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Profound Bond (of red paracord)

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The man leaned in and yelled with breath that smelled like candy, “I am ripped to the tits.”
The music pulsed and rang and surged all around them, so Castiel just barely heard him.
Castiel Novak, award-winning event and wildlife photographer and ‘seriously strange dude’ according to almost everyone who knew him, shifted his Nikon in his hands. He tried to make himself as loud as possible. “That’s most unfortunate. Do you require medical assistance?”
The brilliant green gaze, unclouded by whatever witches’ brew of chemicals he was high on, drifted down to meet his. “No,” he replied with a sunny smile. “But I prob’ly need adult supervision.”
Castiel couldn’t help it. He laughed, and then yelled into the man’s ear. “There are almost seventy thousand humans here. And aren’t you a little old to be getting high and coming to an EDM festival?”
“Thirty-five is too old to get high?” the man yelled.
“This is a gig for me,” Castiel said, pointing to his camera with a head tilt and a frown. “I find getting high is much more enjoyable when I don’t have to earn a living at the same time,” he yelled in a judging sort of way.
The nose scrunched. “I wasn’t planning on getting high, my brother’s girlfriend kinda egged me on.”
The music volume dropped, temporarily. They could hear each other.
“Where’s she?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where’s your brother?”
“I don’t know. He’s tall, but I can’t see him.”
“Where’s your phone?” Castiel said helpfully.
“I don’t know,” the man said, slapping himself in the vicinity of his pockets. He literally turned around on the spot, as if he was expecting to see his phone on the ground.
“How about some ID,” Castiel said.
The man successfully located his wallet and presented it with a bow and flourish. The wallet conveyed that he had fourteen dollars in cash and that his name was Dean Winchester. There was a smirk now; “Want my number?” Dean asked.
“That won’t be necessary,” Castiel said. “My name’s Cas Novak, and I’m taking you to a medical tent, and in the meantime please drink this water.” He handed Dean a bottle of water he’d pulled from his backpack and watched as Dean compressed the contents of the bottle into his mouth in just over three seconds.
“I was thirsty,” Dean said, frowning a little. He was playing with the red paracord bracelet on his left wrist.
“Please come with me,” Castiel said. He looked around, locating, and leading Dean to, the closest first aid station. About halfway there, as they bounced around the tangle of dancing young humanity, he felt a tug on his belt, but ignored it. He later realized that this was the point at which Dean had undone his paracord bracelet and tied himself to one of the belt loops on Castiel’s pants.
“What?” Castiel said faintly, as he turned around and realized there was now about two feet of cord connecting him to Dean, who was rocking gently to the beat. He had another four feet coiled in his hand.
“I’ll just follow you,” Dean said.
Castiel stared at him. Tying yourself to someone else seemed a rather extreme response to feeling disoriented, but there was no easy way to convey this. Dean stared back. Castiel remembered that he had a very sharp utility knife in his kit and could cut the damned cord if Dean was too much of an idiot to deal with; but he’d been reasonably entertaining so far.
“If you interfere with my work, I’m cutting this line,” Castiel said.
“Hokay,” Dean said.
Castiel did his best to ignore Dean, but it was difficult, and he was standing so close at times that his body heat made itself known. His scent rose up and tickled Castiel’s nose. He smelled really good, like an ad for something.
They stood close to the speakers, but not for too long; Castiel took video of a lizard on a fence, apparently bobbing its head in time to the beat. Dean giggled almost continuously and began randomly imitating the lizard. Youths with eyes closed and mouths open in rapture thrashed back and forth and were arrested in time by Castiel, in stop- and slow-motion.
Dean poked his head over Castiel’s shoulder to look at the unprocessed footage and Castiel put his hand up to Dean’s forehead to push him away and Dean licked him in response. Castiel slapped him and Dean hauled him by the belt loops between two merch booths and tried to kiss him. Castiel bonked Dean with his Nikon and Dean said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot you’re working,” and quit bothering him. They got into another staring contest and Dean said, “Sorry, sorry,” and looked down.
Castiel noticed that Dean was turning pink, and so took a spare hat out of his backpack and put it on Dean’s head. It didn’t suit him; he was a ball-cap or cowboy hat kinda guy, quite obviously, and he looked ludicrous in a Tilley Endurable knockoff hat, but Castiel did feel responsible for him and it was an obviously poor idea to cut the paracord because Dean would end up kissing some other strangers and Castiel at least knew not to freak out about it. He took a shift’s worth of publicity pics on a warm and gorgeous day with a very strange, but not actively bad, human being hanging off his waist. Dean started to be helpful, pulling things out of his backpack and putting them away, which made Castiel feel better about having been suckered into feeling sorry for him.

Castiel’s feet were hot as coals and throbbing by the time Dean finally seemed to be coming down. There was a little strip of grass next to the edge of one of the parking lots around the fairgrounds, and Castiel, weary of cement, asphalt and weathered, cigarette-butt-laden dirty grass, put his camera away. He took a small blanket out, spread it on the grass, and sat down.
“What are we waiting for?” Dean asked.
“My cousin’s coming to get me. Eventually.”
“I think maybe I’m not too fucked up to manage on my own,” Dean said, with reluctance.
“That’s a shame,” Castiel said.
Dean laughed. “I can’t tell if you’re serious.” Cas looked at him without expression. People believed what they wanted to; he’d given up trying to convince anyone of anything.
“I’ve been literally hanging off you for the best part of a day and you haven’t complained,” Dean said. “I figured you couldn’t wait to get rid of me.”
“I was hoping you were still high,” Castiel said. “I was going to ask you to rub my feet.”
“What,” Dean said.
“If you were still in your ‘totally loving things’ vibe’, I could get a free foot rub.”
“I remember trying to kiss you,” Dean said, nodding twice. “A foot rub doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.”
Castiel’s voice was mild. “Yeah, about that. Did I do something to encourage you?”
“No, not really,” Dean said. It wasn’t an apology, but it sounded like one. “Were you serious about the foot rub? Would it make up for me mashing on you?”
“Mashing? I don’t think even my maiden aunt uses that expression,” Castiel said. “I just don’t know what to say to you because I’m not an ordinary person.”
“That much is obvious,” Dean said, and lay down next to Castiel and put his hat over his face.
“Are you all tuckered out?” Cas said sadly.
“You’re the one that asked for a foot rub, I’m just trying to conserve my strength,” Dean replied with equally false sadness. “Also, I am thinking about my lost phone and how all my contacts are in there, including all the jobs I applied for, so instead of a happiness vibe, I’m right back where I started before my brother’s girlfriend tricked me into taking X.”
“You still haven’t untied yourself.”
“I’m lazy,” Dean said into the hat. “I’m waiting for you to do it.”
If Castiel told the truth, that it was the first time he’d felt connected to someone who wasn’t family in possibly years, that would be bad. Cutting the cord was the right thing to do.
“Untie it,” Castiel said. “Then I don’t have to cut it and it will stay more useful.”
“I’ll wait, thanks,” Dean said.

Someone was yelling, “Dean, Dean.”
“Sounds like your brother’s girlfriend,” Castiel said.
Dean pulled the borrowed hat from his face and shoved it into Castiel’s chest. He sat up, and started struggling with the knot on Castiel’s belt loop. “Seriously, I can cut it,” Castiel said.
“The Boy Scout in me says no,” Dean said, still working.
“Were you a Boy Scout?” Castiel asked.
“Well, the cops pulled me out of a meeting and the Scoutmaster asked me to quit,” Dean said.
Castiel said, “What a rebel.”
“I was kind of a dick, actually.” The rope came free and Dean sighed with relief. He stood, and the cord fell to the ground all around them. “You can keep it,” Dean said.

“Dean!” a tall man yelled.
“Yeah, Sammy, I’m here,” Dean yelled back.
“I got your phone, if you’re worried about that.”
Castiel scrunched his eyes shut so he didn’t have to watch Dean leave. Apart from when he’d tried to grab him to kiss him, which had been almost terrifying, Dean had been more fun and less trouble than most of the people Castiel had to interact with.
“Who’s this?” came a woman’s voice.
“This is Cas, he’s a photographer, and we’ve been hanging out,” Dean said.
Cas opened his eyes. “It was very nice to meet you.” Belatedly he stood.
Dean was hugging him. “It was really nice to meet you too,” Dean said. It was ludicrous, how wonderful he smelled, even after a day of sweating and dancing in the sun.
“So you looked after Dean?”
Sammy said, “Ruby, we’ll talk about that later. You ready to go home, Dean?”
Dean looked at Castiel, who tried to smile and ended up looking pained. It was as if he was waiting for Castiel to say something, so he did. “Goodbye, Dean,” and he sat back down and watched Dean walk away. He started to wind up the paracord into a loop.

His cousin Gabe showed up about half an hour later and he said, “Kid, what happened to you?”
“I had a wonderful day.”
“You don’t look like it.”
Castiel sighed and closed the car door. “The wonderful day stopped.” Gabe waited for him to belt up, and put the car in gear.
“Well, from your face it’s more like it dropped off a cliff. Did somebody give you a puppy and then take it away again?” Gabe shot Castiel a look.
The response surprised both of them. Castiel began to laugh. He was breathless by the time he finally flailed into silence.
“Yes, but the puppy was a human,” Castiel said, gravely. The contrast was uncanny.
“Someone gave you a guy in a fursuit?” Gabe said, obviously perturbed by the effort of picturing this, while avoiding hitting another car, which had lurched into his lane. The tires squealed and they both pitched forward, and Gabe continued as if he hadn’t even noticed. “In this heat? Damn, that sounds like a job for whoever is running the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Furries these days.”
Castiel was frowning. “He didn’t have a fursuit. He walked up and attached himself to me.”
Gabe stretched his mouth in disgust. “That sounds incredibly creepy.”
Cas frowned even harder. “It was really sweet. He messed up by trying to kiss me, but he stopped when I hit him with my camera so I guess he’s capable of learning I’m not a kissing person.”
Gabe repeated, trying not to emote, “He tried to kiss you.”
Castiel was emphatic. “It was not romantic. It was disgusting and scary. But he stopped and said sorry. Everything else was amazing though, he started reading my mind. He went through my pack, I thought he was going to steal stuff but no, he was just looking at everything and then when I needed something he’d hand it to me. He was also extremely high - on pretty good X - as far as I could tell.” Castiel had spent lots of time at EDM events and there was good X and shitty X and the difference in the vibe was unmistakable.
“How old was he, this is all sounding pretty –” Gabe said.
“My age, can you believe it? You thought he was going to be a twink. An ex-twink for sure, but nope, my age.”
Gabe sighed. “Now what. Why do you have to do this, you already know that there’s nothing missing.” He got louder. “There’s nothing missing out of your pack, you checked when you repacked it before I picked you up! I know you! I know you checked. You probably rechecked.”
“Gabe, I’m telling you, there’s something missing out of my pack. I can tell. I can tell. It’s really subtle but there’s something missing.”
“Castiel, if you make me drive back there, I’ll, aw, goddamnit.”
“I think I figured it out,” Castiel said. “Sorry I screamed.”
“Yeah, I bet you didn’t do that while this man was hanging out with you.”
“I nearly screamed when he tried to kiss me.”
“He doesn’t know how close he came to getting an eardrum punched out, then,” Gabe said.
“Yes,” Castiel said, shuffling through his business cards. “I think hitting him with my camera, but not very hard, was a good compromise. He’s a physical person. He hugged me goodbye. Okay, okay. There’s one missing. He took one of my cards.”
Gabe decided to concentrate on driving. He wanted to counsel Castiel not to expect anything to come of it. The guy, whoever he was, was gay enough to make the first move without realizing Castiel was ace, so odds were the guy wouldn’t want to hang out with Castiel once he learned it. It was cold and mean and not necessarily even true, but those were the odds. But if he said anything about it being a good sign, Castiel would accuse him of trying to couple him up with someone and that was more arguing than Gabe was good for at the moment.

After ten minutes of silence, Castiel said, “Why aren’t you bugging me about this guy? It’s so unlike you.”
“Where did the red rope come from?” Gabe asked. “Did you buy it?”
“No,” Castiel said, “Dean gave it to me. It’s what he tied himself to me with.”
“Sounds like a winner,” Gabe said. “Dean. Sounds manly,” he added, knowing this would irritate Castiel, but he didn’t bite.
“Yeah,” Castiel said. He looked out the window and something inside him died a little along with the hope that Dean would call. He let himself hope, every once in a while, that someone would be special enough to like him, but Gabe was right, Dean wasn’t exactly a good candidate for friendship.

The business line rang two days later, and he answered it without thinking, “Event Photography, Castiel speaking.”
“Hey there,” Dean said.
“Why are you calling?” Cas asked. He had to kill the hope inside him as soon as possible. Dean probably wanted his cord back. He had to make this conversation stop as soon as possible because Dean did not want to be his friend.
Dean audibly gulped. “I wanted to check you got home okay, I mean you were just sitting in the parking lot when we left. I thought maybe we could have given you a ride home.”
“Gabe came and got me, it was all okay,” Castiel said flatly. “Was that all?”
“Uh,” Dean said. “Nope, but you sound like you want to quit talking to me.”
“I don’t, I just want to get it over with.”
“I’m really confused. You don’t want to stop talking to me but you want this phone call to be over?” Dean asked hesitantly.
“I don’t like phones. I do most everything via email,” Castiel said. “Or in person, I don’t mind that. I tried to tell you that I’m not very ordinary so I have communication issues.”
“Would you rather see me in person than talk to me by phone?” Dean asked hopefully.
“I don’t think you can be my friend,” Castiel said bluntly.
“Okay. I’m not your friend,” Dean said right back with equal bluntness.
This did not make things better for Castiel. In the first place bursting out with talk about being friends or not friends is not what someone older than nine does and in the second place Dean’s response made a new problem. “If you’re not my friend, what are you?”
“I am an acquaintance,” Dean supplied smoothly.
“I don’t make friends easily,” Castiel warned.
“Good thing I only want to be your acquaintance, then,” Dean said. “Did you want me to drop by sometime? If I’m just an acquaintance, I guess I can’t just drop by, I have to make an appointment.”
Castiel was startled. “You want to make an appointment?”
“Well, what would I be making an appointment for? Hanging out? Chatting? Tea?”
Castiel wanted specifics. “Um, what does hanging out mean?”
“It means we sit in the same room and talk, and there’s usually snacks.”
“I will allow myself to hear more,” Castiel said. “What kind of snacks?”
“Well, it depends whether you want it to be junk food or something closer to a meal.”
“Like pizza,” Castiel said.
“Definitely like pizza. But I’m sure I could pick up something else. What about beer? Peanuts? Milk Duds?”
“Do you have any rituals around pizza?” Castiel asked.
“Jesus Christ, I never have any idea what you’re going to say next. It’s like being a conversational bull-rider,” Dean said.
“I always get things wrong when I’m around people. You might have pizza-related rituals.”
Dean said, more forcefully than he’d intended, “You took care of me.”
Castiel shrugged, uncaring that he could not be seen. “It was easy. I could tell what was required. Now you’re sober, and it’s two days later, and I have no idea what you’re thinking. You have drifted away from my understanding. I have to re-establish everything.”
“You don’t trust me.”
“Not today, no,” Castiel said.
“Maybe you prefer to talk by text,” Dean said. “I didn’t figure this would be so stressful for you, but this is your business number, right? I don’t know if you have a personal cell phone for texts.”
“Nobody texts me but the lab and my family. And a couple of restaurants. And scam artists. But mostly nobody.”
“At least you have family.”
Cas snorted. “Who hate me and think I’m a weirdo and wish I’d die and leave them all my money.”
There was a pause, and after it went on for an uncomfortable count, Castiel said, “I’m hanging up now,” and Dean said, “Are you rich?”
“Yes,” Castiel said. Lying was worse, it was always worse, and it made things horrible for longer.
“Okay,” Dean said. “You can go ahead and hang up now.”
“I knew I’d be too weird,” Castiel said, strangely satisfied, and he hung up.
He looked at his phone, which buzzed.
“You’re not too weird,” Dean texted.
“You are demented,” Cas texted back.
“Am not. Anyway, text me whenever you like, I won’t bug you.”
“You babbled continuously at the festival,” Castiel texted. “I doubt you’ll restrain yourself.”
Dean didn’t answer.
“Okay, so you restrained yourself.”
“Ha, knew I’d get you. Your turn.”
Castiel put the phone down and walked away from it.
He tried not to think about the answer. “Your turn.” What did that mean? Did he have to reply? No, he did not. ‘Text me whenever you want I won’t bug you’. So it wasn’t his job to figure out whether he should respond to Dean’s text. Did he want to? Did he have anything to say?

He picked up the phone. “I am not in the habit of texting and so I may not answer right away. But it’s better than talking on the phone most of the time because I have time to think before I talk.”
“K.”
It seemed rather brusque but it was an acknowledgment. It was like him. He could hear Dean saying it. That was weird, putting those two things together.
He re-read their conversation, over and over.

The next day he decided to start a conversation.
“Do you like me?”
“LOL,” was the response. “Of course. You stopped me from burning to a crisp.”
“So you only like me because I did something for you.”
“What would you like me to do in return?”
“That’s not the point,” Castiel texted.
“What is your point? Do you want to be liked for how you helped me or because you’re cute?”
“Do not use that word.”
“Cute cute cute cute cute & cute & cute & cute.” Castiel scowled at his screen.
“I am not cute.”
“Cute meter overload,” Dean texted. “But it’s not the most important thing about you. The most important thing about you is that you’re kind.”
“No I’m not.”
“To me.”
“I don’t even know why I did that.”
“You said it was obvious. I needed help and you could give it and that’s what people do.”
“You make me not understand myself,” Castiel typed.
“LOL so me not understanding you – isn’t my fault! thank god.”
“ARE WE FLIRTING.” He put it all in caps to show that he was mad. There was a delay. He began to feel sad.
“Teasing. You said no sex, and sex is on the slippery slope that starts with flirting.”
Holy shit, Castiel thought blankly. He heard me.
He clarified the point. “Consensual sex.”
“Only kind I have.”
“I’m asexual.”
“I’m bi.”
“That’s handy.”
“Not really,” Dean texted. “I won’t bully you about your orientation if you don’t bully me about mine.”
“R u kidding me?”
“You don’t sound like you when you text like that.”
“You should meet Gabe.”
The phone rang, and Dean, very sneakily, continued the conversation. “Wouldn’t I need to make an appointment for that? Are you imitating Gabe?”
Castiel sighed. Dean was going to bend all the rules. It was obvious. He’d known him for hours and he just knew. “Maybe. He’s the cool cousin.”
“Does he rescue drugged-out strangers?”
“No, but he doesn’t need to hit them with cameras either.”
“He’s probably too smart to hit someone with his livelihood,” Dean said with equal snark.
“I know karate, I could have hurt you,” Castiel responded.
“I’m glad you didn’t. So you’re on the phone about it. How do you feel? Do you need to pause and think between comments?”
Castiel paused. “You’re pressuring me.”
“I guess that’s not what acquaintances do.”
“In my experience that’s all that acquaintances do, but I don’t have any friends to compare them to.”
“Why do you suppose that is?”
“Because of the ‘doom loop of snob’,” Castiel said.
“What?”
“I don’t have good communication skills, so if people’s interest survives that they get alienated by me being asexual or my bringing up my education all the time, which I don’t do on purpose.”
“You never mentioned it. So you’re telling me that eventually people get tired of you because you don’t seem interested in them, you miss all their attempts to flirt and you seem entitled and clueless.”
“Sometimes people think I’m being passive aggressive and hostile,” Castiel said. “I keep restating my point because I feel the injustice of their ignorance.”
“Wow. I guess if I want to be upgraded from acquaintance to friend I must learn to look past all that.”
“If you’re quoting Beauty and the Beast to me, I don’t know whether to be appalled or pleased,” Castiel said.
Dean laughed. “Aw shit. I figured for sure you’d miss that. So what other DIsney films do you like?”
“I’m particularly fond of Aladdin and Hercules,” Castiel said. “Although I watch the transformation sequence in Beauty and the Beast when I’m feeling sad. I saw it in the theatre when it came out and I felt like I’d gotten a glimpse of heaven.”
“Are you always like this?”
“Are you enjoying it?”
“Kinda,” Dean said.
“Then, yes,” Castiel said.
“So you lie, I mean, you tell lies.”
“I can lie. I don’t understand where you’d get the idea that I can’t lie, I went to boarding school and if there’s one thing that teaches you to do, it’s lie, non-stop, it’s pure survival.”
Dean hummed. “You in a uniform.”
“If you sexualize me or speak about my school days with anything but respect for my horrific situation, you will be downgraded to warning, Will Robinson,” Castiel said with absolutely no give in his voice.
“I take it that’s below acquaintance, on the Cas scale.”
“It’s above scoundrel, and above psycho, but below Gabe. I mean, if I have to put Gabe on a linear scale, which to my way of thinking is a lot to ask of physics. That man adheres to few laws; I think the only reason he took up fine baking was to prove that he could pay attention that long to something that delicate.”
“That man adheres to few laws,” Dean said, sounding enraptured. “A little like you. How’d you end up so close to your cousin?”
“Ejected by both of our families. I got bounced after I received my inheritance, he got bounced beforehand, but justice prevailed and he got his inheritance before I had to loan him the money for the bakery-expansion-slash-franchising, thank god. It would have more or less cleaned me out, and of course my brother, who hadn’t spoken to me since the last funeral, was on the phone with me 24/7 trying to talk me out of it.”
“Who looks after your money?”
“Apart from this condo I haven’t needed any so I left management with Michael, my brother.”
“Your brother,” Dean said.
“Yeah.”
“He was one of the people who ejected you? or am I not keeping up?”
Cas sighed. “No, he was the one who said I can have my distasteful predilections as long as I get married and have children, to which my response was ‘you must be under the false impression that my asexuality is an inconvenience I can repress at your whim’.”
“I’m not sure ya want an asshole such as that looking after your money. What does Gabe say?”
“He doesn’t ask me questions about that, but now thanks to your noseyness, I’m panicking.”
“What happens when you panic?” Dean asked conversationally.
“I lie down, so I don’t bonk myself when I inevitably fall over.”
“So you’ve got it under control then,” Dean said.
As soon as Dean said that, Castiel was under control. He was not panicking. It was as if Dean’s voice had gone into his ear and stiffened his spine and dropped his diaphragm and most of all, made him feel not alone. He sniffed in surprise, realizing it.
“You okay there?”
“Yeah. Even if Michael stole every bit of my money, my house is paid for and my health insurance is really good and I’m self supporting. My life is under control. I’m talking on the phone with an, an acquaintance –”
“Damn!” Dean said cheerfully.
“ – and I have the kind of lifestyle where being asexual and snuggling up under a blanket with Disney movies isn’t hurting anyone, and I can talk about that with my acquaintance.”
Dean made a small comical noise of protest, to indicate his ongoing objection to ‘acquaintance’. It was adorable. “Do you have any pets?”
“I object to pets for myself on moral, ethical and fitness grounds,” Castiel said. “But, I do not think for two seconds I have the right to make that decision for others, and I eat meat.”
“Oh thank God,” Dean said.
“I order vegetarian pizza,” Castiel warned.
“If it has cheese I’ll live,” Dean said. “My favorite vegetarian is onions, olives, tomatoes, mushrooms and pineapple.”
“That sounds disgusting,” Castiel said.
“Got it by accident, ended up liking it,” Dean said.
“Sort of like you,” Castiel said.
“Are you comparing me to pizza?” Dean asked.
“Yes,” Castiel said.
“We’re definitely going to be friends,” Dean promised.
“I’m withholding judgment,” Castiel said.
And Castiel, who never talked on the phone, hung up an hour later and said, “My ear is sore,” but he didn’t really care.

Dean squirmed and wormed and wiggled and inveigled his way into Castiel’s life. He put off inviting Dean over to his house for weeks. Dean responded by inviting him out instead, always dutch treat, always to events where they’d be sharing something to look at or listen to, not sitting across from a table staring at each other, and in public so Castiel could bail if he felt pressured. Castiel stopped saying no, and started calling Dean his activity buddy to his face, which irritated Dean no end, which made it very funny, so he did it a lot. It couldn’t hide the fact that his mercurial, hilarious and tolerant acquaintance was rapidly becoming the best friend he’d never had.
Castiel very slowly began to relax. He said, many times, “I’m not going to suddenly want to have sex with you. We are never going to date.” And Dean always said, “I know. We’re acquaintances.”
Six months went by. Dean had met Gabe, who grilled him for hours, before turning to Castiel in disgust and saying, “He just might be crazy enough to get along with you,” before Dean and Castiel shared a glance. “Oh Christ, look at you two being all telepathic about what an asshole I am.” Castiel glared. It was true. Sometimes all he had to do was look at Dean and the two of them would know that Castiel was thinking that this solo was going on for too long, or that there was too much pepper in the burger meat. Dean listened.
And he was funny. His imitation of Gabe after the first time they met was excruciating; Castiel was on the floor, flopping around in front of the sofa, laughing himself into tears, by the time Dean was done.
Castiel took Dean on an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City for an International Photography Awards gala and everybody thought Castiel had finally come out as gay, which he was not happy about, and Dean was amazing. He kept saying things like, “Everybody thinks it’s cute when a male hippo and a male turtle are best friends, but if it’s an asexual man and a bisexual man, all hell breaks loose and it’s against the natural order.” And, “Nope, Cas is still asexual, and despite it all we’re still friends,” while glaring at the over-perfumed woman who was fawning on Castiel and asking when the happy day was going to be.

“I didn’t realize how everything for heteronormative people is always about sex,” Dean said. “Am I allowed to start thinking that it’s kinda gross?”
“By all means,” Castiel said drily. “It’s all part of my evil plan to convert you to asexuality.”
“Love ya, man, but it ain’t happenin’,” Dean said.
That night Castiel had a nightmare, which he usually got when he flew. Dean hated flying but at least he didn’t get nightmares afterward. Dean was sitting up staring at him when he turned the light on, panting, and all he said was, “If you to bunk in with me so you can go back to sleep, feel free,” and that was the first time they slept in the same bed. They’d fallen asleep on the sofa more times than they could count, but Dean didn’t take advantage. He got it. Castiel felt safe.

Castiel formally met Sam and Ruby, and then Charlie (whom he adored at first sight) and Bobby (who scared him) and Garth (who said, ‘Huh! Maybe I’m asexual’) and Ellen, who finally cleared up the mystery of why Dean was so irrational on the subject of pie. Dean was serious about being his friend, and it was great to have his other friends dropping in and texting and phoning, and events on the calendar that weren’t work-related.
Dean slept over a lot. There was a toothbrush, and then hair product, and then soap, and then clothes, and then people started teasing them about living together. It didn’t matter; Dean was Dean and it was now impossible to imagine life without him.

After a year, Castiel asked, “Are you dating?”
“What? No.” Dean sounded like he wanted the topic to vanish.
“Are you not dating because of me?”
“Why would you stop me from dating?” Dean asked, confused.
“You spend most of your spare time hanging out with me!” Castiel said. “You have sexual needs, why aren’t you dating?”
“I have two good hands, all the free internet porn I can pollute myself to, and at least two decent suction cup dildoes, why do I need to date?”
“Gross –– and thank you for keeping them at home! For sex, of course.”
“If I really want sex I’ll hire a sex worker,” Dean said. “Or call up an old friend and ask for a favor. I have options.”
“You’re serious!”
“Yes,” Dean said. “I don’t want to date, because I’m not lonely.”
“I’m not lonely anymore, either,” Castiel said.
“See?” Dean said. “People thinking dating will solve the loneliness problem, but I never noticed any truth in that. If you want to not be lonely, you need friends.”

It still bothered Castiel, and he asked Dean about it again. Not wanting to be sexual with him felt like maybe he was letting him down. And Dean laughed. “The last two people I dated told other people that if I wasn’t so attractive they probably wouldn’t be dating me because they didn’t have that much in common with me. At least I know you like me, for me. That’s something I can take to the bank.”
Castiel shook his head a little. “And you’re okay with that.”
“We’re friends. Maybe we finish each other’s sentences and cuddle while rewatching Hercules for the nineteenth time, but sex just isn’t part of the deal, and I’m okay with that. As long as you can deal with occasionally getting accidentally stabbed with my morning wood, and whatever other embarrassing things my dick gets up to when I’m asleep, we’ll be fine.”
“I have wet dreams too, they just aren’t about sex,” Castiel said.
“Amazing,” Dean said.

And things stayed pretty much like that for two years. Castiel’s career was blooming, he was wresting back control of his finances from Michael, who was whining and stalling so much that Castiel had finally contacted lawyers and now things were really moving. He and Dean were talking about moving in together. Castiel had never been happier in his whole life.

Then Dean hit a slick patch travelling home from Castiel’s place, slid off the Ventura Freeway at a high rate of speed and totalled the Impala.
He was touch and go for the first hours. Castiel couldn’t see him, and was forced to call everyone else on Dean’s list. Alone and terrified, he paced up and down the waiting room, making threats and promises to God, crying every once in a while, and then pacing again. Sam finally got there and made sure he could see Dean, but Dean didn’t wake up for two days, and Castiel bribed everyone at the hospital he could think of to make sure he got in to see him.
Castiel was there when he woke up.
“I’m really sorry about the Impala,” Castiel said. The doc had taken the breathing tube out. Dean was so bruised he looked like he’d been mugged, and he was thirsty and didn’t want to talk, so it wasn’t fair that Castiel wanted to make him talk.
“We need to get a registered domestic partnership.”
“Wha?” Dean said faintly.
“Dean, I can’t do this again,” Castiel said.
“Mr. Novak, please, he just woke up!” one of the nurses said, giving him major stink-eye.

Sam heard about it and freaked out. Perhaps he was still thinking Dean was going to get back on the dating/engagement/marriage track in some more conventional way. Maybe he was really pissed off that Castiel’s idea of terrible communication skills included making a civil proposal to Dean after two days of unconsciousness while Dean was still fuzzed-out on painkillers. Maybe he was super-incredibly-pissed that Dean had found his one and only under Sam’s nose, and with zero fanfare, since Dean, once there was no one else in the room, agreed to Castiel’s suggestion with a simple, “Okay.”
Castiel sighed. He grabbed Dean’s unencumbered wrist and squeezed. “Sam’s really mad at me.”
“Do you want to get legally married?” Dean asked. His eyes were almost distended, he was trying to keep them open so hard.
“Not really,” Castiel said. “If it was important to you I would.”
“You would.”
“I’m not supposed to be talking about this while you’re on medication, you can’t consent.”
There was a ghost, a hint, a tiny muscle quirk of a smile. “You think I’d change my mind?”
“I honestly didn’t think it would make any difference whether you were high as a kite or sober as a judge,” Castiel said.
“I’ve loved you since the minute I saw you,” Dean said. His voice was so raspy and quiet Castiel almost didn’t hear him.
“It took me a lot longer to figure it out,” Castiel said apologetically. “How I felt. But you really do love me exactly as I am. You know I wish I could be more to you.”
“You are perfect as you are.”
There was a long silence and Dean looked at Castiel and Castiel looked at Dean the way you do when you really love somebody and your face is relaxed, but you’re solemn, because you’re in hospital and your loved one’s in pain. Dean drifted off again with those eyes saying to him what words never could.

Castiel went home and thought about it. He looked some stuff up online. The condo was so empty he could almost feel himself come unglued from missing Dean. But he had to sleep, and he couldn’t do it with the monitors beeping, it was too hard.

He went back the next day and Gabe - of all people - was visiting Dean. He shot a look at Castiel and pulled him aside, out of earshot from Dean. “He asked me if it was okay if you two got a registered domestic partnership! Has your cheese departed your cracker? Cassie, seriously!”
“Actually, we’re getting married,” Cas said loftily. Gabe gasped; it was sad he missed the chance to get a photo, the way his mouth popped open and his eyes bugged out. “Our lives are too entangled for anything else. I suppose you want me to make him sign a prenuptial agreement?”
“You’re getting married. That’s what people do in our family, sign prenuptials,” Gabe said. The skepticism was obvious.
“I’ll ask Dean what he wants,” Castiel said. “He’s the most reasonable person I ever met, once he calms down about something. You just have to get him through the emotional part.”

 

“I’m really lucky,” Dean said softly. He was smiling.
“Why do you want to marry me?” Castiel said.
Dean looked down. “‘Cause you travel, on business. Unless we’re legally married there’s lots of places that could refuse to let me in, if I – anyway.”
“You’ve been looking at domestic partnerships in California, and–,” Castiel said accusingly.
“Maybe,” Dean said.
Castiel frowned. “You just want an excuse to throw a party.”
The shadow of a smile appeared. “And play dressup! What can I say? I’ll cop to my inner Disney princess, if we can just change the subject. I’m fine with a domestic partnership. It’s okay”
“No,” Castiel said firmly. “It would be better if we got married. But I won’t wear a ring, I hate jewellery.”
“I won’t either,” Dean said. “It can be dangerous for mechanics.”
“Have you been planning this?”
“I’ve been daydreaming about it,” Dean said. “Nothing serious. Are you serious?”
“I won’t dance. I don’t care what other people do,” Castiel said.
“That’s good, ‘cause I intend to dance my ass off,” Dean said, “If I ever get these casts off my shins.”
“What are we going to do if we aren’t going to do rings?” Castiel said. “Or kissing? Or basically anything traditional...”
Now the smirk was armed and fully operational. “I had something else in mind.”

It took Castiel a moment to recover.
“The red cord?”
“Yeah, it’s called handfasting. How do you feel about charcoal gray tuxes?”
“Dean. Are you going to be asking me intensely important questions about things I don’t actually give a shit about for the next year?”
“I warned you. But…. if I get to marry my soulmate when I didn’t think we’d ever even talk about it, I’ll work within your parameters.” Dean sighed, but not very hard.
Castiel had thought about that too, and he’d phoned his sister, who’d been thunderstruck at his call. And then she’d angled for an invite. And ruined it all by saying, “Is he asexual too?” But if she wanted to come, why not?
“Fine. You have sixty thousand dollars as a budget.”
It was worth it, just to see Dean’s face.
“Sixty - sixty thousand dollars?” Dean said, past ‘croggled’ and well into ‘astounded’.
“Well, that’s what Anna’s ten year vow renewal with what’s-his-name cost, I don’t see why I should cheap out on my own wedding, especially now that I know I can afford it,” Castiel said. “And the only reason that happened is because you bugged me about Michael and I got all my money out from under his thumb.”
“I think I’ll be able to work within that budget,” Dean said. He seemed perfectly calm again, or maybe he was just stunned.

Things proceeded well until Dean tried to hire the photographer, which was one of the first things he had to do, according to his wedding checklist. He had a google docs spreadsheet, too, and he’d set up a gift registry. Castiel nearly lost his cheese when he learned of it. “I’m a multimillionaire! A gift registry is an insult to all the working class people you know!”
Dean was working on his chair skills, and popped a wheelie.
“No it isn’t!”
“Explain it to me then.”
“There are five different charities and five different dollar amounts, and the donations are to support things like ace-friendly spaces for teens and young adults, and research into bisexuality.”
“Oh,” Castiel said.
“I’m not an idjit,” Dean said.
“You really aren’t. I’m supposed to trust you, aren’t I?”
“Yeah, so about the photographer,” Dean said cautiously.
Castiel said, “I’ll do the photography.”
There are books about weddings, full of tried and true advice for the harassed groom-to-be. Dean was reading nothing else these days, since he was laid up in hospital for at least another ten days and then six months of rehab and physio. He said, in that very mild, ‘yes, dear’ voice that gave Castiel misgivings, “Lots of things need to happen that day. Can’t we let a professional do it?”
“I’m not paying to have someone else do the photography and videography,” Castiel said, as if what he was saying made sense; as if he didn’t know from horror stories inside his own industry what an incredibly terrible idea this was.
“I, uh,” Dean said, because if there was one thing he knew in this life, it was to believe Castiel when he said things in that tone of voice. “Cas,” he said weakly.
“Did we agree on a venue? I need to see the venue,” Castiel said.
“Oh, Cas, I dunno,” Dean said, rousing. “I think maybe it’s a good idea to have somebody else taking the pictures.”
Castiel changed the subject. “I’ve been thinking about vows.”
At first Dean looked shocked, but he quickly turned sly. “You are getting into this whole thing, admit it.”
“It’s a lot easier to contemplate getting married if I’m going to have a wedding exactly the way I want it, with nobody horning in on it or throwing phony religion on top. Don’t forget to get security; if my family makes a fuss, I’ll gladly pay some large person to whisk ‘em out of there.”
Dean looked nonplussed. “I - is that something you think might happen? Can’t we leave Gabe in the back of the hall to deal with your people?”
“I thought we were having the ceremony outdoors. You know, outside, where we met? And have you been giving any thought to a honeymoon?”
“What? That’s just mean,” Dean said.
“Because of the sexual implication?” Castiel said. “Wouldn’t you like to get away from it all? With me?”
“Well, yeah,” Dean said. His facial expression softened. “I mean, yes.”
“Do you like fishing?”
Dean chuckled. “You know I do, and it’s been years.”
“Well, I like kayaking,” Castiel said. “I know a place where we can combine the two. I haven’t gone camping in ages.”
“You want to go fishing for our honeymoon?” Dean said, blown away. “I didn’t think we’d get married and now we’re planning a honeymoon. It is kind of a holy shit moment.”
“I’m not letting you hire a photographer,” Castiel said.
“Are you going to explain to me how you plan to be in two places at once?” Dean asked, scared, but genuinely curious.
“Drones.”
“What?”
“I’ll program drones,” Castiel said.
“What if the drone eats my updo?” Dean asked. He was just fucking with Castiel, but his reaction made him remember that sometimes Castiel had no capacity to detect humor. This was one of those times.
“You’re going to wear a wig?” Castiel said in horror, and Dean declared a moratorium on talking about the wedding for the rest of the day.

Dean talked to his orthopedic surgeon, who said that if he really wanted to do the Nae Nae at his wedding he should probably give himself a full two years to recover from the accident.
Castiel heard this and said, with exaggerated disgust so Dean would know he was joking, “Two years of this!”
Dean thought to himself that it would probably take two years to find a photographer that could work with Castiel.
“We should elope,” Dean said grimly.
“I think our friends would be disappointed,” Castiel said. “Did I tell you I’ve been thinking about vows?”
“You mention it from time to time.”
“It freaks me out,” Castiel said. “That’s what I think about vows. I think about what I want to say in public about you and it’s about three words.”
“Really?”
“Dis my fren, he smol, he fuzzy,” Castiel said, in his driest, most adult voice.
“Oh,” Dean said. He smiled, but the amusement didn’t last. “Look, we don’t have to do any of this. The more work I do the more I realize that I have a - I have a lot of issues around, you know, things like, mmm, commitment.”
“Not in my experience,” Castiel said.
“I’m also getting sucked into the whole ‘wanting to have a perfect day’ thing, and it’s a real rabbit hole, lemme tell you,” Dean said. “I thought having enough money to cover everything I wanted easily would make everything smooth, but it isn’t happening. People see me - and your money - coming, and by the time the third upgrade is on the table it’s - I don’t know what to say. It ends up being about ribbons and flowers and balloons and not about -” Dean stopped, red-faced.
Cas supplied the words. He often did. “The love we share. The unconventional, not particularly sexual but very affectionate love we share.”
“It’s more than enough for me, it’s not the problem. I just feel pretty strongly that I don’t deserve you,” Dean said.
“Nonsense. Do you not want to do it at all? You know what that means, right? To be stuck in a situation where one of us can be taken from the other and we can’t do anything about it?”
“No,” Dean said, setting his jaw.
“Then you’re having a bad day,” Castiel said. “And tomorrow you’ll have a great idea and want to wake me up out of a sound sleep to tell me why the Pasadena All-Star Clown Band should play the processional at our wedding.”
They looked at each other.
“I would wait until you were awake,” Dean said.
“A likely story.”
“But you’ve got me thinking –”
“Dean. Why are you like this?” He wasn’t publicly affectionate very often, but he dropped a kiss on Dean’s hair, and said, “We’re throwing a party for our friends to signify that we belong together. If that’s your mission statement, it will all be fine. Better than perfect - it will be us.”

Dean had about a crisis a week about the wedding… until he realized that that was all part of the entertainment value. He calmed down. The casts came off. He finished physio and he wasn’t limping, although he desperately needed to get back some muscle tone. He went back to work.

 

And finally, the big day dawned.
Cas had let Dean hire a photographer. He rarely took his eyes from Dean, now that he had nothing to distract him. Dean was so handsome in his tux Cas nearly cried.
At one point Dean told people in the gathering that they should stop sniffing, it was a happy day and you could literally hear Ellen sobbing as soon as he said that.
The vows that they had agonized over went by in a blur.
“You may now embrace your husband.”
They stood for a long while, holding each other, and then, linked at the wrists with the symbol of their bond, they stepped down from the dais and walked into the crowd. Dean yelled, “Group hug!” and instead of being anxious, Cas held Dean’s hand and let himself be buffeted with a world full of friendship and good wishes – and love.