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Stay With Me, Sweetheart

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 Shattered window glass on roadway with pictures of Dean, Claire and Cas on the right

Friday, September 7, 2018

There were no squealing tires.  A strange thought to have at a time like this, but there it is.  In the movies, the high-pitched squeal of rubber on asphalt always precedes the grating crash of metal-on-metal.  But not today.  The other driver hadn’t even had time to hit her brakes when Castiel, in a life-altering split-second of distraction, pulled out in front of her black Ford Expedition.  Castiel’s eyes zeroed in on long blonde hair framing wide, panicked eyes before he heard a sickening crunch, followed by the deeper, heavier feeling of the Expedition colliding with the driver’s side door of his Highlander, the way the resounding crack of thunder always follows the lightning. 

Castiel’s eyes slowly blink open, squinting at the blurry dash and cracked windshield in front of him, before realizing that he must have lost his glasses during the collision.  Collision.  Right.  He had been (is still in?) a car accident. 

Fuck. 

His thoughts coming slowly, each one taking what he’s fairly certain is considerably more effort than usual, Castiel takes stock of his battered vehicle and equally battered body.  He’d been thrown toward the center of the SUV and his top half is currently suspended over the center console, being held up by his seatbelt and his right arm, which is supporting him with his hand pressed into the passenger seat.  Squinting at the horizon beyond the damaged windshield, Castiel concludes that the Highlander is right side up (why that’s so relieving he isn’t sure), but the driver’s side has been, for lack of a better term, scrunched up by the impact and is now tilted toward the passenger side.  Said scrunching has also left his bottom half pinned underneath the steering column. 

Speaking of... Castiel focuses his seemingly molasses-logged mental faculties on his body, starting with his toes.  He attempts to flex his right foot and finds that it’s still pressed against the gas pedal, which he had slammed on in a futile attempt to outrun the impending collision.  He can’t manage more than the slightest wiggle of his trapped foot, but that, along with the slowly registering pain he feels radiating throughout his body reassure him.  At first, the pain feels... distant, almost like it’s happening to someone else.  That doesn’t even make sense.  If he could move his head, he’d shake it to dispel the ridiculous thought, but he finds that moving anything seems to take a colossal amount of effort, and each small movement sharpens his increasing awareness of the pain which suddenly seems much more present, and a thing that is definitely happening to him.  His ribs burn and his attempts to move send shooting pains through his pelvis.  Yet, somehow more prevalent in the forefront of his mind is a sharp pain in his backside.  It feels like something is stabbing him and pressing deeper with every shift.  How absurd.  He has God-only-knows how many broken bones and the thing that’s bothering him most is something poking him in the ass.  Castiel tries to chuckle, but all that leaves his lips is a pained gasp.  He breathes through the pain. 

Pain is good, he reminds himself.  Pain means alive.  Pain means feeling.  Pain means not paralyzed.  That thought brings immense relief, in spite of his growing discomfort.  The only place he doesn’t feel pain is his head, which either means he’s been lucky enough not to sustain a head injury... or just means he’s in even more shock than is already apparent.  Suddenly exhausted, Castiel drops his head and stops trying to analyze his situation.  On TV, doctors and EMTs are always trying to reduce the symptoms of shock.  Distantly, Castiel thinks there must be a reason, but he knows enough to recognize now that it’s shock keeping his pain at bay and so he embraces it as he feels himself slowly drifting, his thoughts turning hazy.

The crunch of boots on gravel and broken glass bring Castiel’s head up.  He drags his eyes upward from where his unfocused gaze on the light splatter of blood staining his slacks has been causing the small red droplets to dance around one another.  An indistinct figure in the dark blue uniform of a police officer walks toward him, the red and blue lights of his patrol car flashing in the background.  He’s not sure how long it’s been since he collided with the other SUV, which he only now realizes he hasn’t seen since those brief seconds before the crash.  He supposes his vehicle must have spun away after the impact, but he can’t remember for sure. 

The officer’s voice interrupts Castiel’s thoughts, asking his name and assuring him that help is on the way.  Castiel finds that he can’t quite bring his head up enough to focus on the man’s face, hovering what is probably only a few feet above him but may as well be miles, and focuses his attention on the dark skin of his hands instead. 

As the officer continues to speak, Castiel’s attention drifts.  He thinks he answered some of the questions asked of him, but he’s not really sure of that either.  He would feel frustrated if he could feel anything beyond a sense of numbness and a growing fatigue in the top half of his body, which is still straining to remain upright.  It’s getting harder and harder to force his mind to attention and he floats in a haze of shock and adrenaline until the sound of nearing sirens catches his ear and finally draws his gaze to the officer’s face.  Castiel is certain he didn’t imagine the expression of relief on features drawn tight with concern.  For the first time since the accident, he feels afraid.  How badly must he be injured for the officer to look like that?  Eyes crossing and gaze unfocusing, Castiel’s heartrate and breathing quicken and he feels as if he might fly right out of his body.  Overwhelmed, he surrenders to the feeling, letting it carry him away.  

He almost doesn’t register the officer’s last words, drenched with relief, “Do you hear that?  The firefighters are here.”

 


 

“Mornin’ Sunshine.”

The voice is deep but gentle; warm and reassuring, like sunlight through the window pane on those early spring days when the sun pushes away the winter chill and whispers promises of summer.  It calls Castiel back to himself and with less effort than any motion has taken so far, he turns his head to the left and opens his eyes, only to find his breath catching in his throat as he locks onto green eyes less than a foot away from his.  The eyes match the voice, Castiel thinks idly, a warm green flecked with gold that reminds him of summer afternoons as a child spent exploring the woods behind his grandparents’ house, pinpricks of sunlight filtering through the dense leaf cover.  And where did that thought come from?  Maybe he actually did hit his head after all.

“Ah, there you are.” The eyes crinkle around the edges, drawing Castiel’s attention to the rest of the man before him.  The glass in Castiel’s driver’s side window had shattered and fallen away from the door completely, opening the space through which the man (firefighter, Castiel corrects in his head, remembering the police officer’s parting words) leans carefully, bringing himself level with Castiel.  He’s close enough that Castiel can discern his features even without his glasses.  The green eyes that provoked such embarrassingly poetic thoughts of summer are set in a tan face with high cheekbones, a strong, stubbled jawline, and full cupid’s bow lips that look equally suited to pouting or smiling.  Right now, they’re smiling gently as Castiel takes in light brown hair, muscled arms, and a broad set of shoulders filling out a fitted, dark gray t-shirt framed by the mangled remains of Castiel’s car window.  In short, he’s the most gorgeous man Castiel has ever seen up close.  Suddenly, Castiel is mortifyingly aware that he has a dribble of blood and saliva hanging from his mouth, but he still can’t get his muscles to cooperate enough to wipe it way.  His embarrassment is short lived however.  Like the other swirling thoughts he’s had since the crash, he can’t seem to grasp onto it and it shifts away like sand through his fingers. 

“My name’s Dean,” says the firefighter as his eyes continue to hold Castiel’s.  “Can you tell me yours?”

“Castiel.  Milton.”  It takes Castiel several seconds to form his mouth around the familiar and yet suddenly foreign shape of his name.  He’s not sure if it’s from the trauma and shock of the accident or the shock from the vision that is Dean the Firefighter, but he suspects it might be both.

“Hey Cas.” Dean’s smile widens like Castiel’s given him a gift and not just struggled to produce his own damn name. 

“We’re gonna get you out of here, but it’s going to take a little bit, so I need you to stay with me and talk to me, okay? Were you alone in the vehicle?” Dean asks, his eyes flickering to the car seat positioned on the passenger side of Castiel’s back seat. 

“Yes,” Castiel grunts, his words slurring together as he adds, “My daughter.  Claire.  At daycare.” 

Claire had been the reason Castiel was in the car in the first place, making the left hand turn that should have led him towards Claire’s daycare, but instead ended with him trapped in the wreckage of his SUV.  Castiel had received a call from the daycare while teaching his last class of the day at Shawnee Mission North High School, letting him know that 8-month-old Claire had a fever.  Castiel had cursed inwardly.  He’d known Claire wasn’t feeling good that morning, her usual happy demeanor subdued and replaced by whiney clinginess.  However, she hadn’t had a fever, and while people tended to think teachers “lucky” for having two months off in the summer, what they didn’t realize was that this resulted in them getting very little sick leave during the school year.  Unfortunately, small children typically weren’t considerate enough to reserve all of their sniffles and illnesses for the months of June and July.  Also, it was only the first week of school and Castiel hadn’t wanted to set a bad example for his students by missing a day already.  After all, the best way to teach was through example.  If his students didn’t think that he took his class and their learning seriously enough to show up, neither would they.  And so, Castiel had dropped Claire off at daycare that morning and hoped for the best.  So much for that. 

Resigned, he had sighed and assured the daycare assistant that he was on his way.  After assigning reading for his students to complete and quickly arranging for an office staff member to cover the last 25 minutes of his class, Castiel had rushed to his SUV and pulled quickly out of the parking lot.  Feeling guilty and eager to get Claire home, Castiel’s mind had jumped from thoughts of how much children’s ibuprofen he had at the house, to how he was going to rearrange his lesson plans for the next week to make up for missing half a class today (thank goodness it was Friday and he’d at least have the weekend to make adjustments), to how he was going to get dinner made with a sick child at home (not to mention the grocery shopping and other errands he needed to do this weekend).  Castiel loved his daughter more than anything, but sometimes the stress of being a single parent caught up to him.  Feeling exhausted and defeated, Castiel had pulled up to the stop sign at an intersection less than five minutes from his school, his mind still on his seemingly endless “to do” list.  He had looked both ways before pulling into the intersection.  He knows he did.  Did he see the other SUV?  How could he not have?

“Okay,” soothes Dean, drawing Castiel back to the present.  “Do you feel any pain right now?”  Dean’s eyes narrow in concern, never leaving Castiel’s.  Castiel couldn’t look away if he tried and while he had found himself barely able to respond to the police officer, he feels compelled to answer Dean the Firefighter.  He pushes away the floaty feeling still clouding his mind and focuses instead on the sharpening pain. 

“My lower back hurts the worst,” he says and look at that, his first sentence!  “My hips and pelvis hurt if I move.  And it feels like something is poking me in the... back.”  The pain floods his awareness and Castiel gasps, his breaths coming harsher as he begins to feel the damage done to his body all over again. 

Dean’s eyes scan down his torso, sharply taking in the details of his visible injuries.  He continues to guide Castiel through cataloguing his pain.  Castiel finds himself able to answer Dean’s questions, although the effort it takes is palpable.  He seems completely unable to form any novel conversation of his own though.  His mind is still sluggish and what thoughts he’s able to hold onto refuse to be forced into spoken words. 

“You’re doing great, Cas,” Dean says softly, his eyes back on Castiel’s.  Castiel tries to nod, but the right arm that’s still supporting his upper half wobbles dangerously and he gasps as the sudden shift sends pain through his back and pelvis. 

“Here,” Dean says quickly, already moving around the front of the SUV, “let me get in there and help you with that.”  Sliding into the passenger seat, Dean wraps his left arm behind Castiel while bracing Castiel’s right shoulder against his chest and gripping his bicep with a warm, firm hand. 

“There, I’ve got you.  Just relax,” says Dean, easily taking Castiel’s weight as he sags against him with a sigh of relief.  Castiel has no idea how long they sit like that, only vaguely aware of the movement and voices of Dean’s fellow firefighters around him as they cut away the driver’s side door.  The floaty feeling from before starts to press against Castiel’s consciousness again and he feels himself start to drift like an unmoored boat floating away from the shore. 

“Stay with me, Cas,” Dean’s voice anchors him, solid and strong against the tide.  Castiel pulls himself back from the edge, focusing on the warm, firm line of Dean’s body against his.

Castiel’s awareness sharpens as the door to his left is lifted away from the SUV and he hears the whiskey rich voice of another fire fighter say in a (Cajun?) tinged accent, “Ain’t gonna work.  No way we’ll be able to get him out this way.” 

“What do you want to do?”  asks a disembodied voice, presumably that of yet another one of Dean’s colleagues. 

“We’ll have to take the whole roof off,” answers the Cajun decisively.  “Dean, you’re gonna want to come out of there.  We’ve gotta take the roof.”  Castiel panics.  No.  Instinctively, he knows that Dean is the only thing holding him together right now.  Without Dean, he’ll fly apart.  A cold fear fills every part of Castiel’s body, even subsuming the ever-present pain. 

“Don’t leave me!” screams Castiel in his mind, the sentiment echoed by every suddenly taut muscle in his body, but the words get caught in his throat, his mouth unable to form the syllables and his breath too strangled to force out the sounds.  However, it seems his panic was for nothing, because barely a moment passes before he can feel Dean shaking his head next to him. 

“Nah.  I’m good where I am.  I’ll need a shower after this, cause I’ll be covered in glass, but I’ll be fine.” 

Castiel starts to relax, then tenses again as the Cajun firefighter he’s quickly building a grudge against responds, “At least take a minute to put on some gear.” 

Dean stiffens next to him and says firmly, tone brooking no argument, “He’s already gone out on me twice Benny.  I’m not leaving him.” 

Castiel feels lightheaded with relief at the decisiveness in Dean’s voice and Benny must hear it too, because he sighs, “Alright brother.  It’s your choice.”  Dean shifts beside Castiel and leans into him. 

“Alright Cas, here comes the hard part.  We’re gonna get you out of here, but we’ve gotta take the roof off and while we do that, we’re gonna have to cover you with a sheet to protect you from the glass.  I’ll be right here though.  I’m not going anywhere.” 

While the concern is touching, Castiel thinks it a little excessive.  It’s just a sheet.  He knows Dean will still be here next to him and he’ll be able to hear everything happening, even if he can’t see it. 

But Dean must know something he doesn’t.  As the heavy white sheet descends over his head, separating him from Dean and the distractions of the outside world, Castiel’s focus narrows to his own body, to the pain, to the abrasions covering his arms where the glass from his window has sliced at him and ground itself into his skin, to the blood still spattered on and around him.  He feels his pulse quicken, his breaths coming shallow and fast, and the same flying apart feeling as before begins to crash over him, pulling him further from the shore. 

As he starts to drift away, he suddenly feels the press of Dean’s forehead against his own through the rough fabric and hears that warm, sunlit voice murmer quietly in his ear, too low to be overheard by the firefighters currently working to remove the SUV’s roof, “Stay with me, Sweetheart.” 

Dean’s voice, the quiet endearment, and the extra point of contact at his forehead ground Castiel.  How Dean knew, he can’t imagine, but everything he’s done is exactly what Castiel needs in this moment.  His eyes tear up and he wishes for the words to express his gratitude to the firefighter currently curved over him protectively, his head bowed to rest against Castiel’s, exposing his neck to the shower of crumbling safety glass.  As it is, the words seem to get lost somewhere between his brain and his mouth, so he presses his forehead back against Dean’s, doing his best to reassure the firefighter that he’s heeded his words.  He’s still here.  He stayed.

Castiel blinks up at Dean as the white tarp-like sheet is carefully pulled off him, squinting at the sudden brightness now that his SUV is officially a convertible.  The change is disorienting.  Whereas before it had felt like he and Dean were in their own world, separated from the buzz of the busy firefighters moving around his vehicle by the twisted metal frame of his Highlander, now the rescue team is suddenly much closer, climbing over the crumpled hood as they prepare to lift Castiel out of the vehicle. 

Dean smiles down at Castiel, “There you are.  Ready to get out of here?”  Dean supports Castiel’s right side, while another firefighter takes his left as two others crouch behind and in front of him.  As the team begins to slowly lift Castiel and slide him out from beneath the weight of the steering column, pain flares through his bottom half and Castiel throws his head back and lets out a pained shout. 

“Easy! Easy,” Dean calls roughly to his colleagues, who pause in their attempt to extricate Castiel from the wreckage. 

“Hey there, Sunshine,” Dean says soothingly, “I know it hurts, but we’ve gotta move you.  We’ll be as careful and as quick as we can be, okay?” 

In too much pain to speak, Castiel grits his teeth and nods once.  Seeing his resolve, Dean gives his team the go ahead to continue. 

In a move that is surprisingly smooth and fluid, Castiel is lifted out of the driver’s seat, over the hood of his SUV, and deposited gently on a stretcher before he even has time to react to the sudden spike in pain.  Once there, two EMTs strap his chest to the backboard, before one moves to straighten his lower half, which even Castiel can see is twisted unnaturally.  As the man places his hands on Castiel’s hips and begins to turn them, Castiel screams in agony.  In less than a heartbeat, Dean is there. 

“Don’t turn him,” he orders the EMT gruffly.  “I’m about 90% sure he’s got a shattered pelvis.  Just take him like that.” 

As the EMT starts to argue, Dean talks over him, “Look, it’s pretty clear that moving hurts him.  There’s no reason to move him more than you have to.  Leave it.” 

Castiel hears another voice call out, “We’ve got to go!  That was a long extraction and we’re running low on fuel.” 

At this, Dean looks down at Cas, “Hey Sunshine, guess what?  You’re gonna take a ride in a helicopter.”  He nods to the left and Castiel looks to see a medevac chopper sitting in the field next to the intersection. 

As Castiel turns his gaze back to Dean, his eyes land on a black SUV with a smashed front end, sitting abandoned in the middle of the road.  Wide, scared eyes and blonde hair flood his memory.  The other driver.  Castiel scans the area surrounding the SUV, but there’s no sign of her.  Is she okay?  Was she injured and already taken to the hospital?  By ambulance or was she flown out too?  Castiel swallows.  Or worse, did he kill somebody?  He looks up at Dean.  He should ask.  Castiel opens his mouth, but it seems that although his brain is functioning, his mouth is still in Q&A mode.  Voluntary sentences are apparently a no go.  Castiel closes his eyes as he’s flooded with guilty relief that he won’t have to ask about the woman and learn the consequences of his horrifying mistake right now.  He’ll ask eventually, but right now, it’s taking everything he has to hold himself together and he’s not sure he could handle it if the worst is true.  He feels selfish and cowardly, but there it is.

Blissfully, he’s distracted from his current train of thought as they approach the helicopter and Dean speaks again, “Cas, these are my friends Jo and Tessa and they’re gonna take good care of you.”  The two flight medics smile at him and Castiel manages a weak smile in return. 

“Is there anyone we can have the hospital call for you?” Dean asks and Castiel didn’t realize until just that moment how much he had been waiting for someone to ask that question.  “My brother,” he almost shouts, “Gabriel.”  Castiel rattles off Gabriel’s cell number, the only phone number besides his own and his work number that he has memorized.  He had rolled his eyes when he first learned Gabriel’s phone number and the reason behind it.  The last four digits, “7399,” spelled out the word “S-E-X-Y.”  “Easy to remember and the pick-up lines write themselves,” Gabriel had winked when he first gave Castiel his new number.  Now though, Castiel is suddenly grateful for his ridiculous older brother’s immature sense of humor, not that he’ll ever tell him that. 

Thoughts of Gabriel immediately lead to thoughts of Claire.  Gabriel will be able to finally pick her up from daycare.  How late is it anyway?  He knows Claire is too young to understand what’s going on, but Castiel always picks her up at the same time every day.  Does she realize that something’s different?  Is she upset that the other children have all gone home, but her Daddy hasn’t come through the door yet?  Will she be upset when he’s not there to put her to bed tonight?  She’s so young she won’t even be able to understand why he’s not there... why he’s left her.  He blinks back tears as he wonders how long it will be before he tucks in his baby girl again.  Desperate to pull himself away from his dark thoughts, he looks back up at Dean, who must notice his distress, because he places a gentle hand on Castiel’s shoulder and squeezes. 

“You’re gonna be okay, Cas.” As the stretcher is lifted into the helicopter, Jo and Tessa climbing in with him, Castiel watches Dean.  He wishes he could say something; thank you, goodbye, anything, but the words don’t come.

Chapter Text

Friday, September 7, 2018

Dean watches the medevac grow smaller as it carries Cas toward the trauma center at the University of Kansas Medical Center’s main campus in Kansas City.  It’s the top trauma facility in the state of Kansas;  he’ll be in good hands there.  Sighing, Dean shakes his head at himself before turning away from the shrinking chopper and walking back toward the accident scene. 

Cas? Since when does he nickname accident victims? And not only that, he called the man sweetheart for fuck’s sake.  Who even does that?  In Kansas no less.  Dean’s just lucky the guy couldn’t move or he’d probably have been decked, and rightfully so.  You can’t just go around calling strangers pet names like, “Sunshine” and “Sweetheart.”  Christ, if Bobby, Dean’s pseudo-uncle/surrogate father and department chief knew about that he’d ream Dean a new one and make him sit through the sexual harassment training again. 

On the other hand, Cas (Castiel, for fuck’s sake) hadn’t seemed to mind.  He’d definitely calmed when Dean called him sweetheart and had seemed more focused and stable every time Dean referred to him as “Cas” or “Sunshine.”  Sure Winchester, the guy might have had a head injury and was definitely in shock.  I’m sure that didn’t have any impact on his reactions at all. 

Dean still can’t figure out what possessed him to behave so intimately with the handsome stranger.  And Cas is certainly handsome.  Wild, dark hair sticking out in every direction (Dean’s not sure if that was by nature, design, or a result of spinning out after being struck by a two-ton piece of machinery, but whatever it was, it sure as hell was working for Cas) above stupidly blue eyes and a jaw that looked like it probably had a five o’clock shadow at nine in the morning.  Somehow even the bruises and lacerations from the accident only added to the allure. 

Nope.  Nope, nope, nopity-fucking-nope.  Dean is not going to keep thinking about the attractiveness of a man who had been literally trapped in his vehicle for their entire acquaintance!  He categorically refuses to be that flavor of creepy.  The bottom line is that he’d looked into Cas’ frightened, pain-filled eyes (has he mentioned how stupidly blue they were?) and the endearments had rolled off his tongue.  It had felt right.  Dean’s always had good instincts when it comes to reading people and he generally trusts those instincts.  He’d done so with Cas and there’s no point in second guessing himself now.

Still feeling more than a little guilty and hoping to hell his idiot mouth didn’t make an already God-awful situation even worse for Cas, Dean watches as the rest of his company prepares to toss the now liberated roof back on top of the demolished SUV, in preparation for the tow truck and clean-up crews to clear the road.  As the group prepare to heave the roof, Dean sees the sunlight glint off a pair of glasses resting on the passenger side floor. 

“Just a sec,” he calls, ducking back into the vehicle and scooping up the black plastic frames.  Shit, that must have been the reason Cas was squinting so much.  He probably couldn’t see for shit without his glasses.  Dean feels bad.  How much scarier must something like that be when you can’t even see what’s happening around you? 

Cringing as the roof falls onto the Highlander’s remains with a loud crunch, Dean watches as the car seat he’d noticed earlier is crushed beneath the falling metal.  Cas had mentioned a daughter, but gave his brother as his next of kin.  Does that mean he’s not married to Claire’s mom, or had he just wanted his brother to be the one to break the news to her and not some impersonal nurse from the hospital?  Dean hadn’t noticed a ring, but that doesn’t always mean anything.  Most of the married guys at the station, for example, don’t wear their rings while on duty.  Why is he even wondering about this?  It’s not like it matters whether or not Cas is single.  Jesus Dean, trying to pick up accident victims now?  It’s been far too long since he’s been laid, clearly.

Dean looks up and clears his head of errant (and totally fucking inappropriate) thoughts as he sees Benny walking towards him. 

“Hey brother, whatchya got there?”  Benny asks, nodding at the glasses clutched in Dean’s hand. 

“Glasses.  They were on the floor of the Highlander.  Probably flew right off Cas’ face.  I’ll stop by the hospital and drop them off tomorrow before my shift.” 

Benny raises his eyebrows, “I’m sure, ‘Cas’ will appreciate it.” 

Dean scowls at Benny who smirks, but has the good sense not to comment further, instead changing the subject, “Why don’t you catch a ride back with the first rig?  Rescue 1 is gettin’ ready to head out.  Get that shower before the next call comes in.” 

Dean nods in relief and absently scratches the back of his neck.  Auto glass is designed to break apart into tiny pebbles so there aren’t as many shards as there would be otherwise, but it’s still irritating as hell and Dean’ll be glad to get rid of it. 

“Thanks man.  I’ll catch you back at the station.”  With that he jogs over to the waiting truck and climbs aboard.

 


 

Jo and Tessa work quickly and efficiently, hovering over Castiel as the chopper makes its way further into Kansas City.  As Tessa cuts Castiel’s clothes away from his body, he has the fleeting thought that he’s going to miss that button up.  It was almost new, bought for the coming school year.  Of course, it’s not like he’ll be needing work clothes any time soon.  He doesn’t know the extent of his injuries, but the fact that he’s being life flighted would probably indicate they are... significant, to say the least.  At that thought, Castiel feels the panic begin to well up again and ruthlessly pushes it down.  Not now.  Instead, he focuses on Jo’s face as she holds up a long, thick piece of black fabric with three Velcro straps. 

“I know it hurts to have anything moving or touching your hips,” she says apologetically, “but we have to put this binder on you to stabilize your pelvis before we move you again.” 

Suppressing his panic again at the anticipation of more pain, Castiel nods weakly.  Jo and Tessa are quick as they shimmy the binder underneath Castiel’s hips and fasten it around his waist, one of them straightening his torso while the other secures the Velcro fastenings, but fuck does it hurt.  The noise that leaves Castiel would probably be classified as a scream if his teeth weren’t clenched together so hard.  After the binder is fastened, Castiel’s pain abates somewhat (somewhat being from a 10 to maybe a 9), and he finds that he’s now able to lie flat.  He tries to relax his muscles and regain control of his ragged breathing as he feels the medevac making its descent.

Still dazed from the pain, Castiel barely realizes what’s happening as his stretcher is transferred from the chopper to a gurney and he’s whisked away from Tessa and Jo and into the trauma bay of the University of Kansas Medical Center, suddenly surrounded by new faces.  He counts at least five nurses and doctors hovering over him, while others move in and out of his peripheral vision bringing equipment, checking monitors, and conferring with the team currently working on Castiel with impressive speed.  Every one of them seems to know their job and their role in Castiel’s care, weaving around one another with practiced ease. 

After a team of trauma nurses and doctors carefully transfer him from the back board to a hospital bed, an experience which while unpleasant is still so much better with the binder in place, one nurse walks him through giving his basic information and describing his injuries and current pain level again as two others sit on either side of him, each holding an arm while they attempt to place an IV line. 

“Got it!” calls out the nurse on his left as she places the line, while her counterpart stops her quest for a vein in his right arm and pats it instead, “Once you’re a little more stable we’ll be able to give you some pain meds through your IV.” 

 “That would be very much appreciated,” he mumbles, relieved to hear the words actually complete the journey from his brain to his vocal chords this time.  That has to be a good sign, right?

A doctor introduces himself to Castiel as one of the hospital’s trauma attendings and tells Castiel he’s ordering an MRI. 

“I’m sorry we can’t hold off until after you’ve had some pain meds, but we need to get a look at your internal injuries as soon as possible.  Once we have an idea of what we’re looking at and you’ve stabilized, we’ll see about getting you a bed in the ICU.” 

Castiel just nods tiredly. 

As his bed is returned to the trauma bay following his MRI, a new nurse greets him with, “Mr. Milton?  I was able to reach your brother.  He’s on his way to pick up your daughter now.  As soon as he’s made arrangements for her care, he’ll be on his way.”  Tears well up in Castiel’s eyes.  He doesn’t think he’s ever been so happy to hear that his insufferable brother is coming. 

After what feels both like an eternity and no time at all, Castiel learns that his blood pressure and heartrate have stabilized enough for him to receive pain medication and he’s introduced to the wonderful world of intravenous narcotics.  He sighs in relief and his eyes slip closed as the pain fades to a dull roar, still ever-present, but able to be pushed to the background.  The busy buzz of the trauma bay continues around him, but Castiel only dimly pays attention.  Two nurses bathe him and clean his wounds and a doctor sutures the cuts on his face and arms, as well as a long laceration down the left side of his rib cage. 

“We’ll wait to close the wound on your backside until we have you in surgery.  It’ll definitely need stitches, but it’s stopped bleeding for now.”  Ah ha!  Castiel knew something was stabbing him in the car. 

Finally, following another MRI and having a catheter placed (and isn’t he glad that at least waited until after the pain meds were in his system), Castiel’s condition is declared critical but stable and he’s transferred to the hospital’s surgical intensive care unit.  He doesn’t know what time it is now, only that it’s dark outside the windows and probably has been for some time.  Castiel barely hears the ICU staff introduce themselves as his eyes slip closed after what has been a very long day.

 


 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Castiel isn’t sure how much time has passed when he wakes to Gabriel’s familiar and boisterous laugh, but sees bright sunlight shining through the windows above his bed, so he’s guessing it must be sometime mid-morning.  He takes in the steady blip tracing and retracing its jagged line across the screen of the heart monitor next to his bed, then scans the rest of the ICU room he’d barely taken in before falling asleep the night before. 

It’s a private room, as all the ICU cubicles are, not large but spacious enough to accommodate a single bed along with the heart monitor and, he imagines, whatever other equipment critically injured patients might need, without being in the way of the ICU medical staff.  A whiteboard lines one wall with sections for the date, his current nurse’s name, care plan, and pain goal (not something he ever thought he’d have to be quite honest) above a 1-10 scale lined with increasingly distressed smiley faces.  The room is clean and bright, and reassuringly quiet after the constant action of the trauma bay. 

“Hey kiddo!  Glad to see you back in the land of the living,” says Gabriel, drawing Castiel’s eyes to the front of the room, where his brother is leaning against the door frame next to a pretty nurse with curly blonde hair, dressed in light blue scrubs. 

“Good morning Castiel,” says the pretty nurse brightly, “My name is Jessica and I’ll be your nurse today.”  Jessica moves to Castiel’s bedside and takes his vitals, asking, “How’s your pain this morning, on a scale of one to ten?” 

Castiel looks at the smiley face scale on the white board and tilts his head.  Is he supposed to look like one of those? 

Jessica follows his gaze and chuckles, “ten being the worst pain you can imagine and zero of course being no pain at all.” 

Castiel doesn’t have to imagine.  With a shudder, he recalls the pain of his hips being jostled and moved yesterday evening before the pain killers.  Labelling that in his head as his “ten,” Castiel considers his current pain in comparison and replies, “About a six or seven?” 

“Hmm,” responds Jessica, “not too bad considering, but I’m going to up your Tramadol a bit.  I’d like to get you down to a four or five if we can.” 

Nodding eagerly, Castiel quips, “You won’t get any argument from me.” 

Jessica smiles down at him kindly, “Looks like your sense of humor is intact.  Always a good sign!”  She fiddles with a machine attached to Castiel’s IV pole, then hands him a small cylinder with a button that’s attached to the machine by a long cord.  It reminds Castiel of a Jeopardy buzzer. 

“This is your magic button.” 

Seeing Gabriel’s eyes light up across the room, Castiel shoots him a flat look just as he opens his mouth.  Gabriel deflates and closes his mouth again with a pout. 

“Pressing it will give you an extra dose of pain medication through your IV.  You can only press it once every ten minutes though.  Go ahead and give it a try.” 

Castiel presses the button and notices a green light on his Jeopardy buzzer of pain relief go out. 

“You should feel the effects of the medicine in just a minute.  When the green light comes back on, it means you can press the button again for more.” 

Castiel nods his understanding as Jessica continues, “I’ll be in to talk to you later and so will one of the trauma docs.  For now, I’ll let you and your brother visit, but my desk is right there outside your door if you need me.”

“Thank you,” Castiel responds as Jessica moves away from his bed, to be replaced by Gabriel on his other side. 

Jessica nods her acknowledgement and leaves the room as Castiel turns his head to face his older brother.  Gabriel’s eyes have lost the amusement from earlier and now look serious and soft. 

“Hey, Baby Bro,” he says softly, “You really had me worried there for a minute.  When I got that call and they told me you’d been flown here...” his voice breaks and he lets the sentence trail off. 

“I’m so sorry, Gabe,” Castiel starts, but Gabe halts him with a shake of his head.

“No. No way kiddo.  Don’t you apologize.  You have nothing to be sorry for.” 

“But I do, Gabe,” Castiel cuts in, voice rough.  “The accident was my fault.  I was distracted and I pulled out right in front of that other SUV.  She didn’t even have time to stop.  I don’t know how I didn’t see her there.  I looked.  I swear I looked!”  Castiel cuts off, wiping his eyes angrily and flinging his head back against his pillows in frustration.  He lets out one involuntary sob and gasps as pain flares in his ribs.  Okay, crying is definitely a no then.  Seeing the green light has relit on his pain-banishing joystick, Castiel presses the button and sighs a moment later as he feels the meds make their way into his bloodstream.  Oh, he and the magic button are going to be good friends indeed.

“Cassie,” Gabe pauses until Castiel reluctantly meets his eyes again, “they’re called accidents for a reason.  It could have happened to anyone.”

“But it didn’t happen to anyone.  It happened to me.”

“I know, kid.  That’s not something I’m likely to forget anytime soon.”  Gabriel’s voice is light, but Castiel can hear the pain underneath.  He really did scare his big brother. 

Stifling the urge to apologize again because he knows Gabe won’t want to hear it, Castiel changes the subject, “Claire?” 

Gabriel smiles, “The munchkin’s fine.  Charlie’s got her for the day, which is why your BFF isn’t sitting next to your bedside with me.  I do have a message for you though.  I’m supposed to tell you not to worry about anything (not that you’ll listen), your classes will be taken care of (even though you’ll probably complain about what an awful job your sub did once you’re back), and that she will be royally kicking your ass for leaving her to face the ‘rabid hoards of teenage hormones’ on her own.” 

Castiel feels a genuine smile tug at the corners of his mouth for the first time since he made that left turn (well, half of that left turn) yesterday.  Charlie is his best friend and a fellow teacher at Shawnee Mission North.  Although he teaches English and she teaches Computer Science, the two have been close since Castiel started teaching at the school last spring, replacing a teacher who had retired after the Winter Break due to medical reasons.  A Kansas high school isn’t necessarily the most welcoming place for an openly gay male teacher and word of Castiel’s orientation had spread more rapidly through the school than he’d thought possible. 

Charlie had quickly adopted Castiel though, bouncing into the seat next to him at their first staff meeting together and announcing, “FINALLY!  Someone else around here who bats for the home team, am I right?” with a sly grin directed over his shoulder at Gordon Walker, the school’s PE teacher and baseball coach, who’d refused to even shake Castiel’s hand upon their introduction earlier that week. 

Charlie’s petite frame managed to contain a personality and force of will five times her size (“Sooo, you’re saying I’m bigger on the inside?” she’d asked excitedly when Castiel had told her as much, prompting a confused head tilt on his part when he didn’t understand the reference, which inevitably led to his induction into the world of Doctor Who, under Charlie’s experienced guidance. “It’s like I’m the Doctor, the tenth Doctor obviously, and you’re my companion!”).  Her friendship more than made up for the chilly reception he’d received from some of their other colleagues.

“Tell Charlie thanks for everything and I’ll gladly take any and all ass-kickings her majesty wishes to bestow if she can convince whatever warm body they have subbing for me to actually follow my damn syllabus while I’m out,” Castiel grouses, thinking forlornly of all the great ideas he’d had for his classes this year.   He wonders if he’ll be back in time for their Shakespeare unit in the spring. 

Speaking of time, “Gabriel,” Castiel begins hesitantly, “I don’t know how long I’m going to be here... and Claire—”

“Will be staying with me,” Gabriel cuts in smoothly, “or rather, I thought I’d stay at your place with her.  I figure it’ll be easier on the munchkin that way.  Then, once you’re home, I can move from your room to the sofa bed until you’re up on your feet and able to take care of Claire on your own again.” 

Castiel feels his eyes fill up with tears... again (What is with the crying? He’s certain he hasn’t cried this much since he was Claire’s age). 

“Gabriel, you... I... thank you,” Castiel finishes lamely.  Words can’t possibly express how grateful he is for his brother anyway, but Gabriel’s uncharacteristically soft smile says he understands anyway. 

“No problem little bro.  Now where’s that pretty nurse?” he wonders aloud as he waggles his eyebrows at Castiel. “I wonder if I can convince her that visitors need sponge baths too...”

 


 

Dean stretches before reaching for his phone in confusion, wondering why he set the alarm when he doesn’t work again until this evening.  His bleary gaze falls on the glasses sitting next to the phone on his nightstand and he remembers.  Cas.  He has to drive into the city today to drop Cas’ glasses off at the hospital.  Dean rubs his eyes and takes another moment to collect himself before he sits up.  He’d gone on three more calls before the end of his shift yesterday:  another accident (although thankfully less severe), a small house fire, and an equally small, but more difficult to extinguish kitchen fire at a popular local restaurant.  He’s exhausted, but he’ll take a series of minor calls over a major incident any day of the week.  There hadn’t been any fatalities on his shift yesterday, and that makes it a good day in Dean’s book. 

Thirty minutes later finds Dean showered and standing in his kitchen, frowning down at his Keurig and silently urging it to brew faster.  He still can’t believe he owns one of these damn things.  It had been a Christmas gift from Sam last year after getting tired of hearing Dean bitch about how he hated having to wait for an entire pot of coffee to brew when he was only going to drink one cup and, “No, Sammy, I can’t just brew half a pot.  It doesn’t taste the same you leaf-water-drinking heathen.”  Even though he’ll never admit it to Sam, as a single guy living by himself, the Keurig really is more convenient. 

Travel mug (finally) full, he grabs his keys and wallet and heads toward the door, stopping to give his reflection a once over in the full-length mirror that hangs on the door of his coat closet. (Why does he have a full-length mirror just chilling in his entry way?  Fuck if he knows.  It was there when he moved in, but to be honest, it does come in handy at times like these.)  He takes in his faded AC/DC t-shirt under his red flannel, his fitted blue jeans, and black boots, and wonders if this is okay to wear to the hospital.  What does one wear when visiting a near-total stranger that he whispered goddam sweet nothings to while the poor shmuck was stuck there next to him, injured and unable to escape?  Fuck.  At least his jeans are clean and his t-shirt doesn’t have any holes in it (he doesn’t think so anyway).  He glares at himself in the mirror one more time (as if it’s his reflection’s fault Dean’s a dumbass), before raking his fingers through his short brown hair and stepping outside.

Dean locks the door to his one-bedroom apartment and heads for the parking lot and his 1967 Chevy Impala.  His apartment isn’t much, it’s small and dated, but it’s clean, in a good neighborhood, and all he can really afford on the salary of a dedicated public servant.  He supposes he could have found a place in a cheaper suburb (Overland Park isn’t the most inexpensive place to live) but that would have meant a significantly longer commute to the station.  His Baby is a lot of things, but easy on the gas mileage ain’t one of them.

As Dean slides into the driver’s seat he pulls up Sam’s contact on his phone, chuckling like always at the expression on Sam’s face in his contact photo (one Dean affectionately refers to as, “Bitchface No. 7”) and hits the call button.  He puts the phone on speaker before tossing it gently on the passenger seat. 

“Hey, Sammy,” Dean says when Sam picks up after a couple of rings, “is Jess working today?” 

“Yeah,” Sam answers, “She’s on the next three days, why do you ask?” 

“An accident victim from one of my calls yesterday was flown out to her hospital.  I found the guy’s glasses at the scene after they’d flown him out and thought I’d drop them off for him.  It has to suck not being able to see anything on top of everything else he’s got going on right now.  Based on his injuries, I’d bet money he ended up in your fiancée’s ICU.” Dean checks his side mirror before changing lanes and making he right turn that’ll take him toward Kansas City.

“She’ll be there, but I don’t know if she’ll be able to let you in to see him, Dean,” Sam replies.  “HIPPA and everything.”

“Why not?  Patients are allowed visitors in the ICU right?  Even non-family ones.” 

“Well yeah, Dean, but those visitors are generally people the patient actually knows,” says Sam-the-know-it-all-lawyer.

Dean shrugs, “If she can’t, then I’ll just leave the glasses with her and she can pass them along, Sam.  Not like it’s a big deal.” It’s not a big deal, he tells himself firmly.  There’s really no reason for him to see Cas again anyway, even if he is itching to check up on the guy.  To see how he’s doing.  It was a pretty goddamn bad accident after all.

Shaking his head, Dean continues his conversation with Sam. “Hey, since I’ll be in the city anyway, you want to grab lunch?”  Sam and Jess live in Kansas City, since it’s closer to Jess’ hospital and Sam’s law firm, both of which are in the city as well.  Overland Park is only about a twenty minute drive away, but life keeps all of them pretty busy and it’s easy to let weeks slip by without getting together. 

“Yeah, that’d be great,” Sam responds eagerly. 

Dean smiles.  Even if he doesn’t get to see Cas again, Dean’ll take any excuse to hang out with his little brother.

 


 

The increase in Castiel’s pain meds plus the additional boost from his, “magic button,” definitely seem to be having an effect.  Closing his eyes and leaning back against the comfort of his pillows, Castiel’s feeling pleasantly floaty.  Gabriel’s taking a walk down to the cafeteria to grab some more coffee, so Castiel basks in the silence that follows in his brother’s wake.  Quiet always seems somehow quieter after the jubilant noise that is Gabriel Milton.  Castiel knows his current floatiness won’t last long and he’s determined to enjoy the brief respite from pain and rational thought while he can.  

He’s well on his way to a nap when he catches a warm, whiskey-rich voice that he’d never thought to hear again, coming from right outside his hospital room door. 

“Excuse me,” Dean greets the woman seated behind the desk at the nurses’ station, “Name’s Dean Winchester.  I believe you have a patient here who was flown in from an MVA in Overland Park yesterday evening, Castiel Milton.  I was one of the first responders on the scene last night and I recovered his glasses from his vehicle.  I’d like to return them to him if I could.”  Dean smiles charmingly at the nurse. 

Castiel notes the difference in Dean’s voice now from the intimate tone he remembers whispering “sweetheart” in his ear just yesterday.  Dean sounds personable, but professional, the terminology of his field rolling off his tongue easily (and why is that so hot?). 

“I’m afraid if Mr. Milton isn’t expecting you, I can’t let you in to see him,” begins the nurse, but Castiel is not about to let Dean the firefighter turn around and leave after this unexpected chance to see the man again. 

“Dean the firefighter,” Castiel calls out, then immediately curses himself for sounding like an idiot.  Fucking floaty pain meds.  Dean turns and brightens as he greets Castiel. 

“Heya Cas,” he says with a soft chuckle, “but just Dean’s fine.  I save the full title for special occasions,” he quips with a wink. 

Castiel feels his mouth go dry.  It might just be the pain killers affecting him, but that wink should be illegal, because he’s pretty sure the things it does to him are illegal in some corners of the world.  Dean strides into Castiel’s room and stops next to his bed. 

“Found your glasses,” he says before handing them over. 

“Thank you, Dean,” Castiel replies.  “It’s been hell not being able to see anything.  Everything beyond arm’s reach is an indistinct blur.” He pauses to put his glasses on, then his breath freezes in his throat as he sees Dean, fully in focus, for the first time.  Castiel vaguely recalls having oddly poetic thoughts about Dean’s features when they met yesterday, but he had assumed they were a symptom of the trauma and shock of his accident; some kind of cross between a fantasy and a fever dream. 

He was wrong.  So wrong.

Dean Winchester (he now knows thanks to Dean’s professional introduction to the nurse, which is still hot) is the most singularly attractive specimen Castiel has ever laid eyes upon.  His short brown hair looks softer today than it did yesterday and his chin has an extra layer of stubble that only serves to highlight that strong jaw and the dusting of freckles across his nose that Castiel can see now, thanks to his augmented vision.  The red flannel he wears over a worn AC/DC t-shirt does nothing to hide his broad chest and thick shoulders and the sight of muscled forearms peeking out from rolled up sleeves makes Castiel’s previously parched mouth water.  And those green eyes are... looking at him quizzically

Of course they are, because Castiel’s been staring at him, open-mouthed, for God-only-knows-how-long!  Fuck!  Look away!  Look away!  Castiel snaps his jaw closed and ducks his head as he feels a furious blush begin to spread across his face.

Fortunately for Castiel, what shreds of dignity he has remaining to him are spared as Dean is distracted by the return of both Jessica and Gabriel, Jessica with a clipboard in her hand and Gabriel with a chocolate bar in his. 

“Oh, hey Dean!” says Jessica brightly, “Sam texted that you were on your way.  That was nice of you to bring Castiel’s glasses by.” 

“No problem,” Dean shrugs and rubs the back of his neck.  “Figured he’d appreciate being able to see what’s going on around here, well, except for the food.  Don’t look at that too closely,” he jokes, shooting a sideways grin at Castiel, who just stares back dumbly. 

“You know Jessica?” he asks, completely unnecessarily, since it’s already beyond obvious that Dean does in fact, know his nurse. 

“She’s my nurse,” Castiel continues, because stating the blatantly obvious is apparently what he does now. 

“Gabriel thinks she’s pretty,” he adds, before turning to Jessica. Oh God, why can’t he stop?! 

“If you’re single, you should date my brother.  He’s an ass, but he’s a good big brother.”

Shut up, shut up, shut up!  As Castiel finally manages to STOP TALKING, Gabriel, in a demonstration of his total lack of shame, bursts into laughter while Dean and Jessica both look to be (very unsuccessfully) fighting grins.  

“It’s the pain meds,” Jessica whispers, voice shaking with barely contained laughter. 

Gabriel wipes his eyes and takes a breath, “First baby bro, thanks for the assist. But, how about we wait until you’re not lying in a hospital bed before you play wingman.” 

“Plus,” Dean adds, “Jess here is actually engaged to my baby brother, so short stack over there is gonna have to find his own pretty nurse.”

“And I think that’s my cue to leave,” announces Gabriel.  “I need to check on the shop before I pick up the munchkin anyways.  Make sure those damn hipster kids I employ don’t give away all my merchandise to their damn hipster friends.” 

Gabriel owns a bakery/café near campus.  It’s primarily both run and frequented by college students and although he complains, Castiel knows that Gabriel really cares about his employees.  He goes out of his way to work around their busy college schedules, even taking on extra shifts himself during finals season to make sure his regular employees have extra time to study and finish their end-of-term projects. 

“Castiel, give me a call tonight.  I want to hear what the doctor has to say,” Gabriel says around a mouthful of what Castiel now realizes is his favorite chocolate. 

His brother just shrugs at the glare Castiel sends his way.

“Hey, don’t give me the stink eye.  I’m not the one who played chicken with an oncoming SUV.  As soon as they let you start eating solid foods again, I’ll sneak you in a whole box of muffins from the shop.  All your favorites.  Scout’s honor.”  He holds up his right hand with the pinky, ring, and index fingers extended, while the middle finger is held down by his thumb.

Castiel sighs.

“Gabriel, that’s the ‘shocker,’ not the Boy Scout’s oath.”

“Potato, poh-tah-to,” his older brother smirks.

Castiel rolls his eyes as Gabriel turns, bowing to Jessica and then nodding to Dean, “Unavailable-Pretty-Nurse.  Totally-Random-Guy-I-Don’t-Know-But-Who-Cassie-Is-Going-To-Tell-Me-All-About-When-He-Calls-Tonight.  A good day to you both.”  Castiel rolls his eyes again as Gabriel sweeps dramatically from the room, tossing his wadded-up chocolate wrapper in the trash can by the door as he goes.

Jessica shakes her head with a smile and turns back toward the bed. 

“Castiel, I just came in to let you know I’ll be going on lunch in a few minutes.  Just press your call button if you need anything and one of the other nurses will be in.”

“Thank you, Jessica.  I... apologize for both my brother and my earlier comment.” Castiel says awkwardly, trying and failing to fight another blush. 

“Don’t worry about it.  Really.  I’ve heard far worse from people under the influence of pain meds.  Actually, I’ve heard far worse from people not under the influence of pain meds.  See you later, Dean!” Jessica smiles at Castiel and waves at her future brother-in-law as she exits the room with substantially less drama than Gabriel had. 

Castiel looks around and realizes suddenly that he’s once again alone with Dean.  Dean seems to come to the same realization and shuffles his feet awkwardly.  “So, Cas, how ya feelin’?”

Cas raises an eyebrow at Dean and, without thinking, responds flatly, “Like I was hit by an SUV.”  Once again, Castiel is horrified at his sudden and appalling lack of social skills, but Dean just laughs. 

“I see you haven’t lost your sense of humor,” he says in an unknowing echo of Jessica’s earlier comment. 

Castiel grimaces, “I’m sorry Dean.  My people skills appear to be rusty.  I teach high school and sarcasm is a survival mechanism.  It seems the pain meds I’m on have dissolved whatever filter I may have had.” 

Dean chuckles, “No need to use a filter with me.  I’m not quite that delicate Cas.” 

I’m sure you’re not, thinks Castiel, then pauses to send a silent thank you out to the universe for that thought staying in his head. 

The conversation lapses, but Castiel has apparently done something to earn the favor of the god of awkward silences, because he’s once again saved by someone entering the room.  This time, it’s the same doctor he saw last night in the trauma bay. 

“Good morning Castiel.  I’m Dr. Patel.  We met yesterday evening.  I’d like to take a few minutes to go over the results of your MRI from last night and talk about our next steps.” 

The doctor looks from Castiel to Dean and Castiel reassures him, “It’s okay.  Dean can stay.  If you want to,” he adds quickly, turning to Dean, “You don’t have to, of course.  I’m sure you have things to do today and you’ve already gone above and beyond by returning my glasses.” 

Castiel’s babbling, but he can’t help it.  He can’t ask any more of Dean, the man really has gone far beyond the call of duty for Castiel already, but he can’t help but hope Dean will stay.  Jessica is on lunch and honestly, Castiel doesn’t want to be alone when he hears what the doctor has to say about his injuries and prognosis. 

Dean, apparently reading Castiel as easily today as he did in the SUV yesterday, simply nods and replies, “Sure I’ll stay, Cas.” 

Castiel lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding and directs a weak, but grateful smile at Dean.

“Okay then,” begins Dr. Patel, raising his eyebrows at Castiel, “the short version is:  You’re very broken.” 

Castiel huffs a relieved laugh in spite of himself.  If the doctor’s making a joke, that has to mean he’s going to be okay, right?

“As I’m sure you’ve guessed, you have a shattered pelvis.  Your pelvic ring is fractured in seven places, and when I say fractures, I mean complete fractures, not just cracks.  You’ll definitely need surgery to repair it, but I’m not sure yet when that will be scheduled.  Someone from Ortho will be in later to talk to you about it in more detail and we’ve sent your MRI images to Dr. Hawkins to review.  He’s off today and tomorrow, but he’s one of our trauma orthopedic surgeons and he’ll probably be the one operating on you.”

Castiel nods and inhales shakily.  His pelvis is broken into eight pieces.  “Very broken,” indeed. 

He feels Dean place a hand on his shoulder and give it a gentle squeeze before the doctor continues, “You also have transverse process fractures on your L3, 4, and 5 vertebrae.”  The doctor shows Castiel an image of his spine and indicates where the tips of tiny wing-like structures on his vertebrae have broken off. 

“There isn’t much we can do for those.  They’ll heal on their own in time, but you may suffer residual back pain.  Additionally, you have a broken rib on your right side, a splenic laceration (both of which will also heal on their own), and a perforated bladder.”  The doctor pauses, giving Castiel a moment to process what he’s said so far.  He can still feel the weight of Dean’s hand on his shoulder and internally thanks the man for his silent show of support.

“You said the broken rib and splenic laceration will heal on their own, but what about my bladder?” Castiel asks.

“That we’re not sure about yet.  For now, we’re watching it to see if the bleeding will slow on its own.  You’ve still got quite a bit of blood in your urine though,” Castiel winces at Dean hearing that, but the firefighter doesn’t bat an eyelash. Castiel figures the man must be used to this and worse with his job. “A member of our urology team will be checking in with your nurse throughout the day and they’ll decide if you’ll need to have your bladder repaired surgically as well.”

Castiel raises his eyebrows at the mention of more surgery, but the doctor is quick to reassure him, “We should be able to repair both your pelvis and bladder during the same surgery though, if it comes to that.”

Castiel lets his head fall back in relief at the (relatively) good news and Dean pats him on the shoulder before removing his hand.  He fights a shiver at the sudden coolness where the warmth of Dean’s touch had been grounding him a moment before, just like his forehead against Castiel’s own underneath that white tarp in his wrecked SUV.

Distracted by the loss of Dean’s hand, it takes Castiel a moment to realize the doctor is moving to the door, preparing to leave.

“Thank you, Doctor,” he says seriously. 

The doctor nods politely before making his exit. 

Moving to sit on the edge of bed, where Castiel can see him without having to turn his head, Dean asks softly, “Are you all right?”

“It’s... a lot,” Castiel settles on after a moment.

Dean nods.  He doesn’t tell Castiel not to worry or that it’ll be okay, which Castiel appreciates tremendously.  Maybe it will be okay, eventually, but even though he hasn’t heard his full prognosis, he knows that eventually won’t be for quite some time yet.  Lost in his own thoughts, Castiel stares speculatively at the stoic man seated across from him, who looks placidly back.  He seems to be waiting for something.  Castiel doesn’t know what that is, but suddenly, he does know what he needs to ask next.  He swallows.

“Dean, the other driver...”

“She’s fine,” Dean responds confidently, before Castiel can finish his question. 

“You’re sure?” Castiel asks in a choked voice.

“Definitely.  She was transported to KUMC’s Overland Park campus before we even had you out of the car, but that was mainly just a precaution.  From what the guys told me later, she was more worried about you.”

Dean pauses and meets Castiel’s eyes, “She’s shaken up Cas, but she’s going to be fine.”

Castiel covers his face with his hands and sucks in a ragged breath.  He hadn’t realized just how heavily that fear had been weighing on his mind.  Now that it’s gone, the relief is dizzying.  He takes a long moment to compose himself, then drops his hands and looks at Dean with wet eyes.

“Thank you,” he whispers.

One side of Dean’s mouth ticks up in soft half-smile.

“Anytime, Cas.”

 


 

Later that afternoon, after Dean has left to have lunch with his brother and work his shift at the fire station, Castiel loses himself in thoughts of the attractive firefighter.  Yesterday, he’d mostly been focused on Dean’s eyes, his face, his voice.  He’d found the man’s features pleasant, obviously, but in a distant way, the way one might admire a sunset.  Today, with the never ceasing drone of pain muted, he is acutely aware of Dean’s broad shoulders, his flat stomach, and his shapely, slightly bowed legs... legs that would lock into place perfectly around Castiel’s waist.

Castiel huffs a slightly bitter laugh at himself.  What is he thinking?  He’s probably never even going to see Dean again, let alone be in any kind of situation that might involve Dean wrapping himself around Castiel like a sex-starved octopus.  For one thing, Castiel thinks sadly as he looks down to where his shattered pelvis is immobilized beneath his hospital blankets, it’s going to be a very long time before he’s able to even entertain the idea of acrobatic cephalopod sex with anyone, let alone Dean, who Castiel reminds himself, is almost certainly straight.  The chances of handsome, charismatic, All-American, Kansas fireman Dean Winchester being attracted to men are slim to none.  There’s a better chance of Charlie renouncing her Gryffindor House membership (and hardcore Hermione-crush) and defecting to Slytherin. 

It’s been a very long time since Castiel was so instantly attracted to someone though; not since, well, Bartholomew.  Look how that turned out, he thinks forlornly.  Besides, even if being with Dean were a possibility, Castiel has Claire and his job to think about.  His life is more than full between the two and he simply doesn’t have time for anything (or anyone) else.  He also can’t afford the distraction.  He already let one moment of distraction nearly cost him everything.  He won’t let that happen again.  He can’t.

Castiel is interrupted from his musings by the arrival of two more doctors to his ICU cubicle.  Dr. Bower from orthopedics is a tall, outgoing woman with a lean, athletic build, golden skin, and long honey-colored hair.  Castiel has heard that orthopedic surgeons (many of whom specialize in sports medicine and related injuries), are the jocks of the medical world, known for an overabundance of confidence bordering on arrogance and a less-than-warm bedside manner.  Dr. Bower certainly fits the stereotype.  She’s cordial but direct, clearly not one to sugar coat or beat around the bush.  She goes over the injuries to Castiel’s pelvis again, confirming much of what Dr. Patel had explained earlier in the day.  She tells Castiel that there are a couple of different methods for repairing a pelvic injury like his and that Dr. Hawkins, the trauma surgeon Dr. Patel had referenced earlier, would make the final decision as to which method will be used during Castiel’s procedure.

“What about my recovery?” Castiel asks.  “Can you give me any idea of what to expect after the surgery?” 

“I’m sorry,” Dr. Bower explains, “the specifics of your recovery will really depend on which treatment method Dr. Hawkins decides on.  He’ll be the best one to answer that question.  You’ll see him Monday morning, before surgery.”

Castiel frowns.  That’s another day and a half before he’ll have any definitive answers about his long-term prognosis, but unfortunately, there isn’t much more Dr. Bower can tell him.

In direct contrast to the athletic Dr. Bower, Dr. Phan from Urology is a short (only about 5’5”), thin, and pale man with dark circles hovering beneath his eyes and a warm but tired smile.  He’s friendly and comforting, even though the news he has for Castiel isn’t what he’d hoped.

“I’ve conferred with your nurse, and it looks like the blood output in your urine isn’t decreasing.”

“What does that mean?” asks Castiel, even though he’s pretty sure he already knows, based on his earlier conversation with Dr. Patel.

“It means that the damage to your bladder isn’t healing on its own the way we had hoped it would,” he explains, “at least not quickly enough.  We’ll have to go in and cauterize the wounds surgically.  On the bright side, we’ll work with our friends in Orthopedics here so that we can sneak in during their OR time and get you all fixed up with one surgery.” 

Castiel smiles inwardly at Dr. Phan’s description of the “friendship” between Urology and Orthopedics, amused despite the news of additional surgical procedures.  He wonders if the other surgeons in their specialties resemble Dr. Bower and Dr. Phan.  If so, putting the two departments side-by-side would be like standing the Varsity lettermen next to the chess club.

The doctors excuse themselves and Castiel spends most of the afternoon drifting in and out of a pain medicine-induced sleep, until it’s time to call Gabriel that evening.  He relays everything he’d heard from his ever-expanding team of doctors that day and Gabe makes plans to take Monday off from the shop so he can be at the hospital for Castiel’s surgery.  Gabriel tries to get Claire to “talk” to Daddy on the phone, but when the 8-month-old just seems confused by the sound of Castiel’s disembodied voice on the speakerphone, they give up and Castiel thanks Gabe again before disconnecting the call.  He falls asleep some time later, lost in melancholy thoughts of green eyes and trying to remember the sound of his baby girl laughing.

Chapter Text

Sunday, September 9, 2018 – Monday, September 10, 2018

Castiel’s second full day in the ICU passes much like his first, but without the pleasant distractions of Gabriel’s antics or Dean’s bow legs.  He’s visited by doctors from Trauma, Orthopedics, and Urology again, although none of them have anything new to report.  He gets one more MRI (to get a look at things now that the initial swelling has gone down) and is told that he might get to enjoy a liquid dinner this evening before he’s cut off from food again after midnight, in preparation for surgery.  On the bright side, Castiel is pleased to see that his nurse for the day is Jessica again. 

“I work four days on, three off,” she explains, “so with any luck, you’ll be shipping out of here before me!  As long as you recover okay after your surgery tomorrow, we should be able to move you into a regular room sometime tomorrow night.”

Castiel knows this is meant to be encouraging, but he can’t help but feel a sense of trepidation at Jessica’s words.  The ICU has become familiar in the short amount of time he’s spent here and he’s reluctant to leave the safety of the peaceful floor.  He knows that he won’t receive the same level of attention on a regular hospital floor, where nurses have a caseload of patients to move between instead of sitting right outside the doors of just one or two. 

Despite his unease, the day passes quickly.  He’s unable to stomach more than a quarter of his soup, not feeling hungry in the slightest despite the fact that he hasn’t eaten anything in more than 48 hours, but Jessica brings him a latte from the Starbucks downstairs before heading out at the end of her shift (this is why she’s his favorite nurse) and he drinks almost half.  Damn, he’s missed coffee!  Food is one thing, but life without coffee is a fate unimaginable.

Before he knows it, the evening has passed and he’s slipped into another night of drug-induced slumber.  He’s awoken the morning of his surgery by the soft voices of Jessica and his night shift nurse as they talk about whatever it is nurses talk about during shift change. 

“Good morning,” chirps always-cheerful Jessica. 

Castiel glares at her in return.  Morning people aren’t to be trusted.

Jessica just laughs at him in response, “And how’s my favorite grumpy patient this morning?  Ready for surgery?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be considering I still haven’t talked to the surgeon.”  He narrows his eyes at her, “And aren’t I your only patient right now?”

“Lucky for you,” she quips back.  “Why do you think you’re my favorite?”

 Castiel grins. 

Shooting him an answering smile, Jessica continues, “Doctor Hawkins is here, but he’s already downstairs prepping for surgery.  He wanted you on the schedule first thing this morning, but he said he’ll meet us outside the OR.”

Castiel nods and soon he’s prepped for surgery and Jessica is walking next to his ICU bed as the entire thing is wheeled toward the elevator that will take them to the surgical floor.  Seeing Castiel’s tension increase with each step they travel toward the OR, she reaches over and pats his arm.

“I’ll be with you the whole time,” she says reassuringly, “and when you wake up you’ll be back in the ICU.”

Castiel smiles his appreciation as the elevator doors open and he’s wheeled into the corridor between the operating theatres and the OR waiting room.  He smiles again to see Gabriel leaning against one wall.

“Hey Cassie!” Gabriel greets cheerfully as he strolls up to the gurney.  “So, any ideas on how they’re gonna fix you up in there?”

“The doctor’s supposed to meet us before I go into surgery,” Castiel responds with a shrug.

“Maybe they’ll give you a bionic pelvis,” Gabriel grins wickedly.  “Just think of the possibilities!”

Castiel rolls his eyes affectionately as his older brother gives his hand a final squeeze and steps back so that Castiel can be rolled through the metal doors that lead into the area off-limits to family and friends.  Once the heavy doors close behind them, Castiel looks up to see a very tall African-American man dressed in green surgical scrubs and cap. 

“Good morning,” he intones in a deep voice, “I’m Doctor Hawkins and I’ll be your surgeon today.”

After Castiel returns his greeting, Dr. Hawkins briefly outlines the surgical procedure he plans to use with Castiel.  He’ll be implanting a number of permanent screws along with a stabilizing bar called and internal fixator or “INFIX,” that will need to be removed via a much shorter surgical procedure in a few months.  Today’s operation, including both the pelvic and bladder repairs, should take about eight to ten hours. 

Castiel swallows down his nerves at the thought of being under anesthesia for that long and asks the doctor the question that’s been at the forefront of his mind for the past two days.

“What will my recovery look like, long-term?”

“Well, you’ll be non-weight bearing for about the first three months, so you’ll need to use a wheelchair during that time.  After you leave here, you’ll probably have a brief stay in a rehabilitation hospital before you head home and you’ll need physical and occupational therapy from a home healthcare service then.  As long as your pelvis looks adequately healed at your twelve week post-op follow up, you’ll be able to start taking steps with a walker.  It’ll be about six months before you’re able to function fairly normally, but even then you’ll still be very aware of your injury.  Most of my patients report that it takes about a year before they feel fully recovered. You will make a full recovery though,” he emphasizes.

With each sentence, Castiel’s panic increases.  His heart rate jumps and he can feel his eyes threatening to spill over with goddamn tears again.  He’d known he was seriously injured, but a part of him had hoped the surgery would be the worst of it.  That it would fix him.  But of course, that was ridiculous.  There’s no such thing as a quick fix when one tries to play chicken with a 2,000lb. vehicle travelling at 50 miles an hour.  But a wheelchair.  How, how is he going to take care of himself?  More importantly, how is he going to take care of Claire?  He won’t even be able to get her in and out of her crib for the next three months!

Seeing his distress, Jessica moves to his side and takes his shaking hand in hers, squeezing comfortingly.  She remains silent, but her eyes are locked on the doctor.  It’s a good thing looks can’t actually kill, because as heartwarming as Jessica’s empathetic fury is, he actually needs this asshole to put his jigsaw puzzle of a pelvis back together... with metal bars and screws, like he’s a goddamn cabinet.

After the doctor turns and heads into the OR, Jessica turns to lock eyes with Castiel.

“Are you okay?” she whispers.

He nods and offers her a weak smile.  “I’m fine,” he says.  He can tell she doesn’t believe him, but she moves back, still holding his hand, as the anesthesiologist steps up to take Dr. Hawkins’ place.  After a quick word from her, Castiel is wheeled into the OR and asked to take deep breaths and count backward from 100 as a mask is placed over his face.  He complies and slips under, Jessica’s hand still clasped in his own.

 


 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Dean lasts until lunchtime Monday before deciding to go see Cas.  Normally, he enjoys the couple of days he gets off from the station each week, but this week he’s restless.  Over the past 36 hours, he’s changed Baby’s oil and given her a thorough (but mostly unnecessary) detailing, cleaned his entire apartment, done all his laundry, baked two pies (because pies should always come in pairs), and reorganized his DVD collection.  Not scheduled for a shift again until Wednesday, Dean still has another day and a half to fill.  Despite his determined attempts at distraction, his mind keeps wandering to chaotic dark hair, chapped pink lips, and tearful blue eyes.  The sight of Cas, lying all alone in that hospital room as Dean left for his lunch with Sam Saturday afternoon had made his heart ache in his chest.  He knew that Cas’ brother, Gabe he remembers, would have Claire all weekend, making it unlikely that he’d be able to visit.  The thought of Cas spending Sunday alone, counting down the hours to such a serious and intensive surgery by himself had eaten at him for the rest of the weekend, but he stayed away, uncertain if his presence would be welcome. 

After all, what is he to Cas?  Are they friends?  He barely knows the guy.  Sure, Cas had seemed relieved when Dean offered to stay during his discussion with the trauma doc, but no one wants to be on their own when they get major medical news like that, right?  It didn’t mean anything.  It sure as hell didn’t mean what Dean was absolutely not hoping it meant.  Cas is seriously injured, for Christ’s sake.  He’s spent the past two days lying in a hospital bed, unable to move because his chassis is cracked, no not cracked, broken into eight fucking pieces.  The last thing he needs is some skeevy guy drooling all over him.  But maybe, Dean bites his lower lip, maybe he could use a friend?  Besides, it’s not like he even knows if Cas is into guys.  In this area, the odds aren’t in Dean’s favor. 

Unfortunately, Dean’s libido isn’t impressed by such logic.  It doesn’t help that in addition to being drop dead gorgeous, the sight of Cas in those black rimmed glasses and his confession that he teaches high school for fuck’s sake, have reignited every “hot for teacher” fantasy Dean’s ever had... all now starring stubble, sex hair, and clear blue eyes. 

Dean looks at the clock.  It’s 12:45 now.  If Cas went into surgery first thing this morning, he’s probably still got a few hours left until his procedure is over, then he’ll spend an hour or two in recovery before being wheeled back to his room.  Dean decides he’ll wait and have an early dinner before heading up to the hospital to see Cas.  Sure, he could always wait until Jess’ shift is over tonight and talk her into spilling about how Cas’s surgery went (HIPPA be damned), but he has an almost burning desire to see the man and make sure he’s really okay for himself.  Besides, visiting someone in the hospital after surgery is something a friend would do, right?

Satisfied with his decision, Dean walks back into his living room.  He’d noticed yesterday that his bookshelf could use a little reorganizing.


Dean fidgets nervously in the corridor outside the large doors leading into the ICU.  He knows Cas isn’t back from recovery yet and the longer he waits here, the more uncertain he starts to feel.  Sure, visiting a friend in the hospital after surgery might be a normal thing to do, but right after surgery?  Will Cas even want to see anyone that soon after or would he rather be alone?  Or would he just not want to see Dean?  Will Cas be creeped out that Dean keeps showing up in his hospital room like some goddamn stray in need of a home?

You’re pathetic Winchester. Dean chides himself.  He’s here now and the ICU nurses have already seen him through the doors.  If he turns tail and runs away now, without even trying to see Cas, he’ll look like an even bigger loser than he does pacing this hallway.  If the man doesn’t want to be bothered, Dean will just send his best wishes wish Jessica and get the hell out of Dodge.  Dean runs a hand through his short, spiky hair on a sigh and rubs the back of his neck, looking up when he hears the ding of the nearby elevator.  Cas’ brother Gabriel steps out of the elevator, looking surprised to see Dean for a moment, then rearranging his features in a smirk that manages to look both amused... and a little dangerous.  Dropping his hand by his side, Dean narrows his eyes slightly at the older man’s approach.

“Dean-o.” Gabriel claps a hand on Dean’s bicep.  “Good to see you again!”

Dean frowns and looks pointedly at where the shorter man’s palm is resting on his arm.  Gabriel drops his hand.

“You here to deliver personal effects to more accident victims or is there a kitten stranded up an IV pole somewhere around here?” asks Gabriel with a (mostly) friendly smile. 

“I was in the area and thought I’d stop by to see how Cas’ surgery went,” explains Dean, fighting the sudden blush that threatens to overtake his face.  “He seemed pretty nervous about it when I saw him on Saturday.”

“Mmm,” agrees Gabriel noncommittally.  He looks at Dean shrewdly for a moment and narrowing his eyes, asks suddenly, “Is this the part where I ask what your intentions are toward my little brother?”

Dean splutters.

“Intentions?  I don’t have intentions, man!”

Liar!  Dean’s inner monologue accuses unhelpfully, the traitorous bastard.

Gabe eyes him skeptically as Dean searches for what he wants to say.

“Look, I know I don’t know you guys, but what I do know is that if it was me lying in that bed, between my family, my adopted family, and the guys down at the station, I’d have to call security to throw people out of my room just to get damn moment’s peace!”

Dean sighs before continuing, “So far, all Cas seems to have is you and I’m not knocking you or anything, but I know you’re having to divide your time between being here for him and taking care of his daughter.  So, I dunno man, I just thought,” Dean hesitates, “maybe he could use a friend.”  He looks down at his feet as he finishes, avoiding Gabriel’s eyes.

Gabe releases a tired sigh.  “Well, you’re not wrong about that,” he says with uncharacteristic softness. 

“Look. Cassie,” Dean looks up as Gabe pauses a moment, “The kid’s had a rough go of it lately, even before the accident.  He can be a stubborn bastard and he’s not one for letting people in on a good day. God knows he’s got good reason,” Gabe adds with a wince, an unreadable expression crossing his face like a passing cloud. 

Dean shoots him a questioning look that Gabe returns with an even stare.

“The man’s had enough assholes in his life abandon him and not look back,” he spits bitterly, “so if you’re serious about wanting to be his ‘friend,’ you better be in this for the long haul.”

“I’ve never left anyone behind in my life,” Dean replies honestly.  “I don’t plan to start now.”

Gabe’s eyes search Dean’s for a long moment.  Seemingly satisfied with what he sees there, he nods.

At the sound of movement down the hall, both men turn to see a team of nurses and orderlies rolling a groggy Cas toward them, Jess at the lead.

“Hey boys,” she greets, then looks to Cas, “Look at that, Castiel, your own welcoming committee!” 

Feeling suddenly exposed after his heart-to-heart with Gabriel, Dean steps back to give the two brothers some space.  Gabe walks at Cas’ side and the two disappear along with Jess into Cas’ ICU room. 

A few minutes later, Gabe steps out and shoots an apologetic look at Dean.  “He’s out again,” he explains, “He was only awake for a couple of minutes, but he said to thank you for checking on him.”

Gabe hesitates, then, seeming to come to a decision, he pushes on, “He said you didn’t need to stay, but I’ve gotta go pick up Claire and...”

Gabriel trails off and Dean jumps in, “I don’t have anywhere to be.  I don’t mind sticking around for a bit.”

Looking relieved, Gabe nods his thanks and runs a tired hand over his face as he turns to leave.  Dean’s hit with the sudden realization that Gabe just spent the entire day alone in a waiting room while his brother underwent life-saving surgery.  Cas isn’t the only one here lacking a support system.

“Gabe,” he calls out as the other man starts walking away. 

Gabe stops and turns back toward Dean, one eyebrow cocked in a questioning expression.

“Look, all this shit,” Dean gestures expansively to the ICU and the hospital at large, “it can be just as hard on the people taking care of someone who’s sick or hurt as it is on the person that needs care.”  Dean definitely knows something about that.

He meets Gabe’s eyes and holds them as he adds, “You don’t have to do it alone.”

The corner of Gabe’s mouth quirks up in a tired smirk.  “Think I’m starting to get that Dean-o,” he says before turning and leaving the ICU with only a fraction of his normal flair.

 


 

Slowly, Castiel becomes aware of the noises of the ICU around him.  The steady, quiet beeps and whirs of the various monitors and machines surround him, accompanied by hushed voices filtering in from the halls.  The blankets of his hospital bed are tucked in around him.  Feeling overly warm, he shifts to pull his arms out from under the covers, but nothing happens.  Confused, Castiel moves his arms again, but again, his arms fail to move.  Concern growing, he opens his eyes, only to find that like his arms, his eyes are apparently on strike.

Castiel feels the shift as the room begins to lazily spin.  No. What’s he thinking?  Rooms don’t spin.

The room stops spinning. 

Before he has time to experience relief, Castiel feels his body moving forward, sliding from his hospital bed.

No. Castiel feels the hospital bed firmly beneath him, blankets tucked around his body.

The blankets are chains, thick, weighty, and steadily getting heavier, pulling him down through the mattress, dragging him under the waves.

No!  He’s in the University of Kansas Medical Center, in the ICU.  He’s just had surgery.  Then Castiel knows.  This is a dream, but it’s a waking dream.  He really is in his hospital bed.  He really is hearing the sounds of the ICU around him.  Nothing else is real.  He just needs to wake up.

He’s moving faster now. Sliding, falling, rushing forward at roller coaster speeds.  Light begins to flicker around him, like flames dancing against the shadowed walls of his eyelids.

In the ICU, Castiel hears voices lifted in greeting, “Hey you!  Sleeping beauty in there’s still out cold.”

Wake up. 

“Yeah, I figured he would be.”

Goddamn you, wake up!

“I’m off till Wednesday and Gabe had to get back to pick up Claire, so I thought I’d hang around until he wakes up.”

The chains turn into hands.  He’s being carried on hundreds of grasping, clawing hands.  Putrid and rotting, the hands of the damned.

Thrashing in his mind, but knowing his body is lying utterly still on the bed in his hospital room, Castiel strains against the imaginary hands holding him, fighting fruitlessly to open impossibly heavy eyelids.

Colors spark behind his eyelids, rushing one after another.  Muddy browns and oranges, the rust red of dried blood, the sickly yellows and greens of flesh bruised and diseased.  Dizzying.  Nauseating. 

Terror rises up in Castiel as the hospital room slips further away.  A scream lodges itself in his throat, trapped in this nightmare just as he is.

The voices from before turn cruel in the darkness of his mind.  Twisted and mocking.  Skeletal hands slither around his limbs, pulling him ever downward.

He descends into hell.

A boisterous laugh cuts through the fog of Castiel’s dream-riddled mind.  He knows that laugh.

Dean.

Dean is there, outside his hospital room in the ICU.  It was Dean’s voice he heard chatting with the nurses. 

The hands continue to pull at him, wrapping around his middle now, but he latches onto Dean’s voice.

If he can’t open his eyes, maybe he can make a noise.  If he’s loud enough, Dean will hear him.  He’ll come into Castiel’s room and wake him from this hellish nightmare.  Dean will save him.  He’s saved Castiel before, after all.

Willing his vocal chords to cooperate, Castiel struggles to make a noise, any noise. 

Hear me. You have to hear me!

Castiel whimpers.  Once.  Twice.  Again. Each time a little louder than the last. 

Suddenly he hears Dean’s voice again, closer this time, “Cas, buddy, wake up.  Cas, can you hear me?”

Castiel strains to answer Dean.  The hands cover his mouth, choking him.

“Jess, get in here!  Something’s wrong.  I can’t wake him up!”

“Castiel?  Can you hear me?” Jess’ voice joins Dean’s.

The groping hands turn desperate, clutching at him. Digging into skin and muscle.

Castiel moans, so close to victory.  So close to defeat.

Writhing, he drags his consciousness free of the grasping hands, pulling himself toward a distant light. 

Dean.

 “Come on Cas!  You can do it.  Open your eyes.”

Stay with me, Sweetheart.

 


 

Without warning, Cas’ eyes surge open and lock onto Dean’s: wide, blue, and terrified.  His arm shoots up from beneath the blankets, long fingers wrapping around Dean’s left bicep in a bruising grip.  That’s sure to leave a mark later, but Dean barely notices.

“There you are,” he whispers in relief, searching Cas’ eyes and feeling even more relieved to see recognition there.  Even as he thinks it though, Cas’s breathing goes ragged and he struggles to pull in air.  The heart monitor to the side of Cas’ bed starts beeping loudly and rapidly as his pulse spikes.

“Jess,” Dean calls without looking away from Cas.  He stares into those frightened blue eyes helplessly.

A doctor Dean doesn’t know moves in to shine a light into Cas’ eyes and check his vitals.  Dean drops his right hand from where he had been gripping Cas’ shoulder in his attempts to shake him awake, giving the doctor space to work, but he doesn’t move away.  Cas’ hold on his arm has him locked in an uncomfortable position:  seated on the side of Cas’ bed with his right leg bent and pulled up on the bed so he can face the man, hovering awkwardly over him.  He refuses to shake off Cas’ hand to find a more comfortable position, however.   He still can’t bring himself to even break eye contact with the guy, as if he can anchor Cas there with his eyes alone and fuck, maybe he can.  Cas is looking at him as if Dean is his lifeline, his salvation, and it would leave Dean breathless if he weren’t pretty sure he’d already stopped breathing in those first few moments when he couldn’t wake Cas.

“It’s a panic attack,” announces the nameless doctor and a heartbeat later Jess cuts in.

“He already has an order for Diazapam,” says Jess.  “I have it here.”

Dean takes a moment to be grateful for his awesome sister-in-law-to-be.

The doctor nods the go ahead and Jess administers the medication through Cas’ IV.

“There,” she says.  “It should begin to ease his symptoms in a moment.”

Slowly, so slowly, Cas’ breathing starts to even out and his grip on Dean’s arm relaxes until his hand drops listlessly to his side.

“How’d he go into a panic attack,” Dean asks, looking from Jess to the doctor.  “He was asleep!”

It’s Cas, apparently recovered enough for speech, who answers.  “It was a lucid dream,” he whispers roughly.  “I could feel hands pulling me, dragging me down,” he shudders, “and I could hear you all here in the room, but I couldn’t wake up.” 

Dean reaches for Cas’s hand on the bed and gives it a silent squeeze.  Cas gives him a weak, but heartfelt look of gratitude.

“Thank you,” he says seriously, “for waking me.”

“Of course, man,” Dean whispers.

Forty minutes later, after Cas’ repeated assurances of, “I’ll be fine, Dean.  Really,” Dean rounds on his soon-to-be little sister by the nurse’s station in the center of the ICU.

“How can they be moving him out of the ICU already?  The guy just had a trippy, hallucinogenic-nightmare-induced panic attack for fuck’s sake!”

“And now he’s calm and all of his vitals are stable, Dean,” Jess explains patiently.  “A panic attack isn’t cause for staying in the ICU.  There are patients far more critical than Castiel who are waiting for beds.”

Dean scrubs a hand over his face.  “Where the fuck did that dream even come from?” he asks.  “What the hell did they give him in that OR anyway?”

“Nothing that would have caused a reaction like that under normal circumstances,” Jess assures, “but he was under for a long time, Dean.  Plus, he’s been through a serious trauma.  We can’t always predict how the brain is going to respond to something like that.”

Dean sighs.  He knows she’s right, but he still doesn’t like that they’re kicking Cas out of the ICU so soon after that attack.  Worse, it’s late enough now that by the time they get Cas moved into his new room, visiting hours will be over and Dean won’t be able to stay with him any longer.  Cas is putting on a brave face, but Dean can tell the man’s nervous about leaving the ICU.

Knowing there’s nothing more he can do here, and already having said goodbye to Cas (just for the evening this time, Dean promised to visit again tomorrow), Dean makes his way to the Impala.  He’d worked nights last week, so this week he’ll be back on days starting Wednesday.  That means going home and trying to get a decent night’s rest tonight, so he won’t spend all day Wednesday cursing his past self.  He scoffs.  Fat chance of that after the scare Cas just gave him.  And that nightmare... Dean shivers as he unlocks Baby’s door and slides into the driver’s seat.  As he reaches for the seatbelt behind him (yeah, he knows after-market seatbelts aren’t exactly keeping with the 1967 aesthetic, but come on, he’s a firefighter for Christ’s sake.  He’s seen what can happen in car accidents without proper restraints and no thank you very much), Dean winces at a twinge in his shoulder.  Angling the rearview mirror so he can see his own reflection, he rolls up his left shirt sleeve and his eyebrows shoot up. 

Well, shit. 

Where Cas had clutched his left arm like a drowning man, five narrow bruises line his bicep in the perfect impression of long, slender fingers.

Chapter Text

Thursday, September 13, 2018

“Special delivery for one blue-eyed dreamboat in room 304!”

Castiel grins as he watches his best friend barrel into his hospital room, staggering a bit under the weight of a large, clear plastic bin laden with what must be gifts for Castiel, all in various shades of yellow.  Floating above the bin and partially obscuring Charlie’s bright eyes and fiery hair are a bouquet of mylar balloons, in the same cheery color scheme.  Charlie beams at him from between a round balloon emblazoned with the words, “Get well!” and a smiling yellow and orange sun.

“What’s up buttercup?” she greets cheerily, huffing a breath as she heaves the tub of goodies onto Castiel’s rolling bedside table.

“What’s all this?” he asks, gesturing at the overflowing bin between them.

“Just bringing you a little sunshine from all your friends at Shawnee Mission North,” she chirps happily.  “Check it out!”

Castiel begins removing items from the bin, all carefully selected to match the “sunshine” theme while still being something he might actually find a use for while in the hospital.  He finds a journal with an embossed golden sun on the front, crosswords and sudoku books obviously chosen for their yellow covers, lemon zinger tea with lemon crème cookies, Lays potato chips in their classic yellow bag, an assortment of Burt’s Bees lip balms and hand creams, fuzzy socks in a soft buttercream, and even a yellow whoopie cushion.  When he quirks an eyebrow at Charlie in response to the whoopie cushion, she shrugs.

“Gabe wanted to contribute.” 

Castiel rolls his eyes and continues exploring the gift basket.  His eyes tear up when he realizes they’ve even included items for Claire.  Sunny hair bows are nestled against a soft, buttery baby blanket and a tiny, sunflower-covered dress.  Castiel smiles warmly at Charlie when he discovers the bumblebee onesie with matching tutu accompanying a jar of his favorite local honey, knowing they must be from her.  She knows about his fondness for bees.

“Charlie,” he says, a little choked up in spite of himself, “this is...”

“Wait,” she says softly, “you haven’t seen the best part.”  She hands him a stack of cards, all with yellow envelopes, of course.  They’re get well cards, one from each of his classes, with signatures and messages from all of his students relaying a chorus of get-well-soons, we-miss-yous, and even a begrudging, “You make reading stuff written by a bunch of dead white guys okay, I guess,” from Krissy Chambers, who Castiel had last year for English 9 and was scheduled to teach again this year in his 4th period English 10 class.  The bottom card is perhaps the one that surprises Castiel the most.  It’s from the staff of Shawnee Mission North and nearly every member is accounted for, even Mr. Walker, and Castiel takes a moment to wonder how Charlie accomplished that.  His best friend is a force of nature.

Truly touched, Castiel looks up to see Charlie watching him with a tremulous smile and suspiciously glassy eyes.  

“Oh, Charlie,” he says softly, reaching out with both arms to this tiny tornado of a woman who had taken him in and befriended him without hesitation at a time in his life when he had never felt more alone.

“Cas,” she gasps wetly, throwing her slender arms around him and burying her face in his neck.  Castiel feels the wetness of her tears against his skin and squeezes her tightly before pulling back and cupping her face in his hands, rubbing a thumb across one damp cheek. 

“Charlie, I’m okay,” he says reassuringly, then rolls his eyes at her clearly disbelieving look.  “Okay, maybe I’m not okay right now, but I will be,” he promises. 

“I’m sorry I didn’t visit sooner,” Charlie starts, “but...”

“But you’ve been spending all of your spare time helping my brother care for Claire so he can be here,” Castiel finishes for her.  “Charlie, I can’t ever thank you enough for what you’ve done.  Claire,” his voice breaks and he takes a moment to compose himself before continuing, “She’s the most important thing in the world to me and knowing that she’s safe and surrounded by people who love her even though I can’t be there... that’s everything.”

“You know, there are lots of people who would love you both if you’d just let them, Castiel.”  She glances at the opened cards sitting on the bedside table, “A lot of people who already do.”

Attempting to lighten the mood, Castiel lifts one eyebrow and asks wryly, “Dare I inquire about the health of our esteemed physical education teacher?”

Wiping her eyes, Charlie scoffs quietly before shooting Castiel a slightly feral grin.  “He’s fine,” she says dismissively.  “It’s nothing he won’t recover from,” she adds with a triumphant gleam in her eye.

“More’s the pity,” Castiel replies with his own grin. 

The mood successfully lightened, they move on to less serious topics.  Charlie regales Castiel with stories of her students and their “hormone-fogged brain spaces.”  She smiles proudly as she tells Castiel that a group of students successfully applied to start Shawnee Mission North’s first Gender and Sexualities Alliance Club, asking her to be their sponsor.  Castiel grimaces though when he learns who the school found to act as a long-term sub in his classroom while he’s on medical leave. 

“It’s Marv,” she says apologetically.  Marv certainly knows his material when it comes to English literature, but the man is a giant “douche nozzle,” as Gabriel would say.  He loves nothing more than the sound of his own voice and even Castiel finds his eyes glazing over if he’s forced to listen to the man for more than a few minutes at a time. 

“It could be worse,” Charlie consoles.  At his incredulous looks she adds, “Before Marv said yes, they were thinking about bringing in Frank.”  Castiel’s eyes widen and he groans.  A year with Frank Devereaux and his students wouldn’t come out knowing a thing about the works of William Shakespeare, but they would be jumping at shadows and looking for spies of the New World Order (run by a powerful conglomerate of black-sludge-filled-monsters, because traditional conspiracy theories just aren’t good enough for Frank) around every corner.  Yes, Marv is definitely the lesser of two very depressing evils here.

After they spend more time reminiscing and laughing together at the cute selfies Charlie took of her and Claire using various Snapchat filters (Claire was a big fan of the puppy filter, Charlie reports), her expression turns somber again.  “Are you really okay though? Here?” she asks, gesturing around the tiny room. 

Castiel reflects on her question, tilting his head.  In truth, he’d been anxious at first about his move out of ICU and into his room on the hospital’s trauma floor.  In addition to losing his magic pain buzzer and being stepped down to scheduled pain meds, Castiel had known that he wouldn’t receive the same level of attention he’d been accustomed to in the ICU.  The room they had moved him to was private, yes, but it was even smaller than his ICU room and had only one tiny window.  The room was also awkwardly shaped.  The small bathroom was directly to the right of the door and was built into the room, so that one had to walk past the bathroom to see the nook where Castiel’s bed was postioned.  This meant that passers-by couldn’t see Castiel if they glanced in, but it also blocked Castiel’s view out his door.  Of course, that would only really matter if Castiel’s door were open to begin with, but since the hospital was currently renovating the rooms across the hall, his door was typically left shut to block out the construction noise.  The door to his ICU room had always been open and the windowed wall had let him see into the open space of the ICU.  The ICU itself was more of a circle than a hallway, the individual patient rooms wrapping around the large, open nurse’s station.  Castiel’s current room, with its dingy off-white walls, feels almost claustrophobic in comparison.

He also finds himself missing the frequent visits of Jess and the other nurses.  The nurses on his floor are very nice, but they have caseloads of patients to care for, instead of just one or two.  This means that unless it’s time for his meds, shift change, or he presses his call button for something, Castiel is generally left to his own devices.  He finds himself craving human interaction in a way that surprises him, since he’s not usually one to actively seek out other people.  But then, he reflects, he doesn’t usually need to.  Any of Castiel’s time that’s not spent with his students or colleagues is filled with Claire. 

Pushing his thoughts away from that melancholy detour, Castiel focuses on the positive.  His situation isn’t all bad.  Gabriel visits as frequently as he can, and of course, there’s Dean.  Dean has visited twice more since Castiel left the ICU three days ago.  Castiel has given up being confused over the firefighter’s sudden and persistent presence in his life and instead feels grateful for it.  In the space of those visits, he’s learned that in addition to being kind to strangers he finds trapped in vehicles, Dean is witty and charming.  He likes classic rock, classic cars, and classic pies, though not necessarily in that order.  He prefers the original Star Trek and Next Generation over Star Wars but Star Wars over Deep Space Nine and Voyager, although he acknowledges that, “Janeway was one badass lady,” (“We don’t talk about that, Cas” he’d admonished somberly when Castiel had asked, “What about Enterprise?”) and his favorite authors are Vonnegut and Kerouac.  The latter discovery had prompted an impassioned discussion over which was Vonnegut’s best work:  Cat’s Cradle or Slaughterhouse-Five.  Dean argued vehemently in favor of Slaughterhouse, but admitted to having a soft spot for the lesser known, The Sirens of Titan.  When Castiel confessed he’d not read that one, Dean had shaken his head in mock indignation, “And you call yourself an English teacher!” and promised to bring him his copy. 

“Cas?” Charlie prompts hesitantly, pulling Castiel back to the present moment.

“I’m not great,” he answers her honesty, “but it’s not nearly as bad it could be.  Gabriel visits when he can... and I seem to have made a new friend.”  He’s almost certainly going to regret this, as it’s sure to give Charlie ideas, but he has to admit that he’s been longing to talk about Dean to somebody and his best options are currently hopeless romantic and self-proclaimed super hacker (whatever that is, Charlie assures him he doesn’t need to know) Charlie Bradbury, or Gabriel (the horror of which actually makes him shudder).  Reluctantly, he tells Charlie all about Dean, careful not to use the firefighter’s name.  Not only would the well-intentioned computer science teacher stalk all of Dean’s social media accounts, she’d probably also manage to obtain a full background check and a copy of his credit report.  Castiel will not allow Dean’s privacy to be violated that way.

Predictably, Charlie squeals when Castiel recounts Dean’s words to him while he was under that tarp in his SUV.  “He actually called you sweetheart?”  She shoves his shoulder, then shoots him a dirty look when Castiel grabs his bruised ribs in mock-pain. 

“Is he dreamy?  I bet he’s dreamy,” she continues wistfully.

Castiel chuckles, “Yes, he’s good looking.”

She raises an eyebrow at him critically.

“Very good looking?” Castiel tried again.

Charlie crosses her arms, pinning him with the same I-can-do-this-all-day look that she uses on recalcitrant students and, sometimes, fellow staff members (actually, that’s probably how she got Walker to sign that card) at their high school.

Castiel sighs, defeated.  “He’s the most singularly attractive man I’ve ever seen in real life,” he admits to his best friend.  “Not only is he ‘dreamy,’ Charlie,” he says, ignoring her eye roll at his air quotes, “he is the stuff dreams are made of.”

“Aww,” she coos.  “Do you think there’s a chance he swings your way?”

“I don’t know,” Castiel replies, “but it wouldn’t matter even if he did.”  He lifts a hand to cut off Charlie’s argument even as she opens her mouth, “I’m no more available for dating now than I was before the accident.”

“Less so even,” he adds wryly, looking down at his lap, where blankets cover the many well-stitched incisions from when a team of surgeons had worked for hours to repair Castiel’s shattered pelvis and punctured bladder.

“For now,” Charlie concedes with a grimace, “but eventually your body will heal, Cas, and so will your heart, if you let it.”

Reminding himself that his friend means well, Castiel suppresses the urge to roll his eyes and keeps his silence.  He’s been over this with Charlie before and knows his protests will fall on deaf ears.  It’s not a broken heart that keeps Castiel from dating (it’s not).  As a single father and full-time teacher, a career that’s not exactly known for being a nine to five kind of commitment, he’s honestly not sure when he’d find the time for romance even if he had the inclination.   He may have been out of the game a while, but Castiel’s under the impression that dating generally includes the going-on-of dates.  In fact, he’s been led to believe it’s a fairly crucial component.  How he’s supposed to find time to impress a prospective partner with candlelit dinners and romantic walks through the park in-between grading, lesson planning, and raising his infant daughter, is a mystery Charlie (or Gabriel, whose as obstinately and bizarrely invested in Castiel’s love life as his best friend) has yet to explain.  So, unless he stumbles across a man whose ideal date is sitting on the secondhand sofa in Castiel’s two-bedroom apartment, sharing a beer and watching the same episode of Blue’s Clues for the fifth time with Claire while Castiel pores over essays and gripes about his freshman students’ complete and ineffable inability to grasp basic MLA citation format, he’s pretty much doomed to bachelorhood for the foreseeable future. 

Castiel smiles kindly at Charlie and does his best to ignore the sudden tightness in his chest as his traitorous brain slips Dean into his fantasy “date.”  Dean, sitting on Castiel’s couch, Claire curled up in his lap.  Dean, smiling fondly at Castiel as he sighs and picks up yet another paper to grade.  Dean, taking the paper and pen from Castiel’s tired hands despite his protests and pulling him to his feet before wrapping those muscled, firefighter’s arms around Castiel’s waist and kissing him deeply. 

Castiel shakes his head.  Dean is his friend.  His almost-certainly-heterosexual friend and even if he weren’t, Castiel is (in every way now) a tired and broken man.  Someone as vibrant and joyful as Dean deserves a partner who is healthy, happy, and whole.  Someone who is most definitely not Castiel.

“Perhaps,” he lies to Charlie.

 


 

“So, Dean,” starts Sam as the three of them sit down to dinner (prepared by Dean, because neither Sam nor Jess can do much more in the kitchen than boil water) in Sam and Jess’ spacious Kansas City apartment.  They’d upgraded from their modest one-bedroom when Sam landed a job at one of Kansas City’s top law firms after passing the Kansas bar two years ago. “How’s Cas doing?  I don’t think we’ve had our daily update,” and okay, that’s not fair.  Dean doesn’t talk about the guy that much.

“Cas is fine,” he answers shortly, making a face at his asshole brother.  He’s determined to leave it at that (that’ll show the overgrown moose), but his resolve lasts for all of a minute before he continues, “Can you believe the guy’s never seen Die Hard?”  Dean smiles at the memory of Cas’ incredulous face when Dean had told him about his favorite holiday movie (“Dean, every movie I’ve seen in the past year has had either a singing princess, talking animals, or a princess singing to talking animals and even I know that Die Hard is not a Christmas movie.”)

Sam chuckles, victorious, and Dean glares as Jess fails to stifle a giggle by taking a bite of her bread. 

“Et tu, Jess?” he asks with a frown.

“What?” she says, completely unapologetic.  “I’m glad you’ve made a friend is all.  Castiel seems like a really great guy.”

“He is,” Dean agrees quickly, “but that’s all he is guys, a friend.

“Why?” inquires Sam with a tilt of his shaggy head.  “You don’t think he’s interested?”

“I don’t even know if he’s interested in guys at all, Sammy, let alone if he’s interested in Dean Winchester, thirty-two-year-old high school drop out with a crappy one-bedroom apartment and job that keeps me working overnights eight days out of the month.”

“Dean,” Sam says sternly, adopting his tired-of-Dean’s-shit bitchface (Bitchface No. 4™, for the folks playing along at home), but Dean cuts him off.

“Seriously Sam, the guy teaches English Lit for Christ’s sake and he’s smart as hell.  He can do way better than me on his worst day.  Not to mention, the entire time I’ve known him, he’s either been trapped in a car or lying immobilized in a goddamn hospital bed.  The last thing he needs right now is some creep hitting on him.  I’m not gonna be that guy,” Dean says, as much to remind himself as to admonish Sam.

“Okay,” concedes Sam with a twist of his lips like he’s just tasted something sour (that’s the taste of defeat, Sammy), “but he’s not gonna be in that hospital bed forever Dean, and when that time comes, maybe you should let Cas decide how he feels about you, instead of just making the choice for him.”

“Like I said Sam, I don’t even know if he’d be interested,” Dean starts, but Jess interrupts with a decidedly un-ladylike snort. 

God, Sam lucked out with this one, Dean thinks, not for the first time.

“Oh please!  I think ‘interested’ is putting it mildly.”  She adds an eye roll for good measure.  “When Castiel woke up from that nightmare there were more heart eyes in that hospital room than in a Pepé Le Pew cartoon.” 

“Okay,” Dean starts grudgingly, “First, major props for the Looney Tunes reference...”

“And Dean,” Jess talks loudly over him, “you’re plenty smart enough to keep up with Castiel.” She levels a look at him before continuing, “Having a baby brother who’s freakishly intelligent, no offense Baby, I love you,” she adds quickly, shooting a grin at Sam, “doesn’t make you unintelligent.”

“She’s right, Dean,” Sam says seriously.  “Believing Rhonda Hurley when she said she wouldn’t show anyone that picture of you wearing her panties is what makes you unintelligent.”

“She said she deleted it!” Dean bellows, launching a dinner roll at Sam’s giant moose-head as the Sasquatch guffaws loudly, doubling over in his seat.

But as they blessedly move on to far-less-uncomfortable-for-Dean topics, he can’t help but let his mind drift back to Jess’ earlier words.  Not the ones about his intelligence (he’s heard that before), but about Cas and the “heart eyes.”  Dean remembers the breathless feeling he’d had when Cas looked at him after waking suddenly from that nightmare.  He’d looked at Dean like Dean was a thing of wonder, like Dean was worth something.  Hell, like he was worth everything.  Dean’s been in his fair share of relationships, but he’s pretty sure he’d remember if anyone in his 32 years had ever once looked at him like that. 

Sighing at himself ruefully, Dean shakes his head.  But no.  Cas had just come out of a fucking terrifying hallucinogenic dream for fuck’s sake; a dream that he knew was a dream but couldn’t wake up from.  He would have looked at the goddamn potted plant with “heart eyes” if it had pulled him out of that hell.  No, Cas is just his probably-isn’t-even-into-dudes friend, and Dean’s going to respect that, even if it kills him a little inside.

 


 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Today marks seven days since Castiel’s accident, his fourth since his surgery, and it will be his first day of physical therapy.  He’s been looking forward to physical therapy for a number of reasons.  For one thing, the combination of physical trauma and being bedridden for more than a week has devastated Castiel’s previously fit, and more importantly, functional body.  To his dismay, Castiel has found that he has almost no strength in his lower extremities.  The internal fixator that’s been surgically implanted to stabilize his mending pelvis seems to push his hips outward.  Despite his best efforts, his legs, especially his left, start to drift toward the edges of the bed, and Castiel is helpless to move them back.  He has to ask a nurse or a tech to move them back for him, which is both frustrating and embarrassing for a man who was once able to run five miles at a time.  Worse than the embarrassment is the pain however, his quickly atrophying muscles cramping and spasming from a combination of trauma, disuse, and medication side effects.  The nurses keep him in a steady supply of disposable hot packs, which are the only things that allow him to sleep at night, despite his high doses of pain meds.

For another thing, physical therapy feels like something Castiel can do.  Sometimes it feels like the last conscious choice he made was that ill-fated left turn two Fridays ago.  Ever since then, if feels like his life has been happening to him, without much input from Castiel at all.  Starting physical therapy feels like the first steps (pun definitely not intended since no literal “steps” are to be taken for the next three months) toward recovery and they are steps that he can be an active participant in.

Last, but not at all least, PT is something new.  Castiel’s life in the hospital has settled quickly into a routine that is mind-numbing for someone accustomed to the chaotic activity of an eight-month-old and the hormone-fueled drama of adolescents on a daily basis.  Every morning, starting at 5 AM, Castiel is visited by a parade of medical interns and fellows from the orthopedic, urology, and trauma departments.  Each set of doctors asks Castiel to roll on his side (which he can actually do now, he’s pleased to say) so they can check his dressings, examine his healing incisions, and look for signs of infection while baring Castiel’s naked backside to the room.  A tepid and thoroughly unappetizing breakfast follows, along with meds, vitals, and the nurses’ shift change at seven.  About an hour later brings a tech, who bathes Castiel and changes his sheets, unhooking the fitted sheet from the top and bottom of one side of the mattress and rolling it toward the center until it’s bunched underneath Castiel, who then rolls over the lump so the sheet can be pulled free on the other side and the process then reversed with clean linens.  More meds come with an equally disappointing lunch (he was at least upgraded to a solid diet yesterday, after finally having his first bowel movement in a week, and there’s an experience he never wants to repeat... one that involved a bedpan and yet more nudity), followed again by vitals, rinse and repeat until dinner and bedtime.  At this point, just about anything new is a welcome distraction (excepting the aforementioned bowel movement).

As Castiel grimaces at the memory of his digestive horrors, two new faces enter the room.  Both look to be around Castiel’s age and are wearing scrubs like most other hospital personnel, but while the pale young woman with shoulder length brown hair pulled back in a messy bun is smiling brightly, the stocky man with a darker complexion and Filipino features is almost glowering.  Clearly, resting bitch face is not just a feminine phenomenon. 

The two physical therapists introduce themselves, but honestly, Castiel doesn’t even make an attempt to remember their names.  He’s met so many attendings, fellows, nurses, interns, and techs by this point that he couldn’t possibly remember all of their monikers even if he wanted to.  Not to mention, he’s pretty sure the oxycodone he’s on is messing with his memory, or maybe it’s the trauma from his accident.  Memories that he knows were crystal clear just a few days ago are already getting fuzzy around the edges, much too quickly to just be the normal fading of accurate recollection.

“Okay,” announces Mom-Bun cheerfully.  “Let’s get you sitting up!  If that goes okay, we may even try standing today!”

Castiel feels more than a little skeptical about her optimism; a feeling he sees echoed on RBF’s charming facial topography.

It’s painful (fucking Hell is it painful), but after a few false starts, Castiel rolls to his right side and manages to use the grab bar on the side of his bed to haul himself to a sitting position as RBF slowly lowers his limp, weakened legs to the floor.  Mom-Bun steadies Castiel with a hand to his shoulder as he heaves in breaths like he’s just run a 5K instead of sitting up in bed for the first time in a week and Castiel closes his eyes against the ensuing dizziness. 

He’s barely caught his breath when Mom-Bun announces in that chipper voice he’s quickly learning to hate, “Okay, that went great!  Let’s give standing a try!”

Eyes widening into saucers, he gapes at her.  Holy fuck!  They aren’t done?

RBF, a man of few words, it seems, positions a metal walker in front of Castiel as he and Mom-Bun position themselves to either side of him.  With Mom-Bun’s gentle coaching, Castiel presses his hands into the mattress and slowly shifts himself forward, until his bottom is at the edge of the bed.  Then, with the therapists lifting him under his arms, he leans forward, supporting as much of his weight as he can with the walker, and stands.  It’s certainly not pleasant, with the surge of pain through his pelvis and the unsettling feeling of supporting himself on legs that are partially numb (a side-effect of surgery so close to his spinal column that the doctor assures him should fade in time), but the feeling of not having the bed pressing against his legs and backside for the first time in days is amazing.  He’s been careful to have the nurses help him change positions slightly every few hours, tilting his body to the side slightly and then asking the nurses to prop him up with pillows, in order to avoid bed sores or cramped muscles (because apparently no one else thinks to do that unless the patient is unconscious), but this is the first time since the accident that he’s been able to remove all of the pressure from his back and legs.

Castiel sighs in relief and Mom-Bun offers him an encouraging smile.  Unfortunately, RBF is there to ruin the moment.  “How about seeing if you can scoot to the side a few steps to that chair?” 

Castiel shakes his head regretfully.  “I can’t.  The doctor said I can pivot, but not to do anything else.”

At RBF’s skeptical glare, he adds, “His exact words were, ‘absolutely no scooting, sliding, shuffling, or taking steps.’  He threatened me with the possibilities of more surgery or extended wheelchair time if I disobey and mess up my healing.”

Clearly frustrated, RBF argues, “That’s a really weird order, you know that?  Usually, a patient is either completely non-weight bearing or they can weight bear as tolerated, up to a certain weight limit.”

Castiel shrugs, but doesn’t bother to hide his annoyance with the difficult man as he replies, “I wouldn’t know.  He’s the doctor, you’d have to ask him.  I’d like my pelvis to be in one piece again instead of its current eight, so I don’t plan to go against his orders.”

RBF looks like he wants to keep arguing (no surprise there), but Mom-Bun cuts him off, earning herself  her very own glower, which she appears immune to, “You did great for today, Castiel.  I know you’ve already heard this, but we’re going to recommend that you spend some time in a physical rehabilitation hospital before going home.  I’ll write up your PT eval from today and we can get the process started to get you out of here and one step closer to home!”

As Castiel smiles at her gratefully, she adds, “And oh, hey!  Since you did such a great job standing today, I think it would be safe to put in an order for you to stand and pivot to a bedside commode!”

Castiel would be ashamed of the joy this brings him if he were even capable of such an emotion anymore.  It may not seem like much, but transferring to a commode means no more bedpans and is one step closer to pissing in privacy, so he’ll take it.  RBF’s uninspiring countenance aside, Castiel’s day is looking up.

 


 

“Cassie!  How’s tricks?” 

“Cassie is a girl’s name,” Castiel reminds his brother for what must be the 4,587th time... this year.

“Duh,” comes Gabriel’s eloquent response.  “Why else would I use it?”

At Castiel’s unamused glare, he continues, “If you’re that opposed to it, I suppose I could change it, Casaliscious.  Casanova?  Cassafrass? Super-CAS-ifragilisticexpialidocious?”

Castiel squints his eyes and glares harder, as if that has ever once worked on his obnoxious older brother.

“Even though the sound of it is really quite atrooo...”

“Why are you here?” he asks irritably before Gabriel can reproduce the full song and dance number from Mary Poppins.  His irritation is mainly for show, however.  Gabe’s visits always bring much-needed light to Castiel’s dreary hospital room.  The only other person who can lighten his mood this much is Dean, whose arrival Castiel is actually anticipating later this evening, after he finishes his shift at the fire station.

“Can’t I just stop in to ask my favorite baby brother how his day was?” Gabriel asks, placing a hand over his heart in mock-offense.

At Castiel’s disbelieving eyebrow raise, he insists, “Just thought I’d cut out from the shop an hour early and check up on you before I head off to pick up the rug rat.”

Feeling his face soften and his heart clench at the mention of his daughter, Castiel asks, “How is Claire?”

“She’s great, Cas.  She had trouble sleeping the first few nights and I think she misses her dad, but overall she’s been a real trooper.”

Castiel nods, fighting the familiar wave of tears at the thought of how long it’s been since he’s seen his baby girl.  Before the accident, he’d never been away from Claire overnight.  Hell, aside from leaving her at daycare to go to work during the school year or for a few hours a week while he does his grocery shopping in the summer, he’s only ever left her with a babysitter twice and that was only because Charlie insisted he go out with her for “grown-up-type social interaction.”  In fact, she’d accused him of becoming that hermit in video games that’s always supplying the players with helpful information and tools to guide them on their quests, but never leaves his hut.  Castiel had argued that the hermit served a valuable purpose and if he left his hut, the adventurers wouldn’t be able to find him and the entire game would self-destruct.  Charlie wasn’t impressed.

“That’s good,” Castiel says, clearing his throat.  “I miss her so much.”

“I know you do,” Gabriel says with uncharacteristic softness, then his eyes brighten and he sits up in excitement.  “That’s why I got you this!”

He brandishes a brand new iPhone, waving it in front of Castiel’s face.  His previous phone had eventually been recovered from the wreckage of his vehicle, but it was smashed beyond repair.  In an attempt to save money, he hadn’t purchased the insurance on it and it was going to be a while before he could save up enough to afford anything beyond the most basic hardware.

“Gabe,” he admonishes, “I can’t accept this.  It’s far too much money.”

Gabe’s expression turns stern, “You can and you will.  You’re going to need something better than some cheap, pre-paid POS if you’re going to Facetime with Claire.”

Castiel is about to argue further when the end of Gabe’s sentence hits him and his mouth snaps shut.  Getting to see his daughter in real time again is worth far more than his wounded pride. 

He takes the phone from his brother with a hushed, “Thank you, Gabriel.  I...”

“Don’t mention it,” his brother brushes off brusquely, before moving to stand.

“I wish I could stay longer, but the princess awaits her chariot,” he says regally, bowing formally to Castiel in his hospital bed.

“Does that make you the ‘noble steed?’” Castiel asks, quoting a movie that’s a shared favorite of both Gabriel and Claire.  (See Dean, he’s seen some movies.)

Gabriel just neighs loudly in response and gallops out of Castiel’s hospital room.

 


 

Later that evening Castiel is resting in bed after having undergone a successful, yet exhausting quest to stand and pivot to his bedside commode (wouldn’t Charlie be proud?), waiting for the extra pain medication he’d had to ask for after his adventures in toileting to kick in.  He’s never really thought about it before, but it occurs to him now that human bodies are really, very inconvenient.  Urination and defecation especially, are tiresome chores.  He takes a moment to curse evolution for not finding a more elegant solution to the problems of digestion (photosynthesis, now there’s an efficient, mess-free process), before turning his head to face Dean as the man enters the room.

“Do you ever get tired of urinating?” 

“How’re those pain meds treatin’ ya there, bud?” Dean asks with a grin.

Attempting to hide his embarrassment with a glare (which he’s sure is only partially effective due to the blush he knows is staining his cheeks), he answers Dean, “My pain medication is currently effective, thank you.”

Dean chuckles as he takes the chair next to Castiel’s bed.  It’s the only other seating option in the cramped room.

“So, how was your day?” Dean asks casually.

Castiel has had little control over his emotions since the accident.  It’s likely another side effect of the trauma, his medication, or both, but he often finds his mood shifting from grief, to anger, to fear and back again without warning. 

Currently, feeling inexplicably irritated with his new friend he replies acerbically, “Well, let’s see, I stood-up, ate solid food, and pooped today, and people were really excited about all of it.  My life is officially equivalent to that of my eight-month-old.”

Dean howls with mirth.  “You’re a snarky bastard, you know that?” he quips with a shake of his head.

“It’s one of my better qualities,” Castiel nods.

Grinning, Dean asks, “At the risk of pissing you off again, how much of this is the pain meds and how much is you?”

Tilting his head side-to-side in consideration, Castiel answers, “Mmm, a little bit of A, a lotta bit of B?”

“Good,” Dean says with a toothy smile that leaves Castiel slightly breathless.  “I like it.”

After a slight pause, he asks, “Do I want to know what prompted the ‘urination’ question earlier?”

“Probably not,” Castiel responds, but then relents at Dean’s tell-me-anyway expression.

Grimacing and ignoring his renewed blush, he gestures to the commode, “I’ve been upgraded in my toileting privileges, but it turns out urination is much more difficult when just standing makes you feel like you’ve run a marathon and there’s a tech breathing down your neck, waiting for you to finish.”

“That sucks, man,” Dean sympathizes with his own grimace.  “Some things are sacred and the privacy of the porcelain throne should be one of them.”

“I’ve been poked, prodded, and examined by so many different people over the past two weeks that I’m not sure I can find the energy to worry about modesty at this point,” Castiel responds glumly.

“Well, look on the bright side,” Dean smirks while waggling his eyebrows, “at least that means plenty of sponge baths from helpful nurses.”

And there it is:  confirmation that Dean Winchester is straight. 

Castiel covers the surprisingly strong twang of disappointment in his gut with a snort, “Unfortunately, I think that particular benefit is wasted on me, seeing as all the nurses I’ve encountered thus far are women and I’m, as my best friend likes to say, ‘gayer than Christmas.’”

As he drops his hands from air quoting Charlie, he sees Dean’s eyebrows shoot up.  He feels suddenly self-conscious, then immediately chides himself for it.  He’s been out for his entire adult life without shame.  If Dean has a problem with Castiel’s sexuality, then it’s just that: Dean’s problem.  He’s not about to let some arrogant, over-compensating, all-American, desperately handsome, probably-rescues-kittens-in-his-free-time (because he just fucking would, wouldn’t he?) fire fighter make him feel bad about his preferences.

His internal rant is cut short and his brain stutters to a halt when said fire fighter smiles, somewhat shyly, and says, “Yeah?  I’m an equal opportunities kind of guy myself.” 

Castiel is sure he’s not imagining the slight blush coloring Dean’s cheeks and that seals it.

He is so screwed.  He also needs to buy Charlie a Slytherin House scarf.

Dean Winchester is not straight.

Dean Winchester is not straight and Castiel just had a conversation with him about urination.

Dean clears his throat and Castiel realizes that he’s just been sitting there, staring stupidly, since Dean announced his not-so-straightness and unknowingly overturned all of his very carefully constructed assumptions.  Oh, dear God!  His mouth wasn’t hanging open was it? 

Dean chuckles nervously and asks, “Do you want me to scope the place out for any cute boy-nurses or orderlies?  I might have some pull over at the nurses’ station.  I think they’re really starting to warm up to me.”

“Dean Winchester, back again I see.  Visiting hours ended thirty minutes ago, which I know I told you just yesterday.  Don’t you have a home?”  Nurse Jody Mills strides into Cas’ room, raising an unimpressed eyebrow at Dean. 

Cas grins, the tension from earlier evaporating.

“Oh yes, Dean.  I see what you mean.  They’re definitely warming to you.  Jody waited an entire thirty minutes to throw you out this time.”

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up, Chuckles,” Dean grumbles to Castiel under his breath before turning to Jody with a charming grin that makes the teacher’s stomach clench and his breath catch in his throat.  He’ll never understand how Jody seems immune to it.

“Come on Jodes, I only got off shift an hour ago and I wanted to stop by and see you.  Can’t have you missing me.” Dean winks and Cas sends a silent prayer of thanks to any-and-all listening deities that he isn’t still on any monitors that could give away the sudden increase in his heart rate.

Before Jody can respond, she’s interrupted by the arrival of Ruby, her evening replacement, there to do the usual shift change handover. 

“Take it easy on poor Dean-O there, Mills.  He’s just making sure our little baby bird Castiel here doesn’t get too lonely.  Besides, I’m sure Castiel doesn’t mind AT ALL, ain’t that right, Angel?”  Ruby smirks at Castiel, an all-too-knowing glint in her eye that makes him fight the urge to squirm uncomfortably in his bed. 

“Of course, I don’t mind Dean visiting,” he mumbles, just barely managing to keep the blush from his cheeks.  Dean lights up at that and shoots a cheeky grin at Jody.

“See?  At least somebody wants me around here!”

Dean Winchester is going to be the death of him.

Chapter Text

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Cas is not straight.

Cas is not straight and that means Cas likes guys.

I’m a guy.

Dean rolls his eyes at his incredibly observant inner monologue.  Cas may like guys, but that doesn’t mean Cas likes Dean.  Besides, all of the other reasons Dean gave Sam (and Inner Dean) for not pursuing Cas still stand:

Cas was in a car accident.

Cas is in the hospital.

Cas is his friend.

But still, he’s pretty sure he didn’t imagine the blush on Cas’ face when Dean had admitted to swinging both ways.  Honestly, he’d been a little worried when Cas had gone silent on him there for a minute.  Biphobia and bi-erasure aren’t just straight-people things, after all.  It never fails to sadden Dean how many people try to forget about the “B” in LGBT, and that’s not to mention the QIA+ additions to their ever-expanding community.  He’ll never understand why someone who knows personally what it’s like to feel that kind of rejection would then choose to reject others.

Cas had spent a long moment just staring at Dean, but then Jody had come in and his friend had been back to their normal banter, leaving Dean with no clue what that silence meant, other than he was pretty sure now that Cas wasn’t prejudiced against his sexuality.

“Hey there, Brother,” Benny’s warm greeting interrupts Dean’s inner reflection as the burly man joins him at the small dining table in the fire station’s kitchenette. 

The fire house has a small, but functional kitchen for the fire men and women to use while they’re on-call.  In fact, a few of the younger guys actually stay here full time.  Dean himself had spent a couple months living out of an on-call bunk and a duffle after Sam had first left their shared apartment to move in with Jess.  Their two-bedroom had been out of Dean’s price range without Sam splitting the rent and a couple months at the fire house had allowed him to save up his first and last month’s rent for a smaller place of his own.

“Heya, Benny,” he returns the greeting with a smile for his friend and lieutenant.  “What’s happening?”

“Not much.  Andrea’s folks are in town, but unfortunately, I’ve been stuck pulling overtime at the station.  Paperwork and all that, you know,” he says with a grin and a wink.

Dean barks out a laugh, “Old man’s still not a fan of yours, huh?”

“We’re friendly, enough,” his friend hedges.  “Speakin’ of friends, heard you went and made yourself a new one,” he adds with an inquisitive raise of his eyebrows.

“Sam’s got a big mouth,” Dean responds flatly.  Goddamn, nosey little brother.

“Ah, don’t be too hard on him, Cher.  Just came up in conversation.  Actually, I think he was surprised I hadn’t heard anything about Cas, since you talk about him so much and all.” 

Benny’s voice is neutral and non-judgmental, but Dean still narrows his eyes.

“What’s Sam doing ‘conversating’ with you anyway?  Last I checked, you two don’t exactly get along,” he accuses and actually, that’s a bit of an understatement.  It’s also a bit unfair to Benny, whose never actually said a bad word about Dean’s brother.  Sam, on the other hand, has always harbored a strong dislike for Dean’s lieutenant.  Dean suspects it’s because he himself had harbored a crush on the burly Cajun back when Dean had first joined the Department. 

That’s got nothin’ on the crush you’ve got on Cas though, Dean’s inner monologue supplies unhelpfully, the goddamn traitorous asshole.

Unfortunately, Benny actually was straight and dating Andrea at the time.  Dean’s pretty sure the man knew about his crush, but he’d never let it affect the way he acted around Dean and the two had developed a close friendship over the years.  Outside of Sam, Benny’s one of the few people he knows he can trust with absolutely anything, which is probably why his friend is looking a little hurt right about now.

“It wasn’t much of a conversation to be honest.  Sam was in the area and dropped in to see if you were on a call because you weren’t answering your phone.  When I told him you’d already left for the day, he said you must be visitin’ Cas.”  Now he looks at Dean expectantly and Dean sighs.

“Cas is the guy we pulled out of that Highlander last week.  The one where we had to cut the whole damn roof off.”

“The one you personally stopped by the hospital to return his glasses to?” Benny comments with a quirked brow, and of course, he would goddamn remember that.

“Yup.” Dean answers shortly.  So maybe he should have told Benny about Cas.  That still doesn’t mean he has to tell him everything.

“This isn’t just about those pretty blue eyes of his is it, Brother?  Don’t think I didn’t notice that you were a little more... protective of him than you are most folks we pull outta cars.”

Dean rolls his eyes.  “It ain’t like that, Benny.”

Benny stares at him.

“Okay, it’s a little like that,” Dean admits ruefully, “but it’s not just like that.  The guy’s in the hospital and he doesn’t have a lot of family around here.  He needs a friend is all.  We’re friends.”

“Uh huh,” Benny responds drily, clearly disbelieving.

“I’m not gonna try and pick up a guy stuck in a fucking hospital bed, Benny.  I’m not that guy.”

Why doesn’t anyone believe that Dean’s not that guy?

“I’m not sayin’ you are, Cher,” Benny says soothingly.  “It’s also not this Cas of yours I’m worried about,” the fire fighter adds protectively.  “When Dean Winchester decides to befriend someone, he doesn’t do half measures.  You’ve got a big heart, Cher.  Just make sure you protect it.”

Somewhere inside of him, Dean knows Benny has a point.  The thing is, Dean doesn’t really have friends.  He has family, and Dean Winchester will do anything for his family.  He doesn’t hold back.  Doesn’t even know how to.  That kind of devotion has been taken advantage of before, with people using Dean for his blind loyalty and willingness to sacrifice himself for the people he cares about.  It hasn’t happened often, but when it does, it’s devastating.  On the other hand, worry for the people he loves can make Dean a real overprotective bastard sometimes, and that side of him has ended up driving people away.  So yeah, Benny has a point when he tells Dean to look out for himself, but it’s a moot point.  Whether or not they ever become anything more than just friends, Dean’s already in too deep with Cas to back out now.

He was honest with Benny though.  Sure, Cas is stunning and those blue eyes and lean, runner’s body have a habit of popping into Dean’s head at less than appropriate times (easy, Winchester), but it’s more than that.  It’s not just how fucking gorgeous Cas’ eyes are, it’s how they go all soft and tearful when he talks about his daughter.  It’s how they crinkle around the edges when he’s being a sarcastic bastard.  Speaking of which, that’s another thing Dean can’t get enough of.  Most of the time, Cas talks like a goddamn dictionary... no, not a dictionary.  What’s the one that gives you bigger words that mean the same thing as the little words apes like Dean use?  Thesaurus.  Most of the time, Cas talks like a damn thesaurus, but then he can turn around and be the world’s snarkiest asshole in the next breath.  He’s the only person Dean knows who can actually make you smarter while he’s insulting you.  He probably makes the perfect high school teacher, Dean reflects wryly. 

Thankfully, Dean doesn’t get the chance to respond to his friend’s touching words.  He’s never been good at accepting praise or concern from the people who care about him.  Dean would much rather be the one doing the caring and the worrying.  Now though, he stands up and joins Benny as they head for the truck and the rest of their company as the alarm rings throughout the station. 

Dean pushes away thoughts of Cas as he gears up and jumps on the departing truck.  He’s not some probie who’ll let himself be distracted while he’s on a call.  Dean knows better.  Distractions like that will get you, the people you’re supposed to be saving, and your fellow fire fighters killed.

He takes a deep breath as they round a corner and the house fire comes into view, undulating flames leaping along the slanted roof of the small Cape Cod in cruel, cutting arcs.  Thick, black smoke rolls out of the windows and pushes upward in angry billows, blotting out the bright blue of the afternoon sky.  It doesn’t matter how many years Dean is on the job, these calls are always the hardest for him.  Benny shoots him a knowing glance and Dean nods steadily at him in return.  He’s alright.  He’ll be fine.

Dean methodically layers on the rest of his protective gear, silently naming each piece and checking it off a mental checklist, strapping on his mask and oxygen tank last as a local uniform updates Benny on the status of the homeowners.  He keeps his mind clear and focused on the facts, reciting them in his head after Benny fills the rest of the company in.  Most of the family are out and accounted for, having actually listened to the recommendations the fire department makes every year during Fire Safety Week at the local elementary and middle schools:  designating a safe meeting place and practicing multiple ways to exit the house in the event of a fire.  There’s one child from the family of five missing, however: an eight-year-old boy.  His older brother says he was right behind him as they started crawling from the bedrooms to the kitchen door, but when he turned around to check on him, he’d disappeared. 

Nodding grimly at Benny’s barked orders, Dean and two of his team move into the burning house.  Fortunately, the fire seems to have started in the attic, or at the very least on the second floor, and the bedroom the two boys shared is on the main level.  Still though, the hungry flames have made their way down the stairway and are quickly eating through the first story ceiling above them and the dense, heavy smoke has made its way to the first floor as well.  Dean hopes the young boy knows enough to stay down and away from the rising smoke.  Even if he has though, with the volume of smoke and choking gray ash currently wending its way around the fire fighter, there’s a strong likelihood that the poor kid has already succumbed to smoke inhalation.

Moving carefully through the house as it blisters around him, support beams groaning and popping in the death rattle of a burning home, Dean makes his way past the kitchen where he can just see the veneer of the cabinets starting to smolder and peel, to the short hallway beyond.  At the end of the hall he spots a closed door and a brief flicker of hope beats to life in his chest.  If the kid he’s looking for is behind that closed door, he might still be alive after all.  A closed door can be a surprisingly effective barrier against smoke, which is a much faster and more deadly enemy than flame when it comes to a house fire.

Opening the door cautiously in case the boy is on the other side, Dean steps into the room, wreathed in black smoke that seems eager to claim what’s previously been denied it.  Both training and experience lead Dean to the closest of the two beds, where he kneels in his heavy gear to look underneath.  Frightened kids often crawl to the perceived safety under their beds when faced with a fire outside their bedroom doors.  The floor beneath the first bed is empty and Dean feels that newfound feeling of hope in his chest start to sputter, but when he looks under the second bed he finds the curled figure of a young boy, head cradled in his arms.  Pushing aside his feelings of relief, this is no time to celebrate or relax, he still has to get both of them out of the house, Dean reaches for the boy, who instinctively pulls back in fear.  Not having the time to be gentle, the room filling quickly with the dark and deadly smoke, he surges forward and grasps a thin arm, hauling the boy to him and tucking him against his chest. 

As quickly as he dares, Dean finds his way back to the front door with the boy cradled in his arms, meeting Roy and Victor, the two fire fighters he’d come in with, along the way.  Dean makes it halfway to the perimeter the Overland Park PD have set up around the burning house before the EMTs swoop in, moving the boy from Dean’s arms to a gurney.  By the time Dean is pulling off his gear and slumping against the side of his truck, the kid’s being loaded into the ambulance with an oxygen mask pulled over his mouth and nose.  His weeping mother smooths the sooty hair back from his forehead as his father, brother, and sister hold one another and watch from the side of the road. 

Dean blinks back tears.  They all made it.  The kid’ll spend a few days in the children’s hospital, being treated for smoke inhalation, but he’ll recover.  Feeling a heavy hand on his shoulder, Dean looks over into the smiling face of his lieutenant. 

“You did real good there, Cher,” Benny drawls softly.

Dean nods tiredly, before stowing his gear and crawling back into the truck.  He trades quiet smiles with Victor and Roy before leaning his head back against the seat behind him.

They all made it.

 


 

Saturday brings another day of physical therapy for Castiel.  RBF and Mom-Bun spend about thirty minutes working with him on finding the most efficient, and least painful, ways for him to get in and out of bed.  For the time being, this requires Castiel to lie on his side, using his arms to push his top half up while someone else slowly lowers his legs until his feet hit the floor.  Lying back down is simply the reverse:  Castiel lowers his upper body while his helper lifts his legs onto the bed.

The entire process seems pretty straight forward, but once the PTs leave and Castiel is left to rely on the nurses and techs for his assistance, he learns it’s more problematic than originally thought.  If the person aiding Castiel doesn’t lift or lower his legs at the exact same pace he’s moving the upper half of his body, keeping his pelvis in-line with his torso, pain blooms throughout his middle.  Some of the nurses, like his PTs, are good at judging the pacing and follow Castiel’s lead, but a few seem to want to toss his bottom half into the bed like he’s just another part of the bedding.  He quickly learns to coach them through each step, earning a few dirty looks in the process.

By midday, he’s sore and exhausted, but as he settles back against his pillows for a pain medication-induced nap, he receives a piece of very welcome news.  A tall, African-American woman who introduces herself as the head of the hospital’s physical therapy team informs Castiel that he’ll be discharged from the KUMC sometime tomorrow and will be transported to the Rehabilitation Hospital of Overland Park, which he’d chosen from a list the hospital had given him of rehabilitation facilities in the Kansas City area due to its being closer to home.  Hopefully, Gabe will be able to bring Claire to visit him there.  Children aren’t allowed on the trauma floor at KUMC and honestly, it’s not something Castiel would want her seeing anyway. 

The trauma floor is connected to the hospital’s burn unit and sometimes burn patients can be seen being transported through the halls.  The bandages and seared skin don’t bother Castiel, but there simply aren’t pain killers strong enough to mask the pain for some of them.  Their suffering is difficult to witness, though of course, not anything like it must be to experience.  Even Dean seems to be affected by it, his features drawn and tight after having passed a patient from the burn unit on his way to Castiel’s room.  He’s looked almost haunted, the couple of times that it’s happened and Castiel supposes it must have something to do with his job as a firefighter.  Dean would know better than anyone how some of those people received their injuries. 

Castiel reaches for his new smartphone on the bedside table and texts Gabe and Charlie to let them know that he’s being moved to Overland Park tomorrow.  After a moment’s hesitation, he texts Dean as well.  Seeing it sitting next to him, awaiting Gabriel and Claire’s evening Facetime call, the firefighter had entered his number into Castiel’s new phone before Jody had finally chased him out during his most recent visit.  It’s the first time he’s texted Dean, but they are friends and Castiel figures Dean wouldn’t have given him his number if he didn’t want him to use it.  Besides, it would be rude to let Dean learn Castiel had been transferred by showing up at the hospital to visit him, only to find a new patient in his room.

That done, Castiel uses the buttons on the side rail of his hospital bed to recline the mattress and lies back for his previously interrupted nap.

When he wakes, hours later, the small window shows only darkness outside, tinged with the orange glow of an out-of-sight street light.  Rubbing his eyes and reaching for his glasses, Castiel squints to see the time on his iPhone, 10:56.  He slept the entire evening away.  Glancing to his left, he sees his dinner tray, sitting abandoned on the rolling table.  The previously hot entrée is certainly a congealed, tepid mess by now and since being hot is really the only compliment one can bestow upon the hospital’s cuisine anyway, he avoids it, reaching instead for the pudding cup.  Chocolate pudding in hand, Castiel uses the remote on his call button to turn on the small TV suspended in the corner of the room and settles in to watch the evening news.

He’s about 20 minutes into the broadcast when the words, “House Fire,” pop-up on the screen, surrounded by illustrated flames.  The news anchor begins introducing the story of an Overland Park family who lost their home to a blaze started by faulty wiring in their attic early this afternoon.  The image changes as video of the fire rolls on screen and the newscaster continues the story.

“Eight-year-old Marcus Tucker was trapped in the bedroom he shares with his older brother, Kevin, but was rescued by Overland Park firefighters with only minutes to spare before the first-floor ceiling caved in.  The boy’s mother, Kayla Tucker...” 

Castiel tunes out the rest of her report as he watches a firefighter, covered head to toe in his heavy turnout gear, emerges from the inferno, staggering slightly but moving steadily forward with the help of two other firefighters, a small boy cradled against his soot-stained chest.  He’s not sure how he knows, but he’s not at all surprised when EMTs take the child from the firefighter’s arms and he pulls off his hat and mask to reveal the chiseled jaw and high cheekbones of Castiel’s newest friend.  The camera angle shifts slightly to stay focused on the child being cared for by the efficient EMTs, but Castiel’s eyes remain riveted on the clearly exhausted firefighter in the background, rubbing a hand over his weary face.  Castiel thinks the hand might be trembling slightly, but at this distance, that could easily be his imagination.

Muting the TV, but still focused on the screen as the footage of Dean carrying a tiny boy out of the flaming maw replays above him, Castiel fumbles blindly for his phone.  Finally tearing his eyes away from the TV, he finds Dean’s contact in his phone and presses “send,” before thinking about the fact that it’s 11:30 at night, and his friend has clearly had a very long day.

He’s about to hang up the phone when Dean’s voice, sleep-roughened and somehow even more attractive than his usual deep baritone, answers, “Hullo?”

“Dean,” he starts uncertainly, “I apologize for calling so late...”

“Hey Cas,” his friend greets in warm recognition, “It’s not a problem.  I take it you just saw the eleven o’clock news.”

“How did you know?”

Dean chuckles tiredly, “Because I’ve had calls from just about everyone I know since they first aired that footage at six.”

“I’m sorry, Dean,” Castiel says immediately.  “You must be exhausted.  It was inappropriate of me to call...”

This time, Dean cuts him off with a small snort, “No more inappropriate than me showing up at the hospital the day of your surgery even though we barely knew each other, just because I couldn’t stop worrying.”

Castiel asks curiously, “You were worried?”  He’s not used to having anyone other than Gabriel or Charlie worry about him.  It’s... nice.

“Well, yeah, Cas.”  Even though he can’t see Dean, Castiel can picture his friend’s nonchalant shrug, “Friends worry.”

Thinking about how he’d felt seeing Dean on that news footage, he agrees, “Yes, I suppose that’s true.”

“Speaking of things friends do,” Dean adds, “Sorry for not responding to your text earlier.  That’s awesome news, man.”

“Well, you’ve been a little busy, so I suppose I can forgive you,” Castiel responds drily, rolling his eyes even though Dean can’t see him.

“Yeah, yeah, smartass.” 

Castiel smiles, hearing the answering eyeroll in the firefighter’s voice. 

“If it’s all right, I can stop by tomorrow evening to see how you’re settling in,” Dean says, voice lifting in question.

“Dean,” Castiel chides softly, “You don’t have to do that.  You should be resting.”

“Nah,” Dean argues, “I have tomorrow off, so I can sleep in.  I’ll get some rest tonight and be good as new.  It’s all part of the job, Cas.”

“If you’re sure,” he replies uncertainly.

“I’m sure, Cas.  I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“Okay, Dean,” he relents.  “I’ll let you get some rest now. Good night.”

“Night, Cas.”

Castiel reflects on Dean’s words after he disconnects their call.  He wonders how many other calls Dean had gone on, how many other people he had helped, just on the day he met Castiel.  Part of him is awed by the firefighter.  He’s never met someone like Dean, so earnest and determined in his desire to help other people, without asking for anything in return.  Another part of him though, a completely ridiculous part, can’t help but be disappointed at the reminder that what was such a profound experience for him was just another day’s work for Dean.  

Castiel switches off the TV and presses the button to turn off the fluorescent light above his bed, plunging the room into darkness.  He settles back against his pillows, but finds himself unable to sleep for some time, the image of Dean staggering out of that fiery house, carrying eight-year-old Marcus to safety, playing on repeat in his unsettled mind.

 


 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sunday morning, Gabriel arrives early to drop off a suitcase of Castiel’s clothing and personal toiletries before he’s transported to the rehab hospital.  Now that he can sit up and get in and out of bed, albeit with assistance, Castiel will be able to transfer to a wheelchair and begin working on caring for his own personal needs. 

Gabe doesn’t stay long to visit, since Charlie is currently watching Claire for him.  Castiel feels the familiar pang of guilt at how much his brother has turned his life upside down, again, to care for himself and Claire.  He buries the urge to apologize though, knowing Gabriel will just brush it off as usual, and instead focuses on the gratitude he feels towards his older brother.

The trip from Kansas City to Overland Park takes a bit longer in the transport ambulance than it would by car, mainly because the vehicle obeys all of the speed limits, but Castiel is pleased to find that the bouncing ambulance isn’t nearly as jarring or painful as he anticipated. 

Once they reach the rehab hospital, Castiel’s gurney is wheeled into a bright room on the building’s second floor.  Looking around, he notes that the room is easily twice the size of his room at KUMC, but also contains a second bed, which is currently empty.  He’s both relieved and slightly disappointed by this.  He appreciates the privacy, but he’s hoping that he won’t feel as isolated here as he had on the trauma floor in Kansas City.  Any worries about that fade, however, when his nurse explains Castiel’s soon-to-be daily routine.  He’ll be undergoing three hours of intensive physical and occupational therapy each day.  In addition to that, he’ll have occasional group sessions where he’ll join other patients working on similar skills.  Remembering how exhausted he’s felt after just 30 to 40 minutes of physical therapy the past couple of days, Castiel can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed by the prospect of six times that amount. 

Shortly after the transport medics take their leave, a cheery blonde woman bounces into Castiel’s new hospital room.

“Hi there!  I’m one of the occupational therapists ‘round these parts.  Name’s Donna and you and I are gonna be pals while you’re here, just you wait and see!”

“Good afternoon,” Castiel responds, eyes a little wide.  Donna practically vibrates with barely restrained enthusiasm.  He can’t decide if it’s endearing or alarming.  It might be a little of both.

“Now,” Donna says, warm brown eyes twinkling, “we don’t have anything official on the books until tomorrow morning, but I know you’ve spent the last week laid up in a hospital bed and I thought now that you’re here, you might like a real shower.”

Castiel’s mouth falls open and, gay or not, he just might marry this woman.

“A shower?  I can do that?”

“You betcha!” says the energetic woman with a grin.

At Donna’s direction, Castiel digs through his suitcase, pulling out a set of boxers, soft flannel pajama pants, and a t-shirt, as well as the shampoo, conditioner, and body wash Gabriel had packed for him.  After asking Castiel how he was transferring in and out of bed at KUMC, Donna expertly lifts his legs as Castiel sits on the edge of his bed, then guides him through pivoting to a wheelchair she’d retrieved and positioned next to the bed.  This chair belongs to the hospital, but he’ll receive his own, ordered through his insurance, before he goes home. 

Donna steers the chair into the room’s spacious bathroom for Castiel.  “Don’t want you to get all tuckered out before we even make it to the main event,” she explains with a wink and Castiel chuckles.  He’s decided Donna’s boundless energy is more endearing than frightening after all.

Figuring out the logistics of showering and dressing takes even more time and problem solving than Castiel anticipated.  Surprisingly, Donna doesn’t tell him what to do, waiting patiently while Castiel works through each obstacle, only stepping in to offer suggestions on how Castiel can accomplish a task in a way that’s easier or more efficient.  They decide that Castiel will transfer to the shower bench, then remove his clothes since there’s more room for him to move around and maneuver in the shower than in the wheelchair, but that he’ll transfer back to the towel-covered wheelchair prior to dressing, in order to keep his clean clothing dry, both agreeing there’s nothing worse than wet socks and underwear.

Donna has to help him remove his socks since he can’t bend down, but tells him that tomorrow she’ll bring him a “reacher” tool that will help him manage tasks like that more independently.  Castiel is able to remove his hospital gown easily, but Donna has to help him cover the surgical incisions on his front and backsides with adhesive plastic coverings, as well as the long laceration along his ribs.  The shower prep takes upward of 20 minutes, but finally, Donna is adjusting the water temperature and handing Castiel the removable shower head.  She makes sure his toiletries are in easy reach on the shower bench and shows him where the emergency pull cord is in case he falls or needs assistance, then steps outside of the shower curtain to give him some privacy.

The combination of the hot shower spray against his skin and the privacy to enjoy it is a little overwhelming and Castiel feels tears welling up in his eyes.  As he rubs shampoo into his oily hair for the first time in more than a week, he can’t help the quiet moan that escapes his lips.

“I feel human again,” he says to where he can see Donna’s silhouette on the other side of the white shower curtain.

She chuckles, “I hear that a lot.  In fact, that’s one the things I love best about my job, getting to help people feel like themselves again.”

Reluctantly, Castiel finishes his shower, handing the shower head back to the bubbly OT as she turns off the water.  Donna helps him transfer back to his chair, waiting to the side while he does his best to towel off, before drying his feet and hooking his boxers and flannel pants around his ankles.  She pulls the garments up to Castiel’s knees for him, then lets him shimmy them up the rest of the way, leaning side-to-side as he tugs the waistbands a little higher with each shift.  It’s a lengthy process, but Donna assures him in her chipper voice that it will get both easier and faster with time and practice. 

Feeling drained, but more content than he has in a week following his shower adventure, Castiel allows Donna to help him transfer back into his new bed, where he orders his dinner from a menu on his bedside table that boasts an impressive number of options.  He selects the veggie burger with sweet potato fries and relaxes against his pillows as he waits for his meal. 

Unbidden, his thoughts drift to Dean and his upcoming visit.  Castiel hopes the man wasn’t exaggerating when he said he’d be “good as new” by tonight.  The last thing he wants is to be a burden to Dean:  thoughtful, giving, unfairly attractive, rescues-people-from-actual-literal-goddamn-burning-buildings, Dean.  Who is your friend, Castiel reminds himself firmly, but that doesn’t stop his traitorous brain from helpfully sending him the image of what Dean’s ass looked like filling out the jeans he’d worn during their last visit. 

Despite his inner turmoil, Castiel’s spirits are lightened by his first bite into his surprisingly tasty veggie burger and he actually finishes every bite of his meal as he awaits Claire and Gabriel’s nightly Facetime.

 


 

Hearing a baby’s squeal, followed by a quiet laugh, Dean stops outside the door to his friend’s new hospital room and peers inside.  He sees Cas, sitting on top of the bed covers, legs stretched out in front of him.  The man looks soft and slightly rumpled in his t-shirt and flannel pants, but a gummy smile lights up his face, making him look younger than Dean’s ever seen him.  Even in the shitty fluorescent hospital lighting, Cas is handsome.  His hair looks freshly washed, sticking out at angles, soft and fluffy without product.  His brilliant, shining blue eyes are crinkled around the edges in mirth behind rectangular, black frames and the day’s scruff along his jawline only adds to the appeal.  The new pajamas give Dean a better view of Cas’ body than the oversized, dingy hospital gown had.  His dark gray t-shirt is tightly fitted, stretching across his chest and outlining the well-defined muscles there.  The sleeves hug lean, but muscular arms and the flannel pants look soft and well-worn, but still pull taut across thick runner’s thighs where they’re lying on top of his goddamn hospital bed, Winchester, you fucking pervert

Dean swallows and pulls his eyes back to the man’s face as another laugh widens Cas’ smile further.  He’s obviously having his daily video chat with Claire and Dean’s not sure which is worse:  interrupting or standing here in the doorway eavesdropping and checking Cas out like a creeper.  Yeah, probably the second one.  He’s about to back out of the room altogether to go wait by the nurse’s station when Cas looks up, locking Dean in place with those smiling blue eyes.  He gestures for Dean to come in before turning back to his phone.

Dean moves to stand to the side of Cas’ bed, close enough to see the display in front of him, but far enough away to keep out of the video feed.  On the small screen of the iPhone, he sees an absolutely gorgeous baby girl sitting on a lap that most likely belongs to Gabriel.  Despite Gabriel’s attempts to get her to “wave to Daddy, Claire-Bear,” she seems more interested in playing with the smartphone.  Soft blonde curls framing chubby pink cheeks keep getting blocked out by a close-up of a pudgy hand as Claire attempts to press the buttons and icons surrounding the call screen.  Whatever she’s trying to accomplish clearly isn’t working, if her adorable pout is any indication.  Striking blue eyes narrowed in concentration, she shoots the uncooperative device a glare that’s so familiar it makes Dean grin.

Cas sees it as well and chuckles as Gabriel picks the phone up and gives Cas a helpless shrug.  “Sorry, bro.  I tried, but she’s more interested in the phone than what’s happening on screen.”

“It’s okay Gabe.  I’m sure this is far from the only time in her life that she’ll be more interested in a phone than in her father.  At least now I’ll be able to blame you.”

Gabe sticks his tongue out at Cas’ teasing and turns the camera back toward Claire.  “Okay munchkin, say goodbye to Daddy so Uncle Ga-Ga can get you ready for night-night.”

Uncle Ga-Ga?  Dean mouths to Cas with a smirk, who just grins and shakes his head.

“Good night, sweet girl,” Cas says to the phone, tracing over Claire’s tiny face with a fingertip.  “Daddy loves you, so much.”

Blowing a final kiss at the screen, Cas disconnects the call and turns his face toward Dean.

“You didn’t have to hang up on my account,” he says softly.

“It’s okay,” Cas answers with a smile that’s smaller than the one he’d worn while Facetiming Claire, but no less warm.  “It’s Claire’s bedtime anyway.  We were about ten minutes away from her turning into a pumpkin if she doesn’t get her jammies and bottle.”

“I get it,” Dean jokes, “Sammy’s still that way.  Keep the kid out past 9:30 on a work night and it’s a Toddlers and Tiaras level meltdown.  The moms, not the kids.”

“Sam has more hair though,” he adds as an afterthought.

“Than who?  The moms or the kids?” Cas asks, doing that goddamn adorable head tilt he does whenever something confuses or intrigues him.

Dean shrugs, “Both,” and Cas chuckles again.

“I think I’d like to meet Sam.”

“You will,” Dean responds confidently.  “Speaking of meeting people, that was Claire, huh?  She’s beautiful, Cas.”

“Thank you,” Cas answers, right before Dean adds shyly, “She looks a lot like you, you know.” 

He looks at Cas nervously, both because he basically just told Cas he thinks the man is beautiful and because Cas has never said that Claire’s his biological child.  Those eyes and that scowl couldn’t have come from anyone else though.  Dean’s sure of it.

The light blush that suffuses Cas’ cheeks tells Dean that he didn’t miss the compliment, but he ignores it, instead saying, “She does have quite a few of my features, yes.”

Dean snorts, “No kidding.  I thought that iPhone was going to burst into flames with the way she was glaring at it.  That’s you right over.”

Cas turns a glare on Dean so identical to the one Claire used on Gabe’s phone that Dean nearly falls out of his chair as he guffaws.  “Yep, that’s the one!”

The sex-haired man in the hospital bed tries to hold onto his glare, but his blue eyes twinkle and the corners of his lips tick up, before he finally concedes defeat and laughs along with Dean.  After a moment, Cas sobers.

“I miss her terribly,” he says, the light in his eyes dimming slightly before brightening again as he announces, “Gabriel’s bringing her to visit next weekend.”

“That’s awesome, man,” Dean grins.  Silence stretches between them for a moment before Dean’s curiosity gets the better of him.  He doesn’t have any right to be asking this, but it’s been on his mind and Dean’s desperate to know more about his new definitely-just-a-friend.

“Can I ask you something?” Dean asks carefully.  Cas opens his mouth to respond, but Dean barrels on, “I mean, I know it’s none of my business and you can tell me to fuck off if you want.  We haven’t really known each other that long and...”

Dean,” Cas interrupts with a sideways smile, “You can ask.”

Dean stops rambling and takes a breath, before saying hesitantly, “I was just wondering about... Claire’s mom.”

Cas nods like he’d expected the question.

“Amelia was a surrogate for me and my ex,” he starts simply.  “She and her husband Jimmy had had their own difficulties conceiving due to problems with Jimmy’s virility.  They were blessed with twin boys through the use of in vitro fertilization and a sperm donor.  Once the boys got a bit older, Amelia decided she wanted to give someone else the chance that she and Jimmy’s donor had given them.  Bartholomew and I were connected with them through a fertility clinic, since we were in need of both a surrogate and an egg donor.”

He smiles, “Obviously, we used my genetic material for the IVF.”

Dean nods, taking in the information and mulling it over for a minute before looking back at Cas.  He studies the man for a moment, who patiently studies him in return.  Knowing what he wants to ask next, but knowing he really doesn’t have the right to this information yet, Dean hesitates, deciding to be content with what he’s learned about Cas and Claire already today.

Cas however, anticipating Dean’s next question, asks it for him, “You’re wondering why Claire isn’t staying with her other father while I’m here.”

Dean nods, but adds, “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.  Like I said, it’s really none of my business.”

Frowning darkly, he adds, “Plus, it probably doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the Cliff’s Notes version.”

Huffing a humorless laugh, Cas agrees, “You’re not wrong.  The simplest explanation is that Claire doesn’t have another father.”  At Dean’s slightly confused look, he adds, “Bartholomew left me four months before Claire was born.  He was never included on her birth certificate or any other documentation about her life, except for our original surrogate contract with Amelia.”

“I probably would have let him out of the contract and taken on all of the remaining expenses myself, but Amelia wasn’t so generous.  She held Bart to the original contract, so he had to pay for half of she and Claire’s medical expenses until I left the hospital with Claire when she was three days old.  Since then, we’ve had no contact with Bart.”

Dean’s hands clench into fists at his sides as he wonders where he can find this Bart asshole now.  If Cas cut off contact with the guy, he probably doesn’t have his info in his new phone.  Dean is both disappointed and suspiciously pleased at that thought.

“What a dick,” he says instead of asking Cas for his ex-son-of-a-bitch’s address.  “Good on Amelia, though.  Asshole should’ve had to foot the whole bill, bailing on you like that.”

Cas shakes his head, “Honestly, I just wanted it over with as quickly and quietly as possible.  I was suddenly facing single parenthood.  I didn’t want a messy separation hanging over my head as well.  Fortunately, we weren’t married, so aside from dividing up the furniture and breaking our lease, it didn’t take much for us to part ways.  In retrospect, I probably should have seen his hesitance to buy a house or ‘prove our commitment with some meaningless piece of paper,’ as red flags, but...”

He shrugs helplessly and Dean nods his understanding, “Yeah, I get just wanting to move on.  Did the dick at least give you an explanation for why he ghosted?”

Cas sighs, “He said he’d never actually wanted children, that he’d only agreed to fatherhood for my sake.  He assumed he’d eventually be able to ‘make his peace’ with it.  By the time he realized that would never happen, Amelia was already pregnant.”

After a pause, he adds, “I can’t really blame him, I suppose.  There’s a lot of pressure in our society to raise a family.  People make it seem like that’s what everyone is supposed to want and you’re somehow abnormal if two-point-five kids and a dog isn’t your idea of a happy life.  It’s not Bart’s fault he wasn’t designed to want something like that.”

Dean stares at him, dumbfounded.  Is he fucking serious right now?

“Uh, yeah, you sure as hell can blame him, Cas.  How long were you with the guy?”

“Seven years.”

“Seven,” Dean scrubs a hand down his face incredulously, “Seven years?”

Cas nods.  “We met junior year of college and I was about to turn 29 when he left.”

“So, this douchebag had seven years to mention the fact that fatherhood wasn’t in the plans for him.  Seven goddamn years to say, ‘hey, I don’t think the whole husband, kids, apple-pie-life-thing is for me,’ but he never said a word.”

At Cas’ silence, Dean falters.  Shit, now he’s the asshole.

“Sorry,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly.  “I probably shouldn’t call someone you cared about, someone you were gonna start a family with, a douchebag.”

Cas smiles wryly at that though, “It’s okay.  Besides, you’re right.  He was a douchebag, long before the Claire situation happened.  Bartholomew was always a little pompous...”

“How could he not be, with a name like that?” Dean interrupts with a snort.

“He says to the man named ‘Castiel,’” responds Cas drily.

“Hey, your name is awesome.  It says, ‘I’m classy, interesting, and a fuck ton smarter than you could ever hope to be.’  His name says, ‘I’m a giant tool.’”

Chuckling, but not disagreeing with the descriptions, Cas continues, “In college, he was focused and driven, which I found attractive.  After college though, those qualities turned into an obsession with his career.”

“What does he do?” Dean asks, more because he wants to learn as much as he can about Cas’ history, not because he actually gives a damn about Douchey McDickface and his career.

“He’s a stockbroker,” Cas explains.

“In Kansas City?  That can’t be the crème de le crème for stockbrokers,” comes Dean’s confused response.  He would think a career-obsessed stockbroker would live somewhere a bit more exciting than Kansas.

“Not hardly,” Cas scoffs.  “We lived in Chicago, although New York City was where Bart really wanted to be.  I moved here after Claire was born to be closer to Gabriel.  Clearly, it’s a good thing I did,” he says casting a wry glance toward where his legs lay, immobile, on the bed between them.

Dean wants to ask why Cas would move to be closer to his brother, rather than his parents, but somehow that seems an even more personal question than asking about Cas’ ex and he’s not sure they’re there yet.  Plus, Dean’s not exactly ready to share that much of his own history with the other man and since Cas doesn’t offer the information, he refrains.

“So, what made you decide to become an English teacher?” he asks instead, diverting the conversation away from the more intimate topics of family and relationships. 

For fuck’s sake, Winchester, this is a hospital visit, not a first date, he reminds himself harshly.

Shrugging, Cas smiles nostalgically, “I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember.  My adolescence was... difficult, and books were both my refuge and my closest friends.  I also always excelled at school, so combining the two just seemed like that natural thing to do.  Of course, loving a subject doesn’t necessarily equate to being able to teach it.  Fortunately for me and my students, it turned out that I love teaching as well.”

“I bet you’re a great teacher,” Dean says with a soft smile that grows at Cas’ answering blush.

“Speaking of which,” Dean adds, pulling a battered paperback out of his jacket pocket, “I finally remembered to bring you that copy of Sirens I promised you.”

Cas smiles broadly, reaching eagerly for the well-loved text and they spend the rest of Dean’s visit talking about lighter subjects (aside from a heated discussion on the appropriate treatment of our ink-and-paper friends.  Dean argues that dog-eared pages and creased spines are signs of deep affection, while Cas sees such irreverent treatment as absolute sacrilege).  And Dean may be imagining it, but he’s pretty sure he catches Cas checking out his ass as he heads out the door that evening.  Either way, there’s an extra bounce in Dean Winchester’s step as he makes his way out of the hospital and back to the Impala.

Chapter Text

Monday, September 17, 2018

Castiel’s first full day in the rehabilitation hospital passes in a blur of mental and physical exhaustion.  His morning starts early, with the breakfast he’d selected the night before being delivered at 6:30 AM.  After that, he has a little time until his first therapy session starts at 8:00.  He spends the time in between watching re-runs of Charmed on TNT, something he’s always done on his rare sick days, and the familiarity brings him a surprising level of comfort, even surrounded as he is by the impersonal sterility of the hospital. 

Eight o’clock brings a far-too-cheerful Donna to his room for his “ADL” session, which she had told him the day before stands for “activities of daily living.”  They work on showering again, with Donna teaching him how to use the reacher, as she’d promised yesterday.  The device is a long, thin stick with one end resembling one of those arcade claws that never manages to snag that stuffed animal just sitting there on top of the rest with absolutely nothing obstructing it, until you’ve spent at least twelve times what the thing is worth.  Fortunately, it works much better than the cursed claw game and Castiel feels his lips tilt upward in a small, pleased smile when he’s able to put on his boxers and pants completely independently, using the reacher in one hand to carefully hold the waistband by his feet, while his other hand helps lift each leg into its leg-hole.  It’s a tedious and time-consuming process, but there is definitely something to be said for not having to have someone else stoop down face-level with your genitals to help you into your underwear. 

Brushing his teeth and shaving over an actual sink and not just a basin is another novelty in which Castiel delights.  Donna seems equally pleased, beaming at him periodically as she quickly and efficiently tidies the bathroom, piling wet towels and washcloths out of the way into the shower.  Since Castiel doesn’t have a roommate, they don’t have to worry about anyone else needing the shower before the nursing techs get a chance to take the towels to the laundry. 

The entire ADL hour taken up by showering and dressing, Castiel clumsily wheels himself out into his room to see what Donna has planned for his occupational therapy session from nine to ten.  Smiling as always, she asks to see him transfer from the chair to his bed and back again.  Wheeling himself over to the bed, he parks himself at an angle to the edge of the bed like Donna had shown him yesterday, before remembering to lock the wheelchair’s brakes.  The bed’s already lowered to wheelchair height from his pre-shower transfer, so Donna coaches him through removing the armrest closest to the bed and then using his upper body to scoot himself from the chair to the mattress.  Once she’s helped him lift his legs into bed, Donna uses the mechanical bed’s buttons to recline it to a normal sleeping position, then asks Castiel to get back into his chair.

Trying not to appear frustrated at having to repeat what she’d just seen him do an hour ago, Castiel presses the incline button on the remote that controls his bed, the room’s lights, and the TV, until the bed has reached its most upright position.  Then he grips the side rail in both hands, using the rail to heave himself up into a sitting position as Donna lowers his legs.  After that, it’s just a reversal of the seated transfer she’d coached him through a few minutes earlier.

Situating himself back in the wheelchair, Castiel looks up in surprise as Donna asks with an innocent smile, “That was great, Castiel, but tell me, does your bed at home have side rails?”

“No?” he answers hesitantly, already suspecting where she’s headed with this line of questioning.

“Aaaand, I’m going to guess it doesn’t recline up and down either, huh?”

“No,” he sighs, “it’s a regular bed.”

Smile turning slightly wicked, she chirps, “Then I reckon we’d better find somewhere to practice that’s a bit more like what you’ll be working with at home in a couple weeks.”

Wheeling Castiel out of his room and down the hall, the bouncy OT continues, “Don’t get used to the rock star treatment there, Cas.  Normally I’d be making you wheel yourself, but I think you’re going to need all your energy for this.”  Leaning over him, she shoots Castiel a wink that he’s certain means nothing good for him.

Twenty minutes later, he knows he was right.  “I knew it wasn’t possible for someone to actually be that nice,” he grouses from where he’s staring up at the fluorescent lights above, lying flat on his back on a standard, full size bed.  The occupational therapist had taken him to one of the hospital’s rehab gyms, which despite its name, doesn’t really resemble a gym at all.  The large, open room with mock-wood laminate flooring and pale green and yellow walls is set up to look like a makeshift home.  From his current location in the bedroom area, Castiel can also see the gym’s “living room” with a sofa and plush chair; a faux-bathroom complete with a bathtub and home-issue shower chair; and a kitchen that while not operational, does have cabinets, a refrigerator, and oven that all open and close realistically.  He knows from his trip into the gym that there’s also a laundry closet with a working washer and drier patients can use to wash their personal clothing and belongings.

Donna snickers from where she’s seated by his feet at the edge of the mattress, one leg pulled up and folded beneath her.  For just a moment, Castiel hates her for being able to sit like that so easily, her muscles and limbs responding and doing her bidding without any conscious thought on her part.  A second later, Castiel chides himself internally.  It’s not Donna’s fault he’s here and she only wants to help him.  This is just his pain and exhaustion talking. 

Either sensing something from his tone or being able to read the tightening lines in his face, Donna asks, “What’s your pain level now?”

“Six,” Castiel answers after a moment’s consideration.  He’d been a four when they started this morning, but the last couple of hours have taken their toll, plus he knows he should be due for another dose of meds soon.

Nodding, Donna responds, “In that case, why don’t we get you back in your chair and we’ll just work on some easy upper body exercises for the rest of our time?”

Just managing to suppress his relieved sigh, Castiel instead takes in a deep, steadying breath before turning on his side and positioning his arms beneath him to push himself up to a sitting position while Donna lowers his legs.  What would have been nothing for him just over ten days ago leaves his arms weak and trembling now.  His week of forced bed rest while he awaited and recovered from his surgery has weakened far more than just his legs.

He isn’t able to hold back his sigh when he slides into his chair and is thankful when Donna keeps to her promise and they spend the remainder of the session working with light hand weights and long, elastic resistance bands that Castiel pulls and stretches against to rebuild the muscles in his arms and hands.  Even the lighter exercises leave him feeling drained though, and he quickly falls asleep once he’s settled back into his bed, napping until his lunch and pain meds arrive at eleven, reruns of some paranormal television show about a couple of brothers playing in the background.

Waking only long enough to eat with his meds, Castiel naps until he hears what must be the voice of his physical therapist, arriving for his first PT session at one o’clock.

“Knock, knock!” 

He’s not sure what he expected a physical therapist to look like, but he’s pretty sure this pale, gangly-limbed youth isn’t it.  At 30, Castiel isn’t exactly advanced in age himself, but this... man doesn’t even look as if he needs to shave on a daily basis yet.  He supposes he’d expected someone whose career is built around building and strengthening the muscles and physical health of others to look, well, like he’d actually stepped inside a gym himself.

“Hello,” Castiel greets cautiously as he inclines the mechanical bed into a sitting position.

“Howdy there, hombre!  I’m Garth and I’m here for your physical therapy, or as we in the ‘biz’ call it, ‘PT.’”  A smile breaks out on Garth’s sallow face as his lanky form makes its way over to the bed in a saunter that’s somehow both rolling and awkwardly jerky, like a recently born foal that’s mostly figured out this walking thing, but still misses a step here and there. 

Pushing stringy hair out of gray-blue eyes, Garth positions Castiel’s wheelchair next to the bed before giving him a look so reminiscent of an over-eager puppy that Castiel half expects the man’s tongue to loll out of his mouth.

“All right, hombre!  Let’s roll!”

Hoping his doubt isn’t broadcast in his expression, Castiel begins his transfer to the waiting chair being held in place by a pair of ashen, scrawny arms.

Thirty minutes later, Castiel has decided he has really got to stop underestimating these people.  Behind Garth’s disarming grin and unintimidating demeanor lurks the world’s friendliest sadist. 

After watching Castiel wheel himself around the hospital, across carpet and linoleum, and up and down the building’s long entrance and exit ramps several times, Garth takes him to another gym, one that looks more like the gyms he’s familiar with.  A variety of exercise equipment lines the beige walls, but unlike a traditional gym, they’re interspersed with low mat tables whose height can be adjusted using foot pedals tucked underneath each table.  Garth cheerfully directs Castiel to wait by one of the tables, then leaves him to gather some equipment.

Returning with that lanky saunter, the man cheerfully deposits a large medicine ball in Castiel’s lap.

“We’ll start with some straight arm holds.  You can alternate lifting over your head and holding the ball straight out in front of you,” Gath says before adding as an afterthought, “Let’s start with twenty.”

Mouth gaping, Castiel glances between Garth and the medicine ball, “How much does this thing weigh?”

“Fifteen pounds.”  Castiel blinks.  Donna had him working with five-pound hand weights.

Raising both eyebrows and placing hands on narrow hips, Garth asks pointedly, “You said you’ve got a little one right?  How much does your baby weigh?”

Thinking of his eighteen-pound eight-month-old, Castiel sighs and lifts the medicine ball.

“One,” counts the cheerful bastard across from him.

 


 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Tuesday passes much the same as Monday.  Donna helps him with his shower, although it’s more just her supervising now than anything.  In fact, she delights Castiel after his ADL session by announcing that she now thinks it’s safe for him to shower independently, so long as a nurse or tech is there to supervise his transition to and from the shower.  Castiel doesn’t bother to suppress his gleeful grin as she updates his status on the whiteboard across from his bed.  Any increase in independence and privacy is a thing worth celebrating.  He rewards himself with a chocolate ice cream at lunch time, along with a text to Dean.

 

Today, 11:32 AM

You SENT:

Guess who gets to shower without an audience from now on?

His phone dings with Dean’s reply a few minutes later, as he’s finishing off the last of his Styrofoam cup of ice cream.

 

Today, 11:39 AM

Dean Winchester SENT:

Dude, that’s great! 

The audience thing sounds pretty kinky, but a man’s shower time is even more sacred than pissing.

 

Today, 11:40 AM

You SENT:

How do you figure that?

 

Today, 11:42 AM

Dean Winchester SENT:

I mean, guys piss in front of other guys all the time at urinals right?

I don’t know about you, but I do things in the shower that I definitely don’t do in front of other guys.

 

As Castiel blushes brilliantly at both the connotation of Dean’s words and the image of a soapy Dean enjoying his private “shower time,” his phone dings again.

 

Today, 11:44 AM

Dean Winchester SENT:

Well, not in front of just ANY guy at least.

 

Fuck.  Now Castiel is imagining himself in the shower with Dean, watching, but not allowed to touch as the firefighter runs a foam-covered hand down his chest, trailing bubbles across sculpted abs before gripping his proud, erect cock and running his hand over it in long, smooth strokes. 

Almost grateful that the combination of traumatic injury, pain, and narcotics seem to have suppressed his libido for the time being, Castiel shakes his head clear of the image (Dean is his friend, he again reminds his disobedient brain) and texts Dean back.

 

Today, 11:49 AM

You SENT:

Sadly, I think it will be some time before THAT is of particular concern.

 

Today, 11:50 AM

Dean Winchester SENT:

😢

 

Castiel grins at the emoji.  He never would have expected the macho firefighter to be the kind of texter who would use emojis, but he finds it strangely endearing.  The affectionate thought is quickly chased from his mind, however, by the picture message that follows Dean’s emoji-response.

 

Today, 11:51 AM

Dean Winchester SENT:

 

Futurama Meme of Fry and Zapp Brannigan in their underwear and appearing exhausted while two Amazonian women look on. Meme text reads: The spirit is willing but the flesh is spongy and bruised

 

 

Castiel laughs so hard the movement tugs at the stitches in his side and belly, cutting off his laughter with a sharp hiss.

 

Today, 11:54 AM

You SENT: 

You just made me laugh so hard I hurt my incisions, you asshole.

 

Today, 11:55 AM

Dean Winchester SENT:

Tough.  I will never apologize for a Futurama reference.

 

Today, 11:54 AM

You SENT: 

Fair enough.

 

After that, they spend some time debating the relative merits of Futurama compared to Family Guy, both agreeing easily that while Futurama is the superior show, Stewie Griffin is by far the best character between the two.  Upon informing Dean that he needs to get ready for his next physical therapy session (with Garth, he cringes internally), Castiel receives a response that makes him smile brightly.

 

Today, 12:27 PM

Dean Winchester SENT:

Hey, I’ve got grocery shopping to do today and dinner plans with Sam and Jess tonight, but I don’t work again until tomorrow evening, so I could stop by before my shift tomorrow if that’s okay with you?

 

Today, 12:28 PM

You SENT: 

Of course, Dean. 

I’ll see you tomorrow.

 

Today, 12:29 PM

Dean Winchester SENT:

😊

 

Castiel glances at the whiteboard and sends a final text to Dean, letting the other man know his therapy schedule for the next day so he’ll be sure to visit at a time when Castiel is in his room, then presses his call button for a nurse or technician to come assist him with transferring to his wheelchair so he can use the restroom before PT.  The thought of needing bathroom assistance reminds him of the photo message from Dean again and the resulting smile stays with Castiel through his entire PT session with Garth, even when the sweet-faced asshole adds two new exercises to their regimen.

 


 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wednesday is not a good day.

Castiel wakes sore and irritable, sleep the night before having been made nearly impossible by his muscle cramps and leg spasms, despite the extra pain meds and hot packs he’d requested from the nurses.  Finding the normally tasty veggie omelet unappetizing this morning, he chugs down the tepid, bland, hospital-quality coffee, longing for the espresso of his favorite coffee shop. 

He presses his call button, letting the bored voice that answers on the other end know that he’s ready to use the restroom and have his shower.  The bodiless voice informs him that his nurses and techs are on med rounds right now and someone will be in to assist him “as soon as possible.”  The reminder that Castiel can’t even get out of bed to use the toilet when he needs to, as dependent upon someone else for this basic need as his infant daughter, stings more than usual this morning. 

Nearly twenty minutes later, his nurse, a sweet but no-nonsense young woman named Alex, brings Castiel his meds and helps him transfer to the shower.  Naturally, since today is his first day showering on his own, he drops the hand-held shower head, which has the string for the emergency call button wrapped around it.  Who in their right mind would design a handicap accessible shower with the call button on the opposite side from the shower bench is completely beyond Castiel, but he spends the next ten minutes until a tech pops in to check on him vividly picturing a number of suitable tortures as punishment, several of which involve Garth and the sock puppet he uses with his pediatric patients, Mr. Fizzles.

A couple of hours later, he has the unfortunate experience of coming face-to-face with the aforementioned puppet.  Despite his heightened pain and irritability, Castiel had managed to push through his OT session with Donna with minimal wincing or growling.  He’s having a much harder time with PT, however, and his seemingly benign task-master is not easily fooled. 

“What’s your pain level, Castiel?”  asks Garth, furrowing his brows in concern as Castiel visibly struggles with the ten-pound weights he is supposed to be hefting in an overhead shoulder press. 

“I’m fine,” Castiel nearly snarls, “I was able to do this yesterday.”

Looking nonplussed, Garth reaches into the pocket of his oversized sweatshirt and pulls out the disturbingly dingy looking sock puppet. 

“If you won’t talk to me, maybe you’ll talk to Mister Fizzles.  I usually save him for the kiddos, but amazingly, he’s just as effective at getting answers out of adults.” 

“What’s your pain level, Castiel?” asks Mr. Fizzles in his high-pitched voice, inexplicably accented with a slight Southern drawl.

Glaring at Garth, he answers, “Three.”

Garth returns his flat stare.

“Mister Fizzles can sense when you’re being a liiiaaar,” sing-songs the sock puppet loudly.

Seeing the other patients and therapists in the gym looking their way, Castiel cringes before dropping his gaze and admitting, “Six.”

“In that case,” Garth says in his normal voice, which Castiel usually finds grating, but is a soothing balm after Mr. Fizzle’s, “we’ll stick to working with resistance bands and stretches for the rest of today.”

Sensing his feeling of defeat, he claps his hand on the wheelchair-bound man’s shoulder, “You were able to use those weights yesterday and you’ll probably be able to use them again tomorrow, but not if you push too hard and injure yourself further today.  Progress isn’t always a straight line,” he finishes sagely and Castiel feels a surge of affection for the odd man, though it’s somewhat buried beneath his heavier feelings of gloom and pain.

Back in his room, Castiel elects to stay in his wheelchair for lunch, knowing from an earlier text that Dean plans to visit between lunchtime and Castiel’s ADL session, moved to the afternoon since he no longer needs Donna’s help with his morning routine.

As he slowly eats his lunch, Castiel watches the clock, counting down the minutes until his next dose of pain medication while his pain steadily rises.

 


 

Dean’s still riding the high of yesterday’s text conversation with Cas as he pulls into the parking lot of the rehab hospital at midday.  He’d been afraid he’d tripped too far over the line into flirting territory when he made his “shower time” comment, mentally flaying himself for making his friend uncomfortable until he’d gotten Cas’ response a few minutes later.  Figuring, “in for a pound,” and hoping to lighten the other man’s mood, he’d responded with the Futurama meme and the conversation had taken off from there. 

Whether they’re debating classic literature or who’s the more badass female cartoon lead, Lois Griffin or Turanga Leela (it ended up being a draw, with the two men agreeing it was an impossible debate to resolve without getting a woman’s perspective), he loves talking to Cas.  The English teacher is clever, witty, and thoughtful, regardless of their topic of discussion.  He argues over animated characters with as much gravitas and mindfulness as he gives Shakespeare and Vonnegut.  Dean realizes he’s quickly becoming more than slightly enamored with his new friend, but he figures as long as he keeps his little crush to himself, it’s not hurting anyone. 

His good mood flees faster than Sammy faced with a clown wielding barber’s shears, when he turns into Cas’ room and spots the man seated in his wheelchair, body curled forward upon itself, his entire profile radiating pain.  Crossing the room in three strides, Dean drops to one knee next to his friend’s wheelchair, hovering as close as he can, but resisting the urge to touch lest he hurt the other man more. 

“Cas, buddy, what’s going on?”

Cas grunts in acknowledgement of Dean’s presence, but doesn’t lift his head or open his eyes, keeping them squeezed closed against the pain.  He shakes his head a couple of times, indicating that he’s unable to explain.

Slipping into first responder mode, Dean keeps his voice level as he asks, “Castiel, can you look at me?  Open your eyes.”

Responding to the authoritative tone, Cas forces his eyes open and Dean locks onto those beautiful blues, currently shining with agonized tears. 

“Can I touch you?” he asks, glancing down to where Cas’ hand is clenching the arm of his wheelchair.

His friend doesn’t answer verbally, but unclenches his fingers with some effort and stretches them toward Dean.  Dean doesn’t hesitate before closing his hand around the other man’s and squeezing firmly before asking, “What’s your pain level?”

“Eight,” Cas manages to grit out.

Dean’s eyes widen.  With the narcotics they have Cas on, there’s no way his pain should be that bad.  Dean’s heard him tell nurses during past visits that his pain’s usually at a three or four. 

Dean reaches for Cas’ call button where it sits on the bedside table in front of him, but is stopped when he feels a returning squeeze from the English teacher.

He looks back to Cas, who explains haltingly, “Already called.  Nurses are all tied up.  Be here soon.”

Scowling, Dean asks, “Soon?  Just how late are they?”

Cas glances up at the clock before answering wetly, “An hour.”

“Fuck,” Dean swears quietly before pushing the call button in spite of Cas’ protest.

“How can I help you?” answers a slightly strained voice.

“You can help me by getting Cas’ meds.  Did you know his pain meds are an hour late?  The guy’s practically curled up in the fetal position in here.  He’s in so much damn pain he can hardly move or talk!”  Dean knows his voice is rising with each word, but he can’t help it.  He feels Cas’ fingers twitch in his and reins in his temper.

“I know, sir.  It’s been a crazy afternoon and all our nurses have been tied up with other patients.  Castiel’s nurse is getting his meds now.  She should be in in a few minutes.”

“Thanks,” Dean grits out, not sounding at all sincere and caring about that fact even less.

He turns back to Cas and softens his voice, “You hear that, man?  Just a few more minutes.”

Cas give him a jerky nod and Dean scoots closer, leaning forward to rest his forehead against the other man’s, the same way he had back in Cas’ SUV the day they met.  It had calmed Cas then and it has a similar effect now.  Cas’ pained breathing slows and deepens as he presses his forehead back into Dean’s.  Cas’ skin feels damp against Dean’s own, and he resists the urge to press a kiss against his friend’s clammy brow.  Instead, he settles for squeezing Cas’ hand again and matches his breathing, slow and even.

Dean’s not sure how long they sit like that before he hears the bustling of a nurse rushing into the room with her med cart, looking frazzled.  Alex, her name tag says, heads straight for Cas, thrusting a cup of water at Dean as she readies Cas’ pain meds.

“I’m sorry,” she says, a little breathless, “I had a new admission and then an emergency with another patient and I couldn’t get away.  It’s been a madhouse around here, so no one else could cover for me either.”

Dean opens his mouth around an angry retort, but at Cas’ imploring squeeze, he closes it again.

Handing Cas a small cup of pills and watching dutifully as he swallows them, she speaks softly, “There.  In a few minutes, the pain should lessen enough for you to get back in bed.  You can press your call button and I’ll come back in to help...”

“I’ve got him,” Dean says gruffly over her.

Glancing at him, Alex doesn’t argue, but her lips thin slightly.  Looking to Cas, she asks, “Is that okay with you, Castiel?”

Cas nods, sending a look that’s probably shooting for reassuring, but isn’t much more than a pained grimace, at the nurse.

Nodding, Alex gathers her med cart and retreats back out of the room. 

Hearing a sniffle, Dean refocuses on Cas, alarmed to see tears leaking from the other man’s eyes.  Feeling his heart twist in his chest, he lifts Cas hand to switch it from his left to his right, freeing up his left hand to rub the back of the other man’s neck.  Cas’ face reddens and Dean figures he’s probably embarrassed about the tears, even though he doesn’t need to be.  Fuck, Cas has been through hell.  The pelvis is one of the most painful bones to break and Cas fucking demolished his.  Dean’s seen burly firefighters cry from less, including Dean himself.

After a few long, silent minutes, Cas lets out a shaky breath and says hoarsely, “I think I can make it back to bed now.”

Dean nods, “Just tell me what to do.”  Suddenly realizing he’d just assumed Cas would be okay with Dean helping him, he rushes to add, “Unless you want to call the nurse back.  I didn’t mean to talk for you earlier.  I’m kind of an overprotective ass sometimes.”  Looking down, he rubs the back of his neck sheepishly.

“It’s fine, Dean,” Cas assures him with a slightly wan smile.  His expression looks pained, but genuine, and Dean relaxes.  He lets Cas coach him through angling the wheelchair against the edge of the bed and locking the breaks, then slowly lifts Cas’ legs into the bed.

Once Cas is situated, Dean reaches out by instinct and smooths the hair back from where it rests against Cas’ brow, still furrowed in discomfort.  Embarrassed by the intimate gesture, Dean pulls his hand back as if burned and blushes furiously, looking anywhere but the man in the bed.

They sit in awkward silence for a minute, until Dean (Say something Winchester, for Christ’s sake!) clears his throat and asks, “How’s the pain?”

“Getting better, but slowly,” Cas answers, sounding more relaxed than before, but still more strained than his usual gravelly baritone.  “I could use a distraction,” he adds.  “Talk to me.”

“Of course,” Dean hastens, “about what?”

Cas ponders this for a moment, before turning his head toward Dean and replying, “Last time you visited, you asked why I became an English teacher.  What made you choose to become a firefighter?”  He looks almost hesitant, like he expects the answer might be something more serious than his own childhood reasons for choosing to surround himself with books and schooling, and he’s not exactly wrong.

Dean takes a deep breath.  He doesn’t often tell this story, hating the pitying looks he usually gets as a result.  He doesn’t have to tell Cas everything, he reasons to himself, but he’s sure as hell not gonna lie to the guy either.  Cas has shared so much of himself with Dean already, some deliberately and some (like today’s adventures in shitty pain management) whether he wanted to or not, simply by the nature of their friendship.  The guy deserves a little honesty in return, no matter how hard it is for Dean.

Seeing Dean’s hesitation for what it is, Cas settles back into his pillows, shooting him a tired smile, “It’s okay.  You don’t have to tell me.”

Selfish asshole that he is, Dean considers taking the out for a moment, before shaking his head, “Nah, I don’t mind you knowing.  Just hard to talk about is all.”  He sighs, leaning forward to rest his forearms on his knees.

 “When I was sixteen, our house caught on fire.  Fire started in the ceiling above Sammy’s room.  Faulty wiring,” Dean says to Castiel’s blankets.  “Sam was twelve and he was one hell of a heavy sleeper.  Mom ran into his room to wake him up, me and Dad right behind her.  She got there first though and pulled Sammy out of bed, pushing him in front of her, toward Dad.”

Dean takes a deep breath, wishing for a moment that he had a tumbler of whiskey in his hand, or hell, maybe the whole goddam fifth, before he continues, “Just as Sam got to Dad, we all heard this loud crack and looked up.  A support beam fell through Sam’s ceiling, landed right across his bed.  Dad pulled Sam out of the way in time, but Mom was on the other side.  Dad shoved Sam at me and told me to get him out...”

Dean trails off, his throat closing up at the memory of seeing his mom across that burning support beam, wreathed in flame as burning debris from the attic fell down around her.

Clearing his constricted throat and ignoring the burn of Cas’ eyes on him, he shrugs, “Things got hinky after that.  In the end, Dad, Sam, and I made it out.  Mom didn’t.”

Usually, when he has to tell this story, he keeps it brief (“Lost my mom in a house fire when I was sixteen”), talking with the detached distance trauma survivors use to try to block out the worst of the pain, as if it isn’t always with them, every goddamn moment.  With Cas though, the words come easier.  He isn’t sure why.  Maybe it’s just that Cas knows what it’s like to lose someone.  Or maybe because he’s been through his own recent trauma.  Maybe it’s because they’ve already shared a few moments that somehow felt just as intimate as this.  Whatever it is, it makes it possible for Dean to look up when Cas says his name.

“Dean,” blue eyes bore into green, “I’m sorry you had to go through that and I’m so sorry you lost your mother.  Is she why you decided to become a firefighter?”

“Eventually,” Dean hedged, then sighed.  He might as well finish the story.  “Things, uh... things got real bad there for a while.  I mean, you’d expect things to be bad after something like that, right?”

At Castiel’s solemn nod, he continues, “But, uh, things never really got better for us.  My dad...”  Dean swallows, “he never got over losing my mom like that.  I don’t know exactly what he saw after he sent me and Sammy out of the room, but after almost twelve years on the job I can probably guess, and it was bad.  Real bad.  Bad enough that it haunted him.  Chased him into the bottom of a bottle and kept him there for the next decade, until he wrapped his car around a tree.”

His dad had been drunk when he’d had his accident, but hell, he’d been driving drunk for years by that point.  They’d probably never know if it truly had been an accident, if he’d lost control of the vehicle the way the police report read, or if it’d been deliberate.  Dean wasn’t sure which one he wanted it to be.

“Sammy bounced back pretty well, you know?  Kids are resilient and all.  Buried himself in school work and was a bit more reserved, more serious, than most teenagers, maybe, but he did all right, all things considered.  Me... well, I didn’t bounce so well.”

Breaking away from Cas’ eyes, Dean looked down at the floor and muddled on, “Started failing school, dropped out eventually.  Probably would have been headed the same direction as my old man if Bobby hadn’t stepped in.”

“Who’s Bobby?” Cas asks gently.  He’s been quiet throughout most of Dean’s story, maybe sensing how Dean needs to get this out fast, before he loses his nerve.

“An old friend of my parents.  Kind of a surrogate uncle and also the fire chief for the Overland Park Fire Department.  He looked in on us after Mom died, especially once Dad’s drinking got real bad.  When he saw me floundering, he started bringing me around the firehouse.  I hated it at first.  Was the last place I wanted to be, you know?  Then one day, I was sittin’ there as one of the companies came back from a call.  I watched as these tired men and woman practically fell off the damn truck, looking dirty and worn down, but happy and wired at the same time.  Then Bobby turns on the TV in his office, turns it to the six o’clock news, and I see coverage of the job they just went out on.  It was a house fire.  House was a total loss, burnt damn near to the ground, but there in front of it, was a family of four:  Mom, Dad, and two girls.  They all made it out.  Those girls’ll never have to go through what Sam and I did, and it was because of those tired, dirty firefighters.”

He looks back up at Cas, “I couldn’t save my mom.  I couldn’t save my dad.  Hell, by that point I was pretty sure I couldn’t even save myself, but maybe I could save someone else’s family instead.  Bobby helped me get my GED and then helped me apply to the Fire Academy.”

Hand on the back of his neck, he finishes lamely, “So yeah, uh, that’s about it.”

“Dean Winchester,” Dean’s head lifts against his will at the quiet command in Cas’ voice, “you are amazing.” 

Cas looks at him in awe, but his eyes are glazed with the sheen Dean knows means the pain killers are now in full effect.

With a quiet chuckle, Dean does what Dean does best and deflects, “How’s the pain now there, bud?  Feelin’ better?”

Cas’ pain-killer dazed eyes squint at him in what’s becoming a rather familiar glare, “Amazing and infuriating.  Yes, the pain meds are working, Dean, but they don’t make me delusional, just honest.”

“Honest, huh?”  Dean asks with a grin, “Does this mean now’s a good time to ask some embarrassing questions?”

“You know,” Cas says quickly, “I’m feeling a bit sleepy.  I think maybe I need a nap.”

Dean chuckles again, but Cas really does look tired.  His eyes are drooping and Dean has no doubt that his friend will be dead to the world in minutes.  Standing from his chair, he reaches down to give Cas’ hand one last squeeze just as a vibrant blonde woman breezes into the room, her features falling abruptly from cheerful to concerned when she sees the state Cas is in.

“Heya there, Castiel, not feelin’ so hot today, huh?”

Castiel shakes his head minutely and Dean explains, “His last dose of pain meds were an hour late.  He had a rough morning.”

Nodding, the chipper woman says soothingly, “In that case, how about you rest up today and we’ll just extend a couple of our other sessions this week to make up the time.”

Suddenly turning on Dean, she sticks out her hand with an abrupt, “I’m Donna by the way, Cas’ occupational therapist.  And who might your handsome self be?”

“Uh, Dean.  Winchester.  I’m a friend of Cas’.” Dean answers uncertainly.

“Well, it’s nice to meetcha there, Dean-o!  Cas, you rest up and I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow, alrighty?”

At Cas’ weak nod, the therapist bounces back out of the room and Dean makes his goodbyes to Cas, who’s already slipping under as Dean slips out into the hallway.

Chapter Text

Thursday, September 20, 2018 – Saturday, September 22, 2018

 “So,” Donna starts in her most chipper gosh-dontcha-just-love-mornings voice, “who was that total hunk of man-meat in your room yesterday?  That your beau?  He sure is a cutie-patootie, and has a cutie-patootie too, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

She’s kneeling above Cas on a mat table in the same gym he usually visits with Garth for PT, flexing and stretching his ankle to work out a muscle cramp in his Achilles tendon. 

“Dean’s just a friend,” Castiel answers in his best it’s-way-too-fucking-early-to-have-this-conversation-on-one-cup-of-the-mud-water-this-place-calls-coffee, voice.

It shouldn’t be possible to stare down such a cute, upturned nose, but Donna manages it.  “I was born at night, Castiel, not last night,” she scoffs. 

“I’m being serious.  Dean and I are just friends,” he argues, hissing at the stretch in his tight ankle.

“Sure,” Donna agrees easily, “except my ex-husband had a friend he looked at like that fella looks at you and that’s why he’s now my ex-husband.”

“Your ex-husband is a dick,” Castiel says flatly, “but Dean and I are still just friends.”

“Well, you’re right on one of those counts at least,” retorts the perky blonde.

“Dean’s not interested in me that way and even if he was, I’m not interested in him.”

“Oooh, now you’re oh for two though, because I’m pretty sure I’ve never blushed like that over a friend before,” she teases.

Castiel glares at her, feeling his already rosy face flush an even deeper shade of red.  Okay, so he has a small, completely manageable crush on Dean.  It’s just because the man is maddeningly handsome and, hello, a firefighter.  The fact that he was literally Castiel’s hero probably doesn’t help matters, but that’s it.  It’s just a superficial crush, one that Castiel is sure will fade in time.  He resolutely ignores the voice in the back of his mind asking why, if that’s the case, does his crush seem to get stronger every time he talks to Dean?

“Maybe you just don’t have any attractive friends,” he grumbles bitterly.

“Oh, so you do think he’s attractive!”

Castiel stares at her, “I said I’m not interested.  I didn’t say I was blind.”

She chuckles at that, lowering Castiel’s legs to the floor as he pushes himself upright with much more ease than he had just a couple of days ago.

Momentarily forgetting Donna’s teasing, he smiles, “That was much easier than last time.”

Donna grins, “Oh yeah, you’re doing great!  You’ll be amazed how quickly you improve, especially if you keep up with all your exercises once you go home.”

Home.  Castiel thinks longingly of his apartment, his memory foam mattress, and most of all, his daughter.  Only two more days until he gets to see Claire again and he can’t wait.  Charlie’s coming with Gabe and Claire, “to document their reunion for posterity,” she says, but really he thinks she just wants to get Cas being a complete blubbery mess on video, which is absolutely what is going to happen.  They’ve been Facetiming every night, of course, but Claire still doesn’t really grasp the concept of video chatting and seeing her on his tiny phone screen just can’t compare to the solid weight of her chubby baby body in his arms or the smell of baby shampoo in her blonde curls.

Castiel tells Donna about Claire’s upcoming visit and they spend the rest of his OT session amiably trading baby stories:  Castiel’s about Claire, of course, and Donna’s about her niece, Wendy.  Before he knows it, he’s wheeling back to his room while Donna walks at his side, pleasantly surprised at how energized he still feels after his session, especially given how badly he had suffered yesterday.  He’s relieved to know that Garth was right the day before and his increased pain had just been a temporary setback, not his new normal. 

As he wheels into his room, he’s surprised to see Dean stretched out in the chair next to his bed, legs crossed in front of him and hands folded across his stomach, upturned face watching Cupcake Wars on Castiel’s TV. 

“Dean?” 

“Oh hey, Cas!”  Dean’s expression brightens as he looks down from the TV and fixes his eyes on Castiel. 

“That’s oh for three there Castiel, because you surely must be blind if you can’t see that,” Donna murmurs behind him before chuckling and moving on down the hallway.

Ignoring her, Castiel wheels into the room. 

“What are you doing here?” he asks in confusion, “Didn’t you work last night?”

“Um, yeah.  My shift ended about an hour ago.  Just thought I’d check-in with you on my way home.” Looking a little uncomfortable, he adds, “You worried me a bit yesterday.  Just wanted to make sure you were feeling better.”  Dean’s hand finds the back of his neck in that automatic, nervous gesture that Castiel is starting to find especially endearing.

“Thank you, Dean.  That’s very sweet of you, but you really didn’t have to come out here.  I know you must be exhausted.  You should be home, resting,” he scolds lightly.

Picking up a lidded paper cup from the bedside table, Dean dangles it out in front of him like a peace offering, or more accurately, a bribe, shaking it gently side-to-side and sing-songing, “I brought you coffee from that place you told me about by your school.”

Eyes widening, Castiel reaches for the coffee with grabby hands, “I take it back.  You definitely should have come here.”

Dean chuckles softly, but Castiel ignores him as he wraps his fingers around the warmth of the paper cup with the familiar coffee-drinking genie logo and inhales the nutty aroma of his favorite roast from I Dream of Beanie.  Closing his eyes as he takes his first sip, he can’t help the quiet moan that escapes him at his first blissful taste of non-hospital coffee since that Starbucks Jessica brought him in the ICU.

Opening his eyes, he blushes at Dean’s elevated eyebrows.

“Should I give you two a minute?”  the firefighter asks.

Leveling him with his most serious gaze, Castiel drops his voice to a lower register and deadpans, “That’s not nearly enough time for me to do even half of the indecent things I’d like to do to this cup of coffee.”

Dean’s eyebrows climb higher, “It sounds like you’ve given this some thought.”

“I have a list,” Castiel agrees with a nod as he takes another sip.

“Huh.  Never thought I’d be jealous of a cartoon genie, but here we are,” Dean quips and shit.  Was that a flirtation?  It was.  This is flirting.  Dean is flirting with him.  Is he flirting with Dean?  He is. 

Blush deepening, Castiel finds himself at a loss for words.  He knows what he wants to say.  He wants to keep flirting with Dean.  It’s been a very long time since Castiel has flirted with another man, especially one as attractive and charming as his new friend, and he’s forgotten just how good it feels.  On the other hand, his reasons for not pursuing something romantic with Dean are still just as valid as they were when he was talking to Donna earlier this morning and goddamn that interfering woman for getting in his head!  Friendly flirting is all well and good, but what if Dean is interested in Castiel romantically?  The last thing he wants to do is hurt the handsome firefighter.  The handsome, thoughtful firefighter who worked a twelve-hour shift saving people and fighting fires, then drove to Castiel’s favorite coffee shop to buy him coffee, and is now sitting across from him looking a little shocked and embarrassed at his own admission.  Shit. 

Fortunately, he’s saved from his to-flirt-or-not-to-flirt dilemma by the man in question (Castiel should really stop being surprised by Dean rescuing him), who adds, “You should have told me the coffee situation was so dire.  The station’s really not far from here, you know.  I could have been enabling your caffeine addiction a lot sooner.”

“I didn’t want to ask you to go out of your way,” Castiel mumbles in response.

Dean rolls his eyes, “Pretty sure I just said it’s not out of the way, Cas.”

Dean doesn’t stay much longer after that, as Castiel catches him stifling a yawn and insists he go home to sleep, but he keeps his implied promise, stopping by each morning after finishing his overnight at the station, steaming I-Dream-of-Beanie-cup in hand.  The man is as charming and flirtatious as ever, tossing Castiel easy grins and casual winks that never fail make his breath catch in his throat.  He’s just as flirty with the nurses and other hospital staff that find their way to Castiel’s room during his visits (and Castiel can’t help but notice that there appears to be a decided increase in his vital checks and pillow-fluffing whenever Dean’s around) and it eases his worries that Dean could be developing more-than-friendly feelings for him, even if it does also leave an odd, hollow feeling in his chest.

As he watches Dean stroll out of his room Saturday morning, bow-legged swagger drawing his eyes helplessly to the man’s denim-hugged backside, Castiel decides that as long as he can keep a tight rein on his burgeoning crush, a little friendly flirting never hurt anyone. 

Less than two hours later, freshly showered and shaved, Castiel fidgets nervously in his wheelchair while looking down at the phone in his hand.  Charlie just texted that she, Gabe, and Claire are about five minutes away.  Adding in the time it will take them to park and make their way up to Castiel’s floor, Castiel should have his baby girl in his arms again in less than fifteen minutes.  Nervous anticipation makes his heart flip over in his chest and he chews on his bottom lip as he flips from Charlie’s text back to the message he received from Dean a few hours ago.

 

Today, 10:12 AM

Dean Winchester SENT:

Hey Cas, I’m getting ready to head to bed, but I just wanted to say have fun with Claire this afternoon!

See you tomorrow.

😊

 

Smiling, Castiel looks up as a grinning Alex steps into his room, “Castiel?  You have guests waiting in the common room.” 

His hands shake as he reaches for his wheels and Alex quickly steps behind his chair, murmuring softly, “Here, let me.”

Suddenly fighting a tightness in his throat, Castiel nods silently and folds his quaking hands in his lap as Alex wheels him down the hall toward one of the floor’s two common areas.  Castiel had decided to meet his family there, both so there would be enough chairs for both Gabe and Charlie to sit and because even though he knows she won’t remember it, he can’t stomach the thought of his baby girl seeing her daddy in a hospital room. 

The first thing he sees as they turn the corner into the common room are the vibrant, red curls of his best friend, who’s beaming at him from behind her smartphone, held aloft to record his reunion with Claire, as promised.  His eyes quickly shift to his chubby-cheeked baby, where she sits bundled contentedly in Gabriel’s lap, blue eyes taking in the room, wide and serious, before locking onto Castiel. 

Hands flying up to cover his mouth, Castiel lets out a choked sob, “Claire, sweetheart!”

His own eyes shining, Gabriel moves swiftly to Castiel’s side, whispering something into Claire’s blonde curls before depositing the baby in Castiel’s lap.  Arms wrapping around his tiny daughter and pulling her close, Castiel doesn’t try to stem the flow of tears as he rests his forehead against Claire’s. 

“My sweet girl,” he whispers as he runs his fingers through her fine curls, “Daddy missed you so much, sweet girl.  So much.”  Gabe’s eyes look like they’ll spill over any moment now and Charlie is openly crying, though she holds her phone steady as she watches Castiel hug Claire to his chest.  Claire tolerates the petting for a moment before pushing back against her father’s chest and looking up into his face.  Castiel gazes down at his daughter lovingly, watching with an ache in his chest as her lip trembles and her azure eyes fill with tears.

“I’m sorry, sweet girl,” he chuckles wetly, “Daddy didn’t mean to make you cry.”  He smooths her hair across her forehead, his smile wobbling as his daughter turns in his lap, searching out Gabriel where he sits at the nearby table.  Sniffling, Claire stretches her chubby baby arms toward Gabriel, reaching for the familiar, safe embrace of her uncle.   There was a time when Castiel was the only one she reached for that way.  He blinks and a fresh wave of tears cascade down his cheeks.

Looking at Gabriel through watery eyes, Castiel sees his own heartbreak reflected in his brother’s features.  “It’s okay,” he says bravely, trying to reassure his brother with a confidence he doesn’t possess, “take her.”  Still looking uncertain, Gabe takes Claire into his arms, settling the baby onto his lap once again.  Claire wiggles around until she’s seated sideways in Gabe’s lap, leaning against his chest, but casting frequent, furtive glances in the direction of her father.

Putting down her phone, a stricken Charlie pulls a chair up next to Castiel and sits, resting her head against his shoulder.  He brings a hand up and buries his fingers in Charlie’s hair the way he’d done to Claire a few moments ago, leaning his head to rest on top of hers, accepting his friend’s offer of comfort. 

“She’s not feeling very well,” Gabriel explains helplessly, “teething.  That’s actually what her fever was about, the day of your accident.  We had no idea at the time, of course, but a few days later, she cut her first tooth.  The one next to it is ready to come through any day now.”  Castiel knows his brother means the information to be comforting, but the knowledge that he’s missed such a milestone cuts through him like a knife. 

Taking a shaky breath, he nods and says, as much to himself as to anyone else, “She’s been through a lot of changes in a short period.  It’ll take time, but we’ll get there.”  He pauses, then adds, “It’s actually good for her that she’s developing attachments to other people.  It was just me and her for so long...” he trails off as he feels Charlie’s small hand squeezing his bicep reassuringly. 

Everything he just said is true, but it doesn’t ease the burning, aching feeling in his chest as he watches his baby seek comfort from someone else.  Fresh tears wet his cheeks as he watches Claire pop a thumb into her mouth.  She’s sucked her thumb since birth, determinedly eschewing all offered pacifiers.  Castiel’s been warned by countless “helpful” old biddies in grocery store checkout lines that he should break her of the habit, but he always ignores them, unable and unwilling to “break” her from her only method of self-soothing, not to mention it’s the most adorable sight Castiel has ever seen.  She can suck her thumb as he drops her off in front of her college dorm for all he cares.

Thankfully, Charlie breaks the tense silence, updating Castiel on the latest gossip from Shawnee Mission North’s students and staff.  He lets her bubbly voice wash over him, soothing him as he listens to her chatter on about how Krissy Chambers, despite her tough-girl persona, accepted a stuttered invitation to homecoming from an awkward and blushing Alfie Shurley. 

Eventually, Claire lets Castiel hold her again and though her face remains stoic, there are no tears this time, for which Castiel is immensely grateful.  Charlie snaps several pictures of the two of them, even capturing a tiny smile from Claire in one of them, as Gabriel makes silly faces at her off-camera.  By the time the three of them leave, with Gabe and Charlie both giving Castiel tight hugs and promising to visit again soon and Castiel murmuring love and endearments into Claire’s soft hair before passing her back to Gabe, Castiel feels more drained than after even he most strenuous of his therapy sessions. 

He wheels himself halfway back to his room, before Alex sees him and takes over, expertly steering him through the doorway and helping him transfer from the chair back to his bed.  She helps him more than she usually would and more than he really needs, but exhausted and heartsick, Castiel lets her.  

He falls asleep early that night, his eyes dry, but his heart feeling cold and numb. 

 


 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Dean knows something is off as soon as he walks into Cas’ room Sunday morning.  Over the past few days, Cas has been spending more and more time in his wheelchair, trying to build up his stamina for when he goes home, but today, his friend is lying in bed, blankets pulled up to his chin, barely-touched breakfast congealing on the bedside table in front of him. 

“Cas?” he asks, drawing the man’s eyes away from the television, though Dean would bet money Cas probably couldn’t tell him a single thing that’s happened in the past five minutes of, he glances at the TV, Kitchen Nightmares.  “You okay man?  How’s your pain?”

Cas gives him a wan smile that doesn’t even hold a fraction of the teacher’s usual warmth and greets, “Hello, Dean.  I’m fine.  The pain is no worse than normal.  I’m just a little tired today.”

Dean wonders idly if Cas is always this bad at lying.  It’s refreshing to be able to read someone so easily.

“Uh huh,” he says disbelievingly, before rolling the breakfast covered table away and perching on the edge of the bed in its place.  He believes Cas when he says his pain is under control.  Though he almost never complains about the pain, Dean’s noticed a tell-tale tightness around the man’s eyes when his pain killers are wearing off that’s missing now.  He can tell that his friend isn’t even in the same area code as, “fine,” however, and the guilty way Cas avoids his eyes just confirms it.

“How was your visit with Claire?” he asks gently, eyeing a stack of what look to be arts and crafts projects, adorned with colorful, baby-sized handprints, on Cas’ other side.  The man had been all smiles when Dean had seen him yesterday morning, so excited about his upcoming visit he could hardly talk about anything else.  Now, he looks downright despondent and it’s more than a little unsettling.  His snarky friend is never exactly chipper, but the usual light behind his blue eyes is absent today and for the first time since Dean watched him be airlifted from the accident scene, Cas actually looks like a man who almost lost his life less than a month ago. 

Cas opens his mouth, most likely to lie and insist he’s fine again, but pauses when Dean catches his eye and silently raises an eyebrow.  He won’t force Cas to talk if he really doesn’t want to, but he’s not going to pretend his friend is fine when it’s obvious he’s not either.  Ignoring a problem almost never makes it go away.  Dean knows.  He’s tried.  Repeatedly.

Reading the resolution in Dean’s expression, Cas sighs and fishes his phone out from beneath the colorful stack of finger-painted pages.  He pulls up a video, then passes the phone to Dean, nodding his permission as Dean’s finger hovers over the play button.

Pressing play, Dean watches, eyes glued to the screen, as Cas is wheeled into the room by the harried nurse from Wednesday’s pain med debacle, eyes bright and shining with emotion.  Cas looks up and flashes a warm smile that absolutely does not make Dean’s stomach swoop in jealousy at whoever must be holding the camera, before his eyes find Gabriel and Claire where they’re seated in the center of the room.  Dean feels his lips pulling upward in a delighted smile as video-Cas gasps and brings both hands to his mouth, sobbing out Claire’s name as Gabe carries the baby over and hands her off. 

Dean continues to smile as he watches Cas cling to his daughter, tears streaming down his cheeks, relief and bliss painting his face in equal measure.  His hands stroke down the baby’s hair, back, and pudgy arms, as if Cas is reassuring himself that she’s really there.  Feeling his own eyes mist over, Dean swallows.  He’s seen dozens of parents reunited with their children over his years on the job, often after having carried said child out of a burning building himself.  It’s always touching, but seeing that look on the face of someone he’s come to care about?  It’s more powerful than he could have anticipated. 

Suddenly though, Dean’s breath catches in his throat and his smile falters as he watches baby Claire pull away from her father and reach for Gabe with a small whimper, eyes leaking tears.  He can see the moment Cas’ heart breaks on video, captured forever in high definition, his eyes dimming as he continues to wear a brave, but clearly forced smile.  Cas’ empty hands clench and release helplessly on his lap after Gabe scoops up Claire, the video cutting off a moment later. 

Dropping the phone to his lap, Dean looks up into tear-filled blue eyes.

“I’m not even sure she fully recognized me,” Cas says hoarsely.  “My baby girl.  My whole world and she doesn’t even know who I am.”  His voice breaks on the last two words and Dean feels a piercing ache behind his sternum.  He wants to tell Cas that’s not true, that Claire does know him, but what the fuck does Dean know?  Dean doesn’t even need a full hand to count the number of kids he’s spent more time around than it takes to haul ass out of a burning building.  Claire’s what, eight months old?  For all Dean knows, maybe babies her age really can forget someone after just a few weeks apart.  He doesn’t think that’s the case, but he’s not a hundred percent and he’s pretty sure Cas’ll see right through his bullshit if he tries to pretend otherwise. 

Taking a deep breath, Dean scoots closer and reaches for Cas’ hand where it’s fisted in the blankets next to his leg.  Wrapping it in both of his own, he dips his head until he can meet Cas’ downcast eyes.

“Cas,” he says thickly, “Cas, I know I don’t know much about kids, man, but I don’t think that’s how it works.  Two weeks apart doesn’t just erase eight months of love and devotion.”  Seeing Cas about to argue, he presses on, “And if it does?  If two weeks was all it took to erase you from Claire’s life, then it’ll be just as easy to put you back there again.  I know it’s gonna be a while before you can do everything with Claire that you and she are used to, but you’ll get there, Cas.  I promise.  One day soon, not as soon as you’d like maybe, but soon, that little girl is gonna look at you like you’re her whole world again, okay?”

Eyes locked onto Cas’ in desperation, Dean squeezes his hand.

“Okay, Dean,” Cas agrees softly after a long moment.  They sit like that for another minute, Cas’ hand still clasped in Dean’s when he speaks again. “Dean?  Do you think,” pausing, Cas takes a deep breath before he pushes out, “do you think Claire’s angry with me?  Do you think I hurt her when I just... disappeared like that?  Christ, Dean, she must have been so sad and so confused.  What kind of parent...” Sobbing in earnest now, Cas breaks off and pulls out of Dean’s grasp, burying his face in his hands.

Moving closer still, Dean rests one hand on Cas’ shoulder as the other reaches to cup the man’s jaw.  Dean’s arms ache with the urge to wrap around the other man and pull him to his chest, but he refrains, partially because he’s afraid of hurting Cas and partially because Dean’s worried if he gives into this urge, the next one he’ll cave to will be the urge to kiss away the salty tear-tracks lining his friend’s cheeks, a completely fucking inappropriate move he’s certain wouldn’t be welcome. 

“No, Cas,” he whispers, wiping away a single tear-track with his thumb because Dean is a weak man. 

“Look at me.”

Red-rimmed eyes meet Dean’s and he repeats, “No, Cas.  I don’t think Claire’s angry with you.  I don’t think that’s how babies work.  I think she’s probably just really confused is all.  You’ve both been through a lot of changes in the past couple of weeks.  But you didn’t just leave her, Cas.  You have to know that.  This wasn’t your fault.”  Dean holds Cas’ face steady as he says the last part, eyes glued to his friend’s.  Dean knows something about blaming yourself for things that are beyond your control.  He won’t let Cas do that.  Dean’ll remind him of that every goddamn day if he has to.

Cas holds Dean’s eyes for a long moment before he finally nods.  Dean gives Cas’ shoulder a final squeeze before dropping his hand, reluctantly removing his other from the man’s cheek and fighting not to remember the feel of Cas’ stubble-lined jaw beneath his fingers.

Eyes falling again on the stack of glitter-covered construction paper, he nods at them and nudges Cas’ knee, “What are those?”

Cas smiles softly as he picks up the stack, “Art projects from Claire’s daycare,” he says, spreading the pictures out across the bed between them. 

Dean smiles and examines each picture in turn.  A sheet of lavender construction paper holds a pair of baby footprints positioned side-by-side to look like butterfly wings, while an orange handprint-fish swims by in an ocean of dark blue.

“This one’s my favorite,” Cas says, sounding happier than Dean has heard him so far today and tapping a piece of light blue paper adorned with colorful handprint flowers in red, orange, and purple topping painted green stems.  A swarm of thumbprint-bumblebees buzz around the flowers, careful lines and delicate wings drawn atop the tiny yellow prints in black marker. 

“I have an idea,” Dean says with a grin as he stands and strides toward the door to Cas’ room.  “Don’t run off,” he calls, tossing Cas a wink over his shoulder and chuckling at the man’s answering eye roll as he jogs out of the room toward the nurse’s station. 

A minute later, he’s heading back into the room, a clear roll of Scotch tape in-hand.  Beaming at Cas, he carefully tapes up each picture, one at a time, framing the window next to Cas’ bed in his daughter’s artwork.  When he’s finished, a cheerful display of Claire-prints covers the wall and Dean dares anyone to look at that adorable pair of footprint penguins without smiling.

It’s certainly done the trick for Cas, whose smile turns soft as he looks from his new art gallery to Dean and back again.  “Thank you, Dean,” he says with a thick swallow and Dean shrugs, fighting a blush at the unabashed gratitude in his friend’s eyes. 

“Don’t worry about it, Cas.  It’s nothing.”  Cas shakes his head, but let’s Dean off the hook with his deflection, because he’s a kinder soul than Dean is, clearly.

Dean flops into the room’s lone chair and props his feet up on the bed next to Cas’ legs, before picking up the man’s call button and turning up the volume on the Food Network, still playing on the TV overhead.  Cas tries to send him home to sleep after a Halloween-themed episode of Cupcake Wars, but Dean refuses, reminding Cas that he’s finished his last overnight of the week and now has three days off to get his sleep schedule turned around for his upcoming stretch of day shifts.  The longer he can stay up today, the easier the transition will be. 

This makes Cas relent and they spend the next several hours binge-watching the Food Network.  Lunch comes and goes, with the pair splitting Cas’ Chicken Caesar Wrap over an episode of Chopped, followed by an Iron Chef marathon.  Each man takes the side of one of the chefs, cheering their pick on with the same gusto most men reserve for their favorite sports team. 

“Not the ice cream machine!” Cas wails in frustration as Dean cackles next to him.  “Why do they always have to try the ice cream machine?  When has that ever worked for any contestant ever?” he laments to a triumphant Dean twenty minutes later.  “How the hell could he have thought liver flavored ice cream was a good idea?”  Cas’ sore-loser pout is adorable and Dean has to resist the urge to kiss it off of him.

When dinnertime rolls around, Dean gives Cas a look of utter betrayal when the Food Service tech carries in Cas’ meal choice:  a black bean burger and sweet potato fries.  He rolls his eyes, but lets Dean order them a large meatlover’s pizza without complaint, and although Dean catches some definite side-eye, Cas doesn’t say anything when the sweet potato fries slowly disappear from the plate on the table between them as they wait for their pizza. 

They’re each devouring a greasy slice of meat-covered-pizza-heaven and are on their fourth episode of Iron Chef when Dean asks, “So, if you had to choose, which Iron Chef would you bang?”

“Bobby Flay,” Cas answers immediately around a gooey bite of pizza.

Dean raises his eyebrows, “Answered pretty quick there, Cas.  Given this some thought, have we?”

Shrugging unashamedly, Cas elaborates, “Have you seen the man handle a knife?  He’s got hand skills.  What about you?”

A laugh punches out of Dean at Cas’ reasoning and he’s still wheezing a bit when he waggles his eyebrows and asks, “What about me?  Are you asking about my Iron Chef pick or my ‘hand skills?’ For the first, Chef Cora, all day, every day.  For the second, I’m pretty ‘handy’ in the kitchen myself.”

“Of-fucking-course you are,” he hears Cas mutter under his breath.

Dean grins, “What’s wrong, Cas?  Surprised I can cook?”

“Not at all,” Cas deadpans, “I am Jack’s utter lack of surprise.”

“Dude,” Dean scolds, “That reference is older than those ancient-fucking-canned-goods Gordon found on Kitchen Nightmares this morning.”

Fight Club is always relevant,” Cas argues.

Conceding the point with a head tilt and half shrug, Dean brightens, “Oooh, there’s a question, who would you bang:  Tyler Durden or the Edward Norton character?”

“We’re talking the characters, not the actors, right?”

Wrinkling his brow, Dean wonders, “Does it matter?  My answer is Brad Pitt for both.”

“I don’t know,” Cas considers, “I’ve always thought Brad Pitt’s too full of himself to be a good lover.  Edward Norton may look unassuming, but I bet he’s a force to be reckoned with in bed.”

“So you’d choose Tyler Durden for the characters, though?  How come?  Norton’s character is kind of a badass in that ending scene.”

Cas shrugs, “The narrator spends the majority of the movie completely strung out, sleep deprived, and paranoid, while Durden is confident and in control.  The only ‘badass’ thing Norton does in the entire film is shoot himself in the face... and then he’s got a giant hole in his face.”

Cas pauses as Dean chokes on his pizza at his ending line, then adds, “Not that I haven’t dated worse.”

“Well, that sounds like a story,” Dean says hoarsely, after coughing up the slice of pepperoni he’d inhaled.

“Oh no, if we’re trading first relationship stories, you’re going first,” his friend says as he reaches for another piece of pizza.  Dean rolls the table closer to him so Cas doesn’t have to bend to reach the pizza box.

“Fine, you big baby.  I’ll go first, even though you’re the one who brought it up.  First relationship... that would be Cassie Robinson, sophomore year of high school.  She was my first everything, really.  Well, not my first kiss, but pretty damn close.  She was beautiful, smart, funny.  I loved her, you know?  Well, I mean, if sixteen-year-olds can really love someone like that.”

“Dean, I work with sixteen-year-olds every day.  They love passionately and deeply, whether it’s a significant other or the newest Taylor Swift album.  I’m certain your feelings for her were real and significant, whether or not the way you felt then is the same emotion you would qualify as ‘love’ today.”

“Hey, don’t knock T Swift.  Girl’s got talent.”  Ignoring Cas’ suppressed smile, Dean continues, “So yeah, I really loved her, but then the fire happened and... everything that came after.”

Cas smile fades into something softer and sadder as Dean pushes on, “Cassie couldn’t handle it.  Wasn’t her fault though, you know?  She was just a kid.  She wanted to be doing normal kid things, like football games, and parties, and prom.  She tried to understand, I know she did, but in the end, she broke it off.”

“You were both just kids, Dean.  Neither of you should have had to ‘handle’ something like that,” Cas says softly, “but unlike Cassie, you didn’t get a choice.”

“Yeah, well,” Dean summons up a grin and deflects, “that’s my story.  Your turn.”

“Hmm...” Cas hums, considering, “I guess that depends on whether or not you consider Lilith a relationship.”

“Because you were still figuring out your sexuality and weren’t actually attracted to her?”

“Oh, no,” Cas chuckles dryly, “I’d known I was gay for years before dating Lilith.”

Face scrunched in confusion, Dean asks, “Then why’d you date her?  Was she your beard?”

“I guess you could call her that.  I started dating Lilith my senior year of high school, after she caught me making out with the captain of our school’s football team.”

“Go, Cas!” Dean cheers with a lewd smirk.

Chuckling, his friend continues, “We went to one of those really expensive, snooty private high schools, the kind with ivy growing on the sides of the buildings and wings named after the people who paid for them to get their otherwise lackluster progeny in the doors.  My family are rather well known in that area and Lilith decided that it would be in both of our best interests if we started dating.  She would become connected with the Miltons and all of their various acquaintances and my parents wouldn’t find out their youngest son liked boys.  Of course, the implication was that if I didn’t date her, they would absolutely find out.”

“Christ, Cas!  That’s not a relationship; that’s a hostage situation!”  Dean exclaims, face displaying the shock and outrage he feels inside.

“I know,” Cas nods, “I dated her for the rest of my senior year, during which time I completed the FAFSA and applied to schools I’d be able to afford on just my student loans behind my parents’ backs.  When I came out to them and ended my relationship with Lilith the summer after graduation, I’d already been accepted to the University of Illinois and been approved for early move-in, which came in handy when they disowned me and kicked me out.”

“Shit, Cas,” Dean breathes.  Here he’d been whining because his first girlfriend dumped him and Cas’ first relationship ended with him losing his home and his entire family!

Well done, Winchester, you tool.

Cas shrugs, looking distinctly uncomfortable and Dean clears his throat, looking for anyway to salvage the conversation.

“So, since we’re obviously not counting that bitch-who-doesn’t-want-to-meet-me-in-a-dark-alley, how about your first consensual relationship?  Was it Bart?”  God, Dean hopes not.  He hopes Cas had at least one positive relationship between the bitch who abused him and the asshole who used him.

“Balthazar,” Cas smiles shyly, and fuck, Dean is definitely jealous of the guy whose mere memory can still make Cas smile like that this many years later.

Shut it down, Winchester!  Weren’t you just saying you hoped Cas had at least one good relationship? 

“Balthazar?”  Dean asks incredulously.

“Yes,” and there’s that fucking wistful smile again, “He was a British international student at my university.  We dated a few months before I met Bart.”

So, he had a British accent.  Of course, he did, the posh fuck.

“So,z tell me about Balthazar,” Dean says, because clearly, he’s a fucking masochist.

“Balthazar was... adventurous... chaotic.  Much like Cassie for you, he was most of my firsts, though I’m not sure I ever really loved him.  He did introduce me to a lot of new experiences though,” Cas says with a wicked smirk that makes Dean hate this Balthazar guy’s face.

“So what happened?”

“We just wanted different things.  I met Bal at a time when I was still reeling from my parents’ betrayal and was desperate to rebel against every part of the life they’d planned for me.  I dove into Balthazar’s lifestyle with a vengeance:  parties, booze, sex, and freedom.”

“So, college,” Dean summarizes and Cas nods.

“It didn’t take long though before we both realized I was trying to be someone I wasn’t.  I craved quiet meals and relaxing evenings in, while Bal wanted noisy clubs and ménage a twelves.”

“I’m sorry, did you say, twelve?”

Cas shoots Dean a filthy smirk, “I did say he was adventurous.”

Oh yeah, Dean hates this guy.

“Bal let me down easy.  Told me it was perfectly okay for me to want those things... just not to want them with him.  That would just lead to heartache for both of us.  We stayed friends for a while after that, but Bart never really approved of the friendship and when Bal moved back to the UK a couple years later, we drifted apart.”

And well, fuck.  As much as he fucking hates that guy (and he does, he really does), now Dean wants to track down his number so he can reunite Cas with his old friend.

They drift into silence after that as they finish off the pizza and digest the new information they’ve taken in, and if it’s a slightly more somber silence than their earlier TV-watching, it’s no less comfortable. 

When Dean finally leaves, it’s with a squeeze to Cas’ shoulder and a promise to text so Cas knows he got home safely.  He waits until he’s changed into his pajamas and snuggled under his sheets to text Cas.  Biting his lip in deliberation, Dean finally decides, fuck it, and opens his camera app.  Lying back against his pillows, he flips on the selfie-camera and snaps a picture of himself, his black t-shirt and tanned skin a stark contrast against the white pillowcase. 

He quickly sends it to Cas with an attached text message.

 

Today, 9:17 PM

You SENT:

close-up picture of Dean, lying in bed, wearing a black t-shirt

Home safe and all tucked in.

 

Turning out his light, he grins in the dark when his phone pings with a response.

 

Today, 9:18 PM

Cas SENT:

I see that.  You look... cozy. 

 

Today, 9:19 PM

You SENT:

Well, I figured I’ve seen you in bed enough times, it’s only fair I return the favor.

😉

 

Today, 9:21 PM

Cas SENT: 

Well, fair is fair.  😉

You look so comfy all tucked into your own bed.  I wish I could say the same.

 

Today, 9:22 PM

Cas SENT:

About my bed, I mean.

I mean, ME in my bed.

Not YOU in my bed.

 

Dean chuckles affectionately before replying.

 

Today, 9:23 PM

You SENT:

I knew what you meant.

Night Cas.

 

Today, 9:25 PM

Cas SENT:

Goodnight Dean.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

“I am more than capable of spending a couple of hours by myself, Gabriel.  I’m thirty years old.  I do not need a babysitter!” 

“I’m not saying you do, Cassie, but if Dean doesn’t mind staying with you until I get home...”

“The coffee shop is open until midnight on weekends, Gabriel.  You won’t be home until after one o’clock in the morning.  Maybe even closer to two.  We can’t ask Dean to stay that late after working a ten-hour shift at the fire house, especially not when it’s completely unnecessary.  With Charlie keeping Claire overnight, there’s no reason Dean can’t drop me off and then go home and get some rest.”

“I really don’t mind staying, Cas,” Dean starts, but Castiel immediately interrupts.

“I appreciate that Dean, but I’ll be fine.”  He shoots a glare at his brother with the last word.

“Cassie, would you stop being so damn stubborn?” Gabe says loudly in frustration, “It’s just not safe for you to be completely on your own your first night home from the hospital!  Why can’t you see that?”

“Cas, I hate to say it, man, but he’s got a point.  Don’t you think you’re overreacting a bit here?” Dean says rationally, earning himself his own glare from Castiel.

“Cassie, be reasonable here,” Gabe pleads, running a hand through his long blonde hair and pushing it back from his face, “it’ll be your first night home from the hospital.  You’ll probably be exhausted and you’ll be navigating the apartment for the first time in a new chair, transferring into a different bed...  What if you fall and there’s no one around to help you?”

“Then I’ll have the perfect opportunity to check underneath the furniture for hidden dust bunnies while I wait for you to get home,” Cas deadpans, earning an amused eyeroll from Dean and a frustrated sigh from Gabriel.

Releasing his own sigh, Castiel runs a hand through his hair.  He knows that his friend and brother mean well, but how can he explain that he needs this opportunity to be on his own, if even for just a few hours.  It’s been two and half weeks since his accident and Castiel hasn’t truly been alone for any of it.  He’s constantly had techs, nurses, doctors, friends, and Gabe checking in on him.  He was declared, “in the blue” yesterday, which means he’s had a blue sticker added to his chart and his wrist band, indicating that he may “freely move about the cabin,” as Donna put it.  He’s allowed to transfer in and out of bed, use the bathroom, and even shower completely independently now and that little taste of his former independence has only made him crave more. 

In all honestly, the thought of being completely on his own so soon after the accident terrifies Castiel, but that just makes him want it even more.  He needs to prove, not just to Gabriel or to Dean, but to himself, that he can do this.  He needs to know that he can be on his own again; that he can take care of himself.  He needs to know there really is a light at the end of this tunnel.

He’s about to open his mouth in yet another fruitless attempt to plead his case, when Garth lopes into the common room, looking completely unaffected by the obvious chill emanating from the other three men in the room. 

“Hey there, amigos,” he says when an amiable grin around the table as he plops himself into a chair in a move that looks more like a controlled crash than someone deliberately sitting, “I am not feelin’ the love in this room!  What’s the 4-1-1, Castiel?”

Huffing another irritated sigh, Castiel gestures at Gabe, “My brother found out his Saturday night closer has to go out of town this weekend for a funeral.  He’ll have to cover at the shop instead of picking me up when I’m discharged Saturday.”

“But it’s okay,” Dean cuts in hurriedly, “I get off work at five Saturday.  I can pick Cas up on my way home.  It’s not a big deal.”

“And then you can babysit me until Gabe gets home in the wee hours of the morning, right?  Tell me, Dean, is he paying you extra for staying up past curfew?” 

“Cas,” Dean groans, “it’s not like that!” 

“Hmm,” interrupts Garth before Castiel can ready another angry retort, “Dean, did Castiel ask you to pick up him Saturday?”

“Well, no,” Dean answers, shooting a confused look at Garth, “Gabe did.”

“Mmhmm.  And did Castiel ask you to come here today?” 

Today is supposed to be Castiel’s “Family Training Day,” where his family or others in his support system can come to help plan for his transition home and learn the skills needed to help Castiel manage his care at home.  He had only expected Gabe today, since Charlie was running low on leave, and had been shocked to wheel in and see Dean seated at the table.

Dean shifts in his seat, looking slightly uncomfortable as he answers, “No, Gabe did.”

“Because someone has to drive him home Saturday and someone needs to stay with his stubborn ass and I’d already asked Cassie’s only other friend to watch Claire overnight.  Since she and Dean are pretty much the only people Cassie talks to, process of elimination made Fire Boy there the obvious choice,” Gabe declares loudly. 

“So, let me get this straight,” chirps Donna from where she’s been perched on the far end of the table, silently watching the dispute unfold, “when you found out you’d have to work Saturday, you called a friend to take care of Claire.”  At Gabe’s impatient nod, Donna continues, “then you called Dean-O here, to take care of Castiel.”  Seeing Gabe open his mouth, almost certainly to argue that “it’s not like that,” Donna pushes on, “when were you gonna call Castiel?”

Gabe’s face falls.  He opens his mouth again, but this time it’s Garth that cuts in.

“And then you two come busting in here like a house on fire.  Guns waving.”  He gestures to Dean, “the jawlines,” then to Gabriel, “and the hair – it’s very intimidating.  What did you expect?”  He looks from Gabriel to Dean, who’s rubbing his jaw with a confused expression as he mouths, “jawlines?”

“I think where we need to start,” Garth finishes, “is with a little respect for my hombre, Castiel, here.”

Castiel takes a moment to be bizarrely grateful that he’s wheelchair-bound for the time being, because if he could get out of this damn chair right now, he might actually kiss Garth.  Gabriel looks suitably chastised, his standard shit-eating grin replaced by a sour grimace and his eyes regretful.  Dean, Dean looks... Castiel feels his heart clench in his chest.  Dean looks devastated. 

Face beet red and eyes glued to the floor, Dean rubs a hand across the back of his neck and clears his throat before he stutters hoarsely, “Umm, I uh, I think I should go.”  The chair scrapes loudly against the tile floor as Dean stands abruptly and backs toward the door.

“Sorry, Cas,” the firefighter mumbles, before turning on his heel and bolting down the hallway.

“Dean, wait!” Castiel calls out from his spot at the table, but he knows it’s no use.  Sure, he could try to chase after Dean, but the man will probably be in the elevator by the time Castiel makes it out of the room.  He sighs.  He could call Dean, but they’ve already wasted thirty minutes of Castiel’s two-hour family training session.  Despite his being an overprotective ass, Castiel is going to need Gabriel’s help in the coming weeks and there’s a lot they need to cover at this meeting.  He’ll just have to wait and smooth things over with his friend later. 

 


 

Goddammit, Winchester! 

Dean collapses behind the wheel of his Impala, slamming the car door behind him.  Wincing, he gently pats the steering wheel.

“Sorry, Baby,” he murmurs, before adding bitterly, “it’s not your fault I’m a goddamn idiot.”

What was he thinking?  First, he inserted himself into Cas’ life without asking, showing up in the man’s goddamn hospital room like he was some sort of eyeglass-rescuing superhero.  Now, he’s inserting himself into the man’s recovery as well? 

Jesus, Winchester, you really are that guy, aren’t you?

The worst part is, Dean knows better.  He can remember those first few weeks after the fire, when he couldn’t even take a goddamn piss without someone checking up on him.  He was constantly surrounded by people and yet he’d never felt more alone, because try though they might, none of them understood.  How could they?  How could any of them have any fucking clue what he was going through?  They didn’t.  They couldn’t, so they tried to “be there” for him instead.  Every damn person he knew was in his face constantly, “being there” until he felt like he couldn’t breathe. 

Dean remembers the sense of freedom and independence and just goddamn normalcy he felt that first day when Dad had gone back to work without having someone stop by to “check-in” on him.  That was what he’d almost robbed Cas of today. 

Unbidden memories well up in Dean, rising like bile in the back of his throat.  Scenes from the weeks following his mother’s death flash in front of his eyes.  Sterile hospital rooms that always smelled faintly of disinfectant, a funeral parlor with a closed casket on display next to a portrait of a smiling Mary Winchester, shovelfuls of black soil hitting the casket lid with a sound like rain falling on Baby’s roof.  Dean’s darkened bedroom, windows covered with blackout curtains.  Cassie’s face when Dean told her he wasn’t going to prom.  Dad with a beer in his hand, the pile of empty cans next to his recliner always growing.  Forcing the memories back down until they turn into a pit in the bottom of his stomach, Dean throws the gear shift into drive and pulls out of the parking lot.

After spending the afternoon sulking in his underwear, watching Star Trek reruns and bingeing frozen pizza, Dean tells himself he feels better.  It’s a lie, of course.  Now, in addition to feeling guilty and ashamed about Cas and nauseated over this afternoon’s post-traumatic freak-out, he feels gross and bloated to boot.  Dean’s learned to manage his PTSD symptoms for the most part.  He’s able to plan for most situations that he knows might be triggering, like the mindfulness strategies he uses when preparing to go into a house fire.  As a result, he doesn’t have episodes as bad as today’s very often, but every once in a while, something completely unexpected sets him off and he’s blindsided. 

What a catch, Winchester.  Why wouldn’t Cas want someone like you hanging around? 

Before Dean’s self-destructive thoughts can spiral much further, his phone rings next to him.  Sighing in relief, he immediately tenses up again when he sees that the incoming call is from Cas.  Well, he can’t avoid Cas forever and maybe the knots in his stomach will finally go away if he can manage to properly apologize to his friend.  Sighing again, this time in resignation, Dean connects the call.

“Hey, Cas.”

“Hello, Dean.”

Despite still feeling like the shitty friend he is, Dean can’t help a smile at Cas’ standard, always-formal greeting. 

What a dork.

“Look, Cas, I’m really sorry about this morning.  I didn’t know Gabriel hadn’t told you about calling me, but that’s no excuse.  I should have checked with you before just showing up there and I never should helped Gabe ambush you like that.  It was a shitty thing to do.”

“Thank you, Dean,” Cas sighs, “I know Gabriel means well, but he sometimes lets his overprotective streak supersede his common sense when it comes to me.  He feels like he wasn’t able to protect me when we were younger, so he tries to make up for it now.”

Dean’s eyebrows lift at the cryptic comment, particularly in light of the fact that Cas has previously mentioned having a “difficult adolescence,” but he senses now isn’t the right time to ask.

“I can understand that,” he says instead, “it’s a big brother thing.  Drives Sammy crazy, but, uh, I’ve been known to be a little too overprotective of my family and friends too.”

Dean can hear the smile in Cas’ voice when he replies, “I imagine that protective nature is one of the things that makes you so excellent at your job.”

Feeling relieved that Cas is on the phone and not there in person to see his blush, Dean answers, “Yeah, I guess, but sometimes it’s hard to remember that I’m not always on the job, you know?  I’ll try and do better.”

“It’s okay, Dean, really.  I know you meant well too.  I wish I could explain why I reacted so strongly.  It’s just, so much has happened in the past couple of weeks.  Medications, surgeries, rehab.  Sometimes I feel like I can’t even keep up with all of it and when I’m lucky enough to get an explanation of what’s going on, it’s more like people are telling me what’s going to happen than explaining my options.  It feels like I’m not in control of my own life anymore.  I thought getting out of the hospital would change that, that I’d be getting my life back.  So, when Gabriel made the decision to include you without me...”

“It felt like we were taking away your control.  Your choice.  Fuck,” Dean sighs, “I’m so fucking sorry, Cas.”

“It’s okay, Dean.  You didn’t know.”

“But I should have,” Dean growls in frustration, “I’ve been there, Cas.”  He swallows, “Remember how I told you about the fire that killed my mom?  About how I was pretty messed up for a while after?”

“Of course,” Cas answer softly.

“Well, I felt the same as you after that.  Everyone else making decisions for me and me just expected to show up.  See this doctor.  Talk to this shrink.  Take these pills.  And I did, you know, because I knew I needed to.  I got that, but after a while it felt like my life was happening to me, without anyone actually including me in it.  It all kind of came to a head with my junior prom.  Before the fire, everyone had just sort of assumed that Cassie and I would go, including me.  After the fire, everyone just sort of assumed the same.  Everyone except for me.  Cassie bought our tickets.  My dad made reservations at some fancy restaurant.  Bobby even set us up with a classic limo from a buddy’s restoration company.  I said I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go, but no one listened.  I’d been in a funk since the fire and I guess they all thought something normal, like prom, would help me be a normal kid again.”

“Dean, you weren’t acting, ‘abnormally.’  You experienced something incredibly traumatic and lost someone you loved in the process.  I would think being depressed afterward is a completely ‘normal’ reaction,” Cas says angrily. 

Even though he knows the anger isn’t directed at him, Dean can’t help but wince, “yeah, well, that didn’t seem to matter to anyone else.  They all kept pushing me to go.  Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore and I blew up.  Pissed off my dad.  Scared the hell out of Cassie.  She broke up with me after that.  Point is, I get it and I should have been the last person to do something like that to you.  I’m sorry, Cas.  It won’t happen again.”

Cas is silent for a long moment.  When he finally speaks, Dean starts in surprise at his question, “Dean, would you still be willing to pick me up from the hospital and take me home Saturday?”

“Of course, Cas,” he answers immediately, “and I promise not to overstay my welcome.”

Cas tells him what time he’ll be discharged from the hospital and they make plans to stop and pick up burgers at Cas’ favorite burger place on the way to his apartment.  The conversation lightens considerably as they debate the best burger joints in the greater-Lawrence area, though Dean promises to ruin Cas for all other burgers the first time he makes him his homemade Dean-burgers. 

“We’ll have to arrange that sometime in the near future,” Cas agrees readily, “so I can see those hand skills you bragged about firsthand.”

Dean hangs up the phone a short time later wearing a grin, his conversation with Cas succeeding where a day of DiGiorno and Deep Space Nine had failed. 

 


 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Castiel pulls the last of Claire’s finger-painted artwork free of the wall and carefully peels the tape loop from the back of the pale blue construction paper before placing it neatly on top of its siblings.  He tucks the stack into the front pocket of his suitcase.

He’s going home today.

Yesterday he had his final OT and PT evals with Donna and Garth.  Donna had hugged him tightly and told him not to be a stranger.  Garth had also enveloped him in an unexpected hug that Castiel returned awkwardly, before shooting finger guns at Castiel and telling him to, “keep it real, hombre.”

He’s met with his rehabilitation doctor for his discharge summary, collected his prescriptions and home healthcare orders for his occupational and physical therapy, and has a binder full of information on his treatment while at the rehabilitation hospital.  Now he’s just waiting for Dean, who should be here sometime in the next ten minutes or so.

After anxiously watching the clock for five of those minutes, Castiel pulls out his phone and texts Dean.

 

Today, 5:25 PM

You SENT:

Hello Dean.

I’m all discharged and ready to go whenever you get here.  😊

 

A few minutes go by before his phone pings with Dean’s response.

 

Today, 5:28 PM

Dean Winchester SENT:

Just pulled in. 😊

 

Grinning at his phone, Castiel presses his call button for the last time.  When the call nurse answers, he tells her that his ride is here.  A few moments later, a kind-faced tech named Maria arrives to take Cas down to meet Dean.  Hospital policy dictates that a hospital employee must wheel Cas to the exit, even though he’s been wheeling himself around the entire hospital for more than a week now.  He doesn’t complain though, because it’s not like he’d be able to wheel himself while carrying his suitcase anyway and with Maria wheeling him, Dean can pull his car right up to the hospital entrance, instead of Castiel having to navigate the parking lot. 

Castiel shifts in his chair as he waits for Dean, who said he’d be driving a black Chevy Impala.  His jaw drops open as a sleek, ebony muscle car pulls under the peaked overhang in front of the hospital’s entrance.  Castiel may not know a lot about classic cars, but he does know sexy.  And this car is sex on wheels. 

Of course it is, Castiel thinks forlornly.  What else would Dean Winchester, the walking embodiment of sex, drive? 

Castiel watches raptly as Sex-on-Legs steps out of Sex-on-Wheels and heads toward him around the gleaming hood of the classic car. 

“What,” he asks Castiel with an innocent voice that’s completely belied by his devilish grin, “not what you were expecting?”

Castiel squints up at the handsome-as-ever fire fighter, glaring as imperiously as he can from his seated height, “I believe you may have undersold your vehicle.”

“Baby’s a true lady, Cas,” Dean explains with a wink, “she doesn’t like to brag.”

He opens the passenger-side door for Castiel, who carefully removes the footrests from his wheelchair, passing them off to Dean who deposits them gently in the Impala’s trunk while Castiel maneuvers his chair as close to the passenger seat as he can get.  While Dean holds the chair steady, Castiel flips back the left armrest and scoots, pivots, and slides into the car the same way he had practiced with Garth and Gabriel in the hospital’s mock-vehicle the day of his family training session.  The transfer is smooth, for which Castiel is immensely grateful, he feels awkward enough having to do all of this for the first time under Dean’s eyes without falling on his face, but he still winces in discomfort as he deposits himself on the Impala’s bench seat.

“Okay?” Dean asks with a raised eyebrow.

“Fine,” Castiel grunts in response and Dean accepts the answer, nodding briefly before rolling the chair away and closing the Impala’s door.  Maria moves in from where she’d been waiting on the sidewalk, showing Dean how to collapse the chair, which is then stored in the trunk next to the footrests. 

With a final wave to a smiling Maria, Castiel and Dean fasten their seatbelts and pull out of the parking lot, headed toward downtown.  Castiel feels his heartrate quicken as they drive down the quiet access road leading away from the hospital and he clenches and unclenches his fists where they rest on his knees.  His mouth goes dry and he swallows, unable to hide his flinch as Dean makes a left hand turn onto the main road, which is followed by a sudden wave of nausea.  Closing his eyes and breathing deeply through his nose, Castiel waits for the combination of anxious fluttering and nauseous roiling to settle in his stomach.  He knew that nausea was a possible side effect of his medications, but it was one he hadn’t experienced in the hospital.  Apparently being in a moving vehicle heightens the effect.

“How’s it feel to be back in a car?”  Dean asks knowingly, clearly not having missed Castiel’s reaction to his turn. 

Castiel takes a deep breath and swallows again before answering, “Nauseating.”

Dean grimaces in sympathy, “Meds or nerves?”

“Both?” Castiel closes his eyes again momentarily, reopening them quickly when it suddenly feels as if the world is spinning.

“Just let me know if you need to stop, okay?”

Nodding mutely, Castiel begins bouncing his leg up and down as he fights against both his rebellious stomach and his traitorous brain.  His stomach rolls with every dip and turn.  He winces as the phantom sound of crunching metal fills his ears every time a car veers too close to their lane. 

They’re nearing The Snack Shack on Santa Fe, Castiel’s favorite burger place, when a red Toyota Camry suddenly cuts them off, causing Dean to hit the brakes.  Castiel shouts aloud, hands flying up to cover his head defensively as he screws his eyes shut.

“Shit!” Dean curses loudly, before expertly steering them off the roadway and riding the shoulder into the neighboring parking lot. 

Hyperventilating, Castiel folds himself forward over his knees, arms wrapped around his ribcage as he tries and fails to control his breathing.  He can feel tears welling up in his eyes and he’d be mortified if he weren’t still so fucking terrified right now.

“Cas,” Dean says in his deep, calm, first responder voice, “give me your hand.”

As helpless to disobey that voice now as he was the day they met, Castiel lifts a shaking hand toward Dean, who immediately grasps it in his own.  His grip is warm and strong and the feeling of it quickly begins to calm Castiel.  He never realized he was so grounded by touch.

Or maybe it’s just Dean’s touch, a traitorous voice whispers over the vestiges of Castiel’s panic.

“You with me, Cas?”  Dean asks softly and Castiel squeezes his hand in response.

“Good.  Now, I want you to pick a color and name everything you can see in that color.  Start with things in the car, then you can look outside the car when you’re ready.”

Nodding, Castiel thinks for a moment before saying, “Black.”

“Good,” Dean encourages.

“My pants,” Castiel continues, looking down and gripping the leg of his black track pants with the hand not currently held tight in Dean’s.  His eyes track upward to their joined hands and he adds, “Your coat.” Taking a measured breath between each object he goes on, “Your t-shirt.  The screen on your phone.  The car.”

“Keep going,” Dean nods.

Lifting his head and looking through the windshield, Castiel feels his pulse race again momentarily, but Dean squeezes his hand gently and it slows.

“The asphalt.  The lamppost.  The lettering on the Snack Shack sign.”  Feeling still unsettled, but under control again, he’s suddenly very aware of Dean’s palm pressed against his, warm and dry.  Dean’s calloused fingers wrapped around his own.  His heartbeat starts to pick up speed again and he feels an entirely different kind of anxious fluttering in his stomach.  Who knew the gastrointestinal system was so expressive?

Seeing Castiel’s gaze lingering where their joined hands rest on the seat between them, Dean clears his throat and leans back in his seat, releasing Castiel’s hand and moving his own to his lap. 

“Better?”

“Yes, thank you,” Castiel pauses, glancing over at Dean nervously.  “How did you know to do that?” he asks softly. 

Turning off the car and dropping his eyes to where he’s now fidgeting with his keys, Dean answers, “It was an anxiety attack.  I used to have them a lot... after the fire.”  He hesitates.  Then, seeming to come to a decision, he adds quietly, “sometimes I still do.”

His eyes flick up to Castiel’s nervously.  Does his friend really think Castiel would judge him for experiencing the very same thing he just helped Castiel through?  He has the insane urge to grab Dean’s hand again, but he refrains, instead offering an encouraging nod.

Calmed by the gesture, Dean continues, “I learned that technique, and some other ones, in therapy.”  The firefighter clears his throat and glances at Castiel before looking out the windshield.

“You, um.  If these attacks keep up... or get worse, you might want to think about that for yourself.  Just, you know, from someone who’s been there.”

“Thank you, Dean,” Castiel intones seriously, “for helping me and for sharing that with me.  I’ll think about what you said.”

“Yeah, no problem, buddy,” Dean stammers before suddenly clapping his hands together and declaring, “Alright, that’s enough chick flick moments for one car ride.  Still want those burgers or would you rather just head home?”

Rolling his eyes fondly, Castiel answers, “Aside from our pizza last weekend, I’ve had nothing but hospital food for the past three weeks.  It’ll take far more than a close call with a fender bender to kill my burger craving.  I don’t even care if we’re actually in another car accident.  You’re to send my burger with me in the medevac this time.”

“Yeah, alright.  Keep your pants on,” Dean says with an answering eye roll before dutifully reciting their pre-determined order, “Two bacon double cheeseburgers, a large fry, a large onion rings, a chocolate shake for me and strawberry for you, right?”

Castiel nods and Dean hops out of the Impala, jogging around the side of the Snack Shack to the entrance. 

The rest of the evening passes amiably.  Castiel still flinches and closes his eyes at times on the drive from The Snack Shack to his apartment, but during the worst of it he keeps his eyes focused inside the Impala and uses the color-naming strategy Dean taught him to center himself and they make it home with no further incidents. 

At his apartment, they eat their burgers and shakes, sharing the fries and onion rings between them.  Dean gets an onion ring launched at his head when he tries to argue that as good as the milkshakes are, pie trumps ice cream as a dessert (“Cas, ice cream is the thing you have on the side with pie.  The pie’s the main event.  Pie wins by default!”)

As the sun sets and the hour hand verges on nine o’clock, both men are clearly waning.  Dean tries and fails to stifle a yawn with the back of his hand and Castiel yawns reflexively.

“I think I’m ready to call it a night,” he says, arching his back and stretching as best he can from his position on the couch.  He scoots toward the sofa’s edge and Dean stabilizes the wheelchair as Castiel transfers back to it.  It was so nice to have somewhere comfortable to sit that wasn’t his chair or a bed.  Even with all its cushioning, the wheelchair makes him sore after a while.

Despite the difficult ride home, tonight has been wonderful and even though his tired and achy body longs for his bed and his next dose of pain killers, Castiel finds himself reluctant to end their evening.  He may be imagining it, but Dean seems equally reluctant, shuffling his feet and glancing around the room nervously, hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans.

“Well, I uh, guess I should get going,” he says, making no move to leave.

If Castiel were standing, he’d be tempted to hug the firefighter goodbye.  As it is, hugging the man from waist height might get a little awkward.

Besides, he reminds himself, this isn’t a date.  Dean is a friend who’s helping you out.  Nothing more.

Somehow, that thought doesn’t keep him from imagining the feel of those strong, fireman’s arms wrapping around him.

Dean makes a half-turn to reach for his coat where it’s draped over the back of the sofa, then stops.  Spinning back to Castiel, he says in a rush, “Cas, do me a favor here and let me stay until you’re in bed.  Otherwise I’m just going to spend my night worrying that you’re laying on the floor, hurt and with no one around to help you.  I’m not trying to baby you or take away your independence, I swear.  I just...”  Dean trails off, lifting his hands helplessly, and Castiel can’t possibly be angry in the face of his obvious concern.

“Dean, you don’t have to...” Castiel starts, but is interrupted before he can finish his sentence.

“I really don’t mind staying until you’re settled.  It’s not like I have anywhere else to be, unless...” Dean pauses for a moment, a sudden look of embarrassed enlightenment gracing his features.  “Unless you don’t want me to, of course,” he finishes quietly.  Cas’ chest tightens at the obvious disappointment in Dean’s voice and he rushes to correct the other man’s oh-so-inaccurate conclusion. 

“Dean,” not wanting you is definitely not the problem, “I like having you here and I certainly don’t want you worrying.  I don’t mind if you stay.” 

He pauses, then adds seriously, “On one condition.”

At Dean’s brow lifts in question, he finishes, “you don’t tell Gabriel.”

Grinning, Dean traces and X over his heart with one finger, “Cross my heart.”

Dean settles himself in the living room while Cas wheels back to the bedroom to prepare for bed.  Would it be wrong to pretend he feels faint so that the gorgeous man waiting on his couch might use his firefighter’s muscles to help him into bed?  Castiel shakes his head to clear it of the incredibly inappropriate thought.  Definitely wrong.  God, oh-so-tempting, but almost definitely very, very wrong.

Dean stays until Cas has located the reacher Gabriel ordered on Amazon, changed into his pajamas, used the restroom and transferred himself into bed.  When Castiel calls Dean back to the bedroom, he can’t help the way his face heats as he sees the firefighter looking discreetly around the room, taking in the warm, moss green walls and mahogany furnishings, before coming to rest on Castiel where he’s tucked underneath his gold-toned comforter.  Dean’s seen him in bed plenty of times in the hospital, but this, seeing him in his bed, feels much more... intimate. 

“What?”  he asks Dean, fighting to keep his blush to a minimum.

“Nothing,” the firefighter answers quickly, “I guess I just expecting something more... modern?  But I like this.  It suits you.”

“How so?” he asks quizzically.

“Very English-teachery.  I can picture you in here, reading Hemingway or Shakespeare over a cup of tea.”

Castiel’s eyes drift to his nightstand and he chuckles as he turns the book there so that Dean can see the title, The Sun Also Rises.

“Apparently, I’m a stereotype.”

Dean’s eyes light up mischievously and he adds, “Tell me the truth Cas, is that closet full of sweater vests and waistcoats?”

Pinning Dean with a look, Castiel arches an eyebrow, “I’ll have you know, I look incredible in a waistcoat.”

Now Dean’s the one fighting a blush and Castiel can’t deny the sudden surge of lust and power he feels, knowing his words are having an effect on Dean.  This crush may be harder to control than he thought, especially if Dean keeps blushing so prettily around him.

Dean clears his throat, “I, uh, should probably get going.”

“Of course, Dean,” Castiel forces himself to stop picturing the many other ways he could make his beautiful friend blush, “thank you, for everything today.  Please, text me when you get home so I know you got there okay.”

“Sure thing, Cas,” Dean says, turning and heading toward the door. 

At the doorway, he pauses, looking over his shoulder at Castiel, “Hey, Cas?”

“Yes, Dean?” 

“Welcome home.”

Chapter Text

Sunday, September 30, 2018

“Are you sure about this, Gabe?”  Dean asks doubtfully, “I’m sure you remember how Cas reacted the last time you surprised him with something.”

Dean hears Gabe release an irritated sigh on the other end of the line before he answers, “Yeah, I remember Dean-O, but this time it’s not my doing.  His best friend from work is determined to throw him a ‘welcome home’ party and if I leave it up to her, she’ll invite the whole damn school.  I’m just trying to mitigate the damage here.  I figure if we only invite people who’ve already seen Cassie since the accident, it won’t be so overwhelming and he might not smite me on sight.”

Gabe pauses and then with uncharacteristic seriousness adds, “Besides, I wasn’t exaggerating back at the hospital when I said you’re one of Cas’ only two friends here.  The guy’s pretty much been a social recluse since he moved here last year.  He’s gonna need a bigger support network than just the three of us, especially if you ever hope to get that alone time I’m sure you’re dying to have with my baby bro.  I’m not gonna be the go-to babysitter so you two can get your groove on.”

Dean rolls his eyes, “Cas and I are just friends, Gabe.  I told you that.”  Gabe had made similar teasing remarks when he’d called Dean about picking Cas up from the hospital.  Dean hates the hopeful flutter he feels in his stomach at Gabe’s words.  It’s hard enough keeping his crush under control without Cas’ own brother making comments about things that are probably never gonna happen.

Dean rubs a hand over his tired eyes and lets out a sigh.  Gabe’s not wrong though.  Cas is gonna need more family than just his brother to be there for him in the coming months and if there’s two things Dean’s certain of in this world, number one is that family don’t end in blood and two is that there’s no family better than his.

“Alright.  We’ll be there.”

That’s how, two hours later, Dean finds himself back at Cas’ apartment, this time with his brother and soon-to-be-sister-in-law in tow.

“It’s open,” Dean hears Cas’ voice echo from inside the apartment as he rings the doorbell.  He opens the door and after ushering Sam and Jess inside, leads them to the dining room, where Cas is seated in his wheelchair at the table, sipping coffee beneath a brightly colored, “Welcome Home,” banner.

“Uh, surprise?”  Dean says, gesturing sheepishly to Sam and Jess next to him.

“Quite,” Cas answers, but he says it with a small smile and Dean’s immensely relieved he isn’t upset about the impromptu party.

“Hello, Jessica,” Cas continues, turning in his chair to face her, “And this must be Sam?”

“Yep,” Dean says enthusiastically, “this is my brother and soon-to-be-biggest-mistake-of-Jess’-life, Sam Winchester.  Sam, this is Cas.”

“Hi, Cas,” Sam says warmly, reaching out to shake Cas’ hand, “it’s nice to meet you.  I’ve heard a lot about you.  Dean never shuts up about you, actually.”

Face burning, Dean glares daggers at Sam and wishes he could sink through the floor, right into the apartment below.

Cas, angel that he is, ignores Dean’s embarrassment and replies smoothly, “I assure you, Sam, the feeling is mutual.  I’ve also heard a lot about you from Dean, including a story about how you broke your arm when you were nine by jumping off the neighbor’s roof, because you thought you could fly.”

Dean grins as Sam splutters, “Did Dean also tell you that the only reason I was on that roof in the first place was because he’d spent the past two days convincing me everyone in our family had secret mutant powers like the X-men?”

“Dude, you were so gullible,” Dean chuckles.

“I was nine,” Sam cries indignantly.

“’Sup bitches!” A voice Dean recognizes, but certainly didn’t expect to hear today carries through the apartment. 

“Charlie?” Dean asks in surprise as the familiar head of red hair bobs around the corner into the dining room, baby Claire in tow.  “What are you doing here?” 

“Dean?” Charlie responds in confusion, before her face suddenly lights up in understanding and she turns excitedly to Cas.

Dean is your firefighter?” she asks as she deposits Claire on Cas’ lap, “you were right, by the way.  She did need changing.”

Your firefighter, Dean thinks, his eyebrows perking up in interest as Cas’ cheeks turn rosy.

“Thank you, Charlie,” Cas says as he plants a kiss on Claire’s head, “you two know each other?” He looks from Dean to Charlie, valiantly ignoring the “your firefighter” comment that’s still bouncing around Dean’s brain like a damn ping pong ball.

“Duh,” says Charlie, rolling her eyes.  “Dean’s one of my bestest friends and the best damn handmaiden a queen could ask for!”

“Bodyguard,” Dean corrects hastily, rubbing the back of his neck.  Apparently, it’s his turn to blush again.

Ignoring his interruption, Charlie raises an eyebrow pointedly at Cas and continues, “He’s also the LARPing buddy I wanted to set you up with last year.  You know, to which you replied, ‘Charlie, you can’t just set me up with the one other gay man—”

“Bisexual,” Dean interjects again... and again is ignored.

“—you know in Overland Park and expect that we’ll live happily ever after.  That’s not how life works,” she finishes in her best imitation of Castiel’s gravelly voice.

“Yes... Well... I,” Cas splutters, flushing further.

Remembering how Cas had saved him just minutes ago, Dean decides to take pity on his friend and, turning to face Charlie, cuts in, “Hey, you wanted to set me up with Cas?  Why didn’t I know anything about this?”

“Cas shut it down so fast I didn’t see the point in telling you,” Charlie pouts.

“Ouch.  Harsh, Cas,” Dean quips, shooting a mock-wounded look in Cas’ direction.  “I’m hurt.”

Cas rolls his eyes and seems to find his equilibrium again, replying drily, “I’m sure you’ll survive.”

Dean grins, but still feels a pang of disappointment in his gut at Cas’ reaction to dating him.  That pretty much settles any remaining questions Dean had in regards to a potential relationship with his new friend.  Cas wasn’t even willing to meet Dean before his accident and the extra complications his injuries have added to his life now certainly aren’t going to make him more open to dating. 

He can’t help but wonder for a moment though how things might be different now if Cas hadn’t been so quick to dismiss Charlie a year ago.  Of course, Barty Crouch’s betrayal had been even fresher then, so Dean doesn’t think for a minute that Cas would have been in any way ready for a romantic relationship, but maybe they could have been friends that much sooner.  But then Dean thinks about how he feels about Cas now and imagines how much that feeling might grow over the course of a year, because he has no illusions that his feelings, inconvenient as they are, will fade.  He imagines coming across that accident scene and knowing it was Cas in there, not just a handsome stranger with soulful blue eyes, and he shudders internally.  He’s suddenly grateful that Cas refused to let Charlie introduce them.

At least now he understands why Gabe threw this party even though he knew it might piss Cas off.  Charlie’s absolutely impossible to deter once she’s got an idea in her head and she can be incredibly... persuasive.  That’s how Dean ended up LARPing in the first place.

Attempting to shake off his suddenly melancholy thoughts, Dean kneels down next to Cas’ chair and grins at the blue-eyed baby girl who currently has her hand fisted in Cas’ shirt. 

“You must be Claire,” he says softly, “I’ve heard a lot about you and I have to say, I’m a big fan of your finger painting.”

Claire turns, burying her face in her father’s chest and Dean’s heart swells at the blissful look on Cas’ face as he chuckles and holds her close. 

“Apparently she’s feeling bashful today.”

“Nah,” Sam quips, “Dean just has that effect on women.”

Dean sticks his tongue out at Sam and they all turn to look toward the dining room entrance as they hear the apartment door slam.

Gabriel saunters into the room a moment later, eyes lighting up when they land on Jess.

“Hellooooo, Nurse,” he greets with a cheeky smile as he deposits two large bags bearing the logo of a popular Kansas City barbecue place on the dining room table.

“Hi, Gabriel,” Dean’s favorite-sister-in-law-to-be replies, rolling her eyes good-naturedly, “How are you?”

“Better now,” flirts Gabe shamelessly, “did you miss me?”

“It’s certainly been quieter around the ICU,” Jess teases, grinning at Gabe’s answering pout.

“Hey there, Random-Man-Getting-Shot-Down-By-My-Fiancée,” greets a smiling Sam as he approaches and sticks out a hand, “Sam Winchester.”

Gabe’s mouth drops open and he lets out a low whistle, “Dios mío!”

Sam hesitates in confusion, but Jess’ eyes take on an amused glint and her smile widens.

“Um, and you are?  In addition to being the guy flirting with my fiancée, of course, not that I can blame you.”

“Not to worry,” replies Gabriel smoothly, “Gabriel Milton, Castiel’s big brother, ridiculously successful and handsome small business owner, and now the guy flirting with you.”  He bats his eyes and now it’s Sam’s mouth that falls open. 

Turning to Jess, Gabe continues, “He is one tall drink of water, isn’t he?  Tell me, if I climb to the top and ring the bell, do I get a prize?”

Jess, Dean, and even Cas burst into laughter at the sudden blush that suffuses Sam’s face.

“I’m sorry, Sam,” Cas apologizes.  “Please ignore my brother.  He’s an incorrigible flirt, but he’s harmless... mostly.”

Shaking his head and seeming to recover, Sam shakes Gabe’s hand and offers, “I hate to disappoint you, but in addition to being engaged, I’m like a one on the Kinsey scale.”

“A one, huh?” counters Gabe with a wicked smirk, “so you’re saying there’s a chance?”                                                                                                    

Sam chokes on his punch and Dean grins.  He finds Cas’ brother a whole lot less obnoxious when it’s Sam he’s harassing.

Still spluttering, Sam protests, “Dude, I’m straight.”

Leaning in with a leer at Sam and a wink at Jess, Gabriel retorts, “So’s spaghetti, until you get it wet.”

“Ga!”  Claire shouts from her perch on Cas’ lap, stretching her arms out to Gabe.

It’s incredibly reminiscent of the video Cas showed him of their first reunion and Dean sees the light in Cas’ eyes dim as he pastes on a brave smile and hands the now squirming Claire over to his brother, grimacing and wincing slightly as Claire’s flailing foot catches him in the stomach.  A slightly awkward silence falls over the room at the exchange.

Aching for his friend, Dean claps a hand on his shoulder and asks loudly, “Who’s ready for some barbecue?  I’m starving!”

“I’ve got paper plates right here and there are sodas and beer in the fridge,” Charlie announces, waving a package of confetti-covered disposable plates. 

As the group quickly works to get the food and dinnerware set-up, Cas catches Dean’s eye and gives him a grateful smile.  Dean winks in return before turning to grab a plate for himself.

 


 

Castiel groans quietly as he pivots between his wheelchair and the edge of his mattress, using his arms to slide himself backward before gripping the legs of his flannel pants in his fist and swinging his legs up onto the bed, one at a time.  Folding the comforter over himself and settling back against his pillows, he sighs in relief before taking one of the small white pain pills on his nightstand with a sip of water. 

He can still hear his guests talking and laughing as they finish cleaning up the dining room.  Claiming pain and fatigue, Castiel had excused himself after dinner and retreated to his bedroom, following goodbye hugs from Charlie and Jess and a handshake from Sam.  By all accounts, it had been a good day.  Castiel had enjoyed seeing his friends and family together.  Everyone had gotten along like they’d known one another for years.  Jess was as clever and kind as Castiel remembered from the ICU; Sam was warm, good-humored, and every bit as bright as Dean bragged; and Castiel is still reeling from the fact that Dean and Charlie have apparently been friends for years.  Despite all of that, the party had left him feeling drained and strangely empty.

Castiel had held Claire as often as possible today and although she’d played contentedly in his lap and even snuggled into him at times, he still felt a sharp pain in his chest every time she reached for someone else.  He’d sat next to her high chair at dinner, talking to her and feeding her, but as soon as she was finished, she’d reached for Gabriel, who’d swooped in to take her away for her bath.  She’d even reached for Charlie over him a couple of times.  Despite allowing Castiel to hold her, she’s yet to actually reach for him and that knowledge is killing him.  He feels useless, and helpless, and heartsick.

The first tear trickles down his cheek as he hears the apartment door close behind his guests, their voices fading away into the night.  He starts and quickly wipes it away when he hears an unexpected voice from his bedroom doorway.

“Hey, Cas, everyone else is gone and I’m getting ready to... What’s wrong?”  Dean’s brow furrows in concern and he takes two strides toward Castiel before stopping, seeming to hold himself back.

“I’m fine, Dean,” Castiel says, despite being betrayed by a sniffle.

“Sure,” Dean counters gently, “You’re the picture of ‘fine.’”

Castiel manages a weak smile that seems to set Dean at ease and he moves around to the opposite side of the queen bed, “Mind if I sit?”

When Castiel nods his assent, Dean stretches himself out on top of the covers, next to Castiel.

“Memory foam,” Dean comments, wiggling down into the mattress, “nice.”

He studies Castiel silently for a long moment.  Castiel keeps his gaze glued to his hands, folded and fidgeting in his lap.

“Cas, talk to me.  What’s goin’ on in that head?”

“It was great meeting Sam today and seeing Jess, and Charlie... and you, of course,” Castiel searches for the words to explain what he’s feeling, “but even so, I feel... I just feel...”

Pausing to scrub a hand over his face which is now covered in salty tear tracks, Castiel snarls in frustration, “Fuck!  Why can’t I stop crying?  I never cry like this and now it’s all I seem to do.”  He looks at Dean helplessly. “I’m home now.  I should be happy.  Why do I feel worse than I ever did in the hospital?”

Dean turns on his back and stares up at the ceiling for a minute, before suddenly turning on his side to face Castiel, propping himself up on one elbow.

“Look Cas, you’ve been through a lot of shit.  When you were in the hospital, you took all that shit and put it in a box... that way you could keep your shit together.”  He offers a half shrug.  “Now that you’re home, it’s time to unpack that shit.”

Castiel stares at Dean through sore and certainly red-rimmed eyes, before suddenly breaking into a watery laugh that builds until it’s just this side of hysterical.

When he’s finally able to catch his breath, he looks incredulously at a grinning Dean.

“Shit in a box?  That is... an incredibly accurate metaphor,” he finishes thoughtfully.

Dean smirks, “What, you thought you were the only wordsmith around here, Mr. English Teacher?”

Castiel shakes his head with fond smile, then sighs in frustration as more tears force their way past his eyelashes.

Dean’s face turns somber again before he asks softly, “Is it Claire?”

“Dean,” he suddenly sobs, “The only thing I can even do for her right now is feed her.  I can’t kneel in front of the bathtub to bathe her or stand at her changing table to dress her or change her diaper.  I can’t even lift her in and out of her crib.  Right now, it’s all I can do to even get myself in and out of bed.”

Dean doesn’t say anything.  He just waits, eyes never leaving Castiel.  Heaving in a shaky breath, he pushes on, “I can’t get down on the floor to play with her.  I can’t toss her in the air the way that used to make her belly laugh.  I won’t be able to walk back and forth and bounce her the way that usually calms her when she wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep.  What kind of father am I right now, Dean?”

“The best kind, Cas,” Dean whispers, reaching over to squeeze Castiel’s hand, “the kind that loves her.”

Dean watches Castiel, eyes shining with affection.  It would warm Castiel’s heart if he were able to feel anything but broken right now.  After a moment, he gives Castiel’s hand a final squeeze before standing up.

“Be back in just a minute,” Dean promises before walking toward the door.

Castiel can hear Dean talking quietly to Gabriel in the living room, but he can’t make out their words.  A moment later though, Dean returns as promised, holding Claire in his arms.

“Hey there, princess,” Dean coos to the baby who seems uncertain about being in this near-stranger’s arms, “your Daddy needs you right now.”  Claire’s eyes light up as Dean resumes his position on the bed, depositing Claire between them.  She immediately crawls toward Castiel, giggling and cooing as she pulls herself up on her knees, chubby hands bracing herself on Castiel’s chest.

“Hello, Sweet Girl,” he whispers, kissing her cheeks, her nose, her blonde curls.  When Claire places one tiny hand over his mouth, he kisses her palm, making her giggle.

Castiel grins even as more tears leak from his eyes.

“I’m sorry, Claire,” he chokes out, “I’m so sorry, Sweet Girl.”

He glances at Dean, but Dean doesn’t interrupt; doesn’t tell Castiel that it’s not his fault, that he shouldn’t be sorry. 

“I’m so sorry I was gone, Baby.  I’m sorry I can’t do everything we used to do together.  I’m just so sorry for all of this.”

Claire just coos and leans her face against Castiel’s for another kiss, which he gives happily.

“I love you so much, Claire.”

The next half hour is spent laughing and trading smiles with Dean as Claire giggles and gurgles between them, attempting to climb onto and over the two men, Dean retrieving her and plopping her back down in the middle of the bed when she crawls too close to the edge.  Claire slowly warms to Dean, her cautious glances in his direction turning into shy smiles and eventually a full-on belly laugh when Dean blows raspberries on her tummy.  

Blissfully, the jealousy he felt watching Claire interact with Gabriel and Charlie is absent.  Castiel supposes it’s because Dean wasn’t the one caring for Claire in his stead.  Whatever the reason, he’s grateful to feel nothing but warmth and affection as he watches Dean scoop a squealing Claire into his arms and pretend to “body slam” her onto the mattress.

Castiel still feels a pang of sadness and longing later that night when he hears Claire wake and Gabriel crooning to her softly as he gives her a bottle, but it doesn’t weigh on him as heavily as it would have just hours before.  The next morning, he holds his baby in his arms as she takes her morning formula and watches in rapture as his daughter falls asleep in his arms for the first time in almost a month.  Castiel still feels like he has a long way to go in reconnecting with his daughter, but he knows they’ll get there.

 


 

Friday, October 5, 2018

“Come in,” Dean hears Cas call from inside the apartment.

Letting himself in with the key Cas gave him earlier this week, Dean steps into the apartment, closing and locking the door behind him.  He’d been surprised, but pleased when Cas had taken him up on his offer to help Gabe and Charlie with Claire’s daycare pick-ups and drop-offs. 

Dean rounds the corner into the dining room to see a bleary-eyed Castiel curled protectively over a steaming cup of coffee, his wheelchair parked next to the dining room table.

Pulling out a chair, he raises his eyebrows and glances between the English teacher and the coffee mug he’s clutching like it’s the One Ring and he’s a half-drowned Hobbit.  Cas looks as tired as Dean feels and he didn’t just finish an overnight shift at the firehouse, although it looks like he’s certainly pulled his own all-nighter.

“Rough night?”

Cas’ eyes drift to where Claire is playing nearby in her exersaucer and Dean chuckles. 

“I take it Claire’s not sleeping through the night?”

“People whose infants sleep through the night have clearly made deals with the devil.  They aren’t to be trusted,” Cas grumbles as Dean tries not to notice how sexy the man looks with his morning stubble and bedhead. 

“You always this dramatic before you’re fully caffeinated?” Dean asks cheerfully, just to see Cas’ scowl deepen further.

The adorably grouchy English teacher pins Dean with a glare and flips him off for good measure.

“Mr. Milton,” Dean chides, gesturing at Claire in mock-horror, “there are children present.”

“In that case, let me demonstrate again,” Cas grumbles sarcastically, repeating the rude gesture, “I’d hate for her to suffer the embarrassment of trying to flip someone off for the first time and doing it wrong.”

“Asshole,” Dean grumbles good naturedly.  “I’m guessing you’re the kind of parent who doesn’t mind swearing around your kid, then?”

Cas shrugs, “Right now I tend not to swear in Claire’s hearing simply because she’ll be at that age soon where she repeats everything she hears.  When she’s older though, I don’t plan to shield her from the occasional profanity.”

At Dean’s questioning look, he elaborates, “I’m an English teacher.  I love words.  Like most things, words only have the value that we assign them.  There are no such things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ words, only words that should or shouldn’t be used in certain contexts or by certain people.  Most children are able to understand that certain words are only allowed to be used by adults.”

“Makes sense,” Dean nods, “besides, with Gabe as her uncle, I think a little swearing is the least of your worries.”

Cas grimaces and Dean laughs before standing and walking over and dropping down next to Claire’s Cheerio-littered exersaucer. 

“Hey there, Blondie,” Dean says with a smile, “Looks like you’ve had quite the breakfast.”

Looking between Dean and the scattered mess around her, Claire reaches one chubby fist toward Dean, opening it to reveal a gummy Cheerio.

Chuckling, Dean takes the proffered Cheerio, “Aww, thanks cutie.  Such a sweet girl to share your cereal with me.  Do you mind if I take you to daycare today instead of Uncle GaGa?”

He stretches his arms out to Claire, grinning and lifting her out of the exersaucer when she reaches up to him.  Suddenly remembering Cas’ reaction to Claire’s reaching for Gabe last weekend, Dean turns and looks uncertainly at his friend.  He relaxes, however, when he sees Cas watching them with a small, but genuine smile. 

“Careful, or she’ll have you wrapped around her little finger in no time.”

“Too late,” Dean says decisively, nuzzling Claire’s hair and breathing in the baby powder scent of her shampoo, “You should have warned me sooner.”

Cas chuckles, “would it have mattered?”

“Not a bit,” Dean confirms, “what can I say?  I’m a sucker for blue eyes.”

Cas’ eyebrows lift and Dean’s face heats as he realizes what he just said. 

Winchester, you goddamn idiot!  Next you can tell him all about how you’ve always had a thing for brunets. 

Turning to hide his red face, Dean reaches for Claire’s car seat where it’s sitting next to the dining room wall.

“Okay, Shorty, time to get you buckled in,” he says, depositing the car seat on the table and pretending that the last thirty seconds never happened.  Cas, thankfully, goes along with it, reaching to take Claire from Dean as he readies the car seat.

“Goodbye, Bug,” he coos into Claire’s curls, kissing the side of her head, “Be a good girl for Dean and for Miss Anna.”

“It still feels wrong sending her to daycare when I’m home all day,” he adds, looking up at Dean, “even though logically I know that it’s not safe for me to be alone with her right now.  Plus, if I don’t keep paying for her daycare slot I might lose it to someone else, then I’d have to find somewhere else to send her when I do go back to work.”

“Cas, you have two jobs right now:  Rest and recover,” Dean says, leveling a stern gaze at his friend, “I may not spend a whole lot of time around kids, but I’m pretty sure there’s no resting when you’re chasing one around all day.”

“Especially not when said child has figured out she can currently reach places that Daddy can’t,” Cas adds ruefully as he passes Claire back to Dean.  “Last night she crawled underneath the end table in the living room when I tried to take the tv remote away from her.  I was helpless to do anything about it until Gabriel came in and fished her out.”

Dean busies himself with settling Claire into her carrier, ducking his head in an attempt to hide the way his lips are twitching as he fights down a laugh at Cas’ woeful expression.

Risking a glance at Cas, he sees the other man glaring at him.

Dean’s loses the battle with his rebellious lips and they quirk up into a grin.

Cas’ eyes narrow.

Dean snickers.

“It’s not funny, Dean.”

Dean guffaws.

“Okay, it’s not that funny,” Cas retorts, but he’s betrayed by his own smile now.

Buckling Claire into her seat and still grinning, Dean clears his throat and tosses out, as casually as he can, “Oh, by the way, I’m supposed to invite you, Claire, and Gabe to join me, Sam, and Jess for dinner Sunday.  We usually do a family-dinner-thing Sunday evenings.  It’ll be an early thing.  You’d be home by Claire’s bedtime.”  He keeps his eyes glued to Claire’s car seat straps as he waits for Cas’ response.

“Dean, did you cancel your family dinner last weekend to come to my party?”  Cas asks apologetically.

“Of course not,” Dean scoffs, “Sam and Jess were here too, weren’t they?  We didn’t cancel Sunday dinner.  We just relocated it.”

Dean takes a deep breath, “Besides, you’re kinda like family now too.” 

Seeing Cas’ eyebrows raising again in his peripheral vision, Dean adds, “After last weekend, Jess has pretty much decided to adopt you and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching Sam, it’s not to argue with that woman.  No good can come of that.”

“Jess, huh?”  Cas asks softly, lips twitching behind his coffee mug.

Clicking the last buckle on Claire’s carrier and having no excuses left not to, Dean meets Cas’ eyes and says gruffly, “That’s what I said, isn’t it?  You guys in, or what?”

“Of course, Dean,” Cas answers softly, “we’d love to.”

 “Great,” Dean answers with a relieved swallow, “That’s great.  I’ll, uh, text you the time and address later.” 

Cas beams and Dean stands there for a moment, lost in Cas’ smile, until Claire shrieks from her position on the table, seemingly indignant at being trussed up in her seat but not going anywhere.

“Alright, keep your diaper on, you,” Dean grumbles affectionately, scooping the carrier up in one hand and waving goodbye to Cas as he heads toward the door.

Earlier exhaustion forgotten, Dean dances down the hallway toward the elevator, baby Claire squealing and giggling in her carrier on his arm.  It’s gonna be a great weekend.

Chapter Text

Sunday, October 7, 2018

“I have nothing to wear,” Castiel grouses, throwing yet another t-shirt back into his dresser drawer. He sighs.  At this rate, he’s going to be exhausted before they even leave the house.  He’d never realized what a complex task getting dressed is. 

“Nothing looks good when you’re sitting down the entire time and can’t even wear real pants,” he adds, glaring down at his navy yoga pants accusingly.

“You know it’s not a date, right?”  Gabriel asks, amused, from where he’s lying on his back on Castiel’s bed, arms outstretched overhead, playing airplane with a squealing Claire.

“Of course, I know that,” Castiel bites out, transferring his glare to Gabriel, “Dean and I are just friends.”  His ire softens however, as Gabriel swoops Claire low enough to blow raspberries on her belly.  Gabriel has been there for him and Claire in so many ways since they moved here a year ago, but these past few weeks have definitely changed him.  He was always a loving and doting uncle, but now the bond between him and Claire is something else entirely.  Although Castiel still experiences those searing pangs of envy now and then, he’s also incredibly grateful that Claire has someone else in her life that loves her as fiercely as her father does. 

“I mean, Dean-O may not be the classiest guy on the planet, but I’m pretty sure even he wouldn’t invite your big brother and baby on your first date,” Gabriel breezes on and oh, look at that, Castiel’s annoyance is back, full throttle.

“Dean’s plenty classy,” Castiel defends his friend.  At his brother’s eyebrow raise, he adds, “I’ve told you before, however, Dean and I are just friends.  That’s all we’re ever going to be.” Castiel tries to keep his voice from sounding as bitter and brittle as he feels.

“Okay, but why?” Gabriel asks suddenly, turning on his side and laying Claire on her back next to him, “Dean seems like a pretty stand-up guy and even I can see that he’s a total stud.”  He waggles his eyebrows.

Castiel shoots him a flat look.  “You know why.  I have Claire.  And a full-time job.  And did you miss the part where I nearly died in a car accident a few weeks ago?  I’m hardly in any condition to be anything more than friends with anyone right now, let alone Dean.”

“No, pretty sure I remember every moment of past few weeks, vividly,” Gabriel says darkly and Castiel flinches, shoulders slumping in remorse. 

Sighing, Gabriel gets back to his point, “I’m not saying you need to jump right into playing the pizza man and the babysitter...”

“The pizza man and the babysitter?” Castiel interrupts, “why would we...”

“Or the plumber and the home owner with clogged pipes, whatever tickles your fancy,” his brother continues with another eyebrow waggle and Castiel rolls his eyes.

“Like I said, you don’t have snake his drain right away, but where’s the harm in priming the pump?”

“Don’t be crass,” Castiel chides.

“Seriously, though, Cassie, you should give this a chance,” Gabe pleads, voice and expression soft.

Castiel fists the shirt in his hands and stares down at his lap, “I can’t.  Dean’s a young, single man with a dangerous and demanding job. I can’t expect him to take on an injured boyfriend and a nine-month-old baby.  What happens when it’s too much?  When we’re too much?”

Gabriel sighs again, “Not every man is Bart, Cassie.”

When Castiel doesn’t respond, Gabe stands and scoops up Claire. 

“Wear the gray Henley,” he calls over his shoulder, “It makes your arms look great.”

Waiting until he hears Gabriel’s footsteps retreat down the hallway, Castiel pulls on the long-sleeved Henley.

 


 

“Shit!  Sam!  Where’d those red onions I brought go?  And the brioche buns?  And what happened to the good cheddar I left here last week?”

“Dean, relax.  The red onions are over by the refrigerator, the buns are on the island, and the cheddar,” Sam’s head disappears inside the refrigerator and Dean can hear him rummaging around before he suddenly pops back into view, holding up a paper-wrapped package, “is behind the lunchmeat... that probably needs to be thrown away.”  Wrinkling his nose, he tosses the questionable sliced turkey breast into the garbage before plunking the cheddar on the counter. 

“I am relaxed.  Cas and Gabe are gonna be here any minute and I want to have everything prepped before they get here.  So you,” he points a large butcher’s knife in Sam’s direction, “be helpful and slice up the tomatoes after you pull the bacon out of the fridge.”

Rolling his eyes, Sam reaches for another knife and cutting board before heading back to the large, stainless steel refrigerator for the tomatoes and bacon. 

“You know this isn’t a date, right?” he asks Dean as he moves to the sink to wash the tomatoes.  Suddenly pausing, he turns to look back at Dean.

“Unless... it’s not a date, is it?  Tell me you didn’t invite your new crush to family dinner for your first date?”

“Of course, it’s not a date, Samantha,” Dean says gruffly, “because like I’ve told you at least half a dozen times, Cas and I are.  Just.  Friends.”  The last two words are punctuated with the loud thunk of the butcher’s knife against the bamboo cutting board as he chops the ends off each side of an onion.

“Sure,” Sam agrees easily, gingerly slicing the tomatoes, “because you always get this nervous when you cook for Charlie.  Or Benny.  Or Ash.” 

“I’m not nervous,” Dean grits out, “I just want everything to go well. That’s all.”

“Because you like him,” Sam says flatly.

“Of course, I like him, Sam.  He’s my friend, remember?” 

“Don’t play dumb, Dean,” this time it’s Sam brandishing the knife.  Why did he think letting his brother cook with him was a good idea, again?

“Then drop it, Sam.  You heard Cas last week at his party.  He already shot down the idea of me and him when Charlie tried to set us up.  He’s not interested.”  Dean keeps his eyes focused on the knife and cutting board as he carefully cuts the onion into thin slices.

“He wasn’t interested a year ago, Dean.  I didn’t hear him say anything about not being interested now.”

“Trust me, Sam.  His feelings haven’t changed.  Cas isn’t looking for a boyfriend.  What he needs right now, is a friend.”  Dumping the onion slices into a bowl, Dean turns to wash his hands at the sink.

“In that case,” Sam says softly, “be careful, okay?  Maybe...” Sam pauses, “maybe you shouldn’t get in so deep.”

Dean opens his mouth for an angry retort, but Sam throws up his hands in supplication, “Look, I like Cas.  I really do, but I know you, Dean.  You don’t fall often, but when you do, you fall hard.  I just don’t want you to get hurt.”  He shoots Dean the same puppy dog eyes that always got him to hand over the last Oreo when they were kids and Dean sighs.

“Look, Sammy, I’ve only known the guy for a month.  I think it’s a little soon to be talking about any kind of ‘falling’ here... but I’ll keep what you said in mind.”

“That’s all I’m asking.”

Looking satisfied, Sam dries his hands on a towel and leaves the kitchen.  Dean finishes prepping the vegetables, steadfastly ignoring the voice in the back of his head that tells him Sam’s advice might already be a little too late.

 


 

Castiel shifts nervously in his wheelchair, holding a squirming Claire on his lap as Gabriel rings the doorbell at the Winchester-Moore apartment.  A moment later, the door is opened by a beaming Jessica, who hugs Gabe before planting a kiss on Castiel’s cheek and scooping Claire into her arms. 

“I’m stealing your baby,” she announces needlessly, turning and walking back into the apartment, calling over her shoulder as she goes.  “Follow me into the living room.  Sam’s in there waiting already and Dean’s finishing up in the kitchen.”

“I brought dessert,” Gabriel announces, holding up the pecan pie he’d brought home from his bakery the day before.  It had been quite the adventure trying to get the pie, Castiel’s chair, and Claire into the elevator and up to Sam and Jessica’s apartment.  It had reminded Castiel of that old logic puzzle about having to row a wolf, a goat, and a cabbage all across a river.  In their case, they found that one person could either wheel Castiel or hold Claire or the pie, that anyone holding both Claire and the pie together was a terrible idea, and that one person holding a pie in one hand whilst steering one side of a wheelchair with his other while another holds a squirming baby in one arm whilst using his other to propel the other side of the wheelchair is difficult and probably hilarious to onlookers, but ultimately doable.

“That’s great,” Sam says from his spot on the loveseat, “go ahead and set it in the kitchen, just through there.”  He gestures to a doorway on the far side of the room and Gabriel heads toward it.

“Just tell Dean he’d better stay out of it until after dinner!” Jessica calls after him.

“Dean loves pie,” she explains, turning to Castiel.

“I know,” he grins, “that’s why I asked Gabriel to bring one.”

Jessica’s smile turns knowing, but before she can respond, Dean enters the room from the kitchen, a beige dish towel slung over one broad shoulder.  He looks amazing in dark blue jeans and a brown button-up undone over a black t-shirt.  Castiel once again curses his lack of normal pants and is at least grateful he followed Gabriel’s advice and wore the gray Henley.  It really does draw attention to his well-defined biceps. 

“Dinner’s ready,” Dean announces, “come and get it, you wild animals.”  Sam and Jessica both bound to their feet and head toward the dining room obediently, Jessica still carrying Claire. 

Shaking his head, Dean looks between the two of them, “I swear, you two would starve without me.”

“It’s true,” Jessica chimes, stopping to plant a kiss on Dean’s cheek as she makes her way into the dining room, “I should have proposed to the Winchester that could cook.  What was I thinking?”

“Hey!  I heard that!” Sam calls from the dining room.

Dean tickles Claire under the chin and drops a kiss on the top of her head before turning to Castiel, “And Cas, fair warning, if that pie tastes as good as it looks, I might just have to run away with your brother.  Look after these two when I’m gone.”  He jerks his thumb in the direction of his brother and future sister-in-law.

“Oh, it absolutely does, Dean-o,” Gabriel declares, “just like me.” He turns and shoots a flirtatious wink at Sam, who rolls his eyes.  Jessica snorts into her hand.

As Castiel wheels up to the table, he catches sight of their meal and grins at Dean, “Dean-burgers?”

“Of course,” says Dean with an answering grin, “I promised you, didn’t I?”

“I see Dean’s already been bragging to you about his ‘famous’ homemade burgers,” Sam grumbles, “unfortunately, they’re every bit as amazing as he says they are.”

“It kills you to admit that, doesn’t it,” Dean asks with a mock-affronted expression.

“You have no idea,” Sam deadpans, prompting a triumphant grin from Dean and laughter from the rest of the table. 

The burgers really do look amazing.  Each burger sits on an open-faced brioche bun, topped with caramelized red onions, feta cheese, and what looks to be some kind of spicy aioli.  As Cas takes his first bite, he can’t help the quiet moan that escapes him.

“You can’t have him, Gabriel,” he says after he’s swallowed the best mouthful of burger he’s eaten in... well, ever probably. 

“These make me very happy,” he adds before taking another bite as Dean chuckles.

Dinner continues pleasantly, the conversation shifting effortlessly from topic to topic.  Sam and Castiel have a fascinating discussion about one of Sam’s recent cases, Jessica entertains all of them with embarrassing stories about the two brothers, and Dean becomes quite indignant when he discovers that Castiel has never seen one of his favorite childhood movie franchises.

“How can you never have seen Indiana Jones?” he asks, mouth agape.

Castiel shrugs, “Gabriel and I had a very... strict upbringing.  We weren’t allowed to watch many movies, so the only ones I really saw were those Gabriel snuck me out to see and he didn’t feel it was worth risking our mother’s ire for anything with a rating less than PG-13.”

“Well, that, and it was just more fun that way.  Besides, who wants to admit to their friends that they’re sneaking out to see a G rated movie?” Gabriel asks with a grimace.

Turning to Dean, Castiel confesses, “I didn’t even see Star Wars until I was an adult.”

Dean’s mouth drops open in horror and Gabriel laughs, “that’s what passes for Cassie’s wild and rebellious college experimentation.”

“Well, that and all the gay sex,” Castiel counters, causing Sam to choke on his beer and Jess to chortle into her wine glass.

“Well we’re fixing this Indiana Jones travesty,” Dean says before announcing decisively, “movie marathon!”

“Oh no!  Not in my apartment!” Jess says loudly, pointing at Dean with the fork she’s been using to feed Claire small bite of burger and tomato on her lap, “Cas can watch you drool over Harrison Ford at his place.”

As Dean grumbles about ungrateful future-sisters-in-law, Jess turns to Castiel, “So, Cas, do you have a costume picked out for Claire’s first Halloween?”  Castiel smiles, inexplicably warmed by Jess’ switch from his given name to Dean’s nickname for him and then realizing he too, has at some point switched from thinking of his new friend as “Jessica” to referring to her in his head by Dean’s preferred, “Jess.”

“Not yet,” he admits, “I’ve looked at a few online, but everything I’ve found that I like is either ridiculously expensive or has terrible reviews.”

“Hmm,” Dean cuts in, stroking his chin in an exaggerated thinking gesture, “Let’s see, short, round, and chubby-cheeked.”  He pauses to pinch Claire’s cheek lightly, making the baby giggle.  “I know!  She and Gabe can be twins and go as Tweedle Dee,” he gestures at Claire, then, smirking, at Gabriel, “and Tweedle Dum.”

Gabe swallows his bite of pecan pie and smirks back at Dean, “I’m game, Dean-o, as long as we make it a group costume and you go as Alice.”  He looks Dean up and down, giving him a lewd smile, “You don’t quite have Sammy’s stems, but I think you can pull off the skirt.”

“Actually,” Jess says, tapping her chin thoughtfully, “I kind of like it.” 

“Plus, since Alice in ONEderland,” she annunciates, holding up a finger to signal the number one, “is a popular first birthday party theme, you could always do that for her party and reuse her costume!”

Castiel looks to Dean, Sam, and Gabriel in alarm, all of whom look back at him with equally blank faces, “I have to have a theme?” 

 


 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

“Cas?”  Dean calls out as he walks into the apartment, Claire’s baby carrier looped over his arm, the baby inside still snoring softly.  “Wish I could sleep like that,” Dean chuckles softly to the slumbering tot.

In here,” Cas calls from the dining room and Dean heads toward him, pausing to deposit the car seat and its napping occupant in the living room.  As he rounds the corner into the dining room he suddenly stumbles, heart jumping into his throat.

“Cas!” he croaks, eyes wide.

“Hello Dean,” Cas answers calmly from where he’s standing at the dining room table.

Taking an involuntary step forward, Dean swallows and attempts to force his heart back down where it belongs before gasping, “You’re standing!  Are you supposed to be standing?”

Gaping openly, Dean lets his eyes rove up and down Cas’ standing form.  He looks good:  his body long and lean, exactly as Dean had pictured him.  Gaze trailing upward from Cas’ feet, Dean notices how tightly his hands grip the edge of the dining room table and his mouth tightens as he reminds himself, again, not to perv on his injured, healing friend. 

His eyes narrow as they reach Cas’ face and he sees the man’s lips twitching suspiciously. 

Noticing Dean’s sudden change in demeanor, Cas dissolves into laughter.

“I’m sorry, Dean, but your face,” Cas laughs, “my physical therapist visited yesterday and suggested that I practice standing for a few minutes at a time in order to build my stamina and prevent muscle contractures in my upper thighs.” 

Dean glares at Cas, partially to express his displeasure with Cas laughing at him and partially to prevent his eyes from dropping to his friend’s thighs. 

“Alright, Chuckles.  Sit down before you hurt yourself,” he says gruffly.

Cas reaches behind himself for the wheelchair’s armrests and gingerly lowers himself down, wincing as he settles himself into the seat. 

“You okay?” Dean asks, annoyance replaced with concern.

“Fine,” Cas answers dismissively, “it’s just a little uncomfortable, going from sitting to standing and vice versa.  It only lasts a minute though.”

“In that case, you deserved that,” Dean says, pointing at the man accusingly.  He pretends his heart doesn’t flutter behind his ribs at Cas’ answering grin.

“That was nothing compared to Gabriel’s reaction yesterday.  He came around the corner from the kitchen and could only see my empty chair at first.  He thought I’d fallen out and was lying unconscious on the floor.  He came running in here so fast, his socks slid on the laminate and he was the one who ended up on the floor.”

Dean barks out a laugh, “Good to know I’m not the only one you’ve scared the pants off of this week.  We still on for dinner and Indiana Jones tonight?”

“Only if you’re still planning on cooking,” Cas answers easily, “I had Gabriel stop by the store yesterday to pick up the list of ingredients you requested.”

“You know, I’m not really sure you deserve my chicken-al-a-Dean after that stunt you pulled earlier.”

“Did I mention there’s pie?”

“Sold,” Dean responds immediately.

Cas grins.  “Also, do you all of your recipes include your name?”

“Only the best ones,” Dean flirts with a wink, “My pot-roast always ends up dry and a little bland.  I call it ‘Roast Samsquatch.’”

Rolling his eyes, Cas changes the subject, “Thanks again for picking Claire up tonight.  Kevin’s back, but Gabriel lost one of his other weekend closers, so he’ll be pulling some late shifts until he can find another college student with a pathetic enough social life to be willing to work until one AM on a Saturday night.”

“No problem, man.  Sleeping Beauty snoozed through the whole ride.  I think all the excitement today wore her out,” Dean assures him as he begins pulling out the ingredients for tonight’s dinner.

“How did the fundraiser go?” Cas asks, perking up in interest.  Since Gabriel and Dean were both working this afternoon, Charlie had taken Claire with her to a fundraising event for Shawnee Mission North’s newly created Gender and Sexuality Alliance.

“It was great.  Charlie said the turn out from the high school was pretty great and the restaurant sponsoring the event did a good job of booting the few bigoted assholes that tried to cause trouble.”

They chat some more about the GSA and their plans for the high school, with Charlie supporting as their faculty advisor.  Cas explains that officially, he’s listed as the group’s second faculty sponsor, but his accident occurred before they’d even had their first meeting.  He’s looking forward to being a part of it when he goes back to work though. 

“Speaking of which,” Cas segues, and Dean looks up from the bell pepper he’s slicing, “I have my first follow-up appointment with my orthopedic surgeon next Tuesday.  I’ll get an update on my prognosis and find out how much longer I’ll be off work.” 

Cas begins to fidget in his chair and Dean thinks he might know where this conversation is headed.  “That’s great,” he says, “is Gabe taking you?”

“Well, he would, of course.  He’d have to take the day off work though and I know how hard that is when he’s the owner.  I was wondering, um, since you have the day off... if it’s not too much of an inconvenience, and I’ll understand if it is or if you already have plans...”

Hiding a smile, Dean decides to put his friend out of his misery, “Of course I can take you, Cas.”

“Are you sure?” Cas asks nervously and Dean rolls his eyes good-naturedly.

“Wouldn’t have said it otherwise.  Besides, that’s what friends are for.”

“Thank you, Dean.  You’re a good friend.”

Dean turns back to his bell pepper so Cas won’t see his blush, “Don’t mention it.  It won’t take long for this to cook if you wanna start waking Sleeping Beauty over there.” 

Cas wakes Claire where she sleeps, still in her carrier, on the living room floor.  Dean takes a quick break from the stove to lift the baby out of her car seat and onto her father’s lap, then darts back to the kitchen.  Cas manages to get Claire undressed down to her diaper and buckled into her high chair while Dean finishes their meal.

“This looks and smells delicious, Dean.  Thank you,” says Cas warmly as he turns his chair to face the table and begins ladling Chicken-a-la-Dean over biscuits on he and Claire’s plates.

“No problem, man.  Pass the salt?”  Dean dodges the praise with a faint blush.

Their conversation flows as easily as usual over their dinner and the entire meal seems to be going incredibly smoothly until...

“Aaaaaaaaack!”  Claire releases a sudden and shrill screech as she reaches from her highchair toward the dining room table, causing both men at the table to start violently.

“What is it Claire-Bear?” asks Cas, reaching over to smooth Claire’s hair with his hand, “What do you need?”

The nine-month-old, shockingly, doesn’t answer... or at least not in a pitch anyone but dogs can understand.

“Aaaaaaaack,” she screeches again, making chubby-baby-grabby-hands at the table, clearly irritated that no one is fulfilling her very clear and reasonable demand.

“Do you want more biscuit?” Cas asks, reaching out with a piece of biscuit, which Claire promptly knocks to the floor.

“How about some water?”  Dean asks next, handing Claire her Minnie Mouse sippy cup with the pink handles.  Claire takes the cup and inspects it for a quick moment, before chucking it onto the floor, where it lands with a heavy thud.

“Aaaaaaack!”

“What does she want?” Dean asks, voice taking on a frantic edge as he raises it to be heard over Claire’s shrieking. 

Cas rolls his eyes. “If I knew, don’t you think I would have given it to her already?” 

Turning to Claire, he asks, “More chicken?”  before scooping more Chicken-a-la-Dean onto Claire’s dish, which lands, plate-and-all, next to the sippy.

“Do all babies sound like angry pterodactyls, or is this a special talent?”

Glaring at Dean, Cas answers, “How am I supposed to know?  She happens to be the only baby I’ve ever had.  It’s not like they come with instruction manuals.”

“Aaaaaaack!”

“Well, they oughtta,” Dean grouses, “poor planning, is what that is.  Terrible customer service.”

“I’ll be sure to mention that when I fill out my customer satisfaction survey,” Cas snarks. 

Wincing as Claire’s screams go up in both pitch and volume, Dean retrieves the plate from the floor and refills it, then leans back in his chair and, ignoring the ringing in his surely soon-to-be-bleeding ears, studies the red-faced infant as she continues to make grabby hands at the table.  Eyes darting between Claire and the table, Dean leans forward and picks up the salt shaker from the middle of the table.

“This?” he asks the baby, dangling the shaker just out of reach. 

Claire stops screaming and reaches for the salt shaker, giving a wobbly, but unmistakable nod.

“Salt?” asks Cas incredulously.  “She must have seen you salt your food earlier.  She’s really too young for table salt, Dean,” Cas says as Dean stretches the salt shaker toward Claire’s plate.

“Relax, Cas,” Dean soothes, “I’ve got it covered.”  Pressing his thumb over the openings in the top of the shaker, Dean pretends to shake salt over Claire’s meal.

Claire beams at him before happily digging both hands into her food.

Both men slouch back in their seats, sighing in relief. 

 


 

“I’m sorry about dinner,” Castiel blurts suddenly as Dean settles next to him on the couch.  They’ve just finished putting Claire to bed.  Dean had bathed Claire while Castiel gave directions from the doorway and although both men were clearly more than a little nervous about the entire situation, Castiel has to admit that his friend is a natural with his daughter.  Claire adores Dean and she didn’t even fuss when Dean was the one to lay her down in her crib after Castiel handed her a bottle and kissed her goodnight.     

The whole evening has been startlingly... domestic.  As much as Castiel’s been enjoying himself, it’s also left him feeling inexplicably unsettled.

“What about it?”  Deans asks, seemingly in confusion.

“The ‘angry pterodactyl’ screaming,” Castiel answers, hooking his fingers in air quotes as he repeats Dean’s earlier words, “I know it was... grating.”

“Aw, no sweat, Cas,” Dean says with a sympathetic smile.  “It’s not like it was your fault... or hers.  I may not spend a lot of time with babies, but I’m pretty sure screaming is just part of the package.  Besides,” he grins, “you should hear Sam when he’s hungry.”

“Still, you’re a young, single man.  Hanging out with a screaming baby can’t be your ideal Saturday night.  Claire should sleep until well after Gabriel’s home.  If...” Castiel forces himself to spit out the rest of his sentence, “If you have other things to do, I’d understand.  You don’t have to stay.”

“You don’t want to watch movies?”  Dean asks, looking hurt.  “We don’t actually have to watch Indiana Jones if you don’t want to.”

Shit.  Castiel is an asshole.  He rushes to erase the crestfallen expression from Dean’s face, “No!  I mean, yes, of course I want to watch movies with you, Dean.”  I really do.

At Dean’s tentative smile, he continues, “I just don’t want you to feel like you have to be here just because Gabriel is working late.”

“Okay, first of all, you’re younger than I am.  Second, you’re as single as I am.  Third, maybe some guys wouldn’t want to hang out with you and Claire, but those guys are assholes who aren’t worth your time anyways.  Look, I know I got a little flustered with the whole pterodactyl thing, but I didn’t mean to make you feel like I’d rather be somewhere else.”

Dean clears his throat and turns toward Cas, a faint blush staining his cheeks, “Screaming baby or not, having dinner with one of my best friends and his awesome kid and then watching movies all night sounds like a pretty perfect Saturday night to me.”

Castiel feels his own cheeks heat.  When he first made these plans with Dean, they hadn’t sounded quite as date-like as they did just now.  He takes a look at the other man.  Is it his imagination, or is Dean dressed a little nicer than a movie marathon with a friend calls for?  His maroon button down over a black t-shirt may not be standard first date apparel, but it’s certainly nicer than the usual band t-shirt or flannel he sees Dean in when he picks Claire up on his way home from the station. 

Castiel’s eyes trail upwards, catching for a long moment on the other man’s mouth.  He hadn’t noticed just how close he and Dean are sitting.  Watching as Dean’s tongue slips out to wet his cupid’s bow lips, Castiel thinks about how easy it would be to lean forward and feel the press of those lips against his own.  He’s so lost in the man sitting next to him that he’s almost forgotten why he can’t let himself kiss, and touch, and taste. 

At least, he forgets until a sudden frantic buzzing from his phone makes both men jerk apart guiltily. 

Fumbling with the alarm and still a little dazed by Dean’s proximity, Castiel explains, “It’s time for another dose of pain medication. I need my meds from the table.”

“I’ll get them,” Dean says in a rush, jumping up from the couch so quickly it nearly knocks Castiel off balance.  A moment later, Dean is back with Castiel’s pill sorter.  Between pain medications, post-operative antibiotics, vitamins, and stool softeners (and he would rather not think about the reasons for needing those, thank you very much), Castiel takes eight different medications each day, all at varying times and in varying doses.  The daily pill sorter is a necessary evil.

“I hate using this thing,” he grumbles, ducking his head to hide his embarrassment from the firefighter sitting next to him.  “It makes me feel so old.”

Dean grins mischievously, “You think that’s bad, just wait till you start walking again... with a walker.  We’ll even make sure to get you one with those neon green tennis balls on the bottom.”

Castiel glares at him, “I changed my mind.  Instead of Indiana Jones we’re going to watch Bridget Jones.”

“Wait,” Dean says as Cas pops open the next compartment in his pill sorter and downs the pills inside, “Do you mean to tell me that you’ve never watched any of the Indiana Jones movies, but you’ve seen Bridget Jones’s Diary?  No.  No way.  We are definitely watching Indy.  Remote.”

Dean cocks an eyebrow and sticks out his hand demandingly.  Castiel obediently hands over the remote, relieved that their awkward... moment seems to have passed. 

Rolling his eyes, Castiel settles in next to his friend to watch the movie, determinedly ignoring the distracting heat of Dean’s shoulder, pressed up against his own.

Chapter Text

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Castiel winces as he lifts himself from the shower chair to his wheelchair.  He’s been trying to stretch the time between his pain pills the way the pain management doctor he’d seen a couple of weeks ago suggested, but he doesn’t think he’s going to make it the full seven hours between pills today.  If he can last two more hours, that’ll be six and Castiel thinks that isn’t bad, considering he’d come home from the hospital a few weeks ago needing them every four.  Dr. Hawkins had also seemed impressed by that at Castiel’s orthopedic follow-up Tuesday, though he had cautioned Castiel to take the meds when he needed them and not to suffer needlessly.  That reminder, along with a sudden throb from the left side of his pelvis, solidifies his decision not to try to make it past the six hour mark. 

The rest of his appointment yesterday had gone well too, Castiel muses as he uses his reacher to hold his boxers and flannel pants before gingerly lifting each aching leg into them.  They’d taken x-rays and Dr. Hawkins had assured him that he was healing as expected and would be back on his feet again in a few more months.  Dean had driven him into the city as promised and although the drive itself was still nerve-wracking, he didn’t have any more panic attacks and only had to close his eyes a couple of times, when other cars veered too close.  Dean noticed but, thankfully, hadn’t drawn attention to the fact and for that, Castiel was incredibly grateful.  The list of things he’s grateful for when it comes to the green-eyed firefighter seems to be constantly growing, in fact. 

Catching his own eye in the mirror as he prepares to wheel out of the bathroom, Castiel pauses, then turns the chair to face the mirror.  After peeling off the long stretch of gauze and waterproof adhesive pads that cover the laceration on his side, he removes the two from lower on his torso as well.  Gripping the arm rests of his wheelchair, he grunts as he pushes himself to his feet.  He practices standing every day now, but it doesn’t usually hurt like this.  His face pales in the mirror, but Castiel grits his teeth and grips the vanity countertop to hold himself vertical.  Eyes on his reflection, he lets his gaze trail down the jagged cut along his ribcage, still stitched and healing, to the twin surgical scars on either side of his pelvis.  The surgical scars are hidden as best they can be in the creases of his thighs, but at this angle they’re still visible.  He has two additional scars on his back that there’s absolutely no way of hiding. 

Sighing, he lowers himself back into his chair, grimacing in pain at the sudden pressure on his pelvis.  He’s never considered himself a vain man, but apparently that was a lie.  He and Dean had stopped for wings on the way home from his appointment Tuesday afternoon.  When Castiel ordered the atomic wings, Dean winked and quipped, “The hottest wings they have for the hottest guy in the place.”  Castiel had turned as red as the wings then, but today, looking at his stitched and scarred body in the bathroom mirror, the words seem almost like a mockery.  Oh well, at least Dean will never see how wrong he was about Castiel’s level of attractiveness.

Stop being so dramatic, he chides himself with an internal eye roll.  He’s not sure if it’s the medication or the pain making him so morose, but he’s even annoying himself.

Wheeling himself into the bedroom, the pattering sound of rain on glass draws Castiel’s attention to the window.  Outside, the rain falls steadily against a dreary gray backdrop, the colors of the trees and grass muted by the stormy weather and the changing seasons.  They are well and truly into Fall now, the heat of a Kansas summer just a memory and the current storm blowing in with a chill that sets an ache in Castiel’s shattered bones.  He’d barely gotten any sleep last night.  He couldn’t seem to get comfortable when every movement brought on a fresh wave of pain.  Thinking of the late-night storm turns his thoughts to Dean again as he cleans and redresses the wounds on his front.  Gabriel will help him change the bandages on his backside later. 

It had rained all through Dean’s overnight shift, which means it was probably a busy night for the fire department.  Bad weather means more auto accidents especially, and Castiel is sure the endless downpour probably made responding to such accidents even more difficult and tiring.  He hopes his friend made it home okay, exhausted as he must have been.  Glancing at his phone where it sits innocently on his nightstand, Castiel bites his lip.  Dean’s been a firefighter for a long time.  He’s worked hundreds of overnight shifts and has always made it home safely.  Dean knows how to take care of himself.  In fact, he’s probably home sleeping right now.  He doesn’t need Castiel checking in on him, possibly disturbing his much-needed rest.

Castiel picks up his phone.

 

Today, 8:27 AM

You SENT:

Hello Dean. 

I’m sorry to bother you if you’re already sleeping. 

I just wanted to make sure you got home okay from your shift.

It’s raining pretty hard out there.

 

He says to the man who just spent ALL NIGHT out in said rain.  He KNOWS it’s raining Castiel, you complete dunce. 

Castiel groans as soon as he sits, “send,” on the final message and wishes fervently that text messaging had an “undo” option.  WHY has no one invented that yet?  He’s rescued from his mental self-flagellation by an incoming message from Dean.

 

Today, 8:28 AM

Dean Winchester SENT:

Worried about me Cas?  😉

 

A blush warms Castiel’s cheeks, but before he can even begin to think up a response to that which is anything less than totally humiliating, his phone pings again.

 

Today, 8:29 AM

Dean Winchester SENT:

And no worries.  Not asleep yet.  Just laying in bed watching The Office.

Just got home a few minutes ago actually.  Hell of a night.

How are you feeling this morning?

 

Today, 8:32 AM

You SENT:

I’m sure.

I’ve been better.  I’m apparently doomed to be one of those old men who complains about their bones aching every time it rains.

 

Today, 8:33 AM

Dean Winchester SENT:

I wondered about that. 

Also, now I’m picturing you sitting in a rocking chair on a porch somewhere, shaking your walker at the neighborhood kids and yelling at them to keep off your lawn.

 

Despite his pain, Castiel quirks a smile at Dean’s teasing as he eases himself back into bed.  There’s no way he’s going to be able to sit in his chair for very long today.

 

Today, 8:36 AM

You SENT:

What do I look like?  Am I bald and wrinkled?  🤨

 

Today, 8:38 AM

Dean Winchester SENT:

Character "Herbert the Pervert" from "Family Guy," pictured in his bathrobe, with his walker.

 

Today, 8:39 AM

You SENT:

ಠ_ಠ

 

Today, 8:38 AM

Dean Winchester SENT:

😂😂😂

Nah. I’m jk.  You’re totally a silver fox.

 

Castiel swallows.  Flirting with Dean was fun and exciting when it was just an abstract concept; when Castiel was certain that Dean wasn’t attracted to him and that he himself was just indulging in a harmless crush.  He’d been confident that his attraction to the handsome firefighter would be fleeting and one-sided.  More and more however, he’s begun to suspect that his attraction is not as unrequited as he’d originally thought. 

He’s still of the belief that Dean’s a natural flirt and that the teasing banter he engages in with Castiel is more reflexive than intentional, but there are times... times when Castiel gets the distinct impression that Dean might want more with him:  a lingering look, a hand that rests on his arm just a little bit longer than standard for strictly platonic friends, a smile that’s more shy than flirtatious. 

Now that he senses possibility with Dean, flirting with him is... well, okay, it’s still fun, but it’s also terrifying.  Castiel wasn’t expecting someone like Dean to come into his life.  He’s not prepared for this.

That doesn’t stop the grin from spreading across his face when he sees Dean’s next message, though.

 

Today, 8:40 AM

Dean Winchester SENT:

Oooooh!  I know...

Picture of Steve Carell in a suit with graying hair and beard.

 

Today, 8:40 AM

You SENT:

Acceptable.

 

Today, 8:41 AM

Dean Winchester SENT:

Srsly though, how bad is the pain?

 

Today, 8:42 AM

You SENT:

It’s the worst it’s been since coming home.  I’m currently laying in bed myself and I’ll probably be here the rest of the day.  ☹

 

Today, 8:43 AM

Dean Winchester SENT:

That sucks, man.  You want some company?  I can watch The Office anywhere.

For you, I’ll even put on pants.  😉

 

Castiel flushes as an image of Dean in his bed, most definitely not wearing pants, pops into his head. 

Stop being ridiculous, he chides himself.  Dean’s offering to come over and watch TVBesides, Castiel reasons, it’s not like he’d be able to actually do anything with Dean right now even if they were both so inclined... which he’s not

His eyes dart to the TV mounted above the dresser directly across from his bed and thank goodness Dean’s not here to see how much deeper Castie’s blush gets.  The TV is a new addition to the room, having been added by Gabriel last weekend after he came home to find Dean and Castiel asleep on the couch following their Indiana Jones marathon.  He’d claimed it was because he didn’t want Castiel and his boyfriend (“He’s just a friend, Gabriel.”), “canoodling,” on his bed, but Castiel knew his big brother hadn’t missed his sounds of pain as he stretched out his cramped and aching limbs after falling asleep in such an uncomfortable position.

Right now though, it’s the thought of falling asleep and waking up next to Dean that takes front-and-center in Castiel’s mind. 

 

Today, 8:47 AM

Dean Winchester SENT:

Cas?  I was just teasing with the pants thing. 

I mean, of course I’ll wear pants.

I don’t have to come over if you don’t want me to.

But I’d like to.

If you want me to.

God, I’m a dumbass.

Why don’t texts have an “undo” button?

I’m gonna stop texting now.

 

Castiel bites the inside of his lips to try and stifle the grin that threatens to erupt at Dean’s last few messages.  It’s not fair for someone to be that attractive and that adorable at the same time. 

He should tell Dean not to come over.  Dean needs his sleep and Castiel desperately needs to distance himself from the stupidly gorgeous, adorably dorky firefighter before his burgeoning crush develops into full blown feelings for the man who’s so quickly become one of his best friends.

Yes, he should definitely tell Dean not to come over.

 

Today, 8:55 AM

You SENT:  Let yourself in when you get here.

 


 

“Oh Lucy, I’m home,” Dean calls out in an absolutely terrible impression of Ricky Ricardo.

“Bedroom,” comes Cas’ single-word response in that gravel-laced voice Dean is coming to lo-like more with each passing day.  It sounds strained today though and Dean frowns.  The memory of Cas curled over on himself that day in the hospital is still seared into Dean’s memory and he’s more than a little nervous about what state his friend is in today.

Walking into Cas’ room after leaving his shoes and keys by the door, Dean’s eyes rove over his friend where he’s lying tucked under the blankets in his bed, face drawn and pale.  Cas attempts a smile when he sees Dean, but it doesn’t reach his blue eyes, which are so dull today they almost match the ugly gray clouds outside.  The rain has slowed to a drizzle at least, but Cas probably won’t get any relief until the storm moves out entirely.

“Well, don’t you look cozy,” Dean tries for a light tone, but it sounds fake and brassy even to him and he grimaces.

Cas quirks a wry smile, “Do I look that bad?”

“Never,” Dean says automatically, then turns to face the TV so Cas won’t catch his blush, “So, uh, The Office?  Or did you have something else in mind?”

“Dunder Mifflin is fine with me,” Cas answers, reaching for the remote on his nightstand and cuing up the show on Netflix.

“Awesome,” Dean affirms, “Want anything before we settle in and I pass out on you?”

Cas gives a noncommittal shrug and Dean narrows his eyes, “Have you eaten anything today?”

“No,” Cas grumbles, “I was in too much pain to make something and the only thing that sounds even remotely good right now is ice cream anyway.”

“Is there ice cream in your freezer?”  Dean asks, already moving back toward the bedroom door.  He hopes Cas has ice cream on hand, otherwise it’s going to mean a very wet trek to the grocery store down the street, because no way is Cas not getting ice cream right now.

“Dean, it’s 9:30 in the morning,” Cas responds incredulously.  “Ice cream isn’t a breakfast food.”

“It is if you eat it for breakfast,” Dean counters. 

Cas tilts his head to the side, apparently stymied by Dean’s flawless logic. 

Dean smirks.

“There should be a half-gallon of chocolate in the freezer,” Cas finally concedes, “but you have to have some too.”

“Duh,” Dean says with a roll of his eyes, “Like I was really gonna sit there and let you eat ice cream in front of me.”

Cas’ answering smile is soft and affectionate and Dean hurries to the kitchen in a completely fucking futile attempt to escape the way his heart has sped up.

When he returns, Cas gives him the same sappy smile as he takes one of the bowls from Dean and Dean swears he can actually feel his heart flip flop in his chest. 

Settle down, Winchester.  That smile’s probably for the ice cream, not you.  You make faces a fuck ton sappier than that when you see pie.

“Thank you, Dean,” Cas says, clearly oblivious to Dean’s cardiac irregularities, before folding the sheets on the other half of his queen-size bed down and gesturing to the spot next to him, “You’re welcome to join me.  You look dead on your feet.”

Dean swallows at the thought of getting under the covers with Cas. 

Hoping the dark-haired man doesn’t notice his sudden discomfort, not to mention his heated cheeks, Dean dons a cheeky grin, “You know, Cas, there are easier ways to get me in bed.”

Dean’s pretty sure Cas’ cheeks have a little more color now than they did when he first came in the room, but the composure doesn’t waver when he responds drily, “Easier than crashing my car, nearly dying, and fracturing my pelvis in seven places?  But, it’s my signature move.”

“Smartass,” Dean chuckles, sliding into the bed next to Cas, who presses play on the remote.  They lie there, eating their chocolate ice cream side-by-side, as Dwight discovers that Jim has suspended his stapler in Jello again.

The sun has already started to set, the sky rosy and warm through the bedroom window, when Cas shakes Dean awake.  Apparently, the storm had finally moved on while Dean slept and he feels a groggy sense of relief that his friend should rest easier tonight.

“Dean,” Cas’ voice is as warm as the orange splash of sunlight across the comforter still covering both of them and Dean feels it settle into his bones, “if you want to go home and take a shower and grab something to eat before your shift tonight, you need to get up now.”

“Mmph,” Dean responds in muffled agreement, pushing himself upright and running and hand over his face. 

“I’m sorry,” Cas says nervously, winding a loose string on the comforter around his finger, “I would have woken you sooner, but I just woke up myself.”

Dean pauses a moment as the realization that he and Cas have now fallen asleep together twice, this time in Cas’ bed, sinks in.  He has the fleeting thought that he wouldn’t mind falling asleep and waking up together a whole lot more often, but shakes his head to dispel it. 

F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Winchester. 

Now the Friends TV show theme song is playing in Dean’s head and he groans.  God, he needs coffee. 

“’S alright,” he mumbles to Cas as he reluctantly forces himself to leave the warmth of the bed and its adorably sleep-tousled occupant.  And, fuck, does Cas look good with his sexy bed-head, five o’clock shadow, and one half of his face still pink from where it was pressed against the pillow just a few minutes earlier.  Not that Dean notices, since, you know, FRIENDS.

“I can shower and eat at the station.  I keep a duffle with toiletries and spare clothes there, just-in-case.  You never know when you’re gonna need a shower mid-shift.”

Cas nods, “Like after you’ve just been covered in safety glass, because you stayed with an accident victim to keep him conscious while he was cut out of his crushed vehicle?”

Dean’s eyebrows lift and he suddenly feels more awake.  “You remember that?”

Nodding again, Cas hesitates before replying, “I remember all of it Dean, thanks to you.”  He smiles softly, “You refused to leave me.”

“Well, yeah, of course I did,” Dean replies gruffly, uncomfortable with the praise and the adoring look in Cas’ eyes.  “You were in shock, man.  You were moments away from going under and I had no way of knowing the full extent of your injuries.  I couldn’t just leave you there, Cas.”

“I know,” Cas agrees, “And I’m glad you didn’t.  You were right. If you’d left me for even a moment, you would have been pulling my unconscious body out of that SUV.”  After a moment, he adds, “I almost lost consciousness anyway.  I could feel myself drifting away.  If you hadn’t...”

He trails off, staring at Dean, and Dean swallows.  Shit.  Cas really does remember everything.  He can feel his face burning, but he can’t look away from Cas’ intense blue gaze.

“You told me to stay with you,” he finally finishes, “so I stayed.”

Dean can’t move.  The urge to climb back onto the bed and kiss his best friend breathless is almost overpowering, but he manages to hold his ground.

Cas opens his mouth again, apparently not finished with his attempt to shred the last fibers of Dean’s resolve, “Thank you, Dean.  For staying with me.”

Dean blinks.

“Of course, Cas,” he manages in a hoarse whisper.  “I always will.”

Clearing his throat, he aims for a cocky bravado he doesn’t feel in desperate attempt to diffuse the suddenly charged atmosphere, “I’m like a stray cat.  You’ve fed me and you let me sleep in your bed.  There’s no getting rid of me now.”

“I hope that’s true,” Cas says quietly.  His lips quirk up in a small smile, but there’s a sadness in his eyes that haunts Dean through his overnight shift.

 


 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Castiel smiles down at his smartphone, his finger tracing gently over the photo message Dean just sent him.  It’s a picture of a smiling Dean holding Claire, her face smeared liberally with chocolate ice cream, both hands clutching a dripping ice cream cone as she beams at the camera.  His chest fills with warmth as he looks at this captured moment of bliss:  Dean’s face filled with amusement and contentment and Claire’s the absolute embodiment of child-like joy.  He sets it as his home screen before texting Dean back.

 

Today, 4:17 PM

You SENT:

Looks like she’s enjoying the ice cream.

 

Dean’s response is instant.

 

Today, 4:18 PM

Dean Winchester SENT:

She is her father’s daughter. 😜

How’s your appt going?

 

Sighing, Castiel looks around the small, but well-maintained waiting room.  Plush, comfortable-looking chairs are arranged in singles or pairs, with homey-looking end tables separating them, giving at least the illusion of space and privacy.  Each end table is home to a small pile of magazines and a table lamp, the soft glow of incandescent light replacing the harsh fluorescents overhead, which are kept off.  The scent of vanilla permeates the air and the overall effect makes the space feel more like someone’s living room than an office waiting room, which Castiel supposes is the point.  Patients who feel comfortable and at ease are probably more likely to be open and honest with their therapist.

 

Today, 4:20 PM

You SENT:

Still waiting.

I wish I had some of that ice cream.  Do all therapists’ offices smell like dessert?

 

Today, 4:21 PM

Dean Winchester SENT:

Missouri does like her scented candles.  She’s good people though.

 

Castiel’s general practitioner had recommended he see a therapist after Castiel had reported his panic attacks and occasional feelings of depression upon leaving the hospital.  The recommendation for Missouri Mosely, however, had come from Dean.  She was one of the therapists he’d seen following the tragic fire that had taken his mother and Dean said she’d really helped him. 

This is Castiel’s third appointment with Missouri and although he’d been reticent about seeing a therapist, he has to admit that he’s growing to like the no-nonsense counselor.  She’s kind and understanding without being placating or pitying and she’s direct in a way that Castiel needs.  She never lets him deflect from his discomfort with his trademark sarcasm or snark. 

Castiel smirks.  He can see why she worked well with Dean.

His first appointment had felt awkward and incredibly uncomfortable at times, especially the “patient history” part of the discussion.  Castiel had prepared himself to talk about the accident.  He had definitely not been prepared to answer questions about his childhood, his relationship with his family, and even his past romantic relationships.  Looking back, he supposes it makes sense that a counselor would want to know about anything that could be affecting their patient’s mental health, past or present, the same way he had to record the appendectomy he had when he was eight on the patient history form for his in-home physical therapy.  On the other hand, writing down the name and date of his childhood surgery, unrelated though it may seem, didn’t require him to reveal any of the personal details surrounding the event.  His medical doctors and physical therapists didn’t care that it was Gabriel, not his mother, who cared for him during his recovery from that surgery, because Naomi had a charity event she didn’t want to miss.  That sounded like exactly the kind of intimate and uncomfortable detail Missouri would be interested in, not that she had gotten many details out of him.

Castiel had kept each answer as short and perfunctory as he could make them, and yet it felt like Missouri had read novels in each begrudging sentence.  The most difficult question to answer though, had come after Castiel was already feeling raw and drained from revealing far more in one sitting about his less than ideal childhood than he ever had before. 

 

 “Have you experienced domestic violence or physical abuse in any of your previous relationships?”

“No,” he’d answered easily, with a firm shake of his head.  Missouri nodded and made a brief notation in her notebook.

“Have you experienced mental or emotional abuse in any of your previous relationships?”  she asked in the same neutral tone.

He opened his mouth to answer, “no” again, but the word stuck in his throat.  Lodged there.

Missouri’s brown eyes held his patiently, warm and anchoring, as Castiel floundered wordlessly.

Seconds passed.  Maybe minutes. Possibly hours.

“Yes,” is what had finally made it out.

 

During that appendectomy, surgeons cut him open and took something out of him.  Why does it feel like therapy is going to be a very similar experience? 

He continues to message with Dean while he waits, grinning as he shows Gabriel the picture Dean sends him a few minutes later, of a clearly laughing Claire caught mid-swing in the baby swing at the park next to their favorite ice cream shop.  He’s just sent a response back to Dean, pouting about how he wishes he could be at the park with them, when Missouri appears in the waiting room doorway.

“Castiel?  I’m ready when you are, Sugar.”

Dropping his phone to his lap and nodding to his brother, Castiel wheels himself down the short hallway after Missouri, carefully steering himself through the doorway that’s just wide enough to accommodate his wheelchair, into her small office.  Missouri has thoughtfully moved the large plush chair where her patients usually sit to the side, making plenty of space for Castiel to position his wheelchair next to it and transfer over to the armchair.  At their first meeting, Missouri had asked Castiel if he’d prefer to remain in his chair or to sit in the comfortable-looking armchair.  At the time, he’d declined her offer, embarrassed about having to transfer between the two chairs, but by the end of the session he was fidgeting in his wheelchair, obviously uncomfortable.  At Missouri’s arched eyebrow, he’d sheepishly admitted that sitting in his wheelchair for long periods of time made him sore. 

The next time he visited, Missouri had moved the armchair over, making sure to place it next to a small end table.  The end table held a waiting cup of coffee and small plate of cookies, which would only be within Castiel’s reach if he sat in the chair.  Missouri hadn’t said a word, making herself comfortable in her own chair, seemingly ignoring her patient as she helped herself to a cookie.

Castiel could have chosen to leave the cookies and coffee as they were and stubbornly remain in his chair.  He was certain Missouri wouldn’t have even commented on it.  However, it would have felt incredibly rude to snub the counselor’s hospitality like that, especially since those cookies looked homemade.  Shaking his head and silently admitting defeat, Castiel had parked his wheelchair and pivoted over to the comfier seat. 

Today, he doesn’t hesitate before making himself at home in the cozy armchair, which is definitely more comfortable than his wheelchair.  He picks up his coffee and takes a sip before biting into a cookie, surprised and happy that Missouri seems to have made this a regular thing for their sessions.  He sighs and feels some of the tension from his shoulders dissipate as he inhales the aromas of freshly brewed coffee and oatmeal raisin, waiting quietly for Missouri to start their session.

“So, Castiel,” she begins, “how was the car ride here?”

“Better,” he acknowledges. “I still flinched a few times when other cars passed us and I was still nervous when we had to make a left turn, but I tried to do what you said, reframing the negative thoughts and focusing on the reality of the situation.”

At Missouri’s encouraging nod, he continues, “I reminded myself that the cars were staying in their own lanes, that Gabriel is a good driver, that there was plenty of time for him to make the turn before the oncoming traffic reached us.”

“That’s good,” Missouri praises, “I know it feels awkward and laborious right now, but with time those thoughts will come with less effort and will feel more natural, until eventually it won’t be a conscious process at all.”

Castiel nods, somewhat skeptically.  He knows she’s right, but thinking about how much time it’s going to take before his heart doesn’t race at every intersection is still frustrating. 

“How about bonding with Claire?  You said before that you felt disconnected from your daughter.  How are you feeling now?”

“I still don’t feel like our bond is as strong as it was before the accident,” Castiel admits, “but it’s getting better.  I’ve been doing as much as I can to participate in her care and I spend some one-on-one time with her every evening before bed, like you suggested.”

Castiel looks down at his hands, clasped in his lap, “It’s still hard though, seeing her reach for Gabe sometimes, especially when I’m holding her.”

“Does Claire forming bonds with other caregivers weaken her bond with you?”  Missouri’s tone is non-judgmental, but one eyebrow is quirked upward and Castiel knows what she’s getting at.

“No.  Logically, I know that it’s good for Claire to be developing relationships with other people.  It’s what I wanted when I moved here: for us to have a support network, a family.  It’s still hard though.”

Missouri looks to be thinking through her response to that when Castiel’s phone buzzes against his leg.  His fingers twitch toward it instinctively before he stills them, but of course, Missouri’s already noticed.  Castiel has the distinct impression that there isn’t much of anything that Missouri doesn’t notice.

“Important message or Pavlovian response?” Missouri asks, a playful glint in her eye.

Castiel chuckles.

“A little of both,” he answers, before explaining, “It’s Dean.  He picked Claire up from daycare and is watching her until Gabe and I get home.”

The therapist nods, “You’ve mentioned that Dean picks her up from daycare frequently, correct?”

“Yes,” Castiel agrees, “but this is the first time he’s actually watched her on his own for any length of time.”

“And how do you feel about that?”

“Good,” Castiel answers quickly, “Claire loves Dean.”

Missouri waits.

Castiel fidgets.

Missouri raises an eyebrow.

Castiel sighs, “Good, but nervous.”

“Hmm,” Missouri murmurs, “Why do you think that is?”

“Claire loves Dean.”

“So you said.”

“It’s just... babies are a lot of work.  Dean’s done so much for us already.  What if it’s too much?”

“Has Dean said it’s too much?”

“No, but in my experience, people usually don’t until it’s too late.”  Castiel sighs again and glances at his phone.

“Maybe you should check your message,” Missouri prompts.

Castiel picks up his phone and opens the newest message from Dean.  He can’t help the soft smile that overtakes his face as he looks at the picture of Claire buckled into her car seat, sound asleep and still covered in faint traces of chocolate ice cream.  He shows the picture to Missouri, who smiles warmly.

“Doesn’t look like it’s too much to me.”

“Maybe,” Castiel pauses, “but...”

“But what, Castiel?”  Missouri asks softly.

“What if he leaves?”  Castiel whispers.

“What if he doesn’t?”

They move on to other topics, but Missouri’s words stay with Castiel long after their session is finished, replaying in his mind even as he lies in bed that night, waiting for sleep to claim him.

What if he doesn’t?

 

Chapter Text

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Dean had only been joking about the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum costumes, but the Wonderland idea had stuck.  Claire looks adorable in her blue and white Alice dress, although it becomes quickly apparent that there is no way she’s leaving the headband in.  Cas manages to snap one picture with it on before a shrieking Claire rips it off and throws it on the floor.  Any attempts to put it back are met with immediate pterodactyl screeching and are therefore quickly abandoned.

Dean chuckles at the look of consternation on Cas’ face before shifting his gaze around the Milton apartment, taking stock of everyone’s costumes. 

On the other side of the living room, Jess is tying a large, pale blue ribbon around Sam’s neck in a loose bow over top the mustard yellow button-down that clashes horrendously with the maroon skinny jeans he’s sporting. 

Dean snickers.  Sam looks utterly ridiculous, but Jess actually manages to pull off the canary sweater, red skirt, and cornflower scarf that make her the much more attractive Tweedle Dee to Sam’s aptly named Tweedle Dum. 

“Lookin’ good there, Sammy,” he calls with a grin.  Sam shoots him Bitchface No. 9 (a personal favorite) and begins to raise his middle finger in Dean’s direction before it’s smacked away by Jess.

“Not in front of the baby!”

Dean’s grin widens at the now two-parts sheepish, one-part sulky expression on his little brother’s face.  His grin morphs into a scowl, however, when Gabe bounces into the room, pulling on a long suede jacket over a waistcoat in blue plaid.  An oversized bow tie and brown, paisley-patterned top hat adorned with clock faces, a peacock feather, and a pair of old-fashioned metal goggles, in addition to the obligatory playing cards, cap off his steampunk inspired Mad Hatter costume. 

“Oh, please.  Like the little tike hasn’t seen and heard far worse from the elder and less attractive Winchester over there,” he quips before bounding back into the bathroom to check his costume in the mirror for the 627th time.  After they finish trick-or-treating, Gabe’s headed to a Halloween party with Kali, a new woman he’s recently started seeing.  This is their fifth or sixth date, Dean thinks, and Gabe is clearly smitten with his, “Indian goddess,” as he describes her.  Dean’s about to mock him for his obvious nerves when Jess turns to him, hands on her hips.

“Dean Henry Winchester!  You should be setting an example for Claire.”

“He is!” Charlie chimes in, oh-so-helpfully, “an example of what not to do.”  She glides over regally from her previous seat on the arm of Cas’ couch.  Like Gabe, Charlie has another engagement following their Halloween outing, a costume party with her new, almost-girlfriend Gilda, which explains her elaborate costume.  Despite her petite frame, she makes an impressive and intimidating Red Queen of Hearts.  With blood red lips that match her fiery hair and black and red gown, a dark cobalt eyeshadow coating her lids, and the symbols for the four card suits trailing down her face like red and black tears, she’s both beautiful and frightening.  Most frightening of all, Dean thinks, was the look of enraged rapture on her face when she screamed, “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!” as he opened the apartment door earlier this evening.

“Hey,” Dean protests, “I’m not that bad.”

Cas lets out an inelegant snort behind him, “Not that bad?  It’s even money whether Claire’s first full sentence is going to be, ‘Son of a bitch,’ or ‘What the hell?’”

Dean glares at his best friend.

Cas smirks, “And Henry, hmm?  I’ll have to remember that for future use.”

“No fair,” Dean pouts, “I don’t know your middle name!”

“And I’m not telling you,” Cas grins.

“It’s James!” Gabe’s voice calls from the bathroom.

It’s Dean’s turn to smirk.  His smirk widens in delight as Cas sticks out his tongue.

“Now who’s the bad example?”

Dean picks up Claire’s jacket from the end table and passes it to Cas, who has, “Alice,” in his lap.  It always seems like such a waste to get kids all dressed up in their cute little Halloween costumes just to cover them with coats and hats, but Kansas evenings get chilly this far into Fall.  Claire, unfortunately, seems to share Dean’s sentiment and is currently writhing in her father’s arms as he attempts to force her pudgy arms into the jacket sleeves.  It’s clear from his pained expression that her bouncing around on his still-healing incisions is less than comfortable. 

Cas winces as one chubby hand flails upward, hitting him in the face.  “I swear child, you have octopus arms.  There can’t be only two of them,” he grumbles as he finally wrangles both appendages into sleeves and quickly zips up the jacket.

Chuckling, Dean leans down and scoops up the flailing almost-toddler.

“C’mere, Cthulu,” he says affectionately, nuzzling his nose against Claire’s, who giggles before pulling back and trying to reach into Dean’s mouth with her tiny toddler hands. 

“Nom, nom, nom,” Dean growls while pretending to chomp down on Claire’s fingers.  The baby squeals in delight at the game, reaching toward Dean’s mouth only to shriek and pull her hand back each time as Dean chomps at her.

He glances up at Cas, always trying to be sensitive to how others giving and receiving affection from Claire might make his friend feel, but has to quickly look away again, a blush infusing his face at the soft, open expression on Cas’ features.  A warmth that Dean chooses not to name spreads through his chest at the knowledge that his bond with Claire seems to bring his friend joy and comfort, instead of the jealousy Dean feared.

As Dean struggles to control his still-heated face, Claire reaches up and discovers the fuzzy gray cat ears on top of his head.  She pets them gently, as if Dean were a real kitty, and he grins widely, which is fitting, considering he’s dressed as the Cheshire Cat.  A pale pink button down, deep purple tweed sportscoat, and pink and purple striped tie complete the ensemble.  It’s a little too elaborate (and way to expensive) a costume for trick-or-treating with a ten-month-old and unlike Gabe and Charlie, Dean has no plans following their excursion to justify it, but whatever.  Dean looks good and a man can totally want to dress up and look good just because he wants to and for absolutely no other reason at all, Sam.

His only consolation (and it’s a hell of a consolation), is that Cas is equally overdressed in his own purple jacket, which he’s wearing with a purple paisley bow tie and tan waistcoat, an elaborate exposed-gear pocket watch dangling from a button hole.  With Claire still occupied with the fuzzy ears, Dean sneaks a peak at his friend.  Seeing that Cas’ attention is now focused on putting on his shoes, he lets his gaze linger.  Without his permission, a small, proud smile finds its way to his face as he watches Cas pull at his left pant leg, hauling his left foot on top of his right knee.  He still can’t lift his legs more than a few inches off the ground on their own, but up until recently, Cas couldn’t even accomplish this much.  His left side took the brunt of the impact during his accident and getting it back into working condition has been difficult.  Until last week, Cas didn’t have the flexibility to even get his left foot up this high and having to have someone else put on his shoe for him was a real sore point for Dean’s fiercely independent friend.  Dean knows that Cas’ physical therapist, a kind but tough dude named Cesar, comes three times a week.  He sees an OT weekly as well, whom Dean hasn’t met yet, but it’s clear their visits are paying off.  Cas can’t always see it, but he’s come so far in such a short amount of time and fuck, is Dean proud of him.

Shoes tied, Cas reaches to the end table next to him for the last two pieces of his costume.  Dean’s Cheshire Cat grin returns in full force as Cas puts on a pair of gold, wire-rimmed glasses and his own fluffy set of ears, identifying him as Wonderland’s White Rabbit.  Dean feels his heart turn over in his chest when the rabbit-in-question looks up at him.  Cas somehow looks both ridiculously adorable and unbelievably hot at the same time and it’s confusing both Dean’s head and his libido. 

Realizing they’ve now been staring at each other for several silent seconds, Dean clears his throat and nods to Cas, “Nice ears.”

“I would say the same to you, but it appears that Claire’s claimed yours,” Cas returns with a grin, nodding to Claire, who has in fact pulled Dean’s cat-ears off his head without his realizing and is now rubbing one between her thumb and forefinger as she sucks her thumb and leans her head against Dean’s shoulder.

Dean chuckles softly and kisses the blonde curls nestled against his cheek.

“I wonder if we’ll even make it halfway through trick-or-treating before she conks out.”

“Probably not, but that was a risk I knew we’d take with trick-or-treat starting around the same time as her bedtime.  I’ll just be happy if we make it through without a meltdown.”

“Aww, well don’t you two make a cute couple,” Charlie coos, breaking off from her conversation with Sam and Jess to stand between Dean and Cas.

Dean’s gaze darts between Cas and Charlie for a panicked second (Was I that obvious?  Pull it together, Winchester!), before he blurts, “We’re not a couple!”

Charlie snickers and Cas bites his lip and seems to be fighting back his own laugh, despite turning bright red.

“I meant you and the baby, Dean-O,” Charlie says gleefully, “but if there’s something else you wanna tell me...”  she trails off and holds her hands up placatingly at Dean’s glare.

In a completely obvious and ineffective attempt to salvage the remains of his dignity, Dean turns toward the rest of the room and says gruffly, “Alright people, Alice is fading fast here, time to get this show on the road!”

Cas wheels up next to him and opens his mouth to speak, but Dean cuts him off with a, “Shuddup.”

Chuckling and nodding to Claire, Cas says, “I was only going to ask if you want me to take her.”

“Oh uh, sure, I suppose,” Dean says reluctantly, reminding himself that this is actually Cas’ baby he’s holding.  He probably shouldn’t be monopolizing her, especially considering this is her first Halloween and all. 

He begins to shift Claire in order to pass her back to her father, but her little fingers curl into his shirt, gripping tight.

“It’s okay, Dean,” Cas says softly, face radiating affection as he takes in the scene, “You can carry her if you want to.”

“Are you sure?”  Dean asks hesitantly. 

“Of course,” Cas answers easily, “Honestly, it might be better if you do.  That way I can push myself instead of holding her and having someone else push us.”

Dean nods, understanding how hard it is for Cas to let people push him when he can do it himself.  His friend is so stubborn in his independence.  Cas hasn’t had anyone to take care of him for such a long time that he doesn’t even seem to know how to go about it now that he does.  Dean feels both proud of his friend’s determination and saddened at the reason for it.  It’s a confusing way to feel.  To be honest, most of how he feels about the wild-haired man in front of him is confusing to Dean.  Confusing, frustrating, terrifying, exhilarating.  Dean shakes his head.  Focus, Winchester.

“Alright, then.  Lead the way to Wonderland, White Rabbit.  I believe you’re late for a very important date,” Dean said, bouncing the baby in his arms.

Grinning, Cas does just that, leading the group out of the apartment and toward the elevator.

 


 

Hearing his daughter squeal with joy, Castiel looks up from the caramel apple pie he’d been admiring.

Castiel’s apartment complex isn’t home to very many children, making it less than optimal for Trick-or-Treating, so their motley crew had instead headed to a local elementary school, which is hosting a combination Trunk-or-Treat and Halloween carnival.  Several yards away, Dean is occupying Claire as Castiel and the other grown-ups check out the vendor section of the carnival.  While he and Gabriel peruse the baked goods (Gabriel with far too critical an eye for a PTA bake sale), Sam and Jess are admiring a stand full of Fall decorations and seasonal wreaths, and Charlie is eyeing a display of homemade, “magic wands,” that is clearly trying (quite successfully, if the number of wand-toting-children surrounding them is any indication) to profit from the popularity of the Harry Potter franchise. 

He smiles as he watches Dean toss Claire bodily into the air, catching her and swinging her around as she comes back down, before settling her on his shoulders, piggy-back style. Aside from setting her down and holding her hands so she could toddle up to the parked cars for her trunk-or-treating, Dean’s carried Claire the entire evening, much to her (and Castiel’s if he were to admit it, which he’s not) delight.  Castiel tells himself it’s seeing his ten-month-old flying through the air that has his heartrate picking up speed, but the butterflies doing barrel-rolls in his stomach call him a liar.

“You two do make a cute couple, you know,” Charlie says, red-painted lips smirking at him from where she’s sidled up to his wheelchair, completely unnoticed, as Castiel watched his friend and his daughter enjoying one another. 

He sighs, “You know Dean and I are not a couple, Charlie.”

“Well, I think that’s debatable, but even if you’re not, you still A) could be and B) are cute together,” his red-headed friend insists.

At that moment, Charlie’s phone pings with an incoming text message (of course, she’s managed to find a ball gown that has pockets, because she’s Charlie) and her face lights up as she checks it.

“Speaking of cute couples, would that be the lovely and thus far, mysterious, Lady Gilda?” Castiel asks, arching an eyebrow at Charlie’s answering blush.

“’Tis,” she answers primly, before adopting a wolfish grin, “She’s just telling me about her costume for the party tonight.”

“You said the party theme is, ‘Famous Villains,” correct?”  At Charlie’s nod, he asks, “Which one did she choose?”

“Well, since I’m going as the Queen of Hearts, we decided we’d both be villainous queens from classic children’s literature.  She’s going as the White Witch from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”

“Well, as an English teacher, I most definitely approve.  When do I get to meet this woman who already has you coordinating costume themes?”

Charlie blushes again, but Castiel feels his own cheeks warm when he hears her grumble under her breath, “Yeah, cause you and Dean are definitely both dressed to the nines for Claire’s benefit.”

Knowing that her comment hit its mark, Charlie smiles sweetly, “You can meet her soon.  We’ll set something up.  Maybe we could even go on a double date!”  She laughs, easily trotting out of reach as Castiel swats at her. 

Noticing the end of he and Charlie’s exchange, Dean catches his eye and raises a questioning eyebrow.  Castiel shakes his head and waves him off, before picking up the caramel apple pie and paying the smiling PTA mom behind the table. It may not be as good as Gabriel’s, but it’ll still be a nice treat for later.  Besides, he knows how just much Dean enjoys pie. 

 


 

“Mmmmmfph.  Oh ma gawd, Cas,” Dean moans around his fork and Castiel swallows.

Apparently, he didn’t know just how much Dean enjoys pie.  He’s not sure if the man just undersold his previous pie reactions or if he’s deliberately playing up his response to the dessert tonight, but Castiel doesn’t remember Dean’s pie-induced moans sounding this... erotic before. 

Arching an eyebrow and conducting a desperate mental search for his suddenly misplaced composure, he manages to joke, “Gabriel’s going to be jealous.  I don’t think his pie got even half this level of enthusiasm.”  If his voice sounds a little strangled, well, hopefully Dean won’t notice.

In fact, Dean appears to be too busy blushing a deep and lovely shade of pink to notice Castiel’s total lack of, “cool.”  Or is it, “chill,” these days?  He suddenly misses his high schoolers. 

All thoughts of his students are chased from his mind just a moment later, however, as he watches Dean swallow his mouthful of pie, Adam’s apple bobbing and pink tongue slipping out to trace over full, kissable lips. 

Kissable?  Get a grip, Milton, Castiel chides himself.

For the first month after his accident, Castiel’s sex drive had been all but absent.  After all, it’s difficult to maintain arousal when every tiny movement causes shooting pains in the area surrounding said arousal.  Over the past few weeks, however, his libido has been slowly making a reappearance.  That’s probably all this is.  It’s just been a very long time since Castiel has experienced physical desire and with his very attractive friend moaning like a porn star across from him, of course his thoughts are going to stray in that direction.  It will pass.  It doesn’t mean that he actually wants to kiss his best friend, or scrape his teeth over that Adam’s apple, or find out if Dean has as many freckles on the rest of his body as he does across the bridge of his nose.

Castiel groans at himself internally.  He’d thought his crush on Dean had been getting better.  He’d gotten past his initial shock at just how damn gorgeous the man is, and they’d managed to develop a deep and meaningful friendship.  In fact, it’s one of the most meaningful and rewarding relationships in Castiel’s life and he’s loathe to do anything that might eventually result in the loss of such a profound bond.  It’s just not worth the risk, no matter how delicious Dean looks with his cheeks tinged pink.

Apparently, what he thought was him getting over his attraction to Dean was just him being able to suppress it more easily, without such heavy doses of pain killers lowering his inhibitions.  Now though, the return of his sex drive and his growing feelings for Dean are overriding that suppression just as effectively as the oxycodone did.

He would probably taste like caramel, a voice argues in Castiel’s head. 

Not. Helpful.

“Oh, uh, I may have been holding back a bit, before,” Dean stammers out sheepishly and it’s so endearing that Castiel’s lust is almost overrun by the sudden wave of affection that crashes over him.

Yes, this is just about your recovering libido... a purely physical response... mocks the increasingly annoying voice in his head. 

Castiel isn’t sure how long they’ve been sitting there, just staring at one another (When did Dean get so close?), when they both startle at Gabriel’s voice.

“Alright, kiddies, I’m out of here!  Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”

Seeing them seated side-by-side on the small sofa, he adds, “And if you do anything I would do, please go do it in the bedroom and not where I’ll be sleeping!”

“Good night, Gabriel,” Castiel growls pointedly as he fights down a blush.

Gabriel waggles his eyebrows at Castiel, before turning and pointing at Dean with a suddenly serious expression.

“Remember my last, Petunia,” he bellows as he waltzes backwards down the hallway.

“Dude, did you just quote Dumbledore at me?”  Dean asks with a shake of his head.

“You’ve read Harry Potter?” he asks Dean with a grin as Gabriel dons his suede jacket from earlier.

“Charlie,” Dean explains in a single word. 

“Can’t go wrong quoting the greatest headmaster Hogwarts ever had, Dean-O!” calls Gabriel cheerfully as he flounces out the apartment door.

Waiting until the door closes behind his brother, Castiel levels Dean with a serious expression, “Want to tell me what that was about?”

“Nope,” Dean answers easily, taking another bite of his pie.

Waiting, Castiel arches an eyebrow, giving Dean the same expectant look that never fails to have fifteen-year-old high school students spilling their guts within thirty seconds flat.

Apparently, it’s just as effective with thirty-year-old firefighters.

With a sigh, Dean explains, “It was just something Gabe said to me back in the hospital, when you were in surgery.”

“Which was?”

“He just wanted to make sure I was serious about sticking around if I wanted to be your friend.  Said you’d been walked out on enough.  I’m guessing he was talking about Captain Douchebag,” Dean answers, using his favorite nickname for Castiel’s ex.

He sighs, “Partially.  Gabriel also likes to take responsibility for things that were not actually within his ability to control.”

“Big brother’s prerogative,” Dean answers sagely.

Castiel hums his agreement, but doesn’t elaborate further.  Dean doesn’t push, and in the end, that’s what leads Castiel to explain.

“As you know, Gabriel and I grew up in a very strict household.  I’ve never actually met my biological father.  He walked out on my mother when I was just a few months old.  She’s always described him as a dreamer.  He was an aspiring author with his head in the clouds and according to Naomi, he felt being ‘tied down’ with a wife and two children was stifling his creativity.  She married Zachariah when I was four and Gabriel ten.  He’s a staunch traditionalist when it comes to... well, pretty much everything and after Chuck, I think she found that kind of stability comforting.”

“I guess I can see that,” Dean nods.

“Yes,” Castiel agrees, before chuckling drily, “Unfortunately, as I’m sure is obvious, there is nothing, ‘traditional’ about my brother.  Gabriel was constantly at odds with Zachariah and Naomi the entire time we were growing up.  Things came to a head when he was about to graduate college.  He’d gone along with Zachariah’s insistence that he major in business, but while Zachariah was imagining Gabriel taking a hand-picked position within one of his or his associate’s organizations, Gabriel was secretly planning his bakery.”

Dean whistles, “I’m imagining that didn’t go over so well with the ‘rents when they found out.”

“Indeed,” Castiel agrees, “It was the biggest argument I can remember them having, and it ended with Gabriel packing his bags and leaving.  I didn’t see him again for three years after that, not until I was in college and also estranged from our parents.”

 


 

Dean feels a sharp twinge in his chest as his heart breaks for his friend.  Is there anyone in Cas’ life who hasn’t left him?  His biological father, his brother, his mother and stepfather, and the man he thought he was going to share a life and fatherhood with.  Even that prick Balthazar, his first lover and supposed friend, left him without a backwards glance to go back to his life overseas.

It’s no wonder Cas doesn’t know how to let people take care of him.  No one’s ever even tried before.  It takes all of Dean’s willpower not to gather Cas into his arms right then, but he knows his friend’s pride wouldn’t appreciate that right now.

Instead, he listens, heart aching behind his ribs, as Cas continues, “Gabriel still feels guilty over leaving me there, though at the time, he had no way of knowing what was going to happen my senior year.  He had no idea I was gay. I’d never told anyone.  At the time, he thought he was the only black sheep of the family and that with him gone, my life there would be easier.”

“He still left though,” Dean says quietly.

“He had no choice, Dean,” Castiel defends heatedly, “Living in that house was the polar opposite of everything that makes Gabriel... Gabriel.  If he’d stayed, if he’d gone along with their plans for him, it would have destroyed him.”

“I get that,” Dean assures quickly, “and I’m not blaming him for leaving.  I’m just saying I get why he feels responsible.”

When Cas still doesn’t look convinced, Dean takes a deep breath and says, “I told you that after my mom... after the fire, my dad was in a bad way.  What I didn’t tell you was that he could be one hell of a mean bastard, especially when he was drunk, which was all the goddamn time.”  Even after all this time, he still can’t keep the bitterness out of his voice.

Not meeting Cas’ eyes, he trudges on, “I thought about leaving sometimes.  Would have been better for me if I had, maybe.  But I couldn’t leave Sam there.  He and Dad, they were like oil and water.  I was the only one that could ever seem to get through to both of them.  As bad as it was for me, it would have been ten times worse for Sam if I wasn’t there to be a buffer.  That’s why I stayed, but if I hadn’t known that, I might have left and if I had left, thinking Sam would be okay and then he wasn’t... Damn straight I’d still feel like shit about that.  I don’t care how many years it’s been.”

Cas opens his mouth to argue, but Dean cuts him off, “Like I said, big brother’s prerogative.”

Cas is quiet for a long moment, mulling that over and gazing at Dean with an expression Dean’s pretty sure he doesn’t deserve.  Thankfully, it turns into a playful smirk when Dean takes another bite of pie.

“What?” he asks Cas around a mouthful of apple.

“Just trying to decide if you’re more Gryffindor or Hufflepuff,” Cas answers with a grin.

Dean rolls his eyes, “Duh, firefighter.  Gryffindor.”

Cas’ smirk widens, “Hmm, definitely Hufflepuff.”

“Excuse me?” Dean says in mock-offense.  “How do you figure?”

Amused smirk broadening into a gummy grin, Cas gestures to Dean’s now empty plate and answers, “Because no one can like pie that much and not be a Puff.”

Before Dean can open his mouth to argue, the adorable dork continues, ticking off each argument on his fingers, “Plus, you’re kind, unbelievably compassionate, generous, loyal almost to a fault...” Pausing a moment for emphasis, he finishes, “and a truly devoted and caring friend.”

Blushing down to his goddamn toes, Dean clears his throat, “I don’t know about all of that, but I do like pie.”

As Cas rolls his eyes affectionately, Dean deflects further, “So what are you?”

“Ravenclaw, obviously,” comes the immediate response. 

“You’re right,” Dean agrees, “You’re obviously a smartass.” 

Raising an arm to block the pillow Cas swats him with, Dean huffs a laugh, “A pillow fight?  That’s your big comeback?  Where’s that acclaimed Ravenclaw wit, huh?”

As Cas oh-so-maturely sticks out his tongue at him, Dean shakes his head in bemusement, thinking about what all of those idiots who’ve abandoned and rejected his friend are missing out on.  They’ve only been friends for a few months and already, Dean can’t imagine his life without Cas in it.  Doesn’t even want to.

He waits a moment for his inner monologue to pipe up and remind him that he shouldn’t be thinking things like that about someone who’s just a friend, but it keeps quiet.  Looks like for once, Dean’s head and heart are in full agreement. 

Who could ever leave Cas? 

Chapter Text

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Castiel tips his head back and hums appreciatively as the warm water caresses his face before cascading over his shoulders and down his chest and back.  He had his stitches removed at his ortho appointment yesterday, which means he no longer has to keep his laceration and incision sites dry during showers.  It’s been two and a half months since Castiel has been able to enjoy a shower fully and the only thing that could make this one better would be if he could be standing for it.

Unfortunately, although he’s able to stand for up to ten minutes at a time now during his daily practice sessions, that’s a far cry from standing on the slippery shower floor, especially while washing himself. Instead, he sits on his shower chair, running soapy hands over his arms as he thinks idly about his day.

Dean’s off today, but he’s coming over to keep Castiel company, as he often does on his days off, no matter how many times Castiel assures him that he doesn’t have to.  They’ll probably lie in Castiel’s bed and watch movies, which has become something of a habit for them over the past month, although it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Castiel to actually focus on the plot of whatever’s on-screen with Dean’s warmth pressed up against his side.  That’s something else that’s happened over the past month.  Initially, when Dean started joining him in bed for their TV watching, he stayed on the far side of the mattress, a no-man’s land of comforter and pillows between them.  Over the past few weeks though, he’s migrated closer and closer to Castiel.  This past Sunday found them connected from shoulder to hip as Dean showed him pictures on his phone from his latest outing with Claire during Castiel’s most recent counseling appointment with Missouri.

It’s the best kind of torture.

Watching television isn’t all he and Dean do, of course. They talk about anything and everything, read (Castiel is working his way through the many works of Vonnegut while he introduces Dean to some of his favorite YA authors), and occasionally play card games (Cards Against Humanity is a definite favorite, though they’ve played more traditional games as well).  

Sometimes, Dean even helps him with his physical therapy, although that too seems more... intense recently.  Dean’s eyes on him while he completed his bridge exercises left Castiel red-faced from more than just exertion the last time.  Interestingly enough, Dean’s face had seemed a little red too, as he watched Castiel slowly thrust his hips into the air again and again.

Castiel’s soapy hands trail lightly over his chest and abdomen, instinctively avoiding his still tender scars, as he pictures Dean’s slightly flushed face in his mind – the way his freckles stood out against his darkened cheeks and his tongue darted out to moisten dry lips. 

His hand drops lower, seemingly of its own accord, as Castiel remembers the heat he thought he must be imagining in Dean’s green eyes.

With a small groan of mingled lust and surprise, Castiel realizes he’s half-hard.  He pauses, hand hovering loosely around his erection.  Is he really doing this?  Is he really touching himself to thoughts of Dean?  Thoughts of one of his closest friends? 

He shouldn’t.

He really shouldn’t.  Dean is his friend.  This has to be some sort of violation, but...

But Castiel wants. 

And it’s been so long since he’s wanted like this. 

Unable to stop himself, he moans quietly as his hand tightens and begins to stroke slowly along his rapidly hardening dick. 

He thinks about the rising tension he feels between himself and his best friend.  He’s almost certain he’s not just imagining the longing looks and lingering touches they’ve been sharing. 

He imagines being back in bed with Dean, this time with both of them undressed and Castiel not injured, but whole and healthy. 

He positions himself overtop of Dean in his mind, thrusting into his friend while Dean comes undone beneath him, head thrown back and cupid’s bow lips shaped in an “o” of ecstasy as Castiel brings them both closer to completion.

Castiel moans again as his hand begins to pick up speed, only to grunt and hiss suddenly as his more energetic movements cause his arm to rub against the laceration along his ribs and pull at the still healing muscles of his abdomen.

He stops stroking himself in response to the discomfort and the sudden loss of much needed friction causes his hips to twitch involuntarily, sending shooting pains through his fractured pelvis. 

“Mmmph.” Castiel bites his forearm to muffle the shout of pain attempting to escape his lips, scrunching  his eyes closed against the hurt. 

After taking a moment to gather himself, he opens his eyes and inhales shakily, before looking down sadly at his pitiful, wilting erection.

This isn’t the first time Castiel’s attempted and failed to masturbate since his accident, but it is the first time he’s thought of Dean while doing so and for some reason that makes it so much worse, especially when he recalls that he’s going to be seeing his friend in less than an hour.

So now, instead of getting to suffer through the embarrassment of facing his best friend after jerking off to thoughts of him in the shower, he gets to be sexually frustrated while facing his best friend after trying and failing to jerk off to thoughts of him in the shower.

So.  Much.  Worse.

His first “normal” shower in months effectively ruined, Castiel finds himself in an increasingly foul mood as he towels off and redresses.

 


 

“Cas?  You alright, buddy?” 

Dean narrows his eyes in concern as he tries, for the third time, to get his friend’s attention.

“Hmm? Yes, I’m fine,” Cas answers shortly, fidgeting restlessly against his pillows.  They’ve been sitting on Cas’ bed, ostensibly to watch TV, though neither of them have reached for the remote.  Truthfully, Dean would just as soon talk to Cas as watch Netflix, but the bedroom TV gives him an excuse to be closer to his friend and Dean is far too weak a man to resist such a temptation. 

You’ve reached new levels of pathetic, Winchester, taunts his inner monologue.

Dean doesn’t disagree.

Today though, something is clearly bothering his friend.  Dean hates to pry, but Cas is acting so out of the norm, it’s actually got him worried.  He’s been quiet and distant, sitting stiffly next to Dean in the bed, instead of relaxing against him the way he usually does.  Cas is a pretty tactile guy and normally Dean’s touch seems to ground him, something Dean noticed the very first time they met at Cas’ accident scene.  Right now though, Cas is almost flinching away from him every time their shoulders brush and he can’t help but wonder if he’s done something to offend or make him uncomfortable.

Shit.  Does Cas know about Dean’s crush on him?  Is that why he’s suddenly so uncomfortable? 

He’s been thinking more and more that maybe he isn’t in this alone, that maybe Cas is interested in him the same way he’s interested in Cas, but what if he’s got it all wrong? 

Son of a bitch.  No wonder Cas is freaking out!  You’d be freaking out too if someone you weren’t attracted to were lying next to you, perving on you in your own goddamn bed!

Dean’s gearing up into full-on panic mode when his years of therapy earn their goddamn keep for once and interrupt his spiral.

Or maybe it isn’t even about you at all, Winchester.  Not everything is about you.  Stow your shit and figure out what Cas needs right now, you goddamn egomaniac.

Okay, so maybe Dean still has some work to do when it comes to negative self-talk, but still, he did learn some things in therapy.

He decides to try a different approach, “So, how’s your pain?”

Cas gives him a flat look, “It’s fine.  I’m not in pain.”

Dean raises two disbelieving eyebrows.

Cas roles his eyes before amending, “I’m not in any more pain than usual.  I’m fine.”

“Sure,” Dean says, clasping his hands behind his head and stretching out on the bed, “’cause you sound fine.  Not short, or distant, or like you’d bite my head off as soon as look at me at all.  Perfectly fine.  Juuuuust peachy.”

Cas opens his mouth like he’s about to argue, before suddenly slumping back against the pillows and rubbing a defeated hand across his face.

“I’m sorry, Dean.  It’s not you.  I’m just... frustrated.”

“About what?  Maybe I can help.”  As quickly as Cas is healing, Dean knows his friend is often still frustrated with his lack of progress, missing being able to do so many of the simple, everyday things that able-bodied people take for granted.

Cas looks amused as he responds, “I don’t think so Dean.  Not with this.”

“Hey,” Dean can’t help but bristle slightly as he sits up on the bed and shifts to face Cas, “you don’t know that.  I’m not just a pretty face, you know. I can be pretty handy to have around in a pinch.”

Cas actually snorts and Dean narrows his eyes, “Look, I know you don’t like people doing everything for you, but maybe I can help you problem solve how to do it yourself.”

Cas bursts into full-on giggles, falling back against his pillows as his shoulders shake with laughter.

“Actually,” he wheezes, “I think ‘doing it myself,’ is the problem.”

Dean watches helplessly, feeling completely lost.

Seeing the expression on his face, Cas sobers.

“I’m sorry,” he pants, “It’s just... it’s not that kind of frustration.”

When all he gets is a confused look in reply, Cas elaborates, “Do you remember the Futurama meme you sent me in the hospital?”

Dean spends a moment trying to remember exactly which meme Cas is talking about (they’ve exchanged dozens of memes over the past couple months), when he notices that his friend is suddenly red-faced and his eyes are looking anywhere but Dean. 

Oh.

Oh.

“Oh, um... you mean?”  Dean gestures vaguely toward their laps, his own face suddenly matching Castiel’s.

“Yes,” Cas answers, “That.”

Dean thinks back to what Cas had said a moment ago about doing it himself being the problem.

He swallows.

Okay.  Dean can do this.  Dean can totally do this.  He can totally have a conversation about masturbation with the best friend who’s been making increasingly persistent cameos in Dean’s own masturbatory fantasies, despite his best efforts to not fucking go there.

They’ve made dick jokes before, right? This is just like that.

Dean’s got this.

“So,” he clears his throat awkwardly, “you said that you think doing it yourself is the problem?  So, what, you just can’t get your engine to turn over, or is your engine revved, but you can’t seem to get her to shift into gear?”

Cas’ shoots him a look that’s about three parts annoyance, two parts confusion, and one part silent horror.

Okay, so maybe Dean doesn’t got this.

“Dean, I’m not talking about this with you and even if I were talking about this with you, I’d have no idea what the hell you were just talking about.”

Dean’s about to snark back when he pauses and really looks at his friend.

Below the snark and false bravado, Cas looks both humiliated and hopelessly defeated.  His face is so red it’s starting to look almost purple and Dean feels his own embarrassment and awkwardness melt away.  He has to wipe that look off Cas’ face.

He has to.

Dean sighs, “Well then who are you going to talk about it with?  Gabe?”

Cas recoils in horror.

“God, no!”

“Well then,” Dean starts, “awkward car references aside, just tell me what the problem is.”

God this conversation would be a lot easier to have if they weren’t sitting on a fucking bed, but what are you gonna do?

Rubbing the bridge of his nose, Cas sighs, “It’s the pain.”

“You mean, when you...” Dean trails off and Cas nods.

“What kind of pain?”

“It’s mainly the laceration along my ribs.  With the angle, any... vigorous movement irritates the scar tissue and sets my entire side on fire,” Cas explains.

“So, you’re saying pulling on your pickle pulls on the laceration?” Dean clarifies with a grin.

Cas rolls his eyes, but he’s wearing his own small grin when he replies, “If you want to put it so crudely.”

“I do,” Dean interrupts cheerfully, glad to have finally broken through their earlier tension.

“Yes,” Cas finishes.

“Dude,” Dean has a sudden realization, “So you haven’t been able to actually... finish a, uh, self-care session since the accident?  That was more than two months ago!”

“Hence the frustration,” Cas answers defeatedly, “and why you can’t help.”

Trying to hold onto their light banter, Dean volleys with a waggle of his eyebrows, “Well, technically, I’m pretty sure I could help.”

Dean meant it as a joke.  He swears he did.

It sounds more like an offer.

Cas arches an eyebrow, “Oh really?  Do you help all your friends achieve orgasm, Dean?”

“Only the hot ones,” Dean answers easily, before continuing with a smirk, “or the really, really pathetic ones.”

“How noble of you,” responds Cas drily.

Dean shrugs.

“What can I say?  I’m a giver.”

Cas snorts, but there’s something a little vulnerable in his eyes when he asks, “So which one am I, then?  Hot or pathetic?”

Dean mentally flails, searching desperately for his cocky demeanor of a moment ago, but there’s nothing but breathless honesty in his voice when he murmurs, “Nothing pathetic about you, Cas.”

Cas’ eyes widen as they meet Dean’s and then suddenly those eyes are a lot closer.  Dean’s not sure when he leaned in toward Cas, or when Cas sat up to meet him, but suddenly they’re there, lips inches apart. 

Dean wants to close the gap so badly, but he holds himself back, whispering, “When was your last dose of pain medication, Cas?”

“Hours ago.  I assure you, Dean, I’m of sound mind, if not body, and fully able to consent...”

The rest of Cas’ reply is lost to the light press of Dean’s lips against his, one of Dean’s hands rising to cup the English teacher’s stubbled cheek. 

Cas lets out a tiny sound that’s almost a whimper and then suddenly his mouth surges against Dean’s, deepening the kiss and drinking Dean in.  Dean pours himself into the kiss, into Cas.  Electric sparks sizzle across Dean’s spine as he runs the tip of his tongue along the seam of Cas’ lips. Cas opens eagerly, his own tongue meeting Dean’s with a familiarity and comfort that shouldn’t be possible in a first kiss. 

Cas begins to sink down against the pillows again, slowly pulling away from Dean’s lips before surging back up to kiss him again and again, lying back a little further each time and drawing Dean down with him using nothing but his lips, his elbows and forearms braced against the bed, supporting his weight.  Dean goes willingly, until he’s lying on his side, hovering over Cas, careful not to put any pressure on his injured friend.

As they continue to kiss, Cas relaxes into the mattress and finally brings a hand up, sliding his fingers into Dean’s hair and tightening them there, as if he’s trying to keep Dean from pulling away... as if there’s anywhere in this goddamn world Dean would rather be.

Moaning at the sensation, he kisses Cas deeper.  It’s still cautious, still careful, but also fucking fantastic.  He moves his right hand from Cas’ cheek down to his uninjured side.  When he feels Cas’ stomach muscles jump beneath his palm, he slides his hand under Cas’ t’shirt, dragging it slowly upwards. 

Suddenly, Cas’ fingers clench in Dean’s hair and he rips himself away from Dean’s mouth, panting, “Dean, I... I can’t.”

Instantly, Dean releases Cas and rolls away from him, breath ragged and eyes wild as they roam up and down his friend’s body, looking for signs of pain or distress.

“What’s wrong?  Are you okay?  Fuck, did I hurt you?” Dean asks frantically.

“No.  No.  Dean, I’m fine,” Cas assures him as Dean takes a shaky breath.

“Then what’s wrong?  Do you... do you not want this?”  Dean hates how timid he sounds, but he can’t fucking help it. 

“Fuck, I’m sorry, Cas.  I thought we were on the same page.  I shouldn’t have...”

Dean stops talking as Cas’ hand covers his mouth.

“Dean, I wouldn’t have spent ten minutes kissing you back if I didn’t want this.  It’s not that.”

Once Cas removes his hand, Dean asks, “Then what is it?  Too fast?”

“Not exactly,” Cas hedges.

Dean waits and Cas looks away, face reverting to its previous crimson shade.

“It’s just... I look different now, since the accident.  You might think I’m, ‘hot,’ with my shirt on, but...” he trails off, eyes still locked on his fingers where they fidget nervously in his lap.

Ever slow on the uptake (and still more than a little dazed from that kiss), Dean stares stupidly for a moment until realization strikes.

Scars.  Cas is worried that Dean won’t be attracted to him because of his accident scars.

Dean can’t help it.

He laughs.

Cas head snaps up and his eyes lock on Dean’s, incredulous and hurt.

Dean sobers immediately.

“Cas,” he says softly, reaching out and gently tugging the other man’s chin up when Cas tries to duck his head again, “Scars or no scars, you’re incredible, every inch of you. That accident should have killed you, but it didn’t.  You’re a goddamn miracle, Cas.”

Cas blushes, but insists stubbornly, “Miracle or not, Dean, my body’s still ruined.”

Dean hesitates, almost afraid to ask his next question.  The answer could decide a hell of a lot about their friendship.

“Is that really how you feel?” His voice is barely a whisper.  “That people with scars are ruined?  That someone stops being attractive just because their body changes or gets damaged?”

“What?  Of course not!” Cas looks horrified at the thought and Dean relaxes. 

“Good,” Dean says, giving Cas a pointed look, “Me neither.”

He takes a deep breath, “But, in case you need more convincing, there’s something you should probably see.”

Dean twists himself around until he’s facing away from Cas, then reaches over his head and grips the back of his Henley, pulling it off in one swift motion.

He closes his eyes as Cas lets out a quiet gasp behind him.

 


 

Castiel lets out a startled gasp as Dean’s back is revealed to him.  The skin on his friend’s back is gnarled and discolored; raised in angry, crisscrossing pink and white ridges. 

The scars, burn scars, he realizes with a start, wrap around the top of Dean’s right shoulder and extend down his friend’s back in a foot-wide diagonal arc, licking around his left hip like the flames that left them. 

“The fire,” he murmurs, “it wasn’t just your mother who was hurt.”

“Yeah,” Dean whispers hoarsely.  “I told you things went to shit after my dad told Sam and me to get outta there.  We’d almost made it to the door when the living room ceiling started to cave in.  I shoved Sammy out of the way in time, but I got pinned to the floor by a support beam.  This is why I was out of school so long.”

“This is what Cassie couldn’t deal with,” Castiel finishes Dean’s unspoken thought.

“Yeah.”

He reaches out and rests a comforting hand on Dean’s scarred shoulder, only to lift it again when Dean jumps.

 “I’m sorry.  Should I not have?”

“No! I mean, yeah, it’s fine,” Dean assures, turning back around to face him.  “It’s just that it usually takes people a while to get used to the scars is all.  Most people aren’t exactly comfortable touching them right away.”

Castiel frowns, “I’m not touching your scars.  I’m touching you.”

Dean smiles softly at him and Castiel is suddenly reminded that Dean Winchester, the Greek god who moonlights as a local fire-fighting, probably-kitten-rescuing hero, is sitting in front of him, shirtless. 

His eyes roam the expanse of Dean’s broad, chiseled pectorals and biceps, before trailing downward.  Dean’s stomach may be less defined than his chest, but it’s no less attractive for it, firm with just a bit of softness that Castiel can see himself biting and sucking marks into.

As his eyes make their way back to Dean’s, Castiel sees his own lust and desire reflected there.  Dean licks his lips and Castiel inhales deeply, before reaching for the hem of his shirt and carefully peeling it off.  He holds Dean’s eyes until the t-shirt blocks his view as he pulls it over his head. 

When he discards the shirt and looks back at Dean, he finds his friend looking him over appreciatively, his roaming eyes just as hot and hungry as they had been a moment ago.

“Beautiful,” Dean murmurs and Castiel blushes, even as he reaches for the firefighter.

Dean follows willingly as Castiel lays back against the pillows, resuming their former position. 

“Just for the record,” he murmurs as he strokes the side of Dean’s face, “I think you’re beautiful too.”  He smiles shyly, “And I’ve thought you were a goddamn miracle since the first moment we met.”

Dean beams at him and Castiel wraps a hand around the firefighter’s neck, pulling him in to taste the sunshine.

This time, when Dean’s hand begins to roam along Castiel’s abdomen, he arches into it, moaning as Dean’s fingers trail upward and his thumb grazes a nipple.

Dean’s clever mouth traces along Castiel’s jawline, leaving wet kisses in its wake as he moves toward Castiel’s ear.

“Lemme take care of you, Cas,” Dean mouth is hot and wet against his ear and Castiel shudders and nods helplessly as Dean sucks gently on his earlobe.

Dean begins moving downward again, sucking kisses into Castiel’s neck as he goes.  Castiel feels those plump lips curl up in a smile against his throat when he groans and winds his fingers back into Dean’s hair.  The firefighter hums against his collarbone and Castiel shivers as electric tingles spread through his body.

Fuck.  Dean is everywhere at once.  He still feels the ghost of Dean’s last kiss on his lips and the sharp sting of the hickey Dean sucked into his collarbone, even as he feels the man’s thumb continue to fondle one pebbled nipple while he sucks on the other, swirling the tip of his tongue around the hardened nub.

It’s amazing, and completely overwhelming, and nowhere near enough.

“Dean,” Castiel begs, voice entirely wrecked, “touch me, please!”

“Shh, I’ve got you, sweetheart,” Dean soothes.

Castiel’s stomach leaps at the endearment he’s heard only one other time from his firefighter.  Fisting his hand in Dean’s short hair, he hauls the man upward and crashes their lips together.  He kisses Dean like he’s starving for it, devouring the other man’s mouth relentlessly until they’re forced to separate by the unfortunate and annoying necessity of breathing.

Dean grins wolfishly as he runs his fingers under the elastic of Castiel’s pajama pants, eliciting a whimper. 

“Can we take these off?”

Castiel nods weakly and presses his arms against the mattress as he lifts his hips, silently thanking his physical therapist for making him do those fucking bridges.  Very gently, Dean eases Castiel’s pants down his hips, muttering a soft, “Fuck,” when he sees that Castiel isn’t wearing any boxers underneath.  He slowly pulls the soft flannel all the way down Castiel’s legs, tossing them to other side of the bed once they’re off.

Having stripped Castiel bare in more ways than one, Dean sits back on his heels and surveys the man below him.  Castiel feels himself growing impossibly harder with Dean eyeing him hungrily.  He knows he must look absolutely debauched:  panting desperately, wild hair in total disarray, eyes shining, cheeks and chest flushed pink with desire, taut muscles quivering in anticipation, his cock standing proud and erect.  Dean takes it all in, pressing a hand against the growing bulge in his own jeans.

Castiel grimaces.

“Dean,” he starts, “I, um, probably won’t be able to reciprocate...”

Dean silences him with a kiss. “This isn’t about me. It’s for you.  All for you.”

Dean slides down and gingerly settles himself between Castiel’s legs, before he looks up at him.

“I’m gonna make you feel so good, sweetheart, but you’ve gotta keep still, okay?”

Nodding desperately, Castiel takes a look at Dean and nearly weeps at the sight of this gorgeous Adonis between his legs, looking up at him through long, dark eyelashes. 

Bracing his weight on his forearms, Dean licks a long stripe up Castiel’s cock, which leaps joyfully in response, eliciting a loud and filthy groan from Castiel.

“Dean,” he whines, far past caring about how needy and pathetic he must sound, “Don’t tease me. I can’t take it.”

Instead of answering, Dean wraps his lips around Castiel and takes him in to the hilt in one smooth motion, surrounding Castiel’s aching cock in hot, wet heat.  He bobs his head slowly, pulling almost all the way off before swallowing Castiel back down time and again as if the firefighter’s never even heard of a gag reflex. 

As a particularly shameless moan escapes Castiel’s throat, Dean pulls back, swirling his tongue around Castiel’s cockhead before pulling all the way off and shooting him a cocky smirk.

“Better,” he asks hoarsely?

“Uuuungh.”

Dean chuckles and cocks a smug eyebrow at Castiel before resuming his apparent and resoundingly successful mission to melt each and every one of Castiel’s brain cells. 

Increasing his suction, Dean begins to bob his head faster, pulling a litany of helpless moans, whimpers, and garbled praise from Castiel.

“Fuck, Dean, your mouth.  So good.  So fucking perfect.”

Dean moans around Castiel’s cock in response and Castiel feels the heat in his belly ratcheting up, that familiar release that’s been denied to him for so many weeks finally edging closer.

Castiel looks down at Dean, the muscles in his neck and biceps straining as he surges up and down on Castiel’s spit-slick cock, while being careful not to rest any of his weight on Castiel’s body.  It can’t be a comfortable position for Dean, but the man is completely undeterred, his single-minded focus on bringing Castiel pleasure and fuck, is that hot.

“Dean, close.  So close.  You’re gonna make me come if you keep this up.”

Dean pops off with an obscene squelching noise and locks eyes with Castiel, green on blue.

“Come for me, sweetheart.”

Without waiting for a response, he takes Castiel back into his mouth, swallowing him down until Castiel feels the head of his cock hit the back of Dean’s throat.

Dean’s words ringing in his ears, Castiel’s coming down the other man’s throat with a strangled cry only moments later.

The exhaustion that hits Castiel following his first orgasm in almost ten weeks probably shouldn’t be surprising given his physical and emotional state these days, but it is.  He somehow feels both impossibly content and incredibly guilty at the same time, as he snuggles into the blanket Dean pulls over them.

“But, you didn’t...” he begins awkwardly, his apology interrupted by a yawn.

“Shh... I told you, Cas.  It wasn’t about me.  I’m good, believe me.” Dean soothes, pressing a kiss against Cas’ temple.  “Sleep now, sweetheart.”

“Dean, stay with me?” Cas slurs tiredly, already halfway asleep.

“Always, Cas.  Always.”

Castiel’s last conscious thought before he drifts off in the firefighter’s arms, is that Dean even sounds like he means it.

 

Chapter Text

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Castiel stirs as he hears the distant sound of a key turning in the apartment door. 

Gabriel must be home, he muses as he settles his cheek back against the soft pillow of hair attached to the head currently nestled against his shoulder. 

Dean’s hair, Castiel recalls with a sleepy, sated smile.  Dean’s head.

Wait.  Gabriel is home? 

“Cassie?  Dean-O?  You guys better be decent!  There are young, impressionable eyes out here, you know!  And Claire’s here too!”

Gabriel is home!

He and Dean both start, suddenly and violently awake, Castiel hissing at the pain the movement causes to shoot through his lower half.

“Shhh!” Dean shushes him frantically, earning himself a glare. 

With an apologetic grimace, Dean scrambles for their clothes.  Blushing, he tosses Castiel’s t-shirt and pajama pants to him before pulling on his Henley and rushing out to distract Gabriel while Castiel dresses much more slowly and carefully.

By the time Castiel makes it to the front room, Dean’s already got his shoes on and is slowly backing toward the front door.  Jacket in hand, hair mussed, cheek still flushed red where it was pressed against Castiel’s bare chest just minutes ago, Dean looks for all the world like a teenager who just got walked in on by his prom date’s parents.

Castiel grimaces, just barely resisting the urge to run a hand through his own sex-tangled hair in frustration.  Dean couldn’t broadcast what they’d been up to any more loudly if he were screaming it into a loudspeaker.    

Mustering the few, remaining shreds of his dignity as Gabriel watches with a gleeful smirk, Castiel swallows and shoots Dean a weak smile, “Have a good night, Dean.”

“Yeah, you too, Cas.”  The smile he gives Cas is uncertain, but warm. 

“We’ll talk later,” he says pointedly and Castiel nods before Dean turns and practically stumbles out of the apartment door in his haste to flee this very uncomfortable situation.

“Well, Claire-Bear,” Gabriel booms jovially as the hoists the baby from her carrier, “I suppose you and I are supposed to just pretend there wasn’t anything weird about that little exchange at all.  What do you think?  Should we play along?”

He tickles Claire’s tummy and she responds by blowing raspberries at her uncle, one of the many unsavory traits Gabriel has been determined to teach her.

“Yeah, me either, kiddo.”

Red-faced but determined, Castiel turns his wheelchair to glare at his brother, who immediately bursts into laughter.

“What?” he asks shortly.

“Nothing,” Gabriel chokes out between chortles as he bounces Claire on his hip, “I’ve just never seen someone manage to do the walk of shame while A: not being able to walk, and B: already in their own apartment.”

“What makes you think I’ve done something to be ashamed of?” 

“Da,” Claire interrupts, clearly annoyed that she hasn’t received her usual warm greeting from her father.

“Sorry, sweet girl,” he says, reaching up to take the squirming baby from Gabriel as she stretches out her arms.  Castiel grins.  He still gets a warm feeling in his chest every time Claire reaches for him. 

“That’s where you’ve got it wrong, baby bro.  I’m not the one who thinks you should be ashamed.  Whatever you have or have not done with one stunningly attractive, ridiculously available, and completely gone on you firefighter, it’s nothing that you should feel ashamed or guilty about,” Gabe answers as he preheats the oven and pulls one of the many casseroles sent home with Charlie by Castiel’s surprisingly thoughtful coworkers out of the fridge.

In fact, the generosity of Castiel’s colleagues has been remarkable.  Sure, Castiel is on much better terms with most of them than with Walker, but with the exception of Charlie, he wouldn’t exactly consider himself close with any of them.  They trade casual chit chat by the microwave in the staff lounge and nods in the hallways, but that’s generally it.  Despite that lack of intimacy, Castiel’s fellow teachers and school system employees have not only created a meal train to fill his freezer full of easily reheated meals for his family, they’ve also donated enough sick leave through the teacher union’s leave donation program to cover Castiel’s entire six-month absence.  He won’t miss a single paycheck while he’s gone.  Between the leave donations and his school system’s excellent health insurance, Castiel will (eventually) walk away from the kind of medical trauma that could easily leave a less fortunate person bankrupt or even homeless, paying no more than the modest co-pays for all of his follow-up visits and therapies.  It makes him teary-eyed to even think about how his coworkers have come together to put food on the table for his family while he’s not able to, both figuratively and literally. 

Needing a moment to recover his equilibrium after Gabriel’s comment and his own emotional recollection, Castiel ignores his brother and focuses instead on his daughter.

“Daddy missed you today,” he coos planting kisses all over Claire’s face, to her delighted giggles.  He spends a couple more minutes playing with Claire and nuzzling her soft curls until he can no longer ignore the feeling of his older brother’s eyes boring into him across the kitchen peninsula. 

“I am not ashamed,” he mumbles, “of Dean or anything we may or may not have done together, which I am certainly not confirming nor discussing with you.”

“So, guilty it is then,” Gabriel nods, as if he suspected as much.

“I didn’t say that,” Castiel pouts.

“Well, you didn’t not say it,” Gabriel points out, gesturing with the large plastic spoon he’s using to stir the casserole before putting it in the oven to cook.

“What makes you think I feel guilty?” Castiel deflects weakly as Claire begins to squirm.

“Dow,” she demands, wiggling her way off Castiel’s lap.  He sets her on the floor and watches as she crawls toward her toys in the living room, avoiding his brother’s gaze.

Gabriel sighs and leans his hip against the kitchen countertop, arms crossed.  “Because I know you, Castiel.  I know how that head of yours works.  You’re probably already trying to convince yourself that this thing with Dean can’t work, because of Claire, as if you somehow owe it to Claire to be alone and miserable forever just because the world’s largest-but-least-useful douche nozzle walked out on the two of you.”

Castiel shifts uncomfortably in his wheelchair.

 “Gabriel, that’s not...”

“Look Cassie, I’m not saying you have to date Dean if you really aren’t into him.  I’m just saying you shouldn’t rule out the possibility because Asshole McFuckface didn’t know a good thing when he had it.  Dean’s not him.”

Not liking where this conversation is headed, Castiel rolls his eyes and tries for levity.

“I know that Dean’s not Bart, Gabriel.  For one thing, he’s a much better kisser.”

Gabriel looks both shocked and impressed at Castiel’s admission.

Castiel smirks. 

“Nice try at a distraction there, kiddo,” Gabriel counters, eyes narrowing, “but I’m not that easy.”

“I’m sure I can round up the phone numbers of at least a dozen women who’ll disagree.”

“Cut the crap, Castiel,” Gabe warns in his seldom-used big-brother voice, “I’m trying to have a serious broment, here.”

Castiel’s smirk turns into a grimace, but he quiets, making a slightly sulky go on gesture as he glares at his brother.

“Dean’s not Bart,” Gabriel says seriously.  The use of his ex’s actual name draws Castiel’s eyes to his brother’s as Gabriel continues in a softer voice, “and he’s not me either.”

Before Castiel can interrupt, Gabe talks over him, “And he’s not Mom, or Dad, or Zach, or anyone else who’s been stupid enough to live their life without you in it.  Don’t punish him and yourself for other people’s mistakes.”

Expression softening, Castiel sighs, “Gabriel, I don’t blame you for leaving home.  I never have.  You did what you had to.  I was happy for you when you got out of there.  I still am.”

“Doesn’t mean it didn’t still affect you.” Gabriel looks at him pointedly.  “As a kid you were shy, but curious.  Now?  You’re cautious.  Guarded.  You don’t let people in.  There’s a reason you’ve only got two friends, Cassie, and contrary to whatever lies you might tell yourself, it’s not because people don’t like you.  The number of casserole dishes in your freezer right now proves that.”

“That still doesn’t make it your fault, Gabriel.  You’re not responsible for me.”

Rolling his eyes, Gabriel argues, “Of course I’m responsible for you.  I’m your big brother.”

In spite of himself, Castiel chuckles, “Now you sound like Dean.”

Spinning around, Gabriel points dramatically at Castiel with his spoon, “Do not tell him I said this, but Dean-O’s actually a pretty great guy.  I think the two of you could be pretty great together too, so just do yourself a favor and try not to fuck this up.”

Exasperated, Castiel counters, “Gabriel, there’s nothing to fuck up.  Right now, Dean and I are just friends.  We haven’t even had a chance to talk about whether or not that’s going to change.  I don't even know for sure that Dean wants that to change.  Just because we may or may not have done... something together, doesn’t mean that Dean wants anything more than friendship with me.  It certainly doesn’t mean he’s ready to take on the responsibilities of a serious relationship and parenthood, which is the only direction any kind of relationship with me can go.”

Gabriel turns back toward the countertop with a groan and thunks his head against a cabinet door.

“He’s totally going to fuck this up,” he says disbelievingly to the kitchen cabinets before walking past Castiel and scooping up Claire in the living room.

“C’mon Claire-Bear,” he sing-songs in his most obnoxious baby-talk voice, “let’s go change your diaper while Daddy stews in denial and self-sabotage.”

“By the way,” he calls over his shoulder to Castiel as he carries Claire to the nursery, “regarding that something that may or may not have happened with Dean, you missed a button on your shirt and your pants are inside out.”

 


 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

“Well, hey there Captain Hot Pants.  Those jeans get any tighter and I won’t have to imagine what your fire hose looks like anymore.”

Dean rolls his eyes before turning around to face the short, curvy brunette openly admiring his backside, “Hello, Meg.  You sexually harass all your clients, or am I just special?”

“Technically, you’re not my client, Ken Doll, Clarence is.  He’s off-limits.”  Meg pouts for a moment before her expression brightens, “That’s okay though, he might have that sexy smite-look down, but you’re more fun to play with.”  Smirking, she looks Dean over with a predatory glance that does not make him shift uncomfortably.

“Lucky me,” he says flatly.

“Oh, sweet cheeks, you have no idea.  But unfortunately for little old me, someone else has called dibs,” Meg puts on exaggerated pout and nods across the room to the pretty redhead stuffing Claire’s folded blanket into her already bursting diaper bag.

“Anna?” Dean asks with a raise of his eyebrows.

“What’s wrong with Anna?” Meg asks, defensive.  “She’s an angel!”

“Nothing,” Dean assures her quickly before shrugging, “I’ve just never really thought about it and she’s never said anything, so...”

Meg rolls her eyes, “What, do women usually just jump you the first time they set eyes on those beautiful bow legs of yours?”

Before Dean can even begin to formulate a response to that, she holds up a hand, “You know what?  On second thought, don’t answer that.  They probably do.”

Anna, owner and teacher at Little Angels Childcare and Preschool, is currently bundling Claire into a green fleece jacket with white polka dots.   She’s undeniably pretty with her slim frame, light brown eyes, and vibrant red hair.  Under different circumstances, Dean wouldn’t hesitate to put on the Winchester charm and see if he could put a blush on Anna’s pretty features to match her hair color.  Now though, he’s only got eyes for one teacher.

Christ.  When did he turn into such a goddamn sap?

“Look, she-demon, I’m just here to get my kid and get out.  Believe it or not, I don’t prowl around preschools looking for dates.”

Meg shrugs, “You should.  Plenty of desperate single moms around this joint.  And, ‘your kid,’ huh?  What’s that about Dean-o?”

Dean blushes as Meg raises an eyebrow, “You know what I mean.  She’s my responsibility until I deliver her safely home to Cas.”

“And how is Hot Wheels?” Meg asks, sounding more genuine than she has so far. 

Dean softens in spite of himself.

“Good,” he answers, “Still healing and still has his bad days, but he’s getting stronger every day.  Only a few more weeks until he can start walking again.”

He can feel the idiotic smile creeping across his face, but he’ll be damned if he can help it.  He’s just so damn proud of Cas.  The guy has been through some real shit the past few months, but he’s worked so goddamn hard and Dean’s thrilled that it’s paying off.

“Are you sweet on my unicorn, Winchester?” Meg asks and it’s as close to gentle as her tone ever gets.  She’s wearing a look that’s way more perceptive than Dean is comfortable with. 

Trying to ignore the renewed heat in his cheeks, he opens his mouth to deny her (incredibly accurate) observation, but is blissfully saved from responding by a sudden joyful screech.  Dean’s pretty sure he didn’t know that screeches could, in fact, be joyful until he met Claire.

“Dee!”

“Heya, Blondie!  How’s my favorite girl?”  Dean gives Claire his usual greeting before planting a kiss on her golden hair and looking up to a warm smile from Anna.

“Hi, Dean,” the petite ginger greets as she hands over the chubby baby already stretching her arms out toward Dean.

“Hi, Anna.  Thanks.”   

Dean and Anna both chuckle as Claire immediately snuggles into Dean’s shoulder and pops a thumb in her mouth.

“Aww, are you tired, sweet girl?” Dean asks, stroking Claire’s soft curls and rocking her slowly, side-to-side, before glancing back up at Anna, “How’d she do today?”

As Anna briefly recounts Claire’s day, Dean starts to relax, thinking Meg had him worried for nothing.  He’s so relieved that he almost misses it when Anna suddenly changes directions.

“So, Dean,” she starts, an unfamiliar shy expression on the usually confident teacher’s face, “I was wondering if you’d like to get coffee some time?”

Behind Anna’s back, Meg shoots Dean a pointed, I-told-you-so look. 

“Um, well,” Dean fumbles, looking for some way to let Anna down that won’t end with him having to explain to Cas why he can never pick Claire up from Little Angels again.

It’s Meg that saves him from answering this time, although “saves,” probably isn’t the right word.

“I wouldn’t get your hopes up there, Red,” she smirks, “Our firefighter here is definitely hot for teacher, but I’m pretty sure he’s not looking for the bubbly, preschool variety.”

At Anna’s interested eyebrow raise Meg continues, “I think the model he’s interested in has sex-hair, a permanent scowl, and is currently the hottest thing on four wheels.”

Dean adopts his own scowl as Anna’s brown eyes light up in delighted realization. 

“Is that so, Dean?  You’ve got a thing for Castiel?  Well, in that case, I concede.  No way am I going to compete with those biceps and baby blues,” she announces with a smirk that matches Megs, the shy expression and hesitant tone of voice vanishing so quickly and completely it makes Dean’s head spin.

Still swaying with the dozing baby, he glares.

“One,” he starts, pointing at Meg, “my car is and always will be the hottest thing on four wheels.  Two,” he switches his glare to Anna, “I do not have a thing for Cas.”

“Good,” chirps Meg with a sinister grin, “then you’re free to go out with Anna after all!”

Dean gapes.  Shit.

“Fabulous,” Anna chimes in with her best innocent smile that’s not fooling Dean for a goddamn second this time.  “How about this weekend?  Unless,” she pauses, her expression falling into mock sadness, “it’s just that you’re not interested in me.  Am I just so unattractive that you can’t even go on one date with me, Dean?”

“Dean-O,” Meg chastises before Dean can get a word in edgewise, “how could you be so cruel?  It took a lot of nerve for Anna to ask you out like that.  This’ll crush the poor girl’s confidence!”

“It’s true,” Anna nods seriously, “I’m fragile.”

“So, is that how it’s going to be, Winchester?  You’re just going to leave poor Anna feeling all heartbroken and rejected, thinking that she’s so repulsive the great sex-god Dean Winchester can’t even get a cup of coffee with her?”

Dean opens his mouth to defend himself, then immediately wonders why he bothered.

Or, could it be possible that you’ve already got that flannel-wrapped heart set one someone else?”

The two women stare at Dean expectantly.

He glares at them.

Two sets of eyebrows raise in silent demand, the exact replica of a move Cas uses on him at least twice a week.

Goddammit.  How do teachers DO that?  Do they teach them that in teacher college?

Dean drops his head in defeat and is faced with devilish twin grins.

“You both suck.”

“Not yet, I don’t, but if you play your cards ri...”

“Shut up, Meg!”

Rubbing his temple in a futile attempt to dull the throb of his suddenly aching head, he sighs, “Fine, if it’ll shut you up, I might have a thing for Cas.  Are you two harpies happy now?”

Knowing that his face his as red as Anna’s hair, Dean hopes desperately that with his scowl he can pass for pissed off instead of mortified.

“Good luck with Castiel, Dean,” Anna smiles kindly, finally handing over Claire’s diaper bag so Dean can escape with what little dignity he has left.

Meg, however, seems completely undeterred by Dean’s murderous expression.  Her Cheshire Cat grin is unnerving.

“I have questions.”

“The answers are no, hell no, and none of your goddamn business,” Dean snarks as he turns and begins to head toward the exit with Claire.

“Take care of my unicorn, Winchester!” Meg calls after him, “And if the two of you ever wanna order a pizza and move some furniture around, you know where to find me!”

“In your dreams, you psycho!”

“Oh, you can count on that, stud!” 

Meg’s cackling follows Dean out of the daycare’s front doors and into the parking lot.

Sighing and feeling suddenly exhausted, he buckles Claire into her car seat before slipping behind Baby’s wheel.  Great, between Gabe and the Babysitter’s Club, that’s now three people who think there’s something going on between him and Cas.  Dean just wishes he knew if there’s something going on between him and Cas.  He blushes as he recalls his less than graceful exit from Cas’ apartment the other night, under Gabe’s gleeful gaze.  Dean thought he was halfway covering, telling Gabe about how they’d fallen asleep watching movies again.  Then Cas had come in the room looking fucking debauched:  shirt misbuttoned, flannel pants inside-out, and no bedhead has ever looked that freshly fucked.  There was no denying what they’d been up to after that.  So, Dean did the only reasonable thing he could think of:  he ran, just like he had when his homecoming date’s dad had caught him with his hand under her dress sophomore year.

It’s been two days since Dean stumbled out of Cas’ front door and they’ve exchanged a meager handful of text messages since then, mostly confirming plans regarding Claire.  It’s a painfully noticeable change for them.  The lengthy text exchanges they began early in their friendship have only increased over time and unless Dean’s on a call, he doesn’t usually go more than a couple of hours without hearing from Cas.  The scattered and to-the-point conversations of the past few days feel like the deafening silence that follows an avalanche. 

He’s sure Cas is freaking out as much as he is, but Dean still hasn’t been able to bring himself to just call the guy.  Today will be the first time they’re face-to-face since... well, since.  He’s hoping Cas’ll let him stick around to talk when he drops off Claire. He knows the near radio silence over the past two days doesn’t bode well for him, but still, he doesn’t regret what they did.  If Cas decides he doesn’t want this, whatever this is, it’ll hurt, but they’ll get past it.  He’s not going to lose his best friend over sex. Because that’s all Tuesday was about.  Sex. 

Never mind that you didn’t even come and yet it was still some of the best goddamn sex of your life, you deluded asshole.

Dean’s still telling his inner monologue to fuck right off, thank you very much, when he and Claire walk into Cas’ apartment.  Maybe that’s why he doesn’t recognize the female voice he hears until he reaches the dining room and sees the pair seated at the table.

“Lydia?”

 


 

“Well Castiel, I’m both pleased and a little sad to say this will be our last session together.  Castiel?”

Castiel shakes himself and focuses on the smiling occupational therapist across from him.  He’s been more than a little distracted during their session today, his thoughts turning repeatedly to a certain green-eyed firefighter.

It’s been two days since he’s seen Dean and they haven’t talked about what happened between them Tuesday afternoon.  In fact, they’ve barely talked at all. Castiel isn’t proud to admit that he’s been avoiding Dean, but he still has no idea what he’s going to say to his friend, which is problematic, since Dean is due to bring Claire home any minute.

“It’s hard to believe.  Thank you, though, for helping me get back to being me again.”

On the one hand, Tuesday afternoon was... incredible. Amazing. Phenomenal.  Better than any sex you ever had with Bart, Castiel’s brain helpfully supplies.

“Don’t thank me.  You did all the hard work!”

On the other hand, is any sex, regardless how... mind-blowing, life-changing, earth—

“Well, I still thank you for your help.  I couldn’t have done it without you,” Castiel interrupts his traitorous brain.

Is even the best sex worth risking his friendship with Dean?  It’s possible that a relationship between them could last, but Castiel’s not naïve.  He knows the cards are stacked against them.  Would a few months of passion with one of the best friends he’s ever had really be worth it if things fell apart?  How could they go back to being friends after that?  Will they even be able to go back now?

“It was my pleasure, Castiel.  You’re a dream patient, believe me.” 

“Lydia?”

Castiel and Lydia both jump at the sudden interruption and look up at the dining room doorway.  Dean stands there, holding a squirming Claire, whom they’d recently upgraded from the baby carrier to a “big girl car seat.” 

Castiel tries to force a nervous smile, before realizing that Dean’s attention is entirely riveted on his OT. 

“Oh, Dean.  You know Lydia?  She’s my occupational therapist.  I guess I never told you her name,” Castiel winces and looks apologetically at Lydia, “Dean is my... friend.”  He suppresses a cringe at both his hesitation and the word, “friend,” and thinks he notices a slight wince from Dean too. 

Oh, for goodness sake.  Can this get any more awkward?

“We used to date,” Dean blurts out, finally looking away from Lydia, but still not meeting Cas’ eyes.

Oh, look at that.  It can.

“A long time ago,” Lydia finishes smoothly, smiling at Castiel before turning back to Dean.

“It’s good to see you again, Dean.  I’d like to say you look better than you did the day we broke up, but then, I wouldn’t really know.  You didn’t leave a picture with that note on my pillow.”  Her voice is teasing, but her smile is sharp.  Castiel shifts uncomfortably. 

Dean’s mouth tightens and his face reddens slightly, but he looks more angry than embarrassed.

“Well, like you said, it was a long time ago and I think you and I may remember that break-up a little differently.” 

“Dean,” Castiel starts, intending to ask Dean to wait in the living room while he walks Lydia out, but Dean beats him to it.

“Anna said Claire had a good day at daycare.  I hate to run, but I’ve got some errands that I’ve gotta get taken care of before work tonight.”

“Dean,” Castiel tries again as the firefighter dumps both Claire and the diaper bag into his lap, “We should really—”

“Soon, Cas.” Dean says, holding his eyes for a moment, green on blue, “I promise.”

Castiel barely has a chance to nod before he watches Dean rush out of his apartment for the second time in one week.

Castiel is still pondering that when Lydia speaks again.

“So... You and Dean, huh?  He might be charming and easy on the eyes, but I’d be careful with that one if I were you.”

“We’re just friends,” Castiel defends automatically, but Lydia just looks at him, lips quirking in amusement.

“We were friends first, too,” she adds, “but then...”

“But then?”

“Well, you know, he’s Dean.  He’s big and loud and charming and when he smiles at you it feels like you’re the only person in the room.  He’s impossible to resist.”  She sounds wistful and Castiel feels an ache behind his ribcage because he does know. 

“What happened?”  He doesn’t mean to ask.  This is something he should hear from Dean and only if Dean wants to tell him, but the question is out before he can pull it back.

She shrugs, “Things were really great at first.  I thought he was the one.  That we’d start a family someday.  Really make a go of it.”

Her smile turns bitter, “But then we had a pregnancy scare and I learned that no matter how much he talks about his family, Dean Winchester isn’t the settling down type.”

She looks pointedly at Claire in a way that has Castiel tightening his arms around his daughter before she continues, “At least, that’s the impression I got when he disappeared from my bedroom early one morning while I was still sleeping, nothing but a scribbled note telling me it was over.”

“He just left?”  Castiel feels his heart turn to ice in his chest.  This can’t be.  His worst fear confirmed about the one person he thought might actually stay.

“Yep.  He wouldn’t even answer my calls, other than once, to tell me that it was over and we had nothing to talk about.  Today was the first time I’ve seen him since then.”

They sit in silence for a moment, as Castiel tries to process this information. 

“But, who knows?  Maybe he’s changed,” Lydia finishes lamely as she gathers her things and stands to leave, shooting Castiel a pitying look that says she doesn’t believe it for a minute.

After Lydia leaves, Castiel keeps replaying her words in his head as he plays idly with his baby in the living room.  He’s so distracted, he can’t even feel properly victorious when he manages to change a squirming Claire’s diaper on the sofa without managing to injure either or them or ruin the cushion.

It can’t be true.  None of this sounds at all like the Dean he knows.  The Dean who falls asleep in Castiel’s bed watching Futurama reruns.  The Dean who plays airplane with Claire, jiggling her in the air until she starts making those adorable high-pitched squeak-toy noises.  The Dean who takes sticky, ice-cream coated selfies with a ten-month-old.  The Dean who cooks them dinner and puts Claire to bed and tells Castiel that his ex was a douchebag for leaving.

Castiel feels slightly reassured as he recalls memory after memory of Dean, realizing now more than ever just how much space the firefighter takes up in he and Claire’s lives.  Space that Castiel never knew was empty until Dean filled it.  Now he knows though, there would definitely be a six-foot-high, bow-legged void in their lives without Dean.  He’s brought light and laughter to what should have been one of their darkest periods and Cas can’t even imagine giving that up. 

Gabe was right when he said that Castiel doesn’t let people in, but somehow, Dean Winchester has made it past all of his defenses.  Castiel could blame the accident or the pain meds, but he has a strong suspicion that it has more to do with the man himself than any outside factors.      

He goes to bed with his decision made.