Actions

Work Header

Angel Cookies

Chapter Text

 

Nothing brings to life again a forgotten memory like fragrance

~ Christopher Poindexter

 

Vanilla and sugar.

Those were the two most prominent fragrances Castiel could smell as soon as he opened the front door. If he was completely honest with himself, he’d smelled them as soon as he’d stepped out of his car. But being a master of repression, his subconscious mind had made him believe that there was nothing wrong as he took the five steps to his Aunt Amara’s grand townhouse. As soon as the front door opened, however, not even his subconscious was able to pretend anymore. And nothing, absolutely nothing was able to keep the memories from floating back to his conscious mind.

Pitiful green eyes.

A sad frown.

“Castiel … I’m sorry …”

“Castiel, Sweetheart, is that you?”

With a slight shake of his head, Castiel banished the painful flashbacks back to where they belonged: the deepest, darkest parts of his mind, never to be touched again.

“Yes, it’s me.”

“Close the door, please. It’s too cold outside.”

Following his aunt’s order, Castiel closed the door and let his overnight bag drop to the floor. Shaking the snow off of his black coat, he took it off and got out of his shoes. He didn’t have to search long for the soft house slippers, still in their place where he had left them after his last visit.

Castiel tried hard to ignore the smell that was permeating the house. More snippets of a painful past threatened to break to the surface, but Castiel took a deep breath through his mouth to steel himself. Shoulders back, chest out. It was the past and it was a long time ago. The damn smell of some cookies would not change that.

“Castiel, do you plan to camp in the entrance hall?”

Sighing, Castiel made his way through the hall and the dining room to the spacious kitchen, located in the back of the house. The picture that greeted him had to be expected after the unmistakable smell, yet it was still so absurd that it took a moment to take in.

His lovely aunt was in no way dressed like a baking housewife, except for the ruched apron with a flowery pattern. It was a stark contrast to the black designer dress that was part of his aunt’s seemingly endless collection. Although she never strayed from the color since her beloved husband had died seven years ago, Castiel was still sure she hadn’t worn the same dress even once. Despite some flour on the apron, the dress was spotless as ever. As was Amara’s smile when she looked up from where she’d just gotten some cookies out of the oven.

“There you are. And on time, the last load is just about done.”

Putting the tray down on the counter, Amara brushed away a single strand of her otherwise perfectly made hairdo. If one woman was born to host a baking show and pose as a model at the same time, it was certainly his aunt. Too bad for the TV industry that Amara had decided to become a shark in the publishing world instead.

“Auntie, what exactly is it you’re doing here?”

“I thought it was quite obvious,” his aunt replied, taking off her oven mitts. “I’m baking Angel Cookies.”

“Yes, Auntie, thanks. I can see that. I was rather asking why you would do that.”

“Because we all love them and I wanted to have something nice to give to your father and siblings when we get there tomorrow.”

While she was explaining, Amara had moved over to a second tray filled with Angel Cookies and had started to put them in a cookie box. When there was no reply from Castiel, Amara stopped her work and looked up. He tried to smile reassuringly but apparently, it hadn’t been fast enough. That or his smile was simply not convincing.

“Oh no, Castiel.”

Leaving the cookies be, Amara rushed around the kitchen island and put one perfectly manicured and soft hand to his cheek. There was no need for Castiel to look away or to pretend that everything was alright.

“I’m sorry, Sweetheart. It has been so long since I last baked these. I completely forgot …”

“It’s alright, Auntie. It’s just memories, right?”

Her stiff smile showed Castiel that he hadn’t convinced her in the slightest.

“Honestly, Aunt Amara. I’m alright. It’s been years. And you’re right, we all love these cookies. Some stupid old fairytale gone wrong won’t change that they are delicious, right?”

A genuine smile tugged on Amara’s lips, yet it still wasn’t enough. So Castiel did the only thing he could think of and reached for one of the Angel Cookies from the last batch. Without hesitation, he bit off a big piece and let the sweet taste hit him. The moan was involuntary but seemed to convince Amara at last, her smile finally real.

“See, no need to worry about me,” Castiel murmured around his still partly full mouth. He gave her a sugary kiss on the cheek before leaving the kitchen to get his bag up to his old room and to clean up for dinner.

The moment he was in the bathroom, he spat out the cookie into a tissue and together with the untouched rest in his hand he flushed it down the toilet. Washing out his mouth, he tried to get the last of the vanilla taste and scent away from him before they would pull him too deep in the memories he’d tried to forget for the last thirteen years.

 

~*~

 

Since neither Amara nor Castiel were loud personalities, dinner was a calm affair. They both knew that from tomorrow night on, it would be much different, as Castiel had very loud siblings and quite a few young nieces and nephews. Therefore, it was a nice calm before the storm that both of them enjoyed.

“How’s the book coming along?” Amara asked as she reached for the cheese plate.

Castiel helped her steady it as it was too far for her to reach comfortably for it, all while nodding in a positive response. “I’m halfway done with the first draft, the rest is outlined. I think a few quiet days back in Stars Hollow and I’ll be able to hand in the first draft by the end of the year.”

“That sounds fantastic. Although, quiet days in Stars Hollow?”

Her voice held enough of amusement that Castiel had to chuckle.

“Yeah, probably a pipe dream. But maybe I can get away from everything now and then. Find a quiet place and just write.”

“You need to be careful.”

“Auntie, I don’t think anyone will guess I’m C. S. James just from seeing me write on my laptop.”

“Maybe not. But I hope you do remember how nosey those people can be.”

“Trust me, I do.”

Only when her soft hand landed on his did Castiel realize that he must have sounded quite bitter. Her eyes were full of sympathy but thankfully, she didn’t comment.

“I’m just saying. Your pen name wasn’t the best choice after you took my last name. People might suspect.”

“Auntie, no disrespect to Uncle Raphael, may God rest his soul. But James is not an uncommon last name.”

“Yes, yes, I know,” Amara interrupted, sipping on her wine and waving away his argument with her free hand. “We had that discussion when we talked about your pen name and Raphael agreed. No need to bring that up again, it’s too late to change it anyway.”

There was a momentary silence, Castiel picking around in the last of his salad – something he hadn’t done since first he had come to live with his aunt and uncle. Unlike back then, his uncle wasn’t here anymore to call him out on it, but he still remembered his words, so he quickly put down his fork, deciding he was done with dinner instead of playing with his food.

When he looked up, he saw Amara watching him, a tender look on her features that just a few fortunate people ever got to see from her.

Taking her hand, he gave her a soft smile. “Don’t worry, Auntie Amara. You worked so hard for me to have this secret identity, enabling me to live my life at peace and under relatively normal circumstances. I will not endanger that in any way.”

At his own words, something nagged at the back of his mind, yet he ignored it. That was a totally different dilemma he would have to find a solution for – as if facing his past in not even twenty-four hours wouldn’t be enough.

They called it a night soon after, Amara still needing to pack and Castiel thankful for a few moments to himself. There was a lot that lay ahead of him and he wasn’t yet sure how he would be able to survive a whole month back in his little home town. He had left Stars Hollow thirteen years ago and had never looked back, not even once. And for a very good reason.

Castiel got ready for bed, just taking out of his bag what he needed for the night and in the morning, leaving the rest untouched. Getting his laptop out, he got comfortable in his bed. It wasn’t even nine o’clock; maybe he would be able to write another two or three pages before it was time to shut off the light. He usually loved working at night, but he also usually didn’t plan to get up at four in the morning to drive for about two to three hours, depending on how fast they would make it out of town and how clear the roads were. Thirteen years ago, when his brother had brought him here, the distance had seemed endless and yet not far enough. Castiel had no idea how he would feel about it this time around.

No real motivation to type out anything productive in the draft, Castiel opened the document he used for plotting and quickly scribbling down ideas and read over what he had. He made a few changes and added a thing or two here and there but overall he knew his thoughts were drifting.

Groaning in frustration, he finally gave up and called up Netflix. He knew he shouldn’t waste any time so shortly before the deadline for the first draft of the new installment in his bestselling Young Adult series – but then again, already having a name in the business was quite helpful when it came to pushing the limits of “deadlines” a bit. Or maybe it was just that he was working in his family’s business and that his editor was also his best friend.

“Oh shit,” Castiel exclaimed, reaching for his phone. He’d promised to text Balthazar to let him know he’d made it to his aunt in one piece. Not that they lived that far apart but Zar was always a concerned mother hen. Especially close to deadlines. Sometimes Castiel wondered if the man was more concerned about his well-being or the money Castiel brought in with his books.

 

[Me] I’m still alive and cuddled up in bed … writing.

 

[Zar] Stop lying. You’re watching Netflix, aren’t you?

 

[Me] Why are you so sure it’s not porn I’m watching?

 

[Zar] Because I would be very concerned if you thought about texting me while doing that.

 

Huffing out a laugh, Castiel finally decided on the TV show he wanted to catch up on before replying.

 

[Me] What, you’re telling me you wouldn’t be flattered?

 

[Zar] … Maybe

 

Pushing pause once the video had loaded, Castiel continued texting for a moment. He loved talking to his best friend. Despite the constant flirting and the first impression some people might get of Zar, the man was straight and actually in a loving relationship. Otherwise, Castiel was pretty sure he would have tapped that ass a long time ago.

 

[Me] I think watching Stephen Amell save Starling City might just be a bit like watching porn, to be fair.

 

[Zar] *eye roll*

[Zar] You enjoy your porn then. Don’t go to bed too late, you have a tricky drive ahead of you. Weather doesn’t look too good.

 

[Me] Yes, Daddy.

 

[Zar] Don’t even start with me, young man!

[Zar] Oh and I’m expecting the first draft first thing in the new year, don’t forget.

 

[Me] How could I forget? You remind me of it every 24 hours at least.

 

[Zar] Yes and why is that?

 

[Me] … because I’m watching Stephen Amell save Starling City right now?

 

[Zar] Not only pretty but also clever. Sleep well, my love.

 

[Me] You’re too cheesy for your own good, you know that, right?

 

Instead of another text message, Castiel got a picture message from Zar. The man was sending him a kiss, kissing lips and heart eyes and all. The pic was captured with Love you too.

Castiel chuckled, but quickly searched for a still of Stephen Amell and pressed a kiss to the screen while taking a pic of it and sending it to Zar with the caption of Sorry, I’m taken.

If anyone would ever see Zar’s and his text history, they would believe they’d gotten the phones of two teenage girls.

Grinning, Castiel put the phone aside and went back to catching up on Arrow. He made it through a whole episode before he felt like he would be able to fall asleep soon. Putting his laptop aside, he made a last trip to the bathroom before snuggling into bed.

It took him all of two minutes to realize that it was way too quiet for him this way. Not that New York was ever really quiet; but compared to his penthouse close to Central Park, his aunt’s townhouse was sat in a quiet area of the city. Quiet enough to give Castiel’s thoughts room to invade his mind and that was the last thing he wanted. Starting his laptop up again, he plugged it in and searched for the first episode of Arrow. He set it just loud enough for him to have a background noise but not wanting him to watch it. Since he already knew the episode by heart, the temptation was down to a minimum.

He turned away from his laptop and sighed in relief as the noises drowned out all possible memories, helping him drift off to sleep within a few short minutes.

 

~*~

 

The reindeer antlers on his head were askew. He could feel it but there was no time to readjust them. The little bells on his jingle bell sweater rang in a weird harmony with the church bells as he ran up the steps, trusting that his snow boots wouldn’t slip on the fresh snow on the steps. The door opened in front of him like magic and there he was.

Dean Winchester.

The man he had loved before he knew what love was.

“Mr. Winchester!”

It was just them in the room, no one else there.

How easy would it be to run to him and ignore how forbidden this was.

They were destined to be together. The Angel Cookies had told him that.

“On Christmas Eve, if you eat Angel Cookies right before bed and then dream of your one true love, he will be your destiny.”

Cas had dreamed of Dean Winchester.

He had dreamed of him almost every night for the past years, but this was different.

This was different because he had Angel Cookies before going to bed last night and the old legend of his family had never been wrong.

Not for his grandparents.

Not for his aunt.

Not for his father.

And not for his cousins and siblings.

He knew he was meant to be with Dean Winchester.

So why was the man looking at him with such pity in his beautiful green eyes? Why was a sad frown distorting his handsome face?

“Castiel … I’m sorry …”

Laughter.

They weren’t alone.

And they weren’t close, not anymore.

There were miles between them, filled with sneering and malicious and sardonic faces, fingers pointing at him, laughter, pity.

Tears welled up in his eyes as he turned around and ran.

Ran as fast as he could, only to slip on the icy steps of the church ...

 

~*~

 

Castiel jerked awake, the feeling one had when falling in their sleep still lingering in his bones. The rest of the dream came back to him and Castiel didn’t know how to breathe. He threw the blankets away from him and sat up, wrapped his arms around his stomach and curled into himself.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

He continued the mantra in his head while carefully seesawing back and forth, trying to calm himself down.

It had been years since he last had this nightmare … this memory invading his sleeping hours. Castiel should have known it would all come back now, so shortly before he went back home. Getting up, he brought his laptop back to life. It was shortly after two in the morning. He still had a bit before they wanted to get up and hit the road.

Starting Arrow up again and turning the volume up a bit, he let the noises push away any lingering thoughts while he went to the bathroom. He didn’t need long to find the pills in his toiletry bag. Nothing heavy, just some very, very light sedative tablets he got over the counter. They would soothe his nerves and help him calm down enough to get some more sleep. He took one and drank some water before washing his face to clear his head further. Looking at himself in the mirror, he shook his head.

“This is a stupid idea.”

Castiel knew it was stupid going back to Stars Hollow after thirteen years. But what choice did he have when his father fell sick, not able to travel around America to visit his children over the holidays as he’d done in previous years? Should he have told his father “no” after Michael had called to let Castiel know that their father might be downplaying it, but that his health really wasn’t the best? Should he just hope his father would get better miraculous and come to New York next year?

Sighing, Castiel dried up and went back to the bedroom. Of course not. Of course, he had to follow his father’s plea, no matter how hard this would be on him.

As he passed his overnight back, he leaned down and got out the folder with his notes for the next book. He didn’t bother switching on the light, the gleam from his laptop was enough for him to find what he was looking for.

The other reason why he felt compelled to go back to Stars Hollow, even though he couldn’t explain why.

The letter was just a few days old and yet the colorful paper as well as the envelope it was tucked into looked well-used. Probably because Castiel had held them in his hands so often, thinking about what to do with it.

 

Grace W.

Stars Hollow, CT

 

There was nothing more on the sender, no street, not even a last name. But the writing clearly showed that this was the letter of a young girl. She must not have expected her “favorite author”, as she herself had called him in her letter, to reply to her. Maybe she’d just needed someone to share all her pain with. Because he had looked it up and from the close to ten thousand citizens of Stars Hollow, twenty-seven were called Grace and had a last name that started with a W. Sure, he had no idea how old they were but how would that help him to address his return letter? To Grace W., probably aged ten to fifteen, reads books from C. S. James, Stars Hollow?  

Shaking his head again, Castiel got the letter out of the envelope. He didn’t need any light, the words by now clearly written in his mind. He had no idea why this letter from a little fan had gotten to him the way this one had. It wasn’t as if Grace was the only kid to write to him with all her heartaches. Castiel had even wondered if it was because she was from Stars Hollow. Or maybe it was because she told him how she’d lost her mother when she was eight – the same age as Castiel had lost his mother. Or maybe because she’d written about her accident and that she was actually scared now to get back on a horse, even though she’d always loved it. Castiel could relate. He never had an accident riding a horse, but it had been a long time since last he had done it and only when he had read Grace letter had he been reminded of those good old days back home. He hadn’t been back on a horse since he had left Stars Hollow and maybe that was the reason why for him, it was such a huge part of Stars Hollow and his past.

All these were possible reasons why Grace’s letter had touched him deeper than any other letter ever had. If he was honest, it might just be the way this little girl worried for her father, a few lines, in particular, sticking out:

“I know he wants to be strong for me, but I can hear him cry when he thinks I’m asleep.”

“Shortly after the accident, the doctors said I might never walk again – but I wasn’t scared about that. I was scared for my dad because I could see how much it hurt him.”

“After my mom died, Dad would hardly talk. He was the same after my accident and it really scares me.”

Sighing again, Castiel folded the letter and put it back inside the envelope.

He had promised Amara not to endanger his identity and he really had never planned to. But for some reason, he wanted to find a way to contact this girl. Help her get through this hard time. He wouldn’t go and approach her and tell her who he was, but at the very least he would find out who she was so he could finally answer her letter.

After all, how many young girls would there be that had lost their mother and just had a horseback riding accident this past summer?

He just needed to be careful with who he would ask in this town full of nosey people.

Chapter Text

Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous

~ Albert Einstein

 

Balthazar had been right: the drive was not an easy one. At least the streets weren’t that full at six in the morning. Castiel had overslept and only woken once Amara had knocked on his door. It had made them late by half an hour because his aunt had insisted he have breakfast and  black coffee before they leave. It was probably best, seeing how he needed to be fully awake and focused to make his way from New York to Stars Hollow.

As they passed Hartford, Castiel’s nerves picked up for the first time and he gripped the steering wheel a bit tighter. But it wasn’t until they drove past Bobby Singer’s ranch that he wanted to turn around the first time. Singer’s ranch marked the unofficial outer lines of Stars Hollow from the direction of Hartford. It was easy to spot in the distance, some of the lights already on. It was still too dark to be sure, but Castiel thought he could see a silhouette mount a horse and leave the ranch. He had no idea Bobby was such an early riser and such a passionate rider that he would do it at the crack of dawn. But then again, it had been thirteen years since last he had seen the man. A lot of things could change in that time.

He was so distracted with his thoughts of Bobby Singer and if maybe he was the right man to ask about a little girl that had an accident riding a horse that the city sign of Stars Hollow basically came out of nowhere, making his heart speed up. Only when his aunt laid a soft hand on his did he realize that he was gripping the steering wheel so hard by now that his knuckles were white. He chanced a glance at Amara, her soft smile hardly calming him down.

“It will be alright, Castiel.”

Of course it would be. After all, the past was in the past and he certainly wasn’t the naive little teenager he once had been. He gave her a short nod before concentrating on the road again.

Passing the town square, he was surprised to see people already up and working, decorating the beautiful gazebo that still stood in the center. To one side, some people were busy setting up a stage while others were busy with rods that might end up creating a big tent, so the audience wouldn’t sit under the open sky.

“Is it just me or has nothing changed in the last decades?” Amara asked, her eyes not only sweeping over the town square but also the storefronts lined up around the square. When Castiel couldn’t figure out if her voice was fond or irritated he simply shrugged and drove on.

They reached the Shurley Mansion at a quarter to seven, and it was already buzzing with life, the whole clan early risers. Somehow, Castiel had hoped he would be able to sneak inside and hide away from everything for a bit longer, but of course, his hopes were in vain.

Inias and Gabriel were the first to step outside, greeting their little brother and their aunt with hugs. As it seemed, all his siblings had taken this Friday off to celebrate a real family reunion. He knew most of them would go back to work on Monday. Except for Rebecca’s husband Bart and Inias’ fiancé Gad, who both couldn’t afford to be away from their jobs for the whole four weeks, everybody was already there.

The highlight of the morning was when Aunt Amara put the Angel Cookies on the coffee table. There was a mix of excited voices, either praising Amara, or retelling the legend for the younger ones. Of course the old story about Grandma Colette had to be told. After all, she’d been the first one to dream of her future husband after eating Angel Cookies on Christmas Eve. At that time, two men had courted her, but when it was Cain that appeared in her dreams that night she’d taken it as a sign and the decision had been made. Not once in her life had she regretted it, and Michael had often told his younger siblings that he still remembered their grandparents and how terribly in love they’d been.

Chuck and Amara had grown up with their parents’ story, always in awe even though neither really believed it. That had been until Chuck had met the beautiful Becky Rosen and had dreamed of her after eating the cookies on Christmas Eve as well. It didn’t matter that she’d died young. Chuck insisted, those years they’d spent together had been the best years of his life. Castiel believed him, because he still remembered how happy his parents had been. And he remembered how happy Amara had been with the man of her dreams, Raphael, even though he’d never been able to give her children. It didn’t matter for her. The fact that she still wore black so many years after his death told Castiel everything he needed to know.

It hadn’t stopped at that generation.

Becky’s nieces and nephews had heard the legend just as often as Castiel and his siblings had after them. His cousins all were in happy relationships by now and out of his six siblings, three were already happily married, one was engaged, and one was in a happy relationship – all after dreaming of their loved ones the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning (although Gabriel kept insisting he’d never really dreamed of his girlfriend Kali, only of sweets, yet seeing them together, that was hard to believe).

So far, the legend had failed none of them.

None.

Except for Castiel.

But he couldn’t hold it against his family that all these stories would now be retold. No one but Amara knew that what had happened thirteen years ago was because of this stupid family legend.

Over the ruckus, no one noticed that Castiel wasn’t reaching for the cookies. Not even once.

 

~*~

 

It wasn’t until midday that Castiel was able to get a while alone, the excuse of a straining drive on those icy streets being enough for everybody to let him go lie down. With the promise of a few minutes alone, he could even handle Gabriel’s jab of, “Told you, you two should have flown up here. But no, you just had to take your car so you can show it off.” Well, maybe his brother wasn’t even that wrong. Castiel loved his brand new night blue 2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE, so sue him.

Since his old room was now a room for whenever one of Chuck’s grandkids were here, Castiel had to sleep in one of the guestrooms. He didn’t mind, because the quality of the bed was just the same. He thought he’d just laid down when a knock woke him up. A quick glance told him he’d actually slept for three hours.

“Come in,” he rasped out, clearing his throat while the door opened to reveal the oldest of his six siblings. Michael was nine years older than him and during the years that they had lost their mother and their father had taken it badly, he’d been somewhat like a second father.

“Did I wake you?”

“Yes, but it’s alright. I slept long enough,” Castiel reassured him, wiping sleep out of his eyes and throwing his legs over the side of the bed.

Michael hesitated for a moment – something Castiel was not used to witnessing with his brother – before sitting down next to him, looking at him intently. “It seems you needed the sleep.”

With Michael, nothing was ever just a statement or a question. As a lawyer, he was able to detect everything going on around him and to word everything he said so that people felt the instant need to confess. It had gotten Gabriel and Anna in trouble quite often while they were still younger. Having lived apart for thirteen years, it seemed Castiel was not as immune to Michael’s psychological powers anymore. Or maybe he simply didn’t care.

“Yes, I haven’t slept well the last few nights.”

There was a heavy silence, neither of them needing to say anything more.

The happenings Christmas Day thirteen years ago were by no means a secret – something like that was hardly be able to stay secret in a town like theirs. But out of all his siblings, only Michael had been present. No wonder, he’d been one of Dean Winchester’s groomsmen after all. The only one of his siblings who maybe knew more about Castiel’s pain, was Gabriel, for he had to suffer an almost three hour long drive down to New York with a crying and sobbing little brother. Until this day he was still grateful for his brother not bothering with questions when Castiel had packed up his stuff and begged him to drive him down to their aunt and uncle. It had taken a bit more effort to convince his father to let him move down there for real, but Gabriel and Michael had helped him and backed up his decision. Something he would never forget.

“Cas,” Michael spoke up after a few silent minutes and instantly, he had Castiel’s attention. His oldest brother very rarely used any nickname for him, unlike his other siblings who liked to tease him with various ridiculous forms. Out of all those names, he’d always preferred Cas. And he tried really hard to ignore that it might be because of who it had been that had originally called him that.

Michael sighed and started over. “Cas, before we go to the opening of the fair later, I feel like there are some things you need to know.”

“Okay.”

“Over the years, we’ve kept some things … some information from you. We thought there would be no reason that you should know.”

“But now I should?”

“Yes.”

There was another pause and Castiel didn’t even have to ask. There could only be one reason why Michael would have to search for the right words like that.

“It’s okay Michael. I won’t break down in tears hearing his name. Or seeing him. It’s been a long time, I’ve grown up. And I promise I’ll be able to be civil should we run into each other.” His last statement seemed to pain Michael and now Castiel was truly curious. “Unless there is something more?”

“There is.” Another deep sigh, before Michael looked back at him and finally got it all out. “You know Dean has always been a close friend of mine. That hasn’t changed after … that. And … four years ago, Lisa died.”

Castiel’s eyes went wide, but he didn’t interrupt his brother. He remembered Lisa Braeden. Remembered how much he had hated her for being with the man he loved. Remembered her shocked gaze when he had tried to stop their wedding and even how her grip on Dean’s hands had intensified. Although the last might have only been in his imagination.

“It was a car accident in late November. First ice on the streets and another car crashed into hers. They were both dead right away. Anyway. The following months were tough on Dean and Dad … he … well you know how he suffered when mom died, so he kind of took it up on his own to help Dean through this. Dean has been over for Sunday family dinners ever since. And I don’t think that will stop now. Especially not since it’s Christmas time.”

Nodding, Castiel took in this information. He had known a run in here and there would be unavoidable in Stars Hollow. But a dinner every Sunday for the next few weeks? Taking a deep breath, Castiel got up to look out over the gardens behind their mansion, winding his arms around his chest. He didn’t want his brother to see him like this – in fact, he didn’t want to be weak, period.

Dean Winchester was history, at least for him.

“Alright,” he finally said, turning back around and looking at Michael. “Thanks for the warning. Is there anything else I should know?”

“Well … just to give you a full picture: Dean has a daughter, Gracie.”

Castiel could feel all blood drain from his face.

Grace W.

Gracie Winchester.

How likely was this to be possible? How much must the Gods hate him if this was real?

Thankfully, Michael did not seem to notice anything strange happening with Castiel and he tried to focus on what else his brother was telling him.

“She’s actually my goddaughter. And since they’re living on Bobby Singer’s ranch now, she’s close with Anna’s kids as well as with mine. They spend most of their weekends there, playing with her after their riding lessons.”

“So, basically, one big, happy family.” He tried, he really did, but it was hard to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. It wasn’t as if he had suspected his older siblings to side with him. Hell, there weren’t even any sides to take. It wasn’t their fault Castiel had fallen for his older brother’s best friend. But maybe it would have been nice if they weren’t so tight knit with the man that was the bane of his existence.

Michael must have moved without Castiel noticing as he was suddenly in front of him, one hand on Castiel’s shoulder in a comforting gesture. “I’m really sorry, Cas. I thought you should know before we see him later.”

“Later?”

“Gracie is dancing in the ballet at the opening.”

Of course she was.

But wait, if this Gracie was part of the ballet and the Grace that had written this letter, telling him how she had a bad accident and was severely injured … then that meant it wasn’t the same person, right?

Pushing his thoughts aside, Castiel nodded at his brother and promised to come down soon. They wanted to leave early to get some good seats.

He really didn’t want to do it, but Castiel realized that he took a little extra care in getting ready for this opening of the Stars Hollow Winter Fair. He tried to tell himself that it was just because it was the first time the town would see him again – after thirteen years, after him running away from the most embarrassing day of his life, after being a pudgy, awkward teenager that had grown into a successful, slimmed down person. And without sounding full of himself but Castiel knew that he was handsome and could definitely pull off a grand entrance if he wanted to – Zar had told him that more than once. So of course he wanted that for when he had to face his past. But in the end, he could try and lie to himself all he wanted he still knew who he really wanted to impress.

The fact that he would have his coat on the whole time made all this extra stupid. But hey, he knew exactly what the right clothes could do for one’s confidence, even if no one else would see them.

With a last glance in the mirror, Castiel took a deep breath and deemed himself ready to face the world.

 

~*~

 

Maybe he was paranoid. Maybe it was all in his head. But he had a feeling that all eyes were on him the moment his car turned around the corner and was visible to the big crowd on the town square. Maybe his brother had been right and his car wasn’t the best of choices. Seemed like a brand new Camaro wasn’t something the people of Stars Hollow got to see every day.

Castiel found a parking lot to the back of the event place. If they wanted to look at him, all the people in their seats would be forced to turn around. Surely they wouldn’t be that obvious, right? He parked right next to what he guessed was a classic from Chevy. Maybe an Impala, but he couldn’t be sure. Just because he loved his car didn’t mean he knew all about the history of its brand. As soon as he’d switched off the motor, Castiel took one last breath and got out of the car. No time like the present to face your past. He got out of the car in such a way that his back was to the event field, giving him just a moment longer to compose himself as he readjusted his black coat.

“You can do this,” he whispered to himself and finally turned around.

It had not been his imagination.

As he faced the seats, hundreds of faces were looking back at him and even though there were a few yards between them, he could already hear the whispered questions start up.

Well then.

Keeping his face neutral, Castiel opened the backdoor and helped his pregnant sister Rebecca out of the car. She smiled at him and pressed his arm reassuringly before going ahead of him. In front of the car, they met up with Inias and Aunt Amara, and as Amara linked her arm with his as she always did, Castiel felt himself more at ease. His family was here and everything would be alright.

“Is that Chuck’s youngest?”

“Oh my, that can’t be Cas, right?”

“I think it’s Castiel Shurley, he hasn’t been here in years.”

“Is that his wife?”

Castiel ignored all the whispers and followed his siblings on their search for the rest of their clan. No one approached him outright but it sounded like walking through a busy beehive. He was just glad Amara was right next to him.

“Wasn’t he the boy that tried to stop Dean’s wedding?”

“Yes, and then he ran away. I think it was Germany.”

“I’ve heard it was Russia.”

“You think he’s a spy now? He sure looks like James Bond.”

Oh, how he had missed small town gossip.

“Over here,” he heard Gabriel’s voice and a moment later, his brother rose from the crowd and let his siblings walk in to close up to the rest of the others. Castiel was the last of them and he was glad Gabriel opted to sit at the place on the aisle. It wasn’t much, but at least he wasn’t completely on display.

It wasn’t long before Taylor Doose entered the stage to welcome them all. It was almost funny, as it seemed the man hadn’t changed one bit in thirteen years. Maybe just a bit balder and a bit rounder.

“Welcome, all my friends of Stars Hollow. On this fine Friday evening, we’re opening this year’s Stars Hollow Winter Fair. I know it’s a bit earlier than previous years, but you’ll see that it will do the town good to have this here for the whole of December!”

Castiel could hear some murmur starting up around him and his guess was that the topic of the length of the Winter Fair had been discussed ad nauseam during the town meetings.

“As you should already know, we have lots of events planned for this month, all of which you can find in our brochure –”

“We know Taylor.”

“Yeah, get on with the program.”

Next to him, Gabriel sniggered, always being the one to enjoy it the most when Taylor got fried by the town’s people. A small smile quirked at Castiel’s lips. Maybe some things never changed.

As usual, Taylor didn’t let himself get irritated by the heckling. As he went on to explain some of the events planned for the next month, Castiel let his eyes wander. They were sitting five rows down from the stage so if he didn’t want to turn his head completely, there weren’t many people he was able to see. But those that sat in the rows before him didn’t look familiar from behind. He let his eyes wander to the other side of the aisle. A few of the profiles looked familiar but Castiel wasn’t sure.

Until his gaze landed on a pair of green eyes that looked right back at him.

For a moment, breathing became impossible.

Dean Winchester sat in the first row on the other side of the aisle, talking to the person next to him. Yet his eyes were fixed on Castiel. The moment their eyes met, the man stopped talking and just stared at Castiel.

Heat was rising up Castiel’s neck and he had to force himself to not just rip his gaze away from Dean. That would have been way too obvious. Instead, he made sure to slowly continue letting his gaze wander. Dean was just one face in a sea of hundreds. Nothing more. If Castiel told himself that often enough, maybe he would believe it one day.

Apparently, Taylor was finally done with his speech as Miss Patty entered the stage, followed by a lot of kids, accompanied by the applause of the audience. Castiel chose to ignore his surroundings, to lean back and just enjoy The Nutcracker.

It was a nice ballet, better than Castiel would have thought, seeing how most of these kids appeared to be between six and their early teens. Way too soon, it was over and Castiel found himself clapping along with the audience, having genuinely enjoyed it. To the benefit of the families, every kid was allowed to step forward on their own to get some moderate applause. As was probably common with these things, one could always exactly hear where the families of each child were seated, thanks to the different noise levels.

Near the end, however, Castiel was surprised when one of the older girls stepped forward and suddenly all the people jumped off their seats and went wild with applause. Completely caught off guard, Castiel stood up and politely applauded as well. He looked at the girl and tried to remember her dancing, surprised he actually did. The weird part was, he didn’t remember her because she had been so stunning she’d stood out. Quite the contrary. It wasn’t as if she’d been bad, but it certainly had been a bit clumsy here and there.

While the applause still went on, the girl was joined by the other children, all of them taking a few final bows together. Castiel leaned over towards Gabriel, too intrigued to wait until afterwards. “What’s going on here? Why is she celebrated like the next star of the Russian Ballet?”

“That’s Grace,” Gabe replied, still clapping. “She had a terrible accident this summer and we’re all just happy she can walk again, let alone dance and …”

Castiel didn’t even listen to the rest of what Gabriel had to say. His head had whipped back around, eyes landing on Grace right away. This was her. This was his little fan that had written to him. Without his conscious decision, a smile spread across his face and he applauded with more enthusiasm.

It didn’t even dampen when the children ran off the stage right to their parents. Castiel knew before he saw it, his subconscious already knowing what his brain tried to ignore. But when Grace ran into the open arms of Dean Winchester and he lifted her into the air, there was no arguing anymore, no doubt at all.

His little fan Grace W. was none other than Gracie Winchester. Dean’s daughter.

 

~*~

 

Castiel stayed close to his family once the opening of the Winter Fair came to an end. Little groups started to form, all the people happily chatting away as they made their way home, already talking about the event that was happening tomorrow. Castiel hadn’t really paid attention to what it was, knowing he wouldn’t go anyway. He had to sit down and write as much of his draft as he could before his family decided he had to spend time with them.

Having no desire to reconnect with anyone for real, Castiel was alright with standing next to his father as the man was mingling, only now and then having to shake a hand or accepting a hug from a person he only vaguely remembered. At least people had the modesty to not outright talk about the wedding incident right in front of him.

The people around them, however, all seemed to hold their breaths at once when an excited voice pierced through the air.

“Uncle Chuck!”

“Heeey, little Gracie,” Chuck replied, hugging the girl back as she wound her arms around his middle.

Hugging him close for a moment, Grace released the man just enough to look up at him. “Did you see me dance?”

“Of course I did,” Chuck replied, hugging her once more before looking up and at something, or rather someone, behind Castiel’s back.

Castiel didn’t have to be a mind reader or a psychic to know exactly who was behind him. If Grace was here it was only logical. The worried gazes of his siblings while still waving hello to the newcomer were telling enough. And if that wouldn’t have given it away, the silence that spread around them like a wildfire certainly was.

Fuck.

His father either really didn’t get it, or he was a master at playing over the awkwardness. “Dean, Sam. So great to see you, boys. And Eileen, hello my love.”

“Hello, Chuck, it’s nice to see you too,” a woman behind him replied, her way of speaking sounding very familiar. Castiel didn’t have to think twice about why that was, having known the Deaf accent for years because of Zar’s sister Muriel.

Remembering his life and friends in New York, Castiel finally manned up and turned around.

Dean had not changed one bit. There were a few more lines in his face, but by God, age had only made him even more handsome. As their eyes met, Castiel had a hard time keeping his neutral face in place.

“Hello, Castiel.”

“Mr. Winchester,” Castiel replied with a slight nod of his head, thanking the powers that be that he was able to keep his voice calm and even. Hearing Dean’s voice again was the most terrible reminder of his past that could exist.

Thankfully, it seemed Sam Winchester was just as aware of the awkwardness as Castiel’s siblings. Jumping right in, he held out his hand to Castiel and smiled at him. “Hey, Cas. It’s nice to see you again.”

A little smile found its way on Castiel’s lips. He hadn’t known Sam all too well, but he had liked the man. “Thank you, Sam. It’s nice to be back.”

“And this is my wife, Eileen,” Sam said, indicating the petite woman next to him. Slightly touching her arm, probably to let her know he was talking about her.

Seeing how Chuck hadn’t used any sign language when he’d addressed her, Castiel guessed she was able to read lips. He made sure to fully turn towards her. “Hello, Eileen.”

“Hello, Castiel. I have heard quite a lot about the seventh Shurley sibling.”

The fact that she was smiling and looking over his shoulders where he suspected Michael or Gabriel, he could only hope she wasn’t talking about the wedding. Opting to play it cool, Castiel raised his hand and started to sign along as he spoke. “Please don’t believe everything my brothers have told you. I was the youngest, after all, it’s a given that they would lie about me.”

Eileen’s eyes went wide for a moment before she smiled at him with a new kind of warmth in her eyes. As he finished, she even laughed, signing back as well while speaking. “I wouldn’t know, I’m an only child. But I’ll keep it in mind.”

“Good,” Castiel replied. “And my name is Castiel James now.” He spelled out his new last name, and then also formed the sign Muriel had given him years ago: the hand movement for the color blue while his fingers showed the letter C.

Eileen’s gaze wandered to his eyes right away and she nodded in understanding. “It fits you. And the new last name? Are you married?”

“No,” Castiel replied, trying his best not to look at Dean in this moment. “I took my Aunt’s last name.” He turned around, nodding in Amara’s direction. “That’s Amara James, my father’s sister.”

Amara greeted Eileen in sign language as well but made no indication of coming over to join the conversation. Castiel used the moment to listen to his surroundings. Some conversations seemed to have picked up again, the collective breath not held anymore. Yet he knew it was far fewer voices which meant most of them still looked at the exchange happening here.

Eileen, most likely oblivious to the tension in the air, turned back towards him. “Your ASL is excellent. You could teach Sam some of it.”

“Ha ha, very funny,” Sam threw in, making sure his wife was able to read his lips before he pressed a kiss to her hair and pulled her close to him.

Castiel had to smile at the statement before explaining. “I had many years to learn it. My best friend’s sister is deaf and the two of them lived with me for a while.”

“I’m looking forward to talking some more with you while you’re here.”

“Same,” Castiel replied, finding that he honestly meant it. He didn’t even care if Eileen knew about his past or not. If she did, she obviously didn’t care.

Realizing he could no longer use Eileen as a distraction, Castiel was eternally thankful to feel one of his brother's arms over his shoulder – which meant it could only be Gabriel, none of his other brothers were this cuddly with him. “And you’ll have plenty of opportunities, Eileen dear. You guys are still on for Sunday dinner, right?”

“Of course,” Sam replied, grinning.

“Great, we’ll see you there, then.”

Castiel needed a moment to realize Gabriel was actually helping him to get out of the awkward situation, pulling him aside and back into the folds of his family. Gracie had switched from hugging Chuck to hugging Michael. The man lifted her up for a moment to hug her properly before putting her back down.

“See you on Sunday, Gracie.”

“Bye, Uncle Michael,” she replied, waving at Michael as she ran back to her father, adding, “bye, Uncle Gabe,” while she passed Gabriel.

Even though the situation was over, Castiel could still feel some gazes on him. All he wanted was to go home, but admitting to that would most likely appear weird and like defeat. Thankfully, his brother had a sixth sense for his need.

“Becky, dearest sister mine. You’ve been on your feet long enough. It’s not good for the baby.”

“Oh, no,” Rebecca started up, not catching what Gabriel was getting at. “I’m good.”

“I think Gabriel is right. You look a bit pale around the nose,” Michael threw in and Castiel could witness the moment his siblings’ eyes met and Rebecca caught on to what was going on.

“Well, if you say so. Maybe you’re right. I probably just don’t realize because of all the excitement.”

“Yeah, that must be it,” Inias agreed, appearing at her side and linking their arms as if to support her. “Castiel, you don’t mind driving her home already? Amara and I can drive with someone else or I’ll just show our Auntie how beautiful a walk through Stars Hollow in winter is.”

It was easy to forget how much he loved his family on any other day. But moments like these were the best reminder of that fact.

Smiling at Rebecca, Castiel stepped forward to link his arm through hers taking over from Inias. “Of course not. We don’t want to risk any trouble with this little one, now do we.”

Saying goodbye, Castiel and Rebecca made their way back to his car. As they finally broke away from the big crowd, they had already reached the parking lot, so far apart had the little groups spread out. He opened the passenger door for his sister, helping her inside and closing the door before walking around the front to get in on his side. His gaze fell back on the winter fair and even though there were so many feelings warring inside of him, Castiel also had to admit that he had missed this. Stars Hollow, this idyllic little town in the middle of nowhere. Especially beautiful in winter time.

Trying not to think about that any more than necessary, Castiel stepped in the little space between the two cars to get to his door – and ran into a solid body. He knew he was falling backwards and reached for something to hold onto, catching some soft material at the same moment two strong hands caught his elbows to steady him.

“I’m sorry ...” he automatically said, at the same moment a way too familiar voice said, “Damn, sorry, I didn’t …”

They both broke off and for the first time today, Castiel wasn’t able to control his body. His head whipped up and he gaped at Dean. The man looked similarly shocked and for a heartbeat, time froze.

He hadn’t been this close to Dean since he was a child. Since before he realized what his feelings were.

As the realization hit him, his heart started to pound so hard it hurt, and he let go of Dean’s coat lapel as if the material had burned him. Dean’s hands were gone a second later and Castiel hastily stepped back to make room for the man to step around the car.

Of course, this beauty of a classic car had to belong to Dean Winchester and of fucking course, Castiel had to park right next to it. Maybe he should start a checklist of all the cliché incidents that would happen between them over the next few weeks.

Eyes meeting over a sea of other heads. Check.

First encounter in which he was able to keep his cool. Check.

Awkward second encounter with an accidental collision. Check.

Three in one day already.

Castiel groaned internally and hastily got into his car once the way was free. If he continued like this, the next weeks would sure shape up to be interesting. Not to mention, embarrassing and horrible.

He prayed it would not come to that.

Chapter Text

Friendship begins with small talks; then grows into a long and deep conversation, the next thing you know, you care so much

~ Anonymous

 

Castiel had a hard time falling asleep that night, the quiet of Stars Hollow giving his brain time to mull over the encounter with Dean over and over again. He even realized he had smelled Dean’s aftershave and now the fragrance wouldn’t leave his mind. It was so stupid, it had just been an accident, a moment not long enough to really mean anything, and yet he still felt Dean’s hands on his elbows. Saw his wide eyes as realization hit him.

An episode of Arrow had to help him fall asleep, but he woke a few times during the night and when his clock read 6:27 am, he finally had enough and got up. Congratulating himself for actually packing some warm running stuff, Castiel got dressed and silently snuck through the house. He could hear some noises in the other wing, probably Anna or Michael’s kids already up. Ignoring it, he stole himself out of the house and started up the familiar path away from the city and towards the lake.

Castiel didn’t mind the darkness. He still knew this path by instinct. Ten minutes later he reached the lake and started on the course around it. About halfway around the loop, he heard the noise of hooves on icy ground. Looking up, he saw a black giant come in his direction, the rider mindful enough to wear a reflective jacket and putting a light on the horse’s harness. It was that moment that Castiel realized he might not be able to be seen, so he quickly stepped aside on the turf. The movement, however, must have scared the horse. It started neighing and even reared up a little bit.

“Whoa, whoa, calm down, Cherry. What’s wrong baby?”

This.

Was.

Not.

Happening!

“Sorry, Mr. Winchester. That was my fault,” Castiel pressed out through gritted teeth, his eyes screwed shut for just a moment. Were Fate and Coincidence having a field day here? Was there some universal joke he wasn’t in on?

“Cas?”

“Yeah. Sorry, I forgot to bring a light. Didn’t think someone would be up this early.”

“You okay? Did you get hurt?”

There was real concern laced into Dean’s voice and it made Castiel’s heart speed up. Why the hell wasn’t he able to control his reactions to this man?

“I’m fine, sorry again,” he replied, taking off before he could say or do anything stupid. He was grateful when Dean just let him go.

He was already well on his way home when he realized that Dean had called him Cas. That brought him to a halt, making him bend over with his hands on his knees, gasping to catch his breath. It had been such a long time since Dean had called him that. He had stopped once he became a teacher at Castiel’s school. It had hurt Castiel in the beginning, although he understood why. It was even worse when Dean became his teacher. Having to see the man every day during English literature had been painful enough, the fact that Dean had built up this wall between them simply by not using his nickname anymore had hurt even more.

A nickname he had given him in the first place.

Castiel started running again, trying to outrun his memories. Of course, it was in vain.

He had been five years old when he’d first seen fourteen-year-old Dean. He came over to play basketball with Michael. Castiel had begged his brother to let him join in. He couldn’t remember any more if he had been more fascinated with the ball or with this new boy. Michael, of course, like most older brothers, hadn’t wanted his baby brother there. “I don’t mind,” was Dean’s reply. “I have a baby brother as well.” And then he had kneeled down in front of Castiel and had handed him the ball. “Think you can help me beat your brother, Cas?”

Cas had nodded in excitement and Dean, already pretty strong and tall for his age, had lifted Cas up so he could put the ball right through the hoop. They cheered and high fived after Dean had put him down while Michael had stood next to them, shaking his head in a mix of annoyance and amusement.

Castiel had only been five years old and he couldn’t believe he remembered this one memory so strongly. Maybe because it had changed his entire life. He could remember a thousand more times with Dean over the next few years. Most strongly those that had hurt. Like when he had caught him with one of the cheerleaders behind the bleachers. He’d only been eight, but with six older siblings, three of them boys, there was no way he didn’t know what Dean and the girl were doing. Or when, almost two years later, Dean had left Stars Hollow for college. And of course the time he found out Dean was going to marry his college sweetheart, Lisa Braeden.

But he also remembered the good times. The times Dean would let Cas join in for video games, even though he was twenty-one now and Cas was just twelve. For some reason, Dean never seemed to mind that Cas was so much younger than him.

And Cas had never cared that Dean was eight and a half years older. Especially not when he was thirteen and realized for the first time that he didn’t care for the girls at his school. He only had eyes for Dean when he came home that summer and spent hours upon hours at the lake with Cas’ family. It was the summer Castiel realized he was gay.

It was also the summer he finally realized that he had a crush on his brother’s best friend.

Castiel almost ran into the front door, so eager to push it open and get inside the house, leaving all memories outside.

“Castiel, are you alright?”

Hannah peeked around the corner to the living room, one of Anna’s girls by her side.

Nodding, Castiel pushed himself away from the door. As he passed his sister, he pressed a kiss to her cheek and ruffled little Amelia’s hair, making her giggle.

“I’m fine. Just ran a bit too fast.”

“Alright.”

He left them behind and bolted up the stairs. A long hot shower was exactly what he needed right now.

 

~*~

 

Thankfully, the rest of this Saturday went uneventful, at least for Castiel. He opted out of joining his family at today’s event – something to do with ice sculptures, he wasn’t quite sure – and instead wrote a good chunk of his draft. Satisfied with being able to push all thoughts of Dean aside and concentrating completely on the draft, Castiel was even able to find a peaceful sleep that night.

He still got up a little after 6 am because despite meeting Dean yesterday, the run itself had been wonderful and definitely something Castiel was planning to do every morning for the remainder of his time here. He was already down the driveway when he realized he didn’t have a light with him again. Making a little detour, he snuck into his father’s garage, knowing exactly where there was a spare red flashlight for the bikes. He clicked it on his jacket and switched it on, satisfied that it was working and he didn’t have to search for batteries.

Geared up like that, Castiel went on his way.

This time, he was prepared for the sound of hooves and made a detour over the turf. He had to tread carefully, because of course, this was the part of the way where a little slope started right on the other side of the turf, leaving him all but a few inches to run on. Thankfully, Dean slowed down his horse the closer he got.

“Good morning, Cas.”

“Mr. Winchester,” Castiel replied in greeting, nodding once in his general direction even though Dean wouldn’t be able to see it in the darkness, and continued running. He heard the noises of hooves stop yet didn’t turn around. Dinner would be hard enough, no reason to spend even more time in Dean’s presence. A few heartbeats later, the hooves flew over the icy ground again, carrying Dean further away from Castiel.

He should be relieved about that, he knew. But for some reason, he wasn’t.

Back home he was once again able to get a big part of the day for himself, although the noises were much more distracting, now that the children were in the house and not over at the fair. If this was how it would be every day, Castiel seriously needed to consider finding another place for work. He remembered loving to study at Luke’s, a diner across from the town square. Maybe he should check it out tomorrow, see if maybe he still liked it there. He’d always liked Luke since he wasn’t the type to gossip.

No matter how long he was able to stay alone in his room, dinner time came way too soon. Just like Friday night, Castiel took a few extra minutes to get ready. It was a Sunday dinner after all and Inias had confirmed this morning that, yes, it was still pretty formal in this house. It was rather unusual for Chuck, who had always liked to spend his free days in a bathrobe. Castiel guessed it was a remnant of his mother’s influence. Becky had been a loving woman, and she had made sure her children had always been dressed properly when going out of the house. And Sunday dinners were a formal affair. It didn’t hinder them to be loud and happy and cheerful, having their mother smile most of the times.

Therefore, it wouldn’t look weird that Castiel dressed up in his suit pants, a light blue button-down and a charcoal colored vest. A suit jacket would probably be a tad too much, so he ignored that.

A quiet knock on his door let him turn around.

“Come in.”

It was Hannah and Anna, the twins of the family. They weren’t identical, so their mother had thought it amusing to at least give them identical sounding names. The girls hadn’t liked it in their teenage years, now, however, they didn’t care anymore.

“We just wanted to see how you’re doing,” Hannah spoke up, while Anna sat down on his bed. Her children were six months, three, and five years old – she was almost always tired these days.

Castiel turned back around towards the mirror, pretending to be busy by correcting the knot of his dark blue tie. “Tell me, do you guys have made up a schedule for ‘Castiel-duty’?”

“Cas …” Anna sighed and he could see the worried glances his sisters threw each other.

Sighing as well, Castiel closed his eyes for a moment before facing them again and putting on a smile. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so harsh. I love you all for being so concerned on my behalf.” He walked over and sat down next to Anna, putting his hand over hers, reaching his other hand out to take Hannah’s. “But I promise you: I’m fine. The worst part is over now, I saw him again. Yes, it’s true, I would have loved to never get to that point in the first place, but it’s done now. I’m grown up and the past is in the past. I can be civil the next few Sundays I have to see him again.”

“Castiel, we aren’t worried you wouldn’t be civil –”

“And I will also not let it get to me. I promise.”

Anna threw her arms around him and hugged him close. Just a moment later, Hannah sat down on his other side, hugging him as well.

“If you need an out, we could come up with a code word,” Anna offered after a few minutes of silent reassurance, making her siblings chuckle.

Kissing both their foreheads, Castiel slowly got up, giving them enough time to let go of him. “That’s sweet of you, but it won’t be necessary. If it gets too much, there’s always the porch or the garden."

Any further comment from his sisters was interrupted by the doorbell.

One day, Castiel’s heart would not speed up at the prospect of seeing Dean again.

Today was not that day.

His sisters both gave him a last smile before leaving him to finish up. But there wasn’t much left to do. He adjusted his tie one last time – completely unnecessarily – and left his room.

Excited voices could already be heard down in the foyer. It seemed Michael hadn’t lied when he said the kids all were friends with Grace. Michael’s were closer to her age than Anna’s, being eleven and nine.

Their foyer was an open affair, so once Castiel stepped out of the hallway, he was able to look down at it even before he reached the stairs. No matter how many people there were, he guessed Dean would always be the first one he would notice.

The man was accompanied by Eileen, Sam, and Bobby Singer, who had dressed up by leaving his typical baseball cap behind. They were surrounded by some of Castiel’s siblings and all the little kids, trying to get out of their coats without hurting someone. The chatter and laughter was almost deafening and he felt sorry for poor Eileen, who probably wasn’t able to focus on just one set of lips. But she was smiling at her husband as Sam helped her out of the coat and hung it up for her.

Castiel could feel eyes on him and a moment later his were locked once more with Dean’s, the man looking up at him with a shy smile.

Did he have any idea what this smile was doing to Castiel?

Turning towards the stairs, Castiel kept his face neutral and counted to twenty in his head and then some more, only looking back up once he was halfway down the staircase. Dean’s eyes were still fixed on him.

“Castiel, hello,” Eileen exclaimed, pulling him out of the spell he was under through to Dean’s gaze.

Would Sam kill him if Castiel kissed her right now?

Turning towards her, Castiel’s face broke into a smile. She looked lovely in a teal colored cocktail dress and Castiel made sure to sign it to her right away, making her laugh in delight.

*Thank you. You look quite dashing yourself.*

*That’s a requirement for being part of this family,* Castiel signed back, grinning when she laughed again. She had quite the addictive laugh and Castiel had a feeling they could become good friends. Taking this straw he’d needed to get through the afternoon, Castiel looked over at Sam as he next spoke, yet made sure to still sign it in case his lips weren’t clear enough.

“Sam, would you mind me kidnapping your lovely wife? I think I would love to talk some more with her over dinner.”

“Oh, you don’t need his permission,” Eileen jumped in, stepping away from Sam and linking her arm with Castiel’s. “He’s old enough to survive an evening without me.”

Laughing out loud, Castiel still threw a gaze at Sam, who only smiled and shrugged. Grinning back at the man, he navigated Eileen in the direction of their dining room.

With such a huge group, the children had to sit at a separate table, and still, the adults’ table was almost bursting. Chuck, who was sitting at the head at one end, just smiled a content smile while talking to his sister, who set to his right. Castiel had ended up on his father’s left side, Eileen next to him. He had no idea if Michael had done it intentionally or not, but his brother had been able to keep Dean on the other end of the table, right next to him. The two old friends were chatting and laughing quite a lot. Even though Castiel was still highly conscious of Dean’s presence, he was able to ignore it for the most part, concentrating on his conversation with Eileen, which was quite intriguing. Only once or twice, he found his eyes wandering towards Dean, quick to avert his gaze again the moment Dean looked over in his direction.

With three courses and lots of chatter, dinner took way longer than the children were able to suffer through. They were allowed to get up and play right after dessert – it didn’t lower the noise level one bit.

*May I ask you a personal question?* Eileen asked shortly after they had finished their chocolate mousse. They’d long since opted to just communicate in ASL, seeing no need in talking as well.

*Well, you can always ask. I might just opt not to answer,* Castiel replied with a smile.

*Why did you change your last name?*

*Ah, yeah. That’s quite personal.*

*I’m sorry –*

*No, it’s alright. It’s … just not so easy to explain.* Castiel stopped for a moment, turning further towards Eileen to make sure she was the only one able to clearly read his hands. *Has Sam ever told you about my past? Why I left Stars Hollow?*

*You mean Dean?*

Castiel nodded in the affirmative, and so did Eileen.

*He hasn’t before, but I noticed the tension between you two after the ballet, so I asked Sam.*

Castiel looked down at his hands, not able to meet Eileen’s gaze. So she hadn’t known back then. Did she think differently of him now?

Her warm hand on his was answer enough and as Castiel looked back up, he met her warm gaze. *There is no shame in loving someone, Castiel.*

*Debatable.*

*No, it’s not.*

As he didn’t reply again, Eileen let it drop.

*So that was the reason for you to change your name?*

*Sounds silly in hindsight, right?*

*Not at all. You needed a fresh start. I can understand that very well.*

*It was also easier for me when I got to high school for the last six months. My uncle, Raphael James, enrolled me in an elite high school. His name is holding some respect because he came from money and his publishing house is one of the oldest in the city. Carrying his name was quite helpful.*

*Well, no matter if you’re a Shurley or a James, you’re still Castiel, right? And that is all that counts.*

As he returned her smile, Castiel thought about how sometimes he wasn’t sure if he was just Castiel or maybe sometimes Cas. Some people might think there was no power and meaning behind a name, but Castiel knew that there surely was. As his eyes wandered to Dean again, he knew that he wasn’t Cas anymore. And maybe he would never be again.

 

~*~

 

No matter how lovely his time with Eileen during dinner was, it came to an end when they got up after dinner to mingle in the living room. Little groups formed, as they always did at family gatherings, and everybody moved around the room somehow without consciously deciding to. The only two set poles were Chuck and Bobby, both with a glass of fine whiskey in their hands, talking about one of Singer’s horses that might give birth on Christmas and how Gracie was set on the opinion that the foal would be her Christmas present.

Castiel kept busy listening to the two men for a while, but it wasn’t long before the constant buzzing under his skin got to be too much. Ever since dinner ended, his mind constantly drifted towards Dean, and so did his gaze. He’d lost count of how many times Dean had stared right back at him when that had happened, and Castiel simply needed to get out of the vicinity of this man, even if it was for just a few moments. Silently stealing himself away, Castiel made his way across the foyer, over to the kitchen, and out through the backdoor onto the patio.

The moment the cold night air hit him, he was able to breathe again for the first time this evening.

“You’re Castiel, aren’t you?”

Close to having a heart attack, Castiel whirled around towards the other side. There was a wide bench that ran along the side of the house and one end of the railing, making it perfect for many people to sit or even lie on it. Muffled up in lots of blankets, Grace sat in the far corner, reading a book under the fairy lights and two candles.

As she held his gaze, she was putting the book aside, sitting up to look at him more directly. “You’re the only brother from Uncle Michael that I don’t know. How come you’re never here over Christmas?”

“Um, well,” Castiel replied, looking back for a moment to see if someone had been following him. Would it be weird for him to just talk to a young girl he didn’t know?

Remembering that this wasn’t New York and that Grace was apparently part of the family thanks to Michael, Castiel sat down on the bench as well, leaving about two yards of space between them. He pulled one of the blankets left on a chair over and covered himself while replying. “I live in New York and my job gets pretty busy. Usually, my dad would come over to visit.”

“So you came back because Uncle Chuck is sick and can’t make the trip anymore?”

Nodding, Castiel left it at that.

It took him a moment, but he finally realized that he was sitting here with Grace. The little girl that had written him, asking for advice how to help her father. He’d completely forgotten about that in the light of meeting Dean again. Maybe this was his chance to help the girl without ever having to reveal who he was.

Grasping for something to start a conversation, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “Did it get too noisy for you in there as well?”

“Yeah,” Grace replied, nodding in emphasis before turning her head towards him. “I’m an only child. I really like playing with them, but sometimes it gets a bit much.”

“Tell me about it,” Castiel replied, grinning. “I grew up with six older siblings. I actually used to sit where you’re sitting quite often. I would read my books and try not listen to what was going on inside.”

“I wish I had siblings sometimes.”

“Yeah?”

Gracie nodded, looking back in the direction of the garden.

“I think mom and dad wanted more kids as well.” Okay, they were getting on touchy territory pretty quickly here, but Castiel couldn’t find it in his heart to steer her away from it. If she wanted to talk, he would just let her. “She died when I was eight.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Castiel replied quietly. “I was eight as well when I lost my mother.”

Her gaze wandered back towards him. “Do you still remember her? Because I think I remember things about my mom, but I don’t know if I really remember these things have happened or if I just remember what my dad tells me about her.”

Wow, that was definitely a very distinct way of thinking for a young girl. Castiel felt himself seriously thinking about her question.

“That’s a tough question. I still remember her smell sometimes, and I don’t think that’s something someone can tell you, you know.” When Grace nodded, Castiel continued. “And I remember Sunday dinners and how we would all dress up, just like we did today. And how she would smile and laugh with us. I don’t remember a specific story … well, actually I do,” he interrupted himself, smiling. “But I guess that’s for the same reason you just said: I’ve heard these stories told so often, I guess I don’t remember the exact moment but rather the stories. There are other little things, fragments. So yeah, I guess it’s a mix,” he finally finished, looking back at the girl.

She gave him a shy smile. “Thank you. You’re the first adult to take me seriously when I explain this.”

“Well, to be fair, you do sound pretty mature when you talk like that. And you’re what? Eleven? Twelve?”

“Twelve,” Gracie confirmed. “So I’m not a little kid anymore. I’ll be a teenager soon.”

Castiel had to chuckle at that. “Trust me, that doesn't mean adults will take you any more seriously. Sorry.”

“But I’m not that young.”

“I know,” Castiel replied. “And believe me, I know all about being seen as too young by older people.”

“How old are you?”

“Thirty-one.”

“And people still think you’re young?”

Her question was so blunt and full of disbelief that it made Castiel laugh out loud the same moment Grace clapped her hand over her mouth.

“I’m sorry, that was rude, wasn’t it?”

“A bit, but I get it,” he said, smiling at her to show her he wasn’t angry. “When I was your age I thought everybody over thirty was ancient.”

“And now?”

“Now? Now I’ve realized that even at thirty you can still sometimes feel like a kid. And some people still like to make you feel that way.”

“So it never stops?”

“No, not really.”

“Urgggh,” Grace groaned. Letting her head drop on her knees, which she’d pulled up to her chest.

“The only difference is, while they still treat you like you aren’t old enough, they also demand you act like an adult.”

“But you are an adult. Why would you need to act like one?”

“Let’s wait a few years and I’ll ask you that question, alright?” he replied, winking at her and making her giggle.

She wound her arms around her legs and turned her head to look at him as she rested one cheek on her knees. “So what’s your busy job in New York?”

Ah, damn. Well, the easiest way was probably to stay with the truth the public knew.

“I work at my aunt’s publishing house.”

“Ohhh, cool! Which one?” Grace seemed really excited about it. Knowing how big of a fan of C. S. James she was, she was probably about to freak out even more.

“It’s called Light & Darkness. Ever heard of it?”

Grace’s head snapped up while she looked at him with obvious bafflement. Just a moment later, her face turned into one of eager excitement as she searched for the book she’d been reading earlier.

“Of course I’ve heard of it. You publish my favorite author,” she said, finally holding up the book. “C. S. James. I’ve read all his books and I can’t wait for the new one to come out. Oh my God,” she suddenly interrupted herself, looking directly at him. “Do you know him? Have you ever met C. S. James?”

“I … yes, actually.”

Maybe he should have thought that through a bit more before answering.

Grace squealed and clapped her hands as she sat up straighter, not even caring that her blankets slipped off her shoulder.

“So he’s really a man, isn’t he? Dad always said he was and I think so too. Maybe it’s his last name, but Dad says he notices from the way he writes. And Dad is a literature teacher, so he knows what he’s talking about. How is he? Are you friends with him? Pleeeease, can you tell me anything about the new book?”

Dean had read his books?!?

Castiel slightly shook his head, trying not to focus on that particular information. There were enough questions to keep his mind busy anyway. “Uhm, I don’t think I can tell you anything about the new book. But … yeah. He really is a guy.”

“Is that supposed to stay a secret? Because I can totally keep a secret, I swear.”

Smiling, Castiel nodded at her. “Yeah, it would be great if you could keep that to yourself. He … he really likes his privacy.”

Squealing again like only a true fangirl could, Gracie was about to start another storm of questions. He was saved when the patio door opened.

“Gracie, you out here?”

Castiel went stock still the moment he heard Dean’s voice. Once again, he realized he was sitting out here, alone, with a little girl. Maybe this wasn’t New York – but he had no idea what Dean was thinking the moment his gaze fell on Castiel sitting here with his daughter. Their gazes met and somehow, Castiel felt like he was a deer caught in a headlight.

“Yes, I’m here. Dad! Guess where Castiel works.”

“Uhm …”

“He works at Light & Darkness and he knows C. S. James. And Dad, you were right, he’s a guy and – ohhh –” Grace stopped herself, hand once more clapped over her mouth and wide eyes on him. Castiel had no idea why she suddenly looked so shocked until the girl went on. “I’m so sorry. That was supposed to be a secret. Dad, you can’t tell anyone, I promised Castiel.”

Dean seemed just as speechless for a moment as Castiel felt, but eventually, his confusion turned into a small smile. “Of course not, pumpkin. But if you make a promise, you need to keep it, Gracie.”

“I know, Dad. I swear, Castiel, I’m usually better with keeping secrets. It won’t happen again, I promise.”

“It’s … it’s alright, Grace,” Castiel replied, focusing on the girl instead of her father. “I didn’t mean for you to keep it from your dad, it’s okay. Of course you shouldn’t have to lie to him, so it’s alright.” He finished up with a smile for her, but she still looked guilty.

“You aren’t mad at me?”

“Of course not.” Grinning, he added with a wink, “you’re still a kid after all.”

“Ha ha,” Grace replied sarcastically, rolling her eyes but joining in when he chuckled over their little inside joke.

“I feel like I missed something,” Dean said, yet Castiel was relieved to see he rather looked intrigued than angry.

Grace was quick to reply to her father. “It’s okay, Dad. You don’t need to know.”

“Alright, young lady. I think it’s bedtime for you soon.” Castiel could see how he tried to keep a stern face and tone because of her flippant reply, but failing at it miserably as he couldn’t quite hide his smile. “Come on, the others are waiting already.”

“Okay,” Grace replied, digging herself out of the pile of blankets. Grabbing her book, she got up. “Bye, Castiel. It was nice meeting you.”

“Nice to meet you too,” Castiel replied, taking her offered hand before shifting enough so she would have space between the patio table and his legs to get past him.

She was already at the door when Grace twirled around again. “Ohhh, do you think …” She held up her book as if trying to hide her own mouth behind it, keeping herself from continuing.

“What is it?” Castiel asked, turning towards her.

“You think I could get an autograph from C. S. James?”

“Gracie,” Dean reprimanded her softly, but Castiel was quick to jump in.

“It’s okay,” he said to Dean before turning back to Grace. “I … guess I can arrange something, yes.”

There was another high pitched squeal and before he knew what was happening, Grace was throwing her arms around him, hugging him close. He froze for a moment before awkwardly patting her on the back. Grace didn’t seem to notice as she let go of him and jumped up and down excitedly. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“Of course,” Castiel replied.

“Bye, Castiel.”

“Bye, Gracie …” Castiel replied, still smiling when she’d already left the patio. A second too late he realized that Dean was still there, his gaze on him. When Castiel looked up and met his eyes, his heart did that stupid double take again.

“Bye, Cas,” Dean finally said, releasing Castiel from his hold. As he had already stepped through the door, he leaned back around and added in a low voice, “See you in the morning.”

Dean left him no chance to answer, and it was for the better as Castiel had no idea what he could have replied to that. He didn’t even know for how long he sat there, letting his heart slowly calm down. Not for the first time, he asked himself if he would ever be able to have a normal conversation with Dean without his heart aching.

A glass of whiskey suddenly appeared right in front of his nose and automatically, Castiel reached for it, letting Michael pass and sit down on the bench with a slight grunt.

They sat in silence for a while. Castiel had different relationships with all of his siblings. He guessed that was natural in such a big household. But out of all seven siblings, Michael and he were the most quiet ones. They could sit together for hours, not talking at all and still somehow comforting each other.

This time, however, Castiel had something he needed to get off his chest.

“I’ve received a letter a few days ago,” he began, taking a sip and then pondering over his whiskey. “Well, C. S. James did, to be exact. A little girl … Grace W. from Stars Hollow, Connecticut.”

At that he could detect movement next to him, Michael probably looking at him. Castiel kept his gaze on his tumbler and then at the dark night behind the fairy lights on the porch’s railing.

“Did you know there are twenty-seven Grace W.s in Stars Hollow?”

There was a small pause, Castiel not really needing an answer and still knowing Michael knew exactly what he was playing at.

“And now you think it’s Gracie?” Michael asked, not in an accusing way or anything, just curious. “Because she reads your books?”

“No, not because of that. She talks about her accident in her letter and how her mother has died a few years ago.”

“Okay,” Michael replied, taking a sip himself before continuing: “And now, what? It’s a bad thing Dean’s daughter is probably your biggest fan?”

Castiel huffed out a little laugh at that, one corner of his mouth lifting up before he took another sip. “No. The bad thing is that now I know she was talking about Dean in her letter.”

Michael’s head snapped up so hard Castiel was sure he heard him pull something. “What?”

“She … she wrote about her accident. And how scared she was never to sit on a horse again. But …” Taking a deep breath, Castiel pushed on. “But that she was even more scared about how her father reacted. That she heard him cry many nights and that it was as bad as what she remembers from the time her mother died.”

“Yeah, Dean was scared shitless, I can confirm that. I just … I had no idea Grace noticed it.”

“She did. The way she wrote about it … I think a twenty year old couldn’t have wrote me a more detailed letter. I only knew it had to be a young girl because of her handwriting.” A soft smile stole itself on his lips as he thought about the letter in his laptop case upstairs. “Did you know the dots over her ‘i’s are little flowers and bees?”

“Really?” Michael asked, smiling widely at that thought.

“Yeah,” Castiel confirmed, taking another sip. “Other girls make them hearts, Gracie makes them colorful flowers and bees.”

“Could have to do with the beehives they added to the ranch this past summer …”

They fell quiet after that for a few minutes, just mulling over their own thoughts.

“What are you going to do about it?” Michael spoke into the silence after a while. “The letter, I mean. Will you tell Grace who you are?”

“No,” Castiel replied right away. “No, I can’t. Aunt Amara and Uncle Raphael put too much into this so I could keep my real identity a secret. But … I don’t know. I’ll probably just answer her with a letter soon.”

“You could have done that already,” Michael pointed out.

Castiel nodded. “Yeah, that I could have …”

He left it at that, both of them falling silent again until Castiel felt ready enough to keep talking.

“Grace fears, more than anything, that her father is lonely.”

Again, there was movement that told him Michael was looking at him.

“She wrote that she fears if he ever loses her, he would lose himself because he has no one by his side anymore.”

There was another length of silence before Michael finally spoke up.

“When Lisa died, Dean really lost it. Grace spent a few nights with Sam or Bobby or even Dad because Dean would get drunk. He had to be rushed to the hospital once because of hypothermia, after waking up on a snowy field in the middle of the night. After that, Sam and I made sure to kick some sense back into him. He broke down, crying, thinking he had neglected Grace. We all thought we’d managed to shield her from that but … Gracie has always been mature beyond her age.”

Castiel pondered about Michael’s words for a while.

“I knew Dean loved Lisa. I just had no idea he’d loved her so much that he would lose it like that.”

“It wasn’t …” Sighing, Michael stopped and rubbed a hand over his face. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but … her death wasn’t the only reason.”

Castiel looked up, squinting at his brother. He’d always known the two were close when they were in high school. Seemed like they still knew a lot about each other. How much was Michael actually keeping from him?

“Lisa was pregnant again.”

Castiel’s eyes went wide but he kept quiet.

“God, Dean is going to kill me if ever he finds out I told you. But it was actually her third pregnancy. She’d lost the second child in the first trimester. I don’t think Grace ever knew, she was only three at that time. I’m not even sure she knows her mom was pregnant when she died, so for the love of God, don’t tell her.”

“Of course not!” Castiel exclaimed. Why on earth would he ever tell her something so painful? Especially after she’d told him she would have loved to have siblings. The poor girl.

“Michael, why are you telling me all this?”

“I have no idea,” his brother replied, actually sounding sincere. “I just …” There was a long silence but Castiel didn’t push his brother. Eventually, Michael sighed and continued. “I’ve known about your crush on Dean since you were a kid.”

This time, it was Castiel’s turn to whip his head around so fast he could feel some muscles pull. WHAT?

“I might have even known before you. And … all that time, I never did anything. I … I don’t know, it was just weird, you know? Not because of the age thing or because you’re both guys – you know I have no problem with your sexuality. But … you were my brother and he was my best friend and … I saw how he was at parties, and still knew he was a good guy. Just young and taking opportunities as he got them. I mean, I was no different –”

“Michael, please. I have no desire to hear about your conquests. Or Dean’s, for that matter,” he added bitterly.

“Sorry. It was just … at that time, thinking of you and him … it just didn’t make sense to me, at all. So I said nothing. And then he became your teacher …” Michael stopped for a moment, starting anew after a short pause. “I always knew you were special to him, somehow. I was just never able to put a finger on it … until the day of his wedding –”

“Michael, please.”

“No, Cas. It’s –”

“I don’t want to hear it, okay?”

“But this –”

“Leave it,” Castiel pressed out more forceful. Putting his now-empty tumbler on the table, Castiel got up. There was only so much talk about Dean he could take in one sitting. And talking about the day of Dean’s wedding was certainly crossing a damn line. “It’s getting late, I think we should get to bed. Don’t you have work tomorrow?”

“Castiel, please. I think you should know –”

“Michael, look. I love you okay? And I know you mean well. And … whatever it is, I don’t hold it against you – you were always his best friend and therefore between a rock and a hard place, I get that. And I thank you for being honest with me now. But please: don’t ever remind me of that day again. Whatever it is, it won’t change anything now. Just … don’t!”

Sighing, his brother nodded at last. Nodding as well, Castiel said goodnight and left his brother, trying hard not to think about what it had been he’d wanted to tell him. It would do him no good anyway – he needed to get over Dean Winchester, and opening up old wounds was not the way to do that.

Chapter Text

God always has another custard pie up his sleeve

~ Lynn Redgrave

 

Knowing he wouldn’t be able to face Dean so soon after last night’s talk with Michael, Castiel decided to get up half an hour earlier, sure he would have left the path that overlapped with Dean’s route by the time the man would reach it. He had hoped Dean wouldn’t go for a morning ride during the week, being too busy with getting to school, but his comment last night had been warning enough. Castiel was already far down the other side of the loop around the lake when he saw the light and the reflecting jacket in the distance. He switched off his red light, not wanting to show Dean he was there, maybe giving the man ideas of suddenly switching routes. He was probably overthinking this, but better safe than sorry.

Castiel’s worry about a loud house during the week had been completely unfounded. Mostly because he had forgotten that except for Rebecca, Inias, and himself, his other siblings all lived close to Stars Hollow and still went to work, their kids still having school or daycare. The families would only stop by for dinner now and then during the week and come back over the weekends during Christmas time. Anna might have been on maternity leave yet still had to make sure her older two children went to school.

Inias was able to work from home, so like Castiel, he would spend the weekdays doing just that, trying not to fall behind on his work until he got back to his job after New Year’s. And Rebecca had gone to Hartford with their aunt for a day of shopping.

Basically, it was completely quiet in the mansion.

Way too quiet.

Inias and Castiel had lunch with their father, but he had to rest after that, the excitement of the weekend catching up with his health. Inias went back to work.

And Castiel was going insane with all this peace and quiet. He simply wasn’t used to it anymore.

Packing up his laptop and the folder with his notes, he let Inias know he was driving into town to work there for a while, making his brother promise he would check on their father soon.

The Shurley home lay a bit outside of town. It would be a nice half hour walk, but looking up at the sky, Castiel suspected it would snow later on so he opted to take his car instead of having to walk home through snowfall. A few minutes later, he parked in front of Luke’s and went inside. There were a few tables occupied by patrons, but Castiel didn’t recognize any of them, which was good. The last thing he needed was for someone to come by and wanting to chat with him.

“Hello, what can I do for you?”

Luke had not changed one bit. In a fascinating way, he reminded him of a young version of Bobby, with his baseball cap, flannel, and worn jeans. Castiel shook off the thought and approached the counter.

“Hello, Luke.”

“Do I know you?”

“Uh … you used to? I’m Castiel – Chuck’s son.”

“Oh right, yeah. Heard you’re back in town.”

“I’m sure you did.” Not like gossip wasn’t traveling fast in this town. “Say, would you mind me sitting here for a while with my laptop? I need to work and …”

“I gave up a long time ago, trying to teach these kids to actually sit down and talk with each other instead of being on their laptops, so go for it, I don’t care. As long as you order something and don’t just block the table without a reason.”

“Sure, yeah. I could go for one of your pies and a coffee please.”

“Alright, coming right up.”

“Thanks.”

Turning around, Castiel went for one of the two person tables by the window and set up his work place. He’d forgotten how good Luke’s pie was and he knew he would love coming back over the next few weeks. Especially because the constant buzzing in the diner helped him concentrate. The draft was coming along nicely. There wasn’t much left to do, and soon he would be able to print out the first version. Then came the really hard part: reading over it and editing the hell out of it. He knew he was only supposed to hand in a first draft for Zar. But what he handed in as a first draft was usually his third or fourth draft – and Zar still found ways to leave it completely covered in red.

“Hey, Castiel.”

Having been so deeply immersed in his writing, Castiel’s head snapped up in utter surprise, taking in his surroundings for the first time. The diner was bursting with patrons, some even crowding the counter. One look outside told him the reason: snow was coming down and hard. Looking at the person that had spoken to him, he couldn’t help but smile.

“Hello, Grace.”

“So, ehm …” Grace looked around for a moment before focusing back on him. “Would you mind sharing your table? Every other seat is taken and –”

“Sure. Please, sit down.”

As Grace did just that, Castiel hastily closed his folder and laptop.

“Oh, sorry. I’m not bothering you, am I?”

“No, no it’s fine. I could use a break anyway. Would you like some pie?”

“No, it’s fine. I forgot my money this morning.”

“Well, good thing I didn’t,” Castiel replied, giving her a friendly smile before begging Luke over. “Order anything you like.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. Your Uncle Michael would probably torture me if he finds out I let you go hungry.”

Giggling at that, Grace ordered herself some pie and a hot chocolate. Castiel took the same.

“So, what brings you here?”

“School’s over for today and I have to wait for Dad to finish up his paperwork. It’s usually no problem but today isn’t the best weather to be outside.”

“Yeah, very true,” Castiel replied, looking out the window again. “You have to wait for your dad every day?”

Grace nodded. “I … I had an accident this summer. I fell off a horse and got run over by it.”

“Oh, wow. That …” Castiel had known this, of course. Grace had described it to him in detail in her letter. That still didn’t mean he knew how to react now any more than he had when he’d first read it. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“It’s okay. I mean, it is now. But yeah, ever since then, Dad is even more protective of me than he was before. So I’m not allowed to walk home anymore, even though it’s just twenty minutes to walk.”

“And how long do you have to wait for him?”

“About an hour?”

Castiel’s eyes went wide. “He makes you wait in town for a whole hour instead of letting you walk home for twenty minutes?”

“Yeah, I already asked Uncle Sam to reason with him, but he won’t listen. It’s okay, though. I usually just do my homework at the gazebo or here at Luke’s, or just read a book.”

“Couldn’t a friend drive you home?”

Castiel had no idea why he was snooping around in stuff that was none of his business. He hit himself internally when Grace’s face fell.

“Dad doesn’t let me drive with anyone but himself. Or sometimes Uncle Sam or Uncle Michael if he really has to.”

That sounded even more strange than making his daughter wait for a whole hour. Castiel knew he should just shut up and leave it at that, but his mouth was faster than his mind. “Why?”

“Mom died in a car accident and ever since, Dad is a bit paranoid.”

Castiel honestly had no idea how to reply to that and he could have kissed Luke for choosing that moment to drop off their pies and hot chocolates before hurrying back behind the counter.

Busying himself with putting his stuff away so they would have enough space to eat, Castiel tried to find something to talk, not wanting some kind of awkward silence after Grace had just mentioned her mother’s accident – Lisa’s accident  – in which Dean had not only lost his wife but another child …

Damn, don’t think about that.

“What were you working on?” Grace’s question was very much welcomed in this moment, even though it was yet another topic he had to tread lightly. He was glad he’d texted with Zar last night and his friend had given him the tip to just pretend they had reverse roles: Zar being C. S. James and Castiel his editor. It was one of the best pieces of advice he had ever given him.

“Some editing.”

“Really?” Grace asked, squinting at him.

Confused, Castiel nodded, “Yes? Why?”

“Just … you seemed to be typing furiously when I came in. I always thought editing just means finding some mistakes.”

“Oh, that … no. I … an editor’s job is not only to find mistakes. Sometimes … sometimes authors aren't really clear about where they want to go in their story and then the editor has to leave them notes … so … yeah.”

It was a fine line, but it wasn’t an outright lie, thank God. Usually, Castiel had no problem with pretending to be someone he wasn’t to keep his pen name safe. But with Grace …

“What book are you working on?”

“It’s … actually the next C. S. James book.”

Yeah, he was totally incapable of lying to this girl.

In return, her eyes went wide and her mouth dropped open.

Her reaction was so cute Castiel had to grin. Before she could say anything, he prevented the question he could see so clearly written on her face: “And no, I cannot let you read it.”

Putting on a pout that might have been pretend, Grace got back to her pie. “It’s okay. When will it come out?”

“It’s set to be out early summer.”

“That’s still so loooong.”

Castiel only chuckled, not knowing how to reassure her.

Grace was finishing up her pie and shoved the plate away as best she could on the small table. Picking up her bag, she got a notebook, a book, and a pencil case out before setting it back down again. “I won’t keep you from your work then – the faster you edit this, the sooner it will be published, right?”

“Kind of,” Castiel replied, watching as Grace opened what turned out to be her math book.

“I have enough homework to do anyway. Just ignore me. I promise I won’t even ask you about it or beg you to read something.”

Smiling at that, Castiel ate the last bite of his own pie before stacking his plate with Grace’s and finishing off his hot chocolate. With the free space, he got his laptop back and woke it up. Now that Grace was here, he wasn’t going to keep writing but at least he could do what he’d told her he’d been doing and start his first edits. Going back to where he’d started writing since he’d been at Luke’s, Castiel started reading over the last pages. Once or twice he looked up to make sure Grace was really doing her homework and not trying to trick him and maybe leaning around to get a sneak of what he’d written. The girl looked highly focused as she tried to solve her math problems, chewing on her pen, her forehead in lines from focusing so hard. Castiel’s smile turned even wider before he went back to his own work.

A kind of productive calm settled over them. Somewhere in between, the plates and cups were cleared off their table but neither of them stopped what they were doing, just working in quiet harmony, completely immersed in what they were doing. In fact, they didn’t notice someone had stepped up to their table until the person spoke.

“So, is this a new study group I don’t know about?”

Castiel’s head jerked up and his hand almost flew to his laptop’s lid to close it. He was able to stop himself from his typical reaction.

Dean had a few stray snowflakes in his hair that were rapidly melting now, leaving some strands glistening wet. His eyes were mostly kind but still held a note of confusion. Thankfully, Grace kept Castiel from having to explain anything.

“Hey, Daddy. Castiel was so kind to let me sit with him. The diner was packed earlier because of the snow.”

“Oh, okay. Did you get some homework done?” Dean asked, his gaze wandering to his daughter, finally releasing Castiel. Hastily, Castiel looked at Grace as well just to keep himself from looking at her father again.

Grace nodded as she packed up her things. “Yeah, math is done.” She stood up and turned to Castiel before Dean got a chance to ask any further questions. “Thank you, Castiel. For letting me sit with you. And for the pie and hot chocolate.”

“You’re welcome.”

With a single wave and a sweet smile, Grace turned around and walked towards the door. Castiel suspected Dean to follow her right away. Instead, he still stood next to the table when Castiel looked up again.

“Pie and hot chocolate? Do you … what do I owe you?”

“Oh no. It’s fine. I invited her.”

“You sure?”

“Positive.”

“Okay.”

Dean hesitated and Castiel wasn’t sure if he was going to say more, but Grace calling for her father stopped him. He only nodded at Castiel before following his daughter.

Castiel had no idea how long he just sat there, staring after them. He watched them crossing the square and vanishing somewhere in the crowd and still he kept staring at the space he’d last seen them. It was only when Luke appeared next to him that he snapped out of it. Ordering himself another hot chocolate, he opted to work some more on his book, keeping himself busy as he tried to push all thoughts of Dean aside.

 

~*~

 

In hindsight, Castiel couldn’t believe how fast his first week back in Stars Hollow flew by. After Monday, the rest of the days followed in a similar nice routine. He would go running early, completely able to avoid Dean. Mornings were spent with his father, sometimes with Inias, Rebecca, and Amara. After lunch, he would pack his work and drive over to Luke’s. The snow didn’t cease, falling more or less heavy, but Castiel rather liked it. If nothing else, it would be good for the teams that would start in tomorrow’s Winter Fair Event. This Saturday, a snowman contest was going to take place. It had been years since he’d last been childish enough to do something like that, but he remembered all the fun he’d always had with his siblings. Gabriel and Michael were even going to start as one of the teams. If he’d understood his father right, they had been one of the best teams over the last years, and now even had to defend the first place. Castiel might go and watch the whole thing, he wasn’t sure yet. Maybe another day of writing would be more beneficial.

At Luke’s diner, Castiel would usually get a few pages in. This was just a rough draft after all, so it didn’t had to be perfect. And at this rate, Castiel might even be able to finish up sometime this weekend. He’d never thought he’d be this productive while being here.

When Grace had shown up on Tuesday, she’d looked in his direction hesitantly and when he’d smiled at her, she’d sat down with him again, same as the day before. On Wednesday, she hadn’t even hesitated. By Thursday, Castiel had already ordered them both a piece of that day’s pie and a hot chocolate by the time Grace usually showed up. For the hour or so they would have to wait for Dean, they talked while eating, then got back to work. Castiel was usually able to proofread what he’d written before Grace showed up, editing the whole time. Grace kept her word and not once did she ask to see what was on his laptop.

Thanks to sheer luck, Castiel had been able to avoid another encounter with Dean so far. After Monday, he had made sure not to immerse too deep into his work, always keeping an eye on the clock and the town square. Once he noticed Dean walking across to pick up his daughter, Castiel would give Grace a little hint, and the girl quickly packed and was almost always out the door before Dean had even reached the steps leading to it. Every time, Dean would look back at Castiel through the window, keeping eye contact until something, usually Grace, distracted him.

Castiel could live with these little moments if it meant spending time with Grace. He found he really did enjoy her company. And despite his initial fear, no one ever gave him a strange look for sitting together with a twelve-year-old. It seemed the fact that Michael was her godfather and Chuck like a grandfather to her was enough of an excuse for Castiel to interact with her.

“Hey, Castiel.”

Concerned, Castiel looked up from his laptop. Contrary to previous days, Grace let herself drop in her chair, a sad frown on her face and an almost pout. She didn’t even dig into her pie as she usually did.

“Hello, Grace. What’s wrong? Did something happen?”

“Yes. Miss Kuschner fell sick.”

“Who?”

“She’s a teacher at Stars Hollow Elementary School.”

“Aaand that is bad because …”

Picking up her fork, Grace poked at her pie and let the fork scrape through the melted ice cream on the plate. “Because she was supposed to be one of the judges for tomorrow’s snowman contest. Now that she’s sick, Taylor asked Dad to jump in because it would have been his turn next year.” She put a bit of pie in her mouth, but Castiel had probably never seen someone more lackluster when eating something sweet. “Obviously, Dad can’t be a judge and compete at the same time. So I have no one to team up with. And we even thought of a really nice snowman this year. I was so sure we would beat Uncle Michael and Uncle Gabe this time.”

Grace’s pout only got bigger as she dropped her fork and put her chin on her hands, very obviously annoyed with the situation.

“What about your Uncle Sam?”

“Nooo, he’s no help when it comes to snowmen. I would look so bad. No way.”

Huffing out a laugh, Castiel was pretty sure that this was Dean speaking out of Grace. But then again, he had no idea how Sam was with snow.

“Eileen? Bobby?”

“No. Eileen is a judge as well, and Bobby hates these events.”

“Well …” Castiel was running out of options here. Except for one last one: “I could do it.” When her head snapped up, Castiel was quick to add, “I don’t know how much of a help I would be, but I would certainly follow your command.”

“Really?” Grace asked, face already splitting with a wide smile.

“Sure, why not.”

Squealing and quick as a whirlwind, Grace was out of her chair and around the table, hugging Castiel close. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Unlike last time, Castiel was prepared this time and patted the girl on her back.

All of a sudden, her arms were gone and her hands lay on his shoulder as she looked at him with all the seriousness a twelve-year-old could master. “I need to tell you exactly what we were planning to do.”

“Well, why don’t you do it while you’re eating your pie? Look, the ice cream is almost completely melted already.”

Grace gave him another quick hug before sitting down and finally digging into her pie. After a few bites, she began to babble about her plan and how she would be able to do most of the forming and decoration as long as Castiel would roll up the heavy snowballs they would need for the body. She was so animated and enthusiastic about it, and for the first time this week, they didn’t even get any work done. Castiel didn’t care one bit, rather intrigued with Grace’s ideas.

They had just ordered a second round of hot chocolate when the door opened and Dean was looking right at them. Castiel’s heart dropped into his stomach only to speed right up when it was back in its place. Had he forgotten the time?

“Hey, Daddy. Did you finish early?”

“Yeah, well. It’s the weekend, I just wanted to get out of school. Paperwork will still be there on Monday.”

“But I just ordered another hot chocolate.”

“Mind if I sit then while I wait?”

That question was directed at Castiel but really, what could he say? He only nodded, carefully scooting closer to the window while Dean got himself a chair from the neighboring table. It was no use, though. Once Dean sat down at the front site of the little table, one of his knees bumped against Castiel’s.

As it seemed, the man didn’t plan on taking it away.

“Dad, guess what? Castiel is going to team up with me for tomorrow's contest!”

“Really?” Dean replied, looking straight at Castiel with a questioning gaze that quickly turned into a grin. “Well that’s great. I wouldn’t want you to miss out because of me.”

“Hey, Dean,” Luke suddenly interrupted. “You want something?”

“Yeah, just a coffee. And their check for today.”

“Alright.”

“Wait, what?” Castiel asked but Luke ignored him as he hastened back behind the counter. “Mr. Winchester, that’s not –”

“I know you’ve paid for Grace the whole week. It’s my turn now.”

Castiel was sure he could have argued with that somehow, but quite frankly, Dean’s knee was still pressed against his and it was burning him, distracting him from all his thoughts. The only saving grace was … well, Grace. She was babbling on, talking about her day and the snowman contest and their pregnant horse, Ruby, all the while oblivious to the tension between the two adults. Most likely because Dean seemed completely at ease, sitting here with them, driving Castiel mad with his leg. He paid the bill with Luke and then calmly sipped his coffee. Castiel still participated in the discussion as long as it was directed at Grace, trying to ignore Dean as best he could.

At long last, Dean and Grace finished up their drinks and as Grace was packing up, Castiel had the feeling that Dean was a bit more reluctant to leave. Which, of course, was stupid. Why wouldn’t the man want to go home after a long week of work?

“The competition starts at noon. I’ll be there by eleven to get the best spot,” Grace explained as she got up to put on her jacket. Still, Dean seemed to hesitate.

Castiel tried to ignore him as he answered Grace. “I shall be there at eleven then.”

“Awesome,” Grace replied with a grin, finally looking at her father. “Dad, aren’t you coming?”

“Sure. Was just waiting for you to get ready.”

As Dean got up, Castiel tried to ignore the fact that he was instantly missing the touch of Dean’s knee.

“See you tomorrow, Castiel. We’ll beat Uncle Michael and Uncle Gabe.”

“We sure will. See you tomorrow at eleven.”

Grace smiled and waved as she walked towards the door. It was almost like a déjà vu to Monday the way Dean still stood beside his table, looking down at Castiel.

“See you tomorrow, Cas.”

“Bye, Mr. Winchester.”

The moment Dean finally left the diner, Castiel felt like he could breathe again.

Chapter Text

Every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies

~ Jane Austen

 

“Should he have a mustache or not?” Castiel asked as he held the little spruce branch under their snowman’s bulbous pine cone nose.

Next to him, Grace took a step back and put on her thinking face – one Castiel had seen quite a bit during their work-slash-study-hours but even more often in the past one and a half hours. They still had half an hour left but were basically ready. Now it was all just details.

“You think we can give him a full beard?”

“Well, let’s see how many branches we have left.”

They both leaned over the basket with all their requisites and once they’d collected enough in Castiel’s hand, he went back to holding it in front of the snowman’s face while Grace was judging it.

After a minute, she finally smiled and nodded. “Yes, I think I like that. Let’s give him a full beard with mustache and all.” She climbed back on her little stool and Castiel held his hands open so she could decorate their snowman.

“Castiel, can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Castiel replied as he helped her stick one branch to the snowman’s face.

Grace’s little pause should have given him a warning but still, the question that left the girl's mouth completely blindsided him: “Why don’t you like my Dad?”

“What?”

Only stopping her work momentarily, Grace sent him a quick look before going back to the beard. “I’ve noticed how reserved you are when he’s close. You almost never talk to him. And when you do, you keep calling him Mr. Winchester even though no one else in your family does and you also don’t do it with Uncle Sam or Uncle Bobby. So … why?”

“Grace … I …” Castiel had to stop himself for a moment to try and find a way to explain this to the girl. He had no idea she’d been so perceptive of his behavior. This girl was way too smart for her own good. “I don’t dislike your dad. It’s just … he used to be my teacher.”

“Really?” Grace asked with wide eyes, the beard forgotten for the moment. “But he’s only a few years older than you. He’s not even forty and you’re thirty-one.”

“I know. Your dad knew very early on what he wanted to be and pursued that goal. He was a young teacher in my last two years at high school. I even had literature with him in my last year.”

“So you don’t like him because you had bad grades with him?”

“No,” Castiel replied, chuckling. “I always had A’s in literature. And I told you, I don’t dislike him. But he was my teacher and … it’s just weird, you know? Besides, calling him Mr. Winchester is just a habit.”

So far, he’d always tried not to outright lie to Grace, even when it came to C. S. James. Now he had. Calling the man by his last name was everything but a habit. It was torture. It was an effort, trying to keep the distance between them. However, it at least seemed to appease Grace as she went back to the snowman’s beard.

“I guess it would be weird seeing my teachers again after so many years. I can’t imagine calling them by their first name, either.”

Castiel only smiled at her as he handed Grace the last of their branches, letting her put on the finishing touch on their lumberjack snowman.

 

~*~

 

They finished five minutes early and Grace was ecstatic. Sam stopped by shortly and took a picture of them, their snowman in the middle. He moved on to get himself a drink, leaving them to check out some last details. However, there was nothing left to do and Castiel had to admit that they had a little masterpiece in front of them: their snowman was wearing one of Sam’s plaid flannels and black beanies, held an ax instead of the typical broom, and was now the owner of an impressive spruce branch beard. Besides his pine cone nose he had two dark stones as eyes and some more branches as thick eyebrows. The last of the branches they had stuck under the beanie to look like some strands of hair coming out. For what Castiel could say, this was the best-looking lumberjack he’d ever seen.

“How about a hot chocolate?” Castiel suggested, really wanting something warm for his icy fingers. As an author, the last thing he would need was to injure his hands in any way. Grace nodded and took his hand as they walked away from the snowmen field. It might have been a natural gesture to her, probably something she did with Michael and Dean and Sam and all the others all the time. But for Castiel …

A warmth settled around his heart and he couldn’t help his smile as he ordered their drinks from Luke. How Taylor had persuaded him to leave his diner to serve hot drinks out here, Castiel would probably never know. And with Luke’s mood, the last thing he wanted to do was to ask the man outright. He really loved his life and Luke looked like he would kill the first person to do or say something stupid.

Castiel and Grace quickly found the small group of bar tables their families were gathered around. They’d gotten really great ones too, with a perfect view over the snowmen field. All around them were citizens of Stars Hollow, but Castiel found he didn’t mind. Not anymore.

Michael and Gabriel soon joined them and together they talked about the competition and their own projects. The two brothers had tried to build a snowman that looked like an angel, but one wing just wouldn’t stick.

“So now we broke the other wing as well and gave him a sad face, making him a fallen angel,” Gabriel finished up his explanation, sipping on his Irish Coffee.

As Grace gasped, Castiel looked over at her. “That is so sad.”

“Meh,” Gabriel replied. “If someone asks, he’s our brother Lucifer.”

“We don’t have a brother by that name,” Michael replied, rolling his eyes and making Gabriel chuckle even more.

“Yeah, but could you imagine having a weird name like that?”

“Yes,” came the unison reply from Castiel and Inias. Where their siblings had it easy while still being named after angels, the two brothers had known all their life how it was to have weird names.

The bickering stopped as the jury came into view, starting to walk around the field and discussing every snowman individually. Castiel still remembered the time when they would do that in secret and the snowmen would be left out here over night, the winner only revealed the next day. Many years ago, however, one of the snowmen had been destroyed so badly that it had been decided to change the procedure.

Castiel and Grace had finished another cup of hot chocolate each by the time the jury stepped up on the stage to announce the winner. Of course, it was Taylor that stepped up to the microphone. Tuning out his usual spiel, Castiel let his eyes wander over to where Dean stood between Eileen and Miss Patty, a secret smile on his lips.

“Now, for the third place,” Taylor finally said, snapping Castiel out of his thoughts. “Third place and therefore a gift certificate over $30 for Gabby's Flowers goes to … the Garden Goblin Snowman from Babette and Morey Dell.”

Under loud applause and a victory yell from Babette, the couple went on stage to shake hands with all those from the jury to finally get the gift certificate handed over by Taylor. Suddenly, Castiel’s blood ran cold. If they would win, he would have to go on stage. He would have to shake hands with Dean in front of the whole town.

“The second place and a gift certificate over $50 for Taylor Doose's Soda Shoppe goes to … the Fallen Angel Snowman from Michael and Gabriel Shurley.”

“YES!!” Gabriel yelled and for a moment no one understood why he would be so happy about the second place until he literally jumped up and down ahead of Michael, squealing “That’s a week’s worth of sweets!” While everybody around them started laughing, Michael threw a gaze back at their tables, rolled his eyes at his brother’s antics, and finally followed him in a much, much more dignified way.

As soon as they got their prize, Castiel held his breath. But then again, so did almost everybody else.

“This year’s first place won with a huge advance to the second place. The prize is a $100 gift certificate for Luke’s Diner – now that’s a lot of pies and sweets, Gabriel,” Taylor added, turning back to the man that was pouting in the background, making everybody laugh again. “And the winning snowman is … The Lumberjack Snowman from Gracie Winchester and Castiel James.”

Grace was in his arms, squealing into his ears before Taylor even finished, deafening applause all around them. She smacked a kiss on his cheek before taking his hand to pull him over to the stage. It all went so fast that it wasn’t until Castiel shook the first judge’s hand that he realized who was waiting for him down the line. He had no time to prepare himself for this, but he hoped no one would realize how much he dreaded the moment. Grace formally shook her dad’s hand, making everybody chuckle, and as she moved on to Eileen, Castiel stepped in front of Dean.

The man smiled at him as he held out his hand. “Congratulations, Cas.”

“Thank you, Mr. Winchester,” Castiel forced out, actually able to keep the happy smile he had thanks to their victory. The handshake lasted just a tad longer than all the others had but it was easily excused with Eileen still being busy congratulating Grace. Still, Castiel let go of Dean’s hand, ignoring the need to stretch out his fingers to get rid of the lingering feeling. As Eileen looked at him, he replied her congrats with a simple thank you before following Grace to receive the gift certificate from Taylor. One hundred dollars for Luke’s – that meant a lot more pies and hot chocolates for the both of them.

 

~*~

 

Soon after, it was growing dark again even though it was only late afternoon. Thanks to all the fairy lights around the place, no one noticed anyway. Dean and Eileen, of course, had joined their group and as quick as they had bonded last Saturday over dinner, Castiel and Eileen were back in the middle of a conversation while Grace told Chuck and everybody else that wanted to listen in all detail how they’d thought about every step of building their snowman.

“Okay, next round’s on me,” Dean proclaimed after a while. “Just a refill for everybody or something else?”

“Nothing for me, actually,” Rebecca replied. “I think I need to go home. Honey, you want to stay?”

Rebecca’s husband, Bart, who had finally found the time to join them for the rest of the holidays, shook his head. “Of course not. I’m still beat from the flight anyway. Let’s head home.”

Anna and her husband Crowley joined them, seeing how their kids were getting tired. Everybody else stayed and let Dean bring them refills. Once he and Michael had left to get the drinks, Castiel went back to his conversation with Eileen.

He was in the middle of describing his favorite place in New York when he could hear Babette’s voice just a table over.

“I’ve heard they spend every day at Luke’s after she finishes school.”

Castiel froze and by the looks of it, so did the rest of his family and friends. It wasn’t as if Babette was suddenly talking louder. It was just the fact that they all knew who she was talking about.

“They do. And he buys her pie every time,” that was Miss Patty, sounding just as tipsy as Babette had. “Poor thing probably doesn’t know what he did.”

*Castiel, what’s wrong?* Eileen asked, concern all over her face. Castiel hated keeping her in the dark, but for the life of him, he couldn’t form the right signs to explain it to her. He couldn’t even look at Grace to see her reaction.

“You think little Gracie would still be friends with him if she knew?”

“Castiel,” Grace spoke up timidly. “What are they talking about?”

Shaking.

Castiel was shaking like a leaf. Everybody was hearing the conversation as well but it all went so fast no one even had time to intervene as Miss Patty went on.

“You mean if she knew that she almost wouldn’t exist because Castiel tried to stop her parents’ wedding? I don’t think so –”

“PATTY! BABETTE!”

Dean’s enraged yell cut through the air, silencing all the other conversations in their close proximity. All eyes landed on him as he stood, red-faced with anger, looking at them with a murderous glint in his eyes. Next to him stood Michael, similarly angry but also with a worried gaze in their direction. A moment later, as if on a signal given on stage, Miss Patty and Babette turned around, apparently realizing for the first time who they’d been standing next to. “Oh dear.”

“Castiel, what –?” Grace started again, yet didn’t finish her question.

He was still shaking and first tears threatened to well up. Castiel’s gaze locked with Dean’s for just a moment and it was all it took. He finally broke. Not looking back, he bowed his head and rushed away from their table, pressing through the bulk of bystanders.

Hearing people call after him, the one that stood out the most was Dean’s yell of “Cas!” He ignored them all and as soon as he broke free from the mass of people, he ran towards his car.

This had been a mistake. He’d known it all along, he should have never ever come back home. Now, Grace knew, and she would hate him. Tears were spilling over and he fumbled his keys as he pulled them out, losing them in the snowy field.

Enraged voices could still be heard behind him but Castiel couldn’t focus anymore, his head spinning. He just needed to get away from here before he would really make a fool of himself – even though he knew it wouldn’t be much worse than thirteen years ago when he’d actually followed a stupid fairytale. His heart had shattered into a million pieces that day and not even the fall down the icy church stairs as he’d run away had hurt as much as seeing Dean’s pitiful eyes. Nothing had hurt as much since.

Reaching for his keys, Castiel almost screamed when a second hand reached for them as well, snatching them away from him. As he looked up, his brother helped him back to his feet.

“Michael, please,” Castiel replied, already knowing Michael would ask him not to drive in his condition. “I just need to get away from here.”

“I know. Get in, I’ll drive.”

He certainly hadn’t expected that, but he also wouldn’t question Michael’s decision. Stumbling over to the passenger side, Castiel slumped in on himself the moment he sat in his seat, the door firmly closed, drowning out all the noises. As Michael got out of the parking space and hightailed it, Castiel chanced one last glance back. When he saw Dean step out of the crowd with a silently crying Grace in his arms, he broke down for real.

Chapter Text

Names have power

~ Rick Riordan

 

“Castiel, I’m telling you: Grace will not hate you. And neither does Dean. He never –”

“Stop talking about him, please,” Castiel begged flimsily as he threw another shirt in his suitcase, paying no mind to order. He just needed to get packed up so he could hit the road as soon as possible.

A hand landed on his shoulder, but Castiel threw it off. “Aunt Amara, you’re not going to change my mind. Coming back was a mistake.”

It hadn’t been long before his family had gotten back home as well, leaving the Fair right after Michael and Castiel. Most of them were downstairs now, probably trying to find another way to keep him here. They would be just as out of luck as Michael and Amara were.

The doorbell rang through the house, causing them all to freeze for a moment. There were some muffled voices from downstairs, not loud enough for any of them to know what was going on. That was, until a young voice rang through the house: “Castiel.”

Castiel’s blood ran cold. He wasn’t able to do anything while Michael stepped out of his room, calling out for Grace in a questioning way.

“Uncle Michael, where’s Castiel?”

He couldn’t hear any reply, yet suddenly Grace was standing in the doorway, looking at him with wide eyes. “Castiel, I need to talk –” She stopped as her eyes fell on something behind Castiel before snapping back up at him, fresh tears welling up. “Are you leaving?”

“Grace … I  … I just …”

It was Amara that intervened, walking over to Grace and reaching for her hand. “Gracie, why don’t you come inside and talk with Castiel, hm? I’m sure you’ll be able to convince him not to leave.”

“Aunt –” Castiel began in a voice that sounded like that of a dog that should be put out of its misery, but Amara cut him off.

“No, Castiel. You owe this girl a talk at least. Sit. Talk to her. And let her tell you just how much she does not hate you.”

Hate him?” Grace echoed, eyes wide in surprise as they flew to Amara. “Why would I hate him?”

“I don’t know,” Amara replied, stroking the girl’s head to put a strand back in place. “But he still believes so.”

Looking back at him, Grace hesitated for just a moment before she left Amara’s side and rushed over to Castiel, throwing her arms around his middle and hugging him close. “I don’t hate you, Castiel. Please, don’t leave yet.”

He had to swallow back his own tears as, for the first time, he hugged Grace back. Movement by the door caught his attention, but it was just Amara and Michael leaving them alone.

Carefully, Castiel entangled himself from Grace. “I am sorry you had to find out this way.”

“It wasn’t your fault. And Dad told me the truth. I have no reason to hate you and I never could. You’re my friend, aren’t you?”

“Of course,” Castiel replied. “Of course, Gracie. Please don’t cry anymore.”

“Only if you promise to stay.”

Her plea pained him and he was sure his face showed just that as she reached for his hands.

“Please, Castiel. I can’t use the hundred dollars at Luke’s alone. I would miss you every day and I would be miserable and the pie wouldn’t taste as good and –”

“Alright,” Castiel replied, actually fighting against a little smile by now. “I think you convinced me to stay a bit longer.”

Instead of the enthusiastic squeal he usually got from her, she just hugged him close again and he let her.

“So you’ll be here tomorrow for dinner?”

“Yes.”

“And on Monday at Luke’s when I’m done with school?”

“Of course. There’s a pie waiting for us after all,” he replied before pressing a kiss on the crown of her head. Even after his assurance, it still took a few minutes until Grace let go of him and was willing to go home.

Castiel was just glad Dean had decided to stay downstairs.

 

~*~

 

Sunday shaped out to be warm and sunny, making the snow all around glisten in the early morning light. So Castiel opted to sit on the back porch, with a steaming mug of coffee, blankets, a fire in the fire bowl, and, of course, his laptop. Getting up half an hour earlier just to avoid Dean really had its perks and when his family joined him outside for a spontaneous Sunday brunch, he was actually down to the epilogue. Knowing that he would get that done before dinner and would be able to start editing on Monday raised his mood tremendously.

Even the impending dinner wasn’t going to dampen his mood, and he ended up setting the final dot about an hour before everyone would get here.

As was his habit, he reached for his phone and speed dialed to Zar the moment the story was done.

“Hello, my love,” Zar greeted, raising Castiel’s mood even more.

“Hello, Zar. Guess who just finished their next book.”

“Already? You still have three more weeks before I actually want it.”

“You know I’m not going to send you this version,” Castiel replied. He got up and stretched with the phone still pressed to his ear. Once he was done, he walked over to the railing and leaned against it, looking out over the garden. “But now I can actually edit it when I’m in Grace’s company.”

“How was your snowman contest?”

“The contest itself was good. We actually won.”

“But?”

Castiel sighed before retelling the events that had unfolded afterwards. He was used to Zar never coddling him – something he definitely needed from his editor – but he still had to laugh humorlessly when Zar first spoke again.

“You knew it wouldn’t be easy and that there would very likely be gossiping.”

“Yeah, I know that I knew. Still doesn’t make it any easier.”

“And now you’re staying just because Grace asked you to?”

“Seems like it.”

“What is it with you and that kid?”

“I hope you’re not insinuating anything perverted. She’s twelve, Zar! And a girl for that matter.”

“Cassie, you know exactly what I’m playing at.”

Sighing again, Castiel played with the thought of an early whiskey. “I did not befriend Grace because of her father. You know it happened rather accidentally. Yes, I like the kid, Winchester or not. And no, it also doesn’t have anything to do with the letter she wrote me.”

“Did you already have time to talk about those things?”

“Not really, no. I mean … She told me a bit about her mom and her own accident. But no, we didn’t yet talk about the issues she wrote about.”

“And you know you don’t need to, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“Just … Castiel, dear, I know how hard this is for you. I know you want to help her but in the light of just who that father is she talked about … I just don’t want you to lose yourself.”

“I won’t.”

“Castiel, I mean it. I was there when you came to New York first. I saw in what state you were in. I just don’t want you to go through that again.”

Sighing, Castiel rubbed his eyes with one hand. “I know. I know you’re concerned for me and for that I love you. But … Zar, I’m not that little kid anymore. And it’s only three more weeks, then I will leave all this behind me for good.”

“And the girl?”

“I will miss her, for sure.”

“... That’s all?”

“Yes. Can you please just leave it?”

“I’m just saying, Castiel. Remember you can leave whenever you want to.”

Finally having enough of the heavy tone of their conversation, Castiel grinned. “You’re only saying that because you’ll miss my kiss at New Year’s.”

“Let’s not cross that line. I was drunk and you promised not ever to talk about it again.”

Castiel chuckled as he imagined how red faced Zar was right now; that one kiss many, many years ago had certainly not been initiated by Castiel ...

“Well, no matter what,” Zar continued, obviously trying to get away from that topic. “You know I’ll be here to help you through it.”

A sincere smile played around Castiel’s lips at that. “Thank you, Zar.”

“It’s nothing personal, Castiel love. I just don’t wanna lose my cash cow.”

“Ha ha. Yeah, I love you too, you ass.”

“Call me when you’re done with the draft or when you need help. Enjoy dinner.”

“I will. Bye, Zar.”

“Au revoir, Cassie my dear.”

Chuckling at his friend’s antics, Castiel ended the call and turned around – only to jump out of his skin as he saw the person in the open doorway, leaning against the frame. “Dean!”

“Oh, so … you actually do remember my first name. I wasn’t sure if maybe you’d forgotten.”

Still trying to catch up with the moment – had Dean actually listened in on his phone call? Had he heard what he’d told Zar about Grace? – Castiel shook his head in confusion. “What?”

“Well, seeing how you keep calling me Mr. Winchester I thought you might have forgotten my first name.”

Castiel stared at him, trying to look through the cocky behavior Dean was displaying right now. What was he up to?

And why was he even here already?

“What are you doing here so early?”

Castiel could see some of the bravado melt away from Dean, his voice even becoming softer. “I … I stopped by to see how you’re doing.”

“You could have done that at dinner in about an hour.”

“Yeah, but you seem to have bonded so much with the two women in my life that I just know you’d find a way to evade me again by talking to them all night long.”

Castiel squinted at him a little angry. “I am sorry that you think that way. I can assure you that is not the reason for my friendship with Eileen or Grace.”

“That’s not …” Dean started, only to stop and sigh. He dropped the last of his cocky behavior simply by pushing away from the frame instead of leaning lazily against it. “That’s not what I meant, Cas. I’m sorry. I just … I came here to talk to you.”

No. No way would he let this go on for much longer.

“I think I’ll pass,” Castiel replied, moving forward to get past Dean and into the house.

A hand grasped his upper arm and stopped him immediately. “Why do you always do that? Why do you keep running away from me?”

Castiel’s heartbeat sped up, though he had no idea if it was from the touch or Dean’s words. Or maybe it was the earthy fragrance, the smell of fresh hay and horses and something else he couldn’t define right away as it filled Castiel’s nose and allured him to cuddle into and never forget about.

Maybe it was a mix of all these things.

Whatever it was, it took Castiel’s breath away and he couldn’t control his voice as he replied. “I’m not.”

“Yes, you do. And you’re constantly finding a way to avoid me. You even stopped running in the mornings just to do so.”

“I didn’t.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes. I simply found that I enjoyed having more of my day when I start earlier.”

There was a long silence between them. Long enough for Castiel to register Dean’s body heat pressing through the layers of clothing where their sides slightly touched as Dean still held him.

“Mr. Winchester, please let go of my arm.”

“Why do you keep calling me that?”

Dean’s voice was so full of pain that Castiel couldn’t help but look up. Dean was so close and he could feel himself get lost in those mesmerizing green eyes that seemed to study every inch of his face.

Dean’s next words were spoken in a barely there whisper. “I’m not your teacher anymore, Cas.”

He would just have to lean in. Just a few inches. He wanted to know if Dean’s lips were as soft as he’d always imagined.

“And I actually thought you saw me as your friend long before you saw me as your teacher. Is it so hard for you to do that again?”

Yes.

Because you have always been more than just a friend.

Always.

“I need to get ready for dinner,” Castiel finally said, trying to get some control back over himself. As he saw the sad gleam in Dean’s eyes, he felt something inside of him give. Without really wanting to, his next words slipped out of his mouth without his control. “Would you please let go of my arm, Dean?”

The man’s head perked up at that and a slow smile tucked at his mouth. The grip around Castiel’s arm loosened.

“Thank you,” Castiel said, stepping forward. As he passed Dean, the man’s hand let go of him completely, brushing along Castiel’s arm the whole way down.

It was just barely, but Castiel was able to hold in his shudder until he was alone in his room.

 

~*~

 

Compared to this encounter, dinner was rather uneventful. Grace was allowed to sit at the grown up table between Castiel and Eileen, dominating most of the conversations on this side of the table. Castiel found Dean’s eyes on him even more often than the week before, and sometimes, when he was just smiling or chuckling about something Grace was telling him, Castiel was even brave enough to keep the eye contact.

He had no idea what had changed.

Maybe the fact that he was more carefree now that his next book was written.

Or maybe his promise to Zar not to let it get to him. The reminder that he was not a little boy anymore that still believed in fairytales.

Or maybe it really was his encounter with Dean and the way the man appeared to be heartbroken by the fact that Castiel was so distant towards him.

Whatever it was, he slowly felt that wall he’d build up getting thinner. Not tumbling down, no. But a few bricks were certainly taken out.

Chapter Text

The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you

~ W. Somerset Maugham

 

For just a moment, Castiel considered running at a later time again. That moment was over quickly, and he got out of bed on Monday morning around 6 am just like he had since the Monday a week before. A part of him feared that Dean would mess with him and go for a ride earlier now as well, but that wasn’t the case.

The next thing Castiel considered that day was if he should stay home instead of going to Luke’s. That thought was disregarded even quicker: he’d given Grace a promise and that was far more important than any gossip this would ensue.

Since it hadn’t snowed all day yesterday and the weather report didn’t warn about new snowfall, Castiel finally opted to walk over to Luke’s. There was no reason for him to rush anymore. The book was written, and now he really could get to editing, even while Grace was with him.

Walking into town was a completely different experience than driving. Maybe it wouldn’t have been had he done it in the beginning, but now people actually recognized him. Some waved from across the street; some greeted him as they passed him on the sidewalk. It wasn’t as if Stars Hollow was a small town – not as if he knew all of the almost ten thousand citizens. Yet, compared to New York and given the fact that this was the part of town he’d gone to school to, there were quite a few that he recognized as well. He didn’t even think about why these people would all know his name.

As he passed Miss Patty’s dance studio, he saw her sitting in the open doorway, just as she always did. She must have seen him approaching, as her eyes were on him. His first reaction was to look away, ashamed for what had happened on Saturday.

But he didn’t.

He wasn’t a little boy anymore. He was a man and a damn successful one at that. He’d built his own life in New York.

He stopped and kept the eye contact, challenging her to say something. She didn’t and a few moments later, she turned away, saying something to the students in her class as if Castiel wasn’t even there.

A little victorious smile tugged at Castiel’s lips as he went on.

The smile almost slipped as he entered Luke’s. Just like in a bad movie, all conversations died down right away, giving him chills. So far he hadn’t run into any issues whenever he’d come here. Seemed more people than he had thought had witnessed the happenings on Saturday. That, or it was just that gossip traveled fast.

“Castiel, there he is,” Luke’s voice sliced through the silence, the man himself sending him one of his rare smiles. “Look what I have prepared for the winners.”

Staring at Luke for a moment in absolute confusion, Castiel followed his movements as the man went over to Castiel’s usual table. He huffed out a laugh the moment he saw it. Luke had actually decorated their table with fake snow and a balloon with the picture of Olaf, the snowman from this kids’ movie Castiel liked to pretend he wasn’t familiar with but secretly loved to pieces.

“Did Taylor force you to include that in the gift certificate?” Castiel asked as he left the silence behind him and shrugged out of his coat.

Luke actually grinned – had someone drugged him? “No, I’m just glad it was you two that won, is all.”

As Castiel got to his place, Luke leaned close enough to continue quietly, just for Castiel’s ears. “Besides, after Saturday I just wanted to kick them all in the ass by showing them just how little I care about their gossip.”

Drawing back a bit, Castiel looked at Luke’s face. He’d always liked the grumpy man, yet he had no idea the feeling had been mutual.

Luke just shrugged, probably reading Castiel’s face right. “Hey, I’ve seen you with that kid for a week now. It’s obvious you two kind of bonded. And you’re good for her. She deserves it after all she’s been through.”

“Thank you, Luke.”

“Don’t mention it.”

With that, Luke left him to bring him his usual coffee he would sip on until Grace arrived.

 

~*~

 

When Grace got there, it went back to normal quickly. The two of them joked around and ate their pies, Grace actually stealing a piece of Castiel’s because he’d opted for a new flavor today and she wanted to try. All too soon, their plates were empty, and they got to work. Castiel had spent the time until Grace had joined him to edit the last few pages he’d written the day before, so now he could start back from the beginning.

He was halfway through the first chapter when Grace broke her promise for the first time. “Are you finished with editing soon?”

Castiel looked up and saw her looking right back at him.

“Well. Editing is not just done once, actually. It’s a process. The editor marks mistakes and parts that aren’t clear or simply need improvement. Then the author does that and the editor goes over it again. This process can take a bit.”

“So even authors make mistakes and write badly sometimes?”

“Oh yeah, all the time.”

“Even C. S. James?”

Grinning, Castiel nodded. “You wouldn’t believe how red the pages are sometimes.”

“Is it good?”

“Is what good?”

“The book.”

“Well, I hope so.”

Grace bit her lip and by now, Castiel knew it meant she was trying to hold back something she really wanted to say. “What is it?” he asked, smiling at her.

“I just really wish Siobhan and Kristen get together soon.”

Castiel looked at her, full of surprise. “Siobhan and Kristen?”

“Yes.”

“So, you don’t have a problem with two women loving each other?”

“No! Do you?”

“Of course not. I … was just surprised, I’m sorry.”

“That would have really surprised me. I mean, I thought you –“ Grace interrupted herself and Castiel was thankful for that. He really didn’t want to be reminded that she now knew his dark secret. “Well, my Aunties Charlie and Jo are married as well. They’re taking a road trip through Europe right now, that’s why they aren’t home.”

“Jo Harvelle?” Castiel asked, thankful for Grace being so mindful.

When Grace nodded, he thought back to the girl just a few years older than him. She’d been admired by so many boys in school but had never paid attention to any of them. Well, now Castiel knew why. He didn’t know of a Charlie though, so she must have come after his time.

“Siobhan and Kristen really remind me of them and I really just want them together.”

“But you know Shiv is not into girls, right?”

“So?” Grace replied, shrugging her shoulder.

“So?” Castiel echoed, totally perplex.

“You can fall in love with a person without caring for their gender.”

Castiel was pretty sure he was gaping. Where the hell did this girl get her wisdom?

“At least that’s what Dad always says.”

“Your … your Dad?

“Yes. Castiel, I’m twelve. Obviously, Dad and I already had the talk.”

“Ohhhkay,” Castiel replied, really, really trying not to picture that.

Grace just went on. “So, yeah. He told me it doesn’t matter who I’ll fall in love with one day, not the gender or the race or even the age.”

Castiel really needed to stop gaping like a fool. He really did.

The safest bet was probably to stick to his characters.

“So, uhm,” he began, only to clear his throat. “You see a potential relationship for Shiv and Kristen?”

“Yes, of course! And not just me. Have you never been on the fan pages for the book?”

“I … no, I can honestly say that I have not been.” This was something he’d always stayed clear from. He was writing these stories for his fans, yes. But he was also writing them so they would be written. It didn’t matter if fans loved or hated them. And actually, Balthazar had always advised him not to get too close to any of those fan theories to not alter his original course for the story.

Then again, didn’t a story grow with feedback?

“You should check them out. Before Kristen showed up, a lot of people wanted to see Siobhan with Marie –“

“Marie?? But … they are sisters.” Okay, maybe now he knew why Zar had told him not to check.

“Yeah, I know. It’s so weird. But thankfully, Kristen was added and now almost everybody wants her with Siobhan.”

“How so?”

“Well, they just fit. There is so much chemistry between them. Siobhan is so much more open with her feelings when she talks to Kristen, and she does everything for her. And Kristen? She gave up everything when she decided to join the sisters and stay in the States instead of going back to Europe with her family. You might think she did it for both sisters, but everybody knows it was just for Siobhan.”

“Is that so?” Castiel asked, smiling by now. It really was refreshing hearing his story being interpreted by a person other than Zar or himself. He really needed to read his own books again and see where these kids saw the chemistry Grace was talking about.

Castiel was sure Grace had much more to tell him about this, but they were interrupted by Dean entering Luke’s. Castiel’s eyes flew to the clock on his laptop – they really had forgotten the time today.

Grace quickly packed up and waved at Castiel, hugging her dad before leaving the diner. Dean followed her, but not without looking back at Castiel and throwing him a smile. For the first time, Castiel did not reply with a nod and a stoic face. This time he smiled back, if only because he realized more and more what a great father Dean was for his girl. Seemingly surprised, Dean’s smile spread a bit wider before he followed his daughter, leaving Castiel to not only rethink the way he was acting towards Dean, but also Siobhan’s life and her relationship with Kristen.

 

~*~

 

“This better be an emergency, Castiel. Do you know what time it is?”

“Do you think there’s sexual chemistry between Shiv and Kristen?”

“Have you been on one of the fan pages? I told you not to do it!”

“I haven’t been. Grace told me. Zar, do you see it in the books?”

Castiel only heard grumbling for a moment and something that sounded like blankets being moved. “I swear, this girl is going to be your downfall.” A heavy sigh followed that statement. “Yes, I know about all these theories. That’s my job as your editor.”

“Why have you never told me?”

“Because you never wanted this to be some Harlequin story.”

“How is a romance going to make it a Harlequin story?”

“You also never wanted the characters to be reduced to who they love.”

“Well, they won’t have to. Damn, Zar. Two characters can have a relationship without it being the main focus of the whole story.”

“And you think so now, because …”

“Because I read my books again last night and – Grace is right. How did I never see it?”

“Because you created them. It’s hard sometimes to see these things in your own creations.”

“So you saw it?”

Another heavy sigh left Zar. “Yes. But Cassie … I really don’t want you to write them that way if you don’t feel comfortable with it.”

“I think I have no other choice now.”

“Because Grace told you?”

“No, because I’ve been writing them like this for years, I just didn’t see it.”

“Fine. It’s way too early for me to try to discuss this with you now.”

“I don’t think there’ll be much to discuss. The next book is already half written in my head.”

“Of course it is,” Zar replied. “Why did you even call me then? No, wait. Don’t answer that. The more important question is: did you sleep at all?”

“ … yes?”

“I hate when you’re lying to me. And I hate when I have to play the responsible part in our relationship, but: Go. To. Bed. Now!”

“I can’t. I’m way too excited. I’m not going to change anything in the draft for the current, but I’ll start on the other one soon.”

“No, you won’t! God damnit, Castiel. If you do that you never get the draft for this book done.”

“But –“

“No. You can start once I have the draft. Not a day before that.”

“What makes you so sure I’ll follow your command?”

“Because you know that I will be pissed if I don’t have the draft first thing on January 3 rd . And now, for the love of God, let me sleep.”

“But it’s almost six in the morning. Your alarm is going off in a few minutes anyway.”

“I hate you so much sometimes.”

The call disconnected, leaving Castiel to chuckle as he got up from his bed. He hadn’t lied when he’d said he’d spent the night re-reading his books (well, skimming over them) and already plotting his next installment.

For now, he got out of his pajamas and into his running clothes and left his room. He could sleep afterwards, but he needed to get this energy out of his body.

The new draft was already shaping up nicely in his head. He absolutely would not make the whole plot about the romance, but now that he knew about it, he would help Siobhan and Kristen get on the right path. He wouldn’t let them get together right away either, oh no. But there would be some more obvious hints – basically, he would play with his readers.

Smiling at his own ideas and the plotlines for future books shaping out in his head, Castiel didn’t pay any mind to his surroundings.

Which was probably why the light on the horse’s harness and the reflective jacket in the distance surprised him so much his steps faltered.

His next step was into empty air and the terrible sensation of missing a step swept through him. A second later, his left foot came into contact with icy ground and he slipped, completely throwing him off. He tried to reach for something but it went all so fast and the next thing he knew was a terrible stabbing pain in his left hand that let him scream out in agony.

And it wasn’t over yet.

He’d been right next to the icy slope.

The last thing he registered as he tumbled down the cold and hard ground without any chance of stopping his fall was the terrified yell of “CAS!”

Chapter Text

And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.

~ Thomas Wayne in Batman Begins

 

“Cas!! God damnit, answer me!”

A painted grunt left Castiel and the next thing he knew, a beam of light fell on him, blinding him. He couldn’t have been out of it for long, just a few seconds at best, if at all. Maybe he hadn’t been out of it at all and the pain had just been too overwhelming. His head was spinning from all the tumbling and somersaults.

“Cas, hang on, I’m coming.”

Castiel tried to sit up, but as soon as he put weight on his hands, the stabbing pain was back. He let out a little scream, cradling his left hand to his chest.

“I’m here. I’m here, don’t move.” Dean came to a sliding stop next to Castiel. “Hey. Hey, Cas. Look at me.”

Carefully opening his eyes, he saw Dean kneeling in front of him, the man’s face laced with concern.

“Cas, talk to me. Are you okay? Can you breathe?”

“My hand,” Castiel grunted, trying to stay calm. This couldn’t be happening.

Dean put the end of the little flashlight in his mouth to have both his hands free. As he reached out, Castiel flinched away, wincing at the pain that was sure to come.

“Cas, please,” Dean said, his speech slurred from the flashlight between his teeth. “Let me see it.”

“It hurts.”

“I know. I’ll be careful.”

Slowly, Castiel showed his hand. Dean really was gentle, yet it still hurt. Castiel winced again, but he kept his hand in place. Dean was careful as he held Castiel’s gloved hand in his left and with his other pulled on the sleeve. It didn’t go far, but apparently enough for Dean. He carefully inspected the wrist, turning it slightly, before letting his hand wander up Castiel’s forearm.

“Does this hurt?” he asked as he touched him softly every few inches.

Castiel could only shake his head, slowly realizing how close he was to Dean and what the man was doing with him. That he was touching him and essentially holding his hand.

All these thoughts flew out of his head as a strangled yelp was ripped from him at Dean’s soft poke against his shoulder. “Fuck!

Dean’s hand was gone right away and the flashlight pointed at his shoulder.

“You scraped your shoulder badly, your shirt is even ripped open. And it looks dislocated. I would offer to fix it, but your whole arm seems completely messed up. I would only hurt you more.”

“Fuck,” Castiel repeated, panic hitting him out of nowhere, tears shooting into his eyes. All of a sudden, his sleepless night seemed to creep up on him.

Dean was back in front of him right away, touching Castiel’s right shoulder. “Hey, hey. Don’t worry. We’ll get you to the ER asap. You think you can get up so we can get back to my horse?”

“I don’t know.”

“Shit,” Dean said, only a hint of panic in his own voice. “Do you have your phone on you? I forgot mine at home.”

“I never take it with me during my runs.”

“Okay. Alright,” Dean said. He stopped a second, apparently trying to calm himself to not panic Castiel any further. It was kind of cute and Castiel was sure he would appreciate it later. Right now, the pain and his tiredness were washing away every other thought.

Without saying another word, Dean pulled off his scarf and knotted the ends together. Confused, Castiel only realized what Dean was doing when the man put the scarf around Castiel’s neck and helped him to carefully guide his left hand in the makeshift sling. “Good?”

Castiel could only nod, trying not to visibly smell the scarf. It was inevitable that he got a whiff of it, and it was hard to ignore the fact that Dean’s scent was soothing.

“Alright, let’s get you upright and see if you can walk. The only other option would be for me to ride back home alone and call an ambulance.”

“Let’s try the first option,” Castiel breathed out, slightly panicked.

“Sounds good,” Dean replied, moving over to Castiel’s right side, switching off his flashlight and putting it in his pocket. “Put your arm around my shoulder.”

Castiel had to push all his emotions aside, knowing very well that this was not the time for him to freak out. He followed Dean’s order just as he felt Dean’s arm sneak around his back, the hand gripping Castiel’s waist. With his right hand, Dean gripped Castiel’s forearm to keep him in place. “Okay? On three. One. Two. Three.”

Dean got up, hauling Castiel with him. Trying to repress his pain, Castiel clenched his teeth, breathing heavily.

“It’s okay, Cas. We have time,” Dean told him, just standing there and not pushing him at all, giving Castiel enough time to catch his breath. It was Castiel that finally initiated for them to make the turn that would let them face hill upwards. “Okay, Cas. One step at a time. Don’t rush it.”

Castiel nodded, actually relieved when he took the first few steps and realized that nothing else hurt as badly as his wrist and shoulder. He’d certainly have some bruises and scrapes all over his body but apparently nothing serious.

Slowly, step by step, they made their way up the slippery slope. He tried not to burden Dean too much, yet quickly realized the man wasn’t having it. Dean pulled him close, letting Castiel put a lot of his weight on him.

Getting back to the top of the slope, Castiel realized that his fall actually hadn’t been too far. It might have just felt way worse than it really had been.

The cold winter air began to bite on his sweaty body, however, the little warmth he got from where he was pressed against Dean made more than up for it.

The air, as well as the little walk, helped him clear his head completely. And to realize that he was way too close to Dean to be comfortable.

As soon as they reached the top again, Castiel stopped to catch his breath. Dean carefully let go of him, still keeping one hand close. “You okay? I just need to get Cherry.”

“Yes,” Castiel replied, cursing himself for missing Dean’s heat pressed to his side.

Dean waited for a moment longer, before stepping past Castiel, walking over to where the light of the harness was to be seen.

Castiel could hear the moment Dean got a hold of the reins, soothing his horse. It was the moment he realized that Dean was probably planning on bringing Castiel back home. And he would not, absolutely not sit on a horse together with Dean Winchester.

“I think I can walk home now,” he pressed out before even thinking this through. “It’s not that far and I’m feeling way better.”

The beam of the flashlight landed on him as Dean came closer, Cherry trotting behind him. “If this is supposed to be a joke, it’s not funny.”

“No, I’m serious. I mean … your horse can’t carry two men, right?”

“Cherry’s a seventeen and a half hands high purebred Quarter Horse – trust me, she can carry both of us.”

“But … You … You probably need to get ready for school. Seriously, I can walk.”

“Cas, that’s crazy,” Dean replied, actually sounding a tad angry. “I am not going to let you walk home in your condition.”

“Technically, it’s not your decision to make,” Castiel threw in, irritated at Dean’s ire.

His comment only seemed to intensify said ire. Dean looked at him quietly for a moment, pressing his lips together as if he tried to keep back what he wanted to say.

“Cas, this is stupid,” it finally broke out of him. “Look, I know you’re mad at me for what I’ve done, but that’s no reason –”

Mad at you?” Castiel cut him short, completely thrown off guard. “Why would I be mad at you?”

“Oh, please. Are you really going to pretend that’s not the case?”

“Dean,” Castiel said, raising his voice to make the man understand. The fact that he’d just used his first name made him shudder internally, but he ignored it. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Why would I be mad at you?”

“For marrying Lisa!” Dean shouted back. “For not going after you back then.”

What?

“And I’m sorry, okay? I am so sorry I just let you run away that day. You have no idea –”

“No! Dean, stop!” Castiel said. He would have held his hands over his ears if he could have. If there was anything he needed less than his brother talking about the day of the wedding, it was Dean doing exactly that. “I am not mad at you,” he explained, his voice still raised as he looked at Dean in utter disbelief. “And I never was.”

“Then why? Why did you run away? And why are you behaving like this now?”

“Because I was embarrassed,” Castiel yelled back. “And I still am. Do you have any idea how painful it is to be back in this town? To see you again?”

Dean’s ire seemed to have evaporated as he squinted at Castiel. “What the hell were you embarrassed for?”

A piercing laugh ripped out of Castiel. “Are you fucking kidding me?” When Dean still just looked at him as if he seriously didn’t know what Castiel was talking about, Castiel shook his head in disbelief. “Maybe the fact that I tried to stop your wedding? Or the fact that I confessed my stupid crush on my very straight teacher in front of the whole town?”

“Cas, you were a kid!”

“Yeah, thanks for rubbing more salt into my wound. I know it was a childish act –”

“No,” Dean spit out, taking an agitated step closer. “That’s not what I meant. You were a kid and you were still brave enough to actually take a chance and confess your feelings. Do you have any idea how much respect I had for you in that moment? That I still have?”

Castiel was speechless, not even able to form words to interrupt Dean.

“I wanted to go after you. I wanted to talk to you. I should have,” Dean added, much calmer, rubbing a hand over his face. “But … I thought I had time. I thought I could do it later. I just – I didn’t want to ruin Lisa’s big day. And then … you were just gone. And I knew you must be mad at me. You had every right to be.”

“How could I have been mad at you for staying with the one you loved?” Castiel pressed out, biting back tears.

A weird silence fell between them, and Castiel couldn’t stand it. Now that the adrenaline of the moment was gone, the pain in his shoulder and wrist was back at the front of his mind. No power left to discuss it any further, Castiel simply turned around and started his way back home.

“Oh, come on! Cas, are you kidding me?”

“I just want to get home.”

“You get back here right now and get on the horse, or for fuck's sake, I’ll put you there myself.”

“Have fun trying.”

“This is ridiculous,” was all he heard Dean mutter as the beam of light suddenly disappeared and a few quick steps sounded on the snowy ground.

A moment later, his world was upside down for the second time this day.

“What the fuck?” Castiel shrieked, his right arm reflexively flying around Dean’s neck as the man held him in his arms, bridal style, not giving Castiel even a moment to realize what was going on before he turned around to stomp back to his horse. “Dean, put me down!”

“No.”

“Dean, I’m serious.”

“So am I,” Dean replied, not looking at him and only tightening his hold on Castiel.

As Dean stepped next to Cherry, he positioned himself in such a way that Castiel would simply have to throw his leg over the horse’s neck.

Which, of course, he didn’t.

Sighing in frustration, Dean stepped closer to Cherry. “Look, Cas. This can go exactly two ways: one, you put your damn leg over the horse so I can take you back. Two, I’ll carry you the whole damn way. And don’t think I won’t. I have a kid, I know how to handle stubborn people.”

Castiel would have sulked if it hadn’t underlined just how much like a stubborn child he was behaving right now.

“Up to you, buddy.”

Rolling his eyes, Castiel finally stretched out his left leg and let Dean heave him over and up into the saddle. Dean helped him position himself correctly since he was hindered at doing so. Once Dean’s hands left him, he had all of three heartbeats until Dean had gotten back on the horse himself and his chest pressed against Castiel’s back. Right away, Dean’s arms sneaked around Castiel’s torso to grab the reins, making him curse internally. There was no way of getting away from the man now. Within seconds, he was engulfed in everything Dean, the man’s warmth and fragrance almost driving him crazy.

“Hold onto the mane, this is going to be a bit rough,” Dean told him, his lips right by Castiel’s ear, his warm breath sending a shiver down Castiel’s spine. “Damn, you’re already freezing, aren’t you?”

Before Castiel could correct him – and what would he have said anyway? – Dean’s hands, as well as his warm chest, were gone and Castiel could hear the zipper of a jacket. A moment later, even more warmth engulfed him as Dean pressed against him again, sans his jacket in the way.

A small whimper escaped Castiel’s lips.

“It’s not much, but I hope it will help. Now hold tight.”

Castiel had just enough brainpower left to grab for Cherry’s mane as Dean already turned her around.

The direction jerked Castiel back to alertness right away. “Wait, the house is the other way.”

“Yeah, well. This way around the lake is shorter into town. You need to see a doctor.”

“Dean Winchester, you will not carry me to town like this!”

“And why the hell not?”

“Do you really think I need this kind of spectacle after what I’ve just told you?”

“Don’t you think your injuries are a bit too serious to care about that?”

“I don’t fucking care. I mean it! Either you bring me home or so God help me –”

“What? What would you do?” Dean asked, actually challenging him.

“If you don’t turn around this horse, I swear I’ll jump off as soon as you let it make one step.”

He could hear and most importantly feel Dean breathing heavily, the man obviously trying to rein in his anger. Without another word, he finally turned Cherry around again and let her trot in the direction of the Shurley mansion.

After a few yards, Castiel realized that he had a hard time holding tight with just his right hand in the mane. It had been way too long since he’d last sat on a horse, and the pain and his exhaustion weren’t helpful.

As if he sensed his struggle, Dean’s arms first tightened beside Castiel and then he put the reins in his right hand, his left hand sneaking around Castiel’s torso to hold him tightly against his own body.

In this moment, Castiel knew what people meant when they talked about being in Heaven and Hell at the same time.

 

~*~

 

All in all, Castiel had been quite lucky under the given circumstances. His wrist was fractured but thankfully, no articular surface was damaged, making it a simple and easily treatable fracture. He got a cast and three follow-up appointments for the next few days. His shoulder really had been dislocated, but it was easily corrected. His whole upper arm ended up in bandages to give the deep cuts and scrapes time to heal.

What Dean hadn’t seen in his inspection were a lot more bruises and cuts all over Castiel’s body. The doctor decided that some cleaning and disinfection would do for most of them. Just the cuts over his eyebrows were taped.

Castiel hated to see his favorite running jacket being tossed away, but with the whole left arm cut open, it was no use. Running was out of the question for the next few weeks anyway.

And so was writing.

“You did what???”

Castiel actually held his phone away from his ear, giving Zar time to let it all out before he interrupted him. “Zar, I’m fine. I’ll be good in a few weeks. And I can do the editing with just my right hand. Or write it down on a notepad and ask one of my siblings to type it out for me.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Inias look at him for a moment before concentrating back on the road. Castiel had been lucky his family was a household of such early risers. His brother had been on the front porch, enjoying his first cup of coffee with his fiancé, when Dean and Castiel had arrived. He was actually thankful for their presence and that they’d jumped right into action. Inias must have sensed something was wrong if Castiel would get on Dean’s horse. If they hadn’t been there, Castiel might have paid way more attention to the way Dean helped him off of the horse, their bodies moving close together for just a few heartbeats. Thanks to Inias, he was ripped away from the moment right away.

He’d thanked Dean for his help, handed him back his scarf – even though the man had protested – and asked him to let Grace know not to wait for him today.

And what a good call that had been, because they had spent the whole morning at the hospital in Hartford. Once he and Inias finally got back into the car, Castiel was ready to pass out. His body was already shaking from the cold that always settled into his bones whenever he didn’t get enough sleep and he felt ready to throw up. He definitely needed a few hours of shut eye.

“Would you please stop thinking I only care for the draft?” Zar went on. “If you haven’t noticed it in the last thirteen years: I actually do care for your well-being, you moron.”

“Thank you, Zar. But I will be alright.”

“Just be more careful from now on. I mean, what the hell were you thinking, going running in the dark without any light on you?”

“Won’t happen again.”

“Alright. Call me if you need anything.”

“Will do. Bye, Zar.”

Castiel ended the call and let his head rest against the window, trying to forget the feeling of Dean’s fragrance calming him down. A small part of him – a very, very small one – regretted giving back the scarf.

He hated himself for that small part.

Once they got home, Inias helped him out of the car. Gadreel had prepared some light lunch for them and even though Castiel was tired as hell, he still stayed to eat a bit. No wonder his brother had said goodbye to all the ladies and men in his life to marry Gad – the man could cook like the chef of a five-star restaurant.

Despite the wonderful early lunch, Castiel was glad the moment his head hit the pillow. The painkillers made sure he was feeling alright for the time being and a few seconds later, he was completely out of it.

Chapter Text

It's the little details that are vital; little things make big things happen

~ John Wooden

 

It was already getting dark by the time Castiel woke up. His arm was killing him but he knew he needed something in his stomach before he could take more medication. Inias, Rebecca, and their significant others were hanging out in the kitchen, Gadreel apparently in charge of dinner. Castiel found himself looking forward to it.

“Hey, how are you doing?” Bart greeted, the first to spot Castiel standing in the doorway.

Nodding, Castiel moved over to the fridge. “I’m okay. Just need something to eat so I can take some painkillers.”

“Wait. Here,” Gadreel stopped him from getting some yogurt out of the fridge. He got a small plate and filled it with some of the pasta salad he was preparing. Handing it over, he actually looked apologetic. “Sorry, it’s not completely done yet, but I hope it will do.”

“Hey, how come I’m never allowed to eat your food while you prepare it?”

Fixing his fiancé with a slight glare, Gad’s reply was pretty straight forward: “Next time you break bones, you’ll be allowed.”

Castiel had to chuckle about Inias’ pout and, like the good brother he was, he made sure to moan extra loud in appreciation of the awesome taste. “Gad, it’s fantastic. Thank you.” Sitting down far enough from Inias that he couldn’t steal anything from his plate, Castiel joined his family, only to find out pretty quickly that it was mostly talk about babies. Inias and Gadreel had already started to look at options to have a child. It seemed a surrogate was their favored option at the moment. Really not interested in joining in on the topic, Castiel hastily finished his early dinner and got up to take his painkillers. Putting away the plate, he thanked Gad again and excused himself from the party in favor of sitting on the back porch to get back to editing.

It wasn’t that hard. Annoying, yes, but actually manageable.

His first draft, even though it still needed to be fleshed out here and there, was mostly as he wanted it. The little bits that still needed to be edited could easily be written with one hand. And if it really was a longer part, Castiel would mark the part and then write on his notepad. He would just need to find someone to type it out for him. Maybe he could bribe Gabriel with some sweets. Although with Gabe, he would have to sit next to him to make sure the guy was typing exactly what Castiel wanted him to type.

“So, not even a broken wrist can stop you from writing?”

Castiel jerked up so hard his pencil broke, leaving an ugly mark on his notepad. “Dean? What are you doing here?”

“Apparently, continuing to scare you,” the man replied, standing on the porch but leaning against the doorframe, his body turned towards Castiel. When Castiel didn’t reply, Dean sighed, dropping his bravado right away. “For which I came to apologize, by the way.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I think I scared you this morning, didn’t I? That’s why you took that wrong step and fell off the slope.”

Castiel didn’t reply but nodded slightly. No need to lie to Dean.

“I’m really sorry my presence does that to you.”

“What? No. It’s not …” Castiel began, trying to find the right words. “I just didn’t pay attention this morning, is all. So the sudden light distracted me. It had nothing to do with you.”

It was Dean’s turn to only nod. He pushed himself off the doorframe and walked over to the railing, looking out over the garden before turning and leaning his back against it. “So, what’s the final verdict on your injuries?”

“Ehm, broken wrist; shoulder was dislocated; a few bruises, cuts, and scrapes. I’ll survive, though.”

“Good.”

There was an uneasy silence between them, however, Castiel could feel Dean wanted to say more. Before he got to it, Castiel’s phone rang with Balthazar’s ringtone. Looking around, Castiel couldn’t see it under all the papers spread over the table.

“Here,” Dean replied, reaching under a pile on the edge closest to him, fishing out Castiel’s phone.

As Castiel took it from him, he could see Dean’s eyes wander to the phone’s screen on which was a picture of Zar, kissing Castiel’s cheek. He could feel both cheeks burning up now. “Gotta take this, just a moment,” Castiel said, answering the phone. “Hey, what’s up?”

“Just checking in. How do you feel?”

“I’m fine, yeah. Slept for a few hours, took enough medication, so I’m not feeling the pain.”

“Do you want me to come up there and help you with the book?”

“No, don’t worry. I can handle it.”

“Castiel, please don’t stress out over it, alright? I know you think I’ll rip you a new one –”

“I don’t just think that, I know it,” Castiel interrupted, actually grinning.

He heard a suffering sigh from his friend before the man continued. “Fair enough. Well, you have a good excuse this time. If you need time to rest your wrist, take it.”

“Thank you, Zar. But I’m fine. Please trust me with this.”

“I always trust you. I’m just glad you’re doing okay and nothing worse happened.”

“Me too,” Castiel replied, before remembering that he wasn’t alone. “Hey, Zar. Can I call you later? It’s dinner time soon and I wanna wrap this up here.”

“Sure. Talk to you later.”

“Bye.”

Ending the call, Castiel smiled a moment more about the actual concern from his friend. Zar could be a hardass douchebag of an editor most of the times – but he was still a true friend Castiel could trust with his life.

“So, uhm,” Dean said, pulling Castiel out of his thoughts. “Gracie asks if you’ll be back tomorrow. She was really worried for you.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Please tell her I’m alright and of course I’ll wait for her again tomorrow.”

“Good. Good.”

The awkward silence between them was back, confusing Castiel. It hadn’t been this bad between them since the first few encounters.

“I guess, I’ll leave you to it then. To wrap this up or whatever.”

As Dean made a sideway gesture towards all the papers on the table, Castiel realized for the first time that all the evidence of his latest book was spread out for Dean to see. His heart sped up but he tried not to look too suspicious. Maybe Dean hadn’t realized what he was seeing.

“Alright. Guess I’ll see you then.”

Dean nodded, pushing himself away from the railing. His hand already on the door to slide it open, Dean stopped and sighed. His eyes were suddenly back on Castiel. “Look, I … I also came here, because … damnit,” he said, but more to himself as he pushed a hand through his hair. “Cas, I hate how this whole situation is between us right now. This … this dance around each other. I … we were friends once. And I know the last time we talked with each other like friends you were still a kid because after that I had to be your teacher, but … can’t we just try? I mean, the fact that you didn’t want to let me help you while badly injured – it killed me, okay? And I,” Dean added, visibly struggling to find the words but giving up in the end: “I don’t know. Just …” He sighed again, turning back towards the door. “Forget it. Not your problem. I guess I’ll see you. Or not.” With that, Dean slipped through the door and was gone before Castiel could even get a word in. His heart was still pounding but for a completely different reason this time.

 

~*~

 

The next day, Gracie didn’t sit down in her chair right away but instead came around the table to hug Castiel. “I was so worried for you. And so was Dad, and that freaked me out even more.”

“I’m alright, Gracie. Your dad was a great help.”

She squeezed him tighter for a moment before letting go and sitting down. “You scared him really badly. I haven’t seen him like that since – well, never mind.”

Ice squeezed around Castiel’s heart and he reached for Grace’s hand. “I’m really sorry you two were so worried. I’m alright, I promise. See? Just a cast.”

“Oh, can I write something on it?” Grace asked, her face lighting up.

Castiel didn’t hesitate as he laid his arm on the table. “Sure,” he replied, smiling at her. He’d never understood the appeal of a cast that was full of well-wishes and little scribbles, yet seeing Gracie’s excitement to do just that, he found he liked the thought. If only to make her happy.

As she got out her colorful pens, she started giggling.

“What is it?”

“You just called me Gracie again.”

“Oh. Is that okay?”

“Yes,” she said with emphasis, getting out a blue pen and leaned over his hand. “You’re the only one that kept calling me Grace most of the time. Except for my Dad when he’s putting on his Dad-voice.”

“Yikes! Gracie it is, then,” he decided.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Castiel replied without hesitation, watching the girl’s hand carefully draw something in blue before switching to brown for another part of her little artwork.

“What name do you prefer? Most of your siblings call you Castiel, but sometimes they give you silly names like Cassie, which sounds like a girl. And my Dad keeps calling you Cas. So, which name is it?”

If Castiel had ever been glad that the leading characters in his books were all older teenagers or in their early twenties instead of twelve-year-old children, it was this moment. He would never, ever have done them justice, having no idea how perceptive a kid that age could already be. Then again, he also didn’t know if Gracie might just be a shining exception.

“I … well, I actually prefer Castiel. There aren’t many people who I allow to call me Cassie. And Cas … it’s a nickname your Dad gave me when I was still a kid.”

Gracie stopped what she was doing to look at him. “You knew him when you were a child?”

“Sure. I thought you knew. Michael and your dad have been friends since your grandfather moved here with Dean and Sam. They often came over to spend the day with us, especially Dean.”

“Oh, I … yeah, I knew that part,” Gracie said, going back to the cast. “I guess I just didn’t realize it meant you’ve known him for so long.”

A soft smile played around Castiel’s mouth. Maybe Grace didn’t notice everything after all.

“So, does that mean you hate the nickname Dad gave you?”

“What? No. No of course not. Why would you think that?”

Gracie shrugged her shoulders, her voice a bit smaller. “I was just wondering.”

He took his time to study the girl as she was still bent over his cast. Either she was coloring the whole thing or she was just taking her time to carefully create something. “Gracie, will you look at me for a moment, please?”

Silently, she followed his plea, her eyes guarded but with a noticeable hint of sadness.

He laid his good hand on her arm, squeezing reassuringly. “I promise you, I do not hate your father. His past and my … what happened thirteen years ago made it complicated. But actually before that – before he became my teacher – we were friends. And the longer I’m here, the more I think I would like that friendship back.”

“Really?” she asked, studying him closely.

“Yeah,” Castiel confirmed, nodding to emphasize it. “What do you say, maybe when he comes to pick you up, we can invite him to sit with us for a while? Get him a pie from our win as well?”

“Awesome idea,” Gracie replied with a big smile. “Dad loves pie.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Great, then it’s decided.”

They smiled at each other before Gracie went back to the cast for a final line, then she let go of his hand. “What do you think?”

Castiel turned his hand so he could see what she’d done. His heart squeezed at her words.

 

Thank you for being my new best friend. I hope you’ll stay in Stars Hollow. ~ Gracie

 

Next to it, she’d drawn a snowman that resembled their lumberjack.

“It’s beautiful, Gracie. Thank you.”

Gracie gave him a happy smile and finally dug into her pie. After the first few bites, she looked back up at him. “I think I like Cas the most.”

“How so?”

Shrugging her shoulders, Gracie took another bite before explaining. “I think it fits you best. Castiel sounds so stern.”

“You … you can call me Cas, if you want to.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t want you to do it.”

They smiled at each other before both of them went back to their work.

Castiel still had to get used to editing and typing with just one hand. It was okay for the occasional typo but eight pages of his notebook were already filled with additional or fleshed out scenes he wanted to be added. Maybe he really did need to bribe Gabe with sweets so his brother would type it for him.

“How long is this book going to be that you spend so much time editing it?”

Castiel cringed, not prepared to answer such a question. “Uhhhm …”

When Luke passed by, Castiel took his chance and stopped the man. “Hey, Luke, hang on a sec.”

“What’s up, man?”

Quickly checking the time, Castiel decided it was close enough to the time Dean usually showed up. “Can we have two more cups of hot chocolate, a coffee, and another piece of pie, please?”

“Sure, coming right up.” The best thing about Luke was that he never asked too many questions.

The bad thing right now was that Castiel had nothing left to evade Gracie’s question. Best to stick close to the truth again.

“There are actually a few editing phases. It’s a back and forth between author and editor until we have the best version this book could possibly be.”

“Okay,” Gracie replied and with a simple nod, she went back to her homework.

Castiel debated with himself if maybe he should say something else about it, but he was interrupted by Luke putting down two new cups of hot chocolate. A moment later the man was back with a piece of pie and a cup of coffee. Castiel was quick to make room for both at the front of the table for Dean to sit there.

When he saw the man in question walking over the town square a few minutes later, Castiel found he wasn’t nervous at all. A fact that might seem trivial to others, but he knew it was a huge step for him.

“We were friends once. Can’t we just try?”

Dean’s words were still buzzing in Castiel’s head and he realized he really wanted that as well. His eyes were glued on Dean as the man crossed the street and entered Luke’s, his green eyes finding Castiel right away. Castiel could see the moment Dean realized something was different today and hesitated, then stepped closer.

“Hey there.”

Gracie’s head went up as she heard her father’s voice. “Hey, Dad.”

“What …” Dean started, pointing at the pie. “What’s that?”

“A pie,” Castiel replied, grinning. “We thought it would be nice to share some of our winnings with you.”

Dean’s eyes stayed on him for a moment longer and when his lips slowly formed into a smile, Castiel was sure Dean had gotten the message. Without any fuss, Dean sat down and took a bite from his pie.

They were all quiet for a while, Dean already halfway done with the pie, when Castiel spoke up, grinning.

“So. Are you still tormenting your students with Vonnegut?”

“Oh, you did not just say that,” Dean replied in mock offense and before Castiel knew what happened and how he’d really done it, the two of them were in a mock heated discussion about books and authors and what students of what age should be reading. Gracie chimed in now and then but mostly just watched them with a joyful grin.

Chapter Text

There are no secrets that time does not reveal

~ Jean Racine

 

Just like Gracie sitting with him at Luke’s after school had become a regular thing, Dean joining them for pie and coffee was already feeling normal by the next day. By Friday, Castiel was even looking forward to it – always making sure he was still true to his word to Balthazar: he wouldn’t let it get to him.

Since it was Friday, Castiel ordered the pie and coffee a bit earlier. Gracie had told him it wasn’t unusual for her dad to wrap things up quicker on Fridays, like he’d done last week. As it was, Castiel could see Dean cross the street already. However, he was stopped by a woman and a young girl, probably around Gracie’s age. They seemed very familiar as Dean stopped to talk to them and even hugged the girl.

“Who’s your father talking to?”

He could have bitten off his own tongue. The last thing he wanted – no, the last thing he needed – was getting back on this path. The one where he was jealous of every female who ever got close to Dean. He’d been there, done that, and it had been absolutely no good for his health. Dean Winchester was straight, end of story.

However, it was too late for the moment and when Gracie turned around, she groaned before going back to her homework, almost aggressively writing down whatever it was she was working on. “That’s Lydia and her daughter Emma.”

The way she put emphasis on the names spoke volumes about how annoyed she was with the woman and her girl. It was almost amusing.

“What’s wrong with them?”

Sighing dramatically, Gracie put down her pen, looked over her shoulder at the group just outside the diner once more, and then turned to Castiel. “Lydia thinks my Dad would be the perfect replacement for her dead husband.”

“Woah,” Castiel said, surprised by Gracie’s forward words.

“It’s horrible, Cas, seriously. She’s constantly flirting with him. And Emma already pretends like my Dad is also her Dad now. It was really bad during summer. Right up until … well, my accident. Lydia tried to play Mom for me and I made a big scene so Dad asked her to leave.”

“You –” Castiel had to interrupt himself, huffing out a laugh at the thought of it alone. “You made a scene?”

“Told her that she would never replace my Mom, so she didn’t even have to try,” Gracie said with a satisfied smirk that actually did not take away any of her angel like appearance.

Castiel couldn’t help himself, he scoffed out another laugh.

The smirk on Gracie’s lips was gone soon enough and she threw another glance over her shoulder. “I think they left Stars Hollow for a while … something with Lydia’s dad, not sure … but apparently, they’re back now and trying again.” Gracie turned back around and let her chin drop on her hand, looking completely annoyed.

Castiel still couldn’t help but grin a little about how cute the girl was when she was pouting. She very much reminded him of Dean during those moments. “But didn’t you want your Dad to find a new love in his life?”

The moment Gracie’s eyes bore into his with a calculating gaze, a cold shiver ran up and down Castiel’s spine.

Shit.

She’d never told him that.

Not him, Castiel James.

She’d only ever written that in her letter to C. S. James.

“I mean … I thought you would be happy if he … I mean I know I would have. With my Dad, that is … If my Dad had found someone again to be happy with, is what I’m trying to say …” He so needed to stop talking. He was only digging his own grave deeper here.

For some miraculous reason, however, Gracie only scrutinized him for a moment longer, before shrugging and dropping her gaze. “Yeah, I guess. But certainly not with Lydia. I can’t stand her and I absolutely don’t like Emma.”

Castiel wanted to sigh in relief. Crisis averted, it seemed. A moment later, the door to Luke’s opened and Dean stepped inside, smiling and joining them as if it was the most normal thing to do.

Looking outside, Castiel found no trace left of the woman who had been talking to Dean.

 

~*~

 

This Saturday’s event was a bit quieter than the last two. An open air theater was set up on the town square. It wasn’t ideal with the gazebo in the middle of the place, but it was more about the whole atmosphere anyway. Those that had gathered in good places were able to watch a marathon of Christmas movies. It started at noon with kids and family movies and slowly moved into the adult genre the longer the day went, some horror movies set to play through the night. But the main event would be It’s a Wonderful Life, starting at 10 pm.

“And your Dad really allows you to stay up that long?”

“Cas, I’m twelve.”

“I know,” Castiel replied, sipping his hot chocolate, this one spiked with Bailey’s. They were standing at one of the bar tables, neither of them interested in The Grinch and therefore sitting this one out. They could still hear it, of course, but it would be an awkward angle if they wanted to watch it from here. “I’m still wondering.”

“It’s Dad’s favorite movie. And if there’s anything he’s more proud of than me inheriting his love for pie, it’s that I inherited his good taste in cinematic matters. His words, not mine.”

“Yeah, that sounds like him.”

Blowing on his drink, Castiel took another sip, letting his eyes wander around.

“Urgh,” Gracie groaned out, getting Castiel’s attention at once. “There they are again.”

Following Gracie’s gaze, Castiel carefully took a peek over his shoulder. Indeed, there was a woman by Dean’s side as well as a girl. Emma was already hugging Dean again and even staying by his side with his arm over her shoulder while talking to him. Castiel really tried to be the adult here, but he certainly could see why Gracie would be so annoyed by such a behavior from another child towards her Dad. Personally, he was more annoyed by Lydia, who leaned in close to Dean and just laughed a tad too loud about something he must have just said.

“Cas, do you still have feelings for my Dad?”

Shit. What??

Castiel looked back at Gracie way too fast and had to grip for his hot chocolate as he had almost knocked the mug over, a bit of the sweet liquid dripping on his gloves. “What? No! Why would you –? No. Of course not.”

He seriously didn’t like the gaze Gracie was scrutinizing him with. It was a gaze like she was about to figure out every last of his darkest secrets, and that was certainly not good. Not at all.

“Why not?”

“What? Gracie – what are you even talking about?”

In a heartbeat, Gracie’s scrutinizing gaze turned into a pleading one. “Can’t you date my Dad? Please? You are a million times more awesome than all the other options here in town. And I like you. I would love to have you as my second –”

“Okay, Gracie, please let me stop you right there.” When Gracie actually stopped talking, Castiel took a deep breath and continued. At least she hadn’t talked loud enough for other people to listen in. “Your Dad and I … we have a complicated history, you know that. And we’re just starting to be friends again.”

“So? Friendship is a good base for a relationship.”

“That’s true. But in case you haven’t noticed, Gracie – I’m a man. Your Dad is very much straight, I thought you had that talk with him already.”

“Yeah, but he also said you could fall for someone even if you identify differently. It’s what happened to my aunt Jo. She –”

“Gracie, please stop.”

“But –”

“No, look. It’s sweet of you that you worry so much for your Dad. But things like that … they don’t happen often. I’m not saying they don’t happen at all, just … for you not to count on it. Just because your father is willing to be friends with me again even though he knows about my crush does not mean he is falling for me as well.” When Gracie only beamed at him in delight, Castiel stared at her in question. “What?”

“You said your crush on my dad –”

“Urgh, Gracie. You know what I meant. The crush I had back then.”

“No, you said it in such a way like it –”

“Grace,” Castiel interrupted her in a bit of a warning tone. He really didn’t want to get angry with the girl but she needed to stop this.

Luckily, she didn’t seem miffed at his tone. Still grinning, she went back to her own hot chocolate – sans alcohol of course – her eyes glittering with mischief. Castiel groaned internally and went back to his alcohol, beating himself up for this slip of tongue. Trying to ignore Gracie’s measuring gaze, he only realized there was a shift in her demeanor when she spoke again.

“Cas? Can I ask you something else?”

“As long as it doesn’t have to do with your father and me.”

“It doesn’t, promise.”

“Alright, go ahead.”

There was a long silence that finally made Castiel look back at the girl. The glee was gone from her, something akin to worry clouding her face as she was biting her lips. “What’s the matter?”

Gracie took a deep breath before replying. “Okay, so I … I really just want to know.”

Oh no.

“And I promise I won’t tell anyone –”

Not good. Not good!

“I won’t even freak out or scream or anything. I really … I just want to know, okay?”

Shit. Shit shit shit.

Even though he knew exactly what was coming, Castiel felt helpless not to nod and let her say what was on her mind.

Another deep breath and Gracie looked him straight in the eye, whispering. “Cas, are you C. S. James?”

He’d known this was coming and still he knew all the blood was draining from his face. He didn’t even want to know what he looked like, his face probably a mask of pained resignation. Because how could he lie to this girl? “Gracie …”

It seemed not negating it was answer enough for this smart human being. Her reaction, however, left him shocked, to say the least.

As promised, she didn’t freak out or screamed or anything alike. She just stared at him and when he still didn’t tell her otherwise, she went around the table and wound her arm around his middle, hugging him close. Not in a rushed, over-excited way as Castiel had come to get used with her. It was calm, quiet. Just a deep, heartfelt hug. What almost broke his heart was a whispered, “Thank you,” that was shaky enough to tell him Grace was actually crying silently. He hugged her close before carefully lifting her chin so he could look at her.

“Gracie?”

“Your books … I started reading them after my Mom’s death. It’s what helped me cope with it. Without your books …” She pressed her face back against his chest and he wound his arms around her shoulders, protectively.

He had no idea how long they just stood there but as long as Gracie needed to hug him, he wouldn’t mind. When she disentangled from him at last, she gave him a big smile, wiping away the last of her tears. “I really meant it: your secret is safe with me, you don’t have to worry.”

“Thank you, Gracie. I really appreciate that.”

After one final hug, she went back to her side of the table, taking a big sip of her chocolate.

“So, will you tell me what gave me away?”

“A few things, actually.”

“Oh? Is that so?”

Gracie nodded, putting her mug down. “First of all, all your writing. I know you started editing whenever I showed up. But you forgot that I can see you long before entering the diner. Then there were the discussions. I mean, sure, as the editor, you would know about some of these things, but … it was just a gut feeling that there was more behind it.”

Castiel nodded along to all that. Maybe Amara had been right. Maybe he should have been more careful in this town. But then again, it seemed like only Gracie had gotten behind his secret.

“The final straw that really convinced me that you’re C. S. James and not just his editor was your comment yesterday. About me wanting Dad to be happy again with a new partner.”

“Yeah, that …” Castiel replied, sighing. That really had been a stupid slip of tongue.

Gracie didn’t go on after that and she didn’t have to. After a moment, however, she asked something different. “Why did you never answer me?”

Looking up, Castiel was shocked to see that Gracie actually looked hurt.

“I … honestly I didn’t know how to at first. And I already knew I would be here the whole of December. So my plan was … I don’t even really know. I kinda had this idea to find you and talk to you in person, even though I never really knew how that would work.”

“So you only befriended me because of my letter?”

“What? No! No, Gracie, of course not,” Castiel promised right away, reaching for her hand. “I promise I had no idea who you were until I saw you at the ballet and Gabe told me your name and about your accident. Obviously, that was a dead giveaway.”

“And then it was me who started talking to you, right?”

“Exactly. So if you will, I had no other choice but to befriend you.”

That coaxed a grin from Gracie and Castiel smiled in return, squeezing her hand before letting it go. Reaching into his coat, he grabbed for the letter that was hidden in the inside pocket of his suit jacket, pulling it out just far enough for Gracie to see. “And see. I always keep it close. That’s how much it means to me.”

Gracie’s smile turned even wider before it turned bashful. “I admit I never expected a reply anyway.”

“Oh, really? Well, good to know. Leaving your return address as just Grace W., Stars Hollow, CT wasn’t enough of a clue for that.”

“Ha ha,” Gracie replied dryly, yet still grinning. “Honestly, I was a bit scared you would write back and tell me not to be so childish and just let my father be.”

“Childish? Gracie, trust me: your letter was anything but childish. If it hadn’t been for the flowers and bees over the ‘i’s, I would have thought a grown-up had written that letter.”

“Really?”

“You don’t even realize how far ahead you are for your age, do you?”

“Uncle Michael always says I have that from my Mom because I couldn’t possibly have it from Dad. And Uncle Sam thinks I have it from him.”

Laughing at that, Castiel shook his head. “I’m not going to join in on that discussion.”

After a few heartbeats of silence, Gracie got that mischievous look back in her eyes that promised nothing good. “You’re right, though. I really would love to see my Dad happy again. And I think you would be –”

“Urrrghh,” Castiel groaned, letting his head drop onto his arms folded on the table. The only good thing about this was the angel-like laughter from Gracie. At least the girl was happy again.

 

 

~*~

 

 

The current movie was over soon after, and Gracie and Castiel went back to their places, lucky enough that Gabriel had wanted to watch The Grinch yet again and thus able to secure their places. Miracle on 34th Street was the next movie on the list and Dean joined them shortly after it had started, handing a full bucket of popcorn to Gabriel before sitting down next to Castiel – something Castiel hadn’t realized would happen when Gracie had insisted on sitting next to Gabe, Castiel on her other side. But now it was too late and when Dean turned the second popcorn bucket in such a way that it was a clear invitation for Castiel to take some, he shoved his sudden nerves aside, took a handful and just enjoyed the movie.

It was the last one before It's a Wonderful Life began and once the credits rolled, Castiel got up and together with Gracie, he got drinks for those of their families who stuck around to watch the movie. It wasn’t easy with his left hand in a cast, but any excuse to get some fresh air before having to sit next to Dean and his wonderful earthy fragrance and warmth for another two hours was a good excuse.

On the way back, Gracie suddenly groaned. “Oh, can you believe this?”

Castiel followed her line of sight and realized that the places on Dean’s other side were now filled up as well. He could only see two blonde heads from this perspective, but given Gracie’s behavior, he had a pretty good guess who it was.

“Can I spill my hot chocolate over her?”

“No, Gracie. Behave yourself. If your Dad really likes her …”

He was grateful for the death glare Gracie silenced him with because the thought alone was too painful to finish.

When they got back, Gracie slipped in the row first, obviously still wanting to sit next to Gabe even though Castiel would have guessed she would now want to sit next to Dean to, well, mark her territory for lack of a better phrase.

As she passed first Emma and then Lydia, Grace fake smiled at them – it was actually creepy watching a twelve-year-old act like that.

“Gracie, it’s so nice to see you again,” Lydia said, leaning forward to hug her.

Gracie was quick to raise the three mugs she was carrying. “Sorry,” she said, indicating that she couldn’t hug her right now. “Oh, this is Cas, by the way. An old friend of Dad’s, and my new best friend.”

Castiel knew his ears were burning up. So this was Gracie’s plan. No wonder she still wanted him to sit next to her father, the little devil.

Lydia’s eyes wandered over to him and he was pretty sure it was not just his imagination when he saw the woman throw him a calculating gaze, her eyes wandering up and down. And it was not the sexy kind of checking someone out. “Cas? As in Castiel Shurley? The boy that –”

“Actually, it’s Castiel James now,” Dean interrupted her, sending a small glare in her direction. It shouldn’t make Castiel’s heart skip a beat and it should certainly not make him smug. But God damnit, he was only a human being as well.

“And you must be Lydia,” he replied with a sweet smile. “Gracie’s told me all about you.”

When Lydia replied with an awkward smile, Castiel moved past her, handing the first alcoholic drink to Dean and the second to Gabe to hand over to Michael. The third was for him, while Gracie handed two of the non-alcoholic drinks further down the line for Anna and Rebecca. Sitting back down, Castiel caught Gracie’s gaze and as they smiled at each other, they clinked their mugs together just as the next movie started.

 

~*~

 

“Man, I just love this movie,” Dean whispered as they watched George Bailey find his daughter’s petals in his pocket, laughing in joy.

Castiel nodded, leaning in just a bit to whisper back. “My parents used to call the movie Zuzu’s petals because of the important role they play.”

Shhh,” someone behind them said.

Dean grinned at him but they kept quiet for the rest of the movie. It wasn’t until the first credits rolled that Dean leaned back in. “I totally get why your parents would call it that. I love the whole storyline with those rose petals.”

“Right? It has such deep meaning behind it. All these mistakes he thinks he made in life, but really –”

“Oh, seriously, Cassie? Are you nerding out over the movie?”

“Hey, I was the one to start it,” Dean jumped to his defense, shutting Gabe up for good. “It’s one of the greatest movies in existence, let us nerd about it.”

Gabriel backed down right away, raising his hands in a defensive gesture. Gracie only beamed at them and Castiel had to remind himself to be careful with Dean whenever the girl was around. She seemed to have her mind set on Dean falling for Castiel and there was certainly no good that could come from that.

“Anyway, I guess it’s time to go before the next movie starts,” Dean said, getting up. “Cas? Let’s continue this talk tomorrow over dinner?”

Taken aback, Castiel couldn’t believe it was already time for another family dinner. Normally, he would have tried to find an excuse or at least an evasive answer. However, he caught Lydia’s eyes going wide when Dean mentioned dinner, and try as he might, the ugly green monster inside of him was dancing a gleeful happy dance. “Sure. I would love to. I’m glad your taste in movies is better than that in books.”

“Careful there, Cas.”

“Don’t worry, Dean. I’ll teach you what good literature is.”

Dean’s glare looked pretty real, yet Castiel’s cheeky grin didn’t waver and after a moment, the façade broke and Dean grinned. “Alright, it’s on. From tomorrow on, you may hit me with all you got. I’ll be open minded and promise to give you my honest opinion. But I’ll bet you won’t be able to hand me a better author than Vonnegut.”

“Deal,” Castiel replied, sticking out his hand for Dean to shake. “We’ll talk about the stakes tomorrow.”

“Fine with me,” Dean replied, giving him a wink as he let go of Castiel’s hand to get up. “Come on, Gracie. Time to go home.”

“Can’t we stay a bit longer?”

“Nope. Next one is a horror movie and you’re still too young for those. Come on.”

Reluctantly, Gracie waved goodbye to the Shurleys further down the row before hugging those she could easily reach. The last of them was Castiel and he could have sworn she was squeezing him just a bit tighter before letting go and following her father.

Lydia and her daughter were ready to leave as well and when their gazes met, Castiel was sure her eyes were colder than this fine winter’s day.

 

~*~

 

“You’re honestly trying to convince me that Jane Austen is a better author than Kurt Vonnegut?”

“Well, I’ll admit they are hard to compare –”

“Hard? Cas, that’s like comparing apples with cherries. They are both perfect in their own way and they both make a hell of a filling for pie. But they’re still completely different. It’s not that it’s hard, it’s that it’s not possible.”

“Well, if Vonnegut is as good as you say, shouldn’t he be able to beat every other book? Not just those in his own genre?”

“Of course, but still. Jane Austen?”

“You told me to hit you with everything I got, so there we go. What do you think about Jane Austen?” Castiel asked, signing along because Eileen was standing with them, a glass of wine in her hand and a serene smile on her lips.

Over the whole course of dinner, Dean and Castiel had discussed pros and cons of certain authors, Dean adamantly standing by his point of Vonnegut beating all of them.

“I mean, yeah. She was a great author of her time –”

“That still influences literature and even the cinematic world to this day.”

“Don’t you think that’s more because there wasn’t such a mass of books back then as there is today?”

“Maybe. But the reasoning still stands: ask a teenager on the street and I bet you fifty bucks more of them will know the name Jane Austen than the name Kurt Vonnegut.”

“So you’re defining what a great author is by how many people know them?”

Castiel had to think about it for a moment before admitting Dean was right. “No, probably not.”

“Good. Because if you go down that path, we all would have to agree that J. K. Rowling is probably the greatest author of all time.”

“And what would be wrong with that?” Castiel asked, squinting at Dean.

“You kidding?” Dean asked, continuing once Castiel shrugged his shoulders. “Hey, nothing against Harry Potter, but it’s a kids’ book.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it. Just that … well, it’s an amazing book, but there are actually some continuity and logical mistakes in there. And to be honest, since it’s a kids’ book, the language is not the highest quality.”

“But it inspired a whole generation to read again.”

“Agreed.”

“And not only that. How long has it been since the last book was published and the last movie aired? Yet still, people read it, talk about it, define themselves by the Hogwarts House they would be in.”

“You do that?” Dean interrupted with a cheeky grin that Castiel ignored.

“Point is, these books formed a whole generation and it hasn’t stopped. So does it really matter if the language isn’t up to par? Is the better book still one that has a remarkable language but hardly anyone has heard of as long as they weren’t in Dean Winchester’s literature class?”

Chuckling, Dean took a sip of his whiskey. He didn’t have much since he would need to drive later. But it was still early evening and a few sips wouldn’t hurt him. At least that’s what Michael had said when he’d pressed the glass in his hand. “So, now it’s J. K. Rowling up against Vonnegut?”

“And Jane Austen. Don’t forget about her.”

It was that moment Gabriel seemed to want to get in on the discussion as he called over the whole room, “What about C. S. James? What do you think of that author, Dean-o?”

If looks could kill, Gabriel would have been slaughtered on the spot. And not just by Castiel. If Dean noticed the shift in atmosphere within the room, he didn’t give it away as he turned around towards Gabriel.

“Definitely better language than J. K. Rowling. Interesting plot. But …”

“But?” Castiel asked, shocked. He wasn’t a vain person who believed that he was the best author in the world. However, that didn’t mean he wanted to hear a “but” from the man he … from Dean.

“But it’s a book for teenagers and young adults?”

Amara turned around and pinned Dean with a stare. “So?”

“Hey, look,” Dean replied, lifting his hands in defense. “I know the guy publishes in your family business. But you asked.”

“Yes, but why is the fact that it’s a YA book a negative criteria for you?” Castiel asked, seriously intrigued rather than hurt.

“It’s not negative. Trust me, the only reason I let my daughter read it at such a young age was the fact that I think it’s one of the best in its genre. Maybe the best. But compared to, let’s say, Tolkien? Well, you just see the difference.”

“Yeah, I fell asleep when I tried to read Lord of the Rings,” Gracie spoke up for the first time. “It was the most boring book ever. I feel like that hobbit walked through the woods for over a hundred pages. But the books from C. S. James? I can’t put those down. So, true. No question asked who the better author is.”

There were chuckles all around the room, Castiel and Dean joining in. While Dean raised his hands again and just muttered, “Can’t argue with that, I give up,” Castiel threw a wink in Gracie’s direction, making the girl beam at him in delight.

The moment was interrupted when Castiel’s phone vibrated. Given the fact that it was evening on a Sunday, he was pretty sure he knew who it was and all of a sudden he wished he hadn’t written Zar a text earlier, telling him that Gracie knew his secret and not to worry. “I better take this.”

“Seriously, Castiel?” Inias spoke up. “During family dinner?”

“Dinner is over and this won’t take long. I don’t want him to worry.”

“Why would he be worried if you don’t pick up for once? And who is he anyway?”

“Got a secret lover we don’t know about, little brother?” Gabriel asked cheekily, not even fazed by Castiel’s withering glare.

Instead of replying, Castiel turned around and picked up on the seventh ring, just before his voicemail would kick in. “Zar, hang on a second. Gotta leave the room.”

There was no reply but Castiel could hear soft classical music playing in the background – which was not a good sign because Zar usually put that on when he needed to calm down. Once Castiel was on his way to the kitchen and sure he was out of earshot, he spoke again. “Alright, I’m here.”

“What the HELL were you thinking?!!!”

He had just enough time to rip the phone away so not to risk getting deaf on one ear.

“Do I have to remind you how much work we all put into building your damn pen name and keeping you out of the spotlight, just like you wanted? And now you just go around and share it with a twelve-year-old?? Are you insane? You must be out of your mind. How could this have happened? Why didn’t you try to avert it? And why the hell aren’t you answering me?”

“I thought it would be best to let you get it all out at once.”

“Don’t you dare be cheeky with me now! Castiel, do you have any idea how disastrous this could turn out to be?”

“Of course I do, Zar. But …”

“What?”

“I trust her.”

“You – what??”

“I trust her. I don’t think she’ll tell anyone.”

“She is twelve!! She’s a kid. Do you have any idea how quick this will spread once she thinks she needs ammunition to brag in front of girls that were mean to her?”

“Don’t you think you’re dramatizing this a bit?”

“I actually think you’re not taking this seriously enough!”

“Zar.”

“Castiel!”

“Just … trust me on this?”

Balthazar was quiet for a few moments and when he talked again, he still sounded enraged but kept himself in check. “Fine. Jesus, your whole trip is a disaster. This is why I didn’t want you to go.”

“But I did go and … Zar, I don’t regret it. I actually missed this town and it’s not as bad as you think.”

“Whatever you say, Castiel.”

“Are you still mad?”

“Furious,” Zar replied without any heat left in his voice. “I’m just worried for you, you know that.”

“I know. But for now, I need to let you go. We still have our family dinner.”

“The next update I get better be the draft.”

“You should get it tomorrow. Gabe helped me type out most of it this morning, it’s just two chapters left to go over.”

“Alright. You take care, Cassie-dear.”

“You too, bye.”

Ending the call, Castiel sighed deeply. He wasn’t lying when he said he trusted Gracie and for some reason, that realization warmed his heart.

Huffing out a soft laugh, Castiel shook his head about himself, put the phone aside, and washed his hands in the kitchen sink. How fast he’d turned from closed-up, silent author with a broken heart to … well, he didn’t really know yet what he was and the time it took him to dry off his hands wasn’t enough to figure it out. Pocketing his phone, Castiel made his way back through the door.

Only to run into a solid body.

“Woah, I’m sorry,” he exclaimed, jumping out of his skin.

Two hands grabbed his arms and he had the staggering feeling of a déjà vu.

“Cas, man, you gotta decide,” Dean said with a mischievous smirk on his lips, confusing Castiel. “Either you keep running away from me or you continue bumping into me, which one is it going to be?”

Dear Lord, why is that man’s fragrance so intoxicating?

“I thought it was clear I wasn’t running away from you anymore,” Castiel murmured as if in trance, not able to stop himself from looking into those green eyes.

It seemed like Dean hadn’t been expecting such a forward answer. Instead of a cheeky comeback, the man just looked back at him, his eyes moving as if looking over every inch of Castiel’s face. For a moment, it was as if Dean was even leaning towards him.

The moment was broken when a door somewhere opened and Bart’s voice was heard. “Hey, Dean. Need a hand with the cookies?”

“Uhhh …”

Dean let go of him all of a sudden, making Castiel aware about their previous closeness. Blood shoot into his face and he turned around, back into the kitchen as he heard Dean call back to Bart that he was alright.

So stupid, stupid, stupid. Had he almost kissed Dean? What the hell?

“Hey, Cas?”

“What?” Castiel replied, jumping a foot out of his skin as he turned back around.

If Dean noticed his strange behavior – and even more, if he realized what Castiel had almost done – he didn’t mention in. “Your Aunt said something about cookies? Know where she keeps them? I offered to bring them out.”

“Ahh, ummm …” Castiel replied, trying to clear his head without looking like a complete fool. “Yeah, sure.” He hadn’t even realized Aunt Amara had baked some more. It must have happened yesterday when most of them had been at the Winter Fair, watching Christmas movies. “Probably in here, it’s where we keep stuff like that.”

Opening one of the pantries, Castiel was greeted by five big boxes full of Angel Cookies. Pushing his feelings aside, he got them down one after another, stacking them in Dean’s open arms. The last one he took himself.

“Hey, Cas?”

“Yeah?” Castiel replied, looking at Dean in question when the man put the boxes on the counter, not letting go of them completely.

“I … I feel like I should tell you something. Because I hate for this to stay a secret between us.”

Swallowing dryly, Castiel prepared himself for the worst before nodding, putting his box down as well.

“It’s ehm … it’s well,” Dean stuttered, chuckling nervously. “I just wanted you to know that … I actually really love C. S. James’ books.”

Castiel waited for a moment, blinking dumbly. Certainly, that wasn’t the big secret? However, Dean didn’t continue.

“Oh. Okay. Ehm … I guess your secret is safe with me.”

“And so is yours with me.”

All these sudden changes in blood pressure couldn’t be good for Castiel, but the blood was already draining from his face again, his hands gripping tight on the cookie box on the counter. “What?”

“I,” Dean began, huffing out a little laugh, one of his fingers tracing a random pattern on the box on the top before he looked back at Castiel. “I wasn’t so sure in the beginning, but I added two and two together. I know you’re C. S. James.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Cas,” Dean replied, just looking at him.

When Castiel couldn’t hold his gaze anymore, he averted his eyes, defeated.

“Hey, man, look. Maybe I wasn’t your teacher for long, but it was certainly long enough to know you have a very distinctive style when you write. Your voice certainly has evolved from when you were a teen, but … it’s still there.”

“Then how come none of my other teachers has made the connection?”

“Maybe none of them paid as much attention to you as I did,” Dean replied softly, forcing Castiel to look back at him.

There was one of these weird, charged moments between them again and Castiel knew he had to nip it right in the beginning before he was going to do something immensely stupid.

“Did Gracie tell you it’s me?”

“What? No? What? Wait, Gracie knows?”

“She … yeah. She asked me yesterday. She’d figured it out as well.”

“Okay, to be honest: your pen name isn’t the safest bet.”

“Urrggh, not you too. I’m telling you, there are a million people out there with the name James.”

“Yeah, but … C. S. James? Really? Castiel Shurley James? I mean I’m surprised there aren’t a lot more people who have figured it out.”

“Well, hardly anyone in New York knows my birth name. And … and … I don’t know,” Castiel concluded with a huff, grabbing the cookie box again. When he saw Dean grinning in an amused way, he added a short, “Shut up,” before moving in the direction of the door.

Great, now it was two people.

He most certainly was not going to tell Balthazar.

Chapter Text

No man is a failure who has friends

~ Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life

 

Castiel’s wrist was healing up pretty nicely. At least that’s what the doctor told him on his second checkup one week after the incident. With his draft finally handed in to Zar the day before, Castiel decided to stay in Hartford until it would be time for him to head back to meet Gracie. He did a little window shopping, no real intent to buy anything. All his Christmas shopping was done –

A thought struck him and stopped Castiel short. He had nothing for Gracie. He also didn’t have anything for Eileen or Sam or Bobby or … or Dean.

As he walked around the snowy streets, Castiel mulled over it. Bobby was easy – a bottle of the finest whiskey from his favorite place back in New York …

“Damnit.”

Well, he would just have to find one here in Hartford.

Now, Sam … he hadn’t talked much to him but he knew Eileen was really interested in visiting New York one day, especially the Museum of Modern Art and the Statue of Liberty. Maybe he should book them a sightseeing tour with one of the best guides from New York.

Gracie … a thought came to Castiel and he knew Zar would kill him for it. But once he had this idea, there was no going back.

As for Dean, he tried to remember everything he knew about this man – which was a lot. Most of it was certainly not useful, like the way his eyes shone when he talked about books, or the way his laughter made Castiel weak in the knees, or the way he always seemed to have this earthy, warm fragrance around him that still held a component Castiel couldn’t name –

And he really needed to stop this train of thought.

It wasn’t until he passed a bookstore that the right idea hit him like a lightning bolt. The fact that it was again something he would need to get in New York did not faze him this time. Getting out his phone, he pressed the button to speed dial Zar as he already walked back to his car.

“Hey, Zar. Listen, I need a favor from you. Actually, it’s a few favors but I’ll repay you with those little blueberry muffins you love so much. I’ll buy you one every day for the next two months if you get me …”

 

~*~

 

With no real reason to drive back to Hartford without the doctor’s appointment, Castiel decided to go window shopping in Stars Hollow the next day. As it was drawing closer to Christmas, it seemed like the streets got more crowded, more and more people coming home for the holidays. Castiel tried to ignore it while he made his tour around the shops along the town square. There wasn’t much that held his interest for long, except for the Black, White, and Read bookshop. And it wasn’t the fact that some of his books had made it on display. No, it was the paper in the window proclaiming that for the next few nights until Christmas the bookshop would function as a theatre once more. Castiel knew that this had often been the case, reaching back as far as his teenage years. Usually, they would show some vintage movies and he remembered an incident where Kirk was allowed to present one of his self-made-movies. Now, however, they had a list of Christmas classics and Castiel studied them. It’s a Wonderful Life was set for tomorrow night. Would it be crazy to watch the same movie twice in a week?

“Now look who we have here.”

Castiel hadn’t heard this voice in thirteen years and yet he knew who it was right away. Turning around, he smiled as he saw Meg Masters leaning against a lamp post, her snarky smirk in place as if not a day had passed.

“Clarence finally found his way home.”

“Hello, Meg.”

They looked each other up and down for a moment before Meg made the first move. Castiel’s grin turned wider as he embraced her, hugging her close to him. She’d always been petite compared to him, but it was even more so now that he was a full grown man with some muscles.

“I can’t believe you finally came back to Stars Hollow, you ass.”

“Wow, nice, what a greeting.”

“I mean it,” Meg replied, untangling from him only to lightly punch his shoulder. “You ran away, no note, no goodbye, no way for me to contact you. If I hadn’t bribed your brother with sweets, I wouldn’t even have known you were safe and sound in New York.”

“Sorry. Really,” Castiel replied, actually ashamed now that he thought about it. “I needed to get away, after …”

“Yeah, say no more. I know. Was pretty much talk of the town for weeks.”

“You don’t say.”

There was a heavy pause after that, Castiel really trying to forget what it must have been like here after the whole incident.

“So … how have you been?” he finally asked, trying to avert the subject.

Meg, good friend that she was, let him and didn’t question it. “Oh, good, good. Yeah, moved to Hartford. I’m a detective now.”

“Really?” Castiel replied, huffing out a laugh. It wasn’t hard to imagine Meg kicking some bad guy’s ass.

“Yeah. Hey, what do you say: meeting at our old spot? Catch up a bit?”

“Sure. Yeah, I got a bit.”

“Oh? You’re meeting someone else?”

“Actually … yeah,” Castiel said with a grin.

Meg’s smirk was a bright as it always had been as she linked her arm under his. “You’ll have to tell me all about it and I promise I’ll have you back in no time.”

Simply grinning, Castiel let himself be steered over to the gazebo where the two of them used to hang out when they were younger, just watching the people passing and thinking up the most humorous stories about them.

Twenty minutes later, Meg had him in stitches with one of her wild stories of chasing bad guys. It was nice talking to her again and he realized how much he’d missed this crazy girl.

“So, that’s me,” Meg finished, leaning back against the gazebo’s side wall. “Now it’s your turn.”

“Well,” Castiel began. “Made my life in New York, working in the family business. Life’s been pretty good to me.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Happy to hear that,” Meg replied, patting his knee. “Now tell me about the mysterious person you’re having a date with later.”

“It’s not …” Castiel began, looking at his feet. “It’s not a date. I … kinda sort of … became friends with Gracie –”

“Dean’s daughter?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow.”

“Yep …”

There was no immediate reply from Meg but Castiel could feel her eyes on him. After a few moments of silence, Meg spoke again and it was about something Castiel hadn’t expected at all.

“You know, when Christmas break was over all those years ago, the whole school was buzzing with gossip. I tried my best to defend you but … well, the evidence of what you’d done was as clear as the fact that you weren’t in Stars Hollow any longer.”

Castiel looked up at Meg, but her face was turned, her eyes fixed on some unknown point in the distance.

“Literature that day was third period. I still remember that because in first period I almost broke Tom Azazel's nose when he said something nasty about you and therefore I spent second period at the principal’s office.”

“Meg –”

“Hey, don’t sweat it. Any excuse I could get to punch that guy was a good excuse. Anyway, third period, Mr. Winchester walked into the room and it fell quiet right away. Yet the repressed laughter and silent snickering were there and palpable. He started the roll call as if he didn’t notice, but when he got to your name … laughter broke loose. I still remember how he looked at me, all confused. I remember wondering why none of your brothers had informed him. Later I found out he’d just gotten back from his honeymoon the night before and Michael never had time to reach him.” She stopped her tale for a moment, huffing as she shook her head in disbelief. “At that moment I could do nothing more but to shake my head, trying to let him know you weren’t there. Someone else – I don’t even know anymore who it was – broke first. Told him that you’d left town and while the rest of them laughed again, I … God, I’ll never forget his face. He wasn’t just shocked. Before he could catch himself, Dean looked absolutely devastated.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t that bad,” Castiel pressed out, his voice raw, so he cleared his throat.

Meg didn’t let him go on. “Trust me, Clarence. I know what I saw. But the really impressive thing was what came afterwards. Brady – you still remember him, right? That ass of a jock that had it out for you? The one that idolized Dean?” When Castiel finally nodded, Meg went on. “He said something along the lines of: Don’t worry, Mr. Winchester, he won’t bother you anymore ‘cause he ran away like the chicken he is. And Dean nearly flipped. Man, it was glorious.”

“What? What happened?” Castiel replied, intrigued despite himself.

Meg actually smiled at the memory. “He asked them if they had any idea how brave you’d been –”

“What?”

“– and what kind of guts it took to stand before someone and confess your feelings, even though you knew it might be in vain –”

“He said that?”

“– and he told them if ever he heard a bad word spoken about you again, it would have consequences.”

What?” Castiel’s head was spinning. “Meg, stop it. You’re kidding me, right?”

“No. Clarence, I’m serious. He said that. You should have seen all those guys that admired him and the girls that were crushing on him. They were floored. And of course the whole thing spread like a wildfire and by the end of the day, no one even dared to say your name anymore. They all respected him and knowing he thought so highly of you after everything …”

Dean’s words from the morning of Castiel’s accident were bouncing around his mind without any real order, making his head spin.

Do you have any idea how much respect I had for you?

You were a kid.

You were brave enough to take a chance.

To confess your feelings.

Together with Meg’s story …

“You believe me, don’t you?”

Still deep in thought, Castiel found himself nodding. “Yeah. Yeah, I think so.”

“A lot to take in, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Castiel huffed out on a laugh.

A reassuring hand landed on his shoulder. “Well, now you’ll have to tell me what you did to that hand of yours,” Meg said with a smile in her voice, clearly trying to lighten the mood again. And thankful as he was, Castiel took the chance.

 

~*~

 

It wasn’t until Grace showed up next to them that Castiel was reminded of the time. He asked Meg to join them but his friend excused herself, saying her parents were probably already waiting for her. Before she left she asked for Castiel’s phone and typed in her number. He hugged her goodbye and promised to stay in contact this time.

Ever since Gracie had found out for sure that he was C. S. James, Castiel waited for her to ask him a thousand questions, yet they never came. Nothing really had changed between them, and that alone was reason for Castiel to believe that he could trust her. Their time with Dean was cut short today as father and daughter had to pick up Lisa’s parents from the airport. As Gracie had told him, her grandparents would only stay for two nights, leaving for New York on Friday to start a cruise over the holidays. It had been Dean’s Christmas Gift to them and Castiel was touched, knowing how close the man still was with his in-laws.

Seeing that her grandparents were in town, Castiel understood that Gracie wasn’t spending time with him on Thursday. He still went to Luke’s to get his usual pie and hot chocolate, rather addicted to it by now. Besides, the diner was on his way back home from the post office. He’d asked Zar to send all the gifts there rather than the Shurley mansion, not wanting to risk any of his siblings snooping around his stuff. It all made the trip from New York to Stars Hollow safe and sound, and he only had to wrap it all up. The only present left was the one for Gracie and he really hoped Zar would play along as he had grudgingly promised after Castiel bribed him with yet another two months of blueberry muffins.

Leaving Luke’s with a satisfied smile after a round of pie and hot chocolate, Castiel was on his way to his car when someone bumped into him.

“Oh, sorry sir,” Castiel replied, even though he was pretty sure it wasn’t his fault. However, he was in a way too good mood to care for such details.

That was, until the other person spoke up. “I’ll be damned. If this isn’t little Cassie Shurley.”

Castiel froze on the spot.

“Coming back home after all? Must have finally heard that Dean Winchester is free again, right?”

Closing his eyes for a moment to get his bearings, Castiel took a deep breath and finally turned around, a cold smile on his lips. “Tyson Brady. Now there’s one face I certainly didn’t miss.”

“Someone’s gotten cheeky over the last few years,” Brady replied, getting closer. Like Castiel, he seemed to wear a suit under his coat, but it looked used and off the rack – not that Castiel cared for things like that. Hell, he would never judge a guy by his money. But with Brady …

“So, how have you been these past few years? Gotten over your little crush?”

Castiel stared the man dead in the eye as he reached for the car keys in his coat pocket. Raising the key and demonstratively pushing the button so the car would open with a beep and the flash of the lights, his smirk grew a bit wider. “Oh, I can’t complain. Thanks for asking, though. You have a good day and … a nice rest of your life.”

With that, he turned around, took the last few steps and got into his shiny Camaro, childishly satisfied at the flabbergasted face he saw in his rearview mirror.

 

~*~

 

With Christmas only a few days away, most of the Shurleys had started their vacation by now and Michael and Anna had even taken their kids out of school a bit early to spend more time with the whole family. The house was crowded just like on all the previous weekends, and still, it somehow felt too crowded today for Castiel. Maybe it was the fact that with so many people in one place, obviously, some tension would arise sooner or later. Or it was just the confrontation with Brady earlier that day, even though he felt like he’d handled it pretty well. Or maybe just the fact that for over a week now, he hadn’t been able to do his normal morning routine, because obviously with a broken wrist and on pain medication, running around the lake was out of the question.

Whatever it was, Castiel decided to leave the house for a while, remembering that It’s a Wonderful Life was playing in the bookshop theater tonight. He got there just in time, quickly finding a seat in a row further to the front. It certainly had changed since the last time he’d been here, the whole interior more like a real movie theater now instead of a home theater with mismatched chairs pulled together. As far as he could tell, only a handful of people were there with him. He didn’t really care, however, and it was too dark to make out any faces anyway.

George Bailey was just promising Mary Hatch to lasso the moon for her – one of Castiel’s favorite scenes of the whole movie – when there was movement a few rows behind him and to his right. Before he knew what was happening, someone sat down next to him, startling him.

“So, someone ever promised to lasso the moon for you?”

“Dean? What are you doing here? I thought Lisa’s parents –”

“Ah, they have a night out with Gracie at the fair. I … remembered this movie was playing tonight and here I am.”

Someone behind them shushed them and the two ducked their heads, grinning and sinking further into the chairs. After a few scenes, Dean leaned back into his space. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“What question?”

“About the moon.”

“Oh … well,” Castiel replied, trying to calm his wildly beating heart down. “Not that I can say, no. But this movie is the reason for one of my nicknames.”

“Right. Who was it that used to call you Clarence?”

“Meg. Meg Masters.”

“Right.”

“Met her yesterday, actually.”

“Yeah?” Dean asked, but a more insistent shush shut them both up again, leaving them grinning at the situation.

Still, Dean didn’t lean back into his own space and it didn’t take long until Castiel was once again surrounded by his fragrance, his warmth, his … everything, that made Castiel’s heart beat faster, no matter how often he repeated his mantra of just a friend, just a friend, just a very straight friend.

It was around the time George Bailey rejected Potter’s offer of becoming his assistant that Castiel couldn’t take the quiet moment between them anymore. Last Saturday had been different, they’d been on the outside with fresh air, hundreds of people surrounding them. This time, they were in a little bubble of their own and it was getting too much. At any moment, he would just need to move his hand a little to take Dean’s and no one would see; just turn his head and people behind them would think he would whisper something into his ear when really he would be kissing his neck. He honestly needed to do something to distract him from those thoughts. Clearing his throat, Castiel shifted a bit further away from Dean, making it look like he was just turning around towards him.

“So … you ever thought about leaving Stars Hollow for good, like George wanted to get out of Bedford Falls all his life?”

“Nah, not that I can remember,” Dean whispered back, leaning minutely closer to him. “Maybe when I was younger. But … it’s a perfect place to raise your kid and not think of anything bad when a middle aged man is having a pie-and-hot-chocolate-meeting with her every day after school.”

Castiel’s ears were burning right away, his eyes wide. Yet Dean just threw him a cheeky grin and knocked his own knee into Castiel’s leg. “Calm down, I’m just ripping you. I really like how you care for her.”

“She’s a great kid.”

“Hell yeah, she is.”

Castiel considered for about five (very fast) heartbeats but then threw caution to the wind and whispered back, “Guess she has that from her Mom.”

“Oh, very funny, Cas, very funny.”

Two more shushing noises could be heard out of different directions from the back, but they couldn’t dampen Castiel’s little snicker.

“Or maybe the influence of all her uncles was helpful.”

“Hey, someone’s gotten cheeky here.”

“Yeah, heard that before.”

“I like it,” Dean replied, leading Castiel to look up at him.

Suddenly, something landed in Dean’s hair that Castiel recognized as popcorn right away. It was accompanied with a whispered, yet still furious, “Shut the hell up, you morons. Don’t you have any respect for the classics?”

Dean’s eyes went wide as they were still fixed on Castiel. The whole situation was too much for Castiel and he cracked up, Dean joining him within a heartbeat. Trying to muffle his laughter, he didn’t really register at first as Dean grabbed his hand and pulled him up, both of them bolting from the theater as fast as they could, some more popcorn and curse words flying their way. They were able to keep it together until they were through the side door leading into the alley right next to the bookshop, laughter shaking both of them. Dean had let go of his hand but was holding onto his arms now as Castiel was leaning against the wall to keep himself upright and Dean somehow leaning against him.

“Dean, how dare you not respect the classics,” Castiel gasped out once he’d calmed down a bit, sending both of them into a new fit of laughter.

It wasn’t until Castiel became aware of just how close Dean was standing to him that he slowly sobered up. He couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like Dean began to realize it as well as his laughter died to a few chuckles and the man looked up and into his eyes. Instead of taking a step back, Castiel could feel Dean swaying even more into his space, all laughter suddenly gone. And no, it was certainly not his imagination when he saw Dean’s gaze flick to his lips before they went back up to his eyes. Was the earth spinning or was Dean really leaning closer?

“Hey, yo! Mr. Winchester, is that you?”

Castiel was sure he’d never seen a man jump away from him this fast. Dean’s hand was gone at the first noise coming from outside the alley, the sudden space between them cold and heavy.

“Brady? Tyson Brady, hey man. Back in town?”

“Yessir. Arrived today,” Brady answered as Dean stepped closer towards the end of the alley to shake the man’s hand.

Castiel didn’t listen in as the two exchanged pleasantries, Dean clearly trying to overplay whatever Brady might have just witnessed. Not that there was anything to witness. Because there was nothing there.

There never would be and goddamnit, Castiel was just the most stupid moron there was. Maybe he hadn’t imagined Dean leaning closer. And maybe Dean was even intrigued. But hell, the man was straight and he would never be caught dead being with another man.

Pushing away from the wall, Castiel left for the other direction. It would take him longer to get back to his car but there was no chance in hell he would risk passing Brady. There was a slight chance the man hadn’t recognized him in the shady light. The last thing he needed was for the man to have more ammunition to make Castiel’s life hell again.

Chapter Text

The truth will set you free, but first, it will piss you off

~ Joe Klaas

 

“Now look at that, only A’s and a few B’s. Not bad, Gracie, not bad.”

Gracie beamed at him as she took off her coat before sitting down. “I’m planning on getting two of those B’s to A’s by the end of the school year.”

“Which ones?”

“Math and PE. I had A’s in those classes before the accident. And my friends are helping me getting back there.”

“B’s are still great, Gracie. But I admire you’re aiming to get back to your old form,” Castiel replied, handing her the report card back.

Her piece of pie was extra big today and she happily dug in.

“Heard from your grandparents, yet?”

Gracie shook her head. “No. They left early this morning, though. They should be on the ship soon. Maybe they called Dad.”

“They did indeed,” Dean interrupted, sitting down in his usual place, startling both of them. “They’re already settled into their cabin, cruise will start tonight as planned.” When neither of them answered he looked up into their confused faces, grinning at them. “What? Hey, last day of school. You really think I would stay any longer than I really had to? Especially when I have some more school duties to handle this afternoon?”

“Ohhh, right, the Christmas Cookie Fundraiser.”

“Yep,” Dean answered his daughter, stealing a bite of her pie before turning to Castiel to explain. “My class is planning a trip right before spring break. To get some money, I convinced the principal as well as Taylor Doose to let the kids set up a table on the Fair later today, selling some Christmas cookies.”

“That sounds nice,” Castiel replied. “I should stop by. You can never have enough sweets in the house with Gabriel there.”

“Absolutely. Kids really need the money. They want a trip to New York and they have a lot on their list that they want to see.”

“Guess then I should just send Gabe himself. You’ll be sold out in no time.”

Grinning at each other, they were only pulled out of it when the door opened again and someone stepped up next to their table.

“Hello, Dean, hey Gracie,” Lydia greeted them with a wide smile that only fell minimally when her gaze landed on Castiel, who she sent a nod.

“Lydia, hey. How’s it going?”

“Good,” she replied, smiling widely at Dean. “Actually, do you have a moment? I would like to ask you something.”

“Ehm … now? We … sorry, we’re having pie here and were just talking, so …”

“Oh,” Lydia answered, her smile falling for real. That had certainly not been the answer she’d expected. “Sure, yeah. Some other time then, I guess.”

“Absolutely. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Alright. You three have fun then … with your pie. Bye.”

At the door, she sent a gaze back at Dean, however Castiel was the only one to see it as Dean was in the middle of stealing another bite from Gracie’s pie just as Luke put a piece down before him.

“Stop stealing from your kid. She earned that piece. Have some manners, man.”

“Thanks, Luke,” Dean called after him as Luke was quick to get back behind the counter. The fact that Lydia had left in a huff seemed to go completely unnoticed by anyone but Castiel, who looked at Dean, not able to decide if he was confused or if he wanted to laugh. “You do know you just upset her, right?”

“What? Who?” Dean replied, looking first at Castiel, then the door. “Lydia?”

“You totally blew her off.”

“Yeah, well. She was interrupting a sacred moment.”

“Dean,” Castiel replied, chuckling at that. “It’s just pie.”

“Yeah, but it’s pie with you guys.”

The comment, accompanied with Dean’s secret smile in his direction, let Castiel’s heart skip a beat. Before he could think of it any further, however, he recollected those feelings from last night. The moment Dean had let go of him like he’d been burned, just because someone showed up. Castiel had to remember the reputation Dean had had in school – he’d always been a player, a flirt. Seemed it hadn’t changed, only that now he wasn’t even stopping at those he called his friends, even though they were lacking boobs.

Clearing his throat, Castiel went back to his pie without replying.

“I didn’t get a chance last night to say bye,” Dean said after a while, his voice low. “You were gone all of a sudden. Everything okay?”

“Yeah, sure. Just … wanted to get home.”

Dean only nodded at that and let himself get distracted by Gracie remembering to show him her report card.

They didn’t stay long today, Dean being needed at the Fair soon after to set up the table. “Gracie, you okay to spend some time at the Fair? Otherwise I would need to drive you home real quick.”

“Nooo, I want to be there for the fundraiser later. I can stay.”

“You sure?”

“If Cas joins me?”

Castiel looked up from putting on his coat as he heard his name. Seeing Gracie’s expectant, pleading eyes, there was no way he could say no.

Since there was no big event planned for this Saturday that needed a stage and seating area, even more vendors had opened up and a life-sized Nativity had been set up where the stage used to stand. It had real actors and even real animals, making the whole thing a little petting zoo. They had a wind quintet in the gazebo now that played Christmas carols all day long. As they passed them, Castiel recognized one of his old classmates he’d actually been friendly with. Stacy was playing the flute and when he waved in her direction, her eyes lit up in a smile and she nodded back at him, not even missing a note. A bit further down, Kirk offered sleigh rides around town and after getting the okay from Dean, Castiel and Gracie booked one. It was nice seeing the town from this perspective, and they had a lot of fun letting Kirk play their tour guide.

When they got back, Gracie decided she wanted to pet the lambs before going back to her dad. Watching the girl like this, Castiel realized for the first time that in a little over a week, he would have to leave her. His heart was suddenly getting heavy at the thought of his lonely penthouse back in the heart of New York.

“Well, I guess that finally answers my question.”

Castiel took a deep breath to stay calm as someone leaned against the wooden railing next to him.

“The way you’re watching his kid, I’d say you’re still crushing on Mr. Winchester.”

“What do you want, Brady?”

“Woah, hey,” the man replied, chuckling. “I’m sensing some dislike here.”

“More like repulsion. So why don’t you just leave me alone?”

“So you can go back and seduce the guy some more. I don’t think so.”

“What?” Castiel pressed out, finally looking at Brady but trying to stay quiet so Gracie wouldn’t notice anything going on.

The man looked smug. “Don’t think I didn’t see you last night. The way you’re all over the poor man again? It’s disgusting.”

“Okay, why don’t you go to hell? This is none of your business.”

“Uhhh, touchy, aren’t we,” Brady replied, leaning in closer, his voice low and threatening. “Let me tell you something: Dean Winchester is one of the most respected teachers we ever had in Stars Hollow. That hasn’t even changed after he took a stand for what you did and defended you.”

Well, if Castiel hadn’t believed it before, now he certainly did.

“It would be a shame …” Brady went on, nodding behind him where, to his shock, Castiel could see some of the guys from the hockey team of his senior year at school. Or in other words, his old tormentors, who were now watching them. “... if any of my old friends found out you’re trying to get your faggy little hands on him again.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, but I think you do, Castiel.”

“Dean and I are friends –”

“Dean?”

“Yes, Dean. It might come as a shock to you, Brady, but Dean and I have been friends long before he became my teacher.”

“Sure as hell didn’t look like that last night.”

“What’s it to you?”

“Hey, I’m just giving you my opinion and a piece of advice, is all, pal.”

“Okay, you know what, pal,” Castiel replied, finally fed up, not even caring to keep his voice down as he got right into Brady’s face. “This isn’t high school anymore. So you’re not the popular jock anymore and I’m certainly not the nerdy, overweight little guy you can stump on. So you can take your piece of advice and opinion about me and my friendship with Dean and shove it where the sun don’t shine. ‘Cause I don’t give a flying fuck about what you think.”

He could see the surprise in Brady’s eyes as he stared the man down, not even thinking about backing down this time.

“Now here’s my piece of advice: you go back to your goons and you grow the fuck up and leave me in peace. Or I promise you the next thing you know is a lawsuit against you for harassment, got it?”

There was anger in Brady’s eyes, but it seemed he was clever enough to realize that Castiel actually had the money to hire the best lawyers in the state. With a sneer and a snide gesture as if Castiel wasn’t worth the trouble, Brady backed off and went back to Tom Azazel and the rest of his pack. They all looked at Castiel for a moment, but Brady waved them off and they followed him in another direction.

Unbelievable. Thirteen years, and these guys were still the same bullying assholes they’d been in high school. Seemed some people didn’t have a wide horizon after all.

“Cas?”

As he whirled around, Gracie was standing there, looking up at him with a worried gaze. “Are you okay? Did that guy hurt you?”

“No. No, I’m fine. Don’t worry,” Castiel replied, putting his arm around her shoulders to steer her in the direction of the cookie stand. “Just some old classmates of mine.”

“Wow, looks like they really suck.”

Laughing at that, Castiel pulled her a bit closer, trying to shake off the uneasy feeling his confrontation with Brady had left on him.

As they came closer to the cookie stand, they could see a mass of people swarming around the huge display. It seemed like every Christmas cookie imaginable was there, ready to be picked up to throw together unique little packs of cookies.

“Looks like you won’t have to get anything for Uncle Gabe,” Gracie said, giggling as they watched Gabriel fill what appeared to be his fifth little cookie bag.

While Gracie went around the table to hug her Dad, Castiel picked up one of the plastic bags as well and started looking at all the sweets they had there. “Hey, Gabe,” he called over to the other side when Gabriel reached for the next plastic bag. “Leave some for other people!”

“Ha ha,” Gabe replied, but otherwise ignored him.

Castiel chuckled over his brother’s antics and kept filling his own pack.

As he drew closer to where Dean stood, a certain fragrance hit his nose, distinguishable for Castiel out of a million smells that froze him on the spot.

Vanilla and sugar.

That couldn’t be true.

“Hey, Cas. You’ll have to try one of the cookies Dad and I made,” Gracie called out, holding up – what else – an Angel Cookie.

Castiel’s heart squeezed tight, but before he could say anything, Gabe plucked the cookie from Gracie’s fingers and ate it.

“Hey, that one was for Cas,” Gracie scolded him.

However, Gabe simply squinted at Dean. “That’s an Angel Cookie. That’s a family secret, where did you get it from?”

Raising his hands in defense, Dean grinned at Gabe. “Alright, you got me. Grace and I just loved the cookies your Aunt baked last weekend and I may or may not have bribed Michael to hand out the secret recipe.”

“What?!” both Gabriel and Castiel exclaimed, clearly in shock. The Shurley family secret was not something to joke about.

“Whoa, calm down, don’t worry. The secret is safe with us. And hey, we’re basically family, right?” Dean asked, still grinning at them and pushing Gracie in front of him, playfully using her as a shield. The man seemed to have no idea what his words did to Castiel, even though he was right somehow when it came to Gracie.

“Here,” the girl now said and held out another cookie for Castiel to take. “Please, you have to tell me if it tastes just as good as you know them.”

Castiel’s heart was beating wildly. He didn’t … he couldn’t taste an Angel Cookie now. Not with Dean right in front of him. Some part of him knew it was juvenile and maybe even stupid – it was just a damn cookie after all – but he knew what the taste would do to him. That wasn’t something he could control. The smell alone was enough to have unpleasant memories coming back to his mind.

Pitiful green eyes.

A sad frown.

“Castiel … I’m sorry …”

“Cas? Don’t you wanna try?” Dean asked, gesturing meaningfully down at Gracie when Castiel’s eyes landed on him. The girl looked at Castiel with big eyes, clearly wanting him to approve their baking.

Shutting off all his emotions, Castiel reached for the cookie and after sending Gracie a smile, he took a bite and actually forced it down. “Delicious,” he pressed out, sounding flat even to his own ears.

But while Dean frowned at him, Gracie simply beamed and started talking excitedly. “Is it true there’s a legend behind these cookies? And is it true that it actually works? Uncle Michael told us … Dad, what is it he said?”

“On Christmas Eve, if you eat Angel Cookies right before bed and then dream of your one true love, he will be your destiny,” Dean recited the old words without missing a beat. Hearing those words from Dean’s mouth; the taste of Angel Cookies on his tongue and the smell in his nose – 

“Castiel … I’m sorry …”

“Excuse me,” Castiel pressed out, putting the half eaten cookie down on the table. “I … I gotta go. I forgot … something.”

“Cas?”

Castiel ignored the questioning gazes as he turned around and pressed through the crowd, leaving his own cookie bag behind. He couldn’t breathe and he needed to get away from here before he threw up. Where the heck had he left his car?

Hastily walking down the road towards the side road where he suspected his car, Castiel tried to hold in his tears. Why the heck was he so damn emotional lately?

“Cas, hold up,” was the only warning he got before Dean’s hand landed on his upper arm, stopping him and softly turning him around. “You alright, man?”

Trying not to let Dean see tears welling up in his eyes, Castiel didn’t look at him as he nodded. “Yeah. Like I said, I just forgot something.”

“Cas, what’s going on? Are you … are you mad at Michael for giving us the family recipe? Or at Gracie and me for having it? Because if that’s the case, let me tell you that Gracie certainly isn’t at fault –”

“I know. That’s not the problem.”

“Then why did you act like that right now?”

It was only now that Castiel realized that Dean was actually a bit angry at him. And he had every right to be. After all, Castiel had probably hurt the girl – which was the last thing he wanted to do.

“I’m sorry. Please tell Gracie that the cookies taste wonderful. I’m just not feeling well.”

“Hey, hey,” Dean stopped him as he tried to turn around. “Cas, stop. What the hell is going on?”

“Nothing.”

“Are you crying? Damn, Cas, talk to me.”

“There is nothing to talk about, okay? Please, just let me go.”

“It’s the recipe, isn’t it? Damn, Cas I’m sorry. If I’d known you would be so protective of the family recipe –”

“It’s not that!”

“Then what?”

“It’s the cookies, okay!” it finally broke out of him as he ripped out of Dean’s hold. “It’s … it’s this stupid legend and the taste of those damn cookies. It’s the smell that reminds me of … of everything.”

“What are you talking about?”

Castiel looked at Dean, defeated. He’d already said too much, so why the heck not go all in. Huffing out a humorless laugh, Castiel shrugged his shoulders, raising his hands and dropping them again right away, not knowing what he was even trying to do. “Why the hell do you think I showed up at that church thirteen years ago, huh?”

Dean’s reaction was instant: his eyes widened and his mouth fell open, a puff of breath visible in the cold air. But no words came, he just stared at Castiel, frozen in place.

“Dean, I’ve had a crush on you my whole damn life. I loved you before I knew what love even is. And still, I wouldn’t have done anything because I never thought that you could return those feelings. But … I believed in this legend. God, did I believe in it. Because it worked for everybody else in my family – my grandparents, my parents, my aunt, my siblings, even my damn cousins – everybody.”

God, he probably sounded like a maniac. But it was too late now anyway.

“And who do you think I dreamed of? Who do you think I dreamed of every single night?”

Dean still didn’t say anything. He just looked at him, swallowing hard.

“So, when I ate those cookies on Christmas Eve – the night before your wedding – and I dreamed of you again …”

He couldn’t finish that sentence, his voice simply giving out.

Dean took a tentative step forward. “Cas –”

“No, Dean. It’s alright. And don’t worry: I don’t care about the stupid family recipe. I just can’t eat these damn things without seeing you, standing in church and pitying me.”

“Cas, I didn’t –”

“It doesn’t matter anymore, Dean. I’ve learned the hard way not to believe in stupid fairytales.”

With that, he turned around and went over to his car, not giving Dean another chance to stop him. Once more, Dean didn’t even try.

Chapter Text

The course of true love never did run smooth

~ William Shakespeare

 

The only reason Castiel got out of bed the next day was because of Zar’s email with the first edit of his draft. There was also a text from Gracie, telling him that everything was okay between them. Last night he’d begged Michael to give him her number so he could text her, apologizing for just running away. Knowing that Grace was the last person he wanted to hurt, Castiel got up and worked on the edits Zar had sent him so the girl’s Christmas present would be finished in time.

Besides the meals, Castiel mostly ignored his family. It seemed Gabriel had told them about his weird behavior and someone – probably one of his sisters – seemed to have finally connected the dots and realized that something about the Angel Cookies and the damn legend must have been at fault for what happened thirteen years ago. It was an easy guess because otherwise, their whole house would smell like those damn cookies right now.

It was already dark outside by the time Castiel had finished up all the edits, the day rushing by without him really noticing. For the next stage of his editing process, he needed a printed out version, so he put the file on a stick and got up. Stretching, he checked the time on his laptop. It was only seven at night. He was sure he had enough time to read over his whole draft once more and do some final corrections before Sunday’s family dinner tomorrow. Since this Sunday happened to fall on Christmas Eve, they all had decided to exchange gifts tomorrow night after dinner instead of waiting for Christmas Morning. It was unusual, but it was a practical solution.

Before he went to his Dad’s office to print out his draft, Castiel knocked on Hannah’s door.

“Come in.”

Opening the door, Castiel found his sister on her bed, reading a magazine.

“Hey, Castiel. What’s up?”

“Do you have any idea where Dad keeps his wrapping stuff?”

Hannah nodded, getting off her bed. “I thought you had all our presents with you, already wrapped and ready?”

“Yeah, well. These are some additional. I didn’t know the Winchesters would be here, after all.”

Hannah smiled at him widely but didn’t say anything. He followed her down the hallway to a little side cupboard that held linen and towels and, apparently, a box full of new birthday- and holiday-cards, as well as everything he would need to wrap up a few gifts. “Here you go.”

“Thanks,” he replied, giving her a kiss on her cheek before putting the box in his room. He would wrap most of the gifts tonight, and the one for Gracie tomorrow once it was finished.

Entering his Dad’s office, he was surprised to see Chuck sitting in the corner in his favorite chair, reading a book. “Good evening, Dad. I thought you would have retired by now?”

“It’s not that late yet, son. Besides, I had a feeling you would be coming in here tonight. The computer is still on and the printer is freshly filled with paper.”

He gave his father a soft smile and a nod in thanks. With a few clicks, the printer was awake and working, leaving Castiel nothing else to do but wait.

“Come and sit with me, son.”

His father already filled a second glass with his favorite scotch, and Castiel was not one to decline such an offer now that he wasn’t on medication anymore. Even though he suspected that his father was about to give him some kind of lecture.

They sat in silence long after the printer had stopped, the draft just waiting for Castiel to pick it up.

“Did we ever tell you that your mother was engaged to someone else when I first met her?”

Castiel looked up at his dad, the question not only coming out of the blue but also shocking. He had to sort his thoughts before he was able to answer, clearing his throat first. “No. No, I don’t think you told either of us.”

“Well, it’s true. His name was Samuel – tall, handsome … Sam Winchester actually reminds me of him sometimes.” It was an offhanded remark and Castiel only nodded, not knowing what he could say to that.

His father didn’t seem to expect a reply anyway. “I met her shortly before Christmas and you know that I dreamed of her that night after eating Angel Cookies on Christmas Eve –”

“Dad –”

“No, Castiel, let me finish.”

Castiel sighed but didn’t interrupt his father any further.

“We only ever told you that I dreamed of her and the rest was history. Well, there was a bit more to it. I knew stealing her away from another man was not a gentleman’s move. It went against everything I thought was right, against my moral code, against the way I was raised. And I assure you: nothing ever happened between your mother and me while she was still with this guy –”

“Dad, honestly, too much information.”

“What I’m trying to tell you here, son, is that love is never easy. It’s not a smooth path laid out before us. I went against my moral code – but in the end, after months of fighting for your mother, it was all worth it. It was so, so worth it.”

“Yeah, but Dad,” Castiel finally spoke up. “It’s different. At least mom was into men.”

“Castiel.” His father sat up and sat his tumbler aside. “I see the way this man looks at you –”

“Stop, please.” Closing his eyes, Castiel tried not to think about his father’s words too hard. “He is straight. And, yeah, maybe he’s curious. But Dad, do you really think I want to be someone’s bi-curious experiment?”

When Chuck didn’t reply to that, Castiel looked over at his father who seemed to examine him closely. After a moment, Chuck spoke again. “All I’m saying, Castiel, is that love is worth every fight. You did the right thing thirteen years ago and I hope you won’t waver from that path.”

“Why are you even so sure he’s the one I’m meant to be with?”

“Because I know you dreamed of him. I’ve known it all these years, even though your siblings never figured it out until now.”

“How –”

“I’m your father, Castiel. And even though I might seem a little bit absent sometimes, I still know my own flesh and blood.”

Taking those words in, Castiel looked into his glass full of scotch, pondering over his father’s words.

“I am not going to tell you what to do, Castiel. You’re a grown man and you’ll find your way. All I’m begging you for is not to give up. Because honestly: true love is worth everything.”

Huffing out a humorless laugh, Castiel shook his head. Not really in disbelief, but just because he didn’t know how else to react.

“I’m serious. Why do you think I’m not scared of dying soon?”

That comment made Castiel’s head snap back around to his father, his eyes wide. They’d all seen it, their father’s health slowly getting worse. But this whole time, he’d been so cheerful and almost his old self – like before their mother had died – so no one had really let that thought settle in. The thought that they might lose their father soon.

“I’m not scared, because I know I’ll meet your mother again. We had only a few beautiful years on earth together, but I know we’ll share a Heaven soon.”

“Dad,” Castiel choked out.

His father smiled at him, patting his arm.

“I’m alright, son. I’m alright. I just hope you’ll be, too.”

Not waiting for him to answer, his father got up, squeezed his shoulder, and left him alone to sit and ponder about it all.

 

~*~

 

Castiel had forgotten that the Winchester’s would show up earlier the next day to help with decorating the Christmas tree. He’d gotten up early this morning to finish up making last changes in his draft, and the printer was still working when the doorbell rang around noon. Gracie was in a beautiful crimson dress and when Castiel noticed a tad of makeup on her, he had to hide a grin, trying not to think about how much she must have fought her father to be allowed to wear it. Castiel was pretty sure Dean did not like the fact that his little baby girl was thinking she was old enough to wear makeup at all.

The man in question was a sight for sore eyes, as he had been for all their family dinners – and as he was in general, no matter if dressed up like this or not. Castiel tried to ignore the way the sight of Dean in a midnight colored suit made him weak in the knees, and instead focused on the rest of the people surrounding him.

For thirteen years now, decorating the Christmas tree had been a quiet affair, just his aunt, his uncle for the first few years, and him. They would have classical music in the background, a fine whiskey next to them, a grand tree and delicate, elegant decorations.

It was nothing like the loud and boisterous affair in the Shurley household.

Laughter, smiles, funny stories, giggling, kids chasing each other around (including Gabriel, but really, where was the difference?), hot chocolate for the kids, and hot apple cider or whiskey for the adults. It was a family with so many heads they were hard to count, having a wonderful day together. The result was a huge tree that was anything but elegant, yet decorated with so much love it was certainly the most beautiful one Castiel had ever seen.

When it was time to place the presents under the tree, Castiel hastened into his father’s office to get the latest version of his draft and went upstairs, quickly putting the script into the box he’d picked out for it, adding the card he’d written for Gracie last night, and began wrapping it. He’d already discovered last night that it wasn’t easy to wrap gifts with a cast around one hand, but he managed. It took him four trips to bring down all the presents for his family and friends.

Nearly impossible, they were still able to convince the kids to have dinner first and presents afterwards. The whole afternoon, Castiel had been able to evade Dean. It might have been due to the fact that Dean didn’t seem to chase him this time around. However, his luck was up when Dean decided to sit down at the dinner table on Castiel’s left side, Eileen already on Castiel’s other side. He tried to ignore him and for the main part of dinner, he succeeded by talking to Eileen. Not that it made a big difference; Dean’s presence like a solid wall next to him.

It was at the end of dessert when Dean leaned closer to him. “Hey, Cas. You think we could talk somewhere privately for a minute?”

Getting his napkin and cleaning his mouth, Castiel kept his eyes firmly ahead of him. “I wouldn’t know what we have to talk about.”

“Cas, please –”

“Alright everybody,” Gabriel spoke up over the noises in the room, getting up from his seat. “Who’s ready to clean up the table so we can start opening presents?”

A chorus of agreement could be heard, and Castiel was quick to follow his brother’s example. The last thing he needed was Dean taking him aside to apologize to him for not being into men or whatever.

It took them a while until all the leftovers were wrapped up, the dishes packed in the dishwasher or the sink, and the tables wiped clean. Once that was all done, it was another act to seat all of them in the big living room around the coffee table. Chuck stood in front of the tree, a serene smile on his lips.

“I guess this is the time for a little speech, although I have nothing prepared. I just want to tell all of you how happy I am that you all followed my wish for such an extraordinary family Christmas – and of course, my dear Winchesters, I count you as part of that family as well.”

“What about me, ya idjit,” Bobby grumbled out, making the people around him chuckle.

Michael, who stood behind the man’s seat, clapped him on the shoulder. “You count as a Winchester, old man.”

“Alright, alright,” Chuck continued, as the laughter died down. “Let’s just say that everybody in this room is family to me and I am grateful you all found it in you to follow my invitation. I know we still have a whole week of December left, but I already want to tell you that it has been one of the greatest times. Having my sister and all my children back home –” Chuck looked at each of them but paused a moment longer on Castiel, who’d been gone the longest. “– and seeing their loved ones and my grandchildren … I know I’m truly a blessed man. I hope you won’t forget that family is the most important thing in life – be it the family by blood or the one we chose with our hearts.”

“Amen,” the room replied as one, as Chuck lifted his glass and they all drank to that.

There was no real order after that when the presents started to be handed out. When they’d still been younger, their mother would always make sure that each of them got a present one after another, everybody waiting to see what it was. Doing that with twenty-four people in the room, some of them kids and some of them big babies that had never learned to act like an adult – it was simply not possible.

Of course, the little children got their presents first, so they were busy playing with whatever had been inside the colorful wrapping paper. Somewhere in between, the older kids handed out their self-made presents to their parents and to their grandfather. When Castiel handed his presents to his family, he enjoyed all the gleeful smiles and thank yous he got from them. Their happiness was even better than the presents he got in return.

When Bobby had a free minute, Castiel handed him the wrapped bottle of finest whiskey. The man looked up at him in surprise. “That’s nice of you, son. I have nothing in return though, I didn’t –”

Castiel simply waved him off. “Don’t sweat it. I thought this was something you would like, is all.”

Bobby simply nodded and clapped him on the shoulder before Castiel moved on to Sam and Eileen.

“Oh my God,” Eileen exclaimed when Sam unwrapped a map of New York City. Castiel had made a little collage out of it, coloring in the route their tour guide would take them, pinning the tickets for the MoMA, Lady Liberty, and three more places to it as well. “Are you serious? This must have cost a fortune!”

*Well, I don’t like putting a price tag on friendship,* Castiel signed in reply, kissing her on the cheek. *It’s the thought that counts, right?*

She hugged him tight and Sam joined in, thanking him as well.

As he turned around to pick up the present for Gracie, Castiel took a deep breath. The girl had already gotten a lot from her uncles and of course her own family. Castiel just hoped she would like his present, but it was as he had just said to Eileen: it was the thought that counted, not the price.

When he sat down next to her on the floor, Gracie beamed up at him. “Cas, I got something for you as well,” she said before he could even hand her the box. “It’s not much, but I hope you will like it.”

“I’m sure I will,” he replied, taking the envelope she held out for him to take. Inside was a card and a little something wrapped in colorful paper. He read the card first.

 

Dear Cas,

The last time I wrote a letter to you, I didn’t even know you. Now I do and I am so happy we became friends. The fact that you’re my favorite author is just an added bonus, because your friendship is worth way more to me. I know you’re planning on leaving soon, but I hope we’ll stay in contact and I hope you’ll come home to Stars Hollow and to us more often.

I love you.

Gracie

 

“Oh, Grace,” Castiel choked out, enveloping the girl in a tight hug. “Thank you. And I love you, too,” he whispered into her hair before pressing a kiss there.

Gracie smiled at him widely, “You have to open the present.”

What he unwrapped was a silver medallion on a simple chain, a figurine on its front. It looked like a medallion of a patron.

“It’s Francis de Sales,” Grace spoke up. “He’s the patron of writers.”

Looking back up at the girl, a smile spread over Castiel’s face. “Really?”

“Yes. He’s also the patron of journalists and the deaf. It’s ehm … it’s why you got the same present as Eileen, I hope that’s okay,” Gracie added shyly.

Castiel was truly touched. Putting the necklace on, he still held the medallion and looked at it before looking back at Gracie. “It’s perfect,” he said, pulling her into another hug. “Thank you so much.”

When she beamed at him, he grinned back, finally handing her the box with her present.

“Oh, wow,” she said, putting it down into her lap. “It’s heavy.”

Carefully, she unwrapped the box, lifted the top, and got out the card. Castiel watched her as she read his words, witnessing how her eyes grew wider and wider and her mouth fell open.

 

Dear Gracie,

You’ve been a real sunshine in my life these past few weeks and for that I thank you. There really was only one thing I knew you would be thrilled to get from me and I put all my trust into you now. Please keep in mind that this is not finished – as I told you, the editing process is a long one. But the story stands and maybe you’ll even be able to give me a hint or two where to improve the plot.

For now, however, I wish you a Merry Christmas and hope you’ll love my gift.

Your friend

Castiel

 

“No, you can’t be serious,” Gracie breathed out, putting the card down as she hastily reached for the papers in the box. “Oh my God. Oh my God! Oh my God!! Are you serious?” She asked, looking at him flabbergasted, a huge smile already threatening to spread over her face. When Castiel simply nodded, Gracie let out a high pitched scream that silenced the room all at once as she threw her arms around his neck and tackled him to the floor. “Thank you! Thankyouthankyouthankyou! Oh my god, this is the best present ever. Oh my God, thank you!”

Castiel could do nothing more but chuckle happily about Gracie’s reaction, letting the girl hug him until she was ready to scramble back up to get back to the box with his draft in it. Another high pitched scream of joy left her as she hugged the box close to her chest.

Slowly, Castiel leaned on his elbows on the floor, smiling at the girl.

“Ehm, care to enlighten us?” Michael asked from the other side of the room.

Looking at Gracie, Castiel realized she was too immersed in the first few pages already to answer his brother. Turning his head in Michael’s direction, he grinned at him. “Just a little something I wrote.”

An audible gasp went through his family, some of them clearly shocked that Castiel would hand out an early draft – something even his siblings weren’t allowed to read under normal circumstances – some were apparently amused about it.

“Wait,” Dean spoke up. “You just gave my daughter your draft?”

Shrugging, Castiel sat back up. “Well, I trust her not to show you – or anyone,” he said with a cheeky grin, leading Dean to huff out a laugh and shake his head.

Turning to Gracie, Dean let his hand wander over her hair. “Hey, Sweetie. How about you save reading that for when we’re back home?”

“But, Dad. It’s the next part of –”

“Grace.”

“Fiiiiine,” she replied, putting the few pages she’d taken out back into the box, including the card and putting the lid back on. Her short-lived bad mood about her dad’s order was gone right away as she threw herself around Castiel’s neck for another hug, thanking him over and over again once more.

“Well, look at that,” Gabe said, a lollipop sticking out of his mouth. “I think someone just took over the spot of favorite uncle.”

There was laughter in the room that got a bit louder when one of his brothers grumbled about that comment. Castiel couldn’t see who it was since Gracie was still hugging him, but his money was on Michael.

It was confirmed by Gabriel’s next words. “Aww, don’t worry, Micky. I guess you’ll get the spot back when you buy her a car on her 16th birthday.”

“No one is buying Gracie a car!” Dean spoke up right away, sending a threatening glare into the room. Castiel was pretty sure he was only half playing it.

“So, what?” Inias asked, “You’ll let her drive the Impala?”

“Uuuh,” some of the adults replied at that, all eyes on Dean to see his reaction.

The man was glaring at the three older Shurley brothers, the gears in his head clearly working. Finally, he threw his hands up in defeat. “Fine, Michael, you can buy her a car, but make it a bulletproofed one.”

“You got it,” Michael replied, laughing with the rest of the room. They all knew the man was just joking. Of course the safety of his daughter was more important to him than his car. But thanks to Gracie, Castiel knew that Dean really loved his Impala. He’d found the black classic in one of Bobby’s shacks a few years ago, right after Lisa’s death. Apparently it had belonged to his father, John Winchester, many, many years ago and after losing his wife, Dean had gotten it out and restored the beauty himself.

For some reason he couldn’t pinpoint, Castiel wasn’t ready to hand Dean his gift just yet, while the attention was still focused on them. He got up for now, brushing off his hands and went to the kitchen to get himself some water out of the fridge, Dean’s present safely tucked into the pocket of his vest. When he got back, he just leaned against the doorframe, taking in the picture of his family all around the Christmas tree, happily chatting and inspecting all the presents, soft music playing in the background, a fire in the fireplace, and the smell of cinnamon and oranges in the air.

He could feel a presence behind him before the person spoke, giving him enough time to prepare for it and not jump out of his skin when Dean started talking in a low voice.

“I thought you didn’t want to run away from me anymore.”

“I wasn’t,” Castiel replied, turning around just enough to be able to look at Dean.

The man smiled at him as he held up a small present, a card tucked into the ribbons. “So you’ll take a gift from me?”

Smiling, Castiel reached into his vest and pulled out his own present for Dean. “Sure. After all, I got you something as well.”

Dean’s smile grew wider and no matter what Castiel tried, it made his heart beat faster.

They exchanged the gifts but Castiel made no move to open his. “You go first.”

“Alright,” Dean replied, starting to unwrap his gift. “I bet this is a book.”

Castiel didn’t say anything, just grinned a bit wider.

When the paperback was free of its wrapping and in Dean’s hands, Castiel looked at him closely. For a moment Dean squinted at the book before his eyes lit up in delight.

The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern? Wait, that’s the book –”

“– It’s a Wonderful Life is based on, yes.”

“Wow,” Dean replied, opening the book to leaf through it. “Wow, where did you get this?”

“I have my sources,” Castiel replied, thrilled by Dean’s reaction.

When the man looked back up at him, there was warmth in his eyes. “Thank you. Really, this is great.”

“You’re welcome.”

Dean leafed through it for a few more seconds before looking back up at Castiel. “Well, it’s your turn.”

“Alright,” Castiel agreed, tucking the card free first.

“No, wait,” Dean interrupted, putting his hand over Castiel’s. It was warm and smooth. “The wrapped one first. The thing in the card is … the real present, so …”

Squinting at Dean with a questioning gaze, Castiel still did as the man said. Given the form and light weight, Castiel had a suspicion what he would find under the wrapping – he wasn’t disappointed. “It’s a Wonderful Life,” he read, chuckling at the DVD in his hand. “Thank you.”

“I thought after it was my fault you couldn’t watch the end of it on Thursday … you know, me not respecting the classics and all that …”

Chuckling again, Castiel turned the DVD in his hand before looking up. “Thank you, really. It’s a sweet thought.”

“It was a spur of the moment thing, even though it seems we kinda think alike,” Dean explained, holding up the book. “The real gift …” he added, pointing at the envelope in Castiel’s hand.

Taking it as a hint to open the envelope now, Castiel pulled out a typical Christmas card. Inside of it, he found a folded paper, but choose to read the card first.

 

When you encounter difficulties and contradictions,

do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time.

~ Saint Francis de Sales

 

Cas,

I am glad we met again and I hope you won’t repeat history by running off once more.

My gift for you is something I wanted to give you thirteen years ago but never had a chance to. I’m thrilled to see you made your way even without it.

Always your friend

Dean

 

Curious, Castiel unfolded the paper. It had an official head from Stars Hollow High and after a quick glance, Castiel looked up at Dean. “A letter of recommendation?”

“Yeah. I always knew you had a knack for words. I wanted you to get a shot in that business. To be able to go to one of the big universities and study to become an author. Guess you were able to do that without my help.”

Castiel looked back at the letter, reading the words of praise Dean had written about him some thirteen years ago. He knew he had slightly watery eyes when he looked back up at the man. “Thank you. You have no idea what this means to me. I … thank you.”

The desire to hug Dean was almost unbearable, but Castiel held himself back, not wanting to ruin the moment.

He couldn’t have known that just a moment later, Lucy, Michael’s oldest, did just that for him. Out of the chatter in the room, the girl’s voice suddenly rose, full of glee as she announced, “Ohh, look. Uncle Dean and Uncle Cas are standing under the mistletoe. You have to kiss now.”

Castiel was still looking at Dean, so it was easy for him to read the shock in the man’s eyes as they went wide. Quickly, Dean looked up, then back down at Castiel, his expression unreadable all of a sudden. All the while, Castiel could do nothing but stare. He didn’t have to check; now that Lucy had pointed it out, he remembered seeing Gabriel hanging the mistletoe up there. His heart was pounding wildly and his head was spinning, the babbling noises of his three nieces demanding a kiss not helping him to think clearly. He could hear Anna trying to calm the girls, but they seemed to have taken a liking to the idea of a mistletoe kiss.

Castiel felt trapped. It would have been easy for Dean to step away and laugh it off, give him space so Castiel wouldn’t have to push past him. But the man did no such thing.

He just looked at him.

Green eyes were fixed on him and Castiel tried to make sense of it. He had no idea if time flew by too fast or was frozen for the moment.

All he knew was that this time, he certainly did not imagine it when a smile tugged at Dean’s lips and the man leaned in, closer and closer.

And something inside of Castiel snapped.

Jerking away from him, Castiel squinted at Dean in distaste.

Had the man seriously just tried to kiss him?

In front of his whole family?

After everything Castiel had told him last night?

Did Castiel’s friendship, his feelings … Castiel himself, did it all mean so little to Dean that he would play with him in such a dumb way?

Was he really such a flirt that he didn’t care how much a move like this would hurt Castiel?

He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t even think.

All he knew was that he needed to get out of here.

Shaking his head at Dean’s confused gaze, he took a sidestep and pushed past the man, ignoring the questioning calls from his siblings. He also ignored the fact that he didn’t have his suit jacket. His coat would have to do, and he was glad he always kept his wallet and car keys inside of it. Somewhere along the way he must have dropped Dean’s presents because they were in his hands one minute and gone the next, but he couldn’t remember putting them down or letting them go. Silhouettes were pouring out the front door after him, but none of them seemed eager to chase his car through the freshly fallen snow when Castiel hightailed it out of the mansion's driveway.

Chapter Text

Passion makes idiots of the cleverest men, and makes the biggest idiots clever

~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld

 

Of course, Castiel knew he shouldn’t be driving anymore. He was risking not only his own life but that of any other person on the street right now. Thing was: it was one-thirty in the morning and the streets were empty thanks to the heavy snow coming down. And hey, it wasn’t as if anyone would care if he would drive his Camaro around a tree.

Okay, that was probably not true.

Okay, scratch the “probably.”

Driving at what felt like ten miles per hour, focusing on the street with every brain cell he had left, Castiel made his way slowly back from Hartford. He’d been stupid. So stupid. But he’d convinced himself that he just needed to get his hormones out of his system. A quick hook up and everything would be better. He didn’t even remember the name of the bar anymore, and he certainly didn’t know the names of the guys whose tongues he had down his throat. The only thing he knew was that he hadn’t been able to go through with it. No matter how many more shots he drank to forget about the one man he wanted the most.

He also knew that it was all Dean’s fault. That bastard he’d fallen in love with that would never love him back, and yet had given him mixed signals for the past three weeks or so. Maybe it had all been in Castiel’s head, yeah. Maybe he was just so disgustingly hung up on the guy he couldn’t tell friendship apart from flirting. But he certainly knew he hadn’t imagined Dean going in for the mistletoe kiss. And if he hadn’t imagined that, what else had Dean done these past few days that Castiel had ignored, thinking he was seeing things?

Right now, Castiel was on a mission. In case he didn’t set his car against a tree, he would drive over to Dean’s and confront the man. This had to end, and it had to end tonight. It was probably the alcohol speaking, but Castiel didn’t care anymore.

To his surprise, there was still light on at the ranch when he finally arrived. He parked his car and got out, the cold hitting him right away, clearing his head up just a bit.

Maybe this was a stupid idea.

He felt dizzy, but the snow in his face did wonders to his fuzzy brain.

Had he seriously just been driving from Hartford back to Stars Hollow while pleasantly buzzed? Shit, he was a total moron. And a suicidal one at that.

“Cas?”

When he looked up, he saw Dean standing in the partly opened door to the stable. Right away all his anger was back. This man was the reason Castiel was such a messed up piece of shit.

“You! This is all your fault!”

“What?” Dean asked, looking back for a moment before stepping out of the stable fully, closing the barn door behind him. “What are you talking about?”

“Everything!” Castiel yelled back, his voice mostly swallowed in the wind that started to pick up. Stumbling around his car he moved over to where Dean was stepping in his direction. “How dare you do that to me?”

“Cas, buddy, what’s going on?”

“Don’t call me your buddy, and then try to kiss me at the next moment. Do you even know what you’re doing to me?”

“Okay. Okay, hey, calm down,” Dean said, reaching for Castiel, who pushed his hands away. “Cas, are you drunk?”

“What’s it to you?”

“Did you …” Dean started, staring at the car behind Castiel. “Did you drive here? Completely wasted?”

There was real anger in the man’s voice but Castiel didn’t care. He only got more aggravated himself. “Who the hell cares? Certainly not you!”

“What the fuck, Cas? Of course I care. Are you crazy, driving like that? You could have killed someone. You could have gotten yourself killed!”

“So what!”

“You’re out of your mind.”

“Oh no. No, I’m totally clear. And I know that it’s all your fault,” Castiel replied, poking Dean in his chest. The man used the movement to grab for Castiel’s hand, holding him tight.

“It’s my fault you got wasted and almost killed yourself?”

“Yes! You and … and your stupid flirting. It’s all just a game to you, isn’t it? Why the fuck are you doing this to me?”

When Dean just stared at him, he tried to free his hand, but Dean had a death grip on him.

“Let go of me, Dean. I just came here to tell you to leave me alone.”

“I’m certainly not letting you go. Not in this condition.”

Let go of me,” Castiel yelled, pulling so hard he ripped his hand away from Dean, stumbling a few steps backwards. “Why do you even care?

Because I care about you!” Dean yelled back, getting right into Castiel’s space.

Rather than making his heart beat faster this time, the man’s words pulled a hysterical laugh out of Castiel. “You have a hell of a way of showing that.”

“What do you mean?” Dean asked, reaching for Castiel again, who only now realized he was moving, stumbling backwards to keep the space between himself and Dean. He had no idea how, but somehow they’d ended up at the side of the barn, which protected them from the intensifying storm.

“You seriously don’t get it, do you?” Castiel replied. He noticed that his speech got clearer with every word he said, the adrenaline due to this confrontation burning away the alcohol. Yet he didn’t feel the need to stop – he’d already crossed a line, there simply was no going back after this. “You’re straight, Dean! And I’m into men. I’ve been my whole life and for even longer than that, I’ve been into you! You knew that, didn’t you? You knew and you still kept trying to be near me these past few weeks.”

“Cas –”

“And yesterday, I even told you. I confessed to you, you asshole, and you have nothing better to do but to try and kiss me today?”

“It was mistletoe –”

“I don’t give a fuck about the mistletoe! Do you have any idea what you’re doing to me? How you mess me up?”

“Cas, I’m sorry.”

“I don’t care for your apology. I thought you were my friend – I thought you wanted to be my friend –”

“Cas –”

“– but is this how you treat all your friends? By playing your stupid games with them –”

“Cas –”

“– by flirting with them when you know they have had a crush on you that has never gone away –”

Cas –

“– by playing with their feelings for your own ego and –”

Castiel didn’t get any further as his back suddenly hit the wooden wall of the stable and warm lips closed over his. He’d kissed a lot of guys in his life but nothing – nothing – came even remotely close to this feeling. His eyes fell shut on their own accord and he was kissing back, pulling Dean closer by the lapels of his jacket, internally cursing the obstruction of his cast until the thought flew right out of his mind. There was a hand in his hair, holding his head in place, another on his hip, pushing him further back against the wall.

Dean was eager, hungrily kissing him and Castiel gave back as good as he could, tasting the sweet flavor of vanilla and sugar on the man’s lips and tongue.

To hell with games and feelings being played with.

Dean Winchester was kissing him senseless and he would be damned to hell and back if he stopped the man.

Pulling him impossibly closer, Castiel spread his legs just enough for Dean to move one leg between them, giving Castiel a chance to rut against it. A moan was ripped from him and Dean swallowed it down as he kissed him again, pushing against him even further. He could feel the man’s hard-on press into his side and it drove him crazy. He wanted to get Dean naked, wanted to live out every fantasy he had ever had over the last seventeen years.

A loud bang around the side of the barn pulled them out of their bubble, making them jump slightly as Sam called out over the storm: “Dean, it’s starting. Where are you?”

“Coming,” Dean yelled back after taking a few quick breaths, not letting go of Castiel. “Just a minute. You got it covered?”

“Yes,” Sam answered. “But hurry or you’ll miss it.”

The door closed with another bang and all that was left was the rush of the wind around them and their heavy breathing. Carefully, Dean leaned his forehead against Castiel’s, his hand cradling Castiel’s head. “God, we always have such shitty timing, I’m telling you.”

“What’s going on?”

“Ruby – one of our mares. She’s getting her foal right now.”

Castiel’s eyes went wide. “Are you kidding?”

“No. Everything was okay when we got back, I’d already sent Gracie to bed. But Bobby had a gut feeling and checked on her a second time around midnight. We’ve been with her ever since.”

“You need to be there, don’t you?”

“Sam and Bobby got it covered. Eileen and Gracie are there as well, and so is Dr. Richardson.”

“Dean. One of your horses is in labor.”

“Yeah, but you’re here right now and I’m not risking you running away. Not again, Cas. Not ever again.”

Cas closed his eyes for a moment, taking in those words. He knew himself well enough to know the last traces of his alcohol induced buzz were gone, the new high there for a completely different reason. “I won’t,” he whispered back, close enough to Dean that he didn’t need to talk any louder to be heard over the storm.

“Promise?”

“Yes.”

“Alright then. When’s the last time you were there when a foal was born?”

“It’s been a while.”

Dean chuckled, leaning back at last. They stared into each other’s eyes, Dean’s hand still cradling his face and for just a moment, Cas closed his eyes and leaned into the touch.

“I think we have a lot to talk about,” Dean murmured, hesitantly leaning in closer again, not quite catching Cas’ lips.

Cas closed the gap and pressed a sweet peck to the man’s beautiful lips, even softer than he’d always imagined them to be. Reluctantly, he pulled away and nodded. “We do.”

Dean stole another kiss from him, then took his hand and led him around the corner of the barn. The snow storm hit them full force and they had to fight to get over to the door. Cas realized, he really ought to thank his lucky stars and the battalion of guardian angels that had been watching over him. He should probably let his family know he was alright.

The moment they made it inside the warm stable, Castiel noticed for the first time how cold it had been outside. He let go of Dean’s hand to rub his own together as best he could, glad that it seemed Dean and Bobby made sure their horses weren’t freezing out here.

“Hey, Dean,” Castiel whispered, stopping Dean from moving further into the stable. “I left my phone at home. Could I use yours? Or could you text Michael? Let him know I’m alright?”

“Sure,” Dean replied, pulling out his phone from his pocket, unlocking it and handing it Cas. “Call him. They were all frantic after you left.”

With that, Dean moved ahead further down the rows of boxes where Cas could make out Bobby and Eileen.

Looking down at the phone, he did a double take as he saw the display. It showed the picture of Gracie and Cas himself, taken next to their lumberjack snowman. He remembered Sam taking it but he had no idea Dean would have –

The picture got darker and Cas quickly touched the screen so it wouldn’t go back to sleep and needed to be unlocked again. Opening the phone app, he found that Michael was one of the most recent calls and pressed his icon.

After three rings, a woman’s sleepy voice answered.

“Naomi? Hey, it’s me.”

“Castiel? Oh, thank God. Hang on. Michael left his phone upstairs.”

He could hear the rustling of bedding and a moment later a door opening and closing.

“Are you at least alright?”

“Yes,” Cas replied ruefully. “I’m sorry for running away.”

“You know you scared all of us, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re okay. I’ll give you your brother now, he’s here.”

“Thank you.”

“Castiel? Where the hell are you?” His brother sounded pissed, but also immensely relieved and most of all tired. “And why are you calling from Dean’s phone?”

“It’s a long story. Look, I’m alright and I’m sorry for running away. I’ll explain it all in the morning.”

“In the morning? Castiel –”

“I can’t drive in the storm that’s outside now. I … Dean offered me his guest room” – he really hoped Dean wouldn’t blow his lie – “and I’ll be back first thing in the morning. I’m alright, I promise.”

There was silence on the phone for a moment, before Michael let out a heavy sigh. “Alright. Just … take care, okay? I don’t wanna see you getting hurt.”

A nagging feeling told him that his brother wasn’t talking about driving in bad weather anymore. He swallowed heavily as he looked over to where Dean was leaning against the door to what must be Ruby’s box. “I’ll be careful.”

“Good. Sleep well, then.”

“You too. Tell everybody I love them.”

“We love you too, little brother. Never forget that.”

“I won’t,” Cas replied, ending the call and taking a deep breath before walking over to Ruby’s box.

As he got closer, Eileen looked up and smiled at him. *I’m glad you’re okay.*

*Me too. Sorry for the scare.*

Instead of answering him, Eileen rubbed his back once he stepped next to her. He gave Dean back his phone before looking into the box.

A woman Cas didn’t know but suspected to be Dr. Richardson was fussing over the horse, Sam next to her. It seemed he’d taken over Dean’s place when the older brother had been busy with … other things. Bobby was standing in an empty box next to Ruby’s, Gracie with him. Her eyes were on Cas when he looked over, concern written all over her face. It made him feel more guilty than anybody else could have managed.

“I’m sorry, I’m okay,” he mouthed towards her, and a small smile tugged on her lips.

She left her place next to Bobby and Cas realized she was already in her pajamas, just a thick sweater and warm boots pulled on. Cas could see a sleeping bag in the box next to Ruby’s, as well as a lamp and … was that the box with his Christmas present?

Gracie came around and hugged him close, leaning her head against his chest. “I was so worried,” she whispered.

“I know. I’m sorry. It’s alright now,” he replied, hugging her close with one arm, mindful of his cast, as they turned back to watch the horse in labor. On his other side, Dean was pressing closer to him, the man’s hand touching his, tentatively at first. When Cas didn’t pull back, Dean’s fingers wound around his, squeezed them once very lightly, reassuringly, and then just let them be intertwined between them.

Chapter Text

A fantasy is nothing more than a dream you were too scared to chase

~ Shannon L. Alder

 

Taking into account that Ruby had already been in labor for a while when Cas had arrived, the rest of the process went by quickly and around three in the morning, they were all standing around the box, watching the little foal drinking eagerly from her mother’s milk. It was a beauty, sandy colored with a white blaze, the mane leaning towards a rusty color.

“Can I name it? She is my Christmas present, right?”

Gracie was hardly able to keep her eyes open, yet gleeful as one could be. Her happiness only grew when Dean sighed and finally nodded, leading to his daughter hugging him enthusiastically.

“I wanna name her Shiv,” Gracie said, grinning at Cas who grinned back the moment the name registered.

Dean squeezed his hand before looking back at his daughter. “Beautiful name. Alright, I agree.”

Soon after, Bobby told them it was time for an old man to go to bed. He offered Dr. Richardson the guestroom since the storm was still going strong, and she thankfully accepted. Sam and Eileen were right behind them, hugging all of them goodnight.

“Dad, please,” Gracie started begging once the barn door closed, leaving Cas confused. She’d already been allowed to name the foal, what else could she beg for?

“Gracie, it’s too cold –”

“But I have my sleeping bag and all the straw. And you know it’s warm here.”

Sighing, Dean seemed to send a gaze towards Cas before turning back to his daughter. “Alright,” he finally agreed, right away interrupted by a triumphant, “yes,” from the girl. “But if anything scares you or you don’t feel well, you call me and I’ll pick you up, got it?”

“Sure, Daddy. Thank you,” Gracie replied, giving her father a squeezing hug and a kiss on his cheek. She did the same with Cas and then left their side to go back to her little camp.

Cas was still watching her when Dean tugged at his hand, nodding in the direction of the barn door as soon as Cas looked up at him. They told Gracie good night and left her to watch her new foal until she would fall asleep.

Outside, the storm was so strong it took Cas a while to realize that they weren’t heading to the main house, but to a slightly smaller one on the right side. As they stepped through the door, warmth engulfed them right away – and so did a smell that made Cas freeze on the spot. Dean didn’t seem to notice as he closed the door and switched on the light.

Swallowing hard, Cas tried to stay calm. Maybe after tonight, the smell of vanilla and sugar combined wouldn’t have to be a bad thing anymore. “You … you baked more Angel Cookies?”

Dean turned around from where he had hung up his jacket, reaching for Cas to hand him his coat as well. Cas did so but still waited for Dean to answer.

“Yeah, it’s Christmas Eve after all and … well, Gracie, she … wanted to try them and see if the legend is true.”

When their eyes met, Cas could see so many mixed feelings in Dean’s. Slowly, the man stepped closer to him, putting one hand carefully at the side of his face.

“I’m sorry,” Dean whispered, not clarifying what he was apologizing for exactly. He didn’t need to and when he leaned towards him, Cas closed the gap willingly, letting Dean kiss him softly, sweetly. There was no heat behind it like there had been outside the stable. Not for the moment at least.

Still, even without the heat behind it, Dean’s hands soon started to wander, finally pausing at the buttons of Cas’ vest. When he started to unbutton them, Cas stopped him, suddenly aware that they were standing in the middle of the entrance hall that opened right into the living room.

“Dean, not here. If someone comes –”

“Shhh,” Dean soothed him, not stopping his slow kisses. He only paused to mumble against his lips, “No one will come. They’re all at the main house. This here is Gracie’s and mine and she won’t leave her foal for tonight.”

Appeased by that, Cas reciprocated more eagerly, reaching for the shirt Dean must have changed into after getting home tonight. However, a thought struck him and he grinned against Dean’s lips. “Is that the reason why you allowed your daughter to sleep in the stables?”

“Nooo, no of course not,” Dean replied with a cheeky grin, making Cas chuckle as he stole one, two, three more kisses from Dean. It was enough time for Dean to be done with the buttons and slowly, he stripped Cas off it.

“Could we still move this a bit further into the house?”

Dean pressed a kiss to his jaw, coaxing a moan out of Cas as his eyes fluttered shut for a moment.

“Of course,” Dean whispered into his ear. He was driving Cas crazy and … was this really happening? With Dean Winchester?

Maybe this was just an alcohol-induced dream and he had never actually made it out of Hartford. Or worse, maybe he really did drive his Camaro against a tree and this was either a coma dream, or he was already dead. It certainly felt like Heaven when Dean nibbled at his earlobe.

But, no. This was real, Cas knew it. It was real when they both got rid of their shoes at the entrance, and it was certainly real when Dean reached for his tie, walking backwards to the back of the house, grinning at him as he pulled Cas along. Not that Cas was putting up much of a fight. They soon reached the door furthest down the hallway, and when Dean hit it with his back, Cas took advantage and crowded in on the man, kissing along his jaw and down his neck, pulling sweet sounds out of Dean. The door behind them gave and they stumbled into what must have been the master bedroom. Cas kicked the door shut behind him just in time for Dean to press him against it. Removing the tie, Dean took his sweet time to kiss down Cas’ neck, his fingers already flying over the buttons of Cas’ dress shirt. There was still no real rush behind any of their actions and for the moment, Cas just enjoyed the feeling of Dean being all over him. It wasn’t until a tongue swiped over one of his nipples that he moaned out sinfully and kicked back into action. There was still a damn shirt between him and a very naked Dean.

It wasn’t there for much longer, Dean all too happy to help get rid of it. Next was Cas’ dress shirt that they had to carefully disentangle from the cast.

“How’s your wrist doing?”

“Healing,” Cas replied, already kissing Dean again, pushing away from the door and moving them over in the direction of Dean’s bed. There was absolutely no resistance in the man and a moment later, they both tumbled down on the mattress, Cas landing on top of Dean, both chuckling before their lips found each other again.

It wasn’t until Dean reached for Cas’ belt buckle that he finally snapped out of it, if only for the time being.

“Dean, wait. Wait, hang on,” he said, stopping Dean’s hands with his own and getting a few inches of space between their lips. Just enough so he could look at Dean, hardly any light helping him to see. It was still enough, his eyes already adjusted to the darkness.

Dean’s eyes were wide and looked at him in confusion. “What is it?” Dean asked, his voice wavering slightly. “Don’t you want it?”

“You have no idea how much I want this,” he reassured him, pressing a kiss to Dean’s kiss-swollen lips but pulled away before the man could deepen it. “I’ve wanted this with you for so long. But Dean, you …” He just looked at him, not able to put his concern into words.

“I’m straight?”

Nodding, Cas let his eyes wander over Dean’s face, gauging every nuance of his expressions. Dean seemed to do the same for a moment, before sighing and moving so he was able to lean on his elbows. When Cas sat up further, under the impression that Dean wanted space, the man reached for him, holding him close by his elbow.

“I guess it’s better we talk about this before we jump into it, right?”

“Probably,” Cas replied, his concern silenced for the moment as Dean refused to let go of him. However, this position was way too uncomfortable to stay in for however long their conversation would take, especially with his wrist. So he moved again, even against Dean’s grip, only to rearrange his legs, no longer lying over Dean, but next to him on his stomach now, his upper body held up so he was on eye level with Dean. Once he realized Cas wasn’t trying to get away, Dean turned towards him, brushing a strand of hair away from Cas’ forehead in a tender gesture.

“You’re right, I am straight. But Cas, you … you’ve always been my exception somehow.”

“Your exception?”

“Yes. Or do you really think I let just any of my friends’ little brothers play with us?”

Cas smiled at those memories, however, it didn’t really convince him. There was a big gap between “accepting a friend’s baby brother” to “I’m straight but still want to sleep with you”.

Dean wasn’t done yet, his fingers slowly tracing over Cas’ shoulder. “I also never had any trouble drawing the line between friendship and just being a teacher with any of my other students. But with you … God, Cas, I had to force myself to call you Castiel every single time. And hearing you call me Mr. Winchester back then … it actually did things to me.”

“You mean as in –”

“Yes, Cas, as in having naughty thoughts about my student, damnit.”

Cas wanted to laugh about that admission, but he was rather baffled. Dean had naughty thoughts about him all those years ago?

“I was under the impression it rather hurt you when I did it recently?”

“Yeah, true,” Dean admitted, rolling further into Cas’ space. “But only because I knew you were using it to keep a firm wall between us.”

Cas studied the man for a long moment, taking in the pain he could read so clearly on his face. Hesitantly, he leaned in and when Dean closed his eyes, he kissed him, carefully, sweetly. When he pulled back, Dean chased his lips and Cas gave in, grinning about how needy Dean was.

“Okay, so I’ve always been your exception and … what? You just decided you’re into men now?” Cas asked, back to the serious topic at hand.

Dean opened his eyes and shook his head, his fingers still drawing pattern all over the parts of Cas’ skin he could reach. “No. I’m not into men. Just you. I know it sounds crazy, but believe me, I’ve done my research. There are actually many people who identify as straight or gay but then that one person comes along and suddenly gender doesn’t matter anymore.”

“I know. Yeah, I know that it can happen. It’s just …”

“Hard to believe?”

Cas shook his head no. “Hard to believe I’m one of these fortunate people.”

Dean’s smile turned tender at that and he put his knuckle under Cas’ chin, lifting it just enough so he could easily kiss him. “I’ve always felt drawn to you, Cas. It was just always really bad timing.”

“Yeah, I guess Michael would have killed you had you made a move while I was fourteen and you were twenty-three.”

Chuckling, Dean kissed him again and Cas opened up to him, letting him explore his mouth as they both deepened the kiss. He had no desire to talk about all the other “bad timings” they have had, but he still needed to make sure of one thing. Ending the kiss, he smoothed his hand over Dean’s chest, pressing the man back down on the bed.

“So, just to be clear: you were never interested in another man?”

“Nope. Even though I would have had a few options, let me tell you.”

“Oh, I’ll believe that in a heartbeat,” Cas replied, letting his fingers brush over Dean’s nipple, causing the man to take a sharp inhale of breath. Delighted by that response, Cas lightly scraped his nails over it again.

Dean groaned, one of his hands sneaking under Cas’ body to grip his hip and pull him closer again.

But Cas wasn’t done yet. “I take it that means you’ve never been with a man before?”

Dean shook his head no, his eyes closed as Cas continued to tease his nipple. When Cas already thought he wouldn’t say anything out loud at all, Dean spoke up. “And since we’re being completely honest right now: I haven’t been with anyone at all after –”

“Okay,” Cas whispered, not forcing Dean to finish that sentence, instead leaning in for a sweet, lingering kiss.

Dean used the moment to pull Cas back over him, bending one knee so Cas could lie in between his legs. When their erections touched through their pants, they both moaned into the kiss. All of a sudden, the heat from their first kiss behind the stable was back and in a show of strength, Dean grabbed Cas and rolled them over, spreading Cas out on the bed under him before kissing down his neck. Chat time was clearly over.

Cas had a hard time reminding himself that his left hand was useless. He had to force himself to let it just lay there while his right hand buried in Dean’s hair, pressing him closer as the man kissed and nipped along his collarbone. From there, Dean’s lips wandered to Cas’ left shoulder and slowly, he left a path of butterfly kisses over the whole of Cas’ left arm and the healing skin. Soon those soft lips moved over to Cas’ chest and when Dean reached his nipple, there was no hesitation as he sucked on one, drawing one filthy moan after another out of Cas. He was so distracted, Cas only realized Dean’s hand had moved further down when his belt buckle came undone. This time, he didn’t stop Dean but still tried to keep in mind that this was basically Dean’s first time. So he didn’t complain when instead of moving further down his body, Dean moved back up, catching Cas’ lips in another slow, sinful kiss.

Cas wiggled out of his dress pants and was happy when Dean eagerly helped him. The hardest decision for Cas now was to either let go of Dean in favor of opening the man’s jeans as well, or to keep his hand deeply buried in his hair. Thankfully, Dean took that decision away from him when he opened his jeans himself. When it didn’t work with just one hand, he huffed out a laugh and used both, no hand left to hold him up over Cas anymore.

Using the advantage, Cas grinned and rolled them back around, opting to let go of Dean’s head after all to eagerly help him get those annoying jeans out of the way. When they were gone, he slowly lowered himself back on Dean, watching him carefully as their cocks touched the first time without a real barrier between them, just the thin material of Dean’s boxer shorts and his own boxer briefs left. Dean’s eyes fell shut as he groaned out a breathless moan, his hips bucking up, and his hands digging into Cas’ waist.

What a wonderful reaction.

And the rock hard erection wasn’t half bad either. God, Dean was huge and Cas couldn’t believe he was finally allowed to have him.

Leaning down further, not stopping the slow movement of his hips, Cas kissed along Dean’s collarbone, up his neck, and further up to his earlobe, nibbling on it before whispering into his ear, “What do you want, Dean?”

There was an audible hitch in Dean’s breathing and Cas could feel the man’s cock jerk, Dean’s grip on him only tightening. When he didn’t answer, Cas kissed him at the sweet spot right behind his ear, coaxing an even stronger reaction out of him. “Tell what you want.”

“You. Just you.”

“You have me. You always had me.”

“Cas …”

“Yes, Dean?”

“I … I … God, I don’t know.”

Looking back down at Dean’s face, Cas was convinced that Dean didn’t just play coy. The man really didn’t know what to tell him. And that was perfectly fine. They would have all the time in the world to figure out what Dean liked best with a man as his partner.

After tonight, of course.

For now, Cas decided to play it safe.

Leaning down, he pressed a sweet kiss to Dean’s trembling lips. Eyes still closed, the man responded right away, kissing back, chasing his lips when Cas leaned down to his ear and whispered, “Alright, I got you. Just relax, I got you.”

He stopped teasing Dean after that and carefully pulled away the last pieces of clothing that separated them. Dean almost choked on his moan the moment naked skin touched naked skin and Cas was no better, a shiver running through his whole body. Yet he didn’t hesitate as he reached between them, encircled both their cocks, and started to jack them off.

He usually wasn’t a big fan of frottage outside of a quick hookup. When it came to sex in bed with a partner, he preferred to go all the way.

Right now, however, all bets were off and nothing was as it usually would be.

This was Dean.

This was the man of his dreams.

And this was already far more than he could have ever dreamed of getting with Dean for real. That thought alone pushed him closer to the edge than he would usually be. It didn’t matter, however, as Dean seemed to be there right with him. The death grip on Cas’ waist was gone as Dean wound his arms around his shoulders and back, pulling him closer and into a deep kiss. They both rutted into Cas’ hand and with a few more strokes, Dean was trembling under him and moaning into his mouth as Cas felt Dean’s warm release spill all over his hand and onto their stomachs. He’d always thought it was a myth that one could come simply from watching their partner orgasm. Looking at Dean in this moment, however, was all it took for Cas to tumble over the edge right with him.

He tried to stay upright but he had absolutely no strength left and Dean was pulling him down anyway, so he simply let himself collapse on the man, taking the weight off his injured arm. Burying his head in the crook of Dean’s neck, he breathed in the sweet scent of the man, trying to stay awake so he could clean them up later. If there was one thing he really didn’t like, it was dried and cold cum. That was probably the most annoying buzzkill there was.

A kiss was pressed into his hair, slowly bringing him back from his high and into reality.

He was spread out on Dean Winchester.

A very naked Dean Winchester.

A very naked and willing Dean Winchester, and God, he was the luckiest bastard on this planet.

“What are you laughing about?” Dean asked, his voice rough and full of amusement.

Cas hadn’t even noticed he’d been chuckling like a maniac. He lifted his head and peppered Dean with kisses, starting at his shoulder, his collarbone, up his neck, to his chin, until he reached his mouth and let it end with one longing kiss. When he pulled back, he grinned at Dean. “I’m just happy, is all.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Dean replied, winding his arms around him again.

When Dean bent his knee, jostling him, Cas was reminded of the mess between them. He leaned up, forcing Dean to drop his arms. “Don’t move, I’ll just clean us up real quick.”

“Small towels are under the sink,” Dean replied, yawning while he pointed at the door on the other side of the room. Cas guessed it led to the master bathroom and was of course right. He quickly washed his hand and got one of the little towels out. After cleaning himself of the mess, he rinsed it out and walked back to the bed. It seemed like Dean was already close to drifting off, but he still caught him when Cas was about to head back to the bathroom after cleaning Dean.

Smiling, Cas leaned down to kiss him, but Dean still didn’t let go, trying to pull him back on the bed.

“Hey,” Cas chuckled, “come on, just a minute. I need to –”

“Just throw it on the floor,” Dean mumbled, tugging on Cas’ arm.

Shaking his head and grinning about how adorable Dean was like this, Cas aimed for the general direction of the bathroom and threw the towel there, not really caring if he had hit his goal or not as he crawled back into bed and into Dean’s waiting arms. The man shuffled around a bit and after a moment, a blanket was spread over both of them while Dean pulled him impossibly closer. Resting his head on Dean’s chest, Cas was out within the next few heartbeats, letting the man’s warmth and his earthy fragrance as well as the sweet smell of vanilla and sugar coax him into the land of dreams.

Chapter Text

We are never so vulnerable as when we love

~ Sigmund Freud

 

It was still dark outside when Castiel woke. Then again, it was the middle of winter, so it would be dark for a long while in the morning. He felt disorientated at first, but quickly the body next to him, and the familiar smell that surrounded him brought him back to reality.

Or maybe it was just a dream he never wanted to wake up from. Cas couldn’t control his smile as he turned his head, seeing the man under him sleeping peacefully. He could probably watch him for hours, never getting tired of it.

Right now, however, Cas noticed what had woken him at – he quickly checked the alarm on Dean’s sideboard – 5:53 am. Good Lord, he couldn’t have had more than two hours of sleep. If at all. One and a half was more realistic. Then again, maybe he shouldn’t have gone to bed without going to the bathroom first after drinking himself into a buzz.

However he looked at it, fact was that his bladder was killing him. Carefully entangling himself from Dean, he pressed a quick kiss to the man’s shoulder as Dean rolled to the side and curled in on himself.

Cas still couldn’t believe this was all real. Not even when he splashed his face with cold water after washing his hands, examining his face in the mirror. The sappy smile seemed to be a new permanent fix he could do nothing against. And why would he want to?

Switching off the light, Cas quietly made his way back to the bed. He was still tired, but he wanted to watch Dean for a moment, trying to really let it sink in. This man – this wonderful, handsome, gentle, lovable man – wanted him. His smile grew wider as Dean mumbled something in his sleep and he reached over, soothingly brushing through the man’s hair.

“Lisa …”

Castiel’s hand froze.

That … that couldn’t be, right?

He’d probably just misheard.

Or well, even if …

Well, Dean was dreaming of his dead wife, that was okay, right?

“Lisa,” Dean mumbled again, turning around and letting out a content sigh, a blissful smile spreading over his face.

Something inside of Castiel froze and then burst into a million pieces.

He couldn’t breathe. It felt like his chest was full of needles and shards of glass and no matter how rational he tried to be about this moment – it was just a dream, Dean couldn’t control those, it meant nothing, he simply still dreamed about his dead wife – nothing helped. His breaths came out more and more like gasps until he realized that it was actually silent sobs.

This couldn’t be happening.

He got up from the bed in a quick move and his gaze fell on the nightstand. Three framed pictures were standing there, but like a cruel sign from Fate, only one was illuminated by the sliver of moonlight falling into the room: a beautiful picture of a smiling Lisa, looking right at him.

Gasping, Castiel took a step back.

What the … what the hell had he been thinking? He’d promised himself never to fall for Dean ever again. To never give this man so much power over him again that he could break him – but that was exactly what Castiel had allowed to happen, and he needed to end it. Now. Before it was too late.

Maybe it already was.

Stumbling back further from the bed, Castiel quickly searched for his clothes and left the room. He still couldn’t breathe but he forced himself to get dressed before running outside into the cold winter.

Dean might have thought he would be able to try. Maybe he even really wanted to – but by God, how could Castiel have forgotten what he had to lose? Dean was straight, and just a few days ago, he had seen the man’s reaction when someone else caught them standing just a tad too close. He would never forget how quickly Dean had let go of him in that alley. Like he had burned him.

“You’ve always been my exception.”

Yeah, maybe. But how long would it take for Dean to be able to openly be with him? If he ever would be at all. Castiel simply couldn’t be someone’s dirty little secret, he just couldn’t. And even if Dean was ready to take that step, how long until he would regret it? Until he wished for the soft body of a woman again? Until he wanted to have a wife by his side that could be a mother for his child. Or even the mother of more of his children?

Dean was not meant for him, Castiel knew that and he needed to stop living in this fantasy. Right now!

Stumbling out of the hallway and back into the living room, the faint smell of Angel Cookies still hung in the air and Castiel wanted to scream. If any last part of him had still believed in this stupid legend, then now was the time that part came back to stab him in the back. Because it was the night after Christmas Eve and Dean had eaten Angel Cookies. And it hadn’t been Castiel he’d been dreaming of, it had been Lisa.

Castiel wanted to throw up.

He pushed his shoes onto his feet and grabbed his coat, running outside before he had even put it on.

The storm had stopped, but it had left a thick blanket of snow and in an inattentive moment, as he forced his arms through his coat, Castiel slipped on his way to the car, landing square on his back. As he lay there on the cold ground, a sob was ripped from him for real and he took a few heavy breaths to get his bearings back together. This was the worst déjà vu he had ever had.

Pitiful green eyes.

A sad frown.

“Castiel … I’m sorry …”

Letting his tears run, Castiel sat up to actually tie his shoes before getting back on his feet.

As he got up, he realized that he was close to the stable.

Gracie.

He had to say goodbye. He couldn’t just run away from her as well.

Carefully making his way over, Castiel slipped inside the barn and made his way along the boxes full of sleeping horses. He found the girl curled up in her sleeping bag, hugging one of her pillows close. She looked so peaceful. He hated himself for ruining that for her. But it was either that or leaving her without saying goodbye at all. Because if he knew one thing for sure, it was the fact that he couldn’t stay in Stars Hollow one minute longer. Zar had been right: this trip had done him no good.

Nothing, except for the friendship of this wonderful girl.

Carefully shaking her shoulder, Castiel watched as Gracie slowly woke up, rubbing sleep out of her eyes.

“What?”

“Gracie, it’s me,” he whispered, not wanting to disturb the sleeping horses, especially not the young mother and her foal.

The girl squinted at him. “Cas?”

“Yes. Gracie, I … I came to say goodbye.”

“Okay,” Gracie replied, curling back into her pillow. “See you at Luke’s.”

Castiel knew his heart just broke for the second time. He wiped his hand over his face, trying to get rid of his tears.

“No, Gracie. I mean for good.”

There was a moment of silence, until Gracie turned back around and looked up at him, squinting. “What?”

“I … Gracie, I have to go back to New York?”

“What? Why?” she asked, sitting up. “Did something happen?”

Yes, I just let your father break my heart. Again. “No. It … it’s just time for me to go.”

“But New Year’s Eve. You wanted to stay ‘till New Year’s Eve!”

Nodding, Castiel tried to keep his tears in. “Change of plans.”

“But why?”

He couldn’t. He just couldn’t explain this to her. Putting a hand gently on her shoulder, he kissed her forehead. “Thank you, Gracie. For everything. And I promise I’ll never take off your medallion.”

“Cas, you’re scaring me. What happened?”

He cupped her cheek, smiling at her through the single tear he knew he couldn’t hold back. “You’ll understand when you’re older. One day I’ll explain it all to you. I promise we’ll stay in touch. I love you, Grace Winchester.”

Tears were welling up in the girl’s eyes but before Castiel could do anything about it, her arms were around his neck, hugging him close. He hugged her back for a moment before gently removing her arms. With one last kiss to her forehead, he got up and left the stable before he could rethink his decision.

 

~*~

 

With just about one and a half hour of sleep, Castiel knew he should lie down, should rest a while before he made any further decisions. But with Gracie knowing about his plan, he couldn’t risk her sending her father after him. If Dean tried to stop him, begging him for a chance … Castiel had no idea how he would react. Didn’t know if he could be strong enough to say no. But that was exactly what he needed to do in order to protect his heart. To never have Dean for real was better than losing him again. And lose him he would once Dean realized that he was straight after all and that Castiel wasn’t the right one for him.

Keeping that in mind, Castiel ignored his siblings trying to beg him to stay, to rethink, while he packed up his stuff as quickly as he could.

He’d gotten home around 6:30 am and despite the late night most of them had had thanks to him, half the house was already up, witnessing Castiel bursting in and rushing upstairs to throw his stuff into his suitcases.

“Castiel, please, talk to us,” Anna begged, taking the shirt he’d just thrown into his suitcase to fold it for him, probably more so she had something to do than really caring about his wardrobe. “Michael said you were fine last night.”

She looked up, probably at their older brother. A moment later, Michael’s hand landed on his shoulder. “Cas, what did Dean do?”

The fact that Michael would suspect his best friend of some wrongdoing rather than seeking the fault with Castiel, spoke volumes. When it came down to it, Michael was his brother and would always have his back. Realizing that, Castiel closed his eyes and leaned on the sides of his suitcase, his head bowed.

“Nothing. He did nothing. It was my own fault.”

“Well, then,” Hannah spoke up. “What did you do?”

He waited for a few heartbeats, trying to think of a way to break this gently to his siblings. But there was none.

“I slept with him.”

Castiel didn’t need to look up to imagine the confused and probably shocked gazes wandering around the room between his siblings and the few spouses that were with them.

“You what?” Rebecca finally stumbled out.

“We spent the night – and no, don’t worry. I did not force him, it was consensual.”

“Castiel!” Hannah exclaimed, “We would never believe –”

“So what’s the problem then,” Gadreel interrupted, a silent presence in the room until now.

When no one said anything else, Castiel realized they all waited for his answer, Gad’s question exactly what they all wanted to know.

And Castiel didn’t know how to answer it. He couldn’t understand it himself.

He just knew it had been a mistake and that he needed to end it before it could go any further. Before his heart would be so invested it would break beyond repair once Dean decided to drop him.

Instead of answering, Castiel continued to throw clothes into his suitcase. Only when a hand stopped him did he realize that he was shaking, tears spilling over. He was pulled into a hug, Gabriel’s fragrance engulfing him. Clinging to his brother, Castiel tried to keep his tears in check.

“I just can’t risk it. Not again,” he whispered, silently begging his family to understand. “He might be curious now, but what happens in a few weeks? A few months? In five years? Or ten?”

“Castiel,” Rebecca spoke up. “Relationships are never a safe bet.”

Shaking his head, Castiel hugged closer to Gabriel. He’d been there when Castiel had his breakdown thirteen years ago. He’d been the one not to question him, simply helping him pack and then drive him down to New York. And just like then, he seemed to be the one that got him now.

“Becky,” Gabriel said, not letting go of Castiel. “You’re right. But if Castiel says he can’t risk it, then we have to respect that.”

“But –” she began again, only to be interrupted by Castiel’s shaking voice.

“He decided against me once before. He might do it again.”

“Castiel, please,” Michael tried next. “You know there was something I wanted to tell you. About Dean and about what happened –”

“Michael,” Gabriel interrupted him in a warning voice and Castiel could feel his head moving as if he was shaking it no.

However, their older brother wasn’t so quick to give up. “But I’m telling you, this is impor–”

“Michael, no!” Gabriel commanded, hugging Castiel even closer, trying to shield him from the world. “He doesn’t want to hear it!”

“Well, he should!”

“And I’m telling you to shut up! Don’t you see how much this hurts him already? Do you really want to drive the knife in deeper?”

“But –”

“Michael,” Anna spoke up, driving Michael to finally yell it out.

“Lisa was already pregnant at their wedding!”

One could hear a pin drop after this revelation. Slowly, Castiel entangled from Gabriel, looking at Michael.

“He loved her, yes. But the reason he stayed … damnit,” Michael interrupted himself, clearly torn between sharing this with Castiel and keeping his best friend’s secret. “Dean would have never let Lisa raise a kid alone. Or leave his baby girl without a father. That’s why he didn’t go after you.”

“What are you telling me, Michael?”

His oldest brother looked at him, as if he wasn’t so sure himself. He finally shrugged, rubbing a hand over his face. “I don’t know. Just that … I could see it. That day at the wedding. The conflict he was battling. I told you the other night, I never knew what it was between you and him, until then. I think … I think Dean always had feelings for you.”

“You’ve always been my exception.”

Dean’s words were jumping around Castiel’s head, battling with his own memories of the worst day of his life, almost thirteen years ago.

Actually … exactly thirteen years ago.

“Today would have been their anniversary,” Castiel whispered, more to himself than to anyone else.

“I haven’t been with anyone at all after …”

“Oh God, I’ve been so stupid.”

“What?” Gabriel asked as Castiel sank down on his bed, burying his head in his hands.

“He was just lonely. He was lonely on his anniversary and I was there. I was just –”

“Hey, hey. No, stop that,” Michael soothed him, kneeling down in front of him. “Dean would never do that. Did you not hear what I just told you?”

“He said Lisa’s name while he was asleep.”

Castiel’s admission silenced the room once more, everybody looking at him.

“Twice,” he added, daring – begging – Michael to say something that would explain it. “And he looked so … so content and blissful when he did.”

“You can’t control what you’re dreaming about,” Inias was the first to speak up, Rebecca and Naomi nodding in agreement.

However, Hannah shook her head, “Maybe not, but I get how this feels to Castiel.”

“But that’s insane,” Michael exclaimed, getting up from his kneeling position. “All this because Dean dreamed about his dead wife?”

“It’s not just that, don’t you get it?” Anna jumped in while she was right up in Michael’s face. “Cas is insecure about Dean’s feelings as it is. He’s been hurt by him before, even if it was unintentional. Can’t you see how this would affect him?”

“Absolutely,” Gadreel threw in, having Inias turn on him right away.

“You’re backing them up on that? Michael’s right, this is insane. Do you have any idea what you sometimes say in your sleep?”

“Well, I certainly didn’t call out for my ex after our first night together.”

“Guys! Not helping,” Gabe finally yelled, his arms engulfing Castiel a moment later, protectively hugging him to his chest again. “You think Castiel needs his family being at each other’s throats right now?”

Castiel hadn’t even noticed he’d shrunken in on himself even further. He hated himself for this mess. His family was fighting and it was all his fault. Why had he been so stupid? Just one more week – he’d needed to keep it together for just one more week until he wouldn’t have had to look back anymore at all. Instead, he’d followed the siren's call and his world was burning and crumbling down, all because of him.

The ring of the doorbell made all of them jump, yet no one moved to get the front door. Neither of them had to, as they heard Bart downstairs speaking to someone. The voice that answered let Castiel shrink in on himself even further.

There were footsteps on the staircase, drawing closer with every beat of Castiel’s heart. When he knew the man was close, he pulled himself together and pushed up and out of Gabriel’s arms, turning around and back to his suitcases. He knew he had only one shot at getting out of this and it certainly wasn’t by being coddled by his older brother. With all the emotional strength he had left, he let the wall around his heart build up again. He couldn’t even pinpoint the moment anymore when it had vanished, letting Dean in once more.

But Dean Winchester would never, ever break his heart again. Castiel simply wouldn’t let that happen, no matter what it took.

“Hey,” he heard Dean behind him, apparently confused by the mass of people in Castiel’s room. “Can I talk to Cas for a sec?”

No one replied as Castiel could feel all eyes on him. He steeled himself before nodding. Right away, his family was moving, one after another leaving the room. When the door shut, he knew he was alone with Dean.

“So, funny story,” Dean said after a few quiet moments, Castiel still not able to turn around towards him. “I just had an amazing night and when I woke up … you were gone.”

Castiel threw his last shirt into his suitcase and closed the lid.

“And then, my daughter shows up, in tears, babbling something about you leaving for New York.”

Closing his eyes, Castiel took a deep breath as he leaned against his suitcase, trying not to cry at the thought of having hurt Gracie. “I’m sorry she took it so badly,” he murmured.

A hand landed on his arm, slowly turning him around. “Cas, what’s going on?”

He could only shake his head, not even able to look up into Dean’s eyes.

“If I did anything wrong last night …”

“No, you didn’t,” Castiel reassured him, looking sideways. “I … I just can’t do this.”

Dean was quiet for a long moment, his hand still on Castiel’s arm.

“Cas, what are you trying to tell me?”

If ever he wanted a chance to sever any budding ties between them, it was now or never.

“It was a mistake. Last night should have never happened.”

The hand on his arm slowly left, falling down like dead weight. It was up a moment later, this time cupping Castiel’s chin. Carefully yet still with persistence, Dean forced him to look up and into his eyes.

“I don’t believe you.”

Castiel averted his eyes, his last chance of not having to meet Dean’s gaze.

“Cas, if you seriously mean it, then please: look me in the eye and say it again. Because right now? I think you’re lying to both of us.”

A single tear ran down his cheek as Castiel finally looked into Dean’s eyes. He swallowed hard, before whispering, “I can’t be with you.”

The raw pain in Dean’s eyes and on his face, mixed with confusion and sadness, tugged at Castiel’s heart. But it was better this way. For both of them.

“Last night,” Dean whispered back, “What was that for you?”

Everything.

“Just living a fantasy,” Castiel replied, hating himself for driving the knife deeper. “I’ve wanted you for so long, I just couldn’t say no.”

Dean’s hand was gone from his chin in the next heartbeat, the man taking a step back. Anger was slowly creeping into Dean’s expression.

“So what? Didn’t live up to the fantasy?”

Closing his eyes, Castiel shook his head minutely. “Stars Hollow is my past, Dean. I have a life and a future in New York now.”

As if on command, his phone suddenly came to life, playing Balthazar’s song. He could see Dean’s eyes flicking over to where the phone was lying on his bed, his eyes narrowing at it. A second later, the man huffed out a humorless, almost tortured laugh, shaking his head.

“God, I’m such an idiot.”

Castiel squinted at him, not able to make sense of what Dean was saying.

“Well, I guess that’s it then. Have a wonderful life in New York,” Dean said at last, moving over to the door.

Castiel had the sudden desire to move after him, to hold him back. Before he could, Dean opened the door and turned around one last time.

“Oh, and: Merry Christmas!”

The door banged behind him, startling Castiel. He just stood there for a long while, unmoving, ignoring it when Zar’s song played a second and a third time.

Chapter Text

The worst distance between two people is misunderstanding

~ Neetesh Dixit

 

It was already early afternoon by the time Castiel finally left the Shurley mansion. Michael had begged him to sleep for a few hours, promising him to never talk about Dean to him ever again if he wouldn’t just recklessly leave them on so few hours of sleep, driving in such bad weather. The hardest part for him was to say goodbye to his father. It was Aunt Amara that finally gave him the push to do what was best for him – which in this case meant he had to leave. His siblings promised to visit him soon, each of them hugging him tightly. He let his tears run silently as he left the mansion’s driveway, his family in his rearview mirror.

A spur of the moment decision made him stop at Luke’s. He knew he could always just send Gracie a text message, but this way seemed more personal. Quickly, he got a pen and some paper and wrote a little note for her, apologizing once more and encouraging her to still read his draft and tell him what she thought of it. The end of his note read: What happened between your father and I will never affect my friendship to you. Take care and know that you can always contact me. He also left his private email address, not the one Balthazar would scan before forwarding certain emails to him.

Luke’s diner was indeed open even though it was Christmas Day. If anyone had hoped for appropriate decoration, they certainly were at the wrong address with Luke. It seemed not even his relationship to Lorelai could change that.

“Castiel, what can I do for you?” Luke asked, looking at him questioningly when Castiel stepped over to the counter instead of sitting down in his regular seat. The man seemed to realize right away that something was up when he looked closer at Castiel. “Did something happen?”

“Yes … well, no. I mean, it’s okay. I just have to get back to New York.”

“Oh, already? What about New Year’s Eve?”

Castiel forced a smile to his face but he knew it was probably more of a grimace. “Sadly, I can’t stay. I … well, I already told Gracie goodbye, but I feel like I forgot to tell her something. I wanted to ask if maybe you could give her this the next time she shows up?” He held up the folded paper, so Luke could see what he was talking about.

Reaching for it, Luke kept his eyes on Castiel. “Sure. But why me? She wasn’t actually much of a regular before you showed up.”

“Well, with you at least I can be sure you won’t just open it up and read what is only meant for Grace.”

The two men still kept eye contact, until Luke finally nodded and folded the paper once more to push it into the back pocket of his jeans. “I’ll make sure she gets it.”

“Thank you, Luke. It’s much appreciated.”

“Of course. I’ll be honest, it’s sad to see you go. But I guess there isn’t much for me to say to convince you to stay.”

“Not really, no.”

“Then at least let me give you one last piece of pie and a coffee for the drive. You seem like you really need it.”

“I guess I do, yes. Thank you.”

When Castiel wanted to pay for it, Luke waved him away. “Nah, it’s all good. It’s on the house.”

“Thank you, Luke. Oh and, about the gift certificate –”

“Don’t worry. I’ll keep an eye on it and make sure Gracie will use all the rest of it.”

Trying again at that smile, Castiel thanked the man and took the paper bag with his pie, sticking it under his arm so he could take the coffee-to-go cup with his good hand.

“I guess this is goodbye, then,” Luke said, and to Castiel’s surprised he really looked saddened by it.

However, there wasn’t much he could say to that. Instead, he put his cup back down and held out his hand, which Luke took right away for a farewell handshake. “It was nice meeting you again, Luke. Thanks for letting me spend so much time here.”

“Thanks for cheering Gracie up. You have no idea what kind of difference you’ve made in that girl’s life.”

Nodding at that, not able to speak around the lump in his throat, Castiel picked up his coffee once more and left the diner.

When he stepped on the sidewalk, his gaze went back to the Winter Fair. He would miss Stars Hollow, that was for sure. As a teenager – overweight, nerdy, and gay – growing up in such a provincial little town hadn’t always been easy. Now – grown up, successful, with thirteen years of living in New York under his belt – he had to admit that it had its charms. And that he had missed it without even realizing.

Shaking off the feeling of nostalgia, Castiel went to his car and opened the passenger side where he dropped the bag with his pie. Leaning in further, he put the coffee into the cup holder before straightening up. His gaze was drawn to the Fair once more and when his eyes caught the back of a familiar figure, he knew why that was.

Yet, it was the blonde woman pressed to Dean’s side that really caught Castiel’s attention. She was standing sideways towards him, both her arms encircling his left arm, her chest pressed close to him as she said something into Dean’s ear. While she did so, for some reason her gaze wandered over to where Castiel stood and when she saw him watching them, a snide little smile spread over her lips, her nose turned upwards in triumph.

Just closing his eyes, Castiel didn’t even have enough emotional power left to care. Closing the passenger door, he stepped onto the street to move to the driver side.

“Oh no, what’s that,” an all too familiar voice said from the sidewalk and Castiel cursed all the powers in existence that were so cruel to him. “Looks like Winchester has another lady by his side,” Brady said with a smug grin in his voice.

“Well, about damn time.” If Castiel wasn’t mistaken, that was Alastair. “People were already starting to worry that the gay was rubbing off on him.”

The laughter that followed was the same that had haunted him in his nightmares for years. Not missing a beat, Castiel moved towards the driver’s side, the engine roaring before the door was even fully closed.

He didn’t look back in the rearview mirror as he left Stars Hollow behind, swearing to himself that he would never come back to this place.

And he would certainly never shed another tear over Dean Winchester.

 

~*~

 

His second promise to himself was broken that very night. Balthazar – best friend that he was – was already waiting in his penthouse when Castiel arrived. Not asking any stupid questions or berating him for not listening, Zar handed him his first whiskey of the night and together they got trashed.

The next day Castiel was moping around until Zar forced him to dress up nicely and took him out partying. After three guys tried and failed to hook up with him, Castiel had reached the point of too much alcohol and after throwing up in a side alley, Zar took him back home, let him cry on his shoulder and then tucked him in, actually lying down next to him to make sure he was alright.

Lesson learned, Zar decided to keep the alcohol to a minimum the next day and declared it an indoor pool day. Castiel’s jacuzzi was big enough for both of them to lounge in at the same time. Zar also let a masseur come by to knead out all the stress. It did wonders to Castiel’s mood and after the second round of hot water and an ice cold Coke, he finally felt human again. Still like a hollow shell emotionally, but at least not dead inside anymore.

“I’m sorry.”

They were relaxing on the balcony, looking out over Central Park. With the space heaters on, the cold winter air was just bearable and perfectly refreshing after the hot jacuzzi. They wouldn’t be able to sit here for long, but it helped revive Castiel’s spirits.

“What for?” Zar asked, sipping on his own soda. One of the many perks of having Balthazar as a friend was the fact that the man could hold his liquor when Castiel needed to get trashed but was also able to stay abstinent when he realized Castiel needed a break from alcohol.

“All of it. Will you forgive me if I just let you say ‘I told you so’?”

“Cassie, there’s nothing to forgive. You took a chance, risked something, and it didn’t end well. That’s life.”

“Well, I didn’t exactly risk anything this time. I pulled away from him before it could get any more serious.”

Zar didn’t answer right away, only staring over Central Park for a while, deep in thought. “In the end,” he finally said, “you don’t have to apologize to me. As long as you can live with your decision, I’ll have your back.”

Castiel nodded at that, taking another sip from his Coke before deciding that it was getting too cold outside.

Getting up, he stretched, pulling his fluffy bathrobe tighter around him. “I think I’ll forgo the third round and get dressed. It’s nice out here, but not half naked and just in a robe.”

“You do that,” Zar answered, getting up as well. “I’ll wait for the food to get here while you’re getting dressed, and then take another round.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

He was heading down the hallway towards his bedroom when the buzzer rang through the penthouse, making Castiel stop in his path.

“That’s why I love Papa John’s. They’re always so fast. Keep going, I’ll tell Joshua to let the guy up,” Zar called after him, moving over to the buzzer.

Not really hungry anyway, Castiel took his time to get dressed. When he looked into the mirror in his walk-in closet, he tried to ignore the little purple dots on his neck and chest. He hadn’t noticed them the morning after and he certainly hadn’t noticed Dean leaving little love bites on him. Seeing them here the first night had caused his first break down. He owed Zar so much for the last few days. Maybe he should just get the man a year’s worth of blueberry muffins.

It wasn’t often that he left his dress pants and dress shirts in the closet, but a lazy day to mend a broken heart certainly called for some comfy clothes, so sweatpants and an old hoodie with some washed out band logo was his choice for today. Leaving his hair as it was and putting on some wool socks, Castiel made his way back to the living room.

“Why don’t I smell pizza?” he called out to the room in general as he made his way over to the kitchen. Zar was sitting on one of the bar chairs, a somber expression on his face. A little package lay in front of him. “What’s going on?”

“This just arrived for you.”

“Mail? This late in the day?”

“It was a personal delivery.”

Something about the way he said it made Castiel look up. “Zar, who was at the door?”

In lieu of an answer, Zar pushed the envelope towards him. “And before you ask: I actually invited him in. He was the one that decided to leave right away.”

His hands were shaking as Castiel ripped the package open, his name on the front written in a handwriting that was still familiar to him, even after all these years.

A DVD fell out of the envelope when he emptied it on the kitchen counter, together with the smaller envelope Castiel knew held Dean’s Christmas card and the letter of recommendation. Dean must have picked it all up after Castiel had dropped it while he was bolting out the mansion. What caught his attention the most, however, was a small piece of paper, folded just once. When he opened it, an involuntary sob left him.

It was a simple illustration of the moon, a lasso wound around it. Under it, in Dean’s messy handwriting, was just one line.

 

I would have lassoed the moon for you.

 

“Fuck,” Castiel pressed out. The note dropped to the counter as he hastened over to the apartment door, ignoring Zar calling out behind him.

Dean had run after him this time. He was here, in New York, because of him. That was all Castiel needed to know, for the moment. Just enough sense left, he grabbed his coat and some boots, running out into the hallway and punching the elevator button a few times, begging the damn thing to move faster.

“Castiel, what the hell do you think you’re doing.”

“I don’t know. I just know I have to see him.”

“Are you insane? After everything you’ve just been through?”

“You don’t get it, Zar. What if I made a mistake?”

“No, I think you’re making that mistake right now.”

When Castiel didn’t acknowledge him further but instead busied himself with pushing on the boots, Zar grabbed his arm.

“Castiel. Are you really going to run after him just because of a stupid quote from one of your favorite movies?”

“Yes.”

Flabbergasted, Zar stared at him.

“No,” Castiel corrected himself. “It’s … it’s all of it. Zar, he’s here. He came after me this time.”

“And then he couldn’t even wait five minutes at your door!”

Shaking his head as if he tried to ignore that statement, Castiel shook off Zar's hand and rushed inside the elevator the moment it arrived, the doors opening with a soft ding.

However, Balthazar held them open before they could close again. “Why?”

“I –” Castiel tried to find an explanation – but there simply was none. “I don’t know. All I know is that I’ll regret it for the rest of my life if I don’t go after him.”

“Castiel, he was here over five minutes ago. He’ll be long gone.”

“All the more reason for me to hurry. Please, Zar. Let go.”

When his friend made no such move, Castiel looked at him with pleading eyes. “You just told me that you’d have my back as long as I can live with my decision. Please, Balthazar. Let go of the elevator.”

His friend eyed him for a few more moments, seemingly searching for something. Castiel had no idea what it was, but he must have found it, as he finally nodded and stepped back, freeing the elevator’s doors.

The ride downstairs had never felt so long. Castiel busied himself with buttoning up his coat. He knew he was reckless to go out in the cold dressed like this, damp hair, no scarf, no gloves, no beanie. But he didn’t care. Zar was right, Dean was probably long gone. But he needed to try.

Finally, the elevator reached the ground floor and Castiel was out of it before the doors were fully open.

“Joshua,” he called out for the doorman, having some other tenants in the lobby turn their heads. He ignored them as he hasted over to the man’s post. “Joshua, the gentleman you just let up. Did you see where he went?”

“Yes, Mr. James. I asked if he needed a taxi since he arrived in one, but he wanted to walk. He turned left, but didn’t ask for any directions at all.”

“Thank you,” Castiel replied. Not hesitating even for a moment, he hastened down the sidewalk, looking around for a familiar head or coat.

He didn’t have to search long when something on the other side of the street caught his attention. Not stopping his run, he focused on the man he saw there, not sure if it was really Dean – and suddenly smashed into another body.

“Ouch, shit,” he exclaimed, reaching wildly for something to stop his fall.

Two strong hands gripped his elbows and the earthy fragrance of horses and hay engulfed him, as a roughened voice murmured, “I got you.”

And for the first time, Castiel was able to name the third scent without having to think about it.

It smelled like home.

His head snapped up and Castiel found himself captivated by soft green eyes. “Dean.”

“Hey, Cas,” Dean replied tentatively, not letting go of him even as Castiel had his footing again.

Castiel found he had a hard time moving his hands from the lapel of Dean’s coat as well.

“You’re here.”

“Yes,” Dean whispered, his eyes moving rapidly as if he tried to take in every inch of Castiel. “I … I just had to come back.”

Castiel frowned until he realized that in order for him to run into Dean like this, the man must have been heading to his penthouse once more.

Dean didn’t seem to notice Castiel’s confusion and for the first time, Castiel realized that he looked nervous. “I don’t know if the guy gave you my package –”

“He did.”

“– but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t say what I really came here to tell you.”

“Dean, what …”

“Cas, I realized that I never got a chance to tell you and I know I should have a long time ago. I should have run after you all those years ago. I should have come to New York to find you way sooner, to tell you this.”

“Tell me what?”

“That I love you.”

Castiel’s eyes went wide and his mouth fell open, words completely leaving him.

“Cas, I love you! Always have and always will. I was just too stupid to understand it when I was younger and … I know it’s probably too late now. You chose him and not me and I can understand that –”

Wait, what?

“– but I needed you to know. You … you had the right to know. I’m not going to tell you that I’m the better choice because I love you more than that snob up there ever could –”

“Dean, what are you talking –?”

“No, Cas please let me finish. All I want for you is to be happy. And if that means to be with him rather than with me, then I’ll accept that.”

“Dean, please, let me –”

“Just one more thing,” Dean interrupted once more, holding up a finger to stop Castiel. “I’m sorry it took me so long. I loved Lisa, honestly. But meeting you again, this grown-up version of you … I didn’t know love could be like that.”

“Dean,” Cas tried once more to interrupt him, a giddy smile beginning to spread over his face.

“And I felt guilty at first because I know Lisa would have deserved better, although I did love her. I … I guess it’s true, you can love more than one person. I mean … you told me you’d always loved me and yet you have that guy up there and I’m not going to argue that you don’t really love him –”

Dean,” Cas repeated once more, slightly shaking his head and chuckling as he put his hands on either side of Dean’s face. It seemed the man hadn’t shaved in a few days and Cas loved the feeling.

“No, Cas, I’m serious. I understand. I just … I want you to know that I’ll do whatever you wish. If you tell me to leave you in peace, I will and you’ll never hear from me again. But if you give me just one hint, just a little one, I’ll fight for you –”

“Good,” Cas said, leaning in to shut up Dean’s uncharacteristic babbling with a sweet kiss.

After a hesitant moment, Dean’s arms wound around his body, pulling him closer into his warmth. Before either of them could deepen the kiss, Cas pulled back.

“He’s just a friend.”

“Huh?”

“Zar. The snob you met upstairs. He’s my editor and best friend.”

“Do you let all your friends run around your apartment half naked?”

“Only when I shared the jacuzzi with them beforehand.”

At Dean’s double take, Cas chuckled and pressed a kiss to his lips. This wonderful man had just confessed his love to him and Cas was on a new high.

“So … really just a friend?”

“Yes.”

“I … I’ve heard parts of your phone calls. And his picture when he calls – I was suspicious this whole time and when you said your future was here in New York –”

“Oh Gods, no. No Dean, I assure you. There’s nothing between Zar and I. He’s straight.”

“Well, that might not be the best argument here.”

“He has also been in a very loving relationship for over five years now.”

“Better.”

“Besides: why would I choose a British snob when my high school teacher that I’ve been crushing on my whole life just confessed his love for me?”

“Alright, convinced,” Dean replied, grinning as he tightened his embrace again, pulling Cas closer for another kiss.

Once again, Cas pulled back way too soon.

“What about Lydia?”

Lydia? What about her?”

“I know she has a thing for you and I saw you on Christmas Day, at the Winter Fair.”

“Ah,” Dean replied, rolling his eyes. “What you saw was her finally annoying me enough that I told her off for good.”

“I must have missed that last part.”

“Yeah, I know. It was hard not to hear how you hightailed it out of the city with your Camaro.”

Grinning bashfully, Cas leaned against Dean. The snow had picked up again and his comfy clothes under the coat were certainly not enough to keep him warm.

“Should we continue this inside?”

“Absolutely,” Cas replied, taking Dean’s hand and pulling the man with him. He knew there were still things to discuss – he hadn’t forgotten Dean mumbling Lisa’s name in his sleep, not by a long shot – but the man had just come after him, confessing his love on a crowded street in the middle of Manhattan. They would be alright.

Chapter Text

Love is friendship set on fire

~ Jeremy Taylor

 

Back at the apartment complex, Cas introduced Dean to the doorman so Joshua would know to let Dean in and up to his penthouse whenever he showed up. Dean used the elevator ride to crowd Cas into one corner, “keeping him warm” by kissing him until Cas was gasping for air. He’d almost forgotten Zar was still there but was quickly reminded when they stumbled out of the elevator, giggling and still pretty much entangled, only to be met by Zar’s calculating gaze.

At least the man was dressed this time.

He stared at them for uncountable seconds, seemingly scrutinizing every inch of them, until he finally pushed away from the wall and moved towards them. As he stood before Dean, he held his gaze, his whole demeanor threatening.

“I don’t care whose fault it is, he suffers because of you one more time and I’ll end your life.”

Dean swallowed but nodded. After a few more seconds of hard eye contact, Zar passed them on Cas’ side, squeezing his shoulder and grinning at him. “Water in the jacuzzi is fresh – use it because you look like an icicle. Pizza’s in the kitchen. Call me if you need me.”

Cas nodded and when Zar already stepped into the elevator, he turned after him. “Zar.”

They just stared at each other until Zar threw him a wink and nodded. “Anytime. You know that.”

Then the doors closed and he was alone with Dean in the hallway.

His eyes fluttered shut when Dean leaned in, his warm breath tickling him as he kissed Cas’ earlobe.

“Gonna invite me in?”

Cas turned around, catching Dean’s lips without hesitation. Letting his tongue run over them, he groaned when Dean parted his lips, his tongue hot and smooth. Hardly able to keep his hands from Dean, he pushed him backwards and through the open door to his penthouse, kicking it shut with his foot. Dean’s duffle bag, which had been slung over his shoulder the entire time, dropped to the floor, their coats gone in seconds, Dean’s beanie, scarf, and gloves following in rapid succession. Cas eagerly grabbed for Dean’s sweater, pulling it over the man’s head and already reaching for Dean’s shirt before the man was even fully out of the first piece. As his hands wandered under Dean’s shirt and touched his skin, the man noticeably jerked and even pulled away slightly.

“Fuck,” he groaned, reaching for Cas’ hands with his own. “They’re ice-cold. What the heck were you thinking, running out into the cold like this?”

“That I couldn’t lose the love of my life again.”

“Okay, good answer,” Dean replied, leaning in for another peck to his lips. “Still. We’ll have to do something about your reckless behavior in the future. Running out in the middle of winter dressed like this? Driving through a snowstorm while drunk?”

“I’ll accept any punishment you see fit, Mr. Winchester.”

The growl that left Dean was feral and Cas found himself crash against the door within seconds, Dean’s lips on his neck, hands wildly pulling on his hoodie. When it was gone, Dean’s hands wandered lower and before Cas knew it, they were at the back of his thighs, lifting him up. Cas grabbed for his shoulders on instinct and wound his legs around Dean’s body without hesitation. Unlike last time, this time he was able to fully enjoy the fact that Dean was strong enough to lift him.

“Shit, that is so hot,” he moaned out, not stopping to kiss Dean as he wound his arms around the man’s strong shoulders.

“Jacuzzi?” Dean breathed out, already turning them around.

“Hallway. Second door.”

They only bumped into the wall once or twice, but Cas got the impression it was rather intentional as Dean used it to let one hand wander all over him, not needing it to keep Cas up while the wall supported him.

Somehow, Cas was able to get rid of his snow boots while still leaving his legs entwined around Dean’s hips, impressing himself. When they finally made it into the big bathroom that not only held his jacuzzi but also had a whole window front with a view over Central Park, Dean was momentarily distracted, letting out an appreciative whistle.

“Are you some kind of bestselling author or something? This looks pretty first class to me.”

Cas let himself glide out of Dean’s hold, finally removing the damn shirt that was still between them. “Oh, you know. Sold a book or two. Can’t complain.”

Chuckling, Dean cradled his face, pressing sweet and longing kisses to his lips, while Cas was busy with Dean’s jeans. He had some trouble with the belt – damn that fucking cast, he couldn’t wait for it to be gone – but got it open, just as one of Dean’s hands smoothed down Cas’ body, only to disappear in the back of his sweatpants, squeezing one of his cheeks and pulling him closer. Cas moaned out, putting the kissing on hold for a moment as he closed his eyes and let his head fall back, just enjoying the feeling. He loved having his ass grabbed tight, no denying that.

Dean continued to kiss his jaw and neck for a moment. When Cas realized the kisses had stopped, he opened his eyes and moved his head back, watching as Dean was watching him, a slightly nervous smile on his lips. Cas didn’t get it at first, until he could feel Dean’s other hand moving down his body and into his sweatpants as well, only this one at the front. When Dean’s fingers softly touched his hard cock, hesitantly at first, Cas had to force himself to keep his eyes open as they nearly fluttered shut again. But he wanted to see every moment of Dean’s reaction, not pushing the man for anything.

Quickly, Dean’s warm hand encircled him fully, moving up and down twice, eliciting another moan from Cas while Dean was breathing heavily. Cas’ fingernails dug into Dean’s shoulder – he hadn’t even realized moving his hands there – trying to keep still and not rut against the man. A moment later, Dean leaned in again, the kiss deep and full of passion as his other hand left Cas’ backside and pushed his sweatpants down.

The next move was one Cas certainly hadn’t seen coming. Dean’s lips were gone all of a sudden, and so were his shoulders. Since Cas had had a death grip on them, he felt the movement going downwards and when he was able to open his eyes again, he found Dean kneeling in front of him, looking back up with a little grin. They kept eye contact as Dean first helped Cas step out of his sweatpants and his socks and then slowly leaned in. When his lips touched Cas’ cock, Cas had to grip Dean’s shoulders again or else he would have fallen to the floor, weak in his knees.

Dean took his time kissing along the shaft of his cock and when he got to the head, he even slightly sucked it, groaning as his tongue moved over the slit, probably tasting Cas’ precum.

Cas was delirious.

And embarrassingly close to coming, like he was a teenager again, getting his first blowjob. This wasn’t even a real blowjob, but it was Dean, exploring Cas’ body for the first time and it nearly killed Cas.

Dean’s hands were back at his ass, holding him in place and Cas knew that this could be over way too quick if Dean would just use his hands right in this moment.

He didn’t however, and Cas didn’t know if he was relieved about that or not.

After a few more moments of carefully exploring Cas’ cock, Dean began his way back up, kissing over Cas’ stomach, nipping at each bump of his ribs, sucking in one nipple, leaving butterfly kisses all over his collarbone and neck until he reached Cas’ lips again.

Cas eagerly kissed him back, chasing his own taste on Dean’s tongue.

“Sorry, for not –”

“Shut up. Don’t you dare apologize,” Cas stopped him right away, finally able to let his own hands roam around Dean’s body. “We have all the time in the world,” he kept reassuring him, his lips close to Dean’s ear, making the man shiver to his great delight. “And if you’ll never be comfortable with it, then that’s alright as well,” he promised, letting his tongue run over Dean’s earlobe. The shiver through Dean’s body intensified thanks to this simple action and he wound his arms around Cas’ body, holding him tight. Cas smirked, filing that reaction away for later.

For now, he finally got Dean out of his jeans, making short process of his boxer shorts, shoes and socks as well. Finally having both of them fully naked, Cas stole one more kiss from Dean before moving over to the jacuzzi, checking the temperature. He had no idea how much time had already passed, but the water was just lukewarm by now, so he quickly drained some of it while already letting more hot water run into the tub.

While he still leaned over the tub, Dean came up right behind him, and as he pressed close to him, keeping Cas’ hips in place with two strong hands, Cas groaned and couldn’t help himself as he felt Dean’s cock against his ass. He moved his hips just slightly, coaxing a filthy moan out of Dean as well. The man leaned over him, kissing his back and up to his neck. If he didn’t need his right hand to keep himself from falling into the water head first, Cas would have reached back for Dean, coaxing the man into an awkwardly tangled kiss. As it was, he couldn’t do it with his left hand, internally cursing that damn cast for the umpteenth time.

By the time they finally got into the water, Cas was pretty sure the hot bath wasn’t needed for its original purpose anymore for he had long since warmed up after his trip into the cold winter. But who said a jacuzzi was only good to warm up?

As they got into the water, Cas moved to sit between Dean’s legs right away, leaning back against the man’s strong chest. All too quick they both realized that it was impossible for Cas to find a comfortable angle this way to keep his cast out of the water. Reluctantly, he moved away from Dean but was appeased right away when the man followed, simply reversing their position. The only thing as good as lying in Dean Winchester’s arms was to hold the man in his own.

They shared a few lazy kisses, but mostly Cas just hugged him from behind, laying his head against Dean’s cheek while the man let his head rest on Cas’ shoulder. Careful to keep his cast out of the water, Cas used his right hand to draw lazy pattern over Dean’s chest, drawing long and content sighs out of Dean as they both enjoyed this newfound closeness.

“Why did you run away?”

The whispered question was the first words spoken between them in a long time. Cas hugged the man tight, even winding one leg around him, kissing his temple.

“I was scared.”

“What did I do?”

When Cas didn’t answer right away, Dean untangled himself, but only enough to turn around, encasing him with his body, hovering over him. “Cas, you were happy and content when we went to bed. Or did I read that wrong?”

Letting his right hand ran up and down Dean’s side, Cas shook his head no.

“Please don’t lie to me. Something changed that, what was it?”

“You said Lisa’s name in your sleep,” Cas finally admitted, his voice nothing more than a feeble whisper. “Twice, actually, looking so content and blissful. It just … scared me. It brought back all my fears, this fact that you would dream of her when I was by your side.”

Instead of answering right away, Dean was quiet for a moment and when Cas finally looked back up into his face, he saw a confused frown there, Dean’s eyes moving rapidly as if he was trying hard to remember something. Suddenly, the frown was gone, replaced by a relieved look that quickly turned into a mix of remorseful happiness.

“Oh, Cas,” he breathed out, leaning down to press a soft kiss to his lips. “I’m so sorry. That was probably the worst misunderstanding ever between us.”

“What?”

“I didn’t dream of Lisa that night. I mean, she was there. But my dream was about you.”

Moving away a bit to have a better angle to look at Dean, Cas tried to make any sense of that logic.

Dean huffed out a little laugh before moving and sitting down on Cas’ right side, pulling him into his embrace. This way, Cas was able to lay his cast on Dean’s chest. It wasn’t the best solution but he certainly had other things on his mind right now than to complain. Especially when Dean’s hand started moving up and down his back leaving goosebumps in its path.

“This is a bit weird to explain –”

“You don’t have to –”

“Yes, I do. Just … be patient with me, please.”

When Cas nodded, Dean moved his head just so that he could press an open-mouthed kiss to Cas’ forehead, before starting to explain.

“I think I mentioned earlier that I felt guilty when I first met you again, right? Because of Lisa and my feelings for you?”

Cas nodded, indicating that he’d caught that somewhere in the midst of Dean’s rambling.

“I mean, please don’t get me wrong: I did love her. I still do, actually. She’ll always have a place in my heart and I can only hope you’ll understand that.”

“Of course,” Cas replied without hesitation.

“The thing is, when you came back into my life and I started to realize that what I felt for you was really love … it scared me. What you accused me of – that I was playing with you – that was really just me trying to make sense of it all. I wanted to be near you, but I needed to admit to myself what I’d known for years: that I didn’t care that you are a man. That my feelings for you were real, no matter your gender. And once I had finally admitted that to myself, I also had to come to terms with –” Dean interrupted himself, swallowing hard. “With the knowledge that I never loved Lisa the same way I love you now. And I felt guilty about that. So utterly guilty because Lisa … she was a sweet soul and she deserved only the best. She would have deserved to be loved by someone the same way I love you.”

Without interrupting Dean, Cas leaned up and kissed the tear away that was running down Dean’s cheek. In return, Dean hugged him closer, giving himself a moment to calm down.

“I had a few talks over the past weeks about it. With my closest friends and even with Lisa’s parents; that one really got to me. Because they want nothing more for me than to be happy, saying they knew it would have been what Lisa wanted for me. The whole conversation with them started because Gracie had told them about you and they remembered your name.”

Dean swallowed hard and Cas could feel that he was fighting against more tears.

“Told me that I should follow my heart …”

He broke off and when a few more tears streamed down his face, Cas sat up and cradled Dean’s face against his shoulder, soothingly rubbing up and down Dean’s back.

“They knew – just like Lisa, they knew that I wanted to run after you that day in church. They knew I had feelings for you while still vowing my eternal love to their daughter. And now they tell me that it’s alright,” he choked out, clinging to Cas.

Cas tried to keep his own tears in check, still soothing Dean as the man clung to him. It took a while until Dean calmed down, the water slowly cooling down, but Cas didn’t care and neither seemed Dean.

“Sorry, I’m usually not –”

“Would you please stop apologizing to me,” Cas softly begged, brushing his hand through Dean’s hair and softly rubbing his neck. “Having emotions is not a reason to apologize.”

Dean nodded, his gaze still a bit distant. After a few more moments, he leaned back again, pulling Cas with him.

“That night – in my dream – Lisa was there, telling me that it was alright. God, I know this sounds stupid and I know it wasn’t real, just a dream. Just wishful thinking and my subconscious mixing things together. But she – man, it sounds so stupid, saying it out loud.”

“Dean, I assure you: it won’t sound stupid. It was a dream and it seems important to you, so it’s alright,” Cas reassured him, pressing a kiss to his shoulder. “And like I said, you don’t have to tell me.”

“She looked like an angel and she told me that she wanted me to be happy again,” Dean finally pressed out, a soft yet wistful smile on his lips. “I mean, she mostly just smiled at me and was just there. You know, the way it is in dreams. But in that moment, I knew that’s what she said to me. Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” Cas replied.

“And then the whole scenery changed and you and me, we were in some kind of library. And … we were just together, you know? You were sitting at a table and I was leaning next to you and we were talking about books again. And there was a plate of Angel Cookies –”

Castiel had to smile at that.

“– and I don’t even know anymore what we talked about or if we talked at all. I just remember this feeling I had. I was so content and happy and … I know I was home and that that was the feeling I wanted for the rest of my life.”

At that, Cas couldn’t hold in his tears any longer, letting them run freely as he leaned over Dean and kissed him. Not breaking their kiss, he crawled into Dean’s lap, shivering slightly as he straddled him. The water really was getting cold, but still, he didn’t care. Inside of him, there was nothing but pure bliss.

Dean had dreamed of him the night after Christmas Eve – after eating Angel Cookies – and he had just described exactly what Castiel had felt thirteen years ago in his dream about Dean.

The feeling of finally being home.

 

~*~

 

It wasn’t until they were both truly starting to shiver that they finally let go of each other and got out of the jacuzzi. It was also beginning to get dark outside, so Cas switched on the lights before they took a quick shower, just to get warm again and to wash off. Neither of them even mentioned the irony of having to take a hot shower after just getting out of a hot tub.

As they dried up, Dean wound his towel around Cas, pulling him closer with it and into another longing kiss.

“That night, you asked me what I wanted.”

“Yes.”

“And I said I don’t know.”

Cas nodded, stealing another quick kiss before he let Dean continue.

“And that’s true. All I know is that I want to be with you and that I’m open to … I don’t know, experimenting in bed, I guess?”

A happy grin spread over Cas’ face as he loosely wound his arms around Dean’s middle, slightly swaying with him, pressing a sweet kiss to his nose that was just as red as the rest of Dean’s face. “Now that sounds promising.”

“Urgh,” Dean groaned out, hiding his burning face in the crook of Cas’ neck.

Biting his lower lip to suppress his gleeful chuckle, Cas first kissed Dean’s neck and then slowly, carefully nudged him with his shoulder until the man moved his head and peeked up at him. Cas moved his right hand up to caress Dean’s cheek, softly cupping it in his palm.

“We have all the time in the world. We’ll go one step at a time, okay?”

Nodding, Dean leaned in for another kiss.

All of a sudden, Cas’ stomach rumbled. They broke apart and chuckled as Dean already reached for one of the big bath towels.

“First step: Pizza?” he asked and Cas nodded, taking the offered towel and wound it around his hips. They would need the carbohydrates anyway, to get through what he had in mind for the rest of their day.

 

~*~

 

While Cas put the pizzas in the oven to quickly heat them up again, Dean wandered around his living room, inspecting the open space of his penthouse.

“This place totally suits you,” he commented after a while, making Cas look over the bar that separated the kitchen from the rest of the open floor plan. “It has style, looks classy, and still has a touch of coziness.”

“So you’re saying I have style and I am classy and cozy?”

Dean grinned back at him and came over to lean on the other side of the bar. “Absolutely.”

Grinning back, Cas rolled his eyes in amusement and got the pizzas out, putting them both on plates. “I hope you can live with Zar’s choice of a meat lovers pizza because I’m sure as hell not sharing my pepperoni.”

“I love both, but with a meat lovers, your friend certainly just earned a lot of bonus points.”

“Of course he did,” Cas replied, chuckling as he handed Dean his pizza.

Not pretending they were going to spend much time out here, they stayed at the bar and quickly enjoyed their pizza. They were down to the last few pieces when a song started playing somewhere close to the entrance, too soft to be recognizable. At least for Cas.

Dean, on the other hand, dropped his last piece of pizza as his eyes went wide.

Fuck. I forgot to call Grace.”

He rushed over to his coat and dug around until he pulled out his phone, answering right away and putting it to his ear.

“Hey, pumpkin.”

---

“No, of course not. You know you never bother me.”

---

“Yes, I’m sure. Tell Uncle Sammy not to tell you stuff like that. You know you can always call me.”

---

“Yes and, uh … just talking, you know. We just had an early dinner.”

---

“Yeah, Cas is fine,” Dean said with a softer voice, finally turning around and smiling at him. “There were a few misunderstandings and we were both too stupid to talk about it, is all.”

---

“Yes, Gracie, I told him.”

---

“You wanna talk to him?”

Cas looked up from putting his empty plate away when he heard Dean walking over. The man smiled as he held out the phone to him.

“Here.”

Cas took it without hesitation.

“Hey, Gracie.”

“Cas, hi. Are you alright? Dad says you’re okay and that you talked about it all, but are you really okay?”

“Yes, Gracie,” Cas replied, smiling. “I’m really okay. Your dad is right, we talked it out.”

“So are you coming back soon?”

“Ehm … probably. We … well, we haven’t talked about that yet. But hey, how are you?”

“Good.”

“Did you get the letter from Luke yet?”

“Yes, he brought it over.”

“Oh, wow. That’s nice of him,” Cas replied, floored by Luke’s action.

Strong arms wound around him, pulling his backside against a strong chest, momentarily distracting him. When soft lips started kissing along his neck and up to the ear that wasn’t occupied by the phone, he had a hard time not to moan or even to keep his breathing regular.

“... just really hope you’ll be back soon.”

“I guess I can do that, Gracie. Ehm … how about I let you talk to your Dad again?”

“Sure. See you soon, Cas. I miss you, bye.”

“Miss you too, Gracie. Bye.”

The moment the phone was gone from his ear he let out a silent moan, nothing more than a heavy breath, while he held the phone back for Dean to take. One of the arms around his body disappeared, Dean’s rough voice right by his ear.

“Hey, kiddo?”

“Yeah?” Gracie asked, the phone close enough so Cas could listen in.

“You be good for Uncle Sam and Aunt Eileen, okay? And for Uncle Bobby of course.”

“Dad, I’m always good,” Gracie replied annoyed and Cas actually chuckled.

“I know, Gracie, just making sure. I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”

“Okay. I love you, Dad.”

“Love you too, Pumpkin, bye.”

There was no reply from Gracie, just a click and then the dial tone. A second later, the phone was gone and Dean’s lips back on Cas’ neck, both arms around him once more, pulling him closer. For a few long minutes, they just stayed like that, pressed close, Dean teasing his neck and Cas breath becoming heavier by the minute.

The fluffy towels around their hips did nothing to hide Dean’s growing erection and when Cas couldn’t stand it anymore, he reached back with his good hand, pulling Dean’s head up and searching for his lips, not caring how awkward it was to kiss him over his shoulder. Dean took that as invitation to let his hands roam all over Cas’ body and when he cupped his erection through the towel, Cas not only groaned into their kiss, he also decided it was time to finally move this to the bedroom.

He turned around and hooked a finger into the towel around Dean’s hips, using it to pull the man after him. Somewhere down the hall, both their towels landed on the floor, nothing between them anymore. When they reached the bedroom, Dean once more lifted Cas up and carefully crawled onto the bed with him, laying Cas out under him like he was a delicate flower. For a moment they just stared into each other’s eyes, the lights of Manhattan shining through the window, the only illumination they had.

“We’re always talking about what I want,” Dean murmured, tracing Cas’ lips with his fingers, his eyes following the movement for a moment before he looked back up into Cas’ eyes. “But what is it you want?”

A sinfully slow roll of Dean’s hips let their cocks slide against each other, coaxing a breathy moan out of both men. Cas spread his legs further to give Dean more room to lie between them. The contact had Cas’ eyes flutter, but he forced them open as he reached for Dean’s neck to pull him down for a kiss.

“I’m pretty much open for everything.”

“That wasn’t the question,” Dean replied, only pecking Cas’ mouth and then moving his lips to his ear. “I asked what you want.”

Cas’ back arched as he moaned again, the slow rhythm of Dean’s hips and the breath against his overheated skin overwhelming. He didn’t have to think long for what he wanted – for what he had wanted for as long as he could remember.

“You. Inside of me,” he breathed out and right away, Dean’s lips were back on him and the kiss was pure fire, burning him inside and out. He shivered and every touch of Dean’s hands seared into his skin and into his mind.

With the last brainpower he had, he remembered that he needed to take the lead here, if only for a bit. He untangled his right hand from where it had found its way into Dean’s hair, and reached for the bedside table. But it was too far for him to reach and he cursed the moment Dean noticed because he stopped kissing him and leaned over to the side. The new angle left Cas breathless, Dean’s knee rubbing hard against his cock, close to crossing the line of painful. Instead of trying to reach for the bedside table to help Dean, Cas’ hand flew to the man’s ass, not really sure if he was trying to lift him just enough to release some of the pressure, or trying to pull him closer.

“Alright, looks like we’ll be busy with these for a while. Good thing I booked a one-way ticket to New York.”

Not able to make sense of Dean’s words, Cas opened his eyes and looked over at him. When he saw the man grinning back cheekily, holding up one very long and very thick vibrator, he knew Dean had just found his – definitely not small – collection of sex toys. Huffing out a laugh, he gave Dean a playful slap on his ass. “Put that away and get the damn lube. For now, all I want inside of me is that beautiful, thick cock of yours.”

“As you wish,” Dean replied, dropping the vibrator and pulling out one of the lube bottles. When he closed the drawer without getting out the condoms, Cas stopped him, just looking at Dean with a questioning gaze. Dean seemed to realize what he was asking, his cheeks slightly turning pink. “I know I’m clean and if it’s okay with you –”

“Yeah,” Cas replied in wonder. “Yeah, sure. I mean, I’m clean as well. I just thought … for you …”

Dean leaned back down, capturing his lips in another kiss, before admitting in a shy whisper: “I want to feel you. All of you.”

Dean’s words alone made Cas groan and his dick jump. He needed to get himself prepped and quick, or they wouldn’t get to the part where Dean would feel all of him. Thinking for just a moment, he decided quickly in which way he wanted this, wound his arm around Dean’s back and rolled them around. Dean went willingly.

Still kissing him, Cas repositioned himself so he was sitting on top of Dean. Taking the lube out of Dean’s hand, he quickly opened it and put a liberal amount on his right hand, glad he could move his left fingers just enough to turn the bottle. Reaching behind himself, he kept eye contact with Dean as he slowly circled his hole, spreading the cool lube around. As he breached himself, his eyes fell shut and he let out a moan as his head dropped back. Fuck, it had been way too long since his last time.

When Dean’s hand encircled his dick, Cas opened his eyes again and looked down at his lover. Dean looked back up at him, his gaze a mix of bliss and wonder, love and adoration, and Cas simply had to lean down and kiss him. He pushed a second finger inside his hole, slowly scissoring himself open, while Dean’s hand still lazily jacked him off. It felt so good. Cas couldn’t stop the slow movement of his hips, back and forth, pumping into Dean’s hand before pressing back down on his own fingers, three of them inside of him now. Knowing Dean’s girth was definitely above average, he forced himself to really be thorough and to not rush this. Not that he didn’t love it when he was a bit too tight and could feel every burn of his partner bottoming out. But he had no desire to do that when it was Dean’s first time, maybe scaring him with a pained grunt or even worse, a scream.

By the time the fourth finger breached him, they were both panting against each other’s lips, sweat covering their bodies. It was getting harder to keep himself hovering over Dean, so he sat back up, moaning right away at the new angle. A few more deep strokes and he had seriously reached his limit. Removing his hand and quickly wiping it clean on the bedding, he reached for the lube bottle again and coated Dean’s cock. His lover was breathing heavily, the hand around Cas’ cock gone in favor of gripping his hips tight.

Cas leaned down once more, stealing a kiss from Dean.

“Ready?” he whispered against his lips and when Dean frantically nodded, Cas grasped Dean’s dick, holding it in place as he slowly sank down, taking in every moment as Dean filled him inch by inch.

He had no idea who was moaning louder, Dean panting out breathless nonsense in between.

“Cas. Oh God, Cas.”

Cas head was spinning, hot and cold shivers running through his body over and over again. When he was fully seated in Dean’s lap, he gave himself a moment to adjust, simply enjoying Dean’s thickness and the warmth that filled him.

One of Dean’s hands came up, his fingers softly brushing along Cas’ cheek, over his lips, and down his neck, hooking one finger into his necklace and pulling him down by it. The moment their lips met again, Cas started moving, slowly at first, but quickly getting faster. Dean let go of him after a while and when Cas was able to sit back up, he wanted to put his hands on Dean’s chest to get more leverage – only to be reminded of that godawful cast again.

“Fuck,” he moaned out, leaning back but not able to find the right angle. He wanted his hand back, damnit.

Dean surprised him as he suddenly sat up, winding his arms around Cas, effectively slowing the erratic movement. He nipped at Cas’ chin before smiling at him and then carefully turning them around, mindful not to slip out of Cas.

Maybe missionary style hadn’t been his favorite position until this day, but the moment Dean’s body was all over and around him, his strong arms boxing him in, Cas groaned and wound his legs around Dean’s hips, giving his lover a better angle to thrust into him. It only took three strokes and a slight change of angle and suddenly, Cas was seeing stars.

“Oh, God, yes. There. Dean, again, please, again,” he babbled out, his right hand grasping Dean’s ass to try and pull him closer. Dean followed his plea and on every other thrust, he hit Cas’ prostate, pushing him closer to the edge every single time.

Cas knew he should try to hold himself back, should make sure Dean was there with him, but for the life of him, he couldn’t as Dean’s hips snapped faster and faster. When Dean’s lips crashed on his on a particularly hard thrust, Cas was gone, the only reason his scream wasn’t heard over all of New York being Dean’s lips that sealed his mouth shut.

It wasn’t until he slowly came down that he realized that Dean had stopped moving with that last, hard thrust and as he could feel Dean’s cock slowly softening inside of him, he realized why that was.

Dean’s lips slowly left his, both of them panting hard the moment they could breathe through their mouths again. He had no idea how Dean felt, but Cas knew that he couldn’t move – didn’t even have the desire to. He hugged his lover closer, clinging to him with the last strength he had. Dean’s head moved to his neck, peppering it with butterfly kisses, little nips, and once or twice Dean sucked on it, leaving new love bites, Cas was sure of it.

Slowly, he became aware of the weight on his body, Dean seemingly not able to hold himself up after his orgasm. Cas didn’t mind; not like he was easily breakable or getting crushed by Dean’s weight.

He must have drifted off after a while of cuddling, only jerking to wakefulness again when Dean slowly pulled out of him.

“Don’t go,” he mumbled when the warmth covering him left, leaving behind an itchy feeling of cooling sweat and drying cum – certainly not the feeling he wanted right now.

Dean’s lips were back on his for a moment and when they left again, he reached for his lover, finding nothing but air. A warm chuckle told him that Dean was moving away from the bed, but he was too blissed out to open his eyes and search for him.

“Be right back,” he heard Dean promise and after a few cold and lonely minutes, a warm, damp towel touched his chest, coaxing an appreciative moan out of him. It slowly turned into somewhat of a purr while Dean took his time to carefully clean him of all the sweat and cum, even between his legs.

Once the towel was gone, he heard it being dropped on the floor somewhere, before the bed jostled and a moment later, Dean was back in his arms, kissing every inch of his face. When it stopped, Cas finally felt compelled to open his eyes, shaking off his laziness. But looking at Dean’s blissed out face, his wide grin, his eyes full of adoration as they looked down at him, Cas knew he didn’t need to ask. He simply reached for Dean and pulled him back down, back into a long kiss, back into his embrace.

Back into feeling at home.

Chapter Text

Real love stories never have endings

~ Richard Bach

 

Being back in Stars Hollow did not feel as weird as Cas had feared. His family was ecstatic when he arrived late in the afternoon, two days before New Year’s Eve.

Having spent the past two days in bed with Dean, they'd only come back to the world and reality when Grace had called again on Friday, asking if they would come home soon.

After another round in bed, they had finally showered and gotten dressed – the latter happening for the first time since their reunion – and after a quick stop at Cas’ favorite bakery, they had gotten into Cas’ Camaro and headed back to Stars Hollow.

Parting at Dean’s ranch was the hardest part, but after spending some time with Grace and visiting the new foal, Cas had finally kissed Dean goodbye for the moment to head back to the Shurley mansion.

His family immediately insisted that he tell them exactly what had happened between him and Dean back in New York – minus the dirty details, of course. His constant dreamy smile should have been a dead giveaway, but he was still happy to comply. While they were all gathered on the porch, the kids playing on the snowy lawn, Cas gave them a recap of the important and G-rated happenings.

“So, you’re not scared anymore that he won’t be able to openly be with you?” came the question from Anna after he’d finished his tale.

Cas shook his head right away, his movements a bit sluggish as he was still on cloud nine. “No. That was never a problem, really. I just misunderstood some of his actions.”

“Like?”

“Like when he pulled away from me quickly when that old classmate showed up out of nowhere,” Cas told them, remembering Dean hugging him close in bed when they had talked about this instance. “He thought I wouldn’t want to be seen with him like that. Because I had told him a few days before how embarrassed I had been thirteen years ago and that I didn’t want to stir up new gossip.”

“And your worry that he might just be curious when it comes to men? Or you, in particular?” Inias asked, leaning into Gadreel’s embrace.

Cas looked up at his brother and took his time to hide his blissful smirk behind the cup of hot chocolate. “Oh, trust me,” he mumbled into the cup. “He definitely convinced me otherwise.”

A few of his family members laughed, some groaned about too much information, and some simply shook their head, still looking happy for him. Cas just kept grinning, sipping on his drink before leaning back and letting his gaze wander into the distance as he daydreamed of his lover.

 

~*~

 

They decided to stay with their families that night, both wanting to make up for some of the time they hadn’t spent with them in the past few days.

The next morning, Cas called Meg to meet up with her for coffee after lunch. The whole town square was buzzing with people enjoying the last Saturday of the Winter Fair and also with preparations for tomorrow’s big firework show. Meg met him in front of Luke’s, hugging him close before punching him in the shoulder.

“Heard you left town again. Did you plan on running away for a second time without saying goodbye?”

“I’m really sorry,” he replied, sending her a sheepish smile. “It won’t happen again.”

“I’ll hold you to it. And to make it up to me, you’ll have to tell me everything, including all the kinky parts.”

Huffing out a laugh, he agreed, following her inside the diner where Luke greeted him with a wide smile.

“Glad you’re back, man.”

“Glad to be back,” Cas replied, as he took the offered hand and grinned at Luke. “And thanks for dropping off that note for Gracie.”

“Meh, don’t mention it,” Luke said, waving his hand to dismiss the matter.

Cas squeezed Luke’s hand once, before letting go and sitting down with Meg and two cups of coffee.

He didn’t tell her all the kinky details – just some because he was honestly exploding to talk to someone about it, and Zar probably wouldn’t want to hear it.

“Well, who would have thought our proper teacher has a weakness for you calling him Mr. Winchester?” Meg mused after a while, grinning sweetly at him over the rim of her cup.

Cas had a hard time keeping the dreamy grin off his face, but he tried to fix her with a stern glare. “Meg, I swear, if you ever mention it to him or tell anyone –”

“Relax, Clarence. You know I won’t blab.” After a thoughtful moment and a sip of her coffee, her grin turned into a cheeky smirk. “Although you might like the punishment he comes up with when he knows you told me.”

Cas groaned, even though he couldn’t stop his chuckles long enough to scold her, opting to throw a little sugar cube at her instead. It only made her laugh out loud and soon, Cas felt helpless but to join in.

Once they had finished their second coffee and enjoyed some pie, they strolled around the Fair, fully enjoying the sunny day and buzzing of the crowd. Not even the gazes that were thrown in Cas’ direction could dampen his mood. He had no idea what the latest gossip about him was, and quite frankly, he didn’t care. Dean would be here around six and Cas knew his lover wouldn’t hesitate to show what was really going on between them. Dean hadn’t said anything about it, but Cas trusted him that he wouldn’t deny his love for Cas.

“It might be a bit early,” Meg began talking out of the blue after they’d been silent for a while, just enjoying the moment. “But have you already thought about the future?”

“The future as in …?”

“Well, I don’t mean marriage – unless of course, you’ve talked about it, then –”

“No, we haven’t,” Cas interrupted, trying to wrap his head around the thought of Dean being his husband without his heart jumping out of his chest to have enough room for a happy dance.

Meg went on without a hitch. “I rather thought the near future. Like, have you talked about where you wanna live? Or if you can handle a long distance relationship? This is a relationship, right?”

“Yes, it is,” Cas replied, smiling at a particular memory coming to mind. A memory of a sunny morning on a snowy balcony, a few snowflakes melting away on their heated bodies.

“Hey, Earth to Clarence,” Meg said, snapping her fingers in front of his eyes.

He snapped out of it, trying to look apologetic and probably failing miserably. Meg only rolled her eyes, but otherwise ignored it, so he quickly answered her previous questions.

“It’s a relationship, yes. And we kinda talked about the living situation. I mean, with my job I can live wherever I want – and right now, I have a lot of reasons to come back to Stars Hollow. My father’s health alone is reason enough, then there’s Gracie, and, of course, Dean.”

“So, Stars Hollow it is?”

“For now, yes,” Cas replied with a nod. “I’ll move back into the mansion, but I’ll keep my penthouse in New York for the time being.”

“Penthouse, eh? You didn’t exaggerate when you said you were doing well for yourself.” Grinning, she lightly pushed her fist into his side, before continuing to walk around the Fair with him.

 

~*~

 

It was getting close to six in the evening when Meg pulled on his arm to stop him from going in a certain direction. He stopped and looked at her in question, her gaze fixing someone ahead of them. As he looked back up, he groaned internally. Tyson Brady and gang had spotted them and were heading over. Meg tried to pull him away, but quite frankly, Cas was done running away or hiding.

“Thought you left town. What brings you back?” Tom Azazel spoke up, fixing him with a hard glare.

Cas stared right back. “I’m sorry, I think I missed the memo about not being allowed in my hometown.”

“Yeah, looks like you really missed that memo,” Brady replied in an acid-laced tone, taking a step into his space.

Cas stood his ground, snarling at the man: “You better back off before I forget my manners.”

“Oh yeah? What do you want to do, huh?”

Before Cas could reply, Gracie’s voice could be heard over the town square, calling out for him. Looking sideways, he saw her running in his direction, smiling like a little angel. Cas smiled back and caught her in a tight embrace the moment she flew into his arms.

“Hey, Gracie.”

He felt Brady take a step back and as he looked up, the man wasn’t looking at him anymore, instead grinning in the direction Gracie had just come from. Following his gaze, he saw Dean stepping through the crowd, his eyes lighting up the moment they met Cas’.

“Yo, Mr. Winchester, Happy New Year,” Brady called out.

To his immense satisfaction, Dean simply ignored the idiot as he made a beeline for Cas. If he wanted to think in clichés, Cas would say that time froze, Dean walking over to him in slow motion. But that would have been a lie, because, within a few heartbeats, Dean was right there, crowding into Cas’ space. In one fluid movement, he cupped his cheek and leaned forward, pressing their lips together for all the world to see.

Cas couldn’t keep himself from smiling, this time fully anticipating and – yes – even enjoying the silence that fell around them, only broken by some gasps.

When Dean ended the kiss, they smiled at each other. God, he had missed him, one night and a day of separation simply too long.

“Hey,” Dean breathed out in greeting, letting his thumb sweep over Cas’ cheek.

“Hey, yourself,” Cas whispered back, letting his eyes wander over every inch of Dean’s handsome face. He still hadn’t shaved and Cas just loved it. When his eyes fell back on Dean’s lips, he was able to keep away from his lover for all of a heartbeat before leaning in and stealing another quick kiss.

“Ready for dinner?” Dean asked and when Cas nodded in reply, Dean looked over to where Meg was standing, watching them with a satisfied grin. “Want to join us, Miss Masters?”

“Oh, no, thanks,” Meg replied, “I wouldn’t want to intrude, Mr. Winchester.”

Cas could see Dean squinting minimally, but luckily no one else seemed to notice something off in the way Meg had addressed Dean. Cas still looked at her with a gaze that clearly stated ‘really?!’ but of course she just smirked at him. Rolling his eyes, he hugged her goodbye before stepping back to Dean’s side, winding his arm around Dean’s middle and taking Gracie’s hand. Resting his arm over Cas’ shoulders, Dean pulled him closer and pressed a kiss to his temple, already steering them away from the town square. With pizza being their choice of food for today, the destination was Antonioli's Restaurant.

The moment they left the square, the silence behind them broke and a multitude of voices could be heard, all of them talking at once. Cas turned his head slightly, looking at Dean, and as their eyes met, they both shared a secret grin.

Over dinner, Gracie and Cas talked about the draft. She’d read it while Cas was gone – twice. All around she seemed to love it; the only downer, in her eyes, was the fact that Siobhan and Kristen still weren’t a couple.

“Well,” Cas replied, looking over at Dean and reaching for his hand. “Sometimes it just takes a bit of time.”

While Gracie beamed at that statement, Dean lifted their joined hands and kissed Cas’ knuckles before leaning in and kissing him sweetly. As he went back to his pizza, he let their hands rest on his knee, keeping them intertwined for the rest of dinner.

When Gracie was occupied with her dessert, Dean pulled Cas a bit closer, bringing his lips close to Cas’ ear. “You told Meg, didn’t you?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Cas replied cheekily, trying to hide his grin. “I told her a lot of things today; you might need to be a bit more specific.”

“You little –” Dean began but interrupted himself. Instead of scolding him, he let his lips hover over the sweet spot behind Cas’ ears, touching it just barely as he murmured, “You’ll pay for that later.”

“I’ll hold you to it, Mr. Winchester,” Cas murmured back, his voice almost hitching when he saw the fire in Dean’s eyes flare up.

Luckily, both of them were still sane enough to remember their company, as well as the fact that they were in public and with a last peck to Dean’s sinful lips, Cas leaned back into a normal sitting position, just as Gracie turned towards him to pick up their conversation about the draft.

 

~*~

 

“I’ve been meaning to ask,” Rebecca stated, pulling the attention towards her as she looked over to Dean and Cas. It was New Year’s Eve, all of them sitting on the back porch after their family dinner, waiting for the clock to tick down to midnight. Thanks to the fire bowls all around the porch it was rather cozy. Cas was snuggled up against Dean, the two lovers sharing a blanket like most of the other couples did.

When his sister’s gaze fell on him, Cas looked up.

“What ever happened to your little bet? The one with Cas finding a better author than Kurt Vonnegut?”

Cas’ eyes went wide and he bent his head to look up at Dean. His lover looked similarly surprised.

“I think we completely forgot about it,” Dean finally admitted, sounding sheepish.

Cas nodded in agreement, his thoughts wandering back to the family dinner two weeks ago when they had talked about authors nonstop. “Oh God, I know why,” he finally exclaimed, looking back at Dean. “That Sunday was the day you told me you know I’m C. S. James. It completely distracted me and –”

“Wait, what?” a surprised yell came from the other side of the table, Sam looking at him with a startled expression. “You are C. S. James?”

“Really, Sam?” Eileen pressed out between her giggles. “You hadn’t figured that one out yet?”

All around them, their family was laughing, while Sam tried to hide his embarrassment.

He was somewhat saved by the porch door opening, revealing first Gracie, then Amara, both of them carrying big plates full of cookies.

Angel Cookies.

Sure, Christmas was over, but who cared about that when it came to sweets?

They all reached for some of the sugary treats, Gracie smiling in delight when Cas reached for one of the cookies from her plate, taking a big bite. The unmistakable flavor of vanilla and sugar hit his senses, bringing up a stream of memories.

Of Dean kissing him.

Of Dean telling him he loved him.

Of Dean holding him while they made love.

Of Dean lying in his arms, asleep.

Of Dean.

Of finally being home.

He leaned up and sweetly kissed his lover, before turning back to Gracie.

“They are wonderful. Far better than I remembered them.”

“Awesome,” Gracie replied with a huge smile, taking a cookie herself and snuggling up on her dad’s other side.

They stayed like this almost until midnight, only Gabe’s nagging and begging getting the whole group off the bench and out of their chairs. They would have been perfectly fine here on the porch, watching the fireworks go off in the distance. But of course, with a big baby like Gabriel, they had to stand in the garden, shooting their own fireworks.

Dean had been mindful enough to bring the blanket, holding Cas close to his chest and his warmth.

“I was thinking,” he whispered into Cas’ ear as they watched Gabe, Inias, Sam, and the older kids prepare the first load of firework. “Are you still trying to convince me that there’s a better author?”

“Maybe. Will you let your Christmas present count?”

“Hhhmm,” Dean replied, pulling Cas a bit closer and resting his chin on his shoulder. “It’s certainly awesome and it inspired probably the greatest movie of all times. But if we stay fair: it is only a short story.”

“You’ll always find something against my choices, won’t you?”

“Probably,” Dean replied, not even trying to hide his cheeky grin.

Cas thought about it for a moment while he leaned back against Dean, sighing in content. “What about the stakes? Becky is right; we never figured those out either.”

Dean started to softly sway them, apparently thinking about it for a bit. When Gabe already called out that it was close, Cas could feel Dean’s lips pull into a smile. “I know, how about this: you’re not allowed to leave Stars Hollow until you find a better author than Vonnegut. No running away from me ever again.”

Cas huffed out a laugh, untangling himself from Dean’s embrace, just enough so he could turn in his lover’s arms. “Well then,” he replied. “I guess it’s decided.” Pressing a soft kiss to Dean’s neck, he wound his arms around him, pulling him close. As he looked into Dean’s eyes, a grin spread over his face. “There seems to be no better author than Vonnegut.”

And as fireworks all around them went off, they shared their first kiss of the new year, the sweet taste of vanilla and sugar on their lips.