“Dean!” Castiel reached out to touch Dean’s elbow, grabbing a handful of soft, thin plaid. “Instagram is not a good reason to be late for a flight.”
Lowering his phone, Dean shot Castiel a guilty look. “Yeah, right—sorry, Cas,” he said, hurriedly locking the screen and shoving it into his back pocket before grabbing his carry-on duffle and hoisting it to his shoulder. “Let’s get going.”
Castiel smiled fondly. He was used to Dean documenting all kinds of things, from their lunch dates to lectures. It was just a hazard of dating a ‘social media personality,’ he supposed, and it didn’t bother him much. But Dean had been particularly occupied with recording every moment of their day so far.
He’d snapped their grinning faces when they’d parked Baby at the airport, he’d gotten Castiel to pose with his suitcase, he’d even taken shots of the beers they’d shared at the terminal bar and the stamps in their passports (though only to post as a “latergram,” he’d explained, just so that fans couldn’t pinpoint his exact location.) It was adorable, Castiel thought, how excited Dean was to have Castiel here with him, flying out for a two-week-long trip to Cancún.
Of course, they wouldn’t be spending much time actually in Cancún itself. Instead, they were traveling west, out into the jungle for a hundred miles until they reached Kulubá, where a team headed by a contact of Dean’s had begun excavating a vast, thousand-year-old, Maya palace.
A thrill ran up Castiel’s spine at the mere thought. He was going to be out there, really, actually doing it, being in history, not just analyzing and theorizing and writing. He could do this. Dean had convinced him, over and over, during the entire academic year while they waited, hand in hand, for the summer to roll around, that he could do this. That he was allowed. That he deserved to.
Of course, Gabriel and Balthazar both thought that he was utterly crazy. But once they’d been convinced that this kind of adventure was what he wanted, instead of the wild weekends that they considered to be thrilling, they were really quite supportive.
And they both had all of his contact details and a full itinerary. Just in case. No matter how much he tried to let them handle their own mistakes these days, there was still that one night a couple of months back when Castiel had spent hours negotiating with and sweet talking a furious bar owner into not pressing indecency charges against Gabriel for spontaneously turning his business into an unregulated strip club.
But he was trying to let his brothers clean up their own messes, at least mostly . It was time.
“Now boarding,” the eerily robotic lady overhead announced, “Frontier flight 3927 to Canc ú n. Boarding all remaining passengers…”
“See, just on time,” Dean said as they slipped through the barrier, throwing a wink Castiel’s way.
That wink got Dean out of far too much, not that Castiel particularly minded.
The direct flight to Cancún was just over three and a half hours, and Dean spent the entirety of it asleep on Castiel’s shoulder. Castiel thought that it was pretty funny that Dean was so aerophobic that his doctor prescribed medicine to knock him out every time he flew, given how much of his life he must’ve spent on airplanes. Because he was a good boyfriend, he didn’t tease him, though. He just let Dean drool a wet patch on his shoulder. And maybe took a photo or two. Which possibly, maybe, somehow got sent to Sam, who was already in Cancún with his botanist wife, awaiting Dean and Castiel’s arrival.
Officially, Sam didn’t work with Dean any more; he’d started his own photography business when he returned to Kansas, but he quickly got bored of weddings and senior portraits. Last month, he’d surprised Dean by telling him that he’d got a 176 on his LSAT and had been accepted into Stanford Law for the fall term.
Dean was incredibly proud and more than a little excited that, at least during school vacations, he could have his cameraman back.
By the time they stumbled off the plane and into Sam’s rental Jeep, Castiel was exhausted (and his shoulder was stiff as hell). Dean, though, was bright eyed and bushy tailed, and Castiel wanted to strangle him.
“It was a great flight,” Dean was telling Sam in the front seat, “no problems at all.”
“Maybe for you,” Castiel grumbled, tugging his backpack across the back seat so that he could retrieve his water bottle.
In the driver’s seat, Sam snorted. “I guess that’s true, you did look pretty serene…”
“I wha—” Dean cut off sharply, looking back over his shoulder at Castiel and narrowing his eyes.
Castiel smiled innocently as he uncapped his water.
“Cas,” Dean said, the corner of his lip quirking even as he tried to sound pissy. “Show me.”
“I don’t know what you mean, dear.” Castiel was calm. Innocent. Angelic.
“You little shit, show me,” Dean said, laughing.
One hand on the wheel, Sam quickly held up his phone. The lock screen featured a beautiful zoom-in of Dean’s open mouth, hanging slack above the shoulder seam of Castiel’s t-shirt. “Beautiful photography,” Sam said, “I should’ve recruited Cas for my side of the camera instead.”
“Oh, it is on, ” Dean threatened good-naturedly.
And it was. A barely voiced but fierce contest began, to see who could get the most embarrassing, funny, or perfect shot of the trip.
Sam was in the lead for a good while when he managed to snap a picture of Dean tripping over the guy line of the tent where the finds were being logged, both arms in the air as he flailed toward the muddy floor, mouth open in a comical yell. Sam’s wife Eileen then emerged as a surprising front runner by stealing her own husband’s clothes when he went for a dip in the nearby waterfall. She titled the resulting photograph “Full Moons in the Yucatan Jungle”; it could have been a fancy art piece, if it wasn’t for Sam’s middle finger obscuring one cheek.
Dean, Castiel had a feeling, was just biding his time. Eileen’s little trick was inspiring, though, and Castiel kept it in mind for the perfect moment. Early one evening, a week or so into the trip, Castiel couldn’t help himself.
“Cas, come on!” Dean called, laughing, from where he stood on a rock beneath the waterfall. “You know I’ll walk through camp like this, I don’t care.”
It was tempting; Dean was, quite literally, Castiel’s sexiest dreams come to life as he stood on the slippery stones, water cascading around his freckled shoulders, with nothing but his trusty brown fedora positioned carefully to maintain his dignity.
Castiel grinned, snapping a quick shot on his phone before he balled up a towel and threw it overhand from the bank.
He’d keep that picture for himself.
By the cocky grin on his face, Dean was well aware that he would.
The long, dusty days at the camp were tiring but rewarding, and the antics of the crew were refreshing after spending hours in the same position, squinting at an inscription and stroking at it with a soft brush, only to realize that the symbol you’d been excited about was just a pellet of aguti dung.
When the light became too wan for fresh discovery, as the startlingly bright stars in the sky overhead began to peek around the leaves of the giant Ceiba trees, Dean would take Castiel’s hand and tug him over to one of the small, stone-lined campfires kept going by the handful of folk who stayed at the camp overnight to protect their finds from looters. Dean and Castiel always stayed; Sam and Eileen returned to the more luxurious, off-site campground. As the nights fell, Dean and Castiel would lean into each other and eat the fresh passion fruits that fell around the camp in bushels, and recount stories learned over their years of study.
Dean told Castiel that the Maya believed the trees around them were what held up the heavens, and then Castiel took over, whispering about how they also believed the Ceibal’s deep roots were the means of communication between the world of the living and the Underworld.
Then they’d fall silent and watch the flames, kisses fruit-sweet and sticky, before crawling back to their tiny tent, exhausted but happy.
Castiel loved it, all of it. He loved the camp, the company, the detail work and the digging, all in equal measure. And Dean: he loved him more than anything.
Sam’s rented Jeep rattled into camp early on their final day at the site. Dean was waiting for him, a buzz of anticipation and adventure in his bones.
“Everything set?” Sam asked as he ducked out of the driver’s seat, jumping down to the ground with a muddy squelch.
Eileen waved across the hood of the Jeep, winking at Dean and signing, “Good luck!” before she headed off into the jungle to join her own team, who were cataloging...something. It was something to do with the trees and probably the reason she came back to camp with armloads of strangler fig samples every day. Dean paid attention to plants. Sure.
After waving to Eileen with a grin, Dean turned his attention back to Sam. “Yup, all ready to go. Benny woke up early to help me out, so we’re all set.”
“That’s great,” Sam said, pulling his heavy camera bag from the backseat. He settled it carefully on his shoulder, cautious of the incredibly expensive Nikon camera that was nestled in foam within.
Dean leaned past him, reaching into the Jeep to grab Sam’s tripod. It was tall and surprisingly weighty, a heavy-duty piece that let him adjust all of the legs individually, something that was essential for getting a steady shot on the uneven jungle floor or at the edge of a trench or ruin. Dean hefted it up onto his shoulder and nodded for Sam to follow him.
“Where’s Cas?” Sam asked as he picked his way through the ruins behind Dean.
“Benny’s getting him set up for the day,” Dean said, feeling strangely proud. Benny was an old friend from grad school that he’d worked with a few times over the years. He’d always kept Dean up to date with the sites that he was overseeing, and it was him that had reached out to let Dean know about the palace they were currently working on, long before its discovery became public.
Benny and Castiel had some opposing views on certain things, which certainly made for interestingly passionate conversation around the campfire at night. Regardless, it made Dean’s heart swell in his chest to see Castiel here, proving his points, giving Benny as good as he got.
Dean was ridiculously proud of Castiel, and ridiculously in love with him.
“I’m going to get the tripod set up with the Nikon, then I’ll take my smaller camera and get some handheld shots of the courtyard side of the building,” Sam was saying, his thoughts clearly in a very different place than Dean’s.
“Sounds good to me,” Dean said as they walked away from the Jeep and up into the slowly emerging, ruined floors of the palace.
Dean reached up with the back of his hand to wipe the sweat from his brow. It was always hot and muggy this deep in the jungle, but it was even more so as June pushed on. The team of archaeologists pushed with it, working as fast as they could to reveal the palace’s secrets before the rainy season began.
Luckily, the general heat disguised any other reasons—like nerves or apprehension—that Dean might have for being a bit sweaty.
The scents of warm earth, sweet blooms, and fresh, tangy jungle air filled Dean’s lungs, soothing and familiar. Sites like this were a second home for him, and his confidence was bolstered by the sounds of chink -ing tools and swish -ing brushes harmonizing with the low hubbub of voices from the scattered archaeologists that hustled about.
Castiel was on his knees with a trowel in hand, Benny at his side. Benny was pointing at something several layers down, their discussion too low to be heard above the sounds of digging, but Castiel raised a hand in a cheery wave. Smiling back, Dean threw him a wink before he turned his attention back to Sam.
“Here should be good, I think...hey, stand next to Cas will you, so I can get this framed right?” Sam said as he reached to take the tripod from Dean.
Obediently, Dean moved over to stand next to Castiel, crunching over the sandy ground. “How’s it going?” he asked, peering sideways at their work.
“Benny says well,” Castiel said, reaching to push a dusty hand back through his hair. “About ready to move on to the next grid section.”
“Perfect,” Dean said, smiling to himself.
“Dean!” Sam nagged. “Pay attention. Look to the left…”
Sam took a few minutes to get the camera set up and focused correctly, then disappeared off with a wave. “Good luck,” he called. “I’ll be back in about thirty minutes; the battery should hold out until then.”
Castiel waved back affably with his trowel.
To Dean’s delight and surprise, Castiel didn’t mind being on camera at all. He certainly would never have included Cas in any of his videos if he’d minded, but he had shrugged it off and seemed at peace with it, accepting it as a part of Dean’s life—of their life—without complaint, even if he was a little awkward in front of the lens on occasion.
Dean’s viewers, though, loved him. Probably (as Castiel pointed out regularly) because they loved Dean, but still. It was heartwarming, how he’d been welcomed into Dean’s strange, extended internet family.
They’d seen more than one ‘shippy’ fanart piece, out there in the depths of the internet, though they drew the line at reading the fanfictions for their own sanity.
Benny straightened up and walked over to Dean, slapping his shoulder firmly. “Don’t forget to do some digging in between cheesin’ at the camera, Chief.”
Dean rolled his eyes, but gave Benny’s back a slap in turn. “Got it. Thanks for letting me film.”
“Always have done, always will. Your videos have done more for funding in this region than any carefully written grant application I could make.”
“Damn straight,” Dean agreed with a wink. “Now, don’t you have trowels to organize, or something?”
“Don’t sass me, cher,” Benny retorted with a twinkle. “It’s my turn to cook dinner.”
Down near Dean’s knees, Castiel muttered something that was probably a critique of Benny’s excellent campfire cooking skills, and Benny walked away chuckling.
Crouching beside Castiel, Dean quickly assessed what had been done and where they were at. “Looking good,” he said, leaning across to press his lips to Castiel’s sweaty temple affectionately.
“Me or the palace?” Castiel asked with a smirk, his eyes fixed on the pale, gritty dirt under his trowel.
Dean snorted, shoving Castiel gently. “The answer is both and you know it.”
They worked side by side, gently dragging their tools at right angles over the dirt, sifting off layer after layer of compact jungle substrate. The site was divided up into squares, so that finds could be labeled and the palace mapped out and recorded accurately. They’d worked patiently through grid after grid over the past two weeks, and were now pushing to get the last of this room—a residential room, they believed—cleared before they had to catch their flight that night.
After a few minutes Dean nonchalantly said, “Looks like there’s a break in the wall here. Want to move over to the next grid?”
Castiel looked up, pushing his hair back from his forehead again as he nodded. He left a pale, muddy smudge above his eyebrow, which Dean couldn’t resist leaning across to smooth away.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Dean murmured, feeling sappy, warm, and more than a little melancholy that it was their last day on-site.
“We can come back,” Castiel said, smiling gently. “Or go somewhere else, of course. Next time we take a break from work.”
And they could , and that was awesome. It hadn’t been the driving force behind Dean’s comment, but Castiel didn’t know that. Or at least, Dean hoped he didn’t.
Castiel got up and moved to Dean’s other side, beginning to trowel away the top layer of dirt into a bucket near Dean’s feet. “Something’s disturbed the ground here,” he said mildly, dropping another trowel full of sand and roots down.
“Probably just aguti digging,” Dean said, keeping his eyes trained on his own tools. “Nasty little ratty bastards.”
“I think they’re cute.”
When Castiel had moved into Dean’s apartment after Christmas, there had been a discussion about rodents, and whether Castiel could or could not adopt guinea pigs.
Dean was fully against the idea of willingly inviting rodents to live with them.
So, of course, he was now a guinea pig dad.
And Castiel thought that Dean was the one always getting his way. Hopefully Meg was treating little Jack and Claire well for the summer and remembering to check that their carrots were fresh, not bendy.
“There’s something here,” Castiel said a moment later, putting his trowel aside and pulling a soft-bristled hand brush from his back pocket.
Dean sucked in a deep breath and smiled. “Oh, really?”
“Yes,” Castiel said distractedly, flicking away at the sandy soil with tiny, swift motions. “I think...it looks like…”
Putting down his own trowel, Dean straightened up and stepped toward Castiel.
“I think it’s a ring,” Castiel said, sounding a little puzzled.
Dean bit the inside of his cheek.
“Let me see,” Dean said, holding out his palm calmly.
Castiel stood, turning to Dean and passing him the heavy silver band, clumps of dirt sticking to the metal. Dean turned it over just once in his hand, smiling to himself, before he reached down and picked up Castiel’s water bottle from where it sat near the bucket he’d been filling with dirt. Staying hydrated in the jungle was important.
Flicking open the cap, Dean took only a second to pour water over his hand and rinse off the ring.
It was shining and new beneath the dirt, having been placed in the earth only a couple of hours before. God bless Benny.
Castiel watched carefully, curious crinkles framing his eyes, as Dean turned back to him.
Dean dropped down to one knee silently, the ring perched on his damp palm. He saw the moment when Castiel got it.
The second where his lips parted, a tiny puff of disbelieving air escaping. When his eyebrows rose and his pupils widened a fraction, his hands clutching uselessly in the air at his sides. He moistened his lips, but it didn’t stop his voice from cracking when he finally spoke.
Dean sucked in a deep breath, rearranging the ring so that he held it between his forefinger and thumb, then looking up from it to Castiel. “You finally came out from behind your desk for an adventure,” Dean began.
His voice was shaking, but he pushed on.
“And I am so proud of you for that, Cas. So proud that you stepped forward and did what you wanted to do, and so happy that you chose to do it with me.” Dean paused to suck in another breath. He didn’t hide it; it was fine if Castiel knew that he was nervous, it wasn’t like he could’ve concealed it even if he’d tried. “Because of you, I started to believe that people can see me as more than a face on a screen. Because you do, and you always did, even when that was all I was to you.”
Castiel swallowed harshly, his Adam’s apple bobbing as Dean looked up at him. “Dean,” he croaked again, one hand rising to press to his mouth. “What are you doing?”
“So…” Dean looked around as he trailed off, taking in the vibrant leaves of the jungle canopy that spread overhead and the sprawling ruins of the ancient palace. Then he settled his gaze back on Castiel more firmly, smiling and squaring his shoulders. “This seemed to be the perfect place to ask you if you wanted to go on an even bigger adventure with me.”
Castiel let out a shaky, sobbing noise from behind his hand. “Dean,” he said again, apparently reduced to one-word sentences.
Dean reached out to grab Castiel’s other hand, the one that hung limp and shocked next to his hip. He squeezed his fingers, rubbing his thumb across Castiel’s knuckles.
For a moment everything seemed silent, the white-fronted parrots and the red-eyed frogs in the trees going quiet as the whole Yucatan jungle seemed to pause, leaning in to listen.
“Castiel Novak,” Dean said, trying to sound formal even through the gigantic, beatific smile that he couldn’t stop, “will you marry me?”
Before the question was fully out of his mouth, Dean had an armful of Castiel. Gripping the ring firmly in his hand, he pulled him in close, laughing and grinning as Castiel communicated his agreement via a rough, choking noise and a series of tight, frantic nods.
“Is that a yes?” Dean checked cheekily, pulling back just enough to speak.
“Of course it’s a yes!”
After another bone-crushing hug, Castiel pulled back enough that Dean managed to slip the ring onto his finger. It looked perfect against his dusty, tanned skin, just as Dean had imagined it would. Dean buried the wave of emotion that overtook him in the crook of Castiel’s neck, wrapping his arms tight around Cas as he came forward to melt into Dean once more, trembling gently.
“Are you crying?” Dean whispered into Castiel’s ear, grinning.
“No,” Castiel muttered sulkily, pausing for just a moment before he added, “Maybe a little.”
Dean rubbed small circles over Castiel’s shoulder blade for a minute while he pulled himself together. When he finally pulled back, eyes shining, Castiel was wearing a blinding, gummy smile that Dean was immediately certain he would never forget.
“I love you,” Castiel rumbled happily, pressing his forehead into Deans. “Thank you, for...well, for asking, I guess.”
Dean laughed, pressing a kiss to the tip of Castiel’s nose before he said, “Thanks for saying yes.”
“As if I was going to give any other answer.”
“I hoped, but I figured there was always a chance I was wrong,” Dean confessed, grinning wide. Turning his head, he pointed to the tripod set up a few feet away. “Oh, and don’t worry about the camera. If you don’t want me to post it, I won’t. It can be just for us, if that’s what you prefer, okay?”
Castiel turned to face the camera, blinking slowly as if he’d only just remembered that it was there. He looked thoughtful for a moment before smiling back at Dean. “Given how we met, it seems only fitting that our engagement is on film. I don’t mind.”
“You’re sure?” Dean checked. Of course, he wanted to post it. He’d shared almost a decade of his life with YouTube by now, it would feel odd not to share the most important thing he’d ever done. But it wasn’t just up to him.
Castiel nodded immediately. “I’m sure. If Sam can edit out my blubbering, though, that would be a kindness.”
Dean laughed, then pulled Castiel in for a deep, lingering kiss. He winked as he turned them both to the camera and said, “Well in that case, then...thank you to all of my viewers for being so supportive of the changes in my life this past year, and for accepting Cas and seeing how special he is.”
Castiel gave a dorky little wave at the camera, his ring in full view, making Dean’s heart give an erratic little thump.
“So,” Dean continued, unable to contain his grin as he pulled Castiel into his side, “from me and my handsome, adventurous fiancé...thank you so much for watching, and don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe for more of our wedding adventure!”