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No Righteous Path

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No Righteous Path - VinnieCha

Art by Vinnie-cha

An RAA card shows up in the mail. That's sort of what sets the whole thing off at first. Dean Winchester isn't a fucking RAA member. He's not even fucking old enough. He's not even fucking retired. So why is the goddamn Retired Alpha's Association trying to wine and dine him with the offer of a free year of membership? Fuck them. Fuck them all up the ass. He tears up the envelope, throwing the pieces towards the kitchen trashcan. He's only forty. He's... "only" forty. Huffing a humorless laugh, he bends down to grab the scattered pieces that didn't make it into the trash. He's not that old. Just... not entirely young, either. So says his lower back the second he tries to stand up again a little too quickly. Jesus. He braces both hands against the dip of his spine, stretching back. Everything pops. But it relieves the pressure.

His cell phone rings in his back pocket. He digs it out and answers without even checking the caller ID. "Winchester Roofing and Repairs."

"Name still sucks," Sam says cheerfully. "Even after all these years."

"Your face still sucks," Dean answers with a hint of humor. "Even after all these years."

"Happy Birthday, Dean."

Groaning, he says, "you promised never to wish me a happy birthday ever again."

"So, you're forty today." Sam, as usual, is ignoring him.

"Sam."

"The big four-oh."

"Sammy."

"Solid middle age right there."

"Sam, you're a shithead."

There's a noisy sigh that crackles over the phone. "Are you really depressed about turning forty? I mean, seriously?"

"Nah, not really." Yes, really. And he know he sounds it. He yanks open the door to his salvaged, bright red 1960's fridge, taking out a bottle of water. Then he relents a little. "It doesn't feel like the huge milestone everyone makes it out to be."

"That's because the real milestone is fifty. You developing memory loss already?"

"I hate you so much right now."

Sam's laugh is full bodied. Which is easy for him since he's mated and still in his thirties. Dean's never had the pleasure. Or privilege. "I'm sorry. I can't help teasing. You're too easy of a target. You're not gonna fade out on the party right?"

"I will if you keep calling it a party." He kicks back against the glass counter, drumming his fingers on the cold surface.

"Only the usual suspects, I promise. Same as every year. I won't ruin it by making a huge deal out of it, okay? It's your day."

Dean appreciates that. He and Sam can shit talk all they like, but at the end of the day, his little brother has his back. He knows when teasing becomes pushing, and has never once crossed that line. "Yeah, I'm looking forward to it." He is. He doesn't get out enough. Everyone says so, and though he brushes off those sorts of concerns, he's feeling it, too. But the loneliness spiral is really hard to get out of. Even after having the time now.

"Great. I'll see you in a few hours."

"Yeah. See ya." He hangs up and taps his phone against his thigh, contemplative.

Life hasn't been easy, but it hasn't been all that hard, either. After his mom died, Dean and his dad had worked their asses off to save money to send Sam to the best school he could get into. The kid had been a tireless bookworm. Had wanted to be a lawyer since he was a snot nosed neutral-gendered prepubescent. And was so Alpha stubborn and dedicated even then, that he'd made it to Stanford on a full ride. But California was expensive, tuition paid or not. They made it work as best they could without making Sam take time away from his studies and social life to make part time minimum wage somewhere. Then Dean had finished trade school, John Winchester had died, and Dean had doubled down on the family business to support them.

Every second of overtime, and every spare penny went to Sam's college life. Dean hadn't bothered to try dating or having a personal life, aside from scratching the biological itch every now and then. There honestly hadn't been time, considering he'd made his money charging more than the next guy because he was the only one in town willing to work 24/7/365 on emergency calls. It's what he's known for now, and since he's also one of the best, he can't complain about any of it.

Except now Sam's been out of Stanford for a long time. And Dean hasn't been able to fill the possible spare time with anything else. He's got no hobbies, barely any friends, and very low tolerance for boredom. He's not just known as the handyman and roofer who does after hours emergency calls. He's now also known as the one who never says no. That's why he's often the first choice instead of the last resort.

The time's gone now. So much that he's missed out on, plenty he isn't even aware of. He's not bitter about it, but he is a bit regretful. He has a healthy savings, good reputation, spectacular home. But there's no one else here. He hasn't got a pet since he's not around to take care of it. He hasn't decorated much beyond the necessities, since what's the point when he's never home? And... he's never had a mate. He's always scoffed at the questions about his bachelorhood. Blown it off as the least of his worries. Never made a priority of it because most people always say it'll happen when it happens. It's foolish; too romance movie. And it hasn't happened. And it's more depressing than he had anticipated.

He'd taken it for granted in his teens and twenties, of course. There's no rush. Forming bonds takes time, but when you're young and energetic, it seems like time's the one thing you have too much of.

In his thirties, he'd started to feel the twinge whenever he thought about it. Anxiety that it might not ever happen for him. That he's starting to get closer to his ability to mate waning in middle age. But he'd always had an excuse to put it off.

Now he's suddenly waking up graying with an aching back. He blinked and now he's forty.

And today on his birthday, he's standing barefoot in his kitchen angry at the RAA for sending him a retirement letter because he hasn't spent enough time taking the passing of the years seriously. He's alone. He's lonely. And he's never going to find a mate now. He'll never bond. He'll never know what any of that is like. For a brief moment, he lets himself wallow. Then, he chugs the bottle of water and shakes himself out of his funk. Bonding isn't the be-all, end-all. He's a modern alpha. He doesn't need to mate to be happy. If love is in the cards for him, a companion would be enough. Someone else who can't bond, perhaps. Just someone to share the rest of his life with before he blinks and he's on his deathbed. That would be plenty.

***

Books are the most amazing things in the whole entire world. They look good, smell good, never change. They tell the same stories over and over. And even though sometimes there are new things to discover in the old books, they're comforting in their consistency. Castiel Novak likes them the best in the way that they change meaning as he grows older. Old importance fades away to bring backgrounds forward. He loves it. The Hero's Journey, the great romances, the famous characters. Stories live forever and endure when the rest of the world doesn't and won't. He'd known this was his calling since he'd learned about the tragedy of the Library of Alexandria in elementary school. He'd actually cried about it. That had put the nail in his solid life track.

The thought used to be more comforting before he turned forty. Now it's a little ominous.

Or maybe it's the storm outside from the unusually warm weather making him melancholy. His brother insists he's too sensitive to any and all changes. It makes little sense, but also sometimes, like today, lots of sense. He looks up from his annotated Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and squints out the window over his oak desk to the steady rain that's been falling all day. His therapist once mentioned that he had something like Seasonal Affective Disorder, but that's never seemed quite right to him. He does often get depressed during the gloomy months, but he's always been mildly depressed, and a lack of sunshine exacerbates it, and then it snows, and snow makes him happy. The summer is too hot to keep his spirits up all the time, spring kills his allergies, but maybe it's a little bit like that.

Really, it's probably the books. He's teaching Russian literature this semester, and those folks never know how to be cheerful. Glancing at the clock, he realizes he's wasted an entire day with Dostoevsky, save for his brief time in the UK with Carroll now, and that has to stop. He's had worse than Russia, though.

He pushes up from his high-backed desk chair, stretching his arms up over his head. Had he forgotten to eat today? He glances at his desk for clues. There's an empty coffee cup that's left a light brown ring on a stack of printed papers. A small salad plate. Oh, right. He'd eaten breakfast. Two croissants with raspberry preserves. Lunch? Probably not, if he can't remember and there's no mess still left. He digs around the pages and notebooks for his cell phone to order a pizza then remembers that it's after midnight. Maybe the lunch meat hasn't gone bad and he can just make a sandwich. He shuffles out of the office downstairs to the kitchen, yawning, and opens the fridge. Suddenly, it feels like too much trouble to make anything. Bed is the better option. He's weary to his bones.

He'll do better tomorrow. After he has string cheese. And an apple. He pushes himself up onto the granite of the kitchen island and eats his snacks while swinging his feet idly and thinking that he should put himself forward at the university to teach the elective literature course on fairy tales next year.

***

Sucking in a deep breath and pasting on his cheekiest grin, Dean shoves into Sam's house without knocking and storms straight towards the living room. The family's all there. "No one's drowned out there?" he booms with all the good-natured cheer he can muster. "Good to see y'all."

They family's all here, and as they drown him in hugs and firm pats on the back, he does indeed start to feel much more authentic in his humor.

Jody and Donna, Bobby and Ellen, Jo and Sam, Charlie and Gilda; everyone with an "and." At least they've all been together long enough that it doesn't even matter anymore. In fact, Dean can't picture any of them without their "ands." It's comforting, in its own way.

And there's beer. Lots of beer. Bobby at the grill. He's set a tarp up over it, hovering over the burgers in his poncho, like it's nothing. A little rain be damned when there's grilling to be done. Ellen shoving Bobby away from the grill to dry off for a few minutes. Jody shoving Ellen away from the grill because she always lets things burn. Salad. What the fuck? Goddammit, Sam. At his birthday? It's practically a sin. Lettuce. Seriously. What the fuck. But there's also potato salad. Which is a better kind of salad. And Dean might not admit it out loud, but Jo's homemade caesar dressing is the shit .

"You look tired, boy," Ellen says when they're setting the table with the loaded dishes. "You been getting enough sleep since never?"

"I get my four hours," Dean answers. It's the same thing between them every time. It's Ellen's way of asking if he's all right and his way of saying that yes, he is. He usually gets more than four hours these days, though, so it's all good.

"Did you turn your damn phone off?" Bobby grumps as he wanders by with the coleslaw. "No emergency calls ruining your party this year."

Making a whole show of it to please Bobby, since he owes his surrogate father everything after John's death, he takes his cell phone out of his back pocket and turns it off. "See? Totally off."

Sam thumps him on the back hard enough to slosh his beer and make him cough. "Good for you. You're finally growing up."

"Fuck off."

"Language," Jo admonishes, carrying in the grilled hot dogs. Donna is hot on her tail with the burgers a minute later.

During the first part of the dinner, it's the usual rounds of telling Dean he needs to cut down his hours to what a normal person works, has he been seeing anyone lately, would it kill him to buy a new pair of jeans every now and then.

Good stuff.

Then they're all drinking more and laughing more. Dean feels his chest loosen for the first time since probably this time last year. Fuck, he's been lonely. So lonely. And he resents how he only notices it during his birthday. It'll get better. This year will get better. He's forty. He's got nothing else to lose.

The feeling comes and goes until he departs the party near midnight, collapsing into bed the second his clothes are off, snoring softly.

It's like he's only been asleep for a single second when his cell phone rings on the nightstand. He'd remembered to turn it on, and he really shouldn't have. But he always remembers and sometimes that sucks. He pats it towards himself and swipes it on. "Winchester Roofing and Repairs, this is Dean Winchester speaking." Luckily he's been saying that same damn thing for twenty years, so it's complete autopilot.

"Yes, hello," a tight, low voice says in a very quick and panicked way, "My name is Castiel Novak. Are you really twenty-four hours? I have a huge emergency! There's water pouring from my ceiling all over my books. I need someone now!"

He says is all so quickly and so loudly that Dean can't quite process it. He's not awake enough to be screamed at. Is he still dreaming? "What?" he mutters into the phone.

"My books!" The attractive voice yells, full-on freaking out now. "Are you, or are you not a twenty-four hour emergency roofing and repair service?! I need help now !"

Dean sits up, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. "Yeah," he mumbles. "Yeah, I am. Sorry, man. Gimme a second to wake up. Haven't had a late call in ages."

There are a few heaving breaths on the other end of the line, and Dean bites his bottom lip in an effort not to smile at the man obviously trying to calm himself down. "Forgive me. I usually don't yell. But this is very serious. My roof is leaking all over my livelihood."

Dean slips out of the bed, pulling on his jeans one-handed already. "Okay, I'm getting ready right now. Just stay calm and give me the details. Where's the leak?"

"Over my office library."

"Attic?"

"Yes."

Dean sighs, taking a minute to move the phone away and pull his shirt over his head. "That means the leak on the roof is probably pretty significant. Can you text me your address? Where do you live?"

"Peachtree and Pine. In the historic district."

"I know it," Dean assures him, grabbing his socks out of the dresser. "I can be there in fifteen minutes. If you've got a bucket or bowl, put it under the worst of the leak. Towels for the rest."

"Thank you," the man breathes. "I can't thank you enough." He truly sounds it.

Dean grins away his sleepiness. "Get a move on so there's not more water damage. I'll be there soon. Text me the address," he reiterates before hanging up while the man is in the middle of thanking him again. His lower back protests when he bends down to pull his socks on and he groans. "I'm too old for this shit."

***

Castiel does as Winchester asked and drapes towels over his shelves as well as he can, though they soak through almost immediately. Not this. Not now. This is the best part of him. It can't be ruined. It'll take a fortune to restore them, if they can even be salvaged at all. Oh, God. He prays fervently that Dean Winchester is a good and fast as he promises. He busies himself removing all the books he can while he waits.

Fifteen minutes later, his doorbell rings. He rushes to the front door and throws it open. There's a rumpled man on his porch holding an armful of blue tarps, and Castiel hopes it's Winchester, because the alternative is that he's letting a burglar into his home. "Please help, quickly," he says, hustling Dean inside, slamming the door, and shoving him towards the library.

"Where's the damn fire," Dean mutters, but allows himself to be pushed where he's needed.

Shit, wow, he's never seen so many books outside of a library before. And they all look and smell so old. He can suddenly see the emergency. "Okay," he says louder. "Help me with the tarps here. We'll cover the shelves and I'll put some drip pans in the attic." He's mastered the art of talking while he works, so he does just that, unfurling the tarps with a snap and handing one off to Castiel. "Too dangerous to go up on the roof to see how bad it is in the dark, so I'll come back tomorrow and take care of the rest."

"Thank you," Castiel breathes. "Thank you, thank you, thank you." He rushes forward to drape his tarp over the rest of the shelves. Soon enough, his precious collection is safe from further damage and Dean is shaking water off of his arms.

"Where's the access to the attic?" he asks, bending over to pick up the large bucket with several drip pans nested inside of it. Castiel gestures towards the stairs, guiding Dean up to the second floor. "You got any box fans or anything? I forgot mine since I was rushing to get here."

"Oh," Castiel says. "Actually... hmm... yes, I do. I think."

"Good." He reaches over his head to pull on the string and bring the attic's ladder down. It shrieks with rusty protest, and for the millionth time since he's climbed one of these rickety bastards, Dean hopes it doesn't collapse and make him break his neck. "Grab whatever fans you got and set 'em in the library. Dry out the place for the night. I'll bring my dehumidifier tomorrow as well, so you don't get mildew or mold or anything." Then he's up the ladder with the bucket to find the source of the leak.

Castiel remains downstairs, staring up the ladder like a deer in headlights. His initial panic was slapped right off his face the second Dean had reached over his head to pull down the ladder. Initially, he'd been struck dumb by the man's tanned skin and softly defined abs when his t-shirt had ridden up, but when he'd pulled the ladder down, the changing air current had wafted some compelling pheromones right at him. Alpha, definitely. Unmated, certainly. Dizzyingly outdoorsy, perfectly. He smells... nostalgic. Like summer-warm grass and dandelions. Castiel's grandmother used to make dandelion wine ages ago, and the scent of the handyman brought it all back in a heady rush.

"Goodness," Castiel whispers, unable to break his gaze away from the attic access, though Dean's disappeared from view in the dim light of the single bulb up there. Dean. Right. He'd said something about fans. Fans! Of course. To dry out the library. Castiel puffs out a hard breath from his nose to clear away the tempting pheromones, and goes to his bedroom to scrounge in the back of the walk-in closet, where he's almost positive he's got a couple of box fans from when the air conditioner had broken last summer, leaving him in misery for five days before it could be repaired. He hopes they still work.

In the attic, Dean is carefully placing the large bucket below the worst of the leak, and the drip pans around it for the smaller ones. Then he sets to securing the last tarp up on the underside of the roof as flush as possible to hopefully prevent too much more damage since the forecast is calling for heavy rain until mid-morning.

But for the first time ever, he's less focused on the damage than the man who'd been shouting him awake at two in the morning. The omega . He hadn't noticed the pheromones at first in the library, thinking it was all simply the rustic scent of the place. But then they'd moved into the narrow hallway, and Castiel had stood close while he'd pulled down the attic access ladder, and... Dean had felt a twinge. The old books and cedar smell had been coming from Castiel. Stirring him with some kind of sense memory of a library he doesn't really recall, too-sweet coffee, and reading off quiz questions he couldn't even begin to understand about everything under the sun to Sam while the kid studied his ass off for the SAT's. It had been the happiest summer of his life, helping his little brother. Seeing firsthand how smart he was. How easily he was gonna get to Stanford and become a big shot lawyer.

That's what Castiel smells like. Knowledge and books and an underlying... something . Unmated and maybe even alone. Probably alone. Just like Dean. He hadn't smelled even the faintest hint of anyone else in his rush through the house, and Dean's been blessed with a freaking spider sense for pheromones. He knows just from the slight whiff that Castiel is single and hasn't lived with anyone for at least a month or two in this beautiful historic house. The realization stirs him. Castiel doesn't have an "and." He shouldn't feel happy about that. No, he's not. It's only... It makes him feel less lonely and alone in the world. That ain't nothing.

Castiel's voice floats up, breaking him out of his reverie a few minutes later. "Mr. Winchester? Do you have enough drip pans? I have other buckets. How bad is it?"

Dean breathes in deeply like he always needs to in order to steel himself to smile, but it somehow feels a little easier this time. He leans towards the opening and pokes his head out to find Castiel holding onto the bottom of the ladder and staring up. Dean's breath punches out of his lungs. He should have paid more attention before because this omega smells like home and looks like a dream. Wide blue eyes, framed by laugh lines and heavy lids. A firm, muscular build for such a self-proclaimed bookworm, dark brown hair, and of course the melodious voice.

"You were right to call me, man. It's a mess. You definitely need my services. It looks like the roof's been building up to a waterfall for some time. There's a lot of old water damage up here."

Castiel leans forward and taps his forehead against the ladder, slumping his shoulders. "I never noticed."

"We haven't had a lot of rain lately," Dean says reasonably. "And since you've got an attic, you may not have noticed until now, anyway. But I can fix it, so don't worry. I've done what I can do for tonight, though."

"I appreciate it."

Dean shrugs. "Coming down, now." He swings his legs over the gap to the stairs. Castiel is standing closer than necessary once he hits the floor, and Dean tries his best not to look, hearing a short intake of breath. Is... the guy's scenting him? He almost fails to suppress a shiver. Reminds himself to be professional.

Then Castiel steps away, which is a relief and a bummer. "I'm very sorry to have called you out so late. Yelled at you, too." He watches Dean close the attic, then leads him back to the library to process the damage.

Dean arranges the fans in the best places for maximum airflow. Afterwards, he helps Castiel carry the soaked towels to the laundry room. "It's not a problem. I'm not as young as I used to be, so waking up's a little harder, but I don't mind helping people like you who get in a bind. Emergencies don't just happen during business hours." He winces at how much he sounds like his father.

Castiel smiles, though. "That's very understanding and professional. Thank you. Should I pay you for your services tonight, or wait until the job is completed?"

Trailing Castiel to the front door, Dean says, "I'll make you an estimate tomorrow. You can pay in installments during each stage of the repairs, or wait until a final bill. Either way works for me."

"That will work nicely." He reaches around Dean and opens the door. "Tomorrow is Saturday. Are you sure you want to work on the weekend?"

"Haven't got much else to do," Dean admits. "Don't worry about it. First thing we'll have to do is dry everything up and make sure there's no lasting damage to your library and the ceiling. Then I'll assess the attic. Pick up the supplies. If we can get the roof covered properly, I'll take off Sunday and be back Monday, early. What time works for you tomorrow?"

"I'm usually done with my morning run and ready by nine. Is that too late?"

"Nah," Dean assures him with an easy, professional smile. "Don't mind sleeping in a little."

Castiel holds out his hand. Dean shakes it firmly, thrilling at the small jolt of electricity up his arm. "See you tomorrow, Mr. Novak."

"Castiel, please," he corrects. "See you tomorrow Mr. Winchester."

He gives in to the impulse to give the omega a flirty wink. "Dean."

"Dean." His name sounds like a warm smile in Castiel's mouth.

On his way back to the car, Dean wonders how it is he doesn't mind being up at 2:30 am, in the middle of a thunderstorm. He can't wait to keep figuring it out.

Chapter Text

Dean doesn't get much sleep the rest of the night, at first attributing it to being woken up so late for a call, but it's not just that. When he slips back into bed and closes his eyes, he sees Castiel in the private darkness behind his eyelids. Remembers the details. His biology has latched onto the omega, drawing up memories and sweetening them to make the idea of a particular mate more desirable. Enticing him go back for more to gauge out the potential. He'd experienced pining sickness before in his youth, and it had always been fairly unpleasant. He couldn't eat, sleep properly, study, nothing. It's complete brain-melting distraction.

But he's older now and his hormones are decreasing every year. So it's not necessarily something that he can't muscle through if he wills himself. But it's too early in the morning, therefore he allows himself the gift of indulgence, hoping it will at least ease the obsessive fixating. Thinking about Castiel doesn't bring the gut wrenching heart pounding that it would for a younger person. In fact, it's actually pretty nice once he stops worrying, truth be told. He can recall Castiel's scent, gentle and mellow. The way his eyes crinkled when he smiled. How he'd given Dean his full attention. And because the hormone surge is much lower than it would be with a Were in his prime, he's fairly certain that his memories are more realistic and less idealistic.

It's comforting in its own way, knowing that he can still have some of the Were traits after all these years not tending to them. Then again, he distinctly notices the lack of physical arousal that usually accompanies even the mildest pining sickness. It's not a huge concern, though it definitely makes him more sure that he wouldn't be able to bond or mate Castiel if the opportunity presented itself. Not that he's thinking about that. Yet. Not like he wants that... yet .

He rubs his forehead vigorously in an effort to clear his head, then practices some deep breathing exercises. Finally, he's relaxed enough to fall asleep.

***

The unexpected pining sickness making Castiel suffer through the early morning hours without even the smallest desire to sleep, is completely unwelcome. The only good thing about it is that it's not too severe for him to stay relaxed. He hadn't been prepared for someone like Dean Winchester. Then again, it's reasonable to assume that one is never entirely ready to meet a potential mate. Especially late in life. Well. Not late late, but late enough that bonding would be a huge exception rather than the rule, and mating even more unusual. Still... perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to see if he and Dean could actually be compatible? The alpha had been nice, understanding, and unerringly professional during their brief acquaintance. He's healthy and strong and confident. All the traits an omega would look for in a potential long term relationship with an alpha.

There's no harm in getting to know him, at any rate. He knows he has to be careful, though. If Dean shows mutual interest, Castiel would hate to lead them on if they couldn't bond. It's one thing he can't get compromise on, even if it's impossible for him. Times are different these days, he's aware. Plenty of Weres live together and have relationships ages before bonding. Sometimes never bonding at all. He's got several undergrad students who live unbonded with their significant others.

He couldn't do that. Not the way he's been raised with religion and propriety stressed since he'd first reached puberty and presented as a Were. Maybe he can't do what they do, but there might still be the chance of something more traditional. He's not fully middle aged yet. It's not hopeless.

It's also something to think about tomorrow. After sleep.

***

Dean shows up to Castiel's house right on time with a huge cup of coffee, the industrial dehumidifier, his tool belt, and a few extra tarps. He's exhausted, but his inner alpha is boosting his energy on account of being excited to see the omega again.

He grins when Castiel opens the door with an answering smile, hair still wet from his shower. "Please come in from the rain," he greets, holding the door open wide for Dean to enter. Out wafts the mellow, worn in smell of Castiel's pheromones from every corner of the house. The man himself only smells lightly thanks to his shower, but Dean feels all of the tension leaking out of his shoulders. This house - this home - is worryingly inviting to him.

He shucks his leather jacket, about to ask where to put it when Castiel takes it from him and hangs it carefully in the hall closet. Something about the familiar, domestic gesture piques Dean's hindbrain alpha pleasure sensors. Foolish, but so rare that he rolls with it.

Castiel turns towards him, nostrils flaring a little. Whoops. Dean makes a point to tamp down on the display of scent triggers as much as possible. It's not quite as obvious as with a younger Were, though Castiel appears to have an extremely sensitive nose to be picking up on Dean's subtle appreciation. Good to know.

However, since Dean is acting mild and appropriate, Castiel goes with politely ignoring the pheromones. "Will you be able to work out there when it's raining?" he asks.

"Won't need to," Dean answers. "If it lets up before I'm done inside today, I'll go up there to look, but for now we need to get everything dried out and see if I can do some patching inside. I'll probably need to replace some of the boards in the attic, and maybe the floor and some insulation depending on how old the leak is."

Castiel nods seriously, hanging on every one of Dean's words. "I realize you're a professional, but is there anything I can do to help?"

Dean would be lying to himself if he said he didn't want more of the omega's company. "Well," he says in his most amiable tone, "you could start sorting through the books. We'll put them near the dehumidifier."

"That's reasonable," Castiel muses. "Some of the books are quite delicate. They would be expensive, if not impossible, to replace."

Dean follows behind him up to the library again with the dehumidifier. He's pleased to discover that the fans have thus far done a good job of preventing any obvious mold smell, but the air still feels slightly damp and smells musty. "If you've got good homeowner's insurance, I can make sure you get all the right boxes checked for assistance."

Smiling, Castiel says, "really? How thoughtful, thank you."

Dean shrugs casually. "Been dealing with bloodsucking insurance agents for years." He maneuvers the dehumidifier into the center of the room, out of the way of the points of entry and Castiel's desk. He takes down the tarps and spreads them out on the floor. "Lay your books out here." Immediately, Castiel sits dead center on the tarp and begins arranging the haphazard pile from last night around him. Dean is a little distracted by the omega's long, dexterous fingers gently unsticking the pages to air out. Clearing his throat, he continues, "so, you said these books were your livelihood?"

"Yes," Castiel answers, half-distracted by his work. "I teach at the university, but I also collect books, as you can see." He smiles wryly up from among his nest of novels, surrounding him on all sides.

Dean smiles back automatically, sitting down cross legged on the outside of the paper and leather-bound fairy ring, handing off his stack in turn when Castiel reaches out. He eyes the titles as they go by, and then, "dude, what is this? Russian?"

"I often feel that too much is lost in translation," Castiel answers archly.

Dean bursts out laughing. "I wasn't gonna make fun of you. This is amazing! Can you really read this?"

Castiel takes the book from him and flips a page. "Иван Ильич был сотоварищ собравшихся господ, и все любили его. Он болел ужи несколько недель; говорили, что болезнь его неизлечима. Место оставалось за ним, но было соображение о том, что в случае его смерти Алексеев может быть назначен на его место, на место же Алексеева — или Винников, или Штабель. Так что, услыхав о смерти Ивана Ильича, первая мысль каждого из господ, собравшихся в кабинете, была и том, какое значение может иметь эта смерть на перемещения или повышения самих членов или их знакомых."

Goggle-eyed, and charmed, though he can't figure out why, Dean breathes, "what the hell?"

Grinning in embarrassment with ears turning red, Castiel's gaze falls back down to the page. " The Death of Ivan Ilyich . Tolstoy. It's standard reading for all Russian literature studies, and even most world literature classes. It's very depressing." His nose crinkles as he sets the book aside to dry.

"That's so freaking amazing," Dean answers. "I mean, you're like smart smart, aren't you?"

With a small start and a blink, Castiel says, "I... well, I suppose I am, yes. I've always been in academia, if that's what you mean."

Leaning forward excitedly, Dean doesn't notice how close their faces have gotten. "Level with me, Cas. How many languages do you speak?"

The owlish look flashes to a haughty smirk, and that look nearly flattens Dean. "Four, not counting English."

Dean's eyes flick to Castiel's mouth, then back up. "Incredible," he murmurs, voice pitched to a more appealing register. "I can't even imagine being that smart."

Castiel lifts a shoulder, gaze glued to Dean's. "I can't fix a roof," he points out.

When Dean grins in response, the omega's gaze locks onto his lips and doesn't waver. "I guess if I had another talent or two, we'd be even."

Castiel swallows audibly. "You probably have a few."

They're flirting. And it's awesome . Castiel's definitely interested. The wood pulp pheromones thicken, and his pupils dilate a tick. He could really get into this. Until Dean remembers he's here in a professional capacity. He leans back a little, noting the minute dip in Castiel's smile. It actually really sucks to see, so Dean keeps his voice and posture open as he says, "you've got the hang of this, right? I need to go check the attic."

"Be my guest. I'll be in here if you need me."

The audible pop in his knees makes him cringe internally. He picks up his tool belt from the hall and cinches it tightly around his waist before making his way back up to the attic. With his flashlight, he can see the situation much better. Yikes. The leak is definitely profound. Castiel's attic has sturdy plywood sheets covering almost the entire floor, so he's in no danger of misstepping in the insulation and accidentally putting his foot through the ceiling below.

He switches his flashlight to camp light and hangs it from a hook on the ceiling near the tarp. Taps his right foot around on the soggy boards. Too much give. Ruined. He takes his hammer out and starts prying up the sheets. The insulation underneath is soaked and moldy, too. Glad he brought a dust mask. He secures it over his mouth and nose, then resumes pulling out all of the rotten wood and insulation, setting the wood aside to haul down, and stuffing all of it into an industrial trash bag.

He gets into the groove so much that he doesn't notice the passage of time until Castiel is calling up the stairs, "excuse me, Dean? It's after one. I thought you might want to take a break."

As if on cue, his stomach rumbles. He unlatches his belt and brushes his jeans off, pulling the dust mask down to hang around his neck. Worked up a decent sweat. Not bad. "I'm coming down," he yells back.

He finds Castiel in the kitchen with two sandwiches and two tall glasses of lemonade, juicer nearby. Homemade? His heart skips a beat. He'd only been planning to go to Jimmy John's or something. And the lemonade looks fucking amazing. He's really thirsty having been up in the humid attic for so long. "What's all this?" he asks carefully.

Castiel looks supremely embarrassed, but says, "lunch. It's the least I can do."

Dean rubs the back of his neck, regretting it as the grit from the insulation chaffs. He's probably got a hole in his work gloves. "You don't have to. I mean, you're paying me to do work for you. You don't have to feed me."

The crestfallen expression on Castiel's face actually hurts to see. "I understand if you're not comfortable-"

"-but if you're offering..." He cuts the omega off.

The gummy, beaming smile returns. "It's nothing fancy, I assure you." He pushes one of the plates and glasses towards Dean, who goes straight to the sink to wash his hands thoroughly.

"Dude, did you make the lemonade from scratch?"

"Well..." the embarrassment is back, but it's good this time. Castiel's pheromones curl comfortingly into Dean's brain. "I like it better than the powder stuff. I like to cook."

"Then, I'll be a good guest because I really love to eat." He smiles, and Castiel smiles back. Dean takes a sip of the lemonade. Then he drains the whole glass. If possible, Castiel smiles wider.

"Do you like it?"

"Holy shit, it's amazing," Dean says, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "I've been so uneducated my whole life."

Castiel's laugh is gorgeous and joyful. "I am a teacher." He picks up the crystal pitcher and pours another full glass. "And if you like the lemonade, the sandwich'll knock your socks off. I get all the meats from the artisan downtown."

"Stop it, you're turning me on," Dean deadpans. "Almost feel bad for invoicing you later after feeding me a gourmet lunch."

"It's worth it for my home being safe and secure again." He holds his hand out towards the table, inviting Dean to come over. He does, a little self-conscious about putting his dirty ass on a clean chair, but Castiel doesn't seem to mind. In fact, he has to push aside a few books to make room for the both of them. "Sorry," he says. "I've got books everywhere. It's a common affliction of my profession."

"Yeah, I'd've been disappointed if you didn't fit my mental image of literature professors," Dean teases, tucking in. And Castiel is right, the sandwich is probably the best he's ever had. And he's saying that as someone who's no slouch at making them himself. It's a perfect balance of mayo, spicy mustard, deli sliced pickles, 4 kinds of artisan smoked meats, Swiss cheese, packed between fresh french bread halves. He can forgive the lettuce because the rest is just insane. He can't stop himself from making a fairly inappropriate noise that has Castiel blushing again.

To diffuse the embarrassment on both their ends, he dabs his mouth with a napkin and says, "how many books do you read a week?"

Blue eyes twinkling, Castiel says, "a few. But most of them I've read before, so I skim them for classes. These here are just my pleasure reading."

With one finger, Dean turns the cover of the top book around to see it better. "Jane Austen is pleasure reading for you?"

"Yes. I've come to understand that I'm a bit of a nerd."

Dean barks a laugh. "That's a pretty attractive quality, okay? I've got a GED and trade school under my belt. I can't even begin to read books like you do. I only take them at face value."

"That's not a bad thing," Castiel counters, absently picking off some of the lettuce that had escaped the confines of his bread. "First and foremost, reading fiction should be for pleasure. Lots of it is written for political statements, cultural criticism, any number of reasons. But all of those lessons and information are imparted in a way that's meant to be engaging and enjoyable. And everyone reads and interprets stories differently. That's part of their magic. They can even change meaning as you age and reveal things you wouldn't have seen before."

Thoughtfully, Dean thumbs open the book and reads the first paragraph. "Never considered that."

" Pride and Prejudice is a personal favorite."

Feeling bold and intrigued, Dean ventures, "can I...?"

Castiel doesn't look surprised, but he does look pleased. "Of course. I always encourage reading."

"Thanks." Somehow, he gets pulled in, though Castiel hardly minds. He opens his own book and they eat lunch quietly side by side, something that Dean hasn't done since Sam practically lived in the library studying while Dean devoured Vonnegut waiting to drive him home. It's nice. He could do this all day, even with a stranger. There's nothing awkward about it. And that right there is a good reason to drag the lunch break out a little longer. Which is something he's never done before. But, hey. He's not charging by the hour, so it's fine.

Afterwards, rather than returning to the stuffy attic again, Dean remains in the library with Castiel to inspect the ceiling. It's sagging a little as he expected, and gives when he taps at it with a broom handle. Castiel is rotating his books around and getting the remainder laid out. Dean is still pretty damn surprised that he's so unselfconscious in the man's presence. Chatty, even. Normally he hates making useless small talk. Castiel seems to be making a lot of exceptions to his rules. "So, is there a right way and a wrong way to read a book?" he asks after running outside to the truck to grab his step ladder.

"I suppose you could read it backwards," Castiel answers. "That would be the wrong way."

Rolling his eyes, Dean amends, "I mean is there a right and wrong interpretation? I remember my English teacher saying that there's no wrong answer as long as you can defend it, but... like, there has to be a threshold, right?"

Castiel hmm's as he watches Dean make a pencil outline of the nearly invisible water stain. "If you said something factually inaccurate, that would be wrong. You can't argue something like The Iliad being written as a commentary on World War II. You can certainly make modern comparisons between currents events and how they're similar to history, but you cannot argue that a book was written about something that happened years after its publication." He quirks an eyebrow at Dean's dry look. "I know it seems obvious, but you'd be surprised about how many of my students fail to care about publication dates." He sighs and Dean chuckles.

"Sure, I understand all that. So you're saying that I could take that copy of Pride and Prejudice you're lending me, and argue any of my opinions about it, as long as I'm not trying to convince you it's about the dawn of the internet age, or something."

Castiel's expression warms. "That's exactly what I'm hoping you'll do."

***

The rain is no closer to letting up by the time Dean's finished with the inside work, but he's done what he can do, so he and Castiel sit down at the kitchen table again to discuss the rest of the project.

Filling out all of the information on the estimate sheet, Dean asks, "do you know how old the roof is?"

"Not exactly, but it was replaced a few years before I moved in, so... maybe fifteen years old?"

Dean taps his pen against the sheet. "I'd recommend an inspection, then. It's not really required, but with a leak that size on a roof that old... better to be safe than sorry."

"Will my insurance cover it?"

"Some do and some don't. You can call them and find out pretty quickly. If you don't want to, I can knock it off the estimate later."

"I'll do it, anyway," Castiel answers. "I'd rather not have another flood in the middle of the night because of my own careless upkeep."

"Good call. My gut says you won't need a full replacement just yet, but could. Some roofs hold up better than others. As for the rest of it: I need to replace some of the insulation and flooring in the attic, and the spot on the ceiling in the library. There's a bit of mold and old water damage, but it's not spread, so it'll be easy to get rid of." He scribbles the items and prices as he talks, Castiel sitting beside him to see. He totals it all out in two columns - one with a new roof, one without - and turns the paper for him to see better. "How's that sit?"

"Less expensive than anticipated," Castiel says. "Not that I know anything of major home repairs. I just fear them."

Dean's heard that plenty of times. "Nothing to be afraid of, Cas. This'll only take a few days, and I ain't in the business of screwing people over, so it'll be quick and painless." He winks and Castiel leans back in his chair, eyeing him with a strange expression. Too much charm? Or maybe the nickname? Castiel's face is confusing, but his old leather scent is inviting. Oh. Oh . He's enjoying the flirting. Still got it, Winchester . He signs his name with a flourish then holds out the pen for Castiel to do the same. His looping writing is as elegant as he is.

Once that's done and agreed on, Dean, pulls off the carbon copy of the estimate to leave, and says he'll be back on Monday at 9:00 AM. Castiel's first class is at noon, but Dean assures him that he won't need access to the inside of the house if the weather holds, which it should. Castiel thanks him another half-dozen times, and then finally Dean is on his way home, so lost in thought that he doesn't even bother to turn on the radio.

What a strange day. The entire drive home, Dean's off kilter. The further away he drives, the more irritated he becomes. His hindbrain wants to go back to the pleasing scent of his compatible omega. "So fucking unprofessional," he mutters. He'd broken protocol pretty badly there. Castiel hadn't seemed upset by any of it, but they'd had a long lunch together that Castiel had made, and now Dean is going home with an expensive, leather bound copy of an old book to read. What the fuck was he thinking? He's never been interested in this shit before. Now, his alpha instinct is to do anything at all to entice the omega. To please him.

He hits the touch pad on the dash, connects his phone to Bluetooth, and dials possibly the only person he knows who can answer his questions.

"Dean Winchester, it's been a minute, brother!"

"How's your vacation going, Benny?" he asks lightly. "Better be good since you missed my birthday, asshole."

Benny's laugh is unreserved. "Don't pretend like you're not glad Sam said family only. When we going fishin'?"

"Soon," Dean promises. He means it this time. "And hey, I know I promised I'd never do this again, but can you squeeze me in sometime soon?"

A beat of silence followed by, "what the hell did you get yourself into this time?"

"Don't be disgusting, it was once, and nearly twenty years ago, besides. I just need to schedule my annual physical."

Even more silence. Dean checks the screen to make sure the call hasn't disconnected. "Are you dying?" Benny asks, sounding legitimately concerned.

"Jesus fucking - no , Benny. It's just time. C'mon, man, you rag me about this shit every year. Can you do it, or am I gonna not have the privilege of being your best friend, and have to wait for six months?"

"Nah, I'll squeeze you in," Benny say normally. "Friday okay?"

"That'll do."

"Come by seven-thirty before we're open. No eating after midnight, except water, blah blah blah, you get the idea."

"You're doing me a solid, Benny, thanks."

"'S'all good. Gotta go, Andrea's staring at me like I did something wrong."

"Good luck, 'cause you probably did." He presses the end button smiling. Nice to have a friend in the medical family practice business. Then again, he's pretty sure that even though Benny took his brush off easily, he was going to have a lot of questions about Dean's sudden willingness to keep up with preventative health. And really, he will be honest. But only when Benny's being his doctor and not his friend. It's easier to talk to him that way. And it's not like it's a given, but after the day he's had, he's kind of interested to see what his bonding hormone levels are these days. Just out of curiosity.

Something to idly think about while he picks up the supplies he needs at Home Depot before going home more unsure of how to proceed than ever. Reading Castiel's favorite book until his eyes slip shut.

***

Castiel has less idea of how to process Dean Winchester today than he did yesterday. He'd spent an entire day trying his absolute best to be professional, and not some creeper sniffing around a handsome, available alpha.

Which had actually been extremely hard because Dean smelled fantastic . It hadn't been only the pining sickness making him remember the turned earth and dandelions. It had been real, and Castiel had spent a couple of hours surreptitiously scenting it. It makes him feel a little dirty. Dean had been completely professional. Hadn't shown the slightest interest... except in the library. That moment had been... something he should probably forget about.

But he can't because he's rapidly starting to actually like Dean. He's smart, witty, good at what he does, fair, kind. Really, really hot , his omega hindbrain reminds him unhelpfully.

"Yes, thank you," he mumbles sarcastically.

What's he supposed to do about this unexpected situation? What if Dean actually is interested? He's not deluded or young enough to waste time talking himself out of things that appeal to him. Dean is appealing. And his pheromones, for just a few moments, had been whispering at Castiel's hindbrain that it was okay. That his potential alpha mate would have been more than happy to give it a go.

But what if they end up being compatible and can't bond? Never mind mating.

With a frustrated huff, Castiel stomps to his office. He's never liked pointless speculation. He needs Google. Or the Mayo Clinic website. WebMD will just tell him he has some eradicated tropical disease no matter what he searches for.

He types in, how common is bonding after the age of 40?

Three hours later, he has a lot of resources, varying statistics, but most of the credible sites agree on a few key points.

First of all, the sources agree that bonding is possible at later ages, but increasingly difficult with each year past forty, depending on how quickly both alpha and omega lose their bonding hormones. Sterility usually sets in for both genders by the age of fifty, usually sooner, which Castiel is already aware of. He can't imagine having a newborn at his age, anyway. He barely feels well rested after eight hours of uninterrupted sleep as it is. He'd never survive waking up every three. Plus, he's hasn't felt the urge to have kids of his own in years. He loves kids, obviously. He'd been an elementary school teacher after getting his PhD, and waiting for a position to open in the university. But, he'd missed his opportunity for children of his own and it's not the most depressing thought in the world. He would have liked it, but at his last OB/GYN appointment, had been informed that he'd already reached sterility. His doctor had kindly informed him that bonding and artificial hormone replacement had the potential to reverse that, though if he didn't accomplish that, his heats would be worry-free. Plus, a male omega getting pregnant is a million to one; increasingly rare every generation since evolution has seemed to determine that it's too high risk for too little reward.

Then again, there's always the option for adoption or fostering.

Of course... either way, he's not sure how Dean feels about children. If it would be a deal breaker to not have them. That's an issue for a time that's not purely theoretical, so he sets it aside.

The second thing he'd learned is that if bonding does happen this late in reproductive years, it's almost always achieved during a joint heat and rut. Which wouldn't be too difficult. If a couple has been together for long enough to scent bond, the alpha will usually respond to the omega's heat with a rut of their own. Castiel only has two, maybe three, heats a year now, but they do still happen. They're also not as dire as they used to be. He can usually manage them on his own with little trouble, even better that they only last a day at most. That's one good thing about getting out of prime breeding years.

Lastly, he'd learned that bonding was most possible if the alpha and omega could achieve something less permanent like a scent bond before going for a more permanent one.

From then on it's just speculation, though that doesn't stop him from reading until his head aches. He won't remember any of it later. Mostly because he can only pay half attention the rest of the night when he remembers that Dean borrowed his favorite book with the full intention of reading it to talk about it later. That's enough to keep him warm with speculations and what-if's until he finally falls asleep.

Chapter Text

For the first time in his life, Castiel is almost late to church. He has no idea how long his alarm has been going off before it actually rouses him, but by the time he blinks enough to clear the haze of sleep and focus on the clock's numbers, he's got ten minutes to get out the door. He rushes through his morning routine, yanking on his possibly dirty dark blue suit, gets his tie on backwards, hair barely brushed, teeth barely brushed, and then he's running out the door with his trench coat only half on, cursing himself for not checking the temperature because it's too cold for a light jacket. No time to worry about that now. Luckily, the picturesque Episcopal church his family are members of is only a few blocks away, and he usually walks. Jogs today. He joins the small crowd filtering through the doors, wishing he'd had time for coffee, feeling foolish that he'd overslept because he'd stayed up too late thinking too much about a man he's met twice.

His family is already sitting in their normal pew near the front left of the sanctuary. They stand up to let him in. He shakes hands with his father, Cain, kisses his mother, Naomi's cheek, then squeezes past Anna and Gabriel to the center.

Once reseated, Gabriel leans directly into his ear and mumbles, "did you sleep in those clothes?"

Castiel looks down at himself, mildly horrified. They're completely wrinkled. "I only had five minutes. I got to bed late." He swipes the extra program Gabriel's holding in order to avoid his stare in favor of pretending to read the order of the service.

Gabriel leers. "Oh, really?" His eyes narrow. "Or was it for normal reasons? Were you reading books all night again?"

"No," Castiel hisses, jerking on his tie to fix it. "Just had trouble sleeping."

Anna bends over Gabriel. "Mother was asking where you were about ten seconds before you showed up. She was making plans to knock down your door if you hadn't shown up without texting. She might have even skipped the service."

"Perish the thought," Castiel mutters moodily under his breath. Though that does remind him to make sure his phone is on silent. It's not. It's still on his nightstand at home.

Cain, with his obscenely keen hearing, says in an even tone, "calm mind and repentant soul, Children Mine."

Castiel's trying. It's difficult today. Every other Sunday he can sit in worship with full focus, but today he's been given a lot to think about on very little sleep. He goes through the motions as best he can. Sometimes that's all he can do. He's sure that God understands. His soul's repentant, even if his mind is elsewhere. The sermon is about forgiveness. Having a kind heart. Mercy. Usually such a lesson would make him quite happy, but he feels... itchy. Under his skin.

When they are all called to silent prayer, Castiel bends his head down and thinks, why did You send Dean Winchester to me? Is he a gift or a test? Neither one will be easy. Please grant me patience . Perhaps easier prayed for than done, but he does feel a measure of peace wash over him as he always does in these still moments. That's good enough for today.

After church, his parents always insist on Sunday dinner. Usually, it's Castiel's favorite time of the week. He enjoys catching up with his family. Eating his mother's cooking. But today his family is noticing his restlessness. So naturally he becomes the hot topic of conversion. He's had a good run of leaving that honor to Gabriel for years. He can always be trusted with amusing and heartwarming stories of his rescue animals being rehabilitated and adopted out. Of course, his night job as club owner leads to far more interesting tales.

Alas, Naomi corners Castiel in the kitchen while pulling ingredients for a hash brown bake out of the fridge. "Castiel," she says appraisingly, "I've always been able to trust you to be the calmest of my children, but all morning you've been off."

"I told you I didn't sleep well," Castiel attempts.

Naomi sees right through him. She points to the coffee maker in silent instruction, then says, "it's more than that. You've never been one to fidget like Gabriel, and yet I watched you through the entire service folding and tearing your program into tiny pieces."

He'd done that. Also guiltily hid the evidence of his lack of attention in his coat pockets afterwards. "I had a lot to pray about," he hedges, moving to the counter to start the coffee. The kitchen is small enough that his mother can easily reach over from beside the stove to stroke the back of his head as she'd done when he was a child trying to dance around a subject. Even now it centers him. "I'm fine," he assures her sincerely.

"I think he's met someone," Gabriel butts in, shoving up onto the new granite counter top next to his brother. Scandalized at his behavior, Naomi swats Gabriel in the thigh with her spatula, and he hops down with a grin.

So few things have changed over the years, and most of them in the Novak household have come kicking and screaming. Naomi had only agreed to replace the scarred, stained wood counters once they'd started to peel with too many layers of varnish, and then only because Cain had had a banner year selling his honey, leaving them plenty of money for the expensive upgrade. If it's not beyond repair, it never leaves. Just like the sunny yellow curtains hanging on the small window over the sink. The sky blue walls. The same carved wood kitchen table that still has a large splotch of green paint at Gabriel's seat where he'd had an ill-fated singular adventure in building a model plane in his youth.

The house feels a lot smaller with all of the children grown, but Castiel sometimes sleeps in his old bedroom with the same double bed frame, surrounded by sagging bookcases he'd left when he'd gone to college, and feels like the fifty square feet are the most spacious in the world. They've had plenty of Sunday brunches that have lasted into dinners and slumber parties, because the Novak's have learned the value of not having jobs that require them to be up early on Monday's, and that's fine because Cain's dandelion wine won't drink itself. Because of this, it hadn't been as difficult to convince Naomi to replace all the mattresses for their continued comfort into adulthood as it had been to do a minor kitchen remodel.

Castiel has never felt claustrophobic in the small, two story antebellum house until this moment when his brother had called him out on a guess that he wasn't a good enough liar to deny. Now he feels like he's in the basement, caught on all sides by his family's interest.

"Castiel?" Naomi sounds timidly hopeful.

Focusing entirely on the coffee dripping into the carafe, Castiel relents. "I had an encounter yesterday."

"Bless my baby buttcheeks!" Gabriel sing-songs. "I was right!"

Naomi tuts at him, but she's used to his ridiculousness. "You don't have to tell us anything if you're not ready," she assures her youngest.

"It's not that," Castiel says, though, really, he has a perfect out. Why didn't he take it? It's just that... well, thinking about Dean makes him less itchy in his soul. He opens the squeaky cabinet door over the coffee maker to pull down the chipped, ancient mugs that Cain's father had made and hand painted decades ago. With bees and sunflowers, of course. "It's just that it's not much of anything. I had a leak in my roof in the middle of the night, and the handyman who came to fix it was... compelling."

Snort-laughing, Gabriel says, "so much porn starts that way. You sure you weren't - "

"Gabriel, I will throw you out of this house alone and hungry if you insist on being vulgar," Naomi says, though she appears to be fighting a smile. She's always been so good at that. "If your mouth must languish crudely, at least put your hands to good use and slice all that for the fruit salad." She bumps him with her hip to get him moving to the kitchen island where a bowl of fresh fruit waits to be rinsed and cut.

"I wasn't watching porn," Castiel snaps. "It was a terrible situation with my roof during those awful storms, and there's a grand total of one twenty-four hour emergency repair service in my area."

Cain enters the kitchen then, filling the room with his presence. "What happened to your house?" he asks. "Anything I can help with?"

"Not this time," Castiel smiles. They both know that Cain's too old to climb onto roofs anymore, but as an involved father, he must offer. It's appreciated since Castiel never inherited his father's ability to stop a dripping sink or change a ceiling fan. "My roof is old, and it's got a leak that's been building for ages now. I heard the dripping in the library in the middle of the night. Came down the hall to rain pouring through the attic ceiling all over my books and papers. I panicked and called the only listing in the Yellow Pages for emergency after hours services. Winchester Roofing and Repairs."

Cain's eyebrows go up when Castiel pauses to pour them all cups of coffee. He's not sure that he likes the look of recognition on his father's face. "John Winchester is still around?" he asks. "Forgive me, I thought I heard that he died several years ago."

Something squeezes around Castiel's heart. "You knew him?"

"Yes," Cain beams fondly. "He helped me build the garden decades ago. When you were still in diapers, in fact. Man had a good head for design. Didn't know the first thing about bees, but he said he'd help build the hives and everything. The very next day he's got these blueprints drawn up. Where to put the flower beds, the hives, the shed, everything. He'd spent the whole day and night researching beekeeping and promised I'd have the best garden in the country. Damn close to the truth once it was built and operating."

Dean's father had been responsible for the Novak family's livelihood? That's... wonderful . The father saves the father and the son saves the son. It's almost poetic.

Not that Stull, Montana is a thriving metropolis with dozens of options for services. Not locally, anyway, though Bozeman isn't too far. But they do have enough small town pride to support as many local businesses as possible. It's the sort of pride that leaks into your bones and becomes subconscious after a while. Castiel even sometimes balks at eating out in the local establishments near the university when he's too busy to pack his own lunch in the morning since it's not in Stull. It's how they are, and part of what makes the town such a beautiful place.

So it's not surprising that Cain had found someone local to help him set up his business, though Castiel had figured he'd called in some sort of specialist to get it all done back in the day. And Cain Novak is certainly the only beekeeper in the area.

Castiel turns himself back to the topic of conversation. "His son, Dean, still runs the business."

"Never met him," Cain says.

"You might," Gabriel teases. "Cassie has a crush on him."

"Oh?"

Castiel watches Anna out in the yard while he collects his thoughts. She's suited up to check on the bees. Out of all of them, she's the one who has shown the most interest in possibly helping Cain with them when he wishes to retire. Or partially retire. Full retirement isn't possible for a man like Cain. "Dean's an intriguing man," Castiel says neutrally.

"An alpha?" Naomi asks. She's liberal where love is concerned, even if she not-so-secretly wishes that Castiel will have the honor of bonding traditionally someday.

"Yes," he confirms.

"Bonded before?" Gabriel inquires cheekily.

"Gabriel!" Naomi makes a disgusted noise.

"I wouldn't know, I've only met him twice," Castiel says shortly, if only to convince his mother beyond a shadow of a doubt that he'd never be improper enough to see whether or not Dean has a bonding scar. His imagination has run a little wild, but no one needs to know about it.

Tactfully, Naomi asks, "are you going to ask him out?"

That stops Castiel in his mental tracks. He's specifically been avoiding that train of thought, except for, "not while he's working for me."

Before anyone can answer, Gabriel pauses slicing strawberries. "Life ain't getting any longer." No one says anything for a moment. Gabriel had been bonded once and usually won't so much as allude to it under pain of death. So Castiel does listen when his brother sounds so serious. Anna's a beta, so she won't bond anyone. All that Gabriel will say about his gender these days is that he's jealous of Anna not being able to bond.

There's silence except for the sound of chopping fruit and onions sizzling to brown in the skillet. Cain breaks it finally. He has the same tactful tone Naomi used when he says, "well, maybe you can... try. See what happens. If you're interested enough."

Castiel nods, not really trusting himself to speak for some reason. He's definitely caught the double meaning. Try and see if he can bond. If not... However, it satisfies the requirement of acknowledgement. Anna comes in shortly thereafter to save him, anyway, thankfully having dozens of questions about the bees, which Cain is happy to speak long - and loudly - about.

***

Sunday is Dean's day. No one calls, no one texts, and if they try, they get ignored. It's the best day ever. Dean might proclaim his business to run 24/7/365, but he tries his best to keep Sunday free. His father had taught him the art of putting people off years ago. Most potential clients won't call on a Sunday for anything unless it's a true emergency, and when it's not, either the afterhours fee gets them to reconsider, or an incredibly apologetic creative lie about already being booked does. So these days, he's as free as he likes on the Lord's day.

This particular Sunday he spends reading. At first because he doesn't want to keep Castiel's book for too long. The repairs won't last more than a week, tops, and he'd hate to leave the story in the middle when the omega had looked so excited to know what Dean actually thought about it. Thus, here he is lazing around in his pajamas, lengthwise on the sofa with a large cup of coffee, book propped up on one of the decorative pillows, ill-fitting reading glasses slipping low on his nose.

So far he's kind of unimpressed with this Darcy character. Affecting the worst nasally English accent that he can, Dean sneers, "'She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.' Is that so, Darcy? Well, you can lick my pristine taint. I hope Lizzy tells you she's too good for you, because she fucking is."

She kind of does, too. Dean likes her more and more. It's not a bad read at all once he gets used to the style. Dean doesn't know much about the era or other popular fiction of the time, but Jane Austen is an engaging writer. It certainly is insightful to read about a lifestyle he couldn't even imagine living. He chuckles to himself thinking that he never would have been able to marry a woman like Elizabeth Bennet. Even though his trade makes him plenty of money, he'd still be considered the riff raff.

It's intriguing to Dean considering the characters, that the poorer and middle class in these books are a damn sight more honorable than the rich. All they're worth is gossip, backstabbing, and snark. If all his life consisted of parties, walks in the park, and wife hunting, he would have died of boredom.

Then again, he's not sure how much he can talk seeing as how he doesn't put the book down except to make himself lunch and dinner. He turns on Netflix to round out the evening, but he'll definitely be finished with the book before he's completed all of the repairs. And he feels really good about that.

When he gets up Monday morning, he's ready to go. Doesn't even take much convincing from the snooze button to get him up and moving. And he's not even going to try and make it seem like there's no reason for it. His interest is harmless. Might as well let the good times roll.

After breakfast, two cups of coffee, and a review of his work emails, he's off in the loaded down company truck to Castiel's house exactly on time. The professor answers the door quickly like he'd been waiting. Dean tries not to let his figurative alpha tail wag too much. "Morning, Cas," he says cheerfully.

"Good morning, Dean," Castiel answers, appearing mildly startled at the enthusiasm being directed at him. "Please come in."

Dean wipes his feet on the welcome mat before following dutifully to the kitchen. Castiel offers him a cup of coffee and the seat at the table that isn't swamped with a leather messenger bag, files stuffed with papers, and books. "What are you teaching today?" Dean asks, trying his best to make himself comfortable while being fully aware that he's not even a true guest in this house.

"Intro to Russian Literature and a World Literature class. I tried to cram all of my entry level classes early in the week and leave my advanced ones until the end. It's an invigorating way to end the week."

Sipping his coffee, trying not to be nosy, Dean asks, "you don't like the intro-level stuff much?"

"I do," Castiel corrects. "Some classes are better than others, but a good enough teacher can engage most of the students, regardless of their intended area of study. I feel that since I'm required to teach it, and they're required to take it, we might as well all enjoy it as much as possible. There's a story for everyone, if you take the time to find it."

Hell of a thing to say. Something which Dean admires greatly. Sam had hated his English classes at Stanford. He'd constantly complained that the lectures were boring, the professors too preachy. Idly, Dean wonders what his little brother would have thought of the class had Castiel been his teacher. "It's good to love your work, even when doing the stuff you don't always enjoy."

Castiel grins as he packs his bag. "I completely agree. Ah. By the way. Is your father by chance, John Winchester?"

Dean startles at the mention of his father's name. "He was, yeah. Died ten years ago or so."

Castiel looks pained. "I'm so sorry." His father had heard correctly, after all.

"It's okay," Dean answers. "It's been a while. Why do you ask?"

Castiel sits down near him, holding his coffee in both hands. "I was at Sunday dinner with my family and I mentioned the mishap with the roof. My father says that John helped him build his bee garden when we first moved here in 1981. I was barely three at the time, so you must have been young, too."

"'Bout that," Dean agrees. "Small world. Small town."

Castiel chuckles. "Yes, well, that garden has made him the most profitable beekeeper in the county. It's kept our family thriving."

"That's a damn fine thing to know," Dean grins. "Sure Dad'd be pleased to hear it."

They smile at each other for longer than is polite. It doesn't bother Dean. And it doesn't appear to bother Castiel, either. His spicy leather scent deepens briefly until he stands to bustle around the kitchen. "What's your plan for repairs today?"

Easy ground. Dean can deal with this without doing some mental gymnastics and spraining something. He wipes his nose to clear the tiny pheromone high. "Perfect day to play on the roof, so I should get a lot of the repairs done up there today. I can save the inside until you're around more, if you like, but I can get the rest of the tear down in the attic finished before you leave if I start now."

"Of course. Do whatever you think is best."

"Great!" Dean says brightly. He stands and brings his mug to the sink, brushing arms with Castiel, and isn't that a thrill? Yes. It is. Feels amazing, even with four layers of clothing separating them. Castiel shifts slightly, bringing them even closer as Dean slips around him. It's not indecent by any stretch of the imagination, but Dean sure does like seeing the omega's blue eyes up close, warm and friendly. Unable to resist the urge, Dean squeezes his arm as he passes by. Castiel huffs a small breath.

"Give me a shout when you're about ready to go, and I'll get on outside," Dean says.

"Sure." Dean might be imagining the way that Castiel's voice has gone a bit breathless.

Dean beats a quick retreat to go grab his tools from the truck and then make his way to the attic by himself. He's not in the habit of poking around, but he passes the master bedroom and the door is open, light on. Briefly, he pauses, not moving close to the room, but giving himself the time to get a good look inside. He smiles when he sees that Castiel doesn't make his bed. Or, he does only every now and then. It's a comfortable-looking king sized sleigh bed with a thick checkered down comforter in bold colors. It's folded down on the left side of the bed neatly, revealing forest green sheets. Several books and a tablet rest on top of it. There aren't any clothes on the floor, or clutter around, save for a glass of water on the dark stained wooden end table, and more books next to it. The walls are painted a comforting slate gray, not much in the way of decorations. No hanging pictures, but the large dresser is littered with some tchotchkes, a small crystal bowl for spare change, the clock, and a small TV, which surprises Dean somewhat. He hasn't seen the living room, but somehow can't imagine Castiel having a full entertainment center or anything similar.

It's rude to stare, so Dean reaches over his head and closes his tingling fingers around the attic pull, bringing the ladder down. Scurrying up before he gets any further ideas.

He'd gotten plenty of the work done previously, so the rest of the ruined boards and insulation are pulled up within an hour.

Then he starts taking the tarp down to get his first look at the actual roof damage. He shines his powerful flashlight over every inch of the ceiling, trained eyes keeping watch for the tiniest pinhole of light. In his notebook, he marks down a few places that might be troublesome once he's outside, but for the most part, the roof is still intact. Satisfied, he cleans up the mess he's made, stuffing the insulation into the trash bags, then breaking down the boards to a more manageable size to carry out. He makes several trips down the awful fucking ladder to haul everything to the truck to take to the dump for recycling later. He catches sight of Castiel getting ready for his day, buzzing around his bedroom, the kitchen, coming out of his office. He smiles at Dean every time they pass each other, and Dean really enjoys it.

On his last trip up before he's done indoors, he's given the most pleasant shock of his life. Castiel is in his bedroom with the door still open, buttoning a light blue dress shirt. He's going from the bottom up, only about three buttons done, so when Dean's gaze flicks automatically to the room, he gets an eyeful of a tanned, strong, naked chest. Castiel hasn't noticed the alpha, and continues to finish dressing, pulling a dark gray cardigan over his head rather than unbuttoning it. It rucks his dress shirt up, and holy shit look at those abs . Dean's knees are suddenly weak, for once not because they're actually getting weak thanks to decades of manual labor.

He could probably do something really stupid really quickly if he keeps creeping on the omega, so Dean makes a break for it as quietly as possible. He'd feel dirty about spying, but man alive , he doesn't. Not in the slightest. Professional or not, he's got eyes and can appreciate the good things in life. Castiel Novak is a damn good thing.

They finish their preparations at the same time, meeting in the entryway. Castiel swings his bag over his shoulder. "How's it going so far?"

"Not bad," Dean assures him. "From inside, the roof looks okay. Maybe a few other spots that'll need new shingles, but nothing I can't handle in a couple of days."

"That's wonderful." He moves back to let Dean outside first, shutting the door behind him and locking it. The one flaw that Dean's seen to the omega so far is currently parked next to the truck. It's a disgusting cream colored monstrosity that Castiel has the audacity to call a car. Poor guy has such good taste in everything and a huge blind spot to the important things. No one's perfect.

Dean reaches into the front pocket of his gray flannel shirt to grab one of his business cards. He offers it to Castiel. "If you need anything, or have questions, give me a call. My cell number's on there. I don't like being up on roofs after dark, so I might be gone by the time you're back. If so, same time tomorrow?"

"Sure," Castiel says. "My schedule is the same until Thursday. I have early classes on Thursday and Friday; home by two."

"Sounds good." He scuffs his boot on the driveway, unreasonably embarrassed at saying goodbye. "Have a good day, Cas."

There's that tempting smile again. "You too, Dean."

***

Dean's pretty glad for the small heat wave they're expecting to last the rest of the week. He does have to wear a knitted hat, lined leather coat, and his extra thick work gloves, but without a cloud in the endless stretch of blue Montana sky, being outdoors is decidedly wonderful from what one would normally expect at the end of January. Which is good, because with a snow storm predicted to head in at the end of the week, Dean needs all the sunshine he can get for a few days. He whistles while he inspects the roof in its entirety. The small areas of weakness he'd seen inside won't be much of an issue to reshingle, though the main trouble spot that had caused the indoor flood is bad news. Glancing around, Dean notices an old Douglas fir partially overhanging the house. Looks like it might have lost a branch or two and ripped up a few shingles, causing rot underneath and the gradual weakening of the roof. It's not an unmanageable area to fix on his own in good time, but it's certainly a big project. He'll be working until sundown at least today and tomorrow.

Time for the music. Dean takes off his gloves, fishes his cellphone out of his pocket, plugs in his earbuds, tugs the gloves back on, and cranks it up to eleven. Perfect. There's a rhythm to this sort of work that he loves. Pulling up the shingles to be replaced, checking the wood underneath, removing what can't be repaired. He's careful with every step he takes, though he's anchored himself for safety. He remembers John years ago taking a fall off of an icy roof, and he'd never quite been the same afterwards. Constant back aches after three surgeries to repair his spine. Legs that never totally unstiffened in cold weather. This type of work is hard enough on a body to not add to the problems with accidents, excellent health insurance or not.

It's slow going, and doesn't look like he's accomplished much but the time the sun begins to dip, but Dean's pretty sure that he can probably knock out the roofing work tomorrow and get started on the inside Wednesday, if Castiel is comfortable leaving him alone. Which he might. Dean's a trustworthy kind of guy. Plus, he's fairly certain that Castiel's done at least a Google search on him to read the online reviews. He doesn't seem the type to go with a handshake and a smile. Which is smart. All his Yelp reviews are stellar. But if Castiel can't leave him unattended, there are worse ways Dean's spent afternoons and evenings than lounging around until the next work day.

Instead of waiting until full sunset, he calls it a day. He spreads tarps over the exposed points and tacks them down securely. He tramps back down the ladder to the driveway, grabbing the push broom to clean up the shingles he'd thrown haphazardly down. Once complete, there's plenty of time left to make a quick run to the dump, though he'd prefer to wait around until Castiel got home. Because that's not weird at all.

He settles on texting since he'd saved Castiel's number the first night he called. All done for the day . Hope your classes went well. See you tomorrow same time.

He's loaded everything into the bed of the truck, blasting the heat to warm up when his phone pings. Castiel has replied, thank you for your hard work. Classes went well. See you tomorrow. :)

Grinning, Dean cranks the truck into reverse, already looking forward to it.

Chapter Text

Castiel loves teaching. Truly, he does. Academia is where he is meant to be; he's never once doubted that. However, today he wishes that he was at home. He wishes he didn't have to force himself to focus on his notes, prepare for the lecture. At least his classes today are good groups. They carry on the conversation without constant prodding, and rarely get out of hand so that he has to control them and remind them to remain civil. He stares at his desk calendar in his well-appointed office, sort of angry at himself for not being the kind of person to cancel his classes unless it's extremely necessary. His thoughts keep drifting back to Dean. Dean Winchester who smiles a lot, takes a cup of coffee with thanks when offered, is strong and self-assured, proud of his work, handsome when bending over a lot in his tight jeans with that tool belt cinched tight on his hips... stop it.

He agitatedly gathers up his notes, not thinking about Dean's dandelion scent.

He agitatedly stacks his books, pushing the image of Dean's bowlegs climbing the ladder out of his head.

He agitatedly refills his travel mug with coffee, determined to not think about how the gold flecks in Dean's green eyes stand out when he smiles.

He agitatedly stomps out of his office, arms full, thinking about anything other than how much he wants to touch Dean's callused hand again.

His admin assistant gives him a strange look as he passes by, which he agitatedly ignores. He's marginally calmer when he makes it to his classroom. Twenty people await him, and that centers him as he approaches his desk, placing his supplies neatly on top. He doesn't sit because he's afraid he'll just jitter out of his skull. He needs to pace.

"So!" He begins falsely-cheerful. "For the weekend reading I asked you all to find some common themes in the Greek myths you were assigned. Did anyone discover any that particularly stood out?"

Alex, the perennial good student, raises her hand immediately. Castiel nods. "Alex, please tell us your thoughts."

She side eyes her boyfriend for a split second and then says, "well, I think love and longing are extremely prolific in these stories. Finding your true mate, being rewarded with everlasting love. Love is like a prize to be won. All the heroes put life and limb on the line to get it. Even the Trojan War was started over the right to win the bond of a woman. So, yeah. It was in pretty much all the assigned stories."

Claire, Alex's half-sister and constant challenger, cuts in. "That's such gendered talk."

Spoken like the true president of the A/B/O Alliance. A person or two roll their eyes at her since it's a common song with her, but most turn to her with interest. For the moment Castiel gives her her head. If she's not feeling quite so adversarial, she's a challenging thinker and brilliant. But it's difficult to tell which one will prevail until she gets on a roll. "Elaborate," he allows.

Claire leans forward, elbows on the desk. "Alex is talking about these Greeks finding the 'perfect mate.' Like somehow bonding and mating is better than falling in love. Like the love between an alpha and omega is better than what betas can have. It's not."

The ancient Greeks would disagree with you , Castiel thinks silently.

Thankfully, Alex picks up the slack. "That's not what I'm saying for us, but it was true for the Greeks back then." Castiel hmm's his agreement, which encourages her. "We're not talking about right and wrong for our modern standards. We're talking about what the ancient Greeks thought. And they thought that alphas and omegas were direct descendants of the gods. Kind of like they were demigods themselves. Betas were normal humans. We modern people know that's not true, but they felt differently. And they wrote epic poems and plays all about normal people being granted the right to mate with a descendant of the gods and becoming The Omega. It's the ultimate reward."

"It's stupid," Claire says. "Alphas and omegas want to find their true mates and all, but betas believe in true love, too. And it's just as strong and important and real as a blood bond."

Adversarial, it is, then. Castiel jumps back in so as not to let the discussion derail completely from literature. "Well, yes, that's true to us," he says agreeably. "Modern people know that alphas and omegas aren't descendants of the gods. We didn't come from different bloodlines derived of supernatural powers. It's simply different mutations in human genetics from eons of evolution. And we see the trend of coming to the truth over the years right in world literature; the oldest tales all needing mysticism to explain what they could not yet explain by science."

He's proud to see that most of the students are engaged in the lecture he didn't mean to give, all furiously taking notes.

But his mind is finally getting focused, so he continues, "ancient Greeks, along with many other ancient cultures have myths of alphas and omegas having godly blood. In the Middle Ages in Europe, for example, most people believed that alphas and omegas were of royal blood in some way. The Native Americans believed that Were qualities were blessings by the spirits and nature when they did right by the land, living in true harmony. Many African myths suggest that betas were cursed by deities who were jealous of the living, and punished them by making reproduction and the propagation of the species more difficult."

Claire scoffs. "But reading shit like this just reiterates the excuses people use today to treat betas like second class citizens."

"I respectfully disagree." Castiel leans back on his desk. "We've reached a level of enlightenment beyond these old stories. But they're still important."

Alex raises her hand again. "I agree with you, Dr. Novak. Yes, some people still use ancient texts like the Bible to keep down betas and stuff, but for all those people, there are ten more people like us in this class, taking apart the stories, finding the flaws in thinking, and moving ourselves forward."

Another student - definitely a future English major or Castiel will eat his metaphorical hat - pipes up, "literature can be a tool like anything else. The canon stories that survive to make it into our anthologies tend to have moral lessons in them. We can use those lessons to teach tolerance, or cherry pick the quotes and parts to support our bias, like often happens with the Bible, as Alex mentioned before. But the reason that we come to college and take literature classes, is so that we can read the stories and think critically about them, and hopefully come to the proper conclusions ourselves, and take those into the world. It's not stupid. It's important."

The feeling Castiel has listening to them talk must be what a proud parent feels like. The students enter a lively debate, all respectful. He fields a question or two during the rest of the hour, but mostly he's able to live in his own head. He watches them interact, less zeroed in on their words, and more how they act with each other. Alex is an omega. Her boyfriend is a beta. They've been together for quite some time now, from what Castiel can gather. Claire doesn't seem to care at all about their ability to bond, though she's extremely liberal. Alpha. A wonderful club president. None of them appear at all bothered by a less traditional couple, and Castiel assumes the parents on both sides approve since there's no hint of hiding their relationship. It's wonderful, really. Castiel does enjoy seeing how liberal the younger generations grow all the time. It certainly makes him think.

Many of his students probably think he's a stuffy old man. Yes, he's largely a traditionalist. He's been raised that way for forty years. It's not that his family looks down on people who don't subscribe to the older ways. They are a "love is love" type of family. But they also believe that God and biology intends for alphas and omegas to bond and mate as much as possible. Propagate the species. They're the only couples who can, so it's their duty if a compatible loving mate presents themselves.

Even though Castiel is beyond breeding age now, he's still stuck in the mating mindset. His whole life he's been brought up with an order to things. You find a potential mate. You date. You scent bond. You blood bond. You mate. You marry. You love them until the end. As an omega, if he falls in love with a beta, it's fine. Some of the steps are skipped, but since there's no ability to bond, there's no shame in not doing it. However, Dean is an alpha. If they stay together and don't bond, that's strange to the outside world. Everyone would wonder why they didn't. If something was wrong with one of them. Even if they married, coming from a religious upbringing, to Castiel it would still feel... wrong. Like they weren't properly honoring their God-given vows. If they couldn't bond because their hormones are too low at their age, that's different. It would be unfortunate, but not necessarily a deal breaker. Thanks to his age, relationships aren't as easily clear-cut as they used to be. As they should be. All it does is confuse him more trying to consider every eventuality. Life had been a lot simpler in his twenties.

The bell rings and it shakes off the spiraling theoretical thinking. He hopes he hasn't been too absent from the rest of the discussion. None of his students act like anything's amiss, though. He wishes them all well as they file out, catching sight of Alex and her boyfriend leaning against each other, hands around their waists, as they walk out with Claire leading the way.

Maybe there's hope , he muses.

***

Dean's just about done with all of the reshingling when the music from his headphones cuts off to the shrill ring of an incoming call. He presses the call button on the headset. "Winchester Roofing and Repairs, this is Dean."

"It's Benny."

Dean plops down near the edge of the roof, feet catching on the rung of the ladder for support. "Hey, man, what's up?"

"Had a cancellation tomorrow afternoon, so if you wanna come in earlier for your physical, the spot's yours. Having an official time'll get all your test results back faster."

"Actually, yeah, that'll work for me. I've got a free afternoon."

"Sounds good." There's a small beat. "You really sure you're okay?"

Dean sighs. "You didn't cancel a patient for my sake, did you? I told you I'm fine, and I meant it."

"Whatever you say. See you tomorrow."

Benny disconnects the call without answering the question, which is highly suspicious. Still. The sooner he knows, the better. He's not the type to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Today, Dean takes his time with the cleanup. He makes an unnecessary extra inspection on the roof to ensure it's good to go. Then he lingers longer than is reasonable sweeping up the tossed shingles. Then he organizes the tools in his truck. Then he loads the bags for the dump. He'll have to haul it tomorrow because by the time his lingering becomes loitering, it's totally dark. And Castiel still isn't home. Sucks, but he's run out of excuses to stay, so he texts again. Finished with all the outside work today. I'll bring over supplies for phase 2 tomorrow do what I can in the morning. The rest Thursday when you get home. What time works?

Castiel's response is as quick as before. Any time after 2 on Thursday. Thank you for your hard work. :)

He's starting to dig the emoticons. Great. I'll stop by 9 tomorrow.

Sam calls while he's on his way home. He puts it on the car's speakers. "Hey, Sammy."

"Benny called," Sam says without preamble.

Shit. Of course he did. Making mountains out of molehills. Has he really become so predictable that even the slightest deviation makes everyone, including his doctor, dial the red phone? "He tell you I'm dying?"

There's a scratching noise and then, "Dean, are you-"

"- No , for fuck's sake, I'm fine . If he breaks doctor/patient confidentiality, I'm suing you both."

"He just said he was worried! He's still our friend."

Dean groans with frustration. "All I said was that I was ready to have my annual physical. Before you rant, I know I've been bad about it, I feel fine, it's just time to get checked out. Preventative healthcare is important for old shits like myself."

Sam laughs, obviously believing him finally. "Fine, I get it. Just wanted to make sure."

He pulls into his driveway. "Whatever, man. Call you later, okay? I'm home."

"I will. We do this out of love, you know."

He knows. And he does appreciate it. "I wouldn't keep the big stuff to myself. I swear."

"Thank you," Sam says, relief evident in his tone. "Talk to you soon." He ends the call. Dean decompresses for a minute. Listens to the engine clicking while it cools. His family is so fucking nosy. It's probably mostly his fault. Without many friends, few adventures outside of work on the weekends, it's natural. But it ain't as bad as they're making it out to be. He's hardly a hermit. It's just... hard to get out there sometimes. He doesn't even know where to start.

No use wallowing. He can change, or he can let his family feel the need to check up on him to make sure he's still alive.

It's time. No more putting off the rest of his life outside of work. Everyone else can manage the balance; so can he.

However, he's got no clue what that means. While securing his tools in the garage, he thinks about it. Sam and Jo do yoga. Go to movies. Out to dinner. Well, yoga sucks, and he's not pathetic enough to go on dating activities by himself.

While stripping down for his shower he recalls that Jody and Donna go to the shooting range a lot. Occasionally they travel to Jody's cabin to hunt and hike. Those things are more appealing. Maybe he'll ask to tag along to the range sometime soon.

While rifling through his clean, but unfolded laundry for a pair of pajama pants and t-shirt, he tries to think about what Bobby and Ellen get up to. On second thought, he probably doesn't want to know.

Baby steps. No sense in pulling his hair out when he's got plenty to occupy himself for the evening. It's getting late, so instead of cooking, he microwaves leftover lasagna to eat while he dives back into the adventures of Elizabeth Bennet. Anyone who says evenings spent in the company of reheated food and good books are a waste can kiss his ass.

***

Castiel is waiting for Dean the next morning. He can't even convince himself that being up before his alarm is anything other than his omega hindbrain thrilled to see the alpha again. He knows himself too well. Mornings are curses.

Of course, Dean never disappoints. He's on the porch ringing the bell exactly on time, grinning wide, and accepting the offered cup of coffee like it's normal. Maybe what they do shouldn't exactly be called a routine, but the feeling is there. He goes to the kitchen unprompted while Castiel hangs up his leather coat in the hall closet, which his mutinous mind has seen fit to declare, "Dean's Hanger." He refuses to acknowledge that it's weird to sniff the coat and be happy that it makes Dean's pheromones permeate the other items in the closet. He doesn't wear scent dampeners, and Castiel loves that.

When he returns to the kitchen, Dean is at the sink rinsing out the empty coffee mug, after having chugged the scalding brew. The sight gives Castiel instant butterflies. He really should have cancelled his classes. "What's the plan for today?"

Dean wipes his hands on the kitchen towel and leans against the sink. It's a ridiculously attractive stance. "Well, I probably can't get much done today, but I'd like to prep the library. Pretty sure I got a big enough piece of drywall to work. I can get that replaced and let the filler cure for painting while I fix up the attic. Got all the insulation and boards already."

"That sounds good to me."

"Great. I'll go grab everything. Be back in a sec."

There's a lot of dragging and banging around from the front of the house, which Castiel welcomes as he finishes dressing for work. Another foolish fantasy to consider someone else creating noise besides him. One more harmless imagining added to the list of things Dean Doesn't Need to Know About.

By the time he's dressed and checking on Dean's progress, the alpha has draped the bookcases and furniture with clear plastic sheets as well as laid an old, paint-stained cloth sheet under the ladder. His arms are stretched up with a pencil and a laser level, drawing out the lines he's going to cut on the ceiling. Castiel can't really be blamed for staring at the alpha's strong back muscles revealed when his shirt rides up. His mouth floods with saliva. He swallows hard. Shifts on his feet. It takes a few seconds to ground himself again.

Dean double checks his work with the tape measure, grunting with satisfaction. "This'll work nicely," he says. He tucks the pencil behind his ear, turns, and sits down on the second rung of the ladder. "I finished your book." He nods towards the desk where he's put it on top of the plastic. "It was good."

Castiel beams and lifts up the corner of the plastic on the desk to slide the book underneath. "What did you think?"

Dean kicks his feet out. "So, okay, tell me if this is a stupid question."

Castiel pauses sorting his books, giving Dean his full attention. "Okay?"

"Mr. Darcy," Dean says without preamble. "Was he the omega?"

Castiel's eyes pop wide. His mouth falls open.

"He wasn't?" Dean taps his head back. "Man, really? I was wrong about that? Come, on! I thought for sure he had to be an omega, and Lizzy was the alpha." He scratches at his head, agitated. "Guess that would have been weird for someone to write back then, though, huh? Female alphas and male omegas pairing off weren't something they talked about in polite conversation in those days."

"I..." Castiel sounds strained.

Dean feels his face heating. "Sorry. Guess you're used to all those intellectuals in your classes. I never studied any of this, so all I know is the questions I have from reading it."

Castiel's hand on his knee stops his rambling in its tracks. When Dean has the courage to glance up, Castiel has a sort of glint in his eye like he's about to seriously nerd out. Add that to the buttery warm leather scent, and Dean's more than ready to be schooled. "On the contrary, you're asking a brilliant question," he says excitedly. "One that I assure you no one in my class has bothered to ask. You see, one of the issues with people who study literature and the climates of the eras in which it was written, tend to ignore much of the subversive themes when they actually appear. When they read Pride and Prejudice , their first instinct is to suspect that the 'typical' romance roles are reversed. It seems so obvious because of how Elizabeth and Darcy act. But because it seems so obvious, modern readers throw the idea out the window, since they assume there's no way that Jane Austen would have been so blatant with such a scandalous notion. They assume her book would never have been published had she done such a thing in her day."

"But that..." Dean mulls it over for a second. "I mean, isn't that true? If she's actually telling the obvious story, how did she get published?"

Castiel grins wickedly. "Because even readers in her day thought the same that we do. It's never explicitly stated which secondary gender either of them has; just that they have one. And the fact that Austen was known for writing atypical women for her time. She herself never married, never had children. I very much believe that her personality would have led her to use the prejudices of her time to hide a hugely controversial idea in plain sight. She would have expected the vast majority of her readers to interpret it the same way the vast majority of readers today do."

"Huh. So, then why write it? Just for her own benefit?"

Castiel steps closer, his bright pheromones wafting to Dean. He's never smelled so happy before. Dean thinks, what an adorable nerd . "Dean, that book was written for you . For people like you. For people who needed to read it in a subversive way."

"Why would I-?" Dean starts, and then stops when Castiel smirks pointedly. Right. Unmated middle-aged, bisexual alpha, hooking up with an unmated, middle-aged, bisexual, male omega. That's just about everything that would have given polite society a heart attack barely a hundred years ago, especially when male omegas and female alphas were kept out of sight and never mentioned out loud. "Nah, that makes sense. Written for you, too, I guess. It's pretty badass."

" Yes !" Castiel smacks Dean's knee enthusiastically.

Warming up to the knowledge that he's not saying idiotic things about Castiel's passion after all, he says, "I mean, reading it that way is awesome. Alphas can see that it doesn't matter what primary gender the person is. Even now we're still stuck a lot on this idea that somehow male-identifying alphas are somehow better and more pure than any other alphas. But we're not."

Castiel smiles like Dean's won all the gold stars ever. "That's exactly right. Austen took a risk and made a real effort to equalize secondary genders. She was a few centuries ahead of her time, but that's what makes her so impressive for the stories she had the courage to tell."

"Was she an alpha, too?"

Castiel shrugs, returning to organizing his desk. "No one knows. She took that secret to her grave. If she'd married and reproduced, we would have found out, but it's all speculation."

"What do you think?"

"Honestly? I think she may have been an alpha. It would explain why she chose to stay single."

"She would have had a hard time," Dean says regretfully.

Castiel nods. "Unfortunately. If she was an alpha, and discovered, she would have lost her social standing, book contracts, everything. Society would have shunned her."

"Human beings can be pretty shortsighted and shitty." Dean drops his tape measure down into the toolbox with force.

"Sometimes," Castiel agrees mildly, pausing their conversation to double check the class materials in his satchel. After a moment, he says quietly, "some of my older coworkers look down on me for being an unmated male omega. Though, I think they don't know which to disapprove of more: the fact that I'm a male omega, or the fact that I'm an omega who didn't see it as his primary duty to breed."

Dean hops down from the ladder, frowning at the vulgarity. "Dude, that's so... nineteen-fucking-fifties! And like, the chances of you breeding are like, next to nothing, right? What's the point?"

With an arch look, Castiel counters, "it's the trying that counts, in this case. Then, we can blame biology or God's grace. It simply wasn't meant to be. But they tried . But if I don't even attempt to do my duty... have you never suffered any stigma, either? Surely a strong, virile, attractive alpha should have tamed a perfect omega decades ago."

Dean snorts. "Last person who said something like that to me unironically, got a black eye."

With a sharp, pleased laugh, Castiel says, "I believe it."

"What about you?" Dean asks, bending down to latch the toolbox.

"No," Castiel scoffs. "The person who called me out is about eighty years old. If I punched him, I'd have to punch myself in retaliation for hitting such an elder Statesman."

The laugh turns into a cough, it's so unexpected that he chokes on his saliva. Dean pounds his chest until he can breathe properly. Castiel's dry humor is such a surprise. With exaggerated generosity, Castiel hands him a handkerchief out of his bag with a flourish. A little raspy after nearly choking to death on his own lungs, Dean grins. "Trying to murder me before we've even had our first date?"

Castiel's face transforms instantly. The humor is gone, replaced by total shock. He pales ghostly white, then beet red.

Dean can feel his heart pounding painfully behind his ribs. He hadn't meant to say that; part of him had been teasing, but it's out there now, Castiel's taken it seriously, and more than anything, he means it. However, Castiel's panicked, old ink scent thickens the air, adding to Dean's burned grass scented terror.

The mistake is only a real one for a second, because Castiel stares at the ground and says, "is that...well... are you... would you like to...?" The mumbling hangs with a hopeful question mark. Dean's not imagining that part.

FUCKING YES ! his brain screams. "Yes," his mouth says more reasonably. "I'd, uh... like to go on a date with you." Jesus, he couldn't have been more stilted than if he'd been transported into the damn Jane Austen novel. This absolutely should not be making him freak out, but here they are.

"A date? Like a... date ?"

God save them both from undiluted humiliation. "Yeah."

"Bowling," Castiel blurts, like it's literally the last thing he intended to suggest in a very long list. "I'd like to go bowling. That's a good date, isn't it?"

Dean likes to bowl. Hell, he loves it. Hasn't been in years, but it's like riding a bike, he assumes. He can't, in fact, ride a bike. But there's his brain doing that thing where it refuses to process the pertinent information, instead choosing to veer off like a headless chicken. "Yeah," he attempts. "Yeah, it's a good date."

Castiel looks slightly less terrified at Dean's confirmation. That's good. That's working in the right direction. "Would you... like to?"

"Go bowling?" They've established that. Fuck you, Winchester .

"With me."

"Yes." Hallelujah and praise from on high, he had only mostly fucked everything about this encounter up. He'd like to remind himself that he's rusty here since he hasn't been asked on a date in several years, but that's super depressing, and he'd rather remain with the embarrassment given the choice between the two, so he does. "You free this weekend?"

"I, uh, go to church on Sunday morning, but other than that um, yes. Any time." He sounds like he's just bitten his tongue.

Time to take on for the team. "Look," he starts, scratching at his ear, "I didn't mean to freak you out. I haven't asked anyone out, or been asked out in a long time, so I kinda surprised myself."

"Me, too!" Castiel agrees too quickly and too loudly. "I mean, same here. It's... I'm not sure at all how I'm supposed to proceed here."

Dean holds up his hand to stop Castiel because he seems very close to just letting the train of thought keep running until it derails into rambling. "Well, you asked me out, I said yes, so all that's left is a date and time. Since you did the hard work, I'll do the easy stuff. Friday at seven good for you? I should be... um... I mean, I'll be done with the rest of this work by then. So. Y'know."

Castiel's smile is so grateful that Dean wants to simultaneously laugh and punch himself in the face. "That sounds wonderful."

"Good," Dean says, relieved. "I'll pick you up if I'm done working here by then, okay?"

"I'll be waiting."

Now it's time for the awkward goodbye, and it goes about as advertised. They shuffle around each other. There's an embarrassed laugh or two. Dean weirdly pats Castiel on the shoulder, and Castiel breaks formation to walk out of the room, thankfully saving either of them any further idiocy.

Dean's solidly behind schedule now, but for once in his life, he doesn't care. At all. He's got a date! A real, actual date. Bowling. He can do bowling. Dinner before or after, maybe? Whatever they do, he's determined to not make it terrible. Then again, he's almost positive that Castiel is only capable of making things better.

A date.

Jesus.

What does he even wear?

***

Safely ensconced in the kitchen, Castiel now has the leisure to let mild panic set in without reservation. His hands are shaking. He sucks in huge lungfuls of air, each one slower than the last. He's got to calm down. Seriously. He's a grown man. He's been on dates before. Hell, he's been in relationships before. There's no cause for hysterics because the hottest alpha he's ever seen accidentally asked him out. Then accepted. Then got really embarrassed about it.

He should have seen it coming, he tries to reason with himself. Both of them had noticed the scent compatibility. They're the same age. It's natural.

A pleasantly dizzy spell hits him suddenly recalling that Dean Winchester likes his favorite book , and had, on top of devouring it in no time at all, asked him smart questions. Listened to his responses. Actually wanted to talk about it.

It's too good to be true.

Or not.

He deserves to be happy.

Yes.

Yes, he does.

Dean calls his name from the hall, and Castiel is much more confident approaching him after his emergency private pep talk. He gathers his school supplies and meets the alpha in the hallway. When he sees Castiel, the residual embarrassment eases off of Dean's face to his real smile. "Ready to head out?"

Castiel feels his own cheeks pull up into a genuine grin. "I am."

They walk to their cars together. Dean even opens the driver's side door for Castiel. "Have a good day," he says in that intimate tone Castiel wants to hear about a million more times.

"You, too." He hopes he sounds similar.

The way Dean releases the door and steps back to his truck seems to indicate that he has.

It's a promising move forward.

Chapter Text

Dean sits in the waiting room jiggling his right leg so much that his chair vibrates with him. A woman two chairs down glares, and he ignores her. He thumbs through a magazine he doesn't give two shits about. In the corner of the room, the automatic pheromone neutralizer on the ceiling spritzes the air at timed intervals.

Naturally, twenty minutes later, Dean's least favorite nurse, Meg, opens the door and calls, "Dean Weenchester, please."

She's known him for like, twenty years since Benny's dad was the head physician. And she's had it out for him since then. Of course, he's probably made it easy for her since he'd been a lot more easily angered in his youth. He stands and saunters over, taking an exaggerated look at her name tag. "Thanks... uh.... Egg ."

"Go back, take off your shoes, and step on the scale, asshole," she says cheerfully. He does so and she marks his weight down with glee. "Getting heavier! Nice work, champ! Room three."

She's not wrong and he's already anxious. He's not too heavy, right? Okay, so he's been slacking on watching what he eats, but his job is physically active, so it evens out! Fuck, maybe his metabolism is finally slowing down too much to justify all the fries.

Meg shoves him down in the chair then stuffs a thermometer in his mouth so hard he almost gags. Then she tells him to take off his jacket and roll up his sleeves to have his blood pressure taken. It's probably high on account of her and just being here in general. At least she's efficient and out the door quickly, telling him to strip to his boxers. Grudgingly, he does so, then hops up onto the exam table to wait some more.

Thankfully, Benny isn't in the habit of keeping his patients in suspense for ages. He's knocking on the door ten minutes later while Dean's paging through another gossip magazine. "Hey, brother," Benny greets. "How ya been?"

"Just fine," Dean answers, tossing the rag aside. "Still got Meg here, I noticed. How do you keep your business running with her? She's like the human version of a tooth ache."

Benny laughs like it's the best joke he's ever heard. "Not gonna disagree with you. But she's a damn good nurse. You should see her with kids."

"Why? Does she eat them?"

"I don't ask what my employees do in their spare time."

"Probably for the best."

Benny claps him on the shoulder, then gets down to business. After checking his pulse, lungs, stomach, and reflexes, he's downright chatty while getting the rest of the medical stuff out of the way. "So, how's life been? Saw Sam recently and he said you're still working your ass off. Push back on my hands hard as you can. Good."

"Same old," Dean says, going through the structured routine to test his muscle strength. "Thinking about maybe cutting back on my hours."

Benny quirks an eyebrow in a silent, "I'll believe it when I see it." He holds his arms out. "Press down hard as you can. Nice. How many nights are you getting an uninterrupted eight hours?"

"Most of them lately."

"Follow my finger with your eyes, don't move your head. Any new aches and pains to admit to?"

Dean shrugs. "Lower back's still been twinging. Bum knee acts up every once in a while. Not a lot, though."

Benny finishes the physical exam. "You can get dressed now. Gotta say, you seem totally healthy. Blood pressure and oxygen levels are good. Lungs clear. Heart sounds fine. Just a blood draw left."

Dean yanks his t-shirt over his head. "Do not let Meg stab me."

"Nah," Benny scoffs. "You're a friend; I'll do it myself." He goes to the drawers by the sink and pulls out the tourniquet and a pair of gloves. He fishes the glass collection vials from his lab coat pocket. He cinches Dean's arm tightly with the tourniquet, presses over the vein, and smoothly inserts the needle to draw his blood. "Sorry I probably overreacted when you called for an appointment," he says.

Keeping as still as possible, Dean answers, "yeah, it's nothing to worry about, but... okay man, I met someone."

Benny pulls the first vial and inserts the second. He's grinning wide, all teeth. "I knew it was something! Congrats, brother!" Realization dawns a second later. "Wait, that's why the blood work? You met a potential mate?"

"Yeah." He wants to be kind of embarrassed talking about this, but he's not because it feels good to have a crush after so long. "It's all new. We're going on our first date Friday. I just wanna know..."

"You wanna know the chances."

Dean nods, excited and scared.

Benny fills the last vial and sticks a band-aid over the pinprick. "Lab ain't super busy this time of year, so we should get the results back in a reasonable amount of time. I'll push it through. Your numbers last year were better than most alphas your age, anyway, so you can probably assume the best."

Dean isn't going to ask how many strings Benny is actually pulling to be able to push the lab. He needs to know. "Awesome," he says. "And could you just keep it on the down low? I don't wanna get Sam's hopes up. You know how he is."

"I surely do," Benny agrees. "All righty. We're done here. You need anything, you call. I'm serious about fishing, too."

Dean shakes his hand firmly. "We're going at the spring thaw."

"Good enough for me." He prints Dean's records and hands them over, shows him out of the room, and Dean gives his copay to the front desk feeling pretty good about most of this.

***

Thursday morning, Dean sleeps in and doesn't regret a thing. His room is warm, sheets clean, sky overcast out the window. It's supposed to start snowing finally. The winter's been way too warm for his tastes. Plus, he's got nothing besides inside work at Castiel's this afternoon, so even better. He's glad he didn't waste a bunch of money putting new snow tires on the work truck and Impala this year, instead having Bobby help him assist in putting on the used ones. They're good enough for a lighter winter.

He's about to doze again, when he cell phone rings. Lazily, he swipes to accept and presses it against his ear, not bothering to sit up. "Winchester Roofing and Repairs. Dean speaking."

"Hi! I've just started to noticed my windows leaking with cold air. The squishy stuff around them is brittle. How soon could I get someone out here to fix it, please?"

"How many windows you got?"

"Uh... probably ten? Twelve?"

"All leaking?"

"Yes, but it's really the downstairs ones that are the worst. We get a lot of light through them in the afternoon."

Dean's about to say he'll be there in twenty minutes, but he hesitates. It's weather stripping. The only problems with it failing is that she'll have to run her heater a bit longer for a few days. Pay a slightly higher energy bill. He hears John in his head from way back in the day when Dean had been working himself 24/7 and ended up neglecting his health until he'd been laid out by pneumonia for a week.

"Think about the numbers, Dean," John reminds him. "Is the money you're losing worth whatever you're gaining instead?"

Dean glances out the window. He absolutely does not want to work on reinstalling weather stripping today. He wants to eat an actual breakfast and lounge around until it's time to go to Castiel's. "Actually," he says, "I'm pretty booked until Monday. I can refer you out if you'd like, but I'd be more than happy to schedule you first thing if you can wait a few days."

"That's fine," the lady on the other end of the line says. "You've got the best online reviews, and I don't feel like taking chances. It's not so bad that I'll freeze to death in the meantime."

Dean takes her information to pencil into his day planner. He hangs up expecting to feel like a slacker. He doesn't. He feels free. He could get used to this.

Unburdened the entire morning, Dean's in a far better mood than normal when he reaches Castiel's house. The omega opens the door, and it's only then that Dean fully realizes how good of a mood he's been in, because Castiel's smile blooms wide, and he breathes in deeply, not bothering to hide the fact that he's scenting. "You smell happy," he says.

"I am happy," Dean answers, more than okay sharing his mood. He moves into the doorway, Castiel stepping back at the same time to make way. Seemingly as an unconscious gesture, Castiel touches Dean's arm lightly, stroking down to his wrist as the alpha passes by. It's casually intimate, thrilling to the alpha. Castiel isn't shy about physical contact, as he'd shown before. Appears to need it to connect on some level. Though not touchy-feely himself, Dean does, in fact, enjoy being on the receiving end.

"Did something happen?" Castiel asks as they follow their normal routine of a cup of coffee in the kitchen, despite it being after two in the afternoon. Castiel's even made an effort to keep his books and papers from overtaking Dean's normal spot. Dean says nothing about any of it, but drinks all of it in as readily as Castiel's gourmet coffee. It's like neither of them want to give up their pre-work chats, no matter how brief.

"Got a hot date tomorrow," Dean winks in answer to Castiel's question.

"Yes, you do," Castiel answers blithely. "You're really lucky. Is there something besides that, though?"

Dean sips his coffee, pleased at how Castiel gets it perfect every time. "I turned down a job today," he says.

Castiel's eyebrow quirks. "Was it a repair you particularly hate doing?"

"No," he answers breezily. "I've just always said yes to everything, if I've got the time. Thought I'd be letting everyone down if I didn't squeeze every bit of time that I wasn't sleeping with jobs to make as much money as possible. It's a kneejerk reaction now. I'm trying to get over it so I can make space for other stuff."

"Like hot dates," Castiel quips over the rim of his mug.

Dean grins, purposefully showing his canines. Castiel licks his lips, laser focused on Dean's mouth. "That, and I don't need all the damn money anymore. I used to. My brother, Sam, was at Stanford on a full ride, and after Dad died, I was the only one to provide for him. California ain't cheap, and I didn't want him missing out on networking opportunities or living in a bad part of town because he had to pay his own expenses. I got used to the life, and never really stopped. But... y'know..." he trails off, flustered a bit at laying all of this out there. But, Castiel is looking at him with an expression of admiration. His pheromones waft over, smelling... impressed. Warm and enticing to Dean.

Castiel places his coffee mug on the table. "Your family is starting to worry," he finishes.

"Yeah."

Smiling without pity, Castiel says, "Dean, you're... amazing. I'm not trying to be trite, though I realize it probably doesn't mean much coming from someone you hardly know. But, when you were talking just now, you didn't sound or smell bitter about any of it all. You were happy to do all of it; proud of being able to provide so well for your brother."

Dean thumps back against the chair. "You're right. I love Sam. He's always been willing to do more than his fair share, and I always knew he'd make me proud. He's done incredible things - still is. I'm only angry at myself for not changing sooner. I wasted some good years because I got used to everything and ignored time passing."

Castiel's smile turns introspective. "You're not the only one."

It pains Dean to see Castiel going to a melancholy place on such a nice day, so he clears his throat to make way for levity and says, "everything is dust in the wind, my friend."

Castiel barks a startled laugh. "Don't quote Kansas songs at me."

Dean laughs with him. "Wasn't sure you'd know that one."

He stands to rinse his mug, accepting Dean's empty one as well. "Music, I know. Movies and television? Not so much."

Dean stands. "Well, if we're gonna date, you're gonna learn."

"Oh?" Dean can see Castiel's lips turn up in a challenging smirk from his side profile at the sink. "Which means, I'll be educating you on classic literature in return."

Dean rolls back on his heels, stuffing his hands in his back pockets and whistling "Hot for Teacher."

Castiel throws the dishtowel at him. "Get to work, Winchester."

"Yes, sir," Dean snarks, lobbing it back.

Castiel's laugh follows him all the way up the hallway. He's got his lantern and two sets of sodium lights that he sets up in the corners of the attic to brighten it up. Dean takes all of the measurements three times to ensure a 100% perfect repair, writes the numbers down, then clambers back down the ladder to haul up his supplies.

Castiel allows him to set up the portable table saw on the empty side of the two car garage since the snow is finally starting to fall. Dean keeps the garage door up to dissipate some of the noise from the saw, and Castiel lingers with him, leaning against the passenger door of his car to watch. Dean allows it amiably, maybe showing off just a little bit, lifting the large wood sheets and adjusting his tool belt more often than is strictly necessary. He's not so oblivious to have not noticed Castiel checking out his ass. A lot. "Not keeping you from anything, am I?" he asks, pulling the dust mask down around his neck.

"Not anything I find more interesting than this," Castiel answers easily.

Dean really likes how the omega is always prepared to say what he's thinking without fear. "What, you like a strong alpha hard at work? Lots of porn starts that way, you know."

Castiel turns his nose up primly. "Why does everyone keep telling me their pornography preferences this week?"

Dean laughs, pulls up his dust mask again, gets back to work. He really doesn't want to know. The screech of the saw is too loud to talk over, anyway. He hauls the cut boards inside while Castiel follows behind with the can of ceiling paint and the filler for the library. He even stays to watch Dean cut out the sagging part of the ceiling that leaves a hole straight up to the attic. Dean's not normally self-conscious, but his perfectionism is coupling with his deep desire to impress Castiel, so he's going about all of the repairs a lot slower than he normally would. The omega doesn't seem to mind, though.

When Dean's finished with the library and ready to head back to the attic, Castiel wanders off to do other things. As he hauls the rest of the insulation into the attic, Castiel comes back into the library, calling up through the hole in the ceiling. "I'm making us both dinner, so don't argue about professionalism."

Dean leans over, grinning down. "I'm a picky eater."

Castiel plants his hands on his hips. "That usually translates to mean you hate vegetables."

He scoffs good-naturedly. "Acting like you know me."

"You'll eat what I serve you and be grateful."

He sounds so falsely stern that Dean laughs. "This is the thanks I get for fixing your house?"

"I thought you said it was your job?"

"You got a smart-ass answer for everything?"

"Yes." He turns on his heel, stalking away in mock offense, and Dean doesn't feel like he's lost the argument at all. It's nice. "One hour!" Castiel calls.

Chuckling, Dean comes back down the ladder to fix the ceiling now that all of the materials are inside and safe from the snow. It takes him the whole hour to get the drywall up and patched over with the filler. The first layer should be dry enough to sand after dinner, painted tomorrow afternoon when it's had a chance to cure. There's a little time left before dinner, but not enough to start on anything else, so Dean goes to the kitchen to wash up. He stops dead the second he steps inside.

A lot of things war for his attention all at once. First off are the food smells. Something heavenly is cooking on the range in a large pot. It smells heavily of Italian spices, so Dean guesses it's something like pasta. But underneath the humid smell of dinner, there's a scent that's far more enticing. It's the scent of a happy omega. The tang of well-loved books creeps into Dean's nose, releasing the alpha's contented pheromones in response. In the back of his mind, Dean wonders how much more overwhelming all of this would be if they were ten or fifteen years younger. At the very least he's certain he wouldn't have been able to fight back the urge to touch his omega with all the domestic bliss he's starting to be pulled under by. Mine .

But his rational mind still has a decent hold right now to remind him that he's got no claim on this man and wouldn't even be in his home if not for the professional service he provides. But his hindbrain is still able to make the thought sound vaguely dirty. He wants to kiss the back of Castiel's neck. He can kill two birds with one stone here without being completely inappropriate. Mine . Castiel is standing near the sink so Dean is able to get near him in order to wash his hands. The omega's pheromones this close calm his urge to grab and make out. But then Castiel turns his smile directly at Dean, and his resolve gets thinner. Thankfully, Castiel moves back to the stove. "How are the repairs going?"

"Good," Dean answers, soaping his hands up frantically so as to not reach out and do something regrettable. "I can finish the attic tomorrow and paint the library, and you'll be good to go."

"In time for our date?" Castiel asks with false levity.

"Sure," Dean answers, taking time to even get the grit out from under his nails. "It'll only take a couple of hours." Mine .

Castiel clears his throat. "You could... bring a change of clothes or something, if it would be easier."

Dean's chest tightens. "I could do that," he says carefully. They haven't had an awkward silence like this since they'd met. It's not actually the most unpleasant thing, in Dean's opinion, because it means his omega isn't as unaffected as he's pretending to be. That's good. Alphas tend to like a challenge. Mine .

"Sure."

To give himself something else to do, Dean pulls the dishes out of the cabinets like he has the right to be poking around in Castiel's home. It doesn't seem to insult him, though, the overstepping. He says, "what are you making?"

"A one pot pasta with chicken. Makes a lot of leftovers, and it's perfect for days I don't feel like washing a million dishes."

He can't help it. Dean's both curious about the whole one pot thing, and craving the whole interested omega thing, so he finishes setting the table and goes over to the stove. The large stew pot is filled with spaghetti, tomatoes, garlic, onions, spinach, and spices. It looks amazing with the pan cooked chicken. Castiel shifts to adjust the heat. Their arms brush. Unconsciously, Dean's fingers slip up over the omega's shirt to brush over his lower back, just briefly. "It looks awesome, thank you."

Castiel tips his weight to his right foot, leaning against Dean for a heartbeat. "My pleasure."

Mine . Why is this weirdness not weird at all? They navigate around each other effortlessly, Castiel not saying anything about the intimate touch. There's no discomfort in his scent either, rather it mellows further as he's filling the dishes that Dean's put on the table, sitting down across from him. Their eyes meet.

"Would it bother you if I said grace?" Castiel asks.

"Go ahead," Dean says. Even if it did make him uncomfortable, which it doesn't, this isn't his house. He's got no right to judge what Castiel chooses to do in his own space. He does wonder what flavor of religious Castiel is, though. Some are less... tolerant than others. He appreciates the consideration, though.

Castiel folds his hands and Dean does the same. "God, thank you for these bountiful gifts and the blessings of happiness and health in our lives. Amen."

Short and sweet. Dean can get with that. "Thank you," he says because he thinks he should.

Castiel smiles beatifically. "You're welcome. Let's eat."

Dean's no slouch in the kitchen, but Castiel has a definite flair for spices. The pasta is amazing, spinach included. The chicken is only mildly seasoned in contrast to the pasta, but dipping it into the sauce makes it perfection. It takes a pretty monumental effort to not gorge himself like a kid in a candy shop. There are three things Dean could do forever, and eating good food is one of them. "You're an incredible cook," he says gratefully.

The cozy, leather-bound parchment scent of Castiel's pleased pheromones breeze to Dean at the compliment. "I've had twenty years to practice on my own. Food is always better when you can share it."

"Yeah, well call me any time, 'cause I'm down for sharing good cooking. If you ever feel the need to grill, though... I'm definitely your man."

"I love hamburgers," Castiel offers. "And I'm terrible at grilling."

Dean puts a dramatic hand to his chest. "Man after my own heart. I'll make you a burger that'll curl your toes."

The way that Castiel colors at the offhand statement, makes it look like the simple suggestion is what's curling his toes. "I'd like that," he murmurs, focusing entirely on his chicken. Dean would think the omega's uncomfortable with the praise, but then he draws in a breath of light arousal, and he can barely swallow his food.

There's a lot of pointed staring plates after that; the conversion a bit more stilted. But they make it through like mature adults.

Castiel insists on cleaning the dishes as well, reminding Dean that he's a guest. Dean feels torn about that, and saves himself by telling Castiel he's going to finish up in the library.

It would be nice if he could calm the fuck down, but he's in Castiel's house with Castiel's scent, and they're got a date tomorrow, and Dean has to find some way to get his shit together or else the brakes will be on before they're even out of park. Which would suck. The thought is enough cold water to get his equilibrium back while he sands the first round of filler, then dry-vac's up the dust left behind. He begins removing the plastic sheeting over the items in the room that aren't in danger of being ruined by painting tomorrow.

Castiel enters the room holding a cup of tea, decaf coffee for Dean, and smelling completely normal again. To give himself something to do, he picks up one of the plastic sheets that Dean's discarded.

The silence is new and awkward again. Dean grasps around for something - anything - to break the tension. "Is Jane Austen your favorite author?"

Castiel folds the plastic sheeting carefully. "No. She wrote my favorite book, but she's not my favorite author. That honor goes to Murakami Haruki."

"Huh. Never heard of him."

With a small smile, he says, "he's not quite as famous here in the US, but he's getting there. I actually discovered him quite by accident while browsing in Barnes and Noble. I don't often keep up with modern authors, as you may have noticed." He chuckles wryly at himself. "A few years ago, my brother and I vacationed in Japan. We did the typical tourist things; visited all the temples we could across the country, stayed at ryokan , you know. I learned about their lore and traditions, and became quite interested in their storytelling. There are a few Japanese myths in the world literature class, but I was interested to read more."

Dean grins. "Even your vacations inspire you to read more? Nerd."

"Everyone's a nerd about something," Castiel counters with humor. "But, yes. I came across several of Murakami's translated novels, and bought The Windup Bird Chronicle . It was eye-opening, to say the least. On the surface, it's a simple story: a man's wife and cat go missing, and he tries to find them."

Dean snorts. "That's it?" He recognizes the glint in Castiel's eyes, which is why he asked the question in the first place.

Castiel sighs blissfully. "It is and it isn't. Murakami's writing is accessible. The stories themselves are simple because they're more character-focused, and less plot-focused. He stays in this man's head the entire time and his dissociation of the world around him because of the loss of his bond when he thinks his wife is dead. There are also very well done psychological and supernatural elements to his works that blend perfectly with his characters' intricate head spaces. I envy his talent a great deal."

Dean perks up. Here's something new to learn about the omega. "Envy it? Do you write, too?"

"Ah." Castiel's scent goes inky-embarrassed again, which only serves to intrigue Dean more. He refuses to let the question drop. "Well... in the past, I've... dabbled. Nothing much."

Sidling up beside the omega, Dean touches their arms together, feeling Castiel's instantaneous relaxation at their nearness. In a teasingly intimate murmur, Dean asks, "can I read your book, Cas?"

He knows he's hit the nail on the head when Castiel jerks away, bodily blocking his laptop from view. "No!" he cries. "It's not anything, really. Just a small... thing, which... no, Dean."

Rather than being offended, Dean laughs and knuckles Castiel's shoulder. "Whatever you call it, you should keep doing it." They're flirting again, but this is much easier. Teasing Castiel is fun, and he doesn't seem to mind.

He grumbles about being called out for a moment, then mumbles, "what are your guilty pleasures, then, if you're so interested in mine?"

Sweeping up a tarp in his arms, Dean laughs, "I don't have any. Just pleasures. And, oh, let me count the ways. Pie, my car, classic rock, anime, TV marathons, list goes on."

"That's just stuff you like," Castiel counters. "I'm talking about hobbies."

Dean drops his folded tarp on the floor and stands on it to squeeze the air out of it. "Unless you count organizing my tools in the garage, I don't really have any hobbies. That's probably my most embarrassing admittance."

Castiel flattens his tarp against his chest then places it on top of Dean's, gathering up another. "What would you do if you had time for hobbies? Which you mentioned before that you were making."

"That's a damn good question," Dean admits. "Go hunting? I don't even know."

Castiel chuckles. "If there's any way I can help, let me know."

Dean grins. "Got a copy of that Murakami book you like?"

"I'm already a wonderful influence on you."

"Only until I learn to knit or something," Dean quips.

"I know how to do that, too."

The look Dean gives him is nothing short of fond. "Why am I not surprised?"

***

Dean spends the better part of an hour wondering if Castiel thinks about him a lot when he's gone. Like this, laid out in the dark cataloging the high and low notes in his pheromones. Maybe touching himself. Just a little. Remembering the smiles. The flirting. Stroking himself to the instinctual recollection of arousal. Dipping their toes into domesticity.

God, it had felt so good. Feels so good.

Castiel makes him hard, and it's fantastic. He's too old and pent up to feel guilty about it, so he uses both hands. Left hand massaging his knot, right hand gently pumping his hard dick. Imagining it's Castiel's hands on him. Could be his mouth. Either works.

His eyes slip closed to the fantasy of Castiel naked, hard, panting, dripping slick, riding him hard. Dean knows he could probably do it forever. He can picture Castiel's strong thighs under his hands, tight core muscles working to bring them both to completion.

Castiel in heat, begging for his knot over and over. Taking every drop of his come.

He's so close, he can't even keep the fantasies under control. It's one after another, until the deepest recesses of his brain push forward one of the fantasies he's never even been brave enough to ask for before. But maybe Castiel ... he dreams of Castiel coating his long fingers with his own slick, reaching between them, shoving inside of Dean, twisting oh fuck ! His orgasm hits sudden and hard, painting his stomach and the sheets with his come. He clenches tightly, milking his knot until there's nothing left.

He's almost dizzy by the time he starts to wind down. He can barely function as he uses the sheet to wipe himself, then rolls to the other side of the bed so he doesn't have to sleep in the wet spot. Drifting off to sleep, the one thing he tries not to think about the omega is how much he wants him in his bed just to sleep. Just to have him there.

Chapter Text

Castiel is in a bit of a predicament when Dean leaves. It's a strange miasma of anticipation and loneliness. They're seeing each other tomorrow and having their first date, but in the meantime... his empty cup is in the sink, there are extra dishes in the dishwasher. Little things that are making him happier than they should right now. He'd allowed himself to indulge a little too far and had almost ended up humiliating himself half way through a pleasant dinner. But Dean had touched him like a mate would.

Well, okay, perhaps that's slightly dramatic. He may be old fashioned, but it was just a touch. Over his clothes. On his back. Lower back. Where he's particularly sensitive. Dean doesn't know that. Arg ! He's such a perfect alpha. Which is strange all by itself. In his younger years, Castiel probably wouldn't have given him the time of day, no matter how good he smelled.

He can picture Dean in high school. Perhaps not a full-on jock, especially since he mentioned dropping out and getting a GED later. However, he had to have been popular. Castiel's certain that Dean's charisma has always been there. And it's the moth to the flame kind. He laughs a little thinking about what might have happened if they'd met in high school. Dean's just turned forty, so Castiel is a year ahead. And he knows Dean grew up in the area. Have the school districts changed? If not, they might have gone to school together. It's not like there are many to choose from out here, anyway.

He's falling into another speculation black hole. To assuage his curiosity because he knows himself and knows he won't sleep until it's sated, he goes into the library to the top shelf of the bookcase nearest the door. Neatly lined up are all of his 13 yearbooks. His parents had insisted. He pulls down Stull North High School, 1993. It's the last year that Dean and him would have overlapped. He flips pages through the senior photos and laughs out loud at his own. "What a nerd," he murmurs at his neatly combed hair and tie. Then he pages back to the juniors. Four classes in, he finds what he's looking for. Dean Winchester. Castiel's heart jumps. Wow .

He looks... not too different. His hair is shorter now, grayer, but it's the same confident smile. The same green eyes. Is that... Castiel squints at the small photo. The same leather jacket? Really? It looks big on him, which means it has to have some special meaning. With a soft smile he runs his thumb over the photo. "I wonder how many hearts you broke back then? I didn't even know you existed. How strange is that? I wonder what you would have thought of me."

Nostalgia setting in, Castiel pulls out his office chair to sit and peruse the rest of the yearbook. The back pages are full of candid photos taken by the yearbook committee over the entire year. He's in a few from when he chose drama as an elective. There's a two page spread about the big spring play that brings back warm memories. The shop club had even helped them build the sets from scratch. There's a picture of him and Anna painting one of the risers with blackout paint. It had taken two full weekends to build the set, and he still remembers how fun it was.

He chuckles at another group photo after they'd all finished. Shop club, AV club, some of the SGA members who built the homecoming floats, along with the whole cast and crew all smiling proudly at their accomplishment.

Castiel starts. Is that Dean in the photo? It is . Same irresistible grin, arm flung around Anna and someone Castiel doesn't recognize, standing about five people away from him. He doesn't even remember this! Small world. Small town. Does Anna remember any of this? He almost can't believe how close they'd been to meeting back then. Would it have been different? Was it different? Had they talked? Worked on something together? He has no clue, and Dean hadn't even sparked the vaguest of recollections when he'd shown up to repair the house. Castiel hadn't even recognized the name. Maybe he hadn't given Dean a second glance back then. Hadn't even considered...

It's not unreasonable to assume they might not have had contact. There are about thirty people in the wide angle photograph. But still... all this time! It could have been so much different! And Anna had talked to him at least once. He should call her sometime and ask.

It's stupid to feel regretful about a missed chance that happened nearly twenty-five years ago, but it's Dean. And, oh, is Castiel ever regretful. It would have been nice. Or who knows? That young, they might have done as most high school romances do, and faded out before they reached a meaningful bond.

He carefully slides the yearbook back onto the shelf. He glances to the desk, noticing his handkerchief. The one he'd loaned Dean. He picks it up and brings it to his nose before he even thinks about what he's doing. He must have left it behind today because it still smells noticeably of dandelions and fresh grass.

He tries not to over process as he carries it with him to his bedroom. Drops it on his pillow as he passes the bed to the bathroom. Going through his routine, he comforts himself reasoning why he would have missed out on Dean. If he'd caught the scent of the outdoors, as appealing as it was, he would have dismissed it as long-term incompatible. Pheromones develop to be reminiscent of personalities; and withdrawn bookworm Castiel would not have seen the point of pursuing someone like outgoing Dean. Teenagers are much more likely to base their social circles on a broader set of cues that are more superficial. There's nothing wrong with that. Not until you're taking a trip down memory lane and feeling vaguely like you've wasted twenty-five years of possibility, though.

He spits out his toothpaste. Don't be ridiculous . It's difficult advice to follow.

When he tucks himself into bed, he falls asleep with the handkerchief balled tightly in his fist underneath his pillow.

***

Friday is Castiel's favorite day with his favorite class. This semester's Advanced Creative Writing seminar is full of talented students. They're good at constructive criticism and don't leave it all up to Castiel to point out their strengths and weaknesses. Plus, they tend to all write out of their comfort zones quite readily, so it's not the same story ten different ways every two weeks. Today is a discussion week, so there are no new stories, which Castiel is glad for, because it's Friday and he has a date tonight, and that's all kinds of distracting.

Luckily his ten seminar students are on point. The last writing topic had been of particular interest, being that it was to write a short urban fantasy taking place in their family neighborhoods. Since not all of them are from Stull, or even Montana, the discussion about different upbringings is quite lively.

At the end of the three hour class, Castiel changes his mind about their next assignment. "I have your writing assignment for next month, if any of you are feeling the need to get ahead," he announces. "No word count goal, but keep it as short as you can manage, please." He stands and goes to the whiteboard to write, "First dates that last forever."

The class giggles a little. Grinning, Castiel turns to them. "I realize this is a bit more... unstructured and romantic than you're used to, but I know you'll wow me. Feel free to approach this topic however you see fit. Prose, poetry, letters, play, what ifs, how to's, whatever makes you most comfortable this time."

Adam raises his hand. "How about you, Dr. Novak? Will you have some wisdom for us this time?"

The rest of the students laugh at his teasing, and even Castiel can't be insulted. He knows how uptight he comes across as. "Perhaps by then," he answers. "No promises since it's only bowling, though."

There's a childish round of ooooooh's and Castiel dismisses them with a wave of his hand.

It's only a first date, but he's still allowed to fantasize.

Even though he wants to, he doesn't cancel his office hours to rush home. Mostly because he's not expecting anyone to show up to keep him later than he wants. There aren't any pending tests or big grades to worry about this early in the semester. Therefore, he's able to get ahead on his emails. By 1:30, he leaves on time without a guilty conscience.

He pulls into the garage with ten minutes to spare, enjoying the sight of the table saw in the spare space. He goes through the kitchen entrance and immediately prepares the coffeemaker to start brewing while he takes off his shoes and unpacks his bag. He's just finished adding the tiny splash of sugar to Dean's coffee when the doorbell rings. Castiel glances up at the clock on the microwave. Dean's probably physically incapable of being a single minute late. In a long list of traits that impress Castiel, that's one of the biggest.

Dean's warm summer sunshine smile blesses Castiel when he opens the door. "Hello, Dean," he greets, holding out the coffee.

Dean adjusts his duffel bag on his shoulder and accepts the coffee. "Hey, Cas. Brought a change of clothes, just in case."

"You can drop them in the guest bathroom. First door on the left upstairs."

"Thanks." Dean clomps up the stairs and Castiel takes those precious moments alone to compose himself. He's so excited he's about to jump out of his skin. He can't imagine how Dean smells so calm. Like it's nothing. It's frustrating.

He firmly decides not to stalk Dean while he's working in the library.

Easier said than done, but after a few minutes of wading through the swamp of 100 level literary criticisms, time ceases to weigh him down. Before he knows it, Dean is shouting, "Cas, I'm done in here and ready for my final grade!"

Castiel snorts and marks his spot on the paper. Dean is standing in the center of the library covered in plaster dust and white paint specks. He opens his arms wide, beaming like a proud kid who has just taken crayons to the wall to make a mural. "So?"

Castiel looks up at the ceiling. It's still shiny and wet, but aside from that he can't even tell that a huge chunk had been cut out of it. "Wow," he says appreciatively. "Once it dries, there'll be no way to tell that it was ruined."

"I'm just that good," Dean preens.

Castiel chuckles. "You're just that dirty. Would you like to shower before we go? You're more than welcome to."

Would Dean like to be naked in Castiel's house while all amped up for their date? Not really. That's a dangerous game. But he is pretty gross. "I guess I could impose on your hospitality a little more," he says.

Castiel's nose wrinkles with his smile. "Were you trying to imitate me?"

"Spot on, wasn't I?"

"You're losing points already."

"Hot damn!" He enthuses proudly.

Castiel can't help but be infected by Dean's giddy mood. His pheromones have never smelled so bright. Like a field of wild clovers and dandelions after the rain. He has to give the man credit for doing his best to keep the nerves dissipated. Clearly, he still acutely remembers the horrible conversation that got them to where they are now. It's appreciated. He rolls his eyes, anyway. "There's soap and shampoo under the sink. Towels in the cabinet."

"Won't be long," Dean winks.

"I should get changed, too," Castiel says almost as an afterthought. He tugs at his suit jacket. Why is he still even wearing it?

Walking up the stairs together, Dean says, "it occurs to me I've never seen you out of suit pants and a button down. Do you own anything else?"

"Yes." His shoulder tips up. "But not much."

Dean laughs. "That's okay. I don't get out much, either, so most of the shit I own is for work."

"Now I know what to get you for your birthday," Castiel teases.

"You missed it," Dean quips back. "Well, not really. You woke me up after my fortieth birthday party."

Castiel's eyes widen. "I met you on your birthday?"

"Technically no, since it was after midnight."

"I'm more sorry than ever now."

Dean stops right outside the bathroom door. "I'm not," he says decisively. "So far it's been the best birthday gift ever."

"Flattery will get you everywhere," Castiel murmurs.

With a flirty grin, Dean dips into the bathroom and shuts the door behind him. Castiel retreats to his room before he gets any ideas.

He has to dig into the bottom drawer to find a t-shirt he hasn't been using as just a sleep shirt. A-ha! There's a brick red shirt in reasonably good condition that he doesn't remember owning. Oh, right. It's because it has a small hole in the armpit. Then again, it's cold out, so he can put on his blue hoodie and a coat, and no one will notice. He makes a mental note to drop by the mall in Bozeman at some point for more casual clothes that aren't for sleeping or exercising. Dean doesn't seem the type to go out on fancy dates most of the time, and frankly, neither does Castiel. Back in the day, Balthazar had enjoyed going to expensive restaurants and the theatre, and Castiel had liked it, but it had been stressful in its own way. Always having to be on their best behavior. Always having to remember their manners. Always having to be polite in polite company. At least with bowling, neither he nor Dean will need to add a level of pretense to the levels of trying to impress each other. It'll be stressful for the right reasons.

He hears the shower cut off while he's pulling his socks on, and a few moments later, the bathroom door squeaks open.

Castiel pads out of his bedroom. "Dean, do you..." Words die on his tongue. Whatever question he was about to ask completely disappears. Dean's standing in the middle of the bathroom in a cloud of steam, still damp from his shower, fluffy towel tied around his hips, holding his shirt in his hands. There's just... so much skin on display , all of it looking good enough to taste. Castiel's hindbrain moans with appreciation. Dean is the perfect specimen of an alpha. He's solid. Not gym-defined, but his work has made him strong. His arms are thick with muscles, especially his forearms. His chest is firm, giving way to softly-defined abs. It looks like he's got some give on his skin, but everything underneath is probably rock hard. Speaking of which... Castiel's mouth snaps shut. The first coherent thought that springs to mind is an almost-hysterical swath of thanks that he never bothered to get the bathroom's exhaust fan fixed, so that now, in this small moment in time, Dean could be standing in front of him half naked because he had to open the door to clear the air in the small guest bathroom that never gets used.

"What's up?" Dean tugs his shirt over his head.

Something inappropriate . "I'm ready to go whenever you are," he says lamely.

Dean turns to face him fully, a lazy smile curving his lips. His scent burns like the summer sun. He knows. "Yeah."

Castiel's pretty proud that he doesn't trip on his own damn feet as he retreats downstairs.

***

The ride to the bowling alley is sweet torture for Castiel as well. So much stimulation in such a short span of time that Castiel's body is buzzing with low level, pleasant arousal. He loves Dean's car. It's clear how much care Dean takes of the classic, '67 Impala. The outside is waxed to a brilliant shine, unmarred by the dirty slush and salt on the roads. He probably washes it every week. The inside smells faintly of automotive cleaners and the more prominent scent of wild rolling hills. Dean's pheromones at their most unguarded; brilliantly happy. It smells like Dean hasn't let anyone else in the car in a long time. Castiel doesn't ask. He basks in the assumption, instead.

The bowling alley isn't crowded by the time they get there, though in a small town without much else in the way of indoor entertainment on a freezing night, it will be in a few hours. Dean parks all the way in the back of the lot, imperiously explaining to Castiel that he won't tolerate a single ding to the paint job he'd done on his baby last month.

The bowling alley itself brings back a lot of memories of Castiel's youth. He and Gabriel had spent many a weekend night in high school on the lanes and in the arcade until close.

He and Dean make their way to the counter to pay for a lane and rental shoes. To Castiel's private delight they're assigned to the lane furthest from the arcade, against the wall. It's not exactly private, but it's the best they can hope for in such a place. It's unlimited games until ten, when cosmic bowling starts, so to be fair, Dean covers the price of the lane and Castiel rents their shoes.

They meander towards the end of the alley, eyeing the balls on the racks for their size. Dean tries out several before he settles on a bright blue glittery ball. Castiel finds an orange and green swirl that suits him. He lets Dean take charge of putting their names into the electronic scoreboard once they reach their destination.

"You been bowling before?" Dean asks over the din of cracking pins.

"Many times, but not since high school," Castiel answers, setting their balls in the ball return.

"It's probably like riding a bike," Dean says. "Wanna go first?"

"I don't mind," Castiel smiles. The names Dean has assigned them flash up on the screen and he laughs. Dean has seen fit to name him "Dr. Sexy" and himself "Candyman."

They sit down side by side to put on their shoes and remove their coats. "Those are horrible names," Castiel notes.

"Ain't that the point bowling?"

Castiel hmm's a little. "I suppose so. I'd go bowling with Gabriel and he always put my name in as 'Sasstiel.'"

Dean laughs. "I shoulda thought of that." He straightens up and slaps his knees. "All right, your name is first, so you're up."

Castiel stands. "You're about to be shocked and awed, so I recommend ordering some pizza and a pitcher of beer now to drown your future sorrows."

Dean arches an eyebrow. "Trash talking already? Okay. I see how it is." He turns back to the touch screen on the desk, typing away to put in their lane number and food order. "Guess we gotta do this right."

Hefting his technicolor ball with a serious look, Castiel says, "naturally." In the back of his mind, he had entertained the idea of pretending to downright suck at bowling. They could do the whole cliché romance movie scene where Dean has to get right up against him to show him the proper form. Each touch burning hotter and hotter. Their scents mingling, growing weightier until they're almost complementary.

However, Castiel had already been given a treat seeing the alpha in nothing but a bath towel already, and besides that, he's convinced that the man is competitive. He'd probably find a challenge much more attractive.

So Castiel raises the ball, tracks his shot, and lets it fly solidly down the lane with just enough spin for a strike. Like riding a bike, indeed.

Dean catcalls him over the noise. "That's what I'm talking about, Dr. Sexy!"

"I'm afraid I'm setting your expectations a bit high," Castiel answers.

"You did that a week ago," Dean says, brushing against him as he passes by to grab his ball.

Castiel's body tingles again with some sort of anticipation he can't even define.0 at the moment.

It turns out that Dean is a challenging bowler himself. He's only slightly behind in points after three games, and yes, he insists on keeping track of total points. Castiel's grinning so much the whole time that his jaw aches. But once a second pitcher of beer is gone, as well as a whole pizza, things get more interesting. Or, rather, more chaotic.

Castiel insists it's just his arm getting tired, but combined with the alcohol, he starts rolling gutter balls every now and then. Dean is the same, though. At one point, he actually giggles at a particularly spectacular gutter. "Wow, Imma have to start granny rolling in a minute."

Castiel chuckles right along with him. "There's no shame in it. Plus, granny rolling makes you have to bend down, and I love watching your ass like that."

Dean's eyes pop wide. Castiel is too tipsy to be embarrassed. He knows how he gets when his brain to mouth filter falters. It's true, regardless. Then Dean throws his head back, laughing so hard that he has to wipe tears off of his face. Gasping for breath he says, "you're something else. Just when I think you couldn't surprise me more."

"I'm a lightweight," Castiel admits.

Dean's hand on his forearm is warm. "I like that about you, too."

They sway closer, and for a glorious moment in time, Castiel is sure that they're about to finally kiss.

The universe has other plans, of course. The alley's lights cut off suddenly, then flash to blackout lights, bathing the building in neon patterns of galaxies and stars. The music pumps up to a near-deafening level. Even the balls and pins glow.

A voice over the loudspeaker calls, "ladies and gents, it's that time of night again! Cosmic bowling is upon us! If you're already in a lane, it's time to pack up or pay for the privilege!"

Dean laughs, and Castiel can't hear it over the music, but he can feel the alpha's breath against his temple. "Let's get outta here."

Castiel couldn't agree more. They weave through the raucous crowds, return their shoes, and hustle through the parking lot to where the Impala is parked. "It's freezing!" Castiel laments, teeth chattering as he slides into the passenger seat.

"More snow on the way tomorrow," Dean confirms, voice shaking with the cold. "Hang on, she warms up fast." He turns on the car, blasting the heat. He doesn't start driving, though.

It suddenly occurs to Castiel. "Are you okay to drive?"

Dean looks over at him. "In a minute, sure. I stopped drinking nearly an hour ago. You took down most of that last pitcher yourself, killer. I'll be good to go once I warm up."

That's such good news. Castiel can't hold himself back anymore. Not after such a date. Certainly not now that he's heady with a mild buzz and Dean's happy pheromones so close in the confines of his car. He does the only thing he's capable of. He slides across the bench seat straight into Dean's lap.

He's suspicious that Dean might be psychic, because the man is ready . His arms are around Castiel in an instant, mouth crushing him into a deliriously amazing kiss the second they're close enough.

It's frantic, and sloppy, and tastes a whole lot like cheap beer. Dean pretty much surrounds him completely.

Neither of them can be awarded any points for style, but there's still a lot to be said about finesse. Castiel likes finesse. Especially in the form of Dean's tongue pushing past his lips. Castiel moans in appreciation, sinking against the alpha further, opening for him. The approving growl he gets in return is poetry.

Their hands are everywhere like it's a race to see who can touch more skin the fastest. Castiel is losing for the moment because Dean back is against the seat and that prevents Castiel from doing what - oh, God, yes , - Dean is doing, scraping his blunt nails up and down Castiel's spine. But the front view isn't so bad, either.

Castiel feels something like a sense of completion when he gets his hands under the layers to Dean's broad chest. It feels exactly like he'd been dreaming it would.

Dean breaks the kiss to put his mouth over Castiel's neck, and Castiel can feel that large alpha dick confined in horrid denim twitch against him when Dean sucks hard on his glands, getting a mouthful of uninhibited, aroused omega. Castiel sighs at the touch, fingers digging into Dean's pecs.

"We might get caught," Dean mumbles into his skin; a vague thought only while he's more focused on cupping Castiel's face to tilt his head for a more agreeable angle.

"I'll pay bail if we get caught for indecent exposure," Castiel gasps. Dean's so hard, and Castiel wants to be that way, too, so he forces Dean's head back by tangling his fingers tightly into the longer hairs on top of his head, yanking. In retrospect, he probably should get to know Dean better before doing something like this. Alphas can be incredibly touchy about shows of force. In fact, Castiel almost panics. He's never been so aggressive before. The apology is on the tip of his tongue. He's pulling away, but Dean's moan vibrates against his lips where they're still pressed against his throat.

"Cas, I'm gonna come in my pants if you keep doing that shit."

He likes it? Castiel is gonna come in his pants if Dean keeps being so amazing. He's panting. He slides his forehead down Dean's neck to rest against his chest. The bright dandelion scent fills him; it's not calming him down or clearing his head at all. "Are you okay with this?" he murmurs.

Internally he curses himself for bringing a screeching halt to the action. Important or not, his hindbrain is seriously screaming foul.

But Dean's not going anywhere. He smells perfectly calm and happy as he gently pushes Castiel's shoulders back to get a better look at him. "Are you ?" he asks quietly.

Castiel's eyes track over Dean's face. It's open, flushed, gorgeous. He's completely in control. Castiel places his hands on top of Dean's resting on either side of his head. "Yes."

The beatific smile he gets in return has him leaning back in, kissing Dean again, but slower to savor the whole of it. And this time, Dean waits for Castiel to take the lead, though he's not passive. He kisses Castiel thoroughly, both of them exploring equally. But he keeps his hands to himself until Castiel initiates the touching, mirroring what the omega does.

It's a lovely attack, really. Castiel can put his hands where it feels best to touch and also where it feels best to be touched. Over every inch of skin available. He's thorough, too.

Once the car is warm enough, Castiel sweeps his hands up Dean's chest, pushing off his shirt and hoodie all at once. Then Dean reaches out to do the same and their eyes meet. Castiel only loses sight of that gentle green for a second when his own shirt is removed.

"You look..." Dean swallows audibly.

"You, too," Castiel answers. He bends forward, mouthing over Dean's collarbone, tasting his salty skin and rich pheromones. It makes him hard. Makes him ache. It's so good he's got no words for it. Doesn't want them, anyway. He just wants to lose himself in the feeling for once.

Luckily, Dean can oblige. He makes all the right sounds of encouragement until it clearly becomes not enough. He drags Castiel back up for a searing kiss, and can't let Castiel be the leader any longer.

His fingers work desperately at Castiel's belt buckle, and the omega is totally on board with moving things along. Quickly. He tears at Dean's jeans, suddenly positive it's his mission in life to have that cock in his hands.

They make twin groans of satisfaction when they're thrusting into each other's fingers rather than against their uncomfortable jeans.

Castiel's fingers curl around the tender skin of Dean's knot, which is already swelling. Dean dips further down towards Castiel's ass. Yes, yes, yes . Castiel lifts his hips up. He's so wet and he wants Dean to feel it because he's the one responsible for all of it.

Dean's finger brushes over his inner thigh. His teeth bite down bruising on Castiel's shoulder. He's mumbling incoherently and shaking, and it's so unexpected that Castiel rumbles a laugh.

Breaking away, Dean meets his eyes again with a dangerous grin. "Making fun of me?" His voice slurs a little with lust.

"No." Castiel strokes up Dean's dick firmly. "Maybe a little." He makes a tiny whimper when Dean's hand retreats.

"Why? You're turning me on. I can't help it." He lifts his hand, glistening with Castiel's slick, and slowly licks his fingers.

And just like that, Castiel's hindbrain takes the wheel. He grabs Dean's wrist, shoving his hand back down where he wants it. Dean slips a blunt finger inside of him and Castiel grinds down. Somewhere in there, Dean and Castiel seem to cease existing for the time being. There's Alpha. There's Omega. There's chasing pleasure. Castiel jacks them both hard and fast. Dean works two fingers inside of Castiel, rubbing his prostate. Their kisses are messy, frantic. The windows fog over, encasing them in more darkness that's thick with their combined needy scents.

When Dean comes, his whole body spasms, arching off the seat as he cries out Castiel's name over and over. His fingers shove deep, and the pressure added to the gush of musky pheromones drags Castiel to his own powerful orgasm.

It takes a long time for either of them to recover. Dean murmurs, "sex on the first date. Crossing that off the bucket list."

Castiel laughs breathlessly, still quite stunned. "Congratulations on your incredible accomplishment."

Dean reaches around him to open the glove compartment and grab a pack of travel tissues to clean them up with. Castiel uses his hoodie to defrost the windshield once they're tucked back into their clothing. He moves to slide over to the passenger seat. Dean stops him. "Hey," he says softly.

Once again, Castiel realizes he's staring. Dean looks... shy? After what they'd just done? Is that even possible? Castiel smooths Dean's hair back, kissing him encouragingly. "Yes?"

"Come home with me tonight?"

His heart rate jumps again. Dean... no, not just Dean... his alpha needs more. Needs comfort. Craves assurance. "I can't think of a better way to end the perfect first date," he says.

Dean releases him. Castiel slips into his seat, buckling in. This sort of intimacy should scare him at this stage in their relationship, but it doesn't. It can't. Not with Dean smelling so satisfied beside him. Their hands find each other's on the middle seat and they don't let go for the entire drive home.

Chapter Text

The floodgates have really opened on the whole kissing thing. Dean kisses Castiel right after he pulls the Impala into his garage and turns off the engine. Castiel kisses Dean on the back of the neck while the alpha is busy unlocking the door. Dean kisses Castiel against the same door after ushering them inside and closing it behind them. That one lasts for a while.

They would keep kissing through the house to the bedroom, but Castiel's never been here before and his interest is piqued. He still keeps a tight hold on Dean's hand as he peers around the kitchen. It's like an upscale 50's diner. Black and white tilted floors, restored red refrigerator, either refurbished or stylized appliances, and a tall Formica breakfast table with red leather bar stools. "This is fantastic," Castiel breathes. There's even a neon lighted circular click on the wall.

"Want the nickel tour?"

"Please," Castiel smiles, standing even closer to Dean. "Did you do all the work in here yourself?"

"Some of it," Dean says, leading him back towards the hall. "My dad and I did, anyway. This is the family home. You'll notice a bit of a clash of eras. There were some things I couldn't bring myself to change after he died. Others I couldn't wait to." So saying, he pushes open the first door they come to in the wide hallway, and it's definitely nothing like the shiny kitchen. It's an office in all dark wood paneling and heavy oak furniture. A true "whiskey and cigars" kind of place. Castiel says so.

Dean laughs. "Yeah, I imagine that's sort of true of my dad, especially when he had Bobby over for whatever they got to talking about for hours on end."

"Have you left it how it was?"

Dean nods. "I wouldn't have changed it, regardless. I rarely come in here, but I like it."

Castiel can tell. The room smells faintly of stale cigars and leather polish, but not of any people. There isn't a single speck of dust, either.

The TV room is much more lived in. Clearly Dean spends a great deal of time in here when he's home, probably working if the scattered papers, file boxes, and open laptop are any indication. Castiel gets the impression that Dean needs some background noise when he's doing paperwork. The room itself is styled more like the kitchen, though the colors are earthier. The leather sofa, shuttered entertainment center, and brass lamps all have the rounded curves of the late 50's, but the decor looks much more sleek than strictly old-fashioned. Castiel loves it. He grins to see as many DVD's, Blu-Ray, CD's, vinyl, and video games as he probably has books. The surround sound speaker system and huge TV highlight Dean's passions clearly. "Music and movies," Castiel muses.

"And video games," Dean adds. "I like good audio and visuals."

Castiel wanders closer to the shelves. "And you like to shoot virtual things."

"Every now and then I have a bad day," Dean says smoothly.

"The whole setup is impressive. I'll bet you could wake the neighbors with those speakers."

"Only once or twice. I live on a full acre." Dean grins. He guides them up the stairs. The first room is a guest room decorated almost like an anonymous hotel room. The sheets on the queen bed are a jeweled blue, tucked down without a single wrinkle, waiting for someone to visit and live out of their suitcase for a week. There's a dresser and mirror as well, but otherwise it strikes Castiel as being quite impersonal.

"No one's been in this room in years," Dean says, confirming his suspicions. "Used to be my room, but I took over the master when I inherited the house." He closes the door behind them and the next is a spare bathroom. Small, just like Castiel's. The following room is far more interesting. It's been caught in time. "Sam's old room," Dean says fondly. "He keeps bugging me to redecorate, or maybe make it my office, but I think he still likes the nostalgia when his mate kicks him out."

"Does that happen a lot?" Castiel quirks an eyebrow.

"Jo's a spitfire," is all Dean will say on the subject.

"May I?" Castiel gestures towards the room.

"'Course," Dean answers. He leans against the door frame while Castiel wanders in. This was definitely a teenager's room. It has all the usual middle class necessities: queen bed, desk with hutch, dresser with a small TV on top, mirror, and knick knacks everywhere. It seriously looks like Dean only ever cleans the room, and touches nothing else otherwise. There are still tack holes in the wall where posters used to hang. Some spaces on the shelves are empty where important items were packed up and taken to the next stage of life. Bald spots dot the desk.

A framed 8x10 photograph on the desk's hutch catches his eye. "Ah!" Castiel exclaims softly. " Our Town !"

Dean makes a noise of surprise and steps into the room. "How did you know?" he asks suspiciously. "Sam was in that play freshman year."

Castiel picks it up and turns it around, pointing to the boy Dean has his arm around next to Anna. The pieces slip into place at Dean's remark. One of the three cast members Castiel doesn't remember the names of, and the other two are women. "Is this Sam?"

Dean's eyes widen. "Yeah, man, that's him. Seriously, how'd you know?"

Smiling, Castiel slides his finger over to point to himself.

Dean grabs the picture from him. "No way," he breathes. "That's you!"

"The girl on your other side is my sister, Anna. She was in the SGA and helped us build the set. We went to high school together, you and me," Castiel says. Going for a mild white lie, he continues, "I was cleaning up the library and found my old yearbooks. This picture is in 1993's. I recognized you."

"You're adorable!" Dean croons, cradling the photograph. "Baby Cas right there! I had no idea! Holy shit, this is amazing! I'm taking this to my room." He wanders back towards the door, still staring at the picture. All the way down the hallway he keeps muttering to himself ardently, Castiel flushing at all the nonsense. "Look at all us little pups. Sammy was barely even shaving then, and so short! Jesus, he's a giant now. And look at Castiel Novak! What's with that hair? It's all shaggy and stupid. Your sister is a looker, too. I love redheads. And here's suave, Dean Winchester. You know how long it took to do my hair like that every morning? Get that wave just right? I probably wasted a year of my life styling that shit until I came to my senses and cut it."

Castiel's listening only until he's fully into Dean's room, and the scent, the impression, nearly bowls him over. Every inch of the room just screams of his alpha. This is Dean's favorite place in the house. Which would make sense if he works as much as Castiel suspects that he does, needs all the restful sleep he can get. It's dark and cozy. Dean favors the classics. Simple designs on the wooden furniture, low lighting, heavy curtains on the windows. There's a small TV in here as well, along with a full stereo system, record player included. The room is large with high ceilings, but it feels like a den.

And the scent . It's everywhere. Gentle breezes and wildflowers. Dean's not just happy in this room; he's content. Castiel feels himself relaxing measure by measure the longer he breathes it all in. "I love your room," he says distractedly.

Dean places the photograph on his dresser. "Thanks. It's a haven in here. You wouldn't know it to look around, but I've spent the most money on this one space. I've been slowly getting to a more normal schedule, but until then, I need a place that'll help me fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow."

Smiling, Castiel says, "I can understand that." The problem is that he really doesn't want to leave now that he's in here. It's not a sexual need exactly, he just wants to live with his alpha's satisfaction as long as he can after what they'd been up to together in the past hour. His omega hindbrain adores the private space. Makes his feet heavy so that it'll be an effort to walk away.

Dean notices his consternation and asks, "what's up?"

"I just... I like it in here. After what we've been... doing tonight, my hindbrain appears to want me to stay in here for a little while."

Understanding dawns. Dean moves to Castiel, taking his hands. "You're so good to me," he murmurs. He bends forward, nosing at Castiel's scent glands.

The praise sinks deep into his bones, ebbing all of his desire to leave ever again. He doesn't even care if Dean's just saying it to put him more at ease. He tilts his head in silent permission for Dean to keep doing what he's doing. "Thank you."

Dean obliges, trailing soft kisses over Castiel's neck, adding gentle pressure to the glands. They're close enough together that Castiel can feel Dean's chest expanding when he breathes in deeply. His tongue flicks out briefly to taste the pheromones as well. "You smell good. You taste good."

Castiel's hand snakes up Dean's arm to cup the back of his head. "I'm glad you think so." It sounds a lot more breathless than he'd intended.

Dean draws back reluctantly, eyes shining. "Have I made it better or worse now?"

Castiel huffs a laugh. "You know it's worse."

"Then I guess we're gonna just have to make ourselves comfortable for a while. Too bad my refractory time ain't what it used to be. Finally got you in my room and I can't do anything but relax."

"I can leave," Castiel protests with mild insult, "I just don't want to."

Dean kisses him soundly. "How 'bout I fire up the Keurig with some decaf? Seriously, make yourself at home. I don't mind."

There's absolutely no way to hide his happiness at the suggestion, so Castiel runs with it, kissing Dean one more time... then one more. Dean goes down the kitchen while Castiel makes a perfunctory circuit around the room. He won't snoop beyond what's in plain view, but he still learns a lot about Dean. For one, he's anally organized. He's got movies and CD's stacked up neatly next to the TV and small stereo. All the knick knacks are arranged just so. The bed is neatly made without a single wrinkle. There's no dust, not a single clothing item on the floor. Castiel peeks into the bathroom and it's spotless, too. He smiles inwardly. His own house must drive Dean insane with the haphazard piles of crap everywhere.

Finished with his exploration, Castiel takes Dean's invitation at face value and sits on the bed. Wow. It's super comfortable. Expensive mattress. Feels like memory foam. He pulls off his shoes, placing them neatly on the floor next to the bed. Making himself comfortable is interestingly easy in the alpha's space. The sheets smell fresh, like laundry detergent and dandelions. Like Dean's only slept on them once or twice. There's an immediate abatement of the mild, tense anxiety building up in the center of his chest when he lounges back against the pillows. His eyes are drawn back to the photograph, now sitting on the dresser right in his line of sight. He tilts his head, considering it while he waits.

Downstairs, Dean takes his time making the coffee. Partly to get his head in order, and partly to let Castiel do the same and decide what he really wants to do tonight. If he insists on going home, Dean'll drive him there and be fine with it. The last thing he wants to do is manipulate Castiel's omega sensibilities into staying just because Dean feels better when they can remain physically connected for longer after their truly hot experience in the car. It's only the first date, after all.

His phone vibrates in his back pocket. There are two missed calls along with the current one. He grins and swipes to accept. "Heya, Sammy!"

"Hey... uh... Dean," Sam answers, obviously taken aback by the good cheer. "You drunk?"

"Not anymore, and by the way, you're the most ungrateful piece of shit ever."

Sam huffs, unperturbed. "Historically speaking, with that sort of energy answering the phone, you're either drunk or depressed."

"Or on a date," Dean snarks.

Sam laughs and Dean wants to punch his brother in the back of the head. When he says nothing further, Sam's laughter cuts off instantly. "Wait. Holy crap, are you serious ?"

"Fuck you," Dean bites, hanging up on him.

A second later, his phone vibrates with a text.

Sam: 10:00 PM I'M SO SORRY I DIDN'T KNOW!!!! Please forgive me, I feel like a jerk.

Me: 10:00 PM That's what I've been telling you all these years, bitch.

Sam: 10:01 PM I own that one. Why did you pick up your phone, anyway? Go Netflix and chill, or whatever the kids are calling it these days.

Me: 10:01 PM Already took care of it in Baby. ;p I'm not answering anymore, I brought him home and I like him better than you right now. Don't wait up.

Sam: 10:01 PM Gross a/b car. Also, fair enough. Have a good time. Better time. Whatever. Night.

Dean stuffs his phone in his pocket, and then pulls out the milk and sugar from the fridge. He's seen Castiel prepare the coffee enough now that he's pretty sure he nails it with the sweetening.

Half way up the stairs, his phone vibrates again. He shifts the mugs to his left hand, and then digs out his phone again with the right. He snorts a laugh.

Sam: 10:04 PM jsyk I'm texting everyone. You're welcome.

"Asshole," Dean mutters, though he's not mad. He can't be. He knew it would happen if he breathed a word of it to anyone - especially Sam. Truthfully, he's kind of glad that Sam is going to take point for him. Saves him the effort and the immediate embarrassment. It may only be a first date, but neither he nor Castiel appears to even want to consider there not being a second one. And because of that, Dean's killing about a million birds with one stone letting Sam spread the news.

At the door to his room he pauses, watching Castiel. The omega is on his bed - on his bed - brow furrowed, but otherwise looking right at home, which makes Dean warm. The contented omega pheromones are doing a lot to dissipate the edge of alpha aggression, though it's not as stark to begin with at his age. Still, everything feels softer around the edges with Castiel here.

"You look comfortable," Dean says humorously from the doorway. Castiel twitches, about ready to jump up, so he adds, "don't get up on my account. I meant it when I said you're welcome. Mi casa and all that shit." He brings the mugs to the bed, offers one to Castiel, and then sits with his back turned to remove his shoes. They're quiet for a minute.

"I feel foolish," Castiel laments suddenly.

Dean glances up from untying his shoes. "What? Why?"

"The way you talk about that photograph." He sighs noisily. "Do you know I spent the whole rest of the night after seeing it feeling regretful that I didn't remember you and probably never even spoke to you? I kept thinking that we'd missed each other by an inch twenty-five years ago, and that's so much wasted time. It was frustrating."

"When you put it that way... I guess that could be true." Dean lounges back and Castiel turns to face him, cross-legged, face pleading. Dean looks surprised by the sudden whiff of anxious pheromones. "Am I making you nervous?" he ventures.

"No," Castiel assures him, grabbing his hand. "I'm just... I don't want you to be like me, Dean. I don't want you to think like me. You're so... you're... you..." he snaps his mouth shut in agitation, flailing his free hand to encompass all of Dean. All he gets in return is a confused stare. Naturally, the one of them who is the best with words can't find them when he needs them the most. He bites his bottom lip. Think about what you want to say. Then speak , he reminds himself. "Dean... you're like a brilliant shining light. I know that sounds trite, but it's the only way that I can think of to explain it. You're so optimistic. The very first thing I thought of seeing that picture of us standing so close, yet so far, was how tragic it was. And you? You commented on how cute we were. How much fun that day had been. Did it even occur to you looking at that picture that we could have had something back then, and not had so many years alone?"

Rather than brush him off as Castiel had been sort of expecting, Dean's lips purse in thought. "Not really," he answers after a pause, sipping his coffee. "I mean, that's a bummer, sure, but it happened. We didn't hang out. Honestly, I was an asshole back then to everyone except Sammy and whichever tail I was chasing for a good time." His green eyes slide away thoughtfully until he finds whatever memory he's been searching for somewhere in the middle distance. "Shit, come to think of it, I'm glad we didn't meet back then. I was the kinda dick who ran from everyone. I screwed around with anyone I thought was hot. But the second they'd start to get serious or want to know something about me other than what base I was willing to go to... I was out." He makes a diving motion with his hand.

Castiel can't really fathom that. Well. He supposes he can if he tries, but he likes Dean, so he doesn't want to. Most kids - maybe especially most alpha males - have a lot of aggressive hormones to fight through. Few Weres are pleasant for any length of time during puberty. Running his finger around the lip of his cup, he admits, "I probably saw you and thought you were out of my league, so I didn't even bother saying hello." This time, Castiel is sure he can smell Dean's summer wind incredulity in his pheromones; the impression is so clearly etched on his face.

"No way," Dean argues. "You would have been out of my league. Cas, the guy I was back then," he nods towards the photo, "that jackass noticed everyone. I can almost guarantee that I saw you and took note like that ." He snaps his fingers for emphasis.

"Really?" Castiel's more intrigued than anything now. "And what would you have concluded?"

Dean leans back against the headboard. "In ten seconds flat I would have thought you were hot, gone half-mast, seen that you dressed well and probably weren't into flings, and given up before I even tried."

"You were good at snap judgements?"

Dean laughs briefly. "Who knows? Though I only got slapped twice in high school, and I got around way more than that."

Castiel snorts. "Are you bragging?"

"Hell no," Dean says distastefully. "Dude, there were some people whose names I didn't bother to remember, but I still put my tongue in their mouths. It was fun, but I ran off to the next one before I ever knew how many hearts I managed to break."

His scent is starting to sour, and that's the last thing that Castiel wants during such a lovely evening, so he quips, "oh? Aren't you giving yourself an awful lot of credit that you may not deserve?"

Dean's smirk is nothing short of sexy. "Dude, I was good at what I did."

The slight milky curl of desire sneaks into Castiel's nose. He leans closer to the alpha until their faces are barely a handful of inches apart. "Yes, but did you ever consider that so were they?"

Instead of answering, Dean kisses him. It's slow and indulgent. One after the other, he takes the nearly empty cups of coffee and sets them on the nightstand. None of that matters in the present. He's got Castiel in his arms right now, and that's what's important.

No clothes come off this time. It's just kissing, exploring to the edge of real arousal. This is definitely something that Dean will add to his short list of things he could do all night. When they break apart, Castiel smiles, his full lips wet and swollen. Dean drags his thumb over the omega's bottom lip. "I'm better at making out now than I was when I was sixteen," he says.

"I should hope so," Castiel laughs. There's a little more staring and a lot more kissing until it reaches some natural end.

"Wanna watch a movie?"

"Yes," Castiel agrees readily. "Only if it means I can stay over. I'll probably fall asleep in the middle starting one this late. I'm sort of infamous for it."

"He does have a character flaw," Dean teases. "You can stay. This bed is big enough for the both of us. I've got a spare toothbrush in the bathroom drawer. Lemme get you something more suitable for a slumber party to wear."

Castiel hops out of the bed straight to the bathroom to wash his face and brush his teeth. He strips out of his jeans and shirt while he's at it, folding them up neatly. In a small show of vanity, he studies himself in the mirror. Not bad. He's not obsessed with his looks or aging by a long shot. In fact, he kind of likes the way his eyes crinkle, and his graying temples. He's kept himself in good shape over the years. Plus, the excellent Novak genes. Feeling a sliver of alien silliness, Castiel winks at himself and murmurs, "looking good."

Then he retreats out of the bathroom as quickly as possible because that was stupid.

Dean is waiting, already dressed down to drawstring pajama pants and a green t-shirt. He holds out a stack of clothes with a proud smile. "These'll look good on you."

Castiel trades him for his dirty clothes. "I'm not wearing your thongs."

Dean sets Castiel's discarded clothes on the armchair next to the bed. "Yeah, because boxers with bees on them is so much sexier."

He glances down. They're whimsical. He likes them. "My ass looks good in anything. And my underwear didn't stop you from having at me before." He shakes out the cotton pajama pants and worn black shirt.

"Hell yes, I get to be first in line to shake your hand and agree with you."

Castiel appreciates the levity. He knows himself well enough to understand that this whole situation could become very awkward very fast. He's already a touch nervous. The last thing he wants to do is think about his parents seconds before jumping into bed with the alpha he'd had sex with on their first date, but it's there. His mother had warned him about being too open straight off. Not that he'd needed the warning until tonight. Omegas do have to be cautious. No matter how modern people get, some stereotypes remain mostly true. Omegas tend to hang on to relationships tightly, and alphas tend to be the ones to walk away first. It's not that he's worried about that right now. Even if he was, he's been alone for so long, that learning how to include someone new in his personal life is probably going to prove to be much more tricky than excluding them before or after a hypothetical heartbreak.

However, that's not the theme for tonight. "What are we watching?"

Dean leads him back to the bed where they settle in side by side. "What are you in the mood for?"

He's not a remote hog , Castiel notes, pleased. "Something I don't have to think about. Action?"

" Twister ," Dean says decisively.

Castiel squints at him. "Is that what you wanted to watch the whole time?"

"Shut up."

The movie is an excellent distraction to hold hands and allow thoughts to wander. Stew in what's happening. Dusty isn't even to the part about explaining the Suck Zone before Dean's stroking his thumb over Castiel's knuckles. "You brooding?"

"Of course," Castiel answers flippantly. "I've seen this movie a million times. In that case, you can think about other things much easier."

Dean nods. "True enough. Wanna share, or is this the private kind of brooding?"

"That depends. Are you scared of talking about the future?"

Dean smiles, eyes not leaving the TV screen. "You don't mean the future, you mean our future, don'tcha?" Castiel's hand tightens on his and Dean leads sideways to kiss his cheek. "C'mon, don't gimme that smell, sweetheart. I'm totally okay with it. Typical of first dates and stuff for us to figure out if we're actually compatible beyond the basics and awesome hand jobs, right? But since you brought it up, you get to go first."

Castiel chuckles, rolling his shoulders to loosen up. "That's fair. I was thinking about what your opinion on bonding is."

The question surprises Dean. "Well," he drawls at length. "You may have noticed that I'm an alpha. Because of that, I'm open to the idea of bonding." He grins, showing his teeth.

Castiel can't help but laugh away the rest of his embarrassment. He rolls his eyes. "I mean... well, there's no way to make this sound like too much too soon, so we'll go with hypotheticals. If you got to the point where you were ready to bond someone, what would you do if you couldn't?"

Dean fiddles with the remote, turning the volume down on the TV. "You asking if I'm old fashioned?"

"I suppose so," Castiel says. "I could certainly be considered that."

Dean tilts his head from side to side, considering. "I'm not, I guess. I mean, bonding is a privilege of being an alpha or omega, and naturally I'd want to do it if I could. But we're forty. It might not happen. If it can't, I'm cool with it. It's not like I know what I'm missing. Is that a deal breaker for you? What if you don't have the hormones to bond anymore?"

Castiel shifts, though he doesn't pull away. He keeps his eyes on the screen when he says, "I already know I can't mate, not even if I was that one in a million, but I'm not sure about my bonding hormone levels anymore."

"I don't know, either," Dean says. "I went for my yearly physical the other day, but haven't heard back yet. Either way, I'm not too concerned. Bonding would be nice, but falling in love and wanting that person for as long as you can have them is most important to me."

Castiel's palm starts to sweat a little as he's holding Dean's hand. "I was brought up very religious," he begins, trying to collect his thoughts into some semblance of not sounding like a complete stiff. "My family and my church are quite tolerant of less traditional couples, so it's nothing like the old days. It's only... I've seen it in generations of my family. There's a way that things are done, and I agree with them. My sister, Anna, is a beta, so she's been brought up to do as she pleases. Gabriel, however..." he hesitates.

Dean squeezes his fingers. "You don't have to tell me everything, y'know?"

"I brought it up," Castiel argues wryly. "I want you to know where I'm coming from. We're Weres coming up on middle age, and I prefer to have everything laid out neatly so that neither of us wastes precious time on something that has no chance of being what we want it to be. What we need it to be."

It's hard for him, Dean can tell. He can definitely sympathize with the feeling. He's not had to really bare his heart for anyone in... okay, ever. But Castiel is right about this. They're not getting any younger, and it's pointless to act like they're 20-somethings just figuring it all out. They know what they want, and there's no reason that two mature adults can't talk it out to see that they're on the same page on the first date. He may not want to go to bed alone forever, but he doesn't want to screw around, either. It's better to be lonely than let down. "Lay it out for me. I promise I won't run screaming. I'd rather know sooner than later."

Castiel agrees. "Me, too. Okay, then. I want to be able to bond. If it's possible, I want someone who wants that with me, or will at least want it some day in the future. But if it can't happen, I'd be content being married. With my upbringing... I don't think I can compromise on that. I'm old fashioned, and I don't think that'll change."

Dean nods along. "So..." he says at length. "What if one of us can't bond? What if we tried and it didn't happen because just one of us couldn't?"

Castiel winces. "I don't want to sound bad about saying this, but right now I feel like if one of us has a chance to find a real bondmate, as our biology means for us to do, we should try to find someone with whom it would be a possibility. I believe we'd be happier that way in the long run."

Dean stares at Castiel until the omega is brave enough to meet his eyes. He can see the fear there, despite it not being heavy in his scent. The readiness for Dean to kick him out for being a staunch traditionalist. "I have faith in us," Dean says eventually. "If we decide we have a future between us, it'll get there."

"You're very optimistic," Castiel says with a tiny frown.

Counteracting it with a smile, Dean asks, "what else am I supposed to be at my age?"

With a small snort of laughter, Castiel says, "some people would call that foolish."

Dean tugs lightly on Castiel's arm, and the omega comes willingly to his side, resting his head right over his steady heartbeat. "Aren't you supposed to be the one with all the faith, considering you're so religious?"

"Yes," Castiel says easily. "But it's been a long time since I was in this sort of position. I still think I might be dreaming you."

"That's not what you're doing," Dean assures him with gentle humor.

His pheromones are so welcoming, like a thick blanket that's been airing in the sun all day. It starts to make Castiel drowsy. "So what is this?"

Dean drops a kiss on top of his head. "A gift," he says so softly that Castiel almost doesn't catch it.

It makes him smile. His already peaceful old paper pheromones dip warmer to compliment Dean's. They curl together, Castiel idly contemplating summer rainstorms while on the TV, Jo talks about getting Dorothy ready to fly.

Chapter Text

When Dean wakes up, he's warm. Hot, even. Sweating a little bit. What the..? The realization of what's happening comes to him in bits and pieces.

Cold air on his chest where his shirt has rucked up. A warm weight resting low over his thighs. Pleasure stirring in his belly. The rich scent of leather bindings in his nose. Wet heat on his dick.

"Shit," he whispers, reaching his sleep heavy arms down so that he can tangle his fingers into Castiel's rumpled salt and pepper hair.

The lips around him curve into a smile and the heat leaves him. "I probably should have asked your opinion on somnophilia, but I got distracted when I was woken up by your erection against my back. Were you having a nice dream?"

"That's not what this is?" Dean quips, relaxing his grip to cup Castiel's face.

"I can convince you you're awake," Castiel answers.

"Much appreciated," Dean beams down at him.

"I didn't do something you don't like?"

The concern is adorable. "Nah, I love everything. Everything ." He rolls his hips up off the bed, hazy enough in his newly woken state to give in and risk a small taste of that delicious perverse pleasure he'd given himself over to by himself while thinking of Castiel, without having to reveal it to him. As he expects, Castiel's thumb slips low against him with the movement, brushing back over his balls to his cleft. He's done this sort of thing to himself before, so he thinks he can play it off. But he is wholly unprepared for the pressure near his prostate applied by someone else for a change to rip a filthy moan from his mouth.

Castiel startles.

Dean snaps back to himself, about to mourn the loss of his dignity, when wide blue eyes fill his vision. And there's not an ounce of repulsion. "Cas," Dean whispers, apologetic.

The omega swallows hard. "Dean... when I touched you there just now... did you like it?"

He remembers an old fling telling him that kinks are nothing to be ashamed of. Dean hadn't told that guy a thing. "Yes," he moans. "I've always wanted someone to do that. I've done it to myself, but never mentioned it to anyone else."

A full bodied shudder wracks Castiel. He groans and drops his forehead to Dean's chest, mouthing over his collar. "That's... oh, my... that's incredibly sexy. So sexy, Dean. My gorgeous alpha. Do you want me to? I would love to."

Honestly, he could cry. He does want it. More than anything. More than he can ever express to Castiel. "Please," he gasps. " Please , Castiel."

"I'll make it so good," Castiel promises in a throaty murmur against Dean's sternum. "Relax for me." Slowly, he slides down his alpha's body again. His thick hair almost tickles, but Dean's so turned on that it only adds to the stimulation. And Castiel's lips are sinful worship over his body. Back down to mouth over his leaking cock. His hips jut up again, but Castiel's strong hands grab them, anchoring him without a word. He complies gratefully. Castiel has him. He'll make it so good. He's thankful that his omega knows when and where to apply some guiding force that will answer his desires without letting his hindbrain get in the way. He never wanted an omega who was pure submission. And Castiel seems to know that instinctively.

The hand massaging his balls disappears for a moment, then returns coated in slick, firmly stroking over his perineum to further back. His blunt forefinger rubs around Dean's hole in a dizzying massage before carefully pushing in. There's a burning stretch, and Dean loves it. Loves every second of it.

Before he has a chance to say it, Castiel moans, "oh, God." He gives a few shallow experimental thrusts, but Dean's been imagining this for a dozen years, so he can take it. He grinds down, forcing Castiel deeper. They both let out pent up breaths. "Oh. Dean ." He fingers Dean with complete concentration, twisting slowly until he finds the prostate. Dean's back bows off the bed. His dick slides against Castiel's chin, then his beautiful omega turns his head so that the next thrust up goes straight into his ready mouth. He's beautiful .

Outside of his rut, Dean's never felt anything so intense before. His alpha is getting what he wants, and his human is getting what he needs. Every part of him, down to his very soul croons that Castiel is the perfect match for him. He can't do these things on his own and be satisfied in such a complete way. If he wasn't so busy moaning his praise, he'd be laughing at the wild thought that this omega is ruining him for anyone else, including his own hand. It builds and builds until he wants to burst.

"Need ya to c'mere," he mumbles, words tumbling together.

Castiel immediately complies, scooting up his body, gloriously naked, kissing Dean thoroughly. Dean wraps his arms around Castiel's muscular shoulders, rolling them onto their sides. The thick scent of arousal wafts up from the sheets. Their lips wander over heated skin, but never far from the other's mouth. Their hands are far more adventurous; they're everywhere, feeling out every inch of flesh that they didn't have access to the night before. Lower and lower at a leisurely pace.

Dean likes it when they're working together to bring each other pleasure equally. They're only an inch apart, Castiel staring at him with dilated pupils, lips parted to suck in more air while they both use his slick to make it the whole thing better. Castiel gasps sharply when Dean's two fingers enter him, and he returns the favor because Dean wants him to, and it presses them closer together besides. Their free hands stroke their cocks. It's a little awkward trying to get enough glide crushed so closely, but good enough to keep them in the leisurely slow burn upwards.

Castiel stays low, massaging Dean's sensitive knot, while Dean discovers that the omega seems to prefer his hand up higher, teasing him with tight pumps over the head.

And Dean's not the biggest on staring during sex, but he can't take his eyes off of Castiel's constantly changing expression. In part because he's worried his omega will suddenly be weirded out by his proclivity, but mostly because he feels like if he so much as blinks, he'll fly apart. He's only staying with the intense pleasure because Castiel's scent, sounds, solid feel, is allowing him to remain anchored.

Castiel's eyes flutter shut and his head drops to tuck under Dean's chin. He breathes deeply over and over, whispering a repetition of something that Dean can't quite hear over the sound of his own racing heart. His body begins to tighten, muscles going taut. He throws his leg over Dean's hip, dragging him ever closer. His fingers twitch and move faster.

It's all so much. Dean is so filled. It's glorious. His body thrums with it. He pants, pulling in Castiel's scent that ratchets him higher and higher. His knot begins to swell and harden in Castiel's hand. He tries to hold back, but he can't. The unimaginable pleasure zings from his prostate to his scalp until there's no controlling it. He comes first with a quiet sob. It's not the same lightning bolt as he'd had before with his omega, but it's far more extraordinary. Castiel milks him, murmuring nonsensical words, but not letting him fight it. A demi-orgasm tightens his balls and makes him spill again. Castiel presses hard against his prostate at the same time squeezing his knot. Spots swim before his closed eyes as he comes again. By the end of it, he's not even sure that Castiel came, too, though he suspects he did because the omega grabs him in a crushing embrace for a moment with a grunted curse, then goes boneless.

The aftermath is palpable in the air. The grandfather clock downstairs chimes eight times. Dean and Castiel tremble in each other's arms, eyes closed, breathing ragged.

After an indeterminate amount of time, Castiel begins to pull away, but that's the absolute last thing in the world that Dean wants. He tries to say something, tug him back down. He's not convinced that he succeeds. He must not have, because there are lips on his forehead, then cold air.

He might have begun to doze again, jumping a little when his omega returns, cleaning them up with one of the soft towels from the bathroom.

Dean cracks his eyes open. Tries to.

"Are you okay?" Castiel asks fretfully.

"Dunno," Dean says thickly. "I might never come back from that." He rolls lethargically onto his back, taking the towel from Castiel to scrub himself.

"That's a shame," Castiel answers, draping himself languidly over Dean's chest, "because I'd really like to do it again."

"Sure," Dean says breezily, head starting to clear slowly with Castiel's contented pheromones bringing him home. "Just gimme, what? Five, ten years?"

"You're such a stud," Castiel chuckles.

"If you're gonna be an asshole, at least make out with me," Dean grouches.

Castiel pushes up onto his still-shaking arms, kissing Dean with everything he has left. Everywhere they touch still tingles, which is even better when Dean rolls them again to switch their positions, never breaking the kiss. Trapped between the alpha's body heat still caught in the sheets, and his firm chest above him, Castiel hopes this moment will last for an eternity. Or at least long enough for it to feel like one. Until they both need to catch their breath again, laying on their backs under the slow turn of the ceiling fan.

It's good enough for the passage of time to be unimportant, and for a man who's never wasted much of it, Castiel loves the novelty. He's never been so bold in bed before, though most alphas don't tend to reject a sexual advance from an omega they've already accepted. And Dean's not shown himself to be ruled in any part purely by his hindbrain. He gets the impression that Dean is a "try anything once" kind of guy.

Thus, he knows he might be treading on a touchy gendered subject, but he feels brave when he moves onto his side to rest against Dean's chest, and asks, "have you always had this kind of personality?"

Dean lifts his head up from the pillow to peer down at Castiel. "Hmm? How do you mean?"

In for a penny, in for a pound. It's something he needs to know. "Have you always been this easy going, or is it because you're older? Alphas can be pretty uptight, especially towards omegas who are more..."

"Pushy?"

"Forthright."

"Ah. I guess you're talking about the, uh..." he nods down to his waist.

Castiel keeps his head slightly lowered in a small submissive gesture to show he's not trying to start anything. Dean seems to appreciate the show of docility, stroking his fingers through Castiel's hair down the back of his neck. "That's where the thought came from, yes."

"I mean, yeah, I guess," Dean says carefully. "I can't think of a time I got rough with anyone who didn't want it. But - and this is probably TMI - but most of the omegas I knew when I was younger just couldn't give it to me the way I wanted. Sounds bad, right?"

Castiel splays his hand over Dean's chest, encouraging, but he does kind of agree that, as an omega, it sounds slightly bad. He doesn't like to hear that Dean's got issues with how his gender can be. Then again, everyone has likes and dislikes with sex. "You don't like full submission?" he ventures.

"I like a little bite," Dean hedges. Then relents, "okay, I've been in a few ruts in my twenties where I absolutely needed an omega who'd let me have the reins, but most of the time, I like it when my partner can at least tell me what they want. Take it sometimes if they know I'm cool with it."

"Oh," Castiel says, relieved. That's all perfectly reasonable. "There are many omegas who submit too much. We've been conditioned to an extent. Even my mother warned me that doing anything that might be construed as aggressive to an alpha in a rut could spell disaster."

"I'm not saying it can't," Dean agrees with an obvious note of distaste at the thought. "I'm just saying it never did with me. I know all sorts, I guess. Alphas like me who are in the middle, alphas who are good with most stuff until they're in a rut, alphas who are the dictionary fucking definition. Those people... hell, they're good in bed if you need it rough every now and then, but I don't think there's any benefit in alphas or omegas letting their hindbrains rule everything. I've always been that way. I'm more easy going now that my hormones aren't so strong, but it's just like I'm more mellow. Not too different, I don't think."

Castiel is silent as his remaining anxiety abates. He decides it's safe to share more of himself since Dean has proved to be so much more than he'd dared to dream of in an alpha. "In my church, some parishioners cling to the old traditions. They subscribe to the belief that there's a right way and a wrong way to be a Were. That we should hold on to the purest definitions written into our biology. They think it's the best way to honor God, no matter that evolution has made modern Were's vastly different from ancient ones. There are still plenty of churches that teach the Bible as if it it's caught in time, not constantly evolving with those of us who believe in it."

"What about your family? Y'all are religious." Dean asks as non-judgmental as he can manage, shifting his shoulder so that Castiel isn't resting directly on the nerve making his arm fall asleep.

"God isn't the Church," Castiel says automatically, like he's said it before. "My parents weren't always so open-minded. It was Gabriel who changed them in some ways."

The way he says it puts up a warning chime in Dean's head. There's an incredibly personal story here, and he certainly doesn't want to pry where he doesn't have the right to. But since Castiel brought it up, Dean asks carefully, "he's an omega, too?"

"Yes," Castiel says on the breath of a sigh. "He's older than me. When he presented as an omega, my parents were still incredibly traditionalist. They thought everything except Adam and Eve was unnatural. But raising Gabriel to the best of their ability, nurturing him, and realizing that he did nothing wrong to be a male omega... it changed their thinking. Mutations to the so-called 'natural order' happened. And that didn't make them un natural. It made them different. In their own way, my parents did the best that they could after having their entire worldview so thoroughly readjusted. Their hearts were in the right place."

Dean feels a pit of dread as Castiel's words grow weighted. He's pretty sure he knows where this is going. "He found a good, Christian alpha mate that your folks approved of," he offers.

Castiel nods, tipping his chin up to press his nose against Dean's neck. He draws in several lungfuls of Dean's dandelion rainy scent, and Dean lets him take what he needs. It's hard to come from a place of order like Castiel had, to discover that the world is far messier outside of the community bubble that doesn't necessarily reflect much outside the neighborhood. "I'm sorry," he murmurs.

"I still feel guilty that I'm grateful Gabriel's awful situation led to my easy upbringing. My mother taught him how to be the perfect omega, like she was. She didn't know any different. She reasoned that an omega was an omega; male or female didn't matter. And Gabriel took it all to heart. She never realized that she'd gotten lucky. That my father would never have abused his role. She learned. We all did. On Christmas Eve, Gabriel came home to us without his mate. He... well... he told us what was happening behind closed doors. It was obvious by his appearance."

Dean winces with sympathy.

Castiel holds him tighter. "My mother!" He laughs wetly. "I'd never... she was terrifying . She went to his house and nearly tore down the door. Screamed at him about how he was an insult to alphas, an abomination; you name it, she called him it. My father..." his eyes unfocus to fondness. "He stood there. Tall. Silent. Arms crossed over his chest, blocking Gabriel from his mate, letting his omega wife shout down another alpha. Which, as you know, just isn't done."

Dean's heart swells. He likes these people already.

"Finally," Castiel says, swiping a tear off of his cheek, "my mother's finished. And my father says, 'Gabriel, your choice.' Gabriel says, 'I want to leave him. He doesn't deserve me.' My father had probably never had such a shock in his life. First his meek omega mate rains down fire and brimstone on an alpha. Then his obedient omega son says he wants to break his bond. As far as he was concerned, such a thing just wasn't possible."

"But he helped," Dean says, feeling his own throat lock with emotion.

"He did," Castiel confirms. "He let Gabriel come home, and helped him through the pining sickness. When all was said and done, he said to my brother, 'you're honoring God by respecting yourself. You should only be how you feel you should be.' That was that. I presented as an omega several years later, and never had to deal with anything like Gabriel did."

"Did he hate you for it?"

Castiel shakes his head. "No, he was happy about it." Wryly he adds, "that's probably why I feel so guilty about it. At any rate, that's why I'm a traditionalist in some ways, but not others. I believe that bonding is God's ultimate gift, if two people find the perfect match, and I try to be the best self that I can."

Dean runs his hand over Castiel's shoulder. Clears his throat. "Well, I think yourself is pretty freaking awesome, Cas."

He can feel the grin against his neck. "Thank you."

They're quiet again, Dean giving full attention to what Castiel had told him; kind of dying to meet this Gabriel and shake his hand. Castiel waits it out, idly drawing patterns with his fingertips over Dean's sternum. "And, y'know, thanks for telling me. All of that. I understand a lot more where you're coming from."

"Thank you for listening." Castiel sucks his bottom lip between his teeth making a small whistling noise. "What about you? Can I ask about your family?"

"Sure, but it's different from yours." He rubs circles over Castiel's back. "Solid middle class over here. Sammy and I are both alphas, we kinda had more freedom than most, but we got to school, had enough hot meals on the table, only had to wear clothes that didn't fit every now and then when things got tight."

Castiel smiles. "You mentioned that you practically raised your brother."

"Kinda," Dean shrugs. "My mom died when I was little. Sam was still a baby. That's when Dad made the family business twenty-four/seven/three sixty-five. Part of it was the pining sickness, and part of it was to keep making ends meet. I started helping him as soon as I was old enough. Then I dropped out senior year of high school 'cause Dad got injured pretty bad, and we couldn't afford all that recovery time. For about a year, I saved enough to go to trade school, get my licenses, get Sammy to college after my dad died. And now he's mated to an awesome omega who can put him in his place. He's got a great house, lots of money, the whole nine."

"That's good," Castiel says affectionately. "You've been living well all these years, too."

"'Course I have," Dean smiles. "No point if you can't fill up all the spaces to the best of your ability."

Castiel chuckles. "I'm big enough to admit that I've wasted a few years every now and again."

Dean surges up, kissing Castiel hard. His omega meets him halfway, chuckling into the embrace, tussling until Dean's got him flat on his back, spread open, pressed together inch for inch. "You're so fucking sexy," he growls against Castiel's neck. "You smell so good." He picks his head up. Wrinkles his nose. "Maybe better after a shower. With me."

Laughing in earnest, Castiel says, "I get it. Big feelings talk is over. Get off me, you're heavy now that I'm not too busy being horny to notice."

In answer, Dean rolls over Castiel as crushingly as he can, forcing a choked oof from the omega. Dean hops out of the bed, holding his hands out behind him, wiggling his fingers. Castiel slaps their palms together, letting himself be hauled up. "Need to change the sheets, too."

"I'm the guest," Castiel reminds him.

"It's your jizz on the sheets, too," Dean complains.

Castiel presses his entire front against Dean's entire back as they stumble to the bathroom. "I'll do the fitted sheet and the pillow cases."

Dean swings around, back stepping them to the shower. "See? This is why you're the best! All about the compromise when I start whining."

Castiel reaches around him to flip the water on. "You're quite childish, aren't you?"

"What?" Dean sing-songs, "no. Shut up. Don't make me swat you with a towel."

"Spoiled, then?" Castiel layers kiss after kiss over Dean's lips. He uses his body weight to maneuver them under the spray, ignoring the actual getting clean part in favor of more making out.

"Sure I am, but you're the enabler," Dean murmurs against his omega's temple, slipping his lips lower to tug at his earlobe.

He seems completely disinclined to reach for the soap or shampoo after another minute, so during a particularly fun exploration of Dean's nipples, Castiel says in the most sultry tone he can muster, "we're in a level two drought right now, you know."

Dean bursts out laughing. "Jesus, fine, you weirdo." He grabs the bottle of shampoo, passing it off to Castiel, who he decides, looks downright edible wearing that sassy-ass smirk.

Vigorously, Castiel scrubs both their heads until suds are everywhere and Dean realizes that Castiel is less trying to get them clean, and more trying to give him a fucking noogie. Because he's so mature himself, the asshole.

They do get washed up eventually, and well before the water runs cold in deference to the drought.

As they're toweling off together, grinning and distracting each other with stray kisses and touches, Dean says, "did you want to go do something today?"

Castiel peers out the bedroom window only to be wracked by an overly dramatic shiver. "No. It's snowing out there."

Dean rolls his eyes. "This is Montana. That's what it does in the winter."

"If you have errands to run, you can always take me home."

"That sounds like a terrible idea," Dean scoffs. "I was only asking to figure out what clothes to loan you until the laundry's finished."

Castiel removes his towel, giving Dean an eyeful of his toned body, steps into his space, plucks the alpha's towel away, and kisses him so deeply that Dean wishes he was ten years younger and could mess up the sheets some more. When Castiel pulls back, there's a devilish glint in his eyes. "It's very nice of you to not make jokes about keeping me naked all day."

Dean clucks his tongue. "I shoulda thought of that."

This time, Castiel curls against him with an earnest shiver. "I really am cold."

Dean chaffs his shoulders, guiding him to the dresser. "Got lots of hoodies and stuff. Help yourself. I'll go make us some coffee."

Castiel glances up from digging around in the drawer. "Naked?"

"It is my house." He grabs the first pair of drawstring pants and long sleeved t-shirt he grabs. "But, no. The kitchen's usually colder than up here." He pulls on his boxers and clothes. Unsure how to read the squinty look he's getting, Dean asks, "what?"

Castiel turns back to his searching with a shrug. "You're just as attractive with clothes on as without. It's annoying."

He's got a brilliant comeback, but his phone rings on the nightstand. Sam. Shit. He really should apologize for being a dick last night. He swipes to accept and presses the phone to his ear. "Hey, Sammy... nah, I'm taking the weekend off call... yeah." He winks at Castiel, motions to his phone.

Castiel waves him off fondly, already dressed and stripping the sheets from the bed because he's an awesome guest.

Once Dean's safely out of earshot of Castiel, he says, "hey, look, Sam. I'm sorry I was an asshole to you last night."

"No worries!" Sam exclaims, sounding surprised. "Seriously, that was on me. I deserved it for making fun of you."

"I didn't mean to react that way, but it was a real date. Not just a hookup. I know I haven't been on one in nine thousand years, but..."

Sam's enthusiasm is slightly irritating. "That's great! Wow. So, who's even good enough to actually catch your eye?"

Irritation gone. Being a lawyer makes his little brother a natural flatterer. "Great guy. Lit professor over at the college. I fixed his roof for him." He pulls out two mugs and the K-Cups from the cabinet above the Keurig. Castiel looks perfectly cozy when he pads into the kitchen in a pair of borrowed pajama pants and an old Stanford hoodie. Dean moves the phone away from his mouth to kiss Castiel's temple, point to the cup under the Keurig, and whisper, "yours."

"He's still there!" Sam exclaims because he's got creepy super-hearing.

"What?" He watches his omega prepare his coffee with all the relaxed ease of someone who's had a particularly nice start to their day.

"Your 'date.'" He can practically hear Sam making air quotes the way he stresses the word. "He spent the night. Jo's gonna flip!"

Dean huffs. "Don't you remember the other day when you made fun of me for being forty? I think that's freaking old enough to not gossip like a teenage girl."

Castiel hides a snort behind his mug.

" I'm not forty," Sam says primly, "so I'm gonna gossip. But hey, congrats! That's big news!"

Something has been niggling in the back of Dean's mind, and it suddenly hits him like a shot. "Why haven't you told Jo already?" he demands suspiciously. "Normally with this sort of thing you'd be screaming it 'til the neighbors complained."

"She's still asleep," Sam answers.

Even more suspicious. "When has that ever stopped you before?"

"Weeeeeell..." he pauses.

Dean keeps his mouth shut and counts backwards from ten.

At one: "okay, fine! Have we focused on your big news enough, 'cause I wanna be supportive and all, but I'm calling for a reason?" Sam says in one rushed breath.

Dean side eyes Castiel, who looks perfectly happy to kick back and eavesdrop on his side of the conversation. "Ain't that big, so yeah," he allows.

He didn't think it was possible for his brother to talk any faster, but the man was born to amaze. "Jo's still sleeping and I'm not bothering her right now because she's pregnant! We finally managed to mate! And we're so damn happy, except for her for the last couple days because wow morning sickness and fatigue, but she's pregnant, Dean! I'm gonna be a dad! You're gonna be an uncle! Holy shit!"

"Holy shit!" Dean echoes softly. That's... holy shit ! Sam and Jo have struggled to mate for years, despite having an incredibly strong blood bond. They've had all the right components, but Jo's always had mild heats, so even when she and Sam were synced with a heat and rut, they hadn't been able to conceive. Now that he thinks about it, Dean's pretty sure they mentioned starting to try for pups going on five years ago. "Holy shit," he says again, numbly holding his coffee. He meets Castiel's questioning gaze and can't bring himself to look away. "That's great, Sammy." The weakness in his tone makes the blue eyes locked on him darken with concern. He wrinkles his nose a little at the shift of Castiel's scent from early morning afterglow to cautious anxiety, wondering how worried he should be. Dean shakes his head with a small smile, but Castiel doesn't look away. "I... wow ."

Sam sounds worried now, too. "Is this okay? Should I have waited to tell you or something? I'm not trying to be insensitive. I wanted you to be the first to know."

Dammit, his little brother shouldn't be capping his enthusiasm. It's a big deal. That shakes loose the stupor. He puts his mug down on the table. "No!" he insists. "It's awesome news, Sammy, for real! Unexpected is all. Needed a minute to get over the shock. Jesus. Wow. I'm happy for you, okay?"

Sam's happy, excited relief carries over the speaker. "Thanks! You're gonna build the nursery for us, right? I really - oh. Hang on. Yikes. Jo's up, and she looks cranky." There's scratching and muted talking and then Sam's voice returns in a stage whisper. "I have to go."

Dean barks a laugh. "Damn right you do. Text me later or something." The call ends. Dean taps his cell phone against his chin thoughtfully. There's a lot of mixed feelings he's not ready to spoil his morning with. But the warring emotions have obviously carried over into his scent, because Castiel slowly stands out of his chair and approaches him, stopping right within arm's reach.

"Is everything all right?" he asks.

Dean takes in his omega's face. All the lines, the pronounced brow, crystalline eyes, full lips, cleft chin. He'd have beautiful children. If he could defy the statistics or something. But Castiel had sounded pretty certain that he'd reached sterility when he'd mentioned it. Dean sets his cell phone next to his coffee and reaches up to run his fingers over Castiel's neck glands. "My sister-in-law is finally pregnant," he answers. "They've been trying for years. Sam wanted me to know first."

Castiel's confusion is understandable. "Isn't that happy news? Is there something wrong with her pregnancy?"

The suggestion alone is enough to bring Dean's humor back. "She's fine," he assures. "But Sam's gonna have to buy better running shoes because Jo's a force of nature when she's not dealing with morning sickness, or pregnancy in general. I'll probably have to keep clean sheets on the bed in his room for the next nine months."

Castiel face eases into a sympathetic smile. "That's very considerate of you." Satisfied that there's nothing wrong, Castiel smooths a hand over Dean's forehead, kisses him briefly, then moves back to the table to drink his coffee and check the messages on his phone.

Dean watches him, feeling a small stir of something profound. He can acknowledge that Castiel has the potential to be his match. He's already leagues away from being a short fling since he's still here and Dean likes it. But he can't help mulling over the future. He doesn't know about bonding potential yet, though he's ready to accept there won't be pups in his future with Castiel, if they make it that far.

He's surprised that the thought hurts in a nebulous way. He's okay not having kids; has always been fine not being a parent. It's never once been some pull he thought he'd be missing out on. But... when he looks at Castiel - at their potential - he can't help wish that every option was still on the table. That choice, not necessity, would have driven the decision. Years ago, he'd fancied himself the type of person who would have decided to have kids or not based on his partner's desires. He'd be happy either way with everything else in his life running along fine.

He shakes his head. "You hungry? I got frozen waffles and fresh strawberries."

Castiel smiles up at him, peaceful. "That sounds wonderful. Can I help?"

Forcing the levity back, Dean quips, "you already are, sitting there looking pretty."

Castiel's laugh is genuine and Dean can't really explain why he feels a little bad about it.

Chapter Text

Castiel stays for a few hours until after dinner. He laments the chores around his house and the papers he needs to grade. Dean certainly appreciates the show, which he knows is partly for his benefit. The feeling is mutual. And he proves it with an enthusiastic makeout session in Castiel's driveway despite the cold.

He doesn't have much time to miss the omega, anyway. He's only just home and putting clean sheets on the bed when he gets a text.

Cas: 9:34 PM The first paper I picked up has two misused words in the first three sentences. It's going to be a long night.

Dean grins.

Me: 9:34 PM Maybe there doing it on porpoise? I feel Sauron 4 U.

Cas: 9:36 PM I do have standards in who I date, you know.

Me: 9:37 PM Eye no.

Cas: 9:37 PM I'm turning my phone off now.

Me: 9:38 PM Aw, don't be that way, sweetheart. I've got SO MANY MORE.

Cas: 9:38 PM Good night, Dean.

Me: 9:39 PM Night, Cas. :D

***

Sunday they keep texting, and Dean can't say what he likes more: how cranky Castiel is the mornings, or the snippets of the worst sentences he's ever read from the Lit 101 essays. By early afternoon, all Cas has left to say is, "That's it. I quit and I'm failing everyone." Dean replies that he'll bring burgers for lunch tomorrow if he just hangs in there. That earns him a, "fine. I'll only fail the true abominations. You owe me. It better be the best burger in the USA."

Then Sam texts him in the afternoon, freaking out just a little bit, begging Dean to come over and distract Jo from... well, everything.

With some trepidation, he knocks on the door. Jo answers, and wow, she looks awful.

"Sam called you," she says flatly.

Since he's not at all sure how this is about to go down, he holds out a shopping bag wordlessly. She grabs it and peers inside. "What's all this shit?"

"Ginger everything," Dean replies, rocking back on his heels. "Lollipops, tea, candies, peppermint stuff, too. They say it helps with the morning sickness, and it's safe for pregnancy."

She walks straight into his chest. He holds her carefully, kissing the top of her head. "I should have married you."

He steers her back inside. "You'd hate me too in this state if I was your bondmate."

"Sam keeps fucking stinking up the place. I can't stand it. Every time I see that worried look on his face when I so much as blink weird, I know I'm about to barf because a second later his pheromones. Ugh , they're awful."

Dean guides her straight back to the porch for some fresh air. Now that she mentions it, Sam's worried scent is pretty damn thick in the house. "He'll stop worrying if you tell him it'll make his hair fall out."

She chuckles weakly, still squished against his arm until they're outside again. It's cold, but Sam installed outdoor heaters, and Dean had built the deck more like a sun room with windows that open all the way. He cracks a few wide enough to dissipate the pheromones without getting rid of the heat. Jo sits closest to the windows with the bag of crystallized ginger. "He's worried that I'm not eating anything."

"Not to be invasive, but you do look like shit."

"I totally know it. Doc says it's good enough for the time being if I can stay hydrated. Which I am. We've been waiting so long for this, and I'm ruining it."

She looks dangerously close to tears, which is alarming on so many levels. "Hey," Dean leans forward to pat her knee. "Jo, this is pregnancy. It's not easy for anyone. But it'll get better. You're healthy and all that, so it'll even out once your body adjusts."

She sniffles loudly. "I know. Thanks."

"Where's the Sasquatch, anyway?"

"I kicked him out to run errands for a few hours." She experimentally bites on one of the ginger pieces. Finds it to her liking, and tucks into more of them.

Dean beams. "Want me to go open the windows inside for a while?"

"I wasn't gonna ask," she says wryly.

He kisses her cheek. "It's why I came over. Sam will freak less if we can get you in better shape. Unless I stink too much as well."

She waves him off. "You're good. You aren't panicking, so I can stand you."

"It's 'cause I know how tough you are."

Jo gives him a weak fist pump in answer.

First thing's first inside. He grabs the pheromone neutralizer from under the kitchen sink, spritzing as he goes from room to room propping the windows open half way. He hopes Jo told Sam to buy the industrial sized bottles as one of his errands. They're gonna need it. Mates don't have any use for it, except in times of pregnancy or true distress. Jo's not one in a million here. Says so right on the bottle. Perfect for neutralizing after heats, ruts, illness, emotional events, and pregnancy . Call it one of the failures of their genders, but lots of pregnant Weres have issues with their mates at the beginning. Pregnant alphas less than omegas, but it still happens with regularity. All the changing body chemistry added to the natural urge of alphas to provide, protect, defend. And they can't do much about morning sickness or mood swings, so it turns into sour, constant anxiety with no outlet.

Dean opens the door to the guest room and promptly staggers back. Plugs his nose. "Gross." Clearly Sam's been banished here. The room reeks of agitated alpha. He's going to have to learn to calm down for Jo's sake, or else it's going to be a long first trimester. Dean douses the room before stripping the sheets and also removing all the dirty clothes. The master bedroom is better, though only just. Dean's pretty glad that he's never had to deal with this particular life event for the time being.

Last thing is to shove the linens into the washing machine. He also microwaves a mug of water for Jo to have some tea. Hydration is important.

She thanks him when he returns, and they sit in silence for a long time watching the snow fall. Then they hear the garage door screech open. Jo tenses. Dean rubs her shoulder. "Let me handle it," he says.

She gives him the most thankful look he's ever had the pleasure of receiving.

Sam's digging bags out of the trunk. "Hey, little brother," Dean greets.

Sam peeks around the trunk. He looks exhausted. "Thanks for coming over, Dean. I didn't mean to wreck your day off. Especially when you haven't had one in a decade."

"That's a lie," Dean scoffs. "Remember when I had the flu, like... what, three years ago? I was off for a week."

Sam chuckles exhaustedly. "You for real needed to cut back if you're counting three days in the hospital followed by strict bed rest as a vacation."

Dean steps down the length of the car, resting his hip against the back door. "Dude, my days off aren't only for me to catch up on my shows and play video games in my pajamas. It's to be around for my family when they're having a hard time. And you and Jo? You're having a hard time."

Sam drops the bags back into the trunk to scrub at his face. "That means a lot."

"I mean every word." He does. His heart bleeds for his little brother. He's got dark circles under his eyes, wrinkled clothes, hasn't shaved in days, and smells like showering is last on the to-do list.

"It was supposed to be this incredible thing," he mutters from behind his hands. "We've been trying for so long. But now... I can't even be within ten feet of her."

Dean sighs. "You could if you'd nut up."

Sam's hands drop to his sides. He blinks. "Dude."

"Sorry man, but you need the tough love right now. You're about an inch away from losing it, and Jo needs you. You're right; you've been waiting years for this, and it ain't all rosy. So what? That's life. It's messy and disappointing, but it ain't all bad. And right now isn't the time to be an alpha. It's time to be Sam fucking Winchester. Stop panicking. Jo's gonna be fine. She's always fine. She knows what she needs to do. So, here's what you're gonna do."

Sam quirks an eyebrow.

Dean plows on like he actually has any experience here. "You're gonna go upstairs to the guest bath and take a shower. Make yourself presentable. Did you get neutralizers? Pheromone blockers?"

His brother nods.

"Use 'em. They won't kill off everything since you're bonded to her, but they'll help. The first thing you do every morning is shower, blocker yourself all to hell, and wear clean clothes. Then get your act together. Go back to yoga or whatever. Anything to calm down. Unless Jo says something's wrong, then you gotta let her be pregnant her way without worrying about it. That's literally the best thing that you can do to get back to your happy place." He assumes, anyway.

Whatever the real truth is, Sam seems bolstered by Dean's words. He's smiling a tiny bit. "Butter Jo up for me, okay? I want to at least see her for a second today."

"You got it." He grabs all the bags in one go. He leaves the non-perishable stuff on the counter for Sam to deal with later since he's not that helpful, but he puts the cold stuff up. He slips back out to the porch afterwards. "Hanging in here?"

"Only if you banished him on my behalf."

"I did. Gave him a talking-to. Go easy on him, okay? He's huge. Which means he's got a lot more emotions filling up all that space than the rest of us."

"He's such an alpha," she mutters, face softer. "He doesn't need to be this way all the time. Everything'll be fine."

"It'll get better. He'll do his best for you."

"I know."

He only leaves when Sam steps onto the porch, freshly showered and shaved, smiling sheepishly, and Jo staggers to him, throwing herself into his arms and murmuring, "thank God you smell like nothing. I missed you."

***

Castiel opens his front door questioningly when his doorbell rings midafternoon. "Gabriel?"

"Cassie, you're alive?" He holds his hand up and Castiel gives him a very confused high five.

"Um."

His older brother shoves him out of the way. He stomps into the kitchen, spies Castiel's half-made sandwich, and steals it. "And you're feeding yourself, so that's another plus," Gabriel continues, mouth full.

"Why wouldn't I be? Why are you here? You're my brother, and I love you, but I've got a lot of work to do." Plus the beginnings of a monster of a stress headache. The 101 papers are beyond awful except for the small handful of future English majors who actually care about the subject matter. So it goes for all undergrad classes.

Gabriel hops up onto the counter, eating the rest of the sandwich in about three disgustingly large bites. "You realize you haven't spoken to your family in a week, right?"

Eyes wide, Castiel says, "no, that's not... wait, really? A whole week? Oh. Time flies."

"Seriously?" Gabriel actually smells perturbed. Castiel's even more shocked. "Cas, you call or text one of us at least every other day. Then there's this sudden radio silence for a whole week. We were all afraid something had actually happened to you, so I came here out of the goodness of my heart to make sure you weren't buried under all your books, or something, ya big nerd."

"I'm not a hermit," Castiel points out. "I'm sorry to worry everyone, but not getting in touch doesn't mean that I'm scrambling for my Life Alert button from a slip and fall. Besides, you would have seen me in church." He slaps Gabriel's hand away from the second sandwich he's managed to make.

"I didn't know that then, but I know that now, so kudos."

Scowling, Castiel says, "why didn't you just call?"

"Am I not allowed to visit?"

Castiel's head whips up. Perhaps he'd been a bit harsh with his mood getting in the way. Gabriel looks properly upset, and smells it, too. "Perhaps we should answer a few questions before more of them start piling up. I apologize for being short with you. I hate my 101 students. I think at least three of them are purposefully trying to frustrate me, so I've had a long week suffering through essays." He sits heavily on the kitchen chair.

"Don't let them break you, Cassie!" he exclaims cheerfully.

"I won't. As you can see, I'm okay. I'm not depressed and I'm not avoiding my friends and family."

"I can see that. And I am grateful to God for not bringing forth my worst nightmares."

Castiel rolls his eyes. He swipes his phone on. Smiles at Dean's latest text. I fly into your eyes/ like a moth skirts/ another dance around the/ perimeter of torch flames. Sounds more painful than romantic. Castiel laughs, which is the worst possible thing to do in front of Gabriel.

Gabriel grabs his phone with ninja-like reflexes. "That's private!" Castiel tries.

His brother doesn't care. "What is thiiiiiiiis?" He scrolls. And scrolls. And scrolls. "Castiel," he says primly. "Castiel James Novak. Who is Dean who's been sending you the stupidest love poetry ever written?"

"I'm dating him," Castiel answers definitively. Better to rip the band-aid off.

"You're no fun." Gabriel tosses his phone back with a disgusted noise. "You've always known how to steal my thunder."

"You ate my sandwich."

Laughing, Gabriel magnanimously puts the fixings away. "It was really good, too." He plops down opposite his little brother. Beams. Folds his hands politely on top of the table. Speaks in a teasing lilt. "Tell me about him. Does he work at the college, too?"

Castiel shrugs. "No. He's the handyman who fixed my roof."

"Ooh, the alpha you told us about at Sunday dinner? So there was actually something there?"

"It appears to be the case."

"Tell me you don't flirt with him like that," Gabriel despairs.

Castiel smiles enigmatically. "You don't want to know how I flirt with him."

The lewd comment takes a second to settle in. Once it does, Gabriel laughs until he's wiping tears out of the corners of his eyes. "I like this alpha already, if he's making the stuffiest Novak say shit like that. Guess I can report back to home base that everything's hunky-dory."

Castiel picks at the bread crust on his sandwich. "Please don't gossip," he begs mildly. "It's only been a week, and you know how Mother gets."

"I most certainly do." The statement is loaded. But Gabriel is good-humored about it. "Fine, I'll hold off, but you can't start ignoring your family completely for a hot piece of tail. Wait. I'm assuming here. Is he hot? I hope he's hot."

"He's hot," Castiel answers dryly.

"Well, then I've got nothing left to lecture you about."

"I highly doubt that."

Gabriel stands and brushes the crumbs off of his jeans. "I was trying to be nice. Thanks for lunch."

He's to the doorway when Castiel says, "Gabriel, I-" He's not sure what he's trying to say.

A soft smile smooths over his brother's face. "You do you, little bro. That's all any of us care about. That you're happy."

"I appreciate it."

Gabriel gives him a lazy salute, and leaves Castiel sitting in the kitchen with a lot more to contemplate than he'd been expecting.

***

On Monday, Castiel is acutely aware of a change. There's a distinct line drawn between Before Dating Dean, and Now Dating Dean. It feels significantly different. The good morning text from Dean is a nice addition. Despite that being the only change to his morning routine, the rest of it still feels different somehow. It's the same shower, the same clothes, the same coffee, the same blueberry bagel. The water doesn't feel more soothing on his skin, his clothes don't fit better, the coffee is as perfect as always, the blueberry bagel delicious with whipped butter. There's something in the back of his mind constantly whispering that life has changed for him.

Maybe it won't be permanent. But from here on out, there will always be a pre-Dean and a post-Dean. He hasn't had a relationship in so long, he can't remember if it's supposed to be this way. At least it's a pleasant worry. Especially when he can't put a finger on the feeling directly. It just is . It certainly makes his 101 classes easier to deal with. He can't even bring himself to lecture the Composition class on their terrible papers. Usually he'd remind them that proper composition is the whole point of a composition class, however, today he cheerfully passes out a good number of failing grades and informs them, "I am one of those professors who actually reads your papers, rather than skimming, so it would behoove you all to take more care with the next assignment since I don't grade on a curve."

In his World Literature class even Claire and Alex don't come to any significant arguments. Alex seems disinterested in fairy tales, and Claire has nothing but good things to say about the stories they'd been assigned to read. Castiel finds himself engaging in the conversation more than usual himself, and is happy enough that he assigns less homework reading than he'd originally planned.

His good mood carries him to his office, and shoots pleasantly to a higher level to see a familiar form lounging in a chair with his back to the door. A curl of warmth spreads through him. Dean had actually showed up as he'd promised.

Dean's head comes up from where he'd been hunched over texting. He takes a single deep scenting breath in and tilts his head slightly. "Hey, Cas," he says without turning around.

Without any regard for his assistant, who is blatantly spying, Castiel closes his glassed office door firmly, places his hand on Dean's shoulder, and bends down to kiss him. "Have you been here long?" He can't keep the smile of adoration off of his face.

Dean leans in a little more, scenting his happiness with satisfaction. It's not the most polite gesture in public, but Castiel doesn't care in the slightest. Dean's wonderful, and attractive, and that's worth being the center of collegiate gossip for a while. He'll be proud of it, in fact. "Nah, ten minutes, maybe. How's your day? Smells like it's good."

"Yes, so does lunch. What did you bring?"

"The best damn burgers in the state of Montana. With fries. No salad, don't complain."

"I won't." Castiel drops his messenger bag behind his desk and drags his chair around the side to sit closer to his alpha. Dean takes out the containers, still warm, and opens them up. So far, Castiel's prepared to believe Dean about the burgers. They're huge. Thick patties on buttered rolls, piled with cheese, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup, and mustard. The fries are seasoned, thick cut wedges. Dean dumps several ketchup packets from the bag, and Castiel snags a few for his fries. "I thought I'd tried every burger place in the area. This is a surprise." The bag and boxes are completely unmarked, but he's certain he hasn't had these before.

"Unless you're a fan of roadhouse bars, you'd probably never think to go here."

Intrigued further, Castiel takes a tentative bite out of the burger. It's truly amazing. "Oh, my God," he exclaims, forgetting his good manners about not talking with his mouth full. "This makes me very happy."

"Told 'ya," Dean grins and goes for his fries first. "Sam's mate, Jo? Her mom owns the place. It can get kinda rough - or used to, but she's tough, and makes the best food. She and her mate looked after me and Sam as much as they could when my dad passed away. I was grown by then, but it didn't stop them from feeding us all the time and making sure I could keep the bills paid."

Dean's tone and gentle dandelion scent put Castiel completely at ease. "I rarely ever go to bars, and don't recall ever having been to a roadhouse. Clearly I've been missing out."

They eat quietly for a few minutes. Dean finishes the majority of his food first, satisfied to watch Castiel enjoy his. It doesn't take him long to start laughing.

Castiel pauses, eyeing him. "What?"

Dean proffers a napkin. "You got ketchup just... like, everywhere."

"I was hungry and this is the best burger ever." Castiel cleans his face unapologetically.

"You're cute when you let your hair down." Dean winks and Castiel can feel his ears heat. He glances over Dean's shoulder. Five people have gathered to watch. None of them are being subtle about it.

Dean wipes his hands off on his napkin. "We got an audience?"

"Oh, yes," Castiel drawls. "Nearly half the department is out there."

"Awesome." Without any warning, Dean closes the distance between them, arm looping over Castiel's shoulder, kissing him like he does when they're alone.

And Castiel lets him because it's become instinct to crave his alpha. Dean tastes tangy like pickles with an afterburn of spicy deli mustard, and honestly, Castiel could do this all day. He can't hear what's happening outside of his office, but he'd bet his tenure that someone's got their cell phone recording. In a list of things in Castiel's life that "just aren't done" and/or "haven't been done," this might be the most surprising. Not to toot his own horn, but he's been asked out plenty of times in his fifteen years at the university; always politely declining at the risk of mixing his work with his personal life. It makes him feel like he's twenty-five again, making out with an extremely sexy alpha in plain view. He's so proud of himself.

When Dean pulls away, his wicked smile mirrors Castiel's. He taps their foreheads together. "That wasn't just to start trouble, I swear. I've been holding back since you took the first bite of that burger."

"Two people are filming and my assistant is holding up a sign that says, 'do it again' in all capital letters."

Dean laughs. "So, what you're saying is that everyone here is as weird as you."

"That's what I'm saying," Castiel agrees, too far gone on this whole day so far to care that Dean's teasing him. He's probably right, anyway.

Dean pulls back just enough to make them look decent. "Can I do this for you again?"

That's a ridiculous question. "I'd be sad if you didn't."

Now Dean fully leans back in his chair, taking his soda with him. "I've got a few late jobs coming up, so I won't be able to see you after work until Friday. Lunch is a good enough excuse."

"That's okay." It's not super okay, but he understands the necessity. Too bad both his human brain and his hindbrain want Dean around all the time. "Will you be free on the weekend?"

"Yes," Dean says emphatically. "Now that I've had a taste of lazing around for two whole days, I'm spoiled and can't get enough of it. I promise to keep the weekend work to actual emergencies from now on."

Nothing makes Castiel happier than hearing that because there's an undertone of Dean meaning to do it for him. "We can be lazy together."

"I'd like that."

Lunch finished, Castiel collects the trash to throw away, and he walks with Dean out of the office back to his car. The parking lot is close to his next class. He ignores his coworkers staring at them wordlessly as they depart. He might even be smiling quite brightly about it.

At the Impala, Dean kisses him like they both wanted to from the get-go; firm, deep, and more handsy than they'd been in his office. When they pull apart, Castiel is thoroughly tousled. Somehow his tie has even managed to get turned around. He doesn't care in the slightest. Dean's not much more together, either. They grin at each other.

Dean says softly, "text me when you get home."

Castiel presses in for another kiss. "I will. Be safe. The roads will get icy tonight."

"Promise." One last, quick kiss, and Dean is on his way, Castiel huddling in his coat until the rumble of the Impala fades away.

***

On Thursday Castiel cancels his office hours, not expecting anyone to show up without impending grades to be handed out, and exams still a long way off. The weather had warmed up slightly again over the past few days to melt some of the snow, but it's falling again, making for some treacherous driving, even with snow tires on the re-frozen ice. It takes almost three times as long to get home, despite still being relatively early. He passes more than a handful of cars driven into ditches on his slow crawl.

Once safe, he immediately pulls out his cell phone to text Dean. His alpha had beat him to it about an hour ago.

Dean: 3:15 PM I hate working outside in the winter. Am I old enough to retire yet?

He smiles sympathetically. Types rapidly.

Me: 4:45 PM I hope you're bundled up. The temperature has dropped a lot. I'm home safe.

He goes inside quickly, shucking his coat and shoes, still damp from his run through the parking lot. The cold front coming through promises unfortunate temperatures, so he wastes no time changing into his warmest lounging clothes, and turns on the gas fireplace in the living room. A cup hot cider later, he's settled in to do his work close to the fire. He's pushed the low coffee table as near the heat as he dares, and is sitting on a throw pillow with the papers from his Creative Writing class and his laptop on the table. A Netflix show on in the background is perfect enough to make him sleepy after a while. He yawns and catches sight of the clock on his computer screen. It's almost eleven. Curiously, he checks his phone. No more texts from Dean. He prays the job hasn't actually lasted this long. It's been dark for quite some time now, and even the most stout people out there will surely be risking frostbite since the wind's picked up. Maybe he'd just been too tired to say goodnight? Dean's made a habit of wishing him a good morning and a good night every day, but that doesn't mean he'll always remember.

He's in the middle of texting Dean again, debating whether to actually call him instead, when he's interrupted by his doorbell ringing. He scrambles to answer it.

It's Dean looking as miserable as he smells. In fact, he practically falls flat on his face when he slumps against Castiel before the omega's ready to catch him. "Dean?" Panic spikes so fast that it makes Dean sneeze pitifully and press a hand to his side.

"Can I spend the night, please?" he mumbles into Castiel's neck.

"Yes, of course! Please come in. What happened? Are you all right?" He has to consciously stop himself from talking so fast as he ushers his alpha inside. Dean's exposed skin is frigid, his clothes stiff from frozen sweat and snow. He shoves Dean down onto his abandoned throw pillow in the living room. "Stay there. Wait. I'll get you... I'll... clothes ! A change of clothes. Take those off." He waves vaguely at Dean. On his way out of the room, he grabs the blanket off the back of the couch, practically throwing it at Dean. He startles when he realizes that Dean's standing again, closer than expected.

Gently, he removes the blanket from Castiel's hands. In a gentle-commanding alpha tone, Dean says, "it's okay, Cas. Calm down for a minute. Take a breath."

Castiel takes four. "I'm sorry. It's not helping you if I..." he trails off. Dean strips off his grimy shirts, kicks off his boots, lets his jeans fall to the floor. Normally that would be a huge turn on, but... " Dean !" Castiel exclaims, unconsciously reaching out to lightly touch an angry series of welts and bruises scratching up his lower back to his chest. The renewed panic makes both their eyes water.

Dean takes Castiel's hands carefully. They're freezing. "I'm okay," he assures him. "Little banged up is all. I'm sorry I didn't text or call you first. As soon as I got out of the hospital-"

"- hospital ?!"

"- my only thought was to get here to you. Your pheromones are a good analgesic. Well, when you're calmer. But I've also got a prescription for the good stuff if you'll let me stay the night so I don't have to drive."

"Yes, yes, you can spend the night," Castiel says impatiently, wrapping Dean securely in the blanket all the way up to his chin. "Please tell me what happened before I drop dead of anxiety right here and now."

Dean huffs a laugh, then grabs his side again wincing. "It's really not as bad as it looks. Bumps and bruises only. But since I'm licensed and insured, I had to get it checked out since I was hurt on the job."

Gingerly, Castiel guides Dean down onto the sofa. "Oh, Dean, I'm so sorry. Are you really going to be okay?"

"Sure," Dean attempts levity. "All I did was fall out of a tree." Castiel opens his mouth, horrified, but Dean puts a finger over his lips. "I'm really okay. No breaks. I shouldn't have been climbing the damn thing with all the ice in the first place. I knew I shouldn't have done it. It's the same carelessness that put my dad out of work and nearly ended his career."

Castiel strokes down Dean's face. "Why'd you do it, then? Was this a job you were going to do on the weekend before?"

"Hey, don't even start smelling like someone farted in the library, okay? I wasn't overbooked. I was plain old stupid. Live and learn. I won't make the same mistake again."

Castiel's held back enough. He kisses Dean all over his face, over and over, frantic, but light, hands cupping the back of his head. Dean grabs his wrists and returns the kiss, affirming. "You scared me," Castiel breathes.

"That's why I came here to see you. Benny, um... my doctor, he said it'd help both of us." He guides their joined hands down to his lap.

Castiel's eyes widen slightly and he sits back to get a better look at Dean. "We're not bonded," he says fondly.

"Yeah, I know," Dean answers, gaze falling to their hands. "But even if we aren't... we're scent compatible, so... like... you'll stay relaxed and I won't hurt as bad if we stick close. We don't... we don't have to, if you're not comfortable with it."

Castiel shakes his head. "I am. I can't let you go home, and for that I apologize. I feel like I need to take care of you now."

Dean kisses him again. "I don't want to impose."

"You'd be imposing if you left. Dean. May I take care of you?"

"Yes, please."

The permission is plenty for Castiel to become all business. He allows his hindbrain the leeway of taking some form of control. His alpha asked to be taken care of. It'll help them both. He stands up. Ticks off on his fingers. "Good. Warm drink, warm clothes, something to eat before you take your pain medication. Then bed. It's late, and you need all the rest you can get to heal faster. I'm going to send out an email cancelling my classes tomorrow."

"No, you don't have to-" the stern look cuts him off. With a small smile, he redirects. "Thanks."

He doesn't need thanks. He'll do anything for Dean. It makes him feel so good to do this for his alpha. There's a sense of completion in it that he's never known before, having never been this close to a desire to bond. That he was the first one Dean thought of to comfort him? It's all he can ask. It's all he'd been hoping for. Over his concern is bone-deep happiness.

"You're welcome," he says.

Chapter Text

When Dean wakes up he's in an astonishing amount of pain. He feels like he challenged a mac truck to a joust. And almost won. Nothing's broken, Benny had assured him, butting in on his treatment thanks to his preferred hospital privileges, but everything feels broken, and in the cold light of pre-dawn, that's what counts. He tries to lay as still as possible, thankful for the firm mattress under him. But spots throb in time to his rapid heartbeat behind his closed eyes, and he can't quite bite back a gasp when his ribs give an extra awful twinge.

A warm hand slides over his good shoulder. At first it's an added shock of pain on his overly-sensitive nerves, but then he catches a whiff of Castiel's leather-bound comfort. It's different then. The hand slips into his hair. "I'm here," Castiel's sleep rough voice soothes him. "Come here."

Castiel is sleeping on Dean's uninjured side, so he easily, automatically rolls towards the omega. Castiel positions Dean gently, chin tucked against his shoulder. Dean opens his mouth against Castiel's neck, scenting the glands. Bonded or not, his body wants the comfort of this one single omega, so reacts as it would for his mate; releasing endorphins that ease the pain somewhat.

Castiel strokes Dean's arm in a slow up and down. "Try to loosen up," he murmurs against the alpha's forehead.

Dean snakes his arm around Castiel's back, hand fisting into his shoulder, pressing. He can't. He wants to relax, but his muscles are locked with the nauseating shocks of pain. Each wave makes him twitch in agony. But Castiel takes deliberate breaths in and out, murmuring encouragement with each exhale.

Dean focuses on that. The rise and fall of his hand against Castiel's back. His fingers spasm and relax finally. That's better. That's getting better. Castiel kisses him feather light on another exhale which unclenches the alpha's jaw. "Hurts," he rasps finally.

"I know," Castiel whispers. "Just hold on."

He does, literally and figuratively. It takes time, but gradually his body begins to respond to his omega. It's not a quick thing since they aren't bonded, but it does work with Castiel's guidance. He softly talks Dean through loosening one muscle group at a time, until he's sagging against him, sweating slightly and throbbing less. It's misery, but he's got the brightest light at the end of the tunnel that ever was. Eventually he can scent their pheromones mellowing towards complimentary, which helps them both settle further. Enough that Dean loses track of time when before every second of discomfort had seemed like an eternity.

"Ah, you lasted an hour," Castiel says quietly. "It's been six hours since your last pain pill. You can take another now."

Dean shifts but Castiel stops him immediately. "I'll do it." He moves in the darkness. Doesn't bother to turn on any lights. He comes back with a glass of cold water and the pill bottle. Then he props Dean's head up just enough so that he can swallow it without spilling all over the sheets. It's bad enough that Dean bites the pill before swallowing to get it to work faster.

Castiel climbs back in bed as carefully as he can. Dean reaches across the space between them to tangle their fingers together. It's a long wait for the medication to kick in, but he can tell that Castiel is going to stay awake the entire time with him. "Will you talk to me?" he asks.

"About what?" Castiel asks.

"Anything. Just want your voice. Takes my mind off of this."

There's a smile in his tender voice when he says, "I understand. I should talk to you about something mundane, I suppose. Let's see. This week for me has been boring. We had a department meeting, which I always hate because Dr. Adler adores the sound of his own voice. It was worse than usual this time because he's recovering from a sinus infection and has the most irritating nose whistle."

Dean breathes a small laugh.

"Two hours of it. My God, I thought I'd lose my mind. I doubt remember a thing he said."

"I'd love to see you get angry," Dean muses. "Seems impossible from what I know of you so far."

"It's rare," he admits. "It's happened, though. But otherwise, the week was very good. My students did well, and I was happier, and you brought me lunch. I had a dream about that burger, you know. I could probably eat it every day."

"Man after my own heart," Dean answers, tense voice beginning to ease more. "I'll tell Ellen you said so."

"Be sure to mention that I'm a true connoisseur so she knows how good the compliment actually is. I need to impress your family as much as possible."

"You bet. She'd like you. Spend hours telling you how you're too good for me."

Castiel turns his head, though it's too dark to make out his expression. "That would be very good for my ego. Anyway. I decided in the World Literature class to explore fairy tales this week. Normally I gloss over them because everyone here has read the European ones, but I reconsidered. I thought it might be fun for the students to look at their childhood stories from a more critical, adult perspective. They all did so well. They had a lot to say about the simple moral stories and black and white of it all. I was interested to see how many of them would still find enjoyment in reading them. Most did. It sparked a long discussion on the simpler times of childhood. An unexpected side effect was that I felt older than ever."

"Ooh," Dean breaks in. "Care for a cliché?"

"Oh, indeed," Castiel answers gamely.

Voice still raspy, Dean still puts on a dramatic tone and says, "you are aging like a fine wine, Castiel Novak."

He chuckles and pats Dean's hand. "That pain medication kicking in?"

"Yeah." It is. It's starting to make him pleasantly dizzy. The throbbing all the way down to his toes is beginning to abate. "What time is it?"

Castiel lifts his head to glare at the clock. "four in the morning."

"Did you really cancel your classes?"

"I sent the email as soon as you fell asleep. Don't feel guilty about it. I'll be a hot topic of conversation because of it."

Dean smiles. "Why?"

Castiel shrugs, scooting closer. "I haven't played hooky in my life. I was sent home once when I had the flu, but I've never taken a day off when I didn't need to. I worked the whole time during my sabbatical as well."

"That's because you're a big nerd," Dean drawls affectionately. "I'd expect nothing less from you. What do you think they're gonna say?"

"Easy. They're going to assume I skipped out for a long weekend to have sex with you."

"Please don't dissuade them." He nuzzles against the omega, petting his hair. "Wow. Your hair is soft . Feels like a friend."

Castiel snorts a laugh. "It'll be a shame when you don't need that medication anymore. It does amazing things for your brain to mouth filter." But he allows the petting, leaning into it. Dean's fingers feel wonderful carding through his hair, massaging his scalp lazily. They fall quiet again for a time.

"Thank you," Dean says into the silence. "What you're doing for me? I wasn't thinking when I left the hospital. My brain was just all, 'go to Cas. Do not pass Go. Do not collect two hundred dollars.' So I did. Come here, I mean. Not go to jail. Or to go."

After turning on the low-wattage end table lamp, Castiel rolls to his side, propping his head up on his hand with a laugh. He feathers Dean's hair off of his forehead. "I'm glad you came to me. Really. Can I tell you something that you're probably too drugged to remember?"

"Now's the time," Dean answers.

It's easier to say, but all the same, he hopes Dean remembers later. "We've got something here, Dean. I'm not going to deny it just because we've only known each other for three weeks, and dating for two. I've felt it. You have, too. That's why you showed up on my doorstep not worrying about the time of night, never doubting that I'd take you in willingly. Because I always will. We don't have to be together for some pre-arranged amount of time before we're an 'us.' We agreed to date and see where this goes. To me, that means doing and saying what feels right at the time. I think we've paid the dues of youth for long enough to not have to wait it out because it's the polite thing to do. The benefit of age is that we know our own minds much better."

Dean stares up him unblinking. Castiel hesitates. His big mouth has run away with him again. He's been known to do that sometimes when it's important to him. Gabriel likes to accuse him of emotional constipation that eventually erupts like a volcano. Castiel himself isn't a fan of mixed metaphors - he has some professional pride - however, he can see the point. It's probably true. He tries. And he didn't lie. He feels all of those things he'd just said to Dean. His hindbrain constantly whispers that he's doing the right thing. Every time he touches Dean, or kisses him, or makes him smile, or causes his pheromones to deepen, he's filled with the most extraordinary rightness.

Slowly, a wide grin blooms over Dean's face. "You're so fucking smart, Cas," he slurs. Drunken adoration shines in his eyes. "Everything you say is so smart. You're right, you know? I like you a lot. My hindbrain says it's good. My human brain says it's good. If we did what all the kids these days are doing, then that wouldn't be good. We should be good, y'know?"

"Are you going to remember any of this in the morning?"

"It is the morning."

"The later morning after you've slept some more."

"I'm not that high," Dean protests.

"I don't care if you are," Castiel answers. "Maybe it'll be less embarrassing."

Dean's feeling good enough that he's able to raise his head to kiss his omega firmly. But Castiel calls an end to the action as soon as Dean gets ahead of himself trying to pull his shirt off. "You're no fun," he whines.

"Medication doesn't make you Superman despite how much you feel like him right now."

"Enjoying it while I can," Dean quips. "That was the worst pain I've felt in ages."

Castiel kisses his forehead. "You should get more sleep while you can."

Dean snuggles right up against Castiel, knocking his arm down so they're both lying flat. He resumes his position against Castiel's neck to scent and taste the healing pheromones exactly as a sick or hurting child would do to their parent. Castiel reaches up to turn the light off and closes his eyes. He's glad that Dean showed up.

***

When Dean wakes up again, there's sunlight streaming into the room and Castiel isn't there. He hisses with pain when he belatedly realizes he probably shouldn't be stretching. He drops his arms, and his hand smacks down on paper. He picks it up, holding it over his head. It's an envelope with his name written neatly in the center.

There's a card inside of a snowboarder tumbling down a mountain. He flips it open and it reads, Does it ever feel like your guardian angel took a smoke break? Feel better soon. Underneath Castiel has written that he'll be back up soon with breakfast and Dean should stay in bed. The TV remote is also on the pillow.

Dean chuckles then braces his ribs. Castiel must be like those grandmothers who collect greeting cards whenever they go on sale. It suits his personality. He'll bet he even keeps stuff like bottled water and canned foods in the basement just in case he gets snowed in or otherwise can't make it to the store for an extended period of time. He's a preparer. He's got to be.

He's laughing about that when Castiel appears in the doorway holding a breakfast tray. "What's so funny?" he asks.

"Nothing," Dean grins, pushing up carefully.

Castiel places the food on his nightstand and then rushes to Dean's side to help prop him up on the pillows. He appreciates that Dean accepts the help without argument. It can be a bit of a tightrope walk with alphas when they're not at full capacity. They accept most forms of comfort, but not always coddling and assistance, even from mates.

Dean appears to be perfectly happy with the help, though, and Castiel should have figured as much. He's been easy-going from the start. He's probably the most mellow alpha Castiel's ever met, which works for him because being submissive all the time gets old for him really fast. Not that he's asking for much. Wanting much. Besides, they appear to be attuned to each other more and more. Dean knows when to let go, and only once has Castiel been unsure of an action towards the alpha. He's receptive to all of Castiel's likes and dislikes so far. It's incredible. Scent compatibility sure is something else. He himself always feels a tug to please Dean. Make the relationship worth his while. And it's never felt like something he'd rather not give.

"You got my card," he smiles.

"That's what I was laughing about. Do you, like, have a stocked basement?"

Brow furrowed, Castiel answers, "it's finished, if that's what you're asking?"

He raises his arms to allow Castiel to slide the tray onto his lap. It's light food just in case his system won't tolerate anything fancy, but it still looks good. Cinnamon raisin toast, a sliced apple with a ramekin of peanut butter on the side, and a cup of warm tea. It smells a little flowery. "This looks great," he says, going for the toast. "But I was asking if you had supplies down there. For the apocalypse or something."

Castiel climbs back into the bed with his cup of coffee. "I keep a small store of non-perishable items, yes. Don't make fun of me. Remember three years ago when we had that blizzard and couldn't get anywhere for a few days? We lost power here for almost a week and it was below freezing the whole time. But I was prepared with my gas appliances and generator to turn on every now and then so the house could stay warm. I didn't need the water or the food, but that was only because I'd been grocery shopping a couple days before."

"Yeah," Dean recalls. "That shit was utter misery. I had a generator, but I hadn't refilled it, so it kicked out after a day. I lived in front of my fireplace for two days. Afterwards, I had more work than I could handle with burst pipes, roof cave-ins, all sorts of damage to homes because of the ice buildup. Made a lot of good money, though."

"What happened to you this time?" Castiel asks since the opening is there, accepting an offered apple slice with peanut butter.

"It really was a stupid accident," Dean assures him between bites of food. "I was fixing some gutters and cutting some overhanging branches on a tree. Simple stuff that I was taught to do forever ago. It's not like I don't know how to do that shit safely. I just got careless." He takes the pain pill Castiel offers him. "I put my ladder up to get some of the higher branches, and I guess the steps froze or something because the next thing I knew, I was falling right into the branches and down to the ground. Luckily there was enough powdered snow to cushion my fall. It could have been a lot worse."

Castiel winces, trying to trust Dean's assessment as much as he can so as not to cause his pheromones to add to the problem. Dean's are already sour rotting dandelions thanks to his obvious discomfort. So Castiel decides to go by his cue and act far more at ease than he feels. "Have you told your brother?" he asks hesitantly.

"Not yet," Dean admits. "He's got enough on his plate right now, and I'm really gonna be okay. I'll text him later, though."

"That's good. He might have already called, which is why I asked. Your cell phone rang about an hour ago. That's what woke me up." He picks it up off the nightstand before Dean can ask. "It looks as beat up as you do."

The screen is spider-webbed with cracks, but it still flashes on when Dean presses the home button. "It was in my back pocket," he says. "Still under warranty, so I can get it fixed cheap." He pokes to his dial pad. "It's just Benny. Probably calling to check up on me. I'll get back to him later. He muscled his way into being my doctor last night. Great guy. I've known him since we were kids."

"He's normally your primary care doctor?"

"One and the same."

Castiel sips his coffee. "Is he good with all secondary genders? I hate my doctor."

"I'll send you his info. He's good with everyone."

Dean eats his small breakfast slowly, afterwards announcing that he feels fine and stealing the rest of Castiel's coffee. They watch the morning news and weather report until Dean's medication kicks in, then Castiel suggests a shower. Admittedly, Dean is a bit grimy after yesterday.

Castiel grabs the alpha a loose change of clothes from the dresser and then turns on the shower cooler than normal so as not to exacerbate the swelling and raw scrapes on Dean's back and ribs. The bruising looks especially awful in the light. "I'll get you an ice pack after we're done," he promises while he gingerly helps Dean out of his clothes.

Dean's range of movement is terrible despite being mostly pain-free for the time being, so Castiel strips down as well to join him. They step into the spray, and Castiel marvels at Dean mostly keeping his hands to himself. He can't resist a series of good morning kisses, but it goes no further.

In fact, Dean thinks it's pretty damn nice to be washed by his omega. Castiel takes all the care in the world soaping up their hair, then is extra gentle with the loofah on Dean's wounds, cleaning them diligently. When they're done and drying off, Dean beams at him. "I feel like I don't tell you how good you are to me often enough."

"I could stand to hear it a thousand more times," Castiel teases.

Dean snaps out his towel, snagging it around Castiel's waist and pulling him close. He peppers kisses all over his omega's face, between each one murmuring, "you're so good to me. So good. Awesome. So good to me, Cas."

Castiel lets it continue until the light touches cross over to ticklish. Then he ushers Dean back into the bedroom and helps him dress. Once he has Dean comfortably tucked back into bed, Castiel asks, "is there anything you need? I'll get you an ice pack."

"Did I bring my bag in?" he asks. "I could do some of my paperwork on my laptop if we're just gonna chill all day. And the insurance stuff. It's a pain in the ass." He rubs his eyes.

"I didn't see you bring it in. I'll get it if you promise not to push yourself too much."

Dean gives him a thumbs up and a yawn.

Castiel picks up the keys from the nightstand and makes a short trip to the car to dig out Dean's laptop case. It's freezing and still snowing, so he's actually pretty damn glad that he decided to cut class today. It's perfect weather for staying indoors. He's got gel ice packs in the freezer, so he grabs two and wraps them in a hand towel.

Dean allows him to fuss adjusting the ice packs on his back. "Fuck, that feels great," he moans, relaxing back against the pillows.

"I've set the timer on my phone for when you can have your next dose of medication," Castiel says, businesslike. "Is there anything else I should be made aware of for your treatment?"

Grinning, Dean answers, "just resting and taking it easy. Being spoiled by the best omega in the whole world. Lots of TV watching should help. Junk food. You know, the normal treatment plan."

"Oh, yes, that's very thorough." Castiel answers dryly.

Dean puts his computer on the breakfast tray, and Castiel uses his lap desk for his own computer and stack of ungraded papers. The upper level essays he has to grade are far more engaging to read, so he easily gets lost in them. He's not sure how much time passes, only glancing up when a wide yawn from Dean breaks his concentration. He smiles widely at the alpha.

"What?" Dean asks at his odd expression.

Castiel feels his neck flush. "I didn't know you wore glasses," he mumbles.

Dean pushes the black framed glasses up the bridge of his nose. "Shut up, I'm old and can't read close up anymore. Shouldn't you wear glasses? You're squinting at your papers and shit all the time."

"I wasn't making fun," Castiel says. He's not. Really, really not. "I was just wishing you weren't injured right now."

That piques Dean's interest immediately. His nostrils flare and his eyes widen. "Oh," he says stupidly. A different kind of smile creeps across his face. "You got a thing for glasses there, Cas?"

Castiel catches a whiff of Dean's warming outdoorsy scent. Leans away from it. "Don't," he warns. "It won't be fair. You're injured so we shouldn't do anything. You know I won't be able to resist."

The grin turns predatory. Dean pointedly removes the tray with his computer from his lap, broadcasting his intent. "Do you really want to turn me down?"

With a small growl of frustration, Castiel answers, "you know I don't, you assbutt."

Even his small laugh sounds like he wants to eat him. "C'mere, Cas," Dean says softly. The gentle alpha-toned order combined with his earthy arousal has Castiel responding immediately. He shoves his work away in favor of climbing into Dean's lap, resting over his thighs away from his wounds.

He doesn't even have a single fleeting uneasy thought for how willing he is to do whatever his alpha tells him to do. It's a power he is positive that Dean would never even think of abusing. They both want exactly the same things, anyway. He'll trust Dean to know his limits. He knows it's unwise in most cases to trust blindly, but he's currently kissing the alpha with his eyes wide open, so at least literally, there's nothing blind about it. Plus, the glasses are crazy-hot.

In fact, it's quite thrilling to have fewer points of contact than normal. He and Dean are both physical men. They love touching, stroking, being overwhelmed by physical sensations. But with Dean being hurt, there are limits to the touching, so the spots they do land are increasingly sensitive. Dean keeps the preliminary kissing light until Castiel's lips tingle with both satisfaction and the need for more. He doesn't risk it, though. Dean should take the lead here. Which he does willingly.

He slips his hands over Castiel's shoulders, down his arms, barely touching, and Castiel shivers at the sensation.

"I feel better already," Dean says, which is ridiculous because they haven't even done anything yet.

"I don't want to hurt you more," Castiel says, only mildly worried. His hindbrain is doing a good job of making sure his practical side doesn't kill the mood completely.

"You're not capable of that," Dean breathes. "Not ever, so come on and get up here." At Castiel's confused look, Dean wiggles down among the pillows until he's only partially propped upright. "I wanna suck you off. It'll improve my health."

Castiel is trembling with the effort to hold back. Because he definitely wants that. Dean looks beautiful all the time, and with his full lips wrapped around his dick, watching the omega getting off. Wanting it just as much...

"I'll leave the glasses on," Dean adds.

That's the tipping point. Castiel raises up onto his knees. Dean's hands fall to his hips, guiding him forward while simultaneously sliding his pants down until he's where he needs him; bared to him. His fingers squeeze briefly into the meat of his ass. Castiel feels the first of his slick trickle onto the back of his thighs. Dean brushes it with his thumb.

Dean's hair is messy from not brushing it after their shower, mossy green eyes dark with lust, face flushed. He's unbelievable. Castiel moves as if in a trance. One hand fists onto Dean's uninjured shoulder, clenching the soft cotton shirt. His other hand drifts into his alpha's hair, fingers splayed against his scalp, just resting.

His half hard dick is eye level with Dean's mouth, and the alpha licks his lips. But instead of pulling Castiel closer, he redirects, trailing his hand straight down Castiel's chest, over the tip of his dick. He gives it a few strokes to bring him to full hardness, then he continues down to his balls, and back even further to his wet hole.

Castiel lets out the smallest of sighs when one finger slips inside. Dean can hone in on his prostate in a second. Which he does. Repeatedly until Castiel can't help but yank soundly on Dean's hair.

Dean growls his encouragement, thrusting in and out of Castiel with maddening patience.

It's not nearly enough because of what Dean had promised before. All it does is cause Castiel to clench around the finger, listening to the obscene sounds of his own ragged breathing and the squelch of his slick when Dean pushes deeper. But Castiel won't risk moving more or taking the lead, though he's beginning to think that Dean's using his injuries to an unfair advantage. Which is a true disadvantage for Castiel.

" Mmm ," Dean moans. "Getting a little agitated there, sunshine? I can smell it." He withdraws his finger to the first knuckle and tugs at his rim. Castiel leans with it. He can feel Dean's warm breath on his cock and it jumps. Dean kisses the head, flicks it with a brief lick.

Castiel isn't ashamed of the goosebumps that erupt over his body. It takes everything in him to not shove his dick past Dean's smirking lips. He also can't look away. The injuries and medication are muting Dean's scent of arousal, but something about it only being an aftertaste is turning Castiel on more and more. Plus the way Dean's glasses slip lower down his nose as he bends his head forward to take Castiel's leaking cock into his mouth centimeter by agonizingly good centimeter. He doesn't relent pulling lightly against Castiel's hole, either. It adds the slightest hint of a burn to the overwhelming sensations pooling in his belly.

Wordlessly begging now, Castiel releases Dean's shoulder and grasps his alpha's wrist, dripping with slick. The alpha abides him, sinking in two fingers as he draws his omega closer. Castiel feels the head of his dick brush the back of Dean's throat and it almost has him coming right then. A small sob escapes him, and Dean takes pity, starting a slow, but rhythmic pace with his mouth and his fingers. Castiel easily rocks his hips in time. Finally drawn in by the almost peaceful build towards release. Dean must sense the change because he hums in approval. Castiel moans breathlessly.

"Dean... Dean this is..."

Dean pulls off, taking his time, tongue firm against the underside of Castiel's length. Voice hoarse, he commands, "come in my mouth. I wanna drink every drop."

Castiel cries out when Dean takes him deeply again in one fell swoop. Hard suction. Soaked fingers pulsing against his prostate.

Pleasure boomerangs up his spine to his extremities. Dean doesn't want him to hold back. He's wearing those glasses with that intense stare, ensuring that Castiel can't look away. And telling him to come in that alpha tone - it's plenty.

His knees lock and he throws his head back with a shout.

When he's able to open his eyes again, Dean's resting back against this pillows, thumbing some of Castiel's come off of his swollen lips, glasses askew.

Castiel laughs helplessly as he collapses sideways. "That should not have happened in your condition," he gasps. "I should not have let that happen, but your aggravating sex appeal is practically weaponized. Those fucking glasses are a menace."

"I'm glad you think so, 'cause these meds make me limper than a wet noodle, so they're all I've got."

Castiel pats him on the flank with a grin. "If there's anything else I can do in the meantime, please let me know."

"I could go for a cup of coffee," Dean smiles back. "You, too. Hey." He plants his hand on Castiel's hip, shaking him. "No falling asleep in the afterglow! Don't be that guy."

He feels amazing right now. Like he's floating and sleepy but he could also run a marathon if he decided to. Dean did that to him. He swallows past the rising certainty of his feelings and says airily, "sticking to the classics, I see. I can respect that." But he's awake.

Dean shimmies up onto the pillows. Castiel manages to get his wobbling limbs to arrange themselves enough so that he can get his clothes back on and assist with his alpha's comfort.

Even though he hadn't had his own orgasm, once settled, Dean looks drowsy and sated. Smiling lazily as he watches Castiel fix the sheets, fluff the pillows, move the laptop into a less precarious position than the edge of the bed, refill the water glasses, gather up the ice packs to replace with cold ones, and basically go overboard as a caretaker. He turns away from the bed, about to bustle off to make more coffee, but is stopped by Dean's light grab of his fingers and soft, "Cas."

Castiel turns around. Blinks at the expression on Dean's face.

"You're the best."

Something about the way the words flow like summer sun makes Castiel's heart skip a beat. Briefly he squeezes Dean's hand, then releases him. "So are you."

In the precious minutes that's he's alone brewing coffee, Castiel discovers that he has a lot to contemplate regarding his relationship with Dean Winchester; none of it unpleasant.

Chapter Text

Castiel startles awake, disoriented and blinking rapidly to clear his sluggish head. He'd been in the middle of an enjoyable dream that's rapidly growing hazy around the edges. Something about... a waterfall? Somewhere nice. Humid. With Dean.

Dean .

Was that what woke him? He turns his head to the side, barely able to make out the alpha's silhouette in the darkness. His breathing is elevated, the rest of the house silent, so Castiel studies him for a moment. Gradually his eyes adjust and he can make out Dean's face contorting. His pheromones are unchanged from before - he's obviously still hurting a great deal. Castiel's torn between letting him be and offering comfort, in case he accidentally wakes him.

Dean makes a pained noise a minute later, his pheromones souring in his sleep. In a barely intelligible mumble, he rasps, "Cas..."

Heart lurching at the plea, Castiel reaches out under the covers, fumbling for Dean's hand. Their fingers touch and that's all it takes. Dean's fingers clench around Castiel's hand, then drag him close.

Despite how much pain Dean is in, Castiel decides not to wake him. He can't take more medication yet, and even if it's not the most restful sleep, he needs it. So Castiel holds Dean close, gently moving the alpha's head down until his mouth rests against his glands as he'd been doing when they'd fallen asleep.

Like a crack of lightening, Castiel wants to call Gabriel. Wants to talk to him about bonding. Because Dean is... he's getting to be... Castiel isn't an idiot. He can smell it. Dean's pheromones are shifting. His are, too. There's the tiniest hint of complementary undertone scents. It's not a true scent bond yet, but it could become one. It is. If they both want it to. If they try. Would Dean want to try if Castiel asks?

He shuffles around a little bit trying not to disturb Dean while attempting to get comfortable. He needs to call his brother. Soon.

But for now, he gives in to the urge to comfort. He strokes Dean's hair around the shell of his ear to his glands. He closes his eyes. He's happy like this. Dangerously so.

He wakes up again when Dean rolls away in his sleep onto his stomach, snoring softly into the pillow. Castiel smiles. Clears his throat. He's thirsty. He shifts the covers back, gingerly sliding out of the bed and padding downstairs soundlessly. He only turns on the lights when he reaches the kitchen, squinting in the bright glare. He fills a glass, takes a sip, puts it back down on the counter. Taps the rim. Glances over towards his cell phone. Maybe he could call Gabriel.

No. It's the middle of the night.

Whatever. Gabriel owns a nightclub out of town; he's practically a vampire.

He swipes up his phone and dials.

Gabriel picks up on the third ring, and the background noise nearly drowns him out. "'Yello! You better not be dying, my heart can't take it, 'cause I'm really drunk, and getting a cab down here at this time of night is impossible in this sort of weather. Which means I'd be late getting to the hospital and wouldn't get a chance to say goodbye. And then I'd never be able to forgive myself, which means you'd haunt me, which means I'd have to hire an exorcist. All in all, big mess. So, any old hoo, what's up?"

"What if I can't bond him?" Castiel says in a rush before he loses his nerve. He hadn't been able to focus on Gabriel's rant, anyway.

"Huh? Bond? What? Did I mention I'm really drunk? 'Cause I'm really drunk, so I need more words than that."

Castiel leans against the counter. "Dean. He's over at my house because he was in an accident. And we're... getting close."

Gabriel laughs loudly. "To what? Losing your virginity? Mazel tov!"

Castiel grits his teeth. "Gabriel I swear to God and all that is holy."

The noise cuts off suddenly. "Relax, Cassie, I was just going to my office. It's not good business to have soul-bearing conversations on the dance floor. I am actually drunk, though, but I'll do my best. Why are you calling me about bonding in the literal middle of the night?"

"Dean was injured on a job and he's been staying with me so that I can care for him."

There's a pregnant pause followed by a drawn out, " ohhhhhhhhh . Okay. Well. Again I say, 'mazel tov?'"

"I don't know why I called you. You're no help."

"Well, I would be if I heard some sort of problem here," Gabriel returns moodily, "but I don't. So."

Castiel taps his fingers agitatedly against the granite. "I'm asking what I should do if I can't bond him," he hisses.

"Are you in heat?"

"No, of course not."

"Are you talking about bonding?"

"No. Well. A little. But just in general."

"Have you two crazy kids made long term plans?"

"No, Gabriel, we've only been together for two weeks!"

"Then what the hell's the problem?"

Castiel stops short. Gabriel waits him out. What is the problem, exactly? He's not afraid of getting close to Dean. They both want the same things so far. They work. It's easy to get lost in it. It's not overwhelming. It's not frightening. It's not anything he doesn't like. Less than nothing of what he doesn't need. "I'm sterile," he blurts. "I've never been bonded and now I'm sterile."

Gabriel takes a long inhale and equally long exhale. "When did you get that peachy news?"

"Last year."

"Ah."

Castiel sighs. "Do you see my problem here?"

"Yeah. It's a short hop away from being too old to bond, especially since your hormone levels were always on the low side of normal."

"Yes."

Another uncomfortable pause later Gabriel says encouragingly, "he's not exactly a spring chicken, either. And you getting mated as a male is already as likely to happen as getting struck by lightning."

"I realize that. I was never even thinking about having biological children myself. Ever. Just the rest of it. So back to my original question. What if we decide to stay together and we can't bond?"

Gabriel makes a considering noise. "Then you can't bond. Cas, if you fall in love with each other, and it works, then it works. Bonding... it's not the end of the line, good or bad. Trust me on that."

"I do." He does. Mostly because Gabriel's spent his entire adult life trying to protect his whole family from the ugly truth he learned, while also acknowledging that he was a statistical outlier. "I just don't want to ruin Dean's chances if he still can."

"It takes two to tango, sport. Now, I know you're not directly asking me for advice, but since you called, I know that's what you want. So here it is: find out what he wants and believe in it. Maybe he can still bond. Maybe he can't. But you need to listen to him if and when he tells you what he wants with you. That's the best way to go through life."

"Thanks, Gabe," Castiel says sincerely.

"No problem. Get back to bed, would ya? That alpha's gonna wake up sooner or later needing you. Peace out." He hangs up leaving Castiel smiling.

But it fades while he's pouring himself another glass of water. He knows that Gabriel's advice comes from a good place and a wellspring of experience. But that experience has also led to a defense mechanism that Castiel can't share. He's grateful that he never ended up there, but in some ways he's not convinced that Gabriel's advice is the most accurate for him. It's something he'll definitely give the proper consideration to, but he's got his own unique relationship to consider. It's just that Dean deserves so much. He's truly a good man. Good men don't deserve selfish men holding them back.

Of course, it's all pure speculation. And Castiel feels an uncomfortable twist in this chest when he so much as thinks about leaving Dean for any reason. He rallies himself thinking of their burgeoning scent bond. If they can do that much, then there's hope for the other down the road.

It's a selfish prayer, but all the same, Castiel does it. He prays that he won't be forced to say goodbye to Dean Winchester.

***

Dean sleeps through the night. He tosses and turns fitfully from time to time, and wakes up with dark circles under his eyes, but he seems marginally better despite it. His scent is slightly less sour.

Castiel rolls onto his side to face Dean. "Good morning," he murmurs.

Dean kisses him with a sleepy smile. "Morning. Is it actually morning?"

"Yes," Castiel confirms with a yawn. "You slept all night. How are you feeling?"

"Less like I got hit by a truck and more like I got tackled by a whole mess of linebackers."

"An improvement, then."

"Yeah. You gonna let me out of bed today?" Not that he seems to be in much of a getting out of bed mood as he pulls the comforter up to his chin.

Castiel gives him a dry look. "I get the feeling that you're trying to use me as an excuse to be lazy."

He tucks the covers tighter around him. "And you're willing to humor me?"

"No."

Dean frowns. "Your enabling days are over? I'm so disappointed."

"I'll make you a big breakfast. A good, unhealthy one." He slips out of bed before Dean answers, in case he persists in his petulant child routine that Castiel, naturally, would let him milk because it's nice to both need and be needed. Therefore he faces pointedly away while he digs for a warm hoodie in his dresser. The sheets rustle and he smiles to himself.

"You know, I don't appreciate you being so good at compromise. I wanna be a big baby, and you're making me feel bad about it." He slouches against Castiel's back, chin on his shoulder, still bed-warmed.

"My heart bleeds," Castiel drapes a long sleeved t-shirt over Dean's head. "You've got morning breath."

Dean snaps the shirt away and pulls it on carefully as he limps towards the bathroom. "Where's all the romance gone?" he mutters.

"Downstairs where there's bacon to be made," Castiel answers mildly.

"See? That wasn't so hard! I even changed my mind about spitting my mouthwash into your shampoo bottle!" Dean calls back from the half closed door.

Chuckling, Castiel answers, "the romance is alive and well. I'll be in the kitchen."

Castiel doesn't want his guilty conscience to get the better off him, so he focuses on the embarrassment instead. He shouldn't have called Gabriel. There was no need for it. He'd worried himself into a mild panic and acted foolishly. Thought foolishly. He resolutely decides he won't say anything to Dean about it yet because they're not exactly to that point of conversation.

Which, of course, is another lie. He doesn't want to be at that point of conversation yet. But they could be. Dean doesn't shy away from the future what-ifs. Castiel only has himself to blame for this one, but Gabriel had advised some selfishness. He's trying. It's making him guilty enough to fry up all the bacon, at any rate. There's probably a pound of it; Dean can probably eat it all if Castiel let him. Toast with tomato slices, eggs, all the classics with coffee and orange juice.

Cooking clears his head of the infinite loop his thoughts were stuck in. Now's not the time , he reminds himself shrewdly. Dean's healing, in good spirits finally, and so far they've done well being cooped up together. His parents had told him years ago that the surest way to gauge a relationship's longevity was to go on a vacation together. Or spend a long weekend together doing as little as possible. It's only Saturday, but so far, so good. There's no reason to rock the boat.

That's what he keeps telling himself as he scrambles enough eggs to feed an army.

***

The first item of Dean's agenda now that he's upright is pain management. He'd put on a good front this morning because he wants to see Castiel's happy face after a day and a half without it, but he's hurting all over. Thanks to the omega's diligent schedule keeping, he's been in much better shape than he would have been alone. Or with Sam.

Shit, Sam .

Once he's taken his pill, washed his face, and gargled mouthwash, he goes back to the bedside table to check his phone. No missed calls or texts. Then he remembers he hadn't called anyone about what had happened. He lowers himself onto the bed and dials his little brother on speaker.

Sam sounds a little tired when he answers. "Morning, Dean."

"How's it going?" he starts, for some reason really glad to hear the guy's voice. "How's Jo?"

"Man," Sam breathes out. "I can't thank you enough for the other day. Jo and I are doing better. We still sleep in separate rooms for the time being, but she can stand to be around me more."

"That's great, man. Glad to hear it." He forgets for a second that he's injured, stretching his arms up when he yawns. A sharp stab of pain shoots through his ribs, making him yelp and curse.

"Dean? You okay?"

Breathing out harshly, Dean grits, "yeah. Sorry. S'why I'm calling, actually. I had a bit of a mishap on a job the other day."

There's a long drag of silence. "Mishap?" The way Sam says it, Dean can perfectly picture his brother's pinched expression as he tries to keep calm. "Dean? Dean. I'm gonna... right, I'm really trying to keep calm here, but I'm having a bit of a visceral reaction, you know what I mean? The last time I heard a handyman in my family say that, Dad was calling from the ICU with a broken back like it was any other Tuesday."

"Fair enough," Dean answers. True, he probably could have worded that better. "Nothing's broken. Just banged up and bruised and scraped, I promise. Got me some pain meds, so I'm good to go."

Sam lets out a tight breath. "That's good... I guess. Do you need help? Why don't you come over? Jo and I can help."

"Nah, man, I'm fine. I'm... uh... well, I'm with Cas. Came here right from the hospital Friday night. He said he was cool with me staying the weekend."

Suddenly, Sam's whole demeanor changes. He doesn't sound angry or worried anymore, but he's definitely agitated with a pinch of pissed. "Okay, that's it, Dean. That's freaking it. Are you able to walk?"

He's not ever been sure how to answer Sam without pissing him off more, but he certainly does give it his best try. "Yeah. Slowly. But, whatever. Yes, I can fucking walk . I told you it's just scrapes and bruises."

"Well, that's just great. If you can walk, then you can get your and Castiel's asses over here tomorrow for dinner."

He's stepped in it. He's not even sure how he managed it. "Why the hell do we need to do that?"

"Dude, seriously? Come on! You went straight to your omega's house the second you got out of the hospital, and you're staying there for the whole weekend? Hello? I don't have any texts or missed calls from you, so I'm assuming you didn't even bother to contact anyone else. Your hindbrain told you who was gonna help the most with your healing, and you went, no questions asked. That sounds like bondmate material."

Dean rubs the back of his neck. "When you put it like that..."

"You mean when I'm simply stating the facts? Forget it. Jo and I need to meet this guy. And I need to make sure you're okay. Please. There's a lot going on, and I'm probably losing my mind with not sleeping, and Jo, and you, and Dean, you just need to get your ass over here tomorrow for dinner. Six."

"Cas and I will be there."

"Thank you." The relief sounds excessive.

Concerned, Dean picks up the phone and switches it off of speaker. "Sammy, forget about me for a sec. Are you okay? You sound really strung out."

"I am," he confesses. "I don't mean to keep raining on your parade."

Dean chuckles, bracing his rib more. "Dude, that's life. I don't mind. What's going on?"

"Just the same. Jo and I are definitely doing better, but... still a little rough. I don't sleep the same without her. And I'm always on call for whatever she needs. Being on constant high alert is exhausting."

"How about you go get the ingredients, and Cas and I cook?"

"Can you in your condition?"

"Probably not, but I could watch Cas cook and be moral support."

That gets a laugh out of his brother. "Cas isn't gonna come to us for the first time as a guest to cook dinner. There's the amazing invention of take out. Find out what he likes and we'll get that. Low stress for everyone."

"That actually sounds really great. I gotta go, but text if you need anything, okay? For real."

"Got it. And same goes for you. Thanks for calling. See ya tomorrow."

Dean hangs up. Takes a minute to make sure he's not about to accidentally hurt himself again doing normal things like standing up. Going down the stairs is an exercise in patience, but he makes it eventually. Right in time to watch Castiel set the food on the table. "Smells amazing," he says. Castiel puts a plate of apple slices down then rushes around the table to help Dean sit. He really appreciates the assist.

"I wasn't kidding about the bacon. Did you take your medication?"

"Yeah," Dean lets out a measured breath, settling into the hard wooden chair incrementally. "It's getting there. I'm getting too old for this shit."

Castiel offers him the tongs for the bacon first. "Something tells me you say that all the time."

"I do." They split up the food, Dean's plate piled high mostly with bacon. His appetite obviously hasn't been affected at all. "Thanks for doing all this."

Castiel easily picks up on the guilty edge in Dean's voice, so he answers, "It's my pleasure. I've got nothing I'd rather do more than spend time with you on the weekend, injured or not." Dean's tight smile confuses him. "Is something wrong? You don't have to stay here, as much as I enjoy your company."

"It's not that," Dean pushes the scrambled eggs around on his plate. "I called Sam a minute ago. He kinda gave me the third degree."

Oh . "He wants you to stay with him?" Castiel surmises. It's a shame, but he understands families wanting to take care of each other. Except for Dean, Castiel is a total stranger to the rest of the Winchester's. The current situation must seem very odd to them. It's still disappointing, though. Being with Dean just like this has been like something out of one of the old romances. He's been enjoying it to its full extent, and definitely isn't quite ready to see the end of it.

"I ain't staying with them unless you kick me out," Dean says distastefully.

That's an entirely pleasant surprise. "I'm not prepared to do that," Castiel says primly.

Dean laughs. "Good, 'cause I don't want you to. I put Sam off by saying we'd go to their house for dinner tomorrow night. He and Jo want to meet you."

He pauses with his juice glass halfway to his lips. "Oh." He hadn't been expecting that, honestly. He's not sure why. He supposes part of him is still struggling to put a time limit on propriety. However, disregarding that, he and Dean are certainly acting like it's time to begin family introductions. He's so caught up in his own musings that he doesn't immediately register Dean's anxious pheromones. "Is that not what you want?"

Dean tilts his head. "No, it's cool with me. You just looked a little shell-shocked."

Castiel smiles. "I was surprised. I hadn't fully realized we were at that point already."

Dean traces the condensation trails on his glass with his finger. "Well, I kinda feel like we are."

"I do, too."

The embarrassed fascination with their breakfast after their small confessions isn't so bad.

***

Hours later after stretching his aching legs with a walk around the house and a couple of movies in front of the fireplace for a change of scenery, followed by lunch, Dean's back on the bed lounging as well as he can while waiting for his next dose of pain medication to kick in. It's getting easier. Especially sitting back and watching with fascination as Castiel utterly destroys his walk-in closet.

"I have nothing to wear," the omega grumbles from the bowels of the spacious closet.

"You have a million things to wear," Dean grins. "Half of them are here on the bed. Why do you have nothing to wear? What are you not wearing anything to?"

Castiel pokes his head around the door. "To dinner tomorrow with your family. Obviously." He sounds so put out that Dean can't help but laugh.

"You don't need to dress up. It's totally casual."

"I realize that, but I want to make a good impression."

"Have you made a bad impression in your life?"

"I'm not starting now. This is important, and I'm not sure you're appreciating my anxiety levels here."

Dean holds out his hand. "I am. That's why I'm asking you to sit down and relax for a minute. I can help prepare you."

Grudgingly, Castiel obliges and sits down next to Dean. "Tell me everything I need to know," he says seriously. His eyes shine with the same manic determination that Sam's used to when he had a huge test to take.

"This isn't a final exam, Cas."

"Might as well be. Spill, Winchester."

Dean rolls his eyes fondly. "Fine. Look, the first thing you need to know is that Sam and Jo are great people. They're not inviting you over to judge you harshly. I'm protective of Sammy and he's the same way towards me. But the bottom line is that we want each other to be happy."

Castiel's shoulders relax. "That's the way of any good family."

"Exactly! But, you also gotta know that I raised Sam a good deal by myself. Dad had a hard time starting his business and making ends meet. Took a long time and a longer hours to get everything off the ground and out of the red. And I was older, so I took a lot of that on with him to make sure that Sam had everything he needed. Sometimes I think Sam's got it in his head to pay it back now that he can. Which is stupid. So don't be surprised if he asks invasive questions 'cause he's thorough. Won't wanna leave a stone unturned. Don't feel like you need to answer everything, though. As for Jo, well, we've known her most of her life. She's Uncle Bobby and Aunt Ellen's daughter. They're not blood, but good as. Told you a little about them already. Anyway, Jo'll watch how you are and keep her mouth shut before she's got a read. But I think she'll like you quick. At the end of the day, what they'll care about most is if I'm happy and you are, too. "

"I am," Castiel says confidently, absorbing the rest of the information and committing it to memory. He's sure that Sam and Jo are good people. Dean talks about his brother like he couldn't be prouder. Jo he speaks of with love. His scent curls beautiful and clean just mentioning his family. They're the most crucial part of Dean's life. Everything he's done has been to support them and make sure they're taken care of one way or another.

It makes sense that his family would do their utmost to make sure that he's happy, too. The last thing that Castiel wants is to cause some sort of rift in their family. If it happened, he'd be devastated to be the cause of any tension. Then again, he's pretty sure Dean wouldn't get to that point. There's the distinct impression that he would - and will - always put his family first. The people on the outside who are invited in, are the ones who have added to the harmony. Anyone who couldn't, probably wouldn't stay around for long.

However, for the moment, Dean appears confident in Castiel being a complete non-issue. "I'm happy, too," Dean says, solidifying his speculation.

Still. The happier his alpha is, the more Castiel's conversation with Gabriel swirls in his head for dominance. "Dean, I-" Castiel hesitates, swallowing it back. He'd decided it wasn't the time, and here he is now, emboldened from Dean's small speech, ready to go over the edge already. He's also fairly certain that if Sam is how he was described, this will be part of the "invasive questions."

Dean's nothing if not way too astute, though. "How many times I gotta tell you to say what you need to?" he asks gently.

"A thousand," Castiel sighs. "Can you... smell anything different with us today?"

Dean blinks. But he catches on. "You mean like how there's some complimentary scent going on in both of us?" he says plainly.

Castiel holds his gaze. "Yes."

Dean's is just as steady in return. "I noticed."

"I want to talk about bonding. The possibility. But I also don't want to. If it's not time for that conversation, I can wait."

Dean rests his arm on his thigh, palm up. Castiel takes it, grateful that Dean likes to connect with a physical touch during conversations like these. "Okay. You wanna go first, or me?"

Castiel smiles apologetically, though it's probably more of a grimace. "I brought it up, so in all fairness it should be me. However, if you would, I'd like you to start because I'm a coward."

Dean snickers. "No, you're not. I don't care either way. I've been thinking about it the whole time. Especially the last couple of days. Here's where I'm at: if we keep on this trajectory, which I want to, then I'll want to blood bond you. Or try to, I guess. It's not a given in our situation." Castiel's face pinches, and Dean just holds on tighter. "I understand, Cas. I really do. I couldn't give two shits about whether or not we can fully bond. If we both can't, fine. I'm happy with that. If we both can, even better. Let's do it when we're ready." He stops and looks down at their hands.

"And if one of us can, but the other can't?" Castiel asks softly.

Dean's voice is even softer, but his pheromones are calm, face set. "I still wouldn't wanna give you up."

He says it with such sincerity that Castiel has no choice but to believe him. It's one of those things they'll have a hard time agreeing on.

"What you think matters," Dean continues. "If you don't want the same thing, you need to tell me so I can get right with it."

"I'm not sure anymore," Castiel confesses. It's the truth. As hard as it is to discover he doesn't know himself as well as he thought he did after forty-one years. He hadn't anticipated falling in love like this. It's a bit of a shock to realize he'd given up -probably years ago - and hadn't realized it until he was faced with the reality that he shouldn't have. "If either of us still has the ability to bond, my brain says it's the right thing to do. But like a true romantic trope, my heart's telling me something else. It didn't used to."

"I get it," Dean says. He rubs the back of his neck with his free hand, nose scrunching in thought. Castiel can't do anything else besides watch him. "Your feelings matter as much as mine," he says eventually. "But I've still got faith in us. I think we'll work it out whatever happens."

"I think you came into my life for a reason."

Attempting to break Castiel of his distress, Dean quips, "yeah, to repair your roof."

It's Castiel's turn to roll his eyes. "You know what I mean."

"I know that other meaning, too," Dean confirms. The moment lasts a beat longer, and then Dean says breezily, "so. You good? Decided what to wear tomorrow?"

Castiel fixes him with a glare. "Not even close. Nice try, though."

"I did what I could."

There's no stopping him, so Dean gives up trying. After dinner, he takes a long soak in the tub while Castiel continues to put together every combination of outfit possible, judging all of them harshly.

He can hear Castiel grumbling in the closet and bedroom from the open bathroom door, and it makes him grin and shake his head. That's the man he's chosen to start falling in love with. The man out there in the bedroom lecturing his jeans. It's fitting, really. He remembers talking to Sam about all sorts of falling in love when Sam, idiot little brother, had finally discovered his feelings for Jo. Like it had been some sort of revelation after all the years they'd known each other.

It's where they disconnect as brothers. Dean's never settled down because he noticed everyone, sometimes at the expense of his grades and hobbies, but wanted no one. Not long-term. Sam had been the opposite. He'd been so focused on everything else like school and after school activities, that he hadn't noticed his own mate right under his nose since he'd been young enough to wet the bed.

He'd tried to make a huge production out of them dating and scent bonding, but there'd been no big reveal thanks to literally everyone else in his life already knowing they were destined.

But that night after a fancy dinner and Sam pouting on the back porch steps of the family home, unappreciative of the familial ribbing he'd gotten, he'd loosened up with a few beers and a long conversation with Dean. Dean had mentioned how it'd be interesting to see how Sam and Jo meshed, being of such different personalities.

Sam had laughed and said that opposites attract when they want the same fundamental things. He'd been teasing when he'd further remarked that Dean was fated to find an academic, polite nerd to be his mate.

He'd hit the nail on the head twenty years ago and doesn't even know it yet. He'll never stop rubbing it in if he actually remembers the conversation. Just in case, Dean makes sure he's got some fodder to fire back tomorrow. He is the older brother, after all.

Chapter Text

"Should we bring something? We should bring something. It's rude to show up to someone's house for dinner without bringing something to contribute."

"Cas, Jesus man, you're making my eyes burn over here. Dial down the panic. It's dinner, not the Inquisition"

Castiel groans and drops his head into his hands, muttering between his fingers. "I'm trying to, but I can't seem to calm down. It's all your fault."

"Dude, how?!" He grabs a napkin from the holder on the kitchen table and blows his nose. "You need Xanax or some shit, seriously. My nose is running."

"Because you went on and on for weeks about how great Sam is, and how you raised him, and how proud of him you are, and that puts him on a dauntingly high pedestal for me."

Dean places his hand on Castiel's shoulder, shaking him back and forth like a child trying to get attention. Castiel limply goes along with it. "You need to stop angsting and finish getting ready for church."

Castiel ignores this, instead abandoning his chair and climbing into Dean's lap, good now at avoiding poking or prodding anything that's tender. "I don't want to go today," he whines. Or, does as close as he can come to actual whining.

With a smirk, Dean lightly pinches the omega's silk tie between his fingers, dragging down over the watery fabric. "That so?" He know what his voice does when he tries for sexy.

Mission accomplished. Castiel squirms in his lap. "I'm too worried about tonight. I won't be able to concentrate on the service."

Dean hmm's , leans forward, nips at Castiel's glands. "You don't smell worried. You smell horny."

"Stop talking to me in your insufferable bedroom voice, then."

"Nah." Dean presses a series of kisses over Castiel's cleanly shaved neck. His omega tips his head back obligingly, at odds with his surliness. "Don't think I wanna do that."

"Your libido is unusually high for someone who is injured and in his forties." There's no heat in the accusation. Just a touch of grump.

"Would you like to file a complaint with the management?" Dean breathes against Castiel's collar bone.

"Yes." He tangles his fingers in Dean's hair. "I'd like you to stop smelling so good, please."

"Request denied." He mouths up to Castiel's adam's apple.

Castiel's hands drop and fumble for the ties on Dean's pajama pants. "Wonderful." The alpha is hard under him, though Castiel doesn't push it by pressing too close to Dean's ribs. He's been aching to feel him again, so he won't ruin the moment by jarring something that shouldn't be. But Dean is doing his best to distract him from any practical thoughts. He's eternally grateful. "Don't stain my suit."

"Wouldn't dream of it." With a rakish grin, he holds up a clean napkin.

Castiel snorts, but that's good enough for him. He leans in a breath away from Dean's lips. "Did you put an aphrodisiac into my tea?"

"A sex potion? Why would you think that?"

He licks his lips. "I'm addicted to you."

"Fuck, me too."

Dean's kiss sears them both. It's long and deep enough that Castiel forgets to be worried about being late to church. Gabriel would forgive him. Then spill the beans about Dean staying with him. Then the rest of them would never let him live it down. Or forgive him. Well, they would forgive him after a year of confessions. That would be horrible.

But Dean's hand is opening his pants and on his dick now, and it's a revelation suitable enough for him to suddenly not care about any of that. "You're distracted," Dean notes.

"Only just barely," Castiel gasps when Dean's callused hand strokes him just right from root to tip.

Dean chuckles and it cuts off to a moan when Castiel's got him in hand, too, massaging his knot teasingly. "I can help with that. Lemme tell ya all about the dream I had last night. You were in it."

Castiel's head rolls back. His eyes slip closed and he begins thrusting slowly into Dean's hand, mindful of bringing him along for the ride. "I love a starring role."

"Excellent, 'cause you were incredible." He loosens Castiel's tie, then flips it over his shoulder to get it out of the way while he layers nips and bites over his omega's neck. Undoes two of the buttons on his neatly pressed shirt. "Cas, it was awesome. We were kicked back at my place... hng , yeah right there... and we were in my bed. Naked ." He practically chews the word.

Castiel moans. Squeezes a little tighter. Works his hand a little faster. "What was I doing to you, Dean?"

"Ah, fuck, Cas, you were riding me. God, you were riding me and it was so good. I kn-knotted you." He gasps and bites down on Castiel's collar bone, half over his dress shirt. They both go from easy hand-jobs to frantic need to orgasm in seconds. And Dean, beautiful Dean, keeps talking. "Pushed deep inside you. Found that sweet pocket and knotted you. Held it 'til you came all over me."

Castiel's breath hitches as he comes, scrambling at the last second for the napkins to catch the mess as it overtakes him with surprise.

Dean jacks himself hard and quick until he spills over his hand and into his own napkin with a growl of satisfaction.

Castiel kisses Dean a dozen times all over his face. "I'm going to be so late to church."

"You're welcome," Dean laughs, trying to catch his breath.

Castiel jumps up, glancing at the clock. He really is going to be late. He yanks the rest of his clothes back on as straight as he can manage, washes his hands, kisses Dean again. He's almost out the door, when he runs back to the kitchen. "I almost forgot." He opens a drawer stuffed to bursting with junk. He rattles it around. Makes a triumphant noise. Holds up a key with a proud grin. "Here." He unceremoniously places it in Dean's palm.

"Your key?" Dean's already having a hard enough time calming his breathing down. But this is big. Awesome. If it means what he thinks it means.

"Yes. If you... well, you don't have to keep it if you don't want to, but my house can't stay unlocked when I'm away. And I don't want to rush you out the door with me. So, you can return it tonight. If you want to keep it... that's... I'd be fine with it."

Dean pushes himself out of the chair. Gently, he takes Castiel's head in his hands. "Cas, I want you to know I'm falling for you more every day." He takes the key and kisses it. Then kisses his omega. "I'm keeping it."

Castiel's gummy beaming smile is everything. "Thank you."

"Cas..." Dean shakes his head fondly. "Man." He kisses him one more time. "Get going."

"I'll text you when I'm on my way over tonight."

Dean watches Castiel check his pockets, pat his jacket down to make sure he has everything. Smooths his hair back into order without a mirror, not taming it much. "'Bye."

"Good bye." And when Castiel doesn't immediately move, save for smiling wider, Dean laughs and walks with him to the door. By the time they're done kissing again, Castiel has five minutes to get to church, and his tie is on backwards again.

***

Once Dean's belongings are collected and accounted for, Castiel's texted him to assure him that he made it in time, no thanks to their morning activities. Dean texts back , that's great. Plenty of time for you to confess your Sunday sinning!

A minute later he receives, it's not a sin if we both had fun .

Dean laughs. Yeah, he's definitely a goner.

Going home feels marginally more depressing than usual. He doesn't like not smelling Castiel around. They'll be seeing each other soon enough, but it still kind of sucks after the past few wonderful days together. Something feels to the left of center in the silence. There's an indefinable not enough hanging over him.

Now that he's by himself again, he's got the time and space to wonder if he should have felt bad about encroaching on Castiel's hospitality for too long. He really hadn't thought of anything else when he'd gone to his omega. His brain and hindbrain had planted a singular desire, and he'd responded to it.

Not that Castiel had seemed to just be humoring him. He'd genuinely enjoyed the interruption; there was no mistaking the contented pheromones, at the very least. Though Dean admits his actions had definitely launched their relationship forward several steps right away. He's cool with it. Nothing about it feels even vaguely wrong. Maybe it's age, maybe it's something more romantic. Whatever it is, it's good enough to show Sam and Jo.

Without further thought, he finagles Castiel's key onto his key ring, and goes to find the other spare to his house.

***

Castiel struggles to get through the church service without laughing inappropriately every few seconds. He can't believe he'd done that with Dean this morning. And he knows that Gabriel, at least, has caught on. Now that he's in a neutral place, he can smell dandelions and fresh grass clinging to him. He's also certain there's no hiding his own sated pheromones. If someone had told him as early as a month ago that he'd be sitting in church beside his parents, reeking of afterglow, he'd have been scandalized. Today he simply feels smug.

No one says anything to him or gives him strange looks. That's the way of the Novak clan, though. Always polite in polite company.

Gabriel, however, lets out a nearly-inaudible snort when Castiel spends the opening silent prayer fixing his tie.

And then he's ambushed in the driveway of the family home once everyone else has filed inside. Gabriel's eyes are shining with intent. "You're killin' me, Smalls," he opens with.

"I don't kiss and tell," Castiel answers because he knows it'll drive his brother crazy.

"I taught you too well. Stop it. Dish. Please. I need you to tell me, Cassie. I haven't even been able to sleep properly since you've left me wondering what my baby bro's been getting up to."

Castiel pulls his trench coat tighter around his chest to stave off the frosty wind. "We had a lovely morning, a cup of coffee, and he went home. We're meeting his brother, Sam, and Sam's wife, Jo for dinner this evening."

Gabriel looks like he might explode from those two sentences. He says nothing. Claps Castiel on the shoulder, and goes inside.

Castiel is confused. That's it? That can't be it.

Oh, no.

That's definitely not it.

He sprints inside, but the damage has been done. Everyone is gathered in the kitchen staring at him.

"Castiel," Naomi says.

He cringes. "Yes, Mother."

"You'll want to kill Gabriel later."

"I want to kill him now."

Her smile is tentative. "Were you not going to tell us?"

"I wasn't going to keep it a secret." He glares daggers at his brother.

"You shouldn't have told me! You know how I am!"

"It's fine," Castiel relents. "I'll tell you all about it while we're eating."

He does. He can barely taste the meal. In general, he's not worried about his family being judgmental. They won't think anything unfairly of someone they've never met. It's just that Castiel's been enjoying the private nature of his relationship with Dean thus far. The only part that he dislikes about the quicker pace of it, is that it means their families should be made aware that much sooner.

So he explains everything from the most recent event of Dean's injury, all the way back to offering more details about their first encounter. His parents and Anna listen intently, never interrupting. Gabriel isn't so respectful. He cuts in every chance he has when Castiel pauses to take a breath or a bite of his food. He finishes the whole story by telling them about the dinner plans with Sam and Jo. Apparently, in his haste to beat him to the punch, Gabriel had simply yelled, "Cassie's meeting his mate's family tonight!" And left it at that. Castiel is a bit wrung out after the story, a little raw. Even Gabriel is finally quiet for a few beats.

Naomi sips her water, then says, "you smell very happy talking about him, Castiel."

"Otherwise we wouldn't be able to tell with you," Gabriel adds.

"I would," Anna retorts. As a beta, that's true. They can be much more sensitive to body language and word choice since they don't have pheromones to rely on. "You sound happy talking about him, too."

"I'm happy being with him," Castiel says to his half-finished mashed potatoes. He glances up. Cain looks thoughtful. Naomi is smiling more confidently. Gabriel looks like the cat who got the canary. Anna looks genuinely pleased.

"Well, I think we all agree that we should meet Dean soon," Cain says pragmatically. "We could have him over for the next Sunday brunch."

Thankfully, no one asks about Dean's religious affiliations, or lack thereof. They wouldn't fault him, but they would invite him. Castiel's done enough lately to not be fully present during times of worship. He doesn't want to imagine how much worse it would be if Dean said yes and sat beside him. "I'll ask him," Castiel promises, clearing his throat softly.

There's another awkward pause. Naomi eventually sits up perfectly straight and reminds him, "remember your manners tonight."

Neck hot, Castiel slumps further in his chair. "Mother, please," he mumbles.

Gabriel and Anna laugh and begin to tease him mercilessly about saying "please" and "thank you" and how to be on his best behavior. Even Cain squeezes in a jab or two.

Castiel is thoroughly relieved to escape his family an hour later for the safety of his home that still smells like Dean. He wants to keep it for as long as he possibly can. Of course, he's had lovely weekends with lovers in the past, but Dean's the best that he can recall. None of his past partners had ever come to him like Dean did on Friday. If they had... well, he may have allowed them a night over, but a whole weekend? No. Dean is significant. Dean feels right.

He goes upstairs to his bedroom, shedding his Sunday best as he goes. He drops his clothes on the armchair by the window. Kicks off his shoes.

He's starting to get nervous again. Without thinking, Castiel climbs into the bed and sits cross legged in the center. He breathes deeply. Dean's scent is still heavy in the sheets, almost like he's still there if Castiel closes his eyes. Which he does, smiling.

That's much better. He can do this. He's falling in love with Dean. It makes him confident. He'll prove himself to the most important people in his alpha's life because Dean's rapidly becoming the most important person in his.

***

The front door of Dean's house swings open almost as soon as Castiel's rung the bell.

Dean gives his omega a once over. "You look great." The relief in his voice makes Castiel frown a little.

"What were you expecting?"

Dean pulls him inside with a shake of his head. "A little overcompensation. Woulda' been understandable, so don't go all moldy books on me."

Castiel rolls his eyes, but eases into a smile. Dean's not wrong.

"That's more like it," Dean murmurs approvingly. He pulls Castiel to him gently by the front of his dark blue sweater. "Can I kiss you?"

Castiel answers by kissing him first. Here in Dean's house with its unfamiliar smells, save for Dean's pheromones, he can make out their complementary scents just barely beginning to form. The subtle undertones are so appealing. Dean's caught it, too, because he makes a lovely breathy sigh through his nose, then deepens the kiss.

Castiel jerks back, patting his hair angrily. "Why do you insist on messing it up?"

"Because it looks better this way. I said you looked good, but I didn't say you weren't trying too hard. You looked like my English teacher."

"I am an English teacher. I need to make a good impression."

Dean circles him in a loose hug. "How about being yourself, then? The guy I'm going out with isn't some uptight old man. I promise you if you loosen up, you'll impress my family plenty."

Castiel arches an eyebrow. "Fine, but we'll see how easy this is for you next Sunday."

"Why?" He grins indulgently.

"Because my family found out about our weekend together, and my parents insisted on you showing up for Sunday brunch next week."

Dean laughs. "That's it? I'll go. I don't own a suit, though."

"So what?"

"What'll I wear to church?"

A deep, sunny coil of affection spreads from Castiel's toes to his scalp. His pheromones are broadcasting all of it, certainly, because Dean moves in even closer, nosing into the sensitive spot below his ear. Castiel slips his hands over Dean's shoulders. "You don't have to come to the service. Just meet us at the house afterwards."

Dean kisses the spot. It makes Castiel's toes curl in his sensible shoes. "I can behave myself."

"I've yet to see it."

"You're such a flirt." He picks his way across his favorite path on Castiel's neck to his mouth again.

Making out with Dean is something he could do forever at the risk of everything else, including being on time for important family events. "We should go."

"That's the spirit." He holds out his crooked arm like a gallant gentleman, and Castiel indulges him all the way out to the garage.

Unfortunately, the other Winchester house is only five miles away from Dean's, which leaves Castiel with only minutes to prepare. Their make out session has calmed him down. But it's short lived until the Impala shuts off in an unfamiliar driveway. "Beautiful house," he manages.

"I used to think so, but Sam made me repaint the damn thing last summer. I hate the color." He opens the door and steps out into the cold early evening.

Castiel follows him up the shoveled walk with a small laugh as he peers at the three story, cookie cutter home. "It... isn't it the same color as yours?"

"Yeah, shut up," he mutters distractedly, ringing the bell.

The tallest man Castiel's ever met opens the door with a broad smile. "Hey, guys, welcome!" He moves to hug Dean, but Dean holds up his hands. "Right, you got your butt kicked by a tree," Sam remembers cheerfully.

"Blow it out your ass, Sammy!" Dean retorts equally as cheerfully, and wow, yes, they are definitely brothers. "Meet Cas. Cas, Sam."

Sam has a firm handshake, disarming smile, and pheromones that smell a bit like the sea. Castiel likes him immediately. "Nice to meet you, Cas. Come on in."

A short, pretty blonde woman is standing in the hallway, out of the draft, smiling. "Hey, Dean."

Dean goes straight to her and kisses her forehead. "You're smelling better."

"I feel better." She takes a step towards Castiel. "You must be Castiel Novak?"

"Yes, and you're Jo Harvelle-Winchester." He holds his hand out to shake, but she ignores it.

"Are you cool with touching, 'cause I wanna hug you, and if you're cool with touching then I'm gonna do it, 'cause I'm pregnant so I get to have my way."

"Jo, come on," Dean starts to admonish.

He's a little taken aback by Jo's forward question, but Castiel's voice is laced with amusement when he answers, "you can hug me."

She does. Whole hog. "Oh, God you smell so good!" she breathes ecstatically. "All that sweet omega comfort. Come sit by me for a while so I can scent you and we'll let the alphas take care of the food."

"Jesus, Jo!" Dean exclaims, red to his roots. "I'm so sorry about her, Cas." Man, he'd promised this shit wouldn't happen.

But Castiel seems perfectly at ease, letting Jo tug him along with her towards the living room. "It's fine. She's not being vulgar. Omegas tolerate each other much better during the early stages of pregnancy. Complimentary scents can sometimes ease the discomfort."

"Damn right," Jo agrees, practically stuck to Castiel like glue.

"But you're not related," Sam points out, confused.

"He smells a little like Dean, and I bonded his younger brother, so there ya go!" she announces like the brothers are the dimmest bulbs in the lamp. They watch her guide an unprotesting Castiel away. "Bring us some drinks!" she calls over her shoulder.

"I promised him you guys wouldn't be weird," Dean says helplessly.

Sam follows his limping brother to the kitchen to fulfill his wife's demand. "Well, there's your problem," he chuckles. He sets the kettle on the stove because Jo's been drinking ginger tea by the gallon. Probably also to stall, Dean suspects.

"How are you two doing?" Dean asks.

"More on that later," Sam deflects easily, giving him a pointed look. "Castiel, huh? He seems..." he huffs a laugh. "Easy-going."

"I guess so," Dean answers. "We're getting on."

"That's a funny way of saying 'bonding.'"

"Sam, you said like three words to him so far, can we not go there right out of the gate?"

"Sure," Sam shrugs. "How's Chinese sound?"

"Good. Menus still in that drawer?" he points.

Sam nods.

So far so good getting rid of the can of worms before it's opened, though he can feel Sam's gaze boring into his back.

He hopes Castiel is good at dodge ball, too.

Which, it turns out he isn't, but that doesn't matter much to him or Jo as they sit close together on the couch. Castiel's decided that, yes, she's invasive, but she's not as scary because even though she is married to Dean's brother, she is not Dean's brother. Therefore easier to dip his toes in to talk to.

Currently, Jo is facing him on the sofa, one leg tucked under her, arm draped over the back. "You're hot," she says matter-of-factly.

"Thank you," Castiel says graciously. "You're very beautiful."

She winks. "The Winchesters are lucky men."

He barks a laugh. "Aren't they, though?"

She laughs with him. "You're great. We've barely met, and I know you're great. I'm sorry about earlier. I can come on strong."

"It's fine," Castiel assures her. "I find your forwardness strangely refreshing. I get the feeling I won't ever have to wonder where I stand with you or Sam."

"Oh, come on, you're dating Dean ."

"I appreciate that about him, too." He's guessed correctly that Jo appreciates full honestly regardless of how overly familiar it is for a first meeting. She's carrying on the tradition of the Winchester clan not being all that formal. "Is he in the kitchen gossiping about us?"

"Of course he is! Sam's had some pretty elaborate theories about you."

"Why?" Unconsciously, he finds himself mirroring her position. "I'm honestly completely normal. You're sure to be disappointed."

" Pfft . Not to get Dean you're not, sweetie. If you insist, though, I won't be disappointed. You're humoring me right this second, so you're obviously nicer than even Sam. Gold star so far."

Dean's voice breaks into their conversation. "Already? Is that a record?"

He and Sam have wandered in, each carrying two cups of tea.

"Probably," Jo answers.

The brothers pass over their drinks and then settle into the stuffed armchairs across from the couch. Dean holds out the menu to Castiel. "Chinese good? This place is pretty awesome and they deliver in like, ten minutes."

"I'm not picky," Castiel answers, taking it to look through. "But I'll eat whatever Jo feels like. Food aversions are quite common."

"Beef and broccoli sounds all right," Jo says.

Sam practically lights up when she says it. "Seriously? Real food?" He rapidly places the order online as if afraid that Jo will change her mind in the next ten seconds.

She shrugs and points to Castiel. "I'm serious about the hormone thing."

Sam says, "how about moving in with us, Cas?"

"Hey, no flirting with my boyfriend. You're already bonded!" Dean protests.

"I'd leave when the pup was born," Castiel says serenely.

Sam laughs and fist pumps the air. "I got game."

Jo snorts. "No, you don't."

With a sly smile, Dean says, "I got all the Winchester game."

"You were just a player back when," Sam scoffs. "That's not game."

"He was," Jo chimes in. "Castiel, you should know this about him. Dean really played the field in high school. Took all the girls from poor, lonely Sam."

"He's mentioned that," Castiel smiles.

Sam grouches, "give me a break. I think Dean just made half that shit up for attention."

"I did not!" Dean snipes back. "Dude, I even made out with your wife, so suck on that!"

Everyone pauses and a heavy silence fills the air. Jo is blushing beet red, fascinated by her cup of tea. Castiel's eyes flick between the three of them.

Sam opens his mouth. Closes it. Opens it again. "What?" His gaze turns to his wife. "Jo, for real? How did I never know about this?!"

Jo waves a hand vigorously towards her mate to stave off his souring pheromones. "Don't start with me! It was ninth grade, and I thought I had a crush on him, but it was like kissing my brother!"

Dean puts a hand over his heart. "You're breaking me down, Joanna Beth. I thought we'd had something!"

Castiel bites his lip. It would be rude to burst out laughing.

She leans as far forward on the couch as she can, still blushing furiously, eyes narrowed. "No, it wasn't like that at all! I had appendicitis and thought I was dying ! I figured if it was my time, I didn't want to go with any regrets!"

Sam makes a horrified noise. "We started dating the day you got out of the hospital !"

"I bowed out when I knew my little brother's fragile feelings were at stake," Dean says to Castiel with fantastically false sincerity.

"You're a wonderful brother," Castiel deadpans.

"No, he's not!" Sam protests loudly, though he doesn't smell all that angry. Just a bit indignant. "He's a homewrecker!"

The way this conversation is going, Castiel feels comfortable turning to Sam and saying, "I don't think you know your brother all that well, if you're not even sure of his career. He's a home fixer, not wrecker."

Dean and Jo burst out laughing so hard that Dean has to brace his ribs. Sam gives Castiel a plaintive look, clearly expecting him to have had his back on a first encounter. Castiel shrugs at him and he starts laughing, too.

The doorbell rings and Sam jumps up. He points at the room. "All of you are awful," he says before going to get their food.

Dinner is pleasant enough. The subject of Dean's home wrecking is dropped in favor of getting to know Castiel. Sam goes full nerd when Castiel reminds him of Our Town . He says he'd had so much fun building the set and helping in the booth during the show. Like Dean, he doesn't remember Castiel, but he's got the yearbook, and they all reminisce about their wayward teenage years for a while.

Jo is quiet for the most part, wilting once the dishes are cleaned up. Sam's been hovering and pretending that he isn't, hoping to be closer to his wife with other people as a possible distraction for her morning sickness. She finally puts a stop to it by grabbing Castiel around the waist in a surprisingly substantial hug. It lasts for a long time, confusing Castiel, until he realizes that Jo is scenting him again.

"I know this is totally weird 'cause we don't know each other well," Jo says against his chest, "but you smell just right, and I desperately need another omega around right now. I want to keep the first solid food I've had in a month where it belongs."

Awkwardly, Castiel places his hand gently on top of her head. "I understand. Are you feeling ill again?"

"So bad," Jo groans. "Sam's over-protective pheromones are turning my stomach all the time."

Castiel slips his arm around her shoulders, sparing a glance for the brothers. Sam is bravely attempting to not look hurt, and Dean's biting his lips so hard he looks like he might pop with mirth. But Sam's upset pheromones break the tension when Jo lets out a plaintive, miserable noise. "I got his," Castiel says hurriedly, dragging her away from her mate to the master bedroom upstairs where he carefully helps to tuck her into bed.

"I'm so embarrassed," she says softly, dragging the comforter up to her chin.

"For?"

Jo sighs. "For ruining the family dinner. Your first time here. You must think we're insane."

"I believe you have about seven months left of good excuses," he says with gentle humor, unscrewing the cap of the water bottle on the nightstand. He holds it out to her. "I really don't mind at all. I also don't think you're insane. I'm having a wonderful time."

Jo sips the water slowly. "Can I tell you what I think of you, or would that be embarrassing?"

"I enjoy the Winchester bluntness," Castiel answers, tucking the covers securely around her legs.

"I think you and Dean are gonna make it." Castiel blinks at her and she smiles. "You're just... I dunno. Something about you seems to fit him really well. And the way he looks at you... I know it's corny, but he gives you that 'forever' sort of look when you're not watching him." She gestures to him and he takes the invitation to sit beside her on top of the comforter. "You go with the flow, if tonight's weirdness is any indication, and that works in this family. You seem like the type to help out just because you can. That's big. Dean needs that."

Castiel is warm all over at her assessment. He can hardly believe how wonderful the Winchester family is. "Can I tell you something?"

"Sure," she says gamely. "Fair's fair."

"I think I could love all of you as much as I think I'll come to love Dean."

Jo bumps his shoulder and leans against him. "I really hope you do."

Downstairs, Dean is doing his best to cheer up his little brother. Even he's starting to be able to smell his distress as the neutralizers slowly wear off. "Don't worry about her," he says gently. "She's doing so much better. Worlds better than when I was over last time."

Sam shakes his head. "I'm just kind of upset that a stranger is comforting my mate better than I can." They shuffle back into the living room with beers, and Sam falls heavily into his armchair.

"Dude, the way you're stinking up the place, why are you surprised? Cas ain't hardly stranger, anyway. There's a reason Jo likes his scent like she does mine. He's my-" He nearly bites his tongue stopping the rest of that sentence.

Sam latches like a leech. "He's your what, Dean?"

Dean glares.

Sam arches an eyebrow.

With a disgusted noise, Dean says, "you know what he is. You can smell it. We're starting to scent bond."

"Don't sound so happy about it," Sam quips.

"I'm happy about it," Dean argues. "We're a little worried about our chances of bonding, but..." he trails off. Takes a minute to steel himself, then looks his brother in the eye. "Cas is probably it for me. I want him to be."

Sam sinks back into his chair like a deflating balloon. "That's big," he murmurs.

For some unknown reason, Dean simultaneously feels like crying and jumping out of his skin. He fidgets under Sam's steady look. This is how his brother always fishes. Dean's never been able to resist the stupid fucking puppy dog eyes. Sighing he gives in with a gruff, "I'm gonna do everything I can to keep Cas in my life for as long as I can. That cool with you?"

There are a few more seconds of The Look. "Yeah," Sam says eventually. "That's very cool with me."

They sit in quiet, contemplative company until Castiel comes down the stairs fifteen minutes later. He's smiling softly and announces, "Jo's sleeping. She felt better as soon as she got off her feet."

That's the most pragmatic way he could have said, "as soon as she was away from her mate." Dean's fiercely proud of his omega for that. Sam stands up. "Cas, I can't thank you enough for doing all of this. I'm so embarrassed, I -"

Castiel holds up his hand in a stopping motion. "Think nothing of it. Jo's wonderful, Sam. I enjoyed talking with her very much. You're going to make wonderful parents."

Sam beams. "Thanks."

Dean smiles inwardly. Castiel's a natural at charming Sam. "We should probably be heading back now."

"Yeah, it's getting late," Sam agrees. He walks them to the door. "I appreciate you making time to come over." He watches closely as Castiel helps Dean on with his coat, minding his injuries.

"No problem," Dean grunts.

"It was a pleasure meeting you," Castiel says.

Sam shakes his hand. "Likewise. Let's do this again sometime."

"I'd be happy to."

Dean gives a lazy salute and steps out into the night. Sam takes the second to tug Castiel a bit closer so Dean won't overhear. "Welcome to the family," he says lowly.

Castiel gets a shock to his very core that's the most pleasant thing he's ever felt. His brain goes offline completely, but his mouth is still working without consultation and he hears himself say, "thank you."

Sam is still grinning when he shuts the door.

Chapter Text

Castiel thinks about Sam's parting words incessantly. He's a little distracted kissing Dean good night in the Impala, and hopes he doesn't notice.

But he does. Dean pulls back, a worried summer storm in his scent. He brushes his thumb over Castiel's cheek. "You okay?"

"Yes," Castiel answers, infusing the words with as much earnestness as he can. He reeks of several things all at once, though not badly enough that Dean complains about it making his nose run. "I'm processing is all."

"I'm sorry about Sam and Jo."

Castiel's eyes widen and he takes Dean's hands. "No! It's not them at all! I loved them! I hadn't expected it to be so easy to get along with them." He can't tell Dean what he'd told Jo or what Sam had told him quite yet, but he figures that if they do manage to reach the next stage in their relationship, it will be a good story.

"I guess your family is a lot more low key," Dean observes wryly.

"With the notable exception of Gabriel."

Dean stares thoughtfully out the windshield. "Is it gonna be tough to impress them?"

"I don't know," Castiel answers honestly. "They're fair, but protective. I've brought a few people home in the past. People I was in love with. People who I thought I was in love with."

"They didn't fly?" Dean guesses.

"My father..." Castiel ventures. "He always seems to know."

Dean gives him a momentary sharp look. "Would you dump me if he told you to?"

Castiel can smell the edge to Dean's pheromones despite his neutral tone. "No," he says firmly. "No, I wouldn't. I never did the others. Whenever he met them he would say one thing afterwards. Every single time. He said, 'Castiel, I don't think that's your mate.' That's it."

Dean rolls his eyes. "So, did you break up with them later because of that, or because it just happened to turn out to be true? I mean, not to be judgmental about your family or anything, but shit like that has a way of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy."

"Oh, I know," Castiel agrees. "I've never broken up with anyone, Dean. I suppose in that regard I can be considered a typical omega. I was always the one to be left. A few of them I knew wouldn't turn into anything, yes. We've all dated people just because they're the right person at the right time, but not the right person for forever."

Dean nods along. He can't say he hasn't done the same. "But some of them... you hoped."

"Yes, I did."

"I'm sorry."

Castiel tucks his fingers under Dean's chin, bringing his gaze back. "Why?" he smiles. "I met you."

Dean kisses him chastely. Castiel sure does have a talent for making the cheesy stuff sound a lot less so with his constant sincerity. It's one of the best things about him. Castiel's willingness to be so open allows Dean himself to be more of the same. He's becoming less and less allergic to his own feelings as his relationship with the omega progresses.

Therefore, it inspires him to follow through with something he's never done for any of his past partners. He pulls back to dig in his pocket. "Got you something." He holds up a key triumphantly.

Tentatively, Castiel takes it. "You didn't have to just because I gave you mine."

Dean scoffs. "I'm giving it to you because I want to, not because you gave me yours."

He puts it on the key ring, smiling all the while. "I'll treasure this, you know."

Dean chuckles. "Why? It cost less than a dollar to make at Home Depot."

Castiel arches an eyebrow. "You know what I mean."

"Yeah."

They pause in silence again, holding hands, staring out the window. "I hate leaving you after this weekend," Castiel murmurs.

"Feeling's mutual," Dean answers. "But hey, you can come over anytime. You got a key all. I'll probably be home until Wednesday, then back on jobs."

Castiel slides his gaze over, studying Dean's profile. The crow's feet around his eyes brought out by his smile. "So, if I came over after classes to make you dinner until you return to work...?"

His shoulder tips up. "Or if you came over when you're bored, or lonely, or horny." He glances at Castiel and winks. Castiel chuckles. "Open invitation. Any day, any time you wanna see me."

"The same goes for me." It's so easy to fall in love with Dean. The man makes it effortless. He gives so freely and expects literally nothing in return. Though Castiel is happy to return it because he wants to make Dean happy. It's not solely about pleasing an alpha. It's not about having anyone willing to be around to keep the loneliness at bay. It's not about rushing to bond someone before it's too late. Castiel feels more for this man than he's felt with any of his past relationships. On the most basic level, he already knows that Dean is his mate. Could be. Should be. And far from causing him any anxiety, he feels whole. Completely at peace with it.

"Staring again," Dean says.

"Counting your gray hairs," Castiel quips.

Dean laughs then yanks Castiel over for another long, leisurely kiss. "It's easier on your hair since it's darker."

Castiel snorts. "I'm going home now."

Dean follows him out of the Impala to his car waiting in the driveway. "Am I ever gonna convince you to give up this pimp-mobile?"

Castiel frowns. "Not all of us need to overcompensate."

Moving quicker than he has in days, Dean shoves Castiel against the driver's side door, pressing their hips together solidly. "You know that ain't true of me," he rumbles into Castiel's ear.

"No, but I do love baiting you." Castiel nips at the bolt of Dean's jaw.

"I'm easy to, aren't I?" He turns his head, focused completely on the omega's full lips.

"I love that about you, too."

The kiss that follows is drawn out, filthy, and capable of chasing away the chill in the air. Castiel dives into it. He needs it to keep him warm overnight without his alpha. His human brain insists that it's for the best. Dean doesn't need anyone to watch over him now that he's moving around better. Oh, but Castiel wants to stay forever caring for him. He could stay. The way Dean's holding him speaks volumes to an open invitation. But in the end, Castiel pushes Dean back gently, loving how his lips feel swollen from kissing. "Wish you'd stay," he murmurs.

Castiel agrees. "I need to get my notes in order for class tomorrow. But I'll come by and make dinner."

"Lookin' forward to it."

Castiel slips free and gets into his car. Dean steps back up the driveway, hands shoved in the pockets of his leather jacket. He doesn't raise a hand in farewell or anything. Just watches until Castiel has driven out of sight.

Once he arrives home to his newly-silent house, the only thing keeping the pining sickness at bay is the fact that Dean's smell is still in here, and likely won't fade for a few days if he slacks on washing the sheets. Which he will. And the t-shirt he loaned him to sleep in. It's good to have some distance which can lead to perspective, however. He's got a lot to think about. Though, he admits to himself that the big things haven't changed. He's still fine with the scent compatibility. The subtle shifting of his own hormones to prepare for real bonding. If his body is still capable of it. He's not even worried about the accelerated time frame. Sometimes when you know, you know. Well. He doesn't know, but if the trajectory continues on the same path, he will soon enough. There aren't any warning signs, which, at their age and experience, would have been pretty quick to pop up. And he isn't the type to invite trouble, so he shies away from the thought that it's too good to be true. It's not. He won't let it be. They've faced everything head on thus far, and they'll continue being open with each other. That's the best they can do.

***

Dean notices that the pain returns not long after Castiel's gone. He sighs at his movements slowing down again, but it's not unbearable. He'll probably need a heavy duty pain pill before bed to actually be able to sleep, but until then, the lighter stuff is working adequately. He doesn't like the idea of stewing in his own juices for another few days while he heals more, but it's not like he's going to be even more irresponsible. For the first time in forever, he's okay admitting that it's acceptable to ease up with his aging body. He's healthy overall, happy. Pretty freaking content, actually. Thankful for Castiel being there.

Tonight there's no reason to pretend that he's going to stay up late, so he forgoes putting on the TV downstairs, instead grabbing a bottle of water and making his way up to his room.

He pauses just inside the doorway.

He finds he doesn't really like the room as much when it doesn't smell like his omega. It's not as relaxing. It's not a lot of things. He'll have to remedy that.

At least he's got tomorrow night to look forward to.

***

Which turns out to be different than expected because Castiel shows up using his key, tossing his messenger bag to the hall table, yanking his shoes off, and smelling of undiluted irritation the whole way. Dean smells him well before he sees him and beelines for the kitchen to grab them both a beer. He wordlessly holds one out to the omega when they meet in the living room.

"I've had a terrible day," Castiel laments, taking the beer.

"I can tell. Wanna talk about it?"

"They don't read!" Castiel cries. That would be a yes. Dean guides him upstairs, letting Castiel vent the entire way. "I don't give more homework than necessary. I realize that most of them are freshman and have full course loads. That's why my general assignment rules are no novels, no more than fifteen or twenty pages at a time. I don't even give them many papers! Class discussion counts just as much for their final grade. I'm not demanding. I'm not unreasonable."

He yanks off his tie, and Dean takes it before the man rips it to shreds with the strength of his indignation. "I agree with you," he says calmly.

"And this time the reading was interesting! Science fiction short stories from all over the world! Speculative fiction! It's one of the most interesting topics for young, liberal minds."

"It sure as shit is," Dean agrees, helping Castiel remove his dress shirt since he appears too agitated to navigate the buttons himself.

"Right?! But could they be bothered?"

"I'm guessing no."

"You are correct!" He slings his belt to the floor. He lets Dean push him into the bed and sits in cross legged annoyance with Dean perched behind him. "I thought at least Claire and Alex would have something to say about secondary gender dynamics or something! But no! The entire class it seems, wasted their education on a long weekend partying !" He makes it sound like a swear word.

Dean cracks his knuckles. He knows where he's needed. And right now he's needed to be digging his fingers into Castiel's rock hard shoulders. He kneads the muscles expertly and they gradually begin to loosen. "Kids waste their time partying a lot. Especially their first year in college."

"That's what their vacations are for!" Castiel rages, muscles going taut again. "Academics should be taken seriously!"

"I would have been the bane of your existence," Dean says with warm humor.

That pauses Castiel's tirade. He's silent for a minute. Then he starts to realize what's going on. He makes a small whine in the back of his throat, leaning into Dean's touch. His pheromones instantly start to mellow. "Would you have been?" There's the beginning of a smile in his voice.

"Hell, yes. I never studied."

Castiel tsks him.

Chuckling, Dean rocks Castiel back and forth until the man starts to relax again, then he resumes the massage, working over his shoulders and back. "I actually wasn't so bad until high school. I studied a lot and paid attention because Sam was already really into school, and I wanted to be able to help him with his homework and stuff, y'know? Had to keep up. But he started to outstrip me when he was in middle school. By then I already knew I'd go to trade school, so I stopped bothering with stuff I wouldn't use. It was good enough for my GED, though."

Castiel sighs contentedly, giving into relaxation. "You often talk about yourself like you're somehow lesser because you didn't go to college. Your scent changes a little, too."

"Well, you teach college. Don't you have a PhD or something?"

Castiel nods rhythmically in time with Dean's circling motions over his middle back. His eyes drift shut. "I do. Technically, you should be calling me Dr. Novak."

Dean leans in briefly to murmur in Castiel's ear, "sexy."

He laughs. "I know. Dean, you shouldn't think lesser of yourself. You have all the knowledge you need to be able to function in life profitably. That's all that matters. Plus, you're quite brilliant in all practical ways. My knowledge is purely academic. Frankly, it's far less useful. On top of that, when we talk about the books you've read, you're more insightful than many of my students. An advanced degree isn't necessarily a measure of true intelligence. Just how long we chose to go to school."

Dean lays his forehead between Castiel's shoulder blades as he digs his thumbs into Castiel's lower back. Castiel has a point, though it's amusing since even his pheromones smell like academia. The man was truly destined for what he's doing. "I don't think I'm stupid," he says thoughtfully. "I guess I do get intimidated by people like you sometimes. I mean, you use huge words in your everyday speech. Your whole job is to make people smarter. You've spent your whole life in school, and it's not like you stop learning when you're a teacher. I can't even imagine that, myself."

"Perhaps, but you don't stop learning, either," Castiel points out. "What happens when you encounter a newer brand of appliance you've never serviced before? Or a type of repair you know little about? It's the same thing, applied to a different area." He chuckles suddenly. Circles the conversation back around to what he'd attempted to teach that day. "Imagine this scenario: NASA has developed the technologies to send humans into deep space to colonize a Goldilocks planet they've found in some Golden Zone. You and I are both candidates for the mission. Only one of us will be chosen. Which of us would they take as the more valuable candidate for such an important mission?"

Dean shrugs. "How many people are going on the voyage?"

Thoughtfully, Castiel answers, "a hundred thousand, perhaps. Enough to colonize and breed on an entire planet for some time."

Without any hesitation, Dean answers, "they'd pick you."

"I believe they would pick you. Since we are at an impasse, you'll have to defend your choice."

Dean pulls back, and Castiel turns around to face him. There's the light of passion in the alpha's green eyes, his scent warming to the challenge. To Castiel, it's an incredible turn on.

"Okay, since you asked, they'd take you because you're an educator with an advanced degree."

Castiel tilts his head slightly in question, a small smile tugging at his lips. "And that's more valuable in your mind?"

"For this, yeah," Dean answers confidently. "Think about it. How many people in this country have a PhD?"

"I believe it's less than two percent of the population. A couple million people."

"See? There are less of your kind of people than mine. We're talking about colonizing a whole world from scratch here. No evolution of the species or anything. We need people ready to do all the shit we do here right now. And since we're talking about breeding, we need people of all ages, and all education levels. Probably more secondary genders than betas on the whole to breed without screwing up genetic lines with inbreeding. You're a PhD and an omega."

Castiel's smile grows wider all the time. Dean is brilliant. "But my secondary gender wouldn't be a consideration in this case. Even if I were younger, my chances of breeding are too low to be a bonus."

Dean nods. "True, but the rest is still more valuable. You're part of an elite group of people. Our planet is gonna need plenty of people with higher education to teach the younger generations. Education is important. And before you say we need more PhD's in STEM or whatever, remember that we're making a whole new society here. People like you are going to be the best at recording it and preserving it. Someone like me wouldn't know how to do it right."

"That's very compelling," Castiel concedes, "but your skill set will actually get us to the planet and give us viable places to live once we're there. Yes, we will need engineers and scientists to build the ships; use all of the advanced technologies. But who will then build the houses? The schools? The hospitals? Everything else that the engineers designed? Moreover, who will keep them repaired and running over the long term? As far as survival of our species on an alien world is concerned, roofs over our heads are much more important than proper grammar."

Dean scoots back to the headboard to rest against the pillows when his back begins to ache again. Castiel crawls beside him. "Yeah, but there are two million of you. There are probably twenty million of me. People with my skill set are a dime a dozen. Maybe I'd get further up the list because I'm an alpha, but there's nothing about me that would set me apart besides my willingness to work practically every hour of the damn day."

"You might be surprised at how few people have your work ethic," Castiel argues. "You settle for nothing less than the best. You would demand the same of other people, especially if our literal survival was at stake."

"Got me there." He smiles.

Castiel smiles back.

"Guess we're both going to space," Dean says.

Castiel breathes a small laugh. "I'd probably follow you anywhere, so that sounds fine to me."

"Thanks for making me feel smart."

"Thank you for letting me work out my irritation without complaining."

"That's what I'm here for. You hungry? We can order a pizza."

"That sounds wonderful."

Dean holds his omega close as he phones in the order, happy enough to even allow Castiel to negotiate for mushrooms on it. It strikes him in that insignificantly significant way that this is the life he'd always wanted. Sitting quietly or talking. Helping his mate out after a particularly tough day. Helping each other cheer up. It's what he'd been missing. And he's glad that he found it with Castiel. Now all he's got to do it keep it.

***

Tuesday goes the way of Monday, though Castiel is in a far better mood when he arrives, and cooks them burgers that Dean will remember for the rest of his life. Again he leaves at an almost reasonable hour, but Dean doesn't lament sleeping alone. Castiel has figured out that Dean still needs his scent around to keep the edge of pain from his injuries off, so they migrate to the bedroom for at least an hour both nights to either talk or watch the late news.

So by Wednesday, Dean's pretty much ready to go back to work. Nothing too taxing for another week or so, and he's been sending a lot of business Garth's way out of guilt, but a good call comes in mid-morning.

"Winchester roofing and repairs, this is Dean speaking."

"Uh... hey," a marginally embarrassed voice says. "Do you do any minor plumbing stuff?"

"Sure, I'm certified. What's the problem?"

The guy huffs a flustered laugh. "Well, I accidentally dropped my cell phone in the toilet, and instead of fishing it out like a normal person, I panicked and flushed. Sooo..."

Dean bites back his own laugh. "You're not the first, man." He grabs a pen. "What's your address?" He's familiar with the neighborhood, and assures the poor bastard that he can be there within the hour.

Finally. It feels like he's been out of work for a month. Snaking a drain won't strain him in the least. It's a great feeling getting back out into the world. He doesn't fully appreciate how cooped up he's been until he's driving away from his house. It had been a good time, but he's ready for something else other than naps and Judge Judy.

Maybe he should plan a vacation soon. Take Castiel along. He wonders what he'd prefer. They already live in the mountains, so maybe not that, but Yellowstone or the Tetons might be nice for camping. He can't remember the last time he'd been there. Castiel doesn't seem like the type to vacation in a city. Well, he probably would if it was somewhere like San Francisco or New York with a bit of quirky flair. The beach, then? Yeah, that'd be great. Wow, Dean would love to see Castiel spread out on a towel somewhere basking in the sun with only trunks on. Beach. Definitely beach. He grins.

The neighborhood he pulls into is one of the few actual subdivisions in the area. Most people in Stull boast acreage. It's a huge part of the appeal. There are some family neighborhood developments, but they're few and far between. All small with massive McMansions. Not that Dean cares. These kinds of people have a lot of money and tend to tip anyone who helps them out in the slightest. Dean likes that practice.

The man who answers the door is smiling widely and holds his hand out to shake. "Thanks for squeezing me in so quickly. Heard you were the best, and so far so good. Never had anyone show up so fast before."

"I aim to please." For some reason the guy's outgoing cheer has Dean liking him straight off. And he can't help scenting a little when he's guided inside. The man smells single and unbonded. Omega. Older than him, probably because his pheromones smell almost stagnant, as happens when they are absolutely past bonding age. They've got a sweet edge that Dean can't really place, but they smell kind of familiar. He briefly wonders if they've met before.

"It's the downstairs half bath. This way, please."

Dean wipes his work boots on the welcome mat before following the man deeper into the house. It's huge, but not gaudy like Dean was expecting. The decor is sleek and modern. Pretty minimalist, but cozy. There are a lot of soft lines and brushed steel with neutral colors. Not Dean's flavor if he'd had to pick, but a far cry from the other mansions he's been in. Most of those are crammed full of "Montana" shit like stuffed deer and fur rugs all over the place, forcing the huge spaces to appear much smaller. This house is the total opposite. It's lived in by someone who is probably from the area, therefore not necessitating decorations to maximize the feel of the remote location for some vacation home. The decorations are used to keep the space large and open. Lots of natural light. Dean figures if you need to live in a such a large home, you might as well look like it.

The half bath on the main level is bigger than Dean's bedroom and walk in closet put together. He whistles, feeling like the guy won't take it as an insult. He doesn't. But the moment's lost when his boots squelch on the fluffy area rug covering the cold marble tiles in front of the opulent vanity with an infinity sink. "Looks like your bowl runneth over," he quips.

The omega laughs. "No shit. Ha ! Oh man, that was a good pun. Toilet humor."

Dean chuckles. "I've heard it all, don't worry." He shuts off the water to the toilet and lets it drain. The omega sticks around to watch him work, which he doesn't mind. The guy is chatty, like lots of people curious for a conversation and interested to know how things work. It's how he'd gotten to know Castiel, after all.

Luckily, the bathroom is big enough that neither of them get in each other's way. "How long you been at this line of work?"

Dean preps the drain snake. "Since I was fifteen. It was my dad's business before then. But I was taken on as a partner when I finished trade school. All in all, 'bout twenty-five years."

"Wow. Money's good, I'm guessing, keeping it up all these years."

"Not as good as whatever you've got going," Dean assures him. "This is a big place."

"I own some real estate," the omega says, leaning against the sink. "Mostly commercial stuff. Makes a pretty penny."

"That's awesome. Ah! Here we go," he says in triumph, extracting a completely ruined cell phone. "Hope you had insurance on this thing."

The guy makes a face. "No, but I can afford it. Just chuck it in the trash over there."

Dean shrugs and does so. He turns back on the water, waits for the tank to fill, and flushes. The bowl does not clear, and he scrambles to turn it off again before there's another flood. "Uh." Curiously, he detects something like guilt in the guy's pheromones. He glances over and the omega look pretty damn contrite. "Dude."

He spreads his hands. "There might... be some other stuff down there that shouldn't be down there."

What in the hell. "Do I wanna know?"

"You're gonna find out. Honestly I didn't think... um... anyway, yeah, there's... let's see..." he turns his eyes to the ceiling, tapping his chin. "A washcloth, hand towel, sponge, cell phone - which you got, thanks - and... I think that's it?"

"Dude!" Dean repeats incredulously.

"I'm sorry!" The man apologizes plaintively. "I didn't know the plumbing was so freaking good! My plan to meet you ahead of the family went a little awry."

What? Who? Dean narrows his eyes suspiciously. Scents the air again, this time obviously. No need to stand on polite ceremony. The guy does smell familiar, and he's got his suspicions why. "Gabriel Novak," he says flatly.

"Nice to meet you, Dean," he says lamely.

He crosses his arms over his chest. "Couldn't you have done, oh, I dunno, literally anything else? Called Cas or something?"

"Like I'd want him to know," Gabriel scoffs. "That totally defeats the purpose of running recon."

Dean rolls his eyes. "Come on, man. Cas and I aren't kids."

" Pssh , all the more reason! You're both stubborn and set in your ways, so something like integrating your lives is gonna be more difficult. Don't tell me that's not the case."

He shrugs. "Cas makes it easy."

"Who's benefit are you saying that for?"

"Mine. I don't know you. Why would I be buttering you up?"

A slow grin spreads over Gabriel's face. "Because I'm Castiel's favorite family member."

Fair enough, but Dean's already got a protective streak for Castiel a mile wide. Plus, all of his brazen confidence. "Doesn't mean I owe you. He won't leave me 'cause you don't like me. It's about him and me, and we're working well."

Gabriel arches an eyebrow. "You're not gonna tell me something like 'family doesn't end in blood,' or some other trite bullshit, are ya?"

He expected something like that. In some ways, Dean can already tell that Castiel and Gabriel are close. They're not meek, and they don't back down to anyone just because their biology might want them to show some sort of deference to an alpha. They're both "eyes wide open" kind of men. Dean can appreciate that. It's not a challenge for him to enjoy that sort of personality. At the same time, though, the upper hand is his already since he knows exactly where Gabriel is coming from trying to protect his little brother from an alpha. And Gabriel doesn't know that he knows, which is fine. If he thinks he's ahead, it's less of a hassle for Dean. Plus, he probably wouldn't be appreciative of his dirty laundry having been aired to a stranger.

Otherwise, Dean's sure his hindbrain would raise its hackles something fierce to defend himself for Castiel. They're a good match. No one's going to take his omega away from him. "No, I'm not," he says eventually. "You already know that, anyway. Look, Gabriel, I appreciate you wanting to check me out. I'm a complete mystery and all that. But I'm making Cas happy. He's making me happy. More than that, we're helping each other just... I dunno... be better than we were. As long as he wants me, I'll keep on like that."

They stare each other down for a time. Dean's not challenging him; he keeps his alpha side firmly in check. If Gabriel needs proof, he'll get it. It isn't some gender war he's having here, cruising for the first available omega in his age bracket - which, granted, are few and far between. So he stands loose and calm, open and non-threatening. Just honest.

Gabriel relents. "I think I like you, Winchester."

"I'm reserving judgment," Dean snorts.

"After the stunt I pulled? That's wise." He gestures over his shoulder for Dean to follow him back into the hall. He digs his checkbook out of the entryway table and signs one with a flourish. "How much do I owe you for the inconvenience?"

Dean automatically gives him the price and Gabriel grins. "What?" Dean demands. "You think I'd let it go and be understanding because you were doing this for Cas?"

"Hell, no!" Gabriel answers. "I was expecting you to double charge me." He fills in the blanks and hands over the check. Dean folds it neatly in half and slides it into his shirt pocket.

"Props for creativity, but please just call next time."

Gabriel laughs. "Yeah, I like you."

"Well, you're an idiot."

He laughs. "I agree. See you Sunday."

Dean opens the door and then turns around again. "You do realize you owe me, right?"

Gabriel's grin is wolfish. "Thought you'd never ask."

As he leaves, Dean thinks he probably shouldn't have said that. But that's Sunday's problem. Four days to prepare. He can do that. He hopes. Whatever the case, lunch with the Novak family is going to be running a gauntlet. At least he has stubborn pride on his side. And his feelings for Castiel. Dean Winchester won't give up so easily.

Chapter Text

Castiel never promised a miracle, and Dean feels like he's not lucky enough to get one. He's not complaining exactly, because he's always been okay with a challenge, but every time he thinks about Sunday, his palms start to sweat. He's glad he's back at work so that can distract him during the daylight hours. But it's not the best start to things when over dinner he lets slip his interaction with Gabriel.

"He did what?!" Castiel yells, practically jumping up from his chair.

"It's no big deal," Dean attempts to placate him.

"How is that not a big deal?" Castiel rages. "That's serious overstepping, even for him!"

"Bit unorthodox," Dean concedes, "but it was pretty harmless, all things considered. Why? Were you thinking he'd do something bad to me?"

The humor is one hundred percent lost on the omega. "He did! He's-! I-! I don't-!"

Dean bites back a smile at Castiel being so put out that he can't form a complete sentence. That's so hilariously unlike him. "Everything's fine."

"I disagree," Castiel says, taking a deep breath to calm down. He settles into his chair, face smoothing to a mask of neutrality. He resumes eating his pasta. Dean does so as well, watching the omega because his pheromones are still wafting anger. He waits. Castiel starts jiggling his leg so much that it rattles the table. Dean chews his food harder if only to hold back his amusement. Castiel's whole body vibrates with ire, almost causing him to spill his drink. He keeps trying though, bless his heart. But it doesn't last. He slams his fork down. "I'm sorry, Dean. I can't let this stand."

"Cas..."

There's nothing he can do about it now. Castiel is already out of his seat, cell phone in hand, swiping the screen like a man on a mission. All Dean can do is watch helplessly as Castiel rage dials his older brother. "Gabriel? Did I wake you up? Good! Listen here, you son of a bitch - no ! No, shut up, I'm talking!"

Dean leans forward in interest. He honestly never thought he'd hear Castiel's true anger, much less him shouting at someone. Fascinating. Also, kind of really sexy.

"You stepped over the line so far, I don't even know where to begin! Yes, of course Dean told me! He seems to think it's not a big deal, but I disagree with this invasion of privacy!" His voice deepens to a threatening growl that has Dean perking up in all sorts of places. "I'll only say this once. My relationship, my terms. You'd better be groveling on Sunday." He takes the phone from his ear and jabs the end call button with force. Then he notices Dean staring at him wide-eyed. Sheepishly, he sets his phone down on the table and resumes his seat. "I'm so sorry. For... well, for everything."

"That's a lot to be sorry for," Dean answers, helping himself to another bread roll.

Castiel sighs. "For Gabriel ambushing you. For losing my temper. For being part of a family that does such childish things."

Dean holds out half of the buttered roll and Castiel takes it with a small smile. "I've got some experience with that kind of thing myself. But you don't have to apologize for getting mad. Was kinda hot."

That pulls a bigger smile from Castiel. "How are you so easy going about this? I'm so embarrassed."

"He could have done worse," Dean shrugs. "As it is, he's out a couple hundred dollars for doing something so ridiculous to talk to me."

"I wish you'd charged him double," Castiel huffs. "Triple."

"Now that I know who he is, I will next time."

"I'm sorry," Castiel says again. "And there won't be a next time, I swear."

Dean sits back in his chair, full and strangely happy about the whole situation. Castiel is angry because he doesn't want anyone throwing a wrench into their relationship. He's invested in it. And it's nice that he's close with his family. Not so much that he'd let them make any future decisions for him, but close enough that their opinions matter. Dean can get behind that. "All our families have quirks. I mean, that dinner with mine didn't exactly go as planned, but you didn't run screaming. I won't with yours, either. Cas, you mean a lot to me. Your weird brother ain't gonna change that."

Castiel's return smile is soft. "Thank you. I suppose at the very least you now know what to expect from one of them."

"That's something," Dean agrees.

That settled, Castiel returns to his dinner, and Dean waits for him to finish before cleaning up the dishes. Castiel puts away the leftovers.

By the end of dinner, Castiel is calm enough again to go out to the movie they'd been planning on seeing. Afterwards they share a dessert crepe at the small cafe next to the theater and meander around the shopping arcade.

"I'm nervous about Sunday," Castiel admits, pressing closely to Dean as they wander. The area is partially covered overhead, but with enough breezeways that it's still quite cold.

Dean slips his arm underneath Castiel's coat, around his back, keeping them tightly together. "What for?"

He sags a little. "After Gabriel, and knowing how the rest of my family can be, I feel like I've lost control of it."

"And that's important to you." He's gleaned that about his omega. Castiel doesn't like any sort of situation where he isn't in full control. Just like how he gets angry when his students are unprepared and derail his schedule.

"I'm a little Type A."

"I've noticed." He plants a short kiss on Castiel's temple.

"I want them to see you as I do," he says softly.

"Gross," Dean chuckles. "That's incest."

Castiel bumps his arm. "Can we never be serious at the same time?"

"If I let that happen, you'll let yourself wallow."

Castiel stops walking in front of a home wares store. Dean halts too, glancing over. Castiel's attention is on the window, but his expression is compelling. "You understand me so well." He sounds almost ashamed.

Dean's thumb traces absent circles over Castiel's lower back. "I try. Look, Cas, I'm easy done here. I like making you happy. I like keeping you happy. There's nothing hard about this for me. I wanna know and understand you."

Castiel tilts his head, offering up a private smile that makes his eyes shine. "That simple?"

Dean turns him until they're chest to chest, both of his hands snaking under Castiel's coat now, fingertips brushing lightly over the skin peeking out over his jeans. Castiel sways closer. "That simple," he murmurs.

It's in that singular moment kissing Dean while being stared at by ugly ceramic owl cookie jars in the window of the Crate & Barrel, that Castiel Novak realizes he's desperately in love.

***

It's freezing Sunday morning. Nearly too cold for Castiel to bother getting out of bed, but he's certainly not going to miss church today. After the fiasco with Gabriel, he'd told Dean not to join them at the service, despite the alpha's offer to attend. He needs the time to get his head in order, and that would be impossible with Dean sitting among his family.

He makes it to church, and everyone spends some time before the service begins making him as nervous as possible.

It works. By the time the family is assembled at home and Castiel hears the Impala rumbling up the driveway, he's a wreck. Which was probably Gabriel's goal to begin with. Cain stands from the table when the doorbell rings. He places a firm hand on his son's shoulder to keep him seated.

Castiel is regretting ever being born.

Of course it doesn't help that they're so silent that they can hear a pin drop in the kitchen. Cain's greeting and Dean's response come through the open doorway loud and clear.

He should never have doubted Dean's skill at charming people, though. Castiel hears the best possible group of sentences come out of Dean's mouth. "Beautiful home here, Mr. Novak. I saw the garden out back, too when I was coming around the corner. It's amazing."

Castiel breathes a sigh of relief.

His father's voice is filled with both pride and pleasure as they approach the kitchen. "My thanks, Dean. That's high praise coming from someone with your discerning eye. That bee garden is my family's lifeblood. Your father designed it back in the day."

Castiel had told Dean that already, but the alpha still manages a respectable amount of surprise when he answers, "that so? I always wondered about it. He talked about it a lot when I was younger. Only bee garden he ever helped build. Sometimes I thought he might start one up as a hobby, but my brother's allergic to bees."

As interesting as that tidbit is, Castiel is stuck on another part of what Dean had said. "Helped build." Dean truly has no idea how great he as at talking to Cain as he likes being talked to. It's a major miracle.

Cain and Dean enter the kitchen and Castiel tries not to let his amazement show that Cain has an arm thrown over Dean's shoulder. It's not the first time he's made such a gesture, but it is the most meaningful time. Cain, after all, isn't the type to intimidate people straight off when he's trying to get a read on them. He wants them relaxed in his home when they're welcome there to drop their guard and show their true colors.

For his part, Dean appears completely unbothered. He's smiling, and his summer-pure scent is clean. Castiel stands and approaches them. "Hello, Dean," he says, suddenly hit with the irrational thought that the greeting sounds too intimate. He can't help it. Dean looks wonderful dressed in nice designer jeans and dark red cashmere sweater. He'd put in effort, and the gesture isn't lost on Castiel. Cain gives his son a pointed look as he moves away.

"Hey, Cas," Dean answers, smile warming.

Might as well go the whole nine yards. Castiel leans in and kisses Dean on the cheek. His alpha returns the gesture, then Castiel is standing at his side to introduce him around. "Dean, this is my family. My mother, Naomi."

She takes his hands and kisses his cheek. "It's so nice to meet you, Dean."

"And you."

"That's Anna, my older sister."

She beams at him but doesn't get up from her seat where she's shucking corn. "Hey, Dean."

He beams right back. "Good to know you, Anna." He turns his gaze to the last Novak at the table, who is currently eating an entire bag of Hershey kisses. "What's up, Gabriel? How's your plumbing working now?"

"Same old shit," he answers airily.

Dean rolls his eyes. "That's great. See you're not over the bathroom puns."

"Never gonna happen."

"I don't even want to know," Naomi says, steering Dean to the table and placing a tall glass of honey lavender lemonade in front of him.

"You're right, you don't," Castiel says in a warning tone, eyes boring holes into his older brother as he takes his seat right next to Dean, putting a strategic extra body between his mate and Gabriel. Tactfully, he ignores what that protective impulse alludes to. Instead, he focuses on the fact he hasn't forgiven his brother yet.

Cain takes his place at the head of the table when Naomi senses danger and drags Gabriel to the stove with the corn to help her finish cooking. "Castiel told me that you took over your father's business when he passed. That's an honorable thing to do. And my condolences as well. I didn't know for sure that John had left us. We touched base every now and then over the years."

"Thank you," Dean says. "But it was a long time ago."

"I'm sure he's proud you took over."

"I always knew I would," Dean answers. "He made me partner right after I finished trade school."

"And you like it?" Cain asks it casually, sipping his lemonade, but Castiel knows it's bait. He's not sure why he's bothering to hold his breath.

"Yes, sir," Dean says confidently, sipping his own lemonade and making a small pleased noise about it. "I'm good at it and it helps a lot of people out. I love it." Briefly, he turns his attention to Naomi. "This lemonade is awesome, by the way, Mrs. Novak."

"Naomi," she corrects without turning around. Castiel's face heats slightly. "It's made from all the ingredients we grow here."

"Do you sell it like you do the honey? Can I buy some?"

This time, she does turn to him with an indulgent mother smile. "Only at the summer festival when I can make it the day before. I freeze large batches of it for the family to drink year-round. Castiel can give you some. But it's much better fresh."

Dean gives her a thumbs up and drains his glass. With a laugh, Anna refills it from the cut crystal pitcher.

Gabriel returns with a bunch of mini quiches and a bevy of cheese and crackers. He puts them in the center of the table with a flourish. Naomi hands out the small appetizer plates. "So," Gabriel drawls, "can the real questioning begin since the pleasantries are out of the way?"

"You owe me," Dean reminds him blandly, picking up a sampling of the offerings at Naomi's urging.

"What's going on?" Anna asks with humor in her voice. "What have you done this time, Gabriel?"

"Nothing," he answers equally mild.

"Oh, Gabriel," Naomi admonishes. "Castiel really will murder you one day."

"We don't need to talk about it," Castiel hedges. "I've spoken to my dear older brother, and his transgressions have been put on hold."

"Nice of you," Cain grins. "You always were the most forgiving of the children."

Anna sighs. "Why does this family insist on not gossiping?"

Dean chuckles. "Hey, I'm trying to be polite and save Gabe over there the embarrassment."

She side eyes her brother. "Oh, come on. You love being the center of attention, Gabriel. And by the way, Dean, he's never been embarrassed a day in his life, so you don't have to try and save his feelings. Talk, brother."

Gabriel says nothing. He gives Dean a pointed look.

And Dean's always been one to rise to a dare. "He wanted to meet me before the rest of you did, so he flooded his toilet and had me come unclog it in some elaborate ambush plan."

Dead silence falls over the room.

It lasts a beat. Cain bursts into laughter. Naomi says to Dean, "I hope you charged him double."

"Castiel said the same thing," he grins.

Anna laughs with her father. "Gabriel, you're the worst!"

When he's calmed down, Cain says to his eldest, "I think I gave you too much leeway as a child."

"Can't change me now," Gabriel returns without much bluster. Despite what Anna had said about him, he does smell embarrassed.

Dean assures them that there was no harm done, all the while keeping his arm slung over the back of Castiel's chair, stroking the back of his neck with his thumb. His omega is irritated having the subject brought up, but he gradually calms down thanks to the small physical contact.

The rest of the lunch is entirely pleasant. Castiel eats next to nothing because he's so focused on everyone's reactions to Dean, trying to sniff out even the slightest dissatisfaction. Dean himself is a natural charmer, though not dishonest. He talks about his family with pride, his work, asks all sorts of unobtrusive questions. By the end, Castiel is reeling with how his alpha handled the whole thing.

He walks Dean to his car after a hearty round of goodbyes.

Cain follows them as far as the front door. Holds out his hand. "Don't be a stranger," he says.

Dean shakes his hand firmly. "You got it."

Cain watches his son escort Dean to the Impala, then discreetly closes the door.

"What's my final grade?" Dean asks, tugging Castiel close.

"They really liked you," Castiel answers. "You were wonderful with them."

"They're good people. Just like you."

They stand in the cold, smiling at each other silently for a minute. Castiel says, "can I come over tomorrow night, or do you have an early job?"

"Come over," Dean answers.

Castiel kisses him, pouring all of his relief, gratitude, longing, hope into it. It lasts until a particularly brutal gust of wind hits them. "I'll text you," Castiel promises, teeth chattering. One last kiss, and then Castiel is jogging back up to the house as the roar of the Impala's engine fades.

Cain is standing in the hall by his study when Castiel returns. The youngest Novak swallows hard. He wishes he'd had more time to prepare for this part. He follows Cain inside the dimly lit room, closing the door behind them and wishing that he was in the living room with the rest of them, laughing over which movie to put on.

But he's not. He's sitting in the brown leather armchair in front of Cain's desk, and his father is sitting in the matching one beside him.

"Castiel," Cain starts.

Castiel flinches.

"I think he's your mate."

Castiel's heart plummets with preemptive acceptance of the judgement until the words actually sink in. His head shoots up and he stares wordlessly at his father.

Cain is giving him an assessing look, and it's very kind.

Castiel wants to cry. "Dad," he manages.

"I met your mother when I was sixteen," he says, gaze unwavering. "She was..." he trails off and Castiel waits, holding his breath not for the first time today. Scared to chase away whatever memory his father is living in. He only knows a little bit about his parents' courtship. Small snapshots given offhandedly over the years. But now, after what Cain had just said, Castiel needs to hear more. He needs to know why.

"Castiel, your mother... she danced ."

Castiel's never seen the smile that blooms on his father's face when he says that. He looks almost transcendent.

"The church had a formal for the high school at the end of the year in that huge barn on the MacLeod farm. No one asked anyone for a plus one, I recall. We all just showed up. The organizers didn't want anyone to feel left out. I actually liked it. Everyone danced with everyone, sat at each other's tables, talked to whoever they wanted. It was wonderful."

"Mother's only told me a little bit of the story," Castiel says softly, really not wanting to ruin the moment. He knows that his father is happy; that he's always been happy as long as he's been with Naomi. But it's never been so obvious before. He's seen his parents embrace before. Kiss. Do the small things for each other that people in love do. But they've also always been proper in front of other people. Maturely in love.

But right now, in this moment, Castiel isn't seeing his father. He's seeing Cain, the man who swept Naomi off her feet when she was sixteen and never looked back. To Castiel, that man has only ever existed in washed out photographs dripping with summer sun and his mother's hair wild around her shoulders. He's never really realized how much he needed to know all of this about his parents.

"I got to the dance late, as usual," Cain muses. "I've never been on time a day in my life, and Naomi's never changed that. I parked down the gravel road and walked to the barn. You could hear the band playing and there was light spilling out the doors. People everywhere. I got there looking for my friends, and I saw her up by the stage. Already dancing when most people were still milling around." His eyes unfocus to the middle distance and he reaches his hands out like he could touch her if he just pictured the memory clearly enough. "She wore a sky blue dress. Strappy, with those puffed out skirts just below the knees. Her hair was down and wavy, and she was dancing with Fergus MacLeod. That bastard was swinging her around and twirling, and I could hear her laughing over all the noise."

Castiel smiles, heart hurting a little bit that he can't even picture it. His mother and father when they were young. No. Cain and Naomi when no one else is looking. It's still there. He can see it in his father's eyes.

"The song ended and she said something to Fergus. Went to the refreshment table alone, and I followed her. I had to. Castiel... she was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen. She was drinking punch and I stood there like a damn fool three feet from her, and my mouth felt glued shut. I had this... perfect moment. The band started playing 'Fly Me to the Moon', and I had to ask her. But I couldn't. I smelled... she smelled like rosewater and spring, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I didn't ask her."

Castiel's eyes widen, and Cain focuses back on him, smile turning to a smirk. "She asked me instead. She said, 'Cain Novak, you better be here to take me for a spin.' And I just held out my hand." He mimics the movement from ages ago. "We danced all night like no one else was there. No one else mattered. I loved her from that very second, and I knew I always would."

Castiel huffs a small laugh. "Did you, though?"

"No," he admits. "But I wanted to. The second I scented her I knew we were meant to be. And I spent a long time getting to the bonding stage."

"She said you had a long engagement."

"Longer than most at the time," Cain confirms. "We were young. But when she finally said yes... Castiel, even forty-five years later, I hardly have the words for it."

Castiel nods. "Gabriel was conceived the day you bonded."

Cain laughs. "And he'll never let you forget it. I'm going to get cheesy and poetic for a moment, so bear with me."

He doesn't mind. Neither his mother nor his father have ever gone into great detail about their bonding. In many ways bonding is a profoundly private thing, but everyone has their stories that they don't mind telling. He's always taken for granted that his parents are happy together. To him, their bond has always seemed steadying. Comforting. Definitely strong. There are a list of adjectives he uses to describe it, but none of them are how his father speaks of it.

"Bonding your mother was stars aligning," Cain starts. "There's simply no way to prepare for it. We'd been scent compatible. That constant pull to be near one another. That feeling of rightness when we were together."

That's exactly how Castiel feels about Dean.

"Our scent bond came on quite naturally because of that. We became engaged to show our intent to bond when she couldn't manage her heats alone anymore. Times were much more conservative back then." He smiles wryly. "But when she gave me permission to bond her I thought I'd die without it. When two souls touch that way... well, there's a reason your mother and I want it so badly for you."

Castiel swallows. "I never knew."

"We wanted all of you to discover these things on your own, but I felt... you're hesitating, Castiel. You've hesitated in this way your whole life, and time isn't our friend. And maybe I've been to blame for some of it, always giving you my opinion. I know that there's someone out there for you like your mother is for me. Now you have an opportunity. Dean is a good man. He's right for you. I truly believe God sent him to you at the right moment for the right reasons."

They're silent again for a long time. "I'm in love with him," Castiel says, almost like he's discovering it for the first time. He's not. It was only last night.

"That's good," Cain says, nodding vaguely. "That's very good."

It is. It also solidifies the last puzzle piece in his mind. Everything resolved. He and Dean have a chance. There's no doubt in Castiel's mind that he wants to let their bond grow. He can feel the craving somewhere deep in his bones to bond him fully. It's a gift that they can share together.

But if it can't happen, and Dean still has the chance to, Castiel feels almost at peace accepting that he'll be able to give him the gift of releasing him to pursue someone else to share that blessing with. After hearing everything his father said, he knows for certain that it's correct. He's doing the right thing.

***

As brave as he'd been, Dean doesn't feel the tightness in his chest loosen until he's well into his evening routine. It's not that he'd been performing for the Novak's, but he had pulled out all the stops. Even ones he didn't know he had. Sam would call it "Dean being Dean squared." The way that Castiel had kissed him had made it all worthwhile, though. He'd made a good impression. If his family can see an iota of how much Dean cares for Castiel, it'll be plenty. He thinks he's done that.

He takes his time getting ready for bed, letting the familiar routine wind him down to relaxation. Then he calls Sam. His brother has been chomping at the bit to know how it all went.

"Dean!" he answers on the first ring.

"Waiting up for me, sweetheart?" he singsongs.

"Maybe," Sam drawls right back. "How'd it go?"

"Good," Dean says for lack of a better descriptor while still processing it all. "Really good. I think they liked me. Cas seemed to think so."

"Hey, that's great!" Sam enthuses. "Not as scary as you were expecting?"

"Nah, not really." He kicks back on the bed, crossing his ankles. "They were great. I could really see where Cas gets a lot of his personality from, y'know? They're all into different things, but they're all smart like he is. Protective of each other. Gabriel's kind of a black sheep, but for whatever reason he's Cas's favorite. I think sometimes Cas wishes he was more like him."

"Oh? How so?" Kudos to Sam for sounding genuinely intrigued.

Dean sighs in thought, eyes rolling to the ceiling in contemplation. "Dunno. Just... sometimes Cas says these things that make me wonder what it'd be like if he cut loose more." He realizes how that sounds and rushes to say, "not like he's uptight or anything. He's not. He's... under control. Orderly. Well, where he wants to be. You should see the piles of books everywhere. One day he's gonna get buried alive under an avalanche of paper. It's kinda funny, actually. I always pictured teachers to live like that. "

"Uh, huh," Sam says, sounding strained.

"I'm worried a little, I guess. Cas told me his dad hasn't approved of anyone he's dated before. It's not like he forbids his kids to be with anyone, but he's kinda intimidating. Nice enough to me, but I don't want him to think I'm not a good match for Cas."

He takes a breath and Sam uses the pause to say, "why not?"

Dean breathes out. "'Cause it would suck a lot. You know me, Sam. You know I'm not good at like, having a relationship. I'm good at going out on dates. I'm good at the little stuff, but... what I got with Cas... it's different, man. We don't go out. I mean, we do that too, but we also don't, y'know?"

Sam probably knows, but he's an asshole, so he says, "nope. Elaborate, please."

Dean wants to be annoyed but he laughs a little because he deserves that. "We just hang out sometimes. We spent that weekend together. And we didn't really do anything. We sat around and talked and he cooked, and like... that was it. I liked it. It was easy."

"Now that makes sense," Sam says with a suspiciously satisfied air.

"Sam," Dean says pointedly.

He can practically hear his brother's eye roll. "Dude, come on. It's the simplest thing in the world. You're in love with Cas. So, you should tell him. Nothing anyone says outside of the two of you will matter after that."

He'd like to pretend that he's shocked, but he really isn't. Sure, he's surprised that Sam's saying it out loud and forcing him to actively think about it, but the feeling isn't new. The intent is. Once he acknowledges it, he'll have to say something. It's not the worst idea. Why would he hold it back? "I am," he says after a moment. He's in love with Castiel and the well runs pretty damn deep.

"I'm happy for you, Dean."

"Yeah, thanks," he accepts gruffly.

The call ends shortly thereafter. Dean asks about Jo, and Sam informs him that she's improving every day. Hopefully the roughest part of the pregnancy is over for the time being. Of course, Sam also mentions slyly that he wouldn't mind Dean bringing Castiel around every now and then once they're "official." To help Jo out, of course. Not at all to see his brother gross in love after all these years. Still, Dean agrees. He's happy. Doesn't matter if Sam teases him about it since it won't change anything.

He's plugging his phone into the charger on the nightstand when he notices the old voice mail from Benny. Shit, he'd forgotten to call and assure him he was fine. He puts the phone on speaker and dials his voice mail, punching in the PIN number.

"Hey, brother. Hope you're feeling better. I meant it when I said staying off your feet for at least three days. Bein' old means taking the time to heal properly. And stop falling off of shit. Number two, got all your test results back. You'll get a paper copy in the mail in a week or two from the lab. All your blood counts look good, though you're low on B-12. I'd suggest a supplement. Get whatever you want; brand doesn't matter. And now for the drum roll." Dean actually hears Benny drumming his hands on something. "You're good to go bonding, my man. Your levels are low, but higher than you'd expect for your age. You're still producing enough to form a blood bond. Looking at the trend from past years, I'd suggest sooner rather than later, though. Don't think the news'll be as good this time next year. Anyway, that's it. Call if ya need anything."

Dean hangs up, heart beating fast. He can bond. It's still possible. It's no longer some nebulous "maybe" with him. With Castiel. It can happen. He could still have a mate. His mate could be Castiel.

"Holy shit," he murmurs feeling his whole body light up at the prospect. " Holy shit ."

Chapter Text

As Dean contemplates the next step in the process, he realizes that he really sucks at relationships. It occurs to him he's never told anyone outside of his blood and legal relations, that he loves them. It hasn't happened all that much, sure, but there'd been a couple. Like Lisa. He'd loved her in a lot of ways. They'd lived together for a whole year. They'd been fine and had their time, and worked when they were together. They'd faded out eventually, but thinking back, Dean remembers how Lisa would look at him sometimes. Smelling almost sad. Like she'd wanted to tell him something important, but was afraid of the consequences.

She'd probably wanted to say 'I love you.'

She'd also probably thought it would have had him heading for the hills.

It might have.

It's a tricky thing, voicing love in concrete terms. Sometimes it's the most natural thing in the world. Sometimes it's the most painful thing in the world. Freedom and cages can happen with the same words. It'll be freedom with Castiel. He already knows that. With Lisa it would have been a spotlight on all the problems they'd both tried diligently to ignore. And he's not sure he would have meant it in the right way. He would have meant it - he had loved Lisa - but not in the bondmate sort of way.

It would have been more of an acknowledgment that love wasn't enough. Sometimes it isn't, and that's never a fun thing to either admit or discover.

So he shies away from it now. Love isn't the only thing. It's what holds everything together, but it needs stuff to actually hold together in the first place. He's got that with Castiel, but it does make him wonder how tenuous it still could be.

Though he does entertain the idea that he might just be making excuses to not have a talk about the next step now that he he's got proof that another wall has been busted down. Castiel wants someone that he can bond with. Dean can do that for him. There's no "wait and see" for that anymore.

The more he thinks about it, the more he has to admit that it's the lack of problems making him gun shy. Which is pretty fucking counter-productive. Sure, there'll be conflict plenty of times. They're two separate people with two well defined lives. Not every small piece is going to match, especially when they've both been on their own for so long. That'd be boring anyway. But conflict and problems aren't the same. He and Lisa had had problems. Ways that their lives would never fit together, even with compromises, without making one of them completely miserable.

He and Castiel so far have conflicts. Like the foreign language movies that bore Dean to tears. Or the way that Dean knows he's turned the music up too loud in the car because Castiel gets that squinty look on his face without saying anything. But that's all stuff they can work with and compromise on. The rest is a minefield until discovered, but one they do have to tackle.

At least this time he's not really afraid of it because his feelings for Castiel are the forever kind.

And a month later, it's no less true.

***

The cherry trees are finally starting to bloom, and that means there's nothing at all that can put Castiel off of his good mood. Of course, the world is in his favor today, and no one is trying. His students are engaged, his coworkers are pleasant, and Dean is in his office again with lunch, typing away on his phone while he waits. He must be very involved with whatever it is because he doesn't notice Castiel entering right away. So the omega takes a brief moment to scent Dean's bright pheromones filling his space. He wonders if he'll ever tire of it. Probably not. Especially when he smells a little different today. There's an extra sweetness there that Castiel loves right off.

"You should let me provide lunch every now and then," he says warmly.

Dean's head comes up. "Where's the fun in that if you're expecting me?"

"I do enjoy pleasant surprises," Castiel demurs, running the tips of his fingers over Dean's shoulders as he passes by, snatching a kiss for an added bonus. He brings his chair around to the other side of the desk as always. Dean passes him a container. "Greek?"

"Sam swears it's good," Dean says doubtfully.

Castiel opens the box to find spanakopita, an assortment of olives, and cucumber salad. Dean's got the same along with a selection of grilled meats. "Wow. You ordered all of these vegetables without breaking out into hives?"

"You're hilarious," Dean mutters, mouth already full of grilled meats. Castiel rolls his eyes fondly.

But Sam was right; the food is exceptional. When the edge of hunger is taken off, he says, "I'm not trying to be rude, but you smell different today."

With a questioning eyebrow arch, Dean lifts his arm and sniffs.

Castiel chuckles. "Not that. Your pheromones. You smell... I'm not sure. Extra happy?"

"Been a good day," Dean shrugs. "Easy week. And I get to hang with you. What's better than that?"

"Nothing," Castiel smiles.

"You smell different, too," Dean points out, wiping his mouth with the napkin. "Earthier. Not sure what the mood is, though. Mellows me out, kinda."

"That could be all the meat and bread you're eating, Castiel says dryly. "Tryptophan coma."

"This is child's play," Dean scoffs. "You haven't seen me at Thanksgiving."

Castiel's smile widens. "I'll admit to overindulgence then, too."

"We really are working out nicely," Dean grins.

They really are.

Even more now that dinners at each other's houses are a regular thing, too. It's Castiel's turn to host, and since Dean had provided such a healthy lunch, Castiel cuts him some slack and makes hamburgers.

Dean, as usual, is fully appreciative both during dinner and later when they're trading easy hand jobs on the couch. Castiel is straddling Dean's lap, working them both slowly, enjoying his alpha's blissed out expression. "Cas, you're the best," he murmurs, shuddering and dropping his head forward to mouth at Castiel's neck.

"You too," he returns, almost drowsy with pleasure. He tingles all over whenever Dean zeroes in on his glands, mouthing over them with stiff lips, pinching, but never biting.

"Fuck, your pheromones recently. They're driving me crazy," he growls.

In response, lacking any clever words, Castiel tightens his grip, pumping them faster. Dean gasps, curses, and comes suddenly, heaving out a breath against Castiel's collar bone.

The omega isn't far behind, always lost to the rush of Dean's pleasure. The afterglow is a heavy warm blanket on them both, and Dean likes the way that Castiel drags it out with languid kisses and soft touches. He hasn't always been a known cuddler, but Castiel just makes it great.

He cleans them up with his shirt while they kiss before the mess gets too sticky.

"Mmm," Dean rumbles, still pressing light kisses all over Castiel's neck and shoulders. He's slightly slurred when he says, "I figured it out. You smell ripe."

Castiel tosses the shirt aside, wrapping his arms around his alpha. "As in gross?" His eyes flutter closed against the feel of lips on his over-sensitive skin.

"As in close to a heat."

"Probably not," Castiel answers, voice a lazy contented drawl. "I don't have them quite so often anymore. I don't feel close to one."

"Shame," Dean sighs. "I'd love it."

Though flippant, it's a great opening, that even in the afterglow, Castiel decides to take. He pulls back and waits until Dean pries his eyes open. "Would you?" he asks.

He must have misjudged how much anxiety the question was going to cause him, because Dean's eyes soften and he makes a small, calming noise. He cups Castiel's face in his hands and kisses him soundly. "Yeah. I'd help you through a heat if you wanted."

It's so confidently said. He smells so certain. Castiel traces a finger over Dean's jaw. "But... we're so close to a bond already. It'd be risky."

The look in Dean's eyes is thrilling. "You're not a risk, Cas. Not to me."

They kiss for so long afterwards, that Dean's too tired to drive home. It's late. It's a cold early spring evening. It's better that they spend the rest of the night wrapped around each other in Castiel's soft, clean sheets.

In the darkness where it's safest, Castiel says, "I spoke with my father after you came over last month."

Dean tenses against him and his scent begins to darken, but his voice is carefully neutral when he says, "oh, yeah?" He really hadn't wanted to bring it up after Castiel had told him about his father's judgements of his other partners.

"Yes. He thinks you're my mate." He swallows hard.

Dean's arms squeeze him tightly. There's huge relief when Dean repeats, "oh, yeah?" It sounds weighted with a lot of emotion.

Absently, Castiel strokes a hand through Dean's hair, unconsciously trying to calm them both, even though neither are broadcasting any negative emotions. "Yes. He told me all about how he met my mother. Why he feels so strongly about me finding the right person. Honestly, I think it's more than he's spoken to me in one sitting than in the past year put together."

"That's why you smell different," Dean realizes. He shifts and Castiel can barely make out his face filling his vision. "You're happy about that."

"Is that okay?"

"Cas," Dean whispers, kissing the life out of him in answer.

***

So the weeks go. Castiel is happy, and Dean is right about his scent. He's not positive where the change is coming from. Though their scent bond really is melding, it's not just the complimentary notes from each other. There's an undertone that Castiel doesn't fully grasp until he wakes up on a snowy day that's sure to kill all the freshly sprouted spring flowers.

"Oh," he groans, rolling over onto his stomach and burying his face in his pillow. Now it makes sense. He'd been so distracted with Dean and his own happiness, they're combined happiness, that he'd missed the other signs.

He kicks the covers off, suddenly over warm, even though the room is cold.

A heat.

He tries to get his groggy brain to remember the last time he'd had one. Wait, it's only been five months, hasn't it? The last one had been so mild, he'd only had to cancel classes for the day, "take care" of himself a handful of times, excusing the horrendous pun, and it had been over. He'd barely broken a sweat. Why is he having another one so soon? He'd been lucky to have one every eight months or so for years now. Why?

And why is this time making him achy like he's coming down with something? He's barely been awake ten minutes and it already feels like it's going to be more than the minor annoyance it's been for the past half-decade.

He flops onto his back, staring at the ceiling fan. Great. He thought he was beyond this. Dammit. He'd better cancel his classes for two days. Better to be safe than sorry and give himself a four day weekend.

He raises up onto his elbows, annoyed to find that he's slightly shaky. His laptop is on the nightstand, so he drags it over, booting it up. He logs into his school account and sends a group email to his students for Thursday and Friday. They'll be thrilled for an extra-long weekend. He reminds them to keep up on their reading because there will be a quiz next week. He's not that nice. He also fills out the medical leave form and emails it to the department head. It's not strictly necessary for tenured professors, but Castiel does prefer to follow the rules.

Finished with that, he pulls himself lethargically out of bed. He needs to eat or else he'll be sorry later when he's too busy doing other things to hydrate and restore his calories properly.

All he's got the concentration to do it grab a bagel and chug a glass of orange juice. Damn, even his clothes feel heavy and scratchy on his overheated skin. He turns to the coffee maker, thinking caffeine might help, and his eyes light onto his cell phone.

Dean .

He could call. Dean had said he'd love to help... Maybe he wouldn't be busy?

He picks it up off of the charger.

He dithers for another minute, but the more he does, the worse it's going to get.

It's not like I haven't gotten through years of heats now by myself , he reasons.

He puts his cell phone back down on the charger.

They're not really all that bad anymore .

He turns away pointedly and opens the fridge to grab his filtered water pitcher. The orange juice wasn't enough. His mouth is so dry.

Twenty-four hours and I'll be right as rain .

He drinks the whole glass in one go.

But it is always easier with someone ...

He slams the glass down on the counter before his trembling fingers accidentally lose it to the tiles.

He's not an idiot. He knows why it feels worse this time. The fucking pining sickness coupled with the affection he has for Dean. His body wants his alpha. His heart wants Dean. Which means he doesn't want to do a single thing to screw it up before they've gotten to solid ground. Going through a heat together after so little time would fit the screw up bill nicely, no matter how okay either of them is with it in theory. They've only been together for a few months. They haven't even had full-on penetrative sex yet!

His hand spasms with a shot of pain, and he glances down, startled. He's clutching his cell phone tightly.

He lets out a growl of annoyance. This is getting ridiculous. He's a grown man and can make grown up decisions. He's forty-one. He's in love with Dean. He trusts Dean. He knows Dean is his mate. It's not that difficult to figure out if he disregards the timing as the statistical outlier. Why should the calendar get to determine these things? His body and his mind are already made up.

He taps to his contacts and dials.

Dean picks up on the second ring. "Hey, Cas."

Oh, God, he sounds amazing. "Dean, I... if you're free... I have a problem I'd like to ask for your help with. You can say no. And only if you're free! Of course. I know you're busy."

Dean's chuckle makes Castiel shudder with desire. "What can I say no to if I'm too busy for?"

"I, um... I appear to be in heat. It's not... rather, it's nothing I can't handle on my own, but... I..." he doesn't know how to finish the sentence. It's not that he's embarrassed. Far from it, in fact. The heat is ramping up again so that embarrassment isn't even a thing he's capable of anymore. Though, his omega hindbrain certainly fears his alpha's rejection.

"Pining sickness?" Dean's voice has dropped to an unholy sexy register. He sounds virile, alpha .

"Yes," Castiel hisses.

With complete control, silky smooth confidence that Castiel's inner omega needs right now, Dean gently commands, "tell me what you need, Castiel."

His hand is sweating and shaking so badly that he's in danger of his cell phone slipping. He presses it closer to his face, feeling the screen stick to his cheek. "I need a real knot," he murmurs, quietly; generous omega compliance.

"Cas." It's a thick whisper. "Tell me what you want ."

It's so unfair making him beg. Dean already knows. But, oh if he can do what Dean wants... hear that praise in his rough voice, even just once... "I want your knot, Dean. I need it. I want it. Want you." Only one hundred percent honesty will do.

And the throaty growl that crackles through the phone makes Castiel's whole body hum with pleasure. "You're so good, Cas. I'm on my way. Be ready."

The line goes dead.

Weak with relief, weaker still from Dean's praise, Castiel drops his phone onto the counter, and himself onto a kitchen chair. He needs to keep himself in check. They haven't talked about this in any detail. It's his fault, really. He only has maybe a heat or two a year now, so guessed that he could probably put off the talk until they were in more of a place for it. He should have known. Being around Dean so often, starting to scent bond him. Those things usually trigger a heat sooner rather than later.

He's got no idea how long he sits dazed in the chair, but it's long enough to bring on another wave of raw desire that makes him groan.

It's really starting to get uncomfortably warm... and sticky. He's so hard. Leaking. Dammit, he can't wait for Dean much longer. He needs to take the edge off. Just thinking about being penetrated for the first time by his alpha is enough to get him moving.

He hoists himself out of the chair and drags himself to the bedroom, stripping off his damp t-shirt and grabbing a hand towel from the bathroom. He wipes at the sweat already sliding down his neck.

"Holy shit, Cas."

Dean's voice from the doorway makes Castiel jump. He swings around. Oh, thank God . "Dean," he says hoarsely.

"You okay?" His voice is tight, lower pitched as his wide green eyes sweep over Castiel. He must look a mess, but Dean’s eyeing him like a meal.

"Come here." It sounds like a desperate whine.

Dean is there in an instant, crushing him in his arms and it feels perfect. For a blessed moment, Castiel is okay. The haze clears and his body slumps against his alpha's. They cling to each other. Castiel can feel Dean's heart pounding the same as his. Neither of them move a muscle save for the panting breaths to scent each other. Prepare. Castiel's breath shudders out of his lungs. It's powerful summer storms and soaked wildflowers pouring from Dean. Oh, God, it's going to be phenomenal.

"Do we have a contingency plan?" Dean asks eventually, voice shaking just a tiny bit.

"A what?"

"I mean... Cas... can I be totally honest?"

"I don't know why you keep asking me that," Castiel smiles. It's a little wobbly. "The answer is always yes."

Dean moves a step back and takes Castiel's head in his hands, stroking down his face. He massages his thumbs over Castiel's glands. It almost makes the omega's eyes roll back in his head it feels so good. "If we go through with this together, I wanna bite you." He brings them together roughly, foreheads meeting, and Castiel can feel the heat coming off of him. His breath is hot and ragged against Castiel's face. In his raspy baritone, he continues, "I want to knot you. Bite you. Bond you." He's rubbing up against his omega like he can't stand still. Nuzzling into the curve of his shoulder. The burn of his stubble feels incredible on his overheated, sensitive skin. "Cas," he breathes. " Castiel . You gotta tell me if you're okay with that. Because I was serious before about going the whole nine with you."

Far from being cold water on the lust, Castiel burns hotter. It's all he's ever wanted. Dean's willing to give it to him. It sets him free. His throat tightens and he can feel moisture gathering in his eyes. "Nothing would make me happier than being your mate."

Dean's kiss sears his soul. Castiel wishes it was a lot more messy than it is because somewhere in the back of his mind, he's been waiting for this, but Dean keeps them grounded. He leads and Castiel follows, at first grudgingly, but then willingly as Dean helps them both acclimate. The kiss is slow, deep. With his heat-heightened senses, Castiel can taste the pheromones. How they mix in their mouths; an enticing whisper of what's to come when they bond. Castiel pushes himself flush against Dean, feeling every hard inch of him where their bodies collide. A trickle of slick dampens his boxers and Dean moans when he smells it. His blunt fingers wander down like they're on a mission to press firmly against Castiel's hole through the cotton.

"I need to feel you more," Castiel manages between gasping breaths. " Now . Please." He's frantically trying to parse how Dean is both the problem and the solution to this, but he's not sure how much more he can take. The heat is on its way to being overwhelming, and it's a little daunting to allow his hindbrain to completely take over after all this time. He'd thought he was past this. He'd thought he was past a lot of things until Dean Winchester.

Dean's hand slides up to his lower back, keeping them together as he slowly ushers them towards the bed. With impossible gentleness, he guides Castiel down to the mattress, prowling over him with fluid grace. Castiel stares. Licks his lips. "Dean."

His smile is loving, possessive as he boxes Castiel in with his legs and arms braced on either side of his omega. "I'm gonna give you everything you need. Trust me."

Castiel sighs, his body instantly relaxing. "I do."

Dean is the picture of control as he sits up over Castiel's thighs, first removing the damp boxers and then starting on his own clothes. His movements are deliberate, measured, and Castiel watches every bit of it hungrily. "It was your heat I smelled on you a few weeks ago," Dean says conversationally, tugging his shirt over his head and stretching to put himself fully on display.

"Don't be ridiculous," Castiel murmurs, reaching up to stroke over Dean's chest unconsciously. He's nearly salivating. "Heats don't last for weeks, even if you're young." Absently, his hands roam down to the alpha's belt buckle. He enjoys the show, but Dean's not getting naked nearly fast enough for his taste.

Dean lets him, pushing forward onto his hands again so that he can kick his jeans and boxers off in one go. The movement brings him inches away from Castiel, wafting heady dandelions and fresh turned earth. "We've scent bonded," Dean says softly. "Weeks ago."

The tone draws Castiel's attention away from his heavy dick hanging between them, almost touching. He stares up at his mate. "I know." That's why Dean can smell all the nuances even before Castiel's figured it out.

But then Dean lowers himself down, their hips meeting. Rational thought leaves in a flash. Castiel gasps and arches under him, pleasure zinging along every place they touch. Quite suddenly he needs a whole lot more than sweet words. "Dean," he moans, "I need..."

"I can tell." He's smirking, but the kiss he lays on Castiel is as carefully passionate as it can get. His hands roam all over his body. Down, down, down. His fingers trail over Castiel's hips, and the omega bucks, his dick sliding through the coarse hair on Dean's belly. He moans low and filthy.

Then Dean makes it better, kissing the trail his hands blazed with swirls of his tongue, nips, and short bites. Castiel grapples for something - anything - to ground himself. His fingers spasm in the sheets, but he doesn't like that enough. Alphas can be picky about touch. Anything too aggressive or demanding can cause issues. But he wants... he wants...

Dean can read minds. He lifts his head slightly. "Do it, Cas. Whatever it is, I know you want to. You can do it. Tell me. Anything. This is about you. What you need to do this heat right."

It's all he needs to hear. He hesitates slightly, but Dean is torturing him. With everything. And they haven't even touched the tip of the iceberg with each other yet. Castiel tangles his fingers in Dean's hair, gripping hard enough that he knows it's painful. Dean lets loose a tiny growl, but doesn't fight it. So Castiel takes another risk, shoving him further down.

Dean's eyes flick up, fiery. Challenging. It's the sexiest thing the omega's ever seen.

"I want to watch you suck me off," Castiel begs in one single breath.

Dean never breaks eye contact. "Watch me." He opens his mouth, taking Castiel in inch by inch, and he doesn't stop. Not until he's at the hilt.

Castiel can't process any of it. It's so much more than any other time. His heart races, his hindbrain screams for more more more ! He thrusts his hips up with all of Dean's movements. It's good. It's terribly good. But then Dean's doing something awful. He's pulling off. Pinning Castiel's hips down. He makes an angry whine of protest, but Dean's having none of that.

"Cas, settle down," Dean commands in his best alpha tone.

Castiel isn't the type for blind submission. Dean knows that as well as anyone. That's why, when Castiel's hindbrain whimpers at him to comply, he does. Dean understands. He can give Castiel everything he needs to get through this thing, but he can't be completely selfish. They're doing this together. He heaves in a deep, shivering breath, forcing his taut muscles to release their tension on the exhale. It's so hard in so many ways.

"That's good, Cas," Dean murmurs in approval against his thigh. "That's real good."

The praise sinks into his bones, giving him waves of pleasure until an entirely different kind takes its place a second later. Dean's blunt fingers slip inside his wet heat, and Castiel is rocketed straight to heaven. A noise he's pretty sure he's never made before escapes him and he thrusts his hips up. Dean reaches his prostate immediately and the pleasure is overwhelming. He doesn’t think he can last, and certainly doesn't care. The fire in his veins needs dousing or he doesn't know what he'll do.

Then Dean's mouth is on his dick again while his fingers tease and stretch. Though in a heat, his body loosens much more quickly since mating is the goal. Which means knotting often. Which means Dean filling him over and over. Oh, God . He comes with a shout, back bowing off the bed, fingers yanking at Dean's hair when the alpha doesn't pull off right away, in favor of swallowing the come that shoots down his throat. And he doesn't let up. He abruptly changes course, fingers still buried deep while his mouth wanders over Castiel's inner thighs, kissing and licking away the pheromone-rich slick.

Castiel tries to move as little as possible, though it doesn't work. He writhes against the bed, unsure whether he wants Dean to stop for a moment to let him get his bearings, or keep going until he's out of his mind. A heat like this after so many years of mild ones is confusing, thrilling, captivating. His hindbrain desperately wants to take over, but his human brain still clings, insisting that this heat will only be a minor inconvenience as they've been for ages.

But a lot of things were a lot different things before Dean kissed him for the first time.

He blinks and Dean is braced above him again, glorious green eyes dark with both lust and concern. He strokes a thumb over Castiel's cheek, surprising the omega when it comes away wet. "I don't know what to do," Castiel mumbles piteously.

Dean's expression eases into an affectionate smile. "That's why I'm here."

He's so confident. Castiel reaches up and threads their fingers together. "Dean, I..." He's so full. He thinks he is. He's not sure what to say.

Dean kisses him and it takes his breath away. Their hips meet again. Castiel gasps. He realizes he's still rock hard, and so is Dean, dragging heavy against the hollow of his hip. "Tell me," he says.

"I'm ready," Castiel promises.

The simple sentence causes a full body shiver to ripple over Dean. He shifts and doesn't take his eyes off of his mate. Castiel is beautiful in every sense if the word. Dean can't get enough. Be it perfectly coordinated suits and firm handshakes or naked and flushed under him, Castiel Novak is an angel on earth.

Dean will give him anything. Everything. Any time. And right now, Castiel needs his alpha, so Dean lines their bodies up, and slides home.

It's kind of like drowning. For a minute, Dean's pretty sure he's been a bit overconfident about keeping his cool. It's beyond words, finally being inside Castiel. His mate . He wishes they'd done this before the whole heat because he'd like to know more of Castiel's likes and dislikes, but beggars can't be choosers. He sure as shit ain't complaining.

But it's also a hell of a surprise when Castiel gasps his name and wraps his legs tightly around Dean's waist, dragging him closer. His arms go around Dean's shoulders, pressing their chests together. His face smashed against Dean's shoulder. "Please, Dean," he moans. "Move. Move, move, move, move !"

His needy, leather-bound milky pheromones wrap into Dean's very being. He starts to move. Nice long thrusts, slow and indulgent. Castiel bites at his shoulder. The heat has left him wet and open and it's honestly the best thing that Dean can remember feeling.

He's not in a rut, so he's still completely lucid, but his body is responding to Castiel's needs on pure instinct. Even trying to anticipate them. His senses sharpen to a point. He can feel every sweaty, slicked movement. Hear each and every tiny sound that his omega tries to keep back. Every twitch of Castiel's muscles, the smallest spikes in his pheromones drawing him closer to the release he needs. What they're both hoping for.

But this isn't some slow and romantic lovemaking. This is a biological urge driving the omega. He needs to be filled. He needs a knot, and his body will do whatever it can to get those things. Which Dean is absolutely on board with.

It's been about a decade since he's been with an omega in heat, but he remembers enough about it to know when his omega is trying to temper it. He lets his hips swing a little more freely and says, "Cas, you gotta let go, sweetheart. I got you. Just let go for me."

A noise between a laugh and a sob breaks from Castiel, and that's the ticket. The second Castiel gives in, the whole experience goes from amazing to unforgettable. Castiel's hindbrain takes over, his internal muscles flexing and massaging Dean's dick inside him in that perfect way that will ensure a proper mating.

But that doesn't matter now. Dean's going out of his mind with the pleasure. Being inside of Castiel, nothing left to separate them. Castiel holds on for dear life, dragging his blunt nails over Dean's broad shoulders, digging in. The tiny sparks of pain are exquisite. He loves this. Loves Castiel. Loves the obscene sounds pouring out of both of their mouths and their bodies colliding. His knot starts to swell. The way that Castiel's inner muscles react, fluttering around it, Dean knows he doesn't have to say anything, but he does.

"Cas... Cas, I'm gonna..."

"Yes," Castiel moans.

Dean's hindbrain jumps forward, driving him harder, his thrusts shorter and merciless when his knot begins to catch on Castiel's rim.

Castiel comes apart gorgeously. His body bows up with the force of his orgasm, and Dean holds him tighter, pulling him into a sitting position so that his full weight is on Dean's lap. His inner muscles clamp down, and with one more powerful thrust, Dean is finally locked inside his omega. His knot expands fully with the most delicious pressure. All he can do against the force of his own orgasm is bury his face in Castiel's shoulder, trembling and nearly blinded by the feedback loop of pleasure and relief. Knotted. Filled. Home. It's the most sated he's ever been.

It takes a minute for the ringing in his ears to clear enough to register what Castiel is murmuring against his chest while he peppers it with kisses. Each one punctuated with a quiet, "I love you, Dean. Love you, love you, I love you."

Dean's throat tightens and he holds his mate closer.

Chapter Text

Currently, Castiel feels like a dirty dime store romance novel hussy, but at least Dean's helping with the dirty part.

"Why didn't you tell me sooner that shower sex with you would be this fun?" Dean demands, shoving Castiel under the spray.

Castiel braces his hands against the tiles, spreading his legs wide so that Dean can bury himself deep. "I don't generally approve of wasting water," he moans. He dips his head down to keep the water out of his eyes.

Dean strokes his hands over Castiel's hips and ass, enjoying every inch of the beautiful view before lining himself up and thrusting in slowly, watching himself disappear into his mate's tight heat. "Turning you into a rebel, aren't I?" he smirks.

"Maybe a little." Castiel jerks his hips back making them both moan. Dean abandons his grip on Castiel's waist to cover his hands on the wall as he begins to move again. His thrusts are slow but hard, punching the air out of Castiel's lungs. "Please don't knot me like this," he manages to gasp.

Dean chuckles. "I won't." He slowly pulls out and flips Castiel around, crowding him back against the wall. "I'll do it this way."

"You're such a showoff," Castiel grins, eyes shining.

Hell yes, he is. He may be past his prime athleticism, but he's still strong enough. He wraps his arms around Castiel's waist, getting a gloriously firm handful of his ass. It takes a little bit of maneuvering and Castiel admitting to some yoga classes, but then he's latched around Dean's waist, crying out as Dean holds him tightly and fucks into him with short thrusts. Water conservation be damned, Castiel wants to do this a hundred more times. He even says so, and Dean is laughing when he comes, leaning them both hard against the tiles so he doesn't lose his balance.

Castiel grapples for the tap controls while Dean busies himself sucking a hickey right below his omega's collarbone and jacking him off. The warring sensations make it almost impossible to concentrate on anything else so that Castiel accidentally provides them with a literal cold shower for a second before getting the water turned off completely.

With a playful wink and kiss, Dean steps them onto the bath mat. Castiel grabs a towel on their way out and Dean smirks all the way to the bed, his alpha pride really holding up being able to take his omega anywhere with ease. He sits down gently so as not to dislodge his knot.

Castiel beams at him as he scrubs their hair dry and gets to work on their bodies. "However inconvenient, that show of strength was a real turn on," Castiel admits.

Once dry enough, Dean situates them so that Castiel is pinned beneath him. "Really?"

Castiel rocks his hips a little, shifting the knot inside him and moaning when it brings him back to full hardness. "Yes," he hisses.

Dean grins. "That's good." He grinds his hips forward with a small undulation.

Castiel cries out in surprised pleasure, grabbing at Dean. " Holy - oh, my - hng , w-what are you doing?"

"Like it?" Dean murmurs.

" Yes ! Yes, please again."

He does it again, and Castiel comes again suddenly with a gasp. "Heats are amazing," he says breathlessly.

Dean carefully guides them until they're lying down on their sides, Castiel's leg tossed over his hip lazily. He could really get used to this. Especially as they both doze in each other's arms, joined and safe and drowsy from Castiel's post-coital pheromones. Neither of them are tired enough yet to actually fall asleep, but they both float in that in between state of asleep and awake for a long time.

Finally, Dean's knot begins to shrink and he slips out of Castiel, only moving his hips. Castiel stirs and makes a displeased sound. Dean smiles and brushes his omega's damp bangs off of his forehead. "Not being too rough on you, am I?"

"No," Castiel assures him with a soft smile. "Not even a little. I'm having a great time."

Dean huffs a laugh. Kisses him. "Me, too. Is this as intense as it gets for you? Not that I'm complaining either way."

Now knowing that Dean enjoys the softer touches as well as more aggressive demands, Castiel lets his hands wander how they want to without worry. He digs his fingers into Dean's hair, earning a pleased rumble from the alpha. "I think it might ramp up a little more in a while. Not too much more, probably. Honestly, it hasn't even been this intense in years."

"Hell, yeah," Dean grins lazily. "I feel special now."

He preens and Castiel laughs, kissing him deeply just because it feels good. All of it feels so good. It's not irritating or problematic or any of the other unpleasant words he usually uses for it. "You are."

Dean kisses his nose. "Seriously, thanks for calling me."

"I debated," Castiel admits. He needs to be honest with Dean. The compulsion is too much to resist. He doesn't want to, anyway. "I didn't want to bother you."

"You said so," Dean says, kissing along his neck. "And it's not a bother. I meant it."

"We should talk about it while I'm completely lucid."

Dean lifts his head and an eyebrow. "About?"

Slightly embarrassed, Castiel shifts around, but isn't able to turn away from Dean completely. Only to put a tiny amount of space between them. "About what you said earlier. About... bonding with me."

Realization dawns, but Dean doesn't shy away from it. In fact, if anything, his pheromones deepen to a more pleased and sated register. "Yeah, I remember that."

"Do you really want to?" Castiel asks. "It's a life-long commitment."

"I know that," Dean agrees, tangling his fingers with Castiel's. "Do you not want to?"

"I do want to," Castiel says. "Even in the cold light of day, I want to."

Dean chuckles and shakes his head slightly. "Then what's to talk more about? Cas, I kind of get the feeling you're angling for something like a boardroom discussion regarding our potential bonding."

"It's how I deal with touchy subjects," Castiel says sourly, but he only smells mildly uncomfortable. "We should have talked about this well before my heat."

Dean tugs Castiel flush to him again, right hand stroking up and pressing between his shoulder blades. He plants a kiss against Castiel's chest and feels his omega's breath puff against the crown of his head. "Yeah, maybe, but we thought we had the time. Could'a, should'a, would'a now."

"You're right, of course," Castiel sighs. "I think our age is both a blessing and a curse on this matter."

"How do you figure?" Dean asks mildly, cuddling impossibly closer. He does his best to keep both his feelings and pheromones in check to help Castiel stay calm. In the middle of a heat, whether he intends it or not, an omega will follow an alpha's lead.

Idly, Castiel strokes through Dean's messy hair. "If we were younger, I'd likely have had a heat before we were even slightly scent bonded. And it would have been harsh enough that I likely would have called you. But without any bonds, we both would have gotten through it without any real lasting consequences. Mild pining sickness afterwards, or perhaps a scent bond if we continued our relationship later."

"Ah," Dean says, picking up on Castiel's train of thought. "And now that we're older, and had plenty of time to develop a scent bond before your heat, no matter what, it'll been riskier for either pining sickness or blood bonding."

"Whether we like it or not," Castiel murmurs.

"I like it," Dean answers. "It wasn't your heat that made me say those things. Not really. I mean, sure, it kinda spurred it on, but... I've been thinking about it lately."

Castiel makes a considering noise. "Why?"

Dean pushes himself up onto his elbow so that they can look each other in the eye. "Got a voicemail from Benny the other day. My test results came back." He smells the spike in Castiel's pheromones even before the man's expression changes. Before he has the time to get worked up, Dean plows on. "He said I'm still okay to bond."

His eyes widen. "You can?"

Dean smiles a touch shyly. "Yeah."

"That's wonderful news," Castiel answers, and he sounds happy. Smells it.

"Cas, I'll be honest with you, okay? Not like I can lie to you right now, anyway."

Castiel nods. Dean might not be in a rut, but the biological compulsion to please his mate is still there. With both parties so open and vulnerable at such a time, very few things are kept secret without some sort of physical and psychological discomfort. It gets more acute the longer the heat goes on.

Dean trails a finger over the shell of Castiel's ear, tracing down to his neck. "There's no one in the world I'd rather spend the rest of my life with than you. At my age, I know my mind. It ain't gonna change. Not about this."

Castiel's eyes are suspiciously bright. His pheromones curl up soft around the edges. "I feel the same way."

Overwhelmed, Dean pushes Castiel onto his back and rolls on top of him, bracing himself on his forearms. "You wanna try and blood bond?"

Castiel wraps his arms loosely around the back of Dean's neck. "Yes." He doesn't look away. "When the time is right, I'll bare for you. Happily."

Dean shudders and hangs his head. "When you say shit like that... damn ."

Castiel grins and arches under him. "Turns you on?"

"You fucking know it does," Dean growls, dropping down for another messy kiss, though neither of them are quite ready for another round yet.

They break off eventually, curled together. After a while Castiel asks, "how many heats have you been a part of?"

The corner of Dean's lip quirks up. "You sure you wanna know that right now? Won't make you jealous?"

Castiel buries his head in Dean's neck, breathing deeply. "No. Our scent bond is too strong."

Dean glances up, counting. "Three people, counting you. Something like ten heats total."

Despite what he'd said, Castiel snorts rudely and presses further into Dean's neck. "That's a lot," he mutters.

Dean grins. "Well, yeah. I was with an omega, Lisa, for over a year in my twenties. Most of the heats were with her."

Castiel lifts his head and stares at Dean wide-eyed. "She wasn't on suppressants?"

"No," Dean answers. "They had too many bad side effects for her."

"And you didn't bond her?" He sounds like he can't even fathom such a thing.

"I..." Dean's gaze slides away. "I didn't even try. It's... man, it sounds fucking bad to say, but I never had the urge to bite her. Even when we synced for a few of her heats about six months after we were together. She never said anything about it, but... we had a lot of not saying anything to each other. In fact, that's probably why our relationship lasted so long. But I... I didn't wanna be just another alpha who walked out and left her in a lurch. So I stayed."

As much as he doesn't like hearing about Dean's other lovers in the middle of a heat, he had asked, and he does like knowing where his alpha is coming from, and in the back of his mind, he knows that Dean is his for as long as they can manage it. But it still makes him slightly uncomfortable; his hindbrain rearing against even the idea of his alpha straying. But he says delicately, "being together with her for that long... it must have been difficult to part."

Dean makes a small laugh, though it holds no humor. "The worst part? It wasn't. Not for her or me. Or her son. We weren't scent compatible and didn't try to bond. At first it was because she wanted to take it slow. She'd been scent bonded before me. Went through a heat with a guy who'd promised her a lot. Mated her and left not long after the pup was born. She wasn't gonna take that chance again."

Castiel splays his fingers out over Dean's chest, right above his heart. "And then being cautious becomes the way it is."

"The only way we knew how to do things," Dean agrees quietly. "I did love her, Cas. It just wasn't enough for the long haul."

"I'm sorry," Castiel murmurs, just as softly.

"Don't be," Dean says. "It was a long time ago. And it helped me realize what I wanted and what I didn't. And how I was pretty fucking good at putting my own feelings on the back burner." He shifts a little, adjusting them to get more comfortable. "I still talk to her. Her kid's name is Ben. I check in on him when I can, too. She's bonded now to a great guy. The experience did a lot for the both of us."

A feeling of relief washes over Castiel briefly. It's foolish, but it's nice to know that she's bonded and therefore not a threat in the slightest. He knows how he feels about Dean, but Dean's caution towards him hasn't gone unnoticed. Dean is more of a man of action than words, of course, and though Dean is open with showing his affection, it would be nice to hear it more as well in normal circumstances. But they're learning and it's working. Agreeing to what they have together is a lifetime of learning and discovering how best to meet the other's needs. It's exciting, in a way. Not like there will ever be a dull moment with Dean. "I'm glad you are who you are," he says for lack of a better way to put all of his emotions into a more descriptive sentence.

"What about you?" Dean asks, idly tracing his fingers over the tendons and veins on Castiel's hand over his heart. "How did you never bond with anyone?"

"I scent bonded a couple times," Castiel admits, comfortable with the uncomfortable emotions now that he's nestled against Dean's chest in the warm bed. "Usually during a heat, which was probably the wrong thing to do."

Dean wrinkles his nose. "All those alphas your father rejected?"

"Yes," Castiel confirms. "I probably read too many romances in my youth. I thought... no, I wanted to believe that any sort of bonding meant forever. I had a knack for ignoring the fact that scent bonds begun as a result of a heat were almost always temporary. Ironically, that romantic wish is probably what caused me to remain unbonded all this time."

Dean sniffles a little when Castiel's milky sated pheromones shift towards the rotten unpleasant scent of wet paper, making his nose run. "Dude, you sure do like blaming yourself for a lot of stuff."

Castiel slides his leg over Dean's to get closer. "It is a character flaw of mine, yes."

"Do you... hey, do you think you're doing the same thing with me?"

Fluidly, Castiel slides up and over until he's straddling Dean's thighs. The scent of his heat is starting to deepen again, and he grinds his ass firmly against Dean's leg, the pressure stimulating his slick glands. His eyelids fall to half mast, but he's still lucid for the moment. "No. We were scent bonded before you ever knotted me. I loved you before this."

Dean's smile spreads as he reaches for Castiel, palming his hips. "That's all I needed to hear."

"Good, because I'm..." he gasps and jerks his hips up, giving Dean the freedom to sit up properly and rest back against the headboard.

Dean wraps his hands around Castiel's arms, dragging him in for a kiss that leaves both of them sparked with desire. When the kiss ends, Castiel looks almost wild. His hair has air-dried in messy curls, skin flushed, wet lips parted, eyes dark. "Cas," Dean manages, slowly stroking them both to full hardness. "You're fucking unreal like this."

Castiel lifts up, braces a hand on Dean's chest, and then lowers himself onto that large alpha dick. "Enjoy the view," he says as he starts to move. He rides Dean's cock like he's done it a million times before, effortlessly chasing his pleasure. Dean clings to him, definitely enjoying the view, and happy to let his omega take what he needs.

And when Castiel's energy starts to flag somewhat, muscles straining, and sweat glistening on his brow, Dean is more than willing to pick up the slack. He leans forward and Castiel falls against him, wrapping his legs around Dean's waist.

Dean rolls them forward until Castiel is spread out on his back and fucks into him with short, hard thrusts. Castiel stretches up with a drawn out moan, grabbing at the comforter, his body rolling beautifully to meet all of Dean's thrusts like lapping water. It's mesmerizing. Dean can't get enough of how much Castiel is just losing himself in the sensations, open to all of it. He's not trying to fight his heat in favor of trusting Dean to give him what he wants.

And Dean does. He's helpless otherwise. Castiel's pheromones have dug themselves into his brain, bringing Dean's alpha to heel. The omega rising up under him, panting his name, is in full control. It would be scary if it wasn't so profound. He didn't think it would be like this at their age. Naturally it's not as fierce as it would have been ten years ago, but that's probably a good thing. Dean's not entirely sure he would have survived a heat in his prime with Castiel. The thought makes him grin.

Castiel comes apart beautifully and without reservation, spilling between them and clenching Dean's knot in a way that's going to ruin the alpha for any other proper stimulation. But sealing himself inside his omega pushes everything else out of his mind. He doesn't need anything else. Just this. Just like this. And between one of the hundred kisses and the next, he falls asleep warm and deeply satisfied.

***

Nearly 48 hours of eating, sleeping, and fucking feels an awful lot like a vacation. Or a honeymoon. Especially when Castiel's lucid moments are many. After a knotting, he's good for two hours or more between rushes of need. Which is great right now because the bedroom is starting to smell too much like old sex.

"We need to wash the sheets," Dean murmurs lazily, flopping onto his back, leg and arm dangling off the side.

"But then we'd have to remake the bed, and we're only going to unmake it again," Castiel complains.

"Fine. We'll fuck on the couch."

"Too small," he gripes.

"Fine. We'll fuck on your desk."

"It's an antique!" he says, scandalized.

"Hey, Cas." Dean turns his head to face the grouchy omega. "You know who whines? Babies." A strong shove against his flank sends him tumbling off the bed. He laughs from where he's splayed on the carpet completely unrepentant. "Well, don't know about you, but I'm up now."

Castiel's grinning face pokes over the edge of the mattress. "Great, then you can go and make dinner."

Dean complies, completely naked, tromping downstairs to make sandwiches. At least they hadn't bothered to put on clothes. He glances at the clock and is shocked to see it's almost midnight already. Geez. They've been at it for two days, and to be honest, it feels great. He usually gets exhausted and sore after a day of heat, but this is something else that's different with Castiel in how energized he's been the whole time. Sure, they've had plenty of sleep, but still. Best weekend ever.

And luckily Castiel had been grocery shopping recently, so the fridge and pantry is stocked. Otherwise they'd be doling out apologetically large tips to whatever unsuspecting pizza delivery person had the misfortune of being on their route tonight. He's in a good enough mood that he deigns to add lettuce and sliced cucumber to Castiel's sandwich. He grabs a bag of baked potato chips while he's at it.

He brings the food back to the bedroom on a tray, because of course Castiel has TV trays, pleased to see that his omega actually has put fresh sheets on the bed and the dirty ones in the washing machine.

"How are you holding up?" Dean asks, passing off one of the plates and a re-hydration drink. Castiel gets the lemon bottle because Dean says it tastes like rotten yellow.

"Better than usual," Castiel says, gratefully accepting the food and forgetting his manners, he's so hungry. He takes large bites of the sandwich, finishing half of it in three bites before coming up for air. "I'm a little sore, but I took some Advil just in case, so I'll be fine."

"I have a lot more energy than I remember during a heat, too. Is that weird?"

"No," Castiel smiles. "We're so compatible. Heats are easier that way."

Dean watches him stuff his face adoringly. He'll probably never witness Castiel eating like he makes fun of Dean for doing ever again. What a gift. He wishes he knew where his cell phone was so he could take a picture. "You've got mustard all over," he sighs, charmed.

Castiel swallows and gives him a long, determining look. But when he sniffs he can smell Dean's complete sincerity. "You're so weird," he says, turning back to his food. He fills the whole plate with chips.

Dean picks up his own sandwich, unperturbed. "Would you have me any other way?"

"Doubtful."

Exactly.

They eat the rest of their midnight snack in companionable silence. Dean lets his mind wander, but it doesn't go far. He thinks about how being here in this moment is one of the greatest days of his life. How it's so close to being just like any other weekend night together, except for Castiel's pheromones buzzing in low-key anticipation even while his sated scent is so prominent. How Dean would love to sometime be in a rut synced with Castiel's heat.

When they're finished, Dean doesn't bother to take the dishes back down to the kitchen right away. He sets the plates on his nightstand and then they go to the bathroom to brush their teeth.

They fall together into the cool sheets, Castiel's head pillowed on Dean's chest, smelling bright and satisfied. His voice is drowsy-warm when he murmurs, "I'll wake you up when the next one hits."

"Sure thing," Dean murmurs back. "Rest up." Their breathing matches as they both drift off again.

***

Dean slides back to consciousness in a pleasant floaty way. He doesn't open his eyes, contented to let the slow wakefulness overtake him. His limbs are heavy and he's warm. Hot, even. Something's stirring a delicious ache low in his belly. No, not quite there. Lower than that. A small moan pricks his ears and his focus sharpens. He feels wet heat on his dick. " Oh , Cas," he breathes, voice sleep-rough. The only answer he gets is a long indulgent lick of tongue from his knot to the head of his cock. Full lips enclose the head and suck firmly. " Fuck yeah, just like that, sweetheart," he croons.

Castiel hums against his length, wafting up silky desperation in his pheromones when the covers shift. "Considered this was the best way to wake you."

"Not complaining," Dean answers, pushing the covers away more. "Did you get any sleep?"

"About an hour," Castiel says distractedly, then he's back to work licking and sucking Dean's cock until it's the only thing either of them are focused on.

They'd been taking it all pretty slow and easy up until this point, but there's a certain kind of fervor in Castiel's movements now; more than usual. He's using every trick he knows to get Dean completely in the game, and the alpha certainly isn't complaining. He wonders if Castiel is finally letting his hindbrain completely have the reins. It's thrilling to see where it takes him because it must be nearing the end of his heat.

Pretty quickly he discovers that the answer is: over the fucking moon. Dean is hard and ready, but not totally beyond his human brain, which Castiel clearly senses, smells, because he makes a small noise of mixed desperation and frustration, then relaxes his jaw to take Dean deep into his throat. At the same time, he circles a slick covered finger around Dean's hole. The alpha has a split second to think, oh, holy shit YES , before Castiel pushes in, brushing against Dean's prostate. Dean nearly comes off the bed as electricity shoots through him to his very extremities. His shout of pleasure deepens to a throaty growl.

Castiel moans in response, sucking harder.

His omega clearly needs an alpha. And that's what he gets. Dean grabs at Castiel roughly, yanking him up the bed to kiss him bruisingly. He loses Castiel's insanely good touches, but that's okay. There are more important things. He pulls back, enthralled by the wild look in his omega's eyes. "You're so good, Cas," he rasps, baring his teeth.

Castiel shudders at the praise, draping his body on top of Dean's. "Dean," he moans. It sounds so different than usual. He holds tightly onto Dean as the alpha heaves him up and flips him onto his back, writhing against him.

Castiel is sweating and shaking and gorgeous underneath him. He's pumping out thick bonding hormones, and Dean's heightened senses allow him to smell every single nuance. How their scents have blended to perfection. Castiel is his . It flips the final switch in his head, and his hindbrain gains full control.

He grabs Castiel's leg, hoisting it over his waist, then rubs his fingers down the omega's achingly hard dick, massaging his perineum, down to where he's swollen and wet. Castiel whimpers when Dean slips two fingers inside, twisting to pulse against his prostate. He's so wet that slick trickles down Dean's wrist as he stretches his omega open carefully. "Settle," he commands when Castiel continues to buck against him.

His omega complies, stilling his hips, but his hands clench and unclench in the sheets and he worries his bottom lip between his teeth.

Dean doesn't stop, though. For as many demands as Castiel's body has been putting on him, he's wearing out finally. One final effort to get the last of his heat out of him. Dean senses that, so he does everything he can to make it as easy as possible. Until Castiel's eyes pop open and there's fire in their depths.

Dean understands. He slides his fingers out and steadies Castiel's hips again, lining up at his entrance and slowly pushing past the loose resistance.

Castiel sighs, opening his legs wide and angling his hips up to take Dean as deep as possible. Dean eases his hands up to cover Castiel's, threading their fingers together. He starts to move, each thrust dragging him nearly all the way out before sliding back home. Castiel moves his hips to meet every thrust, their bodies colliding in tandem.

Dean leans down over him, kissing Castiel's sweaty brow, his temple, cheek, light brushes over his lips. "You've done so good, sweetheart," he murmurs against Castiel's mouth. "This is it, isn't it? You ready?"

Castiel's eyes open, the brilliant endless blue staring up at him. "Dean," he says again, the name breaking apart. "Yes." Then he squeezes his eyes shut again, gasping and urging Dean faster, his body priming, trembling, so, so ready.

Their combined pheromones, mounting excitement, sends intense waves of pleasure through both of them. Dean watches tears pool and leak down Castiel's temples. Dean's movements become harder, though measured still. "Open your eyes for me," he gasps.

It takes a moment, but Castiel's eyes flutter open. Dean wants to see it. There's endless promises there. Love. Hope. Things that Dean wants to swim in for the rest of his life.

Castiel's fingers grip harder on his. His body begins to tense. Dean's following him, his balls tightening, breaths coming in short bursts. He's dizzy. Thrilled.

Castiel's lips part. They move in a soundless word that Dean would try to discern any other time. Instinctively, he slides his open mouth over Castiel's neck, finding his glands like they're magnetized. The taste of worn books and dandelion rain bursts across his tongue. He presses the stiff tip of his tongue against the bulging cluster.

Castiel cries out, shaking and coming hard. His internal muscles clench so tightly that Dean nearly blacks out as he comes with a gasp and a growl. He curls his lips back, teeth sinking steadily into the glands until he tastes blood. His knot expands fully, locking into Castiel's willing heat. He undulates his hips in a circle, massaging his knot around inside his omega, extending both their ecstasy until it's nearly too much.

Immediately, Castiel's arms come around his shoulders and hold him in a vise. A sound like a sob breaks from him. Dean slowly releases the bite, lapping at the wound purely on autopilot. He feels a deep rush of overwhelming joy. It crashes over him like a tidal wave, and he knows Castiel can feel it, too.

Dean's name tumbles from Castiel's lips over and over as he clings to his alpha.

"It's okay," Dean whispers against his warm skin. "Cas, come back to me. It's all right. I'm here." He says it to himself as much as to his omega.

It takes a long time before either one of them is ready to move a muscle. But gradually Castiel begins to wiggle a little, limbs falling asleep under Dean's substantial weight. The last thing he wants to do is move, but Dean eventually manages it. Still knotted, he lethargically slides until they're side by side. Castiel kisses him deeply.

Intuitively, they both know it's the end of the heat. It's over. It's glorious. Dean feels heavy, done, complete, ecstatic. He can't keep his eyes open. Castiel's sated pheromones are pulling him under. The last thing he hears before he gives in to sleep is his omega murmuring, "I hope it worked."

Chapter Text

The bright morning sun cuts through the slats in the blinds, waking Castiel and making him squint. He groans softly and rolls onto his other side towards Dean. Dean . He smiles a little, scooting closer. Dean had been so wonderful through the past two days. Attentive, sexy, generous. Perfect. He'd never had a better heat before. Part of him is thankful that Dean has so much experience. Certainly his expertise had made it all easier for the both of them. The other part of his mind selfishly denies the rest in favor of believing that their compatibility is what actually made it all better.

Either way, he's eternally grateful to the gorgeous alpha currently snoring softly, mouth hanging open, oblivious to the rest of the world. It's difficult not to stare.

It's still obscenely early, so Castiel tries to go back to sleep, but muscle aches and the stale heat stench in the room are too much after a few minutes of trying to get comfortable again. Without waking the alpha, he slips out of bed, grabs a pair of pajama pants, boxers, and t-shirt from the dresser, and goes to the bathroom to shower.

While the water heats, he tentatively takes stock of himself in the mirror. There are small nips and bruises covering him. Thankfully all able to be hidden by clothes, save for the mating bite that would definitely be visible when he wore anything besides higher collars.

The mating bite .

He hesitates to touch it, somehow worrying that it might not even be real. His fingers hover over it for a few seconds, then he drops his hand. He steps into the shower, washing off the rest of the heat stink, and relaxing his sore muscles under the hot spray. He takes his time cleaning up, feeling almost back to normal when he's done. Now that the embarrassment has passed, he can face himself and his debauchery in the mirror properly to brush his teeth and shave.

He's patting off the leftover flecks of shaving cream when his nose twitches and he sneezes. He lowers the towel to the counter and sniffles. The deeper breath in allows him to catch his scent that had previously been covered by the overwhelming heat smell in the bedroom and mildly neutralizing bath products.

Slowly he lifts his wrist to his nose and scents himself. His eyes widen. Before he quite knows what he's doing, he's careening out of the bathroom, startling Dean, who is thankfully awake now, pulling on his clothes. "'Morning, Cas. How're you-"

Castiel throws himself at Dean, burying his nose into neck right at his glands, scenting him hard. Even over the heat and the fact that Dean hasn't bathed yet, Castiel can smell it. His heart beats frantically behind his ribs.

"Dude, you're making my eyes water here," Dean complains mildly about the horror spiking in Castiel's pheromones. Dean doesn't appear to be awake enough to parse what he's smelling yet.

Castiel shoves him back roughly, not entirely sure what he's about to do. A disgusting roil of emotions pushes against his chest, and he swallows hard, trying not to be sick.

Dean's holding his hands up in front of him, palms out in a placating gesture, brilliant green eyes shocked and concerned as he starts to realize that something is terribly wrong.

Castiel swallows again, but his voice is still hoarse when he says, "it didn't work, Dean. We didn't bond." His hand flies up to smack over his mouth, a fraction of a second too late to cover the cursed words.

The act of saying it out loud makes the world freeze over. He can't move. Can hardly breathe. Doesn't want to breathe because he'll smell it. He'll keep smelling it. If he moves, he'll shatter apart. He just knows it.

Broadcasting his every move like he's dealing with a wild animal, Dean slowly lifts his wrist to his nose and sniffs. Nothing changes in his posture, and Castiel can't smell him over the cloying pheromones in the room, and with how he's attempting to only breathe through his mouth at the moment, but he swears he can see some of the light leave the alpha's eyes. They continue to stare at one another until Dean says softly, "no, I guess we didn't."

Hot raging panic flashes over Castiel's body. Dean's words have thawed him enough to allow him to stumble back to the bed, falling on his ass heavily. Dean doesn't follow, instead remaining standing by the closet, arms loose at his sides, neutral. Calmly assessing the needs of his omega before reacting. As a perfect mate would. Castiel can't let him do that. "You need... I think you should leave now," Castiel rasps, grabbing the edges of the mattress in a white-knuckled grip. Calm down . He has to calm down. If he doesn't... he'll never get over this.

Dean shifts a step forward. "Cas..."

"Please don't!" Cas says sharply, head bowed. He can't look up. But he can feel Dean going still again. He can't look at his alpha. He can't breathe. He can't bear to be with him. He can't bear to be away from him. He can't bear to selfishly want to keep Dean from knowing what a real bonding is like. He can't believe he failed Dean. He can't. He can't, he can't, he can't . He shoves his hands into his hair, pulling tightly. He needs to be alone. Away.

"Can we talk about this?" Dean asks carefully.

No .

"Dean. We already have." He tries to sound firm, but even to his own ears it's more devastated. "Getting the outcome that we didn't want doesn't change what needs to happen next. What we agreed on."

"Yeah, I know that, but that was before... fuck, Cas, I thought it would be different. After this... after the last forty-eight hours... come on, man, is bonding more important than me?"

Anger surges in Castiel's chest, and it's so much better than the panic and despair, so he dives right in. "No," he says fiercely. "No, it's not, but it's more important than us . I can't do this to you. I can't stand in the way of you actually having a real blood bond with someone. It's the most..." he pauses and his hands slide out of his hair to scrub at his face vigorously. Why does he have to explain this? He already has . Dean already knows . "You know how I've felt about this from the start. You knew what was going to happen." The lingering echoes of his heat whisper, bad omega . You should be ashamed. An alpha needs better than an omega who can't bond. He believes it. He's ashamed. Lost.

Dean laughs, a harsh, ugly sound. "Oh, my God. Oh, my fucking God. You're really doing it. You're really going to give me the 'it's not you, it's me' speech. Holy, shit." He stumbles back to the wall. "I never thought you would."

Castiel lurches to his feet. He's glad for Dean's bitterness. It's making everything easier. "Yes, I am!" he bites back. "Dean, all I've asked in this relationship is for you to understand where I'm coming from."

Dean rolls his eyes. "I do, okay? I-"

"No," Castiel cuts in, voice rising with every word. "You obviously don't. I knew that this may become an issue. You and I disagree on the fundamentals of our secondary gender. But when we spoke about bonding and the probability that it might not happen, you said you'd respect my beliefs. All this time, though, you haven't been, have you?"

Dean's fists clench and unclench. "What are you talking about?"

The smell of defensiveness is unmistakable, but Dean's in the wrong here. He is . "This whole time you've been wishing that I'd change my mind, haven't you?" He's yelling now, but he can't stop himself. He'd loved Dean from the bottom of his heart! He'd trusted him! He'd given him everything in hopes that he'd understand Castiel down to his core as well, but he hasn't! He's been expecting all this time that his omega would just fall into line no matter the outcome! That his thoughts and deepest feelings weren't just as important!

Dean's voice also rises, but not enough to make Castiel so much as flinch. "Well, yeah, maybe, but what's the big deal with that?" he argues. "I think it's natural that I'd want to stay with you! I don't think it was stupid or selfish of me to hope that we could have a life together no matter what. And yeah, I hoped you'd value our relationship over the goddamn Bible! I want you, Cas. I don't care what form it takes."

Too much. Too wrong. " I don't want you !" Castiel bellows. His voice cracks and he buries his head in his hands, furious that Dean would force his opinions over Castiel's. More furious at how he aches to comply as an omega to the demands of an alpha. Still trying to please him at the cost of himself because of his goddamn overactive biology. Gabriel was right about a lot of things.

"I don't want you if I can't bond with you. It's not just going against my beliefs. It goes against who I am. What I am. I'm sorry, Dean. I can't. But you... you can. You said you'd do anything to make me happy, and if that's true, then please... please don't do this to me. Please, just... please ." He's so scared. Confused. Overwhelmed. He needs to be alone. To sort it all out. Dean's presence is too overpowering.

Dean sneezes against their combined mourning scents finally overtaking the heat. "Okay. Fine, Cas. Clearly you're... whatever. You need time. Okay. I'll leave. But I... can I ask one thing? Just one."

Against his better judgement, Castiel dips his head, sits back down on the bed, and says, "yes." He does owe Dean that much. After this.

"Think about what you're doing," Dean says softly. "Think about us. Without limitations. Or prejudices."

Without answering, Castiel slumps forward further. He can't watch Dean leave, but he can't cut out of the sound of his fading footsteps, either. He hears the loud squeak of the front door opening. Tears clog his throat. He'd meant to ask Dean to fix that.

He curls in on himself. Doing the right thing for the both of them feels wrong. But Dean will at least have a chance. He deserves it. He deserves everything a failed omega like him can't give.

***

Dean opens the door and stops when the fresh, cold morning air hits him. Clears his head and the fuzz of shock instantly. This is what it's going to be like. If he leaves now, it'll never change. The old books and leather-bound perfection will be gone forever because he was the jackass who walked out on it. And he's supposed to just accept that? How?

He can't help but think about the gentle flirting, the trash talking at bowling, making out in Baby, talking books he barely understood, the best heat he'd ever been a part of, and fuck he'd meant to fix this shitty squeaky door.

He closes it and locks it. Stomps back up the stairs.

Castiel is exactly where Dean left him, still hunched over, hands covering his face, shoulders heaving with quiet sobs.

"You know what? No," Dean demands fiercely, beyond angry at all of this. Castiel springs up to a straight-backed sitting position, tears streaming from his bloodshot blue eyes.

"What?" The omega's voice crackles.

"No!" Dean repeats, wanting to stomp his feet like a toddler. "I'm not leaving you. I can't leave you. You're my mate."

Castiel's face crumbles further, the anger clearly burned away now, and his moldy ink pheromones thicken in the humid room. "I'm not," he insists. "We didn't bond. It won't happen with me, and I won't put you through that. I can't live like this; knowing you've got a chance at a real bond. Dean..." he sounds so broken that it actually does sway the alpha a hair. "Bonding is what alphas and omegas were made to do. It's what God says. It's what our biology says. I can't have that anymore, but you can. It's a blessing."

A growl starts deep in the back of Dean's throat. "I don't fucking care," he grates. "If I can't have it with you, then I don't want it with anyone."

"You're being unreasonable-"

Dean stops him with a crushing hug. He falls to his knees dragging his mate against him. He can't fucking stand not touching him anymore. Unconsciously, Castiel buries his wet face against Dean's neck, thanks to the aftereffects of the heat still with him. Despite his anger and insistence, the need to touch and comfort is still strong for both of them. Which is good. Dean needs Castiel to scent. Needs him to take in his devotion. His despair at even just the thought of ending it.

"I'm being in love," he corrects softly. "Cas, I love you, you stubborn asshole. Isn't that worth something? Isn't it worth trying more? If you don't feel the same, there's nothing I can do about that, except respect it, but if you do... if you do, please give it more than one try. This isn't like your books and Jane Austen. It's not gonna be exactly as we wanted from the get-go. But we can do it. I have faith in us. If nothing else, you gotta have faith that God put us together for a better reason than breaking each other's hearts."

He doesn't give a shit about God. Not if He wants to keep people who love each other apart. Dean doesn't think He does, not really. Castiel cares, and Dean respects that, but happiness isn't a cut and dried Bible story. If they can't bond, they'll still be honoring God and each other if they do the rest properly. He hopes Castiel can see that. "Cas..." he comes up to sit on the bed and Castiel doesn't stop him. In fact, in another seemingly-unconscious move, his omega leans a little against him, exhausted to his bones. Too exhausted to do something his heart is begging him not to. Dean tangles their fingers together in his lap before Castiel notices and has a chance to pull away further. "Cas, it's stupid to focus on just the bond. That's not the most important thing. The most important thing is that two people love each other enough to try . That's how bonds are formed in the first place. There's no one else I've ever met in my life who I've wanted to be with more than you."

Castiel sniffles, hiccupping miserably, and reeking of sorrowful resignation. "But blood bonding is special. It's the ultimate... the ultimate show of love. It's... it's the most amazing thing that could ever happen to a Were."

"Maybe it would have been," Dean disagrees. "But that was a decade ago when our hormones were better able to. I'm happy enough with you, Cas. I'm happy enough, I swear. I won't ever resent you if we can't blood bond."

Castiel doesn't answer. He shakes his head vigorously, otherwise unmoving.

He's hurting, and confused, and Dean has no clue what to do about it. He's not sure what else he can say to convince his omega - his mate - that what they have enough. "Cas," Dean says in a small voice, a last ditch effort he's terrified of, "am I really not good enough?"

He'd thought that he was asking the right thing, but it must not have been because Castiel turns, throws himself into Dean's arms, and proceeds to cry so hard Dean's afraid he might break a rib or something. His pheromones are far beyond just misery. They're guilty . Castiel feels guilty. Dean's lost at sea in the face of that. He hates it. He tightens his grip on his omega, hoping the desperation and honesty and love are strong enough to get through. He's not hesitating in the slightest. He wants Cas, and that's the end of it for him.

"Dean." Castiel's voice is so gravelly it's barely audible. "I love you, too."

He wishes Castiel didn't sound so heartbroken about that.

"I'm so selfish . I'm trying to do right, but I'd rather go against everything I've ever believed just to keep you. I want to bond with you more than anything, but even if I can't... I'm still selfish. I do want you. I should never have said I didn't. I just panicked, and..."

Dean takes Castiel's face in his hands, heedless of the man's tears and runny nose. "You believe all that shit, and it's fine. It really is. But something you need to understand about me is that I don't go down that easy. I know what I want, and I'll fight 'til I got nothing left to make it work. With you, if you'll just let me."

If Dean didn't know Castiel better, he would have missed the smile. It's the tiniest thing; it doesn't even touch his lips. It only deepens the crow's feet around his eyes a little. "I know. Maybe... I don't know. Maybe we can try again. Maybe you're right." He pinches the bridge of his nose, weary. "I'm not sure of any of this anymore. My mother and father, Gabriel, they all had this..." he waves his hand vaguely, eyes cast up to the ceiling to blink back fresh tears. "This... textbook bonding. Regardless of Gabriel's ending as badly as it did. But it was in their prime. Still, I thought it would always be like that if the devotion was there. And then it wasn't. I want to believe like you do; that God wouldn't put us together to make us miserable later. Those sorts of trials at our age would be nothing besides cruel."

A cautious tendril of hope blooms in his scent, and it's a lifeline. Dean can work with it. He grabs onto it and pushes forward. "I'm fighting for us now. We'll try as many times as you want. As many times as you're comfortable with. And in the meantime, we should do whatever we can to find a compromise. I don't wanna be without you, Cas, but I also don't want you to be unhappy."

Castiel covers Dean's hands with his own. "I need someone like you, I think. I've been... stagnant for so long. Stuck in old academia, surrounded by old things, old notions, old ideas. You've seen the stories I read. What I teach. I think I might put too much stock in that. At the expense of my life. I'm learning that the longer we're together. Perhaps that's why God brought you to me."

Dean quirks an eyebrow. Now it's starting to make a little bit more sense. He moves to grab the box of tissues, but Castiel is stubbornly superglued to him until Dean murmurs, "need to wipe your gross snot off so I can kiss you. I'm not going anywhere."

Castiel sniffles again, then allows it. As a reward, Dean wipes his omega's face carefully and then kisses him brief, but solid. They settle again, Castiel's eyes unfocused on the closet door, but he still holds on to Dean. Distantly, he says, "I am too old fashioned, and have surrounded myself willingly with things that support my ideals without threat of change. The books never change. The stories never change. Nothing ever changes. The words will always be exactly as they were hundreds of years ago. I don't think I can change, either. I'm like that. I'm old fashioned. It's always been important to me."

"Yeah, okay, I get that and all, but that's not the man I know," Dean says bluntly.

Castiel doesn't believe him. It's plain on his face and in his scent. "You've met me, right?"

"That's why I know," Dean chances a smile. "Man, don't you remember anything we've talked about? Especially the books? You told me straight up that even though the stories are always the same, but the meanings aren't. They change and grow with us so we find meanings that are the most important to us at the time. So, that's not the same thing over and over. That's change."

Castiel blinks at him. Gives him a steady look. Cautiously, he begins to smile as well. "You'd make a wonderful literature student."

Dean shrugs. "I'd never be able to concentrate with you teaching. You're too hot."

A single burst of laughter trips from Castiel. "I'd think the same of you."

Dean's eyes track over his face. "Are you still ready to kick me out?"

Shaking his head, Castiel says, "no. I'm so sorry, Dean. You've no idea."

"Love is forgiveness," Dean answers. "I'm sorry, too. For real. I pushed pretty hard, and you were right about me expecting to get my way. I shouldn't have treated you like that."

"But you did get your way," Castiel points out, slightly amused. "In the end."

"Not completely," Dean says. "I mean, I'd be happy enough if we never bonded but stayed together. I'm still conceding that there might be a limited number of tries here. And if you still feel like breaking up when that time comes, I'll go with it. A relationship with resentment would be pointless. But after just the first try... would you be happy if I'd left today? Would you have a clear mind about it? No doubts?"

In the cold light of day, unbonded, and Dean still with him, Castiel mulls it over. He says, "I think I would have questioned it, in all honesty. If you hadn't challenged my romance novel proclivities, I might have been content not thinking about it further, but since you did... I would have wondered. Maybe never finding peace with it."

"So, this deal is okay with you?"

Castiel presses their foreheads together. Slides their noses together, and then kisses him gently. "Yes. It's a good place to start."

***

In the aftermath, both admit to being stripped pretty raw by the events of the past few days. Dean doesn't feel like he can leave, and Castiel doesn't feel like he can ask him to.

"Should I make something for lunch?" Dean asks as they sit on the couch, holding hands and watching a documentary on Netflix at low volume.

"This is my house," Castiel answers, laying his head tentatively on Dean's shoulder. Dean relaxes his muscles, welcoming the gesture. "I should be the one offering."

"I'm not a guest," Dean murmurs. "I don't wanna be."

"Peanut butter and jelly sounds nice," Castiel demurs.

"I wish I knew how to make pecan pie. Comfort food."

Castiel wiggles closer with a noise of agreement at Dean's sentiment, pressing his nose into the alpha's neck. It startles the alpha a little. Castiel had been avoiding scenting him since the morning. The only time they'd been physically apart, or at least not in the same room, was when he'd asked Dean to wash their dirty laundry from the heat while Castiel had sterilized the bedroom. He'd used nearly an entire bottle of neutralizing spray. The heat smell is well and truly gone, but Dean had continued to respect Castiel's need for distance. To take time to adjust to their unchanged scents without a feeling of shame. Dean thought that it would have taken longer. He's not complaining that it didn't. But he's also not willing to push. Neither of them even so much as mentions what will happen in the next hour. Even the smallest future is too much to deal with for the time being.

In the end, they do very little for the rest of the day. Dean eventually goes to shower and change into a clean set of clothes he'd brought with him while Castiel wanders aimlessly, finally stopping in his office. He snorts a little remembering Dean suggesting they fuck on the desk.

He runs his hand over the fine wood carvings, pushing up the roll top. His gaze falls to a stack of clipped papers. He picks it up. His old manuscript. He hasn't even looked at it in ages. Idly, he flips the pages. About half of it is marked up with red pen for later edits. But he'd given up on creating anything new years ago, surrounding himself with the old. But that's not the man I know . He skims a few sentences until he hears Dean coming down the stairs. He shuts the roll top and Dean's head pokes in.

"I could add those squeaky stairs to the squeaky door to fix," he says.

Castiel smiles. "You don't have to do that. They don't bother me."

"Well, they bother me , so I'm fixing them soon. My treat." He disappears again.

Castiel can't help a small chuckle as he hears Dean go up and down the stairs at least three times, testing all of them.

It's nice like this. Castiel realizes that Dean's doing his best to stay as casual as possible. Bring back a measure of the ease that used to be there. Castiel sighs. He'd done this. It's his fault the false lightness is only making the real heaviness slightly less obvious.

Dean loves Castiel. Castiel loves Dean. Why hadn't that been good enough? When has his upbringing and stringent ideals done anything to benefit him? No, that's not right. They have done plenty for him. But they didn't prepare him for falling in love at forty-one and wishing he'd done a few things differently. All he can do is hope that he and Dean really can come to a workable compromise together. They just need a little more time.

But Castiel's still restless. He's nothing if not prone to overthinking things. He has bouts of moody silence and sometimes smells irritated. Dean lets it all slide. It's not all that easy to come to terms with forty years of strictly held beliefs.

Of course, for Dean's part, he's choosing to ignore that fact that this all might not work out eventually. It keeps him more even-tempered, which Castiel needs. The calmer that the alpha stays, the easier it is for the omega to relax. And vice versa, but Castiel's the one with more to think about.

He does eventually calm, his pheromones evening out as the day moves on, though he becomes increasingly fidgety. Dean doesn't press, but it does confuse him.

Of course Castiel doesn't leave him hanging forever. They're getting ready for bed when Castiel turns directly to Dean and says, "would you be willing to have sex with me tonight?"

Dean pauses unbuttoning his jeans. "Uh."

Castiel flushes and rubs the back of his neck. "Please, Dean. I know... I know I'm asking too much. But I need to know if it's enough. Like this."

"You still think it's not after what we did for the past two days?"

"I..." he bows his head, too ashamed to look Dean in the eye. "I was so focused on the bonding; so sure it would happen. I don't know if... I mean, before my heat we hadn't actually..."

Dean crosses to the other side of the bed and touches Castiel's chin, bringing his head back up. The shame hurts him terribly to see naked in Castiel's beautiful blue eyes. "Hey. Don't do that. I get it. Maybe I wasn't clear enough before, but when I said I love you, it means I'll do anything to help you be happy. If that comes to trying, failing, and then walking away later after we've given it a real shot, I'll do that. Hell, Cas, don't think there's anything I'd put before you, 'cause there ain't."

That's apparently what he needed to hear, because without any resistance whatsoever, Castiel falls into Dean's arms.

It might not be the best thing to do in light of recent events, but Dean's prepared to give Castiel whatever he requires to reach a better balance. Still in the wake of everything he says, "we don't have to do this tonight." At least his human brain is being reasonable because his hindbrain is screaming foul.

But Castiel is having none of that. He's already stripped his shirt off and is seated in Dean's lap. His fingers trail down Dean's chest to the hem of his shirt, grasping it, but not pulling it up. "I love you, Dean," he says simply.

The rest of the words left unspoken aren't really necessary to voice. Dean's eyes track to Castiel's failed mating bite, and his stomach clenches. Castiel has to have this moment, if it's how they're going to be forever. "However you wanna do it," Dean says softly.

Castiel lifts Dean's shirt over his head, then leans forward to kiss him. It's not entirely gentle. But his hands are as they wander over his exposed skin. He sets the whole pace, and Dean is perfectly content to allow it. Even his alpha purrs with delight at his omega's lavish attention. How he'd obviously been paying attention. How he doesn't break eye contact as he uses his body weight to push Dean back into the pillows, following him down fluidly.

He kisses his way over Dean's face, mouth, chin, down his flawless throat, to his sadly unmarked chest. What a pity. Mindlessly, Castiel licks and bites his favorite spots. Omegas usually aren't the ones to prefer using their teeth, claiming. In fact, many alphas find even that little bit of aggression repellent, but Dean is gasping so gorgeously beneath him when Castiel nips to add delicious sparks of electricity to Dean's mounting pleasure on his nipples, the collection of freckles right below them.

It's almost distractingly good. He's mesmerized mapping out Dean's body; frankly he could do this all night, but the alpha has other plans.

Dean gently rolls his hips up, abs tightening under Castiel's mouth where he's bent double tasting while unwilling to move their groins out of contact, and that's so good , until Dean's dick slips between his ass cheeks, gliding through the slick and yanking Castiel's attention away from his exploration.

Dean is still watching him, pupils dilated, licking his bottom lip.

It's a frozen moment for Castiel. How could he have been ready to give this up? Give Dean up? His breath catches in a singular moment of anger at himself.

Dean picks up on the change immediately and loops his arms around Castiel's neck, pulling him down until their faces are an inch apart. "Don't think about it, Cas," he whispers. "Just do it."

So, Castiel does. He captures Dean's lips in a long, almost chaste kiss as he lowers himself onto Dean's length. And he doesn't waste a second before he starts to move, both of them clinging to each other for dear life because Castiel isn't taking it slow. He jerks his hips in a frantic pace while Dean fucks up into him with wild thrusts.

Suddenly, in between the exquisite pleasure, Castiel is mad at the whole damn world for this. It's unfair. All of it. He can't stand it!

Everything about Dean being with him, on him, in him, is perfection. They should be bonded. He knows it without a single doubt. Dean is his mate and he doesn't think he can physically stand another second not being properly bonded to him.

Unfair .

It's so unfair.

Dean comes with a hoarse cry underneath him, back bowing up. His knot swells and Castiel clamps down on it hard, drawing out every drop of their combined pleasure. Dean's eyes slam shut and he clenches his jaw tightly, neck arching up. Bared for him.

He's so beautiful like this.

Castiel falls against Dean's chest, feeling his own tears, hating them, needing something . Without conscious thought, his mouth finds Dean's glands, and he bites down hard. Dean grabs him in a vice like grip against the back of his head, latching him there as he trembles through it, but Castiel won't let up. Not until he should.

A creeping voice in the back of his mind tries to whisper that an omega biting an alpha doesn't mean anything, but it does. It fucking does . It means they're both marked. That Dean is his. Their body chemistry might never join properly, but in the split second of pure bliss when everything spills over, Castiel simply doesn't give a shit anymore. Because this is exactly what his father had talked about what bonding should be like. Chemistry be damned. All they need is the intent.

The world rushes back, and Castiel releases the bite, and Dean releases his death grip. "Mate," Castiel murmurs against the spot, kissing it. "You're right, Dean. You're my mate. The rest doesn't matter. It feels the same. I'm sure of it. I love you."

Dean drags him down, voice slurred and sated when he says, "I love you, too. Fuck , I love you, Cas."

It has to be enough. It has to .

Chapter Text

Sunday mornings always suck having to get up extra early, but this one sucks more than the rest. Castiel is warm, content, pleasantly sore, and less willing to face the real world after his heat than he cares to admit. The only thing he can do when his alarm goes off is smack it silent and belligerently snuggle closer to Dean. Who smells fantastic now that the heat scent is fully off him. Groggily, Castiel breathes it in and starts to doze again. Who needs church today? He hadn't missed a service in decades. God will forgive him after the weekend he's had, Castiel is certain.

He kisses Dean's collarbone lazily when the alpha stirs with a small whine of protest. "Go back to sleep," he murmurs.

Dean resumes snoring almost immediately.

Castiel smiles and drifts off as well. Yes, indeed. God will forgive them.

It's the rest of the Novak's he should have considered. Two hours later the peaceful haven is broken again.

It starts with Castiel's phone buzzing with his soft text message alert every few seconds. It's easy enough to sleep through, and Castiel and Dean are no exception.

Then the phone calls start. The first one only half-wakes them. The second makes Dean growl drowsily. The third makes Castiel snap awake for real. The fourth makes Dean mutter, "that's it. I'm gonna have to kill somebody. Who am I killing?" He slams his pillow over his head.

"My whole family," Castiel answers.

"Why are they calling?" he grouches from somewhere underneath.

Castiel touches the valley of Dean's spine between his shoulders and strokes down with an indulgent hum of appreciation at the flex of muscles under his fingers. "It's Sunday."

A green eye peeks out. "You skipped church?"

Castiel smiles. "I did. My family probably thinks I'm dead."

Dean brushes the pillow off his head with a grin. "You little rebel. They gonna come break down the door soon?"

Castiel leans over and kisses him. "Prob-" he stops. "Dean." His eyes widen.

But Dean knows that look. He shoots up to a sitting position, almost knocking their foreheads together in his haste. "What?" he demands, planting his hands on the bed to either side of himself like he's ready to jump up at any second. Anxiety spikes in his amazing scent.

Castiel smiles wider. He definitely feels bad about programming his alpha to respond with preemptive worry after yesterday. It was foolish. There's no way he's going anywhere now. Not ever. He leans in, mouth going straight to Dean's bite mark. " Mmn ," he moans softly. Aside from the fear tinging the outer rings of his scent, Dean smells different. He leans back. "Scent me," he whispers, afraid to break the moment too much in case it turns out to be a dream. He needs Dean to confirm it.

Cautiously, like he's waiting for a trick, Dean noses into Castiel's neck and breathes deeply. On the exhale, he melts against Castiel, sighing, "holy shit."

"I'm not imagining it?" Castiel asks nervously.

"Only if I am, too," Dean answers.

Castiel laughs. Chokes. Makes a sharp sobbing sound. Dean's hands are in his hair. Castiel squeezes Dean's shoulders. "Thank God," Castiel whispers.

Dean's head comes up and they're kissing again and again. Happy, relieved kisses that bubble up pure joy.

The feeling is indescribable. Between kisses, during kisses, they both scent, hot puffs of air against sleep warmed skin. They smell so similar now. Dean's scent is still wildflowers and wet summer grasses, but it's more muted by leather and ink. Like reading a favored book outside in the park on a cloudless day. Castiel's scent is energized by dandelions, like sitting by a large open window in a library. It's beautiful. There are touches and nonsensical words. It's utter bliss.

Until Castiel's phone rings again.

"You need to get that," Dean murmurs between one kiss and another. He doesn't let Castiel move a muscle.

"One second," Castiel says. He's loathe to pull away. Grabs his cell phone, practically crawls into Dean's lap to keep them as close as possible. He pokes at the screen, taps out a message quickly and then tosses the phone back onto the nightstand. "Done."

"One text?" Dean asks, amused. "Is that gonna be enough?"

"Of course it is," Castiel scoffs. "I texted Gabriel so that his big mouth can do the work. I said I just finished with my heat and I'd contact them later, so don't wait up for brunch."

Dean chuckles. "Yeah, that'll probably do it. He's such a fucking gossip."

"Should we get out of bed?" Castiel asks, sounding as though he hopes Dean will say no.

"No, but you mentioned brunch, so now I'm starving."

Castiel kisses him again. "Same. Let's eat."

It takes several minutes for them to cease touching, kissing, scenting enough to get out of bed. They don't bother to dress properly, only pulling on boxers. It's warm in the house, and besides, Castiel is enjoying the skin on display that he can run the pads of his fingers over at leisure while Dean grabs the cereal. And Dean's having a good time snatching kisses to Castiel's neck and shoulders while his omega makes the coffee.

They're just sitting down at the table, side by side bumping elbows when there's a small commotion in the front hall.

A female voice says, "carry those in quickly. Castiel will need a proper meal when - oh !"

Naomi stops dead in the kitchen doorway, holding a covered dish. The rest of the Novak clan practically crashes into her, not expecting the sudden traffic jam.

There's a beat of silence. Dean unfreezes first. "Jesus Christ!" he yelps, vaulting out of his chair and diving out of the room. "Gabriel, you dick !"

Cain's voice floats out, "what have you done now, idiot son?"

Followed by Naomi's placid, "oh, Castiel, he's lovely ."

And Castiel's embarrassed, "Mother, please."

Dean simultaneously wants to laugh and apologize forever as he runs up the squeaky stairs to put some clothes on. He's at least got the wherewithal to grab a pair of jeans and t-shirt for Castiel as he makes his way back to the kitchen. He clears his throat before stepping back in. A round of abashed looks greets him. Awkward .

The family is sitting around the table like they hadn't just walked into something they probably shouldn't have, though Castiel is bright red, shoulders straight as Anna sits in Dean's abandoned chair dabbing antiseptic ointment onto her brother's mating bite.

"Sorry, everyone," Dean says sincerely, holding out the clothes to Castiel.

He takes them gratefully with a murmured, "thank you."

Cain stands and holds his hand out to Dean to shake. "The apology is ours," he says, unable to hide his grin. "If we'd been smart enough to check Gabriel's story before inviting ourselves in, this would have been far less embarrassing for all of us. However, I suppose jumping into the deep end is the best way to welcome you to the family."

Dean's shocked silent. He honestly hadn't considered that part yet. It's barely an hour since they'd noticed the blood bond, so it's only been about them thus far. It's a little jarring to be shoved into the broader spectrum of familial consequences so abruptly. Not bad, of course. Aside from the delicious smells from Naomi's cooking, Dean detects nothing but pleasure and amusement from the Novak clan.

Naomi stands and moves over to Dean, kissing him on both cheeks. "Welcome to the family," she says kindly before moving away to busy herself at the stove, reheating the food.

If possible, Castiel glows even redder as Dean sits down next to him. Anna completes treating Castiel's bite and then gets a good look at Dean. "Goodness," she says with a wicked grin. "I might as well see to you, too since I've already got the supplies out."

Never in his life has Dean wished so much that the floor would open up and swallow him whole. From the scent of his blood mate, the feeling is entirely mutual. "Anna," Castiel warns through his teeth.

"Oh, please," she rolls her eyes. "Today's a day to celebrate, not to pretend like you got caught macking in the back of Dean's muscle car."

Gabriel, who's been looking extremely constipated, bursts out laughing finally. "This is so much more than I'd expected!" he crows.

"I'm going to kill you," Dean mutters, though it's hard to sound threatening when he's having to hold his head still for Anna to apply disinfectant. "No one can stop me now that I'm bonded to your brother."

"Castiel is often the best of us," Naomi comments, placing a cup of coffee, perfectly prepared, in front of Dean. She reaches up and lightly runs her fingers through his hair, straightening it exactly as she does with Castiel. "You must think I'm a terrible mother."

Dean glances around the table at the beaming occupants. At his mate, slouching further and further in his chair, profoundly uncomfortable. Dean's grin is so wide it almost hurts. "My mom died when I was only four, but if my dad had remarried, I think I might have been cheated if she wasn't like you."

Naomi wafts sun-warmed roses in her scent. "Yes, I suppose we can all agree to blame the father." She levels her mate with a pointed look.

Rather than being offended, Cain laughs. "You knew what you were getting into." He's positively giddy as he prepares a large pitcher of the lavender lemonade.

"A life of repentance," Naomi titters. "Castiel, feel free to kick us out if you'd rather be alone. As much as we would love to share in this momentous life event, I very much understand the need for you to have some privacy for a while."

Castiel opens his mouth, clearly about to do just that by the way his scent is peaking, but Dean captures his hand under the table and squeezes it. Castiel shoots him a look, and Dean shakes his head once, almost imperceptible. "Sharing my happiness with my family is life's true joy," Castiel says resignedly.

Dean snorts.

Cain studies them both. Then he claps himself on the knee. "Ah! Dear wife and children, it occurs to me we are being quite remiss having shown up without a bonding gift for the young couple."

Dean can't understand the panic in Castiel's scent from the statement. When he says nothing, Dean ventures to the better part of courtesy. "That's not necessary."

That shakes Castiel out of whatever black hole his mind has been sucked into because he immediately agrees. "Yes. Please don't go to the trouble."

The rest of the family's reactions are intriguing. Anna and Gabriel are grinning fit to burst. Naomi is calmly bringing food to the table. Cain appears neutral, but his eyes are shining with mirth.

"What am I missing?" Dean asks.

Castiel turns to him. "My father is extravagant with his so-called mating gifts."

"He gave Gabriel a Steinway," Anna clarifies.

"The piano?" Dean says incredulously.

"It's the centerpiece of my living room," Gabriel agrees.

This family is unreal. "How much does that even cost?" Dean asks, forgetting his manners.

Cain taps his chin thoughtfully. "Oh, I believe the model we ordered Gabriel was, what, Naomi? Eighty thousand?"

"Eighty-two," she says, handing the flatware to Gabriel for him to pass around the table.

"Eighty-two thousand dollars?" Dean echoes weakly, accepting his plate. Everyone takes their seats and Cain gestures for Dean and Castiel to fill their servings first. "What am I marrying into?" he says faintly.

Castiel kicks him under the table. "We don't have any hidden wealth," he mutters. "They were in debt for years because of that."

"But Gabriel plays so beautifully," Naomi sighs, loading her plate with the breakfast casserole, roasted potatoes, and fruit salad. She makes sure that the first glass of the lavender lemonade goes to Dean since he's such a fan.

Dean arches an eyebrow at Gabriel and sing-songs, "oh, really ?"

"Don't start, you're only half family yet," Gabriel answers.

Dean lets it go, instead asking Anna, "you're a beta, right? Since you can't bond, what would you get an extravagant gift for?"

She leans forward. "Oh, when I finished college, Mom and Dad bought me my house."

Dean nearly chokes on his lemonade. "Y'all are gonna be impossible to buy Christmas gifts for."

Anna coughs into her napkin to cover her less than delicate laugh. "You're a perfect addition to the family."

Dean winks. "I try."

Castiel keeps his head down, eating his breakfast with an air of dejected humiliation. Dean thinks it's pretty funny. Ganging up on a family member every now and then makes life worth living. Definitely more interesting.

Cain wipes his hands on his napkin, a measured gesture, and then says, "not to rush anything, but I suppose we should plan to meet your family as well, Dean. At their earliest convenience, of course."

"Sure," Dean answers breezily. Castiel's nervous enough. No sense in making it worse by pretending his own kin will be anything besides thrilled. "It's only my brother and his mate. We've got some family friends who might as well be actual family, But Sam and Jo are most important."

"We should do brunch," Naomi says. "Planned this time, of course."

Dean chuckles and agrees. "I'll ask them. I'm sorry again for making you worry about Cas."

"I'm forty-one," Castiel mutters under his breath. "I'm an adult."

Gabriel flicks a piece of sausage from the casserole at him. "And you're acting like a big baby, baby bro. We've been nosy since you were born."

"That's enough embarrassment," Naomi smiles. "We're celebrating. Dean, are you at all religious? If you are, we'd like to have you at our church, or us at yours on occasion."

"I'm not opposed," Dean answers smoothly, erring on the side of formality. "I don't attend anywhere, but since it means so much to Cas, and he's my mate, I'll happily attend with you, if that's what he wants."

Castiel's scent warms and he smooths a hand over Dean's thigh under the table. "Thank you," he says, finally looking Dean in the eye. "Our church is fairly progressive. I think you'll like it."

"I'm sure I will," Dean says with a soft smile.

A delicate sniffle draws their attention away from their shared moment. Naomi is wiping at her eyes. "I'm so happy for you both. You're a wonderful couple. We never could have imagined anything better for Castiel."

Feeling bold, Dean presses a kiss to Castiel's temple and cuts his mate some slack, turning the conversation to the rest of the family. He hadn't actually meant to, but quickly discovers that asking, "how are the bees doing?" is a surefire route to a lively lecture from Cain and Anna.

They stay for an hour, then Naomi announces that it's time to leave the two new mates to the rest of their day. Castiel walks them to their car, while Gabriel hangs back for a moment with Dean, who is in no way surprised. "Don't stand on ceremony," he says. "You can say what you want to."

"I would have, anyway," Gabriel answers. "But I'm sure you know, regardless."

"Yeah. This is the, 'don't hurt my brother or I'll make your life a living hell' speech."

"Something like that," Gabriel smirks. "Okay, no, more than that."

Dean has the decency to wince a little. "Cas... told me about what happened to you." He didn't know what he expected, but Gabriel pounding him on the back enthusiastically isn't it.

"Yeah, no shit. Castiel's not like me, though. And you're not like that shitstain I was dumb enough to bond with back in the day. So I'm not gonna stand here and let ancient history lived by an idiot color my advice to you."

"That's surprisingly mature of you."

"Shut up, I'm older and wiser. Despite what I've done, Cassie still mostly thinks that blood bonds mean forever and ever, amen, we're all farting rainbows."

Dean eyes him suspiciously. "Even after what you went through?"

"Maybe especially because of it. Look, Dean. Cas is a romantic. That ain't ever gonna go away, Lord knows I tried to raise him better." He quirks a half smile. "I was stupid, and even I knew it. But I got blinded by the whitest picket fence ever. And my cherubic baby bro looked at what I did, and thought it was because I jumped in too young." He holds up two fingers. "What happened was, one, he almost lost his chance to bond until your firm ass walked into his life. And, two, he thought - and thinks - he's beyond all that."

Dean crosses his arms over his chest, watching Castiel say fond goodbyes to his family. "What are you trying to tell me, Gabe?"

Gabriel faces him, and with the most serious expression Dean's ever seen, and in fact didn't think the omega was capable of, he pokes the alpha in the chest. "Let your guard down and keep it down, loverboy. I mean it. Give that kid everything, or you won't be worth anything in a relationship with him."

Dean blinks. "Shit, Gabe, I thought you were gonna give me some hard homework."

Gabriel barks a laugh and smacks Dean on the back again. "See you in church, you dirty sinner." He starts walking down the front steps. Over his shoulder he calls, "nice bite mark, by the way. Kinky sons of bitches."

Dean grins and shakes his head.

***

In the interest of getting all of the embarrassment out of the way at once, Dean texts Sam and asks if he and Castiel can stop by for a few minutes after dinner. Sam agrees wholeheartedly, and the pair arrive at Sam and Jo's house bearing an apple pie for dessert, and just in case, plenty of ginger candies for Jo.

They're settled comfortably in the living room eating the pie, and Dean decides to just out with it. "Cas and I are blood bonded," he says casually like it's not the biggest announcement of his life. "We wanted to stop by to tell you in person."

Sam stares.

Jo stares.

Castiel always stares, so that's nothing new.

A lot of staring goes around.

Dean rolls his eyes. "You guys wanna say something?"

"Um," Sam says.

"I'll be damned," Jo says.

"Don't swear, the pup can hear you," Sam admonishes.

"It doesn't understand," Jo scoffs.

Castiel snort-laughs. "Forgive us. We didn't mean to surprise you."

"Surprise is an understatement," Jo says. But she beams at them. "Congrats you two! Sorry. It's taking a minute to, like, absorb, but I'm happy for you. We're happy for you. Right, Sam?" He doesn't answer. "Sam?" She glances at her mate. "Seriously? You're crying?"

"I'm not!" Sam protests, thumbing the corner of his eye. "I mean, I'm about to, but I'm not yet! Give me some credit."

Dean laughs. "Dude, come on. Nut up, 'cause y'all gotta meet Cas's family next Sunday and I need some good representation on my side."

"If you're well enough, Jo," Castiel rushes to amend. "You appear to be much better, though."

"I am," Jo confirms happily. "Still some rough days, but mostly good now. Sam's chilled out, so that's the biggest help."

Sam grins and shrugs. "I get kicked out of bed every now and then."

"Good for you," Dean grins.

Castiel smells troubled, though. "Are you two really okay with this?" He gestures between himself and Dean.

Sam looks profoundly confused. "Dude, why wouldn't we be?"

Castiel scratches his ear. "I don't know. I'm just making sure, I suppose."

Sam studies Castiel for a long moment, then his expression clears. "Are you, like... asking for my permission?" A slow grin spreads across his face.

Castiel frowns. "There's no one else for me to ask."

Sam bursts into laughter at the same time Dean says, "what the hell, Cas? I don't need my little brother's consent!"

Castiel's scent sours as Jo joins in the laughter, too. "There's a proper way to do things," he insists.

Sam waves a hand. "I'm not making fun of you," he says. "It's fine, it's fine! You totally have my permission and all that."

Dean makes a noise of disgust, but Castiel seems pleased. "Thank you," he says.

Jo stands to collect their dishes, Castiel jumping up with her, insisting that he should help, and insisting more when she sweeps right by him, following her all the way to the kitchen.

Sam grins as he watches them go. "Wow."

"I know," Dean answers. "He's not good at taking no for an answer."

Sam leans back against the sofa, openly assessing his brother. It's always a look that leads to a lot of invasive questions. Dean decides to wait it out this time because the sooner they get the sappy shit done with, the better, and they can all move on with their lives. "I thought you smelled different, but I couldn't be sure with all the neutralizers Jo makes me use." He nods over his shoulder to indicate a white box attached to the wall right against the ceiling. "She bought those timed dispenser things."

Dean rolls his eyes fondly. "Yeah, probably for the best. You still smell a little anxious."

"Also happy for you. How'd all this happen? I mean, I knew you and Cas were getting really close, but I had no idea it was to blood bonding levels."

Dean shrugs, trying not to blush. He thinks he half succeeds. "We talked about it. I mean, it was probably always gonna get there, but Cas went into his heat randomly, and... the rest is history, as they say."

Sam beams. "That's pretty awesome. Guess that explains why you both got bite marks."

Dean resists the urge to reach up and touch it. "That sort of just... happened."

Sam holds up a hand. "Don't worry, I don't wanna know. I am happy for you. To be honest, I thought you'd never bond, even with Cas."

Dean groans. "Yeah, yeah, I get it. I'm old."

"No," Sam says with a troubled frown, "you're stubborn. If you wanna know the truth, I thought you'd refuse to try just to prove you could be happy anyway."

Well, that's mildly offensive. "Why the hell would I do that?" Sam's frown deepens, and he shifts uncomfortably. Even with the neutralizing spray, Dean still smells his nervousness. "Out with it, Sammy."

His little brother sighs. "Fine. After Jo and I bonded, you got kinda... weird. At first I thought it was because of what happened with Lisa. But that was years ago, right? So, I figured it had to be something with me and Jo. You started sleeping around, and you didn't get close to anyone else. And remember after my wedding? At the reception?"

"Not really," Dean admits, trying to keep himself from getting angry. It's not Sam's fault. He's entitled to his feelings. Plus, he had no idea his brother thought this way at all. "I mean, I was pretty drunk at your wedding."

"I noticed," Sam says dryly. "You said to me that you were glad one of us was bonded and settled. You said that you'd be happy with or without. Probably without."

Huh. "I said that?"

"Yeah, you did."

"Damn, I'm a downer when I'm sauced."

Sam chuckles. "Sometimes. I got worried when you started dating Cas seriously. He was obviously the type to want to bond, and knowing how stubborn you are, I hoped you wouldn't cheat yourselves out of it. I'm glad I was wrong. I'm sorry I even thought it now."

Dean can't even be mad at that. "You don't have to apologize. It was true."

"Until you met Cas," Sam says with a smile.

Dean nods. "Until I met Cas."

***

They stay with Sam and Jo until late. Late enough that Dean's yawning and asking if they can just go down the street to his house for the night.

"I'd love to," Castiel says.

They hold hands the entire short drive home. As Castiel locks the door behind them and bends to take off his shoes, he says, "it occurs to me we never worked out the finer details of bonding."

"I guess there is a lot," Dean agrees, hanging up his coat in the hall closet. "What specifically are we talking about right this second?"

Castiel slips his arm around Dean's waist, walking with him towards the bedroom. "Where will we live? One of our houses? Buy a new one together?"

Dean throws his arm over Castiel's shoulders. "Do you have a preference?"

Castiel pushes open the bedroom door. "I like my house. I was lucky there was even one for sale in the historic district when I was looking. But... this house is your family home, correct?"

Dean turns in his arms, enjoying the close warmth. "Yeah."

"Then we should live here."

He says it so matter-of-factly. Dean arches an eyebrow. "You sure? You'd be cool with it, just like that?"

Castiel's smile is mostly in his eyes. Dean's starting to recognize it as Castiel's private smile for him alone. "Of course. I can be quite sentimental."

"I already knew that," Dean says, kissing him slowly. He pulls back and a thought strikes him. "Guess I should give you the grand tour, then."

"I've already seen the whole house," Castiel reminds him.

Dean takes his hand and turns him towards the center of the room. "No, no, I mean, the historical tour, since you're such a fan. This was my mom and dad's room. That's their bed frame. End tables. My granddad made them. The dresser's mine, though. New curtains to match the bedding."

Castiel follows willingly as Dean tugs them down the hall and pushes open the next door.

"Sam's old room that you haven't changed much," Castiel observes.

"Yeah, but some things have. When I was in trade school, I got kinda rebellious and moved out. Before I did, me and Sam shared this room. His bed's in the same place as the bunk beds used to be."

Smiling, Castiel asks, "did you sleep on top or bottom?"

"Top, naturally. I'm older, I got dibs. I had blue sheets. Sam had dinosaurs for the longest fucking time. That desk was mine. Sam's a nerd, so he liked to spread out and study in the kitchen at the table, so he didn't use a desk at all until I moved out. The old wallpaper was striped. Blue and... something? Uh..." he snaps his fingers. "Gray! It was so damn ugly. I pulled it down and just painted the walls as soon as Sam moved out for good. The blue matches the wallpaper. It was awful with the gray, but I couldn't really give up the blue color after all."

Castiel rubs his hand over Dean's back. "Carpet?"

Dean glances down. "Same. I've replaced it, but it's the same color. Can't beat a neutral beige for decorating."

"I suppose not." Castiel's the one to guide him to the third room upstairs. It's Dean's office, and Castiel's always thought that it didn't feel much like him in there.

Dean confirms it when he says, "Dad's office. Mine now. Took me forever to figure out his organizational system. He was kinda... haphazard." He glances around. "I probably get it from him." There are papers, invoices, folders, small tools scattered all around. It almost looks caught in time with the dark oak and leather furniture. If not for the newer looking laptop on the desk by the window, Castiel would think that no one ever goes in here. "I don't use it for much. Still feels weird."

Castiel walks into the room thoughtfully. "We could do something with this room."

"Yeah," Dean agrees, stepping in behind him. "You'll need office space, too, unless you wanna set up downstairs? I don't have any practical plans for the den."

Castiel turns and leans against the desk. "What I mean is, rooms in a home are meant to be lived in." Dean gives him a curious look, and Castiel deflects, "if you agree, of course. This is your family home, and even if I do share it with you, I understand the need to keep the memories alive."

Dean shakes his head. "I've got plenty of memories without it. This would be our home, and should reflect that. I'd like it that way. I'm not opposed to it. It's just that I've never seen the need to do much on my own. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Castiel smiles. "We'll take our time. There's no rush. It's going to be challenging to blend our lives together. I'm up for it, but... well, we have time."

"Not giving up the surround sound," Dean says loftily, finally ready to get out of the precariously emotional moment. "You'll have to live with a lot of noise some nights."

Castiel laughs, trailing him downstairs. "Noted, but you'll have to live with a lot of stern looks and lectures on losing your hearing too early."

"What?" Dean teases.

"Shut up," Castiel grins.

For the next half hour, they debate how to move around furniture. Castiel argues that his couch is more comfortable than Dean's - which is absolutely true - and Dean's not exactly heartbroken to toss his out. Castiel digs in about his dining room set, though wavers when Dean says that his were handmade by his granddad, like the bedroom furniture. Castiel gives in then, admitting that Anna had been looking for a new setup herself, and always loved Castiel's. Neither of them can decide what to do with the den aside from adding Castiel's numerous bookcases to it. He prefers to join his office with Dean's, requesting it a little shyly. Dean's more than happy to share, even if he once again mentions fucking on the desk, to which Castiel hip checks him out of the way, and moves into the kitchen to argue small appliances instead.

At the end of it, they're both exhausted, excited. After they collapse in bed, Castiel turns off his bedside light and says, "I don't want to go to work tomorrow. I want to start packing."

Dean pulls him closer. "Same. How do you wanna do it, then? Wait for a vacation or do it slowly on the weekends?"

Castiel hmm's and buries his face into the crook on Dean's shoulder. "It'll be more tiring, but I'd like to do it as soon as possible, so over the weekends as we can manage. Otherwise, I won't be on vacation until the end of May when school lets out before the summer semester begins."

"Yeah, no, we're not waiting that long," Dean says. "Guess I really am taking off weekends forever now, huh? Not like I care."

"I'm sure I can figure out ways to entertain you in the empty hours," Castiel says, planting a kiss on his mate's neck.

Dean kisses Castiel's temple and snorts a laugh. "By lifting heavy boxes?"

"Yes," Castiel answers with a falsely-imperious tone. "What else are alphas good for?"

Dean grins and secures his omega tightly in his arms. Hell of a life they're in for.

Chapter Text

As it turns out, Castiel is tirelessly dedicated when he puts his mind to something. He wakes up early Monday morning, kisses Dean awake, and promptly informs his sleepy mate that they have work to do.

Dean has one morning appointment for an estimate on his schedule, but nothing else for the day so far.

"Good," Castiel says. "Then you can go buy moving boxes. After classes today I want to start packing the essentials."

"It's not a race to the finish," Dean grumbles, eyes still closed. "We can take it slow."

Castiel rolls over Dean, straddling him and pushing his hands into his mate's firm chest. "I'm done taking it slow," he says with a trace of anger in his tone. "I've been taking it slow for forty-one years. I'm bonded, I'm happy, I'm ready. I'm also kind of horny, so wake up."

Dean laughs, pleasantly surprised. He reaches out to run his hands up and down Castiel's arms. "Sure thing. I'll pick up boxes this afternoon and bring them to your house. What do you wanna start with? Clothes? Books?"

"Your body," Castiel answers, dipping down for a kiss.

"Sweet talker," Dean smirks.

Castiel's fingers sift through Dean's hair, holding gently, angling his head to deepen the kiss.

Dean happily goes along with it, scooting his hands along Castiel's back until they dip under the elastic waistband of his boxers. Castiel makes a breathy moan, already wet for his mate's attention.

There's no time for the full on lovemaking they'd enjoyed over their extended weekend, but that's no heartbreak at all. Castiel shoves their boxers down so they're bared to each other in the golden morning light, momentarily stunned to realize that Dean is forever his. Those mossy green eyes will always show the sort of love he's seeing now. His pheromones will always sing in concert with Castiel's. It will always be like this.

He's had some time to reflect on their bond, but not enough time for it to hit him until now. It settles beautiful in his soul. "My mate," he whispers, tracing his fingers along Dean's stubbled jaw.

"Love you, Cas," Dean answers.

"Sweet talker," Castiel smiles.

They move with each other, unhurried, feeling each other fully. Castiel takes their dicks in a slicked hand, stroking slowly, thrusting lightly, staring openly at his mate under him. Dean's plush lips part with his heightened breathing; skin flushing. Castiel's left hand presses over Dean's heart, enjoying the quickened pace of it. He's doing that.

Dean's fingers curl around his on their dicks, matching his pace tightly.

They only lose eye contact the second they come, Castiel first with a pleased sigh, Dean right after with a low whine.

Dean's eyes open slowly as he floats down from the hormone high. "I vote we do this every Monday morning to make the start of the week more bearable."

"I second your vote, motion passes," Castiel answers. He climbs out of the bed loose limbed and sated. "Join me in the shower?"

"That's even a question?" Dean scrambles out of the bed. "I don't want a lecture about water conservation from you."

Castiel turns on the taps. "What makes you think I'd do that?"

"Dude. You mentioned it during your heat, while we were having sex. What makes me think you wouldn't ?"

Castiel laughs. "Point taken. But if I did lecture you about it, it would just be a ploy to get you naked and wet with me."

"I'll remember that," Dean grins, tugging Castiel behind him and into the tub. He's had worse Monday's.

Castiel had kept a few changes of clothes at Dean's house already, so they dress together and then wander down to the kitchen to reheat the leftovers from brunch.

Sitting at the table, Dean sips his coffee, watching Castiel plate their food. He slides Dean's serving across the table and sits down, tossing his tie over his shoulder. Then, with a small smile, taps his socked foot over Dean's while he eats.

And now, suddenly, Dean is happier than he's ever been in his entire life. They get to have mornings like this forever. It's a lot to take in. It'll take a lot of getting used to. He's okay with that. "If I get done early, I can start packing stuff for you, if you want."

Castiel blinks, clearly having been lost in his own thoughts. But he smells completely at ease. He smiles. "I'd appreciate it."

"What's priority?"

"Bathroom, bedroom, and office, I suppose. I need all my clothes and toiletries, and if we can't get to the whole office, then I just need what's in the desk. It's everything for classes this semester. We'll have to go through the rest together to decide what to keep and what to get rid of."

"You've probably got plenty of stuff that's nicer than mine. I don't tend to throw anything away until even I can't repair it anymore."

"It'll be a process," Castiel agrees. "I will also see if our families can use anything we don't want."

Dean nudges Castiel's foot. "Like I said: no rush."

Castiel shrugs. "I'll calm down eventually. Right now it might as well be Christmas morning."

Dean grins. "I know that feeling."

They linger in the newness until the last possible second, then it's back out into the real world.

Despite not wanting to leave Dean in the slightest, part of Castiel is glad to be going back to work. It makes all of the past several days more real. He'd been waiting for the other shoe to drop after they'd blood bonded, but then it hadn't. He's sitting in his office preparing his notes as always, but it's... different. He can smell his old pheromones in the room. It's a shock to his system realizing that five days ago he'd been sitting in the same chair, doing the same work, smelling completely different than he does now. It feels like a lifetime ago.

He should have brought a picture of Dean to put in his office. He misses him already. So much so that he also misses his assistant staring at him with her mouth hanging open when he passes by her desk to go to class, and she begins texting furiously the second his back is turned.

Dean can probably read minds, though. Castiel's phone buzzes in his jacket pocket during class, and when he checks it afterwards, there's a picture from Dean. He's taken a grinning selfie, crouched on a roof, the mountains and sky endless behind him. The caption reads, sky is extra blue today . It's not, but it sure feels like it is. Castiel sets the picture as his phone's background.

***

Dean is just stuffing a load of boxes into the bed of his work truck when his phone buzzes. He digs it out of his back pocket and presses on the text from Castiel. He bursts out laughing at what he sees. It's Castiel's school office, completely destroyed with balloons, flowers, streamers, the works. The caption says, I'm not cleaning this up . He can definitely feel Castiel's consternation through the words. News sure does travel fast. And he's pretty impressed with how quickly they'd managed that celebratory explosion. The support is probably bigger for Castiel than he's letting on.

Of course, he doesn't have much time to think about that once he gets to Castiel's house. He's not really sure where to start so he leaves several boxes in the bedroom, office, and also thought to bring his cooler to move any of the perishable food that Castiel wants to keep. The bedroom is probably the easiest to start with. All of the clothes will have to go. He puts together the hanger boxes first, emptying the closet and hanging the shirts and pants before sealing them. It doesn't take all that long, and he decides to leave the bathroom to Castiel to pack for himself. He has so many products and miscellaneous shit in there that Dean wouldn't know what to prioritize.

That just leaves starting on the office downstairs. He looks around, pretty certain that Castiel is going to want to bring everything in the entire room. He examines the book cases. They can't be dismantled, but the shelves are removable, so that'll be a two person lifting job. No big deal, but there won't be room for them today on the truck.

It's weird being in here by himself again. Feels like an age ago that he was here for the first time helping Castiel throw tarps over all his prized books. He looks up at the ceiling with a smirk. Can't even see where it was ruined. Damn, he's good. He turns in a slow circle, very much understanding how Castiel would hate to leave this place, and Dean doesn't even live here. For all intents and purposes, the two of them had the chance to fall in love in this very spot. If not for this house and a roof leaking randomly in the middle of the night, they might not have had those moments that were close enough to notice each other properly. "You're a miracle worker, house," he says fondly.

But that's it for the brief trip down memory lane. Time to get started. He wants to get as much done for Castiel as he can. It'll be easier to start with the desk, plus Castiel had told him he needed everything in it today for work. He takes the drawers out and pushes up the roll top. He's about to stack the papers on it when he notices a thick sheet of clipped pages. His hand hovers over the manuscript. Castiel really had written a novel. The Baron's Dalliance .

Snooping ain't classy.

Dean whines a little. He's so fucking curious about what Castiel would write about, considering how much he's read, and what he teaches.

Feeling terrible, Dean tips up the cover page with one finger. It's the dedication page. There hadn't been anything typed there before. But in Castiel's neat block writing in the middle of the page it now says, "to Dean. You believed."

Oh, come on , how is that fair? It's dedicated to him! It means he's actually considering publishing it, so that means Dean will read it at some point, right? Right. Man, he's gonna be sleeping on the couch tonight for sure..

"Better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission," he mutters. He sits down in the plush leather office chair and starts to read.

It's a little difficult to follow all the red penned notes and lines and arrows leading all over the place, but despite it, Castiel's story is amazing. He captures the tone of a Jane Austen novel with infinitely more readability for a modern audience. It's touching and sexy and queer and Dean's not all that far into it when he hears a creak and looks up. "Shit."

Castiel is leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed over his chest. "I called your name," he says.

"I really didn't mean to," Dean answers, shoving the pages back onto the desk. "I really only meant to box up the desk. But I saw the dedication, and... fuck, I'm sorry, Cas."

Castiel is smiling a little, but there's a nervous light in his eyes. "I would have been angry if you were reading the first draft." He approaches the desk and runs his fingers over the title. "I've been writing this off and on for ten years. Well, I say that, but I gave up on it for most of those ten years until I met you."

Dean stands up, hesitant that Castiel could be mad at him, and takes his mate's hand. "I'm not blowing smoke up your ass when I tell you it's really freaking good, man. I mean, really good. I had no idea you were such a talented writer."

Castiel's smile turns embarrassed. "I didn't know for sure if I was, either." He picks up the papers. "Honestly, I got frustrated a lot with this. I thought it was contrived and overdone. That I didn't have any new ideas, and was only copying what I'd been reading all my life. I thought I was better suited for studying old things, not creating new things that just sound like more old things. But I got inspired again as of late, and decided to put the proverbial pen back to the paper. I re-read the stuff I'd written back in the day, and couldn't stop adding on once I'd started."

As pleased as he is that Castiel is writing again, and crediting him with some of the inspiration to do so, Dean is finding it hard to believe that that's all there is to it. "What really changed your mind?"

Castiel shrugs, carefully placing the manuscript into one of the full boxes Dean's already mostly packed. "I'd been teaching creative writing and always reiterated to the classes that there are no new stories. Just new ways to tell them. It's a common adage. True as I've seen."

Dean resumes clearing out the loose desk supplies into an empty small box. "Are you gonna finish it for real?"

"I think so. I want to." He moves to the bookcases and starts filling up the assembled boxes.

"At the risk of sounding like a proud parent or something, I'd pay for a copy of that book."

"Then I guess I ought to keep on it."

Packing goes smoothly for the rest of the afternoon. Castiel sorts through his bathroom, and Dean loads the finished boxes into the back of his work truck in stages. They order a pizza so they don't have to pause to cook, and it's nearing seven o'clock when Castiel finally declares that they've done enough for the day. They're standing in the master bedroom, and the small space looks almost empty with Castiel's clothes, bedding, pillows, and personal items removed.

Dean glances at his mate, who smells okay, but looks quite forlorn. He's still learning how to interpret the smaller shifts in their scents correctly. "Finally sinking in?" he asks.

Castiel nods and leans against Dean's side. "I'm happy to be living with you now, but I love this house. It's sad to leave it, even if I know I'm going to love combining our lives at your house more."

Dean squeezes him closer briefly. "That's understandable. You sure it's not too fast for you?"

Castiel turns his head to the side, kissing Dean's cheek. "It's faster than I anticipated, but not faster than I'm ready for."

That makes Dean smile. "You don't have to sell the place, if you don't want to. We could rent it out. You can be a landlord, and I'll be the maintenance guy."

He considers. "That's an idea. We could keep it partially furnished, too. The mortgage won't be an issue, though. It'll be paid off in another year. I've put all of my bonuses down on it since I bought the place to pay it off faster."

"It would have been fine either way," Dean assures him. "My house has been paid off for a long time, so there's no financial strain there."

Castiel steps in front of Dean to hold him properly. "You're very thoughtful."

Dean strokes down his mate's back comfortingly. "I want you to be happy, Cas. I'd do anything for that. I keep telling you."

Castiel presses his face against Dean's sternum to hide the well of emotion that springs up thanks to the alpha's words. "Same," he murmurs. Because it's true. Bonded now or not, Castiel knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he'd do anything to keep the man in his arms happy. It's the best two way street he's ever been on. "Let's go home."

It takes longer than expected to unload the boxes. At first Dean thinks it's because of the long day they've both had, but after a while it appears as though Castiel is actually dragging his feet more than merely from exhaustion.

They're in the bedroom organizing the boxes out of the way for unpacking later, when Dean says, "what's going on with you tonight?"

Castiel faces him, uncharacteristically fidgeting for a minute. "I feel stupid."

Dean arches an eyebrow. "Since when?" he teases

"I'm being serious," Castiel admonishes mildly. "And, since now. Dean... I'm never going to sleep in my bed again. I'm never going to sleep alone again. I'm never going to be alone again." Castiel catches Dean's anxious scent, wrinkling his nose. "I don't want any of those things."

Dean takes a breath. "Then why are you down?"

"I'm not really," Castiel sighs. "I believe I'm just nostalgic. After two hours." He shakes his head. "I told you it was stupid."

"It's not," Dean disagrees, coming up beside him and wrapping an arm over his mate's shoulder. "Have you ever lived with anyone besides your family?"

"Only in college," Castiel answers.

"That's a long time with no one but yourself in your own space." He goes to the bed decisively, and starts stripping off the linens. Castiel watches him silently. "Which box are your sheets in?"

Gleaning on, Castiel looks through them until he finds the bedding and hands it off to Dean. "Thank you," he says quietly, thoughtfully. It's a little thing that will ease the transition. That Dean just does for him naturally.

Dean shrugs, tossing his sheets towards the closet hamper. "Whatever. We're gonna step on each other's toes a lot. Might as well do what we can to keep it to a minimum."

"I feel like I am stepping on your toes," Castiel admits as he helps remake the bed. "This doesn't feel like our home yet. It's still yours."

"Well, there's nothing I can do about time," Dean says. "Unpacking'll help."

"I know," Castiel smiles. "I'm excited, Dean. In case I sounded otherwise."

Dean grins. "No worries. I get it. Let's get some of this stuff done and get to bed, okay?"

It's officially their bed now. Dean's mattress, and Castiel's comforter, and together, they both sleep a bit better that night.

***

It's almost surprising how easily the days and weeks go on. Castiel decides to rent his house after all, though he takes months to decide that the only people worthy who apply for the rental are Jody and Donna, who have been looking for an upgrade from their apartment in town without a long-term commitment.

But not everything is smooth as silk. Dean can't abide Castiel leaving his dirty clothes on the floor for ten minutes while he showers when the hamper is right there, Cas, what's the matter with you ? And Castiel can't stand the way that Dean haphazardly loads the dishwasher because, you're wasting too much space where more dishes could go and not waste water, Dean . The wrinkles are there, but they're gradually getting ironed out. And the ones that don't are sighed at and put up with because none of them are too much to deal with.

And that's all part of what makes life worth living. Even on a Saturday in June that's cooler than average, a gentle breeze rolling through the open windows in the library/den. Dean's on the loveseat working through his business expenses on the laptop, and Castiel is at his desk giving another pass of his manuscript. He puts his pen down, rubbing his eyes, and stretching back in his chair. Looking idly out the window, he muses, "is it weird that I'd prefer to get married in the winter than a more mild season?"

Dean's head comes up. "Huh?"

Castiel turns sideways in the chair, resting his forearm over the backrest. Smiling he says, "I love those glasses on you."

Dean blinks. "Huh?"

Smile spreading to a grin, Castiel reaches into the top drawer of his desk and holds his arm out over the chair, offering a small box. "Let's get married this winter, Dean."

Dean slowly moves his laptop onto the seat beside him and stands, coming around the coffee table and sitting down on its edge, a foot away from Castiel's outstretched hand. He plucks the box out of his omega's fingers, opens it. "Huh," he says with entirely new inflection.

Inside the box are two rings. Thick bands of brushed platinum with what look like hand tooled swirls etched all the way around, except for a spot in the center, which is smooth, likely to have their wedding date stamped on later. The first thing that comes to Dean's mind is that he's surprised Castiel had remembered his passing comment that he didn't like yellow gold. At the time they'd been looking at jewelry to get Jo for a push present.

"A winter wedding would be pretty awesome," he murmurs eventually, eyes not leaving the rings. Leave it to Castiel to always think of the future seriously. It's not that Dean doesn't. He doesn't leave anything to chance. But he's definitely more of the doer and less of the planner in this relationship. He looks up. Castiel's clear blue eyes are shining, enjoying leaving Dean so shocked.

"December," Castiel says.

"Okay," Dean says.

"After Christmas."

"Sounds good."

Castiel laughs. "Do you need a minute to think about it?"

Dean leans forward, flushed. "Not really. I'd sneak off to the Justice of the Peace tomorrow with you if you wanted to."

Castiel's face pulls into a scandalized scowl. "Can you imagine what my parents would say?"

"I'd never know, 'cause you'd never be able to find my body afterwards."

Castiel scoots the chair around so that he can meet Dean halfway for a kiss. "It's good that you understand my family so well."

He rolls his eyes. "Your mom ain't exactly subtle. She drops hints about it every Sunday after church."

"Yes, she never mentioned how lovely the church would be decorated for a wedding until I bonded with you."

"She'll think this was all her idea."

Castiel shrugs. "If it makes her happy. I'm more worried about my father. Dean, you have to promise me something before we make it official and tell everyone."

Dean's brow furrows. "Sure. Anything."

Castiel's eyes sharpen. "You must help me dissuade him from buying us something overly extravagant. He's going to try."

Dean laughs outright. "You got it."

***

The following Sunday is the perfect time for Dean and Castiel to announce their engagement. Sam and Jo occasionally attend church with them, and Naomi insists that they join the family brunch. She's taken a liking to Jo especially, giving her all manner of help with her pregnancy. She hovers and plies her with baby-friendly food like a true mother hen. Jo pretends to not need it, but she always smells happy when she's being mothered by Naomi. Ellen is an excellent mom herself, but she's the tough love type, and Jo's not used to being babied. She'll take all she can get before her actual baby is born.

They're halfway through the meal when Castiel says, "Dean and I have an announcement."

Everyone goes quiet and Naomi puts her hand over her mouth. The tension in the room smells joyous. Naturally they've all figured it out. It's to be expected, really.

Dean snorts a laugh and Castiel shoots him a fond, exasperated look. Then he faces the rest of them and says, "I suppose what you're thinking is true. Dean and I have decided to have a marriage ceremony. We've set the date for December twenty-eighth, considering most of us will be on vacation already during that time."

Sam reaches over and smacks his brother on the back. "Congratulations, you guys!"

"Was hoping you'd be my best man," Dean says with forced casualness.

Sam makes a choking noise. "I... yeah, sure. You know I will."

"Please don't cry," Dean begs, embarrassed. "It's too weird."

"Fine," Sam sniffles. "I'll save it for the wedding."

Castiel says, "Gabriel... I'd like you to..."

Gabriel fist pumps. "Hell to the yes, little bro! It's an honor."

"One you will not take advantage of," Castiel warns. "No practical jokes, I'm begging you as your favorite person in the world."

Gabriel whines. "Oh, come on. It's me . Give me one. Just one. Not during the ceremony or reception. Please. You gotta give me this. I'll be on my best behavior otherwise."

Castiel and Dean exchange a look. Dean tips his shoulder up in a half-hearted shrug.

"One," Castiel answers.

If Gabriel had a tail, it would be wagging hard.

Cain beams at them. "Now that that's settled, let's discuss your gift, and no I won't be talked out of it."

Castiel's face and scent flash panic. "Father, no. You can't spend an exorbitant amount of money on us."

"You can't stop me," Cain answers breezily. "I could go the bank tomorrow and pay off the mortgage on your house, and there's nothing you could do about it."

"Ha!" Dean crows. "It's been paid off for years."

Cain frowns. "How frustrating. Then, a kitchen remodel."

Dean shakes his head. "Did that a few years ago. It's sixty's aesthetic and it can't be changed. It's Cas's favorite room."

Castiel nods. "That's true."

"I'll think of something," Cain says ominously.

Castiel groans, but no one else says anything. Castiel might be known for his stubborn nature, but he got it from Cain. That doesn't mean Dean won't do what he promised with the help of his mate.

However, the subject is dropped when Naomi asks, "what sort of ceremony are you thinking of? Formal or not?"

"Formal," Castiel answers. They hadn't actually talked about that yet, but Dean doesn't really care either way. Seeing Castiel in a tuxedo is a hell of a bonus, though. He'll take it. "I'm sorry, Dean," he says with wry smile. "That's what I prefer. We can talk about it."

"I don't have a preference," Dean assures him. "But if we're gonna do a whole church wedding, then we might as well go for formal. That'd mean an evening ceremony, right?"

"Ideally," Naomi says. "I'd like to help you plan it. I promise not to overstep."

Dean glances at Castiel again, but when his mate only makes a considering face, Dean says, "that'd be awesome. I mean, I can't say I've thought about how to... decorate for a wedding, or whatever. We could always hire a planner."

"There's no need," Naomi assures them both. "It will be beautiful, I promise."

"I'm sure it will."

The rest of the brunch goes along well. Naomi peppers them with questions about colors and flowers for the wedding, to which neither Dean nor Castiel have any answers for. By the end of it, Dean sort of regrets having said he wouldn't elope, and he says as much to Sam, who admits that he and Jo had thought the same thing once upon a time. They'd only stuck with it because they couldn't get their deposits back.

After brunch, the Novak family sees the Winchester's out. Cain raises his eyebrow when he steps into the driveway. "Ah, you're still driving that eyesore."

Dean perks up. "I know, right? We only brought it today because we needed to drive it around after I changed the oil." He grimaces. "It's an embarrassment."

Castiel scowls. "It works just fine and gets me from point A to point B. Stop complaining or I'll make you walk home."

"I could gift you a new car," Cain suggests. "Perhaps something classic in the same vein as the Impala?"

Automatically, Dean says, "no, we don't... wait. Okay, so... like, how classic are we talking here?"

"No!" Castiel cries. "Dean, no!"

"Dean, yes," Dean counters, still looking at Cain. "Seriously, I mean, if you want suggestions-"

Castiel yanks his mate away towards the car. "I said no, and I mean it, Dean."

Grinning, Dean allows himself to be dragged backwards. "Wow, you sound like a stern teacher there. Gonna write me up? Send me to detention?"

"Not have sex with you for a year?"

"Aw, mean." Dean lifts his pinkie and thumb to his ear in a "call me" gesture to Cain, who grins and gives him a thumbs up. Then he's being bodily shoved into the car. He ducks in and buckles up before he bangs his head. Castiel scowls at him from the driver's seat. "Come on, Cas, I was kidding. Your dad's not gonna buy us a car. I'll tell him it was a joke."

Moodily, Castiel says, "Eighty-two thousand dollars for Gabriel's piano. Ninety-five thousand dollars for Anna's house. My father very much will try to buy us a car. Comparatively to the other gifts he bought, whatever car he finds will be the cheapest. He'll be much more inspired."

Dean settles back. "Well, we'd be able to use it. Your pimpmobile is pretty much on life support now."

"My pimpmobile is doing just wonderfully, thank you," Castiel fumes.

Dean pokes his mate right on his cheek dimple. "You mad? You smell mad."

"Yes."

"You know, you make it really hard for people to do nice things for you."

"I make it hard for people to go overboard for me."

"Arg, you win, ya big party pooper. I'll talk to your dad."

Castiel shoots him a glare. "And be convincing."

Dean winks. "Can't get anything by you."

Castiel strokes the dash of his hideous car. "I'll protect you," he mutters. Dean laughs at him the rest of the way home.

And he doesn't let it go, either. While they're settled in the office again, Castiel with his manuscript, and Dean with his invoicing, Dean asks, "don't you think Baby deserves a classy girlfriend?"

Castiel lets out an inelegant snort. "We're not talking about this."

"Why not? You drive the granny panties of cars. I feel bad for you. We should talk about this. Baby deserves better."

"Dean, I realize the sofa hurts your back when you sleep on it, but I will kick you out of the bed tonight."

"Putting me in time out?"

Castiel balls up his piece of scrap paper and tosses it at Dean's head. "I wouldn't if you stopped being so childish."

"You're the one throwing things like a child."

"You bring out the worst in me."

Dean kicks back, feet up on the coffee table. "And don't I know it." He puts his laptop down and folds his hands behind his head. "Was your mom really serious about the wedding stuff?"

That gets Castiel's full attention. He turns in his chair. "Second thoughts?"

"Nah," Dean assures him. "I'm talking about shit like color schemes and flowers. Is that actually stuff people care about?"

Castiel chuckles. "Oh, well, yes. She'd really love to do it for us, truth be told. Neither of us care about it, but she does, and she'd feel much more involved if we didn't hire a planner. She's good at these sorts of things, though."

"I have complete faith in her," Dean smiles. "All I care about is the food and the cake. Rather have pie."

"We can have anything we want."

"I'll hold you to it."

***

Castiel applies for a sabbatical over the summer semester, and gets it easily, thanks to the fact that he hasn't taken time off for anything for the vast majority of his entire tenure. As far as Dean's concerned, it's pretty awesome having someone there as soon as he gets home to prepare the meals and call him a stud for working so hard. And Castiel isn't slacking himself. He works all day on his manuscript; determined more than ever to have it ready for submission to a publisher by the time fall semester begins.

The routine is only really interrupted in late July when the families decide to descend on Dean and Castiel's home for Jo's baby shower. Of course, Jo swears she will burn the house down if there's any frilly shit involved, so Castiel and Dean forego actual decorating. They plan for an outdoor BBQ and enough gifts to fill the nursery to the ceiling. It's definitely overkill, but Dean can't decide what to get them on their baby registry, so he buys most of it, and Castiel's practical side shows its stripes, as Dean discovers when a box from Amazon shows up at the door with six months' worth of diapers, wipes, and incidentals.

They wrap everything in black paper that Dean got as a joke, and uses a silver Sharpie to write NO FRILLS HARDCORE ONLY all over them.

Sam and Jo show up first with a huge bowl of coleslaw that Dean calls "salad in disguise," but eats large quantities of because Jo knows some sort of freaking witchcraft to make it insanely good. "Thanks for hosting," Jo says, kissing Dean on the cheek like she hadn't straight up threatened him if he didn't. Not like he or Castiel minds. They didn't have a housewarming party, and besides, Jo may be close to popping, but she's still sensitive to pheromones sometimes, so a mix of nearly a dozen people wouldn't be pretty in her own house, even with all the neutralizers.

Plus, Dean's charcoal grill is much nicer than Sam's affront to sensible grilling, being gas.

Castiel ushers Jo to the porch to sit for a while, leaving their alphas to handle the food. Jody, Donna, Bobby, and Ellen see themselves in just as Sam and Dean are stepping into the kitchen. They shout their hellos, and Ellen appears with an armload of marinated steaks, Jody behind with more potato salad than any of them can possibly eat.

"You boys are looking fine," Jody says.

"As ever," Dean answers. "How's life?"

Bobby answers that, carting in the beer. "Good now that both you idjits are taken care of."

"And you're looking old," Dean says cheerfully, grabbing the case of swill to take outside to the cooler. Bobby smacks him in the back of the head with his trucker cap as he passes.

The doorbell rings again, and Sam answers it for the Novak clan, who have brought all of the desserts. Naomi had ignored Jo's threat and decorated a cake with sugar baby bottles and booties. There's also cookies, pie, and an assortment of cupcakes. Dean's in love with the woman just a little bit.

The party is a noisy affair, and even Dean admits half way through that he's having a wonderful time. They stay mostly in the back yard and on the porch, except for opening the gifts in the living room. Sam gets teary-eyed over the classic rock mobile Dean had found decorated with tiny guitars, drums, keyboard, and plays a music box version of "Carry On Wayward Son."

When things start to wind down, Castiel disappears for enough time that Dean goes hunting for him. He finds his mate in the kitchen, loading the dishwasher. "You don't need to do that now," Dean says. "Save it for after the party."

There's a suspicious sniff. Castiel takes a moment before turning around. His eyes are bright. "I needed a minute," he says.

Dean puts a comforting hand on his shoulder and squeezes. "Are you okay?"

"Yes," Castiel answers, slipping into Dean's arms. "I'm happy. We moved in together, and it's been lovely. But now, with the people we love here... it feels more like a home."

Dean plants a kiss on top of the omega's head. "Yeah." He's right, of course. These are the moments that make a house a home. And it's amazing.

Jo yells from the living room, "get back in here, losers! We're eating dessert!"

Dean chuckles and pulls Castiel along with him. "She'll eat all the pie outta spite. Let's go."

Castiel follows happily.

Chapter Text

It's the last day of August and the air conditioning has shat itself. Dean's certified to fix it, and as Castiel is getting dressed for a faculty meeting at the college after taking an ice cold shower to cool off, he lavishes Dean with more praise than any one human could possibly be worthy of.

He's pulling on his tie quickly, rolling up the sleeves of his dress shirt while Dean is right outside in the hallway, taking apart the upstairs unit.

"Dean, you are a brilliant, beautiful man. A caring alpha mate. The best anyone could hope for. The cool breeze on a summer's day. My-"

Dean rolls his eyes. "Cas, I'm not gonna be insulted if you don't wanna come home until this is fixed. I'll text you."

Castiel comes into the hallway, pulling Dean against him and between kisses murmuring fiercely, "beautiful. Perfect. Sexy. Gorgeous. Smart. Understanding."

Dean laughs, accepting the attention. "Is the heatwave making you delirious?"

"Definitely."

Dean gives his mate a gentle shove towards the stairs. "Get going. I'll tell you when it's done. I love you."

"I love you, too." Castiel gives Dean an adoringly pitying look. "Stay hydrated. You're already sweating."

Swiping at his forehead, Dean says, "yeah, no worries. Have a good day, dear."

"Of course, darling." Castiel is out the door in record time, making Dean chuckle. Wimp.

He only thinks that for a little while, though. Even with all the windows open and fans on, it's hotter than Hell by noon, since he'd had to turn both the upstairs and downstairs units off. And he still can't find the source of the problem. He's given up for the time being for lunch, but only gets as far as the living room and the amazing ceiling fan down there where he'd starfished on the carpet underneath it, stripped down to his cargo shorts. "Kill me now," he moans. It's got to be the motor. The coils are okay, condenser, everything else seems fine. It's probably almost time to replace the whole damn thing. Maybe get a single unit for the whole house. He'll have to talk to Castiel about it later. In the meantime, he's pretty sure he's got a spare motor out in the workshop since lots of homes have the same model out in these parts.

He cools off as best as he can for another few minutes before trudging outside to the large shed on the edge of their yard.

By the time he's done with the repairs and the house is cooling down again, it's nearly time for Castiel's meetings to be over. He texts his mate that it's safe to come home and gets an excited emoji in return. Dean hears the garage door open twenty minutes later as he's toweling off from his shower. He can hear Castiel coming up the stairs, and it sounds like he's running.

Dean barely has his boxers over his hips when Castiel careens into the room, practically body slamming him. Thankfully the bed is close enough that neither of them end up injured on the floor. Laughing, Dean catches Castiel, rolling him underneath. The omega is flushed and beaming. "To what do I owe the enthusiastic welcome home? You that excited about the A/C being fixed?"

"Yes, but no," Castiel answers, patting Dean's shoulders excitedly. "It's my book, Dean! I got... here, I... uh..." he wiggles around under his mate, digging for something in his jacket. Dean laughs and makes it as difficult for him as possible. Finally, Castiel finds what he's been looking for and nearly smacks Dean in the face holding it up. "Here!"

Dean crosses his eyes to be able to see the envelope. "What's this?" He sits up on his knees, slipping the paper out of the envelope. He skims it. "Ha!" he cries. "You're getting published!"

Castiel grabs both of Dean's hands, shaking vigorously, wrinkling the letter. "Yes!"

Dean tugs Castiel up into a crushing hug. "Hell yes! Cas, that's amazing!"

Castiel clings to his mate. "I'm going to need a lawyer to review the contracts."

Tapping their foreheads together, Dean says, "good thing we know one, huh?"

"Does Sam know anything about book contracts?"

Dean shrugs. "He's worked with similar stuff before. Did some entertainment contracts when a TV show came to film out here once. So if he can't do it, he'll know someone who can."

Laughing, Castiel presses his nose into Dean's neck, reveling in their joyfully bonded scent. "Thank you for having faith in me."

"That's what I'm here for," Dean says. "How'd you hear back so soon, anyway? I thought you said it could take months."

"It can," Castiel confirms, "but one of my colleagues publishes fiction, and recommended the small press he uses. He got me in touch with his editor, and the rest, as they say, is history."

Dean kisses him soundly. "It sure as shit is, Cas. Congrats. We should celebrate."

Castiel grins. "Well, you're already almost naked."

Dean's eyes shine with teasing amusement. "Ooh, does that mean you'll give me a massage? I'm sore all over from today."

Snorting, Castiel layers kiss after kiss along Dean's face. "That sounded very close to whining."

"I am whining."

"Okay, let's have at you." Despite the fact that Castiel has half a dozen kind of massage oils, he's never really done it for Dean. Or anyone. He selects one that smells faintly of ginger and sandalwood and begins the incredible task of working out the knots in Dean's body, while Dean makes the most obscenely pleased low noises. His scent mellows out and that makes Castiel smile and double down.

"You never explained the massage therapy to me," Dean slurs into the sheets. "How did you even get into it?" If he's not mistaken, he hears embarrassment in Castiel's huffed chuckle. That's interesting.

"Don't laugh at me and I'll tell you," Castiel says after a pause.

"Cas, I love you, babe, but you know I can't promise that."

The omega sighs, using the exhale to express his feelings on that statement, and to push down against Dean's spine. "Fair point. Will you promise to try not to laugh?

"That's something I can promise."

"I learned with Gabriel."

"Gross!" Dean chortles.

Castiel smacks him on the shoulder. "Not like that! Don't be disgusting."

"Sorry," Dean says like he's not sorry. "Okay, so why did you and Gabriel learn massage? And learn it really fucking well, by the way."

"Thank you." He works his fingers and hands along Dean's back expertly as he continues. "Gabriel's an entrepreneur. Right now he runs an animal shelter by day and a club by night, but he's got other ventures. Some failed, but most are still running with people he hired, and he oversees them from time to time. One of the first he wanted to do was a massage clinic and spa. It's still in business." He squirts more of the oil into his palms and warms it, rubbing vigorously. "He's always been curious, and gets bored easily. When he starts a new business, he always tries it out for himself. Learns as much as he can about it because he says it makes it easier to have it flourish. He's probably right. Anyway, he signed up for massage classes, and dragged me along with him. We both got certified."

Grinning, Dean says, "that's really awesome. You got the hands for it. Never felt so good in my life. I wish I'd known about this sooner."

"You know now," Castiel points out wryly. "And have your whole life to benefit."

"How 'bout you teach me?" Dean asks. "Then we could both benefit."

Castiel's hands pause for a second. "I will never have enough words to tell you how much I love and appreciate you."

"Same to you."

***

As September begins, Naomi begins to stress to her youngest and his mate that they're "getting down to the wire" on wedding planning. Which floors Dean because it's still more than three months away. But he never mentions his opinion again when Naomi gives him an incredibly disappointed look. She also decides that they've had it too easy and gives them assignments. She's done most of the legwork in research, but there are a lot of calls and confirmations to make, which she leaves to them with extremely strict instructions on what to request in what quantities at what price ranges. She's a pretty great wedding planner, all things considered.

Dean is yawning his way through the phone list of available cake decorators, when his cell phone rings. He peeks at it. "Sam," he says.

"Maybe he can help," Castiel groans, clearly dissatisfied calling local DJ's.

Dean puts it on speaker. "Hey, Sammy."

"Dean!" Sam yells.

Castiel startles.

"Uh... yeah?"

"Jo went into labor a few hours ago, and... um... man, I need you down here. You and Cas. You free? Can you come? Please? Do you have time?"

The panic in his voice is evident. Dean glances to Castiel, who is staring back with wide eyes. He nods. "Yeah, Sam," Dean says evenly. "We're not doing anything that can't wait. We'll be there soon, okay?"

"Thank you!" Sam hangs up before they can even answer.

"We better go," Dean says worriedly. "I'll drive." And thanks to Dean's lead foot, they're at the hospital within the hour. They make their way to Labor and Delivery, and it doesn't take much effort to find Sam. He's in the hallway outside of one of the suites, pacing back and forth.

"Sam!" Dean calls, waving to draw his attention.

"Cas! Cas, oh, thank God you're here!" Sam cries, rushing forward looking hunted.

"Yeah, thanks for welcoming me like chopped liver," Dean mutters.

Sam ignores him completely. He grabs both of Castiel's arms. "Jo. Punched. A. Nurse."

Castiel's eyebrows tip up. "I'm sorry?"

"She needs you. Please. Will you please go in there?"

Castiel pales and his pheromones make both Winchester brothers sneeze. "I... okay," he says slowly.

Dean touches his arm. "You gonna be okay?"

Castiel smiles wryly. "Well, I guess if she breaks my nose, we're already in the hospital."

"That's the spirit!" Sam enthuses. "Thank you! When she's settled back in, let me know and I'll take over."

"Shouldn't you be in there now?" Castiel asks.

Sam rubs the back of his neck. "She kicked me out for the time being."

Dean and Castiel both wince. "Yeah," Dean drawls, "I think you're needed here, Cas."

"I'll do anything for family," Castiel ventures bravely. He straightens his tie. "Onward, brave soldiers."

"Have fun storming the castle," Dean and Sam say in unison.

Carefully, Castiel opens the door and steps inside. He expected a lot of screaming and mayhem, but there's none. The lights are mostly off, except for the cabinet lighting over the bed.

"That better not be you, Sam Winchester," a voice says from beneath a pile of sheets.

"No," Castiel says warmly. "Sam is outside looking like the ghost of the man he once was."

There's a slight giggle. "Those are the dulcet tones of my favorite omega in the world. Come on over, hot stuff."

Castiel approaches the bed and Jo's head peeks out from the sheets. She appears to be in a much better mood than Sam had initially indicated. The chair next to her has been tipped over, likely in Sam's haste to comply with his exile. Castiel rights it and takes a seat. "So," he says conversationally, "I'm told you punched a nurse."

"So dramatic," she scoffs. "It was more like a love tap."

Castiel leans closer. "Did they drug you, Joanna Beth Harvelle-Winchester?"

"Yeaaaaaah," she slurs. "I'm drugged out the ass . Something in the IV there, and the epidural, so I'm good to go ."

"Should I let your mate back in?"

"Nooooooo," she drawls. "No, not yet. He was stinking up the place again. Nothing to panic about, geeze. Pups are born every day!"

Smiling softer, Castiel takes her hand. "Yes, but your pup isn't born every day."

"True, I guess. But still. Just needed a break. Pup was getting restless."

"That's what they do when they're ready to come out."

Jo laughs. "Are you gonna be an asshole, too?"

"Dean's rubbing off on me."

"I don't know if I should congratulate you or say I'm sorry."

"A little of both," Castiel grins. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"You already are," she says drowsily. "Just need a little nap. The doctor told me to rest 'cause this is probably gonna be a long one."

"I'll stay until you fall asleep," Castiel assures her.

Twenty minutes later, he's back in the waiting room. Bobby and Ellen have arrived, and they're all sitting and drinking coffee from the vending machines. Sam jumps up. "How's she doing now?"

"She's sleeping," Castiel answers. "You should probably go be with her now. It's safe."

Sam sighs, scrubbing at his face, his pheromones spiking again. "Yeah."

Castiel takes the alpha's arm. "Sam, you need to keep calm. Your pheromones can help or hinder your mate in situations such as these."

"I know," he says. "I read all the pregnancy books."

But his anxiety ratchets up another notch instead of settling, so that even Bobby's waving a hand in front of his face, grouching, "cut that shit out, boy."

Castiel turns Sam away from them to have his full attention. "Sam," he says firmly. "Jo is doing wonderfully. It's going to be a long labor, though. She needs you. Everything will turn out fine, and before you know it, you'll be holding your pup. Focus on that, and be the alpha that she desperately needs."

Sam beams, and though it's wobbly, his pheromones are starting to mellow out. "Thanks, Cas," he says with a wealth of meaning.

"It's my pleasure."

"Okay," Sam announces to his family. "I'm going back in. I'll come get you when she wakes up if she wants visitors."

Dean nods. "Right on. I'll go get us all some food in the meantime."

After that, there's plenty of time to wait. Jo intermittently allows people into the room before kicking them out again. She doesn't threaten to punch anyone again since the pain medications have helped her deal with the contractions better, but even without it, the whole thing is tiring her body out ten hours later when she's ready to push. Sam's the one to kick everyone out then.

Two hours after that, the family is being welcomed back to say hello to the newest member, little Mary. Jo has her time holding her, and then Sam, and then Jo demands that Castiel be the next one with the privilege.

Gingerly, Castiel accepts the tired little bundle and sits down on the sofa in the room so he doesn't risk dropping her. "She's beautiful," he murmurs, poking at her tiny fist with his finger until she instinctively grabs onto it.

Dean sits down next to him and carefully removes Mary's swaddling hat, replacing it with a Batman one. "Dunno," he says, voice just as low. "She kinda looks like Sam."

"I'm beautiful, too," Sam says, fussing with making Jo as comfortable as possible.

Jo's still a bit loopy and tired, but says, "Cas, you're gonna be her godfather, right?"

Castiel manages to tear his eyes away from Mary to blink at Sam and Jo. "Really?"

"Yeah," Sam answers. "If she turns out anything like Jo, you'll be the only one she'll be able to stand when she's upset." He grins. "But, I'll warn you now. Once she gets to be an angsty teenager and hates her parents, we're gonna send her straight over to you."

Castiel coos at Mary, who's starting to fuss softly. "You've met my siblings," he sing-songs gently, Mary calmed by his gentle inflection. "I can handle teenage angst since I've been dealing with Gabriel my whole life. I'd be honored to be Mary's godfather."

They stay until the nurses inform them that visiting hours are over, promising to check on the house and make sure everything's set for when they get home. Sam shakes hands all around, but gives Dean a crushing hug. "Good job, Dad," Dean says, slapping his brother on the back.

Back at home, Dean can tell that Castiel is particularly distracted as they go through their evening routine. After they finish brushing their teeth, he asks, "hey, Cas, you okay?"

"Yes," his mate answers. "A little tired. It was an exciting day."

Dean chuckles. "Yeah, and those two aren't gonna sleep again for the next year."

Castiel makes a thoughtful noise and gets into bed. He curls into Dean the same as always, but seems more... silent. Nothing about him smells off, either. But eventually, Dean can't quite settle down and asks, "what's on your mind?"

"Kids," Castiel says quietly.

Dean's not surprised. "What about them?"

Castiel scoots up until their faces are even on the pillows. "Do you want any?"

Also unsurprising. "Do you?"

Castiel sits up fully. "I... well, I don't mind either way, truthfully. I like children. And I can't have any of my own, obviously, but... if you felt strongly about them..."

"I don't," Dean says reassuringly. "I wouldn't mind either way, same as you. I mean, I got used to thinking that I'd missed my window, but there was a time I wanted kids, sure." He touches Castiel's chin, pulling him in for a kiss. "But I want you to know that I'm happy just like this. My life with you ain't any less for not having them. And... honestly, being in my forties? I don't feel a strong enough pull to sacrifice the energy. I'm getting tired way too easily now, y'know? Even with an older kid. My honest opinion is that our lives will be complete the way that they are now. We can spoil Mary and any other pups Sam and Jo have."

Castiel smiles and kisses him again. "Thank you, Dean. I feel the same way."

With that, Castiel settles back down, content.

***

Christmas dinner is a bigger affair than it's ever been before. Sam and Jo have the largest house with an actual dining room, so everyone gathers there after the church service. Of course, no one will let the hosts cook, considering they have a three month old daughter wiggling around, but the rest of them manage quite the spread, including a large turkey Cain had fried up to perfection.

"I'm going to eat myself into a food coma," Dean claims, piling up his second plate with turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, broccoli casserole, and dressing.

"Don't grow out of your tuxedo," Castiel smiles. "There's no time to have it altered."

"I'll just go naked," Dean answers flippantly.

Sam laughs. "There's only one person in the world who wants to see you naked."

"Oh, how I've protected you from the truth," Dean sighs.

"I've seen worse things," Anna giggles, bouncing Mary in her lap.

"We're never talking about that day again," Castiel warns.

"That's 'cause you're no fun," Jo laments. "But fine. Is everything ready for the wedding?"

"Yes," Naomi says proudly. "Frankly, everything's been going smooth as silk. It worries me."

Cain grins. "Don't borrow trouble, dear wife." All gazes turn to Gabriel, who pauses with his fork halfway to his mouth.

"What?" he demands. "Oh my God, I haven't done anything!" he insists. "What's the matter with you people? Something goes wrong, blame Gabriel. Nothing goes wrong, blame Gabriel. I can't win."

Anna squints at him. "Because there's a trend with you."

"I promised," Gabriel says.

Naomi stands. "Why don't we have some dessert?"

The rest of the evening is uneventful, thankfully, though Dean notices that Castiel is slightly on edge. Whether from the wedding looming over them or something else, he can't tell, but doesn't hesitate once they're in the car on the way home. "You smell weird," he says.

Castiel buckles in and turns sideways to face Dean. "Gabriel hasn't done anything," he answers.

Dean turns the car on, blasting the heat. "Ain't that a good thing?"

"I'd forgotten I gave him one freebie and he hasn't done anything."

Dean rolls his eyes. "Great. That's fantastic. Is he gonna pull some shit at the ceremony or reception, do you think?"

"No," Castiel hastens to assure him. "He'll keep to his promise of not doing anything during the main events."

"Then whatever," Dean shrugs. "At least we know he's coming."

Castiel agrees, but also, "and there's my father. Whatever gift he might give us."

"What on earth could be possibly go overboard with that we wouldn't already know about?"

"A car," Castiel reminds him with a slight edge of accusation.

Dean shakes his head. "I talked to him about that, I swear. He said it was a shame we felt that way and looked kinda bummed."

"Good," Castiel says, relieved. "Perhaps the next three days will go smoothly. No surprises. I just want to marry you and get on with it."

"Aw," Dean grins, stroking Castiel's jaw from across the seat. "You're such a sappy romantic."

"Shut up," Castiel laughs.

But at home, Castiel rallies his excellent mood, kissing Dean and shoving him up the stairs. They're into an extremely promising makeout session shortly, stumbling into the room and shoving their clothes off haphazardly.

Dean has his hands everywhere he wants them, but then Castiel is halting. Dean, half hard and panting slightly, gives his mate a confused look. "What?"

"Dean...could we... I just had the thought... would you be willing to wait?"

More confused, Dean says, "wait?"

"Sex," Castiel clarifies. "I know it's completely unfair to ask after I started this... but. Can we wait?"

"For what?"

Slightly embarrassed, Castiel takes another step back. "Our wedding night?"

Though on the simmering side of horny, that does give him pause. And when he thinks about it for a second, a slow smile spreads across his face. "Really?"

"Please don't make fun of me," Castiel says softly, flushing.

"No! No, I'm not," Dean insists, taking his omega's hands. "You want it to be extra special. Aw, man, that's cute!"

Castiel shoves him lightly. "You're making fun of me." But a smile tugs at his lips.

"Nah, let's do it." He kisses the tip of Castiel's nose. "On our wedding night, I mean."

Castiel chuckles. "Thank you for humoring me. I realize it's only three days away, so it's a little pointless."

"Well, it'll mean it's been a week since we've had sex by then. That's longer than we usually go." He moves towards the dresser to grab his pajamas.

"You've been keeping track?" Castiel asks, amused. He pulls open the closet. "What the... Dean?"

Dean tugs open the top dresser drawer. "The fuck?" He reaches into the drawer and takes out a handful of silk panties. "Cas?" He turns, holding them up.

Castiel is similarly flabbergasted with an armful of lingerie on hangers. "I don't know? There's... our clothes are gone."

Dean's eyebrows shoot up as he swings back to the dresser, opening every single drawer. It's impossible. There isn't a stitch of their normal clothing left. It's all silk, lace, satin, and cotton underwear. "What the actual fuck?" Dean yells.

"Gabriel," Castiel fumes. "It's fucking Gabriel!"

At any other time, Dean would be laughing at Castiel trying to swear like a normal human being, but panties ! Panties everywhere! "How in the hell did that asshole manage to do this? Where the hell are our clothes?"

"Probably everywhere," Castiel says grimly.

"Jesus."

It takes two hours to recover their hidden clothes everywhere in the house. In the kitchen cabinets, in the attic, in the bathroom closet, the linen closet, the oven, the garage, the basement, and their shoes have all ended up in the shed. Eventually it's all recovered that they can tell, the lingerie stuffed into the hallway. Castiel sighs. "We'll be finding our boxers all over the house for weeks."

"I'm trying to be angry," Dean admits, folding his t-shirts, "but it's pretty impressive. How did he get in here? What time did he have to do this?"

"My guess is that he pick pocketed one of us and relieved us of the house key," Castiel answers, hanging their trousers in the closet. "Shall I kick him out of the wedding party?"

"Nah," Dean grins. "He went whole hog on this one. I'll give it to him."

***

"Here's some good looking boys," Ellen says approvingly from the doorway of the guest quarters in the chapel. Sam and Dean turn around to face her and she comes forward, straightening both of their bow ties. "Everything's set up beautifully. Naomi did a great job."

"Good," Dean says, tugging his jacket down at the waist.

She brushes the wrinkles out of the sleeves. "How you holding up?"

"Fine."

"You got everything you need?"

"Yeah."

Ellen grins. "Nice one words answers there. Can tell you're not nervous at all."

Dean tries to smile. "Not really nervous. Just... excited. Nervous-excited. We've already bonded, but this is for everyone."

Ellen repins Dean's tea rose and hydrangea boutonniere. "Did I ever tell you about Bobby and me?"

"Bobby says you didn't have a wedding," Sam offers.

"Damn right, we didn't. Can you imagine me all trussed up like that Christmas turkey?"

"Yeah," Dean laughs. "But it ain't pretty."

"I'd slap you, but it's your wedding day."

Dean grins. "It was a risk."

She walks around him in a circle, making sure he looks perfect. "We went down to the courthouse to sign the papers with Jody as our witness. Took like, ten minutes. Back in those days you had to submit a blood test. Got more rights even married if you were bonded. But we signed the damn papers and the judge shook our hands, and we were married just like that." She snaps her fingers. "Bit anticlimactic, if ya ask me."

Sam crosses his arms over his chest. "That's why you went so overboard with me and Jo."

"Yes," she says succinctly. "I don't regret not stuffing myself into some frilly white dress and stuttering through my vows in front of a hundred people, but it was a shame." She comes around to the front, squeezing Dean's arms. "You're gonna remember this day for the rest of your life, and it should be as big as it can when you want it to. I'm happy for you." She shoots a glance at Sam. "For both of you. Now let's get going."

Sam claps his brother on the shoulder. "You ready?"

"Been ready for forty years," Dean says.

***

Naomi smiles at her sons standing in front of the mirror in the waiting room on the opposite side of the Chapel from the Winchester's. "I married the right man to have such picture perfect sons."

Castiel kisses her on the cheek and allows her to fuss with his tuxedo until Gabriel loudly gives up on his bow tie. She moves to help him, and Cain takes his mate's place at Castiel's side. He says nothing, simply beaming at his son.

"You were right," Castiel says after a moment straightening his boutonniere. "About bonding. About all of it. I'm glad I listened to you."

Cain's brow furrows. "I'm not so sure I'm happy to hear that."

Castiel eyes him through the mirror. "Why?"

He shrugs his broad shoulders. "Because I love Dean. I love what he does for you, and what you do for him. I love that he takes care of you and makes you happy. I'm also happy that you bonded with him. But if you hadn't. If you hadn't been able to..."

"I would have stayed with him," Castiel says firmly. "At first... I tried to kick him out. I did try to end things. I knew it was me. He told me that he was still able to bond, and so it was me who couldn't. But he wouldn't leave me. He told me he'd stay as long as I wanted. That we should have faith in each other. And that... if it didn't work after however many tries I wanted, he'd leave to make me happy. But it never would have made me happy. I would never have been happy ever again."

"That's a relief. I never wanted my words to be law, Castiel. And I fear you took them far too much like that for the better part of your life. You listened to God too much."

"That's blasphemy, especially in a church." But he smiles.

Cain shakes his head. "No. God gave us love. God gave us the ability to be happy. And He gave us free will. He wants us to live the best that we can, and to be as happy as we can for our limited time here. And that's exactly what I want for you. Both of your fathers feel the same way."

Castiel turns around and hugs his father tightly. "I'm happy," he whispers into his father's jacket. "I'm so happy."

Cain pulls back and pats him solidly on the shoulders. "That's all I ever wanted to hear. Are you ready?"

"Yes," Castiel answers.

Cain walks them to the door. He pushes it open and stands to the side. From the other side of the altar, Castiel catches sight of Dean, looking ethereal, and waiting. For him. His gaze never wavers. Castiel hitches in a deep breath.

"Are you nervous?" Cain asks.

Castiel doesn't even blink as he takes his first step forward. To meet Dean. To show everyone they know and love how far they've come. How strong they are together. How committed they are to joining the rest of their lives. Of sharing it with everyone around them. He smiles, tears springing to his eyes. "Not in the slightest."

With their brothers at their sides, and their parents at their backs, Castiel and Dean walk until they're meeting in the middle. Taking hands. Ready to announce the rest of their lives.

Years later, Dean won't remember the ceremony at all, despite how much he wanted to. He'll look at the pictures in the leather bound photo album and feel like it's not even him grinning and kissing Castiel; dipping him so low that they both crashed to the floor. He won't remember the reception either, but that is more Gabriel's fault, who fed him the signature mixed drink until he'd lost count and been too drunk to care.

He'll remember bits and pieces, though. The first clear memory is walking out of the church hand in hand, new rings heavy on their fingers, and both of them stopping dead in the tracks under a shower of flower petals thrown by his friends and family. There's a car decorated with streamers and window paint at the curb, but it isn't the Impala. It's a gleaming blue Shelby Cobra Mustang with white racing stripes.

Cain is standing beside it, expression completely neutral. Castiel and Dean approach, and Cain drops the keys into Castiel's hands. "See you at the reception," he says, and walks away.

After that, it's a blur until the first dance. They botch it a little, stepping on each other's toes. They'd never found the time to take dance lessons, and neither one knew who should lead.

There's not much else in Dean's memory except for Castiel bridal carrying him over the threshold of the garage access door into the hallway since Dean had been drunk enough to fall asleep on the ride home from the reception. There's the vague impressions of hands on skin, panting breaths, and rising pleasure, Dean bent over and coming all over the hardwood floors, tuxedo a tangled half-removed mess, stained with Castiel's release partly on his lower back, and the rest on his only dress shirt.

And as much as he'd like to remember more of it, it's no real loss. For either of them.

They wake up the same way every morning. Go to bed the same way every night. Argue, compromise, share meals, make love, forgive, forget, love. They have each other, and through each other, they have it all. And that is the only important thing worth remembering.

Chapter Text

Need some clarification on how the Omegaverse works in No Righteous Path? Well, that issue is now solved! Thanks to a comment on this past chapter, I remembered that y'all aren't mind readers and don't necessarily know what I know about how A/B/O dynamics work in the story, so I've made a short primer.

MATING:

Mating =/= Bonding. A bonded couple are mates (short for bondmates), but the act of mating is making one of the partners pregnant.

Example:

Dean: "Cas is my mate." - means Cas is bonded to him, but not pregnant.
Sam: "I mated Jo." - means Sam got Jo pregnant. It's a verb.

PEOPLE WHO CAN MATE/GET PREGNANT:

Female alphas
Female omegas
Male omegas *

*As is stated in the fic, male pregnancy is becoming extremely rare in modern times. In 2017 (when NRP takes place) it's pretty much a 1 in a million chance. Evolution has decided over many generations that male pregnancy is too much of a risk, and that the females can reproduce enough to keep the human species rolling right along. Which, thanks to modern medicine, they can. Male pregnancy is rapidly becoming our equivalent to wisdom teeth.

Betas are sterile, and act as population control. In times of great planetary stress, evolutionary stress, or cultural stress, more betas will be born in an effort to control too much rapid overpopulation. But the opposite is also true. If a stressor causes a population dip, like happened during the World Wars, for example, we'll see the rise of alphas and omegas born.

CHILDREN:

Bonded couples who manage to mate rarely give up the resulting child. This is because mating is an extremely deliberate thing. Pregnancy can only occur during a heat. Therefore, a couple in their prime fertility years, would plan for pregnancy during a heat, or take measures to prevent it. Birth control is a thing. So are condoms. Though, condoms are generally only used to prevent STIs, or for m/m couples who prefer less mess. During a long heat, condoms become less effective as a primary method of birth control, though many couples will use them in tandem with other birth control to be extra safe.

That said, adoption is a thing, too. Accidental pregnancies do happen. Unwanted pregnancies happen. Parents dying or unable to care for their offspring happens. Beta couples most commonly adopt, but other couples do as well if something prevents them from mating.

The adoption process is quite involved. Children do not present their secondary gender until puberty, but all babies and young children respond to pheromones, and the potential parents must have a scent that the baby responds favorably to, or else there's a risk the baby won't flourish properly.

In fact, everyone produces pheromones, though for betas, pheromones are more of a secondary characteristic. Their glands do not develop further in puberty like they would for an alpha or omega. Therefore they smell "neutral" to Were's, like a child would. However, they still have pheromones that can affect the raising of child who isn't biologically theirs, just the same with alphas and omegas.

BONDING:

Only alphas and omegas can bond. Any combination, any primary sex, doesn't matter.

In Ye Olden Days, only male alpha/female omega couples were recognized as being "proper." This is the A/B/O equivalent of "a REAL marriage is between a man and a woman." It's outdated and sexist, but there are still people who believe it. In NRP, for example, Castiel explains that his family used to be that way until both Novak boys presented as omegas. Furthermore, male omegas and female alphas used to be seen as "unnatural" but that also is a largely outdated myth, thanks to science. Some religious communities and also cultural communities still try to yell about the "true and pure way," but most people have moved beyond it.

TYPES OF BONDS:

Pining Sickness:
This is not a bond, but what happens when one is broken or being established. Pining sickness basically is a physical and psychological desire to be with one's mate or potential mate. It's the hindbrain trying to ensure that a bond is formed or not broken. With lesser bonds, or before bonding, pining sickness is mild to moderate. Breaking a blood bond, however, can cause severe and possibly life-threatening symptoms. Pining sickness results when a couple on any part of the bonding scale (including scent compatibility) is separated for a length of time.

It's important to note that the weaker the bond, the sooner the symptoms begin because it is the hindbrain's way of attempting to convince the Were to bond permanently.

MILD SYMPTOMS (Scent Compatibility, Scent Bonds with non-scent compatible couples):

mild loss of appetite
obsessive thoughts of other person
mild moodiness
mild insomnia
inability to focus
mild headaches

MODERATE SYMPTOMS (Scent Bonds - the age of the scent bond matters. The longer the couple has been bonded, the worse the symptoms are):

irritability
nausea
insomnia
moodiness with aggression
depression
inability to focus/feeling "foggy"
muscle aches
headaches
vivid dreams/nightmares
hot/cold flashes

SEVERE SYMPTOMS (Blood bonds, and sometimes long-term scent bonds that have not become blood bonds):

everything listed above plus the potential for:
severe hormone imbalance which can lead to:
seizures
stroke
heart attack
psychosis
suicidal thoughts/actions

Severe pining sickness is treated as a medical emergency. It usually happens when the loss of a bondmate is sudden. The loss of a bondmate from old age or a slow decline in health usually does not result in such severe symptoms. Aging causes pheromones and hormones to decrease naturally until death, which means that the chemical imbalance of a broken bond is not as severe. Likewise, if a younger bonded couple has time to prepare for the loss (as in one mate declining in health from a terminal disease) the symptoms can be more manageable.

In Chapter 08, we learn about Gabriel's former bond, and it's implied that, because of the nature of his broken bond, he likely suffered severely. Thus, Gabriel would have been hospitalized until the severe symptoms were controlled with medication and therapy, then released to his family until he was well enough to care for himself.

The symptoms from pining sickness can last anywhere from hours (for scent compatibility) to years (for the sudden loss of a blood bond). It depends on the person and the bond, though severe pining sickness usually only lasts a matter of days or a week (if treated) before symptoms begin to improve.

 

Scent Compatibility:
It's pretty self-explanatory. Two people meet, scent each other and go, "wow!" This is what happened with Dean and Castiel at the beginning of the fic. It's a mutual crush with a little extra dash of compatibility. It signals to alphas and omegas that this person has the potential to be a good bondmate. It's not a bond at all, though after meeting and parting, the couple can still suffer very mild pining sickness.

Scent Bond:
It usually happens after a couple has either been together for a time, or go through and heat and/or rut together. They smell partially bonded to other people. To each other, they smell "marked." In this fic, for example, Castiel's scent would take on small notes of dandelions, and Dean's would smell slightly of old books. Scent bonds fade more quickly than blood bonds, though the longer they are established, the longer they take to break. For instance, a couple going through their first heat/rut together will begin to see a decline in the bond after a week or two if the couple does not remain in regular physical contact. Older bonds take longer to fade.

Blood Bond:
The big one. It's the biting, knotting, etc. forever kind of bond. Both scents change noticeably, and everyone can tell the pair are mates. These bonds can be broken by choice, but almost never are, even in modern times. Blood bonding changes the body's chemistry, not just pheromone make-up like a scent bond does. It is not necessary to have a scent bond before a blood bond, though it is easier to establish a blood bond that way. Blood bonds also do not require a heat and/or rut to establish, though again, it is easier. NOTE ABOUT MATING BITES: Only alphas are needed for mating bites to trigger a blood bond. Omegas generally do not experience the urge to bite, nor do alphas usually feel the desire to bare. However, in times where blood bonding is difficult, omegas and alphas biting each other can sometimes help the bond trigger if both parties are amenable to it.

Marriage:
Is the same as we recognize it in the real world. Historically, marriage was a religious union to acknowledge a bonded couple. Note that betas could not marry back in Ye Olden Days. Many universalist/modern churches now will usually marry anyone, and there are also civil unions that give you all the legal perks of being married, just like here. Marriages can be huge, elaborate affairs, or done at the Justice of the Peace at the courthouse. All it takes is the signatures on the marriage certificate. Bonding is not necessary to marry, since in modern days it's more of a legal joining than anything, but it's extremely rare for an unbonded alpha or omega to marry unless they cannot form bonds.

Final Words:

If I've missed something that you're interesting in knowing about, feel free to ask and I'll add to the supplemental materials. I really love thinking about/talking about how A/B/O worlds work. :D

You can leave any questions in the comments section, or direct them to my askbox here on Tumblr!