“Who are you?”
“I figured that much. What are you?”
Castiel frowns, confused by this line of questioning. “I am an entomologist, is my CV not sufficiently clear? It should be on the first page, along with my qualifications as a plant pathologist and background in applied microbiology and lab management.”
His interviewers exchange a look, at the end of which the older one, Bobby Singer, shrugs.
That is apparently that, because then Dean Winchester is standing up and offering a hand. “I guess you’re hired.”
The Winchester farm is, technically, a start-up, but very few start-ups have the financial backing of an almost-hundred-year-old family business. According to Castiel’s research, Mary Campbell left her family’s wine business years ago, opting to travel far south with her husband John to start something a little more risky and (in Dean’s words) “more fun than watching grapes go sour”.
It’s still a farm, though, so that means that there are trees, and where there are trees there are always pests and diseases.
That’s where Castiel comes in.
Bobby Singer is the general manager and overseer, answering only to Mary and John personally. According to Dean, Bobby never wanted to hire a pathologist, let alone employ one full-time, so Castiel spends the first couple of days carefully navigating around him and Rufus Turner, figuring out a schedule where he doesn’t have to be in the same area as either man for more than five minutes. Rufus is technically Bobby’s assistant except for the part where he “totally isn’t”, which are also Dean’s words and has something to do with mind-melds and the ability to have two pairs of eyes instead of one monitoring the acreage.
Ellen Harvelle, the master grower, is much nicer than Bobby and Rufus combined, but she unnerves Castiel a little with her interest.
“So you just hang around waiting for insects to show up?” Ellen asks.
“I find that prevention is much more cost effective in the long run,” Castiel says. He shifts a little to the side, uncomfortable by the open attention Ellen’s daughter, Jo, is showing him, though technically it is right that she listens to this as she’s their quality assurance expert.
“That just shows how dedicated he is,” Jo says. “Are you really going to live on the farm full time?”
“Yes,” Castiel says. “There are pests that only come out at night, and they need to be monitored as well.”
Ellen and Jo exchange a look, and then Jo pats him on the shoulder.
Why do people keep doing that?
Dean is the farm mechanic. He shouldn’t have to be, since his parents own the business, but it is clear that he enjoys the job (even if Castiel himself cannot understand that enjoyment) which is obvious in the way Dean rough-rides his 4WD across the terrain or randomly shoos a worker off a tractor to take it for a spin.
At first Castiel attempts to time his farm sweeps around Dean’s visits, but there’s never any rhyme or reason to them, so he gives up and just tries to ignore the whoops Dean makes whenever he’s poisoning the trees with carbon monoxide.
“Hey, Cas,” Dean says, one day.
Castiel looks up from where he had been tying traps to the tree branches. “Hello, Dean.” The man who is not-quite his boss is wearing a cowboy hat and a grin as he jumps off the farm Caterpillar.
“Parents want to meet you,” he says.
“Oh, of course.” Castiel immediately starts thinking whether he has any nice clean shirts in his quarters.
“My brother, too,” Dean adds.
Castiel stiffens. He knows about everyone who works for the Winchester farm, even the ones who are based at their air-conditioned office in town and don’t come near the actual farm at all.
“I see,” Castiel says. “Very well.”
Castiel spends a couple of minutes talking with Mary while John eyes them suspiciously over the rim of his coffee cup. If Mary’s fond look is anything to by, this is normal behavior for John, so Castiel chooses to ignore it in favor of carefully going over the list of recommendations he has for improving farm operations.
“Bobby’s not going to like this,” Mary says.
“No, he isn’t,” Castiel agrees.
Mary pulls John aside to discuss the matter privately, leaving Castiel to stand there quietly calculating the minutes he is wasting when he could be out there in the field doing his job.
It is into these melancholy thoughts that Dean bursts into the room with a loud, “Hey, Cas! Whoa, you clean up pretty nice when you make the effort.”
Castiel wants to protest that he monitors his personal hygiene very well, thank you, but he is startled into silence by the person who has stepped into the room behind Dean.
Castiel considers his height to be reasonably sufficient, but even he has to tilt his head up a fair angle to meet the gaze of the man who is presumably Dean’s brother. Castiel notes that the man’s hair and flannel clothing are unprofessional and ill-fitting to his vocation, but instead of being endearing, that just makes Castiel like him less.
“Sam,” Dean says, “This is our bug guy.”
“Oh!” Sam’s eyes widen as he steps forward. “It’s great to finally meet you. I think what you’re doing is wonderful.”
Castiel looks at the offered hand.
Suppressing the unclean feeling of touching a demonic bloodsucker, Castiel takes the hand and shakes it. “You’re Sam Winchester. The lawyer brother.”
Sam’s face drops a little, confusion in his eyes as they flick in Dean’s direction.
That’s probably a hint that Castiel can pull away, so he does.
Castiel hates lawyers.
Mary’s insistence that Castiel join them for lunch sends his mind careening into awful flashbacks of his time in academia, being forced to dress up and be on his best behavior only to get his knuckles rapped by his then-boss Zachariah no matter how much effort he made.
Only, Mary turns out to be nothing like Zachariah, which is nice.
“Do you have any dietary concerns?” Mary asks, before they’ve even entered the restaurant.
“No, thank you,” Castiel says.
He is unexpectedly warmed by her smile, only to have that warmth dashed when they are seated and he is made painfully aware that he is intruding on a family outing: John and Dean arguing over what to order, Mary navigating around them effortlessly, Sam ignoring the lot of them to imperiously order a salad when the waiter drops by.
Castiel could be out there doing his job, but he is here, spending unnecessary time with people who have already hired him and are likely not to fire him any time soon unless they start losing money – which they might, if he’s not out in the field doing his job.
The appetizers are positively stressful.
“How long have you been in your line?” Mary asks.
“Almost all my life,” Castiel says, the answer familiar, like reading out of a book. “I developed an interest in arthropods very early in my childhood.”
“That’s really interesting,” Sam says, which is condescending and uncalled for. Castiel knows he shouldn’t eyeball his bosses’ son, so he looks away, focusing on his food and trying to keep down the number of times he glances at his watch.
“He’s just a nerdy little dude into insect wings,” Dean teases. Dean, at least, is honest about his disdain for Castiel’s work.
It’s so much easier out there, surrounded by trees and the (mostly) peace and quiet.
Insects don’t care about social norms or making a good impression on others. They are efficient and harmonious in their purpose, almost brutal in their stubbornness to thrive in the world. Castiel’s job may be to smite them out of existence, but he knows that no matter what he does or how he strategizes, they will always find a way to circumvent his best efforts. He cannot help but respect and admire that.
Lunches with the bosses are only to be tolerated until he can get back out to where the real action is.
Sometimes whole days will pass where Castiel doesn’t have to say more than five sentences to anyone. A nod is usually enough to get by, supplemented by notes dropped at Bobby or Jo’s offices, highlighting the latest issues or warning them about an impending outbreak if something isn’t done immediately.
It’s not that Castiel doesn’t see people. There are almost always workers out in the field, Rufus makes his rounds like clockwork, and Dean drops by whenever he wants in stubborn disregard of said clockwork. Castiel acknowledges all of them because he knows that that is the right thing to do, and then he continues with his own tasks.
It’s a surprise when he sees Sam out there, one day, wearing a sports cap and flannel shirt inappropriately rolled up to his elbows.
He is probably visiting his brother. It’s none of Castiel’s business, so he doesn’t think about it.
If he’s surprised when Sam spots him and waves tentatively, it’s only understandable that he stares in confusion for a few seconds, and then goes about his business.
Sam drops by a couple more times over the next few weeks.
Castiel starts to get worried. Besides being the company lawyer, Sam is also their unofficial financial advisor.
It is possible that he is contemplating lay-offs or budget cuts… Maybe even lay-offs and budget cuts.
Castiel focuses harder on his work.
It’s a shock to find boar tracks in the farm, wild boars being as rare as they are in the area. Castiel notifies Bobby immediately, in person, which in itself makes known the gravity of the situation.
“We can’t afford traps,” Bobby says gruffly
Castiel knew that’s what he’d say, and for once, he agrees. “We don’t need traps. It looks like there’s only one so far, and if that’s true it’s probably male and traveling alone. We could just hunt it down.”
Bobby agrees with this assessment immediately, which is why it’s a surprise when a couple of days later Jo comes running up to Castiel’s cabin as he’s poring over data to declare breathlessly, “Castiel! They caught the boar!”
He quickly follows Jo back to the main complex, only to learn that the boar has escaped and is currently at large.
“How did it escape?” Castiel asks.
“Beats me,” Rufus says, sounding more irritated than usual. He glances at Bobby, who merely cocks his shotgun in response.
“I recommend that you go back out and shoot it on sight,” Castiel says. “Why did you try to catch it at all?”
“Because we’d hoped to release it elsewhere,” says Sam, and Castiel starts with surprise because he hadn’t even realized that Sam was there at all.
“Where would you release it, if you don’t want it to cause problems to others?” Castiel has been told off before for pointing out the obvious, but he has a feeling that this needs to be said: “It is a threat to the farm. It should be eradicated before it does further damage.”
“It’s only one boar,” Sam says. He is standing in the doorway of Bobby’s office, frowning with an intensity Castiel thinks is unwarranted. “If it were a family—”
“Did you check if it was male or female?” Castiel asks. “The females travel in groups, often with their litters. This could be the harbinger of further damage to your trees, but that is beside the point. It is a pest. It needs to be dealt with.”
Sam huffs disbelievingly. “That’s inhumane.”
Castiel narrows his eyes. He does not jab a finger towards Sam, though he is tempted. “Lawyer.”
They never do see the boar again.
It’s peace and quiet for a while. Castiel almost thinks that he might get enough data for an entire uninterrupted cycle, but of course it’s too good to be true.
The ringtone is shrill and tasteless; Dean picked it when he bought the cellphone for him.
“Hey, Cas,” Dean says.
“Hello, Dean,” Castiel replies. He’s still getting used to the little contraption from hell, though he does in theory understand why he would need one.
“I need a favor,” Dean says.
“Of course, Dean,” Castiel answers automatically.
“My idiot of a brother got his car stuck on the way to the farm, could you take the pick-up and get him out?”
“But…” It has been raining quite a bit lately, making the roads muddy and difficult to navigate if the vehicle is not equipped to handle the terrain. That doesn’t explain why Castiel would be needed, though. “Why can’t Bobby—”
“You really want to ask Bobby to drop everything to pick up Sam?”
“I suppose not,” Castiel admits reluctantly. “But how about Ellen or—”
“If you don’t want to, just say so, man.”
Castiel pauses. This is his bosses’ son asking him to do something, and it is his bosses’ other son who is in need of help.
“My apologies. I’m on my way.”
Sam is visibly surprised to see him. Surprised, and then embarrassed.
He has a very animated face, Castiel realizes, which one would think would be a hindrance in his line of work. Castiel does not point this out, because he is too busy linking the pick-up to Sam’s car while Sam mutters apologies and thanks all around him.
“It’s all right,” Castiel says. “This happens quite often.”
“Yeah, but…” Sam lowers himself down, hands coming forward like he wants to help, only to pull back when he realizes that he’s just in the way. “I bet you’ve got a lot of work to do. You’re always so busy.”
“Yes,” Castiel says.
Sam goes quiet after that. He gets back into his car while Castiel revs the pick-up, eventually getting enough traction to pull the yuppie BMW out of the mud. It’ll need a thorough wash and polish before it’ll be presentable again, but there’s no significant damage worth noting.
“Hey, thanks, man,” Sam says when Castiel gets out to unlink the vehicles. “Can I make it up to you somehow?”
“There’s no need,” Castiel replies. “I’m just doing my job.”
There’s a moment of silence and then Sam half-laughs, “You really don’t like lawyers, huh.”
Castiel freezes. He is thrown by the tone of Sam’s voice, which he cannot immediately place. What is it? Curiosity, sarcasm, wry acceptance? The lilt is jovial but there is an undercurrent to the words that he doesn’t understand. “No, I don’t,” he says, finally, because it is the truth.
Sam, when Castiel looks at him, is bobbing his head like the answer fits his expectations precisely. Perhaps Castiel will not be fired, after all, because he isn’t getting the impression that Sam is upset enough to run to his parents to complain about the rude employee.
“So, theoretically, it isn’t personal,” Sam says thoughtfully. “You just don’t like what I do.”
“But who you are and what you do are deeply intertwined,” Castiel says.
“That’s pretty small-minded of you.”
He doesn’t mean to, but the words are like a physical blow, their source and effect completely unexpected. He can feel his face heating up despite his best efforts, and of course, Sam’s responding face is a placid mask of cool judgment. That must be the face he puts on when he’s in court.
Castiel doesn’t get angry often. He has been talked down to, made fun of and belittled before peers and family, but somehow all of that pales in comparison to this calm, highly inaccurate accusation from a man he barely knows.
“You’ve decided that you don’t like me,” Sam points out with his silver tongue, “And you don’t even know me.”
“I never said I didn’t like you.”
“Yes, you did. You said you don’t like lawyers. I am a lawyer.” Sam bends forward a little so that their eyes are almost level. “Entomologist.”
Castiel has to get away. He doesn’t like the feeling he gets whenever he’s around Sam with his guileless smile and floppy hair and the way he constantly slouches in a futile attempt to make himself smaller, all of it undoing everything Castiel knows about people of his ilk. That Castiel has noticed this at all worries him, especially when he’s only ever seen Sam from the corners of his eyes; when he’s only ever ignored the way Sam always smiles and waves with no expectation of response.
He makes it back to the pick-up before Sam calls out: “Thanks for the help, Castiel! I mean it.”
Castiel does not pick apart the words in search for the sincerity he doesn’t want to know exists.
Jo corners Castiel while he’s in self-imposed data entry exile.
She is crafty. She spends the first half hour or so asking sensible questions about work that draw answers out of Castiel and lowers his defenses, and then she swoops in with a segue into how Dean’s frustrated that the harvesting machine broke down and spare parts are unavailable until next week, and how the best thing they can do is cheer him up with a good dinner outing.
Her invitation blindsides him because he did not notice it was one until after the fact.
“I mean,” Jo says, “He’s been so stressed about it and I think he’s just going to snap if he doesn’t let out some steam.”
“Morale is indeed important when it comes to getting the job done properly,” Castiel agrees.
“Not to mention that he’s also worried about you.”
Castiel is surprised. “He’s worried about me?”
“Yeah,” Jo sighs. “You don’t take any time off. You work weekends. You work nights, for heaven’s sake.”
“I like what I do,” Castiel says defensively.
“I believe you,” Jo says quickly, “But Dean doesn’t understand that. You know how he is. I think it’d really set his mind at ease if you’d join us.”
“Join you? For?”
For dinner, it seems.
Dinner is the least Castiel can do to make Dean rest easy. If Castiel is lucky, the news will reach Mary and John as well, and they may put their concerns aside as well and he will be left in peace for a while yet.
When Castiel gets to the agreed location, it’s a bar.
Castiel hates bars.
It must show on his face, because Jo is suddenly sliding close and saying in a gentle voice, “You don’t have to stay long. I’ll make Dean get off your back after this, I promise.”
“All right,” Castiel says. For Dean’s sake, he fights the discomfort of being surrounded by the noise and press of people he doesn’t know nor care about. As Jo leads him through the throng, he feels himself shrinking inside his trenchcoat, feeling out of place and tiny and ready to be squashed like the insects he studies until, to his relief, he sees Dean sitting in a booth on a quieter side of the bar. Next to him—
Castiel doesn’t swear, but if he did, he’d have gone: Fuck.
If the atmosphere in their booth is awkward, Jo and Dean certainly don’t notice. Perhaps it’s all in Castiel’s head, because Dean and Jo are talking and laughing like it’s the best dinner get-together ever. It’s only Castiel and Sam, sitting opposite each other, that offer nothing to the conversation, though from how Dean and Jo are getting along, they might as well not be there at all.
“Hey, Dean,” Jo says suddenly, “Want to dance?”
Sam snorts. That makes Dean look at him, eyes bright and grin wicked. He makes a show of unfolding himself from the booth and offering a hand out to Jo, and then they’re gone.
Castiel looks at his drink, the coaster, the little box of napkins. He is just starting to contemplate if he can get away with going to the men’s room and then detouring out of the place altogether when Sam suddenly speaks up.
“Hey, I’m sorry about what I said.” Sam’s voice is apologetic, the volume just loud enough to get over the ruckus of the bar. “The other day. I shouldn’t… I shouldn’t have. I mean, you went through all the trouble of helping pull my car out and I went and…”
Of course Sam would beat him to the punch. It’s just another thing that Castiel cannot do right. He nods silently.
“It’s just that,” Sam swallows, looking far too young for someone of his size, “I don’t know how to talk to you. I mean, you’re so smart—”
“Stop that,” Castiel says sharply. “Don’t make fun of me.”
Sam frowns. “I’m not making fun of you.”
“Please.” Castiel reaches for his jacket and pulls it on. He gets to his feet to make his escape, only to be dismayed when Sam stands up as well, following him right out of the bar despite having received no invitation to follow.
“Hey, hey, don’t go like that,” Sam says. There’s no reason for him to sound distressed, so it must be Castiel projecting again. “Don’t leave it like this. Let’s have it out, right now, whatever this is.”
“All right.” This feeling is familiar. Confrontation destroys everything, but somehow Castiel doesn’t care anymore. “I don’t mind being mocked, but it’s not very professional.”
“I’m not mocking you.”
Castiel’s face burns. “Stop it. Just stop it.”
“You’re Castiel Angel, Ph.D,” Sam says quickly. “You’ve discovered and described, like, a whole bunch of insect species over your career. I only remember the one though, that Chrysolina castillus? When I saw the hire forms at the office, I knew I recognized your name.”
“Excuse me?” Castiel manages to say.
“You were a professor at Berkeley,” Sam says. “My – well, a friend of mine studied there some years back – I was visiting her, and there was a seminar, I just – I know I shouldn’t have – but the posters were so beautiful. And I saw your name credited at the bottom of the photos.”
“It was kind of a hobby of mine.” The tips of Sam’s ears seem to be turning pink. “Nature photography. I just… It’s so… Nature is so, you know? I tried a little but I could never get the hang of it, I just didn’t have the right eye to capture things. So what you do, it’s like, it’s really cool.”
Now Sam looks like he’s an inch away from throwing up.
This is truth. Castiel can see it in every nervous twitch, in the stiffness of Sam’s shoulders as he awaits a response. But what could that response be when Castiel has no frame of reference for this? It is like the world has tilted on its axis and he is falling, flailing, trying desperately to find something to hold on to so he can right himself up.
“I’m sorry if I said something wrong,” Sam says. “That wasn’t my intention at all. You’ve done such great things for the farm, and you’re so passionate. I see it when you’re working, you’re always so focused – oh god, I haven’t been distracting you, have I? I won’t anymore, I promise, if that’s what you want.”
“I…” Castiel can’t think clearly. This seems to be a recurring occurrence whenever he’s around Sam. “I think I better go.”
“Sure, sure.” Sam nods rapidly.
So Castiel does.
It’s hard to focus on work. It’s distressing, because there are a number of things that need to be done and a small outbreak of fruit scale on the north-west block of the farm should be taking up most of his brainpower right now.
But Castiel keeps thinking about Sam.
He doesn’t mean to, though it’s easy to pinpoint the reason why. It comes back to Castiel’s failings, once again reading the situation wrong and making an erroneous conclusion based on minimal evidence. When faced with a data outlier the temptation is great to ignore it, instead of doing the right thing by looking closer to find the whys and hows of its existence.
It is humbling to realize how Castiel had taken the easy way out.
He must be strong enough to face his own mistakes, so he calls Dean before he can change his mind. “I would like to have Sam’s number,” he says.
“Really?” Dean sounds very cheerful, so he’s probably in the middle of doing something foolhardy. He rattles out the digits and hangs up, like he expects Castiel to call immediately.
Perhaps he should.
“Hello, Sam,” he says, when the call is picked up.
There’s a choking sound at the other end. “Castiel?”
“I owe you an apology, Sam,” Castiel says. “You were right. I made assumptions about you that I had no right to. I’m sorry.”
“Oh.” There’s a lengthy pause. “Um…”
It occurs to Castiel that he might have called at a bad time. It would just be his luck that he’d interrupted Sam in the middle of something important, like Castiel couldn’t have bothered to check if he’d chosen an appropriate time to bother him with this trivial thing.
“I’m sorry if I’ve disturbed you.”
“No, no,” Sam says. He talks quickly sometimes. “It’s okay, you don’t have to, I just… You just took me by surprise, that’s all.”
Oh. Perhaps Sam expected small talk beforehand, but unfortunately Castiel has no skill at that either. “That’s all I wanted to say. Thank you.”
“Oh. Oh, yeah. I appreciate it, thank you.”
“I’m hanging up now, Sam.”
“Yes. Um, bye.”
The issue is, as far as Castiel can see, settled.
There is certainly no reason why, a couple of days later, he sees Sam out in the fields again. He is talking with Rufus when Castiel climbs over the hill on his bicycle, though the conversation ends as soon as they see him, Rufus rolling his eyes and walking away.
“Hey,” Sam says, as soon as he’s close enough.
“You should roll your sleeves down,” Castiel says as he parks the bike. “To protect your arms from the sun.”
Sam looks at his sleeves in surprise, and then carefully does just that. “Thanks.”
Castiel nods and returns to his work. He isn’t surprised when he hears Sam approach, his steps small despite his long stride. “What are you doing? Those are fly traps, aren’t they?”
“Yes, they are,” Castiel says.
He watches as Sam leans close to the one he’s just hung, finger touching the corner to make it spin. “It’s because they’re drawn to the yellow color, isn’t it? I read that somewhere.”
Sam is built like he follows an entirely different scale of human being. He is a huge wall of muscle that would’ve definitely intimidated Castiel if he weren’t at this very moment gleefully poking at the trap and making a face when the adhesive gets on to his fingertips.
It is fitting, then, that there are other aspects of Sam that do not match up either.
“I’m not disturbing you, am I?” Sam asks suddenly. He looks ready to back away, and Castiel now feels that if he were told to do so, he would do exactly that without hesitation or argument.
“No,” Castiel says, getting back to work. “No, you’re not.”
Sam’s jaw looks a little strange, like he’s trying not to smile.
Sam listens very well. It could be part his profession, something he’d learned in order to be convincing to jurors and clients, and if it is, then he excels. He listens and nods and remembers – that third one is key, which Castiel tests once in a while when he feels like it, though he doesn’t think of Sam as a student at all. He is surprised every single time Sam proves that he has been paying attention, like he really does give a damn.
“You aren’t like other lawyers I’ve met,” Castiel tells him, one day among the few days that Sam has happened to be in the same area as him during his sweeps.
“That is such a compliment.” Sam grins. He is wearing a sensible straw hat now, the cap long since discarded. “Though… You do know that company law is different from criminal law, don’t you? I’m not a criminal lawyer.”
“Oh.” Castiel was only vaguely aware of the difference. “What does that mean?”
Then Sam talks, and Castiel listens.
This particular day when Castiel steps out of his cabin, Sam and Dean are standing a stone’s throw away and arguing. Castiel is not close enough to hear more than a handful of the words being said, but it’s obviously heated, Dean gesticulating wildly and Sam standing stiffly, eyes cast down and hands in his pockets.
It’s inappropriate to interrupt them, but Castiel really does have to get out to his test plots immediately.
Sam sees Castiel first, and then he’s immediately on Dean, trying to get a hand around his mouth. Dean twists away from the grip aggressively, and then they are fighting. Dean is obviously a man who’s proud of his physical prowess, but even he is dwarfed by his brother, and what follows is a wrestling match befitting two children barely out of pre-school.
It ends when they’re both on the ground and turned around close enough that Sam can glare at Dean, and Dean is wagging his eyebrows in a brotherly semaphore.
“Shall I get the hose?” Castiel asks, because the brothers are such a sight.
Sam looks up and freezes, face gone funny as he stares at Castiel.
Castiel carefully stops smiling. He’s been told that he looks odd when he does, so he tries not to, if he can help it.
Dean makes a chortling sound, pulling a hand free to whack behind Sam’s head.
“Ow!” Sam rubs his head. “Dean.”
“Would you mind telling my brother,” Dean says, standing up and brushing the dust off his clothes, “That it’s okay if he likes to spend time out here?”
Castiel tilts his head, confused. “Of course it’s okay. Why wouldn’t it be?”
Sam hisses through his teeth at Dean. “Don’t you dare—”
“This guy,” Dean reaches across to pat his brother’s chest, “Used to only come out here if wild horses dragged him. And by wild horses, I mean dad.”
“Oh.” Castiel sees how the dots line up, and feels a flush of guilt. “Sam, if I’ve been keeping you away from your work, I never meant to—”
Dean laughs, though Castiel cannot see any joke here. “It’s a goddamn blessing that he’s being kept away from work, if you ask me. Damn workaholic.”
“I am not,” Sam protests.
“It’s not a bad thing to be dedicated to one’s work,” Castiel says, frowning at Dean.
“Yeah, Dean,” Sam says, crossing his arms. “Not that you’d know what hard work is.”
Dean looks from Castiel to Sam and back. Then he barks a laugh and throws his hands in the air as he walks away. He seems to be muttering to himself all the way to the pick-up, and he flashes a thumbs-up at them before driving off.
“If you don’t mind my saying,” Castiel says, “Your brother is very annoying.”
Sam sighs. “Yes, he is.”
Something about Dean’s comment refuses to leave Castiel alone.
Sam is trailing him again, though lately he’s taken to bringing a Blackberry with him, which he types into once in a while. It’s comforting to know that Sam isn’t wasting his time by being out here – not that Castiel considers spending time in the farm wasteful, but Sam does have his own commitments elsewhere to deal with, as Dean had pointed out.
Not all commitments are professional, either.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” Castiel asks.
The Blackberry falls, but Sam manages to catch it before it hits the ground. He strokes the screen a few times before looking at Castiel through fallen bangs. “Uh, no?”
Castiel thinks. “Boyfriend?”
Sam’s face goes a little pale. “No.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend.” Castiel goes back to scraping tree bark.
“You didn’t… I wish you wouldn’t apologize so much,” Sam sighs.
“I can’t tell sometimes,” Castiel admits. That is a statement that requires clarification, so he continues, “It’s difficult at times to tell whether I’m being inappropriate whenever I say something. I’ve gotten better at picking up the signs, but they usually come only after I’ve spoken aloud.”
Sam is looking at him like he’d just found revelation. “That’s why you don’t speak much.”
Castiel is surprised that Sam would’ve picked that up. “Yes.”
“Well, you can say whatever you want around me,” Sam says.
“I made you angry before,” Castiel reminds him. “I don’t want to do that again.”
“Well, now it’s different.” Sam carefully pockets his Blackberry, something firm in his movements like he made a decision somewhere when Castiel wasn’t looking. “You didn’t offend me by asking if I had a girlfriend or a boyfriend. Actually, I’m kind of glad that you did ask, because now I know that you wouldn’t mind either way.”
Castiel looks at him. “Why would I mind?”
Sam smiles a little, like he’s pleased. Castiel almost responds in kind, before he remembers himself.
“Some people would mind, if I had a boyfriend,” Sam says. “If they knew I were… so inclined, I think you know what I mean.”
Castiel shrugs. “I don’t understand that response, either.”
Now Sam is outright grinning. It shouldn’t feel like a reward, but it makes something in Castiel’s chest twist with pleasure anyway.
“I didn’t think you would,” Sam says.
Things are good.
The days aren’t as long as they move towards autumn, but it is still warm out and the workload easy. Sam visits every other day, for a few hours, and sometimes brings something to eat. Castiel usually packs his own meals, but even he can appreciate Sam’s effort, unexpected as it is.
Then of course Castiel would trip over his own feet.
“You were engaged, once,” Castiel says. This time when Sam’s whole body goes rigid, Castiel mistakenly ignores the alarms and presses on. “I looked up your family when I applied for this job, so naturally a number of hits brought me to news articles of—”
“Cas?” Sam says tightly. “This is one of those times where you have to drop the topic.”
Castiel does. He carefully rewinds the conversation, overlaying it with the flush of Sam’s cheeks, the coldness in his eyes when he focuses all his attention on his Blackberry.
Of course Sam would not want to talk about his fiancée who was tragically killed in a fire when they were in college together. Why did Castiel even think he could even bring up such a topic, when it is obvious that that is only something friends can discuss openly.
They’re not friends.
That thought stings unexpectedly, twisting a knot in Castiel’s stomach where he’d thought there were no more knots left to tie.
Friends talk about more than work, don’t they? Castiel knows this, he knows this.
“The reason I don’t like lawyers is because I have had a bad experience with them,” Castiel says. Surely this kind of sharing is appropriate. “A student was displeased with my grading of her, and she planted certain things in my camera and computer that brought me to the attention of the university board. I hired a lawyer, of course, but they were no help.”
Sam is staring at him now. He has not asked Castiel to stop.
“They kept my dismissal low-key out of respect for my contribution to the school,” Castiel says. “But still, I was done.”
Sam is sitting up now, alert and frowning. “But you’re innocent. They should know that, since you were there for so long. Your colleagues would know that.”
“I am a difficult person,” Castiel says. “One need only look at me to know that I’m not normal. It is not a leap to go from that to what I was accused of.”
“Is that why you stopped your photography?” Sam asks.
Castiel takes his time tying a plastic knot around the tree, as the word he wants to say feels surprisingly heavy in his chest. “Yes.”
Castiel does and does not want to know the extent of Sam’s response. There is no disgust in Sam’s voice, but there are no guarantees that his eyes will be free of it, too.
“Hey.” Sam’s voice is close.
Castiel turns and finds that Sam is standing well into the personal space bubble he’d always been told to watch out for and respect. He does not feel perturbed that Sam is invading his personal space now, nor is he disturbed by the gentleness of Sam’s smile, so soft and perfect on his face like this is what he was always meant to look like.
“Okay, Dean would usually punch me around now,” Sam says carefully, “But I think you need a hug.”
Castiel blinks a few times. “I… don’t know.”
He gives permission is anyway, after which Castiel finds himself tucked into Sam’s arms. The warmth and solid strength of the body against his should make him want to shrink away, but instead it only makes him lean into it, soaking the unexpected feeling of safety that bleeds from Sam’s body into Castiel’s.
It doesn’t make any sense.
Something warm and gentle has settled inside Castiel’s chest, making him feel more at peace than he’s been in a long time. It should mean that he can focus better on his work, but it doesn’t. Instead, his mind keeps going elsewhere, and he finds it harder and harder to concentrate, distracted by the easiest of things: movement, a shadow, the sounds of footsteps.
It’s like there’s a pupae in his chest, waiting for its time to burst free.
Castiel doesn’t have anyone to ask, so he steps out of his cabin and asks the second person he finds. (The first person is Rufus, and that is out of the question.)
Dean flips up his aviator shades, the start of a smirk on his mouth as Castiel approaches. “Hey, Cas.”
“Your brother,” Castiel says.
That smirk deepens. “Hmm?”
“Your brother, I…” Castiel doesn’t understand why the restlessness is getting worse. “I don’t… I keep thinking about him.”
“Dude,” Dean raises an oil-covered hand to stop him. “There are some things I do not want to know about you and Sam.”
It was a mistake to talk to Dean, who will obviously be of no help. Castiel starts to walk away, only to be stopped by a hand on his shoulder. He will need to have this shirt cleaned.
“Hey, it’s cool,” Dean says. “I don’t want to know any details, but I’m happy for you guys.”
“Happy,” Castiel echoes.
“You’re obviously good for each other,” Dean says, wiping a hand across his face and smearing more oil across his chin. “You’re talking a lot more, Sam’s taking time outs from work a lot more… There’s no bad that can come from that. Maybe one day you guys can even do something cooler than hang around this place all the time. But hey, I ain’t judging.”
Castiel keeps staring at Dean, trying and failing to make sense of what he’s saying.
Dean suddenly blinks. “Oh, shit. You’re not… Huh. Okay, Sammy’s going to kill me.”
“No, he won’t,” Castiel says. “He’s your brother and he loves you.”
“Sometimes,” Dean says flippantly. He looks at Castiel consideringly, and then sighs. “You know what? Next time you see Sam, ask him why he comes to the farm so often these days. Just ask him.”
Castiel watches him walk away, turning the words over and over in his head.
“Why do you come to the farm so often these days?”
Sam fumbles a little on that last step towards his cabin. He’s holding a black bag, but he doesn’t let it fall through the stumble and corrective action, eventually coming up to the cabin with little more than an embarrassed flush high on his cheeks and a reluctance to looking Castiel in the eye.
“Sam?” Castiel says. “I asked, why do you—”
“I heard you the first time.” The interruption isn’t rude. It’s only there because Sam is steadying himself, trying to find the words to say, when that is usually Castiel’s struggle. “It’s…”
“You won’t offend me, whatever it is,” Castiel says, because it’s only fair to return the favor.
“Are you sure?” Sam asks doubtfully.
“Of course, Sam.”
The next few words are blurted out in a rush. “It’s because of you.”
This answer does not satiate. “I don’t…”
“Look, just…” Sam thrusts his hand out. “This is for you. I mean, you don’t have to take it if you don’t want to, I’m not forcing you or anything. Oh! And I don’t mean this as something you have to feel obligated to use, just because you’re working for my parents.”
The moment Castiel’s hand wraps around the bag handle and he feels the weight and correlates that to the size, he knows what he’s holding.
“It’s a camera,” Castiel says. “This is a camera.”
“Yeah,” Sam says, trying to inhale and speak at the same time. “It’s a company asset, so it’s second-hand but still pretty good, I thought you could use it while documenting your work and stuff. But also for other things, if you want. I wanted to get this for you, because… because I think you should have it.”
It had become easier of late to think around Sam, but now the fog is back. Castiel looks at him and tries to claw through it to where it surely, surely, must make sense.
“I assume…” Castiel carefully puts the camera down. “A hug is in order?”
“You don’t have to,” Sam says awkwardly.
“I want to,” Castiel says, surprising even himself by how much he wants to.
It’s different this time, less relaxed and more charged, like the hurricane that’s been gaining momentum inside Castiel is slowly sliding past to reveal that eye of stillness right in the center.
There’s a shift, Castiel’s head tucked perfectly under Sam’s chin, and then he’s tilting his head back to look up, curious beyond words to know what expression is on Sam’s face now.
It turns out to be a look that Castiel has never seen before, on anyone, let alone directed at him.
Then Sam is kissing him, and everything fits into place.
People have said that Castiel is so focused on his work that he never sees anything else. He’d never thought of that as failing before now, because he’s suddenly overwhelmed with shame that he’d missed this. He’d been blind to the signs and slow steps Sam’s been taking towards him, when he could have savored every single one of them – when he could reached out in kind.
Sam is starting to pull away, but no, Castiel will not have that.
His hands come up to rest against Sam’s neck, just enough pressure to let Sam know that he is welcome here.
Sam is so cautious. His lips are tentative, not pushing any further unless Castiel lets him know that he’s allowed, and only then does his tongue press timidly between Castiel’s lips. Instinct takes over and Castiel glides his tongue against Sam’s, and all of the sudden the kiss is something entirely different.
Sam’s hands are huge against Castiel’s lower back, anchors that keep him from flying away. He thinks he really could, from the way his heart is hammering so hard in his chest like this feeling is too huge to be contained.
They are panting softly when they part.
Sam looks like he’s completely destroyed.
Castiel, however, feels very much alive.
He smiles, safe in the assurance that this time, Sam will smile right back.