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“No.”

“I’m afraid so, yes.” Balthazar does not seem the least bit concerned. In fact, he looks a bit smug, and Castiel kind of wants to hit him.

“He can’t be.”

“He can, and I’m afraid he is. Our dear Michael has chosen his groomsmen, and amongst them are yours truly, and your former betrothed Inias.”

Castiel rolls his eyes so hard he gives himself a bit of a headache. “We absolutely did not get that far. We dated for a year at best.”

“Didn’t you live together?”

“Not for very long. This is beside the point.” The last thing Castiel is interested in right now is a dissection of his romantic missteps with Balthazar. “If Inias is going to the wedding, then I’m going to be somewhere else. Very far away.”

“You know how much that would upset Mother.”

“I don’t care what Mother thinks.”

“Yes, you do, Cassie.”

Castiel opens his mouth, then snaps it shut. “Don’t call me that,” he grumbles.

“You know what you have to do, don’t you?”

Castiel squints up at his other brother. “If this is going to be one of your sophomoric pranks, I’m not interested.”

Balthazar lays a hand over his heart. “I’m wounded. No. Listen.” He draws close and shakes Castiel by the shoulders. “You have to show him up.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Show him you’re doing positively splendid without his influence —"

"I am."

"—That you don’t miss him in the slightest—”

“I don’t.”

“—That you have been better off without him since day one—”

“I have.”

“—And that there is another beautiful, more worthy specimen of manhood on your arm now, sleeping in your bed, making you happy in ways he could never dream of!”

“There—excuse me?”

“You need a boyfriend!”

Castiel bursts out laughing.

“Come on, Cassie, I’m serious!”

“Balthazar, what makes you think I’m going to find a boyfriend in the next two weeks?” Castiel skims through the names of men he’s managed to even hook up with in the last several months. It’s very short, and contains no one he’d be comfortable asking to play wedding date.

“It doesn’t have to be a real boyfriend,” Balthazar says, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “He just has to be handsome and charming enough to fool Inias. And he could keep Mother off your back as well. I know how you hate her trying to set you up with her secretaries.”

That is a tempting perk, but Castiel is still skeptical. “What are you suggesting I do? Hire an escort?”

“Hardly necessary,” Balthazar sniffs. “Let me show you something.”

He directs Castiel to his laptop, and within moments they are both staring at a simplistic text-on-gray website.

“Craigslist?”

“You’d best believe it.”

“Have you been drinking?”

“Look. People post for all kinds of things. Go to the Personals section.”

Castiel has a feeling he’s going to need liquor for this. Happily, he has liquor, and by the time two-thirds of the fifth is gone, he’s pressing ‘post’ on a painstakingly-composed advertisement for the perfect wedding date.

~~

Morning comes with all the subtlety of a lead pipe to the skull. When Castiel wanders into the kitchen with one eye hidden in the heel of his hand, he spies the mostly-empty whiskey bottle and nearly vomits on it.

“Oh, I’m glad you’re awake,” Balthazar says brightly from the sofa. He’s lounged there with Castiel’s laptop wearing nothing but boxers and a colorful silk robe that Castiel’s certain he’s never seen before.

“Glad you’re chipper this morning,” Castiel grunts.

“What was that, dear?” Balthazar clicks on something else on the laptop.

“Nevermind. I sincerely hope you’re going to clear whatever it is you’re doing off my browsing history.”

“You have some responses.”

Castiel squints at him from the kitchen, and then it clicks. The ad. The wedding.

Fuck.

“Delete them all,” he says. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into that.”

Balthazar stands up, robe swinging around his ankles, and carries the laptop over to set it down on the counter with an over-loud crack. Castiel winces. “I think you’re going to like this one,” he says, swiveling the laptop so Castiel can see the screen.

Castiel stares for a handful of seconds, then says, flatly, “He’s asking for a ‘dick pic’ to see if he wants to come or not. Am I supposed to be impressed?”

A schism of confusion crosses Balthazar’s face. He spins the laptop again, selects a different email, and turns it back to Castiel without a word. When Castiel tries to lean away, he shoves the device into Castiel’s hands so that he has to take it or risk it ending up on the linoleum.

So he reads the email.

“Hi,

Your situation sounds sticky. I’d be happy to help for the price of free food. Care to exchange deets? I promise I’m an upstanding guy with a great car and a job I can brag about. No funny business.

I attached a pic of my face in case that matters. You don't have to send one back, but you can. 

-DW”

Curiosity has Castiel scrolling down until he sees the picture.

And he feels his eyebrows fight to join his hairline, headache be damned. His eyes open properly for what feels like the first time that morning.

“I told you!” Balthazar crows. Clearly, he was waiting for Castiel to find the picture.

Somehow, Castiel doesn’t even care.

Green eyes, lit from the side by some kind of lamp so that they sparkle. Strong jaw shadowed with just enough stubble. He’s smiling in the photo, too-pretty lips curved into something that’s almost a smirk, like he knows how good he looks, and damn if he isn’t right. Good haircut, tidy but not too short—Castiel likes something to hang onto—and, wait, that doesn’t matter, because this is a ruse.

“I’m still not going to do this.”

“Come on, Cassie, what’s the harm?”

Castiel opens his mouth and is quite alarmed, and no small measure surprised, when nothing comes out.

“See? You know I’m right. And this guy’s a real dish. Email him.”

Castiel heaves a world-weary sigh—or at least a brother-weary sigh—and idly examines the picture of the mysterious “DW.”

“I’ll think about it.”

~~

It’s three days before the wedding, and Castiel is beginning to panic. The months since Inias’s rude departure from his life yawn behind him like the maw of a beast. Inias was never the love of his life; he wasn’t fool enough to think that. But it still hurt. And the prospect of seeing him again while the wounds are only just turning into scars, especially surrounded by the judgements of his family, his Mother— 

This is going to be humiliating. 

It is in this state of anxiety that he finally pulls up the email from DW and composes a reply.

“Hello

You responded to my ill-conceived ad for a wedding date to fool my ex last week. I don’t suppose you’re still available?”

His finger is on the send button when he remembers the low-key request for a photograph. Castiel spends several more anxious minutes first trying to select a good recent photo of himself, then trying to take a picture that doesn’t look too ridiculous. His hair is a disaster, but there’s very little to be done about that.

He gets a response faster than he expected, but since he was refreshing his email every minute or so, he’s glad for the timeliness.

“Hi,

Yeah, I’m still available. Thanks for the pic ;-) you want my phone number?”

To save time, Castiel simply emails back his own number.

~~

His name is Dean Winchester, and he drives a 1967 Chevy Impala. He’s an adjunct professor of physics at the local university, lives in the city, and he’s allergic to shellfish. When Castiel tells him the dress code is formal, he asks if that means a tux, or if “this suit will do,” and sends a picture of himself in a dark blue suit jacket with stylish lapels. His hair is a little less perfectly combed than in the picture he’d sent before, and Castiel would have to lie about how long he stares at the photo.

This is never going to work. 

“He's too handsome. They'll never believe it,” he moans to Balthazar over the phone. 

“Don't sell yourself short,” he's told in return. And that's all Balthazar will say on the subject. 

When the day of the wedding arrives, Castiel is too busy being nervous about his not-date to be nervous about his family, or Inias, or anything else for that matter. (That’s a lie. He’s anxious about all of it, and convinced that inviting Dean was a terrible decision because it’s just one more thing that can go wrong.) He ties and re-ties his tie four or five times, paces around the house picking things up and putting them down again, and triple-checks the address of the wedding venue over and over until he hears heavy footfalls on the steps in advance of the doorbell.

Three quick strides and he’s opening the door. There’s Dean, all bright green eyes and that damnable blue suit jacket over a dark button-up and khaki trousers. “Hi,” he says, and even his voice is good-looking.

“You’re not as tall as I thought you’d be.”

That. That is the first thing out of Castiel’s mouth.

Luckily, Dean just cocks his head with an amused grin. “Don’t get that one too often. Usually, I’m only short next to my brother.”

“I meant—I’m sorry, that was—thank you. For agreeing to this ridiculous proposal. Come in.”

Dean steps across the threshold and Cas closes the door behind him. “So where is this shindig?” Dean asks. “Did you want to take your car?”

Castiel shakes his head. “Yours is almost certainly nicer than mine. Besides, it’s a lot harder for me to drive you into the woods and murder you if you drive.” Curse his damn mouth. 

“You never know, I could be the one planning to drive you into the woods.”

“Honestly, that might be preferable to dealing with my family and Inias.”

“You’re really getting me excited for this.”

“Sorry. Let me just grab a few things, and then I’ll give you the address.”

It’s not a long drive, and Dean’s car is very nice. Along the way, Dean peppers him with questions, and Castiel fills him in as best he can.

“So, it’s your brother’s wedding, right? How come you’re not in the wedding party?”

“Lots of reasons,” Castiel answers, staring at the passing houses turning into trendy boutiques as they head out of his neighborhood. “Not the least of which is that I didn’t want to be.”

“Fair enough. Not a tight-knit family, then?”

“Some of them are. I’m the black sheep.”

“Nice.”

Castiel glances back at Dean, trying to see if he’s being made fun of. Dean shoots him one of those grins, the kind that puts little crinkles around his eyes, and Castiel relaxes a fraction.

“So, tell me about Inias?”

So much for relaxing. Castiel sighs, deep and heavy. “That was an ill-fated trainwreck.”

“What happened?”

He doesn’t just sound curious. He asks it soft and quiet, like he cares. But that’s ridiculous; they’re strangers.

“He’s one of my brother’s coworkers,” Cas finds himself saying. “I let Michael drag me to his Christmas party, and Inias and I hooked up. A few months later, we were still hooking up, and I started to think he might actually enjoy my company. So we dated long enough that I thought we ought to move in together, and then I walked in on him screwing his PA.”

“Damn.”

Castiel shrugs. Talking about it feels like poking a bruise: sore but satisfying. “I was the one who pushed.”

“Yeah, but he sounds like a dick. You don’t —” Dean stops himself. “Sorry. Not my place to say.”

“You’re free to malign my ex all you want,” Castiel says. “That’s sort of why you’re here.”

Dean laughs again, and the conversation falls comfortably silent until they’re nearly to the country club. (Castiel hates country clubs, and he hates golf course weddings. This place is both.)

As the voice of the GPS informs them that their destination is in one mile, Dean breaks the silence to say, “We should probably work out a few details.”

“What kind of details?”

Dean shrugs, one hand confident on the wheel, the other hand casually on his thigh. “The kinds of things people ask. How long we’ve been together, how we met. The simpler, the better, so we can both remember it.”

“It should be recent. As an excuse for why none of them have heard about you yet.”

Dean nods. “So… a month?”

“That sounds reasonable.”

“Cool. One month ago…” he thinks for a moment, then grins. “Do you like karaoke?”

Castiel blinks. “Um. No less than the next person, I suppose.”

“Probably less than I do.”

Castiel groans inwardly. “Please tell me you’re not going to try and sing at this wedding. That would not go over well.”

“What? No, come on. But —” Dean scratches at the back of his head. “Well, I do this monthly karaoke thing with my friends. We could have met there...” Dean trails off, and Castiel wonders if he’s embarrassed.

“Where do you do this ‘karaoke thing’?” Castiel asks. “I may have been there.”

Dean’s smile is back, and Castiel looks the place up on his phone.

“What about PDA?” Dean asks.

Castiel freezes. “Sorry?”

There’s a little bit of a blush reddening the tips of Dean’s ears. “Y’know. If we’re supposed to be a couple. Should I, I dunno, hold your hand? Stand real close?”

Castiel’s mouth goes dry. He hadn’t even considered this. “Uh.”

“I don’t have to do — we can just not be super showy. That’s fine.”

“No! No, it’s — Sorry. Just a bit awkward.”

Dean nods, and the tension vibrates between them as they turn up the golf course lane. Castiel’s palms begin to sweat, and he can feel his heartbeat in his ears. “What would you normally do?” he hears himself asking.

“At a wedding?”

“Yes. If I were actually your boyfriend.” Castiel stares hard at the facade of the country club and takes pride in getting the word ‘boyfriend’ out of his mouth without stuttering.

“Uh. Just little stuff, y’know.” He stops to clear his throat. “I’m not gonna make out with you in front of your parents, I promise.”

Castiel nods, forces himself to breathe. “Okay. Just — do what comes naturally, I suppose.”

“I don’t think that’ll be too difficult,” Dean says. Castiel whips his head around to look at him and finds himself looking straight into jade-green eyes that reflect the grass and manicured foliage all around them. 

“...Okay.” 

Once Dean’s pulled his boat of a vehicle into a parking spot, he slaps a friendly hand on Castiel’s shoulder, the contact startling and solid. “C’mon,” he says. “It won’t be that bad.”

“You haven’t met my parents,” Castiel grumbles as he follows Dean’s lead and steps out of the car.

“Hey, wait,” Dean says as they start toward the club. “C’mere.”

Castiel steps close, then Dean steps in closer. “You’re backwards,” he says, and reaches up for Castiel’s tie. He lowers his head to get a better angle as he tugs the tie free, and this close Castiel can count his upturned eyelashes, can appreciate the pink of his lips. There’s a dusting of freckles on his nose that adds a sweet boyishness to his damnably good looks. Castiel blinks his gaze away, lifting his chin so Dean can re-tie the tie with little adjustments that instantly feel more correct. “You can relax, y’know,” Dean says, his voice low. “I’m not gonna bite.”

“I know that.”

“Do you?”

Castiel sighs and tries to let the tension out of his shoulders. He rolls his head on his neck and hears it crack three or four times. “Okay,” he says. “Let’s go.”

Dean offers his elbow as they meander up the sidewalk, and after only a half-second hesitation, Castiel slots his hand into the crook of his arm. He’s warm, and tucks Castiel’s hand close as they walk. With the little smile Dean’s giving him and the fluttering low in Castiel’s belly, he’s starting to think this might work.

~~

This is definitely not going to work.

They’ve arrived fashionably early. Michael and Aneal are busy with the photographer, as is most of the wedding party, and Castiel doesn’t know any of the other guests who’ve assembled yet. They’ve just found the champagne and buffet bar—Dean gives the cocktail shrimp a wide berth—and procured two glasses and small plates, when they’re spotted by Balthazar. He makes a beeline for them, gesturing to the photographer that he’ll be right back.

“Oh, lord,” Castiel moans.

“What?”

“That’s Balthazar. He knows—he’s the one who talked me into this.”

“Gotcha.”

There’s no more time for warnings before Balthazar is on them, hands spread wide in greeting. “Boys! How lovely to see you both here,” he says, shaking Dean’s hand with a conspiratorial wink. Then turns to Castiel. “If you think you can get out of being in photos just because you’re not in the wedding party, you’re sorely mistaken. Come on, and bring your beau.”

With that, Castiel and Dean are sucked into the wedding vortex. He and Dean are made to stand with every possible combination of family members, bride and groom, and the rest of the wedding party in turn. Castiel’s stomach does a cold turn when he catches eyes with Inias, but the photographer puts them through their rigorous paces before there’s time for more than a quick nod of acknowledgement. Dean bears it all with an admirable grin; Castiel is certain he will look constipated in all of these pictures and sends Dean apologetic looks in between.

It only gets worse after the photos. Like a falcon on a mouse, Castiel’s mother swoops in before they can escape back to their sorely-needed champagne. “Castiel!” she croons at him. “How good of you to join us, dear."

Castiel grits his teeth and bears his mother's socialite cheek-kisses. “Good to see you, Mother.”

Her eyes slide to Dean and give him a measuring once-over. “Could your lovely Meg not make it? I did like seeing the two of you together.” 

“Meg is just a friend, Mother. This is—”

Dean swoops in with an outstretched hand and a charming smile. “Dean Winchester, ma’am. Pleasure to meet you.”

“Lucille Novak,” she says in response, offering her hand as if she expects it to be kissed. Her eyes cool and her lips draw purse-tight as she regards them both closely, then turns back to Castiel. “Darling, do make sure you speak to Marvin before you leave. He has contacts with the Atlantic.” 

Castiel frowns. “And?”

“And, I thought you might appreciate the opportunity to move on from that wretched publishing house.” Her smile is as brittle as glass. “You know I’ve always said your potential is wasted there.”

It’s an old argument. Castiel feels his mouth do a lemony twist before he answers. “I’m not a journalist, Mother. I write fiction. Two very different skill sets,” he says, clipped and sharp to avoid blowing up. “Tor gives me a steady paycheck, which is more than most writers can say.”

Dean pipes up, genuine interest in his voice. “You’re a writer?”

Castiel had nearly forgotten he was here. “Yes, I—”

He’s cut off by his mother’s scoff. She has a remarkable way of robbing the wind from his sails, even now, without even saying a word.

“What now?”

She shrugs, innocence all over her face. “Nothing, hardly nothing, dear.” It’s never nothing. “I merely assumed that if you insist upon keeping company with this young man—”

“Do you have to phrase it like that?”

“—That he would like to know the particulars of how you make a living. If you can call it that.”

“Mother—”

“But please, dear, if you don’t want to divulge such information to the man you’re trying to impress, don’t let me ruin that for you.” She reaches up to pat him on the cheek, entirely patronizing, her skin dry as paper. Castiel bats her hand away.

“Mother—stop. This is Michael’s wedding. I’m doing what I love and I’ve worked damn hard to get here. Can’t you just appreciate that? Please?”

She hums just a little. “Well, it’s a good thing that you’re satisfied with your bohemian lifestyle.” With a claw-tight squeeze to Castiel’s arm and a final glance down her nose at Dean, the Novak matron swans off toward another cluster of wedding guests, leaving Castiel fuming.

“Wow,” Dean says. Castiel lets out an explosive sigh.

“I’m sorry. She can be—” he starts.

“So you’re a writer?” Dean asks.

Cas cuts off short. “I—yes.”

“What do you write?”

Castiel blinks at Dean, not sure if he’s deliberately deflecting or if he’s just that oblivious. “It’s, uh. Kind of embarrassing.”

“Humor me,” Dean says, a quirk on the corner of his lips and his gaze more intense than a question about employment really warrants. He’s definitely not oblivious.

“I, um. I write niche-interest romance novels.” One of these days his face won’t flush when he says that.

Dean’s grin is vibrant, all shit-eating and cat at the cream. “Niche-interest, you say? And what niche is that, exactly?”

“You should be able to figure that out,” Castiel says with a squint.

“Are they steamy?”

God, Castiel’s face can’t get any hotter. “In places.”

Dean’s grin just gets brighter. “Love to read ‘em sometime.”

“If you look up C.J. Novak on Amazon, you’ll find plenty of my offerings available on Kindle for a very reasonable price,” he says archly.

Dean tosses his head back and lets out a ringing laugh, eyes squinched up into soft little crow’s feet. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he says. “Now where’d we leave our drinks?”

It feels surprisingly good, making Dean laugh. Feels like his heart is pumping fizzy wine through his body instead of blood. He lets himself savor it as they amble across the patio, warm spring sunshine on their shoulders. It’s not until they’re sipping on their champagne again that he realizes Dean managed to completely distract him from fuming about his mother, which is not at all an easy feat.

Who is this man?

“Dean?” he asks.

“Yeah?”

“Why did you answer my invite? Is this some kind of strange hobby of yours?”

Dean laughs again, softer, a quiet chuckle, then examines the champagne in his flute. “I dunno. I was just browsing, and…” He shrugs one shoulder and toasts toward Castiel. “Something about the way you spelled ‘insouciant’ right but managed to stick an A in ‘wedding’ got me curious.”

Castiel snorts, but there’s more of a laugh to it than usual. “I should probably tell you that I was very intoxicated when I wrote that post.”

“I gathered that, yeah,” Dean says, twinkle in his eye. “I might have been a little tipsy when I answered.”

“Well, you hid it better than I did, at least.”

Then a funny thing happens where they’re just — just grinning at each other. Or, rather, down at their plates, but Castiel catches little glimpses of Dean's pearly white smile, and he's sure his own is no better-hidden. Somehow, he manages not to care.

He's about to do something crazy like ask if Dean browsing the personals section of craigslist means he's single when he spies a dark-haired figure in one of the dove-gray groomsman tuxes moving through the gathering crowd.

“That’s him,” he says, inclining his head toward Inias in a way that he hopes is subtle enough.

“I kinda thought so,” Dean says. At Castiel’s questioning look, he says, “You said he was one of the groomsmen, and I knew it wasn’t Balthazar, so he was the next best guess.”

Castiel mentally reviews the groomsmen and has to concede the point.

That’s when he notices Dean staring in Inias’s general direction with unwarranted interest. “Don’t look at him,” Castiel snaps.

“Why not?”

“Because then he’ll come over here.”

“I thought I was here to impress the guy,” Dean says, pulling out a charismatic grin.

“Yes, but —”

It’s too late. Inias has mingled his way into their orbit. 

“Hello, Castiel,” he says, cordial as always. “Long time no see.”

Before Castiel can even get a word out through his gritted teeth, Dean has reached halfway in front of him for a handshake. “Hi,” he says, “I’m Dean. Nice to meet you.” When he feels Dean’s other hand land between his shoulder blades, it’s a surprise, but not an unwelcome one. 

Inais looks a little taken aback. "Oh, um. Nice to meet you too.”

“Hello, Inias,” Castiel says, and shuffles half a step closer to Dean. Inias’s eyes flick back and forth between them, catching the drift.

“Are you two, uh…”

"Yeah, Cas and I have been spending a lot of time together lately." The way he says it, overly-casual with a twinkle in his eye, stirs up something warm and fervent in Castiel's belly. 

“‘Cas’?” Inias asks. “Since when do you let anyone call you Cas?” 

Dean turns to Castiel, eyes a little wide at the perceived blunder. He shrugs, and Dean shrugs back. 

"It's a term of endearment," Castiel blurts out. "How've you been, Inias?" 

"Oh, you know, the usual," Inias says breezily, then launches into a spiel about his and Michael's law firm that has Castiel tuning out from the word 'go'. Not that he's particularly keen on paying attention to Inias, anyway. He's not even sure why he asked. He focuses instead on the subtle brush of Dean’s thumb he can feel on his shoulder blade.

He catches Dean's eye just in time to watch him roll his eyes just a little. Not enough to be rude, but enough to startle a laugh out of Castiel. A bit of the tension loosens in Castiel's stomach. 

“Anyway, what’re you up to these days, Castiel? How long have you two been together?” 

“Bout a month,” “One month,” Dean and Castiel answer in unison, too quickly. Inias's eyebrows do a little lift. 

“Wow. Must've been a very special month.” 

“Karaoke,” Castiel says quickly. “We — he sang —” 

“White Wedding. Billy Idol. Fitting, ain’t it?”

It’s worth the price of admission for the incredulity on Inias’s face. “Yes,” Castiel says. “And I sang—” he shoves the first song he can think of out of his mouth. “Your Song.”

“My song?”

“No, Your Song. Elton John.” 

“Swept me right off my feet,” Dean says, with the kind of warm sincerity that has Castiel almost believing him. The butterflies in his stomach do, at least. 

“And that was all it took, eh?” Inias shakes his head. “You always did like to move fast, Castiel,” he mutters over his champagne. 

“What's that supposed to mean?” Castiel spits like acid. 

Inias is smiling, but there's a smarmy smear over it. “Nothing, I'm just pointing out a pattern I've noticed with you. You like to jump the gun on things. That's all.” 

The knots tighten again around Castiel’s stomach, and his mouth turns sour. “Do we have to do this?” he asks. 

“Do what? I'm making conversation.”

“Exactly.” 

“Hey, would you look at that, it's about time for the ceremony,” Dean says, looking intently at his wrist, which most definitely does not have a watch on it. “Why don't you get scootin’ along, Inias, they're probably looking for you.” 

After a brief but pointed glaring-and-jaw-clenching match between Inias and Dean, Inias bids his brief goodbyes, then wanders off into the thickening crowd. Castiel heaves a sigh of relief. 

“Thank you.” 

“Hope I didn't overstep my bounds.” 

“Not at all. That's exactly why I brought you.”

“Hey,” Dean moves in front of Castiel, hands on his shoulders. Castiel tries to avoid eye contact, but Dean doesn't let him. “You okay?” 

“I'm fine,” he bites out, and deliberately relaxes his fists. “He just… Gets under my skin. Still.” 

Dean's hands rub up and down over Castiel's shoulders, just once, but it's soothing all the same. “This wasn't all that long ago, was it?” 

“A few months.” Castiel shakes his head. “I'm sorry. I'm overreacting.” 

“Not at all,” Dean says. “He was being an ass.” Then, after just a flicker of hesitation, he tugs Castiel by the shoulders, drawing him into his arms for a warm, solid hug.

Castiel is not generally in the habit of hugging people he just met, but Dean just pulls him in like a comet getting close to the sun. Once the shock of physical contact calms down, Cas allows himself to melt into it, brings his arms up to awkwardly return the lingering embrace. Still, though, he tries not to breathe too deeply, just in case their chests push into each other too hard, or he notices how nice Dean’s aftershave smells. Tries not to hold on too tightly, lest Dean feel the hammering of his heart. 

Dean holds on for a second or two before pulling back, looking a bit sheepish. “Sorry. You just looked like you could use it. And if you, y’know. If this were really —” he clears his throat and waves his hand. “Anyway, we should actually probably get to the ceremony.”

“Thank you.”

Dean blinks up at him. “For —?”

“I think I did need that.” This time, Castiel offers his elbow to Dean, and the corner of Dean’s lip ticks up as he takes it. Once again arm-in-arm, they make their way out to the lawn.

~~

The ceremony is held on a wide green space overlooking one of the golf course’s water features. White chairs in rows make a semi-circle around the gazebo, and there’s an aisle carved down the middle already strewn with rose petals. Anael’s dress is chic and sparkling, her bouquet cascading over her hands, and her hair an architectural miracle. They look like something out of a fairy tale, especially with Michael’s ink-black hair and white tux. In spite of the conspicuous consumption and social grandstanding, it’s clear that Michael and Aneal are very deeply in love, and Castiel starts to tear up during his new sister-in-law’s vows.

It’s after he dabs discreetly at his eyelashes that Dean first reaches for his hand.

The brush of his palm over Castiel’s fingers is cool and dry, and Castiel uncurls on instinct. Dean doesn’t look at him; just watches the wedding with a pleasant little smile, politely fond, even though he doesn’t know any of the people involved.

And yet, he holds Castiel’s hand while final vows and rings are exchanged, and gives him a little squeeze before applauding the kiss.

Castiel is thoroughly rattled.

All he’d needed from Dean was a casual acquaintance. A bit of conversation, a shield against attentions he’d rather not deal with head-on.

What he has instead is this warm, attentive presence at his side. This indecently handsome man who is free with his smiles and laughter and peppers him with affectionate touches. It should be unnerving from a stranger, having him so close at all times.

And yet.

And yet, it’s all a ruse. For all Castiel knows, Dean is an undiscovered Oscar-worthy actor, or a compulsive liar, or a con man, or any number of things that do not equal ‘actually interested.’

Castiel chews on his dilemma as they enjoy cedar plank salmon, kale-and-beet salad, and roasted zucchini boats. Meanwhile, Dean keeps the wide beam of charm aimed squarely at him and anyone who happens to come within earshot. He charms them all — Castiel’s father, his other siblings, old friends and even older half-remembered acquaintances, extended family and complete strangers. He sticks like glue to Castiel’s side and keeps up the smiles and the casual contact even when there’s no one else around. Castiel ends up so distracted by everything that is Dean that he completely forgets to look for Inias, or to even avoid looking for Inias.

“You don’t have to do that, you know,” Castiel says, the words bubbling up past his teeth after Dean has picked a stray hair off his shoulder.

Dean’s hand freezes. “Do what?”

“The — the touching.” The affection, he’d almost said, but he can’t bring himself to name it so bluntly.

Dean drops his hand to his side, his face a little crestfallen before turning into a question. “Am I making you uncomfortable?”

“Are you — what?”

“I am, aren’t I?” Dean takes a carefully measured step backwards and smiles. It doesn’t light up his eyes the way Castiel’s grown used to. “Sorry. I’ll stop.”

And he does. He still sticks close, but there’s a few extra centimeters of distance that feel like a bungee cord that won’t snap close. He’s still charming, but he keeps their personal conversation on the surface. Over dinner, he’d shown Castiel pictures on his phone of his own brother’s wedding, where he’d been Best Man and done the limbo. Castiel had laughed, their shoulders pressed close and feet knocking together under the table. Now, Dean pulls out his phone to start texting somebody during the Maid of Honor’s speech, knees and hands kept politely to himself.

It’s exactly what Castiel asked for, and he hates it.

Well, no, it’s not what he asked for. He didn’t ask for Dean to stop. He’d said he could, and Dean had taken the opportunity.

Should have kept his stupid mouth shut.

Or maybe he’s the one being presumptuous. No funny business, that’s what Dean had said. Maybe they should both just stick to that.

By the time they move into the adjacent hall for dancing, Castiel’s mood is thoroughly soured, and it’s not helped when Dean suddenly and inexplicably cries, “No way!” and disappears toward the far end of the room. Castiel watches him cut through the crowd like water, and chooses not to follow. It might be good for both of them to get a little breathing room, so instead, he meanders over to the open bar.

While he’s waiting for his Manhattan, Balthazar sidles up to his elbow. Now that the formalities are over, he’s lost his tie and undone a few buttons of his fine silk shirt. “Where’s your shadow, Cassie?”

“Ran off somewhere,” Castiel growls.

“Oo, somebody’s touchy. Date not going well?”

“It’s not a date.”

“Could have fooled me.”

“Yes, that’s the point.”

“Well, he is certainly committed to the part, if that's all it is. There are high-profile Hollywood actors who could take some tips.”

“May I remind you that this was your idea?” Castiel snaps, turning to face Balthazar fully.

“Yes, you may. You’re welcome.”

Infuriating. Castiel scowls and is grateful for the distraction of the bartender presenting him with his beverage. “Do you have a point, or are you just here to antagonize me?”

“I’m here to remind you to relax, little brother,” Balthazar says. “I’ve been watching you.”

“Don’t you have better things to do?”

“You like him, don’t you?”

Castiel can’t think of a single response to that that isn’t horrendously incriminating.

“Your silence is eloquent. Why not take a chance? What’s the worst that could happen?”

“How long do you have for me to answer that question?”

“Do you want to be single forever? Must you insist upon being ornery?”

“I can’t help it. I was born ornery.”

Then, from directly behind him: “Don’t you mean bornery?

Castiel’s spine snaps straighter at Dean’s voice, and he really hopes that he didn’t hear much of their conversation. He turns with a grimace frozen on his face. Dean isn’t looking at him. He’s ordering a Manhattan of his own.

“We were just discussing Castiel’s appalling attitude toward relationships,” Balthazar says smoothly. Castiel wants to kick him.

“I mean, I met Inias; he was a jerk. So I can’t really blame a guy for being a little bitter.” Dean’s hand drifts up to its spot between Castiel’s shoulder blades, but it only lands there for a moment before dropping away again.

“If you ask me, I think he needs something new to get the taste out of his mouth,” Balthazar says, then gives a saucy wink. “As it were.”

Castiel grimaces. “Go away, Balthazar.”

“How very rude. Ta.” With that, Balthazar saunters off, and Dean and Castiel sidle away from the bar so that others can order their liquid courage.

“Thought I’d lost you for a second, there,” Dean says. “I was gonna introduce you to the DJ.”

Castiel looks over toward the currently quiet musician’s table, just a sound system set up on a short dais with a grinning redhead behind it. “Anael will have been responsible for that. I’m not sure Michael or my mother even know what a DJ is.”

“I know her,” Dean says. “That’s Charlie, she’s been my best friend since freshman year of college.”

“Small world.”

“Yeah.”

The conversation dies between them, stilted and thick in a way it wasn’t before. Thankfully Castiel only has to suffer for a few moments before the lights dim and Michael and Anael take their rightful places for the first dance.

While the happy couple sway and swing to Fly Me To The Moon, Castiel concentrates on the lights sparkling off the beading and jewels of Anael’s dress. He focuses on that so that he doesn’t glance at Dean, doesn’t notice the same lights shining in his eyes. He can’t help but feel the heat between them though, where their arms don’t quite brush. He holds on tightly to the stem of his Manhattan and tries to figure out the least awkward place for his other hand. When he goes to put it in his pocket, his elbow brushes Dean’s and even that tiny contact is enough to send his heart racing. He moves away from it.

This is idiotic. It feels like an 8th grade dance all over again, feigning disinterest in the whole affair to cover up how desperately he wanted to dance with his best friend.

He can’t wait for this to be over. Then he’ll never have to see Dean again.

Which, he has to remind himself, is a good thing .

As the formal dances come to a close and the floor opens for everybody, Dean sucks in a deep breath and turns to face him. “Hey, Cas?” His voice is quiet, smaller than he’s heard it yet. “I mean, uh. Castiel?”

After the softness of ‘Cas,’ his full name sounds strange coming off Dean’s tongue. “Yes?”

“Do you, um.” Dean swallows, shifting on his feet. “Do you wanna dance?”

Castiel’s idiot heart gallops ahead. “You don’t have to—I think we’ve fooled them well enough. They won’t be expecting—”

“No, I mean.” Dean sighs hard in frustration. “I don’t mean for that. I mean—you, just you, do you want to dance? With me?”

With a stone in his stomach, Castiel peers into Dean’s sparkling, hopeful eyes. He cannot detect a lie there. And maybe. Maybe it’s time he stopped looking for one.

“Do you?” Castiel asks.

“I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t,” Dean says, his lips ticking up into a tiny smile. It might be nerves.

Castiel swallows, then downs the last of his Manhattan. “Okay,” he says.

“Seriously?” Dean brightens like he’d expected to be rebuffed. Then he swallows the last of his own drink, which was considerably more than Castiel had left, sets his glass down on the table next to them with a decisive thunk, and holds out his hand to Castiel. “I’d be honored,” he says, that glowing grin back in place.

Castiel takes Dean’s hand in his and lets himself be led out onto the dance floor.

~~

Naturally, the song ends just as they take up a position amongst the half dozen or so other people who’ve decided to brave the dancing. The DJ gets on the mic and gleefully announces that she’ll be there all evening, and if you have requests, to present them for her and she’ll try to accommodate.

A careful half-step away from Cas, Dean starts to laugh.

“What?”

Dean shakes his head a little. “It’s just weird to hear her talk like that. Normally when she says hi, it’s more of a, ‘Sup, bitches.’ Can’t imagine that would go over too well though.”

Castiel laughs a little, in spite of himself. “No, I should think not.”

When the music starts back up again, Dean steps closer and reaches for Castiel. One hand up and out, holding Castiel’s, one hand resting gently at his waist. Castiel mirrors him on instinct, letting himself feel the warm solidity of Dean’s shoulder under his arm. He shivers.

“It’s a little bit funny
This feeling inside...”

The sweet vocals and piano that start up next are not exactly the best for dancing, but Castiel recognizes them instantly. His eyes snap up to Dean’s. 

“I’m not one of those who can easily hide…”

“You?” he asks.

Dean just shrugs, sheepish but smiling. “Pays to know the DJ. You like it? I took a gamble.”

Castiel nods and struggles with the lump in his throat. “It’s — yes. Always been my favorite.” His favorite love song, he doesn’t say.

“Well, then,” Dean says, pulling Cas into a slow spin. “Gamble paid off, I guess.”

“If I was a sculptor — but then again, no
Or a man who makes potions in a traveling show
I know it’s not much but it’s the best I can do
My gift is my song and
This one’s for you.”

It should be too much. It is too much, looking into Dean’s eyes while sweet words of devotion drift around them, but Castiel can’t look away. Doesn’t actually want to. His heart is racing a mile a minute, and it’s a good thing Dean feels like leading because Castiel’s not even sure he can feel his feet touching the floor right now.

“I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind
That I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world.”

“Cas?”

“Hmm?” 

“Can I tell you something?”

“Please do.”

Dean’s throat works in a quick swallow. “I, uh. It wasn’t just your spelling errors that made me answer your ad,” Dean says. “I told you about Sam’s wedding?”

Cas nods.

“My last boyfriend broke up with me right before that. Like, the day before,” he says, cheeks ruddy and his gaze fixed on Castiel’s shoulder. “We were supposed to go together, obviously, and instead, I had to go stand up with Sam while kinda brokenhearted.”

“I’m sorry,” is all Castiel can think to say.

“I guess I wanted to — I dunno. Do it right, maybe. Make up for that. And I just didn’t want anyone else to be sad at a wedding.”

Castiel nods, feeling his throat tighten up cold and hard. “I understand,” he says, heavily, already starting to withdraw his hope.

“But I didn’t expect—” That little huff again, his hands gripping tight where he holds Cas in his arms. “I didn’t expect to meet someone like you. I think you’re really great.”

“You barely know me.”

“Yeah, but — I mean, as far as first impressions go, this one’s gonna stick with me. In a good way.” Somehow, during the song, their hands which had been extended have drawn in close so that Dean is clutching Castiel’s wrist to his chest. “And I know I said no funny business, and if you tell me to knock it off, I will, no questions asked, but I — if I don’t at least ask, I’ll kick myself for a long damn time.”

“So excuse me forgetting
But these things I do”

“Ask what?”

“If I can kiss you.”

“You see, I’ve forgotten
If they’re green or they’re blue”

Castiel leans in, even as he’s nodding, as Dean meets him halfway. 

“Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean”

Their lips brush in a kiss so tender and sweet, Castiel feels the world fall away around them.

“Yours are the sweetest eyes
I’ve ever seen.”

It seems to last an eternity, and yet it’s too soon when Dean pulls back. Castiel chases him, aching for that sweetness, the breathtaking pressure of Dean’s mouth. He learns the brand new shape of Dean’s lips with his own, the scent of him, the little half-voiced breathy sounds he makes as they move together. He learns the ways Dean speaks without words, and tries his best to answer in kind.

When Dean does pull back, it's with pupils blown dark and disbelief stretching his grin wide. “Hey, I said I wouldn't make out with you in front of your parents,” he says, and he sounds short of breath. 

Castiel did that. Castiel did that. To him. 

Incredible. 

Castiel opens his mouth to say his family can fuck off, the quiet piano strains fade out, replaced with tight soprano harmonies. 

“If you change your mind
I'll be first in line
Honey I'm still free
Take a chance on me”

Castiel bursts into giggles, followed closely by Dean. “Is this you again?” Castiel asks. 

Dean shakes his head. “Nope.” He looks in Charlie’s direction with a bemused shrug, which she returns, grinning, and keeps bopping along to the best of the disco era.

It’s not until now — now that Dean has stepped back to a more polite and less distracting distance — that Castiel remembers the crowd of onlookers. He catches eyes with Balthazar, who golf-clapping in their direction with an entirely too-smug grin while Mother purses her mouth and pretends not to have noticed. Inias looks sour and annoyed, which is truly the sweetest icing on the cake. 

While ABBA continues to sing about taking chances, Castiel pulls Dean close again. This time, it’s not to dance or to kiss, but to whisper in his ear. “Let's continue this conversation in private?”

The reaction is gratifying and instantaneous. Dean groans, and his eyes flutter closed, and a pink flush heats his cheeks and ears. “I think this place has a bridal suite out back,” he says, words thick and deep and very close.

“You’ve thought this through,” Castiel says even as he grabs Dean’s hand and leads the way off the dance floor, across the back patio in the half-light of a golden sunset, and into the little bridal cottage.

Their luck holds: it’s deserted. Clothing, makeup, hair products, and undergarments are strewn across many unlikely surfaces, and the smell of hairspray still lingers in the air, but Castiel is focused on a comfortable-looking loveseat against the far wall.

Well, that’s where he tries to focus. But before he can make it more than two steps into the room, Dean is there, pushing him by the shoulders against the door and swooping in to steal his air in a kiss. Castiel is not at all one to complain, not when he finds himself suddenly pinned by the solid weight of Dean . His hands roam Castiel’s shoulders, down his chest, gripping around his waist as Dean possesses his lips. Fires as hot as molten lead sear through Castiel’s body, and he lets himself go boneless against Dean’s assault, opening up for the flick of his tongue. He lets his own hands explore, tugging Dean’s hair out of its gelled perfection, pushing under that well-fitted jacket to feel his firm, defined muscles.

Dean breaks back to whisper, "God damn, you're gorgeous," against his lips. "Been wanting to tell you all freakin' day." 

"You're one to talk," Castiel growls back. 

"Cas—Cas, wait," Dean says, avoiding Castiel's single-minded attempts to glue their lips back together. "I mean—Castiel—sorry—" 

"You can call me Cas, it's fine." 

“Cas.” Dean pulls his hands up to the safety of his shoulders. "I just—I don't wanna go into this with you thinking you're just a, a stand-in for Aaron or anything, kay?" 

Cas tilts his head at him. “I wouldn't have thought it if you hadn't said anything.” 

“Sorry.”

 "Do you feel like a stand-in for Inias?" 

Dean laughs a little, half shy. "No." 

“Well, then.”

“You're not, though. You're—I really do like you."

“Show me.” 

In the reddish-gold half-light of sunset through the windows, Dean's eyes go dark again, and with a filthy little smirk, he brushes a too-brief kiss over Cas's lips before nosing his way under Cas's jaw to his ear. Cas tilts his head up eagerly, shivering at the sensation rippling out from where Dean's lips brush his skin. 

“I wanna show you,” Dean murmurs. “But I'm gonna need a lot more space than just that loveseat over there.” 

“It's a start.” And with that, Castiel pushes away from the door, knocking Dean back with his own chest and shoulder and walking him toward the loveseat. 

“Fuck,” Dean groans as Castiel pushes him down onto the plush cushions. One of his hands wraps around the knot of Cas's tie, pulling him down for another deep, open-mouthed kiss. As their tongues wind around each other, Cas parts his thighs over Dean's knees, sliding down into his lap. “Fucking hell shit, Cas,” Dean groans, massaging up from Cas's knees to his hips, gripping his belt. 

“You have a filthy mouth,” Castiel accuses as he leans over him. 

Dean grins and bounces his eyebrows. “You have no idea,” he says.

Before Castiel can capture another kiss, Dean is scooting lower on the couch, sliding down the cushions. His jacket and shirt rucks up around his shoulders, but it's worth it for the way it positions him directly under Castiel. Heat floods Castiel's groin as he presses down against the distinct bulge in Dean's suit pants; he hisses through his teeth and rolls his hips again. 

“Fuck yeah,” Dean sighs, hands finding their way up under his suit jacket. He cranes his neck up and Castiel obliges with a deep, dirty kiss while they grind together through their trousers. 

He wants. 

He wants this man, who this morning was merely an attractive stranger. This man whose affections he has soaked up all day, whose hands are now tugging him closer, impossibly closer. The want comes barreling at him like a tidal wave, and before he can think better of it, his fingers are fumbling at the buttons of Dean's shirt. 

“Shh, wait—” Dean whispers. 

Castiel freezes. Though he feels ready to melt into slag, though he trembles with the pumping of his blood, he freezes. 

And hears voices. 

“I know ! Oh my God !” It's Hael. Outside the window but very close, chattering and giggling with two of the other bridesmaids, high-pitched in their intoxication.

Cas meets Dean's eyes. 

“We can slow down,” he says, regretfully withdrawing his fingers from the half-undone buttons. 

Dean licks his lips; Castiel tracks the motion. “Do you want to slow down?” he asks. 

No. No, Castiel most certainly does not. But perhaps they should. Inias’s words from earlier sluice over him like ice water: You always did like to jump the gun.

Then Dean's hips roll beneath him, stoking the cooling fires. 

“Not really, no,” he finds himself saying.

“Me neither,” Dean says, then does the job of unbuttoning his shirt the rest of the way himself. “Gotta be quiet though,” Dean stage-whispers, smirking in the last golden rays of the sun through the window blinds. “Wouldn't want somebody to come investiga—” 

Castiel seizes those lips before they make even more of a nuisance of themselves. Dean chuckle-hums and kisses back, playful and teasing. 

“Get your shirt open,”  he growls, sitting back up to reach for his belt buckle. 

“Are you always this bossy?” Dean asks, but does as he's told, fumbling with the rest of his buttons and struggling to pull it out of his trousers.

“Sorry.”

“Don't be. I like bossy,” Dean says with a smirk that has Castiel certain that he likes disobeying as much as he likes being bossed around. 

He undoes his belt buckle with as obvious a clanking noise as he can manage. The way Dean's eyes drop down is very gratifying. 

“You were the one who said be quiet,” Castiel says as he works at his button, clasp, and zipper. “Should I make you be quiet?” 

“Uh.” Dean swallows thickly. “We should—we should talk about that first, but—next time?” 

That's almost better. Castiel dives in to kiss the promise of next time back into his mouth, and gets his hands all over Dean’s defined chest and mostly flat stomach, the dusky little nipples that perk up under his fingers. Dean's hands wake up from where they've been rubbing restless little circles over Castiel's hips and waist; they follow the line of his belt to where his fly gaps open over his increasingly persistent erection. 

“Can I?” Dean breathes against his lips. 

“Yes. Please.” 

“So polite,” Dean murmurs as he maneuvers his hand into the tight space between Castiel's thighs. “We'll see how long that lasts.” 

“Prick.” Then he gasps when Dean's fingers curl around his shaft. 

“Why yes, yes it is.” 

Castiel rolls his eyes, even as he pushes into Dean's teasing grip. “You're such an asshole,” he says. 

“You are what you eat.” 

“Just shut up and get your dick out.”

“Bossy, bossy.” But he relents, letting go of Cas with a quick squeeze and reaching for his own belt. Cas helps, pulling down his zipper while he tangles with the buckle, and it’s definitely not just an excuse to rub his knuckles up and down the rise of Dean's cock through his trousers. A chorus of “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” echoes from Dean’s lips, and Cas presses harder.

Finally, Dean shoves his trousers down over his hips, boxers too in his impatience, and his cock springs up to slap his belly. It’s thick in the middle and curves to one side, and Castiel’s mouth waters as he pulls his own out through his fly to meet it.

“Fuck, you’re—” Dean licks his lips until they shine in the fading twilight. “Can I—?” he asks, and  his perfect cupid-bow mouth drops open in an involuntary suggestion.

“I don’t have a condom,” Castiel says with deep regret.

Dean’s head drops back against the back of the couch with a thump. “Yeah, me neither.”

“Next time,” Cas promises, and Dean gives him a glowing smile, small but heartfelt. Then Cas is being pulled down for a kiss, and with barely a shift of Castiel’s hips, their cocks are aligned just right. The first hot brush of bare skin and firm flesh is like a spark to dry tinder. Their groans rumble back and forth between their chests.

“Give me your hand,” Cas says.

Dean obeys without comment this time and catches on pretty quickly when Cas pulls his hand down to wrap around both their cocks. He squeezes them together, gives an experimental tug. Cas braces himself on the back of the loveseat, hands find Dean’s hair again, threading through and just holding on as he thrusts into Dean’s tight grip. Dean groans like he’s in delicious agony, so Cas does it again. He doesn’t care who hears. He just needs to feel the drag of firm flesh, the sticky slip-slide of foreskins, his own thrusts, and the rhythmic jerks of Dean's hand. He’s melting again, everything inside him turning hot and liquid as he chases his pleasure.

“Cas, fuck—” Dean cries out between their panting mouths. “Fuck, I’m—”

“Yes—”

“Cas—Cas—Ah, shit—!

Dean’s fist goes tight, still, and slippery as he comes, shaking from knees to shoulders, and going bright red in the face. Castiel tugs on his hair with both hands and thrusts into the mess, that perfect grip, and then— 

Dean—

The fires consume him. With a groan and a growl, Castiel spends himself all over Dean’s belly and cock, the heady rush of his orgasm leaving him weightless, breathless, boneless. In the aftermath, he collapses over Dean in a sprawl. His fingers relax to pet Dean’s hair instead of pulling, and his nose ends up tucked under Dean’s ear. He no longer smells like aftershave. Just faintly of fresh sweat, sex, and Dean.

He doesn’t realize he’s dozing until a jiggling underneath him wakes him up. “What’s so funny?” he asks, entirely disinclined to move.

Dean’s mirth trails off, but Cas can hear the grin in his voice when he says, “This probably counts as funny business.”

Cas starts laughing too. “Do you feel properly taken advantage of?” he asks.

“Hmmm, I dunno,” Dean pretends to think, and Cas takes it upon himself to discover if Dean’s ribs are ticklish.

(They are.)


~the end~