Actions

Work Header

One White Lie

Work Text:

Castiel takes a deep breath and rings the doorbell. As he hears the synthesised noise echo and jingle through the Winchester house, he takes a second to straighten the lapels of his jacket. He doesn’t need to run through what he’s going to say – he’s already planned and edited and rehearsed it a thousand times. He is going to ask Dean Winchester out to dinner. If it’s not too forward, he’ll say, perfectly charming. You see, I’ve seen you around the neighbourhood and you always seem so earnestand I’d really like to get to know you bette—

Behind the door, there appears a figure distorted by the foggy glass panes, who shifts and scuffles for a second, and then Castiel only has time to nervously clasp his hands together in front of his body before it opens and the moment is upon him.

The door swings open, and Castiel forgets what he was supposed to say.

A gangly kid in an under-sized baseball jacket blinks at him. “Can I help you?”

This is not Dean. Castiel was meant to see Dean. Is this the right house? Of course it’s the right house; for months Castiel has been shyly watching Dean mow his lawn and maintain his car out on this driveway. This is Dean’s younger brother – they have the same set to their shoulders, the same big hands. Castiel will ask to speak to Dean, or apologise and say that he’ll come back some other time. There’s no reason this has to be a disaster. “I’m Castiel,” he starts.

The boy frowns. “Nice to meet you. I’m Sam.” His hands fidgets on the door-jamb as he waits. “Sorry – do you… need something, or…?”

Castiel panics. He intends to thank Sam for his time, and excuse himself with the request that Sam tell Dean that he dropped by. However, in a moment of blind fear, what comes out of his mouth instead are the words, “Could you spare a moment for Jesus Christ?”

 “Oh.” Sam’s face falls. “Right – thank you, but no. Have a nice day.” He gives a tight smile and he shuts the door.

As Castiel stares dejectedly at the Winchesters’ front door, he considers that he may be the most pathetic human being on the planet.

Somehow Castiel works up the courage to try again. It’s a beautiful day, bright and clear and full of promises. Castiel wears his favourite blue tie – knots it neatly and then loosens it again, with that thought that maybe it’ll make him look hip and casual. He brushes his hair, shaves twice, and takes a mouthful of liquor from the kitchen cabinet before he goes.

This time he goes on a Monday, when he assumes Sam will be at school, and when he also knows Dean will be having his day off, due to an unceremonious amount of watching from afar – learning that Dean sleeps in late on his day off, collects the mail in his pyjamas. Failure is impossible now. He crosses the street, checks his reflection in the living room windows as he walks up the path, and rings the bell.

A moment passes, and then the door opens.

There is Dean, tall, a little crumpled-looking in jeans and an old T-shirt, and looking for the most part as though he just woke up. Heart erratic in his ribcage, Castiel hesitates – has he come too early? has he interrupted something? is Dean with someone? – before he inhales deeply and goes for, “Hello.”

Dean kneads at one eye with his knuckles and blinks a couple times before looking at him properly. “Hi,” he says, and then recognition flickers dimly over his features as he takes in Castiel’s face. “I know you, don’t I?”

Castiel feels a little squirmy inside his shoes, but he tries not to let himself become ridiculous. He tilts his chin up and meets Dean’s eyes steadily. “My name’s Castiel. I live at number 3109. I don’t think we’ve met.” We’ve never met, he amends in his head. If we had, I would remember, seeing as I’ve catalogued our every interaction, and so far, aside from that time I threw back a soccer ball that rolled across the road into my yard and you waved a thank-you at me, our interactions stand at nil.

Dean tips his head back a little, thinking it over. “Castiel, yeah – hey. I do know you.” He suddenly grins, and it’s a bright thing that lights up his whole face. “My brother told me about you – you’re the Jehovah’s Witness, right?”

Castiel’s heart sinks. He opens his mouth, but finds no words coming readily to him, and closes it again. “I— well, I—”

Dean raises an eyebrow expectantly.

“Yes,” Castiel says, and immediately afterwards wants to throw himself in front of a car – and yet, by the power of some divinity pulling some kind of practical joke, he finds himself unable to stop. “That’s me.” He tries a smile that he hopes will be reassuring and vaguely holy. “So, are you… interested in the Lord’s work, then?”

For a second, Dean opens his mouth like he’s got an answer, but he seems to change his mind. He looks at Castiel, a curious, amused expression on his face, and – shit, did that happen? – he looks Castiel over, a quick up-down, with a smile that has Castiel hot at the ears and collar, and Castiel thinks, fuck it. What does it matter? It's just one lie. Just one, tiny, little white lie. He can handle this.

“Yeah,” Dean answers, and he tucks his bottom lip behind his teeth in a half-hearted kind of attempt to batten down his grin. “Sure. Come on in.”

In hindsight, it may have not been the best method of getting to know Dean. It may have been, in fact, the singular worst approach to setting up a relationship, but Dean had come to the door sleepy and rumpled and really, really cute, and he had the perfect excuse for conversation all curled up in his soft, Southern mouth ready for Castiel to take, and it would seem he is now past the point of return. He just has to endure Sam’s narrow-eyed looks of suspicion and the terrifying weight of ignorance on his own shoulders every time Dean asks him about something to do with religion. Castiel is agnostic; he figures there’s something out there, but whether it gives a crap about any of them is a whole other story. This fact is neither convenient nor conducive to lying about being a Jehovah’s Witness. 

Thankfully, however, Dean only asked him about his ‘beliefs’ a few times – the first time Dean invited him in, there was a long period of awkward silence where they sat either end of the couch before Dean said, “So… are you gonna tell me about the Lord, then, or…?”, at which Castiel had mmm-ed in what he hoped was a cryptic way and then said vaguely, “He does work in mysterious ways.”

Needless to say, that night he had done more research.

So far, he doesn’t seem to have needed it, though. For the most part, they talk about their personal lives. Castiel starts by nervously trying out Dean’s religious beliefs and background, his family, and then slowly moves onto the more general – how long he’s lived here (six years, since Sam wanted to go to a fancy high school away from home, to maximise his hopes at getting into law school, and Dean wanted to go wherever Sam went), what he does for a living (he’s a nurse in paediatrics at the local hospital), his favourite food (pecan pie), how he takes his coffee (weak, with sugar – he says it’s no good calming down over-excited children if he’s hopped up on caffeine). Castiel wants to write it all down, scribbled in permanent ink across his skin and his walls, so he never forgets. Dean, who claims to be uncreative in his interrogations, asks of Castiel exactly the same questions – eight months, having moved recently from Pontiac, Illinois – ‘an interesting place, if you’re particularly fascinated by corn’; physics professor at a nearby college; lasagne; black, no sugar.

“Physics?” Dean asks, frowning.

“Yes.” Castiel shifts on the couch, tilts his body towards Dean’s. The cup of black coffee in one hand sloshes dangerously as he rearranges his legs, tucking one foot up on top of his knee – mirror image to Dean. “My speciality is quantum mechanics – I was sought after for their research team, but I decided I would rather teach.”

“Uh – doesn’t that cause any conflict?”

Castiel looks at him. “What do you mean?”

“Well, you know… what you teach, versus what you preach.” Dean gestures vaguely upwards, pointing to some indefinite thing Out There. “The Big Bang, the atom, all that jazz.”

“Oh.” Castiel tips his head down to stare intently at the floor. Right. yes. Jehovah’s Witness. “Well,” he starts slowly, hoping that the scuffed floorboards of the Winchester living room will miraculously give him some easy, sensible answer. “It is controversial… but I try to reconcile the two facts with one another. I like to think that God didn’t as much create the earth and the heavens, as he did create physics to build the earth and heavens for him.”

“Huh.” That’s all Dean says. He sips his coffee with a quiet slurp that’s equal parts gross and endearing, and when he looks back up at Castiel afterwards, he presses his lips together to dry the coffee still clinging to them and then runs the tip of his tongue along them, just to get it all. Castiel is sure that there couldn’t be a single drop of coffee left on Dean’s mouth, but Dean licks his lips one more time before he lowers his mug to settle in his lap. Castiel’s eyes follow the movement instinctively, and when he looks back up, their eye-contact is shy and fleeting. “I guess you’re not like most Jehovah’s Witnesses, then.”

Castiel huffs a short laugh. “No, I’m not.”

For some reason, Dean seems pleased by this, and although they have only met twice – Castiel coming once a month, as dictated by his supposed religious traditions, bearing copies of The Watchtower he bought off Amazon, to ring the Winchester’s doorbell and ask whether they need the light of the Lord in their life – Dean asks him whether their evangelisation happen at an absolute maximum of once a month, or if he can visit more frequently.

Sam isn’t sure about Castiel; that much is obvious. Castiel wouldn’t go so far as to say that Sam actively dislikes him – he gets the impression that Sam tries his hardest not to actively dislike anyone. Whenever Sam is the one to answer the door, though, he starts some speech about how they respect his views and admire his commitment to the cause, but they’re not really interested in joining his religion, and it is usually at this point that Dean interrupts with, “Is that Cas?” from the living room or kitchen, and comes barrelling through to invite him in.

Cas – a nickname with which Dean has taken to calling across the road to greet him, when they stand in their socks at the bottom of their respective garden paths to collect their mail, when Castiel heads out to work and Dean is cutting the grass with his sleeves rolled up to the elbow. Castiel meets his eyes, and he realises then that he’s smiling like an idiot, all gummy and wide enough that his face hurts, so he hastily tries to rearrange his expression into something more sombre.

“C’mon, Sam, don’t be rude,” Dean says a little breathlessly, that day, as he props one elbow against the doorjamb in a gesture so exaggeratedly casual it hurts. “Come on in.”

Sam moves to sit on the bottom step of the stairs and watches appraisingly as Castiel comes in, and although Dean and Castiel’s conversations are by no means private, and although most sensibly, Castiel should be ‘discussing his beliefs’ with Dean and Sam, Dean comes over flustered and demands of Sam, “Don’t you have some miotis paper to write, or something?”

“It’s not a paper, it’s a thesis,” Sam replies snippily, his typically sweet adolescent features being breached by a sour look of Biblical proportions. “And it’s meiosis.”

Castiel looks across at him, surprised, and asks, “You’re studying karyokinesis?”

Sam glances between Castiel and Dean with suspicion, and then says, “Yeah.” He sticks his hands deep in the pockets of his jeans. “Well, it’s my individual research pair. Nondisjunction during anaphase, that kind of stuff.”

Castiel nods. “Are you looking at trisomy or monosomy?”

“Trisomy.” Sam leans back against the banister at the foot of the stairs. “You know a lot about it?”

“I looked at Patau Syndrome a lot in college,” Castiel says off-handedly. “If you ever needed it, I could help you with your paper.” He realises, then, that he barely knows this family – that they barely know him – and that he’s meant to be here on the business of Christian conversion, and that both the Winchesters are staring at him. “If you wanted, I mean.”

Dean’s eyebrows lift. “I thought you were strictly physics,” he comments to Castiel, his mouth the tease of a bright smile that held in it all the Kansas summers and open skies he’d described in the weeks before, and when Castiel looks back at him, there’s colour pinned to the hinge of his jaw. They haven’t seen each other in ten days.

“I took a lot of science classes in college – mainly physics, of course, but chemistry and biology as well, where I could,” Castiel says. Dean is still looking at him, and he feels himself flush upwards from the collarbone. He drags his eyes away, choosing to look at Sam instead. “I like knowing as much as I can about the universe.”

Sam’s mouth pulls downwards into an impressed almost-pout, and he nods. “Fair enough.”

For a second it seems as though he is going to say something about how this is all very contradictory to Castiel’s religious teachings, but he exchanges a look with Dean – something unspoken between them, like Castiel has just affirmed something that Dean has already told Sam – and nothing is said. That Dean talks about Castiel in the lapses between their meetings pleases Castiel, and he looks away from Dean for fear of his own face betraying him.

“So,” Dean says loudly. “Meiosis.”

“Meiosis,” Sam repeats, and he inclines his head in a half-nod as he seems to understand that Dean is trying to subtly dismiss him. “Yup. It’s a thing. That I have to study. At some point.”

“Now, preferably,” Dean says.

Castiel determinedly fixes his eyes on an old family photo mounted on the wall – Dean squinty in the sunlight with a fishing rod, Sam wearing a baseball cap and a toothy grin, a man and a woman behind them with the similarity of brow and nose, respectively, that they are clearly distinguishable as Dean and Sam’s parents. It’s silly, childish even, but before he can stop himself, there is a part of his brain that tells him that they look like a nice, open family, and that maybe they would approve of him. If there were anything for them to approve, that is.

Sam stretches lazily. “I don’t technically have to go anywh—”

Sam.

With a theatrical sigh, Sam grabs hold of the banister and hauls himself to his feet so that he may trudge away upstairs, his every footstep echoing pointedly as he stamps his feet for dramatic effect. He pauses halfway up, turning to say, “Oh – and thanks for the offer. To help with my thesis, I mean.” He nods, a little hesitant, but he smiles anyway. “I’ll be sure to let you know if I need anything.” He continues on his way, and sings, “Have fuuuun,” from the top of the stairs, before he disappears around the corner.

Castiel looks across at Dean in time to see an incriminating flush of colour over his face at Sam’s comment. “Sorry about that,” Dean says, and he rubs awkwardly at the back of his neck – although technically there is still no reason that Dean and Castiel should need to meet in private. “He just likes to—”

“It’s perfectly alright,” Castiel interrupts in an attempt to reassure, but then catches himself as he worries that he might have offended Dean somehow, and hastily adds, “I’m sorry – I talked right over you – what were you—?”

“No, don’t worry about it.” Dean sticks his hands into the pockets of his jeans, thumbs tucked through his empty belt-loops, and tilts his elbows out in front of him at harsh angles, as though trying to hide behind them. “I mean, I was just – saying, like, Sam means well - it wasn’t important. And now I’m rambling.” Dean laughs sheepishly down in the direction of the floor, and then peeks up at Castiel through his eyelashes. “Do you, uh , want a coffee or anything?”

Castiel lets himself smile. “Coffee would be great.”

It’s the warmest day of the year so far, the sun falling in warm dusty stripes through the slats of the living room blinds, and there’s baseball humming on the TV with the volume turned down, a swing, strike, and cheer that rumbles tinny through the plastic speakers as Dean leads Castiel through to the kitchen. There are crumbs on the counter and a packet of ham left open, waiting for its bread and cheese. A radio mounted on top of the fridge is quietly crackling some news about what’s new in the music charts; Dean reaches up to the knob and twists it down to a burble before he starts to bustle about with the coffee machine.

Castiel leans back against the counter on the far side of the kitchen, watching Dean move – his easy gait, the shuffle on the balls of his feet, almost dancing unconsciously as he fetches mugs from the cupboard above his head and sets them on the counter. The word fidgety comes to mind, but it doesn’t quite apply; Dean reminds Castiel of slow-moving rivers, perpetual motion, water over round pebbles. He is wearing grey socks and an ugly checked shirt with the decisive, lopsided creases of a talentless attempt at ironing.

“Sam’s uncertain about me,” Castiel states. He doesn’t mean it with any malice; he is simply stating what he thinks to be fact.

Dean looks over, surprised. “What?”

Castiel doesn’t repeat himself. He squints a little in the harsh light that spills through the wide glass doors at the far end of the room and glints off every polished surface, and waits for Dean to respond.

The coffee machine whirrs quietly, and then, with a clunk, finishes. Dean pulls the jug of hot coffee out from the bottom of machine, as he pours, he hums a little under his breath, contemplatively, and then says, “He just doesn’t know you,” before he pours.

“So he’s suspicious as a result,” Castiel surmises as he takes the mug of steaming coffee that Dean passes over – black, no sugar. The way he likes it.

Dean exhales thoughtfully through his teeth, and as he tilts back against the counter, across the small room from Castiel, he says, “I guess he just thinks that door-to-door religious conversion seems like a pretty weird way to make friends.”

Although something, somewhere, in Castiel is buzzing hyper-aware with the finite variety of paths down which their relationship could progress from ‘friend’, at that particular moment he’s caught up in his having reached this point – friendship, in Dean Winchester’s kitchen, drinking his coffee – where three months ago he couldn’t have mustered the courage to cross the road and hand him some misdelivered mail, and would instead have driven two miles to hand it in and have it redirected.

The coffee is snug between two hands, warm against his skin. It’s too hot to drink immediately, but he presses the side of the mug against the bow of his mouth, and he peers over the rim at Dean, who he finds to be doing something similar. Dean snorts an inelegant, embarrassed laugh into his cup, but doesn’t look away; Castiel hastily takes a premature gulp of coffee, so as to break the eye contact, and burns his mouth.

He splutters, gasps – accidentally blurting out a sharp, “Jesus, fuck!” and spitting a fair amount of coffee down his shirt, and Dean laughs at him before walking away. This leaves Castiel with a moment alone, which he devotes to contemplating the fastest way to disappear into the ground, or kill himself, or both, but before he can decide on throwing himself through the glass door or doing a good old-fashioned Sylvia Plath, Dean returns with an ragged towel.

“I’m very sorry,” Castiel says, mortified, and is about to work through a lengthy apology in which he would excuse himself as having a cold or the flu or tuberculosis and therefore being on some debilitating medication which completely impedes his ability to function sensibly within human society – except Dean steps in close and presses the towel to Castiel’s chest, and in another excellent demonstration of his social prowess, Castiel forgets what he was going to say. “I – see, I—”

Dean looks up at him. His eyelashes are cast a warm, brassy colour in the bright light from the back windows, like autumn. “You…?”

“Yes.” Castiel has no idea what’s coming out his mouth. “Well, no. It was the coffee. I’m sorry.”

“It’s my fault,” Dean says. “I made it too hot.”

“You did.” Castiel has not completely given up on recovering this situation, however; he adds, “My commendations, though, on an excellent warming. It was – thorough.”

Dean grins. The hand holding the towel drops away, but he doesn’t retreat into his own space. “So tell me – how does using the Lord’s name in vain fit into it all?”

Castiel squints at him for a second before he remembers swearing. “Oh.”  He swallows hard and tries to come up with a coherent answer, which is a task of gargantuan proportions considering that roughly eighty percent of his concentration is already occupied with not looking at Dean’s mouth. “Our doctrine states that it’s alright to do so… as it means we’re closer to Him.  Capital H.” He nods sagely. “It isn’t blasphemy as much as it is calling the Lord near to you to assist you in your daily life.”

“Like a phone-a-friend on a talk show?” Dean asks, and Castiel can’t tell if he’s deliberately fucking with him or not.

“Precisely.” Castiel tries a smile. “The wonders of the Lord never cease.”

Castiel wonders how much bullshit can come out of a person’s mouth in one conversation before they start to taste it.

Castiel invites Dean to lunch. It’s not a big deal – on the phone (because he has Dean’s cell number now, which he texts no more than three time a day, and always with a carefully calculated wait between responses; let Dean think he’s busy converting atheists or something and can’t possibly spare the time to think of him) he had described the event as a quiet picnic in his garden, where they could discuss the beauty of nature and God’s creation. It had sounded ridiculous, even to Castiel, but Dean bought it, so he wasn’t going to complain.

At two o’clock, Dean is due to arrive.

At one-thirty, Castiel is still fretting about what to wear. He has tried on approximately four suits, one holey sweatshirt that he used to go running in, and a Hawaiian shirt emblazoned with the words SURF FOREVER over the breast pocket that his sister bought him during her honeymoon.

This is the shirt that he is still wearing when the doorbell rings.

He doesn’t have time to change – but he should at least lose the hat, he thinks, casting off a battered straw thing that he won at a fair once -  and he quickly checks the oven on his way to the door (another twenty minutes), plus one pit-stop at the hall mirror to flatten his hair. He exhales sharply into his palm to reassure himself of his own mouth’s Arctic freshness, pats down his pockets, and opens the door.

The mailman holds up a small cardboard box. “Parcel for one Mr. Novak?”

Castiel stares at him. “Yes.” He isn’t disappointed. He isn’t. “Thank you.” He signs for it, and is just taking the parcel out of the man’s hands with a muttered, have a nice day, when he spots Dean crossing the road. He hesitates in the doorway and watches him walk, considering his options – stand here for the next forty seconds while Dean slowly walks over? Head back inside and begin to occupy himself with something with which he’ll almost immediately have to disengage? Forty seconds is a very long time, Castiel realises, and is beginning to close the door so that he can wait quietly in the hallway when Dean calls across to him and waves excitedly.

“Oh,” Castiel exclaims. “I didn’t see you there!”

Dean raises an eyebrow as he comes to stop in front of the door. “Bullshit. You were watching me cross the road.”

“I thought you were someone else,” Castiel tries feebly, but he lets Dean in.

The house is vacuumed, dusted, polished, all cluttered cleared away, except for a copy of Fight Club, which is strategically placed on the side table – Castiel had seen Sam watching it the last time he went around the Winchesters’, and thought he might find some common ground in reading the book, or at least being seen as having read it. Dean doesn’t notice, and as Castiel trails after him into the living room, he contemplates whether mentioning it outright would be overkill.

“Nice house,” Dean says. He reaches out, touches the frame of Castiel’s old graduating photograph on the mantelpiece, and then turns back to face him. For the first time, he takes in Castiel as a whole. He snorts. “Nice shirt, too.”

“Thank you,” Castiel says.  He is acutely aware of Dean’s eyes moving over his furniture, his books, the hideous cushion Anna embroidered for his birthday when she was in the fifth grade. He is sentimental; he hoards. This is the first time Dean has been over to his house. “Would you like to see the garden?” he asks, for lack of anything else to offer, short of describing the origins and value of every object in the room – an impulse which is hard to fight down when he catches Dean looking at his signed copy of A Brief History of Time.

Dean looks across at him. “Sure.”

Castiel is self-conscious about his house, but he’s proud of his garden. It’s larger than he should have been able to afford, but when he fell in love with it, and, consequently, with the house attached to it, he borrowed money from his sister, and since moving in has been writing an endless streams of theory papers to publish in various science journals in order to make the money back. It has a red-brick patio with a table and a bench, wood painted green, and shallow troughs of flowers on three sides, with the exception of a series of low steps down onto the grass. From there it’s just fresh, neatly maintained lawn, until the edges of the yard, where carefully cultivated beds grow flowers, vegetables, low shrubbery, and one weedy-looking pear sapling which leans tiredly back against the fence for support. Castiel points out to Dean the snap-dragons, the timid azaleas, the begonias just uncurling in their beds, the baby curls of wisteria climbing up the side of his house with the aid of a wooden lattice painted a caramel brown.

“And what’s that one?” Dean asks, and he points at a group of low clay pots, from which a cluster of flowers in pastel colours are just sprouting.

Castiel looks at him and for a second, neglects to follow the arm extended towards the flowers. “Hmm?” Dean’s eyes flicker then – from the pots on the other side of the patio, to Castiel’s face – and Castiel blinks back into the conversation, turning in the direction Dean indicates. “Oh. Sweetpeas.”

Dean tilts back on his heels a little when he laughs. “Well, thanks, honeybunch, but you can call me Dean.”

It feels a little like Castiel just walked into a trap, but he doesn’t think he could accuse Dean Winchester of knowing enough about gardening to set up a joke so convoluted, and so he simply glances away, feeling the threat of some idiotic grin and a heat in his ears and neck – all stemming from Dean’s eyes on him. Castiel chants under his breath, it wasn’t even that funny, because he can sense a kind of giddy hysteria rising inside his chest, and Dean is still looking at him. “And I have wildflowers,” Castiel says out of nowhere, for want of anything to say. "For the bees."

“Bees?”

Bombus affinis,” Castiel says, and he clears his throat. “They’re endangered, so I look after them. Birds are encouraged to visit the front yard only – you saw the bird feeder on the porch? – but this… this is a no-birds zone.” He nods.

They gaze together at the wildflowers, the exuberant bursts of mustard-yellow and pale blue, as though waiting to see a huddle of bumblebees going about their pollen-collecting business at any moment. Then Dean makes a short noise, which, had more been exerted into it, might have been a laugh – a short, wheezy huff underneath his breath.

“What?” Anxious not to be made fun of, Castiel looks over at him, face screwed up in the sunlight. “What’s funny?”

“Nothing,” Dean says. He has this ridiculous smile plastered all across his face, laugh-lines stretching from the corners of his eyes, and Castiel doesn’t understand why, nor why the long exhalation that Dean lets out afterwards seems to sound a little wistful. Dean rubs a hand along the back of his neck. “You just. Care a lot, you know?”

Castiel is unsure what to make of that. There is colour creeping up from Dean’s jawline, the embarrassed dart of his eyes, and Castiel is under the impression that maybe Dean thinks he’s said too much; on the contrary, Castiel doesn’t understand what Dean means at all.  “Well,” he tries awkwardly, waving an ambiguous hand at the garden. “All of God’s creatures…”

“Yeah.”  Dean frowns. He seems to be searching Castiel’s face for something, and although Castiel stands up under his scrutiny, squinting through the glare that reflects off his back windows, he doesn’t know if Dean finds what he’s looking for. Then Dean’s eyes flash sideways, past him, and focus on something in distance. “Hey – look!”

Without any further warning, Dean lunges inelegantly past Castiel, and when Castiel turns to follow him, he finds Dean swaying like a riverreed with his hands held above his head. As Castiel pays closer attention, he realises that the sycamore in the garden next-door, which looms over the back left corner of Castiel’s own yard, is dropping winged seeds which spin in excited, random swirls down the ground. Dean grabs out for one, then another, but they twirl out of reach every time and kamikaze into the grass.

“What are you doing?” Castiel asks.

Dean drops his arms to his sides, a little sheepish. “Helicopters,” he says, by way of explanation, and he points at the overhanging branch which releases a small handful of them from its leaves every time the wind rustles through. “If you catch one, you get to make a wish.”

Castiel hesitates, unsure, but he moves to stand beside Dean, in the shade below the leafy canopy, through which thin fingers of light shimmer, and land on their hair and skin in trembling ripples as though seen through water. He watches Dean try again, stumbling after each twist and pirouette of the seeds as they come down and evade him. The seeds – helicopters, as Dean calls them, based on the thin membranous wings that stretch out from either side of the seed, which aid their flight – follow a certain trajectory, Castiel calculates, watching the route they take down, the dancing turns they take mid-air.

“Don’t worry,” Dean says breathlessly, as he pauses in his attempts and frowns up at the tree. He sticks his hands deep in his pockets and excuses himself with, “It’s just the sort of dumb superstitious thing us heathens and atheists believe in.”

The wind rattles overhead one last time, letting the seeds fly, and after a moment to track one with his eyes, Castiel reaches out and catches it.

Dean stares at him. “Well, damn.”

Castiel shrugs. “Physics.” He feels a little embarrassed, and opens his fist to look at the seed trapped there. One of the wings is a little crumpled, but otherwise it remains perfectly intact. “Now what?”

“Make a wish.”

Castiel considers the seed, turning it over in his hand. “I don’t know what to wish for,” he lies, and, conveniently, looks up to see that Dean has crossed the few steps towards him and is now close enough that he, too, can now peer into Castiel’s hand. In the light, his freckles stand out clearly across the bridge of his nose; his hair is wheat-coloured at the ends.

“Well, I could give you some pointers, but I don’t think it’d work, then,” Dean says.

They are standing close enough together that Dean’s breathing is audible, as is the dim rustle of wind catching in the fabric of his shirt, and Castiel can’t think of a single thing to wish for, except for new shoelaces, which is both a waste of a wish and also ridiculous since his lack of functional shoelaces is the result of his own unwillingness to go all the way to a shoe-shop, or alternatively, to wish for a total lack of repercussions if he were to lean across and press his mouth to Dean’s, which seems statistically impossible, and therefore, also a waste. Although, he thinks then that surely the whole purpose of a wish is to reach for unattainable things. It’s all very complicated, he concludes, this wishing business, and so he opts out entirely and holds out his hand to Dean instead. “You have it.”

Dean shakes his head. “I can’t take your wish, man.”

This isn’t going according to plan at all. “Take it.” Castiel frowns at him. “I can’t think of anything.” And, in a move that some part of Castiel wishes had been secretly filmed so that he could play the video back to himself to remind himself that he could be, at times, a smooth and sultry seducer of men, he takes Dean’s hand – fingers curled around his wrist, fingertips resting lightly on his pulse – pulls it towards him – fingers sliding down to tuck into Dean’s palm – flips it over, and, with his free hand, presses the sycamore helicopter down into Dean’s upturned palm. “You make a wish instead.”

“Okay.” Dean’s hand is still captured in Castiel’s. “Well.” Dean takes a deep breath and lowers his head. For a moment he is quiet, and Castiel watches him - his downcast eyes, the bob of his Adam’s apple as he swallows – and then his lips twitch as though speaking under his breath, and when he raises his head again, he smiles. “Alright.”

Castiel’s eyes trace the shape of his mouth, the easy grin, and he can feel his own mouth itch to pull up at the corners and mimic it. “Done?”

“Done.” Dean’s hand flexes under Castiel’s fingers as he closes a loose fist around the sycamore seed, and then, once Castiel lets go of him, he releases it, fluttering, to the ground. If it lands, it goes unseen; Dean is looking at Castiel. Castiel doesn’t know what he is looking at, or what for, but he thinks he’d let Dean go on searching as long as he needed, if it meant they could keep this internally suspended fragment of yellow light and flower bursts and sycamore helicopters spinning dizzy. Dean’s eyes are green, his skin is warm, and for once, Dean, all-motion, fidgety, shuffling Dean Winchester, is still.

The stove begins to beep shrilly.

“Lunch,” Castiel says loudly, shattering the silence and sunlight. He lets out a long breath that he had not realised was building, pent-up, in his chest. He looks away with the fervent hope that Dean remains somehow oblivious to the colour climbing Castiel’s neck, or otherwise deaf to the wild tattoo of his heart against his ribs. He inhales deeply to buoy himself up, and takes a few steps back. “So, Dean - would you like a drink?”

It’s a hot day so they both have cold beer in dark bottles, their mouths leaving condensation on the glass. Castiel serves up a baked pasta dish with homemade sauce from homemade vegetables, and they eat in the garden amongst the bees and the sycamore seeds, and Dean gives his compliments to the chef. Castiel doesn’t blush – he refuses; he dourly sets his jaw and narrows his eyes against the rush of heat to his face – but also doesn’t refrain from dumping another heaped spoonful of pasta onto Dean’s plate. They talk while they eat: sports, how work is going, Sam’s schoolwork. At one point, they even comment on the weather, albeit briefly, and Castiel discovers that he can be genuinely enthralled by a discussion of recent rain patterns, when it’s coming out of Dean’s mouth with all the razor wit and Southern charm that accompanies every word he’s ever said.

They put the radio on while Castiel rummages about for the dessert – Castiel calling for Classical FM, Dean insisting on some rock-and-roll channel – and the ensuing squabble over whether Roger Waters can be technically considered a composer leads to the dessert being completely forgotten. When the stove is eventually remembered, thanks to the thoughtful assistance of the smoke alarm, the cherry pie tucked inside is approximately three-quarters cinders and smoke, but they pick what fruit can be salvaged from it, staining their fingertips dark red as they eat, and once Castiel has been dissuaded from frantic apology, they settle back to their seats with two spoons and a king-size tub of vanilla ice-cream. They get through half the tub in good time before it melts to a slushy approximation of a milkshake, at which point Castiel consigns it back to the refrigerator. He cracks open another two beers instead.

Dean stays until the sun is low overheard, the sky having acquired that pastel thinness of approaching dusk, and the air is cool on sunburnt skin. Then he stretches back on his bench and remarks on the passage of time, as Castiel supposes is customary and therefore means nothing, but nonetheless sends a buzz of delight all through his bones – Dean forgot himself with Castiel; he could stay a thousand years, here, and never once notice the rise and set of the sun, if Castiel gave him the chance.

Being a polite guest, Dean offers to wash the dishes before he disappears back home. Castiel carries the dishes through for him to clean, and then leans back against the stretch of counter beside the sink so that he can talk to Dean as he works – but Dean works regrettably fast, his hands brisk and steady under the shush of the running faucet, and although he finds mid-cleaning distractions in the form of flicking soap at Castiel, he finishes quickly, and it is time for him to go. He dries his hands on a towel that Castiel offers him.

“There you go,” Dean says, bunching up the towel in his hands, once used, and then he seems to remember that it isn’t his own, and he flaps it out to neatly fold before he hands it back. “Sorry I can’t stay longer – I’ve gotta make dinner for Sam before he goes out to some party with his friends.”

Castiel takes the towel. “Don’t worry. It was great to have you over, anyway.” He gives Dean a smile, and there is just a second of quiet, the radio’s music charts having given way to low static, the two of them standing in the lamplight and looking at each other and drying their hands. It’s hardly romantic, since Castiel has a smear of pasta sauce across his thumb and Dean’s hands are wrinkled from the water, but they’re alone and the kitchen is small enough that there’s less than two feet between them and Castiel is dry-mouthed with his pulse in his ears. He takes a deep breath. “So you have somewhere to be,” he says decisively, and gestures away towards the kitchen door.

“Yeah, yeah – I do, yeah.” Dean leads the way out, but he pauses by the side-table in the hall. “Fight Club,” he says, tapping the battered front cover of the copy that Castiel had forgotten about strategically placing. Dean glances back at Castiel. “Sam was watching that the other day.”

“Oh,” says Castiel with cool disinterest. “Was he?”

Dean stares at Castiel with an expression that is two parts amusement to one part hopeless resignation, and he just shakes his head. “Alright. Thanks again for lunch, Cas.” He reaches out as though about to slap Castiel on the shoulder, but seems to think better of it; his hand falls halfway there and instead his fingertips skim haltingly across the bare skin of Castiel’s arm. His look is now sincere, his tilt of a smile genuine. “I had a really nice date. Day.” Dean’s face doesn’t so much as flicker in recognition of his faux-pas, but colour surges up his neck to flood his jawline and lower face, and he begins to fidget. He folds his arms across his chest experimentally, and then decides against that, and stuffs them into the pockets of his jeans. “I had a nice day.”

 “So did I,” Castiel says with an earnestness that he hopes will set Dean at ease. In Dean’s nervous re-positioning, Castiel has also become aware of the existence of his own hands; he feels that some form of contact is necessary in order to close this meeting, but is unsure as to what type of contact would be appropriate. Ultimately, he does nothing. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Yeah.” Dean takes the steps through the door and onto the front porch backwards, almost stumbling over the step. He bobs his head in an exaggerated, near dance-like nod, as though eager to make known the sincerity of his desire to see Castiel again. He turns away then, at last, but Castiel hovers in the doorway to watch him go, being a little tipsy on the beers, a little giddy from the day – Dean in such proximity! sunshine and the sycamore tree – and so, because he is still pressing his cheek into the wood of the door-frame like an idiot and watching Dean walk, he sees when Dean gets across the road and stops.

He twists back to wave a half-salute, and he calls, “See you later, honeybunch!” with a grin as bright as the light glinting off the watery arcs of the sprinklers next door.

Castiel rings the bell and waits, hands clasped in front of him. After a moment or two, it swings open to reveal Sam Winchester, messy-haired and unimpressed in pyjama pants that are a good inch or so too short for him.

“Good morning, Sam, I was wondering if I could talk to you today about the work of the Lo—”

“Shut up and come in.” Sam steps back and holds the door open for Castiel, and then, no sooner than he’s stepped inside, lets it swing shut behind him. He rubs tiredly at his eyes, mutters through some responses to the conventional hello how are you today, and then points through to the kitchen. “Dean’s in there.”

Castiel flushes a little at the knowledge that Sam is so aware of his blatant favouritism – maybe Sam even knows why Castiel is really here – but he thanks him, and apologises for having bothered him before he moves towards the kitchen. However, Sam surprises him then.

“Don’t worry about it,” Sam says, and he reaches out with an informal slap to Castiel’s shoulder, a friendly gesture. “Just do me a favour and stow the preaching at the door. It’s too early in the day for that shit.”

It’s a Saturday, before midday, and Castiel knows that Sam sleeps in late and lounges around on the weekends, but he hadn’t anticipated the intensity of Sam’s lethargy; he apologises again. “If there’s anything I can do,” he tries, but Sam interrupts him again.

“Actually, yeah – get Dean to make me some coffee,” he says, and he flashes Castiel a bright smile to let him know that his griping isn’t the consequence of actual dislike. “Thanks. I’ll see you later.” And with that, he turns tail and stomps back upstairs.

Castiel watches him go for a second before he continues through to the kitchen, where he finds Dean just stirring sugar into a mug of coffee. He sets down the teaspoon, picks up another mug beside the first, and passes it over to Castiel before Castiel has even had the chance to say hello. The coffee is hot, black, and Dean lifts his own mug both in greeting and in toast.

“How did you—”

“I heard Sam let you in,” Dean says. He glances back at the garden, but through the window, the view is overcast, clouds heavy-bellied as though clinging loosely to rainfall. Dean pulls a face, and then nods in the direction of the living room. “Do you want to head through there?”

Castiel nods and follows Dean. Even on such a dark, grey day, the Winchester house is lit in soft, warm colours; the large, square windows and warm pastels of the walls gives the room a hue that cosy, if dim. Light ripples like long grass across the walls and furniture, something soft and dry that ripples and shifts with the clouds outside rolling over the sun. The smell of burnt cookies is faint in the air, and as they reach the living room, it can be sourced to a platter set out on the coffee table. It’s all very domestic.

“Cookies,” Dean announces with a gesture that is half-shrug, half-pointing, in the direction of the platter. He sets his mug down on the table. “I, uh, made them. Sam burnt them, though. He was meant to get them out of the oven for me, so if they’re shitty it’s not my fault. I’m pretty good at baking, actually – like, whenever. I don’t bake. But if I do, I’m good. Sam sucks.” He waves a hand ambiguously as he seems to realise that he’s rambling. “Whatever. Try one.”

Castiel obediently takes a cookie from the plate – holding both his cookie and his coffee carefully out of the way when Dean throws himself down onto the couch with great enthusiasm – and then sits neatly next to Dean. He is aware of Dean watching him impatiently, and so he neglects the coffee in favour of taking a bite of the cookie.

“Well?” Dean demands.

Castiel hums around his mouth and nods to indicate that he is chewing it as fast as he can in order to give his response without spraying food everywhere – detecting chocolate and peanut butter as he does so – and then says, “It’s good.”

“Yeah.” Dean sits back looking pleased with himself. “I mean. Thanks.” He flushes a little, and promptly leans forwards again to grab his mug. He snags a cookie while he’s there, and then, much to Castiel’s dismay, dunks the cookie deep into his coffee. It’s only once he’s stuffed the soggy cookie into his mouth that he catches sight of Castiel’s horrified expression. “What?” he manages, his voice mangled around the cookie.

“What’s wrong with you?” Castiel asks.

Dean laughs. “What, you don’t dunk your cookies?”

“No.” Castiel is offended by the very idea. “Why would you do that? The cookie loses all flavour and structural integrity,” he says snippily. “If I wanted a mouthful of wet sawdust I wouldn’t go to the effort of baking it first.”

Dean launches back with some ridiculous argument about how it actually heightens the flavour and gives it an extra kick, which is frankly, so to speak, bullshit, and Castiel is about to inform him as such when the doorbell rings.

“Oh – sorry, just a sec,” Dean excuses himself, but as he stands to answer the door, Sam comes wandering out of the bathroom, and he gets to it first. Dean hesitates, and then sits back down, and as he opens his mouth to resume his and Castiel’s momentarily paused conversation, a snatch of what is being said on the porch drifts through.

“Good afternoon. I was just wondering if you could spare a moment for the Lord Jesus Christ?”

Castiel stares at Dean with an inextinguishable horror flaring up inside him, but there is nothing he can do. As though sensing that something disastrous is unfolding like a slow flicker-reel of a train-wreck, Dean shuts his mouth and turns slightly in his seat to look towards the door. Castiel doesn’t follow his gaze; he looks blankly at Dean as mind spins in pre-emptive contemplation of the excuses he is going to have to make in order to escape with his dignity intact – he’s an undercover spy with the CIA; he’s a criminal scouting out the security in their house so that he can rob them later; he’s a war refugee looking for sanctuary – and he listens.

“Uh, sure,” Sam is saying, only visible by the hand tucked around the edge of the open door, “but actually, we’ve already got someone with us right now to talk about all that, so—”

“Excuse me?” It’s a woman’s voice, high and faintly shrill, with a musical lilt. “I was told that there were no other Witnesses in the vicinity.”

Sam takes a step back so that he can glance across into the living room, where Dean and Castiel sit together on the couch. “You’ll have to talk to him about that, then, I guess – Castiel Novak, he’s just through there.”

A thin woman with straight blonde hair steps over the welcome mat and turns to confront Castiel with gestures as sharp and neat as the cut of her jaw. “Mr. Novak?” she asks as she strides decisively towards him, leather shoes clacking on the floorboards. She wears a neat grey pants suit and a pinstriped shirt, and she extends a hand for him to shake. Castiel wipes his sweaty palms on his pants and crosses the room to meet her, and he takes her hand. The smile she gives is brittle. “I’m Hester Mitchell.”

“Castiel.”

She shakes her head. “I’m sorry to intrude, Brother – I was told no-one had been assigned to evangelise in this neighbourhood,” she says. She is still holding Castiel’s hand in a vice-like grip. “Did Michael speak to you about it recently?”

Castiel hesitates, and then replies tactfully, “It was not Michael.”

“Then who?” Hester is watching him with a look that is cool and unpresuming. “I wouldn’t have thought anyone but Michael had that authority.”

“It was,” Castiel scans his brain for a name – any generic, popular name will do – and he says, “Yvette.”

Hester stares at him. “Yvette.”

In hindsight, the name is not quite as generic as Castiel would have liked. At this stage it will have to do. Castiel inclines his head a little, tilts his chin up boldly. “She spoke to me yesterday. If there’s been a mistake, I’ll let her know tomorrow that there was a probl—”

“Actually,” Hester cuts over him, her voice louder than his and turning sharp, “now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve seen you at the meetings.” Her grip on his hand tightens perceptibly.

“I don’t attend your meetings,” Castiel says after a beat. He tries to subtly extricate his hand from hers.

Hester tilts her head slightly to one side. “I don’t believe I mentioned which meetings I attended,” she says. “Tell me – which Kingdom Hall do you meet in?”

Castiel squints. “Not yours.”

Somewhere back in the hallway, Sam makes a sound like a laugh and then covers it by theatrically clearing his throat.

“But its name is…?”  Hester prompts.

Castiel takes a deep breath. He can hear his heartbeat inside his skull, so loud it’s hard to think straight, let alone to bullshit his way into a religion. In his peripheral vision, he can see Dean still on the couch, a lopsided expression on his face like he’s battling a smirk. “It doesn’t have a name,” he says, at last. “We feel names are very… confining. Spiritually, that is.”

“Mr. Novak, there are only two Kingdom Halls in this town and they both have names,” Hester says, and as she begins to lose her patience, she finally lets go of Castiel’s hand. He snatches it back, cradling it to his chest as he waits for the blood to flow back into his limp fingers. Hester seems oblivious, and takes a step towards him. “What is yours called?”

“I don’t know,” Castiel says quickly as panic flashfloods through his veins; he takes a step away from her and bumps into the coffee table.

“You don’t know?” she challenges, and her eyes narrow. “So, what I’m hearing right now,” she goes on, slowly, “is that you’re not actually a Witness.”

Castiel squints. “Not technically,” he admits.

Hester arches her eyebrows. “Not technically?”

There is a snort from the couch, and although Castiel won’t look in Dean’s direction, he can see the blurry outline of him shaking a little, as though fighting to hold something back. Castiel’s eyes flicker away from Hester and instead focus on a particularly interesting speck on the floor. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other. “No,” he says at last.

“No?” Hester echoes.

Castiel can just tell that she’s going to make him repeat everything for maximum public humiliation. “No,” he says, and, predicting her next move, adds, “I am not a Jehovah’s Witness.”

Hester’s eyes narrow. “So you’re not a Jehovah’s Witness?”

Castiel wants to sink through the floor and die. He looks to Dean for help.

However, Dean is busy pressing his fist to his mouth to keep from laughing; his eyes flash from Castiel to Hester and back again with a bright sheen like he might be holding in tears. From his position in the hallway, with the door still held open, Sam watches the whole scene unfold with an expression of tired bemusement. Castiel can feel heat burn up from his shirt collar, and returns to Hester with a mortified look. “No.”

“Then what,” Hester says, with thinly veiled anger in her tone, “were you doing pretending to be one?”

“Well,” Castiel starts, but gets no further. He has no answer for this. He goes briefly through his previously collected excuses – CIA agent; prospective thief; refugee – and discards them all as inadequate. In his head, he also runs over the sentence, I said that I was one in a panic while attempting to ask this man out for dinner and was too ashamed of my own idiocy to correct the misunderstanding, just to see how pathetic it sounds. As pathetic goes, it’s fairly severe. “You see,” he tries again. Again, he falls quiet.

Dean rises from his seat, then, and turns to face Hester head-on. “Ms. Mitchell, I’m afraid there’s been some kind of misunderstanding,” he says, with the kind of smooth, easy smile that dissolves lesser beings into an incomprehensible mess. Hester is made of stronger stuff than Castiel, clearly, as it has no such effect on her. Dean walks around the couch to meet her in the living room doorway, coming to stand beside Castiel. “Don’t worry, though. We’ll take care of this.”

Castiel can’t possibly escape this unscathed. Just as he begins to contemplate that the anxiety may have in fact caused him to pass out, and that this whole scenario may be induced by his own unconsciousness and potential head injury, it worsens – in the form of Sam coming forwards to help intervene.

In the same way as Dean’s stance clearly takes Castiel’s side and protects him from further defamation, Sam approaches Hester with the sympathetic, reassuring calm of one who understands her righteous fury and will do all in his power to make sure justice is delivered. He rests a gentle hand on the crook of her arm. “Ms. Mitchell, the how or why doesn’t really matter – what matters is that Mr. Novak’s pretence is over now, and you can rest assured that it won’t happen again,” he says with a smile of a lesser intensity than Dean’s, but softer somehow: one more designed to soothe the nerves of old ladies and frightened puppies. “He hasn’t harmed anyone in doing this, and any offense caused to you was totally unintentional, I’m sure. You have our apologies and if it helps, I’m sure Mr. Novak would be willing to donate something, or volunteer to help your community in some way, to pay for any grievance caused.”

Thankfully, Sam’s charm works, and Hester allows him to slip his arm through her elbow and lead her back towards the door. He lowers his voice until Castiel can no longer hear his words, but the soothing tone is audible even as he says goodbye, and he even stands in the doorway to continue apologising, smiling, and waving farewell as she disappears down the drive. As soon as she is out of sight, however, Sam slams the door and his face slips back into a look that is equal parts smug and unimpressed.

The first thing he says is directed at Dean, with a snarky little eyebrow raise: “I told you so.” Then, to Castiel, he offers a smile which is somewhat condescending to be received from a seventeen-year-old kid whose pants are too short. “Congrats on finally finding some balls, by the way,” he says, and snickers to himself.

Castiel glances wildly between them, but finds no explanation in either Sam’s self-satisfied expression or Dean’s little smirk. “What?” he says. He has the faint sensation of watching hope whirl away down a bathtub drain. His voice is very small. “You knew?”

At this, Sam lets out an inelegant cackle. “I’ll let you two sweethearts sort this out,” he offers, and throws a supposedly furtive wink in Dean’s direction before he heads back out.

When Castiel looks back towards Dean, he is shaking his head, and, to Castiel’s surprise, an enormous grin is stealing across his face. “Of course we knew,” he says. “Come on, Cas, you were hopeless.”

Dean knew the whole time. Every single time Castiel opened his mouth and spouted some vague, ridiculous bullshit about the wonder of the Lord, Dean had known and just never mentioned it. Melodramatically, Castiel wonders if a human being could self-combust through pure force of will. After a few seconds, he concludes that no, they could not, and instead says, voice low, and not meeting Dean’s eyes, “I’m sorry. I’ll show myself out.”

As Castiel tries to sidestep Dean and get out of his house as quickly as possible, Dean grabs his arm and holds him fast. “Hey, no – don’t be ridiculous. We told you, we knew the whole time.”

Castiel stares resolutely at the floor.

“Hey. Hey, look at me, asshole.” Dean tips his head sideways and forces Castiel to meet his eyes. He lifts his eyebrows a little and goes on, “We knew the whole time, and we didn’t mind.”

“Then why did you let me?” Castiel asks sullenly.

“Because it was kind of funny?” Dean admits, and now he tries to keep his grin down, but a smile hints lopsidedly at his mouth anyway. “Because you were an idiot, and you were cute and squinty, and you were trying really hard?”

Castiel is paying attention, honestly, but he gets up to ‘cute and squinty’ and phases out. Cute? And squinty. Dean thinks he’s cute. But also squinty? What does squinty even mean? He frowns. It doesn’t sound particularly positive. Who cares, anyway, if Dean thinks he’s squinty – Castiel could have a glass eye and a peg leg and none of it matters, because Dean thinks he’s cute.

He realises that he is staring blankly at Dean, whose mouth is still moving earnestly, and it is a very nice mouth. With great effort, Castiel drags his eyes from Dean’s mouth and actually tunes back into what is being said in time to hear, “You’re an okay liar, maybe. I think you just prefer not to – you like to stick as close to truth, where possible, and I figure being a gay physicist makes it all a little difficult.”

“Bi,” Castiel says distractedly.

“Sorry?”

Castiel is looking at his mouth again. “Not gay.” Distantly, he is aware that he is standing in Dean’s hallway, discussing his sexuality, and the gravity of those implications is only washing over him slowly, like the gradual creep of high tide up a low beach. His face scrunches up as it hits him – Dean being interested in him, in a sexual sense – and then – “Wait. How did you know?”

Dean has the distinct look of someone for whom Christmas has come early. “I didn’t,” he says, and he shuffles his weight from one foot to the other, and then back onto the balls of his feet, and forwards again. This fidgety little dance of nerves repeats once more, and then picks up in pace as he clears his throat and adds, “but I stole someone else’s helicopter and I, uh, wished really hard, so. Uh.”

Castiel exhales, his chest all at once sinking and borne light like a balloon. “Imagine that,” he says, his mouth on some kind of sarcastic auto-pilot since he has no knowledge of anything beyond the realisation that Dean has feelings for him. “You did it, Dean. You single-handedly turned me away from the Lord and towards men.”

Dean grins. “Looks like I’m better at conversion than you are.”

“I daresay anyone would be better at conversion than I was,” Castiel says. Dean’s hand is still curled around Castiel’s upper arm. His face is still tipped towards Castiel’s from his attempt to catch Castiel’s eyes. There is a pulse skipping fast against Castiel’s arm but he can’t be sure whose it is. He breathes slowly. “You wished?” he tries, barely coherent. “For me?”

Dean lifts his eyes skywards and speaks as though ticking off a list from memory. “Please don’t let him actually be a witness; please let Sam be right; please let him be here something less, ah, intellectual…”

“I think you’re perfectly intellectual,” Castiel says without thinking. He doesn’t appreciate what he’s said until he sees the smile stretch wider across Dean’s face.

“So Sam was right.”

Castiel looks away, off in the direction of the now-vacant stairs up which Sam had disappeared – looking at anything except Dean, whose eyes have come back to meet Castiel’s and who seems to show no inclination to move away. To change the conversation, Castiel says, “And that’s why he was suspicious.”

“Give him some credit,” Dean says. “Being totally honest here, a man who would rather lie his way into a religion than admit he liked someone is usually something to be suspicious of.”

Still staring off towards the stairs, Castiel opens his mouth – pauses, with the feeling that if he doesn’t get the words out, then he might throw up, or at least need to sit down for a moment – and then he says, “I. Admit it.” He draws in a long breath, looks towards Dean again and tips his chin in what he likes to think is a perfect impersonation of fearlessness, except that Dean is looking back at him with such softness and warmth that he weakens a little, and almost smiles.

“Okay.” Dean tucks the corner of his bottom lip nervously under his teeth, but he’s still smiling. “So, uh – now what?”

Castiel takes the initiative. He tips his head slightly to one side, as though deep in thought, and says, “How about we start with this – Dean Winchester,” he ducks his head a little, the baby version of a bow, because if he’s going to do this, he’s going to do it with all the manners and formality with which he had originally planned it, “at the risk of being too forward, would you like to go to dinner with me?”

Dean purses his lips. “I’ll have to check my schedule but… yeah, I think I can do that,” he says, and then that stupid smile is back, his face crumpled with it – laugh-lines, apple cheeks, and Castiel hates him for it, because he’s cute and charming and he’s really not funny at all, but Castiel can feel himself grinning all wide and gummy . “Although, at the risk of actually being too forward,” Dean goes on, head tipped down and looking through his eyelashes now, “I was thinking we could start with this.”

Dean kisses him.

It happens so fast that Castiel would have scarcely have registered it at all, had it not been for the awkward clink of teeth – because Castiel is still grinning like an imbecile – and Dean headbutts him on the lean-in, and then splutters with laughter and apology for it. By this point, however, Castiel has had enough of mistakes and misunderstandings and general socio-romantic mayhem, and so he reaches up, takes Dean’s face in two hands, and says firmly, “No, we’re trying that again.”

He does, then, and with one disastrous dress rehearsal aside, everything goes smoothly – Dean’s mouth is soft and slack and faintly tasting of milky coffee, and Castiel even gets the exhilarating jolt of contented warmth through his stomach that a lifetime of watching romantic comedies with his sister had promised him. He pulls away a little dizzy, and then takes one neat step backwards.

“Right,” he says, and straightens his sweater as comfort gesture, rather than as the result of having messed it up in all their heat and passion. He isn’t quite sure what else to do. What he decides upon eventually, after some moments of staring at Dean in deliberation, is a sort of conciliatory pat on the shoulder. “Better.”

“Better?” Dean repeats. “I’m sorry, did you just say that was better?”

“Yes. Adequate. Well-executed.” Castiel wonders if he will ever learn to control his mouth. He decides to stick what he knows – to what he has rehearsed. He nods, pulls himself up tall, and bestows upon Dean the twinkling smile he had been practicing in the mirror for day before he first came to Winchester house in pursuit of a date. “I’ll pick you up at eight.”