It's going to be a shitty wedding with shitty people and a shitty atmosphere and Dean feels shitty about going.
But first Jo, and then Ellen, and then Bobby had called in quick succession and informed him — in order — that they had ordered his ass a plane ticket, called him a rental car from the airport, and that he was showing up or so God help him.
"There is no God," Dean mutters, because there isn't, and it's Monday morning at child protective services so it's a sentiment that gets a couple of already-tired "hallelujahs" from the rest of the staff.
"You look down," Missouri tells him, because even though she's exquisitely mean to him like all the fucking time, she likes him best. "What's wrong, sug?"
Dean's so sick of explaining to people why he hates Ruby, and why he hates that Sam is marrying fucking Ruby, and how betrayed he feels about Sam and Ruby, so he says:
"My little brother's getting married; I hate weddings."
Missouri gives him a look that says plainly she knows he's lying. Dean has no actual preconceived feelings about weddings; he'd gone to a dozen in the last five years happily, for coworkers and some for his ex-clients, and he'd been happy at most of them. Weddings are sometimes the only times you see the best of people, but Dean likes knowing that it's there, underneath the surface.
"Sure you do," she allows. "Is this to the girl who — "
"Yes," Dean cuts her off, and tries to wind around her in the hallway. He has a stack of case files four inches thick and he woke up this morning to three messages on his cell phone asking for consult at the local ER, so it's already looking like it's going to be an enormously shitty day.
"Dean Winchester, you — " Missouri starts, feathers all ruffled, and Dean knows better than to start shit this early in the morning so he just grabs his coffee, pastes on a smile, and says:
"Sorry, Missouri — hospital consult, you know how it is," and bolts, because it may be cowardly, but Dean's always chosen to live to fight another day.
The three requests for consult multiply into six, and Dean spends most of his day triaging severity over something that shouldn't ever be triaged.
He ends up spending a bunch of red lights between local ERs and one family planning clinic — she was only 13, and honestly, Dean's not surprised at fucking anything anymore, but it can still upset him — trying to fill out paperwork on his steering wheel. He pulls three kids out of their homes — lotsa screaming mothers, grandmothers, aunts — and swap two out of foster care into group homes.
He gives an affidavit to the one of the local cops about the 13-year-old in at Planned Parenthood, and he manages to restrain himself from rattling off the "incest is boot camp for prostitution, so do something or I will fuck you up" lecture, because it's Lloyd and Lloyd's heard it like 46 times at this point.
At half past five, he gets a call from one of the head nurses at Mott.
"You have reached Dean Winchester at Michigan Child Protective Services, I can't come to the phone right now," Dean starts.
"Oh, shut up, Dean," Lori sighs. "Cas said to give you a call."
Dean ignores the way something under his breast bone flutters at that, because (a) it's stupid (b) he's a grown-ass man and (c) it's stupid.
“I'm not here exclusively for Cas's benefit, you know," Dean says, but he's already pulling into the exit lane, watching 180B loom.
Lori snorts into the phone and says, "Yeah, okay, I'm going to be a good person and not take the cheap shot there," before hanging up.
Dean parks in the structure — he hates the structure — and takes the elevator to the second floor, where he waves at Joanie and Patty at the maple-colored desk in the lobby.
"Ladies," he says.
“He's still single!" Joanie says, instead of hello, because they raise people wrong where she came from. Dean scowls at her, which only encourages Patty to say, "Well you know, he might not be forever."
Dean expands his glare to both of them. "You two chuckleheads keep this up I'm setting fire to Big Bird," he warns, and strides off to the sound of their twin gasps.
He winds past a gaggle of toddlers and a half-dozen pre-teen girls huddled around Bunny. Bunny, preening under the affection, only makes the occasional wuffing noise, like obviously this sort of adulation from kids and visitors is all part of the agonizing work of therapy dogs everywhere.
Dean runs into the usual gang, and most of them only stop long enough to say hi and tell him that Cas is waiting for him in peds outpatient on three. It takes an act of enormous will for him not to point out that he works with dozens of doctors, at a number of hospitals every single day.
"Oh my God," he says instead, when he pulls to a stop at the the nurses station. "What the hell are you wearing?"
Cas looks up from his chart, and then down at himself, blinking widely and without any comprehension before he says, "What?"
Someone's given him maroon scrubs with tiny clown-faces on them, clearly liberated from one of the broader male nurses, because the neck is so wide they're actually about to slip over one of Cas's sloping shoulders. Underneath he's wearing a teal long-sleeve t-shirt and the same fucking blood-orange crocs Dean has begged and begged for him to throw away.
"Did you like, lose a bet?" Dean demands, walking over and straightening Cas's scrub top at least, because seriously, this is appalling.
Castiel's brow wrinkles and his mouth tightens and if it were anybody but him, Dean would call it a pout. "I thought it would amuse the children."
"You're a freak," Dean tells him, and forces himself to take his hands off of Cas's shoulders. "What's the case?"
The case is uncomfortable and ugly. The less said, the better, but after the consult, he and Castiel sit in the waiting room until the police come.
"I hoped I was wrong," Cas tells him.
The first time Dean met Cas was at one of these shitshows, with one sobbing parent and another angry one, a passel of police and reams of paperwork and everybody calling Dean the bad guy. Mostly what he remembers about the whole thing is the way Cas sat next to his patient the whole time in another room. Dean watched them play with barbies and plastic velociraptors and build forts out of mismatched LEGO pieces. And when that was done, Castiel had put one of the GI Joes inside the castle and the boy had put the dinosaur by the gate and Dean tried not to swallow hard around the sentiment in that.
"I always do, too," Dean tells him, and that's when the Ann Arbor PD rolls in, hats in their hands, "sorry, ma'am" looks on their faces.
They end up in the hospital cafeteria, because Dean's so hungry he's afraid if he gets in his car he'll try to eat the upholstery, and Castiel has that defeated look on his face Dean usually tries to erase with pie.
There is chocolate, peach, and cherry pie today, and Dean buys one slice each for Cas, who gives him that sad-eyed look that practically screams DIABETES, YOU'RE GOING TO GET DIABETES.
Dean points his fork at him. "Eat your pie."
"I'm not hungry," Cas says, but he picks up his fork and puts some peach pie in his mouth anyway.
And since Cas seems to be assiduously avoiding the chocolate, Dean does the charitable thing and applies himself to making sure it's not neglected.
Out of nowhere Cas says, "Lori explained to me this is called 'eating your pain.'"
"Fuck," Dean says, choking on a mouthful of chocolate. "What?"
Cas pokes at the pie some more, still looking demoralized. Even his hair seems to flop downward today from its ordinary startled spikes. "She says that when we eat together in the cafeteria she tells everyone I'm eating my pain with you."
Dean stares at him until Cas looks back up. "It's not working," he elaborates.
“Cheer the fuck up, then, emo kid," Dean tells him, because he's blushing so hard they can probably see him in California. He's not sure how, but he's getting Lori back for this — she's probably the one who put Cas in those scrubs and spread that rumor about them at the New Year's Eve party last year, too.
Cas raises his brows. "I was talking about you, Dean."
"What are you talking about?" Dean says, "I'm awesome."
"You're obviously upset about something," Cas prompts, and glances down at the — well, remains of the chocolate pie.
Dean scowls at him. "I just sent a kid into protective care," he says.
"It's a different kind of upset than that," Castiel retorts, gentle, and Dean always feels like an asshole when he yells at Cas and Cas lobs back something like that — something soft and yielding, like he's never properly been in a fight in his life.
Dean stares at the crumbs on his (Castiel's) plate and herds them around the tines of his fork for a long minute. He's known Castiel for half a decade now, but he's kept this secret much longer, and it's hard for him to talk about Sam — too protective, Sam always yelled at him.
"My brother's getting married this weekend," he croaks.
Cas just listens, quiet, and Dean can see Cas's hands folded on the formica of the cafeteria table, calm. Dean, in a totally nonsexual way, likes Castiel's hands: they hold babies and listen to heartbeats and they operate on children and shake other hands, belonging to grateful parents. Cas does something tangible and good, and Dean's always felt comfortable in their shared silences.
"To Ruby," Dean says, and Cas just stares at him. "I hate her. A lot," he adds finally.
All Castiel says is, "Oh."
Cas is silent a moment — it's his signature comment, after all — before he says, "Will you attend the wedding?"
Dean would rather burn down a forest filled with baby deer than go to that fucking wedding, but he thinks about Jo's hollering and Ellen's head-slaps and Bobby's gravelly disappointment — he can't even think about what Sam might do — and he just covers his face with his hands.
"Maybe, I don't know, fuck," he mutters.
Dean hasn't seen Sam in almost six years, since Sam checked himself out of rehab and Dean handed out his ultimatum. He knows, from when other people tell him, that Sam just transferred out of a community college to UC Santa Barbara, that he's said he wants to go to law school, that he's happy, that he and Ruby worked through their individual and conjoined shit and that they're healthy, functional people now.
"You don't have to go," Castiel tells him, and his voice is a hush, quiet and secret between them. "You don't have to let your family pressure you."
The sick thing is that Sam's the only family Dean really has. Dean gets family-like shit from Bobby and Ellen and Ellen's hellspawn, and everybody at CPS is annoying as balls and pesters him about drinking orange juice when he's sniffling and torturing him about how he needs to stop dating skanks.
Dean groans. "Yeah, I do, Cas," he mutters. "I'd be a shitty person if I didn't go."
Cas is beaming at him when Dean looks up, his Good Job, Dean Winchester smile, and he says, "And you aren't a shitty person."
Dean feels the corner of his mouth tug up, he can't help it. God damn Castiel. "You said a bad word," he says, because he can't help it — once Dean heard him say "fudge!" and look like he'd sworn in front of a nun. There's still a running bet among the Mott nurses that Castiel's not even a real boy.
"Lori said I should help you with your manpain," Castiel says. "She also said you have manpain."
God damn Lori, Dean thinks, and mutters, "If you really wanted to help, you'd come to the wedding and protect me from everybody else — and I do not have manpain."
Cas blinks at him. "Okay," he says. "Where is it?"
"Did I not just say I don't have manpain?" Dean demands.
Cas actually rolls his eyes. "I meant the wedding, Dean."
"Santa Barbara," Dean says stupidly. "What?"
Cas nods, rising to his feet and pushing the last dish of pie — cherry seeping from the sugar-frosted crust — in Dean's direction. "I'll go tell my supervisor to move my shifts around," he says, and vanishes.
"What?" Dean asks, mostly himself, and because he's given up on ever understanding Castiel, ever, he consoles himself with the pie and tries not to think about it.
Dean realizes that he should have course-corrected far, far too late for it, which is to say, when he gets home that night and Castiel calls to ask what flight Dean's going out on.
"What? Why?" Dean asks, pulling his casserole out of the oven.
"Dean," Cas says, disapproving, and knee-jerk, Dean hears himself rattling off his flight number, and then when he finds himself digging through his bag and muttering, "Uh, okay, 7B," and "it's an aisle seat, man, I hate sitting by the window," before returning to the kitchen and realizing that he's left his stupid garlic bread in too long and now it's all burnt and fucked up and too crispy.
On Wednesday, Cas sends an email:
Subject: wedding gift?
Is your brother registered? — C
Castiel Meyer, M.D.
C.S. Mott Children's Hospital
University of Michigan
"Oh, shit," Dean says, out loud into his cube, because he'd completely forgotten that he had to buy Sam and his harpy a fucking present.
Jo's tied up at in classes or at the bar most of the day and by the time she gets back to him to laugh and laugh at the thought that Sam and Ruby would have registered for gifts anywhere like a normal couple, it's halfway through So You Think You Can Dance, and Dean ends up hauling ass to Castiel's one and a half story house — perched at the lip of a lake and hidden behind a wall of trees, fucking hermit — and dragging him out.
Cas is wearing worn-in denim and a frown, a baggy trenchcoat. "When I sent that email I didn't mean to trigger this sense of urgency, Dean," he reproaches.
Dean's knuckles tighten on the steering wheel and he says, "I haven't seen the guy in like six years. I don't know what he wants."
"You're his brother," Cas says, dismissing any other arguments as simple as that.
Dean glances at him out of the corner of his eyes and wants to admit all of it, babble the whole ugly history of it. Cas isn't exactly Dean's friend (except where he is, and where Dean thinks Castiel might be his best friend), but Dean finds himself telling Castiel things — like his flight and seat number and where he likes to go for lunch and his allergies and that he's going to be more fucked up than any of the hospital's little cancer kids when Bunny has to go to that big kennel in the sky. If Dean were to say, "My brother was a drug addict, for years and years," and "He might still be, for all I know," and "I'm too afraid to find out, I can't do that anymore, Cas," he thinks that Cas might nod at him like he understands and let it be — the way no one else who's known the truth of the thing has ever been able to do before.
"It's...been a long time since we saw each other," Dean says instead, because he'd hated admitting Sam was a fucking addict to himself. Scraping it out of his throat to tell Cas of all people fells like the first time he broke a bone — pain sharp enough to knock all the breath out of his body.
"Then maybe something that would be useful for a young couple," Castiel suggests, and Dean just nods, feeling a little numb and stupid, at a loss, the mall looming up ahead through the rain blurring the windshield.
Dean doesn't know what a young couple needs, really, so he and Cas have a long and horrible conversation about shit it took them forever to accumulate in their own respective houses. Dean remembers it took him two years in Ann Arbor before he bought a fucking coffee table, and Cas says he didn't have a bedside lamp for almost eight months and kept having to get up just before falling asleep to turn off the overhead after reading journals in bed.
"You read journals in bed?" Dean asks.
Cas actually blushes. "It's important to keep abreast of research," he says primly.
"Total fucking nerd," Dean sighs, cases the mall directory, and points left. "Okay, nut up, soldier, we're going to Pottery Barn."
Pottery Barn is terrible. The first thing Dean sees is a fucking basket of fake crows with little twist-tie feet so you can hang them from the eaves of your gorgeous three-story arts and crafts style home that you've decorated with seasonal fruit and a wreath. After that, it's all vaguely Amish dishware and a shit ton of wine glasses — booze was never Sammy's vice of choice, but Dean flinches when Cas glances at them meaningfully, and it doesn't get suggested again — and bedding. Dean refuses to do anything to facilitate Sam fucking his albatross girlfriend, so he gives that a straight up pass and somehow he and Cas end up staring at a bunch of area rugs.
"I thought the comforters were nice," Cas says, giving the carpets a jaundiced look.
Dean shudders. "They could have sex on those, Cas."
Cas raises both his eyebrows at Dean. "They can have sex on the rug, too, Dean."
"That — you — !" Dean sputters, and concludes, "Fuck, God," and glowers at Cas and Cas's smug little smile, because the asshole is right, and one of Dean's personal favorites had always been sex on the floor. There's something decadent and urgent about it, and Dean hasn't ever minded a little rugburn, a tiny reminder of how he got it.
The worst part is that there really isn't anything with real utility at Pottery Barn. It's all shit everybody already owns (but more expensive) or doesn't need (and super expensive), and Cas keeps saying things like, "I could buy them this antelope statue," like he's serious about dropping $500 on an ugly paper mache deer, so Dean figures retreat is the better part of valor here and drags him out of the store.
"We didn't buy anything," Cas says accusingly.
"That store sucked," Dean retorts.
"You're never going to find them a gift like this, Dean," Cas sighs.
Just to spite him, Dean goes and buys the first acceptable thing he sees from Crate&Barrel, which ends up being a set of throw pillows with felt petals sewn into them in purple and olive green.
"Those are definitely better than a rug," Cas says, enough surplus sarcasm in it to warrant a government farm aid program, and Dean has to fight to keep the pout off of his face when he says, "Hey, at least they can't fuck on them," at which point Cas just smirks and says, "They can if they try hard enough," which is such a terrible image that Dean threatens to leave Cas in the Bath and Body Works without anybody to protect him from all the tweens who think he's so pale and soulful like their vampire prince come true.
"Okay," Castiel says, after dragging Dean through Macy's, an Anthropologie, a Williams Sonoma and a Restoration Hardware. "Let's go back to Pottery Barn."
"We are not going back to Pottery Barn," Dean disagrees. "You're not buying that deer."
At Pottery Barn (again), Castiel drops fucking $525 on the deer, which upon second consideration is even uglier than Dean had originally thought, and now looks sort of Vulcan on top of everything else. Cas gets one of the girls at the counter — all of whom start giggling just a little bit louder at him when he answers one of their questions with, "I'm a pediatric surgeon at Mott's Children's Hospital" — to wrap it up with a shit ton of ribbon and something called jute.
"You know, you don't have to come with me," Dean blurts out, nervous, feeling something skittering under his skin like ants crawling.
They're trapped in the mall parking lot, Cas has his massive box of ugly deer in his lap, clutching at it like a kid with a Christmas present. Dean's not sure if he's trying to give Castiel an out here because he genuinely doesn't think anybody should have to deal with the shitshow that's his family, or that he doesn't want Cas to think less of him, to deal with Cas realizing Dean had abandoned his brother, that Dean had never deserved any of Castiel's approving looks.
But Cas only gives him one of those lingering, measured looks and says, "Dean," and Dean just nods, because he's shit at saying 'no' to people — especially when they're saying 'yes' to him.
The drive back is quiet, just the radio on low, a murmur in the background, and Dean takes the long way home. Overhead the sky is velvety and purple-black, interrupted by stars, and all around them the trees are thick, orange flashes of houses in between, the chemical yellow burn of street lights casting slats across the seats sometimes as the Impala sails down the long ribbon of highways and side-roads.
"What did you and your wife get?" Dean asks, suddenly, feeling like an idiot for not asking earlier and for bringing it up now, when they're in a car on a dark highway, not far from where the accident had been. "For your wedding?"
Castiel doesn't look sad, or angry that Dean brought it up, but he does look wistful, a frown touching the corners of his mouth for a beat before he says, "We got two toasters and someone bought us a fondue pot." He looks at Dean from the corner of his eye. "Fittingly, Susan had a gluten allergy and I'm lactose intolerant."
Dean bites back a laugh. He doesn't remember much about Susan, always knew her through the lens of her husband, but it never feels right to laugh when Cas invites Dean in on these jokes, a little like he's trampling her grave for no good reason at all.
Up ahead, he can see the roofline of Castiel's fortress of solitude, its widow's walk a severe horizontal line against the slopes and triangles. It was too big even for two people, and now, Dean thinks it must be like a museum on the inside, memories filling up all the empty spaces.
"Well," Dean says, and pulls to a stop in front of Castiel's porch, darkened and silvered from the moon, "at least they were good for regifting."
The next day, Dean sucks it up and calls Bobby.
"Boy, what the hell are you doing?" Bobby says.
Dean resists the urge to pull the handset of the phone away from his face to stare at it. "I'm...calling to tell you I'm bringing a guest to the wedding?"
"First off," Bobby starts, "just because I'm letting them hold the wedding at my God damn house doesn't mean I'm planning this shindig. And secondly, why the hell are you bringing one of your skanks to Sam's wedding?"
Dean scowls into the phone and hopes it translates. "I don't date skanks."
"Do you remember Corey? Or Jasmine?" Bobby demands.
All right, so Corey had been kind of a skank, Dean admits to himself, if not out loud, and asks, "Anyway, who am I supposed to tell about the guest who is not a skank?"
Apparently, he's supposed to call Ellen, who also berates Dean for bringing a skank to Sam's wedding and then won't believe Dean when he argues that Cas isn't a skank and concludes the conversation by saying, "Whatever — but keep in mind, as family you have to stay at the house, and if you two keep me up having unprotected sex, I'm going to kick your ass," and hangs up before Dean has a chance to finish choking on his tongue and explain how that shit is so not fucking happening.
He spends his afternoon catching up on paperwork and delegating consults to the new baby social workers that just tumbled out of their master's programs, spit-shined and earnest in their sensible shoes and best intentions. Dean has some explicit opinions about his cubicle — which mostly he uses as storage — so he settles into the break room with his 100 year-old work laptop and his reading glasses and a mug of coffee, the greatest hits of Zeppelin.
Some indeterminate amount of time later, Missouri jerks his headphones right off his head and snaps, "Dean Winchester — are you taking Castiel to your brother's wedding?"
"Jesus Christ," Dean yelps, rubbing at his stinging ear. "What the hell, Missouri!"
She glares at him. "Sandy the head nurse in emergency just called me and told me that she talked with Lori and Lori told her you were taking Castiel to your brother's wedding — are they wrong?" she asks, eyebrow raised in challenge.
The University of Michigan Hospitals' gossip chain is almost 100 percent accurate by the time it filters out of the intranet and into the general population, but that doesn't mean Dean has to be happy about it, so he narrows his eyes and asks, "Maybe it is, so what?"
Missouri slaps him upside the head.
"Fuck, Missouri! What's wrong with you?" Dean asks, shrinking away from her.
"Nothing," she snaps at him, sounding irritable, like she's annoyed but doesn't know why or what to do about it, and she glowers at him for another few seconds before saying, "Don't screw it up," and storming out of the break room again.
Dean stares after her for a long minute, eyes bugging out of his head, before he pulls up some of the fact sheets he'd helped put together a few years ago about how to spot dementia in some of their shut-in clients.
And that shit just keeps happening.
When Dean goes into the hospital to do a follow-up, Lori corners him near the third-floor nurses station and gives him a hug; three internists high-five him on the way out the door. The janitor winks. Dean leaves work half an hour early that day because the thought of sitting there like a giant target while everybody drops by to tell him they really hope he and Castiel are really happy together is fucking terrifying.
By the time he meets Cas at the airport later that night, Dean's a wreck.
"Okay," Dean admits, sitting with Castiel at the gate and watching the glimmer of planes taking off outside the windows, "I wasn't weirded out about us going before, but now I'm seriously freaked out, and — "
Only whatever else he's about to say gets dies on his tongue when Cas strokes one hand, soothing, down the back of his Dean's neck, his palm huge and warm against Dean's skin as Cas says, "Dean, everything will be fine."
Dean stares at him, at Castiel's dark-blue eyes and nods once, twice, wary, but Dean loves Castiel's hands — he does, he does — and so he leans into the touch.
Cas, taking advantage of the fact that women do not ever say 'no' to him, informs all the flight attendants that Dean will have one Jack and diet Coke and no more, thanks, no matter how much he whines or pouts or stares at them meaningfully.
"Man, I hate flying," Dean says, and pastes himself as far away from the window as possible. It's a small plane, and Cas has gallantly agreed to take the window seat and keep the blind down, but there's a sliver of light peeping out reminding Dean that the only things between him and certain, sucking, agonizing, deoxygenated and rapid death are two sheets of plastic, a piece of tin, and a pediatric surgeon who uses a four year-old pink Motorola Razr because it came free with his calling plan and can't be fucked to get a less homosexual cell phone. "Aren't you supposed to do no harm?"
Flicking his gaze over the edge of the in-flight magazine, Castiel says, "Given the situation, I think preventing you from arriving at your brother's wedding drunk is doing no harm."
Scowling, Dean says, "Killjoy."
"So be it," Cas says, meditative, and sticks the magazine in Dean's face. "I think I should buy one of these wall crosswords. Or this side-table with a hidden cat box."
Dean takes it away from him, for the good of the world, mostly.
"Those wall crosswords are the devil," he informs Cas, because apparently in doctor school, they don't require Common Sense 101. "And you don't have a cat."
"I've been thinking about getting a kitten," Cas tells him. "There was a box of them at the grocery store last week."
Once upon a time he thought that Castiel had been born in one of the poorer Balkan countries, where everybody was malnourished and came out fucked up in the head from a childhood in a post-Communist underdeveloped wasteland of bleakness and root vegetables. Then he'd met Cas's asshole older brother, Michael, who'd spent some time telling Dean about their idyllic, if strict, upbringing as a member of one of Boston's wealthiest families in between grabbing Dean's ass and trying to lick his neck. Coincidentally, that was also the first time Dean had ever seen Cas pitch a shitfit.
"Why are you like this?" Dean asks, not because he thinks that the answer is anything other than, 'because Cas is a weird weirdo who does weird stuff and weirdly misses social cues and barely passes for a norm,' but out of habit.
Cas glares at him, which actually comes out as a pout. "One of them had your eyes."
Dean blushes furiously and resists the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose in despair.
"That doesn't make it better," he says to Cas slowly, at which point the flight attendant returns with $5 in change and Dean's drink, and Dean says, "Oh, thank God," and drinks it in one while Cas looks on in undisguised disapproval.
The rest of the flight is pretty much varies between equally terrible and much, much worse, like the patch of turbulence over Denver where Dean swallows hard, over and over again, and lets Cas fold Dean's hand into his own. Dean doesn't have any good reasons for hating flying the way he does for hating fires and his father and Ruby and cocaine and Sam, but it burns like acid in the back of his throat, so he shuts his eyes and lets Cas baby him until the plane steadies out.
"Sorry," he says to Cas, because he is. This is fucking embarrassing, all of it: his fear of flying, this bullshit with his family, the way Dean's poorly concealed crush gets more poorly concealed every day.
But Cas only smiles at him, earnest and kind. It's his permanent setting, like how Dean's always stuck on "sort of a dick."
"It's nothing, Dean," he says, and just like that, it is.
"I guess that's your superpower," Dean observes, and a smile swims up out of nowhere, bubbles to the surface, and he grins and says, "Don't worry about it," when Cas tilts his head to the side in that silent question all the peds nurses find adorable, that makes him look like a bird, perched on a telephone line watching the world go by.
California is dusky outside the airport when they finally land and he bolts out of the plane as quick as he can on shaky legs. They end up in matchbox Japanese car the color of dishwater with about as much personality, and Dean ends up sitting in the driver's seat for five minutes, clutching at the steering wheel and trying to will himself to turn the key in the ignition and failing completely.
"Do you want me to drive?" Cas asks out loud; the "are you okay?" is unspoken.
Dean watched his mother burn up in a fucking housefire when he was four and remembers just enough of her to know that he and his brother lost something huge and wonderful when she died. Dean remembers enough of what his father was like before his mom died to knows he and Sam got fucked both ways. Dean raised Sam mostly by himself — taught him to tie his shoelaces and fight back when somebody picked on him and drove him to the ER when he had appendicitis and baked God damn brownies for him for class. Dean was the one who found his fucking needles and coke and drove Sam to rehab over and over again, learned how to toss Sam's room and then put it back together again, mediated whenever John Winchester went Apocalypse Now over whatever the latest development in Sam Winchester: As the Recidivist Junkie Turns saga. And Dean was the one who waited by his phone every night for a year, hoping Sam would come to his fucking senses and call, for Christ's sake — and he was also the one who didn't pick up when Sam did, eventually, just three years too late. Every time, each of those bumps in the road, Dean remembers thinking that it was the hardest thing he'd ever do and each time he's wrong.
"No," Dean says, answering both questions at once, and starts the car.
Bobby's ranch in outside Santa Barbara is a two and a half our drive northwest from LAX, through Inglewood and Santa Ynez, the glitter of West Hollywood a blur outside that fades out into something smokey and dark by the time they wind their way through Thousand Oaks, down 154 toward San Marcos Pass. California plunged into night is beautiful and artfully lit in the places that stretch out between cities tucked away between highway markers, and Dean tries not to think about the last time he drove down this way he was driving away from Sam for the last time, packing up and picking up and moving across the country to colder climes, where he hoped the distance and the weather would numb him — just a little.
Cas is a quiet passenger, leaning against the car window and watching the other cars and trees blurring around them, eyelids drooping. Dean can't help but to wonder if Cas was the last thing that Susan had seen that night, before their car had hit black ice and spun out, tires streaking across asphalt without purchase, before they'd hit the tree. He thinks that if it were him that night, he might be okay with that, that his last image was Cas, drowsing beside him.
Dean doesn't remember much about Susan, mostly her absent smile from the Mott Christmas party that first year he'd been in Ann Arbor, the way she wore her honey-blonde hair down, a cascade of silk, her amber eyes. She was the type of gorgeous you saw in cornflakes ads and on pin-up posters about patriotism and she wore dry-clean only Sunday dresses when she and Cas went to 9 a.m. service at St. Anthony's. She'd never liked Dean, but he didn't exactly blame her; he's always fucking terrible at disguising his crushes at the very beginning.
Dean remembers standing on Cas's right side during the funeral, the way Cas had been wreck, the way he sort of still is, actually, and what a fucking pair they are, Dean thinks.
When he pulls off and takes the turn onto Alisos Canyon Road, he can already smell the vineyard, the rolling hill and valley through his rolled-down window. It's dark and quiet and private out here, no other homes for acres and acres.
Dean hasn't been to Bobby's in years, since he left California in his dust and Sam behind and took Missouri's advice to try and live for himself for fucking once, but puttering down the driveway — green on either side of the lane — it all comes pouring back. Bobby hates people but he likes space, and he's independently wealthy through a series of dubious and not-entirely-clear-even-to-himself transactions, so he bought a fucking vineyard and let it go to seed. Oh he harvests some God damn grapes every year, but he eats them with a side of Pabst and an aperitif of bourbon and whittles on the back porch.
Dean remembers from long, aimless summers spent here that there're jackrabbits and deer and entire fields of lavender and wildflowers have overtaken the once-meticulously maintained orchards, the hills of wine grapes.
Dad had taught Dean how to build an engine block but Bobby was the first one to let Dean do it, bequeathing him a series of increasingly shitty cars he seemed to pull out of his ass and neighboring barns. He set Dean underneath them during long, windy summers to keep him out of trouble — because everybody's forgotten, but he was the fucked up one when they were kids — and Dean would put them back together again with meticulous care in between shooting dented Coors cans off of wooden fences with bebe guns before graduating to Bobby's terrifying array of shotguns.
(Dean loves Bobby like a second father, but he's going to be surprised not at all when CNN starts showing aerial shots of Bobby's ranch with an announcer talking frantically about it being "just like Waco," and using phrases like "a stunning stockpile of guns" and "shouting about Ron Paul.")
It wasn't an idyllic childhood, but it was Dean's, and he'd loved it, never regretted it, but he looks back on it now and aches because he wonders if it began then — if he could have stopped it by dragging Sam out of the house more, not letting him get lost in his books, lost in his head. Sam stopped wanting to follow Dean around about the time he stopped being a pain in the ass and Dean would have let him start to get away with it, and he can't help but wonder if everything would be different if only.
Intellectually, he knows it's all bullshit. Dean's not as book smart as Sam, but he got his fucking masters, thank you very much, and like everybody related to an addict, he's gotten good at reading between the lines.
He knows Sam started using his third year of college, that before that it was the occasional joint and too much booze, and he'd laughed it off because getting baked and puking in bushes is practically part of the college curriculum. He knows it started with a few bumps that had somehow escalated to heroin, and after Dean found out and sent Sam to rehab that first time, Sam had come out contrite, ready to change — and met Ruby and fell in love with oxycontin.
That was years and three rounds of rehab ago. Dean doesn't know what Sam's drug of choice at the end was — what it is now — but he knows he can't do it anymore, that he was so fucked up by he time he left that it took him moving to Michigan and fucking a bunch of skanks and five years before he was okay enough to be here, parked in Bobby's driveway trying to make himself breath.
He sits in the car for a long time, in the dark quiet of the driveway, listening to cicadas singing to one another and Cas breathe and debating if it's too late to turn back for the airport before he thinks about John Winchester, the raspy scrape of his voice saying, "Be brave for your brother, Dean."
So Dean takes one last deep breath, reaches over, closes a hand over Castiel's shoulder, and says, "Hey — we're here."
It's all dark through the house, but there's a note taped to the back door reading, "Dean — we decided to make it an early night. Key's under the fake rock in the dead cactus pot. You and your 'guest' are in the second door on the right on the second floor. Bobby."
"Assholes," Dean mutters to himself.
"'Guest'?" Cas asks.
"In my defense," Dean says, rooting around the dead cactus pot until he produces the key, "I tried telling them you weren't one of my skanks."
Cas is smiling at him when Dean looks up from where he's wrestling with the creaky, half-rusted back door. "Excellent work," he says.
Dean glares at him. "You're supposed to be on my side, dude," he reminds Cas, which for some reason makes Castiel sober, makes him close his hand — which is warm and comforting and all the things Dean thinks he gasping for inside — around Dean's wrist and say, too earnest, "I am, Dean. I always will be."
Oh Jesus Christ. What do you even say to that? Dean wonders, so he defaults to his baseline of "awkward, sort of a dick" and grins, hears himself say, "That's why you're my boo, Cas," and rushes to push open the backdoor, almost trips over himself dashing inside, where it's only old ghosts waiting for him and nothing to do with Cas's wide blue eyes, the way he's always hovering just over Dean's shoulder, at the edges of his thoughts — expecting things, doing things, being good to Dean.
And because Cas is possibly the greatest ever, he doesn't say a word about the way Dean tiptoes past the first-floor bedroom he knows belongs to Bobby, careful not to let out a sound because there's light shimmering from underneath the closed door.
"Your courage astonishes me each day," Cas tells him flatly, and Dean figures he should be grateful that at least Castiel held that shit in until after they got into their room and Dean shut the door behind them with infinite care. It's the room Bobby always assigned him during Dean's lost summers here, and it squeaks unless you close it just so.
"Nobody asked for your opinion," Dean retorts, dropping his bags and flopping down on his old bed — a battered double with faded blue sheets and two flattish pillows — and he stares at the ceiling feeling sorry for himself until Cas sits down next to him.
"There's only one bed," he observes, and leaning over Dean so that all he can see is Cas's wide, guileless gaze, Cas says, "They really didn't believe you about the not skank thing."
Of course no one believed Dean's protests he was bringing (a) a non-skank and (b) a friend, Dean thinks bitterly. There isn't a cot or any extra sheets, so Dean begins constructing an elaborate argument for why Cas should take the bed and let Dean sleep on the floor and — for when that probably fails — how to prevent himself from rubbing one out against the small of Castiel's back in the middle of the night.
"I could arm-wrestle you for the bed," Dean says, grinning.
Cas looks away, blushing, folding his hands together in his lap, and Dean pushes himself up on his elbows and watches him.
"It's okay," Cas says, quiet, "I can sleep on the floor."
There's a determined, resigned edge in his voice, which is enough to remind Dean how totally fucking stupid this is. They're grown-ups, or at least Cas is and Dean fakes it.
Besides which, Cas is technically here as his guest and even Dean's not "sort of a dick" enough make the guy sleep on the floor because Dean's scared engage in unidirectional frottage in his sleep, so Dean says, "Nobody's sleeping on the floor — we can share," and before Cas can protest, Dean starts unbuttoning his shirt. "Dibs on the shower."
The bathroom attached to their room is small and dingy with its years, but the water is hot and pounds down on him like a rain of fists, so he closes his eyes and washes his hair and tries not to think about how Cas is probably already going to be asleep on the floor all pitiful and wan under like, the shittiest, most threadbare blanket in the world when he gets out, and the fight Dean's going to end up picking about this.
But when he gets out of the shower, instead of a fight he gets Cas, already half-asleep under the blankets, looking exhausted in the soft orange bedside light. Castiel is always a surprise. One of his arms is hanging out from underneath the blankets and off the side of the mattress, and Dean lets himself stare for a minute before he gets under the covers on his own side, sits frozen in indecision for a while before he reaches over — careful to arch his body — over Cas to turn off the light.
And as soon as it's dark, Cas whispers, "Dean?"
Dean freezes where he is, hand still resting on the edge of the night table, his body twisted, leaning over Cas, and he's close enough that when Cas turns to catch Dean's gaze with his eyes — just a sickle-moon gleam in the dark — their bodies press up together, hot and slotting together like puzzle pieces.
Swallowing hard, Dean says, "Yeah?"
"You don't have to tell me," Cas says, because he doesn't really need to ask the question, it's been hanging in the air for ages now, since the hospital cafeteria and buzzing around them on the airplane, filling up the cabin of the car and now bursting out of the windows here, in Dean's old room in this old house on a 100 acres of abandoned vineyard. "But if you want to, I would like to know."
It's no big deal, Dean tells himself, and tries not to think about the year he and Sam and their father spent on the road, right after Mom died, when they lived out of shitty motels and he always woke up with Sam's octopus arms wrapped around his face, and how even for years after, they'd lived out of each other's pockets. How he'd been so fucking grateful to have a place to stay when Dad had finally plastered over his grief enough to play at being a normal person, even if he always seemed fucking surprised when he got home at night and found out he had sons. Dean learned how to forge John Winchester's signature not to get out of his own trouble, but to sign Sammy's fucking report card and field trip slips, that he'd learned to cook so Sam didn't have to eat cold cereal and canned ravioli every day like they were the fucking Boxcar Children or something. Dean is Sam's brother, but Dean fucking raised him. He changed Sam's diapers and took care of him when he was sick, was the first person Sam ran to when he was in trouble and got all of Sam's best gap-toothed grins and A+ papers and Dean doesn't think there're words in any language for how much he loves Sam, for how much it hurt, how much it still hurts, to have left him.
And habit says, don't say a thing, Dean Winchester, but he keeps staring down into Cas's face — resolving into familiar lines and curves as Dean's eyes adjust to the dark — and he thinks that there's no where else to put this. Dean's out of space in his head and in his chest, that he's filled up his fingers and toes and the spaces in between all of his atoms with his loneliness and how furious he is and how afraid he is to be here, and that if all of it is going to come spilling it out, it might as well spill into Castiel's hands. Dean has always liked them.
He says, "Sam's a drug addict."
Cas blinks up at him. "Lie down," he says, and Dean does, and lets Cas pull him a little closer, their bodies curved like parentheses toward one another, and Cas says, "Okay, keep going," and Dean does, pouring all of it out of himself into the space in between.
"You're not fooling anybody! There's an extra car in the — Jesus mother of fuck."
Dean opens his eyes and sees nothing at first, just a blur, and then he blinks twice and sees the divot of Cas's collarbone, the curve of his shoulder. Everything else starts filtering in in pieces: the weight of Castiel's arm across his side, their legs tangled together, how — oh Jesus mother of fuck indeed, Dean thinks, half-awake — Cas had tucked Dean's head under his chin, fingers carded loosely through Dean's hair.
And when Dean tilts his head up a little, pulls away, he sees Cas is now wide-awake, too, blue eyes huge with that shocked-conscious look. Dean's seen it more than a few times before, when Cas bolts out of on-call rooms, seizing up charts and still toeing on Crocs.
"What's happening?" Cas rasps, and Dean tells him, "Relax," before pushing himself up and glaring over Cas's t-shirt covered shoulder and saying, "Jo — I swear to God."
But she only keeps making that Jesus mother of fuck face at him, because Dean guesses it's one thing to participate in the family sport of calling Dean a manwhore and another to see Dean in medias something Dean's not calling a cuddle. The worst part is no sex was even involved. Jesus Christ, Dean thinks with detached horror, last night, he might have cried. In front of another person.
"Jo," Dean growls again, and it seems to knock her out of it enough for her to turn bright red, spin around in the doorway and call over her shoulder:
"Breakfast is ready — you guys better be down in five!"
Cas is still blinking rapidly at him, trying to wake up, when Dean catches his eyes again.
"I still don't know what's happening," Cas says, hoarse with sleep, and it's fucking adorable: Cas's hair sticking up at 45 degree angles and pillow creases on his face, the way he hasn't moved at all, curled up like a harbor for Dean.
Dean can't resist reaching one hand up, and it feels hot against the cooler air of the room, running it over Cas's bangs, pushing them out of his face as he says, "That was our wake-up call." He checks his watch: eight a.m., those motherfuckers. "Breakfast."
Cas gives him a look of real, actual despair. "I never eat breakfast." The unspoken follow-up to this is: I would rather sleep, like, really a lot.
"And I would rather hide from my family," Dean mutters.
Cas sighs sadly, pushing his face into the pillow. "If we don't go downstairs, is she going to come back upstairs and yell some more?"
Castiel hates yelling. It's one of the most baffling things about him, how he got through 12 years of primary school and college and fucking med school and hates yelling; Dean grew up in a family of yellers and then he went and trained to be an EMT and because that wasn't screamy enough, he got into social work.
"Probably," Dean admits, and then says, "There'll be coffee."
"I do love coffee," Cas agrees glumly.
It takes them another three minutes of disentanglement and negotiation of space before the single sink in the bathroom with a detour to convince Castiel that it's okay to show their faces in pajamas, no, really, before they make it downstairs.
"It would only take me a minute to dress," Cas says, freezing at the bottom of the staircase and fretting, tugging at the hem of his UMICH t-shirt and smoothing his palms over his flannel-covered thighs over and over again.
Dean would think Cas is doing it to keep Dean from freaking out about the fact that they're ETA 30 seconds away from making second-contact with Sam and Ruby, but Cas looks so genuinely upset about it — and then there's that whole thing about the Meyer family dinners he'd endured growing up, which Michael said had involved a butler.
"Nobody cares that you're in your pajamas," Dean tells Cas.
"It's inappropriate," Cas says, stricken, and before Dean can shove him into the kitchen, where there are a murmur of warm voices and the clatter and clinks of dishes and flatware, Sam is shoved out of the kitchen instead, looking scared and giant and —
He looks scared and giant and healthy. He's all California tanned and his hair is too long and covering his ears and in his eyes and he's wearing a hideous Smurf t-shirt that's seen better days and he's barefoot, in ugly gray sweatpants. But he's broad and filled out and all there — 100 percent checked in in a way that Dean hasn't seen since Sam was 19 years-old and mooning over some girl named Jess. No needle marks on his arms or shadows under his eyes and no hollows in his cheeks.
Dean stares. Sam stares back. Cas stares at both of them. There's a lot of staring.
"Um," Sam croaks, finally. "Hi."
This is my brother, Dean thinks. He's never seen Sam like this, all of his baby brother's post-adolescence subsumed into too-skinny arms and track marks, like Sam had drifted out of his coltish teenaged years and straight into the makeup trailer for a shitty revival of Trainspotting. Only now he looks good, he looks well, and Dean can't even measure how that makes him feel, it's wadded up in his throat and congested in his chest, and he's torn between terror and suspicion and longing and naked happiness — to see Sam looking to good, so obviously clean, and it takes Cas touching Dean's wrist gently before he manages to swallow hard and say, "Hi. Sam."
They're probably about to stare at each other some more and feel horrible and awkward about and try not to re-enact any chick flick moments here, but Cas takes mercy on them both and lets his freak flag fly.
"Dean said pajamas would be acceptable for breakfast," he offers, and sounding hopeful he adds, "If he lied, we can change."
Knee jerk, Dean turns to him and says, "Oh my God, really? You're still on this?"
"These are sleeping clothes," Castiel hisses at him him, severe.
"Pajamas are fine," Sam blurts out, looking panicked and funny and so normal. "We're all wearing pajamas. It's totally fine."
It's probably the stupidest, most tragic conversation Dean's ever failed to have, he thinks, and says, "Right," and turns to Cas to say, "See?"
Cas gives both Dean and Sam a look that conveys sympathetic understanding. He gives it to patients at the hospital when he's handing out bad news, too. "I do," he tells them sadly, and before Dean can ask him just what the hell that means, Bobby pokes his head out of the kitchen and says:
"Jesus Christ, will you three idjits get the hell in here already? Food's getting cold!"
And that seems to shatter some of the tension, knock it right out of Sam's bones, and he laughs — it's his familiar, awkward, stupid laugh that Dean never knew he loved but he loves — and says, "He's right — and it'll be even worse then," before loping into the next room, all long arms and legs.
Dean stares after him for too long, he knows, but for so long he hadn't been able to imagine Sam healthy, Sam happy, Sam anything but messed up and angry with Dean and miserable with himself and killing himself. He doesn't know what he was expecting to find here in California, find here in Bobby's house, but he thinks he wasn't letting himself hope, and now —
Then Castiel touches Dean's hand, and when Dean turns to look at him, Castiel doesn't take his hand away the way he always does, and he slides his palm down, laces their fingers together instead and smiles at Dean, small and sweet and just for him.
"He looks good," Cas says to him.
Dean smiles back. "He does," he says, quiet.
Cas squeezes his hand, and Dean doesn't even have a chance to feel like a pussy, or make a totally self-defeating no homo joke. He's so grateful he's drowning in it, and he's so grateful that Cas is here, that Cas is holding his hand.
"He also seems to think breakfast is going to be terrible," Cas says, pulling a serious face.
"Come on," Deans says to him, tugging Cas toward the kitchen door, because right now, he doesn't care that Ruby's in there, he doesn't care that Ellen is mad at him and Jo thinks Cas is one of his skanks. "Not even Bobby can mess up coffee."
Ten minutes later, Cas sighs down at the mug Bobby had put down in front of him and gives Dean a baleful stare.
"You lied," he accuses.
"Dude, I didn't think it was possible," Dean says, marveling, but seriously, he didn't think it was possible, but apparently Bobby is an even worse cook than Ellen, which he also hadn't thought was possible, so you know. It's a day for all new discoveries. The eggs are crunchy, the toast is burnt, the bacon is raw, and Dean has decided to chose cowardice over trying whatever the hell the brown thing in the corner is.
The kitchen is warm and tiled in white and bright blue, and Ruby is sitting awkwardly at one end of the breakfast table, exchanging looks once in a while with Jo in the secret language of women who hate Dean.
So far, in between Cas taking sullen sips of the horrible coffee and poking at his breakfast suspiciously, Dean and Sam and Jo and Ellen have talked about how the weather is great, how the wedding and reception will be held in the backyard — "Overlooking Bobby's dead-ass vineyar — ow!" Jo had offered, and then been interrupted — and how everybody slept.
Ellen cleared her throat. "So. Dean, you haven't introduced your guest," she said, with zero subtlety and no intent of it anyway.
Dean rolls his eyes. "Castiel, meet Ellen. Ellen, Cas."
"Pleasure," Ellen tells Cas, leveling him with an appraising stare over her coffee mug, and Dean feels his stomach flip a little to see her watching Cas so intently. He'd spent the ages of 9 through 19 nursing the most God awful crush on her, and he hasn't talked to her much lately, but he wants her to like Cas. God damn it, Dean thinks. This is why he doesn't like having friends, shit like this is fucking stressful.
Cas gives back as good as he gets, tilting his head to one side as he says, "Likewise."
"So, Cas," Ellen asks, and Dean thinks, oh God, "what is it you do? How did you meet our Dean?"
And some things, no matter how defunct, just slot into place, don't they? Dean thinks, and catches Sam's eyes, automatic, across the table, mouthing, 'Our Dean?' as Sam shrugs helplessly and mouths back, 'Fuck if I know.'
Cas just stares back at Ellen, unblinking as he says, "I'm a pediatric surgeon at Mott Children's Hospital — I met Dean through work."
"Dean's a case manager at DHS," Ellen shoots back immediately. "Funny how that and surgery would intersect."
Jo bites her lip, hard, and Dean glowers at her, warning, before trying, "Ellen — "
"Shut up, Dean," Bobby instructs casually, and Dean's jaw snaps shut, reflexive, and Bobby says, "Go on," to Castiel, adding, "I'm Bobby, by the way. This ranch is 177 acres and I own a lot of shovels and guns."
"Oh God," Ruby chokes, and mutters an "excuse me" into her napkin while Sam solicitously pats her on the back, carefully avoiding making eye contact with anybody.
"I do rotations in the clinic and in the outpatient center," Cas answers smoothly, not breaking a sweat, and Dean thinks he's going to fucking owe Cas forever for this shit.
Bobby narrows his eyes, and Ellen asks, "You guys known each other long?"
Sam spent the better part of Dean's teens accusing him of having no shame, but he was wrong, wrong, totally wrong, because Dean is dying. He is mortified. He turning bright fucking red at the table and like, Ruby, the crazy cokehead brother-stealing skankbasket is making sympathetic faces at him. It's gotta be the end of the world.
"Guys," he says weakly, but Cas just smiles, serene, and says, "We met five years ago," before applying himself again to his coffee and making a disgusted-cat face.
"It's like everybody's having a weird-off," Jo whispers to Sam.
"Shut up, Jo," Sam mutters back.
"I think this is worse than the hospital coffee," Castiel reports, and Dean lets out a bark of laughter, because now Cas has done it: if Bobby could kill a bitch with his eyes, Cas would be a greasy smear right now.
"If you think you can do better, then by all means," Bobby growls at him.
"Excellent," Cas says, and pushes away from the table, making off for the counter, which leaves Bobby scrambling to follow him, saying, "Now wait just a God damn minute."
Dean turns back to smile winningly at the rest of the table. "The best part is," he confides, "he can't cook either."
In terms of degrees of terrible, though, Cas's overdone scrambled eggs and too-crisp bacon are a blessing compared to Bobby's...whatever the hell that had been, and when Cas comes back to the table holding a massive skillet, scraping eggs and bacon onto Dean's plate, Dean just tilts his head up and grins at him. And then it's a matter of everybody redirecting their attentions from asking invasive questions about Cas to making fun of Bobby's cooking to Bobby reminding everybody that he owns like 600 rifles to everybody talking about the weather again, to Dean saying, "I think I'll give Cas the 25-cent tour now," and everybody rolling their eyes at the excuse they know it is.
And it is, sort of. Jo was right, Bobby does own a massive, dead-ass vineyard, but a dead-ass vineyard is actually sort of fucking awesome. The vines are overgrown, run wild, and in the summers and late springs, before autumn melts everything into browns and awful grays, the entire ranch is a blur of greens, lush. Upstairs, Dean hustles Cas into jeans and a t-shirt and drags him out back, takes him down worn and vanishing dirt pathways from another owner ago, before Bobby emancipated the ranch.
"It doesn't look very dead," Cas murmurs, when they step out into the sunshine, the wind whipping through his hair, and even though the vineyard isn't his, and the ranch isn't his, this 25-cent tour is, and Dean grins, as wild as this land, and grabs Cas's hand, jerking him into the greenery.
Cas is quiet, let's Dean tug him along, through the brushy leaves and prickly vines, and Dean points out the lavender and wild rosemary and violets, the wild roses that sprang up. There're rustles from rabbits and Cas gasps and points like a little girl, whispering, "look!" when he sees a baby deer, and in the flat expanses between the abandoned fields are entire oceans and carpets of wildflowers: purple and yellow and cornflower blue the color of Castiel's eyes.
And the deeper Dean takes him, the wilder it gets, the more overgrown, the sunlight going from searing overhead to dappled along the ground as the cover of young trees and trellised grape vines grows thicker overhead. Cas asks, uncertain, "Dean?" and Dean just tightens his grip on Cas's hand, says, "Hold on, it gets better," before tugging Cas through one final bramble.
"Oh," Cas says, hushed.
Dean doesn't know the story behind it, but long ago, when it was a working vineyard someone had clustered a some of the bleached wooden frames, either on purpose or by accident, near a copse of trees. In the years of neglect since Bobby purchased the property, the ivy that had cling to the trees had married into the grape vines, and the entire corner of the vineyard — mostly hidden — had vanished into a tiny hill of green leaves. The orderly dirt paths underneath had grown over with clover and moss and underneath the canopy of leaves and vines, the light fractured and filtered into something green and cool even on the hottest of summer days, and Dean had taken muscle car magazines and cassette players and stolen beers here over the years, sprawled out under lazily-blooming flowers and leaned up against mossy green tree roots and slept alway long afternoons.
It had been just his, even when the whole concept of owning something that didn't belong to anybody else, also was foreign, and Dean had always kept it a secret, all these years, guarding it jealously even from Sam, who got first pick in everything and all of Dean's attention and anything Dean could afford to give him, always.
And now Cas is staring around the tiny hollow, looking hazy with wonder, blue eyes dark and starry, smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as he inspects the space for long, quiet moments before his gaze settles back on Dean.
"This was your hideaway," Cas says to him, quiet.
Dean smiles. "Yeah," he agrees, and tugging at Cas's hand again, he says, "Come on."
They settle on the ground, and Dean laughs and laughs watching Cas sit awkwardly among the clover, trying twice before he manages to get himself situated, Indian-style and pouting like he's forgotten how to be a kid, or maybe he never was. Whenever Dean has seen Castiel interact with his patients, he's been kind and enchanted and careful, because Cas fails at ordinary affection but he loves his patients to distraction, like he doesn't remember being an 8-year-old asshole, or that 8-year-olds can be assholes, like if he wears enough clown scrubs everybody will be happy.
The hollow is smaller than Dean remembers, now that Dean's shot up his last three inches and into his 32 year-old body and is sharing the space with Cas, who leans his weight back on straight arms, palms pushing into the ground and stares up some more, smiling lazily.
You know, Dean thinks suddenly, Cas is the only person I'm ever quiet with.
"I used to hide on our widow's walk," Cas says suddenly, reaching up to trail his fingers through the leaves overhead, fingers trailing along the knotted bodies of vines. "During the school year, I wasn't at home anyway, but during the summers, we'd always go up to the Cape and the only place I could ever be free from from my brothers was the roof."
Dean knows that Cas was young, once, that when they first met five years ago, Cas was younger than he is now, but it's hard to wrap his mind around: Cas seems so still, and deep like one of those quarry pools, clear and cool and bottomless and unchanging. Dean knows — from that horrible, awful, disastrous time he ran into Michael — that Cas is the baby of the family.
"What your brothers and sisters like?" Dean asks, transparent and hungry to think about something other than Sam, something other than the fear that is starting to replace his elation, the doubt that's already creeping back in. It's been a long time since Dean believed Sam and got kicked in the teeth for it — over and over again — but he remembers what it felt like, every time.
Cas gives up on sitting, lying down in the shade and closing his eyes, stretching out his fingers and toes, languid in the grass, and Dean wants to lean over him, to kiss the curve of his jaw, to press his face into the line of Cas's neck.
"I have two older brothers and a sister: Zachariah's the oldest, and Michael and Anna are in the middle, and then there was me," Cas murmurs. "Zachariah and Michael inherited the family bank and Anna runs one of our hedge funds."
Dean stares at him. "So the Boston Fidelity wing being built at Mott," he prompts.
Cas grins, crooked. "Michael's Christmas slash apology present to me," he laughs, rueful, and cracks one eye open to look at Dean. "He asked me to tell you he was sorry about his aggressive groping, too, by the way."
"Jesus Christ," Dean manages.
"I never fit in, and they never understood me," Cas tells him, watching Dean lazily now, both eyes open. "But they love me."
Dean feels drugged, drowning in the green light of late morning, underneath the canopy, and it smells like currants and earth and lavender, the bright California air and it hums with something electric. He lies down, too — because suddenly it's exhausting to sit up when Cas is sprawled out like that, across the lush green clover and fallen leaves in the spring — and Cas makes room for him, lets Dean press close to him before he says:
"You'll have to talk to Sam eventually, you know. You can't just hide here."
Dean swallows hard, shuts his eyes. "I — I can't go through it again," he manages.
"Yes you can," Cas tells him, and Dean feels Castiel's hand close over Dean's eyes, the pink light underneath his eyelids going dark beneath the touch as Cas says, "And maybe you'll have to, but it's the only way you'll ever have Sam."
It's a long time before Dean chokes out, "He broke my heart, Cas."
"You don't seem broken to me," Cas promises, and Dean puts his own hand over Cas's, plunges himself into darkness and lies still there, safe and listening to the trees rustle overhead, listens to the wind sing over the hills, and thinks that the worst part about all of this is that Cas is right.
It's past noon by the time they get back to the house, leaves still stuck in the hair, and Ellen spares them an appraising look before she says, "Castiel, join me," and carries him off, brandishing a nailgun and a saw when Dean tries to follow.
"You guys have to cut it out, Cas isn't — " Dean starts, stomping into the kitchen.
The only person in there is Ruby, who is tying tiny bunches of white flowers together with curly purple ribbon, holding a pair of scissors in her mouth by the handle.
"You're not Bobby," he says, faltering, and Ruby lets the scissors drop out of her mouth.
"No shit, Sherlock," she says, and glancing over his shoulder, she says, "I guess Ellen got a hold of your skank."
"Cas is not a skank," Dean snaps, settling at the kitchen table. "He's a doctor."
Ruby reapplies herself to the bouquets, giving Dean a disbelieving look. "Doctors are the worst skanks — do you even watch Grey's Anatomy?" she asks, and slaps Dean's hands away from the pile of flowers. "Don't fiddle unless you're going to help."
Which is how Dean ends up tying miniature bouquets — 50 of them — with his brother's crazy cokehead skankbasket fiancee, the two of them stewing in the most epic uncomfortable silence in the history of time. Dean puts up with it until he gets to his tenth bouquet, and then he bursts out with:
"Dude, what the hell are these for?"
"The tables — one at each guest's seat," Ruby sighs as she glances up at Dean from beneath her lashes, and he must pull a face because she says, defensive, "Hey, this was your brother's stupid idea."
Disgusted, Dean says, "I know. It fucking reeks of Sam — God, could he be more gay?"
"I fucking know, right?" she mutters, snipping another few lengths of ribbon. "And you know what he's doing now instead of helping? Pretending he's a real boy, out back fussing at Bobby and Jo about the tent."
Which, oh fuck, means that Bobby, Ellen, Jo and Sam have Cas, Dean thinks, and before he can push himself away from the table, Ruby slaps a hand on his wrist and holds it to the scratched wood, saying, "Dean, wait."
Dean hasn't seen Ruby in longer than he hasn't seen Sam, but when he turns to look at her, he can't help but see her the way he saw the first time — when she was shy and thin, that dark-haired girl Sam met at group, the rich girl who carried a co-op tote because all her money went up her nose. Ruby is bitchy and hilarious and awful, and if Ruby was a character in a book Dean would fucking love her: the way she drinks too much and always has the best drugs, the shortest skirts, the way she laughs, raucous and consuming, how she lives like a fucking house on fire.
She's different now, Dean admits, looking at her thin cheeks, her dark brows, the way she's put on some weight, how she looks in a blue sundress, sitting at the kitchen table with a carpet of discarded flowers at her feet. Dean doesn't know why Sam loves her, why he couldn't have kept on loving Meredith or Kate or Abby or Jess, any of the girls who came before, who didn't whip Sam into a frenzy, make him into the worst version of himself, who didn't teach him how to lie to Dean seamlessly, how to keep secrets.
"Give me a chance," Ruby says, and her hand is still tight over Dean's. "Dean, you — "
"You gave my brother drugs," Dean bites out, digging his nails into the table.
She flinches at the words, from them like the blow they are. "I'm sorry. I was sick."
"So was he," Dean spits at her. "He was getting better, and you — "
And Ruby fucking laughs at him, the kind of punched-out-of-the-gut laugh that hits you like a semi, in utter surprise, that knocks the wind out of you.
"He — Dean, he was not getting better," she says, incredulous. "You don't even — he was not getting better, God, you don't even know."
"He was!" Dean yells at her. "He was in school again! He was dating — "
"Yeah, he was dating Jess," Ruby interrupts, and she looks so sad at that, like there's something underneath the truth there. "Dean, he wasn't getting better, and if he actually had been, he wouldn't have asked me for the pills to begin with."
It cuts the legs out from underneath him, and Dean feels all of his muscles liquify, his chest collapse in on itself as he stares at Ruby, at her dark and earnest face, the flush high in her cheeks. It's stupid, but Dean hadn't ever considered that was how it had happened, that Sam might have pushed, that Ruby might have tried to talk him out of it, that it was anything other than her laughing and slipping pills to him in between drugged kisses, dragging him down with her.
"We were awful, Dean," Ruby keeps going, whispering now, urgent, "and we were awful to everybody around us, and it took us a long, long time, but we're better now, and I love Sam. I love his stupid greasy hair and his ugly pink shirts and his probably-sexual relationship with that air pump he cleans his laptop keyboard with, and I love that he's making me tie bouquets for our wedding and he loves you — " her voice cracks " — he loves you. You have to be okay with us, Dean, you have to — "
"Shut up," Dean croaks, "just — just shut the fuck up, Ruby."
"No," she counters. "No, I'm not going to. Because he didn't sleep at all last night, listened to all the creaking noises from down the hall all night and panicked about what you would think, about what you would say, and — "
"God," Dean groans, pulling his hand away so he can cover his face. He can't think. His head hurts. "Why? Why did he...what the fuck was he thinking?"
Ruby swallows hard enough Dean can hear it. "I don't know," she lies, and Dean can tell she's lying, it's so God damn obvious, but she just says, "But — look, the point is that shit is all in the past, okay? That's not us anymore."
"Fuck you, Ruby," Dean laughs, harsh, "Do you know how many times I've heard that?"
"Probably a lot," Ruby shoots back, eyes blazing, "I said it to my Dad a lot, too. But he didn't come and you did, so you're the only one who gets to hear it this time."
Jesus fucking Christ, that makes it God damn hard to be mean to her, and all Dean can do is glare at her, mute and furious, because fuck, fuck fucking fuck, she's right.
It's pointless to get mad about how it had happened, or why, or — or any of it, because it happened, and now apparently it's not happening anymore, and Ruby is looking at him like she's going to scratch his eyes out because Dean could skip out on the wedding and break Sam's heart. It's been a long time since Dean remembered it was actually a two-way street here, this thing between him and his brother.
"God damn it," Dean says, and snatches some ribbon. "Give me some fucking flowers."
That's how Sam finds them an hour later when he staggers back into the house, looking sunburnt and harassed and freezing in his tracks, staring at Dean and Ruby.
"Uh," Sam says intelligently. "You guys are...have scissors."
Dean looks up from where he and Ruby are curling all the long tongues of purple ribbon into tight, corkscrews, gleaming. "Uh, yeah, genius," he says.
"We decided you'd probably want to puss these flowers up some more," Ruby supplies.
Sam magically turns an even darker color of red, and Dean thinks, very very quietly, that he wants to like Ruby, he really does.
"They're pretty," Sam snaps at them both, scowling. "It's a wedding. They are supposed to be nice."
Dean gives Ruby a meaningful look and finds her already giving him one in return.
"God," Sam mutters, thudding out of the kitchen, "I think this is worse than when you guys hated each other."
Cas tramps in not long after that, and Ruby liberates Dean from ribbon duty with a totally filthy wink, waving them off, mouthing, 'Worst. Skanks. Seriously.'
There's a bridge of freckles emerging across Castiel's nose, his cheeks, and the back of his neck is bright red; he's got a bunch of weird cuts on his hands and a cut on the webbing between his fingers from when he got into it with a hand tool and got his ass kicked. He smells like sweat and sunshine and his t-shirt is sticking to him, across his chest, his shoulders, and he's smiling at Dean.
"That looked friendly," Cas says, falling into step with Dean on the staircase.
"Probably friendlier than Sam and Bobby and Ellen and Jo were," Dean retorts, brushing their shoulders together on the way up, their footfalls slightly off, a clatter on the creaking wood. "You okay?"
"Dean," Cas laughs when they hit the upstairs landing, "I went to prep school — those guys were nothing."
Dean laughs, because he didn't know that, and he can imagine it, the way Cas would break out his blankest of blank expressions and how that would shut Jo right now. How Ellen might needle and needle and get absolutely nothing; how Bobby would wax poetic about his shotguns and Cas wouldn't even pretend to be politely interested. And Jesus, Sam would try to talk about Cas's feelings, and Dean would pay money to see that.
"I'm glad I don't have to try and kick all of their asses, then," Dean says.
Castiel looks at him with terrifying affection. "You don't have to protect me, Dean."
If anybody asks, Dean doesn't blush. "I know that," he mutters.
"Good," Cas says, the corners of his mouth tugging up, "good."
The wedding is scheduled for Sunday, 11 a.m. It's casual, with drinks and snacks — "Canapes," Sam corrected, and Ruby had shot Dean a look of genuine despair — at the reception. There'll be 40 guests, mostly people Dean doesn't know, since most of Sam's old friends don't talk to him anymore, and according to Ruby, she doesn't remember most of her 20s so she's not actually sure if she has any friends.
Sam blushes. "Oh, God, Ruby," he moans.
"Addict humor," she chirps sweetly.
They're eating lunch on the patio, the half-finished tent glaring white in the sun, one untethered cloth whipping in the wind. Cas is fresh out of his shower, savoring his egg salad and potato chips and Sam and Ruby stealing things out of each other's lunches while Bobby and Ellen shout at each other about how they're going to run the wiring for the lights in the tent. Jo is staring at Cas, which Dean notes she's been doing nonstop since they got here, and if Cas were less weird or possibly at all aware of his surroundings, he'd probably be freaked out by it the way Dean is freaked out by it.
"It's delightful," Cas tells Ruby, utterly flat.
"It's like he's a robot," Jo says, marveling, and Dean kicks her under the table for that, and because Jo is Jo and raised by Ellen, she kicks him back, and from there it takes about 0.0003 seconds for it to get sort of out of hand.
"Don't make me make you guys muck out the stables," Ellen warns, slapping Jo and Dean upside the head at the same time.
Jo throws another wad of egg salad at him. "Bobby doesn't even have horses."
"Seconded," Dean agrees, and throws a handful of chip crumbs back at her.
"I will shit on hay myself if you two don't cut it out," Bobby warns.
"I'm having a really violent flashback to the summer after fifth grade right now," Sam says, under his breath and to Ruby, who responds by smushing the last bit of her sandwich in his face.
It's such a banal, ordinary thing, to have an unguarded moment like this, to sit with Bobby and Ellen and Jo and Cas and his brother, but to Dean it feels like knitting together two hemispheres of the world for the first time. His life has been divided between Sam and After Sam for so long now it's strange to see it any other way, and he startles when Cas touches his wrist.
"Everything okay?" Cas asks.
Dean looks at him for a long time, at his big blue eyes and his three o'clock shadow, the soft moue of his mouth. When Dean is honest with himself — and that's rare, that shit is dangerous — he knows that maybe he has been in love with Cas forever, since the first time he'd seen Cas sticking Legos together with that little kid, or when Cas had spent the Mott Christmas party sitting outside in the freezing cold, snatching cigarettes out of Dean's mouth because it was Christmas and Cas has no concept of personal space. And all this time, Dean feels like he's been writing a letter in his head to his kid brother, pages and pages of the most absolutely embarrassing shit: about Cas's good heart and steady hands, about how Sam would like him, how they're both freaks, how Dean must have a soft spot for them.
It's not anything Dean had ever let himself hope he'd get to tell Sam in person.
And now it's a letter in reverse, and Dean thinks of all the things he's told Cas: about Sam's addiction and how sometimes he was so lost in all the paraphernalia of being betrayed that he forgot to be hurt by it.
"Yeah," Dean says, scrapes it out of his throat, but he means it, and he means the smile that comes on the heels of the words. "Yeah, I'm great, Cas."
And Castiel smiles back at him. "Good," he says, and Jo groans, "Oh my God, you guys are disgusting," in the background, which serves to rescue the moment from hopeless gayness as well as wrecking it entirely. Dean figures the fistful of breadcrumbs she gets for her trouble is only fair compensation.
Everybody vanishes after lunch. Bobby goes to Home Depot for a list that includes things like, "wood," and "wood glue," and "get the fuck outta the house, Bobby." Ruby disappears on the pretense of buying gifts for the guests, which Dean has to admit is possibly legitimate, but there's no way Jo and Ellen need Cas to help them hang the last few strands of sparkle lights for the tent in the backyard.
Even more glaringly obvious, it all happens in under 10 minutes, and then suddenly the only sounds in the house are the windchimes hanging in the patio doorway and Sam's awkward discomfort, broadcasting so loudly Dean can hear it like a fucking foghorn.
There'd been a time what feels like a million years ago, now, that Sam was usually the first thought on Dean's mind first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. He'd spent years being responsible for getting Sam dressed and fed and sent to school, and he'd pretended to worry about Sam doing his homework, even though Sam had always been better at that part than Dean could even bother to fake. And when Sam got older he'd changed, into this ridiculously cool teenager, who got good grades and made all the teachers at their high school smile and who looked like he had the best of everything coming to him, Dean had been proud to be in his orbit, to be able to say, "Yeah, that's my brother."
And mathematically, five years is nothing compared to the almost two decades Sam had been Dean's best friend and confidant and constant responsibility — but desertion changes you, Dean thinks, and he swallows hard, watching Sam putter around the kitchen putting dishes in the washer. Even his shoulders are nervous.
Dean's not sure he even remembers how to talk to Sam, but he wants to, he misses him so much. It's like how he felt as a kid during horror flicks, when he was hungry to know and eager to go and excited to get let in and then scared shitless in the process, hesitating: this is Sam, this is his brother; but this is Sam, this is his brother.
"So, why aren't you setting up the tent with them?" Dean asks, because this silence is starting to choke him and its' the first thing that comes out of his mouth. He's already got three jokes about Sam being a girl lined up.
Sam pulls a face — classic Sam Winchester, at least that hasn't changed. "Apparently my understanding of right angles is only theoretical," he says. "And I think that Jo wanted a turn interrogating the man who's stealing her lifelong crush away from her."
"Jesus Christ," Dean says. He can feel himself blushing, and wonders if he should clear the air about the Cas situation, explain the "not one of my skanks" situation once and for all — but Cas seems happy to play along, is perfectly capable of taking care of himself, and it's nice, for now, to pretend. If Dean has to deal with fucking Ellen and Bobby crawling up his ass and Sam staring at him like Dean's about to break his heart and Ruby trying to fucking bond with him, he deserves to lie to himself a little.
"She looked like her cat died that morning when she came down from waking you up," Sam teases, a cautious smile tugging at his mouth.
Dean glares at him. "Anyway."
"Anyway," Sam agrees, and he looks down at his hands for a moment, draws a shaky breath, before he says, "Okay — I have a speech prepared."
"What? No. Really?" Dean asks, wary.
"It's part of the program," Sam snaps at him. "I'm supposed to make sincere reparations to all the people I hurt."
"Wow, that's going to take fucking forever," Dean says, knee-jerk, and the minute the last syllable trips out of his mouth he already regrets it, because Sam's eyes are getting that red tinge that means he's holding back a bellyful of giant, girlish tears, and Dean couldn't deal with that shit when Sam was five — he can't handle it now. "Fuck. I didn't mean that."
Sam just shakes his head. "Yes you did," he says fiercely. "And you're right. I'm — it's going to take forever."
"Sam, seriously," Dean says. "You don't have to."
His voice is shaking and his hands are shaking and he feels lightheaded; Dean's been skimming the surface of all the fury he'd tamped down and all his guilt and his terror and hurt and he doesn't want Sam to shove him through the fucking ice. If they're careful, they can just hover on the surface of this, and Dean can grit out smiles at Ruby and go to Sam's wedding and everything will be fine, and his thin coating of Teflon will keep him sane for when this whole thing goes to shit again.
"Yes I do," Sam insists, and his eyes are bright now, and red, and Dean can't help but think that almost crying, Sam looks a lot like he did when he was on smack, which is just a fucking delightful thing to remember right God damn now. "I have to — and you — I know you don't believe me, but I'm clean, and I'm so sorry — "
"Sam, seriously, shut up," Dean manages. "I don't want to talk about this."
"I was horrible to you," Sam says.
It sounds like he's scraping out deep out of his guts, just pulling handfuls of himself inside out to say it, and Dean wishes he'd just fucking stop. What can this help? What does this do? Dean's heard so many iterations of this same fucking confession and he thinks that it only makes Sam feel better.
"I was horrible to a lot of people, but mostly to you," Sam goes on. "I fought you every step of the way and I especially when you tried to get me help. I — fuck, Dean, I hit you."
Sam had, just once or twice, in the middle of some pretty amazingly terrible fights about rehab, about methadone, about group. Dean just closes his eyes and leans against the kitchen wall, because Sam has given him split lips and long sleepless nights but it's always that gut-clenching pain that lingers long after even all the echoes have petered out of their always sort-of-shitty apartments, the slightly sub-par lives Dean had managed to carve out for them.
"I stole money from you, I ran away from rehab, I dropped out of school, I lost my scholarships," Sam chokes out. "I crashed the Impala."
Dean doesn't even remember some of this shit. Most of Sam's late teens and early 20s are lost in this long fucking blur of drug counseling centers where he was purportedly giving people advice about getting their loved ones off of fucking crystal meth or oxycontin and trying not to laugh at the agonizing hypocrisy of it. Dean loves kids but he sort of defaulted into child services because technically, it was the sector of social work he'd failed the least spectacularly at.
"And all of that shit is awful," Sam sobs. "Like, really fucking terrible, and I will write separate white papers on why I am a dick on those subjects later, but Dean — I think I made you feel like it was your fault, and I — "
"Fuck," Dean snarls, because that's it, isn't it? The $64,000 Thing They Don't Talk about, and Sam is such a fucking asshole that he can't respect this one limit. That kid is a God damn math genius and he's fucking up basic calculus and Dean sees red for a minute, like water coming to a boil inside his chest and up his throat, behind his eyes. "Sam, just, shut the fuck up."
"It wasn't your fault!" Sam yells, pleading, and since Dean's kid brother is 800 feet tall, when Sam takes three steps over to him and traps him against the wall, holding Dean's shoulders against the tile of the kitchen, he can't do anything but stand there and try not to scream. "It wasn't your fault — you did everything you could, and I'm sorry you ever had to feel for a second it was."
And oh fuck that wasn't rage, Dean realizes, because his face feels wet, and he says, "Sam, stop it, okay — I'm not mad at you — just let me go — "
Sam doesn't. He just makes this noise like a fucking kicked dog and hugs Dean, grabs him up desperate and seeking, like even though he's got his stupid face pressed into the curve of Dean's neck he still doesn't know where his brother is, and he says, "I'm sorry — I'm so sorry — you're my brother. I shouldn't have. I love you. I'm so sorry, please."
This is going to hurt, is all Dean thinks, and thinks it for a split second before he closes his eyes and puts one hand between Sam's shoulderblades, another along his spine. The last time he'd hugged Sam, Sam had been the same height as him, and now his brother is this giant, still a little skinny and pale, but he still hugs the same — octopus arms and pleading.
Dean doesn't know Sam anymore, not really. Sam was 18, maybe, when they had their last real conversation, before he'd started using and lying and breaking Dean's heart until there was nothing left. Now Dean can't help but feel a tiny tendril of hope — stop it, Dean tells himself — that he can know Sam again. That they might be able to sit down and talk and then Sam can introduce himself. Dean wants to know what Sam does now, and what DVDs he owns, what beer he likes, if he drinks it, and if he still eats spaghetti-os out of the can when he's depressed.
"I know, Sam," Dean tells him, and he rubs a circle between Sam's shoulders the way he did when Sam was four and got sick, so miserable he cried all night. "I know."
And Sam just stays tucked up against him, clutching him too tightly for comfort really, but shaking, shaking, and Dean holds on as well as he can, because he's Sam's brother, and it's what his father taught him to do.
Cas finds him, hours later, in Dean's — their — secret hiding place, staring up at the slivers of sky in between the brown and green vines.
"I'm fine," Dean promises, right off the bat, but his voice is still rough with all the things that are backed up in his chest. "Seriously, Cas."
Castiel leans over him, smirking a little, "How do you know I didn't come to be comforted?" He shows Dean his other hand, which is swaddled in about eight miles of gauze. "I had an accident."
"Holy — " Dean pushes himself up and grabs Cas's arm by the elbow, frowning down at the faint red stain underneath the white. "What the hell happened?"
"Jo...got a bit enthusiastic with a staple gun," Cas says, making a face. "Don't worry, it's not that bad. Ruby is apparently just a terrible nurse."
Dean wishes he wasn't too old to put Nair in Jo's God damn shampoo, and consoles himself by undoing the wrappings on Cas's hand himself. For a surgeon, the guy is surprisingly easy about damaging one of his most valuable fucking assets, and Dean feels all his years of EMT training fresh and fierce in his mind when he inspects the ugly, bright-red gash on Cas's palm. He gives Ruby points for apparently cleaning the wound well, and then takes all of them away for wrapping enough tape and gauze around the hand to make a cat mummy.
"I should kick her ass," Dean mutters, carefully rewrapping the bandage. Cas endures it with just the tiniest of frowns on his face, the occasional twitch of his hand, and Dean keeps glancing up at him from under his lashes to say, "Sorry, sorry, almost done."
"You shouldn't be so hard on her," Cas says. "She's understandably upset."
Dean says, "I'm not sure a childhood crush justifies staple-gunning a man."
"I might do worse," Cas says, casual as you like, "if it were over you."
Dean's smile is instinctive, reflexive, and he couldn't stop it even if he wanted to, because he's never really been comfortable being liked, but he likes it when Cas says stupid shit like that to him. He's bright red, too, probably, but he's smiling, and he says, "Liar."
"Not about this," Cas admits, smiling back.
It suddenly seems like the most logical next step to lean over and kiss him, the way it never has been before, and Dean does, hesitating all the way, but Cas's eyes are warm and blue and deep, all the things that are familiar and good about him that Dean can't help but to love. Cas's mouth is soft and slack and already half-open, and Dean falls into him, their bodies tilting together, licking his way into Cas's mouth easy and good and instinctual. Castiel tastes like lemonade from lunch and the faintest spark of mint toothpaste, and Dean sucks at the pout of Cas's mouth, kisses the corners of his smile, loves the rough grind of stubble across his cheek, against his chin.
Then Cas makes a noise that sounds like a huff of laughter, just pure happiness, and Dean grins back, automatic, into the soft wetness of Castiel's mouth. He's happy, earlier today he thought he forgot he could be, but he's happy here, hiding from his family and laughing and making out like a teenager, and then Cas puts a hand on the back of Dean's neck, cups the curve of his skull, and chases any of his doubt away, immolates it in a dizzying flare of joyfulness.
"I'm always jealous about you," Cas tells him, pressing a kiss just under the curve of Dean's bottom lip, murmuring into his skin.
Dean chuckles, low, and catch's Cas's mouth again, murmuring, "You hide it well."
When Cas frowns, it's the tiniest little thing, but that slight downward crease in his mouth transforms his entire face. It's ridiculous and ineffectively adorable when Cas does it. "Not really," he admits. "I may have told Jo it was impolite to stare at you like meat while I'm around."
"Wow, it's kind of amazing you have a hand left at all," Dean says, because it is, and then leans in to kiss that stupid look off Cas's face, since it's less God damn embarrassing than admitting that it's a marvel to have someone be jealous over him, that Dean doesn't mind, that it's sweet, that he loves the bow of Castiel's mouth, the skin on his neck, the divot over his lip.
"Bobby said the same thing," Cas complains, and draws away so he can tilt his head and stare and stare at Dean's face, and maybe it means a lot more than Dean ever thought that he's not shy at all under Castiel's gaze. "Are you really okay?" he asks, and his hand is still warm on the back of Dean's neck, careful with him, like he always is. "Do you want to leave?"
Dean shakes his head, closes his eyes. He left once; he's still not sure it was the right thing to do, even if it had been the best thing to do, then.
"No," he whispers. "I'm good to stay."
Cas gives him a long look that has many things under the surface, but he just nods and says, "Okay," and seals it against Dean's mouth with another kiss — short this time, just a lush moment of warmth, intimate — before he says, "Let's go back before they think you ran away."
They walk back the long way, in slow strides, and Dean ignores the fact that he's holding Cas's hand so that he can keep holding Cas's hand, and when they get back to the house Sam still looks red-eyed and a little shattered, but he smiles, and Dean smiles back. It's the first time they've been in the same state for dinner in more than five years, but it turns out they can fight over pizza toppings in exactly the same way they always have, and it's the strangest thing, but it's a comfort.
The phone starts ringing about halfway through the first round of embarrassing stories Dean decides to tell about Sam. These span age nine months to three, and cover a variety of subjects including but not limited to Sam's war against toilet training, terror of broccoli, that time he threw up on a mall Santa, all the times he put on Jo's dresses instead of his own pants, and how he cried when Dean wouldn't hold his hand. It's the least terrible volume of embarrassing Sam Winchester stories, but his brother is already looking mortified.
It's people asking for directions, letting Sam and Ellen know that they've landed, telling them where they're staying for the night. They're double-checking what time they should get there, and where the ranch is, and should they bring anything? It's a small wedding but it's still a production, and after a while Sam's busy answering his cell phone so everybody else takes turns with Bobby's house line, and Ruby and Cas end up relegated to dish duty like a pair of long-suffering daughters-in-law.
"Yes, it's on an overgrown vineyard," Dean tells the 800th person who calls, who turns out to be a girl named Becky and her brother Zach — the only other guests Bobby is expecting and allowing in his house, and they are currently lost without any hope of recovery "somewhere in California." She describes the road they're on as "ominous," and "setting of a horror flick," and says that "Sam better fucking be grateful we're risking our lives to find this stupid overgrown vineyard and watch him get married."
Dean decides he likes her enormously. He likes her even better when she and Zach finally stagger into Bobby's house an hour and a half later, looking hunted, and she pummels her tiny fists into Sam's back as he picks her up clean off the ground in a bear hug.
The house is noisy and overfull and Ruby is less tightly wound now, less nervous, wrapped up in an oversized sweater against the evening chill and sitting on the patio with Zach, laughing and smoking Camel menthol lights. Ellen and Jo are gone for the night, making the long drive back home to close up the bar and try to catch some shut-eye before the wedding tomorrow, and Bobby calls them all idjits before climbing the creaking stairs of his house, disappearing into his bedroom for the night. That leaves Becky and Cas and Becky's photo album, Cas listening politely as she babbles, "And that's me and Sam the night he lost his pants in the bushes," and "That's me and Sam and Jess — this was when they were dating sophomore year — at Halloween," and "And there's Jess in her James Dean costume making Sam sexually uncomfortable."
"This is pretty obvious and deliberate — again," Dean says, handing Sam a bottle of Corona when he finds him, sitting out on a hill overlooking the soft darkness of the vineyard at night, no lights for miles.
Sam grins at him. "It's kind of sweet."
"Unnecessary," Dean disagrees, and settles down on the cool grass as he pops the cap off of his beer. "We're good."
"Yeah?" Sam asks, and he sounds like he might want this shit to launch another discussion about feelings, which Dean cannot fucking handle today. He's done his year's quota of feelings. He is overbudget on feelings. "Just like that?"
"Yes," Dean assures him. "And we're not talking about it anymore."
Sam grins at him, wobbly. "Can I write you long, tearful letters about it?"
"I won't read them," Dean lies, glaring.
He takes a long drag off of his beer and leans back on his elbows, stares up at constellations he hasn't seen in years, bright and obvious in the black skies overhead. He thinks about light pollution. He thinks about metaphors. Mostly, he thinks about Sam: as a baby, crying in Dean's arms as their house burnt down, as a kid running after Dean babbling about his day, as a skinny teenager with awkward arms and legs and a huge heart. He thinks about when Dad died, how he'd left Sam and his mountain of problems — and fuck Dad, he'd only ever known the surface, blew in like a hurricane and riled Sam up, yelled at him and broke kitchen chairs and never read any of the literature, went to any of the counseling, listened — to Dean. He thinks about Sam now, looking healthy and whole and wholly surprising.
He hadn't lied to Cas, earlier, he's still scared, he doesn't know if he can do this again, if he has to do it again, but he's Sam's brother, and he knows he will. Dean would break his heart a thousand times over on the thinnest of possibilities for Sam.
Sam goes to bed after Ruby comes back, laden with bags from the Body Shop and Yankee Candle and fetches him out of the back yard, all of them murmuring their good night's. The day after tomorrow, she and Sam are getting married, and it's probably a fucking disaster in the making, but Dean hopes it's not, and when Cas comes outside, drops a hand on his shoulder and murmurs, "Come to bed," Dean's smile is genuine.
It probably means he's old, but Dean doesn't even try to get into Cas's pants, just lets himself get tucked in, pulled in close and warm and tight against Castiel's chest in the dark of his old bedroom.
"Did you and Sam have a good talk?" Cas whispers, close to the skin of Dean's ear.
Shivering, Dean whispers back, "Yeah — we really did. How'd the parade of Sam's ex-girlfriends with Becky go?"
Dean remembers just a few of them, like Abby, who Sam had met during some sort of Men for Feminists event or Jess, with her dirty blond hair and dirtier jokes, her green eyes and big smile. Dean had liked her best.
Cas smiles against Dean's cheek. He can feel it. "Good," Cas says, quiet, but there's something solemn in his voice, too. "I think I understand Sam better now."
Dean pulls away, enough so he can catch Castiel's eyes. He raises his brows. "Yeah?"
"Yes, I do, Jessica is very beautiful," Cas says, and stares at Dean a long time, lingering, before he murmurs, "But her eyes aren't really a match for yours," and before Dean can protest about them both turning into pussies, Cas kisses him, and keeps kissing him, and Dean falls asleep somewhere between one press of Castiel's and the next.
Dean wakes up again in the middle of the night — a bump, a creak, maybe a faraway car — but mostly he wakes up to Cas, close and warm under the thin blankets, and who blinks his eyes open when Dean stretches his arm out, blue irises glittering in the dark.
"Did I wake you?" Dean asks, and Cas just grins back, lazy and lavish, and leans in, murmuring, "Yes," as he slides his hand up the back of Dean's t-shirt, and adds, "I don't mind," before he darts in.
Castiel kisses like he has a hypothesis about Dean already, like the way his lips are wet and soft on the corners of Dean's mouth are part of his experimental method, and that when he sweeps his tongue into Dean's, he's just looking for confirmation. And Cas, being the baby in a filthy rich family, is already spoiled rotten, so Dean knows he shouldn't add fuel to the fire, but he has trouble saying 'no,' to Cas, doesn't want to, and when Cas tilts his head, cups the back of Dean's neck, Dean just sighs into it, gives in.
Dean's wanted this for so long it feels like it's been woven into him like a stray thread, something bright and burning and undeniable, but so regular he's almost forgotten its urgency. But having Cas so close, his hands scoring the skin of Dean's back with heat and his mouth open and lavish and moaning into Dean's mouth, is like being plunged into a river after dying in the Sahara, and Dean takes and takes and takes, knots his hands in Castiel's hair and pulls him close, until no atoms separate them and he drowns.
He could do this for hours, Dean thinks, balanced on that narrow line between needing more, and faster, and harder, and just needing. Dean could kiss Castiel for days, weeks, make up for all the time they've maintained their distance in cars and cafeterias, when Dean was too scared to ask if Cas was ready, if this was something he wanted at all.
And Dean's glad now he never asked, since words haven't ever worked the way they're supposed to with him, always awkward and fumbling and almost guaranteed to piss off Sam or his Dad when he'd tried. He's glad he can just gasp it into Cas's mouth, lick it into his throat, try to write it with his nails into the skin of Castiel's shoulder: how long he's thought about this, how glad he is to have it, that he's joyful, that this is joyful.
Cas rolls them over, so that Dean's on his back and Cas's comforting weight is over him, holding him down, and Dean laughs — happiness bubbling out of him — when Cas pins his wrists to the bed and looks horrified at the way the bed creaks.
"Is your family going to hear?" Cas whispers.
"We're grown-ass men, Cas," Dean reasons.
Cas gives him a dubious look. "Jo still has her staple gun," he argues.
Dean considers this a beat and reaches up — Cas letting go of his wrist, so easy, in step, and Dean doesn't know the last time he's felt like this, like he's telegraphing everything, giving himself away, and being happy about being so nakedly obvious — pulling Cas down into a kiss again, laying them out on their sides, the bed making one long, cranking protest under the weight of their bodies.
"And there's Bobby, too," Cas says, but his eyes are shining now, laughing, and he slides both his hands up Dean's t-shirt, palms hot along Dean's stomach, nails scraping under the waist of his boxer-briefs, "with his shotguns and his 177 acres of dead vineyard."
Dean grins into Cas's mouth, nipping words into his lips, "I'll protect you," and because he's not so well-bred as Cas, he slides his hands down the back of Cas's pajama pants and shorts, palms handfuls of his ass and grinds their hips together.
"In that case," Cas says, hoarse, and then he slides his hands down, down.
And then Dean's jerking at his own boxers, dragging Cas's pajama pants down the jagged cut of his hip — gotta feed him up, Dean spares a second to think — and he lets out a huff when their cocks slide together, when his dick slots into the divot between Cas's thigh and his groin, when he gets a nice rhythm going. Cas is mumbling into his shoulder — his name and praise and pleading and jubilation — and it's all Dean can do to keep kissing the broadness of Castiel's shoulder, to reach down between them and close his hand around Cas's, closed around their cocks, and at his touch, Cas let's out a gasp, fucks into their combined fist.
It's hot and it's a little tenth grade, but Cas keeps gasping, "Dean, Dean," and all Dean can say is, "Yeah, yeah, give it up, sweetheart, lemme feel you," and then it doesn't make any sense at all that they're on their sides when Cas could be shoving Dean onto his back again, sliding into the vee between Dean's legs and rutting up against him in earnest, clothes tangled at their ankles.
When Dean comes, it's with Cas smiling into his mouth, the headboard slamming against the wall, the mattress groaning, and their cover is totally, totally fucking blown.
Dean suggests playing rock, paper, scissor to decide who has to go get a towel to clean them up, and Cas's response is just to stare at him until Dean knuckles under and climbs out of bed, whining, "Okay, you can't keep doing that," when he comes back with a wet towel. But it's hard to remember that Cas is being manipulative when he gets back into bed and is rewarded with a kiss, Cas's long fingers carding through his hair, and Dean mutters, "Okay, fine, you probably can," because who's he kidding. He's got Cas warm and sleepy in his arms, he's home, he's got his brother, and everybody's fine. Cas can probably make him do any-fucking-thing, and probably always has.
"Can I tell you something?" Cas asks, when Dean's about to drift off.
"Hit me," he mumbles, closing his eyes.
Cas tucks his face into Dean's chest, mumbles into the fabric of his shirt, "Susan and I fought about you, the night we had the car accident."
Dean stops breathing, fisting his hand automatically against Cas's back.
"She said I had a crush on you," Cas goes on, sounding shockingly bland. "That's a lie — she said I was in love with you."
"Were you?" Dean asks, raspy.
"I don't know," Cas admits, still muffled. "I didn't really let myself think about it a lot. I was married to Susan, I'd made her a lot of promises."
And all of Dean's memories look different now, viewed through a different lens, and he wonders about Susan's brittle smiles and cold shoulders, the way she'd never really seemed to approve. And he sympathizes, he does, but it's so stupid, Dean can't help but thinking, that she could have ever thought anything would have happened, that Cas of all people would break a promise like that.
"You never would have," Dean says.
He doesn't say, "I never would have," because he would, he would have in a heartbeat. He's greedy and reckless and he's been hungry for years.
Cas laughs, and it's a wet, tired noise against Dean's chest. "Dean, I don't know if you've noticed this, but you have a sort of unreasonably irrational faith in me."
Dean lets himself stroke a hand down Cas's back, because he thinks Cas needs it, gentles him under his palms and murmurs, "It's not irrational."
And now Cas looks up at him, lifting his head. He's sad, sort of, but there's no regret on his face, and Dean knows because he looks and looks, for any hint, but mostly what he finds is wonder, and it feels like a punch in the gut to know that he has this.
"I did love her," Cas whispers to him.
"I know," Dean says, because Cas wouldn't be Cas if he hadn't, and then he closes his eyes, looking pained as he says: "Is it awful that I'm glad I didn't have to choose?"
It might be. But a lot of things are actually awful, Dean knows. Heroin is awful. Abandoning your brother is awful. Beating and raping your kids is awful. Having to give an 11-year-old girl a pregnancy test is awful. Cheating on your wife or having her die in a car accident on black ice is awful. In the grand pantheon of shitty things, the possibility of betrayal is so small Dean can't really see it.
"Does it really matter?" Dean asks, rough, because there isn't really an answer to that sort of question. It's the only thing he's really learned on the job, that the world is made-up of no-win scenarios, that you carve out tiny victories where you can and you make peace with yourself when you don't.
Dean's sorry for Susan, that she had Cas and thought she might be losing him. He doesn't know what he'd do if he felt the same way. And he's sorry she died so young, that she'd pumped the brake instead of holding it down so the ABS could kick in, that there was a tree on that section of road instead of just snowdrifts, that Cas and his CPR and 15 minutes of chest compressions before the ambulances arrived hadn't kept her hanging on long enough they could fix her, that she'd died that night and lost him for real, that she'd gone with questions and doubts and jealousy in her wake.
But Dean's not sorry about this, he decides, not about being there after to make Cas wash his clothes and buy groceries, to drive him around town for a month when he'd been too fucked up to operate a car on his own. He's not sorry that they're here, that they're lying on his bed on 177 acres of dead vineyard at Sam's wedding, and that when he tips Cas's chin up, he can kiss him, open and raw and maybe something like forgiveness, even though there's nothing to forgive.
"I'm glad I had her," Cas tells him, in between, gasping for air, "I'm glad I have you."
"Yeah," Dean breathes into him, "Me, too."
Outside Dean's bedroom window, the sky is rolling over, pink scoring the edges of the horizon with morning, and Dean listens to Cas's breathing going steady again, listens to the clock tick closer and closer to 5 a.m. Maybe this is the whole point of adulthood, Dean thinks: building houses in the spaces left behind. But if that is the point of being a fucking grown up, he's fine with it, because Castiel was left behind with him.
Cas, being a doctor, has this great party trick where he can drop off anywhere, insomnia being the province of people who find it logistically easy to sleep ordinary hours in their own beds. Dean spends a quarter of an hour feeling jittery under his skin before he climbs out of bed — pressing a kiss to the curve of Cas's shoulder, through the worn fabric of his t-shirt — heads for the kitchen.
The house is quiet and shadowy and there're people tucked up in the fold-out sleeper couch in the living room, bodies curled together on the futon in Bobby's library, every square inch of space taken up. And in the kitchen, there's nothing to eat. Everything in the fridge has Post-It notes in Ellen's handwriting saying things like, DO NOT TOUCH and FOR THE WEDDING, DON'T TOUCH and DEAN DON'T TOUCH THIS IT'S NOT FOR YOU, because everybody in this house is an asshole. Out of spite, Dean liberates two deviled egg halves, grabs a Corona and goes to sit on the patio, at which point he finds Ruby sitting on a lawn chair looking down at her kit.
It's one of those zip-up travel bags guys use as a shaving kit, lined with pockets and velcro, and this one is filled with shit that hits like a punch in the solar plexus: needles, right off, Dean remembers, shitty, deteriorating plastic baggies of sickly yellow heroin, a busted POS spoon, a lighter, a rubber strip. Dean thinks, inanely, that Sam's tourniquet had been stolen out of a local clinic, so it'd had fucking green and purple polka dots, and that had been just about the only funny thing about having to toss Sam's room to find his God damn drug paraphernalia.
Dean can't seem to get his hands or feet to move, so he just stands there like a jackass, holding two deviled eggs, a bottle of beer and his dick while Ruby sucks desperate little breaths through her nose.
"What if I can't stay clean?" she asks, shattered.
He stares at her some more, and when Ruby turns around to look at him, her eyes are bright and wide-open and lucid.
"What if — I don't know, what if I can't help it?" she says.
Dean tips his head at the kit. "It'll be easier not to do drugs if you don't have drugs," he suggests casually, and he's fucking amazed at how calm he sounds.
He's never been able to empathize the way he should, the way he's been able to feel shitty for shitty kids who do shitty things who come from shitty households. He lives in eternal bias, grew up in the same bullshit tornado of grief and dislocation as Sam, but Dean didn't go looking to freebase consolation. He doesn't understand his brother, and Dean probably never will, because there's something so eternally hurt and hungry and longing and lost inside of Sam, and it's so big and terrible that Dean doesn't think he'll ever know enough to navigate the geography of it — or that Sam would want him to.
"It was in with the spare tire. I found it when I was cleaning out the trunk," Ruby says, turning back to the kit and staring at it with a detached amazement. Dean makes a note to check the trunk of the Impala, because he'd never thought Sam would go so low as to hide his shit in Dean's car, but Sam had been pretty fucked up in his late teens. She murmurs, "I forgot all the places I hid shit."
Dean walks, careful, and settles next to her on the chair, watches the pale morning light gleam off of the needles and the shadows from her sloping shoulders, fanning over the tourniquet. It's 4:36 a.m., and Ruby looks so small that Dean almost aches for her, more than he hates her for all the things she's meant in the past.
"You thinking about using?" he asks, and takes a drag off his beer.
Ruby closes her eyes. "I think about using all the time."
"What stops you most of the time?" Dean wonders about this a lot, because none of the reasons he would think are self-evident not to use heroin (it's fucking heroin) seem to make a difference to Sam.
She smiles, just the ghost of a grin. "Sam," she tells him.
"Wow, blind leading the blind," Dean mutters.
And before she can get mad at him about that — about how the journey was hard and how her pain is so much more intense than anybody else's, and how her Daddy was an asshole or how she felt isolated and alone all her life, and how it's an excuse for what a fuck-up she is, how she dragged Sam down with her, the same way Sam uses their shared childhood like an E-Z-Pass — Dean takes the kit out of her lap and hurls it out into Bobby's dead-ass vineyard.
"There you go," he says to her gobsmacked face.
"You — " she sputters.
Dean hands her one of his deviled eggs. "Here," he says, and on the horizon, the sun finally breaks the surface of the treeline, and the sky goes brilliant orange and gold and red the color of cracked open coals. "You're getting married today."
Ruby looks at the egg in her hand and then back at Dean.
"Can I have some of your beer?"
He takes another drag off of his Corona. "No," he says, because in about six hours, he'll be sort of her brother, too. "Eat your egg."
She does, and they sit watching the sun rise until Sam staggers downstairs and wakes everybody up by stepping on them or knocking shit over in the kitchen, and Ellen shows up and smacks Dean twice — once for each deviled egg half he stole.
Dean's grown up fixing Sam's breakfasts and lunches and Sam's toys, and he's never going to be okay with the fact that he can't fix all the things that bother Sam now that he's grown up and out of Dean's reach. He knows this is what getting to be an adult is about, that insofar as he was Sam's parent, this is what being Sam's parent is about, but Dean's heart is still heavy and it still aches, and when he watches Sam in the warm morning sun, eating oatmeal and kissing Jo on the cheek, Dean still wishes that he knew the clockwork of his little brother, that he knew how to wind and fix the gears.
Later, when no one is paying attention, Dean will go down into the vineyard and pick up all the scattered pieces from Ruby's kit, because he loves Sam, he loves Sam so much, but the shape of forgiveness in his mouth is still too new to translate into trust.
The lead-up to the wedding is utter fucking pandemonium.
Ellen and Jo have apparently spent the entire trip from the Roadhouse to Bobby's screaming at each other about something or another, and so they're both red-eyed and as prickly as cactuses by the time they finally stop into Bobby's kitchen. Bobby, being a sour old cuss but also a cowardly one, makes like a tree and the next time Dean sees him — almost three hours later — he's outside with the caterers putting out the spread. Ruby has been sequestered away with a gaggle of females, who keep arriving, dumping a present somewhere, and vanishing again upstairs. Sam, being the woman in this relationship, has taken to his bed in a fit of pre-wedding hysterics, and Dean doesn't have time to kick his ass because apparently everybody keeps getting lost on the way to Bobby's dead vineyard and there's a desperate need for ad hoc signage along the road.
Cas, who apparently spent last night realizing that he could leverage sex against anything he doesn't want to do, took the list of errands Ellen had written up and abandoned them all in search of more white ribbon and Krazy Glue after distracting Dean with an utterly filthy open-mouthed kiss when the division of chores had been happening. Ellen appears to find this fucking hilarious. Why Dean's attracted to people who are cruel to him, he'll never know, so when Cas slows the rental car by the side of the road to smile guiltily at him, Dean asks.
"Maybe it has to do with childhood conditioning," Cas says seriously, and then, helps Dean hammer in the last of the makeshift signs ("SAM AND RUBY'S WEDDING — 1/4TH MILE AHEAD, AT THE DEAD VINEYARD") before collecting him to return to the house.
It's an afternoon wedding, still almost casual, but Dean changes into a suit and let's Cas do up his tie in their bedroom. Downstairs, in the garden, all the chairs have been set up and there are flowers everywhere, the fairylights strung around the tent already on and dull-looking in the afternoon sun, guests milling around looking for their seats. There's the faint hum of the string quartet, playing off to one side and the clatter and whisper of flatwear and dishes from the tent, and Dean closes his eyes and breathes in the smell of California and perfume and the green waft of the vineyard.
"You okay?" Cas asks, somewhere close to his side, slipping his hand into Dean's, because Cas has never objected to being coddled, and Dean's glad for it. He's never been programed to let people fuck up on their own.
He glances at Castiel from the corner of his eye. "I'm holding up."
"Not as terrible as you thought it would be?" Cas asks, leaning into him.
Oh, worse, is what Dean wants to say. Being here makes Dean think about all the possibilities he usually dismisses offhand. If everything was different, if Mom had lived or if Dad hadn't been Dad, if Sam had found Dungeons and Dragons or black metal instead of smack. If Dean had been a better brother. But when he does all the math from this weekend, adds up all the aches and all the blessings, he comes out more or less in the black, and so he presses a kiss into Cas's temple and goes to check on Sam.
Sam, when Dean finds him in Bobby's study, looks bushwhacked and terrified and pale in his wedding suit, and Dean feels something clench in his chest at the sight of his baby brother, all grown up and shitting himself.
"You okay?" Dean asks, inspecting him. "Did you comb your hair?"
"Yes," Sam tells him, pitchy, and worries at his cuffs. "I'm fine."
Sam looks like he's going to throw up.
"Yeah," Dean says. "You look fine."
"Shut up, Dean," Sam mutters, because no matter how many years apart they spend, Sam Winchester is always going to be Dean Winchester's bratty-ass little brother.
"Breathe," Dean counsels him, slapping Sam's hands away from his cufflinks before he destroys the hem on his shirt. "Everything's set up. Everything's fine."
Sam just keeps looking stricken before he bursts out with, "Is it — I mean, are you okay? That you're not the best man?"
Dean boggles at that for a long minute, because of all the different and fascinating ways Sam has upset Dean in their shared lifetimes, this doesn't even register, but Sam looks so God damn worried about it, Dean says:
"What? No, come on, Sam."
"Are you sure?" Sam frets.
"Sam," Dean says, honest, because he means every word of what he's about to say, "you are clean. You're healthy. You're getting married. You are 8,000 feet tall. I don't care if Charles Manson's your best man, okay?"
When Sam laughs, it sounds punched out of him, a surprise, like he's forgotten how to do it around Dean. Dean only has a minute to reflect on how fucking sad that is, really, before Sam's wrapped him into a choking hug, cutting off Dean's air supply— and to the day he dies, Dean's going to swear that's the only reason he's so lightheaded.
Out of the Winchesters and their make-shift family, Sam's the only one who disgraces himself and cries at the wedding. Bobby looks a little red-eyed while the vows are spoken and the rings are exchanged, and Jo scowls through most of it, sticking close to her mother's side and looking halfway between sentimental and wronged.
Dean thinks that maybe Jo has always thought Dean and Sam belonged to her in one way or the other; maybe Sam could have in another life. But Ruby looks gorgeous, floating down the aisle toward Sam, and just before she reaches him, Sam catches Dean's eye, lingering and terrified, and Dean has to give him the patented Winchester, You Gonna Get Beat look before Sam checks back in on his own wedding. The music is swelling and Cas's hand is warm and good in Dean's, and after, when evening shades out the sky filling up the valley and the vineyard looks hazy and wild and endless behind the tent, behind its sparkling lights, Dean thinks that no matter what, he's grateful he's here.
He watches Jo drag Bobby out for a dance, watches Ellen sitting on the sidelines, her high heels abandoned in the grass. In the center of the tent, Ruby and Sam are swaying together, heads bent close whispering secrets to each other, and Dean tries to remember the first time he saw them together, if he's ever been able to look at the pair of them without feeling suspicious, at which point Cas appears.
"Just for the record, if you're going to ask me to dance, I don't even know who would lead," Dean tells him, fond, and Cas holds up a bottle of champagne in response.
"I'm a terrible dancer," he admits. "I thought we'd go somewhere and get drunk."
Dean snags two glasses off the table. "Man after my own heart."
Cas grins. "That's the idea."
Dean suffers a number of flashbacks to being seventeen, when sex was still brand new and everything was hilarious, and it's that same hungry stupidity that tickles its way down his spine when they stagger, laughing and tripping, in the mostly-dark to a dimly lit slope apart from the wedding party. They try drinking out of the glasses, but give up and just trade swigs from the bottle, laughing and licking champagne from one another's mouths, and Dean finishes the dredges of the bolt before letting it roll away from them in the dark green grass, palming Cas's chest and side.
"Thanks for coming to the wedding with me," Dean says, out of nowhere, but he doesn't think he's said it before, and he is grateful. Cas should know these things, hear them out loud, since so many of their conversations have been wordless so far.
Cas just smiles at him, up from where Dean's spread him out in the grass, his blue eyes midnight black and just a sliver of light. He slides his arm around Dean's waist, closes his hand into a fist at the small of Dean's back, a warm, heavy weight there, anchoring him to Earth, and when Dean kisses him, he's dizzy from the champagne and gratitude and the continental shift of everything changing — everything finally changing — like the sharp crack of ice in the first thaw of spring.
"What the ever loving fuck," Dean says, when Cas opens the front door looking like the Pillsbury dough boy has just had his way with him.
"The realtor said I should make cookies," he explains, looking hunted.
Dean plucks a chunk of rapidly melting butter out of Cas's hair. Since that first time Cas served him rubbery eggs and slightly burnt bacon, Dean has learned that Cas is a tolerable cook in the absence of any other options, but that his hands — and Dean still loves them for all the good they do — are better served cradling hearts and reassuring parents and unbuttoning Dean's button fly jeans.
"She probably meant that break and bake stuff you buy in the dairy aisle," Dean says.
Cas looks devastated. "Oh," he says, looking just pathetic enough that Dean can already feeling himself knuckling under, and that is why, an hour later, Dean finds himself in Cas's kitchen, baking cookies when Tyra Dorset, Coldwell Banker's Ann Arbor Realtor of the Year, calls out:
"Dr. Meyer? You in? You must be! I smell cookies."
Cas gives Dean a martyred look.
"Jesus, fine," Dean says, because Cas's plea is loud and clear, and he darts out of the kitchen to intercept Tyra before she can navigate her way toward the cookies and smother Cas with European kisses.
Cas's house is cloaked in orange-warm light from heavy pillar candles Tyra had brought in and the fireplace, flickering in the living room, and the soft, faun-colored furniture and gleaming hardwood floors, the walls lined with books — medical to romance novels, relics, too loaded with memories to toss — make the house feel smaller, like a clutch of welcoming fingers. In another life, Dean remembers the lake house being warm and smelling like vanilla candles and Susan's perfume, summer heat wafting in from the porch and patio, and even though he likes it — the trees and the sound of water shifting just beyond the rocky beach, the way Cas looks in the bleached-white sheets early in the morning — Dean understands why Cas wants to sell it, enough so that he'll hazard Tyra, her aggressively touchy affection and her interior decorating.
"Tyra," he says, finding her in the hallway and stopping her with a hand to her hip. "Always a pleasure to see you."
She beams at him, apple-cheeked from the cold, and she looks him up and down before she kisses him on both cheeks, plastic nails digging into his arms where she's latched on.
"Dean — always a joy to see you, too," she coos, and glancing around him, surveying the house, she adds, "Oh, we'll get a bid tonight for sure."
"You think?" Dean asks, and in the kitchen he can hear Cas clattering around.
"Most definitely," she assures him, and says, "Now if you'll excuse me, I think I hear our first open house guests."
And after that mostly it's a blur of Cas hiding in various places around the house and Dean looking for him, hearing Tyra's sparkling laughter bouncing off the rafters in the den and the exposed beams in the library as she squires young couples and retirees through the narrow foyer and around the delft-tiled kitchen. By the time the fifth pair drifts through, Dean's thoroughly sick of explaining that, "Oh, I'm not Dr. Meyer," and having Tyra add, "That's right, this is Dean; he's Dr. Meyer's young man," and he excuses himself to go hide, too.
Cas, despite his skill as a surgeon and skill as a total filthy slut in bed, isn't particularly good at hiding, and it takes Dean all of 10 minutes to find him huddled on the rock beach frowning out at the water.
"They keep calling me your young man," Dean sighs, dropping down next to him, feeling the sand and grit and driftwood and stone digging into the worn denim of his jeans, the muscles of his thighs.
Cas frowns at him. "You're not particularly young."
"And for that, you're sleeping on the couch tonight," Dean lies.
"I wouldn't like you if you were?" Cas tries.
"Whatever," Dean allows, and he turns to watch the water, too, at where it licks up the beachline and leaves the stones wet and gleaming.
Cas wraps his arms around his legs, sets his chin on his knees, looking very young in the waning moon, murmuring, "I thought for a while I wouldn't ever sell this house."
Susan had found the house, and Cas had bought it for her, years ago when they were young and in love and first met. She'd painted the walls and chosen the rugs, filled it with furniture and flower vases and dotted the walls with paintings, and in the years she and Cas were married they'd filled up all of the empty spaces with anecdotes and memories and each other. Cas worries what Dean thinks about the house, if he finds it strange to find a bottle of Susan's perfume in the bathroom, the occasional robe or scrunchy, the box of tampons underneath the extra towels in the downstairs linen closet, but as long as Dean's known Cas, he's known Susan, and he wouldn't know Cas without her, without how she'd written on him and changed him. Dean likes the house, he wouldn't mind staying there, but he can understand why Cas wants to leave.
Cas treats the house like a mausoleum, living in all the absence, and he's curated his loneliness there for so long that Dean doesn't think Cas would know how to do anything else at the end of this street, where the house is half-hidden by trees.
"Well, you are," Dean says, leans back to look at the starless night. "Which means you're finally out of excuses to come help me fix up the new place."
Castiel scrunches up his nose. "I don't know anything about decorating."
"Clearly," Dean agrees, because on the mantel in the new house is a photograph Ruby had sent of Sam and Cas's hideous-ass Vulcan deer, looking equally constipated. "But I meant helping me caulk the bathrooms and clean the gutters and fix leaky sinks."
"Those are really manly tasks you're more suited for," Castiel says, overly solemn.
"You already used that twice this week," Dean says. "And before that, it was how your hands are so delicate — you're not getting out of this."
Scowling adorably, because Cas fucking sucks at scowling any other way, he says, "You shouldn't take it out on me just because you're nervous Sam will judge our house."
"Sam lives in a soulless stucco condo in Santa Barbara, he's not going to judge our house," Dean says, because it's true, and if anybody is going to make bitchy comments about real estate, it's going to be Ruby. Also, they'll probably be about how the house is huge, and too nice, and acidic references to Dean being rough trade or Castiel's kept man, at which point Dean will alert her those pants make her ass look fucking enormous.
Cas looks at him fondly. "It's okay to be worried, Dean."
"Except I'm not," Dean insists, and before Cas can purse his mouth in that way that is shockingly unattractive and insanely annoying, Tyra's voice carries out into the backyard, calling them back inside because, "James and Tabby are just dying to meet you, Dr. Meyer, and your young man!"
"I'm going to kill her," Dean swears.
But then Cas takes his hand and smiles at him, and Dean feels his blood rushing in his hears and his heart thudding and everything feels huge and overly sensitized for a moment — enormous.
Cas tips his head to the side. "What are you thinking?"
Dean squeezes Cas's hand a little and tugs him closer, feeling the ice beginning to thread its way through the wind and the way Cas radiates heat. It's October, and Sam and Ruby have tentative plans to spend Christmas in Michigan, have sworn to find something even uglier than the Vulcan deer for the new house. And that, even with its clogged gutters and leaks and bathroom in desperate need of caulk, has walls to paint and bookshelves to fill and lots of empty spaces to fill in, and Dean has the rest of his life to do it — and Cas to do it with.
"Nothing — just excited," Dean says, finally, shy, and tugs Cas even closer, so that when he says the next part, it's mostly hidden in a kiss, "about everything, all of it."
"Oh," Cas says, breathing into Dean's mouth, "good," and probably Tyra keeps yelling at them, and probably it keeps getting colder on the beach, and probably Sam and Ruby will be assholes an give them back their horrible Vulcan deer, but right now, right at this moment, right fucking now — right now is perfect, and Dean slides his hand up the back of Cas's sweater, and kisses it into his mouth.