letting me do the same for you?”

Dean smiled from his core, like nothing could ever make him sad again. Yet he wasn’t sure what showed on his face. “I will,” he said. He sank lower over Castiel’s chest, sliding a hand into his hair, twirling it until he held Castiel’s head in both his hands, warm and heavy. “And will you, Castiel, promise to love me like I love you, heal my hurts and – and whatnot, and be as awesome as you always have been? And don’t write any more love letters to newspapers, Sam told me to make you promise – and oh, don’t yell at me too much when I do stupid things.”

Castiel nodded, clearly pleased with that. “I will.”

Dean kissed Castiel sweetly on the lips, soft and lingering. A bee buzzed past Dean’s ear, took some pollen from a flower, then flew away, and Dean didn’t even open his eyes.

Castiel nosed Dean away so he could take a breath, and Dean came up smiling.

“Oh, the ring,” Castiel said, patting at his waistcoat.

“It’s okay, we’ll get it later,” Dean said. “I don’t wanna move.”

Castiel huffed, lying back down with his head cupped in Dean’s hands. He watched the sky, then met Dean’s eyes and blinked slowly, happily. “Let’s at least make rings out of daisies,” Castiel suggested.

Dean nodded. “We’ll make our fingers green again, like in your letter.”

Your freckles bloom under the sun’s touch, as I watch from your side... as we lie back in the grass, in the field where you grew up.

“Ha! You memorised it! That’s so neat, Cas.”

Castiel struggled to roll over while still trapped under Dean’s thighs, so Dean let him go free, and they both lay down on their stomachs, shoulders still touching. Dean could feel the firm, hot skin of Castiel’s bicep through their shirts.

Dean stroked the back of Castiel’s calf with his shoe, then linked their feet over each other. “How does the next bit go?” Dean asked, voice low.

Castiel’s smirk spread into a grin, and he spoke the next line, “Your strong hands cup around tiny white flowers – these ones – fingers stained with green as we make daisy chains.

Dean was gentle with the flowers, not wanting to break any more than he needed. “We’re kinda making your fantasy come true right now, aren’t we?”

Castiel smiled, knocking his shoe against Dean’s. “Yes.”

Dean picked a single flower, and Castiel offered his hand so Dean could make him a ring. Dean kissed his hand before he started, and he stroked his cheek against the backs of Castiel’s fingers, eyes closed so he could enjoy the sense of bliss that overcame him. “I have some fantasies too,” he whispered, opening his eyes. He gazed at Castiel, then leaned in close and gave him a kiss – a bitey kiss, kept soft.

“Wh— Um.” Castiel licked his lips. “What manner of fantasies?”

Dean smirked, trying not to feel so bashful. “Where would I even start?”

“Perhaps you could write me a letter,” Castiel suggested. “A poem of sorts?”

“Like yours?”

“Just like mine. And tell me everything you never said aloud. You’ve been brave today, Dean, I know you have. You swallowed your pride over and over. You’ve admitted secrets to me – only a month ago, had some of those confessions slipped from your lips, you would’ve threatened to leave town and never set foot there again.” Castiel tilted his head, eyes flicking up. “Admittedly, you did leave town today—”

“No, you’re right,” Dean said, nodding. “I’ll write you something. I’ll tell you about what I want.”

“What would an example be?” Castiel asked, with a playful squint.

Dean huffed. “Um. That I... I kind of... Well, I really would like to break that bed.”

Castiel’s eyes widened. “You would?”

Dean nodded, dragging Castiel’s hand forward so he could play with it. “And afterwards... I wanna hold you. Like a husband’s meant to do for the person he loves. Like we’re just the same as any other two people who fall in love.”

Castiel stretched his fingers between Dean’s, and they held tight. “I’d love that, Dean,” he said. “Truly and sincerely, I would.”

Dean grinned, relieved. “Well, okay. We’ll do that, then.”

They shared a quiet few minutes while Dean made Castiel a ring, both laughing softly or huffing whenever the daisies broke and Dean had to start over.

Then Castiel raised a question, in a quiet voice, like he wasn’t sure he was meant to ask. “Are we really going to get married?”

Dean had to stop fiddling with daisies to answer. He spun a daisy between his fingers, staring at it as its petals blurred into a circle. The scent of the flowers was sharp in the air, and his fingernails were green. “I don’t know,” Dean said truthfully. “I can’t imagine any church in the country would marry us, not as we are, as men.”

“If you and I were to say, right now, we’re married – would you accept that as an honourable union?”

Dean smirked. “You mean, could I ask you make love to me and not feel guilty after?”

“Yes,” Castiel said, growing pink in the cheeks.

Dean thought about it. He watched the daisy twirl, and he thought about it some more. Then he swallowed, and asked, “If we posted a letter tonight, or tomorrow morning, how quickly would it reach Dimeville?”

“Well, it took us four hours to drive here. I imagine it could be there tomorrow, if not the day after. I visited this place a few weeks ago but I didn’t research all the intricacies of the postal service, so I can’t know for sure. I’ve... ah—” Castiel glanced away, “I was waiting for you before I attempted talk to anyone. I’ll only embarrass myself alone. But why do you ask about the post?”

Dean looked at Castiel steadily. “Sam said he wanted to be invited to the wedding. Even if it’s a ridiculous little ceremony in the cottage, with only Sam as a witness, he’d want to be there. Besides, he’s the only family I have. I want him there.”

“Oh. I understand,” Castiel said, starting to smile. “Well, I have no objections. Only—” He took the spinning daisy from Dean, and he held it still. “We should postpone that event for a week or so. Perhaps two. I’d like some time to get to know this side of you before we rush into event-planning.”

Dean kicked his heels back and swung his feet in the air. “Also no objections,” he said. “I’ve suppressed my urges to touch you thus far, I think can resist playing rock ‘n roll with you for that much longer.”

“So... we’re engaged?”

Dean grinned, nodding. “We’re engaged.”

In a rush of excitement, Castiel leaned against Dean and kissed him. Dean rolled onto his back, and after getting that far, it only seemed natural to let Castiel inch over and slide down between his thighs. Dean held Castiel’s stocky waist between his knees, arms tight around him.

You have a tattoo on your heart; I hope one day there’ll be another, and it will be my name. You wear your mother’s ring on your finger; I hope very soon you’ll wear mine right beside it. You walk with your knees wide; I hope someday you’ll lie back and hold me between them.

“Someday,” Dean whispered, panting against Castiel’s lips. “we do exactly this, but naked.”

Castiel chuckled against Dean’s neck, smooching him. “For that, Dean, I will never have any objections.”

· · · · · ·

Sam sipped at his coffee, then set it down on its saucer and reached for his marmalade toast. He took a big, crunchy bite, and he savoured it. When Dean wasn’t around, there was always enough bread left for Sam. And enough milk. Actually, the fridge was well-stocked in general. Funny how that correlated.

It was quiet around here these days. In the quiet, Sam had been thinking about getting a dog. If Dean got to follow his dreams and do whatever he pleased with his life, then Sam supposed he should be allowed that chance too. He was thirty-one years old; it was high time he got to be a proper bachelor. He never had that when he was living with his brother.

Sam worried, though: Dean might not appreciate having a mutt around once he came back. But then again, who was to say Dean wasn’t enjoying his time in Cornhaven? Sam hadn’t heard from Dean or Castiel since they left, and that was nearly three weeks ago. Sam’s best bet was that they’d become so lost in each other’s eyes (as they often were) that they’d forgotten Sam existed. He was surprisingly okay with that, so long as he got to eat the end crusts on the bread loaves.

Sam took another sip of coffee and pulled that morning’s copy of the Dimesville Times closer to him, wrinkling the tablecloth. He straightened the cloth, then flicked through the main articles in the paper.

He was about to read an article on the local stock market, when a corner of the paper caught his eye. He recognised the design: a quarter-page advertisement had been purchased by someone who had something to say, and the section was filled with text.

Engagement Notice, said the title.

“Oh, God,” Sam breathed. He didn’t need to read any further to know what this was. “Why do you two do this to me?”

He sighed and read on, compelled by the power of brotherly disdain.

This is for the tall one with the goofy hair. Yes, you. You with the brother. But it’s also to everyone who reads this newspaper and saw that thing with the same border as this a few weeks ago. We’ll give you an update. Here goes.

So that fella who wrote the other message (let’s call him Original Poet) went and met the love of his life in the town square. The whole time, Original Recipient was scared it wouldn’t be him, that some other person would show up, that a life would have to be shared with someone unloved. But miracles happen, don’t they? One happened that day. Love met love; they packed their bags and they left. They touched trees, and they lay among the daisies and they kissed and they kissed (and they kissed), and they made rings out of flowers... and when they were sick of all that soppy stuff, they decided to get married.

Sam chuckled, setting his hands over his face. He was happy for them. Hell, he was over the moon. Dean, married? And to his best friend in the whole, wide world, no less? It was an incredible prospect. But, on the other hand, Sam felt like thumping his head on the table out of frustration. Why couldn’t they keep things quiet? Why meet in public spaces, why shout at the world when all they had to do was whisper? Did they mean to start fifty different rumours in town? Because after they left, that was precisely what happened. At least two of those rumours included the idea that the lovers were the same sex, which worried Sam.

Sam rubbed his temples with his fingertips, then picked up his toast, and he took another bite before he could work up the nerve to keep reading.

Thus, Sam read, we cordially invite you, the tall one with the goofy hair and the brother, to the place at the end of the lane, where the road grows narrow and you stand up and cut your hand on something Mother Earth thought probably shouldn’t be pulled.

“What?” Sam said, squinting. “Dean, come on. I know you can write better than that. Is that a riddle or are you just being obnoxious?” Sam blinked, and his frown cleared. “Obnoxious,” he answered, speaking to the empty room.

With another sigh, he hunched over the paper and carried on reading.

Our address is in the top drawer of Original Poet’s desk. At home, not at the shop. The key’s on top of the door frame. You can just knock to get into the main building, since the man in the downstairs apartment with the angry face is supposedly friendly.

Sam slapped his forehead. Right now he couldn’t tell if Dean and Castiel were being subtly smart or glaringly stupid. Did they want to invite burglars in? Or stalkers?

“Why did you even bother?” Sam muttered. “Just send me a letter,” he complained at the newspaper. “My postbox works!”

Also, Original Poet is sorry for the newspaper thing. It seemed intriguing the first time but Original Recipient has decided that it would annoy the brother, and apparently that fact alone means he’s doing it regardless of what I tell him. I really am sorry.

“You’re forgiven, Cas,” Sam said, rolling his eyes.

Original Recipient thinks the newspaper thing is hilarious, okay. (I wish I could see your face, little brother.)

“Yeah, well, my face is glad I can’t see you,” Sam huffed. He cracked a smile, though. “Okay, fine, it’s a little bit funny. But not if someone figures out who you are! Did either of you even think that far ahead?!”

In case someone figures out who we are... well, perhaps that was the real reason we decided to announce things like this. It’s sometimes harder to notice or believe the unbelievable when it’s made glaringly obvious. Original Recipient learned that the day he met his love in the town square.

“Pff. Come on, nobody’s buying that.” Sam narrowed his eyes. “Wait... Oh, damn. You used pronouns for each of you. Now anyone who’s keeping score is going to know you’re both men. Did either of you re-read this?” Sam ran hand back through his hair, then he huffed and shook his head. “Whatever. It’s glaringly obvious, and – ha! – that’s apparently what you’re going for, isn’t it? You’re both indulging some crazy exposure fantasy, while I’m... talking to a newspaper.” He looked around in case anyone noticed. Of course, there was nobody there. If I had a dog, I’d be talking to my dog right now, Sam thought, gloomily.

If you want to be part of our ceremony, little brother, pack a bag and come to us as soon as you’re able. Send word ahead with a date; we’ll wait for your reply. All our love to you.

P.S. Bring a mattress. Or a couch. We only have the one bed and we spent all our money on food.

Sam stared at the end of the message with a straight face. Then he slumped back, tossing the last bit of his toast into his coffee out of exasperation. “I suppose I’d better go pack, then, hadn’t I?” he muttered. He stood to leave, and he took the newspaper with him.

· · · · · ·

One week hence, the following message appeared in the centrefold pages of the Dimeville Times, tucked between an advertisement for bottled cola and a reader-submitted article about an unseasonal increase in smoking chimneys in the town centre. The message in question included a forewarning from the editor, which read, This segment contains graphic and potentially offensive material. Sensitive readers beware. Please note that one name and select details have been changed to protect the identity of the author(s).

From there it went on, entitled: An Announcement.

Dear citizens of Dimeville, loyal readers of the Dimeville Times, and those of you in the wider regions who are fond of gossip,
If you have kept yourself updated on the issue of a certain poet and his lover, then you may be interested to know that my elder brother is now happily married to said poet. The ceremony was about as spectacular as a birthday party where a total of three people are in attendance, and one of those people (me) stands awkwardly while the other two kiss with great enthusiasm. There was a cake, and some streamers. Original Poet even put up some bunting, which was nice. (They tidied up before I came. There was still mud on the doormat, though.)

What made this event feel unarguably like a wedding, however, was the exchange of rings. One silver, one gold. Whatever doubts I had about this relationship initially, they all went up in a blaze of confetti as those rings slid onto fingers. I’ve never seen anyone look so in love as my brother and his husband did at that moment. Yes, his husband. Call it blasphemy or defamation of the term – I call it love.

All in all, it was a pleasant experience. I will admit some tears of joy were shed. Not mine... Definitely not mine. Some tears of discomfort were also shed, but that was only because I later purchased a puppy from a lovely woman in the village who had a litter of charming ash-coloured boxer crosses to sell. How was I meant to know my brother is terrified of small dogs? I reassured him that the puppy will get bigger, but that didn’t seem to help. (Original Poet finds this as amusing as I do – I think he and I bonded over this. Also, he likes my puppy. He named it George.)

Anyhow, as welcome as they assure me I am, I shan’t be staying here forever. The newlyweds need some time alone. I heard something offensive last night, just as I was falling asleep on the mattress in the kitchen. If any of you dear readers had heard that noise, you would’ve buried your head under the blanket and stuck your fingers in your ears, as I did. And when that failed to prevent you from hearing that noise, you would’ve gone to sit outside in the dark and hugged your puppy in the hope it would all be over soon. (It wasn’t.)

This morning Original Poet (now my brother-in-law) opened a letter from the editor of the Dimeville Times, Miss Cassie Robinson. Read aloud, the shocking contents of the letter had me promptly spill hot coffee on my lap. That letter is the only reason I bothered to pick up a pen and write this message today.

Miss Robinson informed myself and these two lovesick imps that readers from not only Dimeville but also the surrounding municipals have been sending letters to the newspaper’s headquarters, asking for more updates on the developing relationship between Original Poet and my brother (a.k.a. Original Recipient). Now, until I heard about this, I was certain there was nothing in store for these two chumps but danger and despair. Two men in love? As far as I was concerned, that story’s already written, and it doesn’t have a happy ending. I was expecting angry letters and death threats to come our way. (Perhaps the editor is kindly screening them for us?) For some reason, instead of being offered two hundred different ways to die, we’ve been offered a chance to write one more article for the newspaper.

I, for one, am honoured to perpetuate the population of Dimeville’s incessant need to pry into other people’s lives. I suspect most of you think these accounts are fictional. Believe what you will; at least this gives me a chance to complain. At present, my puppy George is chewing my leg. I just thought thousands of Dimeville’s residents had a right to know. This is what newspapers are for, after all! Information!

Being a chap who is steadfastly concerned about his brother’s wellbeing (especially when my brother is as brash as he is), I can assure all readers that this will be the last you hear of my family, at least in this capacity. Dimeville already knows enough about us; we ought not reveal ourselves any further. What my brother’s husband started in such a romantic way, I am hereby finishing in a rather more pragmatic fashion.

I suspect this is all the space I’ll be allowed, so I had better sign off. I have little idea how much the esteemed editor will remove from this account, but if she decides to leave it intact, I must applaud her. Oh, the things you’ll do for readers, Miss Robinson.

Still, my brother is happy with his poet. I hope he always is. Truly, I think they were meant for each other. Whether God, or fate, or pure, dumb luck had anything to do with it, I can’t know. But I hope all three play a part in a beautiful future.

Life in this quaint little cob house will go on, as it does for everyone. For today, we send our very good wishes to you, the reader, from the friends at some undisclosed location: Original Poet, Original Recipient, and myself: Suffering-But-Proud Brother.
(Oh, and George.)