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It's All Make Believe

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Dean walked through the revolving door of Chicago 211 with a glare and a swaggering gait. He bit back a grunt as some sort of perfume immediately assaulted his senses. It seemed to permeate the entire expanse of the considerable lobby, which was modern and bright. He was resolutely unimpressed with the open atrium and the gilded mural going up and up the towering north wall across the open floor plan from the elevators at the center. He walked over to the security desk.

“Dean Winchester, for the Krushnic temp position,” he said, pasting on a charming smile for the older woman working there as he passed over an ID.

She handed him back a badge. “Top floor.”

Dean trudged to the first of a bank of glass elevators. Scanning his badge on the control panel, he prayed that Chuck, his harried supervisor at the temp agency, was right about this gig having amazing pay. As he climbed the seventeen floors overlooking the lobby he’d just left, he closed his eyes. “Stupid fancy-ass hotel of an office building,” he muttered. “Stupid top-floor executive. Fucking death-trap elevators.” He breathed again when the disembodied voice of the elevator murmured “seventeenth floor” in its sexiest tone. He stuffed the badge in his pocket, fixed his hair, and stepped off the elevator to face a tiny lounge and a woman at a desk facing him.

“Can I help you?” The dark-haired woman asked.

Dean quickly crossed to the desk. “Hi . . . Hannah,” he said, glancing at the name tag on the woman’s sensible white shirt. He smiled. “I’m Dean Winchester. I have an 11am appointment for the temp position.”

“Please have a seat, I’ll let him know you’re here.”

As Hannah left the room, Dean sank into one of the cream-colored sofas framing the little lounge area. It was much softer than it looked, he noted begrudgingly. Softer than he would expect of some rich asshole who apparently had rather rudely turned away no fewer than seven temps from his office over the last few days alone. He snapped a picture of the sofa opposite him and sent it to his little brother Sam in a quick text. He tugged at his unfamiliar slacks and tapped his fingers on the cheap manila folder that held copies of his resume and cover-letter.

Within moments, Hannah was back, the acute swishing sounds of her modest grey pantsuit and crisp white shirt heralding her arrival.

“Follow me.”

Dean bristled a little. What kind of guy wouldn’t even bother to come out of his office to meet his potential new assistant? Dean hated bigshot bosses that treated employees like dirt, and if this guy was the kind of guy Dean thought he was, this was not going to be long-term employment. But he could really use the money, and he had been told this would be high-paying. He rose reluctantly, trying to smile gamely at Hannah.

He followed her down a short, empty hallway and through the first doorway on the left. The room was furnished as an office, but it was huge. There was a man standing across the room with his back to the door.

“Dean Winchester, sir,” Hannah said. And then she retreated to her desk outside, leaving Dean alone with the man. He was facing away from Dean and towards the most beautiful view of the city Dean had ever seen. Dean forced his eyes back to the man. A silver cane extended from one hand, and Dean wondered for a second how old this guy was.

“Thank you for coming,” came his voice, deep and arenose, like waves crashing against the rock of some far-off bluff or foreland.

Dean swallowed.

The man turned to face him, a serious look overtaking dark and handsome features. He was not nearly old enough to need a cane, though he was older than Dean. But at 28 years of age, most of Dean’s bosses were.

“Please sit,” he said, the slightest Russian accent coloring the syllables in a dusky shade.

Dean sat on the outward side of the gigantic desk at the center of the room. He noted it was empty but for one paper and a pen before his gaze was drawn back to the man—Mr. Krushnic, he assumed.

Dean saw full lips and dark hair just beginning to escape its carefully-gelled design. Mr. Krushnic’s navy suit was nicely fitted to his strong frame and was clearly expensive. Dean guessed that it cost more than anything he himself had ever worn; he was pretty sure about that. But most striking was Mr. Krushnic’s blue eye—and the fact that there was only one of them visible. The left side of his face was obscured by a black eyepatch that ran around the back of his head and blended into his hair.

Dean had two thoughts cross his mind in quick succession:
1) What kind of Fuhrer King Bradley shit did he get himself into
and
2) Actually, depending on his sword-fighting skills, this guy may take the Fuhrer’s crown for handsomest rich son-of-a-bitch with an eyepatch.
Dean kept his expression carefully blank as Mr. Krushnic unhurriedly took his seat on the opposite side of the desk.

“You can call me Castiel,” he said, introducing himself at last. Granted, a man like that needed no introduction, and Dean knew what he was getting into here. Temp-ing for the most famous architect in Chicago was Chuck’s directive and Sam’s idea, not his, but if he was ever going to break into the world of architecture, it was, at least, an ostentatious place to start.

When Dean finally spoke, his voice came out several octaves lower than usual. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Castiel,” he said, drawing out the syllables in a way that he hoped sounded both charming and serious. “I hope to meet you here again tomorrow.”

Castiel blinked. He seemed to pause. “You’re male,” he said, somewhat obliquely. “All the other interviewees were female.”

Dean felt his defenses immediately rise—and they were not low to begin with. Sure, most of the temps at his place were female, but it was just reductive, and frankly, sexist, to assume they all should be. He wasn’t about to let this guy walk all over him, amazing pay or no. “And you’re weird,” he shot back. “What kind of employer cares about the gender of his temps? I can only think of one kind.”

Castiel was definitely frowning now. Shit. “I assure you I’m not that kind of employer.”

“Good, cuz I’m not that kind of girl.” Dean bared his teeth and lifted his chin in uncomfortable defiance.

Castiel sat back and seemed to survey Dean quietly. “Before we begin, you will need to sign a non-disclosure agreement,” he said.

Dean frowned and eyed the lone paper sitting on the desk in front of him. He shrugged and reached across the desk, pulling it toward him along with the pen resting on top. Sam always said any lawyer worth their salt could get out of any truly awful contract, so he figured it was alright. He signed at the dotted line and pushed the paper and pen back. Castiel ignored them in favor of squinting across the desk at Dean. Dean did NOT find it cute. This guy was clearly an asshole and Dean was only here to rack up the so-called “amazing pay” that Chuck had promised him. And to get Sam off his back.

“Uh, here’s a copy of my resume,” Dean said, pushing the manila folder across the desk as well.

“I have already reviewed it,” Castiel said.

(“Amazing pay, amazing pay,” Dean chanted in his head on repeat).

Castiel continued to stare at him. “You have no experience in the field of architecture,” he began.

“I don’t,” Dean conceded, “but I’m a hard worker. I have extensive experience with customer service, engineering, and organization, thanks to my time in the automotive business, and whatever experience I lack, I can pick up fast.

“You don’t have a college degree,” Castiel said.

“I have a GED and a give-‘em-hell attitude,” Dean cut in with a sharp wink.

“You have been in Chicago a very short time,” Castiel continued.

“I’ve traveled a lot,” Dean said, his pasted-on smile turning into a grimace.

“You’ve boasted of no connections nor included personal references, and you’ve no social media presence to speak of.”

“Well I wasn’t aware THAT was a requirement—”

“You misunderstand me,” Castiel said. “I’m afraid you’ve been lured here under false pretenses, Dean.”

Dean’s frown intensified.

“The so-called ‘temp position’ is much more complicated than the job posting would suggest. And though you will undoubtedly be ‘assisting’ me, the job will involve much more. The NDA you just signed was only for this meeting, but if you accept this job, our every interaction will become something of an NDA. Thus, the facts I’ve just listed are benefits to your employment, not drawbacks. I need someone with no connections to architecture, the media, or the Krushnic family. Do you have any?

“Uh,” Dean said.

“Dean, I’m going to ask a lot of you, but I’m also confident that the compensation you will be provided is adequate consideration for the type of contract I have in mind. I would not have invited you here if my assistant did not think you would excel in this position. However, I only have one shot at this and, consequently, I am seeking something very specific. There are things I must know before we can begin. Please answer the previous question.”

“I don’t have any connections,” Dean repeated.

“Are you comfortable working for a high-profile person at high-society events including but not limited to galas, award ceremonies, and the like?”

“Yes.” Dean glared.

“How are your table manners?”

“I can eat,” Dean scoffed.

“Your cursing?”

“Top-notch.”

“Dean.” Castiel’s frown was intense.

“I curse a fuckload,” Dean spit out, “but I’m not an idiot, I’m capable of censoring myself if that’s what you’re asking.”

“What I’m asking,” Castiel replied with forced calm, “is are you prepared to be thrust into a high-profile public position yourself?”

Dean was really not sure where this was going. Castiel waited patiently for his answer for approximately half a second before prompting him by saying, of all things:
“I understand you’re very attractive. I’m sure the media will love you.”

Dean spluttered. “And you,” he said, indignant—he should have known Castiel was just another rich man used to taking what he wanted—it’s just that what he wanted was men—“You like what you see? I thought you ‘weren’t that kind of employer.’”

Castiel’s brows furrowed and he spoke immediately. “No. No, Dean. I’m not.” He sighed. Then sighed again, heavier. “You ask if I like what I see? To tell you the truth, I can’t even see you. I can’t see you at all.”

Dean’s mouth slowly dropped open. He stared at Castiel. Hadn’t he been staring back this whole time? The more he looked, the more he got the feeling that Castiel’s brilliant blue eye was trying desperately to search him for answers and coming up with nothing but a blank picture. “That’s what you need a temp for,” he realized. “To be your eyes.”

“Indeed.” Castiel said, tilting his head in acknowledgement.

“Sorry.” Dean shifted in his seat uncomfortably. “I didn’t know.”

“That’s the point,” Castiel said, something like wistfulness tainting what Dean would otherwise consider pride. “I need someone who will assist me in all public tasks and some private ones. Someone who will be discreet. So discreet that no one will suspect I’m going blind at all. And because this is our goal, no one can know I have hired you for this purpose. And to keep up the ruse, you will need to maintain an airtight cover story for your constant presence by my side.” Castiel closed his eyes, took a breath, and continued. “Dean,” he said. “I’m hiring you to pretend to be my significant other.”

Dean opened his mouth and then closed it again. He couldn’t remember how to form words for a bit. Just as it was starting to come back to him, Castiel spoke again.

“Obviously the salary of a temp is not adequate for this type of position. So I will be paying you $5,000 a day, which I anticipate will average out to more than 50 times the amount you expected upon coming into my office.” He waited expectantly.

Dean swallowed. “I’ve uh, never been with a guy before,” he managed weakly.

“Nor have I,” Castiel returned. “We’ll make it up as we go. And besides, there will be no ‘being with’ in the carnal sense. It’s all make-believe, in the end.”

Dean blushed. He thought maybe he detected that wistfulness again. And maybe even some nerves, some hesitancy in that otherwise sepulchral voice.

“It’s alright with me if you’re straight,” Castiel said. “I’m not paying you to fall in love with me, after all. I’m paying you to pretend. There’s quite a big difference.” He paused. “Maybe I should clarify that it’s also alright with me if you’re not straight. I am utterly indifferent to sexual orientation. It may be a bit unfortunate to some of the more conservative sensibilities of certain of my family members that you are not female, but I relish the opportunity to challenge them on that front. They deserve it. So, I’m prepared to hire you. If that’s alright with you.”

“$5,000 a day?” Dean asked.

“$5,000 a day.”

“For how long?”

“Five days,” Castiel said. “Beginning this afternoon. I’m afraid I have run out of time to find someone more suitable. For that reason, I am unable to give you time to think this over. I need a commitment now. Though I have some reservations about the anger you have already displayed today, I can also admit that I have interviewed no one so bold and outspoken. In light of the tasks before us, I agree with Hannah that you are the best candidate. However, this contract is contingent on your compliance. If you quit before I release you, you will not be paid. Once the service has been rendered in full, you will be compensated. The agreement will terminate Sunday at 11:59pm. Until then, you must be flexible. You must come when I call, and you must be obedient to my orders.”

Dean stared. Castiel was right, he was angry. There was something about the guy that had Dean on his ass. Probably the way he was ordering Dean around when Dean hadn’t even begun to agree to his insane proposition. And the fact that he had $25,000 just laying around waiting to be spent on something like this was completely absurd, though the thought of that much money alone was making Dean’s mouth water.

Castiel continued. “There is much riding on the next few days. I have a few events coming up concerning the opening of the Spire, I’m sure you’ve heard that the grand opening is this weekend. It will be a rather involved affair, considering the innovation of the project and the fact that this is now the tallest building in the western hemisphere. I’ll be playing a large role since I’m the designer and principle architect—”

“Son of a bitch,” Dean mumbled under his breath. He’d almost forgot.

“Excuse me?”

“Oh don’t mind me, boss, just getting all my cursing out now,” Dean said.

“Is there a problem?” Castiel asked.

“A problem?” Dean replied, sitting up straighter. “I mean, coming out publicly when I’m not even gay I can do. But to be honest I really don’t know if I can listen to you brag about that horrendous eyesore all week.” It was suddenly striking him that Castiel went against everything he’d always thought he stood for. The thought of actually doing this spiked panic in his gut.

“Did you not know you would be sitting down with the most famous architect in America when you came in here today?” Castiel’s eye flashed in the first show of anger Dean had seen from him. “Should I apologize for being wildly successful? Or might it rather be that you should show me some respect?”

“Oh, don’t get your eyepatch in a twist,” Dean said. “I know who you are. Heir to the Krushnic empire, architect of the new and impaired Chicago skyline yada yada. I just thought I’d be getting some architecture experience, not spending my time applauding a billionaire and publicly lauding the one building Chicagoans hate most.”

“For the next week, you will spend your time exactly how I direct you to. And after I have dismissed you, you can spend my money however you please. That’s what you’re really here for, isn’t it? Money?”

“Well it certainly isn’t to get my ass spanked by some guy in an eyepatch.”

Castiel’s mouth twitched in displeasure. “Sarcasm AND vulgarity,” he said. “I’m disappointed. These are signs of weakness. There’s no need to couch your words in humor unless you’re too much of a coward to simply say what you really feel.”

“That so?” Dean raised his chin. “In that case, I really feel like I’m going to enjoy this. Like taking money from an asshole.”

“Incredibly vulgar.” Castiel repeated. “But undeniably quick-witted. I hope you bring that fighting spirit tonight. You will need it. Just remember who you’re fighting for.” His sightless eye narrowed, and Dean felt the tension crackle in the air. “I will have Hannah email you the contract and an address. I expect to meet you there at one. You are dismissed.”

 

. . .

 

Dean was sitting at a coffeeshop downtown with a pastrami bagel sandwich and a cup of coffee when he got the call.

“Did you get it?” Sam asked, no small-talk or preamble.

“Yeah, yeah Sasquatch, I got it,” Dean replied. He was still in shock that he’d actually agreed to pretend to be some bigshot billionaire’s boyfriend, but it was beyond him, now. If he quit, he wouldn’t get the money. And the closer he got to the money, the more it called to him. He was gonna get that money even if he had to lick Castiel’s stupid fancy ass for it.

“And?” Sam said, bringing Dean back to the conversation.

“And I’m under an NDA,” Dean said. He couldn’t imagine how he would begin to explain what had happened at the interview Sam had been pushing him to accept ever since he made the mistake of telling him about it last weekend.

“So? I’m not asking for specifics, you can tell me what he’s like at least. Is he as big an asshole as you thought he’d be?”

“Bigger,” Dean grunted, taking a bite of his lunch.

“You’re kidding,” Sam said.

“If assholes were buildings, you could see his from space.”

“I guess that sounds about right,” Sam said. “For the architect of the Spire.”

“You mean the co-owner of the architecture firm that designed the Spire. I bet he got all his little underlings to do it for him and then took all the credit,” Dean said.

“Hey, at least that might be you when it comes to his next project, right?”

Dean hesitated. “Yeah,” he said. He could hear the bitterness in his own voice. “At least the money’s good.”

“How good?” Sam asked.

“Dude, for an almost-lawyer, you try to get me in trouble with the law an awful lot.”

“Aw, come on, Dean, you’re not gonna get in trouble. Unless he has it out for you. You didn’t already piss him off, did you?”

Dean opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again. “It’s not my fault the guy’s a stuck-up selfish billionaire that probably got all his money from the Russian mob.”

Sam paused. “Hey, be careful, alright. If you need anything, I’m just a call away.”

“Get back to your nerd books, Sam, I gotta go. I’m meeting ‘Fuhrer Bradley’ at one.”

“Fuhrer . . . what, you mean like, from Fullmetal Alchemist?”

“I’ll text you a picture.”

With that, Dean hung up. He finished his sandwich and swallowed the last of his coffee, brushing the crumbs from his lap as he stood. He took one last long look at his table as though it could save him from whatever the fuck was about to happen, and then he left.

By the time he pulled up to the innocuous building that boasted the address Hannah sent him above the glass door, it was 1:03pm.

“Shit,” he said, and, locking his ’67 impala behind him, he hurried in. He was surprised to see a warm and welcoming space, with a large couch in front of a set of mirrors, and clothes and cute little mannequins gathered all around the room.

A woman poked her head up from behind a desk in a corner. “Dean?” she asked, her loose light brown curls bouncing around her long face.

“Hi, sorry I’m late,” Dean said. He gave her a smile and tried not to let any nervousness show. “Is Castiel here yet?”

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell him you were—” she checked her phone—“three minutes late.” She smiled knowingly. “I’m Gilda. He’s on his way. I told him I’d do your fitting before his.”

Dean relaxed and let her lead him over to the mirrors. “We’re going to do some measurements first,” Gilda said, unrolling the measuring tape that seemed to have suddenly appeared in her hand.

“Obviously, Castiel couldn’t give me any hints about your size, so I don’t have anything prepared yet for tonight. Don’t worry, though, we’re going to get you fixed right up.”

“That IS what I’m worried about,” Dean joked.

She smiled over at him as she raised one of his arms. “In that case, you better run.”

Dean caught the mischief in her eyes and was easily charmed. How could someone so cold have friends this warm?

They chatted for the remainder of the measuring. Once Gilda was done, she pocketed the tape and had him sit on the couch while she sifted through the designer clothes that lined the room.

“I’m going to order the rest of your clothes later and have them sent,” she said, face totally obscured by a rack of suit jackets. “But I think I have something here that will suit you for tonight. I’ll just have to make a few alterations.” She emerged from the clothes victorious. “Here it is. Unless you have any specific preferences?”

“I don’t know anything about fashion,” Dean hedged. “Just give me whatever’s gonna get him not to criticize me and we’re gold.”

“He doesn’t care,” she said. “As long as you make him look good. It doesn’t matter if he likes it. He won’t be the one seeing it.”

Dean’s eyebrows shot up as he realized what she was saying. “Wait, you know? About..? I thought no one knew?”

“About his vision?” Gilda asked. Dean nodded. “I’m one of few,” she said. “He doesn’t trust very many people.”

Her eyes looked so sad for him. Dean frowned. “Then why didn’t he just ask you to be his fake girlfriend?” he asked.

“Because MY very REAL girlfriend would not appreciate that,” Gilda replied.

“Oh.”

“Charlie would be devastated if I got in the way of what she’s sure will be the romance novel of the century in the making,” Gilda laughed.

“Um,” Dean said. “Then I’m sorry to dash her hopes. She sounds like a nice girl.”

“A nice girl,” Gilda repeated, still laughing. “I’m sure you’ll meet her soon. You can let her down yourself.” She handed him three hangers worth of clothes and shooed him toward a changing room.

The clothes turned out to be much less froufy than he expected. A royal blue suit with the softest fucking shirt he’d ever worn in almost-white. The pattern on it shone when it caught the light. It seemed to already fit to him, and he buttoned it all up and exited the changing room feeling pretty good. And then stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Castiel occupying his recently-vacated spot on the couch like some kind of haughty king. His hair was slightly more disheveled now than before, and his one blue eye was still turned toward Gilda, who had taken the seat next to him.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Dean said. He resumed his trek back to the mirror.

“Hello, Dean,” came Castiel’s reply.

Gilda rose and met Dean in front of the mirror. “I’m just going to make a few adjustments,” she said, pulling some pins out of nowhere and beginning to gently tug at the fabric around his waist.

“I like that color in this light,” Castiel said. “You’ve done well.”

Dean frowned at him. “Just how much can you actually see?” he asked Castiel.

Gilda moved on to the fabric between Dean’s thighs. Dean tried not to move, but he felt like he could feel Castiel looking at him. “I can see some light and muted color, sometimes,” Castiel said. “Some details if I’m very close. I can’t claim to really see you, but I can see where you are now because you’re sort of a dark blue and it’s very bright in here.”

Dean looked down at his suit. It was really quite a bright blue. Interesting that Castiel saw it as dark. He wondered if Gilda chose it specifically because Castiel would be able to distinguish it.

“That’s you done,” Gilda said to Dean. “You can go ahead and take it off while I get him started.”

Dean turned abruptly and went back to the changing room. He was careful not to disturb the pins as he took off the suit and replaced it on the hangers, along with the shirt. He pulled on his old black pants and white shirt. He figured Castiel likely couldn’t pick him out of the background very well in the outfit he had chosen for his interview this morning.

By the time he emerged from the changing room with his hangered clothes in his arms, Gilda had Castiel half-dressed in a creamy suit with soft blue and green leaf patterns. Now that was kind of froufy. But Dean kind of wished he could pull it off the way Castiel did. The light color made the pants seem to hug the curve of his—nope. That’s where Dean drew the line. He went into this job knowing this guy was bad news. There was nothing good about him, not even his annoyingly perfect thick ass. Dean flopped onto the couch.

“Does it fit?” Castiel asked Gilda from his place in front of her mirror.

“It does,” she said. “your measurements seem to be the same this time,” she murmured to Castiel. Dean recognized that maybe this conversation was not meant for his ears. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t listening. He needed to know shit about this guy if he was gonna pretend to be his boyfriend.

“That’s somewhat surprising,” Castiel replied. “I still haven’t been running. Not since . . . not like I used to. Maybe my body has finally reached a new normal.”

“At any rate, the suit fits. I’ll send it over when I get the shirt. Dean’s too.” She stooped to pick up the discarded trousers Castiel had been wearing earlier from the floor beside them.

“Thank you, Gilda.”

And with that, Castiel began to undress. Dean panicked. Did Castiel know that he was still in the room? He cleared his throat to be sure. Castiel ignored him, but Gilda caught his eye. She shrugged as she stepped forward to collect the suit jacket and smiled at the faint blush that crept across Dean’s cheeks as Castiel unbuttoned and then stepped out of his trousers. She had his previous trousers at the ready, and Castiel took them from her to put on.

“Dean, would you help him with the shirt while I hang these?” She turned her back before he gave an answer. Dean was left to cast about for Castiel’s shirt, which he found hanging off the far arm of the couch. He collected it and awkwardly held it out by the arms as he circled behind his new boss, who had by now pulled on his slacks but left them unbuttoned. Dean could (thankfully) now see only a sliver of Castiel’s white boxers instead of the entire wide expanse, and that suited him just fine.

“Right arm,” Dean said, holding it out for Castiel to slide his arm through. He did so, his shoulder brushing against Dean’s right hand as he reached the end of the sleeve and pulled his own hand through the buttoned opening. Castiel then held his left arm out expectantly and Dean sheathed it with the remaining sleeve. Castiel pulled it through and Dean dropped his hand. “Uh, buttons?” he asked.

“I can manage the buttons,” Castiel said, “if you could find my tie.”

Dean headed back to the couch and bent to retrieve the blue tie from the floor below the armrest. When he turned back to Castiel, the man was fully clothed, shirt buttoned and tucked into his now-zipped and buttoned trousers, with a hand outstretched for the tie. Dean passed it to him and stood aside and watched as Castiel tied it around his neck with practiced fingers. Even so, the bottom of the tie ended up facing backwards. Dean figured it wasn’t important to tell him. He cleared his throat awkwardly. “Well, what time should I meet you tonight?” he asked.

“Meet me?” Castiel frowned and squinted at him. “Do you have a prior engagement this afternoon? I thought I made it transparent that I expect you to clear your schedule through the end of the week.”

Dean scoffed. “I didn’t realize you planned to hold me hostage,” he said. “I mean, I’m pretty sure you’ll want me to go home and shower before this dinner tonight. Gilda told me the whole reason I’m going is to impress your little friends.”

“Though uncharitably phrased, that is true. Which is exactly why we must use our remaining time before dinner to prepare our cover story. You may shower at my place.”

“Dude, I need my stuff. Aftershave, toothbrush . . . underwear.”

“That’s no problem. I’ll have it purchased and sent up.”

“You’re just gonna buy me new underwear?”

“And aftershave and a toothbrush,” Castiel said, eyebrows raised. “And whatever else is necessary for you to put your best foot forward tonight.”

“Silk underwear?” Dean asked, smirking now.

“If that’s what you require.”

“Oh, it is. I also require a pair of douchey sunglasses and a fancy watch.”

“I’m sure. Make a list. I’ll have them sent to my apartment.”

“And where is this apartment?” Dean asked. Castiel’s phone rang once, loudly, and then fell silent.

“I’ll show you now,” he said. “My driver’s here.”

“Driver?” Dean scoffed again. “Nah, I’m driving.”

“You’re not going to drive my car,” Castiel replied. “It’s a Tesla and it costs over $100,000.”

“I don’t want to drive your car,” Dean said. “I wouldn’t be caught dead in that show-boating douche canoe. I’m driving MY car. My ’67 Chevy impala.” Dean smiled proudly, but Castiel clearly didn’t see it.

“Dean,” he bit out. “I can’t show up to these events in some clunker.”

“It’s not a clunker,” Dean blustered, “It’s a fully restored classic car, do you have any idea how expensive one of those is?” He glowered at Castiel. “And who said anything about me driving you? You’re not paying me to be your chauffer, are you? Because that costs extra.”

“Then you’ll be riding with me,” Castiel returned. “We won’t be arriving separately.”

“Well I drove here, and I’m not leaving my baby on the street. I’m driving it to your place and that’s just the way it’s gonna be.”

“Just to my place, then,” Castiel said. “I suppose that’s acceptable for today.”

“For always,” Dean muttered petulantly.

“For today,” Castiel repeated.

As Dean took down the address Castiel dictated, he noticed Gilda watching them from the desk in the corner, mirth clear on her face. Dumb rich people, he thought, heading for the door.

 

. . .

 

Dean felt pretty good, considering, now that he was driving down the streets of Chicago in his sleek, black impala. He sort of hated driving in the city, but he hated other people driving in the city twice as much. Plus, he had clearly won that argument, and he was definitely keeping score. Though there were sure to be many more arguments before his week with this rich egomaniac was up, he was confident he could go toe-to-toe with the asshole. Plus, the suit Gilda had found for him really did make him look pretty good. He was excited to see how it would look on him after she made the alterations. AND, he was about to get silk underwear and a new watch out of this. So really, it was a win-win-win. He was resolutely NOT thinking about the dinner tonight, which he was filled to the brim with trepidation about. And about Castiel, and the whole fake-boyfriend thing in general. He had been avoiding thinking about it by reassuring himself that most people in his situation would do just about anything for $5,000 a night. Hell, he’d done more for less. This make-believe trophy wife bullshit? This was nothing.

When Dean pulled up to the address Castiel had given him at Gilda’s shop, he was unsurprised to see that it looked to be the swankiest apartment building in all of Chicago. A man in an unassuming black suit waved him down in front of the entrance. He introduced himself as Castiel’s driver, Benjamin, and explained he would valet-park Dean’s car in the garage. Dean eyed him with open suspicion and then handed over his keys and walked in through the revolving door to meet Castiel in the lobby.

After that it was the agonizingly silent ride up the elevator with him, all the way to the top floor, because of course the “most famous architect in America” needed to be on the top floor with the best view, even though he couldn’t even see it.

Once they made it inside, Dean looked around, openly appraising the modern furniture, black-and-gray color palette, and sleek design of the large open living room. It was a bit distant and cold, but well-put together, at least. The only thing he really liked was the smattering of potted plants near the large windows framing one side. The only thing he really didn’t like was the windows themselves. Dean avoided them. Heights always made him a little uneasy. Castiel gestured for him to sit on the black leather couch. “You make that list of items for purchase while I get you a drink,” he said. “Preferences?”

“Whiskey, neat.”

Dean settled back while Castiel headed to the far side of the room. He pulled out his phone and started typing out his needs. Everything from shampoo to toothpaste to a bag to stick all this shit in. The time on his phone screen showed he had hours to kill before dinner. He dreaded making conversation until then. He kicked off his shoes and removed his coat, slinging it over an arm of the couch. He stuffed a nervous hand into a pocket while he waited.

Soon Castiel returned with two whiskeys in hand and passed one off to Dean before sitting on the far side of the couch. Dean took a small swig and turned to face him.

“So how are we doing this,” Dean asked.

“Let’s start with what we are not doing,” Castiel answered, somewhat stiff and almost awkward.

“As in?”

“Rules,” said Castiel.

Dean frowned, a little thrown-off. “Like, sexy rules?”

“If that helps you,” Castiel said.

“Mhm,” Dean muttered sardonically. “No really, what do you mean?”

Castiel sighed. “For example, if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of kissing me in public, you could make that a rule,” he said.

Dean ran his hand down his thigh awkwardly. “Oh,” he said.

“Will that be a rule?” Castiel asked. “Or are you comfortable with public displays of affection?”

“What kind of displays?” Dean hedged.

“No more than would be considered socially acceptable at an average high society party.”

“As long as these aren’t weird rich people orgy parties or something that’s fine,” Dean said. “I mean, if that’s what they are, I’m not judging. I’m just saying you should warn a guy first.” He laughed nervously.

“I promise you need not be worried,” Castiel said. “My mother is going to be there.”

Dean gaped. “I think that might be worse,” he said. “How am I supposed to trick your mother into thinking we’re together?”

“By following my lead,” Castiel said. “She doesn’t know me that well anyway.” He frowned. Dean imagined that was his “bitter” frown. But it was too early in their “relationship” to tell.

“So, mom’s not that close to you, then,” Dean said. “Dad?”

“No,” came Castiel’s reply.

“Siblings?”

“I’m not close to anyone in my family,” Castiel said. “You should know I have one brother and we haven’t spoken in some time.”

“Okay, you’re right, we should talk about that—”

“Do you have family?” Castiel interrupted.

“Just me and my brother, Sam,” Dean answered. “Out at Stanford law. Is this family drama—”

“Speaking of prodigious matriculation and a higher education, I’d prefer that you pretend to have one,” Castiel quickly interrupted.

Dean was taken aback by the reminder of why he and Castiel did not get along. “Uh, harsh, dude,” he said.

“That’s in addition to a job where I’m not the employer,” Castiel continued, seemingly oblivious to Dean’s feelings.

“Well, presumably Hannah read you my resume,” Dean said, annoyed. “Pick one.”

“Auto-mechanic is not what I had in mind.”

“I’m beginning to think that maybe you’re the one that needs some higher education—on how not to be an ass!” Dean blustered.

Castiel gave him a measured look. “I’ll work on that, provided that you work on coming up with a more suitable backstory.”

“Can I make a rule that you’re not allowed to insult me?”

“Unfortunately, that would not be believable,” Castiel countered quickly. “You see, I’m known to be an ass. They’d all think I’m faking.”

“That, I believe,” Dean muttered.

Castiel’s chin tilted up menacingly and suddenly Dean felt a shiver go down his back. Castiel’s voice came out deceptively calm: “So,” he said, “am I to gather you have no rules for me?”

Dean smirked. “All bets are off, dude,” he said.

“Then perhaps it would be best if we moved on to learning more about each other.” Castiel said, aloof. “Any allergies?”

“Cats. You?” Dean replied.

“None that I know of.”

“Okay, foods you hate?”

“None that I know of.”

“Yeah, I’m gonna need another drink,” Dean said, crossing his arms and looking at Castiel. Castiel raised an eyebrow in response. After a moment, he rose from the couch and headed toward the back of the room, where Dean could just see a set of stairs leading up. As Castiel busied himself at the liquor cabinet, Dean threw himself dramatically against the couch arm, tilting his head back and covering his eyes in a silent scream. When he heard the clink of a whiskey bottle being set on the glass coffee table beside his head, he sat back up as if he’d been waiting patiently like the good little Stepford bitch he’d been hired to play.

With his second drink, Dean felt lighter already. By his third, he was actually having fun. He’d managed to tease Castiel to no end about never trying Funyuns (“you sad sheltered billionaire”), never going to parties as a teen or in college (“Mommy’s perfect little angel!”) and never getting questioned by the police for having sex in a car (“you poor innocent bastard”).

He liked to imagine that Castiel had loosened up as well. He’d lost his black suit jacket somewhere along the way and the two now sat comfortably on the couch in their shirtsleeves, Dean pulling his unbuttoned collar down to expose the tattoo on his chest. Castiel scooted in close, his nose less than an inch away from Dean’s skin as he focused his good eye on the deep black swirls of ink.

“This is fascinating,” Castiel said, lifting his vociferous gaze to Dean’s face, searching out his eyes one at a time, his cheek nearly brushing Dean’s nose. Dean stared back at him, unsure and intrigued, arrested by Castiel’s intensity. Suddenly Castiel’s phone rang out. He answered the call, rocking back onto his side of the couch and placing his whiskey glass on the coffee table. “Привет? Send him up, thank you,” he said into the phone before hanging up. “The packages are here,” he relayed to Dean.

The reverie broken, Dean sat on the couch and absently scratched his arm. The awkward moment stretched on until finally, in the silence, the two men heard the faint ‘ding’ of the elevator just outside in the hall. Castiel rose from the sofa, reaching the door just as a knock sounded out across the apartment. He swung the door open to reveal a short blond kid overladen with canvas bags.

“Hello, Alfie,” Castiel said. “Thank you very much.”

Castiel directed him to place the bags on the floor just inside the entryway and then asked Dean to take a look and verify that the delivery was correct before slipping his hand into his suit pocket and drawing out a leather wallet. He handed Alfie a folded green bill. Dean, now bent over the bags on the floor, was just close enough to see its value—a one-hundred. Alfie smiled and thanked Castiel heartily before heading back to the elevator.

“Do you always tip so generously?” Dean asked from the floor.

“What?”

Dean turned on his knees to face him. “That kid’s probably never even seen a hundred-dollar bill.”

“Yes, he has,” said Castiel, squinting down at Dean. “I give him a hundred-dollar bill every time he delivers for me.”

“Uh huh, so are you some kind of sugar daddy for kids named Alfie, or do you always tip hundreds?” Dean prodded.

“I only carry one-hundred-dollar bills. If I carried a variety of smaller bills, I would never know what I was tipping, because all US bills feel the same.”

“Uh huh.” Dean smirked. “I get it. It’s all about the Benjamins.”

“I don’t understand that reference.” Castiel said. If Dean wasn’t mistaken, he was a little annoyed. Castiel turned and headed back to the couch, plopping heavily down back on the far end. He picked up his whiskey glass and drained the last sip.

Dean drew a bag of Funyuns out of one bag and rose from the floor. “Get a load of these,” he said, tossing the bag gently onto the couch. It came to a rest touching Castiel’s leg. “Funyuns,” he clarified at Castiel’s signature squint.

Castiel picked up the bag and let his empty glass rest against his leg in its vacated spot. He pulled the bag open with curiosity.

“I hope you don’t mind that I added it onto my order,” Dean said. “I just texted the number again,” He suddenly felt a little shy. He watched keenly as Castiel drew a funyun delicately from the bag and placed it in his mouth.

Castiel crunched down on it hesitantly. “It’s good,” he finally said, his face lighting up in surprise.

“Of course it’s good,” Dean said, wide smile spreading. “Would I lie to you?”

Castiel shrugged and drew out a handful before offering the bag to Dean. They chewed in silence for a while before Castiel lifted up his empty glass and set it on the table. Dean lifted his own glass to his lips.

Castiel opened his mouth. “Have you ever had a hairy navel?” he asked.

Dean nearly spit out his last swallow of whiskey. “A what?”

“It’s a peach drink. With vodka.”

“Let me stop you right there: God no, I’ve never had a—” Dean giggled “—hairy navel.”

“Oh, you poor innocent bastard,” Castiel deadpanned. Before Dean could so much as gasp at Castiel turning his own phrase back on him like that, Castiel was up out of his seat and walking away.

“I’ll make you one,” Cas called back as he headed toward the middle of the apartment.

Dean stashed his empty glass on the table, jumped to his feet and followed after him. “Please don’t,” he said, overtaking Castiel in a few long strides.

“It’s already in motion,” Castiel replied.

“Oh god,” was Dean’s answer, as he dramatically stumbled, now weaving slightly in front of Castiel as he went.

“Dean, you’re disorienting me,” Castiel said, though it was spoken through a frown that was much less frowny than his regular frown, Dean thought. “You’re going to have to get the orange juice, now. Point me towards the liquor cabinet.” He held a hand out and Dean stopped to grasp his hand, spinning back toward him. He settled at Castiel’s back, turning him slightly and then giving him a playful push in the right direction. Watching Castiel walk away, he thought he might even be witnessing Castiel’s first smile. He turned back toward what seemed to be the kitchen and headed directly to the fridge. Upon opening it, he was surprised to see it nearly empty. A solitary bottle of ketchup here, a lone rice milk there. And one carton of orange juice right in the center. He had thought for sure it would be filled with weird billionaire stuff. Like kale and kombucha and the blood of teenagers. He didn’t really know what to think of empty.

He turned around at the sound of Castiel setting down two liquor bottles on the far counter. “I got eyes on the orange juice,” Dean said, grabbing it and closing the fridge as he made his way to the counter, setting it with the other drinks. As he moved, Castiel mirrored him, walking around the other side of the kitchen to grab two glasses from a high cabinet. Dean was struck with the ease with which Castiel moved through his own apartment. It was a far cry from the man he’d met this morning, surly and stuck. Dean watched him make his way back to the counter and begin to pour the peach schnapps and vodka into the glasses.

“You know, I’ve been to a lot of bars, and I’ve never seen someone pour a drink like that.”

“Spoken like someone who can see where the glass ends, and the air begins,” Castiel said thoughtfully, unscrewing the lid of the orange juice.

Dean’s mouth fell open, and then he saw Cas smile again. Just a tiny one, like he was testing it out. “Touché,” Dean said.

Castiel turned his head and squinted at Dean mid-pour. And then the orange juice overflowed, splashing across the counter and onto Castiel’s white shirt. “Oh,” he said, turning back to squint at the counter.

Dean sighed on a smile. “Take it off,” he said. “You need to wash it ASAP or that’ll stain like a bitch.”

“It’s no problem,” Castiel said, giving his head the tiniest shake. “I’ll buy a new one.” He began to work at the buttons along the front of the shirt as Dean watched, transfixed.

“How dare you,” Dean burst as Castiel began to shrug out of the shirt, letting it pool around the tan of his lower back as he unbuttoned the cuffs. Dean nearly choked as Castiel pressed a button on the counter, opening a notch in the wood paneling to reveal a trashcan. Castiel pulled the cuffs past his hands and completely off. “You can’t just throw it away,” Dean whined. “That’s—” he cast about for the right word “—irresponsible!” Castiel’s hand hovered, suspending the shirt above the kitchen’s trashcan. “Trust a billionaire not to give a shit about the environment,” Dean muttered.
Castiel’s arm lowered, pulling the shirt back into his chest.

“I’ll wash it,” Dean bit out, snatching the white shirt from Castiel’s hand. Dean took the shirt over to the deep and gorgeous stainless-steel sink. What Dean wouldn’t give to do his dishes in something like that, he thought. He turned on the sink. “Got vinegar?” he asked gruffly.

Castiel took measured steps towards a cabinet across the kitchen, passing silently behind Dean’s back. Dean grabbed the dishsoap bottle from the corner of the sink and poured some on the stain. Castiel laid a hand on his shoulder and handed him a bottle of vinegar with his other hand before passing behind his back again, once again stopping at the counter with the half-finished drink atop it.

“Did you work as a launderer before coming under my employ?” Castiel asked drily.

This time Dean could tell it was a joke and nearly succeeded in ignoring it entirely. In fact, he thought he HAD ignored it before it registered that his mouth was already continuing the conversation.
“One of the few things I’ve never been paid to do,” he said quietly, the ghost of a laugh still half-hiding behind his words. “Did it for free a lot, though. My kid brother was the messiest son-of-a-bitch, I swear to god. Still is, probably. Been cleaning up after him since I had to get a chair to reach the shitty motel sink.” That’s when Dean realized he’d shared much more than he’d intended to. He clamped his mouth shut and turned around. “Shirt’s done,” he said.

“What a coincidence, so is the hairy navel,” Castiel said, holding up an overfilled glass from the counter opposite the sink and cradling the other to his chest.

Dean sank back into the sink, laughing heartily.

“Alright, give it here then, you girl,” he said, smiling. He stepped forward to take it from Castiel’s outstretched hand and gently eased it away from him. His eyes slid down Castiel’s figure and landed nipple-level. He took a quick step back, sloshing some of the orange juice over his hand in his haste to distance himself from Castiel’s still-naked chest.

“Well?” Castiel asked. He had already drained his own drink in the time it took Dean to regain his balance.

Dean took a swig and felt the cool drink, syrup-sweet, fill his mouth. He swallowed, the light burn of the vodka a welcome grounding sensation. “Like ass,” he lied, smiling wide.

“Put this stuff back where you got it, or I won’t be able to find it next time I need to make a hairy navel.” Castiel grabbed the liquor bottles and made to return them. “Time,” he inquired as he turned away.

“6:20,” Dean replied, at the exact time Castiel’s phone called out the same.

“Oh,” Dean muttered, sheepishly. And then again, “Oh!” How did he lose track of time so completely?

Castiel turned back to him. “You should take that shower, now,” he said quietly, his gravel-voice impossibly liquor-deepened.

“Right,” Dean said, and deposited his drink on the counter. He followed Castiel back toward the living room to grab the bags from his delivery off the floor.

“You can use the upstairs,” Castiel said from the liquor cabinet. “I don’t use it much these days.”

Dean nodded, and then realized Castiel likely hadn’t seen it. “Sounds good,” he said instead, and then made his way to the stairs in the back.

“Do please dress efficiently,” Castiel called as Dean began to ascend. “I’ll need you back down here by seven to assist me in my own preparations.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Yes, sir,” he teased, leaving a blinking Castiel behind him as he climbed the stairs and reached the second floor. He quickly laid down the bags and explored the floor a little to start. He had to find out for himself where the bathroom was, after all. And, Castiel had said he could have the whole floor. He found a large spare bedroom with a bathroom next door, as well as what looked like an empty office. He walked in to see if there were any books or other signs of Castiel’s life. He popped open the drawers of the desk and found them all empty but one. He pulled out the small white rectangle of paper that stuck to the bottom of the drawer and turned it over. It was a photograph of Castiel with his arm around a small, auburn-haired sorority chick, sharp-faced but pretty. Castiel’s two blue eyes crinkled in the sunlight of that captured moment as he leaned casually back in the white cockpit of a large sailboat and smiled wide. Dean sat against the desk and wondered who this woman was. Who was Castiel before he came to Dean, angry and lonely and blind?

Dean tossed the picture back into the drawer and snapped it shut. He was wasting time. He made his way back to the second-floor bathroom, stopping on the way to grab the bags from the head of the stairs. As he showered, his mind kept returning to the picture in the desk drawer. He wondered what Castiel had loved about that woman, enough that he let her in like that. Dean had not been able to make him smile at all, not really. Not like that. If that was what it would take to make these people believe that Castiel was in love with him, they were royally screwed. Dean sighed and turned off the water, stepping out of the tub and grabbing a hanging towel. He dried his face and then lowered his towel, catching sight of his own eyes in the foggy mirror, staring back at him, wide-eyed with fright. Oh, he was so, so screwed.

 

. . .

 

After Dean was satisfied that the suit Gilda sent over fit, (he even checked out his ass in the full-length mirror in the spare bedroom and was very impressed), he headed downstairs to find Castiel. He wiggled his new watch against his wrist and watched his new tan dress shoes bounce off each step with delight. The shoes alone probably cost more than a month at his motel, he knew. Then there were the dark green dress socks peeking out beneath his blue suit pants and the light cream shirt that skated across his stomach with the softest rustle as he put one foot in front of the other. And taking into account the underwear? Dean was pretty sure he was in love. With the clothes, obviously. Not the way he got them.

He realized he had no idea where Castiel’s bedroom was. Plus, it was already 7:01, because he had waited until the last possible second to leave the safe-haven of the second floor. He nervously clicked the arms of the sunglasses clutched in one hand.

“Cas?” he called, wandering to the side of the first floor he hadn’t seen when he first arrived. He stopped by the gorgeous kitchen to guiltily swig the rest of his hairy navel before rinsing the glass in the sink. He then passed a big bathroom, a locked door, and some sort of home gym before he found the master bedroom—a gigantic room swathed in soft grays and dark blues. He stepped just inside the door, marveling at the decadent bed, and then caught sight of Castiel stepping out of the bathroom. He was still shirtless, but now freshly showered and with a towel around his waist. The planes of his broad chest were still wet, and Dean wondered briefly what he had been doing in the shower that long before his mind spun back to the home gym he had just passed and how Castiel clearly used it often.

“Uh,” Dean said eloquently. “Hey Cas.”

Cas’s head snapped up and he abruptly turned back into the bathroom, emerging again quickly, this time with his eyepatch securely over his left eye. Dean internally cursed himself for failing to get a good look at his eye when he had the chance.

“I didn’t mean to intrude,” he said, and then paused. “It’s after seven.”

“Of course,” Castiel said. His hair was finally free of the gel he had used earlier, now just beginning to fluff at its wet ends, above his ears and at the back of his neck. His chest was still bare. He had not bothered to cover anything besides his eye before re-entering the bedroom. Dean stood in the doorway awkwardly, waiting for instruction. Castiel just stood there for a second, good eye cast toward the space where Dean was but clearly failing to capture what Castiel wanted it to. “Please retrieve my suit from the closet,” he finally said, gesturing to the far side of the room. Dean crossed in front of Castiel’s bed, passing him close on one side. He found the garment bag immediately and eased the hanger from the rack. He turned just in time to see Castiel drop the towel from his waist while pulling a pair of underwear from a drawer on the other side of the room.

“Dude,” Dean said, involuntarily.

“What,” Castiel replied, bending a leg with utter nonchalance.

“Are you like one of those cats that thinks it can’t be seen so long as it can’t see you?” He squeaked out.

“No,” Castiel said, his chin tilting either in confusion or in a subtle power play. “I just don’t see what the big deal is. Presumably your unclothed form looks much the same as mine. It can’t be much of a surprise.” He lifted his other leg and then pulled the clean pair of white boxers up his wide thighs. Dean averted his eyes.

“I have a dick, if that’s what you’re asking,” Dean said loudly.

“I wasn’t,” Castiel said, walking forward and holding his hand out expectantly.

“I mean, I’ve seen plenty of dicks,” Dean stuttered, still frozen by the closet.

“Okay,” Castiel said, now squinting at Dean from about a foot away. His hand was still outstretched, and Dean finally snapped out of it, digging through the garment bag to find Castiel’s shirt. When he finally found it, he tugged it off the hanger and tossed the remaining bundle of clothes onto the bed.

“Right,” he said, threading the dark shirt past Castiel’s hand and onto his arm. “Left,” he said, doing the same on the other side. Castiel shrugged the shirt on and began to feel out the buttons in front as Dean scrambled to grab the suit pants off the bed. He looked away nervously and held them out so that Castiel’s hand ran into them as he reached the lowest button on the shirt. Castiel took them and bent to put them on. Dean backed away, one hand seeking out the suit jacket lying on the bed. He sat next to it, thrusting the jacket into Castiel’s hands as they became available. Next came the socks, which Dean had to dump out of the bag along with the navy shoes. Once Castiel was fully dressed, he headed back into the bathroom, leaving Dean alone on the bed.

“I need your help with my hair,” Castiel called out in clipped tones. Dean got the feeling that Castiel was getting increasingly nervous the closer the dinner came.

Dean sighed and rose from the bed to meet him in front of the bathroom mirror. “It looks good to me already,” he said, running one hand across the back of his own neck awkwardly.

“Well it doesn’t look like anything to me.”

“Dude, relax, I just—”

“I like it gelled, so I know it looks good,” Castiel cut in.

“Alright, it’s your dinner,” Dean said, reluctantly receiving the gel Castiel held out to him. “But I like it like this.”

“My hair tends to ‘have a mind of its own.’” Castiel’s glower was slightly softened by his use of finger quotes. “I need it gelled. It’s not like I can check it in the restroom before meetings with important people.”

“I thought that’s what I was here for,” Dean said petulantly.

“We’ll see,” Castiel said, motioning for him to get on with it.

Dean squirted the gel into his hand, resolutely ignoring the awkward squelching sound. He put the tube on the counter and then began working the gel into Castiel’s hair with both hands, trying his best approximation of Castiel’s severe look from this morning. When he had it good enough, he washed his hands in the sink while Castiel headed out, dialing his driver as he went.

“Hang the towel,” Dean heard him call angrily from the bedroom. Dean found himself hoping that Castiel had tripped over it on his way out, but he trudged in to pick it up anyway.

 

. . .

 

Dean and Castiel arrived at the restaurant twenty minutes later in Castiel’s Tesla. That was one argument drunk Dean didn’t win when they made their game plan back at Castiel’s apartment. Though alcohol did make Castiel somewhat more agreeable, you can’t take the asshole out of the ass, Dean figured. And, unfortunately, neither of them felt remotely drunk anymore, now that it was hours later and they were facing a fancy restaurant in a skyscraper—and Castiel’s mother.

Once outside the car, Castiel held his hand out impatiently. Dean took it gingerly, and they went into the building holding hands. Dean knew he had to help Castiel maneuver the unfamiliar area, plus it sold the whole relationship thing, he supposed. But it kind of made him feel like a teenager again, and not in a good way. He was only slightly worried about whether his hand was too sweaty. He was a little more preoccupied with the idea that people passing by might be noticing. He wondered what they were thinking—if they bought that they were together, and what they felt about it.
Once in the lobby, they took the elevator to the top floor and asked the waiting hostess for the Krushnic party. Dean was already getting tired of top floors, and by the time the hostess had led them to a party of four seated at a table directly next to a floor-length window spanning the entire wall, Dean was cursing the name of Krushnic under his breath.

“Кастиэль” An older woman with brown hair sitting with her back to the window called out Castiel’s name in a thick Russian accent. Her voice was pleasant, even if her smile left a bad feeling in Dean’s stomach.

“Hello, Mother,” Castiel replied as he and Dean approached the table. Castiel pulled Dean into his side and brought his mouth close to his ear. “Who else?” he whispered hurriedly.

“Dark-haired guy, blond guy,” he answered, scanning the occupants of the table one-by-one. His eyes fell on a familiar face that had him cursing more than the name of Krushnic. “And a red-haired woman,” he finished, suddenly impossibly on edge. It was the woman from the picture in Castiel’s desk drawer, and Dean found himself suddenly much less eager to know who she was. He looked around quickly and noticed a few glasses in varying degrees of empty already scattered around, and some glass bowls of almonds and shrimp on the table.

“Glad to see that everyone is here,” Castiel said cordially. Dean subtly directed him to the empty chair next to the window with a hand at his back. No amount of money could get him in a chair inches from a window like that. Luckily Castiel settled into it with no problem. Dean took the one next to him, focusing hard on Castiel’s one eye instead of the crowd of strangers or the several-dozen-story drop lurking just on Castiel’s other side. “I hope we didn’t keep you all waiting,” Castiel added. Dean could already hear a coolness to his tone that did not bode well for the evening.

“Not at all, Castiel,” came a sickly-sweet British voice from the man sitting next to Castiel’s mother. Dean’s gaze flew to the speaker, who was dark-haired and short and wore a black suit atop a red shirt that almost shone with every turn of his body, even in the dim light. “Though the anticipation has been killing me. Please do introduce us to this scrumptious creature on your arm.” He grinned as though delighted at some private joke.

Dean couldn’t help but gape a little. He looked to Castiel and then back at the man. “I’m Dean,” he drawled, presenting a hand, along with his most charming smile. “Cas’s boyfriend.” Dean glanced nervously around the table; he had never felt so stared at in his life. Not one of them smiled back.

“Enchanted,” the man drawled in return, grasping Dean’s hand firmly. “You can call me Crowley.”

“A pleasure,” Dean replied before turning his gaze to the older woman. “And you must be Mrs. Krushnic,” he said. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

The woman nodded but did not offer her hand. “Unfortunately, I can’t say the same,” she said. “But I’m glad you could be here tonight, Dean. You may call me Naomi.” Her accent was stronger than Castiel’s, but more subtle than Dean had expected. She smiled an emotionless smile. He grinned back forcefully. Castiel shifted in his seat.

“And this is my brother and business partner, Bartholomew,” Castiel said, raising his chin to do his best approximation of looking his brother in the eye. Bartholomew—blond, handsome, and smarmy-looking—ignored Castiel’s gaze in favor of appraising Dean. All of Dean’s hopes for the evening sank beneath Bartholomew’s glare. So this was the brother Castiel no longer spoke to. Fantastic.

“And my fiancée, April,” Bartholomew added. The woman—April—sat uncomfortably close to Bartholomew and had one hand possessively curled along the back of his neck. She was slender and even more stunning than she had looked in Castiel’s picture, with her hair pulled back into a sharp hairstyle and her eyes decorated with smoky liner. She hardly glanced at Dean, as though he was no more than a smudge of food on her silver spoon. Instead, she was looking intently at Castiel.

“Fiancée,” Castiel repeated, almost woodenly. This was clearly a surprise. “That calls for celebratory drinks.” His one eye had finally landed on April, whose heavily-lipsticked mouth was curving into a smile while Bartholomew pulled her impossibly closer. His arm around her jostled her deep-necked golden dress slightly, exposing even more of the clear skin of her perfect chest beneath. Dean’s discomfort grew as he watched Castiel do his best to focus on her.

“Indeed!” Crowley agreed before hailing a passing waiter with a loud “waiter!”

“Hey Cas,” Dean whispered as the others turned their attention to the waiter. He leaned in with a smile like he was about to share a private joke of his own. “What the fuck.”

Castiel turned to look at Dean, angled so that his face was hidden from the rest of the party. Their faces were nearly touching. For the first time ever, Dean saw real fear in Castiel’s expression. His look seemed almost desperate, and pleading, and incredibly sad. Dean reeled from it slightly. He turned back to find the waiter ready for their drink orders. “Two whiskeys,” Castiel said, his face now perfectly calm. Dean fumbled for Castiel’s leg under the table and squeezed it gently.

The waiter produced a handful of menus and passed them around before leaving. Castiel immediately handed his to Dean, who took one look at all the unfamiliar words and decided they were both getting steaks and nothing else. He set both menus aside.

“Crowley’s firm financed the Spire,” Castiel said, nodding in Crowley’s direction. Dean assumed this was for his benefit; surely everyone else at the table already knew.

“Now now, let’s give credit where credit is due,” Crowley began. “The Spire was a joint venture with Krushnic & Associates. However, the building we’re in right now is all my own.” He winked at Dean.

“Which is why you’re even more hated in Chicago than Cas,” said Dean, watching the patronizing smile slide right off of Crowley’s face with satisfaction. “You’re the man who lobbied for the rights to fill the Chicago River to build the foundation for this skyscraper. I know who you are.”

“Pretty and smart,” Crowley said wickedly. “Is he a journalist too?”

Castiel grit his teeth. Dean pressed on. “You were the first person in two centuries to attempt to alter the natural flow of the Chicago River.”

“But look at that view,” Crowley countered.

“I’d rather not,” Dean laughed. “I find those fishbowl walls give me vertigo.”

Crowley narrowed his eyes. “Well, there’s a reason I’m the only one with the balls to build the tallest building in the city,” he said, reaching across the table for a handful of almonds. “And it ain’t because I’m a saint.”

“Yes, we certainly did make a deal with a devil,” Castiel quipped mirthlessly, subconsciously touching his eyepatch with one hand.

Dean could feel the awkwardness settle over the table. Thankfully, the waiter chose that moment to return with their drinks. Dean received his whiskey gratefully, managing to paste on an almost-genuine smile.

“To the happy couple,” Castiel called, raising his own glass in his brother’s direction.

The others followed suit, sipping their drinks in silence.

After another drawn-out gap in conversation, finally, April spoke.

“How did you two meet?” she asked, her voice as smooth and dangerous as the dark wine she languorously sipped.

“In California,” Dean supplied. This, at least, they had discussed before. “I went to school out there. I’m not a native Chicagoan. I’m just here to be with him, actually.”

“That sounds serious,” said Naomi.

“It is quite serious,” Castiel said. “That’s why I had to have him here tonight. Any decisions I make concerning the future will be made with him in mind. So if this is a business meeting—”

“Commitment?” April interrupted on a loud laugh. “That doesn’t sound like the Castiel I know.”

“Not everyone deserves commitment,” Castiel said. “Dean’s special,”

“Of course,” April said, as though she thought he was anything but.

“It’s a pity you couldn’t have children together,” Naomi said. “He is very handsome.”

Dean raised his eyebrows. He didn’t know very many LGBT people, but even he knew that was a pretty shitty thing to say to one.

“Castiel, darling,” April said as she reached a dainty hand over to smooth out his collar, “your suit is just a tiny bit wrinkled.”

“I apologize,” Castiel said, his one eye narrowed and focused on her. He sent her a smile. “Dean was a little . . . over-enthusiastic in the bedroom as we were getting dressed this evening. And I can’t say no to him. He is handsome indeed.”

“Uh,” Dean tried to turn his cough into an endearing grin. He leaned into Castiel’s neck like he might be whispering sweet nothings meant for only his lover’s ear. “So that’s how we’re playing this?” he whispered sharply, still feeling terribly off-balanced despite his minor conversational wins.

“Don’t be embarrassed, Dean,” Crowley spoke up. “I’d wager everyone at this table has seen Castiel naked.”

Dean resisted the urge to glare. “I mean, if you’ve got it, flaunt it, am I right?” he joked instead, letting his gaze turn briefly back to April. She was still staring at Castiel like she could seduce him right there and then. But what bugged him more was that Castiel hadn’t taken his focus off her since she’d touched him. “I know what I’ve got,” he said fondly, taking Castiel’s hand where it rested on the table. Castiel blinked down at their hands, and then smiled shyly at Dean. Dean’s heartrate suddenly spiked.

“That’s extremely high praise, coming from you,” Castiel teased. He turned to the rest of the table. “Dean’s rarely impressed,” he said. “Like most people in Chicago, he hates the Spire.”

“Then maybe he’s not so smart after all,” April chimed in; the whole table turned to look at her. “After all, anyone who understands the least bit of engineering could see that the Spire is an incredible feat of architectural and structural brilliance. Its load-bearing design is revolutionary.”

“You misunderstand,” Dean said, stitching his smile to his face with every ounce of will he had. “I have no problem with the load-bearing design. I have problems with everything else. The contracts were awarded to some of the shadiest builders in the area, the construction companies Krushnic & Associates employed would be ranked some of the worst in the nation for their exploitation of undocumented immigrants, if anyone cared to curate that information, and though the initial designs showed promise for sustainable engineering practices, it didn’t go nearly as far as it should have to earn recognition as world-class or innovative. And that doesn’t even take into account the unilateral and dramatic alteration of the historic Chicago skyline thanks to what many consider to be an eyesore.”

Dean drained his drink with ease. “But as an engineer, I do appreciate the load-bearing design. What did you say it is you do?” He stared April down across the table.

“I’m a journalist,” she said. “I write for the Tribune.”

Dean would have facepalmed if he were alone. He suddenly understood Crowley’s joke from earlier about him sounding like a journalist. Even though he knew he and Castiel were not really together, he still didn’t like the idea of having to fight this bitch over him. “Is that so,” he said, hoping he wasn’t coming across as an idiot and a liar, both of which he clearly was.

“Indeed. In fact, I wrote several pieces covering the Spire throughout its planning and construction.”

Dean wished he still had some whiskey left. He contemplated stealing Castiel’s—he’d never see it coming. He doubled down in verbal warfare instead. “Now that you mention it, I thought I recognized the turn of phrase you used earlier. . .” He pretended to contemplate. “What was it, ‘an incredible feat of architectural and structural brilliance’? I think I’ve read your stuff.” He went in for the kill. “You’re a decent read, but you left out a lot of vital details. So I’m not sure I would really call that ‘covering the spire.’ Unless ‘covering the spire’ is a euphemism for sleeping with the architect after ignoring all of the problematic parts of the story for publication.”

Castiel squeezed his hand in what Dean assumed was an indication that he should stop. But he had one more thing to say. He had to make it clear he was not going to get thrown under the bus that was Castiel’s Evil Ex-Girlfriend.

He turned his fiery gaze on Castiel. “Oh god, babe,” he said. “I hope you weren’t sleeping with her just for the positive press.”

Castiel returned his gaze intensely before turning his ice blue eye onto April. “I may have sold my soul to see this project through,” he said, “but I would never stoop that low.”

“Don’t be so dramatic, Castiel.” Bartholomew cut in frostily. “At most you sold half your soul. The other half you can stick wherever you please.” He sneered at Dean.

Dean furrowed his brow, looking at Castiel. “Why only half?” he asked.

“Because my company owns half of the Spire,” Crowley said coolly. “Krushnic & Associates owns the other half—at least until the Spire formally opens at the end of the week and we sell our entire equity interest to Raphael Azarias. By the way, Castiel, I was just speaking to him on the phone before you arrived. Our deal is still on.”

“Which deal?” Castiel seethed. “The deal we agreed on, to sell for liquid assets? Or the deal you made behind my back to sell in return for his contracts to build the Shanghai towers?”

“Come on, Castiel,” Crowley coaxed. “Don’t cash-out prematurely. You could be signing on to build the highest tower in the world. It’s worth rather more than your soul, I should think.”

“Worth more to me? Or to you?” Castiel growled. “Since you need me to do all the work of designing it.”

“Work for which you will be handsomely compensated,” said Crowley.

Dean let out a disgusted laugh. “You make it sound like the billions you’ll make selling the Spire aren’t enough.”

“They aren’t,” Crowley said, his dark eyes trained on Dean. “I want to own the tallest building in the world. And that’s where your little boytoy comes in.”

“And what if I elect to retain my equity interest in the Spire,” Castiel spit out.

Crowley smiled. “Considering that it’s a minority interest, and decisions about the Spire’s sale are decided by a majority vote, which I have, what you do doesn’t matter. I’m here as a courtesy to you. I don’t need your cooperation.”

“But you do need my designs,” Castiel said.

Bartholomew scoffed. “Don’t overestimate your worth, brother. I’ll finish the design for it if you can’t.”

“You? You’ll design it?” Castiel said. “I’ve taken lead on every project our firm has ever handled—”

“Until the Spire,” Bartholomew said. “I took the lead after the accident, when you disappeared for months.”

“You mean the accident caused by your betrayal?” Castiel thundered.

Bartholomew’s chair screeched as he stood abruptly, looming over the table.

“Варфоломей!” Naomi was commanding as she said his name in her thick Russian tone.

“This is MY project.” Bartholomew murmured, sitting again. “My victory.”

“And my design,” said Castiel. “You cannot design the Shanghai Towers—”

“I can—”

“—under my name! You’re using my name for your own enrichment, and I won’t allow it.”

“Our name, Кастиэль.” Naomi Krushnic’s voice was harsh and threatening as she interrupted Castiel. He turned his one eye on her, sinking into his seat like a child. “You forget yourself. It is our name. It was never just yours.”

Crowley spread his hands. “If you care about your name,” he said, “I’m doing you a favor. History will only remember the Krushnic who built the tallest building in the world. It will not remember the one who walked away.”

“So, what, you’re going to steal credit for my designs?” Castiel asked. “Call them your own?”

“If we must,” said Crowley. “But we hope you will join us.”

“You’ll never finish them on your own,” Castiel said.

“The Towers will be built,” Crowley threatened. “With or without you.”

“Talent may be bought and sold,” Castiel said. “But true ingenuity cannot be stolen. And you cannot have mine.” He rose from the table, pushing his chair back with quiet control. Dean rose as well, taking Castiel’s hand and gently leading him away.

“I do hope you reconsider,” Crowley called with false geniality. “The opening of the Spire is just days away. Don’t end up on the wrong side of the deal.”
Dean and Castiel walked away without looking back.

 

. . .

 

When the elevator doors shut behind them, Castiel dropped Dean’s hand and fumbled to the mirrored wall that made up the edges of the enclosed space. Dean, wide-eyed and relieved to be out of there, watched as Castiel slumped against the mirror. Turning around, Dean backed up into the space next to him and slumped against the mirror too.

“Well, that went abysmally,” Castiel said.

Dean looked over at him for a second, and then suddenly burst into riotous laughter. The adrenaline was still pumping, and he felt like the elevator had left his heart several floors above as it plunged to the ground with him in it.

“What the hell was that?!” He howled.

Castiel let out what could only be called a giggle, and Dean lost it. Soon he was doubled up in laughter, watching through tears as Castiel’s face broke into a huge gummy smile.

Dean got ahold of himself just as they reached the ground floor. “And I thought my family was bad,” he said, clapping Castiel on the shoulder.

“I apologize for leaving before dinner started,” he said, contrite.

“Yeah, I’m starving,” Dean admitted. The elevator dinged as it hit the ground floor. “Hey, I know a place around here,” Dean said, taking Castiel’s hand and walking him out into the building lobby.

“Amazing burgers. You wanna go?”

Castiel rubbed one warm thumb tentatively against Dean’s as they left the skyscraper behind. “That would make me very happy,” he said.

In no time at all, Dean and Castiel were set up in a booth, licking juicy grease from hands full of delicious half-pound butter burgers. Dean cried a little when he bit into his, (residual tears from the earlier bout of laughter, of course), and Castiel moaned so loudly Dean actually got embarrassed for him.

They talked for a long while, munching on fries even though they were both already full. Their waiter, Garth, stopped by several times to check on them, eventually just slipping the check onto their table for them to take care of “at their convenience.”

“It’s been a pleasure serving you,” the tall, gangly waiter said with a goofy smile on his face. “You’re an adorable couple.” As he walked away, Dean’s mouth dropped open.

“But I wasn’t even trying,” he said, confused. “What did I do?”

“Maybe we should ask him what gave him that impression,” Castiel said. “So we can recreate it.”

“For science,” Dean agreed. After a beat, Dean relaxed. “At least he wasn’t homophobic,” he said with a shrug.

“Yes, I find I’m already tired of it,” Castiel admitted. “I’m sorry about my mother. I think I would have given my hearing just to have been able to see the look on her face when she saw you. I think it would have been much more satisfying that way.”

“More frightening, you mean,” said Dean.

“Yes,” Castiel agreed. “You handled yourself well, considering.”

“Are you kidding?” Dean said. “I was amazing.”

Castiel smiled. “That’s why I hired you.” The smile slipped. “I apologize if you felt that I didn’t prepare you adequately. I just . . . didn’t know how to approach it.”
“I get it,” Dean said. “Family is tough. And to be honest, this situation is fucked up.”

Castiel sat very still across the booth from Dean. He no longer seemed interested in the fries scattered between them. “I wish it could be different,” he murmured.

“I bet,” Dean said, frowning. “Cas, no offense buddy, but that seems like a bad business deal.”

Castiel shook his head. “This is exactly what they meant to do,” he said. “Who do you think decided to give Crowley a majority interest? It wasn’t me. I didn’t even own the majority interest in the firm I started before Crowley came along. ‘The Family’ did. They were never going to let me go. They were always going to do this to me.”

“So, you’re not interested at all?” Dean asked. “You’re not even going to consider going to Shanghai?”

Castiel sighed. “In truth I’d have liked to, under different circumstances. But I can’t go to Shanghai with no sight. I wouldn’t be able to keep it from them. Even if I could finish the designs blind, they’d still push me out. I’d never get another contract after.”

“Why?”

“Ableism is pervasive. My family would see it as weakness. The architecture world would see it as a liability. You don’t get contracts on a gamble. If I’m not certain if I can do it, they certainly won’t be.”

Castiel’s phone vibrated. He lifted it from his suit pocket, unlocking it.

“Text from Charlie,” an automated voice informed him.

“Do you mind?” he asked Dean. “We’re meeting her tomorrow, I need to confirm.”

Dean shrugged, still frowning. “Sure.”

“Open text from Charlie,” Castiel directed his phone.

“Date deets!” The automated voice rang out. “Is he still with you? Send pictures.”

Castiel froze, phone still in hand. Dean raised his eyebrows, a smile suddenly growing where the frown had been. “Okay, give it,” Dean said, taking the phone from Castiel’s hand. He raised it high, turning in his seat so they both were in frame of the front-facing camera. “Raise your hand, Cas,” he said, snapping a picture of the two of them smiling together. He sent it off before taking another photo, this one of himself doing his sexiest Blue Steel. He sent that one as well.

“While you have the phone, tell her we’re still on for our 8 o’ clock,” said Castiel, rolling his one eye.

“Eight am?” Dean confirmed, fiddling with the phone.

“Yes. You can meet me there, if you’d prefer. I know it’s early, but I want to make sure Charlie has time to create an internet life for you from scratch before anyone tries to confirm your story from tonight.”

“Hold on, why tomorrow?” Dean asked. “Shouldn’t we have done that before you threw me to the wolves?”

“There wasn’t time. I may have . . . put off finding a suitable hire until it was too late to adequately prepare. Knowing them, I took the risk of doing it tomorrow.”

“You don’t think they’ll have looked already?”

“I doubt any of them are that eager to research you,” Castiel answered. “Naomi wouldn’t. Bartholomew’s too lazy. Crowley might look you up—your pictures, maybe, but I doubt he’d think to dig any deeper than that. April is the only one who would. But she won’t be looking tonight.”

“How do you know?” Dean asked.

“Was she drinking wine?”

Dean thought back to the restaurant, to April’s fingers seductively travelling the length of her wine glass in a gesture Castiel would never see. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure.”

“Then she probably got a headache and is already asleep at home,” Castiel said with a little shrug.

“Oh,” said Dean. He passed Castiel’s phone back to him. “Anyway, that reminded me, I told my brother I’d send a picture of you,” Dean said awkwardly, pulling his own phone out. “That ok?”

Castiel frowned. “You told him about me?”

“No! No. Just that I’m working with you, not about the boyfriend thing, or anything.” Dean swept a hand across the back of his neck in a nervous gesture. “Also, he’s a lawyer, so, you can’t sue me for breaking the NDA. I know my rights.”

“I’m not going to sue you, Dean. Probably.” Castiel tilted his head in thought. “Why doesn’t he just google me?”

Dean hedged uncomfortably. “I just . . . I told him I’d send the pic, alright?”

“If you must,” Castiel said.

Dean raised his phone and Castiel squinted in an effort to focus on it. After he’d snapped the photo, Dean looked at the screen. Castiel’s head was tilted, like some kind of puppy or confused cat. His blue eye shone and crinkled at the side. It was not quite the live-action Fuhrer Bradley he’d meant to capture, but it would have to do. He sent it to Sam and stuffed his phone back in his pocket before rising from the booth. He grabbed the receipt with one hand, and Castiel’s palm with the other, and headed up front to pay.

 

. . .

Chapter Text

Dean woke up in his shitty extended-stay motel room to the sound of his alarm blaring. He pushed off the lumpy comforter and rubbed his eyes against the sunlight streaming through the threadbare curtains. He rolled over, grabbing his phone from the nightstand to stop the alarm, and was surprised to see thirteen text notifications. He scrolled down them to see if any were from Castiel, but all thirteen were from Sam.

“The fuck?” Dean said aloud, opening his messages.

Is that castiel krushnic? The earliest text read. He scrolled to the next one.

I guess I see the resemblance to the fuhrer

(“Told you so,” thought Dean).

What’s with the eyepatch, btw?

Dean kept scrolling.

Does he have sword skills?

The fuhrer does

wait

What were you doing in a diner

With him

At ten o’ clock at night

Is this a date?

Dean’s heart suddenly stuttered.

Wait, is he gay?

Are YOU gay?

Dean’s mouth fell open.

Does he have SWORD skills?

Dean threw his phone onto the bed and headed to the bathroom.

 

. . .

 

Dean was on his way to Charlie’s when he got Sam’s next text:

Come on Dean, I was just kidding

He wasn’t mad, he just didn’t have anything to say to Sam’s goading besides “shut up, Sam.” Sam was right: it was just a joke, and he’d put it out of his mind. It wasn’t like he was thinking about it. That would be dumb.

He pulled up to the address Hannah had sent him this morning and scoped out the street. He was looking at a midgrade apartment building, nothing special. He didn’t see Castiel’s Tesla even though he was exactly on time. He parked his car on the street along with the other scattered cars and then headed up to the door of apartment 13.

He rang the doorbell and then waited, picking at a loose thread on his jeans. He hoped he wasn’t about to get in trouble for dressing like a normal person today. He’d had enough of the monkey suit thing already, and if this Charlie person cared what he was wearing at eight in the morning after his night last night, they were not going to get along.

The apartment door opened to reveal a short redhead in a Star Wars T-shirt and pink flannel pajama pants.

“Uh, is this the right place?” Dean asked.

“Good morning, Dean” he heard from the next room. “It’s 8:02. You’re late.”

“Nevermind,” Dean said, rolling his eyes and stepping inside.

Charlie turned out to be the one in the pink flannel, and she introduced herself with such fervor that Dean could tell immediately that they would have no problem getting along. She led him into what Dean could only guess was a gaming room slash office, complete with two of the biggest computer monitors Dean had ever seen. Castiel was waiting there awkwardly, sitting on a huge bean bag that had obviously been brought in and stuffed in a corner for this meeting. He was wearing a suit and tie again despite the early hour, though today’s suit was ill-fitting compared to his last, and the blue striped tie faced backward again.

Dean looked down at his own outfit one more time. Castiel likely couldn’t tell that Dean was in jeans, but there was also the flannel. The bright red and blue pattern didn’t exactly scream “professional.” But, it was just about the brightest thing Dean owned, and when he was getting dressed he’d figured at least Castiel might be able to see it.

“Hey, Cas,” he said, folding his arms and standing stiffly in the doorway.

“Let’s begin,” Castiel said.

Charlie pushed a wheeled office chair over to Dean with one hand as she sat in her own chair at the keyboard.

“I’ve got some stuff written up that I want you to look over before it goes live,” she said as Dean took a seat and scooted closer. “I’ve already put your name in Stanford alumni lists, and I even went ahead and added you to donor lists too. It’ll make you look rich. I’ve basically created a company website for you—and a company, actually—that lists you as lead engineer in making designs for cars. We went with something you have some practical experience in. But, since you’re the expert on cars, I wanted you to check it over for anything that’ll give up the game.”

“Wow,” Dean said, impressed. “Uh, yeah. I can do that.”

Charlie pulled it up for him and he looked it over. It really was incredibly impressive. He clicked on all the different links, looking over pages and pages of who he could be. He wished for a second that it
could be his real life, and not a made-up story.

“This looks great, Charlie,” he said, pulling away from the monitor and blinking away the brightness of the screen and the longing he felt.

Charlie grinned. “Alright, then it’s live!” she declared, situating herself once more in front of the computer. She worked her magic at the keyboard and then beamed at him. Her eyes turned gentle and unassuming before she made her next request. “The next thing I gotta ask is . . . is there anything about you already on the internet that I’m going to need to hide?” Dean tried to look away, but Charlie stared him down.

“Uh,” Dean said. He could already feel a blush starting to creep across his cheeks.

“Even if you think no one’s likely to find it,” she said. “I know Hannah checked you out before you were hired—”

“You googled me?” Dean asked Castiel.

“No, Hannah googled you,” he said from the bean bag, where he was now awkwardly reclined.

“—but she was just looking for news articles and the stuff that comes up right away. And I don’t trust April as far as I can throw her stupid big ugly head, so if there’s anything she could find using her considerable journalistic resources, now’s the time to let your fairy godmother make it go away.”

Dean considered it. He figured it was an opportunity he wasn’t likely to get again in his life. He decided to tell her the truth. “Can you . . .” he snuck a quick glance at Castiel and then lowered his voice slightly “. . . erase arrest records? Juvenile arrests?”

“Yup,” Charlie said. She flashed him a confident and cheerful smile. “But I’ll need coffee.” She spun in her office seat to look past Dean and address Castiel. “Hey Castiel, my dude, my pal, would you be a darling and go make some coffee?”

Castiel glared in her general direction, but he did get up and leave the room, pulling out a silver stick that extended into a walking aid from who knows where as he did.

 

. . .

 

By the time Charlie had worked her magic on Dean’s arrest records and they’d emerged from the office victorious, Castiel had made enough bad coffee to feed an army of hacker-geniuses.

The three of them stood around the small and cheerful yellow kitchen drinking it and discussing the non-dinner from hell of the night before.

Charlie seemed to agree with Dean that $5,000 was not enough payment for what he went through at the top of that skyscraper. Dean had known he liked her before, but he decided they could be best friends when she laughed so raucously, she spilled coffee on the floor as Dean retold his “covering the Spire” joke. “Ooh, I bet Saint Bartholomew was pissed about that,” she said gleefully.

“It’s lucky old Barf-salami was on a short leash,” Dean said, remember the rage in Bartholomew’s eyes as he’d stood against Castiel in the restaurant.

“Oh my god!” Charlie gasped. “You’ve met his mother already? Castiel, your MOM was there?!”

Castiel opened his mouth in shock. “You got that from that immature nickname?”

“Dude, only your mother uses the Russian pronunciation, and, not to make fun of cultures and languages I’m not a part of, but Dean’s right, it sounds exactly like Barf-salami.”

“It doesn’t,” Castiel responded.

“Does,” Charlie insisted.

“Wow, Charlie,” Dean cut in. “You really are a genius, aren’t you?” He decided to change the subject before Castiel had a chance to make a comeback. “Hey, how’s Gilda, by the way?” he asked. He really did want to know. She had grown on him quickly, just like Charlie.

“She’s good!” Charlie beamed. “She stayed over at her place last night so we could have some privacy this morning. Otherwise she’d have totally said hello.”

“Talk about a genius,” Dean said, a cheesy grin already overtaking his face. “When you see her, tell her I looked amazing last night.”

“I know, I saw,” Charlie laughed. “Thanks for the pic, by the way. Goddess bless text-to-voice capabilities, I knew it was the only way. Forgive me for putting you on the spot, but Castiel would never send me a pic on his own.”

“Well,” Castiel said, “I’ll never fall for that one again.”

“Come on, man, have a heart,” Charlie whined. “You know I had to see the guy you’re fake-dating. It wouldn’t be fair to keep your fake-boyfriend a secret from your best friend. And really, Dean, you did look great. And I say that as the gayest lesbo known to mankind, so.”

Dean laughed. “Then I take it as the highest compliment,” he said.

“You looked great too, Cas,” Charlie added. “Happy. I bet April nearly peed her pants with jealousy.”

“You have no idea,” Dean joked. “I was ready in case she jumped over the table and tried to gouge my eyes out with her nails. I had a fork.”

“If only,” Charlie said darkly. “She’d deserve it.”

Castiel gave a warning glare. “Charlie,” he said.

Charlie sighed and took on a more lighthearted tone. “I’m almost sad I couldn’t have been there to see it. . . but, cat’s out of the closet on this one.” She turned to Castiel. “Don’t get me wrong, I love you, dude, but I don’t think I could’ve acted my way out of that building to save my life. Me, a heterosexual!” She scoffed. “Nope! Give me a computer, or a boardgame, or a screen adaptation of a formative sci-fi/fantasy novel and I’m there. But a hot hunk o’ man? No thank you. And speaking of two of those, we’re having a game night this weekend and surprise! You’re both invited.” She spread her hands in a hammed gesture of excitement and paused for a joyous reaction that didn’t come.

Castiel sighed.

“Uh, I dunno, Charlie,” Dean hedged. “I’m not much of a game person. I played Catan with my brother one time and just ended up throwing the pieces at his head.” He laughed.
“Okay, I know I said ‘invited’ but what I really meant was you’d be doing me a huuuge favor,” she said. “It’s a Battlestar Galactica night and we don’t have enough players.” She put on a puppy-dog expression for Dean’s benefit.

“Wait,” Dean said. “Battlestar Galactica, like, the TV show?” He didn’t know there was a board game for it. He could never tell Sammy, the nerd would go ballistic. Even he was kind of excited at the prospect.

“Yeah,” Charlie answered, perking back up, “you seen it?”

Dean grinned. “Seen it? It’s in my top five shows, easy.”

“Top five?” Charlie beamed. “Try top one!”

Castiel frowned. “Who’s coming?” he asked.

“Well, it’s me and Gilda and Kevin,” she said, “but—”

“Then you DO have enough players,” Castiel said. The frown had taken on new dimensions: Dean thought he could detect triumph and disappointment both, along with annoyance.

“DON’T,” Charlie corrected him. “It’s no fun with just one cylon. We NEED a fourth and fifth.” She turned to Dean and the puppy-dog eyes were back. “Five is by far the optimum number of players, it’ll make sense when I explain the rules. Plus, you’ll literally love it.”

Dean raised his hands in surrender, looking between Charlie and Castiel. “Hey, you’ve convinced me” he said. “I’m in.”

“Dean’s in,” Charlie said excitedly to Castiel.

“I heard, Charlie,” Castiel said. “I’m blind, not deaf.”

Charlie rolled her eyes. “Well then listen to me,” she said. “I’m literally begging. On my knees! Groveling in the dirt!”

Castiel tried to hide the beginnings of a smile. “I don’t remember the game well enough,” he warned. “It’s been too long.”

“You’re damn right, it’s been too long. It’s been months, Castiel! I miss my girls! I need a little Starbuck in my life. Some Boomer. A Laura fucking Roslin. And a Castiel too.” She nudged him gently with her shoulder. “If you don’t feel like playing when you get here, we’ll do something else. We just miss you.”

Dean looked at the two of them and was surprised to see the softest fucking smile on Castiel’s face. The frown was nowhere to be seen.

“Okay,” said Castiel. “We’ll be there.”

Charlie grinned at Dean, and Dean grinned back.

 

. . .

 

Dean still had that dopey smile on his face when he left Charlie’s and got back into his car. He checked his phone for the first time in hours and saw three more messages from Sam:

I’m guessing you’re either mad at me or not out of bed yet.

If you’re mad, blink twice

If you’re still asleep, call me when you’re up.

The smile faltered. He should call Sam. He turned the ignition and prepared to return to his motel, dialing Sam’s number as he went.

Sam answered on the second ring. “Hello?”

“You’re wrong, Sammy,” Dean greeted him, letting a gloating grin take over his features.

“About what?”

“I wasn’t asleep, and I wasn’t mad. I just didn’t have time for your bullshit. Because unlike you, I have a job now. I’ve been up since dawn, workin’ for the man.”

“The man, huh?” Dean could hear Sam’s smile. “Is that what we’re calling him now?”

“Sure. The man; The Fuhrer; the bratty billionaire. It’s all the same to me.”

“Right,” Sam said. “So, you still hate him then?”

“What?” Dean frowned. “I don’t hate him.”

“So, you call all your friends ‘assholes?’”

“When they’re bein’ assholes, yeah.”

“So you’re friends now.”

“What’re you getting at, Sam.” Dean knew what Sam’s fishing expeditions looked like, and this was definitely one of them.

“I’m just curious about your date last night, that’s all,” Sam said with faux innocence.

Dean opened his mouth and then closed it and then opened it again. “You know, I’d expect better from you than the homophobic jokes,” he said.

“What?” Sam sounded genuinely confused.

Dean tried to channel Charlie: “That kind of teasing insinuates that a gay relationship would be something to laugh at, or, like, scorn, and . . . I dunno, man, that’s kinda lame.”

“Dude, you called me gay, like, every day growing up. And as adults. Are you kidding me?”

“So what, I can’t change now, either?” Dean said. “I have to stay the same sad homophobic asshole all my life, is that it?”

“No, Dean, of course not.”

“Alright, well there you go.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Sam said quietly. “I wasn’t teasing you about being gay. I was trying to tease you about making friends. Like real friends, for once. You deserve that.”

Dean grunted.

“And you gotta know, if you were gay it wouldn’t make a difference to me.”

“’M not gay, Sam,” Dean cut in.

“Well then, if he’s gay, it doesn’t make a difference to me.”

“He’s not gay, Jesus,” Dean said. “At least, I don’t think he is.” He thought about it for a second. “Actually, I dunno.”

“Do you know anything about this guy, Dean? I mean, what were you doing at a diner with him in the middle of the night.”

“I wish I could tell you, Sammy,” Dean said. “But I’m still under an NDA. You wouldn’t believe it, anyway.”

“Wait you were working?” Sam asked. “At a diner at ten o’ clock at night?”

“Yeah, I was working all day yesterday. Like, twelve hours or something.”

“Oh shit,” Sam said. “This guy’s no joke. Is he at least treating you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Dean said.

“He’s not making you do too much? Bossing you around?”

“No, Sam, he’s . . . I don’t know. He’s a weird, dorky little guy.”

“If you say so,” Sam said.

“I do,” Dean said. “Cas is alright. Plus, the pay is fucking ridiculous. I’m gonna send you some soon.”

“No, Dean, you don’t—”

“I know, I know,” Dean cut him off. “Quit your whining. You can pay me back when you’re a bigshot lawyer. Hey, I gotta go, Sam. Duty calls.”

Dean hung up the phone and tossed it onto the passenger seat as he continued his drive back to the motel.

 

. . .

 

Castiel was re-dressed in an almost-casual light grey suit when Dean arrived at his door a few hours later. Castiel pressed a garment bag into Dean’s hands nearly as soon as Dean had closed the door behind him.

“Hello to you too, Cas,” Dean said, shifting the bag awkwardly from hand to hand.

“Oh,” Castiel said. “Hello, Dean.” Castiel squinted at Dean for a long moment, Dean trapped between him and the door. “When you’ve finished changing, I’d like you to come to my bedroom.”

Dean swallowed. The pause dragged on.

Castiel clarified. “I need your assistance, again. With my hair.”

“Uh, sure,” Dean said, doing an awkward shimmy to get past Castiel and into the living room. “No problem.” He walked awkwardly across the room toward the stairs. “Hey Cas?” he said, turning back around at the last second. “Isn’t there guest parking? I hate handing my keys over to a valet every time I come over.”

“My apologies, Dean. I’ll arrange it.”

“And uh, a key, maybe? To your place?”

“Alright.”

Dean turned back around and headed up the stairs, a surprised smile making its way onto his face as he stepped lightly onto the landing.

Dean changed into the clothes Gilda had sent for him. Today, it was a dark green button-down with dressy tan slacks and leather shoes. Dean admired himself in the mirror a moment before he made his way back downstairs and then to Castiel’s bedroom. He made sure to call out Castiel’s name just before he got there, in case for some reason he was naked again or something. He didn’t want a repeat of yesterday.

He wasn’t naked, Dean saw when he got into the room. He was sitting on the edge of his bed, a nature program about bees playing on the tv mounted on the wall. Dean smiled at the sight. It was somehow endearing to watch such a scary, powerful guy attentively listening like a dork to someone talk about the antiseptic properties of honey.

But before Dean could really drink it in, Castiel was on his feet and headed to the bathroom. He turned the program off as he went, and Dean followed him into the bathroom in silence. Castiel fumbled for the bottle of gel on the counter before grasping it and handing it to Dean.

Dean took it with a sigh, squeezed some gel into a hand, and got to work.

“So, what do we have today?” Dean asked, making conversation as his hands threaded through Castiel’s hair, pulling the strands into order and submission under the sticky force of the gel.

“It’s a simple lunch meeting,” Castiel said.

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Dean said. He swept some of Castiel’s hair behind his ears, trying to frame his face just right.

“It should be much better than last night,” Castiel said. Dean thought he could detect some sheepishness in Castiel’s voice. “The only reason this lunch is of any consequence is that I’ve been putting it off for weeks. But now that I’m going to be . . . available . . . to the public at various functions over the next week, I thought I’d get it over with so she doesn’t feel the need to bother me later. Consider it a dry run for future events: we can test your ability to mingle in polite company.”

“Test me?” Dean repeated. He removed his hands from Castiel’s hair and turned to the sink to wash them.

“I’m paying you for the day,” Castiel said. “I may as well get my money’s worth.”

Dean scoffed and then shouldered past Castiel back into the bedroom.

 

. . .

 

Dean joined Castiel in the luxurious back seat of his expensive Tesla once more. He watched the city go by as Benjamin drove—much too slowly—past office buildings and skyscrapers and into a part of town Dean rarely visited. Soon they arrived at some country club looking restaurant. Dean didn’t really know what a country club looked like, never having been in one. But there were signs for a pool, and a spa, and most people milling around were wearing polos and blazers. At least they weren’t on the top floor, Dean thought, shaking his head at the dainty tables and decadent, poofy chairs. The hostess led them to a table occupied by someone apparently named Anna. Anna wore business attire, but somehow she didn’t quite fit in with the other patrons. She was a couple decades younger, for one, and her flowy white top plunged in a deep vee at her neck in a way that might explain the stares she was getting from the ladies at the adjacent table. Anna’s bright red hair fell across her shoulders as she stood to greet them, and she smiled brightly at the two of them as they approached.

Maybe Cas has a thing for redheads, Dean thought.

But although Anna embraced Castiel warmly when he reached her, there didn’t seem to be any secret romantic tryst in their past. The meeting passed entirely drama-free, and Dean was able to keep up with the conversation with ease. So much for Castiel’s “test.” In fact, Dean was even genuinely interested in what Anna had to say. She had come to Castiel with a proposition for a new project—she wanted to redevelop part of historic Chicago. The part that apparently some other rich people wanted to buy up and turn into shopping malls or parking garages or whatever. But what Anna had in mind was more of a restoration. There was an old library and an old post office down there, and Dean had more than once noticed how distinctive the buildings were, though they were certainly old and run-down, as well. He found himself hoping that Castiel could do something to help her. He knew it wasn’t his place to tell Castiel what to do, but he was still disappointed at the regretful look on Castiel’s face when he quietly promised to think about it and get back to her.

After Anna said goodbye and hurried off to meet with some other rich shmuck, Dean asked Castiel about it.

“That sounded pretty cool to me, man,” he said. “You really not interested?”

“It’s difficult to commit to projects at this time,” said Castiel, guarded.

“Because of your eyesight?”

Castiel rose brusquely from the table and then stuck out an ungraceful arm, waiting for Dean to get up and escort him out.

“Fine,” Dean said, grabbing Castiel’s arm in annoyance. They walked out together, though Dean was unsatisfied with Castiel’s non-answer. He watched Castiel the whole walk back through the country club lobby, because he could, and because he just didn’t understand this guy’s deal. Neither of them said anything, but the closer they got to the waiting car, the deeper in thought Castiel seemed to grow.

“Car,” Dean prompted him once they were outside. It didn’t seem to make an impression—Castiel was still frowning, head titled absently to one side.

Benjamin opened Castiel’s door and then Dean’s, and then waited patiently for instructions.

“Uh, Cas?” Dean said. “Where are we headed?”

Castiel blinked. “I think that depends on you,” he finally said, attempting to peer at Dean in the bright late-afternoon sunlight.

Dean was nonplussed.

“I have two tickets to the Chicago symphony’s presentation of Rachmaninov’s ‘Vespers,’” Castiel said.

Dean raised an eyebrow. “The who-what?” he replied.

Castiel pressed on. “I would like for you to join me.”

Dean’s other eyebrow rose to join the first. “‘Like’ as in you’ll fire me if I say no, or . . .?”

“Of course not,” Castiel said, his frown even more pronounced now.

Dean frowned back. “So, what, like, for fun?”

Castiel looked away, at nothing. “. . . Yes.”

“So that’s what big ol’ billionaires do for fun, is it?” Dean teased. “Go to the symphony?”

“I suppose it’s what I do,” Castiel answered, still facing away. His lips finally smoothed into a tiny, private smile. “It’s affirming, in a way. You’ll see. If you come.” He turned his smile on Dean.

Dean found himself basking in the smile, and something in him panicked. He searched for something to say. “So, is this like, you’re idea of a date?”

The smile faltered. “Not . . . Not a date,” Castiel said. “I would like to go. I have two tickets. I thought you might . . .”

Dean somehow felt let down, though of course he’d only been joking about the date. The thought of Castiel wanting to date him made him angry, but so did the thought of him not wanting to. As if Castiel was too good for a lowly pleb like Dean. He interrupted Castiel’s train of thought with a hint of anger injected into his teasing tone. “What, you thought I might enjoy babysitting you all night?”

“I’m not a baby,” Castiel spluttered. There was anger in his voice now too. Dean hadn’t meant to bring that out in him, it just kept happening. Castiel continued. “There will be no babysitting necessary. Just . . . regular sitting.”

“Okay,” Dean said.

“I could go alone, if I wanted,” Castiel grumbled. “I’m not entirely impotent, Dean. I just thought you’ve probably never been, so—”

“Yeah, that’s by choice,” Dean interrupted.

Castiel squinted at him futilely. “You have something against wind instruments?” He said.

“Of course not,” said Dean, annoyed.

“Then why are you so opposed to accepting my invitation?”

Dean didn’t have an answer for that. “I’m not opposed,” he spluttered.

“Then it’s settled,” Castiel said. He addressed Benjamin. “We’ll take a turn around the park and then the symphony.” And with that, he packed himself into the backseat of the car.

Dean followed suit. “What is this, a Jane Austen novel?” He muttered, slamming the door shut behind himself.

 

. . .

 

The park was quite gorgeous. Dean almost never came here, but it sounded like Castiel came here a lot. Or used to, more accurately. The more time he spent with him, the more Dean became convinced that as much as Castiel blustered about his ability to do things unaccompanied, he didn’t get out much, these days.

Dean had to admit, it felt kind of nice to be the guy that got Cas out in the world. Especially in view of the way Castiel’s eye crinkled as he basked in the sunlight on his face. The two of them walked the length of Grant Park and then through Maggie Daley Park, listening to the sounds of children playing and fountains bubbling. They ended up in Lurie Garden, where the plants were beginning to hit their early-Spring stride. Dean excitedly led Castiel by the hand to the side of the long pool at the center. There was a little girl wading through the pool, her bare feet jumping and splashing. Her mother sat a few feet away, watching and smiling.

Dean never got to come here, normally. He didn’t live in the city, as the hotels here were a couple-hundred dollars-a-night above his pay-grade. And between working jobs and finding new jobs, there was never time to walk around the parks like this. He pulled his socks and shoes off and dipped his toes into the cool water, sitting down on the concrete edge, his nice slacks rolled up.

“What are you doing?” Castiel asked, still standing. He blocked out the sun when Dean looked up.

“Having fun,” Dean replied. “Pop a squat, take your shoes off.”

Castiel hesitated a moment before finally complying. He sat gingerly on the ground, his legs pulled into himself.

“Shoes,” Dean prodded. He pulled his own foot through the water, listening to the sound of it rushing into itself in his wake.

Castiel pulled his shoes and socks off and placed them off to the side before slowly rolling his own slacks up.

“Is this high enough?” he asked.

“Mhm.”

Castiel felt out the edge of the concrete with his fingers and then finally extended his legs, bringing them down slowly into the water.

Dean watched him, the sunlight glinting in his good eye and the light breeze ruffling the edges of his gelled hair. Castiel smiled, and Dean did too.

They sat in silence for a long while before Castiel spoke. “Dean,” he said.

“Yeah, buddy?”

“What do the flowers look like?”

 

. . .

 

The muggy afternoon quickly turned into a pleasantly cool evening, and the two men enjoyed donuts and ice cream from a food truck in lieu of dinner. Soon they switched out the setting sun for the dim light of the concert hall.

Dean almost hesitated to take Castiel’s hand to lead him through the small crowd of people to their seats, since technically Castiel had said he wasn’t working right now. But he knew there was no way Castiel could see in the vast and shadowy space, and he figured it must be nice to have something to ground you in that case. He took Castiel’s hand just before they reached the stairs leading into the wide lobby. He focused on the stunning ceilings and red velvet floor instead of watching for Castiel’s reaction to his decision.

They took their seats and the music had begun before Dean realized he was still holding Castiel’s hand. But Castiel made no move to let go, and Dean felt too awkward to pull his hand away at this point, so long after they had sat down. By the end of the night, he kinda forgot to be weird about it. Somewhere between watching Castiel’s face fill with serenity and being carried away by the music himself, he had decided that it was just nice to hold someone’s hand, blind or not.

 

. . .

 

The next morning, Dean woke up bright and early and headed to the gun range. There was nothing like target practice to clear his head, and for some reason his head was feeling kind of fuzzy lately. He couldn’t put his finger on why.

As he loaded and re-loaded clip after clip into his pearl-handled handgun, he found himself wondering if Castiel would enjoy the things he did for fun, or if he would totally hate them. After all, would it be any fun to hit a target you couldn’t see?

Dean figured he’d probably have to help Castiel a lot, if he brought him here. He’d have to provide him a gun, though he actually had plenty to spare, so that wan’t a problem. But Castiel would be so clueless, it would probably have to be like one of those dumb chick-flicks where the guy teaches the girl how to do something—only embarrassing instead of sexy. Because he’d have to help Castiel aim, of course. He’d have to step behind him to get the target in his sight, his front flush against Castiel’s back, taking hold of the gun, fingers slipping into place over Castiel’s. He’d point the barrel in just the right place for him. A second’s breathing together, the puff from Dean’s lips onto Castiel’s ear. The press of a finger, and then BANG.

It really did sound like a bad movie, and an even worse idea. Dean sighed and shook his head. He left the range and locked up his gun, his brain somehow feeling even cloudier than it was when he went in.

 

. . .

 

Dean pulled into the underground garage of Castiel’s building around 5pm that night. Castiel had given him a badge and a parking pass and even the key to his apartment after the concert last night. He had also invited him to share dinner with him today, before they were expected at an award ceremony where Castiel was being honored. Dean parked and made his way into the elevator and up to Castiel’s apartment, where he let himself in.

“Honey, I’m home,” he called. He toed his shoes off at the door and pushed them against the wall where Castiel couldn’t trip over them before flopping onto the couch. Meanwhile, Castiel made his way in from the kitchen, holding a big bag of freshly delivered food out like an offering as he went.

“Hello, Dean.”

“Hey Cas,” Dean said, jumping up from the couch to grab the food from Castiel’s hand. He opened the bag to find two hefty pulled pork sandwiches and a large pile of fancy looking fries.

“I asked Charlie for suggestions on the food,” Castiel said. “So I can’t be blamed if it isn’t good.”

Dean smiled, thinking back to Charlie’s apartment, and then his lazy morning in front of the TV, texting on his phone. “Charlie told me specifically that I’m supposed to blame you.”

“What?” Castiel squinted.

Dean laughed. “She is a prolific texter. Girls must love her.”

Castiel frowned. “What?” he repeated.

“Fast fingers.”

Castiel frowned harder, and Dean inhaled the delicious scent of the food in the open bag and let out an eager sigh. “Don’t worry,” he said, patting Castiel on the arm. He pilfered a fry from the top of the bag. “Let’s eat.”

Castiel sat down on one side of the couch, holding out a hand for his sandwich. Dean gave it to him, a shy smile wending its way onto his face as his fingers brushed against Castiel’s open palm. Castiel was wearing another ill-fitting suit, and it bunched adorably at the shoulders when he brought his sandwich-laden hands up to his face. Dean chomped away happily at his own sandwich as he watched Castiel eat.

“My mother called me today,” Castiel said, apropos of nothing.

“Yeah?” Dean asked.

“Wanted to let me know she wasn’t going to make it to the award ceremony tonight. Nice of her to let me know, I suppose.” There was the ghost of a wry smile around his lips. It was the first smile Dean had seen on him that he didn’t like.

“Good,” Dean said, a bit forcefully. “I’d rather not see her again anyway.” He grabbed some fries from the bag and stuffed them into his mouth.

Castiel raised his eyebrows. “I said much the same thing when she sent me off to boarding school,” he said, “in Russia.”

Dean looked at Castiel in surprise, and Castiel let out a small laugh.

“You didn’t grow up with her?” he asked.

“Like I said before, we’re not close,” Castiel said.

“I think I read some about her,” Dean said. “In the Tribune. She’s got her fingers in a bunch of different things.”

“Yes, I learned a lot about her myself reading the Tribune. I know now why my living in Russia wasn’t enough to get her to go back there. I didn’t understand it then. But, now I do. Tragedy changes you, in a way. She experienced so much tragedy there.”

Dean frowned. “So what, she took it out on you?”

“She wanted good things for me. To speak Russian, to live abroad. She just couldn’t be a part of them. I understand the concept. Cutting off parts of yourself so the healthy whole will survive.”

“I dunno how healthy that is, dude.”

“I suppose. But, healthy or not, it is something I learned from her. I think it’s the reason I find myself unable to run, like I used to. Why I find it . . . difficult . . . to leave my home, sometimes, when I’m alone. Why I’ll never step foot on a sailboat again, for example.” He turned away from Dean, one hand beginning to raise into the air as though of its own accord before relocating to his own knee.

“Sailing?” Dean asked. “Is that how—the accident . . . your eye?”

Castiel ignored the question. The silence stretched on and Dean began to regret asking. He finished off his sandwich. Before he realized it, he began to think of his own shitty childhood, his own distant parent; his own tragedy. “Still, though,” said Dean, “we’re all responsible for our own shit. I mean, surely with her money, she could have anything she wanted.”

“Well,” Castiel sighed, pausing for a moment. “Money doesn’t buy happiness, as I believe the saying goes.”

“I dunno,” Dean said teasingly. He put on a noisy show of licking his fingers, letting his last finger pass his lips with a generous ‘pop.’ “I’m feeling pretty happy.”
Castiel smiled. “Then I’ve succeeded,” he said.

“Yeah, yeah,” Dean said, waving him off and sweeping up handful of fries. “If this were a real date, you’d be getting a reward.” He could feel himself blushing for no reason. He turned his face away, missing whatever reaction Castiel might have had to that. “So are all your asshole friends gonna be there tonight, or what?” he asked.

“Probably,” Castiel said. “If they’re going to convince me to go to Shanghai next week, they’re going to have to act fast.”

“Wait, next week?” Dean asked. He hadn’t realized it was so soon. It was weird to think about how days ago he’d hated the thought of even meeting Castiel. Now he found himself growing almost sad to think that he might never see him again as early as next week. Although, that would probably be the case regardless, since the job would be over by then, and Dean would be long gone.

“Yes,” Castiel confirmed. “They need me to meet with Chinese officials to get the permits we need. To convince them they’re capable of designing and engineering the tallest towers in the world. The irony, of course, is that they likely can’t design and engineer them. With or without me. Even if I wanted to go, there’s just no way I could navigate a foreign country without assistance.” Castiel looked over at him wistfully.

Dean frowned, wiping his hands on a napkin. “Cas, buddy, I’d help you out in Shanghai if I could,” he said, “but there’s no way.”

“That’s alright, Dean,” said Castiel. “I wouldn’t ask you to. Honestly, half my net worth is tied up in the Spire, and the other half is tied up in an architectural firm I’m about to be forced out of by the brother who stole my fiancé and is trying to extort me. And yet . . . I feel happier now than I have in months.” Dean saw the soft look in Castiel’s face again, the one he’d admired so much at Charlie’s yesterday. “This is enough,” Castiel said.

Dean looked down at the leather couch between them. He placed one hand gently on Castiel’s knee.

 

. . .

 

After dinner, Castiel retrieved the two garment bags that had been delivered earlier. Dean absconded upstairs with his, shutting himself into the bathroom to change before helping Castiel into his own. Castiel had suggested they change together, reminding Dean that he wouldn’t be able to see anything “untoward” anyway, but Dean found that he needed a second to himself.

Today, Gilda had sent a simple black suit and gorgeous slate grey shirt that shone iridescent in the light. Dean dressed and put on his black socks and new pair of shoes before heading downstairs.
After a few days, the way to Castiel’s bedroom was starting to feel almost familiar. He padded down the stairs and past the kitchen and on, and was already turning into Castiel’s open doorway before he remembered that he should knock or otherwise announce his presence. Unfortunately, he only remembered that because of what he saw when he turned into the doorway: There was Castiel, freshly showered and still naked, leaning slightly back as he sat on the edge of his bed, his languid form and tan skin exposed to the air. He had his phone in one hand, resting against one thickly-muscled thigh. Dean opened his mouth to apologize, but before he could make a sound, Castiel raised his phone right up to his good eye. As Castiel’s arm left his lap, Dean caught sight of the erection that had been hiding behind the arm as he did, and Dean felt strongly that it was much too late to announce his presence without incredible embarrassment. Dean froze in the doorway, watching Castiel intensely to see if he had noticed Dean intruding on him. Dean cursed himself silently. His eyes kept darting up and down Castiel’s body, and he felt like he couldn’t move. He tried not to think about Castiel’s naked form, but it felt like there was something physically drawing his gaze to it. He’d seen plenty of guys naked, but none as thick and perfectly muscled as Castiel was. None in real life, anyway. Dean could see clearly the sharp cut of his hipbone and the dark curve of his nipple. And as much as he tried, he couldn’t keep his stare away from the hard line between Castiel’s legs. He suddenly felt a familiar warmth in his lower body, the feeling of blood pooling in his groin. He stepped backward in shock. The spell broken, he tiptoed back down the hallway toward the kitchen.
He cowered against the counter, trying to catch his breath. He felt shame seeping into his body, replacing the arousal that had come so easily watching Castiel, alone and unaware of his presence. He shook his head and took a deep breath.

“Cas,” he called. He touched his own throat. The sound of his own voice surprised him. He had meant it as a warning, but it was pierced with an insecurity that felt unfamiliar. He hesitated, and then walked back along the hallway toward Castiel’s bedroom. He let himself be carried forward on the momentum of his extra-loud footsteps. As he rounded the doorframe this time, he saw Castiel—now standing at the foot of his bed, dressed in black slacks and a black shirt that was draped open across his chest.

“Hey Cas,” said Dean, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. Castiel turned to look at him, stern and calculating. Dean panicked, silently begging any deity out there that Castiel hadn’t seen him spying. He began to sweat as he walked forward. As he drew closer, Castiel’s expression cleared as his good eye was able to focus, and Dean was able to breathe again. He reassured himself that Castiel had not seen.

“Hello, Dean,” came the reply. “I was just admiring the photo you set as your contact picture in my phone.”

Dean felt his face burning. Had Castiel been looking at him just now? While like that? His heart pounded. So much for breathing. “I wondered how long that would take you,” Dean said, aiming for a bravado that seemed right now to be slipping quickly out of his grasp. He had set up that picture at the diner that first night—the blue steel male modeling picture—when Castiel gave him his phone. He’d forgotten until now.

“Is this shirt wrinkled?” Castiel asked, feeling along the collar for the buttons.

“Looks fine,” Dean grunted, forcing his legs to walk over to Castiel. “I’ll get it.” He reached out to pull the top button together with the button-hole at Castiel’s throat. His hands slipped over the dark pearls that made up the buttons—no wonder Castiel had struggled with them. Dean’s hands burned where they touched skin at the hollow of Castiel’s throat. He followed the pearls down, hovering closer and closer to Castiel’s waist, and then his hips. He let go.

Castiel brought up a hand. He had a black silk tie, elegantly embroidered, bunched up between his fingers.

“Let me,” Dean said, pulling the tie from Castiel’s hand slowly. He threaded it behind Castiel’s neck and tied it carefully so that it faced perfectly towards the front the way it was supposed to. He slid his hand down it, smoothing it against Castiel’s chest.

Castiel reached out, bending to sweep his jacket from on top of the bed and onto his body. Dean stepped back out of his way and gathered the shoes and socks from the bed.

“Hair gel today?” Dean asked, handing the items to Castiel.

Castiel seemed to consider as he sat and pulled on his socks. “Do you think I need it?” he asked.

“I think you look good,” Dean said, looking down at Castiel on the bed. He cleared his throat. “You don’t need it.”

 

. . .

 

They were in a limousine tonight. A big, shiny, black hulk of a thing that had Dean both excited and embarrassed. Castiel warned him that there would be photographers ready to snap their pictures as soon as they arrived. As they neared the Magnificent Mile, Dean grew increasingly nervous. And so did Castiel—he had taken to spinning the ornate silver ring that encircled his left index finger.

“What’s that?” Dean asked, attempting to distract them both.

“It was my grandfather’s,” Castiel said. “I like to wear it during stress-inducing situations. It comforts me, somewhat.”

“How come I didn’t see it the other day?.”

“Because I wasn’t wearing it,” Castiel said. He gave Dean a small, secret smile. “My mother doesn’t know I took it.”

“You sly dog!” Dean exclaimed, delighted.

Castiel’s smile grew, and for a moment, Dean forgot why he had felt the need to start this conversation. And then the smile fell.

“I need you to promise me you’ll stay by my side,” Castiel said, tense once more.

“Of course,” Dean answered.

“This is going to be very difficult for me. There will be many unfamiliar faces and I likely won’t even be able to move around on my own in such an unfamiliar space. There will be developers and investors there who want to speak with me.”

“Sounds exciting,” Dean said.

“It should be,” Castiel responded. There was no ire in it; only a sad honesty. “Normally it would be one of the highlights of my career. But these days it feels like I’m marching toward my own funeral, and I’m not sure I could bear it alone.” Castiel ran his hand down one knee nervously. He looked toward Dean, but was too far away to make eye contact. “I need you tonight, Dean,” he said. “More than you realize.”

Dean frowned. “I’m here, Cas,” he said. He reached across the wide expanse of seat and took Castiel’s hand as the limo pulled up to the curb. They breathed together for a moment, preparing. The door was pulled open by a hand outside and Dean slid out, pulling Castiel gently along with him. Once they were both standing, Dean drew Castiel into his side with one arm. “Cameras,” he whispered, turning Castiel subtly toward them. They both smiled gamely for the small gaggle of photographers who had been waiting for their arrival. After a moment, Dean and Castiel walked forward side-by-side. Dean pressed his lips surreptitiously to Castiel’s ear.

“Three steps, coming up,” he said.

They navigated the steps together, smoothly but slowly, and then were home free. Someone opened the building’s doors for them, and they walked into the grand lobby. Dean took a small side-step away from Castiel and took a more casual grip on his hand. The lobby was bright white and gold and the chandelier on the high ceiling was gorgeous and blinding. Dean walked with Castiel toward the doors of the ballroom. As they passed the threshold into the darkened room, Castiel suddenly stopped moving.

“Cas, we gotta get out of the way,” Dean said, pulling him clear of the crowded doorway and to one side of the elaborate ballroom entrance.

“Something’s wrong,” Castiel said, his quiet voice urgent and scared.

Dean stopped and peered at Castiel from just inches away. He had never heard Castiel’s voice like that. “What,” he asked.

“I can’t see anything,” Castiel whispered, his unpatched eye wide and frantically darting. “I can’t see anything. It’s all black.” Castiel fumbled a hand against Dean’s cheek, cupping it in his warm palm with relief when he found it. Dean reached up to envelop Castiel’s hand in his own. He looked around the ballroom. The light was dim enough that even he was struggling to see. The paneling on the walls was dark, and the chairs and tables were draped in dark velvet. The only light seemed to come from the individual lamps on each table, and a few fancy chandeliers on the ceiling, which seemed to be miles away.

“It’s not you,” Dean said, trying to get closer in hopes that Castiel would find his shape in the dark. “It’s the room.”

“I have to get out of here,” Castiel said, starting to pull away. A man passing behind Castiel’s back flinched out of the way of his sudden movement. Dean pulled him back as gently as he could.

“Cas,” Dean said, both hands on Castiel now. He tried to communicate calm through his touch. He didn’t want Castiel to miss his award. “The darkness is an advantage! No one will see you stumble. It’s dark for everyone.”

“I can’t,” Castiel ground out, his good eye desperately swiveling around the room in search of any light at all.

“You CAN, Cas,” Dean said, pulling him against his chest. He didn’t want to keep Castiel pinned against his will, but there was a crowd moving through the doorway and he couldn’t get him out without incident. Instead he moved him further away from the guests and crowded him against the wall so he could feel it against his back, to ground him. “I’ll help you get out of here as soon as this crowd passes if it’s what you need. But take a couple breaths with me and consider staying. Cuz I think maybe what you really need right now is to know that you can rely on me. And you can. And you can do this, Cas.” Dean took a loud, deep breath, and then let it out slowly. He did it again, and this time Castiel’s chest rose against his in concert. “If I can pull off being your boyfriend—which I’m awesome at, by the way—you can pull off this fuckin’ party. Remember, it’s my job to make sure you fool these idiots. My job. Your job is to accept this award, that’s it.” Dean paused. “And to make sure that your ex-girlfriend doesn’t get all up in my ass again.”

Castiel huffed. “I’m not even going to ask you what that means,” he said.

“It means I got your back. And I’m trusting you to have mine.”

Castiel’s eyebrows scrunched together. Dean resisted the urge to try to physically smooth them out.

“How many people are here?” Castiel asked.

Dean frowned. “Do you want me to lie?”

Castiel grimaced. “The truth.”

“The truth is,” Dean said, resting a hand on Castiel’s shoulder, “you’re the most famous architect in America. How many people do you think are here?”

Castiel sighed. “Too many to fool.”

“Bullshit,” said Dean. “I’m basically a professional liar. We can do this. Just trust me.”

“I trust you,” Castiel said, his voice low and vulnerable.

“Okay,” Dean said. “Now. How many drinks does it take to get you plastered.”

“What?”

“Like, fucking shitfaced, how many?”

“Dean, I’ve never gotten that drunk,” Castiel said.

Dean scoffed. “Man, what did you do in college,” he said. Before Castiel could answer, Dean moved on. “Don’t worry, we’re not gonna get you arrested for drunk and disorderly. But if people see you with a drink, they will assume you’re drunk. There is no scenario where their first thought will be that you’re blind, okay? Plus, I know you, and alcohol is the key to removing the stick from your ass. So, feel free to actually drink as well.”

“Dean—”

“Excuse me!” Dean called out abruptly. A passing waiter stopped his trajectory and instead moved toward them. “I’ll take these,” Dean said, scooping three shots from the waiter’s tray. He leaned into Castiel. “Tip him,” he whispered.

Castiel reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, drawing out a single hundred-dollar bill and holding it up. The waiter reached for it.

“Thank you, sir!” he said.

“Keep ‘em comin’, my man,” Dean said, raising his three glasses in a small salute. “This here is the guest of honor, Castiel Krushnic.”

“Oh wow!” The waiter said.

Dean handed a shot glass to Castiel and raised one for himself. “What’s your name?” he asked the waiter before downing his shot—the premium Russian vodka slid down his throat. He prodded Castiel on the arm and Castiel drank his as well.

“Inias,” the guy answered, shaking his hair out of his eyes.

Dean took Castiel’s empty and placed it on Inias’s tray with his own. “Well, Inias, I want you to bring him a drink every time you see his glass empty,” Dean said. “Tip him again, sweetheart,” he added. Castiel drew out a second bill.

“Of course, Mr. Krushnic!” Inias said, taking the offered tip. “And Mr. Krushnic,” he said, nodding at Dean as well. Inias turned and hurried away to refill his tray.

“Boy, I could get used to that,” Dean said, grabbing Castiel’s hand and placing the third shot inside it.

“Which part,” Castiel murmured. “Spending my money, getting me drunk, or pretending to be my husband?”

“Bossing people around like I’m an asshole like you,” Dean shot back. He stuck two fingers past the lip of Castiel’s shot glass and then pressed his dampened fingers onto Castiel’s pulse-point. Castiel shivered. “Just selling it,” Dean murmured. He flicked the remaining liquid from his fingers onto Castiel’s chin and then grabbed his hand again. “Let’s make this gala our bitch,” he said, pulling Castiel forward into the crowd.

It wasn’t long before people were stopping in their way, falling over each other just for the chance to talk to Castiel. All Dean had to do was keep up, whispering descriptions of approaching people and warning Castiel of impending handshakes coming his way. He found he was spending a lot of time with his mouth attached to Castiel’s ear, but he actually found some of the conversations pretty stimulating. Before he knew it, the two of them were approached by a severe looking blonde woman with an air of being in charge.

“Woman, forties, blonde,” Dean whispered to Castiel. “So skinny I don’t know how she fits the stick up her ass.”

Castiel glared at him, but he clearly got the message.

“Castiel,” the woman said as she stopped in front of them.

“Hester,” Castiel replied, nodding politely.

“Thank you so much for honoring us with your presence. If you could follow me to the stage, we’ll be presenting the award now.” She took one of Castiel’s arms and hooked her own around it, escorting him away from Dean. Dean panicked. He had promised to stay by Castiel’s side and he’d intended to keep that promise.

“Babe,” he squeaked after them. “Uh, do you . . . have your speech? Do you need anything from me?”

Hester looked him up and down. “Don’t worry,” she said with a dismissive smile. “I’ve got him.”

“It’s alright,” Castiel called back to him.

Dean hoped he had imagined the way the words came out slow and slurred. He wondered just how drunk Castiel was. He’d had multiple shots over the course of the evening and was still clutching a full glass in his free hand as Hester led him through the crowd and up the stairs of the stage. Dean began to pray that he hadn’t fucked up. He followed behind them at a distance, unsure, trying to make his way as close to the stage as possible.

Castiel was standing at the podium with Hester now, who was welcoming the waiting crowd, her reedy voice crackling through the microphone and across the full ballroom.

“The Modern Architecture Society is honored to present tonight the ‘Modern Genius Award’ to Castiel Krushnic for his work designing the Spire,” she said. The audience broke out into applause and Castiel stepped forward as Hester backed away, leaving the stage and taking a seat in the crowd.

“Good evening,” Castiel said into the mic. His voice boomed. His accent was stronger than Dean had ever heard it. There were now bright stage lights shining in Castiel’s face, and Dean wondered if he could see better or worse with them pointing directly at him like that. Castiel had lost his drink somewhere along the way. His now-empty hands sought out the smooth face of the podium. He cleared his throat.

“I am humbled to be here before you tonight. Works of ingenuity such as those I have strived to create my entire life are what give us hope for the future. They take—not unapproachable genius—but pure stubbornness and sheer stupid . . .” Castiel paused, and the ballroom paused with him. “Blindness,” Castiel finished, a laugh stuck in his throat. “Blindness . . . to the impossibility that others see. Faith that dreams can be achieved. And these dreams require the support of a faithful community. For this reason, I would like to thank the Modern Architecture Foundation, as well as the City of Chicago and its city officials, and everyone that has supported our efforts to make this dream come true.

“This has been the greatest honor I have ever received,” Castiel continued. “But, and please forgive me, I hope to be given one more great honor tonight. Dean Winchester, would you please join me on the stage?”

Dean started in shock. He looked up at Castiel and then at the waiting crowd around him. He hurried to the stairs up to the stage, trying not to look too eager or nervous or confused.

“Dean,” Castiel said into the mic as he waited for Dean to join him. “I could not have done this without your help. And I’m going to need your help even more in the days to come.”

“I’m here, Cas,” Dean said, standing just feet away from the podium where Castiel was waiting. Castiel turned to look at him. Dean saw the moment his eye was able to pick out his blurred shadow in the bright spotlight.

“Dean, it would be the greatest honor of my life to be your husband.” Castiel said. He left the mic and stepped towards Dean. Dean stared as Castiel sank to one knee on the stage, pulling the ornate ring off his hand and holding it out. “Will you marry me?”

Dean was dumbfounded. He felt like laughing. Or maybe crying, weirdly, or screaming, even. But he figured most of those would be wildly inappropriate responses to a public proposal of marriage, real or not. He stepped forward, reaching for Castiel’s outstretched hand. He pulled the ring from it numbly with one hand and then helped Castiel up with the other.

“Of course, Cas,” he said, pasting a smile onto his lips as he placed the ring carefully onto his left hand. He found himself staring at the ring encircling his finger instead of looking at Castiel.

“Please kiss me,” Castiel whispered. Dean’s eyes snapped up to Castiel’s. Dean stared at Castiel, and found his face was still as stone and unreadable. But there was something in his eye that drew Dean in. He stepped into Castiel’s space, raising both hands to settle at his cheeks. He tilted his head forward, brushing his lips softly against Castiel’s like curtains covering a window. Castiel opened his mouth and his tongue slipped against Dean’s, and Dean’s heartrate spiked. He grasped at Castiel’s hair just for something to hold. His hands pulled Castiel in even further, the stubble on Castiel’s cheeks pulling against his palms.

Suddenly, Castiel pulled back. Dean could hear cheering and applause over the pounding in his ears, now. He turned to the crowd, squinting in the bright stage lights. He threw on a smile, trying to catch his breath. He turned to see Castiel standing still, waiting for him. Whatever Dean had seen in his eye was gone now, clouded over, guarded.

Dean stepped in very close. “Even drunk, you’re quite the tactician,” he whispered against Castiel’s cheek.

“As long as it gets me off this stage,” Castiel replied quietly. Dean slid one arm around Castiel’s waist, shielding him from the crowd and leading him offstage.

“I’m not an ‘it,’ Cas,” Dean whispered. “And you’re welcome, by the way. Stairs.” Dean let Castiel lean on him as they descended, blocking the audience’s view of Castiel with his own body.

Once on level ground, Dean and Castiel made a beeline for the door. Dean smiled and nodded at the people making goo-goo eyes at them as they passed. He avoided looking at Castiel’s face—he didn’t like the fake wooden smile that he had pasted on; this was the second time he found one of Castiel’s smiles to cause a twisting pain in his gut.

The pair had just made it into the lobby when a hand reached out and grabbed Castiel’s shoulder, wrenching him out of Dean’s grip.

“Seems to me we should be sharing that award,” Bartholomew said. His voice was like venom and his eyes burned. “Since it was a Krushnic project. But you didn’t even bother to thank me in that speech. After everything I did to get that project finished. Like usual, you’re content to take all the credit.”

“And like usual, you’re trying to steal what’s mine,” Castiel growled back, turning on his heel to face his brother. Now that they were back in the lobby, Castiel could at least pinpoint the general direction of the man he was talking to—and Castiel was staring with such rage, Dean hardly recognized him.

“Settle down, Kujo,” Dean said. He wasn’t sure which brother he was talking to. “Can’t we all just get along?”

“Never,” Castiel spat.

“Agreed,” Bartholomew said. “I’m afraid things like familial loyalty go out the window when you try to kill your own brother.”

“I only wish I had,” Castiel goaded, voice low and dark. He tried to lunge forward, but Dean held him back with an arm flung across his chest. Castiel muttered something in Russian that Dean didn’t catch.

“We’re not doing this,” Dean said, looking between them. “Not here, and not tonight.” He stepped slightly in front of Castiel and faced Bartholomew, staring him down.

Bartholomew backed away in the face of the two other men. “Congratulations on your engagement,” he sneered, slinking back into the ballroom.

“What the fuck,” Dean said, turning on the spot to put himself right in Castiel’s face. He wanted Castiel to see how angry he felt, how the violence of that split-second had filled him with fear. His arm was still laid across Castiel’s chest. “What the hell is wrong with you.”

Castiel backed up and Dean’s arm fell away. He had the decency to look contrite in the face of Dean’s anger. Dean softened a little. “What was he talking about?” he asked.

“It’s just something he likes to say,” Castiel muttered. “To spin his Cain and Abel nonsense, his biblical narrative. . . As if it could absolve him of his sins.” He touched his eyepatch like he was reassuring himself that it was still there.

“You’re not paying me to get in fights for you,” Dean murmured harshly. He sighed. “Tell me this wasn’t about April,” he said. Castiel’s unpatched eye widened again. His brow furrowed. He opened his mouth.

A woman’s voice cut through the nearly empty lobby. “Fighting over me?” April laughed, her bright-red-lipsticked mouth contorting with the effort. “When you’re engaged to someone else? And what a beautiful proposal it was.”

Dean scoffed. “Jealous?” he derided.

“Not jealous,” she said carelessly. “Just surprised. How long have you known him?”

“And I’m surprised that Castiel just won the Genius Award and you haven’t even congratulated him,” Dean shot back, avoiding the question.

“Castiel knows I’m his biggest supporter,” April said. “I always have been. That’s why, if I were you, I would go with him to Shanghai.” And then she swept away from them too, back into the ballroom to join Castiel’s brother.

Dean and Castiel were left facing each other in the lobby, still separated by a foot or so of space. Dean looked around to make sure there were no more prying eyes or ears. “Cas, what happens if you don’t go to Shanghai,” he asked.

“I’ll be ruined,” Castiel said.

Dean rocked back on his heels, surprised at Castiel’s dire prediction. “Then what are you going to do?” Dean asked.

“Ask you to come with me,” Castiel said. He looked at Dean, his one good eye locked on Dean’s with an unknowable force. “Come with me,” he said.

“Cas . . . I can’t,” Dean said.

Castiel’s face closed off again, like it had on stage after he’d pulled away from the kiss. “Can’t, or won’t?”

“You don’t understand—”

“Then what is it? Is it money? Do you need money? I’ll pay for it. Whatever you need, I’ll pay for it!”

“Not everything is magically fixed by money, Cas,” Dean spat.

The ring of Castiel’s cellphone interrupted them. The limo had arrived to carry them back to Castiel’s penthouse.

 

. . .

 

The limo ride back was awkward for Dean. It was made slightly less so when Dean realized that the reason Castiel wasn’t speaking to him was that he had fallen asleep, his face smashed against the window on the far side of the seat. Dean shouldn’t have been surprised. Castiel had had a lot to drink, after all.

As the limo pulled up to Castiel’s building, Dean reached over and shook him awake. “Morning, Sunshine,” he said.

Castiel straightened up, frowning. “Dean,” he said, voice gravel-turned with sleep.

“Home sweet home,” Dean prodded.

Castiel made no move to get out of the car. Instead, he turned to face Dean. “Stay,” he said, trying to blink the sleep from his eyes.

Dean frowned.

Castiel spread a hand out on the seat toward him, seeking out his touch. “Come up with me,” He said softly. And then louder: “At least make sure I get in safely. You got me drunk.” Castiel pouted. Dean did NOT find it cute.

“You know you got employees that can do that for you,” Dean said. “The doorman. Your driver.”

“You’re my employee,” Castiel said.

Dean pursed his lips, pausing. “Yeah,” he finally said.

“And how much did you drink?” Castiel asked.

“Not as much as you,” Dean answered.

“I won’t let you drive drunk,” Castiel said. The words slurred past his chapped lips.

“Let me?” Dean repeated incredulously.

“Please,” he said.

“Just get out of the car, Cas,” Dean said, opening his own door and sliding out. He walked to Castiel’s door and opened it. “Up you get,” he said, pulling at one of Castiel’s arms.

Castiel reluctantly stood, listing heavily to one side. Dean supported him as they ambled into the building and then into the elevator. Dean briefly considered leaving him there to sleep it off. But when they reached the top floor, Dean half-carried Castiel into the apartment, past the kitchen, and into his empty, gray, king-sized bed. After catching his breath, Dean prodded Castiel up so he could pull off his suit jacket. Gilda was gonna kill him when she got it back, otherwise.

“Is it okay that I miss her?” Castiel murmured, face smashed against Dean’s neck as he struggled with the jacket.

For a second, Dean forgot who he was talking about. But then a vision of April’s stupid clown face popped up in his mind’s eye and he rolled his eyes. He pursed his lips, finally freeing the jacket and dropping it on the floor. He moved on to try to get the buttons on Castiel’s shirt before Castiel could sink back down onto the bed.

“You’re lonely,” Dean ground out. “I get it. Hell, I’m lonely too.” He focused intently on the buttons. After a moment, he found himself looking at Castiel’s face, instead. “But, Cas, you gotta know you deserve better than that,” he said.

“But she loved me,” Castiel said, soft and sad, slipping down the headboard of the bed. “She was the only one who loved me.”

“Bullshit,” Dean growled. He now felt like he was holding Castiel up by the lapels of his shirt, the top half already unbuttoned and now bunched in Dean’s hands. “Lots of people love you.”

“They don’t know me,” Castiel said, pushing Dean away so he could lie down.

Dean unbuttoned the last few black pearl buttons and forced the shirt down Castiel’s shoulders and arms until he could get his hands free. He finally pulled the shirt out from under Castiel’s body. Castiel’s bare skin was warm to the touch, and Dean found his fingers brushing against it unnecessarily.

“I know you, Cas.” Dean said. He pulled the covers up to Castiel’s chest and tucked the sides down gently. He stooped to pick up the discarded jacket on the floor and then hung it and the shirt in the closet. When he turned back around, Castiel was asleep, black eyepatch slightly askew. Dean turned out the bedroom light and left the room.

 

. . .

Chapter Text

The next morning, Dean awoke in an unfamiliar bed. It was still dark in the empty room, but when Dean checked his phone, he saw that it was almost noon. Confused, he stumbled to the window where he lifted a curtain and was promptly hit in the face with bright sunlight. He examined the thick curtain and realized it was a blackout curtain; a fancy one.

And that’s when he remembered that he had stumbled, exhausted and gloomy, up the stairs of Castiel’s penthouse apartment last night, to the spare bedroom. He caught sight of all his expensive clothes hung up neatly in the otherwise empty closet. He remembered doing that, now that he’d thought about it. He remembered putting Castiel to bed and then coming up here to sleep off the alcohol and bad life choices in another pair of his new silk underwear (he’d gotten a weeks’ worth and had worn his second pair to the award ceremony last night). He could smell the stink of the night on himself and wrinkled his nose before making a beeline for the attached bathroom. Luckily his spare toothbrush was in there, though he didn’t have any clean clothes besides the underwear. He brushed his teeth and then stripped before turning on the shower and jumping under the spray. He savored the nascent feeling of the morning shower. He closed his eyes, enjoying the stream of hot water as it sluiced over his skin, carrying away the stench of the night.

He could have stayed in the shower forever (the hot water never ran out here), but his grumbling stomach had other ideas. He shut off the water and dried off before putting on a new pair of underwear and heading downstairs, trying not to feel self-conscious about being mostly naked in someone else’s house. It wasn’t like Castiel could really see him, anyway. And there was no reason to put on last night’s suit and go home, not when he’d have to be back in an hour to take Cas to some stupid charity organization’s stupid networking lunch. He didn’t know if Gilda had sent over clothes for him today or not, so he’d decided to go find Castiel and ask him for some clothes. He padded barefoot down the familiar hallway to Castiel’s bedroom. Just as he was about to call out Castiel’s name, he heard voices coming from inside the room. Dean paused outside the door, unsure. By the sound of it, Castiel was with someone—a woman; he didn’t want to interrupt.

“We’re friends,” the woman said. “More than friends. I want to see you make the right choice. You know Shanghai’s the right choice. Don’t let some insignificant little nobody hold you back.” Dean recognized April’s snooty tone. He cursed her name silently and missed Castiel’s quiet reply.

“I always assumed you would marry someone more . . . sophisticated,” April was saying now. “Someone whose reputation and career would complement your professional achievements. Someone—”

“More like you?” Castiel interrupted, louder now.

“More like us,” April said. Dean could practically hear her ugly smirk. “He’s pretty, I admit, but he’s not good enough for you. He’s nothing. Comes from nothing and will give you nothing. You deserve an equal—”

“I don’t want—”

Dean had heard enough. He swung open the door and burst loudly into the room to see them standing within inches of each other at the foot of the disheveled bed. Two heads turned toward him in concert, April with her auburn hair whipping around her shoulders and a tiny black dress twisting around her slender frame, and Castiel with his idiotic confused look, his hair mussed and wet with sweat and his body completely, utterly naked but for the black eyepatch that perpetually hid his left eye. Dean reeled. “Don’t let me interrupt—whatever the fuck this is,” he sneered.

April’s eyes narrowed. “I thought you said he wasn’t here,” she said.

“Sorry to disappoint,” Dean bit out. “I guess you’ll just have to leave now. I mean, I love a good threesome, just not with you.”

April eyed Dean’s state of undress. “Castiel, darling, is he sleeping upstairs?” she asked innocently. Dean felt so angry he thought he might puke.

“Why shouldn’t he,” Castiel growled. “You used to, most nights.”

April raised her eyebrows. “But I wasn’t your fiancé.” She said the word like it was week-old garbage she was going to have to fire some maid over.

“You’re still not,” said Dean, folding his arms, his own immodesty nearly forgotten in the face of Castiel’s.

“Dean’s right,” Castiel said, “you should leave.”

April glared at Dean and then turned back to Castiel. “Fine,” she said carelessly. “The offer stands through the weekend. We can make it like old times—” April openly appraised Castiel’s naked body— “since you’re so obsessed with the past. I’d love to make the official announcement that you’ve signed on as lead architect for the Shanghai towers.”

“I see,” Castiel said. “So this isn’t about you being friendly, it’s about your next story for the Tribune.”

“One way or another, I’ll have a story to run,” she said. “I’ll be okay. Will you?” She looked at Castiel and then Dean, the threat to both of them clear in her words. “This is your last chance, Castiel. You’re not going to like what happens next.”

April turned and walked out of the bedroom, passing within a hair’s breadth of Dean’s bare shoulder. Dean stood still until he heard the door to the apartment slam down the hall, and then he rounded on Castiel.

“Wow,” he said sarcastically. “You were really just gonna let her stand here and talk about me like that?”

“Dean,” Castiel started.

“Whatever,” Dean cut in. “Fuck her, go to Shanghai with her, I don’t care. Why should I?”

“Dean, I didn’t.”

“You know, it would be better if you just went with her. You don’t need me.”

Dean turned and walked out of the bedroom. He stormed into the kitchen and began opening cupboards at random, looking for something to eat for breakfast. He slammed them shut one after another in annoyance until he’d gone through them all. He realized he didn’t feel much like eating anymore.

Slowly, his heartrate started to calm down. He leaned over the counter, smoothing a hand over his forehead and hair roughly. He caught his breath, focusing on an open newspaper lying on the counter. And then he realized what he was looking at. He pulled it toward himself. It was the Tribune, open to a picture of him and Castiel kissing onstage last night. He studied the picture. If he hadn’t known the truth, even he would have thought the two men in that photo were passionately in love. But he knew the truth.

“Well-known Chicago architect Castiel Krushnic proposes to boyfriend Dean Winchester after receiving Modern Architecture Society’s ‘Genius Award,’” the caption read. Dean scanned up to the byline and saw April’s name. He threw the newspaper back on the counter with half-hearted disgust.

“I didn’t sleep with her,” Castiel said. He was standing at the entry to the kitchen, a worn blue bathrobe now covering his nakedness. “I was lifting weights. She let herself in as I was getting in the shower. I heard what you said last night. I deserve better. And so do you.” He turned around and headed back to his room.

“You should change the locks,” Dean yelled after him weakly.

“You should change for lunch,” Castiel called back. “Your clothes are by the door.”

 

. . .

 

Dean got to drive his impala to the charity luncheon. He wasn’t sure if Castiel still felt bad, or if he was just tired of arguing with Dean about the relative wonders of a Tesla and the benefits of paying someone to drive you around. Either way, the drive was awkward. Castiel clearly didn’t appreciate the impala’s beauty properly, so Dean filled every silence with facts about her. The rambling thing was definitely because Dean wanted Castiel’s first introduction to her to be special, and not at all because Dean was desperate to put the morning behind him.

Luckily, lunch went by without a hitch. Probably because none of Castiel’s family members and/or evil exes were there. The lunch was free, if bland—some kind of chicken and vegetables. But Dean didn’t mind. The more the day went on, the closer it got to game time—ie. BSG night at Charlie’s. Charlie had been texting him Battlestar GIFs all afternoon and he was getting really excited. He’d almost totally forgotten about the scandalous events of that morning and was instead asking Castiel every five minutes things like ‘was it helpful to know the lyrics to All Along the Watchtower’ and ‘could he play as Caprica Six.’ (The answer to both was ‘no’).

After the lunch, Dean made Castiel accompany him to his motel so he could change out of (yet another) monkey suit. Since Dean was driving, Castiel didn’t really have a choice. Dean was so excited he forgot to feel self-conscious about the fact that he was living in a motel. He brought Castiel inside and told him to watch his step over his suitcase—he never could bring himself to unpack all the way. Castiel didn’t ask about his circumstances or make any snide remarks about Dean obviously needing money, for which Dean was grateful.

Once Dean had emerged from the bathroom where he’d changed into a Zeppelin shirt with jeans and pink and blue flannel, he started to feel a bit bad about making Castiel lounge around in a suit all night (they were absolutely not going back to Castiel’s high-rise because Dean was NOT going to be late). Somehow Castiel ended up in Dean’s grey AC/DC shirt with his own black dress pants, which he insisted were fine, and then they were on their way to Charlie’s.

Today Charlie was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt that said “Froppy” and pictured a frog-girl, and she ushered them both into the cozy living room with hugs and a “get in frackers, we’re going to Kobol.”
Gilda greeted them warmly from the office chair she was relaxing into. There was a short game table already set up in front of her, with Charlie’s massive bean bag taking up the entirety of one side. Dean grabbed Castiel’s hand and led him past the obstacles, and the two of them settled into the worn and comfortable couch.

Charlie shut the door. “Kevin!” she shouted.

A dark-haired kid poked his head in from the kitchen. “Kevin, meet Dean,” Charlie said. “Dean, meet Kevin.”

“What’s up, dude,” Kevin said, nodding in Dean’s direction. “Hello, Castiel.” He had long hair and a nervous smile.

“Nice to meet you,” Dean said, a little awkward. Castiel nodded in Kevin’s general direction.

Kevin came in and sat cross-legged on a second of Charlie’s comfy office chairs. Charlie hopped onto the bean bag next to Gilda, grabbed the lone box on the table, and started dumping out the game.
Dean filched the box top as Charlie discarded it. It was emblazoned with the pictures of four of the characters (two men and two women) and the words ‘BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: THE BOARD GAME.’

“Gorgeous,” Dean said, a grin spreading across his lips.

As Charlie handed out the cards in piles to be shuffled, Dean was sort of enchanted to find that some of them had raised little bumps on them, painted in bright purple nail polish. He figured out it was a sort of shorthand braille immediately. Soon Charlie flopped a paper in front of him and Castiel.

“Here’s the codex,” she said. The ‘codex’ turned out to be just a large-print reference sheet for Castiel. Before Dean could ask if Castiel could read that, Castiel pulled his phone and a pair of earphones from a pocket. Dean watched him open a camera phone app and scan it over the page, placing the earphones in his ears. Castiel moved the camera back and forth with what seemed like various stages of success as the app translated the letters into sounds. Satisfied, Castiel set his phone on the table and took out his earphones. By then, the game was all set up, cards shuffled and various pieces divided into plastic piles. Dean could identify vipers and cylon raiders, nuclear bombs and civilian ships.

“This is a game of skill, luck, and lying your ass off,” Charlie started to explain. “With five players there are two cylons and no sympathizers—that’s why we need five. Cylons try to sabotage the humans. Humans try to survive. Humans win when they reach Kobol, cylons win when any one resource reaches zero or a cylon raiding party reaches the end of the track. Loyalty cards determine who is who. Got it?”

“Uh,” Dean said. He smiled sheepishly.

“Don’t worry,” Gilda said. “All we have to worry about right now is choosing characters.” She pointed to the cards separated from the rest on the far edge of the table. The character cards were laid out neatly in rows according to color. Dean recognized the names of all his favorite characters. Starbuck, Lee Adama, Saul Tigh. No Caprica Six, though.

Castiel explained that characters were chosen by color (type) and that you had to choose from the most plentiful color.

“Before we decide who picks first,” Charlie cut in, “I want to take a moment to make it clear that I want to be Laura Roslin and if you take her or any other political leader before my turn I will hunt you down and murder you in your bed. Okay, proceed.”

“How do we decide who goes first?” Dean asked.

Kevin shrugged.

“Fight to the death,” Gilda deadpanned.

“There’s no game mechanic for it,” Castiel explained. Dean looked over the array of character cards, trying to read them quickly even though he had no idea what would be helpful.

“I know how,” Charlie said. “Hey Dean, gay rights or no gay rights?”

Dean looked up at her. “Uh, gay rights?” he said. He awkwardly turned his attention back to the cards.

Charlie whooped. “Dean said gay rights, so, clearly, I get to go first.”

“Charlie, you’re not the only one that’s gay here,” Gilda said.

“I could be gay,” pouted Kevin.

“We all could be gay,” remarked Castiel. Dean looked up from the character cards and met his eye.

“Yeah, but Galen, AKA CHIEF, has ‘gay’ in his name,” Kevin said, plucking up the character card and thrusting it under everybody’s noses, “so whoever is going to pick him is the most gay. And if I’m chosen to go first, I vow to pick him so that whoever’s next has equal pick.” He turned to Dean to explain. “He’s the only support character, so he doesn’t affect the choosing by types.”

“Whatever,” Charlie said, rolling her eyes.

“Okay, clockwise from Kevin, then,” Gilda said. “Dean, Castiel, Charlie, then me. Anybody object?”

Nobody spoke up.

“So say we all!” Kevin called out. He placed Chief’s character card on the table in front of his crossed legs and smiled smugly.

Next was Dean. “Uh . . . Starbuck?” he said, picking the first name that popped into his head. He grabbed the card from the table and set it in front of himself.

“Good choice,” Charlie said, sending him a smile.

“William Adama,” Castiel said with confidence, holding out his hand expectantly. Dean grabbed the card and placed it in his hand.

“Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill!” Charlie chanted. “High-five, Cas,” she said. Castiel tilted his head in confusion for a moment before remembering he was supposed to raise his hand. Charlie slapped it and then leaned over the table to select the ‘Laura Roslin’ card. “I’m president!”

“I guess I’ll keep things interesting and take Boomer,” Gilda said, gathering up the remaining cards.

“Noice,” said Charlie. “All my girls are here.”

“Well, it’s three out of ten,” Gilda said, fanning out the unclaimed character cards for the sighted players to see; they were all men. “It’s not that hard to do.”

Kevin’s mouth fell open. “Shit,” he said, shaking his head. His hair fell into his eyes. “I guess it was, like, 2005, though.”

“That’s no excuse,” said Gilda. “It’s a progressive show even by today’s standards in some ways. They clearly wanted to imagine a society a step removed from our own social limitations. And even still it’s so limited by the hetero-patriarchal norms of its creators.”

“My girlfriend, the academic,” Charlie beamed.

Kevin frowned. “That sucks. Such an awesome show and still so few girl avatars?”

“And no gay ones at all,” Charlie added.

“Or queer in any way. . . . or blind,” Castiel said softly.

Everyone around the table was now wearing a frown.

“Yeah, I wanted Caprica Six,” Dean pouted.

“Oh my god, you have to play the Pegasus Expansion,” Charlie suddenly shouted, “she’s in that one!”

And with that, the happy atmosphere was back. Gilda waved her hands. “Everyone look over your abilities so we can get started,” she said. Everyone drew quiet and turned to their cards.

Charlie looked over Castiel’s shoulder. “Cas, you have ‘Inspirational Leader, Command Authority, and—”

“Emotionally attached,” Castiel finished.

“Uh huh. Three leadership, two tactics.”

“Remind me what ‘Command Authority’ is?” Castiel said.

Charlie read out the text on the card for him as Dean focused on his own card. He had no idea what a crisis card was, or how to pilot a viper. He wondered if it was likely he’d be put in the Brig. He put his card down.

“Hey, Dean,” Charlie said as she handed Castiel back his character card, “if you want to read through the skill cards to get a feel for them, you can. Maybe read the tactics and leadership ones aloud so Cas can get a refresher too. There’s only four or five different types.” She handed him two decks of the miniature cards. Dean sorted through them and pulled out one of each type. He quietly read them to Castiel, leaning towards him slightly on the couch before re-shuffling them and putting them back. Castiel smiled at him. It was a smaller smile than some Dean had seen on his face, but he still remembered when Castiel never smiled at him at all. He smiled back softly, lost in the moment.

Before he knew it, the game had begun. Dean let everyone else give him advice on his turns. His first loyalty card declared him ‘not a cylon,’ so he didn’t have to worry about hiding his choices or being sneaky. He just tried to keep up, wondering in the back of his mind who the cylon could be. With each turn came a crisis card, and with each crisis card came—well—a crisis. Sometimes Charlie would commandeer a card as the president, looking between two options shiftily before announcing what would happen. Sometimes Castiel had the pick as the admiral, and he’d silently study his choices via his earphones before revealing the chosen crisis. Sometimes the turn player got to choose. Dean hated when he had to—you weren’t really supposed to ask for advice on those, this being a game of secrets and everything.

They had made it multiple rounds and a few faster-than-light jumps before the humans were truly imperiled. Overall, it was not looking good. Dean was already exhausted after an hour or so of play, and it was his turn. He hopped into a viper to attack some fracking cylons and then picked his crisis card from the top of the deck nervously. He eyed the board. Galactica was surrounded by base-stars and cylon raiders. Any crisis was going to make it worse. They’d just have to get through it, and then everybody could do their part.

He glanced at the card. “Admiral’s choice,” he called out, handing the card face-down to Castiel.

Castiel held it in front of his camera phone, plugging both earphones into his ears to listen to the translation. Castiel made a show of considering the card. He shook his head and let out a heavy sigh. He took his earphones out.

“Someone has to be sent to the Brig,” Castiel said.

Groans sounded out from all around the table.

“No way,” Kevin grumbled.

Charlie suddenly sat up straight. “Cas is a cylon,” she yelled, eyes wide.

Everybody turned to look at Castiel.

“I am not,” Castiel said calmly, blankly staring her down.

“I’m not so sure,” Gilda added. “The other option could have been worse.”

Dean kicked himself for not reading the card before he handed it over.

“Nuh uh,” Charlie said, “he’s been way too quiet.”

“I know how to lie,” Castiel said, eyes narrowed dangerously. “I would be talking more, not less, because I know how paranoid you get.”

“No, I think he’s a cylon too,” Dean said, bluffing.

“Dean.” Castiel glared, chin tilted dangerously. “Go to the Brig.”

“What the fuck did I do to you, Cas?” Dean yelped. “Charlie started it. I’ll tell you right now, if you’re a cylon you don’t wanna throw me in the Brig, I’ll just use my ‘Insubordinate’ ability to get out.”

“Exactly,” Castiel said. “It’s what’s best for the team!” Castiel fumed. “‘Insubordinate,’” he quoted, raising an eyebrow. “That sounds about right.”

Dean felt a little hot around the collar.

“I’m tired,” Kevin complained.

“Me too,” Dean declared, picking up his character marker and throwing it dejectedly onto the space marked ‘Brig.’ “No one told me I was signing up for a slumber party, this game is ungodly long.”

“Caffeine break!” Charlie exclaimed with forced cheer, getting up from the bean bag.

“I brought homemade boba,” Kevin said, “Just let me boil it.” He scrambled into the kitchen.

“I’ll make some coffee,” Castiel said, rising as well. “Do you want some, Dean?”

“Please,” Dean said, sinking into the couch in dramatic exhaustion.

Gilda wandered out as well, heading down the hall instead of to the kitchen.

Charlie hopped onto the couch next to Dean. “So what do you think?” she asked.

Dean crossed his arms and sank further into the couch. “‘Insubordinate,’” he quietly fumed. “Can you believe him? Barking orders at me like he’s Fuhrer King Bradley or some shit.”

Charlie raised her eyebrows. “What, like, Fullmetal Alchemist?” she asked.

“Yeeeeup.” Dean brooded.

Charlie laughed. “I-feed-stray-cats-and-give-hundred-dollar-tips Castiel, the Fuhrer? Just ‘cause he gets off on telling you what to do doesn’t mean he’s evil, Dean.”

Dean opened his mouth and then closed it again. His blush came back.

Charlie amended her statement. “I mean, he might be evil in the game, it’s too early to tell,” she clarified. “But in real life he’s one of the good guys. And besides, if we’re talking Brotherhood, he’s CLEARLY Colonel Mustang.”

“The Colonel?” Dean stared at her. He sat up straight. “No, no, no, absolutely not, because that would make me his Hawkeye.”

“And what, pray tell, is wrong with LIEUTENANT Hawkeye,” Charlie seethed. “She’s bad ass!”

“God yes,” Dean said, “but I can’t BE her.”

“And why not?”

“Uh, how ‘bout because she’s hopelessly in love with Colonel Roy Mustang?”

Charlie was nearly bouncing in her seat. “Only in the subtext!” she yelled.

“That’s bullshit and you know it. They play out all the classic romantic tropes. She’s one hundred percent in love with Roy Mustang. And really, Cas is Mustang? Carved-a-transmutation-sigil-into-his-own-flesh-to-save-his-team Mustang?”

“Did I stutter?”

“Cas is the most selfish, proud, bastard . . . he tips hundreds because he likes to show off. And being naked ALL the FUCKING TIME? That’s gotta be a power thing. Cas would never—”

“You’re right, you can’t be Hawkeye,” Charlie cut in angrily. “Because she actually knows something about her Mustang. I mean is all you know about Castiel the fact that he has an eyepatch? Come on, that’s my best friend you’re talking about.”

Dean shrank away from her, contrite. “I also know he has ridiculous hair, he’s a lush, and he can’t dress himself for shit, but that does not a Mustang make.” Dean pursed his lips. Charlie opened her mouth to argue. “And I’d have to be Hawkeye, because of the whole seeing-eye thing,” Dean added as an afterthought.

“Those are still all bad things,” Charlie said, her eyes narrowed.

“Hey, you said it, not me,” said Dean.

Charlie rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Come on,” she whispered conspiratorially, “you can’t tell me you don’t think he’s just a little bit dreamy.”

What, Cas? I . . . No. I . . . what?” Dean floundered. He knew he was being backed into a corner, but he couldn’t seem to make himself stop. “Mustang, on the other hand,” he continued, babbling now, “I’m man enough to admit Roy Mustang is dreamy. I’m straight, but if I was Hawkeye I would have straight up fucked him after that scene in the third laboratory.” He could feel his face redden even deeper of its own accord.

Charlie opened her mouth and took a huge breath—Dean just knew she was preparing to yell. “How dare you make me hear the words ‘I’m straight but I would have fucked him’ with my own two ears, Dean Winchester,” she raged. “And don’t conflate gender with sexuality.”

Dean gaped. “Are you telling me you could resist Roy Mustang telling you to get on your knees?” he said, his voice starting to climb in pitch.

Charlie frowned. “What part of ‘lesbian’ are you not getting, Dean.”

“Oh,” Dean said, suddenly running out of ways to dig his own grave. “Right.”

Charlie stared at him for a second. She started to laugh. Dean ran a hand over his face and then let out a sheepish smile in return.

“Dean,” Charlie said, touching his shoulder as she stood. She was still laughing. “I’m gonna go find my girlfriend. You go get a drink and think about what you’ve done.”

Dean did, after a second of sitting in stunned silence. When he finally made it into the kitchen, Kevin was just straining the newly-boiled boba. Dean got himself a cup and shuffled over to Castiel by the coffee machine. Soon Charlie and Gilda were back with a package of straws for them, and everybody started concocting their drinks.

Dean ended up with a chilled coffee boba. It was actually really good despite Castiel’s attempts to ruin the coffee like always. Castiel elected for a plain black brew, though every now and then he’d steal sips of Dean’s drink instead of drinking his own. Charlie and Kevin both came up with complete monstrosities, splitting a can of mountain dew between their drinks and squirting straight flavored syrups into their cups. And Gilda opted for a chrysanthemum tea to drink instead.

They filtered back into the living room with hands full of drinks and snacks and started up the game again. Dean made it out of the brig, but he was a little annoyed and felt a little less sure of himself than he had before. At the halfway point, when the second round of loyalty cards were distributed, Dean received the cylon card. He cursed his life internally. There was no way he was going to pull that off—he didn’t even know what he was doing as a human.

The game went on and no one seemed to suspect him, except maybe Castiel. He was paying Dean a lot of attention. Charlie kept raising her eyebrows at him every time Castiel stole his drink or nudged his arm. Dean was pretty sure at this point that she was trying to matchmake the shit out of them and he was getting tired of it. When Castiel laid his head on Dean’s shoulder, Charlie full-on winked at him and Dean lost his patience.

“Charlie, give it a rest!” Dean growled, dislodging Castiel’s head. Dean stood up and stormed out of the room. Charlie sat motionless for a second before jumping up and running after him, leaving the others behind in various states of confusion. Dean made it all the way to the bathroom down the hall before Charlie caught up.

“Dean,” she called out, coming to a breathless stop.

Dean stepped back toward her, into the hallway. He towered over her, drawing close so no one back in the living room could hear. “Just because I let a guy fuck me at a truckstop for lunch money doesn’t mean I’m gay,” he whispered harshly.

Charlie stood still and didn’t back down. “I know. And even if I ‘let a guy fuck me,’ it wouldn’t mean I’m not,” she said. “That has nothing to do with this.”

Dean shook his head and looked away. “Then why—?” he changed tack. He felt like he was having a hard time getting words out. “I trusted you when I showed you those arrest records,” he said.

“Dean, I know,” Charlie said. “I’m really begging you here, set it aside for one second, we can come back to it after I explain—”

“What?”

“That I couldn’t give less of a shit about your past! When you get to know me a little better, you’ll know why. I care about Cas, and I see the way he looks at you. Would it be so impossible that maybe I care about the way you look at him? That I care about you? I know what it’s like to be so far in the closet you’re eating socks, and I just wanted to make it clear that it’s safe to come out to me. For anyone. I don’t let casual homophobia fly in my house. Apartment. Whatever.” She paused for breath, and Dean could see the concern in every line of her face. He started to feel shitty.
“Dean, I’m not trying to force you into something or make you admit anything.” Charlie said. “I’m not even trying to speculate about your orientation. I mean, that whole thing about the Fuhrer, and Mustang . . . I was just trying to point out the distinct possibility that your POV is affected by the pervasive heteronormativity of the longstanding structure of hierarchical binaries that disadvantages queer persons. So . . . you know . . . like . . . Smash the heteropatriarchy.”

Dean was taken off-guard by her abrupt pivot into scholar-speak. He breathed out an awkward little laugh.

“I’m just trying to get to know you,” Charlie said. “I think I’d like it if you stuck around.”

Dean ran a hand along the back of his neck. “Me too,” he finally said. “Shit, I’m sorry, Charlie . . . I shouldn’t have reacted that way.”

Charlie shrugged. “Eh. You react the way you react. It’s what happens after that matters to me.” She looked meaningfully into his eyes. “I’m sorry that I made you uncomfortable,” she said. “We all make mistakes, dude.”

“Yeah, well . . . me more than most,” said Dean, sighing. A little bit of his residual anger came out. “This whole thing feels like one big mistake right now. All of it, not just tonight.” He realized how that sounded and tried to backtrack. “I mean, not tonight, tonight’s been great, except for me freaking. But the rest of it’s shitty and I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Charlie leaned against the wall. “Because of Cas?” she asked. Dean blinked down at his shoes. “Because just so you know, Cas isn’t trying to play games with you. He’s just clueless. Really clueless. And he’s really nice. Like, really nice.”

“I know, Charlie,” Dean said, dismayed. He sagged against the wall beside her. “That’s kind of the problem.”

“Meaning?” Charlie prompted.

Dean sighed. “This thing is over tomorrow, and I’m gonna miss him like hell. Seeing him all the time, holding his hand, listening to his terrible, terrible attempts at humor. It should be against the rules to be attached at the hip like this, it’s not fair. I actually got used to his stupid squint and his dumb messy head.”

Charlie’s eyebrows furrowed in exaggerated concern. “You know phones exist, right?” she teased. “And like, facetime? Skype? IRL meetups?”

“It’s not that,” Dean said. “It’s . . . there’s no reason for him to keep me around. He doesn’t want me. I’m poison.”

Charlie frowned. “That can’t be true,” she said.

Dean scoffed. “You don’t know me,” he said.

“Yeah, I do,” Charlie insisted. “And I’m a good judge of character, okay? Don’t insult me.”

Dean paused and looked at Charlie. She gave him a sad smile.

Dean sighed. “I just wish . . . I dunno. It’d be easier if I hated him.” Dean scuffed one foot along the carpet. “I mean, I do hate some things. . . . weird things. I mean, should I hate that he has, like, the best ass I’ve ever seen? Should I hate seeing him naked? Should I hate April being around just because I know that he fucked her?”

Charlie raised her eyebrows. “I mean, you should definitely hate April, but probably not for that reason. I hate to say this about another woman, but. . . . She’s messed up.”

Dean let out another laugh. “You’re right, that’s actually really not the only reason I hate her. That makes me feel better.”

The two of them chuckled together.

Charlie waited until Dean was looking at her again. “I’m not trying to presume, but . . . if you’re asking for my advice?”

Dean shrugged.

Charlie continued. “It sounds to me like you might be trying to tell me you’re jealous? Of Cas? Or April? Or both? Sometimes people who are . . . non-normatively attracted . . . are able to identify that part of the attraction before they realize it’s something more complicated. One time, in middle school, I literally stole a girl’s clothes.”

Dean thought about it for a second. Really thought about it. “Maybe I am a little gay,” he said, shrugging. “I mean, bisexual or something. Maybe I’m into guys.” He looked at Charlie, waiting for her response.

“Awesome,” Charlie said with a smile. “And if not, that’s fine.”

“I don’t mean to be hetero-normal or whatever it was,” Dean said. “I’ve just spent a lot of time . . . not thinking about it.”

“You know Dean, there’s nothing wrong with you,” Charlie said. “I just think maybe if you name the place you’re at, and figure out where you want to be, that might give you a roadmap to deal with it.”

Dean smiled at her. His eyes watered inexplicably. “Nah,” he said. “Not really my style. I just like to get on the road and drive.”

Charlie smiled back warmly. “Okay. Assuming you’ve got a license, I’ll allow it,” she said, assuming a royal affectation.

Dean opened his arms for a hug, and Charlie walked into it. Dean swept a hand across her hair gently before letting her go.

“Hey Dean, you know you can always hang out with Castiel here, right?” she said.

Dean opened his mouth and then closed it again. He was incredibly touched.

“Thanks Charlie,” he said.

“Thank me when we’ve won the game,” she said. She bounced away down the hallway ahead of him.

Dean watched her go. “Wait,” he suddenly called after her in an urgent whisper. “What did you say about Cas looking at me?!”

Charlie sent him a wink and a giggle before preceding him back into the living room.

Dean followed more slowly, thinking about what Charlie had said. By the time he got back in the room, Charlie was halfway into her turn and providing color commentary about how she was about to kick some major cylon booty. No one took notice of his return except Castiel, who gave him a concerned look as he took his seat, as if to ask what happened.

“Maybe I’ll tell you one day,” Dean whispered, leaning close. He settled into his seat, a wistful smile finding its way onto his face as he watched Castiel go back to feeling up his large handful of Braille-covered cards.

Castiel didn’t put his head on Dean’s shoulder again, and Dean found himself wishing he would. Yeah, he was definitely maybe into guys. And definitely maybe this one in particular. He was so, so fucked.

Castiel’s next turn was the most interesting yet. When he drew his crisis card he had barely fiddled with his translation app before placing it face up on the table.

“If we pass this check,” he said, “I get to look at someone’s loyalty card.”

The table suddenly perked up.

“Who do we think is a cylon?” Kevin asked excitedly.

“Hmm,” Charlie said. “Dean. I feel like he hasn’t been helping much lately.”

Dean stuck his tongue out at her. “Maybe SOMEONE just didn’t teach me how to play the game properly,” he countered.

“Anyone else?” Castiel asked.

“Come on!” Dean protested.

No one else spoke up and it was decided. Once the skill check was passed, Castiel held his hand out expectantly. Dean hastily shuffled his two loyalty cards and held them out for Castiel to pick, carefully shielding the words from everyone else’s view. Castiel picked one and brought it furtively into his body, sweeping his fingers across its surface.

Dean surreptitiously glanced at the loyalty card left in his hand. Shit. Castiel had taken his cylon card. He watched with trepidation as Castiel felt along the edges of the card for the Braille that marked it as such. Dean was really dreading coming out as a cylon. He was going to crash and burn. Dean thought he saw the moment Castiel’s finger caught on the makeshift Braille. He held his breath.

“It’s not a cylon card,” Castiel announced.

What?

Castiel handed the card back to Dean below the edge of the table. He caught Dean’s hand for a second too long, squeezing it briefly before relinquishing the guilty card.

He must know, Dean realized. He must be a cylon too.

Dean’s hope was renewed. He was still in this. They both were.

The next part was easy. All Dean had to do was wait for Castiel’s signal. And when Galactica was surrounded, and damaged, and boarded by a raiding party, the signal came. Castiel’s hand wandered across Dean’s lap under the table until it found Dean’s hand again. Castiel squeezed it and then tapped it for good measure so Dean couldn’t mistake what he meant.

Dean picked up his cylon card and then slapped it face down on the table. “I’m a cylon,” he gloated, moving his Starbuck character token to the resurrection ship. He drew and played a cylon super-crisis card. In a brutal attack on floating civilian ships, it took the team of humans down two notches in population and one in food. The resources were dwindling desperately. And then it was Castiel’s turn.

“I’m also a cylon,” Castiel said, turning over his own cylon card and moving his Bill Adama token to the resurrection ship next to Dean’s.

“Fuck!” Charlie yelled. Keving groaned loudly, his hair a mop of angry black as he mimed banging his head on the table. Gilda crossed her arms and sighed.

Castiel got to play his own super-crisis card, and the humans were totally and utterly fucked. Now they just had to wait until the cylon raiders did the dirty work of taking out the remaining civilian ships. Soon, the human’s resources dwindled into nothing, and Dean grinned as he watched his hard work pay off.

The game finally ended with a stunning (if Dean said so himself) cylon victory over the humans. Dean celebrated by half-tackling Castiel to the ground in a very involved victory hug. Castiel took it, idiotic confused face morphing into a wide gummy smile that made Dean feel so light he thought he might have to hold on for the rest of the night just to keep from floating away.

Instead, Dean rolled over onto his back on the floor, sighing as he loudly told the rest of the room that they had no hope of ever beating the wonder cylons and that next time, they should just surrender at the start.

“You wanna bet?” yelped Charlie from her nest on the bean bag, her honor besmirched but her grin somehow still intact.

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Dean said, grinning back and sitting up suddenly like a dog for a bone.

“Oh yeah?” Charlie yelled, louder.

“Name the time and place, kid, I’m in!”

“Two weeks from now, at the game store downtown.”

Kevin and Gilda laughed, watching Charlie rope Dean in.

“Wow, you really had that ready,” Dean said, suddenly wondering what he had gotten himself into.

“We’re having a Lord of the Rings DBG tournament, all three movies, heats and everything, it’s happening, it’s gonna be great, and you’re going down.”

“Well, we’ll see about that,” Dean said.

Charlie fist-pumped in the air, delighted that she’d convinced Dean to attend.

“You play, Cas?” Dean asked.

“Too much reading,” Castiel said, readjusting his eyepatch nonchalantly.

“You know, we would get someone to read aloud for you,” Gilda said, frowning in concern.

“I know,” Castiel said. “But I’ve never read the books or anything . . . I don’t know.”

“You’ve never read the books?” Dean asked, incredulous. Castiel shook his head. “The movies?!” Dean exclaimed. Castiel shrugged.

“It’s a sore point in our relationship,” Charlie said, rolling her eyes.

“No boyfriend of mine is gonna be a Tolkien virgin,” Dean suddenly exclaimed. He slapped a hand down on Castiel’s knee. “Bring me a book!”

Charlie reached for the bookcase behind her and pulled out her old, dog-eared copy of ‘The Hobbit.’ She passed it over to him, grinning.

“Couch,” Dean commanded, grabbing Castiel’s hand and helping him from the floor to the couch.

“I’ll get some tea!” Gilda squealed, hopping up from her office chair. It spun around and around in her wake. “Start without me!” she called from the kitchen.

Dean sat on the couch next to Castiel. He cracked open the book, squirming until he was settled, one thigh nestled against Castiel’s. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” he began. “Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

Castiel scooted down to relax into the couch. He finally rested his head back on Dean’s shoulder and closed his eyes, sinking into the comfort that Dean gave.

Dean’s heart soared. He felt like if there was something that he could do forever, maybe this would be it.

 

. . .

 

Of course, he didn’t get to do it forever. Instead, he said goodnight and then drove Castiel back to his penthouse around midnight. The car was quiet, and Dean was thinking about the day, how it ended and how it began. As amazing as the night had been, there were a lot of things still weighing on his mind. Was Castiel into guys? Into him? Charlie seemed to think he was, and she would know, right? Was he really ready to start real-dating a guy? Would it feel as easy as fake-dating Cas felt? Would he be able to tell people he was into guys? Would he be able to tell Sam? And there was something still bothering him about this morning. The Shanghai thing, and Cas. That one might be a little easier to wrap his head around. If only Castiel would tell him the truth.

As he pulled into his guest spot in Castiel’s garage, he resolved to bring it up.

“Hey Cas?” he said, shifting the impala into park and turning the key. The shadow of the garage made him feel a little safer somehow, like it could hide his insecurities inside it. Even though Castiel couldn’t see him anyway.

Castiel turned toward him from the passenger side. “Yes?” he said.

“I know it’s not my thing to ask about,” Dean said, unsure. “But . . . your eyes . . . are they ever going to get better?”

Castiel immediately turned away from him, closed off in every way. “It’s late,” he said. “You should be in bed.”

“Not tired,” Dean said immediately. He had to try.

Castiel paused. “Ah, yes,” he said sagely. “That would be the effects of the caffeine we drank this evening.”

Dean huffed a little laugh. The smile slipped from his face. “I know you don’t like to talk about it—or maybe you just don’t want to talk about it with me.”

Castiel frowned. “Shame is a powerful motivator,” he said. Dean watched as Castiel bent his head as though in prayer. He seemed to be in deep contemplation for a moment. “I don’t want you to think badly of me,” he almost-whispered. The car seemed to fill up with something: tension, or maybe just the heat of the stifled garage and the late-spring air.

“Maybe I won’t,” said Dean.

Castiel considered it for a moment more. “Come up with me,” he said.

Dean did.

When the two of them passed the threshold of Castiel’s apartment, Castiel called out a weary “lights.” The lights switched on in quick succession, illuminating the grey room and the hallway behind it. Castiel dropped onto the couch. This living room felt much lonelier than the one they’d just left. Dean joined Castiel tentatively. He sat facing him, watching as Castiel took a deep breath before he began to tell the story.

“We had taken the sailboat out,” Castiel said. “April and Bartholomew and I. I don’t think there was anything I loved more than sailing. It felt right that I propose to April on my sailboat, though I had to get drunk to get up the courage. But that’s what I planned to do.” He folded his hands together, and then separated them once more. He huffed an uncomfortable breath. “Only before I could, she and Bartholomew shared the reality of her affair.”

Dean didn’t know what to do. He nearly reached out, before thinking better of it.

Castiel continued. “She was angry that I had left her behind. And I had. I was distant, figuratively and literally. I was working on securing a future project in California for an entire month before.”

“Where we were supposed to have met?” Dean asked.

Castiel nodded. “I didn’t take the confrontation well. It was a betrayal, of course, but it was more than that. I felt, at the time, that I needed her.” He paused as though lost in thought.

Dean scrubbed a hand over his chin. “Why?” he prompted.

“Because she convinced me I could not find love elsewhere. You see, Dean, until I met her, I thought I couldn’t experience sexual attraction. I wanted to. I thought there was something wrong with me. I had desperate wants and needs, but none of them the right ones. “Now, I try to remind myself that sexual attraction isn’t necessary for fulfillment. That ‘different’ isn’t the same as ‘unlovable.’ Now, I identify as demisexual.”

Dean frowned. As though he could sense it, Castiel explained. “It means that I feel attraction to a person only when I’ve already formed a close emotional bond with them,” he said. “Now I know myself better and I’m not ashamed of that part of myself, which I cannot change. I’m only ashamed of the way I acted that night.

“Because I thought I needed her, I fought for her. I fought my brother. I hated him for taking away my happiness. We brawled on the wet deck like the mobsters our family always pretended not to be. It was a mess, we were both drunk. It was a small boat, and we were careless, and dangerous. The water wasn’t calm, either. April fell in. I tried to help her, but in my haste, I . . .” Castiel paused. “I slipped.” He paused again. “To this day, I’m never certain if he pushed me or if I was just so drunk it felt like I was being propelled by unseen forces. Either way, I hit my head on the boom, badly. I’m lucky to have lived. I woke up in a hospital bed with traumatic optic neuropathy and an occult globe rupture in one eye. I couldn’t see. The damage couldn’t be undone. It will never improve. Not really.”
Dean stared as Castiel swallowed in the sudden silence, the aftermath of the story, and the story-telling both. He watched Castiel lift the eyepatch gently from his eye, pulling it past his hair and off. He held it gingerly in his hands, his eyes now both exposed to Dean’s gaze.

This left eye was blue, just like the other. Dean’s gaze fell to a scar just underneath the inside of the eye. And then back up to the pupil. He realized that the place where Castiel’s pupil should be was blue as well, the rainy color spilling into the ringed iris in swelling crests. It looked like an electrical storm or a raging sea contained within a tiny puddle of light.

Dean’s hand lifted to touch Castiel’s face. Castiel flinched at the contact, unsure. Dean swept a thumb across Castiel’s cheek.

“Why do you hide it,” Dean said.

Castiel didn’t answer.

Dean removed his hand, bringing it down to meet his other in his lap. He traced his thumb against his own skin absently. Dean swallowed. “So, it’s true then, what you said when we met,” he asked, changing the subject. “You’ve never been with a guy?” He coughed uneasily.

Castiel shrugged. “I may have felt some attraction toward some men, in my youth. It was difficult for me to identify. But the opportunity never presented itself. I was only ever attracted to April.” Castiel seemed to think for a moment. “Since I’m being honest tonight,” he said, “I’m also attracted to you. I feel . . . an indescribable connection to you. A . . . profound bond. I have since we met. I’m not certain why. This is somewhat novel for me. I’m unsure how to navigate it. But I thought you should know. I just hope that doesn’t make you uncomfortable.”

Dean stared in shock, taking in Castiel’s handsome face, earnest and open, and waiting for him to respond. Dean felt something in his chest, in his heart, start to change. “It doesn’t,” Dean whispered.

Castiel’s hand snaked across the couch, seeking him out. Dean watched at Castiel’s hand landed over his own, stopping the nervous movement of his thumb against his wrist.

Dean stopped breathing. He felt the reality of the situation crash over him, like a frantic wave of water from Castiel’s story. He wondered suddenly if the thing he felt in his chest might be his heart breaking. Dean suddenly pulled his hands away.

Castiel frowned in confusion.

Dean hated that he had to do this, but it felt like too much, and he couldn’t put it out of his mind. He felt the words rise up like bile from his belly.

“Cas, I lied,” Dean rushed out.

Castiel pulled his hand back into himself, unsure. “You . . . lied?” he asked.

“When I said I’d never been with a guy,” Dean said. “I’ve been with lots of guys.” He took a sharp breath and then spit it out. “Just not without getting paid to do it.”

Castiel tilted his head, trying to seek out Dean’s face with his good eye.

“My dad,” Dean said, “when he was pissed at me, he’d kick me out, leave me in some no-name town we were passing through without any money. I had to do something. I had to survive. Pretty boy like me, it just made sense.”

“Dean—”

“You don’t want me, Cas! I’m bad news! I’ve lied to you so many times. I’m not straight, even though I told you I was. I not good, or smart, or normal. I’m a liar. There’s just a part of me that’s been afraid of myself for so long, and that’s the part that lies.”

“You don’t get to tell me who I want, Dean Winchester,” Castiel growled. “I don’t get to choose who I’m attracted to, though God knows I’ve tried. But I get to choose who I want in my bed, Dean. And I want you.”

Dean’s mouth fell open. His eyes widened in despair. “I can’t sleep with someone who’s paying me, Cas. I just can’t. I need lines.”

Castiel stood abruptly. His eyepatch fell to the ground unacknowledged. Dean watched as he strode away, leaving Dean alone in the room. Dean put his head in his hands, running his hands roughly over his skin and hair.

Suddenly, there was a stack of bills on the table. Dean looked up from the couch.

“I’ve paid you,” Castiel said. A few loose hundreds fluttered down onto the table belatedly. Castiel backed away from the couch, the table, the money, and Dean. “Five days, as agreed. $25,000. The arrangement is over.”

Dean gaped. “But the opening?”

“I’m asking you to come as my date, but there’s no obligation. It’s just one event, so my assistant Hannah can help me without complication if you choose not to. It’s a request. A real date.”

Dean blinked.

“Dean, thank you for sharing these parts of yourself with me,” Castiel said. “But you need not feel like you were deceiving me because you didn’t share it before. It’s yours. You can protect it. I respect that. Whatever happens, whatever you feel? Well, now you have been paid. Whatever you do tonight has nothing to do with money. Whatever you do tomorrow has nothing to do with tonight.”

Dean surged up off of the couch and crossed the room in hasty strides. He knocked into Castiel with the force of his momentum as their mouths met in a bruising kiss.

Dean raised his hands to either side of Castiel’s face like he had onstage. He pulled Castiel toward himself, rough and desperate, until they were flush against each other. He could taste the tea on Castiel’s tongue from earlier. He chased that taste, his heart thrashing against his chest. The painful pounding finally crested into pleasure, sending blood down the length of his body. He paused to look at Castiel’s eyes, both of them.

“Your eyes are so beautiful, Cas,” he ground out. Castiel’s lips found his again, shutting him up. Dean moved his hands to press against Castiel’s chest, and then let them travel to the hem of his T-shirt, where his fingers danced against the hot skin of Castiel’s hips. Castiel broke the kiss to grasp the hem and pull the shirt over his head. Dean shrugged out of his flannel.

“Bedroom,” Castiel commanded.

Dean grabbed Castiel’s hand and pulled him down the hall, trying to undo the buckle of his own belt with one hand as they went.

They passed into the bedroom and Dean pulled the door shut behind them.

“Lights!” Castiel called. The lights turned on.

Dean kicked off his shoes as Castiel did the same. Dean huffed out a laugh as he watched Castiel struggle with his socks from standing. Dean pulled off the rest of his clothes and then sat on the bed to tug off his own socks. He sat there, naked, watching as Castiel removed the rest of his clothes until he was bare too.

“God, I love seeing you naked,” Dean groaned.

Castiel slowly drew closer. Dean spread his legs against the edge of the bed and pulled Castiel between them with a strong grip of his fingers on either side of Castiel’s hips. Castiel steadied himself with graceful hands on Dean’s shoulders.

Dean’s fingers trailed down the sides of Castiel’s legs and then raked up the backs of his thighs until they settled on his ass. Dean stared at the divots his hands made in the flesh there, mesmerized. He surged to standing, brushing against Castiel as he pulled him into a slow kiss, his hands still clutching Castiel to him and trapping their erections together in a slow drag. Dean’s breath began to quicken. He gently sank to his knees, first pushing Castiel away and then pulling him back in until Dean’s lips met the sharp turn of one of Castiel’s hips. He pressed against the bone, tasting Castiel’s skin. He kissed the flesh below the bone where Castiel’s thigh began. Then he nosed against the dark hairs that gathered below Castiel’s navel and traveled down.

Castiel shuddered. He placed one hand on Dean’s cheek.

Dean looked up at him, the weight of his head cradled in Castiel’s firm grip. Castiel shifted forward ever so slightly.

Dean took a shaking breath and then took hold of Castiel with one hand, guiding him into his mouth. He let his lips settle around Castiel’s head and his tongue softly lave the underside before pushing forward. Castiel gasped and Dean quickened his pace, pulling Castiel in and out, his hands on Castiel’s hips keeping them both stable.

Dean felt the familiar fullness in his mouth. He felt Castiel’s skin slide against his lips, soft and exquisite. His hands began to shake, and he clutched at Castiel’s hips to steady them. He felt the pool of saliva that formed under his tongue and he struggled to keep breathing. He began to feel an ache in his jaw and a different, more pleasant ache between his legs as the blood settled into his groin. He focused on that, and his erection grew heavier.

Castiel moaned desperately. “Dean,” he cried. It came out dirty and strangled, like the word was trapped beneath the aftermath of a landslide.

Castiel’s nails scrabbled at Dean’s shoulders as he tried to pull Dean up by his arms.

Dean pulled off of Castiel, standing to look into his eyes.

“What’s wrong, Cas?” he asked.

“I can’t see you,” Castiel panted, pained. He threaded both hands in the short hair at the base of Dean’s skull and pulled him in so their noses were almost touching.

“I’m here,” Dean said, sweeping his hands comfortingly up Castiel’s back and staring into his two blue eyes, bright and open.

Castiel stared back for a moment before pulling him into a searing kiss. Dean held on as Castiel pressed himself against his body, backing him up toward the bed again. Dean reached back, settling onto the mattress, which dipped under his weight. Castiel broke the kiss to let Dean lay back fully, pushing himself up to rest on the pillows at the headboard.

Castiel climbed after him, settling over him with one leg resting between Dean’s.

“Is this okay?” he asked, drawing close so that he could just make out Dean’s face, brushing their noses together gently.

Dean smiled wide so that Castiel could see it. “God, yes,” he whispered, craning his neck to catch Castiel’s lips with his own.

 

. . .

 

When Dean awoke the next morning, it was to an empty bed. Castiel’s grey silk sheets were tangled around his feet and the lights were still on, though it was early in the morning. Dean sighed and rolled over, squinting at the brightness. He kicked the blankets off and swung his bare legs off the bed, trying to rouse the slumber from his limbs. He got up, giving a quick peek into the bathroom to see if Castiel was there. He wasn’t. Dean considered his nakedness for a moment before remembering the last time he assumed no one would see him unclothed here—April still had her key, as far as he knew. He grabbed last night’s underwear from the pile of discarded clothing on the floor and pulled them on before heading into the kitchen.

The kitchen was empty, and Dean wanted to find Castiel. He could make a mean post-sex breakfast, but he wanted to make sure Cas was actually there to enjoy it before he made food for him. Dean went to leave the kitchen and had nearly made it into the living room before he realized that something had been off about the hallway. He backtracked, and it was a moment before he realized what had changed.

The locked door that Dean had been unable to open on his first night here was now ajar. The light that poured out of it was unusually brilliant. He tiptoed slowly toward it, unsure if this was allowed. He hesitated in the doorway when he saw Castiel bent over a large desk, long graceful fingers tracing the lines of the drawing paper laid out before him. His left eye was still uncovered, and Dean smiled to see him so caught up in what he was doing. He had never been able to see Castiel do what he loved before. It was almost maddeningly attractive, the intensity with which Castiel worked. Dean realized he was spying and frowned.

“Your studio?” Dean asked, walking into the room and hoping that he wasn’t crossing a line as he crossed the threshold. He hated to interrupt Castiel’s work, but he didn’t like the idea of wandering around the penthouse as Castiel accidentally ignored him, either.

“Yes,” Castiel answered. He was naked once again, but this time he wore a smile. Dean smiled in return without a thought.

“Your designs?” Dean joined Castiel at the drafting table, casually leaning over Castiel’s shoulder such that Castiel could feel where he was.

Castiel straightened against him, pressing the warmth of their bare skin together. He nodded. “I’d forgotten how much I’d completed, before.”

Dean looked at the designs closely. “The Shanghai towers,” he realized aloud. He placed a rough, calloused hand where Castiel’s elegant one had been a moment ago. He followed the lines, absorbing the simple beauty of the calculated renderings. “Cas, these are incredible.”

Castiel paused. “They could be,” he said softly.

Dean studied the drawings. “You should go to Shanghai,” he said. He gave the paper a final sweep with the tips of his fingers before taking his hands back and folding them against his sides.

“You think I could do it?” Castiel asked.

“Well, yeah,” Dean said, frowning.

Castiel turned away from the papers to face Dean. “I do too,” he whispered, almost like he was afraid to admit it.

Dean stared at Castiel a moment. The seconds dragged on and Dean found he didn’t want to think about Castiel leaving. He changed the subject. “Hey, why do you have tens of thousands of dollars in cash just lying around your apartment?” he asked.

Castiel’s head titled in a confused frown. He seemed to think for a moment. “I never really thought about that being weird,” he admitted.
Dean raised an eyebrow.

Castiel continued. “That’s always how it was in my family. It’s only recently I’ve considered that’s probably a marker of not-so-above-board business practices. Sometimes I wonder . . . about my family. I’ve come to realize they are not the pillars of truth and right they want the community to believe.”

“Yeah, you think?”

“I was raised not to question things, Dean. I’m only just beginning to see clearly. It’s not always so easy for me to know the right thing to do.”

“You’ll do the right thing, Cas. I got faith in you.”

“Why?”

Dean sighed, then turned and leaned against the desk so he could face Castiel.

“Bobby—” he paused to explain—“my uncle Bobby . . . not my real uncle.” He backtracked some more. “Gave me a home, for a while. More’n my dad ever did. Anyway, I actually moved to Chicago to take care of him, when he got sick. Chicago was doing experimental trials. We sold the auto shop, moved here.

“And uh, I used to read the Tribune by his bedside. God, he hated that trash. Didn’t think much of you, either, and that’s what I been thinkin’ about. The old man was a genius: spoke Japanese, knew how to sew up a stab wound, could tell you everything ever written on angels. But I’m starting to think he was wrong about you.

“‘Castiel,’ he’d said. ‘Angel of Thursday,’ ‘Sitting up in his skyscraper, treating people like ants,’ ‘Holier-than-thou,’ ‘asshole.’”

Castiel squinted at him, forehead creased with the effort. Dean’s face split into a smile at the sight.

“You get the picture,” he continued. “He thought you were corrupt, or, or, bad. But, I dunno. He complained a lot at the end. Sometimes I think it was the only thing he could remember to do, with all the pain. Made him feel like himself. He hated the Spire like a real Chicagoan. He was right about a lot of things, but he was wrong about you. I mean, he was definitely wrong about the angel thing, because angels aren’t dicks and you definitely are.”

Castiel frowned harder.

Dean laughed. “But you’re my dick,” he said, clapping Castiel on the shoulder with a grin. At the last second, he pulled Castiel in to plant a quick kiss on his cheek. He drew away again. “Come on. I’m making breakfast.”

A smile broke through the frown on Castiel’s face. “Alright.”

 

. . .

 

After breakfast, Dean gathered up his abandoned $25,000 from the coffee table and stuffed it into a duffle along with most of the extra stuff scattered around Castiel’s place. He planned to come back for dinner and a change of clothes before the gala, but after that? Well, he didn’t want to presume. Plus, he was headed to Sam’s next week anyway, and he was pretty much committed to silk underwear or no underwear at this point, so he needed it all with him. He thought long and hard about leaving his ACDC shirt with Castiel while he was traveling, but when he realized how hard he’d been thinking about it he just threw the shirt in the duffle as well.

He gave Castiel a nervous kiss goodbye, their first real one since last night. It was nice and Dean couldn’t get enough of it. He pressed his cheek against Castiel’s and breathed in the scent of his skin. Castiel rewarded him with clumsy kisses against his cheek and neck, and then Dean left before he was in danger of staying to just go for another round instead. Castiel had said he had things he needed to do today, and Dean had a shitload of cash burning a hole in his pocket. So he hopped in his car and left.

Dean was just settling down for lunch at a diner close to his motel when he saw that he had a text from Castiel. Dean rubbed a sheepish thumb over his bottom lip as a dumb smile overtook him. He wondered briefly if Castiel would like this diner, and if he should invite him some time. He read the text.

Do you know where my eyepatch is

Dean rolled his eyes and replied: Check under the coffee table.

After a while, Dean’s phone buzzed in response.

Thank you.

And then:

Something came up. I’ll have your clothes sent to you, just text me the address. Please meet me at the gala at 8.

Dean frowned, looking down at the text. After a long moment, he typed out the address of his motel and sent it off.

 

. . .

 

Dean arrived at the gala in his sleek black impala and a black tuxedo to match. The Spire towered over the other buildings in oppressive dominance. Dean let a valet take his keys and then sauntered up to the building with false confidence. He kept his eyes peeled in case Castiel was around. He didn’t really know anyone else here. Not anyone that he wanted to talk to, anyway.

He waited for an elevator at the elevator bank impatiently. He noticed a sign that told him the elevator boasted the fastest hundred-floor ascent in the western hemisphere. He nearly took the stairs.
The moment he stepped into the glass-paneled metal deathtrap, he felt completely entombed. The door snapped shut, encasing him on all sides and forcing him airborne along the exterior wall of the Spire. The elevator rushed upward, and he had left his stomach below. Very, very far below. Twenty, Thirty, Forty stories. He squeezed his eyes shut as the earth fell away. He was going to kill Castiel for doing this to him.

The elevator suddenly slowed its ascension. Dean opened his eyes to see nothing but blackness. Looking around, he soon realized that he was seeing the endlessly dark night sky that surrounded the elevator on three sides, 100 stories up. It was as though he had risen above even the light-pollution of the city. He could see stars here and there, but nothing else. The loneliness of it nearly choked him.

The doors chimed open, and Dean stumbled out into the atrium of the top floor. He saw a few guests but he didn’t see Castiel, and so he followed the noise of the party through the silver, metallic entranceway into the ballroom. The glass and metal that made up the building’s functional décor was imposing. It reminded Dean of the same emptiness that inhabited Castiel’s living room. He wished Castiel had put plants here, as well. The lonely feeling persisted.

Dean pushed his way through the crowd, searching for his date. He craned his neck, but the room was large and the gala well-attended. Even though the room was well-lit, he couldn’t see Castiel anywhere.

Dean hadn’t been paying much attention to the people in the room that weren’t Castiel, and out of nowhere, a hand landed on his elbow. He turned around, confused, to find that Crowley had sidled up next to him, and was leaning in quite close.

“Looking for someone?” Crowley asked, his accented voice pitched low and loud in Dean’s ear.

Dean just looked at him, unsure how to answer. He wished he could find Castiel.

Crowley let out a rough chuckle. “If I were your date, I’d never abandon you like this. You’re much too pretty.”

Dean’s mouth fell open. He glared at Crowley. “You’re not my type,” he bit out. He resumed looking around for Castiel.

“All I’m saying is, it’s a shame. Better get used to it, though. Your precious Castiel won’t have time to entertain you in Shanghai. He’s all work and no play when it really comes down to it.” Crowley shrugged, eyeing Dean sharply over the glass of champagne he held in his hand.

Dean stilled, watching Crowley warily. “In Shanghai,” he repeated back to him slowly.

“Castiel mentioned that you’d be accompanying him,” Crowley said. He leaned into Dean, who was still frozen. Crowley’s hand brushed against the velvet lapel of Dean’s tuxedo. “You just let me know if you get lonely. I’ll take you out, show you the city.” He whispered the last, rough and seductive. Dean felt his hot, sticky breath on his cheek and opened his mouth to voice his revulsion.

“Dean,” came a coarse voice behind them.

Crowley slunk away from him smoothly, feigning innocence as he looked past Dean. Dean turned to find Castiel at his back, anger clear on his face. His right eye was narrowed, though his left eye was once again hidden behind the eyepatch. He was arm-in-arm with Hannah, who looked surprisingly pretty dressed up in an elegant silver dress.

“I apologize for being detained,” Castiel ground out. He left Hannah behind and strode toward Dean, nearly knocking his shoulder as he came to a stop at his side. His hand dug in around Dean’s hip, pulling him slightly off-balance as he drew him firmly into his side and away from Crowley, who was still watching him with amusement.

Castiel pressed a kiss against Dean’s cheek, slow and spitefully insistent. It wasn’t anything like his typical tenderness: it was possessive. Dean could dig a little forcefulness in the bedroom, but this was different. He didn’t think he cared for it.

Crowley cleared his throat and pointed to a balcony on a second tier of the ballroom, which Dean hadn’t noticed before. There was a small group there, looking down on them imperiously. “Raphael is summoning me,” Crowley said. He slipped into the crowd and was gone.

Dean turned, attempting to shake off Castiel’s possessive grip as well as the lingering discomfort of Crowley’s advances. “What’s going on?” He asked. “What’s this about Shanghai?”

Suddenly, the background music faded and was replaced with the canned sound of heralding trumpets. A few yards away, Dean could see a blue light suddenly glowing, throwing the crowd between him and it into sharp relief. The light began to rise, and Dean could see Bartholomew standing on the rising lit platform, a glass podium before him and a drink in his hand.

“Hello, and welcome!” He called into the mic. His smile was wide and playful. Dean cast an anxious glance toward Castiel while the audience clapped.

“We all know why we’re here tonight,” Bartholomew continued, the phoniness of his smile overtaking his handsome features in an irritating show. The crowd laughed along with him politely. “To celebrate a building that is unlike any other, and the fantastic achievement of Krushnic and Associates!” The crowd cheered. “And now,” Bartholomew said, “I would like to present my dear brother.”
Castiel suddenly released Dean altogether and took a few steps away. The clapping crowd parted for him as a second bright blue light sprang up in their midst. Castiel moved toward it, and then was engulfed in the light. Dean watched as he nearly stumbled into the podium, saving himself at the last moment and standing tall and proud. He grasped the podium as this second platform rose out of the floor around him to elevate him out of the crowd until he had joined Bartholomew up above.

Dean watched him from below, alone once more.

“Thank you,” Castiel was saying. Dean strained his neck to try to see him. Castiel was now going on about the revolutionary design of the Spire, basking in the glow of the platform and the luster of the ingratiating audience. Dean shook his head and gave up trying to see. He turned away to look at the crowd instead, and suddenly came face-to-face with April.

She stood only feet away, her shining lips curled into a sneer as she watched him. She moved closer toward him, her silver dress radiant in the light of the platforms, like some metallic snake. She stopped only inches away, and Dean’s face pulled into a pronounced frown as he stood his ground.

“Not enjoying the festivities?” She breathed, taunting him.

“Can’t say that I am,” Dean answered.

“A pity,” April said. She drew closer. Dean finally stepped away. He shook his head.

“This’s ridiculous,” he said. “You must know this is ridiculous.”

“Oh?” April said, one delicate eyebrow raised menacingly.

Dean sighed. “I’ve always liked architecture,” he said. “Engineering, making things, hell, designing. But this is something else, man. I mean, I really don’t get it. All this ostentatious, crowd-pleasing, pyrotechnic crap. Give me an open road, a gas pedal beneath my feet. But this? I’ll never get it.”

“Oh, of course not, Dean,” April crooned. “What else could he expect from someone who never even graduated high school.”

Dean abruptly paled at her words. He tried to keep the grimace off his face. “What did you say?” he all but growled at her.

“I’m just saying, we all know you don’t belong in this world. Maybe you should just go. What makes you think you can do this when you couldn’t even make it through high school?”

“Yeah, well, neither did Keanu,” Dean said. He turned his face away from her as though she didn’t bother him. “Find something else to bitch about.”

“Oh, I did,” April gloated.

Dean’s eyes snapped back to April’s face. Her ugly sneer had turned to a triumphant smile. Dean’s empty stomach filled with dread.

“In fact, I’ve been meaning to ask you,” April said, “do you strip as well, or are you just a prostitute? It’s just that I could use a stripper for my bachelorette party, and I know you need the money.”

There was a sudden roaring in Dean’s ears. He thought distantly that it might be the applause of the crowd, but he couldn’t seem to focus on anything but the sudden rush of unadulterated anger coursing through him.

“You bitch,” he snarled.

“Careful, now,” she said. “You wouldn’t want all these lovely people to overhear.”

Dean struggled to breathe. He tried to focus on staring April down.

“I made a few calls,” she continued, when it was clear Dean had nothing else. “You might be able to erase electronic records, but I managed to find one that still had your dirty deeds down on paper. Miami? ’97? I had to dig up stuff on your dad, your brother. But I found it.”

Dean tried to laugh. “You really went through a lot of trouble to try to ruin my ‘insignificant little’ life, huh,” he crowed anemically.

“Oh sweetie,” April said, eyes narrowed. “There wasn’t anything left to ruin. You did this to yourself.”

Dean’s mouth dropped open in incredulity. “What is it with you rich people thinking you’re better than us just because your daddy’s shady deals got you rich while mine just got me by,” he erupted. “You don’t think I would have rather had the money?”

April scoffed. “This wasn’t about you—you’re inconsequential. It was about Castiel.”

“My god, you’re deluded!” Dean threw up his hands. “He doesn’t love you, April, he never will. You’re just the piece of shit that ruined his life because apparently that’s what you do.”

“And you’re just the piece of shit that’s trying to ruin his career.” Her eyes glinted dangerously, and her smile came back. “But you can’t anymore,” she continued. “I’ve stopped it.”

Dean watched with narrow eyes as the triumph on April’s face grew. “What did you do,” he growled.

April’s glossy lips smiled wide. “He comes to Shanghai next week or else the whole world knows what you are,” she said. “The Tribune reaches millions, you know.”

Dean blinked a few times, stunned. The crowd came back into focus when a black-clad body stepped in front of him. Dean looked around to see a few people looking his way uncertainly. He realized who the body in front of him belonged to.

“April, that’s enough,” Castiel said, crowding against him and blocking his view of April entirely. He could just see the glint of light off her dress as she turned tail and disappeared into the crowd.

Dean backed away as Castiel turned to face him.

Castiel tried to smile, awkwardly. “So my life is ruined because I’m blind, is that what you think?” The joke was tinged with bitterness. Dean swallowed. “You’re right in one way. It’s taken my independence from me. I can’t go to Shanghai without you.”

“No,” Dean said. Hurt and confusion were seeping into his skin like heat through his velvet tuxedo. “I told you I can’t.”

Castiel’s brow furrowed. “What could possibly be more important—”

“I’m starting to think maybe it’s none of your business!” Dean interrupted, emotions swirling inside him.

“After everything—”

“Don’t you dare try to guilt me into this. I’m not holding you back, I’m not!” Dean’s eyes were wide and pleading. “Just go without me.”

“It won’t work, they’ll find out, and she’ll—”

“So let them find out!

Castiel looked around blindly, as though afraid people might hear. The earlier onlookers had dispersed along with April, but Dean quieted anyway. “What are you so afraid of?” he whispered.

Castiel frowned at him. He shifted closer, his mouth opening and then closing. Dean continued. “The future? Our future? Do we have a future, Cas?”

Castiel’s face was so pained, Dean could barely stand to look at it. “Dean, I don’t understand,” Castiel said. “I’m doing this for you. She’ll write the story, there’s nothing else I can do.”

“So, let her write it! It’s the truth!”

“But it’s yours,” Castiel said. He hesitated. “Ours.” He moved even closer, trying to catch Dean’s eye, but Dean did not feel like indulging him right now. Dean backed away, looking down.

“No one gets to use this against me, Cas, I swear to god.”

Castiel reached out, managing to get a hand on Dean’s chest. “No one else needs to know.”

Dean shrugged away from it. “So what, you’re ashamed of me now? Ashamed you fucked me?”

“Dean—”

Dean shook his head violently. “You know what, I thought I could do this, but I can’t,” he said. He took another step back.

Castiel stepped forward, trying to follow. “Just come to Shanghai with me,” he begged. “Please.” Dean looked up to see his one visible eye burning blue. “I’ll pay. I’ll keep paying you, anything you want.”

“I’m not for sale, Castiel,” Dean spat. “Not anymore. Not ever.”

Dean took one final look at him, suddenly feeling numb, overstimulated to the point of being dazed. His skin buzzed faintly in the background of his consciousness. “Run the story or run away,” he said, “I don’t care. But if you go to Shanghai, it’s for you. It’s not for me.”

He expected Castiel’s anger. But he was wrong. There was no fire in his eye anymore, no aggression in his posture. Nothing. He simply let Dean escape, alone, through the crowd, and disappear from his life.

 

. . .

 

Dean slammed the door of the impala shut behind him and pulled away from the Spire. He made it to his motel without looking in his rear-view once. He was still filled to bursting with the same shocked anger reverberating beneath his skin when he got there, but he could feel sadness and regret already rising, trying to make their way past the dam that was holding them back. He peeled his clothes off carefully and slowly before replacing them on the hanger and laying them out on the bed. He left his shoes and socks in a pile next to them for housekeeping alongside a note with a name and number to call—Gilda’s number, not Castiel’s. And then he tossed the rest of his scattered belongings into his mostly-packed bag and brought it out to the car.

He texted Sam from the driver’s seat, key in the ignition: Good news. Driving out early

Dean, what happened? came the answering text. Dean threw his cellphone onto the passenger’s seat and turned the key, leaving Chicago behind.

 

. . .

Chapter Text

Sam called around ten the next morning, just as Dean was passing North Platte, Nebraska. He had half a mind to ignore it, but he knew Sam would pitch a huge fit if Dean didn’t talk to him and tell him he would be showing up to move into his place for the week tomorrow night, days earlier than Sam was expecting him. He picked up the phone.

“Hey Sammy, I’m on my way,” he said

“What? Where are you,” Sam demanded.

“Nebraska,” Dean said. He could almost hear Sam glaring at him.

“What happened to your job?” Sam asked.

“Didn’t work out,” Dean said. “He’s in Shanghai this week, anyway.”

“Shanghai? That sounds awesome. Why aren’t you in Shanghai.”

“Cuz I’m going to California for my little brother’s law school graduation, why aren’t you in Shanghai.”

“Dean! Tell me you didn’t give up an incredible opportunity just to watch me walk across a stupid stage,” Sam bellowed.

Dean pursed his lips. “Relax,” he said, “I didn’t. I was never going to Shanghai.”

“Why not,” Sam pressed.

Dean opened his mouth and then closed it again awkwardly.

“Dean?”

“Don’t like flying,” Dean finally muttered.

Sam laughed. “You’re afraid of flying? Really?”

“Yes really, why do you think I drive everywhere. It’s never been an issue until now.”

Sam giggled on the other end of the phone.

“Stuck in a metal tube with that asshole hurtling through the air for twelve hours, no thank you,” Dean said.

He shook his head and the pause became drawn out. He coughed, awkwardly.

“So he’s back to being an asshole,” Sam said quietly.

“He was always an asshole,” Dean spat.

Sam paused for a moment. “Are you sure he didn’t do something to you?” he finally asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” Dean said. “I’ll be in California tomorrow night. You better have a couch for me, or I’ll be kicking you out of your bed.”

“Dean, you know you can tell me. Whatever happened—”

“Sam, shut up. Why are you so nosy, god.”

“I’m just trying to be here for you. Like you have been for me. I mean, I know how hard you work to help me out and I feel bad I’m busy and far away and I’m not that big a part of your life anymore.”

“Well you don’t need to insert yourself into every little thing.”

“Ok,” said Sam. “I’ll stop bugging you.

“Thank you.”

“But I’m still here, though.”

“Well, skedaddle. Cuz I gotta piss and I don’t wanna talk to you while I do it, that’s weird.”

Sam huffed. “Bye, Dean,” he said.

Dean hung up the phone and drove on.

 

. . .

 

Dean ended up back in Chicago two weeks later. It turned out Sam had accepted a job there, back when he thought Dean was setting down roots. He had wanted to surprise Dean. Dean went with him when he moved, stuffing all the junk Sam had accumulated into the back of the impala. It wasn’t just that he had nothing better to do than follow his little brother around. He also wanted to make it to Charlie’s Lord of the Rings tournament. She had never stopped texting him nerdy gifs and funny YouTube videos, even when he was shit at texting back. And there had been one memorable video-call where he introduced her to Sam right as Sam got out of the shower. He found that he missed her. And Gilda, and even Kevin. So he went.

Surprisingly, Charlie hadn’t bugged him much about the whole Castiel thing. She had told him Castiel wouldn’t reveal what had happened between them, but she could tell Dean didn’t want to talk about it either, and she respected that. Dean preferred not to even think about Castiel. When he did, he felt like punching something, and he just didn’t have enough possessions to be destroying them all the time.

Within three weeks, Dean had a new sort-of boyfriend—Benny. They’d met at the Cajun place where Benny worked. Benny didn’t seem to mind that Dean was angry sometimes, or that he was skiddish and vague about some things. Benny was a good lay and an even better best friend. He helped Dean come out to Sam, who mercifully did not say “I knew it” or any variation thereof. He did have a wide smile like the cat that ate the canary, though.

After three months, Benny had moved back to Louisiana and Charlie and Gilda were engaged. They were planning a small wedding in September, and the two of them sat Dean down immediately and told him in no uncertain terms that he was going to be a “brides’ mate”—and so was Castiel. Dean resisted the urge to scream that he was fine, and he didn’t give a shit about Castiel. Dean was still not thinking about him. And definitely not sublimating the whole Castiel thing with a job as a bartender at a gay bar. But not thinking about him, that was the main thing.

He didn’t think about him all the way up until the fitting for his new wedding suit. He went to Gilda’s shop with Sam and caught up with Gilda, who was doing absolutely all of the design work for the wedding. The suit was a pale, powdered blue, soft, and the froufiest thing he’d ever worn, but it made him smile. The problem was being in Gilda’s shop again. The couch was still there, in the same spot, and the mirrors reflected his troubled face back at him. It was like he’d been here with Castiel only yesterday. He just knew this wedding was going to be a fucking disaster.

Sam was getting fitted for his own brides’ mate suit—he had been accepted into Dean’s friend group basically upon arrival, and he’d been officially adopted once he had passed the bar exam and started joining in on game nights. He may have even surpassed Dean in status after the Sunday he spent nine hours straight playing Battle for Hogwarts in Charlie’s living room. Sam’s suit was a sort of cornflower blue. Dean personally thought his own was better. He wondered what Castiel’s looked like.

Dean distracted himself with convincing Gilda to put Sam’s hair in a bun over Sam’s loud objections. It backfired when Charlie saw it and squealed in delight. “If you don’t wear it like that to the wedding, you’re banned,” Charlie yelled. Sam smiled proudly. Dean groaned.

Sam went around wearing a bun in his hair for the next few days. Dean went around sulking and trying not to think about Castiel every time he saw Sam’s stupid hair. Because now that reminded him of Castiel too, and of Gilda, and of Charlie, and of the impending wedding he was beginning to dread. He was so, so fucked.

The day of the wedding finally dawned, and Dean was up at four am, pacing his bedroom in his and Sam’s new apartment. He couldn’t stop thinking about Castiel. His stupid eyepatch and designer suits, his stupid messy dark hair, his stupid gummy smile, and the way he’d looked that night between Dean’s legs, totally enraptured and enthralled, eyes wide, and open, and giving.

Dean jerked off in the shower, replaying that night over and over. He stumbled out of the bathroom feeling sick. He dressed, his stomach rumbling with nerves and hunger. He didn’t feel like eating.

He and Sam piled into the impala and drove into the country to help with the last-minute preparations for the ceremony. They pulled up to a small cottage surrounded with trees and other life. They got out of the car and followed a dainty path to the back yard, which was set up with rows of untreated wooden chairs and a gorgeous altar, the wooden frame nearly hidden under living greenery.

“Holy shit,” Dean said, appraisingly. They kept walking along the path, wandering through the spacious property and past a tall and nearly wild garden. In the clearing was a gathering of wooden tables and chairs, and something else.

“Holy shit,” he said again, staring at what he saw. There was Castiel, just yards away, tenderly placing framed pictures on the tables from a stack beneath one arm.

Sam followed Dean’s eye-line to see what he was looking at so intently.

“Who’s that?” Sam asked, curious.

Dean’s breath suddenly felt too heavy in his body. “Cas,” he squeaked out.

Sam openly stared at Castiel, frowning. “I thought you said he wore an eyepatch,” he said, confused.

“He did,” Dean said. He stared at Castiel, who, as Sam had pointed out, no longer seemed to be hiding behind an eyepatch. Now there were delicate wire glasses resting on the bridge of his nose, and both his eyes were discernible behind them. Castiel set his stack of frames on the table as he paused to look at the photo in his hand, bringing it inches from his nose. He pushed his glasses closer to his eyes and squinted to see. He smiled at whatever he found there, and Dean’s heart stuttered painfully. Dean blinked uncomfortably, trying to look away from Castiel’s face. His attention caught on Castiel’s backward tie instead—it was the same stormy blue as his left eye, the one Dean had had to practically beg to see months before.

“Oh my god, he’s adorable,” Sam said loudly.

Dean slapped him right in the gut before stalking back the way they came, praying that Castiel didn’t hear.

“Hey!” Sam exclaimed, stomping after him through the yard.

 

. . .

 

Dean and Sam wandered around, trying to help set up lights and tulle and other wedding stuff. Dean finally ditched Sam when a string of fairy lights hung above their heads mysteriously went out (Sam being the tallest meant he was easily the best person for the job). Dean had been dodging Sam’s questions about Castiel all morning and he was looking for reprieve. He ducked into the cottage to find Charlie. She was doing her own makeup and probably didn’t need his help yet, but she would soon. The dress was kind of a monster and he’d promised to help her get into it and to carry her train down the stairs and everything.

Charlie kept Dean entertained for a while, but once the ceremony drew near, he began to get nervous once more. He just wanted everything to go perfect for his best friends. He also wanted to not see Castiel again. Even though part of him kind of did.

Once the guests were all seated and the wedding party was assembled and ready to walk down the aisle, Dean found he was having trouble keeping his eyes away from Castiel. They lined up for the procession, all gathered to one side of the ceremony-area and hidden from most of the audience by a garden wall. The marching music began, and Dean took a deep breath. A woman named Dorothy went first—she had flown in from some exotic country just for the wedding and looked stunning in her ice-blue suit. Dean tried to watch her as she set off, but his eyes kept flicking back to Castiel instead.

Kevin followed her, keeping the pre-prescribed distance as he marched seriously up the white-laced aisle. He rounded the corner and began to pass the rows of white chairs, and soon Dean couldn’t see him anymore.

Kara, a friend of Gilda’s who Dean had met a couple of times, went next. She was catering and she made the most amazing cupcakes—Dean’s breakfast-less stomach grumbled at the thought.

Dean let his gaze linger on Kara’s statuesque form as she made her way down the aisle in her sky-blue suit. But, too soon, her visage was completely blocked by the person following her. Dean’s eyes focused briefly on Castiel’s dark hair, messy and ruffling freely in the light breeze, before Dean turned away in disgust. He counted to the music and then set off behind Castiel, keeping his eyes away from his preceding form so he could keep the smile on his face. He watched his own feet, praying he wouldn’t trip, and then he trained his eyes on the sky, and then he glanced at the passing faces in the crowd; but he didn’t look at Castiel. Soon Sam followed him down the aisle.

They peeled off at the altar, each brides’ mate going to the opposite side as the one before them. This put Dean on the end of his side, next to Kara and directly across from Sam on the end of the other side. Dean awkwardly tried to figure out what he was supposed to be doing with his hands and face with so many pairs of eyes on him. He tried to smile at Sam but couldn’t catch Sam’s eye because Sam was too busy trying to catch sneaky glimpses of Castiel, who was standing beside him.

Suddenly the music swelled, and Sam’s eyes snapped back toward the aisle. Dean looked as well, and saw Gilda and Charlie, walking up the aisle side-by-side. Gilda’s long, creamy yellow-white dress showed off her elegant form and her face shone with pure joy. Charlie’s princess dress made her look like the protagonist of a YA novel, but it suited her. She was radiant, with rosy cheeks to match the dusting of pink that shimmered as the sun hit her white dress, and a wide smile. Both women were stunning and happy. Their twin bouquets of trailing forget-me-nots and baby’s breath came together on the longer side to form a heart between them and Dean found tears springing to his eyes as the brides drew closer to the altar.

The couple finally settled at the center of everything, and the minister, Annie, began the ceremony in her deep and dulcet voice.

Dean tried to pay attention, but it just so happened that Castiel’s head was situated directly behind and to the side of his view of the brides. He found that his unfocused gaze kept sliding to Castiel as though drawn by gravity. After Charlie and Gilda handed their bouquets off to Dorothy and Kevin, respectively, Castiel stepped forward with the rings. Dean gave up trying to avoid looking at him. He watched as Castiel grasped Charlie’s and Gilda’s hands. He drank in the sight of him as he stood before them, smiling a wide, goofy smile with shining eyes. Dean suddenly found it difficult to feel angry.

The rest of the ceremony passed in a whirl. Dean clapped and cheered as the brides kissed and then he retreated down the aisle, feeling lighter than he had on the way up. Castiel’s smiling face still floated in Dean’s mind’s eye, and Dean decided to let it, for once. He was tired of wasting all his energy on avoiding him. He was done. No way was Castiel going to ruin this wedding for him. He had already ruined enough.

Dean reached the end of the aisle and then chased after Charlie, ready to heft her dress across the grass and over to the tables and tables of heaped hors d’eurves and cupcakes just waiting to be eaten.

He’d somehow lost sight of Charlie while waiting for the other knuckle-headed brides’ mates to clear out of the way of the aisle, and that meant he had to go around poking his head into the catering tents filled with kitchen trays and extra table-cloths and shit. He finally found her in one-such deserted tent, wrapped around her new wife in a compromising position.

“Dude!” She shouted at Dean’s awkward coughing as he burst through the tent door. “If the tent is a-rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’!”

“Charlie,” Dean whined. “Food.”

He managed to herd the two of them out of the tent accompanied by Charlie’s annoyed mutterings about ‘sabotaged wedded bliss.’

But, soon enough, Charlie and Gilda were seated at the high table in the outdoor banquet hall, two queens presiding over their royal subjects. Dean hurriedly pulled Sam over to one of the two side tables at the front reserved for the brides’ mates. Kevin was already seated, waiting impatiently for his fried chicken fingers and teeny weenies. Dean took the seat next to him, shooing Sam into the last seat of the three. He didn’t want to get stuck at a table with Castiel. And he didn’t want Sam next to Castiel either, where he could pry and press and stick his big mouth where it didn’t belong.

It wasn’t long before the whole crowd was happily eating under the clear blue sky, the gentle early-September breeze keeping them cool and happy as they chatted and laughed. Dean got to eat all the food he wanted, now that the nerves of the event had dissipated in the joy of the wedding and the camaraderie of good friends. The cupcakes were just as good as Dean remembered, and he tried one of every kind before snagging two bottles of champagne for his table and settling into his seat for the toasts and speeches.

Luckily they weren’t all asked to give speeches—only Kara and Castiel—so Dean had nothing to worry about on that front. He sat back and watched as Kara gave a lovely speech celebrating Charlie and Gilda. Then she passed the microphone on to Castiel, who was seated beside her. Dean watched as Castiel stood, rubbing the base of the microphone absently as he stared, unseeing, at the crowd of upturned faces. Dean found himself wishing he could assure him that everyone was paying attention, eager to hear what he had to say. He shook off the thought and watched as Castiel began.

“With Charlie’s permission, I’m going to share with you what she said to me when she spoke to me of marrying Gilda,” Castiel said, his voice a booming rumble of thunder across the peaceful lawn. He spoke as though reading a pre-prepared speech, but, of course, there was no paper in front of him. “She said ‘Growing up gay in the twentieth century, it never really crossed my mind that I could get married one day. Honestly, I never thought I would. But Gilda helped me see things I couldn’t before. So I’m getting married. Because she’s kind of into the whole fairytale thing. And I’m kind of into her.”

The crowd tittered with pleased giggles and a few audible ‘aw’s, of which Dean’s was one. Castiel continued.

“Charlie knows what she’s talking about. The kind of love these two have is magic. It should be celebrated. Doesn’t it make you believe in fairytales, too?” Castiel’s voice quieted. It became softer and sadder somehow, and so sincere Dean felt Castiel’s next words reverberating around his rib cage. “I believe. Because of Gilda, and of Charlie—these wonderful, caring, imaginative, bold, kind friends of mine, I believe in love, in happy endings, in making it up until you make it out of the woods and into your own happily ever after.”

Dean found himself inexplicably holding his breath.

“Maybe just because something is make believe, doesn’t mean it isn’t real, too. Maybe it’s the realest thing we can hope to experience.”

Dean’s mouth dropped open and he stared at Castiel. He couldn’t help but feel that that last was directed toward him specifically, and he bristled. What was that supposed to mean?

Castiel interrupted Dean’s thoughts, his speech loud and cheerful once more: “To Charlie and Gilda: may your happily-ever-after last eternal, your kingdom ever prosper, your party never tire, and your love continue to change each other—and us all—for the better.”

“Hear-hear!” Dean heard Sam shout in his ear. He blinked, coming back to the celebration around him. The crowd was clapping, and Dean joined in belatedly, still dazed. Kevin was making his way over to Castiel and grabbing the mic from his hands.

“The couple will now share their first dance as wives,” Kevin said. He directed everyone to the little makeshift dance floor that had replaced the rows and rows of chairs from the ceremony. Dean lagged behind, watching Castiel walk away on Kara’s arm. Sam hesitated by his side.

Sam began to speak. “So, Castiel seems—”

“Shut up,” Dean interrupted.

“What!” Sam exclaimed, indignant.

“Whatever you were about to say,” Dean griped. “Just don’t.” He stood and pushed his chair in rather forcefully, grabbing the open bottle of champagne from the table and following the crowd to the dance floor.

Unfortunately, Sam seemed unable to grasp the hint and utterly determined to discover everything he could about Castiel. As the sky got darker, and the dance music got poppier, and Dean got drunker, Sam continued to try to wheedle it out of him.

He steered Dean to a table a little way away from the dance floor, the music just far enough that they could hold a conversation away from most of the other party-goers. He asked a few more questions before Dean broke.

“What do you care Sam,” Dean finally said, annoyed. “I thought you’d get over the nosy thing once we moved in together.”

“Maybe I’m just curious, Dean,” Sam replied. “It’s not every day you meet a famous architect billionaire.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Well technically you haven’t met him. You’ve been bothering me all night.”

“You’re right, I should go say hi—”

“Fuck, fine,” Dean said. “What do you want to know?—And don’t say what I think you’re gonna say.”

Sam closed his open mouth mid-word. “Fine,” he finally said. “Does he have a car?”

“Tesla,” Dean answered.

“No way,” Sam said, bouncing with excitement.

“It’s a douche-canoe,” Dean said before Sam could get too excited. Sam huffed.

“What’s his place like?” Sam prodded.

Dean glared.

“What, he didn’t ever invite you for drinks or anything?”

“Dude, I was just an assistant.”

“Oh, don’t give me that crap, Dean.”

“Fine,” Dean said. He tried to head off THAT conversation by actually answering Sam’s question for once. “I went to his place. It’s ridiculous. Nothing in the fridge, no posters, no movies. The guy’s a robot. He doesn’t even use half the place. It’s a fucking mausoleum. His penthouse costs more in rent per month than I’ll ever have in my life.”

Sam was frowning, and Dean just let himself continue before Sam could ask any more questions. “It makes our apartment look like a shithole.”

“Everything makes our apartment look like a shithole,” Sam said, rolling his eyes.” Our apartment is a shithole.”

Dean went on. “It’s the most ostentatious apartment I’ve ever seen. It would actually be nice if he could get someone to come in and decorate it; I’m telling you, it looks like a military outpost, it’s so devoid of personality.” Despite himself, Dean whistled in the memory of the spacious rooms and the magazine-worthy kitchen. “You can’t imagine. He has the most gorgeous view of Chicago and the fucker can’t even see it.”

There was a sudden rustling behind him. And then they heard Castiel’s voice, rough and dark with anger. “What, I don’t deserve a view just because I’m cursed to be unable to see it?”

Dean and Sam both turned in shock. Castiel continued. “What about my guests, can’t they see it? You’re not blind, did you not enjoy it when you were in my home? How about when I sell the place, do I not deserve the selling point that is a spectacular view?”

“Jesus, Cas, of course you deserve to have a view. Forget it.” Dean shook his head, half-embarrassed that Castiel had caught him speaking of him with such petty jealousy and half-angry that this was the thing Castiel had chosen to break his silence over.

“Um, I’m sorry,” Sam said awkwardly.

Castiel squinted at Sam through his new glasses. Dean could see Castiel almost move into Sam’s space to try to force the shape of his face into focus and then stop himself at the last moment. “I don’t believe we’ve met,” Castiel said instead.

“Dean’s brother, Sam,” Sam said, sticking his hand out.

“Handshake,” Dean said on instinct, warning Castiel of the incoming hand. Castiel raised his hand and Sam grasped it. Castiel placed his other hand over Sam’s warmly.

“Castiel,” came the reply.

“Sorry about the handshake,” Sam said, grimacing. “We were just talking about your vision and already I managed to forget.”

“I appreciate the apology,” Castiel said. He turned to Dean, as if expecting something. Dean scoffed.

Sam looked between the two of them. “Also, sorry about the ableist comments,” Sam said awkwardly. He lowered his voice conspiratorially: “I think Dean’s just looking for reasons you still need him.”

“I was not,” Dean spluttered. Sam backed away, out of Dean’s reach. “I was just being ableist!”

Sam continued to back away. “Things can be both,” he said, now a good few feet away.

Dean looked wildly toward Castiel. When he looked back toward Sam, Sam had disappeared into the crowd on the dancefloor. Dean looked back to Castiel and then away again.

“I know you don’t need me,” Dean muttered, now doubly embarrassed.

“Indeed,” Castiel said.

Dean looked down in a daze and caught sight of Castiel’s hand. He wore his grandfather’s ring on his left hand again, the one he’d proposed to Dean with so many months ago at the gala. The one he confessed he only wore when he needed the comfort it gave.

“Hot date later?” Dean said, forcing the world’s most awkward laugh out of his throat. He clarified, trying to salvage the lost-cause of an encounter. “The ring? You nervous about something?”

Castiel seemed to hesitate for a moment. The earlier anger was gone, and Dean thought he recognized now the signs of the errant testiness that Castiel tended to develop when he was feeling vulnerable. “Not exactly,” Castiel said.

“Not exactly a hot date, or not exactly nervous?”

“Not a date,” Castiel said. He seemed to get shy. “But he is hot.”

Dean’s heart jumped in his chest like it had been burned.

“And I am very nervous to talk to him, because I messed up, and I said some things and I know that words can hurt. So, I wanted to make an apology tonight, if it seemed appropriate, which to be honest it doesn’t, but I’ve already started, so I guess this is where I actually say the words: ‘I’m sorry’ so, I’m sorry.” Castiel moved impossibly close, seeking out Dean’s face, no longer able to hold himself back from looking, from seeing him. Their chests bumped and Dean’s heart stopped. “Do you think you can forgive me?” Castiel said, soft and sad and only for Dean, the same as he had been in his speech.

Dean’s swallow got stuck in his throat. “I don’t know if you noticed, Cas, but I got a lotta baggage,” he began. He could feel the anger and pain spilling out from all the little places in his body he had been hiding it over the last few months. “And that night, it’s like you said you wanted to take some of that load from me. And then the next chance you got, as soon as I let my guard down and let myself relax, it’s like you dumped it all back on me. That’s heavy. That broke me. So I don’t know, man. You ever think maybe you ask too much?

“Yes,” Castiel said simply. “And I’m sorry I did, and I’m sorry if this is too much right now. I have more apologies to say, but I can stop if you’d rather go back to enjoying the wedding without me.”

“No, I think I’d like to get it over with,” Dean said honestly.

“Okay,” Castiel said. “Okay.” They were still only inches apart, Castiel’s blue eyes bright behind his glasses. Dean felt like he was swimming in it all, in the emotions of the reunion, in the swirls of Castiel’s damaged left eye, which kept catching his gaze like a riptide and pulling him under. Castiel took a deep breath and then continued. “I was afraid. In the last year, I had been forced to change so much that I was terrified of changing any more. I couldn’t do the things I wanted to for fear of facing that change. I couldn’t embrace things fully. I couldn’t make the final jump, to start over. But you have to change in order to learn. And I hadn’t done either. I thought I needed you,” he said. “It was just like April. I didn’t learn much after all. But you were right. I didn’t need you. I don’t need you. So I don’t need you to work for me, I don’t need you to take me out, I don’t need you to take care of me. I don’t need you. I only want you. And I’m sorry that I tried to make you take on that role for me. I’m sorry I put those responsibilities on you. I’m ‘in charge of my own shit,’ as you say. And I didn’t do a very good job at managing it. So, I’m sorry.”

Dean blinked, reeling from the apology. He felt a burning sensation behind his nose suddenly, like he might cry. He tried to look away, but Castiel was right there and there was that something in his eyes again, the thing that Dean kept finding and chasing, over and over. He wanted to see what it was. He stared, rooted to the spot.

Castiel went on. “And I’m sorry for encroaching on your autonomy. I know you told me to let her run the story, but I couldn’t do it. Not because of my reputation, I know you think I’m ashamed of you, but I’m not. I was terrified that you would blame me for it when your face and your name were out there for everyone to see. And I couldn’t have you blame me for anything else. I just needed that one win. One thing I did right in all of this. I just needed to come back with a win for you. But you were right about that, too. That was for me. It wasn’t for you at all. And I’m sorry.”

Tears were really threatening to spill over now, and Dean tried to hold on to the look in Castiel’s eyes to keep himself from being carried away. “Thank you,” he whispered stiffly, refusing to look away. Castiel didn’t look away either, and they stood like that for a moment until Dean felt like he could stand on his own again.

“I think I get it.” Dean tried to take a deep breath, but it was difficult to get his chest to move. “And I’m sorry if I hurt you too.” He tore his gaze away from Castiel and looked down. “I know I’m shit at this, so just . . . I’m sorry. I just wish it changed anything.” He turned away from Castiel numbly.

“Dean,” Castiel said, desperately trying to keep Dean from walking away with nothing but the power of his pleading voice. Somehow it worked, and Dean turned back. “What do you mean?” Castiel said.

Dean sighed and shook his head. “I don’t fit in with that world, Cas! You’re a billionaire and I’ve never had a respectable job in my life. I can’t be what you need. I can’t travel with you oversees, probably not ever. And definitely not to Shanghai.”

“I assure you that’s not an issue,” Castiel said. “Shanghai didn’t work out so well for me.”

Now it was Dean’s turn for confusion. “What do you mean it didn’t work out?”

“I didn’t cooperate with Crowley or my brother. I went behind their backs, instead. Sold my design directly to Raphael for a fraction of the price.”

“You made them take the deal you wanted.”

“The Shanghai towers will be built by Raphael and not us. There will be consequences. For the firm, and me. But I don’t care. I don’t care about any of it. Not like I care about you.” Castiel stepped into his space again, nose-to-nose. Dean’s eyebrows drew inward. “Dean, aren’t you listening? I don’t need you to fit in with my life. I like that you don’t. You’re a better man than any of them. That’s what I was telling April that day in my apartment. I don’t want somebody like us. I want somebody better. I want you.”

Dean’s frown intensified. “Me? You mean the guy that leaves when it gets tough, the guy that gets angry and checks out and probably doesn’t deserve your pretty speeches or your carefully-worded apologies or your passionate confessions of love? Because that’s who I am!”

Castiel’s pleading expression had turned to a pronounced frown. “When you apologized just now, were you apologizing for making this decision for me, too? For deciding that I don’t get to choose for myself who I want to give a second chance to? For thinking you know my own wants and needs better than I do just because you have some warped idea of the man you should be?”

Dean shook his head, eyes wide. “This isn’t me! I don’t get to have this, Cas!”

“Why not?” Castiel demanded.

“Because I just don’t.”

“You don’t think you deserve to be loved?”

“No, I don’t, actually.”

“Fuck that,” Castiel said loudly. Heads probably turned in their direction, but Dean’s gaze was stuck on the lightning in Castiel’s eyes, and he couldn’t tear it away to look. “Fuck it! I don’t care what you deserve, I don’t care what I deserve. Today, for once, let’s take what we want.”

The lightning in Castiel’s eyes finally hit its glare, like a blue sun blocking out the rest of the sky, and Dean suddenly understood what he was seeing in those eyes. Castiel kept such a careful façade, but the flash in his eyes gave away what he wanted. And Castiel really did want him. Dean surged into him, knocking their lips together clumsily and then completely.

They slotted together, each pulling the other into themselves until there was no space between them at all. Castiel sought out Dean’s hair with one hand and determinedly threaded it through, pulling him even closer. Dean gasped and tightened his grip on Castiel’s back, kissing him breathlessly and relentlessly.

“BOOYAH!” Came a sudden burst of glee from behind them. Dean jumped, breaking the kiss and turning around quickly. Charlie stood there laughing. “Pay up, gorgeous,” she called to Gilda, who was a few feet away, smiling next to Sam.

“Gross!” Sam said, but he was unable to hide his smug smile. “Get a room!”

“Best day ever,” Dean heard Charlie whisper happily as he grabbed Castiel’s hand and began to pull him away.

Dean shot Sam a triumphant smile. “I’m gonna be busy the rest of the night,” he said, waggling his eyebrows. “I’m sure Kevin’s mom will give you a ride home.”

And with that, he tugged Castiel toward the small cottage. He happened to know there was a honeymoon suite upstairs that was currently empty—though not for long.

 

. . .

 

Epilogue

Sam let himself into the penthouse apartment, interrupting Dean’s post-first-semester-of-online-college veg-fest marathon of Doctor Sexy. Dean glanced up from the couch and rolled his eyes. “God, Cas’ll give a key to anyone, won’t he,” he said.

“You’re welcome for not making you get off the couch,” Sam said.

“You’re welcome for inviting you to our Fellowship movie night,” Dean shot back.

Sam pursed his lips in annoyance. “Where’s Cas?” he asked.

“He just met with Anna to go over the designs for the old Post Office project. He should be on his way back with grub by now.”

Sam sat on the arm of the couch next to Dean. “Oh, good. I’ve got some stuff to talk to him about.”

Dean squinted up at Sam, who was clearly eager about something and wanted to share.

“What?” Dean grunted, pausing the episode on the little tv he had convinced Castiel to buy and put in the living room.

“Did you know he used to run ultra-marathons?”

Dean grimaced. “What the fuck is an ultra-marathon?”

Sam rolled his eyes. “You know, like thirty, fifty, or a hundred miles or more at a time.”

Dean’s eyes widened and he made a face “What the—?”

Sam finally burst. “I told him I‘ve always wanted to do it and he said he’s willing to help me train for one! We’re gonna start running on Monday!”

“Are you insane? You’re gonna run fifty miles?” Suddenly something dawned on him. “Wait, both of you? He’s gonna run?”

“Yep!” Sam’s smile was proud and excited, and Dean knew it wasn’t all for himself. Castiel had told them both that he used to enjoy running, but that he hadn’t been able to get himself to try it since the accident.

“Yeah, I’m gonna drive him to the park and run with him, help him navigate the path and stuff, and he’s gonna train me.”

Dean raised his eyebrows. “I honestly don’t know what’s more amazing, Sam: that, or the fact that I’m related to this big of a nerd. Ultra-marathons? Disgusting.”

“You mean the fact that you’re engaged to a guy who once ran over a hundred miles in Death Valley in July?”

“Cas did WHAT?!”

“You didn’t even know that your fiancé has been profiled by every running magazine in the country?”

A look of horror dawned on Dean’s face. “He’s not planning to do that again, is he?”

“My god, he’s out of your league,” scoffed Sam.

“Shut up, Sam.”

“You know, I don’t know why he went for you over me—”

“Shut UP!”

Dean lunged at Sam playfully, trying to push his face into the soft back of the couch while Sam flailed, slapping Dean’s hands away repeatedly.

The door to the apartment opened and Dean and Sam sat up. Castiel walked in, silver walking stick in one hand and a big, greasy take-out bag in the other. He placed them both on the table inside the door and then bent to take off his shoes.

Hey, Baby,” Dean said, silently trying to stick a wet finger in Sam’s ear without anyone noticing.

Castiel smiled wide, his eyes crinkling behind his glasses. “Hello, Sweetheart.”

. . .

The End