Chapter 1: Five weeks.
Cas is tired, when they get back from Mother and Father's. He feels somewhat foolish for this, and rather selfish. On the one hand, he's been through the ringer, emotionally speaking, and so his present state is justified. But on the other, Dean did all the driving. To Hell and home again, all the way through without ever stopping for the night. Fourteen hours both ways because Cas was tired then, like he is now, and Dean didn't trust Anna behind Baby's wheel over something to do with her tendency toward road rage.
Which strikes Cas as hypocritical of his boyfriend, considering how often in the past few days he's thrown out phrases like, "fuck you," and, "son of a bitch," and, "hey, douchebag, who the Hell taught you how to drive, Helen Keller or a goddamned Snorlax?"
By Sunday and despite all his expectations that this might clear up on its own, Cas finds himself still slouching back on the sofa, with a heating pad over his abdomen and his knees curled up because feeling smaller makes him feel slightly better. It's mildly disconcerting, he guesses. Even Dean's recovered by now.
But not Cas, though. Cas is still tired, and worse still, he's saddled with nausea and aching muscles and a sudden craving for peppermint mochas and triple-chocolate cheesecake (among all kinds of other things Cas doesn't usually allow himself)—and, as Dean reminds him, calling out from the kitchen, this really, really, really isn't fair.
Because not that Dean doesn't love taking care of Cas because he does, but Cas still didn't drive. "And cheesecake's a freaking devil food, y'know," he goes on, though he keeps dishing some up out of the container he brought home from work. "And not that it isn't tasty, because Ellen makes some damn fine cheesecake for what it is. Just, what it is? Is still cheesecake."
"What it is," Cas drawls and shakes his head ever so slightly, "is taking too long to get over here so I can eat it."
"No, see, it's stalling over there because somebody I could mention named Cas Milton can't get dessert before dinner just because he's an adult." Dean's smirk is audible. For all Cas tries to resist, he smiles a bit himself.
Whining more than he likes to take credit for, Cas sits and pouts at Dean over the back of the sofa. He drags himself up and points at the sink, at the empty can of chicken noodle soup and the plastic container he made it in. As though proof that he ate something earlier makes all the difference. Which, in his mind? It does.
Dean shrugs, scoffs ever-so-gently, and sends a smile in Cas's direction. "Yeah, well," he says, "that doesn't change the part where cheesecake sucks."
"How fortunate," says Cas. "You don't enjoy it, and I do. There's more of the delicious dessert for me to enjoy. Provided my boyfriend will actually bring it to me instead of being cruel and hoarding something that he doesn't even want."
"Well, excuse me, Princeling! I beg Your Worshipfulness's pardon. I'm so sorry for caring to make sure you ate dinner without me here. Sorry for caring about whether or not you're eating something good for you."
Cas flinches and tries to shrink into the sofa. Has to stop himself from outright burrowing into the cushions and trying to hide in them like a grave because Dean didn't mean it like that. Dean wouldn't say anything about good and bad food like that, much less do it so callously and so casually—he knows about how Cas has those internal lists he still can't entirely bring himself to shake, the ones of foods that are good and ones that aren't—and Dean wouldn't make a comment like that with any malicious intent.
Cas heaves a sigh of relief when Dean goes on: "I just mean, cheesecake's a dishonest food. It's like a liar, and lying just breeds dishonesty. It's not like pie. Pie's honest with you. The crust doesn't go around hiding the flavor, like cheesecake. Cheesecake's indecisive, too. It can't decide if it's sweet or sour, and it tries to hide one in the other, and—"
"And if you really loved me as much as you like to say, you'd just bring it to me and stop having a sermon like this," Cas says through a heavy sigh. "I am exhausted, I'm having cramps and some of the worst cravings I've had in my life, and considering how late it is? This period is probably going to put me through the wringer more so than usual, and I would appreciate you cooperating and giving me my cheesecake already. Please, Dean?"
Cas looks up from the cushions and sees that Dean's already there, smiling down at him and holding a plate. On it, Cas finds two slices of cheesecake, each topped off with enormous dollops of homemade whipped cream. To spite the obnoxious voice screaming in the back of his head—the urges that Cas recognizes as the remnants of his eating disorder—Cas eats both of them. He doesn't even struggle to get them both down.
Which strikes him as rather odd, but on the other hand, he's barely eaten anything today. And anyway, it's impossible for him to stay frustrated with his boyfriend when Dean puts on "Mirror, Mirror"—Cas's favorite episode of Star Trek—and gives Cas a neck massage without being asked to do either.
Chapter 2: Six weeks.
For all the build up, Cas's period is thoroughly underwhelming when it comes. A few days of spotting that barely even require pads, and then? Nothing. Poof, just… back to normal.
Except for the parts where it kind of isn't. Except for all of the new things that crop up while Cas just wants to do his job—and it shouldn't be that much to ask. It shouldn't be that difficult to be one of Doctor Visyak's graduate assistants. Not even the part where the job means teaching freshmen. Cas has handled it all pretty well since Doctor Visyak took him on, and more than that, he shares the position with Bela and Sarah.
But once they get back from break, it's like he's hardly even in the office. Well, he's there, but he barely sits down with Bela and Sarah before he has to get back up. His desk is where he goes for a break from the bathroom, from kneeling on the tiles and hugging the toilet, digging his fingers into the edge of the seat as he prays and waits for his stomach to just stop trying so hard to kill him—and it doesn't stop there.
Teaching's getting impossible. Cas refuses to ask Bela or Sarah to cover for him when he's most likely just being some sort of dramatic, but it's starting to look like he might be forced into that position. Too many classes end up with him rushing to the bathroom. One time, he doesn't even make it there. He barely makes it to the wastebasket at the back of the classroom, and it's a small mercy that he manages to hold back on throwing up until his students have left.
And if he's not there puking, he's there peeing, so trying to drink water, trying to avoid dehydration? Just keeps this whole stupid process going and makes Cas want to claw his fucking eyes out.
It just gets worse when Bela, being herself, has to go and notice. After only a day—and one lunch that Cas basically misses from eating part of it, then needing to rush off and vomit—she's eyeing Cas. Watching everything he does. Arching her eyebrow at him any time she sees him looking uncomfortable or shifting around in his seat. It would not surprise him if she's started keeping track of every time he has to run off.
It does surprise him when, the Friday after break, she says, "Dean must be making smorgasbords for breakfast and dinner, if you can hardly get through lunch, Darling. Or is he just giving you food that makes you ill? You know that you don't have to humor him if it's making you sick up at work, don't you."
Cas sighs and doesn't dignify that passive-aggression by looking up from the stack of tests he's grading. Social nuances aren't his forte, but Bela's been his best friend for several years now—nigh on ten of them—and he knows what she wants to say there. The subtext of her statement is: I really hope that your boyfriend is just being an idiot, because I can hate him without batting an eye; it doesn't require any extra effort from me. But if he isn't, the only other option is that you're relapsing, and I will not let you do that to yourself.
Because, obviously, everything comes back to the way Cas hurt himself during their stint as undergraduates. The way that he tried not to eat for several days, or else didn't eat enough, and made himself throw up most of the significant meals he forced himself to take in, just to keep up the appearance of normality—even when it's a much more reasonable explanation that Cas is simply ill or coming down with something. Maybe he isn't running a fever, and maybe he ought to just stay home if this doesn't clear up by next week—but he's not relapsing, and there's nothing else that this could be.
So, as far as answering Bela goes, he gives her the softest, most bemused smile that he can manage, and tries to imitate Bela's characteristic drawl as he replies, "Of course I do. I'm probably catching that bug that's going around—you know, the one that makes all of these children fall ill on test days."
Sarah snorts at that, and when Bela glares at her, she shrugs. Explains herself with a simple, "What? You were thinking the same thing about them—and what about the kids who get sick right around paper due dates, right? I mean, I know that I pulled some of these stunts in undergrad, too, but it's like… they actually expect this to work on people who did the same things—and who did them not that long ago."
And Bela's not one to run from any match of verbal sparring, so she just can't let that go. Cas's smile gets more earnest as he turns back to grading tests. There. Everything ought to be fine, now. Everything would be perfect if he weren't sure that there's another round of gastric pyrotechnics coming up. But win some, lose some, he supposes.
Chapter 3: Six-and-a-half weeks.
"I'm just saying, Cas: those cupcakes that Dean and Layla sent to my office were fantastic. Has he maybe considered… not just working at the Roadhouse forever? If the two of them wanted to go into business on their own, they could make a damn mint."
Cas sighs and supposes that he can't answer that question, as he doesn't live inside of his boyfriend's head. He could ask Dean, of course, in addition to passing on her compliments—but he cannot do so until later, so Anna's going to have to wait. With that handled, he turns his attention back to his plate. Stabs at his chicken-and-pesto dish with a fork just for the sake of not having to look at Anna.
And maybe so Cas will stop stealing glances of a pair of fellow cafe patrons: two clean-shaven older men—one balding and both in crisp suits—who are sharing one of the best-looking slices of cake that Cas has ever seen in his life. He saw it on the menu earlier—at least, he did if it's the item listed as, Triple Chocolate Decadence, the lava cake with semisweet chocolate chips and strawberry glaze.
And Cas knows that he shouldn't find the idea of it nearly as appealing as he does, not when he's been so sick recently, not when he knows how many calories per slice the menu listed. …but as he watches the balding man feed his partner off a fork, Cas can't help imagining how rich it must taste, how it'd be so warm and sweet and thick on his tongue, how much he wants a slice of his own and not to share it with anybody.
…but, on the other hand, there's Anna, and sometimes, her sense of humor leaves a lot to be desired. Sometimes, she doesn't know when to stop—for instance, the way she's still rabbiting on about Dean and Layla's cupcakes, and what fabulous bakers the two of them are—and Cas has gotten through today without getting sick so far.
But it's bad enough to suffer through the thought of what kind of joke Anna might try to make if he gets a slice of chocolate cake after getting pasta for lunch, devouring an entire order of spring rolls, and none-too-subtly sneaking fries off of her plate.
But even considering that makes Cas's stomach sour and makes him start feel like running to the bathroom—and he can't be sure if he'd be on his knees because his stomach's trying to claw its way out through his mouth, or because he'd be scratching at the back of his throat, trying to make himself sick. Which is enough of a reason for Cas not to get the cake.
For all she's making it harder to keep his first sickness-free day going, for all she's making it harder to bite back on the nausea creeping up his throat, Anna isn't even the biggest problem that Cas has on his plate. The biggest problem in his life right now is Bela. It's how Bela doesn't stay beaten for long and has no functional knowledge of boundaries or when to leave well enough alone. It's how Bela is exactly the sort of person who would tickle a sleeping dragon with a red-hot, iron poker, then wonder why it got upset.
It's how Bela hasn't stopped asking all sorts of oblique questions about whether or not Cas is making himself sick on purpose. How she sent him texts all weekend. How she spent Monday refusing to just drop the issue. How she's even getting her girlfriend in on this, when Sarah's known about Cas's history with disordered eating but was at least willing to guess that he might just be coming down with something.
So, now it's Tuesday and Cas finds himself out to lunch with his older sister instead of where he'd rather be (marking up essays to try and get them done and out of the way already). And making matters worse (as though they needed any help)—
"Speaking of cupcakes, could you be making bedroom eyes any harder at those guys' dessert?"
—Making matters infinitely worse, is Anna's girlfriend. Ruby Masters-Rosen. Petite, dark-haired Ruby Masters-Rosen and the way she can drawl the most cruel of things so casually, as though she doesn't even have to think, so long as she's at risk of hurting people.
Cas wishes that he could have some masterful, snarky retort for her in his back pocket. But what she gets out of him instead is a series of rough, coughing noises as he tries not to choke on a piece of chicken.
Even once he's free from that, though, all Cas can manage is blinking at Ruby. Tilting his head and trying to put words to, How fucking dare you ask that question. Excuse you, but you fucking know better than this, Ruby. It's not like you to be such a jackass in this way, not when you know what I've been through, and when your own fucking sister has been so much worse off than—
"I'm gonna need to beg your indulgence with my girlfriend and her unfettered asshole tendencies," Anna says through an exasperated huff, giving Ruby a Look that suggests they'll be talking about this later. "If she's acting out, it's probably because Meg's been going back to EDA meetings."
Cas blinks at Anna, this time, frowns deeply and has to wonder how long this has been going on. When did Meg start up with Eating Disorders Anonymous meetings. "I have no objections to her doing so, naturally," he adds when Ruby starts to glare at him. "But since the two of us have gone together before… I'd just thought that, if she were having trouble, she would've mentioned it to me? Because that is what friends do, last I checked?"
Ruby sighs from the pit of her chest and shakes out her impressive mane of hair. "She's just going to her first one today, Clarence," she says, using Meg's nickname for Cas in what is probably some kind of deliberate move to make Cas feel… something. He can't tell what, but, then again, he can never really tell anything with Ruby. "But, yeah," she goes on, "it's been building up a while. She's been doing that lone wolf thing that she does sometimes. Not talking to anybody. You know how she gets."
Cas does know how Meg gets sometimes, but that doesn't make it any better, really. He's still going to worry about her. "Just as I know how Bela gets sometimes, but that knowledge still doesn't aid the fact that I think she is currently being presumptuous, invasive, and generally prone to behaving questionably. In a way that makes me fear the possibility of her dragging me to EDA meetings by my ear."
Furrowing her brow, Anna asks what got's Cas having a tiff with Bela. Cas tells her everything. And he nearly chokes on another forkful of his lunch when her response is: "You and Dean use protection, right?"
Once he's settled down again, even though he can't get his cheeks to stop feeling so hot and sick and pink, Cas supposes that this isn't exactly any of Anna's business. Which sounds a lot better than, no, we don't, why would we bother? Both of us are clean and we don't sleep with anybody else, unless you know something about my boyfriend's sexual proclivities that I don't.
"Well… if you don't," Anna sighs. "Cas… have you considered that—Cas, could you be pregnant?"
It might make sense, but… no. Cas shakes his head. Perhaps a bit too strenuously, since it sends a pang right up to his forehead. But… no. He's always been irregular. It's probably too late or too early for him to be PMSing, but… "I'm not pregnant, Anna," he says. "There's absolutely no way."
And he's absolutely putting in an order for the chocolate cake when the waitress comes around next. Damn the calories and damn whatever Anna or Ruby has to say about it. The wear-and-tear his nerves are taking today needs some goddamned soothing.
Chapter 4: Seven weeks.
Frankly, Cas would love to just ignore things. If only all of this issue could get so effectively buried in chocolate cake.
Unfortunately, trying to ignore it or else bury it in rich deliciousness has one side-effect: the issue gets worse. Probably due to the chocolate cake. …Well. Maybe not specifically the cake, but in some small part, the cake is involved. It's part of the problem, rather than part of the solution, and for days after having it, Cas can't believe that he let himself slip up like that. At least, some of the issue's worsening must be due to what the cake symbolizes.
Namely: that Cas is getting overly content in how things are going, something that, even in recovery, he hasn't allowed himself for… ages. He could have named exactly how long, at one time, but Doctor Hurley and everyone from his chapter of EDA insists that it's part of recovery not to be able to do so. That it's good for him not to be able to say how long it's been since he last slipped up in the same way that he did with the cake, and the cheesecake before it, and all of his other recent fuck-ups. All of the times when he's eaten until he was stuffed full, all of the times he's had dessert for lunch and for dinner…
Maybe their point about recovery was true, at some point—but, at the moment, it's less that he's recovering, and more that Cas can't name how long it's been between slip ups because he's been backsliding everywhere, all the time.
He's still nauseated, though the puking problem's slowly starting to get better—or maybe Cas is just getting used to it—but despite the constant threat of vomiting, Cas is starving. Weak, he can't help thinking, not least because his cravings refuse to conform to any patterns. Sometimes, they're just for tomatoes; other times, Cas wants all of the chocolate chip cookies in a ten-mile radius. (Glumly, he recognizes that this is a point in favor of Anna's theory's—but Cas isn't pregnant. He can't be pregnant. That isn't going to happen to him—it wouldn't, it won't, it's possibly only in theory.)
And for all he recognizes all of this as what it is? For all Cas sees this thinking and knows that it's not his own mind, but his eating disorder trying to insinuate itself back into his life? …It's too hard to completely shake the notion that his eating disorder might have a point after all. For one thing: it's finals time, and that always means Cas has stress clouding his vision. Making it hard to see why he should behave in any kind of healthy way, why he shouldn't listen to his disorder, why he shouldn't deny himself everything in the hopes that that self-control will make him feel better.
For another thing, and even worse? He's put on twelve pounds since Halloween—all of it showing and settling on his waistline, giving him (and he shudders to think it) a belly. Not much of one, granted—it's barely even a hint, so far—but all the same? It's there, and it's pudgy, and it's disgusting, and it's mocking Cas. Mocking him the same way that the bright red 170 on the scale mocked him. Mocking him with how he's let himself get so contented, and how he can't even manage to think of losing it without slipping back into the sort of patterns that would get him smacked back into therapy so hardcore, his current rounds with Doctor Hurley would weep at their own relative inadequacy.
What's even worse is that his stomach isn't the only show of the weight he's gained. It isn't even the worse of the two major centers. Here, he's supposed to be getting his things packed for going out to Dean's parents' place for Christmas—and Cas can't stop staring at his reflection in the full-length mirror hanging inside of the closet. Specifically: he can't stop staring at his breasts, at how they're straining against the thin fabric of this old t-shirt, even with two sports bras on. Cas sighs as he glances down at the pile of clothes in his suitcase, at the binder folded up on top of them. At his favorite binder, the one that makes it easiest for him to pass and the one that he feels most comfortable while he's wearing.
Cas hasn't been able to comfortably do it up for a good three days now—and it's been an increasingly tight squeeze just to fasten it. Judging by how his stomach's trying to follow his breasts' example, Cas wouldn't be surprised if he ends up too big for all of his clothes by Christmas. Time's of the essence and all—he knows that, and he knows that he doesn't have the time for this—but still, Cas pauses in his work. Gets closer to the mirror and hesitates in front of himself. He takes in a deep breath, trying to suck in his pooching, pudgy little tummy—and when he examines himself from the side, he's still unsatisfied. It's still there. It still looks round enough to him.
This isn't fair—Cas tries not to whine as he lets the breath and his stomach fall back out and into place. Even in recovery, he's always been so fastidious with his weight and his appearance. For one thing, it's a matter of keeping his body androgynous enough that he's comfortable in it. And for another, he has trouble enough, remembering his awkward adolescence, when Mother and Father picked on his weight and put him on diet after diet, but called him tubby and chunky, no matter how much weight he ever lost—at least, until his height evened out at five-foot-eleven and their insults became, goodness, Cassandra, can't you at least try to do something about how tall and boyish you look?
Everything comes rushing back now, as he stares at his reflection—everything that they ever said to him, everything that Cas has ever told himself about how fat and stupid he is, everything that he's tried not to feel about his weight and his breasts and his stomach and the horrid heap of biomass and organs that he's trapped in… Everything crashes into him in a torrent of emotion that sets his head reeling and makes him feel sick for the first time since this morning.
And Cas prides himself on not being one for big emotional displays. He wants to resolve this in a more productive way—namely, by dragging Dean into a deep kiss and fucking him into the mattress… But Dean's working the late shift at The Roadhouse tonight, and Cas has no other options. He gives up on packing—at least, for now—and flops into bed instead. Rolling onto his side, curling up around the knit afghan that Dean's mother made for them when they first moved in together, Cas buries his face in one of Dean's pillows. Breathes in deep the familiar smell of his boyfriend, and releases everything in a deep cough, a strangled sob, and a hot, wet stream of tears.
Chapter 5: Eight weeks, 1.
The lead-up to Christmas could go better, but, then again? So could basically everything in Cas's life, at the moment. It could also go a great deal worse, and Cas supposes that that part is enough for now. His favorite binder doesn't get any more comfortable, but it doesn't feel any tighter, either. By the time Cas boards his and Dean's early-morning flight out to Lawrence, his mind's mostly stuck on how fucking sore his breasts have been. Because of course, it's not enough for them to just get bigger; they have to insist upon themselves in other ways, too.
In addition to that, his clothes mostly won't let him hide or deny the reality of his present situation. No matter what Cas tries to wear or how slim it lets him look, he never really feels good about it. The bone-deep, gut-twisting, dysphoric sensation of how wrong his body is will not go away. Most of his clothes are getting tight, though his t-shirts are, by far, the worst offenders. Thankfully, Cas's button-ups and sweater vests were never truly fitted. They couldn't be overly fitted; Cas needed room for his bulkier binders. And now, he needs the room to hide his stomach until the holidays are over and he can get himself on a diet, the way he knows that he needs to be.
He doesn't mention this, though. Because it's Christmas, and that would be inappropriate—and anyway, Dean's family makes it hard for Cas to dwell on anything negative.
They have a few instances of pronoun trouble—instances that Cas understands, for all they grate his nerves, because his breasts are still swollen and three sports bras aren't exactly changing that. But, barring those, Dean's family is so… open. And understanding. And so many things that Cas has never gotten from anyone he's related to, save his sisters. As soon as he and Dean come through the door, Mary hugs Cas and titters about how she's so pleased to finally meet the young man who stole her baby's heart. She helps them get settled into Dean's old bedroom, and she treats Cas like he's already a member of their family.
Cas tries to point this out to Mary—mostly out of curiosity, and wondering how she can be so kind to someone she's just met—while helping her sort through the shopping for Christmas dinner, and the way she puts it? Cas might as well be in the family properly, at this point, regardless of how he doesn't have a ring on his finger. Dean's only brought one other person home before—his high school girlfriend, Cassie—and they turned out to be covering up for each other. Dean wanted to hide his crush on Viktor Henriksen, his handsome history teacher; Cassie wanted to hide her crush on Tessa Le Grange, the pastor's daughter; and both of them wanted to hide what those things signified about them.
"Cassie might as well be my daughter anyway," Mary says, nudging a loaf of challah up onto the top of the fridge. "We've kept in touch, she comes to visit when she's in town… Makes sense you haven't met her yet, what with her investigative journalism taking her everywhere, but she's a lovely girl. Just like you're a lovely young man. And even if Dean doesn't make honest men of the two of you, you're always welcome here, Sweetheart."
Quietly, Cas thanks her, and handles changing the subject with as much grace and tact as he can manage when it feels like his chest is on fire with affection and all of his impulses are to just hug Mary and ask if she'll please be his official replacement mother. Which is to say, none whatsoever: "…I was under the impression that challah was a Jewish customary food?" he says, blinking and pointing up at the bread. "Dean only mentioned this as a Christmas-celebrating household?"
Mary shrugs and smiles. "Oh, we are Jewish, Sweetheart. There's enough of the heritage on both of my parents' sides anyway," she explains, then asks Cas to pass her the ham so she can put it away. "We're not very good at practicing Judaism, mind you—I swear, Rabbi Turner is incredibly forgiving and we push even his limits… Sam almost didn't get to do his bar mitzvah, that's how lax we can get. But, then again, John's a lapsed Episcopalian atheist, so… Christmas is less about Jesus and more about family, around here."
Cas doesn't say so, but he could absolutely get used to the way that the Winchesters do things. The concept of having Christmas without Jesus strikes him as impossibly odd, pricking at some part of him that might always get stuck in the molasses of everything his parents tried to teach him—but still, Cas could get used to this quite easily. Not having to go to church first thing on the twenty-fifth? And not having to feel like that's required of him? Well, that's simply an unexpected benefit.
True to form, Sam is as welcoming as ever. He treats Cas like another brother, and makes Cas feel like he belongs here, though his girlfriend absolutely puts him to shame, in that regard—which says a great deal, as Sam has regularly brought Cas takeaway meals, on the nights when Dean's been working late but wanted to make sure that Cas had something more substantial for dinner than salad. To say nothing of how he's been doing that since he and Cas barely knew each other.
His girlfriend's name is Jessica Moore and she's older than Sam—closer to Dean and Cas's age, which Cas absolutely didn't expect. Apparently, she's working on a Master's in Gender and Sexuality Studies, after studying that in her undergraduate and getting a Master's in Anthropology. And she did a year-and-a-half of a nursing program before deciding that it wasn't really what she wanted. She's not entirely sure what she plans to do with her advanced degrees yet, aside from teaching, and over a round of oolong tea and Mary's Christmas cookies, she and Cas bond over being in that same position. Over how ridiculous academia can get, and how, ultimately, they wouldn't have it any other way.
The biggest surprise, though—and the Christmas miracle that Cas never expected to get—comes from John Winchester.
Cas doesn't mean to end up spending too much time alone with John. For all he doesn't seem that awful, for all he's been every bit as hospitable as Sam and Mary, for all he wears a PFLAG t-shirt while working on his truck, Cas can't stop thinking of how Dean relates the stories of his adolescence. How Dean must have had some reason to feel like he needed to stay closeted from his family, and how the John Winchester that Cas has heard about has very rigid ideas about gender roles, especially about masculinity. So does Cas's own Father, who still refuses to acknowledge that he has a son named Cassidy, not a daughter named Cassandra.
So, really, Cas can't imagine that, somewhere underneath the façade of enthusiastic acceptance, John Winchester actually isn't all that inclined to accept that his son's boyfriend isn't exactly butch, much less the part where Cas has a vagina.
So, one afternoon, when everyone else is out of the house, Cas tries to just steer clear of his technically-not-quite-father-in-law. Their paths only end up crossing when Cas gets a hankering and wanders downstairs to make himself some tea. They only end up in the same room together because the kettle's going to be a while on the stove and John has the television turned up—which means that Cas hears the unmistakable opening of a Star Trek episode all the way in the kitchen.
And damn his resolution not to bother John or risk getting involved in anything one-on-one, Cas has to investigate when he hears Star Trek episodes playing.
He wanders into the living room in time to see the title flash on the screen, Balance of Terror. Trembling, Cas has to bite his lower lip to keep from sighing at this unfortunate turn of events. Of course, John would be watching Cas's second favorite TOS episode when Cas wants so badly to avoid him. When Cas feels like a blimp and every movement makes him more aware of his stomach, and he still can't avoid the allure of Mary's cookies. When Cas could barely wrangle his breasts into a single sports bra, for how sore they are, and everything about his body feels so irreparably wrong.
(Not that John would consciously try to throw Cas through a loop like this, of course not. How could he, when there's almost no way he could know what Cas's favorite episode is? …But, even so, this is exactly like Cas's life and its so-called sense of humor. He wishes that reality's jokes came with a pamphlet explaining the punchlines, because for the most part? These jokes strike him as obnoxious and cruel, not funny.)
Still, despite every urge to run in the opposite direction, Cas finds himself asking if he may join John. Silently cursing his mouth for its ability to move so independently of his brain and drag him into things before he can tell what's going on. John smiles easily and tells Cas to pull up a seat, and once Cas settles into the other armchair, curls his knees up to his chest, they sit in silence for a while. Long enough for Cas to calm his nerves and get used to this idea—he could watch an entire episode with John, if they kept up not saying anything to each other.
It's eventually broken, though. By John saying, "So, you're pretty quiet, aren't you? Shy, like?"
Cas shrugs and supposes that he is. "Dean's said so, anyway? He also said that he liked that best about me when we first met. That I wasn't an open book, that I played hard-to-get, but, erm…"
Trailing off, Cas tries to bury his bright pink blush in his knees and the plaid pajama bottoms he's wearing, even though they're Dean's. Dammit, John didn't ask about that. John didn't ask Cas to justify his and Dean's relationship. So why did Cas have to go and spit that out like an idiot. Whatever mental gymnastics he's tied himself up in doing, Cas really should know better. John isn't Cas's Father, and Cas has no empirical reason to be afraid of him. Invested in impressing him? Now, that would make sense, but it's so far off the mark that Cas can't even find some humor in the juxtaposition of fictitious desire and actual desire.
And for all he means to shut up and stop making an ass of himself, Cas just keeps babbling at Dean's father: "If I've been rude or stand-offish since we got here, I'm very sorry, I… well. I'm not certain of what Dean's told you and Mary about me, but… he might have mentioned that family gatherings and holidays can be hard for me? Emotionally, I mean? And sometimes, I don't entirely understand how I come off to people, so I say something wrong, or do something wrong, or—"
"You don't have to apologize for anything, y'know that, right?" John says, and Cas finds himself looking up into a calm, earnest smile. It doesn't look weird on John's face, but it's still so far off from what Cas expects. "Dean mentioned all of that, and that he loves you, which is the important part, really. And anyway, speaking for me? I just looked at how you've been here and thought, 'well, it probably makes sense that he's shy and quiet. Lots of reasons why, I'd bet, and one of 'em's that somebody's gotta balance out how loud Dean can get.'"
Cas blinks at John, and furrows his brow, and can't keep his sudden realization to himself: "You know… you're the only person here who hasn't had some kind of trouble getting my pronouns right?" he says, hoping that his tone comes off as curious, instead of accusational or anything else. "And that includes Dean, actually, though… his happened a few years ago, rather than any time recently."
"Yeah, I guess I could see your tits throwing some people off," John supposes with a pensive sigh, pointedly looking away from Cas's chest. "But I mean… I just don't look at you and think, 'she,' or, 'girl,' or, 'woman' or anything? And I mean, maybe it's just that Dean got to me first and he's always said he and boyfriend about you? But hey, my buddy Mike, down at the garage? He's got gynecomastia and his tits are probably bigger than yours, so…"
John shrugs. "Anyway, you're my son-in-law, as far as I'm concerned. You know, as long as you don't mind me calling you that? I know you and Dean don't have rings or anything, but… you are living together, and it's not like you haven't been going out for long enough to get hitched?"
The kettle goes off right as Cas says that he absolutely doesn't mind, and when he returns to the living room, it's not just with his tea. He also brings a paper plate of cookies—with a few of the raspberry tarts picked out, specifically because Dean mentioned that they're John's favorites.
Chapter 6: Eight weeks, 2.
John leaves, eventually, though, and Cas can't entirely blame him. First, Dean and Mary need help getting the results of their errand-running inside, and not that long after, Sam and Jessica need the same. After that comes dinner, and after that, John understandably wants to spend time with Mary instead of with Cas. And Cas can't mind really mind this either, since it ends up with him and Dean watching Star Trek together instead. It ends up with them on the sofa, immersed in a self-designed marathon of TOS, and with Cas's head in one of its very favorite places: Dean's lap.
Boxing Day finds them back in the exact same place, albeit better because they're alone. John and Mary have gone with Sam and Jessica to meet her parents at the airport, get them checked into their hotel, and spend the afternoon and evening getting to know each other better. And Cas likes Dean's family. He loves being a part of Dean's family, loves that John and Mary already consider him like another son and that Sam treats him like a brother—but he would never turn down the chance to have some alone time with Dean. Even if it's as simple as sharing some quiet TV time because they're both tired.
The only thing that's changed in the since they did this last is that they've gotten richer in terms of presents—and in terms of food. Cas tries not to think about that. He tries to keep his mind on the marathon of Voyager and Deep Space Nine that he's subjecting Dean to, and on the fact that he got to win today. On navigating around his headache and quiet round of nausea to affectionately argue that just because Dean isn't especially fond of either series doesn't mean that either isn't "real" Star Trek. He tries not to berate himself for eating so much yesterday (enough that his food-baby strained the confines of that button-up), because he was hungry and that's all the reason he needs to eat anything.
He tries to focus on Dean's hand mussing up his hair or brushing up and down his side, not on the thoughts that he knows aren't his own but his disorder's—but Cas startles, flinches, when Dean's hand slithers onto his stomach. He jerks away from Dean, into a sitting position. Gasping, feeling his breathing speed up and his lungs flail inside his chest, Cas scuttles to the other end of the couch, curls up on himself, snaps his hand back to brush Dean's hand off his shoulder. He barely notices that Dean must've moved, if he's close enough to touch Cas's shoulder. He barely hears Dean ask him what's wrong—as though it's not completely obvious.
And the only thing Cas thinks in this moment—the only thing every part of him feels, all deep and visceral and hot and sick and nauseating—is: no, stop, don't touch me, you can't, not until I get on a diet, not until I a handle on this and drop this weight, I'm getting so fat and my clothes don't fit right and it's disgusting—
Cas doesn't even register that he's blurting this out until the cushions shift, until he feels Dean's body heat getting closer to him, until Dean sighs and says, "Cas… Sexy, come on. It's only the day after one of the biggest food-related holidays of the entire fucking year. Just… breathe and cut yourself some slack, okay? I mean, everybody got seconds or more yesterday. Everybody got a food-baby. You're not fat or getting there or anything, I swear to God—oh, fuck, shit, I'm sorry, Cas, I didn't mean…"
Cas flinches again, feels all the muscles in his back seize up. Dean sighs, and even without looking at him, Cas can see the gears turning in his head and the energy he's putting into this thought process. Into remembering that he's not supposed to talk to Cas about his appearance, in moments like this, because Doctor Hurley, Bela, Meg, and every single pamphlet and website on the subject says that Dean's not supposed to broach that topic. And because he's Dean, he's probably trying to think about the past several weeks, examining everything he's said or done and searching for anything that might've triggered Cas. All because Cas is a coward who can't even handle speaking up to put his boyfriend's mind at ease.
"But I am getting fat," he says, and hates how mewling and wobbly and weak his voice sounds. How his eyes sting at him, all hot and sharp, and how the tears don't even give him a chance to protest or bite them back. How he knows before it starts that all of this is careening into another round of word-vomit. "I am getting fat, Dean, and I have been—I have been since before we even came out here, I'm heavier than I've been since I was a freshman, and you must've noticed, and I'm—everything is so impossible, and I can't even do up my binder right anymore?"
"Cas… I swear I didn't notice, and just… You can talk to me about it, you know that right," Dean says, and puts his hand on Cas's shoulder again, gives Cas a gentle squeeze, and for all Cas wants to push Dean off him and away again, he can't. He can't spare any other part of his mind. He's too caught up in how he's weak and crying, in how much he wants to just run for the bathroom and jab a toothbrush at the back of his throat until the morning sickness makes good on its threat and he sicks up.
Except that it's not morning sickness because Cas isn't pregnant. Of all the myriad things that would make this horrifying bullshit worse, pregnancy is at the very top of the list. Cas whines, and shakes his head, and doesn't even bother explaining this for Dean. He just launches right back into purging all of these goddamned built-up emotions that he doesn't fully understand:
"Why is this even happening to me?" he snaps, and for a moment, he yelps, and his voice jumps up a few notes higher than it should, because everything just needs to remind Cas that his body is a fucking prison and so much about it isn't right. Because it's not enough for his breasts to be so sore and so much bigger than their usual size, or for him to have no idea when his next period's going to hurry up and get here. The tears keep coming, flowing freely, and Cas groans, gets halfway to screaming as he beats his forehead against his knees.
"What did I do to deserve this, Dean? I didn't even… All I want is to feel okay in my own skin again—I had it, and it was fine, and I want it back… Is that really so much to fucking ask? And I just—I shouldn't have been able to put on twelve pounds while I had the stomach flu or whatever it was that had me vomiting my lungs up for almost three weeks straight—Dean, that isn't… It's just not possible. Even if I have been eating enough for a small army, it isn't—"
"Cas, you have to… You know I don't want to ask this, Babe, but…" Dean coughs—one of the fake coughs that he throws out there when he's right about ready to ask something, but needs to give himself one last shove into action. "Cas, all those times you've been getting sick—I mean, I know you said it wasn't… But if it was an eating disorder thing, then we have to… Was it an eating disorder thing? You weren't making yourself sick on purpose or anything, right? I mean, you got better and you wouldn't and—"
"And if it were an eating disorder thing, then don't you think I'd cover my tracks fucking better than that?" Cas gets the words out easily enough, but it still feels like he's dragging them out of his throat, like they're trailing their claws up his insides as he does. "Dean, I'm not… Well. Yes, I think it's obvious that I am relapsing here, and I can't say that I didn't ever feel better after vomiting like that, but… How can you seriously hear me talking about barely making it through classes—how can you really watch me get suddenly, violently sick in the kitchen wastebasket, for no apparent reason, and ask if I'm doing it to myself? Do you trust me that little?"
"Cas, I didn't mean it like… I didn't mean to say that—of course I trust you, dumb-ass! I'm just…" Dean sighs. In all likelihood, he has the words he wants to use, but he's being overly mindful of how he says them. Not least since he just threw out an insult. "I'm worried about you, Cas, okay? I've seen you get really bad once before, and I don't… I want you to be happy, not making yourself all sick and miserable, okay?"
"Why shouldn't I be sick and miserable?" Cas huffs, and whines as he drags his head back up, as he grinds his fingers at the bridge of his nose. He hates that he's whining, but he doesn't have the presence of mind to stop himself. Just like how he can't stop crying, even though he's evening out a little, getting the slightest bit calmer and quieter. "All I feel is disgusting, Dean, and that's for at least two weeks now, and I just… I wish I had been making myself sick on purpose? I do. I really do. Because at least then, I'd know what's wrong with me. It wouldn't be simple, but at least…"
Cas trails off into a sigh and lets himself topple backward. Trusts Dean to be there and catch him. (Dean is, and he does.) Dean keeps quiet as he wraps his arms around Cas's shoulders, and holds Cas for a long, silent moment (marred only by the faraway sounds of Captain Sisko talking to Major Kira)—then he slowly eases them back into the position they started in. Slowly gets Cas down on his back, head in Dean's lap, in the perfect position for Dean to card his fingers through Cas's hair. Cas blinks up at the ceiling, then at Dean, and Cas is still crying, and he must look like Hell, but Dean doesn't make any moves to get away from him.
After a while—long enough that Dean starts up a new episode—Cas manages to finish his thought: "That was not an exaggeration just now, Dean. I do wish all of this were just an eating disorder thing. At least we'd have the first idea what to do about an eating disorder thing."
"Well," Dean sighs. "Far be it from me to make any calls about you handle your own shit, but… Y'know what might be a good starting place? Getting an appointment with someone who can figure out what's making you sick all the time—"
"If only I'd stayed sick. I mean… Of course it would clear up, somewhat, right after I've decided that I'll go to the emergency clinic if it keeps up for another day."
"Yeah, yeah, coulda, shoulda, would've and whatever. Just. No matter what happens there… And again, I'm really, really not trying to push you here or anything, because I know that's bad, but…"
Cas sighs and nuzzles at Dean's thighs. "But you think I should bring this up with Doctor Hurley and perhaps join Meg in returning to EDA meetings more regularly?"
Dean nods. "So… should I take that as you're definitely going to do it, then?"
Cas shrugs and supposes that he would, were he in Dean's position. "Somehow, I don't see very many other choices for handling whatever this is. At least, I don't see any that have any chance of success, much less being healthy options." And sighing, Cas lets his eyes drift shut. He's tired, though he doesn't nap, exactly. He just wants this conversation to be over and can't think of how to change the subject.
Chapter 7: Nine weeks.
"So are we gonna talk about this or not, Angel?"
Cas huffs, tossing his suitcase onto the bed, letting his backpack drop to the floor, and he says, without any adornment: "Or not."
Dean doesn't like that answer—Cas knew before he said anything that Dean wouldn't like that answer. He doesn't expect Dean to be so composed about it, though. To skulk after Cas into their bedroom and quietly start unpacking his own suitcase. To let a long moment pass without saying anything at all. Even when he's trying to be sensitive, Dean's usual way of doing things is to trample roughshod over everything in his path, taking down anything that gets in his way.
But for now? Dean's quiet. Waiting. Almost sedate—Cas would even believe the stillness, if he couldn't see the tense lines furrowing Dean's brow and racking up his back and shoulders.
It's a Monday, the day after New Year's and they just got off a plane back home from Kansas. As Dean works on his suitcase, he's still wearing his battered leather jacket. He only takes it off when he notices that yes, Cas turned their apartment's heat back on and yes, there are beads of sweat forming on his forehead. And if the first week of a new year is supposed to indicate how the whole twelve months are going to go? Then Cas doesn't have that much hope for two-thousand-and-twelve. Or any hope at all.
At this rate, Cas might be lucky to make it through to December without needing to take mental health leave so he doesn't snap on everyone.
"Well, I think we need to talk about it," he mumbles eventually, while Cas is in the midst of sorting out his laundry from the sweater-vests that can go back in the dresser. "I mean… you're not gonna try to tell me that it's nothing, right? Since, y'know, it isn't?"
"I wasn't going to purport any such thing," Cas says, rolling his eyes. Of course he's denying things, in Dean's mind. It can't be that Cas has taken everything into consideration and made his own decisions on the matter; it has to be that he's in denial of what's obvious. "On the contrary, I am taking this matter very seriously. Are you?"
"You mean, am I taking it seriously that Sam told me that you got tipsy on wine and champagne, and told Jess that one of your New Year's Resolutions is, and I quote…" Dean pauses, no doubt for dramatic effect or whatever other ridiculous thing he's thinking, and he waits for Cas to turn around before he says: "'Get back in the swing of my yoga, stop eating like a pig, drop twenty-five pounds, and slim back down before it gets to be too late.'"
"I did not say that." In his mind, Cas is intent and resolute, not to be bent or broken—but in reality, he finds himself wilting under Dean's scrutinizing glare and the suspicious wrinkle of his nose. Cas sighs, taking pains to sound as aggrieved as humanly possible. "Fine, I said most of it, but I did not use those words exactly, and Sam is taking it out of context in a frankly egregious manner—"
"You do realize that dropping twenty-five pounds would put you around one-fifty, right? One-fifty as in, 'that point when you generally start looking like you're going to pass out at the drop of a hat'?"
"I didn't say that I wanted to lose twenty-five pounds. I said that I was shooting for between fifteen and twenty-something—which, frankly, I find quite reasonable, as I've gained nearly twenty since Halloween and a full six since just before we left for Christmas. Or are you now living in world where gaining six pounds in two weeks isn't a problem, Dean?" Shaking his head, Cas storms back over to his suitcase and goes back to pawing through the laundry, tossing it in a heap at the foot of the bed.
"Well, yeah, it's not exactly usual, I'll give you that," Dean says, half-groaning, completely abandoning the pretense of unpacking so he can fold his arms over his chest. "But the only problem I'm seeing here? Is that we agreed to work on getting you to be all… not relapsing anymore—and here you are, right fucking now, obsessing over your weight, tearing yourself down and setting yourself stupid, unrealistic goals like you said you weren't going to do—"
"I know exactly what I'm thinking, and I know exactly what I'm doing." Cas huffs again, rounding on Dean, tossing a dirty t-shirt at his face, and glaring at him as he does so. "I'm keeping a close enough eye on things to make sure that they don't get out of hand, but I have a right to my coping mechanisms."
"Do you?" Dean's voice is getting desperate—not by much, but there's a whiny note of something more than concern that sneaks into his words, and he's giving Cas a look like he wants to grab Cas by the shoulders and shake him. "Do you really know what you're doing, I mean? I wanna trust you on this count, Cas—you know that I do, don't you? But what you're talking about here? It's not a goddamn coping mechanism; it's an eating disorder—"
"I know what it is!" Cas gets up into Dean's personal space—until there are barely inches between them—before he even realizes what he's doing. He's not sure that he wants to be here, but at least it means his glaring's more effective. At least it means that he can lower his voice and expect that Dean will hear him. "That's the thing about my eating disorder, Dean. You know what it looks like, but I know what it is. I have to live with it in my head. I have to wrestle with it and fight it off because it's insidious, and it constantly tricks me into thinking that it's my own thoughts—"
"Yeah, and all that's not exactly making me stop being worried over here, Gorgeous. It's more like… making me even more worried that you're running around, making New Year's Resolutions where you talk yourself down left and right—"
"I was drunk!" Cas snaps, hissing at Dean and narrowing his eyes until they feel like slits. "I was tipsy, at least, and I wasn't myself. Is it reflective of my actual thoughts? To an extent, yes—because having something to focus on makes me feel better when everything else is a stressful mess. And considering that I'm relapsing and sick with Lord only knows what, but can't see Doctor Hurley until next week, Doctor Roberts until next Friday, and Doctor Eglund until goddamned February? I believe that I have every right to be upset—"
"Yeah, okay, you've got a lot to be upset about, but you can't seriously tell me I don't have a right to worry about you—"
"Nor would I attempt to do so. But in addition to having every right to be upset? I have every right to handle that in the way that I choose—for example, by picking up my yoga again and trying to get back on my old, post-inpatient meal plan instead of counting calories or cutting things out. Contrary to what you and Sam might think: I have thought this through."
Cas very much wants to lob something else at Dean—but, on the other hand, he doesn't want to pull out of Dean's personal space. Even when he's glaring at Dean, it's nicer to be in his personal space than out of it. Cas has to bite back on a warm shudder that courses up his spine and makes it hard for him to keep his brow knotted up, to steel his expression up in righteous indignation. "Now," he sighs, nigh on growling at Dean, "since I've explained myself for your benefit when I was not obligated to do so? I suggest that you show me some respect as your boyfriend, and express your concern in a less condescending manner."
Dean agrees, and nods, and seals his promise with a gentle kiss. And just when Cas thinks that they might end this conversation on a note that matches the gravity of it, Dean hooks his finger under Cas's chin, nudges it up, and says, "God, I fucking love it when you take control like that."
This time, when Cas rolls his eyes, it's at least affectionate. "You are immensely lucky that I understand when you're trying to show respect through slightly misplaced levity," he informs Dean, stealing a kiss of his own. "Otherwise, I might need to be immensely upset with you for that."
Chapter 8: Ten weeks.
He might have to wait to see his doctors, but Tuesday brings both going back to school and sneaking out early to go to his old favorite EDA chapter—the one in the rec room at Pastor Jim Murphy's church on Cherry Street. He doesn't tell Bela and Sarah where he plans on going, mostly because he hasn't told anyone, save for Anna, Rachel, and Meg. The first two because they're his older and younger sister, respectively; and Meg because Bela might be Cas's best friend, but Meg's a close second and she actually understands what it's like to have an eating disorder.
Although she usually prefers to go to Cherry Street on Thursdays, Meg even shows up for tonight's meeting, with a hug for Cas, letting him sit next to her, letting him squeeze her hand at a few points when he needs some physical reassurance. And when the meeting's over, they meet Anna outside—Cas startles, but Meg smiles and confesses that yeah, she and Anna planned this behind his back… Sorry about that, Clarence, but Anna wanted to come out and support her baby brother and since she's not allowed in the meeting itself… Cas sighs and wraps Anna up in a hug as well, and since Dean's working late tonight, he's free to follow Meg and Anna to Java Hut in search of tea.
Eventually, the conversation turns to therapists: how Anna's in the market for a new one. How she's fighting with Ruby over whether or not getting rid of hers was a good idea. How Meg's is being more than a little bit of a dick over the relapse thing (which doesn't surprise Cas any, but then, he's never liked Doctor Heyerdahl). How Cas can't even get in to see his until next Monday—and how he's not even sure he really wants to get in and see Doctor Hurley, since she'll probably agree with Doctor Roberts's long-distance assessment that it's probably not a good idea to get Cas started on the hormones he wants, at least not until they've figured out what's up with him being so sick lately.
"Well, they're right," Anna says, taking a long sip out of her mug of pomegranate white tea. "With how long this has been going on? It's probably not something that you're allowed to just fuck around with. Meaning that I won't let you just fuck around with it. Not when your health's potentially on the line."
"Much as I hate to agree with the people standing between you and what you want, Clarence?" Meg purses her lips and arches an eyebrow at him. "I'm with them and Anna on this one. Mostly since of course I'm biased, but kinda partial to you not possibly dying. What would I do without the angel on my shoulder?"
"Probably about the same thing that I'd do without my favorite self-described demon. Which is to say: very badly. It would be unfortunate, for the both of us," Cas supposes, sighing and just wishing that he had any real grounds on which to protest this. Starting T-therapy, he and Doctor Hurley have decided, would make him feel better with his body and more comfortable in his own skin… It's going to be a good thing for him, overall. One of the best things that could happen to him, Doctor Hurley's said based on her own experiences with HRT.
But that doesn't really matter if whatever's going on gets worse for throwing a bunch of testosterone into the mix, stressing out Cas's body (to say nothing of the emotional side of things), and several intense points about the biochemistry that Cas doesn't really understand. Not even after getting off the phone with Cindy McClellan, Doctor Roberts's nurse practitioner, and making Dean explain the meticulous notes Cas took in more accessible, less hardcore science words. The bottom line is simple enough, though, and it's that Cas doesn't get the one thing he's been trying to hang on to, the one thing that's kept him from trying some drastic measures for stress relief. Like stabbing someone in the eye with a fork. Or joining Dean, Sam, Ash, Jake, Joanna Beth, and Andy for Halo Night, even though Cas has no idea how to play the stupid game.
"It's just an inhuman amount of things to handle all at the same time," Cas says and buries himself in his cup of unflavored oolong. "My emotions have been all over the place, I'm still sick with… whatever this is, just not throwing up as much, yoga's not really helping with much of anything, and I'm back to attending EDA meetings because I lost my shit entirely because my boyfriend touched my stomach. And that's not even all of what's going on for me. And I can't even get blood tests or something that might help diagnose it for almost two weeks."
"Maybe you're pregnant," Meg suggests, and at least she laughs at the idea, because if she hadn't, he would've kicked her under the table and felt mostly no remorse for doing so. "Yeah, no, but really," she says and reaches over to squeeze Cas's hand, "if we're talking about this seriously? I have no idea what to think it is, and I just hope it's not something completely awful. And it's all the better if you can get it cleared up quickly, Sweetie."
"Pregnancy isn't entirely out of the question, though." Anna huffs and sets her mug down, holding it with both hands and brushing her thumbs up and down the ceramic. "And I really think it's not a bad suggestion. All of the symptoms add up, and the timing would be right, wouldn't it—"
"Except that it isn't," Cas snaps, coming off harsher than he intends because of the nagging sensation in the back of his head—the one that prods at him and reminds him that Anna might be right. "I'm not pregnant, Anna. It isn't happening. The timing would not be right. Not that I've examined it extensively, but it's too hard to tell because I have always been irregular—"
"And have you had your moon time lately, Prince Dewdrop Moonflower?" Anna seems to think that she's being incredibly clever, and she has to sigh when all Cas does is stare at her. "If you're going to act like a hippie about this, then I'm going to call you by a hippie name," she explains. "You're trying to solve this by ignoring it and throwing ineffective solutions for other things at it, which is what hippies do. Or are you just intentionally ignoring the part where a baby is kind of a serious issue."
"There is no baby!" Cas hisses, and even if he doesn't raise his voice, he lets his eyes dart around the coffeeshop, just to make sure that no one's eavesdropping on this unadulerated nonsense. Cas runs his hand back through his hair, trying to shove it away from his forehead, and leans across the table—closer to Anna so he can speak even quieter. So there's even less of a chance that someone could overhear and go sticking their nose into this conversation.
"That's not going to happen to me, Anna," he tells her, glaring. "There is no baby, I am not pregnant, and whatever I have going on? It is infinitely more serious than a damned baby. So are you going to help me, and support me in this, and be my sister—or are you going to keep being a smart-ass about it?"
"I'm trying to be your sister about it, Prince Caspian," she drawls and wrinkles her nose at him. Pulls a face like she's just sucked on twenty lemons. "The problem here is that reality doesn't go away just because you want it to—and neither do babies, insofar as I know."
Cas huffs, slouching back into his seat and continuing to glare at her. She's being ridiculous, of course she is—but on the other hand? So is he. And as they finish their tea in agitated silence, the nagging thought that she might be right refuses to just shut up and go away.
Chapter 9: Eleven weeks.
For all going back to EDA helps enough with some things—for all it's helping Cas with the desire to make himself throw up—there are others that it can't help with. For instance, the nigh on ever-present nausea kicking him in the stomach again. Deciding out of nowhere that, really though, it's been a while since he's gotten violently ill on its account.
Maybe it's because Cas eats too much for lunch. Maybe it's because his craving for chicken shawarma got the better of him and, with how sick he's been and whatever the Hell his mystery disorder is, he should've stayed to something milder, less savory. Maybe it's because his parents were right about everything after all, and God hates him for living in sin with his boyfriend and saying he's a gay man when God gave Cas a vagina.
Maybe it's just because God has a sick sense of humor. Whatever the reason is, though? It doesn't matter as much as how Cas has to dash away from lunch with Bela and Sarah, and once again finds himself on his knees, on the men's room floor, heaving and sicking up and hating everything. He doesn't even get the luxury of feeling lighter, more in control of things, the way that intentionally purging makes him feel. He just feels tired, and frustrated, and so close to crying that it hurts.
Cas doesn't get the luxury of keeping this to himself, either. Never mind how that's the way it should be—this isn't anybody else's business in the slightest—apparently, that's a privilege that Cas doesn't deserve. Once his stomach's settled enough, he flushes the mess, wipes off his mouth, tries to leave—and comes face to face with Bela. She's leaning on the counter, with her arms folded over her chest and narrowing her eyes at him like he's a puppy that just pissed on the rug. Cas sighs and asks if she got lost, and in turn, she gives him a look as if to say, make another bad joke, Cas. I dare you. Do it. I promise that I won't punch you in the face over it.
Cas does not trust that unspoken threat. But he does have a pressing need to soap up his hands and scrub them until they don't feel scuzzy and gross. This makes almost no sense, even accounting for Cas's OCD, because this bathroom is immaculate—and in the middle of his second round of scrubbing, his attempts at finding the logic end with Bela snapping at him, "Do you want to explain to me what that was? Aside from evidence that your, 'I'm not relapsing,' story is an enormous lie."
"It isn't a lie, actually, thank you very much." Cas sighs and refuses to look up from the sink. He is too tired to deal with this right now, but unfortunately? Thinking angrily at her doesn't make Bela disappear. "I'm not relapsing, Bela. Going back to EDA meetings is meant to prevent that, actually. I am, however, going to ask you the same thing I asked Dean over Christmas: if I had just made myself throw up on purpose, don't you think that I would have covered my tracks better? At the very least, I wouldn't have run for the restroom and said, Oh, God, I'm going to be sick."
"Bullshit," Bela huffs. "You could be out-of-practice. Or maybe you said that because you thought that it might throw me off the trail. How unfortunate for you."
"Or maybe I said it because I was about to be violently ill for some reason other than hating myself, hating my body, and jabbing a my fingers or a toothbrush down my throat until I'm sick. Maybe I have an appointment with my endocrinologist on Friday and have plans to ask her if she knows what might be going on with me."
"Oh, and all of those times you got sick after eating something last semester… You honestly expect me to believe that every single one of them was just some presently undiagnosed mystery illness that presents almost exactly like your disorder has in the past?"
"I expect you to believe it because it's the truth. And before you start sounding like Anna? I'm not pregnant either." Cas huffs and can't even justify wringing his hands under the water to himself anymore. He pointedly arches his eyebrows right down at Bela as he dries off his hands. "I probably have something horrifying, and rare, and possibly incurable. How are you going to feel when I get a diagnosis if you've been making all of these baseless accusations?"
"I'll feel relieved if you're telling me the truth, Sweetie," she drawls—then pauses. Tilts her head, squinting at him again. "And what, exactly, has Anna been saying about you being pregnant?"
"She's in denial," Cas explains, rolling his eyes, shaking his head. "She doesn't want to accept that my case is fodder for some patient-of-the-week on a hackneyed medical drama, so she's making up wild fantasies about me possibly being pregnant."
"It's not that wild," Bela points out, eyeing Cas with her trademark Thoroughly Unimpressed pursed-lips face. "Some men get pregnant, after all, right?"
Cas lobs his balled up paper towel at the wastebasket. Probably a bit harder than he means to, but then again, he is so truly fucking sick of this. He's sick of getting accused of things. He's sick of his options being limited to relapsing, pregnant, and dying. He's sick of being sick, and more so of not even having a goddamned word for whatever's wrong with him.
"Well, yes," he huffs. "Some men do get pregnant—but this one doesn't."
Chapter 10: Twelve weeks, 1.
All things considered, Cas expects an intervention. He can see it coming from a mile away. That's what everything going on around him's building up to, isn't it? Ultimately, even if they say that they trust him, the people in his life have seen him when he's been at his worst, and they're too scared of what might happen to focus on what is. Cas can't entirely hold that against them—he's been in awful places and in their position, he would probably conclude the same thing that they have, take the same measures that he knows they will—but it frustrates him anyway.
What he doesn't expect is to come home on Dean's birthday, thinking he'll get his boyfriend's present ready, and find himself cornered by Dean, Bela, and Meg. None of them is smiling; all of them look like they might have to tell him that somebody died. And as Dean shunts Cas over to the sofa, sits him down on it, he vaguely hopes that whoever might've bit the big one wasn't anybody he likes. Or either of his parents—he might not like them at the moment, but he does still love them and they're not allowed to die before admitting that they have two daughters instead of three.
Bela's the one who throws out the old, tired starting phrase—Cas, please just understand: we're all here because we love you. It's entirely fine if you're upset with us, but this has to be done. No matter how much you dislike it, we're just doing this because we love you—and she and Meg take up the armchairs while Dean sits next to Cas. He's not sure what he wants, but for now, he doesn't let Dean hug him. Not even briefly, not even a squeeze around the shoulders. It makes Dean sulk like a dejected puppy, and vaguely, Cas thinks he's being a little bit harsh—maybe more than that, with his resolution to say nothing.
But if they're doing this here, then Dean must've been involved in organizing it. If Dean was involved with organizing it, then he's once again making assumptions about things he does not understand. And Cas has hoped that their show me some respect talk actually stuck around in Dean's skull. Apparently, it hasn't, so Cas has every right to be upset with him.
Apparently, Dean's even less amenable to unbroken, awkward silences than he usually is. Sighing, rubbing at the bridge of his nose, he seems to start throwing out every word that comes to him, regardless of its relevance: "So, uh. We're pretty much just waiting for Anna at this point, erm. Layla and Sarah and Sam all kinda wanted to come, but Sammy just got a huge project dumped on him, and something came up with Sarah's dad, and Layla figured that, y'know, the two of you don't really know each other well enough to justify it—and, uh. Ruby has to cover for Anna and figured Anna's got more of a need to be here? Then Jo and Andy are covering my shift at the Roadhouse, which… is why they couldn't be here either? …I read somewhere that you're supposed to do this more in the morning, but I didn't know how that would work out, and it's kind of getting late—I mean, we kinda need to get things figured out, like, yesterday, because—"
"I wasn't aware that time of day made a difference for conducting an intervention." Cas rolls his eyes. So much for his vow of silence—but if Dean's going to babble like an idiot until someone stops him, then Cas volunteers. "And I would've thought that early afternoon would be the best for everyone, especially if the inpatient card is back on the table."
Which it really shouldn't be. Cas has been eating better, following his old meal plan as much as possible, and doing his yoga. He hasn't overdone anything, or restricted to the point of self-harm, or thrown up at all since the time that Bela walked in on. He certainly hasn't been forcing himself to do so. He hasn't even lost any weight at all, much less enough for it to be dangerous to his health. At the moment, the only thing that's dangerous to his health are the blood tests Doctor Roberts's lab is running, which should hopefully diagnose his mystery illness.
On contrary to what his friends think is going on, Cas has gained another two pounds since New Year's, and he hopes that the three of them appreciate how much he hates admitting this. Aside from that, the twenty pounds he's put on in total, since Halloween, are showing more than Cas thinks is helpful to anything. His breasts are always too swollen and sore to bind. None of his clothes can hide the curve of his stomach anymore and he has to live with that. He is living with it. How anyone's concluded that his eating disorder necessitates intervening like this is beyond him entirely.
How they've all decided that they know better than Doctor Hurley—you know, the trained professional who agrees that Cas is stressed but thinks he's making the best out of an awful situation—is beyond him, too, but considering that he doesn't have the patience for friends who can't stand up for themselves, he shouldn't be surprised that they're strong-willed. On the other hand, though, Cas supposes that he owes them all a round of drinks, since they are perhaps the only people he knows who don't operate under the assumption that, in order to have an eating disorder, someone absolutely must be underweight. Brava. Wonderful. Congratulations on meeting Cas's personal bare minimum requirement for human decency.
On still another hand, rambling at the lot of them only seems to make the silence more awkward. Mostly because he first ends up with three sets of eyes staring at him like he's grown a second head that speaks fluent French. Next, he gets to watch Meg, Dean, and Bela trade glances with each other, every single one of which says, I'm just as lost as you are. And finally, it's Meg who slides forward on her seat, leans closer to him, and asks:
"Clarence? …Seriously, Cas, be honest with us now, okay: why do you think we're here?"
Cas shrugs, and huffs, and knocks his head into the back of the sofa. "I think that I've made my thoughts on the matter quite obvious?" he says. "Clearly, you've all gotten together with this notion that I am in a full-blown relapse of my disordered eating—and dragged more poor souls along in your delusion—which, by the way? Was horribly cruel of you all, both to them and to me. I hope you're all terribly pleased with yourselves."
"Cas," Dean tries to interject, squeezing Cas's shoulder. "Babe… please calm down and listen to us, alright? You're getting really aggressive over here and—"
"No, Dean, it is absolutely not alright," he says, undeterred (for all he knows that Dean has a point). "Honestly. What part of, show me some respect and trust me translates for you all into, I'm relapsing and can't ask for help, please, please, please stage some half-cocked, bullshit intervention?"
Bela sighs, looking downright exhausted, and brushes a stray piece of hair off her face, tucks it neatly behind her ear. And she manages not to sound like she's addressing a particularly difficult child as she says, "That isn't even remotely why we're here, Sweetie. Have we been keeping an extra eye on you lately? Yes. Have we done so because we've worried about you? Yes—but we aren't entirely worried about that count anymore."
The effect of that statement is exactly what Cas thinks getting kicked in the back of the head must feel like, and it's only by some miracle that he manages to croak, "Then why?"
The answer to this becomes crystal clear when Anna finally shows up some fifteen minutes later, making excuses about long lines at the pharmacy and carrying four things with her. A cherry pie (Dean's favorite), a triple-chocolate birthday cake (because tradition demands it), an enormous bag with everyone's favorite Thai take-out orders, and a little white box, which she pulls out of the kangaroo pocket on her Cedar Point sweatshirt, after she's dropped the food down on the table. Without even a head's up, she lobs the box at Cas's head.
To his surprise, he manages to catch it. And he groans—feels a thick, bone-scraping chill drop into the pit of his stomach—as he blinks down at a pregnancy test. It turns into nausea when he blinks up at Bela, as he looks around at the other faces surrounding him. As the color drains from his face, his head rushes as though he's just gotten off some goddamned tilt-a-whirl. He tries to lick his lips, but his mouth's gone dry and his tongue feels impossibly heavy, inhumanly sticky.
And still, he manages to whisper, "Oh my God, this can't be happening to me…"
Chapter 11: Twelve weeks, 2.
The waiting is the worst part.
Everything else, Cas finds, is rather simple. Pee on a stick, set the egg timer for five minutes, sit down on the sofa and slump into Bela's side because Dean's busy getting plates and sorting out who got what from the take-out. Stare at the wall and occasionally gasp because oh, right. Breathing. That's important, isn't it.
Playing along with this even gets everyone to shut up about the possibility of a positive result, and about how infuriatingly stubborn Cas is, and about how babies and pregnancy are serious, so why is he trying to solve his problems by ignoring them. Everything that's been bothering Cas lately could clear up in an instant. Everything could get so much better or so much worse, but at least there'd be the relief of knowing anything.
Except that, first? Cas has to suffer through goddamn waiting.
Every heartbeat feels like a gunshot. Every second seems to take forever. Bela tries to card her fingers through his hair and soothe him by whispering that everything's going to be okay, but Cas knows that it isn't. Limply, he sits up to accept his plate, when Dean brings it over, but for the most part, Cas only prods at his Pad Pak with extra chicken. The plate ends up dropped on the coffee table when the egg timer goes off.
And in the end, Dean's the one who winds up checking the test. Cas can hardly stomach dinner from the anxiety and the nausea. The thought of moving? Of having to face the result himself? …No. No, he can't do either.
Dean's out of the bathroom in a flash, carrying the test and its box. With all his customary grace and tact (which is to say: almost none), he blurts out, "So, uh. There's two little blue lines, and, er… Cas? The box says that that means pregnant? So, uh… yeah? There is definitely a baby."
Vaguely, Cas wants to punch something, but that desire only lasts a moment. All of his thoughts, his feelings disappear. Everything goes blank—and Cas shudders. He drags Dean down to the sofa by his jeans' hip pocket, throws his arms around Dean's shoulders, buries his face in Dean's neck. He's aware of Dean holding him, rubbing his back, but only barely. Almost nothing gets past the barrier of Dean's smell, the first of many sobs that Cas chokes out, and the overwhelming rush of tears.
No. The waiting isn't the worst part. Without question, this revelation is the worst part.