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The Everyman's Monomyth

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The first thing to cross Castiel’s mind as he opened his eyes that Friday morning was that it wasn’t pitch-black in their bedroom, despite the fact that morning had come with the sound of his alarm the way it always did, the way it had for years, at 6:15AM. The fact that it was grey instead of completely dark meant that the days were getting longer, slowly but surely, and it was now close enough to spring that the winter darkness had conceded to surrender before Castiel got out of the shower.

He smiled at that.

Not that he had any delusions - this winter had been mild, but it was only late January, and despite the lack of snow on the ground and a predicted high in the mid-40s for today, it was still very much winter in Lawrence. Spring was a solid six weeks away, at least.

He blinked, wiped the sleep from the corners of his eyes, and rolled over to grab his phone from where it sat plugged into the charger on his nightstand. As he swiped up to unlock the screen and access his Twitter account, the right corner of his mouth turned up wryly at the unbidden thought: I wonder what the Internet is mad about today?

A variety of things, it turned out, and he rolled his eyes and thumbed over most of it, thinking not for the first time that he was much too old to be getting involved in drama or wank on subjects he had no control over, or worrying about how “woke” he was when it came to the Generation Z definition of what “woke” was.

He settled into an article about how the Satanic Temple was setting up a pretty pointed argument that outlawing abortion of any sort was an infringement on their religious freedom, and was just about finished when there was a rustling of the covers and a shift of the mattress as his partner stirred, and then, predictably, a heavy arm came down across Castiel’s middle and a nose nuzzled into his bicep. “Wh’sha readin’?”

He set his phone aside and turned his head to the side with a fond smile. “Satanists are threatening to sue for abortion rights,” he relayed before dipping his chin to nuzzle a kiss to the crown of Dean’s head.

“Mmmm… cool.”

His smile grew wider at the thick warmth of Dean’s reply, and he rolled his body fully, so that he was laying on his right side, pressing flush against the full length of Dean’s body. “Good morning.”

“G’morning Sunshine.” Dean nuzzled his nose and Cas took that as invitation for a proper kiss. He did it slowly, like he was savoring a drink from a well of pure water.

Dean came awake in the kiss - Cas could tell because he slowly sought to dominate it, pulling himself up onto his elbow and then slowly rolling Cas flat onto his back before half-covering Cas’ body with his own, one leg working its way into the vee of Cas’ legs.

He groaned and rolled his hips, appreciative of the hardness that rubbed against his own, but then broke the kiss. “Tomorrow,” he said breathlessly. “Tomorrow’s Saturday, we can have lazy sex tomorrow.” Dean pouted. “I’m going to be late for work.”

“No one will care.” Dean tried to resume the liplock, but Cas shook his head and rolled his eyes.

Everyone will care, Dean. I have an 8:00 class.”

“Well, not everyone . Just your students in that one class. Besides, why is this even a thing? What sadistic motherfucker schedules an English class at 8:00 on a Friday morning?”

“The kind who likes to be free of responsibility by noon,” he responded with a quirked eyebrow. “Dean?”

“What?”

“You need to let me up.”

With an exaggerated sigh, Dean hoisted himself off of Cas, rolled back toward his own side of the bed, and sat up on the edge with his feet planted on the floor and his arms stretching up over his head. Cas didn’t hear a yawn, but he expected it was there.

He took a moment to stare unabashedly at Dean’s back, admiring the way his t-shirt lifted at the waist to reveal a freckled bit of Dean’s back as he stretched. Then, with a sigh, he rolled out of bed and headed out of their bedroom and across the hall to the bathroom, grabbing his dark blue bathrobe off the back of their bedroom door as he went.

Dean and Cas in bed

***

Dean stayed sitting up on the edge of the bed, his eyes on Cas until the other man was long out of sight and Dean could hear the shower start up from behind the closed bathroom door.

Then he flopped unceremoniously onto his back across the width of their queen bed, arms outstretched over his head, legs still dangling over the edge to the floor. He stared at the ceiling and huffed out a long breath of a sigh.

He was really fucking horny.

He could go join Cas in the shower. He could , but he wouldn’t, he knew, because Cas had a tight schedule to keep if he was going to get out the door in time to make his bus to campus, and Dean wasn’t a completely selfish asshole. He had a great amount of respect for Cas, and knew how to think with his brain instead of his dick.

Three years.

Three years they’d been married, and three years of dating before that, before they’d decided that taking the plunge while Cas was still a TA and not yet full faculty, let alone tenured faculty or anything mildly secure, was worth the risk. They’d been living together since their second year of relatively drama-free dating, and had mingled their finances shortly thereafter, and, well. Marriage had been inevitable at that point, Dean supposed. There was only so much peanut butter you could could spoon into your nutella before one flavor was virtually indistinguishable from the other. Might as well just mix it all together and enjoy.

And now here he was, the once-untamable Dean Winchester, lifelong fratboy, jock, and a thousand other macho-masculine descriptors detached from his name and traded in for a marriage license, a Subaru and a mortgage with a man - a man , for fuck’s sake, nobody saw that coming - who was more or less a professional nerd. Not that Dean had any room to judge Cas’ nerdiness; nothing screamed NERD like his own PhD in History. And he couldn’t possibly be happier if he tried.

Except maybe for one thing.

He rolled his eyes at his husband’s dedication to his career and reached down to shuck his sleep pants and boxers so he could jerk off properly.

It was quick, and it was messy, and it didn’t hold a candle to fucking Castiel, but his hand did the job appropriately, and he was just cleaning up as he heard the water turn off in the bathroom. He grabbed his dark grey robe off the door, secured it around his naked form, and headed for his turn in the shower. Today, same as every day, Cas would brush his teeth and then get dressed while Dean cleaned up. By the time Dean was dressed, Cas would have a half-eaten breakfast sandwich in his hand as he came in to give him a kiss goodbye so he could get to the park-and-ride in time to catch his bus to campus. A half hour later, Dean would follow in a similar manner and make the drive to campus in his ‘67 Chevy Impala.

It was predictable. Comfortable. Routine. The weekend would come soon. Dean would rock climb at the local gym with Sam on Saturday afternoon, and Castiel would go to yoga on Sunday morning, and in between, they’d attend to laundry and bills and grocery shopping, and Cas would dissertate, and they’d wrap themselves in each other and good food and the laughter of late weekend nights with friends and family.

And then it would be Monday, and they would begin again.

It wasn’t glamorous, but it was a life he loved with a man he loved more, and really, what else was there? Dean couldn’t think of anything.

He parked in the faculty lot behind the century-old red-brick building that housed Dean’s office and most of the lecture halls, labs and classrooms for the History department.

He had three classes today, the first of which was populated by a group of bored-looking freshmen. The spring semester had started just last week, and he could teach this chapter of “History 102, American History Civil War - Present” in his sleep. Which he might have to do, actually, if he didn’t get some coffee.

He swung by his office to drop off his bag, collect his notes, and start a fresh pot, allowing the first drips of coffee to fall directly into his travel mug to fill it before he replaced the carafe to catch the rest.

“Mornin’, Dean!”

He looked back over his shoulder at the greeting as he was exiting his office, and upon recognition, raised a hand in a wave at his collegue, Benny Lafitte. He sipped his coffee and descended to the second floor via the stairs, passing students on the way and returning mumbled greetings as they were offered.

Five minutes before class, and that time clicked by as Dean settled himself with his laser pointer and drank half his coffee.

The last of the students trickled in, and Dean rounded to the front of his lectern. “All right, good morning, happy Friday, glad to see you’ve all survived another week of academic torture. First, before we get started, I have for you… this quiz.”

“C’mon, Winchester,” griped a young woman in the front row. “You’re supposed to be the cool professor!”

“Oh, I’m totally cool. Awesome, in fact. Hip? With it? Down? Woke?” He smirked at her, and then addressed the class in general. “Ten questions, open notes, then we’ll get started where we left off, talking about the infrastructure of the American South following their surrender, and why that’s still important information for you to have, even though it happened, like, a million years ago. Good luck.”

Just because his life was comfortable and predictable didn’t mean he had to afford the same generosity to his students. They had plenty of time to discover the monotony of adulthood on their own.

Chapter Text

Castiel had three positions on campus. He was also in his final semester as a dissertator. Good Lord willing, in six months, he’d finish, defend his thesis without much difficulty, his degree would be deferred, and he’d have a brand shiny new PhD in English that he could frame and add to the collection of diplomas in their office.

Castiel, he sometimes reflected, was a goddamn masochist.

Six years ago, when he’d met Dean, he’d been working on his Masters degrees in both Teaching and English, and Dean had been the one dissertating and working as a TA. They’d met at a campus-sponsored LGBTQ Pride event, and Cas hadn’t quite understood why Dean had been so goddamn busy in fucking June , when there were no classes.

He understood now.

Dean had been fortunate enough to be offered a faculty position at KU upon deferral of his degree. Cas hoped he could manage the same at the high school level that coming fall. Based on his internship the prior semester, it seemed highly likely, but he didn’t want to get his hopes up. He’d know soon enough; most applications for teaching positions were due by the end of April.

In addition to the 8:00AM class that had him up and out of bed in time to catch a bus to campus every Monday, Wednesday and Friday - because his student bus pass was infinitely cheaper than campus parking for grad students - Cas had picked up a part-time Project Assistant position in the Library Sciences department, and he was also on the hook for reading and grading midterms and final exams for an undergrad Women’s Lit course.

And dissertating. Fucking hell , dissertating. Mostly due to his intention to follow his education with a career teaching English to teenagers, he’d chosen to write his graduate thesis on The Attitudes and Perceptions of Generation Z Toward Classic Literature.

It sucked. A lot .

But here he was, just months away from being finished, after interviewing nearly a hundred young people about the books they read (or didn’t), their preferred method of absorbing written material, and on, and on, and on. He could finish these final edits without losing his mind. He was 95% sure.

Although truth be told he sometimes wondered if this was a lost cause. If there was one thing he was learning through this process, it was that today’s youth cared far more about the content of the latest issue of Cosmopolitan than the content of The Old Man and the Sea .

He texted Dean after that early morning class, asking about a potential meet-up for lunch, and Dean suggested Cas come by his office for a snack .

Cas smirked and hammered out a crass reply before pocketing his phone and heading to the library for a few hours of editing before he had to be elsewhere.

He lost himself in his paper, as he tended to do. It was the incessant buzzing of his phone against his thigh that brought him out of his stupor, and he startled a bit in his chair before taking Dean’s call. “You hungry?” he asked in greeting.

He could hear Dean’s smirk across the phone line. “Starving.”

“I’ll pick up sandwiches at the union on my way over.” He started packing up his bag.

“Not really what I’m hungry for, Cas.”

He rolled his eyes and stood as he shrugged into his coat. “You’re incorrigible.”

“Yeah, well. You’re the one who agreed to marry me.”

“As I recall, I asked you .”

“Details. And speaking of details, I want to suck your dick, but you’re too busy running your mouth.”

“How is that ‘speaking of details’?”

“I…”

“I love you.”

“I love you too, Cas. See you soon.”

He left the library with his bag slung over his shoulder and made a detour through the student union as promised, picking up two sandwiches and two bags of chips from the grab & go eatery before making his way to Dean’s building and up the stairs to his office.

He’d barely stepped inside before Dean was wrapping him up in a ferocious kiss, shutting the door as he did so. His hands went to Cas’ belt, and then he was on his knees, and Cas was struggling to chase his breath. “Little eager?” he managed with ragged breath.

“I told you I was starvin’,” Dean mumbled against Cas’ dick before swiping the head with his tongue, and then licking it into his mouth as Cas’ hands came down on his head as a gentle guide.

“Fuck, Dean…”

“Mmmhmmm,” came the muted reply, and Cas bit his lip to hold in his moans, which he was fairly certain could be heard even through the closed wooden door.

Dean had a fucking magical mouth. It was good for clearing his mind, especially on days like today, when he’d spent the better part of the morning stuck inside his own head. Dean coaxed Cas’ orgasm up from somewhere near his toes, and it was over sooner than Cas would’ve preferred, but then, he did actually have a desire to fill his stomach with actual food.

He tossed Dean his backpack and Dean handed him a box of tissues for cleanup.

“Door open or closed?” He asked as he zipped himself up.

“Closed,” Dean told the inside of Cas’ backpack. Then, turning with two sandwiches in his hands, he added, “I want you all to myself for a little while.”

And that smile… well, that was one of the first things about Dean that Cas had fallen in love with. That smile and those easy green eyes had been the entrance to a rabbit hole that Cas sometimes felt he hadn’t yet found the bottom of. It was a marvel, he sometimes reflected, that learning everything there was to know about a single person could take a lifetime. But then, those were some of the few surprises they had left in life, and as painful as their discoveries could sometimes be, he’d resolved to let them come. The monotony of everyday adulting had so few moments of surprise, after all.

“Plans for this afternoon?” Dean asked after a few silent bites of their lunch.

“Guess.”

Dean barked a laugh. “Yeah. But you’re almost done. Just keep swimming.”

“Fuck off, Dory.”

“Hey.” Dean pointed a finger at him in mock accusation. “I’ve said before, I’m not gonna apologize for loving that fish.”

Cas just shook his head and took another bite of his sandwich. “I was thinking, though… maybe see if Sam and Eileen are free Saturday night? Dinner, drinks, board games…”

“Eileen owes me a Cards Against Humanity rematch,” Dean agreed with an enthusiastic nod and a giant bite of sandwich in his cheek. “No way did she beat me that badly and not cheat.”

“Talking with your mouth full is unbecoming.”

“Yeah, you keep correcting my manners and we’ll see who’s going to be un-be- coming ,” he retorted, and Cas could only shake his head. “Thanks for lunch.”

“Always.”

A comfortable silence fell over them for the rest of their meal, and when they were finished, Cas stood and cleared their wrappers, napkins and chip bags before leaning across Dean’s desk to kiss him tenderly. “Just one class this afternoon?”

“I’ll be home by 3:00. Promise.”

“Kick it in the ass, Winchester.” Cas smirked and kissed him again, more lightly this time. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Chapter Text

“Are you kidding me? Are you fucking kidding me?” Dean didn’t know the ASL sign for “fucking” so he made sure to emphasize the word on his lips because he wanted to make damn sure Eileen digested the full gravity of his exasperation. “That’s horrible!”

“I’m horrible. You’re horrible. It’s why we play this game,” Eileen retorted with a far-too-innocent shrug of her shoulders as she took her turn to reach for a black card.

“She’s cheating! Sam knows which cards are hers,” he whined, turning in his seat to aim an imploring gaze at his husband in the next chair, but gesturing over his shoulder at the younger Winchester and his bride.

“I’m nearly certain he does. Just as I usually have a fairly good idea which cards are yours.”

Dean’s brow creased. “But you don’t usually pick mine.”

“That’s because your answer isn’t always the best.”

“...But I’m your husband.”

“And I play fair.”

“I--”

Sam waved a hand at them and said, “All right, all right, settle down or get a room,” before indicating to Eileen to proceed with the next hand.

Just as she was laying out the card, the doorbell rang upstairs. Their argument fell aside as playful banter and Dean and Cas exchanged a confused glance. In unison, they shrugged, and Cas threw down his answering white card after just a second of indecision before standing to go answer the door.

As he climbed the stairs from the lower-level family room where they’d been playing, he gave a thought to whether he should grab something that could feasibly function as a weapon. It was after 10:00 on a Saturday night, they were all a bit drunk, and they certainly weren’t expecting anyone.

He settled instead for keeping his phone palmed, with easy access to the “emergency call” button in case he had to dial 911 in a hurry.

But as he reached the top of the stairs, rounded through the kitchen and to the living room, and looked out on the front step through the pushed-aside curtains of their big picture window, he shoved the phone back in his pocket and quickly unbolted the door. “... Jack ?”

“Hey, Uncle Cas.”

He hadn’t seen Jack in years. The boy was taller now, his voice deeper, but his face was as pure and innocent as Cas recalled it being a half-dozen years prior, when he’d last seen his nephew in person. “I-- How did you-- where is-- I-- come in,” he settled on, stepping aside so that the boy could enter, which once Cas’ brain caught up with the situation seemed the most important thing to do first. The temperature had dropped near freezing for the night, and Jack wore neither gloves nor a hat. He was wearing a coat, but it didn’t look very warm, and the boy’s hands were red--

Was he even still a boy?

The thought was jarring.

“I, um. It’s. Good to see you?” He tried, and pulled the b-- his nephew into a hug, which was returned with fervor, and that set Cas at ease. At least he was here happily, if completely unexpectedly.

When they parted, Cas took a moment to squeeze Jack’s cold hands in his own warm ones for comfort - he couldn’t help it. Jack just smiled at the gesture, then on an exhale he said, “My mother passed away.”

Cas’ grip on Jack’s hands went slack at the same time his jaw did; he knew he looked a fool, but he couldn’t bring himself to correct it. He was as shocked by the news as he was by the pedestrian way in which Jack had delivered it.

“I’m so sorry.” Jack dipped his chin and bit his lip as he nodded at the acknowledgement, and Cas was somewhat relieved to see that he did in fact have some emotional response to the death of the only parent he’d ever really known. “Come in. Sit down.” He moved to take Jack’s coat, and the boy obediently shrugged out of it and followed Castiel to the couch. “Can I get you anything? Water? Soda?”

“Something stronger?” Came a hopeful reply, and Cas raised an eyebrow at that.

“It’s been a long time, but I know exactly how old you are.”

“Yeah. You sent me a birthday card every year. Christmas, too.” He let out a huff of a laugh and looked down at his hands, which he’d clasped on his knees. “She was sick for a long time,” he said quietly, and Cas scrambled to get to the couch and seat himself so he could hear whatever it was that Jack wanted to share, which was clearly more important to him than a beverage of any kind. “But it really, um. It’s only been the past few months where I knew for sure I was going to lose her. And then…” he shrugged, hands still clasped, and in that moment, he seemed very small. “One day she was just gone.”

“And you cared for her… all by yourself?”

“I begged her to let me call for help - you, Gabriel, even Michael. Anyone. But she didn’t want anything to do with my father, even if it was just his brothers. She worried that if she reached out to any of you, he’d find out, and…”

“And take you from her.” Cas sighed. It had always been her concern. It was why she’d left town in the first place, six years ago, with nothing but her 11-year-old son and the clothes on their backs. Her only concern was to keep the boy safe, even if that meant cutting ties with everything and everyone they’d ever known.

Cas still wasn’t sure how he’d managed to convince her to send him the address of the PO Box she’d set up, so that he could send cards on birthdays and Christmas, and sometimes write letters just because. At first, Jack had written back. Then one day that had stopped, and after years of radio silence, Cas had given up hope of ever seeing his nephew again.

Cas sighed, ran a hand slowly over his face. “I’m-- I’m delighted to see you again.”

Jack’s brow creased, and one corner of Cas’ mouth turned up at the realization that he looked very much like Castiel had at that age. “Then why do you look like someone is torturing your puppy?”

It was a poor choice of words, but Cas let it slide. “Jack, you’re 17. You’re still a minor under the law. Does… anyone know you’re here?”

“No.”

“Fucking Christ.” He buried his face in his hand again, and at that moment, there was a roar of laughter from the basement followed by the sound of feet on the stairs.

Jack jumped up. “You have company. I shouldn’t have-- I’m so--”

“Heyyyy just coming up to make sure you didn’t get killed by an axe murderer-- I--” Dean stopped short, his eyes darting back and forth between Cas and Jack.

Cas cleared his throat.

“Um. Hey Babe.”

Dean pointed at Jack, eyebrows knitted. “Strippergram?”

“Nephew,” Cas corrected quickly. “Um. This is. Dean. Honey…” He put an arm around Jack, in part to calm his nerves and in part to ensure the boy didn’t bolt. “Honey, this is-- this is Jack. My nephew.”

“I thought you said your family could all go uh… take a long walk off a short cliff and fall into a pit of lava filled with--”

“Mostly that’s true.” Cas cut him off. He could feel Jack’s eyes glaring at him from the side. “Jack... obviously, we have a bit of catching up to do, so to start with, uh. This is Dean. My… husband.”

Jack tilted his head, then tilted it the other way. Smiled. “Cool,” he said with a nod, and it occurred to Cas that the moment of ponderance wasn’t in response to the gender of Cas’ partner, but rather an appraisal of the person in general. He felt his own shoulders relax minutely. “Jack Klein. Nephew,” he said, nodding toward Cas, eyes still fixed on Dean. A glance at his husband confirmed he was still looking at Jack as well, and trying very hard not to glare. “But it… seems like maybe you didn’t know I existed.”

“Definitely not.” For the first time, Dean’s eyes shifted to Cas. He raised his eyebrows.

Cas shrugged.

Dean sighed. “Jack,” he said, “I’m Dean Winchester. Far as I understand it, your uncle’s family is full of a bunch of dickbags who dropped him soon as they found out he was gay. When he told me that, I swore to myself that if any of them ever showed up here, I’d make sure they regretted ever setting foot on my front step. Now. You’re just a kid, I can see that, and that’s the only reason you’re still upright with all your joints only bending one way, understand?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, welcome. Come on downstairs. My brother and his wife are here, might as well have a big ol’ family reunion. Let’s go.” Dean walked out without looking back, and after a beat, Jack followed. Cas dragged behind Jack, eyebrows cinched hard with confusion.

At the basement door, Dean let Jack go down ahead of them, and then turned to look back at Cas over his shoulder. “Seems like there’s a thing or two you might’ve forgotten to mention,” he said plainly.

“Uh. Yeah.” Cas nodded in agreement.

“We’re gonna talk about this later.”

“Uh huh.”

“OK.”

He turned and followed Jack down the stairs. Cas glanced up, asking for silent help from a God he knew wasn’t listening, before following suit.

Chapter Text

They’d given up their spare bedroom in favor of a home office, so when the party died about midnight, Cas set Jack up on an air mattress in the basement family room. By the time he bid him goodnight and ascended to the first floor and to the master bedroom, Dean was already in bed with the lights off.

Cas huffed and stripped down to his boxers and undershirt before joining him. He knew Dean wasn’t asleep; he just wanted Cas to be comfortable before dropping the hammer.

“Start talking.”

Cas breathed long and slow before beginning his story. “What I told you is entirely true. Jack is my nephew. I haven’t seen him in over six years. He’s my brother Luke’s son. Oddly enough, Jack’s mom, Kelly, was the only member of the family who didn’t cut me off after I came out.”

“Jack’s mom. Not Luke’s wife.”

“Yeah, they, uh. Never made it to the altar.” He laughed bitterly under his breath as he felt a pang of resentment that even a heterosexual relationship with a child born out of wedlock was more acceptable than just the mere knowledge that Castiel was gay. It was so fucked up. But then… he knew that. He’d known that for years. “Just as well, because Luke’s… not, um. He’s not OK. He’s.” He still struggled with how to explain what had happened with Luke: The perfect child, the golden boy… the psychotic break from which he’d never recovered. “He’s the oldest, and he was their favorite. Could do no wrong, you know the type. Perfect grades, perfect manners, perfect kid. Even went to Seminary, planning to become a priest. I have this memory of us… I was maybe 8? He took me fishing. Every time we caught one, he made me let it go. I remember his gentle hands, showing me how to take the fish off the hook and let it back into the water without a splash.” He smiled. In spite of everything, it was a good memory. “He had a full decade on me. When I was 10, he met this woman, Kelly. Must’ve not prayed hard enough when he pulled out, because she got pregnant, and by the time I was 11, Luke was a father. The family kept him in their good graces, though, because when it came down to it, Jack was like the sole heir to the Empire, or something.” Dean couldn’t see him, but Cas rolled his eyes anyway. “They treated him like a lapdog. Me, though… I was just a kid. I was enamoured with him, with this responsibility of being an uncle . Nobody in my class at school was an uncle . God, it was awesome.”

“So what changed?” Cas turned his head at the change in Dean’s tone. He definitely sounded less pissed and more interested, which Cas counted as progress. He took another deep breath and pressed on with his story.

“When Jack was 3, Luke-- snapped. Something-- happened. I don’t really know, because the family was convinced it was demons or something, that if they prayed about it, it would all just get better, and they never got him treated or diagnosed, but he, uh. Showed up at our house, frantic, shaking… I was supposed to be asleep, but nobody could sleep through that. Michael and Gabe had him in the family room, and I listened from the top of the stairs. He was going on about how they were coming to get him, they were going to take his family away, they had cameras in this house and were watching all of us, too. He said the Devil was inside Kelly and he had to help get it out and he -- there was blood on his hands.”

“Christ.”

“Something like that. She was, um. He had her and Jack tied up at their apartment. I guess Kelly had bit him, and the blood was his own. I don’t actually know. They wouldn’t… I was too young to get involved. Gabe told me bits and pieces after… after Luke was-- I don’t know where he was, but he just-- he went away.”

“Probably for the best, huh?”

“I’m not sure anymore, honestly. But for a while, things were OK. Minus Luke, things were normal. I grew up. Jack grew up. I spent a lot of time with them. Babysat… Kelly paid me what she could, but honestly, I’d have done it for free. But then, it-- deteriorated. It was Luke who outed me to the family. I was 21, away at college, and I got this phone call out of nowhere from Gabriel asking if I was gay. I’d always been so careful, I didn’t-- but I couldn’t lie to him. I asked how he knew and he said Luke had shown up again out of the blue, in a fit of paranoia, about how he was the Devil himself and I, I was his first demon, because I was homosexual and I’d damned myself to Hellfire. I still don’t know how he knew, but… obviously he wasn’t wrong.”

“I’m so sorry, Cas.”

He shrugged against the mattress as Dean’s arms came around his middle. Maybe at this point he didn’t need to keep talking, but it seemed important. “The family cut me out. Luke made a legal play for Jack, and Kelly took him and ran. She kept in contact with me for a bit, probably because I was away at college and she knew I’d been cut off. Maybe she felt guilty, I don’t know. But then… she must’ve decided even that was too risky, because that ended, too. I haven’t seen Jack in six years. Haven’t heard from them in almost four. Until he showed up on our doorstep tonight, I’d convinced myself they were probably dead.”

Cas didn’t have anything else to say at that point, and Dean didn’t seem capable of a verbal reply. He folded his body around Cas, as though trying to cover as much of Castiel with his body as possible without physically climbing on top of him.

Cas rolled into his embrace, and into tender kisses of reassurance.

They stayed like that for hours, until Dean fell asleep, and Castiel blinked into the twilight, thinking that for the first time in a long time, he had no plan. He had no strategy. He had no idea what tomorrow would bring.

Chapter Text

In the morning, Dean awoke to two things he’d never experienced simultaneously before: The smell of bacon wafting from the kitchen, and his husband’s warm body still curled around him like the big spoon.

If Cas was still here, who the hell was in the kitchen making breakfast?

He scrambled to a sitting position as he remembered their unexpected late-night visitor.

Jack. Jack was making breakfast. Jack, Cas’ 17-year-old nephew, who’d shown up here last night completely out of the blue, blown Cas’ family history wide open, and left Dean feeling raw and emotional and completely at a loss for what the hell they were supposed to do now - that’s who was in his kitchen.

He groaned, ran a hand over his face, and glanced at Cas, who was still dead to the world. A glance at his bedside clock confirmed that it was going on 10:00, but when he remembered how late they’d been up, and how Cas had been tense and uneasy and had probably been awake long after Dean had finally drifted off, he decided to let him sleep. With a kiss to his husband’s brow, Dean rolled to his feet, working a crick out of his neck as he went to the bedroom door to grab his robe off its hook.

Jack, dressed in the same faded jeans and t-shirt he’d been wearing when he arrived, was bent over a sizzling pan of bacon and didn’t seem to notice Dean’s arrival as he worked to flip the strips of meat over in their grease. To his right, pancakes were bubbling up on a griddle, and further down on the counter was a mixing bowl with a whisk inside it and a carton of eggs open right behind it. Dean stopped in the archway to watch for a moment, letting the boy remain unawares of his presence. He was fully dedicated to his task, and good at it, too: He got to the cakes in time to flip them before they burned; he cracked eggs and whisked without spilling. It was pretty impressive, and after a few moments of observing in silence, Dean almost felt bad about making his presence known, for fear he would interrupt the flow.

He opted for a casual stroll into the kitchen, stretching his arms over his head as he walked, and half-faking a yawn so that his entry was soft and not startling to the young chef. “Good morning,” he said, and Jack looked away to give a shy smile before removing the last of the bacon from the pan and, without missing a beat, dumping the beaten eggs into the grease to fry. “That’s quite a spread you’ve got going there.”

“I didn’t know what you liked,” Jack answered, sounding both nervous and distracted, and Dean nodded and casually sank down into his usual chair at the kitchen table. “I figured I’d make a bit of everything.”

Dean gave the words a moment to run through his still-sleep-heavy brain before responding, “Coffee. I like coffee.”

“Oh-- I’m sorry, I didn’t-- my mom never…”

Dean waved a hand and pushed himself back to standing. “You’re doing just fine. I’ll make my jet fuel, you just keep doin’ what you’re doin’.”

For the next several minutes, neither of them spoke, and the kitchen was quiet except for the sounds of coffee percolating and eggs sizzling in bacon grease, and the occasional scrape of Jack’s spatula against the pan. When Dean’s coffee cup was full, he took it and sat down on one of the two chairs in their fairly small kitchen. He sipped, eyes on Jack’s back over the rim of his mug, and after he’d swallowed that first sip, he set the mug down carefully before speaking. “So, Jack,” he said slowly, circling the rim of his coffee mug with his right index finger, “you never did tell me how you managed to find Cas again after all these years.”

There were a few silent beats while Jack shuffled the eggs onto a serving plate and turned off the burner. Then he turned around and placed the eggs plate on the table, followed by the bacon, and lastly the pancakes. Then he sat, but neither man touched the plates of food. “I know what you’re thinking,” he began, “but I didn’t just take a bus out here the second my mom was in the ground. We buried her three months ago. I’ve been on my own, living in our apartment, burning through savings trying to pay rent until I finished high school. I met all the graduation requirements last semester, and I’m emancipated,” he clarified, and Dean let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding because thank God , at least they didn’t have an honest-go-God runaway on their hands. “A few weeks ago, I found mom’s stash of the letters and cards Uncle Cas had sent over the years. The last one she received was dated three years ago, from this address. I… took a shot.”

“Are you crazy?! We could’ve been long gone! An axe murderer could’ve moved in!” Dean took a cleansing breath as Jack raised a bemused eyebrow at him. “OK, look. I.” He really didn’t know how to digest all that, so he held up a hand and studied the tabletop for a moment. “Thank you for breakfast,” he said, taking the conversation in a new direction. “We should eat, and we should wait until your uncle joins us, and then we’ll… have a little chat.”

Jack nodded, and cast his eyes down at his plate.

Dean wasn’t sure if it was intentional or not, but he didn’t look up once through the entire meal.

***

Castiel opened his eyes to an empty bed and a low rumble of voices coming from somewhere else in the house. A glance at his phone told him it was past 10 o’clock, and his stomach rumbled to confirm that fact, so he pushed himself up and out of bed and threw on his robe before wandering out of the bedroom, still rubbing sleep from his eyes.

Dean and Jack both look up when he enters the kitchen. “Mornin’ Sunshine,” Dean greeted. “Coffee?”

“Mmm,” Cas grunted in acknowledgement, already shuffling toward the half-full pot. He poured himself a cup and kissed the top of Dean’s head before sitting down opposite him at the table and digging into breakfast. He turned curious eyes to both Dean and Jack. “You didn’t make this,” he said to Dean, before creasing his brow at Jack. “You made this?”

“I… figured since I was here, I should pitch in.”

“Mmm.” He stabbed a forkful of eggs and a piece of pancake and shoved it into his mouth. “So,” he said while the bite was still tucked into his cheek, “What’s your plan, Jack?”

“I want to go to college.” And, bless him, he sounded so utterly innocent and full of certainty that he could do it, Castiel couldn’t help a tiny prideful smile. “To study medicine. Oncology. To help people like my mom.”

“That’s… a lofty goal.”

“My grades are good enough to get into the University of Wisconsin campus. I’ve already toured, and they have a great pre-med program that feeds into the university teaching hospital there. I’m--”

“OK. OK. That’s great and all but.” Dean held up a hand. “One step at a time, kid. It’s Sunday morning. What do you want to do today ?”

“Oh.” Jack looked down, abashed, and then looked up with the brightest smile Cas had seen him wear yet. “I’d… really like… to see the campus where you work, and hear about your lives.”

Chapter Text

It snowed for the last time that winter in late February. Castiel woke that Friday morning, stretched, and reached groggily for the cell phone on his nightstand. He swiped quickly through his social media before switching over to check the weather.

Loading your crappy weather , his snarky, new-most-favorite weather app announced as it circled a moment before bringing up the forecast, displayed in unassuming white text on the background of a snow-covered grassy field. Outside, it’s shitty and cold. Inside, it’s warm and there’s porn . Your call , it declared, and Cas snorted a laugh and reflected on how nice it would be to actually do that - to stay here in bed, pressed up against Dean for warmth, watching porn and trading lazy kisses and sexual favors for the entire day.

It was tempting. Super tempting. Except that he had his 8AM class, and now they had Jack, and--

His eyes darted to the time displayed on his phone.

It read 6:42.

“Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck ,” he muttered as he scrambled up out of bed, grabbed his robe, and yanked open the bedroom door -- where he almost ran into Jack, whose hand was raised and poised to knock.

Cas swallowed back the shout and tried to slow his racing heart at the fright.

“Oh! Good! You’re up!” Jack exclaimed, his face alight in a smile that said he’d been up for at least an hour - he was freshly showered, dressed, and Cas could smell bacon sizzling in the kitchen. “I was just about to-- I mean. I know on Fridays you have an 8:00 class and I was worried--”

Cas nodded groggily and set a heavy hand on Jack’s shoulder in a reassuring gesture. “You’re a lifesaver,” he said, as earnestly as he could manage without a cup of coffee. “Thank you. I’m just going to shower. Did the… power go out?”

Jack nodded. “The weather report says the weight of the snow brought down a few power lines. I would’ve come to wake you sooner, but it’s difficult to remember that the two of you still use analogue alarm clocks. Most people use their cell phone alarms and--” He stopped abruptly - something Cas had become accustomed to Jack doing when he caught himself rambling - and shrugged. “Anyway. You’re up.”

“I’m up,” Cas parrotted with a nod.

“I made breakfast.”

“I can smell that. Thank you. I repeat, you’re a lifesaver.”

Jack gave a tight smile and nodded at the floor, and then Cas continued his journey to the bathroom across the hall for his shower. He stopped on the threshold and turned to face Jack one last time. “Hey, Jack?”

“Yeah?”

“Why do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Cut yourself off when you’re talking, the way you did just now.”

“Oh.” Jack shrugged, abashed. “It’s been so long since I had anyone but my mom to talk to that I… sometimes find myself trying to make up for lost time.”

“How long?”

“She was so afraid he was going to find us.” Jack’s face fell and he took up an interest in studying the floor. “I went to public school, but I kept mostly to myself. She didn’t want me to have friends over, didn’t want me developing too many relationships. She was… terrified.”

“You can say anything you want in this house, Jack. You’re safe here.”

“I know.” He paused. “I don’t really remember my father.”

“I think that’s probably for the best.” Cas meant it. But in the next instant, Jack looked up, and Cas saw the family resemblance - the sharp jaw, the bright blue eyes that Castiel and Luke both had - and he felt a pang of longing and homesickness the likes of which he hadn’t felt since moving in with Dean. “Still, any time you have questions… I’m here.”

Jack nodded slowly, mulling the statement, and in that moment, Cas knew the boy did have questions, and that he would likely ask, and that Cas, whether he wanted to or not, would need to dredge up old memories and talk through them to someone who’d barely been old enough to read when he’d been ripped out of it all. He may have a few broken shards of memory - or none at all. “Thanks, Uncle Cas.”

“You’re welcome.”

They parted somewhat awkwardly and Cas closed himself in the bathroom, intending for a very quick shower so that he could make his 8:00 class.

But once he was alone, he felt something old and familiar settle into the pit of his stomach - a hard fist of loneliness and doubt; a tingle of dread and uncertainty that made his skin feel too tight and had his breath coming in short gasps, and he lost himself in the feel of the hot water ponding down on him and around him as he sank into the basin and pulled his knees up to his chest.

He had no idea how long he stayed there - only that eventually, Dean pounded on the door and then entered, pulling back the shower curtain without ceremony, and taking in the sight of Cas for only a beat before turning off the water, wrapping him in a towel, and gently urging him out of the tub.

Chapter Text

“I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine, Cas. I found you this morning sitting in the bathtub, the shower running over you long enough that it’d gone cold. I know you, and that’s not something you do when you’re fine.” Dean really didn’t want to pick this fight. He didn’t. But it had been bubbling up slowly to the surface ever since Jack’s arrival, and it was going to come out sooner or later.

He just really wished it didn’t have to be today , right now, when he had to lecture a class in 20 minutes. As it was, they were standing in Dean’s office, on opposite sides of his desk. He knew Cas had missed his morning class, and he knew he was out of coffee, and he knew their entire life no longer fit in the nice little orderly rows it had been laid out in just two months prior. And even though he liked the kid well enough, he knew Jack was the cause of the upheaval, and he was at least a little bit annoyed about that.

He put his hands on his hips and looked up through his lashes, hoping Cas would be intimidated enough to just spill the beans so they could move on with their lives.

When that didn’t happen, he asked, deadpan, “When’s the last time you picked up your dissertation?” There was still no response, but at least this time, Dean wasn’t expecting one. “You’re supposed to graduate this semester, Cas! I had-- we were going to be normal , I was going to ask you about starting the process to adopt, I--” He realized what he’d just said, and it brought his rant to a halt.

“You… want to have a family with me?” And dammit, Cas sounded adorably in love with the idea.

“I mean… yeah, Cas, I want that. The idea of watching you chase a couple of rugrats through the yard, of putting up a fence so we can maybe rescue a mutt from the pound, I…”

“Dean.”

“I just… what?”

“You would never let a dog in your car.”

He wasn’t wrong, but it made Dean smile in spite of himself. “I would for you. I’m so… I love you, Castiel. I love you as much today as I did the day we got married, if not more. But when I imagined having a family with you, it involved surrogates and adoption papers and diapers and pacifiers. Not… not an emancipated 17-year-old with a family history that sends you into an emotional crisis every time you think too much about it.”

“I want those things, too.” It was barely audible, and Cas was studying Dean’s desktop with an unusual level of interest, but at least they were finally getting somewhere. He lifted his head to meet Dean’s gaze before he spoke again. “But I won’t abandon Jack. Not even for that. He needs us. He needs me . And I think… maybe… I think maybe I need him, too.”

“Are you kidd-- what happened this morning -- you need that ?”

A tense silence settled over them. Finally Cas said with a quiet conviction, “Yes. I do.” And Dean was too busy tripping over his own tongue to say anything more before Cas turned and exited the office.

***

Castiel would never admit it to most people, but he really enjoyed riding the bus. There was a comfort in not having to fight his way through downtown traffic to get to a parking garage where he’d leave his car in a space that he would be paying way too much money for. In contrast, as a graduate student, he paid $48 per year for as many bus rides as he cared to take. He drove the Subaru to the park-and-ride lot a mile from their home and left it there each day and then let his mind zone out to music or an interesting article on his Smartphone while reliable public transportation did the rest, and when he exited the bus again, he was on campus - in his element in academia, walking past historic buildings and newly renovated dormitories. There was very little stress in it.

He liked the people he rode with, too. Generally, it was a mix of the same people - graduate and undergrad students coming from off-campus housing, a couple of moms with their children on their way to a downtown preschool if he was on an early route, like on Fridays; a business professional or two who missed their usual connection and needed to take the campus-bound bus to get somewhere near their downtown office.

Friday afternoon, after his tense departure from Dean’s office, he was especially glad to swipe his pass through the bus’s electronic card reader and sink into the familiarity of a not-quite-comfortable seat near the back door. He hadn’t grabbed his headphones that morning, so he leaned his head against the window and watched the passing scenery for a moment before reaching into his pocket and retrieving his phone. He wasn’t looking for anything in particular, hadn’t left off in the middle of anything, so he thumbed up Google News to see what kind of interesting madness might be afoot in the world, but before he could settle into anything, someone plopped unceremoniously into the seat next to him and hovered uncomfortably close, caging Cas against the window.

“Hello, Brother.”

He sucked in a breath, pocketed his phone, but didn’t turn away from the window. “How did you find me?”

There was a chuckle, and Cas’ blood started to run cold as he caught the reflection of the unmistakable messy blonde hair and blue eyes of his eldest brother. “Are you kidding? It’s not like you were hidden. I’ve known where you were for years; Hell, I was at your wedding.” A chill ran down Cas’ spine and he finally turned to face Luke. “You just weren’t really of any interest to me because… you know.” He waved his hand to indicate Cas in general, not saying the words, but Cas understood. “Tarnished,” he finally clarified, and Cas rolled his eyes.

“So why are you on my bus?” He asked, deadpan. Today was already the worst day Cas had had in a while , and Luke’s appearance had him caught somewhere between punch-worthy annoyance and paralyzing fear. It was the why that bothered him the most, really, because somewhere in his heart, he already knew.

“Ah! Well, see, like I said. I’ve been watching you for awhile, all your… you know, sin, and all that, but you were my little brother, so it’s not like I was going to--” He cut himself off suddenly, frowned, and pointed a finger. “Anyway. A few days ago, it came to my attention that you have a new roommate. And imagine my surprise when I noticed the family resemblance. So I’m sitting here on your bus, and when we get to your stop, you’re going to get off the bus and take me home and introduce me to my son.”

“And just why would I do that?”

Luke shrugged and directed his eyes to the ceiling as if searching for answers. “Beeecause… you love a good family reunion?”

He scoffed. “Hardly.”

There was a long-suffering sigh from the other man as he stared at the ceiling once again. When he looked back at Castiel, his expression was earnest, though Cas didn’t buy it for a second. “Castiel, you were… what? Fourteen when I left?” Cas offered a conciliary nod. “Right. So my guess is, nobody actually told you all the details about what happened that night, am I right?”

“I saw the whole thing,” Cas murmured, and his heart jumped as he realized they were nearing the park-and-ride and he was going to need to make a decision about what to do, here.

Luke narrowed his eyes for a beat. “Castiel, you little sinner, you,” he taunted in a sing-song voice. “Eavesdropping, homosexuality, what’s next, petty theft?”

“You told them--” He started, loud and incredulous, before realizing they were still on a public bus and lowering his tone. “You told them you were Satan and that you’d turned me into a demon,” he hissed.

“Relax, relax, OK, I’ll admit that was a little over-the-top. I wasn’t… wasn’t really well at the time.”

“Yeah, no shit.” The bus pulled into the park-and-ride, and Castiel groaned inwardly. He wasn’t getting an overall vibe that Luke was a clear and present danger, but he had no desire to test that theory by actually following through on Luke’s request to be introduced to Jack. “This is my stop.”

“Awesome.” Luke stood and allowed Cas out of the seat he’d been trapped in, and Cas let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. They exited the bus - Cas yelled a “thanks!” over his shoulder to the bus driver - and Cas headed toward his Subaru, backpack slung over his shoulder, Luke trailing behind him toward the car.

He had no idea how to shake his brother. In his heart of hearts, he wasn’t sure it was possible. But he could certainly delay their arrival at home, maybe give Jack a chance to find somewhere else to be for the time being. It wasn’t like Luke was just going to camp out on their front step until Jack came home… right?

He opened the doors via the key fob he pulled from his backpack and opened the driver’s side door. Without missing a beat, Luke slid into the passenger seat.

Cas took a deep breath.

“Before we go home, we’re getting lunch.”

“What?”

“Lunch. That meal that comes in the middle of the day.”

“Don’t be a dick.”

“You’re the one being a pain in my ass right now.”

Luke didn’t reply, but the gaze he leveled at Cas had a glint of something dark and dangerous behind it that had Cas shrinking just a little in his seat. He faced forward and started the car, and with a clenching of his jaw meant to help strengthen his resolve, he started to maneuver out of the parking lot and onto the city streets of Lawrence.

He intentionally drove in the opposite direction of their neighborhood. A small spark of victory ran through him when Luke consented to the misdirection without making a fuss.

Maybe this would work out OK after all.

Chapter Text

Castiel wasn’t home when Dean returned just after 3:00 that afternoon, and when a solid 30 minutes had passed without his return, nor a call or return of Dean’s I’m trying to be cool but we had a fight and I’m kind of afraid you won’t come home text, he put aside all pretense that he wasn’t going to worry.

He paced the kitchen floor, hand running over his face or through his hair every now and then in a nervous tick. “Get a grip, Winchester,” he mumbled to himself, but it was a lost cause; he was way past any sort of grip. He was picturing Cas checking himself into a hotel, or worse, having a breakdown of some sort - Cas hadn’t been in the best headspace since Jack’s arrival, not at all - or dead in a gutter somewhere, beaten and robbed and--

His runaway thought train was interrupted by the buzz of his phone in his pocket. In his haste to grab it, he fumbled a bit, and would have dropped it except that a hand that didn’t belong to him reached out and grabbed the phone before it hit the floor. Dean looked from the hand holding his phone back to him, to the face of the person the hand was attached to - Jack Kline, himself.

They held eye contact for a tense moment, both of them with one hand on the phone, and then Jack straightened from his crouch and released the phone to Dean’s custody.

“Thanks,” Dean mumbled, and Jack just nodded. “I didn’t even know you were home.”

“I was working on an admittance essay for one of the colleges I’m applying to when I heard-- it sounded like you were pacing.”

“Yeah.” He thumbed open the newly arrived text and let out a rush of air as his phone confirmed it was from Cas. “Oh, thank God.” But his eyes settled on the text of the message, digested it, read it again, and he blinked hard and threw his hands up in the air.

“Is…” Jack was clearly hesitant, sensing the tension that was coming off of Dean in waves. “Is everything all right?”

Dean took a deep breath. He closed his eyes and locked his jaw; swallowed hard around a rising lump of anger. “No,” he said quietly, and then opened his eyes and pinned Jack with what he knew in his heart of hearts was more fury than the kid really deserved. “No, everything is most certainly not all right .”

“Was that from Uncle Cas?”

“Yeah.” It was rough. Short. He was certain Jack could sense his anger now. “He’s with your dad, Jack.”

“My… dad?”

“Yeah. Yeah, your dad.” He threw up his hands and laughed to himself in spite of everything. “Apparently he’s in town. Wants to see you. And Castiel, because he doesn’t have a single self-preserving bone in his body, took the guy to lunch to feel him out. God. Fuck. Fuck .”

“This is all my fault. I… brought him here.”

“Yeah, kid. Yeah, you did.” He regretted the words as soon as they were out; he hadn’t meant to say that, not at all, but the emotion of the moment had taken hold of him and now he couldn’t take them back. “Jack, wait--”

“No, you’re right. My father is looking for me, has always been looking for me, and now I’ve brought him into your lives, possibly put the two of you in danger. I didn’t think that through when I came here, I was selfish, and I-- I’m sorry.”

“No… No, Jack…” Dean sighed. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I said.”

“Why not? It’s the truth.”

He sighed again and held up his hands in surrender. “Let’s just-- we don’t have a lot of details, OK? Cas just said he and Luke were finishing up lunch, and he was texting quickly from the restroom. He said he’d fill me in more when he got home, which, Lord willin’, that’ll be soon. In the meantime, let’s just sit tight.”

Jack nodded, but the way he kept his eyes downcast said the damage had already been done. Dean bit his lip and tried to swallow past the worry still clenching at his gut, while also trying to ignore the fact that his worry for Cas consumed him, leaving little room for concern at how he may have made Jack feel, and the nugget of truth that had been in everything he’d said, regardless of how he’d said it.

It was a lot to manage all at once.

***

By 3:30, Castiel had run out of reasons to keep Luke from Jack.

Well -- legal reasons, anyway. The guy was a pretentious, judgemental asshole through and through, and he kept saying things like judgement is the Lord’s, Castiel , while turning around and saying the Bible said Castiel’s life was sinful and he probably ought to repent and Cas was so totally over it . And there was a persistent nag in his gut that said Luke had an ulterior motive, that he was keeping Cas in the dark about something, but he had zero proof.

“Fine,” he said finally, after his second trip to the restroom and a chance to finally fire off a text to Dean. “We’ll -- fine. But Luke?”

“Hmmm?”

He mustered his resolve and pinned his brother with an unblinking glare. “If I invite you into my home, you’ll be respectful of me and everyone inside it, or you’ll be asked to leave. Dean is my husband. We share a legal, marital bond, whether you like it or not. The last thing I want is a lecture on what you think God thinks about our union. Understood?”

“Oh yeah, sure. Castiel, if I was going to show up and try to evangelize you, I’d have done it a long time ago. Rest assured I have no desire to disrupt your life. I just want to see my son.”

“That’s all?”

“That’s. All.”

They were standing toe-to-toe, still holding each other with hard, untrusting gazes, and Castiel had no choice but to keep staring into the blue eyes of the brother he had thought he’d never see again. Blue eyes.

Their father’s eyes.

Castiel’s eyes. Jack’s eyes. The eyes of Michael, who’d been tender to Cas as a child, but had refused to hug Castiel goodbye when he’d been thrown out.

Castiel blinked and looked away, and he didn’t say another word as he walked out of the diner toward his vehicle, Luke following at his heels.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Today wasn’t supposed to be like this. He was supposed to leave campus and go home and open up an email from his academic advisor and hash through revisions on his dissertation paper, a paper he desperately needed to finish because he really didn’t want to have to apply for an extension and he really didn’t want to put off graduation any longer and he most certainly really did not want to have to tell Dean that they’d have to put the dog and the kids on the back burner for a bit longer just because Castiel couldn’t deal with his bullshit. His family was not supposed to be here. None of this was supposed to be happening. It was a million miles outside the comfort zone of the incredibly mundane, predictable life Cas had made for himself.

But when Luke asked, “You all right there, little bro?” Castiel only responded with a terse nod as he jammed his key into his car’s ignition.

Chapter Text

Dean greeted Luke by shoving him up against the wall the second he stepped in through the back door. He couldn’t help it; it was a primal reflex, some kind of instinctual drive to protect his mate, or something.

“Dean! Dean.” Cas presses a hand between them, flat against Dean’s chest to guide him away. “It’s OK.”

“Yeah, Dean. It’s OK.” There was an edge in Luke’s tone that made Dean’s blood boil, and he kept the other man pinned for a few beats longer, just so that he could glare into his eyes, an unmistakable show of dominance.

Luke didn’t blink, and for the barest of seconds, Dean felt something like fear twinge in his gut.

He let Luke up and turned to Castiel. “So,” he said gruffly, trying and failing to reconcile all of the emotions swirling through him at the moment, “This is your brother.”

Cas nodded in response and extended a hand between them. “Dean, this is Luke. Luke, this is Dean Winchester. My husband.”

“Good to finally meet you in person, Dean.” Luke’s hand extended for a shake, and Dean glanced at Cas and then accepted - but only just. “Winchester, huh? Gotta say, Cas, I understand why you took his last name. Castiel Winchester has a pretty good ring to it -- well, that and the fact that he’s obviously the man in this--”

“All right, Asshole, that’s enough.” Dean advanced on Luke again, because fuck this guy, and fuck him for showing up and messing everything up right when things were starting to come together, and fuck him for being creepy and a complete dick to Cas along with the rest of Cas’ dick family. Dean fisted Luke’s shirt from behind and shoved him toward the front door, fully intent on tossing him right back through it. This time, he noticed, Cas didn’t move to stop him.

He had the door unlocked and open and was shoving Luke through it when a voice spoke up from behind them that was definitely not Cas.

“Dean, stop.”

The kid.

“Jack, stay out of this.”

“Why? You said yourself that this is my fault.”

“You said what ?” That was Castiel, a note of betrayal in his voice, but Dean didn’t turn away from Luke.

“Cas, it wasn’t like that, all right? I was worried about you, you hadn’t come home, and I just…”

“He’s not wrong, Uncle Cas.”

“Yes, he is.”

“Jack--”

“I showed up here, didn’t even call first, didn’t try to get in touch, just showed up like an idiot -- Dean’s right. It was dumb and irresponsible to think I could just expect you to just take me in.”

“You said that?”

Dean was trying to keep up with the voices behind him while he still had Luke pinned and halfway out the door, but at the hurt and accusation in his husband’s tone he finally released Luke and turned around. “No!” He exclaimed. “No, I didn’t. I just--”

“I’m going with my dad.” Final. Definitive.

Only then did Dean realize Jack had a backpack slung over his shoulder. It was the one he’d had when he’d first shown up, and presumably it contained everything he’d carried when he’d first entered their home.

“No, Jack, just hold on a minute.” Dean’s voice sounded strained, even to his own ears. He held out a hand as if to make everything and everyone stand still and just let him fucking think , but Dean was a professor, not a fucking superhero, so it didn’t work that way. Time didn’t stand still. It rushed ahead like a freight train, and Dean felt like he was running after the damn thing to catch up as it sped away, going too fast and inevitably headed off the track. “You did take us by surprise, that’s true, and yes, we have some details that we need to work out. But we’re glad to have you here.”

Jack’s gaze dropped to the floor, and Dean knew in that instant he was remembering their discussion in the kitchen.

A strange sort of quiet calm came over the room then, as if everyone was waiting for someone else to make the first move. Dean looked at Cas, but Cas turned his face to the floor, mirroring Jack’s stance and pulling his bottom lip to chew between his teeth. It was a pose Dean knew well, though he didn’t realize it was inherent - he’d always assumed it a learned behavior. This was Cas, biting back an opinion, holding back his feelings, not wanting to say the thing that was bursting to be said.

“Cas…” Dean hated the way his voice broke on his husband’s name, but Cas just shook his head and didn’t look up.

It wasn’t just his own voice he hated. It was the ache in his gut, the overwhelming clench of doubt, the incessant thing gnawing at his mind that insisted he was going to lose something no matter what he said here… Yeah. Dean hated everything about what was happening right now.

Most of all, he hated himself for the fact that in a small part of his mind, he still blamed Jack for it all. If he could just stop doing that, everything would be fine. Luke would leave and they could be a family - a slightly more dysfunctional family than the one Dean had assumed they’d be when things like children came into their lives, but a family nonetheless. But he couldn’t let it go, and Cas was pissed, and here they were, waiting for someone else to resolve the tension that had settled over all of them.

“Thank you.” Jack’s voice was so quiet that Dean barely heard it before the boy lifted his head and repeated himself. “Thank you both,” he said, just a notch louder than the first time. “The things you’ve done for me since I arrived, I -- I can never repay you. You took me in, you fed me, clothed me… you gave me the family I’ve never had. But my arrival wasn’t fair to you.”

“It doesn’t need to be fair, Jack.”

“When’s the last time you worked on your paper, Uncle Cas?” There wasn’t an answer - because there wasn’t a good one, Dean knew. It had been at least a week, possibly longer. “That’s what I thought. At best, the stress caused by my arrival has threatened your education. At worst, it’s sent you spiraling into depression because when you cut ties with your family you meant to really cut ties. I messed all of that up.”

“You’re different from the rest of them, Jack. You always have been.” Dean was paralyzed by the imploring look in Castiel’s eyes; he’d only seen this look once before. It was the night he’d first told Dean that he loved him, whispered so softly, so tenderly, presented liked like a fragile gift. I think I love you , he’d confided, but I’m terrified. Dean, I’ve lost everyone, everything I ever held dear. I couldn’t bear it if you didn’t love me back . And he’d taken Cas into his arms that night and kissed him within an inch of his life, and they’d made slow, tender love until the sun came up.

Oh, God.

This was the look Cas got on his face when he was afraid he was going to lose someone he loved.

He loved Jack. Loved him so much. Loved him more than he’d ever love any PhD, or any job, or any house or any pet. He loved Jack like a child. Like family .

Dean opened his mouth to say something -- he wasn’t sure what, just something - but no words came out, and he just stood there, mouthing unformed syllables like a fish gasping for water at the end of a hook and line. Before anything could come out of his mouth that made any sense, Jack was pushing past him.

“Jack, don’t…”

“Listen, Dean-o.” The nickname made Dean grimace and clench his fist in a supreme effort not to pound Luke into the pavement just because he hated his stupid face and all the stupid things his stupid family had done to Castiel. “The family reunion’s been a blast, but uh. I think Jack’s made his choice. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to leave the two of you to your transgressions and take my son home.”

“Jack.” Cas was crying. Dean didn’t have to look at him to know that.

Jack turned one last time to face them, look each of them squarely in the eyes in turn, and whisper, “I’m sorry.” And then they were gone with the slam of the screen door.

Dean turned around to face his husband, but he got barely five seconds of eye contact before Castiel shook his head and turned on his heel without a word.

Their bedroom door slammed. Dean wouldn’t need to check to know that it was locked.

He knitted his hands together and clasped them together at the top of his head as he sank slowly to the floor as the weight of what he’d just lost settled onto his shoulders.

He’d had it. He’d had what he’d always wanted, what he’d yearned for since his mother’s death and his father’s consequential spiral into alcoholism. He’d had a family. A family for him, for Cas… It hadn’t knitted together quite the way he’d imagined, sure, but it still had been .

And now it was shattered, and Dean wasn’t sure he even knew how to start picking up the broken pieces of something that hadn’t been quite whole in the first place.

Chapter Text

Argument

As a general rule, Castiel didn’t get angry with Dean. But now, as he locked himself in their bedroom and paced the floor, fists clenched at his sides and venom bubbling up, bringing his emotions to a seething boil, he wondered why that was. Dean was selfish. Dean had always been selfish. Dean liked to have Cas all to himself. Sure, he wasn’t abusive, he wasn’t controlling, not really, but he did like things to go a certain way, he had plans, he wanted Cas to stay focused on his stupid dissertation so he could get his stupid PhD and get a stupid job so they could have a stupid fucking perfect life with a white picket fence and two kids and a dog and on weekends Dean would work on his stupid perfect Impala that he’d inherited from his stupid perfect dad and this was all a ridiculous pipe dream anyway, right? Because they were a homosexual couple and in Trump’s America there was some amount of question as to whether they could even adopt and--

Cas sucked in a breath and unclenched his fists. His chest heaved, trying to make up for breaths he forgot to take while his thoughts were running away down the road of Hating Literally Everything.

This was why he didn’t get angry at Dean - because when he did, it felt awful. When he did, his world crumbled and nothing was possible and every story had a terrible ending.

They always talked things through before Cas’ mind jumped in the direction of possible catastrophes. They always, always communicated about everything. It’s why Cas was this close to finishing his PhD in the first place - he never would have gotten this far without Dean.

He shook his head to try to clear the thought, but it remained. He could have done this alone… couldn’t he?

He had no idea. He was loathe to find out, though, and tried valiantly to focus on the here and now instead. What was happening? He’d been fine. He hadn’t had a breakdown the likes of which had occurred this morning in the shower in years, and now here he was on the verge of a second one in less than a full day. Dean had seen it once and only once, when Cas had been struggling to reconcile his feelings for the man he now called his husband; when he’d been terrified beyond words of falling in love because at that point, the only thing he knew of love was that it resulted in abandonment and loss - in not being good enough. It only resulted in pain.

“I’m sorry.” The voice was barely audible through the closed bedroom door, but it was unmistakably Dean. Cas took a cautious step toward the door as Dean repeated, “Castiel, I’m sorry.”

He mouthed a few words, but no sound came out. He stood, paralyzed, one hand resting with a flat palm against the wood of the door. When he finally did make a sound come out, it was barely a word at all, but his ears made out a name through the broken sob - “ Dean .”

“The only thing I wanted… God, Cas, I…” There was a long, long pause, and in it, Cas sank down to the floor, his back pressed against the closed bedroom door and knees drawn up to his chest. When Dean spoke again, his tone was wrecked nearly beyond recognition, and in spite of the situation, a smile quirked at one corner of his mouth as he pictured his husband in an identical position on the other side of the door. “After my mom died, back when Sam and I were kids, I… I made it my life’s mission to look out for him, you know? He was my pain-in-the-ass little brother, and it was my job to make sure both of us made it out of all the bullshit in one piece. So when Dad drank too much, I cleaned up the mess so that Sam never saw it. And when Dad was angry, when he needed something to hit, I made sure Sam was never in the line of fire. And when he died… I cleaned all that up, too. Sold the house, worked my way through undergrad, saw Sam through high school graduation. It wasn’t until he met Eileen and sat me down to tell me he didn’t need me to, uh. That I should drop the overprotective big brother act , if I remember right… wasn’t until then that I let myself realize he was all grown up. Drove me crazy, not having… not having anyone. And then I met you. And Cas… I…” There was a broken sob, and it crossed Cas’ mind that he wasn’t sure he’d ever heard Dean cry like this, not in all the six years they’d been together. “I loved you, man. I loved you right from the start, you gotta know, right from that first rally, man I fell hard . But the more I learned about you, the harder I fell and the deeper I felt like maybe… maybe you needed me to protect you, same as Sam did. Maybe you needed that part of me I was so desperate to give. So I made it my mission to protect you from anything and anyone that might come to hurt you, and I guess I didn’t realize until Jack showed up and this whole thing blew open that… I… guess I never stopped.”

It was a lot of information in a short amount of time. Cas processed it piece by piece, rebuilt the foundation of what he knew about this man, Dean Winchester, his husband, the love of his fucking life - tore it down and rebuilt it brick by brick and so it was some amount of time before he said anything at all in response to Dean’s confessions. When he did speak, he chose the first thing that made sense to comment on. “You never told me your father hit you.” Wasn’t that just ironic, too, that not three minutes before, Cas had been cursing John Winchester’s perfection as a single father into the ground, because he’d never heard Dean say a single bad word against the man.

“It only happened a few times.”

“It shouldn’t have happened at all, Dean. I’m so sorry.” He paused. “Why didn’t you tell me? For all that you knew I was already broken, why…”

“Because you didn’t need that from me.”

“Bullshit, Dean,” he spat before he could stop himself, and then cast his eyes to the ceiling for courage and leveled his tone. “I needed all of you, every bit of you.” He sighed, loud enough to be sure that his husband would hear it through the door. “I still do.” He got up then, and pulled open the door, and sure enough, there was Dean Winchester, long legs stretched out on the hallway floor in front of him as he sat on the floor with his back to Castiel, face turned upward in surprise as the support disappeared from his back. “You’re an idiot for thinking I needed you to protect me,” he concluded definitively, “but I must be an idiot too, because I understand why you did it.”

“Yeah?” Dean’s tone was hopeful. He moved to one side of the door, and Cas sat opposite him, both of them looking like a couple of potted plants in the hallway floor outside their own bedroom.

“As long as I’ve known you, you’ve been the kind of person who puts yourself last, to a fault. Remember that one time… the time we were coming out of the movie theater, that first year we were dating, remember? There were those two guys…”

Dean ducked his head and chuckled at his lap. “God, that was so stupid.”

“Broken arm, black eye, and three stitches to your upper lip before they were through with you, and that’s only because the cops showed up, and all because one of them dropped a slur I’ve heard a thousand times.”

“Thousand times didn’t make it right. Besides. I had to defend your honor.”

“No… see, you thought you did, but that didn’t impress me.”

“You went out with me again the next week, though. Broken arm and all.”

“Maybe I was taking pity on you.”

“That hurts, man.”

“Serves you right, asshole.” But there was no fire in his words. Cas couldn’t stay mad at Dean. If this didn’t prove that, he wasn’t sure anything could. They fell into a comfortable silence. Neither one of them moved, and neither said another word about Dean’s litany of personal revelation. When Cas opened his mouth again, it was to cut to the heart of the current matter, rather than to rehash a past they couldn’t change. “I’m afraid for Jack’s safety.” Dean, perhaps feeling a bit of thin ice between them on this subject, made prolonged eye contact but didn’t say a word. “He’s my family. He’s not two-point-five kids or a dog or a house in the suburbs, but he’s family, and I do care about him.”

“I appreciate that, Cas, I really do, but I don’t see where we have a lot of options here.”

Cas sighed and let his shoulders sag a little. Dean wasn’t wrong. Jack had gone with his father of his own free will, and under the law he had every right to do that. Furthermore, he realized as he looked across the narrow hallway at his spouse, the two of them weren’t exactly the Hardy Boys. Up until Jack’s arrival, they’d spent the better part of their Friday nights buried in research papers and re-watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the 57th time; it’s not like they were the type of guys suited for grabbing a couple of flashlights and staging an all-night stakeout outside Luke’s place waiting for something illegal to happen. As a matter of fact, Cas realized as an afterthought, he didn’t even know where Luke lived. “I don’t know what to do.” Again, Dean didn’t say anything, and Cas huffed and shrugged his shoulders.

“I’ve been saying that to myself ever since the kid showed up,” Dean finally confessed, sounding resigned. A beat, and he moved, rotating his body so that he could sit on the same side of the wall as Castiel. “That this was way above my pay grade, that it messed up all my plans, that I didn’t know what to do with this life anymore. And yet, here we are, sitting on the floor like a couple of losers, confessing shit we should’ve told each other years ago, and all because he came crashing into our lives.”

Gingerly, Cas reached down with his left hand and interlaced their fingers. “You got any other secrets you’re keeping from me?”

Dean looked at him with closed eyes. “No, but I have a question.”

“Hmmm?”

“Tell me about your family? I always respected your right to leave them in the past unless you wanted to talk about them, but I… I think, uh. Now. Now would be a good time to let it out.”

Cas nodded. He started to talk, but made no move to get up.

They were still on the hallway floor outside their bedroom when the sun came up, fingers knitted together. Dean’s face was turned toward Cas, lips pursed in a kiss to the younger man’s crown. Cas’ head lolled into the kiss to the side, temple resting against Dean’s shoulder, dried tear tracks on his cheeks, lips parted on the words he’d fallen asleep professing.

Chapter Text

Dean woke up to the sound of incessant buzzing and the pain of a crick in his neck. It took him a moment to get his bearings, to realize he and Cas had fallen asleep literally mid-conversation, hashing out all the things they’d kept buried inside, opening up the wounds of family drama they’d thought best laid to rest years ago.

They’d been wrong.

They’d both been wrong.

And to think, for all that he’d been leery of Jack’s presence in their lives, for all that Dean had blamed him for Cas sliding dangerously toward a depressive episode, the truth was, Jack hadn’t opened up scar tissue; he’d picked at a scab that had never fully healed. He’d opened up an old wound, sure - but it had needed opening. Without Jack as the catalyst, Cas, right under Dean’s watch, had been a ticking time bomb of buried self-loathing. Dean had been trying so hard to keep their world orderly and safe that he’d detached it from necessary feelings.

Cas had buried those feelings, and Dean had helped him keep them buried in the interest of moving forward.

He wasn’t sure one night of talking on the floor of their hallway until dawn would fix that, but it was a start.

The buzzing pulled him out of his reverie and he focused his attention to find the source of it - Cas’ cell phone. It was Cas’ phone, right at Dean’s right hip, pressed to the floor and vibrating against the hardwood floor beneath them. “Cas,” he tried, and nudged his husband as gently as possible. Cas mumbled something and buried his face in Dean’s neck. “Cas, you gotta-- c’mon, man, this can’t be comfortable for you either.” He nudged harder, causing Castiel to bump off his shoulder and startle into wakefulness.

“Wha’s happening, what’s going on?” He mumbled, rubbing at his right eye in particular as he turned his head around to take stock of their current situation.

“We fell asleep out here.”

“Mmmhmmm.”

“Your phone’s ringing.” He nudged against Cas’ hip with his own. “I’d have answered, but I can’t reach it.”

“Mmmokay.” He fumbled for his back pocket, mumbling something about Dean touching his butt, and Dean smiled fondly and shook his head as his husband palmed his phone.

It wasn’t ringing anymore, but a swipe of his thumb over the screen revealed three missed calls and two texts from Jack.

Alarm bells sounded in Dean’s head, and he felt the floor drop out from under him. “Call me,” he read aloud in a mumble as Cas held the phone up for their view. It was time-stamped 10 minutes ago. A second text, sent two minutes ago, said Call me PLEASE , and there was a sense of urgency in the missed calls and texts that had Cas and Dean pulling each other to their feet. Cas couldn’t punch a call out to Jack fast enough. “Jack?” A pause. Dean felt his brows knit together without his consent as he strained to hear what was happening on Jack’s end of the call. “Yeah… yeah, that’s, uh. That’s fine. I’m. Thank you for calling, we were just… Yes. I’m glad it’s going well. Yes, we’re fine, but we, uh. We miss you.” A long pause. Then, “It’s OK, Jack, we understand. But you’re welcome here any time, you know that. Anything you need, we’re here. Yeah. OK. Bye Jack. Talk to you soon.” Cas ended the call and turned to Dean with raised eyebrows. “Luke’s taking him fishing,” he said, deadpan. “Wanted to know if he could swing by and borrow one of our life vests out of the garage, since he doesn’t have one of his own.”

The relief that flooded Dean’s system in the next breath wasn’t nearly as satisfying as it ought to have been. “That’s all?”

“That’s… all. I guess. I’m.” Cas threw up his hands.

“So…”

“So.”

“What, uh. What are we doing now?”

“We could have sex. Or I could work on my paper. Or…”

“Or we could have sex and then you could work on your paper.” Dean shrugged. Again, it didn’t feel nearly as satisfying as it should have.

“Feels kind of… empty, doesn’t it?”

“It didn’t used to.” Dean sighed. He leaned in for an experimental kiss.

“It’s… unsettling.”

Dean didn’t reply. What could he say? He’d already apologized; he’d already said everything he could possibly say.

With quiet resignation, he poured everything he was feeling into his touch and out of his kisses.

“I love you.” He knew his voice was strained with emotion. For the first time, he considered that a good thing. “I need you.”

“I need you, too.”

Dean nodded and dipped his head so that he could cover the column of Cas’ throat in slow, languid kisses. They’d come into the bedroom as a means of passing the time, simply because they could, without interruption. It was something they had done all the time, before. But Dean realized, as he clung to Cas and felt those strong hands clawing at his back, trying to hold him close as they moved together, it wasn’t that, this time. This wasn’t sex to break the monotony, or sex to pass the time. This was physical love as a means of comfort. This was reaching out for each other when they didn’t know which other way to turn. And all the while that he was making love to Cas that morning, Dean was hoping and praying it was enough to fill the empty spaces inside them both.

***

They didn’t hear from Jack the rest of that day, and he didn’t contact them at all on Sunday.

Cas, at a loss for what else to do, poured himself into his dissertation. He had an email from his advisor dated the previous Tuesday that said the last edits were good, but the paper still felt like it was “missing something.” That it felt like it walked a narrow path, pulling in viewpoints from teens from the Lawrence area, but could stand to have one or two--

Jack .

The idea slammed into him like a freight train, so hard and so fast the Cas physically threw himself against the backrest of his office desk chair, which bowed under his weight. He’d had ample opportunity to pull his nephew into his research - why hadn’t he?

Because he hadn’t seen Jack in that light. He hadn’t seen him as a member of Generation Z, as a kid just coming into his own, because the boy was barely a boy anymore. In comparison to his peers, he was grown, long before he should have been.

And then another idea, just as hard and fast as the first.

“Dean?” He listened, but there was no reply, so he got up. This couldn’t wait. This had to be talked out of his head before he lost sight of the idea. “Dean, where are you?”

“Basement!” Came a shouted reply, and Cas doubled his pace, rounding through the kitchen and pounding down the stairs two at a time. He glanced at the Star Trek rerun playing on their mounted flat-screen, giving it the barest of consideration before turning off the TV. “Busy? No? Good. I need your help with my dissertation.”

“You need my help with your paper… about kids these days and old books? Babe, I’m a history teacher. You wanna know about Sherman’s march to the sea, I’m your guy, but…”

“You and Jack. You have this thing in common. You… what you told me last night. You grew up way before your time. Just like Jack, right? But both of you… you’re intellectuals in spite of that. I interviewed some brats for this paper who are getting a full ride to college on their parents’ dime, and they don’t give a second thought to putting down Dickens in favor of chasing down the newest Pokemon. But the two of you… for the past month it’s been nothing but noses in books whenever the house was quiet. So what I’m wondering is…” He mimed something with his hands, like he was trying to build the rest of his idea out of thin air.

“I read everything I could get my hands on when I was in my teens,” Dean clipped out, pointing a finger at Cas, and he could kiss him for the intellectual energy vibrating off of him. “Because it was an escape. I could go a million miles without ever leaving home.”

“I’d bet you anything it’s the same for Jack.”

“You’re adorable when you’re inspired.”

“I owe it to you.” Cas leaned forward and kissed Dean square on the mouth. “Thank you. I love you.”

“Love you too, Cas.” Dean kissed him back, and this one was tender, comforting. “Love you so much.”

“I’m going to finish this paper, and I’m going to defend my thesis, and I’m going to graduate. And then we’re going to get a dog and a kid, and we’ll have everything you ever wanted. I swear it.”

“I know.”

Cas kissed him one more time before running back up the stairs, pulling out his phone to call Jack as he went.

Chapter Text

Jack didn’t answer his phone.

 

It wasn’t a big deal, Cas told himself. Jack and Luke were getting reacquainted. So he left a voicemail, trying to be nonchalant.

 

Jack still hadn’t called back by the time Dean and Cas went to bed on Sunday night, but Cas pushed down his worry until Dean specifically asked about it.

“I’m trying to be glad that he’s having a good time with his father,” was all he said in response, and Dean nodded, and they went to bed, and made love, and Cas fell asleep in the safety net of Dean’s arms.

On Monday morning, they slipped back into the routine they’d had before Jack’s arrival - Cas got up with an early alarm to go catch his bus to campus, and Dean followed in a similar fashion, but drove downtown because his faculty position came with a parking spot that didn’t cost him an arm and a leg. It was what it had always been before: Quiet. Predictable. Comfortable.

Except it wasn’t comfortable anymore, Cas realized. It felt lonely and empty and too quiet.

If Jack wasn’t coming back to live with them, they definitely needed a dog.

He checked one more time that he hadn’t missed a return call from his nephew, but there was nothing, so he pulled up Jack’s number and hit the Call button while he was walking from his bus stop to his classroom.

This time, the call went right to voicemail.

Cas frowned at the phone in his palm. He dialed again, thinking there might be something wrong on his end, but the same thing happened, and he knew he had full reception on campus.

Something wasn’t right.

But it was 7:45 on a Monday morning, and Castiel’s classroom was already filling up with underclassmen. He was going to have to put this issue with Jack on the back burner for now.

In a last-ditch effort, he fired off a text to Jack, and then turned his attention to his teaching materials for the day.

***

In conclusion, the Compromise of 1877, otherwise known as the Corrupt Bargain, ended the Reconstruction Era because the Republicans got to have the president they wanted, which is how you get them to do anything ever: You give them their way. And that’s why this is relevant information for us to learn today.

Dean pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. He’d been grading freshman history papers for 45 minutes and had only managed to churn through three of them in that time. Fifteen minutes at a pop for a 500-word essay on the consequences of the Compromise of 1877 should be taking him 5 minutes a paper, tops. This was kid stuff.

His stomach grumbled, reminding him of the passage of more time than he’d expected to need for this project. He scribbled a quick I follow your logic, but cut the snark on Chrissy Chambers’ paper before laying it aside with the others he’d finished and pulling out his phone to send a text to Cas.

Working through lunch , he typed, and then after a beat of consideration, he added, Sorry. Make it up to you later?

You better ;-) came the reply. The winking emoji made Dean’s smile widen.

He picked up the next paper in his pile, then set it back down and texted Cas again. Any word from Jack?

The response was almost immediate. No. I’m worried .

Try not to be. I love you. We’ll talk later.

Love you too .

Dean sighed and pocketed his phone, then picked up the next paper in his pile. This one wasn’t half-bad, and he turned it over in just four minutes with a Great work ! scribbled in the top-left corner.

He churned through the next three in a similar manner, happy to have found a groove. It was another 45 minutes before the pile was empty, and by that point, he was in a rush to get to his afternoon class, and he still hadn’t eaten any lunch.

OK, then. A swing by the vending machine it was. He just needed enough to get him through the next hour and a half, until he was done with class and he could grab a proper lunch and head home.

He clipped the stack of graded quizzes together, set it in his “grading complete” folder, and made sure he had everything he needed in his shoulder bag to lead his 400-level discussion course on American Foreign Relations - which was becoming a more fascinating topic by the day - and hurried out the door.

These were juniors and seniors, he told himself. They would understand if he was late. Probably. Maybe.

He took the stairs to the building’s basement two at a time. It was as old as the rest of the building, and mustier, because it was a basement, but not as stuffy as his office tended to be from March through October. They’d renovated a few years ago and put a student lounge down here, as well as a new, upgraded vending machine that took credit and debit cards. Dean had praised some sort of god when that happened, because he almost never had cash on him. It made snack grabs on the go so much easier.

He fiddled with his debit card, swiped it through the machine’s reader, and selected a bag of crunchy Cheetos and a Kit Kat Big Kat candy bar, and was just reaching down to pull them from the vended slot when someone appeared to his right, just barely in his line of vision. “I didn’t think it would be so easy to get you alone,” a vaguely familiar voice said. “Didn’t you watch enough scary movies to know you should never go wandering the creepy old building without a buddy? Oh, Dean.”

And that’s the last thing Dean remembered before his world faded to black.

Chapter Text

Castiel had been doing a very good job of not panicking. He didn’t panic about not being able to reach Jack over the weekend. He didn’t panic about the lack of returned calls or texts all day on Monday.

But when it was 4:00 in the afternoon on Monday, and he couldn’t reach Jack, and Dean hadn’t come home from work, and not only that but he was in receipt of an email from Benny Lafitte asking if Dean was OK, because he’d been a no-show to teach a class that afternoon… Yeah, at this point, he decided he was completely within his rights to panic.

Instead of emailing Benny, Cas pulled out his phone and called him, if only to stave off the overwhelming feeling of worry and loneliness that was settling itself heavily upon his shoulders.

“Hey, Castiel, long time no talk.”

“You said Dean didn’t show up to teach his 1:15 class?”

Benny’s Louisiana drawl had been twinged with concern when he’d answered, and it doubled down as Castiel charged ahead with the conversation in lieu of a casual greeting. “Thought it strange, too, given how much he loves that course. He basically designed it himself. That ‘n I knew he was in the building this morning.”

“Yeah, he uh… we texted at lunch. Did you check his office?”

“Me and about four other folks in the afternoon, after he missed his class. His bag’s gone, but car’s still in the lot. It’s like he’s gone invisible or something.”

Cas worried his bottom lip between his teeth as he thought back on Dean’s regular Monday timeline. He was predictable to a fault, usually: He taught his morning class, then went to his office to grade, lesson plan, and make himself available for student drop-ins until lunch. He and Castiel had lunch together most days, but today, he’d begged off.

But when Castiel visited for lunch, he almost always brought the lunch, and until Dean had canceled, Cas had planned on that for today as well. Which means Dean didn’t have anything with him to eat.

“When we were kids, when Dad was drunk enough that he forgot we needed to eat, I’d run to the convenience store down the block and bring back all our favorite junk food. Crunchy Cheetos and a Kit Kat for me, Funyuns and a 3 Musketeers for Sam.”

“That’s a thoroughly disgusting combination.”

“Hey man, you laugh, but it filled our souls and our bellies at the time. Truth is, to this day, when I’m having a hard day at the office, I go down to the vending machine and pull out Cheetos and a Big Kat -- bless the junk food gods for inventing those, by the way -- and it powers me through.”

The snippet of conversation from Friday evening, in the dead of night and the intimate darkness of the hallway outside their unoccupied bedroom, flitted through Castiel’s mind. “He might’ve grabbed a snack from the vending machine before his class,” he offered carefully, the memory still tugging at the corners of his mind, as if to comfort him. “Are you still in the building? Can you check?” A pounding at the front door had him jerking his head in that direction, and he missed Benny’s immediate response.

“Uncle Cas! Uncle Cas, let me in!”

Jack.

“Fucking Hell. Benny, I’m going to have to call y--”

“Dean was here, sure as I was born, Cher.”

“How do you know?” He yanked open the front door and ushered a distraught Jack inside.

“Two things I know without a doubt about Doctor Dean Winchester: That he loves you more than life itself, and that he’s the only person on the planet over 30 years old who can still make a meal outta Cheetos and cheap wafer candy bars and not gain 20 pounds.”

“Benny?”

“Yeah, Cas?”

“I think… I think I know what happened.”

***

Dean couldn’t see, but that didn’t bother him nearly as much as the pounding in his head. He hadn’t had a headache like this since his worst hangovers in college. He felt the pain in his head, sure, but it was more than that. His whole body felt fuzzy, his limbs were heavy, almost like he’d been--

Like he’d been drugged.

He groaned as an attempt to process the memory of what had happened before he blacked out seemed to increase the intensity of the pain in his head.

“Heyyyyy you’re awake!”

Luke. Luke had been… had been there in the basement of Spooner Hall when Dean had gone down for his snack before his afternoon class. That was the last thing Dean remembered - being by the vending machine, hearing a voice, and turning his head to get a glimpse of Luke. Then there’d been a pressure against his face and then… nothing.

He was flat on his back on a hard surface and restrained, Dean realized now, and the tingly heaviness of his limbs was probably as much due to lack of circulation as it was to the lingering effects of whatever Luke had dosed him with to knock him out. His head hurt badly enough that it was difficult to process his thoughts, so Dean latched on to the first and most simple thing that made its way through the mental fog. “Why are you doing this to me?”

There was a bemused “hmmph” to Dean’s left, and then Luke was leaning over his face way too close, one hand braced above Dean’s head, and his eyes wide and unblinking as he spoke. “Because I’m an avenging angel of the Lord, and you, Dean Winchester, are a sinny sinny sinner who needs to be punished.” His tone was as though he was explaining an obvious fact to a small child, gentle and patient, but also dripping with venom in a way that sent a tingle of fear shooting up Dean’s spine. Luke’s finger stroked almost reassuringly through Dean’s hair, and he shook his head and squirmed to escape the touch on impulse. “Oh,” he sighed, looking almost regretful, “I’m sorry, Dean. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I mean, sure, it boiled my blood when I found out my baby brother was a homosexual, but that’s not your fault, not really. Castiel was always… different. Special, too, though, and so I thought… Dean, I tell you, I thought that if I took the kid under my wing, if I just kept steering him the right way, that he’d stay on the righteous path.”

“You’re insane.” Dean tried to ignore the way his throat scratched every time he spoke.

“I mean. Yeah. Obviously.” Luke laughed in his face before releasing Dean and straightening to his full height. There was a beat, and then he laughed again - a sort of loud, short bark of resentful bemusement that only served to increase Dean’s fear. “The first time I snapped, Mom and Dad convinced me to check into this, uh.” He snapped his fingers a few times as if grasping for a memory. “Treatment facility. And it was all the power is the Lord’s and pray for Him to lift your suffering and Dean… Dean, Dean, Dean. It made everything so much more clear . I mean yeah, so I prayed, and I ate, and I studied God’s word and I spoke to the counselors and I asked for forgiveness, but what really happened in that place, Dean, was that I realized God’s plan for me. I mean, I’m obviously messed up.” He threw out his arms and laughed. “But He made me this way so that I could help him purge this world of sin without having to carry the guilt. Killing is just. It’s really hard if you’re going to feel guilty about it later. And I just. Don’t.” He shrugged and returned his attention to whatever he’d been doing before Dean had made the swim back to consciousness.

Dean’s eyes were slowly returning to focus, and as the blurriness faded at the edges, he realized that Luke was holding a sharp object in his right hand.

A knife.

He started pulling at his restraints with all the strength he could muster.

Luke stopped what he was doing and let out a sound of disappointment. “Oh, don’t do that,” he moaned. “You’ll waste all your energy. That’s no fun. Now. Just relax. It’ll all be over soon enough.”

Dean did the only thing he could think to do. He screamed and pulled at his restraints as Luke approached, swapping out the knife for a white cloth as he walked.

The cloth pressed over Dean’s mouth and nose, and he fought the approaching darkness as long as he could before it pulled him under.

Chapter Text

“He’s not my father. He’s a monster.” Jack was pacing, and crying, and Cas felt helpless, wanting to stop him, to comfort him, but it felt like an impossible task. “This is my fault, this is all my fault, Uncle Cas, I’m so sorry. I should’ve just stayed away, I should’ve--”

“Jack. Stop.” He finally chose the simplest course of action, which was to stand directly in Jack’s path to stop his pacing.

“No. He wouldn’t-- he has Dean, Uncle Cas, and he’s-- I know what he’s going to do, I saw him-- I saw him do it--”

“You saw him hurt Dean?” Internal panic was fine, but Cas would absolutely, positively not panic out loud in front of his nephew. He gathered all of his resolve to keep that panic from coming out in his voice.

“No. I saw-- there was this woman. Saturday, after we went fishing, he. I thought it was strange, because we let all the fish go. We didn’t bring any home. But he said he had something to do downstairs, and he grabbed the fillet knife from the kitchen and went down to the basement. I… I followed when I heard the screams. And I saw-- I saw--”

Castiel was barely prepared to catch Jack as the young man collapsed against him in a heap of sobs and half-finished words.

For a moment, he felt 11 years old again, small and helpless in a situation so much bigger than himself.

But he wasn’t.

He was a grown man, and maybe he wasn’t physically or emotionally strong, or maybe those things had just never been put to the test. He was Clark Kent, nerdy and academic, presumably incapable of great feats outside a very small comfort zone.

But this was his husband - a man who, with the best of intentions, had loved and protected and sheltered Castiel from every evil in the world for a solid six years. A man whom he loved with all his heart. A man who, he knew without question, would die for him.

And damn if the same wasn’t true in reverse. So maybe, just maybe, this was Cas’ opportunity to save Dean. Maybe, just once, he could be the mild-mannered, unassuming geeky kid who turns into a superhero when no one’s watching.

He looked at Jack. Bit his lip.

And then he called the police, because even the best superhero needed backup every now and then.

***

The second time Dean woke up wasn’t all that much different from the first, except that it was dark outside, and he was alone. His brain still felt fuzzy, his vision was blurred, and his head hurt even worse than it had before, if that was possible. His limbs were still heavy and he was still strapped down to some sort of table.

He turned his head, trying to get a look around, and in doing so got a glance down at the structure supporting him. It wasn’t anything fancy - a long, wooden table, wide enough and long enough to support a grown man’s frame, and old enough that there were cracks in the boards.

And in the cracks of the boards, there was blood.

Oh, God .

He turned his head away and retched, but nothing came out - he hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so his stomach just churned on itself, bile in his throat but nothing coming up.

Tears, though - those he had plenty of. “God, Cas, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I never… I’m…” He choked back a sob. “If I get out of here, I swear to God, we’re going to go on some really, really good and healthy unpredictable adventures, screw the whole plan, Cas, we’ll move across the country, we’ll talk until dawn, hell, I’ll take a sabbatical and we’ll travel the world, I just…”

There was a sound somewhere to his left, and Dean turned his head, eyes searching the darkness for the source of the sound.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” Luke had been approaching as he’d been speaking, and by the time he finished reciting the verse, he was right at Dean’s side. He looked down and finished, “Romans, Chapter 1, verses 26 and 27.”

“Fuck off,” Dean grumbled, tugging at his bonds.

Luke just sighed, his face assuming a look of pity. “Have you ever read the Old Testament, Dean? Are you familiar with--” he pointed a finger, as if remembering something. “Did you know,” he began on a different tangent, sounding genuinely fascinated by whatever he was about to say, “That God destroyed an entire city because of how sexually immoral it had become? Sodom. The root of the word sodomy . To sodomize.” He leaned down and whispered in Dean’s ear, “That means to have sex in the butt.” He straightened again, and Dean swallowed hard. “He sent two angels, and they lit it on fire and killed everyone there because of anal sex which , if I’m not mistaken, is an activity you engage in regularly with my brother.”

“Oh, you can just go right to Hell.”

Luke laughed, then - a darker sort of chuckle that Dean had seen enough movies to know was no good under his current circumstances. Sure enough, Luke turned away, and when he faced Dean again, he had the knife from before in his hands. “I’m afraid I’m not the one with the eternally condemned soul here, Dean.”

“Oh yeah? How do you figure?” He couldn’t figure out why he’d decided to continue this conversation with his intended killer. Maybe he thought he could talk him out of it. Maybe he was stalling for time.

Probably a little bit of both.

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God ,” Luke quoted from memory, and Jesus Christ, Dean thought, did the guy have the whole Good Book committed to memory? “First Corinthians, Chapter 6, verses 9 and 10. But do you see, Dean, do you see , He listed you in there, men who have sex with men . That’s you, Buddy, but killers? He left us out. Me especially, because I’m doing the same work his angels did in Sodom, purifying the world of immorality. Just… on a much smaller scale.” He sighed, and when he looked down at Dean again, his face was ripe with pity. And then the air around them was still, and Dean’s brow creased because, holy Hell, here was Luke, closing his eyes, folding his hands, and fucking praying because he was about to commit murder .  

This was a whole new level of fucked-up, and Dean’s brain had no idea how to process it.

“Father, into your hands, I commend this spirit. Dean Winchester, in the name of the Almighty Father who created you; in the name of Jesus Christ, who redeemed you; in the name of the Holy Spirit, who sanctified you, I lift you up this day and pray for your salvation, for forgiveness from your immoral sins, and for the fate of your eternal soul. May God grant you mercy.” Luke raised the knife, bringing it square above Dean’s pounding heart.

Dean closed his eyes.

And then, somewhere in the house, there was an explosion.

Chapter Text

Some day, when he was very old, Cas expected that he’d reflect on the events of this day with a strange sort of melancholy. There had been a lot of varied emotions over the course of it - unease about Jack, mild stress about work, anger at his brother, fear about his husband - but when it came down to it, what he’d remember most was this moment, right here, in the back seat of a Lawrence PD patrol car, waiting while a SWAT team busted into his wayward brother’s lakeside cabin, on a mission to rescue Dean from… whatever was happening inside.

He flinched when they broke down the front door and went in, guns at the ready and bulletproof vests donned, just like in the movies.

Which, holy shit, this whole thing was right out of the movies.

And then, for what seemed like forever, there was just waiting .

Jack was there, so at least he wasn’t alone. There was solace in that, he supposed, though he couldn’t decide if he’d rather be alone or not, if the news came back for the worse.

“He did take me fishing.” Jack’s voice broke the silence, and somehow managed to both startle and comfort Castiel. “It was nice. I… I hate that it was nice.”

“You couldn’t have known.”

“The woman, she was at his house the whole time, down in the basement, probably scared to death. And I… I let him--”

“It’s not your fault, Jack.”

“He wanted me to help.” The delivery on this was deadpan, and Jack said it more to his hands in his lap than to Castiel. “With Dean. It’s why he-- but I just couldn’t. So I ran.”

“You’re a hero.”

Jack didn’t respond for a long moment. Then, quietly, as if resigned to having to ask the question, he said, “You said he wasn’t always like this. I’m afraid that I’ll grow up… like him. That I inherited whatever made him this way and I’ll… I’ll turn bad, too.”

Cas opened his mouth to respond, but promptly shut it again. That won’t happen was on the tip of his tongue, but it wasn’t that simple, and Castiel couldn’t help but look at the parallels between Luke and himself.

They were the same, at their root. Their trees had grown in different directions, but they’d come from the same bad seed, done dirty by both nature and nurture, and the improper nurturing had let nature run wild. But Luke’s mental illness couldn’t be prayed away any easier than Castiel’s gayness.

Or his own anxiety, which he had to admit he’d let run unchecked for far too long because it just wasn’t that bad .

After his mental meandering, Castiel settled on going back to his original, instinctive response. “That won’t happen,” he said, biting his bottom lip and then adding, “I won’t let it.”

Jack’s brow creased and he looked as though he might have something to say, but their attention was drawn to the house as people tumbled out the front door in a burst of activity.

Castiel found himself getting out of the car as he recognized his brother, cuffed and flanked by two officers who were guiding him toward an adjacent patrol car while a third recited the Miranda warning. Castiel caught the words, “Do you understand these rights as they have been explained to you?” just as his brother caught his eye.

“Yeah, sure, Buddy, sure,” Luke said, and Castiel was pretty sure he would’ve patted the officer on the arm if he’d been able to. Instead, he turned his head directly toward Castiel, so as to be sure he had his attention. “Hey, little brother,” he called, loud enough to be heard about the hubbub, “See you next time.”

And before Cas could respond, Luke was being seated in the other patrol car, the door was closed, and he was gone.

A second flurry of activity at the front door had both Cas and Jack jumping fully out of the car, though, leaving Luke as a memory to be dealt with later.

Cas sucked in a breath and held it.

“Comin’ out, we’re comin’ out!” And then he was exhaling hard and fast, and jogging across the small yard to the porch, because there was definitely the sound of a stretcher on wheels, and on it, awake, breathing, was the love of his goddamn life.

“Dean!”

“Cas…”

“Are you OK? Did he hurt you?”

Dean’s response was a lethargic smile. “I love you,” he said, and then the EMTs rolling Dean across the yard were moving too fast for Cas to keep hold of his husband’s hand, so he let it slip free.

The ambulance was gone in another minute, and for the first time in hours, perhaps all day, Castiel’s adrenaline dropped and he became aware of how tired, and lonely, and cold he felt. He pulled his coat - an old trench he normally didn’t wear this time of year, but it was the first thing his fingers had fallen on when he’d reached into his the closet in a hurry - tighter around his middle.

“Mr. Winchester.”

The voice drew his attention, kept him from falling in on himself, giving into the tears now threatening to fall, and he looked down into the kind eyes of the female officer who’d driven them here. “Hmmm,” was the only sound he managed to emit in response.

“He’s going to be all right.” She was very kind, to offer the reassurance. Cas offered her a very small smile and wondered if, in another life, they might have been friends.

In this world, though, he’d just as soon leave behind this day and everything and everyone involved in it, move on, and go back to whatever semblance of normalcy they might still have in their lives after this.

How do we even begin to move on? How do we go back?

“You don’t, I’m afraid.” He hadn’t realized he’d spoken out loud, but here was this officer with the kind eyes, offering him an answer anyway. Mills , her badge read. Mills. He’d look her up when he got home. Send her a card. It was the least he could do. “You can’t go back. But lucky for you, you can still go forward.” He let that sit, because he really didn’t know what to say in response. After a long pause, Mills nodded, apparently accepting his silence as response, and nudged him at the elbow. “Come on. I’ll take you to the hospital. You should be with him tonight.”

And that seemed like as good of a place to start moving on as any. He settled into the back of the squad car and buckled up for the ride as Officer Mills drove them away from Luke’s cabin, now marked off with police tape and crawling with uniformed police.

Jack turned to look back just before they turned out of sight.

Castiel didn’t.

You can still go forward .

Yeah.

Yeah, forward sounded like a good idea.

Chapter Text

Officer Mills was right: There was no going back to the way things were before. There was no returning to the mundane when your life is so abruptly, so abnormally , disrupted. “Where did you guys go? Second honeymoon?” “Nah, my older brother showed up, kidnapped Dean, very nearly killed him, and the only reason he’s still alive is because he has a unique affection for vending machine snacks.” It’s not really the kind of situation that happens to everyone. Definitely not something that can be discussed with peers as casually as talking about the weather or an upcoming exam.

Physically, Dean was mostly fine. He spent one night in the hospital for observation and on an IV to treat dehydration. He had some rope burns around his wrists and ankles, but they weren’t bad, just a little red and tender to the touch.

But the FBI showed up, and they found the remains of seven people buried outside Luke’s place, and Dean had a really hard time shaking the idea that he could’ve been body number eight.

He had nightmares.

Castiel gathered his resolve. He told himself that he could wait. He asked for an extension on his dissertation; he pushed his own doubts and anxieties into the farthest recesses of his mind, because now was not the time. His problems could wait.

Right now, he had to be a good husband. Right now, he had to be strong.

March bled into April. Jack was accepted to the University of Wisconsin, so he could go and be a doctor and learn to help people like his mom.

Dean was so unable to focus that he took a leave of absence from his position at KU.

And then one night, Dean woke up from a nightmare only to find his husband awake and in tears beside him.

He folded his body around Cas’. “I love you,” he said, pitch high and volume low with emotion. “Whatever happens, I love you.”

“I want…” Cas sobbed. Sniffled. Pressed his body back into the solidity of Dean’s. “I want us to be OK. I want us to be normal again.”

“Were we ever, though?” Cas chuckled at that in spite of himself. “Seriously. Couple-a gay-married geeks, run through with daddy issues and fear of rejection, both of us pent up with stories of abandonment and abuse… We were really good pretenders, good at being boring, but I’m not sure we were ever what you’d call normal . Thinkin’ maybe it just took the extreme to get us to see that.”

“When’d you get so smart?”

“I think it was about the time I met you.”

Cas rotated in Dean’s arms and faced his husband as he was, feeling broken, all red eyes and runny nose and tear-stained cheeks. “I love you, too.”

Through the rest of the night, they slept better than they had in weeks, all tangled up in each other.

The next day, they started therapy - which is to say that the next day, Castiel put on his big-boy pants and called his doctor’s office, and was told that the next available appointment was six weeks out. He scheduled it, and then went on a rant to Dean about the inability of the American health care system to tend to the mentally ill.

Jack started a garden in their backyard. He asked Cas to help him with it, and Cas found that when he worked in the dirt, he felt oddly at peace. “Good,” Jack said with a smile and a nod, and Cas tilted his head and considered him. “You can keep it up once I leave for school.”

It was really the first time Cas took the time to think about how Jack had blown into their lives mere months ago, shaking up their world like a snow globe; but when the storm settled, it had seemed to Cas that somehow, all the pieces were slowly landing in the right places. And he’d thought Jack’s place was here, under their roof. “You’re still planning to go, huh? Even after,” he paused a beat and waved his hand, “everything?”

Jack shrugged and worked a weed out with a trowel as he spoke. “You still expected nothing to change?” He challenged, and then turned to look at his uncle, chest heaving with the effort of his work. “Even after everything?”

And Castiel really couldn’t argue with that.

“Will you come back for holidays?”

“No place I’d rather come home to.” They shared a smile and returned to their work.

Jack’s words echoed through Castiel’s mind for the rest of the day.

***

Dean didn’t mean to get a dog. He really didn’t. He would tell himself this for the next two years before finally admitting that the minute he laid eyes on Sadie, she was coming home with him and that was that.

It happened in mid-June. KU was still paying his sabbatical - would do so through the summer, and then he was expected to resume his position in September - but Dean had been back on a good sleeping schedule and something that vaguely resembled an otherwise healthy lifestyle, and things were calm, and he was walking across campus to his car after a meeting with HR to affirm his intended schedule the Fall when he saw the box move.

Which -- to be fair, Dean was plenty creeped out because boxes weren’t supposed to move on their own, and that was just a fact.

It was, though - a U-Haul medium-sized moving box was making its way in a very not-straight line down the sidewalk just west of campus, past a block of row houses generally occupied by students, except that it was summer, and maybe a quarter of the usual occupants were actually still living there. The moving box was marked “bedroom” on one side and handwritten “free” on the other side, and when Dean picked it up, the source of the box-pushing barked at him.

It wasn’t hard to figure out what had happened, so he scooped up the pup and took her home. Temporarily. Until they found her owner.

It turned out her owners were Dean and Cas, and she made that known from the very first afternoon, when she curled up on the couch and made herself at home for a nap.

June became July and Sadie stayed, but she grew, and the vet pronounced her a “healthy mutt,” about six months old, some mix of lab and beagle. She’d be friendly, approachable, good with children.

In early August, two weeks before Jack was due to leave for college, Luke was declared mentally unfit to stand trial. It was good, Dean reflected, that by this point both he and Cas were both seeing a therapist on a regular basis, because Dean felt cheated out of redemption and Cas felt terrified that his brother would return, despite numerous assurances that he was being committed to a mental ward where he’d be confined for the rest of his life.

The week after that, Sam and Eileen came over for Cards Against Humanity and beers one last time before Jack left for college - except that Eileen wasn’t drinking.

Dean raised his eyebrows at her, the question hanging in the air between them.

She smiled slyly and sipped her water, eyebrows bouncing over the rim.

He shook his head, but he was smiling, too. And he realized, for the first time in months, his mind willingly presented him with the idea of his own children - of cousins for Sam’s child - of a life that included all of the things he used to imagine it would.

He wanted that, again.

It felt like some semblance of normalcy to want that, again.

Sadie nipped at his foot, and he looked down with a raised eyebrow. She yipped. He threw her favorite squeaky toy across the room and she charged after it, and then he played his hand.

There was something right, and good, and comfortable about it all, and when Sadie brought the toy back to Cas across the table and his husband repeated the motion of throwing it for her amusement, Dean smiled wistfully.

“When did we become such--” Jack looked up from considering the cards in front of him and pulled Cas’ from the stack, holding it up as the winner. “Oh come ON! That’s not even-- that doesn’t even make sense!”

“You’re just terrible at this game, Dean, admit it,” Sam chuckled.

“I’m not terrible! It’s just that none of you losers appreciate my sense of humor.”

Across the room, Sadie yipped as if in response, and Cas chuckled and called her over to him. She ignored him and went to Dean instead. “Don’t feel too badly,” Cas laughed. “ Somebody here loves you best.”

“You’re just jealous.”

“At least I’m good at this game.”

“That’s because you’re a horrible person.”

Cas selected a black card and laid it down without responding. “Love you too, Gorgeous.”

Dean was pretty sure Cas didn’t pick his card on purpose - but there was something familiar and comforting in that, too. This whole thing, even with a puppy underfoot and a nephew at the table and the promise of another niece or nephew on the way - even with all that had changed, and all that would continue to change - it felt comfortable and normal, and Dean relaxed into it enough that Cas noticed his change in demeanor. When the game was over and Sam and Eileen were gone, Jack was in his room, and Dean and Cas were getting ready for bed, he asked about it.

“Something on your mind?”

Dean pulled off his shirt and climbed into bed before responding. “Just… thinking.”

“Uh oh.”

“We’ve been through a lot this year.”

“Understatement of the century.” Cas flipped off the overhead light in their bedroom and joined his husband under the covers.

“I mean, yeah, but… OK, granted, I could have done without the kidnapping and the threat on my life, but at the same time… I dunno. I guess I feel stronger for it, you know? Like I came out of some kind of grand story. Vanquished the villain, reborn out of trauma, all that. And I can’t help but wonder just what we would’ve done all year if we hadn’t been called to adventure like we were when Jack showed up.”

“How very Joseph Campbell of you.” But Cas smiled as he rolled and pressed his face against Dean’s shoulder, laying a line of soft kisses on the freckled skin.

“What can I say? You’re rubbing off on me.” Dean turned to embrace him and captured his mouth in a slow, sensual kiss.

“Mmmm… I guess if I had to be a modern-day Odysseus, there’s no one I’d rather have with me on the journey than you.”

“Wha-- no, no no no. I’m Odysseus.”

Cas pulled away to arm’s length and quirked an eyebrow. “So you’re saying I’m Penelope.”

“I mean. I’m not saying that. I’m just… not not saying that either.” At Cas’ guffaw, Dean raised his eyebrows and one pointed finger. “Hey, listen, Penelope is the symbol of marital fidelity, you should be honored-- ooof!” Dean cut off abruptly as Cas pinned him to the bed and captured his mouth in a deep, searching kiss.

“Faithful, patient… and cunning. I guess I’ll take that as a compliment.”

There wasn’t anymore talking after that. They spent the night once again wrapped up in each other, and although the mention of the odyssey had been an offhanded quip, Dean couldn’t help reflecting as he lie awake with Cas snoring softly in his arms that he did indeed feel like he was finally coming home after a long journey. It had changed him; it had changed them both; but their relationship was strong, and their marriage would endure.

And that was all that mattered in the end, wasn’t it?

Change was inevitable, no matter how mundane life might be at times.

But as long as he had this, right here, to come back to… yeah. As long as he had this, Dean was pretty sure he could handle whatever other curveballs life might have to throw at them.

He drifted off to sleep on that thought with a smile on his face, ready to face whatever adventures tomorrow might bring.