Castiel remembers the exact day he decided he was going to marry Sam Winchester.
They were seven years old and starting their first day of second grade. At recess, Rebecca Framer asked Sam if he wanted to be her boyfriend. Sam's answer was a flash of confusion in his light hazel eyes and the declaration that he'd rather hang out with Castiel than her. Of all the people in the world, Sam had chosen Castiel for his best friend, made Castiel feel special when he so often felt lost in a large family and a world that didn't quite understand his odd nature. Warmth shot through Castiel's chest and he decided right then and there that he wanted Sam's attention all to himself for as long as he lived. The best way to accomplish that goal would be to marry Sam. After all, Castiel's parents were married and they spent every single day and night together.
Rebecca had walked away disgusted that day, but Castiel had glued himself to Sam's side and that's where he's been for the past nine years. Faithful best friend and one half of the duo known affectionately as 'Sam-n-Castiel' by friends and family. Wherever one went, the other followed. Though truth be told, it is usually Castiel doing the following. Not because he doesn't have thoughts and opinions of his own, but rather because he is typically placid and reserved, only rarely stirred to a kind of deep stubborn anger that alarms even Sam. For the most part, he's perfectly happy to go along with whatever plan Sam's developed.
Which is why he is letting himself into the Winchester's front door on a Friday afternoon a few hours after school. The only thing Sam had said over the phone was that he needed Castiel's help. A plea Castiel can never refuse and so he quietly slips into the Winchester's front hall.
The first person to spot Castiel is Sam's older brother, Dean.
"Hey, pipsqueak," Dean says, smirking at him over the top of his comic book.
Castiel sighs soundlessly. He'd hoped that once Dean moved out of the Winchester's house and into his own apartment across town that Castiel would be seeing less of him. But he should have known better than to underestimate the strong connection shared between all four Winchesters. That and Dean's utter inability to cook for himself. It seems Dean hangs around his parents' house more since he got his position at Singer's Autoshop than he did before. Given that Dean is pretty much the only person capable of rousing him to that rare powerful anger, Castiel wishes this weren't the case.
"Don't call me that," Castiel admonishes him. "I'm not that little anymore."
Dean's eyes sweep over Castiel's body and yes, he did have a growth spurt over the last year, but it can't hide the fact that he's still a short skinny sixteen year old.
"Uh huh," Dean snorts. "I take it you're the cavalry?"
Castiel frowns. He's surprised that Dean's aware of whatever gripped Sam's voice with excitement as he whispered into the phone at Castiel earlier. Not that Sam doesn't tell his brother things. In fact, Castiel's fairly certain the only stuff Sam doesn't tell Dean are things Castiel asks him to keep secret from everyone. Besides Castiel, Dean is Sam's best friend. Or perhaps it should be said, besides Dean, Castiel is Sam's best friend. Their shared claim on Sam is a source of friction between the two boys. There are times when Dean looks at Castiel with a strange dark emotion Castiel believes is resentment tinged with jealousy.
Having a best friend who worships his annoying older brother is trying at times.
But the point is, although Sam tells Dean many things, his effort to stay quiet and his specific request for him led Castiel to believe they were alone in whatever venture Sam has planned.
"What do you mean?" he asks.
Dean tosses the comic aside and stands, stretching his long torso until the edge of his dark green tee drags up to reveal several inches of lean tanned stomach. Castiel frowns again. He's certain Dean is showing off on purpose just because he's twenty and fully out of puberty. He tugs his trench coat further around his bony frame.
"Yeah, he needs you as an excuse to walk around the carnival because apparently he can't go alone and he can't go with family because that's just lame," Dean says, rolling his eyes before sticking his head around the corner and yelling up the stairs. "Hey, Sam, Cas is here."
"Stop calling me that," Castiel says automatically, a familiar flare of irritation rising in his chest at the nickname Dean refuses to drop. "Sam wants to go to the carnival? He said it was stupid."
Every year their town puts together a small carnival, a tiny collection of craft tents and childish rides in the shape of flying animals. When they were kids, it was an amazing explosion of colors and lights, an opportunity for delicious candy and the chance to pet chickens and rabbits. But now, as Sam put it, 'it's just a bunch of hick crap and stupid baby games.' Castiel suspects Sam would still enjoy the candy and crafts, but he recognizes that teenagers must agree with each other in order to be 'cool' and most of the kids at school have decided the fair is stupid. For his part, Castiel doesn't care one way or the other, but he had planned on attending at least the final night, even if he had to go alone because he wants a bag of candied almonds.
It looks like he won't have to go alone after all.
"Oh, it is stupid," Dean agrees. "But Sam heard Ruby Watson was going to go," he adds with a hint of fond exasperation.
Castiel's stomach drops into his knees and he averts his gaze from Dean's affectionate expression. His eyes fall onto one of the many wooden sculptures scattered around the Winchester home, evidence of Dean's longtime hobby. This one is shaped like the oak tree that grows up past Castiel's bedroom window. He's never noticed this particular carving before. A long moment goes by, haunted by tense silence and Castiel just stares at the sculpture, hardly seeing it.
"Ruby Watson?" he finally asks, lifting his eyes to Dean's face. "Why...why should Sam care about her?"
There is a flash of emotion in Dean's eyes as Sam starts clattering down the stairs and just he appears, Castiel hears Dean says softly, "I guess you're about to find out."
"Castiel!" Sam says excitedly and then he frowns at Dean. "Go away, Dean."
"You want to be nicer to the guy taking you places tonight or I'll drive you out into the woods and leave you," Dean retorts, but he does wander towards the kitchen as he's saying it.
Once Dean's out of earshot, Sam turns back to Castiel, his pretty hazel eyes shining with what Castiel recognizes as nerves. It makes the clenched knot feeling in Castiel's chest tighten a hundred fold.
"I guess Dean told you?"
"He said you wanted to go to the carnival after all," Castiel says slowly.
Sam nods happily.
"Yeah, Sarah Blake told Andy that she and Ruby were going tonight." He grasps Castiel's forearm and squeezes it hard. "I'm gonna do it, Castiel. I'm going to go and I'm going to ask her out."
The dismay Castiel has been trying to hold back crashes over him, leaving him freezing cold and breathless, hurt gnawing in his chest. In an instant, all his stupid fantasies, all his daydreams of finally confessing his feelings to Sam and being swept into his familiar arms for a new and exciting type of embrace, implode and Castiel sees how stupid he's been. How blind. Sam's recent interest in Ruby is revealed for its true nature, an infatuation and not simply the budding friendship Castiel had suspected.
"Ask her out?" he says, his voice faint and breathy.
Sam doesn't seem to notice. He grins widely and releases Castiel in favor of punching him lightly on the shoulder.
"I totally am and you should ask Sarah out! I know you like her," Sam says, wagging his eyebrows suggestively.
Castiel is absolutely stunned. Of course, he likes Sarah Blake. She's friendly and well-read, willing to discuss with Castiel the thick books they read in literature class or practice their French together. But he doesn't like like her. Even if it weren't for Sam, Castiel knows he couldn't feel that way about any girl.
But apparently Sam didn't know that. Just like Castiel didn't know that Sam is harboring a crush on a catty little cheerleader.
Apparently, they don't know each other as well as Castiel thought.
"I don't want to ask her out," Castiel says bluntly, but Sam is unaffected by his candor. He just shrugs and goes to tug his jacket off the hook by the door.
"Suit yourself, but I think you're missing out. If I didn't already like Ruby, I think I'd ask Sarah out. She's hot too," Sam says absently as he pulls on his coat and stabs the knife further into Castiel's heart. "Dean," he calls out. "We're ready!"
When Dean comes around the corner, half-eaten apple in hand, his eyes go straight to Castiel and the emotion from earlier is present once again. Castiel's face heats with humiliation when he finally realizes what it is.
Without saying a word, Castiel whirls around and stomps out the front door, silently climbing into the backseat of Dean's Impala and praying for the strength not to say anything he'll regret.
Sam babbles about Ruby all the way to carnival. About how pretty Ruby is, how smart and funny, how talented and cute and sexy and by the time they arrive, it feels like there's a sick heavy block in Castiel's stomach. Now that Sam's secret crush is out, now that he's resolved himself to action, it seems nothing can stop him from talking endlessly about the girl he's been thinking about for weeks. Castiel already hates the sound of her name falling from Sam's full beautiful lips. He wants to snatch the name from Sam's mouth and put his own there, push it there with his own lips and leave Sam in no doubt of whom he really wants.
Instead, he stares out the window at the passing houses and tries to tune out Sam's increasingly anxious monologue.
Once they finally pull up at the front entrance, Sam tosses off a careless thanks to Dean and hops out of the car, but before Castiel can follow, Dean reaches back to catch his sleeve.
"Hey, hold on a sec," he says. At Sam's curious glance, Dean waves and smiles. "Go and buy some cotton candy. I wanna talk to Cas for a minute."
Sam just shrugs and bounds off, leaving Castiel glaring at Dean. In the darkness of the car, he can only just make out Dean's features, the curve of his cheek, the edge of his sharp nose and a deep spark of light in his eyes.
"What do you want?"
"Are you okay?"
Castiel huffs and crosses his arms.
"Yes, of course. Why wouldn't I be?"
"Look, you don't have to keep up the act with me, okay? I know you like the kid and this has to suck-"
"What are you talking about?" Castiel snaps even as panic grips his mind. This is his most carefully guarded secret, the one he's been keeping since he was a seven year old boy. Since that moment on the playground when Castiel started to fall and through the years as his innocent hero-worship developed into full-blown love. And of all people to find out, it's Dean Winchester, the most aggravating person he's ever known. The boy who used to lock Castiel in closets and steal his teddy bear when Castiel spent the night. Who always teased him and Sam for being babies and refused to drive them anywhere the entire first two years after he got his license. A rude lazy oaf who's nothing compared to his brilliant kind little brother. Castiel can't say he hates anyone, but Dean Winchester comes so very close.
"Stop calling me that," he growls.
"Fine," Dean says, spinning around to face forward again. "I was just trying to be nice, but if you want to be a prick, go ahead. He doesn't want you like that, Castiel and he's never going to want you like that."
"You don't know what you're talking about," Castiel can't help saying, but it's not true. Dean knows Sam better than anyone. He's telling the truth. No matter how hard Castiel pines or how long he waits, Sam will always want a girl. He'll never love Castiel the way Castiel loves him. Sudden embarrassing tears spring to his eyes, welling up and spilling over the side of his face in hot tracks.
"Leave me alone," he barks and hands scrabbling for the door handle, Castiel launches himself out of the car, rushing past where Sam is holding a puffy pink cotton candy for him. He ignores Sam's calls to him and plunges into the crowd, running from Sam and Dean, but unable to escape the deep ache in his heart.
Castiel wanders through the carnival, ducking into tents, eyes sightlessly scanning over the crafts tables and games of chance that offer cheap plastic toys as prizes. He knows that Sam will eventually find him. The fair isn't large enough to hide him for long, but perhaps Ruby will find Sam first. Maybe his burgeoning feelings for Ruby will draw Sam away from his task of finding and comforting his distraught best friend and their separation will officially begin. Because Castiel knows it will happen. If not with Ruby, then with some other girl. Sam will give his heart to her and that will be the end of his partnership with Castiel. Their friendship will continue, but never again will Castiel be first in Sam's life, his chosen companion for endless summer afternoons spent playing video games Castiel still doesn't understand very well and dark cold winter nights huddled around an outdoor fire, cooking s'mores and making up ghost stories.
He's going to lose Sam eventually. Might as well start now.
"Your sadness pains me, young one," Castiel hears a voice say to his right. It draws him out of his melancholy thoughts and turns his step towards the speaker. It's a woman of perhaps thirty. She is wearing a long colorful skirt adorned with beads and a flowing white shirt that Castiel instantly recognizes as the stereotypical garb of a carnival fortune-teller. He frowns at her.
"Your costume is not very creative," he says without thinking.
She laughs, a bright merry sound that eases the sorrow in Castiel's chest a touch.
"Well, I got to sell my image as well as my talents," she says cheerfully. "People like to see what they expect to see." Her dark eyes wander over his face and her smile fades. "But I don't think you've liked what you've seen this evening."
"I don't want to talk about it," Castiel says. He's not surprised she's read sadness in his expression. Even though Castiel's not a very demonstrative person, she's probably been trained to read even the slightest emotions in her customers' faces. The best way to read a fortune is in the eyes rather than in a crystal ball.
"Alright then, how about a reading?" she suggests.
"I don't know," he hedges.
"C'mon," she says, lifting the flap of her tent and giving him an inviting smile. "If nothing else, you can hide in here with me."
Castiel glances back down the midway. He can't see Sam in the swirling crowds, but he's there somewhere and Castiel doesn't relish the idea of explaining why he ran from Sam. If it costs him a few dollars and a fabricated fortune, then Castiel's willing.
"Very well," he says, ducking into her tent.
She follows after him, pointing to a curved wooden chair in front of a table on which sits a clear crystal ball. Castiel raises an eyebrow at her.
"What can I say? It's a shtick," she says. "Go on, sit down."
They both sit and after the fortune-teller takes a moment to arrange her skirts comfortably around her crossed legs, she leans on one elbow and smiles at him. She's really very pretty. Her dark brown eyes glitter with intelligence and humor and her smile is full and red-lipped. The curly brown hair tumbling over her shoulders shines in the yellow glow of candlelight and is probably very soft to the touch. Castiel wishes desperately he could feel about her the way he feels about Sam.
"What's your name, sweetie?" she asks, reminding Castiel that she's quite a few years older than him. He amends his mental statement. He wishes he could feel that way about a girl his own age.
"That's a lovely name," she says and Castiel senses no teasing in her tone. "My name is Savannah."
"Hello, Savannah," he says politely.
"Why don't we get started, huh?"
Savannah sits back in her chair and threads her fingers together, her palms laying flat on her stomach as she considers him thoughtfully. Under her gaze, Castiel feels scrutinized and increasingly vulnerable. Perhaps it's that intelligence he sees in her gaze or just the longevity of her stare, but he feels caught by her eyes, stripped of his secrets as easily as if he spilled them willingly.
"It won't hurt forever, you know," she says suddenly.
"You can't know that," Castiel says, not even bothering to argue that he's not hurting. He can't deny such a powerful feeling and he can't believe it will ever truly go away.
"I know it feels that way now," she acknowledges, but that just makes Castiel angry.
"I'm not a little kid," he says, his anger threaded into his otherwise calm tone. "Just because I'm not an adult doesn't mean I don't know what I'm feeling."
"I never said that," Savannah says, her voice mild, her manner unaffected by Castiel's emotions. "But even adults who lose in love can heal from it. Just because he doesn't love you back doesn't mean no one will. You'll find him."
"When's that?" Castiel asks sullenly.
It earns him a soft regretful chuckle. "I'm sorry to say I can't see that, but it's sooner than you think."
Castiel sighs. It's pretty much what any adult would say to him. Time will ease your pain. Your time will come. You'll find someone who loves you for you and who cares if the one you want is slobbering over some annoying brat? His anger turns to fatigue and Castiel deflates against the chair.
"I wish I could just skip to that time," he mutters.
"What did you say?"
He looks up into an intense gaze. Savannah's ease is gone, replaced with an electrified tension that lifts the hairs at the back of Castiel's neck. For a brief moment, he is afraid to answer, but then she leans forward, the rigid aura surrounding her pressing the answer out against his will.
"I said, I wish I could skip through time until it didn't hurt anymore," he declares and the words feel heavy, as if they are sealing some kind of agreement Castiel can't understand.
The smile returns to Savannah's red lips, but this time it's made of amused satisfaction rather than carefree good humor.
"That's the best idea I've heard in a long time." She stands up and grins down at Castiel. "I hope you like what you discover."
Then she touches his forehead and Castiel blacks out.
When Castiel slowly climbs to consciousness, Savannah and her tent are gone. Instead of sitting in an uncomfortable wooden chair, he is resting on his stomach in a warm bed. Two heavy quilts cover him from his shoulders down and his face is smashed into a firm blue pillow. Confusion grips his mind. The carnival doesn't feel like a dream and yet he can't remember how he got from there to here.
It takes a few moments longer for Castiel to realize he doesn't know where 'here' is. This bed is nothing like his twin bed at home. It's much larger, probably a king and instead of his store bought comforter, he's wrapped up safe in two beautiful handmade quilts.
He turns onto his back and sits up, his eyes searching for clues. The room is empty save himself. Across from the bed there is a massive wooden dresser with an equally impressive mirror attached. It is in that mirror that Castiel gets his first clue. The face he sees is his, but not. Familiar, yet a shock of changes. He is leaner and sharper, the roundness of childhood lost entirely. Instead of the long sweeping bangs he constantly pushes out of his eyes, there is a short spiked style that is wilder and darker than anything he remembers. The only thing about his face that remains the same is his dark blue eyes, now wide with disbelief.
Castiel throws off the blanket and stands, receiving another two shocks. The first is a discovery that he's totally naked. The second is his height. Sometime between being in the tent and appearing in this room, Castiel has experienced a growth spurt of at least three inches. But that's not the only difference in his body. His arms and legs are thicker, heavy with muscle. Substantial, like a man's body. The muscles of his chest and shoulders have also grown, expanded to turn his body distinctly adult. Castiel's eyes scan down over his sharp hips and he feels his lips part in surprise. Even his penis has grown somewhat. He steps closer to the mirror, wondering idly if the added size makes a difference when he becomes erect.
The extra height and added weight makes walking odd. He feels like he might pitch forward at any moment, but somehow he manages to make it to the dresser intact. Once there, he spies something on his belly and with a wrinkle of disgust Castiel realizes it's dried semen.
Whatever the situation, it's apparent Castiel had fun the previous night.
He glances around the room again, thinking he might need to find a bathroom to clean himself or a closet with clothes to dress himself. But his search breaks off when Castiel finally recognizes his location.
This is the master bedroom of the Winchester home.
Castiel has only seen inside Mr. and Mrs. Winchester's bedroom a few times, mostly when Sam needed to "borrow" something and made Castiel stand watch. It's definitely the same room, but the furniture and set-up is different. The Winchesters have a queen bed and its headboard faces the wall where there now sits a dresser.
He's almost got it, the puzzle is almost solved when Castiel notices a glint of light from his own hand. Brilliant yellow morning light catches at a ring wrapped around the third finger of Castiel's left hand.
Castiel is married. He's grown up and married and sleeping in the Winchesters' old bedroom.
Hope climbs into his heart. Surely he wouldn't be at the Winchesters' home unless he had married a Winchester. Maybe Savannah was wrong. Maybe she really had just been spouting platitudes and whatever trick she used to send him forward all these years is showing him what he wants to see. Giving him hope, urging him not to give up on Sam.
He lifts his hand to examine the ring, smiling at its simplicity and polished golden surface. Obviously well-cared for. On a whim, he tugs off the ring and pulls it closer still, looking for an inscription. To his delight, he finds one, but unfortunately, it doesn't make any sense. It is only two stylized letters, so intertwined that it's difficult to read them.
C & D
"Hey, don't get me wrong, I like the view too, but if you don't get going, I'm going to be late."
Castiel whirls away from the mirror, his heart thudding hard in his chest and he drops the ring to the thick dark blue carpet.
Dean Winchester is watching him from the doorway.
Dean is watching him and Castiel is naked. Naked and covered in semen. Embarrassment doesn't cover it. Panic takes his brain offline and Castiel acts on instinct, throwing himself to the side. He clips the edge of the dresser with a hip as he dives onto a loveseat running perpendicular to it. The small green lamp perched on the dresser clatters onto its side and rolls onto the floor, landing with a dull thunk just as Castiel snaps up a pillow to press against his naked groin.
The whole thing is over in less than a minute and when Castiel looks up again, face burning with humiliation, Dean just lifts an eyebrow at him.
"What are you doing here?" Castiel bellows.
For the first time, he actually takes a good look at Dean. Like himself, Dean has grown older. His height has changed less than Castiel's, but his body more. Instead of the incredibly slender young man Castiel knows, Dean is almost shockingly broad-shouldered and thick muscled. Before, his facial features had been almost feminine and while a hint of that lingers in the fullness of his lips and the curve of his cheek, the years have sharpened his face into one that's undoubtedly male. His hair is also shorter, but unlike Castiel's, it's styled neatly. There is something different about his eyes, but Castiel doesn't know what.
"I told you I wasn't going out until around ten," Dean says with a huff of annoyance. He walks into the bedroom and kneels down to retrieve Castiel's ring from the floor. A teasing smile catches at his mouth as he hands it to Castiel. "Hey, you said you liked my lame-ass unplanned proposal. If you wanted me to try again, you could have just asked."
"What?" Castiel asks weakly.
Dean doesn't answer. Instead, he takes Castiel's hand and gently slides the ring back on. Deep satisfaction lights in his green eyes when the ring settles firmly on Castiel's finger. When he looks up, a softer smile in place, Castiel abruptly recognizes the difference in Dean's eyes.
Instead of the conflicted emotions of their youth, Dean looks at Castiel with intensely profound love.
C & D
"It's not possible," Castiel denies quietly
His shock reaches so far into his mind that Castiel feels himself becoming simply numb. There is absolutely no way that he's sitting naked in a bedroom he shares with Dean Winchester. No way he ever learned to like Dean, much less love him enough to marry him. Something must have happened in the intervening years. Something to make Castiel desperate or crazy because there is just no way.
Dean chuckles. "Yeah, I'd rather kill myself than get married again. Between your OCD and Sam's best man freak out, I’m never doing that ever again."
Questions spring to Castiel's tongue. Was Sam his best man or Dean's? How long have they been married? Where does Sam fit into this situation? Where is Dean going at ten o'clock?
Are they really honestly married?
But Castiel doesn't release any of them. This is the future. Whether a real future or a hallucination, Dean believes it to be real and if Castiel starts asking strange questions, he's more likely to end up in a doctor's office than with the answers he seeks. His best bet is to remain calm, if it's possible to be calm upon waking up in the future to discover you've married a pale imitation of the love of your life. It's the only way to get through this. Remain calm and discretely search for a way back home.
"I should take a shower," Castiel says, his tone more confident.
Dean glances at the mess on his stomach before giving Castiel a lascivious grin.
"Yeah, might wanna do that."
And then, before Castiel can act against it, Dean leans into his personal space and presses his lips against Castiel's mouth.
The kiss is brief, no more than a second's meeting of lips, a kind of familiar greeting he's seen his own parents share a thousand times. There's an impression of heat, a hint of pressure and a strange scent that makes Castiel think of wood shavings. Then Dean is pulling away, clapping one hand on Castiel's bare thigh and pushing himself to his feet.
"Go on and get cleaned up. I made us some breakfast."
Castiel watches him go and wonders how he's going to make it through this ordeal.
Finding himself in the Winchester's house is a small bit of luck. He may not recognize the furniture or paint colors, but Castiel knows the lay-out of the home as well as his own. Across from the master bedroom is full bathroom Castiel rarely visited. It’s always been the private domain of Sam's parents and judging by the bottles of shampoo and deodorant scattered along the counter, his future self and Dean use it just as much. Next to the bathroom is Sam’s bedroom. The same bedroom that Sam and Castiel still hide away in. He'd always daydreamed that he'd have his first kiss in that bedroom. His favorite fantasy involved Sam locking the door behind them after an afternoon of baseball down at the park. It isn't hard to imagine how Sam would look with his shirt clinging to his back and of course, then he'd have to take it off and maybe he'd suggest Castiel do the same.
Castiel shakes his head. Guilt glows quietly in his chest. Fantasizing about Sam while his brother's ring adorns Castiel's finger seems all too wrong.
As he crosses the hall, his new body wrapped up in a robe he can only hope belongs to him, Castiel backtracks his thoughts and pauses in shock. His fingers fly to his mouth. His first kiss. Perhaps not the first for the Castiel he's replaced, but the first for him. A deep scowl settles on his face. Instead of a long passionate clinch with Sam, he got a brief dry smack from Sam's brother.
The future is aggravating.
The shower does amazing things for Castiel's tense muscles. As does the relief of washing away come that may or may not belong to him. Having never had proper sex, Castiel can't be sure he knows how the morning after would feel, but as he washes his lower back, it occurs to him that he doesn't feel any particular ache in that area. Then the thought of Dean Winchester bottoming for anyone makes Castiel laugh quietly to himself for a good five minutes.
He's almost tempted to later ask Dean what exactly happened last night.
Once he's squeaky clean and dry, Castiel dresses in clothes he believes belong to him. His suspicions are seemingly proven correct when the tan slacks hug his hips perfectly and the button down shirt is neither too small nor too large. He can't be sure about the underwear, but one question he's not tempted to ask Dean is which boxer briefs are his and which are Castiel's.
At the bottom of the stairs, Castiel is stopped short once more by another surprise. In the living room, in the exact same place where Dean and Castiel stood talking what feels like ages ago, there lays a giant Basset hound. Beside the Basset hound, cuddled in close between the dog's splayed legs is a small child. A young girl if her pigtails and short blue dress is any indication. She can't be more than two years old. As Castiel watches, the girl reaches for the dog's long flapping ears and lifts them, giggling at the wide furry ears that stretch longer than her entire arm. For his part, the dog merely shakes his head a little and stares at her with huge mournful brown eyes.
Then the dog spots Castiel and lets out a low whine. He flops to one side and lifts his heavy body onto short legs. The girl turns as well, her comfortable position upset by the dog's motion and when she sees Castiel, nothing less than pure happiness streaks across her small features.
It's not as if Castiel didn't understand the moment he saw the child, but that one word erases the slim chance the child belongs to a neighbor or perhaps one of his brothers. She climbs to her feet with clumsy jerking motions and toddles over to the stairs, lifting her arms as she walks. By the time she smashes into Castiel's legs, he is utterly terrified. Being married to a jerk is one thing. But Castiel is a child himself. What if he is stuck in this future for months or even years? How can he possibly adequately care for a child when he barely knows anything about taking care of himself?
"Yes," Castiel says, clearing his throat. "Hello there."
"Up," she says, beating her tiny fists against his kneecaps.
He gingerly slides his hands under her arms and lifts forcefully. Unfortunately, he overestimates both her weight and his new strength and nearly gives himself a heart attack when she is propelled most of the way up his body. He clutches at her, blood racing under his skin when she settles half over his shoulder. High pitched giggles explode from her mouth, right into his ear and commotion draws Dean's attention from the kitchen. He appears in the doorway, a white towel slung over one shoulder and shakes his head in amusement at the scene before him.
"Quit messing around," he says, though Castiel doesn't think he sounds very serious. "It's time to eat. You hungry, babygirl?"
"Pa throwed me," she says helpfully.
"Well, alright, how about we celebrate with some breakfast," he says, not missing a beat and scooping the girl out of Castiel's arms. The dog tries to jump onto Dean's legs, but he's so large, he doesn't do much more than slobber on Dean's thighs.
"Down, Harpo," Dean says absently as the three of them troop into the kitchen together.
Castiel feels like he's been run over.
He lurks in the hallway for as long as he can, but eventually Castiel knows Dean will come looking for him. In the kitchen, Dean is stirring something at the same stove Castiel remembers from before. The child is sitting in a booster seat at the table, happily stuffing pieces of melon into her mouth while the dog sits on his big rump on the floor and stares with hope up at the table. After a moment, Dean turns to Castiel and hands him a bowl.
"Here," he says.
It's oatmeal with a hint of cinnamon stirred in and a sizeable chunk of butter melting on top.
Just how Castiel loves it.
"Oh, uh, yes, thank you," Castiel says and he winces at how stiff he sounds. It's hard to know exactly how familiar to act with Dean. Too familiar and Castiel fears Dean will push for more kisses or even worse, sexual contact. But too cold and Dean might start asking questions Castiel can't possibly answer. In order to warm his words, Castiel nods at the bowl and gives Dean a grateful smile. The answering grin is more than just fond; it's so open and guileless that Castiel feels discomfort crowd his throat. Dean is thoughtlessly sharing intimacy with a man he doesn't know is a stranger.
But all Castiel can do is nod again and take a seat. The table is unfamiliar and once Castiel really looks at it, he sees that it's both gorgeous and expensive looking. The Winchesters aren't poor nor are the Miltons, but still, neither family is the type to unload cash on an intricately carved mahogany table. He peers closely at the legs and is fascinated by the swirling leaves cut into the dark wood. No matter how long he stares at it, he can't see a pattern. Each and every leaf is unique. It must have taken the craftsman weeks to finish this piece.
"Cas?" Dean's eyebrows are up again. "Are you communing with the table again?"
"This is beautiful," Castiel answers, genuine admiration coloring his tone.
Confusion and pleasure war on Dean's face.
"Well, thanks, but you say that like you've never seen it before," he says.
Castiel stares at him, only just barely managing to bite back his incredulous 'you made this?'. He knew about Dean's hobby, of course. Sam's room is filled with Dean's little wooden trinkets, but Castiel never thought it was a serious interest. Dean's always seemed so obsessed with cars. No one was surprised when he started working as a mechanic right out of high school. Castiel has assumed Dean still works in the field, but looking at this table, he wonders. Because it's not the only wooden piece in the room. There's a matching mahogany curio cabinet along one wall with similar leaves carved along the top edge. The cabinets in the kitchen area are less designed, but are clearly beautifully made. Not to mention that big cherry wood dresser upstairs and the chairs on which Castiel and the girl sit. He glances at Dean. If Dean is still a mechanic, then he spends a hell of lot of his free time on woodworking.
"I don't think I realized how beautiful," Castiel finally says and it's true. He's just never noticed Dean's talent before.
At this confession, Dean beams and Castiel is almost relieved to see a hint of smugness lurking in Dean's green eyes. It's a bit of a familiarity that grounds Castiel in the knowledge that no matter what, this man is still Dean under there.
"Yeah, well, it’s your fault. Never thought I could do it until you made me. Then I figured I better bust my ass on our own shit," he says rather inelegantly.
Once again, Castiel catches himself staring at Dean. It's hard to imagine how such subtle designs could come out of the same person who uses such language.
"You feeling okay today?"
Castiel merely nods and digs into his oatmeal, noting that sometime over the years, Dean has learned a few things about cooking.