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All Things In Succession

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There is no royal road to anything. One thing at a time, all things in succession. That which grows fast, withers as rapidly. That which grows slowly, endures.”

 

- Josiah Gilbert Holland

 

 

“Cas,” Anna says gently, and Cas purses his lips, not looking at her.

“I don’t think my husband is going to like it,” he remarks, then lifts his eyes, surveying the string of clumsily painted pastel florals that now line his bedroom. He looks back at his current project, flowers bleeding into each other, and frowns. “I don’t think he’s going to like any of them. I don’t think anyone would.”

“You’ll improve,” his sister encourages him, and Cas sighs.

“I suppose I must. I still don’t understand why I can’t train anymore.”

She winces.

“Well. You’re an omega. Omegas don’t fight.”

Cas hunches over, and Naomi coughs behind him, a reminder to straighten up.

He doesn’t.

“But I fought before,” he insists, petulant. “Nothing has changed.”

Everything has changed, Cas. I wish you could train — I wish you could do whatever you wanted — but we all assumed you’d be an alpha. There hasn’t been an omega in the family since — well, ever. Not on record. But now that you aren’t . . . I’m sorry.”

Cas crosses his arms, rising and going to the window, where he often stands now; it has an excellent view of the training yard, where he used to spend his days, running drills and sparring with his fellows.

But then he woke up one day, feverish and itchy, the neutral, inoffensive scent he’d always had turned strangely sweet, and —

And now he spends his days practicing watercolors and needlepoint and being told how to behave for his husband, because in addition to not being allowed to train anymore, Cas is being sent away.

“Am I going there to train?” he asks, for probably the dozenth time, and behind him, Anna sighs.

“You’re going there to be married.”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t train,” he points out, as he always does, because even if Michael is suddenly behaving like a different person with Cas, setting all these strange rules for him and ignoring him even more than usual, that doesn’t mean Cas’s husband will be the same. “Lawrence is a great kingdom, with a formidable army. They might want me to fight.”

There’s a long silence.

“Cas,” she says gently, and he whirls, imploring.

“No, Anna. Everyone says that once I’m married, I’ll belong to my husband. Just because I’m Michael’s now, and he says I’m not allowed to fight, doesn’t mean my husband will be the same.”

“No . . .” The word comes out careful, and this is the other thing that Cas hates about being an omega. Everyone is so careful with him; no one will tell him anything.

He ignores the fact that Anna is his older sister and dearest sibling, and she has always been careful with him.

“You see? Anna, I’m meant to be a knight. I’m at the top of my rank, and I’ve trained harder than any of them. I can’t — I can’t not.

Anna looks down, but just before she does, Cas thinks he sees her eyes turn shiny.

“I understand, Cas,” she says, and she sounds strange. “I do. If I were King, I wouldn’t send you away. I’d let you stay and I’d let you keep training, no matter what anyone said. But I’m not, and alpha or omega, you’re Michael’s to do with as he pleases. And it pleases him to make this treaty.”

“But my husband—” he starts, and she nods, covering her eyes with her palm. It’s strange to see, because Anna is the most direct person he knows. She once stared at Michael so long he was forced to look away, and though she was sent to the tower dungeon for a week for impudence, Cas can tell by the way Michael speaks to her that he’s never forgotten.

“Your husband will probably not let you fight,” she finishes sadly, and Cas deflates.

Before this, it’s always been ‘you’re an omega’ and ‘you’ll have other duties now’ and ‘if Michael wills it, it must be so.’

This is the first time Cas has been told that his husband will not let him.

He takes his seat again, a little shocked. He’ll only be fourteen at the end of the summer. He has been training since he could hold a wooden sword. He is a mere two years away from being an official part of the King’s Army, eligible for border patrol in areas of peace and guard duty on diplomatic missions; he’s only four from being sent out on actual missions, to fight in skirmishes at hostile borders; and he’s a mere six from being allowed to take his Challenge and earn his knighthood.

And now, he may never fight again.

“What will I do, then?” he whispers. “If I can’t — if I’m not training, then — then what? Everyone says — they keep saying that now I’ll paint, and sew, and amuse myself with parties and things and — and serve my husband, but I don’t even know what that means! And I don’t want those other things. I hate them.”

Naomi coughs again, because that is another thing that happens now; the slightest hint of anger enters Cas’s voice, and he is reprimanded for being unseemly.

Anna looks up, more distraught than he’s ever seen her, but it’s Naomi she looks at.

“Can’t I speak frankly with him?” she demands. “He should at least — if we’re to send him off like a sheep to slaughter, we should at least prepare him.”

There’s a pause.

“It’s for his alpha to teach him,” Naomi says stiffly, though she sounds vaguely unhappy.

“He’s not an eighteen-year-old omega being presented at court,” Anna protests. “He doesn’t know a damn thing—”

“Language,” Naomi interjects sternly. “And court omegas are not supposed to know anything.”

“At least they know there’s something they don’t know!” Anna roars, surging to her feet, and Cas shrinks back a little at the fury in her gaze. “At least they know what it means for their alphas to teach it to them.”

“It’s tradition.”

“And is it tradition to marry off children?”

“He is young, yes, but he’s presented. It’s not — unheard of.”

Cas clenches his fists, baffled and deeply upset; this is another thing that has been happening a lot, lately.

People talk about him like he’s not even there, and he rarely understands, and even if he asks, they ignore him.

“Two hundred years ago, perhaps! When was the last time you heard of something like this?”

“Lady Adina of Cel—”

“Lady Adina was sixteen, at least, as was Lord Daniel, and they had had an enduring childhood attachment. Prince Dean is twenty! And God knows Lawrence has different ideas about such relationships than we do here. And we’re just — we’re going to send Cas in alone, confused, without any idea what to expect?”

Cas perks up a little, at that. His husband is a prince? His husband is called Dean?

Is his husband Prince Dean, the Great Knight of Lawrence and Hero of the Southern Lands?

He’s found out more today than he has in months.

“Your highness,” Naomi says, softly, and Anna flinches at the use of her formal title. “Our king is, of course, beyond reproach; all his decisions are just and wise, as befits a king of Eden. His inspirations are unknowable, and above the understanding of one such as myself.”

Anna narrows her eyes.

“And?”

“And because of my inferior understanding, I confess to being surprised by them. They were not what I would have expected.”

Anna swallows.

“So you think he’s being a callous ass, too.”

“Your highness is not safe from accusations of treason,” Naomi points out, tone warning, and Anna snorts.

“Like you’ll tell.”

“If specifically asked—”

“Like my brother would bother.” She sighs, retaking her chair and turning back to Cas. “What a mess.”

Cas nods fervently.

“It is. What were you talking about, just now?”

Anna hesitates, eyes flicking back to Naomi, and Cas could cry from frustration, except future knights don’t cry.

Although he’s not a future knight anymore, is he?

“Cas,” Anna finally says, eyes determined. “When your wedding night comes — something is going to happen.”

Cas blinks.

“Alright?”

“It — it won’t be comfortable. In fact, it might be painful.”

Cas gives her an alarmed look.

“Anna, what’s going to happen?”

“You — you and your husband are — going to do something.”

Naomi coughs in warning, and Anna glowers at her.

“What . . . what will we do?” Cas is beginning to feel a little afraid, aspirations of knighthood notwithstanding.

“I can’t tell you. I’m so sorry, because you deserve to know before it happens, but — but still, I know it might hurt, and you probably won’t like it, but you’ll be alright. So try not to be too afraid. It’s a normal thing that happens, and Naomi will be there the first time, and —”

“The first time?” Cas echoes, concern increasing. This mysterious thing that is uncomfortable and painful is going to happen more than once? It’s normal?

If Cas didn’t know any better, he’d think Prince Dean was going to fight him on their wedding night!

At that thought, a spark of hope flares in his chest.

If Prince Dean fights him — even if he wasn’t originally planning on letting Cas fight in the army, if Cas does well enough, then . . .

Anna stares with unseeing eyes, face ashen.

“You’re only thirteen. Maybe he won’t — after all, Lawrence is — is more cavalier about such things, and I’ve heard he never lacks for partners, so he might leave you alone, after this—”

Cas stopped listening at ‘he never lacks for partners,’ because Anna must be talking about sparring partners. After all, Prince Dean is the Great Knight of Lawrence. Cas and the other fledglings are kept away from the formal barracks, but they’ve all heard the stories of Dean’s bravery and finesse.

Which means that on their wedding night, Dean —

Dean will be testing him.

Cas’s heart pounds. Perhaps this is why Cas was chosen. Anna has ranted, has decried Michael’s use of Cas as a ‘shiny new bargaining chip,’ but what if it wasn’t Michael at all?

Lawrence is a proud kingdom, and since King John ousted King Roman when he was barely twenty himself, it has boasted one of the greatest armies in all the land. Even Cas could tell that Michael, for all his pride, was keen to make a treaty of some sort with them. Fighting Lawrence for any reason would be devastating.

In light of all that — maybe Michael didn’t choose Cas. Maybe Dean learned of Cas, of his dedicated, nearly lifelong training, and asked for him. Maybe Dean desired a spouse who would stand on equal footing with Lawrence’s formidable army, who would help represent that proud achievement.

Maybe Dean will want Cas to fight.

“Cas?” Anna says cautiously, and Cas turns his beaming face to her. “Is everything — what? Why do you look like that?”

Cas tries to cover his excitement, though by the worry still present in her eyes, he’s not sure he succeeds.

“It’s alright, Anna,” he tells her, firm. “I have faith that everything will be fine.”

But just in case — Cas doesn’t need the courtyard or the fledglings to train; he’ll figure something out in here.

And by the time his wedding night arrives?

He’ll be ready.

 

 

 

Honestly, Dean knew this day would come, although he wouldn’t really say he’s ready.

“Still don’t understand why nobody’s tellin’ me anything,” he mutters, tugging at the heavy velvet collar on his tunic. Beside him, Bobby is downright glaring at John, whose back is turned.

“You and me both, son,” he mumbles back, and John abruptly tuns, scanning his back for threats.

On Dean’s other side, Rufus lets out a quiet harrumph.

“Ain’t right. I don’t envy you, Bobby. If it were me, I wouldn’t want no part in this travesty.”

Bobby turns his glare to Rufus.

“Well, somebody’s gotta be there for the kid.”

“That somebody doesn’t gotta be one of us!”

“I’m right here,” Dean protests, and they both shake their heads.

Bobby sighs, putting a hand on Dean’s shoulder.

“So am I, boy. And I’m stayin’ here. So — we’ll get through this, alright?”

Dean frowns.

“Right. I — thanks?” He looks down. “I mean, I’m not gonna pretend I’m not nervous, but — I’ve kinda always known this would happen.”

Bobby just gives him a sad look, and then their attention is drawn to where the doors to the hall are opening, Tara announcing the royal family of Eden as a hush descends.

Dean straightens right up, of course, because sometime in the next minute, his future husband is going to walk through those doors.

And since nobody will tell him a damn thing, all he knows is that it is a husband, and the man is coming from Eden.

Which Dean thinks is pretty terrible, personally, because if he had a name, an age, a miniature portrait — anything else — he might not be so nervous. Dean has always known his marriage would be both political and not even remotely his choice, so it’s hardly a surprise. And sure, Dean’s only human, so it is a little disappointing that he’s never going to follow some delightful scent trail to the love of his life, but it’s not like it’s ever been an option.

Besides, it’s not out of the question. Political marriages frequently don’t even involve matings, because it looks bad if the bond gets rejected, and while mating someone else is a huge no-no . . . Dean could still fall in love with somebody. He has a duty to his omega and his country to marry, produce heirs, and peaceably coexist, but beyond that — he’s allowed to discreetly look elsewhere for company.

Anyway, Dean’s an alpha, so he knew it would be an omega — or a beta woman, if nobody was around the right age. And while Dean doesn’t doubt his Dad would wed him to a forty-year-old omega if that’s all Eden had to offer — because nobody wants a war with Eden and this treaty is one of the biggest things to happen in a long time — omegas of good breeding never end up on the shelf; that fertility boost is too much of a boon to those wealthy houses.

Although, now that he considers the houses of Eden who would be deemed acceptable spouses for the future King of Lawrence — omegas are a little thin on the ground. Certainly, the royal family hasn’t turned out any in forever, and Dean’s pretty sure the current lineup of the secondary houses are all alphas and betas.

Strange. Well, Dean doesn’t pay as much attention as he should in lessons; he’s probably missing something.

Rufus and Bobby fall back as John comes to stand next to Dean, and Dean shoots him a friendly enough glance until he sees his father’s face.

John looks grim. Even worse, when he glances at Dean, he looks apologetic.

Dean’s dad is never sorry about anything.

“I don’t expect heirs right away,” his dad says quietly, which — what the hell?

He doesn’t get a chance to ask.

“We present the wise and benevolent King Michael of Eden,” some weaselly dude in a ridiculous hat declares theatrically. He moves his arm in some weird flourish as he bows, waiting for Michael to walk past him, and the elaborate ornamentation on the brim of his hat lurches like it’s trying to escape.

Michael glides forward, movements smooth and elegant in the way of all Edenish, and John steps toward him. They consider each other a moment before slightly inclining their heads in greeting.

“It is an honor to have you here today,” John acknowledges. “We have not had a King of Eden visit in more than a century.”

Michael nods.

“It is an honor to be welcomed here. I hope the next century sees us better friends.”

“Likewise.” John gestures to Dean. “I present my son and heir, Prince Dean of Lawrence. Is he acceptable?”

Dean would be offended, but this is part of the ritual of marriages. Whoever basically owns you presents you to whoever basically owns the other party, and they make a show of assessing you in person, and if everybody’s happy, the marriage goes forward.

Of course, John and Michael have been in talks for months, and this display is just a formality.

The answer, from both of them, will be yes.

Michael surveys Dean with a critical eye, then gives a slight nod.

“He is acceptable.”

John raises his brows slightly, because now it’s his turn, and Dean’s husband-to-be is nowhere in sight.

“Metatron,” Michael says, addressing the weird guy in the hat, and Dean vaguely recalls that being the name of the much-lauded temple scribe. The Edenish are weird. “Bring Castiel in.”

Castiel. Dean blinks, taking a deep breath. Dean’s going to marry a guy named Castiel, and in another second, Dean will lay eyes on him for the first time.

This whole marriage thing suddenly feels very — big.

But Dean’s getting worked up too soon, because when the doors open again, Castiel doesn’t come in. Instead, a kid at least a few years younger than Sammy appears. He’s pretty small, though his face suggests he’s older than his stature would imply. Dean almost chuckles at the tangled mess of hair on his head, at odds with the pristine white robe swirling around his feet; a meeting of kings, and his hair looks like he spent the day playing in the woods.

Curious blue eyes catch his, and Dean blinks, amusement fading as the realization sets in.

This boy isn’t just any boy.

He’s Dean’s future husband’s kid.

Dean offers the boy a small smile, though he glances anxiously at his Dad. So this is where an omega of the right bloodlines came from; the man must have been widowed.

Dean feels at a complete disadvantage. He’s only twenty, has never been married, and while Lisa’s young son Ben was one of the most fun parts about the time he spent with her, this kid is at least twelve, and he’s just lost a parent and will be living in a strange place. Dean kind of thought he’d have some time before he had to do the Dad thing. Certainly, before he had to be a father to an adolescent.

But Sammy’s sixteen, and he’s Dean’s best friend, so — maybe it won’t be so bad? Kid’s probably not looking for a dad, anyway; Dean can just be more like a cool older brother.

Yeah. That sounds good. He’s got this.

Although, how old does that make his new husband? Even if he married right at eighteen, that makes him at least thirty.

“I present my brother, Prince Castiel of Eden. Is he acceptable?”

Dean snaps back to attention, eyes searching Castiel out, but Tara is shutting the door and no one else is coming through.

And the boy is still staring at him.

“He is acceptable,” John agrees, which is fine, Dean knows he doesn’t get a say in this, anyway, but — but where the fuck is he?

“Castiel,” Michael says, and for some bizarre fucking reason the boy steps forward, standing beside his king.

Dean feels someone poke him in the back, and he shuffles forward, too, still trying to puzzle out what’s going on.

“Hello, Dean,” the boy says, and it’s a small voice for a small boy, though up close Dean can see his earlier impression was right. The kid might be as old as fourteen.

It still doesn’t explain why he’s standing opposite Dean, where Dean’s betrothed should be standing, lowering his eyes and baring his neck.

“Dean,” his father mutters, and Dean gapes at him. Dean what? What is Dean supposed to do here? If his fiance were standing there, head tilted, Dean would know from all the stupid rehearsals with a training dummy they’d hauled from the barracks (Jo had even put a blue dress on it, guffawing loudly with Benny while she’d looked on from the sides) that he was supposed to lean down or up or whatever, scent the guy, and then scent-mark him.

It’s part of the ceremony — which is just stupid, Dean thinks, because the whole bite-thing won’t be happening and everyone knows it — but ceremonies are always weird and pointless and people usually only do them for the food they get afterward.

Anyway, Dean can’t perform the ceremony if his fiance isn’t here, and yet his father is getting that terrifying, thunderous expression, and Michael is narrowing his eyes, face expectant, and the boy in front of him is starting to frown.

And finally, he can’t avoid it any longer.

The boy is his fiance. His father’s marrying him off to a child.

Worse, this child’s own brother is abandoning him to the mercies of a goddamn stranger, something that would suck at any age, but makes Dean feel downright sick with disgust under the circumstances, because Sammy is sixteen and Dean would die a thousand painful deaths before forcing him into marriage like this.

Dean bends stiffly, carefully avoiding touching — Castiel’s — neck. There’s a scent there, undeniably omega, but beyond that, he still smells painfully adolescent.

Dean hovers there, dread cold in his stomach, and then remembers that he has to touch Castiel, has to leave his own scent behind as part of a ritual where Dean declares his intent and Castiel accepts it. He wills himself not to vomit; his Dad will have his head for that kind of embarrassment, and Castiel will probably be pretty damn offended, too.

With a fortifying breath, Dean gently brushes his cheek against Castiel’s neck and quickly steps away.

Michael nods approvingly, and after a moment, Castiel straightens his head back out, still looking at the ground.

Still way too fucking young for anything.

It’s treason for sure, but in that moment, Dean kind of wants to kill his own father.

 

 

 

Dean’s halfway through the wedding ceremony when it hits him.

That after a wedding, there’s a wedding night. And Dean was already dreading that, because creepy traditions mean that both parties have a reliable source present to confirm the marriage was consummated, but Dean figured he’d just have to close his eyes and pretend Bobby and some stiff Edenish stranger weren’t right there on the other side of the room. Hell, he thought a joke about it might even make a nice icebreaker with his husband, who would probably be just as uncomfortable as Dean.

Dean’s not sure. The Edenish have this weird purity thing in their culture, and Bobby very gruffly and awkwardly explained to Dean that his new husband would probably know very, very little about what was about to happen.

Which — yeah. Dean didn’t envy that. Dude would probably be a little terrified on top of embarrassed.

But Dean’s not really in the business of deflowering people, so that element was a huge factor in his anxiety, too, and mostly he’d tried to avoid thinking about it, deciding he’d just get through it when it happened.

He’s not so confident now.

Anyway, he spills the chalice of wine all over Castiel’s pristine white robe, hands made clumsy by nerves, and the sight of all that red staining the crisp, beautiful robe just — Dean throws up in his mouth a little, because if that’s not an ill portent of what’s to come, he doesn’t know what is.

They take a length of woven ribbons from Lawrence and Eden and tie their wrists together, and Castiel’s hand, despite its unexpected tan and abundant callouses, still looks small and fragile next to Dean’s. Both sides chant a series of three blessings on their marriage, and then the two of them unwind the woven ribbons until they’re free.

The priest pronounces them wed.

Castiel waits in front of Dean, expectant and — and so much smaller than Dean — and Dean knows what comes next, knows what he has to do.

He sweeps Castiel into his arms and walks out of the chapel, Bobby and a severe looking Edenish woman falling into step behind him.

All the way to the wedding chamber.

And to think, a week ago, Dean was afraid he wouldn’t be able to carry his new husband that far.

 

 

 

“Bobby, I don’t know if I can do this.”

The Edenish woman, Naomi, stands politely off to the side while Dean has his crisis, and Bobby nods along, expression pained.

“I know, boy. I know. But you have to.”

“No, I— I really don’t think I can,” Dean insists, raising his eyebrows meaningfully. Dean laid Castiel out on the bed, just like he was supposed to, and took one look at the way all the flickering candlelight in the room gave him a soft, innocent glow, and then fled to where Bobby and Naomi were standing, because hell-fucking-no.

“Think of something else. Be, uh, sensitive. And then it’ll be over and you don’t ever gotta think about it again.”

“Bobby,” Dean repeats, miserable.

“I wish you didn’t have to, Dean,” Bobby says, and Dean knows he means it. In fact, Dean sees the sadness in his eyes and he knows Bobby probably fought John about it, that this is why John’s been avoiding Bobby and Bobby’s been glaring whether John’s looking or not.

And then it hits him.

“Well — well, maybe I don’t?”

“Dean-” Bobby starts, but Dean’s already turning, walking over to Naomi, because he knows Bobby has his back, but—

“Castiel’s a child,” he says bluntly, and Naomi presses her mouth together, looking to the side.

She seems pretty damn unhappy, and maybe she’s just annoyed that she has to be here for this, that Dean’s causing trouble, but maybe . . .

“He’s presented.”

“People present at all kinds of ages. A blind person could scent him and know he was just a kid, still.”

“My king has seen fit to give him to you. Treat him as he deserves,” she adds, and in that moment, in the faint pleading in her tone, Dean knows she agrees with him.

Or at the very least, she doesn’t want Castiel to suffer.

“I could do that,” Dean says, catching her eye. “Or we could just tell everyone I did that.”

Naomi shakes her head.

“I will not lie to my king. It is treason.”

“Right, but — but this is wrong.

“If my king deems it right, then it is right.”

Dean clenches his fists.

“Okay. Okay, what — what’s the rule here, exactly? That you’re breaking?”

“Lying to my king,” she says, frosty, like Dean’s an idiot.

“But — but Castiel’s mine now, isn’t he? King Michael’s not his king anymore. Why should he care what happens now?”

“You know why. The validity of the marriage, of the entire treaty, could be called into question—”

“But no one will.”

“You expect us to trust you—”

“Listen, lady, if you and Bobby go out there and say it’s done, then it’s done. No matter what Bobby or I say later, you have that, and if we’re actually going back on our word, the treaty’s in trouble, anyway.”

“The fact remains that I won’t lie.

“Then — don’t! Just — avoid the question.”

“The king will ask, specifically. It’s part of the ceremony.”

“And does the ceremony insist you tell him exactly what happened in here?”

Naomi shudders.

“Not exactly, but I have to confirm the marriage was consummated—”

Dean brightens.

“Using those words?”

She falters.

“Well — no —”

“So don’t lie! Just — when he asks, tell him ‘it’s done.’ He doesn’t have to know what’s done.”

Naomi looks torn, so Dean leans a little closer, widening his eyes, imploring.

“Naomi. Look at him. I don’t know how long you’ve known him, but I just met him today and he seems like a good kid. He also seems like he has no idea what’s happening here. Do you really wanna stand by while I — while I traumatize him?”

Naomi does look at Castiel, still lying on the bed, hands folded atop his stomach while he clearly tries to look like he’s not straining to hear what they’re saying.

Dean takes a deep breath.

“I’ll take a blood oath,” he offers, and he can see the moment she caves.

“Oh, fine,” she mutters, though there’s a flicker of fear amid the resignation. “I could be executed for this.”

“You won’t be,” he assures her.

“You don’t know that.”

“Nobody here has any reason to tell the truth, okay?”

She shakes her head, covering her face.

“I feel I’m going to regret this.”

“You won’t,” he promises, probably projecting his own incredible sense of relief way too hard, and fishes the knife out of his boot.

“Swear my king will never discover this lie by any fault of yours. Him, too,” she adds, jerking her head toward Bobby, who sighs, pulling out his own knife.

“I swear your king will never discover this lie by any fault of mine,” Dean declares, and drags the knife across his palm. In his peripheral, he sees Castiel sit up on the bed.

Bobby follows suit, and Naomi folds her arms.

“Very well,” she mumbles. “What now?”

“Uh.” He looks at Bobby, and Bobby shrugs.

“Alright, so we . . . wait a few minutes and go out?”

Dean nods.

“Yeah, that sounds — wait, what? A few minutes? Hell no!” Dean doesn’t even want to think about all the horrible implications of them going down to dinner early.

Bobby raises his brows.

“Uh. That is. They’re more likely to think we’re lying. Come on, Bobby, we just took a blood oath!”

Bobby just looks unimpressed, so Dean turns around, wandering back to Castiel, who looks a little frustrated.

“Alright, buddy?” Dean asks, and Castiel hesitates.

“Alpha,” he begins slowly, and Dean cringes.

“Just call me Dean,” he says hurriedly, and Castiel nods, clearly relieved.

“Dean. That’s what I’ve been calling you in my head.”

Dean blinks.

“What’s going on?” Castiel continues, and then throws Naomi an uneasy glance. “I know I’m not supposed to speak to him unprompted, Naomi, but he did ask me.”

Oh, God. What have they been telling the poor kid?

Dean crouches next to the bed, hoping Castiel will feel a little more comfortable looking down at Dean instead of up.

“Listen, Castiel — Cas,” he tries, deciding it makes things a little more comfortable, “We’re just — gonna hang out here, for a little while, and then we’ll grab something to eat. Sound good?”

Cas tilts his head, eyes shrewd.

“Is that all?”

Dean tries not to make a face, plastering on a big smile.

“Yup. That’s all.”

“Oh. Alright.”

Dean shifts, crossing his legs underneath himself and leaning back against the bed, deeply uncomfortable in the silence.

Above him, Cas sighs.

Dean frowns, twisting around to look at him.

“Everything okay, Cas?”

Cas hesitates.

“No. I thought you would—” he cuts off, lowering his gaze, and Dean gives Naomi a frantic look, because maybe Cas knew more about what was supposed to happen than he thought.

Naomi just shakes her head violently.

“Uh, what, man? What did you think I would do?”

Cas bites his lip, then abruptly squares his shoulders, facing Dean.

“I thought there would be more sword-fighting.”

Dean stares. He can feel Naomi and Bobby staring, too, which is a relief, because it means he’s not going insane.

“You thought — what?”

“I thought you’d fight me.”

“I — you want me to fight you?”

Cas draws himself up even more, pride in his face.

“I’ve been training since I was five. I am the best of the fledglings. And I was going to be a knight before—” he swallows, but doesn’t look down. “Before Michael decided to give me to you. But Lawrence is feared and renowned for their army — you are, for your adventures throughout the continent — and I thought, perhaps, you wished for a spouse that would help uphold that reputation. That tonight, you would test me.”

“Oh,” Dean says, dumbstruck.

“Michael forbade me from fighting,” Cas continues, gaze fierce. “But I am more than capable, and I’m yours now. If you wish me to fight, to defend the country I will call home from now on — to prove its greatness to the world — then I will. I can.

Dean’s still kind of struggling to parse the fact that Eden let this kid go into his wedding night assuming his alpha was going to test his literal battle prowess, but he’s distantly aware that this is a pretty impressive speech.

He’s silent for too long, though, because Cas’s shoulders slump a little.

“Please,” he says quietly, tinged with desperation, and despite the eloquent ferocity of his words, this one comes out sounding just like the plea of a frightened child.

Dean makes up his mind, there and then.

Michael is a dick, and the rest of Eden is, too, for supporting a king who not only took away what Cas spent his whole life working toward, but gave him away to somebody who could have been a monster, for all he knew.

And Cas is right; he’s Dean’s now, like all the people of Lawrence will be someday, and Dean intends to do right by them all, including Cas.

He stands, marching to the wardrobe and fishing out the wooden practice swords he and Sammy used to spar with well after they were supposed to be asleep.

Cas is looking at him with wide, hopeful eyes as Dean tosses him a sword.

He catches it easily.

“You wanna be a knight, huh?”

“Yes,” Cas says, leaping up from the bed. “More than anything.”

“Alright. Show me your skills, and if you’re good — well, then the knights of Lawrence await.”

There’s a gasp from somewhere in the room, though it’s not from Cas; nah, Cas looks utterly delighted, even as he gracefully slips into stance and raises his sword.

“But — Prince Dean, you can’t—”

“Don’t bother,” Bobby tells her, shaking his head. “And anyway, if he’s really been trainin’ that long, I don’t see why not.”

“But he’s — he’s an omega. He could get hurt.

Dean looks up at that.

“So? Lots of omega knights over here. They do fine.”

Naomi gapes, but doesn’t say anything, and Dean turns back to Cas.

“Alright. Whatcha got, Cas?”

A lot, as it turns out.

Cas wasn’t kidding about his training; husband or not, Dean’s pretty sure Cas’ll be an asset to the ranks once he’s all finished. And obviously, he’s nowhere near close to being done, but the groundwork’s there. He’s fast, faster than any of the beginners’ rank Dean was supervising in the courtyard earlier, and he’s at least twice as graceful as any of them, too, movements sharp and fluid and reactive.

Dean carefully holds back, genuinely wanting to see what all Cas can do, though he could easily disarm him at any moment. He sends Cas sprawling a few times, wanting to test his recovery and parry, and he’s pleased to see there’s no weakness on that front, either.

And finally, once they’ve been moving about the room for a good twenty minutes, the kid’s cute bird nest hair even more of a disaster and his stained wedding robes a wrinkled mess, Cas attempts a bold attack.

He’s breathing hard, round face flushed with exertion, though his movements remain sharp and focused. He’s just scrambled away from Dean after being knocked to the ground again, regrouping on the other side of the bed, when suddenly he dives across it, rolling to land just in front of Dean. Curious, Dean allows it, doesn’t step back at the last moment after Cas has pitched forward, crouching and thrusting the wooden sword in a neat loop around Dean’s, knocking it right out of his hands before pointing the tip of his own at Dean’s heart.

“You let me win,” he accuses, breathing heavy, and Dean grins, not even thinking about it before he reaches out and ruffles Cas’s hair.

The tip of the sword drops, and Cas reaches for his head, startled.

“Sure. But you did real good, Cas. You’ll be a knight in no time.” His grin widens. “Train hard, and some day we’ll fight for real, okay?”

After a beat, Cas lets his hand fall from his head, and he nods back at Dean, eyes solemn.

“I will. I look forward to it.”

Surprisingly, Dean kind of does, too, to see what this skilled, determined kid is going to make of himself.

But that’s a long way off, and it’s nothing to worry about now.

 

 

 

Castiel has to sit with his new husband at dinner, but Anna is allowed to sit next to him, and though they’re quiet as the dining ceremony begins, Cas can smell her anxiety beneath her perfume. The particular scent has been his close companion these last few months, ever since Michael announced Cas’s betrothal, and while he still has trouble reading the new world of scents that came with his presentation, this one is familiar by now.

As soon as King John invites them to eat, Cas subtly turns to her, curious, and she gives him a pained look, reaching out to smooth his hair.

“Are you alright?” she asks quietly. “Goodness, your robe is a mess. He couldn’t have even—” she takes a deep breath, glancing around worriedly.

Cas is puzzled. Of course his robe is a mess; it's nothing like what he would wear to train, and for good reason.

Even if Dean went easy on him, he left no room for Cas to relax. Cas fought as hard as he ever has, and he can still feel the adrenaline from the mock battle, the renewed sense of eagerness to return to his training, to someday be as good as someone like Dean.

To be better.

And he’ll have that chance, now. Cas was right, about everything — well, he doesn’t know if Dean chose him or not, but he hardly cares at this point — and he’s going to be a knight. Maybe not a knight of Eden, but Lawrence is to be his home now, and Dean, the best they have to offer, tested Cas and Cas passed.

To think that a week ago, Cas thought he might never get to hold a sword again.

He wonders who will train him here; Dean said someday they would fight for real, but a part of Cas wonders if Dean might still be there, sometimes, might teach Cas himself, when he has the time, because even if Cas is still young, he’s Dean’s husband. Dean would want to make sure Cas was the best of the best, wouldn’t he? Someone worthy of standing beside him?

Cas glances over, hard-pressed to contain his delight. He hadn’t known what to expect from his new husband, but he has already decided Dean is wonderful, and Cas would like to be worthy of him. Dean has a big, happy smile, like Anna does when they’re not at court, and he ruffled Cas’s hair and called him ‘Cas,’ and he’s the kind of great knight Cas has always wanted to be, and most importantly

He’s going to let Cas become one, too.

Anna gently touches his side, and Cas turns back to her startled.

“Cas? Are you alright?” she repeats, and he nods vigorously, beaming at her.

“More than,” he says, and Anna flinches back.

“More than?” she echoes, sounding troubled.

Cas nods again.

“It was wonderful,” he tells her, and she pales a little.

“Oh.”

“And Dean is going to let me be a knight!”

Her brows shoot up, and she throws a suspicious look over his shoulder.

“You asked him?”

“Yes, and we fought, and he let me win, but he said I was very good, and if I train hard I’ll make a great knight someday. So — you were wrong,” Cas says, a little pleased, because sometimes it feels like Anna knows everything, which is fair, because she’s so much older, but it’s nice to have known something she didn’t.

Anna’s face contorts rather amusingly as he speaks, and when he’s done, she looks relieved, though she grabs his arm, leaning close.

“I’m happy for you, Cas — but you musn’t tell anyone else what happened, alright?”

Cas blinks.

“Why not? Isn’t that what was supposed to happen? You told me so.”

“When did I tell you that?”

“You said it would be uncomfortable, and it might hurt. Dean didn’t hurt me, though, even when he knocked me over,” he hastens to add, because Anna doesn’t like seeing him hurt, grumbles when he comes back from training all scraped and bruised.

She looks like she can’t decide whether to laugh or not.

“I suppose I did, didn’t I? Still. It’s — what happens in the wedding chamber is . . . supposed to be a secret!” she finishes, perking up. “It’s shameful to talk about it, even to Michael. You’ll make both us and Dean look bad, if you do.”

Cas stares.

“Oh — I didn’t — no one told me.”

Anna touches his face.

“It’s okay,” she assures him. “Just — don’t ever tell anybody else, alright?”

“Alright,” he agrees, and Anna pats his head.

“Good.”

There’s a warmth at Cas’s shoulder, and when he turns, Dean is looking curiously at them, apparently done chatting with — Bobby? — on his other side.

“Everything okay over here?” he asks, concerned, and Cas reddens.

You’ll make both us and Dean look bad.

Cas doesn’t want to make Dean look bad. If Cas is going to be a knight of Lawrence, that makes Dean his Prince, and Cas must do his best to serve him well.

“Yes,” he says, and Dean studies him for a moment before offering a smile to Anna.

“Anna is my favorite sibling,” Cas informs him, because it feels important, and there’s something sharp in the way the two of them are looking at each other. It’s unsettling.

Dean seems to soften a little.

“Princess Anna,” he greets her, and she inclines her head.

“Prince Dean.”

They study each other for a long, calculating moment, and Cas thinks he can scent traces of alpha aggression coming from one or both of them, though he doesn’t know Dean’s scent yet.

He leans a little to his right, subtly sniffing. He’d thought Dean smelled nice, earlier, when he carried him to the bed, but Cas was too busy puzzling over the baffling tradition to pay too close attention. He couldn’t remember the last time anyone carried him anywhere, because why would they? He’s nearly fourteen, now.

Dean smells like the woods on a crisp, sunny fall day, though, and it makes Cas think of long, lovely hours participating in ‘training scenarios,’ though he has long suspected that was just Abner’s excuse to let the fledglings out to play in the forest.

He doesn’t realize he’s shut his eyes until his sister clears his throat. Dean is giving him an amused look.

“Sorry,” Cas says, unable to stop himself from lowering his gaze. “Everyone smells strange since I presented.”

Dean chuckles, ruffling Cas’s hair again, and Cas tilts ever so subtly into it. He doesn’t do it in an annoying way, like Cas’s brothers. It’s affectionate, like when Anna does it, though a little less softly done.

“Oh, I don’t miss those days,” he says. “Around here, you get pranked when you present.”

“Pranked?” Cas asks. When Cas presented, all that happened is suddenly he had to spend a lot of time sitting still in his bedroom being lectured.

“Yep. Had the whole pile of barracks laundry dumped on me when I went down for breakfast one morning. I couldn’t get out of bed for two days because of the smell.”

Cas shudders. For weeks after he presented, even the scent of his clean pillowcase made his nose itch, though the laundry was instructed not to use anything scented.

Beside him, Anna snickers, although Cas thinks she should be feeling sorry for Dean. Maybe she doesn’t remember how difficult her own presentation was.

“Ah. I wish I had been older than Michael,” she says wistfully, and it takes Cas a moment.

He can’t help but laugh.

“Anna, he’d be furious,” he tries, but the thought of Michael suffering under the pile of dirty laundry is a hundred times more amusing than when it was Dean. “He’d feel so undignified.

Anna’s laughing, too, now, and Dean grins at the pair of them.

“I’m guessing I’m not allowed to repeat any of this?”

“Please don’t,” Anna says, alarmed. “I hate spending time in the tower.”

“Anna has to go to the tower dungeon when she’s rude,” Cas explains, and Anna sighs.

“I’m rude a lot.”

Dean laughs.

“What about you, Cas? You ever spent time in the tower dungeon?”

“No, I’m very well-behaved,” Cas tells him proudly, and Anna drops her fork.

“You liar!” she exclaims, and shakes her head at Dean. “He’s not. Innocent as he might be, I swear he’s just as bad as I am, only he doesn’t do it to your face. You should just hear the little cracks he makes once we’ve left Michael. And God help you if Cas doesn’t like what you’ve had to say — as soon as you turn around, he’ll do the exact opposite of what you wanted!”

Cas gapes at Anna. She’s making him sound terrible. Cas has never talked back in his life — well, not exactly — and perhaps he expresses . . . frustration, with things, once the source is out of hearing range, but she makes him sound like a hellion of some kind.

Anna’s face has suddenly frozen, and she’s giving Dean a worried look, though he’s still chuckling.

“Not that — he isn’t disobedient,” she says quickly, and Dean stops laughing, brow furrowed. “He is occasionally spirited, but he follows instructions to the letter where it counts.”

Dean is quiet for a long moment, and Cas looks between them curiously.

“Spirit is good in a knight,” he says slowly. “I mean, obviously, if we’re headed into battle, I need to know he’ll do what he’s supposed to, and if someone gives him a direct order, that’s, you know — but, uh — we don’t — punish disobedience around here, not really.”

Anna relaxes a little.

“I see.”

“I’m not disobedient,” Cas points out helpfully, and Dean quirks his lips.

“Well, I’m not worried about it. You just worry about training, alright?”

That’s easy; Cas would love to be able to just focus on his training.

Well, and whatever diversions are to be found in a library, but Michael is stingy enough with books that that can only occupy so much of his time.

Although . . .

“Do you have a library?” Cas asks, and Dean looks surprised.

“Yeah. You like books?”

“Yes. But at home, I have to get permission to read a book, and I’m not allowed to touch most of them.” Especially not since he presented. All his favorite adventure tales disappeared off his shelf one night, and no amount of sulking or demands brought them back.

Dean squints, looking to the side.

“Uhhhh. I’m pretty sure you can read whatever you want? I mean, there might be a few things in there that, uh, you might wanna wait a few years, but — our librarian, Donna, can help you navigate.”

It sounds too good to be true, but Cas allows himself to hope.

“Thank you, Dean,” he enthuses, smiling up at him, and Dean’s eyes crinkle.

“Yeah, sure Cas.” And then he frowns, gently elbowing Cas’s ribs. “Eat up before it gets cold, man.”

Obediently, Cas eats, and though he’s conscious of Anna’s eyes on him, he ignores it.

Things are finally looking up.

 

 

 

Dean never thought he’d say this, but having a husband is a lot like having a second little brother.

Cas has sort of attached himself to Dean like a small puppy, and though he put on a brave face when it was time for the Edenish to leave, Dean could see the way he clung to his sister.

Anna had a few words to say to Dean, too.

“Cas told me about your wedding night,” she said bluntly, and Dean paled.

“You didn’t tell the ki—”

“Don’t be an idiot,” she snapped, and he breathed an honest-to-god sigh of relief. It’s not like he’d have broken his oath, but he didn’t want to see Naomi get beheaded or whatever it was Michael would do to her, nor did he want to see an important treaty fall to pieces over something he did.

And yeah, he also didn’t want Michael to whisk Cas back home, where he couldn’t read all the books he wanted and people thought it was any kind of acceptable to waste all that talent and training and not let Cas be a knight like he wanted.

“Look, I’m grateful to you. And I’m grateful that you’re letting him be a knight. I think — I’m going to miss him terribly, but I think he’s going to be happier here.”

“We’ll do our best,” Dean tells her, and she nods.

“If I were King, I’d let him do whatever the hell he wanted.”

Dean cracks a smile.

“I bet.”

“But I’m not. And Dean — I know fourteen may seem old, that he’ll only be a couple years away from being eligible for a post — but Cas has been very sheltered. He’s — he really is innocent.”

“Yeah,” Dean says slowly. “I kinda got that.”

She takes a deep breath, then takes a knee, baring her throat.

“Prince Dean. Please take care of my brother,” she asks, eyes lowered, and Dean just sort of gapes at her, because Anna is an Alpha Princess of Eden, third in line to the throne, and this is not a light display. Hell, he’s pretty sure she’d opt for a good old vacation to the tower dungeon rather than do this for her king.

“Uh. Yeah. Yes. I will, I swear.”

She stands, smoothing her tunic, and ignoring all the curious stares.

“Thank you.” She turns, touching Cas’s cheek as she passes him, and then disappears inside a carriage.

Cas doesn’t cry, but his shoulders shake a little, and Dean wraps an arm around him, giving him a squeeze.

“It’s okay, Cas. There’s letters, and we can figure out some visits or something.”

Cas nods, then buries his face unsettlingly close to Dean’s armpit, taking deep breaths while Dean rubs his back.

It’s kind of awkward, and Dean’s not sure if he should tell Cas it’s okay to cry or not, but Cas seems content to just lean into Dean, so Dean lets him.

Though honestly, Dean feels pretty sorry for Anna, too. Cas is obviously the baby of the family, and if it were him, boarding a carriage and leaving Sam behind with strangers . . .

Dean shudders. Yeah, no fucking thanks.

Cas tilts his head, propping his chin on Dean’s sternum.

“Dean?” he asks, and Dean smiles.

“It’s nothin’, Cas. How do you feel about some sparring?”

Cas brightens, pulling away.

“Really?”

“Yeah. Gotta catch you up, so you know how we do things in Lawrence.”

Cas tears off in the direction of the courtyard before Dean’s even finished talking, and with a snort, Dean jogs after him.

Anyway, Cas is constantly underfoot after that. Even when Dean is in the yard, training with Benny and Charlie and the others, Cas will sometimes sneak away from the field to come watch.

“Does everyone in your army fight like that?” he asks, completely unabashed at having been caught the first time. Dean leans against the building, doing his best to look disapproving, although it must not be working; Cas just keeps gazing up at him, openly curious.

“My team is the best of the best,” Dean explains. “But overall, yeah.”

Cas’s eyes shine.

“I’m going to be the best in your army, someday,” he informs Dean, and Dean would laugh, but Cas is dead serious, and Dean wouldn’t be surprised if it actually happened.

“You probably shouldn’t sneak away from training, then,” he teases, and Cas frowns.

“Shouldn’t I watch the best if I want to get better?” he counters.

“You should wait until Bobby brings you all over here.”

Cas pouts.

“But no one told me that would happen.”

Dean just shakes his head.

“First of all, don’t do that. I’m not your sister, and it ain’t gonna work on me.” Mostly. Sammy can still doe-eye his way into getting Dean to share his stash of kitchen snacks with him.

“Do what?” Cas asks, clearly pretending to be bewildered, because like he doesn’t know. Dean ignores him.

“Second of all, if you really wanna be the best, listen to Bobby. He knows what he’s talking about.”

Cas frowns.

“But you’re the best. I want to listen to you.”

“Tough, kid. I’m not your teacher, and for the record, Bobby taught me all I know.”

“But—”

“If it’s that important to you, and you’re not worn out after you put in your full day, you and I can come out here before dinner and I’ll do what I can to help you improve. Fair?”

Cas lights up, and Dean feels a little smug, because when he made Sam that offer, Sam just sort of laughed and limped toward the Hall, shaking his head and muttering under his breath.

Of course, Sam’s sixteen and having some lame-ass love affair with the library, which somehow means he doesn’t want to spend every waking minute getting his ass kicked and having his big brother tell him what to do.

To be fair, though, Dean’ll go a lot easier on Cas than he would have on Sam, if only because the reverse is true. Sam can fight fucking dirty.

“Do you promise?”

Dean loops a pinky around Cas’s, grinning, and Cas sort of stares at their twined fingers, clearly confused. He’ll get used to Lawrence customs eventually, though.

“Promise. Well, until I go away, but whenever I’m here — yeah.”

Cas’s smile falters.

“You’re going away?”

“Yeah. Come the harvest, we’re going to the Eastern border. Hellenia always comes around causing trouble then.”

“You’re going to fight?

Dean arches a brow.

“Where do you think all those stories you hear about me come from, Cas?”

“Right. Of course. But—” Cas cuts off, frowning. “Won’t I go with you?”

Dean outright laughs, at that.

“Even if you were still training in Eden, would they send you anywhere?”

“No,” Cas says slowly, clearly perturbed. “But — oh, but we’re married. Doesn’t that mean I should go wherever you do?”

Dean pats his head.

“Maybe someday, but for right now, you’re not anywhere near ready to go off and fight.”

“But still — I could go with you.”

It’s kinda sweet, but Dean’s not even tempted for a moment. He’s pretty sure he gets what Anna was talking about, now, and even if he extracted a promise from Cas to stay ten miles back, safe and sound in a tent, Cas would probably find a way to get himself into trouble.

He understands, though. Cas is at that age, and even if he knows he’s not ready, there’s a part of him that’ll still want to get out there and fight the way he’s always wanted to.

“You’re more useful to me if you stay here,” Dean tells him. “Train with Bobby. You’d better be the best in your rank when I come back.”

Cas straightens up.

“I will be.”

“Good.” Dean jerks his head toward the training field. “I think you have somewhere to be, then?”

Cas sighs.

“Yes, Dean.”

He reluctantly marches off, and Dean returns to the courtyard, ignoring the questioning looks.

“Alright, where were we?”

 

 

 

The summer flies by like that, until it’s September and Dean only has a week left before he leaves.

He’s been busy with plans, had a little less time to help train Cas, but he gets away from a stuffy council meeting with his Dad and collects Cas from the barracks, and they spar in the yard for a good hour while the sun goes down.

Dean pushes a little harder than usual, because he’s going away and the lessons will have to stop for some indeterminate amount of time, and Cas is shaking by the time Dean decides to call it quits.

“You okay, buddy?”

“Yes.” Cas is grinning, wide and gummy. “I’ve improved, haven’t I? You pushed me harder today.”

“Yeah, I did. Just because I’m not gonna be here doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do extra practice, alright?”

“Of course, Dean.”

Dean takes a seat by the wall, leaning back, and Cas follows, perching next to him while they sip from their canteens.

“You’ll be gone by my birthday, won’t you?” Cas asks quietly, and Dean bumps his shoulder.

“Yeah. But everybody’s got strict instructions to throw you a huge party and have a lot of fun. And Sam’ll be here.”

Dean’s been pleased to see how well Sam and Cas have been getting along. Endearing though Cas’s attachment to Dean — more like to Dean’s extra training, but whatever — is, Dean figures he should probably have friends closer to his own age.

He seems to be getting more comfortable with his barrack-mates, though. Cas is blunt and decisive, and yet, he’s strangely shy around his peers.

But he seems to be in a good place, now. Dean’s not too worried about leaving him. Even if Dean manages to get himself killed in the light scuffles they’re expecting at the border, Cas should be just fine.

“Did you — um, did you get me a present?” Cas ventures, tentative, and Dean arches a brow.

“You’ll probably get a lot of presents.”

“But did you get me one?” Cas presses, giving Dean an annoyed look, and Dean pretends to be surprised.

“Huh. Was I supposed to?”

Cas scowls.

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?”

Yes. We — we’re married,” he declares abruptly. “I’m sure you’re supposed to get me a birthday present.”

Dean bites back a laugh. He’s not sure how things are in Eden, but it’s become abundantly clear that Cas has no fucking clue what being married actually means, and because of that, every time he wants something or wants Dean to do something, he tries to justify it by saying, ‘Well, we’re married, so I’m sure it would be the proper thing.’

“That’s a pretty good argument, Cas,” he says, and Cas nods eagerly.

“Yes. Are you going to get me a present, then?”

“Wait and see, buddy,” Dean tells him cheerfully, and tousles Cas’s hair.

Cas just slumps against the wall, sullen. For an incredibly disciplined soldier-in-training, he’s kind of a brat, sometimes.

Spoiled Edenish princes, Dean supposes. Whatever. He’s a good kid, so Dean doesn’t mind.

“Will you write me while you’re away?” Cas asks, then adds pointedly, “Anna sends me letters.”

Cas hoards her letters like gold; Meg, one of Cas’s barrack mates, thought it would be funny to hide the letters from him, and Bobby had to break up an all-out brawl right there on the field.

Dean was so fucking pissed when Cas came to the courtyard, lip split, and even more so when he heard whose fault it was.

“You kicked her ass, right?” Dean asked him, because Meg was two years older, bigger, and an alpha to boot, but Dean was pretty sure Cas could take her.

“Not quite. Bobby interrupted. But I would have,” Cas growled, and Dean believed it.

Meg had a black eye when she came to dinner, though, so Dean’s pretty sure Cas got in more hits than he let on.

Anyway, letters seem to be a big deal, and while Dean may not be Cas’s favorite sibling, he thinks Cas is reasonably attached to him — will probably miss him a little, when he goes.

“Yeah. When I’ve got time.”

Cas nods.

“Don’t forget.”

“I won’t.”

“You forget things sometimes—”

“Hey, I always remember.”

Cas purses his lips.

“No, you don’t.”

“I’m busy, okay?” Dean protests, mock-offended, and Cas rolls his eyes.

“That’s not an acceptable excuse for not writing letters, for the record,” he sasses, and Dean chuckles.

“Alright. I’ll tell Benny to remind me.”

Dean doesn’t think he’ll forget, but you never know.

They sit for a while, since dinner won’t be ready until after sundown, and Dean gets lost in thought, enough that he doesn’t notice Cas drooping until his head lands on Dean’s shoulder.

Dean puts an arm around him; a nice little nap in the courtyard before dinner does a growing boy good, and it’s not like Dean’s got anywhere else to be, so whatever.

Still, though; he chances a glance down at Cas, absentmindedly petting his hair, like Sam doesn’t let him do anymore. In sleep, Cas is even softer, youth and innocence masking all the fire and determination of his waking self, and Dean just — he knows Michael’s interests were totally self-serving, that the minute Cas presented, he took advantage of him as a bartering chip — but in this moment, Dean can’t help himself. He’s suddenly overwhelmed by a fierce gratitude that, whatever the reason, Michael gave him to Dean to protect, because now that Dean’s gotten to know him, he’s not really sure Cas would have been okay anywhere else.

And even if he would — Dean’s still going to make sure he does better here.

 

 

 

September 18 th

Dear Dean,

 

I hope all is well with you and the others. My birthday was wonderful. I received your gift, and as soon as I made it back to the barracks, I started this letter.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love it. Bobby has forbidden me from using it during practice, but still in Eden, I would not be given my own sword like that until I was sixteen. Perhaps Lawrence is different, but I am more pleased than I could tell you. I believe you must be the best husband in all of history.

Now that you’re far away, and can’t retaliate, Sam has told me when your birthday is. I don’t think I will be able to get you something as nice as what you’ve given me, but I’ll try to think of something.

I like living in the barracks, with everyone else; and I like spending time in the library with Sam but it is startling how quiet everything seems now that you’re gone.

I hope you frighten Hellenia away quickly.

 

Yours,

Castiel

 

 

October 2 nd

Dear Cas,

 

I’m glad you liked your present. Tell Sam he’s a bitch.

I’m sorry I haven’t written you sooner. It’s usually quiet enough, with just the occasional skirmish, but Hellenia came in punching and things have hardly let up. We’re a little worried there’s something more going on here. Certainly, I don’t know about frightening them away.

Don’t worry about my birthday, Cas. Just keep training hard.

I’ll try and write again soon. I look forward to seeing you in a month or two.

 

Dean

 

 

Hellenia doesn’t let up until the heavy winter storms start, and by the time Dean makes it back home in mid-December, it’s clear that the worst of winter is just a reprieve. Come the spring, they’ll be heading back to the border — and it’s anyone’s guess for how long.

Still, he’s happy to be home. Sam pretty much sprints across the bridge as soon as the party is within sight, and Dean pretends to be going in for a hug before he puts Sam over his shoulder and runs around in haphazard circles, Sam making hilariously shrill noises and flapping his arms all the while.

It’s a lot harder than it was last time, but it’s doable, and it’s totally worth it; Sam looks traumatized by the time Dean puts him down.

“I’m sixteen,” he insists, and Dean shrugs.

“And still scrawny as hell. Where’s dinner?”

“In the hall, with Cas. He has a bad cold, so Bobby wouldn’t let him come out.”

Dean shakes his head.

“He tried?”

“Oh, yeah. Bobby literally had to seize him by his tunic to keep him from darting out after me.”

“He knows I’ll be coming in, right?”

Sam rolls his eyes.

“Dude, he missed you a lot. You’re like, eighty percent of what he talks about. And even though he had a fever all last week, he kept trying to sneak out to train so you wouldn’t be disappointed in him.”

Dean frowns.

“I wouldn’t be disappointed. Jesus, when I told him to train hard, I didn’t mean to kill himself.” He shakes his head. “I’ll have a talk with him.”

“Yeah, good luck with that,” Sam mutters, and Dean suspects he won’t be the first one.

Whatever; Cas took the knight thing this seriously before he came to Lawrence, so Dean refuses to take responsibility here.

The Hall is blissfully warm after the chilly, endless-seeming ride here, and Cas is bouncing in his chair, one of Bobby’s hands pressing down firmly on his shoulder.

Dean grins, dropping into the chair beside him, and Cas swivels, lighting up, although — jesus, he looks terrible. His eyes are red and watery, face blotchy, and he’s clearly in desperate need of a tissue.

“Dude, why aren’t you in bed?” Dean says, by way of greeting, and Cas looks offended.

“Because you were coming home.”

“I would have come and seen you after dinner,” Dean protests, and Cas scowls.

“I know,” he says stiffly. “I didn’t want to wait.”

“Suit yourself. Have you eaten?”

Cas lets out a long-suffering sigh, only to follow it up with a wet sniff.

No,” he grits out. “I was waiting for you.

Dean rolls his eyes, grabbing the empty plate in front of Cas and scouting out sick-friendly foods. Once he’s satisfied with the assembly on Cas’s plate, he slides it back in front of him, catching a strong whiff of the kid as he sits back down.

He leans back, catching Bobby’s eye.

“Seriously?” he demands, and Bobby has the nerve to glower. “He smells awful, Bobby.”

“You think I don’t have better things to do than babysit him?”

“I don’t need a babysitter,” Cas complains, although he leans into his shoulder a little, sniffing. “And I don’t smell like anything.”

Dean stares at him, aghast, and wordlessly pushes his handkerchief under Cas’s nose before it runs right off his face.

“Oh. Thank you, Dean.” Cas blows his nose loudly, and it’s a struggle for Dean not to inch away.

“Sure. You’re taking a bath and going straight to bed after this, alright?”

Cas frowns, reaching for a cup of tea by his plate.

“But Sam said you always tell stories when you come back.”

“If I promise to save all the stories until tomorrow, will you take a bath and go to bed?”

Cas hesitates.

“Alright,” he agrees reluctantly, and Dean sighs.

“Okay. You’re at least staying in the castle while you’re sick, right?”

Bobby harrumphs from Cas’s other side.

“Fool boy refused.”

“Cas,” Dean admonishes, and Cas narrows his eyes. “Seriously?”

“I don’t know why I should stay in the castle just because of a cold.”

“Everybody stays in the castle when they’re sick.”

“But I’m used to sleeping in the barracks.”

“But you can’t be the best knight in Lawrence if you die of flu,” Dean shoots back.

Cas sniffs again.

“It’s a cold.”

“Yeah, and how long have you had it, again?”

“Only a week.”

“You’re sleeping in the castle.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Tough. You’ve got a room up there. I’ll show you after dinner.”

“You can’t make me,” Cas mutters, and Dean takes a deep breath and silently counts to ten. Based on what he knows of Eden’s customs regarding omegas, it’s a good fucking thing Cas didn’t stay there, else he’d probably end up moving permanently into the tower dungeon.

“Tell you what, man. How about you stay in the castle, and I’ll tell you some of my stories before you go to bed?” But after your bath, Dean adds silently, because even though he knows no amount of soap is going to wash the sick smell away, that’s definitely not all that’s going on here.

Cas considers this.

“I don’t want to sleep by myself.”

“Okay, then sleep in my room.”

Bobby gives him a sharp look at that, but Dean can’t even begin to guess what’s twisting his long underwear, so he ignores it.

“Okay,” Cas agrees readily, and returns to his meal with gusto, like the brat didn’t just start a fucking fight about where he was going to sleep.

Dean watches him suspiciously, but Cas just looks at his plate, taking demure bites of this and that and pausing occasionally to blow his nose in Dean’s handkerchief.

Well, the handkerchief. No way in hell does Dean want it back, now.

Eventually, Dean remembers to eat as well, and by the time he’s done eating and catching up with Sam, he’s forgotten to be annoyed.

 

 

 

Cas tries to refuse a bath, on account of the cold, but Dean threatens to send him to his own room if he doesn’t. There’s mysteriously little argument before Cas disappears into the bath room, and when he comes back out in pajamas and immediately burrows under the blankets, there’s a muffled admission that he feels better.

Dean rolls his eyes.

“Well, I’m gonna go take my bath now. Don’t suffocate under there.”

Of course, Cas is sound asleep when Dean comes out.

 

 

 

Dean wakes up first, mostly because of the cold, and half-falling off the bed because there’s a Cas-shaped lump right in the middle, carefully ensconced by blankets like some kind of ground vole.

“Don’t know why you couldn’t have done that in your own damn room,” Dean mutters, but tucks his meager scrap of blanket around Cas before he goes down for breakfast.

He’s enjoying coffee and good-natured morning conversation with his brother and some of the people who hadn’t gone to the border with him, when there’s a loud crash and Cas storms in, appearing for all intents and purposes like he might challenge Dean to a duel.

He comes to a stop in front of Dean, surprisingly menacing despite the steady drip of his nose.

“You didn’t tell me stories,” he accuses, and the table falls silent, though they’re clearly amused.

“You fell asleep.”

“You should have woken me up.”

“You’re sick.

Cas’s mouth tightens.

“Did I miss the stories?”

Actually — well. It doesn’t really count as telling stories if Dean was just making breakfast conversation.

“No?” he says, but he must sound unsure, because Cas looks outraged.

“You have!”

“I have not!”

Cas turns to the table.

“Has he?” he asks them, which is just unfair.

But whatever. Dean’s army would never sell him out to a grumpy fourteen-year-o-

“A few,” Garth answers, good-natured as you please, and Charlie smothers giggles into her sleeve beside him.

“I see,” Cas grits out, and turns back to Dean. “You told stories without me, and you lied.”

“Cas,” Dean cajoles, but Cas just gives him an unimpressed look and plunks down next to him.

“I’m going to eat breakfast now.”

“Someone could have brought it to you.”

Cas gives him a withering glare.

“For your information, I feel a lot better today.”

Dean smirks.

“Yeah? Sounds like a bath and sleeping in the castle did you some good.”

Cas’s expression turns stormy.

“It did not. I was getting better, anyway.”

“Sure you were,” Dean mumbles, and based on the look Cas gives him, Dean should probably be glad he doesn’t have a practice sword with him.

And yet, Dean can’t resist reaching over and ruffling his hair, just as he’s trying to take a bite of egg, a move that would have had Sam at least throwing a piece of toast at him.

And Cas does freeze, egg falling off his spoon — but then he just sort of leans into Dean, sighing, and says, “I missed you.”

Cas returns to his breakfast, considerably more relaxed, and Dean just sits there, startled, trying to figure out how to tell Cas that now that he’s a Winchester, it’s a little weird to just say shit like that.

Whatever, Dean decides, shrugging. Cas is young; he’ll learn.

Besides, it’s kinda sweet.

 

 

 

Cas is . . . not happy that Dean will be going off in the Spring, for an indeterminate amount of time — especially when Dean mentions that, if Hellenia engages them in full-scale war, that indeterminate amount of time could be over a year.

“Aren’t you your father’s heir?” Cas demands. “How can you go away for that long?”

Dean’s a little frustrated, honestly; Cas’s odd brand of hero-worship doesn’t seem to have survived his irritation that Dean has other things to do besides train him and entertain him, and while there was no sign of Cas’s random contrariness or bad mood after breakfast that morning, it appears to be back in full force.

Sam was like this, too, he reminds himself; still can be. They’re both stubborn, questioning personality types and adolescence brings out the worst of that.

Thank God Dean isn’t like that.

“If I can’t lead an army into battle, I can’t lead a kingdom. That’s not how this works.”

“Michael never went to battle.”

Dean snorts.

“Yeah, I can tell.”

“The people need a ruler.”

“Sam’ll do it if I die.”

Cas looks like he’s been struck.

“You can’t die.”

“I’m human, buddy—”

“And what about when Sam is old enough to go with you?”

“If we die defending the kingdom, we die defending the kingdom. We’re knights. This is just the way we do things.”

“It’s a stupid way!” Cas snaps, stalking across Dean’s bedroom floor, fists clenching and unclenching. “And stop talking about dying.

“Cas,” Dean says firmly, and Cas stops. “What the hell, man? You’re the one who wants to grow up and do this, too.”

Cas legitimately growls at Dean, and Dean is so surprised he nearly laughs.

He’s pretty sure Cas would not appreciate it, though.

“That’s different. No one — no one needs me for anything.”

Dean frowns. He’s not great at the feelings thing, but Cas’s agitation is pinging his radar like crazy, and this little comment cinches it.

“How’re you doing, Cas?” Dean asks abruptly, to the point.

“What?”

“I was away for a while. How are you — settling in? Lawrence is pretty different from Eden. You’re living in the barracks with a lot of other people. Are you doing okay, making friends?”

Cas is looking at him like he’s crazy.

“What? Are you — trying to change the subject?”

Dean sighs, rubbing his face.

“Listen, Cas. I bet you get homesick. And instead of helping you, you know, adjust, when you got here, I went right to training you in all your free time—”

“I wanted you to—”

“But that means, maybe, you got used to spending a lot of time with me. “

“I — don’t understand.”

“I, uh. I think maybe you thought you missed me more than you did.”

Cas gives him a scathing look.

“I missed you very much, Dean. Although right now I’m not sure why.

“Sure, but — livin’ in a new place takes time. And see, you did alright without me, didn’t you? So the longer I’m gone, the more you’ll get used to it, and uh, you won’t worry so much.”

Cas just stands there, head tilted.

“I’m very confused,” he announces, and Dean sighs.

“Look, I get it. You’re worried I’ll go off and die and you won’t have a place at home, but you won’t have a place here, either, and I just want you to know that whatever happens to me, you’ll be okay. If you stay here, you’ll keep training to be a knight, and everyone’ll keep lookin’ out for you, and hell, when you’re all grown up, you can find somebody and get married for real and do whatever you want.”

Cas blinks.

“We are married for real, Dean.”

“Right, legally, but — I mean you’ll get to choose somebody that you like.”

Cas looks upset.

“I like you a lot, Dean. Why would I want to choose someone else? Especially if it’s because you died.

Right, because Dean’s army is surprisingly sensitive in their soft, gooey centers, and despite living in the barracks, Cas is still woefully oblivious to the realities of his situation.

“Never mind,” Dean mutters. “You’ll get it when you’re older.”

Cas huffs.

“Don’t tell me that. I hate when people tell me that.”

“Yeah, well, you should probably get used to it. Anyway, all I’m sayin’ is, you shouldn’t feel like you need me or anything. If something happens to me, you’ll be fine. Alright?”

Cas throws up his hands.

“That’s not what I’m worried about!”

“Then what are you worried about?”

Cas just stares at him, utterly enraged — and then storms out of the room.

Dean stews in his confusion for a few minutes, but then he decides there’s nothing to figure out.

Because Cas is fourteen, and just now, all of that? Was because that’s what fourteen-year-olds fucking do. They get cranky and they pick at you over something stupid and you just gotta wait them out.

Cas’ll be fine tomorrow, Dean figures, and wanders to the kitchen in search of a snack.

 

 

 

Dean doesn’t come after him, which feels a little bad, but Cas knows Dean is busy and he’s angry at Dean, anyway, so perhaps it’s just as well.

When Cas turned seven and all he wanted to do was train, Anna gave him a set of books for his birthday, and told him he’d better read, too. ‘If all you train is your body, and not your mind, you will only ever be half the knight you could be.’

Cas didn’t entirely understand, but he certainly wanted to be the best he could be, so he read them; in doing so, he discovered he very much enjoyed reading, and later on, when he proved to be much better at strategy and navigating the training scenarios than his peers, Cas credited his reading habits with his success.

And now, trying to have what should have been a completely unnecessary conversation with Dean — well, Cas thinks Dean could have benefited from spending more time in his wonderful library, is all.

That’s where Cas heads now, since he still has to carry a pile of handkerchiefs with him and Bobby’s banned him from the training yard.

“Aw, why the long face, sweetpea?” Donna greets him, and Cas sighs, opting to join her at the table before he goes to browse.

“Dean is an assbutt.”

One of the best parts about living in Lawrence is that Cas is allowed to say things like ‘ass’ and nobody bats an eye.

Although, there are surprisingly many good parts about living in Lawrence.

Donna chuckles.

“Hoo boy. Yeah, I’ve heard this one before, but never from you. What’s he gone and done?”

“He thinks I don’t want him to die because I’m afraid to be in Lawrence by myself,” Cas complains.

“What? You’re not, are you? You know we’ll all take good care of you if something happens to Dean.”

“I do. And I think since we’re married, Michael couldn’t make me go back to Eden. But Dean thinks I’m stupid, apparently, and he thought if he just reassured me I’d have a place here and still become a knight, him dying wouldn’t matter.”

Donna hums.

“Silly boy,” she says, shaking her head.

“He’s supposed to be king some day,” Cas continues. “He’s going to make a great king. And I think Sam would, too, but if they’re both off fighting in battles and nearly dying — who knows what will happen to everyone else? I read about King Roman, and he was terrible. Not just anyone can do this. His people need him, and Dean is — well, he’s being an assbutt.

Donna chuckles.

“Well, Dean is a good leader. But maybe it’s the army that needs leading right now?”

Cas hesitates.

“But —” He cuts off. “It just — it seems like a stupid risk. The kingdom needs Dean. I don’t see why he can’t lead from afar, like his father does.”

Donna squeezes his arm.

“I understand that you’re worried about . . .” she pauses. “The kingdom. But you should give Dean a little credit. He’s the best of the best, and he’ll come back. And even if he doesn’t, the kingdom really will be okay. The kingdom is pretty strong, too.”

Cas eyes her suspiciously, although he can’t pick out anything particularly wrong with what she’s saying.

“I suppose.”

“There’s a good boy,” Donna enthuses. “Now, I’ve got this new book about dragons I think you’ll like . . .”

 

 

 

Cas feels exponentially better after starting the book on dragons, and it is with a much clearer head that he goes down to dinner.

The wary look Dean gives him when he sits down sort of makes Cas want to start throwing things again, but he’s a mature knight-in-training and he pushes the feeling aside.

“Hey, Cas. How’re you feeling?”

“Good.”

“Alright. That’s good.”

Cas waits a few moments, and is satisfied when Dean automatically reaches for Cas’s plate. Cas isn’t sure why he does this, but when Dean was home last summer, he typically prepared Cas’s plate for him, even if he was in the middle of a conversation and didn’t seem to realize he was doing it.

And Cas might normally object to not being able to choose his own food, but Lawrence cuisine is much better than Eden’s overall, and Dean proved to be a quick study on which foods Cas liked or didn’t like, so the attention is mostly just nice.

Dean doesn’t do that for anyone else, Cas has noted; Dean also doesn’t provide extra training for anyone else, and things like that make Cas feel special, in some strange way.

It’s a nice feeling.

Anyway, Cas has decided that, while it doesn’t make particularly good sense for the heir to the throne to spend months upon months in the thick of fighting, he has no influence here, and if Dean is going to leave again, especially for that long . . . Cas doesn’t want to spend the few months he has being angry at him, even if Dean kind of deserves it.

“Thank you, Dean.”

“Sure.” Dean studies Cas for a moment, and then smiles. “Find any good books today?”

“Yes. Donna gave me one about dragons.”

“Ah. Nothing like a good ol’ dragonslaying tale to make you wanna get back to training.”

“Yes, but actually, this book was about people who turn into dragons.”

Dean cocks his head.

“Like — a curse?”

“No — they change back and forth. And they fight alongside the people.”

“Huh. Okay. Sounds pretty cool.”

“It is. I wouldn’t hate being able to turn into a dragon.”

Dean snickers.

“You kind of do, sometimes.”

Cas narrows his eyes.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Right? Who knows.”

Dean is definitely an assbutt.

Cas takes the high road, though, simply moving on to summarize the story for Dean’s benefit as they eat, and when they’ve finished, he follows Dean back to his chambers.

“What, we’re not gonna fight about you sleeping in the castle?” Dean snarks, and Cas doesn’t remember him being this difficult last summer.

“No. I slept very well last night. Thank you,” he adds, because he is polite and well-behaved, no matter what Anna says.

Dean smiles.

“S’what’s important. Bath should be ready,” he adds, jerking his head to the side once they’re in the room, and Cas’s face falls.

“What? But I had a bath last night.”

“A hot bath is good when you’re sick.”

“But it’s cold. Wet hair is bad when you’re sick.”

“Well, then I’ll help you dry it and then you can wear a sleeping cap.”

“But sleeping caps are itchy.

Dean looks like he’s trying not to laugh, although there’s absolutely nothing funny about him torturing a sick person.

“We’ll figure something out. Go bathe.”

Cas wants to argue, but last night Dean threatened to send him to his own room, so with a great deal of resentment, he complies.

It’s not that Cas hates being in the bath; a bath is rather pleasant while you’re in it. He just doesn’t like stepping out into the cold air, afterward, or the feeling of being all wet even after he’s supposedly dried off.

And sleeping caps are itchy.

When he comes out, Dean has a second dry towel, and he instructs Cas to lie down while he uses it to dry his hair as best he can.

Cas is grateful, a little soothed by the feeling of the towel moving briskly across his head — but then Dean throws the damp towel on Cas’s face afterward and he’s not grateful at all.

He expresses this via aggressive application of pillow to Dean’s face, but eventually, they settle down and Cas curls up on his side of the bed feeling surprisingly content, given the many trials he’s faced this evening.

“Good night, Dean,” he whispers. Dean chuckles.

“’Night, Cas.”

Cas fell asleep while Dean was in the bath last night, and although Cas is eager to return to the barracks, there’s something nice about saying good night to Dean from this close, instead of in the dining hall before they go their separate ways.

He drifts off quickly, likely due to still being sick, and when he wakes up the next morning, he feels better than he has in days.

 

 

 

Shoots of green appear mid-March, and Cas hates them with a vengeance, because it means that Dean and the others begin preparations to leave again.

Now that Dean’s been home a few months, Cas can say with certainty that he improves much faster when Dean is training him in the evenings, too. He broaches the topic with Bobby, who readily agrees, but when Cas tries to suggest that maybe he should ride out with the others, Bobby won’t hear it.

“Dean’ll have a million other things to do besides train you. I wish there were two of ‘im — actually, no, I don’t — but there ain’t, and you’ve gotta just sit tight on your own here ‘til he can come back, alright? Besides, if you left, you’d miss your day training, and then where would you be?”

It’s the answer Cas expected, but he’s still not happy about it.

In any case, it’s a struggle, having Dean there, eating meals with him and training with him and sneaking off to watch him in the courtyard, knowing all the while that Dean will be leaving soon.

It hit Cas, as they returned to the hall after their evening session one day, that Dean might be going away for longer even than he’s known Cas. The time they’ll spend apart might soon be greater than the time they’ve spent together.

It’s such a lonely thought, Cas feigns illness and asks to sleep in the castle with Dean. Upsettingly, Dean tries to talk him into sleeping in his own room, and when Cas brilliantly points out that all the dust will make it worse, Dean gets this defeated look and excuses himself to go exchange brief words with a blonde woman at the other end of the hall.

She looks disappointed. Cas asks Dean about it, while they walk up to his room, but Dean is frustratingly evasive.

Perhaps Sam will tell him, tomorrow.

Anyway, Cas argues a little about the bath, because a very strange part of him enjoys it, but eventually he relents, and Dean dries his hair for him once he’s out before directing him to get under an intimidatingly large pile of blankets.

And Cas would be delighted, were he actually sick, but being perfectly well and having spent an active day followed by a large, warm meal . . . the blankets are stifling, to the point that Cas struggles to sleep and sweats so much he resentfully considers the bath to have been a waste.

He endures this for no more than two hours before he looks over at Dean, comfortably oblivious beneath his sheet and quilt, and makes up his mind.

In Eden, a lot of touching was unseemly — although Anna never withheld hugs and pats on the head and handholding in private — but Cas doesn’t think that’s the case here. Dean and Sam constantly wrestle with each other, and Dean will often sling an arm around Sam or Cas if he’s walking beside them.

And of course, ruffling their hair seems to be chief among his favorite things.

In light of that, Cas decides to risk Dean being annoyed in the morning, shimmying out from under his pile of blankets and curling up close beside him, relishing in the blissful cool to be found there.

It never occurs to him to just push the blankets off, and even though by morning, Cas is burrowed up against Dean's side and drooling on his sleeve, Dean just chuckles when he sees what’s happened.

“If your barrack-mates could see you now,” he teases, and Cas lurches upright and shoves a pillow at him, discreetly wiping his mouth while Dean’s distracted.

He’s glad he’s not in trouble, but his heart aches a little.

He’s going to miss Dean very much.

 

Chapter Text

Despite all of Cas’s worries, a year goes by quickly.

Two months after Dean leaves, Cas experiences his first heat. It’s terribly uncomfortable, leaving his skin feeling clammy and itchy and giving him an all-over body ache. All he wants to do is hide in his bed and curse the gods for devising such a thing, but Ellen assures him that so long as he drinks plenty of water, doing his training as usual will go a long way to alleviating the symptoms.

He’s relieved to find she’s right, and by the end of the first day, his discomforts are a mild background nuisance.

Less reassuringly, she warns him they get worse as he gets older, though he shouldn’t have another one for half a year at least.

Cas, for his part, is incredibly disappointed in his body, even more so than the time he passed out during training when he took ill last winter. It seems extremely disagreeable that it should have the nerve to do anything other than exactly what he wants it to.

Anyway, it passes completely within the week, and he promptly forgets all about it.

Summer comes, and it brings them perilously close to the dissolution of the treaty when Michael arrives to celebrate its one year anniversary a day earlier than anticipated. It’s been a rainy week, and the day is no exception; Cas and his barrack-mates are restless from it, and Jo and Sam come to coax them into a game of sorts, wherein each team has a random object and must strategically move it around the grounds so the other team doesn’t find it.

The game grows heated very quickly, and when Cas, the current bearer of his team’s wooden figure, is just returning from stashing it, he chances upon Jo as she comes from the kitchens with snacks.

They stare at each other for a long moment.

And then Jo calmly begins to set down her basket.

Cas immediately starts sprinting back to the hiding spot, snatching the figure up and racing off, weaving around the castle in an effort to evade her. He’s already a mess from playing around all day, and by the time Jo catches him, kicking his foot out from under him, Cas shows more mud than skin.

They wrestle for a bit, Jo clearly determined to win, but even though Cas is still just a little smaller, he’s faster. He wriggles out of her grasp, clutching the figure close until he gets in a hit to her chest — not enough to cause damage, but enough to wind her — and she falters, gasping for breath. He seizes the opportunity to squirm free and starts running, winding down a little pathway in a shortcut to the courtyard, though he’s sure Jo will be coming after him in no time at all. If he can just hand it off to someone else before she sees—

He bursts into the courtyard, slip-sliding across the muddy stones a little bit, and sees Alfie standing guard by a door at the other end. Oblivious to the crowd just inside the gate, Cas makes a beeline for him, tearing past their visitors so quickly a few speckles of mud fly off of him.

There’s a few gasps, but Cas isn’t deterred until he hears Michael’s voice, so shockingly out of place he skitters to a halt, whipping his head around to where his brother, at the front of his entourage, is still looking away, at Bobby.

Bobby is not looking back, probably because he has his face buried in his hands.

Michael smiles serenely.

“How strange,” he remarks. “That disheveled hooligan bore a striking resemblance to my dear, gentle brother.”

Cas has no idea what to say to that, partly because he’s just realized this is maybe Not Good and partly because Jo has just appeared on the other side of the courtyard, catching sight of him and streaking across like she’s possessed.

“Wait—” Cas starts, but then she tackles him and he goes down, Jo merrily whacking him with the wooden practice swords they’re all carrying for the game the moment she has him on the ground.

Jo,” Bobby barks, and she freezes, whipping her head around in surprise.

There’s a long, terrible silence.

And then Cas hears his sister start laughing.

 

 

 

Michael has . . . opinions, about how Cas is being kept, and that phrasing alone sort of makes Cas want to start beating him with his own wooden sword.

Perhaps Cas is becoming a little uncivilized.

“And where is his alpha?” Michael demands of John, who looks incredibly tired.

“Hellenia has all but declared war at the border. My son is leading our army.”

“But he’s your heir,” Michael sputters.

“We discussed this during the treaty,” John points out. “Our custom there differs from yours.”

“Yes, yes, but he’s married now. Who will protect his omega while he is away?”

Cas can only assume by ‘his omega,’ Michael means ‘Castiel.’

He’s cross, either way, enough that he takes a moment to reflect on how nice it is that Michael is no longer his king.

“The entire castle,” John says bluntly. “And from what I hear, Castiel is becoming adept enough at that on his own. Now, surely you and your people would like some rest and refreshments—”

“Your son should at least wait until he’s produced an heir,” Michael insists, still irate, and a silence falls across the hall.

It goes on for a long, tense moment.

“Castiel will be fifteen in September,” John finally says, tone uncharacteristically delicate (from what Cas has heard, anyway), and Michael makes a face.

“Obviously, now is perhaps not ideal — though of course it would be your son’s choice,” Michael hastens to add, and Cas can only describe the look on John’s face as nauseated — or ‘grossed out,’ as Dean would say.

“His choice would be to wait at least another year,” John says, and Michael nods.

“I certainly don’t disagree with that. However, it seems . . . improper, that he would not exercise more care before that time comes.”

“Hellenia’s not going to wait on us to make an heir."

Michael sniffs.

“Is your son’s presence so necessary for border skirmishes?”

“The situation could devolve at any moment, and yes, it is.”

Michael purses his lips, and Cas is delighted to realize his brother can’t simply throw his weight around here and have his way.

“Very well. My party would like to rest,” he says stiffly, and John looks relieved.

“Of course. We’ve prepared rooms. Tara?”

Michael allows himself to be led out of the council room, and behind him, Anna makes eye contact with Cas and lifts a brow.

Cas suppresses a grin.

“Bobby,” he whispers, once they’re gone. “May I be excused from training for the rest of the day?”

Bobby rolls his eyes.

“Is that what y’all call that? Go ahead.”

Cas beams back at him, causing Bobby’s lips to twitch.

“And by the way, I think I heard tell they’d be puttin’ your sister in the Blue room.”

Cas hadn’t even given a thought to how he’d find her, but he’s deeply grateful to Bobby for anticipating this.

“Thank you!” he whispers, and then he races off to meet her.

 

 

 

Anna is thrilled to see him and insists she doesn’t need a nap, so they set up a chess board and she tells him what he’s missed in Eden.

Not a lot, except Michael’s usual ridiculousness, including new petty grudges he’s holding and who might have been sent to the tower dungeon in one of his fits of pique.

“And you?” Cas prompts, giving her an arch look, and she smiles.

“I grow more discreet by the day.”

“And Michael’s a fool,” Cas says, as they both often do, and Anna grins.

“And Michael’s a fool,” she agrees.

Then, although it’s her turn, she sits back from the board and looks at him.

“You’ve written me a lot — which I appreciate — but how are you, Cas?”

He considers this.

“Very well,” he decides. “Although I don’t know when Dean will return.”

Anna nods slowly.

“You seem to have grown very attached to him.”

“Of course. Dean is —” Cas isn’t really sure how to describe him, how to use words to explain all the things that make Dean so — attachable, but then he decides it’s not important. “Dean is my prince, and my husband, and when he’s home, he teaches me to fight. I should be attached to him, shouldn’t I?”

“I suppose,” she agrees, studying him. “How much did you understand of Michael and John’s conversation?”

Cas shrugs.

“Michael disapproved of Dean going to the border. I did, too,” he confesses. “Though I understand why it has to be that way.”

“Is that all?”

Cas blinks, thinking about it.

“And Michael asked about heirs.”

“Right.” Anna grimaces.

“Why does he care if we make heirs?”

“Honestly? If Dean dies and you haven’t given him an heir, then it jeopardizes the value of the marriage to the treaty. Lawrence has no incentive to treat you well, or to consider you an important connection to Eden, and you would have no power or sway here.”

“Oh. But Dean said I could stay here, that I could be a knight — that everyone would take care of me anyway.”

“And they might. But Michael doesn’t c— that is, he’s more preoccupied with what it means for Eden. Even if they take care of you, they could change their stance on us.”

“Oh.”

Anna studies him, then abruptly asks:

“Cas, do you — do you know how heirs are made?”

Cas hesitates. Now that there’s no Michael to make him stay in the castle when he’s not actually training, far from the other fledglings and higher ranking trainees, he’s privy to many conversations he wouldn’t otherwise be, and he’s gathered that something rather interesting might happen in a bedroom (or even other places, although everyone seems to think this is particularly scandalous). At any rate, he’s deduced that children are sometimes a byproduct of the act, though not every time, and there’s a certain air about the discussion that makes him reluctant to ask for clarification on what exactly said act entails or why results may vary so much.

Heats and ruts can have something to do with it; that much, he’s gathered.

“Not — exactly,” he hedges, then straightens. “Though I know much more now, about a lot of things, than before.”

Anna is disappointingly unimpressed.

“That’s — well. Okay. What do you know?” she presses, and he colors a little, embarrassed by his ignorance.

“It usually happens in a bedroom,” he mutters, and swears Anna almost laughs, but then she’s very serious.

“I see. And you know that at some point — you’ll be expected to provide heirs for Dean?”

Cas is aware of this, on some distant, unconcerning level, although now that he’s connected the two, he’s a little alarmed.

“Yes, but — not yet, right? Even if I’ve been in Dean’s bedroom, I’m not going to have children. Right?”

Anna makes a really weird face.

“Oh. That — well, that depends, Cas,” she says, looking worried. “What did you do in Dean’s bedroom?”

“Sleep,” Cas explains, then thinks hard, in case any other activity might have put him in danger. “And Dean dried my hair with a towel after I came out of the bath. And one time my side had too many blankets, so I did sleep right next to him, but that can’t possibly mean—”

Anna waves a hand, apparently satisfied.

“No, you don’t have to worry, then.”

Cas is already worried, though. He feels foolish for not thinking of this before.

“When do I have to worry?” A thought occurs to him. “King John said at least another year, but I won’t even be sixteen. If I have children then — what about my training? Shouldn’t — shouldn’t we wait until I’m a proper knight?”

“We definitely should,” she agrees dryly, crossing her arms. “But the stupid thing is, it’s out of our hands. I don’t know about Dean, but King John might push for them before you’re ready.”

Cas makes a face.

“Shouldn’t it be Dean’s choice?”

“No,” she grits out. “It should be your choice. But Michael’s an ass and he’s gone and married you off to a Prince, which stupidly enough means you have far less say than other Lawrencians in a marriage.”

Cas fidgets, unhappy.

“I don’t want to have children next year,” he tells her, and he feels bad about it, but — “Even if Dean wants to.”

“Hm.” Anna considers him. “You seem to think very highly of Dean. He listens to your requests, doesn’t he?”

Cas hesitates.

“He listens. Although he frequently refuses to follow them, even when I’m sure I must be right—”

Anna snorts.

“Ah, so it’s not just me you do that to. Wonderful.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he mumbles, and she grins.

“Alright. Well . . . why don’t you tell him that?”

“That I often think he’s wrong?”

No, that’s called ‘picking a fight.’ I mean, that you don’t want to have children yet.”

That sounds like a reasonable plan, although . . .

“What if he wants to?”

“Then he’ll tell you, and you can tell him why you don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“He might not care.”

“What makes you say that?” she asks, worry in her eyes.

Cas lets out a heavy sigh.

“Dean can be very stubborn,” he explains. “Last winter, when he came home and I was sick, he wouldn’t let me sleep in the barracks. And then he made me take a bath, though I think I smelled fine, and when I refused, he threatened to make me sleep by myself in my room. I tried to make him see reason, but he insisted. In the end . . . I had no choice.”

Cas gives her a forlorn look, and she presses her mouth together.

“Such tyranny,” she utters, and Cas nods, sighing again.

“Yes. He’s very difficult.” But then he thinks of how Dean at least let Cas sleep in his room with him, and how he helped Cas dry his hair, and how he trained Cas in the evening, and Cas suddenly feels a little guilty. “But — he’s very good. Just — he likes to have his way.”

“Yes,” she agrees, expression strangely blank. “People like that are very difficult.”

“Aren’t they?” He shakes his head. “I suppose I can try, though. I don’t — it doesn’t seem fair, to make me stop training for something like that, when he already said I could be a knight.”

She perks up.

“I agree. You should tell him that, as well. I don’t think you’ll get in trouble.”

“Really?” She nods. “Alright. When — when he’s home, I’ll tell him. I don’t want to distract him with anything in letters. I’d rather have a dozen children starting tomorrow than have Dean get hurt because he was upset over something I said.”

“That’s very considerate of you,” she says. “But hopefully not necessary.”

“Hopefully.” He stands by it, but now that Cas thinks about it, a dozen seems . . .

Somewhat unmanageable. He’s never been around children, before. Perhaps that is another thing he should be training for.

“Anna,” he starts, and she nods at him to continue. “I — should I not sleep in Dean’s room again?”

“Oh.” She tugs a little at her collar. “Well. I — maybe?”

“I just — I don’t know what will put me at risk,” he explains, raising his brows meaningfully. “Though I suppose if Dean agrees to wait to have children, he’ll know, right?”

The idea that Dean won’t know, that he might not know any more than Cas, is . . . alarming.

And then another horrible thought occurs to him.

“Anna — it can’t happen with anyone else, can it?”

Concerningly enough, Anna appears to be turning red.

“I hate Michael,” she mutters, though Cas has no idea what that has to do with anything. “Okay. Well, technically, almost any two presented people can have children together.”

Cas recoils. He never even knew the danger he was in.

“But you have to do something very specific for that to happen, Cas.”

“What?” he asks, frantic. “What do we have to do?”

She winces.

“I’m sorry. I do think it’s well past the time you had this talk — you ought to have gotten it before you married, but I can’t tell—” She cuts off abruptly, blinking. “Oh. Oh. It’s — we’re the only ones here.”

Cas nearly leaps out of his chair.

“Yes. Yes, so — no one has to know. You can tell me. Please,” he adds, imploring, and she reaches over to pat his hand.

“Don’t worry, Cas. I didn’t mean to frighten you. I’ll, um, explain, and then you’ll see, alright?”

He hunches inward, nodding.

“Alright,” he agrees, and even though he’s eager for her to tell him, he can’t help but be a little anxious.

Because while Cas might feel ready to face Hellenian soldiers or even dragons this very day, should the occasion call for it, this great unknown that’s suddenly been presented to him is . . .

Considerably more intimidating.

Anna smoothes out her pants, frowning.

“Okay. So. Children are made when two people . . . um. Have . . . intercourse.” She makes a face, then mumbles something that sounds like, “How is this my responsibility?”

Intercourse.

The word bounces ominously around Cas’s mind.

“From conversation?” he whispers, horrified, and she grimaces.

“Oh. Sorry. No, it’s — oh, God. Sexual intercourse,” she says quickly. “Please, just — save your questions for a moment, alright? Let me finish.”

“Okay.” He hopes this doesn’t mean a certain type of conversation will result in children.

“What that means is — well, usually, what happens is two people are attracted to one another. You remember when Lucifer teased Michael rather publicly about his crush on the Northern Princess and he was sent away to an island for a year?”

Vaguely. It was a few years ago.

“I think?”

“The Northern Kingdom is small, and they don’t have much to offer in trade. Michael could never have married her, but she was extremely beautiful and he was attracted to her. And by attracted, I mean — well. There’s a special kind of — desire, that a person can have for another person, regardless of how they feel about that person.”

“Desire? They want something from them?”

“Yes,” she says slowly. “And often, it’s because they also have — special feelings, for that person. They’re fond of them in a way that’s different than all the other people they like. It’s difficult to explain, but — sometimes the two are connected.”

“Not always, though?”

“Not always. Often not. And the special feelings don’t affect the — the children issue, but I think it’s worth mentioning that they often are the precursor to the — desire.”

“Alright.” Cas thinks he understands that. “So — sometimes you like someone differently than you like anyone else. And sometimes that means you want something from them?”

“Yes. But even if you don’t like them, even if they’re not special to you, you can want the thing from them.”

“Alright. What is the thing?”

Anna looks a little miserable.

“Well — sex, Cas. It’s a thing two people — two adults,” she adds, eyes steely, “Do with their bodies. Together.”

“That seems vague,” Cas says, dubious. “How will I know if I’m doing sex?”

Anna buries her face in her palm.

“Oh, God. Alright. It’s like this, Cas. You know what kissing is, right?”

“Of course. Though Dean and I don’t kiss.”

Anna nods.

“Alright. So sex is like a more involved form of kissing that people do, especially when they’re in love, though not always.”

“In love?” Cas echoes, tilting his head. “Like in stories?”

“Of course. You grew up in the castle, so you won't have seen it firsthand,” she mutters. “In love. The special feelings we talked about, when you like someone differently than you like other people. It’s hard to explain, as I said, and many people describe it differently. But for example — do you know any married couples?”

Cas thinks about it.

“Well, Dean and me.”

“Besides you and Dean.”

“Um. Bobby and Ellen?”

“Alright, and — oh, I know. Did anyone make Bobby and Ellen get married?”

“No?”

“When you marry someone even though nothing and no one is making you, it’s because you’re in love. You like each other very much, in the special way, and you want to be together and live together and things like that.”

“Alright?”

“And it often means you also — you know, think the other person is — attractive. And you want to do . . . extended kissing with them. Bobby and Ellen — do they kiss on the mouth and look into each other’s eyes and things like that?”

“Yes?”

“Alright, well, they’re probably in love.”

“Oh.”

Cas hesitates.

“Is that good?”

“It can make people very happy, yes.”

He considers this, a little melancholy.

“That means Dean and I aren’t in love,” he concludes, and Anna looks taken aback.

“No. You don’t — do you want to be?”

“If we’d be happier.”

“It doesn’t always make people happy. A lot of people say being in love makes most people unhappy,” she hastens to add, and Cas cheers, a little.

“That’s fine, then. I don’t want either of us to be unhappy.”

”Yes, very good. Anyway, with kissing — sometimes people enjoy it even if they’re not married. And sometimes it leads to touching with the rest of their bodies.”

“So . . . this is the thing that happens in the bedroom,” he clarifies, still trying to piece everything he’s heard together.

“Generally, yes.”

“But you said that time I slept next to Dean wouldn’t be a problem."

“Well, you were dressed, weren’t you?”

“Yes. Does that mean if I wasn’t —”

“No. But your — the — damn it, how do I say this?” she mutters, then sighs and stands up, gesturing to a wide area below her waist. “When — this part of you is unclothed, and it’s touching someone else’s — unclothed region, then you have to start worrying.”

Cas squints, too confused to be relieved.

“But why would that happen?” Sometimes, when they’re fighting without weapons in training and it devolves to wrestling, those parts might briefly touch, but why on earth would anyone be fighting naked?

“That’s what I’m saying,” she says, sitting back down. “The — thing you want from someone. That’s what it is. You want to — well, touch them like that.”

“But . . . why?”

“When you’re attracted to someone, it can feel nice.”

Cas opens his mouth.

Please don’t ask me why.”

He closes it, thinking it over, and then realizes he might just have another piece to this puzzle.

“Oh. Anna, is that why sometimes in the morning, when I first wake up, my—”

“Yes, probably,” she interrupts, not looking at him.

“You don’t know what I was going to say,” he protests, and she shakes her head vehemently.

“No, I think I do. And yes, Cas, that is part of why your — body does what it does in the morning. It gets confused and sometimes it reacts like that even though the rest of you isn’t trying to do anything.”

“Ah.” Anna looks upset, so Cas catches her eye, offering a smile. “It’s alright, Anna, it goes away after a while.”

“Good for you,” she mumbles. “I — I’d like to point out that these aren’t things you usually discuss in polite conversation. Although if you have questions, you should — Bobby! Ask Bobby.”

That’s good to know; Cas wanted to ask someone when it first started happening, but he felt embarrassed about it, for some reason, and he couldn’t quite bring himself to broach the topic, although sometimes he wondered if he might be ill.

“Okay. But — Anna, when you do the, uh, the bedroom thing, with someone — it doesn’t always result in children, does it?”

“No. That’s why if you don’t want children, but you do want to do that, you have to be careful.” She wrinkles her nose. “There are things — medicines you can take so you won’t have children. And there are times you can avoid doing it so you don’t have them.” She sighs. “Have you had your first heat yet?”

“Yes. Ellen said it was mild, though. That they’ll get worse as I get older.”

Anna nods.

“That’s true. Ellen runs the infirmary?”

“Yes. She’s a doctor, although she often trains with us.”

“Well, when your heats start to get worse, you should ask her more questions. All of this — you should know it, but you shouldn’t really worry about it yet, Cas.”

“Alright. But — what do heats and ruts have to do with children?”

“Oh, well — conceiving a child is much easier during that time. So — if you do the — the bedroom thing, I suppose we’re calling it — while you’re in heat, or your partner is in rut, and you’re not taking any of the medicine, there’s a very high chance you’ll end up with child.”

Cas mulls this over. It’s about what he expected, based on the things he’d overheard.

“But if I don’t do the bedroom thing at all, I definitely won’t?”

“Yes.”

“Alright.” He sits back, satisfied that he won’t be having children any time soon, and also pleased to have learned so much.

His world feels much bigger than it did when he first arrived in Lawrence, but even if Cas could find someone to tell him or read a book on a subject, he often has no idea where to start.

“Thank you, Anna,” he tells her, and she nods, looking so exhausted Cas suspects she lied about not needing a nap. “That was very reassuring. And when Dean comes back, I’ll tell him I don’t want to have children yet.”

“Do that,” she says tiredly

“I think I’ll let you nap, now,” he offers, and she smiles a little.

“A nap sounds nice. I’m worried I’ll have trouble sleeping though,” she adds, sounding oddly sly. “I don’t suppose you know who to ask if I want a decanter of whiskey sent to my room?”

Ah. That would be why. Since coming to Lawrence, Cas has had a chance to observe just how much people like their liquor, and just how many situations supposedly call for it. In Eden, no one in the army was permitted to drink, and Michael only ever had wine served at dinner.

Anna usually had some reasonable-sounding excuse for wanting some brought to her, but Cas is wiser now, and in hindsight, he recognizes that they were just excuses.

He smirks, and she looks startled.

“No! Who told you?”

“No one told me. But no one lies to me anymore, either.”

She tsks.

“Hm. Well, I suppose I can’t fault them for that. They couldn’t have explained the other things to you while they were at it?” she adds, a little spitefully, and Cas can’t help but agree.

“No. They’re very indirect about it all.”

“Yes, well; that’s polite.”

“But how am I supposed to learn anything?”

“An excellent question. I don’t have an answer for it.”

Cas sighs.

“Well, then I’m lucky I have you. I don’t know how everyone else knows these things.”

“Perhaps they have older sisters, too,” she suggests, humor in her voice, and Cas considers this.

“Is that who’s supposed to tell you? Oh — but — Dean doesn’t have an older sister.” He frowns. “Should — should I tell him?”

Anna bursts out laughing, and it’s a long moment before she finds words.

“Cas — as entertaining as that would be for anyone fortunate enough to witness it, no. I can promise you that Dean is very well acquainted with that information, and if continental rumors are to be trusted, he’s made good use of it.”

Cas stares at her, bewildered.

“What?”

She falters a little, then smiles, shaking her head.

“Oh. It’s nothing, Cas. Don’t worry about it. But do have the decanter sent up.”

He returns her smile, although he’s still trying to parse her words.

“I will. Have a nice nap, Anna.”

He makes his way down to the kitchens, then, and resolves to figure it out later.

 

 

 

Later doesn’t really come all at once; Michael clearly still has opinions on how Cas spends his time in Lawrence, and he attempts to apply pressure for Dean’s early return a few more times, but there’s not much he can do. Cas understands now that Michael gains nothing toward his goal by threatening the treaty — that’s what he’s trying to avoid, apparently — and it’s fascinating to see him so constrained.

Still, the visit passes without a complete breakdown in relations, and Anna promises to try and negotiate to make a personal visit in the fall.

Cas is surprised by how difficult it is to see her go; he considers himself to be completely settled in, now (if he’s being honest, he’d go so far as to say he likes it better here), but saying goodbye to Anna is scarcely much easier than it was last summer.

“Write me often,” she instructs him.

“I always write you.”

“Precisely. You’ve raised expectations.”

“I will write you as long as I receive letters in return,” he concedes. She smiles, pressing her hand to his cheek, and then is gone.

Summer passes in a blur of warm, sunny days, Cas sweating right through his tunics and pants as he spends long hours training. He treasures the cooler evenings, bringing whatever book he’s reading to sit beneath the trees outside the gate while the sun begins its lazy descent.

Sam finds out after the first few weeks, and thereafter comes to join him. Though Cas is a little wary at first, because even Dean can’t seem to keep quiet when Cas is trying to read, Sam proves to be an excellent reading companion. He’s quiet, absorbed in his own books, but he occasionally shares interesting things from them and, best of all, doesn’t mind Cas asking questions.

“Sam,” Cas says one day, puzzling over what he’s quite sure is innuendo, and perhaps wanting some acknowledgment for being able to recognize it now. Sam holds a finger up, then leans back from his book a moment later.

“Sure, Cas, what’s up?”

“This passage. The pirate captain has invited the castaway they picked up for tea in her quarters, and the crew has a lot of colorful commentary.” Cas leans over, holding the book out for Sam to inspect. He scans the page where Cas is pointing. “And the Captain is flustered and yells at them to behave like ladies and gentleman. Are they talking about bedroom things?”

Sam starts.

“Um. What? Like — what do you mean, bedroom things?”

“The things people do in bedrooms sometimes.”

Sam’s eyebrows are halfway up his forehead, and Cas has never noticed the triangle this expression forms before now, but it’s rather remarkable.

“Like – do you mean sex?”

“Yes, that’s another word for it,” Cas says impatiently. Does Sam know more than him or not?

Sam bites his lip.

“Right. Well, yeah, they mean . . . bedroom things.”

Cas nods, satisfied, and a little pleased with himself for catching on.

“Ah. I thought so.” He pauses. “What did they mean when they suggested she meant to ‘rattle the ol’ teapot and make it steam’? I don’t think they mean tea.”

Sam’s face is doing a lot of bizarre things right now.

“They don’t.”

“Well, what do they mean? And how could it possibly relate to the bedroom things?”

“Well, I mean. I don’t think that’s like, a specific thing. I think it refers to more, um, general bedroom things.”

“Oh.”

“Listen, Cas, I’m not really a great person to ask about this. Most of what I know is secondhand — actually, most of what I know is from Dean, and I’m pretty sure he makes some things up.”

Cas perks up at that.

“Does Dean know a lot?”

“Maybe? He certainly sleeps with enough people,” Sam adds wryly. Cas tilts his head, not sure what that has to do with anything, and then he remembers.

He, too, was naive before his talk with Anna.

“Sam,” he says seriously. “Sleeping and bedroom things are different, actually.”

Sam blinks.

“They — can be? But sometimes ‘sleeping with someone’ means s— uh, bedroom things.”

It’s Cas’s turn to be surprised.

“Oh.” He frowns. “But isn’t that confusing?”

“Um, not really? Usually you can tell by the context.”

“Oh.” And then Cas realizes what Sam has said, and he wonders if that’s what Anna was saying, too. “Dean does that with a lot of people?”

Sam suddenly looks very uncomfortable, almost comically so.

Cas will have to describe it in his next letter to Dean.

“Uh, um, well, I—” he stammers, and then looks down, the very picture of awkwardness. “You know what? You should — definitely ask Dean about this stuff. I’m really — I’m not a good person to ask at all.”

“That’s not true, Sam,” Cas reassures him. “You were very helpful. Thank you.”

“Sure,” Sam mumbles, still not looking at him, and Cas returns to his book, thoughtful.

It sounds like Dean does do bedroom things with people. Cas thinks — well. It’s strange to think about, given that he still doesn’t fully understand it all, but it shouldn’t be a problem, as long as he’s using the medicine that protects people from having children.

On the other hand, Cas thinks, even if Dean did have children with someone else, would that matter? Because actually, then Cas wouldn’t have to have them —

Oh, but the whole point of the treaty, according to Anna, is to secure Eden’s interests in Lawrence. If Cas isn’t the one giving Dean heirs, he’ll be ruining things.

He sighs. For a moment, the situation seemed ideal, but it’s rather messy, isn’t it?

And then Cas thinks about something else Anna said, and his mood deflates even further.

“Sam,” he interrupts again, and Sam looks up, much more relaxed than he was a few minutes ago.

“Yeah, Cas?”

“Is Dean in love with anyone?”

Sam’s mouth falls open a little.

“Uhhh. N-no?” He clears his throat. “Why?”

“Well, if he does those things with people, I thought he might have special feelings for someone.” Cas looks down. “I’d feel bad, if there was someone he would have married if he didn’t have to marry me.”

“Oh. Well — I wouldn’t worry about that, Cas. Dean always knew he wasn’t going to choose who he married, and for what it’s worth, I think he’s pretty happy with you.”

Cas brightens.

“I hope so. We don’t do bedroom things and we’re not in love, but I will be the best soldier in his army some day. I think that’s something.”

Sam blinks, then smiles at him.

“Yeah, Cas. It definitely is.”

Cas returns to his book, quietly grateful for Sam’s encouragement.

It looks like he has nothing to worry about, after all.

 

 

 

The summer heat fades, and by the time Cas’s birthday arrives, he and Sam pack blankets when they go out to read. Dean sends him a preserved sort of candy, the specialty of a border town, and Meg scoffs that it’s vastly inferior to a sword.

“The honeymoon’s over, Clarence,” she informs him, and Cas has no idea what she’s implying, but he hates her tone, and he refuses to share his ‘inferior candy,’ although these days, he generally finds Meg to be very amusing company, indeed.

Anyway, the joke is on her, because Dean also sent a (supposedly) protectively-charmed pendant, some beautiful rock so dark in color it might be black, if not for the searing blue that flashes across it when you tilt it in the light.

They call it a feather stone, Dean writes. We’re by the mountains, now, and the people here have legends of angels. They say their wings are made of sky, and dreams of flight are blessings from heaven.

Cas asks Rowena the Alchemist for a way to wear it without it getting in his way, and though she complains — “What exactly is it you think I do all day, wee little prince?” — she procures for him a length of braided leather, short enough not to catch on anything, but long enough not to choke him, and Cas takes to wearing the pendant around his neck.

When he tells Donna about it, she pretends to faint. Cas is mildly concerned until she pops back up, chuckling.

“Sorry, sweetie, it was just so darned adorable it killed me!”

Cas is getting a little old to be called adorable, he thinks, but since it’s Donna, he allows it.

You know I dream of flying often. Are you suggesting this is why I am a well-fed knight-in-training with a husband who sends me feather stones? he sends back. If you are well, it seems a reasonable theory, though Sam tells me not to feed your ego.

Rowena has made a necklace of it for me (do not worry we’ve made sure it won’t get in the way when I fight) and I intend to wear it always. I suppose we’ll see if it works.

Dean, of course, writes back scolding him. What if someone chokes you with it? he points out. Cas notes his concerns and continues wearing it anyway.

Ultimately, though — Cas decides, regardless of anyone else’s doubts, that yes, it works.

Sam doesn’t always join him in his reading time, and with the colder evenings come earlier sunsets. It is one such a solitary dusk, Cas’s eyes straining to see the words enough that he’s about to resolve to go in for dinner, when the book is knocked from his hand.

“Wh—” A hand covers his mouth, and Cas is suddenly hit with its owners scent, crisp and cold and dusty, like an abandoned room left to the elements in the dead of winter. It’s unmistakably alpha and tinged with aggression, and Cas panics when he’s hauled upward, back to his unwelcome visitor as they start dragging him away from the tree.

But in his panic, his body bows to instinct, and that instinct is heavily shaped by countless days spent preparing for eventual combat.

His attacker grunts when Cas shoves his elbow back into him, grip slackening enough for Cas to tear away, whirling, though he’s unarmed. He feels like a fool. Why wouldn’t he carry some means of defense with him? What is the point of his training if he’s not going to use it?”

The man regroups quickly, lunging forward, and Cas is so used to sparring sessions, to fights where the rules are dictated from the outset, that he somehow assumes if he is unarmed, his opponent will remain so as well.

Cas is fast, and he dodges, but his shoulder stings badly as the knife slashes through it.

He shoves back the pain, retreating a few steps, and the man turns toward him, advancing slowly.

“Come with me and you won’t be hurt,” he rasps.

Cas’s shoulder may be throbbing — is probably bleeding — but he’s not going anywhere with someone who attacked him, nor does he intend to be hurt again, either way.

“No,” he growls, inching back. He needs to find a way to disarm the man and retrieve the weapon for himself. The man is intent, and it will be difficult, however . . .

Cas has been trained very well.

“What do you want from me?” he asks.

“What Lawrence wanted from you. A deal with Eden.”

Cas is startled. So this is not a random crime.

But Cas has already been given to Dean; what could anyone else hope to do with him?

Well, he can worry about it later.

Cas pretends to stumble, feigning a great deal more shock than he feels, and the man takes that as his opening to launch himself at Cas. His intent is clearly not to kill, but subdue, and the difference gives Cas the chance he needs to shove the man’s arm outward, ducking under it and dragging it back with all his might, twisting it at the end.

It’s enough. The knife drops, and Cas dives for it, snatching it off the ground and turning back around just as the man attempts to tackle him.

This time, it hardly takes any effort on Cas’s part. The knife sinks right into the man’s side, and Cas rolls away and starts running for the gate before the man even hits the ground.

 

 

 

Ellen is a little upset, when she comes to see him.

Actually, everyone is upset.

Even King John can be heard yelling from the council room, though Cas can’t make out what he’s saying, and soon enough Bobby and Rufus come to herd him back to his bedroom in the castle, half a dozen guards in tow.

“I don’t want to sleep in my room,” Cas protests. “The barracks will be safer. They’re full of other people. No one would dare.”

Bobby sighs.

“I reckon anywhere inside the wall is pretty damn safe, else they wouldn’t have waited for you to leave the gate. Which you and Sam oughta have told someone you were doin’, by the way.”

“Sam and I are fine.”

“Don’t know if Sam is fine after the scolding John gave him,” Rufus mutters, and Bobby elbows him, eyes warning.

“Anyhow. The King wants you in the castle ‘til we know for sure nobody else is comin’ after you.”

Cas scowls, but if this is the King’s orders, there’s nothing any of them can do about it. He doesn’t kid himself that John will be half so amused by his pushback as Dean is.

He perks up at that thought.

“Take me to Dean’s room, then.”

Bobby and Rufus exchange a look, one that takes about twenty seconds to communicate its intent.

Cas scowls.

“If you don’t take me to Dean’s room, I’m not going.”

Rufus has the nerve to laugh.

“Oh, that’s cute, kid thinks he’s got a choice—”

Bobby holds up a hand.

“Alright. We’ll take ya to Dean’s room. Let’s get on with it, then.”

Cas smirks at Rufus as he passes them, but Rufus just rolls his eyes and follows after, shaking his head and muttering about tenderhearted fools.

Ellen comes to see him once he’s settled in the bed, doctor’s bag in hand.

“Just the shoulder?” she asks Bobby, and when he nods, she whacks his arm.

“Coulda walked to the damn infirmary then.”

“John wanted him in a locked room while we question the fella they picked up in the forest.”

She sighs.

“Guy was a mess, too. You couldn’t have just knocked him out?” she asks Cas, although her tone gentles a great deal.

Cas frowns.

“I was unarmed. I did what I could.”

“Mm. Alright, let’s see the damage.”

Ellen cleans and bandages the wound, ranting a little all the while.

“Gonna leave a scar. Honestly, what were you boys thinkin’, sittin’ outside the gate every night? We’re in an almost-war, for God’s sakes. Hell, what were the guards thinkin’, letting you through? Bunch o’ damned fools, all of ya.”

“It’s a pleasant spot to read,” Cas sniffs, and she rolls her eyes.

“Find a pleasant spot inside the walls, then,” she retorts, unimpressed, and Cas huffs.

“What did he want, anyway? How can they use me to make a deal with Eden? I’m a citizen of Lawrence now. They can’t make the same deal you did, either, because I’m already married.”

Ellen looks at Bobby.

“No,” she says firmly. “No, I ain’t dealin’ with this.”

“Well, now — you know I ain’t particularly reassuring—” Bobby starts, and Ellen closes her bag with a decisive snap, ignoring him.

“Honey, one of those asshats over there will help you sort it out, I promise. But you’re safe here, and we’ll look after you, and your shoulder’s gonna heal right up. Make sure you rest, alright?”

Cas nods slowly.

“Alright.”

Ellen busses his forehead and with a rather menacing look at Bobby, leaves the room.

Bobby sighs.

Rufus coughs and follows her out before Bobby can stop him.

“Aw, hell,” Bobby mutters, and Cas gives him an expectant look. “Alright, kid. Let’s get this over with.”

“Please do,” Cas says politely, and Bobby shuffles forward, dropping into a chair.

“Okay. Uh. Thing is, you and Dean haven’t made any heirs, alright?”

Cas hesitates. He’s pretty sure he can be honest with Bobby, and Anna encouraged him to ask Bobby questions, too, so . . .

“I don’t really want to,” he tells him plainly. “Of course, if we have to, we will, but—”

Bobby waves a hand.

“Ain’t nobody makin’ ya, kid. Not now, anyway.” He clears his throat. “Anyway, Dean’s been gone a long time now, so it’s also clear that you’re not expectin’ any, at the moment.”

“Dean and I don’t do bedroom things. Even if he were here, that can’t happen. Anna said so.”

Bobby makes a face.

“Good to know. But see, nobody else knows that. Now, Hellenia’s tip-toein’ around the war issue, ‘cause they’re not so sure they can beat us, alright? S’why Dean and the others have to be gone so long; nobody’s makin’ any big moves, so things are at a kinda permanent stand still. But if Hellenia formed an alliance with Eden — well, they’d stand a damn good chance at puttin’ us in ruins.”

“I — but — Michael’s already made a treaty with you. He can’t do that, can he?”

“Right, but — that treaty’s ridin’ on you and Dean. On the future heir of Lawrence bein’ half-Edenish.”

“Yes, I know, Anna explained that to me —”

“But that heir don’t exist yet, and if Hellenia can spirit you away, what do we have?”

“It wouldn’t be your fault—”

“Doesn’t matter. We’ve got zip. But Hellenia would have you, and they could try and force Michael’s hand, tempt him with spoils of war if he helps things along.”

“But — but I’m Dean’s. Michael can’t make deals with me anymore.”

“You’re still royal blood of Eden, Cas. If the deal with Lawrence falls through and Hellenia has you, anyway, then Michael might feel like it’s in his best interest to just denounce your first marriage and wed you to some royal Hellenian, and then help invade Lawrence.”

“That’s terrible,” Cas says, knuckles white where he clenches the sheet. “I won’t do it.”

“We don’t always get the choices we deserve,” Bobby tells him gently. “But I agree. Ain’t gonna happen. We’ll look after you here, alright? But you gotta stay in Dean’s room ‘til we sort things out.”

Cas sighs.

“Alright. Will someone bring me books, at least?”

“’Course. Donna’ll come see you herself,” he promises, and Cas resigns himself to being satisfied with that.

Still, once Bobby’s left and Cas has blown out the candles, snuggling up dead center in Dean’s comfortable four-poster, breathing in the comforting traces of scent that linger, Cas can’t help but notice the stinging ache in his shoulder.

And then he can’t help but think that it could have been much, much worse. That Hellenia could be holding him hostage, that Michael might decide their offer is more advantageous (though Cas suspects Michael’s pride would not allow for him to let himself be pushed into such a thing).

That Dean would come home from the border and Cas wouldn’t be here, or worse — that Eden and Hellenia would overwhelm his forces, and Dean might not come home at all.

That Cas might not even have lived to know, either way.

He touches the little feather-stone at his neck, warm from where it sits on his own skin, and he feels certain of it.

Dean’s gift was not a useless trinket, at all, and Cas was right to keep it close.

 

 

 

What effectively amounts to his captivity begins pleasantly enough, but Cas quickly grows bored, restless, and honestly?

Lonely.

Meg and Garth visit him after training two days later, although Garth arrives fifteen minutes after Meg, out of breath and apologetic that he just couldn’t seem to find the bracelet she apparently dropped somewhere on the other side of the castle.

Cas is sure she made it up, and she rolls her eyes when he gives her a disapproving look.

“Oh, let me have my fun, Clarence. Since you’re cooped up in here; I should be having enough fun for the both of us.”

“Oh, oh, but we brought you a present, Castiel,” Garth enthuses, and out of a bag pulls a couple of practice swords. “Bobby thought you might wanna go a few rounds, if we all promise to be careful.”

It is a wonderful diversion from sitting in bed, reading by himself, but then they go down to dinner and Cas is left to wait for his own to be brought up to him.

On the fourth day, Cas asks Bobby why Sam hasn’t come to see him, and Bobby looks as angry as Cas has ever seen him.

“I’m workin’ on that,” he says, and Cas frowns.

“Does he not want to see me, for some reason?”

“Oh, Sam came tearin’ out of dinner when he heard you got hurt, practically shook the damp tapestries of the walls, but John’s got his head up his ass about your little reading dates, so he’s not allowed in here.”

Cas appreciates Bobby’s honesty, but now he’s even more confused.

“I don’t understand.”

Bobby sighs.

“It’s dumb. Don’t worry about it.”

“How can I not worry about it? Besides, I want to see Sam.” Cas is used to sitting with Sam and reading, now, and it seems grossly unfair that the king has put a pointless embargo on the activity.

“I told you, I’m workin’ on it.”

“Why does the king care?”

Rubbing his forehead, Bobby grunts.

“Jackass is all worried you and Sam are gettin’ too close, on account of bein’ nearer in age and all. He’s just got his panties in a twist over Hellenia tryin’ to ally with Eden, though, so it’ll blow over.”

“Sam’s my brother-in-law,” Cas points out, at a loss. “Shouldn’t we be close?”

There’s another grunt.

“Yeah, you should. John just doesn’t understand a damn thing. But I’ll figure it out, and you’ll be seein’ Sam soon enough, alright?”

Cas supposes this will have to do for now, and settles back in to wait.

 

 

Dear Dean,

 

I’ve taken slightly ill (it’s nothing serious at all) and am now forced to spend my days inside the castle.

I’ve adopted your room as my sick room. I apologize. But you should understand that mine is stuffy from disuse, and though I only slept there during the summer when I first got here, I suspect it will be very drafty in the winter.

But I promise to leave everything as you left it.

I told you that Sam often reads with me in the evening, and I had hoped to continue that habit during my convalescence, but Bobby says your father is being a jackass and Sam is forbidden from seeing me. It makes absolutely no sense and I miss him very much. And I’m extremely bored.

I want to thank you again for the feather stone. I believe I would have been hurt much sicker if I hadn’t had it. I don’t care if it is a liability in battle, by the way. It’s worth wearing.

I miss you very much, as well, Dean. I hope Hellenia realizes the futility of their efforts soon.

 

 

Yours,

Cas

 

 

 

He receives a letter from Anna two weeks after the attack; she’s heard what happened, and threatens to come nurse him back to health and fend off any other fool brave enough to try again.

 

Michael was furious when the messenger arrived, by the way. I’m sure King John will have heard all about it by now, but he had a fit the likes of which you’ve never seen at the idea that the ‘filthy Hellenian upstart sitting on the throne’ would dare try and force his hand.

I’m sure he’s also very glad you’re okay, Cas. I confess to pointing out how nice it is that Dean’s allowed you to keep training, when the messenger described how you thwarted the assault and kidnapping; Michael was quite silent for a moment, and then ranted about how Dean ought never to have jeopardized the treaty by leaving you by yourself to begin with.

Anyway, a handful of Edenish forces will be joining Lawrence at the border in the coming weeks. There is nothing like Michael’s pride to drive him to action.

But if you need me to come fortify the castle, say the word. I may be forbidden from the battlefield, but do not think I am helpless.

 

Cas doesn’t think that for a moment. He’s nearly crawling up the walls at this point, restless with boredom and shoulder barely even twinging anymore, and he is sorely tempted to encourage her.

But the first of the winter storms touched the castle grounds a few days before the post arrived, and Cas is not so much in need he would have his sister risk a small traveling party until the weather is sure to be kinder.

After the third week, Sam bursts into Cas’s room, guards nowhere to be seen outside and some terrible commotion audible in the distance. He beams at Cas, smug and gleeful, and holds a finger to his lips before cramming himself into the wardrobe, an impressive feat considering his recent growth spurt.

Five minutes later, Cas’s guards return, knocking at the door.

“Come in,” Cas beckons calmly, and they survey the room with slightly suspicious eyes.

“Is there anything amiss, your highness?”

Cas tilts his head.

“I heard a lot of noise from elsewhere in the castle. Is everything alright?”

The guards relax.

“Fine. We suspect it’s a prank of some sort — nothing to worry about. We’ll leave you to it, then.”

The door shuts, and a few moments later the wardrobe cracks open.

“You can come out, Sam,” Cas says, eagerly making a space on the bed, and Sam unfolds himself and ambles over, a bag slung over his shoulder.

“I brought snacks, and more books, and — a letter from Dean.”

Sam wastes no time in crawling under the blankets, and Cas offers him another pillow to put behind him, frankly ecstatic at the promise of company, even without the other incentives.

Although he would really like to get his hands on that letter.

“How are you going to sneak out?” he asks, and Sam shrugs.

“They change the guards at ten. Pamela won’t care.”

Pamela can be very intimidating, and is always smiling like she knows things, but she calls Cas ‘handsome’ and cheers for him on the occasions when they go to spar with the next rank up. Cas decides he likes her very much, now.

“If you’re sure. I don’t want you to get in trouble.”

Sam scoffs.

“Dad’s being stupid, and everyone agrees. Anyway, last week Michael sent word that Hellenia’s in the doghouse and he’s sending backup to the border, whether we need it or not; he should relent soon. I think he would have already, but I, um, kind of made a fuss. And said some stuff. So I think he’s punishing me, too, now.”

Cas deflates.

“I’m sorry.”

“Nah, don’t worry about it. This happens sometimes when Dean goes away. Dad focuses a little more on me and we kinda get into it. It’s not a big deal.”

“Still.”

“The important thing is I brought you honeycakes,” Sam pronounces, fishing out a smaller cloth bag, and Cas nearly weeps with joy.

No one ever thinks to bring him snacks or dessert, and Cas can’t exactly go get them himself.

Sam watches proudly as he demolishes the first cake, and Cas lets out a sigh of deep contentment.

“Maybe you should be king, instead,” he says, and Sam cackles.

“Yeah, no thank you, but tell Dean that next time you write him.” He reaches for the bag again. “Speaking of which! Here’s your letter.”

Sated for the moment, Cas carefully breaks the seal and unfolds the sheets of paper within. It looks like Sam has his own letter, too, and Cas thinks it’s very nice that he waited to read it with Cas.

He wonders if he’ll be able to get Sam to let Cas read his, too, but first things first:

 

Dear Cas,

 

I hope you’re feeling better by the time you get this. Your assurance that it’s nothing serious isn’t suspicious at all, especially not when combined with Sam’s extremely angry rant about how Dad is being a jerk just because you got a little ill (but only a little bit, definitely nothing to worry about) and apparently Dad thinks it’s somehow related to how much time you spent outside in the cold reading with him.

I’ll get the story out of one of you, eventually, so you know.

Anyway you better be well by the time I get back. Things don’t look promising as far as letting up for the winter; there’s some abandoned settlements in the foothills, and it looks like Hellenia’s fixed them up and intends to stick things out, even though there’s only been scattered battles here and there. I’m not sure if they’re still testing us or trying to wear us down, but it’s a pain in the ass. Sometimes I get so bored I almost wish they’d launch an attack.

I’m glad if the feather stone is working out for you. I don’t know if I believe in angels or anything like that, but I got a real good feeling when I found that stone in one of the market stalls. Be nice if something was looking out for you.

Especially if you’re gonna be getting mildly ill all the time.

Jo says you got into a snit with Meg over the candy thing, by the way. She also tells me Meg likes to wind you up because she thinks you’re cute.

You are pretty damn cute, Cas, enough that I’m just gonna go ahead and warn you right now: Meg’ll eat you alive. Don’t take the bait.

Maybe we’ll all see you before the New Year. You and Sam behave yourselves, alright?

And don’t go getting ‘sick’ again.

 

Dean

 

Cas reads the letter once, and then he reads it again, and by his third perusal, his cheeks feel impossibly hot and his eyes keep sticking on one particular sentence.

You are pretty damn cute, Cas.

“What’d he say?” Sam asks, and Cas quickly presses the letter to his chest.

“Nothing." Sam’s curious look only deepens. He hesitates.

“Are you . . . sure?”

“Yes,” Cas insists, relieved that this is Sam and not Meg — or even Dean. He can practically see Dean sitting next to him, tilting his head, gaze calculating as he goes ‘Uh-huh,’ before promptly trying to pry the letter out of Cas’s hands.

But Sam is considerate, and polite, and if Cas wants to keep something private, he’s confident Sam will listen.

Although now the rest of the evening will be awkward, because Sam’s silent curiosity can be incredibly loud sometimes.

(But maybe he’ll still let Cas read his letter.)

“Okay. If — if you say so.” Sam looks a little disappointed.

“What about yours?” Cas asks, although he knows he’s not being fair.

He’s not even sure why he doesn’t want Sam to see what Dean wrote. But Cas feels embarrassed, in a good way, like when he’s praised at practice.

Except there’s something different about it. It makes him feel a little hot, instead of just warm, and he almost feels like he’s received a boost of adrenaline, though he’s not in combat.

Which is weird. Anna calls him cute all the time, and he doesn’t think too much of it.

Sam just snorts, oblivious.

“Yeah, he totally knows we lied about you being sick. Bobby said he probably would, but Dean will go all bitchy alpha if he hears someone attacked you, and he can’t afford to lose focus right now.”

Bobby’s words to Cas were ‘Dean will worry,’ which is the only reason Cas was comfortable lying to Dean. He’s not sure what Sam means by ‘bitchy alpha,’ though he supposes it doesn’t matter.

Sam must feel extremely sorry for Cas, being cooped up in Dean’s room, because he does let Cas read his letter (Cas decides he likes it, even if the letter isn’t addressed to him; he always enjoyed listening to Dean and Sam’s conversations, anyway), and only asks once more what Dean wrote that made Cas so embarrassed.

“He told an inappropriate joke,” Cas lies, and Sam gets this annoyed, pinched look Cas is briefly concerned is directed at him.

“Ugh. Sorry, I think Dean forgets you grew up in Eden sometimes. Don’t worry about it. Are you sure you don’t need me to explain it to you?”

“No, thank you. I don’t want to know,” he says, and Sam laughs.

After all, even if Cas told Sam the truth, he knows what Dean meant.

Cas is cute. Anna thinks so, Donna thinks so, Pamela says ‘handsome’ with such humor Cas is pretty sure that’s what she means, as well, and even Bobby has gruffly warned him ‘don’t be cute with me, boy.’

It’s affectionate — which pleases Cas — and nothing more. He’s not sure what else it would be.

But still, he doesn’t tell Sam.

They curl up and start their books, after that, and they become so absorbed they both just fall asleep.

King John doesn’t find out, but Bobby definitely yells at them the next morning. Once he’s finished, storming off to breakfast huffy and red-faced, Sam looks over at Cas.

And then they both start laughing.

 

 

 

Two days after Sam’s clandestine visit, Cas is allowed back to the barracks, and Bobby reluctantly permits them to move their evening reading sessions to inside the castle walls, though he warns Sam not to mention it to his dad. Aside from the slightly disappointing change in locale, things mostly go back to normal.

They don’t see Dean before the New Year, or even before Dean’s birthday; winter leisurely thaws to spring, and a month before Sam turns eighteen, they get word that Hellenia is moving much more aggressively. They attempt to take a smaller coastal city, and though Lawrence pushes back, Dean is confident this will be the first of many.

It’s disappointing, to say the least. Dean’s now been away over a year, and Cas is disheartened to realize he can’t exactly recall the sound of Dean’s voice, or which shade of green his eyes are in the sun or the candlelight or the shade of the buildings around the courtyard.

Still, he trains hard and wears his feather stone and hopes that somewhere, Dean is being looked out for, too.

 

 

 

Dean’s theory proves correct; Hellenia boldly makes attempts on a number of border cities, never quite succeeding, but creating enough of a nuisance that Dean and the others are growing exhausted.

There aren’t words for how sick and tired of this I am, and I think that’s what they want. I think they’re trying to wear us out. I’ve written Dad about it, and hopefully he’ll agree; we need to settle this once and for all so everyone can just go home, finally.

Cas hears through the castle grapevine that King John must have agreed; some of the reserves ride out for the border at the end of August, and Meg says they’re planning on crossing over and pushing Hellenia’s forces back for good.

Cas wants Dean to come home, desperately, but he also knows things have been relatively low-stakes to this point. He can’t help but worry over the outcome.

That Lawrence will triumph, Cas has no doubt. That Dean and everyone else he knows will survive?

That’s less of a sure thing.

Hellenia’s grown too accustomed to making the first move, it turns out. Lawrence’s army manages to surprise them, for the most part, and without strategic selection of the battlegrounds and careful preparation for the days preceding conflict, Hellenia is a little scattered. The army crosses over with ease, seizes three key border towns, and everyone who isn’t tasked with maintaining their hold there follows Dean further in.

Crowley surrenders, caught fleeing from his temporary throne fifty miles in from the border, from which he’s been giving orders, and Dean and the others take him back to the tiny castle to draw up the peace negotiations.

 

Know what he said when he surrendered? ‘Worth a shot.’ No, seriously. He shrugged and sighed and drawled, ‘Can you blame me? It was worth a shot.’

What a dick. We should have done this to begin with. I swear, Cas, never again.

Anyway. I hope to make it back by your birthday, but the fighting was the easy part; now comes all the paperwork. With any luck, Hellenia will stop giving us trouble, and stupid-ass power grabs aside, Crowley seems a little more reasonable than his predecessor. We might even make an ally of them, someday.

Though not that I’m not glad to have you, buddy, but if Dad starts talking about marrying Sam off to anybody here, we’re faking his death.

 

Cas certainly hopes King John won’t marry Sam off. As well as such arrangements have worked out for himself, Cas finds, as he gets older, that he may be a somewhat selfish person. He has grown very fond of Sam, now — perhaps even loves him like another sibling of the Anna-esque variety — and it would be his preference to keep him nearby, so he can continue to take advantage of his company.

And since Hellenia is no doubt a horrible, wretched place, Cas feels he can, with the clearest of consciences, encourage Dean to fight against this outcome at nearly any cost.

Fortunately, John at no point even suggests such a thing; still, Dean writes of a few extremely convoluted schemes they might employ to avoid it.

Cas turns sixteen, and though he finds himself entertaining bizarre fantasies of Dean bursting into the great hall to wish him happy birthday, he knows by then not to expect him until the end of September.

But the end of September is not quite two weeks away, and Cas can hardly contain his excitement. Letters are a poor substitute for the real thing, and Dean’s return has never felt so real or so close.

On September 28 th , they receive word that the party is resting three towns over, and the castle launches into a frenzy of preparation to welcome their heroes back. Bobby scolds Cas every five minutes, it feels like, but it’s difficult to keep his mind on his training when Dean is due to arrive so very soon.

When he meets Sam for dinner that evening, the older boy has a bruise on his cheek.

“I’m too excited to pay attention,” he explains sheepishly, and Cas is relieved to know he’s not the only one. Sam brings his letters from Dean to their reading time without prompting, now; Cas feels oddly shy about sharing his own, but Sam is so generous he doesn’t even ask about it, though the letter-sharing has made it much more apparent to Cas how desperately Sam misses his brother.

Cas knows he should share, as well, but . . . he can’t quite bring himself to.

They don’t read that evening; instead, they try to think of all the things that have changed since Dean left, so they don’t leave out any important stories once he’s finally there to hear them.

The very next day, around one o’ clock, a loud, gleeful trumpeting is heard from the tower guard, and Cas dodges Meg’s punch where they spar on the field, running right past her and toward the courtyard.

“Oh, come on, Clarence!” she yells after him, but he can hear the rest of the fledglings follow. The castle grounds have felt terribly empty for more than a year now, and everyone is gladly anticipating the change.

Sam is already waiting when Cas gets to the courtyard, and he beams, reaching out to squeeze Cas’s hand when Cas falls into place beside him.

“They’re coming,” he whispers, and Cas beams back.

“I know.”

Despite all the excitement, they’re left waiting a good twenty-five minutes. Cas is nearly shivering by the time they hear hooves and conversation, growing steadily louder until at last, the gate opens.

His heart pounds, and he reaches for Sam’s hand again, clutching it tight. He can’t believe the day has finally come; that any moment now, he’ll see Dean again.

It’s almost too much to bear, he thinks, but he must. The alternative is not seeing Dean again, and Cas refuses.

And then the army begins pouring into the courtyard, fanning out to the sides as Cas scans every face with growing impatience, because why on earth is Dean not riding at the front — and then his heart stutters in his chest, because oh, there he is at last.

Cas just stares, startled. Dean is — he can’t have changed that much, Cas thinks. It’s been a mere eighteen months, and although Cas has had trouble remembering his features in any kind of perfect detail lately, it hasn’t gotten so bad that he’s unable to recognize Dean hasn’t changed much.

Yet, watching Dean ride through the gate, watching his face light up as his eyes land on Sam and Cas — it feels like a revelation, leaving him faintly giddy and awestruck.

Dean practically leaps off his horse, shoving the reigns in the direction of a stable-hand with a nonetheless sincere ‘thank you!’ before he jogs over to Sam and Cas, coming to a stop in front of them.

“Well, now, what do we have here?” he drawls, grinning.

Cas doesn’t remember his voice not being so deep and rich and warm, and yet — something seems different, now, even if it’s not Dean, and Cas can’t even begin to account for his reaction to it.

But then Dean catches his eye, and he feels like a fool, because he can worry about it later, when Dean isn’t standing right in front of him.

Cas tries to smile, only to find he’s already grinning, and Sam releases his hand to step forward.

Dean’s grin slides right off his face, expression turning disturbed

“The fuck? What are you — dude, what the hell have people been feeding you?”

“Yeah, shut up. My diet is perfectly normal, unlike somebody’s I could name.”

“Hey, lay off of Cas, it ain’t his fault he likes honeycakes so much.”

“Wow, it’s like the older I get, the less mature you get.”

They glare at each other for a moment, and then Dean breaks out into another grin.

“God damn, I missed you,” he says, and gives Sam a very aggressive-looking bear hug.

Cas is surprised to see they’re nearly of a height. Dean is being nice about it, right now, but he has no doubt there will be complaints later on.

He tries not to feel left out — or at least, he tries to resist the temptation to pout — while he waits for them to finish their greeting, but the moment they pull back, he can’t help himself.

“I grew as well, Dean,” he points out, and Dean turns.

He dutifully looks Cas over, a slow perusal that for some reason makes Cas want to shiver.

Though that is more likely to be attributed to the cold.

“So you did,” Dean says slowly, finally meeting Cas’s eyes. “But not enough that I can’t still do this.”

Beside Cas, Sam flinches away, but he’s not the one in danger. Between one second and the next, Cas is suddenly lifted up, giving a shout as Dean hoists him over his shoulder and begins running around the courtyard, chortling heartily while Cas flails and yelps and giggles, because he knows he should be upset, but he’s surprised and delighted and Dean is home.

What could he possibly be upset about?

 

 

 

Back at the gate, Benny dismounts, wandering over to Sam and taking in the embarrassing display with tired eyes.

“It’s so nice that Cas is here, now,” Sam muses, sighing contentedly, and Benny grunts.

“Yeah, well, could he wait to be here until after we get some goddamn food?”

 

 

 

Eventually, Dean tires of trying to make Cas puke — “If I do, it will be on you!” Cas gasps out, but Dean just spins faster. “Listen, buddy, your vomit can’t be any dirtier than I am right now,” he says cheerfully. Cas, whose face has been rubbing up against the back of Dean’s tunic repeatedly for the last few minutes, is duly horrified — and the party makes their way into the great hall for the celebratory feast.

Despite his claims of indifference, Dean predictably insists on having a bath first, and Sam and Cas decide to wait for him to come back down, enjoying the suspiciously energetic antics of the returning army while they do so.

“I’ve never seen so much alcohol in one room,” Cas remarks, in awe, and Sam pats his arm.

“Well, you’ll get used to it, now that everyone’s back.”

Dean isn’t gone long, creeping up on them where they stand by the banquet table, and while Cas’s sense of smell seems to sharpen by the day, he’s surprised to scent Dean before he sees him, despite the proximity to all this food.

He’s also surprised to find that, like everything else, there’s something different about Dean’s smell.

But what is it? Cas scents the air, puzzled, searching out the familiar woodsy undertones, the sunshine filtering through just like it would the leaves, and yes — all of that is there, but now it seems stronger. Cas swears there’s notes of spice that weren’t there before, something warm and rich and inviting, and he follows it like he would some lovely baking emanation from the kitchens.

It’s only when he’s on his tiptoes, nose buried in the crook of Dean’s neck, trying to catch every elusive bit of spice and sun and forest and perhaps just the very faintest trace of some kind of muddled berry scent, that he realizes how odd he’s being.

Dean jerks back, eyes wide.

“Uh, hey there, Cas. What, uh, whatcha doin’?”

Cas tries to step back, give Dean a little more space, but he — he can’t. He finds himself rooted to the spot, still subtly sniffing at the air, and he has no idea why, or how to answer that question.

Because Dean smells — not different, but more. And Cas was honestly just trying to pinpoint what had changed, but Dean’s expression is pure discomfort and Cas has the acute and terrible feeling of having done something wrong.

He scrambles for an answer. He’s seen alphas at court return to their omegas’ sides and scent their bared throats in greeting, but never the other way around; and he doesn’t think he’s seen anyone openly scent someone else since he came to Lawrence, except when Dean did it at their wedding ceremony. He’s fairly certain it’s considered rude.

“I — in Eden,” he finally blurts out. “When someone’s been away for a — a very long time, you . . . scent them.”

Dean blinks, then relaxes, smiling.

“Oh, okay.” Behind him, Sam is giving Cas a Look, and Cas averts his gaze, face flaming. “Well, alright.”

And then Dean leans down, so close Cas can feel the warmth of him, and sniffs.

“Hm,” he muses, after a moment that seems to last longer even than Dean’s absence, before abruptly drawing back. “Not a lot of change, here. You still smell like ‘brat,’ with a hint of apple and ‘lies about being sick.’”

Cas is sure Dean’s lying through his teeth, and given the teasing note to Dean's tone, he’s probably right.

But then Dean whirls, baring his throat and advancing on his brother.

“Alright, Sammy, I don’t want you to feel left out. Want some of this?”

“Ew, Dean — oh, my God, no, dude, get off me!”

Cas watches Dean mock-chase Sam around the hall for a few minutes, relieved to have both their attention off of him while he collects himself.

Because it’s true that Dean’s scent appears to have changed during their separation, grown more complex than Cas recalls, but that’s not that disturbing.

What really seems strange is how good Dean smells, now. And while Cas thought he had a nice smell, before, it wasn’t particularly noteworthy. Certainly, it never made Cas want to chase him around a room, but standing there, watching Dean and Sam dart around people and tables until they’re both winded from laughter and running —

It’s all Cas can do not to go ahead and do it.

Very strange, indeed.

 

Chapter Text

As abso-fuckin’-lutely thrilled as Dean is to be back home, realizing how much he’s missed is considerably less awesome.

“. . . so Jo comes running into the courtyard and just bowls Cas over, totally oblivious, and starts whacking him with a wooden sword, and Michael’s just — oh my God, Dean, you should have seen his face. He so obviously wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening. I don’t even know how he recognized Cas, as muddy as he was.”

“He was furious,” Cas adds, vaguely gleeful. There’s still a little bit of awkward Edenish in there, but Dean is startled at just how animated he’s become since he last saw him.

And that’s the other thing; Sam is like a foot taller, now, and the blue-eyed slip of a thing he left behind eighteen months ago has become a little more than a slip. Dean feels like he’s missed out on half their childhoods, even though they sent him tons of letters (he’s technically heard this story before, although things are always better in person) and it was only eighteen months.

“He wanted to tell everyone what to do — he always does — but he couldn’t. Anna looked like Christmas had come early,” Cas continues, and that’s another — worrisome — thing. Every time Cas has opened his mouth since Dean got home, Dean practically does a double-take, just to be sure that’s who’s talking.

That soft-but-sure voice he remembers from before has lowered, way more than Dean thinks is normal, and there’s this gravelly quality to it that’s raising all kinds of red flags.

He knows Sam and Cas lied about Cas’s illness last year, and now he’s wondering if they really were lying about the severity. If Cas still sounds like this, Dean’s afraid he might have developed something chronic, which means he needs to talk with Bobby and Ellen and see what exactly it entails. Cas is dead-set on becoming the best knight in Lawrence, and Dean was totally on board with that — but if there’s something wrong with him . . .

It might not be possible. And there might be risks wiser heads should stop him from taking.

The only reason he hasn’t panicked and demanded answers is that Cas doesn’t smell sick. He does smell different, less like pre-teen and wispy omega and more like — well, y’know, other stuff. Nice stuff, Dean guesses, although there’s still that clean, muted quality to it — but none of that’s important. The important thing is, there’s no trace of illness, as far as Dean can tell.

“I bet. I hope she didn’t end up doing dungeon time.” Dean clears his throat. “So, uh. Speaking of things I missed while I was busy waiting around at the border . . .”

He glances between them, carefully checking for reactions.

“’Bout that time Cas got sick.”

Because even if Dean can’t smell it, like he could a cold or flu or infection, there could be something sneaky and internal, something persistent and subtle that he might not be able to sniff out at all.

“Oh.” Cas shifts in his seat, and hey, that’s not suspicious. “Uh. I caught cold. I’m fine.”

“Uh-huh.” Dean looks at Sam. “And what did you have to do with it?”

“Oh, um. Well — Cas and I liked to sit outside the gate and read, and I guess the weather—”

“Woah, woah, hold the fuck up, Sammy. Outside the gate? Dude, we were at war. You’re lucky nothing happened!”

Sam coughs, ears a little red, and Cas looks down, inspecting his plate.

“Yes, nothing happened. Except getting sick.”

Right. Shifty as fuck.

“And does this illness have anything to do with why you sound like one of those weird dragon-shifters you were reading about before I left?”

“What?” Cas looks puzzled. “What do you mean?”

Across the table, Sam blinks, and then sort of smiles.

“Huh. He’s right. I see you every day, so it didn’t seem like a big deal.”

“What?” Dean demands, looking between them anxiously. “What didn’t seem like a big deal? What’s wrong with the kid?”

Sam smirks at him.

“Nothing. His voice dropped, Dean. That’s just how he sounds now.”

What?” Dean stares at Cas, like the secret to this mystery will crawl out of his mouth and deliver its explanation. “Dude, you’re only sixteen. What the fuck?”

“Dean,” Sam chides, and Dean holds up a hand.

“You’re not lyin’ again, are you?”

Cas looks bewildered, and way too innocent to not be up to something.

“No? Why would I lie?”

“Swear to God, if you’re dying and it’s messin’ up your throat or whatever, you better tell me.”

“I’m not dying,” he protests, incredulous, and although something’s going on, Dean feels marginally reassured.

“Hm. If you say so. I’m getting a refill,” he adds, grabbing his cup and heading off to the table.

**

It turns out to be a pretty good decision, because when he turns back around, Pamela has cornered him.

“The Hero of Lawrence returns,” she drawls, eyes light. “Blessed day.”

Dean rolls his eyes, but he grins, opening his arms for a hug.

She accepts it, squeezing his ass while she’s at it, but he doesn’t mind.

“Good to see you, Pam.”

“Likewise.” She winks. “You look good, Dean.”

“Listen, if you wanna help me celebrate my return, come see me in a few drinks,” he jokes, and Pamela smirks.

“Oh? Promise?”

Which — oh, shit. It’s not like they never do that, but Dean figured he’d bathe, eat, and go straight to sleep. He’s been stuck out with the troops bitching about the cold or the heat and living in a goddamn tent for so long, he kind of forgot there are other comforts of home, and sometimes he’s one of them.

He grins.

“Knight’s honor,” he swears, and Pamela laughs, smile turning warm as she punches his shoulder.

“It’s good to have you all back. Castle’s been empty.”

“Good. I assume somebody’d have written me if Hellenia tried anything out here,” he teases, and Pamela’s face goes a little funny.

“Oh, absolutely,” she assures him after a beat, and then licks her lips. “Well, I guess I’ll see you in a couple of drinks, sugar.”

She glides away, a little too quickly to be her usual saunter, but Dean doesn’t think much of it, returning to the table with a bounce in his step.

He’s tired as fuck, but it’s been a long time since he had some free time in a nice border town and there’s nothing like having something to look forward to to boost your energy. Besides, it’s Pam. It’s pretty much a guarantee they’re going to have fun together, because whether they’re sparring in the courtyard or making faces while Bobby and John fight or rumpling the sheets, Pam’s a good friend and they always have fun together.

**

Even Sam’s inexplicable bitch face when he sits back down can’t ruin his mood, especially not when Cas has half-a-dozen fucking honey cakes on his plate now and he looks like fully intends to eat them all.

“Gonna be okay, buddy?”

Cas looks up, surprised.

“Yes?”

“Are you sure?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“That’s a lot of cake.”

Cas blinks.

“Yes,” he agrees slowly, frowning. “But actually, Dean, if you look at them, you’ll realize they’re very small. Six is hardly any.”

“Hardly any,” Dean echoes, and then swipes one off the plate, just to s— “Ow. What the hell, man?”

“I could ask the same of you,” Cas sniffs, and returns the cake to the stack while Dean rubs his arm. Cas is a lot stronger than when Dean left, that’s for sure.

And Sam must know six is way too many to eat in one sitting, but he’s too busy laughing to back Dean up on this. Dean scowls at him; as much grief as Sam gives him about his own food habits, Dean would think he’d be all over this apparent honeycake addiction. Apparently not.

Celebrations last a couple more hours, and by the time the hall starts emptying out, Dean’s both a little drunk and a little drunk on happiness.

One thing’s for sure; he’s never going away that long again if he can help it.

**

Dean says good night to Sam and Cas, catching Pamela’s eye with a grin and meeting her somewhere at the stairs.

“Sure you’re still up for it?” he drawls. “I saw you playing Never Have I Ever.”

“I always win at that game.”

“You basically have to drink every time.”

She winks.

“I always win at that game.”

Dean laughs.

“Fine, as long as you can get it up.”

“That’s up to you, handsome.”

Dean’s pretty sure when Pamela says ‘handsome,’ she means ‘you adorable thing, you,’ but he’ll take it.

There’s a brief makeout detour in a secluded little alcove, but after a while Dean gets creeped out by one of his great-great-great grandparent’s watching him from the portrait hanging there.

“The dead have better things to do,” Pamela chides him, but tugs him out of the alcove and up toward his room, where —

Cas is waiting.

Dean blinks.

“Uh. Hey, Cas. I thought you and Sam went back to the barracks?”

As an afterthought, he lets go of Pamela’s hand. Cas is so naive, he doubts the kid’ll pick up on anything, or know what conclusions to draw if he does, but Dean one-hundred-percent doesn’t wanna be the one responsible for giving Cas that talk.

Anyway, he lives in the barracks. By the time it’s relevant — when he’s like, twenty-five or so — he’ll probably have guessed what’s what.

Cas tilts his head, looking between them and squinting.

“Sam did. What are you doing?”

Which a) doesn’t answer Dean’s question and b) is pretty damn unfair.

“Uh. Escorting the lady back to her chamber.” Dean’s not sure why he’s bothering. He could probably literally tell Cas what he and Pamela were going to do in there without it being a problem, but then Cas might ask ‘what does that mean’ and Dean would end up giving him The Talk instead of getting laid, which no thanks.

Cas narrows his eyes further.

“Dean,” he says seriously. “Last week Pamela bested three opponents in combat with a blindfold on. I’m not sure she needs an escort anywhere.”

“Aw, you flatterer,” Pamela murmurs, although she looks incredibly amused by the situation.

Dean’s often thought other people’s social discomfort is on par with sex for Pamela.

“Right. But, you know. Just, uh, just in case.”

Cas nods.

“I see. I’ll wait, then. I thought we could catch up before bed. And then I should sleep here, so I don’t disturb the others when I go back to the barracks.”

“Oh. Uh — okay. That — that makes sense.” Kind of. Except for the part where Dean is starting to think he won’t be getting laid tonight, because how is he supposed to tell Cas he can’t sleep here without telling him it’s because Pamela probably will be?

God, maybe he should give Cas that talk. This is awkward as fuck.

Cas raises his brows.

“Aren’t you going to go?”

“Y-yeah. Yeah, sure. I’ll just be — right back.”

Dean avoids Pamela’s smirking gaze until they’ve made it down the hallway and around the corner.

“Smooth,” she mutters, and Dean scowls.

“Look, Cas is, uh. Kind of oblivious.”

“Oh, I know. I’ve probably spent more time with him than you have.”

That raises Dean’s hackles for some reason. Supervising trainees doesn’t count, not like the rambling, endearingly honest letters Dean received every time the post came.

“Yeah, but — trust me. Kid’s got no clue about anything.”

“Really,” Pamela says slowly. “Interesting.”

“Eden’s weird like that,” Dean offers, and she hums.

“He’s lived in Lawrence a couple years now.”

“So? It’s not like anyone here would be talkin’ to him about that.”

“You think so? He is sixteen. Lots of friends in the barracks, now. I know Meg has her eye on him.”

Dean frowns.

“Well, she can take it off. He’s not sixteen the way other people are, alright? Seriously, if somebody’s takin’ advantage—”

Pamela waves her hand.

“Oh, no, I think even the kiddos know better than that. But he can’t stay that far behind his peers, Dean. He might not be as naive as you think.”

“He’s exactly as naive as I think,” Dean mutters. “Or else he would have taken one look at us and gone back to the barracks, like a decent friend.”

“But he’s not your friend, is he?” Pamela counters, coming to a stop in front of her door. “He’s your husband, whatever that means.”

Dean stares.

“It doesn’t mean anything, except that Eden’s not gonna try and attack us in the night.”

Pamela smiles at him, tilting her head up and kissing his cheek.

“Kids can be fragile, Dean. You should keep that in mind. Good night, handsome.”

**

Pamela shuts her door on him while he’s still trying to process that.

His efforts prove fruitless, however — Cas really isn’t like other kids, and the less grown-up drama gets shoved his way, the better. All he wants to do is focus on his training and read books with Sam, and all Dean wants is for him to be able to do that without distractions.

Dean returns to his room, only to find Cas has already gone inside and made himself comfortable in a chair.

“Before you say anything,” he says quickly, giving Dean a suspicious look. “I already sent for a bath.”

“Who said I was gonna say anything?”

Cas just looks at him.

Anyway. Don’t go to sleep until I’m done,” he instructs, then stands at the knock on the door.

“I make no promises,” Dean warns him, just to be difficult, and fakes a yawn. “It’s been a long few months. I plan to spend a lot of time catching up on sleep.”

Cas looks alarmed.

“I’ll hurry,” he assures him, and then flees into the bathroom, Dean suppressing a chuckle behind him.

He spends a little bit of time unpacking his personal effects, and when he’s done, he knocks on the bathroom door.

“Hey, Cas, my pajamas are in there. I’m comin’ in, okay?”

He slips into the room without waiting for a response, heading for the neatly folded pajamas on the dresser in there.

Cas yelps.

“Dean!”

Dean whips around, startled.

“What? What? What happened?”

Cas is huddled in the tub, looking scandalized.

“I’m bathing.

“Yeah, buddy, I can see that. What’s wrong?”

“No — that is what’s wrong. You can’t just — walk in while I’m —” Cas jerks his head at the tub. “Like this.”

Dean’s about to point out that not only can he not see Cas, given that he’s ensconced in a tub, but he’s spent the last year and a half accustomed to less-than-ideal community bathing situations and it’s honestly not a big deal, but Cas looks incredibly upset and then Dean remembers that oh, yeah, he grew up in Eden.

Which — Dean’s surprised how often he forgets, given that Sam kept pointing it out in his letters. Apparently Dean told Cas a dirty joke that embarrassed Cas so much he wouldn’t even ask what it meant — and if Cas isn’t asking hilariously blunt questions, you know he must be embarrassed — and he got a two page lecture on Edenish customs and how Dean needed to be more considerate.

So Dean takes a deep breath and does his best to be considerate.

“Oh. Sorry. Honestly, when we were out along the border, a lot of the times it was like twenty people washing up in the river, so I guess I forgot what civilization was like.”

Cas looks extremely disturbed.

Dean,” he hisses. “As much as I appreciate that, please leave.

Ooh. Right. That’s probably what Dean should have started with.

He holds up an apologetic hand, snagging his pajamas and heading for the door —

Only to stop two feet from the tub, because what the hell happened to Cas’s arm?

“Dude, what the hell happened to your arm?”

Cas’s eyes widen, before following Dean’s gaze to a nasty looking scar that must be four inches long, right across the meat of his shoulder. He turns bright red.

And then he throws a wet washcloth at Dean’s face.

Dean decides he should probably wait until Cas is done to talk about it.

 

 

 

“Okay, buddy. What’s with the shoulder?” Dean asks, toweling off Cas’s damp, unruly hair, even though the kid’s apparently not sick and therefore must just be being lazy.

Dean did interrupt his bath, though, which is probably a giant faux pas in Eden, so he supposes it’s fair.

Cas tenses a little.

“It — it happened in training.”

“No way is Bobby letting your rank use that kind of blade in training. Try again.”

Cas lets out a long-suffering sigh.

“It’s not important.”

Dean tugs a little harder than necessary with the towel, and Cas makes a frankly adorable grumbly noise.

“Cas. If you don’t tell me, I’ll go ask Bobby.”

“Okay. Ask Bobby.”

Oh, so that’s how he wants to play it?

“And I’ll just assume since you’re not mature enough to have a conversation, you must not be mature enough for extra training sessions in the courtyard.

Cas inhales sharply.

“Dean, that — that isn't fair.

“Liars don’t get privileges.”

“I’m not — you were trying to fight Hellenia! Bobby said you’d worry if I told you the truth!”

“Uh-huh. And what is the truth?”

Cas huffs, looking resentfully to the side.

“Last September. One of the nights I was reading by myself, an agent of Hellenia tried to kidnap me.”

Dean stops drying Cas’s hair, although by this point, he’s mostly just massaging the brat’s scalp with the towel.

“Excuse me?”

“It was fine,” Cas adds hastily. “I stabbed him and he was captured.”

Excuse me?”

“It wasn’t my fault.”

“Of fucking course it wasn’t your — what the hell? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

“I told you, Bobby said you’d worry. And Sam said you’d ‘go all bitchy alpha.’”

“Damn right I’d go all bitchy alpha! Who the hell do they think they are, trying to kidnap an innocent kid? What did they even want with you?”

“Well, Bobby said they were hoping to convince Michael to make a deal with them instead, and help invade Lawrence.”

“Sure, sure, but that still doesn’t answer my question.”

Cas sighs.

“He said if they’d succeeded, they would have had Michael denounce our marriage and marry me to someone in Hellenia.”

What? But — they can’t do that!”

“They can’t now. The war is over. But at the time, they could have, because we haven’t made any heirs.”

Dean gapes, speechless.

“Heirs?” he finally repeats.

Cas nods.

“Heirs. Until we have an heir, Lawrence’s interests on behalf of Eden are uncertain.”

What — what the actual fuck? Why is Dean’s sixteen-year old husband talking to him about heirs? Does Cas even know how heirs are made?

Ten minutes ago, Dean would have laughed and said probably not, but Cas looks so serious, Dean is kind of wondering.

“Right. I — guess I never thought about it.”

Cas almost looks relieved.

“Yes. I personally don’t think it should be relevant, but apparently we’re expected to produce some at some point.”

“Yeah, at — at some point. Um, but — at what point, again?”

Cas straightens, abruptly looking determined.

“Actually, I had hoped to speak with you about that,” he starts, and Dean’s blood pressure must be pushing lethal rates, because oh, fuck, some crazy person got to Cas and now the kid’s about to suggest they go ahead and make some heirs and hell no.

“Listen, Cas,” Dean tries, but Cas shoots him an unimpressed look.

“Please don’t interrupt me.”

Dean used to want to laugh when Cas let out one of his severe little request-slash-demands, but this is no laughing matter and his voice can actually manage stern now, and mostly Dean just gulps, waiting for the worst.

“Okay,” he agrees, and Cas nods.

“I don’t want to have heirs right now,” he announces, and then squints at Dean, clearly waiting for a reaction.

Dean, for his part, could dissolve into a puddle of relief.

“Awesome,” he manages, and Cas looks surprised.

“Really?”

“Absolutely. I don’t want heirs right now, either.”

Cas breaks out into a smile.

“Alright. Good.”

“And besides, you’re way too young.”

Cas’s smile freezes, and then slides right into a frown.

“You make it sound like I’m a child.”

Dean raises his brows.

“Well, you are.”

“Excuse me? I’m sixteen, Dean.”

“Exactly — you’re sixteen. And don’t give me that crap, I know in Eden you wouldn’t do your guys’ challenge thing until you were twenty.”

Cas purses his lips.

“Knighthood is not synonymous with manhood. At sixteen, I would be sent on missions.”

“Yeah, well, you’re not in Eden. You’re in Lawrence, and in Lawrence you’ll be staying put, because you’re a child.

And maybe Dean should shut up, because Cas is beginning to look quietly furious, but come on. It’s one thing to have indulged Cas when he was barely a teenager and all he was angling for was continuing his training, but letting Cas think he’s an adult and he has any business making adult choices is a recipe for disaster at this point. Hence the big-ass scar on his right shoulder and, you know, almost getting kidnapped.

“Need I remind you how I got this scar? I’m capable of defending myself as well as anyone.”

“That was one time, and since you were stupid enough to be outside the gate in the first place, I really don’t think you wanna bring that up.”

Cas sucks in a breath.

“Fight me.”

“What?”

“I think the time has come for you to fight me. Do that, and I will show you I’m a man.”

“I’m not fighting you, because I don’t fight children.”

“I am not a child—”

“Do you even know how heirs are made?” Dean counters, and it’s a cheap shot, because Cas is sensitive about his own naivete and this particular thing probably has more to do with culture differences than anything else, but — the situation is clearly getting out of hand if Cas actually thinks he’s advanced enough to defend himself.

That kind of thinking makes you take stupid risks, like sitting around outside the castle gate, and stupid risks get you killed. And since Cas is Dean’s responsibility now —

Dean’s going to make sure he understands the importance of recognizing his own weaknesses, and letting other people handle them.

Cas is glaring at him.

“Of course I know how heirs are made. Do I look like a child to y— oh, wait. Apparently I do.”

God. Teenagers.

Dean’s a little surprised, enough that he doesn’t buy it.

“Really. Tell me, then.”

Cas looks taken aback.

“Don’t you know?”

And this time he’s not being sarcastic, and Dean’s suddenly sure Cas doesn’t really know.

“Oh, I know. I just don’t think you do.”

“Bedroom things,” Cas snaps, and then hesitates. “Sex. You have sex without protection, or during a heat or rut. And then you have heirs.”

Dean’s initial response is surprise, because maybe Cas knows after all, but then he zeroes in on the ‘bedroom things’ thing.

“Uh-huh. And what exactly does sex entail?”

Cas colors, and Dean narrows his eyes, trying to figure out if that’s Cas being embarrassed he doesn’t know or embarrassed because he does know and he knows it’s an awkward thing to discuss.

“Touching bodies. In the — this region.” Cas gestures to a very broad zone between his navel and knees, and then adds, “Unclothed.”

“Just touching?” Dean presses, determined to call his bluff, and Cas huffs.

“Yes.”

Dean smirks.

“See? You don’t know.”

Cas’s mouth falls open.

“I just told you—”

“Yeah, no, there’s way more to it than that. Which you would know if you were an adult. But you’re not. You’re a kid. You’re not old enough to wander around outside the gate and you’re not old enough to have heirs and actually, you’re not old enough to have sex, either, whether you know what it is or not.”

Cas is silent for a long time, and Dean is just settling back, smug, because he knows he’s won, when Cas abruptly stands, gaze furious.

“I think I’ll sleep in the barracks after all,” he says, and stalks right out of the room.

Dean’s been back less than twenty four hours and he’s already made Cas storm out on a fight.

Victory suddenly feels a little hollow.

 

 

 

“Sam, what is sex?”

Sam chokes on his toast.

What?”

“What is sex?” Cas repeats, impatient. “I thought I knew, but apparently I don’t, and I need to.”

Swallowing the bite, Sam sets the rest of it down, cautiously turning to Cas.

“Um, why do you need to know what sex is? And — seriously? You don’t know?”

Cas isn’t sure what his face does in response to that, but Sam winces.

“I mean, not that — it’s fine if you don’t. I don’t know why you would.”

Thank you,” Cas says, perhaps a touch more frosty than Sam deserves, but Cas barely slept last night for fury at Dean.

No wonder Bobby told them to lie; Cas isn’t even sure how they got where they did last night, but he does know why.

Because Dean was being an assbutt.

“I need to show Dean that I know.”

Sam recoils.

“I — do not need to know that. Wow, yeah, no, I really — I really don’t need to know that, or think about that, and — and maybe you should talk to Bobby.”

Cas deflates a little.

“Oh. You don’t know either.” He’s not sure if that helps or hurts his point, that Sam, two years older than him, doesn’t know this important adult thing.

“It’s not that — but, um, I’m not the best person to — to explain it, and the thing is Cas, there’s, um, things, that are personal, and especially when it’s my brother and my best friend, I don’t — I’d rather not talk about them?”

Cas blinks.

“I’m your best friend?” he asks, ire at Dean temporarily forgotten.

“Uh, yeah? I think? We always eat together and hang out everyday.”

Cas smiles a little at the floor.

“Then you must be my best friend, too,” he confirms, and Sam laughs.

“Probably? Just — don’t talk to me about sex with Dean, okay?”

Well, that should be easy enough. Cas has no reason to talk about that; all he wants is for someone to tell him what sex is so Dean will be forced to admit Cas is a grown-up.

“Alright,” he agrees, but the fact remains that Sam is refusing to share his knowledge, and Cas needs to know. “I’ll see you later, Sam. I need to speak with Bobby.”

 

 

 

Bobby starts walking away as soon as Cas gets the question out.

“Bobby,” Cas calls, jogging after him. “Please. I realize this is uncomfortable to discuss, but I need to know.”

Bobby sighs, rubbing his forehead.

“Alright. Why do you need to know?”

“Because Dean called me a child, and when I pointed out I was sixteen and an adult, he asked if I even knew how children came to be. And I thought I did, but he said that wasn’t everything, and now I need you to tell me so I can prove him wrong.”

Bobby pauses.

“I don’t think he’s gonna think that proves anything, boy. The difference between you knowin’ and not knowin’ is a conversation. If you don’t need to know, we might as well save it.”

“Bobby, please. Are you really going to stand by and let him treat me like this?”

“Treat you like what, now?”

“Like a child.

“Listen, son, you’ve gotten real handy with a sword and you’re clever to boot. But you’re only sixteen.”

“So?”

“So, unless Dean’s baby-talkin’ you and trying to force-feed you vegetables, he’s right. You’re still a kid. Enjoy it while it lasts.”

Cas just stares.

This is a nightmare.

“How can you take his side?”

Bobby snorts.

“Wanna know a secret, kid? Dean’s a child, too. All y’all are children to somebody as old as me. Learn to live with it.”

Clearly, he’s not going to win this argument.

“Alright. Still — tell me about sex.”

“No.”

“I deserve to know.”

“Sure. And you will. At some point.”

Cas crosses his arms, frustrated. What can he say to convince someone, anyone, to tell him?

And then he remembers his talk with Anna, and it hits him.

“How will I know how to avoid having children if I don’t?” Cas counters, and that gives Bobby pause.

“Aw, hell.” Bobby sighs. “Okay. Come sit down.”

Cas eagerly follows him into his study, perching on one of the chairs and looking at him expectantly.

“Ya remember that time Hellenia tried to haul you off and marry you to somebody else, and we talked about how sometimes, we don’t always get the choices we deserve?”

“Yes?”

“This is another one of those times,” Bobby says bluntly, and Cas deflates.

Does this mean he’s not going to tell Cas? What on earth is the big secret? Does it have anything to do with why sometimes his barrack-mates will be whispering about something and as soon as Cas asks what it’s about, they all look guilty and say ‘toad populations’ or ‘bread-making techniques’ when Cas knows none of them know anything about that?

Bobby continues before he can say anything.

“The stuff you’re askin’ about, Cas — you’re not allowed to do it.”

“Is it because you think I’m not old enough?” Cas asks, deeply vexed, although he has no real interest in doing sex, especially if it means he might have children before he wants them. “When Michael visited, John suggested the possibility that we might have heirs when I’m sixteen.”

He gives Bobby a pointed look, and wishes he’d thought of this last night, when he was fighting with Dean.

“And that could happen, though I don’t think it’s a good idea. But here’s the thing, Cas. It’s not about how old you are.”

“It’s not?” Cas tilts his head. “Then why am I not allowed?”

“It ain’t — it ain’t that you’re not allowed to do it, exactly. You’re just not allowed to do it with anybody besides Dean.”

“Oh.” Cas takes a moment to consider this, thinking of Pamela outside Dean’s room last night. He was pretty sure she was there to do bedroom things, because he knew she didn’t need protection on her way back to her chamber, and it had been surprisingly upsetting — if only because Dean was obviously lying to Cas about it, and Cas was certainly mature enough to know the truth about such things. “But Dean does it with other people.”

Bobby looks taken aback.

“Uh. Does he, now.” He scratches his head. “How d’you know that?”

“Something Sam said. Also, Dean and Pamela were outside his room last night, and he tried to say she needed an escort to her room.”

Bobby snorts.

“What an idjit.” He sighs. “Listen, son. Lawrence is real different from Eden; we don’t discriminate too much about genders and subgenders and whatnot. But even if you were a beta, or a girl alpha, being married to the crown prince — bein’ the one in the marriage who’s gonna be puttin’ out those heirs — means you got a different set o’ rules.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Put plainly, if Dean makes a mistake and has a child with somebody else, it’s unfortunate, but not the end o’ the world. If you make a mistake and you have somebody else’s child — well, you’ll have to get divorced and John’ll probably send you back to Eden and the whole treaty’ll be in jeopardy.”

This is all news to Cas. He knew Dean having children with someone else wouldn’t solve the heir problem, but it had never occurred to him that he could cause trouble by doing the same.

The idea of Dean divorcing him, and being sent back to Eden, where Michael will be angry at him on top of everything else—

It’s horrifying.

“But there’s medicine you can take.”

“It ain’t a hundred percent, Cas. And even if it were, people can’t think you’re sleepin’ around on Dean before you’ve given him a coupla heirs. They could try and challenge their legitimacy later, cause a whole mess o’ trouble.”

“I see.” Cas frowns. Especially in light of last night’s argument, being told he’s not allowed to do something Dean apparently is is very upsetting.

However, he sees the reasoning behind it, and he’s not interested in doing sex with Dean or anyone else, so he supposes there’s no reason to fight this one.

“Then — you have to tell me what sex is, so I don’t do it with anyone else.”

Bobby narrows his eyes.

“Maybe so. But you did say you already knew a thing or two. Mind tellin’ me what?”

Cas perks up. Could Dean have been lying when he suggested Cas didn’t know the whole story?

He quickly relates the tale of the unclothed lower-region touching to Bobby, and Bobby nods, rubbing his jaw thoughtfully.

“Hm. Alright.”

“Are you going to tell me now?”

Bobby shakes his head.

“Nope, that oughta do it. Just don’t get naked with anybody, and certainly don’t do any o’ that stuff, and you’ll be fine.”

Cas gapes.

“But — you said —”

“I didn’t say nothin’. I implied I’d tell you what ya needed to know to stay outta trouble, and I did. You’re sixteen. Someone’ll tell you when it’s relevant, but unless you and Dean are plannin’ on startin’ a family right now, it ain’t relevant. Now get back to the field.”

Cas is surrounded by injustice, isn’t he?

But what he can say?

Defeated, Cas offers Bobby a short nod and leaves the study without another word.

 

 

 

Cas is still pissed off today, which is just ridiculous. Dean didn’t tell him anything that wasn’t true, and God only knows where Cas got the idea that he was already an adult.

Still, even when Dean invites him to the courtyard to train after Cas is done for the day on the field, Cas only hesitates for a moment before squaring his shoulders.

“I would,” he says coolly. “But Sam and I are going to read this evening.”

Dean thought it was adorable that Sam and Cas were getting so close when he just heard about it from letters, but now that he’s here and Cas is turning down Dean’s invaluable wisdom and expertise so he can sit under a tree with Sammy, it’s not cute at all.

Before Hellenia started fucking around at the border, Dean couldn’t walk twenty feet without tripping over the kid, but now he’d rather read books and hang out with Sam?

Dean gets that they’re closer in age, probably have more in common, but — Dean’s still interesting, too, isn’t he? He’s only been back a day, for chrissakes!

Cas slips away without so much as a goodbye, and Dean stews for about twenty minutes before he decides nobody ever said Dean wasn’t allowed to sit and read, too. He can patch things up with Cas and spend some much-needed time with Sammy; it’s an awesome plan, and he should have thought of it twenty minutes ago.

Cas scowls when Dean eventually locates them under a tree by the kitchen garden.

“Do you need something, Dean?”

“Just a comfy spot to read,” he says cheerfully, squeezing in between them. “How’s it goin’, Sammy?”

Sam is looking between them curiously, but he shrugs.

“Pretty good. Did you bring a book?”

Damn.

“Uh, no. I can share Cas’s.”

“No, you can’t,” Cas mutters, edging away from Dean.

Dean scoots right after him, just to be obnoxious, and studiously avoids remembering who the adult here actually is.

“Well, I have an extra, but if you’re going to keep coming out here, you should bring your own.” He looks like he’s about to go back to his book, and then pauses. “Oh, and don’t let Dad know we’re still doing this, okay?”

Dean blinks, quest to annoy Cas momentarily abandoned as he parses Sam’s words.

“Okay. Remind me again why Dad’s not supposed to know?”

Sam swallows.

“You know — because Cas got sick that one time.”

“Cas got almost-kidnapped that one time, you mean,” Dean deadpans, and Sam’s mouth falls open.

“How do you know that?”

“I told him. Sorry, Sam,” Cas says, sounding genuinely apologetic.

“No, that’s fine — I’m just surprised.”

“You and me both, Sammy. Now what was Dad actually pissed at you about?”

Sam hesitates, glancing at Cas, which isn’t suspicious at all.

“Nothing. He just — because of what happened, he thought Cas and I shouldn’t read together anymore.”

There’s something awkward, something careful, about how Sam says that, and if Dean thinks about it, he might be able to see John chewing Sam out for not moving their reading sessions inside the gate immediately, but there’s no earthly reason he’d have a problem with them doing it twenty feet from the kitchens.

Unless in addition to being pissed about where it was happening, he was pissed about it happening at all.

Dean leans back against the tree, a little shocked as he scans his memory for clues, and mostly what it keeps coming back to is a thing he barely even noticed at the time.

Sam and Cas, waiting in the courtyard — holding hands.

He’d figured they were just excited he was coming home, doin’ a thing kids do — but maybe Dean should have been paying more attention to the letters. If he missed what he thinks he’s been missing — then yeah, he knows exactly why Dad is trying to keep them apart.

It’s not that Dean’s not sympathetic. This his brother and his — charge, of sorts. He loves ‘em both, and he wants them to be as happy as they can stand.

But them being in love with each other?

That’s not going to make anyone happy, and even once Dean and Cas do the whole heirs thing and Cas gets to do what he wants, Sam is still not going to be an eligible candidate for that, because he’s Dean’s brother, and people will have opinions about it.

It’s not like Sam’s the fifth alpha kid, either; John will expect him to get married, and Dean knows Sam well enough to know that’s not going to happen if Sam has something going on with Cas.

Jesus, what a mess.

It could just be puppy love, though, he reasons, not at all reading the book Sam gave him. Sam’s an awkward, gangly type, and Cas did grow up quite a bit since Dean last saw him; he’s a good-looking kid, and if they’re bonding over books and whatever else, Dean can see how some confusing feelings would have developed.

But those feelings really can’t stick around, and Dean’s not sure how to tell Sam that. That even if it wouldn’t be a problem, later, he’ll be waiting for Cas for a long time, and until then, John is right to worry they’ll do something stupid.

It leaves him feeling unsettled and — if he’s being honest, a little frustrated with Sam. While Cas might be oblivious, Dean knows Sam isn’t. He doesn’t want to break any tender young hearts here, but it’s better to nip this in the bud than burn the whole damn rosebush in a couple of years, right?

They head to dinner, and Dean pulls Sam aside, sending a scowling Cas on ahead to fix his plate.

“Uh. So, uh, Sam, there’s somethin’ I wanted to talk to you about.”

Sam looks concerned.

“Okay?”

“Now, I couldn’t help but notice that Cas is — is a lot more grown up than when I left.”

Sam blanches.

So, it’s as Dean suspected.

“Uh, Dean—”

“He’s growin’ up pretty damn handsome, and he’s not bad company. I don’t think anyone could blame a guy for looking at him and feeling a spark, and wanting to, uh, spend some time — Sam?”

Sam is backing up, shaking his head.

“No. No, Dean, no. This is your business and that’s fine, although if you take advantage of him, I’ll find a way to kick your ass, but I do not want to hear about it, from either one of you!”

That said, Sam hurries off to the table, leaving Dean staring after him in confusion.

Huh. Maybe he should have been more subtle.

 

 

 

The joke’s on Dean and Bobby — and Cas, too, unfortunately — because by the end of the week, Cas finally gets someone to tell him what sex is.

He’s had exactly two heats before, and as uncomfortable as they were, particularly the second one, Cas was mostly able to go on business-as-usual and put it out of his mind.

So when Cas says goodnight to Sam after dinner (pointedly ignoring Dean) and heads back for the barracks, only to start feeling unnaturally cold despite his thick layers of clothing, he isn’t worried.

But the next morning, drenched in sweat and body aching — a good dozen hours sooner than would be normal, in his opinion — Cas is definitely worried.

He’s already miserable, flushed and hot and skin oversensitive, when Alfie sympathetically insists he go stay in one of the infirmary rooms instead of going to practice.

Ellen takes one look at him and sighs.

“Told ya they’d get worse,” she says, and Cas just shuffles pitifully after her while she leads him to one of the sick rooms. “Let’s get you into a cold bath.”

The cold bath helps, for about thirty minutes, but then the room feels stifling with heat, although he shivers constantly, and he can’t remember feeling quite so — so — he doesn’t even know what. All he knows is that it’s impossible to get comfortable and he wants it to be over even more than usual.

It’s only when the evening comes that Cas realizes this is definitely different than usual.

Despite the late hour of the day, Cas is having a morning situation.

But this time, it won’t go away.

Cas waits a full hour, discomfort steadily turning to fear, before he finally crawls out of bed and shuffles out of the room, cheeks flaming.

“Ellen?” he calls weakly, and she appears at the end of the hall.

“You need something, hon?”

“Um. I — I think —” he takes a deep breath. “I think there’s something very wrong with me.”

She hurries down the hall, concerned.

“What do you think is wrong?”

He hesitates, acutely embarrassed, since Anna gave him the impression that it was awkward to talk about, and since then, he’s heard some of the boys in the barracks making fun of each other for it.

“I — my — it won’t go away,” Cas manages, and things really are bad this time, because he feels tears pricking at his eyes. “It always goes away.”

Ellen looks baffled for a few seconds, and then her mouth forms an ‘o’.

And then she winces.

“Aw, hell. Sorry, honey, your last two were so mild I thought you had a little more time.”

“More time? Ellen — am I dying?”

“No, no, don’t be daft. Unfortunately, this is all normal.”

Normal? Normal? How on earth can this much suffering be normal? This is worse than when he was nearly kidnapped.

“I don’t understand.”

She sighs, patting him on the head, even though he’s an inch or so taller than her now.

“Go back to your room and I’ll be right there, alright?”

“What’s going on?” he tries again, and she shakes her head.

“You’re gonna be just fine, hon. I gotta get some stuff for you and then I think we better have a talk.”

Cas burrows under his blankets, feeling altogether pitiful, and about five minutes later, Ellen reappears, cloth bag in one hand, wide scroll in the other.

She empties the bag onto the bed, and Cas squints at the item. It’s nothing he recognizes.

“What is that?”

Ellen unrolls her scroll and holds it up.

It appears to be some anatomical diagram, several bodies of varying designations, small-printed labels written all over.

And then she does explain, answers all the questions he’s been trying to ask everyone else and a lot more questions he didn’t even know to ask.

She doesn’t pull any punches; it’s both a lot more clear and a lot more clinical than anything Anna told him, and Cas’s face is burning from more than the heat by the time she’s finished explaining what his body is apparently trying to do.

“Any questions?” she asks, once she’s done, and Cas just shakes his head.

“No. No, I — I understand.”

“Okay. You gonna be alright in here if I head out for a couple hours? Your pitcher of water’s full and everything?”

Cas just nods.

“Okay. Remember, you’re gonna be just fine, alright? It’ll pass, just like the other ones. And when it’s a little less bad, we’ll go out in the yard and train — just like we did the other times. Got it?”

He nods again, and she pats his cheek.

“I’ll see you in a couple o’ hours.”

She shuts the door behind her, and Cas stares at the thing on the bed, the thing that can supposedly help him. That is somehow supposed to make him less uncomfortable, even though Cas feels, more fervently than ever, that this should not be happening in the first place.

He picks it up and throws it across the room.

And then he burrows back into the bed and lets himself cry.

 

 

 

“Hey, Sammy. Where’s Cas?”

Sam sighs, setting his book down as Dean takes a seat under the tree.

“Jo says his heat started today and it’s really bad. I tried to go see him, but Ellen told me to come back tomorrow.”

Dean blinks.

“Uh. Isn’t he a little young for that?”

Sam gives him a weird look.

“He’s sixteen.”

Dean frowns. Yeah, okay. He’d had a few mild ruts before then, but —

“But it shouldn’t be that bad.”

“His last couple weren’t. He pretty much did all the same things he usually did.”

“Okay. Well — weird, but — nothin’ to worry about, right?”

Sam scowls.

“Jo says Ellen is kind of worried. It’s so frustrating. And I want to go see him, because he has to be feeling kind of freaked out, and I don’t even know if he has books, but apparently it’s so bad today they’re trying to keep him away from other people’s scents.”

“Rub some mint leaves on yourself or something,” Dean jokes, although if Ellen’s worried, then it’s not Sam white-knighting himself into overreaction. “Or actually, there’s some other leaves—”

“Dean, I know what poison ivy looks like, and also, screw you.”

Dean shrugs.

“Just checkin’. So, uh, what’s got Ellen so worried?”

“I don’t know. Probably because it’s so bad. And the weird thing is, his last one was only four months ago. I’m pretty sure that would be kind of early if he were twenty six, but especially since his first one happened over a year before that, it’s — it’s kind of bizarre. I mean, I’m not a doctor, but — aren’t they supposed to follow some kind of pattern? I don’t think they’re supposed to just — jump that much in frequency and severity.”

Dean has no fucking clue either, but now Sam has him all worried.

“There’s — there’s nothin’ wrong with him, right? I mean — I thought he might be sick, but you guys were just lying about the attack, so — there’s nothing else I should know, right?”

“What? No? Not as far as I know.”

Dean takes a deep breath.

“Okay. Enjoy your book, I think I’m gonna go talk to Ellen.”

“Maybe I should come—”

“Nah, it’s okay, Sammy. I’m sure Cas is fine, I’ll just — go see what’s what. You read.”

Sam narrows his eyes.

“Don’t try to see Cas.”

“Why would I try to see Cas? You just said she didn’t want anyone visiting him today.”

“Yeah, but earlier you — I’m just saying. He’s probably — now’s a bad time.”

Dean just stares.

“Yeah,” he says slowly. “I kinda got that? Which is why I wanna check in with Ellen and make sure he’s good.”

Sam frowns.

“Later, Sammy,” Dean says, and quickly makes his escape before he can get some inscrutable lecture from Sam, who, now that Dean thinks about it, just had the nerve to get all alpha at Dean about visiting. Stupid crush on Cas or not, the kid needs to cool it a little if he doesn’t want Dad breathing down his neck twenty-four-seven.

But then, he needs to cool it, period, and Dean will deal with that problem once he’s made sure Cas isn’t actually dying or anything. He’s never heard of anyone dying from a heat, but what the hell does he know?

He hovers outside the infirmary for some reason, even though it should be fine to just go in and head to Ellen’s study. If she’s not there, he can go find her somewhere else. Cas should be shut up in a room, anyway, so Dean doesn’t have to worry about upsetting a sensitive nose with his gross alpha stench.

Still, maybe he should have had a bath before he came over.

Anyway, the point is moot, because Ellen throws open the door, frowning at him.

“What’re you doin’ here?”

“I heard the kid was sick,” Dean says, jerking his head in the direction behind her. “Is, uh, is he gonna be okay?”

“He’ll be fine,” she says shortly. “Run along now.”

“Sam made it sound like it was practically fatal,” Dean protests, and Ellen sighs.

“It ain’t.”

“Okay, and?”

“And what?”

“Sam said it wasn’t supposed to happen again this soon, or be this bad. Are you sure he’s fine?”

“It generally don’t, but everybody’s different. He’s got water and everything else he needs,” she says meaningfully. “So you can go.”

It takes Dean a moment to understand what she’s saying, and he rears back.

“Ew.”

She rolls her eyes.

“Don’t ‘ew’ me, boy. It’s a thing that happens, and if you make him feel bad about it, you’re gonna be the one who needs an infirmary room.”

“I won’t,” Dean protests. “I’m just saying!”

“Well, don’t say it where he can hear, and maybe try to be a damn adult about this, Dean. Besides, you’re gonna have to deal with it eventually.”

“Uh. What?”

She just looks at him.

“Heirs, honey.”

And fine, it’s one thing for Ellen to shame him about his reaction to how Cas is probably coping in there, but making him think about the whole heirs thing?

He’s totally justified in the appalled, “Gross,” that slips out.

“Uh-huh.” She studies him. “You regret marryin’ him?”

What ? No, never. If it hadn’t been me, he’d be stuck in stupid Eden, married off to the Duke of Adler or that creepy temple scribe guy. He’s way better off here, where I — where we can protect him. Where he can be a kid,” he adds, emphasizing that last word, because he feels like Ellen’s not getting his totally reasonable objections to having any of this floating around in his brain.

She just sighs.

“Mm. But y’know, honey, seven years is a huge difference now, but it won’t always be. And Cas ain’t gonna be a kid that much longer.”

Dean blinks.

“What?”

“You know what.” She stares at him, hard. “Yeah, he’s a kid, now, and that’s why you better go get yourself some dinner and go to bed. But don’t get too used to thinkin’ that way, because it won’t last.”

“Why the hell are we having this conversation? Obviously, he’ll grow up someday, but—”

“But you better not try and pretend he’s still a thirteen-year-old when he’s not. I get that you wanna make yourself comfortable, Dean, but it better not be at his expense. Alright?”

“Okay,” Dean says, although he has no fucking clue how they got there or what Ellen is really worried about. To him, it sounds like she’s saying, ‘don’t come sniffing around your child husband right now’ and also, ‘but be ready to do that at some point in the future.’

Which is just bizarre, because Cas is sixteen. They’re not gonna be thinking about the heirs issue for years. Hell, they might have as much as another decade before anybody puts their foot down about it, and until then, Cas is a kid.

In fact, Cas’ll probably always be a kid to Dean.

So what on earth does Ellen think lecturing him about some inevitable future awkwardness is going to achieve in the present?

He thinks about it all through dinner and all through his bath (hopefully he remembered to wash everything), and by the time he’s lying awake in his bed, candle blown out, he thinks he knows what’s going on here.

There’s two things that have happened in the two days since Dean’s been home:

One, Cas had a hissy fit because Dean called him a kid.

Two, Cas and Sam are caught up in some kind of (admittedly sweet) puppy romance.

Which makes what Ellen was saying make a lot more sense.

At the end of the day, Dean’s married to a child, and as potentially uncomfortable as that is for Dean, it also means he has some guardian-esque responsibilities to that child. And regardless of what they’ll have to check off the old royal to-do list some day, those responsibilities include handling his transition to adulthood the same way he did (or tried to do) for Sam.

Just because Dean’s way older and has a more adult perspective of the situation doesn’t mean things aren’t very intense for Cas. Cas is trying to come into his own, and Dean needs to respect that. He can still look out for him, of course, but he doesn’t have to make Cas feel micromanaged or mistrusted by doing it in an obvious way. He’s gotta let Cas assert himself, test out being a grown-up in a safe environment.

As for the other stuff — Cas’s thing with Sam probably feels very real and serious to him. Ellen’s probably picked up on it and is asking Dean to be sensitive about handling it, given how the heirs issue complicates things. Likewise, the whole heat thing is probably kind of upsetting and alarming, especially since it doesn’t sound like he worked up to this one. Dean still feels weird about hitting rut, about how out-of-control and on edge the hormone dump makes him feel.

As awkward as it is to consider what Cas is going through, Ellen was totally right to call him out; growing up is difficult, Cas needs support from the people he looks up to, and making him feel like there’s something wrong with him just because Dean’s uncomfortable is the exact opposite of that.

And the most important thing Ellen told him — Cas’ll grow up fast. If Dean just pretends like it’s not happening, keeps acting like he’s a shrimpy adolescent, he won’t be able to offer Cas the support and guidance that he needs. Dean has to be ready to handle whatever’s coming, so he can see Cas through to the other side safely.

Well, he can do that.

No problem.

 

 

 

Cas feels a lot better in the morning.

Or rather, afternoon, because he struggles to sleep, even after Ellen brews him a special tea to help, and he falls asleep so late he doesn’t wake up until noon.

Jo brings him breakfast, sympathy all over her face.

“Hey, sleepyhead. How you feelin’? Heard it was a doozy.”

“It was,” Cas says dully, reaching for the plate with a grateful look. He’s famished. “But it’s much better now.”

“Oh, good. Sam wanted to bring you some books, but Ellen was worried you wouldn’t wanna be smelling people.”

“That’s probably for the best.” Cas looks down. “It was — I don’t think I would have liked to see anyone yesterday.”

Jo reaches for his hand, squeezing.

“Mom talked to you?”

“Yes.”

“I guess your barrack-mates can stop whispering so much, huh?” she jokes, and Cas just sighs.

“I guess. I don’t know why they want to talk about it at all, but I suppose I should be grateful for their discretion up to this point.”

Stupid heats. Cas just wants to become a knight and spend time with Sam and Dean. He doesn’t want to deal with his body’s absurd instincts, especially not when they make him that uncomfortable, in that particular way, to the point that he can’t even get out of bed, let alone go about his daily routine.

“Well, Bobby had a talk with them all about how different they do things in Eden. He didn’t want anybody making you uncomfortable.”

“Ellen did a fine job of that,” Cas says dryly, and Jo laughs.

“Oh, god, she showed you the chart, didn’t she?”

“Yes,” Cas mumbles, and Jo cringes.

“It’s awful. You look at it and she’s telling you all this stuff about cycles and pregnancy and you just think, no way.”

That was precisely what Cas thought.

“Something like that.”

“Yeah. But I think you’ll be okay, when the time comes. Dean’ll take care of you.”

Cas freezes.

“What?”

“I mean — you probably need some time to get used to the idea — it’s a hell of a lot to take in — but your next heat won’t be so bad. Dean’ll help you, and he’ll make sure you’re okay. Alright?”

Jo’s expression is warm, and she clearly means to be reassuring, but — when she says Dean will help him, next time, it makes it sound like —

He clutches the bedspread, shooting her an alarmed look.

“I don’t want to have children yet. Not for a long time. I thought — he already said —”

“Woah, woah, no,” Jo hurries to say, touching his arm. “I meant he’d help you through your heat, not knock you up. Mom’ll make sure you both have the right medicine so you don’t have to go through it alone next time.”

Ellen told him what his body wanted during a heat, gave him that stupid thing that’s still sitting in the corner of the room where it hit the ground, and also told him that when the time came to produce heirs, he would need to do the real thing.

She said nothing about Dean coming to see him next time, if they weren’t even having children, and — and now he’s thinking about trying to do what she told him with Dean, and his brain promptly goes to static because Cas can’t — he doesn’t —

“Do I have to?”

“What?” She looks surprised. “No, of course not, but — don’t you want him to? It’s way easier if you have somebody to help you through it. It’s over faster and, uh, not to be crass, it’s less work for you.”

Cas shakes his head.

“I don’t want that. I don’t — I don’t want him to see me like this. I’m supposed to be his best knight, someday, and if I’m like this —”

Jo snorts.

“Dude, have you ever seen Dean during a rut? He's definitely not one to talk. Mood swings and hysteria for days.”

Ellen explained about ruts, too. Cas supposes Dean must have them regularly — he’ll be twenty-three in January, after all — but he’s never seen one.

Not that anyone probably would have told him why Dean was behaving strangely.

“Does he need someone to help him, too?”

Jo averts her eyes.

“I mean . . . like I said, it makes things easier, so . . . probably?”

Cas feels a flare of anger, like the irritation he felt when he found Pamela outside Dean’s bedchamber multiplied tenfold, and the heat must be making him sensitive if he can get this upset about being lied to in a way that really doesn’t affect him.

But it’s probably more than that. Cas feels caught off guard and unprepared, and perhaps a part of him resents that Dean and other people didn’t speak more candidly with him over the years, so that maybe it wouldn’t have come as such a shock.

“I see. Well, I don’t think I need or want any help. I’m much better today. Yesterday was — bad. But it was only one day. I should be fine.”

Jo nods, clearly uncomfortable.

“Yeah, of course. You should, you know, definitely decide. But it’s an option, you know, in case next time is . . . well, worse.”

“It had better not be,” he mutters darkly. “I think I’ll get dressed and come train.”

Jo lights up.

“Awesome. Our group’s coming to spar with yours today, and just so you know, Sam will go easy on you, but I won’t.”

“Sam always goes easy on me,” Cas grumbles. “It’s very inconvenient. It means I have to go easy on him.”

Jo chortles.

“Yeah, he used to do that with me, too. But I didn’t go easy on him, and he learned.”

“Why is he like that?”

“Too tenderhearted to really enjoy wailing on his friends?” she muses. “Well, that and you’re his adorable brother-in-law. He probably felt bad.”

“I’m not adorable.”

She pinches his cheek.

“You are.”

“It’s good that you won’t be going easy on me today,” Cas says, as menacing as he can manage, and Jo just darts out of the room, laughing.

Cas hauls himself out of the bed, dressing, and follows.

 

 

 

“Hey, Ellen, how’s Cas doing?”

Ellen pauses as she makes her way across the courtyard.

“Much better today.”

“Yeah? Is he up for visitors?”

She mulls it over.

“Probably. He’s training now, though. We’ll see if the break lasts.”

Dean stares.

“He’s what?”

“He’s training. Sparrin’ with Sam’s group.”

“But — but —” Dean sputters. “He’s in heat!”

“So? We’re not damned animals, Dean. If he’s well enough to be up and movin’ around, he’s well enough to be trainin’ with everybody like he’s supposed to.” She narrows her eyes. “Like he wants to.”

“Yeah, no, but — but what about all the young alphas?”

He swears he sees Ellen roll her eyes, but this is a totally valid concern. Adolescents and especially anyone newly presented struggled to adjust to their heightening sense of smell, and strong scents often overwhelmed them.

And heat scent? Was pretty damn strong. He remembered when Jo had been sparring during one of her heats, and the alpha kid she was fighting was so blindly overcome he dropped to his knees and started scenting and nuzzling her sword hand. Of course, Jo wasn’t expecting him to abruptly quit fighting, and she nearly took the poor kid’s head off.

“They’ll be fine.”

“He could hurt one of them!”

“We don’t have any newly presented, and we’re using the sticks with him in case anybody loses it. Besides, I don’t think . . .” She hesitates.

“You don’t think what?”

“Nevermind. Anyway, you never saw a problem with Jo or Charlie. If I recall, you thought it was funny.

Dean blinks.

Did he? Clearly, it’s a serious problem — was he really so cavalier about it?

He thinks about it for a second, and okay, yeah, seeing Jo panic and come to a screeching halt mid-swing was kind of hilarious, since nobody actually got hurt. The alpha kid, Andy, hasn’t really ever lived it down.

“Yeah, but Cas is—”

Ellen’s looking at him.

“Cas is what?”

“You know. He’s not — he’s oblivious. There’s, uh. More risk, I think.”

“Uh-huh.”

The way Ellen’s looking at him makes his neck feel warm for some reason.

“But you said you’re using wooden swords, so it should be fine,” he mumbles. “He’ll bitch about it, though. Swear to God the kid is fussier than Sam.

“All three of you are fussy brats,” Ellen retorts. “Run along, then. I gotta get back to the field.”

Dean waves her away and heads back to training himself, mostly feeling pretty good since Cas is no longer maybe-dying and Dean can go visit him and be supportive and shit.

And then he realizes Ellen just used the present tense, and the smile drops right off his face.

 

 

 

That evening, Dean shows up to the infirmary with a dinner tray.

He feels a little bad; Sam was complaining about how Ellen thought Cas should take dinner in his room for one more night, at least, and he’s probably not going to appreciate Dean leaving him to eat in the hall by himself while Dean goes to see Cas alone.

Still, Dean wants to apologize to Cas about their fight, and he’s pretty sure it will embarrass Cas if Sam’s there for that.

He looks around for Ellen, but she’s probably at dinner, too, so eventually he goes to the only shut sick room and knocks.

“Cas?”

There’s no answer.

“Cas?” he says louder, knocking again. “It’s Dean, I’m comin’ in, okay?”

Dean waits a good fifteen seconds, just in case, and then pushes the door open.

It’s dark in the room, quiet, and if not for the very strong smell permeating the air, Dean would assume it was empty.

He tries to breathe through his mouth. It’s not — gross, really, it’s just — a little intense, despite having that vague, muddled quality characteristic of youth. Still, it’s probably a good thing Sam didn’t come along.

He maneuvers his way to a little desk and sets the tray down, squinting in the darkness at the bed, where now he can hear soft little breaths, steady in rhythm.

Still not dying. That’s good. He is sleeping, though, and Dean hesitates, wondering if he should just leave food and come see him tomorrow.

On the other hand, he’s not sure how long Cas has been napping, and he doesn’t want him to have trouble sleeping through the night.

He searches out the candles, fumbling with the matchsticks beside them until the room is bathed in a soft glow, and then he gently pokes Cas’s shoulder.

“Hey. Cas, buddy. It’s dinnertime.”

There’s no response, so Dean reaches out and flicks his ear, a move that would be sure to have Sam bolting upright and snarling at him forthwith.

Cas just makes a soft noise and turns his face into Dean’s hand, and Dean draws back like he’s been burned.

Yeah, nope. Maybe poking at him’s a bad idea.

Christ, this is above his paygrade.

“Cas,” he says loudly, and puts his hand on the mattress instead, giving it a shake. “Wake up, man.”

Cas rolls over, shifting, and blinks open sleepy blue eyes.

Dean smothers a laugh. His hair’s sticking out in fifty million different directions and he looks exactly like a tiny kitten Sam once brought back to the castle when he was ten.

“Dean?”

“Yeah. How’re you feeling? I brought you dinner.”

Cas struggles to sit upright, rubbing his eyes.

“What time is it?”

“Seven o’ clock. When’d you go to bed?”

“A couple hours ago.”

Cas stretches and yawns, taking a deep breath as he does so — and then freezes.

“Um,” he says, but nothing follows, and Dean turns around, heading for the tray.

“Brought you a little bit of everything, and some honeycakes, although I don’t think Sam oughta be indulging your sick habi-”

“Get out.”

Dean starts, taken aback by the harshness in Cas’s tone and sure he must have misheard.

He turns.

“What?”

Cas has his fists clenched in the sheets, eyes wide and looking everywhere but at Dean.

“Get out. Get out. Leave, I — you need to leave, right now

“Woah, buddy, are you okay?” Dean walks toward him, taking in the flush in his cheeks and the sheen of sweat that wasn’t there in sleep. “Should I get Ellen? D’you think you’re getting sick? Sometimes heats can make you more suscep—” Dean yelps, dodging just in time. “Jesus!

Cas just threw a fucking book at him. Half a second slower and Dean could have a broken nose .

I said leave!” Cas snarls, and fucking fine, Dean’ll go.

“Okay! I’m going, I’m going. Dinner’s on the desk,” he snaps, and hurries out, slamming the door behind him.

Which is maybe a little immature, but come on, not even Sam’s that cranky during a rut.

And even if Cas is already pissed at him over the other day, that’s no excuse to be such a dick about it now, not when Dean was just trying to be helpful. Hell, Dean wanted to apologize, not that Cas has any way of knowing that, and — and he brought him honeycakes!

Dean sniffs.

This is what he gets for trying to be a mature adult. Ellen might be a doctor, but sometimes she doesn’t know shit.

 

 

 

If Cas thought the first day was bad, it was nothing compared to how he feels once Dean’s left.

Cas thought, the other night, that Dean smelled so nice he wanted to chase him around the hall, and if he had only known better, he would have given strict instructions not to let Dean anywhere near him when he was like this.

Because even though Dean’s gone, his scent remains, and it holds a dark, terrible power, something that makes Cas want to fling himself out of the bed and run after Dean and burrow into that scent, even as he wishes there was a way to expel it from the room altogether.

The moment Cas opened his mouth to yawn, taking in a lungful of sunny woods, his body utterly revolted. Whatever calm he’d found today fled like it might never have been there, and all that remained was too much heat and a rapidly worsening ache as the apparently-not-just-morning-situation returned with a vengeance and — and —

And now Cas’s pajamas are wet and his sheets are wet and it’s humiliating and if anything, it’s getting worse now that Dean’s gone, and now he wants Dean to come back and just — just lie next to him and let Cas breathe him in and why is this happening?

Is this what Jo meant, when she said Dean would help him next time? Did she know Cas would react this way? Or maybe even that Cas had reacted that way, in the hall the other night? Is it because they’re married? Ellen talked a lot about mating, and said some things about mated pairs, but Dean is his husband, not his mate, and he doesn’t remember her saying that made a difference. But Jo seemed to think Cas would want Dean’s help, specifically, so maybe Ellen just forgot to tell him, and now Cas feels betrayed and weirdly lonely, and as uncomfortable as he is he just wants to curl up and cry like a pathetic child.

Except that’s a lie.

What he really wants is to curl up with Dean and cry like a pathetic child.

In light of that, Cas decides the dignity of future knighthood can go ‘fuck itself’ as he’s often heard the Lawrencians say, and he allows himself the first thing.

It makes him feel a little better.

Not much — but a little.

 

 

 

Dean stays away from both the field and the infirmary the next day, because he’s very busy catching up on things he missed out on and dusting his room where the maids may or may not have missed and also not sulking over being sent out of Cas’s sick room via book to the face even though Dean just got back three days ago and he would think his most devoted letter-writer would at least be pleased to see the honeycakes.

But hey, whatever. Cas is at that age. It’s no big deal.

Cas is probably better today, anyway, and he’ll see him at dinner.

Dean doesn’t, though; Sam plunks down next to him, side-eyeing him like crazy, and says:

“Cas is worse today.”

Dean frowns.

“Ellen told me he was doing way better yesterday. Went out to train and everything.”

“Yeah. But apparently last night things flared up, even worse than the day before, and he’s been stuck in bed all day.” Sam presses his mouth together, eyes angry. “Jo says she thinks he was crying.”

Dean pauses in reaching for a dinner roll, disturbed. Cas takes the whole knight-and-manhood thing pretty damn seriously, and Dean doesn’t think he’s ever seen him cry, even when he first came here.

“That — well. Uh. I mean — hormones. I’m not sayin’ I’ve ever gotten a little teary during a rut, but I’m sure it’s a thing that, uh, happens. To people who aren’t me.”

Sam scowls.

“Did you go see him?”

God, not this again. Sam’s pretty levelheaded, even if he weren’t an alpha, but it looks like Cas is triggering all kinds of bitchy instinct.

“None of your business.”

“Dean, Ellen decided not to let him come to dinner for a reason.”

“Because it reeks in here. Nobody ever comes to dinner on the first day of that bullshit.”

“And he shouldn’t have had visitors.”

Dean sits back.

“You mean he shouldn’t have had visitors who aren’t you,” he says flatly. Sam is practically waving a giant, colorful flag with “I’m in love with Cas” embroidered on it, and Dad is bound to see it if he keeps it up.

Sam furrows his brow.

“What?”

“Listen, Sammy, I get that you’re — whatever, but I just wanted to check up on him and honestly, talk about something we discussed the other night. Or else I would have brought you.”

“Something you discussed the other night?” Sam is looking at him, deeply suspicious, and then his expression sours even further. Dean. Did you do something?”

“I brought him too many honeycakes, maybe, but it’s nothing you haven’t done—”

Dean,” Sam snaps. “This isn’t funny. Obviously, I can’t tell you what to do—”

“Sure isn’t stopping you from trying—”

“But this is the first heat Cas has had like this and — and you can wait, okay? I don’t think this is right.”

Dean gapes.

“Ellen said he was doing better! How was I supposed to know he’d throw a goddamn book at me?”

“He threw a— you left, right?” Sam looks extremely upset. “Please tell me you didn’t stick around and keep trying to—”

“Of course not! Like it was gonna happen when he was that pissed off.”

“I can’t believe you, Dean. This is a big deal for him—”

“Yeah, and I was trying to help

“If he doesn’t want your help, you have to respect that—”

“He didn’t even know why I was there before he kicked me out!” Dean snaps. “And for the record, I think he’d have felt a lot better if he’d just let me—”

And then Sam punches him, and all hell breaks loose.

 

 

 

It’s actually been a few years since Dean was in Bobby’s study for any reason other than wanting to be there or needing to talk to him about something, but right now, it might as well have been yesterday. The sensation of being in trouble, forced to sit in one of the stupid chairs, bloody-faced and glowering while he waits for his lecture, is depressingly familiar.

“One o’ you idjits wanna explain to me why the hell half the castle was brawlin’ at dinner?” Bobby asks, and Sam has the nerve to look at Dean. His nose is a little bloodied, but otherwise unblemished, and it’s pissing Dean off.

“’Cause Sam can’t control himself.”

Sam draws in a breath.

I can’t control myself? Me? You’re the one who—”

Bobby holds up a hand.

“In a way I can understand, you idjits.”

Sam straightens up.

“Oh, then I’m glad you asked. Ellen specifically wanted Cas to stay back from dinner, and Dean snuck off to see him anyway, and he tried to — he meant to—”

Dean frowns, watching Sam turn a little red and look at Bobby plaintively.

“I mean — it’s not just me, right? He — that’s not right.”

Bobby opens his mouth, but honestly, he can wait, because Sam is completely out of control if he doesn’t even want people talking to Cas.

“Listen, bitch, Cas is my — husband, I guess, and if I want to go visit and have a talk wi—”

“A talk!” Sam splutters. “Yeah, I know what you talked to him about, and I can’t believe you’d try and take advantage like that when he’s so vulnerable—”

“Oh, come on, Cas is a big boy, Sammy, he can tell me to fuck off if he doesn’t wanna accept my apo—”

Can he, Dean? What if he hadn’t ? What if it was bad enough he — he let you do something he didn’t want? You can’t undo something like that! And then you’ll both have to live with that for the rest of your lives!”

Sam’s eyes are wide and imploring and normally Dean would either feel compelled to just agree with him, if only to make it stop, or resent their unholy power and push back just to prove he can.

Right now, though —

“Uh. What?”

Bobby sighs.

“Sam, I see where you’re comin’ from, and I’ll certainly have a talk with Dean, but you’re both too old to be havin’ tussles like that in public. It looks real bad, and you got the whole rest of everybody fightin’ with each other even though nobody knew what the hell was even happening.”

“Yeah, okay, but — what?”

They both look at him.

“Whaddya mean, what?”

“Sam, what the fuck did you think I went there for?”

Sam goes bright red, but lifts his chin and stares Dean down.

“I don’t think, I know. Dean, the day after you got back, Cas asked me what sex was and told me he needed to show you he knew. Don’t even try to play dumb. And I get what you were saying, and yeah, he has grown up a lot since you left, a lot of his barrack-mates think he’s cute, but he hasn’t grown up that much and he’s still Cas and I think you could stand to show some sensitivity here.”

Dean blinks.

And then he kind of really, really wants to melt into the chair and cease to exist.

“Oh, my God,” he mutters. “That fuckin’ brat.

Bobby presses a tired hand to his face.

“Aw, hell. Sam threw the first punch, didn’t he?”

Yes,” Dean agrees, emphatic. “Yes, he did, because he’s a dumbass and Cas should learn to either keep his damn mouth shut or tell the whole story.”

Now Sam looks confused.

“Huh?”

“For your information, Cas told me about the stupid-ass reason he got that scar, and then he told me what Bobby told him about the whole heirs issue, and then he told me he didn’t want heirs right now. And I agreed, and pointed out that he was way too young, but because teenagers are crazy, instead of being relieved, he had a giant hissy fit where he actually tried to say he was a man now.”

“But what does that have to do with—”

“And I pointed out that he probably didn’t even know how heirs were made, which, obviously he didn’t, so I reiterated that he’s still a kid and still too young for pretty much everything.”

Sam sinks back into his chair.

“So when he asked me

“He was trying to prove a point.” Dean pauses, then gives Sam a very serious look. “Sammy. Do you know how heirs are—”

“Shut up, Dean.”

Dean just smirks at him, although he caused a huge fucking dustup over nothing.

“But why did you go see him, then?”

“Uh, because I was worried about him? And anyway, Ellen had a talk with me about how he’s not gonna be a kid forever, and I realized she was right. Cas is growin’ up, and he needs me to support him and encourage him, not treat him like a baby.”

Bobby’s face takes on a really weird look at that, but Dean wants to make sure Sam understands what’s happening before he starts getting punchy again.

“So I went to apologize, and tell Cas I’m proud of how much progress he made since I left. But I was in the room for all of two minutes before he’s throwing shit at me and yelling at me to leave.”

Dean tries not to pout, because he’s an adult and he’s better than that.

Sam is positively cringing, though, which goes a long way to soothing Dean’s ire.

“Shit.”

“Yeah, shit.” Dean clears his throat, because now that that’s cleared up, they better address the real reason any of this happened in the first place. Thank God Bobby’s here to help. “Listen, Sam. I get that you’ve got, uh, some — some feelings, but you can’t go around trying to defend his honor and shit.”

Sam blinks.

“Feelings?”

“Yeah. And you certainly can’t defend his honor against me. I’m — he and I are married. Do you know how that looks?”

“Um—”

“And honestly, Sammy? That’s really what it boils down to. I was eighteen and hotheaded and shit once—”

Bobby snorts.

“So I know how it is. It probably feels like, woah, this is it. But it’s not. And it can’t be. And Dad was right to try and stop it before it started.”

Sam stares at him.

“Dean, what the hell are you trying to say to me right now?”

Dean sighs. He’s trying to let Sam down gently, here, but he’s being surprisingly obtuse.

“I’m saying that maybe in another universe, Cas presented later and Michael ended up marrying him to you instead. Or maybe he was born in Lawrence and you met at a ball, Cinderella style. But we live in this one, and as much as I want you to be happy . . .” Dean shakes his head. “You can’t be happy with Cas. Not now and not ever, and it’ll be easier for you both if you accept it sooner rather than later. I’m sorry.”

There’s a long silence, Sam’s mouth opening and closing, brows jumping through a series of impressive acrobatics as he apparently tries to cope with this devastating news.

“You goddamn idjit,” Bobby mutters, and stands. “Alright, as entertaining as this ridiculous circus ain’t, enough’s enough. Sam, Dean is still pretending he’s forty and y’all are his fragile little wards. Dean, Sam ain’t in love with your husband and if Cas has got feelings for anything besides his books and his training, it ain’t Sam.”

“Huh? But — Bobby, they were holding hands!”

“Holding h— Dean, you think holding hands means we’re in love? Maybe someone needs to give you the talk.”

Dean opens his mouth.

“Get outta my office,” Bobby says tiredly, and reluctantly, Dean and Sam stand and walk out the door, Bobby trailing after them. “And if anybody asks what you were fightin’ over, Sam tried to stop you from eatin’ bacon and you told him his salad was dumb.”

“What the hell? Who would believe that?”

Bobby rolls his eyes.

“Everyone,” he says, and shuts the door in their faces.

 

 

 

He and Sam declare an awkward truce, made so by the fact that they’re both kind of idiots, just like Bobby said, and Dean goes to bed uncertain whether to be relieved that Sam isn’t spoiling for heartbreak, or upse— that is, mildly curious — about Cas aggressively banishing him from the sick room.

It doesn’t help that Cas’s heat doesn’t break for another three days, although for the last two, he’s able to go out and train. Dean doesn’t go see him, though; Ellen won’t even let him on the training field to supervise, even though Dean wants to start their evening sessions again and he’d like to know where Cas is at.

Honestly, it stings a little. Logically, he gets that Cas is used to his barrack-mates and they’re unlikely to piss him off as much as Dean apparently did, but — before he left for the border, the two of them got along just fine (for the most part).

Yet now he’s not even allowed to go near Cas, because Ellen is that worried Dean’ll do or say something to upset him, and — yeah, Dean doesn’t even wanna know what Cas told her to make her think that.

On the other hand, Dean managed to do just that on his first night back home, so maybe she’s right to be worried.

Finally, though, Cas gets the all clear, and on the fifth night since he threw Dean out, Cas slips into his usual seat next to Dean.

Dean’s happy to see him, squeezes his shoulder and tries a smile, although a part of him is afraid Cas will just snap at him again.

“Hey, buddy. How’re you doin’?”

“Fine,” Cas mumbles, very subtly shaking Dean’s hand off, and something goes a little cold in Dean’s stomach.

“Oh. Okay, cool.”

Dean fixes a plate for him, Cas watching with dull eyes, and he’s not sure if the lack of complaint is a good sign or a bad sign.

Dinner is quiet, strained, and Dean’s feeling more and more anxious by the minute.

He’s home. He’s finally home, after eighteen months of tedious, utter bullshit, and he doesn’t want to have come this far just to have things be weird between him and a part of his family.

And sure, he could just avoid Cas, but — Dean got letters from him every two weeks, sometimes more, because Cas didn’t always wait for Dean’s responses before he sent more letters, and — they’re friends, aren’t they? And even if he’s not used to actually spending time with him, Cas is kind of just — a part of things now. Truth to be told, he’ll kind of miss Cas, if things get weird and they’re suddenly not talking at all.

Dean mumbles a quick goodnight and starts off toward his chambers, only to find Cas trailing after him by the time he reaches the stairs. He lifts a questioning brow, though there’s a little spark of hope at this, like maybe Cas was just worn out from what sounds like the heat from hell, but he’s ready to talk to Dean.

“I wanted to talk to you,” Cas says quietly, gaze sliding away from Dean’s, and Dean frowns.

“Okay. About what?”

Cas hesitates.

“About what we talked about last time.”

“Oh.” Dean coughs. “Okay. I wanted to talk to you about that, too.”

For a split second, he thinks Cas looks frightened, but then Cas is nodding calmly.

“Okay, Dean.”

They make it to Dean’s room, and once the door is shut, Cas takes a deep breath, turning to him.

“Can I go first?” Dean blurts out, and maybe he should wait, see what Cas has to say, but he feels like the apology is important.

Cas hesitates, then nods.

“Okay.”

“Cool. Uh, thanks. So — so I’ve been thinking, and I, uh, I wanted to say I was sorry.”

“Sorry?” Cas looks surprised. “For what?”

“What I said. The night I got back. I was — tired. And honestly — you kind of scared me, with the — the kidnapping thing. I should have—” been there to protect you, Dean almost says, but part of not treating Cas like a child is not mentioning that it’s Dean’s job to look after him. “Well, anyway. I was out of line, and I didn’t mean what I said. You’re not a little kid. You’ve — you made real good progress, since I left. Grew up a lot. I should respect that.”

Cas blinks, staring at him for a long moment, before he suddenly lowers his eyes and slowly shakes his head.

“No,” he says, surprising Dean. “No, I think — you were right. I was — I am a child. I was being foolish, and — and vain. There was — is — a lot I don’t understand.”

“You’re learning,” Dean offers, and Cas just looks pained.

“Yes. I am. But I have far to go, and you were right. I’m —” Cas swallows. “I’m too young. For all the things you said.”

Dean tries not to be visibly relieved. It’s good that Cas understands that, but he’s not stupid enough to think the horrible time he had this last week isn’t a major factor here, and for that, he’s sorry.

“Well, maybe not all the things,” he points out, keeping his tone light. “I think I mentioned something about extra training, there. I was definitely wrong about that.”

Cas brightens, and then, bizarrely, his face falls.

“I — actually, I — Bobby’s a very good teacher, as you said. Perhaps we should forgo additional training, unless I need it.”

Which — what? Is Cas seriously turning down extra training?

“Uh. I mostly said that to be a dick. Are you sure?”

Cas nods firmly.

“Yes, I’m sure.” He shuffles back, gaze flicking to Dean’s and then away so quickly Dean might have imagined the contact in the first place. “Good night, Dean.”

And then he hurries out the door, shutting it behind him and leaving Dean with an acute sense of dread.

Things aren’t going to be like they were before he left for the border. They’re not even going to be like how they felt in all the letters they exchanged.

Dean has no idea what they’re going to be like, and now —

He’s kind of afraid to find out.

Chapter Text

Cas is getting very lonely.

He doesn’t really understand it; there should be no difference between not seeing Dean at all and simply avoiding him, but there is. Cas has no letters to look forward to, now, and having to sit next to Dean at dinner and glimpse him around the castle somehow makes him even more conscious of the fact that they’re really not talking.

And he shouldn’t be lonely, either way, because he’s surrounded by his barrack-mates all day and then Sam sits with him under the tree and talks to him at dinner, but it would appear that people are not interchangeable. Cas should have known that, given how much he misses his sister sometimes, but he never really thought about it in those terms.

Cas would like to spend time with Dean. Cas did, in fact, wait eighteen months to spend time with Dean. And Dean is right there, the way he’d looked forward to for so long, and yet — Cas is afraid of him.

He feels his feather stone like a heavy weight around his neck, and when Dean comes to watch their practice, Cas falters at the sight of him, sword flying to the side as Meg disarms him.

He’s ashamed to say he fights twice as hard after that, acutely aware of Dean’s eyes on him and disturbingly eager to impress, and he wins the next few rounds with such total victory his barrack-mates have fallen into a sort of awed silence. Alfie’s hands are up, eyes wide as he looks up at Cas and chin angled away from the tip of Cas’s sword, and Cas quickly steps back.

“Well done, boy,” Bobby says gruffly, but there’s a terrible, knowing sort of look in his eye that has Cas flushing and turning away.

Of course he wants to show off for Dean. The whole point of training so hard is to be the best knight in Dean’s army, someday; to fight and win against Dean, even. It’s perfectly normal to want to prove Dean didn’t make a mistake in letting Cas do this.

Still, he can’t bring himself to look at Dean again, and he’s relieved that it’s his turn to hide on the sidelines, evaluating the matches between his peers.

Dean wanders away soon after, and Cas tries not to wonder if he came to check on Cas, specifically.

It’s December now, and Cas can’t remember the last time he and Dean exchanged more than pleasantries or brief questions. Initially, Dean tried to coax him into extra training a couple more times, or fixed his plate at dinner, or sat out by the tree with them and tried to draw Cas away from his book; but Cas firmly declined additional training, began showing up to dinner earlier to prepare his own plate, and pretended to be too absorbed in his book to even hear Dean half the time he tried to talk.

Dean doesn’t try anymore.

Cas misses him a lot.

But he’s also conscious of the fact that Dean smells very nice, and Jo seems to think the bedroom things will be happening during Cas’s next heat, and — and it’s absurd, but a part of Cas is both suspicious that Dean made his heat worse — that he might even have caused it, though Ellen never indicated anything about that — and afraid that being around him will make Cas behave strangely again, might bring about that dreaded occasion sooner than if Cas just keeps his head down and stays away from Dean.

Because Cas doesn’t want to have another heat, and he doesn’t want Dean to be there for it. Cas actually hid under the covers and cried, last time, and after Dean came to see him, he was a sweaty, fevered mess. Not knight material at all. He’s terrified Dean will see him that way and think he’s pathetic, will decide Cas isn’t fit for knighthood, and in addition to that, he — he might — he’ll probably think Cas is gross.

Cas certainly felt gross. He can’t imagine Dean, a third party, will have any higher opinion of the sorry sight he presented.

And that’s the other thing. Cas might not have been too concerned had Jo told him Dean would help him out before he knew what that meant, would probably have just considered it to be exactly the sort of heroic, generous thing Dean would do, but now?

Every time the thought drifts back toward him, Cas shoves it away. He could never. He doesn’t want Dean to see him in such a humiliating state, and he certainly doesn’t want to prevail upon him to do something that sounds so terribly uncomfortable. Jo said it would be a lot less work for Cas, which means it will be a burden on Dean, which is the last thing a future knight should be on their prince.

Everything about the situation is deeply problematic, and the only solution Cas can come up with is to avoid the source of all of it.

And yet — he’s lonely.

He’s so lonely that his memories of fear and discomfort are falling by the wayside, replaced by a longing for the days when he could cherish every new letter from Dean; for the days before Dean left, even, when they trained hard in the courtyard and then walked into dinner together, chatting about nothing. He thinks of Dean letting him sleep in his room when he was sick and drying his hair for him, of Dean assembling all his favorite foods at dinner, of Dean ruffling his hair and squeezing his shoulder, laughing at his awkward jokes and listening to him ramble on about his books. Of how even though Dean was probably going to do the fun, non-obligatory bedroom things with Pamela, he let Cas stay and catch up instead.

Of how Dean let him be a knight, helped train him for it, way back when Cas thought he was losing everything.

The more days that pass, just that little bit empty and tense, the more things like scents and heats and serving one’s prince seem irrelevant in the face of not having his friend.

But even if Cas feels that way, Dean may not care at all. Cas thinks he must, since he watches Cas at training and sometimes during dinner, brow pinched in a way Cas hates, but maybe that’s just Dean ‘supervising the realm’ like Sam jokes he does. Maybe he might even be angry at Cas. The more Cas thinks about it, the more he realizes how good Dean has been to him since arriving here, how he’s played a not insignificant role in making Cas happy, and Cas’s behavior since he came home must seem terribly ungrateful.

Cas is grateful, though. He’s so grateful he didn’t want to mess things up, for either one of them, but he seems to have done it anyway.

“Sam,” Cas finally asks, a couple of weeks before Christmas. “I — if — if one had — some awkwardness, in a friendship, that they wished to overcome — what should they do?”

Sam pauses, then sets his book down.

“What kind of awkwardness?” he asks carefully.

Cas shrugs.

“I don’t know. Um — distance? And — maybe the friend is angry?”

Sam hesitates, then sighs.

“I don’t think Dean is angry at you.”

Cas flinches, though he supposes it must have been obvious what he was talking about. Sam is very clever.

“Are you sure?”

“No. But I think his feelings might be hurt.”

Cas deflates.

“You do?”

“Yeah. You guys were friends and now you’re kinda ignoring him. Even more, you’re part of the family, and you’re not — I don’t know, letting him take care of you at all. Which, trust me, I get how annoying that can be — like, we’re not five — but it’s how he is, and you kinda have to let him do the little things sometimes.”

Cas’s face burns with shame. He likes that Dean takes care of people; before he came here, the only person who ever did that for him was Anna.

Although, he thinks it’s maybe a little hypocritical of Sam to call it annoying, when he is almost certainly guilty of the same. Cas doesn’t point this out, though. He learned from Michael that people don’t appreciate that kind of thing.

“I didn’t mean to. I just —” he cuts off, unsure how to explain.

Sam touches his arm.

“You were — afraid, weren’t you? When, um, when your heat was that bad, and Ellen explained everything.”

Cas nods, relieved.

“Yes. I don’t want to have another heat that bad, and I know it isn’t Dean’s fault, but it was worse after he came to see me. And Jo said Dean would help me, next time, but I don’t want him to. I — you didn’t see, Sam, I was — it was awful, and I don’t think anyone who saw me like that would want me defending the castle gate let alone fighting in their army.”

Sam looks surprised.

“Wait, what? You were afraid Dean would judge you?”

Among other things, but —

“How could he not?”

Sam shakes his head, looking upset.

“No — Cas, Dean knows how these things work. Tons of people in his army have them.”

“But that’s different than seeing it.” Cas pauses, suddenly uncomfortable. “Has he?”

Sam reddens.

“Um. I don’t know? But that’s not important. The important thing is that Dean would never think any less of you for that. I mean, he has a rut, and while it’s probably not as bad, it’s still no picnic — for him or anyone who has to deal with him. Trust me, he’s in no position to judge.”

Ellen explained about ruts, but Cas mostly disregarded that, preoccupied with his own pressing tragedies.

It certainly didn’t occur to him that Dean had to deal with such a thing, but of course he must.

“Does someone help him?” Cas finds himself asking, although he’s not totally sure how it’s relevant.

Although it is; if Dean is strong enough to refuse assistance, then never mind embarrassment or fear, Cas will certainly not make himself appear weak by accepting help, either. If he hopes to match Dean’s prowess in combat someday, he must match him in endurance and self-control, as well.

Sam gets a distinctly uncomfortable look, and Cas takes a moment to just be very fond of him. Sam’s discomfort is so quintessentially Sam that seeing it warms Cas’s heart, because no one else looks uncomfortable quite the way Sam does.

(He feels a little guilty about the thought, but it is what it is.)

“Well,” Sam starts, disrupting Cas’s pleasant thought. “Well, um. He’s been away for a while, so I don’t know.”

This makes sense, but—

“What about before that?”

Sam winces.

“I mean. I — yes? But — but that’s kind of a good thing, isn’t it? It would suck if, um, if there were — expectations? That — made you uncomfortable?”

Sam is being incredibly inarticulate for Sam. This should amuse Cas, if only privately, but —

Cas is really not amused.

“Oh. Yes. It would.”

Sam makes an excellent point, because Cas doesn’t want to do bedroom things with Dean, even if in this scenario, he wouldn’t have to worry about some of those other things. And although normally, Cas would be absolutely delighted by the opportunity to make himself useful to Dean, Sam is certainly correct that doing bedroom things, especially in the context of how Ellen explained ruts and heats, would make Cas very uncomfortable.

And yet.

And yet.

Cas is not amused.

“Does that — bother you?” Sam asks, at once distraught and curious, and Cas blinks.

“No,” he lies. “Why would it?” Which is a very good question, one Cas will have to think about and answer later, without an audience.

Sam’s brows go up.

“Uh. Well — you know.”

“No? I don’t?”

“Well, I mean — if you — if you, um. If you liked Dean. And since you’re — you know, married? Not that I’m saying it should,” he hastens to add. “In fact, it’s probably better if — well. Anyway. Yeah.”

Cas tilts his head.

“Of course I like Dean. I don’t know what that has to do with anything.”

Sam looks startled, then wrinkles his nose.

“Oh — no, I meant — not like, like friends like, but like — love?”

It takes Cas a little bit to untangle this sentence, and when he does, he hesitates to answer.

Does Cas love Dean? He certainly likes him, very much — hence the problem with not being able to spend time with him — but he’s not sure he loves him. Not like he loves Sam, and Anna. Cas supposes it’s because he spends so much time with Sam that he's developed that love for him, although they didn’t grow up together. Sam feels like a cherished brother in a way that none of Cas’s actual brothers ever have.

Dean, though . . . Dean does feel like family — after all, he is family, since they’re married — but he doesn’t feel like a brother yet. As much affection as Cas has for him, to the point that he felt fit to burst with it sometimes after receiving a letter, Cas doesn’t feel the same way about him as he does the other people he loves. It’s close, he thinks.

But it’s still not the same.

“No. No, I — I like Dean a lot, but I don’t love him. Not like I love you,” he adds, absentminded as he puzzles over this, and Sam freezes.

“Uh. Um. What?”

Cas frowns at the dirt.

“You’re like a brother to me. Or maybe a sister, since I don’t care for my brothers very much. But as much as I like Dean, it’s — it’s different. It’s probably because I don’t spend as much time with him.”

Sam is silent for a long time, expression pinching in an amusingly strange way. Cas waits patiently for the input that is sure to follow.

Eventually, Sam sort of relaxes and sighs, clapping a hand on Cas’s shoulder.

“You know what? I think, um, I think you’re right. Dean’s ruts, your heats — don’t worry about them. Dean probably shouldn’t help you with the next one. Although — don’t ever think he’s going to judge you for something, okay? All of that is, you know. Normal. You shouldn’t — whether Dean’s there or not, you shouldn’t be embarrassed, or feel bad about yourself. And definitely, if anything makes you uncomfortable, you don’t have to do it.”

Cas vaguely recalls Ellen saying something similar, though he was still convinced at the time that something must be wrong with him.

Ellen is a doctor, though, and as reassuring as it is to hear there’s nothing medically wrong with him, there’s something particularly nice about hearing this from a friend and peer.

Cas leans into the hand on his shoulder, offering Sam a small smile.

“Thank you, Sam.”

Sam smiles back.

“Sure.”

“Then . . . how do I repair things? With Dean?”

He looks thoughtful.

“Um. I think he’s probably ready for them to be repaired, even if he’s snippy with you for a little while, so — honestly? Just — say you’re sorry. Tell him you were dealing with some things. And let him know you miss your friendship.”

“What if he doesn’t?”

“He does,” Sam assures him cheerfully. “And if he knows you do, too? You guys should be just fine.”

Sam makes it sound easy, but he knows Dean best of anyone, so perhaps it is.

All Cas can do is try.

 

 

 

“Don’t be a dick,” Sam says, cryptic as fuck, and then moseys past him into the hall for dinner.

Dean has no idea what that means, so he ignores it, wandering into the hall and scanning the table for tonight’s menu.

Which, hell yeah. There’s that sinful bacon potato casserole thing Ellen won’t let the kitchen make more than once a month, and Dean is pretty sure he sees several pies across the tables. He can’t tell what kind they are, but they’re pie, and that’s what’s important.

His good mood dampens a little, as it tends to do lately, when he sees Cas. John eats in his chambers most of the time, and Dean’s starting to wonder if he should tell Cas he can eat with his barrack-mates instead of having to sit next to Dean every night when he clearly doesn’t want to.

Of course, Sam is at that end of the table, too, so maybe that’s enough of a draw to make it worth it, anyway.

He’s surprised to find Cas sitting still, plate empty.

“You sick?” he asks, before he can stop himself. He’s been trying to give Cas whatever space he needs; Dean’s an idiot about some things, but even he sometimes suspects this has something to do with the hellish heat Cas had at the end of October. That doesn’t really add up, though. He and Cas agreed the heirs thing wouldn’t be happening for years, so even if Cas was kind of bummed to learn about the birds and the bees, it shouldn’t have anything to do with Dean.

Of course, that whole mess coincided almost exactly with Dean’s arrival home, so the real issue may be that Cas just — doesn’t like having him back. Dean thinks he’s pretty hands-off about the husband thing, forgets they’re married most of the time, but Cas is getting older and he might be resenting Dean’s constant presence and whatever imagined pressures it represents.

Either way, it fucking sucks. Dean would have been perfectly happy to tuck the kid away and forget about him for the next decade, but Cas insisted on attaching himself to Dean from day one, and now Dean’s pretty fond of him and he’s used to that, and it feels shitty and unfair that things are changing.

“Oh — Dean—” Cas startles, twisting in his chair a little and watching Dean take a seat, which is new. Cas used to stare at Dean all the time when he was actually here, probably collecting observations to help further his knight aspirations, but over the last couple months he hasn’t really looked at Dean unless he has to.

Dean looks pointedly at his empty plate.

“Why aren’t you eating?”

Cas hesitates, searching Dean’s face.

“I was waiting for you.”

There’s about fifty sarcastic responses on the tip of his tongue, most of them basically amounting to ‘well, that’s certainly a change,’ but Dean is the adult here, damn it, and he’s going to act like one.

“Okay, well. Here I am. Eat.”

He ignores the itchy sensation he gets, side-eyeing that empty plate, because Cas has made it clear he can get his own damn food and he doesn’t appreciate Dean doing it for him.

Which makes sense — in fact, now that Cas is quite a bit older than when he came here, Dean’s not sure why he feels the need to do things like that — but it doesn’t change the fact that it is mildly painful to just ignore the impulse.

“I can’t reach the casserole,” Cas says after a moment.

And that’s kind of true, assuming teenagers care about being rude, because he’d have to reach across the table quite a bit — but the real question is why he didn’t just do it before Dean sat down.

Dean scoops up Cas’s plate before he can talk himself out of it, dumping a significant helping of casserole on it and studiously avoiding Cas’s gaze. Since he has it anyway, he puts a proportionate amount of green beans and carrots to the side, although he’s probably not going to inflict the same tyranny on himself, and then tosses a dinner roll and a couple pieces of chicken on there for good measure.

He’ll get them both some pie afterward, and if Cas has a problem with it, he can fucking assert himself, like the grown-up he seems to think he is, regardless of what he said when they talked that one night.

Surprisingly, Cas doesn’t say a word. In fact, when Dean gives in and meets his eyes as he puts the plate back down, Cas is giving him this soft, vaguely hopeful look, mouth upturned slightly.

“Thank you, Dean.”

Dean turns back to his own plate, disturbed.

Is this — is this like, a teenager thing? Sammy could be a total bitch one day and Dean’s adorable, happy kid brother the next, so maybe this is just Cas having adolescent mood swings.

But do mood swings last two whole months?

More importantly, does Dean care, if this means it’s over? Home is considerably less home-y when one of your family members is clearly uncomfortable with you, and if Cas is done being whatever-it-is-he’s-being, then maybe Dean shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

“How was training?” he asks, casually serving himself while he braces for some short, non-committal response.

“It was good,” Cas says quickly, and Dean can feel him looking at him. “It usually is.”

“Makes sense. You, uh, you look real good, when I check in.”

Cas finally looks down, and when Dean glances over, his cheeks are a little red.

“I could be better,” he says eventually, and Dean shrugs.

“You’re the best in your rank.”

“But I could be better,” he insists.

“Everyone could.” Dean’s not really sure what he’s looking for, but Cas is quiet after that.

Sam finally sits down after they’ve probably been there for like, ten minutes, which is bizarre considering Dean met him on his way in, but whatever. Dinner’s not half so uncomfortable as it has been, and for that, Dean is grateful.

He's getting up to head to his room when he realizes Cas is following him.

“Uh. What’s up, Cas?”

“I was hoping to talk to you? If you have time?”

“Uh, sure.”

Cas is content to wait until they make it to Dean’s chamber and the door is shut behind him before he starts.

“I wanted to apologize,” he says, and Dean jerks his head up in surprise.

“Apologize for w—”

“I’m sorry I — I haven’t been a good friend recently. I was —” Cas hesitates, pensive, then lifts his chin. “Dealing with some things. But I miss our friendship.”

Dean swallows. That was . . . well, straightforward, even for Cas.

“Okay. What now?” he asks, because as eager as he is to put the weirdness behind them, he’s been super . . . uncomfortable, and when Dean gets . . . uncomfortable, he can’t help but be a little petty.

Cas deflates a little.

“I — do you forgive me?”

Cas is a kid, Cas is a kid, Dean reminds himself. He deserves forgiveness, even if he’s been a dick, and especially because he’s giving Dean this sad, big-eyed look, and okay, fine.

“Yeah.” Dean steps forward a little, ruffles his hair, either as proof or maybe a test that Cas has finally chilled out, and Cas’s head just sort of follows Dean’s hand as it moves, shoulders relaxing.

“Okay. Will you — if you have time, can we train in the evenings again?”

Dean cracks a smile.

“Oh, I see. The apology was a bribe. You wanted something, huh?”

Cas looks horrified, head jerking out of Dean’s grasp.

“No! Not at all, we don’t have to train—”

“Relax, buddy, I’m just teasing you,” he says, although he wasn’t totally kidding, and it’s a relief to know this isn’t some kind of mercenary exploit on Cas’s part.

And then, for whatever reason, Dean just sort of automatically tugs Cas forward and hugs him.

(Well, this is the friendly equivalent of kiss-and-make-up, isn’t it? He’s pretty sure a hug is in order.)

Cas goes stiff for a moment, and if he’s about to suggest he’s too old for hugs, then Dean has some opinions on that — but then he sort of relaxes against Dean, pushing up on his toes to more comfortably tuck his chin over his shoulder as he returns the hug.

It’s nice. It’s a little startling, because Cas is several inches taller and a lot more solid as he leans against Dean than he was last time they hugged, but it’s still nice.

He smells pretty good, too — there’s only a faint layer of training grime to it. Maybe he’s finally grown out of his bath allergy. Or maybe his barrack-mates lodged a formal complaint.

Dean smirks at that, starting to step back and comment, but Cas’s grip on his tunic tightens, and he shows no sign of being ready to move.

Which — he did say he missed their friendship. And Dean was gone a year-and-a-half, before that, so maybe he’s just really hard up for a cuddle?

Although, they only hugged a handful of times before the absence, and if anything, Dean would assume Sam would be acting as resident snuggle-tap in his absence, given what good friends they apparently are.

After a long moment, silent but for their breathing, Dean starts to feel really awkward. It’s not that the hug is bad, and Dean can admit to himself that he kind of likes hugs, in general, but he’s also very conscious that it’s lasting way longer than it should be.

“Uh,” he starts, gently patting Cas’s back. “Cas?”

It feels like all Dean does is blink and suddenly Cas is halfway across the room.

“Sorry,” he says, face red. “I just — I — I’m tired.”

“Oh.” Yeah, it’s getting pretty late. Cas should probably head back.

Although, it’s dark and cold out, and Dean doesn’t love the idea of Cas making his way back to the barracks by himself.

“Alright, well, good n—”

“You should probably sleep here,” Dean says decisively, and Cas blinks at him. “It’s kinda late to be walking back.”

Cas tilts his head.

“Does the hour make a difference?”

“Well, yeah. Nobody’ll be around. If something happens, you’re out of luck.”

“What . . . what could happen?”

Dean frowns.

“You know. Anything. Like, what if you slipped and fell and ended up freezing to death before anyone found you?”

Cas presses his lips together, eyes narrowing.

“I don’t slip.”

“It’s dark.”

“Still, I d—” Cas cuts off abruptly, and then looks down. “Well. Alright. If you think that’s best.”

Dean nearly breathes a sigh of relief. At least the kid’s getting more reasonable as he gets older.

“Yeah, I think so.” He pauses. “Should I send for a bath?”

Cas tenses, giving himself a cursory sniff and scowling.

“I’m fine.

Yeah, so that was wishful thinking.

“Listen, if I need one, I’m pretty sure you do, too.”

“I can take it in the morning.”

“Going to bed dirty means the sheets have to be washed more often. That’s a little rude to the laundry, don’t you think?”

Cas glowers (and fortunately doesn’t point out that sending for baths generates work, too).

“Maybe I should go back to the barracks.”

“Are you seriously trying to tell me nobody there complains?”

No. And I asked Sam about it, and he said you’re particularly fussy about such things, so I believe it’s just you.

Now that’s a load of bull.

“Fine, if you wanna go back to the barracks then —” Dean starts, possibly forgetting that he’s the one who tried to convince Cas to stay in the first place, and Cas hunches over.

“You know. I’m — I’m fairly certain that, as my husband, you’re not supposed to care how I smell.”

Dean arches a brow.

“Really?”

Cas’s face is a little red, and Dean knows he knows he’s full of it.

“Yes.”

“Uh-huh. Well, I’m probably not supposed to order honeycakes up with a bath either.”

Cas’s mouth falls open.

“You didn’t tell me that was part of the deal.”

“Because I shouldn’t have to make a deal with you to get you to bathe.”

Cas crosses his arms with one of the bitchiest expressions Dean’s ever seen.

“You’re being offensive. You make it sound like I never bathe. I had a bath last night.

“And then you spent like, eight hours sweating on the training field.”

“I — you can’t possibly expect me to bathe every night.”

“If I’m going to be sleeping next to you, I can,” he shoots back, and Cas blinks.

“What?”

“Tonight,” Dean hurries to add, even though it should be obvious, shouldn’t it? Even when Cas is twenty-five — or maybe thirty, for good measure — and they have to do the heirs thing, they won’t be sharing a bed all the time. “I mean — tonight.”

“Oh.” Cas frowns at the wall for a moment, then sighs. “I will bathe tonight. But I want at least three cakes and I refuse to abide by your unreasonable demands once I’ve returned to the barracks.”

He sounds so stern, Dean nearly giggles, but he manages to keep a straight face.

“Done. I’ll be right back.” He hurries out the door before Cas can catch him smirking to himself.

Dean comes back once he’s arranged the baths and honeycakes, and he drops into the other chair at the little table, across from Cas, who has of course picked up one of the books from Dean’s shelves and is engrossed in thumbing through it.

His hair’s getting a little long, swooping over his brow where his head is tilted forward. He should probably get it cut, but that’s certainly not Dean’s job, and anyway, it’s a little adorable.

Unlike that monstrosity Sam is growing.

“Whatcha got there?” he asks, and Cas looks up, meeting his eyes like he hasn’t been avoiding them for months. A part of Dean wants to call him on it, but honestly? Cas acting like nothing happened is infinitely preferable to another adjustment period of any kind.

Dean’s just thrilled if it means things are back to normal.

“This is about a rogue knight fighting against a corrupt king,” Cas says, tilting his head. Ah. That’s one of Dean’s favorites. “Was it written after King Roman was ousted?”

Dean shrugs.

“Probably? Roman was bad news, that’s for sure.”

“Was it based on your father?”

Dean smiles.

“Could have been. Fun fact, though; my mom actually fought in the army, too.”

Cas looks intrigued.

“They fought together?”

“Yup. Not a lot of people know that, though. The towns, they didn’t shift much from how things have always been, but all the big-name, important families played by Roman’s rules so they wouldn’t fall outta favor. My mom was a beta, but since she was a girl, she wasn’t supposed to do much.” Dean grins. “Of course, the Campbells had been putting out knights for centuries, basically, and she picked things up, anyway, and once the resistance got going . . .”

Cas nods slowly, processing.

“Why wasn’t she king, then?”

“Uh. Technically, they co-ruled before she died, although my Dad was the one who got the movement going and fought Roman for the crown. Combat victory rules, you know.”

“Oh.”

“We’ll be like that, too, probably,” Dean says, a little wary of Cas’s thoughtful face. “I mean, technically — the upper classes always have dumber rules about shit, so — you know, since I’m the one who’s actually the heir, you’re, uh, mine. But that’s mostly just the technicality. You’ll, you know, have a say. If you want one,” he adds, shrugging. “If you just wanna wander around fighting shit, that’s cool, too.”

Cas blinks.

“I don’t know. I never thought about it.”

“My Dad’ll probably be around for a while,” Dean reassures him. “He should be, anyway. Hell, it could be another thirty years before you or I have to worry about anything.”

Cas shrugs, though he looks unsure.

“Alright. That’s . . . good. I always wanted to be a knight, but even when I thought I would be an alpha, I had no expectations of — of power, or anything.”

“Like I said. Anything you don’t wanna worry about, you don’t have to. I’ll take care of it.”

For a long moment, Cas just kind of looks at him.

And then he smiles, glancing down.

“I know,” he says softly. “Thank you.”

The baths arrive, then — Dean has to literally withhold the honeycakes until Cas goes in for his — and it’s kind of a good thing. For a weird, uncomfortable moment, Dean almost felt like they were having two different conversations.

But then Cas is sullenly trudging into the bathroom, Dean exaggeratedly sniffing the honeycakes — “Better hurry, man, or there might not be any left!” “We had a deal, Dean. You’re a knight. Have some honor.” — and he forgets all about it.

 

 

 

Cas wakes up feeling better than he has in months.

Unfortunately, he also wakes up huddled into Dean’s side, nose buried in his collar, and in his panic at being discovered, rolls away with such fervor he tumbles right off the other side of the bed.

Dean jerks upright, whipping a dagger out from — somewhere, Cas isn’t quite sure — and peers wildly around him.

Cas just shuts his eyes, cheeks growing hot, and futilely prays he won’t be discovered.

“Cas?” Dean asks a moment later, voice still a little sleep-rough in a way Cas has never taken note of before and is struggling to understand why he finds compelling now. “Did you — fall out of bed?”

Cas sighs.

“Yes.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yes.”

There’s a long pause.

“Does that — happen a lot?”

“No.”

“Oh.” Dean clears his throat. “Well, maybe you’re going through a growth spurt. Sam used to crash in here sometimes and he got pretty damn flail-y. I hope they’re not lettin’ you sleep on a top bunk.”

“No. Kevin wanted the top bunk, since he gets claustrophobic, and I don’t care either way.”

Dean winces.

“Yeah, he’s not gonna like the training simulations when you guys move up in rank.” Dean swings his legs over the edge of the bed, coming around to pull Cas to his feet. “Come on, wash up and let’s go to breakfast.”

Awkwardness mostly averted, Cas follows him into the bathroom, pleased to see a second bowl of water set out for him.

Though it’s entirely possible someone saw him plastered to Dean like some kind of — clinging child, Cas supposes — but he chooses to ignore it.

After all, how can he dwell on minor ills today? Despite his worry and trepidation and the increasing misery of the last few months, Dean just — he simply forgave him.

(Well, mostly. Cas suspects the bath tyranny was a frankly petty form of vengeance, honeycakes or not, but Dean still dried his hair for him afterward, so he couldn’t have been too angry.)

And then he tousled Cas’s hair and gave him a hug. Even though Cas’s apology happened less than five minutes prior and was preceded by an uncalled-for level of rudeness for months, Dean hugged him. Just like that. Aside from his obnoxious rules about baths, there seemed to be no punishment forthcoming, like even Sam anticipated.

Though Cas was briefly alarmed when Dean hugged him, because Dean smelled just as good as he did that first night he came home, and Cas found himself instinctively clinging, lost in the same bizarre haze from before until Dean shook him out of it.

Dean didn’t seem to think too much of it, though, and more importantly, Cas feels fine today.

Perhaps his fears were irrational, after all.

Because underneath the scent, it’s still just Dean, isn’t it? And Dean is Cas’s friend and his family, like Sam, even if they’re apparently not as close. More important than probably anything else, Cas likes spending time with Dean, and anything beyond that is probably best just forgotten.

“You ready to go?” Dean asks, putting the drying cloth back on the hook and turning to him.

Cas didn’t know you could miss the sight of someone’s face when you technically saw them every day, but he takes a few seconds to just look at Dean.

“Yes,” he finally says, when Dean lifts his brows curiously.

Cas sort of wishes he could have another hug.

 

 

 

“Nice night, Clarence?”

Meg whistles at him when he returns to the barracks to dress for practice, and he bristles a little at the teasing note in her voice.

But Meg almost always sounds like that, and actually —

“Yes. A very nice night. Thank you, Meg,” he says, and Meg raises her brows, their barrack-mates exchanging intrigued looks around them.

“Uh-huh,” she says slowly. “Really? Tell me more about that.”

Cas would be happy to share his good feelings, but his reasons for needing to apologize are personal, so he simply gives her a sharp look and tells her so.

“That’s personal, Meg.”

Her eyes go a little wide, and his barrack-mates don’t look much different.

Well,” she drawls. “Look at you, Clarence.”

Cas looks down at himself, puzzled.

“Is there something on me?”

She chortles.

“Not anymore, I guess,” she sing-songs, slapping him on the shoulder as she walks past. “I’d ask for details, but if it’s personal, then I guess I’m outta luck. See you at practice.”

He barely has time to try and process that before the others are crowding in close, open curiosity on their faces.

“What’s it like?” Emily asks.

“What is what like?”

She nudges him.

“With Prince Dean.”

Cas frowns.

“It’s — very nice?” Any awkwardness over the last couple of months has been Cas’s fault, after all, and aside from Dean’s tendency to be overbearing, being with Dean is very nice.

Alfie huffs, rubbing his neck and looking vaguely embarrassed, for some reason.

“What does that mean, Cas?”

“Yeah, is it good?”

Cas is at a complete loss.

“Uh. Yes? His company is — very satisfying?” He has no idea what they’re looking for. ‘Very nice’ was rather encompassing, in his opinion, but this next statement elicits a chorus of ‘ooh’s.

“You lucky dog,” Tracy mutters, and with a shake of her head, wanders off to the field.

It looks like the rest of them might ask more bizarre questions, although Cas has been married to Dean for two and a half years and no one’s asked anything like this before, so Cas offers them a tense smile and hurries after her before they have the chance.

Lawrencians are so strange sometimes.

 

 

 

Life goes on very smoothly, after that. Cas struggles to adjust to the new training sessions with Dean, for some reason, finding himself flustered and uncoordinated at strange times, enough that Dean even comments on the disparity between what he witnesses on the training field.

“Hey, I know I’m a higher rank, but when you’re a knight, you might go up against a lot of people bigger or more skilled-seeming than you. You can’t let intimidation affect you.”

It’s frustrating. Cas is not — he’s not afraid of Dean. He just — Dean is a little disorienting, and the reason why utterly eludes him.

It’s maddening. Everything he’s doing is not just to be the best knight in Lawrence, but to prove that when the day comes for Dean to fight him for real.

How can he do that if the one person he actually has trouble fighting is Dean?

Eventually, though, whatever the problem is, it fades. Cas no longer falters in his step when Dean pushes right into his space, no longer blinks between Dean’s movement and his own reaction when the wind sweeps traces of his scent right into Cas’s nose, no longer turns sluggish when the light catches Dean’s eyes or his arms as they pull taut and he swings the practice sword.

Though it hasn’t faded entirely. Cas is disagreeably wily, according to his barrack-mates, but even now, when sparring takes a frustrating turn and Cas finds himself pinned while Dean cackles above him, it takes him a few moments of impotent struggling before he can muster a decent escape.

It’s because Dean is much bigger than anyone else he’s fought, Cas concludes. Even when Sam’s group comes to train with them, none of them have quite filled out, still gangly and a trifle awkward despite their height advantage. Dean, on the other hand, is a solid and considerable weight to manage, and Cas just reassures himself that soon enough, he will match — possibly even surpass — Dean for size, and he won’t have this problem anymore.

Other than that, though, things are nice. Dean sometimes accompanies him after training to sit under the tree with Sam, and on nights when it’s too cold, the three of them huddle up near the fire in Dean’s bedchamber before or after dinner. Sometimes, when Cas falls asleep in there and returns to the barracks the next morning, having woken up mysteriously transported to Dean’s bed, his barrack-mates make odd comments, smirks on their faces, but Cas doesn’t bother trying to make sense of them. He asks Sam, once, but Sam just looks frustrated — though not at Cas — and tells him not to worry about it.

Christmas and the New Year pass, the castle warm and lively in a way it hadn’t been the year prior, and when January 24th rolls around, Cas presents Dean with a watercolor he’s been working on all year.

Dean squints at him, and Sam trembles silently in the corner.

“Thanks, Cas. It’s, uh. It’s great. I’ll put it in— above. Above the fireplace.”

The watercolor is atrocious, and seeing it hanging in Dean’s room pleases Cas more than he ever would have expected.

Winter gives way to the crisp tease of spring, and it’s not until early April that the nights become more tolerable. Reading and cards in front of the fireplace become ruckus-making in the courtyard, and as the evenings grow brighter, Sam and Cas convince Dean to take walks with them outside the castle, where the flowers are just starting to bloom.

Dean grumbles the whole way, sneezing occasionally, and Cas feels very sorry for him. He also feels something warm and soft and glowy, when Dean screws up his face and finally sneezes, but he’s not sure what to make of it.

It feels a lot like affection, he thinks. Perhaps he’s finally growing to love Dean like another brother, too, although when he lags behind a little, looking between Sam and Dean as they joke with each other, it still feels different.

Summer is stupidly hot. Sam grows two whole inches and — in a word — bitches the entire time, because he’s never comfortable and he’s always too warm, and Cas resents it heavily, because Cas is also always uncomfortable and too warm but he doesn’t even get any added height from it.

Ellen assures him he’s probably not done growing, just yet, but that doesn’t help Cas when he feels like Dean and Sam are towering around him.

To make matters worse, Dean won’t even let either one of them sit down in his room until they’ve had a bath. Cas actually likes slipping into the cool water, a nice reprieve from the sweltering heat outside, but he doesn’t appreciate Dean telling them what to do.

Nor does he appreciate Dean aggressively trying to veto Sam’s proposal that Sam and Cas just take their baths at the same time, out of respect for time constraints, but Cas can’t really do much more than sit quietly while Sam rolls his eyes and tells Dean to stop trying to make things weird.

After all, the one time Dean walked in while Cas was in the bath, he felt incredibly self-conscious and embarrassed. He’s not sure what’s so different about Sam intermittently splashing around five feet away, pretending to loudly gossip about Dean and making Cas laugh, but it feels fairly similar to bath time with his barrack-mates, if a little more amusing.

The few times Dean hasn’t taken his bath before dinner and three tubs are brought up to the room, Cas feels so awkward and distracted he misses half the jokes and washes his hair twice or not at all.

Aside from that, however, things are — well, nearly perfect.

And then in August, a letter comes.

 

 

Dear Cas,

 

Hopefully this letter reaches you before any other news of the incident. I’d like to start by saying that I’m very well; by the time you get this, there will be nary a scratch or bruise still visible (unless, of course, that infuriating Talbot woman and I come to blows between now and then, but I’m mostly sure that I, at least, am well-bred enough to refrain).

Now that you know not to worry, I should let you know that my party was attacked en route to Lettra for a diplomatic visit. It appears to be a plot of assassination, carried out by Purgaeans disguised as Lettrans shortly after we crossed the border.

Michael’s having a fit, even worse than usual, and I shudder to think what will befall the perpetrators now that we’ve turned them over, but my visit has proceeded smoothly, aside from that. It’s entirely possible that their Queen has an even larger stick up her ass than Michael, but I would not want them in the same room to compare.

In any case, disaster was averted; there is a hoodlum of sorts inhabiting the woods there, who is apparently not a hoodlum at all, and happens to be very handy with a bow and arrow. It is debatable whether my would-be-assassin will retain use of his hand, but I am certain that my rescuer should not remain a wary scavenger in the woods.

As it turns out, she is technically a citizen of Lawrence, and she has fled for the dubious asylum of the foreign wilderness because I don’t know? Your husband’s father is incapable of enforcing these progressive laws I hear so much about? At any rate, she had found herself in the very disagreeable position of being troth to some monstrous young man of her parents’ choosing, and despite her countless refusals, was to be forced into it anyway.

As one might expect of a strong-minded, bow-wielding young lady, she ran the hell away, but her circumstances are both undeserved and less than ideal. She is tentatively considering seeking asylum in Eden, where I will be able to offer her shelter, but you and I both know our customs can leave something to be desired.

Either way, I believe she deserves to live in her own damn country without fearing abduction or punishment. Last you wrote, your husband sounded as fond of you as ever; if you could give him your Sad Look and implore him to promise her a guarantee of safety and a means of starting over, I would be glad to send her your way.

I hope to visit you for your birthday, either way. Please send word as soon as you know.

 

All my love,

Anna

 

Cas is not totally sure what ‘Sad Look’ Anna is referring to, but he is nearly as distressed by this poor young woman’s story as he is by Anna’s close call. Considering that his sister might be dead if not for the girl’s interference, Cas is wholeheartedly determined to see her better off, and honestly thinks Dean would have to be a monster not to agree.

Cas rarely thinks of it, but at nearly seventeen, he’s not stupid. He knows Michael would have married him to someone else, if not to Dean; Dean and Sam sometimes discuss Sam’s ‘prospects’ as Dean jokingly calls them, particularly when John invites guests and they’re worried he’s going to try and arrange something, and Cas understands the why’s-and-wherefore’s of a political alliance much better, now. In light of that, he has vague memories of various court-persons he might have been given to, had Lawrence refused, and in addition to making Cas abide by Edenish rules for omegas, they wouldn’t have been a tenth as good company as Dean is.

(Cas has a thought, idly listening to one such conversation between the two, that they weren’t a tenth as handsome as Dean, either, and it feels strange in his head.)

In any case, he has a moral obligation to protect the girl from suffering a fate he had the good fortune to avoid, and he’s scarcely finished the letter before he’s leaping up from the tree base and striding away, determined to extract this promise from Dean immediately.

“Woah — Cas — what’s up?” Sam calls, scrambling after him, and Cas pauses.

“My sister was nearly assassinated. And the girl who rescued her had to run away from Lawrence because her parents were trying to make her marry an ogre, and she deserves to come home, if she wants. I’m sure Dean will understand.” Cas frowns, considering. “I think — if it’s a — a particular request from his husband, he should say yes. Right?”

Sam looks alarmed for the first half of it, and then his mouth sort of twitches, though he nods, expression grave.

“Oh, yeah. Definitely. Do you want me to come with you?”

Cas considers this.

“Yes,” he decides. “You’re mostly very reasonable, Sam. I’m sure you can help convince him, if he’s being contrary today.”

That settled, he sets off for Dean’s chambers. Hopefully Dean has already taken his post-training bath. Not only will he be in a better mood, but Cas isn’t sure he’ll be able to give Dean the ‘Sad Look’ — or any looks period — if he’s expected to state his case while Dean is in the bath.

He shakes the thought away; he’s sure that, like with training, he will eventually become accustomed to that and think nothing of it at all. Besides, if that is what it takes to grant the young lady asylum — well, then Cas will address Dean while he's in the bath, after all.

He’s so filled with determination (and mildly afraid of losing his nerve), that he sort of forgets to knock when he arrives at Dean’s rooms well ahead of Sam, which wouldn’t be a problem, except —

Except Dean is not alone.

**

There’s a feminine yelp from the direction of the bed when Cas throws open the door, full of righteous intent, and he falters in his confusion, searching out the noise.

He just barely catches the glimpse of someone’s unclothed back before the blonde is rolling off to the side, hauling a sheet up over herself.

“I — I — where is Dean?” he asks, and Dean himself groans and pops upright, cheeks very red.

“Son of a — Cas. Have you ever heard of knocking?”

“Oh.” Cas blinks, swallowing hard. This is — not a scenario he prepared for.

Nor is it one he’s encountered before.

“I — I — I have a letter from my sister—” he starts, and Dean huffs out a laugh, burying his face in his palms.

“Christ.” He looks up, smiling a little. “Listen, man, I would love to hear about that letter, I really would, but maybe you could come back in—”

He glances down, pulling the blanket up and grinning at — at whoever is under it.

“Thirty minutes?” he asks, although he doesn’t appear to be addressing Cas. Dean winces, dropping the blanket and turning back to Cas with a sheepish look. “Actually, how about I just, uh, see you at dinner?”

Cas hesitates, holding up his letter.

“But it’s impo—”

A hand seizes his shoulder from behind, Sam huffing.

“Um, yeah, no, let’s — let’s go, Cas. Okay? The letter can’t go out until tomorrow morning, anyway, and Dean is, um, in the middle of something important.”

Cas glances over his shoulder, and frowns when he realizes Sam is talking with a hand over his own eyes.

Cas has learned not to be discomfited by Dean’s bare chest — for the most part — since they trained during the summer months, but even if he hadn’t, he’s very focused on the missive from Anna.

“I — but—”

Dean starts laughing again, though it quickly turns into an ‘oof’ when there’s a sharp movement from beneath the blanket.

“Sorry, Cas,” he says again. “But, uh, yeah. Could you leave?”

Cas takes a deep breath.

He knows he’s going to see Dean at dinner, and doubtless, Dean will hear him out, but —

It feels strange to be asked to leave.

He’s working up to some kind of protest, because he’s sure this is not quite right, but Sam gently pulls him back and shuts the door in front of him.

“I — but —” Cas starts, and Sam looks torn between amusement and embarrassment.

“Really, Cas. You, um, you didn’t want to stick around for that.”

“Well, of course not.” Obviously Dean was doing bedroom things. “But I really think this was more important.”

“Right, but — like I said, you can’t do anything right away —” There’s an odd sort of thump from inside the room, and then a throaty chuckle that sounds like Dean and yet doesn’t, and Sam makes a face and tugs Cas away from the room. “And trust me, it’s really awkward to be interrupted during that kind of thing.”

**

“Yes, but — I’m his husband, ” Cas insists, and Sam slows, giving him a concerned look. “And he asked me to leave when I had something important to tell him.”

“Well, he was in the middle of something,” Sam says slowly.

That was not important,” Cas grits out, increasingly irritated, and it occurs to him that one of the worst things about being sent away was that it was so Dean could prioritize someone else. “Unless it is. Is that more important than what I have to say?” he demands, and Sam looks comically awkward.

Cas is in no mood to laugh.

“Um, well — it’s not that it’s more important, it’s just that — he can talk to you later. But he can’t really, um, finish that later. You know?”

“No, I don’t know.” Ellen thoroughly explained sex to him, and at no point did she indicate that it must be concluded in one session from start to finish.

Dean is being self-indulgent, is what he’s being. Typical.

Sam coughs.

“Uh. Well. It isn’t  — it really — it’s extremely uncomfortable to stop in the middle of it,” Sam continues, cheeks red and eyes looking off to the side.

“Yes, well, many things are uncomfortable, Sam, but this was — I think this counted as an emergency.

Sam gives him a sympathetic look.

“I know, but — if it’s something that can be taken care of later, it’s — it’s really not.”

Cas huffs.

“Well, how uncomfortable can it be?”

Sam gives him a funny look.

“Um. Well — haven’t you ever — I mean, in the mornings, or — I don’t know, during your heat, but you can’t take care of it, and it’s really uncomfortable?”

Cas is utterly baffled for a moment, but a brief scan of his conversation with Ellen has him frowning.

“Are you referring to erections, Sam?”

Sam coughs.

“Um, yeah, that.”

“Of course they’re uncomfortable. But you just wait for them to go away.”

Sam screws up his face.

“You — do?”

“Yes.” Cas is aware that there are other things he can do to it, but they seem like more of an ordeal than just waiting it out.

“Oh.”

Sam is quiet for a minute.

“Right. Well. In this case, it’s, um, it’s rude to your partner to just — stop in the middle of things.”

Cas has the unnecessarily petty thought that it would serve Dean’s partner right for occupying his attention when Cas urgently needed it, but he understands that logically, Sam is right.

He sighs.

“Fine. We’ll wait until dinner,” he agrees, but he doesn’t feel good about it.

In fact, he feels kind of terrible.

Of course, that only makes sense; his sister was nearly assassinated, and a heroic young woman is being forced to live in the woods.

Cas is still not sure this isn’t an emergency.

 

 

 

Earlier, Cas intended to be as ingratiating and pleasant as possible, but it’s odd. As soon as Dean sits down at dinner, hair still damp from the bath and smelling of soap, Cas’s already indifferent mood somehow worsens.

“Hey, guys,” he says cheerfully. “So, what’d you need earlier? Something about your sister?”

This is Cas’s opening to explain, to impart upon Dean the severity of the situation, and yet the words stick in his throat.

He saws his venison into tiny bites, unable to look at him, and what actually comes out is:

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather eat your dinner first?”

Nor does it come out like a polite offer; it comes out bitter and sarcastic and even Sam gives him a startled look.

“Uh.” Dean furrows his brow. “Hey, I’m sorry about earlier, but that kind of thing — I can’t just stop in the middle—”

“Yes, Sam explained how lesser men deal with erections,” Cas informs him, and Dean’s jaw drops.

“Wait, what—”

“That’s not what I said!” Sam interjects, but Cas ignores him.

“Anyway, you didn’t seem to think it was very important, so I would hate to take up your time with something that doesn’t matter to you.”

Dean looks torn between confusion and irritation, which — good. Cas feels the same.

“The hell? I told you we’d talk at dinner. If it was an emergency, you could have said—”

“It wasn’t,” Cas bites out, and Dean throws up his hands.

“Then what are you so pissed about?” Across from them, Sam ducks his head, suddenly very engrossed in his soup. “I’m here now, so — come on. Tell me what’s up.”

Dean clearly doesn’t get it, and the worst part is, Cas doesn’t either, so instead of responding he just pulls the letter out of his pocket and shoves it at Dean.

He glares, but takes it, scanning the contents.

“Yeah, buddy, I don’t think this is what she meant by ‘Sad Look.’”

If Cas had been raised in Lawrence, he would almost certainly tell Dean to ‘fuck off’ right now.

As it is, he simply glowers.

“Okay, so — I’m real glad your sister is okay, and of course we’ll arrange something for the girl. Hell, we’ll round up her dickbag parents and the other guy. They know that shit’s illegal. But we can’t do a damn thing until tomorrow, so what gives?”

Cas just shakes his head, taking a bite of his food.

“Dude, come on—”

He clenches his fists and stands.

“I’m going back to the barracks,” he announces, and strides out of the Great Hall, puzzled at the breadth of his own anger.

 

 

 

To his surprise, Dean shows up to the barracks first thing in the morning, wandering past Cas’s curious barrack-mates to where Cas is putting on his shoes to head to breakfast.

“What are you doing here?” Cas asks. He felt a little sick before he went to bed, though he was mostly still stewing in anger, but by the time he woke up, he was downright nauseated.

Going to bed without dinner will do that, but the instant he realizes it’s Dean standing in front of him, he feels a little better, somehow.

Dean sighs, offering him a hand to stand up.

“Wanted to walk you to breakfast. I think we need to talk about something.”

Dean doesn’t look happy about it, and the sick feeling comes back a little. Cas was full of things to say once he made it back to the barracks last night, but now they’ve all dried up on his tongue; what’s more, he’s suddenly not sure he wants to hear what Dean has to say, either.

“About what?” he asks carefully, and Dean jerks his head toward the barrack doors.

“While we walk. We don’t need anyone eavesdropping.”

There’s a smothered giggle from a few feet away, Emily quickly turning her head, and Cas sighs, finally placing his hand in Dean’s and getting to his feet.

They’re already through the barrack doors before Cas realizes he’s still holding Dean’s hand, and he quickly lets go.

“Sorry.”

Dean studies him for a moment, then shakes his head.

“Nah. I should be saying sorry.”

Cas waits, curious.

“Uh, after you left, Sam pointed out that — you know. I was being insensitive. He was pretty damn unhelpful when I asked about what, but I thought about it, a lot, and I think I figured it out.” Dean rubs the back of his neck, not looking at Cas.

“And?” Cas prompts, a little desperate. Even he’s still confused as to just why he got so angry at Dean last night.

“I forget that you’re not — that you haven’t always been here. You’ve been in Lawrence for years, now, and we eat all our meals together and train in the evenings and you and Sam are attached at the damn hip, and it — it feels like you’re ours, you know?”

Cas tilts his head.

“I’m not,” he points out. “I’m just yours.”

Dean gives him a startled look.

“What? Shit, no — I didn’t mean — I meant Lawrence’s. You know? But you’re Edenish, originally. You’ve got a whole, big-ass family back there, and your sister’s the best of them, and — you love her a lot, right? A lot longer than you’ve loved any of us. Uh, if you do love us, I mean,” he adds hastily, and Cas nods.

“I love Sam very much,” he says truthfully, and for a moment, he thinks Dean looks hurt.

“Uh, right. Yeah.” Dean swallows, hesitates. “Yeah. Anyway, so — gettin’ a letter like that — you must’ve been a little out of your mind with worry, even if you knew she was alright. It was a close thing. If someone sent me that kind of news about Sam or y— about someone in my family, I’d be — yeah.”

Cas supposes that’s a reasonable explanation for his ire, though Anna’s near-miss was conspicuously absent from his thoughts last night.

Of course, by then he was already furious with Dean, so that no doubt accounts for it.

“It’s alright,” he says, and he thinks it is. He still feels uncomfortable when he thinks about yesterday, but the apology goes a long way toward soothing his anger.

“It’s not. Obviously, I didn’t know what had happened when you came up to the room, but — I shouldn’t have let my temper get to me, later. I get why you wanted to talk to me about it right away.”

Cas shrugs.

“It’s okay, Dean.” He hesitates. “I am supposed to knock.”

Dean smirks a little.

“Yeah, you are. Bet you learned your lesson.”

Cas sighs.

“Indeed.”

“Just be glad you didn’t get an eyeful,” Dean retorts, and Cas frowns.

“An eyeful of what?”

Dean arches a brow, gesturing along the expanse of his body.

It takes Cas a moment, and then he colors, glancing away.

“Oh.”

Dean laughs, swiping at his head to muss his hair.

“Yeah, ‘oh.’ C’mon, man, you must be starving.”

Cas mutely follows him into breakfast, still thinking about the ‘eyeful’ he didn’t get and struggling to understand why.

 

 

 

Dean is in a fucking foul mood.

He shouldn’t be; he and Cas made up without a two-month-long awkward silence, and he even sent a letter out to Anna formally offering the girl asylum at the castle. The arrow-shooting tale leads him to believe she might want in on some knight-training, at least as a reserve, and as soon as he gets word of her identity, he’ll send the castle guards to personally arrest everybody involved in that bullshit.

Anyway, he should be feeling pretty good; hell, he got laid yesterday, a thing that’s been happening way less since he came back last year than before he left in the first place.

And yet. And yet.

I love Sam very much.

Dean’s pretty sure Cas doesn’t mean that in the way he used to be worried about. Sure, it still weirds him out that Cas is comfortable taking a bath in the same room as Sam, but Sam informed him that Cas bathes in a whole fucking room of people in the barracks — people like Meg — and there wasn’t a lot Dean could say to that. Sure, he got a wet washcloth to the face that one time, but he figures Cas must have just been worried about Dean seeing his scar.

Still — there’s that peripheral worry. Last time they were in Bobby’s office and Dean had it confirmed that no, Sam wasn’t putting the moves on Cas, they were both a little younger. Hell, Cas didn’t even actually know what sex was.

But a lot changes in a year, at that age, and feelings could develop, for either of them, at any time.

And fine, if Dean’s being honest — his feelings are hurt. Cas apparently only loves Sam, and that — it feels kind of shitty. Logically, it makes sense; Dean went away for eighteen months, Dean is older and more boring, probably, Dean’s kind of a nag, shit, he doesn’t even know what else.

But — even if he just loved Sam more, that would be fine, but he made it sound like he didn’t give a fuck about Dean at all, period. And that seems a bit — it’s not that Cas owes him anything, but come on, they spend half of every day together, it feels like, and he answered every damn letter Cas sent him while he was away, and — and well, Dean considers Cas his family. Cas occupies this weird sort of not-quite-Sam-shaped space in his heart, so it’s kind of lowering to think that Dean’s just — some random guy to Cas.

Whatever, though, right? However fond of him Dean might be, all the kid needs from Dean is training and the occasional answer to questions and whatever amount of general protection Dean provides by being his husband.

All shit that doesn’t mean anything to kids.

Still, Dean’s in a sour mood for the rest of the week, and he’s ashamed to say that he kind of takes it out on Cas.

He laughs a little too unkindly when Cas doesn’t understand a reference he or Sam makes, and he declines to let them come hang out in his room, even though in some ways that kind of screws Dean, too, because he likes the company. He ‘accidentally’ eats the last honeycake at breakfast one morning, and he’s half afraid Cas is going to attack him with his fork when he realizes.

And in training — well. Dean would never hurt him, not even close, but he’s a little less gentle than usual.

“Your left is wide open,” Dean chides him, not bothering to keeps his weight off Cas like he usually does.

Cas grunts, twisting a little, and if Dean feels a little bad at taking advantage of his size/strength advantage, he quickly shoves it aside. This is training. Cas should know how uncomfortable it is to have someone much bigger and heavier pinning you down, or else he might not try hard enough to avoid it.

“It is not,” he wheezes, trying to get his hands between them to push Dean off.

Dean’s a dick though, so he just kind of settles in and waits while Cas figures it out.

Eventually, Cas makes a frustrated noise and gives up, collapsing back. Dean props up on one elbow, smirking down at him, and Cas narrows his eyes.

“You’re a lot heavier than usual,” he mutters. “I think you’ve been eating too many honeycakes.”

Dean’s so surprised he relaxes, leaving Cas room to flip him off and scramble to his feet, sword back in hand as he glowers at Dean, panting.

Dean shrugs and jumps up, not discreetly patting his middle at all.

“Okay, then. Again.”

They go like that, and if Cas ends up on the ground a lot more than usual, well — clearly Dean was going too easy on him, before.

It’s when they’re heading in for dinner, no time for Dean to take a bath or Cas to read with Sam because Dean insisted they stay out, that Cas takes a breath and stops him with a hand on his sleeve.

“Dean,” he starts, and Dean quirks a brow at him.

“What’s up?”

‘I was — I was wondering.” Cas clears his throat. “Are you angry at me?”

Dean hesitates.

“No. Why?”

“You seem . . . tense. Sam thought so, too,” he adds quickly, and Dean shrugs.

“Nothing for you to worry about.”

Cas frowns.

“If you’re upset, even if it’s not with me, then of course I’d worry.”

“I don’t see why,” Dean says, because he can’t help himself, and Cas tilts his head.

“Why wouldn’t I? You’re . . .” Cas pauses, frowning. “Well, you’re my husband.”

“So?”

Cas looks a little upset.

“You’re my friend.”

“Worry about your real friends, like Sam,” he counters, before he can stop himself, and Cas looks taken aback.

“Dean, what — you’re my real friend, as well!”

Dean closes his eyes, taking a breath and feeling insanely dumb. What is it about hanging out with teenagers that makes you behave like one?

He knows he’s being childish, but hey, he’s already here, so he might as well, right?

“But it’s not the same, is it?” he says, catching Cas’s eye. “You love Sam, like you love your sister.”

Dean waits, a small part of him hoping last week was an accidental omission, but Cas freezes, falling behind. Dean can tell by the look on his face that he knows exactly what Dean is referring to, and he doesn’t have a good answer for it.

Well, that’s nothing Dean didn’t already know, is it?

He softens a little at the obvious distress on Cas’s face, patting his head.

“It’s fine, Cas. I’m just sayin’ — don’t sweat it, okay? It’s got nothin’ to do with you.”

And then he heads in for dinner without waiting for a response.

 

 

 

Cas is — confused.

That much, he knows. But he also feels a little bit devastated, and he’s not sure why.

Dean didn’t say anything Cas didn’t already know. As close as Cas feels to Dean sometimes, especially as the year has passed, it’s still not the same as it is with Sam, or Anna.

And yet, hearing Dean suggest there was something — something less — hurt Cas’s feelings as much as it appears to have hurt Dean’s.

But he doesn’t even know what to say to fix it, because the fact remains that he doesn’t love Dean. He’s been expecting it to happen, that last little puzzle piece slotting into place so that when he looks between Sam and Dean while they’re at dinner or sitting by the tree or out walking, there’s no difference.

But it doesn’t happen. He’s so fond of Dean — terribly so — and he craves his company regardless of how much of it he’s already had. Dean was nearly called away again, a couple months ago, forcing Cas to consider life in the castle without him, and the thought was unbearable.

In spite of that, though — it doesn’t amount to love, not the way it should, and even if Cas tells Dean how very important he is to him, even he recognizes it’s a cheap substitute.

Cas is slow to enter the Hall, to take his seat beside Dean. He’s still thinking about it, and it makes him feel sick. Returning to that baseline assertion that he doesn’t love Dean feels wrong, somehow, even if he knows it’s true, and he picks at his dinner, watching Dean out of the corner of his eye.

Dean hardly says a word, and the moment his plate is clean, he excuses himself to his room.

Cas turns to Sam once he’s gone, baleful.

“Dean’s angry at me,” he informs him, and Sam sighs.

“Yeah? You guys talked?”

Cas nods.

“It’s because I don’t love him.”

Sam blinks.

“Um — you don’t?”

Cas hesitates.

“I don’t think so.”

“Huh.”

Cas frowns at him.

“You disagree?”

“I mean, that’s not really for me to say, but I guess I thought you did.”

He takes a moment to digest this.

“Why did you think that?”

“You act like you do? I would have said you loved both of us. I mean, I know you have family back in Eden, but you’re our family now, too.”

Cas swallows.

“I love you,” he offers, and Sam smiles.

“Yeah. Me, too, Cas. But you really don’t think you love Dean?”

He didn’t, but he feels unsure now.

“It’s — different, than it is with you. I think I almost love Dean, but — I don’t know. Not quite.”

Sam hesitates, looking deeply conflicted.

“I get that. Maybe you’re right. But — you know there’s different kinds of love, right?”

“No? Don’t you either love someone or you don’t?”

“Well, yeah, but you can love them in different ways.”

“What do you mean?”

Sam considers this.

“Well, for example, I love both Dean and my Dad, right? But I don’t love my Dad like I love Dean. They’re both family, but Dean’s also one of my best friends, and I look up to him, and I actually enjoy having dinner with him.”

Cas smiles a little at that.

“And then there’s you. You’re my family and one of my best friends, so it’s a lot like Dean, although you feel more like a peer. I don’t depend on you the same way I depend on Dean.”

“Okay.”

“And then I love all my friends, and I guess they’re kind of like family? But not in the same way as you and Dean are. But Bobby and Ellen feel like family, and I also love them for helping take care of and train me while I was growing up.”

“Right.”

“So — I love all of you, but in different ways, depending on the person, you know?”

“Oh. That — makes sense.” Cas studies his plate. “So maybe I do love Dean, but — in a different way than I love you and Anna?”

Sam hesitates.

“Probably?”

“How can I tell, then?”

“Um. Well, what if one of us had to go away for another eighteen months, and you could choose who it had to be? Who would you send away?”

Cas gapes at him.

“Neither one of you!”

“But you have to,” he presses. “Who would you miss more?”

Cas shakes his head, disturbed. He eats with both of them, and he loves the time he spends reading with Sam, but he also loves training with Dean, even apart from any skill benefit he gets from it, and he’s very fond of the nights he spends in the castle with him, whether Sam is there or not.

“I couldn’t choose,” he finally says, shaking his head. “I’m sorry.”

Sam nods.

“Don’t you think that means you probably love Dean as much as me, then?”

Cas blinks.

That’s . . . a very good point. If Cas loved Sam more, and Dean not at all, the choice would be obvious.

But it isn’t.

“So I do love Dean,” he marvels, and Sam’s lips quirk.

“I thought so.”

“But what kind of love is that?”

Sam hesitates, then shrugs.

“Does it matter what kind, so long as it’s there?”

No. Cas likes to know what’s going on, so he’s a little curious, but he can’t really say it matters.

Mostly, he feels unexpectedly elated to know, with a certainty, that he does love Dean.

“No, I suppose not,” he agrees, and smiles at Sam. “You’re full of wisdom today.”

Sam huffs a laugh.

“I’ve actually, um, been thinking about this question, so . . . I’m glad I could help.”

“You did. Thank you.” Cas gets to his feet. “I should go tell Dean, though. It’s very uncomfortable to fight with him.”

Sam grins.

Tell me about it.”

“I will, when I get back,” Cas promises, and hurries off to see Dean, disregarding Sam’s quiet laugh behind him.

 

 

 

Dean has just climbed out of the tub when there’s a knock on his door.

He wraps the towel around his waist and plods over to yank it open.

He’s not sure what he’s expecting — the laundry with more towels, an amorous visitor, Sam here to yell at him for upsetting Cas, like this is his fault — but he’s really not expecting Cas himself, eyes bright and eager when Dean opens the door.

His little smile slips a bit when he sees Dean, though Dean’s not sure who the hell else he would have expected.

“Oh — you’re — I can come back —”

Dean rolls his eyes, gesturing Cas inside.

“This is not one of the ‘come back later’ times, Cas, you’re fine.”

“Oh — alright.”

Cas shuffles in, and Dean shuts the door behind him, leaning against it to study him.

“What’s up, Cas? If this is about what we talked about before dinner, I told you, it’s fine.”

And it totally is. Really.

Cas hesitates.

“I love you,” he says in a rush, and then gets a not-at-all-adorable blush going. “I wanted to tell you that.”

Dean squashes down the happy little bubble that tries to start expanding within, because this is clearly a load of bullshit. Dean read Cas loud and clear last week, not to mention two hours ago, and this right here? This is just Cas trying to get out of the doghouse.

“No, you don’t,” he says tiredly, pushing off the door and walking toward the wardrobe for clothes. “It’s fine.”

Cas grabs his wrist, tugging him back, and peers up at him with earnest blue eyes.

“I do. I just — I didn’t know — Sam told me you can love people in different ways. Like how he loves King John differently than he loves you, but he still loves you both.”

“If you’re about to tell me you love me like Sam loves our Dad, that is not better.”

“No, I don’t think so.” Cas frowns, then shakes his head. “I’m not really sure how it is, but Sam said it didn’t matter. And it doesn’t. I always enjoy our talks, our time together. I like seeing you every day. I’d never want to not see you every day.”

Cas’s grip on his wrist tightens, and he steps closer, face serious.

“I definitely love you, Dean. Very much.”

Dean swallows.

Oh. That’s — Cas seems pretty sure of that.

Dean looks back at him, searching for insincerity, any sign that Cas is just saying what he thinks Dean wants to hear, but there’s nothing.

Cas believes that, Dean thinks. And he almost — he kind of looks happy about it.

Dean doesn’t want to get caught grinning, so he covers by pulling Cas into a hug.

“Well, me too,” he mumbles, hiding the smile in Cas’s hair.

Cas is weirdly tense for a long moment before his arms slip around Dean and he buries his face in Dean’s neck with a deep sigh.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“For what?”

“I — don’t think I would have liked it if you hadn’t said it back. You must have been hurt.”

Dean hesitates. On the one hand, he’s already insisted that wasn’t the case, but there’s a lot of sappy communication happening here, and he thinks it’s probably a good thing, so . . .

“A little,” he admits. “You’re, uh — pretty important to me now, Cas. Kinda sucked thinking you didn’t care.”

Cas clutches him a little tighter.

“I’m sorry,” he says again, cheek soft and warm where it rests on Dean’s skin. Dean’s suddenly conscious of the fact that it’s — well, it’s kind of weird to hug this long, isn’t it? If it were Sam and they were hugging after this long, Dean would be morally obligated to lick his face or give him a wedgie or rub his armpit on him.

Although Dean just had a bath, so rubbing his armpit on Cas would probably not phase him. Cas hates being uncomfortable, so a wedgie seems particularly cruel, and licking his face just seems . . . weird.

And then it hits Dean.

He gives an exaggerated sniff.

“Huh. I think somebody could use a bath,” he lies, although Cas smells fine. Better than fine, if he’s being honest. There’s something soft and sweet, like when you open the windows in the spring, maybe after it rains, and then there’s something nice and tart, like an apple except not apples, and — and actually, Dean’s just shy of scenting his hair right now, so maybe he'd better stop. As weird and interesting as scent development can be — Sam’s getting more wintery by the day, a fact which amuses Dean to no end — Cas will probably get super uncomfortable if Dean effectively has him in a headlock while he huffs away at his head.

Cas freezes, then shoves back, gratifyingly indignant, and all is right with the world once again.

“I’m going back to the barracks,” he announces haughtily.

“Yeah? I hope you’re gonna take a bath when you get there.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing for you to worry about,” Cas snaps back and marches to the door.

He pauses when he gets there, and turns around with a small smile that quickly turns to a wide, gummy grin.

“Good night, Dean,” he says, and Dean can’t help but grin back.

“Night, Cas.”

Dean sleeps better than he has all week.

 

 

 

Fortunately, things return to normal, but Cas can’t help but think about his conversation with Sam, about different types of love and the lingering question of what kind he has for Dean.

He would have thought it should be the same as Sam and Anna, and yet it’s not. Of course, Sam distinguishes between Cas and Dean, though they’re both brothers to him, because he grew up with Dean, and he looks up to Dean.

Cas looks up to Dean, as well. Perhaps he loves Dean the way Sam loves Dean?

It’s frustrating, to have no way of knowing.

It’s a week into September when Cas is standing in the courtyard, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the arrow-shooting girl, when he notices something he doesn’t usually notice.

Bobby’s grumbling about the wind, adjusting his cap and side-eyeing Ellen’s long hair as it wisps about her face.

“Don’t know how you and Jo stand that,” he comments. “Couldn’t pay me to have long hair.”

“Well, nobody’s trying. Anyway, if it bugs you, you just braid it or put it in a cap.”

Bobby snorts.

“All that wouldn’t fit in a cap.”

Ellen rolls her eyes and snatches the hat right off his head, performing a fast, complicated movement with her hair until it’s tucked inside.

“In a cap big enough for your head it would,” she says, and it sounds like an argument, but Ellen is smiling and Bobby is smiling, swiping at her head while she elbows at him, and there’s a softness to their interaction that’s a little fascinating.

It’s like when Sam and Dean scuffle and wrestle, yet it also isn’t, and Cas can’t quite put his finger on the difference.

Bobby and Ellen have settled down and the guard calls out that the party is in sight by the time Cas’s thoughts have made any progress.

When Anna visited the first time and had that talk with him, the thing that stuck out most was the vague explanation of bedroom things. Now that he looks back, though, he does remember talking about Bobby and Ellen – talking about a different kind of love.

What was it she’d told him? When you marry someone even though no one is making you, you’re in love with them?

That isn’t relevant here, and Cas almost dismisses the memory. While he is very happy here, the fact remains that his marriage to Dean is entirely the product of Michael and John’s political aims, and he determined when he and Anna had that conversation that he and Dean were thus not in love, and also that they would probably be happier for it.

But the thought sticks, a little, and for the first time Cas asks himself a different question.

If no one had made him marry Dean — if he weren’t married to Dean right now — would he still want to be married to Dean?

The answer comes back as a fairly immediate yes. Cas likes being married to Dean. He likes all the privileges being Dean’s husband affords him with respect to making demands on Dean’s time and attention, and he likes the comfort of knowing it’s always going to be that way, that regardless of what happens, he will, in some way, be special to him. He particularly likes being able to point out this connection during negotiations, although if he’s being honest, he’s not technically sure what the rules are, regarding husbandly obligation.

Still, Cas is already married to Dean. That must skew results, mustn’t it? And every time they discuss the possibility of John trying to marry Sam off, Cas has a distinctly unpleasant feeling at the idea that someone might take Sam away from them, so this is more likely the petty selfishness of friendship.

But does that mean he would be just as happy being married to Sam?

Cas thinks about it. It would be nice to know Sam could never go too far away from him. He also treasures their special connection, although they’re not married and Sam is his best friend, anyway. But Sam is also rational and accommodating enough that Cas has no need to point out that connection in an effort to make him see reason.

He’s not sure what to make of that, so he decides to apply Sam’s test for whether or not Cas loved Dean.

Rather than asking himself as a yes-or-no question — who would he rather be married to?

Dean.

Cas is surprised to find himself sure of that much, at least. In fact, despite the undeniable advantages of it, he still has no desire to be married to Sam.

Whereas if someone told him he couldn’t be married to Dean anymore —

It sounds — well. Unacceptable, if he’s being honest.

He mulls this over, astounded, and just before the guard starts opening the gate, he turns to Bobby.

“Bobby,” he asks him, determined. “If you think you love two people equally, but you’d much rather be married to one of them than the other — what kind of love is that?”

Bobby gapes at him, and Cas thinks there’s an unnecessary amount of alarm in there.

“Uh.” He clears his throat. Beside him, Ellen just lifts her brows and starts edging away. “What’re you asking, now?”

“If I love two people the same amount, but I’d vastly prefer marriage with one over the other — is that a different kind of love, then?”

Bobby looks incredibly distraught.

“Aw, hell.” He rubs a hand down his face, sighing. “Yeah, boy, it is, but — but the thing is, you can’t.”

“What?”

Bobby shakes his head.

“I know you don’t – control your feelings, exactly, but try to get that outta yer head, alright?”

Cas frowns.

“What do you mean?”

“There’s some people you’re not allowed to love like that. I’m sorry. It ain’t fair — God knows you deserved a chance to make your own damn choices — but no good can come of it, alright?”

Cas swallows.

“What kind of love is it?”

Bobby gives him a sad look.

“That usually means you’re in love, son. But it ain’t a good thing, in this case. Things are what they are, and you best — give up now.” Bobby squeezes his shoulder, eyes as sympathetic as Cas has ever seen them, and Cas feels —

Disappointed. Painfully so.

He’s not sure why; Anna said he and Dean being in love with each other might make them unhappier. Even Bobby is counseling him to try and avoid the feeling, but Cas has only just now realized that he is in love with Dean. He has no idea how or why such a feeling developed, and he couldn’t even begin to know how to make it stop.

“How do I make it stop?” he asks bluntly, and Bobby shrugs.

“Lotta people wanna know that. All you can do is try. Uh — maybe don’t spend so much time together, for a bit?” he offers, and Cas recoils.

He tried not spending time with Dean last year, when he was afraid of his heat, and it was terrible. He doesn’t want to do it again.

Probably because he’s in love, he supposes. Didn’t Anna say that? Someone you want to live with and spend time with.

“That’s not fair,” he points out, a little petulant, and Bobby sighs.

“It ain’t. A lot o’ what happens to you ain’t. But you’ve got a lot o’ good things going for you, too, so — it is what it is.”

Cas crosses his arms, turning away.

“Thank you for your advice,” he says stiffly, but honestly, he’s already made up his mind not to follow it.

So what if he’s in love with Dean and he’s not supposed to be? Cas can keep a secret. He’s never told anyone about their wedding night, and even though Dean instructed the kitchens to put a limit on Cas’s weekly honeycake intake, Cas generally exceeds it. As soon as he very reasonably explained to Layla that Dean doesn’t account for all the extra training Cas has to do in the evenings, and that Cas hasn’t finished growing yet and he gets very hungry at night, she was kind enough to give him extra.

Dean still has no idea, though, because Cas is an excellent secret-keeper and an even better liar.

So regardless of what Bobby says — well, he’s going to spend as much time with Dean as Dean permits, and no one is going to stop him.

“You better hope John doesn’t find out,” he hears Ellen mutter, and Bobby groans.

“Never hear the goddamn end of it,” he grumbles, but Cas just sets his jaw and watches the gate finish opening.

John won’t find out, not unless Bobby tells him.

Cas may be in love with Dean, but no one else ever has to know.

The small arriving party filters through the gate, looking tired but well, and Cas steps forward.

“Hello,” he greets them, like Bobby and Ellen explained he was supposed to. “I am Prince Castiel of Lawrence. I welcome you on behalf of King John and the royal family.”

There are murmured greetings, heads ducking into bows, and Cas smiles.

“I’m sure you’d like something to eat and to rest, but I would be pleased to make the acquaintance of my sister’s rescuer?”

After a moment, a tall young lady steps forward, brown eyes curious beneath her hood as she eyes him.

“Prince Castiel,” she says, the ghost of a smile on her lips. “It was a pleasure to be of service to Anna. And a pleasure to meet the little brother I’ve heard so much about.”

“Not so little,” Cas objects, unable to help himself, and it’s as if the girl’s whole being relaxes, smile turning into a grin.

“Right. Of course not.” She extends a hand, in the way Lawrencians do, and Cas shakes it, still a little put out. “Well, still. Nice to meet you, Castiel. You can call me Valencia.”

Cas is extremely wary of being made fun of — it seems disproportionately entertaining to Dean — but Valencia’s eyes twinkle in such a friendly way he decides he probably shouldn’t be offended.

“Gladly. Welcome back home, Valencia.”

She tilts her head, eyes flicking to the castle behind him, and shrugs.

“We’ll see.”

She sounds a little doubtful, but that’s alright.

Valencia’s hand is warm, and the smile is still on her face, and she shot an arrow from twenty feet up a tree to stop his sister’s murder.

Cas has a very strong feeling she is now exactly where she belongs.

Chapter Text

Sam is a wreck, and it is fucking hilarious.

“So, um, do you like — sweet things?” he stammers out, and archer chick — Valencia, Dean supposes — tilts her head.

“Depends on the thing.”

“Oh, cool. Um, well, the blueberry muffins are really good.”

“Good to know. Honestly, it’s a muffin? So I probably would have tried one either way, but — good to know.”

Sam gets this super lame little smile on his face, and Dean coughs into his arm so it’s not obvious how hard he’s rolling his eyes.

To be fair, Valencia’s cute as hell. Dean would be all over that if not for the fact that a) Sam literally tripped down the hall steps on sight of her and b) he’d worry about someone thinking their asylum was dependent on such a thing.

He’ll have a talk with Sam later about that last bit, but Valencia looks as at ease as anybody who can kill you with a twitch of their bow-hand would be, so Dean’s not that worried.

Cas is bouncing a little next to him, and the moment everyone is served he clears his throat.

“Is Anna well? She didn’t lie in her letter, did she?”

Valencia blinks, fork pausing.

“I didn’t see the letter, so I can’t say about the lying — but she was very well when I left.”

Cas nods.

“There was a — Talbot woman, giving her trouble. How much trouble?”

Valencia nods slowly.

“Ah. Yes. Trouble. Bela was giving her a lot of . . . trouble.”

Cas looks dismayed, although Dean is super curious about the odd tone of voice this is said in.

“Will she be alright?”

“Probably,” Valencia assures him, smiling a little. “Nothing she would want her little brother to worry about it.”

At that, Dean chokes on his bite of stew, because he swears to God she’s suggesting —

“Oh. Well, Anna is formidable. She’s sure to come out on top.”

“At least one of the times,” Valencia murmurs, Dean gaping at her, and then pops a chunk of potato in her mouth. “Salt. Bless you all.”

Sam gives her a curious look, and she shrugs.

“Lettrans don’t believe in seasoning their foods.”

“I thought you lived in the woods?” Cas says, and Valencia lifts her brows.

“I did. I also borrowed things from large, well-stocked country homes. Spices were not a part of that selection.”

“Huh.” Sam considers this. “You lived in the woods and you thought of stealing spices?”

Valencia scowls.

“I lived in the woods,” she repeats darkly, and Sam snorts.

“Fair,” he says, and Dean will eat Bobby’s hat if the whole damn hall can’t see what’s happening here based on that sheepish little grin of his alone.

Whatever. It’s not really a problem, and even if it were, it isn’t Dean’s problem.

Dinner’s actually a lot of fun with their new guest; Dean’s only met the guy a few times, but Valencia’s Michael impression, just barely coaxed forth after Cas insists he won’t be offended, has them all breathless with laughter. Apparently he came in person to deal with the Purgaeans who dared make an attempt on a member of the Edenish Royal Family.

The Queen of Lettra was not impressed, since he’d made an excuse not to come himself in the first place.

Sam probably spends the last ten minutes of their meal clearly working up to something, and since Dean’s pretty sure that something is to offer to show Valencia the room she’ll be staying in, he smoothly beats him to the punch.

“Well, you must be tired, Val,” he says, flashing his most charming smile. Beside him, the honeycake Cas is not at all discreetly wrapping in his napkin tumbles right out onto the table, but Dean ignores it in favor of injecting just the right amount of suggestion into his next words. “I’d be happy to escort you to your chamber.”

She studies him, eyes curious.

“Sure. Thank you,” she says eventually, and the bitch-face emanating from Sam’s seat is everything he’s ever dreamed of.

Dean cheerfully waves them off, although Cas is this close to frowning at him when they say good-night, and he makes a mental note to see what’s up with that in the morning. For now, he just catches Valencia’s eye, letting his hand hover at her elbow, and when she nods, he links their arms and starts leading her to the stairs, glee in the very core of his soul.

Look, being a big brother is complicated.

“It’s very nice of you to show me to my chamber,” she remarks casually, and he gives her a sidelong glance.

“Well, it’s a big castle. Easy to get lost.”

“Mhm. And for whose benefit did you offer that, again?”

Dean lets out a startled laugh, though he supposes he was pretty obvious.

“Sorry,” he says, and he means it. “I hope you won’t be offended if I say it wasn’t yours.”

She gives him a strange look.

“No? It never crossed my mind that it was.”

Which is kind of weird, because then who else besides Sam—

“How old is your brother, by the way?”

Dean raises a brow.

“Someone has a good poker face,” he remarks. “Nineteen last May.”

She hums.

“Good to know.”

He smirks.

“Is it?”

Valencia just shrugs.

“Unlike a muffin, you can’t try it either way, so yup. Good to know.”

Dean beams at her.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m kind of glad you were forced to hide in the Lettran woods.”

She blinks.

“Thanks? I think? Although I’m pretty sure no matter what you mean, all the ways are wrong, but okay. Thanks.”

He moves his hand to her shoulder, giving it a friendly squeeze as they arrive at her door.

“Ring the bell if you need anything else.” He pauses. “Also, if you fuck with my brother, I will exile you to Eden, and you’ll have to wear a stupid hat all the time like all the other betas. Cool?”

She rolls her eyes, but they’re doing a cool, twinkly thing when they settle back on him.

“I will keep that in mind,” she says, very solemn. “Do you have an example hat for me to inspect? I think it’s only fair I understand my options.”

Dean squints at her.

“Good night, Valencia.”

She just smiles.

“Good night, Dean.”

Dean walks to his own chamber, pretty pleased.

He’s not always a big fan of change — wouldn’t hesitate to relegate her somewhere else, if he thought it’d be a problem — but all in all, he has a pretty good feeling about this one.

 

 

 

Two weeks after Valencia’s arrival, Anna comes to see Cas for his birthday, as promised.

His sister looks as well as he’s ever seen her, satisfying any lingering anxiety over the incident, and he’s surprised to see her greet him with a wonderful, warm hug before turning to Valencia and doing the same.

Even more surprising is how Valencia and Anna are in one another’s company. Cas loves his sister dearly and is fast becoming attached to Valencia, but he wouldn’t describe either of them as easy people; there is a reservation and quietness to them, despite the noteworthy strength of their personalities, and Cas is not expecting to see them fall into relaxed, affectionate banter, conversing with a casual comfort Cas has rarely ever seen with Anna.

Cas points this out to Sam one day, pleased by it (though he’s more sorry than ever that Anna must go back to Eden), but for some reason, Sam seems much less enthused.

Perhaps it’s because Sam doesn’t know Anna as well.

In any case, Cas enjoys both the visit and his birthday immensely. It’s so different than last year, when Anna couldn’t come and Dean was still away and Valencia wasn’t here at all; his rank performs a demonstration on the weekend, and after Cas has won his matches, he’s concerned to see Anna with her face buried in her handkerchief.

But then Dean touches her shoulder, and when she looks up, she’s grinning, saying something to him, and all is right with the world.

“You were incredible,” she tells him later, when they’re having tea and honeycakes in her room. “I just — I miss you so much, when I’m in Eden, but when I see what you’re achieving here, I — I’m so proud of you. And I’m so happy you came here.”

Cas beams back, soaking up the praise.

“Me, too. I wish you could be here all the time.”

Anna shakes her head.

“I doubt I could get away with it, but it’s a nice thought. It’s nice here.” She glances around the room, thoughtful. “You're happy, still, aren’t you?”

Cas nods.

“Very.”

“Dean is treating you well?”

He fights a sudden urge to blush.

“Very,” he repeats. “He trains me every day.”

“Devoted,” she comments, eyeing him with an unreadable expression.

And then, because it seems relevant —

“Just me.” He clears his throat. “It’s not — he doesn’t have to. But he does.”

“I see.”

Cas is tempted to tell her he’s in love with Dean, but he remembers what she said about unhappiness, and he doesn’t want to worry her.

“Although — did you know he ordered the kitchens to put a limit on what I could eat?”

Anna frowns.

“As hard as you train, that seems unfair.”

Cas nods vigorously.

“Dean has few faults, but this need to exert his will in these ways must be his worst.”

Anna still looks unhappy.

“You’re getting enough to eat, though, right?”

Cas blinks.

“Oh. It’s not — it isn’t all food,” he explains reluctantly. “Just — I have a particular fondness for honeycakes, but for some reason he wants to torture me, so he told them I was only allowed a cert — why are you laughing?”

Anna neither stops laughing or explains, and Cas feels somewhat abused for it being his birthday.

Eventually, she settles down, smiling.

“And Val? She said she’s happy to be here, but I’m not sure I trust her to be honest.”

Cas hopes she’s happy to be here.

“I think so. She is . . . often amused, and amusing. That’s a good sign, isn’t it?”

Anna narrows her eyes, considering.

“For most people. But not all.” She looks at Cas. “Keep an eye on her for me, will you?”

“Of course.”

Valencia is his friend now, after all.

Sadly, Anna departs at the end of September, giving everyone hugs and promising to write as soon as she’s returned, and Cas is sure he’s imagining Sam’s improved mood once she’s gone.

Speaking of Sam, though —

Cas is observing the strangest phenomenon.

Now that Valencia is here, Sam’s behavior is nothing short of erratic. The first few days, Cas is mildly concerned Sam has developed some disorder of the brain, because he often struggles to speak, or his sentences don’t quite make sense, and he has bouts of terrible clumsiness.

He suspects a circulatory issue, as well; Sam could be sunburnt, for all the time his face is red, and Cas notes a sudden lack of rhythm to his breathing at times.

But his condition improves, then disappears aside from the occasional relapse, so Cas mostly doesn’t worry. Though whenever it does flare up, he wonders if he should talk to Ellen about it.

A trouble that does linger is the fact that Dean insists on escorting Valencia to her chamber whenever Sam and Cas have to return to the barracks.

Sam is an extremely poor companion on their walks back on those nights, and it’s a relief when he starts pushing to spend more nights with the four of them hanging out in Dean’s room.

Which — as much as that’s preferable to Sam’s sullen silence, interspersed with incomplete questions of the “Do you think — ugh, never mind,” form, there’s something . . . uncomfortable about it.

Cas likes Valencia, a lot. She’s been placed in a much lower rank than he, despite her significant archery abilities, but she comes to sit with him during breaks on the training field and eats lunch with him and Sam, and Cas is greatly enjoying this new addition to his life.

And yet.

He likes her a little less when they hang out in Dean’s room, or at dinner, when she and Dean engage in a playfully ridiculous back and forth Cas often doesn’t even understand. It’s as if they have a different conversation than their words would suggest, and in addition to driving Cas to extreme frustration, he can tell it upsets Sam, and he can’t help but think it’s un-brotherly of Dean to disregard him thus.

And on top of all that, Dean talks to Valencia differently. Dean gets this horrible smile, and he talks to her like Meg sometimes talks to Cas, with this — this — weird voice, a voice that’s amused and smooth and deep and makes the hair on Cas’s neck stand up and his stomach feel strange and — and —

And the point is, it makes Sam unhappy, for whatever reason, so it’s only reasonable that it should stop, isn’t it? Sam is Cas’s dearest friend, and he refuses to tolerate any harassment of him, intentional or otherwise.

With this just cause in mind, he determines to get Dean alone and address it.

But that’s much easier said than done.

Now that Valencia is here, Cas is effectively never alone with Dean, and he hates it. Sam, in a characteristic act of generosity, offered to help Valencia catch up in other combat areas, and Dean invited them to come to the courtyard in the evenings where he can supervise everyone.

Not only that, but where Sam used to go back to the barracks without Cas, and Cas would just spend time with Dean until he fell asleep there, Sam now always stays if Cas is, and it usually ends up being the four of them, although Valencia sometimes declines to read under the tree or spend time in Dean’s room. Cas isn’t sure where she goes or what she does, but he suspects she’s sometimes a little overwhelmed by all the company.

Still, Cas never has time alone with Dean, and he only has marginally more time alone with Sam, and he’s deeply frustrated that he cannot arrange his time with all of these people exactly to his preferences.

In any case, it is a lot of fun, most of the time — Cas loves Sam, of course, and Valencia is both a very amusing and strangely reassuring presence — but sometimes . . .

Sometimes, Cas just wants one day, just once in a while, where there’s no one else but him and Dean.

Perhaps that’s what being in love means.

Regardless, in the end, it’s Sam that helps him.

They’ve reached the barracks after dinner, ready to say good night, when Sam squeezes his hand before he heads toward his rank’s building.

He leaves a rolled piece of paper behind, and once Cas is safely tucked in bed, he reads it.

 

Tree by the kitchen gardens, after everyone’s asleep.

 

Curious, Cas tucks it under his pillow and waits a while, until he’s fairly certain his barrack-mates have all drifted off, and then he creeps out of bed and out the door.

If Sam wants to meet him, he’s not about to disappoint, although he’s not sure what they can do at this hour. It’s too dark to read, like they usually do, and they do need to sleep, but they can discuss it when Cas arrives.

To Cas’s surprise, there’s something underneath the tree when he arrives, a soft little glow coming from inside.

Sam’s head pops out of the front flaps as he approaches, and he grins.

“Hey, man. Come in. Don’t knock the candle over.”

Cas crouches, crawling inside where it’s much warmer, the ground soft where it’s covered by throws.

“Is this a tent?” he asks, delighted. He’s never been in a tent before.

“Yeah. Dean and I used to ‘camp’ around the castle. It’s fun.”

Cas has only been in here for a few seconds, but he already agrees.

“Why are we ‘camping’?” he asks, although he’s not about to complain. There’s a stack of books in the corner, and it looks like Sam has brought two pillows, extra blankets folded neatly beside them.

This is a sleepover, and Cas is ecstatic.

Sam shrugs.

“I don’t know? I thought it seemed pretty warm tonight, and it just — sounded nice. I’m, um, really glad Valencia is here, but I feel like I don’t get to spend as much time with just you or Dean anymore.”

Cas is both touched and relieved that Sam has these feelings, as well.

“I’ve been missing you, as well, Sam. This is a wonderful idea.”

Sam smiles, settling back in the nest-like floor of the tent.

“I brought honeycakes?” he says, and Cas lights up.

“Do you know Valencia thinks muffins are better?” Cas remarks, reminded of this absurdity as he eagerly accepts the first cake.

Sam looks intrigued.

“Yeah? She likes muffins?”

“It’s unreasonable,” Cas complains through a crumbly bite of cake. It’s a little rude, but Sam won’t mind. He probably won’t even get upset if Cas gets crumbs on the blanket, like Dean does.

“I mean — muffins are pretty good, Cas.”

“But there’s no honey in them.”

“You could put honey in them? Like — a honey muffin?”

Cas frowns.

“Isn’t that just a honey cake?”

Sam shrugs.

“Maybe? I don’t know. I’ve never made either one.” He pauses nibbling at his own cake, suddenly thoughtful. “Maybe I could make some muffins?”

“Valencia would like that,” Cas points out, and for some reason Sam looks startled. “She’ll probably help you. She was disappointed when she caught me on my way to the kitchen and I told her we didn’t have to sneak.”

“I’m sure Layla would let us bake muffins,” Sam protests, and then looks calculating. “But you think she’d want to help?”

“Probably. I could help, too,” he offers, although — “But if you want to spend time with just Valencia, I understand.”

There’s a sharp intake of breath.

“Um. Why, um, why do you think I want to do that?”

Cas squints.

“You don’t get to eat lunch with her and hang out together on the field like I do.” Sam has moved up in rank, and he trains on the other side of the castle, now. “I’m not sure why, but spending time with everyone all at once is different.”

Sam’s cheeks are a little red, but he looks relieved.

“Right. Yeah, that’s — that’s why.” He clears his throat. “You must miss Dean, too, then.”

Cas pauses, suddenly embarrassed for some reason.

“Yes,” he admits, and Sam shoots him a sympathetic look.

And then he lights up, a shy smugness to his expression before it quickly smoothes out.

“Hey, maybe Val and I could take some walks or, I don’t know, hang out sometimes. So you can have time with Dean,” he adds, like that wasn’t obvious, and Cas feels a rush of gratitude.

Sam is so clever, and selfless. Cas is lucky to have a best friend like him.

“If you don’t mind.”

Sam shrugs, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Oh, um, it’s no problem. Anything for you, Cas,” he mumbles, and Cas can’t help himself. He crawls over, wrapping his arms around Sam and squeezing him like he’s seen Dean do.

Sam wheezes, then laughs, hugging Cas back.

“Actually, maybe you don’t need to spend more time with Dean.”

Cas pinches him, then sits back, examining the stack of books.

“I disagree,” he says with a smile. “But what did you bring me to read?”

 

 

 

Morning dawns bright and early, and Cas misses it entirely.

It’s not his fault; Donna supplied Sam with a new series, one that already had three books, freshly imported from Lettra, and the intricate tale of the underwater kingdom was too fascinating to put down. Sam sheepishly admitted to having already read the first one, and the pair of them were up until God knows when reading.

Unfortunately, this means that they sleep right through dawn, and part of breakfast, and are only awoken by the surprised squeak of one of the boys who works in the kitchen.

Cas startles awake with a grunt, blinking blearily at the abominably bright light streaming in through the crack in the flap. There’s already the sound of retreating footsteps, and Cas is incredibly vexed that someone had the nerve to disrupt his sleep when they apparently had no reason.

Sam shifts next to him, a chilly draft snaking in through the space left behind, and Cas just squirms after him, irrationally disapproving. Sam was keeping him warm, for heaven’s sake, and it’s just rude to roll away like that.

He’s just starting to drift away again, cheek nice and warm against the back of Sam’s tunic, when the flaps are abruptly thrown open.

Sam!” Layla hisses, and Cas squints at her unhappily as Sam jerks upright, blinking tiredly at the light.

“Mm-wha?” he mumbles, and Layla sighs.

“You need to wake up and go to breakfast. I’ll have Inias take care of the tent for you, since the boy’s already gone and run his mouth off, but — anyway. What were you two thinking?”

Sam gives her a baleful look, clearly still trying to catch up.

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Neither one of you were in the barracks or at breakfast, which might have been fine, but Inias just went and told everyone you were canoodling in a tent.” She gives him a pained look. “I think your father is going to want to talk to you.”

“Shit,” Sam mutters, putting his face in his hands. “I thought I’d wake up in time.”

Layla just shakes her head, Cas looking confusedly between them.

“We’re fine,” he points out. “It’s not like the time outside the gate.”

Layla softens.

“I know, sweetheart. This is a little different, though.”

“What do you mean?”

She just shakes her head, catching Sam’s eye.

“I did what I could to tell the kitchen staff to keep quiet, but—”

Sam sighs.

“Yeah, no, I know. Thanks, Layla. Sorry about this.”

“I’m more sorry for you, Sam. Go get something to eat, alright? You’ll need your energy.”

Cas is deeply disturbed by that, but then Layla’s gone and Sam is hastening him out of the tent.

“I don’t think you’ll get in trouble. It was my fault, anyway.”

Cas gives him an alarmed look.

“But — we didn’t do anything wrong.”

Sam hesitates.

“Well, um. You left the barracks in the middle of the night.”

Cas frowns.

“But I was with you.”

Sam winces.

“Yeah, you were, weren’t you?” He sighs, running a hand through his hair. “Come on, let’s go to breakfast.”

There’s a great deal of whispering by the time they enter the Hall, and Cas is more than a little disturbed by the fuss.

What’s more disturbing, though, is the fact that Dean isn’t present.

Cas has no idea what to make of that, and in searching out someone he might ask, he discovers Bobby is missing, too.

He’s wondering about both of these things, considering how late he and Sam are to breakfast, when John’s manservant appears just as he and Sam are getting settled in and informs Sam that his father wishes to speak with him.

Sam gulps, exchanging a glance with Cas.

“Right. I’ll, um. I’ll be back in a bit, or — or I’ll see you later, Cas.”

Sam hurries after the man, and the whole affair leaves Cas feeling too anxious to eat; after a moment, he simply decides to follow them.

It quickly becomes clear where their destination is. The doors to the council room are only open a crack, but yelling can be heard from within, and Cas is so shaken he nearly reveals himself as Sam and the manservant approach the door.

A hand tugs him down, behind an ornate plant stand, and Valencia presses a finger to her lips, brown eyes serious.

“How the hell did you let this happen?” John is shouting. “It’s not a difficult thing, and I told you years ago to fix this before it was a problem, yet look where we are!”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bobby shouts right back. “They were kids, still are, and you can’t just tell ‘em not to be friends with each o—”

“Oh, don’t start with that friendship bullshit again! They’re not kids, Bobby; they never were! They’re princes, and there’s rules they had better follow, and one of those rules is not fucking their brothers-in-law!”

Valencia’s brows fly up, and she gapes at Cas a little, a question in her eyes.

He just frowns. If she thinks he has any idea what’s going on, she’s about to be very disappointed.

“Oh, shut the hell up, you overreacting dimwit. They are kids, damn it, and in love with each other or not, I’d bet your whole damn kingdom they’re not doin’ that. It’s a harmless sleepover, you ass—”

Harmless? You think it’s harmless that my entire goddamn castle thinks my heir, the fucking Hero of Lawrence, not only can’t keep the interest of his own husband, but he can’t even keep him in line, either? The hell kind of king do you think that’ll make him?”

Cas stares at the door, at where Sam has gone rigid and even the manservant looks like he’d rather be anywhere but there, and he’s more confused than ever.

“Oh, for God’s sake, you damn fool—”

“And what do you have to say for yourself?” John thunders, cutting off, and Sam flinches, peering through the crack. “This is your fault, too, Dean.”

Cas listens in bewildered dismay. How is it Dean’s fault? What is it?

“All due respect, sir, but I think there’s been a misunderstanding—” Dean starts, and then there’s a loud thump.

I don’t fucking care!” John bellows. “The point, is that you’ve made fools of the both of us, and the Edenish brat looks like a cheap tramp, to boot.”

“Hey, don’t—”

You don’t talk back to me. You think this helps the people’s good will toward Eden? You think anyone will respect you when they doubt you know whether your own goddamn children are even yours? When your own brother—”

Sam suddenly throws open the door and rushes into the room.

Enough!” he shouts. “Dad, stop it. It’s not — it isn’t Bobby’s fault and it’s not Dean’s fault and it sure as hell isn’t what you think it is!”

Valencia suddenly turns to Cas, looking very thoughtful.

“Cas,” she whispers. “Did you and Sam do something in a tent last night?”

Cas purses his lips, deeply upset, especially since the manservant has followed Sam in and shut the door completely.

“We had a sleepover,” he admits. “And we stayed up too late reading. But this seems — what is the king even talking about—”

Valencia cuts him off, shaking her head.

“I think this might be above our paygrade, my friend.” She loops her arm around his and tugs him upward, giving one last solemn, contemplative look to the doors. “Let’s go to breakfast.”

Cas would much rather stay put and try and figure out what’s happening, but Valencia’s grip on his arm is firm and he can’t quite make out all the words anymore, so reluctantly, he follows her back down.

He doesn’t have much of an appetite.

 

 

 

“What the fuck were you thinking?” Dean hisses, the minute Dad is done ranting (and slamming his fist down on the council table to punctuate every stupid-ass thing he has to say about the whole issue) and they’re excused.

Because as much as Dean does think it was all a stupid load of bullshit, it doesn’t change the fact that John actually has a good excuse for getting this angry.

Sam just sets his jaw, stubborn as ever, and god damn does Dean miss being young enough to think you’re impervious to consequences.

“Cas is my best friend,” he says, and Dean’s no more impressed by it now than he was twenty minutes ago when Sam was pointlessly trying to make their Dad see reason. “If I want to spend time with him—”

“There’s spending time with him and then there’s spending the night together snuggling in a damn tent!” he snaps, furious. Even before John started in on him, Dean was fucking pissed. Sitting down to breakfast, wondering where the hell your little brother and husband are, because everyone you ask is telling you they weren’t in their beds that morning, only to find you shouldn’t have bothered worrying because they were spooning in a goddamn tent is a fucking shit way to start your day.

“We weren’t — I mean, fine, maybe we were snuggling a little, but it wasn’t — we’re not like that. You know that, Dean!”

Do I?” he counters, although it’s a dick move. Sam’s not that good an actor, and he’s been tripping all over himself since Valencia got here.

Still, though. Being nineteen is weird. There’s no law that says he can’t, you know — explore more than one option.

“Are you ser—” Sam throws up his hands. “Yes. Yes, you know that.”

“Okay, fine, great. But — come on, Sam! You had to know how that would have looked!”

Sam just looks down, cheeks red.

“I — I didn’t think, Dean. You and I used to do that, and I don’t get to spend time with just Cas anymore, and it seemed like a good idea.”

“Yeah, well, I’m your brother.”

“So is Cas!”

“He’s not your real brother. He’s an unrelated and unmated omega, so when you spend a cozy night in a tent with him? It’s not brotherly bonding time, it’s a fucking romantic rendezvous, and you should have known better.

“I’m sorry! What do you want from me?”

“I want you to go back in time and not fuck this up for all of us! Never mind me, do you know what people are going to be saying about Cas? Come on, Sam, you know the rules!”

Sam deflates, and Dean almost wants to feel sorry for him, but —

“How do I fix this?”

Which — yeah, Dean’s been trying to figure that out all morning.

“No fucking clue.”

They’re silent for a moment, and Bobby coughs.

“Well, we better figure somethin’ out. John was talkin’ about you trying to produce an heir ASAP, and I had to point out how bad it would look if that happened too soon after this tent incident.”

Dean and Sam both shudder.

“Jesus, what a mess.”

“Yeah.”

Sam crosses his arms, sighing.

“This sucks. I shouldn’t have to fix this. Everyone knows Cas and I aren’t like that. I should be able to hang out with him whenever I want.”

And Dean can’t argue that — although if he’s being honest, he’s kind of wondering why he wasn’t invited to the sleepover — but Bobby’s got this weird look on his face and what the hell is up with that?

“Bobby?”

Bobby hesitates.

“Listen, Sam,” he starts. “I don’t know that it’s — well. As farfetched as ya might think.”

“Um, what is?” Sam asks, and he looks as confused as Dean feels.

Bobby clears his throat.

‘I know you just wanna spend time with a friend, not to mention you’re a perfect idjit around that new girl, but these things ain’t always a two-way street.”

“What?” Sam says.

“What?” Dean echoes.

Bobby just sighs.

“I’ve got reason to believe maybe Cas is — y’know. Harborin’ some feelings. And I’m sure he’ll grow out of ‘em,” he adds hastily. “But maybe John’s right. You oughta be more careful.”

They both just stare at him, because — really?

Has Dean been so busy yanking Sam’s chain about the whole Valencia thing he actually managed to miss something like that?

“Uh. I don’t think—” he starts, Sam still in shocked silence beside him, and Bobby holds up a hand.

“Sorry, Dean,” he says bluntly. “He as good as told me he’d rather be married to Sam.”

Dean shoots right past ‘surprised’ and ‘disturbed’ and straight into —

Fuck, he doesn’t know what, but he sort of feels like he just got shoved into a snowbank. One that a herd of wild horses is about to go running over.

Even though horses don't run as well in snow like that; he guesses they could be magical horses, like Cas sometimes reads about.

When he’s with Sam.

Who he’d rather be married to.

Bobby snaps his fingers in front of his face.

“Dean,” he barks.

“Are you — did he really —”

“There’s no way,” Sam interjects, and thank you. Dean would ask why on earth Cas would rather be married to Sam, but since he can actually think of a lot of reasons, he’d prefer not to.

Still — even if he can think of some very good reasons — he doesn’t not try to be a good husband to Cas. Maybe he could be trying harder, but — but honestly, when he’s with Cas, he just kind of — they’re together, right? And it’s nice.

Or Dean thought it was nice, but maybe Cas is just counting the seconds until Sam comes back.

And as much as that fucking stings, Dean — he’s being unreasonable, isn’t he? Cas’s puppy-love for Sam is a whole different ballgame, namely because Sam is close to Cas’s age and he’s sensitive or some bullshit and he sets up romantic tent dates, but — but —

Dean has no clue. He just thinks, you know, even if it didn’t occur to him to think of it before, that if Cas was going to fall in puppy-love with somebody around here . . .

Well, it wouldn’t be Sam.

That’s all.

“I think you must have misunderstood,” Sam says slowly, and Dean nods fervently, hopeful.

Bobby shakes his head.

“I know it’s uncomfortable for you, Sam, but it is what it is, and you best keep it in mind.” He sighs. “I should’ve talked to you about it sooner. Mighta avoided this whole mess.”

Sam just goes very quiet, unhappy and contemplative, and honestly, Dean kind of does the same.

So Cas is in love with Sam. Enough that he wishes he weren’t married to Dean.

Well, too bad for him, but he can’t have Sam. He can’t have anybody, really, not until he and Dean have kids, and as bad as Dean feels about that, there’s nothing he can do.

On the other hand . . . maybe there is.

Dean abruptly stands up and heads for the kitchens.

 

 

 

When lunchtime rolls around, Cas is immensely relieved to see Sam come striding onto the field.

“Come sit, Sam,” he calls, and Sam flashes a strained smile, glancing around the courtyard before coming to a stop a few feet away.

“Hey, guys. I just have a minute, Garth is distracting Bobby for me, but—”

“Why the distraction?” Valencia interrupts, openly curious.

Sam clears his throat.

“I’m — I’m not supposed to talk to Cas for a little while?”

Cas draws back, shocked.

“What? But — and how long is a ‘little while?’”

Sam hesitates.

“I don’t know.”

Valencia hums, inspecting him thoughtfully.

“You know what? Why don’t you sit down, Sam?”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea — mostly I wanted to tell Cas to meet me la—”

“I really think you should sit down,” she says firmly. “It’s a good idea. I am full of good ideas right now.”

Sam opens his mouth, then shuts it, and then finally, plunks down next to Valencia.

She smiles at him.

“Here goes nothing,” she says, and to Cas’s surprise, leans over and kisses him full on the mouth before pulling back and offering him a carrot.

Sam is perfectly still, eyes wide and face rapidly turning red, and after a moment, he swallows.

“Um. Um, so is this like — I mean — do I get the stick later, then?”

Valencia snorts, the rest of the field buzzing with whispers, and rests her forehead against his shoulder.

“I have no idea, Sam. I guess we’ll see.”

Cas nibbles at his sandwich, watching them with great interest, and for some reason, he can’t quite hold back a smile.

Around them, the whispers grow.

 

 

 

They’re walking to dinner, having ended up with plenty of time to sneak off to the library and read (apparently the tree isn’t a good place right now, for some reason) because Dean is busy with something or other, when Sam speaks.

“Hey, Cas — can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“Are you in love with me?”

Cas gives Sam a strange look.

“No?” Has he given Sam a reason to think he is? He’s only just figured out that he’s in love with Dean, but the concept is still something of a puzzle to him, so he supposes he would have no idea if he had.

He does like to spend a good portion of his day with Sam, and he certainly wouldn’t mind living with him. Perhaps he gave him the wrong impression.

On the other hand, Sam seemed very pleased about Valencia kissing him.

But Anna did say you could want to do things like that with people you didn’t love, and —

And Cas stops short, because dinner can wait.

He’d forgotten that part of the conversation entirely, and now that he thinks of it —

Does Cas want to do those things with Dean?

His first instinct is no, because he’s already thought about this and determined he doesn’t, which would suggest he might not be in love with Dean.

But the assertion feels not-quite-right in his head, and Sam is giving him a funny look, and for some reason, pursuing the thought makes him nervous, so he shakes his head.

“No, I’m not in love with you, though I do love you very much.”

Sam nods, looking pleased, and almost a little smug.

“Yeah. That’s what I thought.”

“I might be in love with Dean, though,” Cas adds, wondering if Sam might have any input on this, and Sam’s mouth falls open, head snapping around to stare at Cas.

But then a small smile and the smug look return.

“Actually, I was pretty sure about that, too,” he says, and Cas is startled to find himself pleased by the news.

Anna said being in love would probably make him unhappier, and yet Cas doesn’t really like the idea of not being in love with Dean, after all.

It doesn’t make any sense.

“How did you know?” he asks, curious, and Sam shrugs.

“I don’t know. Sometimes you can just — tell.”

Cas frowns, looking down at his palms, wondering what things he’s doing, things he doesn’t even realize, that tell Sam this.

“Does Dean know?”

Sam snorts.

“Nah. He has way too many blind spots.”

Cas feels a little relieved.

It should be fine, for Dean to know that, but the idea makes Cas’s face feel warm and his head light.

After all, Dean loves Cas, but he no doubt would have said if he was in love with him. This is something Cas can just — keep to himself, and maybe the unhappiness won’t get them if he’s the only who feels this way.

That sounds nice.

“Don’t tell him,” Cas says seriously, and Sam nods.

“I won’t. Honestly, I don’t know if he’s ready to hear that.”

“Ready? What do you mean?”

He shrugs.

“Dean . . . he — he’d never want to do the wrong thing, you know? And right now, this’ll probably feel like the wrong thing.”

Cas considers this for a long moment, and decides he must be right.

Dean is probably afraid of being unhappy, too, and because he’s a good person — because he’s so good to Cas — he probably doesn’t want Cas to be unhappy either.

“I understand,” he tells Sam, nodding. “It’ll just be a secret.”

“Are you okay with that?”

Cas tilts his head.

“Why wouldn’t I be? I don’t think it makes a difference, does it?”

“I mean — I guess not? If it doesn’t make a difference to you?”

Cas shrugs.

“It’s not new, Sam. I admit that I don’t know any— that is, as much about these things, so I wasn’t able to figure it out, but this explains some things I was confused by. I’m satisfied.”

Sam nods slowly, smiling a little.

“Okay. Cool.” They’ve reached the steps to the hall, and he hurries up them, pushing the door open. “Let’s see if Valencia’s plan worked, then.”

Cas is, to be honest, still a little unclear on what her plan was, or even why everyone was quite so upset this morning, but he’s hopeful nonetheless.

Curiously, Valencia slides her hand over Sam’s when he sits down, squeezing it before she starts to serve herself. Cas continues to have questions about this, as well as the kiss from earlier. Is this the recreational kind of kissing? Or are Sam and Valencia in love now?

And — if Cas is in love with Dean, should he be kissing him?

On the one hand, he thinks Anna said ‘not always’ in either direction, but he can’t quite remember, and since the fact remains that at no point has it occurred to Cas to kiss anyone, that must mean he probably doesn’t want to —

“Cas?”

Cas blinks, turning automatically, and there’s Dean’s green eyes, looking at him with a great deal of concern.

Unbidden, Cas’s gaze flicks down to his mouth, wondering.

Would he — could he — what would it even —

“Uh, Cas?”

Cas swallows.

“Yes?”

“Are you okay?”

Cas can feel his face warming. He feels — well, embarrassed.

Why?

“Yes. Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Uh. Uh, well, because —” Dean frowns, then sighs. “Never mind. We can talk about it later.”

Dean picks up Cas’s plate and starts scooping various things onto it, although he seems preoccupied, staring hard at the other side of the table where Sam and Valencia are conversing quietly, the slight frown still on his face.

Cas doesn’t like Dean frowning. Like most people, Dean is best when he’s smiling, although if Cas is being perfectly honest, Dean smiling is better than anyone smiling.

He fights the strange urge to touch his fingers to that frown, to gently push the corners back to rights.

“Thank you,” he says, and Dean softens a little when he turns back to Cas.

“Sure. And, uh. I got a — a surprise for you. When you’re finished with that.”

Cas perks up. A surprise? He’s mostly not averse to surprises, and since Dean doesn’t play a fraction as many pranks on Cas as he does on Sam, this is probably a good one.

Cas’s birthday is past and Christmas is still far away; what could he have done to be earning surprises?

He eats a little too quickly, eager to find out, and when he has a few bites left, Dean excuses himself.

Only to come back a few minutes later with — a pie?

Cas nearly rolls his eyes. Of course Dean’s idea of a random surprise would involve something he enjoys.

Still — Cas rather likes pies, too, so he’s not about to complain. He’s not sure it qualifies as a surprise, though. There’s a few pies already on the table, after all.

“So, uh,” Dean starts, setting this one down in front of Cas’s plate. “I was thinkin’, you know, you like honeycakes so much, right? But maybe you should — I dunno. Branch out from them. I mean, I know they’re your favorite, but — but they’re actually the only, uh, honey thing you’ve tried, so maybe — and it’s okay if you hate this, it’s not a big deal, but you could — you could try it? Maybe you’ll like it just as much — or — or better, even.”

Cas blinks, staring at the pie and wondering what he’s missed.

He’s not the only one, Charlie and Jo’s conversation halting next to him.

“Jealous,” Charlie murmurs lightly, although Cas is sure she’ll be welcome to have some.

Still, he’s very confused.

“What?” he asks.

Dean clears his throat.

“Right. This, uh. This is a honey apple streusel pie. With extra honey. I went to see Layla today and — anyway, it’s not an established recipe, so it might suck, but here’s what we came up with, so . . . yeah.”

Cas stares at it.

A — a honey pie?

“I want to try it,” he says, glancing back at Dean meaningfully, and Dean sort of smiles before stepping forward to cut into it, depositing the piece on Cas’s plate and sitting back down, watching.

It smells divine. The combination of honey and pie crust is mouthwatering, and Cas fervently hopes it tastes just as good.

He makes sure to get a bite with crust, apple, and plenty of browned streusel topping, then brings the fork to his mouth.

“Oh,” he mumbles, though it’s rude to talk with your mouth full, because —

It’s incredible.

He can taste the honey around the apples, in the crust, clumping with the streusel, sticky and sweet and offset by the butter and brown sugar and tart fruit.

“Is that — is it good?”

Cas is pretty sure he is in love with Dean, but he may be in love with this pie, instead, because he’d like to have it with him always.

“Yes. Yes, it’s — it’s so good, Dean,” he says, forcing himself to look away from the pie. Dean looks delighted.

“Yeah?”

“Aren’t you going to have some?”

“I dunno, if it’s anything like the honeycakes, you’ll be trying to smuggle the whole damn thing back to y—ow.

Cas pointedly takes another bite while Dean rubs his arm. It serves him right; Cas knows for a fact that Dean keeps snacks around, too.

After a moment, Dean serves himself a slice — the rest of the table declines, exchanging almost amused looks with each other, even though Cas tries to convince Charlie it’s alright — and the pair of them eat in silence.

Cas has two more slices, because Dean strongly indicated the pie was for him and it would be very . . . unhusbandly, probably, to apply restrictions to a gift.

“So, um, I think I’ll walk Val back to her room tonight,” Sam says, as everyone has begun saying good-night and trekking back to their rooms/barracks. Cas pauses on the second to last bite of pie.

“Doesn’t Dean usually do that?” Although Cas is weirdly pleased that he won’t be, this time. “Oh — are we staying in the castle, tonight?”

“Nah, I didn’t get enough sleep last night. I’ll head back to the barracks after, if you want to wait for me?”

“Alright.” Hopefully it won’t take very long. Cas is a little tired, too.

Once Sam and Valencia have wandered off, Dean turns to him. He doesn’t say anything though, just sort of studies Cas, traces of concern back in his face.

“Are you going to sleep, now?” Cas asks, though he’s curious about Dean’s expression.

Dean doesn’t answer him, just looks at him a little longer. Cas looks back, waiting.

“Hey — why don’t you sleep in the castle tonight?”

Cas draws in a breath. It’s been forever since Cas stayed in the castle when Sam wasn’t, and since Valencia has already gone to her room, she’s unlikely to be there either.

“Okay.” Tired or not, Cas will stay up if it means he gets to spend some time with Dean.

Dean finally smiles.

“Yeah, okay. I’ll go send for some baths, if you wanna let Sam know.”

Which —

Cas blinks.

“Oh. Didn’t — didn’t you — already?”

Cas has never bathed with just Dean before, but there’s not really a good reason to refuse, not when he shares the room with Sam, or both of them, nowadays.

“Nah, I was workin’ on the pie.”

“Oh. It. Uh. It was wonderful.”

“I thought so, too,” Dean says, looking a little smug, and Cas tries his best to look disapproving, although he’s suddenly wondering if he can talk Sam into staying, after all.

But then Sam will probably stay all the way until bedtime, and though he’ll go to his room when it’s time to sleep, Cas doesn’t want to be unconscious for the entire time he has Dean to himself.

“Anyway,” Dean continues. “I’ll see you in a bit, okay?”

“Okay,” Cas agrees, desperately trying to subdue his pounding heart, and Dean squeezes his shoulder before heading off.

Cas is still sitting there, staring at nothing, when Sam returns.

“Ready?” he asks, and Cas slowly shakes his head.

“Actually, I’m — I’m going to spend some time with Dean, tonight.”

Sam looks a little curious, but he shrugs, smiling.

“Awesome. Have fun. I’ll see you at breakfast?”

Cas hesitates.

“I — he’s ordering baths,” he manages, distressed, and Sam’s smile slips a little.

“Yeah?”

“I don’t know why, but it’s — it’s different. Than with you.”

Sam huffs, faintly amused.

“Yeah, that makes sense. Um — you could ask to just — bathe separately?”

“Won’t he think that’s strange?” Cas thinks that’s strange. He has no idea why it should be different, but it definitely is.

“Maybe, but if you’re uncomfortable—”

“I—I’m sure I’ll be fine. I don’t even know why I’m uncomfortable,” he complains, and Sam snorts.

“Yeah, that — it kind of goes with the territory. When you like someone like that — or, well, if you’re in love with them — pretty much everything can be uncomfortable,” he mutters.

Well, as long as it’s normal, Cas supposes, although — he’d hate for everything to be uncomfortable.

“Do you want me to stay?” Sam offers, and Cas hesitates.

“No. No, it should be okay.”

Sam nods, studying him, and must be satisfied with whatever he sees.

“Well, then — night, Cas. I’ll see you. If Dean embarrasses himself, tell me about it at breakfast.”

“How would he—”

Sam winks, and scoots off toward the door, leaving Cas to make the walk back to Dean’s room alone.

The baths will probably already be there, he thinks, and the back of his neck feels hot even though he’s nowhere near the water. Sam took a rather long time to walk Valencia to her door. They must have talked a little.

Perhaps they talked about the kissing.

Cas tries not to think about kissing Dean. He doesn’t want to, after all. Thinking about it just invites unnecessary trouble, since it’s neither a thing he wants or a thing that would be happening for any reason.

Still, Cas keeps catching his thoughts drifting to Dean’s mouth as he makes his way up the stairs. How it looks in a frown, like earlier, how much he loves it in a smile. How it catches between his teeth sometimes, when he’s thinking, or how he wets it when it’s dry, tongue sweeping across the soft-looking skin.

He wonders what it looks like in a kiss, and the thought feels somehow dangerous, so Cas shoves it away and hurries down the hall to his room.

Dean isn’t in the bedroom, which means that Cas must have taken too long, that Dean must have already started his bath, and now Cas will have to either undress in front of him or walk past him to get to the tub and oh, God, none of this should be a problem at all and why is it?

Annoyed in addition to being embarrassed, Cas ruthlessly strips off his clothes and stalks into the bathroom. It’s an effort not to hunch over in an attempt to cover himself, but he stands straight and plunks into the water with a defiant splash.

And then he steals a glance at Dean, who snorts and opens his eyes, because apparently they’ve been shut, because apparently he wasn’t paying any attention at all.

Cas feels extremely foolish.

“It’s not a swimming hole, man; don’t hurt yourself.”

Cas huffs.

“Obviously I can’t swim in it.”

“Sounds like you tried to dive in it.”

“Shut up, Dean,” Cas mutters, aggressively lathering the washcloth.

There’s a long silence.

“Sorry,” Dean says quietly, and Cas pauses, unable to stop himself from looking over again.

This time, though, Dean is staring at him, brow furrowed, and Cas compulsively sinks into the water.

“About what?” he tries not to squeak, which shouldn’t be difficult, given that Dean comments every other week about how deep his voice has gotten, and yet

“Uh. Teasing you? This — it’s probably not a good night for that,” he says, finally glancing down and rubbing his neck. “You, uh. You probably had a — a long day.”

Cas sighs. It has been very dramatic.

“Well, it’s over now. And . . . I did have a very delicious pie.”

Dean meets his eyes again, searching, and then smiles.

“It was pretty good pie.”

“Yes.”

“A genius idea.”

Cas narrows his eyes.

“I’ve said on numerous occasions that honey improves the taste of almost any sweet. I think that makes me the genius.”

“Yeah, whatever. You still didn’t think of putting it in pie.

“Shut up, Dean,” Cas says again, and looks away so he won’t be tempted to smile back.

And then Dean has the nerve to flick water at him, and Cas has no choice but to look back, appalled.

Dean grins.

“Make me.”

How dare he.

Cas dunks his washcloth in the water and throws it at Dean.

“Hey!” Dean yelps, dodging, and the washcloth lands on the other side of the tub with a wet slap. “Not cool, buddy. I hope you’re planning on cleaning that up.”

“You started it,” Cas sniffs.

Dean hums.

“Ah, but now you have no washcloth.”

Which — is a good point.

Cas glances around forlornly, but the bath had already been set up for him, so the washcloths are in a little cabinet beneath the counter.

Dean has the nerve to start laughing.

“Dude, your face — it’s a washcloth, not a plate of honeycakes.”

“But how am I supposed to wash?”

“Uh, get another one?”

“But then I’ll have to—” walk past you, he nearly says, but bites it back, sure he’s turning red. “It’s — I’ll be cold.”

There’s a long pause, and then Dean sighs.

“Damn brat,” he mutters, and then — and then —

And then Dean stands up.

Which would be fine except people bathe naked and Dean is naked, as in not wearing any clothes, and Cas is — Cas’s whole brain is just —

Cas shuts his eyes and sinks into the water as far as he’ll go, trying to block the image out and baffling fixated on it at the same time.

But why? Of course people are naked at bath time; whenever Cas bathes at the barracks, there’s plenty of other people around, and it’s fine. Cas doesn’t look or have any desire to look and if he chances to see something, it’s just a body.

Is this like how he and his barrack-mates can train shirtless in the summer, and Cas doesn’t notice, but when Dean does it in the courtyard, he can’t help but — be aware?

There’s a rustling sound, and then Cas hears wet footsteps approaching, and then there’s just the barest hint of warmth emanating at his side.

Don’t look, he tells himself, keeping his eyes shut.

“Cas?” Dean asks, and oh — that — Dean must be right next to him.

“Yes?”

Something soft gets set on his head, and Cas makes the mistake of cracking an eye open.

To his relief, there is now one corner of a washcloth obscuring Dean from view.

“Brought you a new one,” Dean says, voice strangely soft, despite his teasing a moment ago.

“Th-thank you,” Cas stammers out, but he doesn’t hear Dean move to leave.

Finally, he can’t help himself. He reaches up, brushing the cloth aside, and finds Dean’s arms folded across the edge of the tub, Dean watching him.

Rowena lectured him on combustion, once.

Cas wonders if it’s about to happen to him.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Dean asks, and Cas wonders what’s showing on his face that would prompt this sudden, gentle worry.

“Yes.”

Dean nods slowly.

“Aren’t you cold?” Cas asks, a little desperate, and Dean shrugs.

“Yeah.” He lingers a moment longer. “You, uh. You did good today.”

Cas frowns.

“We didn’t train.”

“Yeah, no, I know, but — I just. I know it must’ve been rough. But, uh. You were a real good friend to Sam, okay? And I think you should, you know. Feel . . . good about that.”

Personally, Cas thinks he’s a good friend to Sam every day, but he supposes it’s nice of Dean to say so.

Still, that’s not why he does it.

“Sam’s a very good friend to me.”

Dean looks weirdly pained.

“Sure. That, uh. That doesn’t — make it easier, though.” He swallows, and then reaches out, brushing back the damp ends of Cas’s hair. “But — it does get easier, alright?”

Cas’s skin feels far hotter than the tub water should account for.

He has no idea what Dean is talking about, but Dean is close and unclothed and Cas is thinking about his great-uncle who died in the bath from a heart attack and marveling that he never thought to ask who caused it.

“Okay,” he manages, just barely, and finally, Dean nods.

Cas shuts his eyes again the moment Dean stands, and only when he hears the sound of Dean resettling does he open them.

He doesn’t say a word for the rest of the bath.

 

 

 

Cas is being very quiet, and Dean’s worried about it.

Maybe he shouldn’t have said anything. He’d had Cas almost laughing, for a second there, but Cas had seemed a little gruff and cranky, and Dean knew this thing with Sam and Valencia must be weighing on him.

Honestly, he’s a little pissed at Sam. Bobby told him, this very morning, how Cas felt, and then Dean gets to dinner and finds the hall full of whispers about Sam and Valencia’s training field kiss hello, and he kind of wanted to throttle him.

And sure, he gets it, gets going public with whatever he and Valencia apparently have going on, because Dean was also privy to a lot of unsubtle conversations in which people were suddenly very sure that Cas wouldn’t do that to Prince Dean, and that even if he would, he and Sam aren’t anything like that and this makes so much more sense —

But still. Even if it kind of saves their asses, especially since Cas is putting on such a brave face about it, it still means that Cas’s heart is probably breaking right now.

And if Sam were as good a friend as Cas seems to think he is, he — he’d do something about that.

Of course, even Dean acknowledges that there’s nothing Sam can do. This was doomed from the start, however it went, and no matter how bad Sam feels, Cas’ll have to move on one way or the other.

Still. Cas looked vaguely panicked earlier, when Dean finally brought it up, and now he’s quiet and subdued. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why. Soldier’s stoicism or not, Cas is hurting, and he’s gotta let it out somehow.

Dean dries Cas’s hair for him, like he always does, although Cas flinches a little at the first touch of the towel. He’s clearly on edge, and Dean aches for him. When he was a little younger than Cas, this girl, Cassie, visited as part of a group of scholars from the northern kingdom, and Dean fell head over heels for her. Two weeks later, she had to go, and although Dean offered to send her letters, she told him there wasn’t really a future for them.

She was right, of course, and they were both kids, but at the time, Dean had been devastated.

And given how attached Cas is to Sam — this isn’t a sudden, random crush on someone new and exciting — it must be even worse.

Cas has relaxed a little by the time Dean is finished, unable to stop himself from setting the towel aside and carding his fingers through Cas’s damp, fluffy hair.

Sue him. Cas has been rejected; he could use a little affection right now.

And Dean must be right, because after a moment of tensing, Cas just kind of exhales and lets his head loll against Dean’s hand.

Part of Dean says this is kind of weird, petting Cas’s hair and running his fingers along his scalp like this, but most of Dean is pretty sure that if Anna were here right now, she’d totally be doing something like this for him, too, so it’s fine.

Besides, it’s kind of soothing for Dean, too, and when Cas’s eyes have shut and Dean’s are drooping, too, he draws his hands away, touching Cas’s shoulder.

“C’mon. Bed,” he instructs, and Cas blinks at him a few times before slowly turning himself, scooting back to his side of the bed and crawling under the covers.

He takes up a lot more space than he used to, that’s for sure.

Dean puts out the candles and slips in next to him.

“Oh,” Cas mumbles. “I thought we’d spend some time together before we went to sleep.”

Dean pauses, wishing he could see Cas’s face.

“Yeah?” He tries to keep his tone light, but open. “Did you have something you wanted to talk about?”

There’s a pause.

“No. But — we don’t, lately. Spend time together, I mean.”

Dean could point out that he practically has a party in here a few times a week, but the thing is, he knows what Cas means.

It’s kind of nice, that Cas noticed, too. Dean figured he was probably just excited to spend time with so many friends, and especially in light of maybe viewing his marriage to Dean as an impediment to finding happiness with Sam, Dean just assumed . . .

On the other hand, he and Cas are friends, too, aren’t they? And Cas could probably have used someone to talk to about this messy business with Sam.

And as weird as that might have been for Dean, he still owed it to Cas to be there for him.

Guilt gnaws at him, and he acts on instinct, reaching out and tugging Cas toward him.

“Oh — uh — what —” Cas starts, and Dean shifts, wrapping around him a little. “W—what are you doing?”

“Giving you a hug,” Dean mutters.

There’s a long silence.

“Why?” Cas whispers, and Dean sighs. Always with the questions, this one.

“’Cause you deserve one. And — listen, I know things are gonna be hard for a while, but I meant what I said earlier. It’ll get easier. And — and I’m here, okay?”

Not that that probably makes Cas feel any better, but look, it’s all Dean’s got right now.

Cas is silent for so long Dean almost wonders if he fell asleep, but the tense weight in his arms suggests otherwise.

“Thank you,” he finally says, and after another pause, shifts, turning around so his face is sort of buried in Dean’s chest, hands loosely fisting in his sleep shirt. “I’m glad you’re here, Dean.”

Oh. Like — this isn’t about Dean, but you know. That’s nice.

Anyway, Dean’s glad he can be here, if it helps.

He gives Cas a squeeze.

“Yeah. Night, Cas.”

Cas sighs, finally relaxing.

“Good night, Dean.”

And sure, Cas might be in love with Sam and there might be a long, painful recovery from that –— but Dean is here, and he’s going to do whatever he can to help.

 

 

 

Dean is being incredibly nice to Cas, and as much as Cas is enjoying that — far more than he probably should — he has no idea why.

And Dean is always nice to Cas — Cas is sure there’s never been a better husband, even if Dean can be a little overbearing sometimes — but this is excessive.

Dean has started coming to walk Cas to breakfast every single morning. Several times a week, at dinner, the kitchens will have put out some new honey-flavored dessert, which Dean eagerly presents him with the moment he’s done eating. While he’s always been happy to listen to Cas talk about books, or allow him access to his personal shelves, he’s now taken to bringing Cas things to read, and hovering around him in the library when Cas visits on weekends.

As for training — Dean has always made it clear when Cas is doing well, but now it’s as though he’s being especially careful to tell Cas, with specific words. And after training, he’ll frequently put his arm around Cas and tell him how great he did.

Cas feels vaguely superhuman when this happens.

And because Sam, true to his word, often spends separate time with Valencia, Cas now has plenty of time alone with Dean.

Most alarming — and if Cas is being honest, pleasant — Dean is — well, he’s touching Cas a lot. He’s always ruffled Cas’s hair or squeezed his shoulder on occasion, just like he does to Sam, but it feels like it’s happening twice as often. And then there are hugs. It’s not like Dean has never hugged him, of course, and it’s sure to happen on holidays, but on a regular basis, he doesn’t even hug Sam.

But Dean hugs Cas at least once a week, now. The first time Sam and Valencia decline to join them in Dean’s room, opting to take an evening walk Cas would have accompanied them on if not for the fact that Dean clearly wouldn’t be, Dean toweled off Cas’s hair after his bath and then gave him a frankly wonderful hug, asking how he was doing.

Cas is pretty sure Dean has always cared whether or not Cas was doing well, but he’s asking a lot more often, lately.

As a result of all these things, Cas is doing extremely well, but Dean always looks doubtful when he says as much.

Which somewhat puts a damper on Cas’s enjoyment of his good fortune, because it’s rapidly becoming clear that Dean —

Dean seems to think there’s something wrong with Cas.

“Am I sick?” Cas asks Ellen, when he and his barrack-mates go for their annual checkups.

Ellen pauses, where she’s noting his five feet and eight inches in her ledger.

“Doesn’t look like it. Why, you feelin’ bad?”

Cas hesitates.

“No, I don’t think so. I just — Dean’s been very nice to me, lately.”

Ellen considers him, standing up and coming to sniff the air around him.

“Uh-huh. Think you might be gearin’ up for another heat, soon,” she remarks, and Cas freezes. “Alphas and Betas’ll be nicer to you the few days leading up, usually. It’s an instinct thing. Omegas, too, sometimes.”

Cas would explain to her that Dean’s been excessively considerate of him for more than a month now, but he’s too preoccupied with his apparently impending heat to remember.

He sniffs himself anxiously.

“How can you tell?”

“Other people probably can, too, but at this point, it’ll be more sub-conscious. As a doctor, I’ve been trained to specifically look out for that kinda stuff, though.”

Cas’s heart sinks. He’s not sure what he expected, but it’s now been over a year since that last, terrible heat, and though logically he knew he would have another one eventually . . .

Some part of him thought that was a good sign.

Ellen pats him on the head.

“This is a good thing, actually. Your heats’ll probably stabilize, soon. The more volatility while they get there, the less warning you get, so the fact that I can scent it now — that you seem to be workin’ up to it — that’s promising.”

Cas swallows.

“Does this mean it won’t be as bad?”

Ellen gives him a sympathetic look.

“Probably be worse, hon.”

“How can it be worse?” he whispers, and she sighs.

“Nature’s a bitch like that. Your heats settling mean your body’s gettin’ to where it’s goin’, so to speak. You’re reachin’ maturity, from a physical standpoint. But you’ll be okay,” she adds, catching his eye. “Like I told you last time. It’s all normal. You’re gonna be just fine. You’re gonna take a break from training for a day or two, read some books, eat as many honeycakes as you want, and as soon as things have settled a little, you can get back out to the field during the lulls, and before you know, it’ll be over. Alright?”

No. No, it is not alright, but by this point, he knows there’s nothing he can do.

“Alright.”

“Okay. Come see me when you start feelin’ like you have a fever, alright? And send the next kid in.”

Cas nods, hopping off the examination table and departing, stomach like lead.

Still, he tries to tell himself, nodding Alfie in — maybe Ellen doesn’t realize how awful it was, last time.

Maybe this time will be better.

 

 

 

It’s not better at all.

Cas starts feeling off about halfway through the next training day, and Bobby sends him to the infirmary the first time he stumbles, although he was careful not to say a word.

It just gets worse from there.

By dinner-time, Cas is a miserable heap underneath the blanket, the not-just-morning-situation has been a plague upon his body and soul for about four hours, and a part of him honestly thinks it might be better to just wander outside the castle gates into the nearest lake.

Even if he drowned, at least he wouldn’t be so damned hot.

Of course, once Ellen has made him eat, despite the food-smell turning his stomach, the chills set in.

By nine o’clock, Cas is only assuming he read the clock correctly, and he’s more sure than ever that Ellen was wrong, this is not normal, and he will probably be dead by tomorrow.

“Thank you for always being kind to me,” Cas tells her when she checks in at ten.

She gives him a weird look.

“’Course. Puttin’ aside the fact that I’m the damn doctor — you’re easy to be kind to, hon.”

Cas nods, a little soothed by the sentiment.

“Will you bring me some stationery? I — I think I had best write my sister,” he explains mournfully, and she frowns at him.

And then she snorts.

“Oh, honey. You’re not dyin’. I’ll bring you pen and paper, if you want, but trust me — you’re okay.” She doesn’t say it like she’s mocking him, and she pats his hand at the end, so Cas supposes she’s telling the truth.

“Very well.”

“I brought somethin’ to help you sleep,” she says, and then pointedly glances at the little cloth bag on the nightstand. “And — you do whatever it is that makes you most comfortable, but I just wanna remind you — there’s no shame in helpin’ yourself. Everybody does it, and it don’t mean anything except that you suffer less, which is only a good thing. Alright?”

But something in Ellen’s lecture sticks, for Cas.

Ain’t no shame in helpin’ yourself.

And he remembers what Jo told him, last time.

“Is — will Dean come to see me, tomorrow?” he asks, before he can stop himself.

Ellen freezes, spoon of syrupy red mixture hovering over a cup of tea.

“I don’t know,” she says cautiously, resuming her mixing. “Will he?”

Cas almost says nothing, already regretting bringing it up, already regretting thinking of it at all. Cas has entertained one or two fantasies of Dean visiting him during his heat, nobly offering his aid, as Dean is wont to do, and Cas declining with a poise and aplomb he doesn’t recall experiencing last time but is sure he could muster so long as Dean kept his visit short.

In this fantasy, Dean — who Cas is given to understand does have someone help him during ruts — is so extremely impressed by Cas’s unmatched fortitude, he expresses a keen anticipation for the day Cas attains full knighthood and observes him with admiring eyes thereafter.

Right now, though, the fantasies seem unimportant. What seems important is that Cas is not sure he can endure another day of this, let alone two or three, and just the thought of Dean coming to visit him seems to make him feel better.

“Jo said he would. Last time, she said — she said next time, he’d help me. And that it would make it better.” Ellen gives him a sharp look, and Cas swallows. “You said something like that, too. That having someone — helps.”

“That girl,” Ellen mutters, and sighs. “I don’t know. It’s true, that it’s a lot better, havin’ someone help you through it. But if you didn’t talk to Dean about it . . . he probably won’t.”

Something bitter and sad blooms in his chest.

“But Dean — he’s a — an honorable knight. Wouldn’t he offer?”

Even as Cas says it, he knows it must be wrong. Dean didn’t offer last time, and the whole point behind Cas refusing help — aside from his embarrassment and discomfort — was not to place that burden on Dean.

It must be enough of a burden that Dean isn’t even willing.

“Never mind,” he says, sinking back into the pillow, skin itching. “It’s fine. I’ll be fine.”

Ellen hesitates.

“You will,” she agrees. “And remember — it’s perfectly okay to help yourself, too.”

Cas says nothing, and Ellen regards him with sad eyes as she brushes back his sweaty hair and gives him the tea.

“That should help knock you out. I’ll check on you first thing in the morning, and we’ll see how this one’s fixin’ to play out. Alright?”

“Alright.”

She bids him good night and shuts the door, and although the next half hour is more of the same unique hell he’s been experiencing all day, he soon falls into blissful unconsciousness.

Perhaps he shouldn’t have talked to Ellen, though, because when he wakes in the morning, his head is muzzy, full of wispy dream fragments.

All of which center around Dean.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. Dean has shown up in his dreams since he moved here, as has everyone else in the castle. It’s true that some of the dreams have been different, the last several months, dreams that are just about Dean, about just Dean and him, he thinks, and they’re incredibly disorienting when juxtaposed with the morning situation; but once Cas’s day has begun, they’re long forgotten, and they interfere with nothing.

Today, though; today Cas wakes up clammy and squirming and intensely preoccupied with the vague dream memory of Dean having come to see him after all, of him curling close around Cas and being the one to tell him he’s going to be alright, sort of like that one night the day John yelled at him and Sam.

Today

Today is much, much worse.

Ellen checks on him just after the sun’s up, a cool bath in tow. She strips and changes the sheets while he seeks solace in the water, and helps him into fresh pajamas once he’s started shivering, ready to get out.

He’s sweating again before fifteen minutes have passed.

“Jo’ll bring you breakfast soon. Hopefully you’ll get a break today.” She eyes the cloth bag on the nightstand briefly, then offers him an encouraging smile. “See you in a couple hours, hon.”

Jo shows up about thirty minutes later, and although the thought of eating makes him feel queasy, she seems ready to stick around and eat with him, and the company makes Cas feel better.

Still, he can’t help but ask.

“Did — did someone let Dean know? Because he usually walks with me to breakfast, now, and I wasn’t there, so he might have — worried.”

Jo looks a little embarrassed.

“Oh, yeah. He, uh, he knows.”

Cas swallows, tries to hold back the question, but last year Jo said

“Is he going to visit me?”

She looks away, tugging at a strand of blonde hair.

“Oh, um.” She smiles, a little awkward, still not looking at him. “Maybe in a few days?”

Oh.

“Alright. Tell everyone I said hello.”

She finally meets his eyes, giving his hand a squeeze.

“Of course. And hey, I bet you’ll be back up and kicking ass in no time.”

Cas feels too exhausted to so much as walk across the room, but perhaps. He appreciates the sentiment, at any rate.

“I better get to training. I’ll probably drop in later, okay?”

“Thank you, Jo.”

“No problem. We’ve all been there.”

She leaves, and Cas collapses back in his bed, trying not to think about how Dean isn’t coming to see him.

He’s going to be a knight, he tells himself.

He can do this on his own.

 

 

 

The problem with trying to make Cas feel better about the fact that Sam and Valencia spend every meal eye-fucking across the butter dish is that now Dean is used to him being around like, all the time.

So when he shows up to the barracks to walk the kid to breakfast and finds an empty bed, it’s — not an awesome start to his day.

Look, Dean’s not a huge fan of change, sue him.

“Where is he?” he snaps at the nearest person, maybe a little harsher than necessary, but in his defense, last time Cas wasn’t in bed, he was cuddling in a tent with Sam and Dean got his ass chewed out for a full hour by an angry king.

Also, the whole fucking point of his marriage was nearly in jeopardy, so — so he’s totally justified in being sensitive here.

Anyway, Sam is probably basking in his two-percent-resolved sexual tension at breakfast right now, which is good in some ways, because it means Cas isn’t with him, but also bad, because if Cas isn’t with him then where the hell is he?

They’re not at war, so probably nobody managed to sneak in and abduct him, but you never know, and—

“Uh, h-he’s in one of the — the rooms at Ellen’s,” Kevin explains, wide-eyed and inching back, and Dean realizes he’s looming, glowering down at the poor kid like the beasts of folktales.

Then his words sink in.

“What? What’s wrong with him?”

Kevin swallows.

“Heat! He’s in heat, he’s — he’s fine. Everything’s fine!”

Oh.

Dean forces himself to step back.

“Sorry,” he mutters, and Kevin shrugs.

“Nah, it’s okay. I know how it goes.”

Dean gives him a suspicious look.

“How what goes?”

Kevin just looks at him funny.

“Um, you know? Look, just because I spend a lot of time in the library doesn’t mean I don’t know things. If anything, it means I know more things,” Kevin complains, then takes a deep breath, giving Dean a bright smile. “Anyway, see you at breakfast!”

Dean frowns and watches him go.

Weird kid.

He supposes he better go, too, although he lingers by Cas’s bed for a minute, wondering if he should try and visit.

On the one hand, he’s trying to be as supportive of Cas as possible, and for all he knows, Cas’ll be pining for Sam even harder because he’s in he—

Dean freezes, abruptly disgruntled at the thought, because yeah, gross — no way in hell does he wanna think of his best friend thinking about his goddamn brother during his heat.

Annoyed, he shoves the thought aside.

The point is, he’d like to go try and cheer Cas up, but it’s only day two, and Dean doesn’t know how bad it is, and most importantly, Cas threw something at him and told him to get out last time, so . . .

Dean’s not sure he wants to do that again.

Or rather, he’s definitely sure he doesn’t want to do that again, because as soon as he tries to picture Cas yelling him out of his sick room, he feels — weirdly terrible. Kind of hot and itchy and sour in the pit of his stomach.

Yeah, he better wait.

He takes a deep breath, turning to go — and trips a little, although he quickly recovers, beating a hasty retreat toward the Hall.

It’s weird, though — since when do the barracks smell so good?

He’s definitely going to have to tease Cas about that when his heat is over; there’s clearly a high standard among the youth of Winchester Castle, and the consequences of his anti-bath sentiment are bound to catch up to him eventually.

He’s still smirking when he enters the Hall, but he’s barely sat down across from Sam before Jo is dropping into the chair next to him.

“That’s Cas’s chair,” he says automatically, and she gives him a look.

“Good morning to you, too, Dean. I’m great, thanks for asking.”

“Dude, seriously.”

Dude, seriously,” she mimics, and he narrows his eyes.

“One asshole little brother is enough for me, thanks,” he says, and she kicks him under the table.

“So, Cas’s heat hit.”

Nothing else follows, so Dean just raises his brows.

“Yeah, Kevin told me. And?”

She stares.

“And . . . what the hell are you still doing here?”

Dean blinks.

“Uh. Am I supposed to bring him breakfast or something?”

Jo makes a face.

“You’re kidding, right?”

Dean hesitates. He can kind of see her point, but in his defense . . .

“Well, it’s not like anyone warned me, or else I would have had the kitchens make something spe—”

Jo throws a napkin at his face, and Dean’s suddenly hyper-aware of Sam and Valencia watching from the other side of the table, dead silent.

Sam’s eyes flicker to Jo, and for some reason, he shakes his head.

Jo gapes at him.

“You’ve gotta be kidding, Sam.”

“Jo—” he starts, and she stands, turning back to Dean with furious eyes.

“Sometimes you’re as bad as your father,” she spits, and storms off.

“What the hell was that?” he snarls, bristling. “Jesus Christ, you’d think she hit a fucking rut.”

Sam winces.

“Dean—”

“She has the nerve to criticize me — I am doing everything I can, for fuck’s sake, not that either of you are helping, and if someone had just fucking told me Cas was going to have a heat, I could have had a damn pie or what the fuck ever sent over but I didn’t know—”

Sam’s pained look is shifting into a sort of alarmed concern.

“Dean,” he interrupts. “Are you — okay?”

Dean takes a deep breath, trying to calm down.

“Fine,” he bites out.

“Okay,” Sam says slowly. “Do you wanna sit back down, maybe?”

What? Dean’s not —

Oh.

Shit. Yeah, he’s definitely standing.

He quickly sits down, aware of the stares.

“Sorry,” he mumbles. “Sorry, I don’t — I don’t know.”

Sam scrutinizes him.

“Are you good?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m good, I just — I think I’ll — eat upstairs.”

Valencia and Sam have the nerve to exchange glances, and god damn is it annoying. He can’t even imagine how Cas must feel.

At least they’re not holding hands and making out all over the place. Probably saving it for all those long walks they take, when they have some privacy.

Of course, if they weren’t, Dean would make sure they saved it for the walks. No way in hell would he let them subject Cas to that.

The hypothetical threat to Cas just has him feeling even crankier, and the minute he’s loaded his plate, he mutters a goodbye and hurries off.

Breakfast alone makes him feel better, and by the time he gets to training, he’s in a way better mood. Training’s mostly maintenance, if he’s being honest — John’s standards mean Dean could pretty much do this in his sleep — but he feels especially sharp, today, and there’s a special thrill to be had from sparring, more than he usually gets.

And if he plays a little rougher than usual — well, it’s good training for everybody else.

“Uh. Is it just me or is Dean . . .” he hears Benny start, which is a little weird, but Dean’s currently kicking Roy’s ass, so he only listens with half an ear.

“Dude, it’s December,” Charlie points out, the significance of which mystifies Dean, and Benny shakes his head.

“Still.”

But Roy’s tired of getting thrown on the ground, and the minute he’s back up this time, he rushes Dean, leaving all thoughts of sideline conversations behind.

Roy’s still trying to catch his breath, sullenly rubbing at his sternum, by the time Dean’s next opponent is on the ground.

Dean’s mood sours a little when he realizes he doesn’t need to stick around the courtyard to work with Cas, and he wonders if maybe he should go see how Cas is doing. Clearly, Ellen’s not enforcing any special rules there (which, at the moment, kind of pisses Dean off, because now more than ever, he hates the idea of Cas rough-housing with everybody else in the middle of his damn heat) so maybe Cas is well enough to come out for a bit?

On the other hand, Dean’s still afraid of being sent away. But Cas is staying in an unfamiliar room; maybe if Dean brought his pillow from the barracks, and some extra blankets — like the super soft one Dean uses as auxiliary in the winter — Cas wouldn’t be so pissed.

Dean could bring other pillows, too. Cas just has the one, in his bed in the barracks, which doesn’t seem right. He can’t be comfortable like that; at least not as comfortable as he should be.

So, yeah. Dean should definitely get some extra pillows and blankets. Ellen probably did her best to set Cas up, but Dean doesn’t think Cas would have complained to her, if he had a problem, or asked for what he needed, and how else would Ellen know? Dean, though — Dean knows what Cas needs.

Satisfied, he starts toward the hall, a bounce to his step, only to be stopped by Sam calling out.

“Hey, Dean! You going to read with us today?”

Dean turns, frowning.

It seems a little dickish for Sam and Valencia to cozy up under the tree while Cas is away. Reading under the tree is Sam and Cas’s thing, and while Dean thinks it’s best Cas get over Sam as fast as earthly possible, this kind of thing has to hurt him.

Not for the first time, he’s kind of pissed at his little brother. Isn’t Sam supposed to be the sensitive one?

It’s a damn good thing Sam’s off-limits and not interested, besides. He’d make Cas a fucking terrible mate. He doesn’t know how to take care of him at all.

“Nah. I was gonna take Cas some stuff.”

Sam and Valencia do that annoying eye contact thing again, but Dean can’t be bothered with that right now. Cas is waiting.

Well, not waiting, but he’s probably suffering through wrong-pillow and inadequate blankets as they speak, and Dean feels an urgent, pressing need to fix that.

“What, um, what kind of stuff?” Sam asks, like it’s any of his fucking business.

“Stuff,” Dean says, narrowing his eyes.

Sam bristles.

“What kind of stuff?” he repeats, and Dean steps a little closer, hands curling into fists.

“Pillows. Blankets. Honeycakes. Stuff.

Sam relaxes a little, although Dean can still scent traces of anger in the air.

“Ellen’s discouraging most visitors.” Sam says slowly. “She wouldn’t even let Val in.”

Good, Dean thinks, although he has no idea why. Cas could probably use some company.

“I’m just dropping some things off.”

“Sure. Drop them off, then. Ellen’ll see that he gets them.”

Dean stares, disbelief polluted with a sudden rage.

“You tellin’ me Ellen won’t let me see him?”

But Sam doesn’t back down.

“Basically.”

“It’s not up to Ellen,” Dean says, and for some reason, Valencia takes a step back, regarding him warily.

His brother stays put.

“No. But it is up to Cas. And Cas put Ellen in charge of taking care of him, so if Ellen says he’s not good for visitors, then he’s not.”

Sam’s right. Dean knows Sam’s right, but the vivid memory of the book hurtling past his head and Cas screaming at him to get out rears its ugly head, and it makes the truth sting that much more.

“Fine,” he snaps, and stalks off without waiting for a response, all good feelings gone.

Dean drops off the pillows and blankets and an assortment of snacks from the kitchen before dinner, when he knows Ellen’s not going to be there, just to prove that Sam has no reason to treat him like some kind of goddamn monster every time Cas’s heat rolls around.

He doesn’t even go past the front door, just tacks a note on top of the pile for Ellen to find when she gets back from dinner, and then heads right back in the direction he came from.

Still, he thinks it’s stupid as fuck. Sam’s been too busy cavorting around the grounds with Valencia, when he knows how Cas feels, to be a proper best friend. If anything, Dean thinks he qualifies for the title just as much, lately, and given that he’s been going out of his way to make Cas feel better ever since the tent debacle forced everyone’s hand, he’s pretty sure Cas would actually feel better if Dean visited him.

But Ellen’s the doctor, and if she thinks that’s not what’s best for Cas, then so be it. The idea of acting against Cas’s best interests is actually really stressful, if he thinks about it, so whatever his own opinions, there’s no way in hell he’d risk it.

Nonetheless, he’s moody during dinner, and he restlessly paces his room before he’s finally tired enough to try going to sleep, and in the morning, it becomes painfully apparent why he had so much trouble the day before.

As it turns out, it had nothing to do with Cas at all.

Nope, Dean is going into rut.

“I don’t understand,” he complains to Ellen. “It’s December. I never go into rut in fucking December.”

“Mind your language, boy. And cycles aren’t perfect, you know that.”

“Yeah, but — but mine is,” he insists, and she arches a brow.

“Uh-huh. Funny thing is, I don’t remember you having one last summer.”

Dean opens his mouth to correct her, because he has one every February and August, like clockwork, but —

“Shit,” he breathes. “I missed my rut.”

“Yep.” There’s something strange about the way she’s watching him. “And it’s catchin’ up to you. Probably gonna be a bad one.”

Dean groans.

“Son of a bitch. Why the hell is this happening, again?”

Ellen hesitates.

“Lots of things can affect your cycle,” she says simply, and at last, the penny drops.

“Shit.”

She nods.

“Cas?”

She nods again, that careful look still on her face, and Dean slumps back against the pillows with an unhappy growl.

“God damn it. Should’ve thought of that — we’re spending practically all our time together. This is just like that time Sam and I synced up before he moved into the barracks, isn’t it?”

Ellen blinks, mouth opening slightly.

“Sorry?”

Dean grimaces.

“Remember? There was that year we both had our ruts at the same damn time, and it was awful. Stunk up the whole floor, and bickered so much we made each other cry. I mean, figuratively,” he adds, although he’s pretty sure Ellen knows that it wasn’t figurative at all.

Ellen is just staring at him.

“You . . . think you’re syncin’ with Cas — because you spend too much time together?”

“Yeah? I mean, I guess it could be a coincidence, but he sleeps in here half the week, now. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it.”

Ellen regards him with a weirdly blank look.

“Don’t feel bad,” she says finally. “I doubt anybody would think of it.”

That cheers him, slightly. It’s kind of weird that Ellen’s not being sarcastic at him — she’s a doctor, after all, so she probably would have anticipated it — but he’s not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Anyway, if he thinks about it, this isn’t the worst thing in the world.

“Well, hey. If we stay synced up, we can take the same time off from training. Kind of a good thing, if you think about it. Maybe I should make Sam move back down the hall,” he jokes, but Ellen looks remarkably unimpressed.

“Right, then. Well, there’s something in there for sleeping troubles and muscle aches. The next few days probably won’t be any kind of picnic, but you should be fine.”

He sighs.

“Yeah, alright. Thanks, Ellen.” He hesitates. “Uh — tell Cas I said hi, okay?”

“You don’t think the supplies were enough of a hello?” she counters dryly, and for whatever reason, his face heats.

It’s probably the rut; it’s a good thing Ellen is leaving, since the Unfortunately Persistent Boner of Rut is likely to return at any moment.

“He’s doin’ okay, right?”

“If anything did change since you asked me when I got here, I wouldn’t know about it.”

He scowls.

“Well, is he using the pillows and blankets? Did he eat?”

Something odd flashes across Ellen’s face, but then it’s gone, and she shrugs.

“I reckon. Anyway — I better go check on him. See you later, Dean. Feel better.”

Ellen leaves, and Dean stews in over-warm, itchy discomfort, trying to figure out who he should ask to help him through this one.

A huge part of him doesn’t want to, even though Ellen said it might be worse than usual; Dean likes to think he still manages to be an adequately considerate and generous lover, even in rut, but sex is never as much fun when you feel like you have to do it, even if physically, it makes him feel a lot better. Despite the fact that the people who have helped him through his ruts are all people who are generally happy to throw down with him when he’s not nearly out of his mind with cycle-driven lust, he still feels incredibly awkward about hitting them up for rut help.

Needs must, though, and eventually, Dean convinces himself to start penning a note to Carmen before it can get too bad.

Still — he feels worse about it than usual.

 

 

 

“He’s what?

Jo is looking at Ellen, appalled, but Ellen continues working at the table, carefully measuring out some root powder.

“He hit his rut.”

“But it’s December. Dean’s the most regular person I know, which is ironic as hell, but there you go.”

“Well, he’s in rut anyway.”

“Wow.” Jo flops into Ellen’s desk chair, a little shocked. “They’re not even mated, though.”

“Happens sometimes. You can have bonds without mating. Not often, but you can.”

“Jeez. Okay. But — why isn’t he here, then? I went to see Cas just now and I had to walk away because he’s crying in there, Mom. Seriously, he’s miserable.

Ellen sighs.

“I know. And I feel bad about it, but — there’s not a lot we can do.”

“No, but Dean can, so why the hell isn’t he? Besides, what’s he gonna do?”

“Carmen took some leave to go help him out, I think.”

Jo bolts out of her chair.

What?” she thunders. “Oh, hell, no. No fucking way does Cas have to do this alone while Dean—”

“Jo.”

“Don’t ‘Jo’ me, Dean’s being a total asshole and you know it.”

“I get where you’re comin’ from, honey, I do, but think about it from Dean’s perspective. Cas is young.”

Jo frowns at her.

“He’s seventeen, Mom.”

Ellen snorts.

“Which is young, and don’t argue with me, but the point is — Cas might be seventeen, but Dean ain’t. Be different if they both were, but they’re not. What’s more — Cas was a child when he met Dean, Jo. He looks up to Dean. Dean’s his role model and protector, and on some level, Dean knows that.”

“Seriously? Mom, you’ve seen how Cas looks at him. Maybe all that was true at one point, but — come on. Cas loves him.”

Finally, Ellen sets her pestle down, turning to Jo.

“Look. I ain’t gonna say Cas there don’t have real feelings, but Dean’s not wrong to hesitate, sweetheart. He knows well enough not to take advantage.”

“How is it taking advantage—”

“Maybe, maybe not. Jo, Cas ain’t seventeen the way you were, the way most of the kids in Lawrence are. He’s not even comfortable helpin’ himself. The last thing we need is him agreein’ to somethin’ he doesn’t really want just because he ain’t used to dealing with any of this.”

Jo purses her lips.

“A blind man could see how in love he is.”

“Well, that’s a separate issue, ain’t it? In love or not, Cas might not want that. Might never want that. He’s seventeen and it don’t seem like he has yet.”

“Okay, but — maybe it’s like you said. He could be a late bloomer. And Bobby told his whole barrack that in Eden, you’re not supposed to talk about those things, and everyone’s been pretty good about it.”

“Could be, Jo. But we don’t know that. And even if that is all it is, even if Cas would be fine havin’ Dean help him — he’s definitely not ready to help Dean through a rut.”

Jo opens her mouth, then shuts it, making a face.

“Oh, fine. I just — it’s just not fair. He’s miserable, Mom, and even besides that — you should have seen his face when I told him Dean brought him things. He lit up for about two seconds, and then he looked like he was going to cry and he asked me why Dean didn’t at least say hello while he was here. I had no idea what to even say.

Ellen frowns.

“Well, I don’t think we should tell him Dean’s in rut.”

“I don’t know, I think Dean’ll deserve it if Cas is pissed at him for getting help when he refused to give it.”

“Jo—”

“It’s not like Cas can ask for help from anybody else, either. Dean knows that. But no, he’s gonna hide away in the castle like a fucking coward while Cas suffers alone. And I’m pretty sure that ass brought Cas a blanket from his bed. Mom, he started sniffing it before I even left the room! It was weird as hell, but mostly it was just sad. What was Dean thinking?”

Ellen sighs.

“Honestly? I don’t think he was.”

“How can he not?”

“Mental block? I don’t have a damn clue, but I talked to him earlier and if I had to guess, I’d say it ain’t even occurred to him that he could or should help Cas with his heats.”

Jo throws up her hands.

“Cas is his husband! And again, there’s this huge, stupid-ass double standard; if it’s not Dean, it’s no one.”

“For Dean, though, Cas is still that cute little kid Eden sent over three-and-a-half years ago.”

“He has stubble! His voice is deeper than Sam’s!”

“He’s also nearly seven years younger than Dean.”

Jo just scoffs.

“Their cycles synced! Dean brought him shit to build a fucking nest yesterday, shit that was covered in his scent.”

“Dean thinks it’s all the time they spend together. As for the nest — I don’t think he realized that’s what he was doing.”

Jo is silent for a long moment, jaw tense.

“This is bullshit,” she finally says, and Ellen snorts.

“So you said. But it’s bullshit that ain’t really your business. Take Cas some tea and come help me with this batch of eyedrops, alright?”

Jo huffs, extensively, but does as she’s told, for once.

And Ellen – well, Ellen would be lying if she said she wasn’t worried about it, but it’s nothing new.

Three-and-a-half years ago, Cas walked through the doors of the council room, and Ellen recognized the exact moment Dean realized who he was.

It was right around the same moment he looked at two kings like he just might draw blood, paternal affection and treaties be damned.

And even if Bobby never said a word about it, Ellen’s a damn doctor, and the kid who came down from his wedding chamber had almost certainly not just had a wedding night; but as proud of Dean as she is for that, for all of it, she’s not a fool. She knew then that Cas wasn’t gonna stay a kid for long, and Dean was gonna try to do the right thing long past when it was still the right thing, regardless of what either of them actually wanted.

Still — that day’s not quite here yet, and they are kids, the both of them.

She understands Jo’s frustration, but at this point . . .

Well, it’s probably for the best.

Chapter Text

 

Compared to this year, last year’s heat was a carefree picnic on a pleasant spring day.

It’s three days before Cas can even leave his room, and by the third day — by the time it’s finally sunk in that Dean’s not coming to help him — Cas has learned to help himself.

He keenly regrets the time he suggested Sam and Dean were in any way lesser for more proactively dealing with erections. He understands, now, and he’s not sure he could have survived had he not caved.

He also understands what Jo means about work. Perhaps he’s doing it wrong, but he barely has the energy to deal with the situation at the beginning, and as much as it provides a whole-body relief he clings to, it still leaves him a little more exhausted than he started out.

He gathers that other people do this for fun, which is — well, baffling. It feels good, to an extent; certainly, there’s a fine moment there at the end, as weird as it feels, and even if there weren’t, the fact that he can feel the heat recede in the seconds that follow is motivation enough.

But there’s so much discomfort involved in a heat; the good feeling reminds him of jumping into a cold pool on a blistering hot day, or finally scratching an elusive itch somewhere under his clothes after being plagued by it for hours — things that feel good mostly by virtue of the fact that they alleviate some pre-existing discomfort.

He would try it again under more neutral circumstances, but by the time his heat breaks even a little, he’s sick of doing it, and he’s sick of trying not to think about Dean while he does so. He has no idea why his brain seems to veer in that direction the moment his heat gets to be unbearable enough for him to expend the energy, but it does, and weirder still, it seems to affect results.

And those effects are — positive, he supposes, but the uncertain connection leaves him feeling embarrassed and vaguely guilty, so he tries to avoid it.

He still doesn’t touch the cloth bag on the nightstand, though. While he can grudgingly be brought to see the merits of the other thing, he remembers his talk with Ellen well enough to be confident that nothing in there is going to help him. Not enough to be worth the discomfort, and he’s sure it can’t be comfortable, no matter what she says.

Other people’s bodies may be designed for that, but Cas is confident his is not. It’s probably all the knight training, he reasons, tiredly feeling around his glutes. They’re quite firm, which he decides is evidence that the area is no longer suited to accommodate any kind of — external interference.

In any case, day four dawns without any erections at all. He can tell he still has a bit of a fever, but he no longer feels slippery, and the cool bath Ellen brings him feels too cold.

Best yet, when he’s done with it, Ellen looks him over critically and then instructs him to put on his training clothes.

At this point, Cas feels like he’d be happy to never see a bed again.

He feels ten times better after training, although that’s less of a surprise. Cas always enjoys training, but it’s helped every heat he’s ever had. He feels well enough, now, that he even gets to spend a half hour or so reading under the tree with Sam before the reprieve clearly begins to come to an end.

Sam walks him back to the infirmary, the cool breeze wafting not only comforting Sam-scent, but also something else, something rich and wonderful, something that smells a lot like Dean.

“Did you see Dean today?” Cas asks, only just managing not to lean closer and scent his tunic, and Sam looks startled.

“Yeah, I went to visit him before I met you by the tree.”

“Oh.” Cas clears his throat. “I thought I smelled him.”

Sam makes a face, sniffing at his tunic.

“I don’t — oh, yeah, there it is.” He sighs. “He’s in rut, right now. It’s so gross, the whole hallway reeks.”

Cas doesn’t think it’s gross at all. In fact, Cas is considering giving Sam a goodbye hug, just so he can get a better lungful of the scent that’s clinging to his tunic.

He wonders if Ellen will let him go visit Dean, next time there’s a break. Even if Dean can’t have visitors, like Cas had been the last few days, Cas could just — say hi through the door. And perhaps sit in the hallway for a little bit.

“Cas?”

“Yes?”

Sam gives him a concerned look.

“We better hurry. You don’t look so good.”

Cas trails after him, discreetly scenting the air in his wake, and Sam bids him goodbye and good luck before Cas has a chance to try and talk him into a hug.

Cas tries not to be disappointed.

On the other hand, it’s nice to know Dean’s in rut. It doesn’t do much to dull the need Cas feels to see him, but it makes him feel a lot better about the fact that Dean hasn’t come to see him. Cas knows firsthand, now, that dealing with a cycle is an enormous amount of work. If Dean’s felt anything like Cas has the last few days, he couldn’t possibly have the energy to assist anyone else, and it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect him to.

But then it occurs to Cas that if they’re both having to do all that work, anyway, perhaps they could just — do it for each other? That makes sense, doesn’t it? They could take shifts. It would just be — efficient.

Cas realizes, abruptly, that the erection has returned, and he slumps in the bed with a sigh. He’s tired, and he really doesn’t feel like dealing with this right now, not when he’s still preoccupied with figuring out the most — practical way for them to manage their respective cycles. After all, when the tedious demands of the body were fulfilled, they could hang out, like they always do. Surely Dean sees the merits of such an arrangement?

And then he remembers that someone else helps Dean with his rut, someone who’s not in cycle and therefore has plenty of energy to assist as needed, and his mood sours.

That’s probably a vastly more ideal arrangement for Dean, he thinks bitterly. Perhaps whoever helps him even keeps him company afterward, while Cas is just left feeling messy and disgruntled, all by himself in the infirmary. If that’s the case, then there’s really no advantage to sharing the cycle with Cas, after all.

Cas wonders, then, if he’s supposed to have asked someone for help. Jo had been so confident Dean would help him, so it never occurred to him to plan for anything else.

He tries to think of who he might ask. Despite how often Meg teases him, he considers her a good friend — but is she a good enough friend that she would be willing to not only take time off training, but expend all that energy when there’s nothing in it for her? Meg is actually pretty nice, but he’s not sure she’s that generous.

After all, if even Dean wouldn’t do it for him, why would Meg?

And if Cas thinks about it, about Meg dealing with what Cas has had to the last few days, it seems . . . awkward. Cas likes her, very much, but she does tease him, and no matter how many times Sam or Ellen tell him not to be embarrassed, this is still terribly embarrassing.

He decides he’d rather deal with it himself than ask Meg, or any of his barrack-mates. The only people he thinks he’d trust not to judge him too harshly are Sam or Dean.

Which — there’s a thought. Cas could ask Sam.

But as soon as it occurs to him, he dismisses it. Sam is closer to him than Meg, but somehow it seems even stranger.

On the bright side, the erection is gone. Cas stares at his lap, a little puzzled. While it goes away pretty quickly the rest of the year, erections during heat are annoyingly persistent, and he’s only managed to get them to disappear entirely by actually dealing with them.

He smiles to himself, though his stomach feels a little queasy, now.

No doubt this is a sign he’s getting better.

 

 

 

Six days.

Six fucking days, before the rut from hell finally releases him from his clutches.

**

Carmen leaves after day three, bags under her sympathetic eyes.

“I can see what Tessa or Linus’s schedule is like?” she offers, and Dean just shakes his head.

In addition to being the worst rut of his life, this has been the worst rut sex of his life. Carmen’s a trooper for sticking around this long, but Dean’s been, uh, difficult, and it’s definitely been more work than play for her.

“No, uh. That’s okay. Thank you, though, for that, and for helping in the first place. It was — it was a weird rut, so I know it wasn’t exactly a good time.”

Carmen just shakes her head, smiling.

“Don’t feel bad, Dean. I wouldn’t trade you alphas and omegas for anything in the world. I’m just glad if I could help.”

“You did,” he says quickly, and it’s true — Dean doesn’t know if he could have done it alone — but it didn’t help nearly as much as usual and Dean is, frankly, baffled. It’s like his body couldn’t make up its mind about being turned on or not.

He’s also pretty sure the next wave is about to hit, though, so Carmen should probably get going.

She hesitates at the door.

“Did you talk to Ellen?”

“Yeah. She said it was because I missed my August rut. Apparently I’ve been spendin’ too much time with Cas, so we’re syncin’ up.”

Carmen frowns.

“Cas is in heat?”

“Uh. Yeah?” Dean’s not sure why this is of interest to her.

She gives him a perplexed look, and then finally says:

“By himself?”

Dean blinks.

“Well, obviously.” John would have a fit if Cas had someone helping him, and even if that weren’t an issue, Dean can’t help but think none of Cas’s barrack-mates are . . . responsible enough to do it.

“Obviously,” she repeats, expression kind of frosty. “Dean, why am I here?”

Dean blanches, stomach dropping.

“Do you — did you not want to be? You, uh. You’ve helped me out a lot of times, I didn’t — but — you could have said no — like, seriously, you can always say no —”

Carmen rolls her eyes.

“Of course I could have said no. I just don’t know why you asked me in the first place. I thought you were trying to be considerate of someone, but apparently not.”

Dean is so fucking lost.

“What?”

She sighs.

“Nothing. Good luck with the rest of your rut, Dean. I hope it breaks soon.”

**

And then Carmen just walks off, annoyance clear in her gait, and Dean stands in the doorway for a long moment, wondering what he’s missing.

But then a rush of heat fills him, pajama pants suddenly feeling a little tighter than is comfortable, and Dean reluctantly drags himself back to bed.

It’s three more days before his head is clear and his body decides to have mercy, and Dean is ready to crawl out of his own goddamn skin if it means he can go somewhere that isn’t his fucking bedroom. At one point, he’s so out of his mind with exhaustion and a lust that won’t abate, he starts to worry he’s going to miss Christmas altogether.

Fortunately, that is not the case, and after the first good night’s sleep he’s had all week, Dean goes down to breakfast with a damn skip in his step.

His mood just gets better when he sees Cas waiting at the table, although that makes sense. Cas’s cycle seems to be dictating the schedule here, and he’s only seventeen, so he was probably back in the yard after a couple of days.

Lucky bastard.

Still, Cas actually leaps up out of his chair when he sees Dean coming, and Dean’s startled to realize how much he missed him, though it was only six days.

Maybe they have been spending too much time together.

It’s not really a problem, though Dean could have done without the hell-rut, and he doesn’t give it a second thought before he reaches the table and wraps Cas in a hug.

Cas makes a startled noise, and then hugs him back, clinging tightly.

Dean tries not to feel smug; looks like Cas missed him, too.

“We gonna eat breakfast?” he asks, just to be a dick, and Cas’s arms tighten.

“In a minute,” he mutters.

Dean grins, if only because Cas can’t see him, and lets his chin rest on top of his head.

It’s a little less comfortable than usual, though; Dean wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not possible in another few months, and even now, he shifts back to letting his cheek rest against Cas’s hair.

Which — smells really good.

“You smell nice,” he says, and then waits a beat, smirking. “Must’ve just had your weekly bath.”

Cas stiffens, then tries to disentangle himself. Dean holds on, winking at Sam and Valencia over Cas’s head, although it’s a bit of trick. Kid is scrappy.

Eventually he just huffs, leaning back into Dean.

“You know very well I take more than one bath a week.”

“Hey, I didn’t see you all week, maybe you haven’t.”

He can’t see Cas’s scowl, but he’s pretty sure it’s there.

There’s a long silence, and then Cas sighs.

“You smell very nice, too, Dean. I missed you,” he adds, sounding utterly sincere, and suddenly, Dean feels a little weird about the hug.

He clears his throat, pulling back, but Cas seems weirdly reluctant to let him go.

“Well, uh. Thanks. But, uh, breakfast probably smells better, so — so we should . . .”

Cas takes a deep breath, and then steps back, watching Dean with an inscrutable look.

“Alright.”

For once, Dean’s not up for the cute staring contest, and he hastily takes his seat.

Fuckin’ weird.

“Hey, where’s my hug?” Sam asks, way too innocent, and Dean glares at him.

“Fuck off.”

“Wow, Dean, are you sure your rut is over, because—”

Dean throws a biscuit at him, and Sam has the nerve to just smirk.

Cas is young, okay, and so what if he’s a little clingy? He’s probably feeling totally abandoned by Sam, at this point, and if he needs a little more reassurance from Dean, then Dean is happy to provide that, and Sam can just shut his stupid fucking face.

The point is, it’s not Dean’s fault. He’s not sure why that’s important, but it is, and fortunately, Sam settles down.

“So, I miss anything good?”

There’s a snort from Jo.

“You’re gonna,” she says through a mouth full of biscuit, stink-eye in full swing, and seriously, what the hell? It’s been six days. How is she still — whatever is wrong with her?

“Less biscuit, more vegetables, Jo,” he retorts, but she just slows her chewing, opening her mouth wide to reveal a large clump of masticated biscuit.

Dean makes a retching gesture and focuses his attention on Cas’s empty plate.

Cas has probably been out of heat for several days, already, but Dean still feels compelled to dump a generous amount of preserves on his biscuit, because according to Ellen, fruit and shit like that are important after a cycle.

Sam’s probably been too busy mooning over his maybe-but-maybe-not-girlfriend to pay attention, anyway. God, poor Cas. Dean hasn’t even been here as a buffer. No wonder he missed him.

“You been okay?” he asks, putting down his plate and nudging him. Cas shrugs, looking down.

“Yes. Ellen said it was normal.”

Dean frowns.

“What was normal?”

“My heat. I thought it was — very bad, but she said it was normal.” Cas shrugs again, sighing as he picks up his fork. “I suppose I’ll get used to it.”

Dean’s not sure what to say to that.

“Sorry,” he offers, and Cas is quiet for a moment.

“It’s okay,” he finally says, like he’s forgiving Dean for something. Which doesn’t seem quite right, but maybe Dean’s imagining it. “And you? Are you okay?”

Dean makes a face.

“I guess. Worst rut I’ve ever had, swear to God.”

Charlie snickers, grinning at Cas as she drops into the seat on his other side.

“He says that every time.”

“It was, ” Dean insists. “Or did you not notice me being gone for six days?”

Charlie blinks.

“Oh, gee, has it been six?” She wrinkles her nose. “Yikes, okay, that’s fair. Sorry, man.”

“Yeah, well.” Dean sniffs. “That actually wasn’t the worst part. Carmen pretty much gave up after three days, it was that bad.”

Charlie gives him a weird look.

“Carmen?”

“Yeah?”

“Oh. I didn’t know — but — well, I guess he is only — but — right. Okay.”

What the fuck?

Everybody’s looking at him, except Cas, who’s looking at everyone else, openly curious.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Charlie says quickly. “Anyway, it’ll be good to have you back. Benny hates playing Captain. It means he can’t sneak off to nap.”

“Aw, c’mon now, I don’t do that. Everybody’s gotta take a breather now an’ again.”

“Right, and you’re just resting your eyes.”

“Well, sure. Sun is mighty bright, ain’t it?”

Charlie rolls her eyes.

“Do you see, Dean?”

“Sorry, I’m gonna have to side with Benny here. The naps are the secret to his reflexes.”

“Aw, thanks chief.”

“So you are napping!” Charlie crows, and Benny throws Dean a betrayed look.

He just shrugs, winking at Cas, who smiles.

Man, is it good to be back.

 

 

 

Christmas brings with it a horrendous snowstorm, and there’s no question of anyone training, so the week after turns into an extended party in the Hall through New Years. Dean’s pretty sure half the barracks just ends up sleeping in there, to the annoyance of the breakfast crew, but for the most part, good times are had by all. By the fourth day, people have pushed tables together in a makeshift stage and are putting on impromptu plays and talent shows.

Which, yeah, a lot of drinking is happening, too, but hey — it’s the holidays.

This means a week-long sleepover in Dean’s room, of course, though Sam and Valencia sleep in their own beds, and while the storm is a bit of a nuisance, especially given how fucking cold it gets at night, it still means this is one of the best holidays Dean’s ever had.

Besides, unlike Sam and Valencia (who Dean convinced Cas to help him follow once they left one night just to be sure) Dean isn’t sleeping alone. Cas is like a human-sized hot brick in the sheets, and Dean would be lying if he said he wasn’t enjoying having him in there every night.

It’s a little disconcerting the first few times Dean wakes up to him snuggled into his side, but he figures that’s because Cas refuses to wear a damn sleeping cap on account of ‘it’s itchy, Dean.’ Dean told him he’d catch a cold, but since he’s apparently developed an unconscious strategy of sapping Dean’s warmth instead, maybe he won’t.

Whatever. Dean’s not really that worried about it.

What he is worried about is the news that comes from the West border once the storm has passed.

Purgaea has apparently ransacked a lumber town. There was an outpost a few miles away that made it there before too much damage could be done, but it’s unlikely to have been a random whim.

They’d been afraid of this; Purgaea is far from Eden and Lettra both, and a plot to make war between the two doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you factor Lawrence’s treaty with Eden into the mix.

And while that treaty doesn’t necessarily entail military aid, Eden did send backup to the Hellenian border following the attempted kidnapping, so it’s clearly a possibility. Purgaea probably would have liked to have Eden’s forces tied up elsewhere, but apparently, it’s not a dealbreaker.

And this attack will probably not be the first.

Dean knows what that means, for him, and he’s not excited about it, but he’s surprised by how poorly Cas takes the news.

“You’re leaving?” he demands, once John has come down to the hall and made the announcement.

“Well, I kind of have to. Purgaea isn’t going anywhere, and I’m not letting my army go without me.”

“Then I’m going, too.”

“Hell no,” he says, not thinking, and Cas looks outraged.

“Why not? I continue to outperform all of my peers and I’m sure I’ll be an asset—”

“Like hell you’ll be! You outperform your peers, Cas. We’re not going to war with them. I can’t fight if I’m too busy babysitting you.”

“Babysitting — Dean, I am not an infant.”

“Then you’re mature enough to get why you’re not coming.”

“I’ve never lost a match with someone in Sam’s rank, besides him.”

Which is both impressive and not surprising, given that Dean works with Cas in the courtyard every day, but still.

“Yeah, well, you’re not there yet, so you’re still not coming with us.”

“What if I don’t fight? What if I just—”

“Dude, we talked about this last time, and now that I know you better, I know for a fact you won’t fucking stay put when you’re told to.”

“Perhaps I would if you weren’t such a — such an assbutt when you were telling me what to do!”

“Yeah, no, we’re not talking about this. You’re not going, and that’s final.”

Cas storms off back to the barracks, like the melodramatic child he is, and Dean ignores the table around him exchanging looks.

“Eat your damn dinner,” he grouses, and Benny just tsks.

“I don’t envy you, brother,” he mumbles.

Dean doesn’t even bother asking what that means.

Cas seems to have mostly cooled off the next day, subjecting Dean to less glowering and more baleful looks. He’s quiet, but lets himself be drawn into conversation, and although Dean feels shitty about the whole situation, he figures Cas’ll get back to normal.

But he doesn’t, not really. He’s too quiet at meals and too aggressive at training, and he doesn’t sleep in the castle, even when Dean point-blank asks.

“I’ll sleep better in the barracks,” he mutters, and then hurries off before Dean can even begin to process that.

He does eventually, though, and he’s in a foul mood for days afterward.

Of course, it only gets worse when Sam’s badgering and pestering results in John agreeing that he’s old enough and trained enough to go, too.

“He’ll be twenty in May,” John says tiredly, when Dean tries to argue. “You started riding out pretty much the second you turned fifteen, and you did fine.”

And sure, that’s true — but Dean also didn’t spend hours playing around with friends or hiding in the library. Pretty much all he did from dawn to dusk was train, well past when anyone else was, as per his father’s demands.

He can’t say that, though, especially since Sam probably does have the chops to do this.

“What if we both die?”

John pauses.

“Something I should know about your training regimen?”

Dean flushes.

“Obviously, I don’t think we will, but you never know.”

John snorts.

“If only my eldest son had already produced an heir, we wouldn’t even have to worry about it.”

Which kind of stings, but mostly Dean’s just worried John’s about to set a deadline on this thing.

“Sam and I will be fine,” he says tersely, and John nods approvingly.

“You’re Winchesters. I figured.”

Dean seethes, but he doesn’t say a word. He supposes he should just be grateful his Dad has faith in them.

Unfortunately, that leaves the small matter of telling Cas that Sam is coming with him.

On the one hand, part of Dean thinks it’ll be good for him. He’s not sure where Cas is at on the unrequited love front, but he faithfully joins Sam for reading time and listens attentively when he rambles on about some boring-ass subject at dinner, so Dean’s pretty sure there’s still something there. In light of that, some distance will be good for them.

After all, Dean likes to think this whole problem arose since they spent every day in each other’s pockets, for the most part. Once the proximity thing is no longer fucking with his hormones, surely Cas will recognize how ill-suited he and Sam actually are.

(Dean would have tried to explain it to him already, but he’s trying to be sensitive about not bringing it up, and he’s not sure he can even put it into words. He just knows they are.)

Anyway, that sounds good in theory, but at the end of the day, Cas is losing his best friend and his — whatever Dean is, and he’s being forbidden from following.

Dean’s pretty sure he’s going to be unhappy, and he’s right.

Sam is going?”

“Look, Cas—”

“I win half the times we spar!”

It’s less than half, still, but Dean decides not to say so.

“Right, but still—”

Cas seizes the front of his tunic, eyes imploring

Dean. Please. I’m ready, I swear it. You won’t regret it.”

And normally, Cas looking at him like that, blue eyes wide and desperate — Dean would say yes.

But he can’t. Purgaea’s soldiers might not be as well-trained, but they’re even more vicious in combat than Hellenia's, and Dean’s already strategizing how to keep Sam away from the worst of it. No matter how good Cas is getting, he’s still young.

Dean can’t do his job if he’s worried about both of them.

“I’m sorry,” he says, looking right back and hoping Cas gets how much he means it. “But no. You’re not ready.”

Cas stares at him for another moment, and then his grip slackens and he quietly gets up and walks out of the hall.

 

 

 

Cas doesn’t speak to him the entire week before they leave, which isn’t hard, since Dean’s busy with preparations.

Still. Dean has no idea how long he’s going to be gone, this time, and a part of him resents the cold shoulder. He’s going to miss Cas, maybe more than anyone, since Sam’s coming, too. If he thought there was a way to take him with him without worrying about it, he’d do it in a heartbeat.

But nope, Cas spends the last week they would have had together ignoring him.

And by the time it’s the last day, and Dean’s all packed up and heading down to the courtyard, he’s pretty sure Cas isn’t even going to bother saying goodbye. Dean is heavily leaning more toward anger than hurt, although there’s enough of both that he’s tempted to just hunt the stupid brat down and get a damn goodbye hug whether he’s talking to him or not.

But whatever. If this makes Cas feel better, then fine. Dean’s mostly sure he’s not going to die or anything, and even if he does, he supposes he and Cas have already said the important stuff.

What’s one last goodbye, right?

“Alright, brother?” Benny asks, when Dean absolutely doesn’t stalk toward his horse with his things in tow.

“Fine,” he mutters, and Benny raises his brows.

“Well, I’d hate to see your lousy.”

“Shut up.”

It’s another hour before they’ve made sense of things in the courtyard and just beyond the gate, making sure everyone and everything is accounted for. They’ll collect the rest of the troops from outposts along the way.

Dean is just about to mount his horse and lead everyone out when Sam grabs his arm.

“Wait,” he says, eyes bright. “I think that’s Cas.”

Dean turns around so fast he nearly slips on the cobblestones, and sure enough, Cas is running down the steps of the Hall, weaving through the crowd until he’s close enough to launch himself into Dean’s arms.

It’s a good thing they’re already open.

“Thought you forgot I existed,” he mumbles in Cas’s ear, although he’s so fucking relieved, it’s hard to hold onto his anger.

“I didn’t.”

“Well, who knows how long I’ll be gone. You better not.”

“I doubt I’ll be able to think of anything else,” Cas retorts, and Dean tries not to smile. “In fact, it’s sure to interfere with my training; you should probably just take me with you.”

Dean sighs, but he doesn’t let go.

“You know I can’t,” he says quietly, and he feels Cas nod.

“I know.”

Eventually, Cas releases him, stepping back with determined eyes, although they look a little damp.

“You had better come back alive,” he informs Dean, voice rough in a way that’s crazy on a seventeen-year-old, a way that usually has Dean inwardly laughing but sure as hell holds his attention right now. “I will train hard while you’re gone, and next time — next time you leave this place, you will take me with you.”

Dean swallows.

And even though there’s no way to predict the future, no way to know when and what circumstances ‘next time’ will be, there’s really only one answer here.

“Okay.”

Cas nods, and then he falls back, waiting to see them off.

Dean mounts his horse, giving the signal to follow him, and with one last glance at Cas, he starts toward the castle gate.

More than ever, he wishes he didn’t have to go.

 

 

 

Cas feels like a fool for wasting that last week sulking in his bunk, but it’s done with, now, and all he can do is write letters and hope he receives answers.

Beyond that, he trains.

Being left behind while Sam and Dean risk their lives at the border is infuriating. This is what Cas was meant for, what he’s trained for his whole life, and knowing that it’s just not quite enough — it burns. The longer he goes without receiving any letters, the worse the feeling gets, and Cas is going so hard in training, Bobby moves him up a rank early so he stops terrorizing his old rank’s new additions.

Cas is satisfied with that; all it means is that he works a little harder, and the harder he works, the better he gets.

He refuses to be left behind again.

He refuses to have to live with being useless.

Cas spends his time before dinner with Valencia in the courtyard, helping her catch up where Sam is no longer able. She does wonders for lifting his mood, but sometimes when they eat lunch or rest during breaks or sit together at dinner, they fall quiet, and Cas thinks she looks a little sad.

He doesn’t have to ask to know she misses them, too.

The castle has that empty feeling, again. It’s just him and Valencia and Jo at the table, and Jo is grumpy for the first several weeks.

“Sam went. I don’t know why Mom wouldn’t let me.”

Cas feels her pain. If he were Jo’s age, he’s not sure he could have tolerated being left here.

“Because your mother’s not an ass,” Valencia mutters, and Jo gives her a considering look.

“You don’t think Sam should have gone?”

Valencia shrugs.

“I think he was going to go either way.”

“Not what I asked,” Jo counters, and Valencia smiles, a small, bitter thing.

“No, I don’t think he should have gone. But what I think doesn’t matter, apparently.”

Cas sympathizes with her, as well. It’s hard to have your opinions ignored, but the Winchester brothers are strong-willed people, and they don’t always see reason.

“Dean will keep him safe,” Cas assures her, and he believes that. Dean would do anything to keep Sam safe.

And even though Cas also believes Dean is the best knight out there, that he is sure to emerge triumphant from whatever battle he meets — Cas still wishes he could be there, too, could be someone keeping Dean safe.

Someday.

“I know,” Valencia says, tone light, though her eyes are troubled. “But that’s a little worrisome, too.”

And Cas understands exactly what she means, because he’s worried about that, too.

Someday, he tells himself again.

The days pass, and Cas is selfishly glad that Valencia’s so far behind in her training that there was never any question of her going along. At twenty-one, she would almost certainly have ridden out with the rest of them, otherwise, and much as Cas enjoys Jo’s company at dinner and in training, or visiting Donna and Rowena, he thinks he’d be terribly lonely without Valencia.

His sister comes to visit in the spring, and Cas spends the entire two weeks sleeping in the castle, curled up in the enormous four-poster bed right between the two of them.

It’s different than sleeping beside Dean, but it carries much of the same comfort, and once again, Cas is sad to see his sister go.

“I’ll ask Michael to send reinforcements,” she promises, hugging him tightly. “Even if you can sustain this, you shouldn’t have to.”

He knows she’s not talking about Lawrence, right then, and he hopes Michael agrees.

Perhaps then, they’ll come home sooner.

After Anna’s visit, Valencia invites him for sleepovers in her room, but when Bobby finds out, he says it’s not appropriate.

Sometimes Cas sneaks out and does it anyway, because there are days he misses Sam and Dean so badly he can’t help but want the extra comfort, and though she never says anything, he thinks Valencia needs it, too.

The weather gets hot, and they hear that the fighting has picked up considerably. Cas gets no more than one letter a month, and even in the dried ink, he thinks he can feel Sam and Dean’s exhaustion.

This is such bullshit, Dean writes. Every time we gain some ground, it’s like they just remultiply and push back, or worse, we have to chase them around. And they keep sending raiding parties to the towns, but we never know when, so we pretty much have to divide up groups to stand guard. It’s been a long time since we’ve been on any kind of terms with Purgaea, let alone good ones, so we have no idea how many of them there are or what exactly they’re looking for. They could be hoping to trigger a treaty, like Hellenia did, or they might want to expand their territory, or maybe they’re just wearing us down before they launch a full scale invasion.

We’ve tried sending scouts, but I swear the whole damn country is just fucking woods . . .

 

Cas reads their letters, and he tries to console and encourage them in his letters back, and otherwise, he trains.

Because there’s nothing he can do from here; the only thing he can do is make sure that next time, he’s right there with them.

It’s a fairly mild summer, although there are some days Cas wants to blow off training and collapse in the shadiest spot he can find, and at the end of July, Cas has another heat.

“Looks like you’re settling into a cycle,” Ellen tells him. “You’ll probably start havin’ them two to three times a year. Always depends on the person.”

It’s not good news. Cas doesn’t want to settle in a cycle; once a year was bad enough, and based on the first day, this heat will be as bad as or worse than the last one.

Dean is never far from his thoughts, nowadays, and several times, Cas catches those thoughts overlapping with what he’s currently doing. It’s strange to think about Dean helping him even though there’s no chance of it happening, but he’s not quite able to stop himself; and in some ways, it feels like everything’s burning hotter because of it.

He feels desperate and out of sorts, and his body seems to want in ways Cas can neither understand nor satisfy.

On the third day, Jo joins him for breakfast, frowning at the cloth bag on the nightstand.

“Are you seriously not using that?” she asks, and it takes him a moment to realize what she’s talking about.

Given that his current method of dealing was — adequate, he’d pretty much forgotten that was there.

“No. It’s not necessary.”

“Says you,” she mutters, then hesitates. “That’s cool, you know. Whatever you wanna do. But it does help.”

“I’m managing.”

She tilts her head.

“Are you — afraid?”

He looks startled.

“No,” he says after a beat, but it must have lasted too long, because Jo frowns.

And then she asks an utterly baffling question.

“Is it — is it because of your wedding night?”

“My wedding night?”

“You know.” She looks embarrassed. “I know you guys had to — do that. And Mom said you don’t talk about that stuff in Eden, so it was probably — well, it probably sucked. I would have been terrified. At any age, if I really didn’t know what was going on, but definitely when I was thirteen.”

Cas thinks back to his wedding night, trying to understand what she might be talking about, but Jo continues.

“But like — it helps a lot. And I really think it’ll be different now, since you, y’know, have control over the situation and actually know what’s going on.”

Cas just stares, and she winces.

“But I totally get it. I just — I feel so bad for you, and Dean’s not taking responsibility — not that he’s here right now, anyway — and it’s not fair for you have to suffer for no good reason.”

He’s so very lost.

“Thank you,” he says, touching her hand. “I appreciate that. But — what are you talking about? What — what happened on my wedding night?”

She stares, opening her mouth and then shutting it. Then she gestures at the cloth bag.

“Um. You know. That. Except — Dean’s — oh, my god,” she mutters, burying her face in her hands. Cas might find it a little amusing, except if he’s understanding her correctly, he’s a little shocked. “How am I the daughter of a doctor?”

“Jo,” he says, astounded. “Are you — do you think Dean, uh —” what was the word Ellen had used? “Penetrated me on our wedding night?”

Jo makes a small, horrified noise.

Cas,” she hisses, vaguely mournful.

“Sorry,” he says, although he has no idea what he’s being sorry for.

Suddenly, Jo’s hands fall away and she sits up straight.

“Wait — are you saying he didn’t?”

Cas hesitates. Anna told him not to ever talk to anyone about the wedding night, but Jo brought it up first.

“Well, no. Why would he?”

There’s a strange mix of surprise and relief on her face.

“Um, because that’s what you’re supposed to do on a wedding night? And since it was an alliance marriage, Bobby and the scary Edenish lady were supposed to make sure you did it, which — gross.” She shakes her head, smiling a little. “Damn. I wonder how he got out of that one.”

Cas has no answer for that, though; mostly, he’s shocked.

That’s what they were supposed to do on their wedding night?

There’s a brief sort of numbness as he processes this, but once he has, once he’s tried to imagine it happening like Jo said, this monumental thing he lied about not being afraid of and is still convinced his body may not be meant to do —

There’s a rush of gratitude, so intense his eyes sting with it.

“It’s Dean,” he manages. “He — he always finds a way.”

Because Dean is kind and generous, and even though Cas was a stranger, he looked out for him and let him be a knight and oh, Cas misses him so very much right now.

“Hey, don’t worry,” Jo says, apparently misreading Cas’s expression. “I won’t tell anybody.”

Cas isn’t sure what the rules are for talking about someone else’s wedding night, but if Jo thinks it should stay a secret, then he appreciates her commitment.

And then it occurs to him, for the first time ever, that maybe Anna lied. Maybe it’s not that Lawrencians don’t talk about their wedding nights — Jo seemed to have no problems bringing it up — but that Cas, specifically, should not talk about his.

Because something was supposed to happen, and apparently that something had to do with the alliance, and Dean still didn’t do it.

“We’d get in trouble, if people knew,” he clarifies, and Jo makes a face.

So much trouble. We have the pissiest king on the planet, I swear to God.”

Ah. So all this time, there’s been much more than Cas understood.

And Dean bore that burden alone.

Jo changes the subject, and shortly thereafter, takes his empty tray and wishes him well.

And even though Cas is getting clammy and hot again, can feel the next wave starting up, he determinedly ignores it, hauling himself to the desk and pulling out some stationery.

 

Dear Dean,

 

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you, but I’m very happy here. Happier than I think I could be anywhere else. You’re my family, as much as my sister, and there are not words for how much that means to me. For how much I appreciate everything you’ve done.

I am considerably less happy now that you’re away. I won’t ask you to come home soon, because I know you don’t control such things, but be aware that I hope for it every minute of every day.

I miss you. It’s difficult to bear, how much I miss you.

I hope you’re safe.

 

Yours,

Cas

 

Cas supposes Dean may be surprised and confused to receive the letter, abrupt and out of turn, but he has Ellen send it anyway.

It’s strange, he thinks, how overwhelming it all can be, even though Dean is so far away.

He wonders if this is part of being in love, but decides it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that Cas wants to be at his side, always, and he is ready to do everything he can to make that happen.

 

 

 

Michael does ultimately send reinforcements, apparently still feeling he has a score to settle with Purgaea, but he refuses to do so until they’ve negotiated some kind of plan.

It takes a few months to agree on — “Because Michael is an incomparable fusspot,” Anna writes — and then it takes a while to implement, because Lawrence and Eden intend to take the capital.

Purgaea is very preoccupied with sending wave after wave to the border, but Eden will be going around, through Lettra and the northern lands, and crossing the mountains from the other side to march on the capital at the same time Lawrence tries to push through.

It makes Cas anxious. Purgaea’s capital is right in the heart of their vast wilderness, and no longer having the rest of Lawrence at the army’s back — having them surrounded by Purgaean land, their ultimate success riding on their ability to move all the way to the capital — feels somehow much more real and terrifying than anything up to this point has.

Cas sleeps poorly the entire month, but he doesn’t lose a single match.

Days after his birthday, they receive news that Lawrence has seized the capital. Purgaea’s army is depleted and scattered, and the terms of their surrender are yet to be fully negotiated.

Further news trickles in; Lawrence and Eden suffered minimal casualties, though Purgaea’s numbers were immense. Despite those numbers, their inadequate training ultimately decided things; once Lawrence summoned the reserves from all the various posts throughout the country and begin their march, Purgaea was easily overwhelmed.

Unfortunately, they’re also being as difficult as possible in the negotiations.

It’s like they don’t understand how fucked they are, Dean sends, frustration apparent. We have their capital. Their army’s in shambles. We could slaughter the entire damn country if we wanted, and yet .

We’ve turned the castle inside out, for the most part, and it looks like they’ve been planning this stupid war for a while; there’s shit tons of research on Lawrence, so we’re pretty sure they know that we won’t slaughter the entire country, and it means they’re being completely uncooperative, short of still trying to fight us.

It’s a giant fucking headache, is what it is. I just want to go home. Seriously, there are not words for how badly I want to be where you are at the castle right now.

I don’t believe in looting, but I found this badass carved wooden box in what I think is an attic and since it had like, five layers of dust on it, I’m just gonna bring it home for you.

Shit. Maybe it should have been a surprise.

Anyway, it’s probably not cursed, and one thing Purgaea’s known for is their wood carvings, so — you’re welcome.

Probably because of all the fucking trees (seriously, Benny bitched the whole march here. I made fun of him, but I never wanna see woods again.)

God damn, I can’t wait to be home again.

Cas, for his part, is glad Dean didn’t make it a surprise. Knowing he has a gift to anticipate makes it feel like he receives it twice, in his opinion.

When he writes Dean back, he tells him so.

Still, Dean didn’t exaggerate the difficulties of negotiation. October arrives, the days inching past like some kind of temporal snail, and by the time the November Feast comes — a far more quiet and meager affair, the castle still woefully empty — Cas has half a mind to ride out to Purgaea and fetch Sam and Dean himself. Surely everyone else can handle whatever remains, he thinks, unrepentantly selfish.

It doesn’t help that Sam updates him, as well.

I can’t believe I ever enjoyed my diplomacy lessons on treaty negotiations. As nice as it was not to be sitting helpless at home for once, part of me thinks I would have just stayed back if I knew this is what awaited at the end.

I’m not the only one; I think this is more exhausting than the actual war. The troops are out of their mind with boredom. Charlie spent the last week playing a kick-ball game with the kids in the village. Frankly, I think the king is being — well, a dumbass, because if they’d just come talked to us in the first place, everything could have been avoided, and they would be much better off. It’s not that they don’t have resources, here, but they don’t do them any good if they’re not open to trade and they can’t produce enough food on their own.

Anyway, Dean’s the worst of all. He’s actually pretty good at this, or I would write Dad petitioning to send him home early. He’s practically crawling up the walls.

He talks about you a lot, too, and even when he doesn’t, I can tell he’s thinking of you. I miss you, too, Cas. Life is — kind of stressful, honestly, when I don’t get to hang out reading with you every day. Hopefully we’ll see you by Christmas.

It gives Cas all sorts of warm feelings, especially since Dean has never specifically stated that he missed Cas (although he responded to Cas’s sentimental non-sequitur with a ‘jesus, is this emotional blackmail to make me come home sooner? Because if it was actually my choice, then it’s working.’ Cas likes to think things like that mean, ‘I miss you, too.’)

Of course, it also just makes him miss them more.

It’s not until two weeks into December that they receive word they’ll be coming home, and although the meager crowd in the Hall gets drunk and celebrates, the reality is that the march all the way back to the castle will take weeks. There’s pretty much unanimous agreement to forestall Christmas and New Years — although a few people wonder if you’re allowed to do that — until everyone’s home, but it’s still disappointing.

Worse still, a spate of bad snow storms means everyone comes to camp in the hall again, and Cas goes a little out of his mind, unable to do anything but sit and read and occasionally talk to people. They’ve barely been back to the usual routine for two days before Cas has another heat.

It’s awful. Helping himself doesn’t seem to work quite so well this time around, leaving him still edgy and overwarm and lasting hardly any time at all before his body returns to a state of terrible urgency, and the only good part of it is that he’s back out on the field after a mere two days of suffering.

Less nice is all the sympathy he receives from the people in his new rank. There’s several pitying remarks about having to deal with it by himself, and even more reassurances that Dean will be back by his next one, the implication clear.

These people think Dean helps him.

For some reason, Cas is too embarrassed to tell them otherwise. No matter how Jo and Ellen might reassure him, he feels unbelievably pathetic, sweaty and fevered and clinging to his bedsheets, wishing Dean was there.

Even if Dean was home, he wouldn’t be. Why on earth is Cas still thinking about it?

It’s very frustrating, but it passes, and ten days into the New Year, a messenger arrives to tell them they may expect the army’s return in three days.

Three days.

Three days.

Cas is so sick of waiting, but he’s used to it by now; still, three more days suddenly sounds like forever.

He makes it through. He nearly loses several matches for stupid, embarrassing reasons, avoiding Bobby’s speculative looks all the while, but he makes it through.

The night before, he hardly sleeps at all, so excited is he. He hopes Sam and Dean don’t look different. He hopes they haven’t grown beards, like some of the army did last time. Cas will be deeply annoyed if they finally show up and he can hardly see their faces.

He hopes things aren’t different when they come back. As happy as he was by the time Dean had left, as much as he thinks things were ultimately better — they were different, when Dean first came home last time.

That is less of a happy memory.

He falls asleep shortly before dawn, and when he wakes sometime around noon, a covered tray by the side of his bunk, he’s embarrassed to find that Bobby has excused him from training today.

How could he possibly know?

Cas is grateful, nonetheless, dressing and going off in search of Valencia, who he thinks must be experiencing the same nerves.

She seems fine, however; though she appears to have excused herself from training today, she seems absolutely relaxed as she sits in the kitchen, nibbling at a plate of muffins and reading a book.

Cas joins her, and Layla makes them hot chocolate after securing a promise to not tell anyone. It would be a very relaxing winter afternoon, indeed, if only his heart would settle down and he could focus on his book.

Around four o’ clock, the gate horn sounds, and they both freeze, meeting each other’s eyes over their books.

And then Cas is bolting out of the kitchen, not a thought to spare for the mess he’s leaving behind, and he just hopes Valencia has followed.

Of course, Cas must endure the same agonizing wait as he did last time. He’s missing the comfort of Sam’s hand in his, holding on tight while they wait, but then Valencia finally arrives and seems to understand without asking, and with this added support, he manages to be patient.

And finally, finally, the gate opens, the first of the group trickling in.

Cas squeezes Valencia’s hand tighter, and she makes a face at him, although she doesn’t try and pull away.

And then Dean and Sam appear, riding through and stopping to dismount and hand the reins to the stablehands, and Cas —

Cas can’t help himself. He doesn’t think twice about it, dropping Valencia’s hand and darting forward.

Dean looks up, catching sight of Cas and starting to grin, face flushed from cold beneath the absurd furry hat he’s wearing, and then Cas is throwing his arms around him, clutching tightly to the back of his coat.

“You’re getting kind of heavy to do this kind of thing,” is the first thing Dean says to him, more of a grunt, and Cas digs his fingers in a little harder than necessary.

Dean just laughs, wrapping his own arms around Cas and lifting him off his feet in clear opposition to what he just tried to say.

Cas doesn’t mind. He just buries his face in Dean’s neck, breathing in his wonderful scent, and holds on.

He’s dismayed to find how familiar and not-familiar that scent is. The older he’s gotten, the more Cas has noticed how nice Dean smells, the nicest out of anyone Cas has ever met, but Dean’s been gone a year, and though Cas sometimes goes into his room — just to look at the books — his scent there has faded considerably.

So the first breath Cas takes is something of a shock. It’s not different than he remembers, but it’s — it’s more, and scenting him again is making Cas feel lightheaded and off-balance. Still, it’s Dean, and Cas has the strange thought that he envies the coat on Dean’s back. This must be the best hug they’ve ever shared, and a part of Cas wishes he could just stay here for hours.

That is a strange thought, though, and someone just coughed, so Cas steps back, settling for examining Dean’s face instead.

Dean is as clean-shaven as ever, Cas notes with satisfaction, though at least half the other men who’ve come through the gate have been indistinguishable from their beards. Cas stares freely, taking in all the familiar but too-long-absent details, tracing the bridge of his nose and his cheekbones and his mouth with his gaze, and suddenly, all feels right with the world once again.

Dean’s smile softens into something smaller but no less warm, green eyes crinkling above. It’s all so very beloved, and somehow, it seems like the most natural thing in the world for Cas to lean forward and press his lips to Dean’s.

There’s a chorus of chuckles and whistles, an accompaniment Cas barely registers, too preoccupied with the startling sensation of Dean’s mouth against his. Dean’s lips are soft, dry from the cold, but still warm, and Cas can feel the fading traces of his smile the longer he stays put. He tilts his head, instinctive and experimental, and feels Dean’s sharp intake of breath.

Abruptly, he snaps out of it, stepping back and meeting Dean’s wide, shocked eyes.

“Um,” Dean starts, and Cas feels the shame at his back like a blazing fireplace when you’ve accidentally stood too close to it.

He’s not sure, all the rules about kissing. He’s not sure why he kissed Dean in the first place — it simply seemed like the right thing to do — but Dean’s stunned expression tells him that it was probably not the right thing to do.

He racks his brain for some kind of solution, terror coursing through him, and then he thinks of it.

“Welcome home,” he says quickly, and then turns to Sam, wrapping him in a brief, tight hug he can barely focus on before gripping the front of his tunic and kissing him firmly on the mouth.

The courtyard falls dead silent.

“Welcome home, Sam,” he tells him, smiling brightly, though he’s sure he must be red as a tomato.

There’s a long silence, Sam wide-eyed and open-mouthed in a way that still doesn’t make him half as uncomfortable as Dean’s similar expression.

Cas clears his throat, trying his best to look confused.

“Sorry. Should I not have . . . ? In, um, in Eden, we — do that. When, uh, someone close returns home after — after a long time away.”

In Eden, they don’t even hug in public — the closest Cas has ever seen anyone get is scenting another person’s throat in a very deliberate performance — but he’s pretty sure Dean won’t know that.

Cas gives Sam an imploring look, and Sam blinks.

“Oh. Right.” He coughs. “Yeah, yeah, I, um, I forgot about that.”

The silence next to him stretches on, and when Cas finally dares to look at Dean, he’s frowning.

Oh, dear.

“You didn’t kiss me last time,” he says flatly, searching Cas’s face, and Cas swallows.

And then he remembers.

He squints back.

“You threw me over your shoulder and ran around the courtyard.”

Dean opens his mouth, then shuts it, frown still in place as he finally moves his gaze to Sam.

They both wait, Cas trying not to hold his breath or do anything that might reveal how completely full of it he is, and eventually Dean looks down and shrugs.

“Yeah, alright.” He clears his throat, rubbing the back of his neck. “Well, if you don’t wanna get thrown over my shoulder again, you better move. Other people still need to come in.”

Cas doesn’t think he would mind, and even if he did, he probably deserves it, but he hastily stumbles back, and Sam and Dean join him to wait for the rest of the procession.

Curiously, Valencia just sort of nods at them.

“Hey, guys.”

Sam takes a deep breath and looks at her.

“Hey. How are you?”

She shrugs.

“Pretty good. Cold as fuck,” she amends, and there’s a sharp note to her voice.

Sam winces.

“Sorry. You can probably go ins—”

“I’m good.”

“Right.” There’s a pause, and Cas tries not to eavesdrop too obviously, hovering close by Dean’s side for warmth. Dean doesn’t appear to mind; he seems deep in thought about something or other.

Cas hopes that doesn’t last. He doesn’t want to be selfish, but he’d like Dean’s attention at some point this evening, and he thinks that, as his husband, he may perhaps have slightly greater priority than anyone else here.

He suppresses a sigh. At the very least, he can probably get away with sleeping in Dean’s room tonight.

“So,” Sam starts, and Cas mentally refocuses on the current conversation. “You, um. You didn’t write me.”

“Nope,” Valencia agrees cheerfully.

Sam purses his lips.

“It was a year.

She tilts her head, shrugging.

“I didn’t have anything to say.”

Sam looks as frustrated as Cas has ever seen him, but then they’re quiet once more, and they all wait in silence while everyone files in.

It’s not the reunion Cas envisioned, exactly, but as he stands there, trying not to lean into Dean’s side, he still feels lightheaded with happiness.

The important thing is that they’re home.

 

 

 

Cas kissed Dean.

This is a fact, a fact Dean has a mostly-acceptable explanation for and yet is inexplicably stuck on.

It’s understandable, he reasons. There was just — there was something weird about the whole damn thing, he thinks, even if he can’t put his finger it.

Or maybe he can, because the other new fact he keeps tripping over —

Cas kissed Sam.

An Edenish custom, he said, and sure, okay. That’s cool. The memory of Cas pushing up on his toes, a distance that didn’t seem as far as Dean would expect, and pressing his mouth to Dean’s is considerably less — disturbing, in that context. If that’s what they do in Eden, then fine. It’s just a kiss. A chaste, dry, close-mouthed kiss, absolutely meaningless beyond a way to say, ‘oh, hey, welcome back home, I missed you.’

Nothin’ weird about it.

Until you factor in Cas’s ginormous crush on Sam, of course, which Dean is definitely doing, now.

Because the thing is, Cas didn’t kiss Dean last time. And he can say what he wants about Dean beating him to the friendly-greeting- punch , but Cas doesn’t kiss his sister, and he didn’t kiss Dean that first time Dean went away, way back when, and yeah, no, Dean cannot, for the life of him, remember Cas kissing anybody. Not even on the cheek.

And suddenly Cas is giving greeting pecks out like obligatory Winter Solstice offerings to the townspeople?

It’s suspicious as hell — kind of like Cas’s behavior after those kisses — and the more Dean thinks about it, the more he’s sure he knows what’s actually going on here.

The only good thing about going to war with Purgaea, Dean had thought, was that it would give Cas some time to get over his thing for Sam.

But apparently, absence really does make the heart grow fonder, because not only is Cas still in love with Sam, he’s concocting elaborate schemes to secretly indulge those lovelorn feelings.

And the fucker’s using Dean to do it.

“Custom my ass,” he mutters to himself, and Benny pauses mid-swig.

“You say somethin’, brother?”

“Nope.”

And it’s not like it’s a big deal. Certainly, Dean doesn’t care about the kiss — Cas can give him as many familial little pecks as he wants, if it makes him feel better — but he is irked that Cas is playing some fucked up game here and forcing Dean to be involved, as well.

It’s just — it’s inconsiderate, is what it is, and what’s more, now Dean is all worried; if Cas’s crush on Sam is worse than it was before, enough that he’s inventing fake-ass sounding cultural practices just so he can get up close and personal —

Dean thinks about it, thinks about the soft little brush of lips Cas gave him in contrast with the way he fucking seized Sam by the collar and attacked his mouth, and nearly bends his fork with how hard he’s gripping it.

Yeah, no. It was cute before, though mostly sad, but it’s getting way out of hand. If a year apart just made Cas think he has to try harder, in sneaky, underhanded ways — that he has the nerve to lie to Dean about — well, enough is enough. Clearly Dean’s kid-glove tactic isn’t working.

He’s not sure how he’s going to do it, but he’s going to have to put an end to this thing once and for all.

Right after he has another drink, takes a bath, and gets a good night’s sleep.

 

 

 

Dean sort of does all that, but instead of stumbling back up to his room to soak in the tub and then crawl into bed, he finds himself with company.

And maybe it’s the beer, but he has — mixed feelings about it.

Cas doesn’t even ask, just trails after him, and even though Dean’s a little frustrated with him right now, he’s also been away from home for a year and, well — Cas is kind of part of home, ergo he’s kind of part of what Dean’s been anxious to get back to.

Besides, it’s not Cas’s fault he’s young and stupid enough to think shit like the kisses in the courtyard will change anything about the situation, not the fact that Sam sulked the whole time because he missed his not-girlfriend or the fact that Cas just doesn’t get choices, here.

And sure, maybe after he and Dean have heirs, he can go out and find love — but Dean’s not ready for that, probably won’t be for years. And if Dean’s not ready, there’s no way in hell Cas is.

So for right now? Cas just needs to focus on that knighthood he was so gung-ho about and forget all the rest.

Dean’s well on his way to brooding by the time he makes it to his room and starts stripping down for his bath. He thinks he hears the door shut behind him, followed by a startled gasp, but he’s seriously considering skipping the bath altogether, so he’s kind of in a hurry to get in the hot water before he changes his mind.

It takes him a bit of wrestling to get his pants off, but then he’s kicking them aside and wobbling into the bathroom, and fuck yeah, hot baths are amazing.

There’s a long sigh from behind him.

“You didn’t order me a bath,” Cas complains, and Dean tips his head back, smirking.

“Consider it a late Christmas present.”

Cas narrows his eyes, blurry and upside down.

“I’m sleeping here tonight either way.”

“Yeah? Somethin’ you wanna talk about?” Like macking on Sam in the courtyard? he doesn’t say.

Cas frowns, and if he weren’t standing all the way in the doorway, Dean would be tempted to boop it. So fucking serious.

“No.”

“Suit yourself.”

Dean finally musters some energy to start washing himself, and the sound of footsteps tells him Cas has probably gone to wait in bed.

Still, Cas calls in every few minutes, apparently checking to make sure Dean hasn’t drowned.

“I’m not that drunk.”

“Well, you seem that drunk.”

“I’m not.”

Cas sighs, audible even from fifteen feet away.

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Yeah? Didn’t hit the sauce while I was away?”

There’s a long pause, and Dean smiles, practically able to hear the frown in the silence.

“What makes you think you being here would stop me, if I wanted to?”

“You’re too young to drink.”

What?” Cas sounds incredulous. “Sam’s been drinking since I came to Lawrence.”

“Sure, but Sam knows his stuff. He can be responsible.”

Excuse me? I am extremely respons—”

“You grew up in Eden, Cas. They don’t drink there, do they? Not openly.” Dean pauses. “But maybe I’m wrong. I mean, what do I know about Edenish customs?”

There’s a long, long silence.

Bingo.

“No,” Cas finally says. “They don’t.”

“Uh-huh.” Conspicuous lack of argument, check. Dean waits, but Cas says nothing more.

Conspicuous silence? Check.

Dean is just drunk enough to be considering launching a full-scale interrogation tonight, but once he’s dressed and out of the bathroom, he gets a good look at Cas curled up, hair in stark contrast to the white pillowcase and blue eyes drooping, and he abruptly changes his mind.

He’ll figure something out in the morning.

“Knew you’d be asleep.”

Cas squints at him.

“I’m not asleep, Dean.”

“As good as, man.”

Dean puts out the dwindling fire, throwing the room into darkness, and then gets in bed, fluffing his pillow and making himself comfy.

Damn, is it good to be home.

He’s just drifting off into warm, blissful unconsciousness when Cas starts shifting around, and Dean cracks his eye open, peering into the darkness.

He shouldn’t have bothered; a few seconds later, Cas’s fussing is explained as a warm weight settles against Dean’s side, Cas’s arm comfortingly toasty where it loosely wraps around him.

“Uh. What’s up, buddy?” he asks, a little alarmed. It’s not like he hasn’t woken up to that before — and he freely admits it’s kind of nice — but that’s always been a coincidence of sleep. Cas always at least starts out on his own side.

But nope, right now he can feel Cas’s cheek, warm through his sleeve where it rests against his arm, and they’re definitely still awake.

Cas sighs.

“I missed you.”

Dean feels his face growing a little warm. Part of his brain is suspicious, thinks this is Cas’s way of buttering him up so he doesn’t call him out on his bullshit with Sam, but Dean has dozens of letters in his pack where Cas said exactly that, so maybe that part of his brain should shut up and go to sleep.

Dean twists a little, putting an arm around Cas in return.

“Yeah. Me, too.”

He lies there, drowsily breathing in Cas’s soft, fresh scent, which is immensely comforting in its familiarity, and it’s like this last little thing clicks in his brain, telling him at long last, he’s home.

 

 

 

Of course, it’s considerably more awkward in the morning, mouth dry as a desert and head pounding as he opens his eyes to way-too-bright sunlight.

There’s something kind of heavy on him, and as soon as Dean redevelops the eye-coordination to look down, he finds that Cas is lying halfway on top of him, head pillowed on Dean’s chest and one hand tucked up under his sleep shirt, skin against skin.

Dean’s suddenly wide awake.

He’s frozen for a moment, feeling Cas inhale and exhale against him, and he can’t decide if he should just pretend he saw nothing and go back to sleep — it’d be mean to risk disturbing Cas, right? — or if he should get some distance as soon as possible, because as much as Dean’s reasonably chill about cuddling, the slight differences between this and even how they fell asleep last night feel like — like —

Well, they kind of feel like crossing a line?

Which is just stupid. Cas is a kid, like a little brother, so obviously there’s nothing inappropriate about it, and Dean should probably just let it go — but his stomach is warm where Cas’s hand has wormed under his shirt, and he’s drooling on Dean’s chest a little, and come to think of it, Dean wouldn’t hesitate to roll his eyes and shove Sammy off him, so yeah, that’s definitely in order.

He hesitates.

Well, maybe he won’t shove him. He can kind of just — maybe —

Dean gently reaches under his shirt, clasping Cas’s hand and guiding it back out while he painstakingly shifts away.

Only to find Cas’s other hand, sneakily tucked between them with a surprisingly firm grip on the side of Dean’s shirt.

He suppresses a sigh, turning on his side a little, and wriggles his other arm up so he can pry that hand away, too.

Cas suddenly starts, blue eyes blinking open, and Dean goes still as he lifts his head from where it’s slid onto Dean’s shoulder.

“Dean?”

Cas’s eyes flicker in confusion to where Dean’s gripping both his wrists.

When he looks back up, his eyes are questioning, and for whatever reason, Dean’s face goes hot.

He drops them, squirming back, and Cas has the audacity to frown and lean after him.

“Sorry. I just — I, uh, gotta pee, but you were — anyway, I didn’t wanna wake you.”

Cas blinks, and then slowly, his cheeks start turning red.

Must be getting too hot, now that’s he awake, Dean figures, and finishes getting out of bed, even though it’s fucking cold.

“I’ll, uh, I’ll get the fire goin’ again when I’m done,” he says, and flees.

It’s fine, he decides, shivering his way through his morning piss. Kids are like that. Sam might be the one Cas dreams of marrying, but Dean is the one Cas depends on and looks up to, the one he feels safe and comfortable glomming onto in the dead of the night, and he must be relieved to have him back, looking out for him.

Dean has no fucking clue why his hungover brain is trying to make this weird, because it’s not.

He spent too long marching in the Purgaean wilderness, he decides.

Still, there’s no question of going back to sleep once he’s done. He’s a little surprised to see that Cas has — he doubts anyone will be training today, given last night’s celebrations, but Cas must be really tired if he’s not only not up before Dean, but he’s sleeping well past and decides to head down and bring some breakfast back up.

Maybe he can use the opportunity to talk to Cas about Sam.

He takes his time in the kitchen, chatting with Layla and the rest as they get everything ready for breakfast and he helps move things into the serveware. It’s at least an hour before he has a tray ready and he heads back up to the room. Hopefully Cas is up.

He’s just emerging from the bathroom when Dean opens the door.

“Oh, there you are,” he says, voice rough from sleep and definitely ridiculous, and Dean smiles.

“Me and breakfast,” he corrects him, nudging the door shut. Instead of going for the table, Cas crawls right back in the bed, pulling the blanket up to his chin.

“Really?”

Cas scowls.

“It’s cold.”

Dean tsks, but Cas has a point, so he sets the tray down on top of the blanket and settles in next to him.

“Why aren’t we eating in the hall?” he asks, and Dean hesitates.

“What, you tired of me already?” he jokes, and Cas pauses as he reaches for a biscuit, a frown on his face.

“No. I’ve barely seen you. Last night you spent dinner drinking and playing around with everyone else, and then you forgot to order me a bath, and then we went to sleep.”

“I didn’t know you were gonna sleep in here!” Dean protests, and Cas gives him a wounded look.

“Did you not want me to?”

“What? No, I just — I —” Dean shuts his mouth, breathing out through his nose. How the hell is he feeling guilty, when Cas is the one who launched some absurd campaign to seduce Sam the moment they got through the gate and now Dean is the one who has to fix it?

“Eat your damn breakfast,” he settles on, but even as Cas takes a bite of his biscuit, he looks forlorn.

Dean suppresses a sigh. So fucking sensitive.

“’Course I want you here,” he mutters. “Didn’t see you for half-a-century, it felt like.”

Cas pauses, and then smiles, a small, pleased thing, and ugh, how is this Dean’s life?

Especially since now they have to have a talk.

“So, uh.” Dean’s not really sure how to do this. Should he be blunt, or like, work up to it? Is it okay to try and spare Cas’s pride by not saying anything outright, or will it definitely just go over the kid’s head?

Christ.

“Yes?” Cas prompts after a minute, head tilting, and Dean forgot just how adorable that is.

“So, Sam’s back,” he says bluntly.

Cas looks baffled for a moment, and then he smiles, eyes soft.

“Yes. You did well looking after him, Dean. I knew you would.”

Which is nice, but not the point Dean’s trying to make.

Besides, Dean was ultimately forced to admit that Sam could pretty much hold his own, and aside from general leadership and pep talks after the rough days, not a lot of looking-after was needed.

Still, Cas has got that proud-slash-admiring look he always gets when someone tells stories about dumb-but-kinda-cool shit Dean’s done, so he doesn’t correct him.

“Right. But, uh. You must be excited.”

“Yes,” Cas agrees, bobbing his head as he chews. Dean resists the urge to scold him about the crumbs. "Reading by myself isn’t as fun. Though I’ve done a lot of it; Sam has a great deal of catching up to do.”

Dean purses his lips. So Cas has been planning for a while; he’s built up a pile of books for Sam to get through, meaning he’ll be spending a lot of time with Cas, which also means he’ll be distracted from other things, like Valencia.

Valencia . Maybe that’s how Dean should approach this.

“You and Val still getting along?” he asks.

“Of course. Though, we’ve been lonely without you. I don’t know that I’m as much a comfort to her, but I’m not sure what I would have done if she hadn’t been here.”

Okay, well — that’s good. Dean can’t help but think it’s a little underhanded of Cas, trying to steal Sam out from under her nose when they’re apparently such good friends, but love is a selfish thing with a terrifying ability to help a person weave convoluted tales to justify that selfishness.

He probably doesn’t even realize he’s doing it.

“Well, now I’m jealous,” he jokes, but it comes out a little flat, and he frowns inwardly. “Wish we could have been here.”

Cas sighs.

“Me, too. Bobby wouldn’t even let us have sleepovers.”

Dean blinks.

“You and . . . Val?”

“Yes.” Cas huffs. “He said it was ‘inappropriate.’ I sleep with you all the time, so it hardly makes sense.”

God damn it, Bobby. If you’re going to make a rule, explain it, so Dean doesn’t have to.

“Right. Well, uh. That’s different.”

“How is it—” Cas starts, and then cuts off, frowning. “I don’t see why it’s inappropriate.”

Dean pinches the bridge of his nose.

“It just is, since you’re not married.”

“But she’s slept in here with Sam and us, before,” Cas protests. “And when my sister visited, we all slept in Anna’s room. No one is married in that scenario.”

“Right, sure, but there’s other people around.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

Dean swallows.

It’s simple enough to answer — because when there’s just two people in a bedroom at night, other people think something’s happening but since Cas just pointed out that he sleeps in Dean’s room often enough, it feels weird.

“It’s just how it is,” he goes with, although he knows Cas is going to keep asking —

“Then why is it okay when you and I do it?”

Which stumps Dean for all of five seconds before he remembers the kid’s absolute favorite argument for everything.

“Because I’m your husband,” Dean says, patting himself on the back. “It’s what husbands do.”

But if anything, Cas looks upset.

“So — if we weren’t married, you wouldn’t let me sleep in here?”

Shit.

Like, it would be cool with Dean, obviously, because he knows how it is, but come to think of it, Cas is eighteen now, and for people who are not Cas, that’s sometimes old enough for certain things, so other people might just be dumb enough to get the wrong idea, and . . .

“Well — well, no.” Dean doesn’t like that answer, and from the look on Cas’s face, neither does he.

“Oh.”

“But hey, we’re married, so we’re good,” Dean tries, bumping Cas’s knee with his own, but Cas has this funny, pinched look on his face.

“Of course,” he mumbles.

Dean has no idea what to do with that, so he hastily changes the subject.

After all, he had a goal, here.

“So,” he starts, and Cas just nibbles slowly on a piece of bacon, not looking at him. “You know, uh. I, uh, I’m guessing Val missed Sam more than she missed me.”

Cas pauses.

“I’m not sure Valencia measures these things against one another. That seems rather pointless.”

“Well, she might not, I just — I’m just sayin’, that’s probably the case. Since, you know, she and Sam . . .” he trails off, carefully watching for Cas’s reaction.

“She and Sam what?”

Seriously? Has Cas just — blocked it all out? Is he living in some kind of fantasy world where there are no obstacles to his epic romance with Sam?

Just how bad did things get while Dean was away?

“They’re — you know.” Dean raises his brows. “They like each other.”

Cas huffs.

“I should hope they like each other. Although, I think they may be quarreling.”

Dean stifles a groan. Very bad, apparently. Cas is both in denial and inventing trouble in paradise.

“All couples quarrel.”

Cas stills.

“Are they . . . a couple?”

Dean hesitates.

“I mean, as good as.”

“Oh.” Cas clearly needs a moment to process this devastating news, though Dean’s not really sure how it’s news. “Why didn’t she write him, then?”

“Huh?”

“Valencia didn’t write Sam at all while you were away,” Cas informs him, and suddenly a lot of Sam’s weird mood swings while they were gone make way more sense.

“He didn’t tell me that.”

“She didn’t tell me, either, but he confronted her, yesterday. Neither of them seemed very happy.”

Aw, fuck. On the one hand, Dean supposes it was unlikely that this thing with Valencia would work out. As cute as they are and as much as Dean’s mentally already added her to the family, the odds of something starting when they’re that young and lasting aren’t great. Dean was hoping the slow burn would save them, but maybe not.

But if Sam doesn’t have a sort-of-girlfriend, how the hell is Dean gonna keep Cas away from him?

He could just forbid Cas, because it is definitely forbidden, and even if it weren’t, it’s clearly headed for disaster, but outright telling Cas he’s not allowed is a great way to encourage push back.

God, what a mess.

“Okay, that’s — yeah. Okay. But that doesn’t mean they’re not still — uh. Committed.”

He tries not to feel bad about exaggerating the truth here, because even before this mysterious radio silence, he understood that nobody’s committed to anything except saving everybody’s hides from John’s wrath.

“I see.”

“Which is good,” Dean continues awkwardly. “They’re a — a good match. You know. Well-suited.”

Cas nods.

“They do get along very well.”

“Yeah. But, uh, being well-suited is more than just — getting along well,” he hastens to add, seeing an opportunity. “Sometimes it’s about — other things.”

“Other things?”

“Yep.” Dean takes a deep breath, catching Cas’s gaze and holding it. “There’s some people, no matter how well you get along, that you’re not allowed to love like that.”

Cas stares back at him for a long, endless-feeling moment, and then he looks down.

“I know,” he says quietly, and Dean suddenly feels like a fucking monster.

“It’s just — there’s not really any obstacles between Sam and Val but themselves, right?”

“Right,” Cas mumbles, fingers tightening around the sheet, and Dean winces.

“Cas — I know it’s not fair — I know how you feel -”

Cas looks up sharply, eyes wide, and Dean would laugh if the situation weren’t so unfunny.

Cas is so obvious; you’d have to be an idiot not to figure out his feelings for Sam, and Dean likes to think he’s particularly good at recognizing the signs.

But then, Cas also seemed pretty cheerful before they got news of the war; maybe he thought he’d convinced everyone he was over it.

“You know,” Cas whispers.

“Yeah.”

“And you — agree, that it’s — it’s bad?”

Dean nods sadly, and when Cas’s eyes appear to take on an alarming sheen, he starts moving forward on instinct, ready to wrap him in a hug.

Cas jerks back, scrambling off the bed.

“Thank you for breakfast,” he says stiffly. “I think I’m going to go see if the kitchen has any spare honeycakes.”

And then he hurries out of the room, still in his pajamas.

 

 

 

Cas does stop by the kitchen for honeycakes — Layla takes one look at his face and gives him a whole cloth satchel — but then he goes off in search of Sam.

He doesn’t understand why he’s so upset. He’s known for years that being in love often makes people unhappy, and he thought he’d accepted that Dean wouldn’t want that.

Then again, maybe this is where the unhappiness comes in; now that Dean knows, Cas’s feelings will start to make them both unhappy.

Sam has also risen late, apparently, and is sitting at breakfast, arms crossed while he and Valencia stare at each other.

They’re not friendly stares, like Cas enjoys sharing with Dean.

They look a little like they’re about to fight.

Even though his chest feels tight and his eyes have that awful, twitchy, stinging sensation, Cas hesitates, wondering if he shouldn’t interrupt.

But then Valencia blinks, eyes flicking to Cas, and she gives him a warm smile. Sam follows her gaze, startled.

“Oh, hey, Cas,” he says, starting to smile, and then stops. “Um, are you — is something wrong?”

Cas swallows, and takes his seat, clutching the bag of honeycakes in his lap.

“Yes. I mean, no. It’s not — it’s not a big deal,” he assures him, voice wavering, and Sam frowns.

“Did Dean do something?”

“Yes, Winchesters can be very insensitive,” Valencia agrees helpfully. “Just look at King John.”

Sam stiffens, and Cas shakes his head.

“No. It’s it’s my own fault.”

“What is ‘it,’ Cas?”

Cas stares hard at the table.

“Do you remember the talk we had about — uh, about Dean and me?”

Sam is quiet for a minute.

“Oh. Um, yeah? I think?”

“It’s not — it isn’t a secret anymore,” Cas says.

There’s a long pause.

“Oh,” Sam utters.

“Yes. He, uh. He told me it was a bad idea.”

Sam sighs, reaching for Cas’s hand.

“Hey. Cas. Look at me.”

When Cas looks up, Sam’s face is blurry.

“Look, Dean’s — he’s complicated. And he is a lot older than you.”

“Why should that make a difference?” Cas demands, frustratedly wiping at his eyes.

“Well, it’s like — um. Like, think if you were in love with Bobby!”

Cas makes a face.

He does love Bobby, but it is extremely difficult to imagine feeling about him the way that Cas does about Dean.

“He’s in love with Ellen,” Cas points out. “And even if he weren’t, he — I didn’t know my father, but sometimes I think Bobby is what I’d like him to have been like.”

Sam nods eagerly.

“Right? ‘Cause — ‘cause Bobby’s like, thirty years older than you. So it makes a lot of sense that he feels more like a Dad.”

“Okay,” he concedes. “But — Dean is not thirty years older than me.”

“Yeah, but he feels like he is.”

Cas narrows his eyes.

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Right, but — um. Okay, so Dean’s like, seven years older than you, right?”

Cas hesitates.

“It’s closer to six-and-a-half.”

“Okay, six-and-a-half. Now imagine somebody six-and-a-half years younger than you.”

“They’d be eleven.”

“Which must seem really young to you, right?”

“Well, yes. Eleven-year-olds are children.”

Sam brightens.

“Do you see my point?”

Cas thinks he might, but it’s a very offensive point.

“I’m not a child. I’m only two years younger than you.

Sam winces.

“True, but — but here’s the thing. There’s like — there’s a thing in between being a child and an adult, and you and I and Valencia—”

“Please leave me out of this,” Valencia interrupts pleasantly.

“—are still there. But Dean’s an adult — sort of — well, more than us, anyway — so in his mind, being in love with you feels like the same thing as if Bobby were in love with you. Or if you were in love with an eleven-year-old.”

Cas just stares at him, completely unimpressed.

“I don’t understand,” he says flatly. “Those are not the same things at all.

“Well, no — but for Dean, it seems like it. Some people would say he’s right. And — maybe, um, maybe he sort of is? Maybe it’s — too soon.”

Cas hesitates. As much as he doesn’t like that answer, Sam has said something rather significant, something that has Cas drawing in a hopeful breath.

“Too soon?’ he repeats, just to be sure, and Sam nods.

“Yeah. Right now, you’re not a child, but you’re still — young. Enough that it might be better to — you know. Wait.”

As frustrating as this whole conversation is — and as much as Cas absolutely despises waiting — it seems to Cas that Sam is saying his feelings, in and of themselves, are not the problem.

That someday, there might be a way for Cas to be in love with Dean without it making Dean unhappy.

And Cas is beginning to think that, so long as Dean isn’t unhappy with it, Cas won’t be either.

“Wait until when?” he asks.

“Um. Until you’re . . . old enough.”

“And when is that?”

Sam hesitates.

“Well, it — it varies.”

Cas narrows his eyes.

“Varies how?”

“Um. You know, it — depends on the person.”

Cas suppresses the urge to shake him.

“Alright,” he grits out. “When do you think I’ll be — old enough?”

Sam shrugs.

“I guess — we kind of have to wait and see?”

That is the worst answer in the history of answers, Cas thinks, but it’s as vague as the other ones Sam has given him, so he supposes it will have to do for now.

And then it hits him.

“When I become a knight,” he announces, and Sam hesitates.

“Technically, I’m a knight, but Dean still thinks of me as a kid.”

Cas deflates a little, at that, but then he straightens back up, jaw set, because he knows exactly how to prove to Dean that he is no longer a child at all.

“When I defeat him in combat,” he says decisively.

“Huh?”

“I will finish my training, and then, when it’s time to fight your brother, I will best him, and then we will both know I am old enough.”

Sam blinks, and then glances over at Valencia, who looks strangely delighted.

“Makes sense to me,” she says, very agreeably, and Sam sighs.

“I — guess. Maybe.”

Sam sounds a little doubtful, but in this instance, Cas thinks he knows better.

Over four years ago, on their wedding night, Dean said he would fight him someday, for real. Dean threw the match, because Cas was a child and Dean couldn’t take him seriously, but he acknowledged that a day would come when he would.

And the day Cas fights him for real, and then beats him for real — that will be the day he proves to them both he is finally grown.

That he will be an asset to Lawrence. That he will no longer be a burden.

That his love will not be a burden, either.

But today is not that day, and for right now, Dean knows Cas is in love with him, and it’s a problem.

Which means that until that day, Cas will have to do everything he can to hide it.

“Don’t worry, Sam,” he says, taking in his friend’s concerned face. He smiles. “I have a plan.”

Chapter Text

 

If Cas is familiar with the phrase ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ he sure as hell isn’t acting like it.

The worst part is, it’s nothing like Cas’s usual sulks. Even when Dean was getting the silent treatment, Cas usually made sure to throw him plenty of glares and emit a shit-ton of exasperated noises. Even last year, before Dean left, Dean could read the sullenness and upset in his body language.

Basically, when Cas is unhappy with Dean, whether he’s pissed or sad, it’s at least clear he cares — that he’s probably as bummed out about whatever it is as Dean.

This thing Cas does the next couple of weeks? It feels a lot like indifference, and it’s pretty much the worst thing ever.

Because for two weeks, Cas is perfectly polite to him, and Dean hates it. There are no sarcastic retorts, no indignant huffs — no matter how hard Dean baits him — and even when Dean tries to bribe him with snacks and honey-flavored dessert, Cas expresses an extremely mild gratitude, so much so it’s like an afterthought.

Worse still, Dean can’t make him laugh. No matter what he does, there is no inelegant snort or surprised giggle or even small chuckle, because Dean can’t even make him smile. Even when he’s not trying to be funny, even when he’s just trying to be nice, Cas’s expression barely changes. Long gone is the rare, gummy grin he’s been missing; all he gets now are barely-there twitches of the mouth, and not the I’m-holding-back-my-smile kind of twitches, but the I-pity-you-enough-to-sort-of-try kind.

Of course, Cas hasn’t slept in Dean’s room once since that first night back. If Dean had known, he would have stayed in bed that morning and seen the stupid snuggle through to the last damn second.

(Not that cuddles are a relevant factor in his wanting Cas to sleep in the castle, even if Dean accepts that they happen.)

It’s just — it’s not fair.

Dean went and busted his ass at the border and then marched god-knows-how-many-miles through gross, creepy wilderness and then had to stay cooped up in a castle not stabbing Purgaea’s dickbag king in his dumb fucking face, desperately homesick all the while, only to come back, gently tell an obvious truth, and get completely iced out by the per— one of the people he was so homesick for.

He’s being punished, for something that’s not even his fault.

But when he asks if Cas is mad at him, Cas just looks surprised.

“No. Why would you think that?” And there’s not a trace of sarcasm in it. Cas looks and sounds sincerely baffled, and Dean feels like a hypersensitive child even bringing it up.

Anyway, it totally ruins Christmas, even though everyone’s doing a fantastic job of pretending it’s not mid-January, and by the time his birthday rolls around, he’s nearly ready to tell Cas he has his blessing to try and secretly date Sam, if only because he knows Sam will never go for it.

At least Cas still gets him a birthday gift.

“It’s not as nice as the feather stone,” he says, hesitantly presenting Dean with the braided leather bracelet, three silver stars tightly woven in. “But I thought it was nice.”

“It is,” Dean says eagerly. Honestly, Cas could have given him a jar of bog juice — or another watercolor, even — and Dean would have been thrilled, because it meant Cas at least thought about him enough to get him a gift. “It, uh, it’s really nice. Thank you.”

Dean keeps his arms firmly at his sides and tries not to look too much like he wants a hug.

“You’re welcome.” Cas pauses. “I have another — gift, for you.”

“Yeah?” Dean tries not to sound too eager.

“Well — sort of?” Cas looks uncertain. “It’s — I have something to tell you.”

Dean’s excitement sort of scampers back from the water’s edge at that, suddenly convinced it’s going to be really fucking cold.

“What — what kind of something?”

Cas hesitates.

“Later. I — maybe I could sleep with you tonight?”

Dean blinks.

“Uh. Yeah, okay. Sounds . . . good.”

Cas gives him a small smile, and Dean’s too pathetic not to return it, although he’s suddenly very worried about what Cas wants to tell him.

That worry hovers there, in the back of his mind, until the celebrations end around one AM and Cas follows him up to his room.

“So, uh. What did you wanna tell me?” Dean asks, pretty much as soon as the door shuts. Cas looks startled, hesitating.

“Did you order baths?” he asks instead, and Dean shakes his head.

“Nah. It’s late, we’ll do ‘em in the morning.”

And then he looks at Cas expectantly.

Cas takes a deep breath.

“I — I don’t — that is, I’m not in love anymore.”

Dean blinks, and Cas looks down.

“So you don’t have to be unhappy with me,” he continues, and Dean frowns.

“Hey — I wasn’t unhappy with you.”

Cas lifts his gaze, eyes narrowed.

“You said it was a bad thing.”

“Well, yeah. And if you’re really not in love anymore, then that’s great, but it wasn’t — it wasn’t about you.

“I’m not,” Cas says firmly. “You don’t have to worry.”

Dean would love not to worry about Cas pining after Sam, especially if it means things between he and Cas can get back to normal, but three weeks hardly seems like enough time to get over a torch that’s been burning for a couple years.

He steps a little closer to Cas, searching his face.

“What, uh, what makes you so sure?”

Cas looks at him for a long moment, expression a little more guarded than Dean would like.

“I’ve thought about it very carefully, for a few weeks. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I, uh. Misunderstood my feelings.”

Well, that — you know, actually, that makes a lot of sense. Sammy’s been Cas’s best friend for like, ever, at this point, and they’re at that crazy age, and Cas is super naive about pretty much everything. If Dean stops to think about it, he kind of suspected that at the beginning, didn’t he? That a lot of outside forces were making this thing happen, because at the end of the day, he and Sam just — they don’t work like that.

And Cas was bound to see it eventually. Hell, he probably misunderstood something somebody else said and decided that meant he was in love with Sam, and you know, once Cas gets an idea in his head, he doesn’t let it go for anything.

In fact, Dean thinks, brightening further, maybe that homecoming kiss had something to do with it. Maybe Cas thought, being in love with Sam, he wanted to kiss him, and as soon as he did it, he realized it was awful and they had absolutely no spark and he didn’t want Sam after all.

Dean looks at Cas a few seconds longer, just to be sure, but Cas seems pretty calm and resolute. And you know what?

Dean trusts him. If Cas says he’s not in love with Sam, then he’s not in love with Sam.

“Alright. Awesome. Uh. Sorry you had to — I mean. Must’ve been . . . stressful,” he tries, remembering that this is not actually about Dean, and that Cas probably struggled to figure things out.

Although he could have fucking asked Dean. Dean’s here for him, and Cas should know that.

Whatever. They’ll work on it.

Cas just sort of looks at him, intent.

“It was fine. But are you — happy?”

“What? Cas, that’s not what’s important here. The point is — are you happy? Are you okay with it?”

Why Cas would want to be in love with Sam, Dean doesn’t know, but at the very least, falling out of love can be a disillusioning experience.

Cas seems to soften at that.

“I’m very happy, Dean. Don’t worry about me.”

Relief dances through his bones, and Dean smiles.

“Well, then I’m happy, too.”

And then Cas smiles back, a small thing that grows as the seconds pass, and then -

Fuck, yes. There it is. Cas is full on grinning at him, eyes bright, and Dean decides that qualifies as permission to wrap him up in a massive bear hug.

Cas can shove him off, if he doesn’t want to. He’s certainly gotten big enough.

And Cas does stiffen, letting out a surprised grunt, but then he’s squeezing Dean back, hard enough Dean’s ribs almost hurt.

“It’s not a contest, you know,” he snarks, grinning into Cas’s hair, and Cas just sighs.

“Shut up, Dean.”

It’s a pretty good birthday, after all.

 

 

 

Pretending not to be in love with Dean is horrible.

For three weeks, Cas has had to pretend he doesn’t want to spend all his time with Dean, and since nothing could be further from the truth, it’s left him feeling somehow more bored and lonely than before everyone came home, even though now Sam reads with him again.

Although the more he sees of Sam, the less he sees of Valencia and vice versa, and that frustration isn’t helping, either.

At least it helps him maintain his conviction; if Sam and Valencia are a couple, and they’re grumpy and avoiding each other, that’s disturbing evidence that Cas being in love with Dean is bound to create distance and conflict.

Still, even if he recognizes it as a necessary evil, it’s hard. And Dean seems to be being especially nice, constantly trying to make Cas laugh and offering him snacks and being especially playful during training and inviting Cas to sleep in his room more nights than not.

(Although, apparently he only does that last thing because Cas is his husband, so perhaps it should be discounted.)

In any case, it’s excruciating. It’s a very good thing Cas is not actually trying to fall out of love with Dean, because Dean seems hellbent on reminding him of all the reasons Cas does love him, be it as friend or family or whatever you call someone you’re in love with. The second Cas can be sure Dean is convinced of the deception, he swears he’s going to make up for lost time.

So Cas pretends not to be in love with Dean, pretends not to enjoy his company, and after the eternity-long three weeks, he decides Dean will probably believe him and then they’ll be able to go back to the way things were without Dean being worried.

And yes, Dean does seem doubtful at first, but when Cas gives his well-practiced explanation, he accepts it.

He even expresses a predominant desire for Cas to be happy, which both warms Cas’s heart and makes him want to throw another book at Dean . If Dean could just be brought around to see that Cas was happy being in love with him, then Dean could be happy, too, and Cas wouldn’t have had to suffer for three weeks.

But Sam told him someday, so Cas will just have to be patient.

And train very hard, of course. The sooner he can defeat Dean in combat, the sooner he won’t have to worry about Dean figuring out his feelings and being upset with him.

Of course, besting Dean and having Dean acknowledge him are certainly perks to look forward to, as well. Cas would be lying if he said he hasn’t indulged in a number of fantasies about the day he manages to gain the upper hand and leave Dean with no choice but to forfeit. Sometimes, Cas is a whirlwind of precise-but-ruthless movement, leaving Dean flat on his back and staring up at Cas with stunned eyes, his breathing heavy, though Cas has barely strained himself at all, coolly basking in Dean’s awe. But mostly, Cas thinks about fighting Dean with everything he has, and Dean doing the same in return. He thinks about a definite but hard-won victory, after which he helps Dean to his feet and Dean embraces him, green eyes warm, and declares his pride in having Cas in his army. This declaration usually involves some very nice words about how glad he is to be married to Cas and how much better his life has been since Cas came to Lawrence.

(Cas is aware he is projecting heavily, but it’s a fantasy, and Meg is always saying you can fantasize about whatever you want.)

In any case, Cas is excited to see the day come when Dean will be forced to recognize him as a man, but until then, he’s determined to train as hard as he can.

Which, of course, means continuing his training sessions with Dean; Dean’s acceptance of his deception means that their evening session is much more entertaining, once again, and Cas is not at all surprised by how much he missed them.

The one thing Cas probably didn’t miss about them, about any of the time he spent with Dean, is the way Dean can occasionally make him — uncomfortable. It’s not a bad feeling, even, but Cas feels self-conscious and strangely aware and generally flustered, and he’d just as soon avoid the confusion

Because while he’s mostly used to Dean pinning him during practice (and grudgingly admits that it can be a useful exercise), the longer he does it, the less calm Cas feels. Usually, he’s off fairly quickly, mostly there to test Cas’s reflexes and strategy, but sometimes he likes to make a game of it, pressing Cas down with that smug smirk while Cas struggles beneath him.

At least the bigger (and stronger) Cas gets, the less of a struggle it actually is. Still, Dean seems to know just how to distribute his weight to maximize the difficulty.

It’s a week after Dean’s birthday, an extremely pleasant week that’s been a balm on Cas’s soul (if he could get Sam and Valencia to stop fighting, everything would be perfect). Cas spends every other night in the castle, and a part of him thinks he wouldn’t mind if it was every night; he’s enjoyed living in the barracks, but he might be willing to move out now if it meant he could share a room with Dean.

Of course, that’s probably because he’s in love, which means he wants to live with Dean, like Anna said.

To be honest, sometimes Cas thinks it’s a little bit of a shame that Dean isn’t in love with him, too. He doesn’t want the unhappiness to get him, but things Sam said have given him hope that they may be some of the people who weren’t unhappy.

Though he knows it doesn’t matter, Cas simply likes the idea of Dean being in love with him. It’s a thrilling thought, one that makes him feel a shivering echo of the feeling he got the time Dean told him he loved him in the regular way.

Cas isn’t sure what causes the difference, though, and he certainly wouldn’t want to risk revealing himself again by trying to bring it about. As nice as he thinks it might make him feel, it would be purely for the sake of sentiment; it wouldn’t change anything.

Still — Bobby and Ellen are in love, and they seem happy. Cas sees them sometimes, discreetly goofing off in the Hall, and it makes him think he and Dean could manage it. Cas caught them having an extremely aggressive snowball fight a few months ago, during which Ellen outright tackled Bobby to the ground, quelling resistance with copious amounts of snow. They both sniffled for a week after, but Cas saw them grinning at each other several of the times it happened.

In light of this — he’s beginning to form a theory about being in love. Specifically, that being happy in love involves playing together a lot, which is promising, because Dean plays with him all the time, even when they’re training.

Like now, for instance. Cas can’t help but wonder if this is like Ellen tackling Bobby, at least a little, because it’s one of the times Dean has clearly stopped thinking about training and is enjoying keeping Cas on the ground as long as possible. He hasn’t done it since he returned from Purgaea, and Cas is dismayed to realize you can get unused to things, too.

“You got rusty while I was away,” Dean tsks, and Cas glowers back, willing his heart to calm. He should be able to get free, but he’s struggling to focus enough to try. Dean’s face is so close, and Cas could easily count his eyelashes. They’re very distracting.

As is the rest of his face.

And Cas has always found it odd, how this game almost feels like — like a hug, the warmth and contact so similar, but instead of being comforted, he just feels — a little hot and embarrassed and very, very conscious of all that contact.

Maybe it’s because unlike a hug, he can see Dean’s face. Or because of the courtyard stones at his back, instead of air. Or because Dean is not just a warmth against him, but a weight on top of him, and it makes something not-quite-like the rush of combat tingle through him.

“Nobody else is able to pin me,” Cas retorts — and no doubt that’s because games like this have taught him well — and Dean looks pleased, mouth curving.

“Yeah? Even in your new rank?”

Cas experimentally tries to draw a hand up, brace it against Dean’s shoulders, but Dean just grins and catches it, whip-fast, holding it to the side.

“Even in the new rank,” Cas mutters resentfully. Dean’s hold on his wrist is somehow making things worse. He feels vaguely like he’s about to combust, sort of like —

Cas freezes, counting back. He can’t be having another heat. It’s too soon, and even though he feels hot all over, he doesn’t feel fevered.

Dean must be cutting off his air, Cas decides. If he can just get him off, everything will be fine.

Instead of trying to get his other hand up, Cas slides it underneath Dean’s arm, wrapping his own arm around Dean’s waist. He feels Dean’s grip on his wrist slacken, and Cas wrenches that hand free as he hooks his leg around Dean’s, holding onto him as he rolls them.

Dean stares up at him, stunned.

“That’s new,” he remarks.

Cas enjoys a brief surge of pride before he’s flat on his back again, Dean’s eyes twinkling above him.

Cas huffs. Dean has both his wrists in hold now, which means he must be taking this seriously, which means Cas has very little hope of getting free.

At least Dean isn’t pressed up against him anymore. He’s hovering, stretched out over Cas and using his knees to keeps Cas’s apart so Cas can’t use his legs to flip them again, and as obnoxious as that is, it does mean he has plenty of room to breathe.

Somehow, that doesn’t make it easier.

“’S’okay, buddy, we’ll work on it,” Dean promises, and Cas sighs.

“Fine.”

It’s going to be small torture, if Dean actually wants to focus on that small, surely inconsequential aspect of training, but Cas does want to be able to best him in a fight, so it’s also necessary.

Dean looks at him for a moment, grin softening to a warm smile.

“I’m glad we’re not fighting anymore,” he says, and Cas’s heart thuds painfully in his chest.

“We weren’t fighting,” he protests. “I was busy thinking.”

He experimentally tugs against Dean’s hold, only to have the grip tighten, Dean leaning in a little closer.

Cas’s stomach flips.

“Hey,” Dean scolds, smirking. “Don’t change the subject.”

Cas resigns himself to being stuck here as long as Dean wills it.

Someday, he promises himself.

“Technically, you changed the subject.”

Dean just smiles wider.

“Next time, be busy thinkin’ around me, alright?”

Cas still can’t breathe, and he can’t even blame Dean’s weight on top of him anymore.

“Alright,” he agrees.

“I mean it.” Dean leans a little closer still, peering into Cas’s eyes. “Whatever it is — I’m here for you. And I want you to talk to me, okay?”

The only thing worse than what Cas actually had to do would be if he’d had to talk to Dean about his feelings and tell convincing lies every day.

But Dean is inches away, and Cas can feel warm, steady breaths against his face, so he just nods.

“Alright,” he says again, but for some reason it comes out a whisper.

The breaths falter. Dean’s brow furrows, eyes scanning Cas’s face, and Cas is painfully aware that he has no idea what it’s doing right now.

A sharp whistle has them both turning toward the sound, and there’s Meg, brows raised.

“Really? In the courtyard?”

Dean abruptly releases Cas, lurching upright between his knees.

“Jesus, no — that’s — we’re training.

“That is some kinky shit, Deano.”

“That is not what I meant,” Dean sputters hotly, and Cas abruptly realizes he’s still flat on his back, staring at where Dean kneels before him.

He takes a deep breath and scoots himself back a little, freeing his legs so he can haul himself to a sitting position.

He doesn’t say anything. His heart is still pounding and he can’t quite make himself look away from Dean’s face.

Meg snorts.

“Sure it’s not. Anyway, everyone’s on their way for dinner. At least finish up somewhere more private.” She pauses. “There’s that nice, big ol’ tree outside the kitch—”

Meg,” Dean snaps, and finally, Cas glances over at her.

She winks and skips into the hall without another word.

“Sorry,” Cas says, uncertain, because Dean looks extremely irritated, and his face is very red.

But Dean just shakes his head and stands, extending a hand. Cas takes it, letting Dean pull him to his feet —

Only to end up back on the ground less than a second later.

Fortunately, Dean does not crawl on top of him this time, choosing to remain standing with that annoying smirk on his face.

“You can’t let yourself get distracted,” he chides, not seeming to understand that he is a distraction, all on his own. Cas just huffs, jumping up and glaring at him.

“I thought we were done.”

Dean shakes his head.

“When you’re a knight, you’re never done. C’mon, let’s get some dinner.”

Cas follows him into the hall, still bizarrely flustered over today’s session, and for some reason, he catches himself thinking about the time he’d kissed Dean, back in January.

Cas could have kissed him today, he thinks. Anytime Dean had him on the ground, Cas could have kissed him. Dean was so preoccupied with keeping the rest of him immobile, Cas could have just — tilted his head up a few scant inches and found that odd, dry contact once again, Dean’s mouth soft and unguarded where the rest of him wasn’t.

And then used the distraction to wrestle free, of course.

“Cas?”

Cas blinks, realizing he’s lagged behind, fingers sub-consciously pressed to his mouth.

“Uh. You sick? You’re not gonna puke, are you?” Dean asks, concerned.

Cas swallows.

“No. Sorry. Let’s go.”

By the end of dinner, he’s forgotten all about it.

 

 

 

Dean’s rut hits the first week of February, and it’s like he’s paying for the conveniently mild two-day spell he’d experienced last summer while they were fighting Purgaea; he doesn’t think he’s had a rut that weak since his mid-teens, and even if he didn’t have a policy against recreational fun with his soldiers while they were actively serving, he doubts he would have bothered getting help.

This one, though — this one is nothing like that one. For the most part, it’s not as bad as the six day hell-rut that happened when he synced with Cas, but in some ways, it’s worse. Because if he thought he’d had trouble keeping it up and, uh, getting anywhere with it then, it’s laughable compared to now.

**

Linus is thrilled to take a cycle leave from gate-duty, given the frigid outdoor weather (and the pleasure of Dean’s company, Dean hopes), but he ultimately leaves within two hours of arriving, both of them disappointed.

Dean thanks him profusely for his efforts, eager for him to depart so he can crawl into his bed and die of embarrassment.

Linus, to his credit, is mostly just concerned.

“Maybe you should talk to Ellen? I’m a little worried about you.”

“No, no,” Dean protests. “It’s fine. I’m fine. I, uh — my cycle’s been weird, but it — it’s fine.”

**

Although privately, Dean wonders if he picked something up while he was trekking through Purgaea’s creepy woods.

Though he definitely didn’t catch anything like that, so to speak. Dean was either too tired or too busy to go looking for fun in the towns, and given the no-fucking-around-with-soldiers-on-duty policy, he can confidently say he didn’t catch anything while at war.

Still — jerking off works, a lot better than company did, and during the reprieves, Dean gets to thinking about just how long his dry spell was, and he’s honestly horrified by his conclusion.

If he didn’t get laid during the war, and he was too stressed out over this Cas and Sam drama when he came back, then — then that means —

It’s been over a year.

Dean knows a moment of panic, at that. How did he not notice? Is there something wrong with his sex drive? Is it because there is something wrong with him? Or is it coincidence, but still causing his problems now? Did going that long without cause things to break? Does he have to retrain them to respond to other humans again? Is that a real medical thing?

Plagued by these worries, Dean masturbates despondently for two days, and when his rut dissipates rather cleanly and quickly after that time, he decides not to ask Ellen.

It was probably a cycle thing. Probably just a fluke.

Anyway, he’s not looking forward to syncing up with Cas again, since it looks like his schedule reverted during his time away and there’s no question of them spending less time together. Hell, they’re probably spending more time together. Dean just hopes he won’t full on skip a rut this time. The catch-up is a bitch.

And it’s possible Cas will end up matching his, instead. Dean doesn’t know if he’s on a regular cycle yet, but if he’s not, it makes more sense for him to match to Dean’s than the reverse.

But on the other hand, Dean doesn’t want the kid dealing with anything like the hell rut, so maybe that would be a bad thing.

In any case, Dean’s been back to normal for just a few days when his Dad calls him to the council room.

“Spring’s around the corner,” John remarks. “When the weather’s good, I want you and your squad to head out to the outposts and conduct some training sessions.”

“Uh. Doesn’t Bobby usually do that?”

“Bobby says you’re pretty good with the Edenish kid, and this way he can stay here. It’ll be good for you, I think.”

Dean’s not happy about going off again when he feels like he barely just got home, but it’s only four months, and even if it gets tedious, at least there’s no war going on.

Of course, he can see Cas’s objections forming the minute Dean lets the table know.

“Nope,” he says, before Cas has even opened his mouth.

Cas narrows his eyes.

“I told you, before you left last time—”

“Yeah, I remember, but this and that are different. I’m not headed off to battle, I’m headed off on a boring-ass work trip.”

“You’re training people. I want to benefit as well.”

“I won’t have time to do one-on-one with you, man. These things are intense.”

Cas scowls.

“I can handle it.”

“I’m not saying you can’t, I’m saying you won’t like it. It’ll be a bunch of strangers in a strange place and no time to read and play around. And no honeycakes. You’ll be miserable, and you’ll get way more benefit if you just wait for me to get back so I can give you my full attention.”

“If it helps,” Benny interjects, glancing uneasily between them. “It’s boring as hell, and I wouldn’t go, either, if I thought I could get out of it.”

“Same,” Charlie chirps.

Dean sighs.

“I’d be offended, but I don’t wanna, either.”

“All the more reason for me to come with you,” Cas says hurriedly. “I can — make it better for you. I’ll, uh. Keep you company, and — entertain you.”

Everyone suddenly takes a great deal of interest in their plates, awkwardly scratching necks and fiddling with forks, and Dean thinks, not for the first time, that his friends are dicks.

It would help if Cas were just a little bit more aware of how some things might sound.

“As nice as it would be to have you there to talk to and, uh, read books with,” he starts, glaring down the table. “I think you’ll be happier here. It’s gonna be a whole season, buddy. Do you really wanna be away for that long? Take it from me, it sucks.”

There’s several noises of assent from further down the table, and Cas gives Dean a frustrated look.

“No, but I don’t want to be away from you, either,” he insists, unabashedly honest.

Dean blinks.

Oh. That — but —

“Sam’ll be here,” he says, calculating and somehow hopeful.

Cas hesitates.

“That’s true,” he hedges. “But I — uh.”

Sam jumps in.

“I, um, I think Cas doesn’t have to worry about me, since I’ll be at the castle. Whereas if he stays, he’ll be worried about you.”

“Yes,” Cas interrupts, nodding. “So I would rather be with you, Dean.”

Dean keeps his expression carefully neutral, taking a slow sip of water while pretending to consider this and doing a smug internal jig.

Cas would rather be with Dean than with Sam.

This is the best thing Dean’s heard in ages — because it means Cas is over Sam and no one’s gonna break the poor kid’s heart, of course.

Nonetheless, Cas can’t come. Dean’s not really going to feel like working if Cas is around, obviously bored. Or if Cas joins the drills, Dean might pay too much attention to him, out of habit, and he might not do as good a job as he ought.

Kid’s surprisingly distracting, is all.

“Well, uh, thanks. But you still can’t. You’re gonna have to wait.”

Cas presses his lips together.

“I waited for a year. Forgive me if I’m done waiting.”

Dean softens, although there’s a considerable amount of squirming and strange eye contact happening on Cas’s other side.

“I’ll be back before you know it.”

“The time will pass more quickly if I go with you.”

Dean frowns. Jeez, Cas is really pushing this, isn’t he?”

“Alright.” He’s going to have to fight dirty here. “When was your last heat?

Cas looks startled.

“I — shortly before you came home.”

“Okay. So it could happen while we’re away, and you wouldn’t have Ellen or the infirmary. Are you ready to do that if you don’t absolutely have to?”

Cas looks torn.

“I— but — well, what about you, Dean? If you’re prepared to do that, then I can also—”

“Hey, hey. I just had my rut, first of all, and even if I hadn’t, I’m used to it. Last summer I suffered alone in a damn tent in the woods.”

Maybe he’s exaggerating the suffering part, but Cas doesn’t need to know that.

Cas blinks.

“Alone? But — I thought you had someone help you.”

Dean suddenly feels both super awkward and super aware of all his closest friends and squad members uncomfortably eavesdropping a few feet away.

“Uh. No. Not — not when I’m away from home. I always, uh, do it alone.”

Cas’s expression undergoes a series of changes Dean can’t even begin to keep track of.

“Oh.” He clears his throat, looking down. “Alright. I suppose I can — stay here.”

Dean exhales, relieved.

“Thank you.”

“But if you take longer than four months,” Cas says suddenly, catching his eye. “I’m coming to join you, anyway.”

Dean snorts. Fucking typical.

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever.” He flicks the back of Cas’s neck, turning back to his plate. “I’ll keep it to four months.”

 

 

 

Dean and his squad leave for the first outpost at the beginning of April, but as soon as they get word of a definite date, Cas is smart enough to make the most of his remaining time.

“I apologize,” he tells Sam and Valencia, who are still extremely cross with one another, and although they’re willing to sit with Cas at the same time, they hardly exchange a word. “I hope you won’t feel neglected if I spend more time with Dean this week.”

Sam smiles.

“It’s okay, we’ll still be here when he’s gone. Is it — you won’t mind mind if we still tag along for sleepovers sometimes, right?”

“Of course not.”

“Okay. I’d like to spend some extra time with him, too, before he goes.”

Cas can easily understand that. So long as Sam doesn’t try and limit him, he is perfectly willing to share.

Valencia nods.

“Me, too,” she agrees. “He might not bother to write while he’s gone, after all.”

Sam stiffens.

“Well, as long as you write him, I’m sure you’ll get as many letters as you want,” he assures her, terse. Cas supposes that’s fair; he, too, is alarmed by the idea that Dean won’t send letters this time.

Dean always answers letters, though. Sam is right; as long as Cas sends them, he will receive a reply.

“You think?” she says mildly, absentmindedly sorting her roasted vegetables by kind. “Okay. I think I can do that. I mean, as long as he’s not a complete dick before he leaves.”

Sam inhales sharply, and then doesn’t say another word for the rest of dinner.

Cas is becoming accustomed to short, tense exchanges like these, and as worrisome as they are, he’s more preoccupied with Dean leaving.

In fact, once Dean is gone, he might even help Sam and Valencia repair their relationship, if such a thing is even possible — they seem to be one of the unhappy couples, and Cas dreads a day where he and Dean interact like they do — because Dean is, as always, deeply distracting.

Cas would take all the discomforts in the world to have Dean by his side, but since Dean has no choice but to leave, Cas is a little hopeful on his own behalf, as well. Cas dreams of Dean more and more often, it feels like, waking with fragments of Dean’s embraces or Dean’s proximity in training or that small kiss from January floating in his brain.

And a morning situation to not deal with.

Still more disturbing, Cas is — sometimes he lies in bed and he focuses on the fragments, warm and too sleepy to be concerned, and he thinks about dealing with it, after all.

That’s usually about the time he wakes up enough to be concerned.

He just considers himself fortunate that Dean sleeps later than him; he’s not sure he could face him with the dream still fresh in his mind and the morning situation he’s shamefully tempted to handle.

And if the dreams weren’t bad enough on their own, Cas has started thinking about them while he’s awake. Dean will sometimes come collect him from training himself, slinging an arm around him as they walk back to the courtyard, and Cas will zone out, thinking about a dream where Dean had been doing that, except then he’d suddenly pulled Cas into a hug, fingers carding through his hair and face close — and — and -

And then Cas, awake and without excuses, will actually sometimes — embellish — upon these images, stitching bits and pieces of memories together, so that sometimes Cas will remember a hug and the kiss and the two will converge into one and he will feel generally overheated and scatterbrained and mildly ashamed.

He’s worried about what it all means.

And a part of him is hoping that perhaps, when Dean leaves, his brain will finally resolve whatever confusing puzzle it’s currently working through.

Still, Cas has learned his lesson about letting his own feelings get in the way of spending time with Dean, and for the two weeks before Dean leaves, Cas is pleased to say they’re nigh inseparable. Dean walks him to breakfast every morning, of course, and trains with him after practice is done for the day, as always, and Cas sleeps in Dean’s room every night, though Sam and/or Valencia are often there. Though Cas broke his habit of sneaking away from training to watch Dean long ago, he allows himself to fall back into it again, perching on the sidelines to admire Dean as he does drills and spars with his squad.

Cas has the guilty thought that watching Dean is, in some ways, a little more fun than practice, though it makes him long for the day Dean will face him in combat without holding back.

Dean’s current opponents clearly don’t appreciate the privilege, but Cas supposes he’d be unhappy, too, were his match with Dean to end in defeat.

Dean catches his eye often enough, clearly well-aware Cas is there, but he just smiles and shakes his head and doesn’t scold him.

Cas wonders if that has anything to do with the fact that Bobby doesn’t say anything to him about it, either.

This time around, Cas walks with Dean down to the courtyard, hovering while he finishes preparing his horse and overseeing the chaos until it’s turned to order. When it’s time to go, Dean collects his hugs from Sam and Valencia, and then folds Cas in his arms, neck warm where it presses against Cas’s cheek.

“Try and do something about them while I’m gone,” Dean mumbles, and Cas sighs.

“I intend to. It’s very confusing.” He hesitates. “Don’t be disappointed if it’s beyond hope. Anna told me that being in love makes most people unhappy.”

Dean is quiet for a moment.

“I wanna argue,” he says eventually. “But I don’t know if I can.”

Cas just closes his eyes, trying to memorize the feel of Dean’s skin, warm against his own, and the bright, woodsy notes of his scent, potent and nearly sweet this close. It will be a long four months.

“Not always,” Cas says before he can stop himself. “Sometimes — sometimes it’s okay.”

Dean tilts his head, breaking contact, and Cas suppresses a sigh.

He supposes the hug is over, then.

“Well,” Dean finally says, leaning back to look at Cas and bringing his hand to gently push the hair back from Cas’s forehead. “Hopefully this is one of those times.”

Cas nods, leaning into the gentle fingers.

“Hopefully.”

“I’ll see you in four months, Cas.”

“I’ll miss you.”

Dean smiles, and then he leans forward, so close their foreheads touch and Cas goes cross-eyed trying to keep his gaze.

He pinches Cas’s cheek.

“You better.”

And then he’s gone, the pleasant April day feeling suddenly chilly as Cas watches him mount his horse and begin leading the others out.

Cas misses him already — and a part of him wishes he’d thought to convince Dean that goodbye kisses are an Edenish custom, too.

 

 

 

“Sam,” Cas begins, while they’re sitting in the library that evening. “I don’t, uh. I don’t mean to pry — but you and Valencia seem to have been fighting for a while.”

Sam’s mouth twists, wry.

“You noticed?”

Cas hesitates. He doesn’t want to make Sam feel bad, but —

“It was difficult not to.”

Sam snorts.

“Yeah, I know, I was being sarcastic.” He sighs, running a hand through his hair, which promptly falls right back in his face. “Sorry. I know it’s not fun for anyone.”

Cas nods.

“You could always — make up?”

“I don’t know, man. It’s, um. It’s the kind of fight where both people are angry in opposite directions. So resolving it means someone has to change their perspective, and — well. I guess neither of us feels like we should have to.”

“But can’t you — agree to disagree?”

Sam blows out a breath.

“It’s — God, I don’t know. It’s kind of late for that.”

“What do you mean?”

Sam purses his lips.

“If she had just written me—”

“But she says you didn’t write her, either.”

“Last time I saw her she shoved me out of her room and told me she hoped I didn’t get a tree disease from the Purgaean woods, except oh wait, it looked like I already had!”

“You are very tall,” Cas points out, and Sam gives him a dour look.

“Thanks, Cas. Anyway — if she hadn’t tried to tell me what to do, we wouldn’t have fought in the first place, so . . . if someone was going to write, it should have been her, saying she was sorry.

Cas hesitates, and then scoots a little closer to Sam, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“I understand exactly how you feel. Dean is — well, the most frustrating person I have ever met, and he seems to take great delight in telling me what to do. In fact, I still believe I should be riding out with him this time.”

Sam opens his mouth, but Cas hurries on.

“However — the reason I wanted to go was because I wanted to be with him. The reason I forgive him, even when he’s being obnoxious, is because I want to be with him.’ Cas lowers his gaze. “Last time — before you both went to war, I was angry. And I did what you and Valencia are doing now. And I regretted it, because our disagreement didn’t matter. What matters is that I love Dean, and I don’t want to spend my time with him fighting, or worse, not spend time with him at all.”

Sam slumps, sighing.

“I know. You’re right, and I know, but — but sometimes the disagreement does matter. I can know that, and you can tell me I should just — I don’t know, let it go, but — well, she isn’t, either. And doesn’t that mean something? That it’s not worth it to her?”

Cas is at a loss.

“Maybe she hasn’t realized?”

Sam rolls his eyes.

“She’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. She knows. But her — I don’t know, her pride is more important.”

“You’re doing the same thing,” Cas points out, and Sam gives him a helpless shrug.

“Yeah, I am. And I want to say she started it, but maybe my pride is more important, too. Maybe we’re just not . . .” Sam swallows. “Maybe the argument’s not what I should be letting go here.”

“What do you mean?”

Sam sighs.

“You know I — I like her. Like you like Dean.”

Cas frowns.

“I love Dean,” he corrects, and Sam lets out a startled laugh, burying his face in his hands.

“Right. Well, I think my feelings are — something like that. And I thought we were on the same page? Or — or getting there. But we never did, not really, and then we had this fight, and — I don’t know. Maybe we’re just not meant to be.”

That’s — disappointing. Cas isn’t stupid enough to think that if Sam decides he doesn’t love Valencia, after all, that will somehow magically resolve the fight. If Sam’s current mood is any indication, he’ll be upset, Valencia might be as well, and in addition to not being able to help his friends, things will probably never go back to the way they were before the war with Purgaea.

Cas likes spending time with Sam and Valencia much, much more when they’re at least friends.

“Even if that’s — true,” Cas says, very reluctantly, “You should — I think you should make peace with one another.”

Sam nods.

“Probably. I don’t know how, though.”

“Well, the fight is about — not writing each other letters?”

Sam makes a face.

“Um. This part of it is.”

“There are two parts to it?” Cas clarifies, incredulous. He and Dean only ever fight about one thing.

Valencia and Sam must be very complicated people, he thinks gravely. He will have to think his advice over carefully.

“Yeah,” Sam huffs. “She didn’t think I should go with the army, that I should have stayed with the rest of my rank.”

“Oh.” Cas ponders this. “It sounds like you did very well.”

Sam nods, straightening up.

“Right? I was ready. Even Dean admitted it. And as much as it sucked — I wouldn’t take it back. And I would go again, with everyone else. And — and she should understand that.”

Cas sighs. He can absolutely relate, except in Cas’s case, he was not permitted to prove Dean wrong.

“Perhaps. But sometimes people don’t. Dean didn’t think I should go.”

Sam pauses, and gets a very awkward expression.

“Um. Well, to be fair—”

Cas narrows his eyes.

“Right. Sorry, you were saying?”

“Dean didn’t think I should go, and I disagreed. And I still disagree. But I forgave him. So perhaps you don’t need to change your perspective, Sam. Perhaps you just need to accept that she was wrong, and forgive her.”

“Sure. But that doesn’t really change how she feels about it, does it?” He shakes his head. “I just — I don’t know, man.”

They fall silent, quietly perched in front of a sofa in the library’s sitting area. Cas continues thinking about it, though, ignoring his book in favor of staring into the fireplace while he leans against Sam.

“There’s still the second part of the argument,” he says eventually, and Sam puts his book aside, looking down at him with his brows raised.

“Yeah?”

Cas sits up, giving him a serious look.

“It’s not too late, Sam,” he says, deciding this is probably good advice. “You can still write her a letter.”

Sam looks surprised, and then he sort of smiles, and then he laughs.

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess I could.”

Cas beams, and goes to ask Donna for pen and paper himself.

 

 

 

“What the hell is this?”

Sam stares at the letter Valencia just threw on his empty plate, clearly dismayed.

“Um. It’s — a letter?”

“Okay. And why was it outside my chamber door?”

“Because I wrote it to you?”

Valencia stares at him, jaw tense and eyes furious.

“You—” She takes a breath. “This isn’t fair. You can’t just do this.”

“You don’t have to read it,” Sam offers, rubbing the back of his neck, and her shoulders slump.

After a moment, she snatches it back off his plate.

“I’ll think about it,” she mutters. “I’m eating dinner upstairs.”

Without another word, she leaves.

“Was that — good or bad?” Cas asks after a moment, because after watching them the last few months, he honestly isn’t sure.

Sam shrugs, looking as tired as Cas has ever seen him.

“I have no idea,” he says. “I guess we’ll see.”

 

 

 

Curiously, Sam and Valencia don’t start talking — in fact, aside from dinner, they stop being in the same room together at all — but they do start writing each other letters. Oftentimes, they’ll even ask Cas to deliver them when he goes to meet the other.

Cas doesn’t mind. They both look quietly pleased when Cas brings them a new letter, and Cas is sure that’s a good sign.

What is not a good sign is that now that Dean is away, Cas dreams of him even more. In his dreams, Dean touching their foreheads together turns into a kiss like the ones he sees when the whole castle is in the hall celebrating and mead and affection flow freely, a kiss decidedly unlike the one he actually experienced.

Despite the uncertainty of this imagining, it’s very — affecting.

Cas is not sure what to do about it.

The more years that pass between his conversation with Anna, the less clearly he’s able to remember it, but he does think they talked about something like this. About how Bobby and Ellen were, about how other people in love are.

What it sometimes makes them want.

Every time he thinks about it, though, he shies away from the thought. Besides — shouldn’t that only happen if both people are in love? Why would Cas want such things when his feelings are secret and one-sided?

It makes no sense, and while Cas has become fairly comfortable handling the obnoxious cycle erections, doing so seems a lot different than the other things. It seems more like personal maintenance, like bathing. An individual task.

Of course, then Cas thinks about all the times he’s fallen into wishing Dean were there to help him — about the fact that Jo once seemed to think he should — and then he thinks that maybe it’s not entirely an individual task.

And then he thinks about Dean helping him bathe, for comparison’s sake, at which point he’s mortified to realize he has an erection in the library, and then he thinks that perhaps he should not think about it.

Sam gives him a weird look when Cas says he’ll be down to dinner in a few minutes, but Cas decides that’s probably better than the look he’d give him if he knew why.

Curse his feckless body.

The post arrives halfway through dinner, bringing letters from Dean, to Cas’s great delight.

 

Dear Cas,

 

We’ve arrived at the first outpost; it’s no more than thirty miles away, so letters should move a little faster.

It’s also boring as hell . I told you so. To start with, there’s a lot of overseeing and shit. I spent eight hours today watching these guys spar with each other. And they’re great, sure, and I know some of them, but still. It’s important, so we know what to work on, but dear God is it dull work.

It’s only the second day, but training you is way more fun. And actually, I think you’re better than most of these guys.

Also — there’s no pie. Seriously, they turn all their fruit into preserves for the winter and they put it on bread. I mean, I knew what we had to not look forward to, but they don’t even make muffins. If I weren’t supposed to set a good example or some stupid shit like that, I would mutiny.

Anyway. They’re good people, here, but — I’m definitely missing the castle. And I’m not just saying that so you won’t be pissed about staying home.

Tell me what you ate for dinner when you write, okay? (Christ, I can practically see you tilting your head and making that dumb, squinty face from here. Just do it, okay? You’d understand if you were eating what I was.)

And let me know if Sam and Val have made up yet. Hopefully now that my distractingly handsome self isn’t there to cause a rift, it’ll be smooth sailing.

(Kidding, Cas. It’s a joke.)

Wish us luck out here.

 

Dean

 

When Cas looks up, Sam is looking at him, grinning.

“What?”

Sam just shakes his head and hands his letter over. The contents are fairly similar, though Dean shares several jokes Cas understands well enough to identify as inappropriate (except for one; how is ‘Pull out’ a punchline? Pull out what?), but at the end, Dean instructs Sam to write him and tell him if Cas cocked his head and squinted at the letter when he received it.

Cas flushes.

“My face isn’t dumb,” he mutters, and when it becomes clear Sam is trying not to laugh, he adds. “Also, what does ‘pull out’ mean?”

Sam is generally happy to answer Cas’s questions, but there are certain categories that always make him uncomfortable, and on the very rare occasion Sam is being annoying, Cas doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of this.

Sam’s twitching lips go flat, then turn into a funny grimace.

“Um.”

Valencia laces her fingers together, propping her chin on them as she looks at Sam, blinking curiously.

“Yeah, Sam. What does ‘pull out’ mean?”

Sam gives her a sharp look.

“It’s — it’s, um, it’s not really — good dinner conversation.”

“After dinner, then,” Cas agrees, and Sam gets a pained look.

It serves him right, Cas thinks smugly.

Sam tries to get up before Cas is done eating, ostensibly to go talk to Garth, but Cas makes quick work of the rest of his meal and says a hasty good night to Valencia before falling into step beside Sam as he leaves the Hall.

“Sam, what does ‘pull out’ mean?”

Sam winces.

“Um. Um. Well. You — you know how, um, uh, sex?”

Cas arches a brow.

“What about it?”

“Well, um, the part — where — the — someone puts their — the thing — in the -”

Valencia lets out a wheeze, and Cas stops, turning back with a startled glance.

“Oh. Are you — are you staying with Sam in the barracks?”

The small smirk she’s wearing drops right off her face.

“No?” She hesitates. “I wanted to know what that meant, too, remember?”

Well, Cas only sleeps in Dean’s room because they’re married, and Sam and Valencia hardly even speak, letters notwithstanding. He supposes that makes sense.

“Alright. Sam?”

It’s dark, but Cas thinks Sam looks quite red.

“Oh, God,” he mumbles. “Alright, so you know how you can take medication to avoid, um, pregnancy?”

“Yes?”

“Well, um, pulling out is — really not as effective — but people try to use it to, um, to avoid that, too.”

Cas considers this, in all its vagueness, and then it dawns on him.

“Ah,” he says, nodding, and honestly feeling somewhat clever for figuring it out when Sam’s given him so little to work with. “You’re referring to penetration and the release of semen.”

Sam trips.

Behind him, Valencia emits an odd, high pitched sound.

“Y-yeah. I — that — that’s one way to put it.”

“But why isn’t it as effective?”

Sam rubs the back of his neck.

“Um. You can’t really, you know. Be sure. That things didn’t — make contact.”

“I see,” Cas muses. “Handling erections can be very untidy.”

Sam looks a little like he might cry.

“Right.”

Cas sighs.

“You don’t need to be embarrassed, Sam. These are just things bodies do.”

Cas is, at this point, being a trifle too smug, and Sam stops walking.

“Yeah? So you’re not embarrassed about your heats anymore?” He prompts, arch, and Cas reddens against his will. Hopefully it’s dark enough no one can tell.

“That’s different.”

“It’s okay, Cas. That’s just a thing bodies do.

Sometimes, being friends with Sam is deeply trying. Rarely, but sometimes.

“I think I know what I’m going to write Dean about,” Valencia murmurs behind them, and Sam purses his lips.

“Are you going to walk all the way to the barracks just so you can laugh at us?”

She blinks.

“Is that unreasonable?”

Cas thinks he sees Sam’s mouth twitch.

“Well, the show’s over.”

“I’m not sure it is.”

Sam shakes his head, and then hesitates.

“I can walk you back, if you want.”

She raises her brows.

“Do you think I need you to walk me back?”

“No, that’s why I said ‘if you want,’” Sam retorts, and there’s a long silence.

Cas doesn’t dare interrupt, because he’s pretty sure he knows what he’ll be writing to Dean about, too.

“If you want,” she says eventually. “You good, Cas?”

Cas nods.

“I’ll see you both in the morning,” he tells them, and makes his way to the barracks, where he tucks himself into bed and pulls out his letter from Dean.

Only to have it rudely snatched away.

“Well, well, well,” Meg drawls. “What do we have here?”

“Meg,” he warns, reaching for it, but she skitters back, gleefully scanning the contents.

It’s incredibly rude; Cas doesn’t even share his letters with Sam.

Meg suddenly lets her hand fall, looking disappointed, and Cas snatches it back.

“Really? That’s what he writes you about?”

Something about the way she says it, incredulous and a little scornful, raises his hackles.

“Yes. What else would he write me about?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Clarence. Sonnets about your eyes? Or, well, other parts. Honestly, I was kind of hoping for something dirty.” She leers a little. “He must be missing you bunches , angel.”

Cas hesitates.

“He sent Sam dirty jokes to pass on to me,” he lies. After all, he did end up seeing them. “And why would he write sonnets about me?”

Meg squints.

“Are you kidding me? You don’t — oh, boy. You have the worst husband ever.

“Dean is the best husband anyone could ask for,” Cas snaps, drawing himself up as he steps into her space.

Unfortunately, Meg, despite being considerably more slight than he, is not intimidated by this. She’s going to make a very good soldier someday, he supposes, although she ditches practice too often to be the best.

She considers him, a small smirk playing at her lips.

“Maybe he’s not missing you as much as I think,” she murmurs. “Tell me, Clarence, what do you write him about?”

“It’s nothing to you,” Cas growls, and Meg snorts.

“Ooh, scary. I bet you tell him about your training and your little books, don’t you?”

Cas flushes.

“I tell him what’s happening while he’s away.”

Meg’s grin just gets wider.

“Sure,” she says slowly. “But does he tell you everything that happens while he’s away?”

“Yes.” Cas holds up the letter. “As you can see, he even tells me about what he eats .”

Meg finds this hilarious for some reason.

“It’s okay, angel,” she says, patting him on the shoulder and strolling to her own bunk. “I won’t tell anyone.”

Cas glares after her for a moment, then crawls into bed and rereads his letter.

His good mood is considerably dampened, and he doesn’t even know what she means.

 

 

 

“Meg was mocking me last night,” Cas tells Sam the next day, before Sam has a chance to open his book. “She seems to think there’s something wrong with what Dean writes me about. And that there are things he’s not telling me.”

Sam blinks.

“Wait — you show her your letters?”

He sounds a little hurt, and Cas quickly shakes his head.

“No, she stole this one. It was extremely rude.”

“Well, yeah. Even for a joke, that’s going way too far.”

“Right? Thank you, Sam.” Cas sighs. “And then she had to nerve to be critical, although I’m inclined to think she was just being ridiculous. She said she was expecting ‘sonnets’ or ‘something dirty.’”

Sam freezes.

“Um.”

“Which is another thing. Why doesn’t Dean send me dirty jokes? I’m certainly old enough, and I understand most of them.”

Sam fidgets with the hem of his shirt.

“Oh, well, he, um, he probably thinks you wouldn’t enjoy them. He doesn’t want to, um, bore you.”

“The only thing that bores me is when he references various minstrels and bards he’s heard in his travels, because I have no way of knowing what he’s talking about. Otherwise, I — I’m more than happy to hear anything Dean has to say.”

Perhaps Cas is sulking; but even if Meg just enjoys causing trouble and is probably lying, Cas hates that feeling of someone else knowing something he doesn’t.

And he definitely hates the feeling that something may be wrong in his relationship with Dean. He’s gone to great lengths to make sure there isn’t, and if there remain some threats he isn’t even aware of, then everything could still be in jeopardy.

Sam is giving him a soft-eyed, sympathetic look.

“Hey, if you want, I can write him and tell him he shouldn’t worry about it, since you’ve been in Lawrence — well, and around him — long enough you can probably appreciate the humor.” Sam pauses. “And then if you don’t understand one of the jokes, you can ask him about it.”

Cas considers this.

“Would you? I’ll tell him, as well, but he doesn’t always listen to me the way he should.”

“Sure thing, Cas. And — don’t worry about things Meg says, okay? She just likes teasing you.”

“I know,” he mumbles. “Still — as you said, I think some things are going too far.”

Sam nods.

“Yeah. But you know, if you let her know she crossed a line, she’ll probably try not to do it again. She is your friend.”

“Oh. Do you think?”

“I mean, she’ll never stop teasing you, but if she knows she really upset you this time, I don’t think it’ll be as funny to her.”

Perhaps. Meg is full of mischief, but she’s not bad.

“I’ll speak to her. Thank you for the advice,” he adds, and Sam smiles.

“Hey, you give me good advice, too.”

Cas smiles back, pleased that he can be useful.

Still — even once he’s started reading his book, he can’t stop wondering what things Dean wouldn’t tell him.

 

 

 

Cas means to just tell Meg she was being — well, an ass — and leave it at that, but he can’t help himself.

“What do you think Dean doesn’t write me about?” he asks, quietly dropping to the ground behind her at lunch.

Meg makes a startled sound, dropping her sandwich croissant.

“What the hell, Clarence?” she barks. “Where did you even come from?”

Cas tilts his head.

“The other side of the training field?”

She rolls her eyes, shifting so she’s facing him.

“Fine. Maybe if you’re here to chaperone, Tracy will agree to eat with me.”

Meg glances off to the side, flashing a sharp smile as she leers, and Cas watches Tracy flip her off without breaking stride. Meg just grins wider, even though Cas is positive that gesture is always negative.

“I don’t think she wants to eat with you,” he says helpfully, and Meg pinches his thigh.

“Give it time, Clarence.” She picks her croissant back up, tucking the cold cuts and cheese back in. “Alright, what’s this about His Royal Fine-Ass?”

“You indicated that he doesn’t tell me everything.” Cas hesitates. “If you’d seen his other letters though, you’d know he was very thorough.”

Meg gives him an interested look.

“Thorough? Or thorough?”

“I don’t understand,” Cas says, frustrated.

“Look, angel. All I’m saying is, if Deano doesn’t write about all the naughty little things he misses doing to you? He’s probably doing them to someone else.” She softens. “But y’know, that’s how princes are. I wouldn’t let it bother you.”

Cas just stares.

“What . . . naughty things? Dean never does anything bad to me.”

Unless keeping Cas on the ground during training counts, but Dean is clearly playing. Cas has accepted the bathing rules of sleeping in Dean’s room, so they rarely fight about that anymore, and he’s also beginning to suspect Dean knows Layla gives him more honeycakes than she’s supposed to and simply doesn’t bother trying to enforce it, so that rule hardly counts either.

Meg bites her lip.

“You are too precious.” She nudges him, lifting her brows. “Naughty things, like the stuff you do in the bedroom. Or other places, if what I saw in the courtyard is anything to go by.”

Cas thinks about this for a long moment.

“Oh. Are you — Meg, are you referring to sex?”

Meg chokes on her croissant a little.

“Uh. Yef?” she says, and then swallows.

“Dean and I don’t have sex,” he informs her, relieved to find the source of the misunderstanding, and her croissant freezes a few inches away from her mouth.

“Excuse me?”

“Do people who have sex write about it in their letters?” Cas asks next, because that seems like an incredibly odd thing to do. Neither Anna or Ellen mentioned that. “What is the benefit?”

Meg is turning a little red.

“Jeez, Clarence. Are you getting back at me now or are you serious?”

Cas would be lying if he said Meg’s obvious discomfort wasn’t a little satisfying, given how much distress she’s caused him.

“Both, I think.”

She snorts.

“Right. Oh, boy. Well, yeah, people write sexy letters.”

“But why?” Cas pauses. “Oh. I suppose I enjoy reading adventure stories even if I, myself, am not captaining a boat or fighting a kraken.”

Meg bites her lip.

“Yup. Kinda like that. Except you probably don’t touch yourself when you read adventure stories. Not that I judge,” she adds hastily, and Cas frowns.

“Why would I touch myself?”

Meg looks disturbed.

“How old are you, Clarence?”

‘’Meg,” he warns her, and she huffs, waving an arm.

“C’mon. You know. I—” she makes a face. “God. Okay. Masturbation, Clarence,” she says emphatically, and a slight shuffle makes them both look up.

Tracy pivots, walking back the direction she just came from, lips pursed, and Meg groans.

“Oh, come on, Trace! Your timing is shit !”

“I don’t want to know!” Tracy yells back.

“Sorry,” Cas offers. “Sam says it’s rude to talk about sex during meal times. I’m sure she’ll be happy to join you tomorrow if you promise not to.”

Meg just looks at him.

“See, this is why we get along,” she says finally. “You’re just as bad as me.”

Cas frowns, but says nothing.

Mostly, he’s preoccupied with the sexy letter conundrum.

“So — you write letters about sexual things and then — masturbate to them?”

She lifts her brows.

“Pretty much. But don’t send them to people who didn’t ask for them,” she warns.

“That’s good to know, although I doubt I would have sent Dean a letter like that, either way. I don’t even know if he enjoys masturbating,” he adds, and given how much effort he’d have to put into figuring out how to properly write such a letter, he’d feel terrible if Dean couldn’t even use it. Ellen told him that not everyone liked to have sex, even if they did like to masturbate. He assumes the reverse must be true, as well.

“Oh, my God,” Meg mutters.

“Actually, he probably doesn’t,” Cas continues, considering. “That’s probably why he always has someone help him with ruts.”

Meg coughs.

“You really haven’t ever helped him with that?”

“No? Before, we didn’t want to do bedroom things together, and last time, I was in heat, so I would have been a poor choice.”

Meg just stares at him.

“Wow. There’s . . . so very much, Clarence. So much. Okay, first of all, what do you mean, before?”

“Excuse me?”

“You said, before, you didn’t wanna do bedroom things together.” She gives him a meaningful look. “Makes it sound like somebody wants to, now.”

Cas blinks, opening and closing his mouth.

“Oh. No, I — I only meant — I meant before the last time.” In fact, while Cas remembers periods of time wherein Dean was ‘busy’ for a few days, he doesn’t remember anyone telling him when Dean had been in rut. “That that was the reason. And then after — the — the other thing. Was the reason.”

Meg tilts her head, licking her lips.

“Mhm. So not wanting to is no longer the reason?” She smiles. “Just to be clear.”

Cas colors.

“No, it is. I don’t — I mean, I would, during — during a cycle, I had thought — well, it’s all — it’s tedious, and I thought we might as well do it for each other, just — just to have company — but of course, if Dean is able to find someone who is not in cycle, so he doesn’t have to worry about — about — well. That’s certainly preferable.”

Meg looks amused for most of this, but by the end, she’s frowning.

“Uh, no, not usually? But anyway. What about you angel? Don’t you want a . . . helping hand?”

Cas hesitates. He wonders if this is Meg offering.

“I’m not allowed,” he says, though even if he were, he’s not sure if he would say yes.

“Which is unbelievably disappointing for the rest of us, but hey, you are if it’s Dean.”

“I wouldn’t ask him to do that,” Cas says. “It’s a burden.”

Meg opens her mouth, squinting at him, and then apparently thinks better of it.

“What about you?” she settles on. “If you weren’t in cycle, would you still help him?”

Cas stares.

“He’s never asked me to.”

“Not what I asked,” Meg says, and Cas knows that. Cas is still trying to figure out how to answer what she asked.

Of course, he thinks about having Dean’s help every time his heat comes around, and the one time their cycles coincided, he thought about helping one another, since they’d both be doing the work anyway.

But before that, Cas had once thought that, no matter how badly he wanted to be of service to Dean, he wouldn’t be willing.

Now, though — now that he’s decided it would be acceptable to help Dean, if Dean were helping him at the same time, would he still object to doing it if he weren’t getting anything out of it?

“Oh, honey,” Meg says, suddenly, clapping him on the back. “Don’t break yourself. Here, eat my carrots.”

Cas obliges, although he’s not especially fond of raw carrots — every time he bites into one, he’s startled — and thinks about her question, about everything else he learned.

Long after lunch is over, after he’s finished training and distractedly read his book and eaten his dinner and crawled into bed, Cas is still not sure what his answer is.

But he does decide that, if Dean’s not the one asking the question — he doesn’t really need to know how to answer, does he?

With that in mind, he decides not to think about it, and quickly falls asleep.

 

 

 

At the end of May, Michael and his court arrive from Eden to celebrate the five-year anniversary of the treaty. He’s not very happy to find Dean missing yet again, and Cas gathers that John forgot about the anniversary celebrations when he made the plans for training.

“The, ah, the uncertain weather,” John blusters when Michael notices Dean’s absence. “It’s a process — necessary, of course, given the recent wars — and we’d . . . hate to have it drag on into Fall.”

Michael just purses his lips.

“I see.”

John takes a long swig of his ale, looking deeply pained, and Cas makes a note to include a description of it in his next letter to Dean.

Michael’s party takes refreshments and then excuses themselves to rest, but just as Cas is trying to signal to Anna that he’ll meet her in her chambers, Michael clears his throat.

“I would speak to my little brother before I rest.”

“Of course.” John nods in Cas’s direction. “Visit with your brother, Castiel.”

Cas can count on one hand the number of times he’s received direct orders from John — he hardly ever sees the man — but he doesn’t like it one bit. Getting orders from Dean is a pleasure in comparison.

Especially if he’s being ordered to visit his brother, with whom Cas was never accustomed to spending one-on-one time.

“Yes, your majesty,” he says, and reluctantly follows Michael and his guards out of the room. Anna’s worried face doesn’t help his apprehension. What on earth could Michael have to say to him that’s so important he wouldn’t just delegate the conversation to one of his servants or Anna or even a letter?

There’s a little study off of Michael’s chambers, and Michael dismisses the guards to the other room while he makes himself comfortable in a large, plush armchair.

It’s strangely cozy, for a meeting with Michael. Somehow, that makes it worse.

He nearly takes a seat, but remembers he hasn’t been told to sit yet; then he almost asks what Michael wants, but once again, catches himself just in time. Even if Castiel is Lawrencian now, he’s supposed to wait for his brother to address him.

It’s all very stupid, he thinks.

Michael looks at him for a long moment, appearing to scan his figure with a strangely calculating eye.

“You look well, brother,” Michael eventually says, and gestures for him to sit.

“Thank you.” Cas settles into the chair opposite him. “As do you.”

Michael nods, considering.

“You look a different person than when I last saw you,” he continues, and Cas isn’t sure what to say to that.

“It’s been four years,” he offers, and Michael’s eyes narrow.

“Yes. Yes, it has. This is your nineteenth year, is it not?”

“Yes? September,” Cas adds, not entirely sure Michael hasn’t forgotten when his birthday is.

“Indeed. You’re quite old, now. Fully grown.”

Once again, Cas isn’t sure how to respond.

Michael sighs.

“I don’t wish to speak of . . . distasteful things, Castiel, but I’m afraid I must be frank.”

“Alright?”

“Last I came here, I was given to understand you slept in barracks, with any and every hoodlum enlisted in the army. It’s been four years, however, and I should hope things have changed. I assume your husband shares your bed?”

Cas blinks. This is not the question he was expecting. How are his and Dean’s sleepovers distasteful? They are rather fun, Cas supposes, and Michael is generally in opposition to things that amuse people.

“Well, no; when we do, we always use Dean’s—” Cas starts, and Michael looks aghast, throwing up a hand.

“Good, God, brother! I don’t want details !”

Cas frowns.

“Then why did you ask?” he asks, forgetting himself, and Michael’s mouth flattens.

“I hope you don’t speak so rudely to your husband.”

Hesitating, Cas considers what’s safe to say. Michael is as sensitive as ever.

“Dean doesn’t think I’m rude,” he finally says. A brat is not the same thing, he reasons.

“And you call him by his name. Lawrence, ” Michael mutters. “Anyway. So you do share his bed?”

How bizarre. Cas isn’t sure whether to be offended or fascinated by this line of questioning. It seems utterly beneath Michael to care about such things as Cas’s sleeping habits.

“Sometimes? I still live in the barracks, though.”

Frown deepening, Michael’s gaze flickers to Cas’s midsection, and Cas fights the urge to cross his arms over it.

“I see. That is a problem.” His brow furrows. “Still, I hope you’re not . . . afflicted with difficulty. How many — cycles, have you shared?”

For some reason, Cas feels his cheeks warming. Is Michael like all the people in the barracks who assume Dean helps him with his heat?

“We don’t,” he says stiffly, though he’s tempted to lie.

“What? But — you’ve begun having them, yes?”

“Yes? I’ve had quite a few.”

Michael stiffens, irate.

“What is the meaning of this, Castiel?” he demands. “No matter how displeasing he finds you, he has a duty, as your husband and your alpha —”

“Displeasing?” Cas interrupts, and Michael scowls.

“And that’s another thing, Castiel. What have you done to repulse your husband, that he finds you so intolerable at such a time?”

Cas swallows. Has he? It never occurred to him that Dean declined to offer his aid for any other reason than the amount of work involved.

“Well — if — if he’s in rut at the same time, isn’t it — burdensome?”

Michael looks appalled.

“Don’t use such coarse language, Castiel! And no. Especially if he’s — in cycle — he should barely be able to resist you!”

Shock usurping his unease, Cas draws back.

“I would never attack Dean while he was so vulnerable,” Cas protests, although he’s pretty sure Dean could resist him anyway. Those are not the conditions he wants to fight him under.

Michael huffs.

“I’m not suggesting you throw yourself at him! I’m suggesting you shouldn’t have to! You are a fair prince of Eden, of fertile age, and it is his privilege and obligation to make your union fruitful!”

Cas just sort of looks back at him, trying to parse all of this. He’d forgotten just how weird Michael was.

“I don’t understand,” he says tiredly, slumping in his chair and still preoccupied with the idea that Dean may find him disgusting. It’s not very knightly of him, but he would rather be a burden on his prince than a source of revulsion.

Michael gets a pinched look.

“For God’s sake, Castiel. You have a duty to Eden. See that it is fulfilled, however you must — lower yourself to do it.”

He has the nerve to sound annoyed, when he is the one making odd demands Cas cannot even begin to fathom. Cas is tired of his riddles, and too many years away have given him little tolerance for Michael’s pretensions of authority.

“You are not my king, Michael. You are not my alpha, either. The only duty I have is to Dean, and you are the one who has made it so.”

Michael’s lip curls.

“Indeed. And you are failing in your duty to him as well.”

Cas’s indignation falters a little at that.

“No, I’m not.”

“You are. The elder prince’s appetites are known throughout the continent for their voracity and lack of discrimination both. If he cannot sate them with you — not even for his kingdom — then there is a problem. And that problem is you.

Cas can feel his face growing hot, stomach sinking.

“I don’t — what are you saying? I serve Dean — devotedly. He trains me himself, daily. I am unerringly loyal, and I intend to serve as his knight — as his best knight, as his second someday, for as long as I am able.”

Michael stares for a moment, and then he laughs, cold and humorless.

“Well, there’s the issue. You have become a crass, bullish, rough sort of thing. Nothing any alpha would take to bed. No wonder he turns to others.”

Cas flinches, unable to help himself.

Dean lets him into his bed as often as Cas pleases — invites him to be there, much of the time — but Cas is beginning to think he understands what this conversation is about, what it’s been about from the beginning; what Michael means in his vague, silly, Edenish way.

And Cas — Cas has never thought of it in these terms. He has never asked Dean for help, determined not to cause him trouble or discomfort, and he used to be relieved that Dean didn’t want his help, either.

And though he knew, from the time he had his conversation with Anna, that he and Dean did not want to do those things together — it never occurred to him that that might be a problem. It never occurred to him to wonder why Dean didn’t want to do those things with him, when he clearly has an interest in the activity, generally speaking.

He didn’t think it through at all, and he certainly never thought that perhaps Dean specifically didn’t want him. That Cas might be genuinely distasteful to him. That this was something Dean’s husband should be able to do for him — outside of cycles, even, if he’s understanding correctly — and Dean was disappointed.

Michael sighs, looking over him critically.

“Would that I had had someone else to give him instead. Even Anna—”

Everything in Cas rails against that, at the idea that someone else might have stolen Cas’s place here. Cas is Dean’s husband. It’s a special distinction, and Cas would fight before he relinquished his place at Dean’s side and all the advantages that come with it.

But Michael is saying Cas doesn’t belong here. That he’s not good enough, and that Dean wants others before he wants Cas; that Dean would have been happier with someone else.

That Cas is failing him.

It’s — well. It’s crushing.

Of course, Michael just looks satisfied.

“For your own sake, Castiel, if not for mine, you will be much happier, and much more secure in your position here, if your husband actually wants you.”

How? Cas almost asks, but his pride will not allow him.

“Are you finished?” he asks tersely, and Michael narrows his eyes.

“You are dismissed.”

Cas stalks from the room without another word, furious and ashamed and suddenly very afraid of what the future holds.

 

 

 

It’s a difficult week. Anna and Sam and Valencia can all tell, but the shame that comes with these new realizations is a thing that burns at him constantly, making Cas’s lungs feel heavy and his whole heart singed.

He sleeps poorly, woken by nightmares he doesn’t remember, and he misses Dean desperately, though he’s convinced now that Dean doesn’t miss him much at all. It is difficult to muster amusement when he thinks he’s been selfishly enjoying a life that never should have belonged to him, and maybe even at Dean’s expense.

Cas knows he would rather be married to Dean than Sam, than anyone else. Cas knows he doesn’t want to be married at all, if he can’t be married to Dean.

He forgot to wonder if Dean felt the same, and now that he’s pretty sure he doesn’t, Cas thinks he was a fool.

He thought it didn’t matter if Dean was in love with him back, but he was wrong. It absolutely matters. Cas doesn’t want Dean to not want to be married to him. He doesn’t want him to ever find someone he’d rather be married to, someone he’d rather have sleep in his room, someone he wants to meet with instead of training Cas in the courtyard or — or anything.

He thinks about the time he received that alarming letter from Anna a lot, this week. He thinks about how terrible he’d felt when Dean sent him away, and even though his broader experience with erections has taught him some empathy for Dean’s situation, he still remembers the feeling that Dean would give his attention to someone else when Cas needed him.

It was one of the worst feelings he’s ever had, and right now, he’s afraid there will come a day that he must feel that way all the time.

Because he’s afraid, too, that Dean is not as happy as Cas thought, whether he knows Cas is in love with him or not.

“Cas,” Sam says at the end of the week, when they’re settled by the tree outside the kitchens. “You don’t seem, um — you don’t seem like you’re doing so well.”

“I’m fine,” Cas assures him, as he has every day, and Sam sighs.

“You’re really not. Val and your sister are both worried about you.”

“I’m aware. But I’m fine.”

“Cas.” Sam takes his hand, clasping it with both of his own and catching his eye. “Please talk to me.”

It’s not fair, Cas thinks. Sam is using the Face, the one that makes Dean groan and cave to whatever demands are being made, and when he holds Cas’s hand like that, it makes Cas feel like a child in a way that’s unexpectedly comforting. It is that last thing in particular that has him wanting to cry and tell Sam everything.

He draws in a suddenly shaky breath.

“Do you know if—” He hesitates. It’s embarrassing, to ask this, but Sam is Dean’s brother, and he loves him more than anything. Surely he’d want to help Cas make him happy? “How do I make Dean want me?”

The reassuring grip on his hand slackens a little, and Sam looks taken aback.

“Um. How, um, how do you mean that, Cas?”

“Dean — wants people. Like Pamela and the blonde that one time, and — I want to know how to make him want me like that.”

Sam is quiet for a long moment, eyes searching.

“Well. Do you want him like that?”

“What?”

“Do you want him? In that way?”

“That’s not — that isn’t important.”

Sam takes a deep breath.

“Cas. Listen to me. Dean loves you, okay?”

Cas looks down. Does he? He told Cas that, years ago, and never once since. He certainly doesn’t love Cas the way Cas loves him.

“And he loves spending time with you,” Sam continues, earnest. “You — you’re a huge part of what makes him happy. Whatever it is you think you have to do, or be — you don’t. You’re enough, just the way you are. And he’s always going to love you, no matter what.”

Sam speaks with absolute conviction, and he knows Dean better than anyone, and Cas trusts him.

But as relieved as Cas feels to hear that, it doesn’t change the need he has to know.

“But — I —”

Sam tightens his grip on Cas’s hand.

Do you want him? Because if it’s just about Dean — I swear, Cas. You don’t need to do that. Dean won’t be happy if you do.”

“Why not?” he demands, and then it hits him. “Is this — is it like being in love? Is it because I’m too young?”

Cas can handle that. It does little to dull the ache in his chest, but if he could be sure that Dean was simply put off by Cas’s youth and not by Cas himself, that some day things would be different, Cas could bear it.

“I mean, that’s certainly a factor. But the most important thing is what you want.”

“I want to be useful to Dean,” Cas insists, and Sam’s face darkens.

“Well, Dean doesn’t want that. I don’t know where you got the idea that he did, but all Dean wants is for you to do what makes you happy.”

Cas grits his teeth, because Sam isn’t getting it.

“Being useful to Dean will make me happy.” Being wanted by him will, he thinks, and he’s not sure how they’re different, but they are, and he wants both.

Sam fixes him with a hard stare.

“Yeah? Well, if you do that when you don’t want Dean just for the sake of wanting him — I don’t know if Dean will ever be happy with you again. I don’t know if he’d ever trust you again.”

Cas inhales sharply. He doesn’t want that. It’s the last thing he wants.

But does he want Dean?

“How do I know if I want him? How can I tell?”

Sam hesitates.

“It’s hard to say, Cas. I know you love Dean — all the ways you can love someone — but that’s different than this kind of stuff. I mean, if you think about—” He makes a face. “Being with Dean, in that way — do you think you’d, um, want to?”

Cas doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what all his dreams mean, or why it feels so nice to think about Dean during his heat, why the dreams and thoughts the rest of the time feel that way, too, or why he often thinks about that kiss in the courtyard and wonders.

Or if he’d ever help Dean, if his rut came and Cas wasn’t in cycle, too.

“I don’t know,” he admits. “I’m not sure.”

Sam nods.

“Then — think about it, I guess. And if the answer is yes, then you can figure out the other thing. But if the answer is no — if you ever do something you don’t like just because Dean wants it? He’d be devastated.”

Cas swallows, hard, but he inclines his head.

“Okay. I’ll — I’ll think about it.”

Sam squeezes his hand one more time, and then lets go, giving him a small smile.

“Good. Let’s read for a bit, okay?”

Cas opens his book and turns the pages, but he doesn’t get much reading done at all.

Chapter Text

The thing about thinking is that it’s fickle and unpredictable and generally very uncooperative with one’s intent.

Cas can’t seem to stop thinking about things he doesn’t want to think about at all, and yet, when there’s something he should think about, something he needs to think about, it’s as if his brain shies away like a skittish horse and wanders everywhere but where it’s meant to go.

When he tries to think about wanting Dean, his lungs seize and his heart stops, and after a moment of blank silence, his mind dances off in a new direction.

Often, that direction is toward the consequences if he decides he doesn’t want Dean, which are still much easier to think about.

It’s especially bad when the post comes, and he both has a new letter to read and an obligation to write something back. Dean’s next letter contains an agreement to tell Cas dirty jokes followed by three paragraph’s worth of scratched out lines, which are then followed by a promise to do it next time.

(He does, although then Cas is obligated to write back and ask why something banana-like in someone’s pocket would indicate pleasure at encountering a person. At no point since his arrival in Lawrence has anyone offered him something from their pockets on meeting, so it can’t possibly be some sort of Lawrencian greeting ritual.

Unless no one is ever happy to see him, but that doesn’t seem right.)

Much as he enjoys these letters, and the reassurance that comes when Dean remarks on how dull it is at the camps and how much he misses home, Cas longs for Dean’s return more than ever, and he wishes there were some way to seek comfort from him. Next time, be busy thinking around me, okay? Cas has not forgotten that, and even if he can’t tell Dean what’s on his mind, he knows Dean’s company would make him feel better anyway.

As it is, Dean is not here, and when Cas sits down to write, he’s not sure what to say.

What would it be like if I did want you? Cas wants to ask, but he can’t even bring himself to imagine it, so a letter from Dean explaining that would probably remain unopened and therefore useless.

Assuming it didn’t upset Dean too much for him to respond at all. After all, until Cas decides whether he does or doesn’t want Dean, and figures out how to make Dean want him if he does, Dean currently doesn’t.

In light of that, a communication of any of Cas’s current struggles would be very unwelcome.

So Cas does his best to organize his thoughts (he doesn’t succeed) and he reads Dean’s letters carefully and writes his own even more so, and he is so preoccupied with all of these things that when his heat hits at the end of June, he’s startled.

“Seven months,” Ellen remarks. “Let’s hope it stays right around here.”

“It’s too hot for this,” Cas protests, and she pats his head.

“Too bad your body doesn’t care. Go on and get comfortable in your usual room.”

Cas hesitates.

“Do you think I need to be here? In the infirmary?”

She gives him a funny look.

“Trust me, hon, neither you or anybody else wants you in the barracks right now.”

“No, no, of course not, but — maybe I could stay in the castle?”

Ellen gives him a quizzical smile.

“You hate your room. I don’t think you’ve been in there in a couple years.”

Cas is honestly not sure he remembers where it is, but that’s beside the point.

“I thought I could stay in Dean’s room. It’s more, uh. It’s more comfortable.”

Which is absolutely true — however, it also still probably smells like Dean, and Cas knows from the time Dean brought him a blanket that things that smell like Dean are extremely comforting when he’s suffering like this.

“I don’t know, Cas. I’m not sure Dean would be okay with that.”

“Dean always lets me sleep in there when he’s here.”

Ellen raises her brows.

“And d’you think he’d let you sleep in there if he were here right now?”

Cas turns red. As much as he likes to imagine Dean being there during his heats, if only as a comforting presence, the idea of actually spending who knows how many days in Dean’s bed managing his heat while Dean was present

“N-no. Probably not.”

“Uh-huh.”

“But he’s not here. It’s like — well, it’s like borrowing something. And I don’t think he’ll mind.”

She mulls this over, although there’s a not entirely happy, knowing look in her eye.

“He’s not gonna be home for another month or so, huh?”

“They come back the first week of August.”

“Alright. Should fade enough by then,” she mutters, and then nods. “I’ll have someone check on you just as often, alright?”

“Thank you. I should be fine; I’ve done this quite a few times, now.”

“Still. Gotta make sure you’re eating and staying hydrated, and you’re able to sleep.”

Cas beams.

“You do make a wonderful tea.”

Ellen rolls her eyes.

“Let’s get you set up.”

Ellen leaves him with the dreaded cloth bag, despite his protests — “It ain’t gonna leap outta the bag and bite you, honey. Ignore it if you want.” — and Cas makes himself comfortable in the bed, curling up with a book in an effort to enjoy the few hours he probably has before it hits in full.

He falls asleep at some point, and when he wakes, his groggy brain somehow imagines Dean is there. Only when he rolls over, unconsciously reaching, does he wake fully, keen disappointment jarring him from the haze.

It goes like that the next few days; Cas can’t decide if it was a good idea or a bad idea to stay in here, after all. On the one hand, Dean’s scent is a great comfort, makes Cas feel safe and cozy ensconced in the blankets, and lulls him into much-needed naps and early bedtimes without Ellen’s tea even being a consideration.

On the other hand, it’s less comforting when Cas can feel his heat amping up, and more maddening. Every time he shifts and the blankets waft the bright, happy scent of woods and spice and winter fruit, Cas can practically feel his temperature raise.

Among other things.

If not thinking about Dean is difficult during Cas’s other heats, it’s impossible here, surrounded by his scent and all his things in a place they spend so much time together. Even during a break, when Cas is burrowed under all the blankets, squished between pillows and clutching his book, he resents Dean’s absence, sure that if Dean were here, he could use Dean as a pillow.

Perhaps, if he looked pathetic enough, he could get Dean to read to him. And maybe Dean would balance the book with one hand, and then use the other to run his fingers through Cas’s hair like he sometimes does after he dries it for him, except for more than a few seconds. Cas feels a sort of quiet bliss just picturing it.

Of course, he always remembers this is the opposite of knightly behavior, and demanding Dean play furniture and entertain him is probably even more of a burden than outright asking for help with the other things — but it really doesn’t stop him from daydreaming.

Which brings him to the next problem.

All those thoughts about wanting Dean that he couldn’t quite get a hold of seem to be crowding in at the edges of his brain now that it’s not particularly convenient to think about them. Cas gives in, a few times, imagines Dean being there, helping him so all Cas has to do is relax and maybe put his arms around Dean, since he’d have to be close anyway, and hugs are nice, and — and anyway, it’s all really very nice, so much so that it does in fact make it harder not to think about the next time.

But does it count? If Cas can’t or doesn’t think about it when he’s not — well, like this — then wouldn’t that be his true answer? Having help seems to be a fairly normal thing, so maybe what he wants right now is to have someone else deal with it.

Which says nothing about the rest of the time, does it? After all, Dean enjoys these kinds of activities outside of his cycle, and given that cycles are a negligible fraction of the time . . .

What Cas wants during one is irrelevant to his problem.

It’s immensely frustrating, and Cas still feels guilty and unsure whether he should be thinking of Dean right now or not; and even though he usually feels better when things settle down enough for him to go out on the field, the moment he steps foot outside Dean’s room, he wants to turn around and bury himself under the blankets and never come out.

It’s a very trying heat, and he’s immensely relieved when it dissipates completely after four days.

His other troubles remain, of course, but Dean won’t be home for a month.

Cas has time.

 

 

 

Dean’s taking a fucking vacation when he gets back home; he never wants to see another training setup again.

The last four months felt longer than the war, he swears to God. Cas will probably be annoyed, but he’s spending at least two weeks sitting under the damn tree with everybody. If Cas wants bonus training, he can go hassle Bobby.

Dean is so fucking tired.

“Really? I couldn’t tell,” Benny drawls, and Dean throws him a disparaging look.

“Like you’re not.”

“Didn’t say that,” he returns mildly, smirking. “But I’m not bitchin’ about it, either.”

Not yet. One more mile of woods and then the bitching will set in.

Ever since Purgaea, Benny gets antsy.

“Ooh, I want a turn to bitch!” Charlie says, and Dean inclines his head.

“Knock yourself out, Chuckles.”

“First things first: I miss my bed.”

Dean grunts in agreement.

“I mean, it’s not as nice as your bed, by all accounts,” she continues, and Dean decides not to think about those implications, “But I have a feather mattress!”

“Really?” Benny wonders. “Thought that willowy thing from the tavern was allergic.”

Charlie sighs.

“Right? I was gonna get a new one, but she dumped me right before I left. Apparently four months is too long to wait,” she says bitterly.

Dean blinks.

“Dude, you were pickin’ up at the first outpost within the week.”

Charlie sniffs.

“I was nursing a broken heart. Shut up.”

“Yeah, chief,” Benny says good-naturedly. “You’re just jealous you weren’t gettin’ any.”

“Hey, I could have if I wanted,” Dean objects. “There were towns and shit.”

Benny glances over, and there’s something like curiosity there.

“Uh-huh. Funny that you didn’t.”

“What does that mean?”

Benny shrugs.

“Means it’s funny that you didn’t.”

“Not that funny,” Charlie interjects, before Dean can try and shove Benny off his horse, because what the fuck. “Not really funny at all. Very reasonable. Anywho, back to mattresses—”

“Hey, wait,” Ash calls up. “Teddy’s got a point.”

Benny makes a face, and if Ash didn’t seem to be agreeing with him, Dean would laugh.

Ash rides up a little closer, scratching his chin.

“I don’t remember you comin’ out to the capital taverns, either, my friend.” Ash frowns. “You’re not havin’ problems with the little captain, are you?”

Charlie snorts, but Dean just tenses, remembering the unfortunate circumstances Linus left under.

He hasn’t tr— that is, had time to try since, but good ol’ self administration is working just fine, so no, he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the little captain.

“I’m good,” he mutters.

These assholes have the nerve to exchange looks, and Ash gawps a little.

“Woah.” He blinks. “Like, woah. Didja talk to Doc Harvelle, or what? That’s not cool, man. I’m so sorry.”

Dean takes a deep breath, plastering on a smirk as he rolls his eyes.

“Look, just ‘cause I don’t fuck people on bartops doesn’t mean I don’t do it in private.”

Ash looks wounded.

“Aw, c’mon. That was o— uh, two — three? Times!”

Charlie puts a hand to her face.

“And I had just about forgotten that. Thanks for that.”

Ash salutes her, but on Dean’s other side, Benny’s looking thoughtful.

“Hmmm,” he noises, long and slow, and Dean gently guides his horse a little closer, more toward shoving distance.

Benny’s own canters ahead a bit, and he grins.

“Not so fast, brother.”

Dean shrugs.

“Worth a shot.”

“Anyway,” Charlie continues. “It’s Dean’s business if he doesn’t feel like picking up random townspeople on the road, or if he has a medical condition—”

“I don’t,” Dean grits out.

“Or even if he’s just, you know, working through some stuff!”

Dean blinks.

“What?”

“So lay off his little captain, okay?”

Ash looks appropriately contrite.

“Sorry, dude. My bad.”

“What?” Dean repeats, and Charlie slaps him on the back.

“Ooh, hey, town up ahead! I sure could use a drink, how ‘bout you guys?”

Charlie’s horse trots ahead, taking her out of questioning range and leaving Dean rather disturbed.

**

He forgets about it once they make it to the town and book a room at the inn; Dean sends a messenger ahead to the castle to let them know he’s only a couple days away, and then he gets good and plastered and doesn’t respond to the come-hither grins of the buxom barmaid who indulgently tells Ash a string of bad knock-knock jokes that have him howling with laughter.

He probably could, and maybe he should, but he should also get a good night’s sleep if he’s going to be traveling, and he won’t, if he invites her back to his room.

Because if he does that, they’ll probably go several rounds, because there’s nothing wrong with Dean’s little captain, and that will take most of the night, so it’s just — it’s just not responsible.

**

And Dean is nothing if not responsible, right? Which is actually the whole reason he hasn’t been getting laid, and you know what, fuck his squad. They’ve never had to be Prince and Commander, or else they’d understand.

Anyway, Dean goes to bed alone, and consoles himself with imagining how awesome it’ll be to finally go home until he falls asleep.

 

 

 

Two days later, they hear the gate horn announce their arrival, and half an hour after that, they’re at the gate and as it’s raising, he can see the small crowd beyond. It’s not gonna be as crazy as the last few times, since it’s just him and his squad, but Dean honestly doesn’t care either way.

Just as long as the important people are there.

He picks Sam out right away, because he’s a giant these days, and needs to look no further to find Valencia and Cas. Valencia’s arm is linked with Cas’s, and Dean doesn’t bother holding back a grin when it becomes apparent that she’s partially holding him back.

God damn, does it feel good to see them.

He dismounts the moment he’s inside the gate, handing the reins to the waiting stablehands with a quick thanks, and then he’s striding forward just as Cas breaks out of Valencia’s hold and meets him halfway.

Dean’s sort of disappointed not to get a tackling hug, even though the last one nearly threw out his back because Cas isn’t exactly small anymore. Instead, Cas’s anxiousness melts into a weird hesitation, and he gives Dean an almost shy look, although Cas is the least shy person Dean knows, if only because he rarely knows when he should be embarrassed; and even when he is, it makes him more irritable than shy.

Dean shuffles closer, suddenly a little unsure.

“Hello, Dean,” Cas says, and Dean relaxes slightly. It’s nice to hear it again, even though it’s only been four months.

“Hey, Cas.”

Cas inches forward, expression still a little weird, and then suddenly he’s tugging at the front of Dean’s tunic, grip tight, and tilting his chin up.

And sure, it’s not like Dean didn’t think of this, about what happened last time he came home, but that was a ridiculous, transparent lie Cas told in order to try kissing Sam, and it never occurred to Dean that Cas would bother maintaining the ruse when he had to know they both knew that’s what it was.

But then there’s a soft pair of lips on his, firm nonetheless, and Cas’s fresh, petrichor and sweet red apple scent is blindsiding him in the sudden proximity.

Dean blamed surprise the first time, and he blames it this time, too, even when he feels Cas’s hands tighten in his tunic and Dean’s head automatically tilts to account for the increased pressure on his mouth and wait, what the fuck

Cas finally breaks the kiss, but he doesn’t go far, turning his head so that his stubble slides along Dean’s cheek as his arms move up to wrap around him in a hug.

“Welcome home Dean,” he whispers, breath warm against Dean’s neck, and Dean’s startled to realize he’s already hugging him back.

He takes a deep breath.

“Uh. Thank you. It’s, uh, it’s — good. To be home.”

Even if Cas is taking things way too far, and oh fuck, how is Dean even going to begin having this conversation with him?

He just sort of stands there, dumb and shell-shocked and arms tight around Cas’s waist, and he has no idea how much time passes before Benny starts coughing and Charlie starts whistling and Dean realizes he is a giant fucking moron.

What the hell is he even worried about? It’s fine. Cas is a stubborn son of a bitch and he’s too embarrassed to admit he lied, but all Dean has to do is call him on his bullshit and let Cas be all annoyed and huffy for a few minutes and then it’ll be fine.

Not a big deal.

Jesus, all the travel is getting to him.

Cas sighs, the exhalation tickling through the hair on Dean’s neck and bringing him to mortified awareness.

“Okay, huggy-bear,” he manages, gruff, and lets his hands drop. “Charlie probably wants a hug from you, too.”

Cas usually doesn’t hug Charlie until they make it into the hall, generally preoccupied with Dean, but Dean can feel his whole face turning red and since it’s neither cold enough or hot enough for that, he’s desperate to draw attention away from it.

Cas hesitates, and then finally steps back, looking uncertain.

And then he sort of squares his shoulder and goes to Charlie and —

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

There’s a strange noise off to the side, but Dean’s too busy watching Cas plant one on an extremely startled ginger to figure out who made it and why.

“Welcome home, Charlie,” Cas says, giving her a big, slightly awkward hug, and then—

“Wait—” Dean starts, just as Benny jerks in surprise, but it’s too late. Cas has already pushed up on his toes, gripping Benny’s massive shoulders for support as he brushes their lips together.

This is Dean’s worst fucking nightmare, he thinks, too alarmed to notice that’s kind of dramatic and certainly not true.

Ash elbows Benny out of the way once Cas moves back down, arms open, and when Dean catches Walt and Roy exchanging hopeful looks and inching forward behind him, he lurches forward, seizing the back of Cas’s tunic, though not quite in time to stop his lips from making contact with Ash’s.

“Yeah, no, Ash is good, Cas,” he grits out, tugging him back and giving his best menacing look to all the lecherous-looking members of his squad. Fucking perverts; Cas is a child, god damn it. “Everybody else is good. We’re going inside.”

Cas blinks at him, though he doesn’t resist as Dean tugs him forward and out of the way.

“No hug for us?” Val queries as he passes, and he gives her a tight smile.

“Inside. Too sunny out here.”

“Mhm,” she says, and Dean swears he sees her smirk before he’s finished passing.

It’s not funny, damn it. Cas is going way too far, and as soon as Dean gets him alone, he’s making sure he understands that Dean knows he’s full of it and kissing every fucking member of his squad is just — pointless. And excessive.

He glances back at Cas as he uses his free hand to pull open the door to the Hall, and blanches, nearly letting go of the handle in shock.

Cas has his fingers pressed up to his lip, expression thoughtful, and hell fucking no. Dean’s not sure which one of his asshole squad is putting that considering look on his face, but just no.

He bypasses the table entirely, dragging Cas into an auxiliary pantry just outside the hall and shutting the door behind him.

Cas looks surprised.

“Aren’t we going to eat with the others?” He pauses, looking down. “Not that I’m not — very happy to see you, Dean.”

Dean’s a little thrown by that, but only for a moment, before he draws himself up and places his hands on Cas’s shoulders, grip firm.

“Cas,” he says, and Cas looks between his hands for a long moment before he finally meets Dean’s eyes.

“Uh. Yes?” he says, eyes wide and voice nearly a whisper. It’s kind of weird, but Dean’s determined to clear this up now.

“I know you lied.”

Cas jerks back a little, but Dean holds on, maintaining eye contact.

“’Hello’ kisses are not an Edenish tradition.”

Even in the extremely dim light coming from beneath the door, Dean can see Cas’s cheeks turn red.

“I’m sure some of your books are wrong—” Cas starts, and Dean rolls his eyes.

“I don’t have to look it up to know you’re a liar, man.”

Cas sucks in a breath, opening his mouth, but Dean beats him to it.

“And even if they are — we don’t do that in Lawrence, alright? People here kiss for two reasons. You peck your kids to show affection, and for the most part, the only time you kiss unrelated adults on the mouth is when you’ve got romance or other shit going on.”

Cas’s shoulders are incredibly tense beneath Dean’s hands, jaw working.

Dean can tell he’s trying to figure out a way to explain it, and he sighs.

“Look, Cas, I get why you made that up last time, okay? I know you were dealing with . . . stuff, but you said you resolved it, so let’s just forget about it. And don’t go around kissing everyone in the castle.”

“I was only going to kiss the people who’d been aw—” he starts, and Dean about has a heart attack. He suspected that’s where that might be headed, but he’d been hoping Cas would have kept it to the people he usually eats dinner with.

“That’s like twenty people, Cas!” Dean retorts. “And like I said, Lawrencians are — weird about kissing. You meant it friendly, but some of those people would have — anyway, I don’t want them getting weird ideas about you, even if they know better than to try anything. It’s just — it’s just weird. So don’t do it, okay?”

Cas frowns, clearly baffled.

“What do you mean by wei—” Cas winces as Dean squeezes his shoulders, stepping closer. “Alright.”

“And, uh. I, uh, I know that, uh. Look, kissing’s fun,” he finally settles on, because there’s still the very serious matter of whatever Cas was touching his lips and thinking about back there. “But even if you enjoyed kissing any of those people back there, you, uh. You’re not — well, you need to forget it, alright? Charlie only likes girls and Ash is really fucking weird and Benny’s — uh. He’s — well, he’s too old for you,” Dean settles on, although he’s alarmed by his inability to think of a good deterrent.

Cas hesitates.

“I didn’t enjoy kissing any of them,” he finally says, and Dean relaxes.

“Oh. Okay. Well — good.”

“I don’t think Benny’s too old for me, though,” Cas adds, and yeah, goodbye relaxation.

“What? Of course he is! He’s my age, man.”

Cas purses his lips, shrugging off Dean’s hands, except for some reason he steps forward instead of back.

“Yes, and I don’t think he’s too old for me,” he says, mouth set in a firm line.

Jesus Christ, how is this Dean’s life?

“So you did enjoy kissing him,” Dean says, suddenly furious, because Cas needs to sort his fucking lies out and stop creating drama so Dean can just enjoy being back home instead of handling random crises.

Cas looks frustrated.

“No, I did not.”

“Then you shouldn’t care if he’s too old for you!”

Cas huffs.

“I’m just pointing out that I — I’m not a child. And if I wanted someone Benny’s age — if someone Benny’s age wanted me, then . . . I don’t think it’s a problem.”

Dean feels weirdly shocked and hollow, for some reason.

Probably because Cas is talking in terms of wanting, like — like he knows what that means, beyond some vague awareness that it’s a thing other people experience, and Dean feels like he’s about to have a fucking panic attack.

After all, Dad’ll kill one or both of them if Cas decides the rules are stupid and he gets it into his head to play around. And Dean will probably have a little murder to get done himself if the person he decides to play around with is Benny’s age, because they should know better.

In fact, Dean doesn’t care how old they are; everyone in the castle should know better.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he finally says.

“Maybe,” Cas admits. “But you don’t, either. These things vary.”

“Excuse me? What things?”

Cas shrugs.

“Whether I’m a — a man. Or not.”

“You’re not,” Dean says flatly, and Cas is silent for a moment.

“Fight me,” he says suddenly, and Dean recoils.

“The hell?”

“Fight me, for real. And if I win—”

“You won’t.”

“You said you would fight me, someday.”

“And I will. But not yet.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re not a man.”

Cas throws his hands up.

“That’s — Dean, that doesn’t make sense. How can I show you I’m a man if you won’t fight me unless I’m already a man?”

“Awesome question, Cas, let me think — oh, right, you can’t, because you’re not a man, and you won’t be a man for a long time, and Benny and anybody else you’re thinking about is off-limits.”

Cas gives him the most withering glare Dean’s ever seen, and then he turns to leave the pantry.

Dean reaches out to catch his arm without thinking.

“Wait — Cas. Come on. I don’t wanna fight with you.”

“Yes, as you’ve said—”

“No, I mean — this. I don’t wanna argue. I’m — God, I’ve been looking forward to being home since I left, and I — uh. I missed you, and stuff, and I don’t — can’t we just eat dinner and hang out and not . . . do this?”

Cas narrows his eyes.

You’re the one who dragged me in here to lecture me—”

Dean’s about to argue that point, but then he realizes Cas is kind of right.

And clearly, Cas needed the lecture — not that Dean is entirely sure it achieved the desired effect — but still. Everyone’s probably halfway through dinner by now.

“Sorry. I just — I’m just trying to look out for you, okay?”

Cas is quiet for a minute, and then he turns, drifting back into Dean’s space and giving him a searching look.

“Thank you. I . . . I like that you do that. That you look out for me.”

Dean nods, a little embarrassed, because as angry as he was a minute ago, Cas sounds incredibly sincere right now.

“I like that it means you care,” Cas continues quietly. “But I wish you understood that sometimes — sometimes caring means knowing when your efforts make it worse.”

“Cas—” Dean starts, because the whole point of looking out for Cas is that Cas doesn’t understand what’s going on most of the time, not in it’s entirety, and it’s Dean’s job to make up the difference.

And then Cas raises his hand and touches his cheek, and Dean is way too startled to continue.

“I don’t want to argue, either. Obviously, we’ve, uh . . . resolved the misunderstanding of the — the tradition.” Dean thinks Cas might be blushing, but his own face is warm, especially where Cas is touching it, so maybe he’s projecting. “And I know I’m not supposed to kiss anyone. And I’m — I’m very happy you’re home.”

“And you probably wanna eat dinner,” Dean manages, although his brain isn’t doing so hot right now.

Cas nods.

“Not as much as you probably do.” He clears his throat, finally withdrawing his hand, and Dean’s cheek feels suddenly cold. “We should — do that, then.”

Dean just nods, not sure what to say.

It’s only as he’s following Cas out of the pantry that another memory falls out, one when he was freshly returned from the war with Hellenia and suddenly had Cas’s nose buried in his neck, scenting him as part of another supposed Edenish tradition.

Which opens up a whole barrel of baffling questions, and without thinking, Dean pulls Cas back, gently pushing his fingers through his hair and tilting his head to the side.

He hears Cas inhale, and then Dean presses his nose right up to the column of Cas’s throat, dragging along it lightly at he scents him.

He’s caught off guard for a moment, because while Cas smells like Cas, it’s also apparent that he’s grown up quite a bit and he smells — well, he smells like he’s probably going to break some hearts someday — but then Dean remembers his goal here.

He steps back, searching Cas’s shocked face.

“What — why did you do that?” Cas asks, and there’s a breathless quality to that rough voice, and Dean’s not sure what to do with that either.

He swallows.

“That’s the real Edenish tradition, isn’t it?” Dean prompts him, and Cas blinks, opening his mouth.

Nothing comes out, and with this whole plan, it’s like his body has a mind of its own, because the next thing Dean does is bare his own throat, looking at Cas expectantly.

Cas stares for a long moment, and then he moves forward, the tip of his nose just barely sweeping across Dean’s skin as he takes a quick, deep sniff, then lurches back like he’s been burned.

“I’m hungry,” he says abruptly, and hurries into the Hall without looking back.

Dean, for his part, straightens out and stays put for a moment, thinking.

It still doesn’t do him any good, and after a few minutes, he follows.

 

 

 

Cas doesn’t say much during dinner, listening intently as the rest of the squad share their own stories of the outposts and towns they’ve been visiting — certainly, despite the dullness of the mission, there was a much more relaxed, cheerful atmosphere — and Dean is distracted enough by the actual conversation and the fascinatingly silent one happening between Sam and Valencia that he mostly doesn’t worry about shit that happened in the courtyard or the pantry or any of the problems that come with it.

He gets up to steal another pie from the buffet, and takes the opportunity to snag hugs from Pam and Jody while he’s over there.

“How were things, Dean?” Jody asks, dragging an apple pie closer with a knowing smile.

“Less exciting than a war, I hope,” Pam teases, and Dean sighs.

“So fucking boring. I cannot even tell you.”

“Oh, don’t worry, Bobby’s told us enough over the years,” Jody says, raising her brows meaningfully, and Dean shudders.

“Oh, God, he’s gonna make me do it again in a few years, isn’t he?”

**

He gets a sympathetic pat on the ass from Pam.

“You bet your cute ass he is. Speaking of which-”

Jody snorts.

“And that’s my cue.”

She squeezes Dean’s arm and wanders back to a table, leaving Pam and her flatteringly lecherous grin.

“I’m gettin’ deja vu,” he jokes.

“You could be,” she drawls, and Dean laughs.

“And I’d love to, but, uh, if you recall, Cas likes to catch up the first night.”

Pamela arches a brow.

“Is that what the kids are calling it?” she asks, a weird note in her voice, and Dean gives her a quizzical smile.

“What?”

She shakes her head, patting his cheek.

“Don’t worry. I’m just teasing you.” She sighs, eyes going a little faraway in that creepy way Missouri’s do, too. “I know it isn’t time yet.”

“What?” he repeats, but she just pinches the cheek she’s holding and winks.

“Anyway. It’s good to have you home, Dean. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow after training, instead.”

He’s still trying to figure out what the hell she’s on about, but he manages a suggestive grin and a, “Maybe I will,” before he scoops the pie up and goes back to his table.

**

Cas is staring at him as he walks back, and he doesn’t stop, even when Dean sits down and pointedly serves both of them a slice of pie.

“Do you . . .” he starts, and Dean raises a brow.

“What’s up, buddy?”

Cas hesitates.

“Pamela looked . . . happy to see you.”

Dean’s not really sure how to take that, and the joke that immediately comes to mind doesn’t seem appropriate. Sam and Cas both bullied him into sharing the most mild ones in his letters to Cas, and it still feels awkward as hell.

“Uh. Yeah. Pam’s a . . . good friend.”

Cas nods, quiet for long enough Dean takes a big bite of pie.

And then:

“Do you, uh. Do you prefer alphas? Or . . . women?”

Dean chokes.

“Uhhhm. Mwuf?”

Cas just tilts his head.

“For your, um. Bed partners?” He says it like he’s trying the phrase out and he’s not sure if it’s the right one and what the ever-living fuck happened while he was gone that Cas is suddenly talking about shit like wanting people and being old enough for other people and now, what kinds of people Dean likes to fuck?

If Cas thinks Dean’s going to give him advice he’d only need for a course he knows he’s not allowed to take, not until they muscle out a couple of heirs way far down the road, then the kid is crazy.

Dean’s not an idiot.

“Nah,” he finally says, once he’s chewed and swallowed, Cas watching all the while. “I’m really not picky, man. I just like, uh. Good lookin’ people I can laugh with, pretty much.”

That’s vague, right? There’s no dirty details, nothing to pique Cas’s interest and get him thinking about things he’s way too young to think about.

He’s certainly not about to tell Cas the specifics about what he enjoys doing with Pamela. After all, Pam’s an alpha, too, and he doesn’t want Cas getting this idea in his head that alphas are especially exciting bed partners, because while gender genuinely doesn’t make a difference to Dean, Cas having flings with alphas puts the worst-case-scenario risks up by practically double.

Of course, Cas shouldn’t be having flings with anybody, hence why Dean’s prepared to be as vague and nonchalantly discouraging as possible if Cas keeps asking questions.

But Cas just furrows his brows and says, “I see,” and then he turns back to the conversation on his other side, and Dean is so, so confused.

The teenage years really are weird, aren’t they? Was he like this?

It’s not really until the plates are clear and the tankards are empty and all the tired travelers are drooping over their plates that a whole new problem presents itself.

Sam gets up to return to the barracks, giving Dean a big hug Dean only pretends to gripe about, and then Cas says ‘good night’ and starts off in a direction that is neither the barracks or Dean’s room.

“Dude, where are you going?”

Cas pauses, looking back at him uneasily.

“I just need to visit someone. I’ll go to the barracks afterward.”

And that — wow. There are so many things wrong with that.

First of all —

“Visit who? It’s bedtime, Cas, I don’t think anyone wants to see you this late.”

In his peripheral, he sees Sam give him a look, but Dean’s not wrong. It’s just rude to be visiting people at this hour, unless of course you’re visiting them for reasons, which Cas sure as hell had better not be.

Cas’s eyes narrow.

“I don’t see that it’s any of your business.”

“Wow, that’s not suspicious. And another thing — I thought we talked about you walking back alone.” Of course, Dean also assumed Cas would just sleep in the castle tonight, but apparently Cas entered some hellish teenage phase since he left (again), and maybe Dean shouldn’t be making assumptions right now.

Cas stares.

“Dean, I am going to be nineteen in a month, and we are currently not at war with anyone.”

“But the buddy system,” Dean insists. “Sam, tell him.”

“Um—”

Cas just huffs.

“Sam walks back alone all the time, and even if I were to slip and fall, I wouldn’t freeze to death. It’s August.

“You could hit your head and bleed out, though,” Dean argues. “Just sleep in the castle.”

Cas averts his eyes.

“I . . . promised I would visit Alfie in the infirmary,” he says, and Dean would bet his favorite horse that’s a lie. “Another night.”

Oh, so now Cas is suddenly too old and grown-up to have sleepovers?

Fuck this shit.

“Fine, I’ll go with you on your little errand and then I’ll walk you back.”

Cas gives him an impatient look.

“Then you’ll be walking back alone. And I don’t want you to come on my errand.”

Dean sucks in a breath, feeling vaguely like he’s stepped into an alternate reality.

Is this really just Cas being pissy over the pantry lecture, or did that much change in four months?

And — are those changes going to be for good?

“Fine,” he mutters. “Do whatever the hell you want.”

And then he storms off to his room by himself and angrily bathes and then lies in bed for a good two hours before he starts to drift off.

He still sleeps like shit.

 

 

 

As exasperating as Dean can be, having him snap at Cas and stomp away is a terrible experience, enough that Cas’s irritation bleeds right out of him, replaced by a tremendously powerful urge to chase after him and soothe his anger.

Still — the stubborn part of Cas knows Dean’s being unreasonable, and if he doesn’t go see Rowena tonight, he’ll have to wait until tomorrow, which means he’ll have to wait until the day after that to implement his plan, and he’s impatient to get started.

And of course, there’s yet another part of Cas that barely caught a word of what was said at dinner, too preoccupied with courtyard kisses and Dean scenting him outside the pantry and everything else he’s spent the last few months struggling with, and that part feels an unfamiliar anxiety at going to sleep with Dean in his room.

He’s sure he’ll be fine tomorrow. It’s just — tonight — after Dean did that, after Cas had to step forward and scent him in return, Dean’s scent so strong and lovely that Cas had the urge to just wrap around him and lick his neck — Cas feels a little awkward.

Dean coming home after being gone always throws him off balance, he reasons. This, too, shall pass.

“Um. Wow. Dean seems kind of . . . on edge tonight,” Sam says, and Cas sighs.

“He’s probably tired from his travels. Also, I’m not doing what he says, which always makes him cranky.”

Sam shrugs.

“We all have our flaws. So, um. What’s this mysterious errand, anyway?” Cas supposes the question is reasonable, although Sam’s tone is kind of funny.

“I want to ask Rowena’s help with something.”

Sam waits.

“What kind of something?” he says eventually, and Cas frowns. Sam is as curious as Dean is overbearing.

Though, he supposes it doesn’t hurt if Sam knows.

“I want to play a joke on Dean.”

Sam raises his brows.

“Oh.”

“The two of you — you have — prank wars? Sometimes. I want to do something like that.”

“Oh,” Sam says again, though he looks less perturbed. “So like — a fun joke. Not a . . . malicious joke.”

Cas frowns. Sam’s not usually dumb.

“Why on earth would I play a malicious joke on Dean?”

Sam shrugs, brushing his hair back.

“Yeah, that’s, um, that’s what I was wondering, but if you’re not, then — cool. Dean enjoys pranks. Although, be ready for retaliation.”

Cas sighs.

“That’s what I’m hoping Rowena can help me with. I don’t want it to be that kind of prank. Nothing — inconvenient. Just . . . funny. To make him laugh.”

Sam nods.

“Oh. Okay. Well, let me know what you come up with? I’ll think about it, too, just in case.”

Cas smiles.

“Thank you. I appreciate it. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Rowena’s enthusiasm for helping him dims somewhat when he stresses that the prank not be malicious in any way — “I want him to laugh.” — but she nonetheless obliges, instructing him to come back tomorrow afternoon to collect his prize.

She lightly touches her finger to the tip of his nose, chortling a little when he scrunches his face.

“Run along, my wee pet. Best rest up if we’re going to be causing Princes hysteria tomorrow.” Cas frowns at her, and she lifts her brows innocently. “Of the humorous kind. Good night, dear.”

Cas does visit Alfie in the infirmary, sharing what few stories he’d managed to pay attention to, and then passes a fitful night in the barracks, half-wishing he’d put aside his unease and gone to sleep with Dean anyway.

It’s just — it’s difficult. Cas has not yet reached an answer to his conclusion — in some ways, he thinks he’s been waiting for Dean to come home, first — but he knows which direction he’s leaning in.

As mortifying as it was to have Dean call his bluff on the kisses, Cas doesn’t regret trying to maintain the story. He’d fretted over it all the last month, but fairly quickly determined that the other problem — the question of whether he does or does not want Dean — might be aided by a test of sorts.

Anna told him kissing can be a part of all the things that being in love with someone — or just being attracted to someone — makes you want to do. And Dean confirmed for him today that kisses are generally reserved for that kind of interaction.

And Cas . . . Cas thinks about kissing Dean a lot. He doesn’t dare put a number on the amount of times he’s replayed the one kiss they’d shared in his head, but he knows it would be a large number if he did.

The only question is — why does he think about kissing Dean so often? It was so brief and surprising to him that he hesitates to say, definitively, that he enjoyed it, and since it was such a new and curious thing, perhaps that is the only reason it so often intrudes on his thoughts and dreams.

But maybe it does mean something, and Cas thought — perhaps he would know for sure if he kissed Dean again. If he paid more attention this time.

So when Dean entered the courtyard and Cas went to meet him, he gathered up his nerve, as any proper knight would, and kissed him.

And then he kissed three other people, considerably less distracted than he was when he kissed Sam, and was startled to realize those other kisses were rather educational as well.

Namely, kissing people besides Dean feels different.

Not necessarily a bad different; Cas is very fond of Charlie and Benny and Ash, and he doesn’t begrudge them such small contact, although he does think it would have been tedious to kiss all twenty members of Dean’s squad, especially the ones he didn’t know as well.

But still — it was a not as good different. Cas is fairly certain he wouldn’t have minded kissing Dean a little longer; he’s not sure how long he would continue enjoying it, but the idea of prolonging any of the other kisses leaves him cold. Though he planned it this time, kissing Dean was nearly as much of a shock as it was the last time, leaving Cas pleasantly warm and breathless and — and sort of tingly all over, like when he puts special salts in the tub before bathing.

Curiously, it wasn’t the same with the others. Cas was too busy being mortified when he kissed Sam, so maybe if he’d been more present, he would have found it similar to kissing Dean, on account of their more equal closeness, but imagining it doesn’t feel similar at all; even if Cas could get Sam to participate in another trial, he doubts there would be any point.

He really doesn’t want to.

No, Cas is pretty sure the only person he wants to kiss is Dean — even though he’d only set out to establish whether or not he wanted to kiss Dean at all — and that unexpected information seems . . . significant.

Of course, if Cas does want to kiss Dean — and he must, because the idea of testing it further holds a suspicious amount of appeal — does that mean he wants other things?

Cas isn’t sure, nor can he test such a thing.

Besides, Dean made it clear he doesn’t like it when Cas lies. And that Cas has not yet reached that indeterminate age where things will be okay, where maybe Dean could love Cas back, the way Cas loves him.

So Cas will simply have to continue cautiously thinking about it, and leave it at that.

Which isn’t to say he can’t do other things, like asking Dean questions about the kind of people he might want.

And while Cas thinks he and Dean laugh together often enough, Dean is the funnier of the two, and Cas isn’t sure if all the people in the castle who affectionately call him cute and handsome are saying he’s actually good-looking. Therefore, he concludes, he ought to try harder at the first thing and thoroughly investigate the second thing.

Hence, the visit to Rowena.

Cas is relieved to find Dean waiting outside the barracks the next morning, although Dean mumbles something that sounds a lot like a complaint at having to walk all the way there. Cas is about to tell him he doesn’t have to walk him to breakfast all the time, if it’s really an inconvenience, but the words stick in his throat and he decides Dean can decide that for himself.

He really likes that Dean walks him to breakfast; he hopes Dean is just grumpy this morning.

“So, how’d your mysterious errand go?” Dean asks, and Cas jerks his gaze away from Dean’s fist where it’s clenched at his side. He can’t help but think that Dean is too tense this morning, that maybe if Cas reached out and . . . held his hand, or something, it would help.

“Um,” he says, trying to focus on the question. “Oh. It went well.”

There’s a long silence.

“Right. Awesome.”

Cas licks his lips, and reaches for Dean’s hand.

“You’ll be stiff at practice,” he says, just as Dean stumbles to a halt, staring at where Cas is gently uncurling the fist.

“Uh.”

Dean’s hand is warm, and holding it feels nice. Cas wonders, if he lied about his hands being cold, then maybe Dean wouldn’t make him let go.

Even as he thinks it, the hand sort of wiggles out of his grasp, disappearing into a trouser pocket.

“Thanks,” he coughs.

“Is everything okay?” Cas asks, trying not to sound too wistful, and they resume walking.

Dean shrugs.

“Yeah. Didn’t sleep well.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” Cas hesitates. “Neither did I. Maybe we ate too much.”

Dean gives him a sidelong glance, frowning.

“Yeah. Maybe.”

They walk the rest of the way in silence, Cas’s palm tingling where it had rested against Dean’s.

Curious.

Cas’s mood dampens a little when Dean sits down and serves himself without a second glance at Cas’s plate, but Dean is in a bad mood this morning, so perhaps he simply forgot.

Of course, Cas is well past an age where he should be letting someone else prepare his plate, let alone his Prince and Commander, but it’s — well, it’s routine.

And Dean’s also his husband, isn’t he? So — so there are a lot of things that are reasonable, even if they wouldn’t normally be. Like sleeping in Dean’s room, for instance.

Still, Cas can’t help but move a little sullenly as he scoops eggs and bacon onto the dish. He’s barely set it back down before there’s an insultingly generous helping of raw carrots dumped on the edge.

“Yeah, don’t give me that look,” Dean warns. “You’ll thank me later.”

He turns back to his own plate, then pauses, nudging Cas’s glass of water toward him.

“Unless you don’t drink that, too, in which case . . . can’t help you, buddy.”

Cas wants to argue, but Dean’s already upset this morning, which doesn’t bode well for his joke, so he reluctantly cleans his plate, wincing every time he bites into a carrot.

They’re just so loud. Food shouldn’t be loud. If a piece of meat were that noisy, you’d still be hunting it.

Cas finishes first, for once, and excuses himself early.

“Where you headed now, man?” Dean asks, a faint scowl present. Cas hesitates.

“I have to pick something up, but then I’m going to field.”

He hastens away before Dean can ask any more questions and spoil the surprise.

Rowena is delighted to see him, especially when he produces from his pocket a still-warm popover he swiped on his way out. She keeps different hours than the rest of the castle, so she’s rarely ever at breakfast, but Cas assumes everyone likes snacks and Rowena should be no different.

She provides him with three little pouches and jars, carefully labeled, and gives him strict instructions for their use.

The joke sounds amusing enough. Cas feels a little bad that he didn’t think of it himself, but he thought it would be better to impress Dean.

Rowena assures him Dean will be very impressed, and with a startling pat on his bum, sends him on his way.

Training seems to take forever today. Cas uses his lunch to sneak back to the castle and set things up, painstakingly minding Rowena’s instructions — “I’d hate for anyone to set themselves aflame, wouldn’t you?” — and the minute they’re finished for the day he finds Sam and asks him to tell Dean to meet Cas in the hallway outside his chambers.

Sam looks extremely curious, but he doesn’t ask, and Cas hurries off to wait.

Twenty minutes later, Dean appears at the end of the hall, visibly confused.

“Dude, why wouldn’t you just wait in the courtyard?”

Cas shrugs, but stays put, waiting for Dean to come to him.

“I wanted to . . . tell you something.”

If anything, Dean tenses up.

“Yeah? What’s that?”

Cas stays silent, looking back at Dean with his best neutral expression until Dean comes to a stop in front of him.

“So? Here I am. What’s up?”

Cas takes a deep breath, and then sticks out his hand.

“Pull my finger,” he instructs him, and Dean’s expression melts in surprise.

“Uh. What?”

“Pull my finger,” Cas repeats, and Dean stares at him for a long moment before he hesitantly reaches out, loosely wrapping a hand around Cas’s finger and tugging.

Beside them, the candelabra on the plant-stand bursts into flames.

The next moment, Cas’s back hits the wall across from it, Dean’s hand behind his head, cushioning it as Dean curls around him, cursing loudly.

Dazed, he tugs at Dean’s tunic, trying to get him to stop shouting.

“Fuck, I don’t even — are you okay?” he demands, once he’s called for guards. “I have no idea what that was-”

“Dean — it — it’s fine — it’s just the candles—”

“Candles don’t just fucking burst into flames! For all we know, that was meant to be an explosion—”

“It was a joke!” Cas cries, wriggling his hand up to grab Dean’s chin, forcing him to look at him. “I was — that was me, I did that, it’s — it’s alchemy.”

Dean blinks, startled, and then jerks his head out of Cas’s grasp.

What? Why the fuck would you wanna set something on fire? As a joke?”

Cas flushes. Oh, God, maybe he should have thought of a joke by himself.

“It was — I don’t — Rowena helped me,” he explains, cheeks burning. “You — you were supposed to laugh.”

“Well, it wasn’t funny!” Dean retorts, and there’s a nearing commotion at the end of the hall. “I thought we were being attacked!”

Cas just shrugs, helpless.

“I’m sorry.” And he is. He’s sorry he sent Dean into a panic, and he’s sorry he attempted such a foolish thing in the first place.

Clearly, neither he or Rowena properly assessed Dean’s sense of humor, which doesn’t bode well for that half of Dean’s requirements.

“Your highness?” One of the guards queries, hesitantly approaching, and Dean glances over, making a face.

“False alarm. Cas played a — a stupid joke, and I misunderstood. Everything’s fine.”

“If you’re sure.”

The guard gives them a kind of funny look, and Dean abruptly withdraws his hand from behind Cas’s head, stepping back.

Cas slowly straightens up from the wall.

“I’m sure. As you were.”

The woman nods, turning back the way she came and beckoning the others to follow.

Left on their own, Dean sighs and shakes his head, then looks at the candelabra.

“What’d you use on that? Is it safe for me to put it out the normal way?”

Cas nods, still processing his failure.

“The ignition powder would have burned away. It’s fine.”

“Alright.” Dean takes the snuffer and makes quick work of putting out the flames, Cas watching in dismay.

How embarrassing, he thinks numbly.

And then the full extent of what happened hits him.

“That was foolish,” he bites out, suddenly furious.

Dean throws him an annoyed look, setting down the snuffer.

“Your prank? Yeah, I agree.”

“No. You — you shielded me.”

Dean lifts his brows.

“Uh, yeah? I thought either something was going to explode or somebody was comin’ after us.”

Cas takes a deep breath, clenching his fists.

“Dean, I’m your knight. If there’s a threat, I should be between it and you.

Dean stares at him for a moment.

And then he laughs.

“Yeah, no,” he chuckles. “You’re not a knight yet, and even when you are, just — no. That’s not how this works.”

“That is the very definition of a knight and his Prince—” Cas starts, and Dean gives him an unimpressed look.

“No, the definition of a knight and his prince is you do what I tell you to, and I’m tellin’ you, Cas, that’s not how this works. If you ever do something to get yourself hurt instead of me, I swear to God I’ll kill if you’re not already dead.”

“It’s a knight’s honor and privilege—” Cas protests, although knight or not, he’s not sure he could bear it, anymore, if something happened to Dean.

Dean moves swiftly back into his space, crowding him against the wall and staring him down.

Cas isn’t cowed, though. He keeps his spine straight and his head up and stares right back.

“Cas,” Dean says lowly, eyes hard. “This is not a joke. Now, I appreciate that you take being a knight seriously — I do — but you should keep this in mind: if I think there’s even a small chance I can’t trust you to keep yourself safe first? You’re not becoming a knight, and you sure as hell aren’t riding into battle with me.”

“You promised I could be a knight, Dean,” Cas growls back, adrenaline making him bold. “And, I assume, all that entails.”

Dean looks at him for a long moment, and then shakes his head.

“This ain’t Eden, buddy. You’re loyal to your country, not your crown.”

“I don’t think your father would agree.”

“Well, you’re not my father’s knight, are you?” Dean challenges, and Cas takes a deep breath, pushing forward, forcing Dean to step back.

“And according to you, I’m not yours yet, either. So, actually, for the time being — I can do whatever I want.”

Cas turns and stalks down the hall without waiting for a response.

After all, why bother? Dean clearly doesn’t understand anything.

 

 

 

Every fucking time.

That’s it. Benny’s a damn fine teacher once you get past the lethargy, and he can go do all the training bullshit next time, because unless somebody’s bringing a major war to Lawrence’s doorstep, Dean’s not budging from the castle.

Because apparently, as soon as he goes away, Cas gets all kinds of crazy ideas into his head, and when Dean comes home everything’s weird and there are problems and he and Cas go through some shitty, awkward, sort-of-fight, and Dean is sick of it.

And yeah, maybe they would have had this fight eventually — Dean’s just lucky he hasn’t had to have it with Sam, yet — but still.

What the hell goes on around here while he’s away?

Anyway, he woke up in a foul mood, he kept snapping at people in training until people finally started snapping back, and Cas just about gave him a heart attack with his dumbass joke.

Cas never plays pranks. Dean’s not sure what phase he’s going through, right now, but he sure as hell hopes it’s brief. He doesn’t think he can tolerate Cas being a surly dick and scaring the crap out of Dean at random intervals.

Although, right about now, he doesn’t think he can tolerate pretty much anything. The idea of going out to the courtyard to train with Cas and Sam and Val is definitely out of the question, but even sitting down to dinner later just makes him grit his teeth.

And all the fuss is making him hot, he realizes, wiping away the sweat beading at his temple. In fact, he just generally feels like shit now, except the kerfuffle with the fire has him feeling kind of wired and jittery, and he almost wishes he could summon his team back for an emergency training session and throw some people around.

Hell, maybe he should go down to the courtyard. Would serve Cas right if Dean pinned him down and didn’t let him up for a fucking hour, after the stunt he pulled; then he can feel just as frustrated and exhausted as Dean does.

Which — as badly as he slept, why is he so fucking tired? He wants to fall into bed or go fight something and it’s way too hot in here, besides, and —

And son of a bitch.

It’s his rut.

Well, at least it’s only a couple weeks early, he consoles himself, trudging to his conveniently nearby bedroom. Clearly, he’s not syncing up with Cas yet, so it shouldn’t be too bad. And since he’s having it at all, it also means the next one, even if it’s early, won’t be bad, either.

You just have to be thankful for the little things, right?

 

 

 

Dean doesn’t come down to the courtyard, and it only makes Cas angrier.

This is so typical of Dean; Cas is tired of being punished when Dean is the one being unreasonable.

Since Dean’s not there, Cas leaves Sam and Valencia and goes into the Hall early, where he begs a more portable meal off the kitchen staff, and then he heads back to the barracks to sulk— that is, to ruminate on his misfortunes.

He doesn’t really feel better, afterward (he never does). All his anxiety over kisses and scenting and trying to make Dean laugh are long gone, and tonight there’s just rage. It’s one thing for Dean to treat Cas like a child in other matters, to refuse to fight him, but putting himself in harm’s way instead?

Cas has never been so upset and offended in his life.

Not to mention, now Cas can’t sleep in the castle tonight, and it is entirely Dean’s fault. Dean was supposed to laugh, and then they were supposed to train in the courtyard, and then they were supposed to enjoy dinner together, and then Cas, presumably feeling more normal about things than yesterday, was supposed to follow Dean up for their baths and then curl up on his side of the bed and discreetly watch Dean fall asleep.

But no, Cas is eating a sparse dinner by lone candlelight in the barracks alone, and then he’s going to sleep alone, and tomorrow is probably going to be stupid and awful, too.

Cas is still irritated when he wakes, although he’s ready to patch things over. Worst case scenario, he lies and agrees to do what Dean wants him to, and then does what he wants to do should the situation ever come up. After all, there’s no current threat, and Cas is hoping they’re never in such dire straits that that choice must be made.

Although some people should recognize that it’s Cas’s choice to make.

In any case, Cas is prepared to be more reasonable than Dean and reconcile, but he doesn’t get the chance.

Because Dean doesn’t come to walk him to breakfast.

Cas feels a thousand times worse, suddenly, and tries to convince himself it’s anger and not hurt.

“Aw, Clarence,” Meg says, throwing an arm around him. “I’ll walk you. Make sure you don’t get lost.”

Cas is too upset to even respond, letting her leave her arm where it is and guide him to the Hall.

He expects to see Dean relaxing in his usual spot, already eating and intolerably smug in his self-righteousness, but Dean isn’t there.

“His rut hit yesterday,” Sam says when Cas approaches, still frowning at the empty chair.

“Oh.” Cas doesn’t know what to say to that. Mostly he feels — bad. Dean was wrong, undoubtedly, but it was apparently a bad time to play a prank on him. His poor reaction and much of the ensuing tantrum can be explained by the rut.

“Yeah,” Sam sighs. “It’s only a couple weeks early, but, um. It looks like it’s gonna be nasty. You probably won’t see him for a few days.”

Cas deflates. As angry as he was last night, and even this morning, he’d already resolved not to let the fight persist.

It looks like the choice is out of his hands.

Beside him, Charlie drops into the chair.

“Is he okay? I ran into Ellen on my way in, and she said she was going to see him.”

Sam hesitates.

“Um. Yeah, he’s — I think he’s fine.”

“You think?” Cas prompts, suddenly worried. “Doesn’t — doesn’t Ellen always check on him?”

Sam quickly nods.

“Yeah, of course, she always pops in on everybody, makes sure there aren’t any other issues,” he says, rubbing his neck.

Everyone stops what they’re doing to look at him.

“Wow,” Valencia says. “Way to reassure, Sam. My favorite part was where you didn’t even sound suspicious.”

Sam flushes.

“Maybe I just don’t wanna talk about Dean’s rut over breakfast.”

“I’m fine with it,” Charlie volunteers. “It means I can tell him we all talked about it when he comes back.”

“That seems rude,” observes Cas, and Charlie grins.

“Yup,” she agrees, like that’s the whole point.

Cas turns his attention back to Sam.

“He is okay, right?”

Sam clears his throat.

“Yeah. It’s just — it’s kind of like that one really bad one he had, except, um, he’s . . . having trouble getting, um, help.” He coughs. “But he’ll be okay. Don’t worry about it.”

That does reassure Cas, somewhat, because Dean ultimately survived his last rut, and Ellen’s visit must be part of the normal routine, because he’s reasonably certain it’s not part of her job to help people find cycle assistance. He tentatively understands that to be a thing people arrange amongst themselves.

However, it is worrisome that Dean isn’t able to find anyone to help him. Whatever he might do while he’s away, Dean obviously prefers to have help. Especially if it’s a particularly bad cycle.

“Is there really no one available?”

Sam blinks, and he and Charlie exchange a look.

“Something like that,” he finally says, and offers Cas a small smile. “Really, though. He’ll be fine. I’m gonna check on him again after training, and I’ll let you know how he’s doing.”

“I could come with you,” Cas volunteers, and for some reason all three of them look at each other.

“Um. You know how Ellen is.”

“Yes, sometimes she recommends not having visitors, but if he’s well enough to receive you, I don’t know why I wouldn’t be able to come, too.”

Sam’s smile is becoming increasingly strained.

“I’ll . . . ask her.”

Cas huffs.

“Do that,” he says, although he wonders if maybe he shouldn’t go with Sam.

In fact, Cas kind of wonders if maybe he should make a separate visit entirely.

 

 

 

“Heard you were having some trouble,” Ellen says, dropping her bag onto the comforter, and Dean shuffles uncomfortably on the bed, pulling the sheet further up and hoping anything happening under it isn’t obvious from the outside.

Just because Ellen’s a doctor doesn’t mean he is, and having a conversation like this is awkward as hell.

“You, uh, you could say that,” Dean mumbles, wrapping his arms around his knees.

She throws him a pitying look.

“You wanna elaborate, hon?”

Dean coughs, hunching his shoulders.

“I, um. It, uh, it won’t . . . go.”

Ellen cocks her head.

“So you’re in rut, but it ain’t coming up?”

Dean looks down.

“Uh, no. I mean, it’s, um, it’s up? But it won’t — I can’t -” Dean shrugs. “And I — I can’t — get help.”

**

She blinks.

“Nobody can get cycle leave?”

Dean shuts his eyes, taking a deep breath.

“That’s not it,” he grits out, frustrated. “I, uh. I’ve had a few visitors. But they can’t — they don’t — I can’t —”

Ellen holds up a hand, frowning.

“Alright — let me see if I understand. You’ve tried to get help, but it ain’t working.”

Dean gives a short nod.

“And when you try on your own?”

Dean shrugs.

“It’s better, but it’s still — uh. Difficult. Which — that’s messed up, right? It’s usually way better if someone’s there, but I — I asked three different people, Ellen! And I just — it wouldn’t work.

Ellen looks uneasy.

“Right. And . . . did you feel like there was a specific reason it wasn’t working? Or it just wasn’t?”

Dean hesitates.

“They, um. They didn’t smell right,” he mutters, and there’s a long silence.

“Uh-huh,” she finally says. “And were these . . . new people?”

Dean shakes his head.

“No, that’s what’s so bizarre. They’ve all helped me before, and usually they smell fine. They usually smell good, and vice versa, and — I mean, that’s why we do it. But this time — they just — they smelled all wrong. Which is — what even causes that?”

Ellen is quiet for a moment, and then she shrugs.

“Could be a number of things.”

“Like what?” Dean demands, feeling vaguely hysterical. “And — can you fix it?”

She shrugs again.

**

“We’ll see.” She gives him a considering look. “This the first time you’ve had a problem like this?”

Dean hesitates.

“Yeah?”

Her eyes narrow.

“And why does that sound like a question?”

He shrugs, staring at the sheet, and she sighs.

“Would you say your last few ruts have been normal?”

No.

“Dean,” she says sternly, and he makes a face.

“Not — not exactly.”

She looks at him for a moment, and then pinches his foot.

“Hey!” he yelps, and she shakes her head.

“You are twenty-five years old. Act like it.”

“Gimme a break,” he mumbles. “’S’embarrassing. And what if I’m broken?” he adds, looking down mournfully. “What if I can never have sex again?”

Her brows climb.

“You havin’ problems outside your rut?”

“What?! No!” He swallows. “No, no, I don’t . . . I just. Uh.”

Ellen sighs.

“Alright. Tell me about your last sexual encounter and your last few ruts. Go.”

Jesus Christ. Maybe he should have just suffered in silence.

“Which one first?” he asks, stalling, and she raises a brow.

“Up to you.”

**

“Okay. Uh. So, my — my last rut, I — well, it wasn’t bad, you know? Only lasted a few days, and the, uh. On my own, I did fine. It’s just — I tried to get Linus to come help me, but I couldn’t, uh. Stay up.”

Ellen nods, face impassive.

“And the one before that?”

“Honestly? Best rut I ever had. Two days, barely felt it, probably wouldn’t have asked for help even if I was home. I figured it was make up for how bad the one before it was.”

She nods again.

“And the one before that, you were syncin’ up with Cas.”

“Yeah.”

“But otherwise that one was normal?”

Dean hesitates.

“Uh. Carmen stayed with me a few days, but it . . . it was kinda weird? Like — like it couldn’t make up his mind. We definitely had to, uh, you know. Work harder for it.”

**

Ellen has the best poker face ever, which Dean would know even if she wasn’t his doctor, but still. It makes this slightly less mortifying.

“And your last sexual encounter? Last few, I guess.”

Dean averts his gaze, scratching the back of his neck.

“Um,” he starts. “Actually, I’ve, uh. I’ve been kind of busy.”

Ellen waits.

“And?” she finally says.

“It’s, uh. It’s been a while.”

“How long is a while?”

“Well, you know I don’t mess around with my soldiers when we’re away.”

“Probably a good policy,” she agrees. “But there are towns.”

“It was a tough war,” Dean mutters, and there’s a long pause.

“Oh.”

“And there weren’t that many towns,” he blusters. “And I was really stressed. Purgaean soldiers were fucking everywhere, you couldn’t really relax or anything like that, hell, if I tried to pick someone up they’d probably end up trying to assassinate me—”

Ellen holds up a hand.

“You’re fine, Dean. That’s . . . real responsible of you.”

“Thank you,” he says, emphatic. “That’s what I thought.”

“But the war ended in December,” she continues, brow furrowed.

“Yeah, but then I had to go to the outposts,” he argues, carefully avoiding the fact that he visited some towns, too.

Ellen looks a little concerned.

“There’s a few months in between there.”

He just stares back at her, daring her with his eyes.

She’s unimpressed, though she still looks worried.

“So . . . you haven’t been with anyone in . . .”

“A while,” he finishes hastily, lest she try and actually calculate it.

He can tell by the look on her face that she does it anyway.

“Okay,” she says neutrally. “Is that — a lack of interest? Or are you worried some of your rut problems are gonna carry over?”

“Uh. I guess I — don’t really think about it.”

“I’m gonna go with both, then.”

Dean doesn’t deny it.

She sighs.

“Any reason you didn’t tell me you were havin’ problems?”

“Uh, because it’s embarrassing? Anyway, it was fine, before. I got through it, and I really was — busy, and stuff. It wasn’t a big deal.”

“But it is now.”

“Yeah, I’d say so.”

She nods, thinking, and if there’s anything more terrifying than your doctor needing a lengthy, contemplative silence before they diagnose you, Dean hasn’t run into it yet.

“Ellen,” he says eventually, and he swears he doesn’t sound hysterical. He doesn’t.

“Right.” She clears her throat, and the apparent unease in her face is not helping at all. “Well. Honestly? Most likely thing, with all o’ your symptoms — you’ve got a bond with somebody.”

Dean stares.

“Awesome, except I’ve been keepin’ my damn teeth to myself, thank you, so what else?”

“Not a full bond,” she corrects him, tone careful in a way that instinctively raises his hackles. “A partial bond. Just like our bodies reject matings that aren’t really wanted, sometimes we accept bonds we didn’t attempt on purpose.”

He squints.

“What?”

“For instance,” she says. “If there’s somebody in your life you spend a lot of time with, and you’ve formed an emotional attachment to. Sometimes that can trigger a bond. Can you think of anybody like that?”

Honestly, Dean’s not really sure why Ellen is bothering to ask; if Dean had an unofficial girlfriend or boyfriend — like Sam and Valencia — pretty much everyone would know about it.

“No? Come on. You’d have heard something if I had anyone like that.”

Ellen gives him a long look.

“Yeah, I suppose I would. Some things are obvious.” She sighs. “Well, then it’s probably stress. Your cycle got out of sync, and then you wandered all over the continent for a year before it could settle down properly, and then you left again after you were only home for a few months. That much travel, that far and that long — that’ll do it.”

“Oh.” Dean blinks. “Wait, so . . . I’m gonna be okay?”

She gives him a firm pat on the leg.

“You’re gonna be fine. You’re not gonna be enjoying yourself anytime soon, but you’ll be fine.”

Like, this all still sucks, but it’s a relief. Dean hardly slept last night, terrified he’d fucked his body up somehow and it would never work right again.

“Okay. Okay, awesome. Thanks, Ellen.”

There’s another long, pitying look, but Dean’s cool with it.

“So, uh. What should I do? In the meantime?”

“Well, you look like you could use a nap, so I’ll make you some tea, and otherwise . . . sit tight, I guess. Remember you’re gonna be fine, and — well, cross your fingers it blows over soon.”

“Okay.” Dean takes a deep breath. It’s gonna suck, but — “I can do that.”

Ellen fixes him some sleepy-time tea, which Dean gulps down gratefully, and before she leaves, she gives him one last instruction.

“And Dean? I know it ain’t fun, but I don’t recommend visitors, this time around.”

“Well, obviously. No point.”

She shakes her head.

“Of any kind. That means Sam. And Cas. Just to be safe.”

Dean frowns, although Cas never visits him, anyway.

“What am I going to do?”

“Read a book,” she offers, and then shuts the door behind her.

Son of a bitch.

Well — maybe it’ll be as short as it is awful.

A guy can dream, he thinks, and promptly does just that, fast asleep within minutes of her departure.

 

 

 

“Meg, may I ask you something?”

Cas lingers in the armory when they’re changing out their weapons for their post-lunch exercises, and he does his best to distract Meg with idle conversation so she lingers, too.

He waits for everyone else to leave for lunch before he asks his question, and to her credit, Meg doesn’t look surprised.

“I thought so,” she says smugly. “What’s up, angel?”

He hesitates.

“You, uh. You have ruts, right?”

Meg raises her brows.

“I sure do,” she says slowly. He nods.

“And . . . have you ever had someone help you?”

Meg’s mouth falls open a little, and then she smirks.

“Keep talkin’ like that, Clarence, and you’re gonna get a girl’s hopes up.”

“What?”

She sighs.

“Nothing. Anyway, of course I have. Doing it alone sucks. Why do you ask?”

Cas shifts.

“I see. I was, uh. I was wondering if you could tell me—” He clears his throat. This shouldn’t be awkward, but it is. He would have asked Sam, but he was afraid Sam might try to discourage him. “Ellen explained to me how it — how it works, generally, but I don’t know . . . how do I help someone? In rut?”

Meg stares.

And then she turns and starts walking out of the armory.

“Wait — Meg —”

“I am going to answer your questions, because I’m worried about you, but I’m doing it where there are witnesses.”

“Witnesses?” he echoes, trailing after her as she stalks to the field.

“Yup. You’re a good friend, but not that good.”

“But — Meg — I’d like to have this conversation privately, if possible—”

“And we will. We’ll just do it where everybody can see both us and all our hands so nobody walks in at an inopportune moment and thinks I’m teaching you this shit the good old fashioned way so I don’t get executed. Okay?” she finishes pleasantly, and Cas frowns.

“I don’t understand.”

“You wouldn’t, would you?” she mutters, and then guides him over to a tree some distance from the others. Valencia cocks her head, giving Cas a curious look, but he returns it with a slight shake of his head and she nods.

“Okay, Clarence. Run this by me again. You wanna know about alphas in rut?”

“How to help,” he clarifies. “I know they — well, it’s a lot like a heat.”

“Right.” Meg blows out a breath, a wavy little curl fluttering against the pressure before settling back beside her cheek. “Hoo boy. ‘Dean and I don’t have sex,’ my ass.”

“We don’t,” Cas points out, and then pauses. “Does it count if you’re just helping during a cycle?”

Meg chokes.

“Does it count — yes, of course it counts, Clarence! And I am the queen of ‘it doesn’t count if’ loopholes.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Cas considers this for a moment. He’s been fighting with himself all day, torn between wanting to help Dean, since no one else will, and still being wary of what that entails.

Part of him thinks it’s like the courtyard kiss — an opportunity to experiment born of unrelated necessity. Because even if Cas doesn’t like it, he’s not doing it because he wants Dean, he’s doing it because Dean needs help and apparently no one else is giving it to him; so perhaps he can use it as an opportunity to . . . try it, sort of, and use that to aid his decision. After all, Cas isn’t in heat right now. He’ll have a completely clear head with which to evaluate — whatever happens, and maybe, like with the kiss, it will help him decide if he wouldn’t mind more of that thing. Those things.

Cas isn’t really sure what to expect, hence why he’s asking Meg.

“So . . .” he lifts his shoulders. “What, um. What does an alpha usually . . . expect?”

Meg looks him over, calculating, and Cas resists the temptation to cross his arms.

“Specifically in a rut?”

“Yes. I don’t anticipate doing this outside of that,” he adds, possibly lying, and then confides, “Dean’s never asked me, nor would I usually offer, but he can’t find anyone else to help him.”

Meg’s face twitches.

“Really,” she says, and there’s something odd about her tone. “Prince Dean of the fairytale green eyes and notoriously delicious ass can’t find a single soul in this enormous castle to help him? He told you that, did he?”

Cas frowns.

“No, he told Sam that, and I don’t think you’re using that word correctly, Meg.”

Meg arches a brow.

“Which one?”

“’Delicious’. That describes taste. You can’t taste someone’s ass.”

Meg freezes.

“Are you — is that — did you just make a joke?”

Cas squints.

“No?”

She swallows.

“Mm. Right. Yeah.” She turns to the side for a moment, coughing into her hand. “What were we talking about, again?”

“Your word misuse or before that?”

“First of all, sometimes we use delicious to describe things that are super appealing, whether you can taste them or not. Second of all —” she pauses. “Actually, never mind, Clarence. Another day.”

Cas purses his lips.

“How is an — ass — extremely appealing? It’s just — well, it’s a butt, Meg.”

“Really? You’ve never looked at Dean’s ass and thought it was nice?”

Cas blinks, images of Dean’s pants-clad posterior flickering through his brain.

“Well, he — uh. Dean has a — a capable build.” He feels itchy, suddenly. “It’s certainly . . . impressive, I suppose.”

“You fuckin’ liar,” she sneers, and then flops back against the tree. “Anyway, I don’t know about the rest of the time, but it’s not Dean’s ass you need to worry about if he’s in rut.”

Cas stares blankly, and she sighs.

“Are you sure you’re old enough for this?” she snarks, and Cas flushes.

“If you would just stop speaking in riddles he starts, irate, and she waves a hand.

“Oh, untwist your knickers, Clarence. And stop trying so hard to take me literally.”

“I’m not trying—” he protests, and she rolls her eyes.

“Oh, yes you are. I can literally smell how nervous you are.”

Cas deflates, sniffing at his shoulder.

“Really?”

“Yeah. I’m pretty sure you can figure out the answer to your question on your own, but I think it makes you feel better to talk to someone.”

Cas looks down.

“Sorry,” he mumbles, and she slings an arm around his shoulder.

“Don’t sweat it. It all seems weird as hell and just as gross, until you do it.”

He gives her a baleful look.

“You have to do it to be okay with it?”

She looks amused.

“Well, I guess it depends on the person, but trust me, it doesn’t take long to come around. And boy, is it worth doing. Well, for most people. But if you’re not into it, don’t worry. That’s normal, too.” She smirks. “Although, the way you look at him — I’d bet money you will be.”

Why is Meg so embarrassing sometimes?

“I don’t know,” he grumbles. “I’m still — I’m trying to figure it out. For now, though, Dean needs me, and I just — I want to make sure I do it right.” And that I know what I’m getting into.

She shrugs.

“Honestly? When you’re in rut, you mostly just want a place to stick it. Preferably a place attached to someone that smells nice, won’t judge you, and you’re not gonna get sick of talking to.”

Cas feels a small lurch in his stomach.

“Stick it,” he repeats, uneasy. “As in . . .”

“Your knot,” Meg clarifies, watching him with amused eyes.

“Oh.”

Cas swallows. He was afraid of this.

“So just — um. Touching. Isn’t — it won’t be adequate.”

“Well, it’s better than nothing,” Meg concedes.

“But he’ll probably expect to, uh.” Cas struggles to get the word out. He doesn’t usually have trouble talking about these things — they’re medical, after all — but any time he’s talking about himself, it’s suddenly incredibly embarrassing. “Penetrate me,” he finally mumbles, and Meg barks out a startled laugh.

“Sure, that’s one way to put it. Except maybe don’t.” Meg’s smile fades a little and she cocks her head, curious and concerned. “Why the long face, angel? It’s not gonna be that different than whatever you do during your cycle. Just, you know. Attached to a person.”

Cas winces.

“Meg, I don’t, um. I don’t — that’s not . . .”

Meg’s jaw drops.

“You don’t — are you kidding me? How do you survive? I’m an alpha and I will cut a bitch before giving up my—”

“It’s fine,” he hisses, cheeks burning. “I don’t need to. I don’t think it would work, anyway.”

Meg makes a weird face.

“What does that even mean, Clarence?”

“Shut up,” he snaps, even though he knows he’s being rude. He is the one who asked her these questions in the first place; as difficult as she seems determined to be, she has also answered him.

Certainly, she’s confirmed what Cas feared: Dean will expect more in the way of help than Cas would, were he the one in cycle.

And Cas . . . Cas wants to help Dean, desperately, but — is he willing to do that?

Meg pokes his forehead.

“You’re gonna hurt yourself.”

“I’m fine,” he mumbles, wrapping his arms around his knees.

She pats the top of one of them.

“Hey. Dean’s a big boy. If you don’t wanna do it, don’t. Really. He’ll be fine, I promise.”

Cas nods. He appreciates that, but it doesn’t change the fact that he wants to help.

“Thank you for answering my questions,” he says, and Meg shrugs.

“Sure. Any time.”

Cas gets the impression that she has some questions of her own, but thankfully, she doesn’t ask.

Instead, she leaves him to his thoughts for the rest of lunch, and by the time they’re done, he still isn’t sure what to do.

 

 

 

Cas opts not to train in the courtyard with Sam and Valencia, citing Dean’s absence and his own desire to finish a book. Sam offers to come read with him, but Cas hastily assures him it’s fine.

After all, he’s not going to read a book. He’s going to take a bath.

Cas has deduced, after years of observation, that people go to the baths during non-bathing hours for privacy. He has more recently deduced that privacy frequently means bedroom things. Some lighthearted teasing in the barracks tells him this is also a popular place to take care of erections without being afraid your bunkmate will catch you.

(As much empathy as Cas has for the more determined variety of erections, now that his heats are as bad as they are, he strongly feels that the best solution for not being caught by your bunkmate is to not do that in your bunk.)

Cas is legitimately going to take a bath, because even if Dean wouldn’t really send him away for not being freshly bathed, Cas, for once, is the one who doesn’t feel comfortable crawling into Dean’s bed without being as clean as he get. If he goes through with this — well. They’ll be much closer than they would if they were just sleeping, won’t they?

And Meg said alphas want someone nice-smelling. The idea of Dean complaining about how he smells while Cas is trying to help him with — with things — is -

Cas sinks into the hot water, somehow upset even though nothing’s even happened.

He had better scrub thoroughly.

Once Cas has gone over himself with the soaphy washcloth three times and washed his hair twice, he lingers in the cooling water, not quite ready to leave the peaceful silence of the bathhouse. There’s no way he could think about all these things in the courtyard, or at dinner, surrounded by people and conversation.

No. Cas needs privacy, for once, if only so he can focus.

If he’s being honest with himself, he doesn’t really want to. Touching Dean the way he touches himself during his own cycle is one thing; doing anything else is — well, it’s terrifying. Cas still can’t stand the sight of the cloth bag, ominous and daunting where it always sits on the nightstand, and yet now he’s wishing he’d had the fortitude to attempt it.

At least he would know. If he could just be sure it was possible, and it wouldn’t hurt, then even if he didn’t like it, he could do it for Dean. It’s Dean, after all. And unlike Cas, he’s used to having help.

Cas hates the idea of him suffering in his room alone, and he feels a surge of anger at the people who have failed to be there for him this time.

But when he tries to think how much better it would be if they were helping him, if he didn’t have to make this decision at all, he feels angry at that idea, too.

Why on earth are sex things so complicated?

It’s so frustrating. Cas wants to help, thinks he’s worked himself up to the point that, if all it called for were the same things he dealt with during his heat, Cas would be on his way upstairs right now.

He’d still be shaking with nerves, of course, but he’d be on his way.

But this. This is — it’s a lot. Cas isn’t sure he can do it. And he sincerely doubts Dean is expecting him, but if he were to make it upstairs and try, only to back out at the last minute —

Cas isn’t sure he can face Dean’s disappointment. Surely, it’s better not to go at all than to promise him relief only to lose his nerve before he can provide it?

On the other hand — what if he can? What if he could do this for Dean? Cas doesn’t have to like it. It’s not for him, after all. It just has to be endurable.

And if it is, then he wants to do this for Dean.

Cas drops his mouth below the waterline, tiredly blowing bubbles. He doesn’t think his heart has stopped pounding since he left the training field, knowing the decision he had to make. He wishes, desperately, that he knew one way or the other if this was something he could do.

But then, he thinks, this is Dean, isn’t it? Dean, who doesn’t enforce the honeycake rule, who dries Cas’s hair for him after his bath, who bought him a feather stone and never hurts him during training, not even accidentally, though they were originally so unevenly matched.

Dean, who foolishly put himself between Cas and the perceived danger of the flaming candelabra.

Who might criticize what Cas does, depending on his own judgments, but has never once criticized him for something he didn’t do.

(Well, besides bathing, and even then, Dean’s let him sleep in his bed anyway, before).

Cas realizes, then, that one thing he can be sure of is that Dean would never, ever hurt him. That Dean is careful; that he will always pay enough attention to make sure he doesn’t hurt Cas.

That if Cas does go up there, Dean isn’t going to do anything that will hurt Cas.

And if it doesn’t hurt — then Cas can do it, for Dean’s sake.

And if it turns out Cas isn’t capable? Then Dean will stop, and even if his disappointment stings, it won’t change how he feels about Cas, or how he treats him.

Cas gets out of the tub, dries off and dresses, and by the time he starts making his way to the castle, he feels calmer than he has all day.

He can at least try, he’s decided. And now that he has decided —

He’s ready.

 

 

 

There’s no answer when he knocks on Dean’s door.

Cas hovers uncertainly in the hallway, trying not to let the scent distract him. It’s faint, but distinctly Dean, although there’s a strange, rich quality to it that Cas is certain isn’t usually there, though it’s — it’s very nice.

He supposes he would be fine to wait out here, although he’s a little afraid someone like Sam will come by and make Cas leave, but he did knock, and he knows Dean doesn’t have a guest right now, so he can only conclude that Dean is sleeping.

In which case — it’s probably fine to wait inside, isn’t it?

That decided, Cas quietly presses the latch, silently slipping into the room and carefully shutting the door behind him.

He ends up leaning back against it for support, knees suddenly faltering in their task. The hallway is nothing compared to how Dean’s room smells. It takes Cas a long moment to gather his bearings, and he props himself against the door, blinking into the darkness and taking in deep breaths.

Because — wow. Cas has never smelled anything so nice in his life. His head feels a little dizzy with it; it’s like walking into the kitchen when everyone there is baking, except it doesn’t smell like food, and it’s not really making Cas hungry.

Mostly it just makes Cas feel really good. Warm, and happy, and — and excited, almost.

He’s not sure how long it is before he straightens up, carefully approaching the bed where Dean is sleeping.

What is he supposed to do now?

Obviously, he has to wait for Dean to wake up. Sleep is precious during a cycle, and Cas might be tempted to violence if someone had ever woken him once he’d managed it.

But where does he wait?

He considers the little table and chairs, the great big armchair by the fireplace, but they all seem rather far away from Dean. Rationally, he knows he doesn’t need to be close until Dean is awake and ready for Cas’s assistance, but still.

After a moment’s hesitation, Cas rounds the bed, gingerly lifting the blanket and sliding into his usual spot. The moment he’s there, he knows he’s made the right decision. The bed is warm and soft and comfortable and Dean’s scent is especially potent here, which would be nice on it’s own, but is especially gratifying, given how spectacular he smells today.

Cas thinks of that time Sam came to read after visiting Dean, and wonders if Dean always smells this good when he’s in rut.

It’s peculiar and wonderful, but then, many things about Dean are.

He makes himself comfortable, quietly fluffing his pillow and turning on his side, content to watch Dean in the fading daylight. He’s faced away from Cas, which is disappointing, but after a few minutes his shoulders twitch, and then he’s turning over, breathing in soft little huffs as he curls toward the center of the bed.

Cas keeps still, pleased by the change. Watching Dean sleep is strangely comforting, but for whatever reason, it’s more satisfying if Cas can see his face. That makes sense, though; Cas is extremely fond of Dean’s face. Part of him thinks it’s a shame Dean can’t sleep with his eyes open, but the other part of him is pretty sure that would just be alarming.

And then, as if bidden by Cas’s thoughts, Dean’s eyes open.

“Hello, Dean,” Cas whispers, smiling a little. Dean blinks sleepily at him and starts to smile back.

And then suddenly he’s frowning, lurching upright.

“Uh. Cas? Why are you — what are you doing here?”

Cas hesitates. He would have thought it was obvious.

“I’m here to help you with your rut,” he says, sitting up, and Dean blanches.

What?”

He seems alert now, which Cas supposes is good, although he likes the way Dean is when he’s still tired and sleep-soft.

“Sam said you weren’t able to get anyone to help you. So I thought—”

“No, no, no, that’s not — you misunderstood, Cas, I have plenty of people who would help me, it’s just — there’s a different problem.”

Oh. That’s . . . Cas feels embarrassed, suddenly.

But still — if there’s a problem, then Cas is determined to help, especially if others can’t.

“Then I’ll help you with that,” he insists, tentatively scooting closer. He’s not sure how to start the — the helping, but he knows they’re not close enough, right now.

Dean jerks back.

“Cas, you need to leave,” he says bluntly, and Cas feels something cold settle inside his chest.

“I already excused myself from dinner,” he says quickly, gaze darting between Dean and the empty space between them. “I don’t have anywhere else to be—”

“That’s not what I mean,” Dean hisses, and he looks vaguely frantic. “I — you can’t be here when I’m like this, and you definitely can’t help me, so just — just go!”

Cas bites his lip, at a loss.

“Are you sure? I — I don’t know what the problem is, but we could try. I mean, we can try, um, all of the things,” he adds, in case Dean is misunderstanding some limitations on the offer.

Dean swallows.

“Please leave,” he grits out, fingers curling around the edge of the blanket.

Cas winces at the force in his tone.

“I want to help you,” he insists. “You prefer to have someone assist you, don’t you? I can do that, Dean—”

Dean shakes his head vigorously.

“Cas,” he says, and the word sounds strained. “You really can’t. Now — please — go.”

“Why not?” Cas demands, although he’s a little surprised by his own determination to stay. “You won’t even tell me what you need. How do you know I can’t help you?”

“Because I don’t want you to,” Dean snaps, and Cas’s chest goes tight.

It takes him a moment to respond.

“You’d rather do it alone than have me help you,” Cas states, numbly thinking of Meg’s list. Someone that smells nice, won’t judge you, and you won’t go sick of talking to.

Yes. So for God’s sake, get out.

Cas swallows.

“Is it how I smell? Do I smell bad to you?” he asks, and Dean gets a strange look on his face, sniffing the air in what almost looks like an involuntary motion.

He shudders.

“Cas. This — this isn’t cool. If someone asks you to leave, you leave.”

And Cas knows he’s right, but Dean is being confusing and evasive and all Cas wants to do is —

“Please let me help you,” he says quietly, and Dean lets out a frustrated noise, suddenly lunging forward and shoving Cas back onto the bed.

Cas doesn’t even try to resist, mostly just startled.

And then Dean presses down, weight settling heavy on top of him, and grips Cas’s arms.

“Do you know what you’re talking about, Cas?” he hisses. “Do you really know what you’re getting into, here? What it means to help an alpha through a rut?”

Cas swallows. This is — this isn’t like what happens at practice. It should be, but it’s different. The bed is soft, providing give where Dean presses into him, and Dean isn’t laughing or smiling, like he usually is. He looks — furious, and perhaps it’s the last dull glow of sunlight, but there’s something almost feral glinting in his eyes.

Cas licks his lips, mouth suddenly dry, and Dean flinches a little.

And that — that’s probably the biggest difference between this and training. Now is Cas’s chance, the opportunity he’d normally take to shove Dean off and get free —

But he doesn’t.

He doesn’t want to.

“Yes,” he whispers, and Dean sucks in a breath. “I do.”

Dean’s grip on his arms tightens.

“No. I don’t think you do. Not really, Cas. If you did, you wouldn’t be here.”

Cas takes a deep breath, fascinated anew by Dean’s freckles, his lashes, the way his face looks, so very close to Cas’s.

Even his mouth, grim and angry, is stealing Cas’s breath.

“Then show me,” he manages, and Dean freezes, eyes wide.

And then he’s cursing and rolling away, and Cas barely has time to register the sudden absence of warm weight at his front before Dean’s arm hooks around his waist, tugging him out of the bed.

“Wait — Dean—”

Dean doesn’t even pause, just hoists Cas over his shoulder, heedless of his shocked protests and kicking feet, and staggers to the door.

And then he opens it, dumping Cas on the floor outside, and slams it shut less than a second later.

After a beat of stunned silence, Cas hears the deadbolt slide into place.

Chapter Text

Dean is fucking livid.

What the ever-living fuck was Cas thinking? Where was this coming from? If he thought things were weird yesterday, they had nothing on today’s batshit shenanigans.

The moment this stupid rut is done, Dean swears to God he’s going to have a long, serious talk with the kid, one which will probably be pointless because sometimes Cas is the most thick-skulled person Dean’s ever met, and then he’s telling Layla not to even make honeycakes for the next three weeks in hopes that that at least will get his point across.

Dean’s not even sure who he’s most pissed at (Cas, it’s definitely Cas); to start with, Sam should have kept his damn mouth shut, because the last thing Dean wants the kid worrying about is Dean’s ruts and Sam should know Cas well enough by this point to know that if Cas thinks there’s a problem, he gets it in his head to fix it, and literally nobody is going to like the solution.

God, Cas is so fucking lucky he’s married to Dean. Even if Michael had sold him off to someone who would have at least respected his childishness the first few years, he doesn’t kid himself that some other asshole in this situation wouldn’t have taken Cas’s ‘Yes’ and run with it like it counted as any kind of proper consent.

Dean snorts, burying his face in his pillow and trying to ignore the incredibly awkward boner he woke up with, because he still feels way too angry and weird about what just happened to even try taking care of it. Yes, I do, his ass. This is the same stupid kid who wandered guilelessly into his wedding chamber expecting Dean to fight him; Cas is one bold son of a bitch, Dean will give him that, and that is precisely why Dean’s terrified he’ll get himself killed one day.

Because he does things like blatantly making up traditions and kissing other people just so he can steal a stupid peck from Sam. He does things like sitting outside the castle gate in the middle of the war and stabbing someone twice his size when they try to abduct him.

He does things like sneaking into the bed of an alpha in rut, claiming he knows what that means and he’s ready to do that which is just laughable and there but for the grace of Dean did he leave here unscathed and untraumatized.

Scowling, Dean thinks of the opportunistic hope, plain on Walt and Roy’s faces when Cas started down the kissing line, and his irritation with Cas grows. Anybody else anybody who didn’t know Cas as well as Dean does would have just gone for it, and then where would Cas be?

Thank-fucking-God he’s married to Dean. Cas has basically said so himself, before, but seriously. He has no idea.

Dean rolls over, still fuming and a little uncomfortable with the friction happening as he restlessly shifts around the sheets. It’s embarrassing as fuck to think Cas might have picked up on that, but the ass was point-blank refusing to leave and Dean couldn’t think of any other way to get him out than to try scaring him.

Of course, this is Cas, and instead of being scared into running, like he should have been when Dean pinned him to the bed, he had the nerve to act like he was ready to go through with it.

Which is the real proof he didn’t understand the situation he was trying so hard to get himself into; if Cas had any idea what helping Dean through a rut meant what it actually entailed there’s no way in hell he could have looked Dean in the eye and told him to show him.

And even if he did, there’s no way in hell Dean would have gone for it. That’s just it’s just it’s gross and creepy and Dean feels like fifty different kind of filth right now, even though rationally he knows it’s not his fault.

Because you know whose fault it really is?

Ellen’s.

I don’t recommend visitors, she told him, and now that he knows what a fucking understatement that is, he kind of wants to march out of his room, boner be damned, and give her an earful because what the hell kind of doctor doesn’t communicate important shit like oh, by the way, if somebody close to you comes in, you’re gonna have some really funny feelings.

Which is the worst part about all of this; the real reason he’s so angry at Cas.

Dean woke up, that telltale hot, jittery feeling coursing through him, and thought his room smelled fucking amazing. Half-asleep and scent-drunk and more than a little desperate from all his stupid issues, his dumbass body started reacting before his brain could figure out what was going on and hit the brakes.

And even once it did know what was going on, Cas refused to leave, perching there like some kind of delicious-smelling scent bomb from hell, and all kinds of strange shit started happening with Dean’s instincts (not that he’s ever going to think about it again, thanks).

Obviously, Dean’s body is having some fucked up issues with scent right now, and since Cas is basically family, his is familiar enough not to be off-putting the same way other people’s were. Unfortunately, the nature of his shitty travel condition apparently means his hormones take ‘oh, hi, family-person, you don’t smell terrible’ and turn it into ‘let’s throw down right now.’

As furious (and mortified) as Dean is, he’s still glad it was Cas and not Sam. Dean doesn’t even want to know how he’d feel right now if his little brother had somehow given him a boner.

Which brings him back to his main point: what was Ellen thinking? If she’d just warned him that whatever’s going on with his cycle meant he had to worry about getting stiff for family, he would have bolted the damn door and shoved a fucking dresser in front of it to start with.

At least he knows better for next time, although to be honest, he expects things to have settled down by then. Even if they haven’t, after the lecture that’s coming Cas’s way as soon as Dean’s rut is over Dean doubts it’ll ever be a problem again.

That fucking brat, he thinks, sour. Again he is so lucky he ended up with Dean.

Dean’s rut lasts three more days, and only towards the end does he stop feeling like he’s going to die. The only way it’s better than the hell-rut from when he and Cas were syncing up is because it’s two days shorter. That’s it. The rest of it is constant irritation, nausea and headaches; a general, frantic sense of dissatisfaction; and when he’s lucky a series of painfully mediocre orgasms, eked out by sheer persistence and determination.

Up to this point, Dean’s always thought of his rut as a nuisance at worst, and an excuse to have a sex marathon at best. Now, he’s legitimately terrified of the next one, even if it should be months away.

He’s not sure he has it in him to do another one like this.

He’s right on his way to visit Ellen and make sure he doesn’t have to when one of John’s personal servants stops him.

“Your highness. You look well.”

“Uh. Yeah. First day back. I’m just on my way to

“If you’re up and about, the King has been wanting to speak with you.”

Son of a bitch. What now?

“Ah. Okay. Uh, lead the way.”

John’s in the council room, and after making Dean wait about fifteen minutes while he concludes some paperwork or other, he dismisses all the servants, leaving them alone.

“Sit, son,” he commands, jerking his head to the chair next to him. Really not liking the atmosphere, Dean complies, dropping into the seat with stiff shoulders.

“You wanted to talk to me, sir?”

“Don’t want to, but apparently I have to.” John sits back, fixing him with a tired, unhappy look. “The King of Eden visited for the fifth year celebration. He wasn’t happy you weren’t here.”

Which was one-hundred-percent not at all Dean’s fault.

“I’m sorry,” he manages.

“You’re lucky you missed it,” John snorts. “Waste of time, all of it, but it is what it is.”

Dean says nothing, assuming John didn’t call him in here to bitch about dumb festivities.

His Dad wouldn’t know a good time if it bit him on the ass, Dean thinks, not that a good time would bother. As much as his Dad has had to say about Eden’s king, in his own way, he’s just as bad.

“Look,” he finally says. “I’ll be blunt. I get the occasional letter from him about it, and it’s easy enough to brush him off, but he pushed the issue while he was here, and honestly? I don’t blame him. It’s time, Dean.”

Dean stares, insides cold.

“Time for what?” he says slowly, and John narrows his eyes.

“The boy’s nineteen.”

“Not yet he’s not,” Dean retorts, and gets an eyeroll for his troubles.

“Less than a month. I’ve been lenient, son, on account of the fact that we’ve got a much better guarantee than Michael does, but this is starting to get ridiculous.”

“He’s a child,” Dean sputters, not quite able to believe this is happening, and his Dad gives him an impatient look.

“The only child here is you. He’s a fine-looking young man, I’ve heard talk and seen him around enough myself.”

“But I don’t” Dean starts, because he can worry about who’s looking and talking later.

“You think this is about you? I don’t care if he’s too young for your tastes, Dean. I’m not askin’ you to mate him. Just spend a heat or two with him and as soon as it takes, you can forget all about it. You’re an adult, son. Act like it.”

Dean gives him an appalled look.

“That’s exactly why I’m telling you, it’s too soon. I am an adult. And I know Cas. He’s not even close to ready.”

“Maybe he would be if you didn’t coddle him. You think I’m too busy keeping the kingdom running to notice how soft you are on him? If the boy’s still a child, it’s your own damn fault for treating him like one, and it’s up to you to deal with the consequences. Besides, he’ll be fine. Soon as you have an heir, he can pass it off to the nursery and go back to playing swords. And if it’s that important to you, you can wait on the second one.”

Dean feels like he’s going to throw up; it’s all he can do not to flip the damn table and punch his Dad in the face.

“He’s not playing, Dad. Ask Bobby; Cas is shaping up to be one of the best knights in the army. A few more years and he’ll be as good as me. Doing this now you couldn’t time it worse.”

“There are a lot of fine knights in the army, Dean, and we already have you,” his father says tiredly. “Castiel isn’t here to be a knight. He’s here to give you heirs and make sure Eden doesn’t make like the stick up their ass and crawl up ours. That’s all. Once you do that, I don’t give a fuck, but until then do your damn duty. And do it soon.”

“I no. All due respect, sir, but no. He’s not ready, and I’m not going to force him.”

But John is already turning back to his papers, waving his hand.

“He is, and if you have to, you will. I expect news by the years’ end. You’re dismissed.”

Dean stands, clenching his fists as he watches his father calmly scribble across the parchment. Last night’s stunt made it clearer than ever that Cas still doesn’t understand adult things; he’s nowhere even remotely near ready to have kids.

Besides, Dean promised him that wouldn’t happen for a long time, and even if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t do that. Not to Cas.

“We didn’t,” he announces, before he can talk himself out of it.

John pauses.

“I said you were dismissed.”

“On our wedding night. I didn’t do it.”

Finally, John looks up, setting the pen down. There’s a warning in his gaze, one Dean would normally heed, but if there’s anything worth fighting his Dad over, this is it.

“What do you mean by it, son?”

“I mean that this marriage was and still remains unconsummated.”

John is silent for a long moment, rage slowly trickling into his expression.

“You’re aware you’ve committed treason,” he says, and Dean nods.

“I have. I’d do it again.”

“Like hell,” he barks. “Change of plans. You go and find your damn husband and do what you were supposed to five years ago. Right this fucking minute. And then, if you’re lucky, we never talk about this again.”

Dean takes a deep breath.

“No. Not gonna happen. What is going to happen, is you tell Michael that you value the treaty and the relationship our countries share, which is so nice that after five years without an heir to bind us, we’re on better terms than ever. You tell him how much you appreciate that. And then you tell him, in no uncertain terms, that that relationship is going to have to continue surviving without an heir, because it’s a long way off.”

“You think being prince makes you invincible, Dean? You think you can stand there and threaten your king, and there won’t be consequences?”

“What are you going to do? Kill me?” Part of Dean wonders if maybe he shouldn’t be giving his Dad idea, but oh, well. “You sure as hell won’t be having any heirs then.”

“Killing might just be nicer than what I can do to you.”

“Then do it. I don’t care. But know that if you try and force the issue, I will write Michael myself and tell him the truth.”

“Really. You’d fuck over your whole country just because you’re too squeamish to take your own goddamn husband to bed?”

Dean ignores that. After all, John was part and parcel to the deal where Michael sold a little kid, and Dean doesn’t kid himself that his Dad’s agreement was based on his faith in Dean’s character at all.

No, his Dad doesn’t understand, and there’s no point trying to explain it to him.

“If that’s how you want to see it, that’s fine. I don’t care. But Cas’ll have kids when he damn well wants to and not a moment sooner, and I will tell the truth and divorce him if I have to in order to keep that promise.”

John shoves his chair back, standing.

“How dare you,” he roars, but Dean holds his ground. “Do you hear yourself? Should I have had you spend more time in the fucking schoolroom? Are you too fucking stupid to understand what kind of trouble you could cause?”

“I don’t know, are you?” he shoots back. “Things are fine! Michael can get as cranky as he wants, but the fact is, our armies have fought together, trade is good, and as long as Cas is married to me, the promise of heirs is there. He has nothing to retaliate against. Just let Cas be, and everything will go on as it has been. Push it? Guy like Michael’s never gonna let that kind of lie rest.”

John considers him for a long, terrifying moment, during which Dean’s not entirely confident he won’t get a dagger or two to the chest. He’s pretty sure he sees his Dad’s hands twitch, right next to the holster on his thigh, and Dean holds his breath.

Hopefully, if he gets himself killed, Cas’ll forgive him. At the very least, he’s pretty sure Sam will make sure he’s taken care of, even if he has to smuggle him out of the castle to some haven to do it.

But John just jerks his head toward the door.

“Get out.”

Dean hesitates, not sure if that’s an agreement or not. He’s mostly confident Ellen will go to the gallows before she helps John drug them and lock them in a room together, but that doesn’t mean he can’t find someone else to do it.

“And Dean?” he adds, giving Dean a hard stare. “You damn well better pray this doesn’t come back to bite us all in the ass.”

Honestly? Dean’s not entirely sure it won’t but for now, he’s alive and it looks like his Dad’s going to let it rest for now, and that well, that’ll have to be good enough.

The servant who brought him there is waiting outside the door when he leaves, and though Dean initially passes him, he turns back around.

“Did Michael talk to Cas while he was here?”

The servant hesitates.

“He’s not gonna care if you tell me,” Dean says impatiently. “Did he?”

“The King of Eden did request a private audience with his brother,” the man says cautiously, and Dean’s stomach sinks.

Yeah, that’s what he thought.

 

 

 

Cas has no idea when Dean’s rut will be over, but he hopes it’s soon.

He’s felt sick for days.

After literally being thrown out of Dean’s room, Cas was certainly not brave enough to try visiting again, and even if he were, he doubts it would have been well-received.

No, Dean made it entirely clear that he would rather suffer all by himself than have to put up with Cas.

Cas just wishes he understood why.

What’s more, he’s afraid Dean will be angry with him, now. In hindsight, Cas pushed too far; he should have left the first time Dean told him to. He’s aware he can be stubborn, sometimes, but he has no idea what possessed him to do such a thing. The one time Dean visited him during his cycle and Cas asked him to leave, Cas isn’t sure what he would have done if Dean had insisted on staying.

He knows he was wrong, now. What he doesn’t know is if Dean is going to forgive him.

Anxiety and a strange sense of rejection smother him the few days after Dean kicks him out. He doesn’t even realize how poorly he feels until he ducks out of a sparring match, vomiting on the edge of the field.

Bobby sends him straight to Ellen.

“Fever and vomiting,” she says, hand on his forehead. “Headaches?”

“Some.”

“How are you sleeping?”

He shakes his head.

“Not well.”

“And your mood?”

He hesitates. His mood is awful, of course, but if he is sick, he knows it has nothing to do with how unhappy he is.

“Fine.”

She studies him, scenting the air with a frown.

After a moment, she leans in, takes a deep sniff, and then freezes.

When she draws back, her eyes are narrowed.

“You been to see Dean?”

Cas is so surprised that fortunately, he doesn’t react at all.

“Uh. Sorry?”

“Have you been to see Dean since his rut started?”

“No,” he lies. He feels bad enough about it as it is; he’s certainly not about to confess his shame to someone else.

“Even if it was just for a few minutes.” She pauses. “Even if, say, he made you leave?”

Cas quickly shakes his head.

“No. I don’t I don’t visit Dean while he’s in rut.”

“Uh-huh.”

Ellen looks at him for a long time, and then she sighs.

“Well, it’s probably something you ate.” She abruptly turns, rummaging around in the cupboard. “I’ll blend some tea that might help . . . calm you down. You can spend the night in one of the rooms.”

Ellen prepares the tea, then herds him into the other room, brewing him a cup while he gets settled. As restless as he feels, spending the rest of the day in bed sounds wonderful.

He feels so very drained.

“Alright. Drink up, have a nap. Try not to worry,” she adds, patting his head with a frown. “And . . . if for some reason you’re havin’ a fight with Dean, or something, you best make up sooner or rather than later.”

Cas must not be a very good liar, he decides, morose. Does Ellen think he’s worried himself into illness?

“Alright,” he agrees quietly, and doesn’t contradict her.

When he wakes the next morning, fairly late, given the angle of the sunlight, he’s relieved to find he feels much better.

He’s also relieved to immediately pick out Dean’s scent in the room.

Cas swings upright, eyes flying open, and there Dean is, perched on the edge of the bed with a breakfast tray.

His eyes crinkle when he smiles, lovely and sincere and not angry, Cas thinks.

“Hey, buddy. Heard you were sick.”

Cas gives the air a cautious sniff. Dean’s several feet away, but if were really upset, Cas thinks he’d be able to tell.

“Not very,” Cas says, fingers curling around the blanket. “And, uh. How how are you?”

Dean studies him for a moment, and then he sort of looks down, scratching his neck.

“Good. I’m good, Cas.” He clears his throat. “I, uh I think we’ve got some stuff to talk about.”

Cas feels queasy all over again.

“I’m sorry,” he says quickly. “I shouldn’t have I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you.”

Dean sighs, pushing a hand through his hair and turning more fully to face Cas, eyes serious.

“It’s not your fault, Cas.”

“It is. You asked me to leave, and I should have respected that. Please forgive me.”

Looking pained, Dean shakes his head.

“Nothin’ to forgive,” he says gruffly. “I, uh. We should’ve maybe had this talk a while ago, but hey, better late than never, right?”

Cas swallows.

“What talk?”

Dean takes a breath.

“Listen, you gotta know, Cas you don’t need to do that.”

“Do . . . what?”

“Help with my rut. And . . .” He shrugs. “Other shit. I don’t want you to do that. It’s not I promise you, man, that’s not something I’ll ever want from you.”

It’s been a while since anyone’s landed a good hit on Cas during training, but if he recalls, this is not a dissimilar feeling to being punched in the gut.

“Oh.” Cas had felt bad enough, thinking that in rut, when sex was performed as a practicality rather than recreation, Dean found him unacceptable; but if Cas is understanding correctly, Dean is assuring him that he is never going to want Cas, under any circumstances.

It seems Cas has tortured himself the last few months for nothing; it’s irrelevant, whether or not Cas wants Dean.

The reverse is not going to be true. Not even once Cas proves he is a man.

A hand covers his clenched fist, and Cas looks up, startled to realize he can scent Dean’s distress.

“Hey,” he says softly. “Don’t don’t look like that, Cas. It’s okay, I swear.”

It’s really not, but Cas gives Dean a short nod, turning away.

“Okay. Thank you for telling me. I’d like to go back to sleep, now,” he says, as politely as he can manage, though he’s embarrassed to find his eyes sting.

“No Cas” There’s a brief pause, and then the mattress shifts under him as Dean crawls over, propping up against the headboard and tugging Cas toward him.

“Dean — what—”

“Shut up,” Dean mutters, and Cas reluctantly allows himself to pulled into a hug of sorts, although it’s mostly just Cas leaning against Dean, one of Dean’s arms wrapped around him.

It’s nice. Cas is upset, right now, and Dean should leave him to be upset in peace, but this is nice.

A part of Cas kind of resents it.

“I talked to my Dad,” Dean says quietly, apropos of nothing. “And I heard Michael talked to you.”

That throws Cas, somewhat.

“He did,” he agrees, curiosity momentarily superseding his upset. “What does that have to do with your father?”

He feels Dean draw back, and tilts his head up to find Dean giving him a look.

Dean’s face is very close, and Cas tries to remember that he’s not supposed to care about that.

“Heirs,” he says finally, then gently puts a hand on Cas’s head to guide it back to his shoulder. “That’s what my Dad talked to me about.”

A chill goes through him.

His first impulse is to protest, to remind Dean that he said they could wait — but he realizes now that that was years ago.

Besides, even if Dean doesn’t want to have heirs right now, he’s very loyal to his father. If the king commands it, Dean will probably do it.

On the other hand — Dean lied about their wedding night, to protect Cas. As much as Cas doesn’t want to cause him more trouble, he also really, really doesn’t want to have heirs right now.

Of course, he’s not sure how Dean could lie about such a thing.

He waits in tense silence, trying and failing to prepare himself for the worst. Will Dean inform him they’re going to attempt this, now? Cas doesn’t understand how sex, while in theory the same thing regardless of the circumstances, can seem so vastly different from situation to situation. He was ready a few days ago, when he went to visit Dean — when Dean pushed him down and rolled on top of him and asked him if he understood, even. He did understand, and he felt ready.

Now?

Now, he’s not ready at all. Now he just feels sick.

Dean’s hand comes up, threading through his hair, and Cas closes his eyes. No, he thinks. Dean would give him at least a little time to adjust to the idea.

How much, though?

“Shit,” Dean mumbles, fingers gentle where they card through his hair. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m guessin’ that’s what Michael talked to you about, too?”

Cas nods, not quite able to speak.

Dean sighs.

“I thought so. That fucker,” he curses, his touch still light as he thumbs behind Cas’s ear. It’s very soothing; Cas suspects that’s the idea. “Listen, whatever he told you, forget about it, okay?”

Cas blinks.

“Forget about it?”

He feels Dean nod.

“Yeah. Just — he’s full of it. Him and my Dad both. But I talked to my Dad, and I took care of it, and I want you to know that you don’t need to worry, okay? We’re not havin’ kids anytime soon and I made it so nobody can make us.”

It’s like a three-ton weight just slid off of his shoulders, smashed to dust by Dean’s reassurance.

“You did? How? Your father is the king.”

Dean clears his throat.

“Look, like I said, Cas — don’t worry about it. It’s done. You’re good. Just train hard and, you know. Make yourself happy, alright?”

Cas has no idea what Dean has done — is a little worried about it, given what he knows about the king — but he can’t deny how relieved he is. As shameful as it is that Dean keeps protecting him in these ways, that Cas is, unavoidably, a burden — Cas is also intensely grateful.

He doesn’t think, just slides his arm around Dean’s waist and presses his cheek into the front of his tunic.

“I am happy,” he manages, a little hoarse. “I’m very happy. Thank you.”

Dean shifts, brushes his cheek against Cas’s temple.

“Don’t thank me.” He huffs. “You shouldn’t have to worry about any of this to begin with.”

“Still. If Michael had given me to someone else, I would have had to worry about it now. Before now, even.”

Dean’s fingers still.

Then he snorts, resuming the motion.

“Gee, thanks, Cas. ‘You’re much better than the alternative.’ Way to make a guy feel special.”

Cas frowns.

“You’re very special, Dean.”

“Because I’m not a total dick, apparently.”

Cas shakes his hand off impatiently, shifting away to scowl at him.

“That’s not why. Stop — stop — fishing.” Sam complains that Dean is like this, and for the first time, Cas understands why.

Dean looks startled.

“I’m not fishing. You’re the one who only likes me because I’m better than all your totally shitty other options!” he protests.

“That is not what I said, and even if it were, how is it an insult? You’re better than all the alternatives, Dean. You’re the best of anyone I’ve ever met.”

Dean’s pout slides right off his face, green eyes blinking in surprise.

“Oh. That — well, that wasn’t, uh. Wasn’t clear.”

Cas just fixes him with an annoyed glare, and then, because Dean is being deliberately difficult, flops back against his chest with perhaps a little more force than necessary.

Gratifyingly, Dean hacks out an unpleasant sounding cough.

“Jesus. You weigh a ton now, you know that, right?”

“Thank you.”

“It wasn’t a compliment.”

“I don’t care. I’ve noticed, and it’s been very agreeable in training.”

“Brat,” Dean sniffs, and Cas wriggles around with more elbows than necessary, making himself comfortable at Dean’s side until he has a decent view of his face, as well.

It occurs to Cas that this is the best he’s felt in days. He knows it’s probably just that his illness has run its course, but since Dean’s visit coincided with that, he feels particularly . . . in charity with him.

He doesn’t realize he’s smiling until Dean smirks back, cocking an eyebrow.

“Somethin’ on my face?”

Dean is being silly, of course, but there’s an impossibly warm feeling in Cas’s chest, a lot like the one that prompted him to kiss Dean that first time, when he came back from Purgaea.

Cas would very much like to kiss him now, as well, but he knows it would be unwelcome.

He settles for something he’s seen Dean do to annoy Jo, pushing up and licking his cheek instead.

Dean makes a high-pitched ‘gah’ sound, jerking back and wiping his cheek.

“Dude, what the hell?”

“I learned it from you,” Cas says, smugly resettling against him.

But a moment later, there’s a wet tongue snaking into his ear, and Cas recoils with an outraged yelp.

“Dean!”

“You started it,” Dean points out, folding his arms. “A knight should know better than to start something he can’t finish.”

Cas freezes, then narrows his eyes.

“Really,” he says, and it’s clear the moment Dean realizes his mistake.

The knowledge doesn’t stop him.

 

 

 

Ellen is weirdly cranky at him when she comes to check on Cas, although if Cas was so sick he was throwing up yesterday, she probably doesn’t appreciate Dean rough-housing with him now. It doesn’t help that she walks in just as Dean breaks free of a surprisingly vicious headlock and shoves Cas onto his back, leaving an obnoxiously wet trail of saliva along his neck while he struggles and pushes at the side of Dean’s face.

The kid’s pretty tough, Dean grudgingly admits. All that grace and agility and shit that have always set him apart is seriously agreeing with his expanded frame.

Anyway, Ellen actually drops her bag when she comes in, yelling Dean’s name with enough force that he stops dead, leaving Cas an opening to flip them over and drool in Dean’s ear.

“Eww!” Dean complains, and totally doesn’t shriek like a small child, Cas grinning in wild satisfaction above him.

“What the hell are you two doing in my infirmary?” Ellen demands, and Dean twists his neck, trying to clean his ear off on the pillow.

“Cas started it,” he complains, and Cas shrugs.

“Dean deserved it,” he retorts, and Dean gives Ellen a ‘can you believe this guy’ look, making sure Cas can see it.

In response, Cas pinches his side.

“Good morning, Ellen,” he says, apparently content to perch astride Dean’s stomach while he exchanges pleasantries. “How are you?”

Ellen is frowning, big-time.

“Alright,” she says slowly. “I take it you’re . . . feeling better.”

Cas nods, smiling.

“Yes, much. It must have been something I ate.”

“Right,” she mutters, retrieving her bag from the floor. “Well, if you don’t mind gettin’ off of Dean, there, I’ll just make sure your temperature’s gone down, and then you should eat that breakfast he brought you before it goes cold or falls off the damn bed.”

Dean glances to the side, wincing. He totally forgot about breakfast, and it looks about three inches away from sliding right off the edge.

Looking equally dismayed, Cas quickly climbs off of Dean and drags the tray back to safety.

“Sorry,” he says, sheepish, and obligingly sits on the edge for Ellen’s examination.

Ellen pronounces him good to go, but offers to let him spend the day in the room, and he hesitates.

“You have to go to the courtyard, don’t you?” he asks, looking at Dean, and Dean nods.

“Oh. Yeah, I guess.”

Cas nods.

“Alright. I’ll go to the field, then.”

Ellen gives Dean an inscrutable look, a frown all around the edges, and then sighs.

“Okay. Eat your food and get out of here, then.”

Breakfast is cold, but pretty nice. Obviously, Dean likes eating in the Hall, but breakfast in bed with Cas is always weirdly fun; he wouldn’t mind doing it more often.

They sit in companionable silence, polishing the lot of it off — though Dean has to eat most of the carrots — and then Cas reluctantly moves to get dressed.

“I’ll see you in the courtyard?” he asks, and Dean nods, standing up and stretching.

“Yeah, sounds like a plan.”

Cas pauses for a moment, just sort of staring back, and then with a huff, he turns and starts stripping off his pajamas.

Dean blinks, then turns and picks up the tray.

“Later, man. Have fun playin’ with the other kids.”

He dodges the shirt Cas throws at him and sails out the door with a smirk.

His Dad might be the most pissed off he’s ever been, but Dean still feels pretty good about where things are headed.

 

 

 

Cas leaves the infirmary in high spirits, though by lunchtime, he’s considerably more sober.

He’s not sick anymore, and he’s relieved to find that Dean isn’t angry with him after all — not to mention that he doesn’t have to worry about heirs — and he of course enjoyed playing around with Dean this morning, but none of that changes the fact that Michael was right in that Dean doesn’t want him.

There was affection this morning, in spades, which softens the blow considerably, but now that Dean is gone, Cas is faced with the new reality that all his suffering the last few months was for naught, because in his own words, Dean is never going to want him. Not even once Cas is ‘old enough’, and has proven he’s a man.

It’s a shame, then, that Cas is pretty sure he’s decided he does want Dean.

It’s a bad feeling, frustrating and deeply hurtful, and he bitterly wishes he’d never talked to Sam in the first place. He’d been content to be in love with Dean, unreciprocated and solely preoccupied with making sure it didn’t cause Dean unhappiness — but now he has things he wants; things he can’t have.

Cas never realized how many of the things he wanted that he did have, enough that he took the feeling for granted. To know that something else he wants is simply impossible just — it feels unfair. The last time he felt like this, he was thirteen and newly presented and everyone was telling him that not only was he not allowed to be a knight, he had to leave home and do whatever some random man in Lawrence told him to.

It’s petty, because Dean can’t really be blamed for the fact that his preferences do not include Cas, but knowing that he doesn’t always do what Dean tells him to is some consolation. Cas can’t be certain, but Lawrence is vastly different from Eden, and he strongly suspects no one told Dean Cas had been given this instruction.

Cas is not about to be the one to do so.

Still; he can’t help but be morose. Dean seemed very sure that he would never want Cas, and yet, some contrary part of Cas keeps trying to rally against that, asking ‘what if’ and trying desperately to devise some means of changing his mind.

It’s wrong and perverse, and Dean would probably not be happy if he knew, but his brain does it anyway.

“Oh, no,” Valencia comments, dropping to the space next to him at lunch. “That looks like a different kind of sick than yesterday.”

Cas sighs.

“I’m fine.” He is, after all. This is not a real illness, and he’s bound to accept it, eventually. He is a reasonable person, after all; isn’t the most important thing that he’s not fighting with Dean, that they can still eat together and play together? That Dean still cares about him?

It is, and that will have to be enough.

And because Cas is a mature adult, regardless of what Dean says, it will be.

Valencia arches a brow, bumping his shoulder.

“Which ‘fine’ is that, again?”

Cas sighs.

“The work-in-progress kind,” he admits.

“Ah. Aren’t we all,” she muses, giving a sage nod before pausing and leaning a little closer. “Did you see Dean today?”

“Yes? We had breakfast together.”

She blinks, sniffing the air a little.

“Is that all?”

“Uh. We . . . wrestled,” he elaborates, hoping it sounds less childish than it was. Cas would do it again in a heartbeat, but the idea of recounting the silliness of the tussle makes him feel embarrassed, for some reason.

Valencia gets a weird expression, and then shrugs.

“Cool,” she says, freeing her sandwich from the brown parchment it’s wrapped in.

“How could you tell?” Cas asks, curious, and she shrugs.

“You smell a tiny bit like you took a bath in him. No big deal.”

Cas blinks, startled, then immediately ducks his chin, trying to sniff at his collar.

“Oh.” She’s right; he smells a lot like Dean. He’s pleased to note that it’s not unpleasant; obviously, he likes Dean’s scent a lot, but the combination of it and Cas’s own is . . . agreeable. “Well — we wrestled a lot.”

Valencia bites her lip, nodding gravely.

“I see. I hope you . . . had a good time.”

“I did. I always enjoy Dean’s company, whatever we do.” Though he particularly enjoyed this morning’s game. It should have been gross, but Cas found he didn’t really mind Dean’s tongue tickling across his skin. And since Dean is so scrupulous about bathing, Cas had no qualms licking him back, either, especially not when he got such delightfully appalled reactions.

Honestly, if he thinks about it, Dean’s skin tasted sort of pleasant, in a strange way. Cas would have said skin wasn’t something you can taste, and it’s nothing like food, but this morning proved you certainly can and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Wow,” Valencia mutters, giving him an odd look, and he snaps back to attention.

“Sorry.”

“No problem,” she says easily. “I’m just glad you’re enjoying yourself. Speaking of which—”

Valencia pulls a letter out of her pocket and smiles.

“Delivery service?”

“Of course,” he agrees. Valencia and Sam talk a little more, now, but Cas still passes letters between them. He’s a little curious as to what they talk about, but something tells him this is not a thing he should ask.

Although . . .

“What do you like about Sam?”

Valencia pauses with her sandwich halfway to her mouth.

“Uh. Probably the same things you like about Sam,” she says eventually, gaze shifting to the side.

“Sam is wonderful,” Cas agrees, and hesitates. “But I don’t want to kiss Sam.”

Valencia nods.

“That’s probably for the best. For a lot of reasons.”

When nothing more is forthcoming, Cas suppresses a sigh.

“Do you want to kiss Sam?”

She looks amused.

“Some days.”

“Which days?”

She shrugs.

“I could tell you about which times I wanted to kiss Sam,” she confesses, “But that would be admitting to some things I probably shouldn’t.”

“You’re being singularly unhelpful,” Cas says reproachfully, and she grins.

“So this is about you.”

“No, I —”

Valencia raises her brows, and Cas sighs.

“I just — I don’t understand. What makes someone want someone else?” Cas pauses, thinking about all the things Michael said to him. “Or — maybe I should ask be asking what makes someone not want someone else.”

Valencia looks thoughtful.

“Good question. I have no idea. Some of the things that make me want to kiss Sam also make me want to either throw something at him or cause him some amount of deep internal suffering, so,” she shrugs. “Yeah, I’m not sure I can help you.”

He frowns.

“That seems weird.”

“I told you so. Of course, that could just be me.”

Cas considers this. He’s only recently determined that he’d like to kiss Dean, and possibly-probably do other things with him, as well — at least on a trial basis — so he couldn’t really put a pattern to the times he wants to kiss Dean.

He’ll make a note of it, he decides, and then he can figure it out.

“Really, though,” Valencia continues. “There’s not really a science to it. Attraction is a mysterious and terrible thing. You just . . . feel it.”

If that’s the case, Cas is completely out of luck.

But Dean said he liked good-looking people he could laugh with, which means there must be some influencing criteria.

“Am I good-looking?” he blurts out, and Valencia blinks in surprise.

“Oh. Yes?”

Cas hesitates.

“Very good-looking? Or — just a little?”

She smiles slightly.

“This seems like a trick question.”

“It’s not,” he assures her. “I just — I need to know.”

He thinks, for a moment, that she’s about to ask ‘why,’ but then she just shrugs.

“Very good-looking. But if I tell you how good-looking other people think you are, you might end up like Dean, and then poor Sam will never have any peace at all.”

Cas starts.

“You — that makes it sound like I’m as good-looking as Dean.”

“Most people think so. Preferences vary, of course. I know mine do,” she mutters, strangely resigned, but Cas is still stuck on what he’s hearing.

“But — Dean is — he’s—” Cas cuts off, not sure how to explain, and Valencia looks faintly delighted. “Well, he’s — uh.”

“He’s what?”

Cas can feel himself turning red.

“Dean’s very beautiful,” he mutters, halting. “The most beautiful person in the castle.”

Dean is almost certainly the most beautiful person Cas has ever met, though Cas never really reflects on this distinction. It seems more important that Dean’s face is dear to behold, and Cas feels there are a number of contributing factors to that besides his obvious beauty.

Still, Dean is beautiful, and Cas finds it difficult to believe he ranks anywhere near that.

“Ah.” There seems to a breadth of meaning to that simple statement, though for the life of him, Cas can’t translate it. “Well, you’re getting there yourself. I wouldn’t worry.”

Cas swallows.

“But you said preferences vary,” he points out. “So — some people must not think I’m good-looking at all.”

Valencia is quiet for a long moment, and then she gently pats his arm.

“Could be. But try giving those people some time. You’re sort of . . . blooming, right now. That can take some getting used to.”

Cas can’t help but feel a little swell of hope.

“Really? So — someone who . . . didn’t want me, right now. Maybe later?”

“Maybe,” she agrees.

“What if they said never?”

Valencia looks a little sad for a moment, before her expression smoothes over.

“They could mean it. You’d have to be okay with that. But,” she adds. “They could change their mind. Maybe not — but they could.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

She meets his eyes, a little pained.

“Probably not. Not now, anyway. Just . . . be patient.”

Cas hates being patient, but the possibility of someday is better than never, so he’ll take it.

“Okay.” He sighs. “I can do that.”

And he can.

He’s just afraid that, in the end, Dean won’t change his mind at all.

 

 

 

Dean isn’t sure whether to be relieved or disappointed that he missed Michael’s visit, because he has half a mind to challenge the fucker to a god damn duel.

Cas was all small smiles and warm looks when Dean left the infirmary, but by the time Dean meets him in the courtyard for training, he’s strangely subdued. There’s something off about the way he moves the first ten or fifteen minutes, although Dean gets progressively more ridiculous in his fighting tactics, forcing Cas both to engage and be grudgingly amused, and by dinnertime, he seems back to normal.

It doesn’t last. He quiets right down as the meal progresses, clearly a million miles away, and he takes twice as long to eat. Dean ends up having to pace himself to make it less obvious how slow Cas is moving, and the others get up and say good night well before they finish.

And then when Dean nudges him and asks if he should order a second bath, Cas looks relieved.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going on.

As much of a weight off Cas’s shoulders it must be, knowing he doesn’t have to worry about heirs, it doesn’t change the fact that Michael got to him. Knowing what he knows now, Dean feels like a complete heel for ever being angry at Cas in the first place.

God, Cas must have been terrified, coming up to Dean’s room. If Dean’s weird travel condition wasn’t fucking with his scent-processing or whatever, he probably would have been able to sniff out the fear on him.

As it is, Dean’s kind of the worst person ever for trying to scare him off the way he did. Cas was already afraid; he must have been frightened out of his wits when Dean did that.

Dean thinks of the way Cas looked him dead in the eye, anyway, said ‘Then show me,” not even wavering once, and he aches. Part of him is insanely proud of Cas, because he’s exactly the kind of person that confronts his fears with a stupid-but-badass do-your-worst attitude, but another part of him just wants to tear Michael’s throat out with his bare hands, because something he said must have made Cas feel like he had to do that.

And whatever that something was, it’s not letting go of Cas easy.

It’s not fair; Dean’s spent five years trying to look after Cas, make sure he felt safe and free and all that important shit here in Lawrence, but one visit from Michael and it’s clear Cas is feeling uncertain. Even if he knows he doesn’t have to have kids, it’s been put into his head that he owes Lawrence something, that he’s obligated to do something besides enjoying being young and pretty much doing whatever makes him happy.

Like, Dean remembers how Cas was when he first got here; how anxious he seemed to be about Dean potentially going off and getting himself killed. He’s pretty sure Cas eventually got comfortable with his place here, came to understand that he always will have a home here, will always be taken care of, Dean or no Dean — but now that Michael’s gone and fucked with his head, the insecurity seems to be back like it never left.

Worst of all, he can tell Cas is just — feeling bad. This is probably why Cas tried to play that stupid joke the other night, and it sure as hell explains Cas suddenly not wanting to sleep in Dean’s room even though two days later he was figuratively throwing himself on the sacrificial pyre of Dean’s rut.

Clearly, Cas is no longer sure he’s wanted. In fact, add to that the sudden revival of his delusions of adulthood, this all looks tragically like Cas trying to prove his worth. Michael must have given him shit about playing around and enjoying his youth, and now Cas feels like he has to fulfill grown-up obligations and make himself useful.

God damn are the Edenish fucked up. They all hate themselves, Dean’s sure of it, and it makes them hate everybody else, too.

Anyway, it makes Dean feel frustrated and pissed and uncomfortably helpless, because he’s not totally sure what Cas needs from him, now; but Cas needs something, and Dean’s determined to provide it. As annoying as it is that one conversation from Michael has rendered five years of being with Dean apparently meaningless, Dean still intends to fix it or die trying.

He’s just not sure how.

Cas doesn’t say a word while they have their baths, and as worrisome as it is, it’s just as well; by the time Dean’s toweling off and putting on his pajamas, he thinks he’s figured out what to do.

When Cas was younger, a lot of his fears stemmed from Dean leaving him behind and maybe dying halfway across the continent; he seemed to think going with Dean would be more reassuring than staying safe and sound in a well-guarded castle.

Which — it’s not unreasonable to think that means Dean makes him feel safe and secure, right? Like, it’s just the logical conclusion. Dean’s older and bigger and the future King of Lawrence — and honestly, kind of a badass — so it even makes a fair amount of sense. Either way, it’s not a big deal.

And since it looks like Michael made him question that — maybe the solution is to make sure Cas understands that he’s not wrong to think that way. That he can be as much of an obnoxious little pill as he pleases, and Dean’ll still take care of him and want him around and stuff.

That Dean’ll stand between him and an exploding candelabra any day, and the reason behind that means Cas is always welcome, and always wanted.

So all Dean has to do is make him understand that, and since he’s not great with words and he’s not sure they’d be good enough to undo the damage Michael did, anyway, Dean’ll have to show him.

He can do that.

For Cas, he can do anything.

Dean dries Cas’s hair for him, just like he always does, and then he sort of segues into one of those scalp massages Cas clearly really likes (because the kid is a giant cat). Cas doesn’t say a word, just hums and keeps tilting his head to follow Dean’s hands. It’s kind of funny, but mostly it’s adorable as fuck and it makes Dean hate Michael even more because how dare he.

They get into bed and turn out the lights, and as Cas shifts around, trying to make himself comfortable, Dean can see well enough to catch the shiver that goes through him before he tugs the blanket up a little.

“Nights are getting cold,” Dean comments, and Cas sighs.

“Yes. The barracks door sticks, and there’s a draft now that wasn’t there last year.”

“What? That’s not right. You guys need good sleep or you’ll be useless.”

He can practically hear Cas roll his eyes.

“Bobby promised to fix it before it gets cold. Up until the last couple of weeks, it was more of a . . . nice breeze.”

“Fair enough. Still. I’ll, uh. Talk to someone about it.”

“Alright.” There’s a long pause. “In the meantime, perhaps I could — borrow a blanket?”

Dean frowns.

“Or you could just sleep in here ‘til it’s fixed.”

“Oh.” Cas sounds both surprised and small, and fuck Michael one hundred thousand times, with something disagreeably large and painfully barbed, because Cas should have felt comfortable enough to come up with that solution all on his own. “Alright. Thank you, Dean.”

There’s something vaguely wistful amid the gratitude, and it’s putting that tight, helpless feeling back in Dean’s chest, so he does the only thing he can think of to fix it. He scoots toward the center of the bed and sort of lifts his arm, hoping Cas understands.

“Well, I’ll make sure there’s an extra blanket starting tomorrow, but for now . . .?”

Part of him’s not sure this is the right thing to do, is worried that Cas might misunderstand, still caught up on whatever Michael made him think he was here for — but then Cas is scooting over, tucking right up against Dean and shoving his startlingly cold nose into his neck.

“Thank you,” he says again, a little muffled, and Dean smirks into his hair, even though Cas’s hands are all folded up between them and they’re fucking cold, too.

Clearly, this was more necessary than he realized.

He wraps an arm around Cas, tilting his head down and briefly brushing their cheeks together. Cas shivers again.

“’Night, Cas,” he whispers, and after a moment, Cas lets out a soft little breath.

“Good night, Dean.”

 

 

 

Cas is not sure why, but Dean appears to be trying to torture him.

The worst part — the part that makes it such surprisingly effective torture — is that there’s a small, horrible part of Cas that is enjoying it immensely.

Dean is touching him constantly. And no, touch hasn't been rare between them for years, now, but it's becoming downright excessive. Before, Cas wouldn't have said constant touch was a thing he needed, or even craved, but now that it’s happening, he can't help but think it’s wonderful.

Except it’s also horrible, because Cas does think it’s wonderful, and it very much makes him want to touch Dean back, but he has no idea if or how he’s allowed to. He doesn’t even know why Dean is doing all of this in the first place. He’s pretty sure he’s not allowed to kiss Dean, but over the next several weeks, Cas begins to think about kissing Dean twenty or thirty times a day.

And it’s all Dean’s fault.

If Dean always made him feel welcome to sleep in the castle before, Cas feels downright encouraged now, and it’s hard to say no. He probably should say no, because one of these days, Dean is going to catch him with his damning morning situation and that will be that, but Cas can’t. Dean rambles pleasantly while they’re in the bath, oftentimes recounting the highlights of Cas’s performance that day during training, and then he spends a good fifteen minutes working over Cas’s hair with a towel and then his fingers. Sometimes, after that, he’ll pull a book off the shelf and lean against the headboard, right next to Cas, and read with him.

And sometimes — often, perhaps — whether they’re in bed or by the tree, Dean will put an arm around him. Sometime in the last week, Cas has started casually letting his head drop onto Dean’s shoulder, and by some fascinating miracle, this always causes Dean to start rubbing his thumb along Cas’s shoulder or even bringing his hand up to absent-mindedly toy with Cas’s hair. Of course, after that, Cas gets about half as much reading done as usual, preoccupied with trying not to just turn and kiss Dean or even simply take a nap.

Dean’s also started dragging his chair as close to Cas’s as it will go at dinner, leaning in. Cas can’t remember the last time Dean got caught up in a conversation with someone else — not that he ever minded that, since he’s content to just observe if he has nothing to say. Still, Dean has taken to drawing him into it if more than a few minutes pass, nudging Cas with his shoulder or squeezing his arm and constantly bumping his knee against Cas’s.

There’s just — there’s so much. Dean walks him to breakfast with an arm slung across his shoulders, which wasn’t unheard of, before, but was certainly a much more rare occurrence. Cas doesn’t think he walks anywhere with Dean now without it happening. If not that, Dean’s squeezing his arm or shoulder or ruffling his hair or poking his cheek or jaw or forehead or some other casual, meaningless touch to add to a pile that is slowly driving Cas a little insane.

Dean doesn’t play that frustrating game in training anymore, even if he and Cas end up play-wrestling, which should be a small mercy, but it’s really not. Mostly, Cas is startled by how badly he wants to tackle Dean to the ground, except instead of keeping him from getting up, he would like to conduct more research on how extensive his interest in kissing really is.

It’s a problem.

In fact, it’s making Cas act out. He’s discovered that the first time was not a fluke, and that, in general, if Cas shivers and coughs and pretends to be cold, Dean will snuggle with him before they fall asleep. If Dean doesn’t have an arm around him already, Cas just has to sidle up close enough for their shoulders to brush, and the absence is resolved, like Dean’s not even aware of it. Any touch Cas leans into tends to last that little bit longer, and Cas has used this trick to get Dean to draw patterns across his back and shoulders, to thumb along his neck or pet his hair or any number of other things to which Cas thinks he may be forming the kind of addiction he’s only heard people discuss with alcohol or gambling.

It doesn’t help that Dean’s being almost suspiciously nice. He praises Cas for anything even remotely worthy of it, in no uncertain terms, and it’s clear from the warm, pleased look in his eye that he means it. Despite their courtyard lessons, he comes to watch Cas on the field every other day, it feels like, and he always has nice things to say when they meet later.

Cas is a force to behold, on those days. He’s pretty sure everyone else knows why, but even his embarrassment doesn’t stop him from pursuing the promise of those words like a man possessed.

At dinner the other night, Dean cheekily praised him for eating all his carrots; when Cas shrugged and said, “If I don’t, I’ll start behaving like your father,” the table burst into laughter, Dean’s the heartiest of all, and Dean clapped him on the back a couple of times before his hand slid up, thumb rubbing along Cas’s neck before it finally withdrew.

Sam stared at them and gave Dean a Look, but Cas’s own brain was too muddled to try and figure out the context. Every pat and poke and nudge just — lingers like that, now, in a way it didn’t used to.

It gives Cas this strange, on-edge feeling, except instead of being irritable, Cas feels like he’s about to just — crawl out of his own skin and right into Dean’s.

Which is just morbid, if he thinks about it, but it’s not exactly like that. Cas doesn’t know what it’s actually like. It’s not something he’s felt before.

It doesn’t help that even when Dean’s not there, he’s been touching Cas so much Cas catches traces of Dean’s scent on himself throughout the day. Naturally, this means he’s never far from Cas’s thoughts, and since he’s also actually paying Cas ridiculous amounts of attention —

Cas is feeling a little overwhelmed.

Even Charlie remarks on it, plunking down next to him at dinner while he waits for Dean to return from a meeting with his father; she bumps his shoulder with hers, only to make a face immediately after.

“Yikes. Somebody’s been getting way carried away. I can barely smell you under all the sunshine and trees and happy alpha.”

Cas blinks at her.

“You think I smell like Dean,” he clarifies, and she nods vigorously.

“Yup. More like you reek of Dean. Which, hey, that makes sense, since he can’t go five minutes without scent-mar—”

Sam coughs loudly as he takes a seat on the other side of the table.

“Yeah, they sure have been spending a lot of time together, haven’t they? Dean’s got that nice, fresh thing going for him now, too. I guess that just happens when you hang out so much. Right, Charlie?”

Charlie gives Sam a strange look, glancing between them.

“Uh. Right?”

It’s a puzzling exchange, but honestly, Cas is more interested in what Sam said.

Dean smells like me?”

He supposes that makes sense — all of Dean’s touching means contact between them. Still, it’s usually Dean’s hands brushing Cas’s skin, or Dean’s cheek against Cas’s temple, Cas struggling to keep his own hands to himself; to stay still, except for whatever subtle encouragements in body he’s brave enough to attempt, and just let it happen.

“Yeah,” Sam confirms, still looking at Charlie. “All the sleepovers and training, I guess.”

Cas would be lying if he said he didn’t like scenting traces of Dean on himself as he went about his day, as distracting as it can be; for some reason, thinking Dean might be facing the same conundrum pleases him immensely.

“The sleepovers and training,” Charlie repeats. “Right. That’s it. Makes . . . sense.”

Across the table, Valencia shakes her head.

Sam launches into a conversation about the dubious existence of fairies then, which Charlie joins reluctantly at first, but then engages in with gusto. By then, Dean returns, lightly palming the space where Cas’s shoulder meets his neck.

“Hey, what am I missing?” he asks, using his free hand to pull his chair out — and yes, toward Cas’s in what must be a deliberate move — and then settles in, hand sliding down Cas’s back before snaking around him to reach for the plate, even though it means he has to lift it over Cas’s head afterward.

“Charlie thinks that thing in the woods is a fairy ring,” Sam explains, although he seems to be watching Dean’s hand with a frown.

“Uh. It’s not really a circle,” Dean points out, puzzled, and spears a large hunk of roast to put on Cas’s plate.

“It kind of is.”

“It has two corners.”

“Why the hell would a fairy just make circles?” Charlie insists. “That sounds like a stupid rule humans would make up.”

Sam looks thoughtful.

“Actually, that’s kind of a good point.”

Dean fills the tiny amount of space remaining on Cas’s plate with a few carrots (cooked, fortunately) and slides it back in front of him.

“I swear I remember there bein’ some wildflowers, though.”

“Yeah, before everything there died.

“Are you sure—”

“I’m sure.” Charlie narrows his eyes. “Also, I’m pretty sure I saw a fairy once.”

Sam and Dean seem largely convinced the fairy was a wandering visitor to the town, but do acknowledge that the area’s persistent delineation is kind of weird.

“What about you, Cas? They have fairies in Eden?”

“Well, I never met any.”

“No, I mean — that one of the stories we share?”

Cas nods.

“Anna told me stories when I was growing up. And some of the boys in my rank insisted there was a woman dressed in white who wandered the woods, weeping on full moons, although I don’t know how they would have known that, given that our curfew was sundown.”

Charlie chuckles.

“They probably snuck out, Cas.”

“Oh.” Cas never thought about that before, though he should have; knights-in-training have much more freedom here, but Cas still knows people sneak out of the barracks. “Ah. Yes, they must have.”

She looks amused.

“Oh, come on. You’ve snuck out before.”

“No, I —” he starts, and then remembers. “Oh, right. Sam and I slept in the tent.”

Cas meets Sam’s eyes across the table, and they share a grin. Cas didn’t appreciate the weird fuss that happened afterward, but it was a delightfully fun night. He knows that for whatever reason, they’re not supposed to, but if they could just be a little more sneaky, Cas would like to do it again, sometime.

Judging by the widening grin on his face, Cas suspects Sam is thinking the same.

Abruptly, there’s a warm hand on Cas’s chin, turning his face toward Dean, who frowns at him and reaches out, thumb presumably scrubbing away some smear or other at his mouth.

“Aren’t you kinda old to be wearing your food?” he mutters. Cas would be offended, but Dean is still holding onto his chin, scowling from not very far away at all.

And then Dean brings his other hand up, licking his thumb and rubbing it at the other corner, slow and thorough, gaze intent on his work, and Cas wonders if Dean can feel the rising blush beneath his fingers.

“For the love of—” Charlie starts, and Cas thinks he hears a thump from under the table before she abruptly cuts off.

“You sure you got it all, brother?” Benny asks, brows raised at Dean as he turns Cas’s face from left to right, carefully inspecting his handiwork.

“Maybe,” Dean says gruffly, not bothering to look at Benny. His thumb strokes along Cas’s jaw, still faintly damp from saliva, and Cas has absolutely no idea why his brain seems to stick on that though. “Huh. Thought I remembered you shaving this morning.”

It takes Cas a moment to catch up, and he shrugs, both afraid and hopeful the movement will dislodge Dean’s hand.

It doesn’t.

“I did. It just does this.” The older Cas gets, the more prickly his face starts to feel by the end of the day. He’s surprised Dean hasn’t noticed sooner, though he supposes that sort of change is gradual.

“Yeah, keep at it, Dean,” Charlie chimes in, scooting back in her chair for some reason. “I don’t think you got his whole mouth.”

Dean finally looks away, patting Cas’s cheek before releasing him altogether and giving Charlie a funny look.

“No, I did. He’s good, now.”

Charlie just sighs.

Dinner proceeds without further incident, although Cas catches himself eating a little more messily. Ashamed, he forces himself to take small, neat bites, and tries not to feel too wistful.

It’s so awkward and uncomfortable when Dean does things like that, and yet, Cas can’t help but wish he would do them again.

They say good night to everyone, and Cas automatically follows Dean up his room. He doesn’t sleep in the barracks more than two nights a week, anymore, and since Dean doesn’t seem to mind, Cas doubts that’s likely to change.

Half of him wants to ask if he can move his things to the castle, but the other half of him is afraid Dean will realize Cas is there too often, and also unsure what he’ll do without some haven to retreat to.

He strips down as quickly as possible, careful not to watch Dean at his more leisurely pace, and sinks into the hot water with a happy groan. There’s a chuckle from the other side of the room, and Cas makes the mistake of glancing over to where Dean is halfway into the tub, watching him with an amused grin.

Half-crouched as he is, Cas looks a second too long, and finds himself thinking about what Meg said about butts.

It’s just a butt, though, he reminds himself, tearing his gaze away. Just a normal, regular butt. Well, not regular; Cas has seen a number of his barrackmate’s butts in passing, and though he’s never thought to study any of them, he’s fairly certain none of them have a butt like Dean’s.

Why on earth is he thinking about butts, now?

“Long day?” Dean asks, easing into the water, by the sound of it, and Cas nods stiffly.

“My old rank trained with us. I had to pull Alfie all over the field in a weighted sled.”

“Aw, couldn’t have been that bad,” he teases. “Alfie’s just a slip of a thing; not all big and strappin’ like you.”

As nice as Dean has been to him, lately, Cas does not deceive himself that this is anything but mockery. Cas measured five-ten at his last physical, which is perfectly respectable, but Dean is at least three inches taller than that and either way, Cas has a ways to go before he finishes filling out.

He’s a decent size, though, and it’s rude of Dean to make fun of him.

“I’m not small, Dean.”

There’s a pause.

“I didn’t say you were,” Dean says, and sounds genuinely confused. Cas chances a glance over, but Dean doesn’t look like he’s laughing at him.

“Oh.” Unsure, Cas clears his throat, sliding a little further into the tub. “Well, after the first hour, he felt very heavy.”

Dean snorts.

“Yeah, I remember doing that. After an hour, everything feels heavy. You’re gonna feel that in the morning.”

“I was afraid of that,” Cas mutters, and Dean laughs again.

“Bobby’ll go easy on you guys tomorrow, don’t worry.” There’s the sound of Dean sluicing his washcloth across his skin, and Cas reluctantly begins to do the same.

Dean makes idle conversation until they’re finished, inquiring after the menu for Cas’s birthday and debating the logistics of a giant honeycake.

Cas, for his part, is appalled. The whole point of the honeycake is the sweet, glazed crust that forms all over the exterior. The ratios will be a disaster if you try to turn it into a large cake.

For some reason, this amuses Dean greatly, and he declares the solution to be the honey pie.

Cas likes the honey pie almost as well as the cakes — possibly even better, in some ways, since it only appears when Dean seems determined to be thoughtful — but it’s not Dean’s place to declare these things.

“Alright, compromise. We’ll have both. And those weird pink cookie things you like.”

Cas wants to protest, on principle — Dean is, of course, still trying to make it his decision — but this idea appeals enough that he grudgingly agrees.

He makes short work of dressing, wincing a little as he tugs on his shirt and his increasingly sore muscles make their objections known, and when he reemerges from the collar, Dean is frowning at him.

“What?”

After a pause, Dean straightens up and gestures to the bed.

“Lie down,” he instructs.

Dean usually has Cas sit on the edge of the bed while he towels off his hair, but perhaps he can tell how tired Cas is and he’s trying to be kind; it certainly isn’t the strangest thing Dean’s done lately, so Cas crawls onto the bed and settles on his back without questioning it.

Dean shakes his head.

“On your front,” he says, walking over, and then puts a staying hand on Cas’s shoulder when he tries to turn. “Actually — take your shirt back off?”

“But I’m sore,” Cas protests, although as soon as he says it, he wonders why Dean would want his shirt off. The nights are growing progressively colder as they approach winter, and going shirtless isn’t practical.

Dean nods, eyes sympathetic.

“I know, but trust me. Here, I’ll help you,” he adds, reaching for the hem of Cas’s shirt. “Arms up?”

Having Dean take off his shirt is an altogether different experience than taking it off himself. Cas can tell Dean doesn’t think much of it, but from Cas’s perspective, sore muscles and the curiousness of the request are utterly forgotten, replaced by an acute awareness of Dean’s knuckles brushing up his sides and down his arms.

“Alright, now lie on your front.”

After a moment to gather his bearings, Cas slowly turns over and stretches out on his his stomach.

“Tuck your hands under your chin — no, not that way — yeah, like that — good.”

It feels weird. Cas tends to curl up on his own or curl around Dean, as the night progresses; he’s not sure he remembers lying down like this before, and certainly not without his shirt and with Dean hovering over him, arms folded up by his head.

Still, he waits patiently. No doubt Dean has a plan, even if Cas is at a loss as to what it could be.

Cas’s vision goes dark as the towel settles over his head, and he relaxes into the bed with a sigh, relieved Dean hasn’t forgotten. He isn’t sure why his shirt needed to be off for this, but he can certainly see the appeal of the rest of it; lying down like this, cheek resting against the sheet while Dean works the towel over his hair, is vastly more comfortable than having to sit up.

Although, there are some downsides. By the time Dean sets aside the towel and presses his fingers to Cas’s scalp, lightly massaging, Cas is about ready to fall asleep.

He’s nearly there when Dean’s hands withdraw, and he cracks open eyes he doesn’t remember closing to see Dean pouring something into his hand.

“What’s that?” Cas mumbles, and Dean meets his eyes, quirking his lips.

“Oil.” He rubs his palms together rapidly, and then turns back to Cas. “Just relax, okay?”

Cas isn’t entirely sure he can get more relaxed, but he nods, shifting a little in an effort to do so.

And then Dean’s palms come to rest on his shoulders, warm and slick with oil, and Cas is both wide awake and no longer relaxed at all.

“Dude,” Dean complains, pressing him down a little. “I told you to relax.

“What are you doing?” Cas asks, fighting to keep his voice even.

“It’s called a massage. It’ll help with sore muscles, so you can sleep easier and suffer less in the morning. That okay?” he adds, unnecessarily sarcastic. Does Dean really not see how this situation might be a trifle unsettling?

“I — I guess. Alright.”

Oh, dear. Cas can feel Dean splay his fingers.

“Then relax,” he says again, much closer to Cas’s ear, and after a deep breath, Cas forces himself to stop tensing.

With a satisfied hum, Dean starts moving his hands.

At first, it doesn’t do much for the sore muscles, since Cas is struggling to keep from tensing again and his brain is in a sort of surreal panic, not at all equipped to deal with Dean’s warm, calloused hands slipping over Cas’s skin, spreading the oil all over his back and pressing gently inward. The pads of Dean’s thumbs slide easily down the notches of Cas’s spine as the heels of his hands suddenly dig in on either side, and Cas is startled by the unintended groan that escapes him.

Dean increases the pressure in response, dragging his hands back up to Cas’s shoulders and firmly kneading the flesh there, at which point Cas realizes just how nice it actually does feel on his exhausted muscles.

By the time Dean’s worked across his shoulders, dipping along the blades and down over his lats, Cas is utterly boneless, torn between drifting away on a cloud of bliss and feeling trapped in a special hell tailored just for him. Every time Dean’s hands perform some magical combination of movement and pressure, Cas can feel one kind of tension loosening and another kind building to an alarming degree, hot and demanding and so very aware of the way Dean’s skin feels against his, that thin, slippery layer of oil the only barrier between them.

It means he can’t quite let go and get lost in the spectacular massage the way he wants to — and he does want to, since he’s not sure if Dean can be convinced to do this to him again.

As it turns out, he lets go more than he thinks. Dean’s left his back and shoulders behind, working his hands around the curve of Cas’s biceps with wonderfully firm strokes that have Cas stifling low moans into the sheet. The pressure is incredible on his aching muscles, and Cas is startled at how strangely sensitive the skin just above his elbows feels as the tips of Dean’s fingers brush it, only to be followed by the flat of his palms, thorough in their ministrations. It almost tickles, and the sensation has Cas instinctively wriggling against the sheet, like he’s trying to diffuse the sensitivity through the rest of his body.

He freezes a moment later when it hits him.

Oh, God, no. There is a definite morning situation happening.

The pressure lightens.

“You okay? I’m not hurting you, am I?”

“N-no,” Cas manages, mortified. He has no idea how long a massage lasts, but he may not have time to wait for it to settle down, especially not when the massage seems to be causing the problem in the first place.

He certainly can’t take care of it the other way, he thinks dryly, and regrets it a moment later when that thought draws forth memories from his last heat, of being in this bed and thinking about Dean helping him.

Cas is not in heat and there is no practical reason for Dean to help him with this — or for Cas to even think about it — and yet, one wayward thought curiously paints an image of one of those hands slipping around his waist and on down to wrap around his —

“Dean, what is the most disgusting thing you’ve ever encountered?” Cas blurts out, panicked.

Dean’s hands still.

“Uh.” After a moment, he resumes his work, gentle as he rubs Cas’s arms, slowly traveling back to his shoulders. “Let’s see . . . oh, shit. Did I ever tell you about Ash and the Purgaean swamp?”

“No?”

“Yeah, I probably didn’t wanna give you nightmares.” He clears his throat, circling the meat of Cas’s shoulder and digging his fingers in a little for pressure. “So, we’re in the woods, right? Because it’s Purgaea and you’re always in the fucking woods there.”

Cas snorts, despite himself. He has at least three letters entirely devoted to complaining about the woods, and every other letter contains at least one mention.

“Anyway, we take a wrong turn, and it turns out that in addition to goddamn woods, they have swamps.

“What’s a swamp like?” Cas asks. He’s pretty sure he knows, based on books he’s read, but they sound awful and disgusting and Dean can be unnecessarily graphic sometimes, so a detailed description would probably be useful now. Cas has found that the less pleasant you can make your thoughts at times like these, the better.

“Uh. Wet. Muggy. Gross. Terrible. Uh, think like . . . yeah, okay. At the end of a training day in the dog days of summer, you know how your armpit gets?”

Cas makes a face, a little afraid of where this is going.

“Yes?”

“Yeah, it’s like that. Think if there was a giant armpit on a hot, busy day, except none of the sweat evaporated, and you just kinda had to swim in it.”

There’s a weird feeling in the back of Cas’s throat that sort of reminds him of throwing up.

“That’s . . . Dean, that’s disgusting.”

“You asked for disgusting!” Dean protests, pinching Cas’s side and then moving both hands there. “How’s your lower back?”

“A little sore,” Cas admits, not thinking. “I had to lean over to pull the sled.”

“Alright,” Dean says, and then starts rubbing his hands in circles along the small of Cas’s back.

Cas tries to think of swimming in an armpit.

“Anyway, that’s actually not the digusting thing I was gonna tell you.” There’s a pause, Dean’s fingers just barely managing to curl around Cas’s waist at the tips while he works the muscle in Cas’s lower back. “Although, one more thing — think if the armpit pool was full of mosquitoes.”

Cas cringes. He hates mosquitoes. They’re so small — barely noticeable — and yet they wreak terrible havoc on his comfort. There is no defense he can muster, regardless of how good a knight he becomes.

He feels itchy just thinking about them.

“So, yeah. We wanna turn around, but there’s a pretty large group of soldiers not that far behind us, so we have no choice but to push through in this direction. Which means we go through the swamp, and there’s not even time to build boats or any kind of bridge. We just gotta — push through.”

Cas frowns, thinking of all the books he’s read.

“Dean, that sounds dangerous. Anything could be in a swamp.”

“Yeah, man, that’s what I’m telling you. Actually, that’s probably why I didn’t tell you in the first place. Huh. Well, anyway, so we kind of find the shortest crossing point, not too bad, maybe about — forty minutes’ cautious trek? Obviously, way more, with that many people, but yeah, somethin’ like that. And everyone’s pretty sure the middle is gonna turn out to be a deep lake or there’ll be some weird-ass monsters or we’ll get swamp disease, you know, shit like that, but other than being gross and wet, it’s just — fine. No problems. We all make it across by nightfall, and we start setting up camp, and then — Ash pulls this fucking fish-slug thing out of his pants. Got in there on the way over.”

“That is disgusting,” Cas agrees, although it’s not half as disgusting as the armpit metaphor.

“No, it ain’t. It’s weird, but it’s not disgusting. No, what’s disgusting is the fact that he decides to try and cook it and eat it.”

Cas is momentarily distracted by Dean’s hands slipping down, thumbs brushing the waistband of his pajamas as his hands work in circles, but then Dean’s words sink in.

He lifts his head.

“But — he didn’t know what it was.

“Yeah, that’s what I told him, but apparently, he was tired of jerky and dried biscuits. Anyway, so he gets it cooking, and it turns all nice and crispy, and even I’m starting to admit it doesn’t look or smell half-bad — and then he tries to cut into it.”

Cas swallows. He swears a thumb just slid right below his waistband, but Dean’s strokes are light and erratic enough that Cas is pretty sure he’s not paying full attention.

He twists his neck a little, and a glance confirms that yes, Dean’s eyes are far away, expression grim.

“What happened?” he asks, and Dean shakes himself.

“It pretty much exploded. Bright blue slugfish innards, all over the fucking plate. Even got on Ash’s armor a little.”

“Bright blue?” Cas repeats, appalled.

“Yep. And you wanna know the worst part?” Dean asks, pausing to lean in close, eyes serious.

“What?” Cas whispers.

He tried to eat it anyway.

It’s then that Cas realizes, despite Dean’s proximity and wandering hands, the morning situation is completely gone.

Unfortunately, he feels a little queasy now.

“What do you mean, ‘tried’?”

Dean draws back, resuming his motions.

“Jesus, Cas, what kind of leader do you think I am? I threw it back in the fucking swamp.” He shakes his head. “Swear to God, I saw tiny little teeth in that mess. I’d say the wilderness was gettin’ to him, but Ash is always fuckin’ weird.”

“I suddenly regret kissing him,” Cas mumbles, horrified, and Dean comes to another halt.

He’s quiet for a moment.

“Yeah, well — you should,” he mutters, and then he’s leaning down again, partially balancing on Cas’s back. “How d’you feel? Better?”

Cas frowns. On the one hand, a lot of his aches and pains have softened into something fairly negligible, and he also no longer has an erection.

On the other hand, he is probably going to have nightmares about the fishslug.

“Mentally or physically?” he asks, and Dean barks out a surprised laugh, the mint in his breath causing Cas’s nose to twitch as it hits his face.

“Dude, you asked for that,” Dean says and then —

Cas lets out a shocked, undignified yelp as Dean lightly slaps one butt cheek.

“Alright, come on — bedtime,” Dean says jovially, like he didn’t just — like the skin underneath Cas’s pajamas isn’t still tingling where he —

Cas gapes at him, cheeks scarlet, but Dean just picks up the towel and starts wiping off the oil like nothing happened.

“What was that for?” he finally sputters, and Dean pauses, giving him an odd look.

“What was what for?”

Like Cas is the one being strange, when Dean is the one who just — just — well, he touched Cas’s butt!

That’s — Dean has been increasingly physical over the last several weeks, it’s true, but surely that’s going a little far?

Especially since he hit it! That’s very different than everything else he’s doing. Although if he touched Cas’s butt the way he’s been touching other parts of Cas, slow rubs and comforting squeezes—

Cas looks down, suddenly no longer able to meet Dean’s gaze.

“If the point of that was to make me feel better, I don’t know why you hit me at the end of it.”

“What?” Dean sounds concerned. “Did it hurt?”

“Well — no, but it — it was surprising.

Dean looks puzzled.

“Don’t your barrack-mates do that all the time?”

If any of his barrack-mates — if anyone besides Dean — tried to slap his ass, Cas would make sure they ended up flat on theirs.

“No. They wouldn’t dare,” he adds darkly, and Dean’s lips twitch.

“Okay. Well, sorry. It’s meant to be playful. We do that in my squad. We smack asses and snap towels and rub armpits on each other.”

“That’s barbaric,” Cas says, carefully not thinking about drooling in Dean’s ear, because the point is that Dean should keep his hands off Cas’s butt.

Dean snorts.

“Yeah, I get why your barrack-mates don’t do it to you, then.” He suddenly frowns a little. “Well, ‘s’probably for the best, anyway.”

Cas has no idea what that means.

Dean tosses aside the towel before planting a hand on the bed and giving Cas’s shoulder a surprisingly gentle nudge.

“Alright, outta my spot before I lie down on you.”

Cas blames his reluctance to move on the massage he just received, and obediently rolls over to his own side.

Surprisingly, it takes him no time at all to fall asleep.

 

 

 

“. . . sorry about your shin, but seriously, he doesn’t know, and I think it’s best if no one tells him.”

Dean slows, tightening the arm around Cas’s shoulder to keep him back, and Cas gives him a curious look.

Dean just lifts a finger to his lips, and then turns back toward where Sam and Charlie are walking a little ways in front of them, clearly in heated discussion.

“Are you kidding me — there’s no way he doesn’t know! How can he not know?”

“Come on, Charlie. Think who we’re talking about.”

“Okay. Fine. But — really? He’s all over him, and he smells ridiculous, and — are you sure? Because maybe they’re secretly going at it like bunnies and he’s just doing that thing where he feels embarrassed so he denies it and makes everybody pretend with him.”

“Wow. Thanks for that, Charlie.”

Dean stifles a laugh at the dry misery in Sam’s voice, although he’s insanely curious as to who they’re talking about.

Has he been so preoccupied with trying to reassure Cas the last few weeks, he’s been totally missing out on juicy castle gossip?

“Ooh. Sorry, I forgot.”

“Anyway, I don’t think he’d lie about that. Honestly, if they were doing that, I think he’d be even worse than he is now.”

“No, he wouldn’t,” Charlie retorts. “That’s not possible. Sam, they’re even starting to smell mated!”

Alright, now Dean has to know. He lets go of Cas, silently advancing on the pair in front of him.

“I know, it’s weird. But here’s the thing: they don’t spend every night together. If something were going on, there’s no way D—”

Dean slings an arm around each of them, grinning.

“What’s this, now?” he drawls, enjoying the stunned yelps this elicits. “Is somebody in the castle goin’ and gettin’ themselves mated?”

Sam and Charlie exchange wide-eyed glances.

“No,” Sam says, at the same time Charlie goes, “Yes!”

Dean raises his brows.

Sam’s mouth tightens, and Charlie winces.

“Oops. Sorry. Our, um, our friend, would — would be really embarrassed if he knew we were talking about him.”

Dean stares.

“Yeah, and you guys were just talking about him anyway.”

“Right, but, you know. He’s our friend. But you’re like, the prince, so he’d — I mean — anybody would be embarrassed! What if you thought he was slacking?” she says, blinking at him earnestly.

Dean lets go of them both, reaching back for Cas’s wrist to coax him up to pace.

“Oh, come on. Everybody knows I don’t judge, as much as I get around.”

Sam makes a really weird, constipated face at Charlie, who glances uneasily at Cas, for some reason.

It’s hard for Dean not to roll his eyes; sure, Cas is still young and primarily preoccupied with sword-fighting and what comes out of the castle kitchen, but he is nineteen, and he does know what sex is, even if he’s not yet at the stage where he’s thinking about it in any kind of personal terms.

“That you do,” she mutters. “But still. You don’t really know him, anyway, so — you know. No big deal!”

Dean narrows his eyes. It’s suspicious as hell, and instinct — along with Charlie’s shit acting skills — tell Dean that he probably knows the guy extremely well.

“It’s Benny, isn’t it?” Dean makes a note to give Benny a good sniff next time he sees him, just in case, especially when Charlie wildly shakes her head. “Man, that sneaky son of a bitch. Who’s he seein’?”

“Um, nobody? It’s really not—”

Dean waves her off, momentarily distracted by the fact that he’s still holding onto Cas’s wrist, and it’s an awkward way to leave his hand. He doesn’t want Cas to worry Dean’s forgotten or doesn’t care he’s there, so he thinks it’s a good idea to keep some contact going, but on the other hand, Cas is old enough that he might find Dean holding his hand embarrassing.

Aw, fuck it. Even when kids are embarrassed, they still appreciate it, right?

He slides his hand down and laces his fingers with Cas’s, prompting a startled look.

But then Cas quickly tightens his own hand around Dean’s, and Dean tries not to look too smug as Charlie makes a pointless attempt to convince him it’s not Benny.

“Yeah, give it up, Chuckles. I get that he’s worried about all the shit I’m gonna give him, but that’s my right as his best friend, so he can live with it.”

Charlie looks dismayed, and Sam, of course, is conspicuously silent.

“It’s not Benny,” she insists, and Dean just rolls his eyes.

“Sure. No point arguing about it. I’ll see him soon enough.” And totally tease the hell out of him.

Dean lets go of Cas’s hand to circle around Sam and Charlie, holding the door for everyone.

To Dean’s alarm, when Cas takes his seat as they reach the table, he lets out a sigh and sort of rubs at his back, like he’s kind of in pain.

“You okay, buddy?”

Cas nods.

“Just sore.”

“Yeah?” A terrible thought occurs to Dean, but one that’s valid, since it has been a few years since he’d last given someone a proper, non-sexy massage. Lisa was a dancer, and Dean convinced Ellen to train him on giving the legitimate medical kind, but to be honest, he rarely gives any that don’t conclude with a happy ending for all. “I, uh — I didn’t hurt you last night, did I?”

Sam’s fork clatters unpleasantly against his plate, but Dean ignores it, carefully scrutinizing Cas’s face in case he tries to lie.

He seemed like he was really enjoying himself — Dean doesn’t think he’s ever seen Cas so relaxed and loose-limbed before, and he kept letting out all kinds of adorable, happy noises and content sighs — but if Dean only fucked up part of the time, Cas probably wouldn’t have said anything.

“What? No, of course not. I would have told you.”

“You sure? You’ve gotta do it pretty hard, or there’s not much point, but if I was too rough—”

“You weren’t,” Cas assures him firmly. “You were, um — it felt very good, Dean. I think I’m only still this sore because I’m not used to that kind of activity.”

Charlie lets out a miserable whimper beside them, and Cas turns to give her a concerned look.

“Is everything alright, Charlie?

“Yup,” she utters weakly. “Just fine. But maybe we should eat breakfast. Because we’re at breakfast. At the breakfast table. Where people want to eat.”

Jesus Christ, Dean’s friends are weird.

“Okay, then eat?” he suggests, and she throws a sour look his way.

He tries to catch Sam’s eye, see if he’s not the only one who thinks she’s being strange, but Sam is scowling at him, too.

What?” he asks.

Sam just huffs and reaches for the egg ladle.

A few moments later, Valencia drops into the chair beside him, takes one long look around the table, and sighs.

“Oh, damn. What did I miss?”

Chapter Text

Sam appears to have something he really wants to say to Cas.

Unfortunately, he also seems to be having trouble saying it, so Cas is left in the awkward position of pretending to read his book while not quite being able to focus on it because Sam keeps looking at him.

It doesn’t help that Valencia isn’t even bothering to read her book, opting to simply lay on her stomach, chin propped in her hands while she watches Sam with a serene expression.

It’s all very unsettling.

Twenty minutes into their reading session, Cas can bear it no longer.

“Sam. Is something wrong?”

Sam flinches.

“No,” he says quickly, and Cas suppresses a sigh. “Although — actually—”

“Go on,” Valencia says, encouraging, and Sam shoots her a dirty look, before turning back to Cas, brows pinched and eyes gentle in a way that doesn’t bode well for the conversation.

“Listen, Cas — you know you can talk to me about anything, right?”

“Of course, Sam.” Cas is a little startled Sam feels like he has to repeat this. Cas tells Sam pretty much anything he would be comfortable telling another person.

Sam just looks pained.

“Dean’s not — I know he’s been, um — and you’re probably feeling pretty overwhelmed — but — if you feel uncomfortable with anything, and you don’t feel like you can tell him, you can — you can tell me. And I’ll talk to him.”

Cas fully sets down his book, puzzled.

“Well. I suppose it’s been an adjustment.”

Sam deflates.

“Is it — did, um. Did Dean . . . instigate it?”

“Well, obviously.” As though Cas would dare start putting his hands all over Dean like that. “Honestly, Sam . . . I still have no idea what it’s alright for me to do. His behavior is puzzling.”

Sam looks upset.

“He didn’t even talk to you about it beforehand? He didn’t — he didn’t say anything about why he wanted that? Did he at least ask if you wanted it?”

“Uh. No? I think he just assumed.” Anyway, Cas thinks he’s made it fairly obvious he doesn’t mind. He has faith that Dean wouldn’t do it, otherwise.

Really, though, he’s glad Dean is. Even if he doesn’t fully understand it, Cas enjoys it, and more than that, it’s — well, it’s reassuring. After Michael’s visit, and then the incident with Dean’s rut, Cas felt terrible. The kind of terrible that doesn’t seem to want to go away, even after several days.

Dean’s behavior, baffling though it may be, has mostly chased the bad feelings away. Cas still worries he won’t be able to change Dean’s mind, that this is all just contributing to Cas’s inconvenient wanting, but it’s hard to think of the future when Dean is so overwhelmingly affectionate in the present.

Even if Dean doesn’t want Cas like that — even if Cas’s own desires get stranger and stronger by the day — he does want Cas around.

And that . . . that means a lot.

“You can’t just assume things like that,” Sam sputters. “He didn’t do anything you didn’t want, right?”

“Not at all,” Cas reassures him. Sam’s concern is touching, although unnecessary. “You don’t have to worry, Sam. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if Dean did even more of that.”

Sam looks torn between indignation and discomfort.

“Um. Right. Well, that’s — good, I guess. If you’re sure.” He bites his lip. “He still should have talked to you. Aren’t you — worried? About what it means?”

Cas tilts his head.

“Should I be?” Cas is pretty sure he knows what it means; it means Dean is fond of him and cares about him, and that is a notion to cherish.

Sam shrugs, scratching the back of his head. Beside them, Valencia is mysteriously silent, just watching.

“I don’t know. Is it — are you really okay with it? If he doesn’t, you know. If he doesn’t think he loves you the way you love him?”

Cas looks down.

“Oh. I know he doesn’t. We, uh. We . . . discussed that.” Perhaps not in so many words, but Cas doesn’t doubt that if Dean were in love with him, he wouldn’t have refused his assistance with his rut.

Cas supposes there is a chance, although Dean seems very interested in other people, that even if he did love Cas that way, he still might not be attracted to him — but everything he’s seen and heard suggests that unlikely.

Sam’s eyes widen.

“Wait, he knows how you feel?”

“Well, no. I suspect he doesn’t think I’m old enough yet, and I don’t want to upset him.”

“Dean, you fucking ass—” Sam starts, clearly scandalized, before cutting off. Sam doesn’t usually curse to excess; Cas isn’t sure if that’s because he’s polite, or if he just doesn’t usually feel like it. “Look, Cas. Let me be frank. If Dean thinks you’re old enough for what you did last night, you’re old enough to be in love with him, and it was just — shitty of him not to find out before you guys did it.”

Cas stares.

Last night? He assumed Sam had simply noted Dean’s sudden increase in physicality, but if he just means last night—

Cas colors. Sam must know about the massage.

But wait — Dean made it sound like the massage was perfectly reasonable. Admittedly, it makes sense now to find that it may have been a little indecent, but why would Dean lie about it?

“He said it would make me feel better, since it had been a long day at training,” Cas blurts out, suddenly desperate to know. “Is that not it? Why did he really do it, then?”

Cas doesn’t think he’s ever seen Sam look so angry.

“He told you what?”

“But it seemed like a lot of work for him,” Cas continues, confused. “I don’t understand what Dean got out of it, if he did lie.”

What ?” Sam repeats, gaping. “It should have been obvious what he got out of it — did he seriously try and act like he didn’t—”

“Cas,” Valencia interrupts pleasantly. If Cas didn’t know better, he’d say she looked amused. “I think I missed something at breakfast. Fill me in on what you and Dean did last night?”

Sam’s head snaps around as he fixes her with a despairing look.

“Well, he gave me a massage, since I had to pull Alfie on the sled and I was sore.” Cas isn’t sure how much detail she wants, but he’s perversely eager to share his trauma, so he adds, “And he told me about Ash and the slugfish.”

“Mm. Very interesting. Did you like the massage?”

Too much, Cas thinks, but he’s not about to admit it to anyone.

“Yes. I felt much better.”

“See, Sam? I think Dean did alright by him,” she says kindly, and when Cas looks back at Sam, he has his head buried in his hands.

“Oh, my God,” he mutters. “I’m still going to kill him, I swear to God—”

“What was wrong with giving me a massage?” Cas presses, a little impatient. “It was nice. I don’t see the problem.”

Sam takes a deep breath, lifting his head with a stiff smile.

“A massage is fine,” he says, strained. “That’s fine. I misunderstood.”

“Oh.” Cas isn’t sure what to say. “I see. To be honest, I thought you were talking about all the . . . the touching.”

“The touching?” Valencia asks curiously, earning a dirty look from Sam.

“Dean touches me a lot more now,” Cas explains, then hesitates. “Or it seems that way to me.”

She nods.

“Don’t worry, it seems that way to everyone.”

Sam studies him.

“That doesn’t bother you, either, right?”

“Not at all. It’s — nice.” Cas shrugs. “After what Michael said, it’s very nice.”

Now they’re both frowning.

“Your brother?” Sam clarifies. “What did he say?”

Cas shrugs again, embarrassed.

“He was angry we weren’t having heirs. He said it was my fault, because Dean didn’t want me, and he doesn’t share cycles with me.”

Valencia sits upright, mouth tight.

“Did he,” she murmurs. “Huh. Interesting. When’s he coming to town, again?”

“You can’t assassinate the King of Eden,” Sam says bluntly, and then turns back to Cas. “Cas, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

“There’s nothing you can do about it, Sam.” Cas huffs. “There’s nothing I can do about it. I tried, and Dean told me he didn’t want that. That he would never want that.”

As disappointing and humiliating as it is, complaining somehow makes Cas feel a little better.

Sam looks disturbed.

“Cas, when did all this happen?”

Cas rubs the back of his neck.

“Uh. When Dean came back, and hit his rut and — well, you told me he couldn’t find anyone to help him, so I thought — I didn’t want him to suffer — but — but he threw me out. And when we spoke next, he — told me. All of that.”

Sam is quiet for a moment, and when he speaks, his eyes are sad.

“Cas. I thought we talked about this over the summer. It’s not about what Dean wants or expects — and it sure as hell isn’t about what your brother thinks should happen — it’s about what you want.”

Cas swallows.

“And I wanted to help Dean.”

“Dean wouldn’t want you helping him if that’s the only reason you were doing it.”

Cas averts his eyes, uncomfortably fiddling with the corner of his book.

“Well. I have — I’ve given it a lot of thought.” A lot. “And I do, uh. Want. Things. With Dean.”

Cas isn’t sure exactly what he wants, but the more time that passes, the more he thinks he’d be comfortable at least trying all the things.

But Sam still looks troubled.

“You’re sure you’re not just convincing yourself you feel that way so you don’t disappoint people?”

And this is certainly a possibility, but given that Dean’s assurances of not expecting or wanting anything from Cas did nothing to deter any of Cas’s restless, wayward feelings . . .

“I don’t think so. Dean is obviously happier not doing certain things with me,” Cas says, a touch bitterly, “But it doesn’t change that I want to. And to be honest, Sam, disappointing Michael when he has no power to enforce consequences is actually its own reward.”

Valencia reaches over and squeezes his hand, beaming.

“Good for you, Cas. Anna would be proud.”

Cas tilts his head, smiling back.

“Well, yes. Though at this point, I think Anna likes being sent to the tower just to get away from court.”

“She says they have an entire library up there. Is that true?”

Cas tries not to look smug.

“I’ve never been sent to the tower, but probably.”

“Don’t worry,” she assures him. “If you still lived there, I’m sure you’d be a permanent resident.”

Frowning, he opens his mouth.

“I’m much better-behaved than—”

Sam and Valencia exchange a frankly offensive glance, and then they both start laughing.

“I don’t see how that’s funny,” he grouses.

“That’s why it’s funny,” she points out, and Sam tries and fails to look apologetic.

Cas just scowls.

Anyway. If you’re done mocking me, and I’ve assuaged your concerns, Sam—” he starts, glaring at both of them, and Sam does sober a little.

“I guess? It’s not really about me, Cas. I just . . . I just want you to be happy. For yourself. And whether it’s Dean or your brother or even me — I want to make sure you know you can tell us to — well, to go fuck ourselves. We don’t matter — you do.”

As per usual, it’s difficult to stay angry at Sam.

“You do matter. You matter very much to me.” Cas pauses. “Except for Michael. I don’t — give a fuck? About Michael.”

Sam snorts.

“Right. Nobody gives a fuck about Michael.”

“Yup, Michael’s a fucker,” Valencia chimes in, delighted, and Cas nods fervently.

“The worst fucker,” he agrees, trying out the word.

It’s a nice word, he decides.

 

 

 

The next day, Valencia opens her letter from Sam and bursts into laughter. For the first time ever, she holds it out for Cas to look at:

 

I’m sorry I said you couldn’t assassinate the King of Eden. I didn’t mean it the way it sounded.

What I meant was you can’t assassinate the King of Eden without me.

 

Cas is pretty sure they’re not serious, so the sentiment keeps him feeling warm all day.

 

 

 

They receive word that Anna has canceled her trip out there at the last minute, owing to some mysterious upheaval in the Royal family (hint: it’s Michael and Lucifer’s fault, she writes), but it’s still the best birthday Cas can ever remember having.

Dean gives him another massage the night before — “Gettin’ you nice and ready for tomorrow,” he drawls, cheeky, and Cas eagerly prepares himself for torment — and Cas begins the morning with a luxuriant twenty minutes to watch Dean sleep, carefully angled to keep his head resting against Dean’s arm and any early-morning problem areas stranded a respectable distance apart. Dean stirs, eventually, blinking sleepily and then grinning wide at Cas before rolling onto his side and reaching out to tousle his hair.

“Morning, Cas,” he says, letting his fingers rest. “Happy Birthday.”

Cas beams back.

“Good morning, Dean. Thank you.”

Dean retracts his hand, yawning as he rolls onto his back.

“You excited?” he asks, the words a little garbled by the yawn.

“A little,” Cas says, although he’s very excited. There’s a light, almost giddy feeling coursing through him, and as much as he’s eager to begin the day, he also itches to do something like chase after Dean’s hand and flop on top of him to snuggle for a little bit before they have to get up.

He settles for scooting closer, propping up on his elbows and peering into Dean’s face, where a pillow seam appears to have creased his cheek.

Cas can’t resist. He reaches out, trailing a finger along it, and Dean blinks.

“Your pillow left a mark,” Cas explains, and Dean cracks a smile.

“Yeah, well, it’s nice that one of you is able to,” he teases, and there’s a part of Cas that wants to — to duck his head and bite Dean, or something, just to wipe the smirk off his face.

But this isn’t training, or a proper match, and it wouldn’t count, so Cas refrains.

“You were sleeping,” he says instead, giving Dean an arch look. “I could do a lot more to you than the pillow if I did it while you were unconscious .”

“No, you couldn’t,” he argues lazily. “Wouldn’t stay unconscious for long if you were trying to attack me.”

“I can be very stealthy. In training scenarios-”

“Yeah, yeah, I know all about you and your teleporting through the woods bullshit. Still — I like my odds.”

“We’ll see,” Cas says, deliberately cryptic, and Dean snorts.

“You know, if you start trying to attack me in my sleep, I’m kicking you out.”

“I’m not sure why it would bother you. You seem to think I won’t get anywhere.”

Dean narrows his eyes, looking at Cas for a long moment.

And then he grins, rolling over and taking Cas with him.

“Dean,” Cas protests, although it’s very halfhearted. For starters, Dean struggles a little to knock Cas off-balance and onto his back — “Too many fuckin’ honeycakes,” he mutters — and even once he’s done it, his chosen method of retaliation is tickling.

It’s not that Cas isn’t ticklish, it’s just that he’s not ticklish enough for it to stop being fun. As it is, this is as close to the morning cuddle he’d kind of wanted as he’s going to get, and while he gamely squirms around, batting at Dean’s hands, he’s mostly content to lie there and focus on the nearness, breathing in Dean’s scent and soaking up his grinning, breathless laughter.

“You’re letting me win,” Dean complains. “Thought that was my move.”

Cas’s laughter dies.

Excuse me?”

Dean just smirks, planting elbows on either side of Cas and lowering his head, amusement written all over his face.

“You’re gettin’ closer every day, I’ll give you that,” he says, breath tickling over Cas’s mouth in a way that’s somewhat distracting, despite Cas’s indignation. “But you’re not there yet.”

It’s peculiar, Cas thinks, speechless. There’s rage, distinct and plenty, though that is hardly a surprise (mostly, it’s Dean’s attitude that infuriates him, as per usual), and then there’s something else. Something prickly and urgent and absolutely related to the way Dean has relaxed atop him, the way Cas’s cheeks seem to sap warmth directly from Dean’s, the way his eyes are so close they have to bounce back and forth to hold Cas’s.

For some reason, Cas thinks about what Valencia said, about how sometimes the moments she wants to kiss Sam are also the ones when she wants to throw something at him.

Cas can’t help himself. He looks at Dean’s mouth, and he wonders. It could be part of the game, he reasons. Like the drooling game they played; is this really that different than Cas licking him? Isn’t it just another — cheeky irritant? A dare for retaliation, a non-serious contest of dominance?

It’s not like — it isn’t like Dean couldn’t kiss him back. It would be — amusing. Dean would find it funny, just like the licking game, would delight in thwarting Cas’s efforts to get away, mouth latching onto Cas’s and holding fast —

Ah, but if Cas is trying to kiss him, as well, then — that’s not much of a game. They’d just end up kissing each other for some long period of time, and while Cas is past the point of trying to deny the appeal of that, he suspects Dean would have some questions.

But then, if the rules were just like the licking game, then the point would be to — to kiss in different places. Would that satisfy Cas’s desire to kiss Dean, if the kisses being exchanged were not always happening on the mouth?

Cas tries to picture it, the standard wrestling match with Dean pressing his lips to Cas’s neck and ears and collar and cheeks and Cas doing the same and—

Dean abruptly rolls off him, an odd look on his face.

Hesitant, Cas sits up.

“Is everything alright?”

Dean doesn’t answer for a moment, taking a cautious sniff of the air for some reason.

“Uh. I — yeah, I just — it — do you smell . . . something?”

Cas scents the air, then freezes.

“What kind of something?” he asks, struggling to keep any nervousness from seeping into his scent and giving him away.

“Like — kind of — fresh? And . . . sweet? Almost like fruit, but — there's something else . . .”

It’s true that, overall, it’s a little more difficult to smell oneself than someone else, but strong scents and abrupt changes often come through.

This scent is not strong, not yet, but it was somewhat abrupt, and Cas recognizes it where Dean wouldn’t be able to.

This is what his scent does — albeit much stronger — when Cas has to go stay in the infirmary for his heat.

He’s also noticed it sometimes, first thing in the morning, after particularly vivid dreams and a morning situation that takes longer than usual to settle.

Apparently, it is also what his scent does when he thinks about doing certain things with Dean.

“Uh. Not really,” he manages, making a show of focusing and sniffing the air. “I don’t, um. I don’t smell anything.”

Dean frowns, sniffing again, cheeks a little red. He hesitates a moment, then leans into Cas’s space, frowning —

And then there’s a knock at the door.

“Breakfast,” someone calls, and Dean shakes his head.

“Come in.”

The door opens, and Layla appears, smile bright.

It falters a little as she steps into the room, nose twitching.

“Oh — sorry if I’m interrupting—”

“Nah, we’re awake. Just goofin’ off,” Dean assures her, smiling. He turns to Cas. “You wanna eat in bed or at the table?”

“Bed,” Cas says quickly. He can count on one hand the number of times they’ve had breakfast in bed, and he’s not about to pass up an opportunity.

Layla waves her hand when Dean tries to get up, carefully setting the tray down between them.

She straightens, smiling at Cas.

“Happy birthday, sweetie,” she tells him, reaching out to touch his cheek. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Cas shakes her hand off, scrambling forward to give her a clumsy hug.

“Thank you, Layla. I’m glad to be here.”

Layla laughs and returns the embrace.

“Don’t have too much fun today, alright? And eat your entire breakfast, please. Sam even helped me prepare the salad, since he’s worried what Dean will feed you tonight.”

Salad? ” Dean sounds appalled. “What the fuck, Sa—”

“Why would Dean be feeding me tonight?” Cas asks, pulling back, and Layla winks.

“Ask him. We look forward to seeing you later. Enjoy your breakfast.”

Layla waves and leaves the room, and once the door has shut, Cas turns back to find Dean studying him, lips pursed.

“How come Layla gets a hug when she wishes you happy birthday and I don’t?”

Cas blinks.

“You’d just woken up,” he says, although honestly, Cas is still wary of ins