"Daaaad," Dean whines from the passenger seat, his body leaning angrily against the armrest, "Can I not stay with Uncle Bobby this year? I wanna stay with you this year!” A few years ago, a company Dean had never even heard of before offered his dad a new job fixing up machines in branches all over the country. The pay is surprisingly great and the hours flexible; the only hitch is that John’s got to drive from factory to factory all year, going to whatever branch needs something fixed. According to John – and that single parenting self-help book he swears he wasn’t reading - that lifestyle is way too much of an “unstable environment” to raise two kids. So, every year John drops Dean and Sam off at Uncle Bobby’s for the school year, until he gets a break around June.
Usually, Dean enjoys it. Uncle Bobby’s pretty cool when you get past the angry, old man stereotype he’s rocking. Except, last spring, Uncle Bobby married Aunt Ellen, which means the good old days of bachelor living are over, caput, done for. Dean’s not ready for bed-times and daily Flintstone vitamins, you know mom stuff like that. He’d rather be living the life, driving from place to place eating fast food and drinking soda, than watching reruns of Family Feud. In short, Dean is not looking forward to spending the next year with Uncle Bobby, Aunt Ellen, and Jo.
He looks over at his Dad, whose face is scrunched up trying to see the road through the rain beating down violently outside. Dean doesn’t know why, but his dad looks a lot older than he ever remembers him being. For the first time, Dean notices a few rogue, gray hairs mixed in with John’s characteristic dark brown hair. However, when John turns his head to look over at him, before diverting his eyes back to the road, Dean notices the same familiar twinkle, and, even though he’d never say it, it comforts him.
"But you love Uncle Bobby!" John argues with him, careful not to speak too loud. Sam’s asleep in the backseat, sprawled out, head resting on an old bunched up sweatshirt of Dean's. They've been driving for most of the day. Since they left, Sammy had been spouting the most useless things Dean could possibly think of. Dean was seriously starting to regret ordering Sam The Ultimate Book of Useless Information off of Amazon for Christmas last year. He was this close to beating Sam with that damn book when Sam finally leaned out in the backseat and slowly drifted off to sleep. With Sam asleep, Dean was finally able to talk freely to his dad, man to man.
"No, Sam loves Uncle Bobby," Dean clarifies, "Uncle Bobby always lets him eat extra ice cream and stay up late watching scary movies.” The last time Dean had stayed with Uncle Bobby, he’d still been a bachelor, and he had no qualms about letting them eat junk food or watch old R-rated horror movies. Well, almost. After Sammy started panicking every time they saw a bird, Uncle Bobby decided that R-rated horror movies were probably not the best thing for a 9 year old.
"And he doesn't let you?" John Winchester interrupts Dean’s thoughts, smirking over at him quickly, before returning his eyes to the road ahead of him.
"Well, no he let's me," Dean stumbles a bit, pausing to think out his argument, "He's no fun anymore though! Ever since he married Aunt Ellen all he does is mow the lawn and grill steaks."
"What you don't like steaks now? I don't understand why you're upset Dean, it's still the same old Uncle Bobby, now there's just Aunt Ellen and Jo as well." John can’t even hide his amusement. Dean groans softly, frustrated that his Dad doesn’t understand his point. It’s not that he doesn’t like Uncle Bobby or Aunt Ellen. Honestly, he even likes Jo. Granted, all she ever does is boss them around. Sam doesn’t even seem to mind that she’s interrupting on bro-time. He just smiles at her dopily and invites her to come with them. It sucks. Dean just knows that 8 months of this will be more of the same.
"That's exactly it though Dad!" Dean exclaims loudly. Sam stirs for a moment in the backseat, and Dean grins sheepishly at his Dad for disturbing Sam. "I don't want to hang out with them. They're annoying. Please Dad, just let me come with you. You wouldn't even know I was here. . . except when I had to eat and pee and stuff."
"And what about school?" Dean looks at him, eyebrows raised. John laughs softly again. "Look kid, I'm gonna be traveling all over the place, and that's no place for a kid your age, especially not one Sammy's age. Kids need a stable environment, a place for them to grow and develop into mature, adults.” As John recites from the self-help book he never read, Dean mimes along next to him. He’s heard this spiel a thousand times. “It’s better for the two of you to spend time with kids your own age; kids with interests similar to yours. Honestly, you’ll have fun. You're just gonna be spending the school year there and part of the summer, then we'll back together again. I promise. Plus, you wouldn't leave Sammy there by himself, would you?"
Dean looks back at Sam, sleeping softly in the backseat, clutching onto that stupid book. Sammy who is the most defenseless kid Dean’s ever met, which is kinda stupid because Sam beats Dean all the time when they play wrestle. Sam’s just one of those people who chooses not to solve his problems using his fists. Dad calls him a “lover” not a “fighter”. Dean knows he has to stay with Sammy to make sure some dipwad the size of Blastoise doesn’t try to mess with him.
"I guess not," Dean mutters, "but I'm not gonna like it." John reachs over, carefully gripping the wheel with his other hand, and ruffles Dean's hair.
"Snails can sleep for 3 whole years," Sam mumbles out of nowhere, turning over in the backseat. Dean and John Winchester looked at each other quickly, before bursting out in laughter.
Dean wakes up from a pretty nice nap to find they’ve finally arrived at Uncle Bobby's. It's almost 3 in the morning, and he can barely keep his eyes open enough to look at the house through the car window. The rain has stopped, and he can blearily make out the house.
It looks better than he remembered. The front porch has been painted white, and the lawn looks way more manageable than before. There’s even a small garden growing right in front of the house. The busted window on the second floor outside Dean’s usual room has also been fixed, which means that the summer breeze that always slipped through on the hottest nights of July won’t be able to get in anymore. He frowns at that.
His dad's already gotten out of the car and is talking to, who Dean guesses, is Uncle Bobby on the front porch. The lights are on, and, if Dean strains his eyes a bit, he can make out Uncle Bobby and John laughing and joking together about something. Dean smiles at that because, for the first time in a while, his Dad looks genuinely happy. Aunt Ellen joins them, a beer in her hand for John. He kisses her on the cheek and calls her something that makes her swat him playfully on the arm. He blinks a few times, trying to get his eyes to adjust to the darkness, when, suddenly, there's a blonde head of hair in his vision.
"He's awake," Jo screams loudly to her mother, not caring that Dean’s just woken up. Jo doesn’t really look any different. She's ditched the two old braids, for two pigtails, but she's still got the chubby cheeks and the dimples. She’s grown a couple inches too, but she’s still tiny in comparison to Dean and Sam. She's also just as annoying as Dean remembers. He wonders for a moment why she's still awake, but then he remembers this is Jo and she's never sleepy, except after a serious sugar crash.
"Jo!" Sam exclaims from the backseat, waking up excitedly. Sam practically trips over his feet to get out of the car to hug her. Dean rolls his eyes. The two of them have always gotten along much better than Dean and Jo ever did. Sam and Jo are chattering excitedly over something, probably Sam's new book. She’s tugging his hand and telling him about some “new set of Lincoln Logs”, and then the two of them are running off into the house, giggling excitedly. Dean takes away 10 man points from Sammy for giggling.
Dean gets out of the car slowly. He leans against the car door, not very eager to go inside and join the midget club, when he feels someone tugging against his hand. He looks down and nearly screams when he sees a little girl, much younger than Jo, with red, curly hair staring up at him.
"What the," he manages to get out. He doesn’t remember Aunt Ellen having another kid. He’s pretty sure they would’ve gotten a signed card or something with pictures of storks and baby rattles etched all over it. Plus, they definitely don’t grow this much in a year. Dean would know; he watched Sammy pretty closely when he was growing up to make sure aliens didn’t replace him.
Munchkin's got a stuffed owl tucked tightly under one arm and is holding onto a blanket covered with lightening bolts with the other. He gives her points for the blanket; it’s pretty cool. She’s got big, green eyes that remind him a lot of Sammy’s, and she’s staring up at him inquisitively, as if though she’s evaluating him. She narrows her eyes and opens her mouth.
"Your hair is funny looking," she gets out, before slipping her hand into his. She looks no older than 5. Dean tries to shake her hand off, but she's got a death-grip on it. He's staring at her, and she's staring back at him. They have a battle of wills going on between the two of them, and Dean has the strongest suspicion that he's losing the minute the girl widens her eyes and juts out her bottom lit a bit. Sammy used to pull the same trick when he was younger, and Dean’s a goner when it comes to the puppy dog pout.
"It is too freakin' early for this, and I don't even know who you are," Dean mumbles out, giving in and letter her hold his hand. He fixes his hair with his free hand, trying to get it to spike up properly. He looks down towards her for her approval. She nods and smiles up at him, and it is definitely not adorable. Definitely not, Dean tells himself.
"Charlie," she says, "I'm a wizard." Dean's mouth drops a little at this. The kids living at Uncle Bobby's keep on getting weirder and weirder. The girl says this though with complete seriousness, and Dean doesn’t have it in him to tell her she’s mentally insane. He figures, she’s young, let her enjoy life a few more years before they cart her of to Arkham. He looks up at the porch, and Aunt Ellen is standing their watching them, leaning against the doorframe. She sends a smirk at him, and he feels his checks flush up. Shaking her head, Aunt Ellen turns to Charlie.
"Charlie," she yells down at the red-head, "come on inside now, it's getting cold out here. You can even bring your new friend with you." She winks at Dean at the last part, and he scowls at her.
"Coming Aunt Ellen," she yells back. She tugs on Dean's arm, until he's ear level with her and she whispers, "Quick, the dementors are coming!" Before letting go of his hand and running inside screaming, "Aunt Ellen you have to make hot chocolate or else the dementors will steal our so-uls!" She rushes past Aunt Ellen, hair flying behind her.
Dean's standing there mouth half-agape, seriously confused, feet frozen near the car. He can't do this. There is no way he can spend the next 10 months dealing with sarcastic, bossy Jo and crazy Charlie, whoever she is. He'll snap. He likes things the way they are, driving around from place to place with his very sane, very normal Dad. He’s about to open the car door and climb back in to the car, when Aunt Ellen looks at him again.
"Hey Dean," Aunt Ellen calls to him, "I made some cherry pie earlier. It's probably still warm. I’ll just leave that in the kitchen for you." She smiles at him, before turning around to head back into the house. Over her shoulder, she says, "if you want it."
Dean’s had Aunt Ellen’s pie before. It might possibly have been the main reason he was okay with the fact that she was marrying Uncle Bobby. It is flaky and gooey and perfect. Dean is pretty sure that angels from above would commit lecherous sins for a bite of Aunt Ellen’s pie. Dean’s stomach grumbles loudly, yelling at him for wasting time outside when there’s a delicious, hot pie waiting for him inside.
Leaving his post by the car, Dean heads towards the porch. The closer to the house he gets, the more prevalent the smell of cherry pie becomes, and Dean thinks that, if living with the Singers is the sacrifice he must make for the pie, it’ll be worth it in the end.
They've got a couple of weeks before school actually starts. Dad left last week, so things have been pretty boring in Dean's opinion. Uncle Bobby works out on cars most of the day, while Aunt Ellen spends her time inside doing odd chores and gardening. Jo’s decided that the four of them are going to spend the rest of the summer together because they’ve got to “bond” before school starts, even though Charlie isn’t going to school yet. He tried to hide out in one of the trunks of the cars Uncle Bobby has out back, but Jo found him and yelled at him until she was out of breath. Dean was actually a bit scared of her in that moment. He’s decided that the easiest option is to hang out with Charlie, who is actually the coolest person there, besides himself of course.
For some reason, Charlie really likes styling his hair. She makes him sit at the kitchen table, while she stands on a stool behind him, and uses Uncle Bobby’s old hair gels to pull his hair one way or another until it becomes “perfectissimo”. Dean’s pretty sure that’s not even real Italian, but Dean can’t complain though. He’s rocking the mini-mohawk Charlie’s styled for him today. She also likes playing make-believe wizard. However, there's only so many times he can play Harry Potter with Charlie, before he loses it.
Dean learned a few days ago that Charlie's a foster kid living with the Singers. Apparently, her dad's way more interested in drinking than ever taking care of her, and after a particularly nasty incident with some cigarettes, she was taken in by the state. Uncle Bobby's friend Sheriff Mills asked him if he'd take care of her, and, after only a few minutes with her, Uncle Bobby and Aunt Ellen had agreed. Even though nobody has come out and said it, Dean’s pretty sure that they’re planning on adopting her. And by pretty sure, Dean means a hundred percent positive cause he found the adoption papers while snooping through Aunt Ellen’s desk.
Dean would never tell them, but he thinks she's pretty cool, if you take out the weird obsession with wizards. He swears though, if she makes him climb up another tree to grab what she calls "the perfect wand", he's gonna go Lord Voldemort on her and destroy her. He’s discovered she’s highly susceptible to tickling, and he has no problem using this knowledge for evil.
Currently, they're playing hide and go seek with Sam and Jo though. Jo declared earlier that Charlie was far too young to be seeking by herself, so Dean's stuck babysitting her, while Jo and Sam hide underneath the porch, where, by the way, the hide ever single time. Charlie's too busy singing to herself to even really try looking for them. They're out in the backyard, which stretches on for forever. Dean's not even really sure they're still on Uncle Bobby's property, but he's just following Charlie, who's decided to hop like a frog instead of just walking places. He's about to just give in and tell Charlie where they're hiding, when he notices Charlie running off, full pace. She’s even dropped her stuffed owl, which is, of course, called Hedwig.
"Charlie," Dean yells, running off after, "Come back here! Where the heck are you going?" She doesn't even listen to him; she just keeps running, letting out a joyous laugh.
"I forgot," she screams happily, "he's back today!" Dean is struggling to keep up with her, and when did a six-year old become a heck of a lot faster than him? He's yelling her name, but she just keeps on running. Dean's confident now that they're no longer on Uncle Bobby's property because the grass is becoming mangier and mangier. There's no way Aunt Ellen would let the lawn grow this wild and crazy.
He can see her, on the edge of the field talking to some kid, and he's suddenly overwhelmed with this crazy idea that this kid is going to kidnap her and sell her to circus freaks because, let’s face it, Charlie would probably be great in the circus. He starts running faster, until his chest is literally burning. When he catches up to her, he swoops her up and holds her possessively away from the kid, glaring at him.
"DEAN," Charlie says, muffled by his chest, "I cannot breathe Dean. Dean. DEAAAN, I will die." He rolls his eyes at the last bit and puts her down, gripping her arm tight so she can't squirm away from him. He’s panting heavily, breath uneven.
"Where the heck did you think you were going?" he yells at her through each staggered breath. "You could've gotten kidnapped or something by circus freaks!" Charlie gives him this look, like he's the crazy one for once. He knows he looks ridiculous, panting and flushed, but he actually likes Charlie. He doesn’t want her to disappear. She's staring at him, with an oddly grown up expression on her face, like she's waiting for him to calm down after a temper tantrum.
"Daniel," she starts, regally.
"Charlie, I already told you Dean's not short for Daniel,"
"Danielle," she ignores him, "This is my most magical and wonderful and amazing friend Castiel."
He looks over to the guy standing next to her and isn't surprised that he's the type of guy Charlie would find interesting. He's wearing this god-awful plain white, collared shirt that is at least one size too big for him, which causes him to look scrawny and younger than he probably is, and khaki shorts that somehow seem to clash with his shirt. Dean wonders if this kid just closed his eyes and randomly picked things from his closet, cause he doesn’t even really seem to care what he’s wearing. His hair is long like Sammy's, but, instead of falling down in front of his eyes, this guy's hair goes poking in every which direction.
"Dean," Charlie whispers angrily at him, "Say hello." Dean rolls his eyes, cause this girl is half his age, and she bosses him around like she's running the show sometimes. He’s worried that Jo is rubbing off on her. She glares at him and nods her head in Castiel’s direction.
"Hi, Dean," Dean nods his head in acknowledgment. He sends Charlie a look, asking if that's enough of an introduction to please her. She nods happily and then turns to the other guy, giving him the same look she just gave him. He stares at her, expressionless. Dean is fairly confident this guy is a robot or something, because he hasn't seen this dude show any bit of emotion since he got here.
"Castiel," the guy says, staring at him, head tilted slightly. Dean feels a bit off under Castiel's gaze, like he's being dissected underneath it. Castiel turns his head just a bit more, angling his face almost quizzically, almost, because this guy is still as stone-faced as ever.
"Cas's just come back from visiting his brother Michael," Charlie goes on, oblivious to the creepy staring match going on between the two boys. "He was gone for three whole weeks, but he's back now, which means he can play with us. He's the only one who'll play with me. His brothers are meanie-pies." Cas looks away at that last part, and Dean swears he looks embarrassed. Charlie's still holding onto Dean’s hand, and she's talking about something else now with Cas, who's actually responding back, albeit in 5 word sentences max. She's walking them back now, towards Uncle Bobby's house, her hand still linked with Dean's, swinging them slightly. Cas follows behind them, walking awkwardly. Dean realizes he hasn't really said anything to this kid, but he still feels weird around him.
When they get to the edge, where the grass is mowed nicely, Cas freezes. He looks back, a worried look on his face. It’s the first time Dean has seen Cas actually shown any real emotion since he met him. This guy hasn’t said a single thing to him to the whole time, but Dean actually kind of likes him. He’s inadvertently funny; he’s a bit off and some of the things he says make Dean chuckle.
Dean’s confused though, as to why Cas has frozen on the edge of the field. Dean looks into his eyes, dark blue orbs that seem to be swimming, and sees fear. He doesn’t understand what is scaring this kid about Uncle Bobby’s lawn. He looks a bit like a dog, let off the leash, reaching the edge of the electric fence.
"I can't," he starts, "I should go back." Charlie stares at him, a secret understanding passing between them. She smiles sadly at him before nodding, letting go of Dean's hand to hug him. Cas's arms hang awkwardly, and he pats her head twice before she lets go.
"I'll see you tomorrow. We can spend all of tomorrow looking for honey bees!" Charlie exclaims excitedly. Cas cracks a barely visible smile at that and nods. Then he's turning around and walking back, faster than before. Dean and Charlie watch him until they can barely see him. The two of them stand there for a while staring at the spot he used to be. Finally, Charlie turns around to face Dean.
"I'm glad you saw him," Charlie whispers softly, a dangerous hint to her voice.
"I was beginning to think I'd made him up," she says matter-of-factly, before running off to pick up Hedwig, leaving Dean staring at where Castiel was. He doesn’t know who this guy was, but there’s something about him Dean just can’t place his finger on.
It’s past midnight, and everybody else has fallen asleep. Aunt Ellen made a surprisingly good pot roast dinner, and then Uncle Bobby made a bonfire outside. They’d made s’mores until the fire had gone out, and then they’d headed in to watch Star Wars. It was the first time Charlie’d ever seen it too, and the look on her face when Obi-Wan Kenobi pulled out his light saber for the first time, absolutely priceless. Dean’s pretty sure Charlie’s over her wizard obsession now, because when they’re changing the movie Charlie won’t stop chattering on about how she wishes she were Princess Leia. Dean doesn’t even have the heart to tease her about that; he wishes he were Han Solo. Halfway through the fifth movie, Jo and Sam had gone off to bed, stumbling up the stairs, half-asleep. Charlie made it through the ending of the fifth and about a quarter of the way into the sixth before she passed out, head resting on Dean’s lap.
The TV’s on, volume down so low Dean can barely hear the panicked ramblings of C3PO on the TV. He’s playing with Charlie’s hair, while he watches absentmindedly. For some reason, he can’t get that kid out of his head. Castiel. Why would Charlie think he wasn’t real? Why couldn’t he come over to their yard to play? Why did he look so worried? Nothing makes sense, and Dean’s starting to wonder if he’s going crazy with Charlie and making him up as well.
“Dean,” Uncle Bobby says quietly, harmless gruff in his voice, “What in the name of hell are you still doing up? It’s 3 in the morning!” Bobby walks down the stairs and drops into his usual chair near the couch. Even though it’s 3 in the morning, Uncle Bobby still had time to put on his characteristic baseball cap. Dean smiles at him. He has to admit, Uncle Bobby’s still Uncle Bobby, even after marrying Aunt Ellen. He was worried Uncle Bobby was gonna become all domestic and fluffy, but he’s not, not at all. If anything, he cuts the lawn before drinking his usually nightly beer and challenges Aunt Ellen over who can shoot more pop cans out back with the BB gun (Aunt Ellen wins, every time). In a way, it makes Dean like Aunt Ellen more, like that she didn’t change him.
“Watching Star Wars,” Dean explains, using his free hand to point at the screen. Uncle Bobby looks at the screen and lets out a small smile. Dean knows these are Uncle Bobby’s favorite movies. Dean thinks that, if he’s Han Solo and Charlie is Princess Leia, Uncle Bobby is definitely Obi-Wan Kenobi. He’s super smart and badass, just like Obi-Wan. He wonders whom that makes Aunt Ellen.
“When I said you could watch Star Wars, I didn’t mean all three episodes,” Uncle Bobby cuts into his thoughts.
“Let’s be honest Uncle Bobby, you can’t just watch one.” Uncle Bobby laughs at that, causing Charlie to stir for a bit. This quiets him down, and it’s just the two of them watching Star Wars. They sit there, quietly watching, before Dean finally gathers the courage to ask Uncle Bobby what’s on his mind.
“Uncle Bobby,” he turns to look at him, “Do you know who Castiel is?”
He feels silly asking it, cause if Charlie’s making it all up he’s going to sound like an idiot. Well, if Charlie’s making it all up and Dean’s starting to see her fantasies, that means Deans has officially fallen down the rabbit hole and has taken up residence in whatever loony bin Charlie’s residing in.
Uncle Bobby’s staring at him with a confused look on his face, and Dean is sure the kid doesn’t exist now. He tries one more description, hoping that it’ll save him from having to admit himself into a psych ward. “Charlie’s friend, the awkward looking one.”
“Ohh,” Bobby says, realization dawning on his face, “You mean the Novak boy living a few houses down?” Relief rushes over Dean. All right, at least the kid exists. “Yah, I know who he is. Why?” Dean doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t want to come out and say, I really just wanted clarification that I wasn’t slipping into whatever crazy, mystery world it is that Charlie lives in.
“Is he for real?” Dean finally settles on that. Uncle Bobby raises an eyebrow, confused as to what exactly Dean’s asking. “I just. . . I met him today, and he was practically like a robot. And then he couldn’t even come over here to play with us; it was like he was afraid or something. And Charlie didn’t even think he was real, and I don’t know to be honest.” He trails off awkwardly. Uncle Bobby just stares at him, a look Dean can’t really decipher on his face. He’s deciding whether or not to say something, and Dean wants to know but doesn’t want to prod either. Finally, Uncle Bobby lets out a long sigh, walks over to the TV, and turns it off right before the big fight scene.
“Castiel’s a bit of a special case,” Uncle Bobby starts. While he’s talking, he’s going around turning off the stray lights that are still on. “His dad disappeared when he was pretty young, and he’s living with one of his brothers, half-brother actually, right now. A right jackass I might add. He got stuck taking care of the kid, and a couple of his siblings, and he treats them like worker bees rather than brothers and sisters. Things aren’t exactly easy for him being the runt of the litter though. Most of his siblings are pretty rough on him. Luckily, they spend the day working in his store down on Abbott, which gives Cas some free time to escape, come over and play with Charlie. He’s the youngest one, too young to be working in the store. Not for much longer though to be honest he’s almost 13 now.” Uncle Bobby’s picking Charlie up off the couch, and she instinctually wraps her arms around his neck. Uncle Bobby rolls his eyes at that, and Dean let’s out a short, but forced, laugh. Uncle Bobby starts up the stares, careful to avoid the third step that creaks.
Dean follows Uncle Bobby upstairs and says a quick good night, before falling into his own bed. He doesn’t even bother to change or brush his teeth. Sam’s asleep in the bed next to him, snoring slightly. He looks over at him, eyes closed, hair in his face, and Dean’ can’t understand how anyone could treat their little brother like that, hell treat their family like that. Dean’s only known the kid for a few weeks, and he considers Charlie the little sister he never (always) wanted. Hell, he even considers Jo his sister in a way. A cruel, bossy sister who wants to beat him up with newspaper and her shoe, but still family.
Dean can’t understand it. He knows his family isn’t perfect, the weird mixture of people that make it up aren’t even close, but whatever Cas is dealing with, something is just downright off. The look on his face, it was a kind of nervousness. This tiny bit of fear that he would get in trouble just for going to hang out with Dean and Charlie just sets something off inside of Dean. He wants to go over there and tell Cas’s brother to pull his shit together and act like an actual big brother instead of some dick faced loser, whoever he is.
And in that moment, Dean decides, that even though Castiel is pretty awkward and scrawny looking, he’s going to be friends with him. He doesn’t care that he barely knows anything about Cas, but he doesn’t care. He just knows that this guy’s life doesn’t sound like too much fun and he could use a friend, or three since apparently him, Charlie, Jo, and Sammy are a package deal. He smiles to himself at his decision and then rolls over in bed.
As he’s lying there, slowly drifting off to sleep, the image of Cas’s barely noticeable smile lingers in his head.
They’ve only got a few days left before they start school. Aunt Ellen had taken them school supply shopping yesterday, and Dean had gotten pretty generic stuff: notebooks, pencils, backpack. He’d found the only remaining AC/DC folder left, however, and Dean didn’t even have to really ask Aunt Ellen. She’d just nodded and motioned towards the cart that was full of stuff. He counts that as a win. After they finished that, they spent a good fifteen minutes hunting through the store for Charlie who’d gone missing, only to find her hiding in the toy section, fingers clutching tightly against a plastic copy of a light saber.
“Please,” she looked up at them, using the puppy dog technique no one could stay strong against, “I just want to be a jedi.” Aunt Ellen rolled her eyes, but she picked it up out of Charlie’s hands and put it in the cart anyways. Charlie squealed and hugged Aunt Ellen’s leg tightly. “Oh, thank you thank you thaaaaank you Aunt Ellen.”
She’d played with it the whole car ride home, hitting everybody in the face at least twice.
Currently, they’re waiting over near Cas’s house for him to come out and play. Charlie had insisted on showing her new weapon to Cas. His backyard is surprisingly bigger than Uncle Bobby’s. The field stretches on for quite a bit, unruly and wild, before leading into a forest. The trees aren’t very thick, and Dean can see all the way through them if he tries hard enough. Right behind the forest is the lake. They don’t go there very often though, on account of the lake making Dean a bit nervous. Before coming to Uncle Bobby’s, Sam, Dean, and John had moved around quite a bit, and John never really had time to teach either of them how to swim.
There’s a sign near the lake. CAUTION DEEP WATER painted on a rotting wooden board. On the surface, it seemed relatively calm and serene, but the more Dean stares at it, the more the dark blue color of the lake hints towards its depth. The light blue hue seems to vanish just a few feet away from the dock, replaced by an ugly dark blue color. Something about the lake makes Dean shiver. It feels as if though it’s waiting there, ready to swallow him whole. He feel as if though there’s a time bomb above his head every time they play close to the lake, as if though a giant hand would suddenly appear out of nowhere and pull him down into the lake’s darkness.
Sam doesn’t seem to really care, however, legs dangling over the edge of the dock, toes skimming the surface of the water. Everyone, but Dean, seems to see nothing wrong with the lake. Jo thinks he’s being especially ridiculous.
“It’s just water,” she says, “It’s not even that deep.” She’d convinced Sam and Charlie to go play some game or another over by the lake with her while they waited for Cas, which means Dean is stuck watching them over by the freaky lake. Dean doesn’t say anything, but he hopes that one of them suggests going back to Uncle Bobby’s house soon.
“What are you doing,” a voice comes from behind him startling him. Dean jumps forward a bit, arms raised like Jet Li in those old kung fu movies Uncle Bobby has. After turning around though, he realizes it was Cas speaking. Castiel with his deep blue eyes and his odd quirk of tilting his head slightly whenever he spoke. Dean drops his arms and shrugs.
“Not a big fan of the water. Charlie wanted to see you. She’s got a new weapon of choice. I figured I’d wait for you over here while she shows you.” He says this louder than he wanted too, and, suddenly, Jo’s yelling back a reply.
“You’re just being a big baby Dean,”
“Sam doesn’t know how to swim either, yet he’s playing out here! You’re just being a big chicken.”
“Well, I’m not Sammy am I? And I’m definitely not a chicken!”
Dean didn’t realize it, but, while they were screaming at each other, he’s edged forward. He’s on the dock now close enough to the edge that he feels uncomfortable. Jo is in his face, yelling something at him again.
He hates when she gets like this. Screaming as if though she knows everything, as if though she’s older and wiser than Dean is. Out of nowhere, he feels a dangerous stab of panic in his stomach when he realizes how close to the water he is, how just a few steps to the right or left and he’d be in the lake. Underneath his feet are wooden boards, and underneath that, there’s just water. He’s not really paying attention to Jo anymore, he can just see her yelling, face flushed up and angry.
“Are you even paying attention?” she snaps, hitting his arm. He looks back at her.
“What the heck did you do that for?” She ignores the question.
“I don’t see why you won’t just play with us! I’m trying to be nice!”
“By hitting me? I don’t care if you’re trying to be nice, you didn’t have to hit me! Jeez what is your problem?”
“My problem? You’re the one who doesn’t want to hang out with us!”
“I just don’t want to hang out with you!”
Dean regrets saying it the moment he says it. It’s not true. Well, a little bit, but only because she starts screaming like this. Otherwise, he actually likes Jo. He sees her eyes widen, fury and just a touch of pain in them. Dean’s pretty sure she’s going to slap him, so he’s unprepared for when she just shoves him.
And Dean stumbles, struggling to get his footing on the wooden dock, and then next thing he knows, he’s falling over into the water. He shuts his eyes before he actually manages to hit the water’s surface. When he goes under, he can hear Sammy screaming his name.
Suddenly, it’s deathly silent.
The water is rough, really rough. Dean feels like a sock in a washing machine, being pulled in every which direction. The waves aren’t fast and furious but short and strong, each wave pulling him deeper in. He fights against it, kicking out in every direction, letting water rush into his lungs. He knows he has to calm down, but he can’t. His heart is racing, and he’s just trying to break the surface of the water. Dean breaks through for a second, just long enough for him to get an image of Charlie crying and Sammy and Jo calling out to him panicked, arms reaching out for him, before he’s pulled back down again. He manages to bob up again for a second and realizes he’s drifting farther away from the dock.
He knows they’re scared. Sammy can’t swim, and Charlie and Jo probably aren’t strong enough to fight back these waves either. So, it’s just him, trying not to die. Except, it seems completely futile at this point. His head is spinning and his chest’s pounding. Dean tries to keep his mouth sealed shut, so water can’t get in, but a particularly rough wave knocks the air out of him. As he watches the bubbles float up around him, he realizes he’s done for. He’s going to drown to death in a stupid lake because he got in a stupid fight with a girl he pretty much considers his sister, even though he’d never tell her that.
And then, there’s air.
Dean’s gasping and sputtering, and he doesn’t know what happened. He’s mostly trying to focus on breathing. He feels himself being pulled through the water, and he’s so confused. Cough out water with each breathe, all he can feel is a really strong pull on his arm dragging him to the shore. Dean turns his head enough to see Castiel doing some type of modified swim stroke with one hand, the other hand gripped tightly around his arm, hand clenched painfully around Dean’s arm.
Castiel isn’t saying anything, isn’t even looking at him, eyes focused on the sand ahead. Cas’s hair is all over his face, but he doesn’t even stop to push it out of the way. He’s completely focused on getting Dean out of the water, and Dean lets himself be pulled, too exhausted to help.
He doesn’t even realize it when they hit land. Cas is dragging him across the sand now. Dean just lies there, arms and legs askew, listening to the sporadic thudding of his heart and the sound of each breath he takes. He realizes he’s closed his eyes again and tries to open them, realizing how much they sting as he struggles. He can see Sammy’s face once he opens his eyes.
“Dean. Dean!” Sam’s yelling at him, and Dean nods a bit to try and calm him down. Sam drops on the sand next to him, holding onto his arm, as if though he’s worried Dean will drift back into the water. Charlie’s next to him too, hugging his chest and crying into his already wet shirt. He struggles to push himself upright, but the moment he’s sitting up his head starts spinning, and he falls back down into the sand. Dean tries to breathe, but he just ends up dry heaving, making this horrible wheezing noise. In between every couple of wheezes, he’ll cough out bits of lake water and spit.
Suddenly, Uncle Bobby appears out of nowhere, wrapping him up in blankets as he talks to him in a soothing voice. Aunt Ellen is there too, inspecting him for any major wounds. It’s only when he hears her yelling at Sammy to get the first aide kit does he realize he has this horrible cut on his leg. He’s finally starting to calm down a bit, enough to comprehend what people are saying to him.
“Dean,” Uncle Bobby’s been repeating to him for the last few minutes, “Dean, talk to me are you okay?” Dean nods, coughing out some more water afterwards. “What happened? Are you hurt?” Dean just motions to his leg in response to the last question. He can’t really speak yet, the words caught in the pit of his stomach. Dean looks at Jo, her face tearstained, eyes wide with fear.
She knows she pushed him. She knows that he almost drowned cause she pushed him. But Dean knows the only reason why she would do something that stupid is because he said something horrible to her. Something that broke her heart, and Dean feels guilty.
He looks straight at her and says to Uncle Bobby, “I tried to prove to them that the lake isn’t that scary. I was wrong.” He hears Uncle Bobby yelling at him, calling him an “idjit”, but he’s looking at Jo. She’s staring at him, teary-eyed and in shock. He could have sold her out, told them what really happened. Instead, he’s taking the fall.
He’s been thinking that Jo’s been acting like she deserves to be part of this family, and he couldn’t stand that. He didn’t realize the only reason she’s been doing that is because she doesn’t think she is. She’s been forcing them to hang out because she wants them to like her. Jo, who’s only ever had her mom, doesn’t want to be alone anymore. She just wants brothers like Sam and Dean and a sister like Charlie, and Dean, the idiot that he is, has pretty much been acting like she’s the most annoying thing in the world, like he doesn’t want to deal with her at all. So if he has to take the fall for nearly killing himself to prove that he loves her, he will.
Jo has been staring at him, eyes wide, and they start to have a silent conversation.
I’m so sorry
It was my fault. I pushed you. Why . . .Why didn’t you tell them it was my fault?
Because I love you, and I don’t want you getting in trouble
The look on Jo’s face when she realizes that Dean loves her is priceless. If Dean weren’t so exhausted, he’d take a picture of it and frame it. Her eyes widen even more and her jaw drops a bit. Suddenly, she pushes Uncle Bobby out of the way, wraps her around him, and starts crying. Like full on girl hysterics. It’s the only time Dean’s ever seen Jo cry, and it’s a bit overwhelming. He looks up at Sam, who’s got his arms around Charlie, trying to calm her down, and Aunt Ellen and Uncle Bobby, staring at each other in surprise. Finally, he finds Cas, half soaking, just sitting there.
He’s about to thank Cas when suddenly he hears someone else yelling Cas’s name, someone who’s voice he doesn’t recognize. Running towards them is a larger, black kid, probably a few years older than Cas. Before anyone can say anything, the guy’s grabbed Cas up and off the ground and is shaking him roughly.
“What the hell did you do?” the guy asks him, ignoring everyone else their. Cas stands there, a bit shocked, mouth frozen shut.
“He, uh,” Dean starts, pushing Jo off of him, “I fell into the lake. He saved my life.” The guy turns around slowly, as if though he didn’t even realize there were other people here. He stares at Dean for a second before turning to look at everybody else. His face slowly turns from rage to disdain. He’s staring at them as if though they’re a disease, like there’s something on them he’ll catch. Dean wants to punch the look right off of this guy’s face, except he still feels light-headed and weak. “Look man, he didn’t do anything wro. . .”
“My brother almost killed himself trying to save you?” the guy interrupts Dean. He’s looking down at Dean, leering at him.
“Brother?” Sam says, disbelief on his face. The two of them look nothing alike. Cas is tiny and a bit gangly, while the other guy is larger and more muscular. Plus, there’s the obvious fact that this guy isn’t pasty and pale like Cas is.
“Half-brother,” Castiel explains, “Uriel’s my half-brother.” The shocked silence that follows is unbearably awkward. Dean swallows down a laugh because seriously? Who came up with their names? He’s about to make a joke about it when he looks at Cas. Cas’s eyes are averted, looking down to the ground in embarrassment.
Before anyone can say anything, Uriel is dragging Castiel away, muttering something under his breathe about “stupid, nosy neighbors”.
Once they’re out of sight, Dean realizes he didn’t even to get to thank Cas for saving him.
He doesn’t see Cas until the second week of school. Dean barely sees him out of the corner of his eye in between classes. Cas is grabbing something out of his locker. He’s got this ridiculous trench coat on, and Dean knows the minute he sees him, that Dean is probably going to have to look out for him too because wearing a trench coat at their age is like wearing a neon sign over your head that says “BEAT ME UP, I’D PROBABLY LIKE IT!”
Just as he’s thinking this, Dean notices a couple of big guys down the hall. They look absolutely ridiculous; hair messed up with thick black eyeliner around their eyes. He figures they’re part of some gang due to the way they seem to cluster together. The main guy nudges one of his friends and motions towards Cas. They start laughing and whispering amongst each other, and Dean already knows what’s about to happen. He pushes his sleeves up and starts moving towards Cas as quickly as he can, pushing a few people out of the way in an attempt to get their faster.
“Hey little angel boy,” the main one says, shoving Cas to the ground, “digging the trench coat. That the only thing they had left down at the dump?” His friends start snickering cruelly. Dean makes a mental note to ask Cas where the nickname “little angel boy” came from.
He expects Cas to just sit there and take the abuse, based off of how Cas dealt with Uriel. He’s pleasantly surprised when Cas turns around slowly and does nothing. No reaction at all. He’s not giving these giant bullies anything to go off of. It doesn’t deter them, however. A couple of the other guys start making jokes about Cas’s hair, and, Dean doesn’t even pause to think about it, he clocks the guy closest to him.
The guy stumbles back a bit into one of the lockers, and the other two guys just freeze and stare at him. The one on the left looks towards the other guy, Dean’s nicknamed him blondie, who’s cradling the side of his face that had smashed into the lockers, silently asking him what to do. Dean’s sure they’ve never had someone stand up to them before. The entire hall has gone silent. Everybody is watching them, wondering what’s going to happen.
Finally, the guy takes his hand off his face and says, “Oh you’re going to regret doing that.” Blondie clenches his fist and moves to punch Dean, but then Cas’s hand is in the way, grabbing his fist. Cas has apparently been gifted with lightening-fast reflexes from above because Dean didn’t even see him move.
“Don’t,” Cas says simply, staring at him, eyes focused and determined. Dean doesn’t know what’s brought upon this side of Cas, this brave and protective side. It’s weird staring at Cas and not imagining him as this quiet, awkward kid. Cas is also a lot stronger than Dean anticipated. He knows Cas is strong, the hand shaped bruise on his arm evidence of his strength, but he never expected Cas to be strong enough to hold of a kid twice his size. The guy stands there, trying to free himself from Cas’s grip, but he can’t. Finally, Cas just twists his hand quickly, and the guy cries out in pain, jerking away.
Cas is officially the most bad-ass guy Dean knows. Well, second most bad-ass guy, behind his Dad of course.
Dean doesn’t have much time to think about it though before the other two guys are rushing at him. He manages to evade one of them, watching as he runs past him into a trashcan, but the other guy knocks him to the ground. Dean’s worried for a second that his face is about to get seriously messed up, when suddenly someone is hauling this guy off of him. Dean leans up on his elbows and sees Sammy beating the shit out of this guy. Okay, not the shit. It’s more like punching him if the guy tries to get close to Dean. It’s not the craziest fight scene Dean’s ever seen, but this is Sammy. Peaceful, let’s hug it out Sammy.
The guy tries to rush Sammy, and Dean has enough time to think “Oh this is not gonna end well for you buddy” before the kid’s lying on the floor wheezing. Out of nowhere, Jo runs up and kicks the guy in the nuts before screaming, “THAT’S WHAT YOU GET FOR MESSING WITH MY FAMILY YOU DIPSTICK!” Dean loves her so much in that one moment.
Dean looks over at Cas, who’s knocked the other guy and sent the remaining guy running back to whatever hellhole he came from, and he’s both ridiculously proud of these guys and seriously mortified that he was on the floor for most of the fight.
Dean doesn’t have much time to nurture this feeling before there are a bunch of teachers around them yelling at them to go to the Principal’s office. Sam helps him up, while Jo yells at the teachers that it’s not their fault, they were just defending their friend. He dusts the knees of his pants, before turning to Cas, who’s back to his usual awkward self.
“That’s the second time you’ve saved my life, it’s becoming a habit,” Dean jokes half-heartedly. Cas cracks a smile a that.
“I’m sure you will one day get a chance to return the favor.” They’re smiling at each other, and Dean swears his stomach does not jump unusually. Seriously, it doesn’t. And as the four of them are shuffled towards the principal’s office, Dean can’t help but think that, as long as the four of them are together, the school year’s not going to be half as bad as he originally thought it would be.