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A Way Back Home

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Prologue
Apple Pie

 

Summer in Sioux Falls brought many elements to the small city. Warm afternoon breezes, many trips to the local lakes and a peak in tourism. People from far and wide swarmed the city in the hot months, staying at the local inns and hostels and trying out all the different local attractions Sioux Falls had to offer. Many tourists would go to the locals for advice, asking them where they should visit or what local delicacies they should try. If you were to ask most of them, they would all say the bakery-cafe on the corner of 8th Avenue.

 

Dean Winchester barely had a moment to sit down most of his summer, with customers coming in and out of his little store almost every minute. It was the same for that Wednesday afternoon in July, when the store was mostly packed with patrons and Dean’s feet were well on their way to becoming completely numb.

 

He finished serving the customer in front of him, telling them their order wouldn’t be too long. He faced away to hand the barista the receipt and turned back only to lock eyes with a piercing gaze.

 

Blue was all Dean could see and for a moment, his mind flooded with memories from the past. He paused as the past he had tried so hard to forget, attempted to wriggle itself from the box it had been buried away in. The eyes in front of him were so familiar, yet so different at the same time. It took Dean a second to realise these eyes belonged to a stranger and not the figure his brain had desperately tried to keep hidden away.

 

Dean formed a shaky smile on his lips and opened his mouth to greet the stranger, a teenage girl, to his store. He was stopped mid-sentence however, by the unfamiliar face raising her hands.

 

“Are you Dean?” She signed, her stare on him unwavering.

 

For the second time in a minute, Dean couldn’t help pause as his brain registered the language. He was unsure as to why this girl was asking who he was and why she knew to use sign language with him. Though, it didn’t take him long for his brain to remember the words of his long-time friend, Jody Mills.

 

The local Sheriff wasn’t just known for her friendly nature and bravery, but rather for her act of kindness when she took in an adolescent girl. Sheriff Mills lost her son and husband in a car accident, a few weeks before Dean had moved to town. Dean met her in a time of grievance and with Dean mourning a loss too, the two of them had connected. It was a few years later when the local police force, ran by Sheriff Mills, arrested a kidnapper who had been taking children for many years. One of those was Alex Jones.

 

12-year old Alex Jones, now Alex Mills, was a troubled teenage girl. The trauma from her kidnapping along with having no family to turn to once she re-emerged in the world, made her rebellious. She went through foster homes and was taken into custody many times by Sheriff Mills herself. After a third failed foster home, Jody didn’t hesitate to get her foster license and welcome Alex in as her own. Four years later, Alex was officially adopted and was settled in her new life. It wasn’t long after the adoption that Jody agreed to foster again, which was when she was given another troubled teen—Claire Novak.

 

The name registered to Dean upon seeing the girl in front of him sign. He remembered the favour Jody asked him those many weeks ago, when she popped into the bakery during her lunch break. She told Dean about her new foster child and how she was mute. Claire was literate and could communicate through typing/writing but Jody worried Claire would struggle not being able to communicate in ASL. So she asked, or practically begged, Dean to agree to meet Claire and chat with her.

 

It had been many years since the last time he had communicated in sign language, ten to be exact. However, he could vaguely understand her and the hauntingly familiar way she moved her hands. The fogginess of his memory made him take a few seconds to rework his muscle memory and before he knew it, he was signing back.

 

“I am Dean,” He replied. “Are you Claire?”

 

After Dean finished fingerspelling her name, the girl nodded, a scowl on her face. Dean took this moment to take in her appearance. For the most part, she had the looks of the stereotypical all-American girl –- the bright blonde curls, sky blue eyes and defined cheekbones. Yet, at the same time, you could see the troubled past that this barely 17-year old girl was running from. Through the dark eyeliner, grungy clothing and her gaze that held the pain and suffering her face attempted not to show. Dean was familiar with that look. He saw it in the mirror staring back at him most days.

 

“What would you like?” He vocally asked the teen, noticing that the line of customers behind her was slowly becoming impatient.

 

Dean concentrated and noticed Claire had signed the words ‘coffee’ and ‘black’. With a nod, he wrote the order down and handed it off to the barista. As the girl went to pay, Dean shook his head and told her it was on the house. Claire seemed unhappy with that and with a huff, retreated to go find a table in the store.

 

Dean went on serving customers for the next five minutes, until the line in front of him cleared up. It was then he prepared Claire’s order, which didn’t take long. He sighed and mustered up the courage to approach the teenager, who did not look pleased to be there. Dean could relate to that as upon hearing Jody’s request, Dean had been quite reluctant to accept.

 

Claire locked eyes with Dean when he reached her table. He put down the coffee right in front of her, along with another plate next to her. She scrutinised the plate.

 

“I didn’t order apple pie.” Claire signed and Dean concentrated hard to understand what she was saying.

 

“It’s on the house. Summer special.”

 

Claire raised an eyebrow. “I thought apple pie was a year- round special?”

 

“It is.” Dean responded, hesitantly sinking into the chair across from Claire. “However, most of my fond memories of apple pie were from when it was Summer back home.”

 

Claire didn’t respond to that, but Dean could see the curiosity in her eyes. The teenager took a bite of the dessert and Dean immediately noticed the way her eyes brightened as the taste swarmed her tongue. Although she attempted to hide it through a scowl, Dean had already registered it and was smirking. Claire glared at him.

 

“It’s my mom’s recipe.” He continued on to say. “All through June and July, our house smelled of apple pie. So much so, the scent is something that reminds me of home…”

 

 

FLASHBACK: July 1994

 

Dean’s favourite memories of home, were the many times he spent in the kitchen.

 

Baking was something that was always in Dean’s blood, from the moment he was born into the world. His mother was a baker and an extremely skilled one. She always found she was in her element when she was in the kitchen, around the scent of flour and sugar. So it wasn’t a surprise when Dean found he too had a curiosity and a flare for baking, even as young as two.

 

Dean was six during the summer of 1994 and he found himself in the kitchen a lot. So it wasn’t a surprise when he was there on one hazy summer afternoon, helping his mum with an apple pie. The kitchen was warm from the heat of the oven and the weather outside, so his mother was only wearing a short sleeved dress—covered by her favourite apron. She was humming along to her favourite Beatles song as she baked. She went between stirring the apples to checking up on Sam—Dean’s toddler little brother—who was asleep in the crib in the living room.

 

Dean was busy kneading the dough, his small hands attempting to flatten it in the skilful way his mother could. He would hear the laughter of his mom every now and then, as she would come over and help him, guiding his hands over the dough to show him how to do it. Once the pie was constructed and put in the oven, Dean watched intensely as it baked while his mother ran around the house completing her errands for the day. The kitchen smelt so good Dean couldn’t wait for the pie to be done. Yet, he had to keep reminding himself that the pie wasn’t for him, nor his own family.

 

The pie finished cooking with a Ding! of the oven. Dean watched his mom pull out the pie and rest it on the cooling rack, before ushering Dean upstairs to get changed out of his flour dusted clothes. When he came back downstairs, his mom had placed the dessert in a small basket, matched with a red and white dish towel that looked like it belonged in the story of Little Red Riding Hood. His mom passed him the pie before she went to pick up Sam who was still babbling in his downstairs crib. While she had her back turned, Dean took the opportunity to leave the house without her.

 

He bolted out the front door and to the edge of the sidewalk, stopping to look both ways at the road. When he was sure it was safe, Dean crossed the road and found himself on the front lawn of his neighbour’s home. He practically leapt up to the front door, standing on his tip toes so he could ring the doorbell. There was silence for a few seconds, before Dean heard the sound of footsteps on wooden floors. Dean heard the door being unlocked and watched as it swung open, revealing an older man in the doorway.

 

The older man looked down at Dean and immediately, a welcoming grin formed on his lips. His blue eyes crinkled.

 

“Hello there,” The man greeted as he knelt down to Dean’s level, “what’s your name?”

 

“Dean Winchester.” Dean answered, formally like Miss Missouri taught him. The man beamed in reply and opened his mouth to respond, but before he could, someone began to yell.

 

“DEAN WINCHESTER!”

 

Dean turned around slowly to find his mother storming towards him, Sammy tucked up on her hip. Her face was furious and Dean couldn’t help but stare sheepishly at his mom.

 

“Dean Winchester, you know to wait for me when we cross the road. Never, ever, run off all by yourself. You hear me?”

 

Dean put his head down and scuffed his shoe against the pavement. “Yes ma’am.”

 

“And?”

 

“… Sorry Mom.”

 

His mother nodded in approval before turning her attention to the man in the doorway. “Sorry you had to see that. This little monkey is adventurous and sometimes likes to disappear when I’m not looking.”

 

“No worries at all. I completely understand.” The man laughed rising from his crouch. “Michael Shurley.”

 

He offered his hand for a handshake, which Dean’s mother accepted with her free hand.

 

“Mary Winchester. This here is my two-year-old Sam, and I see you’ve met my eldest.”

 

Michael turned his attention back to Dean.

 

“Yes I have. How old are you, little man?”

 

“Six!” Dean exclaimed.

 

“Which I’m guessing is the age of your little boy?” Dean’s mom chimed, her gaze set on something behind Michael.

 

Dean followed his mom’s gaze and it turned out the something was actually a someone. Standing behind Michael’s leg, peeking out shyly was a boy around Dean’s age. He was a small boy, a couple inches shorter than Dean himself. He had floppy dark hair and pale olive skin. He stared back at Dean with wide eyes. Wide, pale blue eyes.

 

“He’s not my son. He’s actually my little brother.” Michael said, placing a hand on the boy’s head. “My parents died a few years ago, in a car accident and they left me as the legal guardian of him and our other siblings. I couldn't risk them being split up in the foster care system, so I made the obvious choice.”

 

“I’m so sorry for your loss.” Dean’s mom murmured.

 

“It’s okay, it’s been tough but we’ve all made it w—”

 

Michael stopped his sentence short as his little brother began to frantically tug on the hem of his pants. The boy seemed frightened and… almost confused. Dean looked on with worry as the boy began to whine, the sound high and soft in the back of his throat. Michael excused himself and knelt down so he could face the boy. He then began to sign.

 

Dean immediately understood what was happening, despite not having been exposed to sign language often in his six years of life. The first, and only, time it happened previously was a few months ago at the Lawrence Public Library. His mom and him were visiting Miss Missouri who worked there as a librarian. Dean had been watching their conversation curiously, especially when Miss Missouri stopped halfway through to help a visitor. Dean had been intrigued as the man began to move his hands to form weird shapes, but didn’t speak a word. He became confused when Miss Missouri  started to do the same and he tugged on his mom’s shirt, asking her what was going on.

 

His mom explained that the man was deaf, meaning he could not hear. She said most of the Deaf community have their own language called, ‘Sign Language’ where they communicate through their hands since they cannot hear speech. She told Dean how there were different types of sign language for different countries and the sign language Missouri and the man were communicating in was known as ‘American Sign Language or ASL’. Dean didn’t have much else to discuss on the topic, but had been really amazed by the newly discovered language. I mean, how awesome would it be to communicate with just your hands?

 

Dean watched as Michael signed something to the boy and immediately, the six-year-old looked a lot calmer. He then picked his little brother up and the boy immediately tucked his head into Michael’s neck, so Dean could no longer see his face. Dean felt frustrated because all he wanted to do was be friends with his new neighbour, a boy who was the same age as him. He felt it was unfair he couldn’t talk with his hands, and he wasn’t able to understand what the boy was saying.

 

Tears began to prick his eyes and his mom immediately noticed. Realizing  her son was well on his way to a meltdown, Dean watched as his mother grabbed the basket from his hands and gave it to Michael, welcoming him to the neighbourhood. Dean then took his mom’s hands as she led him away from the house and back home. As they waited for a car to pass on the road, Dean turned his glazed eyes back to the doorway. Michael was still standing there, watching them leave with his brother clutching onto him. It was then he noticed the boy lifted his head up and was staring at Dean, his bright blue eyes filled with curiosity. Dean stared back for as long as he could before his mom lead him across the road and into their house.

 

It was then he decided he was going to be friends with the boy across the road. No matter what.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Chapter One
Snickerdoodles

 

Present Day: August 2018

 

Dean was surprised when Claire walked into his store the following Wednesday afternoon, complete in a Guns N Roses shirt and dark blue eyeliner. Dean raised an eyebrow at her when she made eye contact with him upon entering. She frowned at him before marching up to the counter and immediately beginning to sign.

 

“Back-to-school Snickerdoodles? You are really trying to mooch off every opportunity that you can.”

 

Dean, having not been used to rapid sign language for years, asked her to sign again slowly. He watched her intensely as she finger spelled the cookie’s name. Upon realising what she said, Dean began to cackle as he remembered what he had written on the special board out front.

 

“If you must know, snickerdoodles are honestly the best thing to have on a first day of school.” Dean said as he began punching in an order of black coffee and 3x snickerdoodles into the till. Claire glared when she saw it pop up on the small screen.

 

“Mom used to let me help her make them as a last day of summer treat and I would take them to school with me. Mom would only let me take sugary treats on the first day, as a small motivation to get me through a new school year.”

 

 

FLASHBACK: August 1994

 

To say Dean was excited for his first day of 1st grade—would be an understatement.

 

Dean usually woke up at about 6:30 in the morning, however that morning, he woke up at least an hour earlier. He bounded out of bed and down the hall to his parents’ room, jumping on the bed and shaking his parents excitedly as if it were Christmas. His dad groaned for Dean to go away, burying his head deeper into his pillow. His mother on the other hand, groggily woke herself up and let Dean lead her out of the bedroom. They first wandered into Sam’s room, to see the toddler standing up in his crib, all ready for his mom to let him out. Upon seeing both Dean and his mother, he became excited, babbling. He did not have a wide vocabulary for his age but could say simple words such as ‘Dada’, ‘Mama’ and ‘Dee’ for Dean.

 

They went into the kitchen where Mary made both her boys some toast. Dean happily munched on his while Sammy ate his in small pieces, babbling the words ‘Dee’ and ‘nom, nom, nom’ as he ate. Dean watched as his mom had her coffee and immediately noticed how much more awake she became. After Dean finished, his mom ran him a bath to wash off the jelly which covered his mouth and hands. He was then dressed in his clothes for the day—which consisted of the school’s yellow polo and black shorts. By the time he was back downstairs and his mother was packing his bag for school, his dad wondered downstairs in his work uniform, ready to head off for his shift. Upon seeing Dean in his school clothes, his dad beamed and ruffled his hair.

 

“Good luck today, kiddo.”

 

Dean watched cartoons while his mom got herself and Sam ready for the day. By the time the clock struck eight, they were walking out the door.

 

In the car, Dean was practically a constant ball of energy. He couldn’t sit still, no matter how hard he tried. Dean bopped up and down in his seat, kept leaning over and tickling Sammy, and kicked his legs into the back of his mom’s seat, making her agitated until she scolded him. Although he remained still for the rest of the car ride to avoid being in trouble, Dean couldn’t ignore the anticipation that thrummed through his veins. He was officially going to be a big kid and go to the big kid school and wear the big kid uniform. He was finally going to be grown up.

 

His mother parked the car and Dean practically leapt out. He jumped up and down as he impatiently waited for his mom to unbuckle Sam from his car seat. He then practically dragged her towards the building, wanting to get to his classroom as quick as he could. They walked through the courtyard and passed the turn off for the kindergarten area, making Dean feel a sense of egotistical pride he was not one of the babies anymore. They walked up the front steps of the school and with a push, entered through the main glass doors of the building.

 

Dean’s mom led him down the hall full of lockers, chemical scented linoleum floors and the abundance of parents and students—all the way to a small classroom. Immediately upon entering the classroom with his mom, Dean spotted his kindergarten friend Charlie. She was a red-headed girl with a fascination for science and a distaste for stereotypical female toys. She spent most of her time playing video games on the computer or on her Gameboy and most of her break time at school, roughing it up with the boys. Dean met her on their first day of kindergarten at the two of them clicked instantly.

 

Charlie saw Dean as soon as he walked through the classroom door and immediately began to cheer.

 

“Come over here Dean! Sit next to me!”

 

With a nod from his mom, Dean was quick to sprint over to his friend, dumping his backpack next to the desk before sitting down. He instantly became absorbed in taking to Charlie, along with Benny and Garth, two more kindergarten friends who joined their table. Dean had been so deep in conversation he had forgotten his mom was still in the classroom. He looked up to find her and immediately spotted her right where he left her by the doorway. However, he discovered she was not alone and was instead talking to a familiar man.

 

Michael Shurley stood across from Mary, laughing at something she said. He looked a lot different from the first time Dean saw him, his attire more formal this time around. It wasn’t as if his shirt and tie, slacks and gelled hair was necessarily formal, but compared to the track pants, t-shirt and bed hair he’d been sporting on the day they met, it was definitely different.

 

Dean watched the two adults talk animatedly before Michael indicated over to behind where Dean was sitting. The six-year-old turned to come face to face with blue eyes staring back at him. It was Michael’s brother, the boy from across the street. He sat at a table by himself, looking in the direction of Dean and his friends, a small longingness present in his eyes. Dean hadn’t noticed that at first, especially since the older woman who was sitting beside the boy began to sign to him. The boy directed his attention towards her and Dean faced his friends once again, despite the curious side of him wanting nothing more than to turn back to the boy behind him.

 

The parents came over shortly after to say goodbye. Dean got a big smooch on the cheek from his mother and promised her he would have a good day. Soon after she left, followed by Michael. Dean took one more glimpse at the boy behind him, to see him looking sadly over at the door. Dean may have not known the boy very well… or at all but he could tell he was not by any means excited for 1st grade the same way Dean was. So with one last look, Dean pulled his attention back to his teacher and vowed to not stare at him anymore during the class.

 

**

 

When Dean and his friends headed out to the playground for recess, Dean instantaneously noticed his neighbour was sitting alone to eat his food.

 

Dean realised he actually knew the boy’s name now. Castiel. Castiel Shurley.

 

All the students had to introduce themselves to the class, Castiel included. However, Castiel had signed and his interpreter had vocally spoken for him, so everyone could understand what he was saying. All Dean knew about him was his name was Castiel. He was six years old, he was Deaf and that he liked bees. The rest of the class time was preoccupied with work and Dean had been so busy on his collage activity, he hadn’t even bothered to look up from his desk once.

 

Now, Castiel was sitting alone without an interpreter in sight. He was sitting at a picnic table, munching on some apple slices and drawing. He seemed happy and content by himself but Dean was curious and wanted to go and talk to him. Even if he didn’t know how to.

 

As Benny, Charlie and Garth went to play on the playground, Dean walked over to the picnic table in the direction of Castiel. The boy noticed him as he approached, his blue eyes widening further the closer Dean got to the table. When he got there and placed his lunchbox down, he waved at Castiel. Castiel waved back.

 

They sat in silence, Castiel going back to his drawing and Dean getting out his recess. He unzipped his lunchbox and immediately noticed the three snickerdoodle cookies he had baked with his mom and a large beaming smile formed on his lips. He did a quick side glance at Castiel, who was busy with his sketchbook before grabbing out one of them. He tapped his classmate on the shoulder and the boy jumped, turning to face Dean again.

 

He offered up the cookie and Castiel looked at it warily. After sometime, he began to gesture to it and move his arms around frantically. Dean noticed that the boy wasn’t signing but was rather trying to communicate something else entirely to Dean. Dean was confused and stared back at the boy with a frown. He couldn’t understand what he was trying to say to him. It wasn’t until Castiel did it a few more times that Dean finally realised and his eyes widened with understanding. Castiel was asking what was in it.

 

Dean paused for a moment, wondering how he could tell Castiel what was in it. He then saw the sketchbook and crayons and had an idea, beginning to indicate to it as if to ask his classmate if he could borrow it. Castiel nodded and slid it over to Dean. Dean flipped to a new page and immediately began to draw the ingredients as best he could, writing what names he could remember how to spell. He then pointed to each one individually and showed it to Castiel, waiting until his peer reassured him that he could understand what Dean was trying to show him. He began with a flower, indicating it was meant to stand for flour. He finished with the rough drawn egg, which he had also written out as he had learnt how to spell it in kindergarten.

 

After going through them all, Castiel took the sketchbook and drew a weird shape. He then put a big red cross through it and began to tap it frantically. Dean looked at the shape and tried to think what it could stand for. It didn’t take him long to realise it was a peanut and that Castiel was trying to tell him he was allergic to peanuts.

 

It was a proud moment for Dean, especially after he offered the cookie to Castiel for a second time and the boy accepted. Dean grabbed one out for himself and the two boys sat quietly, both happily munching on the dessert Dean’s mom had made.

 

That day he learnt his new neighbour and classmate was named Castiel. That he was six years old. He liked bees and drawing. He was allergic to peanuts. He was also Deaf and mainly communicated through sign language. However, Dean also learnt Castiel didn’t need to just talk through sign language and somehow, that day, the two of them had worked out their own way to communicate to each other.

 

Dean was overly enthusiastic for the rest of his time in 1st grade. Even that seemed like an understatement.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Two
Custard Pie

 

The next week of August was the school kids first week back after summer break. The mornings at the bakery became hectic as high school students piled in to grab some breakfast and coffee before they headed to class. Afternoons were about the same and soon tables were being combined together so teenagers could ‘study’, when in reality, Dean knew they were just having an afternoon gossip.

 

Claire stumbled in that Wednesday afternoon at her normal time, looking more tired and exhausted than Dean had seen her. When she came up to the counter, she ordered her usual black coffee. Though as Dean was punching the drink into the till, she added something different to the order.

 

“Surprise me.” She signed, indicating to the desserts in the refrigerated displays. Dean felt oddly too gleeful about her request.

 

After five minutes of serving other customers and preparing their orders, Dean wandered over to Claire’s table. He placed down the coffee first and Claire immediately took a large gulp of it. He then placed down the ‘surprise’, which happened to be a slice of custard pie. Claire was quick to dig into it, obviously famished after a long day of classes. Dean, happy with his choice went to leave. However, Claire stopped him by signing: “What no story?”

 

Dean raised an eyebrow. “There is one, I didn’t think you wanted to hear it.”

 

Claire took in the response and immediately shrugged it off, her face becoming impassive as she attempted to act like she didn’t want to hear it—that it didn’t matter whether Dean told her or not. However, Dean could tell she was intrigued and with a smirk—he sat down to delve into the story.

 

FLASHBACK: February 1996

 

Finally, it was a Friday.

 

Dean stumbled into his bedroom as soon as he got home, dumping his bag on the floor and flopping onto his bed. They had only been back at school for three weeks following winter break and Dean wanted it to be vacation time again. Despite being excited going into 1st grade, the toughness and difficulty of school had worn him out. Being currently in the midst of 2nd grade, Dean realised school wasn’t as enjoyable as he hoped it would be.

 

Dean looked over at his backpack, which he knew had homework he needed to do over the weekend. There was his spelling list, his math sums and the chapter he needed to read for his literacy assessment. He debated getting a start on them, going downstairs to get his mom to help him. However, he also noticed the small novel he was reading, sitting on his bedside table. After weighing the two options, the novel won.

 

He began reading it, kicking off his shoes so he could rest his sock covered feet on top of his bed. For ten minutes he became absorbed in his book. He was nearing the end of the chapter and was so so close to finding out the mystery behind one of the characters, when all of a sudden, his bedroom door flung open.

 

Dean immediately glared at the intruder, wanting to yell at whoever had decided to interrupt his reading. However, when he laid eyes on a puffy eyed, red faced Castiel—he knew his book could wait.

 

Ever since the first day of 1st grade, Dean and Castiel had been inseparable. What started out as lunchtimes sitting together, turned into them partnering up during class time, with Castiel’s interpreter Miss Heather, being a buffer between them. By the time it came to winter break, Castiel and Dean were walking home from school together and spending the afternoons at each other’s houses. Mary and Michael were pleasantly surprised by the boys’ friendship, how the two of them could be close despite the language barrier.

 

Still, they remained close going into 2nd grade, to the point each boy was a permanent fixture in the other’s home. Castiel practically lived at the Winchester’s most days and when he wasn’t there, Dean was at the Shurley’s.

 

Dean closed his book and chucked it on top of his bed, got up and rushed over to Castiel. He put his hand on friend’s shoulder, trying to ask him if he was okay. Castiel began to cry—big crocodile tears pouring down his red cheeks. As much as Dean tried to calm him down, minutes passed and the tears kept going.

 

He grabbed Castiel’s hand—to which his friend gave him a confused look—and led him over to his desk. He grabbed out a blank piece of paper and one of his pencils, pushing it into Castiel’s hand. This is how they communicated on a regular basis and if there was any way for Castiel to communicate what was troubling him… this was it.

 

Castiel sat down at the desk, the pencil poised above the piece of paper. Dean stared at the paper intensely, waiting to see what Castiel would draw. Instead of any explanation, as soon as Castiel’s pencil touched the paper, violent scribbles were spread all over the blank space. Dean watched with wide eyes as Castiel vented his frustrations through drawing, pushing the pencil in all different directions until the paper was covered in black. Castiel did this until there was no white left to cover. He then threw the pencil onto the desk and with a large sigh, he broke down again.

 

Dean pulled his friend up from the chair and hugged him, not knowing what else to do. He felt helpless, not knowing what was wrong with Castiel or how to help him. He couldn’t talk to Castiel and Castiel couldn’t talk to him. So all that was left, was to hold his friend until the tears finally dissipated.

 

It was after Castiel left to go home, his eyes swollen and his cheeks still stained from the tears, Dean knew what he had to do.

 

 

 ~*~

 

The next morning, Dean wandered downstairs to find his mom cooking in the kitchen. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence for a Saturday morning; his mom was usually so busy during the week she never got time to bake or try new recipes. So most of the time, Dean woke up on weekends to the smell of sickly sweet desserts baking in the oven.

 

He walked into the kitchen that morning to see his mom pressing dough into a pie dish. He wandered up to his mom, who smiled when she saw her son had entered the room.

 

“Good morning, did you sleep well?” His mother asked.

 

Dean nodded, peeking his head up over the bench to look at the dish. “What are you making, Mom?”

 

“A custard pie. I haven’t had one of these since I was your age. I thought it’d be something nice to make today.”

 

Dean watched his mom continue to bake until she had constructed the pie and put it in the oven. After his mom washed her hands, Dean went up to her and tapped her on the hip, wanting her attention.

 

“What’s up honey?” She inquired, ruffling a hand through Dean’s hair.

 

“Are we able to go visit Miss Missouri at the library today?” Dean asked.

 

Mary raised an eyebrow. “Sure, is there a reason you want to go? We already went last week to get you a bunch of new books. Did you finish them already?”

 

Dean shook his head, “I wanna get some books on Sign Language. I wanna talk like Castiel.”

 

Dean watched as his mom’s eyes widened and small smile formed on her lips.

 

“Once the pie’s done, we’ll go see Miss Missouri and see what she can find for you.”

 

 

~*~

 

 

Later that evening, the Winchesters found themselves settling down after dinner. John and Mary watching TV in the living room, with Sam sat in front of them on the floor playing with his toy train. Dean laid on his stomach, kicking his legs as he read through the book in front of him. The book was filled with pictures, people showing the signs through still images.

While he read the book, Dean took small bites of the custard pie, which sat on a plate beside him. He read as he ate, causing crumbs to fall over the pages of the borrowed book.

 

Once he finished the pie, his mom got up from the couch and grabbed his plate.

 

“All done?”

 

Dean nodded, but before his mom could leave with the plate, Dean stopped her. He brought his fingers to his chin before extending his arm down, in the direction of his mother.

 

“Thank you.” Dean signed.

 

His mother, recognising the sign, smiled with her eyes slightly glassy. She leant down and kissed her son’s head,

 

“You’re welcome, Dean,” she said.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Three
Chocolate Brownies

 

Present Day: September 2018

 

Two weeks later when Claire stopped by, Dean was waiting for her.

 

She looked surprised when she saw Dean sitting at her usual table, with a cappuccino and chocolate brownie in front of her seat.

 

“A chocolate brownie?” Claire signed as she sat down. “How unoriginal.”

 

“Hey…” Dean laughed, “no one can resist a good chocolate brownie.”

 

Claire narrowed her eyes at him but after some hesitation, took a bite of the brownie. As she chewed on it, she shrugged signing: “You’re right.”

 

“Of course I’m right.” Dean replied, leaning back in his chair. “Plus, chocolate brownies are good anywhere, anytime. And for your story, brownies are a great apology dessert to bake when you know you’ve fucked up.”

 

FLASHBACK: June 1997

 

It was the summer before Fourth Grade and for the first time that whole summer, Dean had woken up early. He practically bounded down the stairs and into the kitchen, where his mom was already up and baking for the day.

 

It was mid-June and Dean was having a pool party.

 

Dean helped his mom bake through the morning and got the snacks and the backyard ready for the afternoon. His mother came out to put trays of treats on the backyard table, before sitting down next to him.

 

“Dean… Are you sure you don’t want to invite Cas? It’s not too late… After all, he lives across the road.”

 

Dean had invited a fair amount of his classmates to the pool party this afternoon. He’d invited all the boys, including Benny and Garth. He had also invited Charlie, who was pretty much “one of the boys”. Castiel—or Cas as Dean and his family now called him—had not been on the invite list.

 

Dean pulled the balloon away from his lips and sighed. “I do want to invite Cas, Mom. He’s my best friend. But… The other boys don’t like him and they’re mean to him. They don’t know him and they think he’s strange. I don’t want Cas to be upset. He also can’t swim and he can’t talk to anyone but me. I don’t think he would have a good time… he’d be better off staying home.”

 

Dean could tell his mom didn’t agree, but she didn’t argue with him. She just patted him on the shoulder and wandered back inside to continue getting everything ready. Dean, determined with his choice, kept blowing up the balloons and feeling excited for the day’s events. He’d hang out with Cas the next day and everything would be fine.

 

~*~

 

As fate would have it, everything was not fine.

 

The next day as soon as Dean had gotten up, he had wandered across the road to Cas’ to see if he wanted to hang out. He had noticed something was wrong the minute Michael answered the door. The older man seemed cross with Dean, a scowl on his face as soon as the younger boy had greeted him. However, he reluctantly let Dean in and told him Cas was in his room.

 

As he walked down the hall to Cas’ room, he came across Gabriel—one of Cas’ brothers. Gabriel was nineteen, ten years Castiel and Dean’s senior and was currently away for college. He was home for the summer, but Dean rarely saw him. Upon seeing Dean, Gabriel glared and scoffed, retreating back into his bedroom. Dean looked at the closed door with shock, wondering what on Earth he had done wrong.

 

Once he made it to Cas’ bedroom and opened the door, he greeted his friend with a large grin. He became disheartened when he saw his friend didn’t do the same.

 

“What’s wrong?” Dean signed, taking a hesitant step into the room.

 

Cas, who was sitting at his desk, ignored Dean and continued to sketch into his book. Dean shut the door behind him and walked over to Cas, going to place his hand on his friend’s shoulder. But before he could, Cas got up and stormed to the other side of the room and away from Dean, piercing him in an angry gaze.

 

“Go away!”

 

Dean’s eyes widened and he felt like he had been punched in the stomach. “What! Why?”

 

“Why?!” Cas’ stare got darker as his hands furiously formed the sign. “Why do you think?”

 

Dean lifted his hands to sign: “I don’t know!” until he remembered the previous day’s events.

 

“The pool party?”

 

“I saw out the window.” Cas pointed to his bedroom window that overlooked the front yard. “I first saw Benny pull up. Then Matthew, then Isiah and Gordon. Charlie and Garth. I was confused. Why were all these people at your house and I wasn’t?”

 

Dean felt a pang deep in his chest as he saw Cas’ eyes begin to well up with tears.

 

“I am never invited to parties. Michael told me it didn’t matter, because I had you. He always said it’s better to have a great best friend then a lot of bad friends. You’re not my best friend, you’re mean. You’re just like all of them, you don’t want to be my friend.”

 

Cas turned away from Dean to hide his tears, but Dean could hear his soft cries. Dean took a few moments to process what Cas had signed to him—he still wasn’t fluent in ASL (although the books and tutoring from Miss Missouri helped) so certain signs Dean was foreign to.  He wanted to explain to Cas why he hadn’t invited him and how sorry he was, but he knew his friend was hurt  and wouldn’t ‘listen’ in a word Dean said.

 

So with a heavy heart and a pit in his stomach, Dean retreated from the room and back home.

 

 

 

A week passed and after many failed attempts of reconciliation, Dean gave up. He spent his time sitting by the living room window with a book, watching the Shurley house for any sign of movement. For the most part, all he saw was Michael leave for work in the mornings. Sometimes he’d see Gabriel leave as well, but at those points he hid away from the window, afraid of what Cas’ older brother would do to him. Though there was never sign of Cas, no matter how many sorry cards and letters Dean stuck in the mailbox.

 

It was the Sunday morning, a week after Dean’s betrayal. Dean was in his usual perch by the window and was surprised to see the Shurley clan hustling and bustling out in the front yard. Michael was in and out through the front door, loading bags into the trunk of their four-door sedan. Hannah, Cas’ eldest sister, was sitting on the front step with their brother Inias—the two of them eating pop tarts and laughing. Gabriel and Cas’ other sister Muriel were leaning against Muriel’s car, obviously waiting for their ‘cue’ to leave. Dean watched as Michael came out with the last of the bags, Cas trailing behind him with his backpack. However, Dean noticed they weren’t alone and a third boy had joined them. Dean gritted his teeth when he realised it was Balthazar, Cas’ cousin.

 

Dean met Balthazar at Cas’ 7th birthday party, back in July of 1995. Balthazar lived in England with his mom and dad but all three of them travelled to America every summer. Dean thought Balthazar was a spoilt, entitled brat—obnoxious in every right. The two of them disliked each other from the moment they met, so it worked out that Balthazar was only around two months of the year. Dean had forgotten Balthazar was visiting, especially since Cas disliked his cousin as well.

 

As he watched them head over to Michael’s car, realisation dawned over Dean. They were going on their annual camping trip, the one they went on at the end of June every year. Dean had been invited the past two years and he’d assumed he was going to go again this year. Instead, Cas had obviously invited Balthazar.

 

Dean watched as Muriel, Anna and Gabriel left in Muriel’s car, whereas Michael, Cas, Balthazar and Inias hopped into the sedan. Tears stung Dean’s eyes as he watched the sedan drive away, knowing he’d really hurt his friend, even though he hadn’t meant to. He knew then that cards and letters wouldn’t cut it, he really needed to find another way to make it up to his friend.

 

 

The following Sunday afternoon, Dean watched from the front porch of the Shurley’s as the sedan pulled into the driveway. He stood up hesitantly, his heart thumping in his chest as the car came to a stop. He saw Michael narrow his eyes at him through the windscreen before turning and facing someone in the backseat. It only took a few seconds for the back door to open and immediately, Dean’s gaze fell upon blue eyes.

 

Cas closed the door behind him and tentatively approached Dean. He lifted his hands to sign, but Dean stopped him with a shake of his head.

 

“Sorry… I need to sign this before I forget. I got Miss Missouri to teach it to me yesterday.”

 

When Castiel didn’t make a move to stop him, Dean continued.

 

“I know the other boys in the class don’t like you and they can be mean, so I thought you didn’t want to come. I know you don’t swim and you have a hard time being around a lot of people, especially when they can’t understand you. I thought you wouldn’t want to come so I didn’t invite you. I realise now that even if you didn’t want to come, it’s still nice to be invited. Mom was very cross with me over what I did and I’m sorry.”

 

Dean paused for a moment, his brain trying to remember the signs.

 

“I’m sorry…for hurting you. For not inviting you. For being a horrible friend.” Dean signed the word ‘bad’ but mouthed horrible—which made Cas crack a smile. “When I think of my friends, I think of Charlie and Benny and Garth but you are my best friend. Like you said, it isn’t important to have lots of bad friends but one true best friend. I shouldn’t care about all those boys in our class, especially because they’re so mean. I should care about you. So I promise from now on, I will try and be a good best friend to you. Because I’m really, really sorry for not being a good friend lately. I really hope you can forgive me.”

 

Cas was silent for a while, pausing as he took in what Dean said to him. Dean anxiously waited, the hammering in his chest getting faster and faster. For a moment, it looked like Cas was still upset with him. Then, Cas signed three words that made all the tension in Dean’s chest dissipate.

 

“I forgive you.”

 

Dean then stumbled back as Cas barrelled into him, enclosing him in a tight hug. Dean grinned and hugged back, having missed his best friend over the past two weeks of not seeing each other. Cas pulled away after a few seconds and pointed to the container sitting on the step behind Dean.

 

“What’s that?” Cas signed.

 

“Chocolate brownie.” Dean replied, fingerspelling the desserts name. “I know how much you love chocolate and I wanted to make you something to say sorry. Mom let me have the kitchen all to myself, I didn’t need any help!”

 

Cas grinned and walked past Dean, grabbing the container. He gave it to Dean before indicating over to the sidewalk. “Want to sit and eat them while I tell you all about the trip?”

 

Dean and Cas sat on the sidewalk for the rest of the afternoon, only being interrupted by Michael coming out to give them hats and sunscreen. The two of them ate the whole batch of brownies as Cas went on a tangent about his entire time camping, only having to stop every now and then by Dean who was struggling to catch up. Most of Cas’ comments came from the subject of Balthazar, Cas claiming his cousin whined the entire trip and he’d kicked Cas in his sleep.

 

“I’m never going camping without you again.” Cas told Dean.

 

“I’m glad.” Dean responded.

 

Cas then began to tell another embarrassing story about Balthazar, as the sun slowly began to descend into the night.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Four
Three Cheese Muffins

 

Present Day: September 2018

 

By the time September neared its end, Dean begun to really look forward to his visits from Claire.

 

On their usual Wednesday afternoon, Claire sauntered up to the counter, pointing at one of Dean’s savoury items.

 

“What’s the story with that one?”

 

Dean looked over at to where the teenager was pointing, to see one of the three cheese muffins. He took it out of the display and put it on a plate. He punched in the order for Claire before passing it onto the barista. He turned to see Claire still waiting expectantly.

 

“There is no story.”

 

All Claire had to do was raise an eyebrow before Dean sighed.

 

“Alright, you got me. But give me five minutes, okay kid?”

 

FLASHBACK: May 1999

 

 

Graduating from elementary school shouldn’t be an exciting affair but if you had a mother such as Mary Winchester, there was no way it couldn’t be. The late spring air was filled with warmth and euphoria as the families of the graduating students piled themselves into the backyard of the Winchester home. Parents mingled around each other, snacking on the food Mary provided and talking about their plans for the summer. Michael was the only one who stood more on the sidelines, spending most of the party with his girlfriend, Duma. Cas being one of the isolated children of the group, and Michael not exactly being a parent per say, made him not entirely interested in socialising, unless it was with Mary or John.

 

The graduating children invaded the backyard, most of them swam in the pool while the others ran around like headless chickens. Dean spent his time talking to everyone, from the parents of his classmates to Charlie, Benny and Garth. However the whole time, Cas was glued to his side, his friend still uncomfortable with most of their classmates.

 

Dean spent most of the afternoon by the pool with Cas and most of his evening eating dinner with his classmates. By the time the party neared its end, Dean and Cas were curled up in the living room with Sam, playing monopoly with the youngest Winchester as he’d felt left out the entire night. When the remaining guests left, all three boys were sent up to bed, Mary claiming they’d had: “Enough excitement for the day.”

 

Although Dean laid in his bed and Cas on the mattress on the floor, neither of the boys could sleep. They spent an hour signing to each other until Mary walked in to scold them when Dean accidentally laughed too loud. They then spent the next thirty minutes laying in wide awake silence. When Dean was sure both his parents were asleep, he got out of bed and helped Cas up off the mattress. The two boys quietly snuck downstairs and into the kitchen, where Dean went in search for something to eat. Despite the amount of food they ate that night and the sugar that buzzed in their veins, the both of them were still in need of food. Dean rummaged in the fridge to find a container of three cheese muffins, obviously left over from the party. Dean silently grabbed the container out, before dragging Cas out to the backyard.

 

The outside air was still warm, despite it being close to midnight. The two boys stumbled down to the pool, sitting beside it and dipping their feet in. Dean opened the container and the two of them noiselessly ate them, satisfied, their stomachs no longer—mostly—empty.

 

 

After some time, Cas signed. “I’m scared.”

 

Dean turned to his friend in confusion. “What? Why are you scared?”

 

Cas shrugged. “Everything is going to change now. We’re in middle school. Nothing is going to be the same.”

 

Dean paused for a few moments, thinking to himself on a way to reassure his friend. Of course things were going to change, that much was true. They were going to middle school and from what the teachers told them, it was a lot different to elementary school. There were going to be different classes, different subjects and different friendship groups. Things were going to change, but it didn’t mean everything had to change.

 

Dean turned to fully face his friend, Cas staring back at him with a frown on his face.

 

“Let’s make a promise.” Dean signed. “Despite how silly it might be. We should make a promise to stick together and be there for each other no matter what else changes around us. We should remain best friends no matter what.”

 

Dean grinned.

 

“Call it a ‘new school year resolution’.”

 

Cas inaudibly laughed at that.

 

“Deal.”

 

The two of them shook hands and just like that, the promise was made. However, as soon as they let go of each other, a sound pierced the serenity of the night.

 

“DEAN WINCHESTER!”

 

Dean’s eyes widened and Cas tilted his head in confusion. Though before the other boy could question it, Dean grabbed his hand and hoisted him up. The two of them ran back into the house, ready to await their fate.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Five
Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

Present Day: October 2018

 

Sam decided the only time he was free to facetime his older brother was on a Wednesday afternoon in October.

 

The two brothers hadn’t spoken in a while, both being too busy to sit down for a video chat. Dean was running the bakery and hadn’t travelled home in years, whereas Sam was busy with his attorney job over in San Francisco. Most of his free time was also occupied through planning his wedding to his fiancé Eileen.

 

“How’s the bakery going?” Sam asked and Dean talked about the profit of the place and the recipes the customers seemed to enjoy. Sam didn’t have a baking bone in his body, obviously not getting the same gene carried down from Mary to Dean. However, Sam had grown up with his mother’s desserts and was happy to see her recipes making other people happy through Dean.

 

“How’s the wedding planning going?” Dean asked and listened to his brother go on a tangent about whether they should have lilies or roses at the wedding reception. Dean, not knowing nor caring about flowers, listened with a slight disinterest.

 

“Have you talked to Mom or Dad recently?” Sam questioned at the end of his rattling. Dean affirmed he had, he’d spoken to them over the phone on the weekend. Sam told Dean about how he and Eileen visited them over the summer.

 

“They miss you.” Sam told Dean and Dean clenched his fists in agitation. He only wanted to have a video chat with his brother, he didn’t need the long bullshit guilt trip that went along with it.

 

However, before he could begin to yell at his brother, he was saved by the door to the kitchen opening. Kevin, his employee, walked in.

 

“Sorry to bother you Dean but there is someone out here to see you.”

 

Remembering it was time for his weekly visit from Claire, Dean grinned and bid an abrupt farewell to his brother—Sam protesting as Dean ended the call. Dean wandered out of the kitchen and into the bakery, where Claire stood waiting at the till. She asked for a latte and a few of the chocolate chip cookies before retreating to her usual spot. Dean had to complete a few errands around the bakery and by the time he sat down across from Claire, she’d nearly finished her cookies.

 

“Have you ever tried chocolate chip cookies with peanut butter?” She asked. “I feel like you are missing out on a huge marketing tool there.”

 

Dean rolled his eyes. “I’ve never exactly been a fan of peanut butter, we never had it growing up because Cas was allergic to peanuts. Plus, we never really needed to add peanut butter as baking these cookies was probably one of my favourite things to do with Cas.”

 

FLASHBACK: September 1999

 

Dean always knew something was wrong when Cas wouldn’t walk home with him.

 

The first time it happened was when Cas was mad at him over stealing his pencils in the 2nd grade. The second time was when Cas’ older brother Inias had been in a car incident and Cas left school with Michael to go and visit him in hospital. The third time it happened was a few weeks into 6th grade—their first year in middle school.

 

It was a Friday afternoon and Dean waited twenty minutes for Cas to meet him out the front of the school. He waited and waited and waited. Upon realising Cas wasn’t there, he sulked home—upset his friend hadn’t let him know. The two of them had completely different schedules now they were in middle school, but they still shared lunch together. At lunch Cas had been fine. He spent most of the time laughing at a story Dean told him about 2nd period science. He also told Dean about Gordan Walker being sent to the principal’s office during their AP English. The two of them shared their lunches with one another and promised to meet after school as they parted ways to their final classes. Dean was confused as to why, all of a sudden, Cas hadn’t wanted to walk home with him.

 

Instead of going straight home, Dean ran from the school to his street and right up to the Shurley’s house. He knocked on the door three times, wishing that Michael had already installed the light doorbell that he promised Cas he’d add now he was in middle school. He hoped Duma was home to answer the door. However when the door opened, it was Michael who answered. It not only puzzled Dean but made him suspicious—Michael was meant to be at work, why on Earth was he home?

 

“Good afternoon Dean.” Michael greeted.

 

“Where’s Cas?” Dean immediately asked, getting straight to the point. Although he knew it was quite rude how he was speaking to Michael, his concern for his best friend’s wellbeing was more important to him at that point.

 

“Upstairs in his room.” Michael replied. Dean went to walk past Michael into the house but the older man stopped him, a frown on his face. “Castiel is unwell with an ear ache and doesn’t want visitors. He should be back to school by Monday—you can see him then.”

 

With a forced smile, Michael stepped back into the house and shut the door behind him, leaving Dean standing shocked and frustrated on the front step. He now definitely knew something was wrong. Michael was very stiff and visibly agitated and despite how hard he tried to keep his composure, Dean knew he was lying. Dean had known Michael most of his life and despite the amount of times the older man had attempted to lie to him, Dean always knew when he was. It was how he had discovered that Santa wasn’t real.

 

He also knew if it was just an earache, Michael would never have stopped Dean from seeing Cas. Cas had chronic earaches—he had several a year. Every time, Dean was over with Cas, keeping his friend company through his pain. Michael liked that Dean came over and was by Cas’ side during those times. In fact, Michael invited him over most of the time.

 

With determination running through his veins, Dean went home with a plan. He may not be able to see Cas right now, but he would soon.

 

~*~

 

Later that evening, Dean watched as Michael left the house. Every Friday night was the nights that Dean spent over at the Shurley’s. It was how he knew that every Friday night, Michael had to attend business dinners for his firm. He watched as Michael drove away towards the city, leaving the gateway to Cas wide open. After waiting a few minutes to make sure Michael had well and truly left—Dean prepared to strike.

 

He walked across the road with his overnight bag, telling his mom he was heading over to Cas’. He hadn’t told her about what happened that afternoon, as he knew she would just tell him to leave Cas alone. Dean couldn’t however, especially when he didn’t know what was truly wrong with his best friend.

 

He walked up to the door and knocked. It didn’t take long for the door to open and for Dean to come face to face with Michael’s fiancée Duma. Dean liked Duma, a lotin fact, she was practically a second mom to him. He’d become incredibly close to her over the summer, as she had moved into the Shurley home a week after school was let out. In July, Michael proposed to her and had enlisted both the help of Cas and Dean to pull it off. Despite her tough exterior, especially as being a medical resident, she had a softness inside of her that only her close relatives could see. She especially had a soft spot for Dean, which was shown by the genuine smile that graced her lips as soon as she registered it was him.

 

“Hi Dean. Are you here for the sleepover? I think we’re going to be postponing it tonight. Castiel isn’t well.”

 

“Let me guess… earache?” Dean asked, raising an eyebrow. “You and I both know if Cas had an earache, I’d been in there with him. There is something you and Michael are hiding.”

 

Duma had a frown on her face. She glanced back and up the stairs in the direction of where Cas’ room was.

 

“Michael said Castiel should be…”

 

“Left alone?” Dean cut her off. Duma looked hesitant and Dean sighed. “Sorry ma’am, it’s just… I’m worried about Cas okay? He’s my best friend and I know something is wrong with him. I just… I need to see him.”

 

Duma paused for a few seconds and after one last glance up the stairs, she stepped away from the door to let Dean in.

 

“Just… just be careful with him, okay Dean? I’m going out on a limb here for you because I know you care about Castiel and… and he needs you right now. Despite the fact Michael might disagree.”

 

Dean nodded. “I promise to be careful.”

 

With that he left Duma at the door and headed up the stairs towards Cas’ room.

 

He was quick to get to Cas’ room, but was very cautious in opening the door. He turned the doorknob slowly, carefully edging himself into the room to see Cas. As soon as he got a good look into the room, he found his friend hunched over his desk, sketching. His face was hidden out of view by his arms. He slowly walked into the room, slinging his bag off and placing it on floor beside the door. He then approached his friend and carefully touched him on the shoulder.

 

Cas immediately whipped his head towards Dean, his eyes wide. It was then Dean instantly saw it—the reason why Cas had not walked home with him. His face was badly bruised, red tender marks covering at least 80% of his head. One of Cas’ eyes was swollen and there was a large red gash just above his eyelid, where a ring or something similar had obviously made contact. Dean took in his friend’s appearance and for a shell shocked moment, he was silent.

 

Then… all he could see was red.

 

“What happened?!” Dean yelled and signed, anger filling every fibre of his being. “WHO DID THIS TO YOU?”

 

Cas didn’t answer and instead turned his face away from Dean. Dean stopped him, gently grabbing Cas’ face in both of his hands so he could take another good look at him. He then stepped away from Cas and put his hands on top of his head, pulling at his hair in harsh, angry tugs.

 

“I’m going to kill them.” Dean growled, not bothering to sign for Cas—too angry to even attempt. “Whoever did this I’m going to kill them. They think what they did to you was bad? Oh... just wait until I’m done with them. I’m going to grab a knife, a big one. One of my dad’s butcher knives. I know how to work a knife, but they don’t know that. They have no idea what’s coming for them. I’m going to grab a knife and I’m going to hide out at school. As soon as they’re alone, as soon as they think nothing’s going to happen, I’m going to attack. Jump them when they least expect it. Once I do, I’m going to…”

 

Dean was stopped mid his rant by two hands gripping his wrists. He immediately locked eyes with Castiel who trapped him in his piercing gaze. He watched as Cas purposefully took a very deep breath, emphasising what he was doing to Dean. With a flash of annoyance, Dean played along—taking a large deep breath in and out. He kept doing so, keeping his eyes locked on Cas’. He didn’t look at any other part of his friend’s face, not wanting the fury to consume him again. He just kept breathing: in and out, in and out—until soon, he could feel the calm wash over him.

 

When Cas was sure Dean was composed enough, he let go of his friend’s wrists. Dean was then pulled into a hug and all of a sudden, he felt his friend begin to shudder. He was crying, finally letting it all out now Dean was there. Dean wasn’t much of a crier himself, having been raised with the mentality; boys don’t cry. However, the thought of what his friend had gone through and the distress his friend was currently showing, Dean couldn’t help but break down into tears too.

 

The two of them cried for a long time, letting out the emotions that had built up between the both of them. After some time, they found themselves sitting on Cas’ bed, discussing what had happened. Cas explained that the three people who hurt him were immediately caught and a suspension was being put into place. Dean tried to get Cas to tell him the names of the three bastards, but his friend wouldn’t budge. Dean asked Cas why he didn’t tell him and Cas said he didn’t want Dean to worry or get mad. Dean reminded Cas of their ‘new school year resolution’ and made Cas promise to tell him next time.

 

After some time, the two of them headed downstairs into the living area to get started on their usual Friday night sleepover. Duma was in the kitchen and after checking the both of them were alright, she asked if they wanted to bake cookies. The three of them spent the next hour in the kitchen baking cookies—Dean doing most of the work since he happened to be better than both Duma and Cas combined. Cas spent most of the time bugging Dean, with the latter giggling and doing everything he could to stop his friend from being a nuisance.

 

Cas and Dean sat and watched the cookies bake, the two of them talking about their week with one another. Cas was in the “nerd” classes as Dean called them, and he was top of the class. As much as Dean teased his friend about it, he was actually incredibly proud. When the cookies were baked and cooled, Duma placed them on a plate and brought them into the living room. The three of them cuddled up on the couch, with Duma putting on a movie for all of them to watch. After deciding on Forest Gump, the three of them settled in, letting the serenity of the movie help them wind down for the night.

 

Mid-way through the movie, Dean spotted that Cas had fallen asleep on him. He looked over at Duma who was staring back at him, a small smile on her face.

 

“Come on, kid.” She said, patting her shoulder. “You’ve had a tiring day.”

 

With that offer, Dean rested his head on Duma’s shoulder and after a few minutes, he let sleep take him.

 

It was one of Dean’s favourite nights that he can remember.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Six
Pumpkin Doughnuts

 

Present Day: October 2018

 

As October neared it’s close, the festive spirit of Halloween had filled Dean’s bakery.

Dean had decked his store out in Halloween decorations—from skeleton cut-outs on the windows to Jack-O-Lantern paper machés hanging from the ceiling. A bunch of Halloween treats filled the displays to celebrate the Holiday spirit, something Claire—on her usual visit—found agitating.

 
“Halloween is a commercial holiday.” She told Dean as he walked up to the till to serve her. “There is nothing fun about it.”

 
“There is plenty fun about it!” He replied, punching in an order for Claire to have. He printed it out and gave her a copy, she scowled as she saw he’d ordered his signature Halloween pumpkin doughnuts and pumpkin spiced latte. Dean grinned, passing the other receipt over to the barista.

 
“Halloween is a great holiday for all. Kids enjoy it, teens enjoy it, adults enjoy it. There aren’t many holidays where all ages can take pleasure out of it.”

 
Claire rolled her eyes and looked at the pumpkin doughnuts Dean was placing on a plate.

 
“Is there a story behind those festive desserts?”

 
Dean laughed as he passed the plate over the counter to her. “I’m sure you know by now there’s always a story to my creations.”

 

FLASHBACK: Halloween 2001

 

Dean and Cas’ 8th grade Halloween was the first time either of them weren’t going trick or treating, which had been a tradition since their first Halloween together in 1st grade. The two of them (and Sam when he was old enough) would wander around the neighbourhood with either John or Mary. They would go door to door until all three of them collected multitudes of candy. Then, they would head back to the Winchester home and pile into the basement—gorging themselves on the candy while watching kid-friendly Halloween movies.

 
However, this year was different.

 
Dean was finishing up the final touches on his costume when he heard the sound of the doorbell ring. Rolling his eyes, he left his room and ran down the stairs to the front door. He opened it wide to see his best friend standing there, dressed head to toe in his costume. Dean grinned.

 
“You don’t have to ring the doorbell. You know you are welcome here anytime.” Dean signed.

 
“I know, but Michael says it’s polite to.”

 

Dean laughed and closed the door behind him. As he did, his mother walked into the room. Every time his mom took them trick or treating, she wore the same angel costume: a white dress with a halo headband.

 

“Oh, you boys look adorable! I love your matching costumes. Real Bonnie and Clyde!”

 

Matching costumes were something Dean and Cas started doing in 2nd grade. It’d first begun as them both dressing up as pirates, then moved into sidekick pairings such as Batman and Robin. This year they were going as Bonnie and Clyde, a movie the two boys snuck out of the Winchester’s video drawer and watched late one night. The boys became obsessed with the movie from that point onwards. At first all the adults had been reluctant to let the boys continue their fascination. However, after some time and a lot of discussion, the adults eventually gave in.

 

Mary got out her camera and took pictures of the two boys, both of them pulling the most unoriginal poses side by side. They then got a few pictures with Sam, the 4th grader was dressed up as Indiana Jones. After Mary had taken an assortment of photographs, she put the camera away and ushered her three boys into the car.

 

Instead of going trick or treating with Mary and Sam, Dean and Cas were going to their first Halloween party.

 

Cassie Robinson was one of the most popular 8th graders in their school. She came from a wealthy family, one who lived on the nicer side of Lawrence. Dean and Cas were both well off in their own rights, but nothing compared to the success Cassie Robinson stemmed from. That Halloween she was holding a party at her home and to their surprise, both boys had been invited. Dean wasn’t as shocked, considering he was actually good friends with Cassie. The two of them were lab partners in Science and shared pretty much all their classes. Dean wouldn’t call himself popular, but he was likeable—so most of Cassie’s friendship group was familiar with him and would talk to him on occasion. The more astonishing part was Cas being invited. As much as Dean loved his best friend, he wasn’t quite as popular in school as Dean was. Cas rarely got invited to parties, most of the time they were the parties held by Dean or their small knit group of friends, such as Charlie, Benny and Garth.

 

So it was definitely shocking that Cas had been invited to the party of one of the most popular girls in the school.

 

Neither boy questioned it though and instead became excited about the prospect of going to a Halloween party together. They planned their costumes weeks in advance and spent the whole car ride to Cassie’s house signing excitedly between themselves. They stared out the window with awe as they drove into Cassie’s neighbourhood, cooing at the houses with the uphill driveways and the magnificent fountains that took up most of the front yards. Cassie’s house was just as spectacular as all of the others. Dark green hedges lined the front fence, shielding the marble columns and large eight paned windows of the front porch. Mary dropped the boys off, giving both Dean and Cas kisses on their cheeks, telling them to be good.

 

The two boys hopped out of the car and with one last wave, they walked up the front steps and into the house.

 

 ~*~

 

The beginning few hours of the party were a lot of fun.

 

Dean and Cas stuck by each other’s sides, mingling with their classmates and enjoying the party’s festivities. Dean and Cas spent most of their time talking with Benny, who was also invited to the party, but other times found themselves talking with the other 8th graders. As they talked, Dean signed to make sure Cas was able to understand the conversation. He hated it when Cas was left out, so he made sure he did his best to include Cas the entire night.

 

They talked, ate the lollies and sweets and even played a round of “soda pong” with two of their classmates. Not only was Dean having fun, but he could see Cas was too. It made Dean happy knowing his friend was enjoying himself.

 

At around 9pm, the two boys separated. Cas wandered off to the bathroom while Dean went to grab himself some water. With a small smile on his face, he headed towards the kitchen—only to stop dead at the sound of his own name.

 

“Winchester is attached to the guy.” He heard Gordon Walker chuckle. “Almost as if either of them would die without the other.”

 

“He’s so stupidly co-dependent with the Deafie. It’s almost as if Shurley’s dumbass can’t function without Winchester doing everything for him.” Alastair Smith chimed in.

 

“Why was the Deafie invited anyways?” Gordon asked.

 

“Because Cassie has a stupid crush on Winchester.” Tom Azazel said with a laugh. “She knew that his ass wouldn’t have come if she didn’t invite the loser as well.”

 

As all three of them laughed, Dean stormed away having heard enough. He bumped into Cas, who was returning from the bathroom, his friend immediately becoming concerned upon seeing Dean’s face.

 

“Come on, we’re leaving.” Dean signed. Cas, being the most trustworthy friend ever, didn’t hesitate and followed his friend.

 

Dean ended up calling Cas’ brother Gabriel, who had moved back home. He picked the two of them up 15 minutes later, the boys leaving without saying goodbye to anyone.

 

Gabe dropped them off back at the Winchester’s, Dean giving the older Shurley a few candy bars (which he’d snuck from the party) as payment. They walked inside to find Sam in the living room with a huge bucket of candy next to him. He was watching The Nightmare Before Christmas on the television and eating a Hershey’s bar.

 

Upon seeing the two boys, he grinned and waved.

 

“You’re up late, buddy.” Dean greeted him, walking over at ruffling his brother’s hair.

 

“Mom said I could have the day off school tomorrow.” Sam replied.

 

“He’s going to be doing schoolwork all day tomorrow however.” Mary said, walking into the room with a plate of doughnuts. “I just know he won’t be able to sleep well tonight with all that sugar. So, I felt he could have a sleep in tomorrow.”

 

She put the plate on the coffee table before raising an eyebrow at the two boys. “I gave you boys a curfew of 11pm. Why are you back so early?”

 

Dean turned to look over at Cas, who was staring right back at him. Cas didn’t know what Mary had said.

 

“Party was lame.” Dean said with a shrug. “Thought we’d have a lot more fun hanging here with Sammy.”

 

Mary smiled. “Well your brother did miss you. I made pumpkin doughnuts with a chocolate topping if you’re hungry. I’m also sure your brother will share his candy with you.”

 

Dean turned back to see Sam already offering up a chocolate bar. Dean laughed, heading over and grabbing it.

 

The two 8th graders settled into the couch, Sam changing the settings so the movie had subtitles. As the movie neared its end and the youngest Winchester had fallen asleep, Cas, who had been sketching the entire movie, stopped and tapped Dean on the shoulder. Dean who was in the middle of eating his fourth doughnut, paused mid bite to look over at his friend.

 

“Thank you.” Cas signed.

 

Dean furrowed his eyebrows. “For what?”

 

“I know why I was invited.” Cas told Dean. “I knew you wouldn’t go without me so I just went with you anyways. I know why you left and I just wanted to say thank you. I’m grateful for you as a friend.”

 

Dean grinned, swallowing the last of his doughnut and pulling his friend into a side hug.

 

“You don’t need to say thank you.” Dean signed as the credits began to roll on the TV. “Spending a Halloween here at home with both you and Sam is the best way I could spend the holiday.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Seven
Ham & Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

 

 

Present Day: November 2018

 

As Fall neared its descent into Winter, more and more people flocked to Dean’s bakery to order warm drinks to get them through the day.

 

Dean had been busy all day, completing order after order for the multitude of awaiting customers. So by the time Claire came in, the mass of customers had dissipated and Dean was exhausted.

 

“I’m so sick of sweet food.” Claire signed. “I think I’ve gained at least 10 pounds since coming here.”

 

Despite being tired, Dean picked up what Claire signed right on the first go. He realised the more time he spent with Claire, the more natural sign language was becoming for him again.

 

He watched as Claire scanned over the savoury foods, pointing to one in particular.

 

“What are ‘I’m sorry Toasties?’”

 

Dean didn’t answer her and just punched in the order, along with a black coffee. He then went into the kitchen to toast the sandwiches, bringing them back out to Claire with her coffee. He slumped down at the table and munched on a sandwich himself, already wanting to go to bed despite the fact it wasn’t even 4pm.

 

“Do people actually buy these to apologise to someone? I mean… they aren’t exactly special.” Claire signed after having her first half of the sandwich.

 

Dean just huffed a small laugh and leaned back in his chair. “When they hear the story about why it’s called that… hell yeah they do.”

 

FLASHBACK: September 2002

 

Dean was only a month into his freshman year and he already hated high school.

 

Not only was Dean struggling academically, he was having to work out more so he could stay on the football team. His first month of high school was a mix between hitting the gym every afternoon and then going home to study so he could keep up academically.

 

The worst part of it all though? He rarely saw Cas.

 

Now they were in high school, the two boys were on completely different schedules. Cas was in AP classes and ahead of Dean in every way possible. Dean was in mainstream and was struggling to cope with those classes as it were. Their break times were different, their homerooms were different, their entire timetables were different. They didn’t even walk home together half the time as Dean would be at the school gym late some afternoons whereas Cas would be at study group in the library until 5. Monday afternoons were practically the only time they could go home together—and even then the two boys rarely talked.

 

So Dean always ended up looking forward to Friday nights as that was the only time in the week he would truly get to spend time with Cas.

 

It was 6pm when Dean wandered over to the Shurley’s house, his overnight bag filled with candy the two of them could gorge themselves on. Dean also had Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on DVD in his bag, a movie the boys had both decided to watch that night in preparation for the new Harry Potter movie coming out in a few months. Dean was excited, especially to be able to tell Cas about everything that had happened that week.

 

He walked up to the front door and rang the light bell, waiting impatiently for someone to let him in. Dean wasn’t surprised to see that it was Duma who answered the door. However, he was surprised when she wouldn’t let him in.

 

“Dean…” Duma began with a sigh, “Castiel isn’t here.”

 

“What do you mean he isn’t here?” Dean asked. “We always hang out Friday nights.”

 

“I know but tonight he decided to go out to the movies with some new friends of his. He got invited during the day today. He was pretty much out the door before either Michael and I could talk to him.”

 

Dean felt a pang in his chest. He knew he and Cas had become distant lately, but he never imagined his friend would actually consider ditching him. Their Friday nights together had been in place since the 3rd grade and the fact Cas had now decided to turn his back on them? Dean felt betrayed.

 

He said a sad goodbye to Duma and headed back home to where his mom was cooking dinner. She attempted to talk to him, ask him what was wrong but he just stormed up the stairs and to his room, slamming the door.

 

So much for school not changing them.

 

~*~

 

Over the weekend, Cas attempted to come over but every time, Dean refused to see him. Mary tried to get him to let Cas in, but Dean being as stubborn as he was, declined each time. He was furious at Castiel, more so than he had ever been before. He knew it was something immature to get upset about, the fact his best friend didn’t hang out with him for one night. But to Dean, it was the principle of the situation. Cas hadn’t even bothered to send a message and let Dean know he wasn’t going to make it. The two had rarely seen each other and Dean had looked forward to that night more than ever. And Cas had just bailed without even a sorry.

 

When Monday rolled around, Dean attempted to fake sick. His mother, who was not an idiot, made him get up and sent him off to school. Dean sulked the entire walk to school and through all of his classes. He quietly did his work, silently ate his lunch… just going through the motions. He wasn’t happy, he wasn’t enthusiastic, but, he was there and that’s all he could do.

 

As soon as the last bell rang, Dean grabbed his bag and walked straight out of the school towards the home. Cas was probably busy anyhow, no need to wait around to walk home with him. He had new friends now, he could walk home with them.

 

Dean was five minutes from the house when he heard the sound of feet pattering on the sidewalk behind him. He turned around to see who it was… and immediately turned right back around. He attempted to walk faster but the person was running and soon they had overtaken him, stopping him in his tracks.

 

Cas’ blue eyes were sad as he stopped Dean, holding him still.

 

“Go away!” Dean signed angrily. Cas shook his head.

 

“No Dean.” Cas signed, using the name sign he had given Dean. Dean only saw it every now and then as Cas rarely used it when speaking to him. It was the letter ‘D’ accompanied by the sign for ‘green’. It was fairly similar to Cas’ name sign—which was the letter ‘C’ and the sign for blue.

 

“I’m sorry, I forgot we were meant to hang out—” Cas began to tell Dean, but Dean stopped him by pushing his hands down.

 

“I don’t want to hear your excuses.” He rapidly signed. “You forgot we were meant to hang out? We hang out every Friday night and you’re saying you forgot. I don’t believe you. I was looking forward to that night all week because I don’t see you anymore. I thought it was because we were both busy but I was wrong. I don’t think you want to be my friend anymore. You have all these smart fancy friends now. I’m just your neighbour, your dumb jock friend.”

 

Cas was shaking his head violently and went to interrupt but Dean shook his hands off and kept going.

 

“Save it. Go hang out with your new friends. I’m going home.”

 

And with that, Dean pushed past Cas and ran home, not glancing back once.

 

~*~

 

Later that evening, Dean was studying in his room and was interrupted by a knock on the door. He looked up from his work to see Cas standing in the doorway. Dean rolled his eyes and went back to his work, muttering ‘go away’ knowing full well Cas couldn’t hear him.

 

He attempted to get more work done, but his view was obscured by a foil wrapped item held out in front of him. It was some sort of food, judging by the mouthwatering scent. Dean attempted to ignore it, but Cas was persistent, shoving the item at him until Dean accepted it.

 

There was a handwritten note on the top and reluctantly, Dean opened it and began to read.

 

Dean,

 

I’m an assbutt or as you would say, a dumbass.

 

Starting freshman year, I became friends with some new people. People who liked studying geology like me, people who understood my love for mathematical equations and Shakespeare. People who shared my interests. Now before you get mad, you know that the two of us share a lot of other interests. Our love in movies, our love in television shows, our love of video games. And of course, our love for books. You have always been my best friend and the most important person in my life but the prospect of making new friends? People who didn’t just see me as Deaf unlike all our other previous classmates? I was excited.

 

I did begin to ignore you, even if I hadn’t meant to. I spent all my time studying with my new friends, going to class with them, being invited to hang out with them —I didn’t notice I was drifting away until it was too late. I truly did forget we were meant to hang out Friday night. There was a closed caption screening of a movie on Friday and my friends invited me to join. I was so excited about the prospect that I just left and went out, with just the briefest of goodbyes to Michael and Duma. I had completely forgotten about our plans until I got home. Duma was very, very cross with me.

 

I tried all weekend to apologise but you wouldn’t see me. I tried to seek you out at school today but I couldn’t find you. I figured we could talk after school, but as soon as I walked out I noticed you weren’t there. Garth saw you leave and he told me. I caught up to you and tried to apologise but you wouldn’t listen.

 

You are so stubborn; you know that?

 

So if you have kept reading, I want to say I’m sorry. Lately I’ve been taking our friendship for granted, which I shouldn’t have. As much as I’m happy with my new friendships, they shouldn’t replace the one true friendship I have had all these years.

 

I’m sorry Dean… can you forgive me?

 

Your very apologetic best friend,

-Cas

 

P.S. I made you a ham and grilled cheese sandwich or what I am now dubbing an I’m Sorry Toastie. You know I’m a lousy cook so I thought this would be the best I could do. I can’t make chocolate brownies like you.

 

Dean finished the letter and closed it, looking up at Cas.

 

Cas wore his heart on his sleeve so Dean was able to see how sorry his friend was. It was written all over his face, from his puppy dog eyes to his trembling lower lip. With a sigh, Dean waved his hand as if to say ‘come here’. Cas grinned and immediately collapsed onto Dean, giving him a tight hug.

 

Cas pulled away almost immediately, signing: “I’m sorry” over and over again.

 

“Don’t be sorry, it’s okay Cas.” Dean signed back. “I forgive you.”

 

Cas smiled gratefully. He then turned his back to Dean and dragged over his backpack, pulling out his homework.

 

“You want me to help you with Math?”

 

Relief poured over Dean and he nodded, pushing forward his homework to Cas and letting his friend read over it. He then grabbed one of the sandwiches and took a bite of it, watching his friend as he attempted to explain geometry to him.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight
Hot Cocoa

 

Present Day: November 2018

 

It was a Friday night and Dean had closed the store early.

 

His friends from back home had travelled to visit him for the weekend, only getting to Sioux Falls in the late afternoon. Benny had travelled from Louisiana, where he lived with his wife Andrea and their daughter. Garth lived in Missouri with his wife Bess, the two of them only having just married a few months prior. Charlie was currently living the single life in Wisconsin, working as an I.T. girl at a powerful firm. Due to the busy, successful lives they all lived, they rarely got the time to catch up. However, every once in a while, they made the time.

 

They gathered at Dean’s bakery for a drink, chatting and laughing about old anecdotes from their time in school. While Garth was in the middle of telling one of his many embarrassing stories, they were interrupted by the bakery door opening.

 

Dean looked up, ready to tell the intruder he was closed, when he came face to face with Claire.

 

The teenager hadn’t stopped by at her usual time that week, which had worried Dean. As much as he knew Claire was a busy senior in high school, she’d never missed one of their weekly meetings. He’d wanted to contact Jody to ask if Claire was alright, but didn’t want to come off as creepy for caring about the teenager. So, to say he was relieved to see Claire there, would be an understatement.

 

“Claire, come on in.” He greeted with a smile. The teenager appeared hesitant, but slowly made her way into the room.

 

“Claire I want to meet my friends, I think I’ve told you a bit about them. This is Benny, Garth and Charlie. Guys, this is the girl who lets me rattle onto her for about an hour each week—Claire.”

 

“Oh so this is the girl you torture every week?” Charlie piped up. “Claire… I am so, so sorry.”

 

“Fuck off.” Dean responded.

 

To which Charlie cried: “Language!”

 

Claire looked a little more at ease and gave the three strangers a small smile, signing: “It’s nice to meet you all.”

 

Claire turned to look at Dean to translate, until she noticed all three of them understood her.

 

“They know basic sign language.” Dean explained. “It’s hard not to when you grow up seeing Cas every…”

 

Dean trailed off apparently realising what he had just said. The room went deathly quiet and there was an awkward tension amongst them all. Claire seemed confused, but she didn’t say anything—instead she just stood still in her spot, looking between all four of them with worried eyes.

 

“Um… Claire is obviously wanting to talk to me so is it okay guys if we pick this up tomorrow?”

 

Before Claire could refuse and leave the old friends be, there was a hum of agreement. Charlie, Benny and Garth got up out of their seats and hugged Dean goodbye and one by one, left the bakery. Soon, it was just Dean and Claire left alone. Dean noticed Claire seemed quite distressed, so calmly—he placed his hand on her shoulder.

 

“Are you alright kiddo?”

 

Claire didn’t reply instead she sat down at the table, her face sullen and her eyes dark.

 

“Tomorrow’s my 18th birthday.” She signed.

 

Dean raised an eyebrow. “Happy Birthday?”

 

Claire rolled her eyes. She looked out the window and sighed, obviously debating what to say.

 

“Ever since I was young, I had a plan. As soon as I turned 18, I would run away from whatever foster home I was living in. I’d be independent, build a life on my own. No more CPS, no more bouncing from home to home, no more people telling me what to do. I’d be my own person again. When I moved in with Jody and Alex, for the first few weeks, I had that same mindset. Leave on my birthday. Though now…”

 

“You don’t know anymore. You’re conflicted.” Dean finished off.

 

Claire nodded and a distraught expression formed on her face. Dean smiled softly and got up, heading over into the kitchen. He could see Claire watching him confused as he turned on the espresso machine and grabbed two mugs. After some time, he headed back to the table, sliding the warm mug of hot cocoa in front of Claire.

 

“Whenever I was troubled, Mom used to always make me this drink.” Dean explained. “It was how I could think and work through my problems. Whether they were big or small.”

 

He saw Claire take a sip and saw how the tension in her shoulders began to decrease. After she took a few more sips, Dean decided to speak up again.

 

“Cas and I almost ran away once, back when things had gotten rough.”

 

 

FLASHBACK: October 2004

 

Two months into their Junior year of High School, Dean and Cas were struggling.

 

By now Dean had made the Varsity Football team and he’d caught up academically, but that didn’t mean all his problems had disappeared. Just a week prior, Dean had broken up with his long-time girlfriend—Lisa.

 

They had been dating since the second half of freshman year, and she had become a permanent fixture in Dean’s life. Yet, despite that long time dating, Dean still didn’t have the feelings he thought he should have for her. He saw her as a close companion, one of his good friends but did he love her? Did he see a long time future with her? No.

 

The realisation had led to them breaking up over one of the previous weekends. The following week, Dean spent his time trying to process it and the feelings he had. Yet in the same time, Lisa had already found a new partner. Dean was hurt and mad and angry. His life became almost suffocating. He hated school and hated all his classmates, his dad was always working, and his mom paid most of her attention to Sam. Dean was unhappy; plain and simple.

 

What he hadn’t realised was Cas was unhappy too, he was having a hard time as well. While Cas wasn’t struggling in the relationship department like Dean, he’d been struggling academically for the first time in his life. He’d gotten a new interpreter, a bored old man named Marvin Metatron who was the slowest signer Cas had ever met. He barely found himself keeping up with the notes and his teachers weren’t being helpful. I mean, Cas already had an interpreter—what else could they do?

 

It was one afternoon when they were studying in Dean’s room, that Cas begun to vent his frustrations. It led to Dean doing the same and soon, their schoolwork was abandoned as the two boys got hot and heated about how unfair their lives were. It took a fair amount of ranting until Dean came up with a brilliant idea, the idea popping into his head like the switch of a lightbulb.

 

“We should run away!”

 

At first, Cas thought Dean was crazy. But he saw the seriousness to Dean’s face and listened attentively as Dean discussed the plan. Although Cas was usually the sane and reasonable one… that afternoon, he found himself swept away with Dean’s plan.

 

Dean told Cas they could catch a bus to Maryland, where they could stay with his Aunt Ellen and cousin Jo. They owned a diner out there and were known for taking in misfit kids. Ellen had practically adopted a boy called Ash—a genius runaway—who had lived with Ellen and Jo for five years. Dean knew with some persuasion, his aunt would take them in with open arms. They could start fresh somewhere new at a whole different school. They could get their GED’s and find work or go off to college. Cas had been excited by the prospect since Maryland was home to the National Association of the Deaf and soon, the boys had planned their entire trip out. They planned to leave Friday night.

 

When the end of the week did roll around, the boys said goodnight to their families and went to bed at their usual times. They laid awake in bed, until their clocks struck midnight. Then, it was go time.

 

Dean grabbed his bag and glanced mournfully around his childhood bedroom. He then carefully snuck down the hall, sneaking a glance into his parents’ rooms and Sammy’s. He then silently went down the stairs and out the front door, quietly making his way to the end of the street.

 

Once he got there, he saw a figure waiting for him in the dark. Despite not being able to see his face, Dean knew it was Cas in a heartbeat. When he was able to fully see Cas in the dark, his friend signed: “You ready?”

 

Dean nodded and the two boys headed towards the bus station, leaving their street behind.

 

~*~

 

On the way to the station, they passed their local park—the park they spent most of their childhood playing at. It looked creepily deserted in the dark, almost as if it was abandoned. The light Fall breeze pushed the swings back and forth, the rusty chains making a screeching sound every time they did. Dean went to avoid it, to continue on their journey to inner Lawrence—but Cas stopped him.

 

He indicated to the park with his head. “For old times ‘sake?”

 

Reluctantly, Dean agreed.

 

The two of them headed over to the playground, Cas starting to run mid-walk—sprinting ahead of Dean. Dean laughed and chased after his friend, the two of them having an impromptu midnight tag game.

 

They climbed up and down the climbing frame, became dizzy from the merry-go-round, got friction burns on their arms from the slide. After all that excitement, the two boys finally settled down on the swings, keeping silent as they listened to the lulling noises of the night atmosphere. As the boys swung, Dean couldn’t help but remember how much they enjoyed this as kids. Cas loved the swings, more than most children did. Growing up he was a very tactile child, so the feeling of the wind whistling by his ears was something he found pleasant. He also loved the feeling deep in his stomach as the swing went high, almost as if he was soaring. Sometimes when they visited the park, Cas would spent up to an hour on the swings, a massive grin on his face the whole time. Dean never cared.

 

As they swung, more memories from their childhood came to a surface. Mary taking the boys to the park on their bikes every Saturday afternoon, Inias spinning them on the merry-go-round for hours on end—Dean taking Sam to the park when he was five, pushing the little boy on the swings until he couldn’t stop laughing. As more memories resurfaced, Dean felt a pang in his chest.

 

He slowed his swing to a stop, Cas following suit. They turned to face each other.

 

“I can’t leave Sammy. I can’t leave my parents either.” Dean signed.

 

Cas smiled.

 

“I can’t leave Michael and Duma. I can’t leave my siblings either. They would all worry about me.”

 

They sat in silence for a few moments, the two of them reflecting on their choice to stay in Lawrence. Suddenly, a loud obtrusive sound disrupted the quiet.

 

Cas was laughing.

 

It was a foreign sound to Dean as his friend didn’t laugh a lot. He did laugh, but most of it was inaudible, just quiet, breathy putters. Cas didn’t use his vocal chords regularly as he didn’t like to talk. Dean had never heard Cas speak, not once. He knew his friend could use vocal speech, since he went to a speech therapist for seven years. However, Cas found it unnecessary to speak and thus, didn’t. Considering his first language was ASL, Dean understood.

 

“Why do you always come up with the craziest ideas?” Cas signed through his laughter.

 

Dean grinned. “Why do you always go along with them?”

 

Cas’ laughter slowly died down so there was only a small smile on his face.

 

Dean sighed.

 

“We’ll be fine.”

 

Cas nodded. “We always are.”

 

 

Present Day:

 

“You’ll be fine.” Dean told Claire, long after the teenager finished her hot cocoa.

 

And just like his memory of Cas, Claire smiled and replied, “I always am.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine
Gingerbread Cookies

 

Present Day: December 2018

 

As soon as December 1st hit, Dean’s store exploded with Christmas festivities.

 

Every part of his store was decorated with holiday decorations, from snowman cut-outs to wreaths on all the doors. Tinsel hung off every bannister and counter and a small Christmas tree was put up in the corner of the store—the presents placed under it being gifts for the local homeless shelter Dean frequented with bakery goods. The most important part of the Christmas festivities though? The Christmas themed food.

 

December was a busy time for Dean as many patrons requested Christmas cookies and goodies for their holiday celebrations. So when it came to the Wednesday before Winter Break, Dean was flat out in the kitchen all day. When he finally emerged from the back after hours of baking, he was surprised to see Claire was already there, eating at her table.

 

“Hey kiddo.” Dean said, walking over to Claire. The teenager popped her head up, obviously in mid-chew. She had a half-eaten gingerbread cookie on a plate and an empty mug of what appeared to be coffee.

 

“Busy day?” Claire asked. Dean nodded.

 

He paused, looking back at the kitchen, remembering the amount of work he still had to do. However, there was the issue of Claire, who he couldn’t just abandon for his work. So after a few moments of deliberating, Dean sighed.

 

“Follow me.” He said, beginning to walk away. He turned back to see Claire pop the last of her cookie in her mouth before grabbing her bag. Dean heard the thumping of her combat boots as she followed behind him. As soon as they entered the kitchen, Dean was chucking a spare apron and hat at the confused teenager.

 

“Put those on, wash your hands and then come and grab some gloves.” He instructed. Claire, despite being quite stubborn, did as she was told. Dean, on the other hand, got his bench space prepared, grabbing a bowl of dough out of the fridge.

 

“So what are we making chef?” Claire signed, the smile on her face teasing. Dean rolled his eyes.

 

“Pretty cliché but we’re making gingerbread cookies. The masses seem to love them; everyone is always ordering some sort of batch. So I figured to help save me time, you could help me.”

 

Claire grinned and moved herself over so that she was side by side with Dean. She watched with interest as he showed her how to roll out the dough to the perfect consistency and use the cutters to get the best gingerbread shape. After she rolled out her own ball of dough, the two of them got to work—cutting the dough into tiny shapes: Stars, snowmen and the classic gingerbread man look.

 

“I’m guessing this is something you did with Cas?” Claire signed to Dean in the midst of their baking.

 

Dean laughs, looking back down at his dough. “As a matter of fact… we did.”

 

FLASHBACK: December 2005

 

In the Shurley family household, they focused on religion. With the siblings all being named after angels and bible figures, it wasn’t surprising.

 

Their whole lives, the family attended church regularly and basked in the true traditions of their Christianity. All their rituals, the small things they did on a weekly to annual basis, were all set by Castiel’s parents—from the first year of Michael’s life. Even after they died, the traditions continued to live on.

 

In the Winchester household, the celebrations mainly focused on the commercial aspect. There were Christmas soundtracks playing in their house all December long, Christmas decorations hung up on every wall and furniture from the first day of November. A huge Christmas tree in front of the living room window, decorated poorly in cheap baubles and holiday decorations Sam and Dean made through their childhood. It wasn’t anything special, but the Winchester family definitely focused a great amount on festivities.

 

Despite being 17, Dean still appreciated the holiday and the celebrations that went along with it. And, of course, one of his favourite parts? Being in the kitchen with his mom. She was one for baking Christmas desserts almost every day of the holidays, their house always smelled like sugar, flour and a multitude of different holiday spices. It was probably why Cas spent almost every night in the Winchester’s home, rather at his own house with his family.

 

It was a few days before Christmas, a crisp and cold afternoon. That night, Cas and his family were leaving for Washington, to visit their aunt and uncle for Christmas. In order to prepare himself for days on end of praying and church visits, Cas visited the Winchester household hours before, to spend some time with Dean and enjoy the other side of the holiday.

 

Mary left the boys in the kitchen creating gingerbread cookies, while she took Sam out to do some Christmas shopping. Only five minutes into their baking and the house began to smell like ginger and sugar as the boys got to work rolling out the dough. Jingle Bells played over the stereo and the boys laughed as each of them did weird, quirky dances to the song. Cas couldn’t hear the music, but as soon as he saw Dean attempting to dance, he did too. It was obvious neither of them had a rhythmic bone in their body. Cas had an excuse; Dean did not.

 

Once Dean finished rolling his dough, he looked over to his friend to see how he was going. Cas, being pretty incompetent in the kitchen, was focusing an intense amount of concentration onto the rolling pin. His eyes had hardened and his tongue peaked out between his lips, a face Dean had seen many times when they were studying. It was a face that always gave Dean a warm feeling inside… a fondness. It seemed however, lately the feeling had grown to almost overwhelming levels. Dean made himself quickly look away before he was caught staring for too long. He figured it was because in a few months the two of them would graduate and they would be off to college. This was their last Christmas in a stable environment, a familiar schedule. Soon… it would all change.

 

It was why as they began to indent the dough with different cookie cutter outlines, Dean signed “It’s weird to think how this time next year, we’ll be off at college.”

 

Cas paused what he was doing and grinned in agreement. “It’s exciting. Have you applied yet? Do you know what colleges you are wanting to go to?”

 

Dean nodded.

 

“KU, obviously. Kansas state, Wichita state. However, I’m really aiming to go to the university of Chicago. They have a great English program there, you know? It wouldn’t be too far from home but far enough.”

 

Cas nodded in agreement.

 

“What about you?” Dean asked.

 

“I’ve applied to all the Ivy Leagues for Business Management. I also applied to a few universities over in the Massachusetts area, since they have great business schools there.”

 

Dean’s stomach dropped, as if he’d swallowed a bowling ball full of lead. He thought he was prepared for the idea of him and Cas not going to the same universities, but actually knowing it was true, hurt more than he could imagine.

 

He played it cool though, forcing a smile at his friend. “Hey, it doesn’t matter if we’re at different colleges. We could be across the country from each other and still be close.”

 

Cas smiled back. “Brothers for life?”

 

Although the term made Dean feel oddly uncomfortable, he laughed and grinned a genuine smile.

 

“Brothers for life, man.”

 

 ~*~

 

After they placed the gingerbread in the oven, they went into the living room to watch a movie before Cas left. Cas got out his sketchbook and immediately began to draw, while Dean searched for a good Christmas movie to watch, deciding to settle on Home Alone.  As he settled onto the couch while the beginning titles began to play, Cas nudged him.

 

“Do you think we will be different people by next Christmas?” He asked, genuine worry in his eyes. As much as Dean wanted to say they wouldn’t be, he knew he couldn’t promise that. Cas was heading for the big leagues, for a college far more superior than Dean could ever attend. He would probably make tons of friends, end up dating some lovely girl, become top of his cohort and leave Dean behind. Dean always wondered if Cas had stuck around all these years because they were so close in proximity, rather than him actually enjoying Dean’s company.

 

Dean pushed those fears down and nudged Cas back.

 

“I sure hope not.”

 

Cas, who appeared happy with that, went back to his sketching. Dean refocused his attention on the movie, trying to let the beginning scene of the movie distract him from the dark thoughts that began to take over his mind.

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Ten
Red Velvet Cake

 

Present Day: December 2018

 

Christmas came and went, quicker than the blink of an eye.

 

With most Sioux Falls residence heading away for Christmas, along with Dean’s desire to not return to Kansas—he spent his Christmas in the store. Business went quiet over Christmas, especially on Christmas day where Dean had left the store open for customers. Apart from a few customers who didn’t celebrate the holiday or didn’t have any plans like Dean—the day was hauntingly quiet.

 

After several days the store’s business began to pick up again as locals returned from the holidays. Dean was happy to see his regulars return along with some new faces. However, he was most happy to see a familiar face pop into his store around 6pm.

 

Dean was about to close, his employee—Krissy—waiting at the till to leave. Dean just finished skyping with his brother, wishing the jerk a happy new year. He could tell Sam was disappointed in him for not returning home for another Christmas, just like he hadn’t for the past decade. Dean had gotten past the point of caring however, and just let his brother have his bitterness.

 

As he ended the call, he heard the store bell ring and he huffed, getting up to go deal with the last minute customer. Upon walking out of the kitchen, he was pleasantly surprised to see Claire standing at the counter. She was obviously back from visiting Jody’s parents for the holidays. Her demanding scowl was aimed straight at Krissy who seemed unfazed, staring right back with a bored expression.

 

Before Claire could go full demon on his employee, Dean stepped out of the doorway into full view. Upon Claire seeing him, her face softened and a small smile formed on her lips.

 

“Dean!”

 

Dean rolled his eyes fondly and turned to Krissy. “Don’t worry about staying to close up. You can go home now.”

 

Krissy didn’t need to be told twice.

 

Dean waited until the teenager was fully out the door before he turned his attention to Claire.

 

“You know… there’s a reason I’m your only friend.”

 

Claire poked her tongue out at him and leant on the counter. “The reason you are my only friend is because I get benefits out of it.”

 

“Such as?”

 

“You baking a cake for Jody’s New Year’s Eve party… which she insists you must come to.”

 

“Yeah I got the invite about a month ago.” Dean said with a small laugh. “Okay, what cake are you thinking?”

 

Turns out Claire had no idea what cake Jody wanted, so the two of them decided on taste testing a few. Dean pulled the samples from the refrigerated display, taking them over on plates to the table. Claire enjoyed the vanilla, was indifferent on the lemon and disliked the hazelnut. However, it was the red velvet which really stood out.

 

“It tastes similar to chocolate but different.” Claire signed.

 

Dean nodded. “It’s a similar recipe but there are a lot of variations to it. Plus, the cheese cream icing is definitely a unique taste in comparison to the buttermilk.”

 

It didn’t take much deliberation before Claire decided that was the flavour.

 

They cleared the plates and went up to the counter to write the order into Dean’s book.

 

“You know the first time I ever had red velvet cake was on the day of my graduation.” Dean said. “The first time my mum ever attempted to bake it was for my graduation cake.”

 

Dean finished the order and after some insistence from Claire, agreed to let her pay for it (“Only for half price!” Dean had demanded.). Before Claire left, she stared Dean down intensely.

 

“Jody is going to pick me up in 5 minutes, so you have to tell me this. What happened to you and Cas going to separate colleges?”

 

Dean grinned. “Funny you mentioned that.”

 

FLASHBACK: May 2006

 

 

It was an eerily familiar setting to the event that happened only seven years prior. From the sizzling of the meat on the barbeque, to the baked goods on the table—even the people who chattered and mingled around the backyard. As Dean watched the people go around them, he couldn’t believe they had gotten to this point again. However, instead of some frivolous party to celebrate them finishing their first phase of schooling—they were celebrating the fact that they finally did it.

 

He sat with Sam, the 8th grader not really one for parties. They sat by the back door, watching as their mom went in and out of the kitchen, bringing treat after treat out for the guests to enjoy. Their dad manned the barbeque, a beer in hand as he laughed with a few of the other parents. The rest of the party goers were enjoying the food and the socialisation—from the parents reminiscing about their child’s school memories, to the actual graduates commemorating the fact they no longer had to sit through endless hours of schooling.

 

“Why aren’t you with your friends?” Sam asked Dean after many minutes of sitting in silence. Dean shrugged.

 

“Waiting for Cas.” He replied.

 

The Shurley family had gone out for an early dinner to celebrate Cas’ graduation. Being the youngest of the six siblings and by far the smartest, his graduation was a big deal. Hannah and her husband flew in from Seattle, Gabriel and Inias travelled down from North Dakota and Muriel made a special visit from Amsterdam, where she’d been living abroad. Despite seeing them from time to time, Dean didn’t really know the siblings well… but for Cas—they were his entire world. So it made sense they had a special meal as a family together.

 

Dean wondered if they were celebrating Cas’ college applications while they were there too.

 

Cas was going places, having been accepted into five of the eight ivy league colleges. Dean had been there each time Cas had gotten an envelope—it had started out with Yale and then Harvard, followed by Dartmouth and Cornell before finishing with the University of Pennsylvania. Although Cas hadn’t been accepted into the other three nor Stanford, he hadn’t cared. Neither did Dean, he just unbelievably impressed. And proud.

 

However, it was obvious what his friend’s intentions were for college and soon, he’d leave Dean behind—no point bringing along baggage.

 

Dean wasn’t sure why he was so hard on himself, especially since he was also moving away. Dean still couldn’t believe he’d gotten the grades and academics to be accepted into the University of Chicago. He couldn’t believe that soon he’d be living in Illinois, studying as an English major at a widely recognised university. He was so excited when he found out, when he opened his own envelope. However, he wasn’t as ecstatic as Cas, who upon reading the words jumped with glee and tackled Dean in a hug.

 

Dean wasn’t sure why Cas had been so happy for him, considering his friend was the high achieving one. However, it was nice to be appreciated.

 

But as happy Dean was about his own achievements, it couldn’t help but block out the fact that not only was he moving away from home—away from Sammy and his mom and dad—that he’d be moving away from Cas and Cas would be moving away from him. Who knows if they would remain friends, let alone have any contact? The pang in his chest was too noticeable to be ignored.

 

Realising he was letting the dark thoughts plague his mind, Dean decided it was best he joined the party. Clapping his brother on the shoulder, Dean got up and began to mingle, socialising with the high school friends he knew he would most likely not see again. It was how Cas found him over an hour later, coming up to Dean in the middle of his conversation with Bela Talbot. Upon seeing Cas, Dean immediately turned his attention to him—causing Bela to walk off in a huff.

 

“Hey Cas, how was the dinner?” Dean asked.

 

Cas grinned. “Wonderful. It was great to see all my siblings again and they were all very happy for me. And guess what?”

 

“What?”

 

“Hannah and Joe are having a child! Hannah is four months pregnant!”

 

Although Dean didn’t know Hannah well, the second eldest sibling having never lived at home from the time Dean knew Cas, he was happy for her. He’d met her at the annual camping trips and saw the way she nurtured Castiel—he knew she would be a great mother.

 

Dean sent his congratulations, just as Michael wandered over, leaving Duma talking to Dean’s mom.

 

“Hi Dean,” He greeted, signing as he spoke. “I was wondering if we could have a word… in private.”

 

Both Dean and Cas looked at each other confused, not understanding why Michael would need to talk to Dean alone. However, with a nod, Dean hesitantly followed the older Shurley to a spot in the garden where they were a small distance away from everyone else.

 

“I know this is strange but I just wanted to speak to you without my little brother being nearby. Castiel might not be the best at reading lips, but he’s good enough you don’t want to have a private conversation in close sight range.”

 

Dean hummed his agreement.

 

“Castiel told me you were accepted into the University of Chicago, English major?”

 

“Yes sir.”

 

“I just wanted to give my congratulations. The university of Chicago is a great university… in fact I was almost going to go there myself. It was a close enough university to Pontiac, our hometown and has a fantastic business program. But I ended up going to Harvard—I needed to get away from my family for a while.”

 

Dean stared back, not knowing what to reply. He was fairly close with Michael, but Castiel’s older brother rarely spoke to him this in depth.

 

“I not only wanted to say my congratulations but that I’m proud of you Dean. You have always been like a younger brother to me as well, being so close with Cas your whole lives. I’ve watched you grow up, from an energetic little boy who was dead set on being best friends with my little brother—to an intelligent man who is kind, sincere and is going to do amazing things in your lifetime. I’m honored I’ve been able to be a part of your life and watch you grow up and… I can’t wait to see where life takes you.”

 

Now, Dean wasn’t a crier—yet Michael’s words made his eyes water. He took a step forward and soon he was enveloped in a hug. After a few seconds, they separated and with a nod and small smile, joined the party.

 

Cas was waiting for them, his face an expression of puzzlement.

 

“What was that about?” Cas asked Dean when Michael returned to Duma. Dean just shrugged.

 

“Don’t worry about it.”

 

As the hours ticked by, slowly the night neared its end. All that was left were the Winchesters and the Shurleys. Sam had gone off to bed while the parents sat on the porch, drinking and talking about random conversations Dean and Cas had no interest in. The two graduates instead settled by the pool, a fairly familiar situation to their elementary school graduation. However instead of three cheese muffins and sneaky conversations, they were eating red velvet cake and giggling as their parents drunkenly conversed.

 

Cas noted how oddly similar the situation was to the one eight years ago. Dean couldn’t help but agree. They were both silent for a moment before Dean pushed through his sadness to send a smile to his friend.

 

“So what Ivy League do I need to sneak my way into to say hi to you?”

 

From what Dean knew, Cas was still undecided between what college he wanted to attended. Last Dean remembered, he was trying to decide between Yale and Harvard.

 

Cas just shrugged. “I declined them. There was a university that offered better options for me instead.”

 

Dean was shocked. “You turned down the Ivy leagues? What university could possibly be good enough for you to turn down Harvard or Yale? Those are the dream colleges.”

 

Cas just grinned, staring at Dean intensely. “University of Chicago.”

 

Dean paused.

 

“What?”

 

“I’m going to Illinois too. In September I will officially be enrolled as a Business major in the University of Chicago.”

 

Instead of being happy like Dean thought he would be, instead a heavy layer of guilt flooded through him, triggering an aggression deep inside of him.

 

“Why would you do that?” Dean signed angrily.

 

Cas looked shocked. “What do you mean? I thought you would be happy!”

 

“I am happy… but…” Dean shook his head. “I don’t want you risking the ivy leagues for me. You’ll regret that for rest of your life Cas. You’ll resent me… I know it.”

 

Cas huffed, a scowl on his face. “Dean. You are only part of the reason I’m going there. For sure you were a big part. I don’t want to move away from you, you have been one of my biggest supports for so long and someone that I could not get used to seeing every day. However, there were other reasons. The University of Chicago is one of the best for business, it’s close to my hometown and also close to here. Well, at least not as far away as Harvard or Yale.”

 

Dean just stared back sadly. “Cas…”

 

“No Dean. So what if I want to ditch the ivy leagues and instead go to college with you? I’d rather be happy being with my best friend than be homesick at a fancy school where no one knows sign language. I’m not going to leave you feeling bad about this because I am happy with my decision okay? Michael and Duma are pleased too. They know that this is the best decision for me because they know I’m only going to be happy if I am somewhere with my best friend.”

 

For the second time that night, Dean felt way too overly emotional. He swallowed hard and leant over, pulling Cas in a hug. Although Dean knew his friend couldn’t hear, he leant over into his ear and whispered…

~*~

 

Present Day:

 

“Claire?”

 

Dean’s story was interrupted by a familiar face entering the bakery.

 

“Hi Jody.” The teenager signed.

 

“Yes, hi Jody. Good to see you.” Dean greeted, causing the sheriff to grin.

 

“You too Dean. It seems you’ve kept Claire hostage the past couple of months.” She said with a laugh before turning to Claire. “Did you decide on a cake?”

 

She nodded, before signing. “Red Velvet.”

 

Dean reiterated her words to Jody, since she still wasn’t fluent with sign language.

 

“Fantastic choice. I’ll come and pick it up New Year’s Eve. I expect to see you at the party Dean.”

 

Dean rolled his eyes. “I’ll be there.”

 

“You better. Now, we better get going so you can close up. You ready kiddo?”

 

Claire nodded and picked up her bag, getting up. She turned to Dean.

 

“What did you end up whispering to Cas?”

 

Jody just stared on confused, while Dean just forced a small smile and shook his head.

 

“Nothing important. Don’t worry.”

 

Although she was obviously not satisfied with that answer, Claire nodded and said her goodbyes. Jody did too and Dean watched as the two woman left his store, leaving it feeling emptier than before. With a sigh, Dean began to clean up—wiping down tables and stacking chairs.

 

The memory was still fresh in his mind, gnawing away at him as he cleaned. He was happy Jody had interrupted them because there was one point Dean had made a point of not mentioning to Claire.

 

That was the night he had realised that he was in love with his best friend.

 

And the words he had whispered still haunted him every single night for the past ten years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I love you.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven
Chocolate Pie

 

 

FLASHBACK: September 2006

 

“Jesus Dean, how many books do you need?” Sam groaned, dumping the cardboard box on the floor of the dorm. He wiped his sweaty hands on his jeans before turning to Cas, who walked in behind Sam with a box full of towels.

 

“Good luck trying to live here with books everywhere.” Sam signed, causing Cas to grin.

 

“Laugh it up bitch. At least I’m the big college kid and you’re just a high school freshman” Dean spoke, signing along as he did so.

 

Sam rolled his eyes.

 

“Jerk.” He said while flipping Dean off. Cas laughed inaudibly.

 

Unfortunately for Sam, that was the moment both Michael and John had walked in with boxes—the both of them sending the fourteen-year-old a stern look. Sam blushed and muttered an apology, before he shuffled downstairs to get more of the belongings.

 

Michael brought the box of Cas’ clothes over to his bed, helping his younger brother pack them into his set of drawers. John on the other hand scanned the room, drawing out a slow quiet whistle.

 

“This is a good place Dean.” He said. “And I saw the campus, you’ll be sure to meet plenty of girls here.”

 

Dean just hummed his agreement before turning back to the box he was unpacking. It was comments like that, that made his real feelings too hard to confess. He hadn’t told a single living soul about his attraction to Cas nor the fact that he may or may not be gay. Dean didn’t know how to label himself and the whole sexuality crisis was already too much for him to handle. Especially growing up in a misogynistic town with peers and male role models who were undoubtedly heterosexual. Dean decided to just brush his dad’s comment off, pretend as if he had been too focused to really hear it.

 

They were quick to move everything upstairs and once the last box was set down, they all decided to go out for lunch. Dean sat in between Cas and Sam, the two older boys making jokes with Sam, trying to include him as much as possible. Dean was going to miss his little brother, a lot. Mary fussed over them the whole entire time and Duma watched on, a fondness in her eyes. John and Michael watched the football game on the restaurants TV, making comments now and then about the gameplay.

 

Once lunch came to an end, all of them headed back to the dormitories to say the dreaded goodbyes. Dean was crushed in a hug by his mother as she tried not to weep too loudly into his shoulder. He was given a small hug by his father, who slipped a cheque for $200 into his hand. Michael and Duma both gave him small hugs, making him promise to look out for himself and Cas. And finally, he said an emotional goodbye to his brother—the both of them attempting not to cry.

 

Just before they left, Mary pulled something out of the car to give to both of the boys.

 

“It’s a chocolate pie.” She said, Dean signing along. “Although it’s not as homely as an apple pie… it’s still a pie. Just a small dessert to remind you to not forget who you are. Either of you.”

 

They both gave her another hug before accepting the pie in gratitude. They stood and waved goodbye as both cars drove off back to Kansas. They waited there until they could no longer see them in the distance.

 

They headed back upstairs and unpacked in silence, both too emotionally drained to communicate for the time being. They did this until the dorm was looking much less cluttered and more and more as if they were back home. They both decided that they should order something for dinner, and with them both being tired and just wanting a quiet night, they decided on pizza. Cas went to change into his sweats while Dean called up the local pizza place, the order of two large pepperonis with a side of garlic bread seared into his brain. Just as the person answered, Dean turned to look at Cas and immediately froze. His friend had his back turned to him… his shirtless, toned back. Dean felt embarrassed and flustered and was quick to become tongue tied. He fumbled over the order, sounding completely insane as he attempted to remember how to talk. However, he got the order through along with all their details. He wasn’t hesitant to hang up the phone, mortified.

 

Cas finished dressing and turned to face Dean, grinning.

 

“You order?”

 

Dean nodded and forced a smile back, trying to ignore the redness in his cheeks.

 

While Cas went over to his desk and began unpacking his art supplies, Dean ran a hand through his hair as he began to feel stressed.

 

He had no idea how he was going to survive.

 

~*~ 

Present Day: January 2019

 

Of course, Dean doesn’t tell Claire any of this.

 

Instead he tells her the simplified version. The version of: ‘Of course I have no gay feelings for my best friend’.

 

As he finished his story, Claire took another bite of her chocolate pie as she scribbled down another answer for her homework. She then looked up at Dean.

 

“Did the schoolwork get any easier? In college?” She asked with a sigh.

 

Dean laughed and got up.

 

“I wish I could tell you it does kiddo.”

 

Dean then left her to finish her dessert and homework, so that he could get back to serving customers. As he prepared the food, he looked over at the teenager as she stared intently at her school work.

 

If only he could tell her that for him, it didn’t get any easier. Any of it.

 

In fact,

 

It only got that much harder.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve
Milk and Sugar Cookies

 

Present Day: January 2019

 

Sometimes—the nightmares became too much for Dean.

 

He usually tried so hard to ignore them, the way they invaded his sleep and tormented his mind. He would usually wake up, attempt to forget about them as he went to work. Baking helped, humming helped, being busy helped. Though there were some nights, some dark nights when Dean just couldn’t shake the feeling off. Where he woke up screaming, the repressed feelings slowly attempting to claw their way out.

 

The clock on his side table read 2am, two hours before he was meant to wake. Dean glared at the bright green numbers and with a sigh, crawled out of bed. He made his way to his tiny kitchen, just big enough for him to cook the bare minimum. It was nothing compared to the kitchen at the bakery—but for Dean to afford to pay for all the utilities at his store, he needed a cheap apartment.

 

He immediately went into the fridge, pulling out the first drink he could find—a carton of milk. He rummaged through his cupboards for a glass, since he hated drinking out of the carton itself. As he poured the milk, he looked over at the other side of the counter and noticed the unopened packet of cookies. It was a small Christmas present from his employee Kevin, the high school student too broke to afford anything lavish. They were just plain sugar cookies, but Dean was eagerly reaching for them.

 

Dean had sugar cookies his whole life, it wasn’t as if they were uncommon to eat. But that particularly night, standing in the kitchen with the milk and cookies, made one particular memory form in his mind. It may have been the familiarity of the situation, or the fact that he was constantly revisiting his past with Claire—but for some reason, a memory he had long forgotten—returned.

 

FLASHBACK: May 2007

 

Almost a year ago, Dean was graduating high school. Now? He was stressing over his college freshman finals.

 

Dean was restless, knowing that the next day he had to take an exam for a subject he was completely clueless about. 11pm, 12am and 1am ticked by, with Dean awake and staring at the ceiling. By the time 2am came around, Dean pulled himself out of bed.

 

When he got up, he noticed that his friend was not in his bed. Instead, he had pulled his desk chair over to the one window of their dorm and was staring out of it. His sketchbook sat on his lap, something that Dean rarely saw Cas without. Cas hadn’t noticed that Dean was awake yet, or at least up in his bed, too distracted by something else. Dean took that opportunity to stare at the sight before him, at the way the moonlight gleamed against Cas’ dark hair or the way it accented the blue in his eyes and the shape of his nose and lips. Cas was handsome, there was no doubt—but to Dean, he was beautiful in every light.

 

A knotted feeling appeared in Dean’s chest, one that appeared every time he thought of Cas this way. So he turned away from his friend and went over to mini fridge they had in their dorm. They were running low on supplies, most of their soda and other snacks gone throughout their exam preparation. Plus, their fridge was quite small—it wasn’t as if they could put a whole lot in there.

 

There was a half empty carton of milk, which Dean grabbed out. He grabbed two disposable plastic cups and the tin of cookies that they always made sure was full. He then strolled across the dorm room to Cas, who seemed surprise to see him up and about.

 

“Did I wake you?” Cas asked. Dean shook his head.

 

“No I’ve been awake for hours. Got sick of trying to sleep.”

 

Cas nodded, before looking down at the items Dean was holding.

 

“Milk and cookies?’

 

Dean shrugged. Instead of replying he placed the two cups on the window sill, pouring milk into each of them. He then rested his back against the wall and sunk to the floor, sitting with his knees up. He opened the tin of cookies, offering it up to Cas- who accepted one without hesitation.

 

They ate their cookies and drank their milk in silence, the only sound that could be heard was that of the streets below. Dean was glad he chose a college that was situated in a busy town, knowing that he couldn’t be anywhere that was on the outskirts, where the sounds of traffic and people went dead silent at night. It made him wonder about Cas, who couldn’t hear any of it at all. Of course, Cas was used to it. He had no reason to even have thoughts about what the sound of traffic was like, or a helicopter passing by. Dean was curious why those who could hear wondered about what it was like to be deaf of hard of hearing, when those in the Deaf community never wondered about what it was like to be hearing?

 

“Why can’t you sleep?”

 

Dean looked over at his friend.

 

“I don’t know. Mind just won’t shut up.”

 

Cas nodded solemnly.

 

“Mine too.”

 

Dean looked over at his friend confused. Cas had studied far more than Dean had. He had his syllabus all prepared before they even started at UChicago. He had organised notes galore, labels and sticky notes, every transcription of the lectures printed out. Dean studied, of course. But as well as Cas? No way.

 

So the fact that Cas couldn’t sleep, surprised him.

 

That must have shown on his face, cause Cas sent him a small smile.

 

“You aren’t the only one that gets nervous from exams Dean.” He signed. “No matter how hard I study, I am always going to feel unprepared.”

 

Dean took another bite of the cookie and leant his head back against the wall.

 

“But why?”

 

“Because that’s life? No matter how hard we try to prepare, the world is always ready to surprise us. It’s why we feel frightened before an exam, or a job interview. Or when we take part in a new chapter in our lives. Such as moving here. It’s scary and that’s why our minds race. We can’t stop them.”

 

Dean snorted. “When did you get to be so philosophical?”

 

(Dean was not willing to admit he had a hard time fingerspelling that word).

 

Cas shrugged. “I get pretty reflective at this time at night. When it’s just me and my art. It also helps calm me down I guess, to think about why I’m so worried. To know that it doesn’t matter. I can be unprepared for something, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t succeed in it.”

 

“I wish I had that confidence.”

 

“Well just think Dean. Before you met me, you had no idea you were going to right?” He asked with a grin. “You were going to greet the neighbours; someone you maybe would only have brief conversations with over time. Then you met me and you truly wanted to get to know me. It was the same for me. Moving to a new place, being deaf and not knowing anyone—I didn’t expect to make friends. Then you showed up on my doorstep.”

 

Dean just stared at Cas, not knowing what to reply.

 

Cas grinned. “See Dean? It’s simple. Most of the time you are going to be not ready for what life throws at you. Doesn’t mean that it won’t be great, that it won’t be something you will be able to face.”

 

Dean didn’t respond, instead just finished his cookie and downed the rest of his milk. It was almost as if it was instant, the way his body became relaxed. He had been so tense for hours, doing almost everything to try and sleep. However, now his mind began to quiet down and he could practically feel his eyelids drooping. He turned to look at Cas, who was still staring at him.

 

“Thank you.” He signed.

 

“You’re welcome.” Cas replied, leaning over and ruffling Dean’s hair. Dean glared at him, but had no energy to fight. He got up from his seat, grabbing the milk carton and tin. After putting both of them away, he collapsed on his bed—finally ready to sleep.

 

It only took a few minutes but just as Dean was drifting off into sleep, he heard Cas get into his own bed too—slipping underneath the covers.

 

With a smile, he finally let the darkness take him.

 

~*~

 

Present Day:

 

Dean looked down to see that his glass was empty and that the cookie he had been eating had mysteriously (or not so mysteriously) vanished. So just like in his memory, he put his glass in the sink and the cookies into a tin, before heading to his bedroom.

 

Although the memory made his heart sting, just like any memory of Cas did, he still found them comforting. Cas had that effect on him, whether he was right beside him or in a distant recollection. He was always there with Dean, like a compass, directing him on where he needed to go.

 

Dean took the advice of his friend and got into bed and closed his eyes, determined to at least get an hours sleep before his alarm went off.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen
Chocolate Eclairs

 

 

Present Day: January 2019

 

On the following Wednesday afternoon, Dean was interrupted by a fiery blonde teenager hurdling herself into his bakery. She held up a pair of keys right above her, almost jumping in excitement. The patrons already in Dean’s store all turned to look at her, beyond confused.

 

She ran up to the counter and slammed the car keys down, a gigantic smile filling up her entire face.

 

“I got my license!” She signed.

 

While the customers were still confused, Dean just grinned right back.

 

“Congrats kiddo. I’m proud of you.” He said. “I guess this means you aren’t going to be hanging out with me on Wednesdays anymore, hey?”

 

Claire rolled her eyes. “Of course I am! How would I survive without your stories?”

 

“And my desserts.”

 

Claire grinned. “That too.”

 

Reminding about his selection, Claire had a quick look—deciding that she was going to try the chocolate eclairs. As Claire sat down, Dean got her order ready quickly—walking over to her with the plate of eclairs and a bonus vanilla milkshake. Claire looked up at him in confusion.

 

“What? After any momentous occasion, you always need a celebratory milkshake.”

 

Claire took a bite of the éclair instantly, obviously starving from the day’s events. As soon as she did, her eyes brightened and she sent Dean a huge thumbs up.

 

“Yum!” She signed. “Did your mom teach you how to make these?”

 

Dean laughed. “I’m glad you like them because no, actually. I taught myself how to make these and perfected the recipe myself.”

 

It was then that Claire leant in closer, her smile still shining on her face.

 

“Tell me the story.”

 

 

FLASHBACK: October 2007

 

Dean began to religiously bake in his sophomore year of college. He would bake almost every day, to the point that their fridge was so full with delicacies that he ended up having to give them out to his friends and anyone who dropped by to see Cas.

 

What he didn’t admit to anyone though, was that he had begun to religiously bake around the time that Cas got a girlfriend.

 

After freshman year and the torment of finals, Cas and Dean went back home to Kansas. While they were there, they made it their mission to rent an apartment instead of going back to the dormitories. With Dean having his job during the colleges semesters at the local café and Cas having a job at the local bookstore—the two of them had enough to rent a small crappy apartment close to UChicago. Although the place was a trash hole, it had a kitchen big enough for Dean to bake. That was something that Dean had missed living at the dormitories—baking.

 

So a few weeks before they were set to go back to college—the two of them moved in together.

 

It was going to great, just like Dean had expected it to. They had home cooked meals and got to buy a crappy television. They had their own rooms. Their own space. They were happy and content as they begun the semester.

 

Of course, that was until Cas brought her home.

 

Meg. Ugh, just the name irritated Dean.

 

Dean hadn’t thought that she would be Cas’ type. She was rebellious, outspoken, eccentric. She was charismatic and snarky, a girl who wouldn’t take anyone’s shit. She wore leather jacket, had a motorcycle license, smoked. She was a girl that Dean thought Cas would hate.

 

Dean thought that Cas’ type was more like Daphne Allen, Cas’ study partner for his freshman economics class. She was shy but overly kind. She had been so friendly to Dean since the moment he met her. Dean never admitted it but he was jealous of her, right down to his very core. But he never had the heart to be mean to her… not once.

 

Meg on the other hand? Ha.

 

Dean knew he shouldn’t be jealous, because he and Cas weren’t exclusive. Hell, for all his friend knew—they were just friends. Dean hadn’t told Cas his feelings, hadn’t told anyone about his feelings. He knew it was pointless.

 

He had tried dating over the past year, tried to get his mind off of his friend. However, after many failed attempts of dating he realised that it was pointless. Girls were boring, guys just downright scared him. All he wanted was Cas. His mind just fixated on Cas.

 

As Cas began to date Meg—he began to spend more time out with her. Soon, Dean was rarely seeing his best friend, apart for some brief conversations extremely late at night or just before breakfast. With Cas’ schedule being taken up by college and work also, his friend rarely had time to spare.

 

It hurt Dean, even though he knew it shouldn’t. He felt irrational, as if he’d just been shot up with teenage hormones. All he wanted was for Cas to be happy and that he was. He was settled into his classes, had a good job and a girlfriend who he was obviously infatuated by. Cas was happy, so Dean should be happy for him too right? It made Dean guilty that he wasn’t. Not even a little bit.

 

So… all in all… he found himself baking.

 

It was how Cas found him one night in October.

 

Dean was in the kitchen, glazing the éclair buns with chocolate, when his friend walked in.

 

“Hi Dean!” Cas greeted cheerfully. “That smells good. What are you making?”

 

“Chocolate eclairs.” Dean signed as soon as he put the piping bag down.

 

“Can I help in anyway?”

 

Dean raised an eyebrow. “It’s a Friday night. Don’t you normally go out with Meg tonight?”

 

Cas put down his bag and keys and walked fully into the kitchen, leaning against the counter. “Usually. However, Meg wanted to see her friends tonight. And I wanted to see you. It’s been so long since we have hung out. I thought a night in was in order.”

 

Dean smiled. “Yeah. I’ve missed you Cas.”

 

“I’ve missed you too Dean.”

 

Dean finishes up the desserts and leaves them to chill while he helps Cas choose a movie. After questioning Cas’s sanity for even suggesting Just Like Heaven, they decide on Jurassic Park. The movie went by quickly, with Dean commenting on things he would have done better in the situation and Cas making comments on how ridiculous things were. As the credits rolled, Dean got up to get the eclairs while Cas got the sequel ready.

 

 

They watched the next movie together while eating the dessert, both of them settled and relaxed  into the couch. It reminded Dean of their usual Friday nights, the ones they used to have growing up.

 

Dean focused his attention on Cas and the movie, wanting to make this a night to remember.

 

Wanting to forget about Meg for just one night.

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Fourteen
Vanilla Cupcake

 

Present Day: January 2019

 

On 7am on the morning of his 31st birthday, Dean was serving coffees.

 

However, he wasn’t just serving coffees. He was serving coffees to the most impatient of people. Shop owners, teachers, parents—all people who needed their daily caffeine fix before a day of errands and work. People huffed and tapped their feet, crossed their arms and narrowed their eyes at Dean. They were an intolerant bunch of people, but they were Dean’s most loyal of customers.

 

Dean was quick to make the coffees, from the cappuccinos to the lattes to the whipped mochas. He made drink after drink, served pastry after pastry—yelling each order out as he did so. He did this until he was down to the last takeaway cup.

 

He handed the last customer their coffee, breathing a sigh of relief when he realised that rush was over for a moment. He thought about sitting down for a moment, having a minute to himself before his day got that much busier. However, it was then that he noticed a figure waiting in line. A new customer. Great.

 

He sighed and forced on his most enthusiastic customer smile. He then turned to them, the greeting on the tip of his tongue. That was until he noticed who exactly was standing in line.

 

“Happy Birthday!” Claire signed, a big grin on her face. It was then that Dean remembered that he had briefly mentioned to Claire the previous week that it was his birthday.

 

Before Dean could say anything, the teenager pulled out a small container from her school bag. Opening the lid, it revealed a cupcake inside. It looked to be a simple vanilla cupcake, covered in pre-packaged frosting (the smell of sugar was highly overwhelming). Claire had obviously also attempted to use an icing pen, his name spelled out sloppily on top in blue icing. A bright grin came to his face at the gesture and with a look of gratitude, he accepted the container.

 

“I’m not much of a baker as you can see. But I wanted to do something special.” Claire explained.

 

“No… it’s perfect. It’s the thought that counts right? I’m honestly touched. I don’t think I’ve told you this but Cas attempted to do this for me once. Although… you’ve done a much better job than he did…”

 

FLASHBACK: January 2008

 

It was safe to say that on the morning of his 20th birthday, Dean was feeling a little down.

 

He had only just gotten back to college from two weeks off. He had spent his winter break back in Kansas with Cas, the Shurleys and Winchesters having a joint Christmas lunch. They two of them had enjoyed time with their families, Dean spending a lot of time chilling with Sam. He got to bake in the kitchen with his mom again and watch sports with his father. It was honestly as if he’d never left.

 

He also enjoyed being away from college and back in his element with Cas. Although the two of them had spent all this time at college together, it wasn’t the same as being back home. They had classes and work and study to do. Cas, unfortunately, had Meg who took up a lot of his time. They only saw each other in brief periods at home, which was never what it used to be like for them. Being away back in Kansas, they saw each other everyday and spent hours on end together and with their families. It brought Dean back to a simpler time. A happier time.

 

But in the end, the pure bliss of being home could not remain. After two weeks, Cas and him left again, on a long journey back to Illinois. It wasn’t long before he was thrusted back into school work, the workload getting even heavier this semester. He was homesick and being buried in readings and assessments to the point that he was well and truly stressed.  And that was when his birthday happened to roll around.

 

On most of previous birthdays, he’d wake up to the smell of something sweet cooking in his kitchen. It was always a tradition that his mom bake him something for his birthday, most years it was pie but his mom had always been known to try something new every once in a while. He usually spent his birthdays with Sam and Cas . Cas was always invited along to the family birthday dinners. He would laugh as Sam and Dean bantered over Dean being another year older. On his 18th birthday two years ago, Sam had teased him so much that Dean had pushed him off of the dining chair.

 

There was no sweet scents or overly annoying brothers this year. Instead it was a gloomy Thursday in the Winter, where Dean had classes all day. From his Advanced Literature class to his study of Americanised pieces of work, Dean felt as if he was drowning. His textbooks were barely written in English, his notes were sloppy and ineligible—his brain was so tired from all the late nights that it could barely function. Despite being at college last year, he was lucky to not have classes on a Wednesday. His parents drove up and surprised him at his dorm and took him and Cas out to dinner to celebrate. However, with his dad working and Sam busy with school—they weren’t able to make the trip out this year. The thought of that weighed heavy on his mind.

 

So by the time he had walked home to the apartment, he was in quite a sour mood.

 

He unlocked the door and entered, walking through to the living area—only to pause at the sight in front of him.

 

Cas was standing in the middle of the living room, with a little store bought cupcake on a plate in his hands.

 

Cas holds out the plate for Dean, who hesitantly accepts it. Once his hands are free, Cas signs: “Happy Birthday!”

 

Dean is still confused… and surprised. He puts down the cupcake on the table beside him and put down his bag and keys. Once his hands were free, Cas continued.

 

“I know you are upset that you aren’t spending the day with family. I know you miss home. I know you must have had a miserable day at class. I just hope that… even if it’s only me, that I can make this an enjoyable birthday for you.”

 

Finally, Dean felt the grin come to his face and with a small shake of his head, he opened his arms up. Cas stepped into them and soon, the two of them were hugging. Dean melted into the touch, sunk into the warmth of his friend’s grip around him. It was comforting, especially after a long day of classes. Cas’ hug reminded him of when his mom would give him hot cocoa on a rainy day. It was inviting and comforting. Dean only realised that it had gone on a moment too long when his friend fidgeted, obviously becoming uncomfortable. Dean was quick to let go, embarrassed that he had over stepped.

 

“Thanks… for the cupcake.” He signed to diffuse the tension.

 

Cas grinned and shrugged. “It was the least I could do. Now, do you want to go get burgers? From that diner across the street?”

 

Dean beamed, his eyes shining. With an enthusiastic agreement, the two of them left the apartment for dinner. And despite his family not being there, despite the fact Sam wasn’t teasing him or the fact that the cupcake wasn’t baked by his own mother…

 

Dean couldn’t feel more at home.


~*~

 

Present Day:

 

As Dean finished his story, he noticed the line that is starting to get longer behind Claire. The next flood of customers was starting to arrive and boy, were they more impatient than the last.

 

“Sorry but I have to get back to work. Are you wanting to order anything?”

 

“Just a black coffee to go.”

 

Dean nods and enters the order. Before she walks off, he grabs the container and thanks her in sign language—causing her to smile in return. He then places the container under the counter, ready for him to eat during his break.

 

The next customer clears their throat and Dean looks up at them, his customer service smile already ready on his face.

 

“Welcome to Blue Thursday Bakery, what can I get for you today?”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen
Chocolate Flan

 

 

Present Day: February 2019

 

When Dean went to greet Claire the following Wednesday afternoon, he found her looking confused.

 

“What?”

 

“Why are there no Valentine’s Day stuff? Where are the red hearts? The sickly sweet desserts with the cheesy names? Where is the Dean Winchester that I know?”

 

Dean rolled his eyes. “There are no Valentine’s Day decorations up because I don’t celebrate it.”

 

Claire looked appalled. “What? You? You celebrate all the holidays.”

 

“Not Valentine’s Day I don’t.” He replied. “Plus… it isn’t even a holiday. It’s a commercial marketing tool so people go and spend money they don’t have on overpriced gifts for their loved ones. I hate it.”

 

Now instead of looking shocked, Claire just looked curious. She had that spark in her eye, that small sign that she knew something more was going on. Dean attempted to ignore it but Claire was stubborn. She leant forward, narrowing her eyes at him.

 

“What’s going on?” She asked.

 

“Nothing. Now, what would you like to order?”

 

She kept her gaze on him. “You’re lying about something. There is a reason you don’t celebrate it.”

 

“What would you like to order?”

 

“Stop trying to change the subject. You know I’m right, you’re just too scared to admit it.”

 

“Claire…”

 

“Really Dean, what’s going on? What aren’t you telling me?”

 

“Claire, I said enough!” Dean snapped, drawing the attention of a few nearby customers.

 

Dean watched as Claire’s face dropped and her gaze became dark. After quickly glaring at him, she turned around in a huff, storming out of the bakery. Dean took a moment for himself, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. He then took a deep breath and turned to face the customer who was waiting patiently at the counter.

 

“Sorry you had to see that.” He greeted them with. The customer, a middle aged woman, smiled in sympathy.

 

“Don’t worry about it.” She replied. “Teenage daughters, right?”

 

Dean forced a small smile. “Tell me about it.”

 

~*~

 

 

The rest of his Wednesday went slowly, along with the Thursday. Dean was distracted as he usually was around this time of year. However, after the whole situation with Claire, his brain was even more full. He went through his day as if he were a robot, doing everything mechanically while his mind was somewhere else. He may not have been as enthusiastic or as in tuned to his job as he usually was, but he got everything done.

 

It had been half an hour since the store closed and Dean was sweeping, not concentrating in the slightest on what he was doing. It was only when the store bell rang that he snapped out of his thoughts and let out a large sigh.

 

“Sorry, we’re closed.” He said. He turned around to face the person, to make sure they were leaving, only to realise that it happened to be Claire standing there. Dean wasn’t exactly surprised to see the teenager at his store, even if it wasn’t at the usual time—but he was surprised to see her there so soon. He knew Claire was stubborn, he thought she would of held a grudge for much longer.

 

Dean opened his mouth to say something but before he could, Claire was storming up to him signing.

 

“This is all about Cas, isn’t it?”

 

Dean froze for a split second, his insides churning at Claire’s words. He swallowed hard and took a small breath before shaking his head.

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about kid, now you might wanna head home to Jody. I’m trying to clean.”

 

Dean attempted to keep sweeping but before he could even blink, the broom was snatched out of his hand.

 

“Claire…”

 

The teenager just shot him a look, curling the broom up in the crook of her elbow so that she could still sign.

 

“No. You aren’t going to try work your way out of this as well.”

 

Her face softened.

 

“I couldn’t work it out at first, you know? Why he was in every single story. I understood that he was your best friend and that you cared about him a lot… but there was so much more to it than that. There was the way you spoke about him, the stories you told about him, the way your eyes lit up when you mentioned his name. It was almost as if he was the centre of your entire world.”

 

Dean could feel the blood draining from his face.

 

“I also couldn’t figure out why there was a sadness around him. You spoke about him in only past tense, as if he was a distant memory. I thought that maybe you had drifted apart or worse, that something really bad had happened to him. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised… it was something more than that. Right?”

 

Dean couldn’t look at Claire for a moment, his eyes clenched shut as he tried to wash away the feelings and memories that were itching to arise. He had repressed this memory for so long now, that he almost wanted to keep it there. He wanted to tell Claire to get out and to continue on with his errands. He had such a large desire too. But when he opened his eyes and saw her standing before him, he knew he couldn’t do it. The memory was resurfacing, clawing at the consciousness of his mind and no matter how hard he could have tried, there was no way he was going to drown it out again.

 

With a relenting sigh, Dean indicated to Claire’s usual spot. She took a hesitant step forward and rested the broom against the wall, before slowly walking to the table and sitting down.

 

Dean rolled the sleeves of his shirt up and with a small internal push, he too sat down at the table. They were quiet for a moment, an awkward silence filling the room. Claire was tense and rigid in her seat, obviously concerned that she had pushed too far. Dean on the other hand, tried to ignore the jitters inside of him, psyching himself up to speak.

 

He took a deep breath.

 

“I haven’t seen Cas in 11 years.”

 

FLASHBACK: Valentine’s Day, 2008

 

 

For some reason, Dean had always been a big fan of Valentine’s Day.

 

Actually it wasn’t “some” reason. The reason was his mother.

 

Mary Winchester had decorated her house in Valentine’s Day festivities leading up to the day. Although she herself knew that Valentine’s Day wasn’t a major holiday worth celebrating, unlike Easter and Christmas, she still like the idea behind it.

 

“It’s a holiday to celebrate love.” She would always say to Dean. “That makes it one special holiday.”

 

So Dean had always appreciated the sentiment. The chocolate boxes, the red hearts, the flowers and bears. However, this year? He hated Valentine’s Day. So fucking much.

 

Cause how can you celebrate a day of love, when the one you love doesn’t want to celebrate it with you?

 

Unfortunately, Cas and Meg were still together and better than ever. When Meg wasn’t over constantly, Cas was out at her’s. Dean still found himself rarely seeing his friend… to the point he practically began to long for him.

 

As soon as the two of them got back from winter break, there was an urgency from Cas to plan his Valentine’s Day date with Meg. Dean was not thrilled about the idea and tried for at least a week to deter Cas’ mind from it. However, his friend was persistent and after some puppy dog eye begging, Dean had been roped into help.

 

What’s worse than not being with one you love on Valentine’s Day? Helping them be with the one they love.

 

First job Dean had to help with was picking the venue. After much deliberation and much agitation, they picked a nice café that Dean had been to once or twice.

 

“Their burgers are to die for.” He had told Cas. “So if Meg likes them, make sure you order that.”

 

Then next it was planning what bouquet of flowers Cas was to bring. Dean had run off to a florist on his lunch break, asking them on advice on what the hell does he order for his roommate, to give to his girlfriend. He couldn’t believe he was doing this, neither could the florist. Thank goodness Cas had been there for him through thick and thin, because otherwise, he would of abandoned helping him long ago.

 

Thanks to the expertise of the florist, he was able to make up a nice colourful bouquet to be picked up on Valentine’s Day.

 

When it came to picking a present, Dean made Cas go do that. When Cas asked for advice on what to get, Dean had shrugged.

 

“I dunno man, get her something she’d like.” He had said. “You know… like if it was me. I’d like something cooking related or a new book… or something.”

 

Then of course came the attire, which Dean was adamant about not helping.

 

“I’m not going to help dress you up like a ken doll man.”

 

However, he did give Cas a quick suggestion.

 

“Smart casual. Don’t go too formal, don’t go too casual. A nice shirt and khakis would do.”

 

At that point, Dean thought he was done and didn’t need to help no more. He was about to leave to go do a grocery shop when Cas had stopped him, a pleading look in his eye.

 

Dean signed. “What now Cas?”

 

“I have one more favour and I promise that it’s the last one.”

 

Dean stood still and rolled his eyes, showing that he was listening.

 

“Would you be able to bake something? I know it’s a lot to ask but… the café is already expensive enough and I want something special… from the heart.”

 

Dean glared at his friend for a solid minute. He couldn’t believe that he was asking him for another favour, especially one that required him to bake. Dean loved baking, a lot. However, most of the time, he liked doing it for his family and friends. People he liked. Meg was 100% not on the people he liked list. So why in the hell would he bake a dessert for her?

 

Dean sighed. “Fine.”

 

Why? Because he was doing it for Cas.

 

Cas’ eyes lit up and he immediately pulled Dean into a hug. Dean was startled for a moment but was swiftly hugged his friend back. Their bodies slotted together like a puzzle piece, just how it had been since they were kids. Dean loved his hugs from Cas, the way they seemed to calm him when nothing else would. He’d pretty much do anything for those embraces.

 

Forget money; hugs from Cas were the best payment in the world.

 

 ~*~

 

Quickly the time ticked by and before he knew it, the day Dean was dreading was here.

 

Valentine’s Day.

 

It was a Thursday and up until 3pm in the afternoon, Dean had classes. He spent the day wallowing and scowling as couples all around him were more insufferable than ever. There was lots of kissing, hugs and the smell of chocolate and flowers in the air. It sickened Dean. He found himself more determined on school work than ever, paying close attention to what his lecturers were saying so that he could block out the sound of girls gushing over what their boyfriends bought them as a romantic gift.

 

Once his last class was done, Dean was slow to walk home. He knew what would happen when he got there. He would have to begin baking the flan. The flan he told Cas he’d make for his date. The thought never failed to make him nauseous.

He got home after a twenty-minute walk from the campus. He headed upstairs and began to bake immediately, creating the first part of the dessert. He decided on a chocolate flan as it was recently one of the newest desserts he had perfected and one that he knew Cas would like, since his friend was obsessed with chocolate. He didn’t care what Meg thought, or whether Meg would like it or not. His aim was to please Cas—that was it.

 

A couple of hours ticked by and finally, Dean had the flan baked and cooled—ready to go. Cas had asked… or begged him… to drop the flan off at the café at 7:30pm. So reluctantly, Dean made himself go look presentable so he wasn’t walking into the restaurant looking like a fish out of water. By the time he was ready it was 7:15, so he quickly bolted downstairs with the flan and called for a cab.

 

He arrived at the restaurant at 7:29 with a minute to spare. He noticed that it was surprisingly quiet for Valentine’s Day. There were no couples sitting out on the terrace… not even one person. Dean was more than confused, since he knew this place was well loved by the locals. With a sigh, he paid the driver and grabbed the flan out, closing the door behind him. Although nervous and ready for his heart to be broken, he surged forward with determination and pushed open the front door.

 

He didn’t know what he expected to see when he walked in; maybe candlelit tables with couples making heart eyes at each other or  hostess giving him a judging glance because he was there alone or even worse, Meg and Castiel sitting at a table making out with each other. All in all, those possibilities seemed to be more realistic then what he was seeing now. Because a quiet, empty café was not what he expected.

 

He stepped inside further, hearing the echo of his movement against the silent walls. At first, he figured that maybe the place was closed and that there was a last minute change of venue. He felt annoyed that he had come all this way and got his phone out to send an angry text to his best friend… which was when he heard the music.

 

Not just any music—Metallica.

 

The opening chords to Nothing Else Matters lulled from the next room and Dean immediately felt his head whip to the side, in the direction of the music. Curiosity plagued him and he found himself walking into the next room, to the main dining area, curious.

 

The second he entered the room, his eyes were immediately drawn to the man in the center of it. Cas stood next to a lone table, with the tables that were usually scattered around the room pushed off to the side. The table was set for two with a candle lit in the middle. Cas was grinning brightly at Dean, dressed in the attire that Dean had helped pick out for him and a bouquet of flowers with a neatly wrapped present clutched in his hand. At first, the sight made Dean stop in his tracks and his heart thump frantically in his chest. It was a sight he had envisioned in his head, a fantasy that he had always wanted to come true. Seeing Cas like that made him freeze, even if it was just for a moment.

 

However, reality was quick to come crashing down on him like a ton of bricks. He realised that this wasn’t for him—the reserved café, the elegant dinner, the flowers—even the music. It was all for Meg; Meg who happened to be Cas’ girlfriend. The girlfriend that Cas really wanted to spend Valentine’s Day with.

 

Dean forced a smile and shifted a little, acting as if the sight hadn’t fazed him. He walked over to Cas with the dessert, placing it on the table.

 

“Meg’s one lucky lady Cas.” He signed.

 

He expected Cas to nod or to say something cheesy like: no, I’m the lucky one. Instead, Cas placed the flowers and present down, before just staring back at Dean fondly.

 

“Meg’s not the lucky one.” He began and Dean prepared for the corny line to follow. However, instead what was said surprised him. “As this date isn’t for her.”

 

Dean pinned Cas with a puzzled look. “What do you mean?”

 

“This date wasn’t meant for Meg. It was meant for you.”

 

Dean blinked, the words at first not registering. At first, he felt as if he was hallucinating. That his brain had somehow made him think that the fantasy in his head was playing out in real life. He blinked again and he felt his heart begin to speed up in his chest. Cas was still looking at him, a cautious expression in his eyes. Did that just happen? Did… Cas actually just say that? By the time Dean blinked for a third time, the realisation had finally dawned upon him.

 

Cas seeing that Dean could not reply, took the opportunity to continue signing.

 

“I planned this whole date for you. Well actually, you planned this date. I got you to help me so you could plan the date you wanted.”

 

Dean couldn’t move his hands, his heart was beating rapidly and he breathed raggedly.

 

“I want to be with you Dean, I have wanted this for ages. I just couldn’t find the courage to do it… until now. I got you to run around everywhere so that you could feel invested in this date, so that it could be made just for you.”

 

He saw Cas stop signing, looking at Dean with that same wary expression. He took a half a step forward.

 

“Dean… what do you think?”

 

Dean lifted his hands to reply, to sign something back to Cas. His thoughts were racing in his mind, one after another, piling up so that Dean could barely think. There was a longing, an ache in his heart for this exact moment, a longing that should be filled now that it was finally happening. He wanted to be happy, excited, overwhelmed with joy. Instead, fear coursed through him like a wildfire. His mind remembered Meg, Cas’ actual girlfriend. Was Cas currently cheating on her? Was this just an elaborate prank?

 

Dean knew that Cas wasn’t like that, at least the logical part of him. However, his reasoning had abandoned him, left when his brain began to haywire. He went to sign, went to ask Cas what he meant. What did all of this mean? However, the adrenaline in his veins was far more superior to Dean’s rational thought and his fight or flight mode began to ping. His biology gave him no choice, either to argue the situation or to run away from it.

 

Unfortunately for Dean’s enigma of a brain, it decided to do both.

 

“Who told you?” He asked Cas, knowing full well that his friend couldn’t hear him. The blue eyed man sent him a look of bewilderment. He raised his hands to ask, but Dean was too caught in his own cycle of fear that he couldn’t acknowledge him.

 

“Is this just a game? Did you find out I had a crush on you and just decide to ask me out? Did Meg put you up to this? Did she think it was funny to torture me? I bet she did, she always thinks it’s fun.”

 

He took a breath and ran his fingers through his hair, tugging on the roots. He was facing away from Cas, so that he couldn’t see him.

 

“I… I don’t believe this is real.” He whispered to himself. “I can’t believe this is real. You… you are too good for me. You are better than me. This has to be a lie. You… you can’t like me.”

 

He turned back to Cas, who was looking at him with apprehension. His eyes were pained, almost as if he knew what Dean was going to say next.

 

With grief choking his lungs, Dean brought his hands up to sign.

 

“I’m sorry, I can’t do this.”

 

And with one swift move, he was out the door.

 

~*~

 

Present Day:

 

“I went away for a few months.” Dean explained. “I dropped out of college, ditched my friends, pretty much left all of my things behind. I hopped in my Impala and drove for miles and miles, using whatever cash I had left for gas. I was so lost and confused, but I felt guilty most of all. I kept remembering Cas’ face… it was like on repeat in my head. It’s why in the end I knew it was best that I had to go back in see him.”

 

“I found a culinary school towards the end of May, one in Nebraska. I applied, showed them a photo collection of all my desserts and it wasn’t long until I got an email of acceptance for the fall semester.  I was so excited and I immediately knew that I needed to tell Cas. So, it’s why I raced back home to see him and to apologise for everything. When I got there, I knocked on the door and waited, my heart was pounding so hard in my chest. When it opened, instead of Cas… I came face to face with Meg.”

 

Claire winced and Dean nodded.

 

“Yep… let’s just say, Meg has a mean right hook.”

 

Claire’s wince changed into a grimace.

 

“After she clocked me, she let me inside to give me a frozen bag of peas. She called me all sorts of names—called me a screw up, a fuck up of a human being. But I kept asking about Cas and finally she relented. She told me how after I’d left him… he’d been… heartbroken. He was devastated. She told me that after a few weeks he transferred, found another college to go to. I tried my hardest to get her to tell me which college but she down right refused.”

 

Dean paused for a moment to take a deep breath.

 

“He started attending there after Spring Break and he took all his stuff with him. Meg explained that she was only living there until the lease was up at the end of June. After that she basically kicked me out, told me that my stuff was in a storage locker and gave me the key for it. But… before I could leave she stopped me. She told me how her and Cas were only fake dating. How Cas had a crush on me and wanted to find out a way to see if I had one on him too. Like we were in high school. With that she slammed the door in my face and I haven’t seen her since.”

 

He sighed.

 

“After I picked up my things I headed home for Lawrence, trying to see if there was any way I could find Cas there. We didn’t use social media back then, not like we do now. So my only choice was to talk to Michael and Duma. They had refused to speak to me, even when I tried contacting them around ten times. Michael shut the door in my face once or twice. It was then that I gave up and after saying goodbye to my parents… I left Lawrence. For good. I haven’t been back there since and I haven’t wanted to. My parents understand… but they aren’t exactly happy with my decision.”

 

Another deep breath.

 

“I ended up heading straight to Nebraska and found a cheap apartment to rent. I got a job at another café and begun studying in September. I loved culinary school, way more then I loved my English course. Baking felt more natural and the more I learnt, the easier it became. I studied there for a few years, got my degree and then it was up to me to decide where I went from there. I headed up North and drove through Sioux Falls and I found myself staring up at a store which had gone bankrupt. I didn’t put any thought into it, just used the money my grandparents left me and bought it right there. And that’s where I’ve been ever since… here. I think I’ve only left to visit a few friends and Sam in San Francisco once. Other than that… I prefer to stay here.”

 

Claire looked at him with sad eyes and Dean clenched his fists as he tried to contain himself. He took a deep breath and stared Claire right in the eyes.

 

“The reason I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day… isn’t just because I miss Cas… it’s because I will never forgive myself for letting him go.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen
Raspberry Muffins

   

Claire

 

Claire’s earliest memory—the only memory of her parents—is them telling her a bedtime story.

 

She couldn’t have been older than three as she sat up in her old princess bed. A pink quilt laid over her lap and above her, glow in the dark planet stickers glittered like real stars in the sky. Her mother sat next to her, holding a large picture book of fairy tales. She couldn’t remember her mother’s voice, in her memory it’s just silent—nothing but the figures of her parents and the décor of the room. She remembered her father sitting at the end of her bed with a tired expression. His lips were curved into a small smile as he listened to his wife narrate and every now and then, he would send Claire a crossed eyed look, making her giggle.

 

Despite everything that happened afterwards, despite how painful the rest of her life was, Claire remembered being happy in that moment.

 

Maybe it was why she had such an appreciation of stories.

 

Being in the foster care system growing up, Claire fabricated these unique stories about her life. The one she told the most was about how her dad joined the angels. She would say he was off saving the world and her mother was searching in Heaven for him. Of course, there were other variations of this—but this was the most consistent one young Claire stuck to.

 

She found stories easier to cope with than the truth, which was that her dad left her and her mom when she was just three and that her mother overdosed by the time she was four. Leaving her with no parents and nowhere to go.

 

For a while the stories helped her get through, until the other children she came across began to make fun of her for it. As she grew older more repercussions came from her story telling. The older she got, the more she began to realise the true fate of her parents. She started telling stories less and less until she just stopped talking altogether.

 

It all made her realise that she wasn’t a story teller. The stories however, never seemed to leave her.

 

She was an avid reader and was always a big believer in happy endings. For a while, she never thought she’d get her own—not until she moved to Sioux Falls. It took time, but soon she began to feel safe in the home of Jody. After time she began to get along with Jody’s other daughter Alex. Alex introduced Claire to her circle of friends and before Claire knew it, she was enjoying school for the first time in her life. It was all thanks to Dean, whose stories cracked those tough walls around Claire’s heart. He brought her back to her childhood, in a time when stories were once upon a times and happily ever afters—to where the world could be magical. Claire owed him so much gratitude.

 

It’s how she realised that she couldn’t let Dean’s happy ending slip away.

 

She left the bakery in a rush after Dean ended his story, leaving the distraught man alone in his usual seat. Claire wanted nothing more to stay and comfort him, knowing the guilt of what he had done all those years ago was still tearing him up inside, but she had a bigger priority awaiting.

 

She remembered unlocking her car, ready to get in before she took one last look at Dean, who had his head buried in his hands. A sharp pain pierced her heart as she saw his shoulders begin to heave. Claire never saw Dean cry before… in fact she’d no idea he could. He always put up such a façade, the “I’m so tough” act. It seemed that it was what made him bottle up all those emotions and tonight, they were tumbling out.

 

Claire never felt more sure of what she needed to do.

 

She drove home, getting back at to the house at just past eight. As she walked in, she spotted Jody in the living room—watching some lousy reality TV show and eating leftover pizza.

 

“Hi Claire,” Jody greeted. “Have fun at Dean’s? I saved you some pizza.”

 

She stopped her sentence short as soon as she saw the serious expression on Claire’s face. She paused the TV.

 

“What’s up, kiddo?”

 

Claire took a breath to steady herself, the nerves in her stomach causing her heart to beat a mile a minute. She walked over to the whiteboard by the front door, the one she used to communicate. While Jody was making a persistent effort to learn ASL and could even hold small conversations, the conversations they were about to have was nowhere near her fluency.

 

Claire wrote her plan out onto the whiteboard, in small fine writing. When she was done, she handed it over to Jody with shaky hands. The sheriff looked at her confused and leant over to grab her reading glasses. Once she put them on, her eyes were glued to the whiteboard.

 

Claire fidgeted while Jody read, not being able to sit still. She was concerned as to how Jody would react and how she would take the news. Claire had school, assignments due, responsibilities to maintain. She knew the chances of Jody letting her go were extremely unlikely. So when Jody put the whiteboard down and turned her attention back to Claire, the teenager was prepared for the big NO.

 

Yet, Jody surprised her.

 

“Are you sure you want to go and do this? It may not be the best idea.”

 

Claire didn’t even need to think about it. She nodded.

 

Jody sighed looking back over at the whiteboard, a concerned look on her face.

 

“If you want to do this, if you need to do this then I will support you. You can take the car and I will give you some money to get by. You’re eighteen Claire, you don’t need to stay here if you truly don’t want to. However, I love you a lot and I’m worried that this is an excuse… that you are planning to run away.”

 

Jody’s words transported her back to the memory of sitting with Dean at the bakery. The day she was conflicted about whether or not she should run away and the story he told to convince her otherwise. The feelings, the thoughts, the reasons as to why she once wanted to run away, they weren’t there anymore. More like something of the past, something she needed to leave behind.

 

“I promise I won’t run away.” She signed slowly, hoping Jody would understand. “You’re my mom. Alex is my sister. I won’t leave you.”

 

It seemed as if Jody understood her words because she beamed. Through tear filled eyes she reached forward and pulled Claire into a hug, holding her tight.

 

“I just want you to be safe.” She whispered.

 

I will. Claire thought in her head, making a small silent promise to Jody.

 

Claire was quick to pack her bag, not needing much apart from the basic essentials. In the driveway she gave hugs goodbye to both Alex and Jody. Jody giving Claire some money for gas and food, while Alex promised Claire she would collect her schoolwork for her.

 

With one last wave she hopped into the car and sped off down the straight, watching as her family faded off into the darkness.

 

 ~*~

 

Her plan all started with her going to Lawrence, the town where most of Dean’s stories all came from. She knew that the possibility of Cas living there was unlikely, considering he moved away for college. However, she knew from what Dean indicated that Cas’ older brother, Michael, still lived there.

 

She had tried researching Cas before she left. However, there wasn’t anything to find. No social media posts, no employee reference. The only thing she found was an alumni post about Cas from Harvard. It then made her realise that was where Cas had gone when he moved away. He transferred to Harvard.

 

However, she found Cas’ older brother through Facebook. The profile picture was of a middle aged man taking a selfie with a gorgeous woman, the both of them smiling brightly at the camera. Upon clicking on the photo, Claire was able to see that the woman was tagged as Duma—which she knew about from the stories.

 

Michael’s profile didn’t reveal too much. Apart from him and Duma, there were no other family pictures. The only thing that indicated anything was that is location was set as Lawrence, Kansas. It provided Claire some comfort to know she wasn’t going for a complete dead end.

 

Claire drove straight to Lawrence with no stops, watching as the dark night sky slowly turned a pale pink. By the time she arrived at the outskirts of the city, the sun was halfway risen. Her eyes were getting tired, so her mind screamed at her to get coffee. So through navigating, she found her way into the city centre, parking alongside one of the streets that was lined with coffee shops.

 

Lawrence was surprisingly busy for 9am in the morning, people hustling and bustling about their days. Claire popped into the first coffee shop she could find. The relief that flooded through her as the caffeine entered her body was enough to give her back some of the motivation she lost. With determination, she drank her cup of coffee and had a look through the town, trying to see if she could find anything that connected her to the Shurley family.

 

She passed by any business firm she could see in a ten-mile radius, seeing if any of them showed a glimpse of the stranger she had seen on that online Facebook profile. She remembered Dean saying that he worked at one, so she hoped that he still did. However, after two hours of walking and driving around, she couldn’t see any man that looked similar and unless she wanted to go inside every single one and ask for him—it seemed like a dead end.

 

By 11:30, Claire was tired and was in search for a place to grab some lunch. She had parked her car and was strolling through the town, taking in the place Dean had once used to live. Upon heading for the busy centre again, she came across a large orange building which stood out like a store thumb. Confused, she headed a bit closer until the large sign came into view, showing that the building was actually the public library.

 

Claire wondered if there were any address books, any she could find pointing to where Michael Shurley lived. Any references there that could help her find them. So with a little more hope than what she had been feeling before, she walked straight into the building. Not having a membership card, Claire decided against going and attempting to scan for the books herself. Instead, she went straight up to the counter.

 

There was a middle aged woman sitting at the desk, typing on the computer. She had dark skin and short, black ringlets. She also had a large bright smile which upon seeing Claire, immediately brightened the room.

 

“Hello, what can I do for you dear?” She asked.

 

Claire signed for paper, trying to mouth the word the best she could.  However, it turns out she was in luck as the woman’s smile widened.

 

“Sorry.” She signed. “I didn’t realise you couldn’t hear me.”

 

“I can hear you.” Claire replied. “I’m not deaf. I’m mute.”

 

She showcased by signing the word for “mute”, with a fist facing her mouth. The woman just continued to smile.

 

“Well, no need for paper. Just sign to me what you are looking for.”

 

Claire signed asking if they had any address books or phone books from the past few years. The woman hummed and typed on the computer, her eyebrows furrowed.

 

“I’m sorry dear but I don’t think we do. We used to have plenty but without any need for them in recent years, I think they’ve been recycled.”

 

Those words probably should have diminished any hope that Claire had, if it wasn’t for what Claire had just spotted. She found herself staring at the woman’s name tag which read Missouri. It took Claire a second to place it, until she remembered the story of how Dean learnt sign language and she could feel her face lit up.

 

“I’m sorry, I was passing through and wanted to visit some relatives of a friend of mine. I think you know him? Dean?”

 

Missouri began to laugh softly. “Dean Winchester? Oh my, I haven’t seen that boy in years! Not since he was a loudmouth college student. How is he?”

 

“He’s good. He owns a bakery in Sioux Falls, where I live. He’s doing well.”

 

“I’m glad to hear it! Goodness, do his poor parents miss him. I see Mary every now and then at the supermarket. Of course they keep in touch but… it’s been a long time since he’s visited home.”

 

Claire nodded in reply. She knew how long it had been.

 

“So I’m assuming you are here to visit the Winchesters? Well they would be happy to see you! Now, I’m not usually fond of giving addresses to strangers but… I know for a fact that a friend of Dean’s is a friend of the family’s.”

 

Missouri pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled the address on it, before passing it to Claire.

 

“Say hi to Dean for me, will you? Tell him we all really miss him.” Missouri said.

 

“I will.” Claire replied, before saying her goodbyes.

 

She walked out of the library and forgetting about lunch, found her way straight to her car. After she plugged in the address to her GPS, she was quick to head off.

 

Turns out the address was only a good 15 minutes away, in a small suburban part of Lawrence. Along the way she passed the main high school, with the adjacent middle school—having no doubt that this is where Dean and Cas attended. She passed a couple of elementary schools, but had no idea which one was the one from the stories.

 

Upon entering Dean’s childhood street, she couldn’t say she was surprised. The street very much looked like the street an All-American boy would grow up on. From the white picket fences to the sturdy front porches. It looked like a place Claire wished she had grown up in, instead of being bounced from house to house.

 

When the GPS told her that Dean’s house was on her right, she came to an immediate stop. The house in question didn’t have a white picket fence, nor a porch. Instead it was a just a small two story home, with a small well-kept garden and a bright white front door. Claire could just imagine a young Dean playing out in that front garden and it was nice to put a setting to most of the stories.

 

She parked the car on the curb and turned her attention away from that house to the one across the street. The house had a similar look, no fence and no porch. There was a small path leading up to the front door from the driveway and the house across the street didn’t have a garden but rather a spacious front lawn. Otherwise, both houses were very similar.

 

Her heart was beating rapidly in her chest and swallowing hard, she got out of the car. She walked across the road, away from the Winchesters and over to the Shurleys. It was so weird that only days ago, she was just listening to these stories. It was almost strange that now she was a part of them.

 

She knocked on the front door hesitantly. Assuming both Michael and his wife were at work, Claire wasn’t expecting anyone to answer. However, it didn’t take long until she heard footsteps and the sound of the door unlocking. Claire barely had time to react before the door opened wide to reveal Michael Shurley.

 

Claire gulped, realising that this was it. This was her chance to help Dean.

 

“Yes?” Michael asked, probably not understanding why the strange girl in front of him was still silent.

 

“Are you Michael?” Claire asked. Even though she knew it was Michael, she figured it was best that she asked for clarification.

 

Michael raised an eyebrow. “Yes I am. What can I do for you?”

 

Here goes nothing.

 

“My name is Claire.” She said, fingerspelling her name. “I’m a friend of Dean’s.”

 

She only just got through making Dean’s name sign when Michael went to shut the door. Claire shot her foot out and stopped the door, sending a nasty glare towards him.

 

“Hear me out.”

 

 Michael scowled and seemed like he was going to make no move to budge. However, after some time, he sighed and stepped back.

 

“Come in.”

 

Claire went inside and followed Michael into the living room. The living room was neat and pristine. It featured a large white leather couch and two accompanying living chairs, all overlooking a large plasma screen perched on top of a fireplace. On the ledge of the fireplace, sat family pictures. Most of them featured Michael and five other people, which Claire assumed were his siblings. Claire wanted to take a good look at the pictures, see if she could get an idea of what Cas looked like. However, Michael had let her in despite his reluctance to do so. She didn’t want to push her luck.

 

As they sat down on the couch, Claire began to sign, immediately going into her story of how she knew Dean. At first, Michael’s face was stone cold, almost as if he didn’t even have the heart to hear a word about Dean. Though as Claire explained more and told more of the stories, she could see him beginning to soften.

 

As Claire began to near the end of her story, she looked to Michael with pleading eyes.

 

“Look, sir.” She began. “I’m a big believer in second chances. Years ago, life dealt me a bad hand and I was put into an unlucky situation. Dean helped me through that and gave me a second chance at a future. I want to do the same for him. All I ask is to talk to Cas. I won’t force him to do anything he doesn’t want to do. I just want to… talk.”

 

Michael was silent for a good few minutes, obviously attempting to process what Claire had said. After some time, he grabbed the notepad by the landline and scribbled something on it. He ripped it off and went to give it to Claire, hesitance in his eyes.

 

“You must know, that I am very protective of Castiel.” He said. “If I hear from him that you have harassed him in anyway…”

 

“I’ll be waiting for you to come and find me.” Claire replied with a cheeky grin. “I swear… I’ll go willingly.”

 

Michael just smiled softly, shaking his head.

 

“You remind me of him, you know? Dean. I can see why you get along.”

 

Claire seemed reluctant to reply to that, so Michael just smiled.

 

“The good parts. You remind me of the good parts of Dean. I promise, that was meant as a compliment.”

 

Claire got up then, the two of them saying polite goodbyes before Claire hastily made her exit. She tucked the sticky note into the pocket of her jeans and headed towards her car. As she got there, she stopped and looked towards the Winchester house, the one that stood in front of her in plain view.

 

She debated about going over. One the one hand, she was curious to see the house Dean grew up in and see what his parents were like. She knew they had to be nice. They had raised Dean and Dean adored them—that was all that mattered to her.

 

However, on the other hand, Claire was worried about how angry Dean would be if or when he found out. Despite all the stories he told, Claire knew he didn’t like it when people invaded his privacy. He would be absolutely livid if he found out the Claire had just happened to be visiting his childhood home. God, he would think she was a stalker.

 

Claire debated over which option with curiosity winning in favour. So up she went across the Winchester’s front lawn and with a surge of motivation, rang the doorbell.

 

Again, it only took a few moments for someone to answer the door. This time, instead of Michael Shurley—a middle aged woman with short blonde hair answered. She hadn’t looked like what Claire had pictured… but Claire herself wasn’t even sure what she had picture. Mary Winchester was an average height and had a slim build. She had pale skin and wrinkles by her eyes, showing the many years of wear that had been built from her constant smiles.

 

As if reading Claire’s mind, Mary smiled brightly at her.

 

“Hello, what may I help you with?”

 

“Are you Mary Winchester?” Claire asked, taking the time to fingerspell the words. She went out on a limb, hoping that Mary knew some sort of sign language. To her benefit, the woman smiled knowingly.

 

“Yes that’s me.” She responded.

 

“My name is Claire… I’m a friend of Dean’s from Sioux Falls. I was just driving through and thought I’d stop by… if that’s okay?”

 

Mary’s face immediately lit up and she eagerly invited Claire inside. It felt so surreal to Claire that she was inside the Winchester home. As she followed Mary through the house, all the stories burned in her brain like the imprint of a hot iron.

 

Upon entering the kitchen, Claire immediately realised what Dean had been describing in all of his stories. Just like in the bakery, the smell of sugar and flour was overwhelming. It was as if the whole room had been perfumed in the scent. Claire could also smell something tangier, another sweet smell in the midst of the others.

 

“I’m making raspberry muffins.” Mary said, making Claire realise that was what she smelt. “Would you like some?”

 

Claire would have been polite and refused—however her stomach grumbled and she decided that she couldn’t turn them down. Especially since this was the woman’s who recipes she feasted upon back in Sioux Falls.

 

They sat down at the table with the muffins and some coffee as they dived into stories about Dean. Claire mentioned how she visited him weekly, since he was the only one she knew who was fluent in sign language. Of course, she didn’t tell Mary too much about the stories—knowing that it would probably cause a bigger mess than necessary. Instead she talked about how much she loved Dean’s baking—and how Mary had did a wonderful job teaching him.

 

Mary told more stories about Dean’s childhood. Most featured the trouble that Dean and his brother Sam got up to around the neighbourhood. She sometimes slipped Cas into the story and every time she did, Claire noticed the way her whole body tensed.

 

Apparently it was a touchy subject for the whole family.

 

Mary had begun talking about her job when John Winchester got home from work. Being a teacher assistant for special needs children, she was talking about how she worked with a deaf boy who was also mute. Claire was absorbed in the conversation that she didn’t even notice the presence behind her until they spoke.

 

“Uh… hello?”

 

Claire jumped in her seat and turned around to face the intruder quickly. John Winchester stood in the doorframe, looking at Claire with a face of bemusement. She immediately noticed the resemblance that he beared to Dean, through the broad shoulders, scruffy hair and dark eyes. Yet, he looked more reserved than his son. More on the mysterious side.

 

“John this is Claire, a friend of Dean’s from Sioux Falls. Claire, this is my husband John.”

 

John held out his hand and Claire shook it.

 

“Nice to meet you.” He greeted. Claire stayed silent.

 

He pulled his hand back cautiously, obviously offended by the lack of reply. Claire looked at Mary pleadingly.

 

“Oh, sorry!” Mary exclaimed, a small chuckle in her voice. “John, honey, Claire is mute. She communicates through ASL… like Cas.”

 

Claire again noted the tension in Mary’s shoulders.

 

However, she also noticed that John had softened a bit.

 

“I’m sorry but my wife will probably have to play translator. I was hopeless at learning sign language. I could only say would you like some dinner and go to sleep. Those were the really the only things I needed to say to Castiel when he was here.”

 

With that, he sent Claire a small smile before dismissing himself and heading upstairs. While John unwound himself from work, Claire helped Mary cook dinner in the kitchen, a simple pasta dish for the three of them to have. Mary had insisted that Claire stay the night since she hadn’t planned anywhere to go. Although hesitant first—she eventually agreed, especially after she messaged and go the thumbs up from Jody.

 

Cooking with Mary was fascinating and much more enjoyable then Claire would have thought. It was obvious that Mary was a mother, through her nurturing nature and the way she instructed Claire. She had never experienced anything like this before, considering most of her foster homes never gave her the chance. By the time she landed on Jody’s doorstep, she hadn’t even thought to try. It made her think about when she went home. She’d definitely try cook with Jody more.

 

Dinner was a quiet affair. Mary asked Claire a few more questions about Dean and life in Sioux Falls. It had confused Claire because she had remembered Dean mentioning once that he called his mom regularly. Why would she be asking Claire all the things that Dean should have already told her?

 

Claire helped clean up the dishes, much to Mary’s reluctance. Claire insisted that if they were letting her stay the night, the least she could do was help clean up after a meal. After the dishes were done, Claire excused herself for the night to go up to the bedroom to sleep.

 

As she laid in the spare bed of the Winchester home, she held in her hand the small piece of paper, the one with an address written neatly on it. As she looked at it, she focused her gaze on one word in particular. A word that confirmed where Cas had been all these years.

 

Boston.

 

 ~*~

 

The next morning, Claire was off as quickly as possible. After a breakfast which was practically forced upon her by Mary, the teenager was out the door. She said goodbye to the Winchesters on the front porch, both Mary and John telling her to stay safe. Mary gave her a big hug and told her to take care of her son. As Mary headed inside to get Claire some muffins for her trip, John quietly asked Claire if she would pass on to Dean that they missed him.

 

With one last goodbye, Claire hopped in her car and drove away towards Boston. She watched as Lawrence faded behind her—the city, the people and the place where Dean held so many memories. She wondered if Dean would ever return there, if he would ever face the demons he had left behind. She wondered if he would ever get closure, if what she was about to do would work. She had no idea, but she knew she would try her hardest. She had already gotten this far, she needed to keep going.

 

The drive to Boston took just over a day. Claire drove for most of the Saturday, stopping at a motel in Ohio for the evening. After a good night’s sleep, she continued on and felt relieved when she saw the sign welcoming her to Boston. With the address plugged into her GPS, Claire drove through the Boston city—almost dying from reckless drivers once or twice—until she found herself in a quieter part of the town, where many residential buildings were. When the GPS announced that she had arrived, she looked to see that she was out the front of a small townhouse. It was a rustic looking building—made out of concrete bricks and two paned windows. It had a large wooden door at the top of the four large steps to the entrance. From where she was parked, she could see the doorbell with a large sign pointing to it saying: Ring me!

 

Claire was nervous. This was someone that meant a lot to a friend of hers, someone that was an integral part of who he was. The someone he was pining over, destroying himself over, forever feeling guilty over. The someone that he was in love with. If Dean ever had a chance of moving on and being fully content with his life, this was the someone who could help him do that. This person was almost famous to Claire, someone that she had heard so much about but never met. It felt weird that today she was going to meet him in person. The one from all the stories.

 

With a surge of determination, she got out of the car. After locking the door, she gripped her keys tightly in her hand. She marched up the front stairs right up to the front door and with one last boost of confidence, she rang the doorbell.

 

However; no sound was heard.

 

Claire looked at in confusion, wondering if the doorbell happened to be broken. Panic surged through Claire, seizing her.  She started to wonder if she really made the right choice coming in here. Would it actually make things better? Did she think she could actually fix things? All of Claire’s insecurities began to come rifling up as a moment of clarity struck her. The urge to run filled her and she went to turn and go bolting down the stairs. Yet the sound of lock turning, stopped her in her tracks.

 

She turned to see the front door open and saw a man standing in the doorway.

 

She didn’t know what she expected Cas to look like. The image she had of him was just a small figment from her imagination. Dean had rarely described what Cas had looked like in the stories, so she had pieced together a version of him for herself. Obviously, this man looked nothing like what her head had envisioned him as.

 

The man in front of her was broad shouldered, with his arms and chest covered by a knitted sweater. He had brown hair which darted off his head in all different directions, as if he had just gotten out of bed. His soft eyes squinted as they stared at her, causing the corners to crinkle. His face appeared expressionless as he stared at Claire with a perplexing look.

 

In all honesty, Claire would never have guessed this was the famous Cas that Dean had gushed about for months. She would never have guessed if it wasn’t for his eyes. His piercing, blue eyes. The blue that gave him his sign name. The blue that Claire knew was one of the reasons why Dean had fell so hard for him.

 

Claire rose her hands to sign and a spark of recognition flooded the man’s gaze.

 

“Are you Cas?” She signed, fingerspelling his nickname before using his sign name. The man stared back at her with curiosity as he raised his own hands.

 

“Yes that is me. How can I help you?” He replied.

 

Claire paused for a moment, the doubts about her plan still in the forefront of her mind. She didn’t know whether she could really go through with it, disrupt the man’s life in front of her all for the personal gain of one of her friends. She had no idea how he would react—how he would take the news. She had no idea what the domino effect would be, whether it would lead to more disastrous consequences.

 

However, all Claire could think about was Dean and the guilt she would feel if she walked away. She wouldn’t be able to face him again, knowing she stood two feet in front of Dean’s best friend and didn’t say a word to him. To know that there was something she could have done and she didn’t take it. She had gotten all this way, there was no turning back now.

 

So, she began to sign.

 

“You don’t know me but my name is Claire. I’m a friend of Dean’s, am I able to come in?”

 

 She could see the way his expression morphed at the mention of Dean. She couldn’t detect what emotion he was feeling, whether it was a surprise, sadness, anger, confusion. It almost surprised her how Dean seemed to know Cas so well, knew every little detail about him. The man before her was like a closed book, she could barely tell what he was thinking.

 

It took him a moment of deliberation but after some silence, he stepped to the side of the doorframe.

 

“Come in.”

 

With a hesitant step, Claire did.

 

Cas shut the door behind her before motioning for her to follow him. He led her through the foyer, behind the staircase and through an archway, to reveal a small, but cosy family room. The room had two leather couches, a tiny television and a fireplace with a small fire already lit. There was a bookcase lined with different books, from accounting & business books to popular novels such as Harry Potter. Claire also noted he had the whole Game of Thrones series.

 

Cas indicated to one of the couches for Claire to sit. She slowly sat herself down, Cas sitting on the lounge adjacent.

 

“Would you like anything to drink? Or eat?” Cas asked in a polite act of hospitality.

 

“No I’m okay.” Claire replied with a small smile. “I don’t want to take up too much of your time.”

 

Cas quirked his lips in reply but didn’t say anything more. They were quiet and still for far too long before Cas broke the tension.

 

“I don’t mean to be forward but why are you here? You said you were a… friend of Dean’s?”

 

Claire could not that Cas had become awkward around the word friend and almost seemed to be puzzled as to why this teenager was friends with a thirty-one-year-old.

 

A genuine smile formed on Claire’s lips. “I’m a frequent customer at his bakery.”

 

Cas raised an eyebrow. “Bakery? As in a bakery Dean owns?”

 

Claire nodded. “Yeah it’s all his and it’s the most popular one in Sioux Falls, where we live. I recently moved there to live with my foster mom Jody and after she found out I was mute and only communicated through ASL, she made me meet Dean since she knew he was fluent.”

 

Claire’s smile widened slightly. “Well mostly fluent, he kept stumbling over things and needed me to sign slower when we first met. But… he’s a lot better now. Picked it up again.”

 

Cas said nothing but he seemed to be taking in and reflecting on everything Claire was saying.

 

“He tells me stories about you,” Claire signed causing Cas’ gaze to become more intense. “He bakes so many baked goods and they all have a story to them. All of them involve you, from when you were children to when you were at college together. He tells me these stories every week on a Wednesday afternoon. They have helped me get through a lot and helped me become settled there. I’m pretty grateful for him and of course Blue Thursday, that place keeps me well-fed.”

 

She stopped signing as she saw Cas immediately go rigid, freezing up. She furrowed her eyebrows in confusion.

 

“What?”

 

He looked at her. “What did you say the name of the bakery was again?”

 

Claire was still confused. “Blue Thursday… why?”

 

Cas let out a gush of air and immediately buried his head into his hands. Claire didn’t understand what the story behind the name was or what significance it had to Cas. Dean had never mentioned it… yet Claire had never asked. It seemed like a simple bakery name, one Dean had come up with randomly when he created his business.

 

Cas lifted his head up and Claire noted that his eyes were slightly glassy.

 

“I’m assuming that Dean has never told you about what my name means.”

 

“No,” Claire replied. “He hasn’t… really. Just that you are named after an angel.”

 

“Castiel is an angel’s name.” Cas confirmed. “Except, Castiel is an angel of something in particular. He is the angel of Thursdays.”

 

And with that bombshell, Claire’s mouth dropped open. So not only did Dean base all his creations with stories of Cas in his mind, but he named the bakery after him? It all made sense in a way and reassured Claire that she had done the right thing by coming here.

 

“You asked me why I was here.” She stated to which Cas nodded. “I’m here because Dean misses you. A lot. If the bakery name doesn’t show that, then maybe the fact that he always talks about you. I feel like I know a lot about you already and I’m just Dean’s friend. He’s done a lot for me in the past few months than most people have in my life. I wanted to help him and… you are what he needs.”

 

Cas again did not reply and instead stayed still, processing everything. The different emotions were all present on his face as he tried to pinpoint exactly what he was feeling. Claire watched him clench his fists and the way his eyes seemed to glance around the room as he quietly thought to himself.

 

After a few minutes, he asked her to follow him again.

 

Cas lead her down a hall to a small room, which at first appeared to be a study. At first all Claire saw was the desk with a computer that looked as if it was almost as old as Claire herself. There were files and archive boxes scattered in a corner and old phone books piled across the floor. Claire had no idea what the importance of the room was, until she took a step in further.

 

It was then that she saw the wall, lined with frames upon frames of Cas’ art.

 

There were at least 20 frames on the wall, filled with different pieces of art from Cas’ childhood. Some drawings appeared to be from when he was young and his technique was merely only at its beginning, whereas others were from his later years. Claire could see the progression, from the pictures that Cas had drawn at the ages of six and seven, to the ones he drew in his mid to late teens. There were many of Dean that caught her eye, ones that seemed to pair with the stories. However, it was only one of them that stood out.

 

It was Dean sitting on a floor, his back resting against the wall. His eyes were closed and his mouth was slightly agape. The shading brought so much detail to Dean’s face, to the way his face looked in that exact moment. Cas had even defined Dean’s freckles, something that Dean rarely pointed attention to himself. It was also a picture that Claire knew had too much raw emotion behind it for it to be platonic. Cas had drawn this to highlight Dean’s beauty, something that Claire knew Cas was infatuated by.

 

“I haven’t forgotten about Dean.” Cas signed after a while. “I do remember the bad memories, but I also remember the good memories. It’s those memories that kept me hanging onto these. At first, I wanted to burn them or throw them away forever. But I couldn’t because… Dean was still a big part of my life. To this day, he is still important to me.”

 

Cas turned to face Claire, gaining the teenager’s full attention.

 

“Did Dean ever tell you about how my parents died?”

 

Claire nodded slowly. “Yes… it was a car accident.”

 

“Did he tell you I was in the car when it happened?”

 

Claire’s eyes widened and she was quick to shake her head.

 

Cas smiled softly. “I didn’t think he would… it was always a touchy subject for me. It was how I became deaf. I was just two years old at the time. People would always tell me how lucky I was to not be dead after the crash… and for ages I didn’t believe them. My parents had died and I was bullied every day, specifically at my kindergarten in Pontiac where I was born. It was nothing against being deaf because to this day I cannot remember what it was like to hear.  I love being deaf and the community. I felt unlucky because how could I be lucky? I was an orphan. My parents were dead. However as soon as Dean came into my life, that was when I realized how truly lucky I was.”

 

Claire stayed silent as Cas continued.

 

“He… he saw me for me and not just someone who couldn’t hear. He learnt sign language to talk to me and for the most part, made me feel included everywhere I went. We may have left on ugly terms but, when I look at these pictures I remember that. I remember how grateful I was to have him and how he really defined who I was as a person.”

 

Claire glanced back over at the drawing of Dean.

 

“Does this mean you’ll go and see him? I’m not pressuring you, he doesn’t even know I’m here. I’ll understand if you don’t want to.”

 

Cas turned away from Claire and focused his attention on the art.

 

“I’m not promising anything.” He signed. “I will think about it.”

 

 “That’s all I ask.”

 

Claire stayed for a few minutes longer, having a small discussion with Cas about his art pieces. She then made her cue to leave on a long drive back to Sioux Falls. Cas walked her to do the door, seeing her off. As she went to wave goodbye to him, she stopped when she saw his face.

 

She waited and watched as Cas brought his hands up.

 

“I…” He began to sign before stopping. With a breath, he continued.

 

“I miss him too, you know?”

 

Claire smiled.

 

“I know.”

 

And with one last wave, she turned her back and left the townhouse behind.

 

 ~*~

 

Dean

 

Valentine’s Day

 

The front bell rang, loud and clear in the silent bakery.

 

Dean was in no mood for it, the events of the day leaving him in a sour mood. He had his back turned to the door but he assumed it was Claire—she was the only one who would dare to come into his store after closing.

 

“Go away Claire.” He grumbled. “I’m in no mood to talk.”

 

He kept sweeping but he heard her make no move to leave. He could feel his frustration and anger bubbling to the top and with a big huff he turned around, ready to give the teenager a bitter mouthful.

 

The words left quicker then they came.

 

He stood still, everything in his body feeling numb yet on fire at the same time.

 

He opened his mouth to speak… but couldn’t.

 

Luckily, the person spoke for him. A voice loud and clear in the quiet lull of the night.

 

“Hello Dean.”


 

 

Chapter Text

Epilogue
Apple Pie

 

The first time Dean ever heard Cas talk was when he was a thirty-one-year-old man, standing in his own bakery, after eleven years of being estranged from his best friend.

 

Cas’ voice was gruff and deep. However, warm and inviting—just like Cas had always been. Dean could hear the slight lisp to it, one that formed after not being able to hear your voice most of your life. Yet, his voice was perfect. It was… perfect to Dean.

 

Dean tried to regain control of his body, having gone lax from the moment he laid eyes on Cas. He took a breath, wriggled his fingers and opened his mouth to speak—to recite Cas’ name. However, he was quick to remember that Cas wouldn’t hear him and that he only spoke before purely for Dean’s benefit.

 

So Dean raised his hands, an action that was so familiar when it came to Cas.

 

“Hi Cas.”

 

He watched as his friend… or ex-friend rather closed his eyes for a moment, almost as if it had all became too much for him. He too took a breath, before allowing the blue of his eyes to be seen again. He forced a small smile in Dean’s direction.

 

“Like I said before, hello Dean.” He signed. “How are you?”

 

“Good.” Dean replied. “Tired.”

 

“Busy day?”

 

Dean huffed a small laugh. “Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day.”

 

Or rather, Dean wanted to say, the day that I ran from you and the day I will keep regretting for the rest of my life.

 

However, he didn’t say it and instead stared at Cas, taking him in. Because who knew if they would ever see each other again after this encounter, whether he would have to wait another ten years just to lay eyes on that face once more. Cas stared back at him, almost as if he was doing the same.

 

Dean made sure to remember everything about Cas—from the wrinkles under his eyes, to the soft curve of his lips. From the furrow of his brow to his defining cheekbones. Cas’ face had filled out more since they last saw each other and he was definitely no longer the boy Dean left behind.  He was a man now, from the toned arms and chest, to the stubble along his jaw.

 

It was sight that Dean ingrained into his mind; he never wanted it to leave.

 

“What are you doing here?” Dean asked after a far too long time of staring. “Well rather, what are you doing in Sioux Falls?”

 

Cas’ lips quirked up slightly. “I decided to make the trip out to see you, after I was visited by a very persistent and persuasive teenager.”

 

It doesn’t take long for Dean to figure out who Cas is talking about and he can’t help but mutter “Dammit Claire” under his breath.

 

“She told me about the stories, about what the bakery was called and she especially couldn’t help but mention how much you…”

 

Dean held his hand up to stop Cas, causing the other man to scowl at him.

 

“Look Cas, you didn’t need to come all the way here to see me because Claire asked you to okay? I understand that she is very determined but if you wanted to leave I would…”

 

“Shut up.” Cas not only snapped but signed as well. Dean stopped moving, letting his hands drop to his sides. He met Cas’ gaze and saw the hurt behind his features. His eyes were swirling with so many unsaid words, with so many years of resentment and longing. His eyes mirrored Dean in the way that they had both grieved for each other, in the way that they both wished they could go back in time to that one moment and change it all.

 

Dean stayed silent, waiting for Cas to continue.

 

“Just… shut up and let me say what I came here to say.”

 

Dean gulped under the fierce stare of Cas but nodded. He indicated to the two seats by the window, his and Claire’s usual table. They walked over and took the seats down off the table. Dean sat in his usual spot, whereas Cas sat in Claire’s.

 

Dean waited patiently as Cas took a few breaths before taking a large breath, swallowing hard. He then locked his gaze on Dean, that piercing scrutinizing stare that Dean had missed, and began to sign.

 

“After…” Cas began. “After the last time we saw each other, I wanted to be alone. I didn’t want to see anyone. I went home back to where we lived and found that you had left. I know you were gone because you had taken all of your favourite things with you, things you wouldn’t leave behind. I went to class and I did my normal routine but… It wasn’t the same Dean. I… I couldn’t stay there in the place where we once spent so much time. You wouldn’t answer your calls, your family had no idea where you were and I… broke, I couldn’t do it.”

 

The guilt wrenched itself around Dean’s heart as he watched Cas pause for a second, taking a moment to breathe. He could see the way his lip quivered and how his eyes had become wet. Cas blinked rapidly before bringing his hands up again to continue.

 

“Michael and Duma came and visited me shortly after and we made the decision together that I was best to move away to Harvard. I was worried at first because I wanted to be there when you returned but… I had no idea if you were ever going to return. So I finished the term and then transferred to Boston. I never felt more alone there, I was far away from my family and I didn’t know where you were. It wasn’t until I met Anna, did I feel comfortable.”

 

“Anna?” Dean dared to ask when Cas took a break. Cas forced a small smile.

 

“My ex-wife.”

 

Dean’s heart clenched. He knew he shouldn’t jealous or in the slightest bit upset. He hadn’t seen Cas in ten years and it was obvious that his friend would have had some sort of relationship during that time, even marriage. He also noted Cas mentioned that it was an ex, meaning no longer together. Despite all of that, the mere thought of Cas being with someone that wasn’t him still brought an overwhelming pain deep inside of Dean.

 

“Anna was a junior at Harvard. She was studying medicine along with deaf studies. She was very smart and seemed to know far more than I did. We became friends at first as I was more her study companion for ASL. However, after a year of being friends, we began to date. By the time I had been at my post college job for two years, we were married. But despite what others thought, we weren’t happy and our marriage only lasted seven months.”

 

Curiosity bubbled in Dean.

 

“She was and still is my best friend and one of my biggest supports and I love her. However, I wasn’t in love with her, not in the way a husband should be.” Cas stopped signing to strengthen his gaze on Dean. Dean held his breath. “You were always one of my biggest supports and someone who I relied on. It took me a long time to realise that what happened between us was the opposite of what happened between Anna and I. I thought I was in love with Anna, but in reality it turned into us just being best friends. With you, you were my best friend for years, most of my life. I only realised in freshman year of college that I was in love with you.”

 

Despite the context around the words and knowing that they may still not reign true, Dean’s heart couldn’t help but soar. He raised an eyebrow at Cas.

 

“Freshman year?”

 

Cas nodded. “I had a date with Daphne, my partner for my economics project. The date was just bad, really bad. It was nothing either of us did wrong per say… it just didn’t work. I didn’t know why or how it didn’t until I got home that evening. You had the TV set up and a box of pizza on the coffee table. You had taped the new episode of Grey’s Anatomy for me--even though you hated that show. You then sat and watched it with me and even though you made fun of it every chance you could, you still watched the whole thing through and helped explain things I missed when the subtitles weren’t properly working.”

 

Dean had forgotten what it was like to process input like a normal human being. How did he breathe? How did his heart beat? How did he even think? What were thoughts?

 

“I had a hard time dealing with all of it, especially because I wasn’t sure if you felt the same for me.” Cas continued. “It was then that I met Meg who after hearing of my dilemma, came up with the ultimate plan...”

 

“To fake date.” Dean signed, interrupting Cas. Cas looked shocked.

 

“Yes…” He replied, obviously curious as to how Dean knew. It was then Dean realised that Meg had never mentioned their encounter to Cas. Dean wasn’t surprised.

 

“Meg thought we should fake date and see how you reacted to it. It didn’t take long for Meg to notice that you were jealous a lot when she was around. I never saw it but then again, I can be quite oblivious. She told me about a plan she had created for Valentine’s Day, how we would get you to help create a date that would ultimately be yours. I planned to confess everything that night and spin it around so that it could be our first date. I wanted that to be the start of forever. I guess it didn’t turn out that way.”

 

Dean wasn’t much of a crier,  however, he looked at Cas who almost at the brink of tears and he could feel his own eyes getting glassy. Eleven years of pain and suffering doesn’t go away easily and Dean could feel himself drowning in it. He had tried to bury it for so long, repress it so it didn’t exist. But talking to Claire brought back old wounds, old wounds that were still raw and fresh.

 

“You broke my heart Dean.” Cas signed with shaky hands. “I know Meg and I got it wrong, that you weren’t in love with me and maybe you actually weren’t particularly fond of gay men and that made you dislike me. I know that’s not your fault, growing up in the town we did, it wasn’t common. I understand that maybe it was just what you thought at the time…”

 

“Wait.” Dean stopped Cas again. “You thought I left because I was homophobic?”

 

Cas waited for Dean to finish fingerspelling the word before he nodded. A whole flood of emotions poured on Dean—anger, sadness, frustration, hurt. Instead of calming down and keeping his feelings in check, he immediately began to explode in rapid sign language.

 

“I didn’t run all those years ago because I was homophobic Cas. I didn’t run because I disliked you or was disgusted by you… how could you think that? I ran away all those years ago because I was scared, because it all became too real and I was afraid.”

 

Cas’ expression had softened and his eyes were wide with sadness. Dean continued on.

 

“For years I kept my feelings a secret because I had told myself that it would never happen. When it did I panicked and I ran. Then I came back only to find that you have left and that what I had realized to be real had shattered right before my eyes.”

 

Dean took a breath and looked straight into the blue of Cas’ eyes.

 

“So I kept running and running because I couldn’t face up to the fact that I had lost everything.”

 

He let Cas take a second to process it, especially considering his friend looked as if he were about to pass out. Cas pressed the heels of his hands to rub his eyes, obviously trying to wipe away the tears that were threatening to escape. Dean swallowed, his throat feeling dry and choke up. They sat there in silence, the heat and emotion from the past few minutes weighing heavy on them.

 

Almost five minutes had passed before Cas replied.

 

“I’m… sorry for assuming that was why you left. I just… I needed a reason to figure out why you left me all those years ago. I needed some explanation, because I couldn’t accept the fact that you didn’t want me.  I couldn’t face that. It hurt so much at first, especially after moving. Though over the years it’s… it has become easier. At first, I didn’t want to be reminded of you in anyway. By the time I graduated college, the pictures we took together and the artworks I drew were scattered around my home. It didn’t take from the loss though, especially knowing that you never looked for me.”

 

“I did look for you!” He signed angrily, again causing Cas to stop. “After I came back, after I realised how stupid I was being… I ran into Meg who decided that physical pain was what I needed in revenge for your hurt.”

 

And just like when Dean told Claire, Cas winced.

 

“I tried to get her to tell me where you went but she refused. So after I left I went back to Lawrence and tried to talk to Michael, several times in fact. At first, he just kept slamming the door in my face. Then, he stopped answering the door altogether. I even tried contacting some of your siblings but, turns out they have a large selection of curses in their vocabulary.”

 

Cas cracked a small smile at that.

 

“I did try look for you Cas, but after I moved here and after I had Meg and your family not responding to me. I just… I stopped. I stopped trying.”

 

Cas scowled. “I’m angry at Meg and my family. They should have told me that you were looking for me. I feel like I would have been in less pain all these years if I had just known.”

 

“Don’t be mad at them, or put the blame on them.” Dean signed. “Blame me. I’m the one who gave up too easily.”

 

Just as Cas went to sign a reply. Dean heard a loud ding from the kitchen. While Cas couldn’t hear it, he noticed Dean’s reaction and asked him what was going on. Dean signed to Cas that he would be right back and wandered into the kitchen. He went over to the oven, put his mitts on and pulled out the dessert that had been baking for the last forty minutes. He placed it on the rack to cool and pulled off the mitts, ready to go back out to Cas—only to see that the man had followed him in there.

 

He looked at the baked dish with a fondness.

 

“Apple Pie?”

 

Dean nodded slowly.

 

“I bake it every year.” He explained. “I can’t help it. This time every year I get… I feel so… remorseful. I struggle to sleep. The first year after it happened, I got up and decided to bake, baking always calms me down. And the first dessert that came to mind was an apple pie. I… I bake it every night. It reminds me of home… of good memories.”

 

It reminds me of you. Dean wanted to say.

 

Cas stared at the pie.

 

“May I have some?” He asked. Dean could feel his eyes brighten at the request.

 

Without hesitating, Dean sliced the still cooling pie up into eight parts. He grabbed two plates from the cupboard and placed a slice of pie onto each. He then passed Cas a fork, shivering at the moment their two hands made contact. Cas accepted it and the two of them silently ate their food.

 

Dean had made it a habit to watch a person when they tried the first bite of his food. He watched Cas take some onto his fork and bring it to his lips, taking the food with a tentative bite. He knew the minute the taste of the pie had landed on Cas’ tongue, as the man’s eyes lit up. A small, genuine smile danced on his lips as he brought his eyes back up to Dean.

 

“It’s perfect. Just like how I remembered.”

 

There it was, the compliment Dean had been longing for all these years. After he left Cas, after he realised his friend was long gone from his life, he spent the next few years with a longing, a mourning for the friend he lost. However, it had also been his motivation, what he used to drive him. From culinary school to putting the deposit on the bakery. It’s why this bakery’s name was created in honour of Cas and why what he sells, are all created from a memory of his friend. Cas had always been is rock, his support point. The estrangement didn’t mean he had fully lost that. He went through the past decade of his life with a small motto: What Would Cas Think?

 

A motto, a mantra that sometimes helped him get out of bed in the morning.

 

He never thought the day would come that Cas would be sitting here, in his kitchen, eating the apple pie he’d built from scratch with his own hands. It was always a distant fantasy, one Dean thought about to help him sleep at night. Never, ever did he think it was in the realm of possibility.

 

Yet here he was right in front of him.

 

And Dean didn’t want to let him go.

 

Cas continued to eat but Dean’s stomach was in knots. He looked at this man, who was once the boy Dean had grown up with, who was Dean’s family, who Dean was in love with him and he knew he needed to say something before Cas possibly left his life forever.

 

“Don’t go.” He signed, gasping out a gush of air as he did so. He watched Cas pause, the fork halfway to his mouth and stare at Dean with wide eyes.

 

“I don’t mean… don’t go as in you’re not allowed to leave.” Dean scrambled to sign. “I mean… don’t go as in don’t leave my life again. I know I was the one to ruin everything, to leave your life and to cause you all this pain and suffering. I know that. It hurts me every day that I did that. I know I’m not forgiven, I may never be forgiven. Because I could say sorry every second of every day and yet it wouldn’t be enough to make up for the hurt I caused you.”

 

The tears were there; the tears Dean had tried preventing thus far. He could feel one spill over the edge but he wiped it away quickly because no, he isn’t going to cry. Cas’ face had dropped significantly and he was watching Dean with a look of sadness and fear.

 

“I still love you… I’m still in love with you. Those feelings don’t go away easily, no matter how hard I try to make them go. But that doesn’t matter because I don’t need you to be my boyfriend… I just… I need my friend back. I need the friend who I had when I was seven, who carried me home from the park because I had sprained my ankle. I need the friend I had when I was eleven, the friend who signed me ‘Hey Jude’ over and over again at Camp because I was homesick. The friend I had when I was thirteen, who spent a whole afternoon cheering me up because I was sad over the death of a character. The friend I had when I was eighteen, who rubbed my back as I puked after going too hard at a frat party.”

 

Cas was on the edge of his seat, entranced by everything Dean was saying. Dean leant forward so that they were closer in proximity.

 

“I need my friend back. The friend who I know I don’t deserve but the friend I selfishly need. I can’t lose you again Cas, not again.”

 

Dean took a deep breath and rested his hands, the moment all becoming a bit too much for him. Cas was frozen in his spot, still as a statue. For a moment, Dean was petrified. He was scared that Cas wouldn’t care about what he had said, scared that Cas would hold too much resentment to Dean. He was scared Cas would walk out that door and out of Dean’s life forever. He was scared that he had already lost everything.

 

Cas got up from his seat and with one swift movement had cornered Dean so that his back was against the counter.

 

“You are not forgiven.” He began but before Dean could let himself be hurt by the words, Cas continued. “Yet. We still have so much to talk about, so much to get through—there are too many years of us being apart for us to build back in a second. But I don’t want to leave you again Dean, I miss my friend too.. So while we may have things to work through, for now…”

 

Cas stopped signing and tentatively brought his hands up to Dean’s cheeks. He stared into Dean’s eyes, almost as if he was asking permission. Dean quirked his head into a quick nod. Hesitantly, Cas leant forward, almost too painfully slow. He brought their lips together for a soft kiss—one too soft to even seem real. He then leant back and with tear filled eyes, he flashed Dean the smile he had missed all these years.

 

“Take me home, Dean.”