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Ready Player Two

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A Dungeon Without a Dragon 

chapter-header-d20

 

Charlie cornered Dean on his way out of Professor Adler’s calculus class. He had a pounding headache, and all bets were off whether that had come from the calculus or from Adler himself. Dean had to take the class for his engineering degree, so he tried to keep his head down and just study his way through it—but Adler had a habit of constantly picking on and calling out the students he didn’t like. And he really didn’t like Dean.

“How was class?” Charlie asked, far too perky for someone who Dean knew had been awake at 2 a.m. hot-gluing foam onto a cosplay sword.

“Adler.”

“He used you as an example again?”

“He made some shitty comment about how people of all backgrounds are able to be engineers now, but only some are smart enough. I wasn’t sure if I was more offended on behalf of my background or my brain.”

“Gross.” Charlie’s nose wrinkled as they elbowed their way through the swiftly coursing hallways of Kansas State. Mid-morning, between classes, trying to go against the flow was like trying to jump the wrong way in a salmon run—it was easier to follow the current and go the long way around, sometimes. “You know you could report him for that kinda stuff, Dean.”

“And have him flunk me? No thanks. Because of that background of mine, I can only afford to take this class once.”

Charlie made a low grumbling noise as they finally made their way to the exit door. “How about I cheer you up then—I’m starting our online group back up, for D and D.”

Dean held the door for Charlie before walking out into the bright, springy air of the campus. Royal purple shirts and streamers filled the grass lawns outside the old, warm sandstone building. A basketball passed across in front of them at top speed, followed by a distant cry of, “ Go Wildcats! ”. It was definitely March.

They picked their way through the overexcited basketball supporters before Dean responded, headed toward his car.

“I thought you said we didn’t have enough players, and you didn’t want to pick it back up unless we had at least one more.”

“Yeah, but I miss it,” Charlie admitted with a small shrug. “I guess we can manage. Unless you know someone? We’ll miss Kevin’s dragonborn mercenary a lot, he was great in a fight.”

Dean chewed on his lip nervously.

He… might know someone.

But that would involve admitting to Charlie how he knew someone. Not that Dean had any qualms sharing his personal life with her most of the time; she was his best friend for a reason, and loyal to a fault. But she’d make a big deal of it. He just knew it.

She eyed him suspiciously, and he realized he’d already slipped up.

“Out with it, handmaiden.”

“Yeah, I, uh—there might be someone, okay. I think I might know someone who’d be interested, but I’d have to check with him if he was cool doing that kinda thing with me.”

Charlie squinted. Her arms crossed in front of her chest as she waited for Dean to unlock his Impala. “Uh, ‘doing that kinda thing’ with you? Want to explain that one some more?”

Dean sighed, slipping behind the wheel. When Charlie darted around to settle herself in the passenger seat, he grinned. “I guess I’m giving you a ride, Chuckles?”

“Of course you are.” Charlie rolled her eyes, then clipped her lap belt into place and got right back on topic. “No changing the subject. Who is this guy and why don’t I know that you have other friends , Winchester?!”

“I do have other friends!”

“Name one.”

Dean scowled as he pulled the hand brake and sorted out his own seatbelt. “Sam. And Mick.”

“Sam is your brother; he doesn’t count. And you only met Mick because he got stuck with you as a partner in your bioengineering lab last year.”

Dean bristled but couldn’t really disagree. It wasn’t that he didn’t want friends, he just… half of the kids in his classes were younger than him, and even if it was only four or five years for the most part, it felt like an ocean of world experience. Most of these kids didn’t have jobs, or people they were responsible for (he’d always be responsible for Sam, even if the kid was at Stanford now), or even real bills. They made him feel old, and grumpy. Add in the fact that he was only now, in his mid-twenties already, working out who he was… he was fine with just Charlie and Sam. He didn’t need anyone else.

Except, he kinda had someone else. And his reasons for not mentioning them to Charlie before were… complicated.

“Okay,” Dean began, sucking in a breath. “So, I’ve been talking to this guy online—”

“Woah, woah, woah—back up,” Charlie interrupted. “First of all, since when did you do anything online except schoolwork without me dragging you, and is this a guy, like… you’ve been talking to a guy? Or just a guy like—”

“Well if you’d shut up and let me explain, ” Dean said.

Charlie eyed him grumpily as they pulled out of the parking lot and down onto the main road. “Fine. I’ll be good. Go ahead.”

Dean kept his eyes firmly on the road. “So, have you heard about the KSU Out Right program?”

“Yeah, they’ve done a lot of work with the PFLAG group Jo and I volunteer for,” Charlie said, far too nonchalantly.

Dean gave the smug redhead a bit of side-eye as he headed across town, to the cheaper area of the city where his crappy apartment was. Crappy, but his.

“I signed up,” Dean said once he’d let a moment pass. “For the mentoring program.”

It was a testament to their ten-year friendship that Charlie didn’t so much as smirk. “I’m really proud of you, Dean. That’s awesome. You can never have too much support.”

“I just didn’t tell you because I didn’t want it to be a big deal—”

“Dean, you know you can talk to me about anything. I literally held your hand when you came out to your Dad, remember? True, he thought we were dating, but whatever. That doesn’t mean you can only talk to me though, dude. You need more support than that.”

Dean looked over at her as he waited for the light to change. “It’s not even about support, Charlie. I just wanna talk to someone who I don’t second guess myself around. It’s exhausting sometimes, not having someone I can talk about Swayze’s abs with.”

Charlie wrinkled her nose. “I mean, I could try, but—wait, so this guy is someone you talk about Swayze’s abs with?”

“It’s come up.”

“If you don’t tell me more about this guy, I will key your car.”

“Hell no—party foul, Charles, you do not bring Baby into this. My friendship with Bees has nothing to do with her.”

Bees? ” Charlie looked like Dean had gone insane.

“Not bees, Charlie. Bees, capital B. It’s a shortened version of the chat name he uses online, okay. He’s into beekeeping, actually. Among other things.”

“Oh, and what other things is he into—you? Has he been into you? Does this need to be a whole other conversation? Because I am not equipped for condom talk, Dean.”

Dean jerked on the brake a little too sharply at the next light. “We’re friends , Jesus Christ. That’s all.”

“So, no birds and the bees talk?” Charlie said deliberately.

“Be glad I’m driving—that pun is two noogies at best. You disgust me.”

“Okay, so when did he go from just being one of the mentors, to being a friend?” Charlie asked, angling her body in the passenger seat so she faced Dean a little more.

“I guess a couple of weeks after I joined the program. We talked a bit about some of the frustration I was feeling, that kinda stuff”—Dean waved his hand dismissively—”and each time we chatted online the odd thing would come up that we had in common. Just books we liked, or random nerdy stuff. So, he told me what his Discord name was, outside of volunteering, and we just kinda started chatting. That’s all.”

Charlie had her head tilted to the side in a way that Dean really didn’t like.

“So how often do you chat with the guy?”

Dean shrugged, giving his best attempt at passing it off as nothing. “I dunno, we just keep in touch, y’know how it is.”

“Keep in touch, like, once a week, or—”

Dean sighed. Charlie was like a bloodhound. “Like, throughout the day.”

“Oh,” Charlie said, her mouth settling horrifyingly into a self-satisfied I’m not saying anything smile.

“But,” Dean said firmly, “my original point was that my friend, Bees, has mentioned playing Dungeons and Dragons before, and I think he might be up for playing online with us.”

“Of course.” Charlie smiled serenely. “You just ask your friend about it and invite him to the group chat if he says yes.”

Dean pulled up outside his apartment building, cutting the Impala’s engine and tucking her keys into his pocket.

“Alright, I will,” he agreed quietly as he opened his door.

Why did I say anything? he berated himself as Charlie turned the subject to more important matters, like their planned LARP that upcoming weekend.

It wasn’t that Dean didn’t want his friends to know about Bees because he was embarrassed of them, or him. If he was honest with himself, his feelings on the matter were actually the opposite side of that coin.

Dean had been holding back on telling anyone about Bees, or even seeing if he could meet up with the guy sometime, in case he turned out to be different offline or with other people.

Because Bees was awesome.

And a tiny part of Dean wanted to keep him all for himself.

 

*****

 

Dean’s apartment near school wasn’t the most horrific place he’d ever lived, that much was for sure, but the crumbling plaster and saggy wallpaper strips did give the wrecked trailer that he’d stayed in after high school a decent run for its money. Regardless, it was understandably cheap, and the crumbling concrete building was very easy to get to from campus. He’d done his best with it; Dean was a very tidy, clean person by nature. But he couldn’t do much about the neglected repairs on his budget—he worked at Bobby’s salvage yard whenever he could to supplement his student loans but he still had to send money to Sam every month. Even if his brother argued he didn’t, as far as Dean was concerned, he had to.

Charlie wandered into the apartment with Dean, still talking about the changes she recommended to Dean’s costuming for their upcoming LARP event. She invited herself on into the kitchen and began to rifle through Dean’s cabinets to whip up sandwiches for them both.

She didn’t live there. But in the ten years Dean had known her, that had never bothered her. Or him, for that matter.

“When’s Sam get in?” she asked around a mouthful of thick peanut butter and jelly.

Dean unstuck his tongue from the roof of his mouth so that he could reply. “Four.”

“Gettin’ him from the airport?”

“’course.”

“Am I coming?” Charlie asked, handing her crusts over to Dean without question.

They were sprawled on Dean’s banged up couch by then, watching a rerun of Stargate SG-1 that just happened to be starting when Dean turned the TV on. Charlie’s converse rested on the coffee table, and Dean’s socked feet dug into the side of her thigh, pushing her into the corner of the couch. He had his knees up, his laptop open and balanced on his thighs.

“Nah,” Dean said. “It’ll be nice to have some brother time. Are you working in the morning? I can drag him to the coffee shop for lunch, if you want.”

“Of course!” Charlie brushed some crumbs off her crumpled Gryffindor shirt and onto the couch, ignoring Dean’s glare. “I haven’t seen the giant since Christmas. Let’s do it.”

“I haven’t seen him since Christmas,” Dean responded. “So, I’d be a little pissed if you had. Jo’s then, usual time?”

Charlie nodded slightly absently, absorbed in Daniel Jackson and Jack O’Neill arguing about something onscreen. “Probably later. I’ll text you. We have a production meeting tomorrow; I think they’re having some problems with one of the contestants.”

“Oh,” Dean said, only having the vaguest clue what she meant. “Boss calling everyone in for it?”

“Yeah. The new dude is all about us all contributing equally. Which is awesome, given that I took the job wholly to try and get behind the camera someday.”

Dean grinned widely. “They just couldn’t resist your good looks and perky personality, Charlie. Most people would be pretty stoked to host a TV show, y’know.”

“It’s fun,” Charlie admitted with a shrug, dragging her eyes from the TV. “But I want to make the TV show.”

“So, you like the new producer?”

“Novak seems alright. Haven’t had much excuse to talk about anything beyond work.”

Dean nodded, reaching down to the floor where his laptop cord had disobediently slithered, so that he could plug it in.

“Whatcha doin’ over there?” Charlie asked, nudging Dean’s knee with her elbow. “Talking to your friend?”

“No,” Dean lied. “Homework.”

Charlie gave him a disbelieving look but didn’t challenge him on it, dropping her feet down to the carpet and sitting up instead. “I should probably get going anyway. Jo’ll be finished with work soon, so I think I’ll walk over and pick her up.”

“Plans?” Dean asked, fiddling to get the laptop plugged in.

“No plans as such.” Charlie fixed Dean with a devilish grin. “Plenty of gossip though.”

“Charlie,” Dean said calmly without looking up from the screen, “if you don’t let it drop about Bees, there is no way I’m inviting him to play Dungeons and Dragons with us.”

To Dean’s amusement, Charlie pouted the whole way out the door. Once it clicked behind her, Dean let out the content, happy sign of a person who had been around people all day, and just wanted to relax. He shuffled himself down more comfortably on the couch, tilted the laptop screen a little more, and grabbed a pillow to go behind his head.

Sliding his finger across the touchpad to open up Discord was a natural next step.

Checking the time, Dean reasoned that Bees may not be done working for the day, but he’d message him anyway. He could pick it up on his phone, or later. Bees’ hours online were often a little erratic; Dean knew that he was a graduate student, and he worked part-time at a gas station to help pay his bills.

Given all that Dean knew about Bees, and that he knew about Dean in turn, it would have been really easy to track him down, if Dean had allowed himself to. But that seemed like such a gross invasion of privacy, Dean couldn’t bring himself to even poke around the lists of students enrolled in this-and-that at KSU. If Bees wanted to know him offline, he’d have to bring it up himself.

He quickly composed a message and fired it off to Bees.

 

 

Impala67: Hey @AngelOfBees

Impala67: Let me know when you’re around, got something to talk to you about if you have time later

AngelOfBees: I’m here!

AngelOfBees: You know I always enjoy our time together, our talks. I’m on my phone though, still trying to get this last part of my paper done

Impala67: Oh, the queen bee stuff? How’s it going?

AngelOfBees: I got stung six times today

Impala67: You’re insane

AngelOfBees: Likely, at this point.

AngelOfBees: So, what are we talking about today? :)

Impala67: Dungeons and Dragons, hopefully

Impala67: I don’t know if you remember me mentioning before that I used to play online with a couple of friends, and I missed it

AngelOfBees: Of course I remember. You had a half-elf rogue with amazing charisma, so you tried to talk your way around everyone and then just stabbed them when it didn’t work.

Impala67: Your memory is intense

AngelOfBees: Well, yes, but also that description fits about 50% of all D&D characters…

Impala67: You aren’t wrong there lol

 

Dean paused typing for a moment to rearrange himself on the couch, re-tucking his pillow back behind him and cracking his knuckles nervously. He didn’t know why he was apprehensive about asking Bees to play—he was almost certain he was going to be excited about it, if they could work out a schedule for him to play with them. But it felt like a step further than they’d ever been before, in the couple of months they’d been talking—introducing Bees to other friends outside of their little bubble.

Dean liked their bubble. It was private and fun, and he could delude himself sometimes that someone as awesome as Bees would give him the time of day. When it came to women, Dean had game. He was known for it. But guys? That was… more recent. And entirely new. And somewhat terrifying.

Not that Dean wasn’t out—he was and had been for quite a long time. But other than a couple of casual encounters, he hadn’t really done anything about it. He hadn’t felt the need to, as he wasn’t really looking for a speedy pick-up, and he hadn’t really emotionally connected with anyone.

Before Bees, anyway.

Which was a little crazy, given that they hadn’t—

Dean’s eye’s whipped guiltily back down to the screen.

  

 

AngelOfBees: So, what’s up with the D&D?

AngelOfBees: Did you find somewhere to play on campus or something?

AngelOfBees: @Impala67

AngelOfBees: You started this conversation, assbutt. I’m the one dodging bees, here

AngelOfBees:

AngelOfBees: :rolling_eyes:

Impala67: Sorry! Got distracted

AngelOfBees: It’s fine, I was just teasing. At least you didn’t fall asleep in the kitchen

Impala67: Oh come on that was ONE time

AngelOfBees: :smirk:

Impala67: ANYWAY

Impala67: D&D. My friend is starting back up our old Discord roleplay group for D&D. We used to get together on Thursday evenings at 8, we had a server with some dice bots and stuff, a whole set up.

Impala67: I realize now I’m typing that might sound really dorky and strange

AngelOfBees: Well then clearly you think I’m dorky and strange, because I think it sounds fun.

Impala67: You are kind of a dorky little guy, not gonna lie…

AngelOfBees: Hey now – I am far from little. I’m pretty much six feet tall on a good day, to start with.

 

Why the hell did this feel like asking someone on a date? It wasn’t, it wasn’t that at all , but Dean’s palms were getting a bit sweaty and he realized he was chewing on his bottom lip

 

 

Impala67: I’m glad it sounds fun

Impala67: Because I was going to ask if maybe you wanted to play with us?

Impala67: If you wanted

Impala67: Obviously you don’t have to

Impala67: But you said you hadn’t played since your brother left for college and you kinda missed it, so I just thought of you, I guess

Impala67: But it’s totally cool if you don’t want to hang out like that

Impala67: With me I mean

Impala67: And my friends

AngelOfBees: Ahhhh quit blowing up my phone with messages, I’ll play, I’ll play!

AngelOfBees: Honestly, you think I’m a dork

AngelOfBees: Of course I want to play with you. I thought we were friends by now, it’d be fun to play with you and meet some of your other friends :)

 

The breath that Dean didn’t realize he’d been holding whistled out past his lips, and he slumped back in the seat a little.

  

 

Impala67: Cool, I’ll let my friends all know then, and add you to the group chat.

Impala67: And of course we’re friends. I just didn’t want you to feel pressured into playing

AngelOfBees Well I don’t. I want to :)

AngelOfBees Will you help me think up a character later, maybe?

Impala67: Hell yes! I gotta grab a shower and do some homework, but then I’m around all night.

AngelOfBees I’m headed home, so I’ll be here whenever you message :) 

 

And that was that. Simple. Dean didn’t know what he’d been so nervous about—it wasn’t like Bees had ever been likely to laugh in his face. But still.

Maybe, Dean thought to himself as he pushed his laptop over onto the coffee table, if he enjoys playing with us, I can finally ask him if he’d be cool with meeting up on campus somewhere, or something.

Not for a date or anything, Dean reminded himself, standing up and heading for the shower. Just as a friend. Obviously.

 

*****

 

 

 

Roses are red, violets are blue, AngelOfBees joined this server with you!

AngelOfBees: Hello! :)

Queen_of_Moondoor: Hi hi!

Impala67: This is Bees, everyone. He’s excited to come play with us! @Queen_of_Moondoor is our DM, the others I guess will introduce themselves as they stop by

GarthVader: Hey Angel

GarthVader: Hmm no that just feels weird

GarthVader: Bees it is

Queen_of_Moondoor: LOL

AngelOfBees: Yes, most people just call me Bees. The angel part is because I’m named after an angel in real life, but strangely very few people shorten it to that.

AngelOfBees: Impala is really the only one who occasionally calls me Angel.

 

Charlie’s head snapped up from where she was hunched over her phone, and she turned to the side and stared at Dean. He pretended he didn’t see, of course—no way was he falling into that trap.

So Charlie just sighed and gazed off to the side for a moment, as if she was Michael Scott from The Office and somehow Dean and Bees were forcing her to break the fourth wall.

Dean cleared his throat. “Beer?”

“Yeah, there’s a fresh six pack on the bottom shelf of the fridge,” Charlie said.

Dean pushed up from the squishy chair he’d been sat in, stocking away his new information about Bees in his memory. Almost six foot. His hair never does what it’s told. Named after an angel. It wasn’t that he just couldn’t ask Bees for a photograph or speak to him on the phone… he could. But Dean was self-aware enough to know that asking another guy for those kinds of details online was pushing him into waters he wasn’t sure how to navigate.

They were lazing around Charlie’s suburban apartment on Thursday night, winding down. Dean had spent the past couple of days hanging out with his brother Sam, listening to all his excitement about Stanford and teasing him about every girls’ name that came out of his mouth. The name Sam had spoken the most, Eileen, was flying into Kansas City International for a six-hour layover on her way to visit relatives in New York that evening. So, Dean had lost Sam, and decided to spend the evening pestering Charlie.

Dean came back with two gently sweating bottles of beer and caught up on the chat.

 

 

Queen_of_Moondor: So, do you have a character in mind, Bees? You’ve played before, right?

AngelOfBees: Yes, I have, and I do.

AngelOfBees: Impala spent hours helping me put this character together and craft a whole background for him, so I hope you like him

AngelOfBees: He said that a Human Priest would work? I’d like him to have healing skills, mostly

GarthVader: Cool with me.

Queen_of_Moondor: Yeah, that would work really well – Dean is going to reroll his old rogue character I think, I have a mage, Garth here is a bard, and I’ve begged my girlfriend to play a barbarian for us.

Queen_of_Moondor: We used to have two other players who are still lurking in this chat (@KevSolo and @Moose_at_Law) but they’re both too busy with school to join us often anymore

AngelOfBees: Oh, so you’re all around the same age? Friends from school?

GarthVader: Mostly. @Impala67 and @Queen_of_Moondor are old ;)

Impala67: Hey! Not old.

Impala67: @Queen_of_Moondor is done with school, she works full time. And Bees already knows I started college about 5 years late. But most people are college age, yeah.

AngelOfBees: Better late than never, as with most things :)

Queen_of_Moondor: Yup! You can relax. We’re all obscene and cuss like pirates.

Impala67: I have literally never seen Bees cuss

AngelOfBees: That’s not true!

Impala67: Assbutt doesn’t count. It’s not even a word.

AngelOfBees: It is if I say it is!

Impala67: That is NOT how words work

AngelOfBees: It can be! That’s how languages evolve!

Impala67: Alright, alright. As you wish.

Queen_of_Moondor: Did you just Princess Bride him? Wow. It’s like watching my grandparents fight.

GarthVader: It’s nice to see @Impala67 comfortable. It’s healthy to bicker about silly things.

Impala67: You guys suck

Switchblade_Jo: Hey guys, what’d I miss!

Queen_of_Moondor: @Impala67 and @AngelOfBees bickering like an old married couple

AngelOfBees: I still say it’s a word

 

Dean closed his eyes and took a long drag out of his bottle of Margiekugel. He opened them back up just in time to see a smug, worryingly heart-eyed stare thrown in his direction by Charlie, before she swiftly looked back to her phone.

“Something to say, Chuckles?”

“Nope.”

“Liar,” Dean retorted, shuffling down into the comfy seat and crossing his ankles over the arm.

Charlie gave a tiny smirk, before raising her eyebrows indifferently. “It’s nothing, really. Bees seems nice.”

“Nice,” Dean repeated slowly.

“Yes. You’re very cute together.” Charlie managed to keep a straight face, and Dean was almost proud of her.

“Shut up.” Dean sighed, dropping his eyes back to the screen. “Haven’t you got stat rolls to make, missy?”

“Reject my encouragement if you will. But I really am being supportive, Dean—you two have an adorable rapport even online. You should totally—”

“CHARLIE.”

“Okay, okay. Stat rolls, I got it.”

Silence fell as Dean and Charlie both turned their focus to organizing their new Dungeons and Dragons campaign and encouraging Bees to get to know everyone. The evening went really well, Dean thought—though by the end of it, there was still a small flicker of concern in the back of his mind. A couple of times he’d looked up and found Charlie staring off into space, looking thoughtful, far too thoughtful. She had a very particular look on her face that Dean had—unfortunately—seen a few times before.

It was her plotting face.

 

 

 

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Chapter Text

Quest Accepted

chapter-header-d20

 

“Alright, out with it.” Dean leaned back from the bistro table he and Sam were occupying out in front of Roadhouse Coffee, enjoying the pleasant March weather. The sun shone bright and strong, and a gentle breeze fluttered along the street not far from the University Campus.

“Hmm?” Sam jerked his head up from his chai tea, blinking. “Out with what?”

“Whatever you’ve been thinking but not saying, ever since we left campus.”

Alright, so perhaps Dean was feeling the tiniest bit defensive. His final classes before official spring break had been that morning, and Sam had tagged along to school with him. Dean had given him a little tour around the engineering lab and around the KSU central campus before they’d headed over to wait for Charlie at Roadhouse Coffee. Dean knew that his classes weren’t like Sam’s pre-law stuff, that maybe he wasn’t the smart one in the family. But he’d worked hard to get there and he was prickly about Sam’s suboptimal reaction.

“I just feel like I owe you an apology. Or maybe Dad does, but he’s not here and I didn’t exactly make it better.”

“What?” Dean squinted, confused, the wind falling from his sails immediately. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“You know,” Sam said, gesturing at the pile of textbooks Dean had his elbow resting on. “The school stuff.”

“An apology?”

“When we were kids, teenagers even, Dad was always telling everyone I was the smart one. That I should go to college and do great things and all that. Everyone said it, and I really wanted that, wanted to go to college and get out of Kansas, so I did it. But I never stopped to think about how that felt for you. Especially since, really, you’re just as smart as I am—hell, smarter in some ways.”

Dean blinked, dumbfounded and confused. “You are the smart one in the family, future attorney-at-law.”

“Those classes earlier, Dean? I barely understood a word of that. Just not my wheelhouse. But you did—you’re acing school, and I feel like there’s no one really giving you recognition for that. You worked at the salvage yard to pay our bills and I guess I just… I never questioned whether you wanted more.”

Dean shrugged. “That ain’t your fault, Sammy. If we’re being all honest about it, you were Dad’s favorite because you reminded him of Mom. I don’t think it was ever about me, really.”

Sam frowned deeply into the gross-looking, brown, milky tea that filled his cup. “That doesn’t make it right. And I could have said something.”

“You were a kid. Kids are selfish, you were just happy that you got your pats on the back—why would you worry about me? Forget about it, Sam, really.”

“Well, I’m proud of you. That’s all. For getting this far without half the encouragement I had and raising me and figuring out who you were on top of it.” Sam declared solemnly. “You were my hero when we were kids, y’know. Not much has changed.”

Dean could feel his ears burning, and he did not like it. “Shut up, kid.”

“Not a kid, so you’re gonna have to deal with. It. Just glad life is on the up for you, y’know?”

“Yeah, I guess life hasn’t been too bad. Working hard for it, though.”

Sam traced the rim of his tea mug with a single finger, in a slightly-too-nonchalant way that told Dean his baby brother was not done.

“Sammy?” Dean questioned, folding his arms pointedly. “Got something else you’re trying to say? I can read you like a book, so quit dancing around me.”

Bitchface number nine said, “I was just thinking that it’d be nice for you if you had someone in your day-to-day life, is all. I’m all the way in California most of the time, and Charlie works a lot, though I know you two live in each other’s pockets otherwise.”

“Really,” Dean said dryly, drawing his coffee back up to his mouth.

“Eileen has this friend, is all, and she—”

“Sam.” Dean lowered his cup pointedly back to the table.

Sam passed an awkward grin over the table, though at least he had the good graces not to say anything.

“I’m fine, okay? I’m not really interested in meeting any of Eileen’s friends right now, no matter how awesome you say Eileen is.” Dean shrugged. “I’m not looking for a quick hookup or awkward blind date right now. If I meet someone at any point, it’ll be on my own terms, okay?”

Sam sighed. “Fine. As long as you’re happy, Dean.”

Dean gave his brother a small smile, draining the last of his coffee. “I am pretty happy, actually. I might be single and too old at heart for all these college kids, but…I’ve got some good things going on. I’m doing good.”

Sam raised an eyebrow, but he didn’t get time to quiz Dean on any layers of meaning—thank goodness—because they both heard Charlie coming along the street. She had music blasting out of her huge headphones as she rattled down the pavement on a tiny scooter, without a care in the world.

Dean grinned at her as she came to a stop next to them. “Hey, Red.”

“’Sup, sidekick.”

“How am I the sidekick? I’m both slightly older and much better looking.”

“Because I’m awesome, duh. Hey Sam!” Charlie greeted them both with hugs once she had settled her transportation behind Dean’s seat, out of the way of passers-by.

“You want a coffee, Charles?” Dean asked, beginning to push up out of his seat. “I’m done, but I could use another.”

Before Dean had a chance to raise any further, Charlie was grabbing his coffee cup with one hand, and yanking unceremoniously on Sam’s sleeve with the other, tugging him out of his seat at the small metal table.

“We’ve got it, right Sam?”

Sam blinked, the phone he’d been holding in one hand unceremoniously slipping down to the tabletop with a light thunk . “Uh… yeah. Yeah, sure, I’ll help.”

Dean squinted distrustfully.

Before Dean could voice any suspicious concerns about Charlie’s demeanor, he was thrown off his train of thought by the arrival of a loud, short, blonde woman from within the coffee shop. She wore a green Roadhouse Coffee apron and made a beeline straight for Charlie, dropping a kiss on her cheek as she passed.

“Breaktime, guys! How’s it going?” Jo dropped heavily into the seat Sam had just vacated, giving Dean a light punch on the arm on the way past.

“Hey Jo,” Dean greeted warmly as Sam and Charlie hustled on into the store to grab the drinks. “Been a while.”

Dean had known Jo Harvelle even longer than he’d known Charlie; her mother had been his own mom’s best friend, when she was alive. Even though Jo and Charlie had been together for some time by now, it was still a little jarring to see them together, for Dean—like two parts of his life had collided very oddly in the middle. He was happy for them though; both firecrackers in very different ways, Charlie and Jo somehow managed to keep each other at a low simmer, though Dean didn’t want to think too hard about exactly what activities kept them so occupied.

“Yeah,” Jo responded with a shrug, reaching up to untangle a hairnet from her blonde ponytail. “Mom has been working me extra hard since she found out me and Charlie are planning to move in together.”

Dean grinned fondly. “Ellen’s just worried she’s losing you. It’s a mom thing, she’ll get over it.”

“How’d you know, huh?”

“Oh, age and wisdom, of course,” Dean answered dramatically. He didn’t say that it immediately brought to mind Bees telling him that his overtly religious parents had reacted similarly when he’d announced that he wanted to go to college—before they’d disowned him entirely for being gay, anyway.

Jo rolled her eyes at him. “Well, at least I can get off early on Thursdays for D&D, since Charlie peer pressured me into it. At least we’ll have an appointment to chat then.”

Dean nodded, but his attention drifted a little as Jo started talking about her character backstory—as he turned to look at her, he caught sight of Sam and Charlie inside Roadhouse Coffee, standing near the counter. Peering through the large glass window they sat against, Dean watched them curiously.

They seemed to have the drinks already—each holding two paper cups. But they weren’t moving back to the table yet. Instead, Charlie was talking animatedly, a look of excitement across her face. Her right hand, though occupied, gestured toward the window. Sam’s lips moved speedily in response; his expression morphing from surprise to a devious looking grin. He nodded, and they spoke seriously for a moment, before exchanging very self-satisfied smiles.

“Hey!” Jo smacked the side of her boot against Dean’s shin, startling him. “Are you even listening? Is there a cute pair of tits or a nice ass at the counter, or something?”

Dean laughed as Jo craned her neck to look through the window he had been staring through. “No. Just my brother.”

“What about me?” Sam came from behind Dean, making the door chime cheerily.

“Jo asked if I was looking at someone hot through the window. I told her no, just you.”

“Hey, I’m hot!” Sam gave a teasing pout as he lowered a black coffee in front of Dean, keeping the other cup for himself.

Jo gave an overly dramatic shudder. “Dude, gross. I remember you in diapers.”

“Well I’m not wearing a diaper now!” Sam objected, spluttering.

“It was probably growing up with you that turned me a bit gay,” Jo mused.

Dean couldn’t help but laugh, forgetting his suspicion as they all fell into familiar, friendly banter.

They sat and sipped their coffees for fifteen minutes before Jo had to head back to work. She gave them all tight squeezes around the shoulders, before dragging Charlie after her for a moment, leaving Sam and Dean alone once more.

“So, what do you wanna do for the rest of the week?” Dean asked Sam.

His brother looked thoughtful, before giving a little shrug. “Just hanging out is good; doesn’t need to be anything special. I came to see you, after all, not the sights of Manhattan, Kansas.”

“Whatever you want, Sammy.”

“I’m not twelve anymore,” Sam grumbled at the nickname. “Hey, maybe I can even tag along for D&D this week?” he added nonchalantly. “I’ve been thinking about rejoining you guys, so maybe I could just lurk and see what you’ve got going on?”

Dean raised an eyebrow skeptically. “I thought you didn’t want to play anymore.”

Sam gave a slow shrug. “Maybe my course load won’t be as bad as I thought,” he said. “I could always just have a throwaway character, or roll for the NPCs, if Charlie wants them to do something—”

“We always kill the NPCs.” Dean reminded him. “We’ll hand your ass to you on a tavern plate.”

“That’s cool. I just wanna hang out.”

“Right. Well, sure, then. As long as Charlie doesn’t mind.”

“She suggested it, actually,” Sam said, pushing his chair out as the aforementioned redhead emerged from the store after saying goodbye to Jo.

Dean eyed Charlie distrustfully as she grabbed her scooter from behind his seat, so that they could get moving back to Dean’s place. “I’m sure she did,” he replied quietly.

The suspicion was back again, in full force.

 

*****

 

AngelOfBees: Finally back from work, ugh

Impala67: that good huh

AngelOfBees: I had a fight with a slushie machine

AngelOfBees: I didn’t even win

Impala67: Blue or red?

AngelOfBees: Red. I look like I’m fleeing a crime scene.

Impala67: Dude… lol. Go get a shower and relax, angel. Between beestings and gas station hazards you need a break

AngelOfBees: They tell me it’ll be worth it when I graduate

Impala67: Who’s they, huh

AngelOfBees: You, a couple of weeks ago

Impala67: I may have lied

AngelOfBees: I knew it. You were too perfect, I should have seen the lies coming

 

Dean grinned to himself, amused and secretly flattered that Bees would call him perfect, even if it was totally in jest. He shifted his phone to his other hand for a moment so that he could take a sip of beer, and caught Sam staring at him pointedly.

“What?”

“Did you hear a thing I said?” Sam questioned.

“Uh. Well, you were talking about your roommate, right?” Dean said hopefully.

“I finished talking about Brady a minute ago and I was trying to ask if you wanted to go see a movie. Who the hell are you talking to over there?” Sam looked a little pissy, but not half as much as Dean expected him to. Maybe he was growing out of his baby-brother-bitchface stage.

“No one, really.”

Oh, there was the bitchface. Sam crossed his arms and stood up, moving behind Dean’s couch as if he was going to head to the kitchen.

Before Dean had registered what was happening, Sam’s arm darted over the back of the couch and swiped his phone out of his hand.

“Sam! What the hell!”

“Talking to no one, huh? I’ll see about that—”

“Gimme my phone!” Dean scrambled up from his seat on the couch, vaulting over the back of it.

Sam had seen him coming, running into the kitchen as soon as Dean moved. “Oh come on! Your face lit up like something from a rom-com montage. You’re talking to someone!”

“Sam Winchester, give me back my phone or I’ll—”

“Or what, huh?” Sam taunted, holding the phone way up above his head.

Dean scrambled after him, and they ended up with the kitchen island between them, darting this way and that, biding their time until one of them would undoubtedly tackle first.

“Stop being such a bitch and give me my phone back!” Dean howled.

“Why so nervous, huh?” Sam looked up for a moment, trying to look at the screen over his head without taking his eyes off Dean for more than a moment.

Dean lunged.

Sam dodged.

They were back in the living room by the time Dean managed to tackle the gargantuan sasquatch against the sofa, tussling and yelling until they both landed on the floor.

Dean’s downstairs neighbors banged on the ceiling with something.

They ended up on the living room floor, splayed out on the carpet next to the coffee table. The banging from downstairs came again, and Dean returned it with his heel, yelling, “Alright, alright! We get it!”

Next to him, sprawled on his back on the thin carpet, Sam reached his arm over and plopped the cell phone unceremoniously onto Dean’s chest. “Spoil sport,” he said. “You never share with me.”

“Not true.” Dean let out a low, grumbling sigh. He was getting too old to wrestle and end up on the floor, but Sam could be an irritating little shit when he wanted, and Dean had no self-control. “I tell you plenty of things. But I deserve my privacy about some stuff.”

“So, there’s something to be private about?” Sam asked, and Dean could almost hear his inquisitive expression, the raise of his eyebrow, even though both of them stayed sprawled on the floor, starfished out between the furniture.

“I dunno, Sammy. I made a friend, okay. And it’s been a while since I did that, and I don’t wanna spoil it.”

“Alright. What kind of friend?”

“An online friend, but one nearby, I think. A guy. But for now, just a friend,” Dean reaffirmed, staring up at the stained ceiling.

“You need to get out there more, really. You’re never gonna be able to be in a relationship with someone for more than five minutes if you don’t actually try, Dean.”

“Hey,” Dean grumbled defensively. “I have been with plenty of people.”

“No,” Sam said very pointedly. “You’ve fucked plenty of people. There’s a big difference.”

“You and Charlie both suck.”

“Nah, you love us, and we love you. We’re just less constipated about it. Now”—Sam’s back cracked awfully as he stood up, reaching down to offer Dean a hand—“tell your new friend that you have to go because your brother is in town and he wants to watch a movie. Tickets are on me.”

Dean sighed. “Fine. Deal.”

 

AngelOfBees: From the string of random gibberish and emoji’s, either you dropped your phone, or it was stolen by a toddler. Do you have a toddler I don’t know about?

AngelOfBees: I was going to ask if you were free to hang out tonight, maybe play a game or do some kind of awkward TV sharing thing… my brother has firmly insisted such things are possible, though he isn’t reliable most of the time

AngelOfBees: So just let me know when you’re back

Impala67: I’m here. My little brother isn’t a toddler but is a brat on occasion, and he stole my phone

AngelOfBees: My brothers are older but still brats, so I get it.

AngelOfBees: So… did you want to do something tonight, maybe?

 

Dean grabbed his coat from the back of the couch, shoving his arms into the khaki. He sighed and almost shook his head but stopped himself before Sam could see. Sam had come all the way from California to spend spring break with him, he couldn’t ditch him for Bees—even if there was a traitorous part of him that wanted to. Even if it would have been such an easy segue to ask Bees if he wanted to hang out offline instead. Even if he was starting to very occasionally get the tiniest, hopeful feeling that perhaps—just perhaps—Bees wanted him to ask that.

But no. Sam came first, always.

And Bees probably wouldn’t have wanted to hang out in that way, anyway.

And even if he did, Dean thought, you’re too much of a fuckin’ chicken to ask him.

Sam was already at the door, holding it open for Dean.

 

Impala67: Sorry buddy, my brother is only here for spring break and he wants to go see a movie

AngelOfBees: Oh. That’s okay, I understand. That’s far more important.

AngelOfBees: Have fun.

AngelOfBees: :)

 

Dean wouldn’t let himself dwell on the fact that Bees seemed just the tiniest bit disappointed.

 

*****

 

Charlie’s arrival in Dean’s bedroom at just after eight in the morning wasn’t unprecedented, but it was unwelcome. The blinds being yanked upwards and the pillow being pulled roughly from beneath his head was—unfortunately—also not unprecedented, but it didn’t stop Dean from complaining about it, loudly.

“Charlie! What the fuck, dude!”

“I’m taking you for breakfast, don’t be a bitch about it,” Charlie replied flippantly, grabbing Dean’s jeans from the day before off the top of his hamper and throwing them in his direction.

Any response he would have given was lost in the denim as the pants collided with his face. Dean gave a grunt and untangled himself from the legs, before groggily pushing aside his comforter and searching uncertainly for the floor with his feet. He did not enjoy waking up.

The irritatingly perky redhead was, of course, a morning person. She was already halfway out of Dean’s bedroom door, calling back over her shoulder, “You’re the one who gave me a key; too late now. Hurry up and put a shirt on, I don’t want to see that shit—then shoes, we’re walking.”

“Walking where, ” Dean grumbled—mostly to himself it seemed, as Charlie had completely disappeared down the hallway toward the kitchen.

He managed to get the jeans up around his hips and stumbled over to his closet for something to cover his top half with. He blinked blearily at the hanging racks, before grabbing the nearest band shirt—he didn’t need to dress up for Charlie or for breakfast, and even if he did, there wasn’t a hope in hell of persuading him to do it at such short notice.

Stumbling out of his bedroom, Dean found Sam lying in wait like he’d sprung some kind of trap.

“Unnghff!” Dean objected loudly as Sam shoved a toothbrush into his mouth, complete with toothpaste.

The fucker even handed him a paper cup to spit in.

“What the fuck is going on!” Dean whined, spun one-eighty and shooed toward the front door by the two grotesquely awake partners in crime.

Somehow, between the front door and the sidewalk, Dean gained boots and a jacket he didn’t remember picking up, and the hastily used toothbrush and tiny cup of water disappeared out of his hand. Sam and Charlie walked one either side of him, practically frog-marching him down the street, though they didn’t physically force him.

“Why is breakfast suddenly so important?” Dean asked, once he’d unstuck his tongue from the roof of his mouth.

“Two reasons,” Charlie said. “One, you’re gonna need it, hopefully. Two, I’m trying to butter you up to do what I want, and at this time in the morning the only way you’ll listen to me is if I give you black coffee and bacon.”

“Well, even if you’re a horrific person to know before nine in the morning, at least you know me well,” Dean grumbled. He looked over to his other side where Sam was walking. “What’s your excuse, sasquatch?”

Sam held up both hands, but entirely failed at looking innocent. “Charlie says jump, I jump, Dean. I’ve known her as long as you have, we’ve been here before. She hasn’t led us wrong yet.”

Dean gave Sam some serious side-eye as the swept down the pavement toward—

Wait a minute.

Son of a bitch.

“This isn’t the way to the Roadhouse,” Dean finally registered.

“Well, I said coffee and bacon, but I didn’t say where,” Charlie said. By then, she looked a little uncertain, and grinned awkwardly. “I really, really, really need your help and you’re probably gonna say no, so I’m just trying everything. Bacon is everything.”

Dean stopped short in the middle of the pavement, crossing his arms. “Charlie. Where are we going? And if you need help, what makes you think I’d say no? I’m not that much of a dick.”

Sam gave a little cough before clearing his throat innocently. “Whatever, Dean.”

“I’m not ,” Dean insisted. “If Charlie needs help, I’m there. What’s the deal?”

They all stood in a little triangle at the end of the street Dean lived on. Dean dug his heels in, his arms remaining folded, and waited.

Charlie gave a sigh and leaned back against the edge of the apartment block they stood outside of. “You know how I told you that the new producer was all about getting people more involved and having us all contribute? How I was excited to gain more experience and insight into the behind-the-camera stuff?”

Dean blinked sleepily while his brain did a little U-turn. Work stuff. Right.

“Yeah, I remember that. What’s it got to do with being awake this early when I’m on spring break and don’t have to work?”

“Well, he let me have a hand in this week’s episode. He even let me pitch and successfully convince the rest of the team to have our first openly bisexual main contestant!” Charlie sounded proud.

Dean nodded slowly, staring at Charlie as she rested back against the concrete. “Okay… again, me? Bacon? What?”

“My contestant dropped out.”

Dean backed up a little, stifling a yawn but focusing all his attention on his best friend. “Okay, that’s unfortunate, I’ll give you that.”

“We’re filming today.” Charlie bit her lip, before one of her short, bitten nails found its way between her teeth.

Dean swatted her hand away from her mouth, an old habit. “You’re filming today, and it’s your first episode with input beyond hosting, and your contestant dropped out.”

“Yes.” Charlie said, before taking a deep breath. “So, I was really hoping that you’d take one for the team and come on the show.”

Dean’s mind may have been awake enough to navigate his earlier U-turn and keep up with Charlie’s problem, but it very suddenly applied the brakes.

“On the show.”

“Yes.”

“Your show,” Dean clarified desperately.

Charlie nodded.

“Your…dating show. You lined up the first bisexual contestant, and they flaked, and now you’re—Charlie, come on, dude.” Dean laughed weakly. “You know I don’t wanna be on TV.”

“I know, I know—” Charlie babbled fast, her hands flying as she explained. “—I realize you don’t want to. But how many single, bisexual, camera-friendly people do you think I know at such short notice?”

Dean spluttered. “No! What the hell, tell the production crew to find someone else!”

Charlie’s face fell a little. “It’s my first show, Dean.”

Dean physically felt his stomach sinking as he took in Charlie’s desperate, nervous expression. A quick look over at Sam confirmed the mood: puppy-dog eyes.

“It’s her first time,” Sam defended when he saw Dean look at him. “She doesn’t want to tell the crew she failed on the very first try; they’ll never ask her again.”

“It’s not her fault if the person dropped out, surely? Why did they drop at the last second?” Dean turned back to Charlie, who was fiddling awkwardly with the zipper on her hoodie.

“They won’t see it that way, Dean. I had a meeting with the contestant, Aaron, and it all went well. But I think I made him uncomfortable when I asked if we could reference his Jewish background on the show. His sister came with him to the meeting and I thought it was all okay, but I guess some of his family weren’t so down with it.”

“But why me?”

“Because you’re my best friend?” Charlie asked hopefully. They shuffled to the side as a woman squeezed past with her dog, throwing them a dirty look. “And, honestly, it’s a dating show, Dean. It could be good for you, right?”

There it is. Dean felt his chest constrict angrily, before he caught another look at Charlie’s nervous expression and Sam’s disgustingly hopeful one. Ugh. God help me.

“I know I’m single, and sure, someone would be nice, but—”

“Are you going to ask out Bees?” Charlie interrupted suddenly. “Because if you are, that’s cool Dean, I get it. I know it’s my career, but I won’t ask you to ruin something potentially good for that. But if not… I could really use your help, dude.”

Am I? Dean asked himself, watching as Charlie held her breath. Am I going to risk losing his friendship to ask him on a date?

He stood still, contemplating longer than he was really proud of. He looked up, taking in the gray concrete buildings around them, the dullness of the street. It was like it was trying to mock him and remind him of the dullness of his own life. Either that or he was just being a tad melodramatic before coffee.

If I haven’t been brave enough to ask him yet, what’s gonna change? Who knows? I might actually meet someone… unlikely, but at least it’ll help Charlie.

Dean gave a long-suffering sigh. In all the years he’d known Charlie Bradbury, this still wasn’t the craziest thing he’d done for her. (Or her for him, for that matter.) He was sure her career would recover from one little set-back, but really, was it such a big deal to help? She was right. It could be good for him.

“What happens if I agree?”

The relief that obviously rushed across Charlie’s face lit her back up instantly. “We carry on walking downtown to the studio, and we get you ready for the taping. Ash is already there, he’ll film me asking you all the pre-show stuff as soon as we’re camera-ready, then we’ll hustle you on into the set. The audience arrives at ten, and you just sit there and play along.”

“Play along?”

“Please tell me you’ve at least seen my show, Dean.” Charlie narrowed her eyes.

“Sure! Of course I have,” Dean lied. Though it was only half a lie… he often had it on , just to support her. But dating game shows weren’t really his thing, so his attention definitely wandered.

“So then you know,” Sam interrupted helpfully, “that it’s a blind dating show. You answer questions put to you by the host, and then by three contestants you can’t see. Then you get to ask the contestants your own questions, and the audience votes on a first date for you before you pick one.”

“That’s it?” Dean looked at Charlie for confirmation. “There’s really nothing else to it? It’s not, like, fixed or something?”

“No. You really get to pick. Though, because you haven’t had time, we’ll probably provide you with the questions you need to ask.”

Silence fell between the three of them again as Dean’s resolve internally crumbled. Of course he was going to help. It was Charlie, he wouldn’t leave her high and dry. But he was definitely going to bitch about it. Plenty.

“And what are you doing here, Gigantor?” Dean squinted suspiciously.

Sam shrugged and smirked. “I’m just here for coffee, and to take pictures of you in stage makeup.”

“Fine.” Dean sighed.

“Fine?” Charlie let out a squeal, and practically leapt at Dean, crushing him in a hug. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is going to be awesome Dean, I swear…”

Charlie dragged Dean off down the pavement, talking way too fast as she led them further downtown. Sam kept up easily, his smirk by then a full grin.

Dean had a horrible feeling he’d just been hustled.



Chapter Text

Ready Player Two

 

chapter-header-controller

 

The coffee at KS-TV was pretty good, Dean had to give them that. The bacon sandwich from the craft spread, also really not bad. The make up? He wasn’t such a fan. The gloriously coiffed older red head who was applying it to his face was a riot; she commanded the room like she owned it, and he appreciated her cutting Scottish accent. He only wished that he wasn’t at the other end of her foundation puffy-thingy-whatever.

“Does it have to be so much?” Dean complained. “I know some dudes are into this, and more power to them, but honestly it’s kinda itchy and—”

“Yes,” Rowena, the make-up artist, silenced him by puffing powder firmly across his mouth. “Now be quiet and stay still, you’re wriggling like a bairn.”

Dean sat obediently still, not wanting to get poofed again.

“Alright dude,” Charlie strutted in from his peripheral vision, her hair done and make-up perfect. She was wearing a cute, colorful outfit of loose pants and a neatly tailored yellow blazer over the top of a ‘Scruffy looking nerf herder’ t-shirt that looked like it could have come from her standard wardrobe. “We’ll run through the format of the show, then I’ll introduce you to Novak. Ash is already getting set up to film your solo interview as soon as Ro is done perfecting you.”

Rowena held her head back and tilted it this way and that, gripping Dean’s chin and moving it around in the light. “Perfection is right. He doesn’t need much help, just a little something to cut the shine of the studio lights, really. He’s such a pretty boy, Charlie—wherever did you find him?”

“He helped me beat up my bully the summer before tenth grade,” Charlie supplied. “It was friendship at first sight—he was wearing a Star Wars shirt.”

He ,” Dean intoned prissily, “is sitting right here, looking like a painted whore.”

 

painted-whore

 

Dean sat helplessly as Rowena fluffed and ruffled his hair with her hands, giving him some wild approximation of “I woke up like this” hair that Dean would never, ever have worn usually—but he guessed he didn’t have much say in the matter.

People bustled around—far more people than Dean would ever have expected were needed to produce Ready Player Two. Despite himself, he was quite interested in the process—and getting just the tiniest bit excited.

Across the studio, Dean could pick out Sam. He was easily the tallest person in the room, so finding him amongst the noisy crowd was easy. His brother was talking to a short, blond man, grinning familiarly. They chatted for a moment, then Sam reached inside his jacket, pulling out a small bundle of cards from within his interior pocket. Dean watched curiously as the small guy perused them, nodding. He attached them to his clipboard, and the two shook hands, grinning again.

What was that about?

Charlie disappeared for a moment as Rowena packed up all her brushes, and then reappeared only a minute later with the man that Sam had been talking to.

“Dean, this is Gabriel Novak. He produces Ready Player Two,” she said, gesturing to her companion.

“Heya, Dean-o,” Gabriel said very casually, extending a hand. As Dean shook it, the shorter man—who was only a couple of inches taller than Charlie—looked him over, quite intensely. “Glad to have you on the show. Looking forward to getting to know you.”

The handshake lasted just a second longer than Dean felt was normal, and for some reason he had the odd impression that Gabriel was trying to size him up in some way—though why, Dean had no idea. They’d probably never see each other again after the next couple of hours were over.

“Now,” Gabriel said after a pause, looking down at his clipboard, “Charlie told me that you came in at short notice—great problem-solving skills, Bradbury—and so you haven’t been through all the pre-episode prep that most contestants get.”

“Yeah.” Dean nodded. “I didn’t know about it until this morning. But I’m kinda familiar with the show, if that helps.”

“It sure does,” Gabriel confirmed. “We’ll take you out onto the stage first. Charlie will interview you in front of the audience. You’re our first bi guy so we’ll be making a big deal of that—"

Dean opened his mouth to object and ask exactly what “a big deal” meant, but Gabriel steamrolled right onwards.

“—then once you’ve answered a few basic questions about the types of people you like to date, we’ll have you take a seat behind the screen while we bring out the other contestants. Once we’ve introduced them to the audience, you’ll all be on set and you can start asking your questions.”

“Okay,” Dean said. “I get it. What questions do I ask? I haven’t had a lot of time to think about any of this.”

Gabriel waved his hand dismissively, then tapped his forefinger firmly on the black plastic Ready Player Two logo clipboard that he had tucked into the crook of his arm. “Don’t worry about a thing, we’ve got you covered. After all the questions are answered, and the contestants get to ask you a question each in turn, then the audience will vote on where you’re going for your date! The options this week are Rome, Hawaii, or—”

“Woah wait a minute—” Dean suddenly panicked. He’d agreed to do this for Charlie, sure, but he hadn’t exactly through it through. It had barely occurred to him that he’d be leaving the building with a date, never mind that he’d be going somewhere outside of the city for one. “I have to work the rest of this week, and my brother is visiting, and I really don’t like fly—”

Charlie stepped in immediately, talking right over Dean. “I’ve got it all sorted. Sam is perfectly down with it, he’s gonna stay with me, and I’ve already called Bobby about work. The small cash prize that goes with the vacation should more than cover what you’ll miss earning at the salvage yard.”

“But—” Dean spluttered.

“But nothin’,” Gabriel said, giving Dean a single, devilish finger-gun. “You’re here now, so there’s no backing out. You’re about to have a great time.”

Why does that feel like a threat, Dean worried.

A skinny blond guy with a very questionable mullet—that somehow suited him, Dean had to admit—appeared and dragged Dean and Charlie away from the makeup chair to perch in front of a greenscreen. After a few shuffles and adjustments, he gave a thumbs up over the top, and Charlie began talking.

“So, Dean, tell us what made you decide to come on Ready Player Two?”

Dean gulped. She was going to pay for this until the end of time, he decided.

“Actually, my best friend and my brother got together and signed me up,” he answered, with a smile that he hoped was at least vaguely charming.

“They sound like good people,” Charlie replied with a wink. “How long have you been single, Dean?”

“Uh…” Dean floundered for a moment. “A pretty long time, I guess. I had a serious girlfriend back in high school, Cassie, but since then it’s really just been short flings,” he said, hoping that his phrasing indicated one-night stands and drunken fumbles without him having to say as much out loud on TV.

Charlie must have thought it was adequate at least, as she moved right along. “How do you feel about being the first openly bisexual man featured on the show, Dean?”

Dean blinked. “Um, fine—I guess? I mean… it’s kind of a shame I’m the first, but I’m glad that representation in media is becoming more common,” he answered carefully and diplomatically.

Bees would have been proud of that answer, he thought, distantly.

“How do you think your family would feel about you being here today?” Charlie asked, cool as a cucumber.

Dean wanted to strangle her, though he did his best not to convey it, deliberately relaxing the automatic clench in his jaw.

“My mom passed away in a fire when I was four,” he answered after a pause, “and my Dad died in a drunk driving accident a few years back. So, I don’t really know what they would think. My brother though, as I said, he’s one of the people that volunteered me—so I guess he’s pretty supportive.”

There was something slightly apologetic behind Charlie’s smile, but she continued, the picture of professionalism. “Would you say that you have a particular type, Dean?”

“Type?”

“Of potential partner.”

“Oh, uhm…” Awkward. “I guess not. I mean, I appreciate all kinds of people. But I guess for a long-term thing, it’d be cool to meet someone who shared some of my hobbies, but had their own stuff going on too. Someone kinda independent but willing to share their life with me.”

“Independent, interesting—so would you say that you aren’t a particularly jealous partner?”

“Uh, not really,” Dean shrugged awkwardly. “As long as I know I can trust them, why would I be?”

Charlie nodded. “And what about physical attributes in a partner?”

“Well—I mean, it doesn’t seem fair to judge someone by—” Dean’s mouth was suddenly dry.

“It’s a preference, Dean, not a requirement,” Charlie soothed.

“I guess, uh, I like brown hair, and nice eyes? And for guys, I uh—” Dean felt himself heating up, and threw up a quick prayer that it was just the studio lights. “—I kinda like it when they’re strong. Not super into guys that feel breakable to me.”

Charlie gave Dean a significant look and a slow wink, as if she’d just figured out a secret.

He was going to kill her. The next time they went LARPing, she was going to meet with an untimely accident.

She breezed through a few more questions about what he studied at school and hoped to do with his life, and about where he grew up. As soon as she was done, they were both dragged away in separate directions to the wardrobe department.

Dean had a momentary panic that he was going to be dressed up in something ridiculous—but instead Sam appeared with a bag full of Dean’s own shirts and jeans.

When did he have time to snag those? Dean wondered.

Anael, the young, blonde costume assistant, sarcastically assessed the selection before allowing Dean to wear one of his favorite green plaid shirts.

Gabriel, the producer, kept appearing—he flitted back and forth with far more energy than Dean felt an adult should be capable of, but at least it seemed like he and Charlie would work together pretty well in that aspect, he decided. Dean figured that the producer was splitting his time between Dean and the other contestants. He seemed remarkably chipper, so Dean took that to mean he hadn’t screwed up anything too badly—yet.

“The live audience is getting settled,” he announced on his final appearance. “We’ll be ready to roll cameras in ten. Alfie here”—Gabriel shoved forward a skinny kid in a baseball cap—“will be your assistant for the rest of the morning. He’ll get you on stage on time, and make sure you don’t miss your cues. Any questions, ask him. Otherwise, Dean-o, I’ll see you when it’s time to send you off on your date!”

Dean’s mouth flapped, but Gabriel was already bustling away.

“Ready for this?” Alfie asked cheerfully, beginning to hook Dean up to a mic.

“Sure,” lied Dean.

 

*****

 

“…introduce you to this week’s lucky single, Dean Winchester!”

Dean grit his teeth and plastered his best smile across his face as he stepped out onto the stage. The set was red and pink, and obviously vaguely heart themed. There was a tall stool for Dean to perch on, and a large fuchsia divider, curved to accent the heart shape of the back wall, that separated him from the other half of the set—where he knew three other poor saps were waiting to come on stage. Though they were probably much more eager and excited than Dean was, as they’d at least volunteered for this, he assumed.

“Dean is twenty-five, stupidly handsome, and openly bisexual—that’s right folks, double the chances, today!” Charlie introduced him to the crowd with a cheesy wink. “Dean’s a local boy—he was born in Lebanon and is currently studying Engineering at Kansas State University. His hobbies include nerding out over his classic car, LARPing, and watching endless movies. Come and take a seat, Dean!”

Charlie gestured, and the crowd that Dean could sense, rather than see—the overhead studio lights had him basically blind—clapped and whistled as he made his way across the floor. With a charming grin, he raised a hand to wave at the assembled crowd, even if he couldn’t quite make them out.

Charlie smiled approvingly at his somewhat-faked confidence and stepped to the side, so he could hop up on the stool.

“Alright!” Charlie’s enthusiastic camera persona really wasn’t that different to how she usually was, Dean decided, as she fired some cheesy finger-guns at the audience. “Let’s bring out Dean’s potential Player Twos!”

Dean couldn’t see the other side of the stage, of course. He knew from watching the show that the only hints about them he’d get before choosing one was their first name, and whatever information he could glean from the questions he’d ask—which, thank goodness, Gabriel had provided.

The show’s catchy electronic jingle played across the stage, and with a final wink at Dean, Charlie disappeared off behind the divider.

The first contestant to step out on the stage did so to a chorus of wolf-whistles from the crowd—that had to be a good sign, Dean reasoned. He waited, nervously, and listened as Charlie got them settled in a chair of their own.

“Tell us about yourself!” she chirped cheerily.

“Name’s Benny,” came a deep, Louisiana drawl. “I’m twenty-eight years old, and I’m a chef. I’m originally from New Orleans. I’ve been in Kansas for a about a year now, for a job. When I’m not at the restaurant, I work out a lot, eat a lot, play video games with my buddies, and I’m a huge Star Wars fan. I have a whole room dedicated to my mint condition collectibles.”

Dean perked up a little. That guy certainly didn’t seem too bad—he could get down with that accent, for sure, and he sounded fun.

“Thank you, Benny!” Charlie said, while the audience clapped. “So, do we think Dean would like a little Cajun spice? Let’s bring out our other contestants before he decides!”

Another round of applause and whistling accompanied someone else onto the stage.

“Hi! I’m Lisa,” came a soft, friendly voice. “I’m twenty-four, and I work as a medical researcher in Kansas City. I like to watch baseball games and I’m a big Marvel fan—I love to read, and I also write Hulkwidow fanfic.”

“Banner and Romanoff,” Charlie replied approvingly. “Very nice! Could Lisa be the other half of Dean’s ship? Let’s bring out contestant number three so that we can find out!”

Gotta be smart to be a medical researcher, Dean reasoned. And I can appreciate some Banner-slash-Romanoff. I wonder if she’d be into Stucky—

Dean’s thoughts cut off as the crowd whistled and clapped obscenely for the third contestant.

“Sit down, introduce yourself!” Charlie encouraged.

“Hello, I’m Castiel,” the final contestant began. He sounded a little more flustered than the others, but his voice was deep and gravelly, an attribute that Dean immediately chalked up in his favor. “Most people call me Cas. I’m twenty-six, and I’m a graduate student. I love movies and science fiction novels. I’m a big Star Trek fan, and I enjoy tabletop and board games, too.”

Slowly, Dean started to relax. He had to admit that really, they all sounded pretty good on first impression—at least people he could get through one date with, he reasoned.

The crowd clapped and roared as the jingle played again, and Charlie reappeared around the divider. She looked ridiculously excited for some reason, more so than Dean recalled her usually appearing on the show. With a huge grin, she accepted a small bundle of cards from a runner at the side of the stage—the questions that Gabriel had provided for him, Dean realized as Charlie pressed them into his hand.

“Alright, folks!” Charlie winked at the crowd. “Let’s have Dean ask our players some questions. All three contestants will provide an answer to every question, so Dean can have a think about which of them could be the Leia to his Han!”

Dean didn’t respond, his attention taken up skimming over the questions that Gabriel had provided. Some of them were very specific. I guess they should be, though, he thought. If I’m trying to match up with someone I could actually date.

With another clap and jingle, the audience fell quiet. They waited eagerly for Dean to begin his questioning.

“Go ahead and ask your first question,” Charlie prompted. “And each of the contestants can answer it in order.”

Dean nodded, clearing his throat and reading the first cue card. “If you were a Dungeons and Dragons character in real life, what would you be—and how would you describe your alignment?”

A few people in the audience laughed and clapped at the first question as Charlie dashed across to the other side of the stage. “Alright, let’s see what our players have to say!”

Benny was up first. “If I was going to be a Dungeons and Dragons character,” he mused, “I guess I’d probably just be a fighter. I like boxing, judo and MMA style fighting, so I think that would work for me. As for alignment, I’d have to say lawful neutral.”

Not a bad answer I guess, Dean thought.

Charlie moved up to Lisa next. “I’ve never actually played Dungeons and Dragons, and I don’t know too much about it,” she confessed. “But I guess I’d like to be wizard or something. Alignment wise… I think I’m chaotic good. I try to be a good person, but I don’t like to do what people expect.”

Shame that she’s not familiar, Dean considered. Cute answer though.

Cas seemed more confident of his answer than the rest. “In the campaign I’m just starting, I have a character who heals—I like to play clerics or paladins mostly, and I think that probably reflects who I am the most. As for alignment, I’m neutral good.”

Dean was instantly reminded of Bees neutral good cleric that they’d spent hours fine-tuning. I’ll need to message him when I get out of here, Dean thought. He’s probably wondering where I’m at, I didn’t even get to message him good morning…

He’d liked Cas’s answer, and wished he could ask why he said neutral good—but Charlie was already making her way back across to Dean, beaming confidently and waving at the next question card.

“Off to a good start, some great answers there! Let’s ask a few more before we form a firm opinion though, huh, Dean?”

Nodding, Dean slipped the Dungeons and Dragons question card to the back of the stack. Sitting up straighter, flashing another charming grin to the excited audience, he read aloud from the next one.

“What would your Harry Potter House be, and why?”

Dean blinked across at Charlie. Did she write these questions? It was like they were tailor made with all the weird, nerdy things that Dean didn’t necessarily profess to liking on a first date. He was more of a ‘get to know me and you’ll find out the depths of my geekery’ person, for the most part.

With a wink straight at Dean, rather than the audience, Charlie twirled her way across the stage, back around the divider. In her bright yellow jacket, she looked like an overexcited bumblebee bobbing back and forth, and Dean couldn’t help but smile. No matter how this ended up, he reminded himself, at least he’d done right by her.

“Alright, Benny!” Charlie began cheerfully. “Tell us your House.”

“Uh,” Benny floundered, “It’s been a long time since I saw one of those movies. A Slytherin, maybe? They’re the cool snake dudes, right?”

Dean grimaced slightly, and the crowd gave out a series of chuckles. Movies? Losing points there, buddy, sorry.

“Don’t worry, dude,” Charlie said, her voice encouraging. “Can’t have a winning answer for every question!”

“It’s okay, Benny,” Lisa said warmly from behind the divider. “I love Harry Potter. If you don’t get a date with the mysterious Dean, I could help you work out what House you are.”

The crowd wolf whistled, and Dean couldn’t help but laugh aloud—weren’t these three supposed to be competing for him, not flirting with each other? It was adorable though, and he grinned broadly.

“I expect you have very particular opinions on your house then, Lisa?” Charlie asked, and Dean could hear the amusement in her voice. “Why don’t you tell us what you’d be, and why?”

“I’d be a Ravenclaw,” she answered instantly, “because I’m very resourceful, and I love books and learning.”

Solid answer, Dean thought. Points in the Lisa column.

Charlie seemed perfectly satisfied too, moving on to Castiel quickly. “Alright Cas, what are your opinions on Houses—do you have a prepared answer, like Lisa?”

“I do,” Cas’s low voice throbbed across his microphone. “I would be a Gryffindor, of course.”

“Ahh,” said Charlie, “What up, house buddy!”

Dean could just imagine the awkward fist-bump that he was certain Charlie was offering.

“Can you tell us why?” she asked.

“Of course. Gryffindors are loyal and brave, as well as determined—I’ve been told I can be a bit stubborn, but I try to remember that Gryffindors are also chivalrous, so I need to make sure to budge for others when I can.”

Dude, textbook answer. Dean grinned to himself, and couldn’t help but clap along with the audience, in lieu of being able to offer his own fist-bump of House solidarity.

Charlie reappeared in an excitable flurry of red hair and heels, skipping back to Dean’s side.

“What a great question, and great answers!” she addressed the audience. “We’ll let Dean ask one more, shall we, before we take a quick commercial break!”

Taking his cue, Dean quickly shuffled the Harry Potter card to the back and read from the next one.

“I want to know what your favorite book or movie is—but here’s the catch, give me a quote rather than a title, so I can guess.”

Dean turned to Charlie, about to ask her what would happen if he couldn’t guess. But of course, she was already on her way to Benny.

“Start us off, Benny! A quote from your favorite book or movie.”

“Easy,” he said. “I’m going with a movie, and my quote is, ‘ I’m altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further .”

“Dean?” Charlie questioned, out of sight.

“You’re right, Benny,” Dean said with a laugh. “That one was easy—The Empire Strikes Back.”

“That’s the one, cher,” Benny agreed, and Dean could picture a lazy smile to go with the drawl.

Star Wars wasn’t Dean’s favorite of all the franchises, but he was definitely more than familiar, particularly with the original movies. It was a solid enough answer, Dean supposed.

“What about you, Lisa?” Charlie moved on to the next contestant.

“Mine is going to be from a book, though there was a movie too. But the books are better, I promise!” Lisa giggled. “My quote is, ‘And so the lion fell in love with the lamb.’

There was some whispering and tittering in the audience as Dean frowned to himself. He knew that quote, he’d heard it somewhere, he was sure. Wait, wasn’t that—oh no. Oh, no.

“Twilight?” he guessed, grimacing.

“Yes!” Lisa squealed with delight.

She’d been doing so well, too. Now he was just worried he’d have to wear glitter in bed. Sorry Lisa, he thought. Hopefully there’s a vampire out there for you, somewhere.

Charlie didn’t comment, moving right along to the third potential player. “Alright, Cas. Do you have a quote for us?”

“I do,” he said, sounding thoughtful. “It’s actually quite hard to pick, I could do either, a book or a movie.”

“Gimme both!” Dean yelled, intrigued. Alright, so maybe it wasn’t in the rules—but it wasn’t like they could stop him now.

“Alright then,” came Castiel’s gravelly reply. “The movie quote is from one of my favorite franchises ever, in book or film—though I’m steering clear of Star Trek, that would be too easy. The quote is, ‘Speak friend, and enter.’”

Dean beamed. “Nice, Lord of the Rings. Great choice, buddy. What about the book?”

“That one is hard, too. But I’m going with, ‘How nice—to feel nothing, and still… ’”

Get full credit for being alive ,” Dean finished for him, amazed. “Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five. That’s my favorite book.”

Although Dean wasn’t the biggest fan of being on camera and stared at by the entire audience, he was less bothered by it than he knew a lot of people would be. That was probably a good thing, as he realized that his mouth was slightly open, and he was smiling crookedly.

“Mine too,” he heard Cas rumble in surprise.

Charlie reappeared, looking oddly smug. “Well, what an exciting question round that was! What do you think, Dean—got some thoughts about who could be your Player Two?”

“I, uh, I’ve heard some great answers from all of the players,” Dean answered diplomatically, as he knew he wasn’t really supposed to say at that point.

Charlie turned back to address the crowd, complete with double finger-guns. “What about you, audience? Do you have a pick, yet?”

There was an excited hubbub beyond the bright lights, a buzz of voices yelling different names and numbers. Charlie and Dean both chuckled.

“Alright then,” said Charlie. “Seems like everyone has an opinion! Well, strap in tight, folks, because we’ve got to whiz through a commercial break—when we’re back, our lovely audience will get the chance to vote for where Dean gets to take his Player Two!”

More clapping, more shouting, and a blissful signal from Ash that he’d stopped rolling, and for a minute, Dean could relax. Charlie was whisked off by Gabriel, but Dean didn’t have time to be alone. Alfie appeared immediately at his side, wielding a bottle of water.

“You did great, Dean,” the skinny kid said. “Let’s get you off the stage so that they can reset for the vote and final questions.”

“Right,” Dean replied, feeling a little numb as he cracked open the lid of the offered water bottle.

“Doing okay?” Alfie asked kindly.

“Yeah, sure. This is just kind of a surreal experience. It’s like catalog shopping for people—what if I don’t pick the right one?”

Alfie gave a little shrug. “I figure there probably isn’t a ‘right’ one,” he soothed. “It’s fun, and you get to have a vacation for your studio-sponsored date. It might go somewhere, it might not. Either way, you don’t lose anything.”

Dean nodded slowly. “Yeah. Yeah—you’re right,” he convinced himself quietly.

Alfie left Dean to his own devices at the side of the stage for a moment while he responded to some crackly speech over a walkie-talkie. It sounded like Gabriel, yelling about something or other, Dean decided. He took a moment to breathe. He wished that he could grab his phone and send a few messages to Bees—as dumb as it sounded, even in his own head, he missed him. Unfortunately, his phone was in a locker in the wardrobe room.

He wondered if Sam was out there in the audience somewhere, laughing at Dean—because his brother would have known, without a doubt, that Dean wasn’t quite as comfortable and confident as he was trying to appear. Sam always knew. That little shit.

Dean didn’t get time to find out as several stagehands moved him around, directing him here and there, so they could get the stage set for part two of the game.

 

ready-player-two

 

*****

 

The pink-toned set and horrifically bright studio lights were starting to bother Dean’s eyes, but he tried not to let it show. He perched to one side of the stage, further forward now, with a huge screen behind him. The divider was still up, but Dean knew everything was now prepared for it to retract after the next round and reveal his pick to him—and him to them, really.

“Thank you all for voting!” Charlie was talking to the crowd, clapping excitedly. “What a great bunch of destinations to choose from. Let’s see what you picked up for Dean and his Player Two—was it a luxury Floridian cruise, a week in the Appalachians, or a long weekend in Hawaii? Either way our lucky couple are going away with all their expenses covered, and a full itinerary of bonding activities to get the love spell working!”

The crowd oohed and aahed.

Come on, Appalachians, Dean thought desperately. At least he could drive there.

With a dramatic spin, Charlie opened her arms towards the huge screen that had been added to the back of the stage. The Ready Player Two logo spun against a black background, and then…

…a white beach, complete with palm trees and hula girls.

Fuck. God damn it, that’s almost a ten-hour flight—amazing first impression I’m going to make, Dean bitched internally, despite the wide smile he passed to the audience. Giving them all an enthusiastic double thumbs-up, he summoned up as much enthusiasm as his already flip-flopping stomach could give.

Ten hours! Ten! In an airplane!

Dean was so busy freaking out that he didn’t pay much attention to Charlie’s spiel about the resort or the activities they had waiting. She knew he hated planes, damnit.

“And now!” Charlie’s enthusiasm pulled Dean out of his own head and back into the studio. “We have one more round—time for Dean’s potential Player Twos to ask him a question! Each of them will get one chance to ask Dean anything they want. So, think hard about your answers, Dean—this is the last chance you have to make an impression!”

Oh god, what if I pick one and then they say they don’t want to be my Player Two? Dean panicked. He knew that that happened once, back in the first season, and Charlie had talked about it for weeks. Shit, what if—

“Dean!” Benny’s delicious drawl came from the other side of the stage. “My question for you is this: If you could be anywhere else in the world right now, where would you be?”

“Right this second?” Dean laughed and answered honestly. “Probably back in bed. But my favorite place in the world is honestly behind the wheel of my car—she’s a 1967 Chevy Impala that I restored after my dad died. Riding along with someone I love in the passenger seat, just enjoying each other’s company, not in a hurry to be anywhere…that’s heaven, to me.”

The audience made approving noises, and a swell of clapping rose over the beginning of Benny’s response.

“Sounds like a nice car, Dean. I like to drive, so hopefully you wouldn’t mind letting me behind the wheel sometimes.”

Hmm. Dean bristled, despite knowing it was ridiculous. You gotta earn that, buddy. Nobody sits behind Baby’s wheel but me.

Lisa’s voice came next. “I’m not a big fan of driving, but I don’t mind riding shotgun and changing the music,” she said.

“Well sugar, if Dean doesn’t pick you for a ride, I’ll happily take you,” Benny interrupted flirtatiously.

Dean couldn’t help but burst out laughing. Benny and Lisa were cute—it was a good thing he was leaning toward picking the third guy, because it sounded like they’d be better together than him with either of them.

“Well!” said Charlie, in an over-exaggerated scandalized voice. “This is a new one for us. Seems like we might be able to set up more than one couple today, if we play our cards right—but that depends, of course, on the next two questions! What do you have to ask Dean, Lisa?”

“I would like Dean to describe his perfect date,” Lisa said cheerfully.

“Oh, that’s easy, April 25 th ,” Dean joked automatically. “Because it’s not too hot, not too cold, all you need is a light jacket!”

The audience dissolved into titters of laughter, until Dean held up a hand to calm them down so that he could answer properly.

“The honest answer is probably just burgers and a movie. I’m a pretty low-key kinda guy. If you wanna go out and do something, then head home and watch movies and make out on the couch, even better,” he added with a wolfish grin that the crowd seemed to appreciate.

“No fancy restaurants?” Lisa asked hopefully.

Dean looked down at his jeans and green plaid but couldn’t help a grin. “I can spruce-up okay when I need too, don’t worry.”

“Great questions guys,” Charlie said, her heels tip-tapping across the stage as she moved along to the final question. “What about you, Cas—what would you like to ask Dean?”

Castiel sounded thoughtful. “I’d like to ask Dean how he feels about teamwork versus independence. What do you prefer in a partner?”

“Hmm,” Dean said, turning slightly at Ash’s wave beyond the camera, to make sure he was on screen at a good angle. “That’s a great question, Cas. My answer would have to be that they are equally important to me, though. I want a partner who is independent enough to have their own passions, but who wants to share them with me. We need to be able to work together, but if they want to go off and do their own thing sometimes… I think everyone deserves that kinda freedom and trust.”

Even with the pink divider in the way, Dean could hear the smile in Castiel’s voice as he responded. “That’s an excellent answer, Dean. Thank you. If only everyone thought like you.”

“Well,” said Dean before he even thought about it, “I’m really sorry if you’ve known people who tried to control you. But that’s not me. Who’d want to be with someone who doesn’t have free will? That’s just messed up, man.”

Charlie appeared from the side of the red divider, looking like the cat who got the cream. She smiled so smugly at Dean that if it hadn’t been for the cameras, he’d have tackled her and threatened to lower the stats on her Mage’s character sheet. Know-it-all little brat. He loved her like a sister, but sometimes—

The electronic Ready Player Two jingle cut into Dean’s thoughts of petty revenge.

Charlie had come to stand opposite him, and she was smiling much more kindly by then. “Alright, Dean. Are you ready to ask one of the contestants to be your Player Two?”

Dean nodded. They all sounded awesome—but it was a no-brainer, really. “Yeah, I’m ready.”

Charlie handed Dean a keypad, built to look deliberately like a cheesy mockup of an old console controller. It had three numbered buttons on the left, and one big red one on the right. Dean knew that all it did was enable him to choose a number—so that the corresponding players chair would rotate—and that the big red button would cause the divider to recede.

“Here we go then! Are all of our players chairs facing away from the stage?” Charlie asked dramatically to the sky.

“Yes, Charlie!” came a cheesy, Charlie’s Angels-style recording.

“And are we ready to find out if Dean will pick player one—Benny, player two—Lisa, or player three—Cas?”

“Yes, Charlie!”

“Go for it, Dean!” Charlie announced, squeezing his bicep just a little too hard.

Dean took a deep breath. He knew the drill. His finger hovered over the numbers on the controller as he nervously licked his lips.

“Contestant number three—Cas. Will you be my Player Two?”

He hit the button.

A perky, Mario-style electronic tune played as the chair rotated, and the audience was silent, holding their breath along with Dean.

Once the chair had spun and the jingle stopped, Dean waited, his finger over the red button.

When Cas’s reply came, it was somewhat awkward and shy sounding, laced with disbelief. “Yes, Dean. I would like to be your Player Two.”

Caught up in the moment, the roaring of the audience, and Charlie’s enthusiastic bouncing and squealing next to him, Dean smashed the red button.

The fuchsia divider that had separated Dean from the other half of the stage for the whole game slid dramatically back into the wall, to the sounds of another electronic jingle—and from behind it, Castiel stepped out.

Holy shit, Dean thought, his mouth suddenly dry.

The best-looking guy Dean had probably ever seen—all ocean blue eyes, toned muscle, and sex-hair—grinned excitedly across at him.

“Hello, Dean.”



Chapter Text

Perception Check

chapter-header-drink

 

“Cabin Crew, please take your seats for take-off,” the invisible Captain’s voice spoke overhead, followed by a slightly irritating bing-bong! noise.

Dean dug the fingers of his right hand deep into the plush armrests of his seat, gulping involuntarily. In his left hand, he still held his phone, like a lifeline. The phone was now in airplane mode, of course, and he couldn’t send or retrieve any more messages—so he took one last look at the screen, at the messages he’d sent at the airport, before turning it off.

 

Impala67: Hey Bees, I’m so sorry I missed all your messages this morning – I’m fine!

Impala67: I missed you actually, lol. Sorry if that’s kind of weird to say

Impala67: But anyway

Impala67: It’s actually been such an odd day, let me tell you about this crazy thing that happened

Impala67: My friend (our very own Queen from D&D, actually) hosts a game show on KS-TV in real life—that nerdy dating show, Ready Player Two, if you’ve ever heard of it?

Impala67: She got let down at the last minute by one of her contestants and she decided to rope me into doing it

Impala67: I’m feeling a bit strange about it

Impala67: Honestly, I kinda already have some fairly serious feelings developing for someone and even though I don’t know if they like me back it still feels kinda like a weird betrayal

Impala67: Maybe that’s dumb, I don’t know

Impala67: But anyway, I did it to help her out, really. Not so much for me.

Impala67: The important thing though is that I’m going to be offline for like… I dunno, at least the next twelve or fourteen hours. Apparently, the prize for the show is that they fly me to Hawaii with my ‘Player Two’, so I’ll be stuck in a metal death trap in the air for a good while

Impala67: Just didn’t want you to worry, you’ve been quiet today too by the looks of it, but I know we’d usually have hung out tonight and chatted so

Impala67: Just wanted to let you know

Impala67: Talk to you when I get to Hawaii, Angel.

 

Bees hadn’t been online at the time when he’d been hurriedly typing out the messages on his phone, sneakily diving onto Discord while Charlie, Sam, and Gabriel bundled him into a waiting limousine for an awkward half-hour ride to the airport with a near stranger.

And then, of course, the airplane.

It turned out that, near stranger or not, Cas was pretty cool.

He was hot as hell—that much definitely helped—but he also seemed to be feeling just as discomfited about the whole thing as Dean was. They hadn’t spoken much yet. Cas had, with many apologies, spent the whole time they were driving to the airport on the phone to various friends and brothers, trying to find someone to take care of a project of his for the week.

Obviously, he hadn’t been expecting to win, in the slightest; Dean thought it was a little odd to apply to be a contestant but make no contingency plans in case you won, but Cas’s life wasn’t his, he reasoned, so he didn’t say anything.

The project seemed to involve taking a lot of careful measurements and wearing protective suits. Dean was curious and eager to ask Cas exactly what he was studying, but he wasn’t about to interrupt the dude on the phone and conversation had been rather sparse since then—what with Dean trying to pretend he wasn’t having a panic attack and all that.

“Are you alright?” Castiel’s deep, rumbling voice came from right next to him. The first-class cabin on the aircraft was certainly luxurious, but it was still an airplane, and as such, they were still squished in right next to each other.

“Yeah,” Dean answered shakily. “I’m fine. I’ll be fine when we get there.”

“You don’t like flying?” Cas said, as much of a statement as a question.

“Really, I’m okay,” Dean lied, not about to bare his heart to a stranger, no matter how cool he sounded.

The plane lurched forward and began to pick up speed down the runway. Castiel was regarding Dean somewhat suspiciously, clearly not buying what he was selling.

With a strange bounce and tilt, the airplane’s wheels left the floor.

Dean felt his cheeks heat with embarrassment as a small, frightened yelp burst unbidden from his mouth.

“Not okay,” Castiel said, correcting him firmly. “You’re definitely not okay.”

“Really, I—” Dean let out a huff of resignation as Castiel reached his hand across, taking Dean’s firmly in his and linking their fingers together.

“It’s okay to be afraid, Dean. Lots of people have a phobia of flying,” Cas said calmly before giving Dean a crooked smile. “They say everyone is scared of something, right?”

“What’re you scared of, then?” Dean asked, his eyes caught on their entwined hands, clinging back onto Cas so naturally that he surprised himself.

“Me? I’m scared of deep water because I almost drowned in a reservoir when I was a child,” Castiel admitted nonchalantly. “As well as, of course, the usual existential fear of failure and abandonment.”

Dean blinked a couple of times.

“Sorry,” Castiel winced. “I’m not the best at knowing what is and isn’t appropriate to say, on occasion.”

Dean shrugged his shoulder, grinning a little. “Eh, so you’re blunt. That can be kind of a good thing, too. I like it when people give it to me straight.”

The airplane gave a few firm judders in the air, and Dean clutched onto Castiel’s hand far too tightly—embarrassing, he registered vaguely. He must be crushing the hell out of the guy’s metatarsals. But Cas said nothing, giving one of his tiny little smiles and merely sitting while Dean used his fingers as a stress ball.

Finally, the plane levelled out.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the announcement came, “the captain has turned off the fasten seat belt sign, and you may now move around the cabin. In a few moments, the flight attendants will be passing around the cabin to offer drinks, as well as a light lunch...”

Castiel gave Dean another little smile before extracting his hand, so that he could unclip his lap belt.

Dean watched him warily.

“What?” Cas asked, his head tilted to the side.

Dean refused to think that the head tilt was adorable, and instead turned to re-tighten his own seatbelt nervously.

“Dean?” Castiel asked softly, prompting Dean to raise his head back up and look at him. “Would you feel better if I kept my seatbelt on too?”

Dean could feel the skin behind his ears burning. “It’s safer,” he responded diplomatically, his eyes dropping and resting firmly on the armrest between the two of them.

Without any hesitation, Castiel reached down the side of his seat and retrieved the metal clasp of the belt, retightening it across his stomach. “Is that better?” he asked.

“Thanks,” Dean mumbled, looking up just in time to see a wider grin—and a very amused smirk—pass over Cas’s face. “Hey, it’s not funny.”

“Oh, Dean.” Castiel paused to focus the much wider, gummy grin on Dean more fully. “It certainly is funny. But it’s also very telling that you worry about others as much as yourself, you know.” His voice softened, and the wattage of his grin lowered, becoming a little kinder. “It’s an admirable quality, Dean. Don’t be embarrassed about it.”

With his grumpy expression turned resolutely onto the small TV screen that graced the back of the seat in front of him, Dean went back to crushing the armrests and jiggling his right leg.

He wasn’t sure how much time passed before Castiel placed a careful hand on his knee, subduing the bouncing.

“Hey,” he said quietly. “We’re going to be here for at least another nine hours, Dean. You’ve got to try and calm down. We’re safe, you know. I promise.”

Well that doesn’t help at all, Dean thought grumpily. If it was as easy as thinking, ‘oh, we’re safe!’ I’d be fine as soon as we got on the damn plane…

Dean closed his eyes, blocking out Cas for a few minutes as he tried to focus on the breathing techniques that Sam had taught him, not just for planes but for whenever he felt a bit overwhelmed. The past few years since his dad had passed, starting college, living openly as a bisexual man in a conservative state, staying goodbye to Sammy as he jetted off to Stanford—Dean had been through his share of stressful moments.

“Do you do yoga?” Castiel asked curiously, to Dean’s left.

Easing open one eye, Dean fixed him with a surprised look. “No, I don’t—why?”

Castiel gave a little shrug, gesturing vaguely to Dean’s chest. “The breathing is all. You were doing perfect pranayama.”

Closing his eyes again and squeezing them shut, Dean huffed out a laugh. “My little brother taught me. I’ve had some stressful times in life, and honestly, I used to rely solely on whiskey for it. Not that I don’t drink plenty now, but the breathing is a better choice some of the time.”

Castiel’s hand slowly withdrew from his knee, leaving Dean conflicted about how much he’d liked it there.

Long minutes passed as Dean drifted, sitting silently with his eyes closed and concentrating on his breathing. A touch to his hand jolted his eyes back open; suddenly Castiel was close, his make-believe blue eyes regarding Dean with a small, unsure smile.

“Here,” he said.

Dean realized he was holding a glass prepared with at least a double of whiskey inside it, with a few more travel-sized bottles ready on the tray table in front of him.

“I—”

Castiel shrugged, still looking a little uncertain. “I thought it might help. No reason why breathing and whiskey can’t both be employed. And—” He leaned over, tapping at Dean’s TV screen until it switched over to the movie channel, syncing up with Castiel’s own. “We can watch something to distract you.”

Dean took the whiskey with a smile, knocking it back before returning to the plastic cup back to Castiel, who obediently filled it up again from the small airplane bottles. That one Dean transferred to his other hand, to take more slowly.

“Thanks,” Dean said, smiling quietly.

Castiel didn’t reply, merely nodded at the screen. “So, who was the best Bond?”

“Connery,” Dean answered immediately.

“Blasphemy,” Castiel replied easily. “It’s got to be Moore.”

Effectively distracted, the hours passed in light, easy conversation and silly bickering over movies. When they hit a little turbulence, Castiel’s hand found Dean’s again, and it stayed there.

 

*****

 

The first couple of hours after the airplane landed were a whirlwind. Dean felt like he’d been awake forever, flying all day—but thanks to the time difference, it was still only evening in Hawaii. They were hustled into a waiting car by a resort representative who’d been told to expect them, before zooming across the island to Montage Kapalua Bay, the luxury resort booked for them by Ready Player Two.

Dean had never seen anything like it in his life.

“Is that a chandelier?” Dean whispered to Cas as they were shown to their room, a huge two-bedroom suite with a plush living area, full kitchen, private deck, and its own outdoor hot tub.

Cas merely returned his wide-eyed look as they were quickly shown around by an almost excessively helpful employee.

“Anything you need, please just let us know,” she tittered sweetly. “The wifi password is in your welcome package, and you can just pick up the phone to call the concierge directly for anything at all that you desire—everything is covered for you. And here…”

She stepped up to the wide, sliding glass doors that framed one end of the living room, gesturing outside, where an unbelievable sunset lit golden sand and glistening blue water.

“…you have the beach. It is a private beach for the hotel, of course, and anything you desire can be brought out to you there.”

“Wow,” Dean muttered, looking out across the pristine sand to where gentle waves lapped at the edge of the beach. “This might almost be worth the plane ride.”

Cas threw him an amused look from the side of his eye, but he didn’t argue.

Once the helpful employee had been thanked and had departed, Dean headed over to the luggage rack near the door. Their bags had arrived before them, and Dean unzipped the top of his huge duffle and dug around to find the first—of many, he assumed—tacky Hawaiian print shirt that his evil brother had packed for him, and a pair of clashing print swim shorts. Ducking into the bathroom, he decided that he looked ridiculous, but as he was in Kapalua Bay without any of his friends there to laugh at him, he’d let it go.

Emerging from the bathroom quickly, Dean walked over to the wide doors that framed the beach and flipped the latch so he could slide them open.

“I don’t know about you,” Dean said to Cas, who was busy downing a bottle of water from the full kitchen, “but I think I’ll start our Hawaii vacation with a sunset drink on the beach, try out that room service.”

“Sounds quite good, actually. I need to dig through my luggage and see what I’ve got—I made the mistake of letting my brother pack for me—and find somewhere to charge my phone. There are a few people I really want to contact so they won’t worry about me, so why don’t you go ahead, and I’ll join you in a few minutes?”

Dean nodded. “Sure. Do you want me to order you something?” he said, picking up the cordless phone that had been indicated to them, and a huge, padded menu folder from next to it.

“Why not.” Cas gave him a little grin that was almost shy, and the look of it on his handsome face made Dean’s stomach flip-flop. “I suppose we might as well make the best of it, as we’re here.”

“Yeah,” Dean agreed, giving his friendliest grin. “I mean, it’s a little awkward to meet someone this way and then get thrown on vacation together, but we should at least try and have a good time, right?”

Cas nodded firmly. “Right. In which case, I’ll take the most ridiculous cocktail they have, as long as it’s something vodka based, and come down to the beach as soon as I’m done.”

Giving a tiny, grinning salute, Dean ducked out of the door with the phone and the menu.

Beyond the glass was a wide wooden deck, enclosed with mesh to keep it bug-free and entirely draped with beautiful, pink and white plumeria and frangipani flowers. It looked, and smelled, like heaven—there was a huge, multi-person hot tub built into the deck, as well as a hammock and a full table and chairs for al fresco dining. Stepping off the deck led immediately to the beach.

The sand was tickly and wonderfully warm between Dean’s bare toes. The air smelled salty and warm, distant fragrances of flowers and coconut lotions mingling with the overpowering scent of clean sea and beach. There were a handful of huge grass umbrellas scattered around with wooden recliners and small tables beneath them. A suited concierge appeared as if from nowhere, wielding a pile of towels.

“Can I get you anything sir?”

Putting the phone and menu down on the nearest table, Dean grinned widely, blown away by the service—he’d certainly never experienced anything like this before. “Actually, yeah—I’m looking to get a really over the top cocktail. Something with an umbrella and sparkly things, served in an actual coconut if you’ve got it, with vodka in it?”

The tanned, young concierge mirrored Dean’s grin. “I know exactly the thing, sir. I’ll make sure it’s extra ridiculous. Just the one?”

“Make it two.”

“My pleasure, sir.”

“Thank you!” Dean called across the sand to the retreating man. Was he supposed to tip these people? He already wanted to. Maybe Cas would know.

Alone, finally, for the first time all day, Dean strolled on down the empty beach toward the ocean-mirrored sunset, feeling the sand grow more solid and damp underfoot as the sea began to tickle his toes.

The water was warm, and tiny white horse-capped waves frolicked wetly around his ankles as he stood, basking in the orange glow of the disappearing day. This felt like paradise—and lucky him, he had a super-hot, and seemingly very nice, guy to share it with.

Nonetheless, something still felt a little… off.

It took Dean a minute to put his finger on what it was, drifting across the sand and lowering himself down into one of the recliners. Cas had been awesome on the plane ride on the way there, comforting Dean without being overbearing, distracting him with complimentary whiskies and four different nerdy movies before they were done. At one point, Dean had even fallen asleep and woken up drooling, embarrassingly, on Cas’s shoulder. He hadn’t even complained. Cas seemed really cool, from his answers to Dean’s questions and their brief time together so far.

But he wasn’t who Dean really wanted to be here with, and that felt kinda icky down inside.

“Your drinks, sir,” the concierge appeared at Dean’s elbow once more, like some kind of elite-level alcohol ninja. Dean jumped.

“Woah, you were quiet,” he said with a small laugh.

The guy’s smile was patient. “We are paid to be unobtrusive, of course. I’m here to augment and improve your stay, but not be a part of it. And occasionally making guests jump amuses me.”

Dean grinned, watching the young guy lower two utterly crazy cocktails down to the table. “Well those look amazing—absolutely perfect, thank you.”

With a nod, he deposited a few little bowls of snacky-things and what looked like a cigarette lighter down beside them from his tray, and then swiftly departed on ghost-like feet.

The cocktails were indeed served inside coconuts. They came complete with umbrellas, a paper flamingo apiece, stirrers shaped like palm trees, and huge, looping sparklers that spelled out “Aloha!” sticking out from the top. That must be what the lighter was for, Dean realized. The drinks themselves were electric blue slushies, with a skewer of alcohol-soaked fruit laying across the top.

Dean gave out a low whistle. They sure knew how to go overboard.

Deciding to wait for Cas before he tried it, Dean dug his hand into the small bowls of salty snacks that had been brought along with the cocktails. Peanuts, pretzels, olives, tiny portions of fruit.

“I could get used to this,” Dean said out loud to himself, despite knowing that realistically he’d be missing his car and his banged-up apartment within the week.

The sun dipped lower and lower, and Dean became vaguely aware that Cas had definitely been away for longer than the couple of minutes he’d alluded to. He probably just got caught up talking to one of the people he wanted to check in with, Dean reasoned. No reason to worry or go back up to the room. He’d only just met the guy; he wasn’t his keeper.

Dean didn’t have his phone, it was still in his hand luggage from the plane, and he’d need to charge it before he went to bed, so he could let Sam and Charlie know he’d got here safely. But even without access to the time, he’d guess that at least half an hour had passed before Cas appeared. Their slushies were getting a little liquidy.

“Hello, Dean.”

“Hey, Cas.” Dean grinned, gesturing at the cocktails. He picked up the lighter they’d been left and flicked it on, waving it at the coconut on the opposite side of the low table, next to the empty recliner. The sparkler caught and roared, lighting up the dim space under the umbrella with a fizzing, bright “Aloha!” Lighting his own in turn, Dean looked back up at Cas. “What do you think?”

Cas had stopped a couple of feet away, looking oddly uncomfortable. In his hand, he held his phone. His tongue darted out in the near dark, moistening his lips nervously. Jagged shadows danced across his face from the huge, ridiculous sparklers, stars of miniscule flame erupting across the space between them, making it hard to get a read on his expression.

“You okay, Cas?”

“I, uh—” Cas paused, looking down at the phone in his hand. “I’m fine. I think. I hope, anyway.”

“Did something happen?” Dean sat up straighter, sliding his bare legs off the wooden recliner to settle his feet back in the sand. “What’s wrong?”

Slowly, Cas turned the screen of the phone so that Dean could see it, even though he was a few steps away.

The app displayed was dark navy, covered in tiny text—definitely very familiar to Dean. Cas had Discord open.

Dean squinted it the screen, trying to see what—

His brain whirred to a halt.

“Cas? Why do you have my… why is…” Dean trailed off, looking at his own Discord name, his own conversation with Bees, displayed on Cas’s phone.

On Bees’ phone.

Slowly, Dean dragged his eyes up from the screen, back to Cas’s apprehensive face. He was chewing on his lip, but as Dean gazed up at him, he released it. A slow, uncertain smile bloomed across his face.

“Hey, Impala,” he said quietly, still sounding not-quite sure.

“Hey, Bees,” Dean said, nodding slowly.

A sudden, small laugh burst out of Dean as he leapt to his feet, closing the couple of sandy steps between them and greeting Bees—Cas—with a giant, beaming hug. “Dude, what the hell? How did this happen?”

Cas’s shoulders relaxed, and he immediately embraced Dean in return. “No idea, but it’s pretty amazing.”

Dean laughed again, over Cas’s shoulder, hiding his face for just a moment while he got himself together. Out of sight, his smile faded, turning sad.

Because if Bees was Cas…

And Cas was on Ready Player Two looking for a date…

Then clearly, Bees didn’t feel the same.

The little part of Heaven that they stood in didn’t grind to a halt, the skies didn’t fall, and Dean took a slow breath. It was fine. He wasn’t a kid; he’d been here before. He was still in Hawaii on an all-expenses paid vacation with one of his best friends, unexpectedly—and that was awesome. He wouldn’t let his unrequited feelings spoil anything.

Giving Cas one more tight squeeze, Dean plastered on his biggest grin and pulled back.

He was pleased to see Cas grinning just as widely. He really was.

“I can’t believe it’s really you,” Dean said.

“Me either,” Cas agreed. “I had wanted to meet you for quite a while, but I didn’t know if you’d want to, given how we met. But I’m selfish enough that I’m glad the decision was taken away from me.”

“Dude, same. I wanted to ask you if you wanted to hang out, but I didn’t want to push too far and have you think I was a creeper.”

They both laughed as Dean sat down on the edge of the recliner once more. Cas followed him, and he picked up Cas’s cocktail—the sparkler was still sputtering valiantly but had almost gone out while they met all over again—and held it out toward him.

“To an unexpected Hawaii vacation with one of my best friends,” Dean said, smiling.

Cas took the coconut from Dean and gave an odd little half-smile. He didn’t say anything in response, but he brought his cocktail up to meet Dean’s, clacking them together with a little wooden thunk before he brought the straw to his lips.

Their eyes rolled back in unison, groaning.

“Oh my god,” Dean said. An exquisite taste of tangy, sweet fruit with an alcoholic zing smothered his tongue. “This is amazing.”

“This is going to be the best vacation ever,” Cas agreed, leaning back to slurp his way through the last whispers of the sunset at Dean’s side.



Chapter Text

Critical Hit

chapter-header-scuba

 

There was a knocking sound, somewhere in the distance.

Dean lifted his head from the pillow slowly. He wasn’t sure if it was the time difference messing with him or the array of cocktails that he and Cas had made their way through the evening before, but something was making him even more reluctant to wake up than usual. They’d been up late, the hours melting away as they just talked, chattering about anything and everything without a screen between them. It had been so easy, too easy, and Dean had realized a couple of hours in that he was going to have to be pretty careful so as not to let himself fall even further.

Bees had been pretty cool. But Cas was amazing.

“Dean?”

The knocking sound came again. Begrudgingly, Dean’s brain registered that it was Cas tapping on his door.

“Come in,” he rumbled, his sleep-wrecked voice giving Cas’s own low register a run for its money.

As the door clicked to announce Cas’s entrance, Dean rolled onto his back and pushed against the mattress with his palms, raising himself up out of the sea of soft, blue blankets like a periscope emerging out of the sea. He blinked blearily and pointed himself in Cas’s direction.

Cas stood a few steps away, his eyes wide as he took in Dean’s bedhead and bare chest. “I, uhm, I just ordered some breakfast,” he said, a little quicker than he usually seemed to speak. “You always said you hated mornings, so I made you coffee.”

Dean gave him a lazy, sleepy smile. “Coffee? Hell yes. I’m keeping you.”

To Dean’s confusion, Cas turned a little pink before he backed out of the door, knocking the dresser with his hip on the way. He let out a low hiss and rubbed his pelvis, looking oddly mortified, before bolting back to the kitchen.

Huh.

It took Dean a couple of tries for his feet to find the floor, but he made it. Shuffling over to his duffle bag, he reached inside and began to grope around, settling on the first shirt he found. The one he grabbed was pink, with a pattern of blue palm trees and fuchsia parrots. Good thing he wasn’t awake enough to give a shit about the ocular assault.

Cas, he realized when he shuffled to the kitchen, wasn’t doing all that much better clothing-wise. His brother also seemed to have packed an array of garish shirts—his was blue, with huge flowers in varying ocean shades. It was better than Dean’s, at least.

It brings out his eyes, Dean thought, keeping the sugary opinion to himself.

Bringing over coffee, Cas gave him a slightly awkward, shy smile. “Sorry for waking you up. I just didn’t want to be late for the first activity we have today.”

“It’s all good, man,” Dean said, slipping his hands around the coffee mug. “So, what are we doing first, mister itinerary?”

“Snorkeling,” Cas said with a tiny, lopsided smile. “I’ve actually always wanted to try it, so that one isn’t too bad.”

“Yeah, snorkeling sounds cool,” Dean agreed before taking a deep gulp of coffee. “Wait a minute—that one isn’t too bad? What are all the others?”

“Some of them are just very, uh, couple-y,” Cas said, sounding almost apologetic. “I know you don’t really want that kinda stuff with me, so maybe we can skip those. I don’t mind.”

Wait a minute, I don’t want that? Me? What about—

Dean’s thoughts were interrupted by the sharp knock of a white-suited concierge, who wheeled a domed tray into the room.

“Where would you like breakfast, sirs? In the room, or out on the deck?”

Quickly exchanging a glance, they both grinned. “Outside.”

The breakfast was heavenly, a huge array of everything from bacon to toast and fresh fruit. Dean ate so much that he was concerned he’d sink when they went snorkeling. Cas merely called him a dork when he said as much and dragged him excitedly down to the beach.

They rode out on a private boat, across crystal clear waters. Cas was very quiet on the ride, looking more concerned the further they got away from the shore. When the small yacht stopped, he took a little peek over the edge and down into the sea and jerked his head back quickly—causing Dean to suddenly recall that Cas had said he was afraid of deep water.

Dean moved over to where Cas had sat down, on a bench along the interior wall of the tiny vessel.

“Hey,” Dean said quietly, nudging his shoulder. “Are you okay? I can ask the boat Captain if he’ll take us back a little closer to the beach, I’m sure there’ll still be some fish to see back there…”

Cas gave him a grateful little smile. “That’s kind of you. But I really do want to see the fish, so I guess I’ll just have to try and get over it.”

Dean studied him thoughtfully. The resort guide came over and gave them both snorkeling gear, before teaching them how to clear their masks while in the water and giving them a quick talk on the best places to swim. He disappeared back into the small cabin then, leaving them to enjoy their morning.

Unbuttoning his shirt and sliding it down from his shoulders, Dean wondered if it would be weird to ask Cas if he’d rub some sun lotion into his back. Did dudes do that on vacation? He sure hoped so, because he was freckly enough as it was. Rooting around in the tote bag of supplies he and Cas had brought with them from their suite, Dean found the waterproof sun lotion, and turned to look at Cas.

Shirtless, Cas was staring right at him.

Dean couldn’t even feel awkward about it, because he ogled right back. His mouth dried out as he slowly swept his gaze up over Cas’s amazingly tan frame. His stomach was chiseled—the dude had legitimate abs on display, for crying out loud—and plumped with muscle in all the right places; broad shoulders, and thick in all the good spots.

They both seemed to realize that they were staring at the same time, looking elsewhere far too hastily to be casual.

Shit, thought Dean. Well. That just made this a lot more awkward…

“Hey, Cas, would you, uh—” Dean waved the lotion bottle. “—get my back, maybe? I freckle up like no-one’s business in the sun, I don’t wanna burn, too.”

“Oh, uh, of course,” Cas replied shakily, both of them seeming to have decided to not mention whatever the fuck just happened.

Unfortunately, that meant that Dean had to stand and squeeze his eyes shut, thinking about things like long rides with his gassy little brother and buying tampons for Charlie, just so that he wasn’t focused on Cas’s big, strong hands gliding all over his back, rubbing and massaging the coconutty lotion into Dean’s skin.

After a period of time that was both interminably too long and yet simultaneously far too short, Cas was done, and Dean returned the favor. There was already a faint pink at Cas’s cheeks, he noticed, which trailed down onto his chest. He must catch the sun quick, Dean considered, making sure to get every inch of Cas’s back in turn.

All done, Dean stepped up to the edge of the small platform attached to the back of the boat, Dean looked down. Schools of brightly colored fish flocked beneath the boat, totally unafraid. No way was he letting Cas miss this.

Returning to him where Cas stood a few feet away, fiddling with the strap of his mask, Dean held out his hand.

“Come on, Cas. We can do it together.”

Cas extended his hand slowly, looking uncertain. He held Dean’s hand loosely, but Dean wasn’t having that; he rearranged them both so that he had Cas’s fingers gripped tightly between his. Cas stared at their fingers for a moment before looking back up at Dean.

“You’ll jump with me?”

“I’ll be right by your side, the whole time. Promise.”

They shuffled back to the edge of the platform together, the awkward waddle of six-foot men in flippers. Once there, Dean gave Cas’s hand a squeeze.

“Ready?”

He looked uncertain.

With a grin, Dean stepped a bit closer, until they were shoulder to shoulder. Still keeping their fingers entwined, he said, “On the count of three?”

Cas nodded, his smile a little surer. “One,” he began.

“Two, three!” Dean joined him, and they both barreled into the water, feet first.

They came kicking up for air, Dean still clutching tight to Cas’s hand.

It was apparent very quickly that Cas was fine as long as Dean was right next to him. Dean certainly wasn’t bothered by the fact—after the airplane, he owed the dude, at the very least—so they swam around together, hand in hand, losing several hours to the colorful shoals of fish.

 

*****

 

By the time they were done snorkeling and had arrived back on dry land, they were both ready for a late lunch. Dean’s shoulders were a little crispy, but he could have sworn that Cas just seemed to get more tan as the morning wore on, without burning at all. Back on the beach they easily soaked each other’s skin with aloe, showing none of the awkwardness they’d had first thing that morning. They had just spent a couple of hours holding hands, Dean figured. And Cas was one of his best friends, for sure; there was no reason to be awkward around him, with anything. So, he perched on the edge of one of the wooden recliners on the beach, using the palms of his hands to carefully work the after-sun gel into Cas’s warm skin as he lay on his front.

Not that Dean didn’t take the opportunity to watch his fingers run across the rolling muscles beneath his hands, of course. He was only human.

Once he was done, they both threw their shirts back on and went back to their suite to change their damp swim shorts for dry pants and drink down some water, before a concierge appeared to inform them of their next activity: a romantic, three-course couples’ lunch in the gardens adjacent to the beach.

“All the freshest local foods prepared as delicious sharing platters for the two of you. Very romantic, in the flower groves—we’re ready to serve whenever you arrive, sirs.”

Dean was hungry as hell, but he didn’t want to do anything Cas was uncomfortable with. He looked over, sending the other man—adorable in his blue Hawaiian shirt and crazy, uncombed snorkeling hair—a questioning glance.

Cas looked right back, but quickly nodded and gave a little smile. “That will be great, thank you. We’ll be right there; I just want to grab something from my bag.”

Dean raised an eyebrow, watching Cas zip off to his bedroom. He returned quickly, holding a small, white plastic bag with something blocky inside. With a grin, he opened the door and gestured Dean outside onto the beach.

“I don’t know about you, Dean, but I’m starving.”

“Definitely. I don’t know if this’ll be burgers and fries though,” Dean commented as he stepped out onto the sand.

They walked along the top of the beach, following arrow signs pointing to the left. The led to beautifully maintained gardens full of bird of paradise flowers and yellow hibiscus, labeled as pua mao hau hele. The area smelled amazing, the air full of sweet jasmine and plumeria in the early afternoon heat.

“You’re a big boy, Dean,” Cas said with a grin. “I’m sure you can manage to eat the odd vegetable.”

“Of course I can.” Dean sniffed. “I’d just rather it was a cheeseburger.”

Cas laughed, and they stepped into a little clearing where their concierge waited, stiff-backed like a fancy waiter. He had a white cloth thrown over his arm, and Dean immediately panicked that he wasn’t going to know which fork to use.

He was immediately thrown back to ease as they were guided across to the white-clothed table, decorated with even more flowers, the centerpiece looking like a floral river running down the center of the huge table. There was no one else around, and he was comforted immediately by the sight of a sweating bottle of beer next to his white, waiting plate.

“Looks like it won’t be too bad,” he said, looking over at Cas with a grin.

Cas gave a little secret smile, making Dean slightly suspicious, but said nothing.

The places had been set both on the same side, so they sat down next to each other. The concierge immediately reappeared, opening their beers and pouring them into clean glasses. He reappeared only moment later, presenting them with a platter full of fat shrimp, marinated and served on skewers. The smell that drifted up from the platter was heavenly, immediately plumping Dean’s mouth with the scent of coconut and lime.

“It’s not a cheeseburger,” Cas pointed out teasingly, as Dean dove straight in.

“Shut up, you,” Dean said, grinning as he grabbed another of the tiny wooden skewers. “Here—try it.”

Cas blinked, looking down at the perfectly grilled shrimp Dean held up for him to taste. He hesitated, but only a moment. Rather than taking it from Dean, he leaned forward, wrapping his plush, pink lips around it.

If that alone hadn’t already been enough, the small groan he gave out at the taste would have totally done Dean in.

Son of a bitch, Dean thought to himself desperately. I am not going to survive this vacation.

Dean was aware that he stared, that his mouth hung open slightly, but it must have been more obvious than he thought, from the wide-eyed look Cas gave him.

“I, uh, I brought a game”—Cas grabbed his white plastic bag from underneath his chair like it was a precious lifeline—“for us to play while we eat. I thought it would, uh, you know. Make this a little less weird for you.”

There he went again, talking as if Dean was the one who—

“Water, sirs?” the sneaky concierge said, looming over Dean’s shoulder, catastrophically helpful.

“Uh, yeah—yeah, thanks,” Dean said.

While the waiter poured, Cas pulled a box of Munchkin cards out of his bag. “Have you ever played?” he asked Dean. “My brother put these in my suitcase. It’s one of my favorite games.”

“Dude.” Dean was instantly delighted. “I love Munchkin. Doesn’t it need four players, though?”

“Ooh, you’ve never played the cut-throat two player version?” Cas grinned wolfishly, already doling out cards. “You’re in for a good time.”

Dean laughed, drawing another shrimp off its skewer with his teeth and picking up the hand he’d been dealt. “I bet I am. This was a great idea Cas, thanks. I don’t think it would have been awkward anyway, but this’ll be fun.”

Cas gave Dean one of his tiny, easy-to-miss smiles, and they settled into playing, battling monsters and stabbing each other in the back as they ate and drank. They spent almost every moment between courses laughing together, shoulders knocking as they joked and played. Cas was fiercely competitive, which Dean enjoyed, and he struggled to win against his crazy tactics and poker-face.

When desert arrived, Dean was unsure he could eat anything else after the huge bowl of mahi-mahi poke they’d just shared, but Cas was determined to tempt him otherwise. Tiny portions of light, feathery cake soaked in pineapple juice and topped with fruit and cream were brought out on a huge palm leaf, and Cas made an obscene noise as he devoured his first one.

“Oh my god, Dean—you have to try these.”

“I’m so full from the fish, I really don’t know if I can take another bite,” Dean protested.

Cas turned to him, his mouth still full of one of the little cakes, a tiny dab of cream on the corner of his lip. Having none of it, he picked up a tiny piece and offered it to Dean.

“Come on, just one!”

Unable to resist, Dean dipped forward, just as Cas had done with the shrimp. He took the cake into his mouth, loving the taste but totally distracted by the feel of Cas’s finger, brushing lightly across the inside of Dean’s lip as he fed him.

They looked at each other, and Cas swallowed visibly, the two of them frozen. Dean’s eyes were drawn straight back to the cream near Cas’s mouth, and he reached out automatically.

“Hey, you’ve got a little…” he trailed off, uncertain as the pad of his thumb ghosted against the edge of Cas’s lower lip.

Their look held a little too long, before Cas broke it, his gaze dropping down to his lap, cake forgotten.

“Dean… can I ask you something?” he said quietly.

Cautious, Dean merely hummed in question.

“This is silly, but it’s been on my mind and I—well I find that I’d really like to know the answer.”

Dean frowned slightly. “Okay.”

“When you messaged me on Discord at the airport, before we got here, you said that you felt weird about doing the show—Ready Player Two, I mean—because you already had feelings for someone else. And I know this is probably ridiculous, but I couldn’t help wondering if you meant—”

“Drinks, sirs?” the perky concierge-ninja popped up behind them, clearing away some of their dishes with a smile.

“Ah—” Dean blinked, dazed from being pulled out of their moment so quickly. Looking at Cas’s slightly pink face as he pulled back, returning his attention determinedly to eating cake, Dean noted with a sinking feeling that the moment, as it was, was definitely gone. “Whiskey, please,” he sighed out. “I need a really strong whiskey.”

 

*****

 

“Can I take a nap after all that food?” Dean asked ten minutes later, leaning back in his chair and slumping slightly, balancing his half-empty whiskey glass on the arm of his chair.

“No such luck,” Cas said. “We’re due on the beach for private hula lessons in the sunset.”

They’d spent several hours eating and trouncing each other at Munchkin , but Dean was amazed to find it was gone five o’clock. The time had flown.

“Hula lessons?” he asked cautiously.

“What’s the matter,” Cas asked with a devilish grin. “You don’t eat vegetables and you can’t dance?”

“Hey, I certainly can dance, thank you very much, sir,” Dean said, drawing himself up regally from his slouch.

“Oh really,” said Cas, disbelievingly.

“Yes! I can, I just don’t.”

“I see,” said Cas, turning his eyes out to the flowers as they slowly started to stand.

“I can!”

“I believe you,” Cas said flippantly, strolling over a huge hibiscus plant. The yellows of the giant blooms around him made his blue eyes and shirt pop even more than before, and Dean realized that at this point, resistance was futile.

Bees had turned out to be goddamn perfect, and goddamn gorgeous. That bastard.

“You just wait and see,” Dean threatened, pointing along the path they’d arrived down, back to the beach. “We should probably get moving.”

Grinning again, they walked together, bare toes making only the softest sounds in the sand, back through the gardens. A small, beautiful woman with long, dark hair awaited them on the beach.

“Aloha!” she called, greeting them warmly. “My name is Haelani, I’ve been waiting for you!”

They both hurried across the beach to where she stood under a small pavilion, introducing themselves and apologizing for making her wait. She answered with a grin and twinkle in her eye.

“You are here for each other, not for me. I can always wait, it’s you who should not, hmm? You’ll only be on the island a short while.”

Dean opened his mouth but immediately shut it again, her words hitting him perhaps a little differently than she had intended. Cas also seemed to struggle for a moment, blinking repeatedly before he finally cleared his throat.

“Yes, you’re right. We’re only here a short while. So”—he gestured to the pile of grass shirts placed on a stool behind Haelani in the pavilion, next to a tray of drinks—“shall we get started?”

Happy with Cas’s apparent enthusiasm, Haelani picked up two of the grass skirts and proceeded to help Dean and Cas into them, smoothing out the long, dried grasses that swooshed around their thighs.

Dean looked down, seeing his navy cargo shorts peeking out from the bottom, at his knees. “They’re lovely, Haelani,” he complimented. “Even if we’re rather spoiling the effect.”

“Hmm.” Cas looked down thoughtfully at his own khaki shorts. “I agree. Definitely doesn’t look right.”

Before Dean’s brain could even switch on, Cas had dropped his shorts and moved them away to the side of the pavilion with a swift kick.

Jesus Christ, Dean prayed desperately. Sure, Cas was covered by the grass skirt… but Dean really didn’t need to be thinking about what was or wasn’t going on underneath. He wasn’t about to be outdone either though, so his shorts quickly joined Cas’s at the side.

They were both provided with drinks from the tray—whiskey and vodka, Dean noticed. Clearly, the resort had already picked up on their preferences, and they sipped while Haelani prepared.

“Alright,” said Dean, as stubborn as always and wanting to prove that he could dance just fine, thank-you-very-much. “Let’s get the show on the road.”

Haelani led them through some basic arm movements and showed them slowly over and over how to move their hips and feet in time. It was slightly more complicated than Dean had thought from TV, but then, most things were. Nonetheless, he was pretty sure he had the motions down. Cas didn’t seem to have much rhythm, but he made up for it in determination.

It was awkward. It was different, trying to shuffle his hands and feet in time. It was… fun?

As the sun began to dip down over the ocean, casting inky shadows across the troughs of the gentle waves and dying their crests warm orange, Haelani moved off to the side; music began to play through the pavilion, drifting out across the sand.

With a cheery grin, she turned up the exotic beat and ushered them both out onto the sand, to dance on the lapping seashore.

“You think you’ve got this down, Dean?” Cas asked teasingly, joining him in the white foam. His shirt was unbuttoned by then, opened to ease their dancing, and he had a hint of pink to his cheeks from the several drinks they’d been through over the course of their lesson.

It had been much more fun than Dean had expected, honestly. “I sure do,” he announced. With a grin and a wink that he couldn’t control, Dean stepped forward, throwing his fists in the air, closing his eyes, and getting into the music beating prettily across the beach toward them.

He hammed it up, abandoning the steps they’d been shown in favor of moves that were energetic and passionate, if not quite smooth, bending his elbows and shaking his butt.

 

dancing

 

It was totally worth it, to hear Cas’s deep, rich laugh burst out behind him. Dean turned just in time to see Cas with his head thrown back, shaking with delight, one hand curled into his stomach as he stood up to his ankles in the surf. The dwindling sunlight played across his face, and Dean thought that every awkward, shuffling moment had been worth it.

Cas’s body relaxed once more, but he was still grinning widely as Dean caught his eye, unable to stop himself from stepping forward and reaching to grasp at Cas’s hand where it hung, loose beside him.

“The sun is almost down,” Dean said. His stomach was clenching oddly as he watched Cas’s face, his smile, taking in the slight tilt of his head as he listened to Dean speak. “We should head back to our room. I don’t know about you, but I’m way too full still to think about a real dinner… so maybe we should order some snacks and cocktails and test out that hot tub on the deck.”

Cas grinned back at him, his eyes intense and gripping, holding Dean much closer than their loosely held fingers did. “That sounds wonderful, Dean.”

“And then…” Dean paused, his breath catching, moistening his lips. “When we’re relaxing and alone in the bubbles, you should try and ask me your question again.”

Dean was glad he was close enough to see the slight widening of Cas’s eyes and hear the way his breath hitched.

“Okay, Dean,” he responded softly, his grin melting to a smaller, shyer smile. “I can do that.”



Chapter Text

Divine Intervention

chapter-header-munchkin

 

Once they’d walked the short distance back to their suite, they each excused themselves to go and take a shower in their respective luxurious bathrooms, to rinse off the sea salt and sand of the day. They reconvened on the deck when they were done, not needing anything beyond clean swim shorts in the evening heat.

The sun was down, and the moon was curving on up in the air, a bright white crescent against the otherwise perfectly clear, blue-black sky. They sat at the table on the deck to order their snacks and drinks, and Dean challenged Cas to another couple of rounds of cutthroat Munchkin in the light from the tiki torches that surrounded the private outdoor area.

“Aha!” Cas said proudly, slapping a card down. “Divine Intervention. All Clerics go up a level—I win, again.”

“What!” Dean spluttered, grabbing the card playfully. “Gimme that, you cheater, you!”

“I never cheat, Dean.”

“Like hell you don’t, I know I had that card in my hand earlier…” Dean glared, but it was playful.

“The original rules for the game stated—” Cas began.

“That you can cheat as long as the other players don’t catch you.” Dean finished for him, more than familiar. “They weren’t serious, but it's fine, all my friends play the same way. Cheater.”

“It’s not cheating if the rules say I can,” Cas argued, grinning smugly.

Dean threw the card at his face, chuckling. “Fine. You win.”

A throat clearing behind them announced their ghost-like concierge. “Cocktails and nibbles, sirs?” he asked.

From the way he smiled almost fondly at them both, Dean had a hunch he’d been watching them goof off for a minute.

“Yes, thank you,” said Cas, quickly beginning to stack the game cards back into the small box. Dean helped, and they were cleared up in just a minute.

The concierge wheeled out a silver-domed tray, sliding the door shut behind him and bringing the whole thing out to the deck. “Where would you like it?”

“Right next to the tub, if that’s okay,” Cas said thankfully. His shoulders tensed suddenly—almost imperceptibly, but Dean caught it—and he looked down slightly before he quietly added, “That is, if Dean would still like to try out the hot tub this evening…”

Dean knew from Cas’s minor, subtle shift in demeanor that his question wasn’t quite about the food. He wasn’t going to call him out on it, though. He was strangely nervous himself, despite the green lights he seemed to have been getting.

“Yeah, of course,” Dean replied casually. “Seems a waste not to try it out.”

The concierge nodded, positioning the tray near the hot tub where they could reach it. Lifting the dome by its handle and placing it out of the way underneath, he revealed a platter of fancy hors d’oeuvres; tiny bits of pastry and meats on skewers, nibbley little bits of toast with things on them, and fresh, sliced vegetables with dip. Beside the foods were two of the coconut-contained cocktails that Dean had ordered for them the evening before, though they weren’t quite as ridiculous this time—plenty of umbrellas, decoration and stirrers, but no giant sparklers. Probably for the best, Dean decided—they were so over the top, they had to be a fire hazard.

“This looks amazing,” Dean said honestly. “Thank you, so much.”

“Don’t mention it,” the concierge said, ducking his head before he departed across the beach.

Dean eyed the spread with delight. “They sure know how to treat us well around here, huh.”

“Yes, they do,” Cas agreed, moving over to the edge of the hot tub. He climbed the wooden steps leading up to the rim, and dunked one foot inside, letting out a content hum. “Water is just right.”

“Of course it is,” Dean said, moving up the steps behind him and doing his very best to ignore the overwhelming urge to push Cas in. “We’re in heaven, after all.”

Cas moved over to the other side of the hot tub where the controls were, starting it up as Dean sank down into the perfectly warm, smooth water. Bubbles began to trickle past his skin, and he made a delighted sound in turn as he settled onto one of the long bench seats around the edge. The rhythm was just right, not too fast, not too slow, and the jets massaged at his back and feet as he reclined.

Sinking himself down so that his shoulders were momentarily submerged in the large, multi-person tub, Cas grinned. “They need one of these on campus. Student stress would drop by half.”

“Can you imagine cleaning it after frat parties though?” Dean reached out of the tub to the tray down behind them, grabbing his drink and Cas’s.

Cas wrinkled his nose. “I’d rather not,” he said, moving toward Dean as his drink was held out to him.

Dean didn’t specifically say he wanted Cas to sit next to him, but he shuffled to the side as Cas approached, hoping that would be enough.

After a moment’s hesitation it seemed to be, and Cas settled onto the bench in turn—not right up in Dean’s space, but close enough that their bare knees bumped beneath the bubbling surface.

Slurping deeply on his delicious, fruity cocktail, Dean couldn’t help but grin as he watched Cas, who was trying to locate his straw among all the paper umbrellas and leafy stirrers decorating his coconut.

“Here ya go,” Dean grinned, reaching to pull one of the umbrellas out of the drink. “Lemme help with that.”

With the extra space, Cas managed to find his straw, pulling it up a little so he could take a long, noisy sip. “Perfect, thank you.”

Dean looked down at the purple paper umbrella he held, twirling it in his fingers before he reached over and tucked it behind Cas’s ear, grinning widely. “So pretty,” he quipped.

Cas fluttered his eyelashes mockingly in Dean’s direction. “I’m very pretty,” he agreed, laughing.

 

hottub

 

“I’d say more along the lines of devastatingly handsome, myself,” Dean said honestly, dropping his playful manner enough that the tone in the hot tub changed in time with the flushing of Cas’s cheeks.

“I—uh.” Cas was redder than Dean had yet seen him, caught entirely off guard. “Thank you, I guess.”

The moment held, crackling and heavy and obvious, and Dean realized that he hadn’t breathed in a few seconds, until Cas moved to put his coconut down on the edge of the tub.

“Dean,” Cas dropped his eyes for a moment, regarding the warm water as if he’d find some hidden bravery in it, before he looked back up, meeting Dean’s gaze directly. “Earlier, when I wanted to ask you…” he paused to moisten his lips, drifting a fraction closer on the seat. “I’ve been wondering who you had feelings for, if it could possibly be, well… me.”

Dean let the bubbles in the water carry his hand upward while he fought back a ridiculous smile, not wanting to come off too excited at such a critical moment. Lifting his arm, he reached for Cas, cautiously trailing wet fingers across his cheek before tugging him a little closer.

“Of course it was you,” Dean confessed around the huge lump in his throat that he had to admit, just might be his heart. “It’s been you since pretty soon after we first started talking, Cas.”

Cas closed his eyes tight, letting out a shaky breath as his pink cheeks contorted under the force of his wide, gummy grin. “Good,” he said.

“Can I kiss you now?” Dean asked, struggling against his own grin.

“Please.” Cas gave a soft laugh. “The past two days have been some kind of elaborately constructed, beautiful torture, so please kiss me before I go crazy.”

It was a plea Dean certainly didn’t need to hear more than once. He cupped his hand more firmly around the bolt of Cas’s jaw, pulling him gently so that they drifted against each other in the water, warmth and bubbles sloshing at their chests. Close enough that breath was a shared affair, Dean couldn’t help a wide, exhilarated smile.

“I had no idea that if I met you, you’d exceed everything I dared hope for,” Dean confessed, ignoring the heat in his own cheeks.

I can be cheesy if I want to, damn it—we’re in a freaking hot tub on the beach in Hawaii, for God’s sake…

Cas seemed to reach the same conclusion as his hand rose to splay across Dean’s chest, his fingers shifting fractionally across his damp, bare skin, leaving tingles in their wake. “I was afraid that if I asked to meet you and you didn’t feel the same as I did, you would want to stop being friends, too.”

Dean blinked, hastily putting his cocktail down on the edge of the hot tub. “You… you wanted to meet me? Before the show, you liked me too?”

Cas pressed at Dean’s chest, chuckling. “Dean, has anyone ever told you that for a smart guy, you’re kind of an idiot?”

“Hey!” Dean began to protest, but he never got any further, as Cas pressed his mouth to Dean’s own.

The first kiss was a brief, grinning, laughing affair; all ridiculous happiness and squeezing hugs, Dean admiring the wrinkles that formed at the corner of Cas’s eyes when he beamed so widely, their foreheads pressing together.

From there everything softened. Dean slid the arm closest to Cas up around his waist, pulling him in close. They sat on the seat, bathed in moonlight and tiki torch shadows, turned toward each other as their lips met again, slower, tender and easy. The air filled with small sighs and splashes. Cas kissed from his core, Dean discovered—his hands roaming, letting out content sounds, his whole body in on the act. It was intoxicating, the whole experience almost overstimulating, between the lips, the water, and the sounds of the Hawaiian night air.

When Dean dipped his tongue past Cas’s lips, he was met with the roughness of vodka, chased with the sweet taste of fruit. They tussled back and forth in wordless discussion over who’s mouth would dominate the other’s, and when Cas’s came out on top, Dean was beyond happy to relax back against the edge of the tub and let him drive.

Coming up for air was an unpleasant experience, the few inches between them already far too many.

“Dean,” Cas murmured against his cheek, back to smiling, making the one word a whole sentence by itself.

“Cas,” Dean responded, breathless, before registering that he’d done the same thing. A tiny chuckle escaped, and suddenly they were back to grinning, resting against each other, sharing air full of laughter.

“I like being able to kiss you,” Cas announced firmly, molding himself right up to Dean’s side and diving back in.

It wasn’t close enough, still, for Dean’s taste; so, sliding his hands around Cas’s hips— Son of a bitch, those damn hip bones, Jesus— Dean pulled Cas around to his front through the water, until he was in Dean’s lap, one knee on either side of Dean’s thighs.

That seemed to suit them better, breathless kisses growing more heated at the increased proximity. Rather than blood rushing south in a haze, Dean found he was aware of every single movement of his body, every motion somehow more intense in the water—even that of his groin steadily heating, hopeful and hard.

“Dean,” Cas said again, deeper, darker than before.

Finding that he could read the darkening of Cas’s big, blue eyes like the pages of a book, Dean let his hands slide around to Cas’s ass, cautiously at first, until Cas accepted the permission granted and rocked forward.

“Shit, Cas ,” Dean hissed out through a sucked in breath, feeling the truly heady tightening of Cas’s thighs around his own as his muscles shifted, and then the glorious weight of the head of his cock tapping Dean’s abdomen through the wet, flimsy fabric of his swim shorts.

Dean wanted those shorts off, and it he wanted them off right that second; but he held back, biting down on his lip, not wanting to rush. Instead he sat himself back up in the seat a little, the water rocking in time with his motion, so that they pressed together mutually.

Cas let out a fantastic groan above him as their cocks brushed.

Dean shifted his own pelvis in time, adding to the movement, leaving nothing about it one sided. “Is this—” Okay? Too fast? Too much? Do you actually want me, or—

“Yes,” Cas interrupted. The gravel of his voice was arousing from a distance, but then, rumbling into Dean’s very skin from so close… Well. Cas could talk Dean into an orgasm any time, Dean had neither doubt nor shame about that. “Known you months already,” Cas pointed out, a little breathless. “Been missing out.”

Their mouths locked again, harder, a little teeth then, nips between laps of tongues and pushes of lips. They rocked, rhythmic, in perfect unison.

When Cas pulled back his chest was rising and falling rapidly, the wide whites of his eyes gleaming in the controlled flame of the torches around the edge of the tub and deck. “Dean?” he asked, the slightest thread of uncertainty through the lust.

“Yes, angel?” Dean couldn’t help but lean forward to grin against Cas’s neck, tasting the salt on his skin.

“Should we take this to the bed?” Cas suggested, nothing coy about it. A genuine question.

“Fuck, yes,” Dean answered him just as straight. “I want to be spread out beneath you, naked.”

Cas blinked, and then something akin to a growl rumbled in his chest and he surged forward once more, his kisses hungrier, more urgent even than before. “Oh yes,” he agreed, once he’d tugged Dean’s lower lip between his teeth. “I’d really like that.”

Despite them both being on exactly the same page with regards to what they wanted to do, it still took them a few more minutes to move—each time one of them would pull back, attempting to rise out of the water, the other couldn’t help but tug them back close, their lips already missed.

“Come on, angel,” Dean said, grinning. He was enjoying being able to twist Cas’s online handle into a cutesy nickname, and from the amused smiles he got in return, Cas didn’t seem to mind. “We’re never going to get inside unless one of us gets out of this hot tub.”

Still in Dean’s lap, Cas gave an honest-to-goodness pout, looking grumpy as all hell.

With a teasing grin, Dean pushed him away so that he glided through the water, slipping from Dean’s lap. The pout turned into a narrow-eyed frown.

As Dean rose out of the water and stepped over the rim of the hot tub on the steps, he looked back to see Castiel watching him hungrily, a much more open version of the intense stares they’d shared ever since they’d left the mainland.

“Like what you see?” Dean taunted as he moved down and across the wooden deck, leaving damp footprints as the water rolled off his skin.

“Very much so,” Castiel rumbled, leaning his palms flat on the edge of the hot tub as he watched Dean move.

Dean knew, had always known, that he looked good; even with his tummy being little softer than Cas’s and his shoulders not as wide; he’d dealt with people’s reactions, good or bad, to the way that he looked all his life—but it still gave him a little thrill to know that Cas was attracted to him physically, on top of how close they’d grown online.

So of course, Dean sauntered his way up to the glass double door that led back into the suite slowly, letting Cas enjoy the view. When he’d slid it open, he paused before going back inside, looking back over his shoulder. “Still like what you see?” he asked coyly.

Cas was already clambering his way out of the hot tub. “Still, yes.”

Dean grinned devilishly, dropping his wet swim shorts on the deck so that Cas was presented with a flash of his ass in the moonlight. “And now?” he asked innocently.

He heard Cas launch himself down the wooden step and land on the deck with a loud splash, spraying water all over the wooden floor. Being careful of his wet feet, Dean dashed his way quickly through the plush hotel room, stopping only to grab one of the piled towels that the concierge had kindly, and prophetically, left on the coffee table near the doors. He darted into his bedroom and managed to get as far as the edge of the bed before Cas burst in behind him.

Dean expected to be tackled into the mattress given the look on Cas’s face outside on the deck, but instead Cas simply stood at the foot of the bed. His own wet swim shorts seemed to have disappeared entirely, probably somewhere on the deck with Dean’s own, he guessed.

Holy fuck, Dean thought. If he’d thought that Castiel was attractive with his clothes on … well. Dean was thanking every lucky star in the Hawaiian sky. Cas’s chiseled abs led Dean’s eyes to the small happy trail that led down to his dark groin of thick curls. Cas was still hard from the hot tub, the wetness of his skin gleaming slightly in the light of the strategically placed lamps around the bedroom. The room was large, but with Castiel in it, there didn’t seem to be much room left for air. He watched Dean with his eyes wide—something almost disbelieving about his expression still—and brought his hand to his swollen cock. Dean couldn’t help but note how thick he was, his fingers not quite meeting around the heft of him, and appreciate his fairly impressive length as he slowly worked himself over, the glossy, damp head peeking out from the top of his fist.

Lifting his eyes back up, Dean settled back onto the pillows, wrapping a hand around himself. “What’re you waiting for, Cas?” he asked, his own voice deeper purely from arousal.

Cas’s tongue darted out to moisten his lips. “Enjoying the view,” he murmured. “You’re gorgeous, Dean. I have no idea which God I pleased to have the man I cared about turn out to look like this ,” he said pointedly, raking his eyes up Dean’s bare frame. He took his time, stroking himself almost as an afterthought. “But I’ll sacrifice them a goat anytime.”

Unable to help himself, Dean burst into laughter. “Dude, what kinda guy says something like that when he’s got his dick in his hand?”

Cas gave a little grin as he crawled onto the mattress, knee-walking up it toward Dean, still stroking himself lazily. “One that’s at least somewhat endearing, hopefully.”

“Endearing—Jesus. Look at you, Cas. The only god around here is you. Get up here.”

Castiel didn’t need telling twice, and he settled over Dean almost reverently, choosing to press kisses slowly along Dean’s stubbled jaw from his ear down to his chin before he joined their lips once more.

Dean hummed at the sensation, a few days of stubble just lightly catching on Cas’s plump, pink lips. Despite the twin firmness pressed between them both, Cas above and Dean below, they took their time with kisses, exploring each inch of skin that they could reach, murmuring increasingly ridiculous compliments into each other’s space.

Dean had tumbled into bed with plenty of guys before, he had no nerves about it, but this… this wasn’t that. “Cas.” He pulled back just far enough to ask, keeping his hands where they were, tugging softly at the back of Cas’s thick, damp hair. “How do you want to do this? There’s things we should discuss before—”

“I switch,” Cas said bluntly into Dean’s neck, burying his nose behind Dean’s ear. “You can have whatever you want. I’m certain there’ll be condoms provided in your nightstand, just like there are in mine—though we can both get tested as soon as we get back home, because I hate them. Oh, and I’m very, very eager, if it’s something you’d enjoy, to stick my tongue in your ass.”

Dean could only shake his head and grin. “At least I know your online persona is genuine. You’re still just as blunt.”

Cas ignored him. “What about you, Dean?” he asked, already working his lips down Dean’s chest.

Finding it increasingly hard to concentrate, Dean sucked in a breath so that he could get out his answer. “I—uh, same. Switch. But I definitely have a liking for being railed into the mattress by dudes with cocks as magnificent as yours,” he admitted coyly. “And you can stick your tongue anywhere you want, as long as you don’t mind me returning the favor sometimes.”

“Perfect,” Cas breathed against Dean’s hip bone. “So perfect.”

As Cas tongued his way teasingly around Dean’s balls, Dean stifled his groans and focused enough to reach over to the nightstand. He tugged wildly on the drawer, all but flinging it open, and found that Cas was right; it was stocked with condoms, lube, and even wet wipes. Definitely prepared for their hopefully-coupley vacation.

“This hotel thinks of everything,” Dean said approvingly, dropping the lube and a couple of condoms onto the plush blankets beside him. He wasn’t sure how far they’d go immediately, but he sure didn’t want to have to dig around for more in the middle.

Cas immediately reached for one of the condoms, hesitating before he moved back toward Dean’s cock with it. “May I?” he asked, holding it out in anticipation.

“Sure,” Dean said, wanting nothing more than to feel Cas against him and get something touching him, before he started to lose it. “Whatever you want, angel. I can tell you to stop if there’s something I don’t li— holy shit!”

Dean almost lost it anyway, when Cas eased the top of the condom onto Dean’s throbbing, desperate cockhead and then used his mouth to roll it down the rest of the way.

“You’re gonna kill me,” Dean panted out. “Fuck, I’m already dead. What a way to go.”

The vibrating sensation of Castiel chuckling while sucking Dean down was unbelievable, and Dean couldn’t help his back arching up off the bed.

Reaching for the bottle of lube, Cas flicked open the purple cap with one hand, guiding the tip of Dean’s cock into the pouch of his cheek for a moment while he warmed the chill lube on his fingers. Dean reached down, pressing his thumb against himself through Cas’s cheek, rolling the pad of his finger across his head with a soft moan.

Eventually pulling off, Cas smiled. It was a heated, wanting smile, but his eyes showed other emotions that caused an ache in Dean’s chest that challenged even the one building in his balls.

“Hey,” Dean said reaching down to grab Castiel’s other, clean, hand. “Come up here for a bit?”

He didn’t need to explain, Cas tucking himself into Dean’s side perfectly, bringing their lips back together. “Yes,” Cas agreed, reaching down between Dean’s legs and beginning to slide his fingers across Dean’s hole, nudging his legs apart for easier access. “This is good—I want to see you.”

“Me too,” Dean agreed, his lips against Cas’s cheek. His breath hitched only slightly at the intrusion of Cas’s first finger, as he eased it in up to the knuckle, slow and smooth. After a moment, Dean breathed easily. “You can go for more, Cas. It’s good.”

They were an electric puddle of heat and want on the bed. Dean could feel Cas’s solid length pressed up against his hip, and he slid his hands down Cas’s marble front to give it some attention while Cas worked him open. The sighs and groans that Cas gave soon helped Dean discover which little movements he liked best, and he focused on those, rubbing his thumb along the underside firmly as he pumped.

“You feel amazing already,” Cas murmured, gasping. “You’re so tight around my fingers… I want to be inside you.”

Dean nodded emphatically, floating.

“Ride me,” Cas suggested softly.

Dean didn’t need to hear that twice, no matter how delightfully unfocused the pressure on his prostate was starting to make him. He pushed Cas back on the mattress, easing himself carefully off the fingers—three by then—that Cas had been using to prepare him. He grabbed another condom, opening it quickly and sliding it onto Cas’s thick, waiting cock without preamble, so that he could sink down.

Fuck, the burn was good—the kind that came from a heavy, full cock easing between his cheeks, rather than from not enough prep or simply not enough arousal. It was perfect, and Dean gave a full gasped and murmured litany to that effect as he lowered himself down, his fingers splayed across Cas’s stomach.

“Oh, Dean ,” seemed to be the only coherent thing that Cas could manage as Dean slowly ground out figure-of-eights with his pelvis, his thighs working hard to ease him so, so slowly up and down on each loop.

Their hands—sticky with lube but uncaring—found each other’s, and their fingers wove and grasped tightly as their eyes locked. Dean wanted to make a cheesy comment, but he couldn’t. There was simply nothing to make fun of in the familiar, affectionate way that they’d so easily fallen into in person, just as they had teased and bickered online—this was sheer perfection. The whole world seemed to spin on the axis of Cas’s cock, and Dean lost himself in it.

Cas seemed to be in a similar place, panting, his chest heaving slowly in time to Dean’s motions. He held his hips, pushing up and helping at all the right moments, their bodies exquisitely in sync as if they were—very simply—always meant to be.

There was no more talking, though they didn’t look away from each other even once.

When they both came, Cas first and Dean only moments later, both of their hands helping him, it wasn’t with shouts or yelled curses. Instead they twitched, and shuddered, and gasped each other’s names like prayers and promises.

There was no question about returning to separate rooms to sleep. In fact, Dean suspected, they probably wouldn’t even see the inside of the other room for the rest of the trip.

 

*****

 

Dean didn’t often wake up with other people. Sure, he’d go out and hook up with someone now and again at a bar or one of the less irritating clubs downtown, but he didn’t take them back to his place much or stick around at theirs. The last people Dean had actually shared a bed with were Charlie and Sam; Charlie because they lived in each other’s pockets and she was too gay to give a shit, and Sam when he was younger and had terrible nightmares after their Dad died. So, the weight that was wrapped around Dean when he woke up was almost entirely alien—he’d never even been the little spoon, let alone… however you’d describe what Cas was doing.

Dean guessed that he usually slept holding a pillow, because that was what Dean had become in the night. He was lay on his back, with Cas pushed up to his side, both of Cas’s arms wrapped around him and one leg thrown over, so Cas was half on top of him. His face was smushed into the side of Dean’s neck, and warm, even breaths puffed across Dean’s collarbone.

For a few minutes, Dean lay still, just enjoying the warmth and companionship of having someone so close. Not just someone—Cas. Bees. Everything he’d wanted, wrapped up in one sexy, tanned, blue-eyed package.

He couldn’t believe his luck. Stuff like this just didn’t happen to Winchesters. But there he was, waking up tangled with his gorgeous, dorky boyfriend. Boyfriend? Is that where they were? He’d have to ask Cas—he shouldn’t assume. Even if he was definitely, one hundred percent, down the rabbit hole, in love with the guy.

Cas had snuck in, somehow. Taking one of the best friends he’d ever made, and putting it in that package? How was Dean supposed to resist falling for the guy? Inconceivable.

As his mind wandered, Dean felt Cas shift slightly at his side. Dean began to turn to face him, but was met with a sleepy, displeased grumble when he tried to move. Further shifting resulted in Cas squeezing him tight and nuzzling deeper into his throat, like Dean was being disobedient by trying to escape, and Cas just wasn’t having it. When Dean stilled, Castiel relaxed again, as if content that he’d recaptured Dean successfully.

“Morning, angel,” Dean murmured down into the wild, dark tufts that were tickling the side of his face.

There was slight rumbling sound against Dean’s collarbone.

“What was that?” Dean asked, grinning. “Was that human speech?”

Cas flapped a hand feebly, smacking Dean on the chest. “Too early,” he grumbled.

“I’m with you, dude, for real,” Dean agreed. “But we do have another full day of activities to get to.”

“Snuggling is an activity,” Cas said. Dean could feel Cas’s pout against the side of his neck.

Chuckling, Dean determinedly rolled toward Cas, staying in his arms but forcing his head up, so Dean could look at him. “Snuggling is an awesome activity. In fact, I’d say all our activities so far have been pretty awesome.” He leaned forward, pressing a chaste kiss to his lover’s lips. “Good morning, Cas,” he added softly.

Cas blinked across at him for a moment, a hazy, sleepy smile across his features. “Good morning, Dean.”

“How’re you feeling this morning?” Dean asked. “You know, about… everything?”

Digging one hand out of the blankets, Cas rubbed the heel of his hand across his eyes. “If you mean about us and the fact we had sex last night, Dean, then you can just ask me that. I feel good about it. It was pretty good.” He grinned darkly. “I could repeat that any time.”

“So, you want to?” said Dean, still pushing away the last of his nerves.

“Oh—of course, Dean. Regular sex, definitely.”

Dean couldn’t help but huff out a small laugh, rolling his eyes. “You’re impossible.”

When Cas’s hand came up to Dean’s cheek, drawing their gazes back together, there was an unmistakable twinkle to Cas’s eyes. The little shit.

“If I tell you that I’m in love with you, too, will it stop you from worrying?” Cas asked, blunt and easy, grinning.

Dean glared. He hadn’t said that. He hadn’t.

But, if Cas did…

“Yeah,” Dean breathed out in obvious relief. “That would help.”

Cas shoved him gently in the shoulder, shoving his weight forward over Dean so that they rolled, Cas ending up on top, grinning down at him. “I’m very glad that that I ended up being forced to do that stupid show,” he said, soft and warm. “I hope we’d have got here eventually, but this way I get a free vacation with the man I love. Happy?”

“Wait.” Dean frowned up at him, his mind catching on the wrong part. “You were forced onto the show, too? You didn’t volunteer?”

Cas blinked slowly, still looking sleepy, as he caught up with Dean. “Why would I volunteer? I liked you. Wait—too? You didn’t want to be on the show either?”

Laughing, Dean shook his head. “No way. Charlie—the host, Charlie?—she’s my best friend. More like a sister. Her contestant dropped out at the last minute. I knew nothing about it that morning; she somehow got my brother to help her rope me into doing it. I didn’t even write my own questions.”

Pushing up on the mattress, Cas slowly sat up, frowning. The blanket pooled behind his back as he sat back on his heels between Dean’s legs. “I had almost the same experience, except it was my brother Gabriel, the producer. I had no time to prepare, so they even gave me a bunch of questions I could ask.”

Thinking back to the morning at the studio, Dean’s hand slapped down over his face with a low groan. “Dude… I am pretty sure my brother wrote the questions. Mine, and the one you asked me, which made me pick you. I saw my brother handing a bunch of cards to Gabriel that morning—I never even thought about it.”

“So, you’re saying that for some reason, your friend Charlie, and your brother—and my brother—were all in on this?”

Dean nodded slowly. “Yeah. Charlie knew who you were, as Bees, online—she’s our DM for our Dungeons and Dragons group. She knew I liked you.”

“We weren’t actually subtle, looking back,” Cas admitted, chuckling. “It’s all making sense now. How did she work out who I was, though?”

“At a guess? I told her how we met, and she got a few details about you here and there. Charlie has some… slightly under-the-table hacking habits. And I mean, how many gay, bee-keeping grad students can there be at KSU at any one time?”

Reaching out a hand to Dean, Cas pulled him up and wrapped his arms and legs around him, bumping their noses together. “I think I can let their meddling slide, given how it ended up.”

“Me too,” Dean agreed. He took the time to kiss Cas deeply, morning-breath be damned, before pulling back. “Here’s the only part I don’t understand, myself—Gabriel works with Charlie, sure, but however did he agree to drag his poor, unwitting brother onto the show? Charlie and Gabe don’t know each other that well, from what she’s said.”

Castiel’s brow creased. “It’s an interesting question. Gabriel only moved back here a few months ago, when he got the job on the show. It’s his first one, he’d been away doing his communications degree for the past three years.”

“Where?” asked Dean warily.

“California. He studied communications and social media in programming at Stanford.”

Dean’s head slumped forward onto Cas’s shoulder with a laugh. “Well, there we go. The last piece.”

Against the side of his face, Dean felt Castiel’s head tilt curiously.

“Stanford,” Dean said. “Gabriel and Charlie aren’t the link. Gabriel and my brother Sam are. He’s in his second year of pre-law at Stanford.”

“What meddling families we have.” Cas chuckled next to Dean’s ear, before nipping at it gently. “I suggest we pay them back somehow… but later.”

“Yeah,” Dean agreed, grinning and wrapping his arms tight around Castiel so that he could pull him back down to the mattress. “Much later. I’m sure we don’t have to get up for at least a little while longer…”



Chapter Text

Epilogue  

chapter-header-d20

The airport was noisy, and busy, and shove-y, and overwhelming. Dean did not like it at the best of times, and right then he felt oddly discomfited that he was doing it without Cas’s hand in his. Their hands—and every other part of their bodies—had been in close proximity for the entire rest of their heavenly Hawaiian escape, so arriving back at Kansas City International Airport alone, wearing heavy jeans and a long sleeve shirt over his tan (and over the peeling bits of his shoulders, unfortunately) was jarring.

Hauling his duffle onto the weird moving walkway that airports seemed so prone to have, Dean tugged his phone out of his jeans pocket. Three messages: two from Sam, and one from Castiel, from the shiny new contact in Dean’s phone that had Cas’s actual phone number.

 

Sam: We’re outside the gate waiting

Sam: I brought you your car, don’t get mad at me for driving her. Just thought you’d probably missed her

 

Dean smiled. Sam wasn’t wrong about that part—he had missed Baby.

 

Cas: On my way. Five-minute head start is up!

 

Grinning, Dean pressed his thumb to the side of the phone and shut off the screen. The end of the belt that made up the moving walkway was quickly coming up, so Dean shoved the iPhone back in his pocket and lifted the duffel bag up off the floor, so that it didn’t get stuck at the end.

He walked out through the large, open entryway that led from the baggage claim area where he’d just been, to the main arrivals terminal. There were barricades, forming clearly marked paths, allowing those just arrived off their planes to walk unhindered between the waiting crowds. The airport seemed to be in the midst of some kind of pick-up rush hour, as every retractable barrier was lined with people. There were parents awaiting grown children, and people with flowers waiting for someone special. There were lots of signs, neat ones for taxicab pickups and handmade ones, for kids welcoming parents home or even partners who were greeting a spouse they hadn’t seen for months. Dean watched one such reunion as he walked, unable to help a small smile. There were plenty of college age kids too, welcoming friends back to Kansas after they’d been away for spring break.

Up ahead, as clear as day to Dean, there was a long, white paper banner, held by three pairs of hands, that said, “Welcome back, Dean and Cas!” The banner moved—not from any breeze, but from the way Charlie bounced up and down in the middle. It was also uneven, being held much higher on Sam’s giant moose end than it was on Gabriel’s much shorter one. Even so, it was pretty cute, and Dean couldn’t help a grin as he saw it.

“Sammy, Charlie,” Dean greeted his brother and best friend with a tight group hug as they abandoned the banner, letting it flutter to their feet. Dean dropped his duffle down so that he could clap them both on the back.

Beside them, uneasy looking, stood Gabriel Novak. He peered back behind Dean without greeting him, as if expecting to see him being followed by someone else.

The three—Sam, Charlie, and Gabe—exchanged a nervous look.

“So, how was your vacation?” Sam asked cautiously.

“Glad to be home,” Dean said evasively.

“You didn’t like it?” Charlie asked. She sounded nervous.

In Dean’s peripheral, Gabriel hovered, not officially greeted.

“It was a ten-hour plane ride!” Dean said accusingly. “For a beach. With a stranger.”

“Well, I mean, Cas was,” Gabriel spoke up then, sounding highly uncertain, “not quite a stranger, right? Huh Dean-o?” With an awkwardly hopeful smile, Gabriel reached forward and slapped Dean on the shoulder.

“Why’s he here?” Dean asked, playing dumb.

“Uh,” Sam said eloquently.

They all exchanged another worried glance.

“So, you didn’t have a good time,” Charlie stated again slowly, clarifying. “With Cas.”

“Why would I? He’s stubborn, and rude, and just plain weird, Charlie. He has all these odd dorky habits, and did you see him? So not my type. Being stuck with him was the worst part of it.”

Dean kept his face in a carefully formed scowl as he saw, to his amusement, Gabriel’s expression reddening into an angrily defensive scowl.

“Hey,” the producer said, stepping forward. “He’s not that bad! Alright, weird and dorky I’ll give you, and maybe the bluntness is kind of difficult to—”

“Gabe,” Sam interrupted hurriedly, his smile fixed and panicky in a way that made Dean struggle not to burst out laughing. “Maybe you can help me take Dean’s bag to the car, huh?”

Gabriel’s jaw was set angrily, but with Sam’s hand on his shoulder, he slowly deflated. “Yeah. Sure.”

“So, you didn’t like Cas. At all,” Charlie said, still sounding utterly bewildered.

“Nope, don’t like him,” Dean said, watching as the three co-conspirators in front of him exchanged truly horrified, panicked looks.

Shit, what have we done? was written all over their faces, and Dean took no small satisfaction in seeing it.

“So, uh, I guess we should get going. Hourly parking, and all,” Sam said with a small, forced laugh.

Charlie bent down and grabbed the remains of their paper sign from the floor, trampled by all of their feet, and began to hastily screw it up into a ball.

“Oh, I can’t go just yet,” Dean said, smiling widely.

Sam raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“Gotta wait for my boyfriend.”

The silence was perfect.

“Your boyfriend,” Gabriel stated, flat and verging on openly furious. “You… found someone else. While in Hawaii. With… Castiel.”

Dean shrugged. “It was a pretty romantic resort.”

Slowly, Charlie cleared her throat, looking down at the armload of paper recycling she now held. “Look, uh, Dean—there’s something we should probably tell you. Right, guys?”

Charlie, Sam, and Gabriel all exchanged a look before they gave a series of nods.

“You see, Dean,” Charlie began extremely tensely, “we all—”

Dean felt someone step up behind him, and the familiar, strong arm around his waist, at the same time as he got the perfect view of Sam, Charlie, and Gabriel’s eyes widening.

“Hello, Dean,” Cas rumbled, slotting himself into Dean’s side and pressing his lips firmly to Dean’s cheek. “Ready to go, love?”

Charlie’s mouth was hanging open slightly, and it was glorious.

“You—” Sam protested. “You knew. You were fucking with us.”

“You said you didn’t like him!” Gabriel butted in loudly, still frowning.

Dean grinned across at Cas, chuckling. “Half-truth, maybe,” he admitted. “Turns out I love him.”

“Though the other parts,” Cas interrupted, “the weird, dorky, and stubborn parts… yeah, I’m definitely all of those. But he is too.”

Dean and Cas started laughing in unison as Charlie and their brothers spluttered and glared angrily.

“I can’t believe you!” Charlie whacked at Dean’s chest with her hand. “You really had me going, dude! I was panicking!”

“Well it serves you right,” Dean said, giving her a firm glare. “Meddling in people’s love lives is not cool. What if it had backfired, huh? We’d have been stuck together in Hawaii for a week!”

“But it didn’t, right?” Gabriel said slowly, looking back and forth between Dean and Cas still. “It didn’t backfire. You’re together, now?”

Dean gave Gabriel a small grin, reaching out to grab his hand and shake it with a smile. He didn’t want Cas’s brother to really be mad at him, given that he’d probably be seeing a lot more of the guy, now. “It didn’t backfire. And I guess, thanks for letting Charlie and my brother talk you into using your show to do this.”

“Yes, Gabriel,” Castiel added with narrow eyes. “Your show, that you roped me into under false pretenses.”

“Well,” Gabriel said, clearing his throat and giving a wide, jovial grin. “Worked out, right?”

Pulling Cas around slightly to his front, Dean smiled down at him. Bringing his thumbs up to rest at Cas’s cheekbones, he couldn’t help but stare for just a second. His boyfriend was still gorgeous, even without the romantic island background, so sue him. “Yeah,” he said softly, the tips of his fingers tangling in Cas’s hair as he pulled him closer. “It worked out.”

Cas leaned across the last little bit of space, pressing his lips to Dean’s, long and slow.

Their audience let it go on for a minute before Charlie reached forward, smacking Cas on the arm. “Alright, Casanova, rein it in, we’re in a public place. Plus, boy kisses are gross.”

“Speak for yourself,” Dean said, grinning. “I think they’re pretty nice, so you better get used to them because—thanks to your meddling—I have a super-hot boyfriend on campus.”

Sam and Gabriel both crinkled their noses, though Dean could tell it was as much teasing as anything else.

“You sure you don’t wanna come back to Cali, Gabe? Sure that Ready Player Two is worth watching these guys be all over each other?” Sam asked, gesturing to Dean and Cas.

“I do miss the frat parties,” Gabriel said mournfully.

“Is that how you two met?” Dean asked curiously, finally releasing Castiel so that they could grab their bags. “At a party?”

Gabriel and Sam exchanged a grin.

“Kinda, yeah,” Sam said. “Gabriel worked at the campus cafeteria after his parents cut him and Cas off. So, I’d seen him around. Then one night he got drunk at a Kappa Delta beach party and tried to talk me into having a threesome with him and his girlfriend.”

Gabriel sighed dramatically as he grabbed Cas’s carry-on for him. “It’s really a shame you’re so hung up on that Eileen chick, Sam.”

“Ahh!” Charlie yowled, covering her ears at the same time as Cas visibly scrunched his nose up at the image. “New rule—what happens at Stanford, stays at Stanford.”

“That’s not fair,” Sam grumbled as the group made their way out to the parking lot. “Because what happened in Hawaii is coming all the way home.”

Rolling his eyes, Dean elbowed his little brother as he passed, nabbing the Impala keys from his outstretched hand.

“Too right it is, Sammy—and in the front seat, too. Have fun in the back.”

Dean ignored Sam’s grumbling as they deposited the bags in Baby’s deep trunk and moved around the car to settle himself into the driver’s seat. Clipping his seat belt shut, he gave the Impala’s steering wheel an affectionate pat. “Missed you, girl.”

A soft, deep chuckle from the passenger seat drew Dean’s attention with a grin.

“Heya, Cas.”

“Hello, Dean.”

With their meddling family and friends all squeezed into the back of the car, Dean and Cas held hands on the bench seat and pulled out of the packed airport parking lot, heading home.