Castiel considers himself a simple man, with simple needs.
Probably easy for him to say, he has to agree, after a comfortable childhood spent being spoiled rotten by his siblings, no real issues except an emotionally unavailable father and a very obvious little brother complex. But in the middle of his boisterous, obnoxious at times family, he knows he's been deemed the easygoing one. The simple guy.
When his father sits him down, and tells him about not being able to help him like he did his brothers, he shrugs it off as unfortunate and smiles, reassuringly.
When he finds himself in the ER, bloody faced after trying to keep Michael and Luke from killing each other over a girl none of them is in love with, he sees it as a logical sequel to their life long rivalry, couples to his almost pathological need to keep everything smooth and happy.
Hell, even when Gabriel is the one sent to tell him the company won't need his services anymore, he only feels surprise. Alright, maybe a little shock.
But for the most part, and maybe that what made him who he is, Castiel refuses to let himself consumed by feelings, by anger, or resentment.
Unfortunate, so unfortunate. He says, shaking his head and accepting that as much as he would love too, not everything can be controlled.
That is, until Dean.
Dean, he realizes very early, is probably his exact opposite. While his friendship with Sam is a terribly easy thing, being friends with Dean feels, at times, like trying to wrangle a feral cat through a full bathtub.
Castiel loves him. Dearly. Probably more than would be wise, at times. He does, really.
Considers them both family, in a way.
That's why it hurts.
Dean avoids his eyes, and hands him a plate. Microwaved burrito, melted cheese already clumping back into sad little lumps.
“What do you mean, I don't understand.”
He puts the plate on the table, suddenly not hungry. He wonders where Sam is. Why Dean can't look him in the eye, can't at least offer him the couch for one night.
A little voice, inside, tells him he should be eating, that a free meal is not something he can refuse, especially in his position.
Dean lies through his teeth, and Castiel almost want to stop him, and to ask him to at least have the decency to tell him the truth.
He feels hot, embarrassed, in the sweater he had to borrow after being caught under the rain. Coming to Dean and Sam for help was just a knee jerk reaction, a need to connect, to be with the people who always swore they would be there for him, no matter what.
He wants to remind Dean of the promises, Dean's hand on his shoulder. Dean calling him a brother, a best friend. Dean telling him stupid things, using words like “belong” or “family”.
He's not proud of the way he reacts, shutting himself off from everything, too numb to comprehend exactly what Dean is trying to say. He nods a few times, because he's not sure there's an answer to what just transpired between them, he's not sure he can find the right way to tell his friend “you just broke my heart”, but also “you were the only one I trusted with this” and “I don't have a plan B, because it never occurred to me you would send me away.” Maybe most importantly : “I don't know what's wrong with me, I just know I should not be alone.”
Dean makes him promise to call, and to check with them regularly, and Castiel lies too, easily now, because that's what he does, keeping things smooth.
A simple man, with simple needs indeed.
It's easy to plan what to do, he realizes, if only because of his brothers, ready to help, all a little rattled from his sudden departure.
Jobs, silly offers, but offers he gladly accepts starts arriving, contributor for Balthazar's publication, a friend of Luke offering a consulting position, a few weird things here and there, mostly from Gabriel, but it keeps him busy, and afloat, and he guesses that what he needs, a reason to wake up and get out of bed.
Money is better than alcohol, he supposes.
“When you're ready to talk, Dove, I'll be there.”
He says thank you, and keeps his brother's gentle tone safe in his memory, for later, he knows, for when he'll feel ready to face everything.
He drives, instead. He smiles at the romantic notion of serendipity, he wishes he could, let himself go completely, be a nomad, going from town to town, only following wi-fi and his heart, but no.
As much as he would love to pretend he doesn't know what he's doing, it feels right to follow the road taking him back to the tiny town nested in the mountains. It feels like going home.
Hannah doesn't seem too surprised, just happy to see him, and she confirms with a huge smile that she has a small cottage for him. It's a little splurge, sure, but he figures he can just cut costs on food, not exactly looking forward to seeing anyone or get out.
Everything feels the same.
He's the different one.
“I knew you would come back.” Hannah drives with him, and does a last check before leaving him the keys. “It felt wrong, seeing you leave the last time. You really connected with this place, did you ?”
He smiles and nods.
Gabriel had been the one insisting on renting a cottage in the middle of nowhere, to celebrate Sam's birthday. It had been fun, barbecue and beers, cold nights and watching the stars. It had been fun, but Castiel had fallen in love with everything, the town, and the few people they had met. The silence and the way things seemed... simpler.
He crashes on the couch and sleeps.
Luke bullies him into confessing where he is, and he arrives a few days after, looking like he just got out of a fight. Probably did.
He doesn't attack though, his rage usually reserved for Michael. He studies the view from the french doors, the coffee Castiel serves him, the biscuits he brought.
“Are you ready to talk ?” He doesn't wait for an answer, probably figuring it out from Castiel suddenly hard shoulders. “Okay. Okay, so no. But can we trust you to stay here, alone ?”
“I'm not a child, Luke.” It's petulant, and it makes Luke smile, and of course it makes Castiel smile, because he loves his brother. Fiercely. He loves them all, it's just...
“I know. But I'm worried. We're all worried.” And because Castiel closes his eyes, he pushes. “What's going on, Cassie ? Why the disappearing act ? You hated that job.”
“It's not the job.” He breathes in. Out. “It's not just the job.”
“Cas...” Luke looks sad. And Castiel wishes he could explain, but he can't. Not really.
Luke stays for a week. They don't talk much, they walk around and cook together, listening to podcast they discuss after. Castiel feels good, almost protected by his big brother. It feels good not to be in charge of them all, not to try and contain everything.
“You have to promise you'll check in with us regularly.”
They're having lunch in town, Luke already leaving. Castiel wants to beg him to stay, but for what ? He's not ready to talk, he doesn't even know what wrong with him. He just loved existing, next to his brother, and he already fears the silence and cold.
Luke hugs him, and kisses him on both cheeks before leaving, almost making him tear up.
There's something wrong with him, he knows, but he doesn't know what, and it's so unnerving, to feel on edge and ready to shatter at the same time.
The waitress put a plate in front of him. Caramel flan, his favorite. He must look silly, surprised with fresh tears still in his eyes, because she offers him a tissue, and smiles, whispering a word or two about the dessert being on the house.
It taste amazing, better than he remembered, and when he goes to pay and thank her, she smiles an even bigger smile.
“He made it when he saw you. He said you looked like you needed cheering up.”
When he looks at the kitchen door, Benny is cleaning his hands on his apron, shyly waving.
He doesn't exactly flies away.
No, he smiles, and say thank you, and does his best to leave before they can notice his shaking hands, and the cold sweat.
He drives back to the cottage and goes straight to the shower, burning the gentle eyes out of his mind.
He's trying to bake cookies, when someone knocks at the door.
Benny seems taller, he looks a little older, a little heavier, maybe. He looks good, like he belongs here, in this kitchen, smiling at the mess.
“You should give them more space, or you'll end with with a giant mess.”
Castiel stares at him for a few seconds, enough for Benny to hang his jacket and rearrange the cookies on the baking tray, for him to check at the recipe on Castiel's laptop and take over, adding sea salt on top of them.
“I didn't need you to make them better.” He tries. “You always do that. Make things better, somehow.”
“You wanted regular cookies instead of better cookies ?” Benny is chuckling, his face hidden. Right from the start, Benny would make him feel unsure of himself. On edge.
“Maybe.” And because even after everything it feels good, to finally see him. Because right from the start, being with Benny made him feel more himself he even felt, he says : “I lost my job.”
They clean the kitchen, and get the cookies outside for them to rest. Benny pours them coffee he tops with whipped cream. It's decadent and exactly what Castiel needs. He almost offers some whiskey he knows he has, stashed somewhere, but remembers the road.
“It's been a while.” Benny is smiling at him, always the same gentle smile, like he understands, like suddenly Castiel is seen. He feels foolish, for feeling so much, for this whole trip he made hoping he would see him. Foolish, because now that they're here, he doesn't know what to say. “You lost your job ?”
“I did.” He sips at his coffee. It's easy to talk, in the dark. “They sent my brother to tell me. How classy of them.” Benny keeps smiling, but doesn't answer.
“Why are you here, Cas ?”
That's the question. The question he doesn't want to face. He doesn't want to think about his choices, about what it means, for them to be there on this porch, drinking coffee and eating cookies.
“It felt pointless.” His voice breaks, but he swallows and goes on. Now that he started, it almost seems easy. “I always did my best. Never asked for more. Always tried to make things easy, for everyone. And then... then I was the one they got rid of. Like that.” He surprises himself. The hurt, the resentment. “Same for my father. How many times did he save Michael, or Luke ? How many years Gabriel stayed with him ? But no, no one cares if I'm alone, without a job, the only one with student loan to pay. He doesn't fucking care.” His anger flares up, because he knows he's unfair here, his brothers all offered to help, but he feels betrayed, always the oddly one out, always treated differently by their father. “And then I went to Dean.” He stops, eyeing Benny.
Benny looks sad, for him. It doesn't feel like pity, no, it feels like he cares. It hurts like a sudden slaps to the face and he has to close his eyes. It had been so easy, to cut Benny off from his life, after meeting him.
“When I met you, I kept telling myself I couldn't. I couldn't do that. Not to my family, not to Dean, who obviously adores you.” Benny tries to protest, but it's weak. They both remember. The heavy stares. The way the would always be into each other orbit. Unavoidable. “I always tried to be the best friend I could, and when I went to him because I needed someone, he just... sent me back. Telling me how the timing wasn't right, and how he was sorry.” He almost whispers. “I was the one who was sorry.”
“I'm sorry, Cas.” Benny pushes their mugs and hugs him, engulfing him into his arms.
“I just... I am falling apart.”
“I know. I know.”
They move back inside. Benny's hand holding his. Keeping him grounded.
“Why are you here ?” Castiel stares at him. His hands, cleaning their mugs. His beard, a few grey here and there. He wishes he could be confident. In another life, maybe, he could stand up and go to him. Kiss him. Make him understand how important he is. For now, it's like he can still feel Benny's hand in his.
“I needed to see you.” Benny folds the dishcloth, and stares at the dark, outside. “You seemed so sad. That other guy was trying to cheer you up but your eyes looked empty.”
“Luke is worried. They're all worried.”
“I am now, too.”
“You're not alone, Cas.” Benny takes him back to his own house. The drive is quiet, they don't see many cars on their way. Castiel still feels a little raw, on edge, but Benny softly touches his wrist, brushing Castiel's skin with his thumb. “I know right now everything feels grey, and impossible to face. But I promise you, you're not alone.”
In the dark, listening to Benny's voice, it's easier to believe.
Balthazar arrives in the afternoon. He looks scared, and Castiel can't help but burst into tears when his brother hugs him. Balthazar calls him Dove, and thanks Benny for taking care of him. It's weird to see both worlds collide. Balthazar doesn't ask about how they met, who Benny is. He just thanks him, and Castiel finds himself between the two men, packing back his things, and letting his brother taking care of the trip back home.
“I'm sorry. For taking so much of your time.”
Benny is the one driving them to the airport, and they both stay behind, letting Balthazar charm his way through the check in.
“Don't be sorry. You needed me. And I needed to see you too.” Benny's hand cups his cheek perfectly, and their kiss is nothing like what he read about. No fireworks, no sudden rush of passion. It's soft, and up close Benny smells like coffee and black sugar. It's a little surreal, having his first kiss with a man at the airport, people passing them by and ignoring them completely. “But for now you need to take care of yourself.”
“I do. I will.”
Balthazar takes hold of his hand when the plane takes off, and doesn't let go.
Gabriel apologizes. It surprises him, the amount of guilt his brother carries. He tries to explain, that it has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with the company, with his life, but his brother avoids his eyes and just shrugs, deflecting the way he does so well.
He moves into Luke's apartment, and all the brothers seem set on spending time together and not so subtly monitoring him.
Balthazar drives him to his first therapy session.
He is, after all, a simple man, he discovers. Wanting what everyone wants. Love, support. Loyalty. It's easy, to see the patterns, gently nudged by his therapist. It's easy to see the first signs for what they were, his job, yes, but also his lack of social life, his need to avoid conflict. Dean. Benny.
He asks Balthazar when they're alone. He knows he should not think that way, but he knows he's his brother's favorite, and he knows he would never be cruel, or make fun of him.
“We didn't know, Cassie, because we don't pry on each other's life. You never said anything, so we never assumed.” He smiles, and Castiel is suddenly shocked by how old he looks. His big brother, so young and carefree with wrinkles, and reading glasses. They're not young. Not anymore. “I hoped, when you started to spend time with the Winchester. Dean, especially. You two looked like you could make each other happy, for a while.”
“No. No, we can't make each other happy.”
“But Benny ?” Balthazar sips at his tea. The house is under a strict alcohol ban, because of Castiel's meds. No one seems to mind. “You went there to see him ? Or was it an accident ?”
“A bit of both.” Castiel smiles, it feels good to think about Benny. It feels right. “Talking with him makes me really happy.”
They exchange letters, at first. Benny is the first to write, a simple white envelope waiting for Castiel on the coffee table one night. It's simple and undemanding, Benny telling him about the little town, the season changing, the silly gossip.
It's gentle and soft, but it suits them, letters back and forth, while Castiel makes sense of his new life. While he learns how to be himself again.
“He's courting you.” Luke smiles at the box of sweets Benny sent over. “It's good. You need time.”
Castiel can't even find in himself to be annoyed at his meddling brothers.
“I have an idea.” Michael breaking his usual silence during their now usual Sunday lunch surprises Castiel. It's been a while since the last fight, he notices. It's nice, to just enjoy his brothers without the aggression permeating the air. “Let's all go away for Christmas. Rent a cabin, forget the world. Let's make it a new Novak tradition.”
“Anything beats pretending Dad is going to care.” Luke winks at the surprised laugh Castiel lets escape. This is new, too. Them openly talking about the elephant in the room. About how they really feel.
“I would love it.” He means it. “It's perfect.”
He's the first one to arrive, getting the keys from a Benny waiting for him on the porch, holding flowers.
“It's the first time someone gets me flowers.” Benny smiles and kisses him on the cheek. Castiel feels himself blush, but doesn't try to hide it, or hide his smile.
The cottage is huge, only the best for the Novak brothers. From the porch, Castiel can almost see the whole valley, or at least he likes to pretend he can. For the first time in what feels like forever, he's excited for Christmas.
While he gets the thermostat to a temperature Gabriel will find acceptable, and claims his room, Benny makes himself at home, unpacking the few groceries he kindly picked for them. Castiel finds him studying something on his phone, a few ingredients in front of him.
“I found a recipe. Chocolate chip, but with a twist. What do you think ?”
Benny looks happy, and he looks at Castiel almost expectantly. It's comfortable, in a way Castiel never shared with anyone outside his family. Sharing this space, joking, it's everything he didn't realize he needed.
“Are you going to do your thing and make them better ?”
Benny winks at him. He's blushing too, and they're smiling like idiots. It feels right and Castiel goes to him and kisses him, still very chaste but full of everything he wants to say.