It was the early days, and they were about to go undercover and Dean had him at Wal-Mart trying to buy him stuff. (“You can’t just go in Jimmy’s clothes,” Dean had said, “No one wears the same thing every day, and you can’t pull off that holy tax accountant shit at a yoga studio.” Because demons thought it was a good place to set up shop where everyone who walked through the door was looking to change themselves and willing to be flexible.) So Dean and Cas were perusing the racks.
Dean had wandered off to pick up some jeans, and Cas had wandered off with Dean’s instructions to “find something you like.”
Cas wasn’t sure what Dean had meant until they’d stumbled upon the skirt. It was light blue like a summer sky, and shimmered when they waved it under the fluorescent lights.
Normally, Cas was content with his holy-tax-accountant garb. Content in a homey way, like another one of Dean’s flannel shirts. The tie that Dean kept trying to fix and the jacket and the coat were a comfortable way to move around in the world, Cas had found.
But Dean had told him to get something different, get something that he liked , and the skirt was a beautiful color and shimmered in the air, so Castiel put it with his other purchases.
“Jeez, Cas, what is this?” Dean asked, holding the hanger at arm’s length.
“It is a skirt,” Cas replied. He had thought it was somewhat apparent, “You told me to pick out something I liked.”
“Jeez, no. Cas. That was the women’s section. You can’t just—You can’t wear stuff from that section? Okay?”
Why not? It wasn’t for every day, but Dean had told Cas to pick out something that he’d like, and the skirt should fit. Cas scrunched his brows together. It was a human sign of confusion, was it not? “I don’t understand.”
“It’s just—you don’t do stuff like that. Alright?” Dean stuffed the skirt and other clothes Cas had picked out onto a random rack, behind a line of black-and-white flannels, “Now go pick out something else. And try to stay on this side of the store, okay.”
Cas didn’t understand. But he wandered off to go try find something different. When he came back, Dean had found a henley in the same blue. “Try this,” he said, “brings out your eyes,” Dean looked down, “would make you a real catch for the ladies.”
It ended up becoming one of Cas’ favorite shirts, but it wasn’t the same.
“Fuck,” Dean said, drowning in one of his (her?) formerly-fitting tee-shirts. The hem almost hit Dean’s knees, covering the belt scrunched to the tightest notch on the hunter’s belt, “We’ve got to get new clothes. Fucking witches.”
Cas looked up from her boxy button-up and rolled-up sleeves. She didn’t push long hair out of her eyes; the curse had only changed their primary and secondary sexual characteristics, not grown out their hair. Sam was the only one playing the part with the flowing locks. Her's and Dean’s hair had resulted in pixie cuts.
"Dean, it's not that bad," Sam was saying, already pulling a hair tie from his (her? Cas still wasn't sure) wrist.
"Sammy—you're wearing my clothes! And," Dean stared at Sam a little too long, "you need a bra. I can see your nipples, dude."
Sam looked down.
"And shouldn't it be Diana or something? Since we're all girls now?"
"Um," Sam thought, "I don't really feel like a girl, Dean. Just kinda like a few inches shorter and with tits."
"Thank God—Someone—I just thought I was getting awkward. Wait...—what? Aren't you supposed to 'Feel Like a Woman'?! What kind of shitty curse is this?!?"
Sam turned away from his ranting, now slightly-even-shorter brother, "What about you, Cas?" he asked.
"Angels have no inherent gender. I am a—"
"—'wave of celestial intent.' Yeah Cas, I remember," Dean said, with air quotes. Dean looked down at himself.
"Yes—a wave of celestial intent contained in a male vessel that is now female."
"So this is fucking weird for you, too."
"No more confusing than you taking me shopping," Cas reasoned.
"Yeah, right. Oh. So you're a girl right now?"
"As much as I was male earlier this afternoon," Cas replied. Technically, the sentiment was correct. Cas had been feeling particularly apathetic towards her heavy form this morning, and now she was feeling equally-though-differently disconnected from her newest vessel, despite this curse feeling like a wondrous dream. An opportunity for something he'd thought he'd have to live content without.
"Does this mean I call you 'Cassie.'"
"Dean, Cassie is the name of your ex."
"Is that a 'no?'" Dean said, smiling.
"Cas is fine, Dean."
Dean unlocked baby. Cas slid into the back.
"Though it is alright if you call me a girl."
"Fuck!" Dean's head thumped the bottom of the headrest, "I have to re-adjust the seat."
Cas wondered if Dean'd heard her.
Cas was grateful, she thought, that you could show up in anything to a Wal-Mart.
"Okay," Dean said, "let's split up. Sam: you get under, uh, things. Cas, shoes and accessories and stuff. I'll, uh. Skirts and tops. Or jeans. Or whatever. Chicks wear jeans, right?"
"We are all wearing jeans right now, Dean," Cas reminds him.
Dean looked down again. Probably spent a little too long staring at his tits. He shivered, "oh, yeah. Right. Let's get going."
No one pointed out that they were all equally-unqualified for their roles.
Cas began to walk to the clothing section.
She felt a small, worn hand tug her shoulder, "What is it, Dean?" she asked.
"You're going the wrong way."
Cas wrinkled her brows, confused. Was this another one of those human things? "That is the clothing section, is it not?" she tried to confirm.
"No—yes—that's the men's section, Cas."
It was one of those human things, Cas decided, "Dean. I believe the last time we sought out clothes in such an establishment, I was instructed to 'stay on this side of the store.' " She pulled her hands from her oversized-trenchcoat's pockets to make the air quotes.
"You're a chick now. Look, guys shop in the guy's section and chicks shop in the chicks section. We're chicks now, so we shop over here. I'm pretty sure none of that stuff would fit us anyways."
"Dean, you and I are 5'7" and 5'5” and a half respectively."
"You know what? Shoe section's over there," Dean pointed, "Go pick out some red pumps or something."
It was strange standing in front of the mirror like this. Dean had gotten her a baby-blue skirt like the one she had asked for all those years ago, something with an underskirt and an overskirt that puffed when she spun and a top of glittery silver that dipped in all the right places.
It was loose and soft and comfortable and Cas wasn’t sure how to feel about herself.
“What’re you doing? Checking yourself out? I mean—” Dean’s eyes rolled up and down her reflection, “—if I were a guy now, I’d bang you.”
Cas didn’t need to hear that. She closed her eyes and tried to remind herself that Dean said he’d bang people he didn’t subsequently sleep with frequently, and that it was a sign of affection and confidence between friends. She lets some of the truth slip out, “I feel like I should be in jeans right now.”
“No you shouldn’t! We’re going out, and you look hot in that. I mean, no chick ever tries to pick up anyone in jeans and flannel, unless you’re a lesbian.”
Cas wasn’t sure how to mention it. That, to the rest of the world, what she was wearing was normal. Unremarkable. A safe bet, even. And it wasn’t even that she didn’t want to wear it. It made her feel beautiful, not comfortable, but happy, even. She just liked the way it looked, how the fabric swished and fell off her round, renaissance hips. And yes, even feminine.
In her years in a human form, she had come to recognize the sparking feeling. When she would smile a little bit more and put a skip into her step. Imagine herself as Taylor Swift when singing the songs, instead of some imagined woman with a shattered heart. When Cas would take her eyes off Dean for a moment to watch a waitress walk away and think, that could be me .
But it was a feeling that would last a couple of hours before it would go away, and Cas had learnt it was easier to sit through. To stick to her comfortable tax-accountant suit until things resettled into place. Like the easiest decision, often, was the non-decision.
And it wasn’t like he was in pain...
So why, under the afternoon-lit mirror with Dean’s explicit permission, did she feel like she was standing in Wal-Mart, and Dean was saying, “you just don’t do stuff like that.”
Why did something so normal at all feel so deviant?
And then Dean stumbled towards her in a little black dress and bright red pumps, and Cas smoothed down her skirt and forgot all about it. Because there was a beautiful woman standing in front of her, and she was about to see him dance all night (even if it was to lure out witches), and why couldn’t she just be a little bit weak?
He had found a gardening apron with a bit of heavy white lace. A pair of jeans embroidered in the back pocket with sequins and a rose. A loose, pale blue shirt like they wore in the southwest. A collared shirt (yes) patterned with tiny cartoon bumble bees with flowers and dainty leaves. He risked bell-bottoms, but not a kilt or skirt. Castiel wondered why he felt like he was getting away with something.
“You know,” Cas said one day, “Under this—” he waved his arm at his own form, covered by a loose, pale pink tee and his pocket-embroidered jeans, his other hand fiddled with a bone necklace he’d set on a string, “—is a vessel. I am a wavelength of celestial intent.”
“I know, buddy. Size of the Chrysler Building. ‘Cannot behold my true form,’” Dean replied. Castiel had convinced him to watch How Harry Met Sally, on account of Sam claiming it was an iconic movie, and Castiel claiming he’d never seen it. Dean fiddled with the remote for a minute.
Dean wasn’t going to bring anything up if Cas didn’t push him to it; it wasn’t his style. Dean fiddled and kept on the couch like they were blazing down the highway and it was a safety risk to escape out the doors and not lounging about in a room with multiple exits. Dean doesn't ask, “What is this about?”
Cas stood, “Get the movie set up for me,” he pecked Dean’s forehead, and left the room.
It took a minor miracle to locate and re-fit the thing from the back of his closet. Cas had to nearly double the fabric to slip inside. He pulled the bone necklace out from under his shirt and grabbed Dean’s beer.
“Cas, are you—” Dean flinched. Cas tried not to care. “Is this...is this a clothes thing?”
Cas passed him the bottle, “No.”
“Oh. Uh,” Dean looked down, “‘Celestial intent,' right?”
It wasn’t quite there for Cas, but it was close enough. It wasn’t a “try to stay on this side of the store . ” “right.”
“Do I need to...uh...do you want me to uh...call you anything different, I guess?” Dean does not take a swig of his beer. He does not move his hand from where Cas met it, “I don’t know fuck-all about this. Should I ask Sammy or—”
Cas settled beside Dean. Settled his head on Dean’s shoulder. Smoothed down his skirt. Tucked his feet between the armrest and cushions. He could feel Dean under him, stiff as a board. Like any move he could make would be wrong.
Cas pressed her lips against his shoulder.
“No, you don’t need to call me by anything else. You can ask Sam about it if you want, but I believe he knows little more than you; I do not believe any angel has inhabited a vessel on earth this long, and I am not sure Sam has done any additional research on gender or sexuality outside university. I myself know little more than what we could google together. I just remember how I felt looking at myself in it, before I was distracted by you in that little black dress—”
Dean took a swig of beer, “I’d like to see if it fits now—” he touched the fabric of Cas’ skirt, “ ...it must have taken you a minor miracle—”
“It did—and I felt that way again tonight, so I thought I would...soothe it,” no , “embrace it.
“We were just watching a movie.” Cas’ hands encircled Dean’s muscled arm.
“Uh...just...okay. Let me know if I need to do something. Or if I’ve royally fucked up. I’m fucking shit at this, Cas.
“Couldn’t even wear boxer-briefs until I was 39 because my dad had called them ‘girl shorts.’”
“It’s not about the clothes.”
Dean snorted. “I know. Just...there were things we did and didn’t do, so I’d be breaking those things right along with you, Cas.
"I am.” Dean took another sip of his beer. It was the hesitant one, now.
“I’ll...I’ll get better about it, okay?” He kissed Cas on the nose, “Let’s just watch our chick-flick now.”
Castiel nodded. They don’t turn down the lights even though it would have been easier.
He could tell Dean did his best not feeling up his skirt too much; just slipped under the fabric and rested his fingers on his upper hip.
The whatever was soothed, and halfway through the movie, Cas got up and changed into sweats, and Dean took a long drag of beer and got tense until Cas clambered back onto the couch and draped an arm around him. “It’s gone, now,” Cas whispered to him during the diner scene, “you didn’t do anything to it.” And Dean relaxed the rest of the way and tangled their feet up and pretended not to be paying attention to the film, because most days, Castiel enjoys them well-enough, but chick-flicks are really Dean’s thing.
And they went to bed like they normally did and Cas took off the bone necklace and set it on the bedside table and Dean’s face scrunched up a little at that, like he was re-learning Castiel all over again, but muttered, “it’s okay. I didn’t—” and slipped under the covers in his boxer shorts. And Cas woke up the next morning to Dean between his legs and the feeling that he was in an intermediary place, drifting back over, and so after they showered he put on his normal slacks and a white button down and the bone necklace and Dean opened up an old box and says, “it’s guy stuff,” with a shrug, “but if you want..” and it was some of Dean’s old bracelets so Cas slipped one on and went for a slightly-fancier buckle on his belt. He kissed Dean as they left their room for coffee, and by the next day, Cas was back to his suit-and-backwards-tie, and Dean was watching him a little harder, and Sam mentioned, “if you need anything...” before the end of the week (open-ended, not even talking about the gender; he’d picked up a certain circular way of dealing with emotions and uncomfortable topics from handling Dean), and Cas no longer felt like he was sneaking as much as displaying when he, on Saturday, was stepping a little softer out of the bathroom, Dean’s bracelets attached to his wrists, and decided on his embroidered jeans.
Sam was the one who coughed and was awkward about it and asked, “uh...are you a girl or...”
“Feminine,” Cas confirmed, pouring coffee, “but he/him is fine.”
“Okay, uh...you know it wouldn’t inconvenience us too much if you want to change. Dean’s a little slow, but even he—”
“I know,” Cas said, and he did. He’d had worse indiscretions and he thought Dean was more uncomfortable with his own experiences than Cas’ clothing choice or how he folded his hands; Dean had given him the bracelets, “we’ve talked about it.” More than Dean normally talks about shit, he meant.
“Uh, okay. Wait? Really? If you just—”
“Sam. It’s fine.”
“Oh. Uh. Yeah. Sorry.” Sam coughed a couple of times, then went back to filling the blender for his smoothie, “Sorry.”
Cas looked down at himself, softer around the edges and on display. He wondered if he should get some eyeliner or eye shadow, or if it would be too much. Then thought, being a little too much was part of the point. It was supposed to stick out. He was supposed to be different. He was supposed to be comfortable. Or maybe comfortable wasn’t in this equation yet. “It’s alright," he said to Sam's stiff back and insistent press on the pulse button, "Dean told you; it’s a change.”
What was the change? Them knowing? They were the ones who had to adjust to it; he’d lived it all along. He was just living it differently; they all had to adjust. Or maybe the adjustment was him not packing those parts away, not flattening soft curves under untailored suits and assumptions.
He knew there was something here about a mortifying ordeal.
“Mornin’ Cas.” Dean touched his braceletted wrist, pecked him on the cheek. A hand went flat over his embroidered pocket. He glanced over at his brother, “Cool it, Sammy. It’s just Cas. ‘Wavelength of celestial intent,’ remember? Just sometimes, uh, girlier.” He squeezed Cas’ back pocket and went for the coffee.
Sometimes he would wear the skirt out and people would look twice or with confusion, and cashiers would give him a careful, “m’am." And he would look at Dean and would smile over and his wings would flutter a bit in the plane they were in. Or, even more rarely, he would get an understanding smile. Tall women with large feet in dainty flats, short, mustachioed men, even others who were like him, with broad shoulders and matching skirts. Cas felt consoled that they were in whatever-this-is together, that they, too, were trying to live their best lives.
Cas did end up buying the makeup. He went into the store and the attendant saw him petrified over the isles and isles of flat colored boxes and had asked, “what are you looking for?” and Cas had replied, "some eyeshadow, maybe some eyeliner," and the attendant had nodded and asked, “do you know what skin tone you’re looking for?”
Cas had held up his hand and the attendant had nodded and just rolled with it. Cas had been feeling largely masculine today, dressed in his traditional suit-and-tie, but they were around the mall for the first time in a long time, and he wasn’t going to pass this up. It was slightly awkward, but Cas had walked out of the store with plenty of makeup wipes and a white bag of purchases which he was fairly confident he’d like once he was in the mood. Dean had stood outside with his shoulders crossed with the universal masculine signal of ‘I’m not sure why we’re at the mall, could you go a little faster and just get in and get out?’ but they’d gone and seen a shoot-em-up western afterwards (Dean refused to skip out on the shopping and see the movie without him) and Cas had let Dean share his popcorn, so by the time they’d returned to the motel with burgers, Dean’s masculine ego had been soothed and mall-transgressions were forgotten.
Dean handed him an Amazon bag. It was dropped off at a P.O. box, since the Bunker wasn’t exactly on the map, but Dean had slapped the plastic package in front of him with an, “it’s for you.”
But Dean had just walked off to a different part of the bunker with a, “hope you don’t mind I didn’t get you a bow or anything,” and was gone.
Cas thought it had something to do with sex. Dean wasn’t uncomfortable with much (correction: Dean was uncomfortable with many things, but there were not many things where he had the drop-em-and-leave-em instinct despite having sought it out in the first place), but he was uncomfortable with some sexual things, even if they were things he had wanted to do, and especially if there was a chance his little brother had gotten into the packages (Dean wasn’t squeamish or anything; he just had his lines).
And Dean’s comment about the bow...
So Cas took the package to the bedroom before opening it, ready to blush like a little girl but otherwise be pleased and excited to explore. Except...the three clothing packages inside weren’t particularly sexy (though they weren’t not sexy, either) or flimsy or silicone like Cas had come to associate those packages. Instead, they were polyester-cotton, silk, and a spandex-cotton blend. And well-made (or, as well-made as any Target or Kohls-like garment of clothing). A forest-green blouse with a draping neckline of sketched-out bees, a flowing black skirt, and—the largest garment—a dark navy dress. “It’s for you,” he remembered Dean saying.
He tried on the blouse.
He paired it with a normal dark pair of slacks, and, though he wasn’t feeling particularly feminine today, it didn’t grate against anything else and he wanted to look nice.
He wore it to dinner and Sam smiled a bit and mentioned, “I see Dean’s packages came in,” and Jack said, “Nice top, Cas! Did Dean get it for you?”
And Cas nodded and smiled as he pulled dishes for all of them.
And Dean came in with new beers for everyone and he and Sam tried to introduce Cas and Jack to Monopoly after dinner. When Dean flipped the board after landing on Park Place the 5th time (“is there anything you’d like to mortgage?” Cas had asked, almost trying not to sound smug) and stormed out, Sam re-assured him that they had successfully played Monopoly and advised, for the next couple of weeks, to watch where he stepped on the floor.
Dean came back to help them pick up the pieces and “good game,” and Jack asked, “can I flip the board next time?”
“No.” “NO!” “Only if you’re winning,” Dean finished.
Cas glared at him over the scattered paper money, but without any heat.
“What was the occasion?” Cas asked against Dean’s lips, that night, when they were in their bedroom.
“For the—” Cas lifted his mouth, slightly, felt Dean run calloused fingers over smooth fabric, “—for the gifts?”
“Uh,” Dean shuffled away, in a pretense of taking off his boots, “Well, you don’t have a birthday, so...” he glanced up, “Don’t you remember?”
Cas scrunched his brow. When would there be an occasion for a gift? The Equinox was soon, but...
Dean looked back down, again. “It’s about the time that, uh, I came back,” he pulled off his boots, carried them over to the closet (Cas knew Dean was stalling), “the first time,” he said to the closet doors.
“It’s the anniversary of our meeting.” Cas surmised.
“Uh, yeah,” Dean glanced behind him at Cas, “you didn’t have a birthday, so I figured, close enough?”
“Dean, you were the one that was raised from the dead. Today is literally your re-birth day; I should be the one giving you presents,” Cas stepped closer to his husband.
“Well,” Dean stroked up and down his arms, “maybe seeing you happy is my present,” he smiled, “Besides, uh...I wanted to get you some new stuff for a while,” he swallowed. Covered his nervousness with a peck to Cas’ lips.
“Thank you, Dean.”
Cas could feel Dean smile.
Cas leaned against him, pressed her forehead against his shoulder, comfortable in the back-and-forth of Dean's hands.
Cas could feel Dean’s fingers sneak under the smooth silk and tiny, embroidered bees, “come here, Cas,” he said, “we have an anniversary to celebrate,” and they do.