"No?" Castiel echoes, dumbly.
Dean stares down at him, hand still frozen in the motion of reaching for the teapot. Light streams in at all angles through the conservatory glass, turning his hair a burnished gold and highlighting the smattering of freckles he'd collected in the Americas. Alarm and something like disgust are slowly suffusing his features, widening his eyes and parting his lips.
"That is—" Castiel licks his lips, gone suddenly dry. No? "Is it— is it too soon? I understand that you and Sam are not quite settled—"
"No," Dean repeats, voice rising sharply in volume and pitch. "No, as in never."
"... oh," Castiel says. His heart, which had been pounding so desperately from nervous excitement, seems to have stopped dead in his chest. "I... I see."
Dean is pressing back in his chair— shifting away, as if he fears Castiel will try to clutch at him or fling himself at his feet.
"I see," Castiel says again, and climbs awkwardly to his feet using the edge of the table where the remains of their late breakfast lie scattered. His hands are starting to shake, and there's a dirty patch on his trousers from kneeling on the tile floor, but he hardly notices.
"Thank you for the lovely meal," Castiel dimly hears himself say, staring blindly at a half-finished piece of toast. "I'll see m-myself out."
He manages to keep from running out of the room, but it is a near thing.
Sam is just descending the stairs when Castiel walks quickly past him into the foyer. "Cas?" he calls after him.
Castiel wrenches the door open.
"Cas, what's wrong?"
"Goodbye, Sam," Castiel says thickly, and shuts it behind him on Sam's surprised face.
It's only after he's flagged down a hansom cab and they're several streets away that Castiel realizes he's forgotten his hat, and gloves and greatcoat. Oh, dear Lord, what a sight he is, perfect fodder for the wagging tongues of the ton. It will be a miracle if his brothers don't hear about it before nightfall.
The shock is starting to wear off when Castiel stumbles into the main house, waving Joshua away when the man comes forward with the intention of taking his nonexistent coat.
"Sir," the butler says with concern, taking in Castiel's dishevelment, the tremors that have now spread to his shoulders. "What on earth has happened?"
"It is nothing of import," Castiel says, rubbing his arms where it feels like the chill of London November is sinking into his very bones. "I'm going to— to the third-floor study. Could you please— a large brandy?" He doesn't usually imbibe, and it's an ungodly hour of the morning for it, but Castiel finds that he simply doesn't care anymore.
Joshua, after a moment's hesitation, nods. "Very well, sir."
"Thank you, Joshua," Castiel says, and flees up the stairs.
It is perhaps just the day's luck that when he craves complete solitude over all else, Gabriel has chosen to break his fast in the only room Castiel can usually count on to be empty. His brother has not even had the decency to change out of his dressing gown yet, reclining indolently along the plush satin sofa with the morning's paper in one hand and a fine china cup in the other. He arches a brow at Castiel's hasty entrance.
"What are you doing in here?" Castiel demands, almost hysterically, and Gabriel shrugs, taking a loud slurp of the strong Turkish coffee he prefers.
"Hiding from our eldest brother, who for some reason has set his sights on— Castiel?"
Castiel is trembling all over now, and almost doesn't make it to a chair before collapsing.
Gabriel lays the paper over the back of the sofa. "What's wrong?"
"It's nothing," Castiel starts, and then thinks to hell with it. "I asked Dean to marry me."
"You what?" Gabriel cries, coffee sloshing out of his cup as he sits up abruptly. "My God, I didn't think you had it in you! When's the wedding? Oh, please tell me you haven't told Michael yet, I want to see his face when you do—"
"He said no," Castiel says.
"The hell he did," Gabriel returns flatly.
"He said never," Castiel says, and buries his face in his hands.
There's the delicate click of the cup being set aside and then Gabriel is tugging him out of the chair and down on the sofa, an arm slung over his shoulders.
"I made quite the scene," Castiel mumbles into his fingers. "I wonder if tomorrow's society columns will mention it. All that drivel they write. 'Dear Readers, I know you'll be as interested to the cause as I was when I heard our own C. E. was seen storming out of Lord W.'s house in Hyde Park yesterday morning—'"
"I'm going to kill that little brat," Gabriel growls, tucking Castiel's head firmly under his chin. "The queen has outlawed dueling but I'm sure some guttersnipe would take a shilling to cut his throat."
"Gabriel," Castiel admonishes.
Gabriel makes a rough sound of anger. "I never did like him."
True. "But you like Sam. Think of how upset he'd be if you had his brother killed."
Gabriel's arm tightens. "Maimed, then."
"Castrated, at the very least."
"Gabriel!" But the threats ease some of the oppressive ache in his throat, and the certainty that he's going to cry at any moment beings to recede.
He gives a shaky sigh, letting his hands fall to his lap. "It makes sense, I suppose," he says quietly.
Gabriel sniffs. "The hell it does."
"I'm the youngest of five brothers. I don't have any chance of seeing the title pass to me," Castiel says, twisting his fingers together. "Our family may be well-to-do, but my own income is substantially less than Michael's, or Lucem's. You do well enough for yourself," and the fourth son of Grand Duke Engel going into trade had been the talk of the ton for months— "but my ten thousand must seem a paltry sum compared to theirs."
"You're thinking like a proper English mama," Gabriel clucks, stroking his hair back from his forehead. "It's not money but love that's all in fashion these days. Young couples running off to Gretna Green or the continent every time you turn around."
"Apparently that isn't an option, either," Castiel says lightly, and then the tears are welling hot and heavy as molten lead and Gabriel is saying, "Oh, Christ— here, take my handkerchief, there's a good lad—"
If he wasn't so consumed by how miserable and wretched he felt, Castiel might have heard for himself the shouting and banging and the heavy tread of someone running up the central staircase towards them. As it was, Gabriel was the one to frown and turn his head towards the door, saying, "What the devil—?"
The door bursts inwards and suddenly Dean is in the room, coat hanging off one shoulder and cravat completely askew, chest heaving like a well-run derby entrant.
"Castiel!" he says, striding for him.
Castiel is so surprised that he doesn't move as Dean kneels, and he lets Dean take his hands, cold fingers wrapping firmly around his. "Castiel," the man says again, more softly.
"You have some nerve, Winchester," Gabriel starts in a hiss like a snake's, but Dean ignores him, his eyes searching Castiel's face, and oh, how humiliating. He must look a mess, blurry-eyed and tear-streaked, Gabriel's handkerchief still clutched in his hand.
"Castiel," Dean says a third time. "Were you asking for you?"
"What?" Castiel rasps, and swallows against the tears still clogging his throat. "What do you mean?
"I thought," and here Dean bows his head, letting it fall to rest on their joined hands, and Castiel is left staring at the crown of his head as his breath warms their tangled fingers. "I— Cas, I thought—"
Michael's standing in the doorway with his eyebrows near his hairline and Raphael is just behind him, looking in on the scene with a barely-concealed sneer.
"What is the meaning of this?" their eldest brother demands, and Dean lifts his head, straightens. Castiel tries to tug his hands away, but Dean's grip only tightens.
"This does not concern you," he replies to Michael. "Please leave."
"I'd think anything that causes you to invade my home and accost my brother is well within my concerns," Michael says with an acerbic undertone, and Dean's chin lifts minutely.
"Very well," he says. "Cas."
"Yes?" Castiel says, voice still unsteady. Dean turns to look at him and it's all Castiel can do to hold his gaze, so intense it seems the very air between them should spit and spark with tension.
"Your proposal this morning," he says, lowly. "Was it on your own behalf? Or Michael's?"
"What?" Gabriel asks incredulously, echoed closely by the two in the doorway.
"Dean," Castiel says weakly, not daring to so much as glance in Michael's direction.
"I thought," Dean takes a deep breath. "When you said. What you did. I thought... I thought you were... using our friendship. For him."
"Fascinating," Gabriel remarks snidely, folding his arms. "You are without a doubt the least intelligent being I have ever seen about on two legs, and that includes most orders of poultry."
Dean ignores him and Castiel does too, too focused on Dean's words. "I would never," he rushes to say, "I wouldn't—"
Dean's eyes are somber but his mouth is curving, stretching into a wide, gorgeous grin Castiel can't help but return. "Then, Cas, yes."
"Yes?" Castiel repeats, a bit breathless. He can't mean—?
"Yes, always, forever," Dean tells him, and the room erupts. Michael is shouting, Gabriel is whooping like an Indian chief and shouting back, and at some point Sam and Lucem have shown up and are demanding to know what's happening at the same volume. The outside world has completely ceased to matter, though, because Dean said yes.
He said yes.
Dean's hair is windswept and his clothes are all awry, and Castiel's not much better with his wet cheeks and red nose, but he throws his arms around Dean's neck, Dean's own arms locking around his waist as Dean lifts them to their feet, and then proceeds to twirl Castiel right off of his, their laughter adding to the raucous noise of the room.
"Yes, yes, yes," Dean chants in his ear, and if they weren't before they are definitely going to be in the society columns now , Castiel thinks muzzily, laughing, holding on to Dean for dear life, and whispering "Yes," at the corner of Dean's mouth until Dean kisses the words away.