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Cooking Live

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“Give me the lineup of the tasting table," the chef said, tiredly running his fingers through his hair. 

“We have a stay-at-home mom of four from Chicago, the owner of a food truck from L.A., a pastry chef from Atlanta, a cafeteria worker from Miami, and a factory worker from Queens.” 

“Tell me again why we’re doing this?” Dean Winchester, chef, restaurant owner, and host of Spice of Life, the food channel’s hottest new cooking show, stared at himself in the mirror. The makeup artist was applying blush to accent his cheekbones. 

The producer of the show, Fergus Crowley, was leaning back in one of the stylist’s chairs across from Dean. “We’ve gone over this. They were nominated to win a chance to cook with you on the show. You, Benny, and Charlie will taste their dishes today and pick the winner. He or she will come back to tape the episode next month.” 

“Let’s get on with it then,” Dean said and waited for his cue. The show was filmed before a live audience so when Dean walked onto the set and took his mark, the crowd roared. Not only was he an award-winning chef, he looked like an underwear model and the women loved him. The cameras loved him as well, which is how the year old show held the best time slot on the Network.   

Dean looked into Camera Four, waved and greeted the audience before introducing his co-hosts, Charlie Bradbury and Benny Lafitte, both celebrity chefs and owners of their own restaurants as well. 

The three sat at the large table that served as their main staging area. There was a kitchen at stage left and a large open area at stage right for contests and other special events on the show.  Charlie started the intro with a discussion on the proper gratuities to leave servers when dining out. After that, Benny showed off a new kitchen gadget that Dean secretly coveted.   

Dean hadn’t bothered to look at the tasting table set up in front of the audience, but now that his segment was up, he glanced at the five contestants. He picked out the MILF right away, a bottle blonde with big tits. The shorter brunette could be the pastry chef or the cafeteria worker. Was the hot guy with the sexy hair and five o’clock shadow the factory worker or the owner of the food truck? Dean really should have gone over their bio cards.   

Balthazar Roche, their announcer, was a life saver. He read off the names and gave a short introduction for each contestant. The only one Dean had right was the MILF.  The sexy guy was the pastry chef. He hadn’t seen that one coming. 

While Dean explained the contest rules to the audience, and yes, he did have to read the teleprompter, a stage hand wheeled out a cart with the contestant’s dishes under silver domes. The theme of the dish was a backyard barbeque main dish. 

Dean called each person up to the cart one at a time to reveal their dish and tell the hosts about it. The three hosts were to taste it and give the contestant a score. 

“Dave, tell us about your bacon wrapped pork tenderloin.”  Dean said with a smile, showing off his dazzling white teeth to the camera, as the cameraman went in for the close-up. The factory worker explained that he used bacon to prevent the pork loin from drying out. Dean took his bite, chewed thoughtfully and patted the guy on the back.  He wished he could spit it out. The meat was not seasoned and, despite the bacon, very dry. 

“Kate, talk to me about your black bean and turkey burgers.” Dean put his arm around the owner of the food truck, an attractive, older Hispanic woman. She told Dean that she served this daily and her customers loved it. He set it back down on the plate after he tasted it. He nodded at her, an encouraging smile on his face. Not bad if you liked healthy crap. 

“Stephanie, you’ve made tuna fillets in a tequila sauce. Do your kids like the tequila sauce?” Dean quirked an eyebrow at the camera and the audience laughed at his little joke. The blonde mother of four looked confused and nodded hesitantly. The fish was cooked too long and the sauce had way too much lime in it. Dean hoped the camera didn’t pick up on his puckered mouth and squinty eyes. “Thank you, Stephanie.” 

“Connie, these baby back ribs look awesome. If they served food like this when I was in school, I may have been a happier student.” They were underdone and very tough, but the sauce was pretty good.  Dean wiped his hands on the wet towel provided by one of the stage hands. 

Dean looked at the teleprompter. Castiel? How the fuck did he say it without butchering it too badly? “Cas...Cast-e-el?” Dean looked at the good-looking man, expectantly.   

“Cas-ti-el.”  Damn, the man’s voice was deep and gravely. Dean wondered how he would sound after being fucked into the mattress…all breathless and spent. Dean shook himself out of his thoughts because the man was looking at him strangely. Crowley was giving him an even stranger look.   

“So, great…uhm…you made a hamburger.” A hamburger, really? Dean had a hamburger on his menu at Winchester’s, his Manhattan restaurant, that was out of this world. He got $34 for it. Did this guy think he’d be impressed by his… he took a bite… holy shit… it was amazing.  Dean could taste a hint of cayenne… a touch of salt, but the other flavors melded together so easily Dean couldn’t identify them. He almost blurted out how freakin’ great it was but remembered he had two co-hosts to collaborate with before a winner was chosen.  “This was really good, Castiel,” he said a little more enthusiastically than with the other contestants. 

The show’s theme music played while the three of them deliberated. “The burger.  It has to be the burger.” 

“Which one, Dean?” Charlie said quietly.   

“The real burger,” Dean deadpanned. 

“I don’t know. I liked the ribs. They were undercooked but the sauce was pretty darn good,” Benny piped in after taking a bit of the sauce on his finger and tasting again. 

“Nope, the burger,” Dean insisted.   

Charlie gave him a knowing look. “You can’t sleep with a guest, Dean.  Doesn’t matter how cute he is.” 

Benny chuckled. “Did I miss something?” 

“You didn’t catch Dean sinking into fantasyland when the guy said his name?  I thought Crowley was going to stroke out.” 

Dean gave them both one of the bitch-faces he’d borrowed from his brother over the years, before turning up his mic and facing Camera Two. “Okay, we have a winner. You’ll find out after the commercial break.” 

He sat back as they broke for commercial. Becky, from makeup, came out and touched up their faces and Dean managed to covertly look at the tasting table. Four of the contestants were chatting among themselves. Castiel…Dean looked down at the cards still laying on the table in front of him…Castiel Novak was just staring at the place setting in front of him. He seriously looked like he’d rather be anywhere but here. Dean mentally kicked himself for not reading the bios. 

The theme music played and Crowley held up ten fingers, counting them down. At one, the light on Camera Two lit up and Dean smiled brightly. “Thank you for joining us today.  We are about to reveal the winner of the Backyard Barbeque Bash. The winner of this contest will return in a few weeks and we will cook their dish together.”  Dean stood and walked over to the kitchen area where the cart with the five dishes sat congealing under the harsh lighting.  There would be no more close-ups on the food.  “The winner is pastry chef, Castiel Novak from Atlanta, Georgia, with his delicious burger. Congratulations, Castiel. We will see you back here soon.” 

The audience clapped and cheered, the other contestants all leaned over to congratulate Novak, but the winner just gave a horrible parody of a smile. Dean wondered what the guy’s story was. Clearly, he wasn’t excited to be the winner. 

Castiel wasn’t happy to be named the winner of this stupid competition. He was going to kill his older brother, Gabriel. This was all his fault. He’d entered the contest, forging Castiel’s signature, and taking video without his knowledge.   

Suddenly, he found himself on a plane to New York City. As soon as he landed, he was whisked away from the airport, to a hotel, and from there, to the network studio. He was tired and when he was tired, he got cranky. The production assistant had called at the asscrack of dawn to make sure he was awake. Who knew they began taping at seven in the morning? It was insane. The show didn’t even air until noon for Christ’s sake. 

The pretty boy host kept staring at him like he had something in his teeth. Surely, the girl who’d caked all the makeup on his face would have told him if something was in his teeth.   

He sat at the tasting table with the other four contestants wondering if this show would ever end. Stephanie and Kate kept whispering about the pretty one…Dean Winchester. Castiel was tired of listening to them go on and on about the man’s dreamy eyes, his bulging biceps, and the way he filled out his jeans. Their observations were true, but it was getting nauseating. 

After yet another commercial break, Pretty Boy showed the studio audience and the viewers at home how to braise a beef roast. With a slight of hand…actually several production assistants switching out roasting pans, the tasting table was served slices of the roast along with honey-bourbon carrots made by the cute redhead, Charlie Bradbury, and Cajun seasoned potato wedges cooked by Benny Lafitte.   

The meal would have been a lot tastier if it was served at a regular meal time instead of at nine in the morning. He listened patiently as the hosts told their viewing audience what would be featured on tomorrow’s episode.   

The producer stood and called out, “That’s a wrap.”  

“Finally,” Castiel muttered under his breath. He stood and followed the PA who herded them toward the back of the set.   

“Hey, Castiel?” 

Castiel turned to see Pretty Boy walking toward him. “Yes?” Castiel looked longingly at the other contestants leaving the set. 

“So, yeah, just wanted a chance to talk to you before you leave.”   

“About what?” Castiel was confused. What could the man want now? Up until then, any communications had been with a PA or a representative of the network. 

“Well…I’d like to get to know you a little better since you’re going to be doing an episode with me.” Pretty Boy looked earnest enough, but Castiel was still curious. 

“What would you like to know? My bio was sent in by my brother. I think that covers everything.” Honestly, Castiel never even saw his bio. God knows what his brother had written about him. He guessed it wasn’t too bad since he made the cut. 

“Yeah, about that…I didn’t read the bios.”  The man seemed to look contrite.  How did he manage that? He came across as arrogant all morning long. Having never watched the show, he wasn’t sure if the host was always that cocky. 

“I believe I should catch up with the other contestants.” Castiel took a few steps in the direction the others had gone. 

“Wait. When do you fly home?” The host followed him. 

“My flight leaves LaGuardia at eight forty-five tomorrow morning.” Castiel tilted his head to the side in confusion.  He wondered why Pretty Boy wanted to know. 

“Cool. I’ll send a driver over to get you tonight and bring you to Winchester's.” 

“While I appreciate the offer, I must decline.” Castiel read the reviews of Winchester's. The place was expensive. Too expensive for his budget. His brother’s restaurant was getting great press but they weren’t even close to the same caliber as Pretty Boy’s place.   

“Come on, I insist. I’d love for you to try my burger. Yours was awesome. We could compare recipes.”   

“Thank you, Pret…Chef, but my wallet is a bit thin at the moment.” Castiel spotted the PA coming toward them and breathed out a sigh of relief. 

“Shit, man, you misunderstood. It’ll be my treat. And you can call me Dean.” The chef put his hands in his pockets and hunched his shoulders, his posture making him appear boyish. Castiel wondered if he did it on purpose. 

“Mr. Novak, the car is waiting.” The PA glanced apologetically at the chef.   

“Don’t worry about it, Ava. My car can take Cas to his hotel.”   

“Are you sure, Chef?” She looked from the chef to her clipboard and back up again. 

“Yes, I’m sure.”   

Pretty Boy… he really needed to stop calling him that since he’d almost slipped up a second ago… was frowning at the poor girl. 

“But Crowley said…” she protested. 

“Ava, go take care of the other contestants. I’ll clear everything with Crowley.” Castiel watched the two discussing him like he wasn’t even there and frowned. 

“Excuse me,” The PA and Dean turned to look at him. “I don’t want to cause problems.” 

“No, Cas. It’s all good.” Castiel watched his only means of escape walk away.  Cas? The man was calling him Cas. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. “Follow me. I’ve just got to grab a couple things out of the dressing room and then we can leave.” 

Castiel had no choice but to follow the dangerously attractive chef. The freckles sprinkled over his nose and cheeks could have been seen as flaws, but it only added to his perfection. They walked down a hallway passing various people Castiel assumed worked for the network. Dean grabbed the knob of a door with his name printed on it in large, white letters. “Here we are.” 

The chef entered the dressing room which was approximately the size of the living room in his apartment in Atlanta. Castiel stood in the doorway, not daring to enter the man’s private sanctum. Dean went to the dressing table and picked up a few items, tossing them in a gym bag. He pulled the polo shirt he was wearing over his head and Castiel gawked. The man was truly a work of art.  Castiel turned away, suddenly fascinated with the Daytime Emmy statue on the bookcase next to the door. He wasn’t fast enough to miss the way Dean’s muscles rippled as he moved. 

“Ready?” Dean asked.   

Thank God, he was wearing a shirt now. Even if it was a very tight t-shirt with AC/DC logo across the front. He carried the gym bag and a leather jacket. Dean brushed against Castiel as he exited the room and Castiel’s breath caught in his throat.   

Dean pulled out his phone and scrolled down the screen. “Hey, Ash, I’m ready,” he spoke into the phone before hanging up and slid it back into the pocket of his jeans. Castiel followed the man through a series of hallways to a large metal door. 

He looked at Castiel, brows furrowed. “Don’t you have a coat?” 

“It’s back at the hotel. The driver came so early this morning that I left without it.” The cutting New York cold had bitten through his suit jacket easily. Living in the south had made him overly sensitive to the cold. 

There was a black, full size SUV parked right by the door and a thin man with an unfortunate mullet haircut held open one of the passenger doors.   

“Cas, this is Ash. Ash, this is Castiel Novak. We’re going to drop him off at his hotel and then you’ll go back and pick him up around seven. He’ll be dining at Winchester’s tonight.” 

“Sure thing, Dean. Where are you staying, Mr. Novak?” 

“The Chelsea Savoy.” Dean was already climbing into the SUV and Castiel had no choice but to follow him into the roomy interior. Ash shut the door behind him. Within seconds, they were moving. 

“Where did you go to school?” Dean asked, arm along the back of the seat, knee propped up so he sat sideways, facing Castiel. 

“I attended high school in Atlanta before going to the University of Georgia. After I got my degree, I decided to attend the Culinary Arts Institute.” 

“That’s cool, I went to Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Austin. It was the best culinary school close to Kansas.” 

“Is that where you’re from… Kansas?” 

“Yeah. Born and raised in Lawrence.” Castiel didn’t know what to say after that. His people skills were rusty. They sat in silence. Castiel looked out the window at the traffic, the tall buildings and all the people. He decided he would not like New York. 

“So, you mentioned a brother. Any other family?” 

“No.” There was no need to elaborate. After today, they would spend one more day together filming another episode and then Castiel would never see the man again. There was no need to mention Anna’s death, or Claire. 

“I have a brother. He’s an attorney at a firm on Madison Avenue. You might meet him tonight, he usually shows up a few times a week with clients.” 

Castiel looked at the slightly younger man. He seemed like a puppy wanting to please his master.  Strange…he was a celebrity…an award-winning chef…while Castiel was a nobody. 

“My brother, Gabriel, owns a restaurant named Sweet in Atlanta.” 

“As in Gabe Novak? No shit. He's your brother? Small world. I met him at a wine tasting in Napa Valley last year. He’s a strange one…no offense. Nice guy, though.” 

Castiel cracked a small smile at that. “No offense taken. Gabriel can be hard to deal with. People either love him or hate him. There is no in between.” Gabriel must have made an impression to be remembered by someone like Dean Winchester. He wasn’t sure if it was a good one or a bad one though. 

Dean laughed. “I can see that.” 

The SUV stopped and Ash turned in his seat. “We’re at your hotel, Mr. Novak.” Castiel glanced out of the window to see his hotel just before reaching to open his door, but Ash was already there.  

“Thank you for the ride…uhm…Ash.” 

“My pleasure, man.”   

Castiel got out, but turned and leaned his head in. “Goodbye, Dean.” 

“See you at seven, Cas.” He was treated to a warm smile. All the way up to his room, Castiel remembered that smile. 

 

Chapter Text

Ash dropped Dean off at his Manhattan loft apartment. He showered, washing off all the makeup. He usually did that before leaving the studio, but today, he was with Cas. While the water sluiced over his body, he thought of Castiel Novak. He was strange, socially awkward even, but with that voice…the man could read from the phonebook and Dean would be happy…and horny. It didn’t hurt that the man was freakin’ gorgeous. He’d wine him and dine him tonight then invite him back to his place. Yes, he’d seen the way Cas had admired his body when he was changing shirts, even though he’d looked away quickly.  Dean wondered if he tasted as good as he looked. Being in the spotlight, Dean had to be careful who he played with, but Novak didn’t seem like the type to want to run to the tabloids. 

By the time he got to the restaurant, the kitchen was already controlled chaos. His sous chef, Garth, was heading up prep for tonight’s service. Winchester’s ran like a well-oiled machine. With his busy schedule doing the show, appearances, and all the other crap that went along with being a celebrity chef, it had to. He trusted Garth to keep the staff on an even track. These days, Dean was just a figurehead in his own kitchen. He missed it…missed the noise, the heat, and the excitement. Garth saw him and waved. Dean took a few minutes of Garth’s time to discuss the night’s specials. After that, he went in search of Ellen, his general manager. She was in the office, fingers on the computer keyboard, phone held to her ear by her shoulder.  She nodded to him and he sat down to wait. He listened to Ellen give someone an earful.  

She hung up and gave him a rueful smile. “Our beef distributor raised their prices again. I told them we would be finding someone else.” 

“Their quality is the best around.” Dean stretched out and rested his feet on the desk. 

“It was just a threat. I’ll bet you a bottle of Antinori Tignanello that they’ll be calling tomorrow to deal.” 

“And this is why you are sitting behind the desk.” Dean grinned at the woman who was like a mother to him.   

“I’m sitting behind this desk because your organizational skills suck,” she teased. 

“That too.” 

Ellen went over a few other items of business and Dean signed a few checks and contracts. He stood up, looked at his watch and told her he was dining in. 

She raised her eyebrow. “What’s the occasion?” 

“I have a date.” 

“Here? You’re bringing a date here? You never bring anyone here.” Dean didn’t bring any of his dates here because Winchester’s was like his home. Everyone that worked here from Garth and Ellen to the lowliest dishwasher was family.  His dates had been a steady stream of one-night stands or in a few cases, a couple of weeks of sex. Dean would cook for them at his place, fuck them and then send them on their way. He was nice about it, so there wasn’t usually any fallout. That’s why he wasn’t afraid to have some fun with Cas. They could film the episode next month and Cas would be cool with it. They might even get together then too. 

Ellen was looking at him like he’d just grown another head. “Who is she?”   

His name is Cas…Castiel Novak. He won a contest on the show and was at the tasting table today.”   

Ellen was well aware that though they filmed today, the episode would not air for another week.   

Her face grew suspicious. “He was a contestant on the show? Son, where is he from?” 

“Atlanta.” Dean looked sheepish under her intense gaze. 

“Atlanta? Sweet Jesus, Dean, this isn’t a date, it’s a hookup. You had me all excited that you were finally serious about someone.” 

“It’s not a hookup,” Dean said defensively, but he knew it was true. 

“So, when is he supposed to get here?” 

“Ash is picking him up at seven.” Dean stood. “He’s a pastry chef, so I’ve got to go talk to Garth about a dessert that will knock his socks off.” 

Dean took a few minutes to read over Cas’ profile right before the guy was supposed to arrive. Yes, he’d stolen it from the studio, but he’d give it back. Cas was thirty-eight, single, liked mountain biking, running, and reading. He scanned through Cas’ educational background and employment history. And there it was at the very end of the page, ‘my brother is looking for Mr. Right.’ Score. His gaydar never failed him...okay, there was that one time... 

Castiel didn’t bring any extra clothes, so he wore the same suit he’d worn at the taping. He’d brought one extra shirt to fly home in, so it would have to do. He hoped he wouldn’t spill anything on it tonight. 

 He must have looked at his watch at least ten times in the last thirty minutes. One last look in the mirror, thank God, because he forgot to pluck the bloody piece of toilet paper off his chin. He hadn’t cut himself shaving in years. It was just nerves. It was normal to be nervous. He was going to a famous New York City restaurant as the chef’s guest. He supposed he’d be eating alone, but it would still be a treat. Perhaps he could get the server to take his picture. Selfies never did him justice. He’d given up on those a long time ago. 

He was about to head downstairs, when the room’s phone rang. He frowned before answering it. Most people knew to call his cell, so he didn’t understand why this one was ringing. “Hello?” 

“Mr. Novak, your car is downstairs.”  

“Oh…well…thank you.” Castiel put the receiver down and grinned. His car was downstairs.  He would have to put that on his Facebook page. 

The SUV was right out front when Castiel exited through the hotel’s glass doors. Ash stood by the vehicle, arms crossed waiting on him. 

“Hey there, Mr. Novak.” The driver opened the rear door. 

“Hello, Ash.” Castiel slid onto the leather seat and Ash closed the door behind him. Classic rock music was playing over the speakers. Castiel preferred classical and instrumentals, but he wasn’t sure if he could ask to change it.   

It only took fifteen minutes to get to the entrance of Winchester's near Central Park West. Ash opened his door and Castiel stepped onto the sidewalk. He took out his phone to take a picture of Ash and the SUV before taking another shot of the front of the restaurant. Ash grinned while giving him a double thumbs up. 

Stepping inside Winchester's was exciting. Floor to ceiling custom wine racks covered the wall to his left, to his right was a seating area with a fireplace. The hostess station was teak with a marble top. The place oozed class. “Can I help you?” The pretty blonde was dressed in a red tuxedo shirt, bow tie and black slacks.   

Castiel looked around. All the servers were dressed the same way. At Gabriel’s restaurant, the servers wore white shirts and black slacks, simple and plain.  

“I’m…” Shit, what was he?   

“He’s with me, Jo.” Dean appeared at his left. Where had he come from?  

He grinned at Castiel. “Hey, Cas. Welcome to Winchester’s.” Dean took his hand and led him through the restaurant. Castiel was trying to take everything in at once…the candles, the red tablecloths, the soft hum of voices...the fact that Dean Winchester was holding his hand... 

Dean was stopped a half dozen times by patrons and he always had a smile and a few words. Castiel wanted to pull his hand out of Dean’s especially when he saw a few diners taking ill-disguised pictures, but Dean was holding firm. Eventually, Dean stopped at a table in a small alcove beside a set of French doors. Castiel glanced through the glass and saw a small courtyard with a fountain in the center with small bistro tables surrounding it.  

Dean saw him looking and shrugged.  “It’s a bit cold to eat out there now, but maybe when you come up to tape your segment, we can try it.” 

He let go of Castiel’s hand and gestured toward the table. “Have a seat.” 

Castiel sat down and was surprised that Dean sat across from him. “You’re eating with me?” 

The chef looked at him quizzically. “Of course. Did you think I was going to invite you to dinner and make you eat alone?” 

“Yes.”   

“Even I’m not that big of a jerk.” Dean nodded at someone behind Castiel and a server appeared. “I’ll have my usual, Kevin. Cas, what do you want to drink? Wine? I can have Kevin bring the wine list or whatever…” 

“I’ll just have sweet tea.” The waiter looked perplexed.   

“Hot tea, Sir?” 

“No, iced tea.” 

“Sweet?” 

Castiel forgot that people in the northern states didn’t exist on sweet tea like Southerners. “I’m sorry, I forgot I wasn’t in Atlanta. Just a Coke would be fine.” 

“No, someone in the back can make sweet tea. Kevin, please take care of that.” Dean sent Kevin off with a nod. 

“Dean, you didn’t have to cause extra work for anyone. A Coke would have been fine.” 

“It’s okay, Cas. We do stuff like this all the time. We have a policy that even if it isn’t on the menu, we can do a few special things for good customers.” 

“I’m not even a real customer.” 

“Even better, you’re my guest.”  

Dean met the blue eyes across the table and they didn’t waiver from his. He felt like the guy was looking into his soul. Dean was the first to look away. He scanned the restaurant. Several of his employees, including Ellen, were watching their table. Great. Ellen met his eyes and began to make her way over. So much for a quiet ‘get to know you before I bang you’ meal. 

“Cas, this is Ellen. She’s my GM.” Castiel, ever the gentleman, stood up and shook Ellen’s outstretched hand.   

“It is very nice to meet you.” 

“Welcome to Winchester’s.” Dean knew Ellen was taking Cas' measure, everything from his looks to the way he was dressed was being scrutinized. “I just wanted to meet you and congratulate you on winning the contest.” 

“Thank you. I didn’t expect to be chosen.”   

“I’m sure it was great if Dean picked your recipe.” She smiled warmly and said, “I’ll leave you two alone now.” 

Castiel watched her walk away then turned back to Dean. “Why would she want to meet me?” 

Dean thought about lying, but shrugged and told the truth instead. “I don’t bring… people here often, so…” Another shrug. 

“I find it hard to believe that you don’t invite people to your restaurant, Dean. You should be very proud of yourself and what you’ve accomplished. What are you thirty-one, two?” 

“Thirty-eight.” Dean needed to change the subject, so he gestured to the menu in front of Cas. “I hoped I could get you to try the burger, but if you want to go with something else, feel free.” 

“I will go with your recommendation.” He clasped his hands over the menu, not even bothering to open it. Dean thought that was pretty damn cool. 

Kevin arrived with a Sam Adams for Dean in a chilled pint glass and sat down an iced tea in front of Cas.  They both waited for Cas to take a sip. Once he realized they were staring at him, he picked up the glass and took a sip. He smiled at Kevin. “Perfect. Thank you.” 

Dean rattled off their order to Kevin and he disappeared. “May I?” Dean gestured for Cas’ glass. 

Cas nodded and pushed it forward a few inches. Dean took a tentative sip. It was sweet alright. Must be an acquired taste.  “It’s…not bad.” 

Cas grinned at him and Dean’s breath caught. He really was gorgeous. Dean liked the way the corners of the guy’s eyes crinkled with the smile. “I had the same reaction the first time I had it. But over the years, I’ve fallen in love with it.” 

“So, you aren’t from the south originally?” 

“With this accent?” Cas smiled. “No, I’m from Boston originally, but my family moved to California when I was small.” 

“Then how did you and Gabe wind up in Georgia?” 

A shadow fell over Cas’ face. “It’s a long story. Maybe for another time.” 

“Sure.” Dean gave him a lopsided smile and a nod of understanding.  Everybody had crap they carried around with them. Dean had lost his mother at four and lost his alcoholic father when he was in his late twenties. Shit happened. And you didn’t talk about it. 

The food came out quickly and Kevin sat Cas’ plate down first. He refilled Cas’ tea and brought Dean another beer. When they were alone again, Cas looked down at his meal. The burger was served on a freshly baked bun, instead of French fries, the potatoes were shaved thin and deep fried before being topped with a white cheese sauce and a sprinkling of blue cheese nuggets and bacon bits.   

Dean picked up his burger and took a large bite. Cas hesitated briefly, like he was debating whether to use his knife and fork. Mouth still full, Dean said, “Go on, pick it up and take a bite.” 

Cas’ long fingers wrapped around the burger and he brought it to his mouth. The noise that came out of the man’s mouth went straight to Dean’s dick. Dean watched him chew and swallow. He had difficulty putting the question together, and it came out a bit breathless. “What do you think?” 

“This makes me…very happy.” The look on his face was blissful. 

Dean’s bark of laughter caused several heads to turn in their direction.   

Surprisingly enough, their conversation flowed from one topic seamlessly into another one. Dean’s dates usually consisted of models, off-Broadway actors, and even a socialite or two. He’d never looked at another chef romantically before and it was nice to be attracted to someone who you could really talk to. 

They were discussing social media as used for advertising when Cas took out his phone. “Can I take your picture for Facebook?”   

The man was actually blushing. Dean thought he looked adorable. “Sure, wait.” Dean motioned with his hand and Kevin appeared.  “Hey, Kevin, take a picture of me and Cas.” Dean pulled out his own phone as well. Dean stood and walked around to stand beside Cas, he knelt so they could both be in the picture.  Kevin took a picture on Cas’ phone and then Dean’s. 

Cas declined dessert, but Dean insisted. Garth brought out the dessert and Dean was eager to see what his team came up with. He sat the confection before Cas and grinned.   

“Cas, this is Garth, my sous chef and right-hand man. He keeps this place going.” 

“Nice to meet you,” Garth said and with a flourish of his hand, described the dessert. “We’ve created a banana bread with malt mousse, caramel sauce, caramelized baby bananas, cinnamon ice cream, chocolate ganache, freeze-dried banana and edible 14k gold leaves.” 

Dean high-fived Garth. Castiel stared down at the dessert, turning the plate this way and that, a look of utter concentration on his face. He wasn’t smiling. Dean looked up at Garth, Garth shrugged. 

“Is something wrong with it?” Dean asked hesitantly. 

Cas finally looked up at Dean. “What…no, I’m sorry, I was deconstructing it in my mind. It is truly beautiful. What do you call it? 

“It doesn’t have a name yet.” Dean was glad that Garth hadn’t told Cas he made the dessert up tonight because Dean wanted to please his guest. “Please taste it,” Garth said, clearly nervous. 

Castiel was nervous. Dean and his sous chef, Garth, were both staring at him. He carefully used his fork to get a small taste of all the components of the dessert. He closed his eyes and let his taste buds pick up all the different flavors and textures. It was delightful.   

He smiled. "It tastes as good as it looks.” 

Garth’s grin split his face. He fist-bumped Dean and walked back to the kitchen. Castiel pushed the plate toward the center of the table.  “Help me eat this.” 

Dean didn’t have to be told twice. He poked his fork in and broke off a large bite. Castiel stared at Dean’s awestruck expression and wondered if he looked like that when he had an orgasm. He stifled the thought immediately. He would not think of sex with the chef. He could not think of sex with Dean. 

After they finished eating, Dean offered a tour of the kitchen. As they entered through the swinging doors, the high energy feeling slowed as everyone turned to look at them. Castiel was aware, very aware, of Dean’s hand on the small of his back. It was an intimate touch, usually reserved for a loved one, but Castiel could not dislodge it without making a scene. Dean showed him each station and introduced him to several people that Castiel would never be able to remember, nor would he have a reason to do so. Dean’s kitchen was impressive in its size and the smoothness of function. His brother’s restaurant was not shabby by any means, but it was obvious theirs was in its infancy compared to this one. 

“Dean, thank you for dinner. This has been a great experience. However, I must get back to my hotel.” 

“Yeah, sure.” Dean steered Castiel toward the front of the restaurant and out onto the sidewalk. The now familiar SUV was waiting. Ash opened the door. Castiel turned to say goodbye, but Dean was already entering the car. He thought the chef would remain at Winchester’s since it was still rather early by New York standards. 

Castiel entered and sat opposite of Dean. “Ash, take us around Central Park.” Castiel looked up at Dean, confused. 

“But…I really…” 

Dean interrupted him.  “It’ll only take a few extra minutes. Relax.” 

He sat back and looked out the window. Dean pushed a button and the sunroof opened. At the same time, a Plexiglas partition slid up between the front and back seats.  Castiel looked up at the lights of the skyscrapers.  He heard the tell-tale pop of a champagne cork and looked back at Dean. The chef was pouring the bubbly liquid into two flutes. Was the man trying to seduce him?

Chapter Text

Dean poured the champagne while Cas was looking up at the New York skyline. Ash was driving them slowly around Central Park and now the seduction could begin.  

Cas was peering at him intently and it was kind of unnerving. Dean gave him his patented ‘guaranteed to drop their panties’ smile. It wasn’t returned. He handed Cas one of the crystal flutes. Thankfully, Cas took it.  

“To new friends.” Dean held up his glass. Cas touched the rim of his flute to Dean’s and took a small sip.  Dean took a swig of his and casually placed his hand on Cas’ thigh. Cas pointedly looked down at his leg and back up at Dean. 

“Please take your hand off my leg.” His beautiful blue eyes were shooting daggers at Dean. Dean pursed his lips and removed his hand. It had been a long time since someone turned him down. He really didn’t like the feeling.   

“Sorry… guess I got my signals crossed,” Dean said, taking another drink of his champagne. 

“Signals? I gave you no ‘signals’ whatsoever.” Cas set the flute down into the cupholder and shifted away from Dean. “Was this whole evening just about getting in my pants?” 

“Well…” Was it? Dean found Cas attractive. There was no doubt about that, but as the evening wore on, he found himself liking the man.  Sam was always bitching at him about being honest with people…and shit, he did have to do an episode with the guy next month. “Look, Cas, I like you. You’re funny and smart and…” he shrugged, “…I’m sorry about being a douche.” 

“Just take me to my hotel. Please.” Cas wasn’t even looking at him. Fuck. 

Dean pushed the intercom button. “Ash, take us to Cas’ hotel.” 

“10-4, Boss.” 

They sat in silence as the SUV sped through the city. Dean finished his glass of champagne. If Ellen found out he wasted a two-hundred-dollar bottle of the sparkling wine, she’d have his hide. As the vehicle pulled to a stop outside the Savoy, Dean put his hand on Cas’ arm. “Cas, I really am sorry. I would appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone about…this.” Negative publicity could be the kiss of death to a celebrity chef and he’d already had his fair share. Maybe he needed to follow his brother’s advice and keep it in his pants. 

“What do you take me for? Do you really think I’m going to plaster this on Facebook? Fuck. You.” Cas almost barreled Ash over when the driver opened the door. Dean sighed and let his head fall back on the seat. Crowley would have his head if Cas refused to come back to film the episode. He was so fucked. 

"Everything okay, Dean?" Ash asked, his eyes following an obviously pissed off Cas into his hotel. 

"Just fuckin' peachy," Dean muttered and Ash knew enough about his boss to keep his mouth shut. 

Back at his apartment, Dean finished off the champagne. He drank it right out of the bottle, like the white trash he once was. He stood at the large window overlooking Central Park and wondered what Cas would think if he knew Dean and his little brother once lived in a car with their drunk of a father. That was one part of his own bio that no one knew about except his closest friends and family. 

Castiel worked himself into a rage in the elevator, but once he was in his hotel room, he did his best to calm down. Over dinner, he'd started liking the handsome chef, but the stunt in the SUV pissed him off. He supposed things came easy for the Dean Winchesters of the world. Well, he wasn't easy. He stopped having one-night stands when Anna died leaving him to raise his newborn niece. At eighteen months, Claire was his life now. He didn't have time for a roll in the hay with the likes of the celebrity chef, as tempting as it was. 

He packed his few belongings and stripped down to his boxers. It was only after he was in bed with the lights off that he wondered if he was mad because Dean was buddying up to him to get laid or...was he pissed at himself because he didn't take the chef up on it? 

Castiel slept poorly and found cause to complain about everything the next morning, from the dry pastries at the hotel, to the long lines at TSA, to the crowded flight filled with screaming babies. When he finally touched down at the Atlanta airport, he was ready to hold his niece and sleep for twelve hours. Unfortunately, with a young child, the latter wouldn't happen. 

He paid the attendant at long term parking and pulled out into heavy Atlanta traffic. Claire was staying with Gabriel and his wife, Ruby. Ruby had been an FBI agent until she met and married his brother. Now, she was a bestselling author.   

Gabriel and Ruby lived in Dunwoody in a quiet neighborhood. He pulled into their driveway and took a deep breath. His brother was warm and funny, as was his wife, but sometimes they were overwhelming. Especially when it came to how they thought Castiel should live his life. They thought Castiel had become reclusive since he'd gotten the horrific call all those months ago telling him that his older sister had died in a car accident, leaving his newborn niece without a mother. Castiel had flown out from California where he'd been working as a pastry chef in a prestigious bakery and moved into Anna's condo in the Buckhead area of Atlanta. Gabriel, also stricken by the news, was just opening Sweets. Between the two of them, they'd put a lot of blood, sweat and money into the restaurant. Maybe he was reclusive, but he had a daughter to raise now. Claire was his world. 

His daughter was on the floor of Gabriel's massive living room, surrounded by enough toys to stock a department store. He only recognized a few of them as hers. He swung the giggling child up into his arms. "Da-da," she chortled.  

Ruby, sitting on the floor too, looked up at him. "She missed you." 

"I missed her." He kissed her downy hair and breathed in her baby scent. He never tired of it.   

Ruby stood up and began picking up the toys and putting them in a large rattan hamper. "Gabe said you won the competition. We knew you would," she said proudly. 

"Gabriel should not have entered my name in the contest. He should have entered, not me." 

"He thought you would have fun, Castiel." Ruby, blew a raspberry on Claire's cheek, causing the toddler to giggle again and kick her legs into Castiel's ribs. 

"It was an uncomfortable experience." Castiel knew he sounded ungrateful, but he wanted to discourage them from interfering in the future. He knew Ruby was saddened by his attitude by the way she turned away.   

"Gabe is in his office. I'll go tell him you're here." She left him alone with his daughter. His little girl patted his face and gave him a toothy smile. She didn't have many of Anna's features and since Castiel never knew who the father was, he had to assume the child looked like him.  

Gabriel entered the room with a wide smile on his face. "Hey, Lil Bro. Good job with the contest. What did you think of Dean Winchester? I’ve met him before. He's hot...for a guy, and really a great person. He does a lot of shit for charity. I'd love the chance to cook with him myself." 

"Then you should have entered the contest instead of foisting it off on me," Castiel said dryly, spying Claire's little pink suitcase, packed and standing by the couch. 

"Don't be an ass, Cassie." Gabriel made a few funny faces at his niece. She reached for him and Castiel let her go so he could gather up her toys.   

"Gabriel, while I appreciate your faith in my abilities as a chef, I am just uncomfortable being away from Claire." 

"Claire is a great kid, Castiel, but you need a life too. Are you going to wait until she's eighteen before dating again? You're turning into a hermit." 

"I don't need to date. I've got Claire and friends...and the restaurant. I don't want or need a man in my life, especially one as cocky as Dean Winchester." Castiel realized his mistake as soon as the words left his mouth. 

"I said date, Castiel...I never mentioned Winchester." He sat Claire down on the carpet where she immediately made her way over to the large hamper of toys. "Interesting that you did though. I've heard he swings both ways...did something happen in the Big Apple that your older brother needs to be aware of?" 

"No, not at all." He inwardly cringed at Gabriel's expression. He was never good at lying. 

Gabriel laughed gleefully. "Oh, something happened all right. Did you get to see what's underneath those chef's pants? Was it impressive?" 

"Dean Winchester is a self-entitled dick. Let's leave it at that." Castiel snatched up Claire's suitcase and bag of toys, the toys he bought her, not the huge hamper that his sibling's wife must have bought while he was away for less than three days. 

The rest of Dean's week was hectic and it didn't help that he was in a foul mood. Crowley had gotten wind of the fact that Dean took Cas to his restaurant and made a few choice comments. Dean lied and said Cas was just a nice guy and Dean wanted to reward him for winning the contest. He didn't think Crowley bought it, but that was his story and he was sticking to it. 

He wasn't sure what he was going to do about Cas. If the man lived closer, he would call and apologize again for his behavior then see if he could make amends somehow. Atlanta wasn't too far for a phone conversation, but Dean doubted Cas would be receptive.   

Dean couldn't keep the man out of his thoughts. It had been a long time since he'd felt so comfortable with someone and so attracted at the same time. Dean Winchester didn't do relationships, but if he did, Cas would be a good candidate.  

After the show taped on Friday, Crowley called his end of week staff meeting to discuss upcoming shows. "Next week will be the Valentine's Day segments and I have a few ideas..." Dean tuned him out. He hated the holiday made up by the greeting card companies.   

"...in Atlanta. Charlie, you can take that one. This company is supposed to make European style truffles. You'll fly down Tuesday night, tour the place Wednesday morning and we'll include it in Friday's taping." 

"Atlanta?" Dean asked, rousing himself out of his daydreams of a world without red hearts and roses. 

His two co-stars and the producer looked at him in confusion. "Yes, Dean, Atlanta. Do you ever listen to me?" Crowley asked peevishly.  

"Sure, I listen," Dean said with a smirk. "So, what's this about Atlanta and truffles?" 

Crowley repeated himself and Dean surprised everyone by stating, "I'd love to go to Angels & Demons Chocolatiers." 

"You've heard of them?" Charlie looked shocked. 

"Of course. I got them as a gift from someone once. They're awesome." 

Benny sat back and crossed his legs. "Let me get this straight. You want to travel somewhere and tape a segment? Who the fuck are you and what have you done with Dean Winchester?" 

Dean understood everyone's apparent shock. Dean hated to travel. He would not fly anywhere if it was humanly possible to get there by car. Charlie and Benny always did the segments away from the studio unless they were in the New York area. "Very funny, Benny.  I just," Dean tried to think of a plausible explanation, "need to get away for a day or two. Stress...you know?" 

Crowley looked at Charlie. "Okay with you?" 

"Definitely. I have a LARP event next weekend and need time to pack my stuff." 

On his ride home that afternoon, Dean sat back, smug. He was going to Atlanta and could just pop in and see Cas. Maybe bring him some truffles from the small chocolatier. Once he really accepted Dean's apology, things would be on track for the episode just three weeks away. 

He spent the weekend working at the restaurant. The chaos brought him peace and not even Sammy's teasing about the flight to Atlanta was going to bring him down. His brother didn't know the real reason for the trip, but he knew Ellen suspected, even if she didn't say anything.   

Monday afternoon he packed for his trip after he finished taping. The flight was long and even in first class, Dean felt antsy. He played Metallica on his iPod and hummed along with it, earning irritated looks from some of his fellow passengers, but he didn't care. Metallica calmed his nerves. The flight attendant recognized him and flirted outrageously. He would have given her his hotel information a couple of weeks ago, but he had other things on his mind now. 

The film crew was to meet him at the chocolatier at nine the next morning and he was supposed to catch at three o'clock flight back to New York. He changed the flight time to eleven, so he'd have plenty of time to spend time with Cas. He could sleep on the airplane with a little help from Jack Daniels. 

He checked into his hotel late that night but he knew Sweet would still be open and so he called to make his reservation for five the next day. Early by his standards, but he was on a time crunch and getting there that early ensured him a better chance of seeing Cas. He wanted to apologize and see if he could salvage a friendship. Was he okay with just a friendship?   

With nothing to do until the next morning, Dean went to bed a little early and thought about the blue-eyed pastry chef. He let his hand drift down to his stomach, over the line of hair that started at his naval before coming to rest on his cock. Dean imagined Cas between his legs, taking him in his mouth, those amazing eyes looking up at him while he gave Dean head. Dean cupped his balls and stroked the length of his shaft. He closed his eyes and let the fantasy take him.   

Castiel dressed Claire in a small pair of jeans and a pink sweater. After he tied the laces of her sneakers, he grabbed her bag and they rode the elevator down to his car. Wednesdays were usually slow at Sweet, so Castiel took her to work with him. The rest of the times, she stayed with her nanny, Hannah.   

With her pack-n-play set up in the back of the kitchen, Castiel could prepare the desserts for the night's service and be out of there by seven. Claire had been raised in the kitchen of Sweet, so the noises and smells were normal for the toddler.   

At five, the hostess came into the kitchen. "Castiel, Dean Winchester is at Table Six and wants to see you." The girl was practically vibrating with excitement. 

"Dean Winchester?" Gabriel's eyebrows shot up. "The Dean Winchester? Why didn’t anyone tell me he had reservations?" Castiel could almost see Gabriel’s mind racing. 

"Fuck," Castiel muttered. What was he doing in Atlanta? He turned to his brother. "Gabriel, can you tell him that I've left early?"   

Gabriel shook his head in disappointment at Castiel and left the kitchen. Castiel was almost finished with his duties of the night and he had to get out of there. He told one of their kitchen staff to finish up for him and he reached down to pick up Claire. He was turning around with her in his arms when Gabriel came back, leading Dean Winchester. Castiel glared at his brother and he didn't care that Dean saw the look.   

Dean was carrying a box wrapped in bright gold foil in his hand. The man's eyes were on Claire. Castiel raised his chin, daring the chef to say something stupid. "Dean came by to give you something, Castiel. I told him you and your daughter were getting ready to leave for the night." 

Castiel nodded stiffly. "Thank you for stopping by, Chef, but as you can see, it's a bad time." 

The chef took a tentative step forward, but didn't respond to Castiel. Instead, he smiled at Claire. "Hello, Princess." 

Claire, the little traitor, grinned at Dean and pointed to the gaily wrapped package. "Purty." 

"Not nearly as pretty as you are." Dean reached up and touched her nose with a gentle fingertip. Claire giggled. 

"She doesn't understand empty flattery yet," Castiel said sarcastically. If he wasn't watching closely, he would have missed the hurt look Dean blinked away a moment later. It was a strange reaction for someone like the famous chef. 

"Yeah, well, I just wanted to bring you this and say I'm sorry again." Dean held out the box and before he could take it, Claire grabbed it. "Purty," she repeated. Castiel saw the tag for Angels & Demons. The chocolatier was his guilty pleasure. How had Dean known? 

Dean gave Castiel a small nod and stopped to shake Gabriel's hand. "You've got a nice place, Gabe. Next time you're in New York, dinner's on me." 

"I'll take you up on that, Dean," Gabriel said, his smile warm. Castiel stayed glued to the spot, Claire busily played with the ribbon. Dean didn't look at Castiel again. He walked out through the swinging kitchen doors. Gabriel waited until the doors stopped moving before rounding on Castiel. 

"I've never known you to be rude to anyone, Castiel. What the fuck? I don't know what the man did, but Christ, he came all the way to Atlanta to say he was sorry and you acted like a fucking ice princess." 

"Language," Castiel said, pointedly looking down at Claire. 

"Whatever." Gabriel threw up his hands and walked to his office. With a slam of the door, he was gone too. Castiel looked around. The staff was trying to look busy, but they'd probably heard every single word.   

Before he could second guess himself, he strode out to the dining room. Castiel looked around and didn't see the chef. Their hostess, Ute, and two of the wait staff were looking out of the front window. He saw Dean standing out on the sidewalk, cell phone pressed to his ear. 

Castiel opened the front door and called out. "Dean." 

The other man turned toward him and lowered his phone. "Cas." 

"Apology accepted." Castiel knew he sounded like a pompous ass, but he was completely out of his element. 

The side of Dean's mouth came up in a half smile. "I really am sorry.  I was a dick." 

"Dick!" Claire shouted. 

Dean's eyes flew open and he groaned. "God, I'm sorry, Cas." 

Castiel sighed. "Usually, if I ignore her bad words, she forgets them soon enough." 

"So, you divorced or what?" 

"I've never been married," Castiel admitted. He could tell that Dean wanted to ask more questions, but was too polite to do so. "Claire's mother was my sister, Anna. Anna was killed in a car accident a week after Claire's birth. Anna named me as her legal guardian in case something ever happened." 

"Wow. I'm sorry. I seem to be saying that a lot around you." Dean looked down at the sidewalk. If Castiel didn't know any better, he'd swear Dean was blushing. Silly thought, since there probably wasn't a shy bone in that beautiful body. 

Castiel looked back toward the window of Sweet and saw that Gabriel had joined the other employees.  He huffed and Dean looked up. "It appears we have an audience." 

Dean's head swiveled toward the front of the restaurant and chuckled. "Would you...I know you're busy with..." Dean gestured toward Claire.  "...maybe we can catch dinner or something?" 

Castiel liked seeing this side of Dean. Gone was the cocky celebrity chef. This Dean was more...human. 

"Claire isn't quite ready for restaurant dining. She tends to get boisterous and loud. Very loud." 

He thought Dean's laugh was nice. Soft and low. 

 

Chapter Text

Okay, so Dean wasn't expecting a kid. When he got to Sweet and asked the hostess if he could see Cas, she recognized him and went all fangirl for a second. Then she practically ran through the kitchen doors, giving Dean a chance to look around the small restaurant. Clean, elegant, nicely laid out. He liked it. He snagged one of the menus off the hostess' table and perused it. Tasteful, not too pretentious.   

Instead of Cas coming out, Gabe Novak was the one who came through the doors. The shorter man greeted Dean with a handshake and a grin. Dean held up the box of gourmet truffles that had set him back a hundred bucks. "I was hoping to see Cas and give him these." 

"Cas?” The chef seemed surprised at Dean’s nickname for his brother. “Castiel is about to leave for the night with his daughter, but we can probably catch him."   

Daughter? The guy's bio said he was looking for Mr. Right. Was there a Mrs. Right out there somewhere? 

After the awkward scene in the kitchen, Dean lost his appetite. He didn't want to try anything on the menu at Sweet. He just wanted to get as far away from Castiel Novak as possible. He'd sent the network’s provided limo away on the assumption that he would have a couple hours with Cas. First, he’d planned to apologize again, and then he would see if he could talk Cas into being his 'friend'. He had planned to pull out all the stops. Dean could be charming, laid back... a real friend.   

Instead, here he was on a busy street corner in Atlanta, phone to his ear, trying to get his limo to return. He never should have come. He should have kept his ass in New York. The phone was ringing, and then he heard a gravelly voice say his name. His thumb slid over the end button and the phone was silent. 

All his plans for being smooth and charming went up in smoke as soon as he saw Cas holding the child in his arms. He wasn't going to be able to get Cas alone. No asking him out for a drink. No dinner plans. Definitely not a trip back to his hotel for a nightcap. But he'd come all this way...so, yeah, it was supposed to be for the show and he had done the segment. Still, he only came to Atlanta because Cas lived here. 

Now, they stood on the sidewalk with Cas' brother and a few employees of Sweet staring out at them.  Could it get more awkward? 

"I have a solution...if you want. My apartment is only a few miles from here. I was going to go home and fix dinner for..." 

"I'd love to," Dean said. He knew he was grinning like an idiot, but he didn't care.   

Cas looked like he wasn’t sure why he'd asked Dean to his place. Dean wasn't going to give him a chance to change his mind. "You got a car?" 

"Yes.  It's parked..." He pointed toward the rear of Sweet.   

Dean let Cas lead the way to a white Jeep Cherokee. He’d expected Cas to drive something sporty. Maybe a convertible so the wind could blow through that hair...the dark hair that was so fucking sexy.  Cas strapped the toddler into a car seat and motioned for Dean to get in. He complied, and Cas drove away from the restaurant. They were quiet for the most part. Dean asked an occasional question about their surroundings. Soft classical music came from the stereo speakers. Dean thought crap like that was for elevators and doctor's offices, not cars. 

Cas pulled into a parking garage that sat beneath a high rise. The toddler chattered from the backseat. When Cas finally pulled into a space and shut off the engine, he turned to Dean. 

"I feel like I should tell you up front that I am not going to...sleep with you. Claire is the most important person in my life and I can't, won'tdo anything to..." Cas hesitated. "I just don't date or 'hook up' anymore. If that's all you want from me, I can call you a cab." 

Damn, the man got right to the point. He wasn't sure how he felt about the fact that Cas just assumed he wanted to jump his bones. Even if it was true, the guy didn't have to be so... so... cold about it. 

"I thought we were just going to have dinner," Dean said smoothly, directing the conversation away from dangerous territory.   

Cas' mouth quirked up at the corners, and he opened his door. 

Castiel expected Dean to bolt after this announcement. Most men would. He didn't date because dating when you were a single father was disastrous. He'd tried it once, right after he got the adoption papers signed, making Claire his. He was asked out by a man he'd met at a coffee shop. He’d found a babysitter and met the man for a drink. The date seemed to be going great until the sitter called to say Claire was running a fever. When his date found out he had a child, he freaked. Life was easier without those kinds of complications. 

Dean had the potential to become a complication which was why he had to spell it out before they got to the apartment. He wasn't sure what the chef's expectations were, but sex wasn't on the table. Not at all. It didn't matter that Dean was beautiful. Dean was used to getting whatever or whomever he wanted.  Of that, Castiel was certain. He still wasn't sure how he fit into that picture. What would Dean want with him? 

He led Dean down the small hallway that opened into the living room. Anna's condo was still furnished the way she left it. It wasn't that Castiel had a morbid sense of duty toward Anna's memory, it was just that he didn't have the time to make changes. The condo was all her tastes. The only changes he’d made were in the kitchen. Anna had not been interested in cooking, and only had a few basic items. But now, Castiel's kitchen contained gourmet ingredients and every chef's tool needed to create a wonderful meal. While small, it was serviceable. 

He put Claire on the living room floor with her toys. Instead of playing with them like she usually did, she chose to toddle toward Dean who stood next to the breakfast bar. She grabbed the leg of his jeans, holding tight with her chubby fist. The chef smiled down at her, something Castiel didn't expect.   

"What's up, Princess?" 

"Up," Claire said, holding her hands up. He watched as Dean bent to lift his child. He held her as though he was comfortable with children. 

"She likes you. Do you...have children?" Castiel hated to ask. The man had tried to seduce him, so that meant he was bisexual. He'd been seen with too many women to be a six on the Kinsey Scale. 

"Me?  Hel...heck, no. I raised my brother, though. He's four years younger than me." Castiel wondered about the story behind Dean's words, but it wasn’t his business. “And most of my staff has kids, so I get to see them at picnics and stuff.” 

Castiel began to pull ingredients from the fridge while Dean got comfortable on one of the bar stools to watch. Claire banged her hands on the counter and babbled in her own language. "I thought I'd make seared tuna, stuffed okra, and a sweet potato risotto. Is that okay?" He took a moment to stare at the other man and his daughter. Their eyes were the same exact shade of green. 

"Stuffed okra?" Dean raised an eyebrow. 

"It's along the same lines as a jalapeno popper. I slice open an okra pod and stuff it with cream cheese mixed with bacon pieces. Then I dip it in an egg wash, roll in panko crumbs, and fry until golden." Castiel began to cut open the vegetables. 

"Huh, sounds interesting." Dean absentmindedly kissed Claire's blonde hair. The act was so natural that Castiel stopped paying attention to what he was doing and sliced his finger on the knife. He hissed in pain. Dean jumped from the stool, concern etched on his face. "What did you do?"   

Dean put Claire down with her toys and was in Castiel's personal space within seconds.  When he took Castiel's hand in his, he tried to pull away. "I'm okay...just wasn't paying attention." His train of thought derailed when Dean wrapped his hand around his wrist and held a paper towel to the cut. Castiel knew Dean could feel his pulse rate increase. 

"It's not deep," Dean said, holding the towel tightly to staunch the blood flow. "Why don't you go sit, and I'll finish dinner. I think I can manage." 

Castiel was embarrassed. He was a chef, for God's sake. Cutting his finger in front of Dean Winchester was pathetic. He'd wanted to impress the man, not look like a contestant on Worst Cooks in America. Dean looked over the ingredients and set to work. He asked where a few things were, but mostly he cooked with precision and fluid movements. 

"Claire eat stuff like this?" 

"Yes. I've cultivated her palate, and she’ll try just about anything.” 

 

Dean was out of his element. Most of his conquests didn't have children. Not that Claire was a bad kid... she was still a kid, though. Kids required a lot of attention. He should have made up an excuse and hung out at the airport bar until his flight left. But there was something about Cas Novak that made Dean want to get to know him better. When Cas cut himself, it was easy to fall into the role of caregiver. He’d taken care of Sam his whole life.   

Cooking in front of Cas was fun. He was very aware those blue eyes were following his every move. When the risotto was finally done, he plated the meal for both of them while Cas prepared Claire's. Her highchair looked out of place amid the chrome and leather of the other furnishings. In fact, all the baby stuff looked out of place in the fancy apartment. He was curious about the rest of the place.   

They ate at the breakfast bar since Cas didn't have a dining room. Cas allowed Claire to feed herself, but the toddler wore most of the meal, and a large portion wound up on the floor. He tried to imagine a baby in his New York City loft, but the picture was too impossible.   

Dean liked the okra things and filed the recipe in his brain to try out on his family. He held one up on his fork. "These are good." 

Cas smirked. "You expected them to be bad?" 

He grinned sheepishly. "Yeah." 

Once everything was loaded in the dishwasher, he looked expectantly at Cas. "I don't have to be at the airport for another two hours. We could watch some TV or something. Or if you need me to leave, I can just... go."   

"I have to bathe Claire and get her ready for bed. I don't usually have time to watch TV. You are welcome to stay and watch something."   

Okay, so did Cas want him to go or to stay? He was having trouble reading the guy. "Maybe I should just call for my car." 

"Yes, that might be for the best." Cas looked away from him, head tilted to the side. 

He pulled out his phone and called the driver. He gave Cas' address, and the driver promised he'd be there in thirty minutes. Cas was on the floor with Claire, stacking colorful blocks. She would knock them down and laugh. Cas would chuckle and stack them up again. Dean wasn't sure what he should do now. "I guess I'll go wait downstairs." 

He walked to the door, but Cas' voice stopped him. "Dean. Wait. I'm sorry this wasn't what you expected. I'm not a very interesting person. I'm a single father and a glorified baker. I've accepted your apology. Please don't feel you owe me anything else." 

"Cas...you are interesting, and I..." 

Cas interrupted him. "Look, Dean, I’ll come do the episode with you, and I promise to be on my best behavior." Dean smiled at that comment. "Afterwards, I'll come home and do what I can to be a good father to Claire." 

It sounded so final. He supposed it was. A friendship with the man was crazy, anyway. They lived nearly a thousand miles away from each other. It wasn't like they could catch a Yankees game or a beer after work. 

He let himself out of the apartment and took the elevator down to the lobby. He sat on a brick planter and checked his email, sent a Tweet about trying okra for the first time, and then played Candy Crush until the car arrived.   

On the plane, Dean decided he just needed to get laid. The weekend was coming up, and he planned on going out to a few clubs, pick up a nice-looking guy, or girl, and release some of the sexual tension Cas had caused. It was a shame that the first person he'd been really attracted to both mentally and physically was out of his league. 

But the weekend came and instead of hooking up with someone, Dean spent the time at his restaurant cooking and hanging out with his family. The next two weeks flew by with taping the show, a wine tasting event in the Hamptons with a few other celebrity chefs, and his brother's engagement party. He wasn't jealous of Sam and Jess. Not really. Sam deserved to be happy and Jess was going to be a great sister.   

As he raised his glass of champagne to the smiling couple, Dean reflected on his life. He was thirty-eight.  The majority of his colleagues were married with children. Sure, he had his own restaurant, a show on network television, fancy digs...but the one-night stands were getting old. He was getting too damn old to go clubbing. 

"Dean, you okay?" Sam asked, concern in his expressive eyes. 

"Sure." Dean managed a bright smile. "My baby brother's getting married. Damn straight, I'm okay." 

"Would you tell me if you weren't?" 

"Sammy, I'm fine. Go take a spin on the dance floor with Jess. Or else, I will. Then she’ll see which brother she really belongs with." 

Sam laughed.  "Jerk." 

"Bitch." He watched his brother go to his future bride, take her hand and pull her onto the area set up for dancing. No, he wasn’t jealous. 

Castiel packed up his suitcase for another three days in New York. Claire was napping in her room. He would drop her off with Ruby in a little while. He dreaded it. Since Dean's visit, Gabriel and Ruby had not let up on Castiel's failure to explore a sexual tryst with the celebrity chef.   

Gabriel even pointed out that when Claire was eighteen, Castiel would be fifty-six and probably too old to have a sexual encounter with anyone without the aid of Viagra. Only Gabriel would come up with something like that. 

Thanking God and everything holy that Gabriel left for the restaurant early and wasn’t at the house,  Castiel handed over his daughter to Ruby without having to defend his decisions for once. 

He was staying at the same hotel as before, and there was a packet awaiting him at the desk. Inside the envelope were instructions and times. He unpacked his toiletries and set the alarm for four-thirty. As he lay in bed, his mind wandered.  He'd be seeing Dean tomorrow. He'd be spending the entire morning with him. Dean was in his thoughts more than he wanted him to be. He’d only met the man two times.  Two times, and he'd memorized the pattern of freckles across his nose and cheeks, the color of his eyes -- so green they were like leaves in the early spring, the shape of his lips which were almost feminine. He groaned.   

Dean had been the object of his fantasies for the last three weeks. He'd had daydreams of the man while whipping cream for the evening's desserts. His showers were filled with mental images of the chef on his knees, lips wrapped around his engorged cock. He couldn't even shut his eyes at night without picturing Dean above him, sinking into his willing body. How was he supposed to get through the taping without thinking about sex with the man? Living a celibate life for the sake of his child was not going to be as easy as he thought. 

The studio was bustling with activity, and Castiel was led through the labyrinth to the makeup room. He sat and let a talkative blonde prepare him for the cameras. She was fastening the cape that protected his clothes from makeup, when the door opened and Dean walked in, dressed in tight fitting jeans and a gray sweater. Castiel felt a pang of regret at the way he’d treated Dean. Self-preservation was important to him, though. There was no future with Dean, so why risk one night of pleasure?   

The chef didn’t seem to notice Castiel at first. He was focused on his phone’s screen.   

“Hey, Becky,” Dean said absentmindedly, still not looking up.  He was almost on top of Castiel when he finally saw him. “Cas.” Dean blinked a few times, staring intently as though he wasn’t sure why he was sitting in the makeup room. 

“Hello, Dean.” Becky paused, her brush in midair. She looked from Castiel to Dean and back again. 

Dean finally looked down at his phone and rolled his thumb across the screen before putting it in his pocket. “You ready for today?” 

“Yes.” 

“Best behavior, right?” 

Castiel let a small huff of laughter escape. “Yes, Chef.” 

Dean smirked. Becky went back to what she was doing, and a few seconds later, she took the cape off of Castiel. Dean’s eyebrow rose. “You’re wearing a suit…and a tie.” 

He looked down at his blue tie and black suit. “Yes.” 

“Dude, we’re making burgers…on a grill. Do you cook out at home in a suit?” 

“I don’t have a grill at home.” 

“It’s just not…” Dean waved his arms around, “not cool.” He picked up the receiver of a phone on the wall and pressed a button. “It’s Dean. Yeah. Send someone from wardrobe to the makeup room ASAP.  Yeah, I have a fashion emergency.” 

“Mr. Novak, if you’ll sit tight, someone from hair will be in shortly.” Becky smiled and turned her attention to Dean. 

“Nothing’s wrong with his hair,” Dean said. Becky, once again, looked back and forth between the two men. She draped a cape around Dean and picked up a makeup brush.   

 “Hello, boys,” Crowley called out from the doorway.  “Just the two people I wanted to see. Let’s go over the prompts and stage directions.” 

Castiel listened intently to the producer. He was a bit confused by some of the things he said, but Dean nodded his obvious understanding.   

A woman, Castiel assumed was the hairdresser, entered. It wasn’t a large room to begin with, but now it seemed claustrophobic. The woman turned him to face the mirror, and she frowned at his reflection. His hair was the bane of his existence. He’d tried all kinds of products, but his hair always looked like he’d just crawled out of bed. She picked up a pot of something, and Dean’s voice interrupted Crowley’s directions on when to end for a commercial break. 

“Sue, leave it alone. His hair’s great the way it is.” Everyone in the room stared at Dean, including Castiel himself. 

“What?” Dean asked innocently.   

Crowley looked from Dean to Castiel. “Sue, leave it. It looks like he just crawled out of bed with a wild lover. The ladies watching might like that.” 

Castiel blanched, but Sue stepped back with a shrug. Dean and Crowley went back to discussing the segment. Apparently, he’d been dismissed. He tried not to take offense, but he didn’t like the idea of his unruly hair being used to entice the female members of the audience. It made him feel sleazy. 

A man came in and met Dean’s eyes. “What do you need, Chef?” 

“Get Cas something else to wear. Maybe jeans and a polo or a button down. Something to bring out his eyes.”   

The man looked Castiel up and down. Tilted his head right and then left. “Thirty-six waist, thirty-four inseam?” 

Castiel nodded blankly. “Yes.” 

“Follow me.” Castiel looked at Dean. How had this whole experience gotten so out of hand? Since everyone in the room was staring, Castiel turned and followed the nameless man to wardrobe. 

The show’s two other hosts entered as he was leaving. The redhead smiled and touched his arm and the large Cajun patted his back. Dean called out to him. 

“Cas, when you finish in wardrobe, have someone bring you to the set so I can show you around the kitchen.” Dean met his eyes in the mirror and gave him a reassuring smile. Castiel nodded briskly and made his escape. 

He found himself dressed in a pair of khaki slacks and a teal polo shirt. The wardrobe assistant muttered about his black dress shoes, but assured Castiel the cameras wouldn’t see them. 

Chapter Text

He shouldn’t have said anything about Cas’ hair. His mouth overrode his brain. Then Crowley had to put in his two cents. He saw Cas’ reaction and it bothered him.  Dean was used to the spotlight, used to people looking at him… Cas wasn’t. 

The stylist was running gel coated fingers through Dean’s hair when the guy from wardrobe came in. What was his name? Stan… Steve? He was taking Cas away when Charlie and Benny arrived for makeup. Dean called out for Cas to meet him on the set and then let the crew make him ready to face the cameras. 

“Where’s Novak’s handler?” Crowley barked to the room in general. Nobody answered and he frowned. His phone appeared in his hand.   

Charlie plopped down in the other makeup chair and Becky went right to work on her. Soon, the two women were talking about shipping something… or someone? Dean wasn’t sure which and since it didn’t concern him, he ignored it. With a shot of hairspray, Dean was done. He stood up and let Benny have his place. 

Crowley was still barking orders into his phone when Dean left the room. He spotted Cas coming out of the wardrobe room. “Hey, you look… preppy. Sorry about all that shit about your hair and the confusion. It gets a bit chaotic before taping begins. We’re kind of used to it.” 

“It was somewhat overwhelming.” Dean couldn’t hold back his smile. The guy’s vocabulary and the way he talked was so stuffy, but in a sexy professor kind of way that worked for him. 

“Come on, I’ll take you to the studio, and we can go over your marks and prompts before the audience is let in.” 

His challenge was to keep things professional between them, friendly but businesslike. He took Cas to the staging area and showed him the pieces of tape on the floor. Color-coded strips showed the hosts and their guests where to stand for the best shots. Dean’s tape marks were red, Charlie’s green, and Benny’s were blue. Dean read through the director’s page and found what he was looking for. 

“Your color is yellow.” 

“Excuse me?” 

“Your tape marks. All the yellow tape is for you.” Dean explained camera angles and showed Cas the teleprompter. 

“Don’t worry about anything. I’ll take the lead, and you just be yourself. All your ingredients are going to be premeasured and in prep bowls.” 

After another ten minutes, Charlie and Benny appeared, and the crew got in position. Balthazar came over to Dean and Cas. “Mr. Novak, you’ll be waiting in the green room. Yours is the first segment after the intro.” To Dean, he said, “I’ll introduce him, and he’ll walk out on Stage Left to take his place beside you.” 

“Got it. Thanks, Zar.” 

“Go get ‘em, Tiger.” Balthazar smacked Dean on his ass and headed to the sound booth.   

Dean saw Cas’ eyes following Balthazar with a frown. “He really is a great guy.” 

“Is it commonplace for people to… slap your… butt?” 

Dean burst out laughing and several of the crew looked his way. “No, Balthazar is just… Balthazar. He’s a cockslut, but harmless.” 

Cas looked… what? Concerned?  Constipated? Confused? “Hey, don’t worry, he hasn’t molested a guest yet.” 

“Five minutes, people,” Crowley shouted as he strode toward them. He looked at Cas. “You, where is your handler?” 

“I’m not sure,” Cas replied. 

“Damn it to hell, am I the only one who does anything around here?” Crowley roared to no one in particular.  “Come with me.” 

Dean looked apologetically at Cas. “I’ll see you in a few.” 

Dean went over to the hosts’ table and sat next to Charlie. She gave him a look.  “What?” Dean asked defensively. 

“You’re paying a lot of attention to the handsome guest.” 

“He’s a nice guy,” Dean said, his eyes on the card that held the topic for their intro talk.  

“Rumor has it that you took him to Winchester’s, and we all know you took a trip to Atlanta… he lives in Atlanta. Coincidence? I think not.” 

“He’s not interested.” Dean finally looked up and met her eyes. “So, let’s drop it.” 

“Wait, he’s not interested in you?” Benny looked stunned. “He’s gay, right?” 

“How did you know he was gay?” Dean glared at his co-host.   

“Dean, some of us do read the bios,” Charlie said as she patted his arm condescendingly. 

“You can both bite my…” 

He stopped as the doors in the back of the studio opened and their audience poured into the seating area. He pasted on his public smile. 

“Good morning and welcome to Spice of Life. My name is Charlie Bradbury, and these two handsome gentlemen are my co-hosts, Dean Winchester and Benny Lafitte. Today, the winner of the Backyard Barbeque Bash, Castiel Novak, will be cooking his winning dish with our own dish, Dean. Later in the show, Benny is going to teach you how to take leftover chili and make four amazing meals with it. But first, a question from a fan…” 

Dean picked up the bright orange card and read the question. 

“Andrea Nicole from Houston, Texas, writes… ‘Is there any way to give my family French toast without standing over a hot griddle?’” 

Benny smiled warmly at Camera Three. “Andrea, my lovely wife is named Andrea,” Benny paused to smile into the camera. Somewhere in Texas, a woman named Andrea was swooning over the handsome Cajun. “There is an easier and less messy way to make French toast. If you use Texas Toast style bread, the thick kind, place it in a greased baking pan, making an even layer. Mix your egg batter and pour over the bread. Let chill in your fridge for about thirty minutes. Bake at three-fifty for about forty-five minutes.”   

The three hosts talked about their favorite breakfast foods for another minute. When the segue music started, Charlie announced the commercial break. “When we come back, Dean is going to be in the kitchen with Castiel Novak, a pastry chef from Atlanta, Georgia.” 

Dean walked to the kitchen area and watched as the crew set out the various ingredients Cas would need for his burger. While he waited for his cue to take his mark, he shook hands with a few people from the tasting table. 

“Winner of Spice of Life’s Backyard Barbeque Bash contest, Castiel Novak.” Balthazar’s voice boomed out of the overhead speakers. 

Dean took his mark and watched as Cas entered the cooking area. They shook hands, and Dean couldn’t resist pulling him in for a manly hug. He felt Cas stiffen slightly and whispered. “Easy, just a hug, not grabbing your junk.” 

He was rewarded by an extremely red-faced Cas. He was flustered, but managed to find his mark.    

“So, you won the contest with your burger. Can you walk me through it?” Dean, being the television professional that he was, kept a straight face. 

Cas cleared his throat, remembered to look into the camera, and began. 

“I like a mixture of meats for better flavor and texture. I start with a half-pound of ground sirloin, add a half-pound of ground chuck and then, I grind up a special sausage made in Alabama in the food processor. You don’t want to make it a mush, just a rough chop.” 

“Wait…you seriously grind up kielbasa?” 

“No, it’s got a similar texture, but it’s spicier than kielbasa. You can use Andouille if you don’t have a local sausage you like.” Cas dumped a bowl of cut-up sausage into the food processor and gave it a couple of pulses. He scooped it into the bowl of other meat and began to mix it with his hands. 

“That is really cool. So, this gives you the fat content to get a moist burger.” 

“Yes. To this, I add cayenne, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, and Worcestershire sauce.” 

“That’s it? You don’t use an egg or starchy ingredient for a binder?” He was watching Cas’ hands knead the ingredients together. Dean didn’t use binders either. He believed good quality meat didn’t need them. He’d only asked the question for the audience’s sake. 

“No need. Good quality meat makes the difference.” Cas began to pull off hunks of the meat mixture and mold into large patties.    

Dean dug in to help. “Today, we are going to grill them, but you can cook these under your broiler or on your stovetop. Isn’t that right, Cas?” 

“Yes. A cast iron skillet is what I use, but your broiler is an equal substitute.” 

They went to another commercial break, and Dean leaned over, covered his mic, and said, “You’re doing great, Cas.” 

Taking his cue from Dean, Cas covered his own mic. “No thanks to you.” 

“You aren’t holding that against me, are you? Come on, Cas, I was just playing around. You acted like you were going to catch cooties from me hugging you.” 

Cas looked him in the eye. “Maybe you do have ‘cooties’, Dean.” Dean could almost picture the air quotes. 

Dean stared at him indignantly, and then saw the slight smirk on the man’s face. “Whoa, was that a joke, Cas?”           

The cameras rolled as they grilled the burgers to perfection and served them to Charlie and Benny before passing them out to the tasting table. “These are freakin’ awesome, Cas,” Dean said, taking another huge bite. 

After Dean’s lewd comment, it took all Castiel had to hold himself together. He kept repeating to himself that he was on national television… national television… national television. It became his mantra. He got through the segment with his dignity intact. He even lightened up enough to attempt a humorous comment to Dean. All in all, his segment wasn’t as bad as he’d anticipated. 

Castiel shook hands with Benny, received a hug from Charlie, and after a moment’s hesitation, shook Dean’s hand. He left the studio and wandered back to the green room. His handler never did make an appearance. Should he call a cab? He needed to find wardrobe and locate his own clothes. He just wanted to get back to his hotel for some peace and quiet. His big plan for his night in New York City was to have room service deliver his dinner, watch a movie, or perhaps find an interesting documentary.  

He had his phone in his hand when Crowley stuck his head in the room. “Novak. Good, you’re still here. Your boyfriend passed me a note to give to you.” 

“My… boyfriend?”   

“Yes. Dean Winchester, Boy Wonder. Must think I’m his lackey.” The English accent was laced with sarcasm. He practically shoved a folded piece of paper at Castiel. 

Not seeing another option, Castiel took the note. He opened his mouth to tell the producer there was nothing between him and Dean, but the guy was out the door before he could get a word out. He opened the paper and read Dean’s words. 

Cas ,  

Don’t leave the studio.  

Dean  

Well, this put him in an awkward situation. He sat on the sofa provided for guests, then stood and paced the room. He looked at the television mounted on the wall and at the remote control on the table in front of him and clicked it on. It was a live feed from the studio. He watched Benny pouring leftover chili into a casserole dish lined with corn tortillas. Dean was standing beside him smiling into the lens of the camera.   

He really needed to call a cab and get out of here. He should leave this place and never look back. That’s what he needed to do. Instead, he watched as Dean Winchester’s face filled the screen… straight, white teeth… a smattering of freckles over his nose and cheeks that makeup couldn’t hide … emerald eyes… 

Would one night hurt? One night in New York City before going home to his life… Claire… the restaurant… the cold condo filled with chrome and black leather couches. Castiel blew out a huff of soft laughter. He’d been so cold to Dean that the man probably didn’t even want him anymore. 

He realized the credits were rolling across the screen. Too late to make a run for it now. Moments later, Dean burst into the room. His face broke into a grin. 

“You waited.” 

“I got your note. Isn’t that what you asked?” 

“Yeah, but I didn’t think… Hey, did Crowley give you a hard time?” 

“No. He did complain about being your lackey.” 

Dean laughed. “If he wasn’t complaining about something, I’d really worry. The man is brilliant, but fuck, is he crotchety.” 

“Why did you want me to wait, Dean?” 

“I just thought we could have dinner… you know… just a friendly dinner.” 

“Just dinner?” 

“Sure, Cas.” Dean looked sincere. Castiel didn’t know if he was relieved or disappointed. 

“That would be nice.” 

“Awesome. I’ll pick you up around seven. Can you give me your cell number?” Dean handed him his phone, and Castiel entered his number. “I’ll send you a text when I get to your hotel.” 

Still grinning, Dean turned to leave. “Dean?” 

“Huh?” He looked back. 

“I need to find wardrobe and change. Do you know how I’m supposed to get to my hotel? I believe my handler is MIA.” 

Dean frowned. “Seriously? Come on, let’s see what’s going on.” 

He followed Dean out into the maze of hallways. Dean led him to a suite of offices. Production was stenciled on the dark gray door. The announcer, Balthazar, was leaning against the desk of an attractive blonde woman. He looked up at Dean and smiled. “Dean, Darling, I thought you’d be gone by now.” 

“Hey, Bal… Cas’ handler never found him today. Are there arrangements to get him to his hotel? Do you know what’s going on?”   

Balthazar made a tsking sound and went over to the wall where a bunch of clipboards hung on hooks. He took one down and moved his forefinger down the page. “Looks like Ava was on the schedule.” He turned to the blonde. “Is Ava on set today?” 

The blonde keyed in a few things on her keyboard and shook her head. “She didn’t clock in.” 

Dean looked at Castiel. “Don’t sweat it, Cas. I got you covered.” 

“If someone could just arrange for a cab…” 

“Fuck that. Come on, Ash can drop you off.” 

“Dean, a cab is fine.” 

“No arguments.” Dean was already walking out the door, and he had no choice but follow. Soon, Castiel found himself in front of wardrobe and Dean opened the door. “Hey, man, Cas needs his clothes back.” 

Embarrassingly enough, Dean watched him undress and put his own clothes back on. It was bad enough that Steve was standing there. Castiel thanked every god he could think of for his choice of underwear.  His dark blue boxer briefs were almost new. 

He trailed Dean to his dressing room where, once again, the man changed out of his shirt, this time into a Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt. “Got any preference where you want to go tonight? We can go back to Winchester’s or try something new.” 

“I’m not familiar with New York. You can decide and I’m sure I’ll be fine with your choice,” Castiel answered. 

“Okay. I’ll pick, but you better not complain about the food,” Dean teased. 

“Scouts’ honor.” Castiel gave Dean the Boy Scout salute. 

“You were a Boy Scout?” 

“No. They didn’t care for my… sexual orientation,” Castiel stated softly. 

“You knew you were gay when you were that young?” 

“I knew I liked boys. I didn’t become aware it was an issue, or there was a name for it, until I was in my early teens.” His parents didn’t discuss anything related to sex or relationships with him or his siblings. Most conversations in the Novak household related to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. 

Once again, they were on the move. Dean walked in front of him and he noticed for the first time the bow in Dean’s legs. His thoughts went south. It had been so long...  

Ash was waiting outside. He gave Castiel a nod. “Morning, Mr. Novak. Good to see you again.” 

“Good morning, Ash.” 

“We’re going to swing by Cas’ hotel and drop him off.” 

“10-4, Boss.” 

Castiel found himself in the SUV, once again zooming through the streets of New York. The two men talked about wine, food, gay rights… the conversation flowed easily. Castiel noted the cocky man he met a month ago was absent, and in his place was a warm, funny man. A man who happened to be famous, gorgeous, and very rich. 

The vehicle stopped, and Ash opened his door. “I’ll see you later, Cas,” said Dean, smiling up at him from inside the SUV. 

Castiel gave Dean a nod and then said goodbye and thank you to Ash. He took the elevator to his room and looked at his choices of clothing. For this trip, he’d packed an extra shirt and a pair of black jeans. He had no idea where Dean was taking him and he stared down at his things in dismay. Nothing he brought was sophisticated. It wasn’t like he could ask. Dean had gotten Castiel’s number, but he’d failed to get Dean’s.   

He found himself at odds. He had an entire afternoon to kill before Dean picked him up. Having only been to New York once before -- and that was at the first taping of Spice of Life -- he knew nothing about the city. His stomach growled, and he grimaced. The small bite of hamburger he ate on the segment wasn’t filling in the least. He needed lunch.   

He found a café right around the corner from the hotel and ate a sandwich as he watched the people go by. On the way back, he stopped at a small store called Bumblebee Kids. He found a cute yellow dress with black trim and a bee appliquéd on the pocket. Claire would look adorable in it. 

When he got back to his room, he still had a few hours left to wait. He stripped down and took a quick shower and shaved. Then he laid across the bed and set his alarm. A nap seemed like a good idea. 

He woke when his phone chirped, alerting him of a text. He checked the screen. It was almost time for his alarm, anyway. He looked at the message. 

TEXT FROM UNKNOWN/ 3 :45 – Wear something casual.  NO TIE.  

It took him a moment to figure out that the message was from Dean. He captured the number and saved it under contacts, not that he would ever need it again after tonight. 

TEXT FROM YOU/ 3 :48 – Yes, Chef.  

TEXT FROM DEAN/ 3 :49 – Asshat.  

Castiel smiled. He sat the phone on the dresser and pulled the clothes from his suitcase. Thirty minutes later, he was dressed in the black jeans, a white button down, and black boots. After a splash of aftershave, he was as ready as he’d ever be. It was only four-thirty. He cleaned up the room, packing up most of his things for the flight out tomorrow morning. He checked Facebook. It was only five o’clock. With help from Siri, he found a bar near the hotel. The Xes Lounge was a block away. Decision made, Castiel walked there. The beautiful man behind the bar smiled at him. The place was empty save for two older men at a table.   

“Hi, it’s happy hour. Can I get you a drink?” 

“I’ll have a Cosmopolitan,” Castiel said. He took off his trenchcoat and placed it on a bar stool then sat down, elbows on the bar. 

“Good choice.” The bartender began making Castiel’s drink. “You must not live around here.” 

“Is it that obvious?”  

“Yeah. Most New Yorkers wouldn’t set foot in a club like this before seven. So, where are you from?” 

“I live in Atlanta.” 

“Ahhh, a true Georgia peach. You don’t have the accent.” He sat Castiel’s drink in front of him. 

“I’m not from the south originally.” Castiel took a sip of his drink and the bartender turned to catch the ringing phone. Relieved he didn’t have to make more small talk, he took the time to send a text to Dean. 

TEXT FROM YOU/5:18 – I am at the Xes Lounge on 24 th having an adult beverage. Can you pick me up here?  

TEXT FROM DEAN/5:20 – Are you sure you’re not from around here? Best gay bar in the city. Sly dog. See you there in a few.  

TEXT FROM YOU/ 5 :21 – Siri said I would like it.  

TEXT FROM DEAN/5:22 Siri is a smart woman. 

TEXT FROM YOU/5:23 – Siri is the computer - generated voice from my iPhone, Dean.  

TEXT FROM DEAN/ 5 :25 – Don’t ever change, Cas .  

 Castiel wasn’t sure what Dean meant by that.

Chapter Text

Dean was putting the finishing touches on his prep work. The steaks were marinating, the potatoes had been baked and scooped out. It was about forty degrees outside, but Dean wanted to grill anyway. His loft apartment had roof access and he had a nice little outdoor kitchen set up there. There were only two others in the building with roof access and they were pretty cool about not messing with his stuff. Mainly because Dean cooked for them about once a month. The older Jewish couple, Seth and Bina Feldheim, were like adoptive grandparents and Missouri… well, the psychic was strange, but Dean adored her. 

The dining room table was set for two. He didn’t want this to look like a planned seduction. It wasn’t.  Cas had made that perfectly clear. Dean just wanted it to be dinner between friends. There were no candles, no fancy placemats, not even a centerpiece. Not that Dean ever had a centerpiece. The beautiful teak table held two plates, silverware and pint glasses for the beer. 

He was set. It was only four forty-five. His shower took him less than five minutes, since it was his second one of the day. He looked in the mirror and decided against shaving. It was going on his second day and the scruff was looking pretty good. When he was younger, he hated the way his beard came in ginger, but now, he just didn’t give a shit anymore. It didn’t seem to make him unappealing. The notches on his bedpost attested to that. Thinking of his bed got him thinking of Cas. Seeing him undress today in Wardrobe… damn, he filled out those boxer briefs. He really did have an awesome body. 

He dressed in his usual jeans and a dark blue Henley. He was halfway back to the kitchen when his phone chirped. Dean’s laugh echoed off the walls of the loft when he read Cas’ text. 

Leave it to the social awkward guy to find the best gay bar in New York. Dean was glad it was early. After nine, the crowd at Xes would eat Cas alive. Dean responded to Cas’ text. He popped the cap off a beer and was getting ready to take a sip when he got another text. 

“This guy is fuckin’ great,” Dean said to himself while he typed out a response. Dean was shaking his head after his last response when he decided to leave a little early. Dean got into the elevator and waited for the doors to open in the garage. Dean’s loft came with a garage under the building. It made the cost of the apartment over two million, but for a guaranteed parking spot in the city, it was worth it.  He didn’t drive his baby very often, but he kept her clean and purring like a… nope… she didn’t purr, she roared. The Impala, built in 1967, was his pride and joy and the only good thing he’d ever gotten from his father. 

Dean found parking a half block away, still lucky for this time of day. He strode into the bar and let his eyes adjust to the dim lighting. There was Cas. His back was toward the door and his trench coat covered the stool next to him. As he walked over to him, the bartender looked up. Dean pointed to Cas and motioned for him to pour Cas another drink. Dean slid onto the stool. 

“Come here often?” He dropped his normal baritone down lower, huskier. 

“No, I am just here for…  Dean?” Cas looked up midway through his sentence. 

Dean grinned. “Thought I’d come early and have a drink with you.” The bartender sat a stemmed glass in it in front of Cas. The cocktail was red with a lime garnish. 

“I’ll take a Sam Adams.” The bartender left to get Dean’s beer and Dean pointed to Cas’ drink. “What’s that?” 

“It’s a Cosmopolitan. Vodka, cranberry juice, and a squeeze of lime.” 

“Sounds disgustingly healthy.” 

“Cranberry juice is good for the urinary tract.” 

Dean had just taken a sip of his beer and he almost spewed it across the bar. He choked as he tried to swallow. Cas was looking at him with concern. “Are you alright?” 

“Yeah… just…” Dean grinned. “you are something else, man.” 

Cas took a sip of his drink and Dean steered the conversation to Atlanta’s nightlife versus New York’s. When Cas was done with his beverage, Dean tossed some money on the bar and stood up. “Come on, let’s go.” 

Dean’s stride was fast and it was nice to know Cas could keep up with him. Then he remembered that Cas was a runner. He was definitely in a lot better shape than Dean. As they reached the car, Dean unlocked the passenger door first and opened it. Cas looked at the car and smiled.  “You have a beautiful car, Dean. I didn’t think people drove in New York.” 

“Most don’t, I suppose. I don’t drive very often because parking is a bitch. She spends most of her time in a garage. I take her out of the city sometimes. Just so I can open her up.” 

The ride back to Dean’s took about thirty minutes due to the city’s traffic, but Dean pointed out a few different things. Not touristy things, but simple things. His favorite deli, the small grocery store that sold the best selection of cheeses in the city, and Sam’s law firm. 

Cas asked questions and seemed to be enjoying himself. When Dean pulled into the garage, Cas looked at him questioningly. “Where are we going?” 

“You provided a home-cooked dinner for me. I just wanted to return the favor.” Was it Dean’s imagination or did Cas’ eyes flicker with something like excitement? It was just wishful thinking on his part, he was sure.  

They rode the elevator up and it opened into Dean’s loft. Cas looked around, mouth agape. Dean tried to see it from Cas’ eyes. The twelve-foot ceilings with open beams, brick walls left from the days when the building was a warehouse, huge windows letting the lights of the city spill over the room, brightening it, even though Dean hadn’t even turned on the lights yet. He hit the switch and the room was illuminated from the large industrial fixtures suspended from the ceiling.   

“You have a beautiful home, Dean,” Cas said, still looking around the huge room.   

“Thanks. I like it here.” Cas got ready to remove his coat, but Dean stopped him. 

“You’re going to need your coat. Let me grab the steaks.” 

“We’re grilling? Aren’t you on the fifth floor?” 

Dean chuckled. “Yeah, but I have a great setup on the roof.” Dean opened the fridge and took out two beers and sat them on the counter before removing the pan with the marinating meat. 

“If you’ll grab our beer,” Dean motioned with his hand, “I’ll lead the way.” 

They got back in the elevator and went up two more floors. The doors opened on the rooftop.  Not long after Dean moved in, he got with the other tenants and with their approval, got contractors to build a nice covered area. He bought a really good grill and had a work area built around it. After it was finished, he bought a set of outdoor furniture, an ice machine, and several other things that turned the once barren rooftop into a beautiful outdoor space. Missouri had added candles and oil lanterns. Mrs. Feldheim started a small herb garden in some colorful pots and her husband had chipped in a gas firepit last winter. 

“Dean, this is wonderful.” 

“Yeah, I lucked out when I found this place. I know New Yorkers get a bad reputation, but my neighbors are great. We grill out together… look out for each other… it’s pretty cool.” 

Dean started the charcoal and leaned against one of the posts holding up the pergola. He took a sip of his beer and watched Cas looking out at the city’s lights. The man turned and stepped closer to Dean.  Dean caught a whiff of woodsy aftershave. “I had no idea a place like this could exist. I’ve always envisioned New York as a cold, concrete city, but you’ve managed to create an oasis, a warm…” 

Embarrassed by Cas’ words and feeling strangely aroused due to the man’s close proximity and the enticing aroma of his cologne, Dean just smiled dumbly and took a step back.  “I’ll just… check the coals.” What was wrong with him? He was acting like a kid on his first date. Dean Winchester was a player, and besides, Cas made it clear sex wasn’t on the table. 

Castiel wasn’t sure what he expected from Dean’s home, but it wasn’t the warm hues, the simple furnishings, or the beautiful rooftop oasis. He watched as Dean grilled the two T-bones to perfection. He found their conversation flowed easily from one topic to another.   

Downstairs, Castiel helped Dean with the finishing touches on dinner and was pleased by the jazz music Dean put on the stereo. They ate and Castiel realized this Dean, the Dean sitting across from him who talked with his mouth full, that laughed with abandonment… wasn’t the same Dean he’d first met. All cockiness was gone. When he talked about his brother, his coworkers, or his friends, his face softened and Castiel could see how much he loved them. What would it be like to know that handsome face softened at the mention of his name? Castiel would never know.  He was still torn between needing to walk away and wanting to fall into bed with Dean Winchester. Could he have a night of passion with the man, return to Atlanta, and then go on with his life like it never happened? There wasn’t a future in it.  Atlanta and Claire seemed so far away. He watched Dean drink his beer, his Adam’s apple moving up and down, the scruff along his jaw… 

Dean eyed him comically, his lips still around the bottle. He lowered it. “Cas?  You okay?”   

Castiel shook himself, face reddening. Dean looked concerned. “Yes. Yes, I’m fine.” 

Dean didn’t look convinced, but he stood and began to clear the table. Castiel helped even though Dean told him to go sit in the living room because he was a guest. Once the kitchen was pristine again, Dean looked suddenly very shy. “We can watch a movie… or I can take you back to your hotel. Whatever you…” 

“I’d like to stay, Dean.” 

“Stay… okay, that’s good. We can watch… my DVDs are over…” Castiel’s brow furrowed in confusion. Dean was nervous. But why? 

“I don’t want to watch a movie.” Castiel took a deep fortifying breath, his decision made. He took a step forward, then another until he was in Dean’s personal space. Dean’s gaze was glued to his and Castiel saw those magnificent green eyes darken. Dean licked his lips and Castiel’s eyes dropped to watch.   

“Cas.” 

“Dean, if you still want to…” 

“I want to.” 

Castiel wasn’t sure who moved those last few inches, but he found his mouth on Dean’s and all the lonely months and the pent-up frustrations of single fatherhood disappeared and all Castiel felt was wave after wave of need. Hot, wonderful need. 

He wasn’t coherent enough to notice Dean propelling them through a doorway. His hands were under Dean’s shirt, on Dean’s heated skin. Someone moaned and he could feel Dean’s hands fumbling with the buttons of his shirt. Castiel’s fingers moved to the waistband of Dean’s low-slung jeans. He felt the swell of Dean’s ass and let his teeth drag across Dean’s bottom lip. His shirt was free and Dean pushed it off his shoulders, letting it fall to the floor.   

“Cas…” Just the way Dean said his name made Castiel’s cock ache with need. He took one of Dean’s hands and brought it to the bulge in the front of his jeans. Dean’s mouth stopped moving along his jaw and he pulled back enough to see Castiel’s eyes. Time seemed to stop for Castiel. Slowly, sensually, Dean smiled and his mouth brushed against Castiel’s again. He felt a tug as Dean unbuttoned his jeans. The sound of the zipper was harsh in the room and then he reached into his boxers and, God in heaven, Dean’s hand wrapped around him. 

Castiel inhaled sharply and rutted into Dean’s fist. “Easy… easy, Babe. I want to… let me take you apart.” 

“Yes.” The word was a hiss of breath against Dean’s neck. Castiel let Dean push down his jeans and boxers. Dean chuckled when Castiel tried to step out of them but they got caught on his boots. He growled and toed off the offending things, kicking them several feet away. “Why am I…the only one…naked?” He knew he sounded petulant but was past caring.  

Dean laughed and gave Castiel a small push. He found himself flat on his back on a modern platform bed, canopy rails above him and Dean looking down on him. Through the window, moonlight and manmade lights vied to cast a bluish glow across the bed. Dean pulled off his shirt and Castiel could only stare. All he could think about at that moment was running his hands over the beautiful expanse of skin.  Then Dean was unzipping his jeans and Castiel’s focus went elsewhere. Dean shucked his jeans and underwear in one swift motion and Castiel saw his hard cock bob a few times before jutting proudly out from the dark thatch of hair. He crawled onto the bed and was soon kneeling over Castiel. Their cocks brushed as Dean settled his hips against him. Their mouths met again, wet and hot. Castiel whined when Dean broke away to skim his lips over his jaw and down his neck. Fingertips found one of his nipples and his back arched into the touch. Then Dean’s mouth found his other nipple and he nipped at it before taking it into his mouth, sucking, using his teeth to drive Castiel insane. Castiel thrust his hips up against Dean’s, needing friction, needing it like he needed air to breathe. 

Castiel closed his eyes. Dean seemed to be enjoying pinching and sucking Castiel’s nipples and he could not complain as the sensation made him shiver. One of Castiel’s hands was raking through Dean’s hair, the other was clutching the sheet like a lifeline. The torturous foreplay seemed to last hours. Dean truly was taking him apart. He felt the slickness from their cocks on his belly and the coil of arousal was burning him up inside.  

“Dean…please…” Castiel gripped the short strands of Dean’s hair and tried to pull him off his gloriously sore nipples. 

“Shhh… foreplay… is the… best… part… sometimes…”  Dean’s words were punctuated by tiny nips down his ribcage. Instead of moving to Castiel’s cock like he hoped -- like he prayed -- Dean’s mouth skimmed along his sides to his hipbones, and then down further to his inner thighs. He felt the man’s teeth, the suction and knew Dean was marking him, making him his, even if only for this one night. 

Slowly, Dean rose to his knees. His hand moved to his cock, stroking it slowly, rubbing the slick head against Castiel’s raised thigh. There was an unasked question in his eyes and Castiel spread his thighs wide, knees bent, offering himself to be taken. Dean gave him a slight nod and then he put his hands on Castiel’s knees, pushing just a bit more. He lowered his head and nuzzled at Castiel’s balls. Castiel felt a nudge and he lifted his hips so Dean could shove a pillow under his ass.   

The first touch of Dean’s tongue at his rim made him cry out. The wet heat made him buck and he felt, more than heard, Dean chuckle. “Easy, Tiger.” 

He flicked his tongue back and forth, then he pushed inside. Castiel’s need grew and his hand moved to his cock. He thought he could come just like this. Just a few strokes. But no, Dean’s hand caught his and held it steady. He lifted his head and Castiel could see his spit slicked face in the dim light. He licked his lips, wanting to taste Dean’s beautiful mouth.   

Dean was mesmerized by Cas’ eyes. And God damn, the man was eager. Cas had said he didn’t date, not since he was stuck with fatherhood. Dean needed the instant gratification from sex. What would it be like to go without? To put a child before your own needs?   

He’d asked his silent question and Cas had understood, spreading his legs in submission. Dean didn’t care one way or another. He was more of a top than a bottom, but he’d been taken before and had enjoyed it. One rowdy, drunken night with two dancers from a Broadway play, he’d been pegged. It was an experience he remembered fondly.  He’d loved watching the two women together, feeling their mouths on him, eating their sweet pussies, but now, as he gazed down at Cas, all he wanted was to bury himself into the man. 

He stretched his arm over to the side of the bed and opened the drawer of his nightstand. His fingers found what they were looking for and he tossed the foil packet down next to his thigh. He unsnapped the cap from the bottle of Astroglide and squeezed a healthy amount onto his fingertips. Cas’ eyes were boring into his and he couldn’t look away. He was aware of Cas pulling his knees up to his chest. He was so fucking beautiful. 

Cas’ hole was relaxed from his tongue and the first finger slipped in easily. Dean moved slowly, taking his time, in and out. He watched Cas’ face. There it was, that tiny gasp of pleasure when Dean found the right spot. Soon, Cas was rocking back on his finger and Dean rubbed his thumb over the rim a few times before adding another finger. Dean could feel his precum, slick on his cock… his belly… his thighs…  His bush was wet with it. When was the last time he was this turned on? He focused on his fingers, and the feel of the smooth walls of Cas’ body. 

Dean thought he could come just by watching Cas ride his fingers and listening to those small moans of pleasure. The room smelled of sweat, Cas’ aftershave, and musky sex. If someone could bottle that scent, they’d make millions. 

Dean’s hand moved faster, thrusting in and rotating his fingers to milk out those sweet sounds from Cas’ lips. He slid in another one and Cas body clinched. “Dean… need… fuck me.” Dean loved how the normally eloquent man was almost incoherent. 

He didn’t have to be told twice. Fingers still inside Cas, pressing against his sweet spot, Dean picked up the condom with his other hand and used his teeth to rip the packet open. One handed, he rolled it over his length. When he pulled his fingers slowly out of Cas’ ass, the man moaned and Dean had to close his eyes and think about what he was cooking on the next day’s episode. Otherwise, it would have been over before it started. He gripped the base of his cock and squeezed, sweat breaking out on his forehead. He positioned the swollen head of his cock at Cas’ entrance and pushed in. Cas tensed up and Dean froze. “Are you alright?” 

“Slow… please…” 

“I got all night, Babe.” Dean’s slick hands began to rub circles on Cas’ thighs. Cas’ body had him in a vice-like grip. He caught the brief nod and he slid in another inch or two, his hands never stopping the soft massage of Cas’ legs. When Cas rolled his hips forward, Dean matched it with movement of his own, sinking deeper into Cas’ heat.   

Dean was slow and easy for a time, enjoying the slide of their bodies. The pace picked up after a few minutes and they fucked fast and hard with Dean on top thrusting into Cas, bending down to share a kiss or a whispered word. Then they moved onto their sides, Dean pounding into Cas from behind, his thighs tangled with the older man’s. Another move and both men were on their knees, Cas holding onto the headboard, Dean taking him rough, Cas’ screams of ‘fuck me’ echoing off the walls. Dean didn’t think he could make it last as long as it did, but when his muscles began to constrict… his balls tightening… he knew he was close. He reached around and grasped Cas’ cock. It was slick with his arousal. Dean’s hand slid up and then down, and Cas’ body seized… he grunted once… twice and Dean felt hot cum coating his hand. He threw back his head and chased his own orgasm, thrusting again and again. 

“God… Cas… Cas…” For a second, his world went dark and then there were starbursts in front of his eyes. His cum filled the condom and he squeezed his eyes shut. His chest pressed against Cas’ back. He could feel the other man’s heart beating just as wildly as his own. A wave of euphoria swept over him.  

Seconds ticked by and Dean’s softening cock slid from Cas’ body. He quickly removed the condom and tossed it to the wastebasket. They slowly eased down so they were lying on the bed, side by side.   

Dean was almost dozing off when Cas spoke. “I should shower.”  

“Yeah… a shower would be good.” Dean rolled his legs off the bed and Cas sat up. “You stay put. Let me start the water and I’ll come get you.” 

Dean turned on the tap and let it run until it was hot. He adjusted the temperature and before going to get Cas, he looked at himself in the mirror. He looked well and thoroughly fucked. There was a bruise forming on his collar bone that Becky would have to hide with makeup. He threw himself a wink before tossing two towels onto the closed toilet seat. At the door of the bathroom, he called out. “Come on, Cas. Shower’s ready.” 

Cas got out of the bed and walked toward him. His skin was still flushed from his orgasm. Dean thought Cas was sexy as fuck with his clothes on, but now, he was fuckin’ hot. He might be named for an angel, but his body was made for sin.   

They showered without talking. Dean was too wrapped up in his own thoughts to speak much. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence. They washed themselves and gave each other covert looks. If caught, they would blush and smile.   

After they were dry, Dean strode back into the bedroom and flopped down onto the bed. He expected Cas to follow suit, but instead, he picked up his boxers and began to put a leg inside. “Hey, you’re not ready to leave, are you?” 

Dean was shocked at the way he felt. Usually after sex, Dean couldn’t wait to get rid of whomever he’d just fucked. This thing with Cas felt different somehow.  He wouldn’t mind waking up with Cas. Making him breakfast. 

“I should go, Dean. I have a flight in the morning.” 

“Fuck, I’m up at the buttcrack of dawn anyway. I could have Ash take swing by your hotel so you could grab your stuff and he could take you to the airport.” He saw Cas hesitate, boxers midway up his thighs. 

 

Castiel knew better. They’d fucked and it had been wonderful, but spending the night made it seem more intimate. It might even make Castiel want things he couldn’t have. No, he needed to leave. Dean lay sprawled across the bed, naked and beautiful. “I really should…” 

He stopped talking when Dean ran his hand over his flaccid cock. “We could catch a nap and then…”  Dean let his sentence go unfinished. Castiel’s hands trembled as he pushed the boxers back down his legs. This was a mistake. Then again, if he went back to his hotel either Dean would have to dress and take him or he’d have to call a cab. It would be inconvenient.   

Castiel fell asleep easily enough, Dean’s soft snores lulling him into a dream. He was in a sunlit garden. There were butterflies and the buzz of honeybees filled the air. The grass was so green… green like something else that Castiel couldn’t put his finger on. For some reason, he was in his running shorts and he could feel the sun beating down on his bare shoulders. He felt so good… so relaxed… his cock was hard.  He reached down to pull it free and moaned.   

He woke with a start. He didn’t know where he was and then Dean’s voice came from above him. “You awake now?” 

“I’m not sure.” Was he still dreaming? His cock was throbbing and he could feel Dean touching him. Was he putting on a condom? Yes. Castiel could feel the latex being rolled down his shaft. “Dean, what are you…” 

“Shhh, just relax, Cas. I just need to feel you inside of me. Let me ride you, Babe.” That wasn’t the first time Dean had used that endearment. Castiel wasn’t sure how he felt about it.  

In the dim light, he saw Dean rise over him. Dean was holding the base of Castiel’s cock steady and then slick heat engulfed him. Dean must have prepped himself earlier and the thought of that made Castiel’s heart beat faster. He felt the blood pumping through his veins. Desire coiled inside his belly. 

“Fuck, Cas… you feel so good…” He was all the way inside of Dean now. Dean’s back was slightly arched and his head was thrown back. His hands roamed over his chest, pinching at his own nipples, stopping to stroke his cock and moving on to cup his balls before returning to his chest. Castiel could only watch the pornographic show, his breath now coming in short pants. Dean started to move, using his strong thighs to ride Castiel. Soon, Dean got into a rhythm and it was like he was in his own world. His fist moved up and down his length, faster and faster, as he slammed his ass down impaling himself on Castiel’s cock.  This time, the sex was quick and dirty. Dean’s mouth sounding like a paid porn actor. “Come on, Cas.  Fuck me. Fuck my ass. Jesus, your cock is so fucking good. Harder… need it… wanna come on your cock… fill me up, Cas. Fill my ass with your hot cum. Fuck…fuck…” 

Castiel’s orgasm hit him like a runaway freight train. He bucked up into Dean, crying out, his cock pulsing.  Dean rode him through it, his hand never stopped jacking himself off. He heard Dean’s gasp, and felt the hot stickiness of Dean’s cum splash over his stomach and onto his chest. Dean slumped over him and Castiel wrapped him in his arms and held him. His fingers combed through Dean’s short hair and kissed the damp skin of his forehead as they came down and their heartbeats returned to normal. 

He woke with the blaring of a hard rock song he couldn’t identify. There was a groan next to him and then an arm reached over him and shut off the loud music. He turned his head and saw Dean’s tired eyes looking back at him. “Morning.” 

“Good morning,” Castiel replied softly. He was in uncharted territory. Was Dean going to regret their night together? Regret asking him to stay? 

Dean sat up, the sheet falling down to pool in his lap. “If we hurry, we can grab some breakfast along the way.” He got out of bed, giving Castiel a good look at his perfect ass. The ass that he’d fucked last night.  It hadn’t been a dream. He was sure because there were dried bodily fluids on his belly and chest. 

Dean disappeared into the bathroom and a few minutes later, the toilet flushed. He came out, still naked. He wasn’t self-conscious of his nudity. He scratched his chest, yawned and blinked at Castiel. “You need to use the bathroom before I start the shower?” 

“Yes. Please.” Castiel, unused to walking around in the nude, rushed to the bathroom, covering his crotch with his hand. In the light of day, nudity was much more intimate. He caught Dean’s smirk as he passed him.   

“Little late to be shy, Cas.” 

Castiel shut the door. In the mirror, he saw his face red with embarrassment. He stood over the toilet, staring at the photograph on the wall. A black and white picture of the Brooklyn Bridge. When he finished, he flushed the toilet and found his towel from the night before. He wrapped it around his waist and took a deep breath before opening the door. Dean was sipping a cup of coffee, still naked. As much as Castiel admired Dean’s body, he wished the man would cover up. 

“Coffee is in the pot, sugar is next to the machine and cream is in the fridge. Top shelf. I left a mug and spoon on the counter. I’m going to get in the shower. You can join me if you want.” Dean sat his mug down on the dresser and left Castiel standing in the middle of his bedroom. Castiel was torn. Should he join Dean? He’d been invited, hadn’t he? Or was Dean just being polite. He heard the water start. No, he’d take his own shower. There would be less temptation that way. 

He found the mug and everything was right where Dean said it would be. Coffee made, he took his first sip and wandered over to the large windows. New York, the city that never sleeps, was already crowded with taxis and cars. An ambulance careened around the corner, lights flashing. The noise from the siren was faint, but Castiel could still hear it.   

“Your turn.” Dean’s voice behind him startled him and he splashed coffee onto his hand. “Sorry, I thought you heard me coming. Sam says I walk like a draft horse, like he would know. I don’t think he’s ever seen a horse in person.” The chef was dressed in a pair of jeans, zipped but unbuttoned, and nothing else. 

Castiel brought his fingers to his lips and licked off the coffee. He saw Dean’s eyes follow the movement and heat flared in his eyes. Castiel backed up a step, then two. “I will go… shower… now.” Castiel retreated quickly. He showered in the luxurious enclosure and put on the clothes from the night before.  When he was finished, he opened the bathroom door and saw that Dean was completely dressed and sitting on the edge of the bed.  

He stood up and smiled. “Let me brush my teeth and by that time Ash should be here.” Castiel, unsure of what to do, stood there stupidly. “Cas?” 

He looked up. Dean held an unopened toothbrush. “I have two sinks.” 

Castiel took the offered toothbrush and opened the package. He positioned himself at the other sink and picked up the toothpaste lying on the counter. Dean was already brushing his teeth, his mouth foamy.  He grinned at Castiel in the mirror and Castiel tentatively smiled back. 

A few minutes later, they were getting into the SUV. “Take me to the studio and then take Cas to his hotel. Wait for him to pack and then you can drop him at the airport.” 

“Not a problem, Boss.” Ash pulled out into the morning traffic. The driver didn’t seem to think anything of Castiel being at Dean’s so early in the morning. Then again, he was probably used to Dean’s hookups. Castiel was sure there were plenty. He was just another in a long line of people Dean Winchester had fucked. He wouldn’t let that thought upset him. No, it had been his decision. He knew exactly what he was getting into.  

Dean leaned his head back on the seat and closed his eyes. Was he being dismissed? Castiel sat stiffly, unable to keep his eyes off Dean. “You’re thinking too loud,” Dean mumbled. 

“Excuse me?” Castiel asked, confused. 

“I can hear you thinking. You’re overanalyzing this, Cas. We’re friends, right?” Castiel didn’t know how to answer that. Friends? They barely knew each other. Before he could form an acceptable answer, Dean continued. “We’re friends that had some awesome sex.”   

“Fuck buddies,” Castiel said dryly. He’d always hated the term. 

Dean opened one eye. He studied Castiel for a few seconds. “Yeah, I guess. Next time you’re up here, we can go out and have a beer… or if I come to Atlanta… same goes.” 

Castiel nodded and looked away. He refused to let Dean see the hurt. He had no one to blame but himself. No one.

Chapter Text

Dean watched the sport utility pull away from the studio. Fuck buddies. Cas called it. That’s what they were. So, if that were the case, then why did he feel like such a dick? Why had he felt the urge to kiss the man goodbye? Why did he want to tell Cas to cancel his fuckin’ flight and stay a few more days? Because he’s a moron, that’s why. 

Cas had a life in Atlanta. Hell, he had a kid.  No room for someone like Dean. It was a pipe dream. Like he and Cas could live happily ever after. Life wasn’t a fuckin’ fairy tale. 

He dumped his bag into his dressing room, picked up another cup of coffee from the cafeteria and made his way to hair and makeup. Charlie was already there. She raised an eyebrow. “You look like you’ve been rode hard and put up wet.” At his glare, she grinned. “Oh…so you have been rode hard…” 

“Can it, Charlie.” 

Something in his tone must have told her he wasn’t in the mood for her good-natured teasing.  “You okay?” 

“Fine. Just fuckin’ fine.”  

She wanted to say something else, but Dean was saved by Becky entering with her kit. She placed it on the counter in front of Charlie and proceeded to pull Charlie’s hair back with an elastic headband. Benny came in and he bantered with Charlie over who the guest star would like more, him or her. Usually, Dean would cut in and tell them both that the guest stars loved him the most, but today he was quiet. He didn’t notice the concerned looks between his friends. 

When the cameras rolled, Dean put on his game face and did everything he was supposed to. Only close friends and family would have noticed he wasn’t all there. Since the episode didn’t air for another week, Dean would have plenty of time to come up with a reason he wasn’t his normal cocky self if anyone asked. 

When he got home that afternoon, he went to his bedroom to change into a pair of sweats and saw the bed. It still looked like a few rounds of awe-inspiring sex happened there. The room smelled of sex too.  Dean snatched off the comforter and tossed it to the side. He pulled off the sheets and picked up one of the pillows. He got ready to strip the pillowcase off and fuck if it didn’t smell like Cas’ aftershave. He breathed it in. When he realized what he’d just done, he threw the pillow across the room and stomped out. The first shot of whiskey when down hard, burning all the way to his stomach. The second shot was easier. By the fourth, he didn’t notice the burn at all. 

He was well on his way to being knee walking drunk when the intercom buzzed. Dean went to the wall and pushed to button.  “What?” 

“Hello to you too.” 

Dean let his forehead thunk against the wall. Sammy. “Not feeling well… might be catching a cold or the flu.” He faked a cough and tried to make his voice sound nasally. 

He waited and then he heard the elevator. Fuck, why had he given his brother the key to the elevator? A minute later, the door opened and his brother stood there. He looked Dean up and down. “You look like shit and it smells like a fuckin’ brewery in here.” He came closer and turned up his nose. “How much have you had?” 

“None of your fuckin’ business, Sam.” Dean stomped off to the kitchen. He should make some coffee to appease the gods before he made himself sick… or worse, told Sam about Cas. 

Sam followed him and sat down on one of the bar stools. Dean busied himself with dumping out the coffee from the morning and making a fresh pot.  “I called Ash this morning because Jess needed a ride to an appointment and the car service was having delays. Funny thing, Ash was at the airport,” Dean’s hands froze on the canister of coffee, “and since I knew you weren’t going anywhere in an airplane, I asked him why he was there.” Sam paused for effect. It was all part of Lawyer Bullshit 101. “So, imagine my surprise when he told me about having to drop you off at the studio and taking your overnight guest to the airport. Now, with you, an overnight guest isn’t that big of a news flash…but see, Ash told me the man’s name was Castiel Novak. Normally, that name wouldn’t have rang any bells with me, but strangely enough, I’d had lunch with Ellen a few weeks ago and she told me you brought a date to the restaurant. The date’s name just happened to be Castiel Novak. Ellen told me how he was a contestant who won a chance to cook with you. I think she said he was from Atlanta.” Another dramatic pause. Dean had not moved. His knuckles were white on the canister. “Didn’t you go to Atlanta… what... wasn’t it a couple weeks ago?” 

Dean finally sat the canister down on the counter. He turned to his brother, face red with both shame and anger. “I love how my family and my employees talk behind my back.” 

“Who is this guy, and is he the reason you’re drunk in the middle of the day?” Sam’s voice changed from snide lawyer to worried brother and Dean couldn’t take worried brother… not now… not with several shots of whiskey on board. 

“I like him, Sam,” Dean’s voice was soft. 

“That’s good, right?” Sam leaned on the counter, elbows bent, face in his cupped hands. 

“No. He’s got a kid. He’s just…” Dean could see Sam wanted to interrupt and ask about the child, but he also knew better than to stop Dean once he started talking. It didn’t happen often. “He’s just nice… I wanted to ask him to stay… so we could get to know each other… ya know?” 

“Why didn’t you?” Okay, good, Sam was tabling the kid question for now.   

“His life is in Atlanta. He’s working in his brother’s restaurant and he’s got the… kid.” 

“Divorced?” 

“No. His sister died and he’s Claire’s guardian.” 

“Claire? You’ve met her?” 

“Yeah. She’s a princess, Sam. She’s so pretty and smart too. She was building this tower of blocks and she knew to put the bigger blocks on the bottom. She’s not even two yet. Isn’t that awesome?” 

Sam was giving him one of those smiles. The ones that basically said, ‘I know something you don’t know’. Dean hated those smiles. 

Sam stood up. He waited until Dean looked at him. “The Dean Winchester I know and love never let anything stop him from getting what he wanted.” With that, Sam walked out of the loft. Dean heard the elevator and sank onto one of the bar stools. It was crazy. A person didn’t fall for someone this fast. A person didn’t even think about chasing someone halfway across the country after just one night together. Crazy… fuck no… it was insane. 

He found the picture on his phone. The one Kevin took last month of the two of them at the restaurant. He found himself looking at that picture a lot. More times than he could count. 

Castiel felt a strange sense of deju vu. He drove from the airport to his brother’s house. Picked up his child and brought her home. He fixed her dinner and pushed his own around on the plate. He hung her new dress in the closet after showing it to her.   

“Bumblebee. Can you say bumblebee?” Castiel pointed to the appliqued bee. 

“Bee.” 

“Yes. Bumblebee.”   

He bathed her and put her in her pajamas. He held her close, lips pressed to her downy hair until she squirmed. Later, he watched her sleep. “I’m trying, Anna. Sometimes I just don’t think I’m good enough to be her father. I love her so much, but what if I mess up?” 

Once he was in bed, he opened the picture file on his phone and flipped through them. There were dozens of Claire. He scanned through them until he reached the one taken at Winchester’s. Castiel sitting in a chair, Dean kneeling next to him…smiling into the camera.   

“It was just one night of sex… just sex, you fool.” He felt ridiculous talking to himself. He turned off the bedside lamp and lay in the darkness. He shouldn’t have slept with Dean. He could blame it on being starved for male companionship. Or because he was horny. Or any number of other things, but he’d slept with Dean because he saw the real Dean, not the celebrity. And that Dean was... good

It didn’t take Castiel long to get back on a schedule. Up with Claire, breakfast, playgroup, work, home by seven-thirty, bath, bedtime, and a book or occasional documentary. Gabriel asked a lot of questions the day after he returned from New York, but now he caught him looking across the kitchen at him, pity in his eyes.   

His episode aired and he taped it on his DVR. Gabriel usually took one night a week off to spend with his wife, but he and Ruby showed up at Castiel’s bearing pizza. They sat down to watch.   

“What did he say to you?” Ruby asked after the screen showed Dean’s hug and no camera angle could have hid Castiel’s reaction. 

“He made a crude joke.” 

“Humpf, you would think he would have more class than that,” Ruby said. 

“Dean has class. It was a joke and I took it wrong. I’m the one without social skills. Dean has class,” he repeated. Without turning his head, he knew his brother and sister-in-law were both staring at him in shocked amazement. 

Castiel spent the weekend running errands. He was home unloading the groceries when he got a text. 

TEXT FROM DEAN/2:58 – Did you watch the episode? You did good. 

TEXT FROM YOU/3:00 – I did watch it. Gabriel said he could not tell I was scared to death. 

TEXT FROM DEAN/3:01 – You were great, Cas . 

Castiel wasn’t sure how to respond to that. It had been a week since he’d last seen Dean and a few simple words on his phone sent him into a spiral of self-doubt.  

TEXT FROM YOU/3:02 – Thank you, Dean. 

TEXT FROM DEAN/3:05 – Did you have a good weekend? 

TEXT FROM YOU/3:06 – I took Claire to the park and went grocery shopping. 

Castiel could have kicked himself. God, he sounded pathetic. Dean didn’t want to hear about his boring life. 

TEXT FROM DEAN/3:08 – I did laundry and watched eight episodes of Law and Order on Netflix. 

Dean was a celebrity, a chef with his own restaurant, surely his life was more exciting. Maybe he was mocking Castiel.   

TEXT FROM YOU/3:10 – I seriously doubt that, Dean. I would imagine you were out doing things with the beautiful people. 

Several minutes went by and he got no response from Dean. The polite conversation had run its course. Dean had moved on to something more important than communicating with Castiel. He sat down on the floor with Claire and helped her stack blocks.  His phone pinged. 

TEXT FROM DEAN/3:37 – I wish I was doing something with you. 

Castiel stared at the screen, blinking stupidly. Was Dean attempting a flirtation? Castiel turned off his phone. He would not respond. They had sex, one night of sex…now they would never see each other again. Dean would tire of texting him eventually. He sat on the floor with Claire, one eye on her and one on the silent phone. 

By the following Thursday, Castiel was busy planning a new dessert for an engagement party for one of Gabe’s friends. Claire was in her playpen and he was elbow deep in puff pastry and French custard. His phone rang and he wiped his hands. He didn’t recognize the number, but the area code was New York. 

“Hello.” 

“Castiel. Crowley here.   just got the network ratings on your episode and you’ll never guess the results.” 

Castiel didn’t see what the ratings had to do with him, so he said nothing. 

“Castiel?” 

“Yes? Was I supposed to guess?” 

Crowley laughed. The type of laugh that people used when they really didn’t think something was funny.  “Figure of speech, my man. They were the highest we’ve had in several months, not since Gordon Ramsey was a guest host. Don’t get me wrong, our ratings are always great.  Spice of Life is the number one show on the network, but ratings like this are almost unheard of. The powers that be said the response from viewers was brilliant.” Castiel still didn’t understand what any of this had to do with him. 

“I’m sure you are pleased, but…” 

“The comments on social media were so positive…” Crowley continued on like Castiel hadn’t spoken. “…and there was talk about the on-air chemistry between you and Dean.” 

“I don’t see…”  

“I’m prepared to offer you the position as a guest host. Just once or twice a month when one of the regular hosts is out. Obviously, you wouldn’t be making as much as the three main stars, but the network is prepared to give you thirty thousand for each episode.” Castiel stared in stunned silence at the sheets of puff pastry on his work station. Thirty thousand? A guest host? “Of course, we would pick up any expenses, air fare, hotels, blah, blah, blah, you get my drift, I’m sure.” 

“I’m flattered, but…” 

“As you should be. I know it is a lot to take in, so we are preparing the contract. It will arrive by courier within the next twenty-four hours. I would suggest having your attorney look over it and we’ll give you a week to make up your mind.” Finally, the man stopped talking and the silence was deafening. 

Castiel opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Crowley began to talk again, but Castiel realized the man was talking to someone else. Seconds later, Crowley spoke again. “Duty calls. I will wait on your decision then. Goodbye.” Castiel slipped his phone into his apron pocket and placed his hands flat on the floured surface of his work table. Did Dean know about this offer? Was Dean behind it? 

As promised, the contract arrived and Castiel set the envelope on the dresser in his bedroom. He had a week. The next night, he and Claire drove to his brother’s house and the four of them had dinner together. He helped Ruby clean the kitchen while Gabriel danced around the living room with a giggling Claire. “Something is on your mind,” Ruby stated softly, pushing the latch on the dishwasher. 

“Yes. I have a decision to make.” He hadn’t had the nerve to contact Dean. He still wasn’t sure if Dean was behind the offer. 

Kitchen clean, the three adults sat watching Claire playing with toy cooking set. She was banging the plastic rolling pin against the bright orange pot. Ruby leaned back on the leather sofa, Gabriel’s arm around her shoulders. 

Castiel rested his arms on his thighs, his hands clasped between his knees. “I’ve had a job offer.” 

Gabriel jumped up, face a mask of disappointment. “A job? Who? Cassie, I can offer more money. I’m willing to match whatever they offered you.” Ruby placed a restraining hand on Gabriel’s forearm. 

“It’s not that type of job, Gabriel. Food Network has offered me a position as a guest host on Spice of Life. It would be one or two episodes a month.” 

His brother sat back down, exhaling a relieved breath. “That’s pretty cool, Lil’ Bro.” Castiel knew his brother meant it.  

“I haven’t decided to take it yet.” 

“Why not, Castiel? I’m sure Gabe can spare you and you know I’m always glad to take Claire.” 

“I slept with Dean Winchester,” Castiel stated matter-of-factly. The couple stared at him blankly and several seconds ticked by. “I’m not sure if he is behind this offer.”  

“Would it matter?” Ruby asked, finally finding her voice. 

“Yes. I don’t need him meddling in my life. I have a good life here. It was just one night. I don’t think I can see him again.” 

“Did you notice how he worded that last sentence, Sweetheart?” Gabriel asked, his eyes on his wife’s. She smiled. 

“I did,” she replied sweetly. Castiel narrowed his eyes. 

“If it was just a one-night stand, he would have said he didn’t want to see him again, but to say he didn’t think he could see him again leads me to believe my baby brother likes the handsome chef,” Gabriel said to his wife. “It’s all about subtext.” 

“You do know I’m right here,” Cas said testily. 

“Perhaps the sex meant more to Castiel than he wants to admit to himself,” Ruby told her husband. Castiel growled and stood up. He began shoving the toys into the hamper. Ruby’s affectionate smile stopped him from scooping up Claire and slamming the door behind him. 

“I hate you both.” Castiel’s voice was petulant, but he couldn’t help it. 

The next day, he let Gabriel read the contract before contacting one of Ruby’s friends, an attorney over on Peachtree. His brother thought it was a good thing and the lawyer gave it his seal of approval. All he had to do was find out if Dean was behind it or not. He knew Dean was finished with the taping, so he chanced a call. 

“Heya, Cas.” Dean’s rich baritone sent a warmth through his veins. He hadn’t been expecting that feeling and it took him a moment to respond. “Cas?” 

“Hello, Dean.” 

“Everything okay? You sound weird.” 

“Were you aware that Crowley wants me to be a guest host?” 

“Huh? Of what? Spice of Life?” So, Dean didn’t know. There was no way disguise that kind of shock. 

“That answers my question,” Cas responded. 

“Are you… are you thinking about doing it?” How was Castiel supposed to answer that? 

When his phone rang and Cas’ name showed up on the screen, Dean had smiled and pushed the new menu to the side. Now, he was pacing the floor of the dining room, trying to settle the butterflies in his stomach. What had Crowley done and why hadn’t he been told?  

“I have looked over the contract and my attorney seems to think it is fair. It wouldn’t be very often.” Cas’ voice seemed to trail off like he was asking Dean’s permission. Dean’s reaction to Cas’ leaving last week had thrown him for a loop. A night of great sex had suddenly turned to thoughts of fairy tales where Cas was waking in his bed every day.  

“That sounds awesome, Cas,” he said with forced enthusiasm. “You should do it.” He banged his head on the heavy glass of his floor to ceiling window.  

“Are you sure? I don’t want to intrude…” 

“No, dude, it’s cool.” Dean didn’t remember the rest of the conversation, but as soon as Cas said goodbye, Dean was calling Crowley. After a heated conversation and being told he should just shut up and stay pretty, Dean snarled and kicked the thick leg of his couch. That started a whole new slew of cursing.  

At the Friday staff meeting, Crowley told them all about the contract with Cas and how he’d be a fill-in guest host for those times when one of the hosts were unavailable. Charlie was enthusiastic and Benny seemed unaffected.  

“Why now? We’ve always just had different guest hosts. Why the sudden need to have one on the payroll?” Dean’s question had the entire room staring at him. His snotty tone might have had something to do with the intensity of those stares. 

“Ratings, Dean. Apparently, your adoring public thought you and your boy toy were perfect together.” 

“He’s not my boy toy,” Dean fumed. Crowley gave him a speculative look. 

“Good, then that means you’ll keep it in your pants.” Crowley stood and walked toward the door declaring the meeting over. Benny and the production crew left right after leaving Dean, Charlie and Balthazar sitting at the big conference table. 

“Dean, you don’t seem okay with this. I thought you and Castiel got along,” Charlie said softly. 

“And I heard you and he had dinner together at Winchester’s, plus you gave him rides to his hotel a few times, didn’t you?” Balthazar asked, leaning on the table, eyes dancing with mischief. 

“Can both of you just let it go?” Both of his friends gave him looks of pity and he groaned, covering his face with his hands. “We slept together and then he went home. To Atlanta. We couldn’t make it work. We live thousands of miles away from each other.” Dean didn’t add that Cas wouldn’t want him once he really got to know him. It was a moot point.. 

Charlie leaned over and patted his shoulder. “You liked him. I just knew it.” 

“Darling, it’s not the stone age. We have airplanes and telephones. You aren’t hurting for money. Just make it work, if it’s what you want.” 

“Yeah, well, he called us ‘fuck buddies’,” Dean told them, finally looking up. Both visibly winced. 

The two of them continued to text and call, but their conversations were a bit stilted. Cas had tried to talk to Dean about his guest appearances, but Dean always changed the subject. Balthazar told him that the signed contract had arrived and even though Dean expected it, it still made his stomach hurt. When he was alone, he liked to think his feelings were logical. He didn’t want Cas on the show because he didn’t think Cas was comfortable in front of the camera. He wouldn’t let himself dwell on the fact that he’d wished his feelings would just disappear after a while. Sure, they talked daily, but Dean knew eventually Cas would get bored and the calls would stop. It might hurt less if they just drifted apart. “What am I even thinking? We aren’t even together. Jesus Christ,” Dean muttered to his image in the bathroom mirror. He was talking to himself now. 

A month went by and then Charlie announced her vacation plans. She’d be gone for three tapings. Crowley made some notes on his tablet and Dean was very aware what it meant. Cas would be filling in. At Friday’s staff meeting, Dean walked in to Cas’ face on the monitor attached to the wall of the conference room.  

“Good, thank you for gracing us with your presence, Dean,” Crowley said snidely. Dean was only five minutes late and the roll of his eyes told Crowley he didn’t care about his bullshit. He took his normal seat next to Benny. “Castiel, you will fly in Tuesday night and be at the tapings Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I emailed the segment schedule to you. Do you have it?” Crowley asked as he passed out the schedule to the others in the room. 

“I do,” Cas said and held up a printed copy as proof.  

“Good, everyone take a few minutes to go over it and let me know if you have concerns or questions.”  

Dean looked down at the typed words and bit his lower lip. For all the cooking segments, he was paired with Cas. He knew it was all about that chemistry crap that Crowley talked to him about, but still…  There were a few questions from the production assistants, but Dean and Cas both remained silent. That afternoon, Cas called and Dean didn’t answer.  

He spent his weekend at the restaurant and Cas didn’t call again. Dean snapped at Garth and some of his staff, but when he raised his voice to Ellen, she snatched him by his collar and dragged him into the office. “Just what in the hell is wrong with you? You’ve been snippy with everyone tonight and I’m not going to stand for it. You have your panties in a twist, go home and work it out. You aren’t going to take it out on me or the staff.” 

Dean sat in stony silence. It was his restaurant, not Ellen’s. He could bitch if he wanted to. He deflated as fast has he’d bowed up. These people were his family. “Sorry,” he mumbled. 

“Is this about Castiel flying in Tuesday?” Dean looked up, shocked. 

“How did you know he was coming?”  

“Benny and his wife were here last night. He mentioned it.” At Dean’s scowl, she added, “He wasn’t giving away national secrets, Dean. It was just conversation.” She continued to watch him and he was bound and determined not to talk about it. He made to rise and she pressed his shoulder down, so he couldn’t stand. “You want to see him, don’t you?” 

“Yeah,” he muttered. 

“So, what is the problem?” Dean shrugged and pulled open Ellen’s top drawer. He pulled out the bottle of Jameson he knew she kept there and twisted off the cap. She took two shot glasses off the shelf behind her and sat them on the desk. Dean poured the amber liquid. He shot the whiskey and leaned back letting the smooth liquid soothe him. She downed hers in smaller sips. They both sat the glasses back on the desk. When Dean went to pour another round, Ellen put her hand over them. Dean sighed dramatically, but set down the bottle. 

“Cas was different. He didn’t fawn all over me. Hell, I thought he hated me. But…” Dean thought carefully about his words before continuing. “…maybe that’s why I liked him so much. He liked me. Not Dean Winchester, Top Chef, television personality. He saw me.” 

Ellen leaned forward and took Dean’s hands. “Ah, Sweetheart, you need to work for this one. It’s something you haven’t had to do in a long time. If he makes you happy, go for it.” 

“That’s just it. I don’t think I make him happy. I’m thinking about having a…” God, the word stuck in his craw, but he forced it out. “…relationship and he only wants sex. He’s even said he had a daughter to think about. He doesn’t see me as long term.” 

“Then you build on that friendship. You said he sees you. The Dean Winchester I know and love doesn’t back down from a challenge. Be his friend. Show him how loyal and loving you can be. Show him you aren’t afraid of commitment.” 

Dean’s bark of laughter startled even him. “That’s just it, Ellen. I’m scared shitless.” 

She rose and planted a kiss on his forehead. “Don’t let him see it.” She winked at him and left the office. He poured himself another drink before going back into the kitchen. He didn’t come out and apologize to his staff, but he let them all go early. He cleaned the kitchen by himself. It gave him time to think. 

Tuesday night, he waited at the airport, a baseball cap pulled over his eyes. He coerced the handler that was in charge of Cas to let him pick Cas up after his flight. He scanned the concourse as the passengers of Flight 2439 from Atlanta headed toward baggage claim. The familiar mop of bedhead came from behind two businessmen. “Cas,” he called out. Those beautiful, sky blue eyes landed on him and his relaxed expression turned quizzical. 

“Hello, Dean. Why are you here?” Cas hefted his carry-on to his other hand and tilted his head to the left, waiting for Dean to answer him. 

“Just thought you’d like to see a familiar face before your first day on the job.” 

“That is very kind of you, Dean.” They stood in the middle of the crowded terminal staring into each other’s eyes for what seemed like hours. Cas was the one who broke them out of the trance. “Perhaps we should go.” 

Mentally shaking himself, Dean nodded. “Yeah. You have any luggage?” 

“No. The contract said the network would provide my wardrobe, so I didn’t feel the need to bring much.” 

Ten minutes later, Dean was steering the Impala out of the La Guardia. “Dean, I can’t help but suspect you are not happy with me.” 

Dean took his eye off the busy road for a second to glance over at Cas. He was sitting stiffly in the passenger seat, hands folded in his lap. He wasn’t looking at Dean. Before Dean could form a response, Cas spoke again. “Is it because you are proprietary about Spice of Life? If so, I can understand and let me assure you that I have no designs on becoming a regular host. I accepted the position for some extra money. Raising a child is expensive and Gabriel’s restaurant is going places, but it's not near the same caliber as Winchester’s. If you do feel strongly about it, my attorney assured me there was a clause that would allow me to change my mind without penalty within the first sixty days.”  

Dean worked his jaw from side to side. Did Cas think he was a prima donna and couldn’t handle competition? “It’s not that, Cas.”  

He realized his mistake as soon as the words were out of his mouth. He should have let Cas think those thoughts, it beat the alternative. Cas couldn’t know Dean’s crazy feelings. He could feel Cas’ gaze on him and he knew Cas wanted an explanation. Damn him. “It’s not important, Cas, just…you weren’t comfortable in front of the cameras, you didn’t even want to be there. I don’t want to see you doing something you aren’t okay with.” There. That sounded pretty good. Dean relaxed back in the seat and focused on the traffic. 

“Oh,” Cas said softly. “Thank you for thinking of me, Dean.” Dean suddenly felt like a shit. While part of what he said was true, it wasn’t the truth.  

“Not a problem, Cas.” They rode in silence until Dean pulled up at Cas’ hotel. He stopped the car and left it idling. “I’ll get Ash to pick you up in the morning. Be ready around five fifteen.” 

“Thank you again, Dean.” And then he was gone, disappearing through the glass doors. Dean rested his forehead on the steering wheel until a car honked behind him.  

The next morning, Dean stared at his image as he shaved. “You can do this. He’s a friend. Just a friend. Nothing more. And I’m talking to myself again.” He exhaled with an exaggerated huff and wiped off the excess expensive shaving lotion.  

 

To say Castiel was surprised when Dean picked him up at the airport was an understatement. The tension in the car made Castiel wonder why he’d even bothered. It was painfully obvious that Dean was uncomfortable. Dean had been somewhat distant since Castiel told him about the contract. Even more so after he’d signed it. 

He’d done it for the money or at least, that’s what he kept telling himself. Gabe and Ruby encouraged him and he knew they were hoping for a happily ever after. It wasn’t going to happen. Especially not with Dean Winchester. Many sleepless nights and countless one-sided conversations with himself forced him to see this thing with Dean for what it was. A scratch to an itch, nothing more. 

When he looked in the mirror the next morning, he sent a silent prayer that the makeup artist would be able to conceal the heavy, dark circles under his eyes.  

Twenty minutes later, he was waiting downstairs, his trench coat hanging loosely. It was still cold in New York, while back home, the trees were budding and Southerners were planning spring activities. The SUV pulled to the curb and he stepped forward at the same time Ash came around to open his door. He would never get used to that. 

Dean was already in the front seat. “Cas,” he nodded, eyes forward. 

“Good morning, Dean.” That was the extent of their conversation until Ash pulled up at the studio. Ash opened their doors and Dean led the way into the building. 

“Guess you’ll be on the same schedule as us now. No need for the Green Room, since you’re part of the team.” Unsure of what to say, Castiel remained silent. 

After leaving Castiel in the hands of the gentleman named Balthazar, Dean disappeared into his dressing room. “The studio has given you a dressing room. It isn’t much, but you’ll have privacy and you can leave personal items there,” Balthazar was saying as Castiel’s eyes remained on the closed door that said ‘Dean’. “He’s a good man, you know.” It took a second for the words to register and Castiel realized he was still standing in the same place. 

“I’m sorry.” He didn’t acknowledge the other man’s words. There seemed no need. 

“Not a problem, mate. Follow me.” It turned out that his dressing room was only three doors down from Dean’s. There was no nameplate, just the number twelve in brass. Compared to Dean’s, it was small, but enough for Castiel to be comfortable. “You have five minutes before you’re needed in makeup. You remember where it is?” Castiel nodded in the affirmative and Balthazar left him to his own devices. He looked around at the mirror, a wardrobe rack hung with various pairs of slacks and shirts, and a fruit basket left on the small dressing table. He read the card. “Welcome to the Spice of Life team.” It was signed ‘the staff’. How generic. Had he hoped it was from Dean?  

Thirty minutes later, the director was frothing at the mouth and the studio audience seemed restless. Dean had been off his mark twice and it had confused Castiel enough that they’d had to call ‘cut’ and retake the shots. Castiel kept mumbling his apologies and Dean cursed under his breath, but Castiel didn’t think it was directed at him. 

When it was finally over and the crowd left the studio, Crowley appeared on the set and crossed his arms, a sneer affixed to his face. “Winchester, did someone shit in your Wheaties this morning? Did you go out last night and party too hard?” 

Dean opened his mouth, but Crowley held up his hand. “I honestly don’t give a rat’s ass. Just make sure it doesn’t happen tomorrow or your next episodes will be playing games with soccer moms and pussy-whipped husbands.” He stomped off before Dean could speak. A feral growl came from the chastised host and he stormed off, leaving Castiel with Benny and the members of the crew in charge of cleaning the set. 

“Never seen Dean that off his game,” Benny said, shrugging. 

“I think perhaps it is my fault,” Castiel admitted. “He doesn’t seem to want me here, despite his denial otherwise.” 

“I don’t think that’s the case, Castiel,” Benny was quick to assure him. He patted Castiel on the back and walked off the set. Castiel stood for a few moments longer, looking around at the empty audience seats and the two women loading the dirty cookware onto a cart. 

Chapter Text

Dean leaned against his dressing room door and pounded his head back into the wood a couple of times. He wanted to blame everything on Cas. He wanted to lie to himself and say that Cas was the one that missed his marks. He didn’t want to face the truth. For the first time in years, Dean had feelings for someone. He didn’t like it. 

Knowing what he had to do, he quickly changed, called Ash, and made a mad dash to the exit. Avoidance was the key. Ash opened the SUV’s back door for him, but instead of shutting it, he stood waiting. “We can go,” Dean said quickly. 

“Oh, doesn’t Mr. Novak need a ride?” 

“No.” Ash gave him a quizzical look and shrugged before walking around to the driver’s side. Once he was behind the wheel, he looked in the rearview mirror. “He’s a big boy. I’m sure he can find a ride.” 

Ash’s expression was disapproving, but he started the engine and pulled forward. Dean felt like shit. The studio would make sure Cas got back to his hotel safe and sound. They wouldn’t leave him to wander the halls until the next taping. They wouldn’t. “Damn it, stop.” Dean pretended he didn’t see Ash’s smirk as the car slid to an easy stop and reversed to come even with the exit. Without waiting for his driver to open his door, Dean jumped out and went back inside. 

“Have you seen Cas... Castiel?” He asked the first person he came across, one of the prep girls named Nikki. She shook her head and he brushed past her. Becky was talking in the hall with two of the young interns when he slid around the corner. “Have you seen Castiel?” 

“He was in his dressing room a few seconds ago,” she called out to his retreating back. He saw the door was open and he slowed and tried to get his breathing down to a normal level. Casually, he stepped over the threshold. Cas was sitting in the room’s only chair, eating an apple. He looked up. 

“Hello, Dean.” 

“Hey, you ready to go?” Casual. Go for casual. 

“I thought you’d already left. I saw you run out the back door.” Fuck. Shit. Damn. And the fucker looked hurt. Dean’s first instinct was to lie. 

“Leave? No, man. I was just checking to see...” Cas wasn’t buying it. It was clearly written on his face and even someone with Dean’s emotional capabilities could see it. He ran his hand through his hair and sighed. “Look, you didn’t do anything wrong today. I was the one who fucked up the taping.” 

“Because I was there.” It wasn’t in the form of a question and that, in itself, was a hard pill for Dean to swallow. 

Dean looked away. His eyes met Cas’ in the mirror. For some reason, it was easier that way. “Yeah, but.. It isn’t because I don’t want you there, but because...”  

As the pause lengthened, Cas lifted a brow in expectation. Dean gave a self-deprecating laugh. “Words aren’t my strongpoint.” 

“Is it because we slept together?” Leave it to Cas to be blunt as fuck. 

“No,” Dean shouted emphatically. It couldn’t be. Dean was positive that wasn’t the case. Another lie spewed from his lips. “It’s was just having someone new on the set. Charlie, Benny, and I have been together for a few years. We know how to move around each other and take up where one of us leaves off. That’s all it is... someone new... on the set.” It sounded plausible.  

“You’ve had guest hosts before,” Cas said logically.  

“Well, sure, but the episodes don’t run as smooth,” Dean lied again.  

Instead of responding, Cas stood and picked up his trench coat. “I can arrange for a ride back to my hotel, Dean.” 

“No.” Dean blocked the doorway. What was he doing? Wasn’t this what he wanted? Time away from Cas. Cas had donned his coat and was staring at Dean. “I’ll give you a ride... to your hotel.” 

“Fine,” Cas said, sounding exasperated. 

“Fine.” Dean repeated because he was just that childish. He opened the door and led the way to the SUV.  

Ash was waiting and grinned at Cas. “Hey, Mr. Novak. Dean and I were wondering where you were. He wouldn’t let me leave without you.” Great, now everyone was lying.  

Cas smile was forced, but he returned Ash’s greeting and thanked him for waiting. Cas settled into the vehicle as far away from Dean as he could get without riding on the bumper. If Ash noticed the tension, he didn’t let on. At the hotel, Ash jumped out and opened the door. Unfortunately, he opened Dean’s side since it was away from traffic. Dean got out of the SUV and stood out of the way while Cas slid across the seat. To Ash, he said, “Thank you again for the ride, Ash. I will be taking a cab to the studio in the morning, so I won’t be seeing you again. Have a nice day.”  

Dean watched as a hotel employee opened the door and Cas disappeared inside. “Way to go, boss,” Ash muttered. He was still holding the door handle and Dean glared at him.  

“This is not my fault.” But it was. Wasn't it? He’d made Cas feel unwelcome since he’d found out about Crowley’s meddling.  

“Course not,” Ash said and indicated that Dean needed to get into the SUV. 

Dean stared at the hotel, chewing on the inside of his cheek. “Circle the block a few times,” he mumbled and strode purposefully to the door. It was opened by the same employee. 

Inside the lobby, Dean looked around and spied the elevators. Cas must have already gotten on. He went to the front desk. “I need Castiel Novak’s room number, please.” He smiled his most charming smile at the young man standing behind one of the terminals. 

“I’m sorry, Sir. We cannot give out that information. I can ring Mr. Novak’s room and tell him he has a visitor...”  

“No,” Dean interrupted rudely and then changed tactics. “Do you recognize me, kid?” Sue him, he was going to be one of those celebrities for a hot minute. 

The clerk looked at him for a few seconds and then slowly shock his head. “No, Sir. Would you like me to ring Mr. Novak’s room?” 

Dean pursed his lips and blew out a breath. He needed a Plan B. He held up a finger to the clerk and pulled out his phone. “Balthazar, please... it’s Winchester.” He leaned against the counter since there wasn’t anyone else waiting. “Hey. I need Novak’s room number... because... because he left something in my car.” Another lie. If there was a God, he’d be ramping up a lightning bolt. “Thanks, dude.”  

With a salute to the clerk, he ran to the elevator and punched the button. “Come on... come on,” he whispered as he watched the numbers light up. The doors opened and he stepped inside, pressing the correct floor. As the car carried him up to the fifth floor, he tried to settle his nerves. He was Dean Winchester, goddamn it. 

At Cas’ room, he knocked loudly. Then he put his hand over the peep hole. If Cas knew it was him, he probably wouldn’t open the freakin’ door. It opened. “Jesus, Cas, this is New York, you don’t fuckin’ open your door until you know who it is.” Cas blinked and shut the door. What. The. Fuck. 

Castiel leaned against the door. Dean Winchester infuriated him. First, he was a flirt and then, once he got what he wanted, he suddenly becomes a dick. Well, fuck him.  

“Cas, let me in.” 

“Go away.” 

“I’m not going away.” 

“Perhaps I’ll be lucky enough that someone will call security.” 

“Don’t be a dick. Let me in.” 

“Go away.” 

“Cas... sorry, ma’am, my boyfriend is pissed at me because I forgot our anniversary.” Castiel narrowed his eyes. Who was Dean talking to? He heard a softer voice say something and Dean responded, “Yeah, he’s worth it.”  

Castiel flung the door open and pulled up when he saw Dean and an elderly woman in expensive attire standing next to him. She smiled and said, “Forgiveness doesn’t change the past, young man, but it does enlarge the future.” She gave them both a nod and slowly walked toward the elevators. 

“Boyfriend?” Castiel snapped when she was out of earshot. 

Dean shrugged. “I had to get you to open the door, Cas.” He gave Castiel a boyish smile and Castiel growled before turned on his heel and stomping back into the room. He heard Dean close the door behind him. “I don’t apologize very often, so you might want to pay special attention.” Castiel closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He exhaled loudly and turned, taking in Dean’s body language. He might be acting cool, but his fists were clinched at his side and his shoulders looked tight. What was he nervous about? 

“I’m listening.” 

“Yeah, so... “ Dean looked around the room and walked to the window. “Not much of a view.” Castiel’s hotel room overlooked 23rd and the surrounding buildings.  

“You didn’t come here to chat about the view,” Castiel said, unwilling to give Dean pleasant conversation after the morning they’d both endured. He watched as Dean seemed to be having an internal argument by the scowl on his face. 

“I came to apologize.” 

“Okay.” Dean finally met his eyes and Castiel saw them soften. He looked away. He didn’t want to be pulled in again. He’d thought Dean was different, but he’d been wrong. 

“If we’re going to do this friendship thing, there’s something you gotta understand.” Castiel lifted a brow and waited. Dean huffed and began to pace the length of room. “I’m a dick. A Grade A dick. This morning was all on me and yeah, it is because we slept together.” Castiel opened his mouth to speak, but Dean held up his hand. “Before you give me the boot, I’m going to be honest. This whole friends with benefits shit... that ain’t gonna work for me. I want to get to know you. What I’m trying to say is that I want to maybe date and see where that takes us. I know the distance thing is a pain, but now that you’re on the team, you’ll be up here...” He stopped as if he ran out of steam. Castiel stared. Did Dean want a relationship? 

“Claire...” 

“Yeah, I get that you have a kid and that’s cool.” 

“She comes first.” 

“Wouldn’t expect anything less from you, Cas,” Dean replied and their eyes met and held. Dean’s moved down to Castiel’s mouth and though he wasn’t much for game playing, Castiel couldn’t help but lick his lips. He heard the sharp intake of breath. Dean’s gaze zeroed in on the bed, Castiel’s followed. “We should probably take things slow?” 

It was in the form of a question and Castiel understood that Dean was letting him set the pace. “Perhaps.” Castiel watched disappointment and then resignation flit across Dean’s features. He stepped forward, putting himself into Dean’s personal space. “Then again...” 

He never got the rest of the sentence out of his mouth because Dean’s lips were on his and suddenly, the room felt much too hot. Dean’s blunt nails dragged over the skin of his back. When had he lost his shirt? Then Dean’s hand was down the front of his pants and he couldn’t think anymore. Strong fingers wrapped around his hardening cock and he moaned. “You like that, Cas?” The question was mouthed against his throat and he could feel his pulse pounding. Could Dean feel it too?  

Castiel was propelled backward until he crashed onto the bed, Dean following. His hands were braced on either side of Castiel’s face and the other man’s face was flushed. “Fuck, you are so... hot.” 

He raised his hand and cupped the back of Dean’s neck, dragging him down for a heated kiss. It was wet and filthy, more passion than finesse. Castiel’s hips were rolling up, needing to feel Dean’s body against his aching cock. “Easy... we have plenty of time...” Dean’s whispered words calmed Castiel and his frantic movements slowed. His kisses had less teeth and more tongue. He allowed himself to explore with his fingertips. He became aware of the sounds the fabric made against the sheets, the hint of aftershave lingering on Dean’s skin, and the warmth of his arousal straining against his zipper. 

For his part, Dean seemed to be concentrating on the kissing. There was a hint of chocolate on his breath from the dessert they sampled during taping. “Clothes...” Castiel needed to feel more of Dean. 

“Shhhh,” Dean murmured, but went up on his knees. He stared down at Castiel for a few precious moments before rolling off the bed and unbuttoning his jeans. Castiel lifted his hips and pushed his own pants and underwear down past his thighs, never breaking eye contact. He licked his lips at the picture Dean made. He was down to his boxer briefs and they fit like a second skin. He could see his erection straining against the black material. Castiel kicked his pants off and they were flung to the floor. Dean hooked his thumbs in his waistband and winked before slowly lowering them. His cock spring free and Castiel’s mouth watered. He needed to taste. 

He rolled over and got on his hands and knees, crawling toward the edge of the bed and Dean stepped closer. “You look fucking perfect, babe.” Castiel looked up for a brief second and then took Dean into his mouth. Dean’s groan went straight to his own throbbing cock. Hands dug into his scalp and he relished the pain. “Oh, man, that’s it... suck me.”  

Castiel took him as deep as he could, then set a rhythm. He swirled his tongue around the head and then moved his head up and down, Dean’s encouraging whispers driving him on. “You’re gonna make me come, Cas. Is that what you want?” 

He hummed his assent and then reached down to take his own cock in hand. He thrust into his fist as he moved his head faster and faster. Dean was close. His balls were tight against his body and his breaths were coming in harsh gasps for air. “Gonna... fuck...” 

The first trace of cum hit the back of his throat and he swallowed, savoring the taste of Dean on his tongue. His own pleasure was forgotten as he milked Dean dry. When Dean whimpered and pulled away, Castiel reared up on his knees and licked his lips, his hand once again, jerking himself off. Dean seemed mesmerized by the sight. “Beautiful... fucking hot... show me, Cas...” 

Castiel felt the molten heat in his belly and grunted as the force of his orgasm washed over him. His eyes flew to Dean. The other man’s expression was one of hunger. Castiel slowed as he became sensitive to touch. He dropped his hand and looked down. Cum stained the bedspread and though he couldn’t really see the floor from his position, he imagined the rug took most of it. Would they charge the studio with a cleaning fee? The thought made him chuckle and Dean looked perplexed. “What?” 

He shook his head, grabbed Dean’s hand, and fell back, taking Dean with him. His laughter continued with Dean’s unmanly yelp. “Gonna clue me in on the joke?” Dean asked once Castiel seemed to contain himself. 

“I was just thinking about the cleaning fee and if Crowley would have to pay it?” Dean rolled his eyes, but a playful grin graced his face. 

“It’s a hotel. They kind of expect jizz to happen. You don’t want to get UV light in places like this. You’d never stay...” 

“Shut up. I’ve slept on this bed,” Castiel cut him off. He wasn’t a germaphobe, but he didn’t want to think about it either.  

Suddenly, Dean sat up. “Shit,” he exclaimed and jumped out of bed. Castiel appreciated the view of his gorgeous ass, but was concerned by the way Dean was fumbling with his pants. Was he leaving? Dean pulled out his phone and looked sheepish. “I told Ash to circle the block a couple of times. He is probably wondering what the hell happened.” 

Castiel pulled the covers down and got under the sheets, feeling shy now that the sex was over. Dean didn’t seem to have that issue, since he was pacing the room as he called his driver. “Ash... sorry, man... I... uh...” Dean paused to listen and his face reddened. Castiel thought it was kind of cute. “Yeah... shut up. Give me...” He looked over at Castiel. “Hang on...” He pressed the phone to his chest. “Why don’t you pack your stuff and come to my place? We wouldn’t have to worry about cleaning fees.” 

He sounded so earnest that Castiel couldn’t refuse, though he knew he’d second guess himself later. He nodded. 

“Yeah, give us about thirty and then meet us in front.” Dean tossed the phone onto the end of the bed. “Come on, let’s get you packed.” 

Castiel rose, pulled on his boxers and decided not to think of all the things that could go wrong. Dean wanted to try a relationship and right now, he couldn’t think of a reason not to go along. There would be plenty of time for regrets later. 

Chapter Text

When Dean knocked on Cas’ door, he’d had his speech memorized. He was going to apologize and then charm his way back into Cas’ pants. Asking Cas to give him a chance at a relationship was not in the picture. If Dean believed in witches, he’d think someone dumped some love potion on his head. Cas made him a bumbling, love starved idiot and he wasn’t. An idiot sure, but love starved? Hell, no. He could get laid any time he wanted.  

So, why was he sitting next to Cas on the way back to his place? Love potion... huh. Or was Cas like some sort of insect that squirted pheromones around and sucked innocent victims into his web? He blinked at the passing city. Now, he was mixing metaphors.  

Cas, for his part, was quiet. He stared at the buildings and people that made up the Big Apple. Dean dared a few quick glances. He caught Ash’s knowing smirk in the rearview mirror and vowed to fire him the next chance he got. He’d be home napping on his memory foam if it wasn’t for his driver. Alone. Missing out on one of the best blowjobs he’d ever had.  

Inside Dean’s loft, he pointed toward the bedroom. “Just toss your stuff in there while I make us some lunch.” He didn’t wait to see if Cas did as he asked. He was already mentally going over the ingredients he had on hand to wow his guest. The way to a man’s heart... right? He froze at the thought. Did he really want Cas to fall for him? Would that be fair? Dean wasn’t a happily ever after guy. But... could he be? Then there was the kid to think about. Why was life suddenly so fucking complicated? 

Cooking calmed his nerves so he threw himself into whipping up a great lunch. When Cas made his way back to the kitchen, Dean had the ingredients for fish tacos on the counter. He nodded to the cutting board and chef’s knife beside him. “Can you cut up the cabbage for slaw?” At his indignant look, Dean laughed. “Dumb question.” 

Cas shook his head and picked up the knife. A few minutes later, the fish was sizzling in the pan and the aroma of chilies filled the air. In his own kitchen, Dean usually liked to work alone, with his guests seated at the bar to oversee, but with Cas, he found they worked easily in tandem.  

Dean plated the meal and led the way to the living room. “Let’s eat in here. We can watch a movie or something.” The something turned out to be American Pickers.  

“Why would someone want a moldy, taxidermied squirrel, Dean?” 

“Who knows? It’s kind of creepy,” Dean replied with his mouth full of food. Cas turned to look at him, head tilted. Here it was. He was going to say something about Dean’s table manners. Others in the past had made some pretty snide remarks about them. Instead, Cas let one corner of his mouth twitch upward. 

“Indeed. Very creepy.” Dean grinned and took another huge bite of his taco.  

When they finished eating, Cas stood and took both of their plates. Dean protested but was reminded that Cas was staying here and the least he could do was clean up the kitchen. Dean let him have at it. He leaned back on the couch and tried to come up with something to do for the rest of the day. He had about four hours before he was needed at the restaurant.  

Cas came back into the room and Dean jumped to his feet. “Let’s bundle up and go to the zoo.” 

“The zoo?” 

“Hey, grownups can like the zoo, too.” When was the last time he went to the zoo? Was it that charity thing he did about five years back? “Think of it as scoping out a place to take Claire when you bring her to visit.” Dean saw the instant Cas’ eyes dimmed. 

“I don’t plan on bringing Claire here. Her home is in Atlanta... with me.” 

“Oh. Guess being together means something different to you then,” Dean said, his feelings hurt even though he’d never admit that to anyone. As always, he hid his hurt with anger. 

Cas hung his head and gave a small shrug. “I’m sorry, but being 'together' with someone is difficult for me. It might be a learning process and I must ask for patience.” 

With those words, Dean’s anger and hurt disappeared. “I’m not the poster child for relationships, Cas. Let’s take it one day at a time. Deal?” 

“Deal,” Cas said, a smile twitching at his lips.  

Dean had a spare coat for Cas since that trench coat wouldn’t do the job. He also wrapped Cas in a scarf and pulled a knit cap down around his ears. Satisfied Cas could handle the bitter New York winter now, he grabbed his hand and headed to toward Central Park. 

With school in session, the zoo wasn’t overly crowded and Dean enjoyed being incognito. No one paid attention to the two men bundled against the cold. It wasn’t until they got to the penguin exhibit that Cas surprised him by laughing. He watched the cool, little birds with rapt attention. Dean kept his eyes on Cas. He loved how the other man’s eyes crinkled at the corner when he smiled. Damn, he was in way too deep. 

All too soon, it was time to drag Cas away from the penguin enclosure and start heading back to the apartment. When Dean mentioned he was needed at Winchesters for the night, Cas nodded and asked if it was okay for him to stay at Dean’s place and read to pass the time. Dean managed to rein in the disappointment, but really, what would Cas do for seven or eight hours at the restaurant? 

 Once in the kitchen, Dean pushed aside thoughts of Cas and settled into the routine of running one of the busiest restaurants in New York. When midnight rolled around, Dean left the cleanup to his crew and waved goodbye. He hailed a cab and almost dozed off on the short ride back to his place.  

He’d forgotten that Cas was there until he let himself in and stopped short. The man in question was asleep on the couch, a paperback novel open on his chest, mouth slightly open. Dean was transfixed. Cas was really there. Could he really have this? With Cas being gun-shy, it would take work. Dean was never willing to work for it before.  

Not wanting to wake Cas until necessary, Dean hit the shower and pulled on boxers and a t-shirt. Since the loft was always a bit cold in the winter, he grabbed the old gray bathrobe he couldn’t bear to part with.  

Back in the living room, he sat down on the coffee table and took a few more seconds to watch Cas sleep. As if sensing him, Cas blinked sleepily. “You’re home.” It was an innocent way to refer to wherever you were staying, but Dean took it to heart. He smiled softly. 

“Yeah, just got in a few minutes ago.” Cas reached out to touch his wet hair. 

“More than a few minutes.” 

Dean shrugged. “Had to wash the kitchen smells off of me.” He stood and held out his hand. “Come on, it’s bed time.” 

There was a part of Dean that wanted to make out with Cas until it led to lazy sex, but his forty-year-old body was acting against him. He yawned and curled up under the thick comforter. Cas was on his back next to him and seemed a hundred miles away. Dean wasn’t one to cuddle, but he shuffled closer and tugged Cas until he became the little spoon. Dean smiled into the back of his neck and whispered. “Sleep.” 

Castiel woke to the smell of bacon. He narrowed his eyes. The hotel didn’t have a kitchen. Why--  He sat up. Through the windows, he could see part of the New York City skyline. It truly was the city that never slept. It was still dark, but a hint of purple was on the eastern horizon. He sniffed again. Bacon and coffee.  

Castiel walked toward the kitchen, his bare feet not making a sound. He could hear music now. When he came around the corner, he saw Dean. Dressed in plaid flannel pants and the same black t-shirt from last night, the man was swaying his hips and singing to a song playing from an iPod dock on the counter. He was standing at the stove frying bacon.  

As if sensing Castiel’s presence, he spun and grinned, still singing. He reached behind to turn the burner to low and waltzed across the kitchen to shimmy in front of Castiel. He held out his hand. “Dance with me, Cas.” 

Castiel only hesitated for a second and then took Dean’s hand. As dances went, it wasn’t the most graceful and definitely wouldn’t win them any awards, but to Castiel, it was a pivotal moment in his life. Because at that exact moment in time, he knew he could fall for Dean Winchester. It wasn’t what he wanted. It definitely wasn’t what he needed, but there it was. He stumbled and Dean caught him easily, only to spin him under his arm.  

When the song ended, Dean brushed his lips over Castiel’s and gave a little bow. “Breakfast will be ready in ten. Want to set the table?” 

“Are you always so...” He twirled his finger around, “upbeat in the mornings?” 

“Oh, hell no, but I slept like a rock last night. We have a great show to do today. Annnnnd, you look hot as fuck with your sexy bedhead.” He reached up and ruffled Castiel’s hair before plopping down on one of the chairs.  

“A great show?” He had to focus on a topic of conversation that didn’t embarrass him.  

“Yeah, today is Roll the Dice Friday and you are going to help me cook. Plus, we’re airing the episode we filmed last week... remember, I texted you about it... the event we did for childhood hunger.” Castiel did remember. He’d been privately proud of Dean and all the hosts for raising money for the charity. “And besides, Fridays are always good because it means the weekend is here and I get to sleep late for two days straight.” 

Friday also meant that Castiel would be flying home. He was ready to see Claire again. He missed her so much, but it meant leaving Dean. Would the distance hinder the progress they’d made getting to know each other? To save the good mood that Dean was in, Castiel did not mention it. 

The taping went fine and Dean was more at ease with Castiel on the set. He made some on-air jokes and was even openly affectionate. Crowley told both of them that it was ‘ratings gold’. Castiel wasn’t sure what he meant by that and he didn’t feel comfortable enough to ask. 

As Dean ushered him down the hall toward the waiting SUV, he was chattering about doing some shopping for lunch. “Dean, I have a two o’clock flight.” Dean stopped with his hand on the door handle. 

“Oh, yeah, right.” He didn’t look at Castiel and his smile looked forced. “Guess you need to get back to Claire.” Was he jealous of his daughter? Surely not. 

They didn’t talk much on the ride back to Dean’s, but once they were inside the apartment, Dean addressed the elephant in the room. “I wish you could stay another day, but I get that you need to get home. Claire is your kid. I was being kind of selfish.” 

Castiel thought for a few moments before speaking. “I miss her. She’s my world, but I will miss you when I’m gone.” Dean’s face brightened and once again, he was taken in by not only the man’s beauty, but by the warmth inside. Before he could overthink it, he blurted, “Perhaps you can come spend a weekend with us. I know the restaurant keeps you busy, and I understand if you don’t have the time...” 

“Next weekend? You can show me Atlanta.” Those incredible green eyes seemed to twinkle and Castiel was pulled in to Dean’s orbit. 

“I would love that.” 

“Cool.” He glanced at his watch. “So, we have a few hours. What do you want to do?” 

Castiel felt a flood of heat. He was leaving soon and wanted another memory to take back to Atlanta. “You.” 

He cocked his head to the side, grinned, and with a ‘come hither’ look over his shoulder, he strolled into his bedroom. Castiel was quick to follow, already unbuttoning his shirt. Disrobing didn’t take long. They didn’t make a romantic game of it. Each quickly stripped out of their own clothing, but their eyes didn’t stray from their partner’s. 

Dean got naked first and sank to his knees in front of Castiel. He gripped Castiel’s hands at the waistband of his boxers and with a quick glance up, began mouthing Castiel’s half-hard cock through the thin cotton. He moaned and attempted to pull Dean up, but Dean just winked up at him. “Relax, I got this.” He released Castiel’s hands and with one swift tug, his boxers hit the floor. Dean nuzzled against his balls a moment before licking from base to slit. Castiel closed his eyes and swayed. Dean’s mouth was hot and wet, and his tongue, God, his tongue was too damn talented.  

He forced himself to open his eyes to watch. Dean’s own were closed and Castiel focused on the way his eyelashes swept his freckled cheeks. “Dean,” he murmured. 

Dean’s eyes opened, blinked once, and locked onto Castiel’s. Castiel ran his fingers slowly through Dean’s hair and whispered, “Come here.” Dean released his cock and got to his feet. Castiel’s gaze lowered to his full, wet lips. He slid his hand around the back of Dean’s neck and pulled him close, kissing him gently. Every nerve ending in his body was alive and pulsing. He wanted Dean. God help him, it scared the hell out of him. 

Castiel’s other hand drifted down between them and cupped Dean’s heavy sac before sliding up the length of him. Using his thumb, he traced the slit, smearing precum over the head. Dean let his head roll back, bearing his neck for Castiel’s mouth. “Want you... want this...” Dean said softly. 

He took his time. Small kisses and gentle bites up one side of Dean’s throat and down the other. He took his time, slowly stroking his cock. Velvety smooth and slick from his arousal. Castiel’s own erection throbbed between his legs, but his pleasure could come later. He wanted to savor Dean’s taste like a fine wine. He was breathtaking. 

“Cas... bed...” He laughed softly. “My knees ain’t gonna hold me up much longer if you keep doing what you’re doing.” 

Castiel reluctantly released his grip and took a small step back. “Since I plan on continuing, I suppose you should lie down.” 

Dean reached out and grabbed his hand, leading him to the large bed, now drenched in sunlight streaming through the windows. Castiel paused long enough to open the nightstand and when he found what he was looking for, he tossed them onto the bed. Dean watched and then licked his lips. “You plan on fucking me, Cas?” 

“Yes.” 

God damn. That one word coming from Cas’ sinful mouth about did him in. He sank down on the bed, because his legs couldn’t have held him up a second longer. Cas came forward and pushed him back before crawling up beside him. Dean watched as he squeezed the lube onto his fingertips. He had great hands. Long fingers... Dean’s pulse increased as he thought of what those fingers were getting ready to do to him. 

He closed his eyes when Cas started kissing him again and he opened his legs wantonly, ready for whatever Cas wanted to give him. Dean’s breath stopped for a heartbeat when cool fingers traced around his entrance. Cas explored him slowly and Dean relaxed. When he slipped his finger inside, Dean moaned and lifted his knees, giving Cas more room to play. 

When Cas found Dean’s sweet spot, he arched off the bed, unable to stop the keening sound escaping from his mouth. He started to slowly rock his hips, fucking himself of Cas’ fingers. Then Cas started to suck on one of his nipples. “Cas...” he hissed. The motherfucker was taking him apart piece by piece. 

Another finger joined the first and Cas let his teeth scrape the sensitive nub at the same time. Dean cried out with sensory overload. He felt like he could come from Cas’ fingers alone. He loved the stretch... relished the burn. He managed to say, “More”. Cas’ mouth disappeared from his nipple, the slight chill in the air making him shiver. Then his hole was left empty and wanting. 

Cas’ mouth covered his and he moved on top of him, forcing his legs even wider. He waited patiently for Cas to roll the condom down his shaft. He watched as Cas slicked himself with more lube, the sound loud and obscene in the quiet of the late morning.  

Dean couldn’t take his eyes away from it. The way Cas moved his hand up and down his own cock. He made a note to himself to ask Cas to jerk off for him someday soon. It would be so fucking hot. Cas shifted position to line himself up with Dean’s hole and Dean lifted his ass to help. “Ahhh,” he gasped as the thick head breeched his body. Then he was inside... all of him... Dean wrapped his ankles around Cas’ hips and dug his heels in. Cas got his slow torture, now it was his turn. “Fuck me, Cas. Hard and dirty, babe.” 

Cas’ teeth dug into his lower lip and he eased out only to thrust back forcefully. Both men grunted. “You’re sure...” Cas asked, looking down at him, elbows locked, holding himself steady. 

“Yeah.” Dean needed this. He wanted to feel Cas long after he was gone.  

They set a driving pace. Skin slapped skin as a sheen of sweat covered their bodies despite the cool temperature in the room. No more words were said between them. Dean didn’t want it. He used his body to show Cas what he was feeling. It was desperate and needy. The smell of sex was intoxicating. Nothing could ever compare to this. No one in his past had ever made him want this much. He dug his fingertips into Cas’ strong shoulders and used his hips to meet each thrust. His cock, trapped between their bodies ached to be touched, but he wanted this to last forever. Cas’ face bore an expression of concentration, his eyes locked with Dean’s.  

Dean let out a harsh growl as his orgasm came unbidden. No, not yet... “Fuck,” he moaned, his muscles locking as the wave overtook him. Cas leaned down to kiss him. It was wild and hard. Dean tasted blood. The aftershocks rolled over him and Cas drove into him over and over. Then he threw back his head and howled. Dean felt Cas’ cock throbbing inside of him, pumping him full.  

Cas hung his head, his arms trembling, his hips still against Dean’s. Never in his life had Dean felt this way. He wasn’t a romantic. Reaching up, he traced his fingertip over Cas’ lips. Cas blinked, his eyes so fucking blue. Snapping himself out of this crazy feeling, Dean grinned. “You weigh a ton.” 

The moment broken, Cas eased himself out and rolled to his back. Dean winced at the sudden emptiness. Yeah, he’d be sore for a while. He closed his eyes, refusing to watch Cas get out of bed. Neither spoke throughout their separate showers and dressing. Dean took his phone into the living room to check messages while Cas packed. He found himself staring out the window instead. He thought a long-distance thing would be perfect. Easy.  

“I’m ready.” Cas’ voice behind him made him turn. Cas was scrolling through his phone. 

“'kay. We should probably get you to the airport.” He moved to the table where his wallet and keys were kept. 

“I called an Uber.” Dean head snapped around. 

“What? No. Cancel it.” 

“Dean...” 

“Cancel it.” Cas’ expression was unreadable, but he did as Dean asked.  

The ride to the airport was painful. Dean knew he was the one who was making it weird. Finally, as he parked and shut off the ignition, he turned to Cas. “I’ll walk you to the gate.” 

“You don’t...” 

“Shut up, Cas. Please, just shut up.” They got out of the car and Dean hefted Cas’ bag despite his protests. He waited behind him while he used the kiosk to scan his ticket. They walked in silence to the TSA gates. Dean needed to nut up. He counted to ten and set the suitcase down. Cas reached for it, but Dean stopped him by pulling him into his arms. “See you soon. Next weekend, right?” 

There it was again, Cas’ soft smile. “Next weekend,” he repeated. 

Dean, mindful of being in a crowded airport, kissed him quickly. “Call me when you get home.” 

“I will. Goodbye Dean.” 

He watched Cas walk away. Instead of leaving right away, Dean walked over to the windows at the tarmac. Planes waited for passengers to board them. Ground crews loaded luggage and directed the large, winged machines through the busy area. He wondered which one Cas was on. He found a Delta flight and watched as it backed out of its slot. He imagined Cas sitting in a seat, looking forward to getting home and seeing his kid. He moved down the long window, following the plane with his eyes until it hurried down the runway and lifted into the sky.  

This long-distance thing was going to kill him. 

Chapter Text

The flight gave Cas plenty of time to think. Love? Was that what it was? He’d had strong feelings for people before, but love... maybe the poets and songwriters had it wrong. This was terrifying and confusing, and he didn’t like it.  

For once, Ruby didn’t try to get him to open up about his trip or Dean. She filled him in on Claire’s time with them and with a brief hug, sent him on his way.  

It took him over an hour to unpack, since Claire was clingy after their time apart. He sat with her and read her a story. Then he rocked her, adoring the fact that she was allowing this cuddle time. Green eyes blinked up at him and he was struck by the resemblance to Dean’s. He was definitely acting like a fool in love. She patted his face and murmured, “Da”. 

He closed his eyes and they rocked, him humming nonsensical songs. Da. For the first time since Anna died, he didn’t think of Claire as his sister’s child. Claire was his. Would he be able to share her with Dean? As Dean pointed out, that’s what happened in a relationship. 

“Would you like to call Dean?” He imagined Dean was at the restaurant, so they wouldn’t keep him. Castiel just wanted to tell Dean he got home okay. That was what boyfriends did.  

He found the Facetime app on his phone and tapped Dean’s number. Dean’s face appeared after two rings. “Heya, Cas.” Dean was in the kitchen. He could see people behind him, moving quickly to prepare food. 

“Hello, Dean. I know you’re busy, but I wanted to inform you that I arrived home safe and sound.” 

“I’m glad you did.” Dean was moving down a short hall and the din from the kitchen grew softer. “We are slammed tonight.” He grinned and Cas knew he was in his element. 

“I won’t keep you...” 

“I needed a break anyway,” Dean’s office door shut and a blanket of quiet settled around them. Claire picked that moment to grab at the phone. “Hey, is that the princess? Hey, Claire. Are you glad to have your daddy home?” 

“Da...” Claire squinted at Dean’s image. “Mine.” She took the phone and brought it to her face. “Juice.”  

Castiel peered around and saw Dean was drinking a Coke. “That’s right, Claire. Dean has juice.” 

“Dee ha juice,” she managed around the thumb she stuck into her mouth. 

“Cool, she said my name,” Dean exclaimed, delight written all over his face. “Claire, say Dee-in.” Castiel smiled at the way Dean tried to take his one syllable name and draw it out for his little girl. 

“Dee,” she said with a grin. “Dee. Dee. Dee.”  

“I think that’s all you’re getting for the moment,” Castiel said, smiling down at her. “Good job, Claire.” 

“Goo job,” she repeated in toddler-ese. As suddenly as it began, her attention with the phone waned. “Down.”  

Castiel eased her onto the floor and watched her make her way to the basket of toys in the corner of the living room. He turned the phone so he was able to see Dean. “I’m looking forward to this weekend.”  

“Yeah? Me too. I thought we’d just hang out at your place. Maybe watch some movies... or whatever.” 

“That sounds like fun.”  

Someone banged on Dean’s door and he rolled his eyes. “Sorry, Cas, duty calls.” 

“Goodbye, Dean.” 

“Bye. I... I’ll see you soon.” Castiel got the feeling that Dean was going to say something else.  

He spent Sunday, doing laundry and spending time with Claire. It wasn’t until later that evening that came to the realization that as much as Claire was now his, this condo was not. He was standing at the door of his bedroom with a basket of freshly folded clothes and he saw the room for what seemed like the first time. It was Anna’s bed, Anna’s dresser, even his sister’s artwork on the walls.  

It wasn’t like him to make quick decisions, but it wasn’t really quick, was it? He’d been living in Anna’s home for nineteen months. He’d put his stamp on the kitchen and packed up his sister’s clothes, but other than that, the place was still hers. He found his phone and while Claire played quietly with her blocks, he called his sister-in-law. 

Ruby’s knock came early the next morning and it wasn’t long afterward that Ute, Gabe’s hostess and Castiel’s favorite babysitter, showed up. Ute took Claire into her room while Ruby sat down with her legal pad. Together, they made a list of everything that would go to charity and while Ruby made the calls, Castiel got the key to the storage locker downstairs. 

The bare overhead light bulb illuminated the stacks of plastic totes. They were filled with Anna’s clothing and personal effects. Ruby wrapped her arms around his waist. “These are just things, Castiel. She still lives in your heart.” He nodded and knew it was true. It didn’t make it less painful though. Ruby helped him separate the donations from the things they should keep for Claire.  

Castiel took the tote that held all Anna’s papers and sat it near the door. He’d have to go through those carefully. Her insurance policy and other important documents were in a safe deposit box and Castiel had already taken care of those. This box held his sister’s journals, sketchbooks, and scrapbooks. Things Claire would need to see one day. 

Tired and dirty, they oversaw the workmen who came to carry all the things away. When it was over, Castiel looked around the bare rooms. Ruby had agreed to go furniture shopping with him the next day, but for now, the condo was empty save for Claire’s room. He had a blank canvas to fill with his own things.  

“Are you sure you don’t want to spend the night with us?” Ruby asked as she shouldered her purse.  

“I’m going to be fine.” He hugged her and thanked her again for helping him. He couldn’t have done it without her. He paid Ute for her time and watched with amusement as Claire ambled around the huge empty spaces.  

Later that night, after taking a couple of Advil PMs, Castiel lay on his back staring at the ceiling. He’d taken every blanket in the house and made a bed for himself. It wasn’t perfect, but it would do until he bought a new one. He fired off a text to Dean telling him what he’d gotten accomplished.  

TEXT FROM DEAN/10:02 – Wish I could have been there to help. I’ve been there. 

That’s right, Dean had lost both of his parents.  

TEXT FROM YOU/10:03 – We wouldn’t have gotten anything done. 😉 

TEXT FROM DEAN / 10:04 – Probably not.  

A series of emojis followed Dean’s text and Castiel didn’t need to guess their meaning. He fell asleep with a smile on his face. 

After he spent the next morning making desserts for the dinner service, Castiel and Ruby set out for a day of shopping. Five hours and three rooms of furniture later, Claire was whiny and Castiel felt like joining her. The bed was to be delivered that afternoon, but the rest of the things would be arriving on Wednesday. He’d have two days to make the condo livable again before Dean flew in.  

They’d been talking every night. Dean made a special point to call before Claire’s bedtime to talk to her. He was always at the restaurant and it made it all the more special that he was taking time out of his busy schedule to make time for them. All his doubts had faded away. It might be difficult to have a long-distance relationship, but he was willing to try his best. 

That night, after putting Claire to bed, Castiel sat down on the living room floor with the plastic tote filled with memories of Anna. He had music playing softly from his phone and unable to put it off any longer, he opened the lid. 

He divided the things into separate piles. Her scrapbooks and sketchbooks, he’d put away for Claire. The stack of journals was a different matter. Would Claire need to know about his sister’s love of men? He’d been scarred for life when Gabriel stole one of the journals her sophomore year of college and showed Castiel all the details of Anna’s sex life. It seemed a shame to get rid of them though. Too tired to make a reasonable decision, he picked them up and carried them to his bedroom. As he was pushing them onto the top shelf of his closet, the top one fell down and hit the floor. A few photographs flew out and landed near his shoes. Groaning, he bent to pick them up and froze. 

Slowly, he picked up the picture. Anna... and Dean... were standing in what looked like Times Square. What did this mean? He lifted the journal from the floor and carried it to his bed. It went against everything he held sacred. It was Anna’s most private words. But how did she know Dean? He’d told Dean the story of Anna and her death, but if he knew her, why hadn’t he mentioned it? Thoughts raced through his mind.  

He opened the journal. Where to begin? Anna was in New York for New Year’s a couple years ago. The journal started in November of 2015. He flipped through them until he got to December Thirtieth. He read how she was meeting with a potential client for the gallery and sounded upbeat. She was looking forward to being in Times Square for the countdown.  

He turned the page and read the entry for the first day of the new year. His chest felt tight until he realized it was only a one-night stand. The potential for dangerous consequences was there, but knowing both of them, nothing bad came to fruition.  

 

She didn’t even know his last name or who he really was. He gave a relieved laugh and thought about sharing this with Dean, but shook his head. No, Dean would be embarrassed. It was a shame that she didn’t get a chance to find out what a wonderful lover Dean really was. Then jealousy reared its ugly head. Well, not really a shame.  

Castiel was ready to close the journal, but reading his sister’s words had made him smile. He missed her long phone conversations. They’d bitch about the men they dated, politics, and end up complaining about Gabriel. He turned the page and continued to read. It was a few entries later that Castiel’s hands began to tremble.  

 

No, this couldn’t be happening. The odds were astronomical. He heard a hollow keening sound and realized it was him. Claire was Dean’s. Dean’s... He had so many questions. Why wasn’t Dean the person Anna designated to raise her daughter? Why didn’t Dean tell him about having a child?  

Dean picked that horrific moment in time to call him. Panic settled over him. He was supposed to fly in tomorrow night for their planned weekend. Castiel shook his head from side to side. No. No, he couldn’t see Dean... couldn’t even talk to him... until he had time to think. His phone eventually went to voice mail and Castiel kept reading. 

 

Her pain was evident in her written words and Castiel looked at the date again. Had she tried to call him? Had she needed a shoulder to cry on? Would he have even been there for her? At that time, Castiel had been working hard at the bakery in San Francisco and enjoying the freedom of living in a city where being gay was more accepted instead of a social stigma.  

 

She hadn’t mentioned Dean again. Had she contacted him? If so, why hadn’t she written about it. Anna was an independent woman. She’d always been stubborn and ready to take on the world by herself, despite having two older brothers who loved her. If she’d contemplated abortion and then adoption, then she hadn’t discussed her pregnancy with Dean. Castiel was sure of it.  

Castiel skimmed over the pages. There were notations about the gallery, her friends, and her complaints about the changes in her body. Still no mention of Dean. The logical side of him suddenly realized that Anna hadn’t even know Dean’s last name. No wonder she never tried to find him. It would have seemed like insurmountable odds.  

This particular entry made him smile softly. He remembered that day vividly. For the first time in years, she’d let Castiel take the role as her big brother. The last sentence made him roll his eyes. Gabriel could be an asshole, but he’d loved Anna. She had to have known that. 

 

He closed the journal, his thumb holding the place. She’d found out who Dean was. He couldn’t read any more. Castiel was certain Anna had contacted the celebrity chef and... what? Had Dean ignored her? Had he refused to believe her? He tossed the book onto the bed and stood. He needed a drink. His phone pinged with an incoming text message. He made his way to the kitchen and poured himself a shot of vodka. It burned and caused tears to come to his eyes, but it didn’t stop him from repeating it.  

Three shots later, he glared at the stream of light from his bedroom door. He wanted to burn the damn thing. He wanted to turn back time and be blissfully ignorant of the fact that the man he was falling for and his dead sister had made a child together. His child. Claire. 

Determined to finish what he started, Castiel returned to his room. He glowered at the inanimate object that had ruined everything. Ruined his life. He snatched it off the bed and flopped down on his stomach to get to the end of this cruel story. 

Bile rose in his throat. He skimmed over the next few pages. There was no mention of Dean until August. 

 

 

Castiel knew the ending of this story. Anna didn’t choose adoption. She became a mother. She didn’t have the best of role models in their own parents, but she did her best. She fumbled through like most new moms. And then she died. Castiel knew now that Anna had never contacted Dean.  

He moved ahead to the day Claire was born. He and Gabriel had flown in because they didn’t want Anna to be alone. Sure, she had friends, but Anna had always been standoffish to other women and never allowed anyone to get too close. 

His smile was barely there. The moment he first held Claire, at barely six pounds, he’d been enamored with her. Newborns really weren’t beautiful like people said, no, she was red, scrawny, and screamed like a banshee. For a few seconds, he’d forgotten about the train wreck that was his life now.  

 

He should have stayed longer. He’d known that Anna was having a hard time dealing with being a single mother. She’d been tired and barely eating. Maybe if he would have stayed, she would have been alive today.  The date made him pause. It was only a month before she was killed. He flipped over the next couple of entries and realized there were only a few filled pages left. So many blank sheets. A life wasted. Knowing it would be painful, he went to the very last entry. 

He closed the journal and looked out the window at the Atlanta skyline. It was blurry and for a moment, he didn’t know why. He wiped at the tears from his eyes and stood up. He took the journal to the closet and set it on top of the others before heading down the short hallway to Claire’s room.  

Her unicorn lamp gave the room a soft glow. He padded softly across the carpet and stared down into the crib. While shopping for his new bed, he briefly thought of getting her a toddler bed, but wanted to postpone it for a little while longer. He didn’t want his baby to grow up too fast. She was sprawled out on her tummy, her favorite stuffed bear curled against her side. 

Castiel touched her cheek with a fingertip. Claire was his. His. Dean didn’t know he had a daughter. No, not a daughter. He was the sperm donor. And Castiel couldn’t see him anymore.  

It hurt to type out the words, but he had to protect Claire.

Chapter Text

Text from Cas/10:20  – We can’t see each other again. Please cancel your trip. 

Dean read the words on the screen three times before they sunk in. Instead of giving comfort and a sense of calm like they usually did, the sounds, smells, and heat from his kitchen made his skin crawl. He walked away from the line without a word to anyone and closed his office door behind him. He sat and called Cas. The number went straight to voice mail. He tapped out the opening notes of Bohemian Rhapsody on his desk and then tried again. Again, it went to voice mail. 

What had he done? He went over their last conversation and texts. Cas had been fine. Fine. In a fit of anger, he swept his arm across his desk, sending paperwork everywhere. “Fuck,” he shouted. “Fuck.” Again, but louder. 

“Dean,” came Ellen’s voice and then she banged on the door before opening it. 

“I didn’t fucking say come in,” he spat. He realized his mistake the moment the words left his mouth.  

She closed the door behind her and then slowly crossed her arms over her chest. A lesser man would have bared his throat in submission at the withering look she gave him. “Dean Winchester, you’d best stop this nonsense and tell me what’s going on.” She used the toe of her shoe to kick some of the paperwork toward him.  

“Nothing. Nothing is going on,” he said sullenly. He wasn’t about to bend down and clean up the mess he made. Not while she was here.  

“You never could lie worth a damn,” she retorted. She was blocking the door of his office and there was no means of escape.  

“I’m not...” He sat down at his desk with a huff and buried his face in his hands. “Cas doesn’t want to see me anymore.” There, he said it. He waited for words of sympathy, but they never came. 

“Why?” 

He shrugged. “Don’t know.” When she didn’t reply, he looked up. She was frowning, her forehead furrowed in thought. “He... We were fine this morning. Then tonight I got this.” He showed her his phone. She read it and then scrolled up. He lifted his hand in protest, but hell, there was nothing overtly sexual. It was just their usual banter. 

“I’m going to assume you called him.” 

“Yeah. Straight to voice mail.” 

“You aren’t canceling your flight, are you?” 

“He doesn’t want me to come.” She handed him back his phone, leaned her hip on the corner of his desk, and combed her fingers through his hair.  

“Do you remember when Sam and I told you to open your own restaurant?” 

“Yes.” 

“Do you remember what you told us?” Dean thought back. He’d told them he didn’t have the talent and the business sense. “Do you remember me telling you that Dean Winchester didn’t back away from a challenge? Not then... and not now. You deserve an answer.” 

Damn right he did. He nodded curtly, his decision made. “Now, you have a dinner service to finish.” 

She stood up and opened the door. He rose to his feet. “Ellen?” She turned. “Thanks.” 

“Get to work, boy.” She strode purposefully down the short hall, but he saw the soft smile she tried to hide from him. 

No one in the kitchen remarked on his abrupt exit and the rest of the evening was uneventful. He tried to remain focused on the food, but his thoughts were on Cas. Something had made Cas freeze him out, but what? It was still driving him crazy as he unlocked his door and stripped off his kitchen whites. He got into bed and tried Cas’ number once more. Voicemail. 

After a fitful night, he got up and went about his usual routine. His bag for Atlanta was already packed and waiting at the foot of his bed. Beside it was a gift bag from Macy’s. He’d dropped by after filming on Tuesday and went a little crazy getting some stuff for Claire. Determined, he picked up the bags and stowed them in the SUV when Ash slid to a stop in front of his building. 

At the studio, he sat in the chair while Becky worked her magic. She didn’t say anything about the dark circles under his eyes. If his co-hosts noticed he was more subdued than usual, they didn’t mention it. He was going over the notes for the episode when Crowley stormed into the conference room. Charlie and Benny both looked up. “What the fuck did you do?” 

Dean stared at the man glaring down at him. “Huh?”  

“I had a nice little chat with your boyfriend this morning. And guess what? Come on, guess.” Dean opened his mouth to contradict Crowley’s use of the term boyfriend, but Crowley went on. “He decided to terminate his contract.” 

“Wha... what?” Dean stammered and he hated himself for it. 

“Can he do that?” Benny asked from across the table.  

“Of course, he can. There was a clause that allowed him to break the contract if it inferred with the care of his child. That is the excuse he gave, but I don’t believe that. Do you... Dean?” 

Dean swallowed. “He’s a single dad, Crowley. Maybe it...” 

“Bullshit. You couldn’t keep it in your pants. I’ve warned you about fucking the staff.”  

Pissed, Dean stood quickly, the chair scraping across the tiled floor. He glared at Crowley. “I. Have. Never. Fucked. Anyone. On. Staff.” Each word was spat out and Crowley had the good sense to step back. “Cas... Cas and I were friends.” 

Now that he was a few feet away, Crowley’s shark-like smile was back. “Friends? Is that what they’re calling it these days?” 

“Five minutes,” the PA called out from the doorway, unaware of the tension in the room.  

“Winchester, this isn’t over,” Crowley said coldly and turned on his heel and left. Dean didn’t make eye contact with his co-hosts, but he felt Charlie’s hand on his arm as she walked past.  

The episode dragged. It lacked the usual energy, despite Charlie’s attempt to lighten the mood. Dean seriously doubted the studio audience noticed since their guest star was Josh Dallas, Prince Charming from Once Upon a Time. The mostly female audience swooned over the dude. Dean didn’t see what the fuss was about. Cas was a lot hotter. 

He couldn’t wait to get out of there. He washed off the makeup and changed into a pair of comfortable jeans and a henley, then met Ash at the back door. They made it to the airport with time to spare. He cleared TSA and sat down at his gate to wait. A couple of people recognized him and he smiled for their cameras. He couldn’t tell them to leave him alone, not with Crowley already on the warpath.  

His mind on Cas, he didn’t have time to get nervous about the flight. Once they were airborne, he ordered a drink. By the time the plane landed in Atlanta, he’d had four. Just enough to give him the courage to face Cas and find out what he’d done wrong. 

Looking at his watch, he had the Uber take him to Gabe’s restaurant. Cas would most likely be there. The driver stopped the car at the front entrance and Dean thanked him before getting out. He had a death grip on the Macy’s bag and his carryon was beside him. He swallowed nervously, then took a deep breath. Cas owed him an explanation. 

The same hostess was there, even though it was early afternoon, and not a person was in the restaurant. She was expertly folding napkins. “Hello, may I help... Oh, God, it’s you,” she exclaimed, eyes widened.  

“Hi...” 

“Ute,” she supplied and he smiled. 

“Hi, Ute. Is Cas here?” 

“No, he stepped out to run an errand... something about specialty sugar.” 

“Okay... I guess I’ll wait.” He looked around and tried to find a place to sit that was out of the way of the staff. 

The kitchen door banged open and Gabe came through. “Hey, Ute, will you put the Collins family on the books for tonight? Party of six.”  

“Sure thing, boss,” she responded with a nod. Gabe turned to head back into the kitchen, and spied Dean sitting at one of the tables near the bathrooms. 

“Dean-o. Castiel isn’t here, but he should be back in a few. He’s been in a bear of a mood today, hope you can cheer him up.” Was it possible that Gabe didn’t know anything? He didn’t seem all that surprised to find Dean there. 

“Yeah, about that...” Dean stood awkwardly and then gestured to another chair. “Got a sec?” 

Gabe tilted his head to the side and it was so much like Cas that Dean felt his knees weaken. He couldn’t lose Cas.  

“Sure, anything for my baby bro’s main squeeze... well, only squeeze. You must really have a golden dick or something, because I was beginning to give up on little Castiel ever finding...” he stopped at Dean’s expression. “You better tell me you aren’t here to break his heart, or so help me, I will rip your head off and piss in the stump.” Wow, a graphic picture flitted through Dean’s mind for a brief moment and then he shook his head vehemently. 

“Kind of the opposite really,” Dean mumbled, eyes alighting on a black and white photograph of a small waterfall framed on the wall.  

Gabe sat down slowly, his eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about?” 

“Cas sent me a text last night and said we’re over and not to come this weekend,” Dean had nothing to lose by telling Gabe. Who knows, maybe having Gabe on his side would help. 

“What the fuck? Yesterday, he was telling my wife that he was excited for you to see what he did with his place. About damn time he got rid of Anna’s things... sorry, I go into unscripted rants occasionally. And he didn’t tell you why?” 

“No.” 

“And you came anyway. Why?” 

“Because...” Dean paused here. Why did he come? Because Cas was important to him? Because Cas saw past the celebrity status? “Because I’m falling for him?” 

“Wow... okay then.” Gabe leaned back in his chair and Dean realized he’d spoken out loud. Fuck.  

A loud scream came from the kitchen and Gabe jumped to his feet. “Claire must be getting antsy. Hang on.” Gabe pushed through the door and disappeared. 

It only took a second for Dean to stand up, and still holding the Macy’s bag, follow him. Claire was in a playpen and screeching. Gabe was trying to hand her a doll that he’d just picked up off the floor. Dean stepped forward. “Hey, hey, Princess, what’s all the fuss about?” He lifted the bag. “I brought you a surprise.” The sad screams and tears stopped immediately. She looked at him with interest. 

“Dee,” she whimpered and he smiled. She remembered him from the Facetime chats.  

“Come here and let’s see what’s in the bag, huh?” He reached out his hands and she lifted her arms. He scooped her up with one arm and carried her back into the dining room. Gabe trailed after him, still holding the forgotten toy. 

Dean sat down and placed the bag next to him. He lowered Claire to the floor and she looked up at him with tear stained cheeks. Her green eyes curious. “Go ahead, it’s a present for you.” 

She peered inside and her tiny fist grabbed the tissue paper and swung it to the side. “That’s my girl, get in there.” Claire stared into the shopping bag at the toys and clothes Dean had picked out. He’d had to guess at the size, well, he told the salesperson Claire’s age. Wasn’t that like guessing?  

The clothes, cute dresses and pajamas, were tossed to the floor, but she squealed when her hands wrapped around the stuffed bear wearing a bathrobe and matching hairbow. She tucked it under her chubby arm and dove in for more. So, he might have gone overboard... The tea set with the plastic cake slices included was an instant hit and she sat down to play. Thankfully, he’d opened the box and put the batteries in and now, it was playing a song. She passed him a teacup and Dean was lost. That cute upturned face... God, his heart melted into a pile of goo. 

“What are you doing here?” Cas’ usually deep voice was raised in anger. He came forward and snatched Claire up causing her to drop the teapot. It rolled under the table, still playing music, and she started to cry.  

Dean stood up. “Cas, I...”  

Cas was shielding Claire’s face and holding her protectively like Dean was going to grab her and run. The heart that had been so warm a mere moment ago, felt like it was shattering into thousands of pieces. “I told you not to come. You have to go. Please, you have to go.” The last part was a whisper. 

“Castiel,” Gabe spoke softly. To Dean, he said, “Give us a sec. Don’t go anywhere.” He grabbed Cas’ arm and steered him into the kitchen. Strangely enough, Cas allowed himself to be led away, as if he’d run out of steam. 

As the doors swished shut behind them, Dean heard, “What the hell, Castiel? Yesterday, you told Ruby that you thought you could...” And then there was silence. Dean assumed they’d moved their discussion somewhere private.  

Ute came over to him and set a glass of water down. “I’ve never seen Castiel like that. I don’t know...” She looked upset and Dean gave her a half-hearted smile.  

“Guess he doesn’t like surprises.” Dean shrugged and stared down at his hands. The hostess walked away. The minutes ticked by and Dean shifted in his chair. He had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. 

A couple of employees entered from the kitchen and started setting up for the dinner service. Maybe he should go. He picked up the toys and the clothes, tucking them back into the bag. He’d wanted Claire to be excited and imagined them sitting around Cas’ apartment having tea parties. Yeah, Dean Winchester, celebrity chef, having a damn tea party with a little girl and her handsome father. “Wish in one hand and shit in the other. See which one fills up the fastest,” he muttered his father’s favorite saying. 

He was about to stand and make way for the staff to set up the table he’d commandeered, when the kitchen door opened again. This time, it was Cas. He looked wrecked. Claire’s head was on his shoulder and she looked puffy like she’d cried herself to sleep. Dean stood to face the music. 

“We need to... talk...” Cas murmured, his hand stroking Claire’s back. 

“Sure. Whatever you want, Cas.” Dean looked down at the table and Cas shook his head. 

“Not here. Not with Claire.” Dean winced. Did Cas think he was a child molester or something? Had he read and believed some stupid rumor on social media? People were always saying crazy shit about celebrities. 

“Okay.” How else could he respond? 

Cas nodded once and led the way back through the kitchen. Gabe looked up from where he stood by the pass and Dean was surprised to see the other man subdued. Definitely not the Gabe Novak he’d met before. They were out the door and at Cas’ Jeep before Dean remembered he’d left Claire’s bag and his luggage by the table. “Hey, Cas, can you wait a sec. I forgot my bag.” 

“Ute will take care of it. You won’t be staying long.” Another kick to the teeth. Dean was starting to get sick of being treated like shit for something he didn’t do. Or if he did something, Cas should damn well tell him. He opened his mouth to respond, but bit his tongue at the last possible moment. No, he would wait. 

The drive was tense. Cas wouldn’t even glance his way. Within a few minutes, he pulled into the driveway of a nice house. It was impressive, but not showy. “Excuse me,” Cas said. Ever the polite gentleman, Dean thought sourly.  

Dean watched as he unbuckled the still sleeping toddler from the car seat and carried her to the door. It was opened by a dark-haired woman, but she was too far away for Dean to make out her features. She took Claire and closed the door. Cas walked toward him like he was a man facing a firing squad.  

“Cas...” Dean started after Cas turned the key in the ignition. The first drops of rain splattered on the windshield and Dean rolled his eyes. Just one more shitty thing to add to the growing list. 

“Not now.” Dean snapped his mouth shut. He’d let Cas have his way... for now. 

The next time they stopped, Cas had pulled into a small park. The sun was almost gone from the sky, save for a strip of lavender in the west. Raindrops continued to fall. He shut off the Jeep and they sat in silence. Cas seemed to be trying to find his words. Dean knew that feeling well. 

“Do you remember a woman named Anna Novak?” 

“Your sister?” Dean squinted at the question. 

“Yes. Anna. Perhaps you would remember a woman with red hair from Times Square. New Year's Eve. Two years ago?” 

Dean shifted in his seat and thought back. He remembered being in Times Square. He’d gone out with friends, got shit-faced... it was after he’d been photographed in a compromising position with a married couple. The media had blown up and Crowley had threatened to kick him off the show. A red head? Vaguely. She’d been sweet and didn’t know him from Adam. It was nice. God, he’d been drunk off his ass. 

“Yeah. Sweet girl...” Then it hit him. “Fuck, that was your sister.” No wonder Cas was in a tailspin. Finding out your boyfriend... well, maybe not yet... but still... your lover fucked your sister. Shit. “I’m... I don’t know what to say, Cas. It was just a one night...” Careful, she was his sister, a voice in Dean’s head told him. “We were both pretty drunk.” It sounded lame, even to Dean. 

“Drunk enough that you didn’t use a condom.” 

That statement made Dean tense up. That was a first for him. He was always so fucking careful. People could give you shit that couldn’t be cured with antibiotics. Dean’s mind was reeling. What was Cas getting at. Cas was staring at him. Waiting for him to figure it out. Figure what out? Oh... shit. “Claire.” 

Cas looked away, his features hard and cold.  

“Cas, I didn’t know. Christ. She never...” 

“I know.” Dean closed his mouth and waited. He needed answers, but barreling ahead with questions wasn’t the way to go. Cas would tell him. Cas had to tell him. Cas began to speak. Slow and deliberate.  

Chapter Text

He hadn’t been prepared to see Dean. Hadn’t been prepared to see his daughter... his daughter with him. Castiel reacted without thinking. It was only after Gabriel all but shoved him into the kitchen that he realized how badly he’d frightened Claire. She was sobbing, great big hiccups, and looking at him as if she were afraid. It tore into his heart like thousands of razor blades. “I’m so sorry. So sorry,” he whispered, rubbing her back.  

“What the hell, Castiel? Yesterday, you told Ruby that you thought you could...” Gabriel yelled and then bit off his words.   

He had to defend himself. “I told him to stay away.” 

“Yeah, and why’s that, little brother? Because he sure as shit doesn’t know. That is a man that is hurting,” Gabriel whispered angrily, pointing in the direction of the dining room. “What the hell, Castiel? What did he do to you?” 

“He didn’t do anything to me.” Castiel sounded defeated even to his own ears. “He...” Castiel stopped when he noticed the kitchen staff trying to appear as if they weren’t listening to every word. He inhaled sharply and marched toward Gabriel’s office. His brother was right behind him and shut the door with a loud click.  

“Okay. Spill,” Gabriel said in a normal tone, arms crossed over his chest. 

“Dean is Claire’s...” Father? No, Castiel was her father. Castiel was the one who rocked her to sleep, brushed her hair, and kissed her booboos. “Dean and Anna...” God, this was harder than he thought. He took another deep breath and sagged heavily into Gabriel’s chair. His brother, thankfully, waited for Castiel to collect himself. Claire’s sobs had lessened somewhat and now, it was more of a pitiful mewling sound. “Do you remember when Anna went to New York a couple years ago?” 

Gabriel shrugged. “Vaguely.” 

When he was finished telling Anna’s story, Gabriel whistled softly. “Damn. What are the freakin’ odds?” 

“Now, you understand why I don’t... can’t see him again.” Gabriel’s stunned expression turned incredulous.  

“You can’t keep this from him, Cassie.” He bit down on his lip and rested his hand on Claire’s head. “I know you, brother dear, this would eat you alive. You have to tell him.” 

“No... no. He would take her. She’s mine, Gabriel. Mine. Anna wanted me to raise her. That, of all things, should tell you that Dean can’t know.” Eyes filled with pity stared back at him. “He’ll take her,” he murmured, words barely audible. He held Claire tighter, breathing in the scent of the shampoo he’d bought from the farmer’s market. Made especially for babies

“Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t. You’ve come to know him. What do you think?” What did he think? Up until yesterday, he’d thought that Dean and he had a chance at something. He’d thought that he could give his heart to Dean and Dean would cherish it. God, he’d even thought that Dean would grow to love Claire too. Gabriel was right. If he chose to keep this from Dean, it would be wrong and Castiel wouldn’t be able to live with himself.  

Castiel stood up. “I will tell him.” 

“Good,” Gabriel said softly. “Do you want me to take Claire?” She’d cried herself to sleep and her head lulled on his shoulder. He shook his head. 

“I can’t tell him here. Will you call Ruby and ask if she will watch her for an hour or so?” Gabriel nodded and patted Castiel on the back. “I’ll drop her off...” 

“This is the right thing, Castiel.” 

“Then why do I feel like my world is about to end?” 

The ride to Ruby’s was silent and for that, Castiel was grateful. Ruby hadn’t said a word and he knew his brother had filled her in. She took his sleeping child and squeezed his hand briefly. He drove to Piedmont Park and shut off the Jeep. At dusk, the area was quiet.  

“Do you remember a woman named Anna Novak?” He’d asked and saw the confusion on Dean’s face.  

When he was done, Dean sat in stunned silence for so long, just staring out the window, that Castiel’s pulse began to race. This was it. This was when the beautiful man beside him, the man he was falling hard for, was going to destroy him. 

Finally, Dean blew out a breath and turned to him. “I don’t know what to say, Cas. Help me out here.” Castiel could only stare. A minute, then two ticked by. “Claire... Cas... Fuck.”  

Something broke inside of Castiel and he grabbed one of Dean’s hands. “Please, please don’t take her from me. She’s all I have. She’s all I have,” he repeated, until the last word was a mere whisper. 

Dean sat back stiffly and snatched his hand away. “Jesus, Cas, did you think... You thought I would actually...” It was Castiel’s turn to be shocked. Was Dean trying to tell him that he wouldn’t take his daughter? Dean opened the door and stepped out. The park was deserted and the lights of the downtown skyline would have been stunning on any other night. Castiel was too distraught to notice them. His eyes followed Dean to the front of the Jeep, where he leaned against the hood and stared up at the city. Something told Castiel to leave him alone. As much as the last thirty or so hours had turned his world on its axis, Dean just found out he had a child.  

Castiel lowered his forehead to rest on the steering wheel. He had no idea how long it was until Dean got back into the Jeep. Minutes or hours, he couldn’t have said. He’d spent his time thinking of Claire’s firsts. Her first word. Her first tooth. Her first step. Things that neither of her biological parents had seen. If she was taken from him, at least he’d have those memories. 

“I’m not good with words,” Dean said, his baritone filling the space around them. “Give me a handful of ingredients and I’ll make a meal that would move you to tears, but words...” Castiel lifted his head and turned to face him. “Cas, listen, anyone can be a father, right? But you’re her dad. I’m just the sperm donor.” Dean held up his hand when Castiel tried to speak. “Please, let me finish or I won’t get this out.” Castiel nodded. “Claire’s dad is a good man, who is sexy as fuck, and someone that I... I’m...” Dean looked away then, back out into the night. “I need you, Cas. I need you and Claire in my life. And not because she’s...”  

“You aren’t going to take her?” Castiel had to be sure. He needed Dean to say the words.  

Dean shook his head. “No. I couldn’t do that to you, Cas. You had to know that, right?” Castiel heard the pain in Dean’s voice and the vice that had been gripping his heart since he’d read Anna’s journal released its hold. 

“I was scared, Dean,” Castiel whispered. “So scared.”  

“Dumbass,” Dean mumbled and pulled Castiel toward him, wrapping him in strong arms. He felt Dean’s lips brushing against his hairline. It may have been awkward embracing over the center console, but somehow, they made it work. 

The headlights from another car broke them apart, and both men settled back in their seats. “We should go pick Claire up. I told Ruby I wouldn’t be long.” 

“Cas, do you want me to leave?” Dean wasn’t looking at him again. Castiel stared at his profile, and even in the dimness, he could see the vulnerability there.  

“No, Dean.” He reached out his hand and found Dean’s. He gave his fingers a squeeze and then started the Jeep. He needed to hold his child. Their child. He tucked that sentiment into the back of his mind to dissect later. 

At his brother’s home, Castiel got out and jogged to the door. Ruby must have been watching because she opened it when his feet hit the porch. “How did it go?” She peered around him, trying to see Dean. 

“He isn’t going to take her from me.”  

She crossed her arms and her features hardened. “He could be just saying that, Castiel. You should get an attorney.” 

“No,” Castiel said stubbornly. “Is Claire still asleep?” 

Ruby sighed and opened the door wider. “No, she woke up about twenty minutes ago. I fed her some dinner and she’s watching cartoons.” 

Castiel touched Ruby’s shoulder and then pulled her into a hug. He spoke into her hair. “Thank you for everything you do. For being there for me... and for Claire. We are going to be fine.” 

Claire, wrapped in a pink quilt patterned with the characters from the movie Frozen, smiled when she saw him. “Daddy.” She crawled off the couch and ran toward him, the tears from earlier forgotten. He reached down and scooped her up. 

“I missed you, punkin,” he murmured and twirled her around. The child laughed and patted Castiel’s face with her tiny hands. “Are you ready to go home?” 

Dean waited until Cas disappeared into his sister-in-law's home before he let his emotions get the better of him. His breath started to come in harsh bursts and his hands shook. He was a father. A father.  

His memories of that night were dim, at best. He remembered going back to a hotel with a pretty redhead, but that’s when everything got hazy. Shouldn’t he have felt something? Anything? Fuck, he’d been so gone that he’d forgotten a condom and now, he... no, Cas, had living proof that a few minutes of irresponsibility could change your life forever. He balled his fingers into tight fists to stop the trembling. He wanted Cas in his life and before tonight, he’d known that it included his kid. Cas’ kid. Was this some kind of cosmic joke? The first person he’d really wanted in his life and his past comes back to haunt him. No, that sounded shitty. Claire wasn’t a bad thing. She was adorable and... he was a father

The door to the house opened and Cas came out holding Claire. Dean couldn’t help the smile that broke through the ball of terror in his gut. That was his little girl. They were his family. The three of them could be a family. 

He turned in his seat to watch Cas buckle her in and she saw him. “Dee. Dee.” 

“Hey, princess.” He reached out his hand and then drew back. He didn’t want to spook Cas. He could only imagine what had gone through the man’s mind. The guy he was fucking was also the father of his kid. Jerry Springer couldn’t have made this shit up. He watched carefully as Cas buckled all the straps. Damn, it looked complicated. This was just one of the many things he’d have to learn. Damn, he’d have to babyproof his condo. He’d need a bunch of stuff if Cas and Claire came to visit. No, not if... when.  

“Dean? Dean?” Dean blinked and saw that Cas was looking at him, concern transparent on his face. “Are you okay?” 

“Good... yeah, I’m good.” Cas narrowed his eyes, obviously not believing him, but he didn’t pursue it. He got behind the wheel and pulled out of the driveway.  

“We’ll stop by the restaurant and grab your things, and if it is alright with you, we can fix a light meal at my place.” 

“Sounds like a plan,” Dean said with more enthusiasm than he felt. The three of them in Cas’ apartment. Playing house. He couldn’t do this. Cas and Claire deserved better. He swallowed thickly. Who was he trying to kid?  

The Jeep stopped at a red light and he felt a warm hand on his thigh. “Dean, I know you have a lot to process...” Dean grabbed Cas’ hand like a lifeline.  

“Cas, I’m scared shitless.”  

“But why?” Cas looked concerned all over again and Dean couldn’t stand to see him like that. 

“I’m scared because you and Claire are a package deal and what if I’m not good enough?” There, it was out in the open now. 

He felt Cas’ thumb rubbing on the back of his hand. “Dean... I’m a nobody. I’m the one who should be worried about being good enough, but being here, with you, right now...” He inhaled and then exhaled slowly. “I have hope for the future.” 

“Yeah?” Dean looked over at him, a smile playing over his mouth. “Hope, huh?” 

“Indeed.” Dean saw the twitch of Cas’ lips.  

“Home,” Claire shouted from the backseat and Dean reluctantly released Cas’ hand. Maybe they could do this.  

At Gabe’s place, they both got out and Dean waited for Cas to unstrap Claire. Together, they went inside. The dinner service was in full swing and he followed Cas through the crowded dining room. He glanced over to note that his suitcase wasn’t at the table anymore. Inside the kitchen, Gabe stopped working to stare at them. He must have liked what he saw, because he nodded and began chopping an onion, a grin on his face.  

While Cas was packing up Claire’s things from earlier in the day, Dean spied his suitcase against the back wall. The Macy’s bag was next to it. Claire was being passed around from servers, to prep cooks, to Gabe himself. It made Dean smile and imagined her in his kitchen at Winchester’s. Having a kid in a busy restaurant had a lot of drawbacks, but Cas had made it work. Soon, she’d outgrow the playpen and then what? With the two of them, they could make it work. Cas could work during the afternoons, Dean at night... His hand gripped tight to the closest work surface. What was he thinking? Cas might not want to uproot his life in Atlanta. How long could they do the long-distance thing? He looked at Cas, talking quietly to his brother, Claire in his arms. He could cut his losses now, just call a cab, board a plane, and that would be it. His life would be back to normal. 

“Dean?” Cas was staring at him, a look of concern on his face. Claire was reaching... reaching for him. Oh, God... He straightened up and pasted a smile on his face.  

“You ready?” 

“Yes. Are you...” 

“I’m good. Let’s get out of here. I’m starving.” He motioned for Cas to lead the way, his hands now full with his suitcase and the bag from Macy’s. 

Claire babbled nonsense from the backseat. Cas was giving him looks like he expected Dean to sprout another head. And Dean, well, Dean was having an internal meltdown. When they parked in front of Cas’ apartment building, he touched Dean’s arm. “You’re having second thoughts.” 

It wasn’t a question and Dean didn’t treat it like one. “And thirds,” he said honestly. “But not about us... not that. It’s just... fuck.” 

“It’s just that suddenly you have a ready-made family and you aren’t sure where we go from here,” Cas said quietly. “It’s a lot to take in.” 

“Yeah.” Dean decided to go for broke. “I just found myself thinking about Claire in my loft. We will have to do some rearranging.” 

“You were thinking of Claire in your home?” 

“Not just Claire. Her dad has come to mean a lot to me.” 

“Oh.”  

There was shock and maybe a bit of wonderment in that single word and Dean grinned, shrugged, and turned in his seat. “Ready to get out of that seat, princess?” 

Dean let himself out of the Jeep and opened the back door. Cas was still sitting in what appeared to be stunned silence. Dean was okay with that. Tonight had been a roller coaster for both of them. In the dome light, he stared at the array of buckles and straps. The red button in the center seemed to be the escape hatch. He pushed it with his thumb and like magic, the toddler was free. It was too easy. Was this even safe? “Hey, Cas, how much research did you put into car seats?” 

“What?” Cas snapped out of his own little panic attack and got out to stand behind him.  

“This car seat... did you make sure it was the safest? Cause I gotta tell you, all it took was one button and poof, she’s free.” 

“This car seat is one of the safest made. I did my research, Dean.” He’d gotten over his ‘moment’. Claire reached out her arms and Dean pulled her out of the restraints. She clung to him and after a second of jealousy, he made himself calm down and see how easily Dean held her.  

“One button, Cas.” 

“Unless a sorcerer appears in the backseat with her and pushes the button at the exact moment of impact from an accident, I don’t think we will have to worry. The ratings were excellent.” 

“Just want her to be safe. Isn’t that right, Princess Claire?” 

“Dee.” This was followed by Claire’s own language that he hadn’t been able to decipher yet.  

Between the two of them, they hauled Claire, her tote, Dean’s suitcase, and the large Macy’s bag into the elevator and up to their floor. Once inside the apartment, Dean put Claire down and took the other things from Castiel’s hands. Castiel stood frozen while Dean laced his fingers through his and pulled him close. “I think it’s customary to kiss your boyfriend when he flies a thousand miles to see you.” 

“I... things were...” 

“Shhhh. We are starting over. Hi, Cas, I missed you.” 

Castiel’s eyes closed on their own accord when Dean’s lips touched his. Time stopped as the kiss deepened. “Da. Da. Da.” He felt Dean’s body shaking with silent laughter. 

“That will take some getting used to,” Dean said, releasing him, only to bend down and pick up Claire, who’d been clinging to his pants leg.  

“I’m sorry...” Castiel started. 

“Cas, dude, I’m kidding. Claire comes first. We’ll have adult time later.” Dean gave him a wink and snatched up the shopping bag. “We’re going to have a tea party while you cook us some dinner. Right, princess?” 

In the light of the apartment, Castiel looked at the two of them, his daughter and his lover, side by side. How had he not seen the resemblance? Their eyes, the stubborn set of their chins, even their lips were the same. “Dean, did you have blond hair as a child?” 

Dean looked up from his nonsensical conversation with Claire. “Yeah, up until I was about five or six. Then it started getting darker. Why?” Dean blinked and his mouth formed an ‘O’. His eyes were drawn back to Claire. 

“She looks like you. I don’t know why I didn’t see it. Anna’s hair was always red, never blonde.” 

“Are you okay with that, babe?” Babe. Castiel nodded and found that he meant it. There would be adjustments for both of them and the fear might rear its ugly head again, but for now, he was fine. 

“I am. I’ll just go... make dinner.” 

As he prepared a simple meal for them, his eyes kept straying to the living room floor where Dean and Claire were playing. He grinned when his daughter put the lid to the teapot onto Dean’s head like a beret. Dean began reciting all the French words he knew, which consisted of cooking terms, but his exaggerated accent made Claire laugh.  

When the meal was ready, Dean put Claire into her highchair while Castiel set down the plates. He’d made pasta with a primavera sauce. He’d given Claire a few toddler veggie poufs and a sippy cup filled with milk. The whole scene was incredibly domestic and Castiel found himself hoping for more. He knew Dean would be flying back to New York on Sunday, but for now, he could pretend they were a family. 

Dean observed while Castiel bathed and dressed Claire in her new pajamas he had bought her. It dawned on Castiel while he was lifting her from the changing table that Dean had gone shopping for Claire before he knew the truth. He had been thinking about her and taken time out of his busy schedule to pick out toys and clothes for his child. “Dean, I think I’m...” No. “I’m glad you’re here.” 

“You think you’re glad I’m here? Wow, Cas, way to wound a guy,” Dean teased. 

“Let’s put this little girl to bed,” Castiel said quickly.  

Dean followed them over to Claire’s crib. She’d be needing a toddler bed soon, but it would have to wait. The new furniture had put a severe strain on his credit cards. He settled the sleepy child under her quilt and then wound up the musical mobile over the crib. Soon, Brahm’s Lullaby began to play and little unicorns twirled slowly. They stood side by side, as Claire held onto her toes and watched the circling creatures. Her eyes eventually closed and Castiel took Dean’s hand and backed away. 

In the hallway, Dean pressed Castiel against the wall. “I did miss you, Cas.”  

“I missed you too, Dean. I was... It hurt to...” Dean took his fingertip and pressed it over Castiel’s lips. 

“We’re starting over, remember?” Castiel could only nod and let Dean make him forget that last two days. The easy kisses turned heated and Dean’s hands worked their way under his shirt. His fingers explored the muscles of Castiel’s back and then moved under the waistband of his pants. Dean’s mouth moved over Castiel’s jaw, and then lower. Castiel leaned his head back to allow Dean to have him. A low moan of pleasure hummed against his throat. “Smell so good...” Dean whispered. “Sweet.” 

Castiel had been working with spun sugar that morning. Perhaps it clung to him. He reached up to curl his fingers in Dean’s short hair, guiding him lower. Dean’s lips never left his skin, but nimble fingers were unbuttoning his shirt. Multitasking... Dean was good at everything...  

“We should... bedroom... oh, God...” Dean’s mouth found one of his nipples and teeth scraped the sensitive bud. “Dean...” 

“I got you, babe,” Dean said softly, looking up at him. Then his mouth was back. Sucking and biting... and Castiel’s legs were getting weak. He needed to sit down. Why was he so lightheaded? When Dean’s hand cupped his straining erection, Castiel whined and pressed against Dean’s palm, rutting against it wantonly. He had no shame. He needed Dean. “So hard for me... missed this... thought about you... fucking me...” 

“Bed... please...” Dean’s mouth found his again. This kiss was bruising, wanting... then he was gone. Castiel opened his eyes and Dean stood before him, lips wet, eyes dark and hooded, skin flushed. Castiel took Dean’s hand and dragged him to his bedroom, flipping the light switch on as he passed it. He wanted to see everything. Behind him, Dean was laughing softly at his eagerness. He spun and pushed Dean down onto the new comforter. The throw pillows Ruby insisted on bounced and he growled as he tossed them onto the floor. He stood, looking down at Dean, his breath coming in harsh bursts. Dean smirked devilishly and stripped off his clothes, tossing them onto the floor. When he was completely naked, he stared up at Castiel defiantly. 

“Gonna show me what you got?” Dean taunted. Castiel toed off his shoes and all but ripped off his shirt. Eyes not leaving Dean’s, he unsnapped and unzipped his pants before shoving them and his boxers down. Dean’s gaze dropped to Castiel’s cock and when he licked his lips, Castiel kicked the rest of his clothing away and fell on top of his lover. Teeth clicked painfully as they kissed and thrust against each other. He felt Dean’s blunt nails digging into his back... his ass...  

Castiel rose up on all fours and stared down at Dean. His teeth bit into his lower lip and he spread his legs. “Cas...” It was a blatant invitation and Castiel was going to take what was offered. He used his knees to spread Dean wider and settled back.  

“I want to take you apart,” Cas said softly. 

“Do it,” Dean challenged. He sat up and wrapped his arms around Castiel. Before he lowered his mouth to kiss him again, he whispered, “Make me yours.” 

Castiel’s hands were shaking as he fumbled in the bedside drawer for what he needed. When he looked back up, Dean was on his hands and knees. God, he was beautiful. Castiel tossed the condom aside and got behind Dean. He ran his hand up and down Dean’s spine. “Dean... I...” He was everything Castiel ever wanted. He felt his cock throbbing between his legs with each beat of his heart.  

With unsteady hands, he unsnapped the cap and poured the lube onto his fingertips. Gently, he pressed against Dean’s puckered entrance. One finger became two, and then three, as Dean fucked back onto them. Sweat made Dean's back damp and Castiel paused to kiss up and down the bumps of his spine. “Come on, babe, fuck me. Fuck me.” 

Castiel ripped open the condom and rolled it down his shaft with one hand, while he continued to stretch Dean’s body to accommodate him. When he was ready, he eased his fingers out and looked at Dean. He was open and slick, his hole pulsing. Castiel held his cock at its base and rubbed the head up and down the crack of Dean’s ass a few times before pressing against his entrance. “Dean?” 

“Do it, Cas.” With a gentle press, the head of Castiel’s cock pushed inside. There was a moment of resistance and then tight heat surrounded him. He groaned and squeezed his fist. It felt do damn good. Dean’s head was hanging down and Castiel used his other hand to smooth over the bunched muscles. He stayed still, waiting for Dean. “Okay... more.”  

Inch by inch, his cock disappeared into Dean’s body. When his balls came to rest against Dean’s, he used both hands to soothe, running them up and down Dean’s spine. “Ready, my love?” 

“Please, Cas...” 

Castiel pulled back and then pressed inside again... again... Dean was working with him now, with each slap of their skin, they moaned and grunted. The heady scent of sweat and sex filled Castiel’s nostrils and he drove harder and deeper. Dean was down on one elbow while his other arm was under him, moving in time with each thrust. He closed his eyes and pictured Dean’s fingers wrapped around his cock... giving himself pleasure.  

He was close. The ball of heat in his belly coiled and clawed, wanting release. He bent over Dean’s back, knowing the man could bear his weight. He snapped his hips over and over. “Dean,” he cried, his mouth biting into Dean’s shoulder. 

“Cas... fuck...” Dean’s body quaked and tightened around his cock. He thrust once more and emptied himself into his partner... into the man he loved. 

“I love you... love you so much...” He clung to Dean’s back, his heart racing. Below him, Dean was still. Had he hurt him? On unstable legs, he lifted his body off and swayed on his knees. Slowly, Dean lowered himself to the bed, his face turned away, his breathing still labored. As his brain began to function again, the realization of what he’d said hit him. It wasn’t just the heat of the moment. He’d meant them, but was Dean ready to hear them? Had he made a mistake?  

Carefully, he stood up and removed the condom. Without looking back, he strode toward the bathroom. In the safety of another room, he stared at his reflection. He was flushed and sweaty, his hair more mussed than usual. He gripped the edge of the sink. Dread filled him. This was all too much. In less than forty-eight hours his entire life had changed.  

“Cas.” He looked into the mirror and saw Dean standing in the doorway. He'd pulled on his underwear. Castiel was suddenly self-conscious. “Second thoughts?” He’d thrown Castiel’s own words back at him. Acting on instinct, Castiel turned to face him.  

“I meant what I said. I know it is too soon to declare...” 

“Shut up.” Castiel’s mouth snapped closed. Dean stepped into his space and placed his hand on the center of Castiel’s chest. “What we have... I’ve never felt before. You can declare from the rooftops, Castiel Novak. Declare all you want.” 

The kiss was soft and easy. When Dean pulled back, he smiled. “Come back to bed, babe.” 

Chapter Text

Dean woke, stretched, and then spooned Cas, nuzzling his nose against the back of Cas’ neck. His morning erection rested between the cheeks of that nice ass. Cas mumbled something in his sleep and Dean pressed a few kisses along his hairline. He was sore from th eir previou s ro mp, but a wakeup blowjob would be awesome.   

Daaaaa .”   

The pitiful sound coming from the nightstand startled him so badly that he almost fell off the bed. Cas sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “Was that Claire?”  

Cas blinked sleepily and nodded before standing up and dragging on a pair of sleep pants. Dean got a nice glimpse of naked ass before it was covered. So much for morning sex. Dean flopped his head back on the pillow.  

Cas’ voice came from the nightstand.  After a second, he figured out it was coming from what must be a baby monitor, not that he ever saw one before.  He grinned and listened.  He’d never get tired of that voice.  “Good Morning, Claire. Did you sleep well?”      

“Up. Up.” Dean recognized that word. Claire seemed to talk in a language all her own. He guessed all babies did. Sam talked early and even then, it was so long ago, Dean didn’t remember much about it.  

“There we go. Let’s get you into some dry pant s, hmm mm ? That’s my girl. Do you want cereal or eggs for breakfast?”  

Brakest .” Dean smiled. He’d give her an E for effort.   

“Yes, breakfast.” Dean heard a farting sound and giggling. Ahh, the old raspberry blow n on the tummy trick. That was one thing he did remember doing to Sam.   

He was giving Cas’ pillow a lingering look, when Cas’ words from last night struck him. He knew he hadn’t said it back, but hoped Cas knew how he felt. Dean rolled out of bed and opened his suitcase. He pulled out a pair of gray sweatpants and tugged them up his legs. In the hall, he took a left and went straight into Cas’ little kitchen. It only took a few tries before he found the coffee and filters. The coffeemaker was one of those cheap models and Dean longed for his Braun. He used to drink swill from gas stations, but after owning the restaurant, he’d become a snob when it came to his morning brew.   

Cas entered the tight space with Claire in his arms. “You’re up. I’m sorry if Claire woke you.”  

“No, man, I was awake before she called out.” Dean kissed the top of her head before he pecked Cas on the lips. “Morning, baby girl.”  

“Let me get her settled in with her milk and then I’ll fix us some breakfast.” Dean smiled at the two of them, both wore matching creases on their cheeks and Claire’s yawn was freakin ’ adorable.  

“I can whip something up, you go play with Claire.”  

“Coffee first,” Cas said, plopping Claire onto the counter. He used one hand to hold her in place while he fixed his mug with the other. Damn, Dean would have probably let her fall. He had a lot to relearn about having a kid around. Dean leaned against the fridge until Cas took the toddler and his coffee into the dining room. Dean saw him buckle her into the highchair and that was his cue to start cooking.  

He set the carton of milk on the counter for Cas and he pulled out eggs, a block of Cheddar, a package of bacon, and some butter.  In a bowl to the side, he saw some fingerling potatoes and decided to cook a Winchester scramble.  

Cas came back and poured milk into a pink and purple sparkly cup and snapped on a lid. He leaned against Dean and stared at the cutting board. “Omelets?”  

“Winchester scramble. A heart attack on a plate,” Dean responded, letting his head settle on Cas’ shoulder.  

“Awesome,” Cas said with a smirk.  

“Hey, no making fun of the chef.” He batted Cas’ hands away from where he was now toying with the drawstring of Dean’s pants. “And no fooling around. Baby in the house.”  

“Baby naps at one.”  

“Hmmm, I will keep that in mind,” Dean turned his face to bump his nose against Cas’. “Now, go. I’m doing chefy duties.”  

Chefy ? That isn’t a word.”  

“Shows what you know,” Dean retorted and grinned as Cas left the kitchen chuckling.   

After sautéing the bacon, Dean drained off the grease and gave it a rough chop. He added the diced potatoes to the pan and let them cook while grating the cheese. When the spuds were brown, he dumped the remaining ingredients back into the skillet and stirred until the eggs were fluffy. In one of the cabinets, he located plates. There was a stack of plastic ones and he grabbed three of them. Balancing them on his arm like a pro, he set them on the table. “A fairy princess for Daddy, a kitten for the princess, and Dee gets the three bears.”  

“Dean, I have gr ownup pla tes,” Cas said upon returning to the kitchen.  

“Why should she have all the fun? Eat your breakfast, Cas.”  

It was between bites, that Dean remembered something important. “Cas, Crowley said you nulled the contract.”  

“I did.” Castiel wouldn’t meet his eyes. “I was... I was in a bad place.” Dean got that. He knew the toll this whole thing with Claire was taking on his lover, boyfriend... whatever they were to each other now .  

“Hey...” Dean waited until he held those beautiful blues. “I understand if you don’t want to... but I know I’d really love to see you back on the show. Charlie and Benny really like working with you. And really... it would give you free flights to come see me.”  

Cas smiled. “You don’t have to s ell me on it, Dean. I’m okay with it. I will call Crowley on Monday to reinstate the contract.” Dean grinned. Since t hat was the last awkward issue  b etween them, he knew the rest of the weekend would be awesome.  

Dean was happy that Cas liked the scramble and that Claire had scarffed it down like a pro. Cas offered to clean up the kitchen and asked Dean to wash Claire’s face and hands. Dean figured this was some sort of test. He had this covered though. Sam was a messy kid. Dean had on the job training.  

“Come on turdlet , let’s wash that nasty face.”  

“Dean, did you just call Claire a ‘ turdlet ’?” Cas asked from the kitchen. Dean grinned up at him.  

“Yes, because clearly she is not a fu ll - g rown turd. Isn’t that right, princess?” He got a grin from the toddler and he booped her on the nose.  

“Dean, perhaps we should talk about suitable nicknames.”   

“Your daddy is a fuddy-duddy,” Dean cooed. Claire giggled and held up her hands to him. He picked her up and swung her around before settling her on his hip. He froze when she touched his face and then leaned in and kissed him. It was mostly slobber, but he was lost. This was his daughter. He swallowed and bent to put her on the floor. When he stood back up, Cas was watching him. “Cas...” What could he say? Cas was still on the edge about Dean being Claire’s biological father. He’d been great, but Dean knew the subject was a landmine.  

“I’m okay, Dean. You should get to know your daughter.”  

Dean shook his head. “Cas, she’s your daughter. I’m just lucky enough to have both of you in my life.” Apparently, that was the right thing to say because Cas beamed at him. “Now, what are we going to do until Claire is ready for naptime ?” He waggled his eyebrows.  

“On Saturdays, I usually do the grocery shopping, laundry, and a trip to the park for Claire to play if it’s nice outside. I know that’s kind of boring, but when you have a child...” Dean held up his hand. 

“Cas, I know you think I live some crazy life with parties and all that, but my Saturdays are usually spent hanging out at home. I need down time between the show and the restaurant.” Castiel stared at him for a moment. Dean was telling the truth.  

“Why don’t you take your shower while I get Claire dressed and ready?”  

Dean moved closer and kissed Castiel on the cheek. “I can’t wait until naptime,” he whispered in his ear and then sauntered down the hall. Castiel couldn’t help but admire the way Dean’s legs bowed, his nice ass, and trim waist. Naptime.... 

He’d been bold enough to tell Dean how he felt last night, and though Dean didn’t say the words, Cas could see it in his eyes. Dean loved him. Of that, he was sure. 

Naptime didn’t go as planned. Claire was over stimulated by having Dean with them and she fell asleep in the stroller coming back from the park. When he tried to get her unbuckled without waking her, she opened her eyes. “Da,” she mumbled and then saw the new tea set that Dean had bought her. She squealed and was very much awake. He mouthed, “I’m sorry.” Dean took it well. He got down on the floor and pulled Castiel down with him. The three played until lunch. Dean whipped up a couple of grilled cheese made with asiago and smoked gouda. When Claire tired herself out again, Castiel lifted her and deposited the sleeping child into her crib.  

In the living room, he held out his hand and pulled Dean from the floor. In the bedroom, they undressed each other, leaving languid kisses everywhere they could reach. In bed, the lazy making out continued until Dean fell asleep. Castiel wanted to wake him, but he looked so good sleeping that he didn’t have the heart. He let his head nestle into his pillow and he was out before he knew it. 

All too soon, Sunday afternoon arrived and Dean was packing his things. Castiel didn’t want him to leave. When would they see each other again? Would Dean get back to New York and decide a ready-made family was too much? They were both quiet while they waited for Dean’s car. Castiel had wanted to drive Dean to the airport, but they both decided it would be a major ordeal with Claire. “Car’s here,” Dean said, pulling Castiel against him. “I’ll call when I get home.” 

Castiel nodded, unable to speak for fear that he’d say something that would break the bubble around them. Dean picked up Claire and kissed her forehead. “Dee will miss you, princess.” 

“Dee. Dee. Dee,” She sing-songed, patting Dean’s cheeks with both of her hands. Castiel watched as Dean hid his face in Claire’s hair. To give him privacy, Castiel left them to go into their bedroom to make sure Dean didn’t forget anything. Their bedroom. Strangely enough, it didn’t send a wash of panic over him. He was thinking about a future with Dean.  

“Cas?” Castiel turned from where he was staring at the bed they’d shared, made love in, and laughed in. Dean was standing in the doorway. “I have to go.” 

“I know.” They met in the middle of the room and embraced. The hug was tight and almost had a desperate feel about it. Neither wanted to be the first to pull apart, but the ping of Dean’s phone made them step back. “Call me when you get home,” Castiel said for lack of the important words. 

“I will.” Then he was gone.  

The apartment door shut and Claire began to wail. He hurried to her and picked her up, holding her close. “I know, Claire. I know. I will miss him terribly, too.” He berated himself for not saying I love you again.  

The week crawled by. Claire was fussy and Castiel was irritable which made for unpleasant evenings. His only respite was the nightly Facetime chats with Dean. One early in the evening for the three of them and one much later, private and sometimes sexual. The looks they shared were meaningful, but neither spoke of Cas’ declaration. As the days passed, without Dean bringing it up, Castiel began to have doubts that Dean was in love with him. 

He’d called Crowley and reinstated his original contract. The surly producer had been sarcastic and told him next time he and Dean had a ‘falling out’ that he’d personally castrate both of them. Castiel figured Crowley was all bark and no bite, but he found himself promising there would be no next time. He meant it. If he and Dean could get past the truth about Claire, then they could get past anything. He hoped. 

Castiel found himself watching the episodes of Spice of Life on his DVR, now set to record the show every weekday. It was something he and Claire did before he put her to bed at night. She loved seeing Dee on the television and usually stood a few feet away from it, clapping whenever Dean was on the screen.  

As the new week started, he got a call from Dean in the middle of the day. Hoping something wasn’t wrong, he answered it. “Dean, is everything alright?” 

“Yeah, it’s good. Better than good. Benny is going down to New Orleans to film a segment on the French Quarter Festival. We’ll be needing you for Friday’s and Monday’s taping.” Castiel pulled up his mental calendar. He’d have to prepare the weekend’s desserts for the restaurant, or at least do some of the prep work. It would mean four days without Claire. Could Ruby and Gabe take her for that long?  

“You’re thinking too loud, dude,” Dean said, chuckling softly. “Look, Jo said she’d babysit while we’re taping and I can take off a Saturday night... Garth can handle Winchester’s with his eyes closed. We can take Claire to the Bronx zoo and then stroll around Central Park, since the weather is warming up. I think...” 

“Dean.” When he stopped talking at his interruption, Castiel took a deep breath. “Dean, I’m not sure if bringing Claire is a good idea.” There was silence on the phone for much too long. “Dean?” 

“I’m here.” His voice sounded tight. 

“You’re angry.” 

“Nope.” The p was popped rather loudly and Castiel winced. 

“And now, you’re lying to me.” He closed his eyes and pictured Dean running his fingers through his hair. He did that when he was frustrated or pissed. 

“Okay, tell me why it isn’t a good idea.” 

“She’s never flown before and...” And what? What were his reasons? Shuffling her back and forth from Atlanta to New York was insane, wasn’t it? He mouthed ‘watch Claire’ to his brother and walked into Gabe’s office to be alone. “Your home isn’t set up for a child.” Even that sounded stupid to Cas’ ears. He took Claire to stores and the library all the time. It wasn’t like she’d be alone. She couldn’t very well make her way to the roof and leap off into space.  

“You could help me do that, couldn’t you? It’s not like I have a bunch of expensive antiques or knick knacks sitting around.”  

“I’m being stupid,” he finally admitted, expecting Dean to laugh at him. 

“Cas, babe, you aren’t being stupid. You’re being a dad. Dads worry. Do you trust me?” There was no hesitation. Dean had proved himself to be a loyal and loving man. 

“With my life.” He hadn’t meant for it to sound so... so... romantic. 

“Cas... me too.” Castiel found himself smiling into the phone. A comfortable silence followed. Castiel filled the seconds with thoughts of how Dean looked under him, how beautiful he was, and not just physically. Dean cleared his throat. “So, can I tell Crowley to make sure your seats are booked on Thursday?” 

“Will you be meeting us at the airport?” 

“You couldn’t stop me,” Dean whispered and Castiel wanted to say those words again. Those three words that bound them together forever. He’d hesitated for too long and the moment was lost. 

“I will see you Thursday. Goodbye, Dean.” 

“Bye, Cas.” He sat at his brother’s desk and couldn’t help the grin that spread over his face. That’s how Gabe found him a few minutes later. 

“Please tell me you didn’t have phone sex in my office.” 

“Of course not. I’m not like you, Gabriel.” A few months ago, he’d walked into the office without knocking, because he never knocked, and found his brother and Ruby on the desk, half naked. It was more of his brother’s ass than he ever wanted to see. 

“I don’t know. You’ve been different since lover boy has been sniffing around. Good different. The way you were before you became a full-time dad and Mister Responsible. You’re happy. H.A.P.P.Y. Now, tell me what’s got you all giddy.” 

“I’ve never been ‘giddy’ in my life,” Cas said dryly. He stood. “I will have to work longer hours today through Wednesday to prepare for the weekend.” 

“Why?” 

“Claire and I are flying to New York. I’ve got to co-host the show on Friday and Monday. Dean wants me to bring Claire so we can take her to the zoo.” 

“Playing house. Good for you, little bromyster. Have you said the ‘L’ word to each other yet?” 

“On that note, I shall go back to work.” He pushed Gabriel to the side and headed for the dessert station. Thankfully, Gabriel was called on to check a delivery of vegetables, so he didn’t have to answer the question. 

Being in love with Dean scared him to death, but made him feel like taking on the world at the same time. He had to admit he fantasized about the three of them living together as a family and maybe even adding another child to the mix. They could adopt. New York was more progressive then Georgia. New York? In all his fantasies, he saw them in Castiel’s home, in his bed, cooking together in his kitchen... But that wouldn’t be fair to Dean. His whole life was centered around Winchester’s and Spice of Life. What was holding Castiel to Atlanta? He’d only moved here because of Anna’s death and Claire. “What are you even doing, Castiel?”  

He must have spoken that aloud, because one of the prep cooks replied, “I think you’re getting ready to make meringue...” 

“Yes, thank you,” Castiel responded with a smile. The younger man eyed him with curiosity, but continued moving toward the back door to help with the unloading of the vegetables. 

Thursday morning, Dean was practically dancing on his marks. Both Charlie and Benny sent him knowing smiles. Even the lowest of the crew members knew Cas and Claire were coming because Dean had mentioned it to everyone. At least twice. 

During a commercial break, Charlie leaned over. “You should so bring Cas’ baby to the set. Everyone will want to meet her.” Dean hadn’t told his television family about his real relationship to Claire. He’d sat down at a back table at Winchester’s and told his family. They’d been in shock at first, as he had been, but once they warmed up to the idea, they were pretty damn excited. Sam loved the idea of being an uncle and Ellen... well, just say that Claire would be calling Ellen grandmama.  

Dean knew he’d have to break the news to his co-stars soon, but he wanted this thing between him and Cas to be more... permanent... first. In his head, he knew it was way too soon to ask the man to leave his life behind in Georgia and move to New York. The long-distance thing had already gotten on his nerves. After their weekend, he didn’t want to wake up alone anymore. The video chats were awesome, but not enough. 

Sam called Dean after he had wrapped the episode. He picked up as he hurried out the back door of the studio. “What’s up?” 

“I was wondering if you and Cas wanted to come over for dinner on Saturday. I want to meet my niece and Jess thought it would be a good time for us to get to know Cas.” 

“I don’t know, man. Cas is a private person...” Dean nodded to Ash and got inside the SUV. “Airport,” he said to his driver. 

“Dean, he has your daughter. Don’t you think meeting your family is kind of important.” 

“First of all, she’s Cas’ daughter.” Shit like that could have Cas running for the hills. He was still terrified that he’d say or do something that would make Cas afraid again. 

“Dean, she’s your biological daughter. It’s great that you and Cas are getting along, but legally...” 

“Stop,” Dean snarled. “Stop right there. Claire is Cas’. Period. I care about him and I think he cares about me, but if for some fucked up reason we break up, I will not try to get custody.” Cared about. Yeah, right. Dean was head over heels in love with the man and Cas, well, Cas had the balls to say the words. Unlike Dean. 

“So, you’re telling me that you wouldn’t want to see your own kid...” 

“Fuck no, that isn’t what I’m saying. I’d still love to have her in my life, but I would never try to take her away from Cas. He’s been there from the start. Anna wanted him to raise her. I owe her that much.” Shit, he hadn’t even remembered her name, damn right, he owed her something.  

Sam was quiet for a moment, but Dean could hear him breathing. He waited, his eyes on the cars zipping by as Ash made his way to JFK. “Are you going to tell Cas how you feel about him?” 

“What if he thinks I’m just saying it to get Claire?” Dean leaned his head back on the seat and closed his eyes. That thought had crossed his mind more than once. He should have said it that night. He should have nutted up and responded to Cas’ words. After that, the moment seemed lost and he found himself floundering and worrying about stuff. 

“You aren’t though.” 

“Yeah, but he doesn’t know that,” Dean said with a sigh. 

“You’ll figure it out.” It was easy for Sam to say, but Dean was still scared. For the first time in his life he actually loved someone. Relationships didn’t work out well for him. What if he fucked it up? He said goodbye to his brother and began flipping through the pictures on his phone. He’d taken a lot while he was in Atlanta. Tons of Claire, but several of Cas too. He smiled at the selfie of the three of them.  

Ash dropped him off at the terminal and promised to circle around a few times while Dean went in and found his man... and his best girl. He got the flight information off the huge screens and made his way toward baggage claim. Cas was supposed to meet him there.  

“Dee Dee Dee,” an excited shriek from behind him made him spin around. 

“There’s my princess,” Dean cooed and she held out her arms. Cas looked a little rumpled. “You okay there, Cas?” 

“Flying with a toddler is not for the faint of heart.” Dean winced at the pink stain on his shirt. Cas saw him looking. “She decided her juice wasn’t good enough at twenty thousand feet.” Dean hid his grin in Claire’s curls. Cas had set down the carseat and Claire’s diaper bag and was stretching out the apparent kinks in his back.  

“Well, you’re here now and tonight you can relax. I’ll fix a nice dinner and if you’re a good boy, I’ll give you a massage.” 

“I’ll be good,” Castiel said with a yawn. Dean couldn’t resist the kiss. Castiel looked surprised and glanced around them. “Dean, someone might recognize...” 

“Don’t care, Cas,” Dean said and then to prove it, he took off his sunglasses and removed his baseball cap, sitting it loosely on Claire’s head. She laughed in delight and reached up to play with it. Dean was aware of a few people pulling out their phones to take pictures. “Cas, listen... being with me means being in the spotlight sometimes. I’ll do my best to keep you and Claire safe from all that, but I’m not ashamed of my feelings for you.” 

Cas nodded and let out a breath. “Okay. Let’s do this.” Dean wasn’t sure if he was talking about them or getting out of the airport, but he followed his lead as Cas pulled his suitcase off the belt. Between the two of them, they gathered everything, and made their way to the loading zone. Ash spied them and pulled the SUV right up to the curb. While Ash put the suitcase in the back, Castiel buckled in the carseat and Dean strapped Claire in.  

When they were out of airport traffic, Dean took Cas’ hand and kissed his knuckles. “I’m glad you’re here.” 

“I’m glad to be here. We missed you.” Dean was going to say it. He had to. 

As they neared Dean’s building, Cas asked, “Did you find a pack-n-play?” 

“Yep. Ellen took care of that, a high chair, a baby gate, and a stroller. That woman could have planned the Normandy Invasion. Trust me, she wouldn’t forget anything.” Dean hadn’t been back to his place since Ellen dropped off the stuff this morning, but he had faith. 

Dean opened the door and flipped the light switch. On his living room floor was a wicker laundry basket filled with toys. A high chair was at his dining room table. On the island in the kitchen were boxes of juice, cereal, and stuff Dean assumed was good for kids. A stroller was parked by the door. “Wow.” 

Cas was still holding his suitcase and the diaper bag, having left the carseat in the SUV. “Dean...” 

He held up his hand. “You best not tell her it’s too much, or else she’ll hurt you.” 

Running his hand over the stroller’s handle, he shook his head. “Dean, this is a Bugaboo Donkey.” 

“I don’t know what you just said, dude.”  

“This stroller is over a thousand dollars.” Dean had given Ellen his credit card, so he wasn’t worried. 

“If Ellen thought she needed it...” Claire was jumping in his arms and he took her to the basket of toys. “Look what Grandmama got you, princess.” He put her down and she drove right in, pulling out dolls and brightly colored blocks. 

“Grandmama?” Oops. Dean took Cas’ hands in his. 

“I told Sam and Ellen about Claire. They are excited to meet her.” At Cas’ expression, Dean shook his head. “Babe, listen, you, me, and Claire... we’re a package deal. They want to be a part of that.” 

“You, me, and Claire.” 

“Yeah, the three of us.”  

They spent the rest of the afternoon and evening entertaining Claire. The only thing Ellen didn’t put together was a toddler bed. It was in a large box in Dean’s bedroom. She’d written a note. 

Boys,  

Claire is too old for one of those packy things. I saw this and thought it suited her better. I was going to have the deliverymen set it up, but Dean’s office was a mess. I’m not a housekeeper.  

Love,  

Ellen  

It took them over an hour to clean out Dean’s office and put together the toddler bed. It was made of white wood, and had a rail so she wouldn’t fall off. Claire seemed to like it until bed time. As soon as Cas put her down in it, she began to fuss. “I’m sorry, Dean, this is all so new.” 

“Don’t apologize, babe.” Dean knelt down and held out his arms. “Come here, princess.” Tearfully, she went to him. To Cas, he said, “Come on.” 

In his bedroom, he moved toward the bed without turning on the light. He heard Cas following him. He sat down on the edge of his bed, rocking her back and forth. “I’m going to tell you a story, okay?” 

“Story,” she repeated softly. Dean settled back on his pillow, Claire on his chest. 

“Once upon a time, this cool, delectably hot knight in shining armor, strode into the castle. Well, the prince of the castle was so impressed that he made all these stupid moves to get the guy to like him.” Dean felt Cas settle on the bed beside them. “The prince’s moves were pretty lame and the knight rolled his eyes and then rode away on his silver, winged steed. But, see here’s the good part... the prince was so crazy about the knight that he got his own winged steed and followed him to his kingdom in the south. He tried everything to make the knight like him, but alas, the knight was bewitched by an old curse.” Dean felt Cas’ fingertips brush up his arm, coming to rest over his on Claire’s back. 

“The prince tried and tried until one day the curse fell away and the knight swept the prince off his feet and carried him to his tower. He apologized for being cursed and begged forgiveness.” 

“I don’t recall begging...” Cas murmured beside him and Dean tried to hide his smile. 

“Who said the story was about you?” To Claire, he continued, “Anyway, the knight begged forgiveness and they rode off into the sunset on their winged steeds.” 

“Did they live happily ever after?”  

“Of course, they did.” Dean whispered. He planted a soft kiss on Claire’s blonde curls and asked, “Is she asleep?” 

“She is.” Cas carefully rolled over and Dean caught his hand, holding him still. 

“Let’s stay like this awhile.” Cas eased back in place and then rolled to his side, his chest pressed against Dean. “Cas?” 

“Hmmm, I am crazy about you, ya know?” 

“So you said in the story,” Cas’ voice was low and soft, like smooth Tennessee whiskey. 

“Do you think we’re moving too fast?” Cas brought his hand to his head, propping it up with his bent elbow. 

“Our courtship has been unusual from the start.”  

In the darkness, Dean felt braver. “Yeah, but see, here’s the thing... I... love you.” He felt more than heard, Cas’ swift intake of breath. “And you love me... so...” God, how was he going to ask this without scaring the shit out of Cas. He was asking a lot. 

“I do love you,” Cas whispered and then placed a light kiss on Dean’s shoulder. 

“Cas, you’re it for me. From that first day... as crazy as it sounds, I felt this pull. Even before I found out Claire was... mine... I wanted to see her. Be with her.” He bit his lip. This was damn hard. “But it was because she was yours. I thought if I could get her to like me, that her dad wouldn’t have a choice, ya know?”  

Beside him, Cas chuckled softly. “Interesting logic, but go ahead, you’re doing fine.” 

“Asshole,” Dean said affectionately. “Anyway, this past week has been hell. I’ve missed you both so fucking much and I know you’re going to think I’ve lost my mind, but I want us to be together. Not this long-distance crap. I know you have your life in Atlanta and I can work with that. Garth can manage Winchester’s. The show... well, it will take some finagling, but maybe we can tape two episodes a day and that way I can fly to Atlanta...” 

“Dean, stop talking.” Dean’s mouth snapped shut. He’d gone too far. He closed his eyes and waited for his heart to shatter. Another kiss, this one against his jaw. Okay, so he was letting him down gently. Considerate bastard. “New York is where your life is. Atlanta has never been my home. It was just the most logical choice after Anna died. Gabe doesn’t need me and I can probably find a job up here.” Dean was holding his breath. Did this mean... 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Brining is the best way to insure a tender and moist turkey,” Castiel said, as he poured the seasoned liquid over the bird.  

“I have to disagree,” Dean interjected, his hand on the small of Castiel’s back. “Brining is time consuming and you can get it moist and tender by basting as you cook.” 

“Dean, explain how it is time consuming?” Castiel huffed and looked at Charlie for help. 

“For it to do any good, you gotta soak your turkey for twelve to twenty-four hours. If you baste, there isn’t any added time. I just tuck lots of butter under the skin...” Dean removed his hand, so he could use both to demonstrate on his bird. “Not to mention, you have to find a place to put that.” He pointed his greasy finger at the huge stock pot that held Castiel’s turkey. 

Castiel looked at the camera, something he was more comfortable with after eight months. “Dean is correct, you will have to find room in your refrigerator. Please don’t use a cooler unless you live where it is less than forty degrees outside. Then you can put it out on your back porch or tuck it in your garage. You never want your bird to get below that temperature.” 

“I’ve tried both ways, and I like Cas’ method better,” Charlie finally chimed in.  

“Traitor,” Dean said, glaring at her, but she smiled sweetly. 

“Cas brings me cupcakes. You’ve never brought me cupcakes,” she said.  

Benny rolled his eyes and patted his turkey. “While the two lovebirds argue, let me show you how the Cajuns do it.” He went on to show how to rub the turkey with spices and then lowered it carefully into the deep pot of cooking oil, the whole time explaining exactly what he was doing and how careful you must be. 

During the commercial break, Crowley came up to the cooking area and leaned in close. They all shut off their mics. “The ratings have continued to climb since this whole shipping thing started, but today’s episode is proving to exceed my expectations. Good work, everyone.” 

“Shipping?” Dean asked, eyes narrowed. 

“Dean, I explained this to you,” Charlie whispered, “Everyone loves you and Cas and they ship you. The fans of the show enjoy watching the two of you bicker back and forth, but then look at each other with heart eyes.”  

“It means they like imagining us having sex,” Castiel said dryly. Charlie had shown him a website where he could read fictional stories about him and Dean. It was strange. Dean rolled his eyes. 

“I just don’t get people. We are together, why do they still have to ‘ship’ us?” 

“It’s romantic...” Charlie started, but Crowley held up five fingers and counted down. 

The hosts all smiled at Camera Two. While they were talking, the cooking team came out and cleared the raw turkeys, replacing them with beautifully cooked birds. 

When the segment wrapped, the hosts stepped over to the studio audience to sign autographs and have their pictures taken. When the last of the people left, they went to their respective dressing rooms. Castiel had been given his own once he’d gone from guest host to a regular on the show, but he usually went to Dean’s. Today was no different. As his boyfriend pulled his shirt over his head, Castiel handed him another one to change into. “I don’t like people thinking about our sex life,” Dean muttered.  

 “Charlie says that it is the way for fans to show their love for us.”  

Dean paused tucking in his shirt and looked at Castiel. “You don’t care? I’d have thought out of the two of us, you’d be the one freaking out over it. I’m used to the weird shit fans say and do, but you... you’re really private.” 

“True, I like keeping our private lives private,” he agreed. They’d both been adamant about keeping Claire out of the public eye. Some things couldn’t be avoided. There were photographs of the three of them doing things around the city, but they did their best to keep her out of the media circus that was sometimes their world. Their inner circle knew her parentage, but they didn’t want it to leak out until they thought Claire was old enough to know the truth. “But I find this shipping thing amusing.” 

“As long as you’re okay with it,” Dean shrugged and grabbed his jacket. “Let’s go.” 

As was the norm, Ash dropped Castiel off at the condo. After kissing Dean goodbye, he rode the elevator up to their floor. He let himself in and heard Claire squeal. “Daddy... Daddy...” She raced over to him and Jo stood up from her seat on the rug.  

Castiel scooped her up and swung her skyward. She giggled and clapped her hands. To Jo, he asked, “Was she a good girl today?” 

“Of course, she’s an angel.” Jo collected her purse and paused to give Claire a goodbye kiss. “See you Monday, squirt.” 

“Bye bye, Jo,” Claire called out. 

The months since he and Claire moved to New York had flown by. They stayed busy, but Dean had modified his schedule for them. They filmed during the week and Dean spent the early afternoon at Winchester’s going over things with Ellen and Garth. He only worked on Friday and Saturday nights. Castiel spent his time with Claire. While she napped, he worked on his newest endeavor, his blog. With the studio’s permission, he wrote about filming the show, behind the scenes, the recipes, and the life of two dads raising a little girl in The Big Apple. His phone rang just as he was deciding what he was going to cook for dinner. “Hello, Dean.” 

“Hey, Babe, I need a favor.” 

“Sure, anything.” He peered into the fridge hoping to get an idea. They did their grocery shopping on Saturday mornings as a family, but for now, things were sparse. 

“Put on a suit, dress Claire up like the doll she is, and come down to the restaurant.” 

“Why?” He closed the door and leaned on the counter. From there, he could keep an eye on Claire. She was currently playing with the toddler-sized Lego’s Dean had gotten her for her second birthday. 

“Why not? We had a cancellation and I thought you’d love a date night.” 

“But you’re working. It wouldn’t be a date night.” 

“Quit being a pain in the ass.” Castiel sighed loud enough for Dean to hear, even over the din from the kitchen. “I heard that.” He smiled. 

“Fine, but I want Garth to make me a fancy dessert.” 

“Fine,” Dean said, laughing. “Anything you want. See you at six. I’ll send Ash.” 

Castiel and Claire were waiting downstairs when Ash pulled up. The carseat remained in the SUV, but they had another one for the Impala. Ellen kept one in her car too. It took Castiel a while to trust anyone with overnight visits, but Claire loved Ellen and she spent at least one night a week with her ‘grandmama’. 

Surprisingly enough, it was Ellen that greeted them at the entrance. She hugged them both and then took Claire to show off to their customers. Castiel made his way into the kitchen, already like a second home to him. He heard Dean before he saw him. “I need that ribeye cool rare. Yo, Garth, we have any of that sauce left?” 

He waved to the staff as he walked toward the pass. “Hello, Dean.” 

Dean turned, grinned, and pulled him close, giving him a quick kiss on the mouth. “Heya, Cas. Give me ten and I’ll join you in the dining room.” Castiel held on for a moment longer, loving the scent of the man.  

“Alright.” Castiel tightened the hug and then released him. When he pushed through the kitchen doors, he swept the room for his daughter... their daughter. His eyes landed on Charlie and her girlfriend... and there were Benny and his wife, Andrea. It wasn’t odd to find them in the restaurant, but not usually on the same night. Ellen was talking to someone, but with her back to him, Castiel couldn’t see who, but he saw Claire in her arms and he started forward to get her. 

He neared the table and saw Crowley seated with an elegant redhead. “Crowley, hello, I didn’t expect to see you tonight.” No one had mentioned it during the taping that morning.  

“I was just telling him how wonderful it was that your co-stars were all here at the same time,” Ellen interjected, a bright smile on her face. Something strange was going on and Castiel couldn’t quite figure it out. It wasn’t anyone’s birthday... or did he miss the memo? “Come on, I have your table ready.” Castiel nodded to the producer and his date, then followed Ellen to one of the six-tops near the back of the restaurant.  

“Hey, Cas,” Sam called out from the end of the bar. He stood and followed them, taking a seat across from Castiel. “Dean told me you were coming tonight and I couldn’t miss the chance of seeing my niece. Hi, Claire, can you come to Uncle Sam?” 

Claire, lifted her arms and leaned forward, and Castiel passed her over. “I have a feeling I’m missing something.” 

Sam pursed his lips and shrugged. “How’s that?” 

“Dean insisted that I come tonight, and I’ve seen Charlie, Benny, and Crowley. Now, you.” 

“Huh, weird,” Sam said, his gaze on Claire, who was sitting on the edge of the table swinging a spoon around.  

Dean joined them before he could ponder further. “Sammy, give me my kid.” He grabbed up Claire and tossed her into the air. Her giggles loud and infectious.  

“Dean, is anyone else joining us?” 

“Huh?” Castiel narrowed his eyes. He knew Dean heard the question.  

“I asked if anyone else was joining us, since Ellen seated me here.” He indicated the three remaining chairs. 

“Oh, didn’t I tell you?”  

“Dean...” Castiel was losing his patience. Dean was acting evasive. 

“Castiel, good to see you, baby bro.” Hands rested on his shoulders and he spun his head to see his brother and Ruby standing there. Ruby’s pregnant stomach was huge and he knew the twins were due next month. Should she be traveling?  

“Should you be traveling?” He asked in lieu of a greeting. 

“I’m fine, and it’s nice to see you too,” Ruby said, grinning. They took their seats and Dean strapped Claire into the high chair Kevin brought over. When he finally sat next to Castiel, he looked flushed, but he led the conversation by asking about Gabriel and Ruby’s flight. Castiel sat silent, still trying to piece together the puzzle. 

Ellen brought an expensive bottle of champagne to the table and took the last chair. “Dean, are we celebrating something?” 

Dean nibbled on his lower lip and took his hand. “I hope so.” Castiel became aware that the restaurant had gotten quiet. Too quiet. “I wanted our friends and family to be here tonight... because they are important to me and I know you love them too.” Castiel nodded.  

“I do.” Someone chuckled at his response and the realization dawned on him. Was Dean going to propose? They’d talked about it over the summer, but both had agreed to see how living together with a child, a toddler, was going to work. Dean was watching him intently and he seemed to know the moment Castiel put two and two together. He smiled shyly and slid out of his chair and onto one knee. 

“Cas, I love you and I love our daughter. Will you do me the honor of becoming my husband?” He fumbled nervously with a small, black velvet box and opened it, revealing a beautiful platinum band. Castiel stared at it. He couldn’t breathe.  

“Yes,” he whispered. 

“Yes?” Dean asked in a normal tone. Castiel nodded and he felt Dean take his hand. He felt the cool metal slide over his knuckle and settle where it was supposed to be. “You okay?” Dean asked, looking worried, his smile seemed forced now. 

“I’m okay.”  

Without moving from his place on the floor, Dean cupped his hand behind Castiel’s neck and brought his head down. He whispered against his ear. “I’m sorry, I should have done this privately. You can still back out.”  

Castiel began shaking his head from side to side. “Never.”  

Dean’s smile became more genuine. He got to his feet and grabbed a flute of champagne. “He said yes,” he yelled out and the room erupted in applause. Soon, their table was surrounded by so many people. Some Castiel knew, some he recognized but couldn’t quite place. Claire was being passed around like a party favor, but she was having the time of her life.  

When the meal was finally served, it was Castiel’s favorite on the Winchester’s menu. His own signature burger that had replaced Dean’s. The champagned flowed late into the night and when Claire began to nod off, Ellen took her out of the high chair and held her close. “I’m taking her to my house. You two have fun.” She winked and walked away. 

“That’s our cue,” Gabriel stood and took his wife’s hand. “We’re going to spend tomorrow sightseeing, so don’t worry about entertaining us.” Both men got to their feet and hugs were traded around the table.  

Outside, Dean opened the door to a limo. “Dean, what’s this?”  

“The man of my dreams accepted my proposal, man. I wanted to splurge.” 

Inside, Dean opened the sun roof and popped the cork on another bottle of champagne. “Are you trying to get into my pants?” 

“Is it working?” Dean asked with a boyish grin. 

“I think it’s a sure thing.” 

The driver drove through the streets of the city and they leaned back in their seats to look up at the skyline. They held hands and toasted to their future.