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He's a (Zoo) Keeper

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“You’re home! How was the trip?” Castiel left behind the three friends who gathered around the wedding board, now approaching Dean at the front door.

Dean let Cas take him in his arms, eyes shut as they hugged.

“Good,” Dean breathed. He pulled back, and his view of Castiel blurred at the edges as emotion lifted within him, something loud yet peaceful. “Got Bobby and the wheelchair across the country in one peice. He refused to let anyone carry him up the stairs to get to this place, so I set him and Rufus up at a ground-level motel.”

“Ruf—” Castiel’s eyes widened. “Rufus Turner? They broke up years ago, what—”

“You’re telling me!” Dean laughed. “Those crazy sons of nutjobs left it until days before my wedding to tell me they ‘settled things’ together a month back.”

“Dean – oh, that’s incredible!” Castiel threw his arms around Dean’s shoulders, and they spun on the spot, laughing as Cas was lifted an inch from the floor. “So your parents will be there to watch after all!”

“Yeah, if they’re even looking the right way.” Dean put Cas down, shrugging. “Those two bickered non-stop from Sioux Falls to the front steps of Boston Paradise Motel. And even then! Put your back in to it, ya idjit. What kind of namby-pamby raised you?” Dean smiled. “They seemed happy.”

“I’m sure they were.”

Dean stepped back from Cas, taking off his canvas jacket one sleeve at a time. “Alright. I gotta take a whizz, and get some food in ma belleh. But then! You guys.” Dean clicked a finger gun in the direction of his found family, who waited by the planning board, going over the notes, but keeping an eye and ear on Dean. “Last minute prep.”

“Oh-ho,” Jody chortled, wrinkles of amusement by her grey eyes. “That ship sailed. We did last-minute prep in the two days you were gone. Everything from hanging mason jar lights to adjusting the length of your bootlaces. We’re just going over what you do and when, because as all-about-you this wedding is, I’m not having you messing around in my zoo any more than five minutes longer than you have to.”

“Gotcha.” Dean gave her a nod, then headed for the bathroom. “B-R-B.”

He came back and mingled with the chatting group soon after, fresher, in clean clothes, and with a box of leftover egg fu yung tucked under his chin, scooping it into his mouth with a fork. “Fwo. Whaff’f uph?”

“Hey.” Sam patted Dean on the back. “Dean, were you serious about Bobby and Rufus? They got back together – for real this time?”

Dean gave his younger brother a soft smile. He nodded.

Sam’s eyes glazed over, a grin tilting his lips as he looked down. “Wow.”

Dean patted Sam’s shoulder. “Seem pretty serious about it, too. Like, they’re taking each other to the grave, kind of thing. Hundred years from now, they’re gonna be bickering as ghosts.”

Sam put his hands in his jeans pockets, turning a content smile to Charlie.

Charlie took Dean’s arm and held it. “I did wonder what you and Cas would be like as queer, grumpy old men. Now I know. Like adoptive father, like adoptive son?”

Dean snorted. “Yeah, but me and Cas are an actual couple. Rufus and Bobby are...” Dean couldn’t think of a word. “Well. I guess they kind of are a couple. Love abound. But they don’t kiss. And they definitely don’t bump uglies.”

Sam chuckled. “You just don’t want to think about it.”

“True that, and don’t you dare make me,” Dean warned, hurriedly scarfing his food in case Sam kept talking anyway. Maybe the sound of chewing would blot him out.

Jody drew in a deep breath, smiling. “Right. Well. As exciting as that news is, Dean – really is – time happens to be running short. Back to business.” She tapped a pen on a top-down diagram of the southwestern courtyard, drawn on graph paper.

The outlines of the benches were set diagonally up the aisle, all facing the floral arch Dean had seen other people use now and then – although it just looked like a horseshoe on paper. “Here’s the altar,” Jody said. “You’ll all stand here. Me in the middle, officiating; Dean and Castiel either facing each other, or facing me, your choice. Just do what feels natural. Sam, Charlie, you’re on either side of them until the vows have been exchanged, as there’s no rings. Dean, you getting all this?”

Dean looked up, a noodle hanging from his lip. “Wuh? Oh. Altar, best man Sammy by me, best woman Charlie by Cas. Got it.”

“What I need to know,” Jody went on, as Dean looked around for a napkin, then just used the inside collar of his t-shirt... “What I need to know,” Jody said again, schooling away her disgust, “is whether one of you wants to walk up the aisle, whether you both do, or whether you both come in from the side arches.”

“Oh... uh...” Dean and Castiel exchanged glances. Dean shrugged. “Your choice, Cas.”

Castiel licked his lips, then turned to Jody. “I want to walk up the aisle to meet Dean. And Mrs. Patel from downstairs agreed to walk with me, since I have no parents and other no parental figures in my life.”

Dean swung a hand over to hold Cas’. Cas looked back, smiling.

“Mrs. Patel...” Jody looked down the guest list, giving an “Aha!” when she found the name, added in Dean’s handwriting underneath a thick black marker line. “She should be here while we’re discussing this, can we go and get her?”

“She’s working,” Castiel said. “Four a.m. to ten at night, every day except Eid celebrations. She’s very kindly agreed to take time off for the wedding.” Dean beamed, because Castiel tone of voice was genuinely honoured. His eyes fell back to the guest list. “We can explain... the routine to her... on the day.”

“Needs must, I guess,” Jody said. She tacked the guest list back to the board, then stuck her hands on her hips. “Dean, did you want to walk up the aisle first?”

“Sure.”

“Or come through an arch?”

“No preference.”

“Or come in casually with the rest of the guests?”

“Listen, boss, if you hired Captain Kirk to have Scotty beam me down, I’d take that option. But other than that, my top priority is to get there and stand there without ripping my pants or burping into those damn tiny clip-on microphones you keep insisting on. You tell me what approach works for you, Jody, and I’ll give you my best take.”

Jody smiled at him. “Left arch entrance it is. There’s more privacy on that side, you can mess around with your hair and shirt buttons without anyone bothering you.”

“Deal.” Dean rested a forearm on Cas’ shoulder, leaning on him. “Can’t believe after all this, we’re less than a day away. Think of that, Cas. This time tomorrow we’re gonna be boinking each other’s brains out.” Dean gave Cas’ arm a friendly fist bump, smiling. Cas took a moment to respond, so Dean looked over to make a joke about cold feet, but saw with a zap of shock that Cas was deep in the thrall of a blank-faced panic attack. His only tell was the slightly wide eyes and utter silence.

“O-kay, time out,” Dean said over whatever Sam was saying. “You lot carry on. Me and Cas just gotta— C’mere, buddy. C’mon.” Dean took Cas tight by both biceps, moving him gently but firmly across the living room and towards the bathroom. Cas’ feet were slow and he missed a few steps, but from the waist upwards was hard to tell as Dean supported him completely.

The bathroom was painted brown and had yet another skylight instead of a ceiling. Plants grew well in the humidity, so Castiel had installed a living wall by the door, which hung with flourishing ferns and succulents. Dean pulled Cas past it, brushing a fern frond out of Cas’ hair as he closed the door behind them, resting Castiel’s back on the door.

“Buddy,” Dean said softly, chin up, eyes set intently on Cas’. “Cas. Look at me?”

Castiel’s hurried, shallow breaths were more noticeable in the quiet room. His eyes skipped left, right, but finally found Dean’s gaze.

“Hey,” Dean examined Castiel’s gaze. “What’s going on?”

Castiel parted his lips, but not even breath came out.

“Alright. Alright, just breathe. Come on. In. Deep breath. Open your throat.”

Castiel ducked his head a few times, raking in a shivery, shallow gulp of air.

“Good. Now out. Slooooow. Wheeeewwhhh.”

Castiel huffed.

“IIIIInnnn.”

It took most of minute of Dean sticking to his guns, taking slow, paced breaths before Castiel managed to copy. Dean felt Cas relaxing slightly in his grip.

“We’re all good,” Dean promised. “It’s gonna be okay. It’s just a wedding. It’s not life and death.” Dean grinned. “It’s just a party.”

Castiel shook his head. “It— The.”

“Take your time. Keep breathing. I got ya.”

Castiel fought to swallow, eyes closed. He put a hand on Dean’s arm, stabilising himself. “It’s not you. Not you.”

“Not me what?” Dean started to grin nervously. “I’m not The One?”

Castiel hiccuped out a laugh. “No, you are. The. Hahhh. The.” He shut his eyes for a while, pulling himself together. “The problem. Is not you. It’s just – the culmination. Of such a big project. So big and – important. I-I-I have no experience! This was meant to be my wedding planning experience! But now it’s the most important one I could ever work on— What if it goes wrong? What if all the senseless, idiotic mistakes I made along the way come to bite us both in the ass?”

“Heyyy,” Dean soothed, stroking Cas’ hair back. “No matter what happens, Cas—? No matter if we run out of food, if I stain my shirt, if that funky Indian dress of yours isn’t everything you dreamed it would be – or, hell, if the world ends at nine a.m. sharp – so long as we get home tomorrow night in one piece, still a happy couple, then it’s fine. It’s all fine. You did good.” Dean smiled, lifting Castiel’s hands to kiss them both, holding his gaze.

“Get home— The honeymoon!” Castiel yelped. “I didn’t book anything! I didn’t even think about it!”

Dean chuckled. “How about a week in a motel room? Aw, make it a hotel. Treat ourselves. No clothes, no TV. Just you, me, a shower, a bed, take-out... Pizza delivery?”

Castiel had begun to smile, as Dean kept kissing his hands. “Okay,” he whispered.

“Okay,” Dean agreed, smooching Cas on the lips. “You feelin’ better now?”

“Much better, yes. Thank you.”

Dean gave him a nice, long hug. “What triggered this, anyway? Your chaotic filing system? Yeah, that would get me too.”

“No, it...” Castiel leaned back, hesitating instead of meeting Dean’s eyes. He let go of a breath through his nose, then said, “No, don’t worry. Honesty’s one thing, but you don’t need to hear about all my organisational screw-ups. You should just enjoy this. It’ll be fine. Things are the way they are, now. Like you said: regardless of what goes wrong, no matter who... shows up? We’re going to get married.”

“Damn right.” Dean hugged Cas’ lower back and brought him in for a snuffly, cuddly kiss, making him giggle, hands scrunched in Dean’s hair. They rocked from foot to foot a few times, they fell back, smiling.

“I love you,” Castiel said hopefully.

“Aw. Right back atcha, buddy,” Dean smiled, booping Cas on the nose. “I love you too.”

 

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Castiel had packed an overnight bag a full week ago, but tonight unpacked and re-packed it to include a certain item for the honeymoon, then declared he was ready.

Charlie looped her arm through Castiel’s, and they shared a smile, before frog-marching towards the door together as Charlie sang “We’re off to see the Wizard! The wonderful Wizard of Oz!

“Cas. Hold on.” Dean hurried after them. As Cas turned, Dean snatched him into a long, forceful, unmoving kiss. They broke apart with a huff of breath, both showing off sore-lipped smiles. “See you at the altar,” Dean said.

“Goodnight, Dean,” Castiel said warmly. “Sleep well.”

“You too.”

They gazed at each other for half a minute, until Charlie opened the front door, and Castiel remembered he was leaving.

“Look after him, Sam,” Castiel called. “Make sure he sleeps.”

“Will do,” Sam called from the living room. “See you tomorrow!”

Dean and Cas parted ways on the porch, waving. Dean leaned in the doorway, ankles crossed, watching with his heart in his throat as Cas descended the stairs with his heavy bag over one shoulder and his wedding dress in a zip-up protector over the other, crossed the lawn, and got into Charlie’s ricketty yellow car. Cas waved through the window as they trundled off, and Dean sighed, waving until the car was out of sight.

Dean returned to the quiet, basically empty apartment, feeling strange. Things were changing with every passing minute. He could feel the ultimatum of a lifetime sneaking up on his inner sheep like an eager wolf. He hoped to God it would only be a puppy when it came.

Pulling two beers from the fridge, Dean sauntered over to his brother, uncapping both bottles and handing one to Sam. Sam smiled. Dean sat beside him, turned on the TV and pulled up a recorded Red Sox game, and they drank in silence, still smiling.

 

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The exfoliation cream, the moisturising face mask, the foot bath, the slow jack-off before bed to a Led Zeppelin soundtrack – it was all meant to calm Dean down and make him feel sexy. Which it did. It sent him straight to sleep, feeling more pampered than ever.

But with sleep came a stampede.

Rhinos, elephants, tigers, leopards – hundred-year-old tortoises, a dozen lines of zig-zagging snakes, an army of high-bounding rats, flocks and flocks of pelicans and seagulls and inky-black crows – they all came rushing towards Dean in a cloud of savannah dust, howling and jibbering as they fled from something Dean couldn’t see through the chaos. The Earth shook, the sky was covered by the dust all those wings, paws, and hooves kicked up.

Lit by a vague golden light, Dean lay frozen in their path, too afraid to move, too blind to his environment to see where to go. He sat up and called out in fear, begging the stampede to stop, but they kept coming, heads down, eyes trained on Dean. They knew he was there to be trampled but they had no way to correct their course.

Dean shut his eyes but still saw it coming, felt the quake under his hands and ass as it surmounted to thunder, every yip and screech becoming one long, desperate scream.

Here it came: the End.

Then Cas whisked him away, a familiar hand gripping Dean tight by the shoulder and raising him from perdition. They tumbled together down a cliff, lost in the dusty haze. They collapsed into an unknown place, breathing hard, seeing nobody but each other.

It was quiet here. Still.

They looked at each other, smiling in relief.

Dean woke up with a gasp, hand on his chest as he determined he was breathing clean air, not the stinging yellow sandstorm of his dream. He looked about him, and saw no snakes, no elephants, no antelope or frogs. He breathed out.

He didn’t know how many dreams he’d had like that in the last five or so years. Sometimes it was zoo animals, but other times it was cars caught in smog, sometimes a fleet of planes on a misty runway, or black-eyed demons in business suits around a table in an alien lab, where Dean was strapped down. But there was one consistency, no matter what: Cas saved him every time.

 

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