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Your Designated Bad Flyer

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"For the record," Gabriel says, and Castiel frowns before he even looks up from his book. Those words have never led to a conversation that ended well for him. "You owe me for this."

"What have you done?"

"Aw, Cassie, I'm hurt." Gabriel doesn't look hurt. Rather, he looks smugly pleased with himself, which again rarely ends well for Castiel.

Castiel resists the urge to sigh but he takes a moment to carefully place his bookmark and close his novel. He doesn't bother stowing it back in his carry-on bag, hoping whatever Gabriel's done will not distract him for too long. "What," Castiel repeats carefully, "have you done?"

There's a grin and an enthusiastic flutter of fingers. "I cashed in my frequent flyers miles for a seat in first class."

"So you have more leg room and I'll spend the flight next to a stranger?" Castiel is used to being moderately confused by his older brother; Gabriel is not the easiest person to understand. This makes less sense than usual. "Why should I be grateful for that?"

If anything, the grin gets brighter. "While I was talking to their lovely staff," Gabriel says, but he means hitting on the girl at the ticket counter, the one who had laughed at his jokes and seemed charmed by his never-ending ability to talk, "a guy came up, running late for this flight. He'd been bumped to the next flight. The only available ticket was first class but he couldn't afford it, and he couldn't do the late flight, so being the good Samaritan that I am, I offered to upgrade my seat so he could have my old one."

Castiel takes a deep breath. Gabriel's ulterior motives are very clear -- impress the girl with his generosity and kindness to strangers, enjoy the level of needless comfort that he enjoys on flights -- but there is nothing about this act that seems to be in Castiel's favour. He considers asking again, but Castiel has an entire week's vacation planned around his family and he needs to pace himself to ensure his patience survives.

He opens the book across his lap again. "Enjoy your flight."

***

After being herded onto the plane like cattle, Castiel takes his seat and continues reading. He tunes out the shuffling noises around him, the heavy tread of feet trudging down the aisle and thumps of people trying to fit too large bags into the small overhead lockers. He's relatively successful until someone stops in the aisle next to his seat and mutters, "Crap."

Castiel looks out at the grey tarmac outside and allows himself one small sigh.

Shuffling continues, bags moved overhead, and a muttered, "Seriously?" followed by, "What happened to luggage limits?" muttered under his breath. Castiel gives in to his curiosity and looks over. There's a pair of jeans and an olive green t-shirt, and a pair of well-muscled arms trying to move bags around in the locker.

"You may need to put it under your seat," Castiel offers and a face pops into view. It's a nice face. Maybe a little too handsome to be believed. Good cheekbones, green eyes, very nice mouth...

No wonder Gabriel was so pleased with himself. He's bemoaned Castiel's habitual singledom; he's manipulated Castiel into disastrous blind dates and threatened to set up an online dating profile. Castiel should probably consider himself lucky that Gabriel changed seats without giving this man a rundown on Castiel's likes, dislikes and romantic history.

"Oh, thanks," the guy says, trying to fold a leather jacket into a smaller, but still misshapen, pile and wedging it under the seat in front. "I figured there'd be more storage space. There's carry-on limits, so there should be enough space for all the bags, right?"

"There should be," Castiel agrees. "There never is."

Castiel returns to his book. He does his best to ignore the awkward shuffle of trying to fit the legs of a 6' tall man into economy seating. Then there's the twist and shimmy of trying to find the other half of the seatbelt.

When it's finally clicked together, Castiel risks a glance sideways. His travelling companion is sitting up tall, eyes straight ahead and hands clasped in his lap. His fingers are interlocked but they're gripping so tightly the creases around his knuckles stand out in stark relief against the white of the joints. He's mouthing something, a bare whisper of sound that Castiel can't make out.

"Are you praying?" Castiel asks, and it sounds suspiciously resigned. Meeting a hot stranger only to find out he's a religious nutcase? That fits a little too well into his dating pattern. At a certain point, you have to accept that the cosmos might be telling you something. Resign yourself to dying alone, perhaps.

"Not really." The guy looks torn between guilt and embarrassment, his smile strained at the edges. "Reciting song lyrics. Trying to forget that I'm trapped in a big tin can that has no reason to stay in the sky."

"You're not a good flyer," Castiel says slowly.

"Sorry, man." There's an apologetic shrug that goes with it. "This is not gonna be your best flight ever."

***

Castiel does his best to ignore the guy and give him some privacy, but it's hard to ignore the muttering.

"This is just like a car. This is a giant car with wings. You like cars," his companion keeps repeating as they taxi down the runway.

"If you're so bad at flying, why are you on this flight?"

"Because my dick of a boss wouldn't give me the extra time off. Otherwise, I'd be in my baby driving across state lines."

"You'd drive to California? From Illinois?"

"I've done it before." The plane shudders as it picks up speed and takes off. With gritted teeth, the guy forces himself to hold out a hand. "I'm Dean, by the way. I'll be your bad flyer for today."

"Castiel." He returns the handshake, awkward in the cramped airline seats.

As expected, Dean raises a sarcastic eyebrow. "Really?"

"Really," Castiel replies firmly. He's never been known for his patience but he's had over thirty years of that reaction and has learned there is no way to minimize it.

"Ever thought of changing it?"

"In college, I tried using my middle name." Dean nods at him to continue. "James. It was Jimmy by the end of the semester." Castiel pulled a face. He is decidedly not a Jimmy.

"Usually parents hide the weird ass names in the middle," Dean says, with a smile that somehow manages to be cheeky and charming. "What happened to Jimmy?"

"My brother visited and everyone started calling me Castiel. It was easier not to fight it."

"That's what brothers live for," Dean says knowledgably, as if he already knows Gabriel's approach to family, "embarrassing you and ruining your street cred."

"You sound like you have one of your own."

"Yeah, but Sammy's a good kid. Well, not a kid anymore. He's graduating law school, which is why I'm on this flying metal death trap."

"If you say that a little louder, the flight attendants might hear you too."

"Do you think that would help?" Dean asks and Castiel assumes its a joke until he sees Dean's earnest expression. "Any chance they'd bring booze?"

"You could simply call them and pay for alcohol." Castiel looks meaningfully at the call button.

"Seriously?"

"Are you sure you want to start drinking at ten in the morning?" Castiel asks and it sounds even more judgmental out loud.

"Man, I know I put on a good game but right now I am a few steps past terrified. I got on the plane without chickening out, but now I'm stuck here for the next five hours. Drinking until I pass out could be an improvement."

Castiel tries to be honest with himself. He's never been the spur of the moment party guy, but he has been known to be impulsive, to make sudden decisions on possibly too few facts. He knows this. But he also knows that Dean is very attractive with his slightly nervous green eyes and his mischievous smile, and Castiel has followed worse decisions for less attractive people in the past. Besides, Dean looks as if he'd appreciate the company and the distraction.

"Very well," Castiel says, "I'll match you drink for drink."

"Dude," Dean says, sounding surprisingly touched. "Are you sure you don't have plans after the flight? Things you might need to be sober for?"

"I have a family dinner," Castiel says solemnly. "And then a week with my family. If you knew them, you would understand why I deserve alcohol."

The idea of the upcoming week is enough to make Castiel press the call button and hand over Gabriel's credit card without guilt. Gabriel had said to use it if he needed entertainment on the flight; Gabriel would approve of this.

***

"Cassie? Cassie?"

Someone's shaking his shoulder. Castiel grumbles and tries to go back to sleep. He had been quite comfortable against... Where is he? Castiel blinks and finds he's leaning on someone's chest, cheek pressed to warm cotton and a heavy arm resting loosely around his back.

He tries to say something but it comes out as "...mrpgh..."

"Cassie, are you drunk?" Gabriel sounds far too chipper for...whatever time of day this is. "Oh my god, you are. How many of those little plastic cups did you empty?"

"As many as they'd bring."

Castiel looks up at the voice. It's...the guy. The hot guy.

The scared of flying guy.

"Dean," Castiel says as he remembers. He figures he should probably sit up for this conversation and stop leaning on Dean's chest.

He sits up carefully.

"Sorry," Dean says. There's a warm chuckle hiding in that tone. "I should have warned you that I can hold my booze."

Castiel frowns. "So can I."

"Sure you can." Hot guys should not be allowed to sound so patronising.

"He actually can," Gabriel says, because he's a good big brother. At least he's better than Michael, which makes him Castiel's favourite by default. "I've never seen Cassie this drunk. I like you. You're a good influence on him."

Deans eyes are very green. The angle of the overhead lights make Castiel think of glass bottles and riverstones, and he realises he's staring when Dean smirks at him.

"I'm not sure drunkenness and good influence go together," Dean says.

"Anyone who convinces Cassie to have some fun instead of the weary, resigned schtick he does is a miracle worker."

"I'm right here," Castiel says because he hates it when Gabriel and Michael forget that and talk about him like they'd discuss some distant mutual acquaintance.

"Yes, you are, Cassie. And we need to get off the plane so these nice ladies can get the plane ready to leave again."

"Fine, I'm getting up." The world spins a little but luckily Dean is there to catch him and keep him upright.

"Get him out and I'll get your luggage," Gabriel says to Dean.

"Under the seat," Castiel calls out over his shoulder. "Don't forget Dean's jacket."

Castiel laughs as he thinks of that jacket, the James Dean cool of it that he could never make work. Dean asks, "What?" as they keep moving awkwardly down the aisle.

"Even James Dean couldn't have pulled off Jimmy."

***

The hangover doesn't hit until they get to dessert. By that time, Castiel has already the familiar strains of "What are you doing with your life?" (father), "What are you plans for the future?" (mother), "What a difference you could make if you had a little more direction" (Michael) and the reliable duet of Anna and Gabriel ("Did I tell you about that weekend I woke up in Thailand?").

It's not that anyone in his family is a particularly terrible person, it's simply that it's made up of two extremes. On the one hand, his parents and Michael believe in civic duty and the bigger picture; they think it's a waste that Castiel never tried to sit the LSATs and think Michael's progression from lawyer to senator is an ideal all should aspire to.

On the other hand, there's Gabriel and Anna who believe in living each moment and taking every crazy opportunity that they can find. Gabriel is something in marketing (Castiel's never been entirely sure what) and Anna is more often a professional student than anything else, leaping from career to career with optimism and enthusiasm. Every time the family gets together, there are stories of some new exotic place, some amazing new experience, some death-defying adventure started on a dare.

Castiel has no interest in politics or fervently arguing new legislation. He's quite content with his life and doesn't see the excitement of backpacking across India or flying to Rome with a one night stand. His aspirations are not grand or exciting; he would like to stay employed, to pay his mortgage, to enjoy the small luxuries of a steady paycheck and relax in the quiet of a peaceful life.

But he's old enough to have accepted the fact that there is no way to convince anyone in his family that this is a reasonable way to live. So instead he smiles and bears it as best he can and tries to ignore the headache starting to pound behind his eyeballs. It's taking a lot of effort to look interested in Anna's story of drinking fermented kava in Fiji, but he's not really following it.

"You okay there, Cassie?" As ever, Gabriel seems to be highly amused by the world around him. "You're starting to look a little worse for wear."

"I will be fine," Castiel replies, although he can't force a smile to go with it. "Please, Anna, continue."

"You're right," Anna says to Gabriel. She gives Castiel a gentle smile and a sharp, assessing look. "Are you coming down with something?"

"Hangover," Gabriel crows. "This one managed to get drunk as a skunk by the time we landed. Had to be manhandled through baggage and passed out in the cab. He's only awake now because he drank his weight in coffee."

"No," Anna says flatly. "I don't believe it."

Gabriel draws a cross over his heart, looking as trustworthy as a secondhand car salesman. "Mind you, you should have seen who was doing the manhandling. Definitely Cassie's type."

Back in high school, Castiel would have taken that comment as a mean spirited joke, like Gabriel telling him to see a movie because the lead actor was really hot, or asking if he'd met any cute guys at a party. Of course it hadn't been until college that Castiel had realised his lack of interest in dating was specifically a lack of interest in dating girls. Just because Gabriel’s right doesn’t make his sense of humour any easier to bear.

Anna turns to Castiel, and Castiel feels trapped with her and Gabriel both staring at him. "Gabriel upgraded his seat, and I spent the flight next to a bad flyer. We drank to pass the time."

Gabriel's expression is dumbstruck: eyes wide and mouth hanging open. "That's how you tell the story? Cassie, you could leach the fun out of the Playboy Mansion."

"That's what happened," Castiel insists.

"No. No, what happened was that as I was charming a very lovely lady, who gave me her phone number by the way, a devastatingly handsome guy came running up to the reservation desk..."

Gabriel tells the story with far more descriptive details including, "How he slept through every other passenger getting luggage out and leaving the plane is a mystery, unless Dean's manly chest has magical noise-blocking powers. You should have seen him. Fast asleep and all over the guy -- our Cassie is a secret cuddler!" and "He insisted that every single black suitcase on the carousel was his, even the one with the Hello Kitty address tag. Then he accused me of lying when I told him he was standing at the wrong carousel."

It makes Anna laugh, which isn't a bad thing, but Gabriel makes it sound like an episode of I Love Lucy.

Castiel tries to be grateful for Gabriel's teasing acceptance. Fresh from Spring Break, mentioning his first boyfriend was met with terrifying silence until Gabriel said, "Why didn't you bring him? Did you think we'd scare him off? Because, honestly, Michael's shovel speech is hilarious to watch." He appreciates the support, if not Gabriel’s irreverent style. Gabriel’s never found a story he couldn’t turn into a joke, and Castiel hates feeling like a punchline.

"I think I'll retire early," Castiel says, standing up.

Anna pets his hand. "Go sleep it off. We'll see you in the morning."

***

There's an annoying electronic trill interrupting the quiet of early morning. Castiel groans, rubbing his eyes and cursing the invention of cell phones. And stupid ringtones. And annoying older brothers who reset phone settings whenever they're left unsupervised.

Thankfully, the phone stops. Castiel yawns and relaxes into the mattress. He's almost asleep when the phone starts again.

He drags himself out of bed and fumbles in his coat pocket, trying to keep his eyes closed and pretend he's still asleep.

He taps answer, and someone says, "You're a bag of dicks, you know that?"

Frowning in confusion, Castiel doesn't have a chance to respond before the man says, "Taking my car without asking is fine. But locking me out of the house while I'm running is a dick move."

Castiel considers this. "I agree."

There's a quick breath on the other end of the line. "Dean?"

"I'm not Dean."

"No, I need to talk to Dean," the guy says and he sounds more politely annoyed, still angry but trying to pretend he's not.

"Oh." Castiel takes a good look at the phone in his hand. While it's the same brand and same standard black colour, it says "Sam" is calling and Castiel doesn't have a Sam in his contacts list. "I think this is Dean's phone."

"Yeah," Sam says slowly. He almost sounds cautious. "Can you give him the phone?"

"Not at the moment."

"Why not?"

"I don't know where he is."

"He's not there?" Sam asks, as if he expects Dean to magically appear behind Castiel's bedroom door.

"No."

"Huh."

There's a moment of silence. Most of Castiel's brain is still asleep but he doesn't know what Sam's excuse is. "Do you know where Dean's staying?"

"Um, yeah," Sam says carefully. "Why?"

"I have his phone." It seems very obvious to Castiel. "I want to return it to him. I need to know where to take it."

***

It takes Castiel an hour and a half to shower, get dressed and drive to the address Sam gives him. It would have been quicker but Mother wanted to know why he wanted to borrow the car and Michael questioned if he should drive it with alcohol in his system. Then Gabriel weighed in to say it had been twenty hours since Castiel got off that plane, and how long did Michael think a good buzz really lasted; Michael replied that if anyone had detailed experience with excessive drinking it would be Gabriel, and then Anna had jumped in, and Castiel had to wait for the three of them to storm off to separate ends of the house before he could ask his mother for the car key.

The address turns out to be an apartment complex, square and whitewashed, with clearly marked visitors parking out the front. Castiel parks and takes the stairs up to 3B.

He knocks on the door. After a moment, it swings open to reveal Dean in a flannel shirt and jeans, holding a TV remote in one hand.

His face breaks into an enormous grin. It's so enthusiastic it makes his eyes crinkle up. "Jimmy!"

"Castiel," Castiel corrects sharply.

From somewhere behind Dean, a voice mutters, "You don't even know his name?"

"Shut up," Dean hollers over his shoulder. "Hey, Cas. Sammy said you have my phone?"

"Yes." For a moment, Castiel considers explaining that he accidentally kept it. That he vaguely remembers Dean's warm hands wrapped around his, Dean telling him to hold onto the phone and stay right there. Dean probably remembers it better than he does.

He pulls the phone out of his pocket and holds it out as an offering. "I thought you'd want it back. Sorry if I came at a bad time."

"Ignore Sammy. He's just pissed that I locked the door the wrong way. Come on in."

Dean steps aside and gestures into the living room, where Sammy -- same flannel, same jeans, much longer hair -- is sitting on the couch pointedly reading a battered paperback.

"What happened this morning?" Castiel asks.

Dean shrugs. "I went out to get breakfast."

From the couch, Sam mutters, "We had breakfast."

"You had gluten-free granola and organic yogurt. What part of yogurt isn't organic?"

It seems to be a rhetorical question, but in case it isn't Castiel says, "The preserving agents and any artificial colouring or flavouring."

Dean gives him an amused glance. "It's still not breakfast."

"So you felt a desperate need to go out to get bacon and eggs dripping in grease?" Sam asks.

"And hash browns and pancakes," Dean adds.

"If you keep eating like that, you're going to die of a heart attack before you're forty." Sam sounds irritated but there is some genuine concern there as well. It makes Castiel feel badly for him.

"Keep eating the way you do, you're going to die a miserable old man," Dean replies.

"You should be nicer to your brother."

"See, Sam? Even Cas here agrees with me."

"I was talking to you, Dean," Castiel says. They both turn to stare at him. "You love your brother and you're very proud of him. You should tell him that. And you should be nicer to him."

Dean stares at him like he's lost his mind. Castiel realises he might have overstepped polite conversation.

Getting off the couch, Sam comes over in a few great strides and holds out a hand to shake. He is ridiculously tall standing up. "I'm Sam," he says, "and now I'm really sorry I started your day by swearing at you."

"You've decided I'm not a bag of dicks?"

"Sammy!" Dean sounds torn between embarrassment and pride.

"You want to stay for a coffee? Or herbal tea, if you're game to try some?"

Personally, Castiel would be glad of any excuse to delay his return. He glances at Dean, who seems fine with the invitation to stay longer. "I believe I'm game."

***

Gabriel has the most accurate gaydar Castiel's ever known. He can meet a stranger and pick their sexuality within thirty seconds. That's why he isn't surprised to hear confirmation that Dean sleeps with guys. It's in a roundabout way, Sam apologising again for being rude and saying he'd jumped to conclusions, assumed Castiel was "another random hookup".

"I've only been here a day," Dean objects, smiling like a movie star. He's drinking black coffee with three sugars and keeps blowing on it to cool it. Castiel's finding those pursed lips and downward gaze rather distracting.

"Last time you were here for a week and you spent four nights sleeping with other people."

"You're making me sound sleazy." Dean looks from Sam to Castiel, his eyebrows doing a short interpretive dance. "It was the same girl, four times. We had amazing chemistry and she was just passing through. It's not like I hook up every night."

"Really? Because I remember your early twenties," Sam says, taking a sip of his tea. It's raspberry and rose. It looks fantastic and smells amazing, but the taste is disappointing. "In fact--"

"Sammy, you finish that sentence and we'll start talking about the Easter Bunny," Dean promises, and Sam rolls his eyes. "Anyway, Cas, how's your trip going?"

"I have six days remaining until freedom."

"That bad?" Dean asks sympathetically, then he turns to Sam and adds, "Cas is out here visiting family."

"It's an annual tradition," Castiel explains. "We spend a week together and it truly makes us appreciate living separately the rest of the time."

Sam pulls an understanding grimace. "So how did you meet Dean?"

"On the flight over." When Castiel looks over, Dean's still blowing on his coffee. "He was my designated bad flyer."

Dean gives him a grin but it falls off his face when Sam says, "Your what now?"

"Dean is uncomfortable flying. Surely you knew that?" From Dean's quickly hidden wince, Sam clearly didn't know that. "Why doesn't your brother know that?"

"I've never seen him on a plane," Sam says. "He has a love affair with his car and refuses to leave her at home."

"Don't be jealous of Baby," Dean mutters but it doesn't have any heat in it.

"The one time he agreed to fly out with me, he got so drunk in the airport bar that they refused to let him on the flight."

"Oh," Castiel says, imagining it very clearly. He thinks its very touching that Dean's first flight was to see his brother. "But you came out to see Sam graduate?"

Dean shrugs. "Well, that and the ring."

Sam coughs, choking on his tea and spilling magenta liquid down his white t-shirt. He gasps back a breath, wheezing, "What?"

"The ring, dumbass. Don't tell me you're proposing without a ring. Jess deserves better than that."

"How--" Sam starts, eyes wide and mouth hanging open. It's a ridiculous expression on him.

"How did I know? Because I'm not an idiot, and I'm your big brother. I know you." Dean takes a gulp of coffee, swallowing loudly. "Besides, you're smart enough to finish law school, you're smart enough to know that girl is the best you're ever going to do. Put a ring on it, dude."

***

On the way out the front door, Dean stops Castiel with a hand on his bicep. "You doing anything tomorrow night?" Dean asks, letting go.

"Nothing other than playing name the tune of that disappointment," Castiel replies. He realises a moment too late that he's probably the only person that would recognise the joke it was meant to be. "I don't have any specific plans."

"You want to come over? We're having a party to celebrate Sam's graduation. Booze, snacks, that kind of thing."

Dean's smiling and standing close, but no matter how closely Castiel looks, he can't tell if this is a friendly invitation or if he's being asked out. He's never been good at understanding other people's motives.

"I'll be there," he says because either way, it's still better than a night with his family. "What time?"

***

Gabriel knows. There's no earthly reason for him to look so smug and drawl, "Cassie, who were you spending time with?" except that he somehow knows Castiel's interested in someone.

"It's none of your concern," Castiel replies primly, placing Mother's keys on the porcelain plate in the hall. They clink loudly as Gabriel hums under his breath.

"So someone new, huh?" Squinting, Gabriel adds, "Not sure if he likes you back? Is he mentally deficient?"

"Dean is--" Castiel clamps his mouth shut but the damage has already been done.

Gabriel beams like it's the fourth of July and he's just found an illegal stash of fireworks. "Dean, huh? I told you he was your type. You owe me."

Castiel folds his arms sullenly. "You ditched me to sit in first class. I owe you nothing."

"So why the romantic confusion?" Gabriel muses aloud. "He ask you out for dinner? Drinks? Coffee?"

"His brother's throwing a party tomorrow night. He asked me to come. His interest is..." Castiel pauses, searching for the right word. "Unclear."

"A party?"

"No," Castiel says firmly.

"Come on, Cassie. It's a party. I'm great at parties."

"No. You're not coming."

"If you don't get me in the door, I'll tell Michael," Gabriel threatens and Castiel shrugs. Michael's disapproval isn't novel and it's hardly a threat. "And then I'll tell Anna and we'll hack the GPS on your phone and come anyway. I'll personally introduce her to Dean."

Castiel can feel himself scowling. He never told Gabriel about his crush on Tommy Harrison in his junior year. He's certainly not holding a grudge about Anna visiting and literally charming the pants off Tommy just before Spring Break. He's an adult.

"Fine," Castiel says begrudgingly. "You can come."

***

Dean opens the door and Castiel immediately feels overdressed. He'd ditched his customary jacket and tie, but he's still wearing a long sleeved shirt and neatly ironed slacks, while Dean stands in jeans and scuffed boots. And a black v-necked t-shirt that hugs his shoulders nicely and draws the eye to a brass trinket hanging from a black leather cord around his neck. It looks like a stylized turtle and hangs in the dip of Dean's collarbone. Castiel wonders if the metal would be warm to the touch.

"Hey, Cas, come on in," Dean says easily. "And...Gabriel, wasn't it?"

"I figured my brother was going to a party your brother was throwing. That's virtually an invitation," Gabriel says, brandishing a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other.

"The more, the merrier," Dean says as he steps back. He leads them inside, through the living room to the narrow galley kitchen. There's already a dozen people standing around, mostly in t-shirts and jeans. "Snacks will be in here, on the dining table and on the patio. Ice in the freezer and the bathtub. Bathroom is that away," Dean adds, pointing down the hall. There's a loud knock from outside. "And that is the front door, so I've got to go."

Castiel stands there for a moment, listening to the bass from the music inside and the chatter of more people outside. He feels more comfortable in formal clothes, especially around his family, and he doesn't think he even packed jeans, but that doesn't make him any less overdressed for the occasion.

"I can see why you get all the guys," Gabriel says snidely. "Nothing says come hither like dumbstruck silence."

"He was busy. I'll talk to him later."

***

He means to catch Dean but it's a crowded party and Dean keeps answering the door and showing people around, taking coats and laughing with people he's probably known for longer than a plane ride. Castiel doesn't want to interrupt.

Gabriel does love a good party. He enjoys mingling and meeting people, and he had no hesitation introducing himself to the first pretty girl he saw.

The only other person Castiel knows here is Sam, but he's constantly surrounded by people so Castiel makes himself useful. He refills the snack bowls and gathers empty bottles for recycling and discarded plastic cups for the trash. He fills up the ice trays in the freezer and decides since he's in the kitchen anyway, he might as well wash the dishes too.

His hands are covered in soapy water when he suddenly hears Gabriel's voice behind him. "Are you going to be in here wallflowering all night, Cassie?"

"Wallflower isn't a verb," Castiel replies.

"It is the way you do it. It borders on a lifestyle."

"Go and enjoy the party."

Gabriel frowns into the fridge and then liberates a bottle of champagne. It doesn't look like the one that he brought with him. "It's a party, Cassie. You're supposed to mingle, meet people, have fun."

"I've already met people." It's technically true. A guy called Kevin stopped in the kitchen for a moment and they exchanged names and hellos.

"Lying is bad for your karma," Gabriel says piously, opening the champagne bottle and rummaging through cupboards until he finds three glasses. "Come out and join the masses."

"I'm fine here, thank you." There are dishes to wash and dry, and then the snacks on the patio probably need refreshing. There's enough to keep Castiel busy and distracted from Dean's lack of attention, from his own foolish disappointment that this was a friendly invitation and nothing more.

"At least next time Deanno asks where you are, I can tell him. Last time I sent him on a wild goose chase around the patio, but it was fun to watch."

Castiel knows his brother, so he assumes Gabriel's lying through his teeth. Dean probably hasn't thought twice about him. So he dries the dishes. Even if it's too loud and crowded for his tastes, it's better than sitting around the dining table with Michael, Anna and his parents.

"Hey," someone says behind him. When he turns, Dean's standing in the doorway, holding the door open. "This is where you're hiding?"

"I've been keeping the Cheetos stocked," Castiel says and it sounds even more ridiculous when said aloud. "I found the gathering a little..."

"Loud and crazy?" Dean suggests, shrugging. "I'm glad Sammy's so popular, but if that doorbell goes one more time, I'm going to shoot something."

"That might be an overreaction."

Dean steps into the room and lets the door swing shut on the noise outside. "I don't think clean dishes is a sign of a good party."

"They needed to be done," Castiel replies but it's a weak excuse for his antisocial behaviour.

"Come on, Cas." Dean steps closer, tugging the dried glass out of Castiel's hand. "Live a little. I promise I won't get you drunk and take advantage of you."

His smile is cheeky and charming, but it's the hand resting on his wrist that makes Castiel bold enough to ask, "And if I didn't get drunk? Would you take advantage of me then?"

Dean's smile is slow and sweet, crinkling the corners of his eyes. "Let's start with a drink and see how it goes."

He's still holding on to Castiel, thumb grazing back and forth over the thin skin of his inner wrist. Dean's hands are wide and warm with the scratchy edge of callouses. Dean doesn't make any move to step back and fetch drinks from the fridge. He just stands there, a step away from Castiel, gaze flickering down to his mouth.

Castiel's not good at reading people but Dean's flashing his interest in glaring neon. Castiel slides his free hand along Dean's jaw, fingers resting on the pulse point in his neck and thumb tracing the outline of his lower lip.

Dean lets out a shaky breath. "Cas," he says and then lunges into a kiss that's all lips and tongue and frustrated anticipation. Castiel digs his fingers into the back of Dean's neck, holding him there until he gets the hint and shuffles closer, crowding Castiel back against the counter.

He's suddenly glad that he didn't wear jeans. That he can feel the weight and warmth of Dean's hands on his hips, that he can feel the heat of Dean's palm against his spine.

Dean kisses carelessly and unhurriedly, like he could do this all day. If not for the need to breathe. He slides his open mouth across Castiel's cheek, nipping at Castiel's ear and whispering mournfully, "You know, I was looking forward to that stubble burn."

"Next time, I'll remember not to shave," Castiel murmurs against Dean's temple, pressing a kiss there.

Dean hums in agreement, working his way down the side of Castiel's neck, hot mouth and open suction, and a hint of teeth that makes Castiel buck his hips. Dean responds by doing it again and pushing one well-muscled thigh between Castiel's legs. It's lean and hard and perfect to rub up against as Dean bites again.

The noises Castiel makes are embarrassingly loud. Luckily the noise from the party continues so no one else should be able to hear.

"We should," Cas says urgently, groaning desperately as Dean's mouth keeps making his eyes want to roll. "Stop. Dean?"

"Cas?" Dean asks, pulling back enough to look Castiel in the eye, his lips red and wet.

Castiel gestures to the kitchen around them. "We're blocking the path."

"Good point." Dean nods and takes Castiel's hand, tugging him towards the door. "Come on."

Castiel isn't sure why he's so charmed by the easy way Dean leads him down the hall, hand in hand and grinning like Christmas came early. He opens a door to a bedroom with a foldout couch set up as a bed. "Guest room," he says and closes the door on the noise of the party.

"Much better."

***

They're in that lazy, contented drift between napping and starting round two when a voice travels down the hallway.

"Dean! Did you abandon the party you insisted on throwing?" The door swings open and Sam stops, and Castiel stops as well. Thankfully, not in a terribly revealing position. The sheet is lying across his lower back and he'd been mouthing down Dean's chest, languidly considering where he wanted to move next. They're both decently covered, if undeniably naked underneath.

"God, Dean," Sam says, full of brotherly disapproval.

"Don't be jealous of my sexual magnetism," Dean snipes back.

Castiel decides he can't stay frozen with his head buried against Dean's chest forever. Eventually, breathing will become awkward if nothing else. So he takes a breath, lifts his head and shuffles to a sitting position beside Dean. "Hello, Sam."

"Hey, Cas." Sam shifts, looking around the room furtively.

Dean just puts his hands behind his head and grins, as smugly as he can. There's a drawn out staring competition between the brothers, Dean grinning with the self-satisfaction of a well-fed cat and Sam frowning, or trying to keep the frown on his face. Sam's mouth twitches and he gives up, rolling his eyes dramatically.

"For someone who was so invested in the ring, I thought you might want to see it on her hand."

"You asked her?" Dean asks, excited and proud, sitting up so fast Castiel has to clutch at the sheets to avoid flashing Dean's closest family. "Just now?"

"In front of everyone?" Castiel hears himself ask, and the horror in his tone makes Dean look over at him. The idea of such a personal moment in front of so many people is terrifying. To be put on the spot, to be vulnerable and make such a heartfelt decision... Castiel would hate to do that in public.

"It's cool, man," Dean says, going so far as to rest a hand on Castiel's sheet covered knee. "She's been waiting for him to ask for a year."

Sam splutters in the doorway. "What?"

"Last time you guys came out to visit," Dean waves a hand, and Sam nods, "Jess and I were talking about future plans. I was telling her about the motel idea, and she told me she was going to marry you. As soon as you manned up and asked."

"You could have told me," is Sam's indignant reply.

Dean shrugs. "I told you she'd say yes."

"Yeah, in a big brother reassuring way. Not in a we've already talked about this and it's definite way."

"That would ruin the suspense. 'I know you're going to say yes, so how about it' isn't a romantic proposal, Sammy."

"You are such a jerk."

"Not my fault your girlfriend's smarter than you are," Dean replies.

"Fiancée," Castiel corrects, and Dean nods.

"Cas is right. You're fiancée's smarter than you are."

"That's not what I said, Dean." Distantly, Castiel thinks this is the longest conversation he's had with a third party while unclothed. At some point, surely Dean would become uncomfortable with this.

"Whatever," Sam says, rolling his eyes again. "Just come out and welcome Jess to the family. Once you're decent."

"I am much better than decent in bed," Dean calls out as Sam closes the door with a controlled thud. With the door closed, Dean runs a hand over his face and chuckles. "I swear, that kid is just too easy to wind up."

"You could be kinder to him," Castiel says, although his heart's not in it. For all of Dean's teasing, he clearly loves his brother and they both know it.

"Someone's got to keep his feet on the ground. Anyway," Dean gives him a slow, hot once over, "raincheck?"

Castiel frowns. Sam's timing is inconvenient but he can't justify keeping Dean in bed. He's still here for a few more days, at least. "For when?"

"An hour?" Dean looks hopeful. "I want to go out and toast the happy couple, but we weren't finished here. You could stay the night?"

"An hour," Castiel agrees. "It will give me time to find Gabriel and let him know he can leave without me."

***

Jess is tall, blonde and incandescently happy. She has an arm around Sam's shoulder and the other hand held out, flashing a modest diamond on a gold band.

It makes Castiel pause.

"You okay?" Dean asks softly, hooking his chin over Castiel's shoulder. He's pressed against Castiel's back, a solid reliable warmth and it's easy to lean back.

"They're very happy," Castiel says, looking at Sam and Jess in the centre of well-wishers. It makes him wistful, nostalgic for something he's never really found, but he's glad someone found it.

Dean's hands slip around him, holding him close. It feels easy, like they're not in a crowd of strangers, like he's known Dean for more than a handful of days. It feels promising.

Then Sam spots them over the crowd and beckons them over.

"Cas, this is Jess," Sam says when they work through the crush of bodies. "Jess, this is Cas, Dean's--" There's a pause and Castiel breathes in, bracing himself for something unpleasant. "Guest."

"It's Castiel," he says, and Jess pulls a face, sniggering a little.

"I used to be Jessica. A year around these guys," she waves a ring-laden hand towards Dean and Sam, "and everyone calls me Jess. You're fighting a losing battle."

"I'm hardly fighting," Castiel explains as Dean leans between them and demands a closer look at the ring. There's smalltalk and some enthusiastic hugging, so Castiel decides to find his brother while everyone is distracted.

He searches the party, but Gabriel isn't on the porch or in the kitchen, or in the living room. He has a sinking suspicion as he steps outside and fishes his phone out if his pocket.

Gabriel picks up immediately. "Hey, Cassie, I was just about to call you!" There's giggling in the background and the steady noise of a car engine.

"Where are you?"

"About ten minutes from the airport," Gabriel says, as if that's a normal way to end a party. "I was telling Kristy and Nadia about New Orleans this time of year. Cassie, can you believe they've never been?"

"I would believe a lot when it comes to you."

"I'll text you when I've parked. Do me a favour and pick up the car? And tell Dad that I got called away for a client meeting. Couldn't get out of it," Gabriel says over another round of giggles.

"You know we agreed to spend this week at home," Castiel says dutifully. He doesn't blame Gabriel for wanting to escape but Michael will know the story's a lie.

"Pick up the car and I'll let Deanno use my ticket home. You two can spend the flight groping and drinking."

"I would not grope someone on a plane," Castiel objects and Gabriel's companions find it hilarious.

"Baby bro, you need to live a little. I'll leave the keys at the flight desk." Gabriel hangs up with a casual, "Catch you later."

***

"I can't believe I'm doing this again," Dean says mournfully, placing the empty plastic cup back on his tray.

"Drinking on a plane?"

Dean gives Castiel a dark look. "Flying."

"Because you love your brother?" Castiel suggests as Dean presses the call button again. "And quitting your job so you could drive back would be impractical?"

"Worth it," Dean mutters under his breath. He's all smiles when the flight attendant comes over, ordering more whiskey with a heavy amount of charm. He grins a little wider when Castiel pulls out Gabriel's credit card to charge it. Gabriel never returned to the house to collect it, so it feels justifiable to make him foot the bill.

"Not that this trip has been entirely without good points," Dean allows with a flatteringly warm gaze. "But next time we have to visit family, we're doing a road trip."

There's an easy confidence, faith in an assumed future that Castiel ignores. Much like the way Dean's shoulder keeps pressing into his or the way Dean's hand kept drifting to his elbow or his back as they walked through the airport crowd. It feels possible if he doesn't draw attention to it. "I have no intention of driving for days."

"I'll drive. We'll take Baby -- big comfy seats -- let her stretch out on those highways." The affectionate pride Dean shows when talking is ridiculous but endearing. "I promise you a good time."

"I'll think about it." Clear plastic cups of amber liquid are placed before them. Dean grabs at his quickly. "Who picks the music?"

"Shotgun has no radio privileges," Dean says, as if it's the most obvious thing in the world.

"That's ridiculous," Castiel replies.

"Driver picks the music."

"We'll take turns," Castiel says firmly. Dean rolls his eyes but he presses his knee against Castiel's, and that's close enough to agreeing.