“You will marry Anna and there’s an end to this discussion.” Michael Angell’s voice brooks no argument. Clenching his jaws until they whiten, his son Castiel turns on his heel and storms out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
Michael’s wife Rachel stares at the closed door for a moment.
“Well done,” she says mildly, opening her book again. There is no trace of sarcasm in her voice, but her husband knows her well enough to hear the reproach anyway. He glares at her, before striding across the room and following his son’s example.
“What did they say?” Gabriel, Castiel’s older brother, is sitting on the bed in the guest room, looking anxious. His wife Kali is standing by the window, looking even more imposing than usual with her belly all swollen. That strange, beautifying glow that sometimes emanates from pregnant women is positively radiant in her, competing with the soft light of the setting sun behind her.
It’s ironic that Gabriel, the rebel, with his wild youth and free spirit, is the one who ended up being the good son. Meanwhile, Castiel, who has lived his life according to his father’s decrees and has never strayed from the path, is the one who has incurred his father’s wrath. Apparently, being a degenerate trumps being a disgrace.
Castiel shakes his head and sits down beside his brother. He buries his face in his hands and sighs heavily.
“What does Anna say about it?” Kali asks.
Castiel peers at her between his fingers. “What can she say? She’s not happy to be marrying a gay man, but her parents are no more reasonable than ours. All she can do is make the best of the situation. She has suggested that we both begin looking for suitable lovers as soon as possible.”
Gabriel grins. “I knew there was a reason I liked that girl. Look on the bright side, Cassie! At least you’re marrying a sensible girl. Given enough time, she may even be able to remove that stick up your backside.”
Castiel removes his hands from his face and gives him a dark look.
Kali shakes her head. “Gabriel,” she sighs.
“Can you do it?” Anna asks. “I’m swamped with work and I can’t get away. I promised we’d pick them up today.”
Castiel sighs. Of all the things he wanted to do today, going to a jewellery shop to get their engagement rings was not on the list. But Anna rarely asks for favours and he knows she’s just as unhappy about their situation as he is, yet she has never once blamed him for it. This is the least he can do for her. At least she’s already picked out the rings and placed an order. All Castiel has to do is pick them up and pay for them. Not even he can get that wrong.
“Yes, of course,” he says into the phone.
The jeweller is a man named Dean Winchester. He is about Castiel’s own age; tall, green-eyed and with a cocky grin. He is the most beautiful man Castiel has ever seen.
“Can I help you?”
Castiel sees Dean’s lips move, but he can’t quite make sense of the words. All he is aware of is the sensation of falling. It’s not as pleasant as he would have expected.
“Hello?” One of Dean’s hands - large, steady, smooth - waves in front of his face and the man leans closer. There is a dusting of freckles across his nose. Of course there are freckles. “Are you okay, man?”
Define ‘okay’, Castiel thinks.
Any moment now he is going to tell Dean why he is here. He is going to give him Anna’s name and ask for their engagement rings. Then he is going to pay for them and leave the shop. Four months from now, he is going to stand at the altar and lie through his teeth. After that, he will never stop lying.
He is never going to see Dean again. The thought makes him feel ill.
“No,” he says. “No, I am not ‘okay’.”
“So your family is making you marry this chick, because they think you’re some kind of degenerate freak that needs to be ‘saved’?” Dean’s voice is contemptuous.
They are sitting in Dean’s workshop, where Dean invited Castiel to talk. Castiel can’t explain why he trusts this man enough to tell him his life story, nor why Dean seems to care. He thinks it may have something to do with that strange feeling he gets in his chest whenever he meets Dean’s gaze. Judging by the way that Dean doesn’t meet his stare, except when he apparently forgets to look away, Castiel thinks that maybe he feels it too. Still, Castiel knew he wouldn’t understand.
“You don’t understand,” he says. “It’s not as simple as that.” He did not mean for it come out as pleading.
Dean snorts. Castiel never thought a snort could sound attractive. Then again, he has never met anyone like Dean before. Dean can make anything seem attractive.
“No, I understand perfectly,” he says, “and it is that simple. Your family are a bunch of religious nuts who care more about what their congregation think of them than about their own children’s happiness. What I don’t understand is why you listen to them.”
Castiel stares at him with his head tilted. “What else can I do?” he asks.
“Disobey,” Dean says, as if it is the most obvious thing in the world. “Tell them to go fuck themselves, ‘coz you’re damn well going to fuck whoever you please. Or be fucked by, whatever.”
If Castiel were the type to blush, he is sure that he would be scarlet by now. Hearing Dean talk about fucking is doing things to his body that he hasn’t experienced since he was a teenager. Especially since Dean doesn’t seem to be entirely unaffected either. His voice is rougher than usual and there is something in his eyes. Castiel can’t define it, but he knows this can’t all be in his head.
Either way, he has to admit that there is a certain appeal to the idea (not the one about fucking Dean, that one’s obvious, but the one about telling his family to fuck themselves). But there would be consequences.
“They would disown me,” he murmurs, staring down into his glass. Dean keeps a bottle of whiskey in his workshop. Castiel probably shouldn’t have been as scandalised by this revelation as he was. He probably shouldn’t find it sexy either. He is making a lot of discoveries about himself today.
“So let them disown you,” Dean says.
“They’re my family.” Surely that means something.
“They’re douchebags.” And that means something, too.
“Where would I go? My father owns my apartment building and anyway, my family would come looking for me. You don’t know my father. He wouldn’t hesitate to lock me up until the wedding and then drag me there by force.”
Now Dean looks down into his glass. Apparently, he is the type to blush.
“I don’t know, man,” he says, but Castiel thinks he does. “I guess, if you had nowhere to go, you could stay here. At least until you found someplace of your own.”
Castiel looks around at the workshop. It’s a nice enough place. Dean obviously spends a lot of time here, because the room is littered with his things, as well as his designs, his materials and his half-finished pieces. It says something about Castiel’s life that he has never felt as comfortable anywhere as he does here. However, there aren’t a lot of surfaces where one can lie down to sleep.
Dean rolls his eyes, obviously reading his mind. There’s a smile playing on his lips, though, so Castiel doesn’t mind.
“Not here, stupid,” he says and the insult sounds like an endearment. “I have an apartment upstairs. You could crash on the sofa - or something.”
“Oh.” Castiel stares at Dean. He doesn’t quite know what to say to his offer. As far as he knows, strangers don’t usually invite other strangers to stay in their homes. “Thank you.”
Dean’s cheeks are pink again. “Don’t mention it!” he grunts. “So, does that mean that you’ve decided? You’re gonna live your own life, regardless of what your family thinks?”
Castiel considers it for a moment. He thinks about his mother, her soft smiles and affectionate looks. He thinks about Gabriel and Kali and the little one growing Kali’s stomach. He thinks about his apartment, full of things he doesn’t need and maybe doesn’t even like. He thinks about his father, how distant he is, has always been, and how he probably always knew. He thinks about Anna, so sweet and spirited, who deserves be loved.
“Yes,” he says. “Yes, it does. I think I’d like to take you up on that offer.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Gabriel’s voice is incredulous through the phone. He doesn’t sound angry or upset, though. If anything, he sounds proud. “You’re shacking up with the guy who made your engagement rings?”
“Dean has been kind enough to let me stay with him for a while.” That’s stretching the truth. It’s been three weeks now and he isn’t planning to move anytime soon. He knows that he should probably be looking for his own place, but he doesn’t like the thought of spending his evenings in an empty apartment - not when they can be spent with Dean instead.
In the beginning, Castiel worried that Dean would grow weary of him and ask him to leave. So far, however, Dean has seemed happy enough to have him there. In fact, his face always seems to brighten whenever Castiel enters a room. Dean’s only family is a brother, Sam, who is away at university. He doesn’t seem to have many friends. Castiel suspects that before they met, Dean was as lonely as he was.
“I’m sure he has,” Gabriel says, and he’s laughing now. “So what did Anna say?”
Castiel looks up when the door to Dean’s bedroom opens and Dean walks out into the living room. He’s wearing his leather jacket and those jeans that Castiel loves so much. Even after three weeks, he still has the ability to take Castiel’s breath away.
“She was very supportive,” he tells Gabriel distractedly. “Of course, she’s free now to marry whomever she wants.”
“Cas?” Dean taps his watch, signalling that they have to go. They are going to pick up Sam at the airport. He is staying with them during his spring break. Castiel looks forward to meeting him, but Dean has seemed nervous about it all week.
Castiel suddenly becomes aware that Gabriel is talking and that he has no idea what he’s been saying.
“I’m sorry,” he says, still staring at Dean, who stares back. He didn’t use to, but something has changed in the last week or so. “I’m afraid I didn’t catch that.”
“I said,” Gabriel says, and Castiel can easily picture the soft smile on his face, “that so are you, little bro. So are you.”
Castiel puzzles over that after he and Gabriel hangs up and all the way out to Dean’s car. He’s sure there was some meaning hidden in Gabriel’s voice, but he can’t make it out. It worries him.
They climb into the car and Dean smiles at him before turning the key in the ignition. As they drive towards the airport in companionable silence, listening to Led Zeppelin sing about “Good Times Bad Times”, Castiel doesn’t worry about anything at all.
I know what it means to be alone
I sure do wish I was at home
I don't care what the neighbors say
I'm gonna love you each and every day
You can feel the beat within my heart
Realize, sweet babe, we ain't ever gonna part
- Led Zeppelin, “Good Times Bad Times"