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The Artist and the Bookstore Owner

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Dean Winchester wasn’t one for overpriced coffee shops. Especially independent coffee shops where a cup of coffee is equivalent to a full meal.

He shouldn’t be drinking liquid caffeine, either. He was already jittery, from the moment he woke up to the moment that brought him here, at seven in the morning, watching the usual rush of business class New Yorkers scramble for their fix. Waiting for his very own business class brother and cousin to arrive.

Dean closed his palm around a styrofoam coffee cup, staring into the little opening on the lid. He had only taken a few sips, as it was still too piping hot. He settled with observing his creamer mingle with the oily black coffee, creating a softer brown color. He tapped on the wooden table he had saved for his company, leaning back in an uncomfortable chair. He thinks coffee shops design chairs this way. Didn’t want people getting too cozy. Time was money.

Dean watched the door clang open and closed, businesspeople filing into line as they waited for their turn at the counter.

It only took another moment for a familiar blonde woman and gargantuan man to bustle through the door. They caught Dean’s eye and dashed to the table.

“Hey,” Sam said breathlessly, sitting down across from Dean.

“The subway was a mess,” Jo offered, sitting next to Sam, smoothing out her hastily done wavy hair.

Dean held up his cup in an “its okay” gesture, pushing two styrofoam cups in Sam and Jo’s direction.

“You’re a lifesaver,” Jo said, taking her coffee cup and clutching it like it was a precious jewel.

“For sure,” Sam agreed.

Dean let them enjoy their coffee for a moment in silence. It was too early for life. He understood. This was why he was an artist. He could make his own hours. Poor Sam and Jo, working at a law firm.

“So,” Sam prompted, setting down his cup, “why did you contact us for the first time in...how long’s it been, Jo?”

“Two whole weeks,” Jo said matter-of-factly. “How long does Dean usually go before calling us?”

“A week, Jo,” Sam said pointedly. “So glad you asked.”

“I get it,” Dean muttered. “I’m sorry. That’s why I called you now.” He asked considerately, “how are you two doing?”

“Ugh,” Jo said.

“Basically,” Sam agreed. “What about you?”

Big glasses, a sweater vest, and a kind expression swam in Dean’s vision. Dean hid his blush behind a coffee cup. “Good.”

Despite the early hour, Jo cracked a smile, dimples and all. She asked conspiratorially, “what does that,” she mimicked, “good,” she grinned, “mean?”

Dean couldn’t help the easy smile that reached his face. “I met someone.”

Sam’s eyebrows climbed to his hairline. “Really?”

Jo slapped the tabletop. “Tell me everything!” She snapped her fingers. “Now!”

Dean set his coffee cup down, knowing that there was no point in hiding his blush. A smile tugged at his lips, maturing and widening. “He’s special. Not my usual MO.”

“So not a douchebag, then,” Sam said. “That’s something.”

Dean raised an eyebrow. “Okay. That’s fair.”

“I need more,” Jo demanded. She put her elbows on the tabletop, resting her chin in her hands. “How did you meet him? What’s his name? What does he do for a living? Is he hot?”

“If he’s got Dean’s attention,” Sam said, “he’s most definitely hot.”

“Actually,” he shrugged, “that’s not the first thing I noticed.”

“Whoa,” Jo’s eyes grew comically wide, “I need to know the full story right now immediately.”

Dean sighed, accepting it and getting as comfortable as he could in his awful chair. He had a limited amount of time to tell this story, as it was a busy morning.

Dean began. “I was visiting a bookstore I had been meaning to check out in SoHo…”

————

TWO WEEKS EARLIER…

 

Dean thought a bookstore would be quiet on a Tuesday afternoon.

But boy, he had never been more wrong.

Dean had been meaning to come to this bookstore — which didn’t even have a name, and that really is quite odd, even for SoHo — for months now. The front window advertised it had rare books and a wide selection.

When he crossed Elizabeth Street, though, Dean observed that the shop was teeming with customers inside.

Since Dean had already gone several blocks too far, he didn’t feel like turning back. So, he pushed his way inside, a bell on the door jingling.

Dean quickly got a lay of the land. A register on his right, two workers ringing up customers at a rampant rate. An area to the left advertising new arrivals. As he walked forward, the main room sprawled out before him. It had wall-to-ceiling bookshelves, made of wood, giving the place an aesthetic and distinctive smell. The smell of old books and dusty pages and oak wood. In addition to three bookshelves spanning the walls, eight more rows filled the main room. The sides of each bookshelf was visible from the entrance, all listed in alphabetical order and by type. Each shelf was occupied by at least three customers, trailing fingers along spines and removing books and perusing them. Dean noted that there were no sitting areas in the store. It was exclusively for shopping. Books of all kinds and shapes and sizes took up the space.

While the architecture was simple and the setup was quaint, what caught Dean’s eye was the theme of the store.

Insects. Blue butterflies suspended with wires hung on the ceiling, as if frozen in midair. Each shelf was dedicated to a specific insect. New books were marked with bumblebees climbing the walls. Little praying mantis figurines were superglued to the top of shelves. Cut-out spiders climbed the back wall. The register was decorated with ladybugs.

As Dean went to the A section of the leftmost shelf, he realized that an insect-themed bookstore definitely wasn’t the weirdest thing he’s ever seen.

It was kind of creative, actually.

Dean soon found the art section, noticing a mother and her young son in the children’s section near the back. They were the closest customers in his area. He had some time to look uninterrupted.

Dean roved his eyes over the various books, noting that about half had to do with crafts and pottery and metalwork. Practical applications. Not exactly what he was looking for, but interesting.

As Dean reached out for a book on charcoal drawing, — score! — he heard the mother speak.

She asked softly, “do you have any paint-by-numbers books?”

Dean caught a sliver of a man answer in a deep timbre, “I think I just got something in, Jody. I’ll check the back.”

The mother smiled in relief. “Thank you.”

Dean clutched his book in his grasp and waited for the man to return. He needed to see more of him.

What kind of man had a voice like that? It was unlike anything he had ever heard before.

Dean observed the young boy — perhaps three or four years old — stare at a scarab figurine in wonderment. He reached out, his fingertips touching the beetle. He yanked his hand away on instinct, as if expecting it to jump out and scare him.

And lo, the man’s voice returned a moment later. “Here it is. Brand new.”

The mother grasped the book with a smile. “Thank you, Cas.”

Cas. That’s his name. Okay.

“Not a problem,” he said.

Dean saw him, then, his body no longer obscured by a bookshelf. Dean’s breath caught in his throat.

Cas was a librarian, presumably. The kind that wore business slacks and tucked in his dress shirts and sported oddly patterned sweater vests. His glasses were so large on his face that, if it weren’t for his tall stature and slender body, Dean would mistake Cas for a professor. Cas’s black hair was messy, a Harry Potter kind of messy, — Dean read; shut up — and his skin was surprisingly tan. Bookworms were usually pale and didn’t go outside much. All in all, Cas was a strange character, not the kind of person one would find in a bookstore. The sum of his parts didn’t add up.

Cas knelt down near the young boy. He gave the boy the biggest, shiniest grin Dean had ever seen on a human being. Cas’s face crinkled at the motion, a kindness uncharacteristic of New York City lighting up his entire demeanor. Cas softened his — Dean wasn’t afraid to admit it — swoon-worthy voice. “How are you, Owen?”

The boy finally tore his eyes away from the scarab beetle, his fingers near his mouth. Owen shrunk a tad at being addressed, but smiled.

“Good?” Cas asked.

Owen grinned and bobbed his head.

Cas chuckled. “Great.”

Jody smiled as Cas stood to his full height. “You’ll be a good father one day.”

“When I can find a half-decent man,” Cas said, “I’ll think about it.”

Dean’s heart soared.

Jody laughed. “I’ll see you next week.”

“Of course.” Cas inclined his head, then waved to Owen. The boy grinned and waved back, Jody tugging Owen lightly towards the checkout line.

Cas disappeared for a few seconds, returning to Dean’s shelf with a stack of books to file away.

It took all of Dean’s willpower not to saunter over there and give this man a pickup line. It was clear Cas wasn’t that kind of guy. He would try a different approach.

Dean focused on the art books in front of him, finding a couple on painting nearby. Since the majority of his successful works were painted on canvas, he gave them all a critical look. With his book on charcoal drawing in one hand, he used his other hand to pull out and examine painting books. He flipped them open one-by-one, glancing every few seconds at Cas to see if he was being obvious enough. Out of the dozen painting books, Dean genuinely liked half of them. They were more advanced, not for floozies that only painted as a hobby. They were serious instructional books, and they were incredibly difficult to find, even in SoHo. Dean gathered them and shelved the others away in the exact order he pulled them out in.

That’s what got Cas’s attention.

Cas paused in his shelving a few feet away and pushed up his glasses on his nose. “You don’t have to do that.” He approached Dean, and ate up the distance.

“It’s not a big deal,” Dean said, his cheeks heating up. Cas was standing a bit close as he examined the spines. “It kinda sucks, h-having to, um,” Dean foundered, Cas looking at his face fully for the first time, “put things away th-that people mess up all the time.”

A reflection in Cas’s lenses obscured his eyes from view. As if startled, Cas examined the spines again, then looked back at Dean. “You remembered the order.”

Dean smiled awkwardly. “I have a good memory, I guess.” He hugged his seven books to his chest, counting the spines.

When their eyes met again, Cas asked, “you’re an artist?”

“Yeah.” Dean wanted to kick himself for blushing so much. He felt like a child. “I don’t mean to brag, but, um, I’m a tiny bit famous.”

Cas placed his thumb and forefinger together. He held them up and left a space between them. “A tiny bit?”

Dean chuckled, smiling bashfully. “Right.” He cleared his throat. “I really like your selection. It’s hard to find advanced art books.”

“Is it?” Cas furrowed his eyebrows. “I can special order some, if that would interest you.”

Dean’s face brightened. “It actually would.”

Cas procured a pad of paper and pen out of thin air. “I’ll need your name.”

“Dean Winchester.”

Cas wrote the name down in delicate handwriting. “I’ve never heard of you.”

“That’s preferable.”

A smile tugged at the corner of Cas’s mouth. He closed the pad and held out a hand. “I’m Castiel Novak. You can call me Cas.”

Dean shook his hand, ignoring the tingle of lightning that shot through his veins. “I’ll be back soon, Cas. I appreciate the help.”

“It’s no problem. I’ll see you soon.”

Dean grinned. “Yeah.”

————

ONE WEEK EARLIER…

 

Dean became a bit of a stalker.

Every other afternoon, he went to the bookstore. He wandered the shelves, catching glimpses of Cas as he helped other customers.

He didn’t know that he himself was being watched until a week of this behavior.

Dean recognized them both as cashiers. A redhead woman with glasses and an endless supply of pop culture tees leaned against the end of a bookshelf, her arms crossed. An Asian man who always wore hoodies took the same stance as the woman.

Their eyes bored into him.

Dean blinked. “Yes?”

“I’m Charlie,” the redhead woman said.

“I’m Kevin,” the man said. “Sup.”

“Uh,” Dean glanced between them both in confusion, “hi?”

“We noticed you’ve been stalking our friend,” Kevin said.

“We’re just checking to see you’re not a creep,” Charlie said.

Dean blushed, shrinking in on himself a little. “Oh,” he said quietly. “I just, um.” Dean gathered his courage. “I’m trying to figure out how to ask him out.”

Charlie and Kevin shared a long look.

Charlie said to Dean, “you seem like you mean well. But Cas’s protection is important to us.”

“He doesn’t need creeps in his life,” Kevin emphasized.

“I need to know more about you,” Charlie demanded.

“O-okay.” Dean exhaled to steel himself. “I’m Dean Winchester, a famous artist who values his privacy. I have a younger brother and cousin who are lawyers. Um,” he foundered, “I really do like books. And also food.”

“Aw,” Charlie smiled fondly, “he’s precious.”

“I’ve heard of you,” Kevin revealed. “You have a painting at Guggenheim and a gallery at Whitney.”

Dean nodded. “I do.”

Kevin narrowed his eyes. “Those are portraits of people. Are you stalking Cas because-”

“No!” Dean reeled back. “No. I promise. He just...seems nice. I dunno. It’s...intriguing.”

“Cas is a good man,” Charlie said. “One of the best there is. If you’re seriously considering asking him out,” Charlie’s expression tightened, “you should remember that.”

Dean bobbed his head, his heart in his throat. “Okay.”

————

FIVE DAYS EARLIER…

 

Cas was wearing a gorgeous powder blue dress shirt and balancing on a ladder when Dean approached him.

“Hi, Cas,” Dean said, smiling up at the man as he tucked away a book on the top shelf.

“Oh!” Cas glanced down. “Hello, Dean.” He stepped down the wooden planks carefully, reaching solid ground. “What can I do for you?”

Dean couldn’t ask for a better lead-in. “Look, I, uh, know we hardly know each other.” Dean blushed at Cas’s lens reflection. “But, um, I was wondering, if you were interested, if you would, uh, go out to dinner with me.”

Cas raised an eyebrow curiously. “Like a date?”

Dean blushed. “Kinda. O-or if you don’t want to, um, that’s totally cool too. W-we can just, um, hang out.”

Cas smiled amusedly. “There’s a vegan restaurant I’ve been meaning to try up the street. Would that be okay?”

“Y-yeah. Sure!” Dean rocked on the balls of his feet. “Okay.”

Cas chuckled. “Okay.”

————

THREE DAYS EARLIER…

 

Dean was starting to think this was some sort of game.

They had been at a vegan restaurant for a while now, and Cas had somehow strong-armed him into ordering something with tofu.

Tofu!

Dean wasn’t a vegan, but he didn’t want to look bad in front of Cas. Being a vegan was okay. Cas didn’t seem in-your-face about it.

But Cas would send him these looks, like he was testing Dean. Like he found this amusing.

Dean was picking at his food, trying his best to like it, when he saw Cas hold back a giggle.

Dean raised an eyebrow. “What?”

Cas chuckled, resting his chin on his hand. “I’m surprised you haven’t cracked yet.”

Dean kept cool, calm, and collected. “This place is fine.”

“Mhm.” Cas’s eyes sparkled behind his glasses. “How about I put you out of your misery?” His voice dropped to a low whisper, which absolutely did not give Dean goosebumps. “I’m not vegan. I just wanted to see you squirm.” He smirked. “I’m impressed.”

Dean matched Cas’s voice as well as he could, also putting his chin in his hands. “There’s a lot I can tolerate. I’ve already been conditioned by the most elite New Yorkers in SoHo.” He winked. “Wanna get pizza and ice cream?”

Cas tilted his head to the side. It made him look cuter than he already was. “Okay.”

————

“So,” Cas began, “you like cheesy pizza, huh?”

Dean paused as he stuffed cheese-filled bread crust in his mouth. He chewed slower, realizing that he probably didn’t look the least bit attractive right now.

What could he say? Pizza was a serious weakness. Decorum went out the window.

Dean swallowed and murmured, “sorry. I get carried away.” He laughed awkwardly.

“It’s fine.” Cas smiled amusedly. “Inhaling half of this pizza when I’m on my second slice is a talent. Where did you learn it?”

“My little brother,” Dean replied, taking a sip of water. “Sam. We used to, uh, have races to see how many slices we could eat before we felt sick.” He shrugged. “We were dumb. Sam’s a lawyer now.”

“Really?” Cas chuckled. “Where did he go to school?”

“Columbia,” Dean said. “My cousin, Jo, went there too. She works in the same law firm as Sam.”

“That’s cool.” Cas finished his second slice of pizza. “I think we should get ice cream before the rush kicks in.”

Dean checked the time on his watch. “You’re right.”

————

“What made you want to be an artist?”

Dean spun the spoon in his melting rocky road ice cream. They walked around Columbus Park with no real destination in mind.

Dean replied, “I just found portraiture interesting. Usually all you see are landscapes. Also,” he took a bite of ice cream, “I have a talent for it. I could’ve been…I dunno, an athlete, or something. But this is what I wanted, so I put all my effort into pursuing it.” He met Cas’s eyes. “What made you wanna own a bookstore?”

Cas matched his shrug. “I love books. Sometimes more than people. And people that read for leisure are declining steadily. I want to make a difference, and encouraging people to read is important. Who knows what world we’d live in if children only used memes and emojis to communicate.”

Dean chuckled at the thought of such a universe. “That’s a good point.”

They walked in silence for a moment. Dean listened to his boots crush blades of grass, crickets chirping in the cool night air. There was a full moon out tonight. Dean liked observing the sky. It helped clear his mind.

Dean finished the rest of his melting ice cream. He threw away the cup and spoon when they passed a trash can. Cas did the same.

“So,” Dean wiped his cold hands on the back of his jeans, “would you like me to walk you home?”

Cas looked shocked by the gesture. “No one’s ever asked me that before. Huh.” He asked playfully, “are you trying to see where I live?”

Dean shrugged, trying to seem as casual and calm as possible. No ulterior motives here. Nope. “If it’s near your bookstore, it’ll be on my way to my own apartment. In that case, it’ll be convenient, and no trouble at all.”

Cas considered this, stuffing his hands in his jacket pockets. He tapped his foot on the grass and replied, “I’ll humor you.”

“Thanks.” Dean wore an easy smile. “Which direction?”

“West.”

————

Cas’s apartment complex was small. Only a few floors. Not nearly as large as Dean’s built-up apartment building. Still, it was, as Dean had predicted, near the bookstore. Two blocks away, in fact.

Cas lead Dean into the lobby, which only had a doorman and two security guards stationed near the front desk. The three men paid them little mind.

Cas pushed the button and waited for the elevator. He addressed Dean. “I guess this is it.” He shrugged. “I actually had a good time.”

“Actually?” Dean smiled wryly, his eyebrow quirking upwards. “Were you expecting something worse?”

“Definitely,” Cas replied. “However, I was pleasantly surprised by you.”

“Good. That’s somethin’.” Dean asked, “would you like to do this again?”

Cas’s eyes glinted behind his lenses. “Since you seem like a nice guy,” he paused purposefully, “I want to learn more about you, before anything else happens. So,” he decided, “you don’t have to stalk me behind shelves anymore.”

Dean blushed fire truck red. “I-I wasn’t!”

Cas chuckled. “It’s fine. Not too creepy.” He proposed, “you can come by and hang out. We can talk.”

The elevator arrived with a ding.

Dean had no choice but to agree. “I’ll come by tomorrow.”

Cas went into his elevator and nodded. “I’ll see you then.” He pressed the button, and held up a hand as a goodbye. Dean did the same, and waited until the elevator door closed.

Then, Dean let the warmth he had felt since their date began seep into his bones.

————

ONE DAY EARLIER…

 

“Sugar or spice?”

“Sugar.” Dean recoiled in the diner booth and pulled a face. “Please tell me you agree, else this isn’t gonna work.”

Cas laughed, something light and warm and intense at the same time. He reached for a sugar packet and shook it between his fingers. “Course.” He tore off the corner expertly and dumped the sugar into his iced tea. “Pies or cake?”

“Pies,” Dean said without an ounce of hesitation.

Cas laughed, stirring sugar into his tea with his straw. “There was no doubt about that one. I think,” he tilted his head to the side, “I would honestly choose both.”

“I’m just glad you didn’t say cake,” Dean admitted. “You’re already better than ninety percent of my exes.” Dean pushed down a flurry of emotions, clearing his throat. “What’s the next one?”

“Dogs or cats?” Cas sipped his tea, his eyes not leaving Dean’s.

“Dogs,” Dean answered. “Easy.”

“Me too.” Cas divulged, “I had a Maltese when I was a kid. His name was Clover.”

“Clover? Why?” Dean inquired.

“He brought good luck. And he liked eating grass.”

Dean chuckled at the image, playing with the straw in his water. “Well I’m allergic to cats, so that leaves me with dogs.”

“Interesting. Coffee or tea?”

“I lean more towards coffee,” Dean replied, “but I do enjoy tea.”

Cas gestured to his drink as his answer. “Pancakes or waffles?”

Dean blinked. “That’s a hard one. It depends on my mood.”

“Me too,” Cas said incredulously. “Charlie and Kevin think I’m so weird when I say that!”

“You’re not alone,” Dean said. “Sometimes I want something plain, like a waffle. Sometimes I want more flavor, like a pancake.”

“Yes!” Cas smacked the tabletop. “I’d say this compatibility game worked well.”

“I’d say so too,” Dean murmured, smiling behind his drink.

————

“I just realized,” Cas said in the elevator, Dean following him to his apartment door, “we’ve been talking nonstop for two whole days.” His eyes widened behind the glare in his lenses. “You must think I’m so weird!”

Dean laughed, clutching his stomach and leaning his side against the elevator wall. “I don’t. I promise.”

“Well,” Cas faced Dean as much as he was able, “what do you think, then?”

“‘Bout you?” Dean smiled easily, his heart eyes coming out in full force. He stood upright again and said genuinely, “I think you’re pretty amazing.”

Cas tilted his head to the side.

The elevator dinged.

Dean tore his eyes from Cas and stepped out of the elevator. He looked left and right, a sprawling hallway on both sides. “Which way?”

“Left.”

Dean chose to ignore the soft weakness in Cas’s tone. He sensed Cas a step behind him as he walked down the left hallway. Dean kept his pace slow and unsure as they passed several doors.

A tentative hand touched his shoulder. “We’re here.”

Dean halted, turning to the left. The door was labeled 210. “This one?” He stood with his side against the wall, Cas leaning near his doorknob. He took another glance around, knowing he would have to remember this. “Just as lovely as all the other doors.”

Cas snorted. His house keys jingled in his grasp. “This is as close as you’re getting.”

“Course.” Dean pretended to be offended, a hand on his chest. “How dare you, sir?”

Cas rolled his eyes, an amused smile tugging at his lips. “I’ll see you around.”

“Um.” Cas halted, his keys dangling from the doorknob. “I know that we’re, um, bein’ slow and friendly and everything,” Dean worried his lip, “but, um, I was wondering if, uh, we could kiss.”

Cas’s face changed from neutral to confused.

“Never mind.” Dean leaned away from the wall, staring at the floor. “Too soon. I’ll let you go.”

A hand touched his shoulder again. Dean’s eyes travelled upwards. They settled on Cas.

“I’d be honored,” Cas murmured.

“T-to kiss me?” Dean’s cheeks and neck burned.

“Yeah,” Cas said softly. “You just might be the nicest guy I’ve ever met, let alone kissed.”

There was a story there. Dean put that aside, though. They would get there. To all of it.

But now, Dean steeled himself, and took a bold step forward.

Cas rested his hands on Dean’s waist, drawing him forward. Dean searched Cas’s face desperately, for any hint of doubt. When he found none, Dean rested his palms on Cas’s jawline, his thumbs brushing Cas’s cheekbones. Cas’s eyes fluttered shut, and Dean brought their lips together.

The world exploded behind his eyelids. Dean was transported to Fourth of July, when he would light fireworks with Sam and Jo. He was transported to his in-house art studio, his happy place, the only place he let his walls down completely. He was transported to Coney Island, his family smiling at him and buying him an ice cream cone.

Dean was suddenly aware of his surroundings, like he had been plucked from his memories and thrown back into reality. He felt Cas’s hands gripping his hips, their chests touching. Dean’s hands had tilted Cas’s head upwards, the pads of his fingers delving into Cas’s messy black hair. Their lips were hardly touching, but that didn’t seem to matter. They were together here, in this moment.

And this was the most mind-blowing kiss Dean had ever initiated.

Just as that thought reached his mind, Dean’s lungs demanded air. As if reading him, Cas pulled away regretfully.

Dean opened his eyes — he can’t remember closing them — as he took a shallow breath. He gently removed his hands from Cas’s face, dropping them to his sides. His vision drank in the sight of Castiel Novak, utterly debauched and dumbstruck.

Dean exhaled, smiling instinctually. His insides were filled with warmth. He glanced impishly at Cas’s slightly parted lips and murmured, “wanna know a secret?”

Cas closed his mouth, swallowing thickly and nodding in assent.

Dean whispered breathily, “that’s the best kiss I’ve ever had in my life.”

Cas nodded dumbly, as if in total agreement with him. He blinked, coming back to himself. His hand closed around the keys hanging in his doorknob. He looked between the door and Dean warily, as if making a decision.

Cas’s hand closed around the doorknob, twisting it open. He managed, his voice deep and rough and lovely, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Dean.”

“See you tomorrow, Cas,” Dean said softly.

Their gazes lingered on each other for a beat.

Then, Cas slipped through his open door and shut it.

Dean Winchester leaned against the wall, closed his eyes, and fell in love.

————

AND NOW…

 

Dean stared inside his empty coffee cup, waiting for Sam and Jo’s responses.

The silence was stifling, so he focused on the bustle by the front counter. The story had taken longer than he anticipated to tell it. Sam and Jo would have to trickle off to work soon.

“So,” Sam began, “you’re in love with him?”

Dean addressed his family and nodded. “This was all it took.” He huffed. “I’ve gotten weak.”

“Well,” Jo said considerately, “from what you’ve told us, I understand why you fell so hard.”

“He’s a good guy,” Sam observed, “and I can say that without having met him yet.”

“He’s a needle in a haystack,” Jo said, “but you found him. I say hold onto him.”

Dean let that sink in for a beat.

“Now,” Sam cleared his throat and put on his lawyer voice, “you said you told him you’re famous. Are you at all worried that-”

“No,” Dean said shortly. “It was instantly clear to me that he’s different. He hides in the back of a bookstore, for Christ’s sake. He doesn’t want fame, or attention he doesn’t choose to have. I’ve told him I’m famous, and he may not truly understand yet, but I think he will, and things won’t change.”

Sam and Jo shared a look.

Sam stared at Dean. “So passionate,” he remarked. “I haven’t seen you like this in years.”

Dean stared back unflinchingly. “I told you Cas was special.”

“I believe you,” Jo said.

“Me too,” Sam said. “Now,” Sam stood up, Jo following suit, “we gotta get to it.” He leaned over and patted Dean’s shoulder. “I’m happy for you.”

Jo went in for an awkward standing hug. “Call me to gossip.”

“I gotcha,” Dean murmured. “I’ll see you both next week, okay?”

Sam and Jo agreed, leaving the table and disposing of their coffee cups. The door jingled, and they were gone.

Dean stood up, threw away his empty styrofoam cup, and walked into the brisk morning air.

Chapter Text

-“These butterflies scare me to death, feel them beating out of my chest.”
~Tove Lo, “don’t ask, don’t tell”

 

Castiel hummed along to the instrumental playing in his single earbud, his body swaying as he balanced on a footstool. He filed away books on autopilot, their proper place etched into his very being.

It was early in the morning. Charlie and Kevin were due to arrive any minute. After that, the bookstore would have to be opened for the crowd.

It was just another day.

Only it wasn’t.

Castiel couldn’t wipe a stupid smile off his face. It hadn’t left his face since he woke up that morning. His cheeks were starting to ache.

Castiel heard the bells jingle on the front door. He hastily put away the final book in his stack. He popped out his earbud, switching off a music app. As he wrapped the cord around his smartphone from his position on the footstool, his two best friends came into his vision.

“Caaaasss,” Charlie whined, leaning against a bookshelf. “Why do we open at eight in the morning?”

Castiel chuckled. “Eight to six is the standard for a small business.”

“Come on,” Kevin said, removing a cup of takeaway coffee from a holder, “just drink this and be quiet.”

Charlie took the coffee and quietly sipped it. Castiel caught their tired expressions and rolled his eyes. This morning routine was a tale as old as time. Song as old as rhyme.

Kevin raised an eyebrow, staring at the small smile perking up Castiel’s expression. “You seem strangely chipper this morning.”

Charlie finally came up for air after pounding down some caffeine and observed Castiel. “Kev’s right.” She stepped forward, until she was in Castiel’s personal space. She studied his face for a moment. “What’s goin’ on with you?”

Castiel stepped down from his perch, tucking away his smartphone in his slacks absentmindedly. Blonde eyelashes and emerald eyes and freckled cheeks surfaced to the forefront of his mind. “Nothing much.” Castiel smiled tightly. “Just slept well, I guess.”

“Mhm. Bullshit.” Charlie narrowed his eyes. “Would this happy mood have anything to do with, say, Dean?”

Castiel’s neck and cheeks grew hot at the mention of him. “U-Um, well. U-Uh.”

“Are you,” Kevin’s eyes widened, “stuttering?!” He shared a look with Charlie. “Something happened.” The two nodded in agreement. Kevin advanced towards Castiel. “What happened, Cas?”

Castiel muttered, “I kissed him, alright?”

Charlie and Kevin shared another look.

“Wow,” Charlie said, her head resting against the fantasy section.

“Was it good?” Kevin asked.

Castiel’s smile returned. He looked at his friends warily. “It was incredible.”

“Yeah?” Charlie smiled. “Well, I’m happy, then.”

“You’re sure about him, right?” Kevin asked tentatively.

Castiel nodded. “According to Immanuel Kant, what is Enlightenment?”

“Man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity,” Kevin rattled off.

Charlie’s eyes widened comically. She placed her steaming coffee cup on a shelf. “You’re saying that he’s different from the others.”

“Yes,” Castiel confirmed. “He’s nowhere near as terrible as my exes. The change was immediate when we kissed. He’s different. He’s something else entirely.”

“Think you’re gonna keep him?” Kevin asked jokingly.

Castiel answered slyly, “I think I will.”

————

FIVE WEEKS LATER…

 

“Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit?”

Dean considered the question carefully as they walked up the steps. This was the first time Dean was showing Cas his apartment. Since it was on the third floor of a twenty-floor building, they were taking four sets of stairs instead of the elevator. Anything to keep Cas talking, Dean thought, was an option worth exploring.

They rounded stairs labeled 2 when Dean replied, “I liked the Lord of the Rings movies over The Hobbit movies, but I preferred The Hobbit book over the Lord of the Rings books.”

Cas gasped, a bright grin lighting up his face. He pushed up his large glass frames and halted them before they reached the next staircase. “I feel the same way!”

Dean bumped Cas’s shoulder lightly. “I liked The Hobbit as a book because it was a condensed adventure story. The Lord of the Rings books were overly complex, and worked better on screen.”

“I feel like,” Cas murmured, “I conjured you up out of a book.”

Dean blushed at the prospect. They continued up the staircase. “Like in The Neverending Story?”

Cas gasped again. “You know that movie?!” He grinned wider. “That makes me so happy!”

They reached the final staircase. “Okay, back to Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. I have an unpopular opinion.”

“Ooh. Tell me.”

Dean reached the door labeled 3 and pressed his back against it. Cas chuckled at the childish gesture and halted an inch away from Dean. They shared a playful look. Dean whispered, like it was a dirty secret, “Bilbo is a better hero than Frodo.”

Cas gasped delightedly, his face frozen in a state of pure happiness. His eyes shined and his teeth sparkled. “You’re amazing! I adore you!”

Dean chuckled. “I’m glad you agree.” He pushed the door open with his back, allowing Cas to step into the hallway first.

To Dean’s surprise, Cas took his hand. “Which way?”

“Left.”

Cas slid his fingers between Dean’s, tugging him to the left. Dean had learned quickly that Cas wasn’t one for initiating public displays of affection. He was wary about any type of touching, so this was a big deal. Cas taking his hand so readily had Dean noting this occurrence in his mind for future reference. Talking about books made Cas more affectionate. Now he knew.

Dean planted his feet in front of his door, labelled 315. Cas was pulled back from walking any further. Dean laughed as Cas nearly crashed into his chest. “Here it is.”

“It’s just as lovely as all the other doors,” Cas said teasingly.

Dean bit his lip. He fished his keys out of his jeans pocket and slid it above the doorknob. As he turned it, he cautioned, “I’m an artist, so my apartment may be a slight mess.” He opened the door, revealing his living space. He shut the door behind Cas.

Cas guided him around the rooms lightly, and Dean let him soak it up. For a famous artist, his apartment was quite small. He never needed much. Just a main room with a kitchenette, a conjoined bedroom, and a bathroom. A four-chair table was a centerpiece, a modest flat screen and large maroon couch pushed off to the side. Dean’s collection of bookshelves took up quite a bit of space, as well as the section he called his art studio. Cas’s eyes were drawn to the various paintings framed on the walls, examining them all critically.

They had circled the main room, Cas observing Dean’s easel and paints and unfinished canvas of Brooklyn Bridge, before Cas spoke. He asked, “did you make all of these?”

Dean realized that Cas had never seen his work before. Fear struck him, a flash of ice freezing his veins cold. “Y-Yes. I did.”

Cas faced Dean, his eyes piercing through his lenses and into Dean’s. “These are amazing, Dean. And I really mean that.”

Dean rocked on his feet. “Heh. Thanks.”

Cas tugged Dean towards the windows, overlooking New York City, opposite the front door. Next to them was a framed rendering of Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Cas said, “this one is my favorite. If I close my eyes,” he exhaled, “I feel like I’m there.”

“Th-thanks. Yeah.” Dean chuckled awkwardly. “These are the pieces that I either can’t sell or I paint just for myself.”

Cas squeezed his hand. “They’re all fantastic. Why don’t they sell?”

Dean shrugged. “My customers prefer my portraiture.”

“I noticed you have an unfinished painting,” Cas pried. “Are you in some sort of...funk?”

“Artist’s block,” Dean amended. “Yes.”

“That sucks,” Cas said sympathetically. “Is there any way I can help?”

“There actually might be.” He squeezed Cas’s hand again. “Do you mind if I draw your bookstore?”

Cas’s eyebrows pinched together. “How would that help with portraiture?”

“Drawing objects and places,” Dean replied, “calm me. It’ll get me back in the groove. Besides,” he nudged his head towards his bookshelf, “I wanna learn how to charcoal draw from one of your books.”

“In that case,” Cas smiled, “I’m okay with it.”

Dean nudged Cas’s shoulder, leaning to kiss his temple. “You’re a good boyfriend.”

“You are too.”

————

Castiel, Charlie, and Kevin quickly got used to Dean’s drawing in the back room of the bookstore.

————

TWO WEEKS LATER…

 

Dean was sketching a coffee mug on the bookstore back room table when the doors burst open.

Charlie and Kevin settled across from him. Dean set down his pencil and blinked at their expectant looks. “H-hi.”

“Hey,” Charlie said, “how’s it goin’?”

Charlie and Kevin had been putting on masks when they first met Dean. They tried to look intimidating to protect Cas. Dean understood that. But since he was in a serious relationship with Cas now, Charlie and Kevin had become tentative friends.

Dean showed them his sketch of a coffee mug. “What do you think?”

Kevin stared at the mug, then at the sketch. “It’s an exact likeness.”

“It’s creepy how you do that,” Charlie said.

“Thank you.” Dean set down the sketchbook. “How’s your days goin’?”

“Hectic, as usual,” Charlie replied. “This weekend was interesting. Kevin took me to see your paintings.”

Dean’s eyebrow shot upwards. “Oh.”

“Semi-nude paintings aside,” Charlie said, “it seems that you’re pretty and talented. The world must be so hard for you.”

Dean winked at the dry humor. “What can I say? Sex sells.”

“Does Cas know about that?” Kevin inquired.

“The semi-nude part? Yeah.”

“He’s fine with that?!” Charlie asked incredulously.

“I don’t really,” Dean shrugged, “do that anymore. He understands that sex sells.”

“And gets you into museums,” Kevin added.

“Right.”

“Sometimes,” Charlie said, “I forgot how weird our dear Castiel Novak is. This was a lovely reminder. Thank you, Dean.”

“You’re welcome.”

————

“-needs the case report on his desk by Mond-hey!”

Jo grabbed Sam’s forearm, halting him in his tracks. “Look!” She hissed. “On the other side of the street!”

Sam squinted his eyes and focused on the movie theater across the street. He scanned the meager crowd in front of the box office and caught a familiar blonde head sticking out in the purple night.

“Dean!” Sam hissed.

Jo whacked his arm. “He can’t hear you, doofus.”

“I know!” Sam stared harder at the back of his brother’s head. “He’s with people.”

Jo dragged them off the side of a building, so they weren’t in the middle of the sidewalk. She looked at the same spot Sam was and declared, “three people.” Her eyes widened. “They must be Cas’s friends!”

“Yeah,” Sam said. “Then which one’s Ca-”

Dean turned his head to the side, his profile coming into view. He murmured something to the dark-haired man standing beside him. The figure shook with laughter.

“That one,” Sam and Jo said in unison.

“Hey,” Jo asked Sam with a smirk, “you got anywhere to be?”

Sam rolled his eyes. “You know I don’t, cuz.”

————

Sam and Jo sat in the back of the theater, watching Dean choose seats in the middle row. His favorite spot for good acoustics. He sat on the end, the dark-haired man — Sam and Jo couldn’t make out details yet — next to him. Cas handed Dean a small bag of popcorn. Cas plopped a soda with two straws — Jo snickered and nudged Sam’s arm playfully — between their seats. Next to Cas was a redhead woman and an Asian man, tittering excitedly about the movie.

They finally caught Cas’s profile — large glasses obscuring most of his face — as he murmured to Dean. Something about not liking scary movies. Dean’s profile revealed a little side smile. He asked teasingly if he needed to hide in his shoulder. Cas huffed but admitted that he did. Dean’s entire face lit up like a Christmas tree. He looked like an excitable golden retriever.

“Pathetic,” Jo commented.

“Definitely,” Sam agreed.

Dean asked if Cas wanted an arm, and, to their surprise, he said yes. He was being serious. He needed to hide during the scary parts. Dean was clearly not expecting this, but he rested his arm over Cas’s seat. Cas nestled in Dean’s shoulder, popping popcorn kernels in his mouth. Dean muttered a joke about burrowing there for the winter and Cas snorted, saying something like ‘don’t get used to this. It’s just your lucky day.’ Dean laughed softly and allowed Cas to burrow into his side. The redhead hissed in their direction and threw a popcorn kernel at Cas. The Asian man stuck his tongue out at Cas, who did the same. They flipped each other off. The redhead and Dean laughed.

The screen went black, and the group settled into their seats.

————

“We don’t mention this to Dean.” Jo stuck out her pinky to Sam. “Pinky swear?”

Sam rolled his eyes and pinky swore.

————

THREE DAYS LATER…

 

Dean didn’t know how he didn’t see it earlier.

In the bumblebee section of the bookstore, where the new releases went, was a set of three framed butterflies.

Actual dead butterflies. Taxidermied and framed in glass cases. Side-by-side on the wall against the front door.

Maybe they were hidden away on purpose.

Dean took a folding chair from the back storage room of the bookstore. Charlie and Kevin watched as he unfolded it and set up shop across from the framed butterflies. Neither said nothing as Dean sat with his legs crossed, perching his sketchbook in his lap. He got out a charcoal pencil from his jacket pocket and observed the butterflies critically.

It was ten in the morning on a Tuesday. They all called it Quiet Hour. The hour between the morning and lunch rush when the bookstore had no customers. It was a peaceful time. The only peaceful hour of the ten-hour workday. Charlie and Kevin would allow Dean this time.

The two employees let Dean be, knowing he was in the zone. When Cas emerged from the back of the store after cataloguing purchases, Charlie and Kevin held up fingers to their lips.

Cas glanced at Dean as he drew with charcoal like a madman. He inclined his head towards his friends in understanding. Cas moved around quietly, Dean catching his eye and smiling.

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

Dean stared at his completed charcoal drawing, in awe of what he created.

On the page was a black-and-white rendering of the framed butterflies.

The way they spoke to him, as if alive, was what put Dean in a trance the previous day.

There were 3 butterflies. That was what got Dean’s attention. The number 3 haunted him. He lived on the third floor of his apartment building. There were 3 people in his family left alive.

The other 3 were dead. Had been for a long time.

That’s what had Dean grabbing a folding chair and sitting in front of the dead butterflies. He had 3 dead butterflies of his own.

The color of their wings, too, were comparable to Dean’s dead 3.

A blue morpho butterfly. His mother, Mary.

A meadow brown butterfly. His father, John.

A monarch butterfly. His uncle, Bobby.

Dean brought himself back to reality. The back door was pushed open, Cas framing the entryway.

Cas raised an eyebrow, trying to decipher Dean’s expression. “Something wrong?”

Dean realized he was frowning. He held up the butterfly drawing. “I finished it.”

Cas set down his stack of books on the table, sitting across from Dean concernedly. “You don’t seem happy about finishing it.”

Dean sighed. Their first stormcloud hanging over their heads, courtesy of him.

“Mind if I rain on your parade?” Dean asked softly.

Cas leaned forward in his chair, his fingers steepled together. “Is this our first real talk?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Okay. Go ahead.”

Dean slid the butterfly drawing in front of Cas. He considered it, and Dean said, “when I saw those three butterflies, I instantly thought of,” Dean paused, “my dead parents and uncle.”

Cas looked up, his eyes studying Dean through his glared lenses. He looked ready to say something, but let Dean continue.

“See,” Dean pointed to the leftmost butterfly, “this one is blue, and it reminds me of my mom. Her eyes were bright blue, like my brother’s. She was good, and kind, and didn’t deserve my father.” He pointed to the middle butterfly. “This one is brown. That’s the most apt metaphor for my alcoholic father that I’ve ever seen.” He chose not to elaborate. It was easy to fill in the blanks. Dean motioned to the rightmost butterfly. “This one is a monarch. My uncle was a good guy. More of a father figure than my own. He was nice to have around.” Dean sighed. “I dunno why, but these dead butterflies made me think of them. They’ve been dead a long time, but I suppose this was a reminder. I miss them, still.” Dean paused again. “Did I ruin anything, yet?”

Cas swallowed a lump in his throat. He shook his head, and Dean caught tears glistening behind his lenses.

He murmured, “my parents are dead too.”

Dean’s eyes widened. He rounded the table in a single beat and sank into Cas’s lap. He didn’t care if it was too bold. He liked being touched. And Cas needed comfort. Dean rested his palms on Cas’s cheeks, looking down upon him. “I think I conjured you from a book.”

Cas chuckled wetly, sniffling as he blinked away a tear. “I’ve never had this much in common with someone before.”

Dean hummed, pressing their foreheads together. “Me neither.”

Cas brushed their noses together, exhaling deeply, closing his eyes. “My father was always absent. He was a businessman, and a real bastard. My mom was a saint, and taught me everything I know. I still miss them both, though.” A pause. “I feel like I can tell you anything.” He whispered, “wanna know a secret?”

Dean shut his eyes, nudging Cas’s nose with his own. “Mhm.”

“It terrifies me.”

“Scares me too,” Dean rumbled. “I’m glad we’re goin’ slow.”

“Me too.”

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

Dean halted in his tracks.

The front windows of the bookstore only held advertisements before today.

This morning, though, there was a display case pressed against the windows.

And in the display case? Dean’s butterfly drawing.

Dean stood in front of the windows, examining his charcoal rendering of 3 dead butterflies hanging proudly next to advertisements.

A warm feeling arose from Dean’s chest, traveling throughout his limbs and spreading heat to his cheeks. A half-smile upturned the corner of his mouth.

After a moment, Dean tore his eyes from the sight. He pushed open the front door, the jingling bells declaring his entrance into the bookstore.

Chapter Text

-“Only you know me, the way you know me.”
~Zayn, “There You Are”

 

Dean shouldn’t bother with coffee shops anymore. They were always too crowded. There was never enough space. It was always too expensive.

But Sam and Jo insisted on meeting him here. For lawyers, their caffeine addiction was sadly all-too-predictable.

Dean gnawed on a plastic packet of honey. A nervous tick, albeit a strange one. His sweet tooth was impossible to contain. Sucking on a honey packet wasn’t the worst thing, anyway. Sam caught him squirting half a can of whipped cream into his mouth once. Breakups were hard. It wasn’t his finest moment by a long shot. Dean had learned a lot since then.

Sam and Jo approached hastily, as they usually did on work mornings. Dean shoved styrofoam cups in their faces and finished up his packet of honey.

Sam’s first words to him were, of course, “there are millions of germs on that, you know.”

Dean shrugged, setting down the empty packet. “If the millions of germs a New Yorker is exposed to every second of every day hasn’t killed me yet, I think I’m safe.”

Jo hummed. “Good point.”

“So,” Sam asked, “how are things?”

“Good,” Dean said. “I told him about...our parents.”

Sam’s eyebrows shot upwards. “Whoa. You’re not one to tell people about stuff.”

“How’d he react?” Jo inquired.

A side of Dean’s mouth quirked upwards. “His parents are dead too.”

Sam and Jo’s eyes widened.

“This is starting to get weird,” Jo declared.

“I don’t believe in all that fate crap,” Sam said, “but you’re both incredibly compatible.”

“When are we meeting him?” Jo asked.

“Soon,” Dean said vaguely.

————

“Favorite candy?”

“Snickers,” Dean replied.

“Me too!” Cas grinned. “Sweet potato fries or French fries?”

Dean clutched his chest. He leaned back in the diner booth for dramatic effect. “You offend me, sir! French fries!”

“Good. Me too. Favorite street food?”

“Nachos,” Dean replied easily.

“Hot pretzels for me. Sorry.”

“Damn. Another disagreement.” Dean unfolded the piece of paper he kept in his leather jacket pocket at all times. He procured a pencil and wrote their different answers in their respective columns. He folded it again and tucked it in his pocket with the pencil. “Next one.”

“Favorite tea?”

“Green or black. Doesn’t matter.”

“Me too. Cook at home or takeout?”

“I switch off.”

Cas’s eyes sparkled behind his glasses. “Lemme get this straight.”

Dean laughed.

Cas rolled his eyes. “So, you’re not only a sweet guy, but a cook too?!”

Dean chuckled, a red blush creeping up his neck. “I know the basics. Had to keep myself alive somehow, right?”

“Here’s what’s gonna happen.” Cas leaned forward. “Since I’ve been told by numerous sources-”

“Charlie and Kevin,” Dean said.

“Numerous sources,” Cas emphasized, “that I’m a good cook, we’re going to cook dinner in our apartments every other day.”

“Ooh, is that a challenge?”

“Let’s call it a friendly competition.” Cas smiled toothily. “What do you think?”

Dean thought for a moment. He would get to see Cas’s apartment for the first time if he agreed. They usually only went to Dean’s apartment after date nights, such as this, for goodbyes. A few times, though, Cas had stayed to watch a movie with Dean before they parted ways. The boundaries between them, though, were still thickly drawn. Going to Cas’s apartment would cross one.

Dean replied, “game on.”

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

Cas knocked on the door at seven o’clock sharp. As timely as ever. Just returning from work.

Dean left his oven unattended for a moment as he went to answer the door in oversized mitts. After a struggle with the doorknob, he revealed his aproned self to Cas.

He laughed instantly. “Catch you at a bad moment?”

Dean grinned. “No.”

Cas glanced down at his apron and snorted. “A ‘Kiss The Cook’ apron? Really?”

“My brother thinks he’s funny,” Dean said. “It’s never worked.” He allowed Cas inside and shut the door behind him.

When Cas was back in his vision, he murmured, “how about I do this for you, then?”

Dean’s heart nearly imploded. “O-okay.”

Cas leaned forward and brought their lips together, grasping Dean’s jawline with his warm hands. Dean smiled as Cas pressed their lips together, intensifying it slightly. Dean melted into a puddle as a familiar buzzing lit his insides on fire.

Every time they kissed, it was as intense as the first, and better than the last.

Cas pulled away lightly, laughing breathily at Dean’s dreamlike expression. “You’re cooking, sweetheart. Get it together.”

Dean hummed, coming back to himself. “Yes. Right.” He chuckled and blushed, a combination that happened so often now that Dean considered it an old friend. Dean secured his oven mitts and padded over to his kitchenette. “Food should be out in-”

Cas scrutinized Dean as the timer dinged and the scent of homemade lasagna wafted through the air.

Dean slipped it carefully out of the oven and placed it on the counter opposite him. “Alright.” He took off the mitts. “Whaddaya think?”

“Smells wonderful,” Cas said. “But the taste test is what it comes down to.”

Dean’s mouth quirked upwards. “Of course.”

————

“I have to say,” Cas said, draining the last of the white wine, “I’m impressed.”

“Yeah?” Dean grinned shyly. “I’m glad you liked it.”

“Here,” Cas stood up, taking both of their cleared plates, “I’ll help you wash dishes.”

Dean let the familiar warmth settle in his chest.

————

“So,” Cas said, handing Dean a plate, “I’ve seen you drawing like crazy lately.”

Dean took the plate, appreciating the muscled arms Cas was displaying. Dean had never noticed how calloused Cas’s hands were, either. Probably from some heavy lifting. Transporting and shelving large stacks of books.

Dean said, “I’ve felt really inspired since I dusted off the cobwebs.” He scrubbed at a stain on the side of the plate. “I think it’s you.”

“Me?” Cas asked incredulously.

“Yeah.” Dean set down the plate in the sink and knocked their hips together. “You’re pretty inspiring, you know.”

Cas was silent at that, handing Dean another plate.

Dean always laid it on too thick. He should be more careful.

Then again, Cas needed to hear it. He really was inspiring.

Cas asked lightly, “are you gonna draw every nick nack in my store?”

“That’s the goal,” Dean said, scrubbing a plate.

“Why are you wasting your time on that?”

“It’s not wasting my time. I like doing it. It’s calming.” Dean set down a second plate.

“Shouldn’t you be getting back to your,” Cas put on a deeper register, “semi-nude portraits?”

“Hah. I told you I don’t do that anymore. Not since…” Dean closed his mouth. Not yet. “Um. Anyway, it’s calming. And I like having window space. Feels like I’m helping advertise the store.”

Cas handed him their two wine glasses.

Dean cleared his throat and scrubbed them with soap. “Why insects, by the way?”

Cas chose not to comment on the topic change. He rolled his sleeves back down. “People label insects as gross, and they really aren’t. They’re...beautiful in their own way.”

Dean hummed, setting down the washed glasses. “I suppose that makes sense.”

————

TWO DAYS LATER…

 

“How are you, Jody?”

“Wonderful, Cas. And you?”

Dean leaned against a bookshelf, listening to Cas speak with Jody and little Owen.

“Good,” Cas replied. “Remember how I said I couldn’t find a half-decent man?”

Jody laughed. “Yeah.”

“I found one.”

“That’s great!”

“It’s as if speaking that sentence brought him into existence,” Cas mused. “Anyway,” Cas leaned down to the little boy holding Jody’s hand and grinned, “how are you, Owen?”

As always, Owen waved his little hand and smiled. His saucer eyes took in Cas’s form, and he remained quiet. Just inquisitive, as if seeing Cas for the first time. Confused as to how kind a man could be, just because.

Cas understood the greeting well enough. “Did you like the puppy book?” He asked, his voice as sweet as sugar.

That got a vigorous nod from Owen, and an even bigger grin.

“I’ll have another one for you next time. How’s that sound?”

Owen did a little hop, a small chuckle releasing from his mouth.

Cas chuckled. “Good.” He stood up again, straightened his posture. He caught Jody’s easy smile and said, “I’ll see you next week.”

“Of course.”

Dean waited until Jody and Owen were at the checkout counter to continue breathing again.

————

Cas’s apartment was exactly as Dean imagined it.

The main room had a rather large kitchen, a four-seat dining table inside it. A small television and couch were opposite the kitchen. A window across from the door was shuttered closed, the last slivers of sunlight streaming across the wooden floorboards. Beyond the kitchen on one side was a door to Cas’s shoebox bedroom. Beyond the television on the opposite side was a door to the shoebox bathroom. The second half of the main room was taken up by several bookshelves and an old writing desk. Clearly where Cas kept paperwork and stuck post-it notes as reminders.

It was clear that Cas preferred darkness, whereas Dean’s apartment was always bathed in light. Dean understood, as Cas was a self-declared bookworm, and a bookstore owner at that.

Cas cooked them a casserole, and Dean admitted that it was the best he had ever tasted.

“Does that mean I’m the better cook?” Cas teased, his eyes peering at him from behind a red wine glass.

“I didn’t say that,” Dean shot back.

Cas only laughed, his eyes squinted behind his large glasses.

They washed dishes together, playing another round of either-or. It was a silly compatibility game, but Cas was fond of it. Dean had grown fond of it, too.

The mood was light. Airy. Simple.

That was why the following topic change was something Dean never saw coming.

It was after movie credits were rolling, after a night spent on Cas’s couch. It was late. Dean was buzzed. Cas may be a tad drunk.

But clearly not drunk enough to not have his wits about him.

“Your exes,” Cas said, his eyes serious and his body facing Dean on the couch, “or past lovers, if you will,” Cas rested his elbow on a side pillow, his hand resting on his cheek as a strange perch, “you never talk about them. The other night, when you changed the subject and pulled back, I didn’t want you to.” Cas emphasized, “I want to know about them, Dean.” As leverage, Cas offered, “I’ll tell you about mine. It won’t be easy,” Cas frowned, “but I’ll do it if you will.”

Dean blinked rapidly, exhaling deeply, watching his chest expand and collapse. He stared at his lap and watched Cas reach out, tangling their fingers together.

A tear slipped from Dean’s eyelids with no prompt. He let it fall. This was going to hurt.

Dean focused on a crack in a wood panel. “First, I should clarify I’m bisexual.”

Cas hummed. “Me too.”

Dean would smile at yet another commonality in any other circumstance. He couldn’t bring himself to do it.

He began, “I had a girlfriend before you. She left me,” he searched for the word, “broken.” Dean clenched his jaw. “That was almost a year ago, now. Usually, I would shake it off and go on with my usual bullshit. This was different, somehow. See, I really loved her. Turns out that was one-sided. She wanted what every other ex of mine wanted.” He smiled bitterly. “Fame. Money. Attention.” Cas’s face fell in empathy. “Until I met you, I couldn’t even pick up a pencil.” Dean swallowed thickly. “I couldn’t create...anything. Everything hurt. You saved me, Cas.” He placed his unoccupied hand atop Cas’s. “I hope you know that.”

“I do, now,” Cas murmured.

“To keep this short,” Dean continued, “all of my exes are shitty people. Rich, and snobby, and attention-seekers. Men and women equally. They would make me do that Titanic shit, paint them.”

Cas narrowed his eyes. “Are they really all shallow enough to willingly sell off their bodies like that?”

“You would be surprised at what people would do for their turn in the spotlight.”

“Are some of these people,” a lightbulb went off in Cas’s head, “in your museum galleries?”

Dean stared down, feeling dirty and ashamed. “All of them.”

Cas leaned forward. “God.”

“I’m not proud of it at all,” Dean said weakly. “I built my career from toxic relationships. In my head, my gallery at the Whitney is...my Hall of Exes. There to haunt me forever.”

“God,” Cas murmured, “that’s awful.”

“They only liked me because I was pretty, and a famous artist.” Dean turned over Cas’s hand, exposing his palm. “That’s why you’re so important to me, Cas.” He traced Cas’s long life lines with his index finger. “You look at me, and you don’t see that. You see me. The real me.”

“A dork that loves reading and watching poorly-made horror movies.”

Dean side smiled, finally having the strength to do so.

“And for the record,” Cas said, “you are pretty.”

“Hah.” Dean leaned back against the couch, his head lolling to the side. “It’s your turn.”

Cas’s mouth turned lopsided. “Fair warning. This is going to get real.”

Dean noticed that the credits had long since rolled. The television was off. Neither one of them moved to put away the DVD.

Dean studied Cas’s face, knowing this was important. Cas’s eyes lowered, but Dean expected that.

Cas began, “I’m like a magnet for bad people. They’re attracted to me. I’m attracted to them. No matter how much it hurts,” Cas’s jaw clenched, “I bear it. The pain. The...abuse.”

That final word gave Dean an epiphany.

It made sense. It all made sense. The missing piece of the jigsaw fell into place.

Dean thought he had imagined it. How, sometimes, when Dean reached out too quickly, Cas recoiled. How, sometimes, Cas stared off into the distance for several minutes, barely blinking, the light in his gaze extinguished, like he wasn’t even there at all.

It was a defense mechanism. The same kind Dean had with his now-dead alcoholic father. A way of coping when too much happened at once.

“Fuck,” Dean found himself saying, his mouth full of ash. “No, Cas. No.” He shook his head, his eyes watering. “Not you. No.” He realized he must look ridiculous right now. He wiped his eyes and sniffled. Dean got ahold of himself. Cas’s expression was full of surprise as Dean exhaled, “no one deserves that. God.”

Cas said, sounding detached, “it was a long time ago. My last boyfriend was three years ago. I’ve changed since then, with Charlie and Kevin’s help.”

Dean’s eyes widened. “This is why they’re so protective over you!”

Cas nodded. “They’ve seen me at my worst. Seen me defend terrible people. Helped me cover up...” Cas swallowed thickly. “I’m not that guy anymore. I don’t let people take advantage of my kindness.”

“I’m surprised,” Dean said in awe, “that you’re still so kind. You’re a strong one, that’s for sure.”

“I learned how to love myself.” Cas shrugged, like he hadn’t just dropped some serious wisdom. “Once I learned self-love, I realized that I didn’t deserve it. Not after everything I’d already been through. I’ve been on my own for quite a while, and because of that, I’m hesitant. About letting you in. But I’m trying. You really are a good man. One of the best I’ve known.” He lightened his tone. “Don’t let that go to your head.”

Dean tugged Cas closer. Cas fell into Dean’s chest, settling between his legs. Dean held him tentatively, rubbing his back. Dean tucked his chin above Cas’s messy hair.

Cas muffled, “I know what it feels like to be seen as another pretty face. We have another thing in common.”

“I lost track of the number,” Dean said into Cas’s hair.

“That’s okay.” Cas ran his hands up Dean’s sides, making him shiver. “The sentiment is what matters.”

“Still got the list of disagreements, though.”

Cas chuckled, and Dean’s heart soared at the sound. “Good.”

Silence encompassed them, but it was a comfortable one.

Dean pressed a kiss to Cas’s hairline. “I should probably get going before it gets too dodgy outside.”

Cas hummed, but didn’t leave Dean’s embrace.

Dean chuckled. “This is the part where-”

“Sleep on the couch. I don’t want you to go.”

“Sure?”

“It’s not like I’m inviting you to my bed. The couch is no big deal.”

“You’re right.”

“I’m not ready for anything more.”

“Neither am I,” Dean admitted.

“Good.” Cas leaned back, revealing his face. “I’ll get you clothes to borrow.”

Dean raised an eyebrow. “How do you know they’ll-”

“We wear the same size clothing,” Cas said factually.

“And how,” Dean said breathily, “can you possibly know that?”

“A tag stuck out behind your shirt once. We’re the same size.”

“Okay.” Dean smiled fondly. “Weird, but okay.”

Cas left their embrace, Dean trying not to pout at the missing warmth. “I’ll be back,” Cas said, disappearing into his bedroom.

————

Cas’s pajama pants and navy tee were a perfect fit on Dean.

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

Dean woke up, his back ached, and he did not care.

Cas shook him awake lightly. He was the first thing Dean saw.

Waking up to a smiling Cas was something he could get used to.

His back ached, but he did not care.

Cas’s fond expression melted the pain away.

Chapter Text

“Can I sketch your hand?”

Castiel tilted his head to the side, observing Dean confusedly from across the kitchen table. His hand froze on instinct around a glass of orange juice. He speared the last triangle of his double stacked pancakes — he and Dean both agreed it was a pancake day, not a waffle day — and chewed it slowly.

When the warm syrupy pancake slid down his throat, Castiel regarded his blushing boyfriend. “That sounds like quite an odd request. I’ll have to think about that for a minute.”

Dean’s freckled cheeks turned beet red. He stuttered, but no intelligible words came out.

Castiel had gotten used to Dean blurting things out. Saying things before he thought them through completely. Castiel was fond of that little habit. Dean was as weird as him, and that was comforting.

Dean’s proposal was a big step. Dean had drawn every insect-themed odd and end in Castiel’s bookstore. Castiel had displayed every single one in the front windows of his shop. The sheer amount of them cluttered all the window space, creating checkerboard sunlight streaks throughout the bookstore. Castiel had to shoehorn his advertisement posters between the clutter, but he thought it gave his shop new meaning. New purpose. New importance to Castiel personally.

The other day, Dean filled the last open square with a charcoal version of his scarab figurine. The one that intrigued Owen whenever he held Jody’s hand and walked around the children’s section.

Doing charcoal renderings of these objects must get tiring after a while. Dean was clamoring to get back to what he was truly talented at: painting people.

Castiel drained the last of his orange juice and answered, “after we wash dishes.”

Dean’s grin made Castiel think this would be worth it. “Really?”

Castiel rolled his eyes and stood up, taking their empty plates with him. “Don’t make me change my mind.”

He pretended not to see Dean’s puppy dog expression as he followed Castiel with empty glasses.

————

Castiel paged through a book he had been reading the past week. He held one palm against the tabletop as Dean sat across from him. Castiel heard the scratching of a charcoal pencil on Dean’s sketchbook as he focused and drew.

Castiel didn’t let the implications of this reach his mind. Ruminating on things never did him any good.

He scanned through the pages, flipping them every thirty seconds. If Castiel leaned forward a little, he could smell Dean’s cologne.

Castiel usually didn’t trust men who wore cologne. But pretty boys wore cologne. It was a thing. Dean was a good pretty boy, thankfully.

Castiel got to the last page of his book, but the words had stopped absorbing a while ago. Whatever. It wasn’t a stellar book. He would rather sell it.

He closed it, and Dean murmured, “how was it?”

Castiel made a disgruntled noise.

Dean hummed in understanding, scratching away with his charcoal pencil.

Castiel got out his smartphone, knowing that he couldn’t move until Dean was finished. Castiel unlocked his phone and booted up Candy Crush.

After a moment, Dean reached out, touching the divot between Castiel’s index and middle fingers. “What are these two rings for?” He asked softly.

Castiel looked down at the bronze ring on his index finger. He set his phone on the tabletop while the game loaded. He pointed to the ring. “This was my mom’s wedding ring. She gave it to me on her deathbed.” Castiel didn’t look at Dean as he pointed to the silver ring on his middle finger. “This is my father’s wedding ring. Once I learned he was a cheating asshole, I stole it from his nightstand drawer. He never noticed I had it on my middle finger until I flipped him off one day.”

A smile reached the corner of Dean’s mouth. “How’d that go over?”

“I was eighteen. He couldn’t do anything to me, but I know he wanted to.”

Dean nodded in understanding. His alcoholic father beat on him. Dean never talked about it. Dean was probably thinking about the three butterflies displayed inside Castiel’s bookstore, each one representing a dead beloved Winchester. Castiel’s rings were his version of the butterflies. Castiel understood the symbolism of it all.

And was the thing about them that awed Castiel. They just understood each other. No words needed to be exchanged.

Dean took Castiel’s unoccupied hand, brought it up to his lips, and kissed his knuckles. Castiel felt a lump form in his throat. His breath halted as his chest expanded. It collapsed slowly after a long beat.

Dean’s lovely green-gold eyes met his. “You really are a strong one.” Dean gave Castiel use of his hand back.

Castiel said nothing and directed his attention to Candy Crush.

————

“Ah!” Dean brushed off his sketchbook with a light swing of his hand. A smile reached his lips. “Voila!”

Castiel closed down Candy Crush and stretched out his hand. It ached slightly after hardly moving for three hours. He made a fist and splayed his fingers outwards as a stretching technique. He then rested his chin atop his hand and peered at the drawing.

“There’s something about charcoal that makes hands look nice,” Castiel remarked.

“Your hands are already nice,” Dean said softly.

Castiel batted his eyelashes and said, “all this shouldn’t be so easy.”

Their relationship. Talking to each other. Seeing each other constantly.

Castiel was surprised he hadn’t lost his mind yet.

Dean said, “but it is. And I like that.” He emphasized, “we both deserve each other.”

“We do,” Castiel agreed.

————

ONE WEEK LATER…

 

“Favorite type of music?”

Dean smiled warmly, stirring the ice cubes in his water with a straw. “I grew up with classic rock, so that holds a special place in my heart.”

“But?” Castiel prompted playfully.

“I also like Taylor Swift.”

Castiel laughed. “She knows how to write a good song. I’ll listen to anything. Open ears, open heart. That’s what my mom used to say.”

“Wow.” Dean smiled toothily, the action lighting up his eyes. “I like that a lot. Our moms would’ve gotten along.”

“Maybe.” Castiel prompted, “drama or comedy?”

“Dramedy.”

Castiel chuckled. “Fair enough. I’ll agree with that.” He put on a dramatic tone. “How you answer this question will determine the rest of our relationship.”

Dean took it seriously. “Oh?”

Castiel cleared his throat. “Do you prefer reading on paper or electronically?”

“Paper, my dear.”

“Correct answer.”

Dean’s gentle laugh resonated in Castiel’s mind for the next hour.

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

“It’s Halloween in four days,” Charlie said.

Castiel continued shelving children’s books on his footstool. “I know.”

“Remember what we agreed to last year?”

Castiel winced. “Unfortunately.”

“Aw, come on,” Charlie chuckled, “it’ll be fun.”

“For you,” Castiel shot back.

“For you too!”

“Uh huh.”

“And you agreed to pictures. Remember?”

Castiel sighed loudly. “Fine.”

“I better see a smile.”

“That’s pushing it.”

“C’mon, Cas.” Charlie put hands on hips, her gaze boring into Castiel’s back. “What’s got you so moody?”

“I just don’t like getting my picture taken. You know that.”

“But why?” Charlie asked exasperatedly. “If I were as pretty as you, I would-” Charlie cut herself off, her mouth snapping shut. A realization dawned on her. “Oh.” She stared at the floor.

Castiel shelved the final book and stepped off his footstool. “While I don’t capitalize on my looks anymore, because of...everything...it’s okay. I promised you last year. It’s fine.”

Charlie frowned. “I feel like shit now.”

“Don’t.” Castiel placed his hands on Charlie’s shoulders, facing her. Since Castiel wasn’t one for touching, Charlie stared up at him with wide eyes. “I’m loathe to admit it, but Dean is helping me. Granted, I did most of the work, but I’m doing better partially because of him.”

Charlie stepped forward, falling into Castiel’s chest. He hugged his friend, then, feeling infinitely peaceful. Charlie muffled, “I’m really happy for you.”

“Okay. I think I can take a couple goddamn pictures.”

“In our couple’s outfit?”

Castiel huffed. “Don’t remind me.”

Charlie’s teary-eyed grin filled Castiel’s vision, and they laughed.

————

TWO DAYS LATER…

 

“Two days and counting, Castiel Novak!” Charlie declared the following day, pointing at him as she walked into the storage room.

Castiel sighed. “I know, Char!” He stared at the ceiling and exhaled through his nose.

“What’s up?” Dean asked, his light tenor filtering through Castiel’s brain.

Castiel leveled his head and turned it towards his boyfriend’s voice. Dean was clutching a special-ordered advanced painting book to his chest, his arms crossing over it in an X formation.

He looked cute, as always. Castiel refrained from crossing the space between them and smashing their faces together, from kissing Dean’s freckled skin and plush Cupid’s bow lips.

This was a place of work. Professionalism was everything, even with only one customer currently at the checkout counter, unable to see either of them.

Castiel said, “just so you know, Charlie has a soirée here every Halloween. I promised her last Halloween I would do a couple’s costume with her this year. So,” he shrugged, “that’s happening. It’s gonna be horrible.”

Dean smiled that puppy dog smile of his, as radiant as the sun.

Castiel thinks it must hurt to be so beautiful.

In fact, he knew it did.

Dean asked, “am I invited?”

“Sure,” Castiel said. “If you’re into costume parties, that is.” He tilted his head to the side. “Are you?”

“I’m neither for nor against them.” Dean studied Castiel in that way he did when he was puzzling over something. Trying to figure him out. “I can tell you hate them, though.”

“Ding ding,” Castiel said sardonically.

“Any,” Dean shifted his feet, his gaze playful, “bad experiences you wanna tell me about?”

“There were plenty,” Castiel said, pushing up his glasses with his forefinger. “They all had to do with me wearing the worst costumes possible.”

“Tell me one.”

“A ladybug. When I was six.”

“Six?!”

“Six.”

Dean’s mouth fell open. Mirth shined in his eyes. He held back any laughter. “Wow.”

“So,” Castiel said in a clipped tone, “are you coming to this party, or what?”

“Oh, I will.”

Castiel knew Dean was only coming to laugh at the couple’s costume. Nonetheless, it would give Castiel an opportunity to see Dean wearing something other than jeans and tees and plaid and a ratty brown leather jacket.

“Great.” Castiel turned away, watching their final customer of the day leave with the chime of a bell.

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

“There better be a good reason you haven’t called.”

Dean sighed. “Hey, Ro. Good to hear from you, too. How are you? Oh! I’m good! How are you?”

Dean could imagine his boss shaking her head disapprovingly.

Rowena clucked her tongue. “Your good reason. Go!”

“I was heartbroken.”

“Oh, please!” Rowena huffed.

“I couldn’t create for a year.”

Rowena fell silent. She wasn’t completely heartless. Her voice softened. “How are you now?”

“I’m doing better, thanks for asking. How have you been?”

“Eh. Same old shit. I see these young artists come into my office and show me things. None of them have what you have.”

“A genuine compliment?” Dean grinned. “Wow!”

“Please tell me this call means you’re working,” Rowena pleaded. “Dozens have come to me asking where you are. They’re hungry for you.”

“I’m calling,” Dean said, “because I finally retaught myself how to draw.”

Rowena was silent for a few beats. “It was really bad,” she said softly, “this heartbreak of yours.”

“It was,” Dean confirmed. “But an angel has fallen from Heaven. And he brought me peace.”

Rowena oohed. He had her on the edge of her seat. “Who is he? An artist? A collector? A curator?”

Dean clucked his tongue. “No soup for you!”

Rowena sighed. “Seinfeld isn’t funny anymore, Dean.”

“I’m working on something,” Dean divulged. “Okay?”

Rowena trilled. “Good boy.”

“I’m not promising anything.”

“Fine. But here’s a reminder,” Rowena paused, “if we don’t start a campaign and collection soon, your clientele will forget about you.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “If the art world is suffering, lacking in heart, as much as you say it is,” he smirked, “that won’t be a problem. They will wait.”

“Oh, honey,” Rowena’s voice dripped with pride, “you’ve gotten smart, haven’t you?”

“Mhm.” Dean teased, “that’s hint number one, Ro. Talk soon!”

Dean hung up his smartphone before his solicitor got another word in.

————

“Who were you on the phone with?”

Dean murmured from the crook in Cas’s neck, “my boss.”

Cas turned his attention away from the television. “You’ve never mentioned a boss.”

“Solicitor,” Dean amended. “She, uh, I haven’t called her in a couple months.”

“She must’ve been angry.”

“A little. She wanted to know what was up with me.”

“Why you’re not in the public eye, you mean?”

“Yeah.” Dean was glad he could speak so calmly with Cas about this. “I’ve been a recluse since I met you. In a manner of speaking.”

Cas said into Dean’s temple, his lovely voice rattling through Dean’s mind, “I hope you told her everything.”

Dean paused. “In a manner of speaking.”

“Just the basics, then?”

“Right.” Dean reached for the television remote without comprising his cozy position with Cas. He turned off the nature documentary they hadn’t been watching, even though Cas liked them, for some reason. Another minor disagreement to add to Dean’s pocketed list. Dean tangled his legs with Cas’s, surprised that he didn’t protest. Dean’s voice vibrated into Cas’s skin. “I want to make a collection. About you.”

Dean watched Cas’s chest expand and collapse, inhaling and exhaling deeply. Dean buried his nose in Cas’s collarbone, closing his eyes and focusing on Cas’s scent. Mint body wash. Hm. He liked it. It’s better than his citrus one.

“That’s,” Cas said neutrally, “a big step.”

“It doesn’t feel like it. Not to me. I feel like I owe it to you.”

“You don’t owe me anything.”

“Did it hurt,” Dean asked gently, “when you fell from Heaven?”

Cas snorted. “I’m no angel.”

“You are to me.”

Cas was silent.

Dean continued, “when you let me sleep on this couch, and I woke up to you standing over me,” he pulled Cas ever closer, “you sure looked like an angel.”

Cas exhaled through his nose, the air tickling Dean’s cheekbone. “I’ll think about it.”

“My collection?” Dean asked hopefully.

“Right.”

Dean kissed Cas’s neck. “Thank you. That’s all I ask.”

————

HALLOWEEN NIGHT…

 

“I hate my life,” Castiel declared in the storage room.

“So dramatic,” Charlie remarked with a laugh. “It’s really not that bad.”

“It is! I’m chafing!”

“Deal with it!” Charlie shot back.

Castiel sighed. Their couple’s costume was absolutely ridiculous. It could have been worse, though.

Charlie stood in front of Castiel, observing his costume in its full effect. She looked him up and down, and said, “you’re pulling this off.”

Castiel frowned. “Am I?” He looked at Charlie, who was brushing out her long pigtails. “I think you look better.”

“Aw!” Charlie grinned brightly. “You’re so sweet.” She yanked Castiel into a quick hug. “We’re gonna look great!”

————

Dean threw open his apartment door, nearly jumping out of his skin.

Sam, dressed as a mechanic, and Jo, dressed as a pirate, were there with their arms crossed.

“Whoa!” Dean clutched his heart. “You can give people heart attacks by doing that!”

As Dean calmed his rapidly beating heart, Sam said, “nice costume.”

Dean grinned. “Thank you.” He examined a sewn-on tag on Sam’s jumpsuit with the word ‘Winchester’ inscribed in cursive. “I love the extra effort, too!” He said to Jo, “your eyepatch is great!”

Jo stuck her thumbs up and sent Dean a dimpled smile.

“Where are you off to, then?” Sam asked his older brother.

“The bookstore,” Dean replied, stepping into the hallway and shutting his apartment door. “Charlie has a costume party there every year. Should be cool.”

“And you’re going as a cowboy?” Jo clucked disapprovingly. “If you have a boyfriend, you’re supposed to wear something sexy.”

“Like what?” Dean scoffed. He walked towards the elevator, Sam and Jo following. “Are y’all off to your annual office party?”

“Yup,” Jo said. “Should be as awful as expected.”

“Hah. I’m sorry, guys.” Dean shrugged. “You wanted to be lawyers.” He pushed the elevator button and waited.

————

Kevin walked into the storage room in his knight costume, unprepared for the sight before him.

He blinked rapidly, staring at Charlie and Castiel dressed as-

Kevin doubled over laughing, his friends staring at him with crossed arms, unimpressed.

When Kevin got ahold of himself a minute later, he wiped tears from his eyes. He straightened his posture and said, “this is way more glorious than I thought it was gonna be.”

Charlie cleared her throat pointedly. “Are guests arriving yet?”

“Yes.” Kevin held open the door. As Charlie reached it, he inclined his head and said, “Gretel.” Charlie smacked his arm and went into the bookstore. Castiel followed, Kevin halting him with, “have fun, Hansel.”

Castiel shot Kevin a dirty look and entered the party.

Kevin had a proper laughing fit when his friends were out of earshot.

————

“So,” Dean said as he walked with his family in the clogged SoHo streets, “are either of you getting into the dating game yet?”

Sam and Jo shared a look.

Dean furrowed his eyebrows. “What?”

Jo nudged Sam’s shoulder. “Tell him!” She hissed. “Or I will!”

Dean halted them and dragged them to the side. “What is it?!”

Jo stared at Sam, whose jaw was clenched. Dean searched their expressions in anticipation.

Sam said, “I’m seeing a guy.”

Dean’s entire face lit up. “Really?!” He did a little jump. “That’s great! What’s his name? What’s he do? What’s he like?”

Sam rolled his eyes at the barrage of questions. A smile tugged at the side of his mouth. “Gabriel Smith. He owns a candy store, and he’s a food scientist.”

“A candy store?” Dean grinned maniacally.

“Yup.” Sam blushed red.

“Have you met him?” Dean asked Jo.

“Nope. Sam’s keepin’ him all to himself.” Jo stared at Dean for an uncomfortable moment.

Dean sighed exasperatedly. “You’ll meet Cas soon! Okay?”

“We better!” Jo exclaimed.

————

Kevin waited by the bookstore entrance for Dean.

A half hour after the party started, he saw a costumed cowboy cross the street.

“Oh my God.” Kevin chortled and pushed open the door. He intercepted Dean just as he reached the front window. “Hey!”

Dean smiled. “Nice costume, Kev. Super badass.”

“I know.” Kevin mimed flipping his hair. “A cowboy, Dean?” He narrowed his eyes. “Really?”

“I like westerns.” Dean shrugged. “Sorry not sorry.”

As Dean took a step forward, Kevin halted him.

Dean raised an eyebrow. “What’s up?”

Kevin grinned conspiratorially. “Before you go in there, I gotta warn you.” A pause. “Charlie and Cas’s costumes are glorious.”

“Why are you warning me, then?”

Kevin proposed, “I’ll give you twenty bucks if you can look at them without laughing.”

Dean searched Kevin’s face for any indication of what that could mean. The possibilities were endless. Dean cracked a half-smile. “Is it really that good?”

“If you don’t laugh,” Kevin said, “I’ll seriously give you twenty bucks. Deal?”

Dean said hesitantly, “I’m not one for bets, but,” he shrugged, “sure. Deal.”

————

Kevin watched Dean, Castiel, and Charlie face each other in the party.

Dean gritted his teeth, preventing a smile or laugh from dominating his features. Kevin knew it was difficult for him. Dean smiled and blushed like a golden retriever whenever in Castiel’s presence.

“Hi,” Dean exhaled. “That’s an adorable couple’s costume.”

Castiel frowned, and Charlie grinned. “Isn’t it?”

Dean inclined his head. “You look fine, Cas. Lighten up. It’s Halloween.”

“Do as the cowboy says,” Charlie said to Castiel.

Castiel rolled his eyes and placed his hands on his hips. “Whatever.”

————

Charlie gasped so loudly she startled Castiel.

Then, Charlie grabbed Castiel’s forearm and dragged him into the corner of the bookstore.

“What?!” Castiel hissed.

Charlie’s eyes were full of fear. “Dorothy’s here.”

Castiel smirked delightedly. “That girl you had a crush on in grad school?”

Charlie shushed him. “Shut up!” She looked around frantically. “What do I do?”

“Shake out your nerves with me.” Castiel held out his arms and shook them. Charlie eyed him warily, but did the same after Castiel ribbed her for a moment. Castiel set his hands on her shoulders. “Okay, Gretel. You are a confident, beautiful, awesome woman. If Dorothy’s got any brains, she will give you a chance. And a chance is all you need.”

“Damn,” Charlie said, “your pep talks are intense. And wonderful.” She pulled Castiel into a tight hug. “Thank you.”

“Good luck.”

————

“Color me impressed,” Kevin said once he pulled Dean aside.

“You forgot that I’m famous,” Dean said. “I have a performance mask.”

Kevin pulled a twenty out of his wallet. “You seriously earned this. Good job, man.”

————

They were both buzzed when they ran into each other again.

Dean framed Cas’s face in his hands and giggled. “Hey, honey. Ya havin’ fun?”

“Not as much fun as you, it seems,” Cas said dryly.

Dean laughed. “I can tell you’re havin’ fun. You didn’t scowl or complain during pictures.” He drew Cas close, until they were chest-to-chest between bookshelves in this raucous party. “Your costume is so cute, honey.”

Cas blinked, unimpressed. “Whatever you say.”

“I mean it,” Dean whined. He brought their foreheads together. He murmured through pouted lips, “you’re my adorable, sweet Hansel. Grumpy,” their noses brushed, “but sweet.”

“You just want me to kiss you,” Cas grumbled.

“Guilty. I’ll settle for a quick one.”

Cas brought their lips together. The kiss had little time to mature before Cas pulled away. “There. Happy?”

Dean chuckled. “Mhm.” He wound his arms around Cas’s neck. “You touch me more often, I’ve noticed.”

“You like to be touched.” To make his point, Cas tugged Dean closer by the hips.

Dean’s blonde eyelashes brushed Cas’s cheek. “Thank you.”

Cas’s eyebrow raised. “For touching you?”

Dean hummed. Their noses brushed again. “For letting me touch you. For getting comfortable enough to reciprocate. For gettin’ all cozy with me in the middle of a party.”

“We’re in costume, and I don’t know half of the people here. Doesn’t matter.”

Dean pressed a kiss to Cas’s jawline. “I’m startin’ to think I’m a little drunk.”

Cas laughed, a warm sound, rich like roasted coffee, traveling all the way through Dean’s veins. “Ya think?”

————

Death barely registered hitting Cas’s couch cushions before he was out like a light.

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

Castiel shook Dean awake lightly, his hand palming his shoulder. Dean’s face screwed up, his nose scrunching and making a pouty face.

“Mmph,” Dean muttered in the back of his throat.

Castiel went to his kitchen, grabbing a glass and flicking the sink faucet on. He watched the glass fill with tap water and shut it down with another flick.

He returned to his couch to find Dean observing him with squinted eyes. His freckles and blonde eyelashes shone prominently against the sun slivers playing about the main room. His eyes studied Castiel, roving over him affectionately.

‘...woke up to you standing over me, you sure looked like an angel…’

Castiel blinked away the hazy memory and held out the glass of water. Dean sat up slowly and scratched his head. He took the glass of water in both hands and drank it in sips, his face still screwed up. Like he had a headache.

Castiel kept his voice soft. “Aspirin?”

Dean nodded numbly.

Castiel left the room and went to the kitchen again. He kept aspirin bottles in the cupboard and in his nightstand drawer. He was no stranger to headaches. He shook out a pill in his palm and crossed his apartment again.

Dean popped the pill gratefully, managing a soft smile. “Thank you,” he said after swallowing a gulp of water.

“If you ever need aspirin,” Castiel said, “I’m your guy. Got tons of it.”

Dean’s eyebrows furrowed. “Your headaches are that bad?”

Castiel nodded and sat on the edge of a couch cushion. “I’ve been thinking about your proposal.”

Dean’s body leaned forward with interest. “And what’s your decision?”

“I will allow you to draw me,” Dean’s mouth dropped open, and Castiel held up a finger, “but,” he emphasized, “I have conditions.”

“Okay,” Dean breathed. “Go ahead.”

“One,” Castiel said, “you can only draw parts of me.”

Dean nodded.

“Two, no one can know it’s me unless I’ve given you permission to do otherwise.”

Dean nodded again.

“And three,” Castiel said, “I don’t want any full body portraits. I’m not one of your paintings in your Hall of Exes.”

Dean nodded a final time. “You’re better than that,” he said. “Far, far better. I would sculpt statues of you if I could.”

Castiel stared downwards.

“But you’ll just have to settle,” Dean murmured, “for an entire art collection dedicated to you.”

Castiel looked up at Dean through his eyelashes. “I suppose that will do.”

————

That day, Dean bought twenty dollars worth of art books at Cas’s bookstore.

He handed Kevin his twenty bucks back with a sweet smile and retreated to the storage room.

Chapter Text

It was closing time at the bookstore when Dean asked it.

“Do any of you know the name Gabriel Smith?”

Cas, Charlie, and Kevin all shared looks.

Cas eventually answered, “yes. Why?”

“Really?” Dean’s eyes widened. He crossed the bookstore towards the checkout counter, where the three friends were gathered. “What do you know about him?”

The three friends looked at him warily, obviously confused.

Cas replied, “he owns a candy shop in the East Village. He’s a food scientist that makes his own candy. We’ve all met him, since small business owners have a,” he lowered his voice, “secret network.” He asked, “why do you ask?”

Dean bit the inside of his cheek. “Is he a good guy or not?”

“He’s good,” Cas assured him. “He’s a...character, but good.”

“Character is putting it mildly,” Kevin muttered.

“Why are you asking?” Charlie asked.

Dean shifted on his feet. “Mybrotherisdatinghim.”

Cas’s eyebrows furrowed. “Did I hear that correctly?”

Dean beseeched, “I just need to know if he’s good enough for my little brother. Okay?”

Cas, Charlie, and Kevin had a silent conversation with their eyes.

Cas adjusted his glasses and said, “he’s just a little...eccentric.”

Dean stared at the ceiling and sighed. “Sam really knows how to pick ‘em.” He made an ‘ugh’ noise and leveled his head. “Pansexuals are a piece of goddamn work.” He plastered on a smile and said to the three friends, “you’ve been very helpful. Thank you.”

“Oh, I don’t think so.” Cas rounded the checkout counter and dragged Dean into the back room.

Once the door was shut, Cas placed his hands on Dean’s hips. Just as he liked it.

Dean sighed gratefully, his forehead tipping onto Cas’s. He loved how comfortable they had gotten over these months together. There were still lines that weren’t crossed, but Cas was getting there. Dean was chipping away at Cas’s defenses, slowly but surely. He felt blessed to have Cas’s trust and affection.

“I’m a drama queen,” Dean muttered. “Sorry.”

Cas’s lips brushed his, a ghost of a thing. “I know that. You’re lucky it’s endearing.”

“Whatever you say, my dear.”

“Gabriel is a good man. I promise.”

“Okay.”

“He is nothing compared to what we have both endured, I can tell you that much.”

“You’re right, as always.”

Cas chuckled, the rumble resulting in Dean’s habitual smile. The one that was becoming more and more permanent. A soft little tug upwards. “I’ll let you make up your mind about him, if things get serious.” Cas pulled back a little, Dean’s eyes flickering about his features. “Speaking of which, when am I meeting your family?”

Dean murmured, “when I can get your schedules to sync up. I’m working on it.”

“Lawyers are busy people.”

“Yup. But my brother still somehow managed to get himself a man.”

“I somehow managed to get one, too,” Cas said. “I think I’ll like him.”

“It’ll all work out wonderfully. I can already imagine it.”

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

Charlie and Kevin found Dean, as usual, sitting at the table in the storage room. He was scritch-scratching away on his sketchbook, which travelled with him like a purse.

Charlie and Kevin sat across from Dean. Dean’s eyes slid up to them, his pencil halting.

He closed his sketchbook, laying his pencil on the tabletop. “Yes?”

“How are things going?”

Dean quickly got with the program. He was used to Charlie and Kevin checking in on his relationship with Castiel. It was Charlie and Kevin’s mission to ensure Castiel was never hurt again.

Dean replied accordingly, “slow and steady wins the race.”

“And you’re,” Kevin’s eyebrows pinched together, “totally fine with that?”

“As I’ve said every time,” Dean emphasized, “yes, I am. I prefer it. I don’t want to rush things.”

“Cas told me,” Charlie said, “you’ve been hurt too.”

“Not in exactly the same way,” Dean winced, “but yes. Like I’ve said, I’m a famous artist. If you can think of it, it’s probably happened to me.”

Charlie nodded. “Okay. I trust you.”

“You haven’t trusted me this entire time?”

Charlie shrugged. “Errors in judgment have gotten Cas hurt before. I wanted to be sure.”

“Okay,” Dean murmured. “I understand.” He thought for a moment, a realization snapping his head up. “Where is Cas, anyway?”

“He went out,” Kevin said. “He’ll be back in an hour.”

“Oh.” Dean frowned despite himself. “Okay.”

“Don’t worry, loverboy,” Charlie teased, “he’ll be back for a makeout sesh safe and sound.”

Dean rolled his eyes.

————

Gabriel’s candy shop had changed since the last time Castiel visited the East Village.

The tile was a sharp white, the kind found in a dentist’s office. The cream-colored walls were adorned by several posters, some explaining the science behind candy and some of mouth-watering confections. Rows and rows of sugary sweets nearly made Castiel’s teeth rot just from looking at them. Castiel noted the surprising amount of customers inside the shop.

Gabriel, it seemed, was as successful as ever.

He strode to the checkout counter, observing two children and their parents stare at the freshly-created sweets inside the display case. If Castiel looked into the kitchen window, he could see uniformed workers stretching out strawberry taffy with assistance from a taffy puller.

Castiel stood in front of the register, an employee from the back approaching him.

“Castiel?!”

Castiel studied the face underneath the maroon hat. “Samandriel.” He recalled Samandriel was Gabriel’s right hand man and own little brother. “Hi.”

“Wow.” Samandriel smiled brightly. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

“A few months, yeah. I’m here to talk to Gabriel.”

“He’s in back. How about you come with me?”

“Okay.”

Samandriel revealed a gate at the corner of the counter. He held it open, and Castiel slipped through. He followed Samandriel into the kitchen slash laboratory slash storage room.

At Samandriel’s entrance, he met the eyes of three employees and nudged his head. The three scattered, back into the belly of the beast.

The taffy puller was left unattended.

But not to one.

A uniformed figure shut off the taffy puller, the long stretch of unmade strawberry sugar hanging off the rack. The figure looked at Samandriel, then at Castiel.

He pulled off his maroon hat, revealing recently shorned brown-blonde hair and oddly-captivating eyes.

Gabriel raised an eyebrow. “Castiel Novak. What brings you to my end of Manhattan?”

“We need to talk privately.”

Gabriel’s gaze switched between Samandriel and Castiel. His eyes narrowed, and he said, “fine.”

Samandriel went back to the counter, Gabriel folding his arms. “What’s up?”

“You’re seeing a guy named Sam Winchester. Right?”

Gabriel eyed him suspiciously. “Yes. And?”

“I’m dating his brother, Dean.”

Gabriel’s reaction was priceless. “Say what now?!” He blinked rapidly, a realization dawning on him. “Famous artist Dean Winchester?! You’re dating rich, Mr. Big-Fuckin’-Deal-Artist Dean Winchester?! And him and Sam are brothers?!” Gabriel’s hands flew to his forehead. “Whoa! I never made that connection.” His eyes bugged out of his head. “I’m dating the younger brother of a bigshot fucking artist!”

“Are you done?” Castiel asked shortly, growing impatient.

“Yeah,” Gabriel exhaled. “Whoa. Sorry. Okay.” His hands dropped to his sides. “What about Sam?”

“Don’t fuck this up. Whatever you have with Sam,” Castiel warned, “better be serious. I can’t have you jeopardizing my relationship with Dean for a fling, okay?”

Gabriel grew silent, not as expressive as normal. He murmured, “Sam and I have a good thing going. I dunno how long a handsome, smart, funny man like that will want me,” Castiel felt a pang of sympathy, “but I’ll have him as long as I can manage.” He cleared his throat and inquired, “are you and Mr. Famous Dean Winchester in a serious relationship?”

“Yes. I don’t want anything to get in the way of it, because for once,” Castiel hesitated, but decided it was okay to confess, “I’m really fucking happy!”

Gabriel pursed his lips. “Okay. Bisexual to bisexual, I’ll do my best not to fuck it up.”

Castiel felt relieved, but he didn’t show it on his face. “Good.”

“Does this mean we’ll see each other more often?”

Castiel shrugged. “Probably.”

Gabriel smirked. “We’re gonna become BFFs.”

“I already got two.”

“But we’re gonna hang out and braid each other’s hair.”

“Your hair isn’t long enough to braid anymore.”

Gabriel showed teeth. “Yeah, this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

————

Charlie and Kevin intercepted Castiel once he returned from his trip.

“How’d it go?” Charlie asked.

“We’ve come to an agreement,” Castiel replied. He smirked. “How’d your date with Dorothy go?”

Kevin oohed loudly.

Charlie blushed bright red. “Shut up!”

Castiel chuckled. “Was it good?”

“Y-yeah. Yup. Mhm.”

Castiel and Kevin laughed.

————

Dean had become increasingly comfortable with Cas’s lips on his.

Their first kiss blew Dean’s mind. It was so intense that his veins buzzed just thinking about it.

Every subsequent kiss was as devastating as the last. That’s why Dean and Cas kept their kissing to a minimum. It was too...much.

But they had grown more and more tolerant with it. With the shocks of electricity that burnt their very beings to a crisp. With every kiss, they healed, and were reborn, stronger than the last time. It almost felt bruising at first.

Where there was once pain and hope, there was only pleasure.

They finally found the right frequency. Knew how to move with each other. How to align their bodies on the couch and kiss in the way each man liked it most. For Dean, that was gentle pecks. For Cas, that was long breathless drags across lips. Like Dean was smoking a cigarette.

Cas recently mentioned he was a smoker. It explained why his deep voice made goosebumps prickle Dean’s skin. Maybe Cas missed what it felt like to have a drag.

Dean had become his new nicotine. Of that, he was absolutely certain.

————

ONE WEEK LATER…

 

Castiel was the only one watching the movie.

He glanced at Dean from the corner of his eye, hunched over the sketchbook he carried around everywhere. He was leaning over the page, his charcoal pencil scratching against the delicate paper.

Castiel sighed.

Dean’s head shot up. He studied Castiel with wide, apologetic eyes. “Oh.” He closed his sketchbook and rested it on the cocktail table, along with his pencil. “Sorry. Didn’t know I was doing it again.”

Since Dean looked like a remorseful kicked puppy, Castiel summarized the movie so far. He had no right to be angry.

Dean took the olive branch gratefully and leaned into Castiel’s shoulder, settling there for the night.

————

THREE DAYS LATER…

 

Dean continued to get distracted. Scratching away in his sketchbook.

Castiel didn’t want to get angry. It was hard to resist the urge to explode.

That night, Castiel couldn’t hold back a burst of his temper.

Dean was drawing during yet another movie. Oblivious to Castiel’s presence beside him.

Castiel snapped the sketchbook shut and tore it away from Dean violently. He perched it on his side of the couch, gritting his teeth and crossing his arms. He didn’t give Dean so much as a side glance.

Castiel’s skin burned hot at the weight of Dean’s gaze on him. He refused to feel ashamed. He bored his eyes into the television screen and ignored it.

After a moment of stifling silence, Dean murmured, “I’m sorry.”

Castiel tried to tame the white hot rage that made a home in his stomach. It spread through his veins and into his aortas instead, infecting him.

Venom threatened to fall from his mouth, but Castiel gritted his teeth harder. He wouldn’t do that. He could handle this. It wasn’t even a big deal. He was fine.

Every time Castiel lashed out, it didn’t end well. He refused to do this to Dean. To anyone. It only got Castiel hurt, especially by exes that had a temper larger than his own.

‘...mouth of yours will only get you hurt, Castiel…’

Castiel shut his eyes and imagined a fire extinguisher. He imagined activating it, an unrelenting cloud of soapy smoke beating out the fire in his heart.

Castiel opened his eyes and said to the television, “be here with me.”

He saw Dean nod.

“You draw all day when I’m at work. Be here with me.”

“Okay,” Dean said softly.

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

Dean tiptoed around Castiel all day. Like he was a puppy on eggshells, afraid of making a mistake.

“I’m sorry,” Castiel said during his lunch break in the storage room. Dean wouldn’t meet his eyes when he entered, and the silence was ridiculously uncomfortable. “I shouldn’t have snapped like that last night.”

Dean’s eyes slid upwards warily. “I understand things from your point of view.”

“I still shouldn’t have done that. My temper got the best of me.”

“Is that something,” Dean asked, “you struggle with?”

“I learned how to handle it a long time ago. I have no excuse.” Castiel thought of the jarring, violent movement of his arm snapping away the sketchbook. He felt sick, his eyes focusing on the tabletop. “I would never-”

“I know,” Dean said soothingly. “Hey, honey,” he reached for Castiel’s hand across the table, “it’s okay. I promise.”

Castiel sniffled. “I didn’t mess it up?”

“No, sweetheart. No.” Dean said lightly, “it’s nice to know I adore such a capable, red-blooded man who could save me from burglars should the need arise.”

Castiel chose not to comment on that. “How is the art collection coming?”

“Good.” Dean accepted the topic change. “I’m only doing preliminary sketches. They’ll start me off once I get to painting again.”

“You’ll just have to paint copies?”

“Yeah.” Dean smiled, bringing Castiel’s hand to his lips. He kissed every knuckle. Castiel’s insides warmed. “You get it.”

————

TWO DAYS LATER…

 

With Charlie and Kevin strong-arming Dean into a shared lunch break, Castiel had a wonderful opportunity.

Since there were no customers in the bookstore, Castiel went into the storage room.

He lifted Dean’s sketchbook from the table and sat, thumbing the cover open.

Castiel’s hand resting flat on his apartment dining table was the first sketch. Dean had gotten every last detail perfect, from the shape of his knuckles to the tufts of hair on each finger to his shortened nails.

The second sketch was a side view of Castiel’s lower legs, trailing down to his feet. It looked like he was suspended in motion, running perhaps, his feet an inch off the invisible ground.

How the hell did Dean see his bare le-

Oh.

The one time Castiel mistakenly woke Dean up in boxers instead of pajama pants.

“You’re like a woman in a Jane Austen novel,” Dean had teased. “No skin. Extra layers.” His eyes had swiped across Castiel’s bare feet and legs quickly, as if saving them in his data banks. “Good to know you’re flesh and blood, sweetheart.”

Castiel flipped to the third page. It was a side view sketch of his arms, from shoulder to fingertips. Special detail had gone into his muscle cords, how his bones flexed when he carried books, how his elbows bent when he shelved new arrivals.

In the same instance as the boxers mistake, Castiel had also worn a short-sleeved tee. He usually wore long sleeves, but he was so tired the night before he tossed on whatever was closest and fell onto his mattress. He had spent the work day at the bookstore carrying heavy boxes full of books and moving them about the storage room.

Dean was particularly happy by the change, his eyes following Castiel’s every movement and licking his lips as if thirsty.

Anyway, the same morning Castiel wore boxers, he wore a tee that showed off the bulk of his arms. It was the only time Castiel had shown that much skin to Dean in the entire duration of their relationship. Castiel hadn’t slipped up since, but it clearly affected Dean more than he let on.

Castiel made a note of it.

He flipped the page. The fourth sketch was of Castiel’s neck and collarbone. Dean’s favorite spot to nestle in during their movie nights. The place he most enjoyed kissing and conducting whispered conversations. In a way, Castiel knew this would be in here.

The fifth sketch was an object. Castiel’s favorite mug. He either filled it with oil-colored coffee or whichever tea brand was the cheapest at the grocery store. The mug had no adornments, unless a chipped handle counted as a marker of its importance. Castiel knew he could buy a new one, or ask Dean — with his secret riches — to get him something fancy. Dean would do it, but this mug had been with Castiel through every shitty ex-girlfriend-and-boyfriend he’d had over several years. Castiel found the chipped handle an apt metaphor; he may be scarred, but he still functioned well enough.

The sixth sketch was of a necklace resting over Castiel’s heart, his powder blue dress shirt acting as a background. The necklace was his mother’s locket, a golden heart that he shined with his eyeglass cloth religiously. The locket held a family picture inside: him as a young boy, and his parents.

When his mother died, he made a change. The picture now had his father cut out of it. It was just him and his mom, a party of two.

Dean saw him hide it under a dress shirt once and asked about it. Castiel had explained and shown him the picture inside the locket. Dean smiled softly and said he looked cute as a kid. Castiel blinked it off and that was the end of the conversation.

But Dean had remembered.

He remembered everything, it seemed.

Castiel heard the bells on the front of the bookstore chime loudly.

He closed the sketchbook and placed it back on the table. He appeared from the storage room to find Charlie, Kevin, and Dean laughing and holding to-go bags.

Dean saw him first, and approached with his usual heart eyes. “Hey. I got us tacos.”

Castiel raised an eyebrow. “Are they potato tacos?”

“Course.”

“Good boy.”

Dean beamed.

————

The credits were rolling on their movie night when Castiel said casually, “your sketches are good. They have potential.”

Dean stiffened, his eyes widening comically, bugging out of his head. He squeaked out a sound that sounded like a question.

Castiel drank in Dean, whose expression was a combination of mortified, shy, and genuinely surprised.

Castiel laughed. “Your sketches are good,” he repeated airily. “Though I think you’re a bit biased.” He brought up an example from his mind. “My arms aren’t that muscled, and you missed the mole on my right calf.” He shrugged. “You only saw my legs the once, though. I suppose I can excuse you for that.”

Dean still hadn’t moved. But his eyes hadn’t left Castiel since he started speaking.

Dean emitted another squeak.

Castiel smirked inwardly. Outwardly, though, he made sure his face was neutral. “What?” He asked mock confusedly.

Dean blinked rapidly, as if remembering his normal bodily functions. His Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat and he swallowed spit. He did a small throat clear. “Nothin’. Thanks for the advice.”

Castiel hummed, a smirk tugging on the side of his mouth Dean couldn’t see.

“You better get used to my weirdness,” Dean said, finally coming back to himself.

Castiel turned his head to the side, looking Dean right in the eyes. “Oh, honey,” he smiled fondly, “I already am.”

Dean’s answering puppy dog grin brightened his entire existence.

“Besides,” Castiel mentioned, “if you can deal with me rambling about insects and books, I can deal with your eccentricities.”

“That sounded,” Dean’s voice lowered, “like something romantic I would say.”

Castiel tapped his temple. “See that? Steel trap.”

Dean chuckled, his eyes half-lidded. Castiel tried not to think about how long his eyelashes were, or how kissable his freckles looked in the lamplight.

He didn’t think about that. Nope.

Dean tugged himself forward, taking Castiel’s face in his hands. “Kiss me goodnight,” Dean murmured.

Castiel shut off the television with a quick hand movement and brought their lips together. He let a little shock settle in their bones, then pulled away.

“Good night,” Castiel whispered, untangling their limbs. He sent him a parting glance before closing his bedroom door.

Chapter Text

Dean and Castiel had never been this drunk before.

They were at Dean’s apartment, and they had just drained an entire cask of red wine. And Castiel didn’t know why, but they were playing a different version of either-or.

Since drinking made them both honest, it made the night interesting indeed.

Especially when Dean asked, “favorite kink?”

Castiel laughed. “Seems like you have one.”

Dean hummed, his face ruddy and his eyes shifting focus. “Pink lacy underwear.”

Castiel roared with laughter, nearly falling off the couch. “What?!”

Dean smirked behind the rim of a half-empty wine glass. “Doesn’t matter if its a man or woman. And after, I wanna wear ‘em.”

Castiel threw his head back and laughed.

“What about yours, hm?”

“I don’t have one.”

“Bullshit. Everyone does.”

Castiel shrugged. “If you consider dirty talk a kink, then that, I guess.”

“Ooh. What kinda dirty talk?”

“The kind that’s respectful.”

“So not ‘I wanna suck y-”

“No.” Castiel laughed again. “You sounded ridiculous.”

“I’m not the best at dirty talk.” Dean shrugged. “Sorry.”

“That’s fine. That was almost cute.”

“Almost?!”

Castiel tipped back the rest of the wine in his glass. “Of course you’re cute. Like a puppy.”

“I’ve never been called a puppy before.”

“Puppy.” Castiel ruffled Dean’s hair as a joke and kissed his cheek.

“We’re wasted, aren’t we?”

Castiel nodded and laughed.

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

Castiel has never slept on Dean’s couch before.

It was about time. He always had Dean sleep on his own couch. The roles finally reversed.

Dean said he preferred Castiel’s apartment, anyway. It was more homey, or something.

Castiel woke to the smell of eggs and bacon sizzling in the kitchenette. He rolled over and groaned.

Socked feet padded over to him, bringing the scent of cologne and grease. A small chuckle fell from his lips and he crouched in front of the couch. “Good morning, Cas.”

Castiel finally opened his eyes. Green-gold eyes and sunburnt freckles filled his vision. “Ugh.”

Dean chuckled. “Hello, grumpy.” He ruffled Castiel’s hair. “Breakfast will be ready in a minute.”

Castiel groaned again and rubbed his eyes. “How do you do this all the time?”

“Did the couch not agree with you?” Dean asked playfully.

Castiel gathered the strength to sit up. Dean splayed a hand against his back to steady him. Castiel let his sour look speak for him.

Dean stood with a smile and offered a hand. “C’mon, sweetheart.”

Castiel rolled his eyes and grasped the hand.

————

I BLESS THE RAINS DOWN IN AAAFRICAAAAAA!!!

Castiel nearly jumped at his smartphone ringing. Dean, Charlie, and Kevin all shared looks as Castiel disappeared into the storage room.

Castiel answered it. “Thanks for reminding me I need a new ringtone.”

“Ooh. What’s the ringtone?” Gabriel asked, his tone suggesting he was in a freakishly joyful mood.

Gabriel Smith was always freakishly joyful. It must be his default.

Castiel fucking hated it.

“Africa by Toto,” Castiel replied grumpily. “It came with my phone.”

“Good song. Better than my preset. ‘You Get What You Give’ by New Radicals.”

“That song is really overplayed.”

“So is yours nowadays,” Gabriel said.

Castiel cleared his throat. “You didn’t call me to talk about ringtones.”

“What if I did, though?”

Castiel sighed.

Gabriel said, “I just wanted to check in. How’s Mr. Famous Artist Dean Winchester on this lovely afternoon?”

“It’s fucking raining.”

“ON THIS LOVELY AFTERNOON!”

Castiel sighed again. “He’s fine.”

“Have you met my man yet?”

Castiel wanted to throw himself off a cliff. “No, but I will on Thanksgiving.”

“A dinner?”

“No, actually. We’re going on a day trip.”

“To?”

“Dean’s making it a surprise.”

“Ooh. This could either spell disaster or be really thoughtful.”

“I know, Gabriel. Are you coming, by any chance?”

“To an undisclosed destination where there’s no Thanksgiving dinner? I don’t think so.”

“Sam doesn’t rival food, then?”

“Nope. But, hey, it keeps him on his toes. And interested in me.” Gabriel gasped. “Oh! Been meaning to ask. What’s sex with a famous artist like?”

Castiel rolled his eyes so far back it almost hurt his head. “I’m not answering that.”

Because he didn’t know what sex with Dean is like. Gabriel didn’t need to know that.

“You’re no fun!” Gabriel whined. “Hey, did you get my books in?”

During one of their random phone calls, — all of them initiated by a curious Gabriel — the candy shop owner decided to order some confectionary books. “They’ll be here tomorrow,” Castiel informed him.

“Great. I can come there the day after tomorrow.” Gabriel smoothed out his tenor and said dramatically, “maybe I’ll get to see a certain artist when I drop by.”

“Shouldn’t you wait for Sam to introduce you?”

Gabriel made an ‘ugh’ sound. “That seems very lame. I know you’re sticking to that, but I’m sick of waiting around. Dean knows you know me, right?”

“Right.” Castiel narrowed his eyes suspiciously, even though Gabriel was currently in the East Village at his candy shop and couldn’t see him.

“Well, I think your Winchester desperately wants to meet me, with him being the eldest and all. I would do the same for my own little brother. I’m not going to wait for my Winchester to bring meeting-the-family up. But when he does,” Gabriel chuckled, “he’ll be surprised when we both know each other so well.”

Castiel snorted. “You and your theatrics. You want to do this all for the look on Sam’s face?”

“I told you earlier. I need to make life interesting for him.”

Castiel said fondly, “you’re a piece of work, Gabriel.”

“That’s right,” Gabriel sang cheerily.

————

“Who was that?” Charlie asked once Castiel came out of the storage room.

“The one, the only,” Castiel said.

“Ah,” Kevin remarked. “Fun.”

Surprisingly, Charlie and Kevin were okay with Castiel making a new friend. He thought their tight-knit trio couldn’t handle more people, but Dean had proven that wrong. With that knowledge, Castiel decided to humor Gabriel and speak with him on the phone sometimes.

“He’ll be here the day after tomorrow,” Castiel said. “Brace yourselves.”

Dean looked between the friends confusedly. “Who?”

“Gabriel,” Charlie replied nonchalantly.

Dean blinked and faced Castiel. “And he has your number?!”

Castiel rolled his eyes. “Don’t be one of those guys.”

“Right. Sorry.” Dean blinked again. “But I need context.”

Kevin spoke for his friend. “When Cas learned your brother was dating Gabriel, they had a little chat and decided to be friends.”

Dean thought back, a realization dawning on him. “That’s why you disappeared that day! You were checking him out on my behalf!” Dean’s voice softened. “You haven’t met my brother, and you’re already trying to protect him?” He stared at his feet bashfully. “That’s sweet.”

Charlie and Kevin sensed a Serious Relationship Talk on the horizon. Instead of leaving, as they were all closing the bookstore, Charlie and Kevin observed from the checkout counter. The sidelines, as Dean and Castiel stood a lengths away from each other.

Castiel said, “I thought,” he shrugged, “if we’re both dating in the same family, we might as well get along.”

“I’m not the most…comfortable with it,” Dean confessed. “I don’t know this guy.”

“You will in two business days,” Castiel said. “And I’ve known him for years, just not well. If it helps,” he divulged, “he’s crazy about your brother. He tries to be chill about it,” Castiel smiled fondly, “but I don’t believe him one bit. The both of you are on the same side.”

Dean’s lopsided mouth quirked upwards. “You said he’s a character. Does that still apply?”

“If I’m being real with you,” Castiel replied, “I don’t know why Sam picked him. He’s goddamn work.” He chuckled. “But his heart’s in the right place, and he’s got a brother of his own to protect.”

Dean blinked in surprise. “He does?”

“You two might have more in common than you think,” Castiel said. “Loathe as I am to say it.”

This seemed to ease Dean’s mind. “Okay. I trust you to handle this.”

Castiel broke their bubble, striding towards his friends. Charlie and Kevin met his gaze sheepishly.

Castiel ignored it. “The next few days are going to be enlightening, don’t you think?”

“All the pieces of the puzzle,” Kevin said, “will finally fall into place.”

“Should be fun,” Charlie said cheerily.

Castiel hummed in agreement.

————

TWO DAYS LATER…

 

The bells chimed an hour before closing, bringing with them a short figure clad in several layers of winter clothing.

Castiel rounded the checkout counter and eyed the man. “You look miserable,” he teased.

“Shouldn’t have cut my hair,” Gabriel grumbled, his beanie coming off to reveal shorter brown-blonde locks than their last meeting. He held the beanie in fingerless gloved hands, tucking it into his large coat. “Anyway,” he put on a cheery smile, “where is everyone?”

“Conspiring in the storage room,” Castiel replied.

“That’s where my employees gossip,” Gabriel said. He put on fake voices. “‘Janet, did you hear about the breakup?’ ‘Oh my!’ ‘Renee and Josh are done-so!’”

Castiel rolled his eyes. “I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that.”

Gabriel’s eyes swept the bookstore. “Where is everyone?”

“Last customer just left,” Castiel said.

“Ah. Well, this place looks better than it did years ago.”

“Yup. Got a steady foundation, finally.” Castiel made a motion with his arm. “Your books are near the back shelf.”

As they chattered, Castiel sensed three figures listening behind the storage room door. He snickered to himself and kept up the conversation. Gabriel asked about the insect theme, and Castiel allowed himself to have a short rambling session. The kind that Dean had gotten used to smiling politely at before talking about art.

Gabriel examined the books, paid for them, and Castiel bagged them.

The back door finally swung open, Charlie and Kevin carrying a box together. They pretended to talk about Walt Whitman as they crossed the store. They plopped the new shipment on the checkout counter.

Then, mock casually, Charlie and Kevin pretended to notice Gabriel.

“Oh!” Charlie exclaimed airily. Her movements were too jerky, her grin too bright. “Hi, Gabriel.”

“Was your pickup today?” Kevin asked, not playing the part nearly as good as Charlie. “Hi!”

Gabriel’s eyes slid over to Castiel.

Castiel sent an “I’m sorry, my friends are weird” look to him.

Gabriel smirked and said happily, “hi guys. Long time no see. How are you?”

“As bitter as the weather,” Kevin said jokingly.

“I know right!” Gabriel exclaimed. He said with a grin, “you’re made of sunshine, Kevin.”

Kevin grinned.

“And you,” Gabriel observed Charlie, “have an air about you, Charlie. A glow!”

Charlie blushed. “R-really?”

Gabriel put hands on his hips. “Yeah! Do ya got a special someone?”

Charlie nodded sheepishly.

Castiel supplied, “she started seeing a woman from grad school.”

“That’s great!”

Dean opened the storage room door, his trusty sketchbook opened and resting on his palm. He scratched away with his pencil, stepping forward just enough for the door to close behind him.

Castiel clapped loudly.

Dean jumped. “What?!” He surveyed the room with wide eyes. “Oh.” He pocketed his pencil and shouldered his sketchbook, trotting to the checkout counter. He planted his feet in front of Gabriel and looked him up and down. Dean squinted his eyes. “You’re not Sam’s usual type.”

“Dean!” Castiel said exasperatedly.

Gabriel didn’t seem to mind. “And I thought you’d be taller.”

The Star Wars reference had Charlie and Kevin stifling laughs.

After a tense moment, Dean cracked a smile. “Good one.” He held out a hand. “Dean Winchester.”

“Gabriel Smith.” The two men shook hands.

“You own a candy shop, yes?” Dean guided Gabriel out the door, the shorter man grabbing his bag of books.

“Yes.” Gabriel waved to the three friends and they resumed their conversation.

Castiel, Charlie, and Kevin looked at each other.

“Well,” Kevin said, “this should be interesting.”

————

THE DAY BEFORE THANKSGIVING…

 

Dean slid Sam and Jo’s coffee cups across the tabletop, like he always did on their weekly catch-ups. Sam and Jo gulped down caffeine, and Dean waited for a moment.

Dean had decided not to tell Sam he met Gabriel prematurely. Not yet, anyway. Or until an opportunity presented itself. There might be such an opportunity tomorrow, but he couldn’t say for sure.

Instead, Dean played it cool. “How’s your mystery man?”

“Good,” Sam said neutrally.

“How’s yours?” Jo asked pointedly.

Dean shot them a look. “You’re meeting him tomorrow, okay?!”

“Took you long enough,” Jo said.

“Are the tickets ready, Sammy?” Dean asked his brother.

“I got ‘em,” Sam said. “Tomorrow should be fun.”

“Is Cas bringing his friends?” Jo asked.

“It’s Thanksgiving. Of course he is.”

“It’ll be a party of six, then.”

“Don’t be sad, Sam. I’ll smoke out Gabriel soon enough.” Dean smirked knowingly; he already had.

“You seem very happy, lately,” Jo observed. “If you weren’t, you’d have grabbed Sam by the ear and forced him to lead you to Gabriel.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t yet, Jo,” Dean said humorously. “Um, yeah.” He chuckled. “I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time.” He blinked. “Huh. Didn’t notice that until now.”

“Do you really think you love him?” Jo asked curiously.

“I don’t think it,” Dean replied, “I know it.”

Jo aww’ed.

“It’s too early for mushy feelings,” Sam grumbled.

“The Grinch is out a month early,” Dean teased. “Don’t make any sudden moves.”

“He can smell your happiness,” Jo teased along with Dean.

“Sure you and Gabriel are okay?” Dean asked Sam.

“We’re okay. I’m just tired.”

Dean waggled his eyebrows.

Sam sighed. “No, Dean. We did that the other night.”

Jo nearly choked on her coffee. “What?!”

Sam blinked boredly. “What?”

“It’s a reverse relationship,” Dean observed.

“I’m not familiar with that term,” Jo said.

Dean explained, “it’s when you have sex first and then you realize you’ve developed feelings for that person and the progression of a serious relationship happens in reverse.” He eyed Sam curiously. “I didn’t think you were that kinda guy.”

“I’m usually not,” Sam said exasperatedly. “Can we stop talking about this now?”

Jo surprisingly acquiesced. She turned her attention back to Dean. “Are you gonna tell Cas you love him tomorrow?”

Dean scoffed. “Not in front of everyone, no.”

“When are you gonna do it, then?”

“I dunno.” Dean worried his lip. “I’m working on it.”

“Get on it soon,” Jo advised. “You don’t want him slipping through your fingers.”

The thought made Dean frown. “I will.”

————

THANKSGIVING DAY…

 

Castiel chose his outfit for the day carefully.

He forewent his usual formalwear: slacks, a sweater vest, a dress shirt, and a trench coat. Instead, he chose jeans, a navy blue jumper, and a fur-lined jacket. It was a holiday, after all; he needed to be comfortable for whatever the day brought.

Dean refused to tell him where they were going. Castiel humored him, even though he wasn’t a fan of surprises. He just knew he was finally going to meet Dean’s family.

Castiel made sure he had everything he needed contained in his inner jacket pockets. Phone, wallet, apartment keys. Check.

There was a knock on his apartment door. He ran a hand through his untameable hair, pushed up his large glasses, and went to answer it.

Charlie and Kevin dressed similarly to him, with Charlie carrying one of her giant purses. They shared similar grins.

“Look at you!” Charlie exclaimed.

“I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen you without a sweater vest,” Kevin remarked.

“You look great without one,” Charlie trilled. “And you’re even wearing your colors!”

Castiel furrowed his eyebrows, locking the door behind him. “Dark gray and blue?”

“Yeah! Makes your eyes pop.” Charlie scowled. “If you let them outta their cage, I mean.”

Castiel half-smiled, scrunching his nose pointedly to lift up his glasses. “I hate contacts. I’ve told you.” He put his keys back in his pocket. “Are you ready for this possible disaster of a trip?”

“Yeah!” Charlie and Kevin chimed together.

————

“Can’t you at least show us a picture?” Jo asked exasperatedly.

“No,” Dean said shortly. They reached the second floor landing of his apartment building.

“Do you want us to be surprised or something?” Sam asked warily.

“Yeah, I don’t think he can surprise us,” Jo said to Sam.

“Your exes were all pretty...interesting,” Sam pointed out to Dean.

“He’s different,” Dean said. They reached the lobby and began the trek outside. The weather, thankfully, was only blustery. “And besides, you already guessed it. He’s pretty.”

“Only he owns a bookstore,” Jo said. “Which means he’s the smartest guy you’ve dated.”

“That’s true,” Dean said. “Pretty and smart. Not conventionally, though.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Sam said.

The group weaved through crowds cluttering up sidewalks. A taxi flew by and honked.

Jo asked, “is there stuff we should know?”

“I already told you he’s got dead parents like us,” Dean replied.

Jo sighed. “I meant something else.”

Dean shrugged. “I got the basics down.”

Sam and Jo shared an ‘he’s impossible’ look.

————

Sam Winchester and Jo Harvelle were not what Castiel was expecting.

He was expecting no-nonsense lawyers with bland personalities and a special closet just for their suits.

What he got with Sam Winchester was a ridiculously tall Adonis that had amazing hair and baby blue eyes. If he observed Sam beside Dean, they didn’t look like brothers.

Jo Harvelle, however, was a female Dean. They had the same hair, only Jo’s was wonderfully long and wavy. The only difference was their eyes, as Dean’s were emerald green and Jo’s were coffee brown. Dean and Jo acted strangely alike, and ribbed each other like brother and sister.

Dean did the same with Sam, of course. It was more prominent between Dean and Jo, though.

Castiel could tell he had given Sam and Jo both a real shock. Dean was the first to say that would happen. Dean’s exes had all been pretty horrible. Pretty, dumb, and horrible.

While Castiel had suffered for the former adjective, he was smart and not the worst person. There was that, at least.

Castiel also found that Kevin and Sam got along. Charlie and Jo did too. That was good.

It was best not to think about the mirroring he found between them. It was best not to make it weirder than it already was.

Dean finally told them where they were going once they reached the docks.

He motioned towards a boat.

It was a ferry for Coney Island.

The breath was stolen from Castiel’s lungs. His mind wandered back to a game of either-or. Castiel asked about Dean’s favorite childhood memory, and it was at Coney Island. Once Castiel mentioned he had never been there, Dean promised they would go.

Castiel thought it was an empty promise. Something that someone usually just said to say it. That nothing would ever come to fruition.

Castiel had just learned, once and for all, that Dean was a man of his word.

————

Dean acted like an excitable puppy during the entire trip.

Coney Island was less crowded, as it was a holiday. Castiel liked that Dean was practical about it. Planning the trip so that they could get a shot on every ride.

Dean lead him on the Cyclone first, promising they would get cotton candy afterwards. Since Castiel liked roller coasters, he was fine with them sitting in the first row.

The car launched faster than he thought an almost-century-old rollercoaster could go. Dean grinned excitedly the entire way up, both of them screaming once the largest drop swooped their stomachs into their throats.

Dean bought them cotton candy, and they watched their combined families battle in bumper cars. Castiel cheered for Charlie and Kevin, while Dean shouted encouragement to Sam and Jo. Castiel didn’t remember who won, but that wasn’t the point of the game, anyway.

They paired up for the Ferris wheel next, loading onto the infamous Wonder Wheel. Sam and Jo talked below them, while Charlie and Kevin laughed above them.

Castiel and Dean got cozy in their seat. Castiel distracted Dean from his slight phobia of heights by murmuring insect facts.

“Ladybugs are cannibalistic in harsh environments,” Castiel said into Dean’s hair.

“Stink bugs were smuggled from Asia to the U.S. in shipping crates,” Castiel said into his temple.

“The front sets of a centipede’s legs are venomous fangs,” Castiel said into his ear.

Dean gritted his teeth and focused on his words, not strong enough to gather replies.

When it was over, Dean kissed his cheek and thanked him. That made it worth it to Castiel.

————

“MISTER WINCHESTER!”

Dean beamed and knelt down next to a pair of little girls. “Hi, Candace. Hi, Mandy.”

Dean had confided into Castiel recently that, when he wasn’t creating art, he was inspiring others. Although it seemed snobbish, Dean taught summer courses at the New York Academy of Art. All ages were welcome, and Dean took a shine to teaching the younger kids how to paint.

“Will you be teaching next year?” Mandy asked.

“You gotta!” Candace exclaimed, doing a little jump.

“Pleaseeeeeee?” Mandy drew out.

Castiel heard Charlie and Kevin murmur questions. Sam and Jo answered them succinctly and quietly.

Dean beamed wider, if that was even possible. “Well, I’m quite busy at the moment…”

“Noooooo!”

“We miss you!”

Dean chuckled. “How about I think about it?”

The girls jumped and exclaimed “yay’s.”

“Until then,” Dean put on what Castiel thought was akin to a stern parenting voice, “do good in school, and practice. I wanna see improvement.”

“Okay!” The girls chimed.

Dean caught sight of an older woman and waved. She waved back. “Go back to your mom.”

The girls skipped away happily.

Dean stood up, caught Castiel’s eyes, and said, “I didn’t pay them to do that, I swear.”

Castiel eyed him mock suspiciously. “Sure…”

Sam and Jo laughed.

————

Dean set down singles for Cas, Charlie, and Kevin. The vendor set up the friend group up with three shots on the rifle.

Dean stood next to Sam and Jo. “If one of them shoots all three targets, I’ll be a little pissed.”

This was his favorite carnival game. Cas insisted he wanted to try it, so Dean obliged. He watched Cas, Charlie, and Kevin shoulder their rifles.

Kevin went first. All three of his shots hit the edges of the target. He shrugged and didn’t seem bothered by it.

Charlie went next. Surprisingly, her bullets got fairly close to the bullseye. Cas and Kevin high fived her.

Cas went last. Dean heard him take a breath, and shoot on his exhale.

The shot hit the bullseye.

“WHAT!” Kevin yelled.

“WHOA!” Charlie exclaimed.

Sam and Jo applauded. “Yes!”

Dean pursed his lips, fighting back a heated blush from rising and transforming his pale face into a fire truck red disaster.

Meanwhile, Dean’s heart was palpitating so loudly it was a wonder Sam or Jo couldn’t hear it. His mouth dried, and he swallowed a lump in his throat. A rush of emotions flooded through him, a specific one latching onto his mind and refusing to let go.

Fuck, Dean Winchester was in love with Castiel Novak. There was no turning back.

Castiel allowed the cheering to cease before shouldering the rifle again. He even had the booth worker’s full attention.

Castiel closed one eye, concentrated in the silence, and fired.

The second shot went through the bullseye too.

Dean couldn’t even hear cheering or clapping. His ears were filled with white noise.

Dean wasn’t pissed. He thought he would be. But the fact that his boyfriend could even do this was mind-boggling to him.

And he was so goddamn in love with Castiel Novak that it filled every fiber of his being. It was like tipping over a paint bucket, only he was underneath it. Covered in it. And he didn’t care about cleaning up the mess.

Castiel, who still hadn’t looked their way, received high fives from his friends. He shouldered the rifle a final time.

He focused, breathed, and pulled the trigger.

A third bullseye created a tri-petaled flower in the target.

Castiel ignored their families erupting in cheers and applause. He asked for the biggest stuffed animal. It was a giant overstuffed dog.

Castiel encapsulated it in his arms and walked directly towards Dean.

Dean’s heart nearly jumped into his throat. He could barely breathe as Castiel’s eyes settled on him.

Castiel allowed himself a small smile. He held out the gigantic stuffed dog. “I won this for you utilizing intense concentration skills.”

Charlie, Kevin, Sam, and Jo aww’ed so loudly and innocently that Dean was suspicious. They would tease them about this another time.

Dean let the image of Castiel holding out the stuffed dog warm his insides. A blush was surely staining his face and neck, but he couldn’t be bothered.

Dean loves Castiel Novak more than he ever thought possible. He was Dean’s endgame. Of that, Dean was absolutely certain. There would be no man or woman after Castiel Novak. Only ever him. Because he was good, and kind, and Dean deserved that for a change. And Cas deserved someone who made him happy.

Dean gathered the giant stuffed dog in his arms. “Thank you,” he said softly. He stepped forward and pressed his lips against Castiel’s cheekbone.

He heard another chorus of ‘aww’s’ as he pulled away. Dean caught a whiff of Cas’s new cologne — vanilla scented, Dean’s favorite — and saw Cas’s eyelashes flutter.

Dean murmured, “wanna win me something at the balloon dart booth next?”

Their friends laughed.

————

They returned to the mainland as the sun was beginning to set. On the ferry, Sam called his favorite pizza parlor for several cheese pizzas. They walked the blocks there chatting amiably and taking the pizza boxes to Sam’s apartment, which was closest in the area.

While Sam was a unique individual, Castiel learned his apartment was completely typical of a lawyer. File cabinets and a large desk and only basic amenities. His furniture, however, had a homey vibe to it, like he truly spent his nights there instead of an office.

Sam gathered six chairs and sat them around his dinner table. They all ate so much pizza that they could barely move. They laughed until their stomachs hurt, trading stories and anecdotes.

It was almost pitch black by the time the party was over.

————

Another kiss warmed Castiel’s cheek as Dean said goodbye.

Castiel fought a blush and won. He said he would see Dean tomorrow, and he agreed.

Castiel, Charlie, and Kevin travelled the dimly-lit streets.

It was Charlie who said, “I still have one very, very important question to ask Sam.”

“What’s that?” Kevin asked.

“How,” she emphasized, “in the hell,” she paused, “is a wonderful, well-rounded lawyer,” she raised her voice, “dating Gabriel Smith?!”

“YES! HOW?!” Kevin exclaimed.

“I can’t compute this shit, man!” Charlie declared.

“We just have to see them together,” Castiel offered. “Maybe then it’ll make sense.”

“Or it’ll make,” Charlie said, “even less sense!”

“Patience, young Padawans,” Castiel said. “I’m sure Gabriel is cooking up a diabolical plan as we speak.”

————

As soon as the door to Sam’s apartment shut, Sam and Jo squeezed on both sides of Dean on the couch.

Dean observed their large grins and asked warily, “what? Are you gonna murder me in my sleep tonight?”

Jo grasped Dean’s hands. “No, sweetie.”

“Dean,” Sam said, “this is the best person you have ever dated.”

“Don’t mess this shit up,” Jo cautioned. “Cas won you a giant goddamn stuffed dog. He’s a precious angel of a man.”

“I almost feel cheated,” Sam emphasized, “you didn’t have us meet him sooner.”

“And he truly doesn’t give a fuck you’re famous! I love him, Dean!” Jo exclaimed.

“That’s good,” Dean said, “because my next art collection is about him.”

Jo gasped. “Your artist’s block is gone?”

“Has been for a while,” Dean revealed. “I’ve been sketching like mad for weeks.”

Jo smacked Dean’s arm. “And you’re telling us now?!” She shook her head. “Yeesh, you’re a piece of work.”

“I’m glad you’re back at it,” Sam said. “I was a tiny bit worried for a while there.”

“A tiny bit.” Dean scoffed. He clapped Sam’s shoulder. “Thanks for your concern, but as Taylor Swift would say, I’m doing better than I ever was.”

Sam and Jo laughed, then tugged Dean into a crushing group hug.

Chapter Text

“I’ve told you I hate surprises,” Castiel grumbled.

Dean’s hand was warm as a furnace as they walked an unfamiliar route. He said, “I want to take you somewhere you’ve never been. A place I like to visit sometimes.”

“This all sounds very murder-y.”

Dean huffed. “It’s not. I just think taking turns cooking for each other is getting predictable.”

“We could always get ice cream afterwards.”

“Honey.” As they rounded a corner, Dean explained, “I’m about to start painting my sketches, and I haven’t held a paintbrush in over a year.” Castiel eyed Dean considerately. “I want to practice somewhere special, and I want to share it with you.”

Since Dean apparently timed this, he halted by a corner and looked upwards. Castiel mimicked him.

It was a paint splatter studio.

“I’ve heard about this,” Castiel said softly. “You throw paint all over the walls.”

“Yup.” Dean tugged him forward, hands still interlocked. “I booked the place for the night.”

Castiel checked the time on his phone, then the time listed as closing on the door. “Two hours, you mean?”

Dean hummed and lead Castiel inside.

————

Dean handed Cas a paintbrush. They were inside a stark white room, buckets of rainbow paint on the ground. “Choose your weapon,” Dean said dramatically.

Cas’s hands closed around the paintbrush. He knelt down and examined the open buckets of paint. He eyed each color, then dipped his paintbrush into the blue bucket.

Cas stood up with a drenched paintbrush. He closed his eyes, straightened his posture, and deepened his voice. “I evoke the spirit of Jackson Pollock, to bless this paint and this room, with artful rainbow splatters.”

Dean’s mind was reminded of the previous week, when Cas and their families went to Coney Island on Thanksgiving. Cas played the rifle game at a booth, shooting three bullseyes in a row. Dean remembered how the realization struck him, like it struck him after their first kiss outside Cas’s apartment door.

Unlike both of those instances, through, Dean Winchester spoke his feelings aloud.

“I love you,” Dean said, his mind not truly catching up with his mouth until a few beats later.

Rather than freaking out, like he normally would, he held Cas’s gaze. He wasn’t ashamed, now that he said it.

The next seconds were an eternity.

Cas’s head tilted to the side, a curious cat. A little smile pulled at the corner of his mouth. His eyes shined and his voice was sweet as he said, “I love you too.” He rolled his eyes, and his voice turned grumpy. “Duh. I wouldn’t have won a giant stuffed dog for you, subjecting myself to a lifetime of ridicule from Charlie and Kevin, if I didn’t love you.”

Dean grinned like an idiot. “Can I kiss you right now?”

Cas kissed him before giving an answer. He kept the lip press light and quick. His eyes fluttered open, and drank in a dreamy Dean. “C’mon. The spirit of Jackson Pollock doesn’t wait.”

Dean snapped out of his trance, dipped his brush in green paint, and smiled at Cas. “You go first.”

Cas readied a battle stance, flinging the brush towards a wall. A rather impressive splatter streaked a large portion of white. He exhaled, “that felt good.”

Dean hummed. He flung a splatter of green paint, mingling with Cas’s blue. “It’s rather effective at releasing anger.”

Cas went into the red paint, the brush splattering it onto the wall with a determined flick. “Like that?”

Dean chuckled. “And it’s good for cheering people up.” He flicked yellow paint across the wall to make his point.

“Do you come here for anger or happiness?” Cas asked, pink paint mingling with red.

“Both,” Dean admitted. “I’ve come here for both reasons. Though you’re the first person I’ve brought with me.”

Cas was suddenly very close to him, chest to chest. Cas’s hand dug into Dean’s hair, their foreheads touching. Noses brushed, and breath ghosted lips. “Does that make me special, Dean Winchester?”

Dean closed his eyes, leaning into him like a moth drawn to a flame. “There’s no one like you, Castiel Novak. Of that, I’m certain. I suppose you can call that special.”

Before Dean could press their lips together, Cas stepped back with a wink. His index finger touched the edge of the green paint bucket. He brought his finger to Dean’s nose, pressing it there.

Dean didn’t have it in him to protest.

Cas smiled brightly, every inch of him radiating happiness. “Much better.”

Dean wrinkled his nose. “This means war.”

Cas became playful. “Catch me if you can.”

Dean had never seen Cas this way before. Flirty and fun and joyful. It was like cracking open a walnut shell and finally glimpsing what was inside.

Cas wasn’t afraid to show him this. Dean felt more accomplished than he ever had before. His art gallery at the Whitney meant nothing compared to this moment.

Dean chuckled, dipped his bucket into pink paint, and said, “game on, sweetheart.”

————

Castiel made a life-altering decision.

He was going to let Dean see. All of it. All of him.

They just spent two hours in a paint splatter studio doing a strange dance. One that had no rhyme or reason, but it felt right. One that had them coating their plastic clothes in paint and staining their fingers and flirting between paint tosses.

Dean would kiss him, and Castiel felt completely content. In tune with himself, and what he truly wanted.

Castiel recalled the first time Dean stayed over at his apartment, taking the couch. “It’s not like I’m inviting you to my bed,” Castiel had said.

After nearly three years of refusing to let others touch him, Castiel felt ready again. He thought he never would be, never get over old wounds and past trauma.

But Dean said he loves him, and it took a few seconds for everything to click into place.

Castiel loves him too. He trusted Dean with his life, and with his body. They had only met a few months ago, but it felt like longer. Like this has been something building up for years, slow as a turtle.

Castiel loves Dean, and he would finally show him tonight. Show him his bedroom. Show him everything.

Castiel Novak opened his heart fully, prepared to receive Dean.

————

Dean took Cas upstairs to his apartment door, like he always did. Cas’s hand in his was a familiar comfort as they stood across from each other.

Dean’s head tilted down, Cas’s tilted up. They stared at each other, not saying a word.

Instead of kissing Dean goodnight, Cas looped his arms around Dean’s neck. Cas pressed their bodies flush against each other.

Dean observed Cas through his eyelashes, his expression bold and calm and sure. “Dean,” Cas nosed his cheek, “would you like to come inside?”

The rumble of Cas’s voice and his words made Dean’s heart stop. His mouth dried, and he swallowed spit. “Sleep on the couch, you mean?”

The edges of Dean’s vision caught Cas smirk and shake his head.

Dean blinked rapidly, inhaling sharply. His eyes snapped down at Cas’s expression.

Cas simply batted his eyelashes.

Dean swallowed spit again. His heart remembered how to beat. “R-really? Y-you’re ready?”

Cas knocked their foreheads together, their favorite embrace. “I’m ready if you are.”

Dean couldn’t believe this was happening. This was actually happening!

Dean murmured, “I’ve been ready since Halloween.”

“Good.” Cas brushed their lips together, then pulled back, his eyes dancing. He fished out his keys and opened the door.

Cas held out a hand, which Dean took with a thrill. Cas lead him over the threshold, past the kitchen, through the main room, and in front of the door that was off-limits to Dean.

Cas turned the doorknob, and Dean’s heartbeat pounded. He refused to overthink what was about to happen, like he normally would.

Cas lead him into his bedroom, the invitation clear. Dean took in the shoebox room: a dresser and closet to the left, a bed to the right. The sheets were a silk blue, extra blankets piled by the sides for when it got chilly. A nightstand had a large clock and a case for Cas’s glasses. A small window adjacent to the door was shuttered closed, a heater underneath it.

Cas cut through the tension effectively, both of them standing at the foot of the bed. “If you’re nervous, don’t be. We’ve both done this plenty of times before.”

Dean murmured, “this is different.”

“Yes,” Cas agreed, “but that’s exactly why you shouldn’t be worried.”

Dean searched Cas’s face, the dried blue paint he booped on his nose, the streak of green lining his jaw. Dean knew he had a spot on his nose and a stripe on his cheek to match it. He knew flecks of rainbow paint still remained on their scrubbed hands and arms. It was one of Dean’s fantasies to have sex with paint involved. Not that he would ever tell anyone.

Cas sensed Dean’s hesitation. He said, “I won’t desert you like the others. I’ll stay right here, and will be here when you wake up.” In his usual fashion, he added flippantly, “this is my room, after all. You should feel privileged to even be here.”

Dean half-smiled. Cas’s technique to lighten up the situation worked like a charm.

Dean rose to his full stature. “One at a time?”

Cas huffed playfully. He toed off his boots with a smirk.

Dean chuckled and did the same.

Cas bent down and removed his socks. He stuck out his feet pointedly.

Dean stifled a laugh and did the same. “Aren’t feet lovely?”

Cas hummed and slipped off his trench coat.

Dean did the same with his own jacket.

Cas removed his sweater vest.

Dean lifted his sweater over his head, leaving an undershirt.

Cas lifted his jumper over his head. There was no undershirt.

Dean nearly gasped at some skin finally being displayed. Sidebar: he hated winter.

Cas’s body was surprisingly muscled. Well-built and slender. Dean felt like Peggy Carter in the first Captain America movie, fighting the urge to press his hands along Cas’s bare chest in awe.

Dean commented, “well, this isn’t daunting at all.”

Cas laughed delightedly. “Like it?”

Dean found himself bobbing his head. “You’re body is godlike,” he blurted out without thinking.

He blushed to the tips of his toes in shame.

Cas laughed again. “Never heard that one before.”

Dean’s worries alleviated. Before he could say anything else, he removed his undershirt.

Cas put hands on his hips, observing critically. He looked ridiculous, yet insanely attractive. “Not bad,” he stated. “I’m shocked, since you laze around a lot.”

Dean flushed, glancing down at his body. He read through the facade. “You think it’s pretty good, huh?”

Rather than answer, Cas’s fingers went to his jeans. He unbuttoned them, the sound of a zipper making Dean’s mouth dry. The jeans slid down deceptively long legs, Dean’s eyes trailing the miles of tan skin. Cas’s thighs were shockingly thick, while his lower legs were shaped like an athlete’s. Cas’s boxers outlined the largeness of his-

“Hello?” Cas waved a hand, kicking off his jeans. “Did I already break you?”

Dean barked out a laugh. “No. Got distracted.”

Cas’s eyebrows furrowed. “By my legs?”

“They’re amazing legs.”

“Never gotten that one before, either.”

“Guess I’m full of surprises.” Dean smirked and shucked off his own jeans.

Cas chuckled. “Bow legs.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Quiet.”

Cas closed some distance between them. They kissed for the first time since the stripping began. Dean molded their bodies together unashamedly, intensifying the kiss. His hands settled over bare hips, curving over them and squeezing lightly. Cas’s hands ghosted his lower back, then grasped his forearms.

Cas broke their kiss and guided Dean’s hands to his waistband. “Ready to compare sizes?”

Dean laughed into Cas’s cheek. “I love you.”

“I know,” Cas whispered.

Dean made a low noise. He gripped Cas’s boxers and yanked them down with an effective tug, watching the soft fabric trail down his legs and pool at his feet.

He looked between Cas’s legs and blushed profusely. “That seems about right, yeah.”

Cas winked, then tugged down Dean’s boxers. “Huh.” An eyebrow raised. “Bigger than I thought.”

Dean gasped. “You thought I was overcompensating?! How dare you, sir?!”

Cas captured their lips, causing Dean to whimper instead of protest.

To get back at him, Dean cupped Cas’s face, preventing him from another kiss. “There’s one more thing you gotta take off.” He brushed his fingers along the sides of Cas’s glasses. “May I?”

Cas transformed from flirty to bashful in a single eye flutter. “They’re my protective shield,” he said weakly.

“I’ve got you,” Dean murmured. “‘M not gonna make fun of your eyes, or something.”

Cas smiled hesitantly. “Go ahead, then.”

Dean lifted the sides from above Cas’s ears and hair. He folded them considerately, his fingers pinching them in the nose pads.

Dean looked back up, and forgot how to breathe.

Dean had never seen Cas’s eyes. Not really. Not until now.

Every possible shade of blue was contained within Cas’s irises. Sky, cerulean, navy, gray, azure, midnight, electric, and sapphire. All of them mixing in a pot to create a unique combination. Dean saw everything in those eyes. Loss, pain, fire, peace, calmness, sparks, sadness, contentment. It was all there, mingling together and choosing a dominant color at every given second. The shades switched with the flip of a coin, mesmerizing and hypnotic.

Dean could look into those eyes all day and never get bored.

“Your eyes are beautiful,” Dean found himself whispering, completely awestruck.

Cas batted his eyelashes. “For the third time, I haven’t gotten that one before.”

“Good.” Dean held Cas’s glasses in one hand and grasped Cas’s wrist with the other. He guided Cas towards his nightstand, placing the folded glasses there gently. Dean spun around and asked, “how do you want to do this?”

“I think our date was enough foreplay. Do you mind if,” Cas hesitated, “I am in control?”

Dean thought of instances Cas detailed where he was taken advantage of by his shitty exes. He refused to let sympathy or pity show in his expression; he knew Cas wouldn’t appreciate it. Dean replied softly, “I would prefer that, to be honest.”

“Well then,” Cas lifted up the sheets, his confidence returning, “after you.”

————

Dean had never woken up happier in his life.

The man of his dreams was sleeping on his chest. His cheek smashed against his heartbeat, his hair tickling his chin, his head tilted into his collarbone. Dean wound an arm under Cas’s side, his hand splayed against the dip of his spine. Dean’s other hand was cast across his own stomach, fingers delving into Cas’s ribs. Cas’s hands, meanwhile, were pinned down against the mattress and splayed across Dean’s stomach, respectively.

Dean realized he was holding Cas against him like he was a teddy bear that could get forcibly torn away from him at any moment.

Dean refused to let any fears plague him. It was a Sunday morning, the only day of the week Cas closed the bookstore and got to wallow in laziness. Sundays were sacred for them, a time to kiss and explore and enjoy each other’s presence.

Dean waited another moment, his expanding and collapsing chest easing Cas into consciousness.

“Mmph,” Cas muttered, his eyes cracking open in slivers.

For incentive, Dean tugged Cas’s body up. Cas was pliable enough to follow him, half-lidded eyes and a naked body resting fully atop him. Dean grabbed his sides, Cas’s hands digging into his messy hair. They kissed roughly at first, the action lengthening and smoothing itself out. Dean took the opportunity to roll Cas to his opposite side, his cheek catching Cas’s palm as they fell together. Dean yanked him as close as possible, until they were sharing Dean’s pillow and Cas’s unpinned hand was cradling his jawline.

They kissed until neither of them could breathe, but kept their embrace as tight as possible.

Dean hummed, the pads of his fingers traveling to the base of Cas’s spine, just above the superb curvature of his boyfriend’s ass.

“Good morning, my dear,” Dean said lowly, his eyes watching Cas’s open fully.

Cas’s palm flattened against Dean’s cheek, brushing over freckles. Cas’s infinitely blue irises roved over him appreciatively, a pure smile at the corner of his mouth. “Good morning, sweetheart.”

Dean murmured, “we’re still slightly covered in paint.”

Bracing for the blow, he was surprised he didn’t receive one.

“It’s laundry day,” Cas said. “And my sheets need replacing anyway.”

Dean sighed in relief. He booped Cas’s nose, which still had flecks of blue paint. “We created our own colors.”

“That was the cheesiest line I’ve ever heard. The mood is killed.”

Dean chuckled. “So a shared shower is now off the table?”

Cas’s eyes shined. “I didn’t say that.”

Dean yanked Cas into another kiss excitedly, Cas laughing through it.

————

Castiel swaddled himself in his fluffiest bathrobe, tossing his extra to Dean as they exited the shower.

Castiel went to his mirror and used a towel to scrub his hair dry. He wanted to give Dean an inkling of privacy while he dried himself.

He thought he would wake up regretting it. Giving Dean the final piece of himself he hadn’t given to anyone in three years.

That spike of fear upon waking dissolved when Dean pulled him into a dizzying kiss. Dean held him like no one ever has before, and Castiel couldn’t help but melt into him.

He always was a sucker for pretty boys. The only difference was that this pretty boy had a genuine heart. Castiel had no regrets.

“So,” Dean sidled up to him, clad in Castiel’s thin gray robe, taking up half the mirror, “I have one very important question to ask you.”

Castiel eyed Dean’s radiant reflection, removing the towel from his wet hair. “Yes?”

“Do you want pancakes or waffles for breakfast?”

Castiel smiled before his mind registered it. “Let’s say what we want on three.”

“You count.”

“One, two, three.”

“Waffles,” they said in unison.

They laughed.

“You have a little,” Dean licked his finger, “below your ear.”

Castiel offered his cheek, and Dean swiped away a fleck of paint.

“Thank you,” Castiel said. “Should you cook or shall I?”

“I will,” Dean offered. “I wanna show you how to make a gen-u-ine Belgian waffle.”

Castiel snorted. “Fine, fancy pants.”

————

Castiel padded into his kitchen to see Dean hard at work, pouring finely-mixed batter into his waffle iron. Dean had borrowed Castiel’s blue plaid pajama pants and a navy tee. He was humming along to a song in his head, a habit Castiel had gotten used to months ago.

Castiel crossed the distance and stood beside Dean, kissing his cheek. “Need my help?”

“No, dear.” Dean closed the batter-filled waffle iron. “It’s goin’ well.”

Castiel was surprised to see his kitchen counter nearly spotless. Dean was normally a messy cook. “I suppose it is,” Castiel observed.

Castiel decided to open the cupboards and set the table. He set down two glasses filled with tap water, china plates, forks, knives, and napkins.

Castiel heard a low whistle behind him. His face burned.

“I’ve never seen you wear sweatpants,” Dean said, “but DAMN!”

Castiel whirled around with a raised eyebrow. “Don’t objectify me.”

“Sorry,” Dean said, trying to look over Castiel’s hands on hips, “but your ass looks great in those!”

Castiel huffed haughtily. “Whatever. I’ll let it slide this once.”

Dean winked, and Castiel hated himself for blushing.

————

Castiel sat atop a washing machine in the laundry room, his feet kicking back and forth absentmindedly. He leaned against the wall, glad that no other patrons came to the laundry room on Sunday mornings.

Dean sat on the washing machine containing Castiel’s bedsheets, nudging his shoulder every once in a while. Dean hummed to whatever classic rock song currently buzzed around his head, sending Castiel smiles every few minutes.

“You’re bored out of your skull, aren’t you?” Castiel asked pointedly.

“I do wish I had my sketchbook to fill the time, but there’s no pages left.”

Castiel blinked rapidly while computing that. His mouth went dry, and the realization slapped him in the face.

“So you’re like,” Castiel’s wide eyes met his boyfriend’s, “obsessed with me and shit?”

Dean rested his head against the wall and laughed towards the ceiling. “That’s a fair assessment, yeah.” He turned his head towards Castiel. “I have more ideas, though. My fingers are twitching for a pencil.”

“There’s plenty of things you can do with your hands.”

Castiel ducked his head, his entire face flooded with red-pink color.

Dean hopped off the washing machine and stood between Castiel’s parted legs. His eyes devoured Castiel’s face with something akin to pride. “That reminds me,” Dean said lowly, “since we’re full disclosure now, and all,” Dean’s hand settled on Castiel’s thigh, the touch light enough for him to pull away if he wished, “you should tell me where you like to be touched.”

Castiel saw it as a thoughtful gesture rather than something meant to be seductive. Dean was proving himself to be an attentive man, even last night, asking permission softly at each new stage. Not wanting to drudge up any bad memories from Castiel’s mind.

And Dean hadn’t. Castiel’s demons remained locked away in a deep dark pit, somewhere dangling off the bottom of his heart, clinging to its last semblance of life. His demons were losing their power, their hold over Castiel. They would be extinguished soon enough, only quick memory flashes remaining of that horrible time in Castiel’s life.

Castiel looked down at Dean through his eyelashes. He said demurely, “as long as you aren’t forceful,” Castiel placed his palm on his thigh, where Dean’s hand rested, “you’re off to a good start.”

“Wanna go into specifics?” Dean inquired.

“Just be slow.”

“I gathered that.”

“I’ll stop you if-”

“I know.”

“I’m not sure what will...trigger something.”

“Okay.” Dean nodded thoughtfully. “Makes sense.”

“We can continue this when we switch the sheets.”

Dean’s mouth fell open. “Are you hitting on me?!”

Castiel smirked. “I’m allowed to hit on my boyfriend if he objectifies my ass.”

Dean grinned like a puppy. “You’ve never called me your boyfriend before.”

“My puppy boyfriend,” Castiel amended.

Dean snickered. “That makes you my nerdy boyfriend.”

Castiel scrunched his nose, bringing his glass frames upwards. “Mhm.”

————

Castiel’s back hit the mattress, inhaling the scent of new bedsheets. He sighed happily, hearing Dean plop next to him.

“Nothing beats that freshly washed smell,” Castiel said, his gaze directed towards the ceiling.

He heard shifting off to the side, Dean filling his vision. He sat crisscrossed on the mattress, staring down at Castiel curiously. “Nothing?” Dean squinted his eyes. “Ya sure?”

Castiel tilted his head to the side, observing his digital clock. He turned back towards Dean and said, “you’ve got five hours to dazzle me before dinner.”

Dean bit his lip, grabbing at the hem of his borrowed tee. Dean exposed his torso to the afternoon light, taking the time to fold his shirt before placing it on the carpet.

“You already got a bonus point,” Castiel mumbled.

Dean smiled sweetly. Then, he moved to sit on Castiel’s thighs. “Ready to be dazzled?”

Castiel laughed, and allowed Dean to ease his shirt off.

Chapter Text

-“Wrap me in your jacket, my baby, and lay me in your bed. And kiss me, underneath the moonlight. Darling, let me trace the lines on your tattooed heart.”
~Ariana Grande, “Tattooed Heart”

 

“You know,” Dean breathed, “this is the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen tonight.”

Castiel rolled his eyes. “You should feel lucky you’re wearing several layers of my clothes.”

Dean stuck his nose in the collar of Castiel’s bubble coat, inhaling deeply. “You do smell nice.” He cleared his throat and settled across from Castiel in his bed. “But just a few hours ago, you were expressing how skilled my tongue is,” he sighed, “and now we’re stuck here with a broken heater, shivering while we slowly freeze to death.”

“Wow,” Castiel said, “and I thought I was the negative one in this relationship.” He brought his gloved hand from under the covers, tugging his beanie over his red ears. “We aren’t going to freeze to death. For December in New York City, the weather is fairly decent. Besides,” he glanced at his digital clock, “we should be able to survive five more hours until the sun rises.” Suspicion reached his voice. “Are you sure you can fix my heater without causing more damage?”

“Ye of little faith,” Dean uttered. “I’ll have you know I’m quite good at mechanics. I’m not just a pretty face.”

“And a famous artist who’s probably so rich that if he told me the number in his bank account my head would explode.”

“I’m not that rich,” Dean said. “I’ve been inactive as an artist, so I’m actually running a bit low.”

“Into six figures instead of seven?”

Dean huffed. He pulled Castiel’s bed cover to his shoulders, rubbing his hands between their bodies to warm them. “Are you saying you want me to buy you a new heater?”

“No,” Castiel shrugged, “but if you break it even more, I’m afraid you’ll have no choice.”

“That’s fair.” Dean scooted closer to Castiel. “Can we cuddle? Try and get some sleep?”

“Fine,” Castiel acquiesced.

Despite several layers of clothing — half of Castiel’s wardrobe, actually — between them, Dean and Castiel managed to hold each other through the night.

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

Castiel was awakened by the feel of Dean’s lips on his forehead. His gloved fingers captured Castiel’s cheeks, warming his cold skin.

With a peck to his nose, Castiel scrunched it and opened his eyes.

Dean’s unusually pale face and foggy eyes filled his vision. “Hey,” he murmured, “I hate to tell you this, but it’s a work day.”

Castiel sucked in a deep breath, filling his lungs, and blew it loudly in Dean’s face. “Fuck.”

“We did plenty of that on your day off, sweetheart,” Dean said. “Now, I set your dress clothes on the hanger, and I need you to take a shower while I scramble some eggs.”

“Is that a euphemism?” Castiel mumbled.

“Unfortunately not, honey,” Dean said. Castiel felt his mattress dip as Dean — sadly covered up in too many layers of Castiel’s clothing — stood up. “Do you need inspiration to get up, dear?” He asked playfully.

“Mmph.” Castiel pushed himself up with his hands, rolling out of bed and effectively landing on his feet. He reached for his glasses on the nightstand and forced them on his face. “If I didn’t have a bookstore to open, I’d say yes.” He straightened his posture, rounded the bed, and kissed Dean’s cheek. “I’ll take this,” he reached his clothes hanger, adorned with Dean’s favorite powder blue dress shirt to see on him and dark gray slacks, “and shower. Now go scramble some eggs.”

“Yes, dear,” Dean quipped.

Castiel caught Dean walk to the kitchen while he went into the bathroom.

————

Now more alert and dressed, Castiel settled at his table. Dean plopped a plate of scrambled eggs in front of him, sitting across from him with his own plate.

“You’re being very obedient and active this morning,” Castiel remarked, spearing his eggs with a fork and popping it inside his mouth.

“While I’m usually the zombie,” Dean said, “one of us has to be alert. I have a very busy day ahead.”

“Really?”

Dean hummed. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to help at the bookstore today. Or for the foreseeable future.”

“Really?” Castiel narrowed his eyes, pushing up his glasses. “Is it all a secret?”

“No. Not yet, anyway.” Dean rattled off, “I gotta meet Sam and Jo, get my toolbox, fix your heater, meet with my solicitor for the first time in almost a year to go over business stuff, buy a shitload of canvases and paint, and make you,” he softened his voice, “a lovely gourmet dinner for when you get home, to show you how much I appreciate you. And hey,” Dean shrugged, “I wouldn’t be opposed to getting buzzed, playing either-or, and finishing what we started last night. If you’re up for it.”

Castiel’s eyes widened, and he paused in his eating. “Look at you, having your itinerary all planned out. You’re welcome.”

Dean snorted. “No need to brag about being a good influence.”

“The part where you cook for me sounds great,” Castiel said. “Charlie and Kevin will miss you today.”

“And you?” Dean inquired.

“Don’t push it.”

Dean chuckled, his grin brightening the entire apartment.

————

Dean ordered for Sam and Jo at the usual coffee place. He only had to wait at a table for five minutes before they arrived early.

Dean couldn’t wipe a smile off his face. It had been plastered to his features, etched into his heart and soul, ever since he took Cas to the paint splatter studio on Saturday night.

It was only Monday morning, and so much had changed in their relationship. Castiel went from being a bashful and insecure man to a flirtatious and unendingly confident sex god in the span of thirty-six hours. They had finally crossed every line, and Dean fell even more in love with Castiel as a result.

If only the heater breaking hadn’t put such a damper on last night…

A set of fingers filled his vision. Sam’s fist let out a loud snap.

Dean blinked at Sam and Jo’s concerned expressions. “What?”

“You seem...weird,” Jo said.

“Different,” Sam amended.

Dean’s smile only widened. “Okay.”

“Are you alright?” Jo asked suspiciously. “You’re usually grumpy around this time.”

“Like me,” Sam said.

“Like Sam,” Jo agreed.

“I’m great,” Dean assured them. “Amazing. Wonderful. Stupendous.”

Sam and Jo shared a look.

Sam said, “you only say those words when,” his eyes shot open wider, “YOU HAD SEX!”

The table received angry glares from patrons.

Dean snorted, unaffected by it. “Say that a little louder, huh?”

Sam winced. “Right.”

Jo beamed. “Did you really?”

“I’ve been exchanging bodily fluids with Cas this weekend, yes,” Dean confirmed, winking at the expected expressions. “And I said it that way to make you both feel gross, yeah.”

“Ugh,” Jo said, “why are you like this?”

“In all fairness, you asked. So you’re welcome.”

“You’re happy.” Sam wrinkled his nose and frowned. “It’s too early in the morning for that.”

“Sorry not sorry,” Dean sang.

“How’d it happen?” Jo asked, finally recovering from Dean’s previous comment.

“I told him I love him,” Dean said casually, leaning against his chair boredly, “and he was all over me.”

“So,” Jo blinked in shock, “saying the ‘L’ word actually resulted in sex instead of an awkward conversation?”

Dean made a exploding motion around his head. “I know, right?!”

“You got lucky,” Jo said. “How was the sex?”

“No,” Sam protested. “It’s seven in the goddamn morning.”

Dean ignored his younger brother. “Best I’ve ever had. No joke.”

“How many times?”

“Over the past day and a half?” Dean counted on his fingers, then burst out laughing in awe. “I lost count, but they were all equally amazing.”

Jo high fived him. “Nice!”

Sam sighed loudly. “I’m the only sane person here. My God.”

Dean asked playfully, “how’s sex with Gabriel, Sammy?”

Sam sighed again. “I’m not doing that.”

“On a scale from one to ten, how good is he?”

Dean and Sam stared at each other for a beat.

Sam muttered, “ten.”

“Ha!” Dean high fived Jo. “Knew you couldn’t resist.”

“The guy I fucked this weekend was only a six in regards to prowess,” Jo said, “but he was pretty.”

Dean threw his head back and laughed. “Now it’s gettin’ lively in here! That’s more like it!”

“So,” Jo grinned, “Gabriel’s a ten, huh? How’s he do on the hotness scale?”

Dean locked down his expression. Sam didn’t know Dean had already met Gabriel, since he was friends with Cas. Dean kept his mask secure and exuded curiousness. Gabriel wasn’t a conventionally attractive man, so Dean wasn’t sure what number Sam would pick for him.

Sam replied, “he’s not as hot as you’re probably thinking.”

“But his skills in the bedroom are outta this world?” Jo prompted with a wink.

Sam sighed. “He’s a six or seven, I guess.”

“Interesting.” Jo hummed. “Now when the hell are we gonna meet him?”

“I dunno.” Sam shrugged. “Maybe around Christmas.”

“Make it happen!” Jo demanded.

Dean chuckled. “Don’t make Jo angry, Sammy.”

Sam muttered, “fine, I’ll see what I can do.”

————

Charlie and Kevin stared at Castiel as he hummed, swaying as he moved with one earbud in.

They hadn’t seen Castiel like this since his first kiss with Dean.

Charlie and Kevin made themselves known, nursing coffee cups and observing Castiel shelf books on a footstool warily.

Castiel turned around, cutting his hum short. “Oh!” He grinned far too brightly for the early hour — he was always an early bird, but this was just annoying — and unfastened his earbud. “Hey!” He stepped down from his footstool. “How was your day off?”

Charlie and Kevin shared a look.

Kevin batted his eyelashes a single time. “Could you not look so happy? It’s seven in the morning, and it’s gross.”

Charlie hummed in agreement. “I spent the day with Dorothy at Times Square. It was nice.” She narrowed her eyes. “How was your day off, Mr. Happy?”

Castiel grinned wider. “It was lovely.”

“Something tells me it was more than lovely,” Kevin said.

“What’s goin’ on with you, Cas?” Charlie asked.

“Oh,” Castiel chuckled, “I just spent the day fucking Dean into oblivion,” he shrugged, “that’s about it.”

Kevin choked on his coffee, and Charlie’s face lit up.

“Really?” Charlie gasped and did a little hop. “I can see it now! You’ve got pep in your step!” She embraced Castiel in a one-armed hug. “I’m happy you’re happy! You deserve it!”

“Aw, thanks.” As Charlie pulled back, Kevin high fived him. “How are things going with Dorothy?”

Charlie beamed. “We’re great. She’s great. It’s all just so great!”

“You deserve a nice woman, sweetie,” Castiel said. “Am I going to see her anytime soon, or are you keeping her to yourself?”

“Actually,” Charlie revealed, “she’ll come by on her lunch hour today.”

“Ooh,” Kevin said, “I haven’t seen her since the Halloween party.”

“Yeah, when she wore that princess costume,” Castiel recalled.

“She’s a queen,” Charlie said, “like me.”

“Okay, Your Majesty,” Kevin said with an eyeroll.

“If Her Highness would like to finish her coffee and help,” Castiel said, “that would be great.”

Charlie sighed and tipped back coffee dregs.

————

After successfully fixing the heater, Dean pushed open the doors to SoHo’s most luxurious cafe.

He hadn’t been there in over a year, but nothing had changed. It was teeming with the rich and snooty. Dean hid his presence as much as possible. He didn’t want to be noticed yet; that would be on his terms.

He gave her name to the greeter, who lead him to the back room discreetly. Not a single glance was directed Dean’s way, thankfully.

True to her word, Rowena had rented the entire back area of the cafe. She had chosen the table in the middle of the room, the booths around them emptied.

Rowena stood in her chair, revealing a blue gown that cascaded like water down her curves. Her red hair was gathered into several braids, all piled in a mass down her left shoulder. Her eyelashes glittered as blue eyeshadow and red lipstick defined her sharp cheekbones.

The greeter left them swiftly, the partition doors sliding closed. Dean approached his solicitor with a smile. “Hey, Ro.”

Rowena pursed her lips, regarding his attire — jeans, boots, one of Cas’s white dress shirts, and Cas’s tan trench coat — critically.

Rowena finally said, “you could have worn a tie, dear.”

Dean chuckled fondly. “I don’t do ties, Ro. Sorry.”

Rowena sat back down, and Dean took his cue to sit across from her. A waiter materialized from a side door, pouring ice water into lemon-wedged glasses.

“You look rather well,” Rowena said, folding a silk napkin over her lap. “After what you said on the phone, I wasn’t sure what to expect.”

The waiter scurried off, Rowena giving him a look for lingering too long.

Dean ignored it. He scanned the menu in front of him quickly, glad that they hadn’t taken off his favorite meal. Dean said, “I spent the last year drying my tears. I’ve been wonderful lately.”

Rowena batted her eyelashes. “That shirt and coat are new.”

Dean felt a flush rise up his neck. “They aren’t mine.”

Rowena’s eyes widened, and she watched him like a hawk. “You’ve gotten cozy with this…angel of yours, haven’t you?”

The waiter interrupted them. Dean and Rowena ordered succinctly, then he disappeared again.

Dean’s mouth quirked upwards. “He truly is something else. He has inspired me, Ro. To be better. To do better.”

“My, my,” Rowena said, “you sound very passionate.” She asked coyly, “does this mean what I think it means?”

Dean said, “my next art collection is about him. Inspired by him. Dedicated to him.”

Rowena smirked. “You’ve been working, haven’t you?”

“I have an entire sketchbook filled,” Dean reported.

Rowena glowed at the news. “That’s wonderful! I’m so glad to have you back, dear!”

Dean clucked his tongue. “Not so fast, Ro. I’ve still got plenty of work to do. I just thought I should apprise you of the situation.”

“Which is?” Rowena prompted.

“If I’m doing this,” Dean said, “it’s on my terms. I choose what I wanna do for promotion and when I wanna do it. I’ll listen to your advice, of course,” he continued flippantly, “but it’s just advice. I expect this collection will,” Dean handpicked his words carefully, “turn a lot of heads. Perhaps even ruffle a few feathers. Because of this,” Dean smirked, “it’s all going to be very dramatic.” He said boldly, “I want this to be my Mona Lisa, and I’m going to need freedom to make it happen.”

“Your leash has always been long,” Rowena said. “What are you asking me for?”

“To hop on my crazy train,” Dean said, “and come along for the ride. I want your blind support, and yes, some advice if need be. I want you to help me shroud this entire thing in secrecy and make it work. Like I said, I want dramatics.”

“And if anyone’s dramatic,” Rowena posed, “it’s me.”

“Mhm.” Dean paused as their meals arrived. Once the waiter scrambled away, he asked, “are you in?”

“Do I want to be a part of something dramatic that will turn the art community on its head helmed by the fearless and talented artist Dean Winchester?” Rowena pretended to think for a moment. A grin encompassed her features. “Of course I’m in.”

Dean’s eyes shined knowingly. “Wonderful.”

“I just have one question.” Rowena held up a finger. “Who’s your mystery man?”

Dean grinned. “If I told you that, it would ruin the surprise. And you wouldn’t know him. He is disconnected from...this world.”

“Interesting,” Rowena mused. “I will discover his identity eventually.”

“On my terms,” Dean emphasized.

Rowena sighed. She mock pouted. “You’re no fun.”

“I’m having lots of fun, actually,” Dean said amusedly. “Now let’s eat.”

————

Dorothy dressed more like an explorer than a curator.

She wore sensible boots, khaki pants, a blouse, and a leather jacket similar to Dean’s. Her cinnamon hair was pulled back in a tight bun, mascara defining bright blue eyes and a smattering of freckles.

Castiel thinks Dorothy exudes Dean. Might be a female embodiment of Dean, even, in his absence from the bookstore. Castiel was reminded of Jo, as Dorothy was also finely dressed and whip smart. He didn’t remember much of her in graduate school, as that was a time in his life he would rather forget. What he did remember, though, was that Charlie had a crush on Dorothy, but didn’t speak to her often. It was an insane happenstance that she showed up at the annual Halloween party held at the bookstore. Charlie hadn’t let Dorothy go since, and it was clear that Dorothy was very fond of Charlie.

After Dorothy left, — she had lunch with Charlie, Kevin, and Castiel in the back room — Castiel wrapped Charlie in a bear hug.

“Whoa,” Charlie muffled, “what’s up, Cas?”

Kevin joined in with a laugh, creating an awkward group hug. “Cas is happy for you, Char. So am I.”

“Aw,” Charlie hugged them back, “thanks, boys.”

————

Dean stared at the pile of empty canvases littering his apartment, then at his new array of paints and brushes.

He was afraid to start painting again. What if it came out all wrong? What if what was in his heart didn’t translate to the canvas? What if the plan in his mind was a complete flop? What if he placed the brush on the canvas, and no inspiration possessed his body, guiding him forward?

He had his sketches, but he felt surprisingly uninspired at present. Perhaps he should wait even longer.

He glanced at the clock. Two hours until the bookstore closed.

Dean had promised Cas a gourmet dinner. He should get started on that.

Dean held Cas’s apartment key in his palm, procuring it from Cas’s trench coat pocket. He couldn’t believe Cas had loaned it to him for the day. Cas trusted him with the only key he had. When Cas put the key in his hand that morning, Dean almost fainted on the spot. He made Cas a thermos of green tea as a thank you, kissing his cheek as a goodbye.

Dean had felt like a wife waving her handkerchief as her navy husband sailed away on a battleship.

Dean had realized throughout the day how much Cas’s life and his intertwined now. Going to the bookstore every day had become a habit, a regular occurrence, like the habit of staying in Cas’s apartment more than his own.

He knew it was silly, but he missed Cas’s presence today.

Dean put the key back in his pocket, deciding to start dinner at Cas’s apartment.

————

Castiel was buffeted by heat when Dean let him inside his own apartment.

Castiel slid off his coat and said in awe, “you really can fix a heater.” He inhaled lovely smells coming from the kitchen, observing Dean move to the stove. “Are you cooking salmon?”

“Mhm.” Dean smirked. “Do you like salmon?”

“I love salmon,” Castiel said incredulously.

“The umpteenth thing we have in common,” Dean said. “I lost count a long time ago.”

“Me too.” Castiel walked towards Dean and placed a sloppy kiss on his cheekbone. “I love you.”

Dean turned his head to the side, their lips meeting. “I love you too,” he mumbled into Castiel’s mouth.

Castiel pulled away and glanced down. “Are you wearing my clothes?”

Dean blushed and said bashfully, “borrowing one of your shirts was easier than going to my apartment. I needed to go someplace fancy.”

Castiel pecked Dean’s lips. “It looks good on you.” He nosed Dean’s jaw. “I’m going to slip into something more comfortable.”

Dean choked on his own spit as Castiel walked away.

————

Castiel uncorked the wine bottle and studied the label. “This is expensive!” He eyed his boyfriend. “For me?”

“For us.”

Castiel poured them both a half glass. He set the bottle aside and swirled the alcohol around in his glass. “I’m impressed that you could make such a wonderful dinner. And fix my heater!”

“That sounded like a porno.” Dean cleared his throat. “Not that I watch those…”

Castiel laughed. “I don’t care if you do.” He tasted the wine, his eyes widening. “You’re doing amazing, sweetie!”

“I thrive under scrutiny,” Dean said. “Now tell me about your day.”

“The only thing of import,” Castiel said, “was when Dorothy had lunch with us.”

“Char’s girlfriend?! I missed that?!” Dean pouted. “Aw, man.”

“You should meet her eventually, if you haven’t already.”

“What do you mean?”

“She’s a curator at the MoMA.”

Dean blinked. “Dorothy Baum.”

“So you do know her.”

“Not directly, but I’ve seen her at gallery events.”

“Well, you’re gonna know her now.”

“Guess so.” Dean frowned. “I have to ask you something.”

“Okay.”

“Are you truly okay with being the subject of my art collection?”

“Yes,” Castiel answered without hesitation.

Dean ran his fingertip along the rim of his wine glass. “I’m going to start painting tomorrow, and I needed to remember I have your full support.”

“You have it.” Castiel studied Dean’s unsure expression. “Is something wrong?”

Dean bit the inside of his cheek, releasing it. He tipped back some wine. “I’m just a bit scared, that’s all.”

“Of starting?”

“Yeah.” Dean tapped the tabletop a single time with his finger. “This is something people usually don’t understand, but, uh,” he explained, “there’s always this fear, when an artist looks at the paint and blank canvas, that nothing will come out.”

“Like when you’re about to take a test and you draw a blank?”

Dean grimaced despite himself. “Uh huh. I got sketches, and that’s nice, but I need to be inspired to produce something, even if it’s a replication.”

“I think I understand.” Castiel stood up from the table, glad that they had already washed their dinner plates. He crossed the space between them, gulping the rest of the wine and setting it beside Dean’s glass. Castiel plopped into Dean’s lap, winding his arms around Dean’s neck. Dean bit his lip at the surprise action and accompanying friction. Castiel ducked his head, placing his lips by Dean’s ear. “How about we skip either-or, and I help get you inspired?”

A low moan rumbled in the back of Dean’s throat. His hands found their way to the dip of Castiel’s spine, untucking a loose shirt from his pants. “Oh honey,” Dean rumbled into Castiel’s cheek, “I love you more than anything.”

“I love you more than books,” Castiel replied, “and that’s a big deal for me.”

Dean hummed. “What do you want tonight?”

Castiel’s baser instincts roared to life, his blood boiling. “Remember when you asked me about kinks, and I said my favorite was dirty talk?”

Dean exhaled a puff of air onto Castiel’s jawline. “Liar.”

“No,” Castiel murmured, “I still like that, but I didn’t want to tell you my real kink until we’d been intimate.”

Dean slid his hands under Castiel’s shirt, his finger pads trailing up his spine, dragging the fabric upwards. “And now that you know our sex is fucking out of this world, you’ll tell me?”

Castiel laughed into Dean’s skin, placing a kiss below his earlobe. “Mhm.”

“Go ahead, honey.”

Castiel said unceremoniously, “lap sex.”

Dean inhaled sharply, thinking of Castiel settled on his thighs, the heat between their legs slowly beginning to build up. Castiel watched it all flash behind Dean’s eyes, and smirked delightedly.

Dean exhaled shakily, his hands traveling down, Castiel’s shirt fabric covering his back again. “My God, sweetheart. You like lap sex too?”

“So you aren’t opposed.” Castiel pulled back and rested their foreheads together. “Good.”

He sensed Dean’s hands travel across his hips, and down his stomach, where heat was pooling. Dean breathed, “I wanna sit on your lap. Your thighs drive me wild.”

Castiel batted his eyelashes. “You like my thighs, huh?” He sensed Dean’s palms settle there, giving his thighs a soft squeeze.

Dean almost whimpered as he nodded, brushing their noses together. “I really do.”

“Okay, honey.” Castiel lifted himself away from Dean’s lap, standing gracefully and offering a hand. “Let’s finish what we started last night.”

Castiel stared down at Dean’s lazy gaze, his bright eyes and long eyelashes and soft smile. Dean roved over him adoringly, then took Castiel’s hand.

————

Dean watched a peacefully sleeping Cas encapsulated in his arms, slivers of moonlight playing across his tan skin.

He looked like an otherworldly creature, a man made of moonlight and stardust. His chest rose and fell against Dean’s side, his head lying in Dean’s collarbone, his arm around Dean’s stomach.

Dean looked down in awe at the angel that fell from Heaven, all to love him. The man with a biting wit and a toxic background. The man that made Dean feel more comfortable than he has with another person before. The man that owns a bookstore with his two best friends who has been hurt more than Dean can comprehend. The man that captured his attention and held it, a man so interesting and lovely that Dean never wanted to let go.

Castiel Novak was the name tattooed on his heart. The name he spoke in the throes of passion. The name on his mind every second of every day.

The name of the man he loves, and who he would always love.

And Dean was not scared to love him wholeheartedly anymore.

A flood of emotions bubbled up in Dean’s chest, the realization dawning on him at last.

Dean was not scared. He would never be scared again. Not of this. Not of loving too much.

He would never love Cas enough. Not in the amount Cas deserved.

But he would try.

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

As Dean regained consciousness, a dam broke.

Ideas flew behind his eyelids like darting dragonflies. Dean imagined holding a net, trapping as many as he could and transferring them into his long term memory.

Buzzing dragonflies, glittering every shade of the rainbow, remained in their cage.

Dean opened his eyes.

He was going to paint today.

————

Castiel awoke to the sound of Dean’s chest rising and falling. He sensed Dean’s hand resting atop his, which was on Dean’s stomach.

Dean was awake, waiting for him patiently.

Castiel blinked a few times, his vision still naturally blurry. He shifted a little, stretching in Dean’s embrace. He burrowed into Dean’s neck, kissing his collarbone.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” Dean murmured.

Castiel sighed, reality setting in; he had to go to work. “Don’t wanna leave you.”

Dean kissed the top of his head. “We’ve got a few minutes.”

Castiel boldly shifted his body, resting it fully atop Dean, his chin on Dean’s chest. He peered up at Dean, noticing something new in his eyes. Something different about his smile.

“What is it?” Castiel asked gruffly.

Dean ruffled Castiel’s nest of black hair with one hand, his eyes shining and his smile timid. “You inspired me,” he said softly, his voice light but the weight of his words heavy.

Castiel awoke fully in that moment. “I-I did?”

“You did.” Dean’s smile grew, his hand leaving Castiel’s hair and cupping his cheek. “I’m not afraid anymore.”

Castiel recalled their conversation last night. “Of painting?”

Dean shook his head. “I’m ready.”

“Does this mean you’ll be busy?”

“Not busy enough to make you dinner every night,” Dean murmured, “and not busy enough to wake up beside you and scramble some eggs.”

“Still not a euphemism?” Castiel teased.

“It can be on your days off.”

Castiel snorted, smiling despite himself. “Was last night really okay with you?”

Dean nodded. “I loved it.” His voice wandered. “The wine buzzing through me, you underneath me, you in general...it was incredible.”

Castiel batted his eyelashes, a blush overcoming his cheeks. “Remember my ground rules for your collection?”

Dean hummed, his thumb brushing over Castiel’s lips. “Only pieces of you. I know. I don’t want them to see you like this, anyway.”

“Good,” Castiel said, a tinge of relief lilting his tone. Even though he’s confident about himself now, he didn’t know what he would do if thousands saw him in a single painting, so exposed and vulnerable.

Dean sensed the change, Castiel’s state of mind. “I love you,” Dean whispered.

Castiel read the reassurance and comfort in his voice, contained in the spaces between all three words.

Castiel leaned forward and pecked Dean’s lips. “I love you too.”

Chapter Text

-“Big reputation, big reputation, you and me would be a big conversation.”
~Taylor Swift, “End Game”

 

Dean and Castiel reached a routine over the next several days.

Dean would wake Castiel up, hand Castiel his dress clothes for the day, and make breakfast while Castiel showered and dressed. They would part early in the morning, Castiel going to the bookstore and Dean painting like a madman in his apartment. In the late afternoon, Dean would scrub himself clean of paint and walk back to Castiel’s apartment. Since Castiel trusted him with the key, Dean let himself inside. Dean would cook dinner for Castiel every night, and they would discuss their days. They would camp out on the couch — Dean’s head on Castiel’s pillowed lap — and watch Netflix until it was pitch black outside. They would sleep beside one another, completely exhausted from the day’s events.

And so it went.

————

ONE WEEK LATER…

 

“Dean?”

Dean laid his back on the couch, his head looking up at Castiel. “Hm?”

Castiel studied the television light playing across half of Dean’s features, emerald half-lidded eyes trained on him. “Are you okay with this?” He asked hesitantly.

“This?” Dean murmured roughly. A smile tugged on his lips. “Of course.”

“Okay.”

Castiel meant it as a dismissal. A way to get Dean to turn to the side, towards the television again.

Dean’s eyes opened fully, instead, his head tilting to the side. A motion that Castiel knew he did when he was curious or suspicious.

Dean asked, “what’s the matter?”

“Nothing.” Castiel’s fingers carded through Dean’s hair, something meant to calm him, lull him into tiredness.

It didn’t work.

“Cas,” Dean said decisively, “tell me what’s bothering you.”

Castiel hooded his gaze behind his long eyelashes. “Are you okay with...not being intimate?”

Dean captured Castiel’s idle hand in his own. “We are being intimate,” he said.

“You know what I mean,” Castiel said bitterly.

Dean blinked, glancing downwards to avoid his gaze. “I don’t just want you for sex. You should know that by now.”

“I do. It’s just, um,” Castiel searched for the words, “because of what’s happened to me in the past, I get these...dry spells.” Dean looked back at him. “These, well, these times where the desire just...leaves me.”

“The desire to have sex,” Dean clarified.

“Right.”

Dean’s voice grew soft. “I gather that’s a defense mechanism.”

“Maybe. I-I was just...wondering if-”

“It’s okay,” Dean murmured. “I think just,” he squeezed Castiel’s hand, “being here with you is intimate. It’s enough for me.”

Castiel swallowed thickly, blinking away watery eyes. “Okay. Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. Anything for you, okay?”

Castiel smiled wobbly. “Okay.”

————

CHRISTMAS EVE…

 

“It’s the moment of truth, Cassius.”

“Gabe,” Castiel said exasperatedly, “I told you I don’t like that nickname. It’s the middle name of the Roman master manipulator who plotted the gruesome murder of Julius Caesar.”

“Cassie,” Gabriel amended, “today’s the day my evil plan works to perfection.”

Castiel and Gabriel rounded a corner, walking among the streets of the East Village.

Since they began a tentative friendship two months ago, both men had become a quirky duo.

Well, Gabriel was the quirky one. Castiel was the one that kept Gabriel in check.

“Which evil plan is this?” Castiel prompted. “The one about pranking Samandriel, even though you’re the older brother and you should be the role model? Or the one about sneaking candy from your store to the kids who walk in with their parents?”

“The one where I finally reveal to Sam that I know you and Dean!”

“Ah, that evil plan.”

“It’s gonna happen tonight. He’s gonna come by when I’m opening my annual soup kitchen.”

On Christmas Eve and Day, Gabriel and Samandriel converted their candy shop into a soup kitchen for people that have nowhere to go. It was commendable, really. Gabriel was shockingly sweet, behind his bravado and mouthy remarks. Castiel, Dean, Charlie, and Kevin decided to offer their services when it opens.

“Has he mentioned bringing Jo?” Castiel asked. “She’s the last one you gotta meet.”

“Yes, Sam’s bringing her. What’s she like?”

“Like Charlie and Dean had a baby.” Castiel wrinkled his nose, his glasses lifting up. “As creepy as that sounds.”

“Well,” Gabriel said airily, “I’m not too worried about it. I just can’t wait to see the look on Sam’s face.”

Castiel sighed. “You’re an odd guy, Gabe. Honestly, I’m still not used to you.”

Gabriel grinned proudly. “Good.”

————

“Whoa,” Dean grinned like a child, “this shop is awesome!”

Dean, Charlie, and Kevin took in the splendor of the candy shop, awestruck.

“Thank ya!” Gabriel exclaimed, obviously hearing from behind the counter. “C’mon back.”

The group went behind the counter, Dean still taken aback at the sheer amount of candy.

Castiel hooked his arm around Dean’s and murmured, “you can ask the nice man for some caramels.”

Dean snorted. “I’m more of a chocolate guy.”

“Course you are.”

————

Castiel found Dean stuffing his face in the middle of setting up the store an hour later.

Dean ate chocolate truffles from the box like a rabbit, chewing and barely swallowing before nibbling on the next sphere.

Castiel crossed his arms, an eyebrow raising.

Dean saw him in the corner of his eye and stiffened. His gaze slowly slid over to Castiel.

Dean smiled sheepishly. “Heh. This...isn’t what it looks like.”

Castiel sighed. “You’re gonna pay for those. You’ve got the money.”

“Course.” Dean blushed a lovely shade of pink. “Want one?”

Just to surprise Dean, Castiel strode over and perused the selection of truffles left in the box. He chose a dark chocolate truffle covered in cocoa powder, plucking it from the plastic casing. He popped it in his mouth, gooey chocolate filling his mouth. He smiled delightedly, swallowing the chocolate and emitting a hum. “It’s a wonder Gabe doesn’t eat all these.”

Castiel met Dean’s eyes, and he wore a strange expression. Dean’s irises glimmered with fondness, a small smile lighting up his features.

‘...being here with you is intimate. It’s enough for me.’

As if on his train of thought, Dean’s hand cupped Castiel’s cheek. Castiel turned towards it and pressed his lips on the inside of Dean’s wrist.

Dean held his gaze, smiling, for a moment.

The warmth of Dean’s palm left his cheek, and the world remembered how to revolve.

————

Another hour passed before Sam and Jo walked into a semi-packed shop.

Gabriel shared a mischievous look with Castiel. Dean furrowed his eyebrows and met Castiel’s eyes.

Castiel explained over the din of voices, “get ready for some unnecessary drama.” He nudged his head towards the entrance.

Dean’s eyes widened comically when he saw his younger brother and cousin approaching the counter.

Kevin was the first server at the counter. He beamed at Sam and Jo. “Hiya!”

Sam and Jo wore matching confused expressions.

“Hey, Kevin,” Sam said. “What’re you doing here?”

Since there was currently no soup line, Gabriel took the opportunity to switch places with Samandriel, so he would be at the end with Dean and Castiel. Samandriel did as his brother nonverbally asked with an eyeroll.

As Kevin spoke with Sam and Jo, Gabriel stood between Dean and Castiel. “Mind if I break up your love fest?”

Charlie glanced over from Castiel’s opposite side and snickered. Castiel said to Gabriel, “we’re not like that.”

“Not in public,” Dean amended.

Sam and Jo received bowls, then slid over to Samandriel. Jo was introduced to Gabriel’s younger brother with a handshake. They went to Charlie next, who greeted them with her usual vibrancy.

“Are all of you here?” Jo asked Charlie.

Charlie grinned. “Keep goin’, kids.” She ladled noodle soup out to Jo.

They slid over to Castiel, and nearly fainted at the sight.

Right beside him, Gabriel and Dean were whispering in the corner like conspiracy theorists.

Sam choked on his own spit. “WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?!”

The other patrons paid no mind, but Dean slid his gaze over to his brother and cousin. “Yes?”

Sam looked between his older brother and boyfriend, completely dumbstruck.

Castiel clapped Gabriel’s shoulder. “Ya broke another one, Gabe. Good job.”

At the name, Jo set her eyes on Gabriel. “It’s you?”

Gabriel looked at the intimidating woman sheepishly. “Gabriel Smith.” He waved. “Hi.”

Jo set a look of death upon Dean. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me you knew him?”

“Cas knows him,” Dean corrected.

To lighten the mood, Castiel said, “we became friends after we realized we were dating in the same family. Known him for years, though, on account of our secret network between small business owners.”

“We’re PBF’s,” Gabriel chimed in. “Platonic bisexual friends.”

Castiel silently high fived Gabriel.

“Did that explain it or make things worse?” Dean asked hesitantly.

Jo sighed. “I guess.”

“Wait,” Sam looked between Gabriel, Castiel, and Dean, then held up a finger, “I’m still comprehending this.” He asked the air, “what in the fuck is my life?”

Gabriel blinked at Castiel. “I really did break him. Shit.”

Castiel clucked his tongue.

“While Sam takes a second,” Jo said, sticking out a hand, “hi, I’m Jo.”

Gabriel smiled sweetly and shook her hand. “Hi. Sorry if I-”

“Oh, it’s fine,” Jo said reassuringly. “What you did was pretty smart, actually.”

Gabriel beamed. “Aw. Thank you.” He eyed Sam hesitantly and asked, “vegetable soup?”

Sam finally recovered, clearing his throat and truly taking in Gabriel’s appearance for the first time. “Okay.”

Gabriel ladled out the soup in Sam’s empty bowl. “There ya go.”

A silver bell rung.

“Be right back!” Gabriel exclaimed, nodding to his brother and rounding the counter. He carried a tray of rainbow lollipops, which he settled by a table composed of children. Gabriel sent them a huge smile and knelt to their level. He whispered something, the kids each taking a lollipop and grinning.

Castiel glanced at Dean, who watched Sam like a hawk. Castiel noticed Sam following Gabriel’s every movement. His face was screwed up in thought, as if puzzling over something. Jo observed Sam’s facial expression change into something resembling fondness as the scene unfolded.

Dean coughed pointedly, Sam’s head snapping around to stare at his brother. Dean teased, “you can’t be any more obvious, can you?”

Sam shot him a look similar to Jo’s. “I had to watch you moon over Cas for an entire day.”

Dean chuckled. “He’s dreamy. Sorry.”

Castiel snorted.

————

“Why are we sleeping on the kitchen floor, again?”

Castiel set their sleeping bags beside each other, rolling his out. “Because we have to be here to give presents to the kids at dawn.”

Dean laid on his sleeping bag. “My back’s gonna hurt in the morning.”

“Too bad, old man.” Castiel laid beside him. “Good night.”

Dean sighed. “Good night.”

————

CHRISTMAS DAY…

 

The group awoke to the sound of the bell chiming.

Castiel got up first, putting on his glasses and sticking his head though the kitchen window.

He smiled. “Hi, Dorothy.”

“Cas,” Dorothy greeted, standing behind the counter. “Is Charlie back there?”

“Yup. Hang on a minute.” Castiel ducked his head back down and crawled over to Charlie’s sleeping bag. He shook her lightly. “Char. Get up.”

“Mmph.” Charlie opened her eyes, rubbing them.

“Dorothy’s waiting.”

Charlie shot up like a rocket, her eyes wide. “Eep!”

“Shh,” Castiel said. “I’ll fix you.”

Charlie sat still as Castiel swiped at residue makeup on her face. Kevin woke up and crawled over too, smoothing out Charlie’s hair. Castiel joined Kevin in tying it back, forming two small braids that created a single one. They left a thin curtain of hair alone, letting Charlie’s flaming strands reach the middle of her back.

Castiel and Kevin faced her, giving her a final once over.

Charlie grinned. “You’re such good friends.”

Kevin handed Charlie her glasses from her duffel bag. Charlie shoved them on, scrunching her nose. She shared a look with Castiel, and he stood back up. He said through the window, “she’s comin’, Dorothy.”

Charlie stood up near the kitchen door, so her girlfriend wouldn’t see her through the open window. Kevin gave Charlie a thumbs up, and she smoothed out her braids one final time.

Charlie pushed open the door, the action waking up the rest of the group. Castiel heard some groans, but no one sat up yet.

Castiel paid them no mind, peeking his head over the open window. He wasn’t one for eavesdropping, but he couldn’t help himself this time.

A fresh-faced Charlie, still in Christmas-themed pajamas, grinned at Dorothy. “Hi. Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas,” Dorothy said, leaning over the counter to give Charlie a hug. “I came to give you your present.”

“Oh! Hang on.” Charlie went into the kitchen. Castiel shared a look with Kevin, who procured a box marked for Dorothy. Charlie received it from Kevin, smiling in thanks. She returned to Dorothy and handed her the box. “Wanna open them at the same time?”

“Okay.”

Kevin crawled over to Castiel’s perch, both of them sharing the open window.

Charlie nearly fainted at her gift. She settled for a gasp.

Castiel and Kevin strained their eyes, recognizing a box set of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Only it wasn’t any old box set.

It was a first edition.

Castiel and Kevin’s eyes bugged out of their heads. They nearly gasped, but they clapped hands over their mouths to stifle the sound.

“I...I don’t know what to say.” Charlie chuckled nervously, rocking on the balls of her feet. “This must have cost a pretty penny.”

“Not much, surprisingly,” Dorothy said. “It was no problem.” Dorothy opened her box and smiled. “How practical.” She chuckled, lifting up a package of several different hair ties in every possible color. “I love it.”

“I got sick of you using the same one,” Charlie said.

“This is sweet. Thank you.” Dorothy leaned forward and framed Charlie’s face in her hands.

Their kiss was so goddamn cute Castiel nearly got cavities.

He ducked his head down again, Kevin doing the same. They did a silent high five.

The group finally sat up, Dean being the first one Castiel’s eyes immediately travelled to. Dean met his eyes and smiled instantly.

“Ugh,” Kevin commented.

Castiel snorted at his friend and crawled to his boyfriend’s sleeping bag. He settled on the end of it, sitting crisscrossed. “Hi.”

“Hey.” Dean checked to see no one was intruding on their space or paying attention. He pressed a long kiss to Castiel’s cheek. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” Castiel murmured. “Wanna meet Dorothy?”

“Dorothy’s here?”

“Mhm.” Castiel teased, “she already gave Charlie the best gift, so good luck topping it.”

“Challenge accepted.”

————

Dorothy’s mouth fell open. She stared at him, then at Castiel. “DEAN WINCHESTER IS YOUR BOYFRIEND?!”

Castiel rolled his eyes. “Yeah. He’s whatever. Don’t get the big deal.”

Dean smiled fondly. “Aw, I love you too.”

“With your reputation,” Dorothy said, “I thought you’d be different.”

“Thought I’d be an asshole?” Dean chuckled. “Nah. I’m the black sheep in our little art family.”

Dorothy sighed in relief. “Thank God.”

————

Gabriel sat on the back step of the store, reveling in the quietness.

The soup kitchen inside was in full swing. He needed a minute to himself. There were too many voices in there.

The door swung open, and Gabriel sighed.

He thought it was his brother or Castiel coming to join him.

It was Sam.

Gabriel was too exhausted to put his guard up or wear a mask. “Hey,” he said tiredly.

“Needed a minute?”

“Yeah,” Gabriel admitted.

“Me too.”

A gust of cold wind set a shock through Gabriel’s bones. He shivered, even though he wore three layers of clothing.

Sam knocked their shoulders together, a burst of heat warming Gabriel.

Gabriel clenched his jaw, staring at the gum-covered concrete. “I need to ask you something.”

“Okay.”

Gabriel decided not to beat around the bush. “Why are you still here?”

Sam blinked in the corner of Gabriel’s eye. “Because you’re a good man.”

Sam said it like it was an easy conclusion to come to. Perhaps Gabriel was too insecure and self-deprecating. He should be more proud of his accomplishments.

Gabriel huffed. “You’ve already seen all I have to offer. This is it, man. There’s not much else.”

“Only this part is left. The part where you stop putting on a facade with me.”

Gabriel recoiled back in shock.

Sam smiled gently. “I’m a lawyer, Gabe. I read people for a living.”

“You knew this whole time I was trying to make life interesting for you so you wouldn’t leave. Fucking figures.”

“You don’t need to do that. You’re great all on your own.”

Gabriel snorted. “You’ll move on eventually.”

“Why do you think that?”

“You’re a lawyer. You deserve...I don’t know. Someone better.”

“What if that’s you?”

Gabriel clenched his jaw, the breeze numbing his ears. He couldn’t find the words to speak.

“You’ve never asked me about my exes.”

“I didn’t want you asking about mine,” Gabriel muttered. “They all sucked, by the way. That’s why I prefer one night stands.” He sighed. “And then you decided to show up.”

Sam said, “you’re actually my best significant other. My best option is to stick with you, looks like.”

Gabriel still couldn’t bring himself to look at Sam. He stuffed his hand into his coat and pulled out a box. “Here’s your present, by the way.”

The conversation halted, exactly what Gabriel wanted. Sam took the box and lifted the latch.

Sam stared at the gift, then huffed out a laugh. “Where did you find these?”

“I made them myself.”

Sam’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open. “No shit?”

“Nope.”

Sam ran his thumb over the metal cufflinks. Gabriel had shaped them to resemble a saltwater taffy wrapper, a circle where the candy nestled and twisted ends where plastic fanned outwards.

Sam murmured, “I think I love you.”

Gabriel looked at Sam’s sharp profile. He asked weakly, “you think?”

“No.” Sam’s resolute blue eyes met his. “I know it. Knew it for certain this morning, actually.”

Gabriel felt his heart punch his throat. He refused to let his feelings rise up and consume him. “And when was this?”

Sam replied quietly, “when you handed out presents and candy to the children.”

Gabriel remembered the early hour with striking clarity, but he pushed his emotions down. “Oh. Okay.”

Sam didn’t press further, which made Gabriel like him just a little bit more.

Was it love, though? He wasn’t sure.

Instead, Sam handed Gabriel his wrapped present.

Gabriel opened the candy box confusedly.

Inside were twelve wrapped caramels. They were a bit messy and hardened, but Gabriel didn’t mind.

His eyes widened in realization. “You made them yourself.”

“Yeah,” Sam said shyly. “Wanted to try it, once I saw you do it.”

“Wow.” Gabriel picked up a caramel, balancing the box on his knees. He unwrapped it, taking a careful bite. It was softer than it looked, which was a good sign. He chewed, and the flavor exploded in his mouth. Sam watched incredulously as Gabriel smiled and swallowed the bite. “Whoa, dude. That was actually good.”

“Yeah?”

“Sure you wanna be a lawyer?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m not saying this because we’re together,” Gabriel said, forgetting about his woes, “but this is really good for a first attempt.”

Sam actually blushed, and Gabriel felt accomplished.

Gabriel finished the caramel and closed the candy box. He stood up and said, “we should get back in there before we freeze.”

Sam reluctantly followed him back into the chaos, a smile lingering on his face.

————

Dean and Castiel collapsed on the couch in Castiel’s apartment, exhausted after being away since the previous afternoon.

They lay tangled up in one another for a few moments, neither one of them breaking the silence.

Then, Castiel murmured, “your presents are more paints and a suit.”

Dean shot upwards, as if remembering it for the first time. “Oh! Right!”

“I’m too tired to walk over there,” Castiel pointed to the opposite side of the apartment, where a shirt and gift bag sat against the bedroom door.

Dean chuckled and stood up with considerable effort. Castiel craned his neck and observed Dean examine a gray suit jacket and open a bag of high end paints.

“These are great,” Dean said honestly. “Thank you.” He went over to his overcoat, hung alongside Castiel’s trench coat. “I’ve been carrying yours around.”

Dean extricated a box from his overcoat pocket and brought it over to Castiel. Dean entangled their legs together again and watched Castiel thumb open the box.

A few days ago, Castiel’s favorite watch had stopped ticking. Not only that, but the chain on his mother’s locket broke in half. It upset him greatly, more than it should have, but Dean was there to soothe him.

Inside the box was an exact replica of Castiel’s watch, as well as a new locket chain.

Before Castiel could do something stupid like cry, he surged forward and captured Dean in an intense kiss. Dean took as much as he gave, lying on the couch and allowing Castiel to climb atop him for leverage. The situation evolved into a make out session, Dean grasping Castiel by the hips while Castiel took Dean’s face in his hands. Castiel kissed his boyfriend until he couldn’t breathe, forced to pull away and heave in breaths.

“I love you,” Castiel gasped. “I love you, I love you, I love you.” His breath hitched, and he rested their foreheads together. “Fuck, I love you.”

Dean huffed out a laugh, his heart racing and his mouth panting beneath Castiel’s fingers. “I love you too, honeybee.”

————

TWO DAYS LATER…

 

Castiel knocked on Dean’s apartment door during his lunch break, wanting to surprise his boyfriend.

Loud classic rock music was lowered, a rainbow-speckled Dean answering the door.

Dean made for quite a picture. He grinned like a kid at Castiel’s surprise visit, paint mingling with his freckles and staining a white tee with rolled-up sleeves. “Hey, Cas. Couldn’t wait until tonight?”

“I just thought I’d see how you’re doing, with the collection of me and everything.”

Dean left the door ajar, Castiel stepping inside and shutting the door.

Tarps covered every major surface of Dean’s apartment, canvases and paints and brushes all over the place. Dean ran a paintbrush in his hand under the faucet, then scrubbed his hands with an exorbitant amount of soap.

Castiel took in his surroundings quietly. He waited for Dean to turn off the sink and dry his hands.

Once that was done, Dean walked over and kissed Castiel’s temple. “What do you think, honeybee?”

Castiel snorted. “Use that nickname sparingly. I don’t want you wearing it out so soon.”

“Yes, sir.”

Castiel stepped forward, watching where his shoes landed on the tarp. He examined finished canvases, one of his hands and one of his arms and one of his silhouette and one painting that was currently drying.

The new painting captured Castiel’s attention instantly. He studied a copy of his powder blue dress shirt, the top two buttons exposing his collarbone and neck.

He didn’t know Dean fantasized about this.

Dean went to his side, trying to gauge a reaction.

Since Castiel felt playful, he unfastened two buttons on his dress shirt, revealing the new chain on his mother’s locket. He faced Dean, whose eyes immediately went to the newly-exposed skin of his collarbone. Castiel murmured, “I know you want to. Go ahead.”

Dean’s eyelashes fluttered, and he leaned down. His lips pressed against the warm chain, Castiel tilting his head up. He let Dean kiss along his collarbone, the hollow of his throat, the side of his neck.

Castiel chuckled. “That tickles.”

That encouraged Dean to continue up his neck and around his jawline and to his cheek. Dean nosed Castiel’s cheekbone and rumbled, “my paintings are good?”

“I suppose.”

Rather than take offense, Dean hummed at the expected response. He kissed Castiel’s cheek a final time and asked, “sandwich?”

Castiel nodded.

————

THREE DAYS LATER…

 

Dean thought he would be in the clear. He thought he could take Cas to a fancy restaurant in SoHo and he would be in the clear.

God, he was stupid.

He just wanted to show Cas the benefits of having money. He normally wasn’t one for this type of behavior, but Cas deserved nice things. Only the best things.

They both dressed up, Cas in his work clothes and Dean in a button-up shirt. They walked a few blocks and Dean made reservations at his favorite gaudy restaurant.

They sat with a candle between them, cloth napkins on their lips. The tablecloth and silverware and dishes were top of the line. They spoke in hushed tones in the dim lighting, and it was surprisingly pleasant.

As they split dessert, a decadent scoop of German chocolate ice cream drizzled with caramel, that’s when he arrived.

Zachariah was a rare type of person. He was the type of person who didn’t give a shit about decorum. He didn’t care if he caused a scene.

“Dean Winchester,” Zachariah sneered as he approached the table, “I’m surprised to see the likes of you here.”

At that, Dean turned on his performance mask for the first time in over a year. He didn’t focus on Cas, who was probably angry and confused beside him. He focused on making his expression as emotionless and phony as possible.

Dean’s voice was laced with poison. “Zachariah,” he said airily, “it’s good to see you.”

“Of course it is,” Zachariah said confidently. “No one’s seen you in over a year. We thought you’d disappeared forever.” He added cattily, “or perhaps retired early due to your subpar success as of late.”

Dean smiled tightly. “We all have our bad times.”

“Yours just so happened to be very bad.”

Dean found it faster to agree with him. “I can assure you, I’m doing well now.”

“Well enough to produce quality art?”

Dean gritted his teeth and took it. He had no choice but to take it. “You’ll have to judge that for yourself.” He dipped his tone in sugar. “That shouldn’t be too hard to manage for you.”

“Hah,” Zachariah said. “Are you saying you’ll be making a ‘grand’ return?”

“Perhaps,” Dean said flippantly. “Or perhaps you’re getting your hopes up.”

“Nobody comes to Balthazar’s unless they want to be seen.”

Dean laughed shortly. “People come to Balthazar’s because it’s good food. Or did you forget that?”

Zachariah faltered.

Dean did a little wave. His smile and false tone was a sucker punch. “It was great to see you.”

Zachariah growled like a dog, but spun on his feet and left in a tizzy.

Dean removed his dealing-with-elitist-assholes mask and took the final chunk of soupy ice cream in his spoon. He composed himself and washed it down with water.

He gathered the courage to finally look across the table. The mixture of emotions on Cas’s face and behind his glasses were hard to decipher.

Dean deflated. He’d ruined it.

He said cheerily, “let’s get the check and get outta here, alright?”

Even though he felt like a douchebag, he flagged down the waiter to get the check. Dean paid it off quickly and slipped on his overcoat. Cas did the same, choosing not to speak.

It was terrifying, in a way.

Cas lead Dean to his apartment. They didn’t talk for several blocks, weaving through the crowds.

Dean had never been more afraid in his life.

He refused to entertain any options rattling around his head. He would remain optimistic. Everything would be okay. Zachariah’s digs could have been worse.

It felt like a small eternity had passed by the time Castiel was shutting them inside his apartment. Dean figured this was a good sign.

Cas gestured to sit at the table. Dean did so, Cas sitting across from him.

Cas’s gaze was suddenly too invasive, too intense, too much. Dean didn’t look away, though, holding onto it for dear life.

Cas said, “every fiber in my body was telling me to destroy that man. Do you know why I didn’t step in?”

Dean shook his head numbly.

“I was thinking about what Dorothy said,” Cas continued. “About you having a reputation. I wanted to see what she meant, and I quickly learned that your reputation is terrible at the moment. So,” Cas answered his own question, “I didn’t step in because I didn’t want to make it worse.”

Dean nodded, an indication of understanding.

“Now,” Cas said, “I have a serious question.”

Dean nodded again, telling him to ask it.

Cas asked, “why didn’t you defend yourself?”

Dean loaded his metaphorical shotgun with ammunition. He found his voice again. “The rich will always hold all the cards. I am famous because I cater to their every whim. If I do something too rash, like talk back, or push a little too hard, I will lose my clients. My income would be nonexistent within days if I make one little mistake, or say something to the wrong person. I must walk on eggshells at all times. I foolishly thought I could take you to a nice restaurant without being recognized, and I’m sorry for my error. But this is the reality of being a successful artist, and there is nothing I can do about it. I have to swallow my pride and fucking take it, even though I want to claw their eyes out. I have to play the game, or else I’ll lose my life’s work with the snap of an asshole’s fingers. Do you understand?”

Cas nodded on autopilot, picking apart the onslaught of information. Dean gave him a minute. God forbid he snatch one too.

Dean still thinks he ruined it. All of it.

Until Cas sat up, walked across the table, and plopped on Dean’s lap.

Cas framed Dean’s face in his hands. Dean couldn’t gather the strength to look up at him.

Cas murmured, “that guy wore the phoniest wig I’ve ever seen. His shoes were second rate. I have the same pair. Got them at half price, which means he’s a cheapskate. He gets joy out of making people unhappy, which makes him a pathetic shell of a person.”

Dean huffed out a laugh. This was entertaining.

Cas continued with more insults, and Dean found himself laughing into Cas’s cheek. Listening to his boyfriend talk shit about Zachariah cleansed his soul.

Once Cas ran out of jabs, Dean nosed his jaw and said, “I love you.”

“I know.”

Chapter Text

Castiel twisted the knob on Dean’s apartment door to find it unlocked.

He pursed his lips and opened the door slowly. It wasn’t like Dean to forget to lock the door.

The door creaked, and Castiel slipped through it. “Sweetheart?”

He heard Dean hum softly, and he sighed in relief. He stepped over the plastic tarp on the floor and shut the door.

When he got the text an hour earlier to meet in Dean’s apartment for dinner, Castiel was a bit confused. Dean practically lived with Castiel now, and only painted in his own apartment.

Castiel saw a bag of takeout plopped on his kitchen table. It was from Dean’s favorite Chinese restaurant.

He walked further and saw Dean sitting in the middle of his main room. He sat crisscrossed, classic rock music playing at a low volume, surrounded by dried flecks of paint. He was staring at a finished painting in a trance.

He was covered in paint. His scuffed and torn jeans. His dirty white tee. His arms and hands. A spot below his ear.

Castiel approached with quiet steps, as if regarding a scared rabbit. He made his deep voice gentle. “What’s going on, sweetheart?”

“It’s done,” Dean said in disbelief. “It’s all done.” He stared at Castiel, in awe. “I did it.”

Castiel’s lips curved into a smile. “That’s wonderful, dear.”

Dean’s expression transformed into uncertainty. “I...I don’t know what to do. What do I do? Do I give it to...huh. I don’t know. I don’t think so. Not yet.”

“You’re not making sense. Are you talking about your solicitor?”

“Right. Yeah.” Dean blinked. “Sorry. Yeah. Rowena. Ro. My solicitor.”

Castiel stepped closer, kneeling to Dean’s level, facing him. He cupped Dean’s cheek. “Did you hit your head or someth-”

“No. Sorry. I just, um.” Dean closed his mouth, thought, and opened it again. “I guess I’m frazzled. Outta my mind.”

“When was the last time you ate or drank?”

“Uh...with you.”

“Breakfast?!” Castiel had a small heart attack. “God, Dean. You never forget to eat. Come on.” He stood up, offering a hand. “You need takeout.”

Dean grasped his hand and tugged himself up.

————

Dean regained his vocabulary after consuming dinner.

“Okay,” Dean said as they washed dishes, “I’m going to try again.”

Castiel knocked their hips together as he scrubbed plates. “Don’t overexert yourself. Take your time.”

His support seemed to help Dean relax, his furrowed eyebrows and forehead crease smoothing out.

Dean rinsed dishes while he gathered his thoughts. “I guess...as soon as I finished my last painting, I realized my collection was done. It was over. I kinda didn’t want it to be, if that makes sense.”

Castiel nodded. “You also mentioned your solicitor. Rowena?”

“Yeah. I call her Ro. Um, she’s been checking up on my progress. Once I tell her it’s done, I’m afraid I’ll get swept up in the chaos again.”

“I understand your reservations,” Castiel said, “especially after last night.”

“Fucking Zachariah. He’s one of the worst.”

“No wonder he’s so mean. That name is awful.”

“Yeah. Everyone’s got weird names in my industry.”

“Well,” Castiel asked, “do you want my two cents?”

“Yes, please. It’ll help.”

“Okay,” Castiel began, “I think it’s perfectly valid, and in fact expected, for you to hold back your art collection. Just for a little while. You can really think about what you want. If you’re ready to dive back into this world you’re a part of, or if you need some time to yourself until you are ready. Make Rowena sweat. It should ultimately be about you. Whatever you choose, I’ll support you.”

Dean placed his wet bubbling hands on Castiel’s cheeks. He pressed their lips together softly. “Thank you. I love you.”

“Love you too. Now get your soapy hands off me.”

Dean chuckled and did as Castiel asked.

————

NEW YEARS EVE…

 

“Do it.”

“No.”

“Dean,” Sam said exasperatedly, “do it.”

“What is ‘it’?” Cas asked.

“I would also like to know that,” Gabriel chimed in.

“Us too,” Charlie said, speaking for her and Kevin.

“Come on, Dean,” Jo said, “be a pal. Do it.”

Dean sighed, looking at a guard blocking off the entrance into the Empire State Building. It was hard to get inside this particular party. Watching the fireworks on the Empire State Building, if someone could get access, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Dean wasn’t sure he could pull this one off. However, the guard was someone he recognized. He guarded art museums.

Dean had to try.

“Fine!” He exclaimed.

“Yes!” Sam and Jo cheered.

“You got this,” Sam said encouragingly.

“Whatever,” Dean grumbled. “Stand a little ways behind me.”

Sam and Jo lead their confused group behind Dean.

He approached the guard, keeping his voice low but authoritative. “Can my friends and I get up there?”

The guard looked him dead in the eyes. There was a glimmer of recognition in them. “No.”

Dean blinked, as if incredulous at being denied. “Sorry, um,” he enunciated every word of his least favorite question, “do you know who I am?”

Dean heard Gabriel say, “oh my fucking God.”

“If this works, he’s my hero,” Kevin said.

The guard stared him down, Dean straightening his composure. He blossomed in the presence of naysayers.

Slowly, the guard opened the entrance. “Have fun, Mr. Winchester.”

Dean smiled meekly. “Thank you.”

His friends scurried through the doors after him.

Once the doors were shut again, Sam high fived Dean. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

“Hell yeah!” Kevin said.

“That’s my boy!” Jo said proudly.

Dean shrugged sheepishly. “It’s nothin’.”

He lead the group across the spacious lobby and called for the elevator.

While they waited, Gabriel asked, “can you seriously do that to get into anything?”

“It depends,” Dean answered. “I recognized that guy as a museum guard, so I got lucky.”

“That’s so sick,” Charlie said. “Do you do that often?”

“Nah. Don’t make a habit of it.” Dean turned around, addressing his boyfriend. “So you can stop boring your eyes into the back of my head disapprovingly.”

Cas crossed his arms. “Fine.”

The elevator dinged.

————

Dorothy rushed to the roof party during the countdown. She tapped Charlie’s shoulder, and the group watched her face light up.

Charlie leapt into Dorothy’s arms for a quick hug. Dorothy took hold of Charlie’s waist, and they faced each other.

“Five!”

Castiel swiveled around, facing Dean. He adjusted his glasses with a nose scrunch.

“Four!”

Castiel observed Gabriel look up at Sam with a question in his eyes. Sam nodded in the corner of Castiel’s eye.

“Three!”

Castiel looked back at Dean, who spared a smile for his brother.

“Two!”

Dean captured Castiel’s hips in an embrace, Castiel thumbing Dean’s jaw as he leaned up.

“One!”

Castiel heard nothing but his heartbeat beside Dean’s, felt nothing but the sensations that buzzed throughout his body whenever he kissed the man he loves.

“HAPPY NEW YEAR!”

Sounds exploded in Castiel’s eardrums, his blood rushing through his veins. Reality crashed in on him, but he kept kissing Dean. Castiel wanted to burrow in him, have Dean protect him from the madness erupting around them.

Dean was more than happy to oblige.

————

NEW YEARS DAY…

 

The party kicked up a notch, confetti streaming through the air and sticking to the ground.

Castiel remained in Dean’s embrace, viewing the chaos as much as he was able. Dean’s grip tightened a little, a soothing action.

Castiel observed Gabriel moving from tiptoes to his actual height, his kiss with Sam ending abruptly. Charlie and Dorothy rested their foreheads together, murmuring to each other amidst the loud music.

Castiel looked back up at Dean, the two inches between them vast. Sensing his train of thought, Dean ducked down and asked in his ear, “wanna slow dance?”

Rather than roll his eyes and ask why they would do that during a fast song, Castiel recognized the invitation for what it was: a way to be close.

Castiel nodded, looping his arms around Dean’s neck. Dean tugged him closer, until they were chest-to-chest. He lead them as they swayed from side to side, Castiel feeling warm from head to toe.

It was perfect. A perfect moment.

“Looooserrrrrrrrr!” Jo appeared, clearly drunk, crashing in on them. “You’re supposed ta dance crazy, Dean!”

Dean hung his head and sighed deeply.

Kevin appeared next. “I got her.” He tugged Jo away lightly, giving Castiel a thumbs up.

Dean lifted his head sheepishly. “Okay, moment ruined.”

“It was nice anyway,” Castiel said genuinely.

————

Dean awoke beside Cas at ten in the morning, his head pounding.

Fucking hangovers.

Dean gathered every ounce of strength left in him and left the warmth of Cas’s bed. He glanced over at a peacefully-sleeping Cas, curled beside him, and decided he should get a hangover cure ready. Cas’s head will hurt just as much as his does.

Dean padded over to the kitchen, Cas’s pajama pants swaying as he moved. Cas’s legs were longer than his, so extra fabric pooled around his ankles. He wiped his hands on his tee and procured a pan. He got out a half-used package of deli meat and a carton of eggs.

Dean got the eggs on a plate and had the bacon sizzling on the stove when a figure approached him tiredly. Cas comprehended the hangover cure in progress and nodded in solidarity. Grease really was the best. And bacon.

Nonetheless, Cas found his headache aspirin in the cupboard and set it out if needed. He filled glasses with tap water. He gripped the plate with eggs and set it on the table, along with the glasses.

Dean heaped bacon onto a large plate, Cas stealing a kiss as a thank you. Dean turned the stove off and wiped the pan with a quick swipe. He went to the table and saw Cas transfer half the bacon and eggs onto his plate.

Dean sat and took what was left. “Your appetite just might rival mine,” he joked.

Cas smiled, his nose scrunching up his glasses. He cleared his plate of eggs first, neither of them able to speak much due to throbbing headaches.

Once everything was consumed, Dean felt his headache lessen. However, he took aspirin just to be sure. Cas followed his lead on that front.

They cleared dishes in silence, allowing the aspirin to work its magic. Dean knocked their hips together every few minutes, getting Cas to smile.

Afterwards, Cas moved to go the bathroom to shower.

Instead of disappearing and closing the door, though, he turned back around. A coyness reached his eyes, Cas leaning against the doorframe.

Cas made a come-hither motion with his hand.

Dean nearly fainted.

His feet moved for him. He knew he probably looked like an idiot.

At least he was a smitten idiot.

————

Castiel set his glasses on the sink counter, folding them neatly. He glanced over his shoulder at a wide-eyed Dean. “Get the water started.”

Castiel removed his tee in a single swipe, imagining Dean’s gawking behind him.

Dean recovered and turned on the shower, water streaming in its glass box.

There was enough room for two in his shower, despite the overall smallness of his apartment compared to Dean’s.

Castiel dropped his pajama pants, stepping out of the pool on the floor. He set his pajamas neatly aside, the corner of his eye catching Dean staring.

“Take your clothes off,” Castiel said gently. “I’m not going to bite.”

Dean slowly removed his shirt, Castiel turning back around to slip off his boxers and socks.

Dean’s breath hitched, and Castiel pretended not to hear it.

Dean made quick work of divesting his clothes, Castiel sticking his hand in the shower water. Steamy. Just how he liked it best, especially in wintertime.

Castiel stepped in the shower, giving Dean the final nudge to join him. Castiel let the spray run over his body as he opened caps for shower gel and shampoo. Dean was always smelling him, so he must like the scents Castiel chose.

Castiel stepped out of the steam, squeezing shower gel in his hand. Dean stepped inside the glass box, his cheeks stained pink and his eyes averted.

Oh, he was ridiculous.

And Castiel had to admit he wasn’t expecting such hesitation. Dean was a decent actor, sometimes.

“What is it?” Castiel asked, absentmindedly washing his body. “Am I too forward?”

Dean shook his head. His eyes settled on Castiel’s face, refusing to venture downwards. “I-I just thought you...your sexual desire comes and goes. W-why are you doing this?”

Castiel batted his eyelashes, forcing Dean’s palm open. He put a dollop of shower gel there. Dean took the prompt and began washing.

Castiel blew a puff of air in Dean’s face. He understood what Dean was attempting to communicate. He bridged the lengthy gap. “That doesn’t mean you can’t look.” Castiel spun around and twisted his muscles to make his point. He felt Dean’s eyes burn a hole in his backside. “And that doesn’t mean you can’t touch.” Castiel concealed his smirk and handed Dean the shower gel. “Wash my back.”

Dean grasped the container and did as he asked, his gelled hands rubbing his back in slow circles.

Castiel considered it an accomplishment.

Castiel did the same for Dean, then ran his hair under the spray. He squinted his eyes, droplets tinging the edges of his long eyelashes. Dean observed him like he was some magnificent creature, a nymph bathing luxuriously in a watering hole. Castiel held himself differently. Straightened his posture. Flexed so his slender muscles were more prominent. Castiel worked shampoo into his hair and washed it slowly. He bit his lip flirtatiously as his eyes fluttered shut, knowing that Dean was definitely getting a kick out of this.

He thinks this should satiate Dean until Castiel’s desire returned.

Once Castiel’s hair was rinsed, he dared to open his eyes a tad.

To put it mildly, Dean was an absolute wreck.

Castiel batted his eyelashes. “Your turn.”

Dean’s Adam’s apple bobbed as they switched places. Castiel rubbed shampoo between his hands and stood on tiptoes, leaning close to his boyfriend. He scrubbed Dean’s blonde hair, Dean’s eyes shutting and his lips upturning. Dean emitted a little hum as Castiel worked.

Castiel took this wonderful opportunity to examine the thousands of freckles dotting Dean’s skin. It would take the rest of his life to count them, he thinks. More spring up whenever the sun shines, if only for a minute.

Dean Winchester was made of light. It was merely survival that Castiel cling to him. Dean absorbed Castiel’s darkness, until only a sunspot remained. A single glaring black hole, labeled His Past.

Castiel allowed Dean to tip his head back and rinse his hair. Castiel washed his soapy hands clean and opened the glass box. He stepped out of the shower, Dean watching him move.

Castiel procured towels, drying himself generously. He heard Dean shut the shower off and wrapped a towel around his waist.

Dean opened the glass box, Castiel holding out a towel. Dean grasped it and closed the shower door. Castiel turned around and scrubbed his hair with a small towel, allowing Dean to dry himself.

After a moment, Castiel handed Dean his hair towel. Dean used it, and Castiel stood in front of the sink mirror. He decided his stubble could stand to remain as is for another day or two. Dean liked it, anyway.

Castiel turned back around, slipping on his glasses as he did so. Dean covered his body as much as humanly possible with both towels. A blush still lingered on his neck and cheeks.

“There’s no need to be shy,” Castiel murmured. “It’s only me.”

“I guess,” Dean said bashfully, “I need to work on that whole ‘loving yourself’ thing.”

Castiel bobbed his head, then went to the hook behind the bathroom door. Their bathrobes hung there, and Castiel handed Dean the gray one. Castiel slipped into his fluffy white robe, securing the tie and dropping his towel.

He heard Dean gulp once it hit the tile.

Castiel rolled his eyes and left the bathroom with the towel. He went to his bedroom and dropped it in the laundry basket near the closet.

Instead of picking out clothes, Castiel felt uninspired. He didn’t feel like it. Picking out clothes, putting them on, going anywhere. What was the point of wearing clothes if he didn’t have any plans?

There wasn’t any point.

Castiel flopped on his mattress, lying on his back, his robe covering his mid-thigh. One side of the robe fell off his shoulder a little, but he didn’t feel like fixing it. Half of his chest was exposed from the V shape, anyway.

Castiel stared at the ceiling, his head sinking into the middle of his pillow.

He heard a shift in the air as Dean halted in the doorway, clearly startled. “Cas,” he asked quietly, “whatcha doin’ there?”

“I figured getting dressed didn’t matter,” Castiel said, looking at his ceiling fan. “We aren’t going anywhere.”

“Wanna stay in bed, then?” Something in Dean’s tone was different, but Castiel chose not to pick it apart. Dean probably wanted him, in the way Castiel couldn’t give to him, but Dean knew nothing would come of it.

Castiel heard the hint of hope, though, as if he expected Castiel’s sexual desire to return like flipping a coin. While it did happen that way, sometimes, it wouldn’t happen today. Castiel knew that for a fact.

Castiel said neutrally, “I suppose so.”

He heard Dean’s footsteps grow closer. “Are you cold?”

“Not yet.”

“Hang on.” Dean’s footsteps retreated, and he left the bedroom. Castiel scooted his body up, so his head could perch on his pillow and he could see the door.

Dean returned with the giant stuffed dog in his arms. Castiel won it for him on a trip to Coney Island. He would never forget the soft look on Dean’s face when Castiel gave the stuffed animal to him. It spoke of a love so pure that Castiel wasn’t ready to comprehend it, at the time.

Dean approached the bed hesitantly, as if expecting to be denied. Castiel stared right back, and Dean slowly laid beside him, dragging the giant stuffed dog along for the ride.

Proof of their innocent and gradually maturing love laid between them, and Castiel spared Dean a smile.

“He’ll warm you,” Dean explained. “He’s very soft an’ cuddly.”

Castiel felt very much like a child, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. They both deserved to be carefree, sometimes.

Castiel held the stuffed dog in his arms, its body cast along his bare legs and the V of his chest. “He is. Thank you.”

He caught something in Dean’s gaze. An emotion he couldn’t name.

Dean murmured, “I don’t know whether to call you ‘sexy’ or ‘adorable’ right now.”

Castiel didn’t let the comments get below surface value in his mind. “In a short story by Jhumpa Lahiri, she defines ‘sexy’ as ‘loving someone you don’t know.’ I’d like to think you know me well enough to not merely be ‘sexy,’ thereby meaning a lover whose mystery is the sole reason you sexually desire them.”

Dean blinked, turning to his side, taking the information to heart. “That...makes way more sense than it has a right to. Holy shit. That explains so much.” His eyes widened. “Whoa. I actually like that, Cas.”

“I’m glad you appreciate that. Not many people do.”

Dean’s eyes glimmered with fondness, and he smiled easily. “That makes you adorable, then.”

Castiel felt the telltale heat in his cheeks that predated an embarrassing blush. No matter how many times Dean complimented him, he didn’t know how to react properly.

Castiel gripped the soft fur of the giant stuffed dog, the material sticking between his fingers. “How about we play either-or?”

————

“You would choose London over Paris?!” Dean exclaimed incredulously.

“London has the largest library in the world,” Cas said.

Dean laughed. “You would really travel to Europe just to see libraries?”

“And find rare books,” Cas added shamelessly.

Dean found Cas’s hand, buried in the fur of his giant stuffed dog, and rested his palm atop it. “Why do you collect rare books, by the way?”

“I figure, if we’re ever in a financial bind, rare books sell for hundreds of thousands.”

“It’s an in-case-of-emergency thing?”

“And a bit of a hobby,” Cas admitted. “It is pretty cool to hold a first edition classic in your hands.”

“Okay, nerd. I’ll take your word for it.” Dean secretly filed the information away; it would be a good gift idea, down the line.

“I suppose I could equate it to...seeing a Da Vinci painting with your own eyes.”

“That would be pretty awesome. I guess I get it.”

“As a matter of fact,” Cas said pointedly, “there’s a Da Vinci exhibit in London.”

Dean’s eyes widened. “How do you know that?”

“I got into one of your art books,” Cas admitted. “There was a section on artists and influential art forms. My mind stuck on the idea of cubism. I had no idea how many things relied on cubes to compose a picture. And how cubes fit into any mold, such as painting people, where one normally wouldn’t associate as being a part of a person’s face.”

Dean looked up and down Cas’s scantily-clad form, still holding his stuffed dog, and felt everything all at once.

Dean’s brain short circuited, and his mouth fell open. “You are the most inside-out beautiful man on Earth.”

Cas batted his eyelashes, as if Dean had told him the weather, something basic and finite. “Next either-or question.”

————

“I’m sorry.”

Castiel swallowed the last sip of his white wine. They had remained in their bathrobes all day, talking the hours away. Dean had made dinner: lemon garlic salmon. They were having a glass of wine for dessert, a habit they had grown used to.

“For?” Castiel prompted.

“Making you uncomfortable earlier,” Dean said, “and for not spending much time with you lately.”

“Why do you say you’re not spending time with me? You have been.”

“But not as much as I used to. Not as much as I’d like.”

“You don’t need to apologize for that. Or the other thing.”

“Okay.” Dean finished his wine. He said lightly, “with the art collection, I just thought I was neglecting you a little.”

“We still see each other every morning and every night. I wouldn’t call that neglect.”

“Good. Okay.” Dean hesitated, then said, “thank you for...being okay with everything.”

“I understand that jobs are constraining. I work ten hours six days a week at the bookstore I own.” Castiel shrugged. “If you’re okay with my schedule, I’m okay with yours.”

“God, I really did conjure you out of a book.”

“Same goes for you, Dean.”

Dean reached his hand across the table, and Castiel gladly bridged the gap.

Chapter Text

Dean awoke to his boyfriend pressing kisses all over his face.

He squirmed in Cas’s embrace, smiling despite himself. “Mmph.”

Cas laughed, a soft tingling sound, like wind chimes jangling together. “Someone’s grumpy,” he said into Dean’s mouth.

Dean’s eyes opened at a press of lips sliding deliciously across his. “Mhm.”

“C’mon,” Cas said jovially, “it’s your birthday. Be happy.”

“I’m thirty. Fuck that.”

Cas laughed softly. He smacked Dean’s side. “Get up. I’ll make breakfast this morning.”

Dean perked up a little. “Bacon?”

“Lots.”

Dean bit his lip, eyes roving over his boyfriend’s face. “I love you.”

“I know.”

————

“No.”

“Yes, Dean.” Cas held out a black strip of cloth menacingly.

“Cas,” Dean implored, “why do I have to wear a blindfold if I know there’s gonna be a surprise party at the bookstore?”

“Because everyone else doesn’t know that you’re smarter than you look and you know.”

Dean beamed. “Aw, honey. Thank you.”

“Will you be a good sport or not?”

“No.”

“Dean,” Cas emphasized, “do it for Charlie. She worked hard to put your party together.”

“She’s grown fond of me, huh?”

“Surprisingly, yes.” Cas stretched out the cloth. “Now come on. This is happening. Make peace with it and move on.”

Dean sighed. “Fine.”

————

Castiel had to admit it: Dean was a skilled actor, sometimes.

No one suspected he was faking his surprise at the party. Castiel supposed he only had himself to blame. He told Dean to be a good sport.

The party consisted of their new little family: Dean, Castiel, Charlie, Kevin, Sam, Jo, Gabriel, Samandriel, and Dorothy. Gabriel and Samandriel made the cake, a decadent chocolate confection that had Dean jumping up and down like an excited puppy. He received art supplies as gifts and accepted them all gratefully, even though his collection of paintings were complete. On days Dean wasn’t hanging in the bookstore like old times, he was painting just for himself, things ranging from animals to furniture.

Now, back in the safety of his apartment, Castiel handed Dean his gift.

Castiel recalled when he asked Dean recently, “how did you know how to fix my heater?”

Dean replied, “my uncle was a mechanic. I used to help him fix all sorts of things.”

Castiel watched Dean open the gift bag in his lap. He removed the tissue paper and gasped. Bright emerald eyes met his. “Cas! Wow!” Dean pulled out a new toolbox, stocked with new equipment already inside. “This is toppa the line!”

“I figured it strange that you’re rich and wouldn’t buy better tools,” Castiel shrugged, “so I did it for you.”

Dean grinned. “You’re awesome. Thank you.”

————

“Cas?”

“Hm?”

“You awake?”

“Mhm.”

“Wanna get up to somethin’?”

“I’m still not-”

“I know. I meant somethin’ else.”

“Hm. Like?”

“You know.”

“Hm. I dunno.”

“Or not. Um. We can make out a little.”

“There’s no ‘a little’ with you.”

“Hm. A lot, then.”

“No funny business?”

“No. I wouldn’t dare.”

“Okay, birthday boy.”

“Mhm. Knew you’d cave.”

“Psh. No you didn’t.”

“It’s not just me that likes to be touched.”

“Mmph. You ate too much cake. You’re heavy.”

“Shush.”

“Only five minutes left of your birthday. Got any special requests?”

“Just kiss me ‘til you can’t breathe.”

“Mhm.”

————

THREE DAYS LATER…

 

“I’m going to tell her today.”

Castiel peeked out from the side of his pillow, lying next to his boyfriend. One eye studied his sharp handsome profile, devoid of tiredness in the snap of a finger. “Are you ready?”

Dean nodded into his own pillow, filled with a determination Castiel hadn’t seen since he was in a painting trance for several weeks. “I am. Are you?”

“I’m ready for anything, always.”

“I have no idea what’s going to happen once I tell her. You understand that, right?”

“Yes. You’re still keeping me a secret?”

“I want to protect your privacy.”

“She will find out eventually, I assume.”

“Yes. Preferably once my gallery debuts.”

Castiel smirked. “I think you find this fun.”

“That’s because it is,” Dean said, his eyes glinting with amusement.

“I’ll go along with it, as long as you stick to our conditions.”

“Always, honeybee.” Dean’s gaze held something Castiel couldn’t place. Dean murmured, “I’ll never get used to looking into your eyes without glasses on. They’re magnificent.”

“If you say so.” A beat. “I should get ready for work.”

Dean frowned slightly, but allowed Castiel to leave their bed. He slipped on his glasses — his armor slash protective goggles — and took his hanger of clothes.

————

Dean spent the morning cleaning his apartment for Rowena’s arrival.

Dean couldn’t recall the last time Rowena sounded so cheerful on the phone. It was if his call was a relief. Dean remembered Rowena offhandedly mentioning that the art community was suffering. His secret comeback would prove helpful to Rowena’s plight.

Rowena knocked on his door after lunchtime.

Dean answered with his performance mask secured. “Ro!”

He allowed Rowena inside, her heels clacking and her nose sniffing around the place like a police hound. She was overdressed as usual, but glamorous nonetheless. Dean thinks Rowena bathes in diamond jewelry.

“This is so,” Rowena pretended to vomit, “drab, dear. It’s a pity.”

“Sorry I don’t own a penthouse,” Dean said, shutting his door unceremoniously.

“I don’t smell paint,” Rowena said, accusatory.

“I bleached the floors.”

Rowena crossed the main room in an instant. Dean had lined up paintings along the walls for her to view. “Ah. Here they are.”

Rowena stalked from painting to painting, staring at each one for an uncomfortable amount of time. Dean remained silent, crossing his arms and clutching them nervously.

His reputation may speak of a rich bachelor switching lovers at the drop of a hat, but he didn’t want it becoming worse. People had already been talking about his prolonged absence. If he released an art collection Rowena didn’t approve of, he was done for. All of Dean’s nightmares would come true. His dreams would be crushed in an instant.

At least he would have Cas.

Rowena’s heel clapped against his floor. Dean looked up.

Rowena was teary-eyed.

She crossed the distance between them, giving Dean a hearty hug. “Oh, dear! It’s...it’s…” Rowena sniffled, blinking so that her tears wouldn’t ruin her makeup. She drew back, looking Dean dead in the eyes. “Who is your muse?”

Muse. Dean scoffed every time he heard that word. He never considered his exes to be muses. Muses inspired artists. His exes did not inspire him.

Cas inspires him. He is the only true muse.

Dean answered, “you will know in time.”

“Give me something, dear,” Rowena pleaded, grasping his hands. “I wanna know who’s made you so happy.”

Dean hooded his gaze with his eyelashes. “He is an intellectual. Not a part of our world in any way. He is pure, and good, and incorruptible. I feel his pain as keenly as I feel my own. We understand each other. I love him more than I’ve ever loved anyone.” He met Rowena’s eyes, willingly baring vulnerability to her. “Is that enough?”

“Oh, dear.” Rowena smiled through her tears. “I think this one is going to stick.”

Dean wondered how she read his niggling fear so easily. The fear of abandonment. He knew Cas wouldn’t leave him, but Dean was only human. Fears were either completely irrational or totally rational. Dean wasn’t sure which side of the spectrum this fear landed on, though.

Rowena went from being a supportive figure to his solicitor in a fraction of a second. “Your paintings have potential, dear. The potential to make a successful comeback and have elites bowing before you.”

“Are you saying I have my spark back?”

“More than a spark,” Rowena said, “but an entire lightning storm.”

Dean smirked. “What a relief. I’m glad you like them.”

“If there’s one thing upper class New Yorkers like,” Rowena emphasized, “it’s intrigue, in the form of a mystery muse, and paintings of beautiful bodies.”

“Which gives them something to attain to,” Dean added saucily.

Rowena’s eyes glimmered. “You’ve gotten mouthy, dear. Be careful later.”

“Of course,” Dean clipped.

“We need to think of a way to market this. Start a campaign for a full gallery debut this year.” Rowena advised, “you need something to make this collection unique. Something that really brings it all together.”

“I’ll think on that.”

“Good. Then, we’ll talk about next steps. That alright, dear?”

“Yes.”

Rowena parted ways after hugging Dean.

————

FIVE DAYS LATER…

 

Dean had been acting strange.

He said Rowena loved his paintings, but he kept traveling with a pen everywhere.

He was writing constantly. What he was writing, Castiel didn’t know. He didn’t want to pry; that only lead to shouting matches, in his experience.

Dean carried around rainbow-colored stacks of post-it notes like his livelihood depended on it. Castiel tried looking over at what he wrote, but Dean smiled impishly and covered it with his arm.

Then, the post-it notes were everywhere.

Castiel was invited to Dean’s apartment for the weekend. The paintings were stacked against the main room window, but the cluttered spaces it left behind were taken up by post-its.

Dean’s handwriting was small and messy, as if he wrote everything in a hurry. Castiel couldn’t discern much from them.

And every time Castiel tried to read the little notes, Dean would find a way to distract him.

It was on Castiel’s day off when he had time to himself. He examined the post-its scattered around the walls and furniture while Dean was on a phone call with Sam.

An orange post-it note read: “He wears cartoon socks only on Saturdays.”

A purple one read: “He prefers white over red wine.”

A pink one read: “He likes chopped tomatoes in his salad.”

A yellow one read: “He hides in my neck when we watch horror movies. (It makes me love horror movies even more).”

A green one read: “His laugh is like a soothing balm, warming me from head to toe.”

Castiel went from color to color, reading the notes sticking to the windowsill.

“He wears sweater vests six out of seven days.”

“He manicured his nails because Charlie wanted a friend at the salon. (I have never met a man so secure in his masculinity. I love him so much).”

“He uses the same mug for tea every time.”

“He wears his mother’s locket twice a week.”

“He drinks coffee only when I’ve made a pot.”

“His glasses make him look cuter.”

“He hates asparagus.”

“He has a confidence that would take a lifetime for me to attain.”

“He brought me to life when we made love stained with paint. (I may have died a little too. La petite mort).”

“He is adorable around children. (My imagination wanders, to a future I will not write here).”

“He does laundry every other Sunday.”

“He cries during The Notebook. Every time. (I really love him).”

“He is the smartest man I’ve ever known.”

“He has a sweet tooth. (Chocolates and caramels, but especially both together).”

“He likes handwriting his own catalogue, so he can keep track of books sold at the store.”

“He has Storytime Saturdays to read to children (He’s the sweetest man ever).”

“He hasn’t named the bookstore because he’s not good with names.”

“He likes bouquets of tulips because they remind him of his mother’s perfume.”

“He wears his mother and father’s rings on his hand. (I can think of another ring I want on that hand).”

“Have I mentioned that I love him? Because I do. Very much.”

Dean’s voice trickled into the room. “-soon, Sammy.”

Castiel straightened his spine, seeking a distraction. He sat on the floor and settled for looking at the stack of canvases below the window.

“Okay. Okay. See you tomorrow. Bye.” Dean hung up the smartphone.

Castiel prayed he didn’t look suspicious. He focused on the painting of his hand. It was a rendition of the sketch Dean did so long ago. It was on a lazy Sunday afternoon, early in their relationship. Dean still stuttered and hesitated and blushed too much. He shyly asked to sketch his hand, where two rings rested, and Castiel allowed it. He didn’t know Dean painted a copy. Castiel was touched.

“We can, uh, get groceries, now,” Dean said. “Unless you’re staring at yourself.”

Castiel got up and followed Dean wordlessly.

————

“You’ve been acting weird.” Dean’s face fell. “Did I do something wrong?”

Castiel wasn’t sure if he should do this, but Dean started it.

He drained his wine glass and stood up from the chair. He left the kitchen table and walked to the windowsill. He plucked two post-it notes, one pink and one blue, from the wall. He brought them to the table, sticking them in front of Dean.

Dean’s entire face paled within seconds. He read both notes: “He is adorable around children. (My imagination wanders, to a future I will not write here).” “He wears his mother and father’s rings on his hand. (I can think of another ring I want on that hand).”

“I’m not mad,” Castiel clarified. “I just have three questions.”

Dean nodded, tongue tied, signaling him to continue.

“One: Do you truly imagine having a family with me?”

“Yes,” Dean said softly.

For a reason he couldn’t comprehend, Castiel felt his eyes fill with water. He did want children. He always had. He promised himself they would grow up happy and loved and spoiled, with whoever he ended up marrying. That dream fell through the cracks for several years of pain and abuse, but it had finally returned.

“Two,” Castiel asked, “do you really want to marry me?”

“I can’t imagine myself with anyone else,” Dean said gently, near tears, “so yes. I want to be with you in every way.”

Castiel took a deep breath, gaining control of his emotions. “Neither of us are ready for that, but that’s nice to know. I feel the same.”

“Yeah?” Dean beamed. “Thank God.”

“So, now, to my third question.” Castiel cleared his throat. “Why the hell are post-it notes about me all over your apartment?”

Dean chuckled. “Rowena asked me to make my art collection special. Since it’s already about you, I’ve been cataloguing little things I’ve observed about you. It’s my way of brainstorming an idea.”

“I see.” Castiel narrowed his eyes. “Weird, but I understand. How can I help?”

“By coming up with a finite idea.”

“You need to do that on your own, sweetheart.”

Dean sighed. “Why do you gotta be so noble and moral all the time?”

“I need to be a good role model down the line.”

Dean’s mouth quirked upwards. “Boy or girl?”

“Girls.”

“Plural?”

“Plural.”

The metaphorical sun shone on Dean’s freckles. “I can get behind that.”

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

“EUREKA!” Dean exclaimed.

Castiel smiled amusedly, turning the page in his book calmly. “Oh yeah?”

“YES!” Dean looked skyward and held up his arms in triumph. He stayed frozen in that position for a few seconds.

Castiel thought it was adorable.

Dean beamed at Castiel and sat on the cushion next to his. “Wanna know?”

“I think it’s only right. You’re selling parts of me off to the highest bidder,” Castiel teased.

“Okay.” Dean grasped Castiel’s hands once he closed his book and cast it aside. “Since my collection is about you, I’m going to write a message for each painting that talks about you. They won’t reveal your identity, and the back of each card will be a message just for you.”

“For moi?”

“Yes, dear. It’ll be a message only you can see. I’ll write them in invisible ink, because it can only be read-”

“With a UV flashlight,” Castiel finished.

“Uh huh. What do you think?”

Dean looked so hopeful that Castiel had to bring him back to Earth. He left the couch abruptly and peeled a post-it note from the wall.

Castiel returned, resting the note in Dean’s lap. He looked down and blushed profusely as he read it. “He brought me to life when we made love stained with paint. (I may have died a little too. La petite mort).”

Castiel said, “messages like this better be in invisible ink.”

Dean’s breath hitched. “You’ll allow this?”

“I will.”

Dean leaned forward and kissed Castiel’s forehead. “Thank you, honey.”

“Anything for you.”

Chapter Text

I BLESS THE RAINS DOWN IN AAAFRICAAAAAA!

Castiel answered his smartphone without looking at the caller ID. “Gabe.”

“Cassie! How are ya?”

“What do you want?”

“How do ya know I want something?”

“Your voice is too cheery.”

Gabriel sighed. “Dammit.”

“So what’s up?”

“Are you free tonight?”

“Why?” Castiel asked warily.

“Samandriel and I usually do karaoke on Saturday nights, but he has a date.”

Castiel barked out a laugh. “Two things: one, you honestly do karaoke?!”

“Yes. Unironically. Shut up.”

Castiel cleared his throat. “Okay. Two, your brother dates?!”

“Not often. A cute girl that visited the candy shop the other day asked him out. He didn’t want to say he did karaoke with his brother, so he couldn’t get out of it.”

“Well, that’s good for him,” Castiel said genuinely. “You can’t ask Sam?”

Gabriel choked on his own spit. “No! He doesn’t know! Fuck no! Do you want him to break up with me?!”

“I don’t think he would break up with you because you do karaoke on Saturday nights.”

“You don’t know that!”

Castiel rolled his eyes. “And you’re calling me because you don’t wanna go alone.”

“Correctamundo, buddy. Whaddaya say?”

“I usually spend nights with Dean…”

“Ooh,” Gabriel said, mimicking a little girl.

Castiel snorted. “He might get suspicious if I go out all of a sudden.”

“That’ll make him intrigued,” Gabriel said. “That’s always good to spice up a relationship. How long ya been together, anyways?”

“Just over six months.”

“Jesus. You really need to come out with me tonight.”

“He has been hanging around a bit more often…”

“Exactly why you should get away from him for the night. It’ll be good for you.”

“It’s not like Dean’s shackling me or some shit. You know what,” Castiel exhaled a breath, “you just might be right.”

“Yes!”

“What time is it?”

“Eight to ten. And another thing,” Gabriel paused dramatically, “it’s Taylor Swift night.”

“Dean likes Taylor Swift.”

“Too bad he ain’t comin’.”

Castiel laughed. “Too bad.”

————

“You’re what?”

Castiel repeated himself. “I’m going out with Gabriel tonight.”

Dean looked like a deer stuck in headlights. “Oh.”

“What?” Castiel asked dangerously.

“That’s fine,” Dean said quietly.

Castiel inhaled a sharp breath. “Am I not allowed to go out?”

“You are. Of course. We just haven’t,” Dean frowned, “done this in a long time.”

Castiel understood the sinking feeling. “I don’t want to start an argument. I know this is odd, from your point of view, and I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. You’re allowed to have fun.” Dean managed a poor excuse for a smile. More like a grimace.

“I’ll be back around ten. Okay?”

Dean nodded numbly.

“Don’t hate me.” Castiel allowed sadness to slip through his neutral mask. “Please?”

“I could never,” Dean said reassuringly.

“No moping around my apartment, either,” Castiel instructed.

“Yes, sir.”

————

What Castiel expected to be a run-down karaoke bar was anything but. It was a nightclub with a truly commendable sound stage. Concerts were probably played there for smaller crowds. The bar in the back had the most expensive alcohols Castiel had ever seen. It was packed to the gills with patrons, waiting for the performances to begin.

“They use this place for Battle of the Bands competitions,” Gabriel explained loudly as they travelled with whiskey shots. “Most of the singers here are pretty good.”

“Would you consider yourself good?” Castiel asked, whiskey shooting down his throat, setting him ablaze.

“I’m not professionally trained,” Gabriel shouted over a group of louder people passing by, “but I can hold a tune fairly well. What about you?”

A flurry of memories reached Castiel’s mind and played like a sped-up slideshow. “People have said the same about me.”

“Good.” Gabriel’s smirk was mischievous. “We’re gonna have fun up there tonight.”

————

It was nine at night, and it was almost Gabriel’s turn. Castiel was after that, and he refused to let fear grip him tightly by the shoulders and tell him to run.

Castiel drained his fifth and final whiskey shot and remarked to Gabriel, “are they all just gonna sing the same ten most popular Taylor Swift songs?”

Gabriel laughed. “That’s usually how these things go. But don’t worry,” he drained a whiskey shot, “I gotcha.”

————

Castiel got a prime spot for when Gabriel’s name was announced.

Gabriel’s usually missable presence instantly lit up the stage. He clearly had some fans at this establishment.

The background music whirred, and patrons cheered at his choice.

...He said, “Let’s get out of this town. Drive out of the city, away from the crowds.” I thought Heaven can’t help me now. Nothing lasts forever, but this is gonna take me down…

Castiel had never heard a voice like Gabriel’s before. It was raspy, but full. Sweet, but birdlike. A combination of several voices packed into one person, depending on the inflection and syllables spoken.

...He’s so tall, and handsome as hell. He’s so bad but he does it so well. I can see the end as it begins, my one condition is…

Gabriel seduced the crowd like a professional, commanding the stage like a graceful dancer. Castiel knew Gabriel was thinking of Sam by the way his face softened.

...Say you’ll remember me, standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset babe. Red lips and rosy cheeks. Say you’ll see me again even if it’s just in your wildest dreams. Wildest dreams...

Castiel needed to bring Sam here without Gabriel’s knowledge. This should be seen to be believed. In fact...Castiel pulled out his smartphone and recorded the next verse.

...I said no one has to know what we do. His hands are in my hair, his clothes are in my room. And his voice is a familiar sound, nothing lasts forever. But this is getting good now. He’s so tall, and handsome as hell. He’s so bad but he does it so well. And when we’ve had our very last kiss, my last request is…

The crowd started to scream the lyrics along with him. Castiel nursed his empty whiskey glass and laughed at Gabriel’s ability to hypnotize his audience — and his boyfriend’s younger brother.

...Say you’ll remember me, standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset babe. Red lips and rosy cheeks. Say you’ll see me again even if it’s just in your wildest dreams. Wildest dreams...

 

This really did look like fun. Gabriel was having the time of his life, singing on a stage whilst half-drunk. If Gabriel had the reckless abandon to strut his stuff around hundreds of people, Castiel could do the same.

...You see me in hindsight, tangled up with you all night, burning it down. Some day when you leave me, I bet these memories follow you around. You see me in hindsight, tangled up with you all night. Burnin’ it down, burnin’ it down. Some day when you leave me, I bet these memories follow you around, follow you around...

Castiel sensed the very real doubt in Gabriel’s tone. He was afraid that, at any moment, Sam would leave him for someone more attractive. It was funny how that worked; Castiel felt the same, sometimes. It was normal. But Gabriel had the ability to shut that part of his brain off. Castiel could learn from him on that front. Live in the moment.

...Say you’ll remember me, standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset babe. Red lips and rosy cheeks. Say you’ll see me again even if it’s just pretend. Say you’ll remember me, standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset babe. Red lips and rosy cheeks. Say you’ll see me again even if it’s just pretend, just pretend, in your wildest dreams, in your wildest dreams. Even if it’s just in your wildest dreams, in your wildest dreams...

The entire nightclub was cheering so loudly a wall of intense sound must have slapped Gabriel in the face. Gabriel bowed with a half-smirk on his lips, obviously used to being admired.

The announcer returned to the stage, and Castiel felt his heart settle in his throat.

It was his turn on stage.

Gabriel clapped his back on the way down, taking the space occupied by Castiel. He sent an encouraging smile and thumbs up Castiel’s way.

Castiel went up the steps, onto the stage for the first time.

Since he wasn’t one for stage fright, he grasped the microphone. He batted his eyelashes to adjust to the harsh lighting.

The background track began its introduction, and Castiel gathered himself. He became acquainted with his surroundings, refusing to feel uncomfortable in front of so many people.

His cue hit, and Castiel sang.

...I’m walking fast through the traffic lights, busy streets and busy lives. And all we know is touch and go. We are alone with our changing minds. We fall in love ‘til it hurts or bleeds or fades in time...

Castiel recalled a conversation with Gabriel when they were on their third whiskey shot. “You seem kinda down. What’s up, Cassie?”

Castiel replied honestly, “I feel bad for leaving Dean alone.”

“Don’t feel bad. While you two seem to be freakishly attached, it’s good to spend time apart. It gives you room to breathe. Also,” Gabriel said, “I brought you here because singing is cathartic. You look like you could use that.”

...And I never saw you coming. And I’ll never be the same…

When Castiel hit the longer notes flawlessly, he felt a weight leave his shoulders. He heard Gabriel laughing delightedly at his classical timbre.

...You come around and the armor falls, pierce the room like a cannonball. Now all we know is don’t let go. We are alone, just you and me. Up in your room and our slates are clean. Just twin fire signs, four blue eyes…

The crowd got to its feet, obviously shocked at the talent of a stranger. Castiel figured they would be refreshed by a new face.

...So you were never a saint, and I’ve loved in shades of wrong. We learn to live with the pain, mosaic broken hearts. But this love is brave and wild…

Castiel felt catharsis overtake him. He had never felt more free. He prepared for the longer notes.

...I never saw you coming, and I’ll never be the same…

The crowd began to applaud prematurely, but Castiel drowned it out. He sang louder, his voice reverberating through the room.

...This is a state of grace, this is the worthwhile fight. Love is a ruthless game, unless you play it good and right. These are the hands of fate. You’re my Achilles heel. This is the golden age of something good and right and real…

Thinking of Dean didn’t fill him with dread like it did a mere few minutes ago. Castiel knew they would always be alright. No matter what.

...And I never saw you coming, and I’ll never be the same. And I never saw you coming, and I’ll never be the same…

Another round of cheers exploded throughout the nightclub.

...This is a state of grace, this is the worthwhile fight. Love is a ruthless game, unless you play it good and right...

The music trickled out, and the applause was deafening.

Castiel had never felt like this before. Like he was soaring through the air, with the wings of a bird. The closest the feeling came to was sex, specifically with Dean. How the release was so intense he could barely think, how he could hardly do anything except lie beside Dean and breathe with him. Be there with him in every way.

Castiel smiled, and left the stage.

He was enveloped in a hug by Gabriel. “Holy shit, dude!” He exclaimed. “It was like seeing a caterpillar become a butterfly!”

“Is there prize money?” Castiel asked dryly.

Gabriel laughed. “You would’ve won. Definitely. It’s an awesome feeling, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Castiel agreed.

————

Gabriel called Samandriel once he parted ways with Castiel.

He answered on the second ring. “Sup.”

“How was your date?”

“Ugh.”

“Aw, shit. I’m sorry, bro.”

“No you’re not. You’ve got Sam Winchester, the hottest dude I’ve ever seen.”

Gabriel barked out a laugh. “Do you mind if I spend the night at Sam’s?”

“No. I like to wallow in my sadness.”

“Aw, poor puppy.”

“How was Taylor Swift night?” Samandriel asked.

“Cas fucking killed it.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I’m gonna send you the video.” Gabriel searched his smartphone and sent the video via text to his brother. He put the phone back on his ear. “Watch that and tell me Cas isn’t good. I dare you.”

“Does Cas know you took video?”

“No…”

“Classic Gabe.” Samandriel scoffed. “I’ll bet he got you as retaliation.”

“Most likely, yeah.”

“Well, have fun at Sam’s.”

“Alright. Bye.” Gabriel hung up and called Sam next.

He answered after a single ring. “Hi.”

Gabriel smirked. “Eager, much?”

“Heh.” Gabriel imagined Sam blushing red. “What’s up?”

“Mind if I crash by you tonight? I’m closer to your apartment than mine.”

“Uh, okay. Mind if I ask what you’re doing?”

Sam was so respectful of Gabriel’s boundaries that he could weep. “I’ll tell you when I get there.”

Gabriel hung up the phone and received a text.

Samandriel: Holy fuck. Cas has skills.

Gabriel: Keep it a secret.

Samandriel: Got it.

————

Sam was greeted by a tipsy Gabriel at his door.

Guess there would be no shenanigans tonight.

“Hey, gorgeous,” Gabriel said. “What are you up to on this chilly evening?”

Sam let his boyfriend inside and locked the door. “Paperwork. You?”

Gabriel crossed the room and plopped on his loveseat. “I’ll tell ya a secret. C’mere.”

Sam rounded the couch and sat beside him. “Go ahead.”

Gabriel leaned in and whispered, “the reason I don’t see you on Saturday nights is because I do karaoke.”

Sam blinked. “What?”

“You heard me.” Gabriel created a burrow for himself, his legs against his chest.

Sam schooled his expression. Laughing or smiling wouldn’t go over well. “That’s nice. Are you a good singer?”

“I’ve been told I am.”

“Do I know everything now?”

“I think so. Do I know everything about you?”

“Yes.”

Gabriel pouted. “Now what do we do?”

“Sleep.”

Gabriel’s mouth quirked upwards. A fond sparkle reached his eyes. “Sounds good to me.”

————

Castiel sensed rather than saw Dean.

He was on the couch, his glowing phone playing music softly. He heard Dean’s pencil scratch against his new sketchbook.

Castiel focused on the single lamp producing light. The shadow of Dean’s profile reflected from the lamp.

Castiel refused to feel guilty. “I thought I said no moping around my apartment.”

“‘M not moping,” Dean moped.

“Liar.” Castiel plopped beside Dean, his hand carding through Dean’s hair. “What’re you drawing?”

Dean flipped the sketchbook shut. “One of your many bookshelves.”

“I’ll hang it up beside them. They’ll like that.”

Dean hummed. “Where did you go?”

“It was so lame, Dean. You don’t wanna know.”

Dean’s lips upturned. A spark lit up his dark eyes. “I definitely wanna know, then.”

“You’re not gonna believe I did this. I sang karaoke.”

Dean grinned. “What?” He chuckled. “Really?!”

“Yup. Got up there and sang.”

“Wow! Were you good?”

“I think so. People clapped and everything.”

“Whoa. That’s really great.” Dean faltered. “Really great.”

“Yeah.” Castiel admitted, “I missed you, though.”

Dean faced Castiel and cupped his cheeks. “I missed you too, but it’s alright. You seem...happy.”

“I am.” Castiel ruffled Dean’s hair. “Now I’m tired.”

————

TWO DAYS LATER…

 

Dean tugged Cas inside the coffee shop, hearing his boyfriend groan. “You’re gonna make me late for work by standing here for an hour!”

Dean chuckled. “No, I’m not. Besides,” he got in line, holding Cas’s hand, “waiting in lines builds character.”

“I’m gonna die,” Cas whined, his head on Dean’s shoulder. “Why can’t you just drink tea?”

“It’s Monday. That calls for coffee.”

“Why can’t you make your own coffee?”

“Because it’s a pain in the ass,” Dean said, “which you would be, if you weren’t so cute.”

“Aw.” Cas kissed Dean’s neck. “Thank you.”

“Charlie and Kevin can open the bookstore without you, if it comes to that. Alright?”

“Fine.” Cas opened his messenger app and read out his group text aloud: “Mr. Famous Artist wants coffee. Save yourself, friends. Open if I’m not there on time.”

Dean knocked their hips together. “And you say I’m dramatic.”

They were near the front of the line. Cas removed his head from Dean’s shoulder, stuffing his hands in his trench coat pockets. He fixed a stray hair peeking out from Dean’s beanie with his thumb.

It was amazing how crowds melted away with Cas beside him. It was a rare morning to see Cas so affectionate in public. Cas was usually keenly aware of being watched and was overly cautious. Sometimes, though, when Cas was still half-asleep and aching for his touch, Cas threw caution to the wind. He didn’t give a fuck what people saw. If they dared speak against it, Cas was the first to shoot back.

“This is SoHo,” Cas would say, “land of the fashionable gays. Deal with it.”

They reached the front of the line. Dean ordered a latte and managed to pay without extricating his hand from Cas’s.

As they waited, their haze was broken by a familiar voice.

“Dean Winchester?”

Dean turned around a little. He put on his performance mask and made it airtight.

Raphael approached to face him and said airily, “my goodness. It’s been ages! We all thought you had packed up and left New York while you had the chance!”

Castiel squeezed Dean’s hand. Hard.

He was angry.

Dean didn’t want him to be a part of this. He didn’t, however, want Cas to take his hand away. He needed it for strength.

Dean pretended Cas wasn’t there. He held his head high. “Not to worry, Raphael. I’m still here.”

“You haven’t released anything in over a year. In our industry, that might as well be a decade! Now tell me: have you been lazy all this time, or are you working on something that’s finally interesting?”

Dean smiled easily. “I’m working on a top secret project.” He held a finger to his lips. “Don’t tell your gossiping friends.”

Raphael smirked. “This better be worth the wait, or I’ll talk to those same friends about letting a certain artist loose.”

Raphael spun on his feet and, with the threat made, left the coffee shop with a loud bell chime.

Dean felt Cas’s hand squeeze his again. Cas nosed his temple. “Don’t think about him,” he whispered in Dean’s ear.

Dean shut his eyes and took a deep breath.

His name was called. He opened his eyes and guided Cas lightly to the counter. Dean took his latte and got out of there as quickly as he could.

————

Castiel sighed and dropped onto Dean’s lap. “You’re still thinking about him.”

“Sorry,” Dean murmured, snaking his arms around Castiel’s sides. They hadn’t sat this way on the couch for quite some time. It was like a cool drink of water. “I’m just pretty shaken up.”

Castiel looped his arms around Dean’s neck. He leaned his back forward, sitting on Dean’s thighs comfortably. “I get it. One minute we were all over each other, the next he’s caught you off guard.”

Dean splayed his hands on the small of Castiel’s back. He dipped them under Castiel’s shirt, settling them on his skin. He drew hearts there with the pads of his fingers. Castiel half-smiled as Dean tilted his head up. A sun-kissed Dean observed him adoringly with half-lidded eyes. “Something’s been rattling through my mind all day. Can you lend me an ear?”

Castiel leaned forward until they were cheek-to-cheek. He whispered into Dean’s ear, “go ahead, sweetheart.”

Dean chuckled. “Your flirting just might kill me, one day.” A beat. “Now we gotta serious talk, okay?”

“Okay. Go.”

Dean exhaled to steady himself. “I’ve been thinking about the times we ran into Zachariah and Raphael. During both instances, they acted like you weren’t even there. Like you didn’t exist.”

Cas tapped his glass frames. “They’re my protective goggles and my invisibility cloak.”

“Really?” Dean traced the line of Cas’s spine. “They’re not working right now.”

“That’s because I’m choosing to be seen,” Cas said.

“Oh?” Dean pulled back and looked into Cas’s eyes. “Hello, handsome.” He swiped his thumb over Cas’s lips. “So, here’s the deal: I think your ability is a virtue. One we can use to our advantage. When I open my art gallery, I want you to make a grand entrance. I want you to be invisible, until you,” Dean borrowed Cas’s phrase, “allow yourself to be seen.”

“That’s your plan?”

“Part of it. What do you think?”

Cas leaned back, rolling his hips to readjust. He ignored Dean biting his lip in pleasure. “Well,” Cas blew out some air, “I think we can take this opportunity to teach the rich a valuable lesson.”

“Not to walk all over me?” Dean suggested coyly.

“Yes,” Cas paused, “and to treat people with fucking respect.”

Dean withdrew his hands from Cas’s back, trailing them up his sides. “I knew there were more reasons why I loved you that had yet to be revealed to me.” He smiled deviously. “Wanna mess around a little?”

Cas echoed, “there is no ‘a little’ with you.” He rolled his hips again. “The ‘no sex’ rule is still in effect,” Dean worried his bottom lip, “but I suppose we can find something else to do.”

Dean’s smile was swallowed by Cas’s lips.

————

THREE DAYS LATER…

 

“You better have a concrete idea, dear.”

Dean smiled. “Of course, Ro. I wouldn’t call otherwise.”

Rowena’s pacing throughout her office was audible due to her long heels clacking against marble. “Go ahead, then.”

“A message about him to go along with every painting.”

Dean could sense Rowena’s eyes sparkle. “Like a game?”

“Perhaps.”

Rowena trilled, her heels halting their rhythm. “We can call them clues. The whole picture will finally be revealed on opening night.”

“Yes. As far as I know, he will come on the last hour.”

“Now this,” he could imagine Rowena’s pleased smile, “has potential. They won’t be able to resist a good old fashioned mystery muse, paired with a fruitless guessing game, until he is finally revealed. Oh! Wonderful!” She said happily, “we’re going to gain so much buzz!”

“I told you it would be in your best interest to board my crazy train. You’re welcome, Ro.”

————

VALENTINE’S DAY…

 

“Ugh,” Kevin said, “make out somewhere else.”

Charlie pulled away from Dorothy and gathered Kevin in her arms. “It’s okay, bud. Cas and I love ya.”

“I don’t need your pity.”

Charlie kissed Kevin’s head. “I still love ya, Kev.”

Castiel entered the bookstore from the back room. “Hey, Dorothy. Got the day off?”

“Uh huh,” Dorothy confirmed.

“Mind helping me carry a box?”

“Not at all.” Charlie pouted as Dorothy left to help Castiel.

“Cas doesn’t seem happy,” Kevin noted.

Charlie frowned. “I wonder if something happened.”

“I fucking hope not,” Kevin said, “or else Dean’s gonna pay.”

Castiel and Dorothy reappeared carrying a box. “Set it next to Kev behind the counter,” Castiel told Dorothy. They crossed the room and set the large box down. “Thanks, Dorothy.”

“No problem.”

“What’s up with you, Cas?” Charlie demanded. “You haven’t smiled once today.”

“I’m just preoccupied,” Castiel said. “That’s all.”

“No,” Charlie crossed her arms, “if anyone is supposed to be filled with sunshine today, it’s you. What’s going on?”

“It’s private,” Castiel said shortly.

Charlie read something in Castiel’s lack of eye contact. “Is it a guy thing?”

Castiel didn’t answer.

Charlie shoved Kevin in front of Castiel. “Talk to him, Kev.”

Kevin smiled sheepishly and guided Castiel to the back room.

Once inside, Kevin said, “you don’t have to tell me anything. But Char is concerned, and she won’t let up ‘til she knows you’re okay.”

Castiel sighed deeply. “I have low libido, okay?”

Kevin blinked. “I have, like, none. It’s fine.”

“Not on Valentine’s Day, it’s not!”

“Ah.” Kevin inclined his head. “Does Dean know?”

“Yeah, but I feel like,” Castiel stared at his feet, “I’m letting him down.”

Kevin clapped Castiel’s shoulder. “How long has it been this way?”

“Since...the second week of December.”

“Two full months, huh?” Kevin frowned. “That’s really shitty. What’s the longest time you’ve gone without feeling desire?”

“Five months.”

Kevin exhaled. “Okay. Well, if Dean really loves you, he shouldn’t have a problem with it.”

“But I do.”

“There’s not much you can do that’s not prescriptive, as far as I know. Unless it’s psychological.”

Castiel stared at Kevin, as if the thought hadn’t occurred to him. “That would be something, wouldn’t it?” He laughed. “God, that would be so embarrassing.”

“It’s not,” Kevin said. “Maybe you’ll get lucky, huh? Maybe it’ll all just click today. Y’know?”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“Then,” Kevin said, “you have to make peace with it and be patient.”

————

Jo knocked on Sam’s office door. “You won’t believe what came in for you today.”

Sam glanced up from his public law book.

Jo slipped through the door carrying the biggest flower bouquet he had ever seen. She peeked her head out from behind the massive arrangement. “This is ridiculous, Sam.”

Sam couldn’t help but smile genuinely. “Gabe does what he does.”

“Well, this romance shit is gross.” Jo pulled a face, setting the giant bouquet on Sam’s desk. “This monstrosity is your problem now.”

As Jo left, Sam thought of the giant box of homemade caramels Gabriel would be receiving at his candy shop today.

————

Castiel nearly dropped his keys when he shut his apartment door.

His mouth agape, Castiel slowly walked into his main room.

A sea of flowers littered his floor, leaving just enough room for snaking pathways to each door. Castiel noted that the flowers were mainly tulips, his mother’s favorite flower and, by extension, his own. Dean was a good listener.

Castiel entered the floral pathway, shuffling to the kitchen. Dean was wearing his ridiculous ‘Kiss the Cook’ apron, stirring something inside a pot on the stove.

He turned to the side and beamed at Castiel. “Hello, dear.”

Castiel was sucker punched in the heart. Dean made for quite the picture, cooking and grinning brightly like Castiel was his salvation. His freckles and bright emerald eyes were on full display in the kitchen lights, enhancing his sharp profile.

If Castiel hadn’t already succumbed to Dean’s charms, he would have in this moment.

Castiel felt a weight crush him before he could spread his wings. “I didn’t get you anything.”

Dean smirked. “That’s not true.”

Castiel was set on fire. “I’ll...change. Right.”

Castiel followed the tulip path into the bedroom.

————

Cas was preoccupied the entire dinner.

Dean had worked hard on cooking dinner. It took most of the afternoon. Twenty steps were involved. It was a mess, but it turned out alright. He even had time to raid a florist to make the night especially romantic.

But something was on his boyfriend’s mind that wouldn’t let up.

Dean drew the most immediate conclusion that reached his mind. “Is it too much?”

“No.” Cas shook his head. “No. It’s nice.”

“Is it me?”

“No!” Cas frowned. “It’s me.” He clenched his jaw, thinking as he stared at the tabletop. Dean waited patiently for a few beats. Cas murmured, “I thought that my...my desire would come back today. I’m mad at myself. I’m letting you down.”

“Where did you get that idea?” Dean wanted to cry. He settled for reaching out, taking Cas’s hand. “Don’t be mad about things you can’t control.”

“I feel like I can. I feel like...I want this.” Cas said determinedly, “I want you. And I’m sorry.”

“Honeybee,” Dean squeezed Cas’s hand, “don’t you ever be sorry. I’m tired of hearing you apologize. You are who you are. I understand. And I’ve told you before that I don’t expect sex from you. Just intimacy, in whatever form that takes.” He smiled. “I think this is pretty intimate, don’t you?”

An inkling of a smile reached Cas’s lips. “I need you to stop being so perfect.”

“Never, my dear. Never.” Dean stood up from the table and offered his hand. “Dance with me.”

“There’s no music.”

Dean unlocked his cracked smartphone and played a slow song. He set it on the table. “Now there’s music. Come on.”

Cas stood up hesitantly, taking Dean’s hands. He let Dean lead a slow dance, drawing them as close as possible to each other. Cas leaned his forehead on Dean’s shoulder, and swayed with Dean’s rhythm.

Cas began to talk in a low voice. “You’re so good to me it feels like a dream. I wish I had gotten you something. I never thought of Valentine’s Day as a big deal. I’m finally starting to get what all the fuss is about.” He chuckled. “I love you. I love your silly ‘Kiss the Cook’ apron. I love your smile. I love your laugh. I love your big heart. I love your art. I love your insanity. I love your blush. I love your freckles. I love your dedication to me. I love your intelligence. I love your hair. I love your eyes. I love your list of disagreements that you still keep. I love your ratty brown leather jacket. I love your lips. I love your voice. I love your kindness. I love your hands. I even love your feet.” The same memory passed between them, and they smiled. “This is the closest gift I can give you, Dean. I love you. I love you more than anything, and I’m not afraid to tell you that anymore.”

Dean realized suddenly that he was crying. Silent tears were rolling down his cheeks. He wiped his eyes with two furious swipes on the back of his hand. Cas wouldn’t appreciate this. Dean was being ridiculously sensitive.

“That means a lot,” Dean murmured wetly, “honeybee. Thank you.”

The song ended, and the kitchen fell silent. Dean realized how cold his feet were on the tile. He realized the kitchen lights were shining too brightly, and needed to be turned down a notch.

And he realized that Cas was glowing in his embrace, his eyes fluttered shut, a small smile affixed to his calm expression, his tan skin reflecting the light like a golden statue.

Dean’s mouth formed an O, his tears drying before Cas could see them and panic. Cas continued to sway, even though he was the one complaining about no music.

Cas looked happy, at peace. Dean didn’t want to disturb that, so he swayed along with his boyfriend, not ruining the moment with talking.

Chapter Text

An unfamiliar fist knocked on Dean’s apartment door.

“You’ll be getting a visit from my new assistant tomorrow,” Rowena had said on the phone. “He’s green, so please be nice.”

Dean looked through the peephole in his door. A smiling young man — or should he say boy — waited patiently. He gave off an aura of sunshine that usually got stomped on after a few years in the art industry.

Dean unlocked the chain and opened the door. He regarded the kid warily.

He beamed, a smile in his eyes. “Hi! I’m Jack Kline, Rowena’s assistant.”

Dean allowed him inside and looked him up and down. Jack Kline looked to be a teenager, but he knew Rowena requested assistants to be at least nineteen years old. It was an absolute miracle that Jack could be so cheery, especially in New York City. His boyish features, large glasses that reminded him of Cas, well-kept hair, and clean-cut appearance made Jack look to be cut from an expensive tablecloth. A paper boy to be hung like a party streamer on the ceiling. His suit was a bit too big, not tailored to him. He really was new blood. It was better that Jack be with him, though, not Rowena. She could be unforgiving, not as kind as Dean.

“You obviously know who I am.” Dean closed the door unceremoniously.

“Yes.” Jack grinned wider, if that was even possible. “It’s an honor to meet you, sir. I’m a fan of your work.”

Dean was always dodgy when someone genuinely complimented his art. Jack was as harmless as a fly, though. He could tell. “You can call me Dean. I’m not one for that formality crap.”

“Okay. Rowena would like me to be apprised of the situation and see your work. While she would like to be here with you every step of the way, she has to entertain her other clients.”

“I know how it works. You’re her little spy.” Dean smiled kindly. “Would you like a glass of water?”

“I’m good, thank you.” Jack’s smile faltered. “I wouldn’t call myself a spy. I’m a...messenger.”

Dean liked that the kid stuck to his guns and didn’t allow himself to be pushed around. That was a good virtue to have. “I suppose you are. Do you have an assignment?”

“Yes. I am to assess your paintings and choose one to jumpstart your advertising campaign.”

Dean noted how Jack got over his starstruck quality fairly quickly. That was good; Dean just might get along with the kid. “Are you acting as a fresh pair of eyes?”

“Yes,” Jack replied curtly.

“Do you understand that this is to be kept top secret?”

“Yes. That was made abundantly clear to me.”

Upon Dean’s assessment of Jack, he decided the kid could be trusted. “The paintings are just by the window.”

Dean lead Jack to the row of paintings resting below the main room window. Jack took a good look at each one, readjusting his glasses several times when studying certain details.

If Rowena trusted a nineteen year old assistant to judge an important campaign poster for her, Jack must be special in some way. Not like the others.

Dean remembered being Rowena’s assistant. How goddamn naive he was. How eager he was to please. He looked back, and wondered why Rowena took a chance on him. If he were in Rowena’s position at the time, he certainly wouldn’t have.

Perhaps Jack Kline was like him in some capacity. Had the potential to be something great. Maybe whatever Rowena saw in Dean Winchester she saw in Jack Kline.

If this had happened years ago, Dean would have felt threatened by the possibility of being replaced. Now, the gold medal for Best SoHo Artist wasn’t something he wanted. Cas had changed his aspirations. Dean just wanted Cas. Forever. That was all.

Jack broke the silence. “Who are these of?”

Dean offered, “my boyfriend.”

If Jack knew about his reputation, he gave no indication.

But he must.

Jack said, “I rather like this one.” He motioned towards the painting of Cas’s legs. They were painted from the side, his calves in midair as if caught running. “What do you think?”

“That’s a good choice,” Dean said honestly. “But it’s up to Ro, of course.”

“I was instructed to bring the painting into the office and show her in person. Would you like to come?”

————

Rowena smirked upon seeing Dean and Jack enter her expansive office. “I finally got you in here!”

Dean huffed. “Hey, Ro.”

Jack trailed behind him carrying the painting, covered in layers of protective paper and cardboard.

“What have you chosen, little pup?” Rowena cooed at Jack.

“Don’t,” Dean clucked his tongue, “he’s already doing better than I ever have as your assistant.”

Jack’s eyes widened behind his large glasses, — another Cas-esque moment — but he remained silent. He removed the cords and ties around the canvas, peeling the paper away at the folds. “Here’s what I’ve chosen, ma’am,” he said to Rowena. The paper revealed the painting of Cas’s legs in motion.

Rowena sent Dean a pleased look. “Got a good eye, hasn’t he?”

“Yes,” Dean agreed. “I like it if you do.”

“Yes.” Rowena said to Jack, “good work, kid. Now leave us.”

Jack set the painting against the wall and left with a curt nod.

When Jack was back in the belly of the beast, Rowena asked, “have you thought of a collection title?”

Dean had been thinking of a title for weeks. The right one finally popped into his head recently, when Cas was smiling fondly at him after Dean told a corny joke.

Dean said, “For Him.”

In a shocking move, Rowena gathered Dean in his arms for a hug. “That’s lovely, dear.”

Then, as abruptly as it happened, Rowena pulled away and became his solicitor again. “We need to start printing copies of your painting. Get an advertisement ready.” Rowena went to her desk and got out a clipboard.

She wrote on an order form in cursive: “Dean Winchester, For Him, New Collection Coming Soon.”

————

“How was the assistant?”

Dean glanced up from his meal. He told Cas this morning he was meeting his boss’s new assistant. “He was sweet.”

Cas’s lip quivered. “He?”

Dean thought he imagined it. “He was really quite bright. He had the same choice I did when I thought about ad posters. He has an eye for this kinda stuff.”

“Oh?” Cas asked weakly.

“Rowena must see potential in him. Even though we only just met, I can see why she chose him to help. And you know, he kinda reminds me of myself when I was first starting out.”

Cas’s knuckles whitened as he gripped his fork. Suddenly, he dropped it against the plate, the fork making a loud clatter. All color left his face. “I’ve lost my appetite.”

“What? What did I-”

“Nothing.”

The realization crossed Dean’s mind like a punch to the gut.

As Cas made to leave the table, Dean’s reflexes caught up with his mind.

He grasped Cas’s wrist, lightning fast. “Wait,” Dean croaked. “Wait.” He let go of Cas’s wrist, afraid that he would grip too hard. “He’s nineteen.”

Dean let that information sink in. Cas still refused to meet his eyes.

“Well,” Cas’s voice cut through the delicate air like a knife, “now that I look like a fucking jealous insecure idiot, I’m going to bed.”

Cas made to move again, but Dean placed his palm over Cas’s wrist. He kept his touch light and gentle.

Cas stayed.

Dean murmured, “not only does he remind me of myself,” he thought of Jack’s overlarge glasses, so similar to his beloved boyfriend’s, “but he reminds me of you too.”

Cas didn’t speak, or look at Dean.

He didn’t move away, either.

Dean said softly, “in just the short amount of time I’ve spent with Jack, the kid made me think, approximately once per minute, about what a child containing both of our DNA would look like.” Dean smiled wobbly. “And I think that child would look a bit like him.”

Cas swallowed thickly, gathering the courage to look at Dean. “Really?” He asked gently. “You think about that?”

“A lot more than I should,” Dean admitted, “yes.”

There was a silence that stretched. Thankfully, it wasn’t an uncomfortable one.

Cas moved his wrist, using his fingers to pull Dean’s hand closer. He brought Dean’s hand to his lips, kissing each knuckle. Dean relaxed his fingers under Cas’s touch.

Cas withdrew his lips from Dean’s skin. “I’m sorry for being an idiot.”

“Don’t be. That was kinda my fault, too.”

“Wanna wash dishes and cuddle?”

Dean took the peace offering. “I love a good cuddle.”

————

THREE WEEKS LATER…

 

Dean had been begging to do karaoke ever since he heard about it. Since Castiel had enough of his complaining about missing out when he went with Gabriel, he decided to take Dean.

“Are you sure it won’t be ruining a ‘thing’?” Gabriel asked on the phone the day previously.

“A ‘thing’?” Castiel asked confusedly.

“Something special. That you, like, don’t wanna share with him,” Gabriel said. “Something that allows for some boundaries.”

“I don’t want boundaries between us anymore,” Castiel said. “I told you on day one that this is a serious relationship and I’m happy.” He paused, and said hesitantly, “you’re still putting boundaries up around Sam, aren’t you?”

Gabriel was silent. He said, like Castiel was prodding at a tender wound, “I can’t believe he’s mine, y’know? It just...doesn’t make any logical fucking sense why he’s still here.”

There were so many things Castiel wanted to say to the eccentric candy store owner that had become his friend over the past months. He didn’t want to push too hard, though. Castiel settled on, “love is blind. Bring Sam to karaoke night.”

He had hung up before he could get Gabriel’s cries of talking nonsense. If Gabriel didn’t comprehend it now, he would. And soon.

Castiel brought Dean to the karaoke joint slash nightclub slash concert venue Gabriel had taken him to a month earlier.

“Jesus,” Dean uttered, Castiel guiding him through the immense crowd, “this is more than a dirty ass karaoke bar.”

Castiel smirked wryly. “I may have understated a great many things.”

“So I wouldn’t feel left out?”

“Mhm.”

“It’s okay. I was pretty mopey.”

Castiel offered a hand. Dean took it as they weaved through the crowd. Dean’s blind trust in Castiel was apparent as he lead him through the dimly lit club with no direction in mind.

Castiel found the group a moment later, near the front right of the stage. Once Gabriel made it clear Sam had accepted the invitation, Charlie and Kevin found out by eavesdropping on the call. Then, Dorothy, Jo, and Samandriel got involved. The entire group was thrown into the mix, when it was a thing only shared between Castiel, Gabriel, and Samandriel.

Castiel situated himself next to the candy shop brothers while Dean received a round of hugs. “Can you feel the tension in the air?”

“Ah, yes,” Gabriel said. “We can’t fuck up tonight. Gotta make a good impression, and all.”

“You probably already know this,” Samandriel said, “but Gabe has video of you.”

“I have video of him, too,” Castiel said.

“I told you,” Gabriel beamed at his brother, “he’s sharp!”

“I just wanted to say,” Samandriel said over the mounting chatter, “you’re an amazing singer, and we should exchange blackmail material.”

“No!” Gabriel whined.

Castiel cackled. “Great idea.” He whipped out his smartphone and sent the clip to Samandriel. He received his own video a moment later.

“Lovely doin’ business with ya,” Samandriel said.

They fist bumped.

Dean returned to link his arms around Castiel’s. “Hi. ‘M back. Did ya miss me?”

Castiel melted. “Of course.”

————

As the announcer introduced Gabriel, he looked directly at Castiel and Samandriel.

He paid Sam no mind as he did a weird handshake with his younger brother.

He fist bumped Castiel.

“Kill it,” Castiel said knowingly.

Gabriel grinned. “You got it.”

————

Watching Sam’s facial expressions change during Gabriel’s performance was Castiel’s new favorite hobby.

————

Dean tapped Sam’s shoulder.

Sam didn’t respond.

He grinned. He had never seen his brother so entranced by someone before. Dean stood on tiptoe and rested his chin on Sam’s shoulder.

Irritated, Sam shot him a look.

Dean said into his brother’s ear, “lock that down.”

Sam nodded, in perfect understanding.

Dean withdrew.

————

As Gabriel rejoined the group, triumphant, Castiel and Samandriel shared a look.

They both cupped hands over their mouths, yelling, “BOO!”

“Stop it!” Gabriel yelled, smacking his brother and laughing in his arms. Samandriel and Castiel laughed along with him.

After a moment, Gabriel composed himself and smiled sheepishly at Sam. He did a little wave, a shy motion uncharacteristic of him.

Sam did a little wave back, smiling like a loon. A bit like Dean, Castiel thought.

————

Gabriel sensed Castiel’s fear with a single glance.

It was almost his turn. Castiel was starting to have second thoughts.

Last time, singing was cathartic.

Now, he was trying to impress his friends.

Dean pursed his lips and watched as Gabriel took Castiel aside. He lent an ear in their direction, which the two friends pretended not to notice.

“Remember last time?” Gabriel said. “You were untouchable. Channel that energy. Pretend you’re a gasket waiting for the right moment to blow.”

Nerves gripped Castiel, churning his insides and sending his fight-or-flight risk into action. “I’m not sure if I-”

“You’ve done this before. You can do it again. Unless,” Gabriel snapped his fingers, “take off your glasses.”

“What?!”

“How’s your eyesight?”

“Not...horrible.”

“Okay. Here’s the dumb idea I have: if you take off your glasses, you won’t be able to see the crowd and get nervous.”

Castiel gasped. “That dumb idea just might work!” He blinked. “Or I’m too drunk to come up with another plan!”

“Yeah!” Gabriel clapped. “That’s the spirit!”

Castiel whirled around, Dean looking at him with an ‘are you seriously entertaining this?’ look. Castiel smiled and slipped off his glasses. “Bye bye, Clark Kent.” Castiel placed them over Dean’s face. “And hello, Superman!” Castiel ignored the swoop of affection in his stomach upon seeing Dean wearing his large glasses.

He heard the announcer’s voice begin an introduction on “the mystery man who blew the house down on Taylor Swift night.”

Castiel smirked as Dean caught the dialogue. “Take care of those glasses for me,” Castiel murmured gently, “will ya?”

Dean nodded in affirmation.

Castiel pressed his lips on Dean’s right cheek. He heard his name, and withdrew from the group.

————

Dean was in a dream.

He had to be.

No way is his boyfriend this wonderful. No way was is his boyfriend singing on stage. No way is he this confident, this seductive, this beautiful.

No goddamn way.

Dean wore Cas’s glasses, perched on his head, and stared at the display in front of him.

Jiminy Christmas. Fucking hell.

Dean wanted to do so many things to Cas tonight. So many unsavory things.

But he wouldn’t. Giving into the urge was fatal.

If Cas wanted something, though, he could have it. Whatever was on his wishlist, Dean would give it to him.

He knew not much would come out of tonight. Cas wasn’t one for sex, and that was okay. It really was.

Dean was a patient man. Whatever was bound to happen, he was fine with it. Anything his better half was comfortable with.

As long as he requested it in that maddeningly gorgeous voice of his.

————

Castiel removed his glasses away from Dean. “Thank you, dear,” he murmured sweetly.

He put his Clark Kent persona back on, winking behind his lenses.

————

Dean couldn’t keep his hands off him.

Castiel was too pleased to complain.

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

Gabriel awoke with a groan, stretching generously beneath the sheets.

He recognized the mattress as being Sam’s. His own was less comfortable.

And he was naked. No surprise there.

As Gabriel made to leave his boyfriend’s bed, Sam’s hand grasped his side.

Gabriel nearly gasped in surprise.

Those same hands dragged him closer, entrapping him and rolling him over. Gabriel went pliantly, his eyes wide, his lashes fluttering bashfully.

Slivers of baby blue eyes observed him lazily. Gabriel chose to stare at Sam’s bare chest. He still struggled with eye contact the morning after any form of intimacy. It was his preference to cut and run before Sam woke up.

Sam was clearly sick of that.

“Stay,” Sam ordered, his voice a low rumble.

Gabriel was too startled to speak. He swallowed a lump in his throat and exhaled deeply, his chest collapsing with the motion.

Even if he wanted to leave, he couldn’t. Sam had encapsulated him, and wouldn’t allow him to go. On any other day besides Sunday, he would. Gabriel had no excuse to leave. He had played himself.

Gabriel blew out a puff of air, resigning himself to his fate. Sam won this round. “Fine.”

“Stop running,” Sam muttered. “Please stop.”

Gabriel’s heart hammered in his chest. No one had asked him to do such a thing before. The thought of being shackled always made him want to run farther and faster.

No one had tried to prevent him from leaving, before. This was new.

And the fact that Sam wanted him to stay…

Hm. He thought this would scare him.

It didn’t.

He didn’t want to run anymore.

The realization should have shattered Gabriel’s very existence.

It didn’t.

Gabriel exhaled shakily, warmth blooming in his chest. He had never felt so vulnerable before. Not ever. It should be too much for him to handle.

It wasn’t.

He liked the feeling. Whatever it was...he liked it.

“Okay,” Gabriel whispered. He felt his body mold against Sam’s. His head burrowed into Sam’s neck. “Okay.”

Sam kissed Gabriel’s forehead, and he fell back asleep.

————

Castiel hadn’t had a nightmare in months.

When he woke up, he nearly jostled Dean out of bed.

He snapped his eyes open, curling up into a tight ball. He couldn’t remember what happened, but it was awful.

He forced his eyes shut and shoved his face into his pillow. He hugged the cushion like it was a teddy bear, remembering to breathe.

“Hey,” Dean muffled, reaching a hand out, “what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Castiel gulped lungful of air, trying to calm his heartbeat. “Nothing.”

“‘S not nothing.” Dean scooted closer, his hand tentatively resting on Castiel’s shirt. “What happened?”

“It was a nightmare,” Castiel said defensively. “It’s nothing, okay?” He inhaled and exhaled once more. His heart finally got the message to stop banging in his rib cage. “I’m fine.”

“It must have been awful,” Dean murmured, gathering Castiel in his arms. “Do you remember it at all?”

“No,” Castiel mumbled, “but I have guesses on the many things it could’ve been.”

Dean kissed the crown of his head. “It’s alright, dearest. I gotcha.”

Castiel allowed himself to simply be in his boyfriend’s embrace. He breathed, in and out, and got comfortable.

He recalled the night before in pieces. He rifled through karaoke night, his friends getting wasted, what happened after Dean and Castiel were blissfully alone.

Maybe one of Dean’s movements last night set Castiel off. A deep part of his brain that had reawakened for a quick reunion tour.

Castiel would have to recall the specifics later. He knew they didn’t have sex, but they had messed around a lot. It wouldn’t surprise Castiel if there was a trigger in there somewhere.

A passing comment swam to the surface of Castiel’s hazy mind. “You should show me the video sometime,” Dean had said.

Did Castiel tell him about the video of him singing Taylor Swift? He must have.

“Maybe,” Castiel had replied, neither for nor against the idea.

Castiel left the burrow his head made in Dean’s chest. He tilted his head up. “Did you honestly want to see the video?”

Dean smiled easily. “Of course I do.”

“Okay.” Castiel rolled away from Dean and opened his nightstand drawer. His smartphone was in there, along with his earbuds. He cued up the video that Samandriel sent him, and tossed the phone to Dean. “Knock yourself out. I’m going to make French toast.”

Dean oohed. “Lots of powdered sugar on mine, dear. Please.”

————

Dean entered the kitchen just as Castiel began cooking breakfast. Castiel heard bare feet against the kitchen tile, then Dean whirled him around.

“Hey!”

Dean kissed Castiel like a puppy licking his face. Castiel laughed and chased Dean’s lips with his own.

Dean finally allowed a kiss, quick yet passionate. “You should sing more often.”

Castiel wrinkled his nose, his glasses rising and falling. “You’re just saying that because you like Taylor Swift.”

“‘M not. Your voice is gorgeous.” Dean paused, then admitted, “that was the first thing I noticed about you.”

“My voice?” Castiel furrowed his eyebrows. “Huh.” He spun around in Dean’s loose grip. “No more funny business, or I’ll burn the French toast.”

————

ONE WEEK LATER…

 

“What a bust,” Charlie said sadly.

“I thought the coffee would be better,” Kevin said defensively. “It got four and a half stars on Yelp.”

“That goes to show you,” Castiel said victoriously, “what the Queen of England drinks is supreme. Tea over coffee forever.”

They weaved through morning rush crowds. For so early, there were lots more people around the area than anticipated. That’s what they get for going out of their way to try different coffee.

They were deep in the innards of SoHo, when the trio of friends usually stayed on the southeast side, on the outskirts, where their bookstore resided.

There was a distinct possibility they would be late in opening the bookstore, but Castiel was learning not to sweat that stuff, anymore. It was his goddamn bookstore. He could open a few minutes late if he wanted.

Castiel, Charlie, and Kevin crossed the busy street.

When they got towards the other side of the road, that’s how they saw it.

“Look!” Kevin exclaimed incredulously, pointing towards a building a few yards ahead.

Since Castiel and Charlie hadn’t seen Kevin this shocked and wide-eyed in a long time, they decided to look in the direction his finger was pointing towards.

Covering an entire side of a brick building, what looked to be a medium-sized business, was a poster of Castiel’s legs.

Castiel immediately recognized the painting chosen to jumpstart Dean’s new campaign. It was sketched out months ago, when Castiel mistakenly allowed Dean to see him in boxers instead of long pajama pants. Dean had studied his legs in a mere few beats, and Castiel found the sketch weeks later. He criticized it because Dean missed the mole on his leg.

Well, Dean had corrected it. Scratch that. More than corrected it.

Improved upon his original sketch.

Castiel’s eyes had merely glossed over the painting of his legs suspended in motion. He was too busy reflecting upon other canvases.

Castiel hadn’t realized until just now how lovely this painting was. It was simplistic, mysterious, and an exact rendering.

Underneath the poster of Castiel’s legs was large font, consisting of three lines stacked below one another:

 

Dean Winchester
For Him
New Collection Coming Soon

 

Castiel nearly dropped his cup of tea.

Charlie and Kevin grasped his arms, steadying him before his knees could buckle or he fainted or did something stupid like cry.

“Okay,” Charlie said, “I need answers right now.”

“Heh.” Castiel swallowed thickly. “It’s probably not what you’re thinking, exactly.”

“I’m thinking that you posed nude for a famous artist,” Charlie said. “Please tell me you didn’t.”

“I didn’t,” Castiel said. “The reason Dean is with me is because I’m not a sellout.”

“He did an entire fucking collection about you, though,” Kevin said. “Not very many people in the world can say that.”

“I didn’t pose for him,” Castiel promised. “He did it all from memory.”

Mouths agape, Charlie and Kevin stared at the poster.

“He did an exact copy of your legs,” Kevin asked incredulously, “from memory?!”

Castiel felt his face flush with heat. “Uh huh.”

“Are there gonna be any inappropriate paintings in this gallery, Cas?” Charlie demanded.

“No! God, no.” Castiel shook his head. “Do you really think I’d do that?”

Charlie deflated. “No.” She winced. “Sorry.”

“Your concern is warranted. It’s okay.”

“I can’t believe,” Charlie grinned, “you got Dean Winchester to paint an entire collection of you.”

“You’ll be an icon,” Kevin said.

“Eh,” Castiel shrugged, “that’s not what I’m after.”

“So modest,” Kevin clapped Castiel’s shoulder.

————

Dean was leaning against the bookstore window — still adorned with his sketches — when the trio of friends arrived.

Dean’s expression was pensive, normal, as if nothing was out of the ordinary.

Castiel stomped towards him and said, “really?! The legs?!”

While Castiel sure looked terrifying, Dean smiled sweetly. “Thank you, dear.”

Castiel clenched his jaw, faltering on his intense stance. “Good for you, I guess.” He shoved his tea in Dean’s hands. He held the cup as Castiel fished the bookstore keys out of his trench coat. He unlocked the store and held open the door.

As Charlie made her way inside, she patted Dean’s shoulder and said, “congrats or whatever.”

Kevin went inside next, and said to Dean, “yeah, congrats and stuff.”

Castiel took his tea back and swallowed a swig. “You could’ve warned me.”

“Sorry. It’s gotta be top secret, an’ all.”

Castiel sighed. “It was a good choice.”

He didn’t see Dean’s pleased smile as he entered the bookstore. Dean was right behind him, shutting the door lightly.

————

ANOTHER WEEK LATER…

 

Castiel quickly got used to Dean’s post-it notes.

Since Dean was busy with his solicitor preparing the campaign, a new routine had begun to take shape. They only saw each other in the morning and late at night.

That was okay, though. Something was better than nothing.

Dean had gotten into the habit of writing post-it notes for Castiel. He hid them in Castiel’s wallet while he was in the shower. He signed every one with his initials and a drawing of a buzzing bumblebee.

Monday: “Kick ass with that new book shipment today!”

Tuesday: “Release the new releases, honeybee! Make that $”

Wednesday: “Tell Jody and Owen I said hi! Have an awesome day!”

Thursday: “On this dreary slump day, think of me, wishing I could jump out of a window during a meeting and be with you.”

Friday: “Almost there! I know you’re doing wonderful! Keep at it, sweetheart!”

Saturday: “If the crowds get to be too much, remember I’m making you an amazing dinner tonight. Love you!”

It took a week’s worth of notes for Castiel to get a certain priority in order. A permanent one.

That Sunday, Castiel sat Dean down during breakfast and asked it. “Do you want to move in with me?”

Dean looked like he had just won the lottery. “YES!”

“Whoa, there,” Castiel laughed, “you’re a little too excited.”

“Heh.” Dean smiled shyly. “I’ve just been, uh, waiting for you to ask.”

“I can see that now.”

Dean chuckled. “This is the best day ever!” He proclaimed.

Chapter Text

-“And all at once, you are the one I have been waiting for. King of my heart, body and soul.”
~Taylor Swift, “King of My Heart”

 

“I’m not gonna be able to come over tomorrow,” Dean said on the phone.

“You’re not?” Sam asked. “Why?”

“I have a busy weekend ahead with...all the collection preparations, and...other stuff.”

“Other stuff?” Sam asked suspiciously.

“Just,” Dean shrugged, “I got a busy weekend. I’m sorry I can’t make it. I’ll see you Monday.”

“Oh. Okay. Um, see you then.”

Dean hung up.

————

“What is it?” Jo asked.

“Dean sounded...strange,” Sam said. He fiddled with his smartphone. “Said he was busy tomorrow, but wouldn’t go into any detail.”

“Huh.” Jo put her hands on her hips. “You know what this means, don’t you?”

Sam pursed his lips. “Do you have the address to Cas’s apartment complex?”

Jo smirked. “Charlie gave it to me.”

————

“I’m not coming to work tomorrow,” Castiel said. “I’m gonna need you and Kevin to-”

“Wait. Hold up,” Charlie said. “You never miss a day. Only, like, twice a year.”

“Well,” Castiel shrugged, “it’s not like I haven’t accumulated the days. I’ll be taking a few Saturdays off in the future, so I’m going to need you and Kev to pick up the slack.”

“What is this about?” Charlie asked confusedly. “What are you doing that’s so important?”

“I’m taking off tomorrow,” Castiel said. “Please do your best with just you and Kevin. Hell, have Dorothy come help if you want.” Castiel shoved open the bookstore door, handing Charlie the keys. “See you on Monday.”

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

“Are we finally done walking back and forth?” Castiel asked tiredly.

“Yes,” Dean replied. He adjusted his grip on two boxes while Castiel carried another two. They walked towards Castiel’s apartment door, down the hallway that seemed to stretch longer than usual.

Castiel set his boxes down and procured his apartment keys. “Are you shaking in your boots yet?”

“Hah. No.” Dean watched Castiel unlock his door and open it. “We’ve practically been living together for weeks now.” Castiel picked up the boxes and lead Dean inside. “I can’t imagine it’ll be horrible.”

Castiel and Dean set the final boxes next to the pile they accumulated in the main room.

“I suppose I got a bit,” Castiel searched for the word, “clingy with you.”

“It’s all good, Cas.” Dean opened the first box in his stack.

Castiel read the side of the first box and gasped. “You have a book box?!” He nudged Dean out of the way and peered inside. “Prepare to be judged.”

Dean chuckled, allowing Castiel to rifle through his things.

Castiel ran his fingers along spines, reading titles carefully. “The first half is art books I got you.”

“Thank you for that, dear,” Dean said softly.

Castiel continued to the second part of the box. His eyebrows raised comically. “This is...a lot of Kurt Vonnegut.”

“Yup.” Dean rocked on the balls of his feet. “I clearly have a favorite author.”

Castiel read through the titles Dean had compiled: Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, Player Piano, Mother Night, Breakfast of Champions, Jailbird, Hocus Pocus, Harrison Bergeron.

“Interesting,” Castiel commented. “Is there any particular reason you like his work?”

“He was German, and my mother was German,” Dean said. “Makes me think about her for some reason.”

“That’s nice,” Castiel said gently.

He looked at what else Dean had: To Kill A Mockingbird, 1984, The Outsiders, Of Mice and Men, Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, Catch-22, Brave New World, The Great Gatsby.

And finally…

Castiel burst out laughing, doubling over until his stomach hurt. “Pride and Prejudice?!” Castiel laughed and laughed. “Really?!” He wiped away tears. “Oh my God!” His laughs tapered off. “That’s why you made that Jane Austen comment all that time ago!”

“You done?”

“Mhm. Sorry. I just wasn’t expecting that. I mean,” Castiel studied the books, “all the rest of these fit into the same mold, except for Pride and Prejudice. You’re an interesting guy, Dean Winchester.”

Dean smiled softly. “I try.”

————

On their lunch hours, they went to Castiel’s apartment complex.

What both duos didn’t expect, however, was to see each other there at the same time.

Sam and Jo stared incredulously as Charlie and Kevin entered the apartment lobby.

The duos stared at each other for a moment, in disbelief.

Jo said, “Dean’s been acting weird. He wasn’t at his place, so we came here.”

Charlie said, “Cas has been acting weird too. I have Dorothy watching the store while Kev and I figure out what’s up.”

“Alright,” Sam said, “let’s do this together.”

————

“Aw man.” Castiel stared at the soup stain. “This was my last clean shirt.”

“Procrastinating on laundry,” Dean teased, “are we?”

Castiel frowned like an upset child. “Guess I’ll have to do it today.”

“Here,” Dean stood up from the kitchen table, “I’ll get you one of mine.”

“I don’t wanna im-”

“It’s fine,” Dean assured him, disappearing into the bedroom.

They had just finished halving all of Castiel’s drawers and filling them with Dean’s clothes. Since Castiel had enough space to begin with, the change so far was seamless.

“Okay,” Dean showed up with a shirt, “this one’s old and don’t fit me right, anyway. It should work for you.”

Castiel stood up from his chair and examined the AC/DC logo, the graphic fading from too many washes. He began to slip the shirt over his head.

Dean whistled.

Castiel whipped his stained shirt in Dean’s face. “Never do that again!”

Dean laughed uproariously. Castiel grabbed the clean shirt from his grasp and pulled it on. Dean was right; it fit him perfectly.

Castiel smoothed out the material, happy at how soft it had become after so many washes. Since the hem came close to showing his stomach, he pulled up his black sweatpants a tad higher.

Castiel realized absently that the heady combination just might bowl his boyfriend over.

He glanced up again, and Dean was observing him silently. Dean’s mouth was parted slightly, as if frozen in time.

Castiel rolled his eyes. “Good?”

Dean remembered to blink. “Mhm.”

There was a loud knock at Castiel’s door.

Dean’s eyebrows furrowed. “Expectin’ anyone?”

Castiel shook his head.

They went on the defense, their shoulders tensing. Castiel softly padded over to the door, Dean a pace behind him.

Castiel quietly looked through the peephole in his door.

His eyes widened and he pulled back, looking at Dean.

“What?” Dean mouthed.

Castiel sighed and yanked open the door.

Charlie, Kevin, Sam, and Jo tumbled inside the apartment.

Dean glanced at Castiel warily, then at the group. “May we help you?”

“We were worried about you,” Charlie blurted out.

“You both seemed so weird yesterday,” Jo explained. “We were concerned.”

Dean and Castiel shared a look. Sam and Jo noted that Castiel was wearing Dean’s shirt, but didn’t comment.

“We’re fine,” Castiel said dismissively.

Kevin spotted the unpacked boxes first. “You’re moving in together?!”

Charlie, Sam, and Jo swiveled their heads. Sam and Jo recognized them as Dean’s boxes, his messy handwriting marking them on the sides.

“Yes,” Dean said shortly. “Any objections?”

There was a short silence.

“Okay,” Castiel said. “Who’s managing the store?”

“Dorothy,” Charlie said.

“We should get back to her,” Kevin said sheepishly.

“Right.” Charlie pulled Castiel into a crushing hug. “See you Monday.”

————

ONE WEEK LATER…

 

Dean and Castiel’s cohabitation was more successful than they anticipated.

With that mission completed, it was time for Castiel’s birthday.

Castiel knew there would be a party. He was thirty now, like Dean. It was a milestone and all that. He wasn’t one for birthdays, though. Dean wasn’t, either. They both preferred to keep it simple.

Castiel hadn’t felt like celebrating at all the past few years. He actually did now, with Dean by his side. Dean made things worth celebrating.

Dean even made him a birthday cake. Castiel got the offer from Gabriel and Samandriel, but Dean clearly wanted to show his affections by making it himself. The marble cake turned out amazing. Gabriel and Samandriel were impressed that Dean could hold his own in the kitchen.

Castiel received lots of insect-themed figurines to display throughout his bookstore. He also got a new scarf from Charlie and a beanie from Kevin.

When the party was over, Dean handed Castiel his gift as they sat on the couch in his apartment.

He pulled away the tissue paper and pulled out a delicate yellowed book.

Castiel gasped. “Holy shit.” He traced the cartoon bespectacled lion on the cover of a first edition Wizard of Oz book. “Holy fucking shit.”

“Good, huh?” Dean said proudly. “Did I beat Dorothy’s gift to Charlie?”

“Dean,” Castiel said in wonderment, “last I checked, this book costs five large. How the hell did you get it?”

“I’m a rich and famous artist,” Dean said. “I don’t usually do this kinda stuff for personal gain, but I thought this time, I would do it for you.” He worried his lip nervously. “Are you terribly mad at me?”

“For once,” Castiel replied truthfully, “no, I’m not.”

“I figured, if your store is ever in a bind,” Dean shrugged, “this should cover you. And I know you love this book.”

“I do,” Castiel breathed. “This is...really amazing, Dean. Thank you.” Castiel took Dean’s jaw in his fingers and tilted it towards him. Castiel pressed their lips together softly.

————

THREE DAYS LATER…

 

“So,” Cas said, “tell me everything.”

Dean told Cas that today he would be walking around SoHo to get back in touch with his clients. He was advertising for his art collection campaign and inviting people in person to go to his announcement party that Friday. Since it was an idea by Rowena that Dean begrudgingly had to accept, the party would obviously be a spectacle.

The party’s purpose was to announce the venue where Dean’s paintings will be held for a few weeks. After that, they would be put up for an auction where Dean’s clients bid thousands to own one of his pieces. Whatever was left over would be Dean’s property.

Dean said, “Rowena’s party should be a packed house. Everyone wants to know who you are.” A beat. “You’re truly okay with this?”

“For the dozenth time,” Cas replied, “yes.”

“Okay. You realize I have no choice but to do this party, right?”

“Yes. We had this conversation. You have to cozy up to the rich if you want to keep earning money.”

“Yeah.” Dean frowned. “No easy way around it.”

“Do you want me to come?”

Dean shook his head. “I don’t want you to be exposed to my life. Not yet. Not until you have to.” He sighed. “I know you have a say in this, but I want them near you as little as possible through this whole process.”

“It’s why I haven’t met your boss, isn’t it?”

“Yes. If it’s not apparent by now,” Dean said, “I’m a bit protective. Especially over you.”

“I call that ‘the curse of being a big brother.’”

Dean nodded in agreement. “Now that I don’t got Sam to care for, you’re next in line.”

“I hope you know I can take care of myself.”

“I do. But do you understand why I don’t want you at this party?”

“Yes. It would ruin my surprise entrance on opening night.”

“You’re still down with a little drama?”

“Course. Though you say these rich parties are lame,” Cas said flippantly, “I just might make it fun for you.”

Dean’s mouth curved upwards. “I adore you.”

“I’ll be here waiting for you to come home,” Cas reminded him. “We can cuddle. Make out. Whatever you want to blow off steam.”

“That’s a lovely offer,” Dean said. “I’ll think about that while I’m at this dreadful party.”

————

TWO DAYS LATER…

 

“I have a gift for you,” Castiel said seductively.

Dean came alive at the tone of voice. He was fully awake within a second. “Yeah? And what’s that?”

Castiel tugged open his nightstand drawer, sitting on Dean’s thighs, pinning him on the mattress. He smiled playfully, feeling cruel for what he was about to do. He wriggled around a little, Dean biting back a moan.

Castiel slipped his hand in the drawer, feeling around for the gift. He felt the copper shape, and closed his fingers around it.

Castiel leaned forward, his mother’s locket dangling over the collar of his shirt. He unfurled the object in his palm, placing it between his index finger and thumb.

He rested a copper key to his apartment on Dean’s forehead. The key balanced perfectly there, and Castiel smirked triumphantly.

“There you go,” Castiel wiggled on Dean’s thighs one final time, leaving his bed coyly. “Don’t do anything stupid in my apartment.” Castiel tucked the locket underneath his dress shirt again. “Good luck tonight.”

He heard Dean groan as he exited the bedroom.

With a sudden realization, Castiel nearly stopped in his tracks.

His desire was back.

Castiel wanted to return to that bedroom and take Dean apart.

But that could wait.

Castiel gathered his belongings and smirked as he left his apartment.

Tonight.

————

“My goodness,” Rowena coughed, “this apartment is even worse than your last.”

Dean shared a look with Jack. “Sorry. She’s a bit dramatic.”

Rowena studied the bookshelves along the walls, the kitchen, his paintings scattered about, various odds and ends owned by both men, the small table, the old couch and television. “What even is this place?”

Dean shut the door, Jack staying by him, not wanting to intrude. “My boyfriend’s apartment.”

Rowena’s head snapped towards him. “You live with him?” Her wide eyes were overtaken by a scrunched nose. “In this dump?”

“Oh,” Dean sassed, “it must be so terrible to look at for you.”

Jack clapped a hand over his mouth to stifle laughs.

Rowena narrowed her eyes. “You’re lucky I like you.”

Dean grinned.

————

As the sun fell below ground, there was a knock on the door.

Rowena answered, pulling a tall blonde man into a hug. “Balthazar.” They kissed cheeks. “How are you?”

“I’m good, dear.” Balthazar gasped at who was inside the apartment. “Dean Winchester?!”

Dean did a little wave. Balthazar was a good guy, and Rowena’s stylist. She must have called him here to style Dean for the party. “Hey, Bal.”

“My, my!” Balthazar toted his bag of goodies. “I heard rumors you were making a comeback, but I didn’t believe them.” Unlike most in the SoHo community, Balthazar’s smile and tone was genuine. “It’s great to see you again.”

“You too.”

Rowena said, “give him the works. He’s got a big shindig tonight.”

Balthazar zipped open his bag. “You got it.”

————

“Magnifique!” Balthazar declared.

Dean rolled his eyes. “You’re as dramatic as ever.”

Rowena smirked. “Wonderful job as usual, Bal.”

Jack gave Dean an enthusiastic thumbs up. Dean sent one back to the kid.

Dean took in his appearance in the mirror. His skin was exfoliated and flawless, his freckles prominent despite a touch of powder. Lip balm smoothed out his lips, highlighting their pinkness and Cupid’s bow shape. His sharp jaw and cheekbones were on display, playing along with the lights and shadows. His eyelashes were curled to elongate them, bringing bashfulness to his harsh gaze. His hair was gelled back and combed to one side, causing his blonde hair to take on a brunette shade. His tuxedo was the simple ensemble, but top of the line, a gift from Rowena and tailored to his exact measurements. Dean’s own flair was added by choosing to wear a bowtie rather than a regular tie, like the kind Cas occasionally wore to work. Dean also wore his mother’s gold wedding ring, like Cas did to honor his own mother.

“Thanks, Bal,” Dean said.

“You’re welcome.”

————

Dean’s announcement during the party took less than a minute. “My new collection will be out three months from today. It will be displayed at the Arthouse before being moved to auction.”

The party that ensued was a bit too Gatsby for Dean’s liking.

He would rather be with Cas.

Dean fielded questions from every client that attended. Every single person asked who his “mystery muse” was, but Dean kept his lips sealed. He promised they would learn on opening night.

If everything went his way, they would learn more than who Castiel Novak was.

————

Castiel heard the doorknob turn quietly an hour before midnight.

He must have expected Castiel would be asleep.

He wasn’t. He was lying in wait.

Ready to pounce.

Castiel inhaled the scent of vanilla candles. He had lit several, and they burned with a heady strength. He heard footsteps pad into the room, heard Dean toe off dress shoes. Castiel closed the book he was reading — Kurt Vonnegut, one of Dean’s he hadn’t read before — and set it on the side table.

Dean’s footsteps neared, then halted.

Castiel tilted his head back, looking behind the couch.

Dean looked like a rabbit caught in a trap, paralyzed and surprised. “Cas.”

Castiel smiled, his intentions hidden. “C’mere. Let me look at you.”

Dean stepped closer hesitantly, rounding the couch. He halted again as he saw what Castiel was wearing.

Castiel paid no mind to his wandering gaze. He stood up slowly, Dean’s gray bathrobe rippling around his form. He allowed himself to truly drink in Dean’s appearance, masked by the darkness until the candles brightened him.

Castiel couldn’t lie: Dean Winchester was absolutely resplendent in a suit. It showed off his body more than loose leather jackets and tight boxers ever would.

This suit, it seemed, was what money could buy.

He couldn’t wait to tear it apart.

But first…

“You look beautiful,” Castiel exhaled. He made eye contact with Dean, whose emerald eyes were dark. “Really beautiful.”

Dean’s Adam’s apple bobbed. He heard Dean swallow thickly.

Castiel hadn’t realized how close he was. He smirked inwardly.

He batted his eyelashes. “Can I tell you something, sweetheart?”

Dean glanced down Castiel’s body, roving over his bare legs and exposed V of his chest. His eyelashes fluttered. He swallowed again, unable to form words.

Castiel expected this. He was glad of it, even.

Castiel leaned up, nestling his lips against Dean’s ear. He grasped Dean’s hand to steady himself. He whispered, “I want you.”

He pulled back, watching Dean search his face incredulously.

Castiel nodded, guiding Dean’s hand forward, towards the robe tie.

Dean stared at it, as if in a trance. He looked between his hand and Castiel’s eyes.

“Really?” Dean whispered, a smile reaching his face.

Castiel smiled softly. “Yes.” He used his unoccupied hand to cup Dean’s jawline. “Please. I want this. Do you?”

Dean nodded. “Yes. Of course.”

Castiel pressed a light kiss to Dean’s lips. “Go ahead.”

Dean tugged at the robe tie.

Chapter Text

-“When I put my lips on you, you feel the shivers go up and down your spine for me, make you cry for me. When I put my lips on you, I hear your voice echoing all through the night for me.”
~Maroon 5, “Lips on You”

 

Dean awoke to the sound of crying.

Not truly comprehending it, Dean rolled on his side. Cas’s bare back was to him, his shoulders tensed. The soft sound of muffled sniffles reached Dean’s ears.

Dean felt his heart breaking in two.

The last thing he wanted was to cause Cas any amount of pain, no matter how minuscule.

“Honeybee,” Dean murmured, “are you okay?”

Cas sniffled one final time and grew silent. Like he wanted Dean to think him invisible.

As if Cas would ever be invisible to him. To others, certainly, but not to Dean.

Dean closed the space between them, placing a hand on Cas’s shoulder.

He stiffened completely.

“Did you have a nightmare?” Dean asked softly.

A mass of black hair shook in the negative.

“Look at me. Please.”

Cas shook his head again.

Fear consumed Dean’s every thought. “Do you regret it?” He asked hollowly.

There was a beat.

Before tears could fill Dean’s eyes, Cas rolled onto his back. His cheeks were stained with tear tracks, his hands trembling as he shivered. His hands covered his mouth, muffling his sobs. His wet eyelashes let out another stream of hot tears.

Cas breathed heavily, as if he’d run a marathon. He forced his eyes shut, swallowing bitter tears.

His voice was wet and matter-of fact. “I took advantage of you.”

Cas cried again, and Dean absorbed the words.

“Where did you get that idea?”

Cas didn’t hear him, lost in his own world of pain.

“Honey,” Dean leaned his head closer, trying to force him to listen, “where did you get that idea?”

Cas inhaled sharply, wiping tears away furiously. “I was too forceful. I know I was. You don’t have to lie to make me feel better.”

“What are you talking about?” Dean’s eyes watered. “I don’t understand. No, you weren’t.”

“I was. I threw myself at you. I acted like a slut.”

“What?!”

“I used you.” Cas’s eyes were faraway when he opened them. “God, if they could all see me now...they would all call me a slut.”

Dean finally understood what was happening.

He swallowed a lump in his throat. It wouldn’t do if he started crying. He needed to keep a clear head.

“Castiel Novak,” Dean said seriously, “my one true love, hearing you call yourself that just broke my heart. You are not. If what you’re saying is true, that you used me, I had a hundred chances to stop you last night. Why didn’t I?”

Cas sniffled, thinking, puzzling it out.

“Because I wanted you,” Dean answered, “just as much as you wanted me. You know,” he recalled, “you might not remember this, but you kept saying I was beautiful. Over and over again, like a broken record.”

Cas’s eyebrows furrowed, his tears drying as he wiped remnants away.

He clearly didn’t remember. That was okay. Dean was here to remind him.

Dean admitted, “I lost count of all the people that have called me beautiful. But when you said it, over and over, that’s the first time I truly believed it. And last night was the first time,” he blinked away water in his eyelids, “I truly felt beautiful.” He whispered, “you did that, Cas. You did that for me. Made me believe it. I love you for that.”

Cas finally settled his eyes on Dean, gaining control of himself. He rolled on his side, searching Dean’s face for any hint of a lie.

His voice was quiet and gentle. “You’re telling the truth.”

“The whole truth,” Dean murmured, “and nothing but the truth.”

“You called me your one true love,” Cas whispered. “Was that the truth?”

“Yes.”

“And I made you feel beautiful?”

“I’ve never felt more beautiful in my life than under your gaze.”

The beginnings of a smile appeared on Cas’s face. “I wasn’t too forceful?”

“No.” Dean teased, “I thought I was dealing with a harmless kitten.” He smirked. “It’s nice to know you’re a lion, my dear.”

Cas batted his eyelashes. “You like that?”

Dean glanced down hungrily, taking his time observing Cas’s bare chest, his stomach, how the sheets framed his legs. Cas was seductive without even trying.

Dean looked Cas right in the eyes and said lowly, “I like it a lot.”

Cas nodded, finally understanding, finally allowing himself the pleasure of wrapping Dean around him, hooking their legs together, pulling Dean into a breathless kiss.

Cas’s cell phone rang.

I BLESS THE RAINS DOWN IN AAAFRICAAAAAAA!

Cas leaned back and sighed. “I don’t want to go to work.”

“Then don’t,” Dean said temptingly. “Stay in bed with me.”

For once, Cas listened and weighed his options in Dean’s favor. He rolled out of Dean’s embrace, sitting up on his pillow. He removed his smartphone from the nightstand drawer.

He answered the phone call. “Hey.”

Dean heard Charlie’s voice come through the speaker. It was too muffled to make out words, though.

“I’m not coming in today.” Cas listened to a sentence. “Sorry.” He listened again, his eyebrows furrowed. “Why?” Charlie said something. “Fine.” Cas held the phone out to Dean. “For some reason, Char wants to talk to you.”

Dean sat up on his pillow confusedly, taking the phone. “Yes?”

“What the hell’s going on over there?” Charlie asked. “First, Cas acts weird last Saturday and won’t tell Kev and I you’re moving in with him. Now, he says out of the blue he isn’t coming in to run his own bookstore today. What’s. Going. On?”

Dean frowned. They had been evasive, lately. They hadn’t meant to be. There was a lot Dean or Cas couldn’t explain to their friends. The secrecy about Dean’s art collection aside, they had a lot going on. Dean had been busy making gallery preparations with Rowena and Jack, while Cas bit off more than he could chew in regards to owning a bookstore and helping Dean scheme.

Dean replied, “we’ve been busy. We both need a break. I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“That better be all it is,” Charlie said threateningly. “If I learn you’re hurting my best friend in any way-”

“I’m not. You have my word on that.”

A pause. “He better be back to normal on Monday.”

“Okay. I promise.”

Dean and Charlie hung up at the same time.

Dean handed Cas the phone back and stared at the dresser. He worried his bottom lip between his teeth, having a realization.

He abruptly turned, unconfining his body from the sheets and plopping on Cas’s lap. Dean disregarded the cold air reducing his skin to gooseflesh. He glanced at the offending phone on the nightstand and said, “she got me thinking.” Dean looped his arms around Cas’s neck, a layer of sheets between them and nakedness. “We haven’t been taking much time for ourselves, have we?”

“We haven’t,” Cas said huskily. “I just wanna be you and me again.”

“Me too.” Dean rested their foreheads together. “This weekend, it’s just you and me. We forget our responsibilities, if only for a little while. How does that sound?”

Cas brushed their noses together. Dean was reminded of early in their relationship. This very embrace was how they learned to be comfortable with one another. It was only right that this was the embrace they relearned in this time of healing.

“I think,” Cas breathed, “I love you more than I originally anticipated.”

————

Their stomachs growled at the same time.

They both laughed, the afterglow of their sex wearing off.

Dean rolled atop Castiel. “And now, for my favorite either-or question.” Castiel giggled as Dean Mind Melded with him. “Pancakes or waffles?”

Castiel mimicked the Mind Meld. “You can tell me my answer.”

Dean pecked Castiel’s lips. “Pancakes it is, my lion.”

Castiel chuckled as Dean rolled out of bed. “Thank you, my wolf.”

Dean bared his teeth jokingly as he slipped on a pair of Castiel’s boxers.

————

“Ever had breakfast in bed before?”

Castiel shook his head. “Wouldn’t it just make a mess?”

Dean set down a huge plate, containing a large stack of syruped pancakes, between them on the covers. “Not if we’re careful.” He handed a fork to Castiel. “Live a little.”

Castiel took it as a challenge.

————

“To shave,” Cas asked, “or not to shave?”

Dean tucked his chin on Cas’s shoulder, kissing his growing stubble. “Don’t. I like the scruff on you.” He nosed the spot he kissed. “It feels nice.”

Cas ran his index finger along Dean’s own stubble. “As you wish.”

————

Swaddled in his fluffy bathrobe, Castiel felt at peace with himself.

He yanked the oversized stuffed puppy from its confinement in the extra closet. Last time Castiel brought it out, he was feeling insecure. Now, he looked at the stuffed puppy, resembling his love for Dean, and realized it had matured more than he thought over the past weeks.

Time apart and distance made them not as clingy as they used to be. Dean used to hang around Castiel and his bookstore like his life depended on it. Castiel knew at the time it wasn’t right to be so attached, but he didn’t care.

However, they had both been busy, and they ran the risk of growing apart. Since neither of them wanted that to happen, this weekend’s reconnection was essential.

So far, Castiel had learned a great many things. He learned that he shouldn’t hide his past so much. He learned that he was strong, but prone to weakened outbursts. He learned that Dean really fucking loved him, and wouldn’t leave him like all the others had.

The man had dedicated an entire art collection to him. When would Castiel get a clue that it meant Dean was here for good?

Castiel finally learned that Dean wouldn’t abandon him. They were in this for the long haul, and not even Dean’s work could tear them apart.

Castiel also learned he should be more confident in himself. He learned he should trust himself, as well as Dean, to know the boundaries.

And lastly, Castiel learned his body was far more alluring than he gave it credit for. He could look at himself in the mirror, prodding at his skin and observing the angles, and understand why Dean was so taken by him.

Castiel had let his philosophy of self-love slip, as of late. He remembered to practice what he preached.

“Whatcha doin’?”

Castiel held the giant stuffed dog in his arms, whirling around. Dean’s robe rippled around him like a wave as he halted near him.

Castiel replied, “saying hello to our child.”

Dean chuckled fondly and ran his hands through the stuffed dog’s fur. “Is it weird that I wanna keep this forever?”

Castiel smiled. “No.”

————

Dean wanted to devour Cas’s heart. Steal his breath. Make his lips Property of Dean Winchester.

Cas laughed at his frantic lip presses, high off the comedown. Dean pulled back and rested his chin on Cas’s chest, rising and falling with his lungs.

Dean smiled unashamedly, his hands sliding up and down Cas’s sides. “Another round?”

Cas bit his lip. “I’m tired. I need some time.”

“Don’t have my stamina?” Dean teased.

“You don’t even have your stamina,” Cas shot back.

Dean chuckled. “Touché.” He leaned up to kiss Cas one final languid time. Then, he rolled on his side, shoulder-to-shoulder with Cas. “We can pass the time by talking.”

Cas huffed. “About?”

Dean interlocked their arms together, their fingers meeting in the empty spaces. He brought Cas’s hand to his lips, kissing his knuckles. “I know I said we wouldn’t, but...how are you, really?”

Cas tilted his head to the side, examining Dean’s handsome profile. “You were right to tell Charlie that it’s been...a lot, lately.”

“It has,” Dean echoed.

“With my crazy bookstore hours, more crowds coming in for spring arrivals, and upholding several solid friendships, it’s been hard. Not to mention helping you prepare for your opening night and dealing with my recent flashes to my horrible past.”

“Wait,” Dean blinked, “what was that last part?”

Cas sighed, sinking his head into the pillow. “I’ve been having...flashes. Memories that keep getting drudged up. My worst ones.”

Dean tilted his head to the side. “Talking helps.”

“You don’t want to know, Dean.”

“Why is that?”

“Because you’ll want to track down every single one of my exes and bash their heads in.”

Dean gritted his teeth. He kept his voice even and calm. “Let’s say I can control myself. Then will you tell me?”

Cas sighed again. “You really want to know all the gruesome details?”

“If you’re comfortable enough to tell me,” Dean said, “yes, I do.”

Cas gathered himself and opened his mouth.

————

Dean stared at Cas for a long time in silence after it was over.

His first words aloud were, “I don’t want to bash their heads in. I want to commit several murders.”

Cas chose to laugh to lighten the mood. “I don’t want you to go to prison. We wouldn’t get to fuck anymore.”

“Speaking of that,” Dean said, “I have no idea how you let me touch you. How you let anyone touch you.”

“You are a fortunate man,” Cas said factually, “that is true.”

“Why did you take a chance on me?” Dean asked.

Cas locked eyes with Dean. “Because I can tell a harmless stalker apart from an abusive asshole.”

“Sorry about the stalking, by the way.”

“You don’t have to be. All your blushing when you talked to me was endearing.”

Dean exhaled in relief. “That’s good to know.” A beat. “This also explains why you always want to be on top.”

“I also just...really like being on top.”

Dean laughed. “I’m good with that, in case you didn’t notice.”

“I noticed.”

“Hm.” Dean kissed Cas’s cheekbone. “You’re the strongest man I’ve ever met, you know.”

Cas responded in kind, pulling Dean into an embrace. “And you’re the nicest man I’ve ever met.”

————

Dean groaned. “You’re such a good cook it’s frustrating.”

Castiel had insisted he cook dinner. With Dean making breakfast and dinner for Castiel so often, Castiel wanted to take on the responsibility.

Castiel said coyly, “I’ll give you something to moan about.”

Dean’s mouth fell open. “You’re insatiable, aren’t you?”

Castiel smirked playfully.

————

“Okay,” Dean breathed, “I’m done.” He burrowed into Cas’s chest. “I’m cutting you off.”

Cas laughed breathlessly. “Am I too much for you to handle?”

“Yes!” Dean cast an arm around Cas’s stomach. “Low libido, my ass.”

Cas leaned down and kissed Dean’s head. “You did a good job. Gold star.”

Dean scoffed. “You’re mouthier than I expected.”

“Think about what my mouth can do. Is that really a bad thing?”

Dean moaned. “You’re trying to coax another round outta me, but it’s not gonna work. I feel like jelly. Useless, blobby jelly.”

Cas laughed. “You’re satisfied, beautiful jelly. There are worse things you can be.”

Dean kissed Cas’s chest, settling his cheek over Cas’s heartbeat. “Mind if I crash right here?”

Cas tucked his chin on Dean’s head. “It’s good with me. You look real cozy.”

Dean smiled into Cas’s skin. “I am.” Another kiss. “You’re comfy.”

Cas trailed a finger up Dean’s spine, making him shiver on instinct.

Dean made a noise of protest. “Stop that.”

Cas chuckled. “You know, today was good practice.”

Dean tilted his head up, looking into the impossibly blue eyes of the man he revered. “For?”

Cas said coyly, “what’s gonna happen when I get you alone after opening night.”

Dean’s eyes widened.

Cas laughed and rested his head on the pillow. “Good night, sweetheart.”

Dean bit his lip and murmured, “good night, my lion.”

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

Castiel secured his best pair of sweatpants, stealing Dean’s AC/DC shirt from a drawer. He pulled it over his head and looked himself in the mirror.

Castiel couldn’t believe he was staring at a reflection of himself.

His tan skin was glowing. His eyes shined a mixture of sapphire and cerulean blue. His trimmed beard framed his jawline attractively. His combed hair truly suited him. His large glasses made him feel confident, not like he was hiding something.

He wasn’t hiding anything, anymore.

Castiel stepped out of the bathroom, walking into the main room.

Dean whistled loudly.

Castiel blushed from head to toe.

“Why,” Dean put on a Southern accent, “hello there, gorgeous.” He strode towards Castiel, encasing his waist in his arms. “You’re lookin’ ready to melt New York City with your radiant smile.” Dean kissed Castiel languidly.

Castiel hummed as Dean’s eyes roved over his face. “Yesterday’s done wonders for my complexion.”

Dean kissed Castiel again. “So it has.” Dean trailed his hands over Castiel’s waistband, but didn’t dare move it. “Did I ever tell you that my shirt suits you?”

“You said it with your eyes,” Castiel murmured.

Dean chuckled, his eyes saying ‘I love you.’ “Are you ready to act like annoying tourists today?”

“Mhm.”

————

“How many pictures are you taking?”

Castiel grinned and turned the camera lens towards Dean. He clicked the button, the camera shuttering as the lens stilled. “A lot.”

Dean smiled at Castiel. He took a second picture.

He would keep that one forever.

————

Dean watched Cas stuff a greasy burger from a street cart into his mouth.

Dean smiled fondly as they walked, unable to tear his eyes away from the sight. He was reminded of their first date, when he shoveled pizza down his mouth.

Cas swallowed the bite and stared at Dean from the corner of his eyes. “What?”

Dean smiled wider. “You really are my soulmate.”

Cas shoved him to the side, Dean laughing.

————

Castiel made a photo album.

This was the first time he willingly wanted to make memories. He developed the photos he took throughout the day at a camera store and found an empty book.

Only a couple pages were filled with childhood pictures. Pictures of him and his parents. There was three-fourths of the book left empty. He had kept the photo album all these years as a bookend on one of his shelves.

Castiel sat on his bed and filled the pages picture-by-picture. Most of the photos were scenic, or had Dean in them, but Dean had snuck a few with him in it. There were photos of Dean kissing his cheek, kissing his nose, kissing his lips, and holding him close.

Castiel felt like the star of a romantic comedy, but the warmth that had bloomed in his chest since yesterday had not gone away.

He never wanted it to go away.

Dean’s form framed the doorway, his ‘Kiss the Cook’ apron over his tee-and-jeans ensemble. “Your salmon is ready.”

Castiel nodded and left the bedspread.

Dean stepped into the room and saw the photographs and album. “Have you had that photo album this whole time?”

“Yes. I finally have pictures to fill it with.”

Dean’s eyes widened. “Are you telling me there are old pictures of you in it?” He grinned at the prospect, the answer in Castiel’s eyes. “Oh, goody. I wanna see them.”

“After food,” Castiel promised.

“You really are my soulmate,” Dean said fondly.

————

They went through each other’s childhood photos for the next hour.

————

It was midnight by the time they were spent.

Castiel took the same position as Dean had the night before, his head on Dean’s chest and his arm around Dean’s stomach.

Dean carded his fingers through Castiel’s hair, tucking his chin there. “You know, this was the best weekend of my life.”

“Mine too,” Castiel murmured.

“I can’t wait until my gallery opens. Then, we can have this more often. My work will be done.”

“Three months left.”

“Mhm. Three long, arduous months.”

Castiel smiled proudly. “Did you get into my books again?”

“Mhm. You can learn words like ‘arduous’ in those.”

Castiel tilted his head upwards. He looked into the green-gold eyes of the man he would gladly call his forever. “I love you.”

Dean’s lips upturned. “I love you too. I’ll wake you when it’s time for work.”

Castiel kissed Dean’s swollen lips goodnight and settled for listening to his boyfriend’s slow heartbeat lull him to sleep.

Chapter Text

“My, my,” Charlie declared, “you have a glow this morning.”

Castiel smiled bashfully. “Is that your way of saying I look nice?”

“You look great, bud,” Kevin said. “Char’s right. You’re glowing. And on a Monday morning, no less.”

“How was your weekend?” Charlie asked.

Castiel was reminded of her phone call on Saturday morning. She demanded to know why he and Dean had been acting strangely.

All that had occurred in the past two days had Castiel smiling, uninhibited by his worries. He thought of waking up in Dean’s embrace an hour earlier, feeling more content than he ever had before.

“Great,” Castiel replied honestly. “And yours?”

“Great,” Charlie echoed. “Anything interesting happen?”

Castiel thought of making love to Dean and touring the city with him. He responded with a poker face, “it was a fun weekend.”

“Uh huh.” Charlie smirked. “Was it the naughty type of fun?”

“Char!” Kevin exclaimed.

Castiel’s mask didn’t slip a fraction. “It was a fun weekend,” he repeated.

Charlie took his refusal to offer details as her answer. “Our pal Dean is really good at sex, huh?”

Castiel blinked a single time. “You’re stacking all the top shelves today.”

Charlie stared at the ceiling and sighed.

————

As soon as Charlie burst into the back room of the bookstore blurting “Code X,” fear gripped Castiel’s heart.

Dean, who had agreed to help at the store that day, watched Castiel’s face go as white as a sheet.

“Which one?” Castiel breathed, his hands closing into fists by his side.

Charlie replied piteously, “the worst one.”

Castiel hung his head low, exhaling slowly through his parted lips. All the memories that slid through his mind threatened to shatter him.

Dean stood up from his chair with a creak, going to him concernedly. He stood in front of Castiel, framing his cheeks in his hands. Dean tilted Castiel’s head up and murmured, “which one is the worst?”

Castiel leaned forward, making to whisper in his ear. Charlie watched wide-eyed, but didn’t move or speak.

Castiel whispered, “Michael.”

The single word had Dean stiffening, tensing in pure hatred, his eyes filled with recognition.

Dean remembered Castiel’s recollection of Michael’s transgressions quite well.

Dean’s eyes were fire, but his voice was tempered. “You don’t have to go out there. He just wants a fight.”

“I have to,” Castiel said. “What would it look like if I hid?”

“I’ll come,” Dean said non-negotiably.

“Fine.”

Charlie lead Castiel and Dean out, clearly fearful for her best friend. Kevin watched from the front of the bookstore. Castiel thanked every god there were no customers inside.

Castiel set his eyes on Michael, a swoop of fright enveloping him. He clenched his jaw and beat down the feeling. He wasn’t afraid of this asshole. He refused to be afraid.

“What?” Castiel demanded. “Here to scare me?”

Michael’s grin sickened him, but Castiel refused to look disgusted. Or feel anything, really.

Whatever Michael said, he couldn’t remember.

He just knew Dean made himself known, grasping Castiel’s hand. He pulled Castiel to his side, tilting his head down.

Dean whispered, “may I?”

“What,” Michael egged on, “is this your new plaything? What’s he saying, Castiel?”

Castiel gritted his teeth. The famous artist Dean Winchester was no one’s plaything. Hearing him called such a word made his anger rise up to meet Dean’s.

Castiel replied in his regular octave, “be my guest, dearest.”

Dean smirked, delight in his eyes.

He wound up his arm.

Then, faster than lightning, Dean’s fist connected with Michael’s nose.

Castiel blotted out the next few minutes of his life.

Before he knew it, he was in the back room again. He was holding onto Dean, his knuckles split open, crevices of blood bruising his skin. Charlie appeared with a plastic bag filled with melting ice cubes. Castiel placed it lightly on Dean’s knuckles, Dean hissing as the ice made contact.

“Feel like a man now?” Castiel prompted.

Dean leaned onto the table surface, staring at the ice bag on his knuckles, his palm splayed out along the tabletop. “No, but I feel a whole lot better.”

Castiel would never understand a man’s need to physically dominate another man. It seemed that even Dean couldn’t resist the urge.

But Castiel had allowed it. The primitive part of his hindbrain hissed at him, demanding revenge and retribution for his ex’s mistakes. He had given into it, and not for the first time.

Castiel heard Charlie leave the two alone. He asked airily, “were you a troublemaker in school, Dean?”

“Yes.”

Castiel felt a thrill at that. “All this time, you made it seem like you couldn’t defend yourself. Like you were a shy kid, or something.”

“I prefer pacifism, yes,” Dean locked eyes with Castiel, “but when I saw him, I couldn’t control myself.”

Castiel snorted. “And I thought I had a temper.”

“You aren’t mad?” Dean asked gently.

Castiel shook his head. “You could have handled it better, but...thank you for defending my honor.”

Dean beamed. “Anytime, honeybee.”

————

Dean didn’t know how much bruised knuckles hurt until he had them.

He used to get in school fights occasionally. He was fine with fighting if he had to defend someone, whether it be himself, Sam, or a friend.

He had gone soft over the years. He used to punch no problem. Not a single wound.

After he dislocated Michael’s nose, — the fucking asshole — Dean thought his relationship with Cas would be over. Cas gave him permission, but he didn’t know how Cas would feel about the angry side of Dean. The Dean he had carefully tamed as a hormonal teenage boy that lost his parents and hated the world. Remnants of that Dean still hung around, it seemed.

Cas hadn’t reacted in the way Dean thought. Cas was fine with it.

In fact, he was getting ready to bandage Dean’s hand for the night.

Cas appeared in the bedroom that had become theirs with a damp washcloth and a roll of soft gauze. Pajamas clung to his legs in exactly the way Dean liked, a tee riding up his slender but muscled arms. Dean pursed his lips and sat up on the pillows.

Cas sat crisscrossed in the middle of the mattress, leaning over Dean’s side. He gathered Dean’s damaged hand between his own, dabbing the wet washcloth over the sealing wound. A slight tingle of pain sprung up, but Dean ignored it easily.

“I have to go to Ro’s office tomorrow,” Dean murmured. “Spend the day in boring meetings.”

“Playtime’s over.”

An idea lodged itself into Dean’s mind. “Not quite.” Dean watched Cas unroll gauze. “Rowena has a membership at a day spa. They have massages, a jacuzzi, facials. I can convince her to let me borrow her pass.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Cas cautioned. “I can’t deny a jacuzzi.” He began wrapping Dean’s hand, then asked as an afterthought, “are you trying to get me in swim trunks?”

“Am I that obvious?”

Cas finished wrapping Dean’s knuckles once over. “Let me know when you have the pass.”

“Yes, sir.”

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

The bookstore door swung open. “IT IS I!”

Castiel facepalmed. “Gabe. Stop.”

“I AM HERE FOR MY COOKBOOK!”

Castiel sighed. “Be quiet and get in here. Jesus.”

Gabriel beamed and entered the empty bookstore. He whispered loudly, “how’s it goin’, grumpy?”

“Fine.” Castiel said suspiciously, “you’re strangely chipper this morning.”

“That’s cause I’m doing great!” Gabriel exclaimed. “How are you?”

Castiel replied honestly, “I’m doing great too.”

“Yay!” Gabriel clapped. “Since it’s lunchtime, we should catch up.”

————

“You finally realized it,” Castiel said coyly, “huh?”

“Yep. I’m in love with Sam.” Gabriel beamed. “It feels nice to say it out loud.”

“I’m glad you’re no longer dense.”

Gabriel clutched his chest in mock offense. “Wow! As if admitting that isn’t hard for everyone!”

“Good point. Are you going to tell him?”

Gabriel fiddled with his water bottle cap, spinning it over in his fingers like a coin. “Well, you see, here’s the problem: Sam told me he loved me already.”

Castiel’s eyebrows shot up. He adjusted his glasses. “When?!”

Gabriel stared at the tabletop and muttered, “on Thanksgiving.”

Castiel’s mouth fell open. “Gabriel Smith, it’s FUCKING MAY!”

Gabriel winced. “I know. It’s already too late for me, huh?”

Castiel exhaled deeply. “God. Over six months. I don’t know.”

It was like the words cut Gabriel’s strings. He sat slackened, his expression drawn and blank.

Castiel immediately regretted everything.

He offered, “you can slide it into a conversation, and act like you’ve known for months, just forgot to say it aloud.”

Gabriel considered it pensively. “That just might work. Thank you.”

“Losing your Winchester wouldn’t be in my best interest.”

Gabriel smiled wryly. “What’s been happening with you?”

Castiel thought about not telling Gabriel. However, he had the need to gossip with someone.

Castiel said, “one of my exes decided to show up here yesterday.”

“What?!”

“Since, to put it lightly, he was an asshole, Dean dislocated his nose.”

“Whoa!” Gabriel’s eyes bugged out of his head. “Dean fought him?!”

“Just punched him the once.”

“And he dislocated the guy’s nose with a single punch?!”

“He’s got a mean right hook,” Castiel replied.

Gabriel grinned amusedly. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but that’s hot.”

Castiel snorted. “I guess.”

“If Sam defended my honor, I’d-”

“We all know what you’d do,” Castiel cut in.

Gabriel laughed.

————

THE NEXT DAY…

“You seem,” Charlie said, “okay with all this.”

Castiel gripped his cup of tea and furrowed his eyebrows. “I’m gonna need context, Char.”

They walked around a corner and waited at a crosswalk.

Charlie pointed towards a building they walked past. On its window was a plastered advertisement both had seen around the city:

 

Dean Winchester
For Him
New Collection Coming Soon

 

Castiel frowned. “Should I hate it?”

“You should at least be,” Charlie tugged them on the crosswalk as the light displayed a walking person, “weirded out by it. I mean,” a taxi honked, “the man that lightly stalked you turned out to be a famous artist. He spent weeks obsessively painting you.”

“In a respectful way,” Castiel added.

“Yes,” Charlie reached the sidewalk beside Castiel, “but he painted pieces of you, dissected you into parts, and he’s currently advertising posters of your legs for the entire city to gawk at.”

“This isn’t the fifties. I’m not Marilyn Monroe, her skirt flying up from the sewer grate.”

“I know,” Charlie emphasized, “but this entire situation is bizarre. Is it not? You own a bookstore, for goodness sakes. He could’ve picked anybody, but he chose you.”

Castiel’s lips upturned. “There’s something poetic about that.”

“This whole thing is still weird.”

“I understand. It is.”

“Okay! Acknowledgment that we’re living in a fantasy world was what I wanted.”

Castiel chuckled.

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

“I don’t know,” Kevin said warily.

“You haven’t been with anyone since grad school,” Castiel said over the din of voices at the bar. “I’m concerned for your wellbeing.”

“I’ve been fine on my own,” Kevin said. “Honestly.”

Castiel sighed. “I hate to be annoying, but can you at least talk to one person?”

“I’m talking to you.”

“Besides me, smartass.”

Kevin’s mouth quirked upwards. “Do you not want me to be the single third wheel anymore?”

Castiel sighed exasperatedly. “That’s not why I brought you here.”

“I’m fine being single,” Kevin said. “I’m not just saying that to say it. I mean it.”

Castiel studied his friend’s expression. “You have no desire to be with anyone?”

Kevin shook his head.

“Okay.” Castiel leaned back in his seat. “Let’s drink.”

————

“You don’t like puns?!” Gabriel gasped overdramatically. “Puns are wonderful!”

“They aren’t funny,” Sam said.

“It’s clever wordplay. I count that as funny.”

“How about this,” Sam leaned over his finished meal, “if you can get me to laugh, I’ll concede.”

“Prepare yourself,” Gabriel said seriously.

Sam’s face was a brick wall. “I’m ready.”

“Someone stole my toilet and the police have nothing to go on.”

Sam sighed loudly. “Bathroom humor? Really?”

“I stole a calendar and got 12 months in prison.”

Sam was immovable.

“I wasn’t going to get a brain transplant, but I changed my mind.”

Sam yawned.

“Police were called to a daycare center where a toddler was resisting a rest.”

Sam narrowed his eyes.

“Forrest Gump’s password is 1Forrest1.”

Sam’s mouth quirked upwards. A small noise escaped his mouth.

“HAH!” Gabriel pumped his fist in the air. “YES!”

Sam smiled, the rare sight lighting up his features. Gabriel was sucker punched in the gut as Sam’s blue eyes shined.

Gabriel’s mirth dissolved, a warmth settling in his chest. He murmured, “you know I love you, right?”

“Of course.”

“I guess I...forgot to say it,” Gabriel laughed awkwardly, “huh?”

Sam saw right through him. Gabriel felt a blade pierce through his heart at Sam’s gaze.

Sam knew the truth. He knew Gabriel was incredibly and achingly slow on the draw.

Instead of commenting aloud, though, Sam played along with the lie. “You did. But that’s okay.”

That’s okay.

Was it? Was it really?

“You said it now,” Sam continued. “My mom always said to be patient, and things would work out.”

It was okay. Phew.

Thank God.

Gabriel murmured, “that’s a good saying.” He cleared his throat and stood up. He took both plates away. He needed a moment to think.

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

“Dean recommended this place,” Castiel explained as they entered the coffee shop. “If it sucks,” he glanced at Charlie and Kevin, “you can take it up with him.”

Charlie and Kevin ordered at the counter. Castiel found an empty table and three chairs. He settled there, playing with a sugar packet on the tabletop. He dug his nails into the paper, feeling sugar particles moving towards his thumbnail.

Kevin waited by the counter, while Charlie slid Castiel his styrofoam cup of black tea. “There ya go, Tea Man.”

Castiel dropped the sugar packet abruptly and curved his hands around the cup. “Thank you.”

As Kevin walked towards them, the bell jingled loudly.

Sam and Jo entered the coffee shop. Their eyes went straight towards their table.

Kevin whirled around, two coffee cups in his hands. “Hey!”

Jo whispered to Sam, then skipped over to the trio, now at the table. “Hi! It’s been a while!” Sam ordered their coffees at the counter. Jo skidded a chair over to the small table. Her dimples and smile were radiant as she dropped down into it. “What’s new?”

Charlie made a swirling motion. “You’re too happy. Whoa.”

“Eh,” Jo shrugged, “just had good sex.”

Kevin choked on his coffee. “Does no one have common sense?”

“No,” Sam chimed in, plopping next to Jo with two black coffees. “I’ve asked the same thing while listening to Jo and Dean. Speaking of,” he counted the table, “where is my brother?”

“He doesn’t tell you anything?” Charlie scoffed. “Typical.”

“He’s been busy,” Castiel replied. “Opening night is two months away.”

“Is it?” Jo furrowed her eyebrows. “He doesn’t tell us shit anymore.”

“You’re gonna like this, then.” Charlie beamed, leaning forward dramatically. She announced to Sam and Jo, “Dean dislocated the nose of Cas’s ex-boyfriend.”

“What?!” Sam and Jo exclaimed.

“I should clarify,” Castiel piped up, “he had it coming.”

Kevin high fived Castiel. “You’re goddamn right.”

“I’m genuinely shocked,” Jo declared.

“Dean hasn’t been aggressive like that since he was a teenager,” Sam recalled. “But if he had it coming,” he shrugged, “I guess he really did have it coming.”

Jo changed the subject, grasping Charlie’s hand. “How’s our dearest Dorothy?”

“Great,” Charlie replied with a smile. “We’re still doin’ awesome.” She turned her attention to Sam. “How’s the one, the only Gabriel Smith?”

“Good,” Sam replied. “We’re all good.”

Charlie asked Castiel, “you and Dean good?”

“Yes,” Castiel replied without hesitation.

“We’re doin’ awesome!” Charlie declared. She held up her coffee cup. “To doin’ awesome!”

Styrofoam cups nudged together.

————

The bookstore bells jingled an hour before closing.

“So,” Jo said raucously, “this is the infamous bookstore!”

With the last customer having just left, Charlie hopped over the counter. “Did ya miss us?” She gave Jo a hug.

“It was a shitty day,” Jo admitted.

“Got the boss to let us out early, though,” Sam said.

The back door opened, revealing Kevin. “Hey! Have a look around!”

Sam and Jo humored the pair, glancing around the shelves.

“Is this place really,” Sam observed figurines, “insect-themed?”

“Yes,” Castiel said.

Sam and Jo nearly jumped.

Castiel was in the back left corner of the bookstore, balancing on a footstool. An earbud was in one ear, the other dangling by his shirt collar. His head was partially turned in their direction, the other side focused on shelving a stack of books in his grasp.

Sam and Jo shared a look.

“This is where he met you,” Sam said softly.

Castiel pulled out his other earbud, turning the music off. He put the final book in its place. “What was that?”

“Dean met you here,” Sam said considerately.

Castiel glanced at his surroundings, the marked section he was in, right next to the art shelf. He stepped off the footstool. “He was a few feet behind you,” Castiel said, “but yes.”

Sam and Jo tried to imagine. Tried to imagine Dean in their place, looking at Castiel like he was looking at them now.

“I have law books,” Castiel offered.

Sam and Jo allowed Castiel to lead them.

————

Dean dropped onto Castiel’s lap, disturbing his nightly reading session.

Before Castiel could protest, Dean carefully took his book, marking the page and delicately setting it aside.

Based on Castiel’s answering look, this action earned Dean serious brownie points.

Dean got comfortable on Castiel’s thighs. He murmured seductively, “guess what?”

“Hm?”

Dean waved a spa day pass in front of Castiel’s eyes. “I got it, honeybee.”

Castiel grinned. “For Sunday?”

“Mhm. You can stay in the jacuzzi all you want. Ro called ahead and got us a private area.”

“Dean Winchester,” Castiel tilted his head up, “are you using your riches to seduce me?”

“Absolutely, my dear.”

Castiel closed the gap between their lips. “I’m too happy to complain.”

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

“GUESS WHO’S BACK!”

Castiel snorted. “I don’t need to guess.”

Gabriel beamed. “How are ya on this fine Saturday morning?”

“How come you only say that when it’s raining?”

“It’s called a joke,” Charlie said.

The back room door opened.

“Okay,” Kevin said, “mush!”

Dean appeared carrying a heavy box. He rolled his eyes at Kevin. “You could help!”

“Nah, I’m good.”

Dean set the box on the empty checkout counter. “Hey, Gabriel.”

“Sup.” Gabriel smiled mischievously. “I heard you punched Cas’s ex in the nose.”

Dean held up his bandaged hand proudly. “Yup.”

“Sick!”

Choosing to change the subject, Castiel said, “you only wear a beanie when you’ve done something to your hair.”

Gabriel beamed. “Aw, you noticed my little trick.”

Castiel tore the beanie off unceremoniously.

He gasped. “Your natural hair is back!”

Gabriel ran a hand through his fluffy brown-blonde locks. “Uh huh. Washed out the blonde dye this morning.”

“It looks good,” Castiel said genuinely.

“Old Gabriel is back!” Kevin declared.

“My time experimenting with hair dye is over, yes,” Gabriel said.

The door chimed again, Sam bursting inside the bookstore. “Kevin! I need the book on pub-oh.” He blinked at Gabriel, halting dead in his tracks. “Hi.”

Gabriel pretended not to see Sam’s blush. “The book on what?”

Kevin said, “I got it,” and disappeared in the back room of the bookstore.

Sam stared at Gabriel’s longer hair, at the darker strands that curled behind his ears and the blonde tones combed across one side of his head. “I like it,” he managed, the tall man unusually flustered at Gabriel’s presence.

Castiel, Dean, and Charlie shared looks.

“Thanks,” Gabriel said blankly. “Decided to go natural.”

Dean burst out laughing, breaking the tension between the couple.

Sam blinked rapidly. “Dean?”

“Yes. Your older brother?” Dean teased. “Did you hit your head?” He waved. “Hi.”

Sam finally came back to himself. “I’m working today, so I need something.”

Kevin arrived on cue with a large volume. “This just came in.”

“Fantastic.” Sam carried the book like it wasn’t the size of an encyclopedia, as if it weighed nothing. “I remembered to prepay, right?”

“Yes.”

“Great.” Sam cleared his throat. He set his eyes on Gabriel, still affected by his hair. “See you.”

Gabriel held up a hand and waved. “Bye.”

Sam left the bookstore with another chime.

“He didn’t say goodbye to me.” Dean pouted.

Gabriel shrugged, his expression nonplussed. “Sam’s weird sometimes. No offense, Dean.”

“I agree with you,” Dean said.

————

Castiel snorted. “Really?”

Charlie pulled away from Dorothy’s lips. “There’s no one in the store.”

Castiel sighed. “Whatever.”

————

Castiel made a show of entering the candy shop.

Mocking Gabriel, he posed and yelled, “IT IS I!”

Gabriel’s laugh from behind the kitchen window resonated throughout the entire empty shop. His head poked through the window, a giant grin on his face. “I’M SO PROUD OF YOU!”

Dean slotted his hand in Castiel’s as Charlie and Kevin laughed behind them.

Samandriel looked through the window too. “What the hell did I miss?”

“Nothing important,” Gabriel told his younger brother. “Now go to the counter. They want goodies.”

————

“Hey,” Gabriel hissed at the group, “y’all wanna know a secret?”

“Okay,” Castiel whispered back.

Gabriel procured a candy box from underneath the counter. He opened the top, revealing a box of caramels. “Sam made these.”

“What?!” Dean asked incredulously. “He can’t cook!”

“I literally showed him how to make caramels once,” Gabriel said, “and he can make them better than me!”

“I don’t believe you,” Dean deadpanned.

“Try them,” Gabriel beseeched.

Dean, Castiel, Samandriel, Charlie, and Kevin each took a wrapped caramel.

Upon biting into it, Castiel was pleasantly surprised. He loves caramel, and this truly was an exemplary batch.

“I hate him so much,” Gabriel said fondly.

“What an asshole,” Dean commented. “This is good.”

Castiel, Charlie, and Kevin agreed.

————

THE NEXT DAY…

 

Castiel laid on a lounge chair, wearing a face mask and cucumbers on his eyes. He had never felt more at peace than in the company of his own thoughts and blessed silence of the room.

The doors to the private spa room slid open. “Honey, I’m home!”

Castiel sighed. So much for being at peace.

He hissed, “do you know what this is?” Castiel pointed to the sign he had seen when he entered. “This is the Tranquility Room. Lower your voice.”

Castiel heard the sound of three people chuckling.

Not one. Three.

Castiel realized he was only wearing boxers underneath his robe. A blip of self-consciousness ran through him, but he beat it down. He refused to feel that way about his body anymore.

“Sam and Jo are here,” Dean clarified. “Also, sidebar: you look like an alien.”

Castiel took the surprise in stride. “Sam, Jo, do you think my face mask makes me look like an alien?”

“No,” Sam replied.

“While the face mask is a putrid green,” Jo said, “you don’t look like an alien.”

“Thank you.” Castiel peeled a cucumber from one of his eyes, biting into it. “What are you both here for?”

“We had a rich client,” Sam explained.

“Ah.”

“Well,” Jo waggled her eyebrows, “we’ll leave you two alone.”

Castiel waved as Sam and Jo slid the door closed, leaving Dean inside.

Dean held up a small white wine bottle. “I know it’s against the rules, but,” he smirked, “I thought you’d like some booze.”

“Course I would.”

Dean sat in the lounge chair next to Castiel’s, setting the wine bottle between them. He was wearing his own robe, the majority of his torso exposed without a thought. Castiel’s eyes slid over his freckled skin quickly, then shot back up to Dean’s sparkling green-gold eyes. He finished off the cucumber in his hands.

Dean peeled the second cucumber from Castiel’s eye and popped it in his mouth. He chewed with a pleased smile and winked at Castiel’s pout.

“How was your massage?” Castiel asked, grabbing the neck of the wine bottle. “Does your back feel better?”

Dean hummed in the affirmative. “How was your facial?”

“Tranquil,” Castiel quipped, “until you disturbed my inner peace.” He cracked open the bottle, watching it fizz.

Dean chuckled. He dug into an end table drawer and found two glasses. “Guess a lot of people do this.”

“Thought you were being original?” Castiel batted his eyelashes. “Oh well.”

“Keep it restrained to one glass,” Dean advised. “We got the jacuzzi after this.”

Castiel hummed delightedly and filled both glasses halfway with white wine. He hung his legs over the side of the lounge chair, matching Dean’s position across from him.

Once he filled the glasses, Dean set them down and offered, “I’ll help with your mask.” He found a provided wet washcloth and leaned incredibly close to Castiel.

He remained quiet and didn’t protest as Dean wiped away the green goop on Castiel’s face. The intensity and concentration with which Dean took to the task was commendable. Castiel knows he utilized this same level of concentration when painting on his canvases.

And when they made love on the bed that had become Dean’s as much as it was Castiel’s.

Dean’s long blonde eyelashes fluttered, his hand leaving Castiel’s face, indications that the mask was successfully washed away.

Dean set the green-stained washcloth aside and handed Castiel his glass. “Should we toast?”

“To what? Brown-nosing your solicitor into giving us her spa pass?”

Dean held up his glass of wine. “To us.”

Castiel clinked their glasses together. “To us.”

————

Castiel sat inside the jacuzzi, spread out in a comfortable position. The water jets pushed along his sides, soothing his various aches and pains.

He leaned his head back, closing his eyes and listening to the hot water bubble. He really loved jacuzzis.

He heard splashing on the opposite side. Castiel relaxed his body. He knew it could only be Dean sliding into the water in his own pair of swim trunks.

Castiel asked softly, “how’s your hand feel today?”

“Good,” Dean replied. “I think the bandages can come off.”

“Good. I’m tired of bandaging them, anyway.”

Dean exhaled a laugh, then the water rippled with his movements. Castiel listened as Dean neared him, hovering in front of him. He didn’t feel inclined to open his eyes just yet.

Dean clearly had other plans. He sat on Castiel’s thighs, his hands on Castiel’s shoulders for leverage. He murmured, “just when I think you can’t get more beautiful, you go ahead and glow a little brighter every day.” Castiel inhaled a touch of sweet wine on Dean’s breath, mingling with his natural musk. “All this pampering has only heightened your beauty. And I don’t just mean your body.” Dean leaned down, resting their foreheads together, completing their favorite embrace. “I’m talking about your heart, too. Your soul. Your mind.” Dean continued, “it’s why I chose to paint you. There’s so much you hide behind those Clark Kent glasses of yours. I wanted to show you somebody cared about what was underneath. Somebody that wanted to uncover what was behind your walls.” The sound of water jets drowned Castiel’s eardrums, then filtered away again, compartmentalized so he could listen to his boyfriend. “You’ve seen the result. I just want you to know...I have only the best intentions. I started this art collection because I want to show you that I love you. That is all.”

Castiel opened his eyes at last, using his lashes to hood his gaze flirtatiously. He honeyed his tone. “What’s brought this on, dear?”

“I have a proposition for you.”

“Okay.” Castiel lifted his hands from underneath the water, holding Dean’s hips in place. “Is it about opening night?”

“Yes.”

Castiel hummed. “Does this have to do with unnecessary dramatics?”

“Uh huh.” Dean grinned. “Let me explain it, sugarplum.”

Castiel snorted at the new nickname, but didn’t speak out against it. “Go ahead.”

Dean launched into his plan. “I keep thinking about the fact that my clients don’t seem to notice you. I’m thinking, that on opening night, you wander around as your normal self. I’m positive you won’t be acknowledged. Then, at the last hour, I’m going to introduce you to the crowd. By that point, you’ll have changed into a suit. Before I reveal you, I’ll mention you’ve been there the whole time.” Dean grinned like a madman. “I can imagine the looks on their faces! Hah! And then, they’ll be so in awe of you! It’ll create a real teachable moment. What do you think?”

“This teachable moment being,” Castiel clarified, “they shouldn’t walk over commoners like me?”

“Oh, honeybee,” Dean said, “you are far from a common man.”

Castiel took a breath. Dean watched his chest rise and collapse as he thought.

Castiel said, “you’ll do anything to make me look pretty, huh?”

Dean smirked. “Any excuse to look at ya is an excuse I’ll gladly take.”

Castiel leaned back against the jacuzzi again. “Fine. I wouldn’t mind getting a new suit.”

Dean clapped excitedly. “Yes! Thank you. I love you.”

“I love you too.” Castiel asked impatiently, “can we get to the part where we make out, please?”

Dean laughed, brushing their noses together. “I thought you’d never ask.”