Dean’s scalp was burning.
This wasn’t anything new on its own. Over the years, his head had been punched, shot at, smashed in, stabbed, scraped, hurled into a wall, and, on one memorable occasion, knocked together with Sammy’s by a particularly smug playground bully in Kalamazoo. Alistair had done some pretty fucked-up things to his hair follicles that weren’t exactly in the WWE rulebook. But this time the top of his head was aching not thanks to the eternal flames of Hell, but a cardboard box that sat perched innocently on the kitchen sink.
Dean glared at the box of L’Oreal Feria 1-Step Lightening System for Men. “Feria makes bold blonding incredibly easy,” the big print had boasted. Easy, my ass. He was going through trial by fire for some dumbass drugstore chemical. Maybe those drag queen queers on TV had it worse than he thought.
The alarm he’d set on his watch went off. Thirty minutes were up. Time to wash it off, Winchester. Nothing to it.
He bent over the sink, sloughed water through his hair, and turned back up to the mirror.
His hair was a fucking disaster. Some sections were bleached pretty even, sure, but there was a whole splotch of untouched dark brown on the right side, and another on the nape of his neck when he turned. Little bits of half-dyed hair were flecked through like the world’s ugliest salt-and-pepper. He looked like a freaking dairy cow.
Stupid. “Stupid idea,” he muttered through gritted teeth, sweeping the box and the half-used bottle into the trash. He could feel something uncomfortable welling up behind his eyes, and all of him was straining to smash his fist into the bathroom mirror, tear apart something solid that opened easy under his too-soft hands. But Cas had brought the bathroom cabinet home from the antique store last week, had been so proud of the way pale red cedar wood matched the wallpaper. (Or so he said. Dean didn’t know about stuff like that.) So he didn’t tear it to pieces, which meant he was getting dangerously close to crying, which meant—
“Dean?” Cas called from the hallway, just as the front door slammed closed. “I’m home.”
Dean had taught him the “Honey, I’m home!” sitcom catchphrase, chuckling a little the first time he used it, but Cas had refused to pick it up. “Honey is your nickname for me,” he said, fiercely earnest. “While for me, your own name is the most romantic thing I could think to call you,” and he had gone to fetch a watering can, and Dean was left tongue-tied, blinking, a little bowled over, as he often was, that Cas loved him this hard and this fierce and untempered, asking so little in return.
Right now, though, he wasn’t delighted to hear it. Fuck. “‘M in the bathroom,” he half-called, hoping Cas’ footsteps wouldn’t approach. They did. “Busy.”
Cas sighed. “Alright, but will you come out when you’re done? I want to make sure I have the right kind of peppers for tonight.”
He grunted vaguely.
He could always hide in the bathroom forever. God knows he’d done it before, skulking around the bunker for days after a particularly snippy fight, or after Cas did something that scared the hell out of him in ways he couldn’t quite name. Timing meals so they didn’t align with Cas’ haphazard pacing schedule, ducking around Sam’s questions.
But that was when they were living in a glorified dungeon owned by rich dead douchebags, and Cas was an occasional, awkward houseguest. Things were a little different now. He didn’t know much about marriage, but he figured it was pretty bad form to avoid your loving husband and kid for days on end in your marital home.
He took a deep breath, carefully avoiding his own eyes in the mirror, and opened the bathroom door.
Cas’ eyebrows shot right up into his hairline. “You—” He seemed to stumble on his own words, struggling to control the laughter on his face. “You dyed it.”
And that was it. He dropped his eyes to the floor and the waterworks were fucking flowing, like some kindergarten girl who’d dropped her ice cream cone. He felt his face start to burn right alongside his scalp, fat fucking tears spilling down his cheeks — single man tear, my ass — and the whole thing was so stupid, so fucking gay, so comically grade school that he wanted nothing more than to grab his gun from the garage and pull some tragic murder-suicide right then and there, not have to deal with his ugly hair or Cas’ mocking half-smile ever again.
“Hey,” Cas said, suddenly low and serious, all laughter gone from his voice. Dean felt his hand on his shoulder. “Hey. It’s alright, Dean, we can fix this —”
“Fuck off,” Dean snarled, and a sick part of him liked how ugly it sounded coming from his mouth.
He’d hoped Cas would turn tail and book it from the bathroom. “You don’t mean that,” he said instead, quiet, insistent, and it broke something inside him. It was a good, tender pain, like pressing down on a tooth crowning through a swelling gum.
“No,” he admitted. “I don’t.”
There was a brief silence. Cas’ hand didn’t move.
“Do you have any left in the bottle?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Dean said, still not meeting his eyes, feeling like a dumb, scolded, kid. “But I threw it in the trash.”
“I think we can salvage it.”
Dean watched as Cas rescued a stool from the kitchen, sat it in front of the mirror, picked the bottle of bleach out from the otherwise-empty trashcan. Cas stood behind him, put two hands on his shoulder, and guided him to the stool. He snapped his eyes shut right away. No clocking himself in the mirror, thank you. He thought, idly, of a hundred different motel mirrors scattered over America, and the two hundred times he’d met Cas’ eyes in them, sometimes shying away like a scared horse, sometimes holding his gaze for those two steady seconds longer than necessary. He thought, Now I can stare at him for as long as I want, whenever I want.
Except on days like these, when his dumb ass tripped over his own impulsivity. He still wasn’t sure why he had done it, yanked the box of dye off the general store shelf and buried it under his basket of home decoration magazines (for Cas) and foil-wrapped Easter eggs (for Jack) and a dark green flannel (for Claire, and he figured she would probably mail it back without a note, but, hell, there was no harm in trying.)
He wasn’t sure why he had done it. His hair had been the same since he was eleven, a tight almost-buzz on the sides, a little longer on the top. Brown, unassuming, military-issue. Never long enough to fall in his eyes, not like whatever Sam had going on on that head of his. His face had been changed by thirty-something years of slicing and dicing, aging out of those delicate features. If he dropped dead now on the bathroom floor, the coroner wouldn’t call him pretty. But his hair stayed Ken-Doll-identical all the way through.
So maybe he wanted to do something a little different. It had been a big couple years for different: putting a down payment on the house, making homemade tortillas for the first time, fucking dudes without shame — fucking Cas. Getting a paycheck. Cutting the crusts off Jack’s little sandwiches. The small stuff.
He felt Cas’ fingers in the bristles of his hair, massaging bleach into his scalp. And oh, if that wasn’t just what the doctor ordered. Fourteen years and he still buzzed like a fluorescent light under his touch. “Lean back.”
He dropped his head back to rest on Cas’ stomach, and after a second, opened his eyes. Cas was staring down at him with his stupid, endearing crinkles at the corners of his eyes.
“Hi,” he smiled.
“Hi,” Dean said blearily, and just like that, the last bit of tension in his shoulders melted away.
Cas rubbed bleach into the last spots on his forehead with one hand, cradling the back of his head with another. Dean didn’t think he would ever get over how reverently he held him. He was a blotchy, embarrassing mess and the guy had him in his hands like he was the bones of some lesser saint.
“I tried to do this, once,” Cas said.
Hypocrisy and all, he couldn’t help but chuckle. “You? With blond hair?”
His face flashed with annoyance, but it was more bitchy irritation than actual anger. “Yes, me. It was after I—” He faltered. “After I stole the angel tablet. In my haste to escape the angels, I thought, briefly, about disguising my physical identity. As it turns out, this vessel was not meant to be Extreme Platinum. I dyed it back almost immediately.” He paused. “I think the quantum physics was a more effective escape route, anyway.”
Dean let out a low whistle. “Wow. My Cas, a beach blonde babe. Who’d have thought.”
“Yes, well. Claire calls it going ‘Crisis blond,’” he said, and he didn’t drop his hands to do the air quotes but Dean could hear them in his voice anyway. “Apparently it’s not uncommon among the LGBTQ community, especially gay men of a certain age.”
“That explains all the blond drag queens. Am I in crisis, then?”
“Oh, clearly. But I think you’ll look good.”
“You’re biased,” he argued.
“Mmm.” He bent down, dropped a kiss to Dean’s temple. “I have to go pick Jack up from school. Will you be alright here?”
“So long as you didn’t mess me up even worse.” He pulled his head up with a reluctant groan.
Jack had given up on the God thing pretty soon after Dean got Cas back from the Empty. “I think— maybe— I wanna be a kid for a bit?” he offered nervously, like it was something they could say no to. The look in his eyes had twisted him up inside a little, especially since Dean knew he had put half that crap there in the first place.
Jack had decided on seven to start — not quite his real age, but definitely not the one he was born looking. “I want to stay remembering some things,” he explained, and Dean couldn’t imagine wanting that, but he wasn’t gonna argue. They had enrolled him the next year at the local elementary school. It was weird, at first, having this bubbly kid around with so many of Cas’ mannerisms, so totally not the Jack Dean knew. This kid who sometimes blurted out things like “I was God last summer!” or shook violently with nightmares till he had to crawl into Dean and Cas’ bed between the two of them, kicking their shins to a pulp in the night. But Cas loved him just the same — totally spoiled the kid, sometimes, in Dean’s opinion — and so he learned to too.
He checked himself out in the mirror after washing his hair for the second time. Okay. Okay, yeah. That looked alright. More than alright. His hair caught the hazy bathroom light, and his face was brighter, kinda, and it was weird, but not any weirder than, well. Anything else he’d ever done. And he looked good.
“I did that for Sam, once, yknow,” Dean said as they washed up the dishes that night. They had a dishwasher, but Dean liked doing them by hand, rubbing a clean rag over Cas’ plates patterned with breathy purple flowers — wisteria, he said — and watching them sparkle.
“Helped him dye his hair. He was fourteen, and he was so into these emo bands. Like Blink-182, all that crap. So he stole a box of black hair dye from the drugstore and asked me to help him do it.”
“And you did.”
“‘Course. Got stains all over the sink. Dad was furious.” He chuckled, then stopped. It hadn’t ended up a happy memory.
He became very interested in completely drying the bottom of the bowl. “Uh, at Sam mostly,” he mumbled. “I didn’t tell him I helped. ‘Course, Sam didn’t rat me out. I let Dad scream at him and didn’t say a word.”
“You were a child, Dean.”
“I was eighteen,” he said firmly. “But yeah... it. Well. I’ve given him a lot of crap.”
Cas didn’t try to fix that statement, just nodded, reached out to idly trail his fingers down the side of his arm, and Dean suddenly wanted him so much closer than he was.
He slid his hands over Cas’ waist, just under his ribs, pulled him tight. The second their lips touched, his brain dissolved to nothing in the warm, sudsy water currently sloshing around in his skull. He was a goner as Cas slipped into his mouth, slow and lazy and no less eager for it, and Cas’ hand snuck into his back pocket — not grabbing his ass, not yet, anyway, just looking for another way to press him close.
“What was that for?” Cas murmured against his mouth, smiling as they broke apart.
“Just. Y’know. Everything.”
Later he would have more to say, maybe. About fathers or brothers or hydrogen peroxide or the songs he was too nervous to listen to except when Sam handed him the headphones. For now, it was enough to finish drying the dishes, and listen to the annoying little tune Cas was humming that he kept forgetting the name of, and kiss him silly against the sink, and get soap bubbles in his hair. It was more than enough.
He called Sam that night, the Facetime thing. He picked up on the second ring.
“Hey— woah!” His eyes bugged. “Wow. That’s, uh… different.”
He tried to ignore the nervousness he felt at that. “Alright, spit it out. You hate it.”
“No! No, it looks really good, actually, it’s just… Different. Really different. What made you make the change?”
“Well, I was worried Cas might leave me for some hot blonde chick, so I figured I’d become one.”
“You’re incorrigible,” said Sam.
“Ooo, big word, Stanford.” Their bickering had gotten easier, lighter since Sam moved out. The way Dean saw it, he basically had two huge bitches in his life — his brother and his husband. “How’s Eileen?”
“She’s good. She’s sleeping. Man, I can’t believe after all these years of you making fun of me for my hair —”
“Which is ridiculous, by the way,” Dean broke in.
“— I get to return the favour.” He grinned wickedly. “I’m gonna write down a list.”
“Alright, easy there.” He rubbed at the back of his neck. “Y’know, uh. I’m sorry. If I ever made you feel —”
“Dude,” Sam laughed. “It’s fine. It’s forgotten. It’s what brothers do.”
And maybe he was too quick to answer that, and maybe there was a lot between them they still wouldn’t say. But there was a whole lot in what they had just told each other, and when Sam twirled his hair around one finger and signed for Eileen to come over and say hi, it didn’t feel like they were holding back. Well, not by Winchester standards, anyway.