The first time Dean Winchester used Castiel as an impromptu babysitter, Cas was sixteen years old and hopelessly in love with his best friend. Dean was almost seventeen and oblivious to Cas's more-than-friendly feelings.
"Hey Cas, thanks for coming over," Dean said as he opened the door to the Winchester family home.
"Of course," Cas said, smiling. There was no chance he would ever not come when Dean called.
"But, seriously," Dean added, "stop knocking." He grinned and ruffled Cas's already unruly hair as Cas slid past him into the house. Cas batted the hand away as expected but he suspected that his glare was seriously undermined by the small smile he could feel threatening to come across his face.
"It's impolite to barge into another's house unannounced," Cas answered, just as he did every time a member of the Winchester family told him he didn't need to knock.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Not if you're family, Cas. When you're family all you're doing is annoying the rest of us by forcing us to walk all the way to the door." Dean grinned. "And you know how we hate to exercise."
"Yes," Cas said smiling back, "You're the very model of sloth."
"He is when Coach Singer isn't forcing him to exercise," a new voice chimed in from the top of the stairs.
Dean and Cas both turned to watch as Sam loped down the stairs on limbs that seemed to grow overnight. "That's not fair, Sam," Cas scolded mildly, irrationally defensive even in the face of thirteen year old Sam's brotherly teasing. "You know Dean is very active. He deserves a chance to rest before the season starts back up."
Dean played shortstop for their high school and pitcher for a local team sponsored by his father's garage. He was far from inactive, but it was true that when he decided to take a day off he could be the picture of laziness; lounging around watching Star Trek reruns in his sweats, eating pizza and pie all day, only moving for bathroom breaks and to get more food when he couldn't con anyone else into bringing it to him.
Cas rather enjoyed those days, particularly when Dean would pull Cas down onto the couch and drape an arm over his shoulders to keep him in place and say, "Relax, you're working so hard you're making me tense." (And if he sometimes deliberately brought his homework into Dean's line of vision just to get the invite, well nobody had to know that but him.)
"Yeah, short stuff. I deserve a break," Dean told his brother with a smirk.
Sam responded by sticking his tongue out and wrapping a hand around Cas's arm. "Don't you have someplace else to be?" he asked Dean pointedly.
"Yes, actually," Dean said and turned toward the corner closet to grab the leather jacket his father had given him for his birthday the past January. "I gotta date." He winked at Cas as he said it, but Cas couldn't respond. He was too busying dying inside, all thoughts of spending the night pressed against Dean's side as they studied, or watched movies, or played stupid board games with Sam disappearing with those three words.
"You okay, Cas?" Dean asked, eyes narrowed as he studied Cas's expression.
Trust Dean to notice the sudden shift in Cas's mood. He shook his head absently before forcing the smile back on his face. He hoped it didn't look as fake as it felt. "I thought you invited me over?" he asked hesitantly.
"Yeah," Dean said easily, shrugging into his jacket. "Mom and Dad are at some fundraiser or something and I said I'd stay home with Sammy, but I finally sealed the deal with Cassie Robinson." Dean stopped moving to search Cas's face again before continuing, "I wanted you to hang out with Sam tonight so I can go. I don't want to put her off."
"He's afraid she'll wake up and realize what a terrible mistake she's making," Sam said, a little meanly in Cas's opinion.
"Shut up, pipsqueak," Dean said, flushing. "Cassie's a classy girl. I want to treat her right."
Cas's heart clenched again. Dean 'dated' quite a few girls, but he'd never seen him take a date so seriously. Although, now that he thought about it, he had been deliberately ignoring Dean's interest in Cassie for some time. Dean had been pursuing her doggedly for months, and he wasn't usually the kind who wanted (or needed) to chase after a woman.
Perhaps Cas had been fooling himself, ignoring it on purpose, scared of what that might mean about the seriousness of Dean's feelings for this girl.
"You should just be grateful I'm loaning you my best friend for the night," Dean told Sam, breaking Cas from his melancholy thoughts, "You and I will both get to spend the night with the hottest dates in Lawrence."
"Yeah, except mine didn't have to be talked into spending time with me," Sam said, again being more cruel than his usual brotherly teasing. It occurred to Cas that Sam might also be uncomfortable with Dean's feelings for this girl.
"Of course, Sam," Cas said, trying to prevent either Winchester from hurting the other further. "I always enjoy our time together. The fact that it took Cassie longer to realize how wonderful Dean is just means she'll appreciate him all the more now."
Dean's blush deepened. "Jeez, Cas, you can't say shit like that about another dude."
Cas cocked his head, confused. "I fail to see why, Dean. It's just us here."
Dean shook his head but he was smiling. "Whatever, Blue Eyes. I gotta go. Don't wait up," he added with a leer that had Sam fake gagging and Cas feeling sick for real.
There were a lot of cold winter nights spent with Sam over the next few months while Cas watched Dean pull himself farther and farther away. But high school romances don't last forever and when baseball season started back up Dean had too much on his plate. Cassie faded from their lives as slowly but as surely as she'd entered it.
Dean was a moody and quiet about it for awhile. Cas tried to be sympathetic, but his joy (and Sam's) in having Dean back was too much to hide for long. Luckily, that seemed to bring Dean out of his funk faster than anything. He even agreed to never use Cas as a babysitter again. After all nothing was more important to Dean than family, not even Cassie Robinson.
The first time Cas helped Dean with a broken heart, Cas was twenty-one and they were home from UCLA (great baseball program and just six hours away from Sammy) for Christmas break. Dean was almost twenty-two and having a heated phone conversation with his first ever boyfriend.
Cas had the feeling he knew where the conversation was heading. Eliot's (unfortunately unfounded) jealousy over Dean and Cas's friendship had been causing increasingly harsh fights since Thanksgiving break. Cas hadn't been able to afford making the trip back to Kansas for the shortened break, and Dean had chosen to stay in the dorms with Cas rather than go home with Eliot. Cas knew it was just Dean's innate since of loyalty that wouldn't allow him to leave his friend alone for the holiday, but Eliot had read something deeper into the decision.
The fights had only gotten worse since Dean had announced his plans to go home for Christmas before Eliot could even ask Dean to join him in Tahoe. Dean's current attempt to smooth things over by inviting Eliot up for New Year's didn't seem to be going very well.
Cas felt like his heart was shattering into a million pieces when he heard Dean plead, "But I love you, Eliot." It hurt even worse when Dean hung up the phone with a quiet 'Goodbye, Eliot' and went directly to his room with dead eyes without saying a word to him or Sam.
"Ouch," Sam said with a wince when Dean's door closed with a quiet click. He glanced up the stairs and then back to Cas. "Wanna sleep on my floor tonight instead of Dean's?" he asked.
Cas nodded absently. "That may be for the best." Neither of them suggested he go back to his own house. Things had been uncomfortable there at best since his brief, but intensely unhealthy, affair with a man named Crowley from his father's office during his senior year.
Cas lay awake for a long time that night, mind and heart unsettled with the thoughts of Dean's current misery. He didn't know how to feel about the whole thing. On one hand Eliot's arrival in their lives had hurt worse than anything since Cassie. Gone were the days when Cas could rationalize Dean's complete lack of romantic interest in him as a general lack of interest in men. On the other hand, Eliot was a genuinely nice guy. His confidence and ease with himself and his sexuality had been good for Dean - and for Cas too if he were being honest.
He'd decided it was a problem for the morning and was almost asleep when the sound of a choked off sob reached through the thin wall connecting Sam's room to Dean's. He couldn't stay still any longer. Untangling himself from his nest of blankets on the floor, Cas crept out as quietly as he could to Dean's room.
Cas pushed the door open far enough to admit his slender frame. "Dean?" he whispered. Dean's back was to the door and he gave no indication that he'd heard Cas's approach.
The room was silent long enough that Cas thought maybe Dean had fallen back to sleep but Dean answered before Cas could decide whether or not to return to Sam's room. "Go back to sleep, Cas," he said.
And any other time Cas might have done that, but Dean sounded so sad and so weary that he couldn't bring himself to leave Dean alone.
Instead of answering Cas closed the door behind him, crossed the room in two long, determined strides and slid into Dean's bed. He felt Dean stiffen next to him, but he ignored it and turned toward Dean, pulling the blankets up over his shoulder. "Sam's snoring, can't sleep," he lied.
Dean snorted and relaxed next to him, slipping an arm under Cas to pull him closer. "Yeah, looks like a Sasquatch and sounds like one too."
Cas hummed in agreement, already sliding toward sleep as the emotional rollercoaster and late hour caught up with him. He was vaguely aware of Dean shifting around next to him, but was too exhausted to open his eyes and check. Just before he drifted off he thought he heard a soft "Thanks, Blue Eyes" and an even softer brush of lips across his forehead, but that was probably just his imagination.
It wasn't the last time Dean suffered a heart break, but it also wasn't the last time he had Cas there to help him through it.
Cas decided he was done with Dean breaking his heart when he was twenty-six years old and sharing a two bedroom apartment back in Lawrence with Dean. Dean was almost twenty-seven and out on a date with a woman whom he hadn't seen in a year and whose infant son just might have belonged to Dean.
"I gotta know, Cas," Dean had said as he changed his shirt for the fourth time. "I mean it was just that one weekend - one last hurrah before she left for the internship, but the timing's right."
"Yes, Dean," Cas agreed on autopilot. This wasn't the first time they'd had this conversation since Lisa had returned three weeks ago with a three month old in tow. Cas was of the opinion that the baby - Benjamin, Ben, was his name - was almost certainly Dean's.
"Oh God, Cas. What if he's mine?" Dean asked, abandoning the mirror to turn to Cas. Cas was propped up against Dean's headboard flipping through a magazine, pretending to care more about the social lives of celebrities he didn't recognize than he did about the death of his own.
Cas put the magazine aside. "We'll handle it, Dean. It'll be fine."
Dean goggled at him. "Just like that, huh? We'll handle it and it'll be fine."
"You won't be alone, Dean. I'll be here," Cas said with a calmness he didn't really feel. "As will Sam and Jessica. There's nothing to fear."
"I think there's a freaking lot to fear," Dean muttered, but he had visibly relaxed so Cas considered it a win.
Dean left Cas to have his own private freak out twenty minutes later with his parting words, "If he's mine, Cas, we could be a real family," burning like hellfire in Cas's mind and his heart.
An hour later, Cas had convinced himself that Lisa had revealed the truth to Dean and the three of them were even now playing happy families. Dean was probably already mentally picking out rings and a house. He'd never abandon his kid. He'd want to 'do the right thing' and, worse, he liked Lisa. If he didn't love her yet, Cas knew it wouldn't take much, especially if she gave - had already given - Dean a family of his own.
And where would Cas fit into this scenario? In an apartment by himself watching the man he loved living the life Cas wanted without him. All at once it was too much for Cas to handle. He had his phone in hand and speed dial two selected almost before he knew what he intended to do.
"Hey Cas, any news?" Sam asked when he answered the phone.
"No," Cas answered briefly, voice shaking with pent up emotion. "I need to get out of here, Sam. Can you come pick me, let me stay with you and Jess tonight?"
Cas braced himself for a million questions he couldn't or wouldn't answer, but something in his voice must have caught Sam's attention because all he said was, "I'm on my way." He sent up a prayer of thanks for Sam.
Cas was still shoving random clothes into a duffle - Dean's duffel, he noted hysterically - when Sam arrived. Running away from Dean with Dean's duffel and Dean's brother - Cas had clearly lost his mind just as surely as he'd lost his heart.
"Cas?" Sam asked, voice soft with concern and possibly fear, "What's going on? You okay?"
Cas shook his head without turning to face Sam. "No. I haven't been for a long time, Sam. I can't be here anymore. Not tonight, not for this. Dean's going to come home all happy and in love and with a family and I just can't face it tonight."
Sam was silent behind him, and Cas finally turned to see his reaction. Sam's mouth was a thin, grim line. "Cas, no matter what happens, you'll always be Dean's family. Our family."
Cas slumped down until he was sitting on the bed and hung his head, shame heating his face. "I know, Sammy," he said, using Dean's nickname, the one Cas himself hadn't used since Sam turned thirteen and asked them both to stop. "And you'll always be mine."
A smile flitted across Sam's face and he crossed the room to sit next to Cas. "Then what's the problem, Cas-Cas?" he asked, giving Cas his own childhood nickname back.
Cas couldn't have stopped his answering smile if he wanted to, but it was short lived. "Things are going to change. It won't be Dean and Cas anymore. It'll be Dean, Lisa and Ben." He held up a hand to stop Sam from responding. "I know that's horribly selfish of me. I know that, Sam. Tomorrow," he pleaded, "tomorrow I'll be happy for him. I'll be happy for them. And then I'll spend the rest of my life fighting you for the title of best uncle. I'll help Dean figure out how to change a diaper and go with him to pick out the perfect engagement ring, but not tonight. Ok, Sam? Please not tonight."
Sam hesitated before saying, "Cas, you know Dean loves you, right?" He sounded confused.
Cas laughed, the slightly hysterical bitter sound ripped from his throat involuntarily. "Oh, I know," he said, more to himself than to Sam, "He loves me like he loves you or Uncle Bobby. Unfortunately, I don't love him like that."
Cas was dimly aware that his voice was rapidly rising in volume, he was practically screaming when he continued. "I love him like a fucking hole in my heart that will never heal. I'm in love with him and after all these years of pathetic pining and moping I just need one night off from the tragedy" he made air quotes and rolled his eyes at the sheer ridiculousness of his life, "of it all before I become nothing but Weird Uncle Cas to Dean's perfect, beautiful child."
"Kid's not mine, Cas."
Sam and Cas whipped their heads around in near unison to stare at Dean in the bedroom doorway. He looked disappointed, relieved and shell shocked all at once. He smiled at them weakly, stepped fully into the room and opened his arms.
Cas was up and across the room without a thought. He slipped into Dean's arms easily, clinging to his best friend, and whispered, "I'm sorry, Dean, I'm so sorry." And he really was. Despite the changes it undoubtedly would have wrought on his life, he had really wanted - and believed - little Ben to be Dean's child. If only because he knew how much Dean wanted it to be true.
Dean laughed, but it was a fake, watery little thing. "S'alright. Not cut out to be a dad anyway."
Cas tightened his arms around Dean's waist. "Nonsense," he said fiercely, "you'll be a wonderful father."
Dean squeezed Cas harder in return and hid his face in Cas's neck. "Well, maybe with the right partner I'd do alright," he conceded quietly.
From the corner of his eye Cas could see Sam shifting awkwardly on his feet. "I'm sorry too, Dean," he offered, angling toward the door, "but I think I'm just gonna go now." He hesitated in the doorway, looking back at them and biting his lip. "Umm, Dean?"
Dean raised his head and turned his neck awkwardly to look at Sam without letting go of Cas, "Yeah?"
"Do you need me to…? Should I be a meddling little brother here or…?"
"No," Dean said, turning back to stare into Cas's eyes, "I think I heard enough." He smiled at Cas even as Sam walked away. "I got this."
Cas stiffened, mind racing over his conversation with Sam and trying to figure out how much Dean had heard. Oh God, he'd said he was in love with Dean, said he'd been pining and moping for years. He said it out loud, screamed it even.
He tried to pull away as their front door clicked closed behind Sam, but Dean wouldn't let him go. Dean unwrapped one arm from around him only to cup Cas's face in his hands, forcing him to keep looking at Dean.
Cas shut his eyes tightly, afraid of what he'd see there.
"Cas, I'm an idiot," Dean said. Cas shook his head mutely, eyes still clenched shut. "But to be fair, so are you." Cas couldn't disagree with that. Only an idiot would fall in love with his best friend, never get over it and then destroy that friendship completely by accident.
"Cas, open your eyes," Dean said and when Cas shook his head again, Dean sighed. "Fine, then just… just don't hit me."
Cas's eyes flew open in shock - why would he ever hit Dean? - just in time see a flash of green before Dean shut his own eyes and pressed his lips gently to Cas's.
It was amazing and so completely unexpected that Cas couldn't even think about reacting until it was too late, and Dean was pulling away, looking sad and embarrassed.
Dean rubbed the back of his neck and started to step away entirely, but Cas's brain and body finally got with the program and he tightened his hold, pulling Dean closer to him and tipping his head back to kiss Dean again.
This kiss was glorious, warm and wet and Cas swore he could taste Dean's joy in the curve of his lips and the curl of his tongue. The second kiss faded into the third and the fourth and so many more that Cas lost count way along the way.
"Dean," he gasped as they paused for breath, hands dragging at Dean's hips as he tried to pull him further into the room and closer to the bed. "Just to clarify," Cas murmured, dodging Dean's nearly irresistibly kiss-swollen lips, "I mean I need to be sure." Dean growled in frustration as Cas continued to evade his kisses, and Cas nearly lost his train of thought as Dean abandoned his attempts to recapture his mouth in order to explore Cas's neck with lips and teeth and tongue. "This isn't some weird rebound thing or a twisted form of pity, right?"
At that Dean tore himself away from Cas's collarbone. "No, you moron, this is not some rebound or pity thing." He rolled his eyes and huffed out a breath. "This is a love thing." Dean was smiling as he said it, and the look in his eyes was something Cas had always interpreted as fondness but now suspected was something more. Dean continued, "A love thing - as in I love you, have for longer than I care to admit to right now, and plan to for a lot longer."
Dean was flushed an adorable shade of red, but Cas decided to keep that opinion to himself. Instead he said, "Me too, Dean. I love you."
Dean grinned. "Great. Now can we get out of this chick flick and back to the porno?"
Cas laughed and shook his head even as he allowed himself to be pushed down onto the bed. "Too late, Dean. I think we've been living in a romantic comedy for quite some time."
Dean stripped off his shirt and climbed in next to Cas, laying on his side and propping his head up with one arm so he was leaning slightly over Cas. "Does that mean we get to live happily ever after, Blue Eyes?" he asked, one eyebrow raised mockingly.
Cas pulled until Dean was laying half on top of him. He smiled into Dean's lips, thinking about how right he had been at the beginning of the night - he really was done with Dean breaking his heart. "Yes," he answered between kisses, "yes, it does."