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Burden

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Thursday – November 2nd, 2017

Castiel pulls his long beige overcoat on, shrugging and rolling his shoulders a few times to make sure it falls into place appropriately. There are full length mirrors mounted on both walls adjacent to the front door and he checks his reflection, using one mirror to look at himself in the other and ensure that nothing seems too off about how the coat falls over his back.

“You look fine.” Anna sighs loudly from where she’s sitting at the bottom of the stairs that lead up from the foyer to the main floor of his house. Her elbows are resting on her knees, blocking in the bouquet of flowers across her lap. “Can we go yet?”

“You’re always in such a rush.” He grabs the shoehorn from off the banister where it turns to head down the short flight of stairs into the daylight basement. “I wonder if you would be more patient if you had to wait to get everyone like the rest of us.”

Her jaw drops and she sits back, hand coming up to cover a clearly fake gasp. “I can’t believe you would say that about me. And to my face!”

It’s all Castiel can do not to laugh at her scandalized expression. “I’ve said worse to your face.”

Anna crosses her arms and turns her head away, sniffling. “I should just leave without you.”

“You know you can’t stand being in a car without someone to talk to.” With his shoes finally on, Castiel takes the flowers from her and opens the door. “And technically, the taxi is waiting for me, not you.”

The only reason Anna is here right now is because she had picked up and brought Castiel the flowers he ordered. It saved him from being riddled with the anxiety of having to go into the store himself to get them. At least now he has someone to accompany him for the ride to the graveyard. Anna can be talkative when she wants to be, and taxi rides are when she talks the most. Castiel appreciates the distraction tactic. It means he can enjoy the ride without wondering if the driver is paying too much attention to him.

While he might never admit it, Castiel is forever grateful whenever she also holds his hand during taxi rides. They can be really uncomfortable for him, both physically and mentally, and that grounding touch has gotten him through those long drives in to Lawrence. The transit bus doesn’t come out this far because his house is a twenty minute drive from the outskirts of town. Even if it did, Castiel is positive that he wouldn’t be able to take it on his own.

If it isn’t the uncomfortable seats on the bus, then it’s because of how many people can be crammed into one like sardines. What if someone bumped into him or pressed up against him just enough to feel his secret? They could reveal him to the world and that would be the end of life as Castiel knows it.

God, even just thinking about it is enough to make him jittery.

Rarely is his aunt free to come and pick him up. That leaves a taxi as his only means of getting to Oak Hill Cemetery. And of course that has to be on the far edge of town. To get there, they have to either go through Lawrence or around it. It’s at least a half hour drive there, then the same back here, and sometimes the stress of being out in public like this can be a little much.

Thankfully, Anna always tries her best to be with him when he takes a taxi – which is really only to the graveyard at the beginning of the month and the grocery store every other week. As much as she would like to be, sometimes she isn’t free to come with him to visit his parents. Her work hours are flexible, but she’s essentially on call at all times – if only because she’s the only employee the courier service has that can get anywhere in the city within a matter of a few minutes.

“Speaking of the taxi…” Anna rocks to her feet and follows him outside where the driver is waiting. They stop only to lock the door behind them. “Could you let me off at Walmart? Mom wants me to buy some groceries for dinner tonight. Will you be good for the rest of the ride?”

“I’ll be fine.” Castiel tries for what he hopes is an easy smile. On the inside, his stomach is already starting to twist in on itself. But he’s going to ignore it and tough through it because he is not a child. He is thirty years old and he can take a damn taxi on his own without having a panic attack – as long as the driver doesn’t look at him too much. That might ramp his nerves up to eleven.

Anna’s smile is bright, but reassuring. “If you don’t think you can do it by the time we reach Walmart, let me know, okay? I’ll go with you all the way to the graveyard and can just blink to the nearest grocery from there.”

“Of course.” He pats her on the shoulder before opening the back door of the taxi so she can get in first. “Thank you for your concern, but I’m sure I’ll be alright.” She slides right over to the other side of the seat, leaving him space to get in too. Unlike Anna, who relaxes into the seat right away, Castiel remains sitting forward slightly, even after buckling himself in.

“Thank you for waiting.” He addresses the driver without looking up. “We need one drop off at the Walmart on West 33rd Street, and the last stop will be Oak Hill Cemetery.”

Unfortunately, the driver isn’t even paying him any attention. His eyes are trained on Anna through the rear-view mirror. Castiel doesn’t need to be a telepath to know that he’s eyeing the C-3 circled in black ink on the side of her neck below her left ear. Anna is trying to act like she doesn’t notice, but he can tell that it’s bothering her.

Castiel clears his throat loudly, bolstering his courage. The driver’s attention snaps to him immediately. His smile is drawn and tight. “Yes, of course sir.”

“Thank you.”

Anna’s hand finds his as soon as the car shudders into motion. She squeezes it, the thank you unspoken. Obviously this is going to be one of those drives where she doesn’t chat with the driver.

Things would be so much easier if she could drive, but for people like Anna and Castiel, that’s not an easy thing to do. And it’s rather pointless for her anyways. She keeps saying she doesn’t want a license, but she’s twenty-four and Castiel knows that it bothers her that she’s the only courier for her company that doesn’t have one. But that’s the curse of being registered and visibly marked.

On the bright side, Anna’s situation didn’t have any effect on her mother’s license. That was obtained long before Anna was born and it’s not like they would take it away after Anna presented. It did have an effect on their housing when they moved here, but Castiel tries not to think about all that. The way the world is biased against them just – it’s depressing. Disgusting and depressing and Castiel quickly cuts off that train of thought.

The taxi is quiet until they pull back onto the main road. Anna turns to him with an eyebrow quirked. “What do you want for dessert? I’ll pick it up while I’m getting the ingredients Mom wants.”

“My tastes are simple. Pick what you want.”

She laughs, though the smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “If you say that, then I’ll be going home with a tub of butterscotch ripple ice cream.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“It is when I eat the whole thing myself.”

Castiel tilts his head to give her a squinty side-eye. “I thought you said this dessert was for me?”

“All bets are off when it comes to butterscotch ripple.”

“I’ll keep that in mind when we go grocery shopping next week.”

Anna exaggerates a gasp again, her friend hand coming up to press against her chest. “Are you saying that you, the great hermit of the South, is going to actually come shopping with me this time?”

He refrains from wincing at the slight accusation in her tone. The last few grocery days, Castiel didn’t feel like leaving the house and she had to do it herself. “If you behave.”

“I always behave.”

And that’s because she has to. Yearly evaluations at The Registry and a monthly visit from her case worker require good behaviour. If she gives even a hint that she’s falling off the straight and narrow, the government could decide that she would be better off at The Facility. And if Anna went there… Castiel doesn’t want to think about it. There’s a lot of things that he doesn’t like thinking about, but he absolutely can’t stand even considering the idea of Anna being gone from his life potentially forever.

Despite the side-eyes from the driver, Anna maintains a (falsely) cheery demeanor all the way to Walmart. She gives his hand an extra hard squeeze before getting out, and doesn’t thank the driver – even more of an indicator of how unhappy his staring made her. Castiel waves and forces himself to smile as the car pulls away, leaving Anna standing at the edge of the parking lot.

After that, he’s on his own for the rest of the ride. The driver glances at him a few times, but Castiel resolutely keeps his eyes out the window next to him. If he doesn’t think about the driver, then he doesn’t exist, and there’s nothing to be worried about. There’s no chance of his secret being revealed. His coat is bulky and shapeless and does a good job of hiding what he keeps under it.

When they pull up to the gates of Oak Hill Cemetery, the driver turns in his seat to look at Castiel over his shoulder. “This good or you want me to drive you through to where you wanna go?”

“Here is fine, thank you.” Castiel pulls his wallet out and hands over the required cash. Even though he doesn’t quite feel like leaving the tip, he still tells the driver to keep the change. He might remember Castiel if he stiffed him.

The gates of the cemetery close to visitors in about an hour. There are fewer visitors in the graveyard at this time, and the less people there are, the better. Castiel will have an hour to visit with his parents, and then his Aunt will pick him up at the gates and take him to her apartment. It will be a late dinner with her and Anna, but they’re used to it. Sometimes they’ll both come with him and stay for the visit, but that’s almost just as rare as his aunt picking him up.

Castiel makes his way along the paths twisting through the cemetery, heading to the back corner where his parents rest. While walking, he lets his mind drift to what his aunt might be making for dinner. It’s almost like eating out for him. A restaurant would be a nightmare for him, and nothing delivers out to where he lives. It’s a nice treat to have someone else make his meal.

There doesn’t appear to be anyone else around, so Castiel is comfortable enough to smile down at the flat stone imbedded in the grass where his parents are buried. “Hi Mom; Dad. How are you today?”

He kneels in front of the gravestone and places his bouquet of fresh flowers next to it. There’s a vase built into the center of the stone and he unscrews it, being careful not to drop any of the wilted flowers in it. “I’ll be right back.”

A garbage can is next to a tree at the side of the road and Castiel takes the flowers there to toss them. He dumps the water from the vase and refills it at a nearby tap. It overflows a bit once the new flowers are placed in it, but Castiel knows his parents wouldn’t mind.

“Nothing has happened since my last visit, really.” He takes a pair of scissors from his pocket and starts pruning the grass around the edge of the grave stone. “I won’t bore you with talk of politics and all the drama happening around the world. All you need to know is that what good people do is still always overshadowed by the bad.”

The groundskeepers here take great care of the graves and there isn’t a single weed to be seen. It’s obvious that the grass has been mowed recently, but Castiel prefers it to be cut very short around his parents’ gravestone.

“It’s been getting colder, but we probably won’t get snow until December.” Once everything looks perfect, Castiel sits crossed legged with the length of his coat tucked under him. “I miss snow. Remember that snowman we built that was taller than you, Dad? Maybe this year I’ll try to recreate it when Anna and Aunt Amara come over for Christmas.”

He reaches out and touches one of the lilies in the bouquet. “Next month I’ll bring those plastic flowers you like, Mom. They’ll have to do for the winter. When it warms up enough again, I promise that I’ll bring you some mums.”

Those were always his mother’s favourite flowers, but Castiel likes to mix it up. She’s not the only one down there, and Dad loved all flowers. He had so many different ones in his gardens. It’s hard to take care of them all on his own now, but Castiel works hard to keep them up to his standards. His dad taught him a lot while he was growing up and he thinks he’s doing a decent job with them now.

“Do you think sunflowers would do well in the garden? You never planted them, but I’d like to give it a try.” He leans back on his hands and looks up at the sky. It’s growing dark, but he still has another forty-five minutes at least before the caretaker will do their rounds before closing the gates. “The roses didn’t do as well this year. I’ll have to get Anna to buy me a soil test kit next year.”

Something rumbles in the distance and Castiel briefly wonders about thunder before it becomes clear that it’s a car engine. He glances over his shoulder, watching as a sleek black car rounds a bend and comes to a stop not too far away. Oh great. More visitors. Now he’s going to be distracted the whole time they’re here. It’s still way too early for him to message his aunt and ask her to come pick him up.

“I got a new manuscript file the other day.” Castiel forces himself to look away from the car as two men get out. He doesn’t want to be caught staring and have them keep an eye on him. “It’s another romance, and the writing is – Well, I’m surprised they’re publishing it. I find it more harlequin than our usual fare. After this one, I’m going to tell them that I don’t want to edit romance anymore. If I have to read about her heaving mounds glistening with sweat in the moonlight again, I might qui–”

Loud laughter interrupts him and Castiel can’t help looking back. A brief moment of self-consciousness sweeps over him at the mere thought that the laughter was because of something he said. That passes quickly at the realization that the pair of men walking away from the car are too far for them to hear him. He can hear them talking, but they’re not close enough for him to catch all the words – so the same should be said the other way around. Hopefully.

The man with long hair has a massive bouquet of flowers in one arm, and the man with short hair and a leather jacket is carrying a blanket. Between them they’re carrying a cooler – which means this isn’t going to be a short visit. Irritation briefly flickers under Castiel’s skin. He prefers his graveyard visits to be private and quiet – but the man with short hair keeps laughing at whatever his companion keeps saying.

His heart almost stops in his chest when the man with long hair suddenly looks sharply to look at him. But instead of frowning for being stared at, he smiles and wiggles his fingers from where they’re clutching the flowers. It’s a wave. He’s waving. Does he recognize Castiel? No one should recognize him. The only two residents of this town that he knows by name are Anna and his aunt. He rarely has anything to do with anyone else and he barely even speaks to the cashiers when he’s grocery shopping with Anna.

Maybe he should go?

But then the man is turning away and continuing towards the stone wall that lines the boundaries of the cemetery. Castiel is still frozen in place, watching them despite knowing that it’s rude. They’re still close enough for the murmur of their voices to reach him, but it’s just part of the background noise of the graveyard now.

He watches them spread the blanket out in front of a large headstone. It almost looks like they’re going to have a picnic. They sit on opposite sides with the cooler between them and lie the flowers at the base of the gravestone. From the cooler they take out candles. Not food. Candles. They must be joking. You can’t light candles here… Can you?

Should he say something? No, of course not. That would mean they would know his was watching. And that would mean talking to them, and Castiel is the epitome of non-confrontational – which is put to the test not more than a few moments later.

A couple containers of food are pulled from the cooler, and alongside them the man in the leather jacket pulls out a radio. Within moments, honest-to-God music starts playing and it’s more than loud enough for Castiel to hear. It’s classic rock, if he’s not mistaken. He’s no expert on music, but he’s not complete trash at identifying it. His personal preference is generally instrumentals from all around the world. Anything else would distract him while he works.

It goes without saying that Castiel would also never play his favourite music at a graveyard, and especially when there are other people within earshot. The music is loud and it disrupts the quiet of the area, utterly ruining the serenity he had felt while talking to his parents. Immediately he starts mentally building an argument. If he makes it good enough, then maybe he’ll find the courage to go over and ask them to turn it down.

Castiel doesn’t get far in rehearsing his speech. The man with the long hair tucks it behind his ears and glances back over at him. Caught in the act for a second time, Castiel quickly looks away. An embarrassed heat burns in his cheeks and he discards his argument in favour of weighing the odds about whether or not his aunt would be able to pick him up yet.

But then the music is turned down to the point that he can barely hear it. Castiel glances up again and both men are looking at him now. They smile apologetically and wave before turning back to the grave. His annoyance with the music evaporates, though Castiel would still prefer to be the only one here right now.

“I know this isn’t what you wanted for me.” He sighs and twists the belt of his coat between his fingers as he looks down at the gravestone in front of him. “I know you just wanted to protect me from a world that hates me, but I can't help but wonder – Do you think I wouldn’t be so afraid of people you had registered me when I presented?”

If they had done that, then they never would have moved away from Pontiac, Illinois. If they had stayed there, then his parents’ car wouldn’t have been t-boned when some asshole ran a red light. They might still be alive had they just followed the law and registered him like they were supposed to. Sure, his life would have been fraught with hardships and he would have been discriminated against by a large chunk of society, but he probably wouldn’t have so much anxiety about leaving his home. And, most importantly, he might still have his parents.

Another loud laugh rolls across the grave sites. Castiel frowns and looks up again. The man in the leather jacket has a beer in hand and his head is thrown back with a laugh. His companion is grinning widely, so he must have told another good joke. He should stop being so funny if it makes the other man laugh so much. It’s starting to fray at Castiel’s last nerve . And then, once again, the one with the long hair glances his way.

“I don’t think I can concentrate on talking to you in this atmosphere.” Castiel pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs. “I’m going to cut our visit short and I’ll just – I’ll come back next week. Anna and I are going shopping and I’ll use that time in town to come finish talking to you.”

The man with the long hair looks at him too much for his liking and it’s making Castiel feel antsy – uncomfortable. What if he sees something he shouldn’t? What if the coat isn’t hiding his secret like it’s supposed to be? Fear overcomes any annoyance Castiel had at the other visitors. He can’t let his secret be discovered. It would ruin his life.

Castiel tries not to let his hand shake as he pats his pockets to find his cell phone. If he explains his situation, his aunt will drop everything and come pick him up no matter what. At the very least, Anna might leave ahead of her and come keep him company until the car gets here. Both of their presences have a significant calming effect on him and he can feel the beginning of a panic attack brewing tight and painful in his chest.

He’s in the process of typing out a message to his aunt – not wanting to verbalize the issue through a phone call in case the other two visitors can hear him – when a shadow falls over him. Castiel’s heart is suddenly in his throat and his grip on his phone goes knuckle white before he looks up.

The man with the short hair is standing on the other side of his parents’ gravestone; his hands tucked into the pockets of his leather jacket. “Hey, buddy.” He dips his head in greeting before jerking a thumb over his shoulder. “We have beer and sandwiches. Wanna come join the party?”

All Castiel can do is stare despite the growing notion that he shouldn’t. A thick scar runs from the hairline at the man’s left temple and onto his forehead, ending in line with the inside end of his left eyebrow. There’s another thinner scar, one that looks no less painful, that cuts along his right cheek bone. It starts in his hairline above his right ear and ends in the middle of his cheek. A very thin scar, almost like a scratch, runs up the right side of his throat towards the one on his cheek. The one on his left cheek is much smaller.

Is he on leave from the army? Or did he have a rough childhood? Castiel has no experience with telling the age of scars, but he can’t imagine any other reasons that someone would have so many. Granted, he has lived a fairly sheltered life.

The stranger shifts on his feet and a hint of colour rises in his cheeks. He clears his throat and half turns away to gesture, again, at his impromptu picnic. “You’re welcome to join us if you want.”

Castiel gathers his wits about him and shakes his head. “Thank you, but no.” He gets to his feet slowly, making sure that his coat hangs properly around his sides to obscure everything from his hips and up. “I was just leaving.”

A smile pulls up the corner of the stranger’s mouth. “Liar.”

His stomach drops slightly before Castiel steels himself. “I’m not lying.” He’s almost tempted to show his phone to prove that he’s in the process of typing the message to call for his ride. But that would show him complaining about the two men and he couldn’t stand the embarrassment.

The man raises an eyebrow and looks back at his companion, who nods in return. He turns back with a smug smile. “Sam says you are.” It grows into a grin and before Castiel can even react, he grabs him by the wrist. “C’mon, you’ll have a blast!”

When was the last time someone that wasn’t family touched him? It would have been before he presented. The warm fingers folded around his wrist stall out Castiel’s brain to the point that he can’t even form the words to tell him to let go. He possesses the strength to easily break the grip, or dig his heels in and stop himself from being dragged over to the other grave site, but it’s like his brain has one of those spinning loading wheels in place and it hasn’t quite caught up to what’s happening.

Everything comes back online when they come to a stop in front of the other man; Sam, was it? He’s frowning up at his companion. “If he didn’t want to come, you should have let him go, Dean.”

“You said I should invite him over coz’ he’s giving off loneliness like stink lines, so I invited him over.” He drops Castiel’s wrist and sits back down on this side of the blanket. “And what’s the problem, anyway? You said he’s one of us.”

Castiel’s immediate reaction is to try and interject that he’s not lonely, thank you very much. He has Anna and his aunt. He doesn’t need anyone else. And if he was emanating anything, it was annoyance at his quiet visit with his parents being disrupted by this loud pair. Seriously, who plays music in a graveyard outside of a service? Rude people. That’s who!

Sam glances up at him and frowns slightly. “For starters, he sort of looks like he wants to cry.”

“I’m not going to cry!” Castiel finds his voice then, but wishes that it didn’t crack slightly from his nerves.

“But you are uncomfortable, and –”

“Of course I’m not comfortable!” He points at Dean, as identified by the one he called Sam. “He dragged me over here against my will!” Castiel takes a few deep breaths to calm himself. He’s surprised at his own outburst, but he’s not done with it. “And I’m not one of you. I don’t even know what you mean by that. If you mean an orphan, that doesn’t make us brothers in arms or anything of the sort.”

The pair share a look. “Orphans?” Dean shakes his head and points at the grave. “We’re not orphans. It’s just our mom down there.”

“It’s the fifteenth anniversary of her death.” Sam smiles sadly and raises his beer to the grave. “We don’t know where our dad is, but he’s alive the last time we checked. Right?” He glances at Dean and gets a nod in confirmation.

Castiel frowns between them. It was a spur of the moment assumption that they were orphans because the headstone says beloved mother and neither one of them looks to be old enough to have been her husband. If they’re not orphans, than what in the world could they have meant? Part of his ire gives way to confusion, but he resigns himself to never knowing that answer because he’s going to walk away right now and not look back.

But then Sam turns a soft smile up at him, as if in understanding. He glances around before raising a hand at the unlit candles that edge the tombstone. His fingers twitch slightly once, twice, and then flames flicker to life on the wicks of the candles.

His breath catches in his throat and Castiel takes a step back. “You’re a mutant.”

This shouldn’t surprise him, given his own situation, but – but they said that he was one of them. That means they know. But how could they possibly – No. There’s still time to save this. If he continues to act like he’s just a normal person, maybe they won’t say anything to anyone and he’ll be safe.

He takes another step back. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not a mutant.”

Dean looks at Sam again. When he nods, Dean rests an elbow on the cooler and props his chin on his hand, regarding Castiel with an almost amused expression. “Sammy says you are, and I trust what he says. He’s got a kinda sixth sense about this stuff.”

With that, he sits back and hauls the cooler out of the way, opening the spot between them. He pats it and grins up at Castiel. “Now come sit down. We’re not gonna force you to show your mutation or whatever, but you should know that we don’t really care if you are a mutant or not.”

After a long moment of silence where Castiel is torn between running and staying to find out just how much they know about him, Sam turns a soft smile on him again. “You’re unregistered.” Those words have his heart stuttering in his chest again. “So am I.”

Dude!” Dean reaches out to punch him on the shoulder. “You’re not supposed to tell people that! What if he turns around and tells the cops about you?”

“He won’t.” Sam shakes his head and leans back on one of his hands. “If he did, then he runs the risk of us revealing him in turn. And you want to avoid all chances of that, don’t you?”

Castiel feels faint. All the blood in his body has rushed to his head and his legs feel weak. Every breath is laborious and he’s rooted to the spot. “You – You’re a psychic?”

“Not quite.” Sam shakes his head and shrugs. “I’m an empath and a telekinetic, with just a hint of pyrokinetic to make things interesting.”

Oh God. That’s a class five. Castiel is in the presence of an unregistered class five mutant. Anyone with mental abilities or the power to control the elements is immediately considered unfit for society. They’re carted off to The Facility the moment their powers present. There’s no evaluation at The Registry for them.

Even just thinking about it makes Castiel shudder. It’s no wonder that Sam is an unregistered then. If the government can’t find a use for him, or if he’s too strong willed and can’t be controlled, then he would be kept in The Facility for his whole life. Or, for really troubled cases, he would be erased. That’s what everyone says happens, at least. No one outside of The Facility or certain levels of government actually knows what happens in there. But it’s common knowledge that most mutants who get taken to The Facility don’t come back. Ever.

Castiel steps back onto the blanket and sinks to his knees. He drops heavily onto his ass, unable to stop staring at Sam. What does he sense about him that makes him feel like Castiel is trustworthy enough to be given this information? Or is he relying on the blackmailing to keep his mouth shut? Sam is right in both cases, of course.

Being an unregistered mutant is a crime. At thirty years old, Castiel has been unregistered since he presented when he was nine. Even though his mutation would be a class one at best, he would be jailed or sent to The Facility. But no one he knows would report him. Anna and his aunt would never do that to him. But now these strangers know and – and –

He’s going to have a panic attack.

Castiel brings his knees to his chest and puts his head between them. He struggles to get his breathing under control, counting each one and holding it before exhaling.

“If it helps, I’m only a class one.” Dean speaks up and Castiel lifts his head just enough to see him over the edge of his knee.

Dean’s grin has softened considerably. He pulls the collar of his shirt down enough to reveal a slightly faded C-1 in a dark circle under his left collar bone. A small portion of the tattoo is ripped up by another knotted scar.

Once he’s sure that Castiel got a good look at it, Dean covers up again. “Too bad so sad for me, but I didn’t have a choice with being registered. I presented in the middle of gym class when I was ten.” He opens the cooler and pulls out another couple beers. “We get why there are some who don’t want to be registered, and it fucking sucks that we have to be, y’know? But we’re not going to tell anyone about you. Promise.” And he draws an ‘X’ over his heart as if to seal it.

He passes one of the beers to Castiel. Though he’s not usually one to drink, he definitely feels like he needs something to soothe his rattled nerves. Castiel twists the top off and downs most of the bottle’s contents before he realizes that Dean is offering a bottle opener. Apparently it wasn’t a twist off and he just showed off a piece of his powers.

Dean raises his eyebrows and lowers the bottle opener. He shares a look with Sam and Castiel resolutely doesn’t say anything. His powers – his secret – is his, Anna’s, and his aunt’s. No one else knows about it. The only two other people in the world who knew are in the ground thirty feet away. And Castiel is most certainly not looking to increase that number in any way.

Aside from Anna, Castiel has never met another mutant before. He glances between Dean and Sam, a little bit of awe replacing his panic and fear. Anna is a class three registered mutant. Even with her hair down, the tattoo on the side of her neck is always visible – which is a requirement for any mutant classed three or higher.

Class three mutants are just on the cusp of being considered a threat. Thankfully, Anna’s evaluation at The Registry when she presented determined that she wasn’t dangerous enough to require being shipped off to The Facility. Ever since she was registered, Anna has had a babysitter who checks in on her randomly every month to make sure that she’s not using her powers to get up to no good. She also has to be re-evaluated at The Registry once a year.

The evaluation is a rundown of a mutant’s powers to see if they’ve evolved since they presented. It includes a psychological assessment so the government will know if a mutant is of sound mind or might potentially try using their powers to break the law.

Anna hates all the checkups and evaluations, but she has no choice. Unlike Castiel, who presented at home, her powers manifested in a public park. It was some school activity day when she was eleven years old. From what she’s told him, she was playing tag with some of her friends and was running from the tagger. Suddenly she was on the far side of the park in the blink of an eye and she ran headlong into a tree in her surprise.

It was really lucky that it was an event that Aunt Amara was chaperoning at. While kids were screaming and parents and teachers were talking in hushed whispers (because most everyone sees mutants as something to be afraid of), Aunt Amara got Anna out of there and took her home to take care of the scrapes she got from the tree.

But because so many had seen Anna use her powers, Aunt Amara had to turn her into The Registry herself. It was either that be thrown in jail for trying to hide a mutant. And that would have meant that Anna had to go into foster care or be placed with Castiel’s family, which ran the risk of exposing him. At that point, Castiel had fully manifested his mutation for eight years. Aunt Amara never even hesitated to think it was an option.

As soon as Anna’s evaluation was completed, she was registered, given her tattoo, and released. She never talks about her time at The Registry and Castiel knows better to ask. They immediately moved from Pontiac, Illinois to Lawrence, Kansas so they could be closer to Castiel’s family. The support was needed, especially when everyone back in Pontiac had begun to alienate them.

If that’s what it was like for a class three, Castiel can’t imagine how traumatic it would have been for Sam as a clear class five. He has so many questions about them and their powers, but they’re all stuck at the back of his throat. It takes a whole two beers for him to relax enough and breathe easier to be able to actually talk to them.

There’s a lull in the conversation as Dean gets a couple bagged sandwiches out from the cooler. Castiel uses that to turn to Sam. “Do you always just sense things?”

“Not always.” Sam shrugs and accepts the sandwich that Dean passes to him. “I usually keep an antenna open for hostile feelings. Otherwise, I try to stay out of people’s emotions. Sometimes I pick up on really strong feelings whether I want to or not.” He fidgets with the edges of the sandwich bag before glancing at Castiel. “And your loneliness was too strong to ignore.”

What can he say to that? It’s hard to deny, even to himself, given what he had just said to his parents not long before Dean came over. Castiel can only swallow what’s left of his beer and hold his hand out for another one.

Dean laughs as he pulls another beer from the cooler. “You’re going to drink all my beer, huh? Don’t want a sandwich to go with it?”

He’s shaking his head about the sandwich when he realizes what was said before it. Castiel hadn’t even considered how rude he was being. He immediately tries to hand the bottle back, but Dean laughs and shakes his head.

“Nah, man. Go ahead! It’s not like this shit gets me drunk anyway.” After a pause, he looks down at the beer thoughtfully. “I wonder if Absinthe would kick in fast enough to get me drunk at least for a little bit to see what that’s like.”

“We’re not buying Absinthe so you can experiment on yourself.”

“Aw, c’mon, Sammy!”

Sam takes a bite out of his sandwich and shakes his head. “You can’t get drunk, Dean. You’ve tried. A lot. Get over it.”

With a petulant groan, Dean starts in on his own sandwich. Once again, Castiel finds himself staring at him. He has no idea what Dean’s powers are, but apparently it involves not being able to get drunk. What kind of powers would include something like that? Castiel wracks his brain, but nothing is really coming up. All he can do is file that information away despite how he expects not to have to use it again. Of course he’s never going to see these two after tonight, so there’s no point in putting any effort into remembering it.

“You’re staring.” Dean’s eyes crinkle slightly at their corners, one cheek full of food as he grins.

Castiel flushes and ducks his head. He hadn’t meant to do it, but he's always looked at things intently whenever he’s thinking.

“Don’t worry about it.” Dean waves his free hand before leaning back on it and stretching his legs out in front of him. “Stare all you want. I know I’m a sight for sore eyes.”

Sam leans over, voice dropped into a loud whisper. “Ignore him. He hasn’t realized yet that he’s also the cause of the sore eyes.”

That has Dean choking on his mouthful of food. He coughs and thumps his chest to clear it a few times before fixing his brother with a frown. “Wow, Sammy. Rude. Maybe it’s your face hurting his eyes!”

And that starts up a bickering back and forth that Castiel finds fascinating. He’s never had the opportunity to see siblings in action before. Anna was technically an accident when Aunt Amara had been planning never to have children, and Castiel was a miracle baby. His parents had been trying for a very long time and spent a lot of money on having a child. They couldn’t afford to do it a second time, even though they wanted another. They were still saving up for and considering adoption when Castiel presented and that – Well, that changed everything.

Despite knowing Anna for most of his life, he’s pretty sure that even they don’t act like this. Castiel was six years old when she was born, and she was only three when he presented and his parents moved their small family here to Lawrence. He didn’t see Anna again until after she presented and he was seventeen at that time. Even still, it was nice to have family close by, finally. The only people Castiel ever saw during those eight years were his parents.

The conversation between Dean and Sam evolves from bickering about who is least attractive to which actors they think are the most attractive. Dean is adamant that Harrison Ford, even at 75 years old, could still get it. Castiel just marvels at it all. The less he talks, the less attention is paid to him and that’s how he likes it.

But then Dean is turning to him sharply. “Have you seen the new Blade Runner movie?”

“Yes, actually.” Castiel pauses and clears his throat. “And I agree with your assessment of Harrison Ford.”

“Hah!” He punches the air. “Take that, Sammy!” There’s a clear level of excitement as Dean crosses his legs so he can face Castiel properly. “What did you think of it? Do you think it held up to the first one?”

Whether it held up or not is an entirely different question to the first. “I liked it, though I’m not very fond of Ryan Gosling.”

“And here I thought you had good taste.” And that starts a new rant of Dean’s going on about the movies that Ryan Gosling has been in. He talks with his hands a lot, gesturing with his beer or his sandwich while making his points. Half of what he says is directed to Sam or Castiel, and the other half to the grave of his mother.

It’s… strangely entertaining. Castiel is torn between being his usual bundle nerves at being in the presence of strangers and – surprisingly – enjoying himself.

In comparison to Dean, Sam is more reserved. He’ll interject often, or interrupt Dean to remind him that he’s embellishing a story too much. But otherwise, he laughs and smiles just as much as his brother – just quieter. Strangely, all the stories revolve around something happening at a gas station, motel, or grocery store. Never at either of their jobs. And Castiel can’t help wondering what they actually do. Of course he’d never ask outright.

They talk between them and the grave about people named Bobby and Pam, but they never say anything to Castiel about who they are. Despite being just slightly curious about it, he doesn’t really want clarification. What’s the point of needing further information about the people he’s never going to meet? The same can be said for learning more about Dean and Sam.

All three of them jump in surprise when Castiel’s phone beeps rather loudly, signaling that he received a text message. He fumbles apologies while pulling it out again to find that Anna had texted him about how her and his aunt are on their way to pick him up.

“Oh, I need to go.” He blinks at his phone, realizing that he’s actually a little disappointed. “My ride is on their way and I meet them at the gates.”

Castiel stands up to dust off his pants and coat, making sure that it doesn’t flap too much or they might catch a glimpse of his secret. He steps away from the bubble of light and music they’ve created around their mother’s tombstone. “Thank you for including me. It was… interesting.”

A chill skitters down his spine and he realizes that it’s much warmer down on the blanket in the light of the candles. Is that a part of Sam’s pyrokinetic powers? Maybe he’s just naturally warm all the time and that heats the air around him. Either way, it was nice and Castiel didn’t even notice that he wasn’t feeling the evening chill after the sun had set.

“Got a hot date?” Dean waggles his eyebrows and laughs to himself, like he made a big joke.

Castiel frowns at him and shakes his head. “No, it’s my aunt and cousin.” He checks the time on his phone before sending a text that he’s starting for the gates. “And you should probably prepare to leave soon. The caretakers lock the gates in ten minutes, and they might be mad at you for having candles.”

“Shit, really?” Dean quickly downs the last of his beer and tosses the empty bottle into the cooler with the rest. “I guess we better shut’er down. Sammy, you got the candles?”

With a wave of his hand, Sam extinguishes each candle without so much as touching them. Castiel is almost impressed – and briefly jealous. It would be so nice if his own mutation was something as easily hidden as Sam’s. But his is physical. A deformity. One that if he showed it would mark him as mutant despite how a class one tattoo would be allowed to be hidden under his clothing.

“Have a good evening.” Castiel is quieter than he intended, but he turns on his heel and all but speed walks away. The faster he separates himself from the brothers, the sooner he can put this entire evening behind him.

Sam calls out a goodbye behind him, but it’s overlapped with Dean calling out for him to wait. Castiel ignores it and he doesn’t look back. He keeps his overcoat hugged around him to keep it from flapping as he quickly makes his way along the paths back to the gates. Hopefully his aunt and Anna will get here before Dean and Sam drive by. They might stop to talk to him again and Castiel is honestly not sure if he wants that or not.

It’s only a few minutes later when his aunt’s car pulls up to the curb. They don’t live very far by car, so it’s no surprise that they got here so quickly. Castiel climbs into the backseat the moment the doors are unlocked. He immediately leans forward to press his forehead against the back of Anna’s chair and takes a minute to gather himself. When he finally sits back in his seat, still sitting forward just enough so as not to hurt his back, it’s to find both Anna and his aunt watching him.

“What happened?” Anna quirks an eyebrow and tilts her head.

Is he really that obvious? Castiel tries to school himself into a serene smile. “Nothing happened.”

Aunt Amara narrows her eyes at him. She gives him a careful up and down before frowning. “Something happened. What happened?

“Nothing happened.” He shakes his head and exaggerates rubbing his stomach. “I’m hungry. Can we please go eat now?”

Anna and his aunt share a look before glancing back to him. Castiel stares back, keeping his face carefully neutral. He’s very good at that and Anna is often jealous of his poker face. And yet she's also told a number of times that she finds him sometimes too stoic for her liking.

But then his calm front is all but entirely shattered when the same black car that Dean and Sam had been driving pulls through the gates. Castiel presses his lips into a thin line and he couldn’t look away from it even if he tried. Of course both Anna and his aunt immediately turn to see what he’s staring at. The three of them watch as the black car pulls out onto the road, turning in their direction. The driver’s side window is down and Dean sticks his arm out to wave as they go by.

Immediately Castiel is the center of attention again. Anna’s eyebrows have nearly disappeared into her red hairline. “Who were they?”

“No one.” Castiel crosses his arms and looks away. “All I know is that they’re noisy and nosy.”

“What?” Anna’s voice takes a note of alarm to it. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

He sighs and rubs a hand over his face. “It means that I’m coming back to visit Mom and Dad next week. I didn’t get a proper visit with them today.”

His aunt is frowning again when he looks back at her. “Did those guys bug you? I can make a complaint to the cemetery office for you. They have the right to ban annoying visitors from the grounds.”

That doesn’t seem quite fair. A warning at most would probably be best. Castiel shakes his head and offers her a smile. “No, it’s fine. They only came because it’s apparently the anniversary of their mother’s death. At least now I know that I shouldn’t come on November 2nd ever again.” He gestures between them and towards the road. “Can we please go have dinner now?”

She stares him down for another few moments before sighing and turning forward. “Fine.” The car shudders slightly as she puts it into gear and starts them forward.

Anna, on the other hand, is still twisted around in her chair to watch him. After a block, she hums to herself and turns back around. “I’ll get the truth out of you eventually.”

Castiel honestly doesn’t doubt that, but he just doesn’t want to talk about it right now. All he wants is some food in his belly to soak up the beer he filled it with, and to regain his sense of normalcy. The last half an hour he spent in Dean and Sam’s company was… surreal. Nothing like this has ever happened to him since after he presented as a mutant. Castiel had forgotten what normal life was like before then.


Friday – November 3rd, 2017

It’s not often that Castiel hears his doorbell. Both Anna and his aunt have a key and they always call or text before they come over. Every once in a while the publisher or one of the doctors he transcribes for will courier over something for him, but he’s always expecting their arrival. No one ever just shows up.

That said, it doesn’t even occur to him to not answer the door. Castiel pulls his housecoat tight around him and muffles a yawn as he shuffles out of his bedroom. He can see someone’s shoulder through the windows on either side of the door, but it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. At least not until he steps up next to it to peek through.

Dean grins back at him from the other side.

Chapter Text

Friday – November 3rd, 2017

Castiel quickly steps away from the window.

Sam and Dean are outside his front door. The mutant brothers he met at the cemetery yesterday are on his doorstep. What are they doing here? How did they find him? Why did they follow him? Are they here to blackmail him for something? His house is probably the biggest asset Castiel has. It’s not like he’s swimming in money or anything, but he is well off for someone his age – particularly a mutant.

The doorbell rings again, and this time it’s followed by a knock.

What if he ran? Where would he run? The door in the dining room leads to the garage, but he would have to open the garage door to get out and it’s not like he has a car. They would hear it opening anyways. He could go out the door in the kitchen onto the deck in the backyard, but it’s just fields and forests out that way. They might not follow him right away, but they also might not leave.

Should he call the police? But what if they come and Dean and Sam call him out as an unregistered? It’s fairly obvious with him, but if he tries to point out that Sam is also unregistered, why would they believe him? Sam looks completely human and normal.

His breath is coming in short, quick bursts and Castiel wishes he hadn’t left his cell phone in the bedroom. He should have brought it with him so he could call Anna and his aunt right now and ask them what in the world he should do. He’s frozen and he can’t breathe and –

“C’mon, Mr. Novak!” Someone knocks again and Dean raises his voice loud enough to be heard through the door. “We just want to talk!”

“Why are you stalking me?” Castiel calls back and hugs himself. He closes his eyes and starts counting his breaths. In, one. Out, two. In, three. Out, four. It starts working, slowly but surely, but then his breath catches again when he looks up to find both of them watching through the windows.

Dean frowns, actually looking worried. “Are you dying?” His voice is muffled, but he’s still speaking loud enough to be heard.

“No, he’s scared, you idiot.” Sam turns his head to glare at him. “I told you this was a bad idea.”

“But how else were we –” He stops talking the moment Castiel moves forward.

In quick, jerky movements, he unlocks the door and pulls it open. Castiel starts by pointing at Sam. “Stop reading my emotions. I don’t like it.” And then he points at Dean. “And why are you here? I didn’t even give you my name let alone how to find me! This is a massive breach of –”

“I’m sorry!” Dean blurts, both hands up as if he expects Castiel to strike at him. “I didn’t think you’d freak out like this. I just wanted to –”

Castiel is riding an adrenaline high and he crosses his arms to hide the way his hands are shaking. “How did you find me?”

“It’s kind of our job to find people. We got your last name from the grave you were visiting.” Sam also has his hands up, but it’s more in a soothing manner than Dean’s defensive position – like how one would face a frightened or dangerous animal. “And I’m really sorry for him. Dean’s the one who drives the car and I told him this was a bad –”

“What kind of job finds people who don’t want to be found?” He would normally feel bad about interrupting, but Castiel feels like he’s due a proper explanation.

Dean fumbles to get his wallet out. From it, he pulls a card and offers it to him. Castiel stares at it suspiciously before taking it. Dean’s picture is on it, but it’s unlike any license he’s ever seen before.

“You must be joking.” Castiel looks back up at him and then down at the card. “Bounty hunter?” And here he thought that was no longer a really job – or, at the very least, was make-believe. That television show with the man named Dog has to be entirely scripted. He always assumed it was fake.

“Yup!” Dean grins, clearly proud of himself. “We’re both bounty hunters. We hunt bail jumpers sometimes, but mostly we’re taking contracts from the government to hunt rogue mutants.” As soon as the words are out of his mouth, his eyes grow wide and he holds up his hands again. “Not mutants like you! You’re not a rogue. You’re totally safe. I swear.”

Castiel hands back the license and looks between the two of them. His heart did jump painfully when Dean said that, but he still has his suspicions, and other questions. “You’re mutants who hunt mutants?”

“That’s the gist of it, yeah.” Sam nods and he pats at his own pockets for his wallet. “Do you want to see my license too?”

“One was fine, thank you.” Questioning them about their job is really helping distract Castiel from that tight ball of panic still sitting between his lungs. It’s easier to breathe when he’s not worrying about everything else. “So you, an unregistered for your own safety, are hunting other unregistered mutants?”

Sam scratches the back of his head and shrugs. “Well, yes, but we only hunt the bad ones. The kind of mutants who use their abilities to commit crimes. Most of the ones we hunt are actually registered and they just failed their evaluations. Some bolted or simply didn’t show up.”

“And it’s our job to track them down, capture them, and bring them in to the authorities.” Dean cuts in. He seems less energetic than he was yesterday, which Castiel also find suspicious.

There’s one word in what was said that piques his curiosity. “And how do you capture them?” Does it have something to do with Dean’s powers? He never made any mention of them yesterday – aside from being unable to get drunk.

“Tranquilizers, mostly.”

That’s almost disappointing. But he’s calmed down enough to breathe normally and get back to his original line of questioning. “And what does any of that have to do with me?”

“Well, you see, you’re a mutant –” Dean starts and Castiel’s panic flares sharply.

It’s apparently strong enough for Sam to stagger back a step and put a hand to his forehead with a muttered; “Ow.”

“Shit, I fucked up again, didn’t I?” Dean looks between Castiel and Sam with a defeated sigh. “I’m just gonna stop talking.”

“It’s okay, Dean.” Sam puts a hand on his shoulder and turns a shaky smile on them both before focusing on Castiel. “What he meant to say, Mr. Novak, was that we are all mutants.”

That does calm him somewhat, but he doesn’t stop hugging himself to try and stave away that anxious ball in his chest. His throat works painfully around every word when he speaks. “Why –” He takes a deep breath. “Why does that matter?”

The brothers share another look before Sam’s smile turns hopeful. “Well, we decided to stay in town for a little bit and visit our mom more since it’s been fifteen years. And we were wondering if we could maybe stay with you while we’re here?”

Castiel’s jaw drops. He doesn’t intend for it to, but his surprise is too much to contain. “You – You’re actually serious?”

Dean nods and opens his mouth to answer, but then thinks better of it. He shoves his hands in his pockets and looks to his brother. Sam rolls his eyes but continues. “We tried to go to a few motels last night, but the first one we went to asked for our IDs and they saw that Dean’s driver’s license has him also marked as a mutant. They refused us service and when we tried another motel, they claimed they didn’t have any free rooms even with their vacancy sign lit.”

“We didn’t try anywhere else after that.” Dean mutters, his previously somewhat cheery disposition nowhere to be seen as he looks away from them both. “We spent the night in the car.”

The reality of their situation doesn’t sit well with Castiel. It reminds him too much about how hard things have been for Anna and his aunt. Despite being unregistered, Castiel has had to spend every day since he was nine years old in hiding. But it’s still better than having normal people look down at you and having literally everything be harder.

It’s almost impossible for a mutant to find a decent job that pays a living wage. Mutants tend to be given the jobs that no one ever really wants, and they don’t get paid well for it. And it’s incredibly difficult for a mutant to get a driver’s license. They get failed for the most ridiculous things and it takes dedication and a lot of money to keep going – unless they luck out and find someplace or someone who is mutant friendly and treats them like a normal person.

And the segregation alone is just – It sets Castiel’s blood on fire. It’s really only in effect in schools and public transport, but still. Apparently it’s meant to keep the normal people safe from mutants, but according to Anna, most mutants consider it the opposite. They don’t get bullied in mutant-only classrooms, and the teachers don’t mark them worse simply for being what they are. It would be nice if there were more mutant only buses that ran more often, but that’s the harsh reality of mutant life.

Even the immediate family of mutants have it tough – as evidenced by how Sam, a normal person at first glance, was unable to get a room at a motel simply because he was travelling with a mutant. When it came to Anna, his aunt couldn’t get anything but low income housing in a mutant based apartment block when they moved to Lawrence. They might have been able to get something a smidge better, but Anna was not only a registered mutant, but also a class three.

All his upset for Anna’s situation culminates in a sense of sympathy for these two who really shouldn’t be on his front step at – God, what time is it even? Castiel didn’t check the clock when he got up. With a sigh, he rubs a hand over his face. “Don’t you know anyone else here?” Their mother is buried here, so it’s safe to assume that they must have lived in Lawrence at some point, right?

“Not anymore.” Dean shakes his head, apparently feeling like it’s safe for him to talk again. “We were born here, but Dad moved us to South Dakota the moment Sam presented. You were, what – eight at the time?” He glances at Sam and gets a nod in confirmation. “Yeah, see? No one is gonna remember us. That was, like, fifteen years ago.”

Castiel looks between the two of them. “That was after your mother died?”

An uncomfortable silence overtakes them. Sam looks down and away, visibly shrinking in on himself while Dean puts a hand on his shoulder in comfort. He clears his throat loudly after a moment. “Yeah, it was. She was the only one with roots here, so Dad had no problem moving us after she died. We didn’t keep in contact with anyone that mom knew and – Well, the rest is history.”

While that’s certainly a bit of a sad story, Castiel is still on the fence about their request. That must be evident on his face, because Dean tries for another cheery smile – though this time it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Anyways – Can we stay here or not? We can pay in fucking’ awesome food, and we’ll pay rent if you want to charge us that too.”

The ‘no’ is sitting on the tip of his tongue, but he thinks better of refusing outright. “And what will you do if I say ‘no’?”

Sam shrugs and seems to have regained some of his colour that he had lost before. “If you don’t want us to stay, that’s fine. We’ll leave and you’ll probably never see us again.” He pauses. “Unless you run into us in town. But that’s about it.”

Dean nods in agreement. “I know that I can be a dick sometimes, but neither of us is enough of an asshole to try to force you to do something you don’t want to do or out you as unregistered.” His eyes narrow slightly. “Especially not when you could just turn Sammy in too. And he’s a Facility level class, if you didn’t figure that out already.”

“I know.” Castiel glances at Sam and looks away again, not liking how his eyes seem like they see right through him and all his secrets are laid bare. “You’re only here because you think that I’m more likely to let you stay with me because I’m a mutant?”

“Yup.” Dean’s grin is a little more genuine this time. “Figured we had a better chance of staying with you than anywhere else.”

Castiel shifts on his feet, looking between the two of them again. He recalls exactly what made Dean approach him yesterday and frowns. “And this has nothing to do with how you think I’m lonely?”

Suddenly neither of them will meet his eyes. Sam rubs at the back of his neck, looking as sheepish as one can. “It might have been a deciding factor in us looking you up. Maybe.”

While he doesn’t like the idea of being pitied, Castiel much prefers their other reasons for why they came here. He sighs and steps back, away from the door – not enough to grant them entry, but not blocking them entirely anymore.

Should he ask Anna and his aunt want to do? Or should he trust that they’re not here to rob him blind, or kill him, or worse. What if he turns them away and they break their word and report him to for being unregistered? Even if he did try and turn Sam in too, there’s always the chance that the police won’t believe him. And if they stay here, he’ll have to keep covered even in his own home to hide his secret.

“How do I know you’re not here to rob me? Or kill me?”

Dean actually snorts and covers his mouth as if that will hide his laughter. “Buddy, you already opened the door to us. If we wanted to steal your shit or gank you, we probably would have done it already. We’re not really the kind who play mind games.”

Sam nods in agreement. “And we’re a weird kind of law enforcement with the whole being bounty hunters thing.”

Right, that. Castiel still has his doubts about that being a real job. But it’s also far too early for this. He isn’t even awake before ten o’clock most days. And he hasn’t had his coffee yet! He needs his coffee first before he can even begin to handle how Dean looks so hopeful, or how Sam continues to look at him in that see-through kind of way with his head tilted to the side. Is he trying to read Castiel’s emotions? Just how much can he learn about him from that?

The knot of nerves is still tight in his chest, but something else just – let’s go. Castiel blows out a resigned sigh and turns on his heel, starting up the stairs to the main floor. “I only have one guest bed.”

Dean cheers quietly and footsteps follow him inside. The door shuts and there’s a scuffling in the foyer as they remove their shoes. He ignores it in favour of heading into the kitchen to start his pot of coffee early. According to the clock, it’s just past eight-thirty. He grimaces at it and mourns the fact that he won’t be going back to sleep any time soon.

“You’ve got a real nice place here, Mr. Novak.” Dean whistles and it sounds like it’s coming from the living room. “And that couch looks pretty comfy! That’s sure as heck better than sleeping in the car. C’mon, Sammy. Rock-paper-scissors me on who gets the couch. Best two out of three.”

Sam sounds amused when he answers. “Is it the winner or the loser who gets the couch?”

“Loser, obviously.”

Castiel listens to the soft pat of skin against skin, which he assumes is their hands against their palms. He’s tempted to go watch to see who wins, but instead he braces his hands against the counter in front of the sink and hangs his head. The full weight of what he’s just done hasn’t fully settled, but he still can’t wrap his brain around what he just agreed to. He doesn’t even know how long they’ll be staying!

There’s a slight shake to his hands, not as bad as it probably should be, as he reaches out to turn the tap. Castiel shivers as he splashes cold water on his face. Maybe this is all some weird dream and he’ll wake up now. It took him forever to fall asleep last night, thinking too much about everything that had happened that day and this – this could all just be a stress dream.

But everything out the window looks normal. There’s nothing dream-esque about the deck that spans most of the back of the house, or the yard beyond it. His father’s gardens and his mother’s bird feeders, all things that he’s maintained in the six years since their death, have no differences to them. This is real. This is very real and Castiel needs something to ground himself immediately before he thinks himself into yet another panic attack.

He closes his eyes and focuses on thinking about the gardens. Castiel takes slow, deep breaths and thinks about how Aunt Amara comes over and helps him with weeding and planting. She brings him the fertilizer or any other supplies that he needs and will discuss what plants are doing well and which ones need more attention. She has her twin brother’s green thumb.

Next he focuses on the bird feeders. He used to make them with his mom using honey and birdseed. They would make them look like hearts or other fun shapes. Castiel still does this, but usually it’s with Anna now. They have a lot of fun turning his kitchen into a mess when making them. He really should check on them and see if they’re due to make more soon.

A loud swear from the living room snaps him out of his memories. Castiel turns just as Sam walks into the kitchen through the door from the dining room. “I won the guest bedroom.” He smiles and cups a hand around his mouth, though his whisper is hardly quiet. “It’s because Dean always throws scissors.”

“I do not!” Dean shouts from the living room, and Castiel almost winces at the loud noise. “You’re using your empathy bullshit somehow to win every goddamn time!”

Sam only winks in response. “He’s also a sore loser.”

This is so not something Castiel wants to deal with. The coffee hasn’t finished brewing yet, so he might as well show them where things are. There’s still the chance that he might wake up from all of this.

He sighs and gestures for Sam to follow him. Castiel heads out through the other entrance to the kitchen. It faces the coat closet at the top of the stairs to the foyer landing. He turns right to head down the only hall in the house.

As he goes, Castiel points to the open door on his right. “That’s the full bath.” Opposite it is a closed door and he points to that next. “That is my office. Do not go in there. The door will be locked at all times, even when I’m working.” The linen closet separates his office from the spare bedroom and he pushes the door open. “This is the spare bedroom.”

Opposite that door is his bedroom. It’s still sitting wide open and he steps over to pull it closed. “This is my bedroom and it is also off limits. I will be keeping this door locked too.” For whatever good that might do. Didn’t Sam say that he was also a telekinetic? It must be child’s play for him to manipulate the pins and tumblers in a lock without the use of a key.

“Thanks, Mr. Novak.” Sam steps into the guest bedroom to look around. It’s fairly simple with a double bed in the center of the wall, end tables, and a dresser under the window. “I really appreciate you letting us stay here.”

Before Castiel can answer, Dean is suddenly at his elbow and pointing at the bathroom. “What’s the water pressure situation like with the shower?”

“I –” He swallows, having realized that he’s cornered himself unless he ducks into his bedroom, and even then the only escape would be out the window over his bed. “I have no idea.”

Dean frowns and looks Castiel over. “You don’t bathe?”

“I don’t shower.”

“Oh!” He snaps his fingers and ends with pointing at Castiel. “You’re a bath kind of guy!”

That’s more information about himself than he wanted to give. Thankfully, he’s saved from talking about it further by the beep of the coffee maker as it finishes brewing a pot. He pulls his house coat around himself a little tighter. “Are we done here?”

“One last thing.” Sam stays in the doorway to the guest room and holds out his hand. “We never formally introduced ourselves. I’m Sam Winchester and this is my older brother, Dean.”

Castiel eyes his hand warily before shaking it. “Castiel Novak.”

Dean also offers his hand and, like Sam, he lets go after a quick shake – thank God. “How many people just call you ‘Cas’?”

“Almost everyone?” Sometimes Anna calls him Cassie when she really wants to annoy him, but those moments are few and far between. He’s definitely not going to mention that.

“Well, add me to the list.” Dean’s nose wrinkles and he sticks his tongue out slightly. “I don’t think my tongue can twist enough to say that – and I have a very talented tongue, FYI.” He ends with a wink and Castiel has to look away.

The uneasy feeling in his belly is starting to bubble and all he wants is to grab his coffee and hide in his bedroom. Castiel isn’t naïve enough not to notice flirting when he sees it, but God help him if he knows how to react when it’s directed at him. Especially when he’s already in an uncomfortable situation.

Sam must be able to sense that, because he frowns at Dean. “Why don’t you go take that shower you’ve been complaining about missing?”

“Good idea.” Dean pulls his keys from his pocket and starts back the way they came. “We gotta go get our bags from the car. C’mon, Sammy.”

As soon as they both go down the stairs to the foyer, Castiel all but runs for the kitchen. He pours himself a travel mug of coffee because it holds more than any normal mug that he owns, and grabs a protein bar from the box he keeps in the pantry for when he doesn’t feel like cooking. The Winchesters are still outside and he quickly steals away to his bedroom, making sure to lock the door behind him.

Castiel can hear them come back into the house; the sound of the front door opening and closing; the rumble of inaudible voices; the thud of footsteps on the stairs. All things that he’s so unused to hearing in his home. It feels weird to have people here, even when Anna and Aunt Amara are there. He’s become too used to the silence in the six years that he’s been living alone.

While listening to the sound of the brothers moving around and getting settled, Castiel stares at the wall and sips at his coffee. He nibbles the protein bar every now and then, but he’s too distracted to actual taste the cookies and cream simulated flavour. There are two people – practically strangers – in his house. Two people who plan to stay here for at least a few days, and Castiel has no idea what to do about any of it.

He should have said no. Is it too late? Can he just go out there and tell them he changed his mind? God, no. He can’t. He wants to throw up just thinking about confronting them like that.

This would be so much easier if he wasn’t such a – Well, Anna calls him a hermit. Aunt Amara calls him a recluse. Castiel calls himself a survivor. This is the only way he knows to keep himself from being jailed as an unregistered. But because of that, it’s been decades since he really had to deal with people outside of his family or his job. And even then, everyone associated with his job is usually dealt with either over the phone or via email – except for the rare occasion when a courier is sent out to him.

Those are few and far between. Most doctors find it easier to simply forward him digital recordings, and his publisher prefers using digital documents shared through a secure server that he logs into from home. It’s certainly easier for him to turn on Tracked Changes in a Microsoft Word document than it is to fill page after printed page with red ink just for someone to have to manually make those changes in the original manuscript later.

Even when Anna drags him out to go grocery shopping, Castiel hardly deals with people. She usually talks to the taxi drivers for him, and he might say one or two words to the cashiers when ringing up his purchases. If the store offers self-checkout, he always chooses that option no matter how much he’s buying at the time. The less people he has to deal with, the better.

Everything about Castiel’s life has been perfectly arranged so he wouldn’t have to deal with people. No one but family can be trusted. Everyone else is so… unpredictable. They haven’t earned his trust and – and he should have said no.

Somewhere in his distracted eating, Castiel manages to finish off both his coffee and his protein bar. With nothing else left for him to do, he goes to the half-bath attached to his room. His reflection catches him off guard. He’s never seen himself this pale before. At least he’s not shaking anymore. That’s an improvement, certainly, but he still feels rattled to his core over this whole situation.

It takes far too long for him to realize that the rushing sound isn’t the blood in his ears but the shower running in the main bathroom on the other side of the wall. Dean must be showering now. Castiel’s insides twist and he briefly feels like throwing up. This is real. They’re actually staying. They’re using his bathroom, his kitchen, his guest room.

A lump is pushing at the back of his throat and Castiel swallows against it. He closes his eyes and starts counting his breaths again. It helps to calm him down and he gets all the way to two hundred and fourteen before someone knocks at his bedroom door.

“Cas?” Sam calls out and knocks again. “Sorry to bother you, but do you have WiFi?”

He exhales slowly and steps out of the bathroom. “I do. I’ll be out in just a moment.”

Castiel tightens his house coat again while trying to hold onto that brief moment of calm that he had found. His house coat is big, fluffy, and it makes him look twice his size. He wears it no matter the time of year, not only for comfort but because it’s an easy way to quickly hide his secret should anyone come to the door unexpectedly. Until today, that had never happened before.

The key to his office is kept on a hook in his closet. Castiel quickly grabs it before ducking out into the hallway. Sam is leaning against the wall with his hands in his pockets and he steps out of the way. He takes a few steps after him, but stops when he realizes that the destination is the office. Thankfully, Sam waits where he is while Castiel unlocks the door and quickly slips inside.

He has a magnetic whiteboard mounted to the wall next to the door. It’s essentially just a giant To Do list where he tracks which files need to be worked on and their deadlines. Castiel also uses a variety of magnets (a set of bees and honeycombs that Anna bought for him) to post important documents or note reminders. One such paper is the convoluted string of numbers, characters, and letters that make up the Wi-Fi password.

Once he’s retrieved the needed paper, Castiel locks the door behind him again and holds it out. Here. When you’re done, just slip it under my office door.”

“Thanks, Cas!” Sam actually looks excited and all but skips off back towards the living room. He likely set up his laptop either there or in the dining room.

Castiel watches him briefly before returning to his bedroom. He glances around, unsure what to do with himself. His phone is still lying on the side table where he was charging it overnight. The retro alarm clock next to it belonged to his parents. Its old flipping numbers flick over, showing that it’s not long past nine o’clock. He still wouldn’t normally be awake for another fifty minutes at least.

He should be making a productive use of his early start by getting dressed and starting work, but there’s far more pressing things going on right now. So pressing, in fact, that he feels it all like a physical weight on his shoulders. Despite the short time that he’s been awake, Castiel feels exhausted.

After making sure the door is locked again, he sheds his house coat. He flops face first on the bed and spreads out across its surface, taking up as much of it as he can. His cell phone is mocking him in the silence, almost begging for him to pick it up and text Anna or his aunt to let them know that he has… Is guests even the right word? Castiel might have allowed them to stay, but he still feels vaguely blackmailed into it even though they were very clear in giving him the option to turn them away.

It’s easier to do nothing.

The pipes hiss and stop rattling when Dean finally finishes his shower. Sam is apparently in no rush to have one, as another doesn’t start up shortly after. It’s still an almost unending length of time before the distant muted mumble of voices can be heard. Castiel only lifts his head out of his pillow when he hears the familiar boom of the front door closing. Shortly after, the deep rumble of the car’s engine starts up and then grows faint until he can’t hear it anymore.

For one moment, his heart lifts with hope that they might have left, but it sinks moments later at the sound of footsteps coming up the hall. They sound like they go into the guest room and Castiel assumes that Sam must still be here. Dean must have left and he has no idea where he might have gone – not that he even cares. As long as it’s not here, he’s happy.

Castiel rests his cheek on his pillow instead of hiding his whole face in it again. He sighs and watches the clock, counting the minutes as they flip by. Counting really helps focus and center him. It’s something his parents taught him when he first started having panic attacks as a child. He probably wouldn’t have had them if they had just registered him when he presented, but there’s nothing that can be done about it now. And he loves his parents. They were always there for him and did the best they could while protecting him from a world that hates his kind.

Sixty-seven minutes pass before he hears the rumble of the engine again. It’s fairly loud for him to be able to hear it in his bedroom on the other side of the house from the driveway. He’s always been rather sensitive to sounds, but the walls aren’t exactly thick either.

The front door opens and closes a few times before another set of footsteps is stomping around the house. Castiel flinches at the first bang of cupboards in the kitchen. Ah, Dean must have gone to the grocery store. It makes sense, since Castiel was running a little low on some things and they did say they would pay for their stay with food.

Still, the banging is annoying and he contemplates getting up to complain. But it stops after a short while. It’s not long before a tantalizing scent starts filtering into the room from the small gap under the door. Castiel’s mouth waters at the smell of bacon, and – is that sausages? His stomach gurgles and twists. Apparently the protein bar wasn’t enough to fill him up.

Thankfully, Sam knocks on his door not too much later. “Cas? Dean made a big brunch as thanks for letting us stay here. We would really like it if you would join us.”

For a moment, he does debate not answering, or at least refusing the request. But he’s hungry and it smells really good. Castiel doubts that he would be able to just sit here and smell it without getting to taste it. And – Well, they’re going to be staying here, right? Is he going to spend every day in his bedroom or office? He has to see them again at some point.

With a sigh, Castiel pushes himself up and sits on the edge of the bed. “I need to change and get ready first. I’ll join you shortly.”

“Great!” There’s a sharp noise, like Sam clapped his hands together. “We’ll wait for you.”

His footsteps pad away back down the hall. Castiel waits until he doesn’t hear anything outside his bedroom before he stands up. Without the house coat, he’s only wearing his pajama pants and boxers beneath them. He kicks them off into the dirty pile of laundry in the corner by the closet. It’s an excellent place to keep it because he can open the closet and get a change of clothes right away.

A low dresser sits inside the closet underneath his hanging shirts. He gets a new set of boxers and a pair of sweatpants from the dresser, putting them on before closing the drawers. From the hangers he takes out one of his larger un-altered t-shirts and tosses that onto the bed.

The closet doors are mirrored and he stares at himself in the reflection after closing it. He rolls his shoulders and stretches his arms above his head, watching the subtle shift of muscle. His stomach is softer around the belly button because he doesn’t work out in the basement nearly as often as he should. If he bothers to do anything, it’s just walking on the treadmill while reading a book.

He never would have been able to get away with ignoring the weights if his parents were still alive. They were firm believers that he needed to work his entire body – especially since he never went out and did anything (for good reason).

Castiel flexes his back and spreads his secret – his wings – out to get a good look at them. The feathers are an inky kind of black, but they’re dull from lack of upkeep and they’re short. He clips the longer feathers until they’re the same length as some of the shorter ones. Now his feathers barely reach past the small of his back. It makes them easier to hide under his coat when he goes outside.

If he could, he would have been rid of his wings a long time ago. The arches of his wings should be above his head all the time, however Castiel keeps them folded as tight as he can get them whenever he has to be around other people. He keeps the arches curved as flat against the backs of his shoulders as he can get them. If he keeps them like that for longer than a few hours, they start to cramp up and that can get fairly painful.

He has a custom binder that he made himself, courtesy of many sewing lessons from his mother, which he wears to keep his wings held down. The binder is usually reserved for when he leaves the house. When at home, Castiel prefers to spend his time either shirtless or simply wearing one of his modified shirts that has space to accommodate his wings. He does have some normal t-shirts in sizes that are far  too large for him, just so he can wear them over his wings when he goes out. It’s another layer for him to hide under and that’s how he likes it.

Unfortunately, now that Castiel has strangers in his house, he should probably wear the binder at home too. It’s hanging on a hook on the back of his bedroom door and he frowns at it. As useful as it is, he hates the damn thing. His wings always hurt after wearing it for too long, and it’s so tight that he always feels like it could squeeze the breath out of him – even though he can breathe just fine in it.

With a sigh, he pulls the binder off the hook and slips his arms through the loops. It takes some maneuvering to ensure his wings are folded as close to his back as he can make them under the binder. Once in place, he pulls it tight and buttons up the front of it. Next is the shirt. He’s not going to sit down and have brunch with strangers while naked from the waist up.

Now with his wings bound and a t-shirt covering them, Castiel feels more comfortable about leaving his house coat loose in the front. He still ties it, but it’s open enough that he doesn’t feel suffocated by wearing so many layers.

Castiel does consider wasting a few more minutes by trying to tame the rat’s nest that he calls hair, or even shaving. But the fact that Dean and Sam are both waiting for him to begin eating is just too much for his conscience to bear. For someone who doesn’t deal with other people often, Castiel is perhaps too nice of a person.

He finds the Winchesters waiting for him in the dining room. They’re seated next to each other on one side of the table, and a third plate is set out across from them. Castiel carefully takes his seat, his back to the kitchen. The table is big enough to seat six – two on each side and one on either end. It’s been a very long time since Castiel has had a need for the end chairs. They’ve been gathering dust in the storage area of the basement for years now.

The chairs themselves were chosen specifically because of his mutation. They’ve got surprisingly low backs compared to most dining chairs. If he didn’t have his wings bound, Castiel would have been able to lean against the back of the chair without it pressing into the joints of his wings. As they are right now, he has to stay seated forward slightly, and he hopes that the brothers don’t notice or don’t find it weird if they do.

But Dean is watching him. There’s a quick, calculating look in his eyes that sets Castiel’s feathers on edge. He has the feeling that Dean must suspect something about his mutation. Even if he does, Castiel has no intention of mentioning it. In fact, he acts like he doesn’t even notice and instead takes stock of the food before him.

All three of their plates are already piled high with scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausages, and at least two pancakes – Dean’s plate has four. Even more food is stacked on serving plates in the center of the table between them. It’s more than enough food for three people as far as Castiel can tell, and this might actually be a meal that satisfies him.

“You went grocery shopping.” It’s not a question. Castiel already assumed he had just by what he had heard, but the food proves it. He was running low on groceries and had plans to go with Anna tomorrow, and he definitely didn’t have sausages in his fridge – or chocolate milk!

“Damn right I did.” Dean nods and picks up his fork to cut out a large piece of his pancake. “Stocked your cupboards and everything.” He shoves the pancake into his mouth and continues talking with his cheek full, lips smeared with syrup. “Y’know, as part of our payment for letting us stay. No one can ever say a Winchester doesn’t pay their way.”

Sam rolls his eyes and the look he gives Castiel before he starts eating is one that speaks of a long suffering. Apparently Dean’s table manners have always been atrocious. The only comment Castiel has to make on it is to take one of the napkins from the holder that always sits in the middle of the table. He holds it out for Dean to take and gets a sheepish grin in return.

“You not hungry?” Dean gestures with the napkin at Castiel’s untouched plate before he wipes his mouth. “I make a mean flapjack, and I’m gonna be insulted if you don’t try it.”

Heat burns across the back of his neck and Castiel ducks his head. He murmurs a quiet thank you for the meal and moves on automatic; picking up the fork and knife to start meticulously cutting everything on his plate into manageable pieces.

Dean seems pacified by this and he turns his attention to Sam. “Did you get your laptop all set up?”

“Yeah, Cas gave me the Wi-Fi password.”

Dean swallows his mouthful and immediately eats half a sausage in one bite. “Great. Did you pull up the network, or did you waste time with catching up on all your subscriptions first?” Castiel glances up to find Sam pointedly not looking at his brother. Dean sighs. “You had one job, Sammy.”

“I got distracted, so sue me.” Sam wrinkles his nose and pretends to be very interested in his glass of chocolate milk.

There’s a carton of it on the table and Castiel can’t remember the last time he actually had some. He pours himself a glass and doesn’t miss the pleased grin Dean flashes him before he turns a frown back on Sam. There’s a very judging air around him while he chews the sausage and immediately moves on to a piece of bacon.

After a few moments of silence, Sam puts his milk down. There’s a thin layer of it along his top lip and he wipes it off with the back of his hand. “Oh my God, relax. I’ll check the network after we clean up the disaster you made in the kitchen.”

Castiel hadn’t even thought about the kitchen and he’s halfway out of his seat to go check on it when Dean scoffs loudly. “Excuse you! I clean while I cook and that kitchen is fucking spotless now that I’m done with it.” He gestures at the table with his fork. “This is the only mess to clean up.”

Thankfully he swallows his mouthful before facing Castiel again. “And, by the way, your kitchen is awesome. It’s been a long damn time since I got to cook in an actual kitchen.”

As he gestures with his fork, Castiel watches a little fleck of egg fly from it and land between them. Dean immediately grabs his napkin to wipe it up, talking the whole while. Apparently his table manners aren’t that bad. Chews like a pig, but is clean and meticulous otherwise. It’s an interesting juxtaposition and Castiel can’t believe that this is really his life. He’s actually observing strangers when he should be hiding in his office and calling his family, or the police.

Instead of doing any of that, Castiel swallows a piece of pancake and opens his mouth to ask more questions. “What network were you talking about?”

Sam smiles, small and pleased. “It’s the Hunter Network.”

Castiel briefly wonders if he is still attuned to his emotions. If so, can Sam tell that curiosity is winning out over his fear? Even so, Castiel still plans to hide after brunch. He has work to do and he’d rather be safe in his office while they rob him blind than not at all. Most of his really important things are in there anyway. And the emotionally important items… Well, those are the kind of things he doubts that they would take.

“Is that related to your bounty hunting job?”

“Yeah, it’s a kind of an intranet that we use to access jobs and see who’s doing what.”

Dean nods along as Sam explains. It brings up a million questions, and none of them Castiel thinks are appropriate to ask. He flicks through each of them before deciding on one. “And those are the jobs of mutants hunting mutants.”

“Well, not all the time.” Dean interjects, his plate almost empty by now and he seems to have slowed down. “Sometimes it’s just regular people being dicks and jumping their bail bonds. Or there’s someone the authorities are having trouble finding, so they hire us to sniff them out. All the jobs anyone wants goes into this network where hunters all across the country can access them.”

Sam picks up where Dean leaves off to finish the rest of the food on his plate. “Essentially, we log in to look through what jobs are available. If it’s one we like, we can claim it. Other hunters are able to see who takes what job, and they can even send messages through the network if they’ve got information on their mark or try and ask to trade the job for another. It’s pretty nice.”

Dean starts filling his plate again with seconds. “And then when you mark a job as completed, the folks who run the network notify whoever made the request. If it’s a good job, you get full pay. Otherwise they can dock it. Most of it is pretty automatic though. Payments are taken by the company that hosts network the moment the job is posted and usually get transferred within a few days of the job being completed to the hunter’s account.”

Castiel moves through his own plate a lot slower than either Winchester, but he’s never been one to gulp his food down. “It sounds like the whole system is set up to guarantee payment. A request can’t even be made unless they have the money to back it up.”

“Exactly!” Sam smiles brightly, though they both nod and seem clearly happy that not only is Castiel listening, but he’s actually understanding what they’re talking about. “It’s a nice way to keep in touch with hunter friends too. Everyone has a kind of profile you can go into to see what kind of jobs they’ve been taking. It’s a great way to keep track of who has settled down to work in one specific area, or who roam like Dean and I do. We’re actually using it to try and track our dad.”

Dean makes a choking noise in the midst of taking a large sip from his glass. He coughs and thumps himself on the chest a few times before shooting Sam a dirty look. “Dude.”

“What?” Sam raises an eyebrow, looking for all the world like he has no idea what’s going on. “Sorry, was that a no-go topic?”

“Well, duh.”

The way they stare each other down, Castiel can’t help but wonder if maybe Dean might secretly be a telepath. They seem to be having a conversation with merely their eyes, because Sam eventually lifts his hands in a gesture that is – well, it could be a dismissal, or in defense, or an apology. Castiel isn’t exactly an expert in reading the body language of strangers.

He does find it interesting, however, that Dean is against speaking about their dad. Yesterday they mentioned that they didn’t know where he was, and Castiel hadn’t asked about it then. Of course he isn’t going to ask now either – especially not with how Dean reacted. Even though he’s curious, what’s the point of knowing more information? If he’s lucky, the Winchesters will be gone within a day or two and he’ll hopefully never see them again.

A bit of a shiver makes his feathers tremble against the small of his back when he realizes that it’s very possible they might remember him. If they come back for the next anniversary of their mother’s death, they might try and stay with him again.

Oh God, why did he think of that? Now he’s going to be worrying about it all year. It’s not like moving is really an option for him. Not only is their job literally to find people, but Castiel isn’t willing to give up his home. This is the safest place for him. It’s a comfortable distance from town with no immediate neighbours and more than enough trees that he can go outside without worrying that someone might see his wings.

Aside from a few artful islands of grass, plants, and flowerbeds out front, the entire front lawn and up along the sides of the house) have been replaced with a gravel drive and paths. If he was in the backyard, Castiel would be able to hear an engine or the crunch of gravel long before anyone would be able to make it around to see him. And those are the exact reasons why he brings his overcoat outside with him even if he doesn’t plan to wear it. He’d rather have it with him in the eventuality that someone does randomly show up than to be caught without it and for someone to find out his secret.

Once Dean finishes glaring at his brother, he turns back to Castiel with an abrupt change of topic. “So, what’s your muta–?” Sam backhands him in the shoulder before he’s finished speaking. Dean frowns at him again. “What?”

“That’s rude.”

And also incredibly panic inducing. It had risen sharply enough in Castiel’s chest that he’s not even sure he can finish swallowing his last piece of bacon. Sam can probably feel that jagged anxiety even without having his ‘antenna on’.

Dean gestures with his fork again. “Well, he knows your powers. How come we can’t know his?”

Sam’s mouth twists slightly before he sighs. “It’s pretty hypocritical of you to ask about his powers when you haven’t even told him what yours are.” He crosses his arms and raises an eyebrow. “If you’re not willing to share too, then you shouldn’t be asking about it.”

There’s a tense moment between them before Dean’s lips press into a thin line. He looks back down at his food and returns to it with a subdued enthusiasm as opposed to his earlier vigor. The topic seems well and truly dropped, but Castiel has quite suddenly lost his appetite. There’s very little left on his plate – a forkful of eggs and a couple cubes of hash browns. He does finish off his chocolate milk, if only to wash down the lump currently trying to find a home for itself in the center of his throat.

Once the glass is empty, Castiel pushes his chair back from the table. “Thank you for cooking, Dean. The food was delicious.”

His head pops up again, any irritation gone in an instant. “Yeah, you liked it?” Dean sits up a little straighter and gestures to what food remains. “I can make lunch and supper too. If you’re cool with it, just leave all the cooking to me!”

“If that’s what you want.” Castiel doesn’t feel right asking him to do it, but he won’t stop him if that’s what Dean wants to do. Rarely does anyone else cook for him in his own home. He always takes care of his guests, and even Anna and his aunt don’t cook when they’re here.

To be fair, though, Castiel isn’t actually all that fond of cooking. Every recipe is always for more people and he’s just – well, he’s one person. He spends most meals alone, even though Anna comes over as often as she can. She does take home plenty of leftovers for her and her mom, but it’s not the same as having someone to sit down and eat every meal with.

Some of the serving plates on the table are mostly empty now. At some point between the bickering and the conversations, both Sam had also taken seconds. Castiel probably would have too, had he not eaten that protein bar earlier and if his nerves weren’t on a wild roller coaster ride. If Anna was here, the food wouldn’t have lasted very long. A high metabolism seems to be common for all mutants – or at least the ones he knows so far. It makes sense, given that their biology requires more energy and eats up a lot of calories to account for their powers. Granted, Castiel’s powers are mostly physical and there’s nothing really special to them. Not like Sam’s, or whatever Dean’s power is.

He stands and starts gathering up the empty dishes and amalgamating the mostly empty ones onto the same plate. Dean waves his hands and loudly swallows his current mouthful. “You don’t have to clean up, Cas. I’ll do it since I’m the one that made the mess.”

“I thought you didn’t make a mess.” Sam murmurs, not quite under his breath. It earns him a swift elbow to the side.

“It’s fine.” Castiel shakes his head and stacks the dishes. He quickly takes them to the kitchen and it’s easier to breathe once he’s in a different room.

Surprisingly, Dean was being truthful. He really did leave the kitchen quite clean. Loathe to mess that up, Castiel simply rinses the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. He winces when he glances at the clock and notes that it’s nearly half past eleven – nearly an hour past when he would have normally started work. Which means if he wants to get a full eight hours in, he’s going to be working into the evening – ugh.

Castiel quickly returns to his bedroom, now locking the door behind him by habit. He skips shaving like he usually would, but he washes his face, brushes his teeth and runs a comb through the tangles in his hair. Even though he works from home and often stays in his pajama bottoms all day, Castiel does like to make an effort to be presentable. It helps to keep a professional mindset, despite being on his own.

The key to his office is still in his pocket, so all he grabs is his cell phone before leaving. His bedroom and office both require the same key, and he locks his room behind him. The linen closet is between the office door and the guest room door. From it he gathers a spare set of sheets and pillow cases. He brings them to the living room and puts them on the couch so Dean can make his ‘bed’ later on if he wants.

“Hey, sweet. Thanks, Cas!” Dean calls out from where he’s still seated at the dining table with Sam.

“I will get you the spare blanket and pillows from the basement after I’m done work.” Castiel heads into the kitchen to fill a water bottle from the filtered jug he keeps in the fridge.

Sam enters the kitchen too, empty dishes in hand. “When will you be back from work? Dean, did you park in front of the garage?”

“I work from home.” He answers before Dean can. “And I don’t have a car. If you wanted to park yours in the garage, be my guest. The button to open the door is on the garage wall next to the door from the dining room. You can’t miss it.” With water bottle in hand, he turns to find both Dean and Sam now in the kitchen. “I’ll be in my office for the next four hours. I usually break for something to eat around then. If you need anything, please knock.”

Dean dumps his dishes in the sink before turning to rest his hip against it. “What do you do?”

“I’m a copy editor and transcriptionist, so you might need to knock hard and repeatedly if I don’t answer right away. A portion of my job requires that I listen to recordings and I might not hear you if I’ve got a playback going.”

“That sounds – uh – neat?” He doesn’t exactly sound sincere, but Castiel doesn’t mind. He knows that his job can sound boring to others – in particular to someone claiming to be something as exciting as a bounty hunter.

Castiel shrugs and gestures in the direction of the living room. “I have a smart TV, so feel free to use whatever is on it. There is Netflix, if you’d like, but I’d prefer if you would log me out and use your own account if you have one.”

“Yeah, of course.” Dean bobs his head in a nod, a grin already spreading. “Wouldn’t want your recommendations to start filling up with all my rom-coms.” He ends with a wink that Castiel chooses to ignore completely.

“Thank you.” He nods at them both and goes to leave the kitchen by the hall entry. “Enjoy your day.”

Sam calls out after him. “You too!”

Once his office door is locked securely behind him, Castiel breathes out heavily through his nose. He normally leaves the window open in his office to get as much sunlight and fresh air as possible, but today he lowers the blinds and closes the curtains. After making sure that no one would be able to peek in from outside, he takes off his house coat and hangs it on the hook on the back of the door. He fumbles enough of his shirt off so that he can also remove the binding and he instantly feels better with his wings now able to stretch free.

He’ll have to bind them again when he goes in search of lunch, but at least in the safety of his office he can relax. In a matter of hours his life has turned upside down, but he’s not reeling from it nearly as much as he would expect to be. Maybe it will hit him harder later? Or tomorrow when he wakes up to find them here again? Castiel isn’t sure, but seriously what the hell is his life right now?

With cellphone in hand, he slumps into his low-backed office chair. The computer’s tower sits on the left side of his corner desk and he holds down until it starts to hum. While it powers up, he quickly sends a text to Anna.


 

I don’t think I’m feeling up to a visit today.
Read 11:42am

You were off all night yesterday. Is everything okay?

Everything is fine. I’m just not feeling well.

We can postpone grocery shopping another week too.

I’ll let you know when I’m feeling better.
Read 11:45am

Are you sure?

Do you have enough food to last until next week?

Yes, I’ll be fine.

There’s plenty of canned soup to live off of.
Read 11:47am

Okay… Keep me posted!

I won’t tell mom about this.

Otherwise she’d be over with that godawful chicken soup of hers in a hot second!

She only does it because she cares.
Read 11:51am

But it’s soooooooo gross!


 

Castiel huffs the closest thing he can to a laugh and sets his phone aside. He swivels his chair around to look at his white board and see what needs to be done today, desperate for something to distract him from the noises in the kitchen and dining room.

It seems the first thing on his list today is editing. Ugh. And of course the manuscript is due next week while he still has about a third of it left to go. He might as well work on that and try to finish it all today. Castiel firmly believes in getting things done ahead of deadlines – just in case something might come up. His whole morning simply proves his ideology in that regard.

His work station has two monitors and a lovely picture of a nebula spreads across both of them. Unfortunately, he has to cover it up with the programs he needs. On one screen he starts opening the files needed for the manuscript, and on the other he opens his email. Aside from general spam, which he deletes quickly, there is a notice from one of his usual clients about a medical recording that needs transcribing. Those usually need to be done as soon as possible.

He adds a note about it to the whiteboard and places a sticky-note on the edge of one of his monitors to remind him to work on it later today. Right now, as much as he doesn’t want to continue editing the drivel that amounts to his current manuscript, Castiel would rather be able to hear. That way he can keep an ear out for if Dean or Sam start getting up to no good. Currently, all he can hear is subdued murmuring and the occasional thump as they clean up.

Since they just ate brunch, Castiel has his doubts that Dean will make anything for lunch. In four hours – for which he sets a timer to remind him to take a break – maybe he’ll go out and make a sandwich. All he needs is a little snack to tide him over until his usual late dinner time.

If he really doesn’t want to go back outside to face them, then Castiel has plenty of snacks in here that he could eat. One of the desk drawers is full of individual baggies of chips, Oreos, and what not, and those should be enough to get him through several days – not that he plans to sequester himself in here for that long.

As he gets starting on editing, Castiel can’t help but wonder about what they’ll be having for supper. Credit where credit is due – Dean is one hell of a cook if brunch is a good example of his skills. In fact, Castiel might even be looking forward to it.

But only a little bit.

Chapter Text

Saturday – November 4th, 2017

With a quiet groan, Castiel rolls onto his stomach and pushes himself onto his hands and knees. He stretches like a cat, curving his back first up and then down until the muscles in his arms and thighs tremble. His wings arch upwards, feathers spreading until they shake just like the rest of him. With a satisfied sound in the back of his throat, he collapses to the bed again and muffles a jaw-cracking yawn into the pillow.

Despite having turned in much earlier than he normally would have, Castiel still feels so tired. He took forever to fall asleep and then he must have had some kind of fever dream, because no way did he actually allow two strangers to stay in his home. But then why is he awake? Castiel lifts his head and squints at the barely illuminated tabs of his alarm clock. It’s still an hour before his alarm is supposed to go off. He rarely ever wakes up before his alarm unless something else woke him.

The sound of a door closing out in the hallway clues him in that yesterday was not a dream. Castiel groans and drops his face back into the pillow. After a moment of silence, the toilet flushes and the pipes rumble with water. Of course he’s not used to hearing someone else using the bathroom or moving around the house while he’s sleeping, so of course that would wake him. Not only did he allow strangers to stay in his home, but they’re morning people.

Ugh.

He pulls the pillow over his head and tries not to think about how terrible today is going to be. Obviously Dean and Sam are still here. Worse yet, they’re here and it’s a Saturday – which means that Castiel doesn’t work today. It’s supposed to be his day off and he doesn’t really want to work, but then what else is he going to do?

If he doesn’t hide from them in his office, then the only other option would be hiding from them in his bedroom. Perhaps he could go outside? But what would he do out there? It’s been steadily getting colder since the middle of October, and Castiel already turned the gardens down for the winter. And it’s not like he has some kind of workshop or something in the garage to keep him busy. That’s mostly just empty space that only gets filled when Aunt Amara parks her car there.

And then part of Castiel feels bad for avoiding his guests. They must know that he’s been hiding from them. He took the sandwich Dean made him for lunch and ate it in his office yesterday afternoon, and dinner was ready for him when he finished work. Kraft dinner mac & cheese with grilled cheese sandwiches was a simple fare compared to their massive breakfast, but it was certainly satisfying. But after eating, and a quick clean, Castiel had retired straight to his bedroom.

He had tried to read himself to sleep, but he could hardly focus on his book because the house wasn’t quiet. Castiel is used to silence, but the brothers were watching TV together after eating. It wasn’t very loud and Castiel couldn’t even tell what they were watching, but there was still noise where there shouldn’t be. Sometimes he’ll have the radio playing as something to listen to while he’s cooking or while he’s doing chores, but it’s never playing when he’s in his bedroom.

In all honesty, Castiel half expected not to make it through the night. If he hadn’t just heard one of the brothers using the bathroom, he would already assume that he would find his house empty of all his valuables once leaving his room. Granted, his sensitivity to the sounds of other people moving around his house probably would have woken him up if they had started stealing from him in the middle of the night – but the paranoia is still there.

Strangely, though, he did manage to get some sleep. When he went to bed last night, he fully expected to spend the entire night staring at the wall and imagining the various ways they might try to kill him. But after hearing Sam retire to the guest room, and the living room go quiet, Castiel must have felt safe enough to fall asleep at some point. Either that or mental exhaustion decided he didn’t get a say.

But he’s alive, the Winchesters are still here, and Castiel is faced with another day of them.

It’s not long after the bathroom goes quiet with the smell of fresh brewed coffee sneaks under his door. He groans again before forcing himself to get out of bed. How can he deny himself the bitter nectar of the Gods?

After a quick clean up in the bathroom, he binds his wings and wraps himself in his housecoat. His coffee maker is so old that there isn’t a timer function on it, so one of the brothers must have started it himself. Castiel could certainly afford a new one, but he’s – Well, the correct term is frugal. This one works just fine, so why should he get a better one that could have coffee ready for when he wakes up?

Unsurprisingly, Castiel finds Dean standing at the counter next to the stove. He’s wearing a hoodie and sweatpants while swinging his hips and humming to himself. It’s a tune that Castiel doesn’t recognize, but he watches him dance until Dean turns around. There’s a block of cheese in his hand that he’s trying to fit into a Ziploc baggie.

Dean jumps in surprise and almost drops the cheese when he sees him in the doorway. He brings a hand up to his heart briefly before pulling his earbuds out. “Holy shit, Cas. You scared the crap outta me.” He grins and continues to put the cheese away in the fridge. “Excellent timing, though. The coffee will be ready in a minute and today is omelette day. What d’you want in yours?”

Before Castiel can even think to answer, Dean tosses the cheese into the special slot on the fridge door and turns with a flourish to the bowls he has lined up next to the stove. “I’ve got bacon, I've got ham, I've got peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese, and whatever else your heart desires!”

“Do you always go all out for breakfast?”

“Only when I’m trying to impress someone.” Dean winks at him again and returns to the stove. “Why? Is it working?”

Castiel rolls his eyes and goes to the cupboard to pull two mugs out. He ignores the question entirely and hesitates at getting a third mug. “Will Sam be having any coffee?” The guest room door had been open when he left his bedroom, and he didn’t see Sam in the bathroom.

“Probably when he gets back.” Dean shrugs and dumps some oil into the pan while it heats up. “He’s a weirdo and he’s out jogging right now. Y’know, like a weirdo.”

“In this weather?” Castiel can see that half the backyard is shrouded in fog and his phone was showing forty-four degrees when he checked it while getting ready. “Isn’t it too cold?”

Dean snorts a laugh as he cracks a couple eggs into a bowl to start whisking them. “That doesn’t bother him. He’s full Elsa when he’s out there.”

“He’s what?”

“The cold doesn’t bother him anyway.” He looks over his shoulder and raises his eyebrow at Castiel, as if surprised that he doesn’t understand.

It still takes a moment for the Disney’s Frozen reference to actually click. In Castiel’s defense, he hasn’t had his coffee yet. The moment the pot is finished brewing, he starts pouring a mug for himself and for Dean. “I see. If he would like to spare himself the outdoors, I do have a home gym in the basement. The heated basement.”

Castiel is not a fan of the cold. It’s forty-four degrees out and he has thick socks on inside his slippers. Despite all the feathers and down that his wings have, they are also somewhat sensitive to the cold during the winter. He often covers them with a blanket when he’s working; no stranger to the feeling of having fabric over them – even if it isn’t the most comfortable. It’s still better than being cold.

He turns around with the mug between his hands, warming his fingers, just in time to catch Dean giving him a quick up-and-down glance over his shoulder. Dean shrugs and sprinkles a few of the ingredients and seasonings into the whisked egg. “I guess if you’re a hermit you’d at least want to be a hermit who gets some exercise, huh?”

“I had to have a Physical Education class somehow. Playing outside didn’t qualify, according to my parents.” Castiel shrugs and takes a sip before frowning at his coffee. He forgot the cream and sugar.

“Sorry, what?” Dean turns around with his whisk in hand, but Castiel ignores him in favour of making his coffee perfect so he can drink nirvana. “Were you home-schooled?”

The next sip is perfection and he sighs into it. He hums a short, content sound and leans a hip against the counter. When Castiel realizes that Dean is still waiting for an answer, he nods and continues to take small sips.

“Man, no wonder you’re so weird.” Dean shakes his head and turns back to mixing the omelette.

Now that’s just uncalled for. Castiel is aware that he can be a little weird sometimes, but he doesn’t think any of that has to do with his homeschooling. “Excuse me?”

Dean uses the whisk to gesture at him, miraculously not spraying egg or bits of ingredients all over the kitchen. “You’re not good with people, are you? You keep acting like Sam and I are going to eat you in your sleep or something.”

Castiel frowns and forces his wings not to bristle under his housecoat at the (only a little bit accurate) assumption. “You’re two strangers who invited yourself to live in my home. How am I not supposed to be nervous about that?”

“We totally offered you the chance to say ‘no’.” He shrugs and pours his omelette bowl into the pan, grinning as it starts sizzling immediately. “We wouldn’t have stayed without your consent. And we’ll leave right now if you tell us to go.”

While that might be the truth, Castiel still frowns at his back. “But you know I’m a mutant. You could have reported me if I turned you away yesterday.”

“And we still could even after we leave, whenever that is.” Dean shrugs and starts whisking another set of eggs in the bowl. “If anything, we should be the ones worried that you’re going to murder us to keep your secret safe.”

The thought hadn’t even crossed his mind. “I wouldn’t –”

“You wouldn’t and neither would we.” Dean nods solemnly, as if that settles the matter. “And even if you were thinking about it, Sammy would have picked up on that already. If you do get any weird ideas, I figure you should be aware that we’re both really good with weapons and hand to hand combat. Trained by the best of the best and all that.”

That makes sense, given the nature of their jobs. Castiel hadn’t really thought about all that when he learned about their jobs and their tranquilizer guns. They use weapons! It’s entirely possible that they have actual bullets and real guns and –

His thoughts must be showing on his face, because Dean sets his bowl aside and crosses the kitchen to pat him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, Cas. We didn’t bring any of that inside. It’s all still in the trunk of my baby and you’re welcome to check our bags if you want to be sure about it.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” Castiel steps out of the way for Dean to make his own cup of coffee. He makes a face when Dean just picks it up as is – no cream, sugar, milk or anything to make it not taste horrible – and returns to the stove to drink it black.

Any further conversation is interrupted by the sound of the front door opening. A few moments later, Sam is walking into the kitchen bundled up in a mismatched sweat suit and a headband. He smiles brightly when he sees him. “Good morning!”

“Hey, Sammy!” Dean calls over his shoulder while he flips the omelette. “Cas says there’s a home gym in the basement.”

“Really?” He steps up next to Castiel to start pouring his own coffee. Like a civilized person, he adds a bit of cream. “That’s awesome. Would you mind if we use it?”

Castiel shakes his head and makes a vague wave towards the stairs. “As long as you stay out of the storage room for anything other than your laundry, you’re welcome to use the gym.”

“Great, thanks.” Sam takes a quick sip of his coffee before downing almost all of it in a few quick gulps. Apparently heat doesn’t bother him either. “Does anyone mind if I take a quick shower before breakfast?” He glances at Castiel. “Do you want to use it first?”

“Be my guest.” Castiel takes another step out of the way so he’s standing in the corner and giving Sam plenty of room to get out of the kitchen. “I’ll likely take a bath after breakfast.”

With one last quick smile and thank you, Sam heads off to his bedroom before hitting the bathroom. It leaves Castiel alone with Dean again. For a brief moment he feels just a little bad about not having helped with preparations for breakfast. He could have diced some of the ingredients Dean has set aside for the omelette – some of which he’s adding now. But then he remembers that this is how they’re paying their rent and he doesn’t need to help them.

“Are you going to spend the whole day in your office again?”

He had been expecting the question at some point this morning, but he’s still not ready to think about what he’s going to be doing all day. “I don’t know. It’s the weekend.”

“So?” Dean glances over his shoulder briefly before returning to focusing on cooking. “Don’t you make your own hours? Oh, could you bring me a couple plates?”

Castiel puts his coffee down to grab three plates from the cupboard. “I do, but I like to keep semi-regular business hours.” He places the plates next to Dean before quickly retreating to the other side of the kitchen again. “I usually work at least eight hours per week day and take the weekend off. But sometimes I do more since I get paid per minute of recording that I transcribe, or by the number of words that I edit. I don’t get paid by the number of hours I work.”

“Wow, that doesn’t sound very fair.” Dean throws a frown over his shoulder before sliding the omelette off the pan and onto one of the waiting plates. He immediately puts it into the microwave to keep it warm. “Why can’t you just track the hours that you work and then submit those?”

That’s a very good question, and not one that Castiel can answer. He’s never thought to ask his employers why they pay that way. “It is a bit skewed, I suppose, but there’s a reason I have two incomes. They both pay alright in their own regard, as long as I get the work done. And I never take on more than I’m able to do.”

Dean hums thoughtfully while he adds ingredients to his whisked eggs again. “Whatever floats your boat, buddy. I know I’d go crazy being stuck in an office all day every day.”

“It’s better than being registered.” Though maybe he shouldn’t be saying that to someone who is a registered mutant. But if anyone could understand what he means by that, it would be Dean.

Sure enough, he snorts and nods in agreement. “I’ll drink to that.”

“It’s barely past nine o’clock.” Castiel glances at the clock shaped like an apple with a bee swinging beneath it mounted above the window. It’s almost a quarter after. “You’re not seriously drinking already, are you?” He hadn’t seen him add anything to his coffee, and what would be the point anyway? Dean has already said that he can’t get drunk.

“It’s five o’clock somewhere, isn’t it?” Dean laughs, taking on a bit of a tune to his words.

Castiel is familiar with the song and he still shakes his head at it. “Yes, in Finland.”

“Seriously? That’s awesome. ” Dean laughs again and dumps the eggs into the pan to start omelette number two. “I’m just joking, Cas. I like the sauce as much as the next guy, but I don’t start drinking this early unless I’ve had a really bad hunt. Not that it does me any good anyway.”

Now that his own coffee has been emptied, Castiel abandons the safety of his mug to ease up next to Dean and look at the ingredients he has available. “What constitutes a bad hunt?”

“Anything that ends with me using my powers and a visit to the hospital.”

The hoodie covers a lot of Dean’s scarring, but not the ones on his face or the white scarring on his hands. Castiel lingers on them a moment. “Did you get your scars from bad hunts?”

Dean shrugs and grabs a handful of cheese from a plate to throw into the pan. “Some of them.”

An unpleasant thought occurs then. He probably shouldn’t ask, but the question is already off his tongue before he can stop it. “Is scarring like yours common for a registered? My cousin hasn’t had it easy, but she’s never been attacked.” Castiel pauses, now feeling worse for prying in the same way that he didn’t like how Dean was prying yesterday. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”

“It’s fine.” Dean doesn’t take his eyes off the pan, but he does wave his free hand in the air between them. “And no, scars like mine are definitely not common. Normies might not like us, but a lot of them won’t mess with a mutant – especially when they have no fucking clue what we’re capable of.”

That piques Castiel curiosity more than he cares to admit. Part of him wants to know more about Dean’s scars and how extensive they might be, but he bites his tongue instead. He moves a few of the bowls of diced ingredients, separating out the onions and mushrooms.

The rest he moves closer to the pan. “These for me, please.”

“Your wish is my command.” Dean lifts his head just enough to wink at him. When all Castiel does is blink at him in return, he sighs. “Man, your reactions suck.”

“I’m so sorry to disappoint you.” He keeps his voice as flat as possible, if only so it might discourage any further flirting. That uncomfortable bubble is back under his ribs, because how is he supposed to react to it? Should he ask him point blank to stop? Or is that just a part of Dean’s personality? There are certainly people out there who are just natural flirts. He’s not one of them, but he knows they exist.

To his surprise, Dean actually sticks his tongue out at him. In a fit of impulsiveness, Castiel responds in kind before turning away to get the utensils. A startled laugh follows him out of the kitchen as he goes to set the table. Once in the other room, he takes a moment to himself to breathe. While a bundle of nerves still vibrates somewhere in his chest, it’s not nearly as bad as yesterday. The more he talks with them, the less he finds himself afraid of them.

With the shower running down the hall, and Dean cooking in the kitchen, Castiel isn’t quite comfortable but he’s not entirely uncomfortable. It’s a strange place to be and he isn’t quite sure how to handle it. He still plans to hide from them, but maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if he didn’t? They are – for lack of a better word – interesting. Castiel has a lot of questions, and he is fairly curious, but what’s the point? He’ll learn about them and then they’ll leave and then – What?

Castiel mulls it all over as he continues to set the table. He sets out glasses and the chocolate milk, and the rest of the coffee pot on a trivet. Dean is almost finished with all three omelettes, but Castiel still pauses at the toaster and the bread next to it. “Are we having toast too?”

“Yeah, definitely.” Dean waves a hand at the pantry in the far corner. “I bought Nutella too!”

That almost puts a smile on his face – almost, but Castiel is loath to show that he likes something that either of the Winchesters has done. It has been a long time since he last treated himself to something like Nutella and now he’s looking forward to breakfast even more than he was just from the delicious smell of the omelettes.

He pops four slices of bread into the toaster and while they cook at a lightly toasted setting, because anything darker is pure sacrilege, Castiel sets out to gather all the multiple toast topping options that he has. With the new jar of Nutella, he also digs his aging jar of peanut-butter (crunchy, obviously) out of the cupboard. In the fridge, right next to the margarine, he also finds a jar of strawberry jam that was definitely not there yesterday morning.

“You really did buy everything, didn’t you?”

“Well, Cas, never let the record state anything about me not being a man who knows what he wants.”

Castiel straightens up with the jam in his hand and he turns to find Dean watching him from over his shoulder again. He can only see half of his small smile from this angle and it is just baffling. Dean is clearly flirting with him, but why? It has to be purely physical. They only just met the other day and they hardly know anything about each other.

Since he has no idea how to respond, Castiel simply stares at him with a confused frown.  After a few moments, Dean sighs and turns back to his omelettes. That must have, once again, not been the reaction that he was hoping for. Good. Castiel has enough trouble dealing with the fact that there are strangers in his house, let alone having to deal with flirting too.

But what if Dean wasn’t trying to flirt with him? The small, panicked voice in the back of his mind speaks up by kindling a fire beneath his anxiety. His back was to Dean while he was checking the fridge. What if he was looking at Castiel’s back? What if he was trying to see his wings through his housecoat? What if part of his powers is the ability to see through objects?

The ‘what if’s keep pouring in and they’re taking up every available space in his mind. Castiel’s walk to the dining room to set out his toast toppings is stilted. Hopefully Dean doesn’t notice – or if he does, at least he doesn't mention it.

He sets out the spreads and steps over to the large window that looks out onto the deck and the backyard. The window goes from floor to ceiling and, despite the morning fog, it lets in more than enough natural light for the dining room. Castiel leans his forehead against the cool glass and practices his breathing exercises – counting each deep breath until the rapid beat of his heart has calmed down to something manageable again.

The worries are still dancing along the edge of his mind, but he distracts himself from them by thinking about what he’ll do after breakfast. He’ll take his bath and maybe just retire to his bedroom to read afterwards. Or he can take his tablet in with him and watch Netflix. Clearly he’s not ready to spend more time around the Winchesters if just the idea that Dean might have been looking at his back was enough to kick start the beginnings of a panic attack.

It’s easier when he’s talking with them. The conversations distract him from thinking too much. That’s always been his problem. Castiel thinks and never acts. If it wasn’t for his parents, he probably would have debated with himself about applying for his current jobs but never actually applied. His mother was the one who sat him down and helped him compose his resume. And his father was the one who coached him for the phone interview.

Now that his parents are gone, it’s Anna and his Aunt who make him decide when he’s dithering on choices. Anna forces him to go grocery shopping and leave the protective bubble of his home, even when he doesn’t want to. He really appreciates that she makes him push his boundaries, because he doesn’t want to be scared of everyone and everything.

Castiel doesn’t want to be like this anymore.

Any further hateful self-reflection is interrupted by a freshly showered Sam helping Dean bring the plates of omelettes and the forgotten toast into the dining room. Castiel ducks back into the kitchen to put a few extra slices in the toaster. He has the feeling that they’ll each want at least two pieces.

They all get seated, taking the same positions at the table as they had yesterday. Sam is the first to speak while Dean slathers his toast in Nutella. “Do you have any big plans for the day, Cas?”

“Not really.” He shrugs and starts with cutting up his omelette. When it comes to eggs, he prefers eating them on toast and they need to be in a manageable size for that.

Dean has a full mouth of toast and egg when he points towards the stairs. “Would it be okay for me to check out the basement after?”

“As long as you don’t touch what you’re not supposed to.” Castiel shrugs again and only continues speaking after he swallows his bite, like a person with manners. “There is an extra bathroom downstairs that you can use, and the laundry machines, and the gym. The laundry room is technically also the storage room, but it’s only the boxes that are off limits.”

“Just like asking about your powers, huh?”

Again, Sam backhands him in the shoulder, this time without even looking up from his meal. “Dean.”

“Aw, c’mon, Sammy!” His bottom lip sticks out in a pout for a half second before he’s reaching out to snag the pepper to coat his eggs with it. “You can’t tell me that you’re not curious too.”

“I didn’t say that.” Sam shakes his head. He gives Castiel a reassuring smile before turning a glare on his brother. “But the least you could do is respect Cas’s desire to keep his powers to himself.”

Dean reaches for the ketchup next – something he must have brought from the kitchen himself, because Castiel didn’t put it out. “I do, but –”

“No.” Sam holds up one finger and Dean’s jaw snaps shut.

They stare at each other again for a short moment, and again Castiel can’t help but wonder if they share some kind of telepathic connection that he isn’t aware of. Unlike Dean, however, he’s not going to ask about it. People, even mutants, are entitled to their own secrets.

But instead of dropping it like he did yesterday, Dean turns back to Castiel sharply. “Do your powers have anything to do with your hunch?”

The ensuing wave of self-consciousness almost makes him choke on his mouthful. Castiel coughs into his napkin before he can swallow his mouthful. He straightens his shoulder, consciously trying to flatten his wings more underneath the binder. “I do not have a hunch.”

Dean opens his mouth again but a strangled noise of pain leaves him instead of words. It likely has something to do with the sudden – and loud – thump from underneath the table. He leans forward, swearing profusely under his breath as he nearly puts his nose into the ketchup zig-zagged over his omelette. Sam seems unchanged as he continues to serenely pick his own breakfast apart to stack on toast – in the same way that Castiel does.

“You suck.” Dean hisses when he sits upright again, turning a glare on his brother.

Sam shrugs and gestures at Dean’s plate with his toast. “Stop bothering him. Just eat your breakfast before he calls the cops on us.”

“He wouldn’t do that.”

Castiel raises an eyebrow at the conviction in his voice. Dean knows almost nothing about him. He should call the police just to challenge his assumptions. Of course he won’t, but it would be so satisfying. Still, he sniffs and looks down at his half-eaten plate. “I just might.”

“You wouldn’t.” Dean shakes his head and points with his fork. “Because you like us.”

“I think the reason he wouldn’t call the cops is so he doesn’t risk outing himself as unregistered.”

Dean groans and throws both hands in the air. “Let a man dream, Sammy. God!” He gives him another dirty look. “Is that too much to ask?”

That sets off another hushed conversation that sounds mostly like bickering. Castiel listens with only half an ear while he focuses on his breakfast. They’re trying to keep their voices down while they argue, but it’s still rather loud – at least to him. And he can’t remember the last time his house was this noisy. Even Anna and his aunt aren’t this loud or boisterous whenever they come over.

Castiel can’t decide if he hates it, or kind of likes it? The noise is annoying, but it’s refreshing. But only if he overlooks the part where, in a roundabout way, they’re kind of blackmailing him into letting them stay. On the bright side, at least the food is good – though he could do without all the speculations regarding his mutation.


After breakfast, Castiel is banned from helping clean up. Dean shoos him off to the bathroom after insisting that they’ll take care of any housework as thanks for letting them stay. Any argument was met with more shoo-ing and eventually ended with Castiel relaxing in a hot bath while the radio was playing in the kitchen. He could even hear Dean singing along, occasionally off-key but not that bad.

Once his bath was done, Castiel decided it best to hide out in his bedroom. The bed is a far cry more comfortable than his office chair, and he has a stack of new books on the side table that he’s been wanting to get through. Reading is reserved for weekends when he can devote whole hours to them without worrying about having to do anything more than a couple chores.

He spreads out on his bed with a pillow propped up under his chest and a book in hand. It’s not as hard to focus on reading as he thought it would be. There are still moments when the sound of other people moving around the house, or the occasional laugh from either of the brothers, distracts him for a moment. But then he shakes himself out and forces himself to keep reading.

By the time lunch comes around, he’s gotten surprisingly good at ignoring the extra noise. Right up until there’s a knock at his door that pulls him out of the fantasy realm he was deeply immersed in.

“Cas?” Dean knocks again. “I brought you lunch.”

According to the clock, it’s nearly half past twelve o’clock. Castiel hadn’t realized so much time had passed. Maybe he can read his way through the day without having to deal with either Winchester outside of meal times.

“One moment.” He marks his place in the book before he heaves himself out of bed. With his wings folded flat under the housecoat again, Castiel opens the door to find Dean holding a plate with a handful of plain chips filling one side, and a – “Is that a Sloppy Joe?”

“Man-wich, time!” Dean grins and holds it out. “A filling lunch as an apology for breakfast.” He ducks his head slightly, adopting an apologetic smile. “I know you’re still – uh – adjusting to us and I shouldn’t have pressed about your powers. Sorry.”

Castiel accepts the plate with a nod. “You are an acquired taste, I’ll give you that.”

There’s a brief moment of silence where Dean blinks at him. Then he snorts and then dissolves into a throaty laugh that makes Castiel’s feathers shiver under his housecoat. It takes him a moment to calm down and he waves his hands. “Sorry, sorry, but did you just try and make a joke?”

Actually, no he wasn’t, but Dean’s laugh is surprisingly nice when it’s not interrupting a quiet moment in a cemetery. Castiel raises his eyebrow and just barely manages to keep himself from smiling too. “Well, I do have a sense of humour.”

“Could’a fooled me.” Dean chuckles and shakes his head. “I was beginning to worry that you were all good looks and no pizzaz –” At this he does jazz hands and winks. “– to back it all up.”

There’s the confirmation Castiel didn’t even need to know that Dean finds him attractive. He suppresses the urge to roll his eyes. Instead, he fixes Dean with a flat look until the moment is well and truly passed.

Dean sighs and shakes his head. “Never mind.” He takes a backwards step towards the living room and jerks his thumb over his shoulder. “If you’re interested, Sammy and I just queued up Friends on Netflix. You’re welcome to come watch with us, and you won’t even have to share the couch. I can definitely get Sam to give up that awesome recliner. Seriously, he might cry when we leave just because of that chair.”

Castiel looks down at his food and then takes a half step turn back to look at his bed. His book lies abandoned next to the pillow. Though he could most likely spend the whole day in here, he would rather not. What could it hurt to just watch one episode while he eats? He would be less likely to make a mess of his bedspread by not eating in here.

“Okay.” He shrugs and gestures for Dean to lead the way. “I suppose I can do one episode.”

Although that’s what he says, Castiel ends up watching almost four and a half episodes. He’s always been a sucker for Friends. It was one of his parents’ favourite TV shows and they loved when channels would marathon episodes of it. Castiel has seen every episode, but the nostalgia of watching them over and over again is just too much to resist – especially as Dean and Sam have a running commentary that is, in all honesty, pretty funny.

Surprisingly, Castiel is actually enjoying himself – right up until someone knocks at the front door a moment before opening it. There are only two other people who have a key to that door and, sure enough, Anna calls out a moment later. “Cas? Why is there a car outside?”

Castiel is on his feet and at the top of the stairs in a heartbeat. “Anna!”

Didn’t he tell her not to come over this weekend? Why didn’t she text him that she was on her way over? She always texts him, and – Oh, right. He left his phone in the bedroom and he usually keeps the ringer volume on quiet when he’s not working. If it’s on quiet, he can’t hear it while he’s transcribing.

Anna stands at the bottom of the stairs with her hands on her hips. “You don’t look very sick.”

“I –” He has no idea how he’s going to explain this to her without having her come into the house and actually meet the Winchesters.

Dean saves (if he should even call it that) him from having to figure that out. “Well, hello.” He drops a hand on Castiel’s shoulder as he steps up next to him. “Cas, you didn’t tell us an angel would be visiting. I would’ve cleaned up more if I’d known.”

“No, absolutely not.” Castiel barely likes it when Dean flirts with him, but he will not tolerate him flirting with Anna. He shoves Dean back a step and points around the corner. “Go back to the living room.”

“What. The. Hell.” In between words, Anna’s voice moves from the bottom of the stairs to the top. Dean gives a fairly girlish shriek of surprise and he jumps back into Sam as Anna suddenly appears in front of him. She looks between Dean and Sam a few times before turning on Castiel and gesturing wildly at the others. “Since when do you have friends?!”

He’s sure that she doesn’t mean it the way it sounds, but Castiel still flinches slightly at the words. Anna either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care, because she jabs him in the chest with an unfairly pointed finger. “And you were hiding them! Why were you hiding them from –”

She stops suddenly and goes unnaturally still. Slowly, Anna turns and looks at Dean and Sam again, looking them up and down before making a soft ‘oh’ noise. Without another word, she blinks away and Castiel doesn’t have a clue where she went. He does hear a distant and muffled ‘oh my God!’ from outside, but she’s back in the house before he can check on it – only this time she blinks into the living room behind the Winchesters.

“You were the two at the graveyard the other day!” She points at them before gesturing out the window. “That’s your car out there!”

“Aw, Cas.” Dean looks back at him with a slanted smile. “You talked about us?”

“No, he didn’t.” Anna crosses her arms and turns a chilling glare on Castiel. “You’ve been keeping secrets from me. I can’t believe you would keep secrets from me!”

This is too much. Castiel is still coming to terms with having the Winchesters here and now he has to deal with Anna throwing a tantrum. If he didn’t absolutely believe that she should not be left alone with strangers in his own home, no matter how comfortable he’s slowly becoming with them, he would have already retreated to his bedroom. This whole situation is quickly becoming a headache that he doesn’t want to deal with.

Instead, Castiel just pinches his nose and sighs. “Anna, I told you I would text you when you could come over next.”

“And you also said that you weren’t feeling good.” She huffs and narrows her eyes at him. “But you turn into a giant man-baby when you’re sick and whine at me all the time. When I didn’t get a single message from you about your throat or your sinuses or your headaches, I figured something might be wrong. I blink all the way out here just to find out that you’ve gone and made friends.”

She throws her hands in the air and points accusingly at him. “How many other friends do you have that you haven’t told me about, huh? Does Mom know? If Mom knows and I don’t, I’m going to be pissed.”

Castiel rolls his eyes and ignores the sting from her words. “No, Anna, I don’t have any other friends.”

“Seriously?” Dean turns to him again and this time there’s pity in his eyes.

He hates that look immediately and looks away from all of them. “Do people I’ve never met in person count as friends?”

“Uh –?”

Sam clears his throat and nudges Dean in the shoulder. “I think he’s talking about people on the internet.”

“Oh!” Dean shrugs and makes a vague gesture with one hand. “I guess they count? There are lots of people out there who make really great friends online without having met them first.”

“Does it still count if I have no plans on ever meeting them in person?” Castiel crosses his arms to avoid hugging himself in front of all of them. “They’re friends in that we simply occupy the same message boards or servers on occasion.” There are at least a handful of different groups that he’ll play with if everyone is online at the same time, most of which also frequent message boards about the games themselves where they argue or share tips and tricks.

Dean frowns again. “Wow, that’s kinda –”

“If you dare pity me again, I swear I will kick you out this instant.” He drops his voice into a dangerous hiss. It doesn’t matter if anyone else can hear him or not, but Dean keeps looking at him with sad eyes and Castiel can’t stand it. If it wasn’t for Anna, he would have already run from that look.

Thankfully, Dean mimes zipping his lips closed instead of saying anything further. The exchange must be interesting, because Anna looks more intrigued than angry now. She glances between the three of them a few times before striding forward. Castiel doesn’t have it in him to argue or resist as she grabs him by the arm and drags him into the kitchen.

Once alone, she cups a hand around her mouth and leans in to whisper into his ear. “Do they know?”

Bless her for her attempted secrecy, as unnecessary as it might be. “Yes, they’re aware that I’m a mutant.” Castiel does nothing to maintain the whisper, speaking at normal volume. “So are they.”

Dean leans around the doorway with the collar of his shirt pulled down, revealing the mangled remains of his tattoo. “Registered and everything!”

Sam leans too and waves. “And I’m unregistered.”

Anna sucks in a sharp breath just as Dean glances back to glare at Sam. She covers her mouth with her hands briefly be gesturing sharply at him. “Why would you tell someone that you’re unregistered?”

“I trust Cas not to turn me in.” He shrugs and steps around Dean to enter the kitchen too. “And I know that you’re trustworthy too.”

She continues to gape at him, even looking at Castiel momentarily before turning back. “You’re trusting strangers? Why in the world would you trust me? You don’t even know me!”

Castiel clears his throat and puts a hand on her shoulder to calm her down. “We’re not going to turn him in because they could just as easily turn me in as an unregistered too.”

Her jaw snaps shut with an audible click before she takes a threatening step forward, pointing at the both of them in kind. “Don’t you dare.”

Sam holds his hands up and shakes his head. “I wouldn’t do something like that, and Dean’s a dick sometimes, but he’s not that much of a dick.”

“Hey!” Dean steps into the kitchen too, but only to punch Sam on the shoulder.

Anna seems like she’s gearing up to say something else, but Castiel squeezes her shoulder. “It’s okay.” He offers her a small smile when she looks at him again. “This whole situation isn’t – it’s not that bad. Dean is a very good cook, at the least.”

She regards him for a moment before crossing her arms and shrugging his hand off. “I still can’t believe that you didn’t tell me immediately the moment you had – what, intruders?”

“We prefer to call ourselves visitors, thank you very much.” Dean sniffs and mirrors her body language. He holds his head high and puffs up slightly. “We’re paying for our stay with out-of-this-world companionship and delicious as hell food.” All his posturing is gone as quick as it came and he looks Anna over again. “You hungry? I can heat up some of our lunch for you.”

Food has always been a helpful factor when winning Anna over. Castiel nods in approval of the suggestion. “He does make a very good Sloppy Joe.”

“I can’t believe you’re okay with this.” She huffs and steps out of the way for Dean to get to the fridge so he can get the leftovers.

Castiel shrugs and looks away. “I didn’t say that.”

Sam doesn’t seem surprised, but Dean turns sharply with the container of cheese and Sloppy Joe meat in his hands. “You’re not okay with us? Why didn’t you say so!”

That’s not exactly what he meant and Castiel rubs a hand over his face. “It’s complicated, Dean. And I would appreciate if everyone would please just drop the matter.” He looks at Anna pointedly when she opens her mouth again. “I’m going to lock myself in my bedroom again if you keep arguing it. They’re here and I’m as okay with it as I can be. End of story. So, can we just ­– can we not?”

“But –”

He holds his hand up to cut her off. “I promise you that everything is fine and I am not in trouble. Just, for the love of all that is holy, please don’t tell Aunt Amara about this. She’ll be more upset than you.”

“For good reason!”

“You old enough to drink?” Dean interrupts what could be a continued argument. “We’ve got beer, if you want it.”

Anna wrinkles her nose and looks up at the clock. “It’s, like, two-thirty in the afternoon.”

“Really?” Dean looks up at it too. “Wow, could’a sworn that it was later.” He shrugs and turns back to her, though he tilts his head at the counter where he’s standing. “C’mon, angel. Come tell me how sloppy you want your Joe and I’ll make you the best damn sandwich you’ve ever tasted.”

She rolls her eyes and points at Castiel again, squinting at him. “This isn’t over.”

“Lord, don’t I know that.” He sighs and watches as she stomps over to where Dean is waiting with a bowl to scoop out the amount she wants and warm it separately from the bun.

Sam touches Castiel’s shoulder briefly, expression apologetic. “I’m sorry. I don’t think either of us realized how – uh – not used to people you are.”

“She calls me a hermit.” Castiel gestures at Anna. “I leave the house for the cemetery and occasionally for grocery shopping. Otherwise – Well, my aunt comes and cuts my hair for me every now and then.” He runs a hand through his hair before shoving them both into the pockets of his housecoat. “But it’s fine. I’m fine.”

Although he says that, all Castiel really wants to do right now is to go back to his bedroom. But even though he vaguely trusts that Dean and Sam won’t do anything to her, he still refuses to leave Anna alone with them. Instead, he turns on his heel and brushes past Sam on his way back to the living room. Instead of taking the recliner like he did before, Castiel flops face first down on the couch. He has no idea how he’s going to deal with the rest of this and he already feels exhausted.

Of course now that he’s no longer in the room, Dean has struck up a conversation with Anna. Castiel can hear them from here and he grimaces into the pillow at the direction he’s going. Rather than try and learn about her, Dean seems to be more interested in trying to find a roundabout way to ask Anna what Castiel’s mutation is. Thankfully, Sam is there to call him out on that right away and Dean immediately switches to asking about Anna’s teleportation powers.

Today just got – it got a whole lot more and Castiel is not equipped for dealing with it. All he can hope for is that Anna either doesn’t stay around for very long, or she stops making such a big deal about the situation. Either way, he has the feeling that it now no longer matters how long Dean and Sam are staying. It could be one more day or it could be another week. Whatever it is, Anna is likely going to be coming over on the daily.

As much as he loves her, just thinking about that is exhausting.


Saturday – November 11th, 2017

“Hey, Cas?” Dean calls from the living room just as Castiel is coming down the hall from his bedroom, laundry basket in hand. “Cas! What are these boxes under the TV?”

He puts his basket down at the top of the stairs and rounds the corner into the living room. Dean is crouched in front of the entertainment unit beneath the wall-mounted TV. It’s a long unit with four shelves hidden behind sliding doors. Each shelf is above a cubby and all four of the cubbies have two storage boxes fitted into them. The DVD player and cable box are sitting on top of the unit, along with a number of family pictures in frames.

Rather than answer with his words, Castiel crosses the room to crouch next to him. He pulls out one of the boxes and lifts the lid to show that the box is full with video game cases. This particular box contains the games for his Xbox One. They’re actually for older models, but Castiel has the backwards compatibility model that supports older games.

Dean audibly gasps. “You have video games?”

“I’m honestly surprised that you didn’t investigate these on your own earlier.” Castiel replaces the lid and puts the box back where it belongs.

“You told me not to snoop and I’ve been respecting that!” Despite that, Dean still grabs for another box and opens it to find it full of games for the Nintendo Wii. He gapes at it before looking up at Cas. “Does this mean that I can snoop and you won’t get mad?”

Honestly, Castiel is impressed. The Winchesters have been here for a week now and they haven’t been looking into his personal things? “I’m surprised. I thought for sure that you would have been nosy and poked around in literally everything by now.”

“Well, now I will.”

Castiel watches as Dean systematically pulls out each and every box to see what games are in them. He finds the PlayStation games (for three separate different models), but makes an odd squealing noise in the back of his throat when he finds the ones for the old NES system. The noise happens again, though it’s more choke than squeal when Castiel reaches out to lift and slide back all four of the covers for the shelves on the unit.

One has the Wii and the PlayStation 2 stacked on top of each other, and the next has the PlayStation 3. The third shelf has the PlayStation 4, and the final has the Xbox one. The NES is actually in a separate box on the shelf with its games. Castiel hasn’t played those since his dad died, so he replaced it with the PS4 when it came out. The NES was his dad’s favourite system and it’s hard to play without getting emotional. Buying games and consoles are some of the only times that he’ll drop big money.

“What the hell.” Dean stares at all the systems for a long moment before turning to Castiel. “I didn’t know that you were a gamer.”

He shrugs again and stands up. “My parents thought video games were a good way to pass the time since I couldn’t really go out and make friends. When online gaming became a thing, I did get to talk to more people.” From one of the boxes with less games, he pulls out a headset with microphone. “I like the multiplayer games where I can work as a team.”

“Holy shit, Cas.” Dean stands up too and bounces on the balls of his feet a few times. “You have gotta play me at some of these.”

After a week, Castiel has started almost enjoying his time with the Winchesters. The amount of time he hides in his bedroom or office has decreased slowly but surely every day. Now, instead of dreading the idea of spending time playing video games with Dean, he actually likes it.

“Why don’t you get Mario Kart set up while I go get my laundry started?” Castiel pulls the game from one of the Wii boxes and holds it out. “I’ll be right back.”

“Oh I am so going to kick your ass at this.” Dean grins widely and crouches to turn the Wii on.

Sam snorts from the dining table, where he’s been quietly working on his laptop since lunchtime. “I’m not going to hold your hand when you get your butt kicked.”

It seems that Sam understands the situation better than Dean does. Castiel shares a knowing grin with him before returning to his waiting laundry basket. He just admitted that he’s played a massive amount of video games in his life, yet somehow Dean still expects to beat him – at one of his favourite games, no less. It’s highly doubtful that he’s played as much Mario Kart as Castiel has. There will be no quarter given. He will be merciless and ruthless, and he’s going to enjoy every second of it.

While in the basement, Castiel pulls his phone from the pocket of his housecoat. He’s getting sick of wearing the damn thing, but the thought of revealing his wings fills him with so much anxiety that he can hardly function when he considers doing it.

Once the water starts running, and before he adds his detergent, Castiel sends a quick text message to Anna. She wants to go grocery shopping later, since he didn’t have to do it last week, and she already made Dean promise to not only drive them but also pay for it. The only stipulation is that Castiel has to go with them, or be subject to two disappointed faces – or three, if Sam joins in.

When do you want to go shopping?

I’ve got an ass to beat first.
Read: 12:44pm

What the hell is that supposed to mean??

Dean challenged me to Mario Kart. >:)
Read: 12:47pm

I promise I’ll say something nice at his funeral.

Castiel bites back his laugh as he reaches for the detergent. Dean has no idea what’s in store for him. It’s almost sad, really. Almost.


Tuesday – November 14th, 2017

At this point, Castiel isn’t even surprised anymore when he wakes up to the smell of food. Dean is always up before him and he always makes something delicious. There hasn’t been a single meal yet that Castiel hasn’t liked – except for the few times when the Winchesters take a jaunt into town and returned with Chinese food or pizza. Arguably, the food was good, but it just wasn’t as good as everything that Dean has cooked.

In fact, in the time that he’s had his own personal chef, Castiel is sure that he’s actually put on some weight. He’s getting spoiled by all these good meals and he already knows he’s going to miss eating this well when the Winchesters finally leave.

Surprisingly, he tries not to think about that anymore.

“G’morning, sunshine!” Castiel is mid-yawn when he shuffles into the kitchen. Dean meets him with coffee in hand. “Here you go. Made just the way you like it!”

Castiel squints at first the coffee, then at Dean. “Why are you such a morning person? I hate it.” He grumbles before bringing it to his lips and oh that’s good.

“He’s actually a huge grump in the morning.” Sam is leaning against the counter with his own coffee. He must have gotten up not long before Castiel, because his hair is a true mess and he still looks rather rumpled from sleep. “Worse than you, even. But he still drags his ass out of bed at least an hour before your alarm just so he can down a whole pot of coffee and be awake enough to make breakfast for you.”

As soon as he handed off the coffee, Dean had moved back to the stove to focus on flipping the French toast in the pan. The back of his neck turns steadily red the more Sam talks, and Castiel watches the interesting change over the edge of his mug.

“Dunno what you’re talking ‘bout, Sammy.” It sounds like he’s speaking through gritted teeth.

Sam gives Castiel a tired grin and gestures towards Dean with his mug. “Now he’s embarrassed.”

“You want egg in your hair?” Dean turns and brandishes his spatula like a sword. “Coz’ this is how you get egg in your hair.”

Castiel hums and takes another sip of sweet godly caffeine. “I’ve read that cracking an egg into your hair is supposed to be good for it.”

Dean turns a disapproving frown on him. “Go sit down and drink your coffee, Cas.”

He doesn’t need to be told twice and Castiel shuffles off into the dining room. The table is already set up and it looks like he doesn’t have to do anything this morning besides drink his coffee and eat. That’s an excellent start to an otherwise dreary day. It’s foggy outside again, and the weather is steadily getting cooler with it holding out in the mid-fifties today. He can’t wait until Friday when the weather report is predicting a low seventies. Winter is the worst and he can’t wait for it to be over with - and it isn't even really here yet!

Instead of sitting with his back to the kitchen like he usually has been, Castiel takes one of the two places on the other side of the table just so he can see into the kitchen. The angle only gives him a good view of Sam, but he can hear the hiss of sausages as Dean fries them in another pan. Everything looked almost ready and Castiel’s stomach gives a tired rumble of anticipation.

Sam brings the coffee pot too when he helps bring the serving plates into the dining room. He carries the sausages while Dean carries the French toast. They both pause in the doorway, probably because Castiel isn’t where he normally sits. For a moment he briefly considers getting up and moving, but then Dean rounds the table and drops into the seat next to him before he can really do anything. Now it would just be rude of him to get up and Castiel resigns himself to sitting next to Dean for the meal.

It’s weird that he doesn’t actually mind it that much. And it’s weird how he’s gotten used to all of this. It should be a bad thing, but Castiel is almost completely accustomed to waking up to these two and a delicious breakfast.

That scares him a little bit and the next gulp of his coffee goes down a little rougher.

Thankfully, Sam is ready to distract him from his thoughts without even needing to be asked. It might be a coincidence, or it might be his empathy at work, but Castiel is grateful for it whatever it may be. “Are you going to tackle that new manuscript today, Cas?”

“I am.” Castiel serves himself a couple pieces of French toast and a number of sausages, then covers everything liberally with syrup. “It’s technically a short story, so I should be able to finish it today. Then I’m going to turn it in and firmly tell them that this is the last trashy romance I’m going to edit.”

Sam uses far less syrup that either Castiel or Dean, and he scoops some berries onto his French toast. “Would you rather be editing a scientific journal article or something similar?”

“Not quite.” He shakes his head and drags the berries close enough to put some along the side of his plate. “I’m fine with anything as long as it isn’t poorly written smut.”

Dean’s cheek is already bulging with the first bite of sausage. “What about well-written smut?”

Castiel shrugs and pops a slice of strawberry into his mouth. “If I ever get some, I’ll let you know.”

To his great delight, that gets a laugh from both brothers. He hides his own smile with his coffee mug, draining it so he can pour himself a second one before continuing with his meal.

Anna and his aunt never really ask about his work. What he edits might change, but it’s not like he can talk about the content or the plot. That goes against the privacy agreement he signed when he was hired. And he absolutely cannot talk about anything that happens in the recordings that he transcribes for doctors. Those are highly private and very confidential.

While his family never asks about his work, Sam has taken to asking about his editing job a lot. Mostly he asks about what it’s like and how many different genres he’s edited before. Castiel doesn’t want to assume anything, but he thinks Sam might be a little jealous about it. There’s nothing very glamorous about the job, but he does like getting to read all sorts of new books before they hit the market. Unfortunately, being behind the curtains means that Castiel is all too aware of how atrocious some authors are at both spelling and grammar.

Sometimes he likes to think that his job is similar to being given a raw gemstone and it’s his job to chip away all the impurities and polish it until it shines. It takes a lot of time and effort, but Castiel really does like his job. Most of the time, at least.

“I know we’re not allowed to go in your office, but I did see through the doorway the other day that you have a lot of books in there.” Sam pokes his food around his plate a bit, more focused on talking than eating. “What kind of books are they?”

“Some of them are for the transcribing that I do, but my own sizable personal collection is in there too.” Castiel shrugs, not looking up from cutting everything on his plate into manageable pieces. “I also usually get a free copy of the books that I’ve edited.”

As soon as he says that, Sam sits forward and looks much more awake than he did moments before. Even Dean perks up a little bit, though he’s more subtle about it. Castiel looks between the two of them before raising an eyebrow. “If you’d like, you can come and browse my collection before I start work today. Anything you’re interested in, you’re welcome to take.”

Sam’s smile is downright radiant. “That would be awesome. Thanks!”

Dean has an interested gleam in his eye, but he snorts and rolls his eyes instead. “Who has time for books. You’re both a bunch of nerds.”

Even though that’s what he says, Dean still lingers at the door to Castiel’s office after he finishes cleaning up their breakfast. By then Castiel has already finished getting ready for the day and he and Sam are looking at his personal library – which spans most of the two floor to ceiling bookcases he has.

“You’re welcome to come in and look for anything you might like yourself, Dean.” Castiel gestures for him to come in too.

Instead, Dean rolls his eyes and turns away. He yanks open the linen closet to pull out a few towels and goes into the bathroom. “I’m going to shower. Hope it doesn’t disrupt you nerds.”

Sam waits until the shower is running before he reaches out and pulls Cat’s Cradle off the shelf. “He tries to maintain a tough-guy image, but this is the kind of stuff that Dean likes to read.” He passes it off to Castiel as he continues pulling out other books so he can check the back of their covers. “He won’t admit it, but he’s as big a reader as I am. He’s even read The Odyssey.”

Interesting. Castiel files that little bit of information away and searches through his collection for something else that Dean might like. He pulls out another Vonnegut book; The Sirens of Titan. Unsure if it’s just genre or author that he likes, Castiel also grabs 2001: A Space Odyssey too, just in case.

“Thanks, Cas.” Sam hefts the five books he chose from himself and heads back out into the hallway. “I’ve been meaning to read these, but it’s hard when we can’t exactly borrow from a library. I really should just get myself a Kindle or something.”

“If I didn’t love the feel of a cover in my hands, I would have already digitized my collection onto one.” He follows Sam out too. “I hope you enjoy them. They’re all excellent choices.”

Sam flashes him a bright smile before heading into his bedroom to change. Castiel takes the three he has and heads to the living room. Dean’s bed, so to speak, is always made in the morning. The sheets are meticulously tucked around the cushions on the couch, and the blanket is folded carefully on the spare chair by the window. It’s not a recliner like the La-Z-Boy that has it’s back to the kitchen, but it’s still a comfortable seat with a matching ottoman.

The two pillows that Dean sleeps with are stacked on top of the blanket. Castiel looks around for the best place to leave the books before he decides to just leave them on the center cushion of the couch. If Dean misses them, then he’s extremely unobservant. And that sounds like it wouldn’t be a good thing for someone in his line of work.

With that taken care of, Castiel stops in the kitchen to fill up his water bottle before returning to his office. It’s time for him to get to work.


Now that he’s not trying to hide from the Winchesters as much as he did before, Castiel is comfortable with taking a short bathroom break and to stretch his legs every few hours. He can also refill his water bottle more often, which only contributes to his need for more bathroom breaks – not that he minds.

On his first break, he’s surprised to find the house quiet. Sam isn’t in his bedroom at first glance, but he is in the recliner. He has it as flat as it will go and is laying on his side while reading – not even looking up when Castiel comes up the hall. Dean is stretched out on the couch with his feet propped up on the armrest. 2001: A Space Odyssey is in his hands and he’s already a fair number of pages into it.

He glances up from the book when he notices Castiel. Rather than be embarrassed about being caught out as a nerd, Dean just smiles and mouths thank you as he wiggles the book a little before returning to reading. It puts something warm and bubbly behind his ribs and Castiel returns to his office (after a quick visit to the kitchen) with a little bounce in his step.


 

Friday – November 17th, 2017

“Cas!”

The loud bang on his door has Castiel jump. He sighs and takes his foot off the pedal used to control the playback of his recordings. His housecoat is on the back of the door and he gets up to put that on. Dean has been told time and time again not to disturb him during work hours unless it’s an emergency.

If something isn’t on fire, Castiel is going to slam the door in his face.

He opens the door with a frown. “Yes?” Dean is standing there with a storage tub at his feet and his hands on his hips. It’s one of the bins used in the storage room downstairs and Castiel sighs when he sees it. “You’ve been snooping, I see.”

“You basically said it was okay! And that’s not the issue here anyway.” Dean crouches and pulls the lid off the bin, revealing large Ziploc baggies filled with various pieces from a number of different board games. The boards themselves are fit into the tub along the sides and underneath.

Dean picks up one of the baggies, holding the cash and pieces to Monopoly, and shakes it. “We’ve been here nearly two weeks and you’ve been hiding this treasure trove from us!”

Castiel sighs again and crosses his arms. He leans against the door frame and continues to frown down at Dean. “I’m fairly sure board games don’t constitute an emergency.” And then, because he’s apparently also a masochist, he continues. “And there are three other totes of games downstairs.”

“There’s –” His jaw drops and Dean stands up quickly again. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“Because I forgot they were down there?” Castiel shrugs and looks down at the box again. “I only really play them once or twice a year with Anna and Aunt Amara. We played them almost weekly when my parents were alive. When they died, I just –” He shrugs again. “I just packed it all away.”

It’s not like he could have a family game night without a family.

There’s a long moment of silence where Dean seems to wilt under the realization. Finally, he drops the Monopoly bag back into the box. “Sorry, Cas. I didn’t mean to pick at old wounds.”

“It’s fine.” Castiel waves his hand. “It’s about time I started clearing out some of that old stuff anyway.” Everything that had belonged to his parents had been packed away. There’s a lot down there that Castiel didn’t need to keep, but he just wasn’t able to part with any of it when the grief of their deaths was still strong.

“No, don’t do that!” Dean picks up the bin and holds it tight to his chest, as if he’s afraid Castiel will get rid of it that instant. “Let’s play them!” He starts towards the living room at a brisk pace, calling over his shoulder as he goes. “Tonight we’re going to have a game night! I’m going to go through and make a list of every game you’ve got. We’re going to pick one at random and have us a proper family board night after dinner.”

Dean stops at the top of the stairs and turns back. “You should text Anna and ask her if she wants to come over! Tell her to bring her mom too, if she’s free. I bet she’s just as cute as the rest of her family. It’s about time we meet her!” He winks and disappears down the stairs before Castiel can even think of answering him.

After a few moments of silence, Castiel steps back into his office and shuts the door. He rests his forehead against it and takes another couple seconds to process what was asked of him. It brings up a lot of questions, but only one stands out from the others.

Why in the world is he smiling?

Chapter Text

Monday – November 20th, 2017

Castiel is watching the movie, but he’s not really watching the movie. He’s seen Jurassic Park more times than he cares to count and of course he wasn’t going to turn down the idea of watching it when Dean made the suggestion to marathon the first trilogy. But repetition isn’t the reason why he’s zoned out and not absorbing the thrilling scene of the Velociraptors in the kitchen.

What has him distracted is the fact that watching movies after dinner has become a thing. It’s been two weeks – two weeks – since Dean and Sam started staying here. They haven’t been in the house all day every day, of course. One or both of them leaves almost every other day to go off and do God knows what. They always come back with something, though. Whether it be bags from Walmart, or from one of the different grocery stores in town.

Dean has made almost every meal since and Castiel can’t remember the last time he’s had so much good food. True to their word, the Winchesters have also been buying all the food. They’ve even been doing all the chores, leaving Castiel to relax after work and on the weekend. He’s had time to work on his video game library, his pile of books to read, and shop online for Christmas gifts.

And it’s because he had the chance to do some shopping before dinner that he has Christmas on his mind. December is just around the corner and the Winchesters have given no indication of when they’re going to leave. If they end up never leaving and they stay right through the holidays, is he expected to get them gifts? Will they be getting him gifts? The possibility of having them here for something like Christmas – which traditionally is when Anna and his aunt come over and spend several days with him – makes him queasy.

And Castiel absolutely can’t just not ask. He pushes himself up in the recliner, lowering the foot-rest back into place. When he sits here, he lies on his side with the recliner angled away from the TV. It puts the whole chair between him and the couch, but it’s the most comfortable way to relax without laying on his wings.

He clears his throat and two sets of eyes turn from the movie to him. After two weeks in their company, it doesn’t bother him as much as it did before. “Do you have any idea of how long you’ll be staying?” Because they did say that they wouldn’t be staying long, but now it’s been two weeks. “I want to stress that I am not kicking you out. I’m just curious.”

Curious about when everything will stop being so loud. Curious about when the living room is going to stop feeling so lived in. Curious about when his home is going to stop feeling so warm. That doesn’t have anything to do with how Sam seems to heat the air around him, and it has everything to do with how it’s – it’s nice. Surprisingly enough. It’s nice and less empty.

Dean’s eyebrows come together in a worried frown. “If we’re overstaying our welcome, Cas, you can definitely kick us out. We won’t fault you for it.”

“No, no. That’s not what I mean.” He shakes his head and waves a hand. “It’s fine, really.”

“Are you sure?” Dean doesn’t look convinced. “Because –”

Sam leans over to nudge him with his shoulder. “He’s telling the truth, so don’t push him too much or he might change his mind.”

Dean huffs and pauses the movie instead of dropping it like Sam suggested. “I know we’ve been here longer than you thought we would be.” He runs his hand through his hair, ruffling it and giving it a bit of a fluffy look. “This is just a really nice place and we like hanging out with you.”

That’s oddly sweet, and they’re lucky that Castiel has gotten used to them. Sam even smiles and nods in agreement. “We usually stay in Lawrence for most of November to get a year’s worth of visits with Mom’s grave.”

“At first I thought you were just doing a lot of shopping.” Castiel quirks the corner of his mouth up in the closest approximation of a smile that he finds himself willing to give. “You always come back with food, which makes sense given that we eat enough to feed a small army.”

“Well, yeah.” Dean snorts and he grins. “There’s that too. But no, we’re visiting Mom because it’s hard to find the time to make it out here in between our hunts.”

Sam bobs his head in a nod. “Well, hunting and looking for Dad.”

He’s barely finished speaking before Dean elbows him hard enough that he grunts. Castiel frowns at the two of them, because this isn’t the first time that Dean has stopped Sam from mentioning anything about their dad. Aside from their conversation in the graveyard, they haven’t really said much else about him. The only thing Castiel knows about him is that he’s been missing for several years now and that he’s a bounty hunter like them.

Now his curiosity reaches its limit and Castiel pins Dean with a frown. “Why do you keep doing that? Every time Sam mentions your dad, you get –” He gestures at the way Dean is glaring at Sam.

“Because it’s a sensitive topic.” Dean sniffs and picks up the remote. He hits the play button and the screaming of the kids starts again.

It doesn’t play for long, because Sam plucks the remote from his hand and pauses the movie again. “No,  it’s really not.”

Dean’s glare increases tenfold and his shoulders draw up. “Maybe it’s a topic I don’t wanna talk about, huh? How’s that?”

Sam rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “Not talking about it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.” He leans forward to rest his elbows on his knees and looks to Castiel. “The short version of the story is that we haven’t seen our dad since late 2007. He used to come back from every hunt, and then he started coming back less and less until he eventually just didn’t come back at all.”

Oh. Now he sees why this is probably not Dean’s favourite topic of conversation. Castiel has never had someone just leave him like that. His parents died suddenly but it’s not like they chose to die. Their dad chose to leave them and that – that’s so sad.

“Is he okay?” Maybe something happened to him and he’s afraid to face them now? There must be a good reason for why he just stopped coming home.

Dean crosses his arms and slumps further down in his spot. He doesn’t answer, but he does turn his glare on the TV. The intensity of it is briefly worrying. If one of his powers ends up being laser vision, then it will be goodbye to Castiel’s television.

Sam shrugs and briefly spares Dean a glance before turning his attention back to him. “We think so? I mean, we’ve been using the network to track what hunts he’s been taking and where he’s turning them in. If we’re not wrapped up in our own hunt, we try and go intercept him.”

At that point, Dean doesn’t seem to be able to contain himself anymore. He’s practically vibrating in place and radiating anger. “But by the time we fucking get there, he’s long gone! No trace of him and no one knows where the hell he goes in between hunts.” He kicks his feet up on the coffee table, bringing them down with heavy thumps as he glare grows darker. “Just poof.”

The wording piques his interest and Castiel tilts his head. “Is he a mutant too?” If he just disappears after a hunt, then he might have teleportation powers like Anna does.

“Hah! No, he isn’t.” Dean barks a sharp laugh that borders on painful. “He’s a normie.”

With a sigh, Sam sits back and frowns at him. “You know I hate it when you call non-mutants that.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Dean pulls his feet off the coffee table only to push it further from the couch. He stands up and storms off down the hall without another word. The door to the bathroom slams shut behind him, loud enough for Castiel to wince at the bang.

Sam shares a look with him and shrugs. It’s not more of a twitch of his shoulder as he slumps back in his seat too. “Sorry. He took Dad’s distance a lot harder than I did, and then he stopped answering our calls and didn’t return our messages and, well –” He flops his hand out in the general direction of the hall.

Castiel winces again, this time to mentally kick himself for pushing the topic. Now he’s gone and upset Dean, and Sam doesn’t look too happy either. “Should I go apologize?”

“No, don’t bother.” He shakes his head and picks up the remote again. “This isn’t the first time he’s thrown a hissy fit about Dad and it won’t be the last. He’s just going to take a hot shower to burn the angry out and then make me sleep on the couch tonight.” And as if that happens every day, Sam shrugs and points the remote at the TV. “Do you want to continue the movie?”

Even though he nods and lays the recliner out again, Castiel doesn’t end up watching any more of the movie than he did before. Dean doesn’t come back to finish watching with them, and they don’t bother with starting the next one.

Sam was right though. He does end up sleeping on the couch that night.


 

Thursday – November 23rd, 2017

There are only a handful of days in the year where Castiel’s house is a flurry of activity. While the presence of the Winchesters has certainly changed that, Thanksgiving is still a busy day. Castiel always takes work off because he’s usually cooking and cleaning most of the day before Anna and his aunt come over for dinner.

This year, Castiel doesn’t actually have much to do. The house was already impeccably clean because the Winchesters basically attacked it with every cleaning supply Castiel owned. He came out of his office to the windows open to air everything out, and every surface having been sanitized. Even the basement bathroom was sparkling.

And that left Castiel with nothing to do but cook today – which has gone amazingly well thanks to the Winchesters. They’ve both been helping him out, which has lowered almost every stress level Castiel has. Which is hilarious given how much their mere presence shot his anxiety to hell when they first arrived. Now he’s actually grateful to have them around – almost likes having them here.

With all the help, there were only two things that actually cause him any stress or anxiety over the course of the day. The first being that of course he's going to have to look like an idiot and wear his housecoat while cooking and during dinner. Castiel still can't even think about revealing his wings to Dean and Sam. And then the second dizzying spell of anxiety was over the fact that his aunt hasn’t met his guests yet and Anna, at his request, didn’t tell her about them until yesterday.

That leads him to taking deep breaths at the first sound of knocking at the front door an hour before dinner time. Luckily he’s already crouched over in front of the oven, basting the turkey. It helps, but it also keeps him too occupied to greet them – leaving the task to Dean. As much as Castiel has come to enjoy his presence, he really could do without how Dean ends up bickering with Anna every time she comes over. She’s been in the door all of two minutes and already they’ve argued about tracking mud into the foyer and Anna blinking in too close and scaring Dean every time.

“Are you going to be wearing your housecoat all evening?” Aunt Amara steps into the kitchen carrying bags holding everything she brought for dinner.

Castiel stands up to greet her with a quick kiss on the cheek. “It’s this or my overcoat.” Neither Dean nor Sam are in the kitchen at the moment, but he still glances around to make sure they’re not within earshot before dropping his voice into a whisper. “They don’t know.”

“I see.” She puts her bags on the counter and turns to him with her hands on her hips. “I didn't want to stress you out prepping for tonight, so I didn't call you yesterday, but I'm telling you now." Her eyes narrow dangerously. "I’m pissed that you didn’t tell me you had people staying with you and that you had Anna keep it a secret from me.”

She hasn't been able to make it to any of the game nights that Dean has instigated, and Anna never explained who was doing all the planning. As of yet, Aunt Amara hasn’t met the Winchesters officially. Castiel purposefully never told her because he was worried that she would be even more protective than Anna and would have insisted that he kick them out.

“I'll introduce you as soon as I’m done with this turkey.” Castiel crouches again to continue basting, the sleeves of his housecoat rolled up as far as they will go.

Aunt Amara huffs, but doesn’t argue further (thank God, because she can be terrifying) and starts unpacking her bags. “I got the buns and I made my green bean casserole. I also bought those pies you asked me to bring.” She opens the microwave over the stove and puts the casserole dish in there to keep it warm-ish until they have oven space to heat it properly before eating. “But did we really need three different kinds? There’s only five of us – unless you’ve invited more people you haven’t told me about.”

“Pies?” Castiel glances up at the remaining bag on the counter. “I didn’t ask for any pies.”

“Nope, that was me!” Dean sweeps in almost out of nowhere – briefly making Castiel wonder if his power is also the ability to teleport. He grins and paws through the bag. “Heck yes! Apple, Cherry, and Pecan. God’s gift to – Wait. What the heck is this? Pumpkin pie?”

Castiel makes a mental note to chew Dean out later for apparently having stolen his phone or gotten his aunt's number by some other shady means, all for the sake of pie. He pushes the turkey back into the oven and closes the door. “Anna likes pumpkin pie.” He stands up and tosses the oven mitts onto the counter. “And I would like to introduce you to my Aunt Amara. Auntie, this is Dean.”

“Pff, pumpkin. The most basic of all pies.” Dean frowns at the one box he sets aside from the others before turning and holding his hand out. “Hi! Nice to finally meet you. Thanks for getting the pies. Even the pumpkin, I guess.”

Aunt Amara shakes his hand, but she doesn’t manage to get a word out before Anna clears her throat loudly from the doorway into the dining room. Her arms are crossed and there’s a challenging look in her eyes. “You had better not be snubbing my pie.”

Dean throws her a cheeky grin. “Oh, I am definitely snubbing your pie.”

Anna scoffs and rolls her eyes. “Oh, because you’re some kind of pie connoisseur, are you?”

“Damn right I am.” He puffs his chest out and lifts his head high. “Connoisseur for all food, actually.”

Castiel sighs and glances at the timer on the stove. If he doesn’t intervene now, they’re going to get distracted with another argument and dinner will never happen at that rate. “Dean, if we want the potatoes to be done in time with the turkey, we had better start soon.”

“Sir, yes sir!” Dean clicks his heels together and salutes before heading off. “I’ll go see how Sam’s doing with the peeling.”

He and Anna disappear into the dining room and Aunt Amara hums quietly to herself. “He’s a cute one, isn’t he?”

“I suppose.” Castiel shrugs and turns to dealing with the pies. He stacks all the boxes together and gathers the empty plastic bags. “Do you want these back?”

Aunt Amara shakes her head and goes to get a wine glass from the cupboard. “He seems nice enough, I suppose. But if he ever does you wrong, you tell me.” She punches her right hand into her left palm and levels him with a serious glare. “I’ll fuck him up for you.”

“It’s fine, Auntie.” He shakes his head and gives her genuine smile. Castiel only ever really smiles for her and Anna. “Thank you, but they’ve both been very kind. I was uncomfortable at first, but I’ve gotten used to them now.”

“Good.” She nods, seemingly satisfied, and starts pouring herself some wine. “I haven’t met the other one yet, but Anna said she likes him better.”

There’s a gasp from the doorway and they both turn to find Dean standing there with his hand on his chest. Anna is next to him again, though this time she has a stack of napkins in one hand. Dean turns to her with that same shocked expression. “You like Sam better?”

“He’s not such a jerk.” She shrugs and leans against the door frame. “Be less of a dick and I might end up liking you more.”

“Cas!” Dean turns back and points at Anna. “Tell her to stop hurting my feelings.”

Castiel sighs and rubs a hand over his face. “Both of you stop bothering each other. Dean, did you find out about the potatoes?”

“Yeah, Sammy’s almost done.”

Aunt Amara pats Castiel on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.” She pulls open the utensil drawer and takes out the tray inside. “Here, Anna, use these while setting the table. I’ll get the plates.”

“But I’m not done chewing Dean out for besmirching my pie!” Anna balances the tray in one arm and steps out of the way for Aunt Amara to get by with the plates.

Dean snorts and shakes his head, also stepping away to leave the doorway open. “If you can even call pumpkin a pie. There’s no finesse to it! You just dump the shit in a crust and bam, done.”

“Them’s fighting words, Winchester.” She reaches out to slap him in the shoulder with the napkins in her other hand.

He turns to her and brings both fists up, dropping into a balanced stance. “Bring it, short stuff.”

Castiel takes it all back. He doesn’t like having them around anymore. Anna too. They’re all just a pain in his ass and unhelpful when it really counts. “No fighting.” He steps between them, putting one hand on Dean’s chest to shove him further into the kitchen and one on Anna’s shoulder to push her back into the dining room. “Dean, I need you to move the pies to the other counter so they’re out of the prep zone and put the whipped cream in the fridge. When you’re done, put the cranberry sauce out. The dish for it is already on the table. And Anna, I need you to finish setting the table. Now.”

“Sir, yes sir!” Dean salutes again and crosses the kitchen quickly to do as told.

“You’re so bossy today.” Anna huffs and brushes Castiel’s hand from her shoulder. “And you haven’t even greeted me properly. That’s rude you know.”

He so doesn’t have the time for this, but he sighs and pulls her into a quick hug – even kissing the top of her head. “Hello, Anna. It’s nice to see you.”

“Of course it is. I’m a pleasure.” She hugs him back with one arm, the other full of the utensil tray. “How are you holding up? You need a break? I can come take over in here if you want.”

“I’ll have a break when we sit down to eat.” Castiel leaves her to step over and lift the lid on the crock-pot sitting on the short stretch of the counter between the stove and the entrance to the dining room. The meatballs have been simmering in their sauce for a few hours now and he gives them a quick stir. “But I can’t relax until everyone does their job.”

Dean comes up next to him with the open can of cranberry sauce in his hand. “You heard the boss. Get a move on, squirt.”

Anna squints at him for a brief moment before drawing herself up to her full height. It’s not very impressive compared to Dean and Castiel, who both stand at six feet (give or take an inch). To Castiel’s surprise, she actually smiles, and it’s in a weirdly relaxed way that starts a tight, uncomfortable feeling churning in his stomach.

“If you know food so well, then you’ve obviously been to the Ladybird Diner, huh?” She leans her hip against the counter and raises an eyebrow.

“Of course.”

Castiel has never been in person, but Anna has brought him take-out from there before. The food is pretty good and he’s enjoyed it. And it’s no surprise to him that Dean has had it before. If anything, Dean has probably eaten at every restaurant in Lawrence at least once. Neither would he doubt that Dean like has a mental catalog (possibly even a physical copy of it) of every restaurant he’s ever been to, organized by best to worst.

Anna hums to herself and nods in approval. “But have you had their hot beef sandwich? You haven’t lived until you’ve had it.”

“Uh no. You’re wrong.” Dean shakes his head. “You haven’t lived until you’ve had their buttermilk fried chicken sandwich.”

Oh yes, that is a good sandwich. Castiel privately agrees with him on that point. Anna’s sandwich is good too, but it doesn’t have that zing to it that the chicken sandwich does.

This is something that she apparently does not agree with, because her smile falls into a squinty frown again. “Nuh-uh!”

“Uh-huh.”

“Oh, that’s it.” Anna stomps her foot and slaps him in the arm again with the napkins. “First you diss my pie, and now you diss my sandwich? You leave me no choice. Now I have to prove you wrong. You. Me. Next Friday. Six o’clock at Ladybird. We’re going to settle this mano-e-mano.”

Castiel has been watching the conversation from the corner of his eye while taking an excessively long time to stir the meatballs. He’s not sure why he hasn’t moved on to something else, but his position grants him the chance to see Dean’s back go rigid. There’s a startled cough in the dining room, followed by Amara swearing and muttering something about spilling her wine. Thank God she drinks white, because Castiel did not want to have to try and get red wine out of the carpet.

The uncomfortable feeling in his belly grows worse and Castiel puts the lid back on the crock-pot, turning the heat down to warm. It sounds like Anna just asked Dean out and that – Why would she do that? They just – She hardly even knows him! Hell, Castiel still feels like he barely knows him. Dean talks a lot and shares a lot, but he never shares anything of real importance. He knows the bare minimum about their past, and – and – and Anna can’t date Dean.

“Um –” Dean opens and closes his mouth a few times before glancing at Castiel. Their eyes meet for a brief second before he looks back to Anna. “Sorry, kiddo.” He shakes his head and offers her a soft smile. “I’ll have to take a rain check. I’m not going to be in town by then.”

The news catches Castiel so off guard that his wings strain to spread from underneath his binder and the normal shirt he’s wearing over it. He turns sharply to face him. “You’re leaving?”

Sam steps up behind Anna from where she’s mostly blocking the entry to the dining room. “We are.” Unlike Dean, at least he has the courtesy to look ashamed for having not said something sooner. “It’s about time that we started hunting again.”

Dean shrugs and fidgets with the can of cranberry sauce, twisting it between his hands. “We saw that Dad took a job in Nevada. That’s not too far, so we figure we’ll head out in the next day or so and maybe we’ll catch him this time.”

All Castiel can manage to bring himself to say at first is a soft; “Oh.” He turns on his heel and moves over to the stretch of counter in the corner that separates the sink from the stove. “I see. That’s good news, isn’t it?”

There’s a sinking feeling behind his ribs that’s descending into his stomach and making it twist even more. He can’t believe that he’s feeling disappointed. Wasn’t it not too long ago that he couldn’t wait for them to leave? Castiel never really wanted them to stay in the first place, so he should be happy to hear that they’re going to be leaving soon. Things can finally go back to normal.

A pile of vegetables are waiting to be chopped up and arranged on a tray. Castiel picks up the knife and grips it a little harder than he should. The handle digs into his palm and he has to consciously force himself to loosen his hold. If he squeezes too hard, he might actually crush the damn thing.

Silence reigns in the kitchen for a few moments before Sam breaks it. “The potatoes are finished and ready for the stove.”

“Oh, great.” Dean sounds rough and he clears his throat. “Bring ‘em over here and I’ll get them started. You can take over the c-sauce duty.”

“And Anna can come help me finish setting the table.” Aunt Amara calls from the dining room, her voice stern in the way that leaves no room to argue with her. So much so that Anna doesn’t say anything as she leaves the kitchen.

Castiel tries to distract himself with chopping the vegetables, but his mind won’t shut up. It keeps reminding him that they’re leaving. Sometime in the next few days his house is going to be quiet again and Castiel isn’t looking forward to it near as much as he thinks he should be.

Dean moves into his peripherals when he steps up to the sink with the pot of potatoes. He fills it, puts the cover on, and moves it to the stove to get it started. Castiel does his best to ignore him, just like how he tries not to be worked up about this. There’s nothing to be worked up about. This is normal. They were always going to leave eventually and he’s been waiting three weeks for this.

“Hey, Cas –” A hand lands lightly on his shoulder and Castiel jerks in surprise at the unexpected touch.

Pain flares briefly in his back as his wings strain against the binder again, but it’s quickly overrun by the burn in his hand. He hisses and drops the knife after it slides across his palm instead of the pepper that he had been holding. Blood starts bubbling up immediately and he swings his hand over the sink so it won’t get everywhere.

“Oh fuck.” Dean swears and crowds in next to him. “Holy shit, holy fuck. I’m so sorry, Cas! I was just trying to get your attention.” He reaches over to turn the water on and guides Castiel’s hand under the spray. Once the blood is washed away, he pulls his hand up again to get a good look at the damage. “Shit, that’s deep.”

Castiel can feel himself go pale. “Am I going to need stitches?” Because stitches means hospital and he can’t go there. They’ll find him out and – and – and his heart is going too fast and it’s starting to get hard to breathe.

“What’s going on?” Sam walks into the kitchen with the compost bucket full of potato peels. Anna and Aunt Amara are close behind him.

“It’s nothing, Sammy. Just an accident.” Dean cups Castiel’s hand in both of his, using his thumbs to encourage him to close his fingers over the gash in his palm. He smiles at him, soft and warm. “Don’t worry, Cas. You don’t need stitches and you’re going to be all better in a minute.”

Sam makes a surprised noise in the back of his throat. “Dean…”

“It’s fine, Sam.” He doesn’t look away or change his smile, but his tone takes a firm edge to it.

Castiel can’t even look to see why Sam sounds so apprehensive. He’s very distracted by the pinprick of red glowing in the center of Dean’s pupil. And then his palm starts to itch considerably and he glances down to see why – even if he doesn’t want to see his skin split open. He’s immediately distracted by the fact that the veins in Dean’s hands are glowing.

That red light from his eyes is lighting up his veins, starting first in his hands and then travelling up under the sleeves of his turtleneck. The light reappears on his neck; crawling up his throat and cheeks until it branches into his eyes. They glow completely for several seconds before it fades away entirely.

Dean lets out a slow breath through his nose and steps back. He drops Castiel’s hand in the same motion and smiles brightly. “See? All better!”

Slowly, Castiel flexes his fingers. He looks back down at his hand and, sure enough, the cut is gone. It’s hard to tell beneath the blood that pooled in his palm, but his hand doesn’t hurt anymore. He looks back up at Dean, and he looks so proud of himself with his hands tucked behind his back and that cheeky grin back in place.

Apparently his mutation involves healing. But if that’s the case, then how come Dean has scars? If he can heal others, why can’t he heal himself until all the scars are gone? He opens his mouth to ask the questions building on the tip of his tongue, but Sam sighs loudly, cutting him off.

“Cas, where do you keep the first-aid kit?”

“Under the bathroom sink.” Castiel glances at him, surprised to find him frowning. “But I don’t need –”

Sam shakes his head. “It’s not for you.”

“I’ll get it!” Anna vanishes in between one blink and the next.

If it’s not for him then who would the – Oh no. Castiel looks back to Dean to find him scowling at Sam. He holds out the hand not covered in blood. “Dean, show me your hands.”

“Why?” He looks back to Castiel with a smile that even he can tell is strained. “There’s no reason to –”

“Show. Me. Your. Hands.”

Dean’s smile falls into a pout and he shifts on his feet. After a few seconds, he brings both his hands out in front of him. The left is cupped, and Castiel can see blood between his fingers. He sucks in a sharp breath before grabbing Dean’s wrist and forcing it over the sink.

“Why are you –” Castiel fumbles to turn the water on again. “What the hell did you do, Dean?”

Anna suddenly blinks into place next to him. She takes one look at Dean’s hand before she pops the clasp on the kit and essentially dumps the contents out across the counter. “What do you need?”

“Seriously, guys, it’s nothing!” Dean whines and tugs uselessly at his hand, as if he could break Castiel’s grip. “This’ll heal up in a day. No stitches needed for anybody, and Sammy will you stop glaring at me like that! Jesus!”

Castiel shushes him and tightens his grip on his wrist. “Stop pulling.” A roll of paper towels is mounted to the underside of the cupboards next to the sink and Castiel rips one from it. He presses it against Dean’s palm, pushing down until he hisses. “That’s because you’re fighting. Now shut up and let me deal with this.”

Dean visibly bites his tongue and goes still at the flint in Castiel’s tone. He doesn’t move or speak again while Castiel carefully washes his hand with soap and water, dabbing it dry in between until the wound is clear enough for him to apply the antiseptic cream to it. Anna hands him the gauze pads next and Castiel presses it against Dean’s palm far more gently than he did before. Next is the cloth bandage, and he wraps that carefully around his hand a few times. He secures it with medical tape before letting go.

“There, all done.” He hands Anna the tape to put away. “We’ll change the bandage and wash it again before you go to bed.”

“But I’m telling you –”

His jaw snaps shut with an audible click when Castiel turns what very well might be his frostiest glare on him. “You will go sit down, have a drink, and wait for dinner in the other room.”

“But I –”

Sam and I will finish making dinner.”

Dean open and closes his mouth, resembling a fish for a few seconds, before he turns to Sam. “C’mon, man, help me out here!”

“We’re his guests, Dean.” Sam crosses his arms, looking none too pleased with his brother either. “I think you should probably do what he says.”

It still takes a few moments for Dean to listen to them. He looks back and forth between Castiel and Sam a few times before he throws his hands in the arm – and immediately winces, lowering his bandaged hand slowly. Dean follows that up with stomping out of the kitchen with his shoulders hunched up around his ears.

There’s still blood on Castiel’s hands – some his and some Dean’s. He turns to the sink again and starts scrubbing them clean; ignoring how they tremble slightly. His shoulders and back ache with how tense his body is right now; his wings trembling under the binder. Anna silently cleans up the mess she made with the first-aid kit, packing everything away into the box as nicely as she can. Sam busies himself at the stove while Castiel dries his hands; checking on the potatoes.

Castiel throws out the pepper he had been about to cut, not wanting to risk that he got blood on it. The knife he dumps in the sink and gets another from the block sitting in the corner by the radio. He starts on chopping vegetables with a mindless focus because if he doesn’t force himself to not think, then it’s going to overload with everything he just learned. The Winchesters are leaving in the next few days and Dean just revealed his mutation.

Aunt Amara clears her throat next to him and Castiel very nearly cuts himself again. He glances at her as she pours herself another glass of wine over the sink. “You didn’t say thank you.”

“For what?” Castiel frowns and glances around. “For setting the table?”

She shakes her head. “He helped you and you didn’t thank him.” To accentuate her point, she raises her eyebrow at him while taking a testing sip from her glass. “What would your parents say about your manners, hm?”

Dammit, she has a point. He hates it when she has a point. It always manages to make him feel like an ass. “I don’t like it when you guilt trip me.”

“It’s a magical power.” She wiggles the fingers of her free hand at him. “You get it when you become a mother. You should try it some time.”

Castiel rolls his eyes and frowns at Sam when he snorts and starts coughing into his fist like that will somehow cover the fact that he’s laughing. He doesn’t need empathy to see that. Even though he doesn’t particularly want to talk to Dean right now, he really should. Dean thought he was doing something nice – that he was helping – despite how Castiel would much rather carry his own wounds than have someone else take it for him.

With three sets of eyes on him, Castiel stalks out of the kitchen and into the dining room. They brought up one of the chairs from the basement to put at the end of the table. It was decided that he would be the one sitting at the head of the table with his back to the window, since it’s his house and all. And it seems Dean has elected to sit at the spot directly to what will be Castiel’s left when he sits down to eat.

Dean currently has his arms crossed and he’s slumped back in his chair, head turned to glare out the window. When Castiel takes his seat at the head of the table, he harrumps and turns his head to look the other way. The snub may be deserved, but Castiel has to take a moment to calm himself when the gesture only serves to fan the embers of his own irritation.

He waits a moment before clearing his throat. “Thank you for helping me.”

The lines of Dean’s shoulders ease slightly and he turns his head just enough to look at Castiel from the corner of his eye. “S’nothing.”

“It’s not nothing, Dean.” Castiel looks down at his left hand and flexes his fingers again, stretching his palm as much as he can. “That’s my cut on your hand, isn’t it?” He figures it must be, but he needs the confirmation. He needs to hear it.

“So what if it was?” Dean shrugs and turns just a little more.

The implications make Castiel queasy and he closes his eyes to calm himself. “Your mutation is –”

“Not a really obvious one.” Dean sighs and leans forward to rest his elbows on the table. “I would’ve showed you sooner if I could, but it’s hard to unless someone else is hurt.” He rubs his good hand over his face. “Just sucks that it was you that got hurt.”

“You didn’t have to –”

A soft smile tugs at the corner of Dean’s mouth and he shakes his head. “I know I didn’t.” He rubs his thumb over his injured palm. “But if I hadn’t surprised you, you wouldn’t have gotten cut and – Anyways, it’s a moot point. It’s over with and now you know. Ta-da!” He wiggles his hands in front of him, palms out. It’s brief before he slumps forward again. “And it’s no big deal for me to take it anyway. Part of my mutation is increased healing. Things like broken bones are cleared up in, like, a week.”

But all those scars… Castiel looks them over. The ones on Dean’s face aren’t that bad, but his hands are covered in little white lines, some almost faded. If he heals so well, why does he have so many scars? How many more does he have hidden under his clothes? There are so many questions that Castiel wants to ask, but he bites them back. This isn’t the time for it.

Just like that, Dean’s mood flips like a switch. He rests his elbows on the table again and props his chin in his hands. “Well, Cas. I’ve showed you mine.” He winks. “Time for you to show me yours.”

Castiel is so used to Dean asking about his mutation that it doesn’t even really phase him anymore. He simply shakes his head and stands up. “I’m going to go check on the turkey and finish preparing dinner.”

Disappointment flickers across Dean’s face. It’s brief before he sits back again. “Fine, fine. Do you want me to help or am I still banished from the kitchen?”

“You already know the answer to that.” Castiel gives him a pointed look.

Aunt Amara meets him at the door to the kitchen. She nods and gives him a small smile as they pass each other. “Don’t worry, Dean. I’ll keep you company.” She passes him a full wine glass. “Join me with a drink. Wine okay?”

“For you, I’ll drink anything.” He grins and winks at her.

Part of him wants to stick around to keep an eye on the both of them, but Castiel has dinner to take care of and he doesn’t want to leave it to Anna and Sam. That’s not fair to them when they’re both guests. That and Anna is honestly a horrible cook. If he leaves her in charge of things, the turkey is going to be dry and the mashed potatoes will have hard bits left in it – and she probably won’t add butter or milk to them to make them nice and creamy.

Thankfully, Anna isn’t anywhere near the stove. She’s standing at the counter that runs the length of the wall separating the dining room door from the hall door. While she could easily be loafing off, Anna is keeping herself busy by dumping the bag of dinner rolls into a large bowl. There’s a stick of butter next to her, waiting to be plated. Her cooking skills may be abysmal, but at least she’s helpful.

Castiel pats her on the shoulder before he goes to the stove. He stirs the meatballs in the crock-pot again just to be safe, before checking on the potatoes. They’re boiling now, but they’re not as tender as he wants them to be. Good, because the turkey should be just about done and it needs to be carved and plated before dinner can be served.

The only time Castiel ever cooks all out is for guests and this is the biggest Thanksgiving he’s had since his parents died. Even though he and Anna have big appetites, the Winchesters match them bite for bite and then some. He had to double the amount of food tonight, just for them.

Sam is finishing up with chopping the abandoned vegetables he makes sure that he’s out of the way so Castiel can pull the turkey out of the oven. There are trivets waiting on the far side of the sink and he moves the roasting pan to them. After turning down the heat in the oven a bit, Castiel puts Aunt Amara’s casserole in it to warm up.

Focusing on carving the turkey and scooping out the stuffing really helps distract him from thoughts. He’s still trying to wrap his head around the revelation of Dean’s mutation – and what that means. Now that he knows what both brothers are capable of, it’s almost unfair that he hasn’t shown them his wings yet. But he can’t bring himself to do that. He just can’t.

Someone clears their throat at his elbow and Castiel looks over to find Sam waiting. Anna is no longer in the kitchen and he can hear her talking with Aunt Amara and Dean in the dining room.

As soon as Sam has Castiel’s attention, he leans in to speak in a lowered voice. “Now that you know what Dean’s mutation is, I need to ask that you try and be careful about your safety.” His eyes are serious and his mouth is drawn in a grim line. “Dean considers you a friend now, and he always tries to take any injury from the people he cares about.”

Sam puts a hand on Cas’s arm and squeezes lightly. “I’m happy to have you as a friend, but you’re going to need to be careful now too. Just try not to get hurt – especially in any life threatening ways, okay?” When Castiel ducks his head, Sam squeezes harder. “I’m serious, Cas.” He drops his voice into a whisper. “If you want to understand more, you should ask Dean to show you what’s under his shirt sometime.”

Castiel frowns and blinks at Sam. What in the world is that supposed to mean? He’s touched that they consider him a friend, but who goes around getting life threatening wound all the time? If anything, he should be the last person they should worry about. He rarely leaves his house, let alone goes out gallivanting across the country hunting dangerous mutants and wanted criminals.

When he realizes that Sam isn’t going to let go of his arm until he gives a proper answer, Castiel nods slowly. “I’ll be careful.”

Sam drops his hand and smiles. “Thank you.” He turns away to grab the plate of vegetables and moves them to the long counter on the other side of the kitchen where most of the food will be to make something like a dinner buffet so they save space on the dining table.

Now not even carving the turkey is enough to stop his brain from running away a million miles a minute. And yet it still stalls out every time he thinks of how Sam called him a friend. They think of him as a friend. Does he consider them friends? At this point, he’s spent more time with them than he has anyone outside of his family in his entire life. Castiel hasn’t had friends since before his mutation presented. Anna has been his best friend for so long and – and he really likes the pleasant glow building in his chest.


 

Dinner ended hours ago and Castiel is still stuffed. He feels bloated and he can hardly move where he’s stretched out on his side on the recliner. Everything was cleaned up and half the leftovers were sent home with Anna and Aunt Amara when they left after watching Muppet Treasure Island. Sam is draped across the seat by the window, feet kicked up on the ottoman. Dean is spread out across the couch, taking up as much space as he physically can.

The recliner is turned just enough for Castiel to see the TV again, this time with it turned the other way so the chair is actually facing the couch. The Muppets Take Manhattan is interesting, but it’s lulling him into a trance like doze. Whenever he’s like this, his mind drifts and wanders, lazily moving from one thought to the next and going over all the things that happened today.

It’s probably not the right time to do it, but Castiel hums and glances at the couch. “Dean?”

He’s almost fully on his stomach, face squished into the pillow he’s hugging to his chest. His eyes are half open, clearly also nearly asleep. Instead of answering with words, Dean just grunts.

“What’s under your shirt?”

Dean tenses the instant the words are out of his mouth. After a few long moments of silence, he breathes out heavily through his nose. “I’m going to fucking kill you, Sam.”

Castiel raises an eyebrow at the same time Dean lifts his head to glare at Sam. In turn, Sam seems particularly focused on the movie. In fact, he appears to be acting like he didn’t hear anything and isn’t about to be throttled by his brother.

If this was such a sensitive thing to ask about, why in the world would Sam have told him to ask Dean about it? Castiel feels like he’s been set up. The best course of action would be to apologize and explain, but before he can say anything more, Dean sits up.

“Nope, we’re not talking about this.” He points a finger at Castiel and shakes his head. “If you want to see mine, then you’re going to have to show me yours. That’s the deal.”

Is there more to Dean’s mutation underneath his shirt? Castiel is curious, but is he curious enough to be willing to show his wings? He’s spent twenty days – twenty whole days – with the Winchesters, and every day he hid his wings under his housecoat or by staying in his bedroom or office. But he stopped spending so much time in either of those rooms nearly a week and a half ago. That’s about when he stopped being so afraid of them.

And now? Well, now Castiel kind of considers them friends. He still gets a tingling zing of anxiety tightening around his lungs, but it’s not as bad as before. As much as it terrifies him, maybe he should show them his wings before they leave. Anna did have a point about how they likely won’t judge him for it. Castiel has never had a problem having his wings out around her or Aunt Amara. It’s just other people and – well, Dean and Sam have somehow worked their way out of that category and into something a little closer to where he keeps his family.

He sits up a little more. “Dean?”

“Yeah, Cas?”

“Why do you want to know my mutation so badly?”

Dean is sitting up now, pillow still held to his chest. He stops glaring at Sam in favour of looking to Castiel. “Because you have a gift, Cas. You have a gift and you’re hiding them. I get why you hide it from the normies, but you don’t need to hide them from us.”

Castiel sits up more, lowering the foot rest. “You already know what my mutation is, don’t you?”

“I’ve got a strong suspicion, yeah.” Dean shrugs and almost looks amused. “A mangled feather came up in my washing when I did a load after you and it sure as hell wasn’t from any pillow. It doesn’t take a genius to put that together with your hunch and your love for long coats.”

Sam nods along, although he hasn’t taking his eyes off the movie. Is he still trying to act like he’s not paying attention?

“If you knew, why haven’t you said anything?” Castiel closes the foot rest and turns in his seat to face Dean properly.

“Because you’ll show me – show us when you’re ready.” Dean’s smile turns soft – easy – warm. He understands and a lump forms in Castiel’s throat. “I thought I might be able to speed you along by asking about it a lot, but you’re one stubborn son-of-a-bitch, y’know that?”

He worries at his bottom with his teeth for a moment, head tilting to the side. “And what if you leave before I’m ready to show you?”

Dean fakes a dramatic pout and he leans his head back, the back of his hand coming up to rest on his forehead. “I’ll cry myself to sleep every night.” But then his grin ruins it all as he rolls his head to the side to flutter his eyelashes at him.

Castiel feels like curling in on himself and he hunches forward. He’s torn about showing them his wings, but Dean is wrong. “They’re not a gift.” At those words, Dean’s smile falls. “They’re a curse.”

That gets Sam to finally look away from the movie. His frown mirrors Dean's and they share a quick look before turning back to him. “Being a mutant isn’t a curse, Cas.”

“Yeah.” Dean scoots forward on the couch, sitting on the edge of the cushion. “We’re just the next step in evolution. We’re awesome.”

Surprisingly, there hasn’t been much that Castiel has disagreed with either of them on since they got here. This is one of the very few things that they definitely don’t see eye to eye on. And this is also something that Castiel feels very passionately about.

This isn’t awesome.” He gestures around him at his house – his prison, if you think about it. “Awesome would mean being able to live a normal life. I can’t do that with my mutation. If I registered myself right now, I would be arrested. I could even be sent to The Facility!” Castiel takes a deep breath and his hands curl into shaking fists. “If I was registered when I presented like I was supposed to be, I wouldn’t have any of what I do now. I wouldn’t own this house, or the property. I doubt I would even have either of my jobs. Because I’m unregistered, I can’t go out. I can’t even have friends. I can’t –”

We’re your friends.” Sam interrupts, voice quiet but enough to bring Castiel’s rant to a sharp stop.

Now they’re both looking at him the same way they have since the day they met. It’s a combination of understanding and pity. Castiel hates it when they look at him like that. And yet he still deflates, his anger whooshing out of him. But he’s still too worked up to continue watching the movie.

With a sigh, Castiel gets to his feet. “I’m tired and going to bed now. Goodnight.”

“Cas –” Dean is standing in a heartbeat, but Castiel is done with tonight.

Everything has culminated to being too overwhelming for him. A big, busy dinner; Dean’s mutation; the revelation that they already know his mutation – or most of it, at least. It’s too much. He doesn’t stick around to find out what Dean has to say and makes sure to lock his bedroom door behind him.

Having a barrier between them helps him relax a little bit, but it’s not by a lot. Castiel shrugs out of his housecoat and leaves it in a lump on the floor. He strips off his shirt and the binder, dropping them both as he makes his way to the bed. By the time he gets there, he’s also stripped out of his pants. His room is kept warmer than the rest of the house and there’s no chill now that he’s almost naked.

Instead of lying down, Castiel turns to look at himself in the mirror. He spreads his dull wings and stares at them, nose crinkling in disgust. How could Dean think they’re a gift. If anything, they’re a cage. For over twenty years now, Castiel has been trapped in his house by his wings and the anxiety of being found out.

It’s different for Dean and Sam. They’re mutants who don’t look like mutants. They look normal, even with Dean’s scars. How could either of them ever understand what it’s like for him? Castiel hates his wings and if he could be rid of them, he would be.

He turns away from the mirrors and flops face first down on his bed. It’s too much work to get his pajamas, and too much effort to even get underneath the blanket. All he can bring himself to do is bury his face in his pillow and start counting. When he counts, he doesn’t think – he doesn’t have to focus on the distant muted noise of the TV or the quiet rumble of voices.

Castiel keeps counting even when the noise in the living room stops. He counts through the sound of footsteps coming up on the hall and the bathroom door closing. First one brother and then the other uses the bathroom; the pipes rattling when the toilet flushes and the sink runs. After the second time, the door to the guest room closes.

After that, the house is quiet and Castiel continues to count.

He keeps counting until he falls into a fitful sleep.


 

Friday – November 24th, 2017

For the first time that month, Castiel alarm clock is what wakes him. He hasn’t heard its buzzing since Dean and Sam started staying here. They both wake up earlier than him and the sound of other people moving around the house has always woken him. Sometimes it was too early, and sometimes it was just minutes before his alarm would have normally gone off.

He shivers slightly, still on top of the blanket. The house is quiet and he doesn’t even think about it as he slides to his feet. Castiel shuffles into the bathroom and, a few minutes later, shuffles out still feeling like death. It’s not until he’s shrugging into his housecoat does he realize what’s wrong with this morning. There’s no smell of breakfast like there usually is.

Did Dean decide to sleep in after such a heavy dinner yesterday?

Castiel shuffles into the hallway and immediately realizes that something is wrong. The thermostat is on the wall between his bedroom and the guest room, and he glances at it to confirm that the heat is still on. It shows that the house should be toasty to the temperature that he normally prefers. And yet, the house still feels colder than it usually does.

The door to the guest room is open. Sam always sleeps with the door shut and Castiel frowns, taking a step closer to peek inside. His heart suddenly drops from his chest to his feet. The sheets have been stripped from the bed and are bundled in the hamper next to the door. The blanket is folded neatly at the end of the bare mattress with naked pillows stacked on top of it. Sam’s duffle bag – or anything to prove that he was ever there – is nowhere to be seen.

His stomach joins his heart as he speed walks up the hall to the living room. He doesn’t even bother checking the kitchen to see if anyone is in there, because he knows it’s just as empty as the guest room – and the living room. The sheets are missing from the couch too, but the blanket and the pillows he had given Dean are stacked on the recliner. Dean’s duffle, which had sat at the end of the couch in the corner of the room, is gone too.

Castiel tries swallowing, but his mouth is suddenly dry and there’s a lump in his throat.

He fists his hands in his housecoat and crosses the living room to the window. The driveway is just as empty as his house; Dean’s precious car nowhere in sight. It’s possible that he might have parked it in the garage, but he hasn’t done that once since they started staying here.

The house is warm, but Castiel has never felt so cold.

He doesn’t know how long he stands at the window, waiting as if they might be coming up the driveway at any moment.

Eventually, Castiel turns away. He returns to his bedroom, shutting the door on the silence. When he crawls back into bed, he tucks his wings in and pulls the blanket over them too.

The house is quiet.

Cold.

Empty.

And so is he.

Chapter Text

Saturday – November 25th, 2017

The bedroom door bangs against the wall as it’s thrown open. “Okay, what the hell!” Castiel lifts his head from the pillow to find Anna standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips. “You haven’t been answering my messages!”

He groans and pulls the pillow over his head. Who cares if it’s Saturday? Castiel still doesn’t want to get up and do anything. He didn’t want to be bothered by anyone, not even Anna. Why should he get up? It’s not like he wants to face his empty house and be reminded of how the Winchesters left nothing of themselves behind. They cleaned up and now they’re gone and he’s alone again.

Anna climbs up on the bed and Castiel grumbles nonsense noise into the mattress at the sound of the curtains being drawn back. A blast of chilly air, felt even through the blanket pulled up over his back and wings, tells him that she also opened the window because she lives up to the stereotypes of redheads. Clearly Anna has no soul. She’s so cruel to try and get him out of bed when he doesn’t want to move for the rest of his life.

“It’s noon, Castiel James Novak. Get your ass out of bed this instant.”

Uh oh. Anna used his full name. She means business.

Castiel groans and peeks out from under the pillow to glare at her. “No.”

“You have until the count of three before I go and get the hose.”

He hunches his shoulders and pulls the blanket up around them more. “Don’t want to.”

“I can’t believe Dean let you sleep this long.” Anna huffs and jumps off the bed. “Where the hell are they anyway? It’s not like him to take a trip into town without waking you up first.”

Castiel hates the ache that blooms in his chest. They were only here a month but it was long enough for them to develop habits enough for Anna to notice. And she didn’t spend nearly as much time with them as he did. Almost everything that she knows about the Winchesters was learned second hand from what Castiel would tell her at the end of every other day when she texted him for updates on the situation.

“They left.” He hisses out from beneath the pillow.

Anna goes quiet – not even moving around the room. “Oh.” After a moment, the edge of the bed dips and she places a gentle hand in the small of his back. “I didn’t know. I’m sorry, sweetie.”

He shrugs and pulls the pillow off his head so he can lay on it properly. Castiel doesn’t feel like talking about it or doing anything about it. The Winchesters muscled their way into his life by not-quite-but-technically blackmailing him into letting them stay here. If anything, he should be happy that they’re gone now, but all he feels is sadness. He shouldn’t feel like something is missing now – like it’s going to be impossible to get out of bed.

On top of all that, he’s also missed a whole day of work. There are time sensitive recordings that need to be transcribed and it’s not good for his reputation in the transcribing world to take too long to complete them. He could lose clients if they’re not done in a timely manner.

After a few minutes of silence, Anna pats him directly on the butt. “Okay, c’mon now, let’s get up.” She stands up again. “Weren’t we going to go grocery shopping today? I guess Dean isn’t going to drive us, so I’m ordering a taxi right now to come pick us up.”

“Go without me.”

“You’re acting like you just got dumped.” She sighs loudly and he can hear the muted tap of her fingers on the screen of her phone. “You knew they were only staying temporarily. Now get up.”

No, he doesn’t want to because now he’s alone again. Castiel can’t stand the idea of going through the house and there not being laughter in the living room while they watch something stupid. There won’t be the clatter of dishes in the kitchen while Dean makes something delicious again, or the clank of weights and the whir of the treadmill while Sam works out in the basement. It will just be silence and emptiness forever again.

The Winchesters were here for less than a month and somehow they managed to worm their way past all of Castiel’s defenses. They weren’t supposed to be able to do that. Now he feels their absence like the loss of a limb and he hates it.

He hates it almost as much as he hates Anna right now. She grabs handfuls of the blanket by his feet and lifts it slightly. “I’m going to count to three.”

“You’re not my mom.” Castiel gets as good a grip on the blanket as he can and braces himself. “I don’t have to listen to you.”

“I may not be your mom, but I am the kick in the ass you need.” Anna gives the blanket a good yank and she must be bracing her foot against the bottom of the bed, because she definitely has way more leverage than expected. “Now get up.”

Castiel puts up as good a fight as possible, but he has to let go or risk his grip ripping one of his best blankets. The room has cooled off considerably with the window open and he curls up on himself, shivering once his blanket is gone. This isn’t fair. Anna knows that he hates the cold and she’s using it against him like the sneaky little rat that she is.

She stands at the edge of the bed with her hands on her hips, glaring him down. Castiel makes sure to groan as loudly as possible and move as slowly as he can while getting up. Anna moves out of his way and points at the bathroom. They stare each other down briefly before he stomps into the bathroom and slams the door as best as he can. It’s rather difficult given that it’s a sliding pocket door, but he’s satisfied with what he manages to do.

The light is off in the bathroom and the window above the toilet is covered with both a shade and curtains. Castiel keeps the light off because he doesn’t want to look in the mirror and see what he looks like. He sits to use the toilet so he doesn’t miss, and he brushes his teeth in the dark. Anna is still moving around in his bedroom and he tries to put off going back out there for as long as he can; scrubbing his teeth until he tastes blood.

By that point he can’t find reason to hide in the bathroom any longer. He slides the door open just a little bit to peek out into the room. The window is closed again and Anna appears to have laid out clothes for him on his bed. She’s clanking around in the kitchen now, but it sounds entirely different to when it was Dean making him breakfast. That one difference makes something twinge painfully behind his ribs.

Castiel presses a hand to his sternum and takes a deep breath, hoping to make that feeling go away. He changes under silent protest and drags his feet out into the hall. Anna is waiting for him in the kitchen with a bowl of Cheerios and the coffee machine chugging away to brew a pot.

She holds the bowl out, milk already added and Cheerios well on their way to being soggy. “Eat.”

“I don’t want to.” He crosses straight to the coffee and starts preparing his mug with the necessary cream and sugar.

Anna grabs him by the arm and pulls him around to face her. “Castiel James Novak, you will sit your ass down and eat your breakfast.” She shoves the bowl into his hands, nearly sloshing its contents all over the place. “Sit down and eat or I’m going to call my mom on you.”

Instead of giving him a chance to answer about what a low blow that is, Anna turns her nose up and huffs her way out of the kitchen. She doesn’t even wait around long enough for him to point out that he literally just brushed his teeth. But he would rather deal with a slight toothpaste flavour to his Cheerios than to have Aunt Amara yell at him over the phone about how he’s an adult and he should be acting like one. She’s very good at laying on the guilt trips.

As soon as his coffee is ready, Castiel takes it to the dining room and forces himself to eat some of the Cheerios. They’re not as soggy as they look, but he can only manage a couple spoonfuls before his stomach protests. What little appetite he actually had dried up the moment he sat down and realized that the extra chair brought up for Thanksgiving is still sitting at the head of the table. His stomach drops every time he even glances at it.

While he forces himself to eat, Anna continues to make herself busy. She gathers up the sheets and pillowcases that Dean and Sam were using and she goes downstairs to start a load of laundry. Anna even takes the blanket and spare pillows down to storage again. For that, Castiel is thankful. It would have likely been another month before he would have been able to work himself up to the point where he could put it all away himself.

Once his stomach officially vetoes further Cheerios, Castiel dumps the rest of it down the garburator and runs it. He leaves the dishes in the sink and polishes off the last of his coffee. The next cup he pours himself actually goes right into the waiting travel mug, because he knows that Anna is going to make him go shopping with her whether he wants to or not. It’s been like that ever since his parents died and it’s not going to change just because he feels sad that his friends left over an argument and without a goodbye .

Anna shows up at his elbow again, this time with his binder hanging from her fingers. “Alright. Let’s get this on before we go out.”

He leans his hip against the counter and crosses his arms. “I don’t want to go. I didn’t work yesterday and I need to –”

“What you need is some fresh air and to stretch your legs.” She reaches out and tugs at the shoulders of his shirt. “Now get this off so we can get a move on. The taxi is almost here.”

She doesn’t give him much choice and all but completely manhandles Castiel into getting his arms and head out of the top half of the shirt. It hangs down over his stomach while she helps him get into his binder and properly pin his wings down.

“Good.” Anna steps back once his shirt is in place again. “Now hurry up. The taxi will be here in a moment.” She grabs him by the arm and starts pulling him out towards the foyer. He barely manages to grab his coffee so it doesn’t get left behind.

Castiel grumbles as he puts his coat on and arranges it over his shoulders properly. He’s never liked being rushed to do anything, and Anna is really starting to get on his nerves as she herds him down the stairs and into the foyer. They both come to a sudden stop when they notice that there is a folded piece of paper stuck to the door with the letters D, S, and W from the alphabet scattered across the fridge.

“Oh.” Anna carefully slides the paper out from under the magnets without knocking them off the door. “How long has this been here?”

“I assume since they left.” Castiel takes it from her, hands surprisingly steady. “How did you not notice this when you came in? Or when you went down to do the laundry.”

Her nose crinkles and she sticks her tongue out at him before turning to put on her shoes. “I blinked in because I forgot my key. And I wasn’t looking at the door when I went downstairs.”

Castiel slips his shoes on too and follows her out into the cool November air. It’s not as bad as it could be, but he likes it to be somewhere in the seventies instead of the low sixties they’ve got going on right now. Winter is almost here and he is not looking forward to it.

Anna takes the keys from his pocket to lock the door behind them. She guides Castiel towards the waiting taxi with a hand on his elbow. He’s too preoccupied with the note to pay attention to much else.

Hey Cas,
Sorry we didn’t wake you. After last night we _I_ thought it might be best for us to head out quietly.
Don’t know when we’ll be back in town, but we’ll pop in if you still want to see us. Hey, here’s an idea! Maybe next time you could come with us! It’d be good for you to travel a bit. You can’t stay locked up in this chicken coop all the time. That’s not healthy for you. (But for serious… You have a really nice place here).
I made a sandwich from leftovers for you in the fridge. The bread will be soggy by now but you won’t even notice if you soak it in gravy.
You should text/call us some time, okay?
See ya!

Below their carefully printed initials are their phone numbers. There’s something next to the DW that has been scribbled over repeatedly with spirals. It’s such a dense cluster that Castiel has no idea what it could have been before Dean decided to cover it up.

“So, what’s it about?” Anna opens the back door to the taxi and slides across to the other side.

“It’s a typical goodbye note.” Castiel folds it up and tucks it into the inside pocket of his coat. He takes the seat next to her, feeling miles better than he did a few minutes ago.

The fact that they parted after an argument still weighs heavy on his conscience, but at least Castiel has their phone numbers now. The Winchesters aren’t completely gone from his life anymore. Unfortunately, this means that he is now faced with having to figure out what the hell he’s going to message them as an apology for Thursday night.

*

Monday – November 27th, 2017

Castiel steps away from the bathroom mirror in the midst of brushing his teeth. His cell phone mocks him in its silence from where it’s charging on his nightstand. Aside from Anna and his aunt, and the notifications when he receives emails, there hasn’t been much incoming activity. While that is usually the norm, he’s still strangely disappointed that Dean and Sam haven’t texted him yet. He assumes they must have his number since they were able to find his address so easily.

Of course the best way to make sure that they do have his number would be for him to call them or send them a message himself. Of course Castiel hasn’t done that, though not for a lack of trying. He’s typed both their numbers into his phone a number of times in an attempt to call them, but each time he’s chickened out and never actually hit the call button. A few times he’s also tried composing messages to them, but nothing ever sounds right and he ends up deleting them.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Castiel also hasn’t actually saved their numbers yet. He’s essentially memorized the letter that they left, including the numbers, but that’s different from saving them to his phone. The note itself is folded up underneath his phone at the moment, and he’ll probably re-read it again before officially turning in for the night.

He’ll re-read it, but he won’t send them a message and he won’t call them because he’s a coward and a terrible friend.

*

Thursday – December 14th, 2017

The fact that the Winchester’s stay ended on a sour note has haunted Castiel since the day they left. And every day he looks at his phone and hates himself a little more because he still hasn’t figured out a way to make it better. An apology would certainly help, but he has to word that appropriately and he’s still at a loss in that department.

It kills him that they were his friends – if not the closest thing to friends he’s had in a very long time – and he ruined it. Clearly neither Dean nor Sam hate being a mutant. If Castiel had just kept his big mouth shut, they wouldn’t have fought about their obviously differing opinions on being mutants. His opinion hasn’t changed in the days since they left, but he keeps kicking himself for having said anything at all. Maybe they would still be here if he hadn’t said anything.

On the bright side, it’s been long enough since they left that things feel back to normal again. Castiel wakes up to his alarm and goes about his daily life the same as he did before the Winchesters ever showed up on his front step. Only sometimes does it feel like something is missing, but he firmly ignores that feeling and carries on. He’s very good at ignoring things.

Castiel has even started ignoring the note now. It’s still on the side table next to his bed, but he hasn’t opened it in a few weeks. Not that it matters, of course, since he now has the damn thing memorized. Which somehow only makes him feel more guilty for not contacting the Winchesters in the weeks since they left.

What if they think that the silence means that he doesn’t want anything to do with them again? What if they never reach out to him because he never initiated contact? What if they hate him now? It makes Castiel’s stomach turn to even consider that they might never message him. There’s always the possibility that they don’t have his phone number – in which case they’re waiting for him and – and he’s put it off for too long.

Castiel grabs his phone and opens the messaging app. He types in Dean’s phone number before composing a message. Since it’s been so long since they spoke last, it would be best to keep it simple. “Hello, Dean.” He reads it out as he types, testing out how it sounds in case he types something stupid. “How are you? Hope the weather wherever you are is good. We finally started seeing some snow here. It’ll be a white Christmas after all!”

His thumb hovers over the send button, and he reads it over and over again. “Oh God that sounds so dumb.” Castiel shakes his head and deletes everything.

Before he deletes the number too, he pauses. If he can’t do a message yet, then the least he could do is save the damn number, right? Right. Squaring his shoulders, Castiel steels himself and taps through the button path to save the number. Even typing Dean Winchester into the name field feels like an effort, but he pushes through it and hits save.

It might not be something to be proud of, but Castiel does feel a sense of accomplishment. Especially when he creates another new contact and saves Sam’s number next. This is a step in the right direction. And maybe the next time he goes to try to send a message, he might actually be able to hit send.

*

Monday – December 25th, 2017

A soft snore from the couch, though quiet, is enough to get Castiel to blink out of his own slow doze. He lifts his head enough to glance at the couch and see who the offender was. Aunt Amara is curled up on her side with her head in Anna’s lap. She had a lot of eggnog and he’s surprised she didn’t pass out a lot sooner. Anna is out cold too with her head tilted against the back of the couch. Her Santa hat is tilted over her eyes and her mouth is open. She gives another quiet snore and Castiel rolls his eyes. Of course it was her.

The Miracle on 34th Street is still playing on the TV and he settles back down on the recliner to finish watching it. Their evening together was busy and the first that his house has felt full and warm again in a month. Castiel actually feels satisfied – both in appetite and emotionally. The company was excellent and the food delicious. They generally only have a variety of appetizers on Christmas Eve with the bigger dinner being Christmas Day. It won’t be quite the affair that Thanksgiving was, but it will still be good.

They’ve been lazy since their so-called dinner, to the point that they haven’t even cleaned up from when they opened presents. It’s always been a family tradition to exchange one gift on Christmas Eve, and it’s always pajamas. Aunt Amara buys for both Anna and Castiel, and then the two of them go in together to get her a pair. Once the gifts are opened, they all change and spend the rest of the night watching various Christmas movies until they pass out.

This year, Aunt Amara got them matching onesies in green and red Christmas prints. She had even gone to the effort of altering Castiel’s clothing for him. Most years she just gets him pajama pants since he hardly ever wears a shirt to bed. But these are nice – though it is weird to be wearing one piece of clothing with a butt flap. For Aunt Amara, Castiel and Anna bought the softest two piece they could find in the most ridiculous reindeer pattern possible.

This is always Castiel’s favourite time of the year. Not because of the holidays and getting gifts, but because of the company. Anna and Aunt Amara stay with him from Christmas Eve until New Year’s day. It’s several days of having people here and he loves it. He never loved Christmas time as much when his parents were around. Now it’s a treat that he looks forward to all year long.

And every year it’s the same. Aunt Amara takes the spare bedroom while Anna either sleeps on the couch or ends up in Castiel’s bed with him. There’s a reason that he took his parents’ queen size bed and replaced it with a king. Anna doesn’t cuddle, but she’s a kicker. She’ll bring her own blanket to bed and shoves his over until they both have only one side of the bed each.

The movie will probably be over in half an hour and that’s about when they should turn in officially. It’s already after midnight, according to the digital display on the DVD player, so technically it’s actually Christmas Day right now. They’ll probably sleep until almost noon before they get up for breakfast and to open the presents under the tree. Since it’s only the three of them and they only have to buy two presents each, it’s not going to take long.

When his phone buzzes on the table, Anna snorts and shifts on the couch but otherwise doesn’t wake up. Castiel sits up just enough to be able to reach his phone and squints when he swipes to turn it on. After turning down the brightness, he’s finally able to actually see what’s on the screen. The background of his phone is one of the generic ones that came with the phone because he hasn’t really had anything to set as a wallpaper that he feels strongly about using. Against the dark purple background, Castiel has to re-read the name of the text message a few times before he sits up sharply.

It’s from Dean.

Castiel takes a few moments too long to open the message. Merry Christmas Cas glows against the black of his texting app. It’s followed by a number of emojis; Christmas trees, presents, Santa Claus, and holly. By the time he’s read it three or four times, Castiel realizes that he’s smiling. This might not qualify as a Christmas miracle, but it certainly feels like it. He wasn’t where he needed to be to reach out first, though he was close, but Dean took that step for him.

Instead of answering with words or even more emojis, Castiel looks up a dancing Santa Claus gif and sends that. He gets a laughing emoji in response a few moments later. Even though the conversation is short, he still reads it over again a few times.

It’s a start, and he’s happy with it. With a satisfied hum, Castiel settles back to finish watching the rest of the movie. He’ll wake up Anna and Aunt Amara after the movie and they can all sleep comfortably until the morning. Until then, he’ll bask in this feeling of warmth that’s made itself at home in his chest.

*

Monday – January 1st, 2018

“Smile!”

Anna holds her cellphone up with the selfie mode on. She steps up next to him just as Aunt Amara steps up to Castiel’s other side. There’s no escaping this photo-op, but he still sticks his tongue out at the camera hoping that might ruin it. Of course it doesn’t and they make quite the picture as both Aunt Amara and Anna lean in to kiss him on both cheeks. They push in harder than they need to, squishing his face comically because that’s so comfortable.

After several quick snaps, Anna steps back and flips through the pictures to check on them. “Perfect!”

“Do you have to take one every year?” Castiel sighs and uses the sleeve of his sweater to rub Aunt Amara’s lipstick off his cheek.

“Don’t you dare mock my collection.” She sniffs at him and goes about deleting the duplicate pictures.

It’s barely a few minutes later when both Aunt Amara’s phone and Castiel’s phone bing with the notification that they received the picture. Anna always sends them both a copy. One of these days, Castiel should actually do something with them rather than just leave them in the cloud. Maybe he can make a collage of them for Anna’s birthday next October. That would probably be something that she would like.

His first impulse after hearing his text tone is to check his phone, especially since he’s started texting with the Winchesters. This time, Castiel resists that urge. He knows that it’s going to be Anna. So instead of reaching for his phone, he takes a shot with his Aunt. Tequila always tastes terrible and he only ever drinks with his Aunt because that’s apparently something she never quite got over from her ‘wild days’, as his dad used to put it. Though, according to him, she’s nowhere near as bad as she used to be.

Aunt Amara cackles at the face he pulls after knocking back the shot and she slaps him on the back a few times. While Castiel does occasionally have beer in the fridge, he doesn’t usually drink unless it’s with someone else. When the Winchesters were here, he had a beer almost every other day with them. Even though he can’t even get a buzz from alcohol, Dean still drinks beer and whiskey – for the taste! It seems no one has told him that they all taste awful.

Castiel’s choice to rarely keep alcohol in his house is for a very good reason. He has fought hard not to become an alcoholic. It would be so easy for him to fall into those habits. His dad made sure to give him a very thorough talk about how alcohol doesn’t solve anything and that he should learn from his Aunt’s mistakes. Anna, while unplanned, was obviously not a mistake, but alcohol absolutely played a part in her conception.

Anna quickly takes a shot too. She grimaces and shakes her head. “Ooo, that’s nasty.” She gives a full body shudder before standing up. “I’m going to get the vacuum cleaner.” To emphasize her point, Anna kicks at the confetti from the party poppers they used at the end of the countdown to midnight.

Before she even leaves the room, Castiel’s phone bings again. He rocks to one side to get it out of his pocket, fumbling slightly because that was not his first tequila shot of the evening. Anna’s picture is the first message, but the second is from Dean. This time it’s nothing more than a string of emojis. Some seem related to New Year’s Eve – like poppers and fireworks – but then there are also lips and kissing emojis too. Castiel knows exactly what those mean and he rolls his eyes at it. Dean; always a flirt.

In response to Dean’s emojis, he forwards the picture that Anna sent him. To that, he adds; Happy New Year Dean and Sam!

To his surprise, Dean answers surprisingly quickly. Holy shit i'm so jealous rn!

He follows that up with a picture of his own. Castiel opens it eagerly, waving off the next shot that Aunt Amara offers. She shrugs and downs it herself.

The picture is of both brothers, sitting on a ratty looking couch in the middle of someone’s living room. Dean is wearing novelty 2018 glasses and Sam has a party hat on. They’re both grinning big and bright. There is a woman standing behind the couch, facing away from the camera. Her black jeans are low riding and her tank top isn’t long enough to hide the scribble of a written tattoo in the small of her back. Castiel can’t tell what it says from the quality of the picture.

Beyond the woman are several more people, but they’re all blurry since the Winchesters are obviously the focus of the picture. That said, Castiel still tries to zoom in on the other people to see if he can figure out anything about them or maybe where they are. He has no idea why he’s so interested in that. It’s not like it matters to him where they are. Didn’t they say that they have friends all over the country?

There’s a tight ugly feeling in his chest. It feels too much like jealousy for his own liking. What does it matter that staying with him probably meant nothing to the Winchesters. His couch was just another couch for them to surf, undoubtedly.

It’s a nice picture, but Castiel doesn’t bother answering it. He puts his phone away and gestures for his aunt to pour him another shot. It burns down his throat again, but he doubts that it’s the reason why his stomach is suddenly unsettled.

*

Castiel wakes up to a sharp kick in the shin. He groans and flops his arm out, hoping to hit at least some part of Anna to express how much he hates when she doesn’t keep her damn limbs on her side of the bed. It’s a king sized bed! There should be no crossing the neutral territory in the middle. And yet, there’s another kick that makes him grimace into his pillow.

The third arm flop attempt catches Anna right in the face. She flails awake with a sound that Castiel can really only define as a squawk. Instead of kicking him this time, she shoves his arm away with a smack.

“Y’kicked me.” Castiel groans and pushes his face further into the pillow. He was too drunk last night to remember to close the blinds and now the room is too bright. His whole head is throbbing and why couldn’t he have a useful mutation like Dean’s healing powers? Hangovers suck and he’s going to remember this moment whenever he considers drinking in excess again.

Anna makes a distinctly unhappy noise and withdraws to her side of the bed – and then keeps on going. She tosses her blanket over top of him, squishing his wings since they’re already under his blanket. Castiel grumbles and groans because it’s just irritating enough that he won’t be able to get to sleep like this. With some effort, and a lot of squirming, he manages to kick off both his blanket and hers without bending or losing any feathers.

The next problem that presents itself is that without his blanket, he feels too cold to be comfortable. Regrettably, Castiel has to push himself up onto his hands and squint his way to separating their blankets so he can cover up properly again. Since he’s up at the moment, he also glances at the clock. To his surprise, it’s almost one o’clock in the afternoon. Unfortunately for his day, he’s just that side of unhappy that he doesn’t care about the time and he also has no intention of getting out of bed.

Aunt Amara might have cleaned up her act a lot to single handedly raise Anna, but she can still party far better than either of them.  She kept both Anna and Castiel up until well past four o’clock in the morning intermittently dancing in the living room, singing in the kitchen, or getting really intense at what board, card, or dice games they started. Castiel isn’t sure that they actually finished any of the games. The night became mostly a blur for him not long after midnight.

He tosses Anna’s blanket back to her side of the bed and wraps his own around his shoulders, careful of his feathers. His teeth feel fuzzy and his mouth tastes disgusting. Everything hurts and Castiel sits on the edge of the bed with his head in his hands. What he wouldn’t do for a nice cool glass of water right now. Maybe he could convince Anna to bring him one? Where did she even go?

The answer to that question comes in the tinkling sound of liquid hitting liquid. Castiel glances up briefly before dropping his head back into his hands. “Anna. Close th’damn door.” Because of course she went to the washroom after getting up.

Anna is currently mimicking his position, though hers is on the toilet with her panties around her ankles. Thankfully the vanity is hiding the majority of her body from this angle. Her red hair appears to be defying gravity in places, and Castiel probably doesn’t look much better. She mumbles something unintelligible, and he doesn’t press for her to clarify.

Castiel doesn’t look up again until he’s heard the toilet flush and the sink run. Only then does he let the blanket fall again so he can haul himself out of bed. They bump elbows and grumble at each other as Anna leaves the bathroom while drying her hands on her shirt and he tries to stumble into the blessed darkness of the bathroom where he can get rid of the building uncomfortable pressure in his belly.

“An’ put some pants on.” He shoves at her shoulder and she shoves back.

With the door slid shut between them, Castiel can finally open his eyes fully without having to feel like the light is stabbing him in the eyeball. He can hear Anna digging through one of the drawers of the dresser in his closet, likely looking for a pair of pajama pants or sweatpants that she can steal. God forbid that she go to the effort of finding her own pants in the luggage she has in the living room.

Since it’s so dark and he has zero desire to turn on the light, Castiel has to feel his way to the toilet. For the sake of his floors, he sits instead of trying to take aim because that would be a very poor decision and he really just doesn’t have it in him to live life on the edge like that. He even ends up washing his hands and brushing his teeth in the dark, because why the hell not? If he wanted to, Castiel could probably go through his whole morning routine with his eyes closed.

Halfway through brushing his teeth, he notices that there’s a flashing light on the vanity. Even though his brain feels like it’s been pulled apart and then sewn back together incorrectly, he’s pretty sure that there shouldn’t be anything flashing in here. Patting along the rim of the sink, he eventually comes into contact with a phone. The big question is, does it belong to him, or does it belong to Anna?

Castiel nearly blinds himself by pressing the power button along the side. The screen lights up and he whines at the pain that lances through his head. It takes him almost a minute to adjust to the light and realize that he’s looking at his own lock screen. Apparently he was so out of it this morning that he forgot to plug his phone in. The battery is less than twenty percent right now, and there are several missed messages.

All of them are from Dean.

R u drinking 2nite?

If ur drinking 2nite, im going 2 b SO disappointed because u didnt drink once while we were there & thats just not fair man

Well… except 4 that time @ the graveyard

But that doesnt count

Maybe it does count?

If ur drinking 2nite u’d better drink water! Don’t want a hangover!

Castiel stares at the messages with his toothbrush between his teeth and toothpaste foaming in the corners of his mouth. It takes an excessively long amount of time for the words on the screen to make any actual sense to him. And then it takes just as long for him to find an appropriate emoji response. He sends the green sick faced emoji, and the upset face with squinted eyes.

An answer comes before he can even start brushing his teeth again. Does Dean live on his phone?

OMG UR HUNGOVER!

Im so mad im missing this…

Take sum painkillers drink sum water get some sleep. Chill 4 the day!

Pls send me ur grumpy face… u have the BEST grumpy face!

Castiel sighs loudly through his nose and uses his foot to slide the door open enough to let some light in. Anna isn’t in the bed, so she must have gone off to do something. He doesn’t care what it is as long as she does it quietly. It’s bad enough that he has to deal with light. If he had to deal with noise too, his head might actually explode.

He takes a quick selfie of his squinty eyes and his grimace around his toothbrush. It turns out horrible, of course. His hair is a rat’s nest at best, and the bags under his eyes are impressive. But it’s the best that he’s going to get and he sends it off without another thought.

The response he gets is a string of laughing emojis, each of them with tears in their eyes. And then Dean sends a gif of someone howling with laughter and smacking at a table. It actually brings a bit of a smile to Castiel’s lips. But the only acceptable answer to Dean’s messages is a gif of someone giving both middle fingers.

Holy shit

Grump u is my fav u

Castiel rolls his eyes and puts his phone down so he can finally finish his teeth. If he leaves his toothbrush in for too long with all the toothpaste goop on his tongue, he’ll start to gag and he can already feel that urge coming on.

Once he’s finished, he dry swallows a couple Tylenol to hopefully help with his headache. He takes his phone with him when he leaves the bathroom, but only so he can plug it in where it belongs on his nightstand. From there, it’s a desperate search for his slippers before he gives up and slowly trudges his way to the kitchen so he can fill a water bottle.

Everything is bright throughout the house and Castiel hisses quietly. The bedroom and the bathroom wasn’t enough for him to adjust. It should have been, had he opened his eyes enough for it, but he was stubborn and didn’t. Now he’s near blind because he’s an idiot.

Aunt Amara is in the living room, sitting on the couch and watching TV. She drank more than Castiel did and she doesn’t even have a hair out of place. She gives him a finger-wiggling wave and a smug smile. This would have been slightly more tolerable if she was suffering like he is. It’s moments like this that he thinks she must be a mutant in some way. How else could she get through all of last night without wanting to die come morning?

Castiel glares at her before heading into the kitchen. That’s where he finds Anna, hunched over the counter and staring at the coffee pot. He takes pity on her and pushes the start button, since it doesn’t function by pure hungover petulance.

She groans loudly when it dawns on her that she hadn’t even started the damn thing. “Oh hell.”

He hums and finds his water bottle in the fridge. Bless whoever filled it and left it in there – whether it be past him or his aunt. Whatever the case, it’s cold and he drains half of it right there in front of the fridge before refilling it. He could have coffee too, now that a pot is brewing, but he really would rather just go back to bed again.

Anna is still staring at the coffee pot as he heads back to the bedroom. His phone isn’t blinking when he returns, but he still checks it after closing the blinds and the curtains; turning his room into a blissfully dark cave. Dean hasn’t sent anything more, but Castiel sends him a few sleeping emojis. He would probably appreciate knowing that he’s going to get some sleep.

After a few more mouthfuls of water, he pulls the blanket back up over his wings and shoulders. It takes some wiggling to find a comfortable position on his belly, but he groans happily when he finds it. Castiel snuggles into his pillow and he’s fast asleep again within minutes.

*

Thursday – January 18th, 2018

His phone vibrates hard enough on his desk that Castiel not only feels it through his keyboard, but he can even hear it over the recording he’s listening to through his earphones. He takes his foot off the pedal to stop the recording from playing and takes a sip of his afternoon coffee. Whoever texted him can wait until he’s restocked on life giving caffeine. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets him through eight hours of sitting on his ass.

Unsurprisingly, the message waiting for him is from Dean. Their conversations since New Year’s Day have increased to the point that they’re sending messages between each other almost daily. Mostly Dean just likes to send pictures of interesting things that he sees on the road, or he’ll complain about how Castiel’s couch was more comfortable than some of the motel beds that he sleeps on.

Once, he even received a picture of Dean and Sam holding their guns in a Charlie’s Angel type pose. It was captioned with ‘On the hunt!’ and a wolf emoji. It was amusing enough that Castiel saved the picture to his phone, and then promptly went back through all their conversations to save every picture – even the one from New Year’s Eve that still gives him a confusing feeling in the pit of his stomach.

The rest of their conversations have been fun and Castiel has enjoyed having someone to talk to. He always talks to Anna, but this is different. She’s family and this is – this is a friend. It’s a different kind of relationship to the friendship he has with her and he’s happy that he toughed it through the rough patch that was the beginning with the Winchesters.

Castiel opens the waiting message and ends up having to read it three times before he believes the words on the screen.

Hey Cas! Theres a bounty available near Wichita & Sammy n me booked it & we gun b there in a few hours… Should b done the hunt in a few days

Reason im letting u no is… Well, since we gun b in the area kinda thought we could swing by Lawerence afterwards? Pop in & say hi 2 mom & all that u no

Dean is dancing around what he’s really trying to ask. Castiel can read between the lines well enough to know. He’s tempted to see if Dean will eventually ask outright, but he’s too excited to wait. And what if Dean ends up changing his mind about stopping in? It’s better that he does answer right away. He already messed up once and made the Winchesters leave earlier than they meant to because they had a fight, and he doesn’t want to do that again.

I suppose you can stay here again.
Sent 2:32pm

He gets several smiling happy faces in response to that. It’s still a few minutes before realization actually strikes and Castiel’s heart flips in his chest before crawling right up into his throat.

They’re coming back.

Dean and Sam are coming back and Castiel is going to have to decide if he wants to show them his wings or not.

Chapter Text

Thursday – January 18th, 2018

You’re being a pussy.”

Castiel actually gasps and pulls the phone away to frown at it before putting it back to his ear. “Watch your language.”

Anna’s eye roll is almost audible in her voice. “You’re only allowed to enact that rule when I’m at your place. I’m not, so I can swear as much as I damn well please.” She even has the gall to laugh.

To be fair, he doesn’t actually have a no swearing rule, personally. The ‘no foul language in the house’ law was put into effect by his parents and he’s just carried it over. Except for the Winchesters. Castiel never tried to stop them from swearing, but that was mostly his nerves getting in the way from telling them about the rule.

It was difficult for Aunt Amara at first, but she’s managed to corral herself appropriately over the years. Anna doesn’t usually swear either, but when she does it always catches Castiel off guard. Take right now, for example. Never, in his life, has he ever been called a pussy.

There’s only one way to put this to rest. “I’ll tell your mother.”

She stops laughing immediately. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“Try me.”

Anna grumbles for a few moments. “Fine, whatever. But don’t think you’re going to be allowed to change the topic like this.” She huffs loudly and her voice takes a more gentle tone. “The whole point is that it’s not as big a deal as you’re making it. You said they basically told you that they know what your mutation is, right? Well, there you go. They know, they don’t care, so just show them.

Castiel worries at his bottom lip; the fingers of his free hand drumming a staccato rhythm against the desktop. “But I’ve never –”

I know you’ve never showed anyone before.” She cuts him off, her firm tone leaving no room for argument. “But you like Dean and Sam, don’t you?

He does, but there are so many doubts. “What if it’s just a case of Stockholm Syndrome?” It feels silly to even voice it, but it is a legitimate worry. “They basically moved in with me for a month and it’s not like I had much of a choice in spending time with them.” Or getting to know them.

The laugh he gets in response is almost insulting. Castiel pulls the phone away to frown at it again. As understanding as she is, Anna isn’t riddled with anxiety like him. She can’t really put herself in his position and get why this is all so difficult for him.

Instead of putting the phone to his ear again, he turns speakerphone on and puts it down on his desk. Anna is in the midst of ranting about how important it is that he has friends and that he needs to keep up his relationship with them. Castiel rolls his eyes, because this isn’t the first time that he’s heard this from her. She was very adamant that he contact them long before Dean reached out to him during the holidays, and gave him her disappointed face every time he said that he hadn’t.

Castiel was transcribing a recording when she called and he minimizes those programs to open up the file he has to edit. This sci-fi novel was assigned to him a few weeks ago and he’s enjoying the story so far. The writing isn’t even half bad. He’s definitely going to have to read this through properly once it hits the shelves.

Anna catches on to what he’s doing after a few paragraphs of editing – with only a few minor tweaks being needed. She clears her throat loudly. “I know you’re not listening to me.

Castiel hums and continues skimming. “Have you installed those cameras in my house that you keep threatening me with?”

I can hear the clicking of your stupid keyboard, you asshole.

“Well, you were being boring.” Even though she can’t see him, Castiel still makes a face at the phone. He does, however, give her the courtesy of saving and closing the document.

No, you’re boring.”

That’s just factually incorrect and now Castiel has actual proof of it in the form of text messages. “Dean doesn’t think so. He enjoys talking to me.”

Ah-hah! Thank you for proving my point.” She sounds unbearably smug and he briefly entertains the idea of hanging up on her. “You like them. And don’t think I’ve forgotten all the whining you did about how uncomfortable it was to bind the whole time they were there. Just show them your wings and get it over with. Think of how comfortable you’ll be for this next visit!

While she does have a point, Castiel is loathe to admit it. He’s only worn his binder a handful of times since the Winchesters left, and he hated every minute of it. Maybe he would be more relaxed if the truth was finally out there? Once they see his wings, he’ll be able to actually enjoy their visit.

Despite all that, a tight ball of worry still sits heavy in his chest. He hasn’t shown his wings to anyone since they grew in. Anna and Aunt Amara don’t count because they’re family. They never saw his wings until they were full grown, and that was after they also moved to Lawrence. Unlike Castiel, however, they both think his wings are beautiful. In fact, Anna has even admitted to being jealous of them. She wishes she had a mutation like his.

Castiel is the opposite. He wishes he had one like hers – or like Sam’s or Dean’s. If he had a mutation that wasn’t physical, he would have so much more freedom. Even if he was registered, it probably wouldn’t be so bad. Anna seems to be getting by fine. It’s the mutations with physical changes that really set them apart. People would look at him and crinkle their noses in disgust the same way he does whenever he looks in a mirror.

He hates his wings.

And what if Dean and Sam don’t like them either? There’s just so much that could go wrong with showing them his wings. It leaves him nauseated.

“I’ll –” He sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “I’ll think about it.”

Just think like Shia LeBeouf and Nike.

Oh God. Castiel drops his face into his hands. “Just do it?”

Damn right!” She pauses and groans. “Crap. I’m getting another call. I probably have to go make a delivery now. Before I go, just show them. I think you’re severely underestimating how accepting they are. Out of everyone you think would judge you for your wings, those two are the least likely to think badly of you.

He rests his cheek against his fist and looks at his phone. “Go do your delivery. I’ll talk to you later.”

Trust me on this. Having friends is a good thing.” Anna makes kissing noises into the phone. “Bye!

After she hangs up, Castiel stares at the phone until the screen turns off on its own. This isn’t something that he wants to think about right now because it will only serve to distract him from his work when he really needs to concentrate on what he’s doing. He’ll definitely be thinking about it later today, and tomorrow, and right up until the Winchesters arrive again.

There will be plenty of time to worry himself into an early grave about it.


Tuesday – January 23rd, 2018

It’s been ten minutes since Sam texted to say that they were just about to leave Lawrence. Of course they had to first stop at Walmart to pick up supplies, because it’s not a Winchester visit without enough food to feed an entire country.

Now they’re on their way here and Castiel is about to have a mental breakdown.

He’s sitting on the recliner with his head between his knees as he counts every deep breath. It’s not helping as much as it used to and he still feels like he’s going to pass out at any moment. His nerves are running high and there’s nothing he can really do about that. It’s not like he takes anxiety medication. That would require seeing a doctor getting a prescription and that’s just – really not helping right now.

Despite his nerves, Castiel did take the time to actually groom his wings this morning. He hasn’t done that in an absurdly long time because he can’t touch the oil glands without grimacing. And if he didn’t already hate his wings enough, he had to wake up early to take care of them. Granted, he did barely get any sleep last night. He was too excited (nervous?) to see the Winchesters again, and he had stayed up rather late power cleaning the entire place so that it would be ready for today.

Dean had texted him last night when they finished the hunt. It was just a quick message to let him know that they would reach Lawrence sometime today and he should expect them in the afternoon. He’s been watching the clock like a hawk all morning, unable to even sit down and focus on his work. If he’s not able to get to work later on, then he’ll just take the whole day off and make up the hours over the weekend or something.

His stomach rumbles and Castiel shushes it before returning to his counting. The messages he got from Dean while they were at Walmart insisted that he not eat lunch because he would be making it when they get here. It’s about twenty minutes past noon and Castiel might have also skipped breakfast. He just wasn’t sure that he would be able to keep anything down in light of the reveal looming in the very near future.

Castiel rocks to his feet and goes to check his wings in the mirrored closet doors of his bedroom again. They look so dull despite having oiled them just a few hours ago. Maybe if he did that more often they wouldn’t look so bad? But his stomach turns and he feels like throwing up every time he has to reach back under the feathers at the base of the joint of his wings and squeeze the little walnut sized gland there to release the oils.

But he toughed it out and did it this morning so that they’ll be as nice as they can be for Dean and Sam. He even trimmed them too so the clipped ends weren’t so ragged looking. His molt season isn’t until the spring, so he has another few months before he hates his wings even more than usual. That’s when they get itchy and he sheds feathers everywhere. The feathers will grow back longer and then he has to go through and clip them all over again.

He looks pale and sickly in his reflection and Castiel slaps at his cheeks a few times to try and bring colour back to his face. Thinking about the molt always gets him riled up and he needs to think about something else now. The molt only serves to remind him of how different he is. Now he’s about to show that difference to Dean and Sam. And combining that with his usual nerves about how they’re actually coming back is almost too much for him to bear.

It’s been nearly two whole months since he last saw the Winchesters. What if he’s just romanticizing the memories? Maybe it wasn’t as good and he’s actually going to hate it? Or they’re going to hate being here and want to leave sooner. Castiel isn’t the greatest host and he knows it. Even Anna and Aunt Amara usually take over when they’re here.

God, what if this next visit is worse? What if it’s because of his wings? Or maybe the Winchesters won’t be nice like they were the first time. It could have all been a ruse to trick him into getting him do something and – And he is dangerously close to hyperventilating.

Castiel heads to the kitchen next and downs the biggest glass of water that he can pour. But he does it slowly, taking his time to focus on every swallow. It’s not much, but it’s enough of a distraction for him to not want to text them and call the whole thing off.

By the time the Impala comes crunching up the driveway, Castiel is pacing the length of the living room. His heart is in his throat and he still feels sick. It’s not too late for him to go put on his housecoat, but – No! He promised Anna that he would do this. He doesn’t want to spend another two or three weeks wearing a binder and his housecoat all over the house. If he could let two strangers into his home and his life, then he can damn well show them his wings!

That said, he’s still practically vibrating with repressed energy.

Even though the Winchesters know that he’s expecting them, they still ring the doorbell. That’s nice of them, and it’s likely because Sam’s empathy antenna could probably pick up on how nervous he is from the main road.  It gives him one last chance to take some deep breaths before actually having to face them again.

He forces his breathing to remain even as he steps up to the window. The curtains are sheer enough that he can see outside but it’s hard to see inside. Castiel just wants to confirm that it really is the Impala and he’s not about to be confronted with someone he wasn’t expecting.

Surprisingly, seeing that sleek black car sitting in the same spot that Dean parked for most of November actually calms him a little bit. Sam is standing at the back of it with the trunk popped open and he’s taking two duffle bags out. Dean must be the one at the door then, probably carrying all the groceries.

If he was any kind of a host, Castiel would go to the door and help him carry them to the kitchen. Instead, he goes to stand next to the couch and leans his head around the wall that separates the living room from the foyer stairwell. Dean is peeking through the window with both hands cupped around his face so he can see against the glare. He grins brightly and waves when he sees Castiel.

This it it. Castiel takes another deep breath before raising his voice. “Come in!” He even gestures for Dean to open the door.

By the time Dean actually opens the door, Castiel has ducked back into the living room. He can still hear him clear as a bell when Dean calls out into the house. “Hey, Cas! We’re back!”

It might just be his imagination, but Dean sounds really excited. That makes his already rapid pulse kick up a few more notches. Is he happy to be back? Is he happy to see him again? Castiel certainly is, though he’s not sure that’s going to come across when he’s on the verge of throwing up. His anxiety just won’t quit, but it’s too late to try and hide his wings. His only option is to grab the blanket off the couch to cover them and he’ll look like an idiot when Dean rounds the corner.

But he doesn’t. Accompanied with a symphony of rustling plastic bags, Dean comes up the stairs and takes the groceries straight into the kitchen without even glancing into the living room. “I’m making Mexican for lunch! TexMex rice and quesadillas. How does that sound?”

Castiel swallows thickly and licks his lips. “Sounds great.” And yet his voice still cracks.

While Dean is busy putting things away, and Castiel is being rude by not helping, Sam comes in. After a few moments, he comes up the stairs and rounds the corner into the living room. The moment he does, he comes to a sudden stop with his mouth frozen open in greeting. Castiel resists the urge to hug himself, but his wings do twitch and start curling forward over his shoulders. Sam watches the movement with wide eyes.

Though it’s only actually a few seconds, it feels like forever before Sam shakes himself out. He fixes Castiel with a soft, understanding smile. “Hi, Cas.”

Is it weird that he wants to cry? Instead, Castiel bites his lip and gives a stilted wave. He doesn’t trust his voice again.

“Hey, Cas!” Dean calls from the kitchen shortly following the slam of the fridge door. “Is there anything you don’t like in your quesadillas? I know you don’t like onions, so I’ll –”

At that point, Dean comes out of the kitchen through the dining room entrance. He freezes mid-step and cuts himself off with a weird huff of air, like he choked on an inhale. If he wasn’t so distracted by his reaction, Castiel would be touched by how Dean remembered that he doesn’t like onions.

Dean’s jaw snaps shut and he takes a heavy breath through his nose. He opens and closes his mouth a few times before making that same weird huff-choke sound again. His gaze is firmly fixed on Castiel’s wings and it’s so intense. It makes him want to cover up all the more. This translates to his wings folding as flat against his back as they can get. The longer Dean stares, the more Castiel wants to hide.

Sam, on the other hand, has stopped staring. He has one duffle bag over his shoulder and the other hanging from his hand. That one he drops on the couch, which Castiel already made up with the sheets and has the blanket and pillows stacked carefully on the chair by the window. Briefly he spares a passing thought; wondering if they already decided on who will get the bed this time and who will be sleeping on the couch.

Castiel has already given up hope on whether or not he looks as nervous as he feels. He licks his lips again and gives Dean the same wave. “Hello, Dean. Sam.” He still sounds like he’s about to faint and he clears his throat. “How was your hunt?”

Rather than answering the question, Dean just steps forward slowly. He still hasn’t looked away from Castiel’s wings. “Can I touch ‘em?”

Of all the questions they could have asked, he didn’t expect that. Castiel’s wings spread a little in surprise before immediately folding right back up. Even if he wanted to, he’s not sure if he could stop them from trying to look smaller than they really are.

Why would Dean want to touch them?

With a sigh, Sam reaches out and smacks Dean in the shoulder, effectively drawing his attention away from Castiel’s wings. “What did I say about asking like that?”

“Sorry, sorry.” Dean holds his hands up in innocence and takes a step back. “I just –” He shrugs and gestures helplessly at Castiel. “I didn’t think you’d ever actually show us.”

“You said you knew.” Castiel shrugs and crosses his arms over his chest. He sounds about as uncomfortable as he feels. “I didn’t think there was any reason to continue hiding them. And I really don’t want to wear my binder again every day for a month.”

Dean’s shoulders droop slightly and he rubs a hand over the back of his neck. “I guess that was our fault, huh?” A sheepish smile spreads on his lips. “On the bright side, we’re probably not going to be staying that long again.”

Although he probably meant that to be comforting, Castiel is just disappointed. It’s a heavy weight in his chest and all he can do is nod numbly at the announcement. “I wouldn’t kick you out if you did. You can stay as long as you need.”

“Thanks, Cas.” Sam bobs his head in a nod. “We really appreciate that.” He pats the bag hanging from his shoulder. “Well, I’m going to dump Dean’s stuff in the bedroom, and we actually have some laundry to do. Is it okay if I throw in a load?”

“Of course.”

He nods and heads off down the hall, leaving Castiel and Dean alone again. Dean turns after him, but doesn’t move to follow. “Thanks, Sammy. I’ll – uh –” He looks back at Castiel and tracks the shift of his wings. “I’ll go get lunch started.” That said, it’s still a few seconds before he actually starts backing up the way he came. “You – I mean, I guess you’re going to go get back to work, right?”

Castiel rubs his arms slightly and looks away. “I haven’t started yet today. I couldn’t focus enough.” He shrugs and shifts on his feet. “Depending on how I feel after lunch, I’ll start later or I might just end up taking the day off.”

“Oh, okay.” Dean nods. “That’s – uh – that’s good.” He jerks a thumb over his shoulder. “Do you want to come help me cook lunch?”

“If I do –” He uncrosses his arms just to fuss with the sleeves of his shirt. “If I do, can you promise not to – Can you not look at me so much?” It feels so weird to ask that, but having so much attention focused on him is making him feel light headed – and not in a good way.

Dean immediately looks away and the back of his neck flushes slightly. “Sorry about that. I guess you’re not really used to people looking at ‘em, huh?”

Castiel nods, and then realizes that Dean isn’t looking at him. He clears his throat before actually speaking. “Yes. Even Anna and Aunt Amara don’t pointedly look at them a lot.”

Hopefully time is the key here. He’s okay with Anna and his aunt because he’s had so much time to get used to having his wings out around them. It might just take a while before he’s as comfortable with the Winchesters as he is with them.

He follows Dean into the kitchen to find four bulging bags on the counter. An empty bag is lying next to them, presumably the one that held whatever it was that Dean put away in the fridge. Nonetheless, Castiel is constantly surprised by how much food they bring all the time.

“Did you buy out the whole grocery store?”

Dean shrugs and starts taking things out of the bags for Castiel to take. “I wouldn’t have to buy so much if someone would ever have something other than instant food in his house.”

Castiel shrugs and begins putting things away in the pantry. “I don’t like cooking for just myself.”

“I get you.” Dean hums and sets aside the ingredients that he needs for lunch. “It’s always more fun to cook for other people. I actually miss cooking when Sammy and I are on the road. We always eat out while we’re hunting.”

He pulls pans out of the drawer under the oven and turns the heat on to start pre-heating it, moving around the kitchen like it’s his own. “The motel rooms with kitchenettes cost more per night than ordering in pizza or Chinese and having leftovers for a day or two. I mean, we do eat sandwiches and snacks a lot too. We keep the fixings in those little bar fridges every room has, just so we’re not eating out for every meal.”

While Dean talks, Castiel nods along. He hums at appropriate intervals and nods at Sam when he checks in on them before taking the first load of laundry downstairs. The Winchesters have been here for all of five minutes and already his home is louder than it has been since New Year’s Day. This time around, it doesn’t feel even half as weird as it did the first time they were here. If anything, it feels – and this is something that Castiel will take to his grave – it feels right.

Once everything is put away, it turns out that Dean has far more fillings for the quesadillas than what Castiel is used to. Whenever Anna picks one up for him and brings it over with her own meal, he usually only gets chicken, cheese, peppers, and tomatoes. Dean might as well be making omelettes again for the number of vegetables and proteins he has lined up on the counter next to the stove.

Garlic is already sizzling in oil in a pot on the stove and the scent of it has Castiel’s stomach rumbling. His jaw twinges almost painfully and he can’t resist stealing a wedge of a green pepper while Dean is in the processing of chopping them. It’s been too long since he had Dean’s cooking and it’s almost surprising how much he’s looking forward to having lunch now. It will be nice to sit down with the Winchesters again and catch up on everything they didn’t talk about through their text messages.

Already he’s starting to feel less on edge about having his wings out. Having Dean talk so much is really helping take his mind off of them. And, as he asked, Dean hasn’t even once looked at his wings since they entered the kitchen.

Maybe he can get through this after all.


Even though he had calmed down by the time lunch was finished, Castiel had still felt a need for a little personal time. After cleaning up, he decided to do a half day of work. There were recordings that needed to be transcribed and he didn’t feel right leaving them for tomorrow. But, because he doesn’t have to hide his wings anymore, he actually left the door open the whole time he was working. That way, the Winchesters could have full access to his library if they wanted to grab something.

He transcribed as much as he could be lunch and a late dinner. And then he took the rest of the night off so he could hang out with the Winchesters in the living room. They were both so tired from travelling and hunting that they decided to relax with a movie for the evening and settled on watching the first of the Blade trilogy.

Now the movie is in the final ten minutes and that is wonderful. Castiel is absolutely exhausted and he’s been day dreaming about his bed for near an hour now.

As soon as the movie is over, he stands up to stretch his arms above his head and his wings out behind him. It still feels weird to have them out in front of the Winchesters. Even though Dean tries not to look at them, Castiel has actually caught him sneaking glances whenever he thinks he’s not looking. Sam, on the other hand, apparently hasn’t given them a second thought since he first saw them. It’s just Dean who keeps staring and it makes Castiel’s stomach swoop every time he notices.

“I think I’ll be going to bed now.” It’s earlier than he would normally turn in, but he didn’t really sleep last night and it’s been an emotional day for him, so he feels justified in his decision.

Sam muffles a yawn behind his hand. He looks like he’s falling asleep where he’s slumped down in the chair by the window, his long legs stretched out over the ottoman. “’Night. Sleep well.”

Dean grunts as he pushes himself up from where he’s been taking up the whole couch. Castiel gives him a wave as he starts down the hall. He’s halfway to his bedroom when he realizes that he’s not alone and stops, turning around to find that Dean is following him. Not only that, but his face is held in a vaguely unreadable but surprisingly intense expression.

The way he looks actually makes Castiel’s heart stutter slightly in his chest.

“Are you going to bed too?”

To his understanding, Dean and Sam didn’t do rock-paper-scissors to decide where they’re sleeping this time around. Since Sam had the bedroom for the entire time they were here back in November, it’s only fair that Dean gets it for this visit.

“Nope.” Dean shakes his head and continues past Castiel, and then right into his bedroom – not the guest room – because of course he left the door unlocked.

Castiel’s anxiety slips right back up because why? That’s his bedroom! What business could Dean possible have in there? Especially since Castiel quite specifically said that he was about to go to bed!

He steps into the doorway to find Dean standing at the end of the bed, staring at himself in the mirrors. Dean looks about as happy as Castiel feels.

He clears his throat. “Dean?”

“I made a promise.” Dean’s voice is tight and he sounds uncomfortable, but his jaw tightens in a distinctly determined way. “You showed me yours, so I’m –” He touches one of the scars on his face, fingers lingering. “I’m going to show you mine.”

Dean looks away from the mirror, expression still horribly blank. “I don’t like Sammy seeing them, so get your ass in here and shut the door.”

Oh! Castiel quickly does as asked, before realizing that he’s now alone with someone in his bedroom. Though he knows the actual situation, the implications alone are enough to make a flush start climbing his neck. Whether it’s from embarrassment, nerves, or something more… He isn’t sure.

Should he also lock the door? He briefly considers it before deciding that he really shouldn’t. He might not even be able to do it if he tried. While Castiel considers himself to be somewhat friends with the Winchesters, he isn’t really sure that he could stand to be locked with either of them in a small room with no exit. That said, he stays standing by the door, just in case he feels the need for more space.

And then he forgets all about that the moment Dean starts stripping.

The first thing he removes is his flannel over-shirt; tossing it on the bed behind him. He always wears the sleeves of it rolled up, but under it is a long sleeve, high collared shirt that he never rolls up. It always seemed a little weird to Castiel. The long sleeved shirt is removed next, but he’s still wearing a white tank top as an undershirt.

Castiel inhales sharply and bites his tongue to keep from saying anything. He suddenly understands why Dean wears a long-sleeved shirt under his flannel. His arms are absolutely covered in scars. Some appear to be burns, others look like long scratches, and some look like the skin was split by an impact. Some of the scars are white while others are an angry red.

There are crisscrossing lines of white and red running up and down the insides of both of Dean’s forearms, and Castiel knows immediately what they are. While he has never have seen them in person before (to his knowledge), he has certainly read enough books, seen enough movies, and edited enough edgy young adult novels to know self-harm when he sees it. And Dean’s scars go from the heel of his palm almost all the way to his elbow on both arms.

Dean rubs a hand over them before he closes his eyes. Slowly, he lets out a deep breath and bunches his fingers in his undershirt where it’s tucked into his pants. He tugs it out, but hesitates in actually pulling it off. Castiel swallows thickly and takes a small step forward. He should stop this. Clearly Dean is uncomfortable and he shouldn’t have to push himself like this just because Castiel showed his wings.

But before he can say anything, Dean yanks the shirt over his head in one quick move and throws it on the bed with the rest of his clothing. He turns to face Castiel fully and opens his eyes; arms spread wide. “There you go.”

His registry tattoo is just below his left collarbone and almost half of it is covered by a big scar that cuts much deeper than Castiel originally thought it did. Since most of the tattoo is still visible, The Registry must not have deemed it necessary for him to have it redone elsewhere. The scar is sunken; carving across his chest from the middle of his right pectoral up and over his left shoulder. It looks like it must have hurt, and the wound itself must have been horrible if it still looks like that after Dean’s healing powers have had a go at it.

Dean’s right shoulder is in better shape, but it looks like it had a small hole punched in it, leaving a star like scarring around it. There’s another one similar to it on his left side; just a little higher on his waist than his belly button. Everywhere else are the smaller scars – white and red lines skipping across his skin here and there. Or patches of mottled skin twisted up like he was burned.

After a few moments, Dean turns around to show his back. The star-punch in his right shoulder has a matching wound on his back and Castiel realizes with a jolt that it’s from a bullet. His big scar over his left shoulder curves slightly across his spine to end just shy of the bullet scar. More scarring litters his back, but most of the outside of his right arm, from shoulder to wrist, is covered in the twisted scarring of a horrible burn. It’s matched by patches on his side that dip down under the waistband of his jeans.

Castiel knew that Dean had scars, but these – these look so painful. They’re so much more violent than he thought they would be. His heart is in his throat and he can hardly swallow around it as he catalogues each one in his memory.

He blinks away the sharp sting behind his eyes. How much pain must Dean have gone through to have all of these? And are there more on his legs? Do the scars still hurt him now?

Before he even realizes what he’s doing, Castiel takes another step forward and reaches out. His fingertips just barely brush the start of the deep scar on his shoulder before Dean steps out of reach and turns around again. He raises an eyebrow and smiles, though it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “If I don’t get to touch, neither do you.” At that, he nods at Castiel’s wings.

Now that is absolutely something that he is not prepared to even think about. As such, Castiel ignores the comment entirely and asks the question resting heavy on his tongue. “How did they happen?”

Dean shrugs and idly scratches at a jagged scar that follows the line of his ribs on his right side. “They’ve each got their own. Some are just from me being a dumbass during hunts against other mutants, and some are from Sam getting hurt. Some are from people who really need my help.”

Castiel steps closer and takes Dean’s arm in hand. He rubs his thumbs over the scars along his wrist. “And what about these?”

The question makes Dean’s shoulders tense. He balls his hand into a fist, but he doesn’t pull away. “Like I said… People that really needed my help. If you want the gritty details, you’re going to have to ask Sam. He knows them better than I do.” He looks away, glancing at his pile of shirts on the bed. “I don’t remember much after – Well, y’know. I just – I couldn’t leave ‘em dying like that.”

In all honesty, Castiel isn’t sure if he wants the details. But if morbid curiosity wins out, then at least he knows who to ask. And he also understands. If he had Dean’s powers, how could he resist helping someone in need? Especially when that someone happened to be a child.

“Do they hurt?” He continues cataloguing the scars by touch; following them up Dean’s arm and slowly making his way across his chest.

Despite what he said before, Dean doesn’t stop him from tracing each of them. He even willingly turns when Castiel follows the one over his shoulder and across his back. “Not really. I don’t know if it’s my healing at work or if it’s another aspect of my mutation, but I don’t feel pain the same way I did before I presented. It’s all dulled. The only problem I have with my scars is that they sometimes can get kinda stiff feeling and it’s weird to move.”

When he turns around again, there’s a wry smile on his lips. “I have an insane skin care routine that keeps them soft and supple. If you ever need moisturizers, hit me up. I’ve got brands you’ve probably never even heard of coming out the wazo-whoa!”

Dean grabs his hands to stop Castiel from further exploration. He had made it across his back, around his side, and again to the front where he was tracing the scars across his stomach. Castiel doesn’t realize how close his fingers were getting to the waistband of Dean’s jeans until they’re being pulled away. “Watch where you’re touching, Cas.”

“I’m sorry!” When the realization strikes, Castiel steps back sharply and yanks his hands out of Dean’s grip. His face feels like it’s on fire. “I didn’t – I shouldn’t have – You even said –”

“It’s fine, Cas.” Dean shrugs and picks up his undershirt again. He pulls it on and tucks it back into his jeans. “Are you satisfied now?”

Yes, but also no. Castiel has so many questions. “What are their stories?”

Dean pauses with only his arms in his long sleeve shirt. He glances at him before pulling it over his head. “All of them?”

“All of them.”

There’s a few moments where they stare at each other, eyes locked. Dean searches for something in his expression, though what Castiel doesn’t know. Eventually, he softens with a smile that crinkles the corners of his eyes. “Maybe another time.” He picks up his over-shirt. “Maybe I’ll tell you when you manage to get my pants off.”

The wink that follows that entirely unnecessary comment is equally unnecessary and Castiel rolls his eyes. Now that Dean is dressed again, he must be feeling more comfortable. He’s falling back into flirting quite easily. Either it’s a base component of his personality, or Dean uses flirting like a defense mechanism. Honestly, it could be both. It’s not like Castiel actually knows Dean that well.

Once his flannel is back on, Dean seems to relax quite a bit more. The tension eases out of his shoulders and his smile comes much easier. “There. Doesn’t it feel better now that we all know what our mutations are?”

Castiel shrugs and tucks his wings in closer. He’s still on the fence about whether or not revealing his wings to them was a good thing or not. So far it’s been fine, but tomorrow is another day.

Moving his wings might have been a mistake. Even just a twitch of them draws Dean’s attention. He takes a few steps to get behind him, eyeing them up closely. “Wait a sec.” He’s frowning when Castiel looks over his shoulder. “Cas, why don’t they look right?”

Thankfully, Dean doesn’t reach out to touch them. Instead, he touches Castiel’s arm gently. “Will you spread ‘em for me? Please?”

Oh God. Castiel feels like his face is going to melt off. Isn’t it enough that he’s showed his wings? Why does he have to spread them too? He takes a few steps forward to put space between them, his eyes firmly fixed on the floor because he refuses to look at Dean while he does this.

Stepping away must make it look like he’s not going to do it. Dean makes a quiet, disappointed noise. “It’s okay, Cas. You don’t have to if you don’t want to. I can see them some other time when you’re –”

He cuts off suddenly as Castiel spreads his wings out. With the feathers clipped as they are, their reach isn’t nearly as long as it should be. When his primaries are fully grown in after his molt, they can go the whole length of the room – stretching from wall to wall. If he holds them properly and not folded flat against his shoulders and back, then they even touch the ground.

A shiver runs down his spine at the first gentle ghost of a touch along the edge of one wing. It’s not actually a touch, but it’s more than he’s ever had before. Castiel hated his wings so much as a child that he didn’t even like letting his parents touch them, let alone Anna and Aunt Amara. He still hates his wings and the automatic response is to twitch them out of reach and turn so that Dean can’t just touch them again.

“Sorry.” To his credit, Dean does look apologetic. “I just – Why do they look so short?”

“Because I clip them.” Castiel shrugs and crosses his arms; wings folding flat again. “They’re easier to hide under my coat that way, and the long feathers get in the way. They’re annoying.” And he’s not going to mention his molting, because it’s weird enough to have wings in the first place.

Dean’s jaw drops and he spreads his arms. “But – but – flying!” Thankfully, he doesn’t start flapping to help with the visual. “You can’t fly when you clip your wings like that!”

“That’s a given.” He frowns and looks away. “I’ve never tried to fly before.”

“You’ve never – Oh my God, Cas!” Dean throws both hands in the air before gesturing at Castiel. “You’ve got wings and you’ve never tried to fly. Holy shit, that’s such a waste.”

That’s just rude and Castiel fixes him with a glare. “Not everything with wings flies, Dean.” He can think of a number of flightless birds and will happily list them, if needed. “Would you fly if you could?”

“No way.” He shakes his head. “But that’s because I hate planes and heights. And anyway, I’m not the one with wings here. You’re choosing not to fly. You’re –” Dean stops and a thoughtful kind of light enters his eyes. “Oh. You haven’t tried to fly because you’re unregistered and don’t want to get caught. Is that it?”

He shrugs and really wishes they could change the subject before they end up arguing again. “That’s part of the reason, yes.”

“Well, what’s the other part?” Dean tilts his head, trying to catch his eye again.

“I hate them.” Castiel hunches his shoulders and his wings fold in tight against his back. “You said I have a gift, but they’re not. They’re a curse.” And he said as much the last time they were here. Hopefully this time, Dean isn’t going to leave in the middle of the night because they disagreed on this particular topic.

For a moment, Dean’s mouth twists into a frustrated frown. He tenses, like he’s preparing to argue, and then he stops. His shoulders drop and he sighs. Now he just looks sad and Castiel hates that look on his face. It’s better when Dean is smiling – when he’s laughing and talking his ear off about whatever catches his fancy.

“Cas –”

“I’d like to get ready for bed now.” Castiel cuts him off with a shake of his head. He nods towards the door, hoping Dean won’t fight him on this.

Dean presses his lips into a thin line, again looking like he wants to argue. Instead, he nods. “Okay, fine.” He opens the door and steps out into the hall, but he stops there to turn and point at him. “But mark my words! This isn’t over.”

With a sigh, Castiel steps over to shut the door. “Good night, Dean.”

He leans his forehead against the door once it’s closed. His wings curve forward around his shoulders in another form a self-hug. It takes another few moments before Dean’s footsteps start up; carrying him away towards the living room. That interaction left Castiel with a lot to think about, but the foremost thought is the most troubling one.

How can Dean have so many scars and still think that being a mutant is a gift?

Chapter Text

Wednesday – January 24th, 2018

Why is someone knocking on his window?

Castiel sits up in bed and knuckles at his eyes. He squints at the clock. It’s not even seven o’clock yet and that is unacceptable. Even Dean has never actually woken him up this early – at least not on purpose. In fact, Castiel is fairly certain that he’s probably still sleeping. But that doesn’t change that someone is still knocking with the sharp sound of knuckles on glass. It’s quiet and repetitive and he just might punch someone in the face for this.

He kneels on his bed and yanks the curtains open. When he pulls the string to draw up the blinds, there’s nothing on the other side of the window. And yet, he can still hear the knocking. Where could – Oh. It takes far too long for him to realize that it’s coming from the bathroom window. That’s actually even weirder.

With a loud sigh, he hauls himself to his feet and stumbles into the bathroom. Castiel repeats the motions of uncovering the window, half hoping it’s some dumb bird that he can shoo away. Of course it’s not. It’s Sam hanging over the railing on the deck so he can reach the window and peek through it. As soon as he sees Castiel, he lights up with a smile and puts a finger to his lips. What in the world does he have to be quiet about? Who would hear them?

Sam gestures behind himself and mouths one word. It takes a few tries before Castiel figures out that he’s saying ‘kitchen’. He wants to meet him in the kitchen? At this time of the morning? Ugh. If he wasn’t such a pushover, Castiel would refuse. Instead, he just nods. Sam gives him a thumbs up and disappears.

Grumbling to himself and muttering quiet curses about this time of the day not being an acceptable time to be awake, he shuffles about to get his slippers and housecoat on. Sam is in his pajamas and rubbing his arms while waiting by the coffee machine for it to brew. When Castiel enters the room, he excitedly gestures for him to cross the kitchen with him to the far side of the kitchen by the door out onto the deck.

Once they’re in the corner, he leans in and drops his voice into a quiet whisper. “I’m sorry to wake you up that way, but I wasn’t sure if you would answer your phone if I texted you.”

Castiel covers his mouth to muffle a yawn. “What’s wrong?” Because someone had better be dying or some other emergency had better be brewing. Otherwise, heads will roll for waking him up this early.

“Do you know what today is?”

Sam’s lucky that the knife block is on the other side of the room from them. Knowing what day it is does not constitute an emergency. Castiel frowns and squints at nothing in particular over Sam’s shoulder while he thinks. “It’s… Wednesday?”

“Shit.” He runs a hand through his hair and sighs. “I thought Dean might have told you since he tried really hard to make sure that we would be here to celebrate it, but –” Sam takes a deep breath. “It’s Dean’s birthday today.”

And just like that, Castiel is wide awake. He straightens his shoulders and takes a slow, steady breath before letting it out loudly. “Why didn’t you tell me about this yesterday? Or you could have texted me about it a week ago! I could have arranged with Anna to get presents from us, or I could have arranged a cake, or –”

“Pie.” Sam interrupts. “Dean likes pie.”

Right, yes, of course. How could he have forgotten that? Castiel feels horrible about all of this now. Dean is one of his first friends and this is the first birthday that they’ve come across since he met them. And then there’s what Sam just said too. Dean wanted to be here to celebrate with him? That makes Castiel’s insides tingle in a weirdly pleasant way. It’s sweet, and – and not what he should be focusing on right now.

“Do you have anything planned for him?” Because if Sam dropped the ball on this too, then Castiel might scream. Dean may have been the one who chose to leave without saying anything the last time they were here, but that bridge has been mended now and he deserves an amazing birthday. That’s something that Castiel wants to be able to give him.

Sam has the decency to look guilty, at least. He ducks his head and runs a hand through his hair again. “Honestly? No. He’s never really been one for big parties, so I’ve never planned anything for him.” Something must show on Castiel’s face or maybe his displeasure is coming across loud and clear, because Sam straightens up and waves his hands between them. “But! I do know that he likes to sleep in on his birthday. That might supersede his need to impress you with food.”

Castiel’s housecoat rustles as his wings flex beneath it. That throws him off more than he cares to admit. “Impress me with food?” Is that what he’s doing? Here he thought that Dean was just doing it as part of his ‘rent’ for staying here.

He shakes his head, putting that thought aside. That’s not what he’s supposed to be focusing on right now. He has a birthday to plan. “What if we surprise him with breakfast in bed? And I can call Anna to see if she can buy us a ca– Sorry, a pie.” Something else occurs to him and he claps his hands together once. “Oh! I have decorations! There’s a whole box in the basement with streamers, hats, and candles.” Among other things, probably.

Most of the birthday decorations were purchased after his parents died. Aunt Amara showed up for his birthday that year with bags of new things, all in an effort to help cheer Castiel up for his first birthday without his parents. Between her and Anna, they worked their hardest to make the day awesome enough that he didn’t have the time to even think about his parents. Despite crying a lot, it was definitely better than being alone, and it worked. Now they’re used three times a year now for Castiel in September, Anna in October, and Aunt Amara in December.

Sam brightens at the mention of decorations. He turns on his heel and goes to the pantry to start pulling out pancake mix, chocolate chips, and syrup. “You go get the decorations. I’ll start on making breakfast.”

Castiel hurries off, hoping that he remembers exactly where the box is. Anna is very organized and she went through and labeled almost everything in the basement that she was allowed to do. He abandons his housecoat over the arm of the couch so it doesn’t get in the way. Sure, he’ll be cold for a little bit, but he’ll warm up quickly while rushing around to decorate and get things ready before Dean wakes up.

It takes no time at all to find the birthday bin on the shelves in the basement. It was used just last month, of course, and Anna was very good at labeling it. Castiel brings it back upstairs with him and digs through the kitchen drawers until he finds tape. Sam is busy mixing the pancake batter and they nod at each other before Castiel ducks out to start decorating. He puts banners, streamers, and balloons everywhere; moving a chair quietly from place to place so he can tape the ends to the ceiling. He sets out party hats on the table along with a party horn and popper each.

“How old is he turning?” Castiel brings the box of candles into the kitchen. “I know he’s in his twenties, but which twenty?”

“Twenty-eight.” Sam doesn’t even glance up from where he’s checking the bacon he put in the oven.

From the tin of candles, Castiel picks out a two and an eight. He sets them aside for the pie later on. Now that everything is as decorated as he can get it, he packs up the excess in the bin and tucks it away in the corner of the living room for when they take it all down.

While he doesn’t have a specific tray that can be used to serve breakfast in bed, Castiel does have a decorative one used on the coffee table. It usually holds a box of facial tissues and the remotes. He grabs that and sets it with a plate and utensils. Sam stacks pancakes and bacon on the plate while Castiel pours a glass of chocolate milk and a mug of coffee to add to the tray.

He didn’t have chocolate milk in the fridge yesterday and it makes his feathers shiver slightly to realize they had it in the groceries they brought yesterday. Did they notice how much he liked it the last time they were here? Or was it just because they like it too? Whatever the case, he pours himself a small glass and savors it while Sam arranges the plate to his satisfaction with a pat couple pats of butter and a large drizzling of syrup.

Satisfied, Sam steps back. “Do you have hats?”

“I put them on the dining table for later.”

“We should put ours on now.” He ducks into the dining room and returns with two hats, a party popper, and one of the horns.

Castiel stands still and lets him put the hat on him. Thankfully, Sam isn’t cruel enough to snap the elastic string against his chin. He has the feeling that Dean would absolutely do that, just to see how Castiel would react. Sam keeps the popper and the horn for himself, and hands the tray off for him to carry.

They head down the hall together, Castiel walking carefully so he doesn’t upset the drinks on the tray. The guest room door is closed, but Sam eases it open slowly. The curtains aren’t drawn, so it’s not pitch-black in the room like how his own bedroom was this morning. It’s nearly eight o’clock now and the sun is above the horizon but not above the trees that surround the property, brightening the room with a dim, warm light.

Dean is sprawled out on his stomach with his face smushed into the pillow. One arm dangles off the side of the bed in full defiance of any monsters under the bed. Which there are none, because the bed frame goes right to the floor. This used to be Castiel’s bed when he was growing up and he insisted on this kind of frame to make sure that no monster could get under his bed in the first place. He still doesn’t sleep with any limbs poking out over the edge of the mattress anyways.

The blanket is only covering half of Dean’s body and that has Castiel hesitating a few feet within the door. Dean is shirtless. Should they wake him while he’s like this? It’s obvious that he doesn’t like having his scars on display. When he looks to Sam for confirmation about what they should do, he simply gestures for Castiel to come forward.

They stand at the edge of the bed and Sam nudges at Dean’s arm a few times. He does it until Dean groans and rolls onto his side, putting his back to them. “Fugg’off, Sammy.”

Sam frowns briefly before flashing Castiel a grin. He winks and puts the party horn to his lips. Those things are loud and annoying, and it does the trick. After one large warbling honk, Dean flails and twists upright with a loud curse.

He turns to give them both a sleepy glare. “What the fuck!”

“Happy birthday!” Sam shouts and pops the party popper, showering Dean with confetti.

That doesn’t get as much of a reaction out of him as Castiel expected. Instead, he just blinks at them both and blows confetti out of his face. Dean’s eyes sluggishly move from looking between the both of them to squinting at the tray of food. He briefly lingers on Castiel; both his wings and his bare chest. Before he can even start to feel uncomfortable about that, Dean looks away to, again, blink at the both of them.

“What?”

“Breakfast in bed.” Castiel holds the tray out to bring attention to it again. “Happy birthday.”

Whatever sleep fog Dean might have had before clears up rather quickly then. He sits up properly and scoots up the bed until his back is against the headboard. After adjusting the blanket over his lap, he pats it before holding out his hands to making grabbing motions. “Gimme.”

Castiel steps forward to put the tray across his lap. “Be careful, there are no legs to stabilize it.”

“Hold on.” Sam pulls his phone out of seemingly nowhere and waves it at them. “I want to take a picture! Here, put this on.” He plucks a third hat off his head, having just stacked the extra on top of his own. Dean scowls as Sam puts the hat on him – and this time he does snap the string. “Now smile.”

“Let me put a damn shirt on first, at least.”

Right, of course. Castiel quickly crosses to the light switch so he can turn them on and see better. There’s a hoodie hanging from the hook on the back of the closet door. He grabs that and passes it to Dean while Sam holds the tray out of the way for him to get dressed. Once he’s dressed and the tray is back in his lap, Dean smiles cheekily for a picture.

“I want another one, but this time –” Dean pats the spot next to him. “I want Cas in it.”

Castiel very rarely has his picture taken. It’s usually Anna taking selfies with him or taking pictures of their little family gatherings. His biggest fear is that someone is going to see the picture and somehow just know that he’s an unregistered.

“Who will see this?” He takes a small step back towards the door; ready to flee if they try and take a picture of him without his permission.

Dean frowns, eyebrows coming together. “Us? It’s not like I’m going to send it to anyone else, Cas.” He shares a look with Sam. “If you don’t want us to, we won’t even show it to Bobby.”

“Can I get a copy of it too?”

“Of course.” Sam wiggles his phone with a smile. “I’ll send it to you right after I take it.”

He takes another moment to mull it over, before nodding. “Okay. Just let me go put a shirt on first.”

Castiel quickly ducks into his bedroom on the other side of the hall. He has several t-shirts that have been modified to accommodate his wings and he grabs one at random. It’s yellow with two bees lined up above the words ‘or not’ with two more bees lined up below it. Anna had bought it for him once upon a time, citing that the two bee or not two bee play on words was too hilarious not to get.

The collar and arms of the shirt are still intact and Castiel puts that piece on first. A portion of the back of the shirt has been removed where his wings connect to his back and a lot of the down around it. The lower back of it has been cut and a zipper sewn in. Castiel struggles slightly with zipping it up, fingers slipping while trying to get the two pieces together. Once it’s connected, he adjusts the shoulders and sleeves slightly before checking himself in the mirror.

Satisfied, he returns to the guest room.

Dean snorts a little laugh after looking his shirt over. “That’s cute.”

Castiel sticks his tongue out at him briefly before sitting on the edge of the bed. He keeps his wings angled out of the way. There’s a decent amount of space between them, but Dean closes it by leaning over until their shoulders bump together. Snap snaps a quick picture with his phone before he turns and takes a selfie with the two of them in the background.

In his opinion, that’s not good enough. Castiel stands up and holds his hand out. “Let me take a picture of the two of you.”

“Thanks!” Sam hands his phone over and they switch spots. After one proper picture and a few silly ones, Castiel hands the phone back. Dean turns his full attention to his food and digs into it with relish.

After a few bites, he hums to himself. “You made it, right Sam?”

“Sure did. Cas decorated.” Sam is more focused on his phone and flicking through the pictures they took. “How did you know?”

“They taste like your pancakes.” Dean shrugs and takes a bite out of a piece of bacon. “And I’ve never had yours so I don’t know how they would taste.”

Castiel tilts his head, regarding the quickly disappearing pile of pancakes in Dean’s lap. “They would probably taste the same. He just used the same mix that I use.”

Dean shakes his head and uses his fork to cut out another piece of pancake. “Nope, they would still taste different.” He holds up the piece on his fork with his hand cupped underneath it. “Taste it and see. I guarantee that it’ll be totally different from mine, and I cook with the same mix too.”

“I –” He hesitates, eyeing the fork. This is just – it’s a little awkward of a way to do it, isn’t it? Sharing a fork? Despite that, he still leans over and carefully takes the piece from the fork, being careful not to let it drop while trying not to touch the fork itself with teeth, lips, or tongue.

The chocolate chip pieces do change the taste slightly, but overall it still tastes like pancake. He hums while chewing, and Dean watches him closely. Somehow, Dean is right. It does taste different.

After a few moments, Dean spears another piece and holds it up again. “Have another.”

“I shouldn’t.” Castiel shakes his head and steps back again. “They’re your birthday pancakes.”

“Yeah, and I can do what I want with them.” Dean wiggles his eyebrows and repeats the motion with the fork, though not enough to shake the triangle of pancake from it.

“Feeding me is not a part of the birthday breakfast in bed.” He crosses his arms and takes another step back. “Sam made those for you, so you should be the one to eat them.”

They stare each other down, Sam quietly standing off to the side without interjecting. Eventually, Dean sighs and slumps back. He’s actually pouting as he continues eating his pancakes. Castiel rolls his eyes at the dramatics, subdued as they may be.

It takes another few bites of his breakfast before Dean raises an eyebrow and gestures between the two of them with his fork. “Are you guys just going to stand around and watch me eat?”

“Uh, pretty much?” Sam shrugs and tucks his phone away again.

“Dude!” Dean frowns and drops his fork. “Go get your own breakfast!”

Sam runs a hand over the back of his neck and glances at Castiel. “Actually, I – uh – I didn’t make enough for us. I could make more after you’re done.”

With a huff, Dean moves the tray out of his lap and onto the side table. He kicks the blankets off his legs and gets up. Castiel shares a brief look with Sam, wondering if they should do anything to stop him. Apparently Sam doesn’t think so, because he steps out of the way as Dean gathers the tray again and all but storms out of the room; herding Castiel out into the hall in the process.

Dean essentially forces them back into the kitchen, since they’re not going to continue hanging out in the guest room without him. He ends up eating the rest of his breakfast at the counter while Sam makes more pancakes. There was plenty of bacon leftover and Castiel has to guard it from Dean’s sneaky fingers. Birthday or not, he can have seconds after everyone has had a share.

Since all three of them are essentially bottomless pits when it comes to eating, Dean absolutely does get a second plate of pancakes and bacon once Sam and Castiel have their own syrupy towers. They settle as a group to eat at the dining table. Dean praises the decorations and Castiel tries very hard not to preen under the compliments. His wings probably give him away as his feathers definitely fluff – something that he knows doesn’t go unnoticed by Dean. Thankfully, he doesn’t draw attention to it.

After they clean up and separate to go to the bathroom, shower, or brush up, Castiel takes a moment to contact Anna. He sits on his bed and asks her to pick up some apple pies and to buy (and wrap) presents for him. He hasn’t the first clue what in the world to get for Dean, but Anna has always been really good at buying presents. Hopefully she’ll be able to pick out something good. There are some things that he thinks Dean might like that don’t entirely suck, so he sends them that list along, just in case she needs some ideas to work off of.

In the end, he sums up his messages with something along the lines of telling her to pick something that she thinks Dean would like. That’s all that matters.

Since Dean likes his birthday to be a quiet affair, the day ends up being spent playing video games in the living room. Castiel does play a bit, but it is technically a work day for him and he has some recordings that need to be transcribed. He takes a few hours out of the afternoon to take care of those, and it’s a nice reprieve from the hubbub of visitors.

It’s been almost two whole months since the Winchesters first left. While there were some times in there where Anna and Aunt Amara were around for an extended period, it’s not quite the same as having people staying here. And Dean and Sam are entirely different from family. But it’s still nice. Castiel is happy to have them here again and he might have wrapped up his transcribing quicker than he normally would just so he can return to spending time with them.

Sometime in the late afternoon, almost dinner time, Anna arrives in her usual style. Because of the slush and snow and mud outside, she doesn’t just blink right into the living room as she usually would do during the summer months. Instead, she kicks at the front door until someone answers to let her in. Tonight, it’s Sam.

“Take these pizzas!”

“Are you sure these are enough?”

“It’s what the birthday boy ordered.” Anna huffs and she must kick off her shoes. Two thumps later and the two of them are coming up the stairs again.

Sam is carrying four extra-large pizzas, while Anna has a shopping bag swinging from one arm and a gift bag from the other. She crosses over to where Dean has claimed the recliner as his birthday throne and she throws a handful of shredded paper in his face.

“Happy birthday!”

Dean blows the bits of paper off his face. “Oh, thanks.” After a moment, he snorts a laugh and stands up to pull her into a hug. It ends up being a ruse as he tries to swipe the present from here. “What did you bring me?”

“Absolutely nothing.” Anna shoves him back and turns to hand the bag off to Castiel.

“Is it your birthday too?” He narrows his eyes at Castiel.

Castiel shrugs and puts the present aside. “I’m sure you’re already well aware that mine is in September.” He sighs and rolls his eyes when Dean looks away with a cough. “Is there anything about me that you weren’t able to dig up with your sneaky bounty hunter ways?”

“Oh yeah, loads.” Dean takes two of the pizzas from Sam and leads the way into the kitchen. “I couldn’t find anything that was actually important.”

Anna raises an eyebrow and shares a look with Castiel. “And what do you consider important?”

Dean shrugs and lines up the pizzas on the counter. “You know. The likes, dislikes, sexuality, hobbies. All that kind of stuff.” He starts opening the boxes to inspect the toppings. “All I got was what info the government has on you; your birthday, blood type, tax info, so on and so forth.”

“I see.” Castiel slaps his hand away before Dean can start picking at the toppings. Birthday boy or not, that’s just rude. “And when did you look up all that information about me, hm?”

“Uh – I guess when we were looking up your address using your parents’ names?” He shakes his hand out and shoots Castiel a dirty look. It clears up in an instant. “Aw shit, I forgot my phone in the living room. I’ll be right back.”

He’s out of sight for a whole three seconds before realization strikes. Castiel sighs heavily and stomps out of the kitchen, leaving Anna and Sam to plate their pizzas on their own. “Dean Winchester, don’t you dare touch that present!”

Sure enough, Dean has the bag in hand. “I wasn’t doing nothing.”

Liar.” Castiel pulls it from his hands. The only place it will apparently be safe until after dinner and pie is in his bedroom.

Unfortunately, Dean follows hot on his heels, wheedling with a whine. “C’mon, Cas! What’s in the bag?”

“Nothing of importance.” He hides it in his closet before ushering Dean back out into the hall and locking the door behind him. “You leave it alone.”

Sam and Anna are both standing in the doorway to the kitchen, pizza in hand. Sam takes a bite of his, cheek bulging while he speaks with his mouth full. “I should warn you that Dean is a fairly decent pickpocket if you’re not careful.”

Dean gasps and lays a hand across his chest. “Et tu, Sammy?”

Shakespearean reference aside, Castiel drops the key into his pocket and turns a narrow eyed glare on Dean. “If you touch this key, you’re going to be sleeping in your car tonight.”

“Fine, fine!” He holds his hands up in defeat.

“Pizza’s getting cold.” Anna jerks her thumb over her shoulder. “I’ll claim the whole meat lovers if you don’t get in there quick enough.”

“Don’t you dare!”

Dean rushes forward, ducking around the both of them to get into the kitchen. Anna winks and Castiel just barely refrains from rolling his eyes at the whole thing. He had almost forgotten how those two bickered when the Winchesters were here last.

Hopefully it won’t be as annoying this time around.


Another round of pictures needs to be taken before Dean will even consider blowing out the candles on his birthday pie. He insists on taking one with Castiel, one with Anna, and one with Sam. And then they even attempt (successfully!) a group photo by propping a phone on one of the shelves on the dining room wall and setting a timer on it. Sam even manages to get an action shot while Dean blows out the candles.

“Have you had enough of pictures? Can we finally have some pie?” Anna whines as Dean takes the phone so he can make sure the pictures are satisfactory.

“Well duh.” He flashes her a grin and shoves the plates in her direction. “Get serving.”

She rolls her eyes, but dutifully starts plucking the candles from the pie. Castiel takes it from her so he can cut it in the kitchen. He doesn’t trust anyone, not even himself, to safely cut the pie without going through the thin tin pie plate and damaging his dining table. Once it’s cut, he brings it back to plate. Serving is fine, even if it can be a little messy.

It’s a good thing that Anna brought two apple pies, because Dean ends up half of one before Castiel has even managed to work through his single slice. Unlike some people, he likes to savour his food and he doesn’t just gulp it down without tasting it. But he does like listening to the conversations, and participating when he has something to add.

“Can we play a game now?” Dean stacks his plate on Sam’s empty plate when he’s done.

“You’re the birthday boy.” Castiel waves his fork in the direction of the stairs. “If you want to play a game, we’re not going to say no. Just go and pick what you want to play.”

Dean grins excitedly and jumps up. He’s barely disappeared down the stairs before Sam stands up. “I’m going to go grab his gift right now.”

“I can get the one from your bedroom.” Anna stands up too.

Which leaves Castiel to clean up their dishes and wipe down the table. “It’s in the closet.”

She nods and blinks away and then back a handful of seconds later with the present in hand. Oh good. Then she can wipe the table down while he rinses the dishes and puts what little of the pie still remains away. Anna frowns when he hands her a damp cloth, but she doesn’t argue. She’s known him too long for that, and Aunt Amara raised her to always help out.

They’re all three seated back at the table by the time Dean returns with Mousetrap in hand. There are a few other bags stacked on top that he drops onto the recliner in the living room. Mousetrap is the only one that he brings to the table. He’s wide grin drops into a gasp when he sees the two presents sitting neatly in front of the place where he had been sitting during dinner.

“You sneaky bastards!” He rushes over and drops Mousetrap into Sam’s lap. Instead of sitting down, Dean remains standing and hovers his hands over the presents. “Which one should I open first?”

“Mine, obviously.” Anna grabs the bag that she had brought. From it, she pulls out a small wrapped gift and she hands it to Dean.

“Thanks!” Dean sits down to read the label on it. “To Dean, from Anna. To help you with your sense of taste issues.” He raises an eyebrow at that and gives her a suspicious look. “What’s that supposed to mean, huh?”

Anna shrugs and props her chin in her hands, elbows on the table. The picture of innocence. Castiel knows better than to trust that face. Dean might not have learned that yet. “Why don’t you open it and see for yourself?”

Without a care for trying to preserve the wrapping paper, Dean rips it off and tosses it to the floor next to him. It’s a book and he snorts a laugh after reading the title. “You think you’re funny stuff, don’t you?”

“I’m hilarious.”

Castiel leans over so he can read the title. He’s sitting next to Dean, so he can tell that it’s a cookbook, but what kind of cookbook is it? There’s a picture of a lemon meringue pie on the cover. The title says American Classics across the top and there’s a paragraph of small writing beneath it. Dean passes it to him so he can read it.

“Would you make twenty-eight lemon meringue pies to find the best version? We did. Here are more than three hundred exhaustively tested recipes for America’s favourite dishes.” Castiel reads it out and Anna’s smile grows wider with every word. “By the editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.”

“I thought it might help you with your terrible tastes.” Anna shrugs, clearly pleased with herself.

Dean taps the book. “Pick something out for tomorrow, Cas. I’ll make it for dinner.” He nods at Anna too. “Of course you’re invited. Bring your mom too, if she’s free.”

Anna sits up, smiling brightly. “It’s a date.”

For some reason, that makes Dean falter slightly. He hesitates before reaching for the other wrapped gift sitting on the table. “Uh, right.” He clears his throat and ducks his head to read the tag on this present. “From Sammy, huh?”

Sam leans forward slightly. “I hope you like it.”

“What could this be?” Dean shakes the box and turns his head, listening for any rattling.

“Just open it.” Sam sighs. “Oh, and can’t forget this.” He also slides an envelope across the table. “It’s from Bobby and Pam.”

“Geeze, those saps!” Dean drops Sam’s present to open the envelope first. It’s just a simple generic birthday card, nothing special about it, but there is a cheque inside. Dean immediately tucks the cheque away in his pocket before Castiel can even get a glimpse of how much it might be – not that it’s any of his business.

The inside of the card just has two signatures. There aren’t even any personal notes in it. Castiel frowns and glances at Dean. “Why are they saps?”

“Because they would have had to give Sam this card when we were home for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.” Dean shrugs and sets the card aside. “They thought ahead and that’s stupidly sweet of them.”

“You have a home?” Anna crosses his arms on the table, head tilted as she looks back and forth between Dean and Sam. “I thought you guys were nomads or something?”

“Our work takes us everyone.” Sam mimics her position as he leans on the table, watching Dean as he starts to unwrap his next gift. “But we actually do have an apartment in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It’s above the garage on the school’s property. Well, technically, on Bobby’s property.”

Anna’s eyebrows draw together as she frowns. “What school?”

Ah, is that something Castiel forgot to mention to her? He would explain, but both Dean and Sam are more suited to it. And he would rather not accidentally say something wrong. It’s best to leave them to tell her about it.

“Bobby owns a bounty hunter training school.” Dean has removed the paper from Sam’s present, but has yet to open the small box. “His family owned this huge property that was once a scrapyard type mechanical garage thing. When Bobby inherited it, he cleaned the whole place out and sold all the scrap. His house is still on the property, but the rest of it is made up of the training buildings, obstacle course, firing range, the works.”

“Oh.” She sits back slightly, confusion clearing up from her face. “I get it. And your apartment is on the same property?”

“Yeah. He’s got a couple garages and one of them he built a guest apartment over it. We park the Impala in there.” Sam bobs his head in a nod. “And it’s got enough space that Dean can work on her too while we’re there.”

Now Castiel is interested too – even though he’s curious about the presents. “What’s your apartment like? How many bedrooms?”

“It’s a small two bedroom place. But at least we have our own laundry!” Dean reaches across the table and Sam meets him for a high five.

Anna tilts his head again. “But you guys aren’t there often, right?”

“Not really.” Dean looks a little disappointed by that. “But thankfully Bobby doesn’t actually charge us for anything. He says the apartment is technically ours in that we can keep our shit there, but he still uses it as a guest house if he needs it whenever we’re not home.”

With one last shrug, Dean opens the box from Sam. It appears to be full of gift certificates from various chain restaurants. A lot of what Castiel can see is stuff that could be used for the Impala – like car washes, and for filling the gas tank.

Dean grins as he sorts through them. “How long have you been collecting all of these?”

“Since your last birthday, duh.”

“Thanks, Sammy.” Dean blows him a kiss before putting the box aside. “I’m going to put all of those to good use on our next hunt.”

He reaches for the bag next and Castiel shifts nervously in his seat. He has no idea what Anna bought. She told him the ending price and he sent her the money already, but she refused to say what it was that she bought. All she would say is that it’s something that Dean will like.

Castiel’s feathers rustle against his back, wings flexing with anticipation. Unfortunately, the quiet sound of them moving is enough to draw attention to them. Specifically, it’s Dean who notices. He pauses with his hand in the bag and he turns to look at them. As soon as Castiel realizes that he’s being watched, he forces his wings to hold still.

They fold tight against his back and Castiel ducks his head. “Open your gift, Dean.”

But Dean still continues to watch his wings. He nods, satisfied, and only looks away again once Castiel relaxes and his wings rest normally against his back. Anna has her head tilted, mouth tilted in a small confused frown. It’s a bit of a strange looking expression and it transforms into a smile when Castiel looks at her.

Dean opens the bag and pulls out a few plaid over shirts. “Oh damn, these are nice!” He rubs the fabric with his thumb before checking the tags. “And they’re the perfect size too.”

“There’s more.” Anna nods toward the bag. “Isn’t there, Cas?”

“Uh –” He shrugs. “Yes?”

“Oh, is there?” Dean reaches back into the bag and he pulls out a black shirt.

He unfolds it to reveal long sleeves. On the chest is a red lined circle with a line down the vertical center. There are white eye-shaped circles on either half of the circle. Dean looks it over momentarily before he starts howling with laughter. He turns it around to show Sam, and he starts laughing too. Anna sits back with a smug grin, clearly pleased with herself.

Apparently Castiel is missing something here. He frowns and looks between everyone. “What’s so funny about it?”

Dean gulps down air to try and calm down. “You know anything about the Marvel Comics?”

“Not really? I mean, I’ve seen most of the Cinematic Universe, but I never really got into the comics.”

“Well, do you know who Deadpool is?” He turns the shirt so Castiel can see the symbol on the front again. “He had a movie that came out on Valentine’s Day last year and there’s another one coming out next year.”

That sparks his memory and suddenly it all makes sense. “Oh!” And now Castiel feels like an idiot for not recognizing it – especially since he was supposed to have been the one to give the gift. If Dean didn’t figure it out before, he definitely knows that Castiel didn’t buy it himself now.

Dean stands up to shrug out of his current over shirt. “The symbol is like his mask, y’know? And he’s a mercenary that was mutated into having healing powers when he thought he was going to be cured of his cancer. Now he’s just covered in all sorts of scars.”

Castiel’s jaw drops as the full realization hits him. He shoots Anna a disapproving look because he told her about Dean’s scars in confidence. If Dean gets mad at him for saying anything about them, he’s going to have words for her. Anna shrugs in answer and tilts her head toward where Dean is undressing down to his undershirt. He pulls the Deadpool shirt on quickly and smooths it out across his chest.

“I love it.” Dean pauses and fiddle with the sleeve of the shirt and how long they are. “Oh, cool! It’s got thumb holes!” He puts his thumbs through them and holds his hands out to admire how they look.

Anna looks back to Castiel, smug smile back in place.

He sighs and shakes his head before turning back to Dean. “I’m glad you like it.”

“Thanks, Cas.” Dean puts an arm around his shoulders and pulls in him for a half hug. It’s so quick a motion that Castiel doesn’t have the chance to stop it before it happens. The hug is over almost right away as Dean stands up, but his hand does drag across his shoulders. Even through his shirt, the touch makes Castiel’s skin tingle.

“And a big thank you to you too, Anna.” Dean goes around the table to give her a hug too. “I know Cas had you do all the legwork.”

She stands up to meet him for the hug. “To be fair, he did bankroll the operation.”

Dean stops to hug Sam too before he collects Mousetrap again. He returns to his spot and drops it on the table. “And now it’s game time.” The bright, pleased smile he flashes Castiel leaves him with a swooping feeling in his stomach. “I hope you’re all ready to be schooled so hard by the champion game master right here.”

Castiel and Anna share a quick look. It’s unlike that Dean has played any of the games he brought upstairs as much as they have. They’ve played them more times than they can recall, and Dean is about to get a harsh lesson in reality. There are strategies that both Anna and Castiel have developed over the years, and they will most definitely be putting them into effect.

Birthday boy or not, Dean probably won’t be winning anything tonight.


Sam moves his Bishop into position and sits back. Castiel frowns down at the travel chessboard set up between them, contemplating his next move. He hums, drumming his fingers against his chin while he thinks.

After being thoroughly schooled at every game he brought up, Dean had sulked through a movie while finishing off any leftover pizza and pie. He essentially put himself into a food coma by the end of the movie and retired to bed. That’s about when Anna decided it was time for her to head home. Neither Castiel nor Sam felt like going to bed yet, despite their earlier morning. They found the travel Chess game in the basement when they were putting away the games Dean had pulled out earlier and they haven’t been playing for very long.

Castiel nudges one of his Pawns forward two spaces. “Dean told me yesterday that if I wanted to know about the scars on his wrists that I should ask you about them.”

“I figured he would.” Sam sighs and narrows his eyes at the chessboard. “They all happen for more or less the same reason, but I could tell you about the first time. Be warned, though, it’s not a great story.”

“I’ll understand if you would rather not talk about it.”

He shakes his head and moves a Pawn next. “It’s fine. Just not really a happy one.” Sam shrugs. “I was still in elementary school, so I don’t really remember all the details. I think it was a year or so after Dean presented? He was eleven, or maybe almost twelve.”

Sam pauses to frown as Castiel uses his Knight to capture the Pawn. “Anyways, I got pulled out of class by someone from the school office. They said mom was on her way to come get me and that my Dad was already on his way to the hospital.”

It doesn’t take a genius to know why. “Because of Dean?”

“Mhmm.” He nods and leans forward to examine the chessboard. “The school had called an ambulance because they found Dean passed out in the bathroom with another student. I remember the secretary was white as a ghost and she just kept muttering about there being blood everywhere.”

A sinking feeling fills Castiel’s stomach and he swallows against the lump that rises in his throat. He rests his elbows on the table as Sam continues the story. “Mom told me on the drive to the hospital that Dean was bleeding badly and that’s why he was taken away by the hospital. They took the other kid too because he had blood all over his arms and needed to be checked out, even though he wasn’t bleeding.”

“Was he alright?”

Sam shrugs. “Depends on your point of view. He had tried to commit suicide.” He grimaces and sits back, ignoring the game for now. “Dean knew him as the quiet kid in class that got bullied a lot. He told me later that he’d seen the kid getting teased pretty hard earlier and then he wasn’t in class later on. When he went looking for him, he found him bleeding out in the bathroom and had just –”

At that, Sam sighs and rubs a hand over his face. “Well, he says he acted on instinct, but I think Dean panicked and didn’t know what else to do. He screamed for help down the hall before using his powers to try and save the kid’s life.”

Castiel’s heart stutters in his chest and his hands curl into fists against his thighs. He remains quiet and nods to encourage Sam to continue.

“I remember being really worried.” Sam’s hand is shaking slightly as he lowers it to rest on the table. “And I cried my eyes out when we got into Dean’s room. He looked so pale in the hospital bed, and his wrists were wrapped up in bandages. The other kid was in another room and the worst he had was some mild blood loss. He would have been dead if Dean hadn’t done what he did, but he almost bled out himself and that –”

The thought of Dean dying – of Castiel never having met him or Sam – makes his blood run cold. It’s hard to believe that there was once a time where he actually disliked the Winchesters and couldn’t wait for them to be out of his life. Now he’s actually disappointed that this visit is going to end eventually. They probably won't be staying for another month, since November was special given the anniversary of their mother’s death. And this visit is –

Is it really just because they happened to be nearby and Dean decided to spend his birthday here? And why here? What makes Castiel so special that Dean would want to spend his birthday with someone that he barely knows?

Sam blows out a loud breath, interrupting his thoughts. “And that was just the tip of the iceberg.”

Castiel raises an eyebrow as Sam makes his next move. “What do you mean by that?”

“I mean that those were the start of Dean’s scars. They were his firsts.” He grimaces and shakes his head. “Dean helps people. It’s his thing. Like, imagine me being seven years old and I just broke my leg jumping off the roof of the shed because I was pretending to be Batman.” Strangely, Sam actually smiles at that memory. “Dean put me on the handlebars of his bike and drove me to the hospital that way because the babysitter was too high to drive.”

At Castiel’s shocked expression, Sam waves his hand between them. “We had to take what we could get with babysitters once Dean was registered.”

“That’s still not right.” Castiel frowns and moves his Knight to claim another Pawn.

“Anyway, Dean took me to the hospital.” Sam rests his chin on his fist, eyes on the game. “And then he used his powers on me right there on the steps so that I wouldn’t be in pain anymore. He’s the one who went home in a cast.”

Castiel winces. “That couldn’t have been comfortable.” He shakes his head. “And what about the scar that he has here.” He touches his side, hoping that Sam will know that he’s referring to the gunshot wound he had seen yesterday.

“Civilian.”

That makes sense but Castiel still shakes his head at the explanation. He doesn’t even need to ask when he lays his hand over his left shoulder and presses down.

Sam’s nose wrinkles. “That was a bad one, but he didn’t take that from anyone else. He got it when we were trying to catch a mutant that hadn’t shown up for their re-evaluation. Turns out that their mutation had evolved and they were now able to make – I guess the best way to describe it is…” He waves his hand while trying to find the words. “Air blades? Whatever it was, it sliced through Dean’s shoulder like nothing. If it wasn’t for his accelerated healing, I don’t think he would have survived because it sure was fun to have him almost die again while we stayed overnight at the hospital.”

Castiel feels queasy just thinking about it. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath; counting backwards from ten before returning to the game. “I’m afraid to ask about the burns.”

That makes Sam hesitate while reaching for his next piece. His hand drops to the table and he looks down. “That –” He leans forward to put his elbows on the table and rest his face in his hands. “There was this little girl and – She wasn’t supposed to be there. The bounty was just a bond jumper, but she took her kid with her on a meet-up with her drug dealer.”

When he lifts his head again, Sam has gone pale. “But it wasn’t one drug dealer. It was the whole damn gang behind the production. We basically walked in on a meth lab, which is above our paygrade, so we called the cops. As soon as they rolled up, the gang torched the evidence and ran. The kid got caught in the middle. I went in to get her because fire doesn’t affect me, but she was already badly burned by then. I had to take her out the back way so the cops wouldn’t see that only my clothes were burned and I was fine.”

He swallows thickly and runs his hands through his hair. “One of my worst memories is how she was screaming and the way her skin was just – it was so bad. Dean took one look at her and just – He took her hand and told her it would all be okay. Said she wouldn’t be hurting anymore.”

Castiel knows exactly where this is going. “He took her pain away.”

Sam nods and sighs heavily through his nose. “He spent a week in the hospital with third degree burns. We’re still paying off that medical debt.” He sits back, suddenly looking far more tired than he was before. “And then there’s all the times that I’ve messed up. Scrapes, cuts, bruises, bumps – you name it and I’ve had it, and Dean takes all of it if I don’t threaten to set him on fire if he tries it. He just can’t stand seeing his baby brother banged up – in his words.”

“That sounds like him.”

Silence follows after that and they make a few moves between them before Sam does something else. He leans over in his chair as far as he can so he can look down the hall. After a few moments, he sits back up again. “There’s more to it.”

“To what?” Castiel tilts his head, eyebrow raised.

“To Dean not liking to see me hurt.” Sam leans forward and drops his voice into a whisper. “He’s really protective of me. Even more so since Dad left.”

Castiel leans forward too. “What do you mean?”

“It’s because I’m –” At that, Sam seems to wilt and he curls in on himself slightly. “I’m the reason that Dad stopped coming home from his hunts.”

Now that he finds hard to believe. But Castiel’s wings still flare slightly in surprise. “You’re – No, that can’t be right.” In fact, he refuses to believe it.

“I’m positive that I’m the reason.” Sam shakes his head. “Even if Dean won’t agree, it’s because Dad hates me. He hates me because I – I –” His voice becomes small – pained. “I killed our mom.”

Castiel sits back sharply, the game forgotten. “You – What? How?” He’s never heard the story of how their mother died. As far as he knows, it was an accident. If he really wanted to know, Castiel could have tried searching for Mary Winchester online at any time, but he hasn’t. He would rather learn about their history from them instead of from a computer.

Sam doesn’t get a chance to answer him. Before he can say anything, Dean all but stomps into the dining room; his expression dark with fury. “Shut the fuck up, Sammy.”

He flinches and ducks his head as he sits back. “But it’s true.”

“No it’s fucking not.” Dean slams his hands on the table and Castiel flinches back from it too. “You are not responsible for Mom’s death and you sure as hell don’t go talking about that with strangers!”

Castiel recoils from that like it was a physical blow. Dean doesn’t seem to notice as he glares down at Sam, but Sam certainly notices. He frowns up at him, arms crossed. “Cas isn’t a stranger.”

“That’s not the point here.” Dean waves the comment off before pointing at Sam. “The point is that you were not the reason Mom died and you shouldn’t be going around telling people that you were.”

Clearly this is something that they’ve argued about before, and they fall into it as if Castiel wasn’t even there. It’s fine with him because there’s a curious ache behind his ribs that’s sucking away any desire he has to remain in this room. Dean just called him a stranger after they spent the whole day celebrating his birthday together. A stranger after Castiel showed him his wings and opened his home to them. Twice. A stranger when Castiel considered them friends.

His body feels stiff and immobile as he pushes back from the table and stands up. Both Winchesters stop arguing to look at him, but Castiel simply turns and walks away. He doesn’t want to sit there and listen to Dean tell Sam that he’s not enough of a friend for them to talk about anything with him. Apparently he was the only one who thought their friendship had reached the point where they could share the personal things with each other. Things like his wings for instance.

Now look what you did!” Dean’s accusation follows Castiel down the hall to his bedroom.

“What I did?!” Sam snaps back. “You’re the jackass who just called him a stranger.”

“You’re the shithead who started telling him about Mom.”

Sam groans loud enough for Castiel to hear. “How is that worse than you showing him your scars?”

“Scars are different from Mom and you know it!”

Castiel doesn’t hear the rest of their argument. He closes the door as Sam starts berating Dean about how he needs to apologize. It muffles the words, but it’s still loud enough for him to hear them. He has earphones in the drawer of his bedside table and he digs those out. With the buds in his ears, Castiel mechanically plugs them into his phone and thumbs through to his music app.

After settling on a playlist of upbeat, bouncy tunes, he turns the volume up and lies face down on the bed. To keep his mind off the fight the Winchesters are having, he focuses on counting the beat of the music. With some difficulty, Castiel also tries not to think about the pain in his chest or the pressure behind his eyes that makes his nose sting. He is not going to cry about this.

But he does wonder if this means that they’re going to sneak off in the middle of the night again. Either way, he doubts he’s going to have a very restful sleep tonight. There’s a lot to keep him awake now.


Thursday – January 25th, 2018

By the morning, Castiel’s phone is dead. He fell asleep with his earphones in and his ears ache when he jerks awake. The knocking on his door is vaguely muffled by the earphones and he pulls them out, groaning because they absolutely are not meant to stay in for that long. He slept like shit and he probably wouldn’t feel half as bad if he had just stayed up reading all night.

Castiel feels like death as he gets up. He takes a moment to plug his phone in to charge before stumbling to his door. It’s still early, but not nearly as early as when he woke up yesterday. And the knocking at least means that the Winchesters didn’t leave. If it was Anna, she would have just walked in by now.

He opens the door and frowns to find Dean on the other side. It’s too early and he’s not awake enough to deal with Dean and everything he said last night. Castiel shakes his head and moves to shut the door, but Dean steps forward and uses his hand to stop it in place.

“Can we talk? Please?” He holds up a mug of coffee. “I brought you a peace offering.”

The coffee is tempting and Castiel eyes it. “I thought you weren’t allowed to talk to strangers.”

Dean winces and he uses his free hand to rub the back of his neck. “I – yeah, okay. That was a really shitty thing to say and I’m really sorry about that.”

“Uh-huh.” Castiel squints at him and takes the coffee, but he doesn’t move out of the way for Dean to come in.

“I’m serious, Cas.” He ducks his head, appearing to be thoroughly cowed. “I just – When Sammy starts talking about that, I see red and go off the handle. It wasn’t right of me to say that and I’m so sorry. Can I come in and talk to you about all that? Please?”

Castiel sips at his coffee for a few moments, debating with himself about whether or not he should. He’s still mad (hurt) by what he said last night. Part of him wants to shut the door in Dean’s face and let him stew awhile longer. But what if, in doing that, Dean decides that it’s best that they just leave again? It would be better if they could work things out.

He sighs and steps out of the way. “Fine.”

Dean slips into the room and shuts the door. He crosses over to sit on the edge of the bed, but Castiel doesn’t feel like sitting. Instead he takes another long draught from his coffee and heads over to the closet. It always makes him feel gross to sleep in his day clothes and he needs to change. He’s just groggy enough to not care that Dean is here too.

With one hand he starts undoing the zipper keeping the back of his shirt together. He doesn’t let go of his coffee the whole time that he slowly and methodically goes through the process of removing his altered shirt. By the time he gets it off (without spilling any coffee, thankfully), Dean still hasn’t said anything. Castiel glances over his shoulder to find him staring. Where that would normally make him blush, he’s too irritated this morning to care.

“You wanted to talk, so talk.”

Dean visibly swallows and nods, but he doesn’t look away. “Ye-yeah. Okay. Um – So – I – uh –” He stutters quite a bite before shaking himself out and dropping his gaze to the floor. “I’m sorry about yesterday. I shouldn’t have insinuated that you’re a stranger, because you’re really not.”

“Then what am I?” Castiel huffs and makes space between his hanging shirts to put his coffee down on the dresser inside the closet. This frees up his hands to find another of his altered t-shirts in the drawers and he’s able to put it on with a lot less difficulty.

“You're our friend, Cas.” Dean almost whispers the words. “You know that.”

He hums. “Do I?”

Without even thinking about it, Castiel also drops his sweatpants. Dean makes a choked noises behind him, but it quickly gets lost in a cough. He kicks his pants over into the laundry hamper and glances at Dean in the mirror. This time, Dean is very pointedly not looking at him. Castiel narrows his eyes and waits a moment to see if he’s going to do it again. When he doesn’t, he returns to getting dressed with a new pair of pants.

“You are our friend, Cas.” Dean eventually continues talking, but he sounds tense. “I know you’re new to the whole friends thing, and it’ll probably be surprising to hear, but – uh – I’m not that great with friends either, okay? We move around too much to really keep up any kind of relationship with anybody. The only people I usually consider friends are the ones that work at the school because they’re always there when we go home, but even then they’re more like parental figures. I was still a kid when I first met most of them.”

Castiel hums again and rescues his coffee before sliding the closet closed again. He turns to face Dean and continues drinking. When Dean looks at him, he raises his eyebrows. There’s nothing for him to say right now and if Dean wants to get back into his good graces, he had better keep talking.

At least Dean seems to understand this and he sighs. “We know a lot of people around the country, but it’s not like we seem them very often or stay in contact. Maybe we might grab a beer together if we’re in the same area, but it’s not like we’re friends.” He shrugs and leans forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “It’s usually just me and Sam, so I’m not always that great with other people.”

“I would agree given what little history you and I have, but you seemed just fine with approaching me that first time.” Castiel drums his fingers on his mug.

“It was Sam who encouraged me to approach you at the graveyard.” Dean shrugs and gives him a sheepish grin. “I can charm just about anyone, but ask me to maintain a proper relationship with them and I’m absolutely shit.”

Now that is something he’s beginning to agree with.

Dean rubs a hand over his mouth and looks away. “I was the one who kinda suggested seeing if we could crash with you when we were trying to figure out where to spend the night. But then Sam agreed with my joke and started looking up your information.” He sighs and leans back on his hands. “Apparently he thought that both you and I could do with a proper friend.”

Castiel moves to sit next to him, his ire softening somewhat.

“The scars –” Dean gestures at his face and sweeps down his body. “They really put people off. So, basically what I’m saying is that I’m not super great at this whole real friend things. I’m gonna make mistakes or run my mouth and say things I don’t mean. I’m gonna be stupid, but it’s not – it’s never going to be because I don’t like you.”

“I do like you.” To his surprise, Dean actually goes a bit pink in the cheeks. “I mean, not – not like that. Well, I – sonofabitch.” He sits forward quickly to hide his face in his hands. “Feel free to stop me any time here.”

He almost doesn’t want to. It’s a little fun – cute – to see Dean squirm like this. But Castiel is just too damn nice for his own good. “Quite the pair we make. Neither really knowing how to have friends.”

“Great, so we’re both going to be shit at this.”

“Probably.” Castiel shrugs and drains the last of his coffee. “But at least we are friends. Right?”

Dean shoots him an incredulous look. “Well, yeah.” He snorts a laugh and shakes his head. “Do we have to have the let’s be BFFs talk? Because, dude, we’re in our twenties and I think we’re kinda past that.”

“Actually, I’m in my thirties, thank you.” Castiel wrinkles his nose at saying that. He’s been thirty years old since September and he’s still not used to saying that. “But no, we don’t need the talk.”

“Good.” Dean stands up and stretches his arms above his head. “Because I really didn’t want to end up braiding Sam’s hair and painting our nails. He enjoys that too much.” He flashes Castiel a grin before jerking a thumb over his shoulder. “You hungry?”

He holds up his empty mug. “More coffee first.”

“Of course.” Dean offers him a hand to help him to his feet. “C’mon. I already have breakfast on the go. Breakfast quiche is in the oven.” They end up standing particularly close as Dean pulls him up. He visibly swallows again and the grip on Castiel’s hand tightens briefly. “I – uh – I’m glad we’re friends.”

Castiel blinks a few times, suddenly very much aware that Dean has a smattering of freckles across his nose and cheeks. His eyes are also a stunning shade of green and if he isn’t careful, he’s going to get caught for staring. Worried that it might seem weird, Castiel ducks his head and looks down to where Dean hasn’t exactly let go of his hand yet.

After a moment, he lifts his head with a small smile. “Me too.”

At that, Dean downright beams. He has a very nice smile and Castiel decides right then that he likes it quite a lot. The grip on his hand tightens even more as Dean turns and drags him from the room. He tugs him right back to the dining room where Sam is already working away at his coffee with his laptop sitting before him.

Sam looks up when they come around the corner. He eyes their joined hands and Castiel feels overly aware of every inch of where Dean’s hand is holding his. But Sam only smiles. “Have you two kissed and made up yet?”

Dean drops his hand with a quiet sigh. “Fuck off, Sammy.”

Heat burns across the back of Castiel’s neck and he can feel it in his ears too. His wings shuffle against his back as the tucks his hands under his arms; crossing them over his chest.

If anything, Sam’s smile grows wider. “I only ask because we didn’t finish our game last night, Cas. I want to continue it.”

“After breakfast.” Dean interjects as he turns towards the kitchen. “I should go check on that.”

He ducks away quicker than he normally would, leaving Castiel to fidget in place. Dean took his empty coffee mug with him, and it would probably be best that he go pour it himself. Thankfully, Sam doesn’t say anything as he heads off to do that.

His mug is next to the coffee pot and Dean is crouching in front of the open oven to check on the quiche. Castiel very purposefully doesn’t look at him while he pours himself another cup of coffee. Once it’s tweaked to perfection, he returns to the dining room. Despite what Dean said about continuing the chess game after breakfast, Sam still slides it over between them so they can pick it up again while they’re waiting for their meal.

It’s nice to get back into the swing of things, almost as if last night never happened.


After a day of working and a hearty dinner, the three of them retire to the living room. It’s almost a tradition for them to watch a movie in the evening. This time, however, Sam takes the recliner before Castiel can. He stretches out on it with a happy groan. Even though that happens to be his favourite spot, Castiel is a gracious host and will begrudgingly allow a guest to have it.

While he could take the chair by the window, it’s not as comfortable because of his wings. Instead, Castiel curls up in one corner of the couch, propped up against the arm-rest. He leans forward just enough that his wings aren’t squished uncomfortably. Dean ends up taking the other side of the couch, but instead of sitting he stretches out across the length of it. He tucks his feet under Castiel’s legs without a word.

Despite the confused look he gives him, Dean seems oblivious. He focuses on finding something on Netflix for them to watch, scrolling through the recommendations. Castiel shifts slightly until he’s comfortable again, and decides not to say anything about it. Maybe Dean’s toes are just cold right now or something, even though his feet feel like they’re radiating heat beneath him.

It doesn’t escape his notice that Dean watches their chosen movie with a small smile on his face.

Chapter Text

Saturday – January 27th, 2018

As promised, Dean makes dinner from the recipe book he got for his birthday. After perusing it, Castiel had requested something classic, simple, and delicious – a shepherd’s pie.  He can’t remember the last time he had one, and the picture in the book looked amazing. Castiel doesn’t doubt that Dean will add his own little flair to make it even more delicious than it could be from just the recipe.

The invitation for Anna and Aunt Amara to join them was, of course, completely serious. The shepherd’s pie has only been in the oven for a few minutes when they arrive with wine and bagged salad in hand. Castiel is in the process of hanging up his aunt’s coat in the closet when he hears a solid thwack from the kitchen. It’s immediately followed with a yelp and curse.

“What was that for?” Dean is rubbing his upper arm and casting Aunt Amara a wounded pout when Castiel walks into the room.

That was for upsetting my favourite nephew.” She turns away with a huff and crosses over to where Sam is leaning against the counter.

“I’m your only nephew.” Castiel sighs and rolls his eyes. He should have expected that she would do something like this the first time she sees the Winchesters since their last visit.

Sam holds perfectly still, even going as far as to hold his breath, but Aunt Amara is not a tyrannosaurus. She can still see him even if he doesn’t move, and it doesn’t save him from a solid smack upside the head. He ducks away, rubbing at the back of his head but otherwise not looking nearly as confused as Dean does.

Aunt Amara dusts her hands off and heads to the shelf for her usual wine glass. “And that was for letting your idiot brother leave without a word last time.” She pats Castiel on the cheek before pouring a generous amount of wine into her glass. “If these two knuckleheads leave without a word again, you let me know and I’ll hunt them down myself.”

Dean, as witty as he usually is, only opens and closes his mouth in response. He looks to Sam and makes a somewhat hopeless gesture at Aunt Amara. They have a whole conversation with just their eyes alone (again lending weight to the argument that they must have some form of telepathy between them), before Sam clears his throat.

“We – uh – we did leave a note last time.” He recoils at the venomous look from both Aunt Amara and Anna. “In my defense, I thought it was a terrible idea! I tried to talk him –” Sam points accusingly at Dean. “– out of it and told him that it would upset Cas, but he didn’t listen!”

With a sigh, Aunt Amara puts her glass down again. Dean is too preoccupied with glaring at Sam to notice when she turns to him again. She gets his attention again with another hard punch to likely the same spot as before. The hit has Dean staggering to the side and he catches himself on the counter.

“What the hell!” He looks to Castiel for assistance. “You’re really going to let her hit your guests?”

“You really think I’m able to stop her?” Castiel crosses his arms and leans his hip against the door frame. He nods towards his aunt as she takes another, somewhat smug, sip of her wine. “If you want to try and stop her, be my guest.”

To be fair, Castiel isn’t really one for physical violence. Personally, he never once felt like hitting either of the Winchesters for how they left the last time they were here. That was partly due to the fact that he felt that he was the one to blame for why they left in the first place. He hasn’t spoken with either of them about whether or not their argument had any sway on their decision to leave, and he’d rather not know. Some things are better left as they are, and this happens to be one of them.

What matters is that they’re still friends now.

Anna stands on her tiptoes to get the salad bowl from the top shelf. “I wonder if you’ve apologized for bailing on Cas like that.”

And there it is. Castiel was wondering when she was going to get around to berating the Winchesters for that. Anna was suspiciously quiet about that matter when she was here for Dean’s impromptu birthday party the other day. Turns out, she was just biding her time until she had back-up in the form of Aunt Amara. That’s very sneaky of her.

Sure enough, Aunt Amara lowers her wine with a tangibly menacing aura. “You haven’t apologized?”

Since bloodshed is a very real possibility in the near future, Castiel elects to save himself the cleanup and he steps forward to stand between her and the Winchester. “I appreciate the protectiveness, but it’s not needed. Yes, they have both apologized and this matter is now well and truly done.”

When Anna turns with the bowl in hand and mouth open to make another comment, Castiel flares his wings in warning and gives her a very pointed look. She snaps her jaw shut with an audible clack and breathes a loud sigh out her nose. Aunt Amara looks doubtful, but she returns to her wine without another word.

Silence reigns in the kitchen for a few beats longer before Dean breaks it with a quiet cough. “We have – uh – another twenty minutes on the pie cooking. Do we wanna head into the dining room and play a game or two of thirty-one while we wait?”

Anna cocks her head to the side, making her ponytail swing. “What game is that?”

Sam rolls his eyes with a sigh. “I’ll go get the change.”

“Change for what?” She looks after him with a confused frown as he heads out of the kitchen. “Why do you need change for a – what is it?”

“A card game!” Dean takes the salad bowl from Anna’s hands and puts it aside. He cups her elbow and guides her towards the dining room while gesturing for Castiel and Aunt Amara to follow. “It’s fun. I promise you’ll like it.”

What he neglects to tell them is that math is involved. Granted, it’s very basic math, but Anna still hates when it’s involved in any game she plays. Sure, it’s easy when an Ace, King, Queen, or Jack are in hand – but when any of the numbered cards are involved, she always trips up just a little bit. She makes this very well known through the rounds they manage to get through before dinner is ready. Castiel almost feels bad for her – except that even with her poor math skills, Anna still beats him on every hand.


“Were you really that upset?”

Castiel turns from his bedroom door to find that Dean has, once again, followed him. Is this going to be a habit of his now that he’s the one in the guest room for this visit? It’s not enough of a concern for Castiel to actually ask after it – at least not yet. If it happens more than, say, five times? Yes, that sounds acceptable. If it happens another three times in total, then maybe he’ll bring it up.

Frankly speaking, Castiel is exhausted after a busy evening with his family and the Winchesters. Anna and Aunt Amara have an energy to them that he just can’t seem to match even when it’s just the three of them. Adding in the Winchesters was a whole lot more social interaction that Castiel normally gets and it has most certainly taken its toll on him.

As such, he has no idea what Dean is talking about. “Huh?”

“When we left the last time.” Dean makes a vague gesture with a hand. “Were you really as upset as they said you were?”

Oh.

He shrugs and turns back to his door. “I suppose? When I realized you were gone, I just went right back to bed.” The door swings open and Castiel heads inside, knowing that Dean will follow him whether he has permission to or not. “I didn’t see the note until Anna came over the next day when she forced me to get up and go grocery shopping with her.”

A hand catches at his shoulder and Castiel just barely manages to bite back an undignified sound of surprise as he’s spun back around. Dean’s expression – though he only gets a brief glimpse of it – is pale and drawn as he pulls him into a hug.

“I’m really sorry, Cas.” He’s quiet as he hooks his chin over Castiel’s shoulder. “I honestly thought it was best for us to sneak out like that and I didn’t think – Sam tried to tell me that you wouldn’t like it.” Dean sighs and tightens his hold. “I knew you didn’t want us around from the beginning and after our argument I just – I thought you’d want us gone.”

Castiel doesn’t know what to do, but his throat feels tight when he swallows. “It was abrupt, but I knew that you were planning on leaving. Don’t worry about it, okay? I’m over it. It’s fine.”

“Then hug me back, you bastard.”

Ah, yes. That would be the appropriate thing to do, wouldn’t it? You’d think with how touchy-feely Anna can be sometimes that Castiel would be used to it. But this is the first time that Dean has hugged him and – and he froze up. And the longer he takes to rectify that, the more awkward this becomes.

He sighs and loops his arms around Dean’s waist, as there is really nowhere else for him to put his arms since Dean has a fairly firm hold around his shoulders. Though he returns the hug lightly, Dean only seems to squeeze harder. It– it’s surprisingly comfortable, and really warm? It’s almost like Dean runs hot. If it wasn’t for his healing abilities, Castiel would think that he has a fever. And why does he smell so – so weirdly good?

Dean smells like their dinner, and aftershave, and something deeper. It could take him a while to suss out exactly what it is, but it’s comforting. So comforting, in fact, that Castiel doesn’t realize that he’s tucked his face into the curve of Dean’s neck until Dean clears his throat.

Oh God.

Castiel jerks back a few steps with his face on fire.

“You’re kinda cuddly, aren’t’cha?” Dean’s smile is a teasing one and it makes him blush all the more.

“I wouldn’t know.” He grabs the edge of door and starts closing it in Dean’s face.  Rude as that may be, Castiel can’t stand that amused tilt any longer. “Goodnight.”

Though he does back out into the hall, Dean leaves one foot forward to stop the door from being shut all the way. “But I’m forgiven, right?”

“Yes, Dean.” Castiel sighs. “Of course you are.”

With a whoop, Dean manages to blow him a kiss before moving his foot for the door to close. Castiel rests his forehead against it for a few moments, listening to the sound of his footsteps as he returns to the living room.

When he finally starts getting changed and ready for bed, it’s with what might be a permanent blush in his cheeks.


Saturday – February 17th, 2018

Castiel hums quietly to himself while he puts away the reference books he used today. The door to his office is open a crack and he can occasionally hear laughter and snippets of conversation from the living room. He left it open after his last bathroom break, since all he had left to do was upload his transcripts and send off notice to his clients that they were finished and ready for review. Now that those emails are finished, he can clean up and join the others for dinner and the rest of the evening’s activities.

Anna arrived about an hour or so ago, as per the text message notice she sent him. She knows better than to actually interrupt him while he’s working. Castiel is aware, from what he gathered during his bathroom break, that she has been swapping ass-kickings with the Winchesters at whatever video game they happen to be playing. Since he didn’t get a look at the screen and they were all talking over the music, he isn’t exactly sure which game it is – thought it is one that has Dean cursing rather colourfully every now and then.

It’s really nice to just listen to the liveliness of it all. Castiel is purposefully taking longer than necessary to clean up, just so he can bask in the feeling. His home is happy and warm again, and he’s really come to like having it this way. And that alone is a little amusing in and of itself. Exactly when did he start liking having people around? For the life of him, he can’t pinpoint when he started to prefer the noise and the laughter.

Since his parents died, Castiel didn’t mind the silence when Anna and Aunt Amara weren’t around. He got used to it and it because normal for him. And now – Well, now he’s loath to even think about what it will be like after Dean and Sam leave again. Unfortunately, that will probably be soon. They said they weren’t going to stay for a whole month again, but it’s already been three and a half weeks. The time has just flown by and there’s a tight feeling in the pit of his stomach whenever he so much as glances at a calendar.

As if thinking about it has summoned it, Castiel goes still when he hears Anna ask the dreaded question; “So, when are you guys going to be ditching us again for a paycheck?”

Dean actually laughs in response. “Unless you’re willing to pay us, we kinda need to go to work at some point in the future.”

“Don’t sass me.” She sighs, and Castiel steps closer to the door so he can better hear the rest of the conversation. “Just answer the question.”

“I dunno, Anna.” The amusement in Dean’s voice isn’t present anymore. “We were kinda thinking about leaving in a day or so, I guess?”

“I think we were discussing about bringing that up with Cas at dinner tonight.” Sam adds his voice to the conversation. “I promise that I’m not going to let Dean sneak out in the middle of the night again.”

Even though this was expected, Castiel still holds his breath. His wings droop listlessly, almost all the way to the floor, as his heart clenches painfully in his chest. He knew it was just a matter of time, but they’re leaving? And in a few days? That’s just – that’s really horrible timing.

At the beginning of every month, Castiel draws a calendar on his big whiteboard on the wall by the door. On the nineteenth of this month, only two days away, there is a small sad face drawn in the corner of the square because that’s the anniversary of his parents’ death. Of course Dean and Sam have no familial obligation to be here for it, but Castiel would like to have his friends here as emotional support. Or is that too much to ask? He’s a bit unclear on that.

Despite the snow on the ground and the winter chill in the air, Castiel, Anna, and Aunt Amara will all be bundling up and sitting out at their graves for as long as they can manage. It was probably too much for him to hope that the Winchesters would want to come with. After visiting his parents in December and January, Castiel has spoken about them quite a bit and he rather wanted to introduce them to his parents properly. As a bonus, they would also be able to visit their mother again if they don’t want to spend the whole time at his parents’ grave.

Because February is the anniversary of when they died, he didn’t actually go out to their graves during the beginning of the month like he does every other month. Mostly it’s because he doesn’t like the idea of being out and about more than twice in one month – even though there are times when Anna forces him out to grocery shop in addition to visiting the graveyard.

On top of that, February is a cold month and he hates the cold. By bundling his monthly visit into one with the visit on their anniversary, Castiel is effectively halving the amount of time that he has to spend out in the cold. And Sam, who essentially heats the air around him whether he means to or not, would be a very welcome addition to the extended visit.

“You can’t leave!” Anna gasps loudly enough to draw his attention back to the conversation they’re having. “Do you have any idea what the nineteenth is?”

“A Monday?”

Anna groans and Castiel can so perfectly picture her frown. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that, smartass. No, it’s the anniversary of the day his parents died.”

Sam is the first to break the drawn out silence that follows. “We didn’t know.”

“He never said a thing about it.” Dean adds; his voice somber.

“Well duh.” Anna huffs. “Just – don’t leave before then, okay? It’s a tough day for him and you guys leaving on the same day would suck.”

“Of course we’re not going to fucking go!” Dean almost sounds insulted. “We’re not going anywhere for a week now. Not until Cas is okay.”

Sam must give some kind of visual agreement, because Anna actually sounds happy when she speaks next. “You promise?”

“Cross our hearts.” Sam answers, and he sounds as sincere as he always does.

He exhales a slow sigh of relief and turns back to the bookshelves. Even though Sam insists that he turns off his radio when it comes to his empathy whenever he’s here, Castiel can’t help but wonder if he was able to feel any of his emotions in the last few minutes. It’s no big deal if he did, but it would be nice to know that he can feel the relief and appreciation currently sitting warm in Castiel’s chest.


Monday – February 19th, 2018

There’s something ethereal about the world when you haven’t slept and everything is quiet. If the weather was nicer, Castiel wouldn’t mind sitting on the deck in the backyard and watch the sky change. The trees are too dense around his home to see the sunrise through them, but the shift into dawn as it colours the backyard with dim light is still just as magical.

Because it’s too cold, Castiel watches it from the warm safety of the dining room. The dredges of coffee in the mug between his hands has cooled off considerably, but he still brings it to his lips to sip at it. He did try to go to sleep last night, but it never really came and he spent the night reading. When the need for caffeine grew to great, he came out here and prepared some coffee as quietly as possible since Sam is still sleeping on the couch.

Castiel has no idea how long he’s been sitting in the dining room watching the backyard before there’s movement in the doorway to the kitchen. Dean is standing there with his own housecoat hanging open and knuckling at his eyes.

He yawns widely and runs a hand through his hair. “How long have you been up?” At least he has the courtesy to keep his voice quiet.

All he can do is shrug and slowly finish off the last of his coffee.

Dean frowns. “Did you sleep at all?”

Castiel shrugs again.

After a few moments, Dean sighs and shuffles around the dining table to come to a stop next to him. He hesitates before putting an arm around Castiel’s shoulders in a semblance of a half-hug. It’s a bit weird, given that hugging isn’t particularly something that they do, but it’s – it’s somewhat nice? Weird, but nice, and not more than he can handle. In fact, Castiel even leans into Dean’s side. He doesn’t lean his head against him, but he does take some comfort from the touch.

There’s been a weight sitting on his chest for the last several hours and it lifts just a little bit in that moment. If anyone would understand about how he’s feeling today, it would be the Winchesters. They know the pain of losing a parent so suddenly – and violently.

They stay like that in silence until movement in the living room startles Dean into movement. Surprisingly, he doesn’t move away and instead brings a hand to pat Castiel on the top of his head. His fingers run through his hair half-heartedly, catching in unbrushed curls. That’s – that’s a very nice feeling and Castiel closes his eyes as he turns his head into the feeling. Dean pauses briefly before continuing with the gentle combing.

“Do you want anything for breakfast?”

Castiel shakes his head slightly, but not enough to dislodge Dean’s fingers. “Not really.”

“How about a bagel?” He slowly pulls apart a rather stubborn curl. “You should at least have something in your stomach besides coffee.”

Even though he doesn’t really feel it, Castiel sighs and nods. He might as well accept it before it ends up being forced on him. Even with no sleep he’s able to tell which arguments he’s capable of winning when it comes to Dean.

With one last pat to his head, Dean finally steps away and disappears into the kitchen. As expected, judging by the noises from the living room, Sam makes his appearance not longer after that. His hair is flipped up weirdly where he was sleeping on it and he gives Castiel a squinty wave before heading off down the hallway.

About ten minutes later, Dean has a bigger breakfast underway for the Winchesters and Castiel is gnawing slowly on a perfectly toasted and buttered bagel. Sam returns looking much more awake than he did before – and the coffee he has in hand is probably helping some. Dean lays out their usual breakfast fare once it’s ready and even goes so far as to place an empty plate in front of Castiel too.

“Just in case you want any.”

He doesn’t and maintains his steady stare out the window while Dean and Sam eat their breakfast. Everyone at the table is more or less silent with very little conversation taking place. If he could really feel anything at all right now, Castiel might feel bad for bringing the mood down. Unfortunately, he’s a little numb at the moment. Regardless, he still stands up to help them clean up.

“I’m going to shower first.” Sam announces while putting his plate and coffee mug in the dishwasher. He gives Dean a pointed look. “Because someone hogs the hot water.”

Dean rolls his eyes while he starts scrubbing the pan he used. “Go on then. We’re not leaving for a few hours yet, right, Cas?”

He nods and busies himself with refilling his coffee. If he’s going to get through today, he’s going to require a massive amount of caffeine. It’s the kind of day where he would like to have it injected straight into his veins to be more effective.

Sam heads off to get started, leaving Dean and Castiel alone in the kitchen. A few moments pass before Dean clears his throat. “Are you going to take a bath this morning too?”

“I took one last night.” Castiel shakes his head and leans his hip back against the counter. He’s surprised that Dean didn’t remember that on his own – unless he’s just trying to make conversation again. It’s a distraction tactic? If it is, it’s not a very good one.

“Oh, right.” Dean sighs dramatically. “How could I forget? I keep hoping you’ll come out in just a towel but you always change in the bathroom.”

That’s quite possibly the most blatant Dean has ever been with his flirtations. Castiel can only sigh and shake his head. He drinks his coffee without another comment, because what is there to say? Well, he could mention something about how he’s surprised Dean even knows that, since he’s never around when Castiel comes out of the bathroom. Usually he’s in the living room or the kitchen since he very rarely uses the gym in the basement with Sam.

“We’re bringing lunch with us, right?” Dean leaves the dishes to dry on a towel on the counter and dries his hands on his shirt. “We stashed our cooler in the basement. I’ll fill it up with – I dunno, what do you want? Sandwiches would be best, I guess.”

Soup would be nice, but Castiel is pretty sure that there’s only one thermos in the basement, and he’s not even sure where it is. There are a lot of boxes down there. “Sandwiches are fine. Depending on what you make, Anna won’t want mustard on hers and Aunt Amara likes extra tomatoes.”

“Great. I’ve got leftover bacon, so I can make a couple BLTs.” Dean heads to the fridge to look at their supplies. “You have any special requests?”

“No.” He shakes his head and steps away from the counter. “I’m going to go rest up for a bit before we really get ready to go.”

That seems to really get Dean’s attention. He closes the fridge, crosses his arms, and gives Castiel a thorough once over. “You should get some sleep, but are you sure right now? I can wait on the food and go watch something with you?”

Castiel shakes his head again. “It’s fine.”

Dean looks doubtful, but he doesn’t press the matter. Castiel is sent off down the hall with another pat on the shoulder and nothing more. It’s a little surprising that Dean didn’t try for another hug – or half-hug – but it doesn’t matter. It’s not like he’s going to go back and ask for one.

Even though he lies down, Castiel doesn’t sleep. He stares at the wall throughout the entirety of Sam’s shower and Dean’s. Thankfully, he doesn’t actually think of anything during that time. Castiel is barely aware that time actually passed before Dean is knocking on the door.

After three sharp knocks, he opens the door and pokes his head in. “Cas? We gotta leave in twenty. Time to get up and get ready.”

With a loud sigh, Castiel pushes himself up onto his knees. He turns over to sit cross legged and rubs a hand over his face. “Okay.”

“Did you get any sleep?”

He shakes his head. It’s normal, though. On this particular day of the year, he usually doesn’t get any sleep until he literally passes out. Anna is also usually here to help him get through the day. Since Dean and Sam are here, she’s deferred those duties to them – if only so as not to overwhelm Castiel with too many people watching over him. She’s well aware of how much he hates feeling babied, even if today is the only day where he essentially needs it.

“You need some help picking out something to wear?” Dean pushes the door open more and steps into the room. He holds his phone up and waves it slightly. “Anna said that you might.”

Castiel sighs and scoots down the bed to sit on the edge. He rests his elbows on his knees and stares at the partially open door of his closet. Even though it’s full of his clothes at the moment, all he can see when he looks at it is all of his dad’s many sweaters taking up most of the space. His mom barely had any room for her small amount of dresses that she owned. They used to almost touch the ground when they were hanging in the closet.

Back at their old home, long before Castiel ever presented, he used to play hide-and-seek a lot. One of his favourite places to hide was behind his mother’s dresses in the closet. No one ever found him, and even now he wonders if it was because no one ever expected him to hide in his parents’ bedroom of all places. That’s of course never a place his friends would want to go.

Dean leans over to peek at his closet. “Do you want me to find something for you? That is, if you’re cool with me digging around in your personal stuff.”

“Why not?” He shrugs and rests his chin in his hands. “You’ve already looked through everything else.”

The mild jab at Dean’s nosiness earns him a roll of the eyes and a crinkled nose. Otherwise, Dean doesn’t say anything as he starts shuffling through all the shirts hanging above the dresser. He knows Castiel’s pattern well enough to stick to the un-altered clothing so the back of it can be worn over top of his bound wings.

After a few moments, he tosses a long sleeved shirt onto the bed. A zip-up hoodie lands next to it. The long underwear that Castiel reserves especially for visits to the graveyard during winter are also unearthed from his underwear drawer and they join the pile. They’re soon followed by his fleece lined pants and his thickest pair of socks. Castiel has the sneaking suspicion that Anna told Dean exactly what to pull and where to find it.

“That should do it.” Dean closes the closet and turns to him with his hands on his hips. “Anything else you need help with?”

“I suppose.” Castiel stands and takes a moment to stretch his arms above his head and his wings out. He’s aware the Dean watches the motion closely, but elects to ignore it. “Can you help me with my binder? It’s easier to put on with two people.”

For a brief moment, Dean just frowns at him in confusion. That clears up the moment Castiel gets his binder from the hook on the back of his door. “Oh, that! Um – Sure. I can help you put it on, if you’re okay with it?”

Castiel shrugs and turns his back to Dean. He puts one arm through the strap of the binder and tucks his wings tightly to his back. There’s still some hesitation on Dean’s part when he takes the binder and stretch it over top of his wings. His touch is gentle as he helps fit his arm through the other strap. From that point, Castiel is able to mostly finish it up himself. He does up the clasps in the front and then reaches back to pull it into proper place.

When Dean helps him get the long sleeve shirt on, his fingers linger a little too long on his feathers as he adjusts it. Castiel doesn’t have it in him right now to tell him off for it. He’s able to finish getting dressed on his own – even the hoodie. It’s much too big for him, but he purposefully always buys his un-altered clothing a few sizes too big to incorporate his wings.

Sam is sitting at the top of the stairs to the foyer, waiting for them. He stands up when they come down the hall and goes down to put on his boots and coat first. Dean tosses him the keys so he can go warm the car up while they get read. Castiel pulls on a thick, warm pair of proper winter boots and forgoes the snowpants in favour of a thick winter coat. He wears thin gloves inside of big mittens and wraps a thick scarf around his neck. It’s big enough to pull up and cover his face if he needs it. He puts on both a hat and earmuffs to protect his ears because he hates the cold that much.

Dean passes him everything to put on one piece at a time. He’s taken to helping Castiel get ready like it’s second nature. Either Anna coached him very well, or he’s naturally good at this. Given how much of a home-body Dean is in regards to cooking and cleaning, Castiel wouldn’t be surprised if taking care of others is just something that he enjoys doing too.

Between the three of them, Castiel is most definitely overdressed. Sam wears the least wintery clothing than anyone. He has a nice coat on, but his his gloves and hat aren’t very thick and he doesn’t even have a scarf! Even so, he’s not even rosy-cheeked when he comes in from starting the Impala. Dean is a comfortable divide between them.

“Alright. Are we forgetting anything?” Dean asks while tugging his hat down over his ears.

“We have five chairs in the trunk.” Sam starts counting things off on his fingers. “And I’ve got three blankets. Anna and Amara said they’re going to bring their own. The cooler is packed and – oh!”

He slips out of his boots and disappears up the stairs and into the kitchen. Barely a moment goes by before he’s rushing back down the stairs with a travel mug in hand. “And here’s more coffee for Cas.”

“Thank you.” Castiel accepts it gratefully; holding it carefully between his mitted palms.

“Anna also texted to say that she’s already got the flowers.” Dean checks his phone and sends off a text of his own. “I think that’s everything. Ready to go?”

As ready as he’ll ever be.

Castiel allows Dean to guide him out the door with a hand on his elbow. Sam locks up behind them and he’s gracious enough to even allow him to have the front seat. Any time Castiel has driven with the Winchesters previously, he’s always been allocated to the backseat. It’s a bit of a treat to sit up front, but he’s in no place to really enjoy it. That and cars are always awkward for him, given that he has to sit forward to keep his wings from getting squished.

Aside from the radio playing during the drive, the trip to the cemetery is essentially silent. Anna and Aunt Amara are already there and waiting in their car when they pull up. They don’t get out of their car until Castiel gets out of the Impala.

Anna hugs him first, of course, and then she steps back to look him over with a critical eye. “It’s, like, thirty-five degrees out. You’re overdressed.”

He pulls his scarf down enough to stick his tongue out at her before putting it back in place. Aunt Amara rolls her eyes at the both of them and shoves Anna out of the way for her own hug. “Everything good so far, kiddo?”

“So far.”

Between the five of them, they get all the chairs from the Impala to the grave. Castiel leads the way through the snow, because he knows the route by heart. The graveyard keepers always insert thin orange poles near each grave to mark off where they are, but they can’t keep up with cleaning the snow off of all of them. Luckily, Aunt Amara came prepared. She brings with her a little hand-broom that she uses to brush the snow off everything.

While Anna changes out the flowers, Castiel helps Dean and Sam set up all the chairs. His spot will be right in the middle with Anna and Amara to his left, and Dean and Sam to his right. He’s almost a little disappointed that Sam and the heat from his mutation are sitting so far, but he doesn’t have the heart to say anything about it when Dean puts the cooler under the chair he announced as his own and it’s the one right next to Castiel’s.

The last thing to come from the cars are the blankets. They left them there so they could remain in what heat was left before being brought out. Even though Anna is with them, Dean still takes it upon himself to make sure that Castiel gets the biggest blanket and is properly wrapped in it as he takes his seat. But then he turns around and does the same with Anna and Aunt Amara too.

Once they’re all comfortable, silence falls amongst their group. It doesn’t last for long before Dean clears his throat. “So, uh, what were they like?”

Castiel blinks at the question; caught off guard by it. Dean just shrugs when he looks at him. “Just thought I’d ask, since Sammy and I are the only two who never got to meet them.”

“As the one who knew them both the longest, I’m going to field that question.” Aunt Amara sits forward slightly and tugs her blanket her shoulders a little higher.

She starts with talking about what Castiel’s dad was like when they were children. He was her twin brother, so of course she has endless stories about him. They’re all ones that he’s heard before, but it’s always nice to hear about what a goofball his dad used to be. He was the creative type from early on and loved to do things with his hands. Gardening was just one of his many passions and Aunt Amara covers all of that, and then some.

From that she moves into talking about how his dad was gaga for his mother long before he ever got her to date him. Apparently he knew from the third date that he wanted to marry her - which isn’t something that Castiel can really understand. He’s never felt that strongly about anyone he’s known in his life – which is fair, given how he barely knows anyone. But it’s nice to know how much his parents cared for each other before he came along.

Of course, as Aunt Amara loves to point out, it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows. There are always ups and downs in any relationship, and his parents had their fair share of them. Castiel presenting did cause some issues until they were able to sort out what they were going to do. Regardless, they never didn’t love him. According to his aunt, Castiel was the apple of their eyes and the light of their lives. It was because they loved him so much that they eventually decided that it was better not to register him so they could keep him safe from the discrimination mutants are subjected to.

When she talks about that, Castiel very carefully doesn’t take his eyes off the gravestone. He’s well aware that Dean and Sam don’t share the same opinion as he does, and today is just not a day where he could tolerate a discussion about their thoughts on the matter. But neither Winchester says anything besides the odd hum of acknowledgement to show that they’re listening.

Castiel makes a mental note to thank them both later for not turning the reminiscing into a debate.

It’s nice to just sit back and let someone else take control of the conversation. Aunt Amara and Anna know how awkward he can be better than anyone, and maybe that’s why they dominate the conversation. Anna occasionally interjects about her own memories of her aunt and uncle that she has from after she presented and moved here too.

Every so often, Dean or Sam asks a question, but mostly they’re quiet – just like Castiel. They just listen and laugh at the appropriately hilarious stories. It’s a good way to pass the time, and they only remember that they have a lunch to eat when Dean’s phone trills with a string of text messages and he notices the time as he sheepishly silences it.

He breaks out the sandwiches he made and Sam passes around baggies of carrots. Lunch fully distracts everyone from talking, mostly because even though it’s not that cold out, there’s still enough of a chill that those with scarves don’t want their face exposed for longer than it takes to eat.

When they finally wrap up for the day a while later, Castiel helps bring everything back to the car. Once everything is put away, he takes a few steps back towards the grave. “I’d like a private moment with them, if that’s okay.”

“Knock yourself out, Cas.” Dean leans back against the side of the Impala and crosses his ankles. “We’ll let Baby warm up while you have your moment.”

Anna and Aunt Amara nod in agreement and huddle together with Sam and Dean to keep talking. Castiel returns to the grave alone and he crouches in front of it. The smaller he is, the less body heat he loses.

“I love you.” He touches the stone once, briefly, before tucking his arms between his chest and his thighs. “And I miss you both every day.”

There’s always more to say, but he’ll save that for another time. He has friends and family waiting for him and he doesn’t want them to wait for too long in the cold. “I hope you liked meeting Dean and Sam. They’re - They’re really starting to grow on me.”

Castiel stands up again and shivers slightly. “I’ll come back and see you again in a few weeks. Hopefully it will be warmer by then.”

With a quiet goodbye, he returns to the others. Anna and Aunt Amara both hug him – at the same time, because they’re annoying like that – as soon as he’s close enough for it.

“So, what are the plans now?” Dean quirks a smile at him while he’s being sandwiched. “Anyone feel like coming back to Cas’s place for some games and drinks? If that’s okay with you, of course, Cas.”

“If that’s what everyone wants to do.” Castiel shrugs and wiggles his way out of the hug. “I’m fine with anything, though be warned: I might turn in early.”

Aunt Amara claps her hands together before putting them on Anna’s shoulders and starting to steer her towards their car. “We’re going to make a quick pitstop at home first, but we’ll meet you there.”

“Why can’t I go with them?” Anna looks over his shoulder, pouting slightly.

“I need your extra hands.”

Castiel waves them off before getting into the car with Sam and Dean. It’s weirdly cozy in the Impala, and he feels fairly comfortable. True to his word, Dean had it warmed up to perfection and Castiel pulls his scarf down to breathe easily.

He turns a small smile on both of them. “Thank you.”

“For what?” Sam leans forward and crosses his arms on the back of the bench seat. He’s situated himself in the middle of the backseat so he can look between them.

“For staying for today.” Castiel looks down at his hands and fidgets with the cuff of his mitten. “I know that you were planning on leaving.”

Dean huffs and drops a hand on his knee. “We wouldn’t do that to you, Cas.” He gives a brief squeeze before moving his hand to the gear shift and putting them into drive. “We’re you’re buddies, right? Friends are there for each other.”

He hums in agreement and leans his shoulder against the door. While he’s not excited for the Winchesters to be leaving again, he hopes that this time it will be on a better note. And hopefully they’re going to come back sooner rather than later. Castiel is already starting to look forward to their next visit.


Wednesday – February 21st, 2018

There’s a weird pit churning at the base of his stomach and Castiel does his best to ignore it. He shifts on his feet at the top of the stairs, watching as Dean and Sam gather their things at the front door. They’ve already stripped their beds and put it all away. Castiel even started a load of laundry with the used sheets, since he’s actually awake to help out this time. And he’ll even be able to get in a proper ‘goodbye’ since they’re not going to be sneaking out.

“Okay, I think that’s everything.” Dean zips his duffle-bag closed and stands up. “There are leftovers in the fridge from yesterday that you can have for lunch, and we’re leaving what’s left of the groceries, so you’d better eat those before they  expire.”

He looks up Castiel with a stern frown. “If I hear that you’ve lost weight again, I’m going to come back and hold you down to force feed you.”

Between the two times that the Winchesters have been here, Castiel has put on nearly ten pounds. He lost everything and more than he had gained the last time they were here, but now he’s put it all back on again. Dean is overly concerned about his nutrition ever since he learned about how Castiel either has all pre-made and frankly unhealthy food, or he skips meals because he doesn’t feel like making anything to eat.

Castiel tilts his head and crosses his arms; leaning his hip against the wall. “That’s not much of an incentive to keep the weight on, Dean.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He snorts and rolls his eyes. “I don’t know when, but I promise that we will be back. I just don’t want you to starve while we’re gone.”

“I don’t starve myself.” Castiel huffs and looks away. “I just... forget to eat sometimes.” He shrugs and his wings shuffle against his back.

Sam shoulders his own bag, making sure to swing it enough to hit Dean with it. “Don’t give him a complex about his weight.” He fixes Castiel with a long-suffering smile. “He’s a mother hen at heart, Cas. He really just can’t help worrying about everyone.”

“Fuck off, Sammy.” Dean shoves him back a step. “Don’t be a dick.”

“It’s fine.” A small smile works its way to the surface and that pit in his stomach warms slightly as Castiel looks down at the both of them. “I appreciate the concern, but please remember that I do already have Anna and Aunt Amara to breathe down my neck about taking care of myself.”

Dean digs the keys for the Impala out of his pocket and passes them off to Sam. “Too bad, buddy. You made friends with me and now you’re stuck. I’m like gum on the bottom of your shoe. You’ll never be rid of me.”

“If I recall, I didn’t have much of a choice in making friends with you.” His nose wrinkles as his smile grows. He’s been doing that more and more the longer the Winchesters hang around.

Dean makes a face at him and Castiel, in a fit of playfulness, makes a face back. Sam groans and rolls his eyes. “God help me, there’s two of them now.”

“Oh, puh-leese.” Dean scoffs and gestures at himself. “You can’t copy this masterpiece.”

“Just give me your bag.” Sam holds out his hand for Dean’s duffle-bag. “The car isn’t going to load itself, and knowing you, you’re -”

“Yup, okay, that’s enough.” He picks up his bag and all but shoves it into Sam’s chest. “Go on. Get!”

Sam flashes Castiel an amused grin before heading outside. That leaves Dean alone with him, and an almost awkward air descends immediately. Dean shuffles his feet and stuffs his hands in his coat pockets, and then takes them out again. He runs a hand through his hair and looks everywhere else before finally looking at Castiel.

“You could – uh –” Dean coughs and looks away again. “Y’know, you could always come with us?” He lets the question hang between them for a moment. “I still think you need to get out more.”

“I can’t.” Castiel shakes his head and shifts his arms until he’s more hugging himself than crossing them. He’s unregistered and with such an obvious mutation, people will always be asking to see his tattoo or his registration card wherever they go. Some places will refuse him service, where others might charge him more simply because he’s something he had no control over.

And the last thing he wants is to end up in jail, or worse; the Facility.

In truth, he would like to travel with them. But that’s something that he would need to build up the courage for. He hasn’t been anywhere since he presented, and that was a very long time ago. The part of him that’s terrified of the rest of the world is still very vocal, but the part of him that enjoys the time with the Winchesters and hates to see them go is steadily growing louder.

Maybe one day he’ll be able to go with them, but today is not that day.

“But it’s okay.” He shrugs and looks down at the floor where he’s toes curl over the edge of the top step. “You can – If you’re ever in the area again, that is – My couch and guest room will always be open to you and Sam.”

For a moment, it seems like Dean is going to try and argue in favor of him travelling with them. His lips are pressed into a thin line when Castiel glances up again, but he doesn’t do anything other than to hold out his hand. “Thanks, Cas.”

With a sigh, Castiel descends the steps so he can shake Dean’s hand. He makes a started noise when he’s yanked forward by that grip; stumbling off the final step and right into a solid chest. Dean loops his arms around Castiel’s waist and hooks his chin over his shoulder; hugging him tightly. And Castiel is – He's frozen. Every time Dean hugs him is a surprise and it takes several moments before he can relax into and just enjoy it for what it is.

He’s slow to bring his arms up and around Dean’s shoulders, but it’s nice. Even after spending an hour cleaning and packing and kicking up dust, Dean still smells ridiculously good. And why is he so comfortable to hug? It never feels this nice to hug Anna or Aunt Amara. They’re both kinda boney; all sharp elbows and hips. Dean is – he's warm and soft, but solid and why does he smell so good?

Over the time that the Winchesters have been here for this second visit, Dean hasn’t been all that touchy with him. There were the occasional hugs, both two armed and one, and a touch to the shoulder here or there. But now that he’s leaving, Castiel thinks that he might actually miss it.

Just a little bit, though.

When the door opens behind them, Dean jerks back out of the hug in a quick step. The sudden loss of contact is a bit disorienting, and Castiel can only blink at him.

Dean clears his throat with a cough and looks away. “Yeah, so, we’ll see you around. I’ll text or – uh – call you, or something. Bye Cas.” And with that he’s brushing past Sam and rushing outside before Castiel can even get a word in edgewise.

Sam raises an eyebrow as he glances after him. “I guess we’re leaving now.” He sighs and looks down at the snack bag sitting next to the door. “He could have at least grabbed the last bag.”

Unlike Dean, Sam doesn’t pull him in for a hug when he shakes Castiel’s hand. “Thanks for letting us stay again. It was fun.”

“It was.” Castiel stoops to pick up the bag for him and hands it off. “I already told this to Dean, but you’re both always welcome back here.”

“Good to know.” Sam all but beams at him as he takes the bag. “I promise that I’ll keep you posted about our trip so you know we got to our next hunt safely. And after. It’s just a regular bond jumper, so it should be easy.”

Hearing about their job always makes his stomach twist with nerves. Castiel ignores it in favour of pulling on his boots. “Thank you.”

He hugs himself and follows Sam outside, though he stays on the step. From there, he watches Sam get into the Impala. Maybe his empathy picked up on it, but Castiel isn’t very fond of the idea of people he knows travelling on the highway during the winter. If Sam hadn’t offered to text him, he might have actually asked him to do it.

Castiel waves as the Impala backs up and then drives around the loop of gravel in front of the house. Dean honks the horn in a few quick notes on their way past. They head off down the drive and Castiel stays watching until they’re out of sight amongst the trees. He heads back inside and shivers; rubbing at his arms to warm them up. His wings flutter to shake the chill out of his feathers, despite how he wasn’t outside for very long.

The house is quiet and empty again, but it still feels warm. Even though the Winchesters are gone again, Castiel doesn’t feel quite as lonely as he did before. He can even go get started on his day of work with a smile on his face because he knows that they’ll be back.

They’ll be back because Dean promised they would be.

Chapter Text

Saturday – March 3rd, 2018

The empty house echoes with his groan and Castiel drops his head back to stare at the ceiling. There aren’t a lot of times in his life where he feels like an idiot, but seriously. How could he be so damn stupid?

He rocks his head forward until his chin touches his chest and he can glare at the two black feathers he just found in the middle of the kitchen. They must have fallen out while he was reheating leftovers for his dinner and he didn’t notice them until after bringing his plate back from the living room. Because Castiel likes to eat in front of the TV when he’s on his own. Like an adult.

An adult who just happens to be an idiot because how could he have gone through the whole day with an itch under his feathers every so often and not realize why.

He’s molting.

Another groan rumbles in his chest as he bends down to pick them up. One is as long as his hand and the other is smaller, fluffier. He crushes them between his fingers, mangling them nearly beyond recognition before dumping them directly into the garbage bin under the sink.

Now that he knows the molting season is upon him, Castiel’s mood has soured significantly. He stomps all the way to his bedroom where he can stand in front of the mirrored closet doors and spread his wings to get a good look at them. As far as he can tell, they look as dull and normal as ever.

Since it’s just the first days of the molt, the colours haven’t started growing in just yet. They’ll still be black as the new feathers come in, but there will be highlights of dark purples, reds, and greens growing in right alongside all of them. It’s marginally prettier than his normal feathers, but Castiel actually hates them more just because of how uncomfortably itchy his wings get during the molt.

“It’s not even Spring yet, you ridiculous things.” He mutters to himself as he pulls one wing forward under his arm and digs his fingers into the feathers to give them a good scratch. The relief is immediate and his eyes flutter closed for a moment because damn that feels good.

Unfortunately, scratching only does so much, and it’s going to get infinitely worse. Castiel is not looking forward to the rest of this month. The one saving grace that he can think of – and he does try to think of at least one positive during the molt, otherwise he’ll go out of his mind – is that the Winchesters won’t be here for this.

The next month and a half to two months (and once, horrifyingly, almost three months), he’s going to be shedding feathers all over the house as new ones come in. For a few weeks in between, Castiel will have some reprieve with his colourful feathers, and then the process repeats itself all over again as he molts the coloured feathers and grows back his normal black ones.

Possibly one of the worst things about it is that he can’t leave the house the whole time.

Yes, going out in public causes him some stress, but Castiel is more or less used to the anxiety that comes with a trip to the grocery store or the cemetery. Sometimes he craves those trips just for a chance to see other people, or at least to get out of the house and stretch his legs in a different location. And none of that is possible during the molt. He won’t even be able to go visit his parents’ graves.

The molt is just the worst part of his mutation.

With the new feathers coming in and making his wings itchy, his wings end up shuffling a lot whether he wants them to or not. It’s a subconscious thing and would take a lot of his focus to keep from happening so it wouldn’t be noticeable under his clothing. On top of that, the feathers are going to be growing back in at full length. They’ll be so long that even his favourite tan overcoat isn’t going to be enough to hide them from prying eyes.

If he wanted to go to the effort of trimming them multiple times over the next few months, he might be able to go outside during the molt. But then Castiel would still run the risk of having them move. And, honestly, it is such a pain in the ass to trim his feathers. For the last several molts, he hasn’t bothered with it and just spends the next two months with his wings at their full length.

It's honestly very weird to have them that long. They feel heavier, and if they relax too much then they end up touching the ground, and that feeling always catches him off guard. It might seem silly, or pathetic, but it’s the truth. A simple stretch could knock over any number of things because they’re huge and their reach is nearly twice as long as they usually are.

Sighing loudly and groaning again, Castiel lets his wings droop again. The only relief he gets from itching – and already that distracting burn is coming back – is to soak his wings. His baths are going to change drastically both in frequency and how he takes them during the molting season. It takes a dog’s age for his wings to dry afterwards, but it’s worth it.

It's funny that the Winchesters never bothered to ask why he has such a deep tub.


Friday – March 30th, 2018

“No.”

Anna still lifts her phone and ignores the venomous glare thrown her way. “Come on. Just one?”

Castiel points at her as his wings tuck tightly against his back. “Don’t you dare.”

To this date, he has somehow managed to go his whole life without having a single picture taken of his wings at their full length. That isn’t going to change just because he and Anna now share a pair of friends who know about his mutation.

“Please?” She even has the audacity to pout at him; batting her eyes as if that’s ever worked for her before. “I need something to tease him with. Just spread ‘em, beautiful.”

He crosses his arms and narrows his eyes at her. Anna knows how uncomfortable his wings are for him during the molting season. Why should she be allowed to use his pain to have fun with his friends. Technically, yes, the Winchesters are her friends too, but they were his first.

Anna continues to pull her puppy eyes at him. “Imagine how happy this will make him!”

Dammit.

Dean would be very happy to see Castiel’s wings at their full length. He has some weird obsession with them that they have thus far allowed to go unmentioned. At least Sam has honestly said how he personally finds them interesting, if only because Castiel is one of the few mutants with a physical mutation like this that he’s had the ability to actually converse with. It’s not a topic they talk about a lot, but Sam actually asks really thoughtful questions about what it’s like to live with a physical mutation.

Unfortunately, it’s not Sam that Anna is using against him. Wanting to show them to Sam because he would be interested in simply seeing what they look like fully grown wouldn’t be enough to sway him. But wanting to show them to Dean because it would make him happy? That’s certainly enough to put a chink in his armor. It’s even more effective because Castiel can quite easily imagine how much it would make him smile.

And Dean’s smile is quickly becoming something that Castiel is very weak to.

Sure enough, that breaks him. He grumbles quietly to himself as he spreads his wings – filling the living room with his wingspan and putting the colours on display. Anna wisely chooses to not gloat. She takes several steps back into the dining room to get a better angle and takes a few quick pictures.

As soon as she’s satisfied, she focuses on editing and getting the picture sent off. She does it all with her tongue poking out between her teeth; tapping away at her phone in gleeful ignorance of the snack mess they need to clean up. And she made most of the mess in the first place!

Castiel folds his wings back into place and shuffles them slightly. Even with the feathers mostly grown back in by now, they’re still a little itchy. He has another week or so before the coloured feathers will molt and his regular colours will come back. They’ll look slightly better for a while, but they’ll still be dull since he never oils them.

The rustling sound of his feathers catches Anna’s attention and she glances up from her phone. “I know it itches like hell and you hate it, but I still can’t over how you get mating plumage during your Spring molt.” She lingers on his feathers before looking away again.

“Thank you for reminding me that I have this to look forward to again in the Fall.” He flips her off and looks down at the scattered remains of the snacks from their impromptu Harry Potter marathon.

It looks like too much of a hassle for him to clean up and Castiel instead elects to flop face first down on the couch. The cushions muffle his next words; “I’m not a bird. What do I need mating plumage for?”

Any answer Anna might have had is lost to a soft squeak of surprise when her phone starts ringing in her hands, right in the middle of tapping out a message. “Oh, facetime!” That’s followed by the quiet bwoop of the call being accepted. “Hey, what’s up?”

Dean’s voice sounds a little tinny through the video call, but it’s still very distinctly Dean. “What. The. Fuck. Anna!?”

Castiel lifts his head just enough to peek out to look at her. Anna rolls her eyes and frowns at the screen. “Well hello to you too.”

Cas is there, right?” Dean ignores the reprimand. “Cas! Cas, I know you can hear me. What the heck is going on with your wings and why didn’t you tell me?!”

Ah, yes. It has conveniently slipped Castiel’s mind (on purpose) to inform Dean and Sam about his molt. Anna insists that it’s not something that he should be embarrassed about, but it is. The only people allowed to see him like this are her and his Aunt. Now he’s just gone and allowed Anna to talk him into telling Dean and Sam about it in a very roundabout way.

“I see where your priorities lie.” Anna sniffs, nose in the air as she crosses the room so she can stand on the other side of the coffee table from him. “Give me a second…” She must change to the other camera, because she splits into a wide grin and waggles her eyebrows at Castiel. “There we go.”

Holy shit.” Dean breathes out just loud enough to be heard through the call. “They’re so big!

That’s what she said.” Sam adds, finally announcing his presence.

“That’s what she said.” Anna chimes in at the same moment.

Both of you shut up.” Dean sounds like he’s rolling his eyes, just like Castiel is now. “Cas, dude, your wings! They’re so awesome!

Castiel shakes his head and drops it back into the pillow to hide his face. “No, they’re not.” He flips the camera off before letting his hand fall to the floor again. And then immediately brings it right back up again so he can reach back and scratch at a spot. “They suck.”

“Don’t mind him.” Anna comes around the coffee table so she can stand next to him. She pats him gently on the hand, earning a blind swat at her leg. “He’s always extra grumpy from the beginning of March to the end of April.”

Let me see.” Sam sounds a little annoyed and there’s the sound of shuffling on the other end. “Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t want to ask, but I figured you might have a molt. I just didn’t think that you would get mating plumage.”

There’s a choked noise on the other end of the video chat and Castiel doesn’t even need to ask to know that it was probably from Dean. He sighs and curves his wings up a little higher over his shoulders to hide himself. “I would appreciate if we don’t mention my feathers at all, thank you.”

“But they’re so pretty!” Anna leans over him and, to Castiel’s surprise, starts petting his wings.

Normally he would never allow this. To be fair, normally she wouldn’t be doing this at all. The only reason Anna is doing it now is to show off for Dean and Sam. And the only reason that Castiel is allowing it is because his wings itch and it feels very soothing to have Anna rake her fingers through them like she’s doing now.

Befriending Dean really did turn everything regarding his wings on its head. Apparently Dean liking his wings is call for everyone to like them. Which leaves Castiel in the unfortunate position of begrudgingly putting up with it, despite his own deep rooted hatred for his wings.

“It’s really too bad that you can’t go outside with them like this.” Anna digs her fingers into the perfect spot and Castiel muffles a pleased groan into the pillow. “They look way better when you let all your feathers grow out properly.”

“Don’t get used to it.” The pillow muffles his words a lot and he lifts his head enough to be heard. “I’m going to clip them as soon as the molt is completely done.”

Aw c’mon!” Dean whine. “At least keep them until we come back! I want to see what those beauties look like in person.”

Sam sighs and, again, there’s the sound of scuffling. “The proper question to ask would be to know how long the molt lasts. Is it really all the way to the end of April?”

“Pretty much.” Anna finally stops playing with Castiel’s wing and she sits on the floor with her back against the couch. She must turn her camera around again. “It starts around the beginning of March and molts into his mating plumage. After a few weeks it molts right back into his regular colours. Right, Cas?”

He grunts from the pillow. “Colour. Singular.”

It’s a nice colour, Cas.” Dean sounds sincere and Castiel has to focus to keep his feathers from fluffing at the compliment.

Anna hums thoughtfully. “Well, black isn’t technically a colour, is it?”

It depends on if you’re an artist or a scientist. Both view it very differently.” Count on Sam to give the same kind of answer Castiel was thinking.

Not the point here, guys.” Dean huffs loudly. “The point is that they’re pretty and how come Anna gets to pet them and I can’t? I call favouritism, Cas!

“Well duh.” Anna’s smile can be heard in her voice. “I’m his cousin and obviously he loves me more.”

There’s a beat of silence before Dean grumbles quietly. “Rude.”

“Don’t worry about it.” A hand touches the back of Castiel’s head once before patting gently. “He likes people the more he sees them. If you want to have a shot at being his favourite, you should probably come visit more often.”

Castiel slaps her hand away and reaches blindly to shove at her. “Stop harassing my friends. They have lives of their own and jobs to do.”

Sam, get your laptop.” Dean suddenly sounds very serious. “We gotta check if there are any jobs out that way.

Or, hear me out, we just… go visit?” Sam sounds amused. “You know that we don’t need a job as an excuse to go back there, right?

Don’t talk back to me.”

Sam sighs loudly and there’s a thud somewhere on the other end of the video call. “Sorry, Cas. It seems like you might be seeing us again before the end of April.

For the love of all things, please don’t clip your wings before we get there!” Dean suddenly sounds much closer to the microphone and Anna starts giggling at whatever she sees on the screen. “Please!”

Castiel can feel his face starting to heat with a blush and he burrows a little deeper into the pillow to try and hide it. Hopefully the red creeping up the back of his neck and into his ears won’t be visible on the camera. He’ll never live it down if any of them figure out that he might slowly be starting to like the attention Dean gives him.

Anna sighs and there’s a pout in her voice. It’s a tone Castiel recognizes so well that he can even envision the expression she makes to go with it. “Now it sounds like you’ve got favouritism. You like Cas’s wings more than me.”

I like them an appropriate amount, thank you very much.

Yeah, keep telling yourself that.”

Sam’s sassy response is followed with a hiss of pain at the sound of a solid thwack. Anna snorts her way into another giggle.

Castiel would very much like the attention to no longer be on him, his wings, or his relationship with the Winchesters (specifically Dean). He tilts his face just enough out of the cushion so he can be heard. “Change the subject.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Anna’s giggles die down into another sigh. “So, where are you guys right now?”

It still takes a moment before either Winchester is able to answer. Dean sounds a bit winded when he does. “New Mexico.”

“Oh, nice!” She sits forward slightly, and Castiel shifts enough to be able to peek over the edge of the cushion to see the phone. “What’s the weather like?”

Warm and sunny. Not as much as Texas though.” Dean sounds like he’s smiling, but Castiel can’t quite see it with Anna’s head in the way. “I refuse to take hunts in Texas at any time of the year.

Sam snorts. “You could always just take off a layer or two.

Wow, it’s like you’re asking to be hit again.

Castiel sighs and pushes himself up onto his elbows. “Stop hitting Sam.” He can see over Anna’s shoulder now to see how both Sam and Dean have their faces squished into the frame as if they haven’t figured out that they could sit farther back and be more comfortable. “Are you on a hunt right now? Is it a dangerous one?”

Nah, just some lame old bond jumper.” Dean shakes his head, but he’s smiling now that Castiel is sitting up. “We’ve got a few like it lined up in the area. We’ll take care of them and then come hang out with you for a couple weeks.”

Sam shoots a look and elbows him off camera. Dean frowns at him and rolls his eyes. “But only if that’s okay with you?”

Castiel almost smiles – but with Anna and Sam watching, he catches himself before he can. “Of course, Dean.” How many times does he have to say that they’re always welcome here?

The big, bright smile that he gets in return makes Castiel’s chest feel a little tight. “Great! And you promise not to clip your wings before then? I want to see them all big and beautiful in person.

Don’t be selfish, Dean. You know Cas doesn’t like –

Sam cuts off when he gets elbowed hard enough that he falls out of frame. Anna smothers a giggle behind her hand when he comes back into sight, glaring at Dean. “This is so amusing to watch, being a single child and all.”

So glad we can amuse you.” Dean sticks his tongue out at her. “But, for serious, please don’t clip your wings until we can see them?

“I won’t make any promises.” Castiel shakes his head and props his chin in his hand. He fans his wings straight up until the tip of his feather touches the ceiling. “They get in the way and the feathers growing in are itchy enough to drive me crazy.”

It’s actually reached the point where he’s seriously considered building a small indoor swimming pool in the basement so he can just soak his wings for two months straight. He’ll soak them in the tub, but it’s a cramped space and he can’t spread them out. Showers are marginally more comfortable, but then he’s standing with soaked wings and they weigh him down considerably when they’re wet.

Dean makes a whining noise low in his throat, but Sam shoves him off screen with a hand over his face. “That’s fine, Cas. Don’t make yourself uncomfortable just because he’s got a kink for wings.

DUDE!

At that, Anna starts cackling. It’s the full body kind of laugh that has her throwing her head back and kicking her heels against the floor with. Castiel isn’t nearly as amused. He drops back into the pillow with a quiet groan, choosing to not react.

He certainly thought to himself that Dean might have too much interested in his wings, but having it said so blatantly is – God. It’s making him blush again and there’s a weird, tight ball of nerves forming in the vicinity of his stomach. Castiel isn’t sure if it’s because of his general dislike for his wings, or because he has no idea how to act or feel now that he knows Dean’s appreciation for his wings could be more than just in regards to aesthetics.

It baffles him how anyone could be attracted to his wings.


Monday – April 16th, 2018

“Stop staring, Dean. You’re going to make him uncomfortable.”

“I’m not staring.”

“You’ve been looking at nothing else but his wings since we got here.”

“I’m not staring.”

Dean.”

Castiel very pointedly ignores the whispered conversation taking place in the living room. He would have thought that the fact that they were in the middle of playing Super Smash Bros that Dean would have been too distracted to pay much attention to his wings. Or he would have thought that Dean got enough staring-but-not-staring in yesterday when they arrived in the late afternoon. Clearly, he was wrong.

To his credit, Dean was fairly subtle with how he watched his wings yesterday. And he hasn’t made any attempt to touch them either – which is better than Castiel thought of him, certainly. He was fully prepared to have to have to lecture Dean about personal boundaries and how he’s just barely comfortable with hugs, let alone having his wings touched repeatedly – and especially without his explicit permission.

It's a pleasant surprise to find that Dean is better mannered than that.

Rather than listen to them whisper-argue, Castiel focuses on opening the manuscript that was just delivered by courier. He had been expecting it and was fully prepared to not only wear his housecoat when answering the door, but to only open it wide enough to sign and accept the package because he’s in full molt again. It would have been weird for the courier, certainly, but at least they wouldn’t have seen his wings.

Thankfully, because the Winchesters are here, Sam was able to answer and sign for it instead. Now Castiel gets to have the fun of sorting his manuscript for editing. He’s a little weird with how he likes to go through the physical copies, and he had to first gather all the things needed from his office. While he could work there, he usually uses the dining table for this sort of thing – or sometimes even sitting on the floor at the coffee table while watching a movie.

For physical manuscripts, Castiel likes to break them down by chapter, punch holes in the paper, and put each of them in their own duo-tangs. Every duo-tang gets labeled and he has a pack of tiny sticky-notes slipped into the pouch on the inside cover that he can use to mark pages as needed. He’ll edit everything in red as he goes, but he has a process. It’s not often that he gets a physical manuscript and, as tedious as it is to edit them, it’s almost a bit of a treat.

They’re the one part of his work that he can do anywhere in the house without having to move the entire set up. He can take his dictionary and thesaurus to the living room, kick back, and edit while watching a movie. Or, if the weather is warm and nice outside, he could sit in the sun on the deck. It’s nice to switch it up every so often and work in a new area.

With the Winchesters here and playing their games in the living room, Castiel should have just done this all in his office. But it doesn’t take that much concentration to break up the chapters and put them in folders. Out here he can at least visit with the boys while he does it all. And, frankly, he’ll take any excuse to be out of the office.

An itch builds in one of his wings and, without thinking, Castiel shuffles it slightly to hopefully just shake out whatever feather is causing the itch in the first place. He’s been dropping the coloured feathers since early last week and has been taking showers twice a day to deal with the itching.

The itch doesn’t go away with the small shuffle. He sighs and fans his left wing out slightly, giving a short sharp flap before folding it back to place. One of the Winchesters, and Castiel is certain he knows which one, sucks in a sharp breath. The itch hasn’t fully settled, but it’s better and he can ignore it while he thumbs through the pages of the manuscript to find all the chapter breaks.

Castiel completely misses how the furniture usually creaks when someone stands up or sits down. He’s not aware that anyone has moved until Sam makes a quiet, unhappy sound. “Dean!”

There’s something about the way he says Dean’s name that has the hair on the back of neck stand on end. Castiel turns sharply to see what’s going on. Dean all but squeaks in surprise as he gets, first, a face full of feathers, and then ends up falling backwards onto his ass. It’s not a far fall for him since he was apparently crouching behind Castiel already.

Dean has a feather in his hand and he blinks up at Castiel with a distinctly guilty smile. “You – uh – you dropped this?” The feather is about as long as his hand and tinged a subtle dark green.

“Were you trying to steal one of my feathers?” Castiel crosses his arms and frowns down at him.

“No, definitely not.” Dean shakes his head, his grin taking on more of a cheeky edge to it. “That’s totally not something I would do.”

His wings shuffle against his back as he rolls his eyes. “You could have just asked.”

For a brief moment, Dean actually looks hopeful, but then he arches an eyebrow and actually looks amused. “Pretty sure you would’a said ‘no’.”

“Maybe, maybe not.” Castiel holds his hand out. “Now you’ll never know. Hand it over.”

A pout draws out his bottom lip, but Dean still hands the feather over. Castiel overs his other hand to help him to his feet again, and then leaves him there to return to his bedroom. Normally he would just cut up a feather this big and throw it straight into the trash. But now that he knows Dean wants one of them – Well.

He opens the rarely used bottom drawer of his bedside table and drops the green feather into it. Castiel won’t give it to Dean right now because boundaries need to be set. But if he asks for one later one, then maybe he’ll allow it. Maybe. It all depends on how he’s feeling at that time. At the moment it’s – it’s weird. There’s a warm heat curling under his ribs and he has no idea why.

Once he returns to the dining room, Dean is slumped on the couch next to Sam and he’s pouting at the TV. Sam just shakes his head and sighs. “I’m sorry. He just really likes your wings.”

“They’re just so frikken cool!” He explodes, both arms uncrossing to gesture at him.

Castiel shrugs and returns to sorting his papers. “At least one of us likes them.”

That draws an unintelligible gurgle of a noise out of Dean and he sits up sharply. “That’s it. I have a new mission in life, Sammy.”

“One that isn’t all about watching every Busty Asian Beauties video available online?”

With his back to them, Castiel is free to frown at that particular comment. He’s the last person to ever judge someone for things they like, or things they do, but really? That sounds like far more information about Dean than he ever wanted to know.

“Wow, Sam. You’re really just gonna call a dude out like that?” Dean’s tone is far from impressed, and he follows his words up with a solid hit that has Sam hissing in pain. “That’s rude. No, my new mission in life is to get Cas to love himself.”

Oh, God. “I like myself just fine, thank you.” Castiel sighs, but his wings draw up a little tighter against his back. “My wings on the other hand –”

“But those are a part of you!”

Castiel turns from his work; one hand planted on the table and the other fisted against his cocked hip. “You haven’t even been here for a full twenty-four hours yet, Dean. Are you sure that you want to argue about this again?”

Because the few times that they’ve argued about how he feels regarding his wings and mutations in general haven’t been the only times they’ve talked about it. They’ve had several (short) ‘debates’ about this over text where one or both of them just stops responding. It’s usually a day or so of radio silence after that before someone picks up a different topic of conversation.

Meanwhile, the text thread that Castiel has with Sam regarding his wings takes a very different direction. They don’t argue about it like he does with Dean. Sam is very inquisitive and he asks deep questions. Their conversations are more philosophical in nature, and that’s about the end of it. On the other hand, Castiel can seemingly talk with Dean for hours on end about anything under the sun. Dean is as sharp as a tack and he learns a lot from their conversations too.

The juxtaposition between the brothers is interesting, to be sure.

Dean crosses his arms and flops backwards into a slump again. Sam bites his lip to keep himself from laughing and holds out the controller that Dean had abandoned before. “Why don’t we keep playing? Or we could start a game of Mario Kart?”

“I said I would never play that game again.” He hisses and snatches the controller.

Castiel rolls his lips between his teeth and turns back to his chapters. “I didn’t beat you that badly.”

“My ego will never recover.”

“C’mon, Dean.” Sam cajoles softly. “You’ve always beaten me at it before. If anything, playing against me should boost your ego.”

Castiel nods in agreement while using the hole punch on the chapter in hand. “He has a point.”

“Stop siding against me. Two against one isn’t fair.”

“If it helps, I promise not to join you.” He turns back to them and flaps the stack of papers in their direction. “I’m still technically on the clock.”

Dean glowers at the TV without looking at either of them before finally sighing loudly. He really does like his dramatics. “Fine.”

Sam grins brightly as he stands up to go change out the disk in the Wii. While his back is to Dean, he shares a secret wink with Castiel. He’s certainly a pro at distracting Dean when he gets in a mood. Castiel is very grateful for it because half the time he’s mentally floundering without the first clue of what he should do about it.

When it comes to handling either Winchester, Castiel is still learning the ropes.

For instance, there are times when Sam can get into a kind of depressed state if something leads to him thinking about all the times that Dean has been hurt because of him, or when he starts blaming himself for what happened to their mother. Dean gets fixated on things and he can be argumentative without really intending to.

It can be difficult, but they’re still both fun to spend time with and Castiel is happy to have them in his life. He likes having someone else to talk to besides Anna or Aunt Amara (both of whom he loves dearly).


By the time Castiel finishes his work for the day, Dean’s mood is long gone. He even banishes Sam to the recliner and makes room on the couch for him to join them in a new game of Splatoon. Castiel is barely settled before Dean stretches out across the cushions to rest his feet in his lap. This is becoming a habit of his, it seems, and he acknowledges it with nothing more than a roll of the eyes.

Castiel rests his arms across Dean’s ankles, controller in hand, and chooses to focus on the game than that weird tingle filling his insides.


Wednesday – May 2nd, 2018

Castiel is more prepared for Sam’s birthday than he was Dean’s. While he wasn’t expecting them to actually be here for it, given that this visit was decided last minute because Dean wanted to be here for his wings, he was ready for it. After his mild panic of having Dean’s birthday announced the morning of, Castiel had insisted on knowing Sam’s birthday so he could put it in his calendar and be ready for it.

He's so ready that he’s had the present for him since early April. It was ordered online rather than having Anna shop for it, and Castiel even wrapped it. Well, he tried to. That particular effort did not go very well and he ended up bagging it like he does with most things. But it’s the thought that counts.

In this case, the thought was that Sam enjoys reading. In particular, he enjoyed the first book to a series that Castiel had on his shelves. It was an interesting premise, but he wasn’t able to get into the writing himself. Sam, however, did express an interest in reading the sequels. It’s a four-book series and Castiel got him the box set. Hopefully he’ll like it.

Even though there’s a small collection of gifts already artfully arranged, courtesy of Dean, in the middle of the dining table, they’re not actually going to be opening presents until later this evening – after dinner and cake. Dean has a whole day planned – though not all of it involves Castiel. Not for a lack of trying, though. Castiel and Dean did have a minor argument last night about how just because they’re here doesn’t mean they have to be confined to the house the whole time.

It took a lot of convincing, but Castiel eventually managed to win Dean over. While he can’t go out today doesn’t mean that they can’t. As such, Dean will be taking Sam out for lunch and a fun jaunt around town to visit their old haunts. If his situation were different, Castiel would have loved to go with them to learn a little more about the Winchester. Sadly, his wings are still molting and he still has a job to do.

On the bright side, having the Winchesters out of the house will actually give him the chance to work. And Anna will be accompanying them for as long as he can in between having to courier things back and forth across town. She’ll be Castiel’s eyes and ears and will report back to him everything that he won’t be there to witness. It’s better than nothing, certainly.

For now, he’s going to work hard to get his recordings transcribed before they get back. Then he can enjoy another quiet evening of dinner and games with his friends and celebrate Sam’s twenty-fourth birthday with the fanfare that it deserves.


Saturday – May 5th, 2018

“Cas?” Dean knocks at the door – one of the few sanctities of personal space he actually adheres to. “Are you ready yet?”

“Almost.” Castiel eyeballs the edges of his feathers in his reflection, stretching his left wing out to make sure that everything is even. “You can come in.”

Of all the sounds Dean has made when he sees Castiel either shirtless or with his wings stretched out, he has never gasped in horror as he does when he walks into the room right now. “What are you doing?!”

“Clipping my wings.” He shrugs and folds his left wing forward under his arm so he can even out the primaries. His right wing is already finished.

Dean moans like he’s dying and sits heavily on the edge of the bed, looking forlornly at the little bits and pieces of feathers scattered around Castiel’s feet. “This is a travesty. Why? Why?”

“You’re taking me grocery shopping with Anna. Did you seriously think that I was going to go to the store with my wings almost touching the floor?” Castiel rolls his eyes and continue snipping. “The molt is basically over anyways.”

“And I didn’t get a single feather.” He slumps forward to rest his elbows on his knees, very nearly pouting. “You kept picking them up before I could get any.”

Castiel glances up to look at Dean’s reflection. “I don’t know why you would want any.”

Dean shrugs and props his chin in his hands. “I dunno.” He finally looks away from the clippings to meet Castiel’s gaze in the mirror. “I just thought it would be a nice little something to remember you by while when we’re not here.”

“Because our daily texting conversations aren’t enough?” He raises an eyebrow.

“That’s different.” Dean looks away again, finding the floor between his feet to be much more interesting. “I mean, don’t you ever want anything to remind you of us?”

In answer, Castiel turns and uses the scissors to point at the bedside table not occupied by his charging cable or alarm clock. There’s a framed photo of the Winchesters, Castiel, and Anna on it – taken on Dean’s birthday back in January.

“Oh.” Dean stands up and goes to pick it up. “You – uh – When did you put this out?”

“A while ago.” He puts the scissors down and runs his fingers through his feathers to dislodge any clipped bits that are still stubbornly holding on. “It’s a reminder that I have friends now.”

The frame makes a quiet thump as Dean puts it down. He crosses the room in a few quick steps and, ignoring Castiel’s protests, moves his wing out of the way. Dean loops his arms around his waist and pulls him into a tight hug. There’s no point in fighting it and he sighs, arms coming up to rest around Dean’s shoulders.

“You’re awfully emotional today.”

“Shuddup.” His breath is hot against Castiel’s skin as he presses his face into his shoulder.

Castiel is painfully aware that he’s shirtless, and that Dean’s hands are exceptionally warm where they rest in the small of his back. He refrains from saying anything about it, because trying to get Dean to end a hug earlier than he wants to is near impossible. And it’s not like Castiel minds them. They’re actually fairly nice and –

“I thought I felt a spike in the sap content of the area.” Sam appears in the doorway with a grin. He joins the hug without hesitation. “I want in on this.”

Dean grumbles and reaches back to try and shove Sam away. “There’s no sap.”

“He’s emotional because I keep a picture of us next to my bed.”

“You do?” Sam grins over Dean’s shoulder and squeezes even harder. “That’s so sweet!”

“Dude!” Dean breaks the hug with a flail and a sharp jerk backwards. “Stop squishing me!”

That does nothing to deter Sam’s smile. “Are you banning me from group hugs? I don’t think you have the authority to do that.”

“If you’re going to keep turning me into a sandwich, then yes, I am.”

They stare each other down for a few moments before Sam shrugs. “Fine, then I’ll just hug Cas on my own.” He holds his arms out and takes a step forward.

Before Castiel can even resign himself into being a part of another hug, Dean is stepping between them. “No way, no how. Go on, Sammy, get out!” He shoves at Sam and flicks his wrists in little shooing motions. “Can’t you see that Cas is half naked and he’s busy with his wings?”

Amusement shines brightly in Sam’s eyes, even as Dean continues to herd him towards the door. “But you’re in here bothering him too.”

“I was just checking if he was ready to go!”

Castiel rolls his eyes as he gets the vacuum from where he put it in the corner. “And I’m not.”

“Well, we can see that.”

“Dean, I think we’re just delaying things longer by bothering him.”

“Fine!” Dean throws his hands in the air with a huff. “We’ll go wait in the living room!”

“But I’ve got something for you.” Castiel hums quietly and it’s almost drowned out by the roar of the vacuum as he turns it on.

Dean freezes in the doorway, still in the process of shoving Sam out into the hall. He turns slowly, eyes bright and curious. “Something for me?”

Rather than answer and shout to be heard over the vacuum, Castiel quickly finishes vacuuming up the bits and pieces of his feathers. He always cuts them small instead of in bigger chunks purely so it’s easier to clean up. It does make it a longer, more tedious process for trimming, but he’s found that he prefers that over having to bend over and pick them up by hand.

Once he turns the vacuum off, Castiel nods towards his bedside table. “Bottom drawer.” You can take your pick too, Sam. If you want any, that is.”

Sam tags after Dean, looking just as curious and excited at the prospect of a gift. Castiel pretends to busy himself with wrapping the vacuum’s cord around its pegs, but he watches them in the mirror to see their reactions.

Dean gasps loudly when he opens the drawer to find an assortment of feathers. The big ones were all cut up and thrown out, but Castiel saved the smaller ones. There’s nothing bigger than his hand, but the variety is really in the colour. Some are the normal black, but many of them are the assorted reds, greens, and purples of his downright ridiculous mating plumage.

“I thought you threw these all out.” Sam glances back at him with a small, pleased smile.

Castiel shrugs and ducks his head. “Dean made such a fuss about it that I thought I might as well save some for you to look through. You don’t have to take any if you don’t want to.” But he does like the idea of the Winchesters taking a piece of them with him. If it didn’t scare him so much, he would take Dean up on his offer to go with them.

There’s a reverent kind of awe to Dean’s voice as he carefully starts taking the feathers out of the drawer, one at a time. “I’ll take them all.”

“Don’t be greedy, Dean.” He shakes his head as he moves the vacuum next to the door, so he remembers to put it back in the front hall closet before they leave. “Let Sam pick first.”

After a long pause, Dean sighs and steps out of the way. “Fine, go ahead.”

Sam doesn’t take long to choose. He sorts through them before stepping back with a small black one. “I think this is good.” He runs it through his fingers and smile. “Bobby has a laminator. I could use that to turn this into a bookmark.”

“Fantastic.” Dean shoulders him out of the way and continues picking them up. “The rest are mine.”

“And what are you going to do with them?” Castiel steps in front of the mirror and spreads his wings again to check them out once last time.

“Not a clue, but they’re mine now.” Dean grins and turns, his hands full. His smile falls slightly when he takes note of Castiel’s wings. Thankfully, he doesn’t say anything about what a shame it is to clip them and just sighs. He’s learning. “Thanks, Cas.”

Satisfied, he folds his wings and opens the closet to start getting the rest of his outfit. “You’re welcome.”

“You gonna need a hand with your binder again?”

He doesn’t need the help, but it is certainly easier. “If you want to.” And, knowing Dean, he won’t pass up any excuse to get to touch Castiel’s wings – no matter how briefly. Though he does always take longer than Anna does with it.

Castiel never mentions it because he’s finding that he minds it less and less. Dean never touches his wings, or any part of him, without some kind of permission first. He’s very respectful that way, even if his fascination with basically anything having to do with Castiel is a little weird.

Despite the care he took with picking them up before, Dean drops the feathers on the bed without hesitation. He gets the binder off its hook on the back of the door and brings it over. Sam stays standing in the doorway, watching as Dean helps fit it over his wings and pull it into place. There is some lingering, but it’s not very obvious.

They end up waiting there for him to finish getting dressed. Anna will be meeting them at the grocery store so they can shop together and come home with them. It’s going to be a bit of a going away dinner tonight since the Winchesters are planning on leaving again tomorrow. Aunt Amara will be joining them later when she’s done work.

It was a shorter visit, but it was still nice, and Castiel hopes that they’ll be back again soon.

Chapter Text

Wednesday – May 9th, 2018

His phone vibrates slightly on the counter and the text tone interrupts the YouTube video currently playing. Castiel has watched it about three times now, but he keeps restarting it to certain places to make sure that he’s following the instructions properly. He can see that the message is from Dean, and that’s cause to pause the video.

It's safe to step away from the stove at the moment, if only because the chicken breast is fully cooked and already cut into manageable pieces, and his soft-boiled egg is cooling in the bowl of ice water, waiting for him to peel it. His noodles are cooking in the egg water and he likes them extra soft so it’s going to take a while.

Though there’s not that much work going into turning his plain pack of instant noodles into a proper ramen bowl, it had damn well better taste infinitely better if he had just thrown it all together like he normally would.

Castiel actually finds it a little amusing that Dean has texted him now, of all times. Dean always berates him about the lack of effort he puts into cooking and how unhealthy it is – despite how Sam says that they eat a lot of take-out when they’re on the road. But when he’s alone and cooking just for himself, Castiel normally has pre-cooked food that he can either throw into the oven, dump in a pot, or toss in the microwave. Nothing that requires effort.

He turns down the heat on the broth – made with chicken broth, garlic powder and ground ginger because he doesn’t have the real ingredients asked for in the video – and picks up his phone to read Dean’s message.

Did you think about it?

Think about what?
Read 2:31pm

But Castiel already knows what he’s asking. It’s been just about the only thing he’s been able to think of since Dean and Sam left the other day. His phone vibrates and beeps again a few moments later.

What I asked you…

When we left?

You mean the thing that you’ve asked or
joked about every time that you’ve left?

Read 2:34pm

… Yah.

Castiel takes a deep breath and puts his phone down again. He rests both hands on the counter and hangs his head between his shoulders, staring at the conversation. They’ve only been here three times and each of those times, in one way or another, during or afterwards, Dean has asked Castiel to go with him. This last time was no different.

Rather than jokingly saying that he should just get out of the house, this time Dean specifically said that he should come with them back to Sioux Falls in South Dakota. He expounded about how Castiel would just love Bobby and Pam, and how they would love to meet him too. Apparently they’ve both been asking about meeting him, if only because the Winchesters talk about him so much.

Dean has been very vocal in how much he wants to show Castiel his apartment, and the collection of video games he has. He wants to take him on a tour of the school, and to the gun range they have on the property. Castiel sincerely hopes he’s joking about this, but Dean has also mentioned wanting to have him run the obstacle course just for how amusing it would be.

He talked up Sioux Falls quite a bit, and then asked just before they left. Even though the request was different, Castiel turned him down as he’s always done. But Dean has no idea how tempting this request was. ‘Come to Sioux Falls’ is a lot more enticing than ‘come traveling God-knows-where with us’. A specific destination isn’t nearly as scary as the unknown. And the school isn’t likely a place where he’ll have to worry about hiding his wings.

Even if Castiel did have to hide his wings while he’s there, he wouldn’t have to try too hard to him them. He could probably get by with just his coat whenever he’s outside – if he needs it at all. From his understanding, there are actually a lot of mutants in the bounty hunting business. Class One to Class Three mutations can actually be quite helpful in hunting, so Castiel has been led to believe. His wings probably wouldn’t be that out of place at the school.

Bobby and Pamela, the owners of the school, are apparently aware that Sam is unregistered. Pam helped him learn to control his powers, and there’s no way that would have happened without Bobby knowing. Other members of the school might not be aware of it, but the way Dean talks about the other members of the school makes it sound like no one would bother to ask him if he’s registered. It would just be assumed that he was if he was to walk around with his wings out.

Of course his anxiety would be through the roof if he was ever to do that, but it doesn’t hurt to just think about it. The only reason he keeps saying ‘no’ is because he’s scared of being found out. Dean says it would be a safe space for him and Castiel is very tempted to believe him. He has been thinking about it over the last few days.

Sioux Falls and the school would probably be the safest place for him to go if he was to try traveling for the first time. Or would it be better if he went somewhere closer first? Sioux Falls is in an entirely different State and it’s so far from home. Could he go there without spending the entire trip suffering from the mother of all panic attacks?

Castiel knows he’s scared. New things terrifying him. He can vividly remember his near mental breakdown he had in the back of his aunt’s car the first time her and Anna forced him to go grocery shopping with them. Up until that point, his parents had done all the shopping and he never had to leave the house at all while they were alive.

They did everything for him and were very adamant that he never leave the property. His parents convinced him that the rest of the world was dangerous and if his wings were ever seen and he was found out to be a mutant, he would be taken away. Castiel knows now how bad that was for him, and how it certainly hasn’t helped his fears.

But he’s trying to be better.

He wants to be better.

He picks up his phone again.

Yes, I’ve been thinking about it.
Read 2:40pm

And???

I’m…

Scared…
Read 2:42pm

A moment after the ‘read’ tag appears in the app, his phone starts ringing. Castiel very nearly drops it in his surprise and he fumbles to answer it on speaker. He needs to take care of his ramen before the noodles get too mushy.

“Hello, Dean.” With speakerphone on, Castiel puts the phone next to the bowl of cold water with his soft-boiled egg inside. He turns the heat off on the stove and starts scooping the noodles out with the pronged pasta scoop.

Cas.” Dean’s voice is soft and serious, and there’s something immediately calming about it. “You know I’d never let anything happen to you.”

He closes his eyes briefly and takes a deep breath. “I know.”

Am I – Sam keeps telling me I’m being too pushy.” There’s a moment’s pause where Castiel can perfectly picture the way Dean probably stopped to lick his lips or worry his bottom lip with his teeth. “Am I pushing you too much about this?

Surprisingly, Castiel finds himself smiling as he dumps the water and puts the pot aside so he can peel the egg. “A little.” But he doesn’t mind. Pushing is what he needs, otherwise nothing is ever going to change and he’ll just keep on existing in this house.

Oh.” Dean is quiet for several seconds before continuing in a smaller voice. “You can tell me to fuck off at any time, y’know that, right?

Without taking his eyes off the egg as he peels it and cuts it in half, Castiel shakes his head with a smile because Dean just – He’s just a little cute sometimes. “I know.”

After another pause, Dean sighs loudly. “Are you going to say more than two words to me at a time?

“Maybe.” Castiel’s smile grows.

Dean barks out a small, harsh laugh. “That was just one!

He hums and spoons some of the broth into his bowl of noodles. “You can’t rush me, Dean. You can push, but I’ll only move as fast as I’m comfortable moving.”

I’m not trying to rush you.” Dean takes a whiny tone briefly before clearing his throat. “I just – You’re fun, Cas. And I – I – I miss you?

What’s so fun about him? Castiel isn’t a very interesting person, and he doesn’t have much in the way of having stories to tell. And how can Dean miss him? “You haven’t even been gone a week.”

I know.” He groans loudly. “This fucking sucks, Cas.

“You just like being here because it’s like being on vacation.”

Dean sighs again, nearly as loud as before. “Uh, no? It’s because we like hanging out with you.

Castiel rolls his eyes. He refuses to believe that Dean and Sam like coming here because of him. There’s nothing special about him in the slightest. He’s boring and he likes spending all his time watching movies, reading books, and playing video games. That’s just about all they do together when Dean and Sam are here – not including all the cooking and cleaning.

It's a fairly domestic situation whenever the Winchesters visit. For someone whose job has him on the move all the time, Dean is quite the homebody. Maybe that’s what Dean likes so much about being here? Sure, he likes the open road, but is it enough to override his desire to have a home and take care of others?

Dean breaks him out of his thoughts by clearing his throat. “What are you doing?

“Cooking.”

Holy shit.” It’s almost insulting that he sounds so surprised. “Seriously? What are you making?”

Castiel hums and stirs just a little bit of Sriracha sauce into the bowl. “I made Ramen.” And he quickly describes how he’s made it while adding the meat and egg into the broth. He didn’t have any green onions, so he’s skipping that step from the video.

Dean whistles lowly. “That sounds awesome, Cas. I’m super proud of you.

A little flare of heat in his chest warms his cheeks and Castiel ducks his head at the compliment. “It’s still just instant noodles.”

Yeah, but it’s a big step up from just nuking them in the microwave like I know you’ve been doing.” His tone turns teasing and it only exacerbates Castiel’s blush.

Rather than acknowledge that he’s just that lazy when it comes to cooking, he clears his throat and opts for a quick change of topic. “So, what did you do with my feathers?”

The laugh that rumbles through the speakerphone sends a shiver racing through him from the top of his head to the tips of his feathers. “Topic change, huh? Alright then. I put holes through the shafts of most of them and strung them up so they’re hanging above my bed.

Delight and disappointment makes for a confusing mix and Castiel pauses in the process of carrying both his phone and his noodles to the dining table so he can eat. “I thought you wanted one of my feathers so badly because you wanted something to remember me by, but you’re not keeping them with you?”

Excuse you.” Dean huffs. “I kept one of the smaller ones to keep with me.” He takes a bit of a prideful tone. “I made a necklace out of it.”

Castiel almost trips over his own feet at the way his chest clenches. “You – You’re –” He swallows and sets his bowl down on the table. “You’re wearing it?”

In my downtime, yah.” Dean hums to himself. “I figure I’ll just leave it hanging on the mirror in the Impala when I’m on a hunt, otherwise it might get damaged. I suppose I could’ve done it the Sam way and make it into a bookmark, but – meh.” The shrug is audible in his voice. “I think he’s actually using it right now. Ain’t’cha, Sammy?

A distant ‘yup’ answers him in the background, but it’s not Sam and his bookmark that has Castiel’s face growing hot. He’s honestly not sure if he’s embarrassed or pleased that Dean is apparently wearing his feather. It’s just – It’s rather intimate, isn’t it? Castiel never gave any thought to his feathers before, but now Dean is wearing one.

His wings are fluffing and shivering against his back, and that’s something they only do when he likes something. What about this does he like? No one has ever worn his feathers before. His parents used to just snatch them up and dispose of them right away. Even Aunt Amara and Anna do the same. It’s like they never even think about keeping one for themselves. Throwing them out is just automatic.

But Dean, for some God-forsaken reason, actually likes his wings. No one has ever liked them the way he does and it hasn’t yet failed at tripping Castiel up every time he realizes it. Because he absolutely hasn’t forgotten about Dean’s almost-confession the day following his birthday. It’s been months and Castiel still remembers when Dean almost said that he liked him. There might be some part of him that is happy to hear that, but mostly he’s just confused. What reason is there for someone like Dean to like him?

Cas? Buddy?” Dean’s concerned tone crackles through the phone. “You still there?”

“I –” He sinks into a chair and swallows thickly. “Yes.”

Dean is eerily intuitive at the least opportune times. “Is everything okay?

“I’m fine.”

But his voice is an octave higher than normal because Dean really does like him, doesn’t he? He’s wearing one of Castiel’s feathers, and he cooks for him, and he misses him. What in the world did he do that made Dean like him so much? It feels like he’s treated Castiel the same since the day they met and there’s no way Dean could have liked him from the very beginning, right? It’s just – It’s baffling.

And Castiel really needs to stop thinking about it or he’s going to think himself right into an anxiety attack if he doesn’t stop

I guess your food is all ready, huh?” Dean sounds strange too; cautious.

Castiel looks down at his noodles. “Yes?”

Cool. I’ll let you eat then, and we’ll talk more later.” He still doesn’t sound quite right. It’s like he’s worried but doesn’t want to press the issue. “Send me a picture of it. I want proof that you’re actually cooking edible food.

Being teased for not cooking is a sense of normalcy that Castiel is happy to fall back on. “I will, Dean.” He picks up his phone to switch to camera mode to do just that.

Great! Looking forward to it.” There’s an audible grin in his voice, even if his tone isn’t quite even yet. “I’ll see ya later, Cas.

Castiel hums a goodbye and ends the call. He snaps a quick picture of his ramen before moving it out of the way and putting his phone aside. With a wheeze, he folds over and presses his forehead into the table top. Castiel grips the edge of the table and takes a minute to gather himself before he can bring himself to send the picture to Dean.

Now actually bringing himself to eat is going to be a different matter.


Thursday – June 28th, 2018

“Hold still.”

“I am holding still.” Castiel closes his eyes and ensures that his wings are also spread. “Just spray me.”

He holds his breath as Dean coats him – feathers and all – in bug repellent. It’s annoying that he also has to get his wings done, and that he’s going to have to actually wash them later or his feathers are going to feel weird, but he’d rather deal with that than mosquito bites. Castiel does not like to be itchy.

“Okay, done!” Dean shakes the can thoroughly as he opens the door to the kitchen and shouts back into the house. “Sammy, your turn!”

Since he has no interest in being around the cloud of insect repellent that will result in spraying Sam down too, Castiel grabs the blanket draped over the deck railing and heads down the stairs. There’s a path of paving stones that leads to the garden, and another path to a small cement patio with a brick fire-pit at its center. Dean has already been outside and he’s set up three spaces for them to sit on the ground around it. The pillowed padding from a number of reclining lawn chairs has been artfully arranged around the patio – their frames still stored away in the shed.

Castiel shakes his blanket out before laying it over one of the collections of padding. He tucks the edges under and crawls onto it; settling on his belly with his arms crossed under his head. The way he positions himself is not quite facing the fire-pit and it gives him a good view of his father’s gardens. There are solar lights lining the edge of the flower beds, and it’s only by their light that he can really make out any of the flowers themselves.

It’s well and truly night time now. The sun has set and the sky is an inky black filled with the flickering pinpoints of stars. The moon hasn’t crested the trees yet, but it’s supposed to be a full moon tonight and Castiel is looking forward to seeing it in the small square of sky he can call his own.

When Dean and Sam join him, they each claim their own little island of chair pillows and covers them with their own blankets. Even though they could easily sit in proper reclining deck chairs, they both opted to sit at the same level as Castiel. He hasn’t said anything regarding it, but it does make him feel all warm and gooey on the inside over how they take into consideration the fact that he can’t sit comfortably on most chairs because of his wings.

Of course it hasn’t escaped his notice that Dean not only set up the pillows in an odd grouping, but that he also claimed the spot directly next to his. Sam takes the one set up a little further away, and moves it just enough so he can face them. He sits cross legged on his pillow-blanket island while Dean stretches out on his back and tucks his hands behind his head.

“Hit it, Sammy.”

Sam rolls his eyes and leans forward with a hand outstretched. Concentration fills his face, but Castiel watches the wood in the fire-pit instead. It starts with one spark, then two, and then all of sudden flames flare to life and fill the pit. The flames engulf the wood, building quickly into the biggest bonfire Castiel has ever had in the backyard. He’s never been good at getting a fire going, and both Anna and Aunt Amara share that trait.

Aside from the crackling of the fire and the popping of the wood, there’s nothing but the crickets in the bushes for several minutes. Dean breaks the silence with a sigh. “The stars are nice out here.”

Castiel turns on his side, facing Dean, so he can look up at the sky. The full moon is peeking over the trees, but the fire is making it hard to see the rest of the stars. It’s only from experience that he’s able to agree. “It’s one of my favourite things about living out here.”

Dean hums a long, low note, before glancing at him. “The stars are nice in Sioux Falls too, y’know. Especially when we can convince Bobby to turn off all the lights he’s got around the compound.”

They haven’t even been back a full forty-eight hours, but Castiel is honestly impressed that it’s taken this long for Dean to bring that up again. “You sure do talk a lot about how nice Sioux Falls is.” The majority of the other times has been by text message when he’s comparing wherever they are on their hunt to Sioux Falls.

“Yeah, you’re not being very subtle there, Dean.”

Without looking, Dean flips his middle finger in the general direction of where Sam is sitting. When he tucks his hand back behind his head, it’s fairly obvious that he’s trying very hard not to look in Castiel’s direction. He can’t possibly be surprised that he’s been caught out in his scheme, can he? It was so blatant that even Anna caught on after just one mention of it.

Castiel sighs and turns back onto his stomach. He rests his chin on his crossed arms and watches the shadows of the fire dance across the flowers that he planted with Aunt Amara earlier in the season. It takes him a moment to realize the lights among the flowers aren’t sparks but fireflies. Those are always a treat and he smiles.

Maybe it’s because he’s in an incredibly good mood, but Castiel doesn’t quite feel like letting this topic simply fade away. “I promised you that I would think about it, and I still am.”

In his peripherals, he can see Dean turn over onto his side to face him. “Yeah?”

“Don’t let him bully you into something that you don’t want to do, Cas.”

Dean sits up slightly, turning to glare at Sam. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“I dunno.” Sam leans his elbows on his knees and props his chin in his hands. “You’re really pushy when you want something.”

“I am not!”

Castiel hums and continues watching the fireflies. “You kind of are.”

Dean gasps and lays a hand on his chest, turning back to Castiel with a look as if he had slapped him. “Am I really?”

Without changing his position too much, Castiel holds up a hand with his index and thumb about a half-inch apart. “Just a little bit.”

A pout fills Dean’s voice and he flops onto his back again. He arms crossed over his chest as he sulks. “I’m not trying to be.”

“I know you’re not.” Castiel crosses his arms again and tucks his face into his elbow to try and hide his smile. It’s nice to have the boys back. He missed the teasing conversations like this and how easy it is to rile Dean up.

After a long pause, Dean sighs. “I’ll stop asking.”

“You don’t have to. I don’t mind.” In fact, Castiel likes knowing that Dean wants him around. It makes his feathers feel all tingly and a warm heat settles comfortably in his chest every time. He might not understand why Dean likes him so much, but it’s nice to know he’s wanted. “Talking up Sioux Falls is helping your case.”

Dean’s head pops up so suddenly that Castiel’s wings flap slightly in surprise. “It is?”

To answer, Castiel holds his hand up again. “Just a little bit.”

Sam muffles a snort of laughter behind his hand and drops backwards to stretch out across his blanket too. Castiel can’t help but wonder if he’s got his antenna on and if Sam is aware of how much he enjoys having them around.

Aside from the occasional muffled giggle from Sam’s blanket island, no one else breaks the silence for a long time. In the heat of the fire and the calming sounds of the outdoors, Castiel is actually comfortable enough to close his eyes. He could happily fall asleep like this.

But Dean shatters the quiet again with a soft question. “Did we ever tell you that Pam is also an unregistered mutant? A class five to boot.”

Now it’s Castiel’s turn to lift his head quickly and he looks at Dean sharply. “She is?” He never doubted that there would be others out there like Sam, but what are the odds that they would find another? “What are her abilities?”

“Psychic with a fun sprinkling of telepathy to make it exciting.” Dean tilts his head to flash him a grin in the firelight. “So you gotta know that they’re extra good at keeping secrets back home.”

That’s on a scarier level than Sam’s ability to actually control one of the elements. Sam and Pamela are the kinds of mutants that the government fears the most. The Facility would have them under lock and key for eternity, if not just – just erasing them entirely. It’s honestly terrifying and the fact that she’s been living in Sioux Falls and working at the school for as long as she has without being found out is – Well, it’s certainly a big point in favour of Dean’s argument in trying to get Castiel out there.

He settles back down on his stomach with a soft exhale. “Wow.”

“Yeah. I was terrified of her for years before I learned that she won’t touch another person’s mind without their permission.” Dean chuckles softly, almost wistfully. “Of course it didn’t help that I was just discovering the joys of masturbation at that point, and she is smokin’ –”

Thankfully, Sam clears his throat loudly at that point and Dean cuts himself off with a cough. “Uh, well, yeah. Y’know what I mean.”

Something curls in the pit of Castiel’s stomach at that. He doesn’t say anything to further the conversation; instead focusing on analyzing the dark ooze pooling in his belly. He’s so focused on his own thoughts that he has no idea what Dean and Sam start talking about next. Even less so when he realizes that it’s jealousy twisting up inside of him.

A frown pulls down the corners of his mouth once he’s able to find a word for the feeling. But what in the world does he have to be jealous about? The fact that Dean had an attraction to someone Castiel has never even met back when he was a teenager? That’s just – It’s just – Ridiculous. His own emotions have never made less sense to him.

“Hey, Cas?” Sam pulls him from his thoughts. “What’s your favourite constellation?”

He has absolutely no idea how they ended up on the topic of astronomy, but he’s more than happy to devote himself to that – and to join in the discussion of whether or not there’s other life out there in the universe. It's a very welcome distraction.


They’ve been outside for well over an hour and the fire has burned down twice now, having been topped up with more wood by Sam, when Dean takes notice of Castiel’s wings. “Hey, you’ve got a feather sticking out funny.” He holds out both of his hands and wiggles his fingers. “Stretch it over here and I’ll fix it for you.”

The feather was probably tweaked funny when Castiel brushed his wing against the ground trying to get comfortable a short while ago. But is there really a feather out of place, or is Dean just trying to find an excuse to touch his wings again? Castiel squints at him in the firelight, trying to see if he can tell if he’s lying just by looking at him.

By this point in the night, Dean has bunched part of his blanket up under his head into a deformed kind of pillow. He looks half asleep right now; eyes hooded and body loose. He keeps making weak grabby motions at Castiel’s wing, but he appears to be losing hope. It’s entirely within Castiel’s right to say ‘no’, because he’s still not used to people touching his wings, but – Well, he has been making a concerted effort to push his boundaries more.

Every time the Winchesters drop in for a visit, he does his best to try and be more comfortable around them. It’s been his logic that maybe the more comfortable he is with them, the more likely he is to eventually accept the offer to go with them.

With a sigh, he stretches his wing out and gently drapes it across Dean’s chest. The moment he does, Dean goes still and his eyes go wide. Any trace of sleepiness is long gone as he wheezes softly. “Really?”

Castiel closes his eyes and tucks his face into the crook of his elbow. “Do it before I change my mind.”

Dean certainly wastes no time after that. He’s overly gentle as he starts carding his fingers through the feathers. Castiel notes, absently, that there was a feather out of place. He can feel when it’s fixed. Dean hesitates after he’s finished what he’s accomplished, but when Castiel doesn’t move his wing, he slowly starts again.

It actually feels pretty good and Castiel hums as he closes his eyes. “Feels nice.”

“That’s good.” Dean has a smile in his voice as he pets through the softer, fluffier feathers on the underside of his wing. “I’ve – uh – I’ve been reading up on how birds take care of their wings, and what we can do to help ‘em.”

Castiel cracks an eye open and tilts his head enough to look at him. “Have you now?”

“Yeah, I was bored and reading random Wikipedia articles. You know how it is. One leads to another, and eventually you’re reading up on shit you’d never thought you’d be reading up on.” He shrugs and strokes a hand along the edge of his wing.

Sam snorts loudly and Castiel catches the tail end of an eye roll when he glances at him. “Sure you did.”

Dean frowns up at the stars, but otherwise ignores him. “Anyway, did you know that most birds have this kind of gland thing that makes oil, and they use it to preen their wings. It helps keep their feathers clean, shiny, and in most cases kinda helps make them waterproof. It’s pretty interesting.”

A familiar and wholly unpleasant sensation turns in Castiel’s stomach at the mention of oil glands and he swallows against the rising lump in his throat. “Yes, I know.”

“Kinda made me wonder if you had something like that?” Dean probably doesn’t mean anything by it, but it still feels like an ice cube slides down Castiel’s spine. Because he takes too long to answer, Dean props himself up on his elbows to get a better look at him. “You do, don’t you?”

Castiel tucks his face even further into the crook of his arm. He pulls his wing free from Dean’s hands and folds them both tightly against his back. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

There’s silence only for a few beats before Dean curses. “Shit. This is going to be one of those topics that we’re probably going to end up arguing about, isn’t it?” At least he keeps his voice soft. “It leads back to your hating your wings thing, doesn’t it?”

“It’s weird.” Castiel hisses, his mood quickly souring. “They’re disgusting.”

“Your wings aren’t disgusting, Cas.” The blanket rustles as Dean sits up. “They’re really pretty and super awesome. I really like them.”

That’s only because he’s not the one afflicted by them. “You would hate them too if you had to touch –” Castiel grimaces. “Those.”

“Your oil glands?” Sam cautiously enters the conversation and it is not helping matters.

Castiel hunches his shoulders. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

Dean must look like he’s going to continue on the topic, because it sounds like Sam sits up too. “Dean –”

He only gets his name out before Dean interrupts. “It’s okay, Sam.” There’s more rustling and then Castiel feels a gentle hand on his arm. “And it’s okay, Cas. I’ll let it go and I’m not gonna ask about it again. But if you ever want to talk about them, or show them, or even if you need a hand with your wings, I’ll be here.”

Why? Why? Castiel just doesn’t get it. The thought of touching his oil glands makes him sick to his stomach. He only ever touches them when he absolutely has to, and that’s when they get swollen and sore. But Dean is so – Why? Why does he like Castiel’s wings so much? Is Dean’s perceived affection for him actually just because of his wings? Sam called it a kink. Is Dean just fetishizing his wings or does he actually like him?

He certainly likes his wings enough to read up on how to properly care for them.

It just doesn’t make sense. And it doesn’t make sense at how it makes his insides go all wobbly whenever Dean praises his wings, or when he touches them, or even when he just watches them like he does when he thinks Castiel doesn’t notice.

Are his wings the reason that Dean talks to him like he’s the greatest person to ever exist? That’s yet another thing Castiel can’t comprehend. He’s nothing impressive. He’s just him.

But the touch on his arm doesn’t let up. It’s soft, warm, and strangely reassuring. Castiel readjusts how his arms are crossed just so he can brush his fingers over the back of Dean’s hand. He feels how the grip tightens briefly before Dean turns his hand over to catch his and gives it a squeeze. The contact is painfully brief before Dean is withdrawing his hand and something swoops through Castiel’s stomach because he doesn’t want that touch to go away.

Every time the Winchesters are here, Dean pushes his boundaries over and over again. For instance, when they’re on the couch together, he’s always touching Castiel in some way. Usually it’s just Dean’s feet across his lap, or his toes tucked under his thighs. Last night was the first time that Dean put his head on Castiel’s lap. There was a pillow between them, but the only reason that Castiel allowed it was because Dean was exhausted from driving all day – and had promptly fallen asleep not even a few minutes later.

Castiel won’t admit it out loud, but he kind of likes it.

But Dean is drawing away and settling back in the middle of his little blanket-pillow island. He can feel Sam’s eyes on them, waiting to see what’s going to happen next. Castiel feels like he ruined the moment and he wracks his brain for a way to fix it.

The answer is fairly obvious, even though it makes his cheeks burn.

He holds his breath and spreads his wing back out over Dean again. There are two sharp intakes of breath at the gesture, but no one speaks. Hesitant fingers brush along the edge of his wing before they start combing through his feathers with confidence. Castiel sighs softly, because it really does feel nice – much nicer than he ever thought it would be. It helps to soothe his ruffled edges.

What helps further is when Sam decides to change the conversation – or lack thereof - to The Walking Dead. He has a lot of predictions about the ninth season starting later this year. Castiel isn’t that big of a fan of the show, but Dean and Sam are avid watchers. Dean is very outspoken about his opinions regarding plot lines and character arcs – opinions that he launches into the moment Sam starts saying something he doesn’t agree with.

A heated argument that amounts to nothing more than brotherly bickering fills the night, but Castiel is more than happy to have someone else doing the talking. He needs the distraction and it’s strangely comforting to listen to.


Wednesday – July 4th, 2018

The leather seat squeaks under him, but it doesn’t stop Castiel from continuing to shift nervously. His fingers keep twitching as he unbuttons and buttons his coat up over and over again. He even has the sash done up and tied tightly to ensure that no wind – no matter how strong – will make it flap open.

Anna reaches across the seat to take one of his hands in hers. She squeezes it tightly. “It’s okay. It’s just fireworks.”

Castiel takes a deep breath through his nose and it hisses out between his teeth. “I know it’s okay.” He really does. It’s just something new and that always sends his anxiety through the roof. That said, he grips her hand as hard as he dares. Castiel takes another deep breath and looks out the window at the buildings sliding past. “How was the rest of the festival?”

“The music was good.” Dean briefly glances at him in the rear-view mirror before focusing more on where they’re going with twists and turns up one street and down the next; looking for a parking spot. “And the food was tasty. Those mini-doughnuts we brought back for you was just the tip of the iceberg.”

Maria the Mexican was a really interesting band.” Sam turns in his seat to look into the backseat. “It was like a fusion of Mexican Mariachi and rock music. I recorded some of it on my phone. Do you want to see it?”

He jerks his head in what’s supposed to be an approximation of a nod. “That would be nice.”

Sam fiddles with his phone for a few moments before passing it to Castiel. Anna leans over so she can watch the shaky video too. Dean hums along with the tune that comes across mostly as noise through the recording.

The video is actually long enough that it’s still playing by the time the Impala comes to a stop. Dean grunts as he puts the car in park. “Alrighty, friends and family. We’re going to have to hoof it from here.” He turns too, his smile soft. “You ready, Cas?”

No, he’s not, but he’s been working himself up to this all day. His anxiety kept him at home instead of going with Anna, Aunt Amara, and the Winchesters to the Fourth of July celebrations being hosted at Burcham Park. It was decided that they wouldn’t push him to go to that as long as he would go to the fireworks show in the evening.

Which brings them to here. Anna takes Castiel’s hand again once they’re all grouped on the sidewalk together. It’s not quite full dark yet, but there are still a number of people around. Most appear to be making their way towards the general area of the fireworks show. There are less people than Castiel expected, though the majority are likely already there since the show will be starting shortly.

Dean specifically planned the trip so that they would be getting here right before the show would start, thus ensuring they would be one of the last to arrive and likely go unnoticed. They won’t be going to the best spot at Burcham Park where the actual festival went down. Aunt Amara had stayed behind to stake out a spot on the Vermont Street Bridge for them. The bridge is a bit of a ways down the river from the festivities, but it should still have a good view of the fireworks.

Hopefully there aren’t a lot of other people who have the same idea. There are much better spots along the riverbank that would be better to watch from.

Regardless, Castiel still feels intensely uneasy as he allows Anna to drag him down the sidewalk; the Winchesters following close behind. He’s never gone to the Fourth of July celebrations in Lawrence before. Castiel is wearing his coat and his wings are bound, so he should be okay. This is no different than when he goes to the grocery store. There might even be less people involved, depending on where they end up on the bridge.

Castiel has reminded himself of this at least fifty times today, and twenty of those were after he was picked up less than a half hour ago. It will be okay. It will be okay. He counts every breath in, forcing himself not to freak out as they head up Vermont Street towards the bridge.

“You doing good, Cas?” Dean falls into step next to him and his fingers catch at his wrist.

“I’m fine.” He exhales a slow, shuddering breath and tries for a shaky smile. “I’m fine.”

Dean smiles back, big and proud. His hand drops as he slows to walk with Sam again, but a little flare of ‘no!’ zings through Castiel’s chest. He twists his hand to catch Dean’s and squeezes it tightly. For whatever reason, Dean brings him comfort and that’s something he needs a lot right now. He has no idea when that started to happen, but he’s certainly glad for it in this moment.

Apparently grabbing his hand is enough to cause Dean to stumble slightly. He picks up his pace almost immediately to fall into step next him. Castiel can feel him staring, but he keeps his eyes firmly locked ahead; scanning the crowd for Aunt Amara. The bridge is in sight and they should hopefully be seeing her soon.

For a moment, Castiel half thinks that Dean will pull his hand away. Instead, Dean adjusts his grip and squeezes his fingers.

He drops his voice into a whisper so soft that Castiel almost misses it. “I’ve got you.”

“I know.”

They find Aunt Amara waiting for them at the end of the bridge. There are more people crammed together on the sidewalk along the bridge than Castiel expected, but Aunt Amara has managed to stake out a claim along the railing. She has two coats draped along it and she’s shooing people away if they try and get too close to her area. When she spots their little group approaching, she waves them over.

One of the coats Castiel recognizes as belonging to his aunt. The second, he realizes, must be Sam’s – considering that he picks it up and puts it on. Sam pats the center place of their space at the railing. “You should stand here, Cas. I’ll stand behind you.”

He doesn’t vocalize the part where he would be blocking Castiel’s back from prying eyes, but it’s heard loud and clear. Castiel gives him a weak, but thankful smile and steps up to the rail. Anna takes her place at his right, while Dean stands at his left – still holding his hand. Aunt Amara is just a scant few inches taller than Anna, but she positions herself behind her, and also partially behind Castiel.

“How are you holding up, sweetheart?” She stands on her tiptoes to kiss Castiel on the cheek over his shoulder. “Everything okay?”

“Everything okay.” He nods and let’s go of Anna’s hand so he can pass his aunt her coat.

Aunt Amara hums. “Good. Let us know if it gets too much for you.” She settles back with one hand on his shoulder and the other on Anna’s.

True to his word, Sam stands mostly behind Castiel. Between him and Aunt Amara, Castiel doesn’t feel so worried about his back being on full display. But he doesn’t even really have a chance to think about it, because Dean is standing so much closer than necessary – pressing their shoulders together while excitedly checking his watch.

The first whistling crack of a firework causes Castiel to flinch and he jerks his head up to watch how the light ripples across the sky. It’s so much louder than he thought it would be, especially as the second launches and the bang echoes across the river. The last time he saw fireworks in person was before his wings grew in. It’s been decades.

A third firework launches and when it explodes it crackles across the sky in wiggling lines that end in their own pops, showering sparks down into the river. Castiel can’t help the gasp that escapes him and he leans forward to grab the railing. Another firework rockets up, and then another, coming faster now and painting the dark water and trees in a variety of colours.

Castiel is transfixed. He’s been transported away to a loud, colourful world void of anyone else except the four people standing around him.

Dean’s voice is suddenly in his ear as he presses against his side. “Enjoying yourself?”

Castiel turns his head to give him a wide smile, only to find that Dean has his phone in his hand, camera angled towards him. Dean laughs and turns it around to show the picture he’d just taken. The photo is lit by the fireworks, and Anna and Aunt Amara are caught in the background, both smiling as they watch the show with a look of wonder. The Castiel smiling back at him from the screen of Dean’s phone almost doesn’t even look like him. It’s been a long time since he’s seen himself look that happy.

Anna taps at his shoulder and Castiel turns to find her with her phone out too. She wiggles his eyebrows, as if that counts as a question. Dean must understand what she’s asking, because he lets go of Castiel’s hand to press in behind him as close as he dares. He loops one arm over his shoulder and hooks his chin over the other. Sam squeezes into the frame too and Anna nods once before taking her picture.

“No more!” Castiel calls over the boom of a particularly large firework. He shakes his head and points at the fireworks when Anna pouts. They’re here for the show, not a photo shoot.

Dean finds his hand when they’re all facing forward again. His fingers are hesitant when they slide along his palm. Castiel doesn’t really need any comforting right now, but he still allows it and closes his fingers around Dean’s. The hesitation is gone in an instant and Dean squeezes back – right before leaning into him. After a moment, Castiel shifts his weight so he can lean into him too. And then Dean drops his head to rest it against his shoulder and –

It's nice. Really nice.


The firework show is done by ten o’clock. Anna and Aunt Amara’s apartment block is less than ten minutes up West 6th Street, so they said their goodbyes and split up at the bridge after the show. It was only a half an hour, but it was perfect and Castiel is riding an adrenaline high as he walks back to the car with the Winchesters.

Dean is still holding his hand as he chats excitedly about the Fourth of July show that he and Sam went to last year. It was in Washington, D.C. and was apparently huge. Sam interjects every now and then, but his overall opinion seems to be that he liked tonight’s better.

“Remember that time I took you into that clearing way back behind Bobby’s place?” Dean glances back over his shoulder while they walk. “And we set off all those fireworks in it? We even had those hand-rockets and you jumped around like you were part monkey.”

Sam sighs, but there’s a distinct note of fondness in his voice. “Yes, I remember. I also remember that I had to put out the fire that you started because you dropped your sparkler.”

Dean ducks his head and bumps his shoulder with Castiel’s. “Don’t ever make a mistake, Cas. Sammy will never let you forget it.”

Castiel snorts and shakes his head. “To be fair, you’re the one who brought it up.”

“He speaks!” Dean perks right back up again, his smile big and bright. “I thought you were going to play at being mute until we got you back to the safety of the Impala – or, y’know, your house.”

He shrugs and gives Dean’s hand a squeeze. “I enjoyed myself.”

“That’s good.” Sam falls into step on his other side. “You seemed a little mad earlier when Dean was trying to talk you into coming.”

“I was never mad.” He shakes his head and turns a reassuring smile on Dean. “Just nervous.”

Dean bobs his head in a nod. “Well, now you know that it’s no different than going to the grocery store or the graveyard.”

Castiel hums and glances around at all the other people making their way to their cars and homes. “There’s definitely more people than the graveyard.”

“Debatable.”

He sighs and rolls his eyes. “More alive people, Sam.”

Dean snorts next to him before doubling over with giggles. Sam is doing a poor job of masking his own laughter and Castiel is very tempted to leave them both and find the Impala on his own. But that turns out not to be necessary because they’re only a few cars away from it.

Instead of taking the front seat like he usually does, Sam opens the back door. Castiel raises an eyebrow, but only gets a shrug in response to his confusion. Sam even gestures at the passenger seat, as if that’s enough to say that he should be the one to take it. This is made all the more obvious by how Dean opens the door for him.

“My, what a gentleman.” Castiel murmurs. If they want him to sit in the front seat, who is he to argue with them?

“Only for you, Cas.” Dean winks and waits to shut the door for him once he’s seated.

Sam is grinning when Castiel glances back at him, and for the life of him he has no idea why.

The drive back home is lively and full of laughter as Dean and Sam swap firework stories and shenanigans that they’ve either experienced themselves or seen elsewhere. Castiel doesn’t really have anything to contribute himself, but he’s happy just to listen.

It's a nice drive, even if his hand feels strangely cold and empty the whole ride.

Chapter Text

Saturday – July 7th, 2018

A hum reverberates against Castiel’s thigh as Dean slowly wakes himself up. Regardless, he continues running his fingers through Dean’s hair. He’s been asleep for the last few episodes of some weird mockumentary about aliens. It hasn’t been that interesting, but it’s something to watch and Sam seems to be into it.

As soon as Dean starts stirring, Sam’s attention turns from the show to the couch. He even turns the volume down a few notches so it’s not as loud. It wasn’t that loud to begin with, since they’ve been very quiet when they realized that Dean had fallen asleep.

“That feels nice.” Dean’s words are slurred into a sleepy rumble as he stretches out down the couch.

Castiel looks down to find him looking up at him through sleep-lidded eyes. Dean looks so soft and comfortable. Clearly he no longer has any reservations about being physically close – like putting his head in Castiel’s lap. He’s done it a number of times now, though this is the first time he’s fallen asleep, and the first time that Castiel petted him. For over an hour and a half, no less!

“The feeling is roughly the same as when you’re running your fingers through my feathers.” To accentuate his point, he rakes his nails across Dean’s scalp.

This elicits a full body shiver and, surprisingly, Dean’s eye’s flutter slightly. He muffles a quiet noise in the back of his throat and turns fully onto his back. “Yeah?”

“Yes.” Castiel does it again, amused by how it makes him squirm.

Dean holds up one hand and gives his fingers a lazy wiggle. “You want a wing massage as thanks? I’d be down for it. I promise I won’t even try and figure out where your oil glands are.”

Ah-hah. Castiel knew it was only a matter of time before Dean brought those up again. He can promise to high heaven that he’ll leave something alone, but that’s just not in his nature. Because this was expected, Castiel has been preparing himself for this.

Despite that, his voice still cracks slightly when he speaks. “My –They – They’re at the base of my wings. One under each joint.” Castiel keeps his eyes firmly locked on the TV so he doesn’t have to look at either of the Winchesters. “They’re roughly the size of a walnut, but they double in size and hurt a lot when they’re swollen with oil. I have to –”

He pauses and wrinkles his nose at the memories. God, he hates even just thinking about them. “I have to –” Castiel frowns and closes his eyes. He takes a deep breath, because he can tell them this. He’s been working up to it since the night they made the bonfire in the backyard. “I have to milk them every now and then.”

A moment of silence follows before Sam clears his throat. “How often do you groom your wings?”

“Never.” He shakes his head and stops petting Dean’s hair, if only so he doesn’t notice how his hand has started shaking. “At least not the way I’m probably supposed to.”

That has Dean sitting up sharply and twisting to face him. “What?”

Castiel shrugs and hunches forward. “I hate touching them, so I never –” He had a pillow tucked between his wings to make it easier to lean back against the couch, but now his wings curl forward around his shoulders. “Honestly, I’m surprised my feathers aren’t just falling out all the time for how little maintenance I give them.”

Dean makes  a pained noise and Castiel is aware that he reaches out for him in his peripherals, but he doesn’t touch. “Cas, c’mon man, you’ve gotta take better care of yourself than that.” His voice is soft, though chastising.

“I know.” And he does. He really does, but – Castiel crosses his arms over his stomach and drags his feet up onto the couch. “I want to throw up every time I touch the glands.” He glances at Dean, willing him to understand from that alone.

The Winchesters share a look before Dean turns back to him. He looks torn as he licks his bottom lip. “What –” Dean pauses and visibly swallows. “What if someone else did it?”

While that should have been expected, Castiel is still slightly thrown by the question. He narrows his eyes in a frown. “You just want to touch my wings, but you don’t get how gross it is.” He shudders and tries not to gag just thinking about it. “The oil is slick and it gets everywhere. It’s just –”

“Sounds like lube.” Dean interrupts with a bit of a slanted smile. “I’m no stranger to that shit. It’s always slick and slippery. Your oil can’t be that different.”

Castiel rolls his eyes. “Lube comes from a bottle. This comes from me, and it’s – it’s disgusting.”

“It’s okay, Cas.” This time Dean does touch, but it’s just a comforting hand cupping his elbow as he scoots a little closer on the couch. “If you don’t want anyone touching them, that’s okay. I’m not going to push you about them and you never even have to show them to me if you don’t want to.”

The worst thing about all of this is that some small, yet very vocal, part of him does want to show Dean. It’s absolutely terrifying to even think about it, but Castiel wants to be more open with him – closer with him. That vocal voice is loud and nagging in the back of his head and it’s getting harder and harder to ignore. One of these days he’s going to give in to it, and then what?

Even though he knows it will be okay, Castiel can’t bear the thought that maybe Dean will find these aspects of his body just as disgusting as he does.

God, but he needs a distraction right now. He’s going to either make himself sick or put himself right into a panic attack if they keep talking about his oil glands – or if Dean keeps looking at him like that. All soft eyes and warm smile, like everything is just fine and it’s all in Castiel’s head. It is, to an extent, but that’s all part of thinking about it and he doesn’t want to do that anymore.

Castiel takes a deep breath and looks up from where he’s been inspecting the creases in his sweatpants where they fold around his knees. “Can I –” He glances first to Sam and then to Dean. “Can I ask about something that you’ve previously gotten mad about? Without you getting mad about it?”

Dean’s expression falters slightly; his smile vaguely tilting into a frown as he raises one eyebrow. “That depends. What do you want to ask about?”

If they don’t want to talk about it right now, Castiel will completely understand. He might not think it fair, given that he just bared a piece of himself that he’s never even told Anna or Aunt Amara about, but he’ll understand.

He swallows around the lump sitting thick in his throat and looks at Sam. “I’ve been wondering – You, um, you said that you think your dad left because of you.” As soon as the words are out of his mouth, Dean goes still next to him and his hand drops from his elbow. Regardless, Castiel perseveres. “You said you think it’s your fault that your mom is – Why? You never explained why you think that.”

And it’s something that’s been bothering him for months. Castiel is nothing if not patient and he’s been sitting on this curiosity ever since Dean’s birthday. Mostly it’s because he didn’t want to have to deal with Dean yelling again. He still stings over that ‘stranger’ comment, despite it long since being water under the bridge.

When he looks again, Dean is frowning heavily at Sam, almost as if he’s daring him to say anything. Sam, however, is very pointedly no longer looking at either of them. He’s focused on the TV, despite how the episode they were watching has ended and it was apparently the last episode of the season since Netflix selection screen is the only thing showing.

The silence drags on for a long time before Sam runs a hand through his hair and slumps a little further in the recliner. “I’m – uh – I don’t think I should talk about it when Dean’s around. He gets, well –” His point is made with a simple gesture back towards the couch.

Castiel tries not to be disappointed. This is about what he expected. He sighs and hugs his knees to his chest. “I’m sorry. I was just wondering.” He rests his chin on his knees and glances at Dean. “I didn’t mean to make you upset.” Even though he knew this was how they were going to react.

Dean takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. He lets it out slowly and sinks back into the couch in a controlled kind of way. “No, it’s fine, because Sam is not the reason that mom died. Right, Sammy?”

“Right.” Sam shrugs and looks down at his hands where they’re curled in his lap. “I just – It’s a hell of a coincidence, don’t you think?”

A dark expression passes over Dean’s face and he crosses his arms tightly over his chest. “It’s not. You presented three months later.”

The puzzle pieces click so suddenly that it feels like whiplash when the full picture comes together. Castiel can’t help himself when he actually gasps and lifts his head. “Oh. Oh. Did she – Did your mom –?”

“She died in a house fire.” Sam’s voice is small, quiet. His head is bowed as he seems to shrink in on himself. “Dad got me and Dean out, but he couldn’t get to mom in time.” One shoulder twitches in the barest approximation of a shrug. “It was rough, afterwards, but he was a great dad. He worked hard to take care of us on his own for those three months until I had an – an – episode.”

Dean rubs a hand over his face and sighs loudly. “Dad couldn’t afford another house like we used to have.” He drops his head back against the couch and glares up at the ceiling. “The apartment we ended up getting was fine, but it was just a two bedroom. Sam and I had to share a room for the first time ever. It was – it was a lot of change. We lost basically everything, and our mom.”

He rocks his head to the side. Just enough to give Castiel a sad, almost defeated look. “Sammy was only eight. It was a lot for a kid to deal with and he just snapped one day.”

“I presented during a tantrum.” Sam supplies the next part of the story with a weary kind of tone. “I was upset about who-knows-what, but things started flying around the room. Shit didn’t hit the fan until those things started catching on fire.”

As if to accentuate his point, one of the candles on the coffee table starts levitating. Sam uses his telekinetic powers so rarely here that Castiel almost forgot that he had them. The candle rolls around in the air a few times before it sets down back in its holder.

“Dad whisked us off to Sioux Falls shortly after that.” With a simple blink, a flame flickers to life on the wick. “He though Pam might be able to help me get a hold of my abilities since hers are all mental based like mine.”

Dean sits forward suddenly enough to startle Castiel hard enough that he flinches. “Your abilities and what happened to mom are nothing more than a coincidence.”

Sam runs his hands through his hair again, this time more aggressively. “But what if I had a nightmare or something, Dean?” He curls forward until his elbows are on his knees. “What if I actually presented in the middle of the night and I’m the reason the house –”

“Nope. Not possible.” Dean shakes his head. “It’s been sixteen years, Sam, and you have never set something on fire while you’re sleeping. And you’ve sure as shit had nightmares in that time.”

That doesn’t stop Sam from continuing to draw in on himself. He’s such a large man and yet he looks so small right now. Castiel regrets ever asking. He should have known better, especially since he knows how depressed Sam can get when he thinks about what happened to their mother.

“I’m sorry.” Castiel’s wings curl over his shoulders as he ducks his head. He’s not about to have a panic attack, but he feels worse than before. “It was insensitive of me to ask about this. I’m sorry.”

Dean huffs loudly and rocks to his feet. “No, it’s okay. You should know. You should know so when he starts being an idiot and thinking it was his fault again, you can remind him that it wasn’t.”

Yes, that’s right. Now Castiel knows a part of their past. It may have been insensitive to ask, but at least he can now be support for Sam in the future. He didn’t know the exact cause before, but maybe knowing it now will only make it easier to help. He’ll just keep thinking that in the hopes that it might make him feel less bad about asking in the first place.

“I’m sure it was just a terrible coincidence, Sam.” Castiel tries for a smile, but it’s probably not as nice comforting as he wants it to be.

Sam’s mouth twists in a little half smile, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Yeah.”

“I’m putting this conversation to an end.” Dean  rolls his shoulders and heads for the kitchen. “I don’t know about the two of you, but I’m in the mood for some goddamn snacks.” He pauses only long enough to ruffle Sam’s hair on his way past.

Castiel lowers his feet to the floor again. “Dean, it’s almost dinner time.”

“Well fuck me, really?” He stops in the doorway to the kitchen and pulls out his phone to check the time. “Shit, how long did you guys let me sleep? Both of you had better get in here and help with cooking if you want to eat tonight.”

This is just another way for Dean to try and distract them all from their own sad thoughts, but it’s certainly appreciated.

He stands at the same time that Sam does, but stops him with a hand on his arm. So Dean doesn’t hear them, Castiel steps in and keeps his voice quiet. “I really don’t believe that it was your fault”

Sam’s small smile is a little more genuine this time. “I know.”

Castiel hesitates for a moment before drawing him into a short hug. It’s not quite the same as hugging Dean, but it’s still nice. Sam hugs him tightly and gives a solid pat to his shoulder as they pull apart.

His smile is just that little bit wider afterwards. “Thank you.”

While he still feels bad for asking in the first place, Castiel is happy to know that he can now be there for his friend when he needs him in the future.


Sunday – July 8th, 2018

Castiel jerks awake with a snort and the flap of wings. He twists upright and blinks around his dark bedroom, his brain sluggish with trying to figure out what woke him. The pale back-light of his alarm clock shows that it’s after two o’clock in the morning and he’s been solidly asleep for nearly five hours.

Before he can even try to start deciding if he should settle down and try to get back to sleep, or if he should get up and maybe use the bathroom or find out if there was something specific that woke him up – it’s all decided for him. Castiel is wide awake in a heartbeat at the sound of a muffled cry in the other room. In hindsight, the light in the hallway should have been a big hint.

He throws the blankets off and has the door open in a few short seconds. The door to the spare bedroom is wide open and he can hear small whimpering noises before he even crosses the hall. Sam is standing at the edge of the bed and he glances over his shoulder with a grim expression. He’s obscuring most of Dean, but Castiel can still tell from just being able to see his legs that he’s twisting and turning, tangling the sheets around himself.

It’s the sounds that Dean’s making that have his feet moving on autopilot. Castiel crosses the room and is reaching out before he even realizes it. Sam stops him with a hand on his wrist. “Don’t. He’s having a nightmare and he’s prone to reacting poorly.”

A particular painful whimper has Castiel’s feathers rustling uncomfortable. “But he’s –”

“He punched me in the face when I tried to wake him up from a nightmare once.” Sam rubs a hand over his jaw, as if the phantom pain still lingers.

Castiel clutches his hands to his chest to keep himself from reaching out again. “What can we do?” He can’t stand the way Dean’s face is twisted – in pain or fear, he can’t tell. Whatever it is, the nightmare must be intense and there has to be something they can do for him.

Sam shakes his head and lays a heavy hand on Castiel’s shoulder. “The best we can do is wait for him to wake up.”

And just let him suffer? That sounds like a horrible idea and Castiel shakes his head. “What if he doesn’t wake up on his own? What if he just stays stuck in the nightmare until it ends?”

“He will.” Sam offers a small, strained smile. “This isn’t the first time he’s had a nightmare and it won’t be the last.” The smile falls as he looks down at Dean again. “I hate to say it, but he usually has them whenever we get on the topic of what happened to mom. Dean saw a lot more of the fire than I did and he – I think he heard mom screaming. He’s never said anything, but –” He shrugs.

Castiel looks up sharply, a coil of guilt wrapping around his heart. “Then why didn’t you stop me from asking about it earlier? It was bad enough that I upset you and now –” And now Dean’s suffering too and it’s his fault. And what about every other time that this topic came up but they just ignored it? Has Dean had nightmares then too and Castiel just slept through all of it?

The grip Sam has on his shoulder tightens. “Cas, we wanted you to know. We just – we never really knew how to bring it up. You just took the guesswork out of it, okay?”

But still Castiel isn’t settled. He shifts on his feet and watches as Dean kicks and whines. It’s when he sees actually tears that it starts getting hard to breathe. Castiel can’t just stand here and watch his best friend be in pain like this.

He shrugs Sam’s hand off his shoulder and takes a deep breath. Before Sam can stop him, he leans over the bed and grabs Dean’s wrists. The touch doesn’t seem to wake him, but Dean kicks harder and starts to struggle. Castiel puts a knee on the edge of the bed to steady himself and he taps into the strength he so rarely uses. He forces Dean’s arms to cross over his chest and uses them to pin him down – just in case he tries to sit up suddenly.

Once his arms are secured, Castiel throws a leg over Dean’s hips and settles across his thighs. It’s not enough to fully stop him from kicking, but it helps slow him down a little bit.

“Holy shit.” Sam leans over next to him, hands hovering in the air as if he’s not sure if he should help or not. “You’ve really got him pinned?”

“I do.” Castiel nods and leans forward slightly, making sure to stay out of head-butting range. “Dean?” He keeps his voice soft and soothing. “Dean, it’s okay. You’re safe.”

Sam finally settles on what he can do and he slides a hand through Dean’s hair. “Hey, c’mon, Dean. Time to wake up.”

It takes a little bit longer before Dean jerks awake with a loud gasp; eyes wide and wild. He bucks beneath Castiel and struggles momentarily, but he’s firmly pinned and eventually sags back against the bed. Great heaving breaths rattle through him hard enough that Castiel can feel it.

“It was just a nightmare, Dean.” Sam continues to pet his hair gently. “It’s okay. Just a dream.”

Dean swallows thickly and nods, but his brow still furrows as he blinks up at them.

“I’m going to go and get you a glass of water, okay?” Sam steps back from the bed, keeping his movements slow. “I’ll be right back.”

“”Kay.” His voice is nothing more than a croak, but Dean nods again.

Castiel hasn’t moved or loosened his grip. He wants to make sure that Dean is fully awake before letting go. He’s never been punched in the face before and he’s not looking to change that tonight. “Have you calmed down? Would you like me to let go now?”

Dean continues to blink up at him. He takes a deep breath and experimentally wiggles in Castiel’s hold. “Huh.” He huffs and looks down. “I can’t move.”

“I know.” Slowly, he loosens his grip and sits back a little more. “Sam warned I might get punched in the face. I didn’t want that to happen.”

“You didn’t even break a sweat holding me down, did you?” Even in the dark of the room, Dean’s eyes are wide and full of wonder. “There something you’re not telling me, Cas?”

Castiel tilts his head to the side and has to focus to keep his feathers from fluffing. He likes that look a little too much for his own good. “Did I fail to mention that I’m stronger than I look?” There’s a smile playing on his lips, and he’s not sure when he allowed that to happen. “I’ll show you how much I can bench press in the morning.”

Dean licks his lips and swallows again, his throat clicking in the silence. “O-okay. I – Yeah.” He’s gone fairly breathless now. “Okay.”

“It’s part of my mutation. The only non-visible part of it, at least.”

“That’s – uh – That’s cool.” He bobs his head in a nod. “Anything else you wanna share with the class?”

Castiel shakes his head. “No, just my wings and the strength.” He pauses and cocks his head to the other side, eyes unfocused while he thinks about it. “Well, sometimes I think that my senses are a little sharper than the normal person, but it’s really hard to be sure of that.”

Again, Dean nods. “Cool. Cool, cool, cool, cool, cool.”

He says it so fast that he sounds more like he’s just saying the word ‘coo’ over and over again. But Castiel has binge watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine with the Winchesters before, and he catches the reference whether Dean is aware that he’s made it or not.

“Alright, Jake Peralta. Can I let you up now?”

That gets a watery smile in answer. “Yeah, sure.”

“I’m not going to get punched, am I?” Castiel raises an eyebrow even as he lets go entirely.

“I’m awake now, Cas. No punchies happen when I’m awake unless I’m on the job.” Dean uncrosses his arms with a bit of a groan and drapes them out over the edge of the bed. “Or unless you’re Sam and you just made a shitty joke.”

Sam announces his return with a loud sigh. “I heard that.” He crosses over to the bed and hands over the glass of water. “My jokes are awesome. Shut up.”

Castiel doesn’t realize that he’s essentially sitting in Dean’s lap until Dean has to scoot back to sit up against the headboard so he can drink. He quickly slips off the opposite side of the bed and stands at the edge, hoping that the room is too dark for either of them to notice the heat filling his face.

Luckily, Dean is too focused on sipping at his water to say anything, and Sam is mostly facing away from him when he sits on the other side of the bed. He’s too busy tilting his head and trying to catch Dean’s eye anyway. “You okay?”

“Yeah, guess so.” Dean shrugs but he doesn’t lift his head.

“Was it –” Sam hesitates and glances back at Castiel slightly. “Was it the fire again?”

Dean looks up just enough to fix him with a dark frown. “It’s always fire.” His free hand comes up to idly rub at the burn scars on his right arm.

The action doesn’t go unnoticed and Castiel sits down too, if only so he can put his hand on Dean’s knee and give it a comforting squeeze. He gets a small smile for it and Dean switches to holding the water with his other hand just so he can cover Castiel’s hand with his own. It doesn’t even occur to him to not do it, and he doesn’t think twice about turning his hand over to hold it.

“Thanks, guys.” Dean’s smile is a little stronger this time around.

Sam pats him on the thigh and then turns enough to look at Castiel. “You could go back to bed if you want. I can stay up with Dean. I usually do.”

While the thought of getting back to sleep is tempting, he can’t stand the idea of leaving the two of them on their own like this – especially when it’s more or less his fault for bringing up the conversation that caused the nightmare in the first place.

“Do you normally not get back to sleep after a nightmare?”

Dean shrugs and he takes another sip of water, almost draining the glass in that one go. “Sometimes? It depends on a number of things.”

Castiel frowns and looks down at the single bed in the guest room – his childhood bed, to be precise. There’s no way that Dean and Sam would fit in it. Not comfortably, at least. The couch is also not big enough for both of them to lie down together.

Because having someone to lay with him is what they’re talking about, isn’t it? Castiel is no stranger to the need of physical comfort, even though he generally takes his through hand holding. It’s grown to include hugs and what cuddling he does with Dean on the couch, but that doesn’t change how he understands.

“You can have my bed.” He stands up, decision made. “It’s big enough for the both of you, and you can sleep there. I’ll take the guest bed.”

“No way, Cas.” Dean shakes his head and sits up a little more. “I’m not kicking you out of your bed.”

He rolls his eyes and gestures at the door. “You’re not. We’re just swapping for the rest of the night.”

Sam looks between them with his head tilted slightly. “Well then, Cas…” He hums quietly to himself. “Why don’t you be the one to stay with Dean tonight? He can share your bed with you since he doesn’t want you to move out of your room for the night, and I can stay in here.” For added emphasis, he runs his hand back and forth on the sheets.

Whatever noise Dean makes, Castiel has no idea what it’s supposed to mean. It’s somewhere between surprise and unhappiness, but something else? No, but that’s a glare Dean is giving Sam now. So he’s not happy at the suggestion of sharing a room with him? Funny, that’s something Castiel thought Dean would jump for.

Truthfully, he hadn’t considered that as an option. It does trip him up now that Castiel takes a moment to think about it. Aside from Anna, no one else has shared his bed before.

With a hum, he tilts his head and looks across the hall to his empty room. “Are you a kicker?”

“Uh –?” Dean snaps his attention to him. “Not that I know of?”

“He’s not.” Sam supplies happily as he stands up. “Unless he’s having a nightmare, of course, but you saw that.”

Castiel nods, still considering the possibility. Could he share his bed with Dean? It’s not like he’s especially opposed to or anything. Dean is one of his best friends, but he certainly doesn’t fall into the same category as Sam. Not even the same category as Anna – and not just because he’s known her his whole life and she’s family. But because Dean is different.

Dean holds his hand and makes it feel like there’s lightning under his skin. They cuddle on the couch and Castiel misses that closeness when he’s not here. Dean just – he’s different, and he wants to be there for him when he’s going through a rough time.

“Okay.” Castiel shakes himself out and ruffles his feathers. “If you’re fine with me being the one to keep you company, than you’re welcome to share my bed with me, Dean.”

Maybe it’s a trick of the dark lighting in the room, or maybe it’s Castiel’s imagination, but it almost looks like Dean is blushing. His jaw is hanging open and he’s staring, goggle-eyed as if Castiel suggested dancing naked around a fire instead. It’s just sharing a bed, and if Dean freaks out about this, then it’s going to freak him out too and that’s nothing anybody wants.

Dean takes a deep breath and clears his throat. “O-o-okay.”

“Great!” Sam claps his hands together and stands up. “Maybe I might actually sleep tonight now that I’ll be in a bed.”

“You might want to change the sheets first.” Dean slides out of bed in an almost robotic way, his movements stiff and jerky. Maybe he still hasn’t come down from his nightmare yet? “I got pretty sweaty there.”

“Already on it!” Sam throws the blanket off the bed and starts pulling off the sheets. “You guys go get settled and don’t worry about me. I’ll bring the bedding from the living room and get this all put together. If we’re lucky, we’ll all be able to get some more sleep tonight.”

Castiel starts around the bed and heads for the hall. “If you need anything, let us know. Good luck and goodnight, Sam.”

“Yeah – uh – g’night.” Dean mutters under his breath as he follows him slowly out of the guest room, across the hall, and into the master bedroom.

Once Dean is out of the way, Castiel closes the door most of the way. He hesitates slightly before pushing it that final inch until it clicks into place. It feels like that one quiet click echoes in the room. Now they’re alone and Castiel is acutely aware of how Dean is standing, almost hugging himself, just a few feet away.

A few moments of silence pass. Dean stares at the bed and Castiel stares at Dean. He clears his throat and gestures towards the right side of the bed. “This is where I usually sleep.” It’s closest to the bathroom, and thus the side he’s come to sleep on over the years.

“That’s fine.” Dean rubs a hand over the back of his neck and shrugs. “I don’t have any preference when it comes to bed. I can sleep pretty much anywhere.”

And yet he still hesitates to move. It’s even darker in Castiel’s room, with no other light besides the dull glow from his alarm clock. Dean is mostly shadows moving against shadows, but Castiel can clearly see the edges of him and the tense line of his shoulders. He’s uncomfortable, and it takes far too long for why to click into place.

“Would you prefer your own blanket?” Castiel shifts on his feet, unsure if he should go get a spare one, or if he should go to his closet first. “Or would you like to borrow a shirt to sleep in?”

“Shit.” Dean looks down at himself and Castiel catches the motion as he crosses his arms that much tighter over his chest. “I didn’t think – Of course you don’t want to sleep next to this. I’ll –”

Castiel quickly steps closer to place a hand on his arm. The scars under his palm have defined edges, but they’re smooth when he rubs his thumb over them. “You misunderstand me, Dean.”

While Dean might not be able to see his smile, Castiel hopes that he can hear it. “Your scars don’t bother me. They never have.” He pulls lightly at Dean’s arm until he can coax him closer to the bed too. “I was asking for your comfort. I know you don’t like having them on display in front of myself or Sam.”

It's new – a novelty – to use his touch to give someone else comfort. Castiel isn’t accustomed to touching someone so much, but he’s quickly getting used to it the more time he spends with Dean. It’s difficult not to when Dean is a fairly physical person and takes such comfort in it. He’s worming his way in past all of Castiel’s defenses with every gentle touch.

Now it’s just Castiel’s turn.

He brings his other hand up slowly until his fingers bump the shadowed edge of Dean’s jaw. From there, he slides up until he’s cupping his cheek. Immediately, Dean turns his face into the touch; leaning into it with a soft sigh that puffs against Castiel’s wrist.

A frisson of heat flares sharply in Castiel chest and he finds himself stepping closer, his hand sliding to cup the back of Dean’s neck and guide him into a hug. Without hesitation, Dean drops his arms and wraps them around Castiel’s waist. The next breath flutters across his neck as Dean buries his face against his shoulder.

They’re standing bare chest to bare chest and Castiel has to try very hard to not think about it. He also tries not to think about how the scars make for an interesting texture – and part of him just wants to rub all against it so he can feel it everywhere. And where the heck did that thought come from?

“Sorry.” Dean’s voice is a muffled rumble from against his shoulder. “I’m a fucking mess.”

“You’re not a mess, Dean.” Castiel rubs small circles between his shoulder blades and squeezes the back of his neck gently. “I have intense social anxiety and you have nightmares. We all have something.” And it could be argued that Castiel has far more problems than Dean does.

The hold Dean has on him is tight, but it’s not enough to hide how he’s trembling slightly. Castiel wishes that there was more he could do to help him besides sharing a bed. Although he doubts that it’s going to end there. Knowing Dean, he’s probably going to want to hold hands throughout the night or something similar. That could be awkward since Castiel sleeps on his stomach and tends to tuck his arms under his pillow or chest. But – Oh!

An idea occurs to him and Castiel has to act quickly before his brain is given the chance to overthink it. He closes his eyes, and folds his wings forward to overlap around Dean’s back. It would be more effective if the feathers weren’t clipped, but it has the desired effect. Dean goes very still very quickly. He even stops breathing.

When he finally breathes again, it’s a slow, shuddering breath. “Cas?”

You like them.” Castiel shrugs and tucks his nose against the side of Dean’s neck. “I thought this might help you. Are they – Is it helping?”

“Fuck yes.” Dean hugs him tighter; nuzzles closer. “You’re the best.”

And this was only step one of his two step plan. Hopefully Dean will like step two too. “If it will help you sleep better, I’m willing to cover you with one. Would you like that?”

Dean’s head pops up so quickly that Castiel’s wings flare out in surprise. “Shut up, seriously?” It’s hard to tell in the dark, but it looks like his eyes are wide and he sounds like he’s smiling. “If I throw in a couple tears, would that be enough to get you to spoon me?”

Castiel rolls his eyes and steps out of the hug. “Well now that I know those are going to be crocodile tears… I don’t think so.” But if Dean is cracking jokes, then he must be feeling better.

“Aw, but I’m really convincing.” To add to his point, Dean even sniffles.

“Wing blanket. Take it or leave it.” He shakes his head and starts towards the bed.

Dean doesn’t even hesitate to bound over to the other side. “Taking it!” He flips back the blankets and flops heavily onto the mattress, patting the space next to him.

Castiel can’t quite see the gesture, but he certainly hears it. His pulse is thumping in his ears loud enough that he can tell when his heart skips a beat right before he crawls into the spot he abandoned so quickly earlier. As always, Castiel settles on his stomach, but this time he’s much closer to the center of the bed than normal. He takes his time with arranging the blanket comfortably across his hips. It’s too warm to sleep with it any higher.

Once Dean is lying down and snuggled under the blanket too, Castiel fans his wing out over him and lets it rest heavy across him. “There. Is that good?”

“It’s perfect.” Dean sounds delighted as he wiggles down under it and turns on his side to face him. He drops his voice into a whisper. “Thank you, Cas. For everything.”

Castiel hums and tucks his arms under the pillow. “I’m sorry for setting off your nightmares by being an inconsiderate ass.”

“S’fine.” Dean brings a hand up to lightly card through Castiel’s feathers. “It’s not like you knew. And it’s about time you knew the whole picture and not just bits and pieces.” He shrugs and fidgets with straightening a stray feather. “I’m – uh – I’m glad you know now, so you can call Sam out on his mopey sad bullshit whenever it happens again.”

A smile plays across Castiel’s lips and he turns his face to hide it in the pillow, just in case Dean might be able to see it. “I suppose I can now, hm?”

“Yeah.” Dean nods and muffles a yawn under his hand. “And yer really gonna spoil me by letting me sleep in here with you.”

“Don’t get used to it.” And Castiel isn’t sure if he’s saying that more to himself, or to Dean.

“Too late.” Dean chuckles, and there’s a distinctly sleepy lilt to it. “Already am.”

Castiel rolls his eyes before closing them. “Goodnight, Dean.”

“G’night, Cas.”


Monday – July 9th, 2018

This visit was regrettably short, and Castiel feels that like a weight on his chest as he hugs Sam goodbye next to the Impala. He watches him go around the far side of the car and get into the passenger seat. A gentle tug at his elbow reminds him that he’s still got one more hug to give, and he doesn’t mind the thought of it at all.

In comparison to Sam’s hug, Dean’s is tighter and last longer. It lingers, and Castiel can’t tell if it’s him or Dean who does the lingering.

But Dean is definitely the one who catches his hand as he’s stepping back. “You – uh – Sioux Falls is really nice this time of year, y’know?”

Castiel smiles and shakes his head. “Maybe next time.”

Clearly there’s more that Dean wants to say, but he presses his lips into a thin line and refrains. After a moment, he nods in understanding. “Yeah, okay.” He glances back at the car before squeezing Castiel’s hand. “We’ll probably be back some time in August. I’ll try and swing it.”

“That would be nice.” It’s not quite Autumn, but the weather starts turning then and Castiel is looking forward to it. “We could have more bonfires.”

Dean lights up with a bright smile. “Yeah, we totally could.” He shifts on his feet, still not having let go of Castiel’s hand. “You’ll tell Anna and Amara goodbye for us, okay?”

“Of course.”

He worries his bottom lip with his teeth for a moment. “And –”

“And you’re stalling.”

“Yeah, I know.” Dean sighs and tightens the grip on his hand. “It’s because I kinda hate leaving. It’s – It’s really nice here, Cas.”

Castiel nods and tries not to preen at the subtle compliment. “It is, but I think you just like the company.” He means it as a tease, but even he knows that it’s the truth.

Both Winchesters have made it very obvious over the past several months that the reason they keep coming back here is because of him. There’s just something about him that Dean likes, and Castiel still can’t fathom why. Whatever the case may be, he’s happy for it.

It took a little time, but he’s really come to enjoy having visitors – having friends. They’ve helped Castiel grow a lot since he first met them last November. Because of them, he went to see fireworks this year, and he’s taken to going to the grocery store more often.

It’s easier when Dean is there to chat his ear off, or when Sam comes along too and they end up arguing about what goes in the cart – making Castiel play as the tie breaker. When Anna joins them, the fun only doubles and there’s no time to even think about all the other people around them.

Dean sighs softly and runs his thumb over Castiel’s knuckles. “Yeah, I – I really do.” There’s a sincerity to his words that makes his next breath catch in his throat. “I’ll – uh – I’ll text you later, okay?”

Castiel sounds a little more strained than he’d like to. “I look forward to it.”

He’s not sure if it’s that or Dean just not wanting to go that makes him hesitate again, but there’s still a moment or two where he doesn’t let go. But then, as it has to, Dean nods and drops his hand. He gives him a cheeky grin before getting in the car, and Castiel takes several steps back to stand by the garage door and wait.

Just like every other time they’ve left, there’s a kind of cold sensation curling under Castiel’s ribs. He does his best not to let any of that show as he waves them off. They back down the drive a bit before being able to turn into the loop. Dean honks as they drive past, and once more before they disappear entirely down the road.

When he can no longer hear the rumble of the engine, Castiel heads back inside. He climbs the stairs up from the foyer and turns to step into the living room. The make-shift bed on the couch has been washed and packed away already. Same for the bedroom. There isn’t really anything but the lingering scent of aftershave to prove that they were here, but Dean promised they would be back next month.

Not every visit can be for four weeks at a time. Castiel is also well aware they tried their hardest to arrange their schedule so that they would be here specifically for the Fourth of July. They wanted to see the fireworks with him, and he’s glad that they did. He was nervous out of his mind, but it was really nice. Totally worth it.

And if stepping out of his comfort zone for that went so well – then, maybe, he can take this next month and a bit to really work his courage up. Maybe next time, when Dean asks him to go to Sioux Falls with him, maybe he’ll be able to say ‘yes’.

It will all depend entirely on how he’s feeling at that point in time, but right now – Right now he would really like to go just so he doesn’t have to say ‘goodbye’.

Chapter Text

Tuesday – July 10th, 2018

There’s something entirely too peaceful about standing in the backyard in his pajamas in the mid-morning sun, hose in hand while he holds the trigger to water the garden. Castiel closes his eyes and listens to the wind rustling through the trees; the hum of insects buzzing from flower to flower; the call of a variety of birds; the bell like tones of a wind chime hanging from the corner of the roof.

For someone who isn’t fond of going out in public, he still finds being outdoors calming – relaxing.

The summer months find him spending the majority of his time outside. If only he was able to bring his work out here too. The editing he could probably get away with, but it would be much more difficult (and annoying) to set up his transcription equipment out here. And what would be the point, anyway? As much as he enjoys the fresh air, he wouldn’t be able to experience the sounds with his headphones on and the recordings droning away in his ear.

As he moves on to the next patch of garden, Castiel’s phone both buzzes and bings quietly in the pocket of his pants. He pulls it out with one hand while continuing to arc the spray of the hose over the garden beds; giving them a good soaking.

Unsurprisingly, the message is from Dean. Castiel doesn’t get messages from Anna nearly as much as he does from Dean nowadays.

Can we talk about the other night?

What about it?
Read 10:33am

Castiel has a feeling that he knows exactly what Dean wants to talk about, but he’ll let him get to it in his own time. He expected a response to come through right away, but the little bubble that shows Dean is typing appears and disappears over and over again. Clearly he’s having some difficulty figuring out how he wants to word what he says next. Since that might take some time, Castiel puts his phone away and focuses again on the garden.

Once he’s done watering, he checks some of his more temperamental flowers. He moves some into the shade and others further into the sun. A few pots gets more fertilizer and others get more water. It’s almost a ritual and Castiel hums quietly to himself as he goes.

Strangely, he actually enjoys the sun on his feathers.

Eventually, his phone does buzz and beep again.

About sleeping in your bed?

You were respectful of my space, didn’t kick me,
and you didn’t steal my blankets.

One night and I already prefer sharing my bed
with you to sharing it with Anna.
Read 10:45am

Castiel waits again for a response, only to be subjected to the disappearing and reappearing bubbles again. It’s almost amusing to see how anxious this topic is making Dean. In contrast, Castiel is completely calm about it. He had thought that their roles would be reversed in this, but that is – surprisingly – not the case.

Maybe he should call Dean instead so they can talk about it properly? He debates that point with himself for a moment before discarding it and tucking his phone away again. Dean might need the extra time afforded to him by typing to get his thoughts in order.

With his work in the garden more or less done, Castiel puts the bag of fertilizer back in the shed. He washes his hands with the hose and dries them on his pants before turning the crank that coils the hose back up on its storage mount on the side of the house, next to the faucet.

Satisfied that he’s taken care of his father’s gardens acceptably, he heads back inside. Castiel pours his second cup of coffee of the morning and takes it with him to his bedroom. There he changes out of his pajama pants and into sweatpants and a t-shirt. He brushes his teeth, washes his face, and makes an attempt to brush his hair into place. It tends to do what it wants when he doesn’t use some kind of product to tame it.

By the time he settles down into his chair in the office and turns his computer on, there is only one message waiting for him on his phone.

That’s good…

Castiel raises an eyebrow and props his chin on his fist. He taps his thumb against the side of his phone, wondering if he’s going to get another message or if this is it? Dean is certainly being very weird about sharing his bed with him – more so than Castiel originally thought he would be.

He taps out of his conversation with Dean and opens the one that he has with Sam.

Something up?
Read 11:05am

Oh most definitely.

Sam’s quick response is followed by a thirty second video of Dean pacing back and forth in what looks to be a hotel room. He’s staring at his phone and muttering quietly to himself, though the video doesn’t pick up anything that’s being said.

It’s kind of cute how you get him so worked up
without even doing anything.

 A blush fills Castiel’s face. He sighs and shakes his head.

What is he trying to tell me?
Read 11:07am

It takes a few minutes to get an answer again, and once again it comes in the form of a video.

Hey, Dean.” Sam’s voice is clearly off camera, with the focus of the video being on Dean. “Do you want me to tell him for you?”

Dean turns around sharply and the video immediately zooms in on a dark frown. “No!” And, with that, he stomps into the bathroom and slams the door behind him.

The video flickers as Sam switches cameras to face himself. “You heard him.” He shrugs, grins, and the video ends there.

Castiel muffles a laugh behind one hand as he starts typing an answer.

XD
Well, in his own time then.

Read 11:11am

He’ll get around to it.

Eventually. :P

Would it make it easier on Dean if Castiel told him that he already knows what he wants to talk about? Probably, but it’s fun to have something to tease him about, so he’ll keep to himself for now. Though Dean would probably love knowing that Castiel’s pulse picks up if he allows his thoughts to drift in that direction. He won’t mention it now, and he’ll deal with it when – if – Dean ever gets the courage to ask him about the possibility of sharing his bed during every visit.

Until then, Castiel isn’t going to think about it.

Definitely not.

He absolutely won’t think about how nice it had been to wake up the next morning and still have Dean curled under his wing looking so loose and comfortable in his bed. It appealed to something deep inside him that Castiel hadn’t ever felt before.

And he definitely won’t think about falling back to sleep with the soft sounds of Dean’s breathing, purely because he didn’t want to disturb him. Only to be woken later when the bed shifted as Dean got up. But then there had been gentle fingers soothing carefully through his hair and down into his feathers; a sleep-rough whisper telling him he didn’t need to get up until breakfast was ready.

It was so nice to be tucked back into bed and listen to the quiet footsteps as Dean let himself out of the room. And the morning felt so soft and peaceful with the three of them sitting in the sunlit dining room, bellies full of breakfast and coffees in hand. Both Winchesters looking well rested for such a rough night.

It was – Well, it was certainly something Castiel wouldn’t mind doing again. But he doesn’t need to tell Dean about that just yet.


Sunday – July 29th, 2018

Castiel puts the controller down and turns to Anna. The faux-leather of the uncomfortable couch in her living room squeaks under him. “I need you to slap me.”

Without question, Anna puts her controller down too and draws her hand back, ready to do as asked. But she pauses right before swinging. “Wait. Why am I slapping you?”

“Don’t slap your cousin.” Aunt Amara sighs from where she’s sitting at the tiny round table in the little alcove they call the dining room.

“But he just told me too!” Anna turns to look over the back of the couch at her.

“And I’m telling you not to.” She doesn’t even look up from the puzzle book she has open before her.

Castiel shakes his head and gestures for Anna to pay attention to him. “No, I mean it. Please slap me.”

Aunt Amara sighs and pushes back from the table. It only takes a few steps to come up behind the table. Their living room and dining room are really not that big – and the kitchen isn’t much better either. But that’s the best they could get with Anna being a registered mutant.

She cocks her hip and crosses her arms. “Okay. What in the world is going on here?”

“I want Anna to slap me.” And slap him she does. This time there’s no hesitation and Anna hits him hard enough that tears come to his eyes and his ears ring a little. Castiel shakes his head and covers his cheek with his hand. “Thank you.”

Aunt Amara rolls her eyes and puts her hands on her hips. “Alright. Explain what that was all about.”

“I need it to psyche me up.” Thought now he’s starting to think that it wasn’t such a good idea. His face really hurts.

Anna gasps and grabs Castiel by his shoulders, even shaking him slightly. “You’re going to say ‘yes’, aren’t you?!”

Her enthusiasm is a little terrifying and Castiel tries not to recoil from it. “Maybe?”

That’s apparently enough of an answer for Aunt Amara. She looks between them before circling around the couch and sitting on the ottoman they use as their coffee table. “Are you sure about this, sweetheart? South Dakota is a long way from home.”

Sioux Falls, South Dakota is exactly three hundred and eighty-five point eight miles from home. That might as well be lightyears to Castiel, but this is still something that he wants to do. “Dean would bring me right back the moment I ask him to.”

She puts a hand on his knee; a comforting weight. “I know he would, but –”

Castiel shakes his head. “I want to go.” He takes a deep breath and covers her hand with his. “It terrifies me, but I want to go see their home, and the school that trained them, and meet the people that took care of them when their dad stopped coming home.” And he doesn’t want to have to say ‘goodbye’.

Aunt Amara shares a brief look with Anna before leaning forward. “Do you want one of us to go with you? I’ve got banked time off, and I’m sure they’ll let Anna take a vacation if she threatens to quit.”

“Yeah, right.” Anna rolls her eyes.

“Isn’t it illegal not to give you vacation when you work full time?” Castiel frowns at that. He really should look more into the laws regarding mutant rights.

Anna shakes her head and flops back against the couch. “Not when it comes to mutants.” When Castiel’s frown deepens, she reaches out and hushes him with a finger to his lips. “It’s fine. I could just quit and get a different job if you need me to come with you.”

There’s no way Castiel could ever be that selfish, especially when he knows how hard it was for her to find one in the first place. Even the fast food industry turns up their noses at mutants. “No. You need your job.” He shakes his head and takes a deep breath. “I can do this on my own. I can do this.” And if he just keeps telling himself that, it might actually become true.

Aunt Amara lets go of his knee to take one of his hands in hers and squeezes it. “When are they coming back again?”

“In a few weeks?” He shrugs. The timeline is never really set. Dean mentioned sometime in August and that’s really all Castiel knows on that matter.

“And you’re sure you want to go with them when they leave again?”

He’s sure that he wants to try and that should be enough, shouldn’t it? He shrugs again and looks down at his lap. “If I don’t manage to talk myself out of it by then.”

Anna rubs her hands together, a little more gleefully than necessary. “I’ll slap you as many times as you need. All you need to do is ask!”

Aunt Amara turns a disapproving frown on her. “No you will not.”

“But mom –” Anna cuts off with one look from her mom.

There’s a long moment of silence where both Castiel and his aunt wait to see if Anna will try and whine again. When it doesn’t come, Aunt Amara turns to him and pats his hand. “I’ll support whatever decision you make.” She reaches up to pinch his cheek. “And I’ll hunt those boys down and gut them if they’ve somehow been playing the long-con with you.”

She sits back again with a smile. “I’ll drive out and get you myself if you need me to. All it will take is one text or phone call and I’ll be there as quick as I can.”

Anna nods, suddenly serious too. “Ditto.”

Oh geeze. Castiel ducks his head, but he does scoot forward on the couch enough that he can pull his firecracker of an aunt into a hug. He loves her a lot – Anna too, even if his cheek is still smarting.

The ottoman is slightly higher than the couch, since it doesn’t match the set, and Aunt Amara is sitting higher than him. She tucks his head under her chin and runs her fingers through the curls at the nape of his neck. “Love you kiddo.”

After a moment, she kisses the top of his head and clears her throat. She stands up, breaking the hug. “Okay. I’m going back to my puzzles. You kids had better play nice.”

“We always play nice, Mom!” Anna huffs, but turns to Castiel with a grin. She squeezes his knee and points at the TV where Super Smash Bros is pending their next game. “Ready for round two?”

Castiel picks up his controller and wiggles it at her. “As long as you’re ready to get beaten again.”

They share a grin and she presses Start.


Saturday – August 11th, 2018

The rumble of the Impala’s engine is all the notice Castiel needs for the arrival of the Winchesters. Of course he had the notice sent by text message when they were leaving Lawrence. It’s become a habit for them to go to Walmart first  for supplies.

Despite that, Dean still knocks on the door before walking in. “Cas, babe, I’m ho-o-o-o-ome!”

Castiel is already waiting at the top of the stairs and he crosses his arms. “You’re definitely not home if you ever call me that again.”

Dean grins up at him from the foyer landing, his standard duffle hanging from his shoulder. “Shh. Don’t try to tell me that you don’t love pet names.”

“’Cas’ is a pet name.” He rolls his eyes and leans his hip against the wall. “And I’m fine with that one.”

“What about Angel?” Dean drops his bag and nudges it out of the way of the stairs with his foot. “That one would suit you to a tee.”

Except that it’s what Dean first called Anna when he met her and all it causes for Castiel is a sick burn in his chest that he doesn’t like. He narrows his eyes in a glare and his feathers raise enough to get his point across.

“I’m kidding. Kidding.” Dean holds up both hands before spreading his arms wide. “Truce?”

Castiel huffs and maintains his glare the whole way down the short flight of stairs. He falls into the hug a little harder than necessary, if only as retribution for the dumb nickname. If Dean is going to call him anything, he’d rather it be Cas or – or something sweet. Not something he’s called Anna. Babe is the name of a pig, or reference to a child and Castiel is neither of those.

Dean loops his arms around Castiel’s shoulders and subtly nuzzles the side of his neck. “There, there, Cas.” He pats him gently on the back of neck. “There, there.”

It’s patronizing and Castiel grumbles his distaste into Dean’s shoulder, his arms loose around his waist because it would be rude not to return to the hug. It’s certainly not because he’s come to crave Dean’s hugs and he wants to savour it for a little while – even if his ire has been piqued.

When they pull apart, Dean takes a moment to press their cheeks together briefly. It’s not even a hint at a kiss, but it still sends electricity sparking under Castiel’s skin to the tips of his feathers. He can feel them puffing up again and his ears feel warmer than they were a moment ago.

Thankfully, he’s able to hide the reaction by Sam’s appearance in the doorway. He coughs and ducks around Dean so he can hug him too. “Welcome back.”

“It’s good to be back.” Sam claps him on the shoulder once they step out of the hug – much shorter than the ones Dean gives. His grin is wide and teasing as he squeezes Castiel’s shoulder. “It’s especially good because I get the bed this time!”

In the tight quarters of the foyer, Dean still tries to swing a kick in Sam’s direction. He drops his bag into Castiel’s hands and dances out of the way with a laugh. Sam sticks his tongue out before disappearing outside again to go get the rest of the bags from the car.

When Castiel glances at Dean again, eyebrow raised, Dean just hunches his shoulders and shakes his head. “It’s nothing, Cas.” He pushes past him to follow after Sam.

Should he believe Dean at face value? Or should Castiel trust in his instincts in that there’s more going on here than they’re letting on? His suspicions are certainly raised, and he has a sneaking feeling that it has something to do with the conversation from a month ago that they never settled between them. Dean never brought it up again and Castiel didn’t bother either.

With a sigh, he picks up Dean’s bag too and carries them both up the stairs. Dean’s he leaves at the end of the couch, and Sam’s he takes to the guest bedroom. By then, they’ve brought some of the shopping bags in from the car and he goes to help bring them up to the kitchen while the Winchesters take their shoes off in the foyer.

It doesn’t escape Castiel’s notice that Dean frowns slightly when he sees that the couch is already set up with the sheet; blanket and pillow folded and waiting on the other chair. But no one says anything about it and Dean heads into the kitchen to help put everything away. Sam disappears down the hall towards the bedroom, presumably to start unpacking the dirty laundry as is his habit.

The silence is too weighty for Castiel’s liking and he clears his throat Dean starts emptying the bags onto the counter. “So, how was your hunt on the way here?”

Dean shrugs and sorts out the items that need to go into the fridge. “Fine.”

Even if Castiel didn’t know better, he’d be unnerved by such a short answer. But he’s well aware that the hunt was not fine and it annoys him that Dean’s trying to lie to him about it. Especially when he can see the edge of a strip of medical tape peeking out from beneath the collars of his shirts.

He crosses the kitchen in a few quick steps and pulls the back of Dean’s collars out, just enough to see down his back at the rest of the bandage.  “Fine, hm?”

Dean spins around and backs up against the counter. His cheeky grin is a little too cheeky. “Yup! Totally fine. Nothing to worry about here.”

Sam didn’t seem to think you were fine.” Castiel crosses his arms and squares his shoulders, fully ready to argue about how annoyed he is that Dean didn’t message him himself about what had happened. Was he planning to hide this from him the whole time?

“Goddammit, Sam!” Dean rubs his hands over his face. An innocent whistling drifts up the hall in response and Dean sighs. “Seriously, Cas, it was nothing.”

“A trip to the hospital is not nothing, Dean!”

Castiel still feels shaky just thinking about when he got the text messages from Sam the other night. He had just been settling down with a movie after dinner when they had come in.

Finished the hunt.

At the hospital right now.

The sudden spike to his nerves had very nearly caused Castiel to lose his supper then and there. He had been frozen in place, unable to do anything but stare at his phone while feeling like he was about to lose his supper.

But then a few more messages had popped in almost right away.

It’s just a precaution.

We’re fine, but the wait time here is going to slow us down.

We’ll be there Saturday morning instead of Friday night.

The relief had been instantaneous and Castiel had been able to react appropriately after that. He got the rest of the information from Sam, but had been strictly instructed not to text Dean about it. Apparently he had been very insistent that Sam not say anything to Castiel – which had been promptly ignored. Thank you, Sam.

Dean groans and drops his head back. “Oh my God, you big worry warts! It was just a couple scratches that I got from falling off a fence while we were chasing the perp.” He crosses his arms and frowns off to the side, refusing to look at Castiel. “My healing takes on infections and viruses like a fucking champ, but Sam’s a whiny bitch and insisted that we go to the hospital to get a tetanus shot. I didn’t even need stitches or anything.”

But Castiel refuses to back down about this. Dean is his friend and he wants to know when he’s hurt. Even if there’s very little he could do for him here, the least he wants to do is be kept abreast of the situation. Their job is a dangerous one and he hates that something horrible could happen to them and he might never know if they don’t tell him.

Worse yet is that he knows there’s more that Dean isn’t telling him. He knew that he’d fallen off a fence, and that he’d gotten scratched up by some rusty metal in the junkyard they were chasing the perp through. Castiel knows because Sam said that he would have Dean tell him the rest. And yet here they are with Dean not wanting to tell him anything.

So, Castiel holds his ground. He narrows his eyes and glares Dean down, waiting. After a moment, Dean lifts his head to glare right back, mimicking his stance. But what he doesn’t seem to grasp is that Castiel is patient. He can play this game for as long as needed.

Sure enough, it’s not long before Dean shows signs of weakness. A muscle in his jaw twitches and his bottom lip juts out slightly. All it takes is for Castiel to raise one eyebrow in challenge before Dean caves.

“Okay, fine.” He sags heavily against the counter with a defeated sigh. “I fell on a bunch of rusty nails and shit. Most of it healed up while we were chasing the fucker down, and there might have been the chance that some of the nails were… healed over.”

Castiel cringes at the mental image. “You had to go to the hospital to get them removed.”

“And a tetanus shot!” Sam supplies helpfully as he walks past with the hamper, likely intent on going through Dean’s bag to get his dirty laundry too.

“Yes, thank you, Sammy.” Dean grumbles, hanging his head briefly before looking back at Castiel. “There, that’s the whole story. The joys of chasing idiots through junk yards.” He ends off with wiggling his hands in front of him. “Ta da.”

But that still leaves him unsettled. He just doesn’t like hearing that Dean got hurt, even though he knows that it’s a large risk of his job. There’s nothing he can do about it, but still. Castiel frowns and reaches out and stops, not really sure why or what he’s going to do.

Dean catches his hand and squeezes, giving him a soft, warm smile. “I’m okay, Cas. Really.”

A protective flame flares to life in Castiel’s chest and he grips Dean’s hand tight, jerking him forward into a hug. He wraps his arms tightly around his waist, carefully avoiding putting any pressure on his upper back where it might still be a little sore. Dean’s healing should have taken care of it all by now, but he still doesn’t want to be the cause of more pain.

Because he knows that Dean enjoys it, Castiel also folds his wings forward and around him. The moment he does it, he can feel Dean shiver against him and press in a little tighter. His nose is tucked into the curve of Castiel’s neck and the ghost of a sigh passes over his collarbone, eliciting goosebumps from toe to crown.

“Thanks for worrying about me.” Dean mumbles it right into his skin, barely loud enough to be heard.

Castiel holds on tighter, his heart in his throat. Before Sam’s other texts had come in, when he was frozen and unable to text back, he had been one hundred percent prepared to call up his aunt and beg her to pick him up and take him to wherever they were. It was hours away, but he didn’t even think about that. All he cared about was getting to where they were so he could be with Dean.

But then Sam’s other messages came through and Castiel had very nearly cried in relief.

When they pull apart after several long moments, this time he’s the one who presses his cheek against Dean’s. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

The big bright smile Dean gives him in return is enough to make Castiel feel instantly better.


Sunday – August 12, 2018

Castiel fidgets with the cords of his pajama pants, tying and untying them over and over while he stares at the clock. It’s just past midnight now, but he’s too nervous to try and go to sleep.

Anna and Aunt Amara had come over for dinner, and stayed around afterwards playing video games. Dean had downloaded a bundle of games to the PlayStation called Jackbox TV. They connected to it through a website on their phones and a room code. It was a hilarious amount of fun and they played all the games a few times before Anna and Aunt Amara left.

That should have been the end of the night, but then Dean had insisted on watching a movie. Not just any movie, though. He wanted to watch some scary movies. Castiel might be an anxious mess when it comes to going out in public, but he doesn’t scare easily. They watched the first two Saw movies, and he didn’t even flinch during the jump scares. Dean, however, was holding his hand tightly the entire time.

Sam had retired to bed at some point during the second movie, claiming that he was fairly tired. The had driven for half the morning, so Castiel didn’t fault him for that.

After the movies, Dean had gone to take a shower. They had bid each other goodnight and Castiel went through his nightly routine, changed clothes, and has been sitting on the edge of the bed ever since. The sound of Dean’s shower ended just a few minutes ago, and Castiel lifts his head to look at his door when he hears the bathroom door open. Dean’s footsteps head off down the hall, and then there’s nothing.

Castiel can feel the weight of the empty space on the other side of his bed a little too keenly. Dean hasn’t brought it up again since the text conversation after their last visit, but he’s not very subtle with how he feels about sleeping on the couch again.

He rubs his hands up and down his thighs a few times before standing up. His feet take him to the door before he hesitates, hand on the doorknob. Should he do this? Part of him wants to, but the other part is worried that it’s going to change something about their friendship – and he’s not entirely sure what that change might be.

But then he remembers the bandage on Dean’s back and the text messages, and he can’t bear the idea of not being close to him tonight. Castiel opens the door before he can talk himself out of it, and quietly pads out into the hall.

When he reaches the living room, it’s to find Dean sitting on the couch in his boxers with his right foot propped up on the coffee table. There’s five different bottles of lotions and moisturizers sitting out on the table and Dean is in the middle of spreading a liberal amount of lotion over the myriad of scars down his leg. His right leg appears to be mostly burn scars, but there are a number of long cuts and deep scratches littering his left.

Dean stops when he notices that he’s not alone. “Uh – hey?” He glances up at Castiel before reaching for another bottle.

“Hello.” Is all Castiel can manage around the lump in his throat.

“If you have coin, Khajit has wares.” Dean waves his hand at the bottles on the table. “Help yourself to a pump or two if you want.”

He shakes his head and shifts his weight from one foot to the other. “I’m fine.”

“Suit yourself.” Dean shrugs and pumps another bit into his hands. “I’m gonna do my thighs now. Just an FYI if you’re going to keep watching me.” Dean flashes him a grin and a quick wiggle of his eyebrows as his free hand starts pulling the leg of his boxer up higher.

Castiel rolls his eyes and turns around. He continues fidgeting with the ties of his pants until Dean hums softly. “You’re safe.” When he turns around again, Dean is starting on his arms. “So, what can I help you with, Cas?”

“I –” He stops and tilts his head, suddenly distracted by the deep scar running over Dean’s left shoulder. “How do you do your back?”

“Not easily.” Dean sighs and switches to his other arm. “If Sam doesn’t help, then I do have a sponge on a stick thing that I use. But it’s not as good as having someone rub it in.” He pauses and looks up at Castiel with wide eyes and a wider grin. “Why? You offering?”

Something about that look sets his feathers on edge and Castiel can feel them fluffing up behind him. He crosses his arms. “It depends on whether or not you’re going to keep smiling like that.”

Dean’s response to that is laughter. He picks up one of the bottles and passes it to him before turning away, scooting further down the couch to make room. Castiel looks first at the bottle and then at Dean’s back. He hesitates just for a moment before sighing and folding a leg under him to sit behind Dean. In for a penny, in for a pound and all that nonsense.

Castiel squeezes a lot of lotion into his palm and sets the bottle aside. He rubs his hands together before starting with Dean’s shoulders. Almost immediately he’s fascinating with the soft texture of them. Clearly Dean takes good care of them to keep them from being stiff and uncomfortable.

The injuries he took from falling at the junkyard amount to nothing more than a handful of red pin-pricks freckled across his upper back and the nape of his neck. Castiel brushes his thumb over those. They’ll probably fade entirely by the morning, and he’s relieved to see that they’re not as bad as it originally sounded.

He smoothes the lotion down Dean’s back to his waist, even running it up along sides. Castiel continues until Dean turns around. To his surprise, there’s a flush in Dean’s cheeks that runs down his throat and into his chest.

Dean clears his throat with a cough and ducks his head. “Thanks, Cas.”

Castiel hums in response and stands up. It still feels like he has lotion on his hands and he rubs the excess on his own arms before wiping his hands clean on his pants. And then he’s just standing there, looking at Dean looking at him.

“So, uh.” Dean starts packing up his lotions. “Is this what you came out here for?”

“No.” He shakes his head and shifts his weight again, suddenly more nervous than he had been when he came out of his bedroom. “I –”

But the words get stuck in his throat and he crosses his arms, looking away. His wings start curving over his shoulders, as if he can somehow protect himself from having to ask the embarrassing question. How can he word it so that it doesn’t come off as so – so – so weird?

“Aw!” Dean breaks into another wide grin as he tucks his bag of lotions back under the coffee table. “Did those scary movies freak you out, Cas?” He reclines back on the couch in a languid motion and spreads his arms across the back of it. “Now you’re too afraid to sleep alone tonight?”

Castiel hunches his shoulders with a frown. That is most certainly not the case, but – but it makes an excellent excuse. If he goes with that reasoning, then he won’t have to admit or explain that he liked sharing his bed with Dean, or that he wants to him to be the first thing that he sees in the morning again. He won’t have to put that desire or the light, airy feeling in his chest into words.

With that decided, Castiel looks away and nods.

After a beat of silence, Dean sits forward. “Seriously?”

“If you’re going to tease me about it, then forget it.” Castiel turns on his heel, intent on starting back down the hall to his bedroom.

“No!” Dean is on his feet in a heartbeat. “I won’t tease!”

Castiel ducks his head and starts walking. The light in the living room flicks off behind him and then Dean is stumbling after him, following all the way to the bedroom. He doesn’t wait for him at the door and goes straight to his side of the bed. Dean shuts the door behind himself and crosses the room to the other side. They both get in at the same time and Castiel turns off the light on his side table.

“Your bed is too comfortable for its own good.” Dean groans quietly as he snuggles down under the blanket, making himself at home.

Rather than settle on his stomach like he normally does, Castiel turns on his side, facing Dean. “Mm.”

“G’night, Cas.”

“Goodnight, Dean.”

It might just be his imagination, but he sounds a little breathless to his own ears. Though it’s hard to tell considering how hard his heartbeat is pounding in them. Castiel closes his eyes and tries to keep his breathing steady, if only to not give away his nerves. He listens to the soft sounds of Dean’s breathing evening out slowly until he sounds like he’s well and truly asleep. Though he’ll never admit it out loud, Castiel likes listening to that more than he cares to admit.

He turns his face into the pillow, just in case the dark in his bedroom isn’t enough to hide his smile.

The scary movies were a good excuse tonight, but what could he possibly use for tomorrow night? Or, maybe it would be best that he doesn’t make this a nightly thing. He shouldn’t spoil Dean every night like this. Otherwise he might get ideas and Castiel doesn’t want to lead him on or anything like that. Because Dean is in to him, isn’t he? Anna has more or less blatantly said so more than once, which is why she hasn’t tried to pursue anything with him again, but Castiel has always just brushed it off.

And Castiel – Well, Castiel isn’t interested in Dean.

Is he?

He has long since discovered that he doesn’t care about gender. At this point, Castiel is fairly sure that he’s probably pansexual, although he’s not sure if he could sleep with just anyone. Which means he might be more demi-sexual, in some way. It’s not like he’s had the opportunity to really figure that out in practice. Hell, he’s never kissed anyone, let alone slept with one.

Castiel has never been a very sexual person. He can’t even remember the last time he was aroused and jerked off. But he knows that he’s done it in the past and gotten off to thoughts of both men and women, which is why he doesn’t think gender would be a problem. But that might not be the same in practice.  What happens if he gives in to Dean’s affections and ends up not liking guys?

Dean seems like he’s the exact opposite of Castiel in his more carnal appetites. He’s very touchy-feely, and the jokes made about Busty Asian Beauties or his previous romances make it kind of obvious. Castiel is aware that Dean has tried to rein it all in when he’s here, especially given how annoyed he gets when Sam alludes to it.

Goddammit. Isn’t this just wonderful? What a perfect train of thought to have while Dean is in his bed. Castiel just knows that this is going to keep him up for a while.

With a sigh, he shuffles onto his stomach and buries his face into the pillow. Maybe, if he tries hard enough, he can force the thoughts out of his head and he’ll actually be able to get some damn sleep.

But then fingertips brush his arm and Castiel nearly has a heart attack. He jerks up onto his elbows and glances at the dark lump of shadows that make up where Dean is sleeping.

“Wing?” The question is little more than a sleepy slur.

Castiel snorts and lowers himself back onto his belly. He spreads his wing out again and is rewarded with a happy sigh.

Dean snuggles further under his wing, shuffling closer so he’s better under it. His hand comes out to brush his fingers through his feathers a few time, petting it gently. “Wing.”

“Go back to sleep, Dean.”

He gets a drawn out hum in response that ends in something like a soft snore. Castiel shakes his head and nuzzles back into his pillow. Dean’s fingers are still curled around the edge of his wing, holding on as if it were a security blanket.

It’s enough to quiet all of his thoughts. Just enough for Castiel to decide that, yeah, maybe he wouldn’t mind giving it a shot.


Thursday – August 16th, 2018

The hairs on the back of his neck prickle and Castiel is suddenly hit with the feeling like he’s being watched. He has a sneaking suspicion that he knows exactly who is watching him, but he ignores it in favour of listening to his current recording. He rewinds it a couple times, types out what he hears, and keeps going until he finds a good place to pause.

When he takes his foot off the pedal and turns around, it’s to find Dean standing in the doorway with his hands on his hips and a ridiculous grin on his face. He looks entirely too pleased with himself, and Castiel is wary of it as he takes his headphones off. “Hello, Dean.”

“Hey, Cas!” He puffs up, clearly delighted with whatever it was he did.

Considering that the Winchesters had gone to town to visit their mom and get some groceries, it can only mean one thing. Castiel sighs and rocks back in his chair. “What did you buy?” It must be something good if that ridiculous grin is anything to go by.

“Besides fresh baked pie?” Dean shrugs and shoves his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “Oh, y’know, I just got something fun for us to do later. I’ve already invited Anna over for dinner. We’re gonna fire up that barbeque and have hamburgers and baked potatoes.”

“Sounds lovely.” Castiel raises an eyebrow. “And what about Auntie?”

Dean shrugs and leans his shoulder against the doorframe. “She said she was busy and didn’t want us making her feel old.”

He rolls his eyes and puts his headphones back on. “Well, I look forward to seeing the surprise later.”

The disappointment in Dean’s voice is palpable. “You don’t want to see it right now?”

“I’m working, Dean.” Castiel sighs and gestures back at the transcription he was working on. “Unless it’s for a meal or a bathroom break, I would prefer not being interrupted.”

Dean ducks his head. “Fine, fine. I’ll see you later.” He waves and disappears down the hall.

Castiel only manages to turn around and get himself situated again before Dean is back. He leans into view so suddenly that he jerks away in surprise. Dean grins and places a plate, fork, and napkin down next to him. On the plate is a generous slice of apple pie, topped with a hearty dollop of whipped cream. Dean drops a quick kiss to the top of Castiel’s head and is out of the room again before he can even turn around or find his voice to say anything.

Despite the heat filling his face and the way his scalp tingles around where Dean kissed, a brief pie break does sound good. He eats it quietly, savouring the taste, before going back to work.


“Okay, okay, follow me!”

Dean grabs Castiel’s hand and drags him through the kitchen now that they’ve cleaned up the dishes from dinner. Leftover burger patties and tin-foil wrapped potatoes are still piled on a serving tray, but he leaves that to Sam to wrap and put in the fridge.

Anna grins as Castiel is pulled past her, and she tags along out onto the deck. Dean keeps a tight grip on his hand until they’re down into the yard. There’s a box leaning up against one of the pillars holding up the deck. Then and only then does he drop Castiel’s hand so he can gesture at it enthusiastically.

“Ta-da!”

Castiel squints at the box, taking in the picture of a family of four enjoying what must be the contents of the box. “What in the world is ladder ball?”

“Oh, it’s fun!” Anna blinks from the top of the deck down next to him, instead of taking the stairs. “I played that before with some of my neighbours.”

“You should have seen how he lit up when we found it at Walmart.” Sam calls from the open kitchen door. “It was ridiculous.”

Dean scoffs and starts opening the box. “It’ll be a fun game to play, I promise. And it’ll get you out of the house. What’s not to love about that?”

“Excuse me, but I check the flowers every day.” Castiel crosses his arms defensively, frowning as Dean starts pulling tube after tube out of the box. “And I like reading out on the deck. We’ve spent half of this week outside because the weather has been so nice.”

“Shush.” Anna puts a hand over his mouth briefly before going over to help Dean start putting things together. “Just come help set up the game. We’re going to play it and we’re going to have a ton of fun.”

Part of him wants to argue just for the sake of arguing, but Castiel sighs and steps over to help. He gets handed two packages, each one filled with a set of six balls. Every ball is paired off into a set of two by a string, turning it into something akin to a bolo. Three or the bolos are red and three are gray.

Sam joins them then and starts helping Anna put together all the pieces that Dean dumped out onto the lawn. Castiel stands and watches as Dean breaks down the box and throws it up onto the deck to deal with later. Satisfied, he turns to Castiel and starts opening the packages in his hands.

He drapes the red pairs over one arm and picks up the finished frame. “Cas, follow me.”

Castiel sighs, the gray bolos in hand, and follows. He gets led down the yard until they’re roughly fifteen feet from where Sam and Anna are still finishing up with the last frame. Dean sets the one frame he took and makes sure they’re lined up with the other one. And of course he’s very nit-picky about whether or not it’s balanced properly. Castiel waits patiently, acting put off but secretly he’s amused.

Once he’s satisfied, Dean steps back. There are two bars running across the inside of the frame. The bottom one is white, the middle is black, and then there’s the red top of the frame. Along the red sides of the frame are numbers going from one to twenty-one, and there’s a little white tab on both sides. Dean points to those. “We move this slide for every point we get. The top bar is three points, middle is two points, and the bottom is one. The first to reach twenty-one points without going over wins. Does that make sense?”

Castiel nods. “If I have nineteen, then I need two to win. Three wouldn’t count.”

“Exactly!” He gets a beatific smile in return. “For the balls, you generally throw them underhanded. Bounces do count if you manage to wrap it. Even if you wrap the side of the frame, it’ll count as long as it’s resting on one of the bars. And these hooks keep it from falling off the top one.” Dean taps some small hooks where the top bar curves down into the sides of the frame.”

He hums in understanding and separates one of the grey bolos, swinging it back and forth. “I think I get the gist of it.”

“Here, watch me.” Dean cups a hand around his mouth and shouts to the others. “Ready?”

“Ready!” Sam waves and both he and Anna step away from their frame.

Dean lines himself up with the edge of their rack and points down at his foot. “You’re not allowed to step past it.”

With that, he swings one of his red bolos and lobs it across the yard. It falls a bit short, but has a lucky bounce and wraps around the very bottom rung. Dean grins triumphantly and flicks the number on his side up by one. The second bolo he throws hits the frame, but it doesn’t wrap and falls to the ground off to the side. He curses quietly, though colourfully, and throws the final bolo. It again wraps around the bottom rung.

When he flicks his number up to two, Castiel reaches to move his to two as well. “Whoa, wait.” Dean covers the tab so he can’t move it. “You only move yours if you or Anna scores.”

“I’m on Anna’s team?” Castiel glances across the yard to where both her and Sam are untangling the two bolos from the bottom rung.

“Yup.” Dean nods and steps back. “One member of each team at either side.

“Why am I not on your team.” He tries not to sound like he’s pouting, but he kind of is.

Dean suddenly doesn’t look quite as pleased with himself as he did a moment ago. He rubs a hand over the back of his neck and shrugs. “I guess because I thought it would be more fun for us both to be hanging out on the same side? Otherwise we’d end up shouting to each other across the way.”

Okay, fine. Castiel can’t fault him for that reasoning. He huffs quietly in acknowledgment and steps into place to take up what he assumes is now his turn. Dean brightens, but says nothing as he hefts one of the gray bolos and gives it a few practice swings while waiting for Anna and Sam to get out of the way.

“Alright, go!” Anna waves when they’re clear.

The first throw goes wide and completely misses the frame. Castiel frowns and looks down at the next bolo. “This is harder than it looks.”

“Just try again.” Dean makes an encouraging go on gesture. “You’ll get a feel for the distance within a few throws and then it’s all up to physics.”

Castiel nods and throws the second set. It bounces off the ground in front of the frame, but lands solidly on the bottom bar. They all hold their breath to see if it will slip off, but it remains hooked. Anna claps happily and flicks the counter up by one. He does the same and can’t resist giving Dean a small, smug smile. Which promptly falls into a frown when his third bolo falls short and doesn’t bounce high enough to wrap. It does however, manage to knock the other set hard enough to pull it off the wrong.

Dean winces and claps Castiel on the shoulder. “Sorry, buddy.” He flicks the counter back to zero for him. “But you don’t get the point if you knock it off.”

Now it’s Castiel’s turn to swear quietly to himself. It just makes Dean laugh as he returns to his side of the frame. Sam and Anna have already gathered all their bolos, and Sam steps up to take his turn. Castiel cups his hands around his mouth to give a word of warning; “No telekinesis!”

Sam makes a show of rolling his eyes, but his first throw overshoots the frame entirely. His second falls too short, but it does knock against the frame. The third wraps around the bottom rung cleanly. He gives a triumphant shout and Anna has the gall to actually high-five him.

Dean gathers his bolos with a grin. “See? He’s always had a good eye for distance.”

Castiel scoffs as Dean ups his counter by three. They now have three points and Castiel vehemently hates each and every one of them. “And I suppose that his next shot will be a two pointer until he figures out the distance to get the three?”

“Possibly.”

“That’s why you wanted him on your team!” Castiel points accusingly at him. “It wasn’t just so we could stand together.”

Dean shrugs and jiggles the red bolo in his hand. “Hey, I could have totally taken you over here and had Anna on my team.”

“And yet you didn’t. I see right through your –” He jerks away from their frame when the first gray bolo set comes whipping over, missing the frame completely. Castiel glares at Anna and she just grins; impatiently wiggling the other two bolos at her side.

Both Castiel and Dean take a few steps back, and she throws the next set just as hard as she did the first. Once again, it misses the frame entirely. The third bolo bangs off the side of it and damn near knocks the thing off its square base.

After a moment of staring at it, Castiel turns to her and gestures wildly at the grey balls littering the grass. “I thought you said you played this before!”

She shrugs, but she’s still grinning like an idiot. “I didn’t say I was any good!”

Dean clearly wants to be punched in the arm given that he’s not even trying to hide how he’s giggling. Castiel can only glare at him crosses his arms and watches him collects the bolos. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, Cas.” He tries for a calming tone, but it just makes Castiel’s feathers fluff. “We can switch up the teams in the next game.”

“Just. Go.” Castiel snatches his three bolos when they’re offered to him.

He is, perhaps, a bit of a sore loser. Especially when it turns out that Dean is also pretty good. Either his throws ricochet off the frame, or the wrap cleanly around one of the bars. Castiel gets better as time goes on and at least manages to successfully aim, though his throws don’t always land on the rung he’s aiming for. Sam is fantastic and consistently gets points, once he’s got the distance figured out.

Anna, however, is an outlier. She misses every throw. Every. Single. Throw.

It comes as little surprise to anyone that the Winchesters have a crushing victory. Dean radiates smugness as he turns to Castiel, hands on his hips and chest thrown out. “And that’s for kicking our asses at every board game or video game in existence.”

“Not in existence.” Castiel lifts his nose in the air and turns to snub him. “Just the ones that I happen to own and have mastered.” He crosses his arms and only looks at Dean from the corner of his eye. “And I suppose that the next game you decide to challenge me to will also be a physical outdoors game that I’ve never played before? Nothing like steamrolling over newbies to make yourself feel good.”

In a fit of impulsive childishness, Castiel ends his wounded mocking by sticking his tongue out.

Dean only grins wider. “Next time, I’m going to buy a basketball hop and I’m going to install it right above the garage door.”

Castiel turns a glare on him, but Dean just grins back challengingly.

For a moment, he actually considers tackling Dean, but then thinks better of it. While he might have the upper hand in strength, he doesn’t have the skill to use it appropriately. Dean is trained in hand-to-hand combat and likely deals with people stronger than him all the time. He would, undoubtedly, be very difficult to rough house with.

Instead, Castiel knows of a much better way to punish him. Without another word, he turns on his heel and marches across the lawn to where Anna and Sam are chatting amicably over their frame. “Sam, you’re going over there and you’re on my team now.”

He doesn’t look at all surprised by the announcement. “Sure.”

Anna’s bottom lip juts out in a pout as she hands the gray bolos over to Sam. “Are you kicking me off your team because I suck?”

Castiel nods, too annoyed to try and spare her feelings at the moment. “Yes, but only to punish Dean.”

Her eyes light up with amusement, but Sam beats her to the question. “Did he say something that he shouldn’t have?”

“He’s not a gracious winner.” Castiel takes the gray bolos from Anna and hands them to Sam. “Let’s just leave it at that.”

That gets a snort of laughter and a nod of understanding. Sam swings the bolos beside him as he crosses the yard to where Dean has wilted noticeably next to the other frame, a pout on his lips too. He says something to Dean that earns him a punch in the shoulder. Castiel just barely catches something about pulling pigtails, but it makes no sense to him.

Now that the teams are fair – to a degree – Castiel rolls his shoulders and flicks the counter back to zero. He’s going to get good at this game, and then he’s going to crush Dean in every consecutive round.


Monday – August 20th, 2018

Castiel closes his suitcase and, with some difficulty, zips it shut. It belonged to his parents and he’s never had the opportunity to use it. Neither has he ever packed for anything before. He had to consult Anna and Aunt Amara about what was an appropriate amount of clothing to bring. Since he doesn’t know exactly how long he’ll be away, though Castiel is hoping that it will only be a week, he didn’t want to over pack or find himself missing necessary items.

Anna, bless her heart, went to the lengths of actually making him a list of everything he should bring. And that’s how he ended up packing three pairs of jeans, a pair of sweatpants, a pair of pajama pants, about four pairs of socks, and enough underwear to wear a new pair every day of the week. His shirts were a little trickier, since he’s not sure how often he’ll have his wings out. He packed three of both altered and unaltered t-shirts, and a couple nicer shirts – just in case.

Of course his heavy overcoat, hot for the end of August but worth it to remain hidden, is already draped over the edge of the bed next to the suitcase. His binder is already on and he’s dressed in an unaltered t-shirt over his wings and a comfortable pair of jeans. It’s been a decade or two since Castiel was last on the road for hours at a time. He’s not sure how well he’ll fair with a nearly six hour drive to Sioux Falls and he wants to be as comfortable as possible.

His heart doesn’t really climb into his throat until he’s put the suitcase next to his bedroom door – right next to the smaller carry-on sized case that matches. In that one he packed his laptop, the headphones he uses for transcribing recordings, and the pedal that controls the transcription program. He installed the program onto his laptop the other day so he could continue his work on the road. There are a couple reference books in there too, but Castiel is confident that anything else he needs he can just look up online. The internet really has been a blessing for people in his line of work.

Castiel sits heavily on the edge of his bed and stares at the two bags. There really isn’t any better time than now to go with them. Dean explicitly said that they were going to be heading back to Sioux Falls after leaving here so they can swap out their clothing, drop off some things that they’ve bought during their travels, and to check in with Bobby and Pamela. They’re actually going home and not on a hunt or heading off trying to follow their dad’s trail. How could he pass up this opportunity?

He only had his toiletries to pack up and add to his suitcase. The rest he had packed last night. The Winchesters usually leave around mid-morning, so as not to fully interrupt his work day. As far as Castiel knows, they’re just packing up the last of their stuff and are planning to head out shortly. That’s how it always goes after breakfast on the morning they leave.

This is it.

He’s going to do it.

He’s going to do it.

Yes, absolutely, Castiel is definitely going to do it. He’s absolutely terrified of the thought, but he can’t bring himself not to. For months now he’s wanted to do this, and the desire has only grown stronger with every passing visit. He wants to spend more time with Dean and Sam, but he feels like he’s going to throw up. Sadly, he doesn’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.

If they’re lucky, maybe he won’t have a panic attack for the entire drive to Sioux Falls. Once he’s able to get behind closed doors and let his wings out where no one can see them – once he’s able to breathe again, then maybe it won’t be so bad.

The knock at the door startles Castiel enough that he jerks so hard he nearly slides off the edge of the bed. He rights himself and clears his throat. “Come in.”

Dean swings the door open and takes a few steps into the room. “Hey, Cas. We’re all packed up and ready to –” His sentence stops short as he takes in first Castiel, then his coat. Slowly, he looks down at the suitcases next to him, and then back up again. “Oh my God.”

Castiel swallows thickly and tries for a smile, but it probably comes off more sickly than anything else.

Without another word, Dean crosses the short distance between them to stand in front of Castiel. He puts one hand on his shoulder and the other cups his cheek to tilt his face up and it’s a struggle not to press into that gentle touch. “Dude. I know I’m always asking you to come, but you don’t –”

This time, Castiel is the one to cut him off. “I do want to come.”

His hands come up of their own accord to curve over Dean’s hips. He tugs him forward, suddenly, into the vee of his legs, if only because he’s craving the need for physical comfort. Once Dean is close enough, Castiel wraps his arms around his waist and hides his face against his stomach.

“I’m just terrified.”

“I won’t let anything happen to you, Cas.” Dean’s arms come to rest around his shoulders, and one hand begins carding through his hair. If his wings were free at the moment, Castiel doesn’t doubt that he would be petting them too.

It takes a few minutes before he manages to start to relax under that steady, gentle touch. And that’s about when Dean decides to drop a bit of a bomb on him.

“Would it help if we pretended to register you?”

Castiel jerks back from the hug with a frown. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Dean shifts on his feet, suddenly looking a little uncertain. “You’re – uh – you’re not the first unregistered that Sam’s been able to pick out before. Bobby and Pam may or may not have a bit of a side business involved with helping hide them.”

In over ten months of knowing each other, this is the absolute first that Castiel is hearing of it. His jaw drops as Dean launches into an explanation of how they have a tattoo artist who can give them a tattoo corresponding to their mutation, and how they make fake IDs for them too.

“And for those who don’t want a real tattoo, we have stencils and an airbrush. No one ever really runs your ID, you know? They just glance at it to make sure that you’ve got one.” He pauses. “I’ve never had mine run, at least. Had to show it plenty of times, though. Only people who actually check it in a system are the people you have your evaluation – which you wouldn’t be doing anyways since you’d actually still be unregistered.”

Dean looks down at him with a grin. “I have a set of the stencils and an airbrush in the trunk if you want to give it a try? That way if anyone ever questions your wings, you can just show them the tattoo or the card – once we get you one – and then you go on your merry way.”

“Why haven’t you told me about this before?” It sounds like it would help a lot of his anxiety issues about going out in public. Although, it might just replace them with a whole new set of worries about being caught with a fake.

At least Dean has the decency to look shamefaced for keeping such a secret from him. “I was planning on it, actually. Uh – today? Kinda, like, my last-ditch effort at convincing you to come with us.” He taps him on the nose. “If it wasn’t going to work, then I was out of ideas.”

Castiel wrinkles his nose and continues to frown up at him. “I don’t know. It sounds highly illegal.”

“No more illegal than being an unregistered.”

A fair point.

He mulls it over for a few moments before shrugging. “I suppose we can try it?” What could it hurt? And, if he finds it easier on his nerves to go out with a fake ID and an airbrushed tattoo as his shield as well as his coat, then maybe he’ll make it a real tattoo. He would hate it indefinitely, but it could be worth it.

Dean grins and ducks out from between Castiel’s arms. “Great! Go wait in the main bathroom. I’ll go get the kit from the car and we’ll get you done up nice and pretty.” He’s gone and down the hallway, already calling from Sam to come and get Castiel’s bags, before he can say anything more.

His legs feel oddly weak as he stands up and wobbles out into the hall. Sam meets him in front of the bathroom door. “Are you really coming with us?”

“Just to Sioux Falls, and only for a little while.” Castiel shrugs and resists the urge to hug himself or go back to his room and curl up in bed. “I don’t know if I could stand to be gone for weeks.”

“However long you’re comfortable with.” Sam puts a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it comfortingly. “We’ll turn around and bring you right back before we even get home if you suddenly change your mind. I promise.”

Castiel covers his hand. “Thank you.”

Once he enters the bathroom, he puts the lid down on the toilet and sits there. His fingers drum a nervous pattern on his thighs and he only stops to wave stiffly as Sam goes by with both of his bags and his trench coat thrown over one arm. That sends his anxiety ratcheting up another few notches and he starts counting to try and ease his mind while he waits for Dean.

He isn’t even into the fifties by the time he shows up with a little black case in hand. Dean is practically glowing with delight as he puts it on the counter and opens it. From inside, he takes out an airbrush. He snaps a little black bottle into the well on the top of it and checks the spiral cord connecting it to the case. Satisfied, he sets it aside and pulls out a number of pieces of paper.

“If all you’ve got are wings and a little super strength, then I think we can get away with you being a Class One.” Dean taps the paper against his chin while he thinks. “Where do you want it? The same place as me?”

Castiel shakes his head. He’s already got his binder on and he doesn’t want to have to go through the effort of not only taking it off, but keeping it off so he doesn’t smudge the ink before it dries. After a moment, he takes off his t-shirt and points to a space on the left side of his stomach, just under his ribs. “Here is fine.”

Dean closes his eyes briefly and takes a deep breath. “Okay.” He nods. “Let’s swap. You stand, I sit.”

They do switch positions, but Dean ends up moving to sit on the edge of the tub so Castiel can hold the shower bar with his left hand to keep his side stretched out for the tattoo. The stencil turns out to actually be a sticker and Dean peels it to apply the empty circle to his skin. He smoothes it out with his thumbs, and they definitely linger, rubbing over more skin than stencil at times.

Castiel doesn’t complain. It’s strangely comforting.

There’s another portion to the sticker that Dean peels off. This time it’s a solid circle with the C-1 cut out of the center of it. He has to adjust it a few times before he’s satisfied that it lines up with the first portion of the sticker.

Finally, he sits back. “Okay, that should be good.” He fetches the airbrush from the sink and sets it up on the edge of the tub and flips a switch to get the air compressor rumbling. “This might be a little ticklish, and probably a little cold. Sam always giggles like a baby whenever I tattoo him.”

He looks down with a frown. “Why would you tattoo him?”

Dean shrugs and holds down a button on the airbrush to start the spray. First, he does it into a dirty napkin in the case, clearing the brush. “Sometimes we get bored when we’re sitting in a motel room on surveillance. And I like to test out my skills every so often.”

That piques Castiel’s interest. “You’re an artist?”

“Uh – sometimes?” There’s colour in Dean’s ears when he shrugs this time. “Nothing good or anything.”

“He’s just being modest.” Sam startles them both when he speaks from the doorway. For such a big man, he can be very quiet when he wants to be. “You should see his sketchbook. He does some really nice landscapes.”

Dean shoots Sam a dirty look before aiming the airbrush at Castiel’s side. The first blast of cool, inky air against his skin makes him jump a little. He spreads his hand out over Castiel’s stomach, thumb and forefinger bracketing the stencil. With a soft ‘shhh’, he starts working at filling out the lines.

“Has he told you about the tattoo artist that Bobby and Pam have?” Sam crosses the bathroom to sit down on the abandoned toilet.

Castiel nods, looking down to watch what Dean’s doing. “I don’t know if I would want a permanent one.”

“At least if you had one, then you could flash it if anyone ever started to hassle you about your wings.” Dean pauses with a thoughtful hum. “Well, in my experience they don’t really bother you about it. They just treat you pretty coldly.”

That doesn’t sound much better in Castiel’s opinion. He shrugs and firmly focuses on the tiled pattern surrounding the shower walls. “I’m fine with the way people treat me now.”

“What people?” Dean grins up at him cheekily. “You never go out.”

It’s almost absentmindedly that Castiel brings up his other hand to flick him in the forehead. “I go out a lot more now than I did before.” Primarily because the Winchesters somehow manage to talk him into it every single time.

Do they even realize how much of an impact they’ve had on his life?

Dean hums in agreement and turns off the air compressor. He puts the airbrush down on top of the kit and begins the careful process of picking at the corner of the stencil to peel it off. They all seem to hold their breath while he does that. Sam exchanges the used stencils for a damp cloth to clean up any edges that bled, but from Castiel’s point of view, it doesn’t look like there are any. It looks pretty nice – though fairly shiny.

But then Dean is taking care of that a moment later as he leans forward to blow gently across the tattoo. It sends goosebumps skittering across Castiel’s skin and his wings shiver as best as they can under his binder. Dean just hums and does it again, a twinkling in his eyes as he looks up at him. Castiel pointedly looks away, valiantly trying to keep the blush out of his cheeks. It’s not working well – especially when one of Dean’s warm hands curls around his hip and his first reaction is to lean into the touch.

And then Sam clears his throat from the toilet. “So, how did it turn out?”

He jumps, pulling back from Dean even as he jerks back himself, his hand coming up to rest on his chest. “Holy fuck, Sammy. Don’t scare me like that.” Clearly Castiel wasn’t the only one who momentarily forgot that he was there.

Sam just looks amused as he leans over to get a look. “That’s looking pretty darn authentic. We can touch it up when it starts to fade.”

“I just hope that I don’t have to show it to anyone.”

Castiel lets go of the shower bar and reaches for his shirt, but Dean slaps his hand. “Not yet. Let it keep drying for a few more minutes. And I doubt anyone is going to ask to see it.” He starts packing up the airbrush kit, turning it back on to clear the valve. “You’re going to hide your wings until we get to Sioux Falls anyway, right? No one there is going to ask about it, I’ll make sure of it.”

“I know.” Castiel catches Dean’s hand as he stands. “I trust you.”

Dean squeezes his hand as he meets his eyes. “I’d never let anything happen to you.”

“Neither of us would.” Sam adds, sounding just as serious.

Castiel actually smiles at them both. He might be terrified, but he believes them and he’s not worried about this. Or rather, not nearly as much as he was before. One might even say that he’s almost beginning to look forward to this.