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The Tortoise and the Neighbor

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Castiel looked around his new home with his hands on his hips. Everything was finally put away, the last box of books was put on the shelving units, and he finally had a weekend to relax. The knock at the door startled him out of his thoughts. He didn’t know anyone in town yet, except for a few of his co-workers. 

Castiel opened the door and looked down into a pair of small, green eyes. “Do you gots any pets?” 

“I do,” Castiel replied to the little boy. He had seen the child riding his small bike up and down the sidewalks several times since he’d moved in last month. He looked to be about five, if Castiel had to guess. 

“Well... what kind do you gots?” The inquisitive boy brushed past Castiel and looked around the foyer like he expected a monkey or zebra to be standing there. 

“I have tortoises.” The boy’s eyebrows came together in a confused frown. “Turtles,” Castiel said, knowing the child wouldn’t know the difference. 

“Cool. Where are they?” The boy took it upon himself to go deeper into Castiel’s home. Castiel followed. 

“They are in the backyard.” The first thing he’d done after moving in was to erect the habitat for his Sulcata tortoises. “Would you like to see them?” 

“Yep,” the boy said and kept making his way to the back of the house. Castiel wondered where the child’s parents were and how they would feel about him walking into a stranger’s home. A male stranger. Suddenly, Castiel felt self-conscious. His new job as reptile veterinarian at the Dallas Zoo put him in proximity to children, but there were always other adults around. 

“Do your parents know you’re here?”  

“No. Hey, is this the door?” The small hand gripped the brass doorknob of the set of French doors leading to his backyard. 

“It is, but perhaps we should tell your parents.” 

“Ain’t got a mom like other kids.” Castiel paused and stared down at the child. He had brown hair with a touch of ginger, freckles, and was wearing scuffed sneakers, jeans with grass stains on the knees, and a t-shirt with a t-rex on it. 

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Castiel said, and against his better judgement, gestured for the boy to open the door. His tortoises looked up at the noise, expecting a treat. “Hold on a minute.” He quickly went to the refrigerator and took out the bag that held their food. “We can feed them, if you want.” 

Castiel was rewarded with a grin minus two front teeth. He took a seat on the brick wall that made up the side of his enclosure and the boy jumped up next to him. He showed him how his tortoises would take the large pieces of kale directly from his hand. The boy was enraptured with his pets. 

“My daddy says you’re snotty. I’m only snotty when I gots a cold. You don’t look snotty.” Inquisitive green eyes peered at his face. 

“No, I’m not ‘snotty’.” Why would a stranger think Castiel was... “Did your dad say ‘snooty’? 

“Snooty... yeah, that’s what it was. Hey, what’s your name? My name’s John. I was named after my grandpa. Why do you drive a piece of junk? Dad told Unca Sam that it was a pimps mobile and needed to be shooted.” Castiel had to concentrate to keep up with the child’s running commentary. “My dad has Baby. She’s a Chevy. I think I like your turtles. They’re big. I want a dog. Dad says I’m not 'sponsible enough yet. What’s your name?”  

“Castiel,” he answered and was about to address the state of his car when a shout stopped him. 

“John Samuel Winchester, where are you? If you left the yard, you’re in deep trouble.” 

“Uh oh, that’s my dad. He’s been grumpy since his boyfriend was a cheatin’ motherfucker.” Castiel blinked at the language. “I didn’t like him no how. He...” 

“John, Jeez.” Castiel looked at the tall privacy fence separating his yard from the neighbor's. A man was staring at them. His eyes widened when he saw the three large tortoises. “Sorry he bothered you, man. He knows better.” 

“Yes, I’m sure you’ve told him not to talk to ‘snooty’ strangers who drive pieces of junk.” The man was quite cute when he blushed. Interesting. 

He rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously and gestured toward the boy. “My kid has a big mouth. Guess he gets that from me.” He had the accent of a Texan and he’d had a boyfriend. Castiel was intrigued. A handsome, possibly gay, maybe bi, man from Texas. That checked all of Castiel’s boxes. 

“I’m Dean, by the way. And you’ve met John.”  

Castiel stood and made his way over to the fence. “Castiel. Castiel Novak.” He stretched out his hand to shake. With the five-foot privacy fence, it made it awkward, but they finally clasped hands. “Your son is delightful.” 

“That’s one word for him,” he said, looking fondly at the child, who was now petting one of the tortoise’s giant heads. “Those turtles won’t bite him, will they?” 

“They are tortoises, and they are good-natured.” Usually, Castiel failed to add, because on occasion, when they are hungry, they bite the hand that feeds them. 

“Are those like... Galapagos Tortoises?” 

“No, these are Sulcatas. The third largest tortoise in the world, with the Galapagos being the largest. They come from the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.” 

“Really. Hey, that’s pretty cool.” He glanced at Castiel before turning back to his son. “Look, I’m sorry I said you were snooty and drove a piece of junk. Like I said, big mouth.” 

“My car  is  a gas hog, but it was my father’s, so I’m quite attached to it.” 

“She.” 

“Excuse me?”  

“Your car. It’s she, not it. Give her some respect,” he said, smiling and God, that smile. It was what poetry was written about. The words of John Kipling Lewis came to his mind.  So off you go, I know my role, we're sure to be good friends, and if you find, you've changed your mind, perhaps you'll smile in the end.  

“Hey, where did you go? Do I have something on my face?” The man, Dean, was looking at him curiously and Castiel knew he’d been caught staring again. He often did that and it made people think he was weird.  

He shrugged and shook his head. “I’m sorry. I’m used to working with animals, so my people skills are a bit rusty.” 

“Animals, huh? You a vet?” He seemed genuinely interested and Castiel felt a kaleidoscope of butterflies in his stomach. 

“Yes. I just took the position of reptile veterinarian at the Dallas Zoo.” 

“That’s cool, man. Like with snakes and stuff?” He looked a bit squeamish when he said snakes, but most people often misunderstood the amazing creatures. 

“Snakes, turtles, tortoises, lizards, alligators... all of them.” 

“Seriously, that’s pretty awesome. I don’t do anything that fascinating. I just build houses.” 

“That is a commendable career, Dean. I love to build things, but mostly I do furniture or tortoise houses,” he said, pointing to the heated home for his pets. 

“You built that?” Dean looked at the structure with professional eyes and Castiel tried not to cringe. He may have gone overboard with the design and the structure had taken up half the moving van, but he liked it. It resembled a hobbit house, complete with a rounded doorway and a glass-paned window. “That’s great, Cas.” Other than his family, no one ever shortened his name, but it rolling off Dean’s tongue so easily gave Castiel a thrill.  

“Dad. Daddy, look.” Both men turned to see John astride Kojo, his large male.  

“Jeez, John, get off it. You’re too big.” To Castiel, he apologized, “I’m so sorry. I hope he didn’t hurt it.” John was off and looking ashamed, hands in tiny fists by his side. 

“It’s fine. I don’t think he’s heavy enough to hurt Kojo. The females are a bit younger and smaller, so he shouldn’t ride those.” 

“Still, he didn’t ask permission. John, what is my rule about things that aren’t yours?” 

“If it doesn’t have my name on it, don’t touch it without askin’ first,” the boy recited and Castiel couldn’t help but smile. 

“And on that note, I should get him out of your hair. John, let’s go, buddy. It’s almost dinner time.” 

“Okay,” John said, but didn’t look happy to leave the tortoises. The three of them were all standing close to the boy, obviously waiting for another handout. Food was their biggest motivator. 

“Uh, if you don’t have plans, you could, like, maybe, come over for dinner. You know, as a welcome to the neighborhood.” Again, Castiel noticed the blush.  

“I would be honored to have dinner with you... and John, of course.” Castiel inwardly winced at his mistake. It wasn’t a date. Just because the man was gay or bi didn’t mean he was asking him out. He was just being neighborly. He’d even said so. 

He led John through the house and Dean was waiting at the front door. He took his son’s hand and hesitated. Castiel waited, his head tilted quizzically. “John, head to the house.” The boy scampered away, leaving the two men alone. “I’m sorry I said you were snooty. You just seemed so distant whenever you were outside. I waved a few times and you didn’t even... anyway, I shouldn’t have said that.” 

Castiel’s brows came together in a frown. “You waved? I never even... like I said, I’m not really good with people. I honestly didn’t even notice or I would have spoken.” They continued to look at each other, Castiel taking in the other man’s handsome features, the fullness of his lips, those perfect freckles.  

“Yeah,” Dean seemed to shake himself out of a trance. “Well, hopefully, he didn’t say anything else embarrassing. He once told his entire preschool class that I wore Batman underwear. I think the teachers picture me in them every time I pick him up. It’s kind of crazy.” 

Castiel couldn’t help but laugh softly at Dean’s anecdote. “And now, you’ve presented me with that mental image.” Castiel’s eyes widened at his own boldness. 

Dean grinned, the corners of his eyes crinkling beautifully. “You flirting with me, Cas?” 

“Uh...” Castiel’s brief bravado left him and he stood mute.  

Something passed over Dean’s features. Disappointment? “I was kidding. And look, dinner isn’t a big deal, just some spaghetti. You don’t have to come.” 

“Oh,” Castiel mumbled. “Okay.” He wanted to kick himself. This was why he didn’t have many friends and he could count his past lovers on one hand.  

He watched as Dean turned away and stepped off the porch. His jeans were well worn and not obscenely tight, but it was enough to show off his ass. Castiel bit his lip. “Dean, wait.” 

Dean stopped and slowly spun to face him. “Yeah?” 

“I was flirting. Horribly, I suppose. John mentioned you had a boyfriend who cheated on you and I thought...” He raked his hands through his hair. “I don’t know what I was thinking.” 

The smile was a tad crocked, but Castiel would take it. “I’m bi. I was married to John’s mother, but she’s out of the picture. Has been since he was about six weeks old.” Castiel filed that away for future pondering. “I did have a boyfriend recently and yeah, he cheated on me, so I’m open, but not actively looking... Does that make sense?” 

“It does. I can’t imagine anyone cheating on you though.” 

“Well, a lot of people don’t want a readymade family. John is part of the package. He wasn’t  into  fatherhood. It was good to find out before things went further.” 

“It was his loss,” Castiel said softly. Dean’s smile widened, and the tops of his ears turned pink.  

“Dinner is at six.” He waved and strode across the grass. Castiel watched him until he closed his front door and disappeared from sight.  

With his home put together, Castiel found the minutes dragged by. He rearranged a few cabinets in the kitchen, deciding he liked the glasses and mugs near the sink. Then he spent some time answering emails and finally he made it to his closet to stare into the abyss. At work, he wore scrubs. Sometimes, he wore suits for meetings and such, but his casual attire was sadly small. Today, he’d worn khakis and a polo. While looking in the mirror, he groaned. Did people still use the term yuppie? Dean had been sexy in those jeans and the tight-fitting t-shirt. Cas’ jeans were fairly new and dark, not beautifully faded. Making a disgruntled sound, he grabbed a pair and tossed them on the bed. Next, he found a white, cotton oxford. Maybe if he rolled up the sleeves... 

At five minutes to six, he took one last look in the mirror, frowned, and walked across the lawn to Dean’s front door. He knocked with more confidence than he felt. Thankfully, he’d located a bottle of red wine to bring to his host. 

It was John that answered the door. “Hey, Mister Cas. Dad’s making salad cuz he says you look like a salad guy. Do you like spaghetti? Dad makes the bestest. He doesn’t use mushrooms cuz they taste like dirt. Do your turtles eat mushrooms? Unca Sam likes ‘em grilled. Dad says that’s gross.” 

“John, let the poor man in the house,” Dean called from another room. John shrugged and opened the door wider. 

“Come on.” He reached for Castiel’s hand and led him to the kitchen.  

Dean looked up from the cutting board where he was slicing carrots. “Heya, Cas. Oh, you brought wine. That’s cool.” 

“I wasn’t sure if... We don’t have to have it, if you don’t drink. I should have asked.” Dean was staring at him like he was an odd science experiment. 

“You need to chill, Cas," Dean chided lightheartedly. "I like wine. I like beer better, but wine is more civilized, right?” He nodded toward a cabinet. “The glasses are in there. Dinner should be ready in a few. I’m just waiting on the garlic bread.” That’s when Castiel became aware of the wonderful aroma in the kitchen. Garlic, the sauce bubbling happily on the stove, and something else, a bit sweet, that he couldn’t place.  

“Dad made pie,” John said, still holding him by his hand. Ah, that was the other enchanting smell. Since John was unwilling to let go of him, Castiel set the bottle of wine on the large granite island and opened the cabinet Dean had indicated with his left hand. He took out two stainless, stemless wine ‘glasses’ and eyed them curiously. 

“My brother gave those to me for Christmas last year. He said they keep wine at the proper temperature. I just know they don’t break and when you have a kid, unbreakable shit is a definite bonus.” 

“Ah, I see,” Castiel set them next to the bottle. “Corkscrew?” 

“Drawer there,” Dean indicated with a thrust of his hip and that sent Castiel into fantasyland again. Would Dean be a good lover? Of course, with those looks and that body, he’d probably had plenty of practice. Unlike Castiel, who could count his lovers on one hand. “Cas, you keep drifting off like that and I’m going to get a complex.” 

“I apologize,” Castiel said sheepishly, opening the drawer to retrieve the corkscrew.  

“What’s a complace?” John asked, tugging on Castiel’s hand. “Can we goes to your zoo? I only been once with Unca Sam and Aunt Eileen.” 

“Complex,” Castiel corrected automatically. “It’s a conflict often leading to...” He stopped when twin sets of eyes stared at him blankly. He’d been prepared to explain Carl Jung’s work to a five-year-old. “Your dad can bring you to the zoo anytime and I’ll give you a tour.”  

John beamed up at him. “Dad, we’re going to get a tore.” 

“It’s tour, John.” Dean grinned down at his son. “Tour.” He enunciated it slowly. 

“Tooo urrr,” John repeated. Dean nodded and ruffled his hair. 

“Now, could you let go of Cas’ hand so he can pour us a grown-up drink?” John frowned, but did as he was told. He stayed in Castiel’s personal space though, leaning slightly against his left leg. 

Castiel opened the wine and let it breath for a few moments, content on watching Dean finish making the salad. Dean would glance up every now and then and give him a warm, half smile. John, growing bored with the adults, wondered off to do what children do. Castiel supposed it included toys. His childhood was filled with books. Books to help him escape a life with only a nanny and a large, empty house. 

Dean began plating the food, so Castiel poured the wine. “What will John be drinking?”  

“He’ll get milk. His cups are in the next cabinet over.” Castiel opened it to reveal colorful, plastic cups with lids. He took out one with the Batman symbol on it because he remembered Dean’s story about his underwear. He took the liberty of taking the milk out of the refrigerator, pouring it, and snapping on the matching lid. Then he followed Dean into the dining room. The table was of sturdy oak and was rough-hewn with benches instead of chairs. After setting down their drinks, he ran his hands over it. “This was one of my first small projects,” Dean said, laying his hand on the wood. 

“It’s beautiful.” 

“I usually build on a large scale, so I wasn’t sure how it would turn out.” Castiel noted he deflected the compliment. 

“You did a fine job. It will be around when you have grandchildren.”  

“Yeah, I guess. Thanks,” he mumbled, his eyes down. “Let’s eat.” He turned and yelled out into the hallway for John to come to dinner and the little boy appeared instantly. Dean brought out two plates heaped high with pasta and red sauce, sitting one in front of Cas and one at his own place. He went back into the kitchen and came back with John’s smaller portion and a platter of the garlic bread. The salad was last. Castiel inhaled the aroma of a home cooked meal 

“This looks wonderful, Dean.”  

“Thanks, man.” John had scrambled up and knelt so he could reach the table. At Castiel’s questioning look, Dean explained, “Booster seats are for babies and John says he’s not a baby anymore.” He gave a tiny shrug telling Castiel he didn’t necessarily agree. “With kids, you pick your battles.” 

The food was delicious and Dean asked him questions about his job. John piped up with his own inquiries and all too soon, the meal was over. “Dessert time,” said John. “I made a happy plate.” 

“You sure did, buddy.” Dean stood up and picked up his and his son’s plates. Castiel jumped up to help clear the table. “Hey, no, man. Sit back down. You’re our guest.”  

“I’d feel better if I could help,” Castiel said, blatantly ignoring Dean by taking a handful of dishes to the kitchen. He grinned at Dean when the man rolled his eyes.  

“I didn’t picture you as a rule breaker, Cas.” The two men scraped plates over the trash can and stacked them by the sink. 

“Is there a rule set in stone about guest not helping to clean up? If there is, I must insist that you show it to me.” Dean stopped mid-stride and stared open-mouthed at him. Then he burst into laughter. Castiel’s own smile widened. 

“You’re going to be a trouble-maker, aren’t you?” He finally asked when he could breathe again. 

“I don’t know what you’re implying, Dean. I always follow the rules,” Castiel said with a straight face.  

Dean shook his head and shoved the pie at him. “Take this to the table then.” 

“Yes, Sir.” Castiel took the beautiful latticed pie and almost stumbled when he heard a slight moan behind him. Hmmm, did Dean have a kink? It was just one more thing to file away for further study. 

The evening didn’t end in a kiss or even the promise of another evening together. Castiel tried not to be disappointed, after all, Dean had been preoccupied with getting John into the bathtub.  

The following Saturday, Castiel was stitching up the leg of one of the zoo’s crocodiles, after a fight between two of the large females, when one of the vet staff pushed the door open. “Dr. Novak, I have a little boy outside asking for you.” Castiel looked up, his eyes narrowing. 

“Oh, well, was I slated to give a tour today?” He knotted the silk thread and looked at his work. One more should do it. 

“No, but he says he’s a friend of yours.” The girl, Kristi, shrugged. “He’s with a tall dude.” 

“Can you show them back, please?” Was it John and Dean? They hadn’t mentioned coming to visit him, but he hadn’t seen them around either.  

A minute later, the door opened again to reveal John and a  tall  man with shoulder length hair, who definitely wasn’t Dean. “Crap, man, I didn’t know you’d be... John said you told him to come visit, but we can... uh, just leave you to it.” His eyes were wary as he stared at the massive animal on the table. 

“Oh, it’s okay." His eyes tracked the man’s and quickly addedShe’s under sedation.” John, apparently not afraid at all, came right up to the table, his eyes the only thing Castiel could see from that angle.  

“Can I touch it?” 

“John, no.” The man said hurriedly and came closer to take John’s hand. Pulling him back a few steps, he apologized again. “I’m sorry for interrupting. We can come back for a visit during the scheduled tours.” 

“No, it is quite alright. John, you can touch her. She’s very much asleep.” The child tugged the man forward and reached a tentative finger out to run over the thick plates of the crocodile’s side. “This is a Saltwater Crocodile. She comes from Northern Australia.” 

“What happened to her?” The man asked, still looking at the croc like he expected it to bite his hand off.  

“She got into a tussle with another female. It happens sometimes,” Castiel told him, using the pliers to push the needle in again for the last stitch. 

“Unca Sam, touch it.” John was still fascinated by the reptile’s thick hide. And that answered Castiel’s question. The man was Dean’s brother. He was wondering where Dean was when the man in question was led into the exam room.  

“I turn my back for five seconds and you two get lost as... whoa, holy shit.” Dean was looking at the beast with an identical expression like his brother’s. “John, back the heck away from it, son.” 

“I assure you, Wilma is very much asleep.” Castiel knotted the last stitch and set down his tools. “Good afternoon, Dean.” 

“Heya, Cas, sorry for my family bothering you during... whatever it is you were doing to this... this... Wilma.” 

“No bother. I’m happy to see you. If you give me a few minutes, I can show you around.”  

“Please, Daddy, please. Can we stayed to gets the too-urd.” 

“Tour,” both Castiel and Dean said at once. Sam looked back and forth between them. Dean shrugged. 

“I just need to round up my crew to get Wilma back in the holding area until she wakes up.” He picked up the wall-mounted phone. “Wilma is ready to go.” 

Five burly men, all in the typical blue polos of the zoo staff entered the room. John’s eyes were huge as he watched them wheel the croc out through the double-swinging doors. “She should be awake in about ten minutes,” Castiel informed them as he removed his latex gloves. To his three visitors, he motioned toward them to follow him. “This room is just one of the exam rooms. I do small procedures here. We have a large surgery suite we all share for bigger cases.”  

Castiel showed them through the medical facility and then led them into the reptile house. They were behind the tanks away from the crowds. This was his world. Sam, once they were properly introduced, asked questions, as did John, but Dean was looking queasy as Castiel pulled yet another animal out of its tank. “And this is Morelia Viridis, better known as the Emerald Tree Boa. This is a beautiful female. They are found in the rain forests of Central and South America.” He held her out for their inspection, but Dean stepped behind his brother. 

“She will not harm you, Dean.”  As if  Castiel would let any harm come to Dean. The thought was ludicrous. 

“Dean’s not big on snakes,” Sam offered with a smirk in his brother’s direction. 

“It’s not that I’m afraid of them,” Dean said quickly, frowning at Sam. “It’s just that they are...”  

Three sets of eyes were looking at Dean and Castiel suddenly felt sorry for him. He was out of his element. Unwilling to embarrass him, Castiel settled the boa back into her glass enclosure. “It’s okay, Dean. We all have different levels of comfort. I cannot touch spiders. Even the smaller specimens terrify me.” It was true. Other than his initial walkthrough during his orientation, he never set foot in Discovery House where the arachnids and insects lived. 

Castiel finished the tour with a quick walk to the Galapagos Tortoise enclosure. He’d timed it so the keepers would be beginning their feeding lecture. Alfie, a young keeper with a bright future in reptiles, took the microphone. 

“Good afternoon, everyone. These tortoises you see here are from the Galapagos Islands off the coast of South America. They are the largest of the land tortoises, some weighing nearly a thousand pounds. Once endangered, these majestic creatures are now listed as vulnerable after steps were taken to stop over-exploitation. We invite you to stay and watch as we feed them and we’ll answer any questions you might have.” He was handing off the microphone to another handler when he spotted Castiel. “Good afternoon, Dr. Novak. We have a special guest today, ladies and gentlemen. This is one of the newest members of our zoo family. Dr. Novak comes to us all the way from the Miami Zoo. He’s the leading expert on tortoises, but specializes in all things reptile.” The crowd clapped and Castiel nodded his thanks. 

Alfie opened the large cooler and began to toss out cactus pads, hay, slices of melon, and berries. The tortoises came in close and started picking up the offerings. The crowd seemed fascinated. “Do yours eat the same sort of stuff?” Dean asked, watching them intently. 

“They do, minus the fruit. I only give fruit as an occasional treat," Castiel answered.  

“Wait, you have some of these?” Sam moved closer to Castiel. “John said you had turtles, but I didn’t expect anything like those.” 

“I have Sulcata tortoises. They are somewhat smaller.” 

“That’s pretty cool. Can I see them sometime?” 

Before he could answer, John did it for him. “Mr. Cas has them in his backyard. Yous got to just knock on his door.” 

“He’s right. Stop by anytime.”  

They watched the feeding and listened to the questions and answers. Thankfully, the crowd seemed to forget he was there and no one asked anything of him. “Guess we should get out of Cas’ hair, kiddo. We’ve taken up a lot of his time today. Can you say thank you?” In lieu of the words, John wrapped his arms around Castiel’s legs.  

Castiel smiled down at his tousled hair. “It was my pleasure.”  

Dean appeared to be trying to tell his brother something with his facial expressions and Castiel looked on with interest. Finally, Sam nodded. “Hey, John, let's stop by the gift shop and we’ll meet your dad there in a few minutes.” Castiel watched them walk away and then lifted a brow in question. 

“I just wanted to thank you for taking time with John today. He had a blast. I can’t believe this is your job, man. It’s kind of cool. If I don’t step up my game, my kid might be asking you to his school for parent career day.” He suddenly grew red in the face and flustered. “Not that I want you for his parent... shit. Fuck. Sorry for making this awkward. I gotta go...” He stepped away, his eyes everywhere but on Castiel.  

“Dean... wait...” But the man was gone. Disappearing into the throngs of visitors. Castiel sighed and made his way to the crocodile enclosure. He needed to check on Wilma before going back to the veterinary services building. The large female was awake and in the shallow end of the pool. She watched him as he unlocked the gate and stepped inside. He had never been afraid of these creatures. They were well fed and used to the humans charged with caring for them. He wasn’t stupid though. He always had a direct escape route ready. “How are you feeling, girl?” 

Unblinking eyes stared back at him. A few of the small crocs moved closer expecting food. When he showed no sign of giving them any, they moved away again. He observed the occupants for a short time and then let himself out. Their handler nodded to Castiel as the gate clanged behind him. “She didn’t eat much after she woke up, but we’ll get her some more food later tonight.” 

“The anesthesia probably caused her lack of appetite. Keep it light tonight and if she doesn’t eat her regular meal tomorrow, let me know.” His mind wasn’t on his charges though, it was on Dean. Castiel was usually the awkward, social stilted person in any given situation.  

When he pulled into his driveway, he let his eyes drift to Dean’s house. The beautiful, black car was in its place by the garage door. Should he walk over and say hello to try to show Dean his odd behavior wasn’t a big deal? Or would that call more attention to it? Letting out a frustrated exhale, he unlocked his door and readied himself for a boring evening.  

He was eating the microwave chicken alfredo that tasted like cardboard when the knock came. Castiel opened the door to a tearful John. He dropped to one knee. “What’s wrong, John?” Castiel looked over at Dean’s house, but didn’t see anything amiss.  

“Daddy... Daddy says...” Each world was punctuated by great hiccups of air.  

“Shhh, calm down and take a deep breath. Is your dad okay?”  

John nodded, then his expression grew stubborn. “He says that I can’t bother you no more. That yous is too busy for me.” Castiel narrowed his eyes. What was going on? Did Dean think Castiel would harm his son?  

Furious, Castiel got to his feet. If Dean was going to forbid John from coming to see him, he deserved to know why. “Come on, John. Let’s feed the tortoises.”  

John sniffed. “But Daddy says...” 

“You won’t get in trouble. I promise.” John, his eyes awash with tears, nodded and followed Castiel to the kitchen. He handed the boy the plastic bag filled with chopped greens and together, they went to the backyard. 

When Dean’s head appeared at the fence, Castiel was ready. “John, sit up on the fence and make sure they get their snack.” John peered over at his father, but did as he was told. Castiel strode quickly to the fence. 

“Cas, John was told...” Castiel held up his hand and Dean’s mouth snapped shut. His pissed off expression must have warned him of Castiel’s current mood. 

"I am well aware of what John was told,” Castiel said through clenched teeth, purposefully keeping his voice low so that John would not hear. “Why is he no longer allowed to come to my home. Did I do something that you deem inappropriate?” 

“Deem inappropriate? What the hell, Cas? I just didn’t want him bothering you. That’s all.” 

“That’s all? He had never bothered me. His desire to learn about animals is a delight. I enjoy him." His eyes narrowed. "What is this really about?” 

Dean opened his mouth to speak, but shut it again. In a gentler tone, Castiel asked, “Have I done something? If so, please tell me.” 

“Look, Cas, it ain’t you. Okay? It’s just... My last relationship ended pretty shitty. He was... smart, like you. A lawyer at some fancy-assed firm. He liked dressing me up and showing me off, but I didn’t fit in with his crowd. And he hated the idea that I had a kid at home. You... you’re a nice guy, but I don’t think John needs to get attached to you. You haven’t been here long, but soon you’ll meet people just as smart...” 

“So, you aren’t risking a friendship with me because I’m educated?” Castiel asked incredulously, his self-righteous anger simmering to the surface again. Knowing it wouldn’t solve anything, he counted to five and took a deep breath. “I have dated other doctors, lawyers, and even a well-known architect. Do you know what they all had in common? They were proud of their financial situation and it showed in the way they treated others and in the way they treated me.” 

“I went to school to become a vet because of my love of animals, especially reptiles. I don’t do it for money or prestige.” He took another breath, his eyes never wavering from Dean’s. “When I date, which isn’t very often, I gravitate toward men who are humble, caring, giving. Men like you, Dean.” 

Dean rubbed the back of his neck and looked away. “Cas...” 

“I wanted us to be friends, Dean. Maybe in time, one or both of us would want something more, but until that time friendship would have been good enough for me.” He looked over at John, then back at Dean. “I will send John home shortly. Goodbye, Dean.”  

“Cas...” No, he would not give him the satisfaction of looking back into those beautiful eyes.  

“Did they eat their snack, John?” The boy was standing on the brick wall surrounding the enclosure, bringing him up to shoulder height. He ran his fingers through the short hair on the child’s head. 

“They ates it all up, Mr. Cas.” 

“Good. Thank you for helping me today, John.” 

“Is my daddy mad at me?” 

“No, John. Perhaps you should return home though and next time, ask for permission before coming over.” Once again, John’s lips quivered. “You are always welcome here. And remember, any time you are at the zoo, please ask for me.” The boy’s thin arms wrapped around his waist and Castiel’s heart felt a warmth spreading throughout his body. This child... a small replica of Dean Winchester, could break his heart. 

The next afternoon, Castiel chopped fresh vegetables for his tortoises and carried the bowl out to the enclosure. “Dinner time,” he called out and they all began to amble toward him.  Kojo was the last to emerge from behind their house. Castiel tilted his head quizzically. A small bouquet of balloons was attached to the large male’s shell with duct tape. As he lumbered closer, Castiel saw a small note pinned to one of the ribbons.  

He plucked the note off and opened it. A smile broke through the frown.  

Cas,  

I was stupid.   

Will you go out with me?  

Dean  

From behind the fence, he heard John’s attempt at a whisper. “He gots the note, Daddy.” 

“Shhhh,” came Dean’s reply. 

“Will Mr. Cas be my other daddy?” 

“John, we talked about this.” 

Castiel bit his lip to keep from laughing. He folded the note and tucked it into his back pocket before removing the tape from Kojo’s back. The balloons came inside with him.  

One Year Later.  

Kojo, weighing in at over one hundred pounds, wasn’t easy to move, but Castiel finally wrangled him into Dean’s backyard. He'd stuck the black velvet box to the tortoise's shell with some of John’s Playdoh. The boy was giggling at Castiel’s attempt to keep Kojo from trying to eat Dean’s rose bush. Dean should be home from his errand soon. 

“Okay, you go inside and watch for your dad. Come tell me when he gets here.” 

“Okie dokie,” John sing-songed and skipped into the house. He fed Kojo another piece of sweet potato.  

He heard the roar of the Impala’s engine as it pulled into the driveway and then John’s shouts. “He’s here... He’s here.”  

“Let’s hide,” Castiel said conspiratorially. He tossed a handful of the remaining vegetables onto Dean’s patio and they crouched behind the hedge.  

Dean opened the sliding glass doors and poked his head out. “Cas? John?” Castiel could see him look at the picnic table that he’d set with candles, a pretty tablecloth, and paper plates. “Where is every... Kojo? What are you doing over here? What...” Dean pulled the box off the tortoise and his mouth formed a perfect ‘o’.  

“Now, John,” Castiel whispered. 

John burst out of the hedges and ran to his father. “Mr. Cas wants you to marry him. We needs you to say yes.”  

Castiel stood from his own hiding place. “We do needs you to say yes, Dean.” 

“Yes,” Dean whispered to Castiel. His arms found their way around Castiel and they shared a long kiss full of promise.  

“Come on, Kojo, grown-ups are yukky.” The boy patted the tortoise’s massive head and the two disappeared through the gate that now separated the two backyards.