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The Chosen Few

Chapter Text

The world is swallowed in darkness. There’s a faint buzzing noise somewhere off to Dean’s right. He fumbles around in the dark for his phone. Squinty-eyed, he opens the lock screen. Alarm. He thinks. His shift at the garage starts at eight. What time is it?

His phone tells him that it’s six o'clock. Thank god his alarm worked this time. The last thing he needs today is another reprimand from Rufus.

He sets his phone back down on the bedside table then forces himself out of bed and stumbles over to the deep blue curtains. There isn’t much light this early in the morning but it’s enough for him to see.

The room around him is small but tidy. He prides himself on at least keeping a clean room. You know, if you can’t have money, you can at least have a tidy freaking room.

He only slept in his boxers and an AC/DC t-shirt. It’s July, so there’s not much worry of overheating. He would usually sleep in just his boxers but he barely had the energy to take off his pants last night.

He’s been working so hard on this Chevy Volt - not the car he would pick if he was going with Chevy - and the hours he’s been taking to get it done are crazy. He wouldn’t normally work long hours but they need the money. And not to mention that it helps him focus.

He never feels more peaceful than when he’s under a car. He might not be able to solve all their stupid financial problems, but he can figure out what’s making a car fritz out.

Then there’s his boss, Rufus, who’s an old family friend so he’s been letting Dean work at the garage for years. Even before it was entirely legal. Rufus is a damn good boss even though he’s a bit of a hardass sometimes.

Dean stretches. He listens to his joints crackle and pop like a bowl of Rice Krispies. At seventeen he already feels like an old man.

He walks to the door and slips out into the hallway. The house is relatively quiet in the morning. Well, except for Sammy, of course. Dean’s little brother loves to be up at the crack of dawn.

He walks down into the kitchen and is surprised to find that Sam isn’t awake yet. The kid is finally sleeping in on a Saturday. Sam can afford to sleep in on the weekends when he doesn’t have school. Dean doesn’t have that luxury. He has to work to support both Sam and Bobby.

School is pretty damn expensive. He’s almost glad that he’s never been able to go. Paying that off would be pricey. Plus, if he went to school, he couldn’t work as much.

He really wishes that Caelum hadn’t abolished public schools.

He walks to the fridge and digs out some stuff for breakfast. He’s got a hot pan of eggs in front of him and a cup of coffee in his hand. It’s one of those peaceful mornings where everything seems to be calm and tranquil. He doesn’t get many of those.

Soon enough though, he hears shuffling on the stairs off to his left.

“Mornin’, Sammy!” he says.

“Why’re you up so early?” Sam grumbles as he rubs the sleep out of his eyes. Dean watches as his younger brother takes a seat at the rickety old table.

“I’ve got work this morning,” he says.

“Again?” Sam asks. He’s looking at Dean like he just told him that his dog died.

“Uh, yeah. Some of us have to work for a living, Sammy,” he says with a slight shrug. He dishes out some of the scrambled eggs onto a plate. A piece of toast soon joins the eggs. He fills two glasses with some orange juice. He pops the plate of food and one of the orange juices in front of Sam before dishing up his own.

“My name is Sam,” he says with a petulant tone. God, for a thirteen-year-old he sure acts like a baby sometimes.

“If you had a little brother, Sammy, you’d mess with him too,” Dean says, setting his plate on the table. “Especially if he had hair like yours!” he says, messing up his little brother’s overly long hair. “Speaking of which, it needs a trim,” he says, mischievously.

Sam jerks away from him so fast that he almost knocks over the chair. “Geez, Sammy! It was a joke! Don’t hurt yourself,” he says with a light chuckle.

“Don’t touch my hair then,” Sam says, still acting like a petulant child. Dean sighs.

“Fine,” he says, dragging out the word. He sits down across from Sam. It doesn’t take long for him to practically inhale his food.

“I gotta get a shower then I’m going to work. If you need anything-” he starts to say.

“Just call the garage, I know the routine,” Sam says, still completely focused on his eggs.

He heads upstairs to his room to grab a change of clothes. He just needs something to go under his coveralls. He grabs a pair of old, worn-out jeans and a plain black tee. He’s about to leave for the bathroom when his phone buzzes on the bedside table.

He picks it up to see a text from Andy, one of his co-workers at the garage.

6:31 >Andy: dude, have u heard?

6:31 >Me: heard what?

6:32 >Andy: apparently there’s gonna be a choosing soon!

6:32 >Me: cool ig. does it matter tho?

6:32: >Andy: ofc it does! the prince is hella hot!

6:33 >Me: ok Andy, ur being a weirdo again

6:34 >Andy: what? its true!

6:35 >Me: isnt the prince straight?? u wouldnt even be able 2 sign up dude

6:36 >Andy: cant a guy dream?

6:36 >Me: not when that guy is u

6:37 >Andy: ouch! u wound me, dean

6:38 >Me: yeah, yeah, ill see u at work.

6:38: >Andy: see u there.

He clicks his phone off. It’s not like the prince holding a Choosing would really matter for him anyway. Even if he is ‘hella hot’ as Andy says. Dean’s straight and so is Prince Novak. That’s all there is to it.

---

God this car is screwed up. Dean thinks as he slides out from underneath the Chevy Volt. It’s a compact car so you’d think it wouldn’t have so many goddamn problems.

He promised this guy he’d get it to him by the end of the month or even before. He’ll definitely get it done, it’ll just be unpleasant. This guy basically trashed his car and so far he’s found nine parts that need to be replaced.

This is gonna be a headache.

He takes a look at the outside. The car looks much better than the day it came in. Apparently, the owner crashed it into a tree. The front of the compact car has been repaired so that way he can replace parts in the hood.

He’s considering his next move when he hears Max and Ava gossiping loudly about something. “It’s happening soon though, right?” Max asks.

“Must be. Novak did just turn eighteen,” Ava says.

Not again with the freaking Choosing. He thinks. He’s tired of people fawning over this whole Choosing thing. It’s dumb and old-fashioned. You won’t find love by randomly picking fifty people and tossing them into a palace for a Hunger Games-like competition.

God, it’s going to be a catfight. Actually, that might be entertaining. Fifty girls practically tearing each other’s hair out for some stuck-up snob? Quality TV right there.

They don’t have Choosings very often so of course, it’ll be the prime gossip for the kingdom. At least for a little while. However, they haven’t even announced it yet so it’s kind of useless to giggle about it.

Dean thinks that everyone is far too enamored of this whole process. The prince will probably end up with a snobby rich girl who only likes him because he’s the prince. Oh, and he’ll only like her for her body. But yeah, super romantic, right?

The only truly good part of the Choosing is that the families of those who become part of the Chosen get money for it. Apparently, it’s some sort of ‘duty for the kingdom’ so you get compensated for participating. Kind of like if you get drafted but you’re paid way more for it.

And the cherry on top is that the rich families don’t get paid as much as the poor families do. The typical rich jackass doesn’t need the money. Dean relishes the image of pissed off rich people moaning and groaning about the king and queen not giving them piles and piles of extra cash.

“Only eighteen? Aren’t they rushing it a bit then?” Max asks snapping Dean out of his thoughts.

“I guess so. Then again, they might want to retire early,” Ava says with a laugh.

“The king and queen retiring early? No way.”

“Say what you will. The rumor is that they’re announcing the Choosing sometime in the next week,” Ava says with a slight shrug.

Dean sighs. Well, any wild hope that they weren’t talking about the Choosing is entirely gone. “Not you guys too!” he says. “It’s bad enough that Andy is obsessed with it.”

Ava and Max turn to look at him. “We’re not obsessed,” Ava says. “We’re just, um, interested.”

“Like I buy that,” he says with a scoff.

“Yeah, yeah, get back to work, Winchester,” Ava says. He fights the immature urge to stick his tongue out. “You know that you’d kill to be in the Choosing,” she says, turning away from him.

“Pfft, like hell I would,” he responds.

“Rumor has it that the prince doesn’t have a preference when it comes to gender so…” Ava says, trailing off.

Dean freezes. No preference? Seriously?  He feels warmth rush to his face. “Well, I do have a preference so that doesn’t matter to me,” he says. At that, Ava just rolls her eyes like the sassy bitch that she is.

He ignores her and slides back under the car. It doesn’t matter to him that Prince Novak has no preference. It doesn’t! Okay, maybe he’s a little intrigued by it but other than that, he doesn’t care.

How does having no preference work? He wonders. Don’t you have to be attracted to one gender? He’s heard of other sexualities but he didn’t realize that someone could have no preference at all.

He resolves to do some more research as soon as he gets off of work.

---

The second he walks through the door he is met with an armful of excited Sammy. His little brother grabs his arm and pulls him into the living room. The television is already on.

“What’s got you so hot and bothered?” Dean asks, quirking an eyebrow.

“The Choosing! I heard that they might be holding one this year! And soon by the sounds of it!” Sam says. Dean groans in exasperation.

“How the hell did you hear about this?” he asks.

“The internet,” Sam says as if that explains everything

He runs his fingers through his hair, frustration bleeding into every action. “You know, it’s bad enough that my co-workers are gossiping about this but now you too? This whole thing is way more trouble than it’s worth,” he says.

“But it’s romantic!” Sam says.

“You sound like a girl, Sam,” he says.

“I do not!” Sam replies petulantly. That seems to be Sam’s default tone these days.

Dean lets the silence hang around them for a few moments before speaking. “Where’s Bobby?” he asks.

“Kitchen,” Sam replies still sounding like a pouty toddler. He can’t help the grin that spreads across his features.

He walks into the kitchen to find Bobby grabbing ingredients out of the fridge. “Good timing, boy, I need you to cut up the onions,” he says, looking up at Dean from his wheelchair.

“Will do. Why isn’t Sammy in here helping?” Dean asks.

“I ain’t no invalid, boy. I can still throw together a damn good chili,” Bobby says. They both laugh and start to work on dinner.

---

When everyone has a bowl of chili and a plate of cornbread, they all plop down on the couch. Except for Bobby, of course. He stays in his wheelchair off to the side and even though they could lift him onto the couch, Bobby insists on staying in the damn chair.

The local news is on. This is a specific broadcast for all kingdom-related news. Announcements and such are made via this one channel. Most people tune in to watch it just because it’s that important and can, on occasion, have vital information.

They open with the typical newscaster, an older man named Marv Armstrong. “Welcome back to Saturday Night News!” Marv announces in a very over-the-top voice. “We have with us today His Majesty, the King, and Her Majesty, the Queen, but as a special surprise, they brought along His Royal Highness, Prince of Caelum.”

The camera pans over to three people sitting in chairs around a semi-circle table. The first, Dean automatically recognizes as King Charles. He has curly brown hair and a kind-looking face. The second is Queen Naomi, a stern-looking woman with auburn hair tied in a tight bun.

The last must be Prince Castiel. He barely ever appears on the news or in pictures in the media so he’s less recognizable. However, even from here, Dean can tell that Prince Castiel radiates an uptight air. He’s wearing a clean, dark suit and, even more interestingly, there’s a tan trenchcoat swung over the back of his chair.

He has black hair which seems to be completely and hopelessly screwed up. Did no one try to style it before they went on air? He also has some of the bluest eyes he has ever seen. Really, who has eyes like that? Even so, he seems very familiar to Dean...

“I’m told you have a special announcement to make,” Marv Armstrong says, walking over to King Charles.

“Oh yes, yes indeed,” King Charles says with an almost sheepish grin. “I think it would be best if Castiel himself explained it.”

Prince Castiel doesn’t react. Or at least, he doesn’t seem to. He looks like a damn immovable wall when the camera pans back over to him. God, he’s expressionless. And uptight. It’s almost irritating.

It’s even worse when he speaks.

“This year, my family has- I have seen fit to hold a Choosing as I have just turned eighteen,” Prince Castiel says and suddenly, there’s noise everywhere. Sam, along with seemingly everyone else on set (and probably everyone in the kingdom) gasps.

There’s a pause where Marv Armstrong says something that Dean doesn’t catch.

“God, I feel bad for whatever poor girl has to marry this uptight snob. I mean, honestly, how stilted can you-” Before Dean can finish, Prince Castiel starts speaking again.

“The rules of the Choosing are, of course, evident. However, there is a small change to the, um, ruleset,” Prince Castiel says.

“This year, we will pick fifty people, twenty-five women, and twenty-five men.” Yet another gasp. “Anyone between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two is eligible. I wish you all the best of luck,” Prince Castiel finishes.

The whole time when Prince Castiel was speaking, he seemed completely unfazed by his words. He was cold and calculated through the entire speech. The whole thing couldn’t have sounded more scripted but the impact was the same.

“Well, thank you, Your Royal Highness! Your Majesty, is there anything you wish to add?” Marv Armstrong asks, turning his attention to King Charles. The king laughs kind of awkwardly.

“No, I believe my son summed it up… accurately.”

Dean can tell that almost everyone is extraordinarily uncomfortable. It would almost be funny if it wasn’t so damn awkward.

The broadcast continues with the regular bevy of news. More trouble in Infernos (a kingdom that neighbors Caelum) and yet another fire in Gratia (another province). There are five provinces in Caelum; Pura Animarum, Gratia, Alis, Angelus, and Hominum.

He, Bobby, and Sam all live on the outskirts of Hominum. Just barely inside the borders of Caelum at all. Hominum is one of the most impoverished provinces. They have far too many people and far too few jobs.

He’s lucky that he managed to find work as a mechanic. Even day laborer jobs are filled. Everyone needs work and there just isn’t enough to go around. So many hungry mouths… Dean shudders at the thought.

Financially, they’re barely holding on. He and Bobby work as many hours as they can. Bobby balances the books for Rufus. Sam is too young to start working and even if he wasn’t… Well, he’s a bright kid. He won’t be stuck under a car fixing the issues that rich people create.

Nah, Sammy is gonna be some hotshot lawyer. At least that’s what Dean hopes.

Once the broadcast is over, they clean up after dinner. The second Bobby is out of sight, Sam starts babbling.

“Dean! You’re going to sign up tomorrow, right?” Sam asks.

“What? No,” he says with an incredulous laugh. Sam cannot actually be suggesting that he sign up.

“What?” Sam looks completely taken aback. “Y-you have to.”

“I don’t have to do anything,” Dean replies.

“Dean, you know that the competitors make money right?” Sam asks, looking as incredulous as Dean feels.

“Of course I know that. His Royal Highness, the Uptight Snob just really isn’t my type, Sam,” he says, frustrated.

“Don’t give me that, Dean,” Sam says as he crosses his arms.

He sputters, not quite believing the situation. Sam cannot actually be suggesting what he thinks the kid is suggesting.

“I’m not gay, Sammy!”

“You know there’s more than just being gay right? You can like guys and girls. It’s a thing,” Sam says.

“Either way, it doesn’t matter! He’s not my type in more than one way. Plus, it’s not like I’d get picked anyway,” he says.

“No harm done then, right? Could you please just sign up?” Sam begs.

He sighs in complete and utter frustration. This is his happiness. This is his goddamn life. He could be basically marrying himself off for money. But it’s not like he’d try to win. No, he could just stay long enough to get them set for a while.

Then they wouldn’t need to worry about money.

And this prince would probably end up with a snobby rich girl anyway. “Okay, fine,” he says, resignation quite evident in his voice, “I’ll do it.”

Suddenly, he’s got an armful of excited little brother. “Thank you!” Sam says. He can’t help the small smile that spreads over his face. He loves Sammy. Even if he won’t flat out say it.

“I’d do it, Dean, but I’m... y’know,” Sam says.

“I wouldn’t ask you to sign up anyway,” Dean says. This elicits a grimace from Sam.

“I’m sorry, Dean, I just thought it would be a good opportunity, after all, we won’t get another chance like this for years, or maybe even ever, and-”

He cuts off Sam’s babbling. “I get it, Sammy,” he says. Truthfully? The only reason he’s okay with doing this is the simple fact that he probably won’t get picked. There will be tens of thousands of men and women signed up.

Only fifty names get drawn. He won’t even get close.

He thinks about this as he falls asleep that night. It would be kind of nice if he did get in though. The money would be useful.

He drifts off thinking about the Choosing and Prince Castiel Novak.

---

This is completely foolish. Castiel thinks as he collapses into a chair in his library.

“Your Royal Highness?” his advisor, Gabriel, asks timidly.

“Yes, Gabriel?” Castiel says. He’s irritated by the idea of the Choosing. He cannot believe that he has to participate in such an old-fashioned tradition.

“Are you okay? You looked, um, angry on the news tonight,” Gabriel says, inching closer to him and Castiel scoffs.

“I find this whole ordeal to be quite trying on my nerves. It’s a ridiculous tradition that will not guarantee a good king or queen for Caelum.” A part of him burns with rage that his parents decided to do this so soon. They could have waited, but no, apparently Castiel is so socially inept that this is the only way.

“The chances of finding love in a competition like this is minimal,” he says to Gabriel, fiddling with the ring on his necklace.

“May I offer my opinion?” Gabriel asks. As if Castiel is going to say no.

“Of course, Gabriel. Always,” he responds.

“You don’t have to love ‘em, you just have to like them. Well, that and rule beside them,” Gabriel says. He’s standing awkwardly off to the side and watching him carefully.

“So what you’re saying is that I’ll be committing my life to someone that I am not in love with?” Castiel asks. Simply to clarify. He may be venting a little bit too.

“I’m saying that love isn’t really the goal of the Choosing. You’re supposed to be finding someone who’ll be good for the kingdom,” Gabriel says. He sounds sympathetic but Castiel is far too aggravated at the moment.

“I’ll be sacrificing my own happiness for Caelum,” Castiel says, sighing partly in frustration and partly in resignation. He’s done it before and he’ll do it again. Sacrifice is part of the job.

“It sucks.” Gabriel voices Castiel’s own thoughts. He has a tendency of doing that.

“It’s certainly not ideal,” he says with a dry chuckle. “Shouldn’t marriage be for love?” He looks over at Gabriel.

“Yeah, it should be. When you’re the heir to a kingdom? Love is optional,” Gabriel says, sounding almost sad.

“Love should never be optional. Not when it comes to spending the rest of your life with someone,” Castiel says tiredly. He pinches the bridge of his nose.

They both stay quiet for some time after that. Neither of them really sure what to say.

“I saw that you managed to get both men and women for the Choosing. How’d you do that, sir?” Gabriel asks. Castiel doesn’t care for people addressing him as ‘Your Royal Highness’ or ‘Sir’. It’s aggravating and puts him on a pedestal.

“It took a lot of convincing,” Castiel says with a sigh. It was quite difficult. His mother and father are very… traditional.

Gabriel chuckles. “Who knew you could be so manipulative, sir?”

The silence settles again. “So, if you had to choose, would you choose a lady or a guy, sir?” Gabriel asks. Castiel wants to correct him, but he knows the honorific is ‘necessary’.

“I have no preference,” Castiel says honestly.

“There have to be upsides and downsides though.”

“I suppose there are. I think the King and Queen would be slightly upset if I chose a male,” he says.

“One more reason to pick a guy, sir,” Gabriel says with a light chuckle.

“True. I suppose that females would be able to produce an heir whereas males could not.” He shrugs slightly as if to punctuate his sentence. His lack of preference is astounding to some, but to him, it’s simply a way of life. When he was little, he didn’t realize that finding both boys and girls beautiful wasn’t normal.

Though, he firmly believes that people should stop saying that heterosexuality is the norm and thus what is expected of you.

“If you married a man, you’d probably have to adopt,” Gabriel says.

“I suppose I would. Many children do need adopting after all,” Castiel says absentmindedly. He likes the idea of adopting a child. Those who are in need of a home should get one. No one should be abandoned and unloved. Especially not a child.

Opening his home and arms to someone like that is a frightening idea but… It fills him with an emotion he hasn’t felt in a long time: joy.

They sit in silence for a while. There’s nothing left to say. Gabriel is a good man but he cannot imagine the challenge that Castiel is facing. Eventually, he decides to go to bed. He bids Gabriel goodnight and walks out of the library.

As he climbs the stairs to his room, thoughts of how unfair this whole situation is flood his mind. He will be bound to someone for his entire life and they won’t even be someone that he loves. It’s naïve to imagine that he will find true love in a competition like the Choosing.

He collapses into his comfortable armchair that stands as a fixture of his room.

This whole old-fashioned tradition is so idiotic! He thinks, anger and frustration flowing through him. He wishes he could just marry whoever he likes. That would be the day…

He twists the golden ring hanging from his necklace, then goes to get ready for bed.

Chapter Text

Dean is awoken by Sam furiously shaking his shoulders. “Dean! Wake up! Wake up!” He opens his bleary eyes.

“The sign-ups are open!” Sam says, practically bubbling with excitement.

“What?” Dean mumbles. It’s too damn early for Sam to be doing this.

“Can’t we do this later?” he asks, turning onto his belly and hiding his face in his pillow.

“What? No! Come on!” Sam says, grabbing his arm and pulling.

Dean is a six-foot-tall, one-hundred and sixty-five-pound man. Sam is a gangly thirteen-year-old who is maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet. Not really an even match.

He ignores Sam’s valiant attempts to pull him out of bed. “Get me some coffee and then we can talk about this,” he says. His voice was slightly muffled by the pillow but his point must get across because Sam is out the door in a matter of seconds.

Sam seems to be thrilled about this whole thing. Suffice it to say, Dean is definitely not.

A few minutes later, Sam comes bolting up the stairs with a mug of coffee. He sits up and accepts the mug. The coffee is black, no sugar, no cream. Just the way he likes it.

He takes a long drag. The coffee is scalding and burns his tongue as it rolls past but it’s worth it. The caffeine perks him up. He’s awake enough to listen to whatever crap Sammy is spewing.

“Okay,” he finally says, setting the mug on the bedside table. “So, what’s this about sign-ups?” he asks.

“Well, the good news is that we can register you online,” Sam says, visibly brimming with excitement.

This makes Dean a little suspicious. “Okay, is there bad news, Sammy?” he asks.

“Well, um, yeah, kind of,” Sam says, shrugging slightly. “What is it?” he asks, eyeing Sam closely.

“You’ll have to go in for, like, a little interview thing and then they’ll take a picture of you for your form,” Sam says in one rush of breath.

“An interview? I thought this was supposed to be a random, luck of the draw-type thing!” Dean says. This is so damn stupid.

“I guess it’s just so that they can make sure you’re a decent fit?” Sam says. His tone makes it sound like a question.

“Whatever,” he says with a scoff. “Let’s just do this damn thing.” Dean’s exasperation with the Choosing has reached new levels.

Sam grins and bolts out of the room, presumably to get the laptop from downstairs. As soon as Sam is out of sight, Dean falls back into the pillows with a groan. He covers his face with his hands. This whole damn thing is a waste of time.

Dean would much rather stay here in poverty than sign his life away to some rich prince. He knows that there’s little to no chance of him getting picked, but still if he did… Well, that’s not something he’s going to dwell on.

When Sam comes back up, he is indeed carrying their laptop. He sighs and takes it from Sam - who still looks way too goddamn enthusiastic about this by the way - then quickly enters the password.

Sam directs him to the website. It’s an elegantly designed website, Dean will give them that. It has a light blue, gold, and white color scheme. It’s actually kind of nice.

Dean hits the register button and a form pops up on the screen. He has to enter all the generic stuff; first name, last name, email address, etc. He also has to enter some other, more interesting details, such as; height, weight, hair color, eye, and things of the sort.

It’s strange and a bit off-putting but Dean figures that it’s probably necessary. He also has to enter his address and the province he lives in. After all of that is done, he quickly checks it over. Everything seems to be in order so he clicks the ‘Send’ button at the bottom.

Another page pops up that has the location of the nearest factory where they’re doing the interviews and headshots. God, this whole thing is just so… Ugh. He thinks.

Sam is watching over Dean’s shoulder like some sort of hyperactive puppy. “We should head out there now,” Sam says, bolting up from the bed.

“Uh, say what, Sammy?” Dean asks.

“You heard me,” Sam says.

“You cannot be serious, dude,” he says, looking at the time. “It’s nine in the freakin’ morning. No way.”

“We want your application to be the first one in!”

“You mean you want mine to be the first one in,” he says. Sam pouts at him. Goddamn it, he’s using the freakin’ puppy dog eyes again. Dean is helpless when it comes to Sam and that look.

“Can I at least get dressed first?” he groans. Sam perks right up at that.

“Sure! Be downstairs in ten, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Bitch,” he says.

“Jerk!” Sam says as he all but skips out of the room.

Dean sighs and rubs his eyes, furiously grabbing his coffee cup and finishing off the last of it. He gets out of bed. Today is going to be a pain in the ass.

---

By the time he’s showered and in some of his nicer clothes - Sam insisted - he heads down to the living room. He’s wearing some of the only jeans he owns without grease stains and a long-sleeved plaid shirt.

Dean gives Sam a little spin when he gets into the living room. Sam looks him up and down and gives him an approving nod. Dean can’t help but laugh. “Someday, you’re gonna make some girl very happy by doing fashion shows with her,” he says.

Sam blushes a deep red. “Shut up!” the kid says, storming out the front door. Bobby, who was watching this whole encounter just laughs.

“Get a move on, boys,” he says, wheeling over to Dean as if to shoo him out.

“Sheesh, fine, we’ll get outta your hair, old man,” Dean says.

“Boy, if I wasn’t in this chair…” Bobby mutters. Dean follows Sam outside and Bobby slams the door behind them.

---

The line for the interviews is massive. It’s like a snake curving through the warehouse district of Hominum. There are people from all over the province there with varying degrees of wealth.

Some are dressed similarly to Dean; relatively clean jeans and the least ripped shirt they own. Some are dressed in simple but nicer clothing; a basic dress with a little makeup or some nice clean dress pants with a button-up. And some are dressed like crazy rich people.

A few of the girls look basically unrecognizable because they’re wearing so much unnecessary makeup. Expensive-looking jewelry is hanging off of them in spades. Some of the girls are wearing dresses that show off a little too much of their… Assets for Dean’s taste. And the girls aren’t the only ones showing off.

Dean has to shake his head at this exuberant display of wealth. We get it. You’re rich. Shut up about it now, will ya? Dean thinks.

The line moves slowly. Almost excruciatingly so, but soon enough, Dean is inside the massive warehouse they’re using. It’s packed with people; applicants reapplying makeup or rehearsing answers to questions. And staff members are bolting around, trying to keep everyone in order.

Everyone gets a number at the front desk and then they wait for it to be called. They have a few different rooms set up for interviews.

Dean shuffles through the line with Sam at his side. Sam is bouncing around like a kid at Christmas. Dean’s really not sure why Sam is so enchanted by this whole process, after all, this could be the last time his, or any of the other applicants' lives, are ever normal.

Once you’ve been a part of the Choosing, your life changes forever. People will ask you questions about it years after it happens. At least, that’s what people say. Apparently, Sam isn’t the only one who is far too enchanted by the Choosing.

Why bother people years after the fact? He understands that the Choosings themselves don’t happen that often, but just leave people alone. All they want is peace and quiet, is that too much to ask for? He’s hit by the realization, that if he becomes one of the Chosen, his life will be changed too.

He’s not an exception.

A whole new wave of dislike for the Choosing hits him. He hates this. He hates the whole damn thing. He takes a deep breath. He probably won’t get chosen anyway. It doesn’t matter. He’ll be fine.

He likes things the way they are. Change is a new enemy.

Dean gets his number. Three-hundred and seventy-two. He and Sam sit down in two of the hard plastic chairs provided. These chairs are scattered all around the room and nearly all of them are filled.

For the first time, he feels a profound sense of anxiousness take over. He doesn’t usually get nervous. Especially not over meaningless things like this and yet… Damn, this could be a really good opportunity for them. He’d better not blow this.

It’s strange to have such a clash of emotions. Hatred versus necessity.

They wait together, listening as numbers are called out. Dean feels his palms start to sweat as number three-hundred and seventy-one is called.

He watches a girl comes out of one of the interview rooms crying. What the hell are they doing in there? He wonders.

His number is called.

Damn it. He stands up, leaving Sam behind.

“Good luck!” Sam calls after him as a staff member shows him to one of the interview rooms. He steps inside and is met with the sight of a middle-aged man sitting at a folding table.

“Please sit down, Mr. Winchester,” the man says.

Dean sits in the chair across from him. A woman sits next to the man - Gadreel, as his nametag says - with a notepad in hand.

The interviewer, Gadreel, has a computer in front of him.

“So, you’re seventeen?” Mr. Gadreel asks.

“Yes, sir,” Dean says.

The interviewer looks him up and down, then returns his focus to the computer.

“Do you work?”

“Yes, sir. I’m a mechanic.”

“Family?”

“A brother and a... Guardian.”

Dean’s not sure why any of this matters but he goes along with it.

“Guardian?”

Oh hell no. He is not talking about his messed-up family with this guy.

“Yeah, so?” he snaps.

He immediately knows that was the wrong choice when even the notetaker looks up. How the hell does he fix this now?

He shifts awkwardly in his chair. The lady taking notes writes something down. Damn it.

“He, uh, he’s our uncle,” Dean lies through his teeth.

The interviewer nods, seemingly satisfied by his answer. For some reason.

“Why are you signing up for the Choosing?” Mr. Gadreel asks.

Dean considers this. He could screw up this interview with this answer. Well, screw it up more in any case.

“I mean, who wouldn’t? Isn’t this like, the childhood dream of everyone in Caelum? I just happen to meet the requirements this year. Woulda thunk?”

The interviewer raises an eyebrow like he doesn’t quite believe his answer.

“You live on the outskirts of Caelum, yes? Just barely inside the kingdom’s limits?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“So you are aware of the monetary compensation that the Chosen are granted?”

Dean swallows. “Yes, I’m, uh, aware of that.”

Mr. Gadreel nods. “We just have one more question for you, Mr. Winchester.”

“Shoot,” he says.

“You’re a virgin, correct?”

He sputters. What the hell?

“Uh, excuse me? What kind of question is that?”

“We just need to verify-”

“That’s a stupid question. Are you asking everyone that? That’s freakin’ private, ain’t it?”

“Well, yes, but it’s part of the procedure.”

“Then fix your damn procedure!”

“Mr. Winchester, please answer the question.”

Dean fights the urge to stand up and storm out. What kind of question is that? Asking people if they’re goddamn virgins. Who cares if someone’s gotten laid before?

“Yeah. I’m a freaking virgin. We good?”

Mr. Gadreel stares at him. His gaze is sharp. “We’re done here. If you would, Mr. Winchester,” he says pointedly, gesturing towards the door.

Dean stands up and all but storms out of the room.

---

The walk home is quiet. Sam doesn’t ask why Dean is so pissy. Dean doesn’t say anything about how the interview went. They step in through the front door of their ramshackle house. The place is practically falling apart. They’ve never had enough money to repair anything. He plops down on the couch, putting an arm over his face.

“What happened to him?” Bobby asks from somewhere off to his right.

“I don’t know,” Sam says, shrugging. “I think the interview went wrong.”

He groans. He’s still pissed. Who the hell asks someone if they’re a virgin? He hears the sound of Bobby wheeling over to him.

“What happened, boy?” Bobby asks.

“Nothing.”

“So, you ain’t gonna tell me?”

“What does it matter to you?” he snaps, standing up.

Sam pops his head in. “What happened, Dean?”

“Piss off!” he growls.

“Sam, you deal with ‘im. I ain’t dealing with this idjit tonight.” Bobby gets the hell outta there. Even in a wheelchair, Bobby Singer is still the fastest man alive. At least when it comes to getting out of uncomfortable situations.

“Seriously, Dean, it couldn’t have been that bad!” Sam says, crossing over to him. He’s holding a bowl with some of the leftover chili in it. Sam watches him a little nervously.

“It was pretty damn bad, Sammy.”

“What’d they ask?” Sam asks with his big puppy dog eyes in full effect. Dean can’t resist them. Damn it.

“It wasn’t even about the questions, Sam! It was about the whole damn thing. This whole competition is stupid! It’s a waste of my goddamn time. I could’ve been working today instead of filling your childhood fantasies!”

“They’re not my fantasies, Dean! I just want us to-”

“To have a better life, I know! That’s all I’ve ever wanted. Do you know how long I’ve been taking care of you, Sam? Do you?”

“A long time.”

“Since Dad left. Since Mom died. Since the day my life went to hell!” He runs his fingers through his hair, pacing through their living room. Sam takes a slow step forward with a calming hand up, almost like he’s trying to cull an angry animal, but Dean doesn’t care. He’s off on a tangent now.

“I haven’t gotten a single day of peace and goddamn quiet for years. Do you get that, Sam? Freakin’ years. I’m tired, man! This competition will destroy any peace I could ever have if I get in. I’m not saying I will but just the chance is sickening.”

Dean throws himself back down on the couch. He’s worn himself out with all of this anger. He’s so tired of being angry.

“Dean, I’m sorry. I know how hard you work. I know how much you’ve sacrificed for me. It’s unfair for me to ask you to do this. To possibly give up the chance of having the life you want but... “

“I know, Sammy. Trust me, I know.”

“If you really don’t want to even think about marrying Prince Novak, then you don’t have to. We can withdraw. It was never a sure thing anyway and there’s got to be another way to find the money. I’m sure if we just-”

“Sam. Enough. It’s okay. I’m not going to freaking withdraw. There’s no point anyway. I blew up at the interviewers, so there is no way in hell I’m getting in. I’m pretty damn sure Prince Novak doesn’t want anyone with a brain or personality. Probably just wants a trophy to keep around.”

Sam sighs and gently moves Dean’s legs out of the way so he can sit down next to him. “I’m sorry, Dean. I shouldn’t be pushing you like this.”

“It’s okay,” Dean says as he sits up and throws an arm around Sam’s shoulders. “I just wish we didn’t have to sacrifice so much not to starve. There ain’t a way in hell I’m getting picked. Don’t worry about it though, Sammy. We’ll find another way. We always do.” He gently punches Sam’s shoulder.

“Are you sure I shouldn’t just start working?” Sam asks, looking up at him with big doe eyes.

“No way. You are not working. One, you’re not old enough and two, we don’t need you under some car somewhere, Sam. We need you getting your education. Out of the whole Winchester family, you’re the one who’s got a shot. You might end up with a well-paying job, a wife, two and a half kids, and a nice mansion up in Pura Animarum.”

Dean can just see Sam and his kids. A picket fence, a beautiful wife. The perfect apple pie life. That’s what Sam deserves and Dean is gonna make damn sure that’s what his little brother gets.

“Who says I’d live up there? Boring! No adventure with a life like that.”

“Don’t worry about adventure, Sam. Just worry about living a happy life. A life where you don’t have to worry about getting food on the table. Now, before this turns into a chick flick, let’s go and start cleaning up. We should make today count if we can.”

Sam nods and hops up. His bowl of chili still resides safely in his hands. Dean stands up and heads to his room.

The house is a mess. Stacks of books are everywhere, even on the stairs. A fine layer of dust coats every surface. Almost everything they own is in disrepair. Dean sighs. They have a lot of work to do.

He wonders, as he climbs the stairs, what life would have been like if his dad hadn’t have left. If his mom didn’t die. He remembers the night his life went to hell in perfect detail. Almost like it happened yesterday when in reality, it happened almost thirteen years ago.

Thirteen Years Ago

Dean wakes to the smell of smoke. He hears loud noises coming from down the hall. Sam? He thinks as he exits his room. He bolts down the hallway only to see his dad standing at the end of it, already holding Sam in his arms.

The smell of smoke is thick in the air. And bright, flickering light shines out of Sam’s room. It’s on fire. He can feel the heat even from here.

“Take your brother outside! And no matter what happens, make sure he’s safe, got that, Dean?” His dad asks, handing Sammy to him.

He nods in response. He cradles Sam as he bolts down the stairs and out of the house. Dean watches as the house goes up in flames.

There are sirens somewhere off in the distance. He doesn’t move or speak, he just holds Sam tighter to his chest. He wants to scream. He wants to beg someone for help. He just can’t do it. So, he watches as his life falls apart.

He’s not sure how much time passes. It could have been minutes, hours, years. All he knows is that something went very, very wrong. Eventually, his father stumbles out of their house.

There are men in uniforms everywhere, running around and asking questions. Their dad makes a beeline straight for them. “Dean! Is Sam okay?” Dean nods, showing the bundle of blankets in his arms.

“Good. It’s time to go.”

“Where are we going?”

“Far away from here.”

Nine Years Later

“Dad, where are you going?” Dean asks, stepping into his father’s bedroom. His dad is packing a suitcase and it looks like he’s taking everything. Not that they have many belongings in the first place.

Clothes, a toothbrush, his shoes. He’s leaving somewhere. Longterm. His father adds a photograph of him, Sammy and Dean, to the pile.

“Out.”

“You…you look like you’re leaving.”

“I’ll be back soon.” His dad zips up his suitcase, moving it from the bed to the ground. His features look tired and gaunt.

“How soon is soon?” Dean takes a step closer. He’s just trying to understand. His father turns around, fiddling with something on the bed. He knows this move far too well. He hates it when his father just turns his back on him. Like not seeing the problem makes it non-existent.

“Damn it, Dean! Stop asking questions. You don’t need to know,” his father murmurs.

He steps closer again. His dad is angry right now but if he could just…

“But I-”

His dad turns on him, fury in his eyes. Every feature is twisted into pure frustration and anger.

“What the hell did I just tell you? Stop asking questions!” his father shouts.

He shrinks back, stumbling over his feet to get out of the room. His dad follows him, grabbing his wrist. He jerks Dean to a halt and sinks down to one knee in front of him.

“Hey, easy there. I’m just… I’m leaving for a little while, Dean.” John Winchester’s voice is softer now. There’s less anger. Less frustration, however, Dean is still scared. Even as a thirteen-year-old, he finds his father terrifying.

“When will you be back?” Dean asks in a small voice. He doesn’t dare move while his father watches him like this.

“I don’t know.” His father runs his fingers through his own hair. His eyes are tired and worn as he stares at Dean intensely.

“Listen, bud, you’ve gotta take care of Sammy while I’m gone, okay? He needs you. Got that?” His dad asks, patting his shoulder gently. Dean resists the urge to flinch.

He nods in response. He can do that. Taking care of Sammy is easy. Sam is just a moody ten-year-old now. Not much harder to deal with than a moody nine-year-old.

“Good. Okay. I’ll see you soon.” His dad goes back into his room and comes out with his suitcase in hand. He makes his way to the door of their tiny apartment.

“Bye, kiddo. Be careful, okay?”

“Yeah, don’t worry, Dad.”

As soon as the door closes behind his dad, he goes searching for Sam. He finds him lying on his bed in their shared room. Sam isn’t facing Dean when he walks into the room.

“Hey, Sammy,” he says, trying to smile.

“Hey. What were you and Dad talking about?” Sam asks in a small voice. He still hasn’t looked up at Dean.

Dean sighs and slowly sits down next to his baby brother on the bed. Sam sits up slowly. There’s a doe-eyed look of confusion on his face.

Dean resists the urge to scream. He’s so angry and so tired of their dad’s antics. He’s never around when they need him. Never. Now he’s just left again. He knows that their dad never leaves permanently, but this time feels different.

It’s not a ‘bye. I’ll be back in a couple days’ kind of leave. It’s more of a ‘I might not be coming back. See ya!’ kind of leave. He’s terrified of what would happen if their father never comes back. He’s just a kid, he’s not able to take care of Sam. Not on his own.

He takes a deep breath. It won’t come to that. It never has before and it won’t now. He puts an arm around Sam’s shoulders.

“He’s just leaving for a couple days, Sammy. Nothing to be worried about.”

“Again?” Sam asks as he stands up and shrugs Dean’s arm off of his shoulders. Dean tries not to look hurt by this. He knows Sam isn’t angry at him. He knows that. It still stings though.

“Yeah, Sammy, again,” he says with a sigh. He’s resigned. He accepts that this whole process will never change. Their father leaves for months at a time and comes back with stacks of money tucked away in his suitcase.

Dean hasn’t asked what their father does in a long time.

The first time he asked, his dad had told him he worked as a mechanic. What kind of mechanic leaves their family for months at a time and gets paid in cash like that? Dean knows his father is a liar. He’s known it since before he can remember.

He usually doesn’t care that his father won’t tell him the truth. It hurts a little, sure, but it’s nothing he can’t handle. However, when it endangers Sam. That’s when he cares.

“My name is Sam!” Sam shouts.

Even though Dean is resigned, Sam is not. He’s so much like their dad that every argument is like the same person arguing different views. They butt heads so much that Dean just lets them go at it now. He doesn’t even try to intervene.

“I know, Sammy. I know,” he says softly.

Sam takes a step towards him before collapsing back onto the bed. Sam falls right into his arms. And then everything is normal again. Dean clutches his little brother to his chest, just like always.

It’s always just been the two of them against the world. That will never change.

---

His father never comes back. Well, not for long at least. He stops in a couple of times over the years to ask Dean for money.

Dean was a teenager working an illegal job to support his baby brother. And his father - his goddamn father  - was asking him for money.

His father always used to beg him and told him, ’This is the last time! I swear!’. And it was always a lie. It’s never been the truth and it never will be. But for some goddamn reason, Dean always caves. He always gives his dad whatever money he needs.

Then, his dad leaves again. He’s even more exhausted and Sam is even angrier.

It’s a vicious, never-ending cycle.

Everything got really bad when Dean turned fifteen. He still couldn’t work any legal jobs. He begged on the street for a while and did anything he could. Any work he could get was barely enough to get food on the table.

He was desperate.

They ended up on the street. Food was scarce and so was shelter. It got cold at night and there was nothing to do but huddle for warmth.

It took a long time for Bobby to find them.

Once he did, though, they had a place to stay. A roof over their heads. Dean will always remember that night in perfect clarity.

“Where are we going, Dean?” Sam asks as they walk down the street. A tough-looking man with a beard had come to them. He told them he knew their father. Usually, Dean wouldn’t trust anyone who had an in with their father, but he was desperate.

He still is.

“Somewhere better. Don’t think about it too much, kiddo.” They follow him to a beat-up old Chevy Chevelle.

“Get in, boys. We’re goin’ home.” The man, Bobby, jerks his head.

“Home?” Sam and Dean ask together.

“Yeah. Yer dad left ya, I’m gonna give you boys a home, fer as long as ya need.”

Dean clenches his jaw. This could go very, very wrong. You don’t just get into some random stranger’s car, but… God, they’re cold. And hungry. He nods. “Okay. Sam, get in. I’m just gonna talk to Bobby here for a minute.”

Sam looks up at him with that big doe-eyed expression on his face. “Go. I’ll only be a minute.” Sam nods slowly. He walks over to the Chevy and climbs in. Dean turns to face Bobby. “How do you know my dad?”

Bobby doesn’t look surprised. In fact, he almost looks… Proud. “We used to work together.”

“Work together?” Dean gnaws on his lower lip. He feels a profound sense of unease root deep in his chest. His father’s work was always a subject they never touched. Never mentioned.

Bobby grunts as an affirmation.

“What ‘work’ did you two do together?” he asks, carefully examining Bobby’s face.

“Did John feed you that mechanic story bull?”

He clenches his fists. So, he was right. His dad is a filthy liar. Of course, he is. Why wouldn’t he be? It’s not like anyone can be relied upon to tell the goddamn truth.

“From the look on yer face, he ain’t said a word about his real job.” Bobby takes off his hat and rubs it against his forehead. “Idjit,” Bobby mutters.

“What is his real job?” he asks.

Bobby shrugs. “If he didn’t tell you, there’s a damn good reason, boy. Don’t worry about it fer now. We can talk about that later.”

Dean takes a deep breath. Bobby has a rough nature to him, but he thinks that they can trust him. Even though he seems a little too much like their father for his liking. Dean hops into the passenger seat of the Chevy. “Hey, Bobby? What the hell happened to this damn car? And why does it smell like roadkill?” he asks, wrinkling his nose.

Bobby gives him a look. There’s a lot of mixed emotions in that look. “Boy, you never stop talkin’, do ya?”

Dean laughs. The first real laugh in a while. “Nope. I’ve been told it’s a problem.”

“They told ya right.”

Sam even laughs at that. They’re happy for once.

Chapter Text

This is extremely aggravating. Castiel thinks as he sits at the breakfast table. His parents can’t stop talking about The Choosing. Gossiping and buzzing about the intricacies of the process.

He takes a deep breath and chooses to ignore them. Even if they insist on discussing the Choosing to no end, Castiel himself does not have to be a part of it.

“What do you think, Castiel?” His mother asks.

Of course. He must’ve jinxed it.

“About what, Mother?”

“Which province do you think you’ll keep a close eye on?” His mother eyes him. The queen has always given him the iciest looks possible for seemingly no reason. She is more a statue than she is a woman.

“I have no preference,” he says.

“I know you say that for the cameras, but it’s just us here, dear. Why don’t you tell us?”

Castiel resists the urge to roll his eyes. He’s told his parents countless times that he doesn’t care. He typically doesn’t have a preference when it comes to these things. He’s certain that he won’t find love anyway.

He’s been in love before. And it isn’t something he can find through the Choosing. Though, he’s not entirely sure he wants to be in love again. That feeling would be nice, yes, but he’s not truly over the last person that he felt that way for.

Love isn’t simple. It’s not something you can force. It’s complicated and difficult. He smiles sadly at the memory. Flashes of bright blue skies, kind smiles, and overjoyed laughter.

“Castiel,” his father’s voice snaps him out of his reverie.

He looks up to see everyone staring at him. He clears his throat.

“Yes?”

“Your mother asked you a question,” his father says, staring at him with a hardened look. He wears a kind smile for the benefit of those around him, but his eyes? They betray his true personality.

His father is a very charismatic man. He can trick anyone into trusting him. No one other than Castiel knows just how manipulative his father truly is. He’s been on the receiving end of that manipulation far too many times.

“I am aware of that,” he says, looking down at his oatmeal. He doesn’t dare make eye contact. “I simply do not wish to answer.”

“Castiel!” His father and mother say together.

He chances a glance up. Castiel is not the type to start fights intentionally. He much prefers talking out issues with a calm, clear head. However, his parents tend to use anger and intimidation in every argument.

Gabriel puts a hand on the back of his chair. He looks up to see his advisor giving him a meaningful look. He’s going too far. He needs to be more careful.

Gabriel has always been good at keeping him in check. He assumes that’s why his parents assigned Gabriel to him in the first place. However, Gabriel is family now. He is Castiel’s confidante. His best friend, truthfully.

“Fine then, Castiel. How do you feel about the Choosing itself?” His father asks, giving him a look. Castiel knows that look far too well. That look means ‘Don’t you dare say something I won’t be happy with’ but he’s never cared about that before. Why start now?

“I believe it is an old-fashioned process. I believe that it should have been abolished years ago. And I certainly wish I could have a hand in choosing my own spouse. ”

Gabriel squeezes his shoulder.

“I can’t believe you’re saying all of this, Castiel! Especially with how lenient we’ve been with you and-” His mother starts to say.

Lenient?” Castiel spits. Rage takes root deep inside of him. They’ve never been lenient with him in his life.

“Yes! Allowing both women and men into the Choosing. Even though it goes against tradition!”

“Tradition is all you ever talk about! Who cares about tradition? We should never do something simply because that’s the way it has always been done!” Castiel resists the urge to slam his fist on the table. He’s angry, but he will not allow himself to show it. He’s always kept a good hold on his emotions. Control is the name of the game when it comes to being royalty. Not that he’s ever had to really use that emotional control outside of the castle.

He hasn’t been out of the castle grounds in years.

He’s afraid that the public barely recognized him when he went on television to speak about the Choosing. There are very few recent pictures of him. There’s no reason that anyone should know what the Crown Prince of Caelum looks like.

“You’re being foolish again, Castiel. You’re beginning to sound like those protesters on the street!” his mother all but shouts. Anger radiates off of her in waves. His father hasn’t said a single word.

“Good! Perhaps we need to actually listen to those protesters! We must hear the voices of those who live in our kingdom!” He’s raising his voice. All of his frustrations are spilling out of him faster than he can stop them. The only reason he doesn’t scream until his voice is gone is Gabriel, his beloved advisor.

Gabriel squeezes his shoulder again. A gentle reminder to calm down. This is not the time nor the place.

“Those protesters are deviants! They have no true knowledge of the workings of the kingdom and they should not be treated like they do! What has gotten into you, Castiel?”

He pushes up from the table. “May I be excused?”

His mother looks positively furious. She opens her mouth and is about to say something more when his father speaks up. “Yes. You may be excused, Castiel.”

He doesn’t even wait for his father to finish his sentence before turning on his heel and bolting out of the room. He runs up to the library and falls down in his usual armchair.

Gabriel is right behind him. “Permission to share my thoughts, Your Royal Highness?”

“Of course, Gabriel,” Castiel says. Gabriel has never needed his permission to speak.

“I hate to say this, but you might have gone a little too far,” Gabriel says, sighing.

Castiel runs his fingers through his hair. He’s frustrated. How can his parents support this outdated process? Just because they found love through the Choosing doesn’t mean everyone will.

He stands up and looks around at the library. This has been his sanctuary for a long time. The vaulted ceilings and ornate designs of the wooden bookshelves bring him comfort. There are thousands of books in this library and every single one has been read at least once.

Castiel takes great pride in his books and his library. Well, technically, the library isn’t supposed to be his. It’s supposed to be for the whole castle. However, since Michael and Lucifer… Well, no one really comes up here.

No servant is ever given permission to read these books so they have no need to visit this library. Even though he would love to share them with those who work in the castle, he can’t. His parents think that servants should spend all of their time working, not learning anything of actual importance. That would just be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

He sighs and walks to a nearby shelf. He runs a finger down the spine of one of the books, titled ‘Grandma Ellen’s Top Recipes’. He loves the smell and the feel of books. There’s something nice about reading something on paper that you simply can’t get from a phone or a computer.

He examines the shelf that he chose. It holds many magic books and, apparently, a few recipe books.

He scoffs aloud. Magic. The very reason he was never permitted to leave the castle.

Magic ruined his life. He has no idea why he was born the way that he was. He never asked to be able to channel magic but here he is.

If anyone ever learned of this ability, he would be hunted down and thrown in jail. Possibly - probably - executed. All for simply being able to use one of the natural elements of the world; ley lines. Complete and utter stupidity.

He sighs and moves to another bookshelf.

He should try to study up on The Choosing. If there is anything that Castiel James Novak is able to do, it’s studying.

He finds a book entitled ‘The Choosing, Extended Rules & Regulations’. He takes the book back to his desk. This particular desk is riddled with papers and books. Again, he prefers to be able to physically touch his work, rather than use a computer.

He clears it so he can place the book down.

He opens and begins reading. Most of the book’s contents hold the simple rules, those which everyone knows. Traditionally, you will have fifty suitors and one heir to the throne. Those fifty suitors will then all attempt to catch the heir’s eye.

Those whom the heir finds most intriguing will stay around for the longest.

All very simplistic rules, however, Castiel knows that there are more. There is fine print to the whole process and he intends to find that fine print and completely understand it. He wants to know just how far he can push the boundaries without breaking any rules.

He looks for any type of loophole that would assist him. Some sort of technicality which allows him to send everyone home. He has no desire to date or even attempt to fall in love with any of this year’s Chosen.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like there’s any way to just send them all home. If he was female he could request to be married off. Though, that would most likely have an even worse outcome.

He sighs.

“Permission to speak, Your Royal Highness?”

Castiel nods and rubs the bridge of his nose exasperatedly.

“You know, there is a way to guarantee someone you would find interesting in the Choosing,” Gabriel says, crossing over to Castiel. He examines the book Castiel is reading.

He looks up at Gabriel.

“Really?” He flips through the pages of the book. “How?”

Gabriel sighs. “Technically, you’re not supposed to do this, but, uh, for as long as I have known you, Your Royal Highness… Well, you’ve done a lot of things that you’re not supposed to. You’re a true rebel.”

The corner of Castiel’s mouth twitches.

He knows that those words are basically an ‘I love you’ in Gabriel-speak. Or at the very least, it’s approval.

“My plan, Your Royal Highness, isn’t a guarantee for love exactly. It does give you some control though. You’d be able to select a few people, perhaps.”

He nods. He understands that love is never a guarantee when it comes to these things, however, he’d like some control. He’s never had any control over his home life and to be given a chance at having just a taste of it would be wonderful.

“Explain, please, Gabriel.”

“There is a room in the castle where they process things. Things like the forms that those who applied for the Choosing filled out. Someone could possibly, say, sneak into that room and approve the forms of people they find interesting.” Gabriel’s face shows no emotion other than the hint of a smile twisting the corner of his mouth.

He understands that Gabriel is offering his advice without specifically telling him what to do. It almost makes him smile. “And if someone wanted to do this… Well, they’d need a diversion, yes?”

Gabriel nods. “Most likely, yes.”

“Perhaps, if they had a certain royal advisor assisting them...” Castiel slowly gets to his feet. He could have some control. Finally.

“Hypothetically, yes. An advisor or friend would work.” Gabriel has an expression that belays his true nature. Gabriel has always been, at heart, a trickster.

It’s not something that’s widely known, but it’s a fact that’s obvious when you see Gabriel grin. He has such a wicked grin that it’s impossible to ignore.

“Where is this room, Gabriel?” he asks.

“Follow me, Your Royal Highness,” Gabriel says, leading the way out of the library. All the hallways are gorgeously designed. There are little details carved into every single pillar or table. The hardwood floors are decorated with deep red carpets.

He grew up in these halls and their beauty never ceases to amaze him. He knows that most people in Caelum have never seen anything like this. He hasn’t ever been permitted to leave the castle, however, the one time he disobeyed… He sighs sadly at the memory.

He’d seen so many desperate people that day.

A flash of rolling meadows, of one beautiful face in the hundreds of dirty, grimy ones. A familiar smile so beautiful it wiped away all of the pain. He feels an ache in his heart. An ache that reminds him of what he lost.

He curses how he was born.

Who wants to be born as someone who will always be hunted? It’s not his fault that he can use magic! None of it is his fault. And yet, he still pays for it.

He sighs.

He’s so lost in thought that he doesn’t notice when Gabriel stops. He walks right into him.

He stumbles and almost topples over. “Your Royal Highness?” Gabriel asks. Castiel stands up straighter. He runs his fingers through his hair. It’s almost always hopelessly messy. He’s tried to style it and somehow it always gets even more chaotic.

He sighs and brushes off the thought.

“I’m fine, Gabriel. What are we doing?” he asks.

Gabriel smiles. Castiel knows that smile. It’s the aforementioned trouble-making smile.

“I was thinking that I could potentially cause a distraction. Maybe draw whoever’s in there out? Then, well, then anyone could sneak in unnoticed.”

He nods, looking around the corner. There’s a door on the far wall. It’s an archiving room. He recognizes it immediately.

He knows the castle like the back of his hand. He’s spent almost his entire life trying to find escape routes. They’ve fixed many of the ones he used to use when he was little. He’s only left the castle grounds once, of course, however, leaving the actual castle? He considers himself an expert.

He refused to be some fairytale princess locked in a tower. He’s not a damsel in distress.

“As soon as everyone is out of the room, go on in,” Gabriel says marching up to the door. Castiel stands there in shock. He didn’t even discuss a plan with him! This won’t go well.

Gabriel knocks on the archiving room’s door.

A man with tousled brown hair opens it. “Royal Advisor Gabriel? Excuse me, sir, what are you doing here?”

Castiel doesn’t hear whatever excuse Gabriel uses. His mother’s voice comes floating down the hallway.

He leans around the corner. His mother is talking with another advisor, he thinks her name is Anna. “I’m simply not sure of what to do with him. He’s never been like this before,” his mother sighs.

Of course. The conversation is about him. Why wouldn’t it be?

“Your Majesty, if I may.”

His mother nods in that statuesque way of hers.

“He’s a child. Even at eighteen, you’re still learning. He’ll grow and figure things out,” Anna says gently.

He admires the way Anna handles his mother. Most people cannot stomach her attitude. He sighs quietly. He really wishes his mother wouldn’t gossip about him. Soon hee shrugs off the thought and turns attention back to Gabriel.

Most of the people are out of the archive room now, following Gabriel. Castiel takes this as his opportunity and bolts into the room.

The archive room is lit dully with blue light from computer screens. There are shelves upon shelves of boxes. They must all contain hard copies of records and forms.

He notices a neatly organized desk with stacks of papers on them. He also notices one significantly thinner pile. He walks over to that desk to examine them. There are three in total. Two of them are incredibly thick, piled high with papers upon papers. One, however, has about ten papers on it. Maybe less.

He notices the stamps on those ten papers. They’re green stamps with the word ‘Chosen’ written in bold characters.

The stack on the right has papers stamped with the word ‘Rejected’ on it. The color is, of course, red.

One pile lays in the middle. The papers aren’t stamped. They must be the unsorted papers. He decides to look at the ten or so papers with the ‘Chosen’ stamp on them. The first is a girl named Meg from Gratia. She has curly brown hair that falls in waves over her shoulders. Her smile is devilish as she stares back at him.

The second is a young man named Balthazar who has sandy blonde hair and a similarly devilish smile. Actually, this Balthazar person reminds him a little of Gabriel. He disregards that pile after a little while and switches to the unsorted ones.

He starts digging through them.

A bunch of forgettable faces - some moderately to extremely attractive - flick across his vision. He’s looking for anyone who seems interesting. He looks at their submission forms. Sure, they all have interesting enough things put on there, however, he can always tell if he will find someone interesting by their face. Their eyes, specifically.

It’s a personal talent of his.

He keeps flipping through until one very familiar face appears. He almost drops the paper in surprise. The face staring back at him isn’t one he’ll ever forget.

His hands shake as he places the paper down and stamps it.

Chapter Text

Dean finishes working on the car with a bright smile on his face. Finally. It took him forever. A bunch of overtime hours, but finally, the car is driveable.

A couple of phone calls later and Dean is driving through the middle of Hominum in the summer heat. Apparently, the guy whose car Dean is currently driving is stuck at work all day. He couldn’t come to pick it up so now he’s stuck with driving it to his house.

He’d better get a tip or something for this.

Dean looks around as he drives. Hominum is one of the poorest provinces. They have the largest total of unemployed and homeless people. The streets are filled with people trying to scrape out an honest living.

Some are doing day labor jobs that no one else wants. Others are begging on the street. Kids and adults alike are stuck in the endless loop of working for pennies. Just barely making enough to get food on the table.

He knows that cycle all too well.

It’s how you live if you live in Hominum. Very few are well-off enough to afford luxuries. Things like mechanics are necessary. That’s how they make their living. It’s a damn good thing for him that most people don’t know how to fix their own cars.

He sighs as he watches kids march through the streets. Caelum boils during the summer. Anyone who has to work outdoors during these few months is pretty damn unlucky. Unfortunately, it’s common to have people working in this boiling, suffocating heat.

Companies don’t care. Employers don’t care. They just want their work to get done.

Hundreds of workers in Caelum die from heatstroke every year. About seventy percent of those workers are from Hominum. And you want to know the worst part? No one’s doing a damn thing about it. And it’s not like Dean himself can help! He’s not royalty. He can’t just magically fix things.

He sighs and tries to block it all out. That’s what he usually does. When he’s overwhelmed, he just closes his eyes and forgets about the world around him. It’s easier than trying to face reality.

He tightens his grip on the steering wheel, his breaths coming shallow and sharp. There are a few cops milling around, just waiting to get the jump on someone. It’s so screwed up. Everything is.

The royals don’t care either. If they can ignore it, they don’t have to do anything about it.

He keeps driving until he sees the house. It’s a pretty nice place for someone who lives in Hominum. Although, this is a more residential part.

It’s a lovely, one-story house. It’s in good repair; the paint isn’t chipping and the roof tiles are neat and unbroken. There are multiple similar houses surrounding it. A peaceful, domestic little neighborhood.

Dean pulls up to the house. He gets out of the car and locks it. He walks up to the door of the house. There are even well-groomed flowers growing around the porch. Roses. He was instructed to leave the keys under the mat.

The little welcome mat at the front stares up at him.

He tucks the keys under it. He sighs and checks his phone. It’s late in the afternoon. Rufus told him to just do the delivery and then go home.

He turns away from the house and hurries to the sidewalk. It’s incredibly hot outside which is only feeding into his general exhaustion. He starts walking home. He’s got a lot on his mind at the moment. The announcement of this year's Chosen is only days away.

Sam has been insufferable about it, continually updating him about everything. Apparently, in three days, the royal family is going on television to discuss the Choosing. Oh, and not to mention that they’ll be revealing The Chosen on that day as well.

Dean walks until he reaches downtown. Usually, he wouldn’t dare go this way to get home but it would take way too long to go around. They live so far away from the center of Hominum that taking any other way would add at least an extra thirty minutes on foot.

Hominum gets more populated the further in you go. There’s more poverty. More hunger. More desperation. Downtown is one of the worst places when it comes to the number of problems that they have.

The buildings are in worse repair. The people all look so damn hopeless. The fact that no one cares enough to even try to fix it is just… Goddamn.

He feels the heat beating down on him. He’s starting to sweat. He’s really glad that he changed out of his overalls into his normal clothing. Normal being stained plaid and loose, torn-up jeans.

Dean looks up at the sky. He wonders what it would be like to be out of Hominum. What it would be like to live in a castle. It’s a stupid thought, really, but he can’t shake it off. Being that rich… God, he’d never have to worry about putting food on the table. Not ever. He wouldn’t have to work every day of his goddamn life.

That would be the day.

Suddenly, a kid pushes past him, almost making him collide with the wall of a nearby shop.

“Hey, kid! Stop!” A police offer barrels down the street after the kid. Dean sees that the kid is holding a plastic bag. Probably stolen food. Rookie mistake. You gotta hide stuff in your clothes. A bag like that will make you look suspicious unless whatever you’re stealing is too bulky to fit in your clothes. If that’s the case, a bag could work. Typically not though.

Actually, you shouldn’t even try stealing something bulky in the first place.

He watches the kid run. Damn. He’s fast. Dean thinks. That tiny little kid might actually outrun the police officer. Especially if he knows the right roads to take. Dean got caught and subsequently got his ass kicked when he was a kid.

He’s learned since then.

He pries his eyes away from the spectacle and hurries to get home. Watching stuff like this reminds him of a time he’d rather not think about. Ever. Under any circumstances.

By the time he gets home, he’s a sweaty, exhausted mess. He just wants to collapse on the couch. But, of course, he can never get a moment of peace and quiet. Sam is already on him about the goddamn, stupid Choosing.

“Dean! Dean! Can you believe that people are being selected in only three days? It’s so exciting!” Sam exclaims.

“Yep. So exciting,” he says in a monotone voice. To put it simply; there is absolutely nothing exciting about The Choosing in the slightest.

He sidesteps Sam and throws his bag on the ground. He falls onto the couch, exhausted. Sam immediately plops down next to him. He groans and covers his eyes. “Leave me alone, Sammy.”

“But Dean-” Sam begins. Dean uncovers his eyes to fix him with a glare.

“Seriously, Sam. Leave it. I don’t wanna hear another word about the goddamn Choosing.”

“Shouldn’t we talk about it? I mean, there’s stuff-”

He cuts Sam off by standing up. He doesn’t want to talk about it. Talking about it is the whole problem. He grabs his bag and heads over to the stairs.

“I’m going to bed,” he says, heading up the stairs.

“But you haven’t had dinner yet!” Sam yells from somewhere down the stairs. Dean sighs and ignores it. Sure, he’s hungry. but that doesn’t mean he wants to sit down and discuss stuff. It’s not like he hates Sam or Bobby, because, no, he doesn’t. He just can’t sit through a second more of Sam’s babbling.

He takes his phone out of his pocket. He sees a few text notifications. Mostly from Andy. One’s from an unknown number. Apparently, that number is Ava - though he’s not one hundred percent how she got his number. Almost every text is about Choosing. Wonderful. Just wonderful.

He throws his phone on the bed. He’s not gonna bother actually reading any of those texts. Instead, he heads into the bathroom to shower. He wonders what life would be like if he actually made it into The Choosing. Surely, everything would be easier, right?

He wouldn’t have to see kids begging on the street every day. He wouldn’t have to feel a profound sense of guilt every single time he couldn’t pick up an extra shift at the garage. Life would be so much easier and less stressful.

He imagines what the castle would look like. They’ve seen the outside countless times, and the throne room and banquet room as well. But the inside is a complete and utter mystery to him. He guesses they don’t like to televise certain parts of the castle.

Dean turns on the water and waits for it to heat up. Cold water is pretty common. Every once in a while, there’s some warm water left but you’re lucky to get it. He sighs in relief as he sticks his hand into the water. It’s tepid now. Tepid is way better than cold.

He steps in and lets the water pour over him. There’s a sense of relief that spills over him in waves. He tries to relax. The past few days have been exhausting. And with The Choosing looming over his head, he can’t think about much else.

It’s a nerve-racking thing, knowing you have your name, face, and basically all of your details in one massive lottery. Oh, and there’s that absolute disaster of an interview as well. He runs his fingers through his hair.

Damn it. He thinks. He wonders if he’s screwed this up for Sammy. He probably has. He’s screwed up everything else, why not this? Just one more thing to add to that ever-growing list.

He uses a little shampoo for his hair, working it into his scalp. Then his fingers drift to his jawline. He hasn’t shaved in a week or two. There’s actually a little bit of stubble forming. He likes it when he has stubble. He thinks it makes him look tougher and a little more ruggedly sexy.

The only reason he shaves is for a job interview or something.

A yawn escapes his lips. He’s barely holding on. With everything that’s been going on, he feels like he’s going crazy. His sleep has been taking a pretty big hit. Nothing too bad yet but… God, he feels exhaustion in every bone of his body. It hangs over his brain like a film, making everything difficult to process.

There was a time when sleep came easy. When he had no cares in the world. He wishes he could remember when that was. All that he truly knows is that he felt that way, once upon a time.

He allows himself to drift further into thought. Dreams and fantasies are often better than reality anyway.

 

---

 

The next few days pass in a flash. Or, at least, Dean thinks so. He hates that time seems to fly when you’re nervous about something. But when you’re excited about something, time slows down. What is that, anyway?

He knows he’s starting to get a bit off-track but… God, it’s hard enough walking home when you feel like you’re walking to your doom. How did it get here so damn quickly?! Tonight is the night of The Choosing. This is when the whole damned process starts.

Dean drags his feet as he walks home, taking the long route through downtown Hominum. He glances up at the sky. A bright, beautiful summer blue. The air in Hominum isn’t exactly what you’d call ‘fresh’ but it’s cleaner than some provinces’ air.

He takes a deep breath, trying to appreciate the perfection of the heat. There’s a light breeze rolling through. Today would be a perfect day to go out and have a picnic down by the old duck pond. Perfect, if not for his work. If not for stupid people not understanding how their cars work. If not for the goddamn Choosing making him so volatile.

Today he blew up at some pain in the ass customer. In his defense, they were being really stupid but Rufus still chewed him out for it. They kept telling him to do this and that. How to fix the car. They were completely wrong. They thought the car had a problem with its engine, which was, yes, technically correct. However, it wasn’t the damage they thought.

The root of the problem was actually the fuel tank. About a cup of water had gotten stuck in there which was causing the engine problems. The customer kept telling him to check other places and yelling at him for wasting time. He’s not even sure why they let the guy hang around like that.

He sighs in frustration. He hates it when people won’t just let him do his goddamn job. Is it really so hard to just let a mechanic fix your car? It’s what he gets paid for! He rubs his face.

That car was right as rain when he finished. He’s a good mechanic. He’s good at diagnosing problems and then fixing them. It’s important to him that he’s effective and that he gets the job done. And he does But when people won’t let him work in peace… Yeah, that’s when he gets frustrated.

He shakes his head in a vain attempt to dislodge those thoughts.

Their old, two-story, ramshackle wooden house is in view now. With all of its peeling paint and broken roof slats. There are cracked or broken windows. And the yard is in desperate need of a trim. He sighs. All work that he has yet to get to.

He needs help and there’s no one to ask. He’s not gonna bother either Bobby or Sam to do this crap. It’s up to him. He should do it tomorrow. Tomorrow he can afford to take a day off to get all of this done. That’s what he’ll do.

He walks up to the front door. The old knocker that’s been on the front door since… Well, ever, is rusted and worn with age. He opens the door and takes a deep breath. The calming scent of home fills his nostrils. Then he has an armful of Sam Winchester.

Sam pulls him into a tight hug before yanking him over to the couch. Bobby is, presumably, in the kitchen. Dean allows himself to be pushed down. Sam plops himself down right next to him.

“This is awesome! Can you believe the day is finally here?!” Sam exclaims excitedly.

“Yep,” he says in a monotone voice. “Super exciting.”

Sam turns on the TV and grins at him. He’s enjoying this way too much, in Dean’s opinion.

He sighs and lets himself sink into the plush couch cushions. This couch, like almost all of the furniture, has been in this house since before Sam and Dean even showed up. The entire house was so damn messy when they first came in.

The only places that weren’t coated in a thick layer of dust were the bookshelves. The frequently used ones, that is. Almost everything was buried under a book back then. Bobby does love his books after all. The crazy old man.

He sighs and watches the commercials. They’ve got a little time before the broadcast starts. Moments later, Bobby wheels over. He’s got the faintest impression of a smile on his face. Dean almost laughs.

It’s rare to see Bobby with a smile. Even the smallest glimpse of one. That fills his heart with warmth. Bobby is a damn good man and he deserves way better than the hand life dealt him. His wife died years before Sam and Dean came around.

They never talk about her. If anyone tries to bring up Karen - that was her name - Bobby blows up. The only time he talked about her was the one night when he got really drunk. And well, Bobby is almost always a little bit drunk, but that night was bad. It was the anniversary of poor Karen’s death.

Bobby wallowed in self-misery and told them about her. Not about how she died, just about how she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Kind, too. She was a firecracker, to quote Bobby.

He wishes that Bobby would’ve gotten a square deal. A normal apple pie life. A home, a kid, a wife. Easy. Even if that meant they’d never come to live with him, it would have been worth it. Bobby deserves peace and happiness.

Maybe this is a version of his happiness. However, Dean knows that if Karen was alive, everything would be much different.

He’s broken out of his thoughts by the voice of Marv Armstrong coming through the TV. He’s never particularly liked Marv. He’s a bit of a dick. Dean watches as he introduces the show again.

“We have with us again today, Her Royal Majesty, the Queen, His Royal Majesty, the King and of course, His Royal Highness, the Prince,” Marv says. The camera pans over to them. Queen Naomi is wearing that ever-present fake smile.

Dean can tell that it’s fake by her eyes. King Charles is wearing a much more genuine smile on his face. He looks relaxed. He can’t find pain or anger in his eyes. He looks over at Prince Castiel, who, once again, looks like he’s got a stick up his ass.

This guy apparently can’t relax. He feels a little bad for him though. Dean knows Prince Castiel must not have been on TV very much. The guy’s been locked up in the castle for so long. He’s not even sure if any citizens of Caelum have even seen him in real life.

Most haven’t even seen an up-to-date picture of the guy. It’s like they want to hide him from the world. Or maybe it’s some rich person thing that Dean doesn’t understand. Maybe keeping your kids locked up is like… Maybe it’s like a thing with rich people.

He watches as Marv makes some friendly banter with King Charles. They’re discussing the process of the Choosing. They’re talking about how the men and women will be selected. “Well, five men and five women from each province have been selected. They will all become a part of the Choosing.”

Marv gasps lightly and smiles. Obviously fake. “Wow! That’s fantastic, Your Majesty!” Marv says, holding onto that painfully overdramatic facade of joy.

King Charles smiles and nods politely.

“And, before we get started with revealing this year’s Chosen, let’s check in with Prince Castiel.” Marv marches right on up to Prince Castiel. The examination that the raven-haired prince gives Marv is actually kind of hilarious. It’s probably because of that cute little squinty-eyed expression he’s wearing.

Dean mentally berates himself. Not cute. Not cute. He’s a guy! And a rich snob with a freakin’ stick up his ass, to boot!

“How do you feel about the Choosing, Your Royal Highness?” Marv asks gracefully.

Prince Castiel doesn’t smile. His hands are balled up on top of the table. He’s wearing a nice suit that he looks entirely uncomfortable in. And, for some reason, the tan trench coat has been abandoned. The whole scene feels… Out of place. Odd. Unnatural for this guy.

Dean watches Prince Castiel intently. Before he speaks, he looks over at his parents. Dean automatically knows something is wrong.

“The Choosing is a…. tradition. It is one that has been used for heirs for hundreds of years in Caelum. Perhaps, not exactly this way however I believe that it is important to… diversify the Choosing pool to find a better ruler for all of Caelum.”

Dean watches Prince Castiel. He can tell what’s about to happen… And sure enough, seconds later, he sees the prince’s eyes dart over to his parents. That makes complete sense. He’s leaving out his true thoughts about The Choosing. Interesting.

The camera pans away to Marv.

“Thank you for that… Ahem, educational explanation, Your Royal Highness.” Dean actually rolls his eyes at that. He’s not exactly sure why Marv Armstrong is so irritating but he is. He’s just a really unlikable guy.

“Now comes the moment you’ve all been waiting for… The Chosen will be revealed tonight, on this very broadcast!”

Dean looks over and Sam is grinning. He sighs. This isn’t going to go well. He knows how disappointed Sam’ll be when his name doesn’t come up. He rubs his forehead, feeling stress weighing on him. Bobby is watching just as intently as Sam which is legitimately shocking.

“We’ll be starting with Pura Animarum!” He bites his lower lip. Names start flashing across the screen with pictures attached. The camera pans over to catch Prince Castiel’s reactions.

Eileen Leahy, an absolutely gorgeous woman with dark hair is the first. Sarah Blake, also very pretty with dark hair. She looks a little younger though. Probably about sixteen.

More names appear. Jessica Moore, Jo Harvelle, and finally, Pamela Barnes. Jo looks about sixteen as well, whereas Pamela looks like she’s twenty. The ages definitely vary.

Now for the men of Pura Animarum. Kevin Tran is the first. He’s a scrawny looking Asian kid. Ash Lindberg is next. He’s got a full-on mullet and certainly doesn’t look like the type of guy you’d want to see in a dark alleyway.

Victor Henriksen is the third guy from Pura Animarum. He looks tough. He’s got intense, dark eyes and looks like he could deck anyone who got in his way. Ed Zeddmore comes up next. He looks a little nerdy. He’s got curly, blonde hair and a pair of glasses.

And the final guy for Pura Animarum, a dude by the name of Harry Spangler. He’s got dark hair. He also looks a little nerdy. Though, that may be Prince Castiel’s type. Who knows?

“Now for our selections from Hominum!”

Dean feels like someone started squeezing his heart. He’s sweaty. Nervous. And he’s not even sure why. It’s not like he wants to be a part of this dumb competition. Then the camera focuses on Prince Castiel’s face even more.

His striking blue eyes - which are entirely unrealistic in their gorgeous cerulean hue - are staring at the screen. He offers a nod to the camera before turning his eyes back to the screen. His parents are both wearing their polite smiles.

Prince Castiel also looks a little anxious, as if this whole thing is nerve-racking for him too. Just like Pura Animarum, they go with the ladies first. He doesn’t hear any names. He’s too focused on his breathing.

He lets himself sink into his mind. He knows how disappointed Sammy is gonna be, but it’s not like he can control it! He takes deep breaths. He hears the first man’s name being called out; Benny Lafitte.

Prince Castiel’s face stays mostly neutral, even his eyes are cold. He seems to be mimicking his mother. Dean can tell from his posture that he’s anxious. He’s still sitting straight up, but now he’s not moving.

Suddenly, Sam cheers out and Prince Castiel’s face shifts. His expression shifts to relief for a microsecond before settling back into his resting statuesque face.

Dean looks up at the screen. Everything inside of him short-circuits. The name that is currently being displayed is Dean Winchester. This means that he is now one of the Chosen.

Chapter Text

Dean is immediately wrapped in a tight hug. He pats Sam’s head slowly as shock fills him. He’s been accepted. He’s a part of the Choosing.

Sam lets go of Dean and smiles brightly up at him.

“You made it! See? I told you!”

Dean nods mutely. He suddenly feels suffocated. He stumbles, the heat of the humid air strangling him. He pulls away from Sam and desperately charges towards the front door. He throws it open.

Cool air pours over his skin. He collapses on the lawn, taking deep, gulping breaths. He stares up at the night sky. It’s beautiful. Calm. Peaceful.

The stars are in bright contrast with the inky darkness of the night sky.

This is what painters capture in their art. This is what writers and poets are enchanted by. This is what they all mean when they talk about radiant, starry nights. And here Dean is, having a breakdown just because of a stupid competition.

He can’t believe this is happening. The cold air stings his face. Everything is going wrong. He wasn’t supposed to make it in. His name was never supposed to be drawn.

What the hell is he supposed to do?

He could just lay down forever, here in the grass. Alone. Never to be bothered again. He runs his fingers through his hair. The peace of his surroundings seems to be mocking him. Reminding him of what he will never have again.

All of this simply because someone decided they needed a feisty competitor to keep things interesting. That’s what he assumes happened because, honestly, his interview was a car that crashed and burned, then got thrown off of a cliff into a freezing ocean full of sharks.

Why did anyone think he was a good choice? He assumes they read the forms people submitted. Did someone just ignore all the red flags? Or did they just need someone poor for ‘diversity’? Now that he thinks about it, that makes a lot of sense.

He sighs. There’s nothing to be done now. He has to accept this. He doesn’t have any other choice. And maybe it’ll be better than he thinks it’ll be. Maybe Prince Castiel will decide to kick his ass out the second he walks in.

Even though that would be embarrassing, it’s still a better alternative than that rich, posh, adorable snob being interested in- Wait, where the hell did adorable come from?! He thinks in a panic.

He does not think that Prince Castiel is cute. Not in any way.

Sure, he’s got goddamn striking blue eyes but that doesn’t mean Dean thinks he’s cute. And, yeah, he’s got features that could probably make a Greek god jealous but that doesn’t mean he’s attractive.

He takes a deep breath. He can do this. After all, he’s Dean Winchester. He never backs down from a challenge. And the simple truth is… Well, he has to do this. There isn’t another choice. There isn’t a way out. This is his life now and he’d better embrace it.

He slowly gets up. Sam is standing in the doorway, nervously chewing his bottom lip. He’s such a freaking worrier. Dean smiles to himself. He would do anything for his little brother. Anything. Even enter a competition like The Choosing.

“Dean, are you, um, are you okay?” Sam asks, eyeing him nervously.

“Yeah, I’m fine, kiddo.” Dean smiles and heads over to Sam. He puts an arm around Sam’s neck and gives him a playful noogie. Sam slaps at his hands, squealing like a little girl.

“Knock it off, you jerk!”

“Never, bitch.” Dean laughs and lets Sam go. These are the moments when he’s reminded of why he works so goddamn hard. He’ll always work to give Sam a better life. That’s the bottom line.

“Are you okay?” Sam asks again, nervously looking up at him. Dean sighs deeply. He wipes his sweaty palms on his jeans.

“I already told you that I’m fine,” he says, taking one last look at the night sky. The dancing lights of the stars seem to be urging him on. Telling him that he can do this. He knows that thoughts like those are crazy. And flowery. Straight-up girly. It doesn’t matter though. It calms him.

He decides to accept that his life will never be normal again. It’s not like it matters. He can survive that. Plus, the extra money will make it easier for them. He takes a deep breath.

He doesn’t have to like The Choosing. He doesn’t have to pretend to like Prince Castiel. He just has to participate long enough to get them some money. Easy enough.

He walks Sam back into the house, an arm still slung around his baby brother’s shoulders in simple camaraderie. Bobby is sitting in his wheelchair when they come in. His arms crossed with an eyebrow raised. The ultimate Bobby Singer stare down.

“So, boys, what’s goin’ on?” Bobby asks.

Dean bites back a sigh. “Nothing. I’m gonna go to bed. I’m a part of The Choosing now. I’d better get some beauty rest if I wanna impress Princey.”

Bobby nods. “You do that, ya idjit.”

Dean sticks his tongue out at Bobby before bolting up the stairs to his room. As soon as he gets there, he shuts the door and collapses onto his bed.

“Goddamn,” he whispers. He stares up at the ceiling and kicks his shoes off. Then, in one smooth movement, he buries himself in the blankets.

Exhaustion easily takes over and as he falls asleep, blue eyes and striking features plague him. He finds himself excited to see Prince Castiel in person.

The connection between them seems so beautifully right and that scares the hell out of him.

---

The next few days are a whirlwind of activity. Kingdom officials have been in and out of the house, taking measurements and having him sign a hundred pieces of paperwork.

Ever since his name and face appeared on national television, paparazzi have been swarming the house. It’s all just people trying to get the next big story. Dean likes to think about how utterly pointless it is to interview him. It’s not like he’s gonna be this big underdog success story.

Prince Castiel certainly isn’t looking for someone like him. And Dean himself isn’t interested. This isn’t some grand romcom, fairytale-type love story. This is simply his plan to feed his family.

And while Sam might find all of this epic and romantic, Dean still holds to his original thought: The Choosing is dumb and old-fashioned. It’s barely better than crappy reality TV shows. And that’s saying something.

It’s late afternoon when, what Dean hopes is the last visitor, finally arrives. Dean barely stifles a groan when the man walks in. He’s older and balding, carrying a black, leather briefcase. He makes small talk with Bobby before coming to sit at the kitchen table.

Dean places himself across from the man. Sam, who is sitting to his left, is watching the man with rapt attention.

“Hello there. You’re Dean Winchester, correct?”

“That’s what it says on my birth certificate,” Dean says snarkily. Bobby shoots him a look of warning. As if to say ‘don’t screw things up, boy’.

“Ah, lovely. There are a few last things we need to clear up with you, is that all right?” the man asks.

Dean nods. He nervously picks at his nails.

“Tomorrow a car will come to pick you up. It will be taking you and the others from your province to the castle. Upon your arrival, you will be taken to your room and prepared. As I am sure you know, The Choosing is a highly televised affair. I assume you’ve signed all the proper paperwork?”

Dean takes a deep breath. “Yep. Signed my soul away.”

“Dean!” Sam hisses.

“No, no, that’s quite all right. I just have a few additional rules to go over. The prince is permitted to come to your quarters in search of a walk or some sort of outing. You, however, are not permitted to seek him out. In short, he will come to you. You are also not allowed to leave the palace grounds,” the man says, opening his briefcase.

“The prince may dismiss you at any time. If he does, a car will take you home. And I’m sure that you’re aware of the monetary compensation you receive for participation.”

Dean fights the urge to laugh. That’s the only reason he’s even participating in the first place. The man pulls out a stack of papers from his briefcase. Multiple of which seem to be stapled together.

“This holds any additional information you might find of interest,” the man says, handing Dean one of the packets.

He takes the packet. It’s entitled ‘The Choosing: Additional Rules and Regulations’. This time, he does laugh a little. Not because it’s even that funny. It’s just so absurd to him. All of this just to find the prince a boy toy. Or a… Girl toy? Girlfriend? Whatever.

Dean feels the man’s eyes on him. “Is something funny, Mr. Winchester?”

“No, sir,” he immediately responds out of habit. Being raised by Bobby has taught him that a quick ‘yes, sir’ or ‘no, sir’ is all you need. Running your mouth doesn’t get you anywhere.

“I take it you understand all of what I told you?”

Dean snorts. Who wouldn’t understand that? It’s pretty easy information to follow.

“Yes, sir, I did.” He barely manages to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

“Lovely. I’ll be taking my leave then. It was nice to meet all of you,” the man says, standing up and snapping his briefcase closed. He walks to the door, giving them a half-hearted wave before leaving.

As soon as the man is gone, Dean groans aloud. “God. That was boring.”

“Boring?” Sam exclaims. “That wasn’t boring, Dean! It was educational and important!”

“Educational and important are fancy words for boring, Sammy,” he says, standing up. He sighs. He’s had a long few days. The day after he got selected, people at work were all over him. Asking questions and telling him how lucky he is.

He almost told all of them where to stick it. It’s bad enough that he’s going to be on live television pretending to be interested in some prince. Having everyone in his life know about it? Well, that’s just icing on the goddamn cake, isn’t it?

“No, they’re not!” Sam says, indignantly.

Dean chuckles. He snatches the packet off of the table and heads upstairs. He bolts into his room and flops down on his bed. The five or so papers that have been stapled together are clean and crisp with the tell-tale lettering of the palace all over it.

There’s a lot of information that he can’t be bothered to read. He skims the rest of the packet. Most of it is stuff he already knows. Some of it is actually interesting. Imagine that.

Apparently, the contestants aren’t allowed to do anything. Well, anything is a bit of an exaggeration but, come on. The Chosen are advised to be yes men. Say no to nothing. Especially when it comes to the prince.

So, no matter what, say yes. What kind of pervy show are they running? The prince could ask for anything and the kingdom officials are telling them to say yes. Even if he asks them for… That’s so many levels of screwed up.

He tosses the packet off to his side. He watches as it slowly flutters to the ground. A sigh escapes his lips and he shuts his eyes tight. He can’t believe this is really happening. He keeps wondering why he was picked in the first place.

His interview sucked. He yelled at the interviewers and stormed out. If that wasn’t the worst ‘hey do you want to be on our pervy reality TV show’ interview in history, he’d be surprised.

This whole thing feels like a nightmare. An awful, awful nightmare. How the hell did he get in this situation? He keeps trying to tell himself that it’s really not that bad. And sure, it’s not completely awful. There are some good parts. Like the money that they’re gonna get.

He should be over the moon but strangely… Strangely, he feels like he’s made a mistake. He’s not afraid, per se. The feeling is more like anxiousness mixed with... Damn. It’s like being nervously excited. Which makes no sense.

He groans and throws an arm over his face. This is a disaster through and through. He sighs and rolls onto his side. He’ll make the best of this. He knows he will. He’s done it his entire life and he can certainly do it now.

Can’t he?

---

The next morning comes far too fast.

Dean’s alarm goes off, startling him into wakefulness. It’s time to get ready. He looks around his room. The already meager amount of things he owns are stuffed into his suitcase. He has a change of clothes ready for when he inevitably goes home.

They said that they would be dressing them for the duration of The Choosing. That’s good news. At least then people won’t see how stained and torn up his clothes are. He gets out of bed and takes a quick shower.

His stomach is all tied up in knots, anxiety taking hold. He hasn’t felt like this in a long time. Not since the day that he and Sam ran out of money for the first time. The look on Sam’s face… Well, suffice it to say, that was the day he swore to never let that happen again.

He sighs and takes a long hard look at himself in the slightly cracked bathroom mirror.

He doesn’t actually look that bad. Sure, he looks a little tired and his clothes are a little dirty but his hair is nicely-styled and he’s smiling. People say that his smile is one of his best features. He’s really hoping that works in his favor right about now.

He’s not sure why he’s even obsessing over this though. It doesn’t matter how he looks. He’s not trying to look good for anyone. Especially not the prince. Why would he be trying to look nice for that rich, great-looking snob?

He curses himself. Again with the whole ‘good-looking’ thing. Prince Castiel is a lot of things, but good looking? No way. Sure, some girls might find the whole dark and mysterious thing attractive but Dean doesn’t.

Especially since he’s a guy. Dean isn’t into guys. Not at all. Okay, maybe there was that one time he thought about Max kissing him. But that was it! Just the one time. And it was just a phase.

That’s all it is this time too. A phase.

He shakes his head and turns the faucet on. Cold water spills over his fingers as he cups his hands and splashes some on his face. He still looks exhausted but there’s a little more liveliness in his face. Just a little.

He appraises himself one more time. His semi grease-stained red flannel looks okay. It’s the best he could dig out of his closet. He’s also wearing his least torn up pair of jeans. He takes a deep breath.

He can do this. All he has to do now is go downstairs. He walks out of the bathroom, kneels by his suitcase, and does a quick check around his room for anything else he needs.

He’s not intending to stay at the palace long so he really shouldn’t need that much. He stands up and digs through his dresser cabinets. Just in case there’s anything he needs. After a moment, his fingers fly to the handle of the bottom cabinet.

He doesn’t keep anything in there. It’s basically his crap drawer. He opens it with a quick tug. There are a few articles of old clothing from when Sam was a kid that he hasn’t had the heart to throw out.

There are also a few old toy cars; the little mini ones that every little kid has. Keepsakes from the happier days of his childhood. The days when he didn’t have to be a father and mother, just a brother.

He’s about to close the drawer when he sees a glint of gold under one of Sam’s old shirts. He reaches down and unearths the object. It’s a ring. A small, golden ring. He furrows his brow.

He can’t remember why he has a ring. When he looks at it, there’s a sense of nostalgia tied to it and he has no idea why. He runs his fingers over the thin band and feels the sudden, inexplicable urge to slide it on.

A laugh escapes his lips and he shakes his head. He goes to put the ring back in the drawer but he can’t shake the feeling that he shouldn’t. He worries his lower lip and instead, slides the ring into a small compartment of his suitcase.

He might as well bring it. Especially since it feels wrong to leave it behind. For some reason though, he just can’t place why it feels so important to him.

A soft knock falls upon his door.

“The car’s here!” Sam shouts from the other side.

Dean rubs his forehead. He feels butterflies fluttering around in his stomach. It’s time. No turning back now.

He zips up his suitcase and heads to the door. Every part of him aches as he looks around his room. This will be the last time he's here for quite a while and even though he complains about how dirty the old house is, he truly loves it.

His eyes wander around the room, committing every little detail to memory as moments from the past flicker before his eyes. Him tickling Sam ruthlessly when his little brother had woken him up by splashing water on his face.

The first time he’d realized what kind of man his father was and the pain that had brought. All those little memories permeate the room, making him nostalgic. Leaving almost seems like a betrayal, but he has to. He knows that.

Eventually, he wraps his fingers around the door handle and, after a moment’s hesitation, pulls it open.

“I guess it’s time to go then,” he says, looking down at his grinning baby brother.

“It’ll be okay, Dean,” Sam says confidently.

Dean nods. He ruffles Sam’s hair, which still desperately needs a trim.

“Sure, bud. I’ll see you soon, I guess.” Dean lifts his suitcase and slowly starts making his way down the stairs while Sam babbles.

“I wish I could go!”

He resists telling Sam that he would gladly allow him to take his place. He doesn’t want to do this. And since Sam thinks it’s so goddamn romantic, he could take one for the team. He knows he wouldn’t do that to Sam, but… God, sometimes it would be nice to not have to shoulder everything.

He doesn’t mean any of his complaints. Not really. He would never ask his little brother to do anything but get an education. The kid is a genius and out of the whole Winchester family, he’s the one who’s going to go the farthest.

He’s got a shot. A future. Dean’s future is fixing cars every day of his life until he dies. Not that he doesn’t love being a mechanic because he does. He loves fixing things. It makes him feel useful. And cars are a passion for him.

Sometimes though, he wishes he could have a shot. He wishes he’d gone to school. Even though he knows that it wasn’t an option for him. Even so, that wish still lives in the back of his mind. You would’ve wasted that chance even if you had it. His father’s voice whispers in the back of his mind.

His dad always said that to him. Dean couldn’t - and can’t - do a single goddamn thing right. Wouldn’t it be amazing if he could, just for once, do something right? He shakes his head, wiping away those thoughts.

He inhales deeply, enjoying the familiar feeling of slightly musty air filling his lungs. Bobby is at the bottom of the stairs waiting for them. “Be good, boy,” his surrogate father says gruffly.

Dean smiles. “Will do, sir. I’ll see ya soon.” He gives Bobby the best hug that he can, what with Bobby being in the chair and all. Bobby gives him a signature pat on the back and then lets go of him.

“Idjit,” Bobby murmurs. A wide smile spreads over Dean’s face.

He turns to see his little brother barreling towards him to give him the bear hug of his life. “Text me. And send me lots of pictures!”

Dean chuckles. “I will. I’ll be back before ya know it, Sammy. Don’t get into trouble at school, ya hear me?”

Sam sticks his tongue out at him. “Like I ever get into trouble.”

“Bitch.”

“Jerk.”

Dean squeezes Sam one last time before going to the door. He takes a deep breath in preparation for what he’s about to do.

He’s saying goodbye to his normal life forever.

Once he’s as prepared as he can be, he opens the door and steps out into the warm summer air.

---

When they said they would send a car, Dean was not expecting a limo. Seriously, what kind of pretentious assholes send a limousine to a poor area like this? Jesus Christ. They’re gonna stick out like a sore thumb.

The darkly tinted windows and shiny black coat of the limousine stand out painfully against the backdrop that is this poor, backcountry-type neighborhood. He bites back a laugh as a man gets out of the car. He’s dressed in an immaculate black suit, a black cap, and the outfit is complete with white gloves.

So, to sum it up, this man is dressed like every single limo driver in the history of ever. Dean resists the urge to walk right back into the house.

“Mr. Winchester?”

He nods. “Yep. That’s me.”

“May I take your bag?”

Now he wants to go back into the safety of his home. All of this is far too strange. He needs a sense of normalcy and this? This isn’t it.

“Yeah. Sure, I guess.”

He hands the driver his suitcase. Which sounds so goddamn pretentious that he’s sure he’ll die. The driver guy loads it into the trunk then crosses over to the side of the limo and opens a door for Dean.

Jesus. He thinks as he walks over.

“Thanks.”

The driver looks a little surprised and nods as if no one ever thanked him before. And, for the millionth time, Dean wants to run back into his house. Run back into his normal life. Jesus.

He clambers into the car. Immediately, he gets strange stares. There are already eight people seated. Five of them are women. Four of them have dark hair and one has blonde hair. They’re vaguely familiar.

He thinks the blonde one is named Becky and from the first glimpse he gets of her, he can tell that he won’t like her one bit. She’s fidgeting and giggling with one of the other women. Great.

One of the women with dark hair is giving him an appraising look. She’s got tan skin and gorgeous dark eyes. He tries to recall her name but he can’t.

She’s gorgeous though. If they weren’t now in a highly televised competition for the prince’s heart, he’d be all over that.

The three other guys in the car seem to be sizing him up. He takes his seat next to a guy with intense eyes and dark skin. The strange thing is that no one says a thing to Dean when he takes his seat. Well, no one speaks in general, but especially not to him.

He watches as they begin driving away from his home. Rolling fields of green and partially falling apart buildings pass by as they drive. He knows they have to be picking up another person - another male person, that is - because of, well, basic math. Yay for Dean. He can do basic math.

He recognizes the neighborhood as they pass through it. It’s a low-income neighborhood. As far as he knows, this place has a really low employment rate for how many people it has. Yikes.

He wonders what kind of person managed to get in from here. They’re goddamn lucky. If anything, they were probably over the moon when they learned about it.

He watches the faces of the others in the limo. They have matching looks of unease as they drive further into the neighborhood. Dean can see little homeless communities banding together. No wonder these people are uncomfortable.

They’ve probably never seen neighborhoods like this in real life. Great. He’s stuck in a car with people who haven’t, ever in their lives, been to a low-income neighborhood that has actual homeless people. Fan-freaking-tastic.

They pull up to a house very similar to his own; broken roof tiles, walls with holes in them, windows that have been shattered to hell and back. All that good stuff. And to top it all off, it’s even smaller. He feels a pang of sympathy for this guy. Whoever he is.

He knows that it’s not easy to live like this. He wants to pat the poor guy on the back and give him a few words of kindness. Everyone in the car seems to be enchanted as they watch a hulk of a man exit the tiny house.

He’s got the beginnings of a fantastic beard. He’s also built like a damn tank; big and he looks like he’s strong, too. The type of guy who could lift you while giving you a charming smile and telling you that everything will be okay.

The guy has a large, black coat on over his badly stained - and not to mention outdated - clothes. He looks like he’s prepared for cold weather, though, which is quite smart. The temperature can drop like a rock at night down here. Especially if you don’t have proper heating.

He remembers camping out with Sam on a street not too far from here. Life is tough when you don’t have money. Not that any of the people surrounding him know what that’s like.

The driver takes the guy’s beat-up leather bag and sets it in the trunk. Then, he opens the door for him. The guy clambers in. He gives the group of them a warm smile.

“Hey, I’m Benny,” the guy - Benny - says. He’s got a rich, deep voice that’s laced with a Cajun accent that would easily make anyone’s knees turn to jelly.

“Hey there,” he pipes up. He wants to be friendly. Or at least try to be. Plus, the guy seems like a big teddy bear. Nothing scary about that.

Especially not since he has that southern hospitality feeling. Which is a weird thing to think but that’s what it feels like. Benny seems like a sweetheart. Not in that way. Just in a casual observation sort of way.

Benny extends his hand and Dean happily shakes it. He can tell that he’ll like Benny better than any of the others. Especially since everyone else is already giving him borderline disgusted looks. Which is one, incredibly annoying and two, downright stupid. “I’m Dean.”

“Nice to meet, ya, Dean,” Benny says, giving him another warm smile.

Benny settles in right next to Dean. As the car starts moving again, he and Benny make small talk. The previously silent car is soon filled with quiet chatter.

It’s almost like him and Benny conversing gave everyone else the go-ahead. He learns that Benny is the oldest of five kids. He’s twenty, apparently. And has been taking care of his family for as long as he can remember.

Dean can relate. It’s tough to have that weight on you. To know that you’re all that’s standing in the way of your loved ones and starvation.

The rest of the drive is actually pleasant. He likes Benny. He’s a nice guy with a big heart. And he manages to learn the names of the others. Gordon Walker is the guy to Dean’s right with the intense eyes. The blonde guy is named Cole Trenton.

The other guy with dark hair is named Tommy. He also learned that was right about Becky; she is indeed a gossip girl. Not the show this time. And the gorgeous woman’s name is Lisa. He’s pretty proud of himself for figuring all of that out.

Becky and Lisa have been in deep conversation about Prince Castiel’s eyes for the past several minutes. Okay, yeah, they’re really goddamn striking. But that doesn’t mean everyone has to talk and giggle about them.

Okay, maybe he’s a little uncomfortable with everyone talking about the prince like he’s a slab of meat. But it’s not because he wants to like, defend his honor or something. Because that would be stupid. No, it’s just because he doesn’t like people objectifying men or women like that.

It’s not because of Prince Castiel. Nope. Not at all. Plus, he’s not even that good looking. Girls fawning over him makes no sense. Sure, he’s got nice eyes. Whatever. He’s still stuffy. Plus, he’s got a major stick up his ass.

Who would find that attractive?

Just then, he hears clamoring. Paparazzi are crowding the limo, each of them shouting and trying to get a peek at the new competitors coming in. The palace’s glimmering, golden gates come into view. Unfortunately, there’s a crowd of people surrounding them. Dean watches as security guards try their very best to push the people back, but the crowd fights back. Rowdy and impatient, all trying to get the next big story.

Dean nervously picks at his nails. He doesn’t like big crowds. Or planes. Or flying. The thing is, when you’re in a big crowd, anything could happen. Sure, there’s safety in numbers but Dean always feels suffocated. Always.

He watches as the palace guards eventually manage to force the crowd back. They can finally make it through the gates which is a big relief for them. The tension drains out of his body and he exhales softly.

Benny nudges his shoulder. “You doin’ okay there, brother?”

He shrugs. “Yeah. I’m fine. Not a fan of big crowds.”

Benny nods in understanding. “Gotcha. Crowds ain’t exactly fun. I guess they make ya nervous, huh?”

He keeps his eyes fixed on his hands. “Maybe a little,” he says.

Instead of talking more, he looks out the window. The palace grounds are gorgeous. Pompous and almost irritatingly perfect but gorgeous nonetheless. Every flower, leaf, and branch seems to be in its place.

He watches as they approach the towering mass of architecture that is the Grand Caelum Castle. This building is pretty damn old. Apparently, a lot of the original features and designs are still inside, which blows Dean’s mind.

The castle stands, utterly breathtaking. Even at this distance. He wonders how long it took for this place to be constructed. A slow smile spreads over his face. Never in his life has he seen a building like this.

He can’t wait to see the inside.

The car finally rolls to a stop in front of the castle. Dean immediately clambers out. Almost smacking Gordon in the face as he goes.

He steps out into the fresh, summer air. The heat isn’t as stifling up here, he realizes as a refreshingly cold breeze passes through, rustling the treetops. Perhaps because the castle was built higher up than the rest of the kingdom. Probably for ‘cultural separation’ or whatever the hell Sam called it.

He grins up at the high castle walls. Benny steps out next to him and wolf whistles. “Damn. She’s a beaut.”

Dean nods in complete agreement, his eyes still roaming over the gorgeous stone that comprises the castle.

The others climb out behind him. They’re obviously less enchanted by the castle. They don’t even spare it a glance as they remove their belongings from the trunk. They start filing inside as other limos stop around them.

He grabs his bag and walks in with Benny. They’re greeted by high vaulted ceilings and red carpets. There’s a massive chandelier hanging down, light shimmering off the crystals that adorn it.

Dean stifles a soft, admiring noise. His eyes scan the rest of the front room. A few paintings are detailing past monarchs lining the walls. Underneath these paintings, a few tables rest and vases filled to the brim with bright flowers of every color rest atop them. This moment would be perfect. If not for all the people, shouting, and general chaos. In a matter of moments, he is accosted by a young woman with bright red hair.

She’s wearing what seems to be the uniform of palace workers. A black pencil skirt with a white blouse. Her hair is tied up in a messy bun and small lengths of her hair fall haphazardly over her face. Her green eyes are vivid and beautiful as they focus upon Dean.

“Hiya!” she says, cheerily. “You’re Dean Winchester, right?”

Dean glances over at Benny who shrugs.

“That’s me.”

“Great! My name is Charlie. I’m gonna be lookin’ after you while you’re here,” she says, her voice filled with cheer. Her whole attitude, while a little too perky, is refreshing. However, if you ask anyone, they’ll tell you that Dean Winchester is the type to be extraordinarily blunt. To a fault, some might say.

“So, what you’re saying, is that you’re a maid?” he asks.

Charlie rolls her eyes so hard that her entire torso seems to move with the movement.

“I hate that term. Just call me your best buddy while you’re here,” she says.

He snorts. “Okay then, best buddy.” So, maybe Charlie’s not all that bad.

Charlie grins. It’s a little dorky but overall adorable. “If you’ve got your stuff together, I can take you up to your room.”

Dean turns back to Benny. “I guess I’m heading out. I’ll see ya soon?”

“See ya soon, brother,” Benny says, smiling. “This place is all fancy an’ I might get lost.”

He chuckles. “If you get lost, I’ll send a search party.” He pats Benny on the shoulder and gives him one of his best charming smiles.

Benny laughs. “‘Preciate it.”

He turns to Charlie. She starts walking and gestures for him to follow her. He slings his bag over his shoulder and hurries after her.

“So, Mr. Winchester, I was told to inform you that, aside from me, you will have two other assistants.”

“Could ya call me Dean? Mr. Winchester ain’t me,” he says, following Charlie up red-carpeted stairs.

Charlie seems to relax a bit.

“I can do that, Dean. In any case, I’ll also be giving you a tour of the place,” she says.

She leads him up what seems like a million flights of stairs before finally stopping at a door. She opens it and waves him inside.

“This will be your room.”

He steps in and is immediately blown away. The walls are painted a soft white. A beautiful four-poster bed stands against the back wall. There’s a couch facing a widescreen TV. There’s also a door on the right-hand side which probably leads to a bathroom.

“Wow,” he murmurs, breathlessly.

Charlie smiles. Her expression is one of approval.

“If you want to take a shower or anything, the bathroom is over there. You were sent some clothes to wear to dinner tonight. You’re expected in the banquet hall at six. You are completely free before then.”

Dean grins. He sets his bag down on the bed. He runs one hand over the cream-colored sheets. The softness overwhelms him for a moment. He can already imagine what sleeping on this bed is gonna feel like. Okay, so this is one definite upside.

Dean digs his phone out of his pocket. He balks as he sees the veritable pile of texts from Sam. The kid has already sent him fourteen! Little brothers. He thinks, a fond smile playing at his lips. There are a few from Andy and Ava as well.

Charlie makes her way to the door. She stops before leaving. “I’ll be back at five-thirty to remind you about dinner and help you out if needed.”

Dean nods. “Okay. Thanks, Charlie.” He gives her a warm smile.

Charlie responds with a little salute. “You got it.”

She heads out of the room leaving Dean alone. He sighs and takes his shoes off then climbs onto the extraordinarily comfortable bed. He starts scrolling through his texts. Sam’s first few texts are reminders to update him about the happenings during the Choosing. The other ten are mostly musings about the castle.

Dean chuckles aloud. He tells Sam that he’s made it to the castle then turns off his phone and sets it on the bedside table. He stands up and cracks his neck, listening to the little pops. A soft groan escapes his lips and he crosses to the light gray couch, flopping down on it dramatically.

He grabs the remote and turns on the TV, immediately switching it to the channel that airs Doctor Sexy. He might as well numb his mind with a little television that he’ll never admit he loves.

The hours tick by and far too soon, it’s five-thirty. A soft knock rings out.

“Come in!” he calls.

Charlie opens the door, in her arms lies a small stack of dark clothing. “Here ya go,” she says as she deposits the clothes in his lap.

He eyes the pile. “What kind of monkey suit is this?” he asks, picking up the blazer and looking it over. The material is nice under his fingers. He can automatically tell that this whole suit costs more than Bobby’s house.

“It’s an actual suit, Dean,” Charlie responds, sounding absolutely done with Dean’s crap.

“Seriously?” he groans.

Charlie doesn’t even dignify his whining with a response. He starts sifting through the pile a little more. His fingers drag over a soft, dark, forest green tie. He raises an eyebrow at Charlie.

She shrugs. “Brings out your eyes,” she says with a wink. “We gotta use every advantage we can get, Deanie, because you aren’t nearly as charming as you think you are.”

Dean snorts. He can be charming! He can be charming. He just doesn’t want to turn it on, not here. “Good thing I’m hot though, right?”

Charlie giggles. “Eh. I’ve seen better. Now go put that on!” she says, gesturing towards the bathroom.

A smile spreads across Dean’s features. It’s the very first genuine smile he’s given to anyone since this whole ordeal began. “All right, all right,” he says as he stands up, cradling the clothes in his arms.

She reciprocates with a warm, energetic smile of her own. “I’ll be out here just in case you need help.”

He bites back the scathing remark that lingers on the tip of his tongue. The simple instinct to be rude and cruel to those around him is suffocating. He supposes that it comes from years of being on the street. Brotherhood doesn’t typically come from starvation.

Everyone there used to tear each other’s eyes out over something as insignificant as a single grain of rice. The memory sends an ice-cold chill down his spine. He retreats into the bathroom.

After about ten minutes of fruitless attempts to put the damn suit on, he realizes he needs help. He slowly opens the door.

“Ready to go, Winchester?” Charlie asks.

“Not quite. Could you, um, you know…”

“No, I’m not sure I do. Could you please elaborate?” Charlie says with the biggest grin Dean thinks he’s ever seen on a person.

He almost growls. “Help me,” he says through gritted teeth.

Charlie all but skips over to him. After a few more minutes, he manages to get into the suit. Charlie grabs a comb and tackles his unruly hair.

When they’re finally done, Dean chances a glance at himself in the mirror. He actually looks good. His light brown hair is combed and gelled. It looks decent for once. The suit is simplistic but damn if it doesn’t do him justice. The blazer and slacks are midnight black, hugging his body in just the right way and the green tie is hanging delicately down his front.

The dress shirt is white and a little on the tight side. He can’t help but think that the tightness of the whole outfit was intentional. However, it’s the fanciest thing Dean has ever worn. It’s a lot of layers and it’s a bit hot but wow… It’s goddamn nice.

He hates himself for liking it. This isn’t something he’ll ever wear again after the Choosing is over. He shouldn’t like it. Or, god forbid, get used to it. He should just forget about it.

A sigh escapes his lips, completely unbidden.

“Well, don’t you look handsome?” Charlie asks with a bright smile as she steps away to admire her handiwork.

Dean rolls his eyes like the difficult little baby he is. “Sure.”

“Oh, and don’t take that the wrong way,” she says quickly. Her face lighting up with a soft blush.

“Wasn’t even thinking about it,” he responds, even though he wants to tease her. Her face is almost as red as her hair, for god’s sake!

“Good.”

Dean chuckles despite himself. He likes Charlie. Not in an ‘oh, I’d like to bang her’ way. In more of a ‘she’s like a sister’ way. She’s quirky and energetic. Kind of dorky. Absolutely adorable. Again, not in that way. It’s just an observation.

Charlie smiles at him approvingly. “Okay then. It’s almost six. Get outta here.”

Dean chuckles. “I’m going to the, uh, what did you call it?”

“The banquet hall.”

He snorts. Of course, they call it the banquet hall. They couldn’t call it a dining room, now could they? So goddamn pretentious.

“Follow me, Winchester,” Charlie says, smiling and graciously ignoring his snort.

She heads out the door and immediately takes a right. Dean practically has to run to keep up. He tries to keep track of every twist and turn they make. It quickly becomes confusing. The castle must be massive. He thinks as they head down yet another flight of stairs.

They pass tons of paintings. All of them are elegant and gorgeous. However, one, in particular, catches his eye. It’s a portrait of the royal family. He recognizes King Charles and Queen Naomi immediately. Prince Castiel, too. Even though he looks very young in this portrait.

There are two boys that Dean doesn’t recognize. One has blonde hair and dark eyes. The other has black hair and light grey ones. It almost feels like a Yin and Yang element.

The two boys are obviously older than Castiel was in this painting. They’re stoic and stone-faced. No one is smiling. Not even trying to fake a smile. He wonders who the two boys are. If they were older siblings, then one of them would’ve inherited the throne instead of Prince Castiel, right?

He doesn’t have any more time to dwell on it though because a moment later a hand wraps around his wrist.

“Get your head in the game, Winchester. You’re gonna be late,” Charlie says, pulling him down the hallway.

They arrive at a set of tall, double doors that are already wide open, exposing the massive room within. A soft breath of awe escapes his lips.

The high vaulted ceilings that are a staple of the castle continue in this room. Beautiful crystal chandeliers are hanging down which cast a golden light over the room. There’s a long table in the middle of the room, piled high with food. Many of his fellow competitors are already seated.

Almost immediately, he spots Benny. He gives Charlie a quick thank you and hurries to sit next to who is his only friend in the entire castle. Not counting Charlie, of course.

“Hey,” he says, settling into his seat.

“Hey, brother,” Benny responds, his wide eyes scanning the length of the banquet table.

“Damn, there’s a lot of food.” Dean’s heart lights up as he looks around the table. There’s biscuits, lentil soup, roast chicken, and about a million other things that he can’t even set a name to. It’s all decadently laid out.

“Never seen anythin’ like it. Have you?” Benny asks, clearly in awe of the whole thing.

“Hell no,” Dean says and then starts piling food onto his plate. He will admit that it’s not quite elegant, but who cares? His hunger needs to be sated.

A pair of girls are seated off to his right. They’re babbling and gossiping as girls do. “Look at him,” one of them swoons.

He follows their gaze to the head of the table. King Charles and Queen Naomi are seated there, engaging in small talk. However, they’re not who the two girls were looking at. Prince Castiel is seated off to King Charles’s left.

His face is stony and emotionless but to Dean? Well, he looks almost anxious. Like he’s searching for something. Dean watches as Castiel’s gaze flits around the room, dancing over the faces of those seated. And then, in one breathtaking moment, that icy blue gaze focuses on him. Everything is frozen in that one astounding moment.

Piercing blue eyes bear into his own. Cascading waves of azure meet a forest of emerald green. He feels breathless. He had been wondering what it would be like to see those eyes in person. Now that he does… God, they’re intoxicating and almost scary. Mysterious and cold.

Castiel Novak’s eyes are like a storm.

He holds Castiel’s gaze. He’s not sure why but neither of them look away. It’s almost like a staring contest from across the room. Or perhaps both of them are too lost in the other, too absolutely overwhelmed to notice anything else. He doesn’t break eye contact until Benny nudges him.

“You okay, brother? Yer kinda staring off into space.”

He tears his gaze away from the gorgeous blue oceans of Prince Castiel’s eyes and forces himself to focus on Benny. “Um, yeah. I’m fine,” he says. Though, he doesn’t think it’s true. He feels a little breathless and lightheaded. Damn.

He casts his gaze down to his plate, not daring to look up. If he catches Prince Castiel’s eyes again, he might just break down. The guy is… Well, for lack of a better word; breathtaking. Which he knows makes him sound like a thirteen-year-old girl with a crush.

He won’t admit to finding Prince Castiel attractive. He really won’t. But damn. He tries hard to focus on his food but he can’t help it if he glances up every so often.

More than once, he catches Prince Castiel staring. The prince looks at him expectantly a few times, like Dean’s supposed to say something. Or walk over. Or something like that.

Then the king starts to speak. “Welcome to The Choosing!” he says, jovially. “Anything and everything I could tell you is information you already know. So, I’m just gonna give you all a big warm welcome! I hope you all enjoy your time here at the castle. I’m thrilled for my son and all of you. Soon enough, one of you will be married to Castiel. I wish you all the best of luck.”

All of Dean’s fellow competitors burst into applause. He looks around the room and notices that a lot of the girls are dressed provocatively; low cut necklines and overly short dresses. Not that he has a problem with that. Well, not usually, anyway. But this is kind of a weird place to dress like that.

Maybe they think Prince Castiel will be into that. That whole approach. And, who knows? Maybe he will be. For some reason, Dean doesn’t like thinking about the prince acting like that. He immediately buries that feeling.

Once again, he meets Castiel’s eyes. This time, the prince looks away. He stops for a second. He realizes he just thought of Prince Castiel as just Castiel. Not as a prince. That’s dangerous. Really damn dangerous.

He can’t risk feelings of any sort. He’s not here to stay. He’s not in it to win it. He’s just here for Sammy. That’s it. He refuses to let himself feel anything for the prince. That thought must be solidified in his mind if he intends to continue in this competition.

That’s one line he cannot cross.

The rest of the dinner passes without much incident. He and Benny talk for a while. Benny is quickly becoming one of Dean’s favorite people. He’s a nice, genuine guy. Funny, too. They get along well. That’s not something he thought he’d find here.

It’s nice to have a friend in this place. Someone to talk to who isn’t looking to get his ass kicked out. He can tell that Benny is probably also there for the money. They’re both lower-class people from Hominum. It just kind of fits.

About thirty minutes later, Dean is walking back to his room. Well, attempting to, at least. He nearly gets lost in the long, twisting halls of the castle. It’s like a freaking maze of brightly lit corridors and red carpets. He eventually finds his room.

He opens the door and makes his way over to the couch. He collapses on it. Bone-deep exhaustion fills him to the brim. Overwhelmed and emotionally overwrought, that’s his current mental status.

The day wasn’t a complete waste though. He got to talk to Benny more. And Charlie is nice. The prince’s staring thing is a little - a lot - weird, but it’s almost endearing. He shuts down that train of thought immediately. Nope, nope, nope. Not going there.

And, plus, he had some of the best damn apple pie he’s ever had. The castle staff knows how to whip up a pie. That’s for sure. A warm, content feeling washes over him and he allows himself to relax. Truly relax. He sinks into the plush pillows of the couch and his eyelids begin to droop. Then Charlie bursts through the door without so much as a knock. He bolts straight up. “Hey, Winchester!” she announces, jovially. As if she didn’t just startle the hell out of him.

He buries his face in the cushy throw pillows on the couch. “Let me sleep,” he whines.

“Not yet!” Charlie’s face is painted with a wide grin. Damn it. She’s evil. He doesn’t really mind though. She’s… she’s sweet.

He notices that two men are flanking her. One of them is a bigger guy. He’s bald and has fair yet weathered skin. The other guy has intense, dark eyes that his dark skin tone only accents.

“Why are you bringing the cavalry into my room?” Dean asks, begrudging humor lacing his tone.

Charlie is still grinning from ear to ear. “Oh, these two? This is Jesse and Cesar. The three of us rotate assisting the people in this wing. There are a few others but uh, none as awesome as us,” she says with a wink.

He rolls his eyes fondly. Charlie is a dorky little weirdo, but she reminds him of Sam. Just a little bit.

“It’s all people from Hominum in this wing. They’ve tried to keep the provinces separated. For some weird reason.” She sighs. “These two have been around. And boy, oh, boy, do they have some stories.”

Dean quirks an eyebrow and lays back on the couch. “Do tell.”

Jesse and Cesar look at each other as if debating who gets to go first. “Well, I was helping out this girl. She’s not from Hominum. She’s from Alis and she was talking about all of these strategies to use on the prince. One of which is showing, um, showing a lot of herself off,” Jesse says, awkwardly shuffling over to Dean.

He chuckles. “Damn. I guess that’s a popular strategy.” Even though he’s laughing, he feels a little sick. He doesn’t like the idea of people doing that to win the prince over. If you’re gonna flirt at least do it right.

“I think that all of those ‘strategies’ won’t work on the prince,” Charlie says, confidence in her tone.

Dean looks over at her. “And why’s that?” he asks.

“Because, well, look. I’ve been working here for a while and Prince Castiel always came off as a little sheltered. A little reserved. Showing off the girls won’t do much for ya,” she says, gesturing at her chest. “If anyone wants to get into the prince’s pants, they should try being genuine. They should try to be what he’s looking for.”

He shifts a little on the couch. “And, uh, what is he looking for, do you think?”

“Someone smart. Someone who challenges him intellectually,” she says with a knowing smirk. He feels a little heat rush to his face which only embarrasses and confuses him more.

“Oh, and there’s the fact that the prince can read people like a book,” Cesar adds.

Jesse nods. “That’s true. The prince is damn good at pickin’ up on lies. If you’re not genuine, he’ll know.”

From what Dean can tell about the prince, he’s not great with emotions. At least not at showing them. So, maybe he doesn’t really process emotions like a regular guy, but he probably understands them. If he’s good at spotting liars... Well, then, he’s probably good at reading emotions.

“I’m not going to bother correcting that girl. Or any of them,” Jesse says. “If they think that doing stuff like that will make the prince like ‘em more, that’s up to them.”

Charlie and Cesar nod in agreement.

“Oh, nearly forgot. Dean, I was supposed to tell you that you’re expected for breakfast in the banquet hall tomorrow. So, make sure you get enough sleep,” Charlie says.

“Will do.”

“We should probably go,” Jesse says, walking to the door. He gestures for Cesar to follow him. The two of them head out, shoulder to shoulder, with their hands brushing a little.

Charlie makes her way over to the door. “Hey, Dean?” she asks softly.

“Yeah?”

“Don’t tell anyone we talked about this in front of you. We’re technically not supposed to be gossiping but… Well, I like you. You’re spunky,” she says with a wink. Then she walks out the door, leaving Dean alone with his thoughts.

Chapter Text

Dean wakes up with a crick in his neck. He’s draped over the couch like an octopus and, even though the couch is pretty comfortable, he still feels nasty. He groans and sits up. Golden light is spilling through the windows on the left and right of the room. It drenches everything in its soft beauty. He rolls his neck and begrudgingly stands up.

A sudden urge overwhelms him and he rushes to where he deposited his bag on the bed yesterday. He digs around in the small compartment for the golden ring. As soon as his fingers touch the cool metal, relief pours over him. For some reason, he’s glad it’s still in his bag. Not that he thought it was gone. It’s just… He doesn’t even know.

He’s just relieved that he still has it. It’s confusing. He doesn’t get long to dwell on it though because moments later there’s a soft knock on his door.

“I hope you’re dressed in there, Winchester!” Charlie says.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m dressed,” he replies. In the clothes from the night before. His unhelpful brain supplies.

Charlie comes in. She’s carrying yet another stack of clothes. He groans. “That better not be another monkey suit.”

Charlie laughs. “No such luck. It’s a little more than last night’s clothes. Which, by the way, you are still wearing.” She hands the clothes to him.

He chuckles. “Yeah, uh, I guess I was pretty tired.”

She smiles. “Figures. In any case, you shouldn’t run into any problems putting this stuff on. You’ve gotta be in the banquet hall in thirty minutes. I’d suggest a shower.”

He rolls his eyes. “Thanks, Charlie.”

“I don’t need the attitude, Winchester,” she says. She winks and heads out the door.

Dean chuckles to himself. She’s a weirdo, that’s for sure. He walks to the bathroom. The second he steps in, he’s struck again by how nice it really is. The bathroom is immaculate. There’s not a single tile out of place.

It smells fresh. Almost like lemons and sandalwood. He sets the stack of clothes on the closed toilet lid. There are fluffy white towels monogrammed with a ‘C’ for Caelum hanging from the racks.

He shucks his blazer and steps out of his dress shoes. God, the number of layers is staggering. He takes a look at the shower. The thing doesn’t look too complicated which is a complete relief. It would be really embarrassing if he couldn’t even work the shower.

He undresses the rest of the way and then folds his newly discarded clothes. The least he can do is keep it orderly. He steps into the shower and turns on the water. It’s a little cold to start with but it warms up quickly. The water pressure is amazing. A soft, content little noise escapes his lips as hot water begins spilling over his shoulders and torso. He tips his head back, allowing water to pour over his face.

He relaxes considerably. It’s awesome to have hot water and great water pressure for once. He runs his fingers through his wet hair. There’s shampoo and soap already sitting on the ledge. Delighted, he works some fruity smelling shampoo into his hair. The smell, if a bit girly, is soothing and quite wonderful.

His mind wanders off to thoughts of Sam and Bobby. He wonders if they’re doing okay back home. He’s only been in the castle for a day and he’s already exhausted. He wonders how watching all of it on TV feels.

Actually, he hasn’t seen a single camera yet. He wonders what they’re doing. Maybe they don’t televise the first night for some weird reason. Or maybe they have some sort of secret camera thing happening.

Either way, it must be weird for Sam and Bobby. They’ll have to watch him pretend to be interested in the prince. Which, actually, won’t be as hard as he originally thought. It’s not like the guy is unattractive.

Though, he does have a weird staring problem. Dean’s not one hundred percent sure why Castiel- Prince Castiel was staring at him. But every time he thinks back to it… Wow, it sends shivers down his spine.

Those eyes. They could see into his very soul. It was almost like there was a tangible spark in the air. A connection. Which sounds weird and definitely girly. But that’s the only way he can explain it.

He’s definitely going to shy away from the word magical. No part of their weird staring contest thing was magical. Definitely not. In fact, it was terrible. Unpleasant, really! Gods, who is he kidding? The way that Castiel looked at him was pure, unadulterated wonder.

He has no freaking idea why though and that’s what’s eating him up. When did everything get so damn complicated? He thinks and promptly shrugs off the thought. Sure, everything used to be simpler. But it’s not anymore. And he can’t fix that. He may as well leave it.

He finishes showering and turns off the water, slightly reluctant to do so. He steps out and grabs a soft, nearly heavenly feeling towel. He looks at his steam-covered reflection in the mirror and wipes the condensation away. The bags under his eyes have grown since he last saw himself. How is that even possible?

He sighs and examines the clothes Charlie gave him. There’s a white button-up shirt and… Oh, god, khakis. He wants to throw up. He misses his jeans and worn flannels. He knows that he could technically wear whatever the hell he wants. They’d probably throw him out but, god, how worth it would that be?

He begins getting dressed. He shouldn’t try to get his ass kicked out day two. That would be a little embarrassing. It would be funny as hell though. He finishes buttoning up his shirt and then looks in the mirror once more.

He looks okay. The clothes definitely age him a little. He looks like he’s twenty or twenty-five now. It’s not a bad look, in fact, he looks more… mature. Grown-up. The khakis definitely aren’t his favorite part but whatever. He rubs his forehead. Now that he’s done getting ready, he should go to breakfast.

He doesn’t really want to. Sure, Benny’s down there, but… Well, the prince is also down there. With his weird stares. His dangerous stares. The effect the prince has on him is indisputably dangerous.

He’s back to his original point which is that he can’t risk emotions. A traitorous little voice in the back of his head whispers why? He vigorously shakes the thought away. He’s not into guys. That’s the bottom line. And, plus, there are forty-nine other people gunning for this guy. Stunning men and women who are all throwing themselves at the prince’s feet.

He doesn’t have a chance. Even if the prince was looking at him. He’s probably just reading way too far into it. And anyway, the prince is stuffy and he’s got a major stick up his ass. There’s no way he’d be any fun at all. Even if Dean could fall for a guy.

He takes a deep breath. Right. There’s no attraction. He can convince himself that the prince isn’t even that… completely freakin’ adorable. He buries his face in his hands. He’s screwed. So majorly, wonderfully, all-encompassingly screwed.

He shakes his head. He can do this. He just needs to bury any and all feelings. He can do that. Bottle everything up. Just like always. Easy.

He opens the bathroom door and marches out. He’s determined. He heads out of his room and marches down to the banquet hall, making a few wrong turns but definitely less than normal. His determination must be fueling his navigation skills.

When he reaches the banquet hall, he walks in with no preamble. Everyone is already sitting. The king, queen, and prince are in their usual places at the head of the table and everyone else is sitting. Almost everyone is gazing longingly at the prince. He feels a little embarrassed. He knows that he’s not technically late but still...

He finds Benny in the crowd. Immediately, that warm smile of his friend draws him in. His big, teddy bear-like personality is a comfort in this strange, calculating place. Having a friend is… amazing. In fact, he’s never really had a true friend.

A sudden sharp stab of pain bolts through his head. He groans softly and closes his eyes, shutting out the golden light of the banquet hall. His head is humming and buzzing with pain. This can’t be normal.

“Hey, brother,” Benny says, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder. “You okay?” Somehow, in his state of pain, he managed to make it over to Benny after all.

“Hey,” he says through gritted teeth. The ache slowly fades, along with the buzzing and Dean feels that he can breathe again. He opens his eyes and has to fight the urge to look at Prince Castiel. A small, nagging part of him is drawing him to those gorgeous blue eyes.

Once everyone is seated, the king, queen, and prince stand. Everyone else follows suit.

“Welcome to your second day of the Choosing! I hope you all got settled yesterday. We want to make you feel at home here,” King Charles says. “We will let you get to your breakfast in a moment. I would simply like to welcome you once more.”

There’s light applause from those around him; polite and endlessly irritating.

King Charles smiles that charismatic, warm smile of his. “And, also, Castiel is going to pull one or two of you aside today. Just to get to know you better.”

There’s more light applause but this time, there’s more enthusiasm. Of course. He smiles politely and claps along. King Charles sits down. Apparently, that gives everyone else the right to sit as well.

Breakfast goes by in a flash. It seems like moments later that they’re dismissed. He catches Prince Castiel’s eyes as people start filing out of the banquet hall. The same electricity holds in the air.

Striking blue staring into bright green. A thrum resonates in his heart and in his veins. The feeling is almost addictive. It’s as if his entire body is vibrating just from the gaze of one breathtaking man,

He almost forgets that he’s trying to ignore that electricity. That spark. He tears his eyes away from the prince’s. He can’t keep staring at him. It’ll give the guy the wrong idea. Or the right one. The traitorous voice whispers.

He shakes his head and follows everyone else out of the banquet hall. He’s so lost in thought that he doesn’t even see the maid. He walks right into her, knocking the stack of towels out of her arms.

They both bend down and begin picking the towels up.

“I’m so sorry,” Dean says, guilt adding to his already flustered mood.

“That’s okay,” the maid says. She looks up at him. Her short dark hair is pulled back by a thin maid’s headband and her dark eyes are accented by a tiny bit of makeup. She’s pretty and looks like she’s probably in her forties.

“I’m Dean. The idiot who ran right into you.” He extends his hand.

The maid laughs. “Really. It’s fine. I’m Jody.” She takes his hand and shakes it. A warm, almost motherly smile spreads over her face.

“Nice name. I’m guessin’ you work here?” he asks, gesturing to the intricate hall around them.

“No. I just like wearing the uniform,” Jody says with a wink.

The laugh that escapes his lips is completely unbidden and yet, completely genuine. “Ah. You’re one of those girls, huh?”

“I’ve got about twenty years on you, sport. I think you should call me a woman,” Jody says. He watches as her eyes widen minutely. Her expression is one of quiet shock. “Wait. Did you say that your name’s Dean?”

“Um, yeah,” Dean says slowly.

“I’m so sorry. I… I just called you sport.”

He frowns. “Okay… And?”

“Um, well-”

“Jody?” a voice calls. It’s deep, gravely, and… familiar. Almost painfully so. He feels rooted to the spot. That’s the prince.

“Yes, Your Highness?”

This is bad. This is very, very bad. He doesn’t dare to turn around. It’s almost like he can feel the prince’s eyes on him. Panic wrenches at his heart. Butterflies start fluttering in his stomach. Which is just stupid. He shouldn’t be feeling like this!

He takes a deep breath. He can hear Prince Castiel’s soft footfalls approaching nearer.

“I was wondering if you could... “ the prince trails off. Dean musters up all the courage he can and turns around. He’s met with Prince Castiel’s goddamn gorgeous eyes, soft lips that he could just kiss and- Get it together, Winchester!

Prince Castiel’s expression changes. Shock followed by a pleasant quirk of his lips. Not quite a smile but something that conveys a deeper meaning. A warm, near affectionate display.

“Hello,” Prince Castiel murmurs. Oh gods, that voice.

“H-hey,” he squeaks out. He clears his throat. Yeah, like that’ll help.

Jody looks between the two of them. “I’m sorry, Your Highness. May I be excused? I have some, um, urgent business to attend to.”

“Of course, Jody. I’ll speak to you later then?”

She curtsies. “Of course, Your Highness.”

Jody scurries off leaving Dean alone with the prince. The expression on Prince Castiel’s face is much softer than it usually is. It’s actually nice to see him looking so… Relaxed. Real. Not stilted.

He realizes that he’s staring. And, of course, the prince is staring back.

“Um, uh, Your Highness?” he asks.

“Yes?”

“What’s up with the staring?” he asks candidly. Again, Dean is certainly not known for beating around the bush.

Prince Castiel tilts his head in response. Dean has to fight himself to not find it adorable. Damn it! Why the hell does he have to be so cute? His inner voice laments frustratedly.

“What’s up?” Prince Castiel says slowly. It’s almost like he’s testing the words out. Like he hasn’t heard them before. Dean pauses for a moment. What if he hasn’t?

“Yeah. Um, you keep staring at me,” he says. “Your Highness,” he hastily adds. He rubs the back of his neck sheepishly.

Prince Castiel looks down. There’s a hint of a blush on his cheeks. Dean doesn’t know what he was expecting but this? This certainly wasn’t it. The prince looking so… bashful wasn’t what he expected. Not at all.

And again, Dean’s stupid brain has to find it absolutely adorable. Damn it.

He fights the urge to make a dirty joke. Something tells him that it would be in poor taste. Or, actually, the prince might not even understand it.

“So, just admiring me then?” He smirks despite himself.

Prince Castiel looks up immediately. “No, no. I assure you, I was not ‘admiring you’,” he says. Dean resists the urge to giggle. He actually used air quotes! What a dork.

Dean smiles. “I believe you.”

Prince Castiel nods and extends his hand formally. “I’m Castiel.”

Dean laughs. “I know who you are, Your Highness.”

Prince Castiel nods again, completely rigid. And yet again, that faint blush spreads over his cheeks. It’s so damn endearing. How can cuteness run to that deep to a point where it’s part of your personality?

“Would you like to get a breath of fresh air?” Prince Castiel asks, turning those striking eyes on him. He’s powerless to say no.

He smiles. “Yeah, sure, Your Highness.”

He allows the prince to lead him outside. They keep level pace with each other. It’s kind of nice. They step outside into the gardens. Immediately, the warm, end of summer breeze envelops them and the sun beats brightly down upon the pair.

The garden has a large variety of flowers. And hedges. Lots of hedges. There’s a beautiful fountain in the middle of a circular clearing with seven-foot-tall hedges surrounding it. It’s tranquil and… Well, for lack of a better word, it’s gorgeous.

“So. The Choosing,” he says. It’s a little awkward to try to make conversation with someone you have nothing in common with. Prince Castiel doesn’t seem to mind though.

“Yes?”

“You don’t seem to like it. At all, actually.”

The prince turns a little to look at him. “You are quite perceptive. Though, I feel I was not hiding my distaste all that well.”

“Why don’t you like it? I thought you rich-” He immediately cuts himself off. “I thought members of the royal family were groomed to like this sort of thing.”

Prince Castiel sighs. Dean panics. He might’ve pissed him off. “May I let you in on a secret?”

He nods slowly.

“I find the Choosing to be old-fashioned. It is truly a tradition that should have been abolished years ago,” the prince says. His tone is full of resentment.

“Really?” Dean asks. He’s pretty sure Castiel wouldn’t lie to him. And, again, he’s calling him Castiel! He’s got some serious freakin’ problems.

“Yes, really. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told you that.”

“No, no,” he stammers. “I think you’re right. It’s kind of dumb, yeah? Like, I don’t know about you but I would rather be anywhere else.” And he realizes what he said a moment too late. Goddamn.

Prince Castiel gives him a strange look. “You’re… You’re very interesting, Dean.” The way that Castiel says his name sends shivers through his body. There’s something so… Electric about his tone and inflection.

“I have never met someone who finds it fit to inform me that they would rather not be in my company,” the prince says. Dean is about to stumble over his words. He’s about to apologize a million times over when he figures it out. Castiel is messing with him.

His voice has a faint humorous undertone that it didn’t have before. He’s good at masking his emotions, that’s for damn sure. The monotone thing. Wow. It’s almost a little scary. The prince is like a robot.

“Is it strange that I find it very refreshing?” Castiel asks.

Okay. That was definitely not what Dean was expecting. He was expecting something more along the lines of ‘You’re an idiot for talking to royalty that way.’ or something like that.

“You find me being a rude assh- person,” he says, quickly fixing his mistake. “to be refreshing?” He feels like cursing in front of the prince is a surefire way to get his ass kicked out. Not that he really thinks that Castiel would do that.

Castiel nods. “Yes. Is that idiotic of me?”

“Depends.”

“Depends on what?”

“If you think it’s idiotic.”

“I do not.”

“Then it’s not.”

“That is an intriguing way of thinking.”

“Eh. It’s not so much thinking, more feeling. I’m a big believer in the whole ‘go with your gut’ thing.”

Castiel tilts his head and squints at Dean. Again, it’s freaking adorable. And this time, he can’t stop himself from finding it adorable. Not that he really ever did in the first place. He does, however, manage to not swoon. He’s not a swooner. He will never swoon and he holds tightly to that stance.

“Do you have any more wise insights to bestow upon me?” Prince Castiel asks, inching just a little closer to Dean as they walk, their fingers nearly brushing. He’s left breathless and aching to close the remaining distance. He desperately wants to know what those arms would feel like wrapped around him.

“Bestow? Who even says bestow anymore?” he asks instead of begging the prince to hold him.

“Writers. Poets, I suppose,” the prince replies.

They stop in a circular area with hedges adorned with red roses. They seem to be flourishing under the care of the groundskeepers. Dean chuckles. He can’t help himself. Once again, Castiel turns those beautiful, breathtakingly gorgeous blue eyes on him. This time, they’re imploring.

“But, um, if you want more wisdom. I can give that a try. Though, I don’t think I’ve ever been called wise,” Dean says with a smile.

Castiel nods slowly. As if he’s really absorbing everything Dean has to say. It does a good job of making him feel heard. Which is so girly and flowery. Oh, and not to mention ridiculous but… Well, he loves it.

“I believe you are wise. Especially for one so young.”

“Hey. I’m like a year younger than you. Less, even. You just turned eighteen, Your Highness.”

“I am painfully aware of my age,” Castiel says, his eyes twinkling with humor.

Dean’s face splits into a grin and he rewards the prince with a laugh. Castiel is so genuine. Weirdly statuesque but genuine. It’s nice, actually. There’s a lot more to this dork than meets the eye.

“All right, all right. Let me bestow some wisdom then. Who’s the more foolish? The fool, or the fool who follows it?”

“That is… That is surprisingly meaningful.”

“Nah. It’s from A New Hope. Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

Castiel tilts his head again. It’s like he’s perpetually got a crick in his neck. “Obi-Wan Kenobi?”

Dean’s mouth falls wide open. “Oh, no. Please don’t tell me you’ve never watched A New Hope. Please tell me you’ve watched at least some of any Star Wars movie.”

“I have not watched this ‘Star Wars’ you speak of.”

Dean gasps melodramatically. “You are missing out on so much. We are gonna have to educate you, Your Highness. We’ll need a movie night. Full-on marathon.”

The ghost of a smile spreads over Castiel’s face. “I’d like that.”

Heat rushes into Dean’s face for some unknown reason. He stammers out his next words. “Cool.”

The prince checks his watch. “I have to go. I’m sorry, Dean. We will have that marathon.”

“That’s fine. Uh, go do your prince stuff, Your Highness.”

Prince Castiel nods. “I will endeavor to.” Dean watches as Castiel walks away from him. There’s a pang in his heart. It’s almost like he doesn’t want to watch the guy walk away. Jesus.

He’s fallen down the rabbit hole. There’s no escape now. And the worst part is that he loves it. He loves the fall. He just never thinks about hitting the ground.

Chapter Text

The sun is beating down on them. The air is warm and smells of freshly cut grass. They’re standing in a field near the gardens of the palace. Everyone is playing games. Everything from chess to touch football.

Apparently, this is supposed to be some sort of contestant bonding day. And, of course, it’s highly televised. The camera crews are drifting around, catching shots of everyone. It’s like The Bachelorette.

Castiel is out there, too. He looks like he’s actually having a good time. Dean feels a rush of happiness. He’s glad that the prince is finally having fun. God knows he needs it.

He and Benny are discussing their home lives. It’s not exactly a pretty conversation. Apparently, Benny has four younger siblings and one older brother. The older brother moved out and left Benny, his mom, and the kids to fend for themselves.

Benny’s dad walked out on them when he was young. He’s had a rough life. Dean can relate though. He knows how hard it can be to basically raise your siblings. Sam is enough of a handful and there’s only one of him.

It’s kind of nice to connect with someone else in the castle. It’s nice to know you’re not alone.

Dean smiles. It really is a beautiful day. Everyone’s having a good time. It’s shaping up to be one of those days in the castle where he’s actually glad that he’s there. He’s about to tell Benny about Sam, in detail, when someone walks right into him.

The person who walked into him is a girl in a flowing blue sundress with brown hair cascading down her shoulders. Her chest is rising and falling rapidly. She’s even trembling.

“Hey, are you okay?” he asks, offering a hand to steady her.

She nods slowly. “I’m fine,” she murmurs.

He doesn’t believe that one bit. There’s no way she’s fine. She looks like she’s about to pass out.

“Why don’t you sit down?”

The girl tries to take a step away from him and collapses. Dean catches her before she can hit the ground. He sinks to his knees, placing the girl in his lap. Someone screams. A crowd begins forming around him and the girl. She’s still sweating.

Her breath is coming rapidly. He checks her pulse. Her heartbeat is fast. Too fast.

“I feel sick,” the girl says. She tries to crawl out of his lap. She looks like she’s going to throw up. Dean sees someone pushing through the crowd. Moments later, Castiel is kneeling by his side.

“What’s wrong?” Castiel asks.

“I have no idea. She just collapsed,” he says.

He watches as Castiel examines the girl with a doctor’s precision and gently pulls her into his lap. “Daphne, hello. Could you please tell me how you feel?”

“Scared,” the girl cries. She’s basically in hysterics by now. And Castiel is completely calm.

Castiel looks over at Dean. “I believe she’s having a panic attack,” he murmurs.

“What’re we supposed to do for that?”

“I do not think there’s anything we can do. We should allow the attack to pass.”

Dean watches as Castiel looks down at the girl - Daphne - with a soft expression. “Everything’s going to be okay, Daphne. There is nothing to be afraid of. This will all be over soon. I just need you to take some deep breaths. Can you do that for me?”

Daphne nods slowly. Castiel takes deep breaths with her. He gently instructs her. Dean thinks it’s amazing. And sweet. And kind of hot. Goddamn. With every passing moment, he seems to be falling further and further down that rabbit hole.

Castiel’s so careful about everything. He’s like a doctor without the lab coat. And how hot would that be? Castiel Novak in a lab coat. God.

After what seems like forever, the attack passes. Daphne stops trembling. Her breathing returns to normal. She sits up slowly.

“How do you feel?” Castiel asks.

“A lot better, thank you.” Dean watches as Daphne smiles brightly at Castiel. Another person who’s taken with him. That’s why he can’t risk an attraction for the prince. There are just too many people. He’ll end up getting his heart broken. And there’s also the fact that he’s not out of the proverbial closet yet.

He doesn’t even know what he’d come out as. He just knows that he’s into Castiel. And who wouldn’t be? Seriously. The guy is hot. He helps out damsels in distress. He’s an adorable little dork. There’s nothing at all that’s wrong with him.

Okay, well, maybe the fact that he hasn’t watched Star Wars. And even then, that’s not really a flaw. Dean’s actually kind of happy he could share something with the guy. Which is so, so cheesy. He knows that. He’s just turned into a cheesy kind of guy.

He watches as Castiel helps Daphne up. Castiel informs everyone that he’s taking her to the infirmary. They walk away, Daphne being supported by the prince. Her hands are touching his firm, muscular chest, and like they’re in a romantic movie, Castiel picks her up and carries her bridal-style.

A dark feeling curls up in the pit of his stomach. Jealousy. And the worst part is, he has no right to be jealous. Castiel isn’t his boyfriend. And he won’t ever be. But… He can’t help feeling a little jealous. Not a lot, just a little.

He sighs aloud. He starts at the feeling of a hand on his shoulder.

“You okay, brother?” Benny asks for what seems like the millionth time. Man, the guy is always there for him. Thick and thin. He’s become to think of Benny like another brother. As the Winchesters always say; family don’t end in blood.

“Yeah. I’m fine,” he says.

“Is that a real fine or a patented Dean fine?” Benny asks, helping him to his feet.

Dean chuckles lightly. “Does it matter?”

“It’s a Dean fine then.” Benny smiles.

Dean rolls his eyes. “Yeah, yeah.”

The rest of the day rolls by without consequence. He bets the people watching at home were super entertained by Daphne’s panic attack. Because that’s not sick at all. The camera crew sure got an eyeful.

He and Benny are heading back inside when they hear a group of girls talking. There are two redheads. Twins. He thinks their names are Abaddon and Josie. Josie seems to be the milder mannered one out of the two of them.

Abaddon seems much more… Barbaric, in a sense. A woman with dark hair and olive skin. Rhonda? Rihanna? He thinks hard. Ruby! He almost grins at his remembrance of her name.

He stops Benny at a corner so they can listen in. The one who’s running her mouth the most is a blonde woman named Hester. The only reason he knows her name is because she seems intent on everyone knowing her.

“I bet she just faked it! The little bitch.”

“Agreed,” Abaddon says. “She always did seem like an attention seeker. What a way to make the prince feel bad for you.”

Dean peeks around the corner. Josie seems out of place. She looks around, guilty and nervous at the same time. He ducks back around the corner before she can see him.

He feels rage simmer in his belly. Even though he was a bit jealous of Daphne, he knows that the panic attack wasn’t fake. He wants to yell at these girls. Poor Daphne was probably just stressed. And she probably feels bad enough about it as it is! Why talk about her behind her back?

Dean hates people like this. The mean, bitchy girls. He didn’t even realize girls like this existed outside of highschool dramas.

Benny puts a hand on his shoulder. “Come on, brother,” he murmurs. Benny grabs his arm and gently pulls him away.

“I can’t believe they think Daphne was faking her panic attack.”

“Yeah. Well, rich gals are insane.”

“You’re goddamn right about that.”

“Go get some rest, Dean.”

“Will do. Night, Benny.”

“Night, brother.”

Dean pats Benny on the shoulder. He walks to the stairs and begins the trek up to his room. He’s mostly memorized the way by now. It’s a lot freakin’ easier. He yawns a little. The stress of the day is really getting to him.

He rubs his forehead and finally spots his door. The surprising thing is that Castiel is right in front of it. Dean frowns, more in surprise than in displeasure. “Uh, Your Highness?”

The prince looks up. He jumps a little and smooths his blazer almost unconsciously. “Hello, Dean.”

He can’t help but grin. The way that Castiel says his name is still electric. That deep voice and those eyes… What a combination. And the knowledge that he’s freakin’ adorable through and through… God, it’s difficult to not kiss the hell out of him.

And it’s not like Dean would. Even though he knows he’s not really, completely straight. He just… He needs to figure himself out. That’s really what he needs.

“Hiya. What’re you doin’ at my door, Your Highness?”

Castiel sighs. “I really would appreciate it if you stopped using my honorific.”

“I was told that, uh, that’s not really an option,” he says.

“I won’t tell anyone if you won’t.”

Dean gasps in mock surprise. “Rebellious, huh?”

“I have followed the rules my entire life. I feel that it is time to break a few.”

“All right. What do you want me calling you, princey?”

“Preferably not ‘princey’.” Again with the damn air quotes.

“How about… Cas?”

Castiel tilts his head. “Cas?” he murmurs, trying out the new syllable.

“Yeah. What? Do you not like it or something?”

“Yes. I mean, no. I do like it. I have never been called anything other than Castiel. And on occasion Lucifer used to-” Castiel hastily cuts himself off.

Lucifer? Dean can’t help but wonder. Who’s Lucifer? Well, there’s the obvious biblical dude. But there’s no way that’s who Cas was talking about. And it looks like the nickname’s sticking.

“All of that aside, I was here to ask if you would like to do that Star Wars marathon with me,” Castiel says, quickly making up for his earlier slip.

“Tonight?”

“Yes. If you’re interested.”

He smiles. “Yeah, Cas. I’m interested.”

Cas looks up. That little ghost of a smile is twisting his lips. And by the ghost of a smile, Dean really does mean ‘ghost of a smile’. It’s a tiny little quirk to the edges of his mouth. That’s all that lets you know he’s happy. That’s it.

For some reason though… God, that little half-smile lights up the room. Well, it’s not even a half-smile. It’s more like a quarter-smile. But it just makes everything better. Dean has no idea why it just does.

And he falls even further down the rabbit hole.

“Come with me,” Cas says. And normally, Dean wouldn’t follow anyone who says that. But, well, Cas isn’t just anyone.

He smiles. He walks beside Cas, their fingers brushing every once in a while and damn if it’s not thrilling. There’s something nice about having a unique nickname for him. That’s something no one else will call him for a while.

They walk in relative silence. It’s not uncomfortable or awkward. It’s quite the opposite, actually. They’re just enjoying it. Enjoying each other’s company. Well, at least Dean is. He likes the feeling of being in stride with someone else.

Finally, they come to a stop. Castiel opens the dark, wooden door in front of them. He lets Dean walk in first and he is immediately in awe.

It’s a home movie theater. There’s a big screen on the left wall. There are red velvet seats ascending on the right. It’s amazing. And breathtaking. And so, so aggravating. What a display of wealth.

They have an actual movie theater in their own home.

It might be lavish but damn, even Dean has to admit that it is awesome. He looks around at the seats in wonder. They look so plush and comfortable. It’s just... “Wow,” he says.

“I know. It is rather… extravagant.” Cas opens a large, glass DVD case. “I have no inkling as to what I am looking for, Dean.”

He chuckles. “Let me, Cas.” He crosses over to Cas and steps beside him. They’re close. Shoulder to shoulder. He searches through the movies. He finds what he’s looking for after a few minutes of searching.

He decides to start with the first of the sequels.

“Okay. So we’re starting with the sequels. Specifically A New Hope. It’s a classic. You’ll love it.”

Cas tilts his head again. He even squints at Dean, who resists the urge, once again, to kiss him. “The sequels? Why aren’t we starting with the prequels?”

“Well, the sequels were actually made first, so…”

Cas’s frown grows deeper. “Why were the sequels made first?”

“Hell if I know. All I know is that they’re the best movies. Hands down. I will not take any arguments,” he says.

“I will take your word for it, Dean. And I will not argue with you.” Cas takes the DVD case out of his hands. He opens it and pulls out the disk.

“You may sit down. I’ll put the movie on.”

Dean nods. He sits down on one of the plush theater seats. Immediately, a content noise escapes him. It’s really damn comfortable. He could easily sleep in this thing. He yawns again.

Cas comes back, having put the movie on and falls into a seat next to Dean. They start the movie. Two hours of classic scenes later and the movie is over. Dean is ecstatic. Every single thing was just as good as he remembered. And it was even better, having someone to share it with.

Although, his traitorous mind and heart ache. The last time he saw the damn movie was just before… Nope. No. That’s not a place he wants to go to. Not when he’s with Cas. Instead, he lets his mind wander to other things. Like Cas’s enthusiasm during the movie.

Watching Castiel’s face light up during the action scenes was a sight he would be content to see for the rest of his… Whoa, whoa. Jesus. Too fast, Winchester. Pump the damn brakes and at least buy him dinner first.

He clears his throat, trying to dispel his wild thoughts. “So… What’d ya think?”

“It was very good,” Cas says, turning to face him.

Dean grins.

“The plot was well thought out and interesting. The characters were certainly intriguing and seemed to have good chemistry. I normally don’t enjoy movies very much but I enjoyed that one.”

“It’s amazing, right? It has some of the best damn quotes. ‘These are not the droids you’re looking for.’ Classic!”

The ghost smile is back. Cas stares at him. It’s almost unnerving.

“You seem to really love this movie. You know it quite well. How many times have you seen it?”

Dean bites his lower lip. That’s a complicated question. Star Wars was sort of a tradition between him and his dad. Whenever Sam did well in school, they’d rent a Star Wars movie and watch it. Together. As a family.

Even after his mom died, they still carried out the tradition. It meant a lot to him. That was before their dad walked out and left them high and dry. A New Hope used to be his dad’s favorite.

Dean shrugs. “A few times. I, um, I watched it with my dad. It’s kind of special to me, especially since…”

“Especially since?” Castiel asks, his voice gentle and unobtrusive. And yet… yet he can’t do this.

He stands up, abruptly. He doesn’t want to answer this. He hates talking about his dad. He shouldn’t have brought it up in the first place. Anger roots itself in the pit of his stomach. It’s not directed at Cas, but at himself.

“Dean? Are you okay?”

Dean swallows. He’s desperately trying not to explode and ruin this newfound thing that he has with Cas, but that look… that pitiful damn look on Cas’s face pisses him right the hell off. “It’s none of your business, you got that?” he spits out. The venom in his voice is strong, harsh, and fully intended to be hurtful.

“I’m sorry?” Cas asks. His eyes are big and apologetic. He really doesn’t know what he’s done wrong. But at the moment… Dean can’t bring himself to care.

“I don’t need to explain myself to you. Or tell you about my life.” His anger is only building. He hates that pity. Just because Castiel is rich doesn’t mean he can pry into his damn life!

“I didn’t mean to upset you, Dean, I was simply trying to-”

“Whatever, Cas. I don’t wanna hear it.” Dean turns his back and marches towards the door. He opens it and walks out, slamming the door behind him.

He marches off to his room. He doesn’t care who stares. He’s too emotionally taut to care. A boiling pit of anger seethes in his chest. Who the hell does Cas think he is? A prince. His unhelpful inner voice reminds him.

He opens his door and slams it behind him. Charlie, Jesse, and Cesar are already inside his room. They all look up when he enters.

Charlie is the first to speak. “Hey, Dean. You okay?”

“No.”

“Wanna tell us why you look like someone just killed your puppy?”

“I ain’t a fan of dogs.”

“Answer the question, Winchester.”

Dean sighs in frustration. He sits on the edge of his bed and starts taking off his shoes. “Prince Castiel Novak killed my goddamn puppy. Thanks for asking.”

Jesse and Charlie exchange a look.

“What happened?” she asks.

“He asked about my family life.”

“So?” Charlie asks, giving him a sassy look.

“So, I don’t like talking about it.”

She sighs loudly. “And, let me guess, you threw a big fit and left like a drama queen?”

Dean nods slowly. He’s starting to calm down. A realization hits him. He might as well pack his damn bags right then and there. He’s gonna be kicked out. Cas is gonna kick his ass out for what he said.

“Goddamn it,” he murmurs. “I screwed up. I screwed up really, really bad, Charlie.”

He buries his face in his hands. He can feel the mattress dip as Charlie tentatively takes a seat next to him.

“He’s gonna kick me out.”

Charlie pats his back gently. “I don’t think so, Dean,” she says, her voice thoughtful and soft. “I really don’t think so.”

“Yeah. Well, I do. Damn it. Why couldn’t I keep my freaking mouth shut for once?!” He pinches the bridge of his nose. He can’t believe it. He doesn’t even know why he’s so upset. He knew from day one he was gonna get kicked out.

He just didn’t expect to like Cas this much. He didn’t expect to fall down the rabbit hole and now he has. He finishes kicking off his shoes. He crawls further into his bed.

“I’m gonna sleep,” he says, destitute and heavy with saddened thoughts.

Charlie, Cesar, and Jesse seem to take the hint.

“Okay,” Charlie says. They shut off the lights and leave. He hears the telltale sound of the door closing behind them.

He never cares about hitting the ground. Good freakin’ job, Winchester. He shouldn’t have let himself care about Cas. He failed. And now his heart has to pay for it.

Chapter Text

When the morning comes, Dean doesn’t want to wake up. He doesn’t want to open his eyes and face the music. There’s no way he’s not going home. He gets ready sluggishly.

Charlie pops in again with fresh clothes. She’s quiet and definitely missing her normal chipper attitude but it sits better with him that way. He doesn’t want her to be all upbeat. That would make him feel much worse, seeing as there is no bright side to all of this.

He dons the fresh clothing slowly. His mind is a whirlwind of activity; he’s trying to figure out how to apologize but not beg for Cas to show him mercy. It aches. Honestly, everything aches. His heart. His body. It’s bone-deep.

Every extra second that he spends getting ready is just another delay of the inevitable. He’s not exactly sure how eliminations work but he assumes that it’ll be announced at breakfast. He looks at himself in the mirror and sighs frustratedly. He looks pitiful. Absolutely pitiful!

There are dark circles under his eyes. He can’t even force himself to smile. He walks out of the bathroom and searches for his phone in his bag. He had turned it off because of the constant texts but now… now he powers it back on.

There are over a hundred notifications. He groans. He checks through. About twenty of them are from Andy. A few are from the rest of his curious co-workers. The majority of those texts, however, are from Sam.

He decides to text back.

Yesterday: 5:03

5:03>Sammy: I saw you on TV!!! It’s so cool! I hope Daphne’s okay.

Today: 7:30

7:30>Me: she’ll be fine. i think so, anyway. how’d u know her name?

Dean sets his phone down. He checks to make sure he has everything. He didn’t take much out so there’s not much to pack. He’s not sure what the protocol for leaving is. He picks up his bag and leaves it on the dresser.

He’ll be back soon enough to get it. His phone goes off with a ding and he quickly checks it.

7:33>Sammy: I’ve looked through the list of contestants. I could list them all by name for you.

Dean chuckles.

7:34>Me: nerd.

7:34>Sammy: Being well prepared doesn’t make me a nerd, Dean.

7:35>Me: ur right. it does make u a bitch tho.

7:35>Sammy: Jerk. I miss you.

7:36>Me: I miss you, too, Sammy.

7:37>Sammy: Whoa. It must be really serious. You’re using proper capitalization in texts! :O

7:37>Me: omg ur such a nerd. ill be home soon, Sammy.

7:38>Sammy: Awesome! Wait, why? Aren’t there, like, a ton of contestants left?

Dean fiddles with his phone. He’s not sure how to answer that without disappointing his little brother.

7:40>Me: yeah. but i dont think im the prince’s type, lol. so, yeah, ill be home soon, bitch.

7:42>Sammy: Oh, okay. He looked totally goo-goo eyes for you, but okay. I’m glad that you’re coming home, Dean. I really have missed you.

7:45>Me: no chick flick moments, dude. i dont care if we’re just texting. but yeah, im glad im coming home 2. ill see u in like, 2 hours.

7:46>Sammy: Okay. See you in two hours.

Dean closes his phone. Sam’s probably really disappointed. There’s nothing he can do about that though. He screwed everything up. It’s his cross to bear. He tucks his phone into his pocket.

He crosses over to the door and takes a deep breath. He needs to compose himself. He’s not disappointed. He’s definitely not sad. That’s a damn lie and he knows it. It’s a massive freaking lie. He’s way too attached to Benny. And Charlie. And Jesse!

He’s just too attached. He never should’ve let himself get this wrapped up in it. Now he’s feeling sad. Disappointed. And angry. Not at Cas but at himself. He shouldn’t have freaked out. It wasn’t a big deal.

And it’s not like Cas was even pushing him for information. He gently asked about Dean’s family life. Most normal, stable people wouldn’t freak the hell out if you asked a question like that.

He tries to convince himself that this is all for the best. Leaving is the best thing he can do. He doesn’t deserve any of this anyway. At least they made enough money to make things easier. He knows they sent a check to Bobby on the first day.

They’ll be fine. Dean won’t have to break his back as much. Maybe he can finally get an education. That would be… That would be amazing.

His life will be fine. And he won’t ever think about Prince Castiel again. Sure, he’ll probably be a little jealous of whoever ends up with him. That’s okay, though. He knows that it’s all his fault. He’ll accept that.

He steps out into the hallway. He’s determined to not show any emotion when they tell him to leave. He’ll go back to his room and grab his bag. He mentally kicks himself. It’s not his room. It’s a room he was temporarily sleeping in.

He makes his way through the maze of the castle halls and takes a moment to appreciate the architecture one more time. This is probably the last time he’ll ever see something like this. He might as well enjoy it.

The worst part of all of this is knowing that he could’ve prevented it. All of this could’ve been avoided if he could just shut his goddamn mouth for two seconds.

Far too soon, he’s nearing the banquet hall. He has no choice but to keep walking. He just needs to keep moving forward before he loses the nerve.

He steps inside the banquet hall. Benny waves him over.

“Hey, brother,” he says as Dean nears.

Dean rubs his forehead, exhaustion, and anxiety pouring over him to create a strange mix of emotions. “Hey.”

“You feelin’ okay?”

“I’m fine. I just didn’t get much sleep last night.”

He takes a seat next to Benny. He decides to load his plate up. If this is the last time he gets to eat food like this, he might as well be decadent as all hell. Benny gives him an odd look.

“You sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, Benny. I’m fine,” he snaps.

Benny frowns. “Sorry for askin’.”

Dean sighs. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap I just… Yeah.”

He keeps himself busy by looking around the table. He sees empty chairs. That’s strange. He thinks. He counts. There are seven empty seats. He doesn’t see Hester, Edgar, Donatello, Mason, Stuart, Eve, and Dirk. Those are the missing people.

He’s proud of himself. He figured out a lot of names. It’s still pretty damn strange, though. Usually, no one is gone by this point. The banquet hall doors close and those seven are still missing.

King Charles stands up. “As I am sure you’ve noticed, there are a few empty seats around this table. The first round of eliminations happened last night. I believe seven people were eliminated.”

Dean’s jaw goes slack. He can’t believe it. He didn’t get his ass kicked out. What the hell? He looks over at Cas, who is, of course, already looking at him. He stares into those beautiful blue eyes, searching desperately for an answer.

He’s shocked. He literally yelled at the guy and he didn’t kick him out. Somehow, he’s not being sent home. He takes a deep breath and decides that he can obsess over all of this later.

“The rest of you are all safe. Thank you for your patience. I’ll let you all get back to your food now,” King Charles says. He sits back down.

He tears his eyes away from Cas’s and starts eating with renewed energy. He wasn’t kicked out. A giddy feeling overwhelms him. He’s not even sure why. He’s just so relieved. The rest of the breakfast is a blur. He knows that he has to ask Cas about what happened. He has to know why the guy didn’t kick him out. He just has to.

Everyone starts standing up. He stays seated. “Benny, go on without me, okay? I need to, um, figure something out.”

Benny just shrugs. “Okay. I’ll meet ya out on the lawn.”

Dean nods. He watches as Cas gets up from his seat. He, himself slowly stands up. He follows the crowd a little sluggishly and then waits outside the banquet hall doors for Cas. When Castiel finally comes out, he grabs his arm.

He gently pulls him aside. “What was that?”

“Hello, Dean.” That damned ghost of a smile is back.

He clenches his jaw. “Seriously. What was that?”

“What was what?” Castiel asks. He’s all squinty again. Damn it.

“Why didn’t you kick me out? I yelled at you, Cas.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“And you didn’t kick me out?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

Castiel frowns. “Because I do not believe in silencing people. And I should not have pried. That is my fault.”

He’s frozen to the spot. “W-what?” he sputters. “How in God’s name can you think that was your fault?”

“It was my fault,” Castiel says as if that’s the most obvious thing in the world.

“No, it wasn’t!” Dean says, exasperated. He can’t believe it. Cas actually thinks it was his fault. What the hell? “Listen. I shouldn’t have yelled at you. All you were trying to do was help. I made a mistake because, well, what can I say? I ain’t perfect.”

Castiel frowns. “Yes, you are.”

And, again, Cas has the amazing power to freeze him to the stop. “You can’t just say things like that, Cas!” he says.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s weird!” he sputters, rubbing his face.

“Listen, Dean. I understand that you do not wish to explain your family life to me. That’s fine. You value your privacy and I would never violate that,” Cas says. He steps closer to Dean. They’re quite close now.

Almost kiss distance. He mentally kicks himself. This is not the time for that.

“I… Um, I believe we need to go somewhere more private. May I show you my library?”

“Yeah, sure, Cas,” he mumbles, shocked. It’s all so goddamn confusing. Cas is more confusing than anyone he’s ever met and considering that he lived on the street, that’s saying something!

He allows Cas to lead him up flights upon flights of stairs. Eventually, they arrive at the door to the library and Cas opens it, allowing Dean to step in.

His breath is immediately taken away. The library is beautiful. There are long, beautiful windows that allow light to pour in. The high-vaulted ceilings of the library allow for even more bookshelves. And there are tons.

There’s a bookshelf lining almost every single wall. There must be thousands of books on these shelves. He’s never seen something so… Breathtaking. And to top it all off, there’s no one else inside except for the two of them.

It’s completely deserted.

Cas immediately crosses over to a desk. There are papers strewn across it along with stacks of books taking up almost every inch of free space.

“Feel free to look around, Dean. It’s why I brought you here,” Cas says, sitting down at the desk.

Dean nods absentmindedly. He crosses over to a nearby bookshelf. There are every manner and genre of books there. From contemporary novels to old history books. He thumbs through the impressive collection.

One catches his eye. It’s a book titled ‘An Encyclopedia of Magic’. He frowns. Magic? He gently takes the book off the bookshelf.

“What’s this?” he asks.

Cas looks up. “Which book?”

“It’s the Encyclopedia of Magic.”

He crosses over to Cas and gently deposits it in front of him. “Why do you have this?”

“These books have been in my family for generations,” Cas says. He runs his fingers over the leatherbound book. There’s a fond look in his eyes.

“Magic isn’t real though.”

Cas tilts his head. “It’s very real, Dean.”

He chuckles. “No, it’s not. Stop pullin’ my leg, Cas.”

“I am not ‘pulling your leg’. Magic is real,” Cas says.

Dean rolls his eyes. He knows that Cas is screwing with him.

“Come here. I would like to show you,” Cas murmurs. Dean tentatively steps closer to the desk. “Hold out your palms, Dean.”

He complies, holding out his palms to the prince. Cas places his hands in Dean’s. His heart starts beating hard. They’re basically holding hands. And shouldn’t it scare him more?

He watches as Cas drags his fingers down Dean’s palms. Every single part of his skin that Cas touches lights up. The veins seem to glow through his hands. They shine brightly, even in the light of the library.

He feels breathless as he stares down at his hands. They’re beautiful. “How… How did you do that?”

Cas looks up at him, those blue eyes shining like beacons. “Magic.”

Dean chuckles in disbelief. “There’s… That’s… Wow. And you can, um, use it?”

Cas nods.

“If magic is real, why isn’t that public knowledge?” Dean asks.

“Many of those who could use magic were frightened by or killed in the Salem Witch Trials. People are not generally accepting of what they cannot understand. Or what is not, in their opinion, normal.”

He stares down at Cas. He realizes they’re still basically holding hands. He gently pulls his hands away and clears his throat. “That, um, that actually makes sense. Is that why there are basically no pictures of you outside of the castle?” he asks.

Cas nods again and looks away. “I was not permitted to leave because of my abnormalities. My parents are not very… Accepting.” Cas grimaces.

“I’m sorry, Cas. Really, I am. I get the whole complicated relationship with your parents thing,” he says.

Cas looks up. His eyes are full of concern. It’s adorable. And sweet. And it’s unspeakably difficult to hide things from those eyes. Cas’s expression is a gentle nudge, he’s asking Dean to trust him. To share just a little.

He swallows and decides to spill his guts. “My mom died when I was a kid. My dad left when I was barely a teenager. I raised my baby brother until an old friend of my dad’s found us. It was hard. We, um, we lived on the streets for a while,” he murmurs. “I’m not sure why I’m even telling you any of this.”

Cas stands up and puts a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Because you need to talk about it. And it is easier to confide in someone when you know they will not judge you.”

He chuckles lightly. “You sure you’re not a psychologist?”

“I am quite sure, Dean.”

He rolls his eyes. He smiles fondly at Cas. He’s so damn sweet that it’s hard, physically hard, to deny him anything. What is that?

“You are very strong,” Cas says.

“No, I’m not. I’m a guy who got a crappy hand and made it out the other end. Nothin’ special about that,” he says dismissively, trying not to focus too much on the hand on his shoulder. That light as a feather touch sends electricity through his body.

“Perhaps to some. But, personally, I believe strength isn’t characterized by simple survival. It’s characterized by how you are as a human being afterward. True strength is fighting through pain and coming out with your morals still intact.”

He’s speechless for a few moments. Cas is pretty damn good with his words. He doesn’t know if his morals came out completely unscathed but… He hopes they did. The fact that Cas thinks he’s strong completely blows his mind.

He realizes that he told Benny he’d meet him out on the lawn. That was about thirty minutes ago. Damn it. He thinks. “Uh, I’m sorry, Cas. I have to go. Is there… Is there any way I could come back? It’s nice up here.”

Cas’s ghost smile is back. “Of course, Dean.”

“Awesome. And, um, thank you for tellin’ me about the magic thing. It must be a pretty big secret. And you just shared it with me. A stranger.”

“You’re not a stranger,” Cas says.

Now it’s his turn to tilt his head and squint. Maybe they’re not complete strangers but still… They met not that long ago. He decides to go along with it though. At least for the moment.

“I’ll see ya later, Cas.”

“Goodbye, Dean.”

“Bye.” He gives Cas a quick salute. He turns on his heel and marches out. He can’t help but wonder what Cas meant by ‘you’re not a stranger’. Maybe Cas is falling just as hard and just as fast as he is.

And down the rabbit hole, they go.

---

Castiel watches as Dean walks away. His heart sinks. He never likes watching Dean walk away. He’s hit by a sudden wave of emotion. Flashbacks from years upon years ago.

Now, Castiel, do you see those lines of purple and blue in the air?” Anna had asked him.

“Yes, miss!” he had responded happily.

She chuckled. “Okay. So, extend your left hand, okay? Reach far out. Don’t touch it just yet, okay?”

Castiel had nodded. He had looked up to Anna so much. She was his idol. She was strong, independent and confident. He extended his left hand.

“I want you to close your eyes, okay, sweetie?” Anna said.

He closed them. He always did what she said.

“I want you to feel the magic flow through your body as you siphon it, okay? Just take a deep breath. It’ll feel a little tingly. I want you to let the magic that you absorb to cross over your chest and down your right arm. And then, when you feel like it’s there, throw out your hand and the magic with it. And remember, do not take too much. If you take too much of that magic, your body will shut down. Do you know what happens when you overload a computer? That’s what happens when you take too much magic, okay?”

Castiel nodded. He kind of understood. Sure enough, he felt a tingling sensation that started at his fingertips and then ran through his body. He did what Miss Anna said and directed it. He allowed it to flow up his left arm and across his chest.

The tingling sensation flew all the way to his right arm. He could feel a build-up. Something desperate to escape. He threw out his right hand and pushed that energy with it. A small blast of blue, purple, and silver shot out of his fingertips.

It flies across the yard and dissipates.

“Wow, sweetheart! Good job! I’m so proud of you!” Miss Anna had knelt in front of him and wrapped him in a big hug. He was so happy in that moment. So proud of himself. Of course, nothing can last forever.

Not very long after, Miss Anna had died. She had always told him about the risks of using magic. But she said there was nothing greater. If he used his special abilities to help people, she had always told him how proud she’d be.

Some very, very bad men had killed her. He had learned as a young child that the world is cruel and unforgiving. Everyone dies. Everyone leaves you. Either you accept it and move on, or you fight it and get your heart broken over and over.

Castiel has learned that distancing yourself is the only way to save yourself from pain. When he was nine, Michael and Lucifer died. When he was eleven, Miss Anna had died. He has had no shortage of pain.

He’s simply learned to push it all away. If you don’t care, then you can’t get hurt. It’s always a lie, of course. He cannot truly stop himself from caring. He can try though. Distance is how you avoid pain.

That’s the only lesson that stuck with Castiel through everything.

Not long after Miss Anna died, Castiel started the adventure that would change his life forever. He remembers it like it was yesterday.

That day was the funeral. He hated funerals. Everyone had to wear black and mourn. Miss Anna had told him that most magic users didn’t even use to get funerals. They just died and no one let themselves mourn.

He hated it. He hated every bit of it. He hated the bad men who had killed her. He hated people who hate things they don’t understand. The only thing that he had wanted was for her to come back. That’s all that had mattered to him.

He didn’t want to go to the funeral. He didn’t want to say goodbye. Instead, he grabbed his dad’s old trenchcoat and ran.

He had escaped that day. Ran away from the castle. Just as he would continue to do in secret for many years to come.

All for the sake of one person.

Chapter Text

Somehow it’s even hotter than the days before. Dean is sweating like crazy out on the lawn. It’s been a couple of days since he and Cas talked about magic in the library. He’s a little disappointed that Cas hasn’t been able to talk to him much since then.

Cas is always tied up in business relating to the kingdom. Apparently, the king and queen are putting him through extensive lessons about how to rule and stuff. At least, that was his impression.

He’ll never admit this, but he actually misses that dork. He breathes in the fresh summer air. There’s nothing like it.

“Hi there,” a voice says from off to his left. He looks over to see none other than Lisa Braeden walking up to him. She stops a few feet in front of him with a coy smile on her face.

“Hey,” he says. “Need something?”

“No. I, um, I just wanted to see how you were doing,” she says. Her voice is pitched low. Almost seductive. Weird. He thinks.

“I’m fine, thanks.”

It looks like she’s about to say something when Benny runs up to him. “Come on, Dean. Join us for some soccer. I promise I’ll kick your ass.”

“Oh, hell no. If anyone’s gonna get their ass kicked, it’s gonna be you.”

Benny grins. “You sure about that?”

Dean chuckles. “Hell yes.”

“Bring it on then, pretty boy!” Benny says as he runs off to the field. Dean runs after him. When he reaches the field, he sees that they’ve set up some soccer nets. There aren’t any white lines but that’s not a massive deal. He assumes that this area wasn’t actually meant to be a soccer field.

Cole, Gordon, Ed, and Harry are already there along with a few of the girls. There are camera crews hovering around. Apparently, they have nothing better to do than film them playing soccer.

Ed and Harry are immersed in deep conversation. He looks over at Gordon and Cole. Gordon makes eye contact with him. There’s pure disgust in his eyes. It’s mixed with something that looks almost like anger.

He immediately feels on guard.

Gordon looks away and continues his conversation with Cole. He shakes it off.

“Now that you’re here, boys,” Abaddon says. “Shall we get started?”

“Let’s do it,” Ed says, patting his friend Harry on the shoulder. The two of them are inseparable apparently.

“Boys versus girls?” Abaddon asks.

Everyone murmurs their assent. Soon, everyone is ready. Harry is the goalie for their team. Josie is the goalie for the girls' team. They start playing. Dean bolts forward as Abaddon kicks the ball to Pamela.

He tries to intercept it but as he does, Gordon shoves him out of the way. He falls to the ground and immediately, a sharp bolt of pain radiates up from his hands and elbows. Everything stings a little but he’ll be damned if he lets anyone know that. He growls and stands up. He knows that Gordon probably didn’t do it on purpose. Still though.

He brushes off his pants. He’s definitely not wearing the right clothes for this. Oh, well. No one is. Even Benny is in khakis. Dean jumps back into the game. The next few goals go without much consequence.

In the next play, Benny kicks the ball to him and he runs like a bat out of hell. He’s even got a good shot at the goal. Then, once again, he’s shoved by Gordon who then makes in goal in his stead.

He gets up again. His hands and elbows are itchy and stinging. He has a few minor cuts on them. That was not an accident. He marches up to Gordon and grabs his arm. “What the hell, man?”

Gordon turns around. “What?” he spits.

“You pushed me. Are we eleven-year-olds now?”

Gordon scoffs. “I didn’t do it on purpose. And, yeah. You are eleven, kid,” he says.

“I’m seventeen,” he growls.

Gordon rolls his eyes. “Sure ya are,” he says sarcastically.

“You’re a jackass, you know that?” he asks.

Gordon takes a step forward, getting right into Dean’s personal space. “What’d you call me?”

“A jackass. What? Are your ears clogged, too?”

“You little bitch,” Gordon says.

Dean growls. He hates it when people call him a bitch. This guy has no idea what the hell he’s been through.

“I might be a little bitch but at least I ain’t an ugly one like you,” he says. He smirks at Gordon. Gordon’s features twist with anger, and a second later, a fist connects with Dean’s face.

He stumbles back and feels hot blood trickle down his cheek. He ducks Gordon’s next punch and rams into him, knocking the guy flat on his ass. There’s an ‘ooh’ from the crowd forming around them.

He knows he shouldn’t be doing this, but he’s not one to back down from a fight. The guy glares at him with rage apparent in his eyes. Dean gives him a cocky smirk. “You gonna actually fight or just sit on your ass, sweetheart?”

Gordon stands up and immediately bolts forward. He tries to punch Dean again. Dean easily dodges the punch and grabs Gordon’s arm. He twists it hard with his left hand and then punches him with his right.

Gordon growls and breaks Dean’s hold on him. Damn it. He’s gonna get hit here. He instinctively closes his eyes and waits for a punch. It never comes. He feels arms wrap under his armpits keeping him from moving forward.

Someone is holding him back. “Don’t make this worse, brother,” a deep voice says in his ear. Benny. Cole is holding Gordon back. Dean scoffs and slips out of Benny’s grip. He wipes the blood off of his cheek and walks away.

He hurries into the castle, not wanting to be followed. The metallic taste of blood fills his mouth. Wonderful. He thinks.

He starts walking up the stairs. He’d better go get some ice. He knows he won’t have a black eye, seeing as Gordon can’t get a good punch in to save his life. There’ll be a nice little cut on Dean’s cheek for a while but no harm no foul.

“Dean,” a voice calls from behind him. He freezes. It’s Cas. Crap, crap, crap. He can’t let Cas see him like this. He can’t let him know he got in a fight. So, he does the only logical thing and pretends he didn’t hear him.

“Dean,” Cas says again, more forcefully this time. Now there’s no way to pretend he didn’t hear him. Damn it.

He hears Cas’s footsteps getting closer. “Are you ignoring me?”

“No, just, um, Cas. Don’t come any closer,” he says.

“Why not?” Cas asks.

He struggles to come up with a good excuse. He feels a hand on his shoulder, gently turning him around.

Cas forces Dean to meet his gorgeous, azure eyes. “What happened to your face, Dean? Who did this to you?” he growls.

“Would you believe me if I said I tripped?”

“No,” Cas says in a deadpan voice. It’s almost funny. Almost.

Dean sighs heavily. He purses his lips and looks away.

“If you refuse to tell me, may I at least fix your cut?” Cas asks. His eyes are so genuine that it’s damn near impossible to say no to him.

“Fine.”

The return of the ghost smile. He sighs as Cas leads him up the stairs. They, once again, come upon the door of the library. “You’re gonna treat me in a library? Way to go, Doc.”

Cas rolls his eyes. “I am not a doctor.”

“That’s pretty obvious.”

Cas opens the door. He directs Dean to a chair. Dean chuckles and looks up at Cas. He sits down and watches as Cas rummages around in a nearby cabinet. He sighs and reaches up to touch his cheek.

It’s not bleeding as much now. It’s pretty much just a trickle He wipes away a little of the excess blood. Cas returns with a First Aid kit. He kneels in front of Dean and opens it.

“Who did this to you?” Cas asks again.

He shrugs. He’s not a snitch. Gordon may be an asshole, but he’s not gonna throw him under the bus like that. Maybe Cas was right about that whole morals thing.

Cas grabs a gauze pad and starts cleaning the wound on Dean’s cheek. He watches Cas’s eyes. They’re so intense. So focused. Even though the room around them is bright, they’re the only things that shine to him.

Cas finishes wiping away the blood. He searches around in the First Aid kit. Eventually, Cas pulls out a small bottle of antiseptic. He unscrews the cap and grabs another gauze pad. He positions the gauze pad over the top of the bottle and quickly flips the bottle upside down. He then quickly puts the bottle down.

Cas lifts the gauze pad to his face. Dean winces as it touches the cut on his cheek. It stings a little, but overall, it’s not that bad.

“I’m assuming you’re not going to tell me who did this to you.”

“Nope. I’m not a snitch. And, plus, I’ve had worse,” he says.

“When have you ‘had worse’?” Cas asks.

He looks away. “When I was a kid,” he murmurs.

“Are you going to provide any other information or should I cease my inquiries?”

He chuckles. “Fine, fine. You’ve worn me down.”

Cas offers him a small hint of a smile. “I always do.”

He rolls his eyes fondly. “Sure ya do, Cas. Maybe that’s your hidden talent. Other than the magic, I mean.”

“Other than the magic, I really am quite uninteresting, Dean.”

He can’t believe what he’s hearing. To him, Cas is a complete enigma wrapped in a mystery, wrapped in a tortilla. “And who the hell told you that?”

Cas frowns. “No one.”

“Then why would you think something like that?” he asks.

Cas shrugs. He finishes cleaning the cut on Dean’s cheek and puts the gauze pad down. He grabs a Bandaid and presses it to his face, taking care with each movement. Dean’s heart melts just a little.

“I do not believe I am that interesting,” Cas says, still kneeling in front of him.

“Well, you’re wrong. Sorry, Cas,” he says, eyeing the magnificent man in front of him. How has no one commented on his remarkability? Because, damn. The guy is basically Prince Charming. He saves damsels in distress and patches up the anti-hero who gets his ass handed to him on the regular.

Cas offers him that tiny smile again. “Apology accepted. Now, please, tell me when you’ve had worse.”

He swallows. Opening up is a lot harder than people say it is. “All right. So, um, don’t tell anyone I told you this, but when I was a kid, I used to steal a lot. That was the only way I could get food on the table for Sam. My little brother. I told you I lived on the street and, uh, yeah. Bobby found us before it got really bad. I worked a lot of illegal jobs though,” he says.

Cas’s eyes widen.

“No, no. Not jobs like, um, that. Just jobs that weren’t legal because of my age,” Dean reassures him.

Cas visibly calms down. He puts a gentle hand on Dean’s forearm. God, even that small, comforting touch is enough to light Dean’s body up with sparks of energy.

“But, um, yeah. I’ve had to support my family my entire life. Bobby got into a car accident a little while after we came to him. He’s in a wheelchair now. For life.”

Cas’s expression is so sympathetic. He’s rubbing little circles on Dean’s forearm. It’s calming. Amazingly so.

“I remember that night…” He shudders.

He remembers getting the call late at night. Bobby was supposed to be home about an hour before. He had been so damn panicked. Then he got that call…

He had rushed to the hospital with Sam. They had told them that Bobby was in surgery and that there were no guarantees. After hours and hours of excruciating waiting, they finally came out and told them that Bobby would survive.

They had been so relieved… And then the doctor told them that Bobby would likely never walk again. His heart had never dropped like that before. He had never felt so destroyed. The worst part was knowing how Bobby would feel.

Not being able to support them… It would feel terrible. They had become Bobby’s sons. He knew that, as much as it hurt him, it would decimate Bobby. He swore from that day on to be strong.

He would take care of everyone. He’s never forgotten that promise.

He shakes his head, trying to dispel those thoughts. Cas squeezes his forearm gently.

“I understand losing people, Dean. And I’m so very sorry. Your life has been incredibly tough. For what it’s worth, I’m glad that you’re here and… I can relate. I know you heard my comment about Lucifer. I… He and Michael died when I was eleven. Car-related deaths or injuries seem to plague both of our families,” Cas says.

Now it’s Dean’s turn to offer support. This is what he’s good at. He sucks at talking but he can listen. He gently takes Cas’s hand off of his forearm. He slowly intertwines his fingers with Cas’s. He waits for Cas to pull away. To tell him off. And when he doesn’t, relief pours over Dean in refreshing waves.

They sit there for a few moments, fingers intertwined. Then, Cas starts speaking.

“I did not ever really know my brothers. They were older than I was so they kept to themselves. Of course, I idolized them. They were everything I had ever wanted to be… Then, one day, they died. There was no rhyme or reason. One minute they were there, and the next they were gone. That was the day that I learned that death is inevitable and unavoidable. It comes to us all.”

“Wow, Cas. That’s a dark way of lookin’ at it.”

Cas turns those eyes on him. They seem dull now. It makes something in Dean’s chest ache. Those eyes that are usually so full of color and energy are just… Dull. Emotionless. He wants to fix it. He doesn’t know how but… he just wants to help.

He feels himself starting to lean in. He doesn’t have a chance to second guess before his lips meet Cas’s.

Cas’s lips are so soft. They’re a little chapped, but it doesn’t matter. He slowly pulls away. He makes eye contact with Cas. The bright, striking beauty of his eyes is back. There’s electricity in the air.

He can barely breathe. He can’t believe what he just did. He can’t believe the way Cas is looking at him. It’s like they’re the only two people in the world. This library is the world. It’s the only world that matters.

Soon enough, he’s leaning in again. And this time, Cas kisses back. Their lips meet in a ferocious attack. It’s like they can’t get enough of each other. He tangles his fingers in Cas’s silky black hair.

He’s wanted to do this for longer than he even realized. And it’s perfect. Messy but perfect. It’s their own kind of beautiful. And that’s all that matters.

This time, when he pulls away, Cas is smiling. Honest-to-god smiling. And his smile is gorgeous. It’s a gummy type of smile. Which is just too adorable for words.

Dean clears his throat. “So, uh, is this what you do with every girl you bring to your library?” he asks softly, humor lacing his tone.

Cas tilts his head. “You’re not a female, Dean.”

He laughs. Cas’s little head tilts are nearly hysterical. And he’s an insanely good kisser. Which just isn’t fair! Considering that he’s been kept in a castle all his life, he shouldn’t be that amazing at it.

“And, no, I do not kiss every person I bring here. That honor belongs to you, and you alone.”

He grins. He’s so ridiculously happy. Somehow, knowing that Cas hasn’t kissed anyone else up here makes him giddy. He loves the thought of it being their thing. Something that belongs to them.

An honor that belongs to him.

“What do we do now, Cas?” he asks, eyes fixed on Cas’s face. The man has such soft, gorgeous features and his expression is purely happy. It’s the most beautiful thing that he’s ever seen.

“I would like to pursue a relationship with you. If you’re amenable,” Cas says.

He can’t help but grin. “Yeah, Cas. I’m amenable. I’m amenable as hell.”

That gummy smile hasn’t left Cas’s face. He leans forward and catches Cas’s lips again. He winds a gentle hand around the back of Cas’s neck. Everything he wants to say, he tells Cas through that kiss.

He’s saying that he wants to figure out where this goes. He’s telling Cas that he cares about him. Even though it’s probably stupid. He conveys everything without words. And when they break away, he feels a shiver run down his spine.

He bites his lower lip. “I should probably go before Benny thinks I died,” he says, reluctant to leave this little bubble of theirs.

Cas’s fingers intertwine with his own. That beautiful smile shines like a beacon in the library. “I want to speak to you soon. Would that be… Would that be possible?”

“Of course,” he murmurs. He kisses Cas’s cheek gently. He’s not usually one for gestures of affection like this but with Cas… With Cas, it just feels right. He wants Cas to know that he actually cares about him.

He’s not like everyone else in this godforsaken competition. He’s not after the crown. He’s after Cas. Cas is what he wants. He’s not here for anything else.

He gently squeezes Cas’s hands. He stands up and Cas stands with him. “I’ll talk to you soon.” He slowly lets go of Cas’s hands and damn, if he doesn’t regret it the moment he lets go. Cas’s smile doesn’t fade though.

“We’ll talk soon,” Cas murmurs. He turns those beautiful eyes on him. Cas touches his cheek gently and runs his thumb over his cheekbone. Dean can’t help but shiver again. There’s something about the way that Cas touches him. The way that Cas looks at him… There’s emotion there. Far too much for him to ever understand.

It’s like Cas is on the verge of saying something. Of letting him in on some big secret. But he doesn’t. He slowly pulls away from him.

Dean walks to the door. He glances back at Cas. He’s never been so confused and yet so indescribably happy in his life. He slowly opens the door and leaves.

It’s one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do.

Chapter Text

Dean is lying in wait. He knows Cas gets out of his meeting soon. It’s been a week since they started… Whatever their weird relationship is. And it’s actually been kind of amazing. He really didn’t expect that.

He expected it to be kind of weird. Or awkward. But it’s like they fell into a rhythm. It feels so familiar and easy. It’s like he’s been with Cas for seven years, not seven days. Which he definitely hasn’t voiced to Cas.

He doesn’t wanna freak him out. Especially since there are so many other options around them. He’s desperately trying to keep a hold on Cas. He waits until he sees his prince.

Cas rounds the corner and Dean immediately grabs his arm. He quickly pulls him into the supply closet behind him. “Dean?” Cas exclaims.

“Shh!” Dean says. He holds a hand over Cas’s mouth. He presses his ear up to the door. He doesn’t hear any voices so he lets his hand fall.

“Hi,” he says.

“Hello, Dean,” Cas says. He can tell that his prince has a smile on his face. The dork. He leans in and kisses him. Kissing Cas is amazing. It’s something he could do for hours and never get tired of it.

There’s something about his lips. They’re chapped and yet so soft. Impossibly so. He tangles his fingers in Cas’s hair. He feels an arm wrap around his waist and pull him closer. He feels breathless every time Cas does that.

They break away for a moment. They’re still so close to each other. Dean stares into Cas’s eyes. The slight height difference between them is strange. On one hand, it allows him to look down at Cas. But the weird thing is, he knows that Cas holds the control.

And not in a weird way. He just knows that he’d do anything Cas asked. Which is dangerous. Very, very dangerous. This is exactly what he was afraid of. And yet, it doesn’t feel scary. It feels like freedom. It feels like he was submerged his entire life and now… Now he’s broken the surface of the water. He can finally breathe.

Cas runs his thumb over Dean’s cheekbone. He does this a lot. It’s sweet, really. That tenderness is something he hasn’t ever had. Not since his mom died. Cas is a breath of fresh air. Everything about him is comforting and warm.

Dean knows he’s falling fast. He knows that, in this moment, Cas could easily break his heart. But it’s so hard to care when the man is in his arms.

He leans in and kisses Cas again. It feels like electricity running through his entire body. A soft vibration that resonates all over him. It’s so indescribably amazing. Then, there’s a jiggle of the doorknob and he jumps so hard that he nearly bangs his head on one of the shelves. He hears a confused grunt from outside. “Damn door,” a voice murmurs. It’s Jody, Cas’s maid.

He squeezes even closer to Cas. He knows that it makes logical sense for Jody to be here. It is a supply closet afterall. But she is the absolute worst with her damn timing!

Eventually, the doorknob stops jiggling and receding footsteps ring out. He sighs in relief.

“That was close,” he murmurs.

Cas chuckles softly. It’s such a beautiful sound. “Did you really just laugh?” Dean asks, a little shocked. That’s not something he hears very often.

“Yes, I did,” Cas says, matter of factly.

He grins and kisses Cas again. “You should do that more.”

“I will endeavor to.”

“We should probably get going before someone comes looking for us.”

“Yes. Thank you for this though. I suppose you realized I would need something relaxing?”

“Yep. You kept talking about how stressful this whole thing is and I figured I could… I don’t know… Help.”

“Thank you, Dean. This did help.”

He feels heat rush to his face. It’s a slow burn in his cheeks. “You’re welcome. Now, get outta here. I wouldn’t want you to miss your other meeting.”

“I do not care if I miss it. Though, I feel that would be in poor taste,” Cas says. “I wish there were fewer cameras. That way I could spend more time with you.” He watches as Cas goes on his tiptoes to kiss his forehead.

It’s so unendingly adorable that he can’t help but laugh.

“Yeah, well, I get why you can’t, Cas. They want you to drag this out and make it a… What’d you call it?” he asks.

“A spectacle,” Cas supplies.

“Right. Well, they want it to be a spectacle. So, you’d better act your ass off,” he says. He gently lets go of Cas, allowing his arms to fall to his sides.

Cas nods. “I will ‘act my ass’ off,” he says with air quotes. It’s so cute that Dean almost giggles. And Dean Winchester does not giggle. Cas makes him want to do crazy things.

Cas takes his hand and squeezes it. Dean smiles. He leans in and Cas gives him a quick kiss good-bye. Cas ducks out of the closet, leaving Dean alone. Happy but alone.

One Week Later

Dean wakes up to a soft knock on his door. He checks the clock on his bedside table. It’s midnight. Who would even be at his door at this time?

He gets out of bed and sluggishly stumbles to the damn thing. He opens it to see Cas standing there. He’s not even wearing a suit. He’s wearing honest-to-god pajamas. Which have bees on them. Bees.

“Cas?” he asks.

“Dean,” Cas murmurs. He looks nervous. Like he’s not sure if he should be here at all.

Dean reaches out and takes Cas’s hand. “What’re you doing here?” he asks softly.

“I…” Cas swallows. “I missed you.”

A gentle smile spreads over his face. He can’t believe Cas came all the way to his room just because he missed him.

“Do you wanna stay the night, Cas?” he asks, squeezing Cas’s hand.

Cas nods.

He gently pulls Cas inside his room and shuts the door. He leads Cas over to his bed. He sits down on the edge of the overwhelmingly comfortable mattress. “And I… I hope you know I didn’t mean sex.”

Cas chuckles softly. “No, Dean. I didn’t think you meant that.”

He can’t help but grin. “Then lay down.” He changes positions and lays down. He scoots over enough so that there’s space for Cas.

Cas climbs into bed next to him. They’re so impossibly close. He rolls onto his right side so he can look at Cas. “Hi,” he murmurs.

“Hello, Dean,” Cas says.

“Tired?”

“Very.”

“Just sleep. I’ll talk to you in the morning,” he says. He sees Cas’s darkly outlined form nod. He feels Cas wrap his arms around him.

They’re breathing the same air. He smiles, knowing Cas can’t see it. He watches as Cas slowly falls asleep. A soft snore fills the room. He chuckles softly. Cas is a snorer. He’d never have guessed it. Somehow, he finds it completely adorable.

He kisses Cas’s forehead.

“Sleep well, angel,” he murmurs. Slowly, he himself falls into a deep sleep.

One Week Later

“I’m just sayin’, brother. I would get seven cats.”

Dean laughs. “If you won the Choosing and became the prince’s husband, you’d get seven cats? Why? Just why?”

“Because I love cats.”

“I’m tellin’ ya, man. You can’t trust anything on four legs.”

“Ah, shut up. You’re just sayin’ that because you have an allergy to cats. Oh, and the fact that you don’t trust dogs.”

“They’re shifty little bastards, okay?”

Benny laughs. “Sure they are, Dean,” he says.

“Shut it.”

He grins. He looks over at Cas. As soon as they make eye contact, Cas smiles. It’s become a sort of regular thing now. Especially in the banquet hall. Whenever they look at each other like this, Cas smiles. It’s been amazing to go from never seeing him smile to almost always seeing him smile.

He feels a hand on his shoulder.

“You okay there, brother?”

He nods and breaks eye contact with Cas. “I’m just fine.”

---

As they’re walking out after breakfast, Benny pulls him aside. “What the hell was that, Dean?”

“What?” he asks. He’s really not sure what Benny’s even talking about.

“The staring,” Benny says.

His heart sinks. He knows the staring isn’t exactly subtle but he was hoping it was going unnoticed. Apparently not.

He tries to shrug it off casually. “Ca- Prince Castiel just has a starin’ problem. That’s all.”

“Then why do you look like you’re completely in love?” Benny asks.

He freezes. He can’t believe it. He never expected Benny to figure that out. Not that he’s in love with Cas but… It’s just weird to be called out on having feelings for someone. “I’m not in love with him, Benny. Why’d you even say that?”

Benny throws his hands up in surrender. “I don’t know. I just call things like I see ‘em, brother.”

“Well, you saw it wrong then. I ain’t in love with the guy. Remember what I told you? He’s got a massive stick up his ass,” he says with a chuckle. He knows now that Cas isn’t all that stuffy. And the more uptight parts of his personality are things Dean actually likes.

“All right, all right. Forget I said anythin’.”

“I will. I’m gonna go back up to my room. Catch ya later.”

“Catch ya later.”

He hurries away from Benny. He had to get out of that. He heads up through the winding maze of staircases to his room. He’s gotten pretty good at not getting lost by now. There are two places that he can reliably find his way to. His own room and the library.

He eventually makes it up to his room. He’s just gonna grab his phone and text Sammy. He hasn’t since he told him he wasn’t coming back home for a while. Boy, that went over well. On one hand, Sam was really happy that Dean was still in the competition. On the other, he was a little disappointed he wasn’t coming home.

He goes inside and flops down on his bed. He’s tired. All of the sneaking around he’s been doing is exhausting. He hears a soft knock on his door. He grins.

Seeing Cas is special for him and he loves it. Especially when the guy swings by his room. He walks up to the door and pulls it open. He expects to see Cas.

“Lisa?” he asks.

Lisa is standing before him. She’s wearing a new dress from the one she was wearing less than an hour ago. This one is a tight, revealing black dress. He can’t quite believe his eyes.

Through the past few weeks, her behavior towards him has been getting more and more overtly sexual. And Dean knows that Cas has been seeing it. In fact, they’ve talked about it on a few occasions. Both of them agreed that it wasn’t a big deal.

However, it’s not exactly great when the chick shows up at his door. He’s got to get her out of here.

“Hi,” she says. She’s smiling almost coyly.

He pokes his head out into the hallway. There are no cameras. No other people. That’s strange. He thinks.

He bites his lower lip. “Why are you here?” he asks.

“For you, silly. Can I come in?”

He knows that saying that is definitely a red flag. Maybe she meant it in a different way? He has no idea how rich girls talk. Maybe it feels like they flirt with everyone. He slowly steps aside.

He sighs. “Come on in,” he says.

Lisa traipses in. He watches as she sits down on the edge of his bed. She’s still grinning. He feels awkward. He has no idea what to do with himself.

He clears his throat. “So, um, why are you here?” he asks.

“I already answered that,” she says. Her eyes are scanning him. It makes him feel quite exposed.

“Right, um, well, how about you give me a straight answer?”

Lisa stands up. Her eyes are on his. Dark brown meets green. “And what, pray tell, is the fun in that?” she asks as she crosses over to him. Her hands land on his chest.

He starts panicking just a little. Her fingers are rubbing little circles on his chest. He should’ve told her to get her ass out of here way earlier.

“Heh, um, Lisa. Please don’t,” he says, trying to push her off. Unfortunately, she’s like a damn octopus and keeps a tight as hell grip on him.

“Why not? If we’re here, we might as well have a little fun,” she says. Before he can move, she leans in and presses her lips to his.

---

Castiel is exhausted. He’s been in and out of meetings all week. And today is no exception. He has another meeting in approximately thirty minutes. He yawns. His day has already been troublesome.

He can’t wait to see Dean though. Dean is always the highlight of his day. When he’s around, Castiel feels happier. Everything is easier. He’s aware of how truly sentimental he sounds but he can’t find it in himself to care.

He wants to spend as much time with Dean as possible. He hurries to Dean’s room. He loves the smile that graces the other man’s face when he himself smiles. It’s one of the untainted things in Castiel’s life.

And even though things have been a little tense recently with the whole Lisa thing, he’s still okay. He doesn’t want to bother Dean with more musings about her, even though she is one hundred percent attracted to him.

Who wouldn’t be? That little voice in the back of his mind whispers. Well, it’s correct, of course. Dean is quite attractive but they’re together. No woman should be making any advances at all. And he intends to remind his beloved of that fact.

He knocks softly on the door to Dean’s room and opens it.

---

Dean hears the door open. He pushes Lisa away and looks over at the door. It’s Cas. No, no, no. It’s too late. He pushed her away a moment too late. The damage is already done.

“Dean,” Cas murmurs, his expression changes from one of shock to one of betrayal in a matter of moments.

Lisa’s face lights up with a blush. He can’t breathe. He stumbles forward, his lips desperately trying to form words. “It’s not what it looks like,” he manages.

Cas looks so goddamn hurt. It’s written all over his face. Cas’s eyes… Those eyes that he’s been in love with since the moment he saw them… They’re so cold. He’s closing himself off. He’s protecting himself.

He steps forward, reaching out to Cas.

“Don’t,” Cas says. His voice is devoid of emotion. It’s cold and dead, mirroring his eyes. He feels his heart slowly breaking inside his chest. It’s just a misunderstanding. He needs Cas to listen.

He watches as Lisa squeezes past Cas and runs out the door.

He walks forward. Cas steps back. He’s trying to keep his distance from him. Dean’s heart aches.

“Stop, Dean. Do not come any closer,” Cas says.

“Please, angel. Please let me explain.”

“Do not call me that!” Cas yells. His eyes flash. “You lost the right to call me that. I cannot believe you.”

“Cas, I didn’t do anything wrong!”

“You kissed her!”

“Cas-” he begins to say.

“No! No, Dean. I understand. Trust me, I do. You were using me. I understand that now. You don’t know what you want. You came here believing you were straight, did you not? I was an experiment. That’s all.”

“No, Cas. Please-”

“That’s all I ever was to you! An experiment! And then you got tired of me. I should have known. I should have known that you would never love me the way I love you. It was simply a dream. I should know not to live in dreams by now.”

He’s frozen to the spot. He can’t believe what Cas just said. He loves me. He thinks. He’s losing Cas. He’s losing him and he can’t make his mouth form words. He’s desperately trying. He needs to explain.

He reaches out and grabs Cas’s hand but Cas pushes him away fiercely.. He falls to the ground and sharp pain runs through him.

“I’m sorry I even tried. I shouldn’t have let myself think you would ever love me. You’re Dean Winchester, after all. You do whatever you want and let everyone else pick up the pieces.”

He feels a hot sting in his nose and behind his eyes. He doesn’t cry. He doesn’t. But it hurts so goddamn much. He doesn’t let the tears fall.

“Cas.” His voice comes out broken. Damaged. Just like him.

“Don’t bother. It’s over, Dean. Pack your things. There’ll be a car waiting for you outside,” Cas says. He looks Dean straight in the eyes. He rips off his necklace and throws it at him. “Take it. It was yours in the first place.” He turns his back on him.

Everything is falling apart. He can’t let it happen.

“Cas. Please. Please stay. I can explain! It was a misunderstanding!”

“No, Dean. It wasn’t a misunderstanding. There is no part of you that loves me the way that I love you. I understand. Do not make this any harder than it has to be.”

Cas walks to the door. Dean can’t let him leave. He can’t. He can’t get the words out. He can’t say the three little words that’ll keep Cas from leaving. All he needs to do is say those words and Cas will stay.

He can’t say them.

“Don’t you dare leave!” he shouts instead.

Cas turns on him. He gasps. Cas’s eyes are lit up with energy. Electricity crackles through the air. This is Cas’s magic. He must be losing control.

Dean stands up and steps closer to Cas. “Don’t. Stay away,” his angel says.

He takes yet another step.

“Dean,” Cas warns, hand’s crackling with energy.

One more step.

Cas throws his hands out. Electricity cracks from Cas’s fingers. It hits him square in the chest and he topples backward. The necklace falls out of his hands.

Cas growls and his entire body is visibly shaking. He turns his back on Dean again. He opens the door. “Goodbye. I never want to see you again, Dean. Never.”

And then Cas leaves. He leaves Dean painfully alone.

---

He sits on the floor for a while. He doesn’t know what to do. Cas left. He just left! He did his best. He tried to explain. Cas didn’t even let him.

For all Cas’s talk of love, he didn’t let Dean explain. Even though he supposedly loves him! He’s angry and sad and… Goddamnit!

A hot tear slips down his face. He can’t breathe. Cas is his angel. That’s why he gave him that nickname. It seemed so appropriate… Until now. Even now it’s still true. His father was right. He ruins everything he touches.

He can’t do a single goddamn thing right. Soon, there are tears spilling down his cheeks. He buries his face in his knees. He can’t believe how badly he screwed this up.

Everything went wrong.

He lifts his head up. He sees the discarded necklace on the ground and gently picks it up. There’s a small golden band hanging from the chain. It’s nothing particularly special but it’s the last thing of Cas’s he will ever have.

He squeezes it tightly in his hand. He can’t breathe. He lost him. He lost the only person that he ever thought he could… There’s no point in going over that now.

He sniffles and desperately paws at his face. He wipes the tears away but not the pain. His heart is still aching. He’s so goddamn upset that Cas didn’t even let him explain himself. He could’ve fixed everything.

Cas just wouldn’t listen.

“Goddamnit,” he mutters. He grabs his duffle from its place on the dresser. He had unpacked a little. His change of clothes is actually in the dresser. He rips the top cabinet open angrily.

He pulls out the clothes. He starts getting undressed. He needs to be in his own clothes. He doesn’t own these. They stink of wealth and pain. He tears his shirt off and throws it. Not that it goes much of anywhere.

It just falls to the ground. Completely unsatisfying. He wants to break something. He knows that’s childish and immature, but god. It would feel so, so good. He walks to the bathroom and strips the rest of the way.

He pulls on his jeans. He missed jeans. One thing he definitely won’t miss? Khakis. What the hell even are khakis? He wonders almost venomously. He looks at himself in the mirror. His eyes are red and puffy. He looks destroyed and he feels it too. He tears his eyes away from the mirror. He has to go. He has to leave this place.

It’s messing with him. He shouldn’t have ever fallen for Cas. He shouldn’t have let himself. It’s his own damn fault. He left himself fall down that rabbit hole and didn’t even try to break his fall. He just let everything happen.

He mentally kicks himself. He’s such an idiot. Angrily, he pulls his shirt on and folds the khakis, resisting the urge to tear them into tiny scraps of fabric. He screwed up. He’s gotta pay the piper now. So, in resignation, he steps out of the bathroom.

He tosses his duffle down lightly. There’s a notepad on his bedside table. He grabs a pen and quickly scribbles out a thank you to Charlie, Jesse, and Cesar. They took good care of him.

He can’t quite believe it. He always assumed he’d leave at some point. But when he and Cas started their… Their thing he just… He thought he’d stay. He fights back another wave of tears. Dean Winchester does not cry, damn it.

He clenches his jaw. He takes a few deep breaths. He will not cry. Not again. He can’t let anyone know just how much this broke his heart. He has to be strong. No one can see him cry. No one.

He might ruin everything he touches but at least he won’t be weak. He takes a deep breath and picks up his duffle. He marches over to the door. He steels himself and then walks out of it for what very well may be the last time.

The hallway looks dull. There’s no color left for him to admire. Everything feels… Drained. Cold. Just like Cas’s eyes. Those beautiful eyes… When Cas had seen him and Lisa kissing, his striking eyes had just drained.

Damn it. He screwed up so bad. He broke Cas’s heart. He hates himself. He should just leave without a fight. Cas would be better off without a screwup like him. No one needs that kind of baggage in their life.

He wants to say goodbye to Benny but he knows he shouldn’t. Cas told him to leave, so that’s what he’ll do. He can at least do the last thing Cas asked of him.

He reaches the front steps far too soon. A limousine is already there waiting for him. Cas’s royal advisor… Gabriel, he thinks his name is.

“Hey, Dean-o,” Gabriel says. He sounds way too chipper. Dean gets the sudden urge to punch him square in the face. He doesn’t, of course. But it would be satisfying.

“I can take your bag,” Gabriel offers, a little sympathy in his voice.

“No, thanks, dude. I’d rather keep it on me.”

“Your choice, Dean-o.”

“Don’t call me that,” he snaps.

Gabriel raises his hands in surrender. He climbs back into the driver's seat of the limo. Dean sighs and gets in the back. He rubs his forehead.

He closes the door and the limo starts moving. He looks out the window as they leave. Far too soon, the castle is fading in the rearview mirror. He feels choked up again and his heart aches. He’s really leaving.

He feels a little nagging sensation in the back of his head. He remembers what Cas said: ‘Take it. It was yours in the first place.’. He has no idea what the hell that means. Yours in the first place?

He digs out the necklace. He looks at the little golden ring. He remembers the one he himself brought. He rummages around in his bag until he finally finds it.

He holds the pair of golden rings in the palm of his hand. They’re a perfect match.

A memory hits him full force.

“Here. Take it.”

“I can’t.”

“Please. Something to remember me by?”

Flashes of other memories. Snippets of conversations he doesn’t remember. Everything is echoing in his head. It’s chaos. Panic. It feels like Pompeii in his head.

And then…

He’s sitting in a field. His dad is out. He’s tired and Sam is out at school so he has nothing to do. He looks up at the cloudy, gray sky. Days like these are the ones he hates.

He’s alone. Always alone.

He hears a cracking branch from the thick line trees off to his right. He stands up. “Hello?” he cautiously calls out.

A boy steps out from behind the trees. He’s got black hair. His eyes are bright blue. Whoa. He thinks. He’s never seen a boy so… Not pretty, because his dad says that boys can’t be pretty. But handsome.

The boy is handsome.

“Hello,” the boy says.

“Who are you?” he asks. He scans the boy. He’s wearing black pants. The kind he’s seen people wear on TV. They’re fancy pants. A white, button-up shirt, a black jacket, and a trench coat that’s way too big for him.

“My name is Castiel,” the boy - Castiel - says.

“Cas-tee-el?”

“Yes.”

“That’s a weird name.”

Castiel nods. “It has been said that my name is peculiar, yes.”

He wrinkles his nose. “Peculiar? You use weird words, too.”

“How old are you?”

He smiles. “I’m ten!”

“I suppose you don’t have a very advanced vocabulary then?”

He frowns. He doesn’t like it when people say that. He’s never gone to school so learning big words was never an option. He sometimes reads the books Sam brings home.

His dad said that he needed to work. Not study. That was something for his smart son. At least that’s what he said.

“I guess not,” he murmurs.

Castiel tilts his head. “I’m sorry. That seemed to hurt your feelings. I do not interact with many children of my own age.”

“Why not? You seem smart! Don’t you go to school?”

“No. Do you?”

He shakes his head. Castiel’s eyes are focused on him. They’re staring right into his own. It makes him feel… Exposed, almost. He can’t help but think about how pretty Castiel’s eyes are.

“Why not?” Castiel asks.

“My dad says that school isn’t for me. I guess I’m not smart enough.”

Castiel seems to regard him for a moment. “I don’t think that’s true at all.” His eyes soften. “Your father said that to you?”

He shrugs and sits back down. He doesn’t want to talk about his dad. Especially not with some random kid he doesn’t know. His parents are a touchy subject for him. Ever since he was little, it’s been hard.

“Your father sounds similar to my own. What’s your name?”

“I’m Dean. Dean Winchester.”

“Dean Winchester,” Castiel says. There’s something strange about his voice. It’s way too deep for someone who’s ten or eleven. It’s not exactly adult deep but still… It’s kind of nice though.

He stretches out on the grassy field and looks up at Castiel. He looks so out of place. He’s meant to be somewhere else, Dean can tell. That oversized trench coat and his fancy clothes… He doesn’t belong.

Dean doesn’t mind though. It’s nice to see someone else who doesn’t belong. He’s never felt like he belonged. He’s not smart like Sammy. He’s not tough like Dad. But Castiel? He doesn’t have a set place either. They can be outcasts together.

“Where’d you come from?”

Castiel seems to think over his question. His eyes haven’t left Dean’s this entire time. It’s kind of weird and kind of… Nice. It’s nice to be looked at without expectations. When Dad looks at him… There’s disappointment in his eyes.

He expected Dean to be something better, he can tell. Even though he’s ten. But he’ll try. He wants his dad to be proud of him. No matter what.

“If I told you, Dean. You would not look at me or treat me the same way,” Castiel says. He’s still just standing there on the edge of where the field meets the trees. Not committing to either place. Huh.

“That’s not true at all,” he responds with total confidence. He likes Castiel. Even though he’s weird and someone that his dad would definitely not like.

Castiel tilts his head. “You’re a strange boy, Dean Winchester.”

“Outta the two of us, you’re the weird one.”

Castiel steps forward, into the field. It feels like a little victory to Dean, for some reason. He watches Castiel. He’s still not sure about him. He looks nice though. And he hasn’t judged Dean yet.

“I suppose I am,” Castiel says. He looks up at the sky. The overcast nature of the day hasn’t changed. His eyes are sad now. Dean doesn’t know why. He just looks like… He looks like Dean did when he lost his mom.

“Who was it?” he asks, quietly.

“Who was what?”

“The person you lost.” He runs his fingers through the grass around him. He pulls at it nervously. He could be wrong but… Somehow, he doesn’t think he is.

“Her name was Anna,” Castiel murmurs. His eyes are still fixed on the sky. It’s like a painting. A boy, standing in a field, wind slightly ruffling his hair, the dark sky above him. There almost seems to be energy crackling around him.

Like a lightning storm rolling in.

It sends shivers up his spine. Eventually, Castiel looks away from the sky. Dean watches as those eyes drift back to his own.

“Hey, Castiel?”

“Yes, Dean?”

“Wanna chase butterflies?”

Castiel tilts his head as if he had just asked him to jump out of a plane. The expression Castiel’s face is almost unreadable.

“Chase butterflies?”

“Mhmm! Don’t tell my dad. He, um, he wouldn’t like it very much. He thinks I should be more manly. That’s not the point though. Um, Sammy and I made it up. You just um, try to find butterflies and then you follow them until they disappear.”

“Is it a game?” Castiel asked. He steps closer to Dean.

“Kind of. It’s fun! Trust me,” he says. “Come on, Cas. It’ll be fun!” He smiles at him. He hasn’t played with anyone other than Sam in a long time.

“Cas?”

“It’s, um, it’s a nickname. Do you like it?”

Castiel seems to think it over. “Yes,” he finally says.

He bolts to his feet and grabs Cas’s wrist. “Come on then!” He giggles as he pulls Cas behind him. Cas looks happier.

That makes him happy.

They chase butterflies. Cas trips and falls multiple times because of his big trench coat that he refuses to take off. They run all around the field. Slowly, the sun comes out. The grey clouds disappear allowing the blue sky to shine brightly.

They run until Dean finally collapses in exhaustion. He’s smiling as Cas lays down next to him. Even Cas is wearing a little smile. The sun has started to go down. The sky is turning into a beautiful array of pinks, reds, and yellows.

He’s breathing heavily. He’s tired and happy. It’s an amazing feeling. He hasn’t had a feeling like this in a long, long time.

Cas slowly starts to stand up.

“Where’re you going?” Dean asks.

“I need to go back home now, Dean.”

He pouts. He doesn’t want Cas to go home. “Do you really have to?”

Cas nods. “Yes. They will… Be angry if I don’t.”

“Your parents?”

Cas nods again. There’s something about the way Cas talks about his parents. It’s like he doesn’t know them. Doesn’t love them.

“Are you ever gonna come back?”

Cas seems to consider this for a moment. “I’m afraid they would not let me, Dean. However, I will miss you.”

He frowns. He doesn’t like Cas’s parents very much. He wishes they would let him come back. Cas deserves friends. He’s so nice! And pretty! Even though he knows boys shouldn’t be pretty, Cas is, to him.

He sighs. He watches as Cas walks away, back to the line where the forest meets the field.

“Goodbye, Dean,” he says.

“Bye, Cas.”

And just like that, he slips back into the trees and Dean is alone.

He remembers now. And he remembers that Cas came back. Every single day for two weeks. He came back. Another memory hits him full force.

“I have to go, Dean.”

“Again?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

He is standing back in their field. Cas was at that line, just barely inside the field.

“My parents. I never went home, Dean. They want me to come back.”

“Oh,” he says. He wishes Cas could stay. He’s grown to really like Cas since he started visiting. He feels something that he knows isn’t normal for boys to feel for other boys. He feels… He feels like he does sometimes with girls.

“Dean. This time, I… I won’t be coming back.”

He feels like he was just hit in the chest by a freight train. “What?” he whimpers.

“I can’t come back. My parents… They would not like it if they knew. I need to protect you.”

“Your parents, Cas. Who are they?”

“I… People that will not be kind to you, Dean.”

He feels the urge to cry. He knows that men aren’t supposed to cry. If he wants to be a man, he can’t cry. He just doesn’t want Cas to leave. He feels dumb for being a crybaby at his age. He’s struck with an idea.

“Stay here!” he says.

He runs out of the field as fast as he can. He earned a little money looking after Mrs. Dove’s kids that weekend. He knows exactly what he’s gonna do. He buys two matching rings with what little money he has.

He runs back to the field, hoping that Cas is still there.

When he gets there, Cas is standing there. He’s looking at Dean with his head tilted, just like the day they first met.

He opens his hands and shows Cas the rings.

“What is this?” Cas asks.

“They’re rings. Take one.”

“What? No.”

He picks up one of the rings. He brandishes it at Cas.

“Here. Take it.”

“I can’t.”

“Please. Something to remember me by?”

Cas sighs. He takes the small, tarnished golden band. Dean can’t help but grin. “Thanks, Cas,” he says.

“No. Thank you, Dean. I appreciate the gift. You didn’t need to.”

“I wanted to,” he murmurs.

Cas nods. “Come here a moment, Dean.”

“Why?” he asks. The sun is setting, just like it was on that first day. The sky is even painted in the same colors. He feels the same way he did back then. So sad that Cas was leaving.

He walked over to Cas.

Cas put his fingers on his temple. “I love you,” he murmurs. “And I’m sorry.”

“Wait, why?”

He feels a pulse of magic flow through him.

He gasps aloud. That’s how he woke up in that field. Cas took his memories away. Every single one that he was in, he took. Because of his parents.

He now remembers multiple other visits. Cas came to see him so many times over the years. And he fell in love over and over and over again. He said ‘I love you’ to Cas a million times. He kissed him a few times.

He fell in love every single time.

The visits stopped when he was thirteen and Cas was fourteen. When his dad left. Something must’ve happened to Cas. He didn’t come to visit once after his dad left.

He needs to go back to the castle. Cas took his memories every single time. He can say it now. He needs to tell Cas how he feels.

“Gabriel! Gabriel, stop the car!” he yells. The blackened partition is drawn. There’s no response for a moment.

Then… A silenced gunshot rings out.

The car slows to a stop.

He can’t breathe. Someone just shot at them. They probably killed Gabriel. They’re in the middle of a road surrounded by miles of forest on each side. There’s no way to call for help. I’m gonna die. No, no, no. He’s panicking now.

He opens the door on the other side of the limo and steels himself. He takes a deep breath and bolts into the trees as fast as he can. He has to run. Run, run, run. Is all he can think. His legs take him far into the forest. His sturdy combat boots thumping loudly against the forest floor. His heart is beating far too fast. He hears the gunshot before he feels it.

A bullet hits him in the leg and he topples over.

No, no, no. He’s gonna die. Cas. He closes his eyes. He feels tears sting his eyes. He’s scared. He’ll never admit it, but he’s terrified.

Soon, he’s being lifted up and a bag is placed over his head.

He feels it when the butt of a gun connects with his skull. He loses consciousness almost immediately.

Chapter Text

Castiel feels like he can’t breathe. He’s so incomprehensibly angry. He can’t believe Dean. He slams the door behind him. He can feel energy sparking off of him as if he’s a live wire. It’s certainly dangerous.

He marches down the hallway. He can’t believe that Dean cheated on him. And with Lisa! He supposes it was bound to happen. He shouldn’t have ever thought that Dean would love him. Not without those memories.

He’s changed.

He runs to his library. He has to get away from everyone. He hurt Dean. He used his magic on him. He promised himself that he’d never use his abilities on anyone. Least of all Dean. He’s never wanted to hurt anyone.

He can’t control himself anymore. He bolts into his library. Even the smell of books can’t calm him down. He’s so angry and he knows that he has every right to be upset. Tears would even be a reasonable reaction. But he can’t get past the absolute betrayal of it all.

He hasn’t cried in a very long time. He’s good at bottling up his emotions and ignoring them. Control is everything to him. And Dean makes him lose that. Dean is dangerous for him. This is the perfect example.

That’s why he had to send him away. At least, that’s what he tells himself. He wishes he didn’t remember anything about Dean Winchester. He throws himself onto one of the plush couches in his library.

He just wants to purge his mind. Erase everything. There’s no part of Dean he wants to remember. He has to keep telling himself that. If he doesn’t… He’ll fall into a void of sadness and will inevitably go after Dean.

He’d beg the man to come back. To forgive him. To just take him back. And he can’t do that. He’s a prince. He has an image to uphold. And an unfaithful spouse isn’t something he can abide by. Even though it kills him.

Seeing Dean with Lisa… It broke him. He’s never felt so alone. And then Dean tried to explain. Explain why he was kissing another person. How idiotic is that? It’s obvious why. Dean got bored with him.

He needed some entertainment. He shouldn’t have expected anything less. Dean isn’t the sweet boy he met all of those years ago. He’s a seventeen-year-old. All of that sweetness is gone. It’s been replaced by meaningless bravado.

And, of course, he fell for it. He fell for Dean. Just like always. It’s not like he could ever do anything else. Dean has a magnetic personality. An addictive one. He’s someone you always want more of even though you know he’ll hurt you in the long run.

He was addicted to Dean Winchester. He still is.

He sighs. Even his library, which is more of a home than his own room, cannot do anything to ease his tormented soul. His anger is ebbing though. All he feels now is a pit of sadness in his heart. He just doesn’t understand why Dean did it.

Why he just kissed her. It doesn’t make any sense to him. He and Dean were good together. Dean made him feel so much better. Dean would’ve made it so much easier to accept his destiny. To accept his role in the kingdom.

But, of course, nothing can go right in his life. Things don’t typically go right in his life. His brothers died. Then his guide. Oh, and not to mention, he fell in love with a person he could never have only to have a chance to have him and then have him snatched away again.

Life is cruel and unfair.

He simply wishes that Dean would remember. He knows why he doesn’t. Castiel himself removed Dean’s memories. Over and over. He had to watch as all traces of recognition in those beautiful emerald eyes faded.

He had to watch Dean forget him. Over and over. Simply because of his magic. His magic has always held him back. It’s never been something that has helped him. It’s a cruel trick of fate. A curse, really. He knows that he had to take Dean’s memories though.

His parents would have never allowed him to fall in love with someone like Dean. They had never intended for it to happen. Castiel himself had never intended for it to happen. And yet it did.

He still loves Dean. He doesn’t know why. It hurts to love the man this much. He knows that Dean will only break his heart but… he’s addicted to the pain. And he’s convinced that Dean could’ve been so good for him. If only he wasn’t a complete idiot.

Castiel is such a fool. He shouldn’t have thought that Dean would love him. Not without his memories. He’s not interesting enough for Dean, obviously. Boredom. The cruelest trick of all. He should have known.

He simply wishes he could hear Dean tell him that he loves him. Just one more time. He’s heard it a few times over the years. That’s what kept him going. Just knowing that Dean would always love him.

Well, he supposes always is a loose term now. Because Dean didn’t say it. He didn’t say it to him when he was leaving. He couldn’t say those three simple words. And that is a message, loud and clear. It’s the only message that Castiel needs.

He wants to say that he’s glad that Dean is gone… But he can’t, because he’s not.

His heart aches. He just misses Dean now. How can he miss him? He broke his heart! He stomped his dreams into oblivion. And yet, somehow, he can’t stop missing that idiot. That fool who worked his way into Castiel’s naïve heart.

Jody comes bursting through the door, interrupting his thoughts. She looks panicked. “Your Highness!” she says breathlessly.

“Jody?” he asks. He sits up on the couch and looks up at her as she crosses over. Her headband is skewed and she looks like she’s been running. Her uniform looks to be fine but other than that, she’s in disarray.

“What’s wrong?”

She takes a few deep, gasping breaths. “It’s Gabriel, Your Highness. He’s outside.”

He frowns. He feels a bud of panic blossom in his chest. There’s no reason. Not yet. Except… Gabriel was driving Dean and why wouldn’t he just come up himself? And why does Jody look so panicked?

“He’s been shot,” she says.

He freezes. He feels like he can’t breathe. The entire world seems to be underwater. “Shot?” he repeats. The words come out garbled and confused. Dean was with him. He was with Gabriel. If anything happened to him…

Castiel doesn’t know what he would do. He desperately needs Dean to be okay. He needs him to be alive. If he isn’t… Then Castiel will have lost all hope. He stands up and bolts to the door. Jody must be speaking to him but he can’t hear it.

He runs through the halls of the castle. Everything is a blur. All he can think about is Dean. Dean, Dean, Dean. The name of the love of his life thrums in his head like the beat of a drum. Over and over, reminding him of what he could lose.

He can hear people calling out ‘Your Highness’ left and right. There are members of the Chosen that he pushes past. He doesn’t care about any of them. He cares about Dean. He needs to know if he’s okay. If he got back to Sam and Bobby. His family.

He feels like everything is falling apart around him. He loves Dean. He should never have sent him away. He’s a fool. He can only hope that Dean is, in fact, perfectly fine. Somehow, he doubts that.

He keeps walking. He assumes that Gabriel will be on the steps out front. Seeing as Jody hasn’t stopped him yet, that seems to be a decent guess. He marches out the main doors of the castle and sees Gabriel collapsed on the stairs, clutching his shoulder.

There’s blood seeping from his hastily covered shoulder, staining his advisor’s hand and clothing. Gabriel looks up when he comes out. “Your Highness,” he says weakly.

Castiel crosses over to him. He kneels in front of his advisor. He’s known Gabriel for a very long time. In some ways, Gabriel was more of a father to him than the king. He stares down at the blood covering Gabriel’s blazer.

“I tried to take him to the infirmary but he wouldn’t come with me,” Jody says. She’s standing somewhere behind him and Gabriel. Castiel stares straight at Gabriel, the man that has been his confidant. The man who practically raised him. And although his sole concern should be the man in front of him, his mind is insistent on and desperate for information about Dean.

“Why are you bleeding?” he asks. He’s afraid of the answer. He wants to ask about Dean but… The words simply won’t come.

“I was shot,” Gabriel says. The man avoids eye contact with Castiel. He can barely breathe. He needs to hear that Dean is all right. He needs to.

“By whom?” he asks. There’s panic leaking into his voice. His heart feels like it’s being squeezed by a python.

Gabriel begins stammering. “Castiel, you must understand that I tried. I really did. I didn’t even see him coming. I’m so sorry and I just-”

“Gabriel!” he shouts, cutting the other man off. He feels anger pulsating through him. Not at Gabriel though. He’s angry at himself more than anyone else.

“Lucifer shot me, Castiel.” And with those words, the world falls away.

---

The world slowly slides back into view. His head is pounding and he can feel a line of dried something on his forehead. It’s probably blood. He winces. He looks at the room around him. The room is mostly dark except for a stream of light coming in through a hole in the steel roof.

Dean Winchester has been in a lot of bad situations but this? This might just be the worst. Because the fact is, he has no idea what’s happening. All he really knows is that he was knocked the hell out by someone.

He closes his eyes and focuses. There was a gunshot. He bolted into the forest and then… He grunts in pain. His leg. It’s aching and he can definitely feel dried blood. Someone shot and pistol-whipped him!

The space around him is enclosed. It looks like an attic except for the fact that the roof is steel and aluminum siding covers the walls. He guesses that he’s actually in a factory or warehouse of some sort. Probably abandoned.

He can feel ropes digging into his wrists as he leans forward. Great. He’s tied to some sort of beam. He sighs and rests his head against the cool steel of the support beam. I am so freakin’ screwed.

He has to do something though. If he sits and waits, nothing will happen. He has to try to get help.

“Help!” he yells. “Somebody, please! I’m up here!” After about fifteen minutes of pointless screaming, his throat is sufficiently achy. He growls. He has no idea who the hell dragged his ass here and left him tied up.

Just then, a man steps inside using the door on the right side of the room. Speak of the devil and he shall appear. Or in this case, think of the devil. The man is covered by shadows and looks like a Bond villain.

Dean takes a deep breath. He’s fine. He’ll be fine.

“No help is coming,” the man says. His voice is animated. But not in a fun, cartoon way. Nope. It’s animated in the crazy, probably-gonna-kill-you way. He shudders.

He has no idea why this guy kidnapped him. He has no idea why he shot Gabriel. At least, he assumes that’s what happened. He has no idea why the hell he shot and pistol-whipped him. All he does know is that he has to get the hell out of there.

“Who are you?” he asks as he desperately struggles against the ropes binding him to the beam. He has to get out. He has to.

“Doesn’t matter,” the man mutters. The way the man speaks scares the hell out of Dean. It’s low and freakin’ crazy sounding. This guy is probably gonna take him apart piece by piece and then… Who even knows? He doesn’t want to imagine what this guy would do to his body.

The man steps closer to him. His face is now only partially covered by shadows. The man has a long scar on his right cheek. It goes from his cheekbone down to his jaw. He has blonde hair and cruel eyes.

He looks familiar to Dean though. So very familiar. He searches his memory. Where has he seen him before? He thinks back through his entire life. Finally, it clicks. He feels breathless. It’s Lucifer. Cas’s brother Lucifer.

He saw him in that family portrait. Except, in that painting, he didn’t have a scar. This is when Dean really starts to struggle. If it’s Cas’s brother then this is probably about Cas, in some sick way.

And even though Cas kicked him out, he still needs to protect him. In his mind, he will always have to protect Castiel Novak, even if it kills him. He glares up at Lucifer as he comes closer. “I know who you are,” he spits.

“Do you now?” Lucifer stares down at him. There’s a gun in his hands. His eyes are intense as they scan his body. He feels exposed. And not in a good way. He shudders as Lucifer’s eyes scrape over him.

“Why the hell did you take me hostage?” he asks. He knows he probably won’t get a straight answer but it’s worth a try. “And ain’t you supposed to be a little more, I don’t know, dead?”

Lucifer licks his chapped lips. His breathing is loud enough for Dean to hear it. It’s almost like he’s panting. It’s disgusting and awful… And truthfully? Scary as hell.

“Things are not always what they appear,” Lucifer says.

Then the guy begins to pace. He’s muttering unintelligible things under his breath. Dean is scared as hell. He’ll admit it. He’s been through some stuff. Been in scarier situations than he knew how to deal with. But this? This is different.

This isn’t personal for him. He knows that he’s probably a pawn in whatever game Lucifer is playing. No, this has something to do with the royal family. And that’s for damn sure. He’s become cannon fodder in the Novaks’ twisted dance. Their game of chess.

Not to mention the amount of pain he’s in. His leg is wrapped in what is probably a very dirty rag. The wound is on the back of his right calf. His jeans were rolled up on that side. Lucifer must’ve done it to look at the injury.

So, one thing is clear. Lucifer isn’t trying to kill him. He’s just trying to immobilize him. Make it difficult for him to move. And plus, the pain is probably a bonus for this psycho.

He bites his lower lip. He has to get out of here. He has to get back to Sam and work things out with Cas. He needs to get back to the people he loves.

He clears his throat. “So, why’d ya take me?” he asks.

“Shut up,” Lucifer says. He hasn’t stopped his pacing. He barely even looked up when Dean spoke. He just needs to push a little harder. Maybe he can get Lucifer to untie him. He knows he should probably shut up at this point. That would be the smart thing to do. But when has he ever been smart?

“This about Cas?”

Lucifer turns on him. There’s pure, unadulterated rage in his eyes. He hit a nerve. He’s a little scared but he’s also feeling more confident. Being able to piss Lucifer off is a useful skill. “Shut up!” Lucifer says again.

He has to keep pushing. “Or what? What’re you gonna do, big boy? Hurt me? Kill me? That’d go over awesome with your brother.” He knows that Cas is probably still pissed at him but he’s gonna use that card anyway.

Lucifer growls. His eyes spark. There’s energy crackling off of him. He’s like Cas. He has magic too. Oh, Dean is in way over his head. He probably just got himself killed. I’m a complete idiot. He thinks.

He closes his eyes and prepares to be blasted into oblivion. Then… Lucifer chuckles. It’s an insane, completely messed up chuckle but it’s laughter. Lucifer is laughing at him. “I can see why Cassie likes you,” he says. “You’re completely insane.”

He’s the insane one? Right. Yeah. That makes sense.

Lucifer doesn’t say another word. He simply goes back to his pacing. Dean fights the urge to yell at him. This is about Cas. All he can do is pray that Cas can handle his brother. Some part of him really hopes that this isn’t even about his angel.

He knows that’s a far-fetched dream. It has to be about him. It just has to be. And if Lucifer sends out the bat signal to Cas, he hopes that Cas stays well enough away. He hopes he’s not important enough to Cas for him to come running.

But some part of him knows that Castiel Novak will always be that little boy in the oversized trench coat. naïve. Dorky. And loving. So, so loving. And with that, he knows that Cas will come for him.

His knight in a stupidly adorable trench coat.

---

Castiel’s breath catches. He almost falls back. “Lucifer?” he stammers.

Gabriel nods. “I’m sorry, Castiel. I only saw his face for a split second before I passed out.”

“And what about Dean?” he asks. He needs to know. He clenches his fists and prepares for the worst. Gabriel’s expression falls. No. No, no, no. He feels his mouth fall open.

“I have no idea. I… I passed out. All I know is that he started running and Lucifer started chasing him,” Gabriel says. Castiel takes a deep breath. That’s good news. That means there’s a chance Dean’s still alive. Albeit a small one.

He feels a hand on his shoulder. It’s Jody. A man is standing behind her. His eyes are dark and nervous. He thinks he recognizes the servant. Max Banes.

He stands up. “What, Jody?” he murmurs.

“A message arrived for you,” she says. She gestures towards the servant. He holds out a note. Castiel takes it. His heart is pounding as he opens the envelope clearly addressed to him. The scrawl on the front is untidy but it’s his name. That’s for certain.

His hands shake as he pulls out the piece of paper within the envelope.

Come to the old steel mill, Cassie. I have something of yours. Come alone. Oh, and don’t doddle. If you take too long, I’ll have to entertain myself.

Even though there’s no signature, it’s clear who it is. He, Lucifer, and Michael used to play in the old steel mill before they died. Or, apparently, before Michael died. They used to spend time in the upstairs storage room.

He remembers it all so clearly. Like it was yesterday. He bites his lower lip. Something of yours. Clearly, he means Dean. He should feel relieved that Dean is alive. And he is. But he can’t shake the feeling that the love of his life is in considerable danger.

I’ll have to entertain myself. He doesn’t like the sound of that. Lucifer didn’t use to be a violent person. As a teenager, he was rather normal. A bit mischievous perhaps. But that was only because Michael was so achingly perfect.

He had to be the rebel. Then… Well, they died. And they left him all alone with their parents. He was always mad at them for that. Which is so, so irrational. He has no idea how Lucifer is alive. But he knows that he has to protect Dean.

He has to save him. If anything happens to Dean Winchester… He knows that he’ll become dangerous and will possibly hurt everyone around him. He’ll lose control. The very control that he strived to keep his entire life.

He can barely breathe. His hands are shaking. Everything is falling apart. The love of his life has been kidnapped. Dean might not ever come back to him. At least not whole. If Lucifer hurts him, there is no length he will not go to.

He would hurt his own flesh and blood for Dean. What a scary thought… Dean owns so much of his heart. He hates himself so much. He wishes he had never sent Dean away. If he hadn’t… None of this would have happened.

Everything would be fine. Dean would be in his arms right now. He could kiss him and tell him how much he loves him. But now? Now, he may never get the chance to say those words to Dean ever again.

“What does it say, Castiel?” Gabriel asks. He ignores him. He can’t answer that. He’ll break. He’s already slowly falling to pieces. He marches down the stairs and hears Gabriel and Jody calling after him but he can’t bring himself to care.

He feels his wings manifesting before he even thinks about it. Manifesting wings is an ability only a handful of magic users can use. Even back when magic was common, very few people had access to this ability.

It’s one of the many reasons that his powers are so dangerous. And yet, he’s using them here. He knows a crowd has probably formed, but he can’t bring himself to care. He allows the power to flow through his body.

He feels magic seeping into every inch of his physical body. He’s sparking with power. He extends his wings to their full length. Stretching and flexing. He hasn’t used them in such a long time.

He pushes off from the ground. He hears ooh’s and ah’s as he starts rocketing into the sky. He doesn’t care though. The only thing he can think about is Dean. He’s the only person that matters.

He shoots through the air, cutting it smoothly. He used to love the feeling of flying. The freedom it granted him. Now all he feels is a sense of purpose. He wasn’t permitted to fly very much when he was growing up. He used to always do it in the middle of the night. That was a time when no one would see. He loved it. He loved the freedom of soaring above the castle. All of that love was stripped from him when he was caught. Flying became a taboo thing for him. His mother and father never allowed him to use his abilities. They wanted him to be normal like Michael was. And yet, he never was. He has never been what his parents wanted.

Lucifer was the same when he was young. His magic never allowed him to be normal like Michael. And since he wasn’t the eldest, he acted out. He wanted attention. He wanted to be loved. Their parents never gave him that. Then… Whatever happened that day happened. And Castiel lost two of the only people he loved in the world. Even though there was always a bit of a disconnect between them, he loved them dearly. Lucifer was- is six years older. And Michael was eight years older. Before Michael died, he was going to be having a Choosing of his own. He was approaching his eighteenth birthday when he died.

His parents never could get over that.

He spots the old steel mill. The factory is somehow still standing, even after all of these years. It was abandoned years upon years ago. It’s a miracle the thing hasn’t fallen over yet.

The forest around the steel mill is thick. You could easily hide in the surrounding forest if you wish to. He touches down near the door and decides to make a quick check around the perimeter. His sweep comes up clear, although his judgment might be skewed by worry.

He can’t stop himself from entering the old mill after he completes his search, even though it could be extremely dangerous. Love makes you do crazy things… The old walls are infested with rust. Cobwebs are hanging everywhere and there’s a thick layer of dust coating just about everything.

There are pieces of old, dysfunctional machinery dotting the room. Castiel and his brothers had once tried to give the old building a new life. Clearly, it hadn’t worked.

He finds the rickety staircase that leads to where they built their old fort and stops for a moment before heading up. They had decided that they would make their headquarters upstairs. There was an old attic-like storage room at the top.

He takes the first step.

His heart is pounding in his chest as he walks up the stairs. Every single stair makes a loud creaking noise. As if the entire staircase is on the verge of collapse. He finally reaches the door to their old headquarters.

He turns the knob and steps inside.

---

Castiel blinks. The room is the same as it was all those years ago. Except now it’s coated in dust and is reminiscent of forgotten memories. His eyes immediately fix on Dean who is standing in the middle of the room. The love of his life is staring directly at him.

Dean’s eyes are desperate. There’s a line of dried blood on his forehead and his leg is clearly injured. Castiel takes a step forward. Why is he alone? He wonders. Then he sees the hand on Dean’s arm and the gun to his head.

“Not one step closer, Cassie,” a familiar voice calls.

Lucifer.

“Unless you want your precious pet here to die.” Lucifer’s face peeks out from behind Dean’s left shoulder. He’s obviously keeping a tight grip on Dean. There’s no way for Castiel to save him before the shot would be fired.

Dean is completely at Lucifer’s mercy. Castiel can’t believe he let this happen. He’s so angry with himself. If anything happens to Dean, it’ll be all his fault.

He takes a deep breath. He needs to talk. Perhaps he can convince his brother to release Dean. He meets Lucifer’s eyes. They’re dark and filled with a rage that Castiel has never seen before. Lucifer never used to look this angry.

He was rebellious as a child, sure, but that was simply a product of Michael’s perfection. He was never completely evil. Not like he is now. Lucifer has become something that he doesn’t recognize.

There’s one question burning in Castiel’s mind. He needs to know.

“How are you alive, Luci?” he asks. His voice comes out broken, even to his own ear. Desperate and sad.

Lucifer stares him down. The pure anger in his eyes makes Castiel feel exposed. Not frightened, per se, but wary. Unsure. He doesn’t know this version of his brother. He doesn’t know what he’ll do.

The fact that Lucifer has such uncontrollable rage towards him is heartbreaking. They’re brothers after all and Castiel would rather come out of this with Lucifer still alive. But he knows in his heart and in his mind, that he will do whatever it takes to save the life of one Dean Winchester.

He needs to know how Lucifer is still alive. And if Michael is as well.

“Life is a very… Fragile concept, Cassie. The rules are not as finite as you choose to believe.” Lucifer chuckles. There’s an air of insanity to every sound that comes out of his mouth.

“That wasn’t an answer.”

“Sure it was, Cassie. You just don’t see the true meaning.”

“Cut the meaningless prose and poetry. Why are you back here? Why?” he asks, taking a small step forward.

Lucifer scoffs. “I need to avenge Michael.”

He feels a frown twist his features. He doesn’t understand. “Avenge him? Michael died in a car accident, Lucifer.”

“It was Mom and Dad’s fault, Cassie! If they hadn’t hated me for being different, we never would have been on that road! If they hadn’t decided to send me away to a goddamn reform school then Michael would still be alive! If it hadn’t been raining…” Lucifer’s eyes are wild. Even from here, Castiel can see his hands shaking.

“They never loved me. They never loved Michael. They never loved you. I found true love, Cassie. Someone to care for me like our parents never did. I found a way to make our parents pay!”

Castiel now realizes just how far gone Lucifer truly is. He’s completely insane. But there’s nothing he can do to fight him. Not now. Not when he has a grip on Dean. Castiel cannot take a single risk.

He cannot risk Dean’s life. There’s so much they need to talk about and he knows how much he loves Dean Winchester. The man is truly the love of his life. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for him. And if it means listening to his brother’s insane ramblings, then fine.

“Just join me, Cassie. If we put our power together… We’d be truly unbeatable. My plan is flawless, brother. And we can do this. Together.”

“Let Dean go and we can talk about it,” Castiel says gently. As soon as Lucifer lets go of Dean, they can have a real conversation. Although… he is aware of how precarious the situation is. There is one length he wants to avoid with all of his heart. That one extreme that will forever haunt him.

Lucifer just keeps glaring at him. He doesn’t release Dean. In fact, his grip seems to tighten. Damn it. Panic and desperation claw at his heart, flowing through his veins and into his very soul.

He takes a deep breath. If anything happens to Dean, he doesn’t know what he’d do. He knows he screwed up but he wants a chance to make things right. If he loses Dean now… He loses that chance.

“We need our revenge, Cassie. We need to work together. If we do, then we can avenge Michael. He’d be so proud of us,” Lucifer says. A twisted, disgusting, certifiably insane smile plays at Lucifer’s lips. “We’ve only ever needed each other. Our parents are an impediment. If we rid the world of them, would that be so bad? We could purge the pain. Erase it. Erase them.

Castiel shakes his head. He cannot believe what he’s hearing. What happened to his brother? “That’s not the way to do it, Luci. Our parents may not have been perfect, but they still raised us. They may not have given us all of the love we deserved but… They don’t deserve to die for it.”

He takes a deep breath. He knows he’s walking a dangerous line. The thin ice below his feet could give out at any moment. There’s nothing to do but pray that he gets it right. He needs to get it right. “Just let Dean go and we can-”

“We can what, Cassie? Pretend that there’s no pain? Ignore the past? How will that help Michael? There’s no closure with your plan!” Lucifer snaps magic crackling off of him in dangerous waves. Desperation and anger mix on his face. “When John took me in, I knew I had truly been found. I knew that he would show me a home. He gave me love that I never got from our parents, Cassie. No one has ever loved me like that before.”

Castiel bites his lower lip. John? What kind of psychopath did Lucifer meet?

“He found me on the side of that road. I was almost dead. That man nursed me back to health. He taught me how to use my powers. He taught me to hunt things. Hunt people. How to make them hurt and how to kill them using a few tricks he picked up while bounty hunting,” Lucifer says.

Castiel clenches his fists. He can’t move an inch. There’s nothing to say or do. He simply has to watch.

“He often told me about his two young boys, Cassie. They were much like us. And I thought that if I could find you, we could get justice. John told me so. He told me that we could get our revenge.”

Castiel feels sick to his stomach. His brother grew up under this psychopath, learning every sick and twisted thing the man taught. He realizes that Lucifer could easily gut Dean. The amount of pain he could inflict upon him...

His eyes flicker down to Dean’s. There’s fear in his eyes but not just fear… Disgust and horror. Pure, unadulterated horror. He hates that look upon the face of the man he loves. A growl escapes his lips unbidden.

“Join me, Castiel. Together we can tear down this world and build ourselves a new one,” his brother implores desperately.

Castiel squeezes his eyes shut. He’ll say anything, do anything, to protect Dean. “If you let Dean go, I will join you.”

“Cas, no-” Dean begins.

“Shut up, pet,” Lucifer cuts in, seeming to be taking some sort of sick, twisted joy in Castiel’s pain.

Castiel gives Dean a somber smile. When he was growing up, he never used to smile. The first person who ever taught him joy and love stands before him now, in the arms of a man intent upon killing him. He would do anything to keep Dean safe. Even if it kills him.

“I’ll join you,” he says again.

A grin that a Cheshire cat would be jealous of spreads over Lucifer's face. His hands slip away from Dean, allowing him to bolt forward. Castiel feels a wave of relief crash over him. Without thinking, he opens his arms and Dean runs straight into them.

“I’m sorry, Cas. I’m so, so sorry. This is all my fault,” Dean mumbles into his chest. Castiel shakes his head. He holds Dean as close to him as he possibly can without crushing the other man.

“There’s nothing to be sorry for, my love. I’m just glad that you’re alive. Please, never scare me like that again,” he says softly, running his fingers through Dean’s hair. It’s comforting to feel him in his arms again, even though there’s much that still remains to be said.

“Sorry to break up your touching reunion, Cassie, but it’s time to go,” Lucifer says.

Castiel looks up. “Go where?” he asks.

Lucifer’s grin is still plastered on his face. It’s psychotic in its nature. “To kill the king. And the queen, too,” Lucifer says.

Castiel scoffs, keeping a tight hold on Dean. “We won’t be killing anyone, brother. This is where the bloodshed stops. I do not know how many you’ve killed to get here and I don’t want to. I will take you to Caelum’s prison where you will get a fair trial.”

Lucifer’s expression morphs into one of anger and betrayal. “Fair trial? You’re a fool, Castiel!”

He growls. “Maybe so, but I am a merciful one.”

Lucifer doesn’t say another word. Castiel can see the cogs turning in his brother’s head. Anger washing over his features in waves. He realizes that there will be no fair trial. His brother will not come peacefully.

Sure enough, a moment later, Lucifer charges at him. Instinctively, he pushes Dean out of the way, raising an arm to block Lucifer’s punch. He can see magic sparking off of his brother. His eyes are even glowing.

Lucifer’s magic is far stronger than it was when they were kids. He’s clearly spent years refining it whereas Castiel himself had to hide it from the world which means only one thing; Lucifer is stronger than him. There’s no way for him to win this, he realizes as he meets Lucifer’s crazed eyes.

Just then, another punch flies, hitting him square in the gut.

---

Dean is in complete shock. When Cas pushed him, he fell over. All he can do is scramble away from the two brothers. The fight is unfolding before his very eyes. Every time a punch connects, magic sparks off of them.

It’s beautiful in a sickening kind of way. He can barely breathe. The fact that his own father raised Lucifer to be this way makes him want to tear down every single goddamn memory he has of him.

When Lucifer was talking about his newfound ‘love’ and the man who had raised him… That’s when he realized it. He always knew there was something wrong with his father but… He didn’t expect this.

Now that he knows that his father is a complete psychopath, he’s glad the man never came back. Abandoning him and Sammy was the greatest gift their monster of a father ever gave to them.

It hits Dean that the reason he was never home was that he was a bounty hunter. And that’s why he came home with briefcases full of cash and no explanations for where he’d been. It feels so glaringly obvious to him now.

A dark, jealous part of him wonders why John didn’t raise them. Why was Lucifer good enough and they weren’t? Did he want a little attack dog to do his bidding? It’s clear that Lucifer Novak is ill, was that it? Did his father target a little boy with family issues and say ‘hey, want to kill the king?’.

It’s sickening just to think about it.

He’s gets snapped back to the present when Cas takes an awful-looking hit. Blood spills down Castiel’s forehead, staining his raven hair with red. A moment later, Cas spits some excess blood onto the floor.

Lucifer is grinning. There’s power and tension in the air. Everything feels so alive with magic. It’s almost as if there’s a live wire getting ready to snap and electrocute them all. The worst part of it all is that Dean can’t help.

He has to watch Cas take hit after hit. Another one of Lucifer’s punches lands, hitting Cas square in the face. Cas is a bloody mess by this point. Dean knows that if he stands and tries to help, he could get himself or Cas killed.

He just hates feeling useless. He wants to be able to help. Cas and him… There’s a lot they need to talk about it but if he loses Cas, they will never be able to. There are words he needs to say, things he wants to do.

He watches as Cas gets flung against the far wall, next to the door. And this time… This time, he doesn’t get up. He’s crippled on the floor. Dean sees Cas’s desperate attempts to push himself up while Lucifer stands about fifteen feet away, grinning.

“You’ve always wanted to be so normal, Cassie. So human. But we’re more than humans! If only you had seen that… I love you, brother. I’m sorry that you’ve made me do this. But if you insist on being normal, why don’t I just give you a normal death?”

Lucifer lifts his gun and in that split second, everything freezes. Dean is on his feet before he knows what’s happening. He has one thought in his mind that echoes above the rush of blood in his ears. Save Cas. Save Cas. Save Cas. He runs and he hears the shot ring out.

---

 

Castiel groans as he hits the wall. He knows that this is the end for him. He can barely breathe, much less stand. He casts a desperate look at Dean and then he collapses completely. Words spill into the air, ones he can’t quite understand.

All he hears is ‘normal death’. The only thing he can do is close his eyes and accept his fate. Soon enough, he hears the shot ring out. He prepares for the pain. The ripping and tearing of a bullet as it flies through his heart.

No pain comes. There is no ripping and no tearing. Just a soft groan and a thud. He opens his eyes and immediately wishes he hadn’t. Dean is laying on the ground in front of him, blood seeping out from a small wound in his chest. Everything in him breaks. He scrambles to Dean’s side. He can’t believe it. “No, no, no, Dean. You idiot. No… Please, beloved. Please.” He pulls Dean onto his lap and cradles him. There’s nothing he can do.

He desperately attempts to heal Dean, sending every jolt of magic he has left in his body. Dean’s eyes flutter open. The love of his life smiles weakly, blood staining his teeth. “Couldn’t let ya die,” he murmurs.

“No, no, beloved. Don’t say anything. We’ll get you help,” Castiel whispers, his hands beginning to become stained with red as he applies pressure to Dean’s wound.

He runs his shaking fingers over Dean’s forehead. Dean catches his hand. “Nah. I… It was time anyway.”

His nose stings as his eyes well up. “It wasn’t time. We can still save you. We can. We can,” he says, desperation overtaking him. No. He can do this. He will not let another person he loves die!

Dean shakes his head. “Cas, listen to me-”

“No, Dean! No!” His voice breaks. “No,” he chokes out. “I can’t lose you. Please. I can’t. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.”

“Yeah, you can. You’re-” Dean coughs up blood that trickles down his lips and chin. “You’re strong.” He shakes his head. He’s not strong. Not without Dean. He can’t do this without him.

“Beloved, please, hold on,” he whispers.

He desperately shifts his hands on Dean’s chest. The amount of magic needed to heal a wound like this is astronomical. If he pulls from every ley line in the vicinity, he could wield that much magic. It would likely kill him, but he doesn’t care.

He begins to channel magic from those surrounding ley lines, desperately attempting to house it in his body. Dean pushes his hands away. “Stop, Cas. I know what you’re doing. P-please. Don’t you dare hurt yourself for me.” There’s strength in his words even though he’s losing every shred of life force left in him.

“Just say goodbye to me, you dork.” Dean plasters on that weak smile. Castiel shakes his head. He can’t. He won’t ever say goodbye to him again. Dean lifts a hand and cups his cheek.

“Please, beloved,” Castiel chokes out. “I need to do this. I need to fix this!”

Dean locks eyes with him. “Cas, I… I remember everything. Every single damn memory you took from me. I remember it all. I remember that stupid, oversized trenchcoat you wore. And I remember the rings.”

Castiel feels shock ebb and flow through him. He didn’t realize Dean was able to remember those things. “What… I…” he stammers.

Dean smiles. “Sam would’ve loved you, you know.” He dissolves into a fit of coughs and blood spills out onto his chin, dribbling down his neck in red waves.

“Dean, stop talking.” As usual, Dean ignores him.

“Hey, um, Cas?” Dean’s eyes start to fill with tears. His usual bravado has completely disappeared. It’s strange to see him without that cocky grin on his face. The realization that he’ll never see that grin again rips into him. “Since it’s lookin’ like I’m at the end of the line here, could you, um…” His voice breaks. “Could you tell Sammy and Bobby that I love ‘em?” he asks. Castiel immediately nods, feeling the sting of tears in his eyes.

“Of course, beloved. But you’ll get to tell them yourself. I promise,” he whispers, cupping Dean’s cheek with his hand and running his thumb over his cheekbone, just as he has many times before.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, angel,” Dean says weakly. It’s clear to him that the man is fading. His breathing goes from desperate rasps to almost nothing. “One last thing,” he chokes out. “I love you. Don’t f-forget that,” he whispers.

Dean’s hand falls away from his cheek and the light in his emerald eyes fades into nothing. Silence falls as he realizes one terrible, irrevocable fact; Dean Winchester is dead. A tear slips down his face as an ache grips his heart. The love of his life is dead and gone. Those beautiful green eyes will never be full of life again.

He gently sets Dean down on the ground with a kiss to his forehead. He caresses the other man’s cheek. “Sleep well, my love,” he whispers. Red hot shame pours into his veins. He couldn’t even save the love of his life. Pain and sadness fill every inch of his body, sharpening until those feelings become a blade buried in his heart.

What kind of useless person is he? His powers should have been enough. If only he was stronger. He should’ve been stronger!

A laugh breaks through the air. His head snaps up and his eyes fixate on Lucifer. His brother is in peels of laughter. Every emotion - sadness, guilt, shame, grief - is completely swallowed by all-consuming rage.

Energy crashes over his body. He can feel his wings beginning to manifest behind him, completely unbidden. And Lucifer’s expression morphs into one of pure, unbridled, unadulterated terror and Castiel? Castiel loves it. The sick, perverse joy that spills into him at his brother’s terror is unmatched.

“Calm down, Cassie,” Lucifer says, backing away. “It’s just us. We can be together forever now, brother.”

Castiel growls, clenching his fists. He feels tears streaming down his face. “The only person that I ever wanted that with is gone! You killed him, Lucifer! How, in your sick mind, does that make any sense?! You are worse than our parents!”

Lucifer shakes his head wildly. “No, Cassie, I am not!”

He stalks forward. He can feel rage and energy pouring off of him in waves. There’s no fate that he can condemn Lucifer to that would be enough. His brother ripped the man he loves away from him. He’ll never see Dean smile again. He’ll never hear that captivating laugh or those soft, content noises again.

That’s worse than anything he could ever do to Lucifer because he lost the one person he loves above all else. The one person who he would have sacrificed everything for. And the terrible, dark, awful part is that he knows that he is at fault.

He pushed Dean away. He allowed him to be taken by Lucifer. All he wishes now is that he had listened to what Dean had to say. If he had, maybe he wouldn’t have thrown up all his defenses. Maybe he wouldn’t have pushed him away.

If he wasn’t so goddamn stubborn…

He approaches Lucifer, every step rewarding him with more determination. Energy sparks off of him in thick waves. The air is filled with the scent of petrichor and blood. Lucifer lifts the gun and fumbles with it. Castiel raises his hand and the gun flies away from Lucifer, skittering onto the floor. He allows tears to spill down his cheeks in waves.

He remembers the first time he knew he’d fallen in love with Dean. And the memory of having to leave him forever. His parents forced him to stay inside the castle. So when he saw Dean’s face on that piece of paper, he felt like he’d been given a second chance.

That chance has been ripped away from him without a second thought. And suddenly… Suddenly, he doesn’t care what happens to Lucifer. They might be brothers, but Dean? That man was his world. He was the most important person to Castiel and he failed him. Castiel failed the love of his life.

Energy builds in his veins. He realizes that he was unconsciously siphoning magic from the surrounding ley lines. He knows he should stop but he doesn’t. Instead, he demands every single bit of magic his body can handle. Then he demands even more.

Lucifer is clearly terrified. His eyes are wild and desperate. Castiel raises a hand. “No, Cassie, please, don’t-” And that’s the last thing he hears before an explosion of magic flies from his fingertips.

Chapter Text

The next thing that Castiel knows, he’s stirring, slowly coming back to wakefulness. He keeps his eyes closed. There’s a warm blanket wrapped around him and somehow, he can’t shake the feeling that he just had an awful nightmare. Suddenly, he sits straight up.

He’s in a hospital bed. He recognizes the room around him as the infirmary in the castle. For a moment, he can’t remember how he got there and then... A wave of inexplicable pain crashes over him. Dean.

He remembers everything. The factory. Lucifer. The amount of energy he embraced. Dean bleeding out in his arms. He bites his lip as hot tears well up in his eyes and his heart aches with pain.

This is all your fault. A treacherous voice whispers to him from inside his head. The worst part is that it’s true. If he hadn’t sent Dean away, this never would have happened. The death of the love of his life is entirely his own fault.

There’s a dull ache pulsating through his body. He’s not quite sure how he’s alive. He’s not quite sure if he should be alive. There’s no reason for him to be. Not when Dean is gone. He knows exactly how much magic he siphoned from those ley lines and what that means for the human body.

He was more than willing to die if it meant destroying Lucifer. Grief truly can blind you, but he would do it all over again in a heartbeat. He takes a deep, shuddering breath. He still can’t believe that he lost Dean. Really and truly lost him.

The curtain is pulled aside and Jody’s face peeks through. Her eyes are sullen and tired. As soon as she meets his eyes, her expression completely changes. A bright smile that feels entirely out of place to him, spreads over her face.

He can’t imagine smiling. Everything hurts, especially his heart. And he knows it’s not just the physical pain of over-exerting himself.

Jody sits down next to him. “Hey, kiddo. How are you feeling?” she asks.

Castiel shakes his head. He’s not going to answer that. He can’t. “Did anyone recover Dean’s body?”

Jody frowns. “Castiel-”

“Please. I’m begging you, I have to know. He needs a real funeral, Jody. I can answer all of your other questions later. This is the only thing I need from you. Please,” he begs. His fingers tremble as he runs them through his hair. Every single defense, every single dam is breaking down allowing his emotions to spill into the open air.

“Castiel, you’re really not listening-”

“Lucifer killed him, Jody! I have… I have to tell Sam. And Bobby. Preparations need to be made. I… I need to see him. I need to arrange things for his funeral and make sure his body is properly handled,” he says, voice cascading out in desperate waves.

He flings his legs over the side of the bed and begins to stand up. Jody puts a hand on his chest and gently pushes him back down. “You’ll do nothing of the sort, kiddo.”

“Jody! Please. I’m begging you! I’m begging you.”

Jody sighs in frustration. “You’re not going to make any preparations, Your Highness.”

He can’t help the growl that spills from his lips. Does no one understand how important Dean was to him? How important he still is to him?

“You’re not going to be making any preparations for a funeral because Dean is just down the hall,” she says gently.

Frozen. That is the best way he can describe himself at this moment. He can’t believe his own ears. He must not have heard her correctly. Or maybe she was referring to Dean’s body. That must be it. “W-what?” he asks, his voice broken and desperate.

“Dean is just down the hall,” Jody repeats, “and he’s perfectly fine. Really worried about you, but otherwise fine.”

He can feel his mouth drop open as a million questions run through his head. “What? Why? How? I saw him! This... No. When? How long have I-”

Jody cuts him off. “Your Highness, I’m sure that he can explain all of this to you himself. He’ll be thrilled to know that you’re awake. We’ve all been really worried. I’ll go get him.”

He watches as Jody retreats out of the room and rubs his face. There’s stubble on his jaw now, even though there never used to be. He never really cared for that scruffy feeling one gets when they don’t shave for a long period of time, but now… Now, it seems fitting.

Some part of him still can’t believe that Jody is telling the truth. He watched Dean die. Saw as his very life force faded. And that wound… She must’ve been lying. That’s the only truth that he can settle on.

What feels like a few eternities later passes until he finally hears footsteps. They’re hurried and approaching quickly. The curtain is flung back and Castiel is met with wild green eyes and messy brown hair.

Dean’s face splits into the happiest grin Castiel has ever seen. Moments later, he has an armful of the man. “Cas,” Dean whispers into his chest. Castiel feels relief crash over him. Dean is really here. He wraps his arms around him and desperately grips the back of his shirt.

“How are you alive?” he asks. He can feel the tremble that runs through his entire body. Dean is alive. His Dean.

Dean shrugs and draws back a little, his eyes shining with unshed tears and emotion. “You saved me, Cas. At least, that’s what I think happened. Last I remember, I jumped in front of you like some sort of stupid character from a cliche movie.”

Castiel sighs. That was certainly very stupid. He’s relieved that Dean is alive, obviously, but he’s still so angry that Dean assumed that he couldn’t take care of himself and jumped in. It’s so like Dean to do something reckless such as that. Perhaps that’s why he loves him. He’s never been very good at loving people that are good for him.

Maybe though, just maybe, Dean is just what he needs. He might be a reckless, impulsive assbutt sometimes but… he’s very charming and sweet. Animal magnetism, one might say.

He takes Dean’s hands in his own. They’re rough and calloused under his fingers. He supposes that’s from working as a mechanic for all of these years. Somehow, these small imperfections make Dean more attractive. More human.

“Never do that again,” he murmurs as he presses his lips to the back one of Dean’s hands. He winces slightly at the movement. His entire body is quite sore and probably will be for at least two more weeks.

Dean sighs and puts one hand up, raising three fingers. “I won’t. Scout’s honor.”

He tilts his head. “Scout’s honor?” The words roll around in his mouth like a foreign entity.

Dean chuckles. “Cas, no offense, but you’re kind of clueless.”

“I’m aware.” He’s never been very enamored of his own naïveté. He knows that it’s through no fault of his own, but still… It’s embarrassing to not know some of Dean’s references - and he makes a lot of them - then not know how to respond.

Dean’s grin falls. His face settles into a state of exhaustion and relief. Castiel feels like a fool, he should’ve realized the toll all of this is taking on Dean. He, himself, has been out for weeks and Dean had been awake the entire time.

“I didn’t know if you were ever going to wake up,” Dean whispers. There’s pain and true vulnerability in his eyes. A rarity for Dean Winchester. This realization only makes his heart ache in his chest.

“I’m sorry,” he says, voice gentle and calm.

“Don’t be sorry. It ain’t your fault. I just… When I woke up, that bullet wound was just a scratch on my damn chest. You were on the ground and barely breathing. Never been so scared in my life.”

Castiel squeezes Dean’s hands. He knows that fear, after all, he himself felt it in full force. He’s never let go of himself that much or allowed himself to feel that much rage. Dean is certainly dangerous for him, although… Perhaps that’s not such an awful thing. Perhaps dangerous is just what Castiel Novak needs.

This thought has been on his mind ever since he met Dean as a young boy. It keeps whispering along in his head like a track on repeat. “Why’d you push yourself so hard, Cas?”

He bites his lip. To tell Dean the truth, he would have to open himself up completely. That’s something he’s always been afraid of… But Dean’s afraid, too. He faced down his psychopathic, magic-wielding brother that was hellbent on killing him, he can tell a boy how he feels. He is not a kindergartener. “I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you.”

Silence hangs in the air for a moment. Dean’s beautiful green eyes - those eyes that remind him of forests and the palace gardens - fixate upon him. They’re full of confusion, hope, and… Love. His eyes are full of love.

“You’re an idiot,” Dean says softly. Of course, Castiel can see right through this. He knows that humor and bravado are nothing more than a smokescreen that Dean Winchester deploys. But that’s okay. Dean can be endlessly frustrating but… Well, he’s Dean.

He laughs anyway. No matter how ridiculous Dean’s bravado can be, he’ll always find it humorous. And, to be entirely honest with himself, he loves every part of Dean, even his mask. Even the walls that he puts up to protect himself.

He just wants to help Dean lower those defenses and realize that he loves him and that he will always love him. It’s terrifying to be so committed, so dedicated to someone, but it’s also exhilarating in more ways than one.

Castiel stares down into those transcendent emerald eyes and for a moment, he completely forgets about everything and everyone other than this man in front of him. He forgets about Lisa, about the Choosing, about Lucifer. The entire world is just them.

And then, they’re both leaning in. Castiel isn’t sure who started moving first, all he knows is that their lips connect. It’s wonderful and so very comforting to kiss Dean again. The pain of days past is forgotten as Dean presses closer, deepening the kiss.

They stay like this for a while, just holding onto each other like every moment could be their last. Eventually, Cas pulls away to breathe. “Dean,” he whispers. He doesn’t ever want to let go. Not again. Not ever again.

“Yeah, Cas?” Dean is smiling at him. God, he’s so beautiful. Almost biblically so. That’s the only thought that fills Castiel’s mind. But there’s something else to be said.

“I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry,” he says. “This… You… It’s all my fault. And I’m so sorry. I was foolish and I overreacted. I pushed you away. I should’ve trusted you and I cannot apologize enough.”

Dean blinks. “Cas… I’m not mad at you. I mean, sure, I pretty much died, but hey. That’s a typical Friday night, ain’t it?” He chuckles. Castiel can’t believe he’s actually making a joke out of his own near death.

He shakes his head. “This isn’t funny, Dean,” he says, a tad petulant.

Dean sighs and shifts a little. “I know, but… Listen, this ain’t all on you. We both made mistakes. I’m not interested in livin’ in the past, all right? We’re both here now… Ain’t that all that matters?” he asks, squeezing Castiel’s hands.

Castiel smiles a little. His heart flutters in his chest. “Very poetic, Winchester,” he teases. And, just like he thought, Dean blushes redder than a firetruck.

“Shut up, you dork,” Dean mumbles, gently hitting his shoulder. Castiel can’t help but grin. A sense of normalcy has been restored. This is their normal. Teasing each other and just… Smiling. It’s nice to smile. He never used to but when Dean walked through that door on the first day of the Choosing… Well, the rest is history.

“Never,” he responds, resting his forehead against Dean’s. And for a moment, just a moment, the world falls away and Dean is all that exists. They love each other. He just has one last question to ask. “Why did you do it? Sacrifice yourself for me? It was incredibly stupid, you know.”

Dean chuckles a little. “I know. That’s what love does to ya.” Castiel smiles a little. He closes the remaining space between them and presses his lips to Dean’s again. Here, in this hospital ward, they’re safe. There is no Choosing, no Lucifer, no pain. Just them.

When Dean pulls away, his face is serious. His bravado is gone and his eyes are vulnerable. “I didn’t want to lose you,” he whispers. Dean takes his hand and squeezes it gently. This is Dean Winchester bearing his soul.

Castiel pulls Dean close. His Dean. Dean’s arms wrap around his waist and that’s how they sit for what could be seconds, minutes, or hours. He doesn’t know and he doesn’t care. Eventually, Dean shifts a little.

“I guess we’re both a couple of dumbasses then, ain’t we?” he asks, laughing a watery laugh.

A laugh spills from Castiel’s own lips. “I suppose so, my love.”

Dean pulls back and grins up at him. Castiel realizes why. He just called Dean his love and… He doesn’t look scared. In fact, Dean looks exuberantly happy. Maybe… maybe they are perfect for each other. Soulmates, right? And suddenly, a thought pops into his head. It’s something he’s been dreaming about for a long, long time. “Marry me,” he says.

Castiel watches as shock pours over Dean. His eyes widen and his mouth falls open slightly.

Castiel continues before he can lose the nerve. “Listen, I…. I love you and I know that there are so many obstacles in our way but… I don’t care. I just don’t. I don’t care that my parents want a spectacle made out of the Choosing. In light of everything that has happened, I just want you. I’ve loved you for a long time and I want a life with you. And if you don’t want that, I’ll understand, but I just had to say it and I-”

Castiel is cut off when Dean leans forward and kisses him ferociously. Whereas most of their kisses have been soft and gentle, this one certainly isn’t. It’s all teeth and tongue as Dean tangles his fingers in his hair.

He slowly breaks the kiss. “I’ll take that as a yes,” he whispers.

Dean grins. “Dumbass. I love you.” Those words spill out of Dean’s mouth and send tingles up and down Castiel’s body. He never thought he’d hear those words from Dean again.

“I love you too,” he says as he takes Dean’s hand.

Just then, a yell comes from one of the surrounding beds in the hospital wing. “Get a room already, you love birds!” Gabriel’s voice calls. Both he and Dean burst into laughter. Typical Gabriel.

“Is that any way to speak to your prince, Gabriel?” Castiel calls back, grinning.

“I’m sorry, get a room already, Your Highness,” Gabriel corrects.

“That’s what I thought.”

Castiel has never been as happy as he is at this moment. He savors the moment and the joy that it brings. Gabriel and Dean… They’re a part of his family. His family by blood can be incredibly difficult to handle, but these two? They make it all worth it to him.

Dean takes his hand and kisses it. He stares down, meeting Dean’s captivating gaze. “Hello, Dean,” he murmurs as he brings a hand to Dean’s cheek.

Dean grins. “Hiya, sweetheart. You know, I’m very excited to be Dean Novak.”

“I hope your title as a royal spouse isn’t the only reason you’re excited,” he teases. Dean gently hits his arm again. A bolt of pain shoots through him, but he ignores it. He doesn’t even wince.

“Ahh, maybe it is. I mean, I guess I’m just your arm candy, huh?” Dean teases.

“Certainly,” Castiel replies. He smiles and kisses Dean’s forehead. “But are you certain you don’t wish to keep your own last name? My parents wouldn’t like it, but I’m quite certain that they won’t like any of this, so...”

Dean sighs. “My dad… He perverted it, Cas. It ain’t something I can wear with pride.”

“I know, beloved, however… It doesn’t need to be that way. Show the world that not all of the Winchesters are monsters.”

Dean runs his fingers down his arm. “You always know just what to say, don’t ya?” he murmurs. “But yeah, I… It’s Sammy’s last name, too. And it was my mom’s. I… I want to honor them.”

Castiel smiles. “I’m glad. I’m sure my parents will throw a complete fit, but oh well. They’ll simply have to deal with it. I am their only remaining heir, after all.”

“Ah, so you’re not just a dork, you’re a rebellious dork.”

“Most certainly, Winchester.”

“Winchester-Novak.”

“Not quite yet,” Castiel says with a small smile. “Soon though.”

Dean hugs him closer. “I can’t wait.”

And that’s how they stay, bodies and souls intertwined. Their story hasn’t been perfect or entirely joyful, but maybe, just maybe, they’ll get a happily ever after. At least, that’s what Castiel hopes.

He wants a happily ever after with Dean Winchester more than anything else.

Chapter Text

Dean has a veritable swarm of butterflies in his stomach as he prepares. He runs a comb through his already quite gelled hair. This is his wedding day. He can’t believe that it’s finally here. After months and months of planning and all of the political crap that they’ve had to wade through, the day is finally here.

He’s standing on his own, taking a few deep, calming breaths. His entire family - with the exception of his father - is out there today. Bobby and Sam. The only two people that have ever mattered to him. And now there’s going to be an addition. Cas will officially be his family. Damn.

He won’t lie, it was extremely scary at first, the whole realization of this commitment, but now? Now, he’s just excited. Ecstatic, really. He’s never wanted this with anyone else and yeah, it’s a big leap, but at least they’re jumping together. Thelma and Louise, sailing off this cliff together.

Then, the music starts playing, signaling that it’s time to walk. He steps out from around the corner and is met by a hundred or so beaming faces. They decided that they would get married in the royal garden. It just made sense. The scent of roses is heady as he walks down the side of the rows of white, wooden chairs set up.

On the other side of the row of seats is Cas walking as well. This is how they said they would do it. Hey, if you’re going to say ‘I want to spend the rest of my life with this person’ you should do it together, right?

The grin on his face feels so easy. He’s about to marry the love of his life in front of the only people that have ever mattered to him. As he and Cas finally reach the altar, they make eye contact. It’s perfect. Absolutely perfect.

Cas’s stunning blue eyes are shining in the afternoon sunlight. His tux perfectly frames his strong, lithe body. Even though they’re still young, Dean knows that this is right. He can feel it in his gut. Ever since Lucifer, he’s learned to trust his gut feelings.

He casts a quick glance at his grinning baby brother. Sam is his best man and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He was a little surprised when Cas said that he wanted his royal advisor Gabriel to be his best man, but he understands it now. Gabriel is completely and utterly loyal to Cas and is his best friend and confidante. He would even be a little jealous of Gabriel if it wasn’t for Cas’s reassurances.

“Friends and family, we are gathered here today to celebrate the joyous union of Prince Castiel Novak of Caelum and Dean Winchester of Hominum,” the minister says. Unfortunately, Cas’s parents were pretty strict about having a classic old minister from the kingdom officiate their wedding.

However, they did get to write their own vows, so that’s something. As the minister continues, Dean mostly filters it out. He’s simply staring into Cas’s blue depths. The hilarious thing about the way that Cas looks right now - other than completely freaking gorgeous - is his hair. It’s just as hopelessly messy and tousled as always.

It calms the butterflies fluttering in his stomach.

Somehow, it’s time for their vows. Dean clears his throat. He has to take a deep breath before he can speak. He does not want to break down in the middle of his vows. “So, um, Cas, I know that our story hasn’t been perfect,” he begins, “It hasn’t been the fairytale that everyone dreams of.”

“We’ve had our ups and downs, our highs and lows, our fights and eventual makeups. But through it all, no matter how hard and complicated everything has gotten, you’ve been right here, by my side. I won’t lie to anyone, I didn’t want to be part of the Choosing when I got selected. I didn’t want to go and be a part of this spectacle. But then… then I met you, Cas. And the second that we made eye contact, I knew I was done for. I’ve always felt like I’ve known you for my entire life and learning that it was partly true just blew my mind. I kind of thought I was crazy for feeling the way that I did and do. The thing that sticks in my mind, even now, is that no matter how difficult and rough the road gets,” his voice breaks, “you’ll always be by my side.” He feels tears well up in his eyes. “I love you, Cas.”

Cas’s gummy smile is radiant. Nine months ago, he thought that he would never get to see that again, and now he’ll get to see it for the rest of his life.

Castiel begins his own vows, eyes shining with unshed tears. “Our journey certainly hasn’t been perfect. We’ve had our fair share of disagreements and fights, but it’s all been worth it. You make it worth it. I knew from the moment that I met you as a small boy that I would love you forever and you’ve only proven me right. I had to let go of you so many times. And the simple truth is that I never got used to it. Every single time that I had to say goodbye, it destroyed me. But then, after a few weeks or a few months, I would come back and we would fall in love all over again. I always liked to think that some part of you remembered me. You’ve always made it so easy to fall deeper and deeper in love with you. You remind me that no matter how many flaws or imperfections I have, you’ll still love me. And isn’t that what love is? Simply believing that who the other is as a person is enough? I never used to think that I would find love. I always thought that it would be more of a business transaction than a great romance and then… then you walked in that door and turned my world upside down. That seems to be a great talent of yours, Dean Winchester,” Cas says with a watery laugh. Dean feels hot tears spilling down his cheeks.

The minister smiles warmly at the two of them. He turns to Cas. “Castiel, do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

Cas grins, staring back into Dean’s tearful eyes. “I do.”

“And, Dean, do you take Castiel to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

Through his tears, he manages a choked response, “You bet your ass I do.”

The minister turns to the young ring bearer named Jack. Jack is a younger cousin of Cas’s who came to live at the palace a few months ago. He’s a great kid and Dean is thrilled to have him be their ring bearer. “May I have the rings, please?” the minister asks.

Dean’s heart jackhammers in his chest as he and Cas exchange rings. The minister’s words are no more than background noise to his joy. Then he hears it. “Then, by the power vested in me by the kingdom of Caelum, I pronounce you husband and husband. You may now kiss the groom.”

Dean leans in and presses his lips to Cas’s as applause rings out around them. He pulls back to see Cas’s watery eyes staring into his own. Cas leans closer and whispers in his ear. “I love you.”

Dean grins and takes Cas’s hand. They walk down the aisle together as people cheer and applaud. “I love you, too,” he whispers back. He still can’t believe that they’re here. This is something he’s only dreamed of and now… now he’s married.

He finally got his happily ever after, and even though not everything about how they got here is perfect, it’s theirs. It’s their love story and he wouldn’t trade it for the world.