Actions

Work Header

Expectations

Chapter Text

In the morning, Anna is gone.

Cas isn’t surprised. Anna has been fighting this for years, ever since her presentation; ever since the council came and told them there would be no Selection this time, because Hester Novak had not paid the debt, after all.

“That was not her,” Cas’s father had argued. “That was the King of Winchester.”

“The reasons do not matter. It was her House’s turn, and it was she who was chosen. Her brother sired no daughters, so hers shall pay the debt instead.”

“And Novak? Will it pay twice?”

“Your House received a bride it should not have. With this, all shall be made equal.”

His father had been silent after that, and Cas, at twelve, had been mildly concerned for the messenger at the door.

But then the door shut, and the messenger went away, and Cas’s mother had gone into her bedroom and closed the door. His father had called Cas away from his perch on the stairs, led him to the yard, and there they chopped wood until the sun went down.

According to Anna, their mother wept for hours.

At the time, Cas understood very little. Only that the Kingdom of Winchester, of which they were grudgingly part, was feared and reviled, a country of heathens led by a wicked tyrant, and their righteous town alone had ever made a stand against it; and every generation, the town paid a price, and that price was a symbol of their faith in and devotion to God, that even in the face of Winchester’s wickedness, they would not be cowed.

Cas is older now, and he knows better. Anna, his mother, and all the girls before them — they’re just a sacrifice, one the town makes to save their own skins.

Of course, Anna knew better, too, and that is why, on the morning of the day before Dean of Winchester is meant to come and collect her, the household awakens to find her gone.

His mother cries this time, as well.

“What will be done to us?” she demands. “To all of us? They’ll destroy the entire town-”

“They will not. We will inform the council, and a substitute will be found.”

Tears well in her eyes.

“There is no substitute. You know that. And what of us? They’ll make us pay. Both our Houses.”

Cas doesn’t wait to hear the rest. Instead, he drifts back to his little nook in the attic and dons his work dress and apron.

It isn’t apathy that drives him; he’s afraid for Anna — though that isn’t necessarily a new feeling — and he’s a little hurt that she left without any kind of goodbye to him, but Cas’s feelings are irrelevant. This, like all things, is beyond his control, so he’ll do what he does best:

He’ll work.

He sees to the cows and pigs and chickens, collects the eggs, then goes to tend the garden before he heads to the fields. He’d prefer to start his day with the field work, before the sun is high in the sky, but he’s forbidden from leaving his parents’ property until it’s full light, so high sun it must be.

Cas is carefully uprooting the ever-tenacious weeds, seemingly sprung up overnight, when he spots it.

There, neatly coiled and cleanly perched atop the dirt next to the cabbage — the loathsome cabbage, which he hardly considers edible enough to be in any god-fearing kitchen garden — is a small silver locket.

He rubs his dirty hands on his work apron and reaches for it, gently unclasping the shiny oval. Inside, there’s a wispy lock of bright red hair, though it was always empty when Anna wore it.

After a moment, he carefully tucks it in his apron pocket and returns to weeding.

It’s not a goodbye, exactly, but it’s something.

 

 

 

It’s a full day of field work. By the time he’s made his way along the crudely-formed path in the woods he always takes (lest he expose himself to the good people of the town and risk infecting them with his misfortune), Cas is very tired and finally dreading the fallout of Anna’s escape.

He wipes his feet on the mat, unlaces his boots and tucks them beside the kitchen door, and then quietly lets himself in, listening.

Silence greets him.

He’s not stupid enough to call out — excepting any House-wide punishments, it has nothing to do with him, and he’d like to keep it that way — but he does cast his eye toward the closed doors on his way to the attic, listening.

All remains quiet. Cas lets himself into his little room, hanging up his apron and unlacing his dress. He wishes he had enough time to sneak out for a bath in the river, but he’s not quite willing to risk the consequences on a day like today.

Which means he’ll have to wait until tomorrow. What Cas wouldn’t give for indoor plumbing, like a traveling salesman once told him they had in the capital. He could have a bath every day instead of fruitlessly trying to paw away the dust and dirt with no more than a damp cloth to aid him. He and Anna had joked that it would be the one perk of being sacrificed to the heathens.

Then again, they’d also joked about her spending confinement in the dungeons and birthing the Winchester spare right there on the gallows; it was anyone’s guess how the omegas sent to Lawrence were kept or if, in the longterm, they were even kept at all.

Cas gives his stained washcloth a reproachful look, then dunks it in a bowl of water.

He’s just re-donning his house dress when he hears the front door open. He makes quick work of the laces, quietly settling on his bed to wait. With any luck, he’s been forgotten for the day, and he’s not about to do anything to jeopardize his peace if that’s the case.

It is not. Cas sits no more than three minutes before the attic door is pushed open, startling him. His mother appears, looking pale and strange.

“Mother,” he greets her, sliding off the thin mattress and dutifully kneeling, eyes lowered.

“Stand, Castiel,” she instructs, and he obeys, only to have a dress thrust into his arms.

He stares at it, uncomprehending.

“I don’t need a new dress.” Not that it’s his choice; he eyes her uneasily, waiting for some reproach.

She presses her lips together.

“You do. You’ll need to adjust it, to fit you.”

None of his dresses really fit him, most of them short in the hem and deliberately too big in the bodice. In light of that, the instructions are somewhat alarming.

“Alright,” he agrees, dropping his eyes back to the dress. It’s clearly much nicer than anything he owns, in both color and fabric, and he cannot, for the life of him, think why anyone would want him to have it.

Could it be a castoff? Cas has to work separately from the other field workers, but he takes his lunch in a shady spot not too far from one of the fences where they like to sit, and he usually eavesdrops; he knows Adler’s daughter was bedridden with some awful illness for a full month, and according to them, she’s half the size she started out.

Still, despite paying Cas’s parents for his labor, Adler has as much disdain for him as any of the townspeople. Cas can’t imagine him or his daughter keeping him in mind, ill-fitting dresses or not.

“See to it that you finish before bed,” his mother says, and then heads back down the stairs.

He realizes, then, how odd it was of her to come up in the first place.

 

 

 

Cas is halfway through the alterations, squinting in the dim light of the candle, before he figures out what the dress is for.

 

 

 

Today, Dean is going to meet the mother of his children.

“Aw, no, brother. We’ve been over this; you can’t be thinkin’ of her like that.”

Dean scowls, grip on the reins tightening.

“Look, man, whether she sticks around or not, she’s housing them in her body for nine fucking months. She’s their mother, in some way, whether we banish her to the Gardens afterward or not.”

Benny sighs.

“I ain’t arguin’ with ya. Just sayin’ — be easier for you if you kept some distance from it all, alright?”

Easier, he says. As if any part of this whole clusterfuck isn’t going to be awful, no matter what he does.

As if he can “keep some distance” from the mother of his goddamn children.

“It ain’t normal,” he mutters. “If a kid’s got two live parents and neither of them are complete shit, they deserve to see ‘em.”

“Again,” Benny says slowly, giving Dean a sidelong glance. “Not arguin’. Just sayin’. You can’t change it, so don’t go makin’ it worse for yourself. Won’t help you and it won’t help her.”

Benny’s right, and he knows it, but Dean can’t help himself. He feels the way he feels, and the way he feels is shitty about the whole damn thing.

It’s not that Dean didn’t know about the tradition, but since his dad put his foot down and married his mom, the first Queen of Winchester in centuries, Dean figured they were done with it. He figured, once he was old enough, he’d fall in love — or something close enough — and get married and put another Queen on the throne, because of course that’s how they did things, now.

Apparently, Dean was wrong.

Apparently, nobody felt like he should know that until two weeks ago, and his stomach hasn’t felt right since.

“They could look just like her,” Dean mutters. “Could have her goddamn eyes and not even know it. But I would. Gonna spend the rest of my life looking at them and knowing she’s rotting in a mansion in the country, with no fucking clue that they have her goddamn eyes.”

“Brother,” Benny says, pained. “Don’t do this to yourself.”

Me? I’m not doing anything to myself, Benny! It’s the council who has their heads up their asses, and now me and some poor girl are getting screwed.” Dean narrows his eyes at the road ahead. “Literally.

He gets a helpless look in return.

“It is what it is, chief. Nothin’ you can do about it.”

And isn’t that the kicker? Dean’s going to be the fucking King someday, but right now he’s just another piece of property. By the time he actually can do something about it — even if he pisses off the whole damn council in the process — it’ll be too late.

“I don’t wanna be a single dad,” he mumbles. “Don’t want them growing up without their mom. Not when there’s no reason for it.”

Dean didn’t have two parents for long, but when he did, he knew he was loved and he knew they were happy. He knows Ellen loves Jo enough for a whole fucking platoon of parents, knows Bobby just about matches it, but if Jo could have her dad back and keep all three, no way in hell would she say no.

“You’ll be enough. Anybody who knows you knows that.”

“It’s not about being enough, Benny. It’s about — about them being able to have more, and me throwing that chance away for dumbass reasons like this.”

Besides, Dean’s actually not at all sure he’ll be enough, and if he didn’t have Sammy and Bobby and Ellen and the rest of his family, he’s not sure he could keep the panic at bay long enough to make those heirs in the first place.

As it is, he’s worried about it.

“You’re gonna give ‘em everything you can, brother,” Benny says quietly. “This ain’t one of those things. Both you and the girl just have to live with that.”

There’s not much else Dean can say. Benny squeezes his shoulder, and on they ride.

 

 

 

It’s almost afternoon when they reach the town. The place is eerily quiet, though it’s larger than Dean was expecting; there’s not a single soul in the street as they ride in, and half of Dean wonders if the plague came through or something.

They’re half a mile in when another rider approaches, regarding them with suspicious eyes.

“You’re from the capital?” he prompts.

Beside Dean, Benny frowns.

“You’re addressing the Crown Prince of Winchester. So you know.”

The man’s lip curls, humorless.

“Your Highness. Follow me.”

He turns, Benny scowling at his back. Dean, for his part, is just tired.

“Let’s go,” he mumbles, and the party moves forward.

They wind through the center of the town and down the road, where the buildings become sparser, and about ten minutes later, the man stops in front of a tidy, respectable-looking two-story house.

It looms in the late morning sun, throwing shadows on the neat dirt path leading up to it, and though it should be a fairly plain, innocuous sort of structure, Dean can’t help but find it a kind of menacing.

“I’ll let them know you’ve arrived.”

The man dismounts, stalking briskly to the door, and raps twice. Behind him, Dean and Benny exchange a look, and after a moment, Dean slips off his own horse. He should at least greet the girl properly.

Although, according to Dad and the council, part of the point of the trip is for Dean to ride in looking all authoritative and foreboding, to whisk away one of the town’s daughters and remind them just how much Winchester is to be feared.

Still, he’s a little uncomfortable with the idea of just throwing this chick over his saddle and riding off with her.

Cautiously, he starts up the path, Benny in tow and the rest of the guard hanging back. He comes to a stop about ten feet from the man, and a few moments later, the door opens.

A dark-haired man steps out.

“Novak. The Prince of Winchester has arrived.”

The new man glances behind him, nodding stiffly, and then a blonde woman appears, mouth pressed into a thin line.

Dean takes her in, heart thumping steadily in his chest.

She’s not bad-looking, not at all, and the unfriendly expression is probably fair, under the circumstances, but . . .

“Huh. She, uh, she looks older than I expected,” he comments quietly.

Benny huffs a laugh.

“Reckon that’s her mother.”

“Oh. Yeah, that — that makes sense.”

The dark-haired man opens his mouth to speak.

“Castiel,” he intones, and then there’s movement behind him. Dean straightens, trying and failing not to hold his breath because fuck Benny’s logic; this is the mother of his children.

A third man steps into the light, dark hair fucked six ways to Sunday, head bowed and eyes lowered.

Dean can’t help himself. He stares.

“Why the hell is that dude wearing a dress?” he mutters.

Benny snorts, then quickly covers with a cough; the new man’s chin lifts slightly, eyes flickering toward the two of them, and this time Dean stares for a different reason.

That reason is blue, very, very blue. Something strange and wistful stirs in him, even though now is absolutely not the fucking time, and that something has his eyes drinking in this guy’s face, all dark lashes and cheekbones and a wide, soft-looking mouth and that impossible pair of blue eyes, staring right into Dean’s soul.

A trick of the light, he thinks dumbly, licking his lips.

(Blue eyes track the movement, head canting.)

Yep, definitely something hinky with the light. Nobody’s got eyes like that.

“This is Castiel,” the first man says, and after a moment, Dean remembers to tear his gaze away, face warming. He nods.

“H-hi, uh, Castiel. Nice to meet you.”

There’s another extremely suspicious cough from beside him, and when he throws an irritated glance at Benny, his friend just raises his eyebrows.

He looks back, only to find everyone is staring at him like he’s grown three heads.

Except for Castiel, that is. Castiel just looks puzzled.

“Hello. It’s . . . nice to meet you, as well.”

There’s something cautious, uncertain about it, and it makes Dean unhappy for about two seconds before he remembers that blue-eyed dudes in dresses are actually not why he’s here, and this guy is probably hardcore judging him for the fucked up reason he is.

“Anyway,” the first man says, faintly disapproving. “Castiel will be going with you, as Winchester demands.”

Dean blinks at him, confused. Behind him, there’s a sharp murmur among the guard, and at the door, the blonde woman stares hard at the ground, expression vaguely pained.

“Dean?” Benny prompts quietly, and finally, Dean understands.

“Oh,” he says. “Uh. That — I thought your council mentioned a, uh, a young woman.”

Castiel’s eyes drop at that, chin tucking in, and it’s so awful Dean sort of wishes he could lie down on the ground and just have the guard’s horses trample him to death.

It’s not like he hates the idea of taking Castiel home with him, so long as Castiel was okay with that. It’s just that he sort of needs heirs, and for that, he needs—

“Castiel is an omega,” the man says, a touch of defiance in his tone. “He will provide your heirs.”

Again, Dean takes a moment to process, eyes flying back to Castiel.

An omega. The guy is an omega — only the second male one Dean’s ever met — and apparently, he’s going to provide Dean’s heirs.

Dean has no idea how to feel about that. He knows what he was thinking two minutes ago, and he doesn’t kid himself it does anything but complicate the issue.

Anyway — the bigger issue, at the moment, is that Dean doesn’t know what to do about that. This wasn’t what they arranged, he knows that much — there was definitely a girl, at some point — and his Dad’s advisers didn’t exactly prepare him for alternative outcomes.

He glances toward Benny, who looks equally at a loss.

“Okay. That’s . . . well, that doesn’t exactly answer my question.” Honestly, he’s not sure whether to push back on the issue or not; he gets the sense there’s something kind of weird going on, and he’s hard-pressed to believe there weren’t any female omegas available, but — what difference does it really make? Dean needs heirs and Winchester needs to terrorize the town of New Eden into staying in line. Castiel’s primary gender doesn’t really change anything.

The important question is — will his Dad and the council care, anyway?

“The young woman previously discussed has met with an unfortunate accident. We offer Castiel in her stead.”

Unfortunate accident?

Dean kind of wants to ask, but a part of him is afraid to.

“Oh. I’m . . . sorry to hear that.”

Castiel’s shoulders twitch, and Dean swears he sees him glance up in his peripheral, but when he looks over, his head is bowed, gaze on the ground.

He hesitates, studying the top of that dark head, kind of wishing Castiel would look up again, give Dean some indication what he was thinking about all of this.

Again, though — not that it matters.

Dean considers it all for a moment, then nods.

“Alright. This is . . . fine, I guess.” He looks to Benny, who shrugs. “Yeah. This is fine.”

The first two men and the woman seem to relax, at that. Castiel, for his part, is completely still.

“Castiel,” the man who answered the door says, and Castiel comes forward, baring his throat.

Dean just sort of stares at him, uncertain.

Benny coughs.

“Think maybe you’re supposed to scent him,” he mumbles. After a moment’s hesitation, conscious of everyone’s eyes on him — except Castiel, who’s looking carefully down and off to the side — Dean awkwardly moves forward, ducking his head to take a brief sniff before he retreats again. This close, it’s clear that Castiel’s roughly Dean’s size, give or take a few inches and some thickness in the torso, and usually the only time Dean gets this close to a guy his size, he’s fighting them.

(Not that there weren’t a couple nights at the tavern, here and there, but that’s pretty unusual, too.)

His retreat isn’t quite as hasty as he means it to be, if only because Castiel smells holy-shit-really-fucking-good. In fact, instinct very unhelpfully suggests he bury his nose in Castiel’s neck and chill out there for a while, or forever, no big deal, but sense prevails and Dean manages to tear himself away without looking too bizarre.

(He hopes.)

Dean straightens, coughing into his hand.

“Okay, uh. Thank you, you — you smell very nice.”

All three people by the door give Dean a bemused look. Castiel’s brow twitches, but he continues staring at the ground.

“As you can see,” the first man says. “He is an omega.”

Dean blinks.

“Yeah? I mean, yes, he is. That’s good. That, uh. That works.”

He thinks he catches a flash of relief on the blonde woman’s face, but he can’t be sure.

“Then you have what you came here for,” the man says, with a satisfied nod.

“I . . . I guess?” He glances back toward Castiel, who’s still looking towards his shoes. “Uh. Do you, uh, do you have . . . stuff? That you wanna take?”

There’s a long silence, and then Castiel’s chin jerks up, blue eyes surprised.

“I — are you asking me?”

Dean startles a little; the voice, low and rough, isn’t what Dean was expecting.

He doesn’t hate it.

“Uh. Yeah?”

Castiel looks uneasy, glancing back to the others.

“No.”

“Really? You don’t—” Dean gets a sharp look, then, and promptly cuts off. He swallows. “Right. Okay. Then . . . if you’re ready to go . . .”

Castiel nods, eyes dropping back to the ground.

“As you wish, alpha.”

Which — just no. Dean tries not to make a face.

“Dean. Just — just call me Dean.”

Benny looks at him, and Dean shrugs back guiltily. He knows this is supposed to be an assertion of dominance, in some ways, but come on. Designation titles are just weird, and this whole situation is bad enough without them.

Blue eyes flicker back up to Dean’s face, inscrutable, before they drop again.

“As you wish. Dean.”

Dean frowns.

Nice as his name sounds in that voice — he feels a little like he’s being mocked.

“Right. Awesome.” He rubs the back of his neck, discomfited. “Do you wanna — you know. Say goodbye, or anything?”

Castiel stills.

And then he nods.

“If I may.”

“Well, yeah, of course.”

Again, Benny shoots him an exasperated look, but this is where Dean definitely draws the line. No way in hell is he going to deprive the guy of one last hug from his mother.

After all, Dean knows what he would do for one last hug from his mom, so yeah. Not happening.

He watches as Castiel turns back, moving forward — and then walks right past the others, around the house.

Okay. So maybe those aren’t his parents.

They all stand in cold silence for several minutes until he returns.

“Thank you,” he says quietly, eyes still lowered, and Dean nods.

“Uh. You’re welcome.” He shifts, uncertain. “Do you ride?”

The council had said they didn’t let omegas ride horses in New Eden, but Dean found that hard to believe.

Castiel shakes his head.

“It’s not allowed, so I never learned. Apologies.”

“Oh.” Dean clears his throat, or tries to, anyway; his heart’s making a bid for residence in it. “Guess you, uh. You’ll have to ride with me, then.”

He does his best to say it casual, like it’s no big deal. And it’s not. It’s just Castiel, with his insane blue eyes and sweet, rainy scent, crammed onto a tiny saddle with Dean for the next eight fucking hours.

Castiel nods, so calmly Dean almost believes it.

“Of course, Dean.”

After a moment, Dean forces himself to turn, leading Castiel back to the horse. Once there, he offers him a hand, which the other man just stares at for a moment before finally placing his own in its grasp.

“Just . . . put your foot in the stirrup, and then, uh, up you go,” Dean tells him, heart pounding unnecessarily.

Castiel hesitates, then does as instructed, and though Dean prepares himself to catch him in case he slips, it’s not necessary. Castiel is surprisingly graceful.

Unfortunately, Castiel is also wearing a dress, which means he’s perched side-saddle rather than astride.

“Hey, uh, I forgot to ask. Why are you wearing a dress?”

The question gets a blank look for several long seconds. Then Castiel’s expression turns appalled, cheeks darkening.

“Are you suggesting you’d have me go without?”

“Well, no, not if you like ‘em. You can wear whatever you want, it’s just — it’s kind of unusual.”

Dark brows climb higher.

“I’m not sure how things are in the capital, but in New Eden our omegas are clothed. And I’d prefer to stay that way.”

It takes Dean a few seconds of confusion before he gets it.

Oh. Oh, God, no, we don’t — our omegas are clothed, too, it’s just — you — well, you’re a dude.

Castiel’s brow furrows, eyes searching.

“I don’t understand.”

“I meant — look,” Dean tries, running a tired hand through his hair. “In the capital, men don’t wear dresses. Only women do.”

Castiel just blinks down at him.

“Alright. New Eden is the same. But — I’m an omega.” He says it slow, like Dean might have forgotten this fact sometime in the last two minutes.

Dean lifts his brows.

“Yeah, but you’re a man. And men wear pants. Actually, women do, too, if they’re going on horseback. Omegas or not.”

“Oh.” Castiel looks back at him, clearly at a loss. “Well, I don’t have any pants.”

As far as Dean can tell, Castiel doesn’t have anything, besides the dress he’s wearing.

“That’s fine. We’ll be in a carriage tomorrow, since there should be good roads from the inn. But when we get back to Lawrence — I’ll get you some clothes. And you should learn to ride.

Castiel lightly touches his skirts, frowning a little.

“Alright. Whatever you wish.”

It’s said quietly, subdued, and it leaves a foul taste in Dean’s mouth.

“I — I mean, you can pick your own stuff, I just meant—” He cuts off, taking a deep breath. “We’ll, uh, we’ll figure it out later, okay? For now — do you wanna ride in front of me, or behind?”

Castiel hesitates.

“What’s simpler?”

“Uh. Behind, probably? You’ll have to hold onto me, though.”

Castiel nods.

“Alright.” He shifts slightly, and Dean takes that as his cue to mount.

No big deal, he reminds himself, and hoists himself up.

There’s a pause once he’s settled at the front, and then a pair of arms tentatively circle his waist. Dean takes a deep breath.

No pe, no big deal at all.

“Don’t worry about me,” he tells Castiel, turning his head slightly. “Hold on as tight as you need to.”

“Alright,” Castiel says again, but his grip barely changes. Dean figures it’ll have to do for now.

With a nod at the rest of the guard, he carefully nudges his horse into motion.

 

 

 

Sometime around mid-afternoon, Castiel starts nodding off, hold on Dean’s waist slackening and forehead bumping against Dean’s back before he jerks upright, apologizing.

After the third time, Dean slows his horse and turns around halfway. Castiel is carefully leaned back, his eyes blinking tiredly as they track Dean’s movement.

“Apologies, Alpha,” he mutters, and Dean nods. He’ll work on the name thing when Castiel isn’t about to pass out.

“It’s fine. Late night?”

Castiel squints.

“I mean — were you up late? Or — do you have trouble sleeping?”

As soon as he says it, Dean wants to smack himself, because of fucking course Castiel probably had trouble sleeping, given what was going to happen to him today. If anything, Dean’s shocked the guy didn’t just run off in the night, everything else be damned.

Castiel looks down, rueful.

“My dress needed alterations. It was some time before I slept.”

“Your dress?” Dean echoes, then realizes. “Oh. Well, it — it looks really nice?”

To be honest, Dean was kind of busy processing the whole storybook-beautiful omega coming home with him thing — as well as the fact that he was wearing a dress at all. He didn’t exactly give the dress a lot of thought, especially since it’s like a hundred years out of fashion and extensively covers anything that might be of interest. Still, Castiel is . . . well, beautiful, and he’d probably look great in a mis-sewn burlap sack, so Dean’s technically telling the truth.

Castiel tilts his head, briefly meeting Dean’s eyes,.

“Thank you.”

Dean nods awkwardly.

“Sure.” He hesitates — no big deal, no big deal. “If you’re tired, you can — you know, you can lean on me.”

Castiel tenses.

“That seems — precarious.”

“We’re not moving that fast. I promise not to let you fall.”

He almost makes a joke about being kind of screwed if Castiel dies on the way home, but stops himself just in time.

“I’m fine,” Castiel insists, firm. “Thank you.”

Which — that’s fair. Dean’d probably feel the same way in Castiel’s shoes, no matter how tired he was.

“Sure.” He shrugs, turning back to the road. “Feel free to change your mind, though.”

Castiel doesn’t answer that, and they continue on in silence.

A little while later, his arms loosen, and then a warm weight settles against Dean’s back.

Castiel’s soft, dark hair tickles against his neck, and Dean steadily rides on, trying not to smile.

 

 

 

“I apologize for falling asleep.”

“I told you, it’s fine. Better than, actually. This way I don’t feel so bad about waiting till night to stop.”

Cas doesn’t know what to say to that, so he just nods shortly, concentrating on the bread and cheese he’s been given.

They’ve stopped to rest the horses and have a snack, and Cas was deeply embarrassed to find himself drooling on the back of the prince’s tunic when the other man gently shook him awake. As much as he understands, logically, that Winchester wants Castiel for his womb and little else, he can’t help but be self-conscious. He doesn’t remember the last time he was around so many people, let alone strangers, and he knows they were all expecting someone small and lovely and female, like Anna.

He knows the prince was expecting it, and while there’s a part of him that’s perversely satisfied, thwarting the man who would have taken her away, another part just feels bad.

The truth is, he’d been doubtful, even as he’d finished altering the dress, if there was actually a point in doing so.

“They’re shameless, in the capital,” Malachi had insisted. “The prince won’t care what he’s bedding, so long as it gets him his heirs.”

As the ‘what’ in question, Cas hadn’t been so sure. Shameless or not, Cas thought the prince would care very much if the thing he was bedding was something like Cas. At best, he’d expected the prince to take one look at him and demand a proper omega, as promised.

At worst, Cas had thought he might be killed.

But no; the prince seems relatively unconcerned which, while surprising, Cas supposes makes sense. Cas is a tool; he might not be particularly beautiful — he is a male omega, after all — but any children he bears are unlikely to be ugly.

(Though — objectively speaking — Prince Dean is handsome enough that it shouldn’t be a concern, either way. Not that Cas was noticing, because people like Cas shouldn’t notice such things, especially not about people like Dean.)

Still, the prince will have to bed him — numerous times — to produce those children. Cas finds it difficult to believe he’s comfortable with that.

Then again — he’d been to told to turn over, keep quiet, and hold still for the prince when the time comes; if Dean can’t really see him, maybe it honestly doesn’t matter.

Anyway . . . whatever the prince’s reasoning, it doesn’t change the fact that Cas is utterly unprepared for this situation. In light of that, he can’t help it; he’s just uncomfortable.

“Did you get enough to eat?”

It takes him a moment to realize he’s being addressed; every time Dean asks him a question, he’s startled.

“Yes. Thank you.”

“We’ll have dinner when we stop for the night. There’s a town, and the inn is pretty nice.”

“Alright.” Cas isn’t sure why the prince is telling him any of this. He can offer neither input nor protest, regardless of the plan.

And while in some ways, it’s vaguely nice to know what to expect from the evening, it’s also a reminder of what he ought to expect from the night.

He dismisses the thought, keeping his eyes on the ground and awaiting further instruction. Running is pointless, for him, and what’s more, he’d rather not cause trouble. It’s anyone’s guess, what’s done with the omegas after they’ve served their purpose, but there’s no sense giving the prince cause for any kind of special retaliation. And while Cas would be lying if he said he held any particular fondness for the townspeople — he’s barely interacted with them for years, after all — he’d feel a little bad if they all suffered for something he did.

And actually, if he’s very good, he might even be looked upon favorably. Comfortable exile is probably too much to hope for, but even a quick death is preferable to some fates.

Only time will tell.

“So, uh, were you comfortable sleeping like that, or do you wanna try and ride in front?”

Cas frowns at the prince, forgetting his line of thought entirely.

“I was fine.”

“Okay. I just thought, if you did wanna nap a little more, you won’t have to worry about holding on.”

“I thought you said it was simpler if I rode behind.”

Dean shrugs, scratching his neck.

“Not by much. I’d rather you be comfortable.”

Cas tries and fails not to give him a suspicious look.

“I rested enough. Thank you.”

“Sure.”

Dean stands, dusting off his pants, gaze averted.

“I’ll, uh. Go see how the horses are doing.”

Cas watches him go, then looks back down at the small blanket he’s sitting on, prepared to wait.

It was a nice gesture, he supposes; as much time as he spent on the dress, he would have been a little put out to get it dirty this fast. It’s the nicest thing he’s ever worn, even if he doesn’t care for the reason behind it.

Actually, the prince has put forth a number of nice gestures. It’s his motives which elude Cas, and that frustrates him.

As he waits, he can feel eyes on him; the prince’s guard has been staring at him on and off their entire ride, and it does nothing to ease his sense of shame. While Winchester prohibits the killing of male omegas and female alphas upon their presentation, Cas can’t imagine either is commonplace. In fact, there may be other places in Winchester, besides New Eden, where they resent the rule.

He wonders if that’s what the guard might be thinking, as they stare; that something so disgusting and unnatural should be put to death.

A shadow falls over him, and he tenses, glancing up.

“Sorry about them,” one of Dean’s guard says, blue eyes apologetic as he takes a seat a little distance from Cas. “They’re jus’ curious. They don’t mean you any harm.”

“I’m sure.” He isn’t, not at all.

“I’m Benny,” the man offers, lifting a hand in a slight wave. “Dean’s right hand.”

“Castiel.”

“Pleasure to meet you.”

Cas hesitates.

“Likewise.”

It’s a lie, and he can tell by the other man’s wince that it’s obvious.

“Sorry,” Benny mumbles, then clears his throat. “Pardon my askin’, but to be honest, I’m a little curious, myself. Why the dress?”

Cas stiffens.

“In New Eden, omegas wear dresses.”

“But you’re a fella.”

“As the prince has informed me,” Cas says dryly, and Benny looks sheepish.

“Sorry. Just — ain’t somethin’ we see every day, in Lawrence.”

“Yes, well, the prince may have me dressed however he pleases, but for now, this is what I have.”

“Right, right. Well, Dean’ll get you whatever you like, once we’re home, but in the future, for ridin’, it might be best if you wear pants.”

“So he told me.”

“If it ain’t comfortable though, just tell ‘im. We might gawk a bit, but if you like your dresses, Dean won’t care one way or the other.”

Cas nods. This, actually, makes sense; if Dean cared, he wouldn’t have accepted Cas in the first place.

“Alright,” Dean announces then, striding into view. “Horses are ready to go. Everyone pack up.”

Benny shoots Cas a small smile, and then stands, joining the others. Dean comes over and offers Cas a hand.

“Do you need to, uh. Relieve yourself, or anything?”

“Oh.” Cas grimaces. “Yes. I should.”

The last thing he wants is to ask the entire party to stop and wait while he does so in another hour.

“Alright. Looks like they’re all headed that way, so we’ll go over here. I’ll, uh. Keep watch, I guess.”

Cas stares.

“Is that . . . is that really necessary?”

“Uh? Yeah? If I don’t, one of these jackasses might wander over and startle you or something.”

It takes Cas a moment to understand, and when he does, his cheeks heat at his mistake.

“Oh. You meant — oh. Of course. Thank you.”

Cas handles his business as quickly as possible, for once grateful to be a man. It’s hard to imagine feeling more uncomfortable than he already does, but if he had to maneuver into a squat while trying to manage both his skirts and the uneven terrain — with Dean standing half a dozen yards away and probably able to hear him — he’s sure he could manage it.

Once he’s done, they return to the clearing, where the horses have been brought back from the stream.

“You sure you don’t want to ride in front, just in case?” Dean asks, holding out a hand for support, and Cas hesitates.

“Actually — I think I will.” Cas has no idea how long the whole bedding process takes, but just in case the answer is ‘a long time’, he’d rather not feel dead on his feet for a second day running. It may be wise to try and sleep a little more now, just in case.

“Alright. I should maybe get on first, then.” Dean mounts, then reaches for Cas, helping to pull him up into the saddle.

It is only at this point that Cas realizes the folly of his decision; to handle the reins, the prince must basically wrap his arms around Cas, and the saddle is already small for two grown men. Cas is effectively boxed in, Dean warm and solid against him, around him.

He doesn’t remember the last time he was this close to someone. Anna had to be sneaky about her hugs, and they rarely lasted more than a few seconds.

This feels altogether different.

He’s not sure how long passes before the prince suddenly coughs.

(Cas can feel it.)

“Sorry. Uh. You good?” he asks, and Cas nods, staring blankly at the road before him.

“Yes. Thank you.”

“Awesome.” Dean turns, gesturing to the guard to begin moving, and then settles back in, “Uh. Just — just let me know if you need anything.”

Cas isn’t sure what he means by that — they’re on a horse, so both Cas’s needs and Dean’s ability to meet them are somewhat limited — but his brain has become somewhat fuzzy and Dean said it right into his ear and after a long moment, he decides he’s not going to ask.

“Alright.”

They ride no more than twenty minutes, Cas tensely perched in front, before Dean clears his throat.

“You can, uh, you know, lean into me. Might be more comfortable.”

In some ways, yes, but in other ways, not at all.

In fact, Cas is not entirely sure he’ll be able to sleep, like this. There was something vastly more impersonal about Dean’s back, though he had tried to sit away from that, too. This — this almost feels like an embrace.

Which is ridiculous. The prince is not trying to — to hug him. This is just an unfortunate seating arrangement which has resulted in Cas halfway resting against a warm, broad chest, equally warm, sturdy arms practically clasped around him.

And yet.

It’s a few moments before he realizes he hasn’t answered Dean, is still glowering at the road, trying to stave off the festering panic.

Unnecessary panic. He’s being missish, is what he’s being. It is not an embrace, no matter how intimate it feels, and either way, he and the prince will actually be intimate later tonight.

This awkward not-embrace is sure to seem laughable in comparison.

No, he needs to approach this practically, as he does all things; and practicality demands he get some sleep.

“Alright,” he says decisively, and settles back against Dean with perhaps a bit more force than is required.

Dean wheezes a cough, adjusting his arms to accommodate the unomegalike breadth of Cas’s shoulders, and nods.

“A-awesome,” he mumbles, a huff against the shell of Cas’s ear, and on they ride.

Surprisingly, Cas falls asleep within the hour, pleasantly warm and unconcerned about falling off the horse.

 

 

 

Dean might be focused on guiding the horse through a rougher patch of forest trail, but he can feel Benny smirking at him.

“Shut up,” he mutters, wincing as the horse moves into the decline and Castiel is jostled in his arms.

“Sh, your highness, don’t wanna wake the poor guy.”

Honestly, Castiel has proven better at sleeping mostly upright on a horse than anyone Dean’s ever met, but that doesn’t mean he won’t wake up if Benny keeps being an ass and Dean has to start throwing things at him.

“Right, so be quiet.

Benny just shakes his head, chuckling to himself, and Dean carefully keeps still, even though he wants to turn and glare at him. Castiel’s head is halfway tucked in the crook of Dean’s neck, and if Dean so much as twists one way or the other, he’ll unsettle him.

It’s sort of . . . distracting. Honest to God, Dean was just thinking of Castiel’s comfort, and even though he knew it’d be a little awkward, having Castiel practically sitting in his lap, he didn’t know it’d be like this. Castiel is warm and solid and even though he’s kind of big to try and maneuver around, he doesn’t not feel nice in Dean’s arms. To complicate things further, his scent is kind of rainy and sweet, like a cool, early spring day, and tucked right underneath Dean’s nose like that, it’s hard not to notice.

And even though Dean knows what they went and collected Castiel for in the first place, he feels pretty damn guilty for all the noticing he’s been doing since Castiel first came outside in New Eden. If anything, Castiel’s reason for being here makes him feel even worse about it.

The point is, he’s conflicted, and Benny is unhelpful, and thank God Castiel is riding sidesaddle because Dean thinks if they tried to sit completely chest to back, he might have some trouble getting his arms all the way around Castiel to hold the reins.

Which he figures is half of why Benny’s so amused; they probably make a ridiculous sight, Castiel with his soldier’s shoulders and woman’s dress, and Dean, big even for an alpha, carefully maneuvering the reins around him; and all of it on a single horse.

Dean grimaces sympathetically at Idunn; he brought his brother’s horse deliberately, since it had been suggested the omega wouldn’t be able to ride, but he’d had an average-sized woman in mind when he pictured sharing. Castiel has that lean, fine-boned look to him, but he’s still as big as some alphas Dean knows (if way more attractively proportioned). Even Sammy’s enormous pony (and it does still look like a pony, no matter how big it gets) becomes a little small when you’re talking about two men this size.

Fortunately, Dean arranged for a carriage to take them the rest of the way from the town, where the roads can handle it. He’s not sure Idunn could make the entire trip like this, and he’s not mean enough to try it.

“Shouldn’t be more than another hour,” Benny calls quietly, and Dean twitches a hand to let him know he heard. Castiel’s been out cold for the last two hours, and while Dean’s a little worried about it, the guy’s breathing seems normal and his color looks alright. And he did say he was up late, getting his dress ready.

And actually, Dean’s kind of curious about that. It can’t be his only dress, if it didn’t fit him before last night, and yet he doesn’t have any luggage. Also, given the poorly veiled combination of fear and contempt they’d been greeted with, he’s not sure why they’d have Castiel go through any special effort to look pretty for him. Staying up all night squinting at a needle and thread seems like a lot of special effort, to Dean — but for what purpose?

Dean gives the sleeping man a sidelong look, thoughtful. Man or not, it’s kind of hard to believe there was anyone more beautiful than Castiel in the town, even though beauty is one of the things New Eden omegas are known for. In fact, as many people as Dean’s met in his lifetime, Castiel is probably one of the most beautiful among them; if someone tried to say he wasn’t the best-looking omega in town, Dean actually wouldn’t believe it.

Which — offering the prince the most beautiful omega in the town, and that omega putting in all that effort to look his best for Dean?

It doesn’t exactly seem like a normal response to what’s effectively a punishment — unless, of course, you have an ulterior motive.

Dean studies Castiel, albeit from a kind of awkward angle, taking in the fine sweep of dark lashes, the sharp jaw and cheekbones, the wide, soft mouth that invites all kinds of guilty fantasy (never mind the big blue eyes when he’s awake). Dean might not turn into a complete fool over a pretty face, but he’s clearly not immune. If there is some hidden goal at play here, he can see how the townspeople took one look at Castiel and decided he was their best bet at making it happen.

And that’s fair; Dean feels really weird about finding Castiel attractive, under the circumstances, but he’d be lying if it wasn’t also a tiny bit of a relief. Which is why he feels so weird; it just seems wrong to feel better about things when he knows how much Castiel must be dreading them.

Still. No matter how gorgeous Castiel is, or how bad Dean feels about the whole awful situation, he’s not about to let himself be seduced into going along with any kind of rebellious plot from New Eden.

He gives his unconscious companion a sympathetic look, and gently guides the horse along, secure in the knowledge that he has nothing to fear.

 

 

 

“Castiel?”

The voice doesn’t belong to either one of his parents, so Cas is tempted to tell them to go away, because he’s having a very nice nap in some warm, extremely nice-smelling woods, and he was up all night altering a dress just so he could be be sacrificed to Winchester in the morning.

He bites his tongue, forcing himself to crack one eye open — and finds himself staring at someone’s faintly stubbled jaw.

Not someone’s; Prince Dean’s.

Cas lurches forward, blinking in the dusky evening light. They’re in a town, and now that he’s awake and can hear the leisurely bustle of the street, he’s shocked he slept through any of it.

“Sorry,” he mutters, carefully tilting away from the prince. He tries not to mourn the loss of heat. “I must have slept for a long time.”

The prince shrugs, studying him.

“A few hours. Kind of amazing. You must really have been tired.”

“Yes.” He was. His right sleeve is hopelessly rumpled and deflated, having been caught between him and the prince, but he remade the bodice with truly incredible result, in his opinion, and even after a day’s worth of travel, sleeping on a horse, Cas is confident he looks better than he ever has.

Which is still probably not very good, given what he is to begin with, but still — small victories, as Anna would say.

Besides; it’s enabled him to sleep through most of the awkward journey, and even if he knows he just has to lie still for the prince, Cas would rather be alert. A part of him wonders if it would be better, if he was just unconscious for the ordeal, but the idea of the prince using his body while he was unawares still makes him more uncomfortable than the thought of being awake to endure it.

“The inn’s just down the road. We’ll wash up and then grab something to eat. Do you, uh, have any allergies we should know about?”

Cas stares back at him, bemused.

“Allergies?”

“You know. Stuff if you eat, you get really sick?”

“Oh.” He considers this. “Cabbage.”

Admittedly, he’s not sure if what happens technically qualifies as ‘really sick,’ but the prince has no way of knowing that, so he might as well.

“Cabbage,” Dean repeats, then nods. “Okay. We’ll make sure you’re not given anything with cabbage.”

Cas does his best to conceal his smugness.

“Thank you.”

“No problem.” The corners of Dean’s mouth lift. “I do the same for my brother.”

“Does he also have . . . allergies?”

“Nope, but it makes him unbearably gassy, so we keep it away from him.”

Cas can’t help himself. He lets out a snort of amusement, not expecting it.

His eyes fly to Dean’s in panic, just as the prince’s do the same.

“Sorry,” Dean says hastily, turning red beneath his freckles. “Sorry, I forgot — you’re a guy, so I wasn’t thinking, but — uh. That was rude. I shouldn’t have said it. Sorry.”

Cas ducks his chin, equally embarrassed.

“It’s fine. I, um, I shouldn’t have found it funny.”

There’s a huff of laughter, and when he glances up, Dean is wrinkling his brow.

“Why not? That’s good. It’s definitely better than you being offended.”

“But it’s . . . well, vulgar. I’m supposed to pretend not to understand. Laughing makes me vulgar, as well.”

“What? No, it doesn’t. I mean, it’s not a great joke for polite company, but my cousin probably would have told it, never mind just thinking it was funny.”

Cas doesn’t see how that’s relevant.

“Yes, well, his circumstances are likely very different from mine.”

“Her,” Dean corrects. “Lady Joanna Beth Harvelle. And her sense of humor is way more — what did you call it? Vulgar, than mine.” He coughs. “Well, mostly.”

It’s difficult for Cas to imagine a woman saying such a thing, even if she weren’t an omega, but he’s always been told the capital is a different world, one full of careless sins.

“I see,” is all he says, and Dean deflates a little.

“Right. Anyway — sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.” He clears his throat. “I’ll try not to do it again.”

Everything else aside, Cas can’t help but feel bad to see him looking so shamed.

“It’s fine, Alpha. If these are the customs of Lawrence, I’m grateful to be taught them.”

Cas may not know where he’ll end up, but it’s likely he’ll spend a few years in Lawrence, while he gives Dean heirs. His behavior should adapt accordingly.

Though, really, he supposes his behavior should be whatever Dean wishes it.

“Dean,” the prince reminds him, and Cas swears he sounds a little petulant. “Nobody uses designation titles, these days.”

“Oh. Apologies, Dean.”

Dean’s lips quirk.

“Yeah, like that. Thanks.” He shrugs, scratching the side of his head. “You, uh, you don’t have to change just for us, though. Not if you don’t want to. But — however you wanna act, when you’re with me — you know. Go ahead. I’m not gonna judge you or anything.”

That, Cas almost laughs at outright, but he restrains himself, nodding seriously.

“Thank you.”

Dean smiles again, the warm glow of the setting sun turning his cheeks rosy beneath all the freckles.

“Sure. Anyway — looks like we’re here.”

Dean dismounts, then helps Cas down. Sleeping three hours on a horse has made his muscles stiff; he stumbles slightly, and Dean reaches out to steady him. The evening air is cool around him, a contrast to Dean’s near-embrace on the horse, but Dean’s hands are warm as they touch his side and arm.

Cas thanks him and tries to focus on thoughts of dinner, rather than anything that might happen after.

 

 

 

A maid leads him to a room upstairs, where there’s a small basin of water waiting on the dresser.

It’s a nicer room than he’s ever slept in, and he studiously ignores the enormous, soft looking four-poster bed on the opposite wall. Instead, he studies himself in the mirror above the dresser, a little dismayed at how much his stubble has come in since this morning.

And even though he knows he shouldn’t care, that there’s little to be done to make himself attractive, and that he shouldn’t want anyone to find him thus, anyway — especially not anyone who originally meant to come and steal his sister from her home — he can’t help himself; he’s relieved when he finds the shaving tools next to the bowl.

Hopefully, the prince won’t be angry over the time he takes.

Cas makes short work of his ablutions, pleased to find a small jar of lotion to soothe the skin when he’s done, and with one last glance in the mirror, he makes his way downstairs.

The same maid is waiting for him at the bottom, and takes him to a dining room, where the guard is already assembled, conversing among themselves. They fall quiet as he enters.

Cas hesitates a moment before he takes the empty chair on Dean’s left, conscious of the room watching him.

“Dude or not, Dean lucked out,” he hears someone mutter, and Dean coughs loudly.

“Go ahead and eat, guys. And remember your manners, alright?”

There’s friendly grumbling in response, but then the guard is reaching for the dishes in the center of the table, and Dean catches Cas’s eye with a pained smile.

“Sorry,” he says, though Cas has no idea what he’s apologizing for.

“It’s fine. I apologize for the wait.”

“Oh, no, we didn’t, really. I just got here a few minutes ago.”

Cas nods, unsure what to say to that, and after a moment, Dean nods, too, reaching for the nearest serving dish.

Cas, for his part, was not exactly prepared for this scenario; he assumed he’d be put in the prince’s room and brought a small meal, or something. At no point did he expect to sit down to dinner with nearly a dozen other people, completely ignorant to the expected custom. Even at home, Cas took his dinner in the attic; once he presented, he was no longer acceptable company.

Unease fills him, the kind that comes with having no idea what you’re supposed to do, but knowing you’ll thoroughly embarrass yourself as you make an attempt. Is he supposed to wait for the others to eat? Is he allowed to simply serve himself? Should he—

Dean deposits a ladleful of roasted beef and broth on Cas’s plate, then serves himself the same. He moves on, pausing with a big spoon of stewed vegetables, and squints at it.

“Don’t see any cabbage,” he says after a moment, and then gently overturns the spoon next to Cas’s beef before moving to the next dish.

“Don’t you want any vegetables?” Cas asks, a little shell-shocked by it all.

The table falls silent.

For a moment, he’s terrified he’s made a grave mistake, that some horrible punishment is sure to follow — but then the guard all breaks into laughter.

“Shut up, guys,” Dean grouses, cheeks red, and retrieves the vegetable spoon. “I was going to, I just forgot.

It sounds farfetched to Cas’s ears, but he decides it’s better not to say anything.

(He did lie about the cabbage.)

Dean fills the plate with more food than Cas generally eats across two days, never mind for a single meal, and though Cas gamely tries to finish it all, he barely makes it two-thirds of the way through.

“Full?” Dean asks, and Cas nods apologetically. “Sorry, I wasn’t sure how much you’d eat. You’re not exactly small, you know?”

Cas freezes.

On Dean’s right, Benny’s face drops into his palms.

“I’m aware,” Cas acknowledges stiffly. “Perhaps I should eat less, next mealtime.”

Dean gives him a confused look.

“Uh. Sure? Sorry if you felt obligated.”

“Not at all.”

The confusion bleeds into discomfort.

“Uh. But, you know, you can eat as much as you want, too. You know. Whatever’s better.”

Benny sighs.

“Thank you, Alpha,” Cas says, not at all deliberate, and Dean winces.

“Right.” He turns back to his plate, baleful. “Sure.”

There’s no reason for the prince to be uncomfortable, of course; Cas is as tall as any man in the town, and his labor has made him disagreeably brawny, as well. The prince was merely stating a truth.

Still, it’s not Cas’s place to reassure him on this front, so he politely remains silent.

Dean finishes his own dinner, and after at least two furtive glances in Cas’s direction, clears his throat.

“Mind if I finish yours? No point in letting it go to waste.”

Cas inclines his head.

“If it pleases you. Alpha.”

The look Dean throws Benny might fairly be described as ‘helpless.’

Again, though — it’s hardly any of Cas’s business.

 

 

 

The prince remains downstairs, discussing arrangements for the morning, and Cas returns to the room with no small amount of trepidation. There’s a bath waiting for him, and Cas scrubs himself thoroughly, one eye on the door. He wishes he could linger, could sit and savor a bath he neither had to draw himself or take cold — especially after spending the day on a horse — but Dean could come up at any moment.

He’ll probably be annoyed if Cas isn’t ready for him.

Cas towels off, doing his best to dry his hair and smooth it out, to little effect. He’s fussed with it at least ten minutes before he gives up, at which point he discovers a new problem: he has nothing to wear to bed.

His nightgown is miles away in the attic, of course, and he’s not about to sleep in his nice new dress. Even if he weren’t worried about rumpling it, he doesn’t kid himself that it still smells as fresh as it could. Given the hot bath Dean must have sent up, Cas doubts he wants him smelling of horses while they do this.

Which — he hopes Dean had a bath. Dean’s scent is . . . agreeable, though Cas is firmly avoiding thinking about it — or his very nice green eyes, or anything else — but even if it weren’t, Cas is pretty sure he wouldn’t want it covered up by the smell of sweat and horses, either.

The thought edges toward somewhat dangerous territory, so Cas retreats from it a little, deciding to focus on the bath issue. Really, it’s only a good thing if Dean prefers him freshly bathed. Yes, Cas will have to tolerate his nightly attentions, but that also means he may get a nightly bath, and the idea of such a self-indulgent luxury has his heart racing a little in excitement.

A hot bath, every single night.

It could be worse, he reasons.

Ultimately, he decides to perch in the middle of the bed, not sure if he’s allowed to get in and figuring the prince probably doesn’t want him clothed, anyway. He spares a self-conscious glance over his shoulder, though he can’t really see the worst of his back, but if it’s a problem, Dean can simply find him a shirt for next time.

Abruptly, there’s a sharp knock at the door, and Cas jumps a little.

“Come in,” he calls, uncertain, and the maid from earlier appears, a small bundle of clothes in her arms. Her smile falters a little when she sees him, cheeks going pink.

“Oh, I beg your pardon.”

Cas colors as well, instinctively bringing his knees up and curling around them, embarrassed by his nakedness.

“Sorry,” he mumbles. “I was expecting someone else.”

Her awkwardness fades a bit, and she ducks her chin, smiling.

“Ah, yes. They told me the Prince was come to stay with us, and I didn’t believe it till I saw him. He’s a handsome one, isn’t he?”

Cas coughs, torn between an instinctive denial and a fear of offending her.

“I’m no judge.”

She laughs, coming to set the clothes down beside him, though her gaze is still averted.

“Don’t have to be, to appreciate that.” She pauses. “Unless . . . I’m sorry, I never met a boy omega before. Is it that you only like women?”

It takes him a moment to understand what she’s asking.

“I don’t like anything,” he says honestly. He’s a male omega, after all. He wasn’t made to ‘like’ anything, anymore than anyone should like him. Technically, he’s not even sure he can bear children, though he gets his heats just like Anna.

Which — Cas has never given it a thought before, since he knew he’d never have a mate, never mind children, but that will present a problem, if he can’t.

He decides to worry about it later.

“Oh, I have a cousin like that!” she exclaims, momentarily pleased, and then her face falls. “Oh, but you were expecting — oh.”

Cas tilts his head, puzzled by her uneasy look.

“Is it true that — are you from New Eden?” she asks suddenly, and he blinks.

“Yes?”

“I see how it is then,” she murmurs, and if Cas didn’t know better, he’d say she seemed dismayed. “Never much liked the idea of all that, but — anyhow, I’m sure I’m sorry for you. I — I hope it’s alright.”

After a moment, she nudges the clothes toward him.

“He sent these up for you, by the by. His Highness. Said you only had the one thing to wear.” She tsks. “We’ll sort out more for you in the morning, but for now, here’s one of his nightshirts. You look close enough in size, so it should fit you alright.”

Cas frowns at the reminder.

“I suppose.” He inspects the bundle, picking up some sort of baggy, short cotton pants. “Are these . . . drawers?”

Cas never had any pretty, lacy ones like Anna’s, but even compared to his, these seem a little too bulky. Like some cross between plain drawers and a summer-weight trouser.

“Pajama pants,” she corrects him, shooting him a puzzled look. “Do you really wear drawers?”

He lifts his brows.

“Don’t tell me you don’t?”

“Yes, but I’m—” She cuts off, looking embarrassed. “Well. What do I know? Although — I’m sorry, I don’t have any for you.”

“It’s alright.” Cas hadn’t expected pajamas, to begin with, so this is fine. “Thank you for bringing them to me.”

“My pleasure.” She nods at him, offering a sympathetic smile. “Good luck.”

“Thank you.”

She leaves, and after a moment, he puts on the pajamas. They smell clean, but there’s unmistakable traces of the prince’s scent on them, and Cas is torn between feeling uneasy over it and strangely comforted.

He’s there another five minutes or so, quietly listening to the clock hands, before he hears footsteps and voices — more than one.

They’re muffled, but they’re drawing nearer, the pattern of shuffling a little strange to Cas’s ears. He listens, apprehensive.

“—am your prince! If I wanna stay in your room, you have to let me!”

“And I gotta let you take the bed, brother, but you’ll insist on sleepin’ on the floor, and I can’t let my prince do that, either. So go on and go to your own room so we can both get a decent night’s rest, alright?”

“Which I’d be happy to do if you assholes hadn’t booked one room.

Cas thinks he hears a chuckle, probably Benny’s.

“Can’t wait to tell your brother and the rest about this.”

“Damn it, Benny, it’s not funny! I can’t share a room with him! What am I even supposed to do?”

“I’m sure you’ll figure somethin’ out.”

The door abruptly swings open, and Dean stumbles through, back first. Over his shoulder, Benny looks up at Cas, waving cheerily.

“Good night, Castiel. See y’all in the morning. If he starts snorin’, just put a pillow over his face for a few seconds.”

Benny!” Dean hisses, glancing back at Cas with a horrified look.

“Night, brother.”

Benny nimbly shuts the door, Dean lurching after it, and silence descends.

Honestly, Cas is rather surprised. Given what he’s heard about the capital, it’s difficult to believe Dean doesn’t know what to do.

On the other hand, he is the crown prince. Maybe he’s supposed to maintain his purity until it’s time to produce heirs, just to avoid accidents.

Cas suppresses a sigh. His talk was so vague; he’d just assumed the prince, at least, would know what to do.

This is bound to end poorly.

“If it helps,” he starts, halting. “I think I’m supposed to undress.”

Dean swivels, giving Cas an alarmed look.

“Sorry?”

“Or you’re supposed to undress me. I’m not sure. But I think — at least my skirt. Well, pants. Assuming it works the same way as it does with animals.” He frowns. It has to, right? He may lack firsthand experience, but based on his own body, he imagines it’s something similar.

Dean’s mouth falls open.

“The same way it — what?”

“Intimacy,” Cas clarifies, a bit startled at Dean’s ignorance. “To, um, produce the heirs? We have to . . .”

He trails off, unsure how to finish, since he doesn’t know exactly what they have to do, and Dean doesn’t seem to either.

Anna would know what to do, he thinks bitterly. Anna always knew things she wasn’t supposed to, somehow, and she probably knew about this, too. He’s happy to do this, if it means she doesn’t have to, but he wishes he had her same advantages.

Dean just stares at him for several seconds, green eyes wide and dark in the dim light of the candle.

And then he starts shaking his head.

“No, no, no, that’s not — we’re not — nobody’s making any heirs tonight, okay?”

Cas nods, a little relieved.

“Alright. Are you going to ask someone?”

“What?”

“How to do it.”

What?”

“You told Benny you didn’t know what to do.”

“I meant about — sharing a room with you, not — I know what to do!”

Oh. Well, that’s a relief.

“That’s good. I don’t.”

Dean scrubs a hand down his face, and Cas shifts awkwardly on the bed.

“As for the room-sharing — it’s been some time since I’ve done so, but if the bed is this big, I think we’re supposed to share it.”

When Dean looks up again, he appears vaguely pained.

“Yeah. Yeah, Cas, I got that, except — you don’t even know me. You can’t possibly be okay sharing a bed with me.”

Cas blinks.

“Cas?”

Dean flushes.

“Sorry. Castiel.”

Hesitant, Cas shrugs.

“Sometimes I’m called Cas. You can call me that.”

For whatever reason, Dean relaxes a little.

“Oh. Okay. Thank you.”

It’s somewhat amusing, since really, Dean can call him whatever he likes.

Which brings him to his next point.

“I expected to share your bed when we stopped, Dean.”

Dean just looks at him.

“Expectation and acceptance are two different things.”

“I accepted that I’d have to,” he clarifies, and Dean snaps his fingers.

“See? That you’d have to.”

Cas doesn’t understand.

“I don’t understand,” he says aloud, and Dean sighs, leaning back against the door.

“Look. I guess — for now, the question is — are you really gonna sleep comfortably, knowing some strange alpha is right next to you?”

“Probably not.” Cas pauses. “Though that may have something to do with the nap I took. I thought you were going to bed me, and I didn’t want to be tired again tomorrow.”

Dean stares at him for a moment, then barks a laugh.

“Yeah. Yeah, okay. Tell you what, Cas; I’m gonna grab a spare blanket and pillow and sleep on the floor over here. How’s that sound?”

“I thought Benny said you weren’t supposed to sleep on the floor,” he protests, suspicious. He doesn’t want to get in trouble.

“Yeah, well, Benny’s not supposed to argue with me, either, but here we are.”

Cas nods slowly, considering.

“You’re not going to bed me tonight,” he states, searching Dean’s face.

It reddens as he watches.

“Uh. No. No, I am not.”

“Alright. Then — I am comfortable sharing the bed with you.”

Dean frowns.

“Wait, but — what if I’m lying?”

“You could just as easily be lying on the floor,” Cas points out, and for some reason, Dean starts laughing.

“Fine, man. Have it your way.” He pauses, still smiling. “Tell me if you change your mind. I’ll move.”

His concern for Cas’s comfort is bizarre, and for the life of him, Cas can’t understand his motives.

Still, when Dean wanders over and pulls back the covers, disapprovingly urging Cas to get underneath, Cas simply crawls in. The bed is as soft and cozy as it looked, and when he involuntarily lets out a sigh of contentedness, Dean grins at him.

Cas decides to worry about it later.