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Burden

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Thursday – November 2nd, 2017

Castiel pulls his long beige overcoat on, shrugging and rolling his shoulders a few times to make sure it falls into place appropriately. There are full length mirrors mounted on both walls adjacent to the front door and he checks his reflection, using one mirror to look at himself in the other and ensure that nothing seems too off about how the coat falls over his back.

“You look fine.” Anna sighs loudly from where she’s sitting at the bottom of the stairs that lead up from the foyer to the main floor of his house. Her elbows are resting on her knees, blocking in the bouquet of flowers across her lap. “Can we go yet?”

“You’re always in such a rush.” He grabs the shoehorn from off the banister where it turns to head down the short flight of stairs into the daylight basement. “I wonder if you would be more patient if you had to wait to get everyone like the rest of us.”

Her jaw drops and she sits back, hand coming up to cover a clearly fake gasp. “I can’t believe you would say that about me. And to my face!”

It’s all Castiel can do not to laugh at her scandalized expression. “I’ve said worse to your face.”

Anna crosses her arms and turns her head away, sniffling. “I should just leave without you.”

“You know you can’t stand being in a car without someone to talk to.” With his shoes finally on, Castiel takes the flowers from her and opens the door. “And technically, the taxi is waiting for me, not you.”

The only reason Anna is here right now is because she had picked up and brought Castiel the flowers he ordered. It saved him from being riddled with the anxiety of having to go into the store himself to get them. At least now he has someone to accompany him for the ride to the graveyard. Anna can be talkative when she wants to be, and taxi rides are when she talks the most. Castiel appreciates the distraction tactic. It means he can enjoy the ride without wondering if the driver is paying too much attention to him.

While he might never admit it, Castiel is forever grateful whenever she also holds his hand during taxi rides. They can be really uncomfortable for him, both physically and mentally, and that grounding touch has gotten him through those long drives in to Lawrence. The transit bus doesn’t come out this far because his house is a twenty minute drive from the outskirts of town. Even if it did, Castiel is positive that he wouldn’t be able to take it on his own.

If it isn’t the uncomfortable seats on the bus, then it’s because of how many people can be crammed into one like sardines. What if someone bumped into him or pressed up against him just enough to feel his secret? They could reveal him to the world and that would be the end of life as Castiel knows it.

God, even just thinking about it is enough to make him jittery.

Rarely is his aunt free to come and pick him up. That leaves a taxi as his only means of getting to Oak Hill Cemetery. And of course that has to be on the far edge of town. To get there, they have to either go through Lawrence or around it. It’s at least a half hour drive there, then the same back here, and sometimes the stress of being out in public like this can be a little much.

Thankfully, Anna always tries her best to be with him when he takes a taxi – which is really only to the graveyard at the beginning of the month and the grocery store every other week. As much as she would like to be, sometimes she isn’t free to come with him to visit his parents. Her work hours are flexible, but she’s essentially on call at all times – if only because she’s the only employee the courier service has that can get anywhere in the city within a matter of a few minutes.

“Speaking of the taxi…” Anna rocks to her feet and follows him outside where the driver is waiting. They stop only to lock the door behind them. “Could you let me off at Walmart? Mom wants me to buy some groceries for dinner tonight. Will you be good for the rest of the ride?”

“I’ll be fine.” Castiel tries for what he hopes is an easy smile. On the inside, his stomach is already starting to twist in on itself. But he’s going to ignore it and tough through it because he is not a child. He is thirty years old and he can take a damn taxi on his own without having a panic attack – as long as the driver doesn’t look at him too much. That might ramp his nerves up to eleven.

Anna’s smile is bright, but reassuring. “If you don’t think you can do it by the time we reach Walmart, let me know, okay? I’ll go with you all the way to the graveyard and can just blink to the nearest grocery from there.”

“Of course.” He pats her on the shoulder before opening the back door of the taxi so she can get in first. “Thank you for your concern, but I’m sure I’ll be alright.” She slides right over to the other side of the seat, leaving him space to get in too. Unlike Anna, who relaxes into the seat right away, Castiel remains sitting forward slightly, even after buckling himself in.

“Thank you for waiting.” He addresses the driver without looking up. “We need one drop off at the Walmart on West 33rd Street, and the last stop will be Oak Hill Cemetery.”

Unfortunately, the driver isn’t even paying him any attention. His eyes are trained on Anna through the rear-view mirror. Castiel doesn’t need to be a telepath to know that he’s eyeing the C-3 circled in black ink on the side of her neck below her left ear. Anna is trying to act like she doesn’t notice, but he can tell that it’s bothering her.

Castiel clears his throat loudly, bolstering his courage. The driver’s attention snaps to him immediately. His smile is drawn and tight. “Yes, of course sir.”

“Thank you.”

Anna’s hand finds his as soon as the car shudders into motion. She squeezes it, the thank you unspoken. Obviously this is going to be one of those drives where she doesn’t chat with the driver.

Things would be so much easier if she could drive, but for people like Anna and Castiel, that’s not an easy thing to do. And it’s rather pointless for her anyways. She keeps saying she doesn’t want a license, but she’s twenty-four and Castiel knows that it bothers her that she’s the only courier for her company that doesn’t have one. But that’s the curse of being registered and visibly marked.

On the bright side, Anna’s situation didn’t have any effect on her mother’s license. That was obtained long before Anna was born and it’s not like they would take it away after Anna presented. It did have an effect on their housing when they moved here, but Castiel tries not to think about all that. The way the world is biased against them just – it’s depressing. Disgusting and depressing and Castiel quickly cuts off that train of thought.

The taxi is quiet until they pull back onto the main road. Anna turns to him with an eyebrow quirked. “What do you want for dessert? I’ll pick it up while I’m getting the ingredients Mom wants.”

“My tastes are simple. Pick what you want.”

She laughs, though the smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “If you say that, then I’ll be going home with a tub of butterscotch ripple ice cream.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“It is when I eat the whole thing myself.”

Castiel tilts his head to give her a squinty side-eye. “I thought you said this dessert was for me?”

“All bets are off when it comes to butterscotch ripple.”

“I’ll keep that in mind when we go grocery shopping next week.”

Anna exaggerates a gasp again, her friend hand coming up to press against her chest. “Are you saying that you, the great hermit of the South, is going to actually come shopping with me this time?”

He refrains from wincing at the slight accusation in her tone. The last few grocery days, Castiel didn’t feel like leaving the house and she had to do it herself. “If you behave.”

“I always behave.”

And that’s because she has to. Yearly evaluations at The Registry and a monthly visit from her case worker require good behaviour. If she gives even a hint that she’s falling off the straight and narrow, the government could decide that she would be better off at The Facility. And if Anna went there… Castiel doesn’t want to think about it. There’s a lot of things that he doesn’t like thinking about, but he absolutely can’t stand even considering the idea of Anna being gone from his life potentially forever.

Despite the side-eyes from the driver, Anna maintains a (falsely) cheery demeanor all the way to Walmart. She gives his hand an extra hard squeeze before getting out, and doesn’t thank the driver – even more of an indicator of how unhappy his staring made her. Castiel waves and forces himself to smile as the car pulls away, leaving Anna standing at the edge of the parking lot.

After that, he’s on his own for the rest of the ride. The driver glances at him a few times, but Castiel resolutely keeps his eyes out the window next to him. If he doesn’t think about the driver, then he doesn’t exist, and there’s nothing to be worried about. There’s no chance of his secret being revealed. His coat is bulky and shapeless and does a good job of hiding what he keeps under it.

When they pull up to the gates of Oak Hill Cemetery, the driver turns in his seat to look at Castiel over his shoulder. “This good or you want me to drive you through to where you wanna go?”

“Here is fine, thank you.” Castiel pulls his wallet out and hands over the required cash. Even though he doesn’t quite feel like leaving the tip, he still tells the driver to keep the change. He might remember Castiel if he stiffed him.

The gates of the cemetery close to visitors in about an hour. There are fewer visitors in the graveyard at this time, and the less people there are, the better. Castiel will have an hour to visit with his parents, and then his Aunt will pick him up at the gates and take him to her apartment. It will be a late dinner with her and Anna, but they’re used to it. Sometimes they’ll both come with him and stay for the visit, but that’s almost just as rare as his aunt picking him up.

Castiel makes his way along the paths twisting through the cemetery, heading to the back corner where his parents rest. While walking, he lets his mind drift to what his aunt might be making for dinner. It’s almost like eating out for him. A restaurant would be a nightmare for him, and nothing delivers out to where he lives. It’s a nice treat to have someone else make his meal.

There doesn’t appear to be anyone else around, so Castiel is comfortable enough to smile down at the flat stone imbedded in the grass where his parents are buried. “Hi Mom; Dad. How are you today?”

He kneels in front of the gravestone and places his bouquet of fresh flowers next to it. There’s a vase built into the center of the stone and he unscrews it, being careful not to drop any of the wilted flowers in it. “I’ll be right back.”

A garbage can is next to a tree at the side of the road and Castiel takes the flowers there to toss them. He dumps the water from the vase and refills it at a nearby tap. It overflows a bit once the new flowers are placed in it, but Castiel knows his parents wouldn’t mind.

“Nothing has happened since my last visit, really.” He takes a pair of scissors from his pocket and starts pruning the grass around the edge of the grave stone. “I won’t bore you with talk of politics and all the drama happening around the world. All you need to know is that what good people do is still always overshadowed by the bad.”

The groundskeepers here take great care of the graves and there isn’t a single weed to be seen. It’s obvious that the grass has been mowed recently, but Castiel prefers it to be cut very short around his parents’ gravestone.

“It’s been getting colder, but we probably won’t get snow until December.” Once everything looks perfect, Castiel sits crossed legged with the length of his coat tucked under him. “I miss snow. Remember that snowman we built that was taller than you, Dad? Maybe this year I’ll try to recreate it when Anna and Aunt Amara come over for Christmas.”

He reaches out and touches one of the lilies in the bouquet. “Next month I’ll bring those plastic flowers you like, Mom. They’ll have to do for the winter. When it warms up enough again, I promise that I’ll bring you some mums.”

Those were always his mother’s favourite flowers, but Castiel likes to mix it up. She’s not the only one down there, and Dad loved all flowers. He had so many different ones in his gardens. It’s hard to take care of them all on his own now, but Castiel works hard to keep them up to his standards. His dad taught him a lot while he was growing up and he thinks he’s doing a decent job with them now.

“Do you think sunflowers would do well in the garden? You never planted them, but I’d like to give it a try.” He leans back on his hands and looks up at the sky. It’s growing dark, but he still has another forty-five minutes at least before the caretaker will do their rounds before closing the gates. “The roses didn’t do as well this year. I’ll have to get Anna to buy me a soil test kit next year.”

Something rumbles in the distance and Castiel briefly wonders about thunder before it becomes clear that it’s a car engine. He glances over his shoulder, watching as a sleek black car rounds a bend and comes to a stop not too far away. Oh great. More visitors. Now he’s going to be distracted the whole time they’re here. It’s still way too early for him to message his aunt and ask her to come pick him up.

“I got a new manuscript file the other day.” Castiel forces himself to look away from the car as two men get out. He doesn’t want to be caught staring and have them keep an eye on him. “It’s another romance, and the writing is – Well, I’m surprised they’re publishing it. I find it more harlequin than our usual fare. After this one, I’m going to tell them that I don’t want to edit romance anymore. If I have to read about her heaving mounds glistening with sweat in the moonlight again, I might qui–”

Loud laughter interrupts him and Castiel can’t help looking back. A brief moment of self-consciousness sweeps over him at the mere thought that the laughter was because of something he said. That passes quickly at the realization that the pair of men walking away from the car are too far for them to hear him. He can hear them talking, but they’re not close enough for him to catch all the words – so the same should be said the other way around. Hopefully.

The man with long hair has a massive bouquet of flowers in one arm, and the man with short hair and a leather jacket is carrying a blanket. Between them they’re carrying a cooler – which means this isn’t going to be a short visit. Irritation briefly flickers under Castiel’s skin. He prefers his graveyard visits to be private and quiet – but the man with short hair keeps laughing at whatever his companion keeps saying.

His heart almost stops in his chest when the man with long hair suddenly looks sharply to look at him. But instead of frowning for being stared at, he smiles and wiggles his fingers from where they’re clutching the flowers. It’s a wave. He’s waving. Does he recognize Castiel? No one should recognize him. The only two residents of this town that he knows by name are Anna and his aunt. He rarely has anything to do with anyone else and he barely even speaks to the cashiers when he’s grocery shopping with Anna.

Maybe he should go?

But then the man is turning away and continuing towards the stone wall that lines the boundaries of the cemetery. Castiel is still frozen in place, watching them despite knowing that it’s rude. They’re still close enough for the murmur of their voices to reach him, but it’s just part of the background noise of the graveyard now.

He watches them spread the blanket out in front of a large headstone. It almost looks like they’re going to have a picnic. They sit on opposite sides with the cooler between them and lie the flowers at the base of the gravestone. From the cooler they take out candles. Not food. Candles. They must be joking. You can’t light candles here… Can you?

Should he say something? No, of course not. That would mean they would know his was watching. And that would mean talking to them, and Castiel is the epitome of non-confrontational – which is put to the test not more than a few moments later.

A couple containers of food are pulled from the cooler, and alongside them the man in the leather jacket pulls out a radio. Within moments, honest-to-God music starts playing and it’s more than loud enough for Castiel to hear. It’s classic rock, if he’s not mistaken. He’s no expert on music, but he’s not complete trash at identifying it. His personal preference is generally instrumentals from all around the world. Anything else would distract him while he works.

It goes without saying that Castiel would also never play his favourite music at a graveyard, and especially when there are other people within earshot. The music is loud and it disrupts the quiet of the area, utterly ruining the serenity he had felt while talking to his parents. Immediately he starts mentally building an argument. If he makes it good enough, then maybe he’ll find the courage to go over and ask them to turn it down.

Castiel doesn’t get far in rehearsing his speech. The man with the long hair tucks it behind his ears and glances back over at him. Caught in the act for a second time, Castiel quickly looks away. An embarrassed heat burns in his cheeks and he discards his argument in favour of weighing the odds about whether or not his aunt would be able to pick him up yet.

But then the music is turned down to the point that he can barely hear it. Castiel glances up again and both men are looking at him now. They smile apologetically and wave before turning back to the grave. His annoyance with the music evaporates, though Castiel would still prefer to be the only one here right now.

“I know this isn’t what you wanted for me.” He sighs and twists the belt of his coat between his fingers as he looks down at the gravestone in front of him. “I know you just wanted to protect me from a world that hates me, but I can't help but wonder – Do you think I wouldn’t be so afraid of people you had registered me when I presented?”

If they had done that, then they never would have moved away from Pontiac, Illinois. If they had stayed there, then his parents’ car wouldn’t have been t-boned when some asshole ran a red light. They might still be alive had they just followed the law and registered him like they were supposed to. Sure, his life would have been fraught with hardships and he would have been discriminated against by a large chunk of society, but he probably wouldn’t have so much anxiety about leaving his home. And, most importantly, he might still have his parents.

Another loud laugh rolls across the grave sites. Castiel frowns and looks up again. The man in the leather jacket has a beer in hand and his head is thrown back with a laugh. His companion is grinning widely, so he must have told another good joke. He should stop being so funny if it makes the other man laugh so much. It’s starting to fray at Castiel’s last nerve . And then, once again, the one with the long hair glances his way.

“I don’t think I can concentrate on talking to you in this atmosphere.” Castiel pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs. “I’m going to cut our visit short and I’ll just – I’ll come back next week. Anna and I are going shopping and I’ll use that time in town to come finish talking to you.”

The man with the long hair looks at him too much for his liking and it’s making Castiel feel antsy – uncomfortable. What if he sees something he shouldn’t? What if the coat isn’t hiding his secret like it’s supposed to be? Fear overcomes any annoyance Castiel had at the other visitors. He can’t let his secret be discovered. It would ruin his life.

Castiel tries not to let his hand shake as he pats his pockets to find his cell phone. If he explains his situation, his aunt will drop everything and come pick him up no matter what. At the very least, Anna might leave ahead of her and come keep him company until the car gets here. Both of their presences have a significant calming effect on him and he can feel the beginning of a panic attack brewing tight and painful in his chest.

He’s in the process of typing out a message to his aunt – not wanting to verbalize the issue through a phone call in case the other two visitors can hear him – when a shadow falls over him. Castiel’s heart is suddenly in his throat and his grip on his phone goes knuckle white before he looks up.

The man with the short hair is standing on the other side of his parents’ gravestone; his hands tucked into the pockets of his leather jacket. “Hey, buddy.” He dips his head in greeting before jerking a thumb over his shoulder. “We have beer and sandwiches. Wanna come join the party?”

All Castiel can do is stare despite the growing notion that he shouldn’t. A thick scar runs from the hairline at the man’s left temple and onto his forehead, ending in line with the inside end of his left eyebrow. There’s another thinner scar, one that looks no less painful, that cuts along his right cheek bone. It starts in his hairline above his right ear and ends in the middle of his cheek. A very thin scar, almost like a scratch, runs up the right side of his throat towards the one on his cheek. The one on his left cheek is much smaller.

Is he on leave from the army? Or did he have a rough childhood? Castiel has no experience with telling the age of scars, but he can’t imagine any other reasons that someone would have so many. Granted, he has lived a fairly sheltered life.

The stranger shifts on his feet and a hint of colour rises in his cheeks. He clears his throat and half turns away to gesture, again, at his impromptu picnic. “You’re welcome to join us if you want.”

Castiel gathers his wits about him and shakes his head. “Thank you, but no.” He gets to his feet slowly, making sure that his coat hangs properly around his sides to obscure everything from his hips and up. “I was just leaving.”

A smile pulls up the corner of the stranger’s mouth. “Liar.”

His stomach drops slightly before Castiel steels himself. “I’m not lying.” He’s almost tempted to show his phone to prove that he’s in the process of typing the message to call for his ride. But that would show him complaining about the two men and he couldn’t stand the embarrassment.

The man raises an eyebrow and looks back at his companion, who nods in return. He turns back with a smug smile. “Sam says you are.” It grows into a grin and before Castiel can even react, he grabs him by the wrist. “C’mon, you’ll have a blast!”

When was the last time someone that wasn’t family touched him? It would have been before he presented. The warm fingers folded around his wrist stall out Castiel’s brain to the point that he can’t even form the words to tell him to let go. He possesses the strength to easily break the grip, or dig his heels in and stop himself from being dragged over to the other grave site, but it’s like his brain has one of those spinning loading wheels in place and it hasn’t quite caught up to what’s happening.

Everything comes back online when they come to a stop in front of the other man; Sam, was it? He’s frowning up at his companion. “If he didn’t want to come, you should have let him go, Dean.”

“You said I should invite him over coz’ he’s giving off loneliness like stink lines, so I invited him over.” He drops Castiel’s wrist and sits back down on this side of the blanket. “And what’s the problem, anyway? You said he’s one of us.”

Castiel’s immediate reaction is to try and interject that he’s not lonely, thank you very much. He has Anna and his aunt. He doesn’t need anyone else. And if he was emanating anything, it was annoyance at his quiet visit with his parents being disrupted by this loud pair. Seriously, who plays music in a graveyard outside of a service? Rude people. That’s who!

Sam glances up at him and frowns slightly. “For starters, he sort of looks like he wants to cry.”

“I’m not going to cry!” Castiel finds his voice then, but wishes that it didn’t crack slightly from his nerves.

“But you are uncomfortable, and –”

“Of course I’m not comfortable!” He points at Dean, as identified by the one he called Sam. “He dragged me over here against my will!” Castiel takes a few deep breaths to calm himself. He’s surprised at his own outburst, but he’s not done with it. “And I’m not one of you. I don’t even know what you mean by that. If you mean an orphan, that doesn’t make us brothers in arms or anything of the sort.”

The pair share a look. “Orphans?” Dean shakes his head and points at the grave. “We’re not orphans. It’s just our mom down there.”

“It’s the fifteenth anniversary of her death.” Sam smiles sadly and raises his beer to the grave. “We don’t know where our dad is, but he’s alive the last time we checked. Right?” He glances at Dean and gets a nod in confirmation.

Castiel frowns between them. It was a spur of the moment assumption that they were orphans because the headstone says beloved mother and neither one of them looks to be old enough to have been her husband. If they’re not orphans, than what in the world could they have meant? Part of his ire gives way to confusion, but he resigns himself to never knowing that answer because he’s going to walk away right now and not look back.

But then Sam turns a soft smile up at him, as if in understanding. He glances around before raising a hand at the unlit candles that edge the tombstone. His fingers twitch slightly once, twice, and then flames flicker to life on the wicks of the candles.

His breath catches in his throat and Castiel takes a step back. “You’re a mutant.”

This shouldn’t surprise him, given his own situation, but – but they said that he was one of them. That means they know. But how could they possibly – No. There’s still time to save this. If he continues to act like he’s just a normal person, maybe they won’t say anything to anyone and he’ll be safe.

He takes another step back. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not a mutant.”

Dean looks at Sam again. When he nods, Dean rests an elbow on the cooler and props his chin on his hand, regarding Castiel with an almost amused expression. “Sammy says you are, and I trust what he says. He’s got a kinda sixth sense about this stuff.”

With that, he sits back and hauls the cooler out of the way, opening the spot between them. He pats it and grins up at Castiel. “Now come sit down. We’re not gonna force you to show your mutation or whatever, but you should know that we don’t really care if you are a mutant or not.”

After a long moment of silence where Castiel is torn between running and staying to find out just how much they know about him, Sam turns a soft smile on him again. “You’re unregistered.” Those words have his heart stuttering in his chest again. “So am I.”

Dude!” Dean reaches out to punch him on the shoulder. “You’re not supposed to tell people that! What if he turns around and tells the cops about you?”

“He won’t.” Sam shakes his head and leans back on one of his hands. “If he did, then he runs the risk of us revealing him in turn. And you want to avoid all chances of that, don’t you?”

Castiel feels faint. All the blood in his body has rushed to his head and his legs feel weak. Every breath is laborious and he’s rooted to the spot. “You – You’re a psychic?”

“Not quite.” Sam shakes his head and shrugs. “I’m an empath and a telekinetic, with just a hint of pyrokinetic to make things interesting.”

Oh God. That’s a class five. Castiel is in the presence of an unregistered class five mutant. Anyone with mental abilities or the power to control the elements is immediately considered unfit for society. They’re carted off to The Facility the moment their powers present. There’s no evaluation at The Registry for them.

Even just thinking about it makes Castiel shudder. It’s no wonder that Sam is an unregistered then. If the government can’t find a use for him, or if he’s too strong willed and can’t be controlled, then he would be kept in The Facility for his whole life. Or, for really troubled cases, he would be erased. That’s what everyone says happens, at least. No one outside of The Facility or certain levels of government actually knows what happens in there. But it’s common knowledge that most mutants who get taken to The Facility don’t come back. Ever.

Castiel steps back onto the blanket and sinks to his knees. He drops heavily onto his ass, unable to stop staring at Sam. What does he sense about him that makes him feel like Castiel is trustworthy enough to be given this information? Or is he relying on the blackmailing to keep his mouth shut? Sam is right in both cases, of course.

Being an unregistered mutant is a crime. At thirty years old, Castiel has been unregistered since he presented when he was nine. Even though his mutation would be a class one at best, he would be jailed or sent to The Facility. But no one he knows would report him. Anna and his aunt would never do that to him. But now these strangers know and – and –

He’s going to have a panic attack.

Castiel brings his knees to his chest and puts his head between them. He struggles to get his breathing under control, counting each one and holding it before exhaling.

“If it helps, I’m only a class one.” Dean speaks up and Castiel lifts his head just enough to see him over the edge of his knee.

Dean’s grin has softened considerably. He pulls the collar of his shirt down enough to reveal a slightly faded C-1 in a dark circle under his left collar bone. A small portion of the tattoo is ripped up by another knotted scar.

Once he’s sure that Castiel got a good look at it, Dean covers up again. “Too bad so sad for me, but I didn’t have a choice with being registered. I presented in the middle of gym class when I was ten.” He opens the cooler and pulls out another couple beers. “We get why there are some who don’t want to be registered, and it fucking sucks that we have to be, y’know? But we’re not going to tell anyone about you. Promise.” And he draws an ‘X’ over his heart as if to seal it.

He passes one of the beers to Castiel. Though he’s not usually one to drink, he definitely feels like he needs something to soothe his rattled nerves. Castiel twists the top off and downs most of the bottle’s contents before he realizes that Dean is offering a bottle opener. Apparently it wasn’t a twist off and he just showed off a piece of his powers.

Dean raises his eyebrows and lowers the bottle opener. He shares a look with Sam and Castiel resolutely doesn’t say anything. His powers – his secret – is his, Anna’s, and his aunt’s. No one else knows about it. The only two other people in the world who knew are in the ground thirty feet away. And Castiel is most certainly not looking to increase that number in any way.

Aside from Anna, Castiel has never met another mutant before. He glances between Dean and Sam, a little bit of awe replacing his panic and fear. Anna is a class three registered mutant. Even with her hair down, the tattoo on the side of her neck is always visible – which is a requirement for any mutant classed three or higher.

Class three mutants are just on the cusp of being considered a threat. Thankfully, Anna’s evaluation at The Registry when she presented determined that she wasn’t dangerous enough to require being shipped off to The Facility. Ever since she was registered, Anna has had a babysitter who checks in on her randomly every month to make sure that she’s not using her powers to get up to no good. She also has to be re-evaluated at The Registry once a year.

The evaluation is a rundown of a mutant’s powers to see if they’ve evolved since they presented. It includes a psychological assessment so the government will know if a mutant is of sound mind or might potentially try using their powers to break the law.

Anna hates all the checkups and evaluations, but she has no choice. Unlike Castiel, who presented at home, her powers manifested in a public park. It was some school activity day when she was eleven years old. From what she’s told him, she was playing tag with some of her friends and was running from the tagger. Suddenly she was on the far side of the park in the blink of an eye and she ran headlong into a tree in her surprise.

It was really lucky that it was an event that Aunt Amara was chaperoning at. While kids were screaming and parents and teachers were talking in hushed whispers (because most everyone sees mutants as something to be afraid of), Aunt Amara got Anna out of there and took her home to take care of the scrapes she got from the tree.

But because so many had seen Anna use her powers, Aunt Amara had to turn her into The Registry herself. It was either that be thrown in jail for trying to hide a mutant. And that would have meant that Anna had to go into foster care or be placed with Castiel’s family, which ran the risk of exposing him. At that point, Castiel had fully manifested his mutation for eight years. Aunt Amara never even hesitated to think it was an option.

As soon as Anna’s evaluation was completed, she was registered, given her tattoo, and released. She never talks about her time at The Registry and Castiel knows better to ask. They immediately moved from Pontiac, Illinois to Lawrence, Kansas so they could be closer to Castiel’s family. The support was needed, especially when everyone back in Pontiac had begun to alienate them.

If that’s what it was like for a class three, Castiel can’t imagine how traumatic it would have been for Sam as a clear class five. He has so many questions about them and their powers, but they’re all stuck at the back of his throat. It takes a whole two beers for him to relax enough and breathe easier to be able to actually talk to them.

There’s a lull in the conversation as Dean gets a couple bagged sandwiches out from the cooler. Castiel uses that to turn to Sam. “Do you always just sense things?”

“Not always.” Sam shrugs and accepts the sandwich that Dean passes to him. “I usually keep an antenna open for hostile feelings. Otherwise, I try to stay out of people’s emotions. Sometimes I pick up on really strong feelings whether I want to or not.” He fidgets with the edges of the sandwich bag before glancing at Castiel. “And your loneliness was too strong to ignore.”

What can he say to that? It’s hard to deny, even to himself, given what he had just said to his parents not long before Dean came over. Castiel can only swallow what’s left of his beer and hold his hand out for another one.

Dean laughs as he pulls another beer from the cooler. “You’re going to drink all my beer, huh? Don’t want a sandwich to go with it?”

He’s shaking his head about the sandwich when he realizes what was said before it. Castiel hadn’t even considered how rude he was being. He immediately tries to hand the bottle back, but Dean laughs and shakes his head.

“Nah, man. Go ahead! It’s not like this shit gets me drunk anyway.” After a pause, he looks down at the beer thoughtfully. “I wonder if Absinthe would kick in fast enough to get me drunk at least for a little bit to see what that’s like.”

“We’re not buying Absinthe so you can experiment on yourself.”

“Aw, c’mon, Sammy!”

Sam takes a bite out of his sandwich and shakes his head. “You can’t get drunk, Dean. You’ve tried. A lot. Get over it.”

With a petulant groan, Dean starts in on his own sandwich. Once again, Castiel finds himself staring at him. He has no idea what Dean’s powers are, but apparently it involves not being able to get drunk. What kind of powers would include something like that? Castiel wracks his brain, but nothing is really coming up. All he can do is file that information away despite how he expects not to have to use it again. Of course he’s never going to see these two after tonight, so there’s no point in putting any effort into remembering it.

“You’re staring.” Dean’s eyes crinkle slightly at their corners, one cheek full of food as he grins.

Castiel flushes and ducks his head. He hadn’t meant to do it, but he's always looked at things intently whenever he’s thinking.

“Don’t worry about it.” Dean waves his free hand before leaning back on it and stretching his legs out in front of him. “Stare all you want. I know I’m a sight for sore eyes.”

Sam leans over, voice dropped into a loud whisper. “Ignore him. He hasn’t realized yet that he’s also the cause of the sore eyes.”

That has Dean choking on his mouthful of food. He coughs and thumps his chest to clear it a few times before fixing his brother with a frown. “Wow, Sammy. Rude. Maybe it’s your face hurting his eyes!”

And that starts up a bickering back and forth that Castiel finds fascinating. He’s never had the opportunity to see siblings in action before. Anna was technically an accident when Aunt Amara had been planning never to have children, and Castiel was a miracle baby. His parents had been trying for a very long time and spent a lot of money on having a child. They couldn’t afford to do it a second time, even though they wanted another. They were still saving up for and considering adoption when Castiel presented and that – Well, that changed everything.

Despite knowing Anna for most of his life, he’s pretty sure that even they don’t act like this. Castiel was six years old when she was born, and she was only three when he presented and his parents moved their small family here to Lawrence. He didn’t see Anna again until after she presented and he was seventeen at that time. Even still, it was nice to have family close by, finally. The only people Castiel ever saw during those eight years were his parents.

The conversation between Dean and Sam evolves from bickering about who is least attractive to which actors they think are the most attractive. Dean is adamant that Harrison Ford, even at 75 years old, could still get it. Castiel just marvels at it all. The less he talks, the less attention is paid to him and that’s how he likes it.

But then Dean is turning to him sharply. “Have you seen the new Blade Runner movie?”

“Yes, actually.” Castiel pauses and clears his throat. “And I agree with your assessment of Harrison Ford.”

“Hah!” He punches the air. “Take that, Sammy!” There’s a clear level of excitement as Dean crosses his legs so he can face Castiel properly. “What did you think of it? Do you think it held up to the first one?”

Whether it held up or not is an entirely different question to the first. “I liked it, though I’m not very fond of Ryan Gosling.”

“And here I thought you had good taste.” And that starts a new rant of Dean’s going on about the movies that Ryan Gosling has been in. He talks with his hands a lot, gesturing with his beer or his sandwich while making his points. Half of what he says is directed to Sam or Castiel, and the other half to the grave of his mother.

It’s… strangely entertaining. Castiel is torn between being his usual bundle nerves at being in the presence of strangers and – surprisingly – enjoying himself.

In comparison to Dean, Sam is more reserved. He’ll interject often, or interrupt Dean to remind him that he’s embellishing a story too much. But otherwise, he laughs and smiles just as much as his brother – just quieter. Strangely, all the stories revolve around something happening at a gas station, motel, or grocery store. Never at either of their jobs. And Castiel can’t help wondering what they actually do. Of course he’d never ask outright.

They talk between them and the grave about people named Bobby and Pam, but they never say anything to Castiel about who they are. Despite being just slightly curious about it, he doesn’t really want clarification. What’s the point of needing further information about the people he’s never going to meet? The same can be said for learning more about Dean and Sam.

All three of them jump in surprise when Castiel’s phone beeps rather loudly, signaling that he received a text message. He fumbles apologies while pulling it out again to find that Anna had texted him about how her and his aunt are on their way to pick him up.

“Oh, I need to go.” He blinks at his phone, realizing that he’s actually a little disappointed. “My ride is on their way and I meet them at the gates.”

Castiel stands up to dust off his pants and coat, making sure that it doesn’t flap too much or they might catch a glimpse of his secret. He steps away from the bubble of light and music they’ve created around their mother’s tombstone. “Thank you for including me. It was… interesting.”

A chill skitters down his spine and he realizes that it’s much warmer down on the blanket in the light of the candles. Is that a part of Sam’s pyrokinetic powers? Maybe he’s just naturally warm all the time and that heats the air around him. Either way, it was nice and Castiel didn’t even notice that he wasn’t feeling the evening chill after the sun had set.

“Got a hot date?” Dean waggles his eyebrows and laughs to himself, like he made a big joke.

Castiel frowns at him and shakes his head. “No, it’s my aunt and cousin.” He checks the time on his phone before sending a text that he’s starting for the gates. “And you should probably prepare to leave soon. The caretakers lock the gates in ten minutes, and they might be mad at you for having candles.”

“Shit, really?” Dean quickly downs the last of his beer and tosses the empty bottle into the cooler with the rest. “I guess we better shut’er down. Sammy, you got the candles?”

With a wave of his hand, Sam extinguishes each candle without so much as touching them. Castiel is almost impressed – and briefly jealous. It would be so nice if his own mutation was something as easily hidden as Sam’s. But his is physical. A deformity. One that if he showed it would mark him as mutant despite how a class one tattoo would be allowed to be hidden under his clothing.

“Have a good evening.” Castiel is quieter than he intended, but he turns on his heel and all but speed walks away. The faster he separates himself from the brothers, the sooner he can put this entire evening behind him.

Sam calls out a goodbye behind him, but it’s overlapped with Dean calling out for him to wait. Castiel ignores it and he doesn’t look back. He keeps his overcoat hugged around him to keep it from flapping as he quickly makes his way along the paths back to the gates. Hopefully his aunt and Anna will get here before Dean and Sam drive by. They might stop to talk to him again and Castiel is honestly not sure if he wants that or not.

It’s only a few minutes later when his aunt’s car pulls up to the curb. They don’t live very far by car, so it’s no surprise that they got here so quickly. Castiel climbs into the backseat the moment the doors are unlocked. He immediately leans forward to press his forehead against the back of Anna’s chair and takes a minute to gather himself. When he finally sits back in his seat, still sitting forward just enough so as not to hurt his back, it’s to find both Anna and his aunt watching him.

“What happened?” Anna quirks an eyebrow and tilts her head.

Is he really that obvious? Castiel tries to school himself into a serene smile. “Nothing happened.”

Aunt Amara narrows her eyes at him. She gives him a careful up and down before frowning. “Something happened. What happened?

“Nothing happened.” He shakes his head and exaggerates rubbing his stomach. “I’m hungry. Can we please go eat now?”

Anna and his aunt share a look before glancing back to him. Castiel stares back, keeping his face carefully neutral. He’s very good at that and Anna is often jealous of his poker face. And yet she's also told a number of times that she finds him sometimes too stoic for her liking.

But then his calm front is all but entirely shattered when the same black car that Dean and Sam had been driving pulls through the gates. Castiel presses his lips into a thin line and he couldn’t look away from it even if he tried. Of course both Anna and his aunt immediately turn to see what he’s staring at. The three of them watch as the black car pulls out onto the road, turning in their direction. The driver’s side window is down and Dean sticks his arm out to wave as they go by.

Immediately Castiel is the center of attention again. Anna’s eyebrows have nearly disappeared into her red hairline. “Who were they?”

“No one.” Castiel crosses his arms and looks away. “All I know is that they’re noisy and nosy.”

“What?” Anna’s voice takes a note of alarm to it. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

He sighs and rubs a hand over his face. “It means that I’m coming back to visit Mom and Dad next week. I didn’t get a proper visit with them today.”

His aunt is frowning again when he looks back at her. “Did those guys bug you? I can make a complaint to the cemetery office for you. They have the right to ban annoying visitors from the grounds.”

That doesn’t seem quite fair. A warning at most would probably be best. Castiel shakes his head and offers her a smile. “No, it’s fine. They only came because it’s apparently the anniversary of their mother’s death. At least now I know that I shouldn’t come on November 2nd ever again.” He gestures between them and towards the road. “Can we please go have dinner now?”

She stares him down for another few moments before sighing and turning forward. “Fine.” The car shudders slightly as she puts it into gear and starts them forward.

Anna, on the other hand, is still twisted around in her chair to watch him. After a block, she hums to herself and turns back around. “I’ll get the truth out of you eventually.”

Castiel honestly doesn’t doubt that, but he just doesn’t want to talk about it right now. All he wants is some food in his belly to soak up the beer he filled it with, and to regain his sense of normalcy. The last half an hour he spent in Dean and Sam’s company was… surreal. Nothing like this has ever happened to him since after he presented as a mutant. Castiel had forgotten what normal life was like before then.


Friday – November 3rd, 2017

It’s not often that Castiel hears his doorbell. Both Anna and his aunt have a key and they always call or text before they come over. Every once in a while the publisher or one of the doctors he transcribes for will courier over something for him, but he’s always expecting their arrival. No one ever just shows up.

That said, it doesn’t even occur to him to not answer the door. Castiel pulls his housecoat tight around him and muffles a yawn as he shuffles out of his bedroom. He can see someone’s shoulder through the windows on either side of the door, but it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. At least not until he steps up next to it to peek through.

Dean grins back at him from the other side.

Chapter Text

Friday – November 3rd, 2017

Castiel quickly steps away from the window.

Sam and Dean are outside his front door. The mutant brothers he met at the cemetery yesterday are on his doorstep. What are they doing here? How did they find him? Why did they follow him? Are they here to blackmail him for something? His house is probably the biggest asset Castiel has. It’s not like he’s swimming in money or anything, but he is well off for someone his age – particularly a mutant.

The doorbell rings again, and this time it’s followed by a knock.

What if he ran? Where would he run? The door in the dining room leads to the garage, but he would have to open the garage door to get out and it’s not like he has a car. They would hear it opening anyways. He could go out the door in the kitchen onto the deck in the backyard, but it’s just fields and forests out that way. They might not follow him right away, but they also might not leave.

Should he call the police? But what if they come and Dean and Sam call him out as an unregistered? It’s fairly obvious with him, but if he tries to point out that Sam is also unregistered, why would they believe him? Sam looks completely human and normal.

His breath is coming in short, quick bursts and Castiel wishes he hadn’t left his cell phone in the bedroom. He should have brought it with him so he could call Anna and his aunt right now and ask them what in the world he should do. He’s frozen and he can’t breathe and –

“C’mon, Mr. Novak!” Someone knocks again and Dean raises his voice loud enough to be heard through the door. “We just want to talk!”

“Why are you stalking me?” Castiel calls back and hugs himself. He closes his eyes and starts counting his breaths. In, one. Out, two. In, three. Out, four. It starts working, slowly but surely, but then his breath catches again when he looks up to find both of them watching through the windows.

Dean frowns, actually looking worried. “Are you dying?” His voice is muffled, but he’s still speaking loud enough to be heard.

“No, he’s scared, you idiot.” Sam turns his head to glare at him. “I told you this was a bad idea.”

“But how else were we –” He stops talking the moment Castiel moves forward.

In quick, jerky movements, he unlocks the door and pulls it open. Castiel starts by pointing at Sam. “Stop reading my emotions. I don’t like it.” And then he points at Dean. “And why are you here? I didn’t even give you my name let alone how to find me! This is a massive breach of –”

“I’m sorry!” Dean blurts, both hands up as if he expects Castiel to strike at him. “I didn’t think you’d freak out like this. I just wanted to –”

Castiel is riding an adrenaline high and he crosses his arms to hide the way his hands are shaking. “How did you find me?”

“It’s kind of our job to find people. We got your last name from the grave you were visiting.” Sam also has his hands up, but it’s more in a soothing manner than Dean’s defensive position – like how one would face a frightened or dangerous animal. “And I’m really sorry for him. Dean’s the one who drives the car and I told him this was a bad –”

“What kind of job finds people who don’t want to be found?” He would normally feel bad about interrupting, but Castiel feels like he’s due a proper explanation.

Dean fumbles to get his wallet out. From it, he pulls a card and offers it to him. Castiel stares at it suspiciously before taking it. Dean’s picture is on it, but it’s unlike any license he’s ever seen before.

“You must be joking.” Castiel looks back up at him and then down at the card. “Bounty hunter?” And here he thought that was no longer a really job – or, at the very least, was make-believe. That television show with the man named Dog has to be entirely scripted. He always assumed it was fake.

“Yup!” Dean grins, clearly proud of himself. “We’re both bounty hunters. We hunt bail jumpers sometimes, but mostly we’re taking contracts from the government to hunt rogue mutants.” As soon as the words are out of his mouth, his eyes grow wide and he holds up his hands again. “Not mutants like you! You’re not a rogue. You’re totally safe. I swear.”

Castiel hands back the license and looks between the two of them. His heart did jump painfully when Dean said that, but he still has his suspicions, and other questions. “You’re mutants who hunt mutants?”

“That’s the gist of it, yeah.” Sam nods and he pats at his own pockets for his wallet. “Do you want to see my license too?”

“One was fine, thank you.” Questioning them about their job is really helping distract Castiel from that tight ball of panic still sitting between his lungs. It’s easier to breathe when he’s not worrying about everything else. “So you, an unregistered for your own safety, are hunting other unregistered mutants?”

Sam scratches the back of his head and shrugs. “Well, yes, but we only hunt the bad ones. The kind of mutants who use their abilities to commit crimes. Most of the ones we hunt are actually registered and they just failed their evaluations. Some bolted or simply didn’t show up.”

“And it’s our job to track them down, capture them, and bring them in to the authorities.” Dean cuts in. He seems less energetic than he was yesterday, which Castiel also find suspicious.

There’s one word in what was said that piques his curiosity. “And how do you capture them?” Does it have something to do with Dean’s powers? He never made any mention of them yesterday – aside from being unable to get drunk.

“Tranquilizers, mostly.”

That’s almost disappointing. But he’s calmed down enough to breathe normally and get back to his original line of questioning. “And what does any of that have to do with me?”

“Well, you see, you’re a mutant –” Dean starts and Castiel’s panic flares sharply.

It’s apparently strong enough for Sam to stagger back a step and put a hand to his forehead with a muttered; “Ow.”

“Shit, I fucked up again, didn’t I?” Dean looks between Castiel and Sam with a defeated sigh. “I’m just gonna stop talking.”

“It’s okay, Dean.” Sam puts a hand on his shoulder and turns a shaky smile on them both before focusing on Castiel. “What he meant to say, Mr. Novak, was that we are all mutants.”

That does calm him somewhat, but he doesn’t stop hugging himself to try and stave away that anxious ball in his chest. His throat works painfully around every word when he speaks. “Why –” He takes a deep breath. “Why does that matter?”

The brothers share another look before Sam’s smile turns hopeful. “Well, we decided to stay in town for a little bit and visit our mom more since it’s been fifteen years. And we were wondering if we could maybe stay with you while we’re here?”

Castiel’s jaw drops. He doesn’t intend for it to, but his surprise is too much to contain. “You – You’re actually serious?”

Dean nods and opens his mouth to answer, but then thinks better of it. He shoves his hands in his pockets and looks to his brother. Sam rolls his eyes but continues. “We tried to go to a few motels last night, but the first one we went to asked for our IDs and they saw that Dean’s driver’s license has him also marked as a mutant. They refused us service and when we tried another motel, they claimed they didn’t have any free rooms even with their vacancy sign lit.”

“We didn’t try anywhere else after that.” Dean mutters, his previously somewhat cheery disposition nowhere to be seen as he looks away from them both. “We spent the night in the car.”

The reality of their situation doesn’t sit well with Castiel. It reminds him too much about how hard things have been for Anna and his aunt. Despite being unregistered, Castiel has had to spend every day since he was nine years old in hiding. But it’s still better than having normal people look down at you and having literally everything be harder.

It’s almost impossible for a mutant to find a decent job that pays a living wage. Mutants tend to be given the jobs that no one ever really wants, and they don’t get paid well for it. And it’s incredibly difficult for a mutant to get a driver’s license. They get failed for the most ridiculous things and it takes dedication and a lot of money to keep going – unless they luck out and find someplace or someone who is mutant friendly and treats them like a normal person.

And the segregation alone is just – It sets Castiel’s blood on fire. It’s really only in effect in schools and public transport, but still. Apparently it’s meant to keep the normal people safe from mutants, but according to Anna, most mutants consider it the opposite. They don’t get bullied in mutant-only classrooms, and the teachers don’t mark them worse simply for being what they are. It would be nice if there were more mutant only buses that ran more often, but that’s the harsh reality of mutant life.

Even the immediate family of mutants have it tough – as evidenced by how Sam, a normal person at first glance, was unable to get a room at a motel simply because he was travelling with a mutant. When it came to Anna, his aunt couldn’t get anything but low income housing in a mutant based apartment block when they moved to Lawrence. They might have been able to get something a smidge better, but Anna was not only a registered mutant, but also a class three.

All his upset for Anna’s situation culminates in a sense of sympathy for these two who really shouldn’t be on his front step at – God, what time is it even? Castiel didn’t check the clock when he got up. With a sigh, he rubs a hand over his face. “Don’t you know anyone else here?” Their mother is buried here, so it’s safe to assume that they must have lived in Lawrence at some point, right?

“Not anymore.” Dean shakes his head, apparently feeling like it’s safe for him to talk again. “We were born here, but Dad moved us to South Dakota the moment Sam presented. You were, what – eight at the time?” He glances at Sam and gets a nod in confirmation. “Yeah, see? No one is gonna remember us. That was, like, fifteen years ago.”

Castiel looks between the two of them. “That was after your mother died?”

An uncomfortable silence overtakes them. Sam looks down and away, visibly shrinking in on himself while Dean puts a hand on his shoulder in comfort. He clears his throat loudly after a moment. “Yeah, it was. She was the only one with roots here, so Dad had no problem moving us after she died. We didn’t keep in contact with anyone that mom knew and – Well, the rest is history.”

While that’s certainly a bit of a sad story, Castiel is still on the fence about their request. That must be evident on his face, because Dean tries for another cheery smile – though this time it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Anyways – Can we stay here or not? We can pay in fucking’ awesome food, and we’ll pay rent if you want to charge us that too.”

The ‘no’ is sitting on the tip of his tongue, but he thinks better of refusing outright. “And what will you do if I say ‘no’?”

Sam shrugs and seems to have regained some of his colour that he had lost before. “If you don’t want us to stay, that’s fine. We’ll leave and you’ll probably never see us again.” He pauses. “Unless you run into us in town. But that’s about it.”

Dean nods in agreement. “I know that I can be a dick sometimes, but neither of us is enough of an asshole to try to force you to do something you don’t want to do or out you as unregistered.” His eyes narrow slightly. “Especially not when you could just turn Sammy in too. And he’s a Facility level class, if you didn’t figure that out already.”

“I know.” Castiel glances at Sam and looks away again, not liking how his eyes seem like they see right through him and all his secrets are laid bare. “You’re only here because you think that I’m more likely to let you stay with me because I’m a mutant?”

“Yup.” Dean’s grin is a little more genuine this time. “Figured we had a better chance of staying with you than anywhere else.”

Castiel shifts on his feet, looking between the two of them again. He recalls exactly what made Dean approach him yesterday and frowns. “And this has nothing to do with how you think I’m lonely?”

Suddenly neither of them will meet his eyes. Sam rubs at the back of his neck, looking as sheepish as one can. “It might have been a deciding factor in us looking you up. Maybe.”

While he doesn’t like the idea of being pitied, Castiel much prefers their other reasons for why they came here. He sighs and steps back, away from the door – not enough to grant them entry, but not blocking them entirely anymore.

Should he ask Anna and his aunt want to do? Or should he trust that they’re not here to rob him blind, or kill him, or worse. What if he turns them away and they break their word and report him to for being unregistered? Even if he did try and turn Sam in too, there’s always the chance that the police won’t believe him. And if they stay here, he’ll have to keep covered even in his own home to hide his secret.

“How do I know you’re not here to rob me? Or kill me?”

Dean actually snorts and covers his mouth as if that will hide his laughter. “Buddy, you already opened the door to us. If we wanted to steal your shit or gank you, we probably would have done it already. We’re not really the kind who play mind games.”

Sam nods in agreement. “And we’re a weird kind of law enforcement with the whole being bounty hunters thing.”

Right, that. Castiel still has his doubts about that being a real job. But it’s also far too early for this. He isn’t even awake before ten o’clock most days. And he hasn’t had his coffee yet! He needs his coffee first before he can even begin to handle how Dean looks so hopeful, or how Sam continues to look at him in that see-through kind of way with his head tilted to the side. Is he trying to read Castiel’s emotions? Just how much can he learn about him from that?

The knot of nerves is still tight in his chest, but something else just – let’s go. Castiel blows out a resigned sigh and turns on his heel, starting up the stairs to the main floor. “I only have one guest bed.”

Dean cheers quietly and footsteps follow him inside. The door shuts and there’s a scuffling in the foyer as they remove their shoes. He ignores it in favour of heading into the kitchen to start his pot of coffee early. According to the clock, it’s just past eight-thirty. He grimaces at it and mourns the fact that he won’t be going back to sleep any time soon.

“You’ve got a real nice place here, Mr. Novak.” Dean whistles and it sounds like it’s coming from the living room. “And that couch looks pretty comfy! That’s sure as heck better than sleeping in the car. C’mon, Sammy. Rock-paper-scissors me on who gets the couch. Best two out of three.”

Sam sounds amused when he answers. “Is it the winner or the loser who gets the couch?”

“Loser, obviously.”

Castiel listens to the soft pat of skin against skin, which he assumes is their hands against their palms. He’s tempted to go watch to see who wins, but instead he braces his hands against the counter in front of the sink and hangs his head. The full weight of what he’s just done hasn’t fully settled, but he still can’t wrap his brain around what he just agreed to. He doesn’t even know how long they’ll be staying!

There’s a slight shake to his hands, not as bad as it probably should be, as he reaches out to turn the tap. Castiel shivers as he splashes cold water on his face. Maybe this is all some weird dream and he’ll wake up now. It took him forever to fall asleep last night, thinking too much about everything that had happened that day and this – this could all just be a stress dream.

But everything out the window looks normal. There’s nothing dream-esque about the deck that spans most of the back of the house, or the yard beyond it. His father’s gardens and his mother’s bird feeders, all things that he’s maintained in the six years since their death, have no differences to them. This is real. This is very real and Castiel needs something to ground himself immediately before he thinks himself into yet another panic attack.

He closes his eyes and focuses on thinking about the gardens. Castiel takes slow, deep breaths and thinks about how Aunt Amara comes over and helps him with weeding and planting. She brings him the fertilizer or any other supplies that he needs and will discuss what plants are doing well and which ones need more attention. She has her twin brother’s green thumb.

Next he focuses on the bird feeders. He used to make them with his mom using honey and birdseed. They would make them look like hearts or other fun shapes. Castiel still does this, but usually it’s with Anna now. They have a lot of fun turning his kitchen into a mess when making them. He really should check on them and see if they’re due to make more soon.

A loud swear from the living room snaps him out of his memories. Castiel turns just as Sam walks into the kitchen through the door from the dining room. “I won the guest bedroom.” He smiles and cups a hand around his mouth, though his whisper is hardly quiet. “It’s because Dean always throws scissors.”

“I do not!” Dean shouts from the living room, and Castiel almost winces at the loud noise. “You’re using your empathy bullshit somehow to win every goddamn time!”

Sam only winks in response. “He’s also a sore loser.”

This is so not something Castiel wants to deal with. The coffee hasn’t finished brewing yet, so he might as well show them where things are. There’s still the chance that he might wake up from all of this.

He sighs and gestures for Sam to follow him. Castiel heads out through the other entrance to the kitchen. It faces the coat closet at the top of the stairs to the foyer landing. He turns right to head down the only hall in the house.

As he goes, Castiel points to the open door on his right. “That’s the full bath.” Opposite it is a closed door and he points to that next. “That is my office. Do not go in there. The door will be locked at all times, even when I’m working.” The linen closet separates his office from the spare bedroom and he pushes the door open. “This is the spare bedroom.”

Opposite that door is his bedroom. It’s still sitting wide open and he steps over to pull it closed. “This is my bedroom and it is also off limits. I will be keeping this door locked too.” For whatever good that might do. Didn’t Sam say that he was also a telekinetic? It must be child’s play for him to manipulate the pins and tumblers in a lock without the use of a key.

“Thanks, Mr. Novak.” Sam steps into the guest bedroom to look around. It’s fairly simple with a double bed in the center of the wall, end tables, and a dresser under the window. “I really appreciate you letting us stay here.”

Before Castiel can answer, Dean is suddenly at his elbow and pointing at the bathroom. “What’s the water pressure situation like with the shower?”

“I –” He swallows, having realized that he’s cornered himself unless he ducks into his bedroom, and even then the only escape would be out the window over his bed. “I have no idea.”

Dean frowns and looks Castiel over. “You don’t bathe?”

“I don’t shower.”

“Oh!” He snaps his fingers and ends with pointing at Castiel. “You’re a bath kind of guy!”

That’s more information about himself than he wanted to give. Thankfully, he’s saved from talking about it further by the beep of the coffee maker as it finishes brewing a pot. He pulls his house coat around himself a little tighter. “Are we done here?”

“One last thing.” Sam stays in the doorway to the guest room and holds out his hand. “We never formally introduced ourselves. I’m Sam Winchester and this is my older brother, Dean.”

Castiel eyes his hand warily before shaking it. “Castiel Novak.”

Dean also offers his hand and, like Sam, he lets go after a quick shake – thank God. “How many people just call you ‘Cas’?”

“Almost everyone?” Sometimes Anna calls him Cassie when she really wants to annoy him, but those moments are few and far between. He’s definitely not going to mention that.

“Well, add me to the list.” Dean’s nose wrinkles and he sticks his tongue out slightly. “I don’t think my tongue can twist enough to say that – and I have a very talented tongue, FYI.” He ends with a wink and Castiel has to look away.

The uneasy feeling in his belly is starting to bubble and all he wants is to grab his coffee and hide in his bedroom. Castiel isn’t naïve enough not to notice flirting when he sees it, but God help him if he knows how to react when it’s directed at him. Especially when he’s already in an uncomfortable situation.

Sam must be able to sense that, because he frowns at Dean. “Why don’t you go take that shower you’ve been complaining about missing?”

“Good idea.” Dean pulls his keys from his pocket and starts back the way they came. “We gotta go get our bags from the car. C’mon, Sammy.”

As soon as they both go down the stairs to the foyer, Castiel all but runs for the kitchen. He pours himself a travel mug of coffee because it holds more than any normal mug that he owns, and grabs a protein bar from the box he keeps in the pantry for when he doesn’t feel like cooking. The Winchesters are still outside and he quickly steals away to his bedroom, making sure to lock the door behind him.

Castiel can hear them come back into the house; the sound of the front door opening and closing; the rumble of inaudible voices; the thud of footsteps on the stairs. All things that he’s so unused to hearing in his home. It feels weird to have people here, even when Anna and Aunt Amara are there. He’s become too used to the silence in the six years that he’s been living alone.

While listening to the sound of the brothers moving around and getting settled, Castiel stares at the wall and sips at his coffee. He nibbles the protein bar every now and then, but he’s too distracted to actual taste the cookies and cream simulated flavour. There are two people – practically strangers – in his house. Two people who plan to stay here for at least a few days, and Castiel has no idea what to do about any of it.

He should have said no. Is it too late? Can he just go out there and tell them he changed his mind? God, no. He can’t. He wants to throw up just thinking about confronting them like that.

This would be so much easier if he wasn’t such a – Well, Anna calls him a hermit. Aunt Amara calls him a recluse. Castiel calls himself a survivor. This is the only way he knows to keep himself from being jailed as an unregistered. But because of that, it’s been decades since he really had to deal with people outside of his family or his job. And even then, everyone associated with his job is usually dealt with either over the phone or via email – except for the rare occasion when a courier is sent out to him.

Those are few and far between. Most doctors find it easier to simply forward him digital recordings, and his publisher prefers using digital documents shared through a secure server that he logs into from home. It’s certainly easier for him to turn on Tracked Changes in a Microsoft Word document than it is to fill page after printed page with red ink just for someone to have to manually make those changes in the original manuscript later.

Even when Anna drags him out to go grocery shopping, Castiel hardly deals with people. She usually talks to the taxi drivers for him, and he might say one or two words to the cashiers when ringing up his purchases. If the store offers self-checkout, he always chooses that option no matter how much he’s buying at the time. The less people he has to deal with, the better.

Everything about Castiel’s life has been perfectly arranged so he wouldn’t have to deal with people. No one but family can be trusted. Everyone else is so… unpredictable. They haven’t earned his trust and – and he should have said no.

Somewhere in his distracted eating, Castiel manages to finish off both his coffee and his protein bar. With nothing else left for him to do, he goes to the half-bath attached to his room. His reflection catches him off guard. He’s never seen himself this pale before. At least he’s not shaking anymore. That’s an improvement, certainly, but he still feels rattled to his core over this whole situation.

It takes far too long for him to realize that the rushing sound isn’t the blood in his ears but the shower running in the main bathroom on the other side of the wall. Dean must be showering now. Castiel’s insides twist and he briefly feels like throwing up. This is real. They’re actually staying. They’re using his bathroom, his kitchen, his guest room.

A lump is pushing at the back of his throat and Castiel swallows against it. He closes his eyes and starts counting his breaths again. It helps to calm him down and he gets all the way to two hundred and fourteen before someone knocks at his bedroom door.

“Cas?” Sam calls out and knocks again. “Sorry to bother you, but do you have WiFi?”

He exhales slowly and steps out of the bathroom. “I do. I’ll be out in just a moment.”

Castiel tightens his house coat again while trying to hold onto that brief moment of calm that he had found. His house coat is big, fluffy, and it makes him look twice his size. He wears it no matter the time of year, not only for comfort but because it’s an easy way to quickly hide his secret should anyone come to the door unexpectedly. Until today, that had never happened before.

The key to his office is kept on a hook in his closet. Castiel quickly grabs it before ducking out into the hallway. Sam is leaning against the wall with his hands in his pockets and he steps out of the way. He takes a few steps after him, but stops when he realizes that the destination is the office. Thankfully, Sam waits where he is while Castiel unlocks the door and quickly slips inside.

He has a magnetic whiteboard mounted to the wall next to the door. It’s essentially just a giant To Do list where he tracks which files need to be worked on and their deadlines. Castiel also uses a variety of magnets (a set of bees and honeycombs that Anna bought for him) to post important documents or note reminders. One such paper is the convoluted string of numbers, characters, and letters that make up the Wi-Fi password.

Once he’s retrieved the needed paper, Castiel locks the door behind him again and holds it out. Here. When you’re done, just slip it under my office door.”

“Thanks, Cas!” Sam actually looks excited and all but skips off back towards the living room. He likely set up his laptop either there or in the dining room.

Castiel watches him briefly before returning to his bedroom. He glances around, unsure what to do with himself. His phone is still lying on the side table where he was charging it overnight. The retro alarm clock next to it belonged to his parents. Its old flipping numbers flick over, showing that it’s not long past nine o’clock. He still wouldn’t normally be awake for another fifty minutes at least.

He should be making a productive use of his early start by getting dressed and starting work, but there’s far more pressing things going on right now. So pressing, in fact, that he feels it all like a physical weight on his shoulders. Despite the short time that he’s been awake, Castiel feels exhausted.

After making sure the door is locked again, he sheds his house coat. He flops face first on the bed and spreads out across its surface, taking up as much of it as he can. His cell phone is mocking him in the silence, almost begging for him to pick it up and text Anna or his aunt to let them know that he has… Is guests even the right word? Castiel might have allowed them to stay, but he still feels vaguely blackmailed into it even though they were very clear in giving him the option to turn them away.

It’s easier to do nothing.

The pipes hiss and stop rattling when Dean finally finishes his shower. Sam is apparently in no rush to have one, as another doesn’t start up shortly after. It’s still an almost unending length of time before the distant muted mumble of voices can be heard. Castiel only lifts his head out of his pillow when he hears the familiar boom of the front door closing. Shortly after, the deep rumble of the car’s engine starts up and then grows faint until he can’t hear it anymore.

For one moment, his heart lifts with hope that they might have left, but it sinks moments later at the sound of footsteps coming up the hall. They sound like they go into the guest room and Castiel assumes that Sam must still be here. Dean must have left and he has no idea where he might have gone – not that he even cares. As long as it’s not here, he’s happy.

Castiel rests his cheek on his pillow instead of hiding his whole face in it again. He sighs and watches the clock, counting the minutes as they flip by. Counting really helps focus and center him. It’s something his parents taught him when he first started having panic attacks as a child. He probably wouldn’t have had them if they had just registered him when he presented, but there’s nothing that can be done about it now. And he loves his parents. They were always there for him and did the best they could while protecting him from a world that hates his kind.

Sixty-seven minutes pass before he hears the rumble of the engine again. It’s fairly loud for him to be able to hear it in his bedroom on the other side of the house from the driveway. He’s always been rather sensitive to sounds, but the walls aren’t exactly thick either.

The front door opens and closes a few times before another set of footsteps is stomping around the house. Castiel flinches at the first bang of cupboards in the kitchen. Ah, Dean must have gone to the grocery store. It makes sense, since Castiel was running a little low on some things and they did say they would pay for their stay with food.

Still, the banging is annoying and he contemplates getting up to complain. But it stops after a short while. It’s not long before a tantalizing scent starts filtering into the room from the small gap under the door. Castiel’s mouth waters at the smell of bacon, and – is that sausages? His stomach gurgles and twists. Apparently the protein bar wasn’t enough to fill him up.

Thankfully, Sam knocks on his door not too much later. “Cas? Dean made a big brunch as thanks for letting us stay here. We would really like it if you would join us.”

For a moment, he does debate not answering, or at least refusing the request. But he’s hungry and it smells really good. Castiel doubts that he would be able to just sit here and smell it without getting to taste it. And – Well, they’re going to be staying here, right? Is he going to spend every day in his bedroom or office? He has to see them again at some point.

With a sigh, Castiel pushes himself up and sits on the edge of the bed. “I need to change and get ready first. I’ll join you shortly.”

“Great!” There’s a sharp noise, like Sam clapped his hands together. “We’ll wait for you.”

His footsteps pad away back down the hall. Castiel waits until he doesn’t hear anything outside his bedroom before he stands up. Without the house coat, he’s only wearing his pajama pants and boxers beneath them. He kicks them off into the dirty pile of laundry in the corner by the closet. It’s an excellent place to keep it because he can open the closet and get a change of clothes right away.

A low dresser sits inside the closet underneath his hanging shirts. He gets a new set of boxers and a pair of sweatpants from the dresser, putting them on before closing the drawers. From the hangers he takes out one of his larger un-altered t-shirts and tosses that onto the bed.

The closet doors are mirrored and he stares at himself in the reflection after closing it. He rolls his shoulders and stretches his arms above his head, watching the subtle shift of muscle. His stomach is softer around the belly button because he doesn’t work out in the basement nearly as often as he should. If he bothers to do anything, it’s just walking on the treadmill while reading a book.

He never would have been able to get away with ignoring the weights if his parents were still alive. They were firm believers that he needed to work his entire body – especially since he never went out and did anything (for good reason).

Castiel flexes his back and spreads his secret – his wings – out to get a good look at them. The feathers are an inky kind of black, but they’re dull from lack of upkeep and they’re short. He clips the longer feathers until they’re the same length as some of the shorter ones. Now his feathers barely reach past the small of his back. It makes them easier to hide under his coat when he goes outside.

If he could, he would have been rid of his wings a long time ago. The arches of his wings should be above his head all the time, however Castiel keeps them folded as tight as he can get them whenever he has to be around other people. He keeps the arches curved as flat against the backs of his shoulders as he can get them. If he keeps them like that for longer than a few hours, they start to cramp up and that can get fairly painful.

He has a custom binder that he made himself, courtesy of many sewing lessons from his mother, which he wears to keep his wings held down. The binder is usually reserved for when he leaves the house. When at home, Castiel prefers to spend his time either shirtless or simply wearing one of his modified shirts that has space to accommodate his wings. He does have some normal t-shirts in sizes that are far  too large for him, just so he can wear them over his wings when he goes out. It’s another layer for him to hide under and that’s how he likes it.

Unfortunately, now that Castiel has strangers in his house, he should probably wear the binder at home too. It’s hanging on a hook on the back of his bedroom door and he frowns at it. As useful as it is, he hates the damn thing. His wings always hurt after wearing it for too long, and it’s so tight that he always feels like it could squeeze the breath out of him – even though he can breathe just fine in it.

With a sigh, he pulls the binder off the hook and slips his arms through the loops. It takes some maneuvering to ensure his wings are folded as close to his back as he can make them under the binder. Once in place, he pulls it tight and buttons up the front of it. Next is the shirt. He’s not going to sit down and have brunch with strangers while naked from the waist up.

Now with his wings bound and a t-shirt covering them, Castiel feels more comfortable about leaving his house coat loose in the front. He still ties it, but it’s open enough that he doesn’t feel suffocated by wearing so many layers.

Castiel does consider wasting a few more minutes by trying to tame the rat’s nest that he calls hair, or even shaving. But the fact that Dean and Sam are both waiting for him to begin eating is just too much for his conscience to bear. For someone who doesn’t deal with other people often, Castiel is perhaps too nice of a person.

He finds the Winchesters waiting for him in the dining room. They’re seated next to each other on one side of the table, and a third plate is set out across from them. Castiel carefully takes his seat, his back to the kitchen. The table is big enough to seat six – two on each side and one on either end. It’s been a very long time since Castiel has had a need for the end chairs. They’ve been gathering dust in the storage area of the basement for years now.

The chairs themselves were chosen specifically because of his mutation. They’ve got surprisingly low backs compared to most dining chairs. If he didn’t have his wings bound, Castiel would have been able to lean against the back of the chair without it pressing into the joints of his wings. As they are right now, he has to stay seated forward slightly, and he hopes that the brothers don’t notice or don’t find it weird if they do.

But Dean is watching him. There’s a quick, calculating look in his eyes that sets Castiel’s feathers on edge. He has the feeling that Dean must suspect something about his mutation. Even if he does, Castiel has no intention of mentioning it. In fact, he acts like he doesn’t even notice and instead takes stock of the food before him.

All three of their plates are already piled high with scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausages, and at least two pancakes – Dean’s plate has four. Even more food is stacked on serving plates in the center of the table between them. It’s more than enough food for three people as far as Castiel can tell, and this might actually be a meal that satisfies him.

“You went grocery shopping.” It’s not a question. Castiel already assumed he had just by what he had heard, but the food proves it. He was running low on groceries and had plans to go with Anna tomorrow, and he definitely didn’t have sausages in his fridge – or chocolate milk!

“Damn right I did.” Dean nods and picks up his fork to cut out a large piece of his pancake. “Stocked your cupboards and everything.” He shoves the pancake into his mouth and continues talking with his cheek full, lips smeared with syrup. “Y’know, as part of our payment for letting us stay. No one can ever say a Winchester doesn’t pay their way.”

Sam rolls his eyes and the look he gives Castiel before he starts eating is one that speaks of a long suffering. Apparently Dean’s table manners have always been atrocious. The only comment Castiel has to make on it is to take one of the napkins from the holder that always sits in the middle of the table. He holds it out for Dean to take and gets a sheepish grin in return.

“You not hungry?” Dean gestures with the napkin at Castiel’s untouched plate before he wipes his mouth. “I make a mean flapjack, and I’m gonna be insulted if you don’t try it.”

Heat burns across the back of his neck and Castiel ducks his head. He murmurs a quiet thank you for the meal and moves on automatic; picking up the fork and knife to start meticulously cutting everything on his plate into manageable pieces.

Dean seems pacified by this and he turns his attention to Sam. “Did you get your laptop all set up?”

“Yeah, Cas gave me the Wi-Fi password.”

Dean swallows his mouthful and immediately eats half a sausage in one bite. “Great. Did you pull up the network, or did you waste time with catching up on all your subscriptions first?” Castiel glances up to find Sam pointedly not looking at his brother. Dean sighs. “You had one job, Sammy.”

“I got distracted, so sue me.” Sam wrinkles his nose and pretends to be very interested in his glass of chocolate milk.

There’s a carton of it on the table and Castiel can’t remember the last time he actually had some. He pours himself a glass and doesn’t miss the pleased grin Dean flashes him before he turns a frown back on Sam. There’s a very judging air around him while he chews the sausage and immediately moves on to a piece of bacon.

After a few moments of silence, Sam puts his milk down. There’s a thin layer of it along his top lip and he wipes it off with the back of his hand. “Oh my God, relax. I’ll check the network after we clean up the disaster you made in the kitchen.”

Castiel hadn’t even thought about the kitchen and he’s halfway out of his seat to go check on it when Dean scoffs loudly. “Excuse you! I clean while I cook and that kitchen is fucking spotless now that I’m done with it.” He gestures at the table with his fork. “This is the only mess to clean up.”

Thankfully he swallows his mouthful before facing Castiel again. “And, by the way, your kitchen is awesome. It’s been a long damn time since I got to cook in an actual kitchen.”

As he gestures with his fork, Castiel watches a little fleck of egg fly from it and land between them. Dean immediately grabs his napkin to wipe it up, talking the whole while. Apparently his table manners aren’t that bad. Chews like a pig, but is clean and meticulous otherwise. It’s an interesting juxtaposition and Castiel can’t believe that this is really his life. He’s actually observing strangers when he should be hiding in his office and calling his family, or the police.

Instead of doing any of that, Castiel swallows a piece of pancake and opens his mouth to ask more questions. “What network were you talking about?”

Sam smiles, small and pleased. “It’s the Hunter Network.”

Castiel briefly wonders if he is still attuned to his emotions. If so, can Sam tell that curiosity is winning out over his fear? Even so, Castiel still plans to hide after brunch. He has work to do and he’d rather be safe in his office while they rob him blind than not at all. Most of his really important things are in there anyway. And the emotionally important items… Well, those are the kind of things he doubts that they would take.

“Is that related to your bounty hunting job?”

“Yeah, it’s a kind of an intranet that we use to access jobs and see who’s doing what.”

Dean nods along as Sam explains. It brings up a million questions, and none of them Castiel thinks are appropriate to ask. He flicks through each of them before deciding on one. “And those are the jobs of mutants hunting mutants.”

“Well, not all the time.” Dean interjects, his plate almost empty by now and he seems to have slowed down. “Sometimes it’s just regular people being dicks and jumping their bail bonds. Or there’s someone the authorities are having trouble finding, so they hire us to sniff them out. All the jobs anyone wants goes into this network where hunters all across the country can access them.”

Sam picks up where Dean leaves off to finish the rest of the food on his plate. “Essentially, we log in to look through what jobs are available. If it’s one we like, we can claim it. Other hunters are able to see who takes what job, and they can even send messages through the network if they’ve got information on their mark or try and ask to trade the job for another. It’s pretty nice.”

Dean starts filling his plate again with seconds. “And then when you mark a job as completed, the folks who run the network notify whoever made the request. If it’s a good job, you get full pay. Otherwise they can dock it. Most of it is pretty automatic though. Payments are taken by the company that hosts network the moment the job is posted and usually get transferred within a few days of the job being completed to the hunter’s account.”

Castiel moves through his own plate a lot slower than either Winchester, but he’s never been one to gulp his food down. “It sounds like the whole system is set up to guarantee payment. A request can’t even be made unless they have the money to back it up.”

“Exactly!” Sam smiles brightly, though they both nod and seem clearly happy that not only is Castiel listening, but he’s actually understanding what they’re talking about. “It’s a nice way to keep in touch with hunter friends too. Everyone has a kind of profile you can go into to see what kind of jobs they’ve been taking. It’s a great way to keep track of who has settled down to work in one specific area, or who roam like Dean and I do. We’re actually using it to try and track our dad.”

Dean makes a choking noise in the midst of taking a large sip from his glass. He coughs and thumps himself on the chest a few times before shooting Sam a dirty look. “Dude.”

“What?” Sam raises an eyebrow, looking for all the world like he has no idea what’s going on. “Sorry, was that a no-go topic?”

“Well, duh.”

The way they stare each other down, Castiel can’t help but wonder if maybe Dean might secretly be a telepath. They seem to be having a conversation with merely their eyes, because Sam eventually lifts his hands in a gesture that is – well, it could be a dismissal, or in defense, or an apology. Castiel isn’t exactly an expert in reading the body language of strangers.

He does find it interesting, however, that Dean is against speaking about their dad. Yesterday they mentioned that they didn’t know where he was, and Castiel hadn’t asked about it then. Of course he isn’t going to ask now either – especially not with how Dean reacted. Even though he’s curious, what’s the point of knowing more information? If he’s lucky, the Winchesters will be gone within a day or two and he’ll hopefully never see them again.

A bit of a shiver makes his feathers tremble against the small of his back when he realizes that it’s very possible they might remember him. If they come back for the next anniversary of their mother’s death, they might try and stay with him again.

Oh God, why did he think of that? Now he’s going to be worrying about it all year. It’s not like moving is really an option for him. Not only is their job literally to find people, but Castiel isn’t willing to give up his home. This is the safest place for him. It’s a comfortable distance from town with no immediate neighbours and more than enough trees that he can go outside without worrying that someone might see his wings.

Aside from a few artful islands of grass, plants, and flowerbeds out front, the entire front lawn and up along the sides of the house) have been replaced with a gravel drive and paths. If he was in the backyard, Castiel would be able to hear an engine or the crunch of gravel long before anyone would be able to make it around to see him. And those are the exact reasons why he brings his overcoat outside with him even if he doesn’t plan to wear it. He’d rather have it with him in the eventuality that someone does randomly show up than to be caught without it and for someone to find out his secret.

Once Dean finishes glaring at his brother, he turns back to Castiel with an abrupt change of topic. “So, what’s your muta–?” Sam backhands him in the shoulder before he’s finished speaking. Dean frowns at him again. “What?”

“That’s rude.”

And also incredibly panic inducing. It had risen sharply enough in Castiel’s chest that he’s not even sure he can finish swallowing his last piece of bacon. Sam can probably feel that jagged anxiety even without having his ‘antenna on’.

Dean gestures with his fork again. “Well, he knows your powers. How come we can’t know his?”

Sam’s mouth twists slightly before he sighs. “It’s pretty hypocritical of you to ask about his powers when you haven’t even told him what yours are.” He crosses his arms and raises an eyebrow. “If you’re not willing to share too, then you shouldn’t be asking about it.”

There’s a tense moment between them before Dean’s lips press into a thin line. He looks back down at his food and returns to it with a subdued enthusiasm as opposed to his earlier vigor. The topic seems well and truly dropped, but Castiel has quite suddenly lost his appetite. There’s very little left on his plate – a forkful of eggs and a couple cubes of hash browns. He does finish off his chocolate milk, if only to wash down the lump currently trying to find a home for itself in the center of his throat.

Once the glass is empty, Castiel pushes his chair back from the table. “Thank you for cooking, Dean. The food was delicious.”

His head pops up again, any irritation gone in an instant. “Yeah, you liked it?” Dean sits up a little straighter and gestures to what food remains. “I can make lunch and supper too. If you’re cool with it, just leave all the cooking to me!”

“If that’s what you want.” Castiel doesn’t feel right asking him to do it, but he won’t stop him if that’s what Dean wants to do. Rarely does anyone else cook for him in his own home. He always takes care of his guests, and even Anna and his aunt don’t cook when they’re here.

To be fair, though, Castiel isn’t actually all that fond of cooking. Every recipe is always for more people and he’s just – well, he’s one person. He spends most meals alone, even though Anna comes over as often as she can. She does take home plenty of leftovers for her and her mom, but it’s not the same as having someone to sit down and eat every meal with.

Some of the serving plates on the table are mostly empty now. At some point between the bickering and the conversations, both Sam had also taken seconds. Castiel probably would have too, had he not eaten that protein bar earlier and if his nerves weren’t on a wild roller coaster ride. If Anna was here, the food wouldn’t have lasted very long. A high metabolism seems to be common for all mutants – or at least the ones he knows so far. It makes sense, given that their biology requires more energy and eats up a lot of calories to account for their powers. Granted, Castiel’s powers are mostly physical and there’s nothing really special to them. Not like Sam’s, or whatever Dean’s power is.

He stands and starts gathering up the empty dishes and amalgamating the mostly empty ones onto the same plate. Dean waves his hands and loudly swallows his current mouthful. “You don’t have to clean up, Cas. I’ll do it since I’m the one that made the mess.”

“I thought you didn’t make a mess.” Sam murmurs, not quite under his breath. It earns him a swift elbow to the side.

“It’s fine.” Castiel shakes his head and stacks the dishes. He quickly takes them to the kitchen and it’s easier to breathe once he’s in a different room.

Surprisingly, Dean was being truthful. He really did leave the kitchen quite clean. Loathe to mess that up, Castiel simply rinses the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. He winces when he glances at the clock and notes that it’s nearly half past eleven – nearly an hour past when he would have normally started work. Which means if he wants to get a full eight hours in, he’s going to be working into the evening – ugh.

Castiel quickly returns to his bedroom, now locking the door behind him by habit. He skips shaving like he usually would, but he washes his face, brushes his teeth and runs a comb through the tangles in his hair. Even though he works from home and often stays in his pajama bottoms all day, Castiel does like to make an effort to be presentable. It helps to keep a professional mindset, despite being on his own.

The key to his office is still in his pocket, so all he grabs is his cell phone before leaving. His bedroom and office both require the same key, and he locks his room behind him. The linen closet is between the office door and the guest room door. From it he gathers a spare set of sheets and pillow cases. He brings them to the living room and puts them on the couch so Dean can make his ‘bed’ later on if he wants.

“Hey, sweet. Thanks, Cas!” Dean calls out from where he’s still seated at the dining table with Sam.

“I will get you the spare blanket and pillows from the basement after I’m done work.” Castiel heads into the kitchen to fill a water bottle from the filtered jug he keeps in the fridge.

Sam enters the kitchen too, empty dishes in hand. “When will you be back from work? Dean, did you park in front of the garage?”

“I work from home.” He answers before Dean can. “And I don’t have a car. If you wanted to park yours in the garage, be my guest. The button to open the door is on the garage wall next to the door from the dining room. You can’t miss it.” With water bottle in hand, he turns to find both Dean and Sam now in the kitchen. “I’ll be in my office for the next four hours. I usually break for something to eat around then. If you need anything, please knock.”

Dean dumps his dishes in the sink before turning to rest his hip against it. “What do you do?”

“I’m a copy editor and transcriptionist, so you might need to knock hard and repeatedly if I don’t answer right away. A portion of my job requires that I listen to recordings and I might not hear you if I’ve got a playback going.”

“That sounds – uh – neat?” He doesn’t exactly sound sincere, but Castiel doesn’t mind. He knows that his job can sound boring to others – in particular to someone claiming to be something as exciting as a bounty hunter.

Castiel shrugs and gestures in the direction of the living room. “I have a smart TV, so feel free to use whatever is on it. There is Netflix, if you’d like, but I’d prefer if you would log me out and use your own account if you have one.”

“Yeah, of course.” Dean bobs his head in a nod, a grin already spreading. “Wouldn’t want your recommendations to start filling up with all my rom-coms.” He ends with a wink that Castiel chooses to ignore completely.

“Thank you.” He nods at them both and goes to leave the kitchen by the hall entry. “Enjoy your day.”

Sam calls out after him. “You too!”

Once his office door is locked securely behind him, Castiel breathes out heavily through his nose. He normally leaves the window open in his office to get as much sunlight and fresh air as possible, but today he lowers the blinds and closes the curtains. After making sure that no one would be able to peek in from outside, he takes off his house coat and hangs it on the hook on the back of the door. He fumbles enough of his shirt off so that he can also remove the binding and he instantly feels better with his wings now able to stretch free.

He’ll have to bind them again when he goes in search of lunch, but at least in the safety of his office he can relax. In a matter of hours his life has turned upside down, but he’s not reeling from it nearly as much as he would expect to be. Maybe it will hit him harder later? Or tomorrow when he wakes up to find them here again? Castiel isn’t sure, but seriously what the hell is his life right now?

With cellphone in hand, he slumps into his low-backed office chair. The computer’s tower sits on the left side of his corner desk and he holds down until it starts to hum. While it powers up, he quickly sends a text to Anna.


 

I don’t think I’m feeling up to a visit today.
Read 11:42am

You were off all night yesterday. Is everything okay?

Everything is fine. I’m just not feeling well.

We can postpone grocery shopping another week too.

I’ll let you know when I’m feeling better.
Read 11:45am

Are you sure?

Do you have enough food to last until next week?

Yes, I’ll be fine.

There’s plenty of canned soup to live off of.
Read 11:47am

Okay… Keep me posted!

I won’t tell mom about this.

Otherwise she’d be over with that godawful chicken soup of hers in a hot second!

She only does it because she cares.
Read 11:51am

But it’s soooooooo gross!


 

Castiel huffs the closest thing he can to a laugh and sets his phone aside. He swivels his chair around to look at his white board and see what needs to be done today, desperate for something to distract him from the noises in the kitchen and dining room.

It seems the first thing on his list today is editing. Ugh. And of course the manuscript is due next week while he still has about a third of it left to go. He might as well work on that and try to finish it all today. Castiel firmly believes in getting things done ahead of deadlines – just in case something might come up. His whole morning simply proves his ideology in that regard.

His work station has two monitors and a lovely picture of a nebula spreads across both of them. Unfortunately, he has to cover it up with the programs he needs. On one screen he starts opening the files needed for the manuscript, and on the other he opens his email. Aside from general spam, which he deletes quickly, there is a notice from one of his usual clients about a medical recording that needs transcribing. Those usually need to be done as soon as possible.

He adds a note about it to the whiteboard and places a sticky-note on the edge of one of his monitors to remind him to work on it later today. Right now, as much as he doesn’t want to continue editing the drivel that amounts to his current manuscript, Castiel would rather be able to hear. That way he can keep an ear out for if Dean or Sam start getting up to no good. Currently, all he can hear is subdued murmuring and the occasional thump as they clean up.

Since they just ate brunch, Castiel has his doubts that Dean will make anything for lunch. In four hours – for which he sets a timer to remind him to take a break – maybe he’ll go out and make a sandwich. All he needs is a little snack to tide him over until his usual late dinner time.

If he really doesn’t want to go back outside to face them, then Castiel has plenty of snacks in here that he could eat. One of the desk drawers is full of individual baggies of chips, Oreos, and what not, and those should be enough to get him through several days – not that he plans to sequester himself in here for that long.

As he gets starting on editing, Castiel can’t help but wonder about what they’ll be having for supper. Credit where credit is due – Dean is one hell of a cook if brunch is a good example of his skills. In fact, Castiel might even be looking forward to it.

But only a little bit.

Chapter Text

Saturday – November 4th, 2017

With a quiet groan, Castiel rolls onto his stomach and pushes himself onto his hands and knees. He stretches like a cat, curving his back first up and then down until the muscles in his arms and thighs tremble. His wings arch upwards, feathers spreading until they shake just like the rest of him. With a satisfied sound in the back of his throat, he collapses to the bed again and muffles a jaw-cracking yawn into the pillow.

Despite having turned in much earlier than he normally would have, Castiel still feels so tired. He took forever to fall asleep and then he must have had some kind of fever dream, because no way did he actually allow two strangers to stay in his home. But then why is he awake? Castiel lifts his head and squints at the barely illuminated tabs of his alarm clock. It’s still an hour before his alarm is supposed to go off. He rarely ever wakes up before his alarm unless something else woke him.

The sound of a door closing out in the hallway clues him in that yesterday was not a dream. Castiel groans and drops his face back into the pillow. After a moment of silence, the toilet flushes and the pipes rumble with water. Of course he’s not used to hearing someone else using the bathroom or moving around the house while he’s sleeping, so of course that would wake him. Not only did he allow strangers to stay in his home, but they’re morning people.

Ugh.

He pulls the pillow over his head and tries not to think about how terrible today is going to be. Obviously Dean and Sam are still here. Worse yet, they’re here and it’s a Saturday – which means that Castiel doesn’t work today. It’s supposed to be his day off and he doesn’t really want to work, but then what else is he going to do?

If he doesn’t hide from them in his office, then the only other option would be hiding from them in his bedroom. Perhaps he could go outside? But what would he do out there? It’s been steadily getting colder since the middle of October, and Castiel already turned the gardens down for the winter. And it’s not like he has some kind of workshop or something in the garage to keep him busy. That’s mostly just empty space that only gets filled when Aunt Amara parks her car there.

And then part of Castiel feels bad for avoiding his guests. They must know that he’s been hiding from them. He took the sandwich Dean made him for lunch and ate it in his office yesterday afternoon, and dinner was ready for him when he finished work. Kraft dinner mac & cheese with grilled cheese sandwiches was a simple fare compared to their massive breakfast, but it was certainly satisfying. But after eating, and a quick clean, Castiel had retired straight to his bedroom.

He had tried to read himself to sleep, but he could hardly focus on his book because the house wasn’t quiet. Castiel is used to silence, but the brothers were watching TV together after eating. It wasn’t very loud and Castiel couldn’t even tell what they were watching, but there was still noise where there shouldn’t be. Sometimes he’ll have the radio playing as something to listen to while he’s cooking or while he’s doing chores, but it’s never playing when he’s in his bedroom.

In all honesty, Castiel half expected not to make it through the night. If he hadn’t just heard one of the brothers using the bathroom, he would already assume that he would find his house empty of all his valuables once leaving his room. Granted, his sensitivity to the sounds of other people moving around his house probably would have woken him up if they had started stealing from him in the middle of the night – but the paranoia is still there.

Strangely, though, he did manage to get some sleep. When he went to bed last night, he fully expected to spend the entire night staring at the wall and imagining the various ways they might try to kill him. But after hearing Sam retire to the guest room, and the living room go quiet, Castiel must have felt safe enough to fall asleep at some point. Either that or mental exhaustion decided he didn’t get a say.

But he’s alive, the Winchesters are still here, and Castiel is faced with another day of them.

It’s not long after the bathroom goes quiet with the smell of fresh brewed coffee sneaks under his door. He groans again before forcing himself to get out of bed. How can he deny himself the bitter nectar of the Gods?

After a quick clean up in the bathroom, he binds his wings and wraps himself in his housecoat. His coffee maker is so old that there isn’t a timer function on it, so one of the brothers must have started it himself. Castiel could certainly afford a new one, but he’s – Well, the correct term is frugal. This one works just fine, so why should he get a better one that could have coffee ready for when he wakes up?

Unsurprisingly, Castiel finds Dean standing at the counter next to the stove. He’s wearing a hoodie and sweatpants while swinging his hips and humming to himself. It’s a tune that Castiel doesn’t recognize, but he watches him dance until Dean turns around. There’s a block of cheese in his hand that he’s trying to fit into a Ziploc baggie.

Dean jumps in surprise and almost drops the cheese when he sees him in the doorway. He brings a hand up to his heart briefly before pulling his earbuds out. “Holy shit, Cas. You scared the crap outta me.” He grins and continues to put the cheese away in the fridge. “Excellent timing, though. The coffee will be ready in a minute and today is omelette day. What d’you want in yours?”

Before Castiel can even think to answer, Dean tosses the cheese into the special slot on the fridge door and turns with a flourish to the bowls he has lined up next to the stove. “I’ve got bacon, I've got ham, I've got peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese, and whatever else your heart desires!”

“Do you always go all out for breakfast?”

“Only when I’m trying to impress someone.” Dean winks at him again and returns to the stove. “Why? Is it working?”

Castiel rolls his eyes and goes to the cupboard to pull two mugs out. He ignores the question entirely and hesitates at getting a third mug. “Will Sam be having any coffee?” The guest room door had been open when he left his bedroom, and he didn’t see Sam in the bathroom.

“Probably when he gets back.” Dean shrugs and dumps some oil into the pan while it heats up. “He’s a weirdo and he’s out jogging right now. Y’know, like a weirdo.”

“In this weather?” Castiel can see that half the backyard is shrouded in fog and his phone was showing forty-four degrees when he checked it while getting ready. “Isn’t it too cold?”

Dean snorts a laugh as he cracks a couple eggs into a bowl to start whisking them. “That doesn’t bother him. He’s full Elsa when he’s out there.”

“He’s what?”

“The cold doesn’t bother him anyway.” He looks over his shoulder and raises his eyebrow at Castiel, as if surprised that he doesn’t understand.

It still takes a moment for the Disney’s Frozen reference to actually click. In Castiel’s defense, he hasn’t had his coffee yet. The moment the pot is finished brewing, he starts pouring a mug for himself and for Dean. “I see. If he would like to spare himself the outdoors, I do have a home gym in the basement. The heated basement.”

Castiel is not a fan of the cold. It’s forty-four degrees out and he has thick socks on inside his slippers. Despite all the feathers and down that his wings have, they are also somewhat sensitive to the cold during the winter. He often covers them with a blanket when he’s working; no stranger to the feeling of having fabric over them – even if it isn’t the most comfortable. It’s still better than being cold.

He turns around with the mug between his hands, warming his fingers, just in time to catch Dean giving him a quick up-and-down glance over his shoulder. Dean shrugs and sprinkles a few of the ingredients and seasonings into the whisked egg. “I guess if you’re a hermit you’d at least want to be a hermit who gets some exercise, huh?”

“I had to have a Physical Education class somehow. Playing outside didn’t qualify, according to my parents.” Castiel shrugs and takes a sip before frowning at his coffee. He forgot the cream and sugar.

“Sorry, what?” Dean turns around with his whisk in hand, but Castiel ignores him in favour of making his coffee perfect so he can drink nirvana. “Were you home-schooled?”

The next sip is perfection and he sighs into it. He hums a short, content sound and leans a hip against the counter. When Castiel realizes that Dean is still waiting for an answer, he nods and continues to take small sips.

“Man, no wonder you’re so weird.” Dean shakes his head and turns back to mixing the omelette.

Now that’s just uncalled for. Castiel is aware that he can be a little weird sometimes, but he doesn’t think any of that has to do with his homeschooling. “Excuse me?”

Dean uses the whisk to gesture at him, miraculously not spraying egg or bits of ingredients all over the kitchen. “You’re not good with people, are you? You keep acting like Sam and I are going to eat you in your sleep or something.”

Castiel frowns and forces his wings not to bristle under his housecoat at the (only a little bit accurate) assumption. “You’re two strangers who invited yourself to live in my home. How am I not supposed to be nervous about that?”

“We totally offered you the chance to say ‘no’.” He shrugs and pours his omelette bowl into the pan, grinning as it starts sizzling immediately. “We wouldn’t have stayed without your consent. And we’ll leave right now if you tell us to go.”

While that might be the truth, Castiel still frowns at his back. “But you know I’m a mutant. You could have reported me if I turned you away yesterday.”

“And we still could even after we leave, whenever that is.” Dean shrugs and starts whisking another set of eggs in the bowl. “If anything, we should be the ones worried that you’re going to murder us to keep your secret safe.”

The thought hadn’t even crossed his mind. “I wouldn’t –”

“You wouldn’t and neither would we.” Dean nods solemnly, as if that settles the matter. “And even if you were thinking about it, Sammy would have picked up on that already. If you do get any weird ideas, I figure you should be aware that we’re both really good with weapons and hand to hand combat. Trained by the best of the best and all that.”

That makes sense, given the nature of their jobs. Castiel hadn’t really thought about all that when he learned about their jobs and their tranquilizer guns. They use weapons! It’s entirely possible that they have actual bullets and real guns and –

His thoughts must be showing on his face, because Dean sets his bowl aside and crosses the kitchen to pat him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, Cas. We didn’t bring any of that inside. It’s all still in the trunk of my baby and you’re welcome to check our bags if you want to be sure about it.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” Castiel steps out of the way for Dean to make his own cup of coffee. He makes a face when Dean just picks it up as is – no cream, sugar, milk or anything to make it not taste horrible – and returns to the stove to drink it black.

Any further conversation is interrupted by the sound of the front door opening. A few moments later, Sam is walking into the kitchen bundled up in a mismatched sweat suit and a headband. He smiles brightly when he sees him. “Good morning!”

“Hey, Sammy!” Dean calls over his shoulder while he flips the omelette. “Cas says there’s a home gym in the basement.”

“Really?” He steps up next to Castiel to start pouring his own coffee. Like a civilized person, he adds a bit of cream. “That’s awesome. Would you mind if we use it?”

Castiel shakes his head and makes a vague wave towards the stairs. “As long as you stay out of the storage room for anything other than your laundry, you’re welcome to use the gym.”

“Great, thanks.” Sam takes a quick sip of his coffee before downing almost all of it in a few quick gulps. Apparently heat doesn’t bother him either. “Does anyone mind if I take a quick shower before breakfast?” He glances at Castiel. “Do you want to use it first?”

“Be my guest.” Castiel takes another step out of the way so he’s standing in the corner and giving Sam plenty of room to get out of the kitchen. “I’ll likely take a bath after breakfast.”

With one last quick smile and thank you, Sam heads off to his bedroom before hitting the bathroom. It leaves Castiel alone with Dean again. For a brief moment he feels just a little bad about not having helped with preparations for breakfast. He could have diced some of the ingredients Dean has set aside for the omelette – some of which he’s adding now. But then he remembers that this is how they’re paying their rent and he doesn’t need to help them.

“Are you going to spend the whole day in your office again?”

He had been expecting the question at some point this morning, but he’s still not ready to think about what he’s going to be doing all day. “I don’t know. It’s the weekend.”

“So?” Dean glances over his shoulder briefly before returning to focusing on cooking. “Don’t you make your own hours? Oh, could you bring me a couple plates?”

Castiel puts his coffee down to grab three plates from the cupboard. “I do, but I like to keep semi-regular business hours.” He places the plates next to Dean before quickly retreating to the other side of the kitchen again. “I usually work at least eight hours per week day and take the weekend off. But sometimes I do more since I get paid per minute of recording that I transcribe, or by the number of words that I edit. I don’t get paid by the number of hours I work.”

“Wow, that doesn’t sound very fair.” Dean throws a frown over his shoulder before sliding the omelette off the pan and onto one of the waiting plates. He immediately puts it into the microwave to keep it warm. “Why can’t you just track the hours that you work and then submit those?”

That’s a very good question, and not one that Castiel can answer. He’s never thought to ask his employers why they pay that way. “It is a bit skewed, I suppose, but there’s a reason I have two incomes. They both pay alright in their own regard, as long as I get the work done. And I never take on more than I’m able to do.”

Dean hums thoughtfully while he adds ingredients to his whisked eggs again. “Whatever floats your boat, buddy. I know I’d go crazy being stuck in an office all day every day.”

“It’s better than being registered.” Though maybe he shouldn’t be saying that to someone who is a registered mutant. But if anyone could understand what he means by that, it would be Dean.

Sure enough, he snorts and nods in agreement. “I’ll drink to that.”

“It’s barely past nine o’clock.” Castiel glances at the clock shaped like an apple with a bee swinging beneath it mounted above the window. It’s almost a quarter after. “You’re not seriously drinking already, are you?” He hadn’t seen him add anything to his coffee, and what would be the point anyway? Dean has already said that he can’t get drunk.

“It’s five o’clock somewhere, isn’t it?” Dean laughs, taking on a bit of a tune to his words.

Castiel is familiar with the song and he still shakes his head at it. “Yes, in Finland.”

“Seriously? That’s awesome. ” Dean laughs again and dumps the eggs into the pan to start omelette number two. “I’m just joking, Cas. I like the sauce as much as the next guy, but I don’t start drinking this early unless I’ve had a really bad hunt. Not that it does me any good anyway.”

Now that his own coffee has been emptied, Castiel abandons the safety of his mug to ease up next to Dean and look at the ingredients he has available. “What constitutes a bad hunt?”

“Anything that ends with me using my powers and a visit to the hospital.”

The hoodie covers a lot of Dean’s scarring, but not the ones on his face or the white scarring on his hands. Castiel lingers on them a moment. “Did you get your scars from bad hunts?”

Dean shrugs and grabs a handful of cheese from a plate to throw into the pan. “Some of them.”

An unpleasant thought occurs then. He probably shouldn’t ask, but the question is already off his tongue before he can stop it. “Is scarring like yours common for a registered? My cousin hasn’t had it easy, but she’s never been attacked.” Castiel pauses, now feeling worse for prying in the same way that he didn’t like how Dean was prying yesterday. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”

“It’s fine.” Dean doesn’t take his eyes off the pan, but he does wave his free hand in the air between them. “And no, scars like mine are definitely not common. Normies might not like us, but a lot of them won’t mess with a mutant – especially when they have no fucking clue what we’re capable of.”

That piques Castiel curiosity more than he cares to admit. Part of him wants to know more about Dean’s scars and how extensive they might be, but he bites his tongue instead. He moves a few of the bowls of diced ingredients, separating out the onions and mushrooms.

The rest he moves closer to the pan. “These for me, please.”

“Your wish is my command.” Dean lifts his head just enough to wink at him. When all Castiel does is blink at him in return, he sighs. “Man, your reactions suck.”

“I’m so sorry to disappoint you.” He keeps his voice as flat as possible, if only so it might discourage any further flirting. That uncomfortable bubble is back under his ribs, because how is he supposed to react to it? Should he ask him point blank to stop? Or is that just a part of Dean’s personality? There are certainly people out there who are just natural flirts. He’s not one of them, but he knows they exist.

To his surprise, Dean actually sticks his tongue out at him. In a fit of impulsiveness, Castiel responds in kind before turning away to get the utensils. A startled laugh follows him out of the kitchen as he goes to set the table. Once in the other room, he takes a moment to himself to breathe. While a bundle of nerves still vibrates somewhere in his chest, it’s not nearly as bad as yesterday. The more he talks with them, the less he finds himself afraid of them.

With the shower running down the hall, and Dean cooking in the kitchen, Castiel isn’t quite comfortable but he’s not entirely uncomfortable. It’s a strange place to be and he isn’t quite sure how to handle it. He still plans to hide from them, but maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if he didn’t? They are – for lack of a better word – interesting. Castiel has a lot of questions, and he is fairly curious, but what’s the point? He’ll learn about them and then they’ll leave and then – What?

Castiel mulls it all over as he continues to set the table. He sets out glasses and the chocolate milk, and the rest of the coffee pot on a trivet. Dean is almost finished with all three omelettes, but Castiel still pauses at the toaster and the bread next to it. “Are we having toast too?”

“Yeah, definitely.” Dean waves a hand at the pantry in the far corner. “I bought Nutella too!”

That almost puts a smile on his face – almost, but Castiel is loath to show that he likes something that either of the Winchesters has done. It has been a long time since he last treated himself to something like Nutella and now he’s looking forward to breakfast even more than he was just from the delicious smell of the omelettes.

He pops four slices of bread into the toaster and while they cook at a lightly toasted setting, because anything darker is pure sacrilege, Castiel sets out to gather all the multiple toast topping options that he has. With the new jar of Nutella, he also digs his aging jar of peanut-butter (crunchy, obviously) out of the cupboard. In the fridge, right next to the margarine, he also finds a jar of strawberry jam that was definitely not there yesterday morning.

“You really did buy everything, didn’t you?”

“Well, Cas, never let the record state anything about me not being a man who knows what he wants.”

Castiel straightens up with the jam in his hand and he turns to find Dean watching him from over his shoulder again. He can only see half of his small smile from this angle and it is just baffling. Dean is clearly flirting with him, but why? It has to be purely physical. They only just met the other day and they hardly know anything about each other.

Since he has no idea how to respond, Castiel simply stares at him with a confused frown.  After a few moments, Dean sighs and turns back to his omelettes. That must have, once again, not been the reaction that he was hoping for. Good. Castiel has enough trouble dealing with the fact that there are strangers in his house, let alone having to deal with flirting too.

But what if Dean wasn’t trying to flirt with him? The small, panicked voice in the back of his mind speaks up by kindling a fire beneath his anxiety. His back was to Dean while he was checking the fridge. What if he was looking at Castiel’s back? What if he was trying to see his wings through his housecoat? What if part of his powers is the ability to see through objects?

The ‘what if’s keep pouring in and they’re taking up every available space in his mind. Castiel’s walk to the dining room to set out his toast toppings is stilted. Hopefully Dean doesn’t notice – or if he does, at least he doesn't mention it.

He sets out the spreads and steps over to the large window that looks out onto the deck and the backyard. The window goes from floor to ceiling and, despite the morning fog, it lets in more than enough natural light for the dining room. Castiel leans his forehead against the cool glass and practices his breathing exercises – counting each deep breath until the rapid beat of his heart has calmed down to something manageable again.

The worries are still dancing along the edge of his mind, but he distracts himself from them by thinking about what he’ll do after breakfast. He’ll take his bath and maybe just retire to his bedroom to read afterwards. Or he can take his tablet in with him and watch Netflix. Clearly he’s not ready to spend more time around the Winchesters if just the idea that Dean might have been looking at his back was enough to kick start the beginnings of a panic attack.

It’s easier when he’s talking with them. The conversations distract him from thinking too much. That’s always been his problem. Castiel thinks and never acts. If it wasn’t for his parents, he probably would have debated with himself about applying for his current jobs but never actually applied. His mother was the one who sat him down and helped him compose his resume. And his father was the one who coached him for the phone interview.

Now that his parents are gone, it’s Anna and his Aunt who make him decide when he’s dithering on choices. Anna forces him to go grocery shopping and leave the protective bubble of his home, even when he doesn’t want to. He really appreciates that she makes him push his boundaries, because he doesn’t want to be scared of everyone and everything.

Castiel doesn’t want to be like this anymore.

Any further hateful self-reflection is interrupted by a freshly showered Sam helping Dean bring the plates of omelettes and the forgotten toast into the dining room. Castiel ducks back into the kitchen to put a few extra slices in the toaster. He has the feeling that they’ll each want at least two pieces.

They all get seated, taking the same positions at the table as they had yesterday. Sam is the first to speak while Dean slathers his toast in Nutella. “Do you have any big plans for the day, Cas?”

“Not really.” He shrugs and starts with cutting up his omelette. When it comes to eggs, he prefers eating them on toast and they need to be in a manageable size for that.

Dean has a full mouth of toast and egg when he points towards the stairs. “Would it be okay for me to check out the basement after?”

“As long as you don’t touch what you’re not supposed to.” Castiel shrugs again and only continues speaking after he swallows his bite, like a person with manners. “There is an extra bathroom downstairs that you can use, and the laundry machines, and the gym. The laundry room is technically also the storage room, but it’s only the boxes that are off limits.”

“Just like asking about your powers, huh?”

Again, Sam backhands him in the shoulder, this time without even looking up from his meal. “Dean.”

“Aw, c’mon, Sammy!” His bottom lip sticks out in a pout for a half second before he’s reaching out to snag the pepper to coat his eggs with it. “You can’t tell me that you’re not curious too.”

“I didn’t say that.” Sam shakes his head. He gives Castiel a reassuring smile before turning a glare on his brother. “But the least you could do is respect Cas’s desire to keep his powers to himself.”

Dean reaches for the ketchup next – something he must have brought from the kitchen himself, because Castiel didn’t put it out. “I do, but –”

“No.” Sam holds up one finger and Dean’s jaw snaps shut.

They stare at each other again for a short moment, and again Castiel can’t help but wonder if they share some kind of telepathic connection that he isn’t aware of. Unlike Dean, however, he’s not going to ask about it. People, even mutants, are entitled to their own secrets.

But instead of dropping it like he did yesterday, Dean turns back to Castiel sharply. “Do your powers have anything to do with your hunch?”

The ensuing wave of self-consciousness almost makes him choke on his mouthful. Castiel coughs into his napkin before he can swallow his mouthful. He straightens his shoulder, consciously trying to flatten his wings more underneath the binder. “I do not have a hunch.”

Dean opens his mouth again but a strangled noise of pain leaves him instead of words. It likely has something to do with the sudden – and loud – thump from underneath the table. He leans forward, swearing profusely under his breath as he nearly puts his nose into the ketchup zig-zagged over his omelette. Sam seems unchanged as he continues to serenely pick his own breakfast apart to stack on toast – in the same way that Castiel does.

“You suck.” Dean hisses when he sits upright again, turning a glare on his brother.

Sam shrugs and gestures at Dean’s plate with his toast. “Stop bothering him. Just eat your breakfast before he calls the cops on us.”

“He wouldn’t do that.”

Castiel raises an eyebrow at the conviction in his voice. Dean knows almost nothing about him. He should call the police just to challenge his assumptions. Of course he won’t, but it would be so satisfying. Still, he sniffs and looks down at his half-eaten plate. “I just might.”

“You wouldn’t.” Dean shakes his head and points with his fork. “Because you like us.”

“I think the reason he wouldn’t call the cops is so he doesn’t risk outing himself as unregistered.”

Dean groans and throws both hands in the air. “Let a man dream, Sammy. God!” He gives him another dirty look. “Is that too much to ask?”

That sets off another hushed conversation that sounds mostly like bickering. Castiel listens with only half an ear while he focuses on his breakfast. They’re trying to keep their voices down while they argue, but it’s still rather loud – at least to him. And he can’t remember the last time his house was this noisy. Even Anna and his aunt aren’t this loud or boisterous whenever they come over.

Castiel can’t decide if he hates it, or kind of likes it? The noise is annoying, but it’s refreshing. But only if he overlooks the part where, in a roundabout way, they’re kind of blackmailing him into letting them stay. On the bright side, at least the food is good – though he could do without all the speculations regarding his mutation.


After breakfast, Castiel is banned from helping clean up. Dean shoos him off to the bathroom after insisting that they’ll take care of any housework as thanks for letting them stay. Any argument was met with more shoo-ing and eventually ended with Castiel relaxing in a hot bath while the radio was playing in the kitchen. He could even hear Dean singing along, occasionally off-key but not that bad.

Once his bath was done, Castiel decided it best to hide out in his bedroom. The bed is a far cry more comfortable than his office chair, and he has a stack of new books on the side table that he’s been wanting to get through. Reading is reserved for weekends when he can devote whole hours to them without worrying about having to do anything more than a couple chores.

He spreads out on his bed with a pillow propped up under his chest and a book in hand. It’s not as hard to focus on reading as he thought it would be. There are still moments when the sound of other people moving around the house, or the occasional laugh from either of the brothers, distracts him for a moment. But then he shakes himself out and forces himself to keep reading.

By the time lunch comes around, he’s gotten surprisingly good at ignoring the extra noise. Right up until there’s a knock at his door that pulls him out of the fantasy realm he was deeply immersed in.

“Cas?” Dean knocks again. “I brought you lunch.”

According to the clock, it’s nearly half past twelve o’clock. Castiel hadn’t realized so much time had passed. Maybe he can read his way through the day without having to deal with either Winchester outside of meal times.

“One moment.” He marks his place in the book before he heaves himself out of bed. With his wings folded flat under the housecoat again, Castiel opens the door to find Dean holding a plate with a handful of plain chips filling one side, and a – “Is that a Sloppy Joe?”

“Man-wich, time!” Dean grins and holds it out. “A filling lunch as an apology for breakfast.” He ducks his head slightly, adopting an apologetic smile. “I know you’re still – uh – adjusting to us and I shouldn’t have pressed about your powers. Sorry.”

Castiel accepts the plate with a nod. “You are an acquired taste, I’ll give you that.”

There’s a brief moment of silence where Dean blinks at him. Then he snorts and then dissolves into a throaty laugh that makes Castiel’s feathers shiver under his housecoat. It takes him a moment to calm down and he waves his hands. “Sorry, sorry, but did you just try and make a joke?”

Actually, no he wasn’t, but Dean’s laugh is surprisingly nice when it’s not interrupting a quiet moment in a cemetery. Castiel raises his eyebrow and just barely manages to keep himself from smiling too. “Well, I do have a sense of humour.”

“Could’a fooled me.” Dean chuckles and shakes his head. “I was beginning to worry that you were all good looks and no pizzaz –” At this he does jazz hands and winks. “– to back it all up.”

There’s the confirmation Castiel didn’t even need to know that Dean finds him attractive. He suppresses the urge to roll his eyes. Instead, he fixes Dean with a flat look until the moment is well and truly passed.

Dean sighs and shakes his head. “Never mind.” He takes a backwards step towards the living room and jerks his thumb over his shoulder. “If you’re interested, Sammy and I just queued up Friends on Netflix. You’re welcome to come watch with us, and you won’t even have to share the couch. I can definitely get Sam to give up that awesome recliner. Seriously, he might cry when we leave just because of that chair.”

Castiel looks down at his food and then takes a half step turn back to look at his bed. His book lies abandoned next to the pillow. Though he could most likely spend the whole day in here, he would rather not. What could it hurt to just watch one episode while he eats? He would be less likely to make a mess of his bedspread by not eating in here.

“Okay.” He shrugs and gestures for Dean to lead the way. “I suppose I can do one episode.”

Although that’s what he says, Castiel ends up watching almost four and a half episodes. He’s always been a sucker for Friends. It was one of his parents’ favourite TV shows and they loved when channels would marathon episodes of it. Castiel has seen every episode, but the nostalgia of watching them over and over again is just too much to resist – especially as Dean and Sam have a running commentary that is, in all honesty, pretty funny.

Surprisingly, Castiel is actually enjoying himself – right up until someone knocks at the front door a moment before opening it. There are only two other people who have a key to that door and, sure enough, Anna calls out a moment later. “Cas? Why is there a car outside?”

Castiel is on his feet and at the top of the stairs in a heartbeat. “Anna!”

Didn’t he tell her not to come over this weekend? Why didn’t she text him that she was on her way over? She always texts him, and – Oh, right. He left his phone in the bedroom and he usually keeps the ringer volume on quiet when he’s not working. If it’s on quiet, he can’t hear it while he’s transcribing.

Anna stands at the bottom of the stairs with her hands on her hips. “You don’t look very sick.”

“I –” He has no idea how he’s going to explain this to her without having her come into the house and actually meet the Winchesters.

Dean saves (if he should even call it that) him from having to figure that out. “Well, hello.” He drops a hand on Castiel’s shoulder as he steps up next to him. “Cas, you didn’t tell us an angel would be visiting. I would’ve cleaned up more if I’d known.”

“No, absolutely not.” Castiel barely likes it when Dean flirts with him, but he will not tolerate him flirting with Anna. He shoves Dean back a step and points around the corner. “Go back to the living room.”

“What. The. Hell.” In between words, Anna’s voice moves from the bottom of the stairs to the top. Dean gives a fairly girlish shriek of surprise and he jumps back into Sam as Anna suddenly appears in front of him. She looks between Dean and Sam a few times before turning on Castiel and gesturing wildly at the others. “Since when do you have friends?!”

He’s sure that she doesn’t mean it the way it sounds, but Castiel still flinches slightly at the words. Anna either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care, because she jabs him in the chest with an unfairly pointed finger. “And you were hiding them! Why were you hiding them from –”

She stops suddenly and goes unnaturally still. Slowly, Anna turns and looks at Dean and Sam again, looking them up and down before making a soft ‘oh’ noise. Without another word, she blinks away and Castiel doesn’t have a clue where she went. He does hear a distant and muffled ‘oh my God!’ from outside, but she’s back in the house before he can check on it – only this time she blinks into the living room behind the Winchesters.

“You were the two at the graveyard the other day!” She points at them before gesturing out the window. “That’s your car out there!”

“Aw, Cas.” Dean looks back at him with a slanted smile. “You talked about us?”

“No, he didn’t.” Anna crosses her arms and turns a chilling glare on Castiel. “You’ve been keeping secrets from me. I can’t believe you would keep secrets from me!”

This is too much. Castiel is still coming to terms with having the Winchesters here and now he has to deal with Anna throwing a tantrum. If he didn’t absolutely believe that she should not be left alone with strangers in his own home, no matter how comfortable he’s slowly becoming with them, he would have already retreated to his bedroom. This whole situation is quickly becoming a headache that he doesn’t want to deal with.

Instead, Castiel just pinches his nose and sighs. “Anna, I told you I would text you when you could come over next.”

“And you also said that you weren’t feeling good.” She huffs and narrows her eyes at him. “But you turn into a giant man-baby when you’re sick and whine at me all the time. When I didn’t get a single message from you about your throat or your sinuses or your headaches, I figured something might be wrong. I blink all the way out here just to find out that you’ve gone and made friends.”

She throws her hands in the air and points accusingly at him. “How many other friends do you have that you haven’t told me about, huh? Does Mom know? If Mom knows and I don’t, I’m going to be pissed.”

Castiel rolls his eyes and ignores the sting from her words. “No, Anna, I don’t have any other friends.”

“Seriously?” Dean turns to him again and this time there’s pity in his eyes.

He hates that look immediately and looks away from all of them. “Do people I’ve never met in person count as friends?”

“Uh –?”

Sam clears his throat and nudges Dean in the shoulder. “I think he’s talking about people on the internet.”

“Oh!” Dean shrugs and makes a vague gesture with one hand. “I guess they count? There are lots of people out there who make really great friends online without having met them first.”

“Does it still count if I have no plans on ever meeting them in person?” Castiel crosses his arms to avoid hugging himself in front of all of them. “They’re friends in that we simply occupy the same message boards or servers on occasion.” There are at least a handful of different groups that he’ll play with if everyone is online at the same time, most of which also frequent message boards about the games themselves where they argue or share tips and tricks.

Dean frowns again. “Wow, that’s kinda –”

“If you dare pity me again, I swear I will kick you out this instant.” He drops his voice into a dangerous hiss. It doesn’t matter if anyone else can hear him or not, but Dean keeps looking at him with sad eyes and Castiel can’t stand it. If it wasn’t for Anna, he would have already run from that look.

Thankfully, Dean mimes zipping his lips closed instead of saying anything further. The exchange must be interesting, because Anna looks more intrigued than angry now. She glances between the three of them a few times before striding forward. Castiel doesn’t have it in him to argue or resist as she grabs him by the arm and drags him into the kitchen.

Once alone, she cups a hand around her mouth and leans in to whisper into his ear. “Do they know?”

Bless her for her attempted secrecy, as unnecessary as it might be. “Yes, they’re aware that I’m a mutant.” Castiel does nothing to maintain the whisper, speaking at normal volume. “So are they.”

Dean leans around the doorway with the collar of his shirt pulled down, revealing the mangled remains of his tattoo. “Registered and everything!”

Sam leans too and waves. “And I’m unregistered.”

Anna sucks in a sharp breath just as Dean glances back to glare at Sam. She covers her mouth with her hands briefly be gesturing sharply at him. “Why would you tell someone that you’re unregistered?”

“I trust Cas not to turn me in.” He shrugs and steps around Dean to enter the kitchen too. “And I know that you’re trustworthy too.”

She continues to gape at him, even looking at Castiel momentarily before turning back. “You’re trusting strangers? Why in the world would you trust me? You don’t even know me!”

Castiel clears his throat and puts a hand on her shoulder to calm her down. “We’re not going to turn him in because they could just as easily turn me in as an unregistered too.”

Her jaw snaps shut with an audible click before she takes a threatening step forward, pointing at the both of them in kind. “Don’t you dare.”

Sam holds his hands up and shakes his head. “I wouldn’t do something like that, and Dean’s a dick sometimes, but he’s not that much of a dick.”

“Hey!” Dean steps into the kitchen too, but only to punch Sam on the shoulder.

Anna seems like she’s gearing up to say something else, but Castiel squeezes her shoulder. “It’s okay.” He offers her a small smile when she looks at him again. “This whole situation isn’t – it’s not that bad. Dean is a very good cook, at the least.”

She regards him for a moment before crossing her arms and shrugging his hand off. “I still can’t believe that you didn’t tell me immediately the moment you had – what, intruders?”

“We prefer to call ourselves visitors, thank you very much.” Dean sniffs and mirrors her body language. He holds his head high and puffs up slightly. “We’re paying for our stay with out-of-this-world companionship and delicious as hell food.” All his posturing is gone as quick as it came and he looks Anna over again. “You hungry? I can heat up some of our lunch for you.”

Food has always been a helpful factor when winning Anna over. Castiel nods in approval of the suggestion. “He does make a very good Sloppy Joe.”

“I can’t believe you’re okay with this.” She huffs and steps out of the way for Dean to get to the fridge so he can get the leftovers.

Castiel shrugs and looks away. “I didn’t say that.”

Sam doesn’t seem surprised, but Dean turns sharply with the container of cheese and Sloppy Joe meat in his hands. “You’re not okay with us? Why didn’t you say so!”

That’s not exactly what he meant and Castiel rubs a hand over his face. “It’s complicated, Dean. And I would appreciate if everyone would please just drop the matter.” He looks at Anna pointedly when she opens her mouth again. “I’m going to lock myself in my bedroom again if you keep arguing it. They’re here and I’m as okay with it as I can be. End of story. So, can we just ­– can we not?”

“But –”

He holds his hand up to cut her off. “I promise you that everything is fine and I am not in trouble. Just, for the love of all that is holy, please don’t tell Aunt Amara about this. She’ll be more upset than you.”

“For good reason!”

“You old enough to drink?” Dean interrupts what could be a continued argument. “We’ve got beer, if you want it.”

Anna wrinkles her nose and looks up at the clock. “It’s, like, two-thirty in the afternoon.”

“Really?” Dean looks up at it too. “Wow, could’a sworn that it was later.” He shrugs and turns back to her, though he tilts his head at the counter where he’s standing. “C’mon, angel. Come tell me how sloppy you want your Joe and I’ll make you the best damn sandwich you’ve ever tasted.”

She rolls her eyes and points at Castiel again, squinting at him. “This isn’t over.”

“Lord, don’t I know that.” He sighs and watches as she stomps over to where Dean is waiting with a bowl to scoop out the amount she wants and warm it separately from the bun.

Sam touches Castiel’s shoulder briefly, expression apologetic. “I’m sorry. I don’t think either of us realized how – uh – not used to people you are.”

“She calls me a hermit.” Castiel gestures at Anna. “I leave the house for the cemetery and occasionally for grocery shopping. Otherwise – Well, my aunt comes and cuts my hair for me every now and then.” He runs a hand through his hair before shoving them both into the pockets of his housecoat. “But it’s fine. I’m fine.”

Although he says that, all Castiel really wants to do right now is to go back to his bedroom. But even though he vaguely trusts that Dean and Sam won’t do anything to her, he still refuses to leave Anna alone with them. Instead, he turns on his heel and brushes past Sam on his way back to the living room. Instead of taking the recliner like he did before, Castiel flops face first down on the couch. He has no idea how he’s going to deal with the rest of this and he already feels exhausted.

Of course now that he’s no longer in the room, Dean has struck up a conversation with Anna. Castiel can hear them from here and he grimaces into the pillow at the direction he’s going. Rather than try and learn about her, Dean seems to be more interested in trying to find a roundabout way to ask Anna what Castiel’s mutation is. Thankfully, Sam is there to call him out on that right away and Dean immediately switches to asking about Anna’s teleportation powers.

Today just got – it got a whole lot more and Castiel is not equipped for dealing with it. All he can hope for is that Anna either doesn’t stay around for very long, or she stops making such a big deal about the situation. Either way, he has the feeling that it now no longer matters how long Dean and Sam are staying. It could be one more day or it could be another week. Whatever it is, Anna is likely going to be coming over on the daily.

As much as he loves her, just thinking about that is exhausting.


Saturday – November 11th, 2017

“Hey, Cas?” Dean calls from the living room just as Castiel is coming down the hall from his bedroom, laundry basket in hand. “Cas! What are these boxes under the TV?”

He puts his basket down at the top of the stairs and rounds the corner into the living room. Dean is crouched in front of the entertainment unit beneath the wall-mounted TV. It’s a long unit with four shelves hidden behind sliding doors. Each shelf is above a cubby and all four of the cubbies have two storage boxes fitted into them. The DVD player and cable box are sitting on top of the unit, along with a number of family pictures in frames.

Rather than answer with his words, Castiel crosses the room to crouch next to him. He pulls out one of the boxes and lifts the lid to show that the box is full with video game cases. This particular box contains the games for his Xbox One. They’re actually for older models, but Castiel has the backwards compatibility model that supports older games.

Dean audibly gasps. “You have video games?”

“I’m honestly surprised that you didn’t investigate these on your own earlier.” Castiel replaces the lid and puts the box back where it belongs.

“You told me not to snoop and I’ve been respecting that!” Despite that, Dean still grabs for another box and opens it to find it full of games for the Nintendo Wii. He gapes at it before looking up at Cas. “Does this mean that I can snoop and you won’t get mad?”

Honestly, Castiel is impressed. The Winchesters have been here for a week now and they haven’t been looking into his personal things? “I’m surprised. I thought for sure that you would have been nosy and poked around in literally everything by now.”

“Well, now I will.”

Castiel watches as Dean systematically pulls out each and every box to see what games are in them. He finds the PlayStation games (for three separate different models), but makes an odd squealing noise in the back of his throat when he finds the ones for the old NES system. The noise happens again, though it’s more choke than squeal when Castiel reaches out to lift and slide back all four of the covers for the shelves on the unit.

One has the Wii and the PlayStation 2 stacked on top of each other, and the next has the PlayStation 3. The third shelf has the PlayStation 4, and the final has the Xbox one. The NES is actually in a separate box on the shelf with its games. Castiel hasn’t played those since his dad died, so he replaced it with the PS4 when it came out. The NES was his dad’s favourite system and it’s hard to play without getting emotional. Buying games and consoles are some of the only times that he’ll drop big money.

“What the hell.” Dean stares at all the systems for a long moment before turning to Castiel. “I didn’t know that you were a gamer.”

He shrugs again and stands up. “My parents thought video games were a good way to pass the time since I couldn’t really go out and make friends. When online gaming became a thing, I did get to talk to more people.” From one of the boxes with less games, he pulls out a headset with microphone. “I like the multiplayer games where I can work as a team.”

“Holy shit, Cas.” Dean stands up too and bounces on the balls of his feet a few times. “You have gotta play me at some of these.”

After a week, Castiel has started almost enjoying his time with the Winchesters. The amount of time he hides in his bedroom or office has decreased slowly but surely every day. Now, instead of dreading the idea of spending time playing video games with Dean, he actually likes it.

“Why don’t you get Mario Kart set up while I go get my laundry started?” Castiel pulls the game from one of the Wii boxes and holds it out. “I’ll be right back.”

“Oh I am so going to kick your ass at this.” Dean grins widely and crouches to turn the Wii on.

Sam snorts from the dining table, where he’s been quietly working on his laptop since lunchtime. “I’m not going to hold your hand when you get your butt kicked.”

It seems that Sam understands the situation better than Dean does. Castiel shares a knowing grin with him before returning to his waiting laundry basket. He just admitted that he’s played a massive amount of video games in his life, yet somehow Dean still expects to beat him – at one of his favourite games, no less. It’s highly doubtful that he’s played as much Mario Kart as Castiel has. There will be no quarter given. He will be merciless and ruthless, and he’s going to enjoy every second of it.

While in the basement, Castiel pulls his phone from the pocket of his housecoat. He’s getting sick of wearing the damn thing, but the thought of revealing his wings fills him with so much anxiety that he can hardly function when he considers doing it.

Once the water starts running, and before he adds his detergent, Castiel sends a quick text message to Anna. She wants to go grocery shopping later, since he didn’t have to do it last week, and she already made Dean promise to not only drive them but also pay for it. The only stipulation is that Castiel has to go with them, or be subject to two disappointed faces – or three, if Sam joins in.

When do you want to go shopping?

I’ve got an ass to beat first.
Read: 12:44pm

What the hell is that supposed to mean??

Dean challenged me to Mario Kart. >:)
Read: 12:47pm

I promise I’ll say something nice at his funeral.

Castiel bites back his laugh as he reaches for the detergent. Dean has no idea what’s in store for him. It’s almost sad, really. Almost.


Tuesday – November 14th, 2017

At this point, Castiel isn’t even surprised anymore when he wakes up to the smell of food. Dean is always up before him and he always makes something delicious. There hasn’t been a single meal yet that Castiel hasn’t liked – except for the few times when the Winchesters take a jaunt into town and returned with Chinese food or pizza. Arguably, the food was good, but it just wasn’t as good as everything that Dean has cooked.

In fact, in the time that he’s had his own personal chef, Castiel is sure that he’s actually put on some weight. He’s getting spoiled by all these good meals and he already knows he’s going to miss eating this well when the Winchesters finally leave.

Surprisingly, he tries not to think about that anymore.

“G’morning, sunshine!” Castiel is mid-yawn when he shuffles into the kitchen. Dean meets him with coffee in hand. “Here you go. Made just the way you like it!”

Castiel squints at first the coffee, then at Dean. “Why are you such a morning person? I hate it.” He grumbles before bringing it to his lips and oh that’s good.

“He’s actually a huge grump in the morning.” Sam is leaning against the counter with his own coffee. He must have gotten up not long before Castiel, because his hair is a true mess and he still looks rather rumpled from sleep. “Worse than you, even. But he still drags his ass out of bed at least an hour before your alarm just so he can down a whole pot of coffee and be awake enough to make breakfast for you.”

As soon as he handed off the coffee, Dean had moved back to the stove to focus on flipping the French toast in the pan. The back of his neck turns steadily red the more Sam talks, and Castiel watches the interesting change over the edge of his mug.

“Dunno what you’re talking ‘bout, Sammy.” It sounds like he’s speaking through gritted teeth.

Sam gives Castiel a tired grin and gestures towards Dean with his mug. “Now he’s embarrassed.”

“You want egg in your hair?” Dean turns and brandishes his spatula like a sword. “Coz’ this is how you get egg in your hair.”

Castiel hums and takes another sip of sweet godly caffeine. “I’ve read that cracking an egg into your hair is supposed to be good for it.”

Dean turns a disapproving frown on him. “Go sit down and drink your coffee, Cas.”

He doesn’t need to be told twice and Castiel shuffles off into the dining room. The table is already set up and it looks like he doesn’t have to do anything this morning besides drink his coffee and eat. That’s an excellent start to an otherwise dreary day. It’s foggy outside again, and the weather is steadily getting cooler with it holding out in the mid-fifties today. He can’t wait until Friday when the weather report is predicting a low seventies. Winter is the worst and he can’t wait for it to be over with - and it isn't even really here yet!

Instead of sitting with his back to the kitchen like he usually has been, Castiel takes one of the two places on the other side of the table just so he can see into the kitchen. The angle only gives him a good view of Sam, but he can hear the hiss of sausages as Dean fries them in another pan. Everything looked almost ready and Castiel’s stomach gives a tired rumble of anticipation.

Sam brings the coffee pot too when he helps bring the serving plates into the dining room. He carries the sausages while Dean carries the French toast. They both pause in the doorway, probably because Castiel isn’t where he normally sits. For a moment he briefly considers getting up and moving, but then Dean rounds the table and drops into the seat next to him before he can really do anything. Now it would just be rude of him to get up and Castiel resigns himself to sitting next to Dean for the meal.

It’s weird that he doesn’t actually mind it that much. And it’s weird how he’s gotten used to all of this. It should be a bad thing, but Castiel is almost completely accustomed to waking up to these two and a delicious breakfast.

That scares him a little bit and the next gulp of his coffee goes down a little rougher.

Thankfully, Sam is ready to distract him from his thoughts without even needing to be asked. It might be a coincidence, or it might be his empathy at work, but Castiel is grateful for it whatever it may be. “Are you going to tackle that new manuscript today, Cas?”

“I am.” Castiel serves himself a couple pieces of French toast and a number of sausages, then covers everything liberally with syrup. “It’s technically a short story, so I should be able to finish it today. Then I’m going to turn it in and firmly tell them that this is the last trashy romance I’m going to edit.”

Sam uses far less syrup that either Castiel or Dean, and he scoops some berries onto his French toast. “Would you rather be editing a scientific journal article or something similar?”

“Not quite.” He shakes his head and drags the berries close enough to put some along the side of his plate. “I’m fine with anything as long as it isn’t poorly written smut.”

Dean’s cheek is already bulging with the first bite of sausage. “What about well-written smut?”

Castiel shrugs and pops a slice of strawberry into his mouth. “If I ever get some, I’ll let you know.”

To his great delight, that gets a laugh from both brothers. He hides his own smile with his coffee mug, draining it so he can pour himself a second one before continuing with his meal.

Anna and his aunt never really ask about his work. What he edits might change, but it’s not like he can talk about the content or the plot. That goes against the privacy agreement he signed when he was hired. And he absolutely cannot talk about anything that happens in the recordings that he transcribes for doctors. Those are highly private and very confidential.

While his family never asks about his work, Sam has taken to asking about his editing job a lot. Mostly he asks about what it’s like and how many different genres he’s edited before. Castiel doesn’t want to assume anything, but he thinks Sam might be a little jealous about it. There’s nothing very glamorous about the job, but he does like getting to read all sorts of new books before they hit the market. Unfortunately, being behind the curtains means that Castiel is all too aware of how atrocious some authors are at both spelling and grammar.

Sometimes he likes to think that his job is similar to being given a raw gemstone and it’s his job to chip away all the impurities and polish it until it shines. It takes a lot of time and effort, but Castiel really does like his job. Most of the time, at least.

“I know we’re not allowed to go in your office, but I did see through the doorway the other day that you have a lot of books in there.” Sam pokes his food around his plate a bit, more focused on talking than eating. “What kind of books are they?”

“Some of them are for the transcribing that I do, but my own sizable personal collection is in there too.” Castiel shrugs, not looking up from cutting everything on his plate into manageable pieces. “I also usually get a free copy of the books that I’ve edited.”

As soon as he says that, Sam sits forward and looks much more awake than he did moments before. Even Dean perks up a little bit, though he’s more subtle about it. Castiel looks between the two of them before raising an eyebrow. “If you’d like, you can come and browse my collection before I start work today. Anything you’re interested in, you’re welcome to take.”

Sam’s smile is downright radiant. “That would be awesome. Thanks!”

Dean has an interested gleam in his eye, but he snorts and rolls his eyes instead. “Who has time for books. You’re both a bunch of nerds.”

Even though that’s what he says, Dean still lingers at the door to Castiel’s office after he finishes cleaning up their breakfast. By then Castiel has already finished getting ready for the day and he and Sam are looking at his personal library – which spans most of the two floor to ceiling bookcases he has.

“You’re welcome to come in and look for anything you might like yourself, Dean.” Castiel gestures for him to come in too.

Instead, Dean rolls his eyes and turns away. He yanks open the linen closet to pull out a few towels and goes into the bathroom. “I’m going to shower. Hope it doesn’t disrupt you nerds.”

Sam waits until the shower is running before he reaches out and pulls Cat’s Cradle off the shelf. “He tries to maintain a tough-guy image, but this is the kind of stuff that Dean likes to read.” He passes it off to Castiel as he continues pulling out other books so he can check the back of their covers. “He won’t admit it, but he’s as big a reader as I am. He’s even read The Odyssey.”

Interesting. Castiel files that little bit of information away and searches through his collection for something else that Dean might like. He pulls out another Vonnegut book; The Sirens of Titan. Unsure if it’s just genre or author that he likes, Castiel also grabs 2001: A Space Odyssey too, just in case.

“Thanks, Cas.” Sam hefts the five books he chose from himself and heads back out into the hallway. “I’ve been meaning to read these, but it’s hard when we can’t exactly borrow from a library. I really should just get myself a Kindle or something.”

“If I didn’t love the feel of a cover in my hands, I would have already digitized my collection onto one.” He follows Sam out too. “I hope you enjoy them. They’re all excellent choices.”

Sam flashes him a bright smile before heading into his bedroom to change. Castiel takes the three he has and heads to the living room. Dean’s bed, so to speak, is always made in the morning. The sheets are meticulously tucked around the cushions on the couch, and the blanket is folded carefully on the spare chair by the window. It’s not a recliner like the La-Z-Boy that has it’s back to the kitchen, but it’s still a comfortable seat with a matching ottoman.

The two pillows that Dean sleeps with are stacked on top of the blanket. Castiel looks around for the best place to leave the books before he decides to just leave them on the center cushion of the couch. If Dean misses them, then he’s extremely unobservant. And that sounds like it wouldn’t be a good thing for someone in his line of work.

With that taken care of, Castiel stops in the kitchen to fill up his water bottle before returning to his office. It’s time for him to get to work.


Now that he’s not trying to hide from the Winchesters as much as he did before, Castiel is comfortable with taking a short bathroom break and to stretch his legs every few hours. He can also refill his water bottle more often, which only contributes to his need for more bathroom breaks – not that he minds.

On his first break, he’s surprised to find the house quiet. Sam isn’t in his bedroom at first glance, but he is in the recliner. He has it as flat as it will go and is laying on his side while reading – not even looking up when Castiel comes up the hall. Dean is stretched out on the couch with his feet propped up on the armrest. 2001: A Space Odyssey is in his hands and he’s already a fair number of pages into it.

He glances up from the book when he notices Castiel. Rather than be embarrassed about being caught out as a nerd, Dean just smiles and mouths thank you as he wiggles the book a little before returning to reading. It puts something warm and bubbly behind his ribs and Castiel returns to his office (after a quick visit to the kitchen) with a little bounce in his step.


 

Friday – November 17th, 2017

“Cas!”

The loud bang on his door has Castiel jump. He sighs and takes his foot off the pedal used to control the playback of his recordings. His housecoat is on the back of the door and he gets up to put that on. Dean has been told time and time again not to disturb him during work hours unless it’s an emergency.

If something isn’t on fire, Castiel is going to slam the door in his face.

He opens the door with a frown. “Yes?” Dean is standing there with a storage tub at his feet and his hands on his hips. It’s one of the bins used in the storage room downstairs and Castiel sighs when he sees it. “You’ve been snooping, I see.”

“You basically said it was okay! And that’s not the issue here anyway.” Dean crouches and pulls the lid off the bin, revealing large Ziploc baggies filled with various pieces from a number of different board games. The boards themselves are fit into the tub along the sides and underneath.

Dean picks up one of the baggies, holding the cash and pieces to Monopoly, and shakes it. “We’ve been here nearly two weeks and you’ve been hiding this treasure trove from us!”

Castiel sighs again and crosses his arms. He leans against the door frame and continues to frown down at Dean. “I’m fairly sure board games don’t constitute an emergency.” And then, because he’s apparently also a masochist, he continues. “And there are three other totes of games downstairs.”

“There’s –” His jaw drops and Dean stands up quickly again. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“Because I forgot they were down there?” Castiel shrugs and looks down at the box again. “I only really play them once or twice a year with Anna and Aunt Amara. We played them almost weekly when my parents were alive. When they died, I just –” He shrugs again. “I just packed it all away.”

It’s not like he could have a family game night without a family.

There’s a long moment of silence where Dean seems to wilt under the realization. Finally, he drops the Monopoly bag back into the box. “Sorry, Cas. I didn’t mean to pick at old wounds.”

“It’s fine.” Castiel waves his hand. “It’s about time I started clearing out some of that old stuff anyway.” Everything that had belonged to his parents had been packed away. There’s a lot down there that Castiel didn’t need to keep, but he just wasn’t able to part with any of it when the grief of their deaths was still strong.

“No, don’t do that!” Dean picks up the bin and holds it tight to his chest, as if he’s afraid Castiel will get rid of it that instant. “Let’s play them!” He starts towards the living room at a brisk pace, calling over his shoulder as he goes. “Tonight we’re going to have a game night! I’m going to go through and make a list of every game you’ve got. We’re going to pick one at random and have us a proper family board night after dinner.”

Dean stops at the top of the stairs and turns back. “You should text Anna and ask her if she wants to come over! Tell her to bring her mom too, if she’s free. I bet she’s just as cute as the rest of her family. It’s about time we meet her!” He winks and disappears down the stairs before Castiel can even think of answering him.

After a few moments of silence, Castiel steps back into his office and shuts the door. He rests his forehead against it and takes another couple seconds to process what was asked of him. It brings up a lot of questions, but only one stands out from the others.

Why in the world is he smiling?

Chapter Text

Monday – November 20th, 2017

Castiel is watching the movie, but he’s not really watching the movie. He’s seen Jurassic Park more times than he cares to count and of course he wasn’t going to turn down the idea of watching it when Dean made the suggestion to marathon the first trilogy. But repetition isn’t the reason why he’s zoned out and not absorbing the thrilling scene of the Velociraptors in the kitchen.

What has him distracted is the fact that watching movies after dinner has become a thing. It’s been two weeks – two weeks – since Dean and Sam started staying here. They haven’t been in the house all day every day, of course. One or both of them leaves almost every other day to go off and do God knows what. They always come back with something, though. Whether it be bags from Walmart, or from one of the different grocery stores in town.

Dean has made almost every meal since and Castiel can’t remember the last time he’s had so much good food. True to their word, the Winchesters have also been buying all the food. They’ve even been doing all the chores, leaving Castiel to relax after work and on the weekend. He’s had time to work on his video game library, his pile of books to read, and shop online for Christmas gifts.

And it’s because he had the chance to do some shopping before dinner that he has Christmas on his mind. December is just around the corner and the Winchesters have given no indication of when they’re going to leave. If they end up never leaving and they stay right through the holidays, is he expected to get them gifts? Will they be getting him gifts? The possibility of having them here for something like Christmas – which traditionally is when Anna and his aunt come over and spend several days with him – makes him queasy.

And Castiel absolutely can’t just not ask. He pushes himself up in the recliner, lowering the foot-rest back into place. When he sits here, he lies on his side with the recliner angled away from the TV. It puts the whole chair between him and the couch, but it’s the most comfortable way to relax without laying on his wings.

He clears his throat and two sets of eyes turn from the movie to him. After two weeks in their company, it doesn’t bother him as much as it did before. “Do you have any idea of how long you’ll be staying?” Because they did say that they wouldn’t be staying long, but now it’s been two weeks. “I want to stress that I am not kicking you out. I’m just curious.”

Curious about when everything will stop being so loud. Curious about when the living room is going to stop feeling so lived in. Curious about when his home is going to stop feeling so warm. That doesn’t have anything to do with how Sam seems to heat the air around him, and it has everything to do with how it’s – it’s nice. Surprisingly enough. It’s nice and less empty.

Dean’s eyebrows come together in a worried frown. “If we’re overstaying our welcome, Cas, you can definitely kick us out. We won’t fault you for it.”

“No, no. That’s not what I mean.” He shakes his head and waves a hand. “It’s fine, really.”

“Are you sure?” Dean doesn’t look convinced. “Because –”

Sam leans over to nudge him with his shoulder. “He’s telling the truth, so don’t push him too much or he might change his mind.”

Dean huffs and pauses the movie instead of dropping it like Sam suggested. “I know we’ve been here longer than you thought we would be.” He runs his hand through his hair, ruffling it and giving it a bit of a fluffy look. “This is just a really nice place and we like hanging out with you.”

That’s oddly sweet, and they’re lucky that Castiel has gotten used to them. Sam even smiles and nods in agreement. “We usually stay in Lawrence for most of November to get a year’s worth of visits with Mom’s grave.”

“At first I thought you were just doing a lot of shopping.” Castiel quirks the corner of his mouth up in the closest approximation of a smile that he finds himself willing to give. “You always come back with food, which makes sense given that we eat enough to feed a small army.”

“Well, yeah.” Dean snorts and he grins. “There’s that too. But no, we’re visiting Mom because it’s hard to find the time to make it out here in between our hunts.”

Sam bobs his head in a nod. “Well, hunting and looking for Dad.”

He’s barely finished speaking before Dean elbows him hard enough that he grunts. Castiel frowns at the two of them, because this isn’t the first time that Dean has stopped Sam from mentioning anything about their dad. Aside from their conversation in the graveyard, they haven’t really said much else about him. The only thing Castiel knows about him is that he’s been missing for several years now and that he’s a bounty hunter like them.

Now his curiosity reaches its limit and Castiel pins Dean with a frown. “Why do you keep doing that? Every time Sam mentions your dad, you get –” He gestures at the way Dean is glaring at Sam.

“Because it’s a sensitive topic.” Dean sniffs and picks up the remote. He hits the play button and the screaming of the kids starts again.

It doesn’t play for long, because Sam plucks the remote from his hand and pauses the movie again. “No,  it’s really not.”

Dean’s glare increases tenfold and his shoulders draw up. “Maybe it’s a topic I don’t wanna talk about, huh? How’s that?”

Sam rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “Not talking about it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.” He leans forward to rest his elbows on his knees and looks to Castiel. “The short version of the story is that we haven’t seen our dad since late 2007. He used to come back from every hunt, and then he started coming back less and less until he eventually just didn’t come back at all.”

Oh. Now he sees why this is probably not Dean’s favourite topic of conversation. Castiel has never had someone just leave him like that. His parents died suddenly but it’s not like they chose to die. Their dad chose to leave them and that – that’s so sad.

“Is he okay?” Maybe something happened to him and he’s afraid to face them now? There must be a good reason for why he just stopped coming home.

Dean crosses his arms and slumps further down in his spot. He doesn’t answer, but he does turn his glare on the TV. The intensity of it is briefly worrying. If one of his powers ends up being laser vision, then it will be goodbye to Castiel’s television.

Sam shrugs and briefly spares Dean a glance before turning his attention back to him. “We think so? I mean, we’ve been using the network to track what hunts he’s been taking and where he’s turning them in. If we’re not wrapped up in our own hunt, we try and go intercept him.”

At that point, Dean doesn’t seem to be able to contain himself anymore. He’s practically vibrating in place and radiating anger. “But by the time we fucking get there, he’s long gone! No trace of him and no one knows where the hell he goes in between hunts.” He kicks his feet up on the coffee table, bringing them down with heavy thumps as he glare grows darker. “Just poof.”

The wording piques his interest and Castiel tilts his head. “Is he a mutant too?” If he just disappears after a hunt, then he might have teleportation powers like Anna does.

“Hah! No, he isn’t.” Dean barks a sharp laugh that borders on painful. “He’s a normie.”

With a sigh, Sam sits back and frowns at him. “You know I hate it when you call non-mutants that.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Dean pulls his feet off the coffee table only to push it further from the couch. He stands up and storms off down the hall without another word. The door to the bathroom slams shut behind him, loud enough for Castiel to wince at the bang.

Sam shares a look with him and shrugs. It’s not more of a twitch of his shoulder as he slumps back in his seat too. “Sorry. He took Dad’s distance a lot harder than I did, and then he stopped answering our calls and didn’t return our messages and, well –” He flops his hand out in the general direction of the hall.

Castiel winces again, this time to mentally kick himself for pushing the topic. Now he’s gone and upset Dean, and Sam doesn’t look too happy either. “Should I go apologize?”

“No, don’t bother.” He shakes his head and picks up the remote again. “This isn’t the first time he’s thrown a hissy fit about Dad and it won’t be the last. He’s just going to take a hot shower to burn the angry out and then make me sleep on the couch tonight.” And as if that happens every day, Sam shrugs and points the remote at the TV. “Do you want to continue the movie?”

Even though he nods and lays the recliner out again, Castiel doesn’t end up watching any more of the movie than he did before. Dean doesn’t come back to finish watching with them, and they don’t bother with starting the next one.

Sam was right though. He does end up sleeping on the couch that night.


 

Thursday – November 23rd, 2017

There are only a handful of days in the year where Castiel’s house is a flurry of activity. While the presence of the Winchesters has certainly changed that, Thanksgiving is still a busy day. Castiel always takes work off because he’s usually cooking and cleaning most of the day before Anna and his aunt come over for dinner.

This year, Castiel doesn’t actually have much to do. The house was already impeccably clean because the Winchesters basically attacked it with every cleaning supply Castiel owned. He came out of his office to the windows open to air everything out, and every surface having been sanitized. Even the basement bathroom was sparkling.

And that left Castiel with nothing to do but cook today – which has gone amazingly well thanks to the Winchesters. They’ve both been helping him out, which has lowered almost every stress level Castiel has. Which is hilarious given how much their mere presence shot his anxiety to hell when they first arrived. Now he’s actually grateful to have them around – almost likes having them here.

With all the help, there were only two things that actually cause him any stress or anxiety over the course of the day. The first being that of course he's going to have to look like an idiot and wear his housecoat while cooking and during dinner. Castiel still can't even think about revealing his wings to Dean and Sam. And then the second dizzying spell of anxiety was over the fact that his aunt hasn’t met his guests yet and Anna, at his request, didn’t tell her about them until yesterday.

That leads him to taking deep breaths at the first sound of knocking at the front door an hour before dinner time. Luckily he’s already crouched over in front of the oven, basting the turkey. It helps, but it also keeps him too occupied to greet them – leaving the task to Dean. As much as Castiel has come to enjoy his presence, he really could do without how Dean ends up bickering with Anna every time she comes over. She’s been in the door all of two minutes and already they’ve argued about tracking mud into the foyer and Anna blinking in too close and scaring Dean every time.

“Are you going to be wearing your housecoat all evening?” Aunt Amara steps into the kitchen carrying bags holding everything she brought for dinner.

Castiel stands up to greet her with a quick kiss on the cheek. “It’s this or my overcoat.” Neither Dean nor Sam are in the kitchen at the moment, but he still glances around to make sure they’re not within earshot before dropping his voice into a whisper. “They don’t know.”

“I see.” She puts her bags on the counter and turns to him with her hands on her hips. “I didn't want to stress you out prepping for tonight, so I didn't call you yesterday, but I'm telling you now." Her eyes narrow dangerously. "I’m pissed that you didn’t tell me you had people staying with you and that you had Anna keep it a secret from me.”

She hasn't been able to make it to any of the game nights that Dean has instigated, and Anna never explained who was doing all the planning. As of yet, Aunt Amara hasn’t met the Winchesters officially. Castiel purposefully never told her because he was worried that she would be even more protective than Anna and would have insisted that he kick them out.

“I'll introduce you as soon as I’m done with this turkey.” Castiel crouches again to continue basting, the sleeves of his housecoat rolled up as far as they will go.

Aunt Amara huffs, but doesn’t argue further (thank God, because she can be terrifying) and starts unpacking her bags. “I got the buns and I made my green bean casserole. I also bought those pies you asked me to bring.” She opens the microwave over the stove and puts the casserole dish in there to keep it warm-ish until they have oven space to heat it properly before eating. “But did we really need three different kinds? There’s only five of us – unless you’ve invited more people you haven’t told me about.”

“Pies?” Castiel glances up at the remaining bag on the counter. “I didn’t ask for any pies.”

“Nope, that was me!” Dean sweeps in almost out of nowhere – briefly making Castiel wonder if his power is also the ability to teleport. He grins and paws through the bag. “Heck yes! Apple, Cherry, and Pecan. God’s gift to – Wait. What the heck is this? Pumpkin pie?”

Castiel makes a mental note to chew Dean out later for apparently having stolen his phone or gotten his aunt's number by some other shady means, all for the sake of pie. He pushes the turkey back into the oven and closes the door. “Anna likes pumpkin pie.” He stands up and tosses the oven mitts onto the counter. “And I would like to introduce you to my Aunt Amara. Auntie, this is Dean.”

“Pff, pumpkin. The most basic of all pies.” Dean frowns at the one box he sets aside from the others before turning and holding his hand out. “Hi! Nice to finally meet you. Thanks for getting the pies. Even the pumpkin, I guess.”

Aunt Amara shakes his hand, but she doesn’t manage to get a word out before Anna clears her throat loudly from the doorway into the dining room. Her arms are crossed and there’s a challenging look in her eyes. “You had better not be snubbing my pie.”

Dean throws her a cheeky grin. “Oh, I am definitely snubbing your pie.”

Anna scoffs and rolls her eyes. “Oh, because you’re some kind of pie connoisseur, are you?”

“Damn right I am.” He puffs his chest out and lifts his head high. “Connoisseur for all food, actually.”

Castiel sighs and glances at the timer on the stove. If he doesn’t intervene now, they’re going to get distracted with another argument and dinner will never happen at that rate. “Dean, if we want the potatoes to be done in time with the turkey, we had better start soon.”

“Sir, yes sir!” Dean clicks his heels together and salutes before heading off. “I’ll go see how Sam’s doing with the peeling.”

He and Anna disappear into the dining room and Aunt Amara hums quietly to herself. “He’s a cute one, isn’t he?”

“I suppose.” Castiel shrugs and turns to dealing with the pies. He stacks all the boxes together and gathers the empty plastic bags. “Do you want these back?”

Aunt Amara shakes her head and goes to get a wine glass from the cupboard. “He seems nice enough, I suppose. But if he ever does you wrong, you tell me.” She punches her right hand into her left palm and levels him with a serious glare. “I’ll fuck him up for you.”

“It’s fine, Auntie.” He shakes his head and gives her genuine smile. Castiel only ever really smiles for her and Anna. “Thank you, but they’ve both been very kind. I was uncomfortable at first, but I’ve gotten used to them now.”

“Good.” She nods, seemingly satisfied, and starts pouring herself some wine. “I haven’t met the other one yet, but Anna said she likes him better.”

There’s a gasp from the doorway and they both turn to find Dean standing there with his hand on his chest. Anna is next to him again, though this time she has a stack of napkins in one hand. Dean turns to her with that same shocked expression. “You like Sam better?”

“He’s not such a jerk.” She shrugs and leans against the door frame. “Be less of a dick and I might end up liking you more.”

“Cas!” Dean turns back and points at Anna. “Tell her to stop hurting my feelings.”

Castiel sighs and rubs a hand over his face. “Both of you stop bothering each other. Dean, did you find out about the potatoes?”

“Yeah, Sammy’s almost done.”

Aunt Amara pats Castiel on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.” She pulls open the utensil drawer and takes out the tray inside. “Here, Anna, use these while setting the table. I’ll get the plates.”

“But I’m not done chewing Dean out for besmirching my pie!” Anna balances the tray in one arm and steps out of the way for Aunt Amara to get by with the plates.

Dean snorts and shakes his head, also stepping away to leave the doorway open. “If you can even call pumpkin a pie. There’s no finesse to it! You just dump the shit in a crust and bam, done.”

“Them’s fighting words, Winchester.” She reaches out to slap him in the shoulder with the napkins in her other hand.

He turns to her and brings both fists up, dropping into a balanced stance. “Bring it, short stuff.”

Castiel takes it all back. He doesn’t like having them around anymore. Anna too. They’re all just a pain in his ass and unhelpful when it really counts. “No fighting.” He steps between them, putting one hand on Dean’s chest to shove him further into the kitchen and one on Anna’s shoulder to push her back into the dining room. “Dean, I need you to move the pies to the other counter so they’re out of the prep zone and put the whipped cream in the fridge. When you’re done, put the cranberry sauce out. The dish for it is already on the table. And Anna, I need you to finish setting the table. Now.”

“Sir, yes sir!” Dean salutes again and crosses the kitchen quickly to do as told.

“You’re so bossy today.” Anna huffs and brushes Castiel’s hand from her shoulder. “And you haven’t even greeted me properly. That’s rude you know.”

He so doesn’t have the time for this, but he sighs and pulls her into a quick hug – even kissing the top of her head. “Hello, Anna. It’s nice to see you.”

“Of course it is. I’m a pleasure.” She hugs him back with one arm, the other full of the utensil tray. “How are you holding up? You need a break? I can come take over in here if you want.”

“I’ll have a break when we sit down to eat.” Castiel leaves her to step over and lift the lid on the crock-pot sitting on the short stretch of the counter between the stove and the entrance to the dining room. The meatballs have been simmering in their sauce for a few hours now and he gives them a quick stir. “But I can’t relax until everyone does their job.”

Dean comes up next to him with the open can of cranberry sauce in his hand. “You heard the boss. Get a move on, squirt.”

Anna squints at him for a brief moment before drawing herself up to her full height. It’s not very impressive compared to Dean and Castiel, who both stand at six feet (give or take an inch). To Castiel’s surprise, she actually smiles, and it’s in a weirdly relaxed way that starts a tight, uncomfortable feeling churning in his stomach.

“If you know food so well, then you’ve obviously been to the Ladybird Diner, huh?” She leans her hip against the counter and raises an eyebrow.

“Of course.”

Castiel has never been in person, but Anna has brought him take-out from there before. The food is pretty good and he’s enjoyed it. And it’s no surprise to him that Dean has had it before. If anything, Dean has probably eaten at every restaurant in Lawrence at least once. Neither would he doubt that Dean like has a mental catalog (possibly even a physical copy of it) of every restaurant he’s ever been to, organized by best to worst.

Anna hums to herself and nods in approval. “But have you had their hot beef sandwich? You haven’t lived until you’ve had it.”

“Uh no. You’re wrong.” Dean shakes his head. “You haven’t lived until you’ve had their buttermilk fried chicken sandwich.”

Oh yes, that is a good sandwich. Castiel privately agrees with him on that point. Anna’s sandwich is good too, but it doesn’t have that zing to it that the chicken sandwich does.

This is something that she apparently does not agree with, because her smile falls into a squinty frown again. “Nuh-uh!”

“Uh-huh.”

“Oh, that’s it.” Anna stomps her foot and slaps him in the arm again with the napkins. “First you diss my pie, and now you diss my sandwich? You leave me no choice. Now I have to prove you wrong. You. Me. Next Friday. Six o’clock at Ladybird. We’re going to settle this mano-e-mano.”

Castiel has been watching the conversation from the corner of his eye while taking an excessively long time to stir the meatballs. He’s not sure why he hasn’t moved on to something else, but his position grants him the chance to see Dean’s back go rigid. There’s a startled cough in the dining room, followed by Amara swearing and muttering something about spilling her wine. Thank God she drinks white, because Castiel did not want to have to try and get red wine out of the carpet.

The uncomfortable feeling in his belly grows worse and Castiel puts the lid back on the crock-pot, turning the heat down to warm. It sounds like Anna just asked Dean out and that – Why would she do that? They just – She hardly even knows him! Hell, Castiel still feels like he barely knows him. Dean talks a lot and shares a lot, but he never shares anything of real importance. He knows the bare minimum about their past, and – and – and Anna can’t date Dean.

“Um –” Dean opens and closes his mouth a few times before glancing at Castiel. Their eyes meet for a brief second before he looks back to Anna. “Sorry, kiddo.” He shakes his head and offers her a soft smile. “I’ll have to take a rain check. I’m not going to be in town by then.”

The news catches Castiel so off guard that his wings strain to spread from underneath his binder and the normal shirt he’s wearing over it. He turns sharply to face him. “You’re leaving?”

Sam steps up behind Anna from where she’s mostly blocking the entry to the dining room. “We are.” Unlike Dean, at least he has the courtesy to look ashamed for having not said something sooner. “It’s about time that we started hunting again.”

Dean shrugs and fidgets with the can of cranberry sauce, twisting it between his hands. “We saw that Dad took a job in Nevada. That’s not too far, so we figure we’ll head out in the next day or so and maybe we’ll catch him this time.”

All Castiel can manage to bring himself to say at first is a soft; “Oh.” He turns on his heel and moves over to the stretch of counter in the corner that separates the sink from the stove. “I see. That’s good news, isn’t it?”

There’s a sinking feeling behind his ribs that’s descending into his stomach and making it twist even more. He can’t believe that he’s feeling disappointed. Wasn’t it not too long ago that he couldn’t wait for them to leave? Castiel never really wanted them to stay in the first place, so he should be happy to hear that they’re going to be leaving soon. Things can finally go back to normal.

A pile of vegetables are waiting to be chopped up and arranged on a tray. Castiel picks up the knife and grips it a little harder than he should. The handle digs into his palm and he has to consciously force himself to loosen his hold. If he squeezes too hard, he might actually crush the damn thing.

Silence reigns in the kitchen for a few moments before Sam breaks it. “The potatoes are finished and ready for the stove.”

“Oh, great.” Dean sounds rough and he clears his throat. “Bring ‘em over here and I’ll get them started. You can take over the c-sauce duty.”

“And Anna can come help me finish setting the table.” Aunt Amara calls from the dining room, her voice stern in the way that leaves no room to argue with her. So much so that Anna doesn’t say anything as she leaves the kitchen.

Castiel tries to distract himself with chopping the vegetables, but his mind won’t shut up. It keeps reminding him that they’re leaving. Sometime in the next few days his house is going to be quiet again and Castiel isn’t looking forward to it near as much as he thinks he should be.

Dean moves into his peripherals when he steps up to the sink with the pot of potatoes. He fills it, puts the cover on, and moves it to the stove to get it started. Castiel does his best to ignore him, just like how he tries not to be worked up about this. There’s nothing to be worked up about. This is normal. They were always going to leave eventually and he’s been waiting three weeks for this.

“Hey, Cas –” A hand lands lightly on his shoulder and Castiel jerks in surprise at the unexpected touch.

Pain flares briefly in his back as his wings strain against the binder again, but it’s quickly overrun by the burn in his hand. He hisses and drops the knife after it slides across his palm instead of the pepper that he had been holding. Blood starts bubbling up immediately and he swings his hand over the sink so it won’t get everywhere.

“Oh fuck.” Dean swears and crowds in next to him. “Holy shit, holy fuck. I’m so sorry, Cas! I was just trying to get your attention.” He reaches over to turn the water on and guides Castiel’s hand under the spray. Once the blood is washed away, he pulls his hand up again to get a good look at the damage. “Shit, that’s deep.”

Castiel can feel himself go pale. “Am I going to need stitches?” Because stitches means hospital and he can’t go there. They’ll find him out and – and – and his heart is going too fast and it’s starting to get hard to breathe.

“What’s going on?” Sam walks into the kitchen with the compost bucket full of potato peels. Anna and Aunt Amara are close behind him.

“It’s nothing, Sammy. Just an accident.” Dean cups Castiel’s hand in both of his, using his thumbs to encourage him to close his fingers over the gash in his palm. He smiles at him, soft and warm. “Don’t worry, Cas. You don’t need stitches and you’re going to be all better in a minute.”

Sam makes a surprised noise in the back of his throat. “Dean…”

“It’s fine, Sam.” He doesn’t look away or change his smile, but his tone takes a firm edge to it.

Castiel can’t even look to see why Sam sounds so apprehensive. He’s very distracted by the pinprick of red glowing in the center of Dean’s pupil. And then his palm starts to itch considerably and he glances down to see why – even if he doesn’t want to see his skin split open. He’s immediately distracted by the fact that the veins in Dean’s hands are glowing.

That red light from his eyes is lighting up his veins, starting first in his hands and then travelling up under the sleeves of his turtleneck. The light reappears on his neck; crawling up his throat and cheeks until it branches into his eyes. They glow completely for several seconds before it fades away entirely.

Dean lets out a slow breath through his nose and steps back. He drops Castiel’s hand in the same motion and smiles brightly. “See? All better!”

Slowly, Castiel flexes his fingers. He looks back down at his hand and, sure enough, the cut is gone. It’s hard to tell beneath the blood that pooled in his palm, but his hand doesn’t hurt anymore. He looks back up at Dean, and he looks so proud of himself with his hands tucked behind his back and that cheeky grin back in place.

Apparently his mutation involves healing. But if that’s the case, then how come Dean has scars? If he can heal others, why can’t he heal himself until all the scars are gone? He opens his mouth to ask the questions building on the tip of his tongue, but Sam sighs loudly, cutting him off.

“Cas, where do you keep the first-aid kit?”

“Under the bathroom sink.” Castiel glances at him, surprised to find him frowning. “But I don’t need –”

Sam shakes his head. “It’s not for you.”

“I’ll get it!” Anna vanishes in between one blink and the next.

If it’s not for him then who would the – Oh no. Castiel looks back to Dean to find him scowling at Sam. He holds out the hand not covered in blood. “Dean, show me your hands.”

“Why?” He looks back to Castiel with a smile that even he can tell is strained. “There’s no reason to –”

“Show. Me. Your. Hands.”

Dean’s smile falls into a pout and he shifts on his feet. After a few seconds, he brings both his hands out in front of him. The left is cupped, and Castiel can see blood between his fingers. He sucks in a sharp breath before grabbing Dean’s wrist and forcing it over the sink.

“Why are you –” Castiel fumbles to turn the water on again. “What the hell did you do, Dean?”

Anna suddenly blinks into place next to him. She takes one look at Dean’s hand before she pops the clasp on the kit and essentially dumps the contents out across the counter. “What do you need?”

“Seriously, guys, it’s nothing!” Dean whines and tugs uselessly at his hand, as if he could break Castiel’s grip. “This’ll heal up in a day. No stitches needed for anybody, and Sammy will you stop glaring at me like that! Jesus!”

Castiel shushes him and tightens his grip on his wrist. “Stop pulling.” A roll of paper towels is mounted to the underside of the cupboards next to the sink and Castiel rips one from it. He presses it against Dean’s palm, pushing down until he hisses. “That’s because you’re fighting. Now shut up and let me deal with this.”

Dean visibly bites his tongue and goes still at the flint in Castiel’s tone. He doesn’t move or speak again while Castiel carefully washes his hand with soap and water, dabbing it dry in between until the wound is clear enough for him to apply the antiseptic cream to it. Anna hands him the gauze pads next and Castiel presses it against Dean’s palm far more gently than he did before. Next is the cloth bandage, and he wraps that carefully around his hand a few times. He secures it with medical tape before letting go.

“There, all done.” He hands Anna the tape to put away. “We’ll change the bandage and wash it again before you go to bed.”

“But I’m telling you –”

His jaw snaps shut with an audible click when Castiel turns what very well might be his frostiest glare on him. “You will go sit down, have a drink, and wait for dinner in the other room.”

“But I –”

Sam and I will finish making dinner.”

Dean open and closes his mouth, resembling a fish for a few seconds, before he turns to Sam. “C’mon, man, help me out here!”

“We’re his guests, Dean.” Sam crosses his arms, looking none too pleased with his brother either. “I think you should probably do what he says.”

It still takes a few moments for Dean to listen to them. He looks back and forth between Castiel and Sam a few times before he throws his hands in the arm – and immediately winces, lowering his bandaged hand slowly. Dean follows that up with stomping out of the kitchen with his shoulders hunched up around his ears.

There’s still blood on Castiel’s hands – some his and some Dean’s. He turns to the sink again and starts scrubbing them clean; ignoring how they tremble slightly. His shoulders and back ache with how tense his body is right now; his wings trembling under the binder. Anna silently cleans up the mess she made with the first-aid kit, packing everything away into the box as nicely as she can. Sam busies himself at the stove while Castiel dries his hands; checking on the potatoes.

Castiel throws out the pepper he had been about to cut, not wanting to risk that he got blood on it. The knife he dumps in the sink and gets another from the block sitting in the corner by the radio. He starts on chopping vegetables with a mindless focus because if he doesn’t force himself to not think, then it’s going to overload with everything he just learned. The Winchesters are leaving in the next few days and Dean just revealed his mutation.

Aunt Amara clears her throat next to him and Castiel very nearly cuts himself again. He glances at her as she pours herself another glass of wine over the sink. “You didn’t say thank you.”

“For what?” Castiel frowns and glances around. “For setting the table?”

She shakes her head. “He helped you and you didn’t thank him.” To accentuate her point, she raises her eyebrow at him while taking a testing sip from her glass. “What would your parents say about your manners, hm?”

Dammit, she has a point. He hates it when she has a point. It always manages to make him feel like an ass. “I don’t like it when you guilt trip me.”

“It’s a magical power.” She wiggles the fingers of her free hand at him. “You get it when you become a mother. You should try it some time.”

Castiel rolls his eyes and frowns at Sam when he snorts and starts coughing into his fist like that will somehow cover the fact that he’s laughing. He doesn’t need empathy to see that. Even though he doesn’t particularly want to talk to Dean right now, he really should. Dean thought he was doing something nice – that he was helping – despite how Castiel would much rather carry his own wounds than have someone else take it for him.

With three sets of eyes on him, Castiel stalks out of the kitchen and into the dining room. They brought up one of the chairs from the basement to put at the end of the table. It was decided that he would be the one sitting at the head of the table with his back to the window, since it’s his house and all. And it seems Dean has elected to sit at the spot directly to what will be Castiel’s left when he sits down to eat.

Dean currently has his arms crossed and he’s slumped back in his chair, head turned to glare out the window. When Castiel takes his seat at the head of the table, he harrumps and turns his head to look the other way. The snub may be deserved, but Castiel has to take a moment to calm himself when the gesture only serves to fan the embers of his own irritation.

He waits a moment before clearing his throat. “Thank you for helping me.”

The lines of Dean’s shoulders ease slightly and he turns his head just enough to look at Castiel from the corner of his eye. “S’nothing.”

“It’s not nothing, Dean.” Castiel looks down at his left hand and flexes his fingers again, stretching his palm as much as he can. “That’s my cut on your hand, isn’t it?” He figures it must be, but he needs the confirmation. He needs to hear it.

“So what if it was?” Dean shrugs and turns just a little more.

The implications make Castiel queasy and he closes his eyes to calm himself. “Your mutation is –”

“Not a really obvious one.” Dean sighs and leans forward to rest his elbows on the table. “I would’ve showed you sooner if I could, but it’s hard to unless someone else is hurt.” He rubs his good hand over his face. “Just sucks that it was you that got hurt.”

“You didn’t have to –”

A soft smile tugs at the corner of Dean’s mouth and he shakes his head. “I know I didn’t.” He rubs his thumb over his injured palm. “But if I hadn’t surprised you, you wouldn’t have gotten cut and – Anyways, it’s a moot point. It’s over with and now you know. Ta-da!” He wiggles his hands in front of him, palms out. It’s brief before he slumps forward again. “And it’s no big deal for me to take it anyway. Part of my mutation is increased healing. Things like broken bones are cleared up in, like, a week.”

But all those scars… Castiel looks them over. The ones on Dean’s face aren’t that bad, but his hands are covered in little white lines, some almost faded. If he heals so well, why does he have so many scars? How many more does he have hidden under his clothes? There are so many questions that Castiel wants to ask, but he bites them back. This isn’t the time for it.

Just like that, Dean’s mood flips like a switch. He rests his elbows on the table again and props his chin in his hands. “Well, Cas. I’ve showed you mine.” He winks. “Time for you to show me yours.”

Castiel is so used to Dean asking about his mutation that it doesn’t even really phase him anymore. He simply shakes his head and stands up. “I’m going to go check on the turkey and finish preparing dinner.”

Disappointment flickers across Dean’s face. It’s brief before he sits back again. “Fine, fine. Do you want me to help or am I still banished from the kitchen?”

“You already know the answer to that.” Castiel gives him a pointed look.

Aunt Amara meets him at the door to the kitchen. She nods and gives him a small smile as they pass each other. “Don’t worry, Dean. I’ll keep you company.” She passes him a full wine glass. “Join me with a drink. Wine okay?”

“For you, I’ll drink anything.” He grins and winks at her.

Part of him wants to stick around to keep an eye on the both of them, but Castiel has dinner to take care of and he doesn’t want to leave it to Anna and Sam. That’s not fair to them when they’re both guests. That and Anna is honestly a horrible cook. If he leaves her in charge of things, the turkey is going to be dry and the mashed potatoes will have hard bits left in it – and she probably won’t add butter or milk to them to make them nice and creamy.

Thankfully, Anna isn’t anywhere near the stove. She’s standing at the counter that runs the length of the wall separating the dining room door from the hall door. While she could easily be loafing off, Anna is keeping herself busy by dumping the bag of dinner rolls into a large bowl. There’s a stick of butter next to her, waiting to be plated. Her cooking skills may be abysmal, but at least she’s helpful.

Castiel pats her on the shoulder before he goes to the stove. He stirs the meatballs in the crock-pot again just to be safe, before checking on the potatoes. They’re boiling now, but they’re not as tender as he wants them to be. Good, because the turkey should be just about done and it needs to be carved and plated before dinner can be served.

The only time Castiel ever cooks all out is for guests and this is the biggest Thanksgiving he’s had since his parents died. Even though he and Anna have big appetites, the Winchesters match them bite for bite and then some. He had to double the amount of food tonight, just for them.

Sam is finishing up with chopping the abandoned vegetables he makes sure that he’s out of the way so Castiel can pull the turkey out of the oven. There are trivets waiting on the far side of the sink and he moves the roasting pan to them. After turning down the heat in the oven a bit, Castiel puts Aunt Amara’s casserole in it to warm up.

Focusing on carving the turkey and scooping out the stuffing really helps distract him from thoughts. He’s still trying to wrap his head around the revelation of Dean’s mutation – and what that means. Now that he knows what both brothers are capable of, it’s almost unfair that he hasn’t shown them his wings yet. But he can’t bring himself to do that. He just can’t.

Someone clears their throat at his elbow and Castiel looks over to find Sam waiting. Anna is no longer in the kitchen and he can hear her talking with Aunt Amara and Dean in the dining room.

As soon as Sam has Castiel’s attention, he leans in to speak in a lowered voice. “Now that you know what Dean’s mutation is, I need to ask that you try and be careful about your safety.” His eyes are serious and his mouth is drawn in a grim line. “Dean considers you a friend now, and he always tries to take any injury from the people he cares about.”

Sam puts a hand on Cas’s arm and squeezes lightly. “I’m happy to have you as a friend, but you’re going to need to be careful now too. Just try not to get hurt – especially in any life threatening ways, okay?” When Castiel ducks his head, Sam squeezes harder. “I’m serious, Cas.” He drops his voice into a whisper. “If you want to understand more, you should ask Dean to show you what’s under his shirt sometime.”

Castiel frowns and blinks at Sam. What in the world is that supposed to mean? He’s touched that they consider him a friend, but who goes around getting life threatening wound all the time? If anything, he should be the last person they should worry about. He rarely leaves his house, let alone goes out gallivanting across the country hunting dangerous mutants and wanted criminals.

When he realizes that Sam isn’t going to let go of his arm until he gives a proper answer, Castiel nods slowly. “I’ll be careful.”

Sam drops his hand and smiles. “Thank you.” He turns away to grab the plate of vegetables and moves them to the long counter on the other side of the kitchen where most of the food will be to make something like a dinner buffet so they save space on the dining table.

Now not even carving the turkey is enough to stop his brain from running away a million miles a minute. And yet it still stalls out every time he thinks of how Sam called him a friend. They think of him as a friend. Does he consider them friends? At this point, he’s spent more time with them than he has anyone outside of his family in his entire life. Castiel hasn’t had friends since before his mutation presented. Anna has been his best friend for so long and – and he really likes the pleasant glow building in his chest.


 

Dinner ended hours ago and Castiel is still stuffed. He feels bloated and he can hardly move where he’s stretched out on his side on the recliner. Everything was cleaned up and half the leftovers were sent home with Anna and Aunt Amara when they left after watching Muppet Treasure Island. Sam is draped across the seat by the window, feet kicked up on the ottoman. Dean is spread out across the couch, taking up as much space as he physically can.

The recliner is turned just enough for Castiel to see the TV again, this time with it turned the other way so the chair is actually facing the couch. The Muppets Take Manhattan is interesting, but it’s lulling him into a trance like doze. Whenever he’s like this, his mind drifts and wanders, lazily moving from one thought to the next and going over all the things that happened today.

It’s probably not the right time to do it, but Castiel hums and glances at the couch. “Dean?”

He’s almost fully on his stomach, face squished into the pillow he’s hugging to his chest. His eyes are half open, clearly also nearly asleep. Instead of answering with words, Dean just grunts.

“What’s under your shirt?”

Dean tenses the instant the words are out of his mouth. After a few long moments of silence, he breathes out heavily through his nose. “I’m going to fucking kill you, Sam.”

Castiel raises an eyebrow at the same time Dean lifts his head to glare at Sam. In turn, Sam seems particularly focused on the movie. In fact, he appears to be acting like he didn’t hear anything and isn’t about to be throttled by his brother.

If this was such a sensitive thing to ask about, why in the world would Sam have told him to ask Dean about it? Castiel feels like he’s been set up. The best course of action would be to apologize and explain, but before he can say anything more, Dean sits up.

“Nope, we’re not talking about this.” He points a finger at Castiel and shakes his head. “If you want to see mine, then you’re going to have to show me yours. That’s the deal.”

Is there more to Dean’s mutation underneath his shirt? Castiel is curious, but is he curious enough to be willing to show his wings? He’s spent twenty days – twenty whole days – with the Winchesters, and every day he hid his wings under his housecoat or by staying in his bedroom or office. But he stopped spending so much time in either of those rooms nearly a week and a half ago. That’s about when he stopped being so afraid of them.

And now? Well, now Castiel kind of considers them friends. He still gets a tingling zing of anxiety tightening around his lungs, but it’s not as bad as before. As much as it terrifies him, maybe he should show them his wings before they leave. Anna did have a point about how they likely won’t judge him for it. Castiel has never had a problem having his wings out around her or Aunt Amara. It’s just other people and – well, Dean and Sam have somehow worked their way out of that category and into something a little closer to where he keeps his family.

He sits up a little more. “Dean?”

“Yeah, Cas?”

“Why do you want to know my mutation so badly?”

Dean is sitting up now, pillow still held to his chest. He stops glaring at Sam in favour of looking to Castiel. “Because you have a gift, Cas. You have a gift and you’re hiding them. I get why you hide it from the normies, but you don’t need to hide them from us.”

Castiel sits up more, lowering the foot rest. “You already know what my mutation is, don’t you?”

“I’ve got a strong suspicion, yeah.” Dean shrugs and almost looks amused. “A mangled feather came up in my washing when I did a load after you and it sure as hell wasn’t from any pillow. It doesn’t take a genius to put that together with your hunch and your love for long coats.”

Sam nods along, although he hasn’t taking his eyes off the movie. Is he still trying to act like he’s not paying attention?

“If you knew, why haven’t you said anything?” Castiel closes the foot rest and turns in his seat to face Dean properly.

“Because you’ll show me – show us when you’re ready.” Dean’s smile turns soft – easy – warm. He understands and a lump forms in Castiel’s throat. “I thought I might be able to speed you along by asking about it a lot, but you’re one stubborn son-of-a-bitch, y’know that?”

He worries at his bottom with his teeth for a moment, head tilting to the side. “And what if you leave before I’m ready to show you?”

Dean fakes a dramatic pout and he leans his head back, the back of his hand coming up to rest on his forehead. “I’ll cry myself to sleep every night.” But then his grin ruins it all as he rolls his head to the side to flutter his eyelashes at him.

Castiel feels like curling in on himself and he hunches forward. He’s torn about showing them his wings, but Dean is wrong. “They’re not a gift.” At those words, Dean’s smile falls. “They’re a curse.”

That gets Sam to finally look away from the movie. His frown mirrors Dean's and they share a quick look before turning back to him. “Being a mutant isn’t a curse, Cas.”

“Yeah.” Dean scoots forward on the couch, sitting on the edge of the cushion. “We’re just the next step in evolution. We’re awesome.”

Surprisingly, there hasn’t been much that Castiel has disagreed with either of them on since they got here. This is one of the very few things that they definitely don’t see eye to eye on. And this is also something that Castiel feels very passionately about.

This isn’t awesome.” He gestures around him at his house – his prison, if you think about it. “Awesome would mean being able to live a normal life. I can’t do that with my mutation. If I registered myself right now, I would be arrested. I could even be sent to The Facility!” Castiel takes a deep breath and his hands curl into shaking fists. “If I was registered when I presented like I was supposed to be, I wouldn’t have any of what I do now. I wouldn’t own this house, or the property. I doubt I would even have either of my jobs. Because I’m unregistered, I can’t go out. I can’t even have friends. I can’t –”

We’re your friends.” Sam interrupts, voice quiet but enough to bring Castiel’s rant to a sharp stop.

Now they’re both looking at him the same way they have since the day they met. It’s a combination of understanding and pity. Castiel hates it when they look at him like that. And yet he still deflates, his anger whooshing out of him. But he’s still too worked up to continue watching the movie.

With a sigh, Castiel gets to his feet. “I’m tired and going to bed now. Goodnight.”

“Cas –” Dean is standing in a heartbeat, but Castiel is done with tonight.

Everything has culminated to being too overwhelming for him. A big, busy dinner; Dean’s mutation; the revelation that they already know his mutation – or most of it, at least. It’s too much. He doesn’t stick around to find out what Dean has to say and makes sure to lock his bedroom door behind him.

Having a barrier between them helps him relax a little bit, but it’s not by a lot. Castiel shrugs out of his housecoat and leaves it in a lump on the floor. He strips off his shirt and the binder, dropping them both as he makes his way to the bed. By the time he gets there, he’s also stripped out of his pants. His room is kept warmer than the rest of the house and there’s no chill now that he’s almost naked.

Instead of lying down, Castiel turns to look at himself in the mirror. He spreads his dull wings and stares at them, nose crinkling in disgust. How could Dean think they’re a gift. If anything, they’re a cage. For over twenty years now, Castiel has been trapped in his house by his wings and the anxiety of being found out.

It’s different for Dean and Sam. They’re mutants who don’t look like mutants. They look normal, even with Dean’s scars. How could either of them ever understand what it’s like for him? Castiel hates his wings and if he could be rid of them, he would be.

He turns away from the mirrors and flops face first down on his bed. It’s too much work to get his pajamas, and too much effort to even get underneath the blanket. All he can bring himself to do is bury his face in his pillow and start counting. When he counts, he doesn’t think – he doesn’t have to focus on the distant muted noise of the TV or the quiet rumble of voices.

Castiel keeps counting even when the noise in the living room stops. He counts through the sound of footsteps coming up on the hall and the bathroom door closing. First one brother and then the other uses the bathroom; the pipes rattling when the toilet flushes and the sink runs. After the second time, the door to the guest room closes.

After that, the house is quiet and Castiel continues to count.

He keeps counting until he falls into a fitful sleep.


 

Friday – November 24th, 2017

For the first time that month, Castiel alarm clock is what wakes him. He hasn’t heard its buzzing since Dean and Sam started staying here. They both wake up earlier than him and the sound of other people moving around the house has always woken him. Sometimes it was too early, and sometimes it was just minutes before his alarm would have normally gone off.

He shivers slightly, still on top of the blanket. The house is quiet and he doesn’t even think about it as he slides to his feet. Castiel shuffles into the bathroom and, a few minutes later, shuffles out still feeling like death. It’s not until he’s shrugging into his housecoat does he realize what’s wrong with this morning. There’s no smell of breakfast like there usually is.

Did Dean decide to sleep in after such a heavy dinner yesterday?

Castiel shuffles into the hallway and immediately realizes that something is wrong. The thermostat is on the wall between his bedroom and the guest room, and he glances at it to confirm that the heat is still on. It shows that the house should be toasty to the temperature that he normally prefers. And yet, the house still feels colder than it usually does.

The door to the guest room is open. Sam always sleeps with the door shut and Castiel frowns, taking a step closer to peek inside. His heart suddenly drops from his chest to his feet. The sheets have been stripped from the bed and are bundled in the hamper next to the door. The blanket is folded neatly at the end of the bare mattress with naked pillows stacked on top of it. Sam’s duffle bag – or anything to prove that he was ever there – is nowhere to be seen.

His stomach joins his heart as he speed walks up the hall to the living room. He doesn’t even bother checking the kitchen to see if anyone is in there, because he knows it’s just as empty as the guest room – and the living room. The sheets are missing from the couch too, but the blanket and the pillows he had given Dean are stacked on the recliner. Dean’s duffle, which had sat at the end of the couch in the corner of the room, is gone too.

Castiel tries swallowing, but his mouth is suddenly dry and there’s a lump in his throat.

He fists his hands in his housecoat and crosses the living room to the window. The driveway is just as empty as his house; Dean’s precious car nowhere in sight. It’s possible that he might have parked it in the garage, but he hasn’t done that once since they started staying here.

The house is warm, but Castiel has never felt so cold.

He doesn’t know how long he stands at the window, waiting as if they might be coming up the driveway at any moment.

Eventually, Castiel turns away. He returns to his bedroom, shutting the door on the silence. When he crawls back into bed, he tucks his wings in and pulls the blanket over them too.

The house is quiet.

Cold.

Empty.

And so is he.

Chapter Text

Saturday – November 25th, 2017

The bedroom door bangs against the wall as it’s thrown open. “Okay, what the hell!” Castiel lifts his head from the pillow to find Anna standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips. “You haven’t been answering my messages!”

He groans and pulls the pillow over his head. Who cares if it’s Saturday? Castiel still doesn’t want to get up and do anything. He didn’t want to be bothered by anyone, not even Anna. Why should he get up? It’s not like he wants to face his empty house and be reminded of how the Winchesters left nothing of themselves behind. They cleaned up and now they’re gone and he’s alone again.

Anna climbs up on the bed and Castiel grumbles nonsense noise into the mattress at the sound of the curtains being drawn back. A blast of chilly air, felt even through the blanket pulled up over his back and wings, tells him that she also opened the window because she lives up to the stereotypes of redheads. Clearly Anna has no soul. She’s so cruel to try and get him out of bed when he doesn’t want to move for the rest of his life.

“It’s noon, Castiel James Novak. Get your ass out of bed this instant.”

Uh oh. Anna used his full name. She means business.

Castiel groans and peeks out from under the pillow to glare at her. “No.”

“You have until the count of three before I go and get the hose.”

He hunches his shoulders and pulls the blanket up around them more. “Don’t want to.”

“I can’t believe Dean let you sleep this long.” Anna huffs and jumps off the bed. “Where the hell are they anyway? It’s not like him to take a trip into town without waking you up first.”

Castiel hates the ache that blooms in his chest. They were only here a month but it was long enough for them to develop habits enough for Anna to notice. And she didn’t spend nearly as much time with them as he did. Almost everything that she knows about the Winchesters was learned second hand from what Castiel would tell her at the end of every other day when she texted him for updates on the situation.

“They left.” He hisses out from beneath the pillow.

Anna goes quiet – not even moving around the room. “Oh.” After a moment, the edge of the bed dips and she places a gentle hand in the small of his back. “I didn’t know. I’m sorry, sweetie.”

He shrugs and pulls the pillow off his head so he can lay on it properly. Castiel doesn’t feel like talking about it or doing anything about it. The Winchesters muscled their way into his life by not-quite-but-technically blackmailing him into letting them stay here. If anything, he should be happy that they’re gone now, but all he feels is sadness. He shouldn’t feel like something is missing now – like it’s going to be impossible to get out of bed.

On top of all that, he’s also missed a whole day of work. There are time sensitive recordings that need to be transcribed and it’s not good for his reputation in the transcribing world to take too long to complete them. He could lose clients if they’re not done in a timely manner.

After a few minutes of silence, Anna pats him directly on the butt. “Okay, c’mon now, let’s get up.” She stands up again. “Weren’t we going to go grocery shopping today? I guess Dean isn’t going to drive us, so I’m ordering a taxi right now to come pick us up.”

“Go without me.”

“You’re acting like you just got dumped.” She sighs loudly and he can hear the muted tap of her fingers on the screen of her phone. “You knew they were only staying temporarily. Now get up.”

No, he doesn’t want to because now he’s alone again. Castiel can’t stand the idea of going through the house and there not being laughter in the living room while they watch something stupid. There won’t be the clatter of dishes in the kitchen while Dean makes something delicious again, or the clank of weights and the whir of the treadmill while Sam works out in the basement. It will just be silence and emptiness forever again.

The Winchesters were here for less than a month and somehow they managed to worm their way past all of Castiel’s defenses. They weren’t supposed to be able to do that. Now he feels their absence like the loss of a limb and he hates it.

He hates it almost as much as he hates Anna right now. She grabs handfuls of the blanket by his feet and lifts it slightly. “I’m going to count to three.”

“You’re not my mom.” Castiel gets as good a grip on the blanket as he can and braces himself. “I don’t have to listen to you.”

“I may not be your mom, but I am the kick in the ass you need.” Anna gives the blanket a good yank and she must be bracing her foot against the bottom of the bed, because she definitely has way more leverage than expected. “Now get up.”

Castiel puts up as good a fight as possible, but he has to let go or risk his grip ripping one of his best blankets. The room has cooled off considerably with the window open and he curls up on himself, shivering once his blanket is gone. This isn’t fair. Anna knows that he hates the cold and she’s using it against him like the sneaky little rat that she is.

She stands at the edge of the bed with her hands on her hips, glaring him down. Castiel makes sure to groan as loudly as possible and move as slowly as he can while getting up. Anna moves out of his way and points at the bathroom. They stare each other down briefly before he stomps into the bathroom and slams the door as best as he can. It’s rather difficult given that it’s a sliding pocket door, but he’s satisfied with what he manages to do.

The light is off in the bathroom and the window above the toilet is covered with both a shade and curtains. Castiel keeps the light off because he doesn’t want to look in the mirror and see what he looks like. He sits to use the toilet so he doesn’t miss, and he brushes his teeth in the dark. Anna is still moving around in his bedroom and he tries to put off going back out there for as long as he can; scrubbing his teeth until he tastes blood.

By that point he can’t find reason to hide in the bathroom any longer. He slides the door open just a little bit to peek out into the room. The window is closed again and Anna appears to have laid out clothes for him on his bed. She’s clanking around in the kitchen now, but it sounds entirely different to when it was Dean making him breakfast. That one difference makes something twinge painfully behind his ribs.

Castiel presses a hand to his sternum and takes a deep breath, hoping to make that feeling go away. He changes under silent protest and drags his feet out into the hall. Anna is waiting for him in the kitchen with a bowl of Cheerios and the coffee machine chugging away to brew a pot.

She holds the bowl out, milk already added and Cheerios well on their way to being soggy. “Eat.”

“I don’t want to.” He crosses straight to the coffee and starts preparing his mug with the necessary cream and sugar.

Anna grabs him by the arm and pulls him around to face her. “Castiel James Novak, you will sit your ass down and eat your breakfast.” She shoves the bowl into his hands, nearly sloshing its contents all over the place. “Sit down and eat or I’m going to call my mom on you.”

Instead of giving him a chance to answer about what a low blow that is, Anna turns her nose up and huffs her way out of the kitchen. She doesn’t even wait around long enough for him to point out that he literally just brushed his teeth. But he would rather deal with a slight toothpaste flavour to his Cheerios than to have Aunt Amara yell at him over the phone about how he’s an adult and he should be acting like one. She’s very good at laying on the guilt trips.

As soon as his coffee is ready, Castiel takes it to the dining room and forces himself to eat some of the Cheerios. They’re not as soggy as they look, but he can only manage a couple spoonfuls before his stomach protests. What little appetite he actually had dried up the moment he sat down and realized that the extra chair brought up for Thanksgiving is still sitting at the head of the table. His stomach drops every time he even glances at it.

While he forces himself to eat, Anna continues to make herself busy. She gathers up the sheets and pillowcases that Dean and Sam were using and she goes downstairs to start a load of laundry. Anna even takes the blanket and spare pillows down to storage again. For that, Castiel is thankful. It would have likely been another month before he would have been able to work himself up to the point where he could put it all away himself.

Once his stomach officially vetoes further Cheerios, Castiel dumps the rest of it down the garburator and runs it. He leaves the dishes in the sink and polishes off the last of his coffee. The next cup he pours himself actually goes right into the waiting travel mug, because he knows that Anna is going to make him go shopping with her whether he wants to or not. It’s been like that ever since his parents died and it’s not going to change just because he feels sad that his friends left over an argument and without a goodbye .

Anna shows up at his elbow again, this time with his binder hanging from her fingers. “Alright. Let’s get this on before we go out.”

He leans his hip against the counter and crosses his arms. “I don’t want to go. I didn’t work yesterday and I need to –”

“What you need is some fresh air and to stretch your legs.” She reaches out and tugs at the shoulders of his shirt. “Now get this off so we can get a move on. The taxi is almost here.”

She doesn’t give him much choice and all but completely manhandles Castiel into getting his arms and head out of the top half of the shirt. It hangs down over his stomach while she helps him get into his binder and properly pin his wings down.

“Good.” Anna steps back once his shirt is in place again. “Now hurry up. The taxi will be here in a moment.” She grabs him by the arm and starts pulling him out towards the foyer. He barely manages to grab his coffee so it doesn’t get left behind.

Castiel grumbles as he puts his coat on and arranges it over his shoulders properly. He’s never liked being rushed to do anything, and Anna is really starting to get on his nerves as she herds him down the stairs and into the foyer. They both come to a sudden stop when they notice that there is a folded piece of paper stuck to the door with the letters D, S, and W from the alphabet scattered across the fridge.

“Oh.” Anna carefully slides the paper out from under the magnets without knocking them off the door. “How long has this been here?”

“I assume since they left.” Castiel takes it from her, hands surprisingly steady. “How did you not notice this when you came in? Or when you went down to do the laundry.”

Her nose crinkles and she sticks her tongue out at him before turning to put on her shoes. “I blinked in because I forgot my key. And I wasn’t looking at the door when I went downstairs.”

Castiel slips his shoes on too and follows her out into the cool November air. It’s not as bad as it could be, but he likes it to be somewhere in the seventies instead of the low sixties they’ve got going on right now. Winter is almost here and he is not looking forward to it.

Anna takes the keys from his pocket to lock the door behind them. She guides Castiel towards the waiting taxi with a hand on his elbow. He’s too preoccupied with the note to pay attention to much else.

Hey Cas,
Sorry we didn’t wake you. After last night we _I_ thought it might be best for us to head out quietly.
Don’t know when we’ll be back in town, but we’ll pop in if you still want to see us. Hey, here’s an idea! Maybe next time you could come with us! It’d be good for you to travel a bit. You can’t stay locked up in this chicken coop all the time. That’s not healthy for you. (But for serious… You have a really nice place here).
I made a sandwich from leftovers for you in the fridge. The bread will be soggy by now but you won’t even notice if you soak it in gravy.
You should text/call us some time, okay?
See ya!

Below their carefully printed initials are their phone numbers. There’s something next to the DW that has been scribbled over repeatedly with spirals. It’s such a dense cluster that Castiel has no idea what it could have been before Dean decided to cover it up.

“So, what’s it about?” Anna opens the back door to the taxi and slides across to the other side.

“It’s a typical goodbye note.” Castiel folds it up and tucks it into the inside pocket of his coat. He takes the seat next to her, feeling miles better than he did a few minutes ago.

The fact that they parted after an argument still weighs heavy on his conscience, but at least Castiel has their phone numbers now. The Winchesters aren’t completely gone from his life anymore. Unfortunately, this means that he is now faced with having to figure out what the hell he’s going to message them as an apology for Thursday night.

*

Monday – November 27th, 2017

Castiel steps away from the bathroom mirror in the midst of brushing his teeth. His cell phone mocks him in its silence from where it’s charging on his nightstand. Aside from Anna and his aunt, and the notifications when he receives emails, there hasn’t been much incoming activity. While that is usually the norm, he’s still strangely disappointed that Dean and Sam haven’t texted him yet. He assumes they must have his number since they were able to find his address so easily.

Of course the best way to make sure that they do have his number would be for him to call them or send them a message himself. Of course Castiel hasn’t done that, though not for a lack of trying. He’s typed both their numbers into his phone a number of times in an attempt to call them, but each time he’s chickened out and never actually hit the call button. A few times he’s also tried composing messages to them, but nothing ever sounds right and he ends up deleting them.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Castiel also hasn’t actually saved their numbers yet. He’s essentially memorized the letter that they left, including the numbers, but that’s different from saving them to his phone. The note itself is folded up underneath his phone at the moment, and he’ll probably re-read it again before officially turning in for the night.

He’ll re-read it, but he won’t send them a message and he won’t call them because he’s a coward and a terrible friend.

*

Thursday – December 14th, 2017

The fact that the Winchester’s stay ended on a sour note has haunted Castiel since the day they left. And every day he looks at his phone and hates himself a little more because he still hasn’t figured out a way to make it better. An apology would certainly help, but he has to word that appropriately and he’s still at a loss in that department.

It kills him that they were his friends – if not the closest thing to friends he’s had in a very long time – and he ruined it. Clearly neither Dean nor Sam hate being a mutant. If Castiel had just kept his big mouth shut, they wouldn’t have fought about their obviously differing opinions on being mutants. His opinion hasn’t changed in the days since they left, but he keeps kicking himself for having said anything at all. Maybe they would still be here if he hadn’t said anything.

On the bright side, it’s been long enough since they left that things feel back to normal again. Castiel wakes up to his alarm and goes about his daily life the same as he did before the Winchesters ever showed up on his front step. Only sometimes does it feel like something is missing, but he firmly ignores that feeling and carries on. He’s very good at ignoring things.

Castiel has even started ignoring the note now. It’s still on the side table next to his bed, but he hasn’t opened it in a few weeks. Not that it matters, of course, since he now has the damn thing memorized. Which somehow only makes him feel more guilty for not contacting the Winchesters in the weeks since they left.

What if they think that the silence means that he doesn’t want anything to do with them again? What if they never reach out to him because he never initiated contact? What if they hate him now? It makes Castiel’s stomach turn to even consider that they might never message him. There’s always the possibility that they don’t have his phone number – in which case they’re waiting for him and – and he’s put it off for too long.

Castiel grabs his phone and opens the messaging app. He types in Dean’s phone number before composing a message. Since it’s been so long since they spoke last, it would be best to keep it simple. “Hello, Dean.” He reads it out as he types, testing out how it sounds in case he types something stupid. “How are you? Hope the weather wherever you are is good. We finally started seeing some snow here. It’ll be a white Christmas after all!”

His thumb hovers over the send button, and he reads it over and over again. “Oh God that sounds so dumb.” Castiel shakes his head and deletes everything.

Before he deletes the number too, he pauses. If he can’t do a message yet, then the least he could do is save the damn number, right? Right. Squaring his shoulders, Castiel steels himself and taps through the button path to save the number. Even typing Dean Winchester into the name field feels like an effort, but he pushes through it and hits save.

It might not be something to be proud of, but Castiel does feel a sense of accomplishment. Especially when he creates another new contact and saves Sam’s number next. This is a step in the right direction. And maybe the next time he goes to try to send a message, he might actually be able to hit send.

*

Monday – December 25th, 2017

A soft snore from the couch, though quiet, is enough to get Castiel to blink out of his own slow doze. He lifts his head enough to glance at the couch and see who the offender was. Aunt Amara is curled up on her side with her head in Anna’s lap. She had a lot of eggnog and he’s surprised she didn’t pass out a lot sooner. Anna is out cold too with her head tilted against the back of the couch. Her Santa hat is tilted over her eyes and her mouth is open. She gives another quiet snore and Castiel rolls his eyes. Of course it was her.

The Miracle on 34th Street is still playing on the TV and he settles back down on the recliner to finish watching it. Their evening together was busy and the first that his house has felt full and warm again in a month. Castiel actually feels satisfied – both in appetite and emotionally. The company was excellent and the food delicious. They generally only have a variety of appetizers on Christmas Eve with the bigger dinner being Christmas Day. It won’t be quite the affair that Thanksgiving was, but it will still be good.

They’ve been lazy since their so-called dinner, to the point that they haven’t even cleaned up from when they opened presents. It’s always been a family tradition to exchange one gift on Christmas Eve, and it’s always pajamas. Aunt Amara buys for both Anna and Castiel, and then the two of them go in together to get her a pair. Once the gifts are opened, they all change and spend the rest of the night watching various Christmas movies until they pass out.

This year, Aunt Amara got them matching onesies in green and red Christmas prints. She had even gone to the effort of altering Castiel’s clothing for him. Most years she just gets him pajama pants since he hardly ever wears a shirt to bed. But these are nice – though it is weird to be wearing one piece of clothing with a butt flap. For Aunt Amara, Castiel and Anna bought the softest two piece they could find in the most ridiculous reindeer pattern possible.

This is always Castiel’s favourite time of the year. Not because of the holidays and getting gifts, but because of the company. Anna and Aunt Amara stay with him from Christmas Eve until New Year’s day. It’s several days of having people here and he loves it. He never loved Christmas time as much when his parents were around. Now it’s a treat that he looks forward to all year long.

And every year it’s the same. Aunt Amara takes the spare bedroom while Anna either sleeps on the couch or ends up in Castiel’s bed with him. There’s a reason that he took his parents’ queen size bed and replaced it with a king. Anna doesn’t cuddle, but she’s a kicker. She’ll bring her own blanket to bed and shoves his over until they both have only one side of the bed each.

The movie will probably be over in half an hour and that’s about when they should turn in officially. It’s already after midnight, according to the digital display on the DVD player, so technically it’s actually Christmas Day right now. They’ll probably sleep until almost noon before they get up for breakfast and to open the presents under the tree. Since it’s only the three of them and they only have to buy two presents each, it’s not going to take long.

When his phone buzzes on the table, Anna snorts and shifts on the couch but otherwise doesn’t wake up. Castiel sits up just enough to be able to reach his phone and squints when he swipes to turn it on. After turning down the brightness, he’s finally able to actually see what’s on the screen. The background of his phone is one of the generic ones that came with the phone because he hasn’t really had anything to set as a wallpaper that he feels strongly about using. Against the dark purple background, Castiel has to re-read the name of the text message a few times before he sits up sharply.

It’s from Dean.

Castiel takes a few moments too long to open the message. Merry Christmas Cas glows against the black of his texting app. It’s followed by a number of emojis; Christmas trees, presents, Santa Claus, and holly. By the time he’s read it three or four times, Castiel realizes that he’s smiling. This might not qualify as a Christmas miracle, but it certainly feels like it. He wasn’t where he needed to be to reach out first, though he was close, but Dean took that step for him.

Instead of answering with words or even more emojis, Castiel looks up a dancing Santa Claus gif and sends that. He gets a laughing emoji in response a few moments later. Even though the conversation is short, he still reads it over again a few times.

It’s a start, and he’s happy with it. With a satisfied hum, Castiel settles back to finish watching the rest of the movie. He’ll wake up Anna and Aunt Amara after the movie and they can all sleep comfortably until the morning. Until then, he’ll bask in this feeling of warmth that’s made itself at home in his chest.

*

Monday – January 1st, 2018

“Smile!”

Anna holds her cellphone up with the selfie mode on. She steps up next to him just as Aunt Amara steps up to Castiel’s other side. There’s no escaping this photo-op, but he still sticks his tongue out at the camera hoping that might ruin it. Of course it doesn’t and they make quite the picture as both Aunt Amara and Anna lean in to kiss him on both cheeks. They push in harder than they need to, squishing his face comically because that’s so comfortable.

After several quick snaps, Anna steps back and flips through the pictures to check on them. “Perfect!”

“Do you have to take one every year?” Castiel sighs and uses the sleeve of his sweater to rub Aunt Amara’s lipstick off his cheek.

“Don’t you dare mock my collection.” She sniffs at him and goes about deleting the duplicate pictures.

It’s barely a few minutes later when both Aunt Amara’s phone and Castiel’s phone bing with the notification that they received the picture. Anna always sends them both a copy. One of these days, Castiel should actually do something with them rather than just leave them in the cloud. Maybe he can make a collage of them for Anna’s birthday next October. That would probably be something that she would like.

His first impulse after hearing his text tone is to check his phone, especially since he’s started texting with the Winchesters. This time, Castiel resists that urge. He knows that it’s going to be Anna. So instead of reaching for his phone, he takes a shot with his Aunt. Tequila always tastes terrible and he only ever drinks with his Aunt because that’s apparently something she never quite got over from her ‘wild days’, as his dad used to put it. Though, according to him, she’s nowhere near as bad as she used to be.

Aunt Amara cackles at the face he pulls after knocking back the shot and she slaps him on the back a few times. While Castiel does occasionally have beer in the fridge, he doesn’t usually drink unless it’s with someone else. When the Winchesters were here, he had a beer almost every other day with them. Even though he can’t even get a buzz from alcohol, Dean still drinks beer and whiskey – for the taste! It seems no one has told him that they all taste awful.

Castiel’s choice to rarely keep alcohol in his house is for a very good reason. He has fought hard not to become an alcoholic. It would be so easy for him to fall into those habits. His dad made sure to give him a very thorough talk about how alcohol doesn’t solve anything and that he should learn from his Aunt’s mistakes. Anna, while unplanned, was obviously not a mistake, but alcohol absolutely played a part in her conception.

Anna quickly takes a shot too. She grimaces and shakes her head. “Ooo, that’s nasty.” She gives a full body shudder before standing up. “I’m going to get the vacuum cleaner.” To emphasize her point, Anna kicks at the confetti from the party poppers they used at the end of the countdown to midnight.

Before she even leaves the room, Castiel’s phone bings again. He rocks to one side to get it out of his pocket, fumbling slightly because that was not his first tequila shot of the evening. Anna’s picture is the first message, but the second is from Dean. This time it’s nothing more than a string of emojis. Some seem related to New Year’s Eve – like poppers and fireworks – but then there are also lips and kissing emojis too. Castiel knows exactly what those mean and he rolls his eyes at it. Dean; always a flirt.

In response to Dean’s emojis, he forwards the picture that Anna sent him. To that, he adds; Happy New Year Dean and Sam!

To his surprise, Dean answers surprisingly quickly. Holy shit i'm so jealous rn!

He follows that up with a picture of his own. Castiel opens it eagerly, waving off the next shot that Aunt Amara offers. She shrugs and downs it herself.

The picture is of both brothers, sitting on a ratty looking couch in the middle of someone’s living room. Dean is wearing novelty 2018 glasses and Sam has a party hat on. They’re both grinning big and bright. There is a woman standing behind the couch, facing away from the camera. Her black jeans are low riding and her tank top isn’t long enough to hide the scribble of a written tattoo in the small of her back. Castiel can’t tell what it says from the quality of the picture.

Beyond the woman are several more people, but they’re all blurry since the Winchesters are obviously the focus of the picture. That said, Castiel still tries to zoom in on the other people to see if he can figure out anything about them or maybe where they are. He has no idea why he’s so interested in that. It’s not like it matters to him where they are. Didn’t they say that they have friends all over the country?

There’s a tight ugly feeling in his chest. It feels too much like jealousy for his own liking. What does it matter that staying with him probably meant nothing to the Winchesters. His couch was just another couch for them to surf, undoubtedly.

It’s a nice picture, but Castiel doesn’t bother answering it. He puts his phone away and gestures for his aunt to pour him another shot. It burns down his throat again, but he doubts that it’s the reason why his stomach is suddenly unsettled.

*

Castiel wakes up to a sharp kick in the shin. He groans and flops his arm out, hoping to hit at least some part of Anna to express how much he hates when she doesn’t keep her damn limbs on her side of the bed. It’s a king sized bed! There should be no crossing the neutral territory in the middle. And yet, there’s another kick that makes him grimace into his pillow.

The third arm flop attempt catches Anna right in the face. She flails awake with a sound that Castiel can really only define as a squawk. Instead of kicking him this time, she shoves his arm away with a smack.

“Y’kicked me.” Castiel groans and pushes his face further into the pillow. He was too drunk last night to remember to close the blinds and now the room is too bright. His whole head is throbbing and why couldn’t he have a useful mutation like Dean’s healing powers? Hangovers suck and he’s going to remember this moment whenever he considers drinking in excess again.

Anna makes a distinctly unhappy noise and withdraws to her side of the bed – and then keeps on going. She tosses her blanket over top of him, squishing his wings since they’re already under his blanket. Castiel grumbles and groans because it’s just irritating enough that he won’t be able to get to sleep like this. With some effort, and a lot of squirming, he manages to kick off both his blanket and hers without bending or losing any feathers.

The next problem that presents itself is that without his blanket, he feels too cold to be comfortable. Regrettably, Castiel has to push himself up onto his hands and squint his way to separating their blankets so he can cover up properly again. Since he’s up at the moment, he also glances at the clock. To his surprise, it’s almost one o’clock in the afternoon. Unfortunately for his day, he’s just that side of unhappy that he doesn’t care about the time and he also has no intention of getting out of bed.

Aunt Amara might have cleaned up her act a lot to single handedly raise Anna, but she can still party far better than either of them.  She kept both Anna and Castiel up until well past four o’clock in the morning intermittently dancing in the living room, singing in the kitchen, or getting really intense at what board, card, or dice games they started. Castiel isn’t sure that they actually finished any of the games. The night became mostly a blur for him not long after midnight.

He tosses Anna’s blanket back to her side of the bed and wraps his own around his shoulders, careful of his feathers. His teeth feel fuzzy and his mouth tastes disgusting. Everything hurts and Castiel sits on the edge of the bed with his head in his hands. What he wouldn’t do for a nice cool glass of water right now. Maybe he could convince Anna to bring him one? Where did she even go?

The answer to that question comes in the tinkling sound of liquid hitting liquid. Castiel glances up briefly before dropping his head back into his hands. “Anna. Close th’damn door.” Because of course she went to the washroom after getting up.

Anna is currently mimicking his position, though hers is on the toilet with her panties around her ankles. Thankfully the vanity is hiding the majority of her body from this angle. Her red hair appears to be defying gravity in places, and Castiel probably doesn’t look much better. She mumbles something unintelligible, and he doesn’t press for her to clarify.

Castiel doesn’t look up again until he’s heard the toilet flush and the sink run. Only then does he let the blanket fall again so he can haul himself out of bed. They bump elbows and grumble at each other as Anna leaves the bathroom while drying her hands on her shirt and he tries to stumble into the blessed darkness of the bathroom where he can get rid of the building uncomfortable pressure in his belly.

“An’ put some pants on.” He shoves at her shoulder and she shoves back.

With the door slid shut between them, Castiel can finally open his eyes fully without having to feel like the light is stabbing him in the eyeball. He can hear Anna digging through one of the drawers of the dresser in his closet, likely looking for a pair of pajama pants or sweatpants that she can steal. God forbid that she go to the effort of finding her own pants in the luggage she has in the living room.

Since it’s so dark and he has zero desire to turn on the light, Castiel has to feel his way to the toilet. For the sake of his floors, he sits instead of trying to take aim because that would be a very poor decision and he really just doesn’t have it in him to live life on the edge like that. He even ends up washing his hands and brushing his teeth in the dark, because why the hell not? If he wanted to, Castiel could probably go through his whole morning routine with his eyes closed.

Halfway through brushing his teeth, he notices that there’s a flashing light on the vanity. Even though his brain feels like it’s been pulled apart and then sewn back together incorrectly, he’s pretty sure that there shouldn’t be anything flashing in here. Patting along the rim of the sink, he eventually comes into contact with a phone. The big question is, does it belong to him, or does it belong to Anna?

Castiel nearly blinds himself by pressing the power button along the side. The screen lights up and he whines at the pain that lances through his head. It takes him almost a minute to adjust to the light and realize that he’s looking at his own lock screen. Apparently he was so out of it this morning that he forgot to plug his phone in. The battery is less than twenty percent right now, and there are several missed messages.

All of them are from Dean.

R u drinking 2nite?

If ur drinking 2nite, im going 2 b SO disappointed because u didnt drink once while we were there & thats just not fair man

Well… except 4 that time @ the graveyard

But that doesnt count

Maybe it does count?

If ur drinking 2nite u’d better drink water! Don’t want a hangover!

Castiel stares at the messages with his toothbrush between his teeth and toothpaste foaming in the corners of his mouth. It takes an excessively long amount of time for the words on the screen to make any actual sense to him. And then it takes just as long for him to find an appropriate emoji response. He sends the green sick faced emoji, and the upset face with squinted eyes.

An answer comes before he can even start brushing his teeth again. Does Dean live on his phone?

OMG UR HUNGOVER!

Im so mad im missing this…

Take sum painkillers drink sum water get some sleep. Chill 4 the day!

Pls send me ur grumpy face… u have the BEST grumpy face!

Castiel sighs loudly through his nose and uses his foot to slide the door open enough to let some light in. Anna isn’t in the bed, so she must have gone off to do something. He doesn’t care what it is as long as she does it quietly. It’s bad enough that he has to deal with light. If he had to deal with noise too, his head might actually explode.

He takes a quick selfie of his squinty eyes and his grimace around his toothbrush. It turns out horrible, of course. His hair is a rat’s nest at best, and the bags under his eyes are impressive. But it’s the best that he’s going to get and he sends it off without another thought.

The response he gets is a string of laughing emojis, each of them with tears in their eyes. And then Dean sends a gif of someone howling with laughter and smacking at a table. It actually brings a bit of a smile to Castiel’s lips. But the only acceptable answer to Dean’s messages is a gif of someone giving both middle fingers.

Holy shit

Grump u is my fav u

Castiel rolls his eyes and puts his phone down so he can finally finish his teeth. If he leaves his toothbrush in for too long with all the toothpaste goop on his tongue, he’ll start to gag and he can already feel that urge coming on.

Once he’s finished, he dry swallows a couple Tylenol to hopefully help with his headache. He takes his phone with him when he leaves the bathroom, but only so he can plug it in where it belongs on his nightstand. From there, it’s a desperate search for his slippers before he gives up and slowly trudges his way to the kitchen so he can fill a water bottle.

Everything is bright throughout the house and Castiel hisses quietly. The bedroom and the bathroom wasn’t enough for him to adjust. It should have been, had he opened his eyes enough for it, but he was stubborn and didn’t. Now he’s near blind because he’s an idiot.

Aunt Amara is in the living room, sitting on the couch and watching TV. She drank more than Castiel did and she doesn’t even have a hair out of place. She gives him a finger-wiggling wave and a smug smile. This would have been slightly more tolerable if she was suffering like he is. It’s moments like this that he thinks she must be a mutant in some way. How else could she get through all of last night without wanting to die come morning?

Castiel glares at her before heading into the kitchen. That’s where he finds Anna, hunched over the counter and staring at the coffee pot. He takes pity on her and pushes the start button, since it doesn’t function by pure hungover petulance.

She groans loudly when it dawns on her that she hadn’t even started the damn thing. “Oh hell.”

He hums and finds his water bottle in the fridge. Bless whoever filled it and left it in there – whether it be past him or his aunt. Whatever the case, it’s cold and he drains half of it right there in front of the fridge before refilling it. He could have coffee too, now that a pot is brewing, but he really would rather just go back to bed again.

Anna is still staring at the coffee pot as he heads back to the bedroom. His phone isn’t blinking when he returns, but he still checks it after closing the blinds and the curtains; turning his room into a blissfully dark cave. Dean hasn’t sent anything more, but Castiel sends him a few sleeping emojis. He would probably appreciate knowing that he’s going to get some sleep.

After a few more mouthfuls of water, he pulls the blanket back up over his wings and shoulders. It takes some wiggling to find a comfortable position on his belly, but he groans happily when he finds it. Castiel snuggles into his pillow and he’s fast asleep again within minutes.

*

Thursday – January 18th, 2018

His phone vibrates hard enough on his desk that Castiel not only feels it through his keyboard, but he can even hear it over the recording he’s listening to through his earphones. He takes his foot off the pedal to stop the recording from playing and takes a sip of his afternoon coffee. Whoever texted him can wait until he’s restocked on life giving caffeine. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets him through eight hours of sitting on his ass.

Unsurprisingly, the message waiting for him is from Dean. Their conversations since New Year’s Day have increased to the point that they’re sending messages between each other almost daily. Mostly Dean just likes to send pictures of interesting things that he sees on the road, or he’ll complain about how Castiel’s couch was more comfortable than some of the motel beds that he sleeps on.

Once, he even received a picture of Dean and Sam holding their guns in a Charlie’s Angel type pose. It was captioned with ‘On the hunt!’ and a wolf emoji. It was amusing enough that Castiel saved the picture to his phone, and then promptly went back through all their conversations to save every picture – even the one from New Year’s Eve that still gives him a confusing feeling in the pit of his stomach.

The rest of their conversations have been fun and Castiel has enjoyed having someone to talk to. He always talks to Anna, but this is different. She’s family and this is – this is a friend. It’s a different kind of relationship to the friendship he has with her and he’s happy that he toughed it through the rough patch that was the beginning with the Winchesters.

Castiel opens the waiting message and ends up having to read it three times before he believes the words on the screen.

Hey Cas! Theres a bounty available near Wichita & Sammy n me booked it & we gun b there in a few hours… Should b done the hunt in a few days

Reason im letting u no is… Well, since we gun b in the area kinda thought we could swing by Lawerence afterwards? Pop in & say hi 2 mom & all that u no

Dean is dancing around what he’s really trying to ask. Castiel can read between the lines well enough to know. He’s tempted to see if Dean will eventually ask outright, but he’s too excited to wait. And what if Dean ends up changing his mind about stopping in? It’s better that he does answer right away. He already messed up once and made the Winchesters leave earlier than they meant to because they had a fight, and he doesn’t want to do that again.

I suppose you can stay here again.
Sent 2:32pm

He gets several smiling happy faces in response to that. It’s still a few minutes before realization actually strikes and Castiel’s heart flips in his chest before crawling right up into his throat.

They’re coming back.

Dean and Sam are coming back and Castiel is going to have to decide if he wants to show them his wings or not.